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Peer groups: Ravenstor autumn group 3 - depth & confrontation

The third morning.  So moving on from where I'd described to in yesterday's blog post, we began again in the full group at around 9.30am.  Almost immediately a good friend moved very deeply into distress about fathering - his relationship with his own father & fears about passing on some of the behaviours & pain to the relationships with his own children.  Courageous, agonizing, total, anguish.  I cried with him, as too - I'm sure - did several others in the group.  Primitive, deeply connecting with pretty much all of us as we live out being a link in this chain father-child-father-child-father-child.  And in this group, a deep trust.  When the river goes crashing, tumbling down into a roaring emotional gorge ... stay with it, with love and empathy and trueness ... and after a while, slowly the huge thunder clouds begin to pass, quietening, shafts of sunlight, even laughter.  Deep care.  As a newcomer said to me later "That's one of the most profound things I've witnessed in my whole life".  Precious and helpful.  Very much connecting at relational depth.  And of course this deep honesty, this immersion, colours & transforms what others get in touch with and share.  So the two hour big morning gathering was a beautiful section of the four day group river.  Various people talked, explored ... triggered by what had happened and by the subsequent discussion.  The old group truism is that working on one's own emotional material with great courage and vulnerability is one of the most generous gifts one can give to help other participants and the group as a whole. 

And then something else, very different, happened that also seemed really important.  A strong, dominant, relative "newcomer" to the group once more began (it seemed to me, and it turned out to quite a few others as well) to "lecture" us on how we should be in the group & life more generally.  Clearly the person seemed to have thought and experienced a lot about how they wanted to live ... and how they felt others might best flourish.  Very similar to many others of us here.  The difference seemed to me to be in stance & language.  I personally felt disconnected and lectured at.  I know this probably isn't how the relative newcomer would have been experiencing this.  Others however did seem to be feeling it in this kind of way.  Confrontation.  Bumpy.  It's a key reason why we keep new members to only 20-25% of the group.  The culture here is so much about compassion & empathy, but also deeply about emotional authenticity (see last month's post "Meeting at relational depth: what does it involve?").  Feeling lectured at isn't really on the menu ... or if that kind of experience emerges it triggers a series of reactions.  I spoke about very much valuing the energy & courage & experience of new people arriving in the group, but I really have difficulty connecting with communication that ... to me ... came across as "guru'ish"and certainly, for me, emotionally pretty distant.  Bumpy. 

I remember a series of peer residential groups I was involved with in the past (actually on meditation), where we didn't have the limit of 20-25% maximum number of newcomers.  We got into conflict, as one pretty much inevitably does at stages of the river of group process's four day journey.  There wasn't any real agreement about how to work with deeper conflict, and the group didn't last for very long.  It wasn't a strong enough container to hold the passions & pains that bubble up in this kind of group cooking.  Our "group culture" that has evolved and strengthened over the years does provide a very powerful, safe container.  Clearly we need to be careful though.  Openness to new energy, new blood, new ideas is crucial.  And not being "taken over" is also crucial.  Fascinating, and relevant to other groups & organizations of many different kinds.  How to maintain a "culture" that's strong & healthy, and open enough to new input without being simply swept with each new energy.  Good stuff.  And the challenge is to see whether we can all learn from the bumps.  (I later checked with the newcomer about this blog description.  Clearly I write just about my own experiences, reactions & thoughts and I was concerned at presenting such a one-sided view.  Happily he said he was fine about me writing what I have). 

And the small 3 or 4 person support groups again in the hour before lunch.  Each of us getting time, both to talk a bit more about how we're doing in the group, and how we're experiencing each other.  Then lunch.  Deep, fun, affectionate conversation with someone else in the group who I haven't really met properly before.  Lovely meeting a "new person" like this ... in this group "bowl" that catalyses closeness so well.  And after lunch, playing hooky from the group.  My sister lives further south in the Peak District and she drove up to meet, to walk & talk.  Great.  Softened & opened by the group process is a very good place to meet another person from.  Others had also gone walking, resting, playing a wild, committed game of football, having fun.

Then the medium sized groups again for the three hours or so before supper.  And in amongst the different sharings, I revisited my impatience.  What emerges if I accept the impatience, feel it physically, acknowledge that the first impulse is to become irritated, passionate, angry, and look for the need, the wish linked with all this.  Exploring.  Feeling inside.  It seems to be something about "yearning", for connection, relatedness.  Such good nourishment, music, way of being.

And at supper talking again with the "newcomer" who had triggered the morning's bumpiness.  Meeting.  Trying to hear and understand each other.  Sharing our impressions, how we perceive and feel about each other.  Good.  Courageous of him to look this out.  And the conversation was partly responsible for nudging me to write the later blog posts "The 'bus driver' is warm-blooded: integrating mindfulness & emotion".  

Then the evening.  Again people showing slides - sculpture work.  People singing, playing guitar.  And someone playing piano ... a blues piece he'd composed for the Men's Group.  Awe inspiring for a non-musician like me.  And again awe inspiring, two professional musicians jamming, improvising.  Wow.  And dancing.  And to bed ... 

For follow-on, see tomorrow's post "Peer groups: Ravenstory autumn group 4 - nature, father-son, flow & celebration"

    

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