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Peer groups, Cumbria spring group: first full day - feeling our way in, revisiting the Skye experience and dancing

Still before breakfast - at the start of the second full day now.  Yesterday I wrote about "arriving".  The noise of the mill stream just outside provides a constant back drop while we're here.  When we arrived on Wednesday evening it was flowing so quietly, the water level almost as low as I've seen it.  Then the rain came and it turned into a torrent.  Roaring.  In a way a bit of a parallel for our group.  We've got going fast.  So many of us know each other well.  Familiar place.  Familiar to be in one of these residential groups together again.  And new.  Extraordinary to "age" alongside these people.  We've brought photographs from earlier groups going back over twenty years.  Poignant, funny, endearing, happy-sad.

Breakfast is pretty much always such a good meal in the big communal eating area.  Lovely.  Meeting, hugging, greeting.  Very tender.  Heart-warming.  And then to the first full group meeting.  Finding our way in; feeling our way in.  Everyone - all sixteen of us now - "checking in".  How are we feeling being here?  What are our hopes for these four days?  How would we like to structure our time?   Someone talked about wanting to look at how they used their "power".  I commented that coming to these groups over a couple of decades has probably been the best lesson in interpersonal power that I've experienced.  I sometimes think of it as trying to ride a big horse down the centre of a track.  The horse is the power.  The track is responding to what emerges ... responding to, serving, the needs of the moment.  On one side of the track is the ditch of being too loud, insensitive, oppressive of others.  I don't mean typically in any kind of "big", obvious way.  I mean more subtly than that ... for example with the little puffing ups of "aren't-I-a-fine-fellow" syndrome or as a dear friend puts it ... FIG JAM (F*k I'm great, just ask me)!  And the ditch on the other side is inhibiting myself too much.  Not allowing what wants validly to express to come out.  Kind of semi-castrating myself.  Authenticity, empathy & compassion.  The jazz trio metaphor.

And the age range is so fascinating here too.  Some "youngsters" in their 40's, right up to people around 70.  The interplay of energy.  The different stages of life.  Extraordinary ... and very "ordinary" too.  And after a coffee break and speaking again, we ended with a kind of shaking ourselves out dance.  Sometimes good to use other methods than just words.

Lunch, and I then met with some people who wanted to talk more about the rescue I'd experienced in Skye two weeks ago.  Telling my story ... here, with good friends, and with time.  And talking too about how we all face death, how none of us know whether we'll even survive our journeys home at the end of this group.  About how the knowledge of our death can give us more aliveness.  And we split up for a chance to be on our own if we wanted to.  I walked out and found an old ruined wall some way out into the country.  A cottage or other structure that had been built against a small sloping hillock.  I could stand on the ruined stones looking down a dozen feet or so.  Some wind and rain.  A little unstable, but OK.  And I replayed in my head the memory of standing on the snow chute in Skye, the instability, the danger, images, thoughts, feelings, going back to that place.  Staying with it.  Looking again at both that outer and inner landscape.  Gratitude, learning, tasting the shape of the emotions & thoughts again.  The blessedness of being alive and here with people I love.  And going back again to remeet with those who had wanted to hear the story.  Talking about our experiences.  And I played them the recording I'd made looking down at that cliff, the message I'd left for Catero my wife when I hadn't known whether I'd live or die.  And here the tears came, breaking down ... and that was fine too.  Good not to be frightened to revisit it ... to feel into it again ... to look again at the precious lessons I can learn. 

And as so often with these residentials, we had randomised ourselves into small support groups who we met with each day to look at how we're doing.  I really like the randomness of this process.  I was with three other people who mostly I didn't know as deeply as some of my closest friends in the full group.  I very much like this.  It's so wonderful getting to know people more deeply in this four day group atmosphere that so encourages openness, genuineness, taking risks, kindness.  So we had our first small group meeting together for about an hour and a quarter ... and then tea and into the full group again.  A little stuttery for me ... as I would expect ... time, melting.  And after sometime someone suggested we do a kind of cocktail party standing, milling around, meeting each other one-to-one.  And they suggested that we tell the person we're with what we particularly celebrate, appreciate, value about them.  So easy for this to descend into a sugary waste of time.  I said something about "Let's do it, but remember authenticity."  This is early in the group to be doing an exercise like this.  We're less than a day in, still arriving, a real challenge to be so face-to-face open with each other.  And for me it worked.  Diving in, risking, being honest, gentle ... the jazz trio metaphor again ... and I could feel myself softening, connecting more deeply.  Wonderful.  Although for several others it was too much too soon.  So some left to set up the supper.  Later ... the next day we would return to this split, people who the exercise had worked for and people who it hadn't and what this threw up about a tension between wanting to be open to others' suggestions while also honouring one's own feelings.

And for me the intense conversations continued into supper.  Friendship.  Then putting on music, some of us starting to dance, others joining in, until nearly all of us were moving, prancing, laughing ... such fun ... and then to bed.  We've kicked fast into this group.  Parts of me are still trying to catch up.

See tomorrow's post for a description of the second full day.

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