Peer residential group, second full day: meditation, turbulence, sharing, conflict & singing (3rd post)
Last updated on 7th November 2014
I wrote yesterday about the first full day of this Scottish Peer Mixed Group, singing a celebration of what felt like one of the really special days of my life. And then yesterday the river of the group slipped into more shadow for me, the emotional/interpersonal weather changing. Squalls, rain, cross currents & turbulence. One of the more difficult group days. So fascinating this. Metaphors can be very helpful when navigating challenges. Important to be cautious & thoughtful with them though, because metaphors/models/charts aren't the reality itself. What's actually going on is so complex & multi-layered in a group of eighteen people that it highlights the, at times, over-simplicity of operating charts ... although I think it also demands their use if one is going to try to consciously influence the group "boat's" direction rather than purely going with the flow. Good times are delicious, but chances are that much resilience & learning need the hammer of adversity to really sharpen.
So, honouring confidentiality, what happened yesterday? Again I started my day with writing, tea, sunshine and then meditating with several others. Breakfast and into the full group. Deep, personal sharing by someone right at the start of the group sent out ripples affecting probably all of us. Responding to this. Caring. Empathy. Honesty too about concerns. Not just being "warm & accepting" but sharing some of the interwoven mix of upset, sadness, and other distress too. Big issues. And coffee, then into our smaller support groups. And here too there was conflict, trouble, misunderstanding. Gosh. Keep steering the boat, at least my own responses, trying to understand what others might be feeling, caring, being honest and trying to share in ways that might help move difficulties forward. Yet too realising that sometimes obviously good closure isn't achieved - at least in the short term. And there is probably a trap to be aware of here, that it may often be self-deception to soothe oneself by thinking that emotional & interpersonal group difficulties that aren't dealt with adequately during the group itself will somehow compost into good learning over time. Yalom's research suggests that outcomes that look poor at the end of the group are likely to remain poor longer term for the people involved. This can strengthen motivation to try one's very best to help situations resolve well. And that may involve checking in after the group ... kindness, interest, commitment. Worth remembering this amongst all my day-to-day busy-ness - to make time to re-connect with those who might have "swallowed a good deal of water" amongst these group "waves".
So what are some of the metaphors, the charts that I often find helpful with group conflict? And these "operating suggestions" aren't just about groups; they also have some relevance to one-to-one therapy, to conflict with friends, to raising a family, to couples, and to life more generally. I like Les Greenberg's comments about "saying it all" held within a clear container of wishing the best for all involved. I think somewhat as in the parable of the prodigal son or the biblical injunction for shepherds to look out particularly for "lost sheep", that people who feel isolated or rejected by the majority are at particular risk. It's likely to be effort well used to try to connect, understand & support them. Then there's the comment, already made, that it's probably hollow reassurance to claim that "damage" in the group (that isn't adequately dealt with), will "magically" resolve into useful learning spontaneously over time. Maybe ... but I wouldn't count on it. There are a whole series of handouts (and blog posts) about conflict on this website. So "Conflict: not too much, not too little - some research suggestions" underlines the dangers both of being a self-silencing doormat and also of being an other-silencing sledgehammer. "Conflict: not too much, not too little - how to make it constructive" discusses a series of research studies including several highlighting the value of empathy & positive expectations. "Conflict: not too much, not too little - the importance of assertiveness in close relationships" & "Conflict: not too much, not too little - when to get real & problem-solve in close relationships" both acknowledge the value of empathy, kindness & forgiveness ... but highlight that, when problems are significant, you'll probably do better to pull your finger out, get real, and actively problem solve. The fourth paragraph of "Update on website traffic: my own favourite top 15" gives links to further posts about conflict, as too will clicking on "conflict" in the tag cloud. It's a big area. With "Opening Up" - the emotional/interpersonal skills group that I run - "learning to deal better with conflict" is probably the most common reason people give for coming to the group. Not easy ... but important.
And in the afternoon my wife & I drove back up to Edinburgh for a brief visit. She is an Iyengar style yoga teacher and Iyengar died recently at the ripe old age of 95. There was to be a gathering at the yoga centre, where she teaches, which included an opportunity to remember him and pay one's respects. I helped with the driving and went home to sit for a little with a coffee in our garden. Then the 90 minute or so drive back down to the group in Moffat. The second full group meeting of the day. Quite hard going. I'm not the facilitator of this group but I am one of the most experienced "sailors" in these waters. How much to try to steer the group "boat" in particular directions and how much to respect & go with others' contributions. Great learning. And, of course, this isn't just some cool academic exercise. I'm very much a participant in this group too. Shame, anger, hurt, sadness, of course they flow through my veins as well. Wow! Challenging, juicy stuff. And then the evening meal, talking deeply still about these struggles. Some people then dancing, or playing guitars & singing. A beautiful moonlit night. Strolling in the dark. Then a bath and to bed.
What a deeply fascinating contrast the last two days have been ... the first so "sun-filled" emotionally and the second so challenging. It's a great illustration of "emotional yoga". I'm a pretty stable kind of guy, but a few days of group work allows me to visit intense psychological territories that I otherwise don't usually experience with any frequency. See tomorrow's post for the last half-day of the group and for a review.