Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Group Dynamic

Over the years I've grown more and more and more to appreciate the power of a group of human beings sitting together in a circle to exchange experiences, thoughts, and feelings. The men's work in which I have been involved since the early 1990s gave me the first glimpse of this power; in a very different way, our small sangha, or meditation sitting group in Laguna Beach, has served to reinforce my sense of the value of the group dynamic. The "therapy group" is but a new manifestation of a very ancient ritual, practiced as a matter of course--a matter of necessity--by our tribal forebears. In a circle of this kind, it's as though each member shares in the energy and the wisdom generated by the whole, a way of actually experiencing oneness in the day-to-day separation that distinguishes our lives.

These thoughts after a wonderful session last night, in which Ellie and I brought together both of our monthly artists' groups for a summer celebration. It was the first time several of them had met. All the more amazing, then, that a sense of intimacy was so quickly established. We ate, we drank wine, we sat and talked, we looked at artworks that each individual had brought, and talked about them. It is soon apparent, in a group of this kind, if any participant is less than fully authentic, fully engaged in their own work and the work of others. In art schools, such sessions are usually called "critiques." Ours, I think, are no less rigorous in their own way, but kinder, more supportive, because they come from a place of a shared intimacy and a fuller understanding of each other's individual humanity.

It was a good evening, then, and one that left us all with that feeling of inner satisfaction for having experienced that contact. That's how I saw it. How I felt it. From what I heard from participants as they lingered on and finally made their way home, I trust that others did, too.

(A thrilling finish to yesterday's Tour, by the way. I had recorded the broadcast, and watched the last few minutes of the race before going to bed. A breakaway of four riders had held off the peloton for two hundred miles, and it seemed until the last minute within their reach to cross the finish line before being overwhelmed. After all their work, they certainly deserved it. Alas, within just the last few hundred yards, the horde bore down on them, and the Swiss yellow jersey wearer, Fabian Cancellara--the overall winner of the race--made a canny last-minute move to streak out in front and steal the stage victory to secure his lead.)

1 comment:

Themindtaker said...

I used to reject the idea of group meditation, maintaining the idea that a personal intimate experience was possible only through meditating alone. As I stated attending group meditative practices in college (student groups as well as the Kansas Zen Center) I realized there was a whole part of the experience I had been missing.

Learning to clear my mind in the presence of others has greatly improved my ability to do so in private as well. I don't think group meditation is a replacement for individual meditation, but together they can be a very positive force.

I had the pleasure of filming a lecture by Tibetan monk Mingyar Rinpoche a few months ago at KU and he spoke about being hooked up to a machine that measured his brainwaves when he meditated, and I believe he said they were stronger when measured during group meditation.

After all: "One day Ananda, who had been thinking deeply about things for a while, turned to the Buddha and exclaimed:
"Lord, I've been thinking- spiritual friendship is at least half of the spiritual life!"
The Buddha replied: "Say not so, Ananda, say not so. Spiritual friendship is the whole of the spiritual life!"
--Verse 2 of the Samyutta Nikaya