My Community: A Rich Group of Groups
The following was written for a writing group to which I belong. The subject we were assigned was the role of groups in our life. Double click on any photo to enlarge. I was amazed at just how important groups have been and continue to be…
No doubt about it, I love groups. If groups don’t exist, I create them. But I am quite focused here: apart from family, all of the groups that have mattered to me have been spiritually-oriented deep-sharing groups. Let me look only at my most recent 40 years – the period the period of time since my parents died — that is, since 1972, the year I turned 30. And let me skip Sunday morning bible classes and other growth-oriented training programs like Pathwork (or maybe not skip Pathwork, since this Pathwork Program at Sevenoaks has been a group-assisted personal spiritual-development process, and while in this Pathwork program I have met in committed groups probably for over 200 DAYS over the past 13 years). But in this writing let me look at the groups that seemed to evolve around just wanting to get together and share life deeply.
In my thirties and forties, my church years, besides church bible-study classes, there would be outside weekly bible-study groups. One of these consisted of 8 or so men from my brother’s church who met every Wednesday morning at a local restaurant. Another consisted of fellow workers at my place of employment, a “donut and coffee” bible-study group that I helped start. There was also a group of men from my own Lutheran church who met every week for breakfast. I helped to start this group as a support group for a serious problem we faced at our church, but once the problem subsided the group continued. Each of these groups lasted a decade or so. Then there was my ex-wife Jane’s and my Marriage Encounter Love Circle – a group of six couples who met bi-weekly – for fifteen years. In all, this was a lot of valuable spiritual support coming from informal groups during my church years between ages 30 and 50.
But then an entirely new set of groups emerged after I left the Lutheran Church. This began with a 4-person spiritual group that I helped to create when I turned 50. The idea began when I asked a Catholic nun I met whether or not she knew of a group I could join that would be what I called “A 12-step group with a non-named malady.” Looking back, this description seems precocious based upon the relatively young age of my newly emerging spirituality that was growing outside of the formality of the Lutheran Church and not based exclusively on bible study. As I was leaving the Lutheran Church I longed for a group where I could be me and could share openly and honestly with fellow spiritual seekers – and not bound by the all-too-familiar “right answers” of church dogma and the bible. I was driven to individuate from my Lutheran roots. I’m not sure why I was drawn to the 12-step model or how I even knew about 12-step programs, but for whatever reason, this was my request. The nun, though well connected, did not know of such a group but agreed to help me start one. Four of us – the nun and I, plus another nun and a Catholic business man – began meeting monthly. The group went on for five years. This experience took my group spiritual support experience in a new, refreshing, and opening direction.
Later, after this first group ended (we were each going in a different direction it seemed after five years of being together – a difference it is important for groups recognize) I heard of Group Spiritual Direction, a program developed by Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation located in Bethesda, Maryland. I inquired of Shelem whether or not they had such spiritual direction groups in Cincinnati. They did not know of any, but had three graduates of their spiritual director program living in Cincinnati whom I could contact. Not knowing any of the three, I picked the closest: Rev. Steve Grieser. Interestingly Steve was a Lutheran pastor, but of a more liberal synod than the one I had grown up in. Steve agreed to help me start a new group-spiritual-direction group – a group that met for I would guess three years. It included people from his church, my former church, my love-circle group, and a few of my friends, as well as a nun from my original group.
Another spontaneous group emerged in 1998 and lasted just over 10 years – the Isabelle, Jean, and Gary group. There was no format, just rich sharing every four weeks or so. Isabelle asked Jean and me to try out a writing group she was forming. It had a few false starts but settled down into a spiritually-oriented writing group – a group where each of us would write a page or two on the assigned topic and then share it with the group. This was in 2000, and the group is now seven strong, including four of us who have been with the group from the beginning.
The next major group was a Cincinnati Pathwork group. This informal group came together when I was 50 and met every week or so from September 2002 until September 2006 – perhaps 150 times in all. I would guess that four of us were regulars, but perhaps 8 or so participated over the four years of its existence. It was self-directed. The format was simple – an opening attunement bringing us to presence, then taking turns reading through one of the 258 Pathwork Lectures, stopping for discussion and sharing as we went along, and then a closing/blessing. What I enjoyed in this group was that it was focused on Pathwork as a central theme, the spiritual path I was then on and to which I was increasingly committed. Today my largest Pathwork community is the Graduate Program led by Erena Bramos at Sevenoaks.
And there have been other groups along the way since 2000 – the Cincinnati/Dayton Ken Wilber group met for five years or so every other week and was a diverse group of us seeking deeper levels of consciousness and growth. We delighted in each other’s wisdom and life-experiences. One or two people would take responsibility for leading us in a topic of his or her interest. Discussions were always lively, representing a diverse range of explorations. There was also a psychotherapeutic men’s group of which I was a member for 3 years. These were the groups of my fifties and early sixties.
In our mid-to late sixties Pat and I also participated in a Progoffian-based journal writing group for 3 or 4 years. This was led by Faye Schwelitz. Faye would offer semi-annual one-week journaling workshops. In between we would have monthly half-day gatherings of smaller groups.
And for one year we participated in a Imago Couple’s Group led by Linda Marshall — six couples in all.
Today what I see as my core spiritual support are smaller groups of two or three people each. Most central of these is my Pat-Gary group, which meets nearly every morning of the week for 30 minutes to as long as three hours. These coffee-times are very rich exchanges covering every dimension of our lives – spiritual, emotional, physical, sexual, and intellectual. This dyad is supported by biweekly Skype couples counseling sessions and an annual 12-hour couple counseling intensive. This intensive consists of our two counselors and the two of us, an energy field of four, and is spread over a 2½-day period.
Then there is my weekly coffee with my younger brother, Paul, again focused on the spiritual and emotional dimensions of life, sharing how our lives have evolved and are evolving. Because we go back to the beginning of our respective lives on earth, this is a rich context in which to explore life.
Also, I have a Pathwork buddy – Jenny. Jenny and I have bi-weekly 90-minute phone conversations. These are totally focused on our spiritual lives in the framework of Pathwork. Three years ago Jenny and I added a third person to our dyad – Mary. Among the three of us I have the least Pathwork experience with only 13 years. So the depth of Pathwork represented in our 3-person group is likely 60 years or more. While Mary is not involved in Jenny’s and my biweekly calls, the three of us have what has turned out to be 3-day intensives 2 or 3 times per year. The format of these intensives is simply presence with each other throughout our time together — whether we are fixing a meal, going to the store, going out for dinner, hiking in Nature, or intensely diving into our respective life journeys. At first we thought we needed an agenda, maybe a Pathwork lecture to focus our work; however, any structure seems like it would lessen the richness of the group experience. We rejoice in our good fortune in having found each other.
To this framework of groups, Pat and I meet with a number of people in threesomes or foursomes. These small-group sharing our respective journeys are often over a meal or simply over a glass of wine. And sometimes instead of three of us, either Pat or I join another person interested in things spiritual for a one-on-one time of spiritual life sharing. Pat and I feel very blessed to have each other plus so many other intimate friends in our circle of sharing.
While we have spoken here of our groups as related to our spiritual journeys, Pat and I also have a rich family life. My ex-wife Jane graciously invites Pat and me over for an annual family Christmas gathering – including our three children, their spouses or significant others, and our 8 grandchildren. We are also actively involved with Pat’s son, wife, and grandson. We gather fairly regularly with our kids and grandkids, and this adds an entirely different dimension to our “groups,” very rich in another way.
Pat and I do not have a church home. We wonder about this, but in the end do not see the need for it. We have also talked about having a small group meet at our home on a weekly or biweekly basis, but somehow that does not feel quite right either. So for now our main groups will consist of two or three spiritually-oriented folks diving deeply and regularly into the matters of life. If something different arises we shall certainly explore other formats, but we are more careful as to what we say “Yes” to since our “group of groups” plate – 10 or so clusters of 2 and 3 grapes each, and of course our cluster of 7 in my writing group or the graduate Pathwork program I attend 3 or 4 times per year – is very full, overflowing even, for a couple of retired folks.
Shared in love, Gary