Support Groups — ALL are Teachers, ALL are Students

Coffee Time Part 2 – Sunday 12/2/12

Pat: This afternoon I have our small AIP group phone call. I have some concerns with how it will go, but I realize this group is an important part of my life.  Gary: Yes, groups are an interesting phenomenon, and they have always been an important part of my life for whatever reason. Ever since my college days I’ve been a participant in bible class groups. Since my early thirties I was often involved in several bible classes at a time – usually morning groups – a weekly one with my brother and his pastor and men from his church, another weekly one that I helped to form and lead at SDRC where I worked, and finally the regular Sunday morning bible class at my church, which I sometimes led during my 30+ final years with this Lutheran church. I always preferred discussion to presentation. Where were the students in their lives, how did we experience life and how did each of us apply in our daily living whatever wisdom the bible contained? All of us are smarter than any one of us, as my brother’s favorite poster said (a quote from Parker Palmer it turns out).

Then my wife and I were part of a Marriage Encounter “Love Circle” that met biweekly for fifteen years. Perhaps the most intentional group I helped to formed happened when I turned fifty.  I told a Catholic Sister friend of mine, a spiritual director (though as a Lutheran I did not know what that meant), that I was struggling with my life and looking for a “Twelve-Step-Program with a Non-named Malady.” That seems pretty accurate, precocious actually, looking back on it. I wanted a group that had the open honesty that I supposed AA and other 12-Step programs had, but since I was not aware of being an alcoholic or addicted to other things (other than the rewarded addiction: work) I did not see myself joining a formal 12-Step Program. She smiled and said that she did not know of such a group but would help me start one. And so in November 1992 four of us gathered in what would be a monthly spiritual support group. It was rich and lasted five years.

After this group disbanded I decided to find another. I knew of Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Bethesda Maryland and their work with spiritual direction and group work. I contacted them and they gave me three names of people in Cincinnati who had graduated from Shalem’s Spiritual Direction program.  Not recognizing any of the names I chose the name of the person who lived closest to me – seemed as good a criterion as any. The name I chose turned out to be Steve Grieser, a pastor of a nearby Lutheran church no less! His was not a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, however, and I could relate to him very well. He was interested in helping me start a group that met at his church, and we used some of the formats of Shalem’s work on Group Spiritual Direction developed by their Rose Mary Dougherty, SSND. She offered both a book and a video on group spiritual direction and I related well to both. But again, after several years, these groups waned.

For some time I was part of a men’s group led by a psychological counselor, but it did not work as well for me as the spiritual groups.  I joined a spiritual writing group over a dozen years ago. We still exist and are currently seven people strong and meet 8 to 10 times per year. For several years I was also part of a Ken Wilber group that met in my Tourmaline Life Center. Pat’s and my massage practice (Stillpoint Center) formed a group of massage therapists that met monthly. For the past several years Pat and I have been part of Faye Schwelitz’ Journal-Writing group that offers both semiannual 5-day retreats and monthly half-day writing groups developed from the work of Ira Progoff.

And then there has been Pathwork. Over the past twelve years I have been part of so many Pathwork groups: My five-year Pathwork Transformation Program class, my Teacher and Helper Training Class, and the local Cincinnati Pathwork group that met weekly for several years, reading the Pathwork lectures each week (reading them in order, one per week, we got to 130 or so). These weekly Pathwork gatherings in Cincinnati were augmented with a monthly Pathwork process group that met when Pathwork Helper Keith came to town.  All very rich bonding. Finally I can’t skip over the new Pathwork Graduate Program Group that Erena is leading at Sevenoaks. I really feel bonded to Erena and to the group of 16 or more that make up this class.

Because I seem to be more of a one-to-one person than a big-group type, there have been numerous meaningful dyads and triads in my life – all of which I consider group work. Of course central to this is you, Pat, in our long morning coffee times and in our intimate coupled life together. Others that fit this dyad/triad format include: my weekly coffee times with my brother Paul, my biweekly 90-minute phone calls with Pathwork buddy Jenny, my much less frequent but meaningful engagements with each of my three kids, a Pathwork threesome including Jenny and Mary and me, and numerous other friends, both inside and outside my Pathwork community. Even my helper session work with workers and business coaching and mentoring work would fit this dyadic model of relating. And key are my bi-weekly sessions with my own Pathwork Helper Moira and Body-work therapist Ed and your and my bi-weekly couple’s sessions with Sage and Anthony.

That’s a lot of time with others in the interest of personal growth, and all of it meaningful. Then there are the various committees on which I serve, mostly in Pathwork: The Pathwork Counsel, the Board, the Finance Committee, and the Executive Committee. This is all good to see – so many people in my life!

Pat: And I notice for me a pulling back from groups this year. I have backed away from three or four of the groups I was in last year, some of which I had been in for many years, one over a decade. But, regarding all these groups, we ask, “What best supports our growth?Are we manifesting what is needed for our transformation of consciousness.  Gary: So you are focusing on your small AIP group that has its monthly phone call this afternoon. Pat: Yes, but what about right NOW: you and I – what best supports our lives. To see through that lens: What supports the deepening of our awareness and consciousness?  My teacher said recently, “Pat, you and Gary can teach other couples.” To which I said YIKES! It is enough to work on ourselves in and through our relationship let alone teach!

Gary: But remember the story of the Mulla in the Ken McLeod book (Part 1 – open) – WE are not teaching others while they are “merely” students. In spiritual support groups ALL of us are teachers AND ALL of us are students, and we play these respective roles in a flowing give-and-take way in the dynamics of a living support group. This is a new model for spiritual growth within a group, where each person comes into a deeper awareness and consciousness in the presence of peers.

Pat: I really have an affinity for Gandhi’s “We are the message.” Our lives individually teach, and our life together, you and I in relationship, teaches. What we are creating is a marriage we didn’t have, a marriage that is a True, dynamic, loving, living relationship. THIS is why we – you and I – are here on planet earth. Holy Smokes! And Mission Impossible! So what best supports us in this impossible mission? Gary: It begins with how each of us lives our respective lives within our relationship. And our lives and our relationship – warts and all – teach, that is, how we live in relationship IS the MESSAGE we are offering.

Perhaps some of this sharing happens through these blogs. May it be so. There may be more ways our message gets out when we are with others, and let’s pray that this is so also. May we be open, however, to Spirit and to any Call that may come our way for how we can better be the message of transformation. But I agree, “You and I as a couple, teaching other couples – yes: YIKES!”  But may we be open if this is asked of us in some way!

Epilog: If all of this discussion on relationship and marriage interests you, I recommend Pathwork Lecture 251 The Evolution and Spiritual Meaning of Marriage — New Age Marriage

Shared in love, Gary