Category Archives: small groups

Nature and the Human soul – Middle Childhood

Just wanted to send along an invite to you to join us for our Spiritual Integration conversations on Tuesday nights at myc yoga in downtown Bend. We meet at 7:15.

Also, join us on the podcast or catch up on what you have missed.

Bill Plotkin’s book, Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World is a world-changer. We are working our way through it every week through April and would love to have you as part of the conversation.

Here’s last week’s conversation:

Nature and the Human Soul Dialog – Chapter 5

And the notes:

2010-02-09 – Chapter 5 outline


Keeping the garden of community

There’s something about building community and organizations that gets very challenging for us radical and imaginative visionaries… that being tendency to dream more than grow. We plant and plant and plant… a seed here, a row there. Then we get thinking about what seeds we might plant next. Sometimes we plant them and sometimes we don’t. Then we get thinking about the amazing tree that we might grow in our garden. We look up at the clouds imagining how wonderful it will be to see the sky through thick green branches. While we are looking up at the sky we forget about the things we have planted already… we might even step on a few of our new, potentially beautiful trees and flowers. In our effort to plant more, we forget to fertilize and water what we’ve already planted. Our plants grow small if they grow at all.

desert plant

This, my visionary friends, is not wise gardening. I would think that planting some things that will last year after year with very little upkeep would be the way to go. Once they are well established, we have a foundation from which to work from. But we have to take care of them first. Plants, and communities, are fragile in the beginning.

We so often travel away from our garden… to get fresh ideas, to see other people’s gardens that they are building, to dream and fuel our imagination. But too much time away gets us thinking about the things we don’t have yet. It’s like window shopping for things that you might possibly “need.” We don’t have a list of what we need because we have everything we need, but going out to check out everyone else’s stuff, makes us come up with a list of all kinds of things that we want and “need.” Wouldn’t it be better to study long and hard the few things that we are growing now, so that we can do them well? Wouldn’t it makes sense to talk to those who have done before what we want to do now, so that we don’t make the easy mistakes? Is it really helpful to go out looking for more wild ideas when every time we return, half of our plants have died from neglect?

Another tricky thing about growing community is that we are fed and encouraged very healthily by other visionaries and radical thinkers. Many of those we come across are “doing it.” They have their system figured out. What they touch turns to gold. We want to learn from them, but we also want to be on the same page as them. We want to match their ideas and innovation so that we don’t look bad or inferior. We lose our groundedness in this, though, as we are dishonest (mostly with ourselves) in regards to what our garden needs. If we are growing something and it needs to be watered and taken care of, we had better learn how to prioritize our time and when it is the right time to start something new.

Get your hands dirty, folks. Get down there at the ground level and spend some time there. Get to know your plants and what they need, or you are never going to be able to get the next thing going either.

Show up and “show home”

One of the biggest lessons I have learned about community is showing up.

Real. Ready. Raw. Authentic. Present and accounted for.b6464860

It’s so hard sometimes… and I recognize the difficulty many have with showing up. It most often comes back to trust. When we have risked and been hurt, risked and been hurt, it gets harder and harder for us to come back. This is why, for many people, church is the last place they want to show up to. It’s just too foreign. It’s not normal. But then again, neither is a yoga studio (and many don’t come because they “aren’t flexible”… I guess you have a bit more freedom with the latter, though, to be who you are. We all have one thing in common… our breath.

It amazes me virtually every time, this showing up… especially the times when I most don’t want to be there. I make up excuses in my head… reasons for closing off the community… preconceived ideas of how people are going to act towards me. It’s like pulling teeth to get myself out of bed, or out the door. But when I come, when I do arrive… so often I am completely surprised by those I come into contact with. As Kat says, “well, I guess you can throw your theory [about what was going to happen] out the window!”

How do we get people to show up, then? How do we create a space where people know that even if they don’t want to be there, it is better for them to be with the group than to not be with the group? My thinking is that it has to do with the group and the atmosphere that the leadership (however defined or undefined that leadership is).

I wrote about the Trust Factor a while back… and I think it really has to do with building this from the beginning. See, a group must have in running through their blood that it is ok for people to be exactly how they are. In fact, this is how we must want people. What has happened to someone in the last week, day, or even hour before arrival colors their entire experience. This is far more important than where we think they should be and if we don’t seek to understand where others are at, we are setting up our communities to hurt people from the beginning.

The other thing, I have found to be very well received, is to walk with people through the layers. Often I hear people say that they it is hard for them to engage in community because they don’t open up readily or trust easily. My response, and it often is in invitation to our Spiritual Integration classes, is to say that we walk there together. We take the layers off, starting with a simple telling of our story and working into processing that together. Whether we easily open, or fearfully close… we want a beginner’s mind that builds from where the most significant need is.

Our communities should feel like home… for whoever comes in our “doors,” first time or long time. Our showing up, present and authentic, is invitation for others to feel that “home” as well. Show them home… bring it with you… this is how we show up and how we create communities that are transformational.

The Material is Just Another Tool

I’ve really lost my appreciation for curriculum… or maybe I never really was a big fan anyway. I think there was something always that didn’t quite fit when I heard that word or when I was told about the latest and greatest new material. Being educated in youth ministry and getting a masters, I heard the word “curriculum” pretty frequently. In the church, I heard it even more. People are always looking for an easy way to get information out there to small groups, big groups, or individuals. And that’s really what curriculum is all about, what material of study for a group is so often about… getting out information.

Do you want to build authentic and transformative community? Do you want to help people do the self work so that they can begin to pay attention to God’s movement in their lives? Do you want to help people learn how to actually talk to each other and even learn from each other? Time to change the way that we look at the material that we use. If our interest is on personal growth and soul formation, THIS must be our main focus, not the material we use.

In the church context, we are so often concerned with getting the “right” information out about how we should be understanding scripture. Granted, this is helpful and appropriate, but do we want Bible scholars or Christ-followers? What did Jesus want? Time to start seeing scripture as one of the means of getting us to the soul work. How do we respond to this text? What is our reaction, positive or negative? What are our questions and resistances? What is God doing in us or teaching us through this? Let’s work with that! Use the text to get there.

I don’t care if the material you are using is sacred texts, a workbook, a novel, a movie clip, a poem, or a YouTube video… if you are interested in helping people grow and figure out God’s movement in their life, you’ve got to see this material as a tool to get to the personal story that we bring with us. The focus is the community, not the information. If someone can tell me how we can do community soul building through sermons, I’d be very interested to know how…

The gift of silence in community

It is the silence that makes our words (sounds) mean something. When the words we offer come out of the deep silence of our listening, it is here that we can be assured that we are offering something and not just spouting out noises to fulfill our own needs or insecurities. How often do we really get the chance to intentionally sit in silence as a community? Very rarely, I would imagine.

Parker J. Palmer writes in his book, A Hidden Wholeness, in regards to creating what he calls “circles of trust”:

By creating moments of intentional silence, we smooth the way for spontaneous silence in a culture where the cessation of sound is taken as a sign that something has gone terribly wrong.

Because many people get rather uncomfortable in silence, I always invite them into silence after I set our intention of safe space, our desire to learn from each other, and give them an overview of what is coming up. Often, I begin our time together with silence as a chance to gather ourselves here, sitting with our intentions and our desires to be present. I invite the group to offer their gratitude in the silent space to each other and also to God (the Divine, the Source, etc) for the chance to be together. Here we root ourselves, not in our desire to be heard and fulfill our own needs, but to be here for each other. The silence is the buffer between what we brought with us and our movement forward together.

Coming out of the silence for me, is often difficult. As I noted in the previous post, a facilitator has to pay such strong attention to transitions. I don’t want us to simply jump from silence into “business.” In Christian circles, it is easy for me, as I simply offer a short prayer. I did this for years, and then when we started with Spiritual Integration at myc yoga, I wasn’t sure how to come out of the silence. Cross-spiritual groups are a bit trickier. Often, I will use a quote or say something about silence and the gift we offer as we intentionally engage in this as community. As I will say often, the material is only a tool. My interest is primarily on what goes on within each person in the room.

As strange as it may sound, my hope is that even as we gather in community to talk, share, laugh, cry, we might support each other in our ability to be silent, alone, and listening. This is an incredible gift we give the world. The Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu says it like this:

The purpose of a fish trap is to catch fish and when the fish are caught, the trap is forgotten. The purpose of a rabbit snare is to catch rabbits. When the rabbits are caught, the snare is forgotten. the purpose of the word is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words? He is the one I would like to talk to.