**These are skills and aspirations, not rules. The fact that we are here is a strong indicator that we are probably not already great at these things. The books/videos/material are part of the group, but part of the group is failing each other – hopefully infrequently – and experimenting with how to address those hurts and let-downs with compassion and goodwill from both sides.
**Two huge challenges exist simultaneously: 1 – the way the group interacts (empathy and self-control), and 2 – the work the individuals do in the space that is held for them (self-exploration and curiosity). Consider that your gender, titles, and the roles you play in the rest of your life provide you with a unique set of challenges in participating in this age-old concept of “alone, together”. As one example, people who have accepted the role of “fixer” or “provider” or “leader” may tend to have a quicker advice trigger than those with a more relational set of responsibilities (CEO’s could be on one end of the spectrum and hostage negotiators on the other), whereas people who are great connectors or nurturers might have a stronger compulsion to soothe another’s discomfort. Advice and soothing, while great qualities in other contexts, are both antithetical to our aspirations within the short confines of this group.
The Group Humbly Aspires Toward…
- AUTONOMY / SAFETY
- We do not leak anything shared in group (except credible & imminent plans of physical harm). **This is the single greatest requirement. This is the basis for trust. Nothing gets shared. Even attendance remains vague. If you feel compelled to, you can tell your partner what you shared, but not what anyone else in the group said or how they reacted.
- We do not privately address our concerns about another person’s story. ** “Hey, I wanted to talk to you about something you said in group…” Assume that if they shared it in the autonomous group, they desire (and deserve) to retain their autonomy about it. It was your privilege to see that part of them. They didn’t have to share it.
- The group has no “leader”. Goals are discovered from the inside, not assigned from the outside. **None of our meetings has a goal to reach or moral to learn. As long as we stay in our roles, every tangent will be more likely to be productive than whatever was on the agenda. And if someone’s major takeaway is “I should try slamming my hand in the car door,” that, too, will be a valuable experiment.
- We allow current, active, “bad” choices, not just stories of messiness in the past. **Each member is welcomed based on their value as a person, which is not affected by their stupid choices. We express incomplete, untested, internal dialogues without getting unsolicited feedback, verbal or non-verbal. When you hear someone else’s “idiotic” choices or thoughts, take the opportunity as an internal challenge: are you able to see the world through their eyes so completely that their idiocy makes sense? Because it does to them.
- We do not intervene, positively or negatively after a statement or confession. **Just as much as we don’t want to shame out-group decisions, we also don’t want a positive feedback loop for in-group decisions. Unconditional positive regard is awarded for presence and participation, not for content or virtue. We affirm the act of honest exploration, not the conclusions nor the lessons learned. Even mirroring the speaker’s own laughter, for example, could promote a subconscious tendency for the speaker to perform. But this is their space to present themselves to themselves more than a chance to compel an audience or conscript allies to win an internal argument.
- We focus on “I” and avoid saying “you”, or inviting a response from the group. **This is also a personal aspiration, but it goes in the group safety category because if you find yourself saying, “…kind of like what you said…”, you’re likely using someone else’s vulnerable expression as a validation or connection to your own. This can be helpful in normal conversation, but for what we’re doing here, this can be an unnecessary substantiation, and also a repurposing of another’s story. Demanding of yourself that your story stands on its own allows others’ stories to stand on their own as well.
- We privately note new revelations based on others’ sharing time and abstain from exploring those revelations publicly. **Someone else shares their thoughts and it sparks in you a personal revelation – exactly the kind of thing you were hoping to get out of this group! You’ve instantly grown as a person from this divine insight! And, being excited, gracious and grateful, you start by saying something like, “You know what I just learned/thought/realized from listening to you talk…” Whatever follows is dangerously likely to diminish or detract from what the other person said. It might feel to you like an extension and affirmation of what they expressed. But they may not see it that way, and it’s a violation of their space for someone to take their vulnerable expression and use it publicly as a springboard for their own ideas. If it’s truly a life-changing personal revelation, explore it quietly or write it down to explore later so you can stay present in the moment. But if you’re compelled to publicly piggy-back on their idea, you might just be eager to look smart in front of the group, or you might be finding it difficult to sit with others from their perspective without bouncing back into your own perspective, or some other selfish compulsion to share. Whether it’s an insight or a trigger, what you’ve realized is important to explore, but maybe later and maybe by yourself.
- We learn from each other only through the unintentional collateral benefit of identifying with another’s experience; not through teaching or advising. **All the backdoor methods of advising are prohibited. Focus on yourself. If what you prepared happens to accidentally benefit someone else, great! But if you choose or shade your sharing to benefit someone else, that’s the opposite of what we’re doing here.
- We empathetically and compassionately hear each other, with active passivity. **We listen to each other with the goal of embodying the other person, not just relating to them. We internally note the urge to interject, and consciously choose to stay engaged instead of react.
- We stay in our own lane. The group manages group goals; individuals manage individual goals. **When we sense judgement, frustration or advice arising in ourselves in reaction to someone else’s story, we get more curious about what that means about us internally than what it wants to fix in the other person. Someone else’s ability to irritate you says something about you. Engage with that instead of the [perhaps very real] flaws in them.
- We fully trust others to find, hear, and translate their own Guiding Light. **Insisting that we are necessary in delivering truth to someone else is disrespectful to the other person and their higher power. If they seek, they will find, even without you.
- We do not play therapist, give advice or volunteer media recommendations. **”You know what book you should read…” Nope. They have enough ideas in their head already. They could improve themselves just with what they already know plus the lure of a holy Spirit. This is a space to nurture what is already planted, not to sow new crops. That’s a different group. (Perhaps we could add, “…unless they are requesting resources,” but the rule-bending of the overly-helpful interjects, “Would you like me to recommend a good book about that?”)
- We do not fix or resolve others’ problems. We do not silence, cover, nor alleviate each other’s pain. **We don’t deflect or break up someone else’s tension. We welcome “painful” and “awkward”, and we sit with “uncomfortable”, resisting the urge to share a remedy, a prophecy, or a witty punchline. As good friends, we should help each other out, or push each other to be better. But we are not here as good friends. This group is explicitly aimed at autonomous (though communal) self-exploration. We don’t point out a new perspective or a missed lesson any more than we would cut open a chrysalis for a butterfly or break the egg of a hatching chick. What would be kindness in another context, destroys the important work we are here to do. We may appreciate a friend who offers us conversation and chocolate cake, but perhaps not at the gym. “Thanks a lot, but now I still have to find a time and place to do the work I came here to do.” That kindness is completely appreciated, and is completely inappropriate here. Instead, humbly accept that the lesson you see that someone else should take away, may not be the lesson they actually need to learn right now. Humbly accept that your great observation about their life might never be observed. You are here to make observations about only yourself. Focus on what you’re getting from you and not what you’re gifting to others. We attend only as learners, never as teachers, even through our personal experience. The only teaching allowed is unintended collateral benefit.
- We do not ask leading, judging nor fixing questions. **Examples of what kinds of questions are, and are not allowed are in the “Dialogue” section. But the driving motive of a good question, for our purposes, is the wonder to understand. Questions can inadvertently help the speaker as well. In attempting to clarify their position, they may be forced to reconsider, or to see new connections. It is important, though, that the asker filters out a clarifying question if they feel a sense of leading within the question. Better to remain confused than to damage someone else’s ecosystem with your own opinions. We don’t offer our experience as advice (“Well, what I’ve found is…”) and we do not abuse question marks by using them to teach (“Have you ever considered trying…?“)
- ACCEPTANCE / SUPPORT **This is as challenging as it is beneficial. While you are sharing, group acceptance gives you the freedom to be yourself. As a listener, these are hard skills to develop. In most situations, when we hear things we don’t like, we react with opposition or dismissal. Here we will practice the opposite, holding our own self-identity separate from the other person. They are allowed to express beliefs that conflict with our own (or their own!) and we do not need to fix them or oppose them. We can hold our own beliefs in one part of our mind, and explore what it is like to hold the other set of beliefs, without losing our identity or waging war against the contrary beliefs.
- We fully accept each other, without requiring even partial agreement. **If even a dictator were in your group, could you strive to see the world through their eyes, even though you disagree with their conclusions? Can you only see the world through the eyes of people you already agree with? Can you listen to another’s hate for a group – perhaps your group – and hear the person beneath the hate? Many people would proudly retort, “I hope I can never see the world through the eyes of those monsters!” But a practiced empath can find the common humanity – “You” are part of “me” that I don’t know yet, as Valarie Kaur says.
- We stay physically and mentally present with each speaker, not engaging in side conversations, cracking jokes, or otherwise drawing attention from the speaker, except to discretely recuse ourselves if the topic is personally inflammatory. **Each person deserves the honor of unbroken attention, which requires the voluntary self-sacrifice of all other members simultaneously. Drawing attention to yourself not only disrespects the speaker, but the rest of the members who were exercising restraint.
- We do not take the power of choice from someone else. **”You should…” is a temptation that many people cannot resist. Try not to tempt other participants. When we purposely or inadvertently pressure someone else into making the choice we would pick for them, we may help them avoid a negative outcome, but at the price of at least part of their dignity and the weight of their responsibility. They must choose their own goals. Overweight, depressed, alcoholic smokers recovering from chemo in the middle of a divorce will have to prioritize, and no two of them will prioritize the same. Likewise, the person who chooses to address the clutter in their home before curbing their porn-addiction is still working to better themselves. You don’t know what their heart needs. Perhaps, neither do they, but that’s their responsibility. Maybe their clutter is what actually drives their addiction. Or maybe you’re right and they’re just avoiding working on the “real” problems. But that, too, will be a valuable lesson for them.
- We do not allow indiscretions to disqualify anyone from having an opinion, goal or dream. **As a listener, this is another test of your emotional and mental flexibility. Can you be excited for the wins of a person you disagree with? Can you hear wisdom in the story of someone who messes up? Imagine the person you respect the least, giving the best advice you know. If that was the first time you heard that advice, would you miss the message because of the messenger? Do you tune out the people you disagree with, or can you, as the 12-steppers say, “take the best and leave the rest”?
- We prioritize attendance for all the meetings of a session. If I miss 3 meetings of a session, I will yield my seat to the wait list, or communicate my level of commitment in the current session. **Because we keep our group size between 3 and 7, one or two absences significantly alters the group dynamic. Also, you likely have the strong feeling that if you showed up for someone else, they should show up for you, and vice versa. Maybe what you have to say this week is something you care very much about or you are very much afraid you will be rejected for. If someone else don’t show up, they have robbed you of the greatest need you had that week: being seen by others, and still accepted. Also, only half the of the growth is individual. The group grows together too. When a member is absent, the group has the dynamic of, “Oh, yeah – you weren’t here when we all discussed that together.” Then we have to either take everyone’s time to catch them up or just leave them in the dark. So, please look ahead at your schedule and verify that this is a commitment you can and will make. Saying yes to this means saying no to other things. NOTE: If you are attending remotely, please respect our privacy by taking the necessary precautions to be sure it is impossible for anyone to inadvertently hear even a part of what is shared in the group.
- If I will be late or absent, I will let the group know ahead of time.
- For the integrity of the group, we say, “I’d like to gently redirect,” when we feel the group aspirations are not met, and we welcome redirection with statements like, “Sure” or “Thanks” without objections like, “That’s not what I meant”. **Everyone must take responsibility for maintaining the integrity of the group. No one person should be the group referee. This will take practice, both to address it quickly and compassionately, and also not to react defensively. There are too many aspirational skills here to remember all at once, so be compassionate with yourself and others as you practice, and mess up, together.
- CURIOSITY / WONDER
- We collide with transformative content. **We are here to explore our hearts, and be with others as they do the same. So we must try to choose materials that are likely to take us to that doorstep, not just any “good” book or movie. Some weeks or seasons, life bring us so much transformative challenge and content that the group materials are more than we can handle. Digesting the group content is transformative and unifying, but not a prerequisite for doing the work of the space, which is honest self-exploration.
- We do not invalidate important, current negative feelings by prophesying future outcomes. **This is almost always done with good intentions. This almost always serves the prophet more than the recipient. We see others in discomfort, and because we love them, it hurts us. This is the cost of being with someone in their pain, until they are ready to move forward. Even a kind sentiment like, “It’s going to be okay,” can be counterproductive in the middle of grief. Pixar nailed this in the Bing Bong Sadness scene. More examples of what to say and what not to say in the “Dialogue” section.
- We only end meetings with reflection and intention-setting, not conclusions or controlled outcomes. **Avoid the compulsion to have had a “good” group or a feeling of finality. No ending prayer or concluding moral. Just, “Thank you all for sharing.” It is entirely possible to leave a pointless meeting with a positive energy, or to leave a valuable session absolutely gutted.
- We don’t break valuable, uncomfortable silence with a trite filler or reactionary answer. **Too often, questions get answers, even when no one really knows the answer. If it’s a question about motives or feelings, the answer you would immediately give – and believe – may not be the real answer. We too easily deceive ourselves and too readily accept our own thoughts. You don’t have to believe everything you think, and you don’t have to have an opinion about the thing in front of you. The awkwardness of the silence reveals a lesson to be learned too. Every negative feeling that arises is an opportunity for experimentation and discovery.
- We value experimentation over perfection. **”Maybe I don’t think that,” is a courageous statement. Likewise, “I am willing to act as if that is true,” and “I don’t know if I’m right,” are more honorable than the actions of those who have neither risked nor failed.
Individuals Courageously Aspire Toward…
- SELF-EXPLORATION, CURIOSITY, AND INTEGRATION
- I will focus on what happens inside myself, not outside myself. I discuss only what I can control: my heart, my thoughts, my motives, my choices; not my partner’s, my kid’s, my co-workers’, etc. **This can be a tricky line to walk. Everyone’s journey includes other people. But this is part of the point of releasing the daily stresses while doing heart work: we’re not here to share our daily journey. Your fight with your unreasonable partner today isn’t really what you’re here to address. It’s deeper than that. Or maybe unrelated to that. Instead of focusing on the details or stimuli in your life, aspire to focus on the decisions and reactions you have to the stimuli.
- I will not necessarily fix my problems or go home resolved. I am here in process, and, at best, I only leave with a new hypothesis to test. Sometimes, not even that. **None of us have answers. Some of us are still just working on developing good questions. After you test your hypothesis enough, next week, or next month, or next year, you will have more information and can change your answer or your question.
- I will focus on “I” and avoid saying “you”, “we”, “us”, or requests for agreement like, “…right?” or “…you know?” **It may be helpful to imagine you’re speaking to yourself, alone. This is not a place you will be judged for your mistakes, but it’s also not a place to gain supporters of your decisions or worldview. You are not here to perform, convince an audience, or make an argument. You are here to recognize and label your own reactions to the stimuli of your life. We do not affirm the content of your exploration, just the effort, courage, and dignity of honesty. And statements like, “I’m sure we all agree that…” or “As men, we all…” deflect the responsibility for the idea. No – we don’t all agree. But we don’t have to. Do not try to harmonize with others’ ideas, nor convince them of yours. Risk being you.
- I will not prophesy my future outcomes, nor silence, cover, alleviate or stifle my important, current negative feelings. **All bad feelings need to simmer. Some longer than others. They are all there to do a job. Our aim is not to sweep them away, but to ask them what work they are there to do. Phrases like, “...but I’m sure it’s going to be fine,” may indicate a dismissal of emotions that should instead be explored. Feelings need to felt, not fixed. “The more pain one feels, the less pain one suffers.” – Arthur Janov
- I will resist the urge to over-spiritualize, over-diagnose, or otherwise focus on one aspect of self (spirit, soul, body, emotions, etc.) to the detriment of the others. **Christians tend to want to pray away their problems. Health gurus have a stretch, supplement or exercise to answer every pain. Chiropractors can find a subluxation for every situation. We all have our go-to answers. In this space, test the hypothesis that Jesus is not the answer this time. Try on the idea that this one is perhaps diet or exercise or self-care or biochemical or childhood trauma or hormonal, or whatever is outside your area of comfort. …or – as is probably the case – it’s a combination of all of these. How many different domains could possibly affect this issue and how could you approach this issue from as many domains as possible, all at once? Or test one at a time?
- I will not expect to get more out of the group than I have put into it. **Colliding with this week’s material is individual, internal, patient work. If you don’t do the homework, there is no penalty and no need to pretend. But we are all working hard to searching our hearts for a response, so please respect this sacred space by avoiding phony “insights” or any façade of perfection. Please do attend! Your presence, respect, and empathy are still huge contributions. And you will still have a turn to explore, but unlike school and unlike your work meeting and unlike your Bible study, there are no bonus points for pulling something profound out of your butt. You belong and are accepted equally, whether or not you speak. We do not need you to share. We’re not here to learn from you, only to give you space to learn from yourself. Participate accordingly.
- I am here to identify and pursue the passions and dreams which resonate with the healthiest parts of my soul. **Goals should be highly individualized, and “health” should be defined by the speaker, not the group. We all benefit from those throughout history who have persisted in pursuing goals that were, at the time, belittled, condemned, and punished.
- I am here to risk failure bravely and embrace the opportunity to learn. **Inaction feels safe. We are rarely blamed for what we did not do. All action carries the risk of responsibility for the negative consequences. Here, we try not to be reckless, but we also see “failure” as inevitable in the pursuit of noble goals, and an important teacher. One of the bravest, most beautiful things a human can honestly say is, “I was doing my best, and I’m so sorry I failed you.” Those who don’t try will never have that opportunity.
- I am here to reduce harm to myself and others by identifying and working toward elimination of my destructive motivations, habits, and behaviors. **These must also be self-identified. Sometimes these are the things we feel shame about, but just as frequently, these are the characteristics we are proud of. Our identity can be wrapped up in “productivity” that is actually workaholic self-protection. Our self worth can be tied up in “authenticity” that is actually experienced by our family as hurtful criticism. Look into your “strengths” as well as your “weaknesses” for the truth of your effect on yourself and your world.
- BOUNDARIES & RESPECT **Whatever your goals are here, they are likely rooted in becoming a more self-aware and intentional person, which requires you hold a space for you; autonomous, unique, and responsible for you. The rest of us can help to create a safe environment by working to keep each other from invading your space, but it is still up to you to bring yourself, own who you are, and make your own decisions about how you want to aim your intentions and efforts.
- I will not allow someone else to make my choices for me. **It is a huge weight to take responsibility for our own lives, choices, and feelings! When we hand that weight to someone “wiser” or “better” than us, we deprive ourselves of the satisfaction of expressing our humanity. Victor Frankl says, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” So it may not be an exaggeration to say that in giving away our choice, we have given away our agency, our identity, our sense of meaning, and perhaps our whole purpose in life.
- I accept the authority to take ownership of my triggers, emotions, and boundaries. **These groups are based on a personal responsibility to find something to aim at, and then experience trying to hit it…at least until new information changes our target. We can control our personal boundaries, identify and probe our emotions, and choose how we will respond to life.
- I will find camaraderie in the underlying emotions of our stories, while validating the uniqueness of each person’s experience. **When, for example, Person 1 shares that his father was largely an absentee drunkard, Person 2 might be tempted to try to find common ground by saying, “Yeah – I know exactly how that feels – my dad died when I was just three years old, so he wasn’t around either!” Person 2 may think he’s made a great connection with Person 1, and he really has, in his own head. But Person 1 may think “Screw you! Our childhoods were nothing alike. I would have killed for a fantasy upbringing like yours!” The details are different to Person 1, in deeply important ways that Person 2 could not have anticipated. Person 2 has reframed the experience of Person 1 and invalidated their pain. Person 2 could internally note, “I think I’m hearing abandonment, and listening to them talk about that reminds me of the abandonment I felt growing up without a father…” By digging below the details and focusing on an underlying emotion, Person 2 can utilize a connection point without in any way shading or minimizing the other’s experience. In this space, person 2 should probably keep this as an internal dialogue, but if the need arose, they should remember that as much as exchanging stories is relationship-building, mislabeling someone else’s experience can be denigrating.
- I am the leader of this meeting with myself. I will faithfully represent my developing truth and process, even when I’m afraid others won’t approve. **Your beliefs should change and evolve throughout your life. This is your personal exploration, so there is no moral of the story. There is no conclusion for us all to agree on. Your value and identity do not depend on “correct” beliefs. You deserve to be seen; you deserve to have someone represent you, in all your idiocy and wisdom. But no one can represent your current perspective except you, so your representative is you. Don’t take the philosophical temperature of the room and express the safest, right-est perspective, but represent yourself as faithfully and honorably as you would represent anyone else. Just like them, you deserve it.
- I will not resent others for crossing boundaries I haven’t expressed or enforced; or for enforcing legitimate boundaries I wish they didn’t have. **Our boundaries are our responsibility. It is better that you show up and never share, than that you share in a way you feel pressured to or later regret. This is not a frat. This is not Truth Or Dare. This is a recurring opportunity to self-explore. If forfeited, it will come around again next time with no penalty. Some people take longer to process or require more silence to reflect. Your turn can be used in silence too. We will all accommodate that.
- My heart needs to be nurtured, understood, and given an appropriate voice. **You are imposing “you” on the world. You could probably do a slightly better job, if you knew better who you are and how you work. The world deserves it. And you deserve to know you did it. Or maybe you’ve retreated, and what you’re imposing is a hole where a “you” should be – where a beautiful “you” is needed, if only someone knew who and where and what a “you” was. Finding and fulfilling “you” is the ongoing aspiration of life. No doubt, you are now aware that you can not grow up to be whatever you want to be. But you also have very little idea what you could be if you aimed precisely and tried hard enough. Your imagination is far too small and pointed in the wrong direction, to the extent that you truly don’t know who you have been, who you’ve become recently, and what untapped, undeveloped potential lies within.
- I am curious about my triggers; physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. **We’re all running old software: old beliefs, old wounds, old protection methods, old communication styles, and more. What we believe to be our “reactions” are oftentimes not reasonable “responses”, but dead heuristics and self-destructive “reflexes”. The difference can only be found by the curious, who watch themselves in the third person and ask questions like, “Why would I feel like that?” or “Do I really believe that?” or “What compels me to react like that?”, and then respond with non-defensive answers.
- I am open to questioning anything, being wrong, and changing my mind. **You are wrong. About something. It’s holding you back, and you don’t know what it is yet. And you might not find out in this group. But this is an open space to search for what it is. Truth can’t find you as long as you already know what it is, and a truer truth can’t take the place of any half-truth you are clinging to.
- My self-care is a prerequisite for quality, long-term others-care. **You can grind away on your responsibilities on empty. But with no gas and no oil, burnout and breakdown is inevitable. We believe the only long-term strategy is taking the necessary time to ‘selfishly’ fill up and spend time in the shop. But self-care is not the same as self-indulgence. Some days, it might mean a guilt-less slice of cake, but more often it’s going to mean journaling, working out, self-exploration, getting out into nature, eating quality food, and other refreshing “wastes” of time that can be skipped without much short-term damage.
- For the duration of this meeting, my sole priority is to shed the concerns and stresses from today so I can temporarily dive deeper into: **What happened today is probably foremost on your mind. It is the most urgent, but probably not the most important issue to address. Think and feel long-term, past today, or beneath today; past and beneath what is happening to you, down, down into how you respond to life, across time.
- The voice of my heart, which is the controlling undercurrent in my life **Individual aspirations
- Empathizing, fully immersed with others as they explore **Group aspirations
Use the next 120 seconds of silence to prepare your x-minute timer for your exploration time, then silence your phone, and use the remaining time to settle your mind and check in with your heart. **Maybe this is the first 120 seconds you’ve spent attuned to your heart this week. Without guilt or shame or boredom, take advantage of this space to assume you don’t know how you really are right now, and listen with curiosity for an honest answer.