Several times throughout the year I co-facilitate group experiences, either ongoing or single-event explorations that allow a safe group's holding-capacity to encourage deep trusting and transformations. Usually we combine mindful movement meditations, council circles, and group-supported individual explorations. Sometimes these are local, in Santa Monica, and sometimes they are at retreat centers, such as Pine Manor in the mountains above Lake Elsinore, and, every last week of August, on the Big Island at Whale Spirit Sanctuary.
These retreats and groups are an opportunity to deepen your exploration of your connections to your own soul, and your own deep body awareness. We call the process we facilitate RSP—relational, somatic practices—based on the work of our teacher, Michael Sieck (www.threefoldway.com) and his teacher, Robert Hilton (his very moving book is called Relational Somatic Psychotherapy, which describes his lifelong process of adding authentic relationship to the body-centered traditions of his teacher, Alexander Lowen.)
Just as in my one-on-one and couples work, the center of the practice in groups too is of observing, naming, and honoring the experience of the body during authentic, compassionate relationship. Here’s the assumption of this practice:
For self-protection, everybody develops behavioral and emotional adaptations to their early life challenges and limitations. When we get triggered by reminders of the ancient challenges, these adaptations tend to command our behaviors and distort our perceptions so that new experiences seem just like the ancient experiences. And of course, the adaptations tend to become entrenched, that is, unconscious and inflexible, closed-off from new information.
However, with compassionate, authentic, body-centered, loving support from others during these experiences of feeling triggered, the nervous system can once again perceive and integrate new experiences of ‘safety-while-triggered-anyway’, and relax its hyper-vigilant, rigid command. This process is enhanced and quickened when experienced with the supportive attention of a group perceived as ‘safe’: the nervous system tends to re-integrate with greater completeness to a (safe) group.
So, what do we actually do? The centerpiece of the experience is usually taking a turn receiving about an hour of individual attention from the entire group, and allowing whatever comes up to be explored, honoring both quietness and also intensity. Everyone is involved in everyone else’s work, and becomes entrained to the experience, so that every nervous system infuses with the same resilience-practice: no such thing as a mere unaffected onlooker, in this work; everyone co-participates through close-presence.
Many different experiences happen! The intention is to allow the nervous system’s response to be witnessed while going where normally, socially, people resist allowing themselves to be seen going!
We group members ‘hold’ this experience with our loving attention, and, with your continuing suggestions and permissions, we participate in experiments that allow you to experience responses you don’t usually have the opportunity to try. Sometimes people cry, and allow themselves to be literally held, either by one person or several. Sometimes, people scream, kick and punch or push against big cushions. Sometimes, people get to say what they’re usually not ‘allowed’ to say or yell. Sometimes we enlist each other to ‘act out’ a dream, or ‘rewrite’ the ending of a past experience—getting to escape, or fight back, or speak the truth, or whatever might feel liberating and gratifying. Sometimes the experience is more quiet: the opportunity to feel fully heard, seen, accepted. Sometimes, a person simply wants to dance, and be witnessed.
To us, this
witnessing is what loving is: not a denial of our authentic ‘negative’ or ‘painful’ responses, but a dedication to a compassionate framing of whatever’s authentic. Often at the end of an exploration,
people enjoy feeling held by the circle of witnesses (we also vocalize sweet-sounding toning a lot. . . .)
In addition, we will be exploring our authentic impulses while moving to compelling music, both as a group, and also, for those who wish (and dare), while being compassionately witnessed by the group. This group movement activity powerfully attunes our bodies to the group nervous system, enhancing trust, understanding, and compassion (another definition of loving).
Sometimes, such as at Pine Manor, we have the
opportunity to explore and share the inner-images that we carry with us through the creation and sharing of sand-tray images, using Pine Manor’s extensive sand-tray collection.
Integrating all this, we share meals together, and spend play time together as well, allowing the body to integrate many different levels of trust and comfort. On the Big Island, we make an afternoon adventure to one beautiful water body or another....