Here are some suggestions for shared practices that will bring everyone into the fold, give them a sense of belonging and harness everyone’s unique gifts to contribute to the group.
These practices are about creating a space where people can connect with each other on a deeper level than normal. It’s good to keep the exercises simple.
Deep listening and noticing how other people’s sharing resonates through your experience is as important as the sharing itself. Being a sacred witness to other people is a really beautiful part of experience and people can sense when they are being listened to.
Connecting in this way with people can be an intense experience – bringing up strong emotions and reactions from people. It’s important that the facilitator is comfortable holding the space for this and putting in safe but respectful boundaries when they are not.
You can use this as an opportunity to remind everyone to be both curious and respectful of what feels safe and meaningful to share in a group setting.
Getting to know this process inside of ourselves, how we choose what to share and why, can be as valuable as the sharing itself and it can give us more confidence in speaking our truth even when it is uncomfortable out in the normal world too.
Whenever a new group of people forms, it’s really helpful for everyone to introduce themselves. It’s really simple, but this automatically relaxes us and allows our bodies and minds to drop into ‘friends-mode’ rather than high-alert ‘stranger-mode’. If we can share something about ourselves this helps even more.
This is simply sitting in a circle, inviting people to share their experience and modelling a degree of vulnerability, that it’s ok to talk about your feelings or challenges. This will create a sense of belonging and can form a strong collective conscious amongst people.
You could ask people to share their current experience, or encourage people to share around a specific theme or topic. If you are doing a dharma talk, it’s really nice to first ask people what they think about that topic before you start. People will feel more engaged and included, rather than like they are being lectured.
One of the risks with circling is that it becomes very analytical or judgemental. In order to avoid this, you are encouraging people to connect with their emotions, with a sense of meaning and with their sense of connection with the group.
Joint Inquiry/ Focusing
For joint inquiry and focusing, you are sitting in pairs or small groups and taking it in turns to share what is happening in your present moment.
You are following the thread and digging deeper into experience, opening up new parts of yourself, with the focus being on what is arising for you in this moment. This can be a fast-track in practicing coming into presence.
For social noting, you choose a topic and set a timer. The group sits together and members are invited to share one-word notes or short phrases aloud based on the chosen topic.
Some of the topics that could be explored: simply noting your current experience; repeating a koan or phrase; or noting a specific feeling when it arises, for example gratitude.
Offering Eye Contact/ Body Contact
Simple exercises like spending 5 minutes to take it in turns to offer up a kind-loving presence, either in the form of eye contact or placing your hands on someone’s head, feet, back etc. has a profound impact on our ability to connect with each other. It can be really healing and connecting for people.
As the offerer, you don’t need to give anything just hold a space of kind non-judgement. As the receiver, you can have the freedom to decide how you engage with it.
Symbolism & Creativity
Anything that is more creative, allows us to open into the mystery of life together. It can be quite magical the way in which our creative ways of expressing ourselves can resonate with each other in a way that more direct conversation can sometimes struggle to.
To facilitate this you need something that people can connect with in a hands-on way. For example, a set of beautiful cards or objects that have some symbolism in them.
Pick a question for the group and then ask each member to choose one of the cards or objects that best represents that for them. Go around the group and ask each person to describe why they chose it and what it represents to them.
Another way to do this would be to get people to draw an image as an answer. The idea is that our creativity, intuitive responses and symbolism can hold a lot more depth than we realise and it open us up to a different way of communicating and listening to each other.
Some example of questions you can explore:
- What is one thing in life that you would like to be able to let go of?
- What is one thing in life that you would like to be able to cultivate more of?
- What do you feel best describes you?
- What is a quality that you appreciate in others?
- How would you describe the group dynamic?
Listening to Music Together
Music has a profound ability to connect people. When we meditate and listen to music together, it allows us to enter a deep meditative state while also retaining a shared-collective conscious. It can be a deeply powerful experience. Gong baths and guided meditations that have a poetic feel to them, like a yoga nidra, can also create the same effect.
A group sharing before you start will form a collective conscious that can be carried through into the meditation. A sharing after will perhaps reveal some interesting insights into a shared group experience or a sense of resonance.
Exploring mantras and quotes in a group or shared setting can be incredibly beautiful and powerful.
You could ask people to share a mantra or quote that has been important to them on their path and say a bit about what it means to them. Or you could choose a mantra, quote or spiritual teaching and ask people to reflect on its meaning and how they relate to it.
Both of these can provide an amazing insight into our own and other people’s inner worlds as well as into the mantra itself. It is interesting with both to understand how they might land differently with different people.
Exploring the Heart States
Discovering how we manifest the heart states in our being is a really powerful experience. These questions allow us to journey through the different states and think about what they mean for us in our lives. They work best in pairs or very small groups. Your partner can ask you the questions and hold a space of kind non-judgement for you to respond in. Take a few minutes to explore each question.
- Gratitude: What is one thing you feel grateful for?
- Friendliness: How would a kind friend describe you?
- Compassion: Describe a challenge that you face in life. How does this make you feel?
- Joy: What brings you joy in life? What is something dark or absurd that you take joy in?
- Inclusion: Is there anything else that you feel is important to recognise about you?
It can also be deeply moving to ask someone else to answer these questions about you.