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.
As well as to notice their own reactions when listening, and to own their projections.
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.
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’.
Give people a bit of guidance about something they could share – for example, what brought them to this group. If we can encourage people to share something more personal this will deepen a sense of connection.
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 presence in this moment and with a sense of connection with the group.
It’s also important to remind people to own their projections and to notice their internal process of thinking and feeling.
This is a simple exercise where you ask everyone to share one positive thing and one negative thing.
You can ask people to distill it down to one word or give people quite a lot of space to unpack and share things. It could be things you are feeling right now, that have happened in the last week, about life in general or about a specific topic.
The point is not to solve the negative thing but just to bear witness to it.
This creates a space of allowing and recognition. People know that their challenges and difficulties are welcome in the space as well as the more positive aspect of their being.
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.
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.
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:
If you want to explore this more deeply you can use this small group imaginal practice exercise.
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.
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.
It can also be deeply moving to ask someone else to answer these questions about you.
We rarely get feedback in our culture and when we do it can often be in stressful situations. Making space in a supportive environment to receive honest, heart-felt feedback, both positive and constructive, can be truly transformative for people.
This is best done in small groups of 3 – 4 people. Allow everyone some time to think about the questions they’d like to ask the group for feedback on.
Allocate a set amount of time for each person to be in the position of asking for feedback.
Some example questions:
We hold lots of fixed ideas about what certain things mean, which tends to create reification of experience and inability to see what’s actually in front of us.
There are words or ideas that are ‘frozen’ in the ontology of both individuals and collectives. For this practice we are taking some time to recognise the thought processes, meanings and connections we have around certain words and ideas.
In order to melt the freeze, first we have to recognise that there are no fixed definitions of things – meaning depends on context, it shifts and changes over time and everyone has their own unique way of making sense of the world.
In the normal world having shared definitions and being clear and specific about what is true is important, but in this space we want to embrace the nebulosity of meaning.
To do this practice write down a list of words that are relevant to the group and then each take it in turn to pick one and describe what it means to you personally.
For example, for a meditation group the words could be – meditation, mind, consciousness, emptiness, meaning, love, mindfulness, interconnection, spirituality.
The point of this exercise is not to share a correct definition of the word or even to find one together, but to embrace this more nebulous way of being and describe a personal account of your experiences with it and thoughts of it.
You could take it in turns to describe the same word or each pick different words, but you cannot challenge someone’s description. The idea is just to listen and understand each person’s unique way of making sense of the world.
Through sharing you may also get some deep insight into how your mind works – the way that you connect things together, the things that matter to you and how you experience and describe things.
By sharing more freely in a non-judgemental space, we can uncover some of the subconscious assumptions that are normally frozen under the surface.