Some simple practices for connecting on a deeper level
Here are some suggestions for shared practices.
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 and the boundaries for this.
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 these processes inside of yourself – both how you choose what to share and how you respond to other people’s sharing – can be as valuable as the sharing itself and it can help you find more confidence in speaking your 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 helps people relax and allows people’s 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 you 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 collective conscious.
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.
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.
Circling is a more in-depth practice that can open up a lot of capacity for people to learn the skills to be present while also in connection. It can help people learn how to own their projections and to notice their internal process of thinking and feeling.
A Rose and a Thorn
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 what you are feeling right now, things that have happened in the group or focused on a specific topic.
The point is not to solve the negative thing but just to bear witness to it. You can also ask what is the best thing about X and the worst thing about X.
This creates a space of allowing and recognition. People know that both their challenges and difficulties are welcome in the space as well as the more positive aspect of their being.
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.
You can find more information and training in Social Noting through Buddhist Geeks.
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 people to open into the mystery of life together. It can be quite magical the way in which creative ways of expressing can resonate with other people in a way that more direct conversation can sometimes struggle to. Read more about this here.
To facilitate this connection you need something that people can engage 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 you 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?
- Pick a card or object that you are resonating with.
- What is a quality that you appreciate in others?
- How would you describe the group dynamic?
Lego Serious Play is a more in-depth example of this process.
Shared imaginal practice also unlocks the same aspect of experience without the need for cards or objects.
Listening to Music Together
Music has a profound ability to connect people. When you meditate and listen to music together, it allows you 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 your 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.
You can read more about working with mantras here.
Exploring the Heart States
Discovering how the heart states manifest in your being is a really powerful experience. These questions allow you to journey through the different states and think about what they mean for you in life. 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.
People rarely get feedback in our culture and when they 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:
- What are three words you’d use to describe me?
- What do you think I’m really good at?
- What do I add to your life/ to the group?
- My most important values in life are [insert values]. Are there any ways you see me living out of alignment with these?
- What do you perceive is my biggest challenge in life? How would you like this to be different for me?
- What might you want to see more of from me?
- If you were in my life situation, what might you do differently?
Crown Chakra Exercise
People have often learned to put their fullest expression and deepest values away; to be more realistic, to play it safe or to avoid criticism and rejection.
This is an opportunity to welcome and connect with the fullest version of your expression and to celebrate and appreciate this in each other in a playful and joyful way.
The crown chakra is your connection with the Universe; it’s where your expression meets the world and what you are here to do.
This is where your sovereignty comes from – knowing that your expression is valuable and meaningful in the world – so a crown (as in the type a Queen would wear on her head) is the perfect symbol for it.
This imaginal exercise is designed to help get you in touch with these things and create a visualisation for you to be able to remember and share an aspect of your fullest expression.
- Take some deep breaths and connect with your full body. Imagine an energy line running through your being from the earth, out the top of your head.
- Imagine the fullest expression of your being; imagine a time when you feel great and you’re doing what you feel you’re here to do in the world.
- Imagine the Universe putting a crown on your head that represents the sovereign energy of your full expression.
- What would the crown be like? Some examples: a crown made of roots, a psychedelic art style portal, an entire solar-punk city.
- Go around the group and share what your crown is like. Optional – find an image that represents it.
Everyone holds 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 them.
There are words or ideas that are ‘frozen’ in the ontology of both individuals and collectives. For this practice you are taking some time to recognise the thought processes, meanings and connections you have around certain words and ideas.
In order to melt the freeze, first you 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 you want to embrace the nebulosity of meaning.
The point of this exercise is not to share a correct definition of a word or even to find one together, but to embrace this more nebulous way of being and describe your personal understanding and meaning-making; to reveal how everyone has an entire Universe of meaning hidden within them.
To do this practice:
- As a group, write down a list of words that are relevant to the group. Either brainstorming together or each person writing down words on slips of paper. For example, for a meditation group the words could be – meditation, mind, consciousness, emptiness, meaning, love, mindfulness, interconnection, spirituality.
- As a group, you can all choose one word to focus on, or allow people to each choose a different word.
- Take it in turns to describe what the chosen word means to you personally. You can set a time-limit for people if that feels helpful.
- Try to let go of the assumption or need that other people will have a similar definition to you – share from an authentic and vulnerable place of what the word encapsulates for you.
- Listener’s cannot challenge someone’s description and speakers cannot dictate to others how they should understand it. The idea is to share from a place of authenticity and vulnerability and to listen and understand each person’s unique way of making sense of the world.
- You can build on other people’s descriptions and it can be fascinating to watch how creating more freedom for individual expression can open the door to a deeper and more refined collective understanding of meaning.
During the exercise you can listen deeply to each person’s description to deepen your understanding of: the topic, how other people relate to it and that person’s world.
You can notice where you align and where you differ. You may 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 compared to others.
By sharing more freely in a non-judgemental space, you can also uncover some of the subconscious assumptions that are normally frozen under the surface.