The Power of Working in a Group
I attended ‘workshops’ aplenty throughout my late 20’s and early 30’s, things focused on being bendy in yoga, things focused on becoming a Reiki practitioner, things focused on dissecting a certain spiritual text or methodology, but group only became a transformational force in my life later on. The early stages of my curiosity in spirituality always revolved around acquisition. I wanted to be more of something. More bendy, more well-versed, more possessed of magical healing powers.
At some point, stuffed to the gills with facts and techniques, and none the better for it, I slumped into dismay. I was fairly certain that continuing to fatten myself up on endless spiritual material wasn’t going to actually get me what I really wanted. I dreamed of reaching enlightenment – a term that, let’s face it, I have no understanding of. Enlightenment in my puny and infantile comprehension, seemed like this all-powerful state of mind-reading and lightning-bolt shooting, where I would no longer have any stupid needs like food and sleep and I would know everything and nothing would ever bother me again.
In truth I created this whole enlightenment myth because it felt lame and corny to admit that I just wanted to be happy.
Every single being on this earth (and probably all the other places too) wants to be happy. It’s very simple. Depending on our idea of where this elusive elixir lies we will plunge ourselves whole-heartedly into it’s pursuit. Some believe that they will be happy if some problem that they have disappears, others if they had certain material comfort, or a meaningful relationship, for others happiness will come from reaching a goal, gaining respect or admiration, or in my case becoming the bestest yogini ever; endowed with mind-boggling knowledge, perfect physical prowess and supernatural powers galore.
When I realized that knowing all the things and bending in all the directions was not it, I was actually shit out of ideas. Uncomfortable times ensued.
I landed in a group. I can’t even really tell you how it happened. Gravity, I suppose. I suppose that my despair was such that the Earth tilted under it’s weight and pulled exactly what I needed with locomotive intensity right to my feet. But it came, and it plowed right through my perfectly iced cupcake of an ego.
It’s the ego that wants to be more stuff in order to have higher value.
Please understand my resistance to being yet another human parroting the repeated-to-the-point-of-having-almost-lost-all-meaning: “Happiness Comes from Within”. I die a little inside with every Instagram post of a twenty-something doing complicating bending in yoga pants and telling us about self-love. We have almost beaten the sense out of these terms and ideas. Most of the wielding of these terms is being done precisely by the same idealized self whose very existence they threaten.
But that does not un-true them. They are cliched and overused and rest on the border of becoming gibberish, but they are truths.
You can give any name you’d like to the deepest part of each of us. You can call it the Higher Self, the True Self, God, The Universe, Life itself or Babaganoosh if you prefer. Whatever you call it there is a force within us that lives us. There is life pulsating in me, and that same life pulsates in you, in your cat, and in the tree in your front yard. Aliveness, suchness, Sat Chit Ananda, again, what we call it makes no difference. This force, this consciousness, this life pulsating through me is, for the most part, unknown to me.
This is kind of weird because it’s what makes me be, gives me life, makes me conscious…so you would imagine that I would be curious about its nature – as that is directly related to my nature. When we speak about knowing oneself we are referring not only to the personality, which is like the tip of the iceberg, but also this life pulsation that lies beneath everything, the deepest truth of your Being.
Problem is, we have this intensely complex and intricate personality on the tip of the iceberg and it’s so engaging and entertaining that we get absorbed in it and forget completely about what lies beneath. We also tend to get so absorbed in adding to what already exists, under the powerful hex of never-good-enough, that we don’t get to know what is actually there.
This life pulsation, this truth within us, is covered up by all kinds of layers of conditioned responses and beliefs and stories and is mostly inaccessible to us. It seems like it would be simple enough to just objectively look at the character that we have created and called “me” but it is much more difficult than we would imagine. Mostly it’s difficult to look objectively at it because we wish it were different. Taller, prettier, happier, less confused, more efficient, there’s always something. The bone crushing shame that comes from the reality of us being less than or different than we would like makes us hide our flaws, even from ourselves.
Thing is, all of my striving to get more and be more and know more was because of my utter disconnection with myself. Not the myself of the myths and legends, the perfect unfaltering Laura that existed only in my head. Because, let’s face it, there is no such Laura. Nor with the myself of name and shape and neverending story – the mundane Laura of my biography, because that one I knew quite well. But with the objective Laura, viewed without the tilted filter of my own mind, and the quiet intangible something that imbues this character with life.
When I am sure that all I am is a personality, fragmented, disconnected, then I begin to strive. I fear that I am not enough and that I need more stuff – money, partners, theories, power. It makes me desperate to master reality and accrue the power to make life give me what I think that I need. I start to blame the outer world for not giving me what I want and for my lack of fulfillment. It doesn’t even occur to me that it might be my weird ideas and behavior that contribute to my discontent.
This so-fabled idea of ‘finding oneself’ which has thankfully become outdated enough to be removed from most people’s cliché playlist, is an actual act, an actual, integral, part of spirituality, but its practice is much less quitting your job and moving to a mystical land (which, admittedly, I am guilty of) and much more having a good hard look at yourself in your entirety. That means our ticks and glitches as well as our potential. Our contradictions, veiled motives and self-deceit as well as our alignment and nobility.
Because we can’t overcome what we can’t see.
All these ticks and glitches, which are not simply vibrational, but which actually act out in our behavior and actions are the true cause of our unhappiness, and the true blockage to our connection with the depth of our being.
The first real “Group” that I participated in showed me truths that I had been hiding from myself for my whole life. It was a shock and a deep relief. A shock to find that I am so much easier to read than I had ever imagined, and a relief to find out that it was ok to be imperfect, and that actually everyone was. It was, and continues to be, really humbling to see how unspecial we all are. How our struggles are the same. Our fears are the same. The ways that we try to protect ourselves from pain are the same.
Paradoxically, within this all-together, we are all the sameness, we are able to find an individuality which was real. The rest of the iceberg starts to emerge in its particularity. The specific way in which the life force moves through us making itself apparent.
For me the difference that came with group was that it was an opportunity to deconstruct rather than amass more. That rather than adding to what I already had, it took some things away from me, things that were MINE, but which were in my way. Things in between me and myself, Things in between me and happiness.
Works which add to us naturally create competition and striving, as they feed the idea that we are not enough as we are. Those that strip us down to an essence which is irrefutably unique and individual give us the chance to work together. Knowing that nothing that we really are can be compared to what anyone else is gives us the relaxation of being able to support the other, understanding that they are not a threat, that in truth, they are valuable and necessary allies.
Boats get easier to row when more people pick up oars. This is how things work on this planet. A group of people is more likely to be able to provoke a change in the structures of society, or to raise awareness about an injustice than a single individual working alone. The same is true with the process of changing the structures in our being and raising awareness about ourselves. Group supports us in the deep dive within ourselves and helps us gain clarity and to have the strength to push past our resistances.
In all my years in this search I haven’t found another tool like it…