Wisdom Group Leadership Training Part II: Preferred States? Or Enduring Stages?

This is the second in a series of four articles by Bill Redfield about the Wisdom Group Leadership Training he is offering with his colleagues Lois Barton and Deborah Walsh. Bill’s first installment is available in the Blog Archives and on the Breaking Ground page of Growing!

This practical training in skillful post-holding, including ‘embodying the wealth of Wisdom’s vision’ and developing group skills for greater integration, will take place at Hallelujah Farm in Chesterfield New Hampshire. The first Wisdom Group Leadership Training will take place November 29 – December 3, 2017; please see the event page.

In my last post, I introduced our upcoming “Wisdom Group Leadership Training” event to be held at Hallelujah Farm late in November and introduced you to my teammates—Lois Barton and Deborah Welsh.

Butterflies in JarIn setting forth the usefulness of leadership training, I suggested that Wisdom Circles are more than just sharing contemplative practices. While it may appear to require only a bell-bowl and a circle of chairs, there are leadership skills that can bring the right balance of experience and reflection on that experience. In fact, I ended the last posting by saying that it is the right mix of experience and reflection that provides the necessary ingredients for the deeper integration of Wisdom into the self-system. Otherwise we encourage the collection of preferred states without building enduring stages. But how do you open the doors to group interaction and conversation without losing that sense of present moment awareness? That’s where skilled leadership comes in…

While many of those involved in Wisdom Practice Groups may only see the ways in which these practice circles are very different from all other kinds of groups, their conclusion may separate them from a body of knowledge and methods of leadership expertise that would be extremely helpful for them in leading practice groups more effectively. But bringing this other body of skill and knowledge into the Wisdom camp has been a bit of an uphill hike. Part of that has been the long established division between spirituality and psychology (and by psychology I would include group dynamics and group theory). In the training of spiritual directors, for example, there seems to be a firewall that has been placed between guiding people spiritually and engaging in anything that remotely looks like psychotherapy. For the most part that hard and fast division makes perfect sense. And in corresponding fashion many might want to place a similar division between Wisdom Practice Groups and most any kind of psychological growth group. Indeed, there are some very specific differences between the purposes of these two ways of looking at groups, and Wisdom leaders must be acutely aware of these differences.

Golden spiralBut it is also true that a Wisdom Practice Group, a psychotherapy group, and a human relations training group are all groups, and as such they share certain attributes and dynamics with all other groups. Currently, I am not aware of any other efforts to apply basic dynamic group theory to Wisdom Practice Groups in order that organizers and post-holders of these practice groups might better understand and steer the purpose and function of such groups. My own insistence is that Wisdom Practice Groups, when they utilize the component of directed reflective discussion, aid the integration of Wisdom and amplify the transformational process. And in order to achieve this purpose it is advantageous that Wisdom group leaders have a full complement of theoretical and practice skills gleaned from many different directions—including from group dynamic theory. Thus, the amalgamation of skills from more than one direction—from the spiritual practice direction as well as the group theory and group dynamics directions—will better prepare Wisdom group leaders to skillfully lead the participants of their groups.

I am aware that presently many Wisdom Practice Groups lack this interactive component. I certainly do not want to convey that they are in any way faulty or inadequate. There is great value in a group coming together on some sort of regular basis to experience silence or chant, as two specific examples of targeted practice groups. I am contending, however, that the experience becomes all the more powerful and transformational with this processing element. Through the reflection and sharing of the experience, a passing state can more likely lead to the transformation to an abiding stage. And, again, that is because a carefully and deliberately directed conversation can provide the means by which the participants’ experiences can be integrated into the fullness of their self-structure and self-understanding.

Mindfulness blissWhy is this important? While experience may provide the raw material for change, real transformation necessarily requires the integration and assimilation of experience in order for the self-structure to be modified. Without that integration, we simply collect really awesome states and experiences that we shall soon forget. A stage, on the other hand, is a brand new platform on which to stand, to see the world, and to live out one’s life.

I will have more to say in the next post.

For more information about Bill Redfield and Lois Barton please see ‘Our Teachers’ page.

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