The Alchemy of Groups

The Alchemy of Groups - Artwork by Bouvette

By Victoria Fann

Guest writer for Wake Up World

“Circle is not anything new. Circle is an ancient process of consultation and communion, a place for slowing down, respectfully listening and being heard, a place to change the conversation and a way of being together that taps into the deep well of wisdom and creative thinking that is so needed in this time and place in history. Being in Circle is a matter of remembering our original way of being in community.” ~ Birute Regine, author of Iron Butterflies: Women Transforming Themselves and the World.

Recent studies show that isolation not only shortens your life, but it can also lead to health problems including dementia. And yet, many of us have fewer friends than we did twenty years ago. Instead, we’re spending more time texting and visiting each other on Facebook than we are cultivating face-to-face relationships or being part of communities.

The more we become technologically dependent, the less human contact there is. We can check ourselves out at the store, drive through a machine operated toll booth, check into the airport via machine, get our movies tickets via machine, pump our own gas, get directions from a GPS, communicate with friends, family and co-workers via social media, texting or chatting. None of this involves face-to-face in person contact. None of this includes a hug, a touch on the shoulder or a reassuring gaze. None of this allows us the benefits of relating and connecting with others using all of our senses and non-verbal language.

We can now literally go through large portions of our days without contact with another human being. Family and friends are often scattered and far away. Most of us don’t really know our neighbors. Few of us are involved in clubs or community organizations.

What to do? A simple return to the traditions of ancient as well as indigenous cultures may provide us with a simple solution.

For thousands of years humans have survived by being part of a tribe or community of people. Individual members of the group depended on each other for sharing resources, labor, skills, emotional and spiritual support, protection from the elements and other humans, among other things. Circle gathering was used for sacred rituals, decision-making, rites of passage, celebrations and healing.

In the western world — as evidenced by the success of 12-Step groups and the recent popularity of Meetup — we know that groups of people with common interests can create alchemy for its individual members. In fact, the human in the context of a group — a community of people invested in a common values, purpose and each other’s well being — is one of the most powerful mediums for transformation that exists. Particularly in an ongoing circle or group, self-awareness can be cultivated and expressed over time in a sacred, safe space. This cultivation allows room for the healing of wounds and building of character as the personal dynamics in a group setting tends to push people’s buttons and evoke old, often painful issues connected with their existence.

I discovered the power of groups over two and a half decades ago in 1989 when I started my first writing group, Mothers Who Write, with around eight women. This was before the internet and social media. I placed a small one-paragraph ad in the monthly newsletter, of the popular Minneapolis writing center, The Loft. It struck a nerve. I received over forty phone calls within the first week. Three weeks later, we had our first meeting.

Meeting twice a month for two hours on Saturday mornings for a year, I learned so much: I wrote more, got a few things published and felt much more confident as a writer. But more than that, I learned what the power of a group could do for the individual members within it — the encircling energy and the way it contained the members sparked a kind of synchronistic flow that opened them up and made them braver and more willing to jump into places they wouldn’t touch on their own.

My interest in the power of groups has not waned. It’s grown stronger. My work with groups has evolved into a deep passion and commitment to gather kindred spirits together for connection, inspiration and wisdom. Over time, I’ve learned the importance of filtering members to get the right mix of people, clearing energy before and after a group, using sacred ritual to open and close a group meeting and breaking bread as a way to help group members bond. I’ve also been blessed with lots of wisdom. One of the most valuable insights I gained is this:

When people are aligned in a group context,  giving and receiving become one!

Groups are circles, and a circle by its very nature has no beginning and no end, which lends itself nicely to this idea of the boundaries disappearing between giving and receiving. Think about it. When you’re in a group and you share your experience or story or insight, everyone in the circle receives it and because they are listening to you, you also receive the gift of being heard, validated and so on. Giving and receiving simply keeps cycling round and round until the lines blur completely and everyone is simply fed and nurtured by the experience. In a circle the lines of individuality and separation also disappear so that people have an experience of communion with each other.

This led me to my next discovery about groups:

Without the ongoing regular support of people,  it is difficult to experience a high quality of life.

Groups enable people to aim higher and think bigger than they would on their own. One reason for this is that groups expose us to the stories and experiences of others. This makes us feel less alone with our experience and it also exposes us to new viewpoints and possibilities that we might not have considered had we not heard them in a group context.

Because we feel supported, groups can inspire us to overcome fear, take risks and get out of our comfort zones. This extends beyond the group meetings to such an extent that even if we’re not with the group members every day, we can still feel their presence moving with us through our lives — kind of an invisible, but powerful lifeline that’s always present. I saw this when I began that first writing group. Even though we only met twice a month, I could feel the energy of my group as I wrote and submitted my work to publishers. I found myself not only more productive in my writing, but also more willing to stretch because I was surrounded by the force field of the other women writers who now cared what happened to me.

It all boils down to this…

When you gather a group of kindred spirits together, a sacred container is created and something magical happens: that circle of people ends up being something greater than the sum of its parts. A powerful, dynamic energy emerges from the group collective and it opens up a channel to the even greater collective of life. All the content, energy, tools, inspiration, information, insights and resources — everything that’s needed becomes available and accessible in that context.

When someone models something new, it gives people the courage to do things they might not ordinarily have the courage to do. Because of that, people are able to share great levels of wisdom, to become vulnerable with each other, to establish a higher level of trust than they would in a social setting and to experience a deep level of intimacy with people they barely even know very quickly. This brings forth or draws out different levels of motivation, honesty, healing, growth, learning and the sharing of stories that when heard and witnessed by others can motivate people to take action that they might not otherwise.

The many gifts of group experience.

•  Shared experiences
•  A context which encourages service to others, thinking of someone other than oneself
•  Inspiration and encouragement
•  Information
•  Modeling behavior and social skills
•  Stories
•  Healing due to a feeling of belonging
•  Self responsibility and honesty
•  Self awareness and understanding

In a group environment, the potential to shift expands within people when they see they’re not alone. Seeing that others are facing similar fears and challenges creates a feeling of relief. Hearing someone say, “Here’s what I’m going to do about that….” Or “Here’s what I did about that…” it’s as if someone reaches out opens a new door of possibility and people who may have been frozen or immobile for months or even years begin to stir and vibrate.

People feel connected when they are seen, heard and appreciated. That’s how most people feel love — if they feel that someone really sees them and cares, they immediately feel love and their hearts open. An open heart means they can receive all kinds of things from the group. Being seen, heard and appreciated is the intention behind each group meeting. In fact, it is the deep longing for that experience that drives my groups. Sometimes people cannot handle that level of openness and love, and they try and steer the group away from that. Sometimes people will enter into a group meeting with their own intention or agenda and they’ll attempt to derail the group. Usually they’re in ego and they come to the group to promote something, take something or sell something.

Ego in these groups really does not work. It really stands out. You can tell someone’s in ego because they are so shielded you cannot see his or her innocence. Ideally, you will  filter out certain people who are only interested in what they can get and not at all interested in what they can give. The way my groups are set up, giving and receiving are the same thing. It is one circle of love and connection and healing for everyone.

Entanglement and entrainment.

Science offers some fascinating ways of explaining what happens energetically when we connect with others. One is the phenomenon of entanglement. In quantum physics, entanglement refers to the ability of two particles in different locations (no matter how far apart) to influence each other. As I mentioned in the introduction, I have witnessed firsthand how members are influencing each other, even though they’re no longer in the same room. This points to the fact that being a member of a group is much bigger than what happens between members during the group meetings.

Entrainment is another occurrence that reveals an even deeper connection between people. A term coined by physicist, Christian Huygens in 1666, entrainment happens when we are in close proximity to someone on a regular basis and our heart rate or in the case of women, our menstrual cycle syncs up. It’s considered a phenomenon of resonance when two out-of-sync bodies sync up and start vibrating in the same way. This phenomenon isn’t limited to humans only, it’s seen in chemistry, pharmacology, biology, medicine, astronomy, sociology, etc.

What this means is that people who are entangled and entrained sync up and influence each other and create a field of energy between them into which all kinds of things can manifest. These concepts explain why people in groups have an experience of connection that transcends just the coming together of like-minded people. Instead, something greater occurs in which the individuals merge into a collective energy resource that calls forth the greater awareness and wisdom of ALL the members and even taps into something far greater. This expands our individual capacity exponentially, giving us access to a much greater wealth of possibilities in terms of ideas, insights, solutions to problems, support and so on.

A connected group of resonating people would then naturally have a greater power of influence than a non-resonating group. Each individual is energetically supported by the group energy to maintain shifts to higher frequency patterns. If we carry this energy with us even when we’re not in the group, this allows us to have a greater impact on those around us including our families, co-workers, friends, neighbors and the larger community. This effectively extends the energy and frequency patterns of the group to everyone we come into contact with, a kind of ripple effect of positive energy. They in turn, begin to sync up with us and begin to resonate and entrain with this higher frequency, so what begins as a small group of people connecting and growing together spreads out to touch others. Relationships that are entrained are harmonious and uplift and support us. Communication flows. A lack of entrainment feels the opposite and we feel drained and depleted, causing conflicts and disconnection.

“Resonance is nature’s way of transferring information” said Edgar Mitchell, founder of the Institute of Noetic Science. When we resonate with others we are more receptive and tend to benefit more from those relationships. Groups give us access to a resonant experience through shared inquiry, listening, story telling, relating, supporting, laughing, crying, etc. Each expression creates ways to experience a shared resonance. Groups by their very nature create conditions so that this resonance sharing can happen.

Personally, I never forgot the feelings of joy I experienced being part of that very first group I started which is why I’m committed to utilizing the alchemy of groups to transform the lives of as many people as I can.

Also by Victoria Fann:

About the author:

Victoria Fann is a writer, transformational coach, community builder and practical mystic. The foundation of her work was inspired by her time at Esalen as well as her training and inner work with many of the early founders and teachers of the human potential movement. She has been writing essays, short stories, plays and screenplays for over three decades. Her writing has been published in numerous publications and anthologies including Women of Wisdom, Newsweek, Thought Catalog, Elephant Journal, Wake Up World, Snapping Twig, Medium, BioStories, etc. Her book, Creative Alchemy: Accessing the Extraordinary Power of the Muse to Transform Your Art and Your Life will be published this year.

You can read more of her writing and learn more about her and her work on her website and on Facebook

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