what the group knows, what the group feels + what we all wanna feel
I spent the weekend at a Group Relations Conference, as part of a class I’m taking in Group Dynamics, as part of a degree I’m doing at Columbia in spiritual psychology. If you’re still reading this — thank you cuz that was a lotta words.
First built in the 1970’s, the format — based on something called the Tavistock Model — seeks to lay bare group dynamics and how individuals operate as a member of a group. I went in expecting an academic conference experience. I left understanding I’d had a personal development experience.
In group dynamics, BART is one of the first things you learn.
B is for Boundary.
A is for Authority.
R is for Role.
T is for Task.
The first thing the conference organizers did, was set a strong boundary around the time we needed to arrive, where we needed to be, what group we were in. Another example of the strong boundary was every session starting on the minute, and ending on the minute. See screenshot of the schedule.
The second thing they did, was establish themselves as the authority. They declared this over and over. They did not, however, say they were the leaders. They identified themselves as the authority.
They made clear what our role was, and they made clear the task: we were members of a group, and we were there to study the group dynamics in the ‘here and now’.
So — a task. A task to study oneself and to study what’s happening in the group you’re in.
To be in the here and now.
In other words: we spent the better part of 3 days *going in*.
But humans HATE doing that kind of feeling, and presencing, and reflecting work — let alone w strangers. So its designed to watch as all the emotions rise to the surface, flail around in the effort to find certainty, navigate chaos, be in shadow, and ultimately seek resolution.
I took nearly 30 pages of notes. (Perhaps — likely — an avoidance thang), which is just to say — lots of learnings. Some top ones below:
- What one person feels, is in the group. In fact, its part of the group.
This is perhaps oh so basic, but feels profound to me. A tendency to be really hard on myself means that I’ve assumed that if I was feeling something negative or shadow’y — that it was cause I was/am a damaged, dark, uniquely ‘bad’ person.
That it was mine and mine alone to hold. That I had to hold it separate of the group, for fear it tainting the group.
It didn’t occur that if I was feeling it — then its in the group at the un, sub and conscious levels.
Not only that — but others are feeling it, AND its for the group to hold.
Wow — that the group can, should and does hold every member’s emotional experiences?!
What’s it mean in real life, what’s it mean to me in the here and now? That I’m not alone. That what I am feeling is valid. That I’m not a monster — and that its in the interest of the group to hold it with me. And….
2. The group’s health is tied to its ability to hold what individual members need held.
Nearly everyone — all 100+ people — were struggling throughout the weekend. Our human tendency to want to avoid intense emotion — fear, sadness, anxiousness — was on display. However, when the group stopped and felt what the members were feeling at depth — it allowed the thing to move. And allowed something else to emerge — a feeling of release, of ease. Of LOVE.
We watched as certain members held especially strong emotional charge for the rest of the group. We were called upon to be with and connect with what they were holding, and watch as we wanted to shut down, or lean in.
3. There’s only 1 thing we ALL wanna feel: LOVE.
It became clear that in the absence of a task beyond ‘be in the here and now’ — that everyone was struggling to feel the thing they wanted to feel.
And what’s it that we all want to feel? Put simply: LOVE. Of ourselves, within the group, in our unique way of being, in our collective expression.
Once we found our way to creating that for ourselves and each other by being with what was present — the rest felt like a release, like we’d achieved.
I know this was a more abstract, conceptual, technical post. If you’re still here, if you’re drawn in and want to explore more on group dynamics, here’s some questions + resources //
- What do you want + need from the groups you’re a member of? How do you know those are your wants + needs?
- Are those wants + needs met by the group? How do you know?
- If not — what can be done to express your needs?