To grow spiritually, you should be part of an intimate group that grows together.† You learn to love by loving.† During the group meetings, youíll be learning about spirituality, the realities of life and the universe, how to understand your own assumptions and perspectives, how to grow spiritually, and how to accept othersí assumptions that may be very different from yours.†
Youíll be learning about others, about yourself, about your eternal nature and the afterlife, and about God.
The intimate group will help you learn about listening, understanding, accepting, and loving unconditionally.† Youíll learn how to
∑ Focus on another person and listen genuinely and wholly, losing yourself in loving unity with that person
∑ Listen without judging
∑ Empathize without feeling the need to solve the problem
∑ Avoid giving advice
∑ Just reflect back what youíre hearing without insinuations
∑ Understand perspectives that are different from yours as being only different, not right or wrong
Nothing a group member can say would separate you from that person or make you feel less loving and accepting.† When you feel a negative emotion, try to understand the assumptions behind the negative feeling.† In your quiet times of prayer or contemplation, or in the group, try to bring out the hidden assumptions behind the feelings and decide whether they fit with the spiritual person you're becoming.
Youíll also be learning about yourself:
∑ How to love unconditionally
∑ What itís like to be loved unconditionally
∑ How to trust others without reservation
∑ How to serve without expectation for return or compensation
∑ What your assumptions and perspectives are that create your realities
∑ How to stand back from yourself as a watcher and understand your assumptions and perspectives with less involvement and less letting them control you
∑ What you cling to that makes you feel frustrated, worried, or fearful
∑ How to change your assumptions and perspectives to grow spiritually
∑ How to trust that you are learning lessons and to see that challenges in life are opportunities to grow
Youíll be learning about your eternal nature and the afterlife:
∑ You are a spiritual being having a physical realm period of your eternal life.
∑ The afterlife is as real as or more real than this life.
∑ Your loved ones are just a step away, blissfully involved in their new spiritual lives.
∑ Death is simply a graduation into the next wonderful stage of your eternal life.
∑ Your spiritual nature affects you, others, and the environment in which you live.
∑ You can communicate with those who have transitioned into the next stage of their eternal lives.
Youíll learn about the Higher Power that is the basis of all life in the universe and from whom the universe comes into being.† Youíll learn
∑ The nature of the Higher Power
∑ That the Higher Power is one with you and provides guidance and counseling to help you grow spiritually
∑ How to trust that the Higher Power will provide what is in your best interest
Establish the intimate group with care.† Include a small number of people.† Choose participants carefully and follow the protocol below until the group is established.† Have all group members read these guidelines and agree to them before the group meets.
Theyíre going to sound a little constraining and unusual.† The reason is that in our normal conversations, weíve all developed some bad habits from childhood.† When someone speaks, we often donít listen; weíre getting ready to say what we have in mind.† Conversations are sometimes like two radios facing each other, each blaring out its message with no hearing and no understanding.†
We also tend to give advice as though we had the right answer. When someone describes a problem, we feel the need to solve it for the speaker.† Itís unusual for us to listen only to understand, not to voice our beliefs or give advice.† This intimate group must be grounded in listening, focusing on others to the exclusion of the self, nonjudgment, tolerance, and understanding.† Most of us havenít learned how to have those kinds of conversations.† They must be learned.
Foremost, the purpose of the group is to come together in love and openness, without expectations. Whatever happens will benefit everyone if the group has these qualities.† Coming together in love will catalyze experiences and result in knowledge far beyond what we can anticipate.† Feeling this love and freely giving love will fill you with a sense of peace and fulfillment.
Have a time when group members can share their spiritual growth, describe realizations, and discuss assumptions and perspectives.† Anyone may ask for help in understanding something, but the purpose of the time is to share only, not solve problems.†
Have group members read books and watch media that contain accounts by people who have had spiritual experiences; then discuss them in the group.† There are many wonderful DVDs and books available today in which people describe what has happened to them.† You may ask people who have had remarkable experiences or have insights into spirituality to speak to your group.† Have group members describe testimonies from real people and encourage members to share their own experiences.† Resources I recommend will be kept up to date at http://ebook.youreternalself.com/chapter8.htm.
Go through the list of assumptions that will underlie a loving, peaceful society that I presented earlier in this book.† Share your assumptions about each and talk about them.† As long as the assumptions and perspectives are hidden, you'll be living from within them.† When you uncover and discuss them, you can look at them from outside of them.† Then you can decide whether they fit the spiritual person you're becoming.
The protocol will evolve as the group develops.† These guidelines are important to begin the group, but once it is established, the group will evolve its own protocols.† If the group seems to be becoming too loose or uncomfortable for even one person, that person may ask that the group return to this protocol.† There is no discussion of that request.† The group does it in appreciation and love for the person who requested it.
1. Confidentiality is critical.† Nothing said in the group leaves the group meeting.† Spouses not present should not hear about something someone says in confidence.
2. Assume there is no "truth" outside of each person and no one in the group has the truth for anyone else.† You are attempting to understand othersí assumptions and perspectives, and you are opening to others as they help you understand your own assumptions and perspectives.† If you are from the same church or faith, donít enforce belief in the assumptions of the religion or insist on obedience during the meetings.
3. Be open and transparent, without pretences and without putting on a face because you want to appear knowledgeable or righteous or mature, or because you're afraid your weaknesses will be judged and you won't be regarded as highly.† You'll learn that others can accept you as you are, with all the things you might normally hide from people.† You'll, in turn, learn to accept others without judgment.
4. However, don't feel you have to reveal more than you're comfortable talking about.† It isn't a sign of strength or spirituality to say something you're uncomfortable saying.† Wait until you feel comfortable to speak about it.† If you're troubled by something you'd rather not reveal or you feel overwhelmed by some feelings, talk with a counselor about it, not the group.† This is not a therapy group.
5. Focus on understanding the other people.† Avoid giving advice, although anyone may feel free to ask for reflections on what they've just said.† The group is not intended to solve problems.† As you share perspectives, the person may arrive at a solution, but that is entirely within the personís reality.†
6. Donít psychologize.† As you hear someone talk about a thought, feeling, or behavior and the assumptions behind it, you may think of psychological reasons for it, or may feel you want to probe to get to the psychological implications.† Donít do that.† Youíre not psychologists and youíre not trying to make everyone feel better or be psychologically healthy.† Just listen and donít interpret what you hear.
7. Anyone may speak.† No one is required to speak.† Donít go around the room and have everyone speak.† Let the person speak without interruption.† When the person is finished, someone else may speak.† If the group has some overenthusiastic speakers, use a "talking stick."† The person holding the talking stick is the only one permitted to speak until he or she relinquishes it by giving it to someone else.
8. Listen with empathy and concern.† As you listen, focus on the other person; become the other person. Shut down the flow of your own assumptions as much as possible.† Imagine yourself with this personís assumptions and sense what that would be like. Youíll learn to be more empathetic and stand in someone elseís shoes.† Share your assumptions that might be different, but donít insinuate that theyíre right or more rational or more spiritual.
9. Never judge.† Never believe someone is wrong or weird, and never speak negative words. Listen to the statements and assumptions openly, without judging.
10. When someone shares something personal and you want to ask a question, ask whether the person is open to questions. If not, donít ask questions.† The person is not obligated to answer any question.† If your question is met with silence, donít pursue it.† Then share your assumptions and perspectives about the same subject.† The purpose is not to show them what is right, but for them to understand your assumptions and perspectives.† The groupís purpose is to share and understand, not arrive at the truth or solve problems.
11. Donít ask questions that make statements, such as "Donít you think you could go and talk to your sister."† Thatís not a question; itís a statement: "You should go and talk to your sister."† Notice that the question has no question mark ending it.
12. Early on especially, as you sense some judgment or insinuation of "right" or advice in a statement, stop and talk about it.† But donít argue about it and donít defend a position.† Youíre putting something on the table only.† Speak your feelings about it and go on.† No one is required to respond to any statement, but everyone may ask for a response.† The insights about what is said will come naturally.
13. Learn to love openly and unconditionally.† There are no wrongs and nothing is unlovable.† If someone wants to hear other perspectives about what he has just said, that person may ask for them.
14. If someone is not present, donít discuss him or her.
You can learn more about forming and participating in the intimate group to grow spiritually at http://ebook.youreternalself.com/chapter8.htm.