I discovered the power of feeling as a counsellor with the Life Line telephone counselling service many years ago. It was (and is) based on the work of Carl Rogers, probably the most popular psychologist ever.
In his book On Becoming a Person, Rogers wrote:
The more paradoxical aspect of my experience is that the more I am simply willing to be myself, in all this complexity of life and the more I am willing to understand and accept the realities in myself and in the other person, the more change seems to be stirred up. It is a very paradoxical thing – that to the degree that each one of us is willing to be himself, then he finds not only himself changing; but he finds that other people to whom he relates are also changing; At least this is a very vivid part of my experience, and one of the deepest things I think I have learned in my personal and professional life.
Rogers had no complicated theories; only the principle of EAR: Empathy, Acceptance and Realness. It’s not as easy as it sounds, though, because in order to truly have empathy and accept another, we need to be real or authentic!
Rogers (and others) described three phases that tend to happen when a group gets together and is facilitated by an authentic facilitator:
- Pretense and denial. Basically the way normal society operates. We hide, pretend, strategise, manipulate and so on. There is a strong tendency to suppress the expression of “negative” feelings.
- Expression of negative feelings. If the “negativity” is allowed, however, as happens with an observant and real facilitator, it is now expressed in what varies from hesitant realness to absolute chaos. Often, when this phase emerged in groups I facilitated, I thought: “Up to now it has worked, but this time it is not going to work!” And every time it “worked”.
- True cohesion. To the extent that “negativity” is allowed, a kind of “emptiness” ensues, followed by a drastic change in the emotional climate of the group. The group is now where it wanted to be in the first place, but was prevented from getting there by its own efforts to suppress negativity! In this phase the tone of communication changes and groups are often much more relaxed, creative and productive.
Together with Peter Batchelor, who started the Build South Africa Foundation after realizing the enormous value of this process in reconciliation at a time where South Africa was not in a good space, and later a few others, I facilitated many groups. The effects were astounding.
I was once asked to facilitate a dialogue group between what was regarded as an Afrikaner “rightwing” movement, the Afrikaner Vryheidstigting (Afrikaner Freedom Foundation) and the ANC Youth League. It was so successful that I was later asked by somebody within the ANC to facilitate such meetings country-wide. To make a long story short: it was blocked by political parties soon afterwards.
I was stunned: why? Why block it because it works? I found the answer in A Course in Miracles: The ego, in other words the fear-based image we have of who we think we are or should be, relies on identity, and needs enemies. If there are no enemies, then who am I?
Long before this I had already realized that group process is a paradoxical “spiritual” process: Cohesion is only “achieved” by giving up all efforts at achieving cohesion! Now, with the help of A Course in Miracles, I understood just how powerful a process it was. If the largest political party in the country found it necessary to block an initiative by a few people arranging reconciliation meetings, it must indeed have been something very powerful we were busy with!
Of course, there was also the projection factor: At some deep level I could not accept or believe the power of my own authenticity and projected that onto the politicians.
Since then, through my study of A Course in Miracles, Eckhart Tolle and especially A Course if Love, as well as many other writings, I have been expanding my insight into what exactly happens in group process, and this insight has increasingly led me to discover the joy of my own Being!
The beauty of Group Process is that it can happen with any group anywhere. It is not restricted to “spiritual retreats”, but can be useful in relationships, business and many other areas of life.
The following are some examples of group process that I have experienced, taken mainly from my book From Intellect to Intelligence: A Radical Natural Human Alternative.