I'd done a couple of weekend groups at Windhorse with Atula, maybe six years or so ago. They were important, first, in the depth to which myself and others communicated ourselves, second, in the way he was able to highlight patterns in my behaviour in groups. My tendency towards being silent, getting 'locked out', and consequent frustration at being unable to make myself be heard. Returning to this form of process based group work, was hence a reunion and a return to test where I currently am at with all this.
Both Atula and Paramananda talk about 'soul', not in the sense of an eternal part of human existence that survives death, but as an archetypal grounding element in the human psyche. This element needing to be in a co-existing and balanced relationship with the rarified purity of the 'spirit' element. These ideas are derived from the pioneering work of James Hillman, who single-handed created Archetypal Psychology by amplifying and adding to aspects of Jung's work.
The group was large, an even mix of men and women, all members of the Triratna Buddhist Order. We eased into the group work via dreams. we were encouraged to put our dreams into a box. Then during one session each day we'd all gather in a room where the box would be in the centre surrounded by five chairs, four of us would be asked to volunteer to sit in this inner circle, pick out and speak about a dream from the box. People could leave or join this circle whenever they felt they had something to say,or had finished. The anonymous dreams would tap into some sort of collective psyche and expose intimately personal, yet universal themes. Within a few days we were into more informal process orientated groups where there was no theme other than whatever we spoke of or brought to it. This was often a challenging and frequently bumpy ride.
As the week went on, my initial reticence in bringing myself forward broke. I could sense my strong tendency to adopt a listening empathic role in groups setting in, and consequently not to bring myself fully into the group. This began increasingly to chafe, but it wasn't accompanied by self-recriminations or punishment, which used to be there ten years ago. So there has been progress. I know, understand and am much kinder to myself these days. So much stuff came up that I'm still processing and reflecting on things. It wasn't only my stuff, but also the stuff of others which stirred up things within me. I saw how strongly I use the 'social mirror' to reflect back to me, what my own feelings, ideas and thoughts are. They don't seem to arise easily or spontaneously from me without this external prompt.
Meditation wise, Paramananda, has some poetic and potent ideas about where we go wrong with our practice. Instead of observing the body breathing, in the 'mindfulness of breathing' practice, there's a tendency to objectify and act from an 'idea' about the practice, not a lived experience of it. No wonder it becomes dull, lifeless and an unrewarding effort. So I'm focusing more and more in my practice on abiding with my body breathing, observing how my centre of energy shifts upwards when I start straining to direct, or over analysing what I'm experiencing. I need to work on grounding my awareness in my body, probably for quite some time. I've habitually skipped over preparation to get on with the form of the practice. I can see how this leads me into not fully experiencing myself, and maybe that's the real reason, to avoid discomfort.
I came away from the retreat very conscious how I can hide myself from myself, and from other peoples scrutiny, whilst simultaneously feeling I'm never being fully myself, or actively being present in the world outside. The two, obviously, are connected. Though I am currently working on becoming more visible through my work with ritual, I'm all too conscious how uncomfortable that visibility makes me. It's all too easy to bare all via this blog. Real communication is personal, and requires presence, the virtual world takes place at a safe distance - you can filter and censor how you present yourself to the world, in some respects you might just as well be anonymous. Real communication, like I experienced on this retreat, is very rare. when it happens you feel simultaneously an extraordinarily naked exposure and relief as something never said before is released to fly from bondage.