One important tool in the understanding of life and each other, that captures the understanding of meditation and combines contemplation, critical analysis and group dynamics is group contemplation. Through this process, which will be examined in this article, he may reach into a vivid sharing of insight and spirit, and come to ever higher places of experiencing spirit in action to give him insights to the questions and concerns that he brings forth.
What is group contemplation?
Group contemplation is a process through which a group seeks to discover or realize Truth. This process is based upon the same principles that underlie the individual practice of meditation, or the art of contemplation. These involve concentration, attention, retrospection and receptivity.
Successful group contemplation leads to genuine discovery, and a greater understanding based upon a higher comprehension of Truth. The group may experience such a higher understanding as a whole or it may not, but this type of group interaction will facilitate discovery by the individual participants. This discovery may come as a flash of intuition, an experience of clarity, or even as a fusion of thought in which pieces of information, originally separate, are seen to illuminate and explain each other.
Contemplation differs from thinking as discussion differs from argument and debate. Thinking proceeds from premises, based on experiences or facts, to conclusions by the application of the processes of logic or the principles of sound reason. Contemplation takes the same experiences or facts, and by cultivating an attitude of receptivity to Higher Mind, uses those experiences or facts as seed-thought patterns in order to draw from Higher Mind the clusters of related ideas and images that go to build a more complete realization of the truth inherent in the fact contemplated.
In an argument or a debate, two opposing sides approach a given proposition, and each side attempts to convince the other it is right. This approach is completely ineffective in group contemplation. The means by which group contemplation is approached is the process of discussion.
A discussion is the method by which a group of individuals join their minds in a common effort to seek the right solution to some problem. Effective discussion takes place in a spirit of cooperation, not controversy. No one knows beforehand what may be revealed, but all participants are committed to uncovering the best possible solutions and answers to the questions facing the group.
In order for group contemplation to occur, each participant makes an agreement with himself to observe the following conditions:
- An organized process or procedure: the rules of discussion.
- A willingness to be fully open and honest with others.
- An attitude of acceptance and acknowledgment that truth may speak through anyone at any time.
- The role of one group member serving as group leader or moderator.
- A sense of fellowship and camaraderie wherein one accepts the potential to accomplish something together.
- A total commitment to complete cooperation with all members of the group.
The most effective number of participants in group contemplation falls between six and fifteen persons. More than this makes it difficult to involve everyone to his optimum capacity.
It is the responsibility of every group member to be more concerned for the revealing of the group vision than for his own opinion. This is accomplished by assuming a state of personal retrospection throughout the entire period of the group contemplation.
These are some of the attitudes of one who is in a state of retrospection and group concern:
- Always searching for a solution, not out to prove or disprove an opinion or convince anyone that he is right.
- Actively participates, either through speaking his mind or placing full attention and support with those who are speaking.
- Does not speak to please anyone or to say what he thinks the group wants to hear, nor does he hold back an idea because he thinks the group may reject it.
- Keeps his statements to the point (brief and concise), both out of respect for the other members, and also in recognition of the fact that his idea needs no defending or justifying. He does not try to monopolize the discussion.
- Is not thinking about what to say while another is speaking.
- Does not argue with other members, but raises questions to clear away doubt; he is always moving toward clarification. It is more important to hear out the other person than to agree with him, and, often, questioning rather than disputing will clear up disagreements.
- Is willing to change his mind in the face of persuasive evidence, knowing that flexibility is respected more than stubbornness.
- If not totally satisfied with a point or decision of the group, he speaks up rather than grudgingly going along with it, knowing that it is important for the others to know that he disagrees and trusting that the others will take this into consideration.
- Is willing to speak out and hold people to the basic format, pointing out to others, when he sees a violation such as someone asking leading or loaded questions (forcing someone to agree to a point because of the way it is worded or phrased), or belaboring a point unnecessarily (also called "beating a dead horse").
Retrospection occurs when, in monitoring your own self and the way you react or respond to the others, you observe yourself and, quite objectively, make the adjustments necessary to establish harmony with the basic guidelines and attitudes of the group contemplation.
The group moderator also has a function that must be understood by all participants of insuring effective group contemplation. He functions as a facilitator, which means:
- To focus group attention upon the question or task at hand.
- To raise questions that encourage critical thinking and deep probing.
- To involve as many of the group as possible in the discussion. He does this by asking questions (not by giving answers), and by putting the responsibility for uncovering answers on the group (he may step out of his role momentarily and function as a group member, but only if he has something to contribute to the discussion that no one else has seen, and this privilege should be exercised discreetly).
- To help the group interact with each other rather than focusing on the moderator. He must be willing to serve not as the focal point but as the one who is responsible for keeping the group directed towards the true focal point, which is the group vision.
- To see that all pertinent questions are raised and all evidence is brought forth. It is not the moderator's function to see that the group reaches the so-called "right" conclusions, but to insure that everyone has been heard.
In order to effectively fill the role of moderator, this person must be willing to assume the following attitudes and to maintain them through ongoing retrospection:
- Keeps personal opinions out of the way. He must be willing to be part of the discovery process.
- Does not reject any point of view but encourages its full expression, knowing that suppression of unpopular viewpoints constricts the growth of the group and encourages people to drop out mentally when not feeling heard.
- Keeps his personal approval and disapproval out of the discussion. Body language often tells more than words as to whether you accept or reject a person's point of view. As moderator, it is especially important to represent objectivity and to trust that the group will come to the clearest conclusions simply by getting all the facts to them and keeping all options and viewpoints open.
. - He must avoid arguing with the group or defending the questions he is proposing. Knowing that through questioning he is merely asking the group to look at all sides, he is then functioning within the guidelines of his role and will thus avoid any strain or tension.
The process of a group contemplation depends upon a few key elements. These include an understanding of one's role and responsibility, a willingness to maintain a state of self-observation and monitoring at all times (retrospection), and a basic trust in the integrity of the group and each of its members, confident that a truth which exists just beyond the grasp of any individual in the group will be uncovered.
Before beginning a group contemplation, it is essential that everyone be clear on the guidelines and procedures and that everyone be encouraged to be frank, even outspoken, and invited to participate fully. It is helpful for the moderator to remind everyone to address the group, rather than the moderator, when making a point, and, for the sake of clarity, to review the moderator's function. All should be encouraged to offer feedback and suggestions at any time.
Following is a list of some suggestions that may prove useful for the group moderator:
- Plan ahead by reviewing possible questions to present to the group, but be prepared to put your outline aside in order to meet the spontaneous interest and needs of the group.
- A void asking "yes or no" questions.
- Don't defend your questions, but re-phrase them if questions arise concerning them.
- By encouraging participation it is more likely that members will stay involved and interested. However, don't call on someone without his willingness. At the same time don't let a small minority dominate the discussion, but ask them to sit back so that others might speak.
- Adhere to the rule that only one person speaks at a time while the others listen.
- If a question is raised that does not pertain to the subject at hand, advise that the group come back to it later when it is appropriate—then be sure to do so.
- Keep the discussion focused on the question at hand and stop it at any time when confusion or misunderstanding arises and clear it up before resuming.
- If someone is having trouble expressing himself clearly, help him out by asking questions that enable him to clarify what he is saying.
- Allow each member to clarify his own position rather than trying to do it for him by paraphrasing. This encourages the members to take responsibility for their own points of view.
- At times it may be expedient to restate or summarize for the group the important points that have been made. This will bring everyone up to date on what has been covered and what has been seen, agreed upon, or even disagreed upon. This should be an objective reporting of the highlights and not a personal interpretation of how you feel about it.
- Keep the continuity alive by referring to points already made and asking the group how a current point relates to those expressed earlier.
The nature of the group contemplation approach brings some fundamental spiritual principles into active play. The entire process can be viewed as a large scale meditation, in which the elements of personal meditation are present: A question is placed into the Higher Mind and by a series of subjective (the group members) and objective (the moderator) interactions, an answer is revealed.
The key to the uncovering of an answer through this form is the ability of each member to accept the possibility of answers coming through the other members, each in turn reflecting off the other, until the higher group mind releases its treasure. The disciplines of concentration, introspection, receptivity and attention are a vital part of the meditative process and they serve the same purpose in group contemplation by focusing and keeping the eye single upon the goal. In this way, the higher mind, working through the clearly defined group mind established in the group contemplation, unveils its greater vision. For this reason we view group contemplation, not as a thinking process, but as an experiential opportunity.
Because a condition is created as a result of group contemplation, certain assumptions that we normally make in the course of other types of discussion situations may not apply. What is important to remember is that in this format there is no such thing as right or wrong input at the personal level, for all contributions are received in the spirit of relaxation and trust. Even two opposing points of view, when viewed from this perspective, become merely equal pieces of information that the group may choose to use as it works together toward its goal.
Silence can be a useful tool when it is used as an opportunity to reflect and digest. There is no need to be afraid of it.
But as has been shown, what is important (and it is the moderator's responsibility to insure that this occurs) is clarity. When words of an ambiguous nature are used it should be noted whether everyone understands this in the same way. Sometimes it is necessary to disqualify a word or term if there is no clear agreement as to its meaning.
Agreement on a particular point is not so important as the preservation of the conditions of open-mindedness, honesty, frankness and trust. Resolution may sometimes take the form of agreeing to disagree, but what is important is that everyone is a part of coming to that realization and everyone is satisfied that they have been heard and understood.
This format establishes a condition in which answers are revealed. When this condition is present and nurtured by each member's acceptance of the other member's inherent goodness and through the practice of retrospection, the satisfaction that comes through the experience of group vision may take many forms, and generally takes one that no one would have thought of himself. For this reason, a sense of humor is encouraged as it fosters fellowship and understanding. Spontaneous moments of humor are helpful when they arise.
The results of group contemplation?
By following the procedures and participating in the experience of group contemplation you may expect to come into a clear understanding of some truth or meaning which you can relate directly to your life. It is not an intellectual examination, but an experience of spirit in action.
Adapted from the "Group Contemplation Manual" of the HOLY ORDER OF MANS