Simple Practices for Integrating Spirituality into Groups

 Having lead many hundreds of groups, it can be a challenge to honor everyone’s needs and make them feel included.   I can appreciate this wisdom by spiritually-minded Kai Sidenburg, on some general guidelines on integrating spirituality when you are facilitating or being a part of any kind of group.  These are helpful suggestions to make that group process flow smoother.   Thanks Kai!

GENERAL GUIDELINES

Start small: It’s better to start small and leave people wanting more than to overdo it. Many people have had negative experiences with spiritual events that went on much longer than they wanted. As a group becomes more comfortable with spirituality, it’s fine to take more time for it.

Lead by example: Take time to ground yourself before working with a group, especially if you are in a leadership role. If you are clear and grounded, people will be more open to working with you. When introducing these practices to a group, you may want to start by demonstrating them yourself before asking the group to participate directly, for example by giving thanks at the beginning of a gathering.

Speak from the heart: When you come from your heart, you connect and communicate more powerfully, and others are more open to hearing you and more responsive to your requests. You also create space for others to speak from their hearts.

Invite, don’t command: While this is good advice in general, it is especially true with spirituality, since people have diverse beliefs and many have had negative experiences with being pressured to participate in religious services. A spirit of invitation can be conveyed through language and non-verbal cues, and by making things optional or getting agreement from a group before introducing a practice.

Honor diverse perspectives: Unless you are in a group that requires people to accept a particular belief system, it’s important to acknowledge (both directly and indirectly) that people have varied beliefs and traditions and that this is natural and good. You can do this partly by not assuming any shared beliefs and by avoiding common triggers like the “G-word.” Also, do your best to avoid anything that might come across as proselytizing, as well as any attachment to others adopting your beliefs or practices.

Be open to feedback: Demonstrate that you welcome feedback and are willing to listen and respond when you receive it. Especially when you are introducing new elements into a group, you might want to ask directly for feedback. Giving people the option to speak up in the group or approach you individually is helpful

One caveat: Any spiritual practice, no matter how simple or accessible, has potential to trigger negative reactions in some people. Indeed, almost anything you do with a group, including very common activities like doing check-ins or following an agenda, could provoke some negative reactions because of participants’ history and wounding. That is part of why we learn so much from working in groups. At the same time, if you want the group to be effective, it’s important to proceed mindfully and build trust and a sense of safety.

The practices described here are just a starting point. If a group is more comfortable with spirituality, there are many other ways to strengthen connections between participants and “the rest of the universe.” These include meditation, visualization, ceremony, prayer, and creating shared altars or sacred space.

Copyright Kai Sidenburg 2012

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