– by Martha Lasley
One of the things we do in an authentic communication group is to interact in the relational space in the present moment. We call this level 4. Let’s look at all four levels of interaction.
Level 1 is chit chat and requires very little listening. We talk about the weather, what we saw on the news, where we went on vacation. This is the opposite of “here and now” and known as “there and then”. There is nothing wrong with level one or any other level. They are not good or bad. Many times, chit chat warms us up so that we can go deeper into the next level And occasionally we go too deep too fast, and a part finds that unsafe, “takes a flight” back to level one with a joke or some other banter.
Level 2 interactions include storytelling and talking about people who are not present. The group is still in the zone of “there and then” but the conversation is more meaningful than level one. There may be some vulnerability, sharing and mutual support. At this level, we might also find judgments, interpretations, suggestions, or reassurance. We may talk about important issues, like the increase of facism all over the world, how people from the global north hoard resources, or that some people don’t believe climate change is real.
Level 3 supports people to go deeply into their process. The group helps someone explore their inner world and how parts of the psyche interact with each other. For example, I have a part that wants to reveal something vulnerable but another part wants me to withhold, afraid that I may be misunderstood. At level three, one person works on themselves while others witness, catch them energetically, and empathize. Partially in the past, and partially in the present, one person discovers what is happening which parts are dominating their inner world, while the rest of the group embodies curiosity, compassion, and heart connection. All parts are welcome.
Although ACG is not designed for group therapy, there are times when level 3 work supports connection and helps people to know each other more fully. There’s another stark difference between level 2 and level 3. In the former, we might talk about how other people and systems are oppressive. In the latter we do a U-turn, look at our own internal oppressor and work to unburden it.
Level 4 is another world entirely. We explore our relationships and pay attention to how we interact with each other in the moment. In this field we get curious, share how we feel toward each other, and ask for feedback.
We explore what is happening right now, by noticing where our eyes and ears are drawn. We feel into our emotions and body sensations. We name how we are feeling toward individuals and the group. We notice where people are holding tension in their body, and we listen to the breath. We notice changes in the voice and changes in posture. We watch faces for micromovements, and we take responsibility for our impact, which can be very different from our intention.
Breathing deeply, we cultivate centered awareness, and when parts arise, we create space for them to be seen, held and honored for their positive intentions. We notice what is going on in the group and how people are responding to each other. An interactive group calls for brazen experimentation and has sweet potential for healing. When a group is functioning well at level 4, we share the air and take responsibility for the quality of our interactions. If we don’t like what’s happening in the group, we change it.
Level 4 is akin to being out in the wild, interacting with the beauty and disasters of nature, which is very different from watching the discovery channel. All our senses are engaged, as we take in the energy and allow ourselves to feel deeply. In this garden, we experience the sensuous qualities of interaction, lean into intimacy and rock each other’s worlds.
How do we initiate level 4 interactions?
To start with, we don’t make people wrong, which can result in people feeling frozen or wondering if they belong. In Authentic Communication Groups we are all facilitators, and we can initiate level 4 interactions in hundreds of ways. Here are just a few:
- ask for consent to share feedback
- Would it be okay if I share something I noticed about you?
- offer your reaction
- I have some skepticism arise in me when you said you didn’t want to share your pain. My body is telling me that maybe you do want to be heard if only you could trust us to hold you.
- share vulnerably
- You said you’re a surrogate sex worker and a part of me wants to google that, but another part wants to admit that I don’t know what that means. I’m embarrassed and afraid you might reject me because I’m not part of your woke world.
- tell something you’ve been withholding
- I’m attracted to you and it’s probably because I have a young part that felt soothed just now when you listened to me with deep attentiveness.
- reach out to someone
- My attention is with you because you look agitated, but you haven’t spoken.
- ask for feedback
- I would like feedback from the group about how you all feel toward me. I’m taking a risk because I want to build more heart connection.
- talk about what’s happening in the moment
- I feel exhausted when two people repeat themselves. I want to empathize, but I also wonder if we can create space for others to respond or share what’s happening for them.
- reveal yourself
- A part of me is angry that you never speak unless we ask you to. And then you say, what do you want to know? I would like some parity, some shared responsibility of who does the emotional labor of the group.
- uncover duality
- As a brown woman, one part of me wants to shake you or slap you for saying I’m exotic. I have another part that is trying to find some compassion for you. A third part is pissed that I am taking care of you when I’m in pain. My internal drama triangle is working overtime.
- slam down a metaphor
- The group seems to be waking each other up with bold statements, but my heart received your energy as “shoot to kill,” which scared me. Since hurt people hurt people, would you like to share what’s happening inside?
- explore authority issues
- My heart is beating fast. I have a hurt part that is furious with the facilitator for interrupting me, and I want the group to help me find my voice because I’m terrified to speak up.
- offer hypotheses about power dynamics
- My hypothesis is that one sub-group of people feel entitled to speak and expect their voices to be welcome, and the other sub-group does not. Four people seem to take space easily and the other four hold back, ask permission before they speak, or wait to be invited.
- notice patterns in group behaviors and norms
- I see most of the men speak with confidence, but many women say things that are profound and then shrink back. I feel deeply sad about this pattern because it seems connected to thousands of years of conditioning.
- `empathize at the group level
- The group seems to be centering people from the dominant culture, something we are all socialized to do. For survival we pay attention to those who have power. What will it take for the group to center the needs of people from the margins?
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