Several months ago I spoke before a weekly spiritual discussion group in Phoenix, Arizona that calls itself “Out of the Box.” The moment I entered the meeting room, I could feel the electricity in the air. Clearly, it was going to be an exceptional evening – and it was.
I learned something very important that night about the palpable benefits gained by being an active part of an open-ended group that was committed to exploring beyond the defined limits of dogma. This was a gathering of seemingly ordinary people who had found a way of mutually bootstrapping one another into the realm of the extraordinary.
A few weeks later, I had the chance to speak with Out of the Box founders, Shari Eres-Leve and Dan Nease, to learn more about what makes their groups so vibrant and productive for its members. What began as a few people meeting in Dan’s coffee house has now expanded to four established weekly groups, with a fifth already underway. Here is their recipe for creating an Out of the Box group in your neighborhood:
Invite a few “light-minded people” (Out of the Box’s term for group members) to meet in a comfortable, quiet place. Private homes are too restrictive, coffee houses too noisy. Metaphysical bookstores, party rooms in restaurants, meeting rooms at libraries, even the children’s area at a Borders or Barnes and Noble, have proven more conducive.
Each person is invited to write one or more questions of a spiritual nature and put them into a box – hence the name of the group. One question at a time is pulled out of the box and becomes the topic for discussion. Since all the questions are rarely addressed in a single session, the box gets quite full over time. As the weeks and months pass, the group develops its own focus and style, based on the kinds of questions participants want to consider.
The structure is simple: The group sits in a circle (symbolizing endless continuity – the mystery itself). A facilitator (as opposed to a leader) keeps the meeting organized and moving along. She or he also welcomes people as they arrive. Another person, acting as group secretary, gathers contact information (name, address, phone, email) and creates a database (Excel) for announcing future gatherings.
The facilitator opens the meeting with a simple meditation or expression of gratitude, asking that the space, participants, and discussions are harmonious, and then explains the meeting’s format. The paper on which a question is written serves as a Native American–style talking stick—it is passed around the circle and whoever holds it is the speaker at that moment. Everyone else listens attentively. Even if some do not agree with, or even like, what the speaker is saying, they honor it as that person’s truth and give it their full attention. All comments, even remarks to oneself, wait until the open discussion that follows.
If someone prefers not to comment on a certain question, that’s fine; when the question is handed to them, they can just pass it along. Once the question has traveled all the way around the circle, an open discussion begins, organized by show of hands. The facilitator calls on people in the order in which their hands were raised.
Over the years that Out of the Box has been meeting, Shari has made some refinements, bowing to whim and the creative process along the way. The meetings now open by inviting each person to say their first name and answer a “fun” question such as “What astrological sign are you?” or “Where were you born?” This “ice-breaker” lets everyone feel they have a voice in the group. Announcements about future meetings or other items of general interest follow. Finally, before the first question is selected, members are invited to share experiences—events, synchronicities, epiphanies—that occurred since the last meeting and are relevant to the group’s interests. Sometimes these are so moving and profound that a question is never pulled from the box.
The format is more organic than rigid. The only guideline is the growing consensus within the group itself. In this way the group is self-empowered. If the gathering is large, participants are requested to keep their comments short (2–3 minutes). Sometimes a single question fills the entire meeting; sometimes many are discussed. It is the facilitator’s job to keep the session vibrant and flowing, sometimes proposing a thought-provoking question as a seed for future consideration. Each meeting concludes with a hand-holding circle. All the participants are acknowledged, and all are invited to be the love they want to see on the planet in the coming week.
Most of us, unless we are already incredibly adept, can go farther in a group than on our own. The group dynamic brings things out of us that would otherwise lie latent. We feel encouraged to get more involved in our own lives. We discover the extraordinary wisdom, experience, and capacity each of us has, and the power that comes from expressing it and listening to others. This is simplest, cleanest, most effective path to empowerment—to turn not to a guru, a workshop, or a study group, but to each other.
It also makes for a tremendous audience. When a group of people is already committed to participation and exploration, as a visiting speaker I’m free to merge energies with them, and together we can venture beyond the final frontier. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Jean-Claude Gerard Koven is a writer and speaker based in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. He was a featured weekly columnist for the UPI (United Press International) Religion and Spirituality Forum and is the author of Going Deeper: How to Make Sense of Your Life When Your Life Makes No Sense, recipient of both the Allbooks Reviews Editor’s Choice Award and the USABookNews.com Award for the Best Metaphysical Book of the Year.
©2004 – 2017. Jean-Claude Gerard Koven / All Rights Reserved.