This proposal is made with the hope that the group described below (or some variation of it) will be able to meet at the Friendsí Meeting of Washington. This proposal was written for the consideration of the Spiritual Friendships Committe members on 10/28/98, and others.
Different ways of being with others will be helpful to different people at different times. What follows is a description of how a group of four or more people might organize themselves when meeting. It is hoped that this way of meeting will appeal to all people at least one day a month. Possibly this document could both be used as a constitution of sorts for the group, to be revised many times, and also be given to any newcomer to the group if she wants to read about the group before joining in.
This group is better understood by the structure of its meetings than by any particular content or goal.
Overview of the structure of the meeting:
For the first half or more of the meeting, participants will spend time talking with one, or possibly two other participants at the meeting. When the meeting is about halfway over, each participant will be given the opportunity to address the whole group, in whatever way, about any subject she would like; it is her five minutes to lead the meeting, to the extent that the others will cooperate with her. After everyone who wants to has addressed the entire group, participants will either leave or start new discussions with those people they feel moved to start discussions with.
To help frame what is being proposed:
Once a month or more often,
Detailed plan for the meeting(Details are given only as a starting point for debate)
Provisions for change
A history of the idea
A group, similar in some ways to the one proposed here, was started in Seattle by University of Washington students Colin Leath and Gordon Hogenson. A key difference between the Seattle group and this as yet imaginary group is size. From 8/28/96 - 10/25/98 this group had a stable attendance of only four participants at most.
Colin was the primary organizer of the group. He was motivated to start the group by his loneliness for people with whom he could work on life questions. Colin had noticed that all student groups at the University of Washington seemed to meet for a purpose, to accomplish something, or they organized themselves around a particular theme, like ethnicity or academic discipline. What he wanted instead was a group that was all-inclusive, made no assumptions (or as few as possible) about what was good or right, and had no stated purpose. The only purposes the group would have would be those the groupís members brought to it. Or perhaps the groupís purpose could be for its members to enjoy being together for the sake of being together. Colin started the group by posting flyers around campus which said, "What is being? What is loving? What is the best of life? discuss, experience" and listed a meeting time. Gordon was the first and only person to respond until later advertising efforts.
The group later became a registered student organization called the being group which listed the following as its purpose:
The purpose of this group is to discuss and create experience.
A secondary purpose of this group is to increase the amount of time people enjoy being alive. It is believed this can be accomplished by encouraging individuals to actively and openly question what is the best way to live.
After some time, Colin became motivated to figure out how, and if, the group could grow biggeróhe wanted to meet more people in a being-group type environment. Colinís problem was that (1) he did not like forever explaining the group to newcomers (who often did not keep coming), and (2) he only really liked talking to and being with one person at a time, not three or four. In his opinion, there were few environments more responsive or potentially rewarding than a being meeting consisting of only one other person. Larger group discussions are prone to domination by a particular person or idea and more patient or quiet individuals have less control over the content and atmosphere of the meeting than they would in a dyad.
In an attempt to address these issues and also the discomfort of many visitors with the being meetingsí lack of structure and content, Colin started another more widely advertised group, The Meaning in Life Forum.
The first meeting of the Meaning in Life Forum was attended by 8 people. That meeting, a format similar to the one proposed above was followed. That structure seemed to work well from Colinís perspective. However, attendance dropped to 6 after the first meeting, and when asked to evaluate the structure of the first meeting, the participants said they would rather have large group discussion for the whole meeting than both large group discussion and person-to-person conversation. Admittedly this decision was not given serious or prolonged contemplation, nor has it yet been followed up by asking the participants to re-evaluate the original proposal for the structure of the Meaning in Life Forum meetings. From then on the meetings were group discussions, with occasional rounds of each person taking a turn answering the same question, e.g., "what are things you have found meaningful in the past?" Attendance kept dropping and eventually stabilized at three participants, in addition to Colin.
Somewhat disillusioned about the prospects of growing the being group (in a way he would like) after this, Colin was happy to find an unprogrammed Quaker meeting (University Friends meeting). He attended the meeting only once, but it seemed to him that the Quakers may have found the only way of meeting with large numbers of people (>3) that was consistent (in outward appearance) with the values implicit in the being group. However an unprogrammed Quaker meeting does not have the emphasis on person-to-person interaction that a two- or three-person being-type group does.
Another possibility for growing the being group was to have some sort of monthly meeting at which people who were attracted to the idea of the being group could meet each other and arrange their own smaller, more frequent meetings. This appears to be similar to what is done in the Friends' Meeting of Washingtonís Spiritual Friendship program.
So it may be that the only long-lasting way to structure a meeting of a large group of people that encourages questioning and appreciation, without emphasizing one personís message or content over anotherís beforehand is the unprogrammed Quaker meeting. In case that is not so, the group proposed here will be another attempt, after the Meaning in Life Forum, to see if the group structure described above can work with large numbers of people. It may be that the meetings will start as proposed and then evolve into an entirely different structure, but, either way, maybe it will work (i.e., provide emotional experience that is rewarding enough that at least some of those who participate will want to keep coming). Also, perhaps simpler ways to meet the needs which brought forth this proposal can be found.
Spirituality is not directly addressed in this proposal. That is because the author believes, perhaps naively and over-idealistically, that only that which might be considered good will come to exist in an environment which encourages (1) active and open questioning (when the need for questioning is felt) and (2) appreciation/love of others and oneís own experience of being.
The most relevant question of all is, "Is this something you think you or anyone else might want to do?" and, if not, can you think of something that addresses the needs which brought forth this proposal that you or someone might want to do? Perhaps the easiest way to evaluate this proposal would be to post it (and announce the posting of this proposal) at Friendsí Meeting of Washington, and see if there is anyone else who wants to try this out.
Thank you for considering this proposal. Please contact me to talk about it further, to make suggestions about how it could be improved, or to express your interest.