Last week I made my first visit the Oxford Centre for Mindfulness. After a bleary eyed start at 5:30 I stepped of the bus close to Oxford Brookes University and made the short walk to the centre under the cherry blossom and in the company of Mark, one of the course participants.
This was to be a whole day in the company of other trainers looking at our work with “groups”. How they enhance learning, how they form, develop and dissolve. We were lucky to have one of the most experienced trainers in the field, Trish Bartley, leading the day. Trish works in groups with people diagnosed with cancer. She has literally written the book on the subject (see links) and movingly read out some quotes from her group members at a couple of points during the day.
Groups have always fascinated me. I have lead and taught them in work situations and in community arts contexts, and over time developed an some understanding of group work and game theory. Whilst I’ve participated in mindfulness and therapy groups and lead many smaller mindfulness courses, I wanted to know more about leading larger groups.
Trish, of course, used the group itself to illustrate many of the points she was making She had us running/moving around at many points to emphasise how the body as well as the mind can be engaged in practice and learning. Regular “grounding” points brought us back again and again to our own perception of the moment.
The aha! moments, for me, were when she spoke about the “mutual” learning that takes place in a group. All too often we think of training as being one way transmission, but if the “trainer” is open and confident he or she is learning at every point too. Trish also asked us try and describe a group’s status as an animal: is it a plodding horse or an anxious meerkat? and what would it need? One for reflection but may be not sharing with the group in question.
Taking leave of the group Trish invited us to take a single bright red bead on a string bracelet away with us. Something she does with her groups to help the participants connect back to the learning and maybe prompt some practice. I wore mine on the way home and it now swings from my backpack a little reminder each time I zip and unzip my bag.