Working with Subtle Energy in Groups

Diane Musho Hamilton

Diane Musho Hamilton

There are important skills that come online when we begin to facilitate groups using the Integral framework as a lens through which we view our work. One is that we include the “bodies” in our awareness; that is, the gross, subtle and causal bodies (in the language of the Integral framework). The gross reality may be referred to as the dimension of form, Nirmanakaya in Tibetan Buddhism; the subtle realm (transformation realm) is called Sambhogakaya; and the third body, Dharmakaya, is the very, very subtle domain of our experience.

In the context of facilitation, these three distinctions become important, particularly when we become sensitive to the energy of groups, and gain an interest in actually using and working with energy — much like an acupuncturist works with energy in the body.

As facilitative leaders, we want to enable energy to flow evenly and coherently in our work, because groups become more efficient and enjoyable when we do. When energy in a group is agitated, discombobulated, or incoherent, the facilitator can work to soothe and cohere the energy of the group. Likewise, when energy is sluggish, slow, dense or stagnant, the facilitator can find ways to stimulate it, bringing the flow into balance.

The Integral Facilitator program encourages our trainees to develop their felt sense of the energetic quality in the room. Is energy coherent or fragmented? Is it high or low? This includes learning to read the emotional state of an individual or in the room as a whole.

It also extends to communications. For instance, the language of a speaker could be perfectly appropriate in the gross dimension, but in the subtle, there may be a texture of frustration, aggression, or negative judgement.

Whenever we begin to include the subtle realm as part of the facilitative experience, the question always comes up: “How does the facilitator know whether what he or she is perceiving is true or imagined; shared by the whole group or perceived only by the facilitator?”

In other words, how can the facilitator act with confidence and certainty, given that our awareness is leveraged in a domain of experience that can’t actually be verified very easily?

My answer to that question is that we simply have to be able to do so. In other words, we have to test our perceptions with the group and make sure that our perceptions are verified by the whole. For example, if I feel that energy in the room is low, I might simply say, “on a scale of 1 – 10, how’s the energy in the room?” If people say “2 or 3” then they agree its low. If people say “2, 3, 6, 5,” then people are communicating that not only is it low, it’s also incoherent. In this way, we can use simple tests like polling people to confirm our perception of the energy in the room.

Or I might have a sense that there’s an unspoken conflict in the room. If it’s a conflict that is dangerous, people may not want to speak to it. So the challenge is to frame it in a way that gets people interested in the question. In this kind of situation,  I might say, “Clearly nobody here has any conflicts with each other, but if you were to have a conflict, what would it be about?” In that way, we can actually use imagination and play in the subtle space of imagination to to begin to address what is happening between people in a real way.

All interventions as a facilitator are based on feedback from the room. If we have a hunch,  and take an action based on that hunch, it is imperative that we listen for feedback. Trungpa Rinpoche used you say “Be yourself, the world will give you feedback.” We must always remain in a feedback loop with the group.

There may be more complex situations where the facilitator senses something in the group, yet their attempts to get feedback from the group don’t quite succeed. Perhaps the group doesn’t agree, or won’t quite open up, and yet, the facilitator’s experience persists.

This can be tricky because of the temptation to reach a conclusion, rather than remain with the uncomfortable tension between our subtle perceptions and what’s explicit in the room. When my experience is not congruent with the group’s, it tells me that somewhere energy isn’t flowing evenly. Whether the obstacle is a shadow in the group’s culture or something obstacle that I’m bringing in, I want to check my perceptions, and continue to get feedback from the group to increase our coherence.

In this situation, I would take my perceptions out of the second person (the group) and put them into a very strong first-person communication. For instance, I might say, “I’m noticing that I continue to be disturbed. What I imagine is something like this is going on. I’ve tested it with you and you’ve told me no, but I’m trying to ascertain what is it. Can you help me solve my problem? Why is it im having trouble being congruent?”

Being willing to work with groups in this way is all about opening the doorway between gross and subtle domains, because as sensitive, living creatures we actually exist in all of these domains all the time. Everyone does. Yet at our time in history, we put so much emphasis into the gross domain and in our capacity to verify, objectify, that we’ve driven our subtle sensitivity into an empirical shadow.

We’re all extremely sensitive and subtle creatures who are asked to deny what we feel and perceive in our intuition, in our instinctive function, in the direct experience of the emotional centers in the heart. And that makes for a lot of craziness.

Some of the relief that people will find with a skilled Integral Facilitator is this energetic sensitivity. People actually get to include more of their genuine experience. If you’re a facilitator who has more integral competencies, you may give permission to the room for people to be more of who they are. So there’s actually more to reality — more to see, hear, and perceive. This is precisely what the Integral map does. By including more, we open up new pathways for working together. Pathways that can be inherently more enjoyable, more effective, and more enlivening.

Diane Musho Hamilton
Co-Founder and Lead Teacher, Integral Facilitator®
Author, Everything is Workable, a Zen Approach to Conflict Resolution.

Join the live conversation to follow:

Working with Subtle Energy in Groups: A Learning and Practice Discussion
Thursday, August 20, 2015
9:00 a.m. PT / 10:00 a.m. MT / 12:00 p.m. ET
Register for the call (at no charge) HERE

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1 thought on “Working with Subtle Energy in Groups”

  1. “All interventions as a facilitator are based on feedback from the room. If we have a hunch, and take an action based on that hunch, it is imperative that we listen for feedback. Trungpa Rinpoche used you say “Be yourself, the world will give you feedback.” We must always remain in a feedback loop with the group.”

    Perhaps there is no choice to staying in feedback loop?

    If you reach a very subtle place in your practice, you realize you are projecting “consensus reality” – it does not exist as “independent” reality “out there”.

    Or rather, Clear Light is projecting reality – without any input needed from your egoic structure.

    As Nyoshul Khenpo said during a Q&A at Harvard Divinitiy. “Rigpa enjoys itself – without Nyoshul Khenpo”

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