Posted by: David Weimer | May 10, 2010

Group work

I wait to meet myself.  Sometimes I see him come into our meeting room, but he’s not willing to hear me.  I can recognize myself sitting over there, but I can’t strike up a conversation.  Sometimes I see him walk in, look around, and walk out.  Sometimes he walks by in the hallway without coming in.  Sometimes he stays and I give him a book to read and he or she leaves, takes the book and brings it back unread.  I’m the tree in a time-lapse film, a flickering lantern on my motionless branch.

My notion of group work has changed over time.  Group work concerning seeking a permanent solution to the ultimate question of life is what I’m referring to.  In the beginning, I had no concept of group work.  I had ultimate questions but I walked with them on my own.  I avoided philosophic books from a strong conviction that they were irrelevant.  I avoided churches because I considered the attendees deluded.

In 1992, I ran across a University of Pittsburgh student group called the Self Knowledge Symposium.  I was a reporter for the campus paper and I chose to cover this group’s first meeting of the semester over other, more boring, story assignments.  I became interested and returned to following meetings.  Each week, there were people sitting in a circle of chairs in a classroom in the evening to talk about very important things, things like consciousness, awareness, states of being, meaning, and the purpose of our lives.  At that time, I was thrilled to have an outlet and an opportunity to speak aloud all of the things that I had held in my head for years.  I’d found my own church.

I’d been attending SKS meetings for two years when first A.F. and then M.F. stopped heading them.  I remember sitting in the basement cafeteria in the Cathedral of Learning with M.F. at the end of 1993.  We met there regularly after SKS meetings to discuss the night’s activities.  This particular night was the last meeting of the year and had been a particularly good one.  M.F. commented nostalgically about the course of that semester’s meetings.  He said that they had been profound for him—and also that he wouldn’t be coming back to head the meetings in the spring.  He was going to begin a new phase of his life.

I couldn’t accept letting this valuable thing that I’d become increasingly involved with dissolve.  I’d never considered heading a group, but if I failed to act, this gem would slip through my fingers and disappear.

Waiting on a January evening in an empty second floor classroom of the Cathedral of Learning, I was nervous.  That’s primarily what I remember from the first spring meeting.  I’d prepared an introduction to what my notion of the purpose of this group was.  I’d waited ten minutes past the time that the meeting was supposed to start, relieved that no one had shown up.  As I was gathering up my things to leave, two pretty girls walked in.  I gave them a handout and told them about this group aimed at investigating the meaning in one’s life.  After some silence, they told me they’d thought that this was a fraternity meeting of some kind and had wanted to find out for sure.

With that start, things took off.  By the time that I left this precious group in someone else’s hands, it had been a real adventure.  There was a core of six or seven regular attendees and we’d formed a bond of friendship and shared experiences.  We’d gone on trips to caves and railroad tunnels.  We’d engineered thought experiments and explored magic, ghosts, perception and divination.  The group had become an established funded student organization that sponsored lectures and presentations.  We had a website.  In December, I graduated and held a meeting with these core members, telling them that I had to make a clean break of things and let them move into the driver’s seat.  This was the best and truest gift that I could give—the experience of leading a group.  Even before I was gone, I’d missed the meetings that I wouldn’t get to attend.  I was occasionally tempted to go back but resisted because I didn’t want to influence things.  M.F.’s own farewell echoed with me at times.

Along with leaving notes, instructions, tips and so on, I showed core members the ins and outs of running the show.  I believed in the purpose of the group.  We were explorers.  I handed them the keys and left.

I stopped by in six months and was deeply moved to see it still working.  A year later, I visited again and was amazed and happy to see it alive.  I felt thankful for myself and others that it still lived.  In 1996, during my separation from my first wife, I found unexpectedly large chunks of time in my hands so I started auditing the SKS meetings, interacting with a new regular crowd.

When I left Pittsburgh that November, I’d become friends with a new treasured group of similar souls.  On a cold weekday, I held a going away party in a friend’s house on Suburban Avenue in the South Hills.  Five or six fellow seekers of truth came to wish me farewell.  It was a happy sad time.  I’d left once before and knew that this time it would be for good.  Some things you don’t get to have back twice.

My notion of group work had evolved.  I’d gone from being a fully engaged group participant to being a fully engaged leader of an organization of metaphysical exploration.  I’d then handed the reins over to peers on a path aimed at enlightenment—at least that’s the path that I was on.  I haven’t spoken to these friends in a decade, but they’re as alive in my mind as they were for me when I saw them regularly.

While I was leading SKS, I had what I consider an evangelical mindset for a while.  I would greet newcomers with the motive of converting them to truth-seeking people.  I wanted to make everybody obsessed with it like I was.  Before one meeting, I was organizing handouts and I remember stopping and staring at the chalkboard over the table.  I said aloud to myself, ‘This isn’t for everyone.’  I saw what I had been attempting.  This isn’t for everyone… Nothing was.

After that, I never did anything except focus my attention on what I was interested in.  Each meeting, I presented a topic or idea that I was interested in and I abandoned all efforts to show or convince anyone of anything.  Surprisingly, attendance shot up.  We had a dozen people or more regularly.  The group thrived.  I noticed the irony.

Following my departure from Pittsburgh, nine years would pass before I would engage in group work of this kind again.  I’ve been a regular attending member of TAT since 1993, making it to most quarterly TAT meetings, but I’m referring to group work that I initiate.  I would eventually get back into metaphysical group work by returning to the U.S. from France.

When I moved overseas, I didn’t make it to any TAT meetings.  I was immersed in foreign languages and cultures.  I subsisted from a trickle of email correspondence with seekers of the truth.  I knew some of them from TAT circles.  I’d met a few from a bulletin board on Shawn Nevins’ link, Spiritual Friends Locator on his website.  All the while, I was desperate for the rare thing that I was accustomed to having at TAT meetings and SKS meetings.  I discovered what I’d taken as a given.

I adjusted to my new life in first German and then French societies, but it was living with the sound turned off.  I didn’t get the opportunity to talk on a channel and subject that I yearned for.  I’m sure that I would have found something if I had lived there the rest of my life, once the language barrier was completely gone, but I didn’t.  I corresponded with one or two people at a time, and we would agree to pause our correspondence, and then I would find myself comparing notes with someone else a few months later via email.  That was my lifeline.  I was an expatriate on a metaphysical desert island.

Without expecting to ever return, I came back to the States in 2003.

I attended TAT meetings again for the first time in five years.  It was very nice to be where I recognized and resonated with the subject matter in the air.

My family and I relocated to the Ohio Valley in 2005.  Waiting for TAT meetings was almost the extent of group work for me.  That, and occasional email correspondence with other seekers.

Once in the Wheeling area, I began running a weekly discussion group at the library there after a conversation with the coordinator for library activities. The group is called M&M Philosophy, short for Meeting of the Minds Philosophic Inquiry Forum.

Here, I see group work with other, older eyes.  I organize meetings with various topics, exercises and activities and my enthusiasm and curiosity about the subjects we cover is all that I bring to the table.  Attendance for the first two years was regular and I think that word of mouth had something to do with it.  Maybe curiosity about something new in town was a factor, too.  We had a lot of people coming through the auditorium double doors.  It seems like everyone popped in at one time or another.  I say ‘we,’ but there isn’t a core in the sense that there was at Pitt with SKS.  One or two people are interested enough to come back regularly.  An average crowd is five or six.  Sometimes it’s just me and one another.  It’s a different dynamic.  I’m different.  These Tuesday nights, there are people from various times of life coming together in an auditorium in the basement of the Wheeling library.  Retirees, working class people, students.

Thematic ripples move through these three years.  I stand on this beach, watching waves cover the sand and disappear.  Geriatrics.  Extremists.  Conservatives.  Christians.  Atheists.  Liberals.  Young and restless.  And… seekers—who don’t know what they want or what they are; just that something is missing and it echoes for them in our meetings.

I’ve questioned my motives for organizing and running this group.  All I can say is that I have a habit of returning to the same place in the library auditorium to gaze at the water.

I feel like a still tree in a time-lapse motion picture with days and seasons coming and going.  I watch people meet each other, return, don’t return, laugh, leave.

What do I have to offer…

For three hours each Tuesday, I am a truth-seeking arrow.  I have spent my life energy fixated on the most important subject that exists for me.  I have devoured esoteric books and listened to a West Virginia enlightened man whose voice always pointed towards home.  I dedicated my life to reaching that one goal, that Mount Everest of my existence and I never found it.  I turned into it.

I think that I have something to offer myself, and if I walk through those auditorium doors, sitting there in my chair, I will look up and recognize myself, knowing that I can say a thing or two that I might use in my life.

(c) 2010 David W. Weimer


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