Book Excerpt

From Living in the Heart by Paul Ferrini

Affinity Group Purpose, Guidelines and Agreements

The Purpose of the Affinity Group

The purpose of the Affinity Group Process is: to give and receive unconditional love, acceptance and support. To create a safe, loving,  non-judgmental space in which we can open our hearts and move through our fears.

The Group Guidelines

1. Remember our Purpose: We are here to love and accept one another, not to judge, analyze, rescue or try to fix one another.

2. We agree to share from our hearts and be honest about what we are thinking and feeling.

3. When our Judgments come up about someone, we will be aware of them and gently bring our attention back to the person speaking.

4. We will not interrupt anyone's process. We will give the person sharing our undivided attention. We will not engage in cross-talk.

5. We will take thirty seconds in silence to acknowledge each person's sharing.

6. We will not monopolize the group's time and attention. We will yield the floor to others in the group who have shared less than we have.

7. We will make "I" Statements, not "You" statements. We will take responsibility for our own experiences and respect the experience of others. We will not assign "our" meaning to something someone else has said.

8. We will not hide our hurt or angry feelings. We will share them honestly, without trying to make others responsible for how we feel.

9. If someone shares a hurt or angry feeling with us, we will acknowledge how s/he feels. We will not defend ourselves or try to justify our words or actions. We will share any feelings that come up for us.

10.  We will stay in the present moment. We will not bring up the past or future, unless they are happening for us here and now.

11.  We will keep everything that is said in the group confidential.

12.  We will honor the silence, knowing that it offers us an opportunity to become more deeply present to ourselves and others.

13.  If we feel that the group is going "off-purpose," we will ask for a moment of silence, during which our group can re-center andremember its purpose.

14.  Remembering that we won't do this process perfectly, we will be gentle with ourselves. We will use whatever transpires in the group as an opportunity to practice forgiveness.

The Group Agreements

1. We agree to honor the purpose of the group.
2. We agree to practice the guidelines.
3. We agree to be on time for every group meeting.
4. We agree to attend every meeting of the group.

What Our Affinity Is

We call this the Affinity Process because the word affinity denotes "kinship" as in brother/sisterhood. It also suggests a "community of interest" amongst people who see each other as equals and have one another's highest good at heart.

Our affinity does not consist of our agreement, but our willingness to honor our differences. In the Affinity Process, we learn to trust that others will hear and respect us when we tell our truth, and we learn to listen respectfully when others tell us their truth, even if it is different from our own.

The Affinity Process helps us become aware of and take responsibility for our judgments, instead of projecting them onto others. It helps us learn to hold a loving, compassionate space for ourselves in which we can come to greater acceptance of all parts of ourselves. It helps us place our loving awareness on the unloved parts of ourselves so that we can bring healing and wholeness to our psyche. It empowers us to become more loving, more authentic beings.

The Affinity Process also helps us learn how to listen to others without judgment. It teaches us how to create a safe, loving space, where others can take responsibility for their own judgments and connect with their own compassion, love and capacity for healing. It is as empowering to others as it is to us.

The Affinity Process is about opening to the Spirit at the deepest level of our being. It is about peeling away the layers of judgment, shame and fear which appear to separate us from God within ourselves and within each other. It is about connecting with our innocence, our spiritual perfection, our capacity to accept and bless our own experience and that of others.

It is about moving through our fears to reclaim the love that has never left us. It is about moving from distrust to trust, from shame to self-disclosure, from betrayal to trust in self and others.

It is amazing that so much healing can happen from a simple practice of awareness, responsibility and acceptance. But those who have experienced the process are witnesses to this fact. They have learned a new more compassionate relationship to themselves and others. They have turned their judgments into blessings, their swords into plowshares.

Confession and Purification

In the Affinity Process, we not only become aware of our judgments and learn to take responsibility for them, we also verbalize our self-judgments, fears and feelings of discomfort. This verbalization is an important step in the overall process of coming to acceptance of ourselves and others.

When I realize that my judgment of you is just a mask for my self-judgment, I can tell you honestly that I was judging you but realized that you just reminded me of some part of me I don't like. And then I can talk about my own shame. I can get those uncomfortable feelings up on the table, instead of hiding them inside.

The Affinity Process encourages people to stop projecting, to stop hiding behind the mask of judgment, and to begin to come to grips with their own doubt, fear and guilt. When it works best, members feel safe in expressing thoughts and feelings which are heavy on their hearts. They can do this because they know that no one is going to interrupt them or try to fix them.

This closely parallels the kinds of confession rituals experienced by members of the early Christian communities. They too created a safe, non-judgmental space where members could express their fears and regrets, and reconnect with the loving Spirit of God. There, as in the Affinity Group, psycho-emotional purification took place on a weekly basis, helping community members return to their lives with a renewed consciousness of their innate innocence and worthiness.

Large temples and churches simply cannot offer this kind of intimate purification ritual as part of their worship services. Often, the focus is on performing and putting on a good show for the congregation. Members do not have the opportunity to participate in a heart-felt way in the service. As a result, their fears and judgments remain hidden and, after the entertainment value of the weekly service wears off, they once again experience their pain, alienation and self-hatred. People can hide their pain in a large congregation, but they cannot hide it in an Affinity Group.

While hard and fast rules are rarely helpful, it seems that full-participation in the sacred space of Sabbath requires smaller groups of people. Realizing this, some churches and temples are offering Affinity Groups as a way to build intimacy and connection within the larger community. This helps to meet the needs of individual members for an ongoing transformational experience.

Extending Love to Others

Affinity groups are offered free of charge to anyone who wants to participate and is willing to commit to follow the guidelines. We consider these groups to be a spiritual practice which should be available to all people regardless of their ability to pay. By not asking for an exchange of money, we insure that the process is open to all.

In lieu of an exchange of money, we ask members who feel they have been helped by the Process to offer it to others. Once they complete the process, we support members in facilitating or co-facilitating the process with a new group. We ask members to consider some area of their lives in which the process might be a valuable service. For example, one member might be guided to offer the Process in a school to teenagers. Another might offer it in a prison or in a cancer treatment program in a hospital. There is no environment where sacred space cannot be created using the Affinity Process.

Through this process of extension, a safe, loving, non-judgmental space can be created on a community-wide basis. By reaching out to people in all economic and social groups through the Affinity Process, a group or organization can become identified in its town or city as a source of inspiration, hope and loving service.

The Affinity Process helps people from different backgrounds hear, understand, and respect each other on a deeper level. Using the Affinity Process, new relationships are possible between people of different religions, races, and economic or political backgrounds.

As such, the Process becomes a living spiritual community, an interfaith church without walls whose essential purpose is to experience love and extend it. Such a community is open to all and invites the full experiential participation of all of its members.

Our affinity is our common humanness and our mutual desire to love and be loved. Our affinity is not based on having the same culture, experience, or a common set of beliefs, but on our willingness to respect each other's culture, experience and beliefs.