AFFINITY GROUP PROCESS
A Deeper Look
at the Affinity Process
What Our Affinity Is
We call this the Affinity Process because the word affinity suggests a “community of interest” amongst people who see each other as equals and have each other’s highest good at heart. 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. 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 us and respect us when we tell our truth, and we learn to listen respectfully when others tell us their truth.
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 essence, 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
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.
A Practical, Experiential Process
This process will not appeal to those who are interested in abstract concepts or in spirituality as an intellectual disciple. The Affinity Process is simple and hands-on. It helps us stay in our hearts. It helps us stay in the present moment.
There is nothing elite or esoteric about the Process. It has a set of guidelines (described in depth later). Anyone who is willing to accept those guidelines can be a participant. There are no other prerequisites.
The Process is experiential. Participants learn from practice. As such, the Process requires a commitment of time and attention.
The first commitment is to meet with a group once per week for eight to ten weeks to learn the Process. Then, if the Process has been helpful, a second commitment of eight to ten weeks is requested. During this second commitment, members agree to extend the process to others by facilitating or co-facilitating a group.
Starting a Group
Ideally, an Affinity Group would have a minimum of six and a maximum of twelve people. Eight people plus a facilitator is the perfect size. With this size, each individual has plenty of opportunity to practice listening, as well as the chance to share significantly during each session.
It is helpful if the group is somewhat diverse, containing both men and women of different ages and backgrounds. We discourage couples and close friends from being in the same Affinity Group. They already have patterns of interaction which may too easily compromise their ability to work within the Affinity Guidelines. By placing close friends or partners in different groups, the process is spared dealing with partnership issues that are more appropriately resolved on a one-to-one basis or with a
When beginning a group, we suggest keeping it simple. An optimal group is composed of people who do not know each other or know each other just casually. That way, participants can practice the process safely in the present moment.
These are just suggestions. If you want to start a group, you must decide for yourself how you wantto proceed. Remember, an Affinity Group happens when all members of the group agree to practice the guidelines. That is the only rule that must be observed.
We suggest that each group meet once per week for eight to ten weeks. We ask that members make a commitment to attend all sessions, baring an emergency. To help people understand just what they are committing to, it is often helpful to have a guest evening, during which potential participants can ask questions about the process or do a dry-run through it. Also, at this time, people who have experienced the process can share what it has meant to them.
Since socializing is not encouraged during or immediately after group sessions, we suggest that the eight week sessions conclude with a pot luck celebration where people can socialize freely and give feedback on what the process has meant to them. This is also a time when future opportunities to participate in and extend the Affinity Process can be discussed.
The Nature of Sharing in a Group
Members of an Affinity Group share what they are thinking and feeling in the moment. Sharing is voluntary, but not required. It is important that each person feel free to participate as s/he is inclined to do so in the moment.
We suggest that members share from their hearts about any matter which is causing them discomfort. If they are feeling anger, guilt, pain, grief, or any other emotional contraction, we encourage them to verbalize how they are feeling without going into a long, complicated story. We also encourage people to verbalize any judgments they are having about their situation which may be exacerbating their pain.
We ask people to try to stay in the present moment and say what they are thinking and feeling right now. That keeps things focused and helps people stay away from telling every detail of their situation in a way that strains the group’s attention. Most sharings last five or ten minutes, although shorter or longer sharings may occasionally be appropriate.
People are encouraged to express positive feelings too when that is what their experience is. But they are discouraged from pretending to be happy when they are secretly running judgments about themselves or others in the group.
The goal is to allow everyone who wants to an opportunity to share. But realistically, one person may have little or nothing to share during one session and a lot to share during another session, depending on what is happening in his or her life.
Each sharing is unconditionally accepted and honored by the group. No one tries to fix or give advice to anyone who has shared.
Commentary on the Purpose of the 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 Affinity Group Process offers us a spiritual practice. Because it meets once per week it offers us a way of observing and honoring the Sabbath, even if we don’t feel comfortable attending a church or synagogue. The Sabbath is a time when we come together on a regular basis to remember God. It is a day that we set aside for rest, fellowship, and connection with Spirit. It is a day when we voluntarily give up our focus on the affairs of the world and remember the purpose of our incarnation. We do this in
community with others to support each other in remembering.
The Sabbath is God’s day. Affinity Group meetings are God’s time. They are sacred space. This is true regardless of the setting in which the group meets. Whether it meets in a business setting, a prison, a cancer treatment center, an elementary school, a homeless shelter, a church, or a privatehome, the Affinity group is sacred space and time. It is a place where we can come to feel safe and to hold a safe space for others.
The Affinity Group can happen in any environment with any group of people. Leaders of countries in conflict can learn to communicate through the Affinity Process. Employees and managers can develop greater sensitivity to each other. Children can learn to take responsibility for themselves and respect each other’s experience.
The purpose is simple and broad for this reason. The Affinity Process can be experienced by anyone who is willing to practice the guidelines.
The Affinity Group Process is not outcome-oriented. The group does not try to solve problems or reach consensus. It may lead to clarity and consensus, but this is not its purpose. Its purpose is to provide each person with an experience of giving and receiving unconditional love and support.
Better understanding, more compassion, in-creased respect, better communication are all natural outcomes of the Affinity Process. Individual members learn how to take more responsibility for their thoughts, feelings and experiences; they also learn to refrain from taking inappropriate responsibility for the thoughts, feelings and experiences of others.
The Affinity Process helps people develop a healthy sense of boundaries. The Affinity Process is also an At-one-ment Process. It provides us with a safe place to express our confusion, our pain, our remorse and our judgments so that they are not buried inside us. Because nobody tries to fix us, we learn to hold our own sharing with acceptance and compassion.
The greatest gift of the Affinity Process is self-acceptance. As we learn to accept all the dichotomous aspects of self, we experience greater wholeness, greater confidence, greater creative freedom. With self-acceptance also comes the capacity to accept others as they are, to respect their experience, and to encourage them to be honest and authentic.
Commentary on the 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.
Our Purpose is important. It is what distinguishes this group from many other groups which encourage us to share our thoughts and feelings. In an Affinity group, we keep the space safe and loving by refraining from actions which interrupt people’s process or show a lack of respect for it. We don’t try to fix others, because we believe in the deepest sense that others are okay just the way they are. They may not believe that they are okay, but we believe it and hold that belief for them, no matter
how much they may belittle themselves or ask for our advice.
In an Affinity Group, we are not here to agree or disagree with others, but to witness to their sharing, to be as fully present as we can be. The more we judge what they are saying or how they are saying it, themore contracted we become and the less present we are able to be.
Of course, as in any group, we will forget our purpose. That is why this is the most important guideline. When we remember our purpose, we will think, feel and act in ways that are consistent with it. During the course of a single group session, we will have to remember our purpose thirty, forty or fifty times. That is part of the discipline of the work.
2. We agree to share from our hearts and be honest about what we are thinking and feeling.
Being honest about our experience is essential for authentic sharing. If we are feeling peaceful, then it is fine to communicate this. But if we say we are feeling peaceful when we are having judgments, feeling separate from someone in the group, or wondering if the group is right for us, then we aren’t being honest. We aren’t using the opportunity the group provides us with to honestly express our experience. By holding back the truth, we also hold our feelings inside, where they become heavy on
When we tell the truth, we let the things which trouble us come out into the light of day, knowing that others will hold our communication with acceptance and compassion. Even if we are having judgments about others in the group, we can acknowledge these judgments to ourselves, own them, and then talk about them when it is our time to share.
Sharing from the heart is not easy for many of us. When we aren’t sure what we are feeling, sometimes it helps to close our eyes, breathe, and tune into our body sensations. Our awareness of the tightness in our shoulders, for example, might remind us of an interaction that took place in the office earlier in the day. We can begin to be aware that the interaction may not be resolved, because we are still carrying it around in our body. This may help us get in touch with some anger or guilt which we
could share with the group.
Tuning into body sensations enables us to shift our focus from the head, where we tend to intellectualize our feelings, to the heart, where we can experience our feelings and share them with the group. It also helps us stay grounded in the present moment.
In this process, we are encouraged to stay in the present moment and asked not to bring up the past, unless we are experiencing feelings right now that are connected to past events. If the feelings are coming up now, then they are part of our present experience. If not, then we are “reaching” for something to share about, rather than waiting until something comes up for us that we really want to share.
We all have very complicated stories and sometimes have a tendency to want to convey every detail of our lives to the group when we have its attention. This is not appropriate. The group doesn’t need to know our life history. It just invites us to talk about what is happening for us right now. If nothing is happening, we are encouraged to remain in a listening mode.
We should share when we feel moved to speak, much as people share at Quaker meetings. When our heart starts beating and words arise spontaneously in our minds, we can be sure that the Spirit within is prompting us to speak. Often we don’t know what words to use but, if we just start speaking, the words come. The Spirit within us knows what we need to communicate. When we can be patient and trusting of our own process, it will be clear when it’s time to speak up.
In sharing, we are encouraged to be as honest with ourselves as we can be. We are not in the group to gain support at the expense of any other human being. Often, we may have something coming up about someone at home who is not present in the group. When we speak about this, our focus should not be on the other person, but on ourselves. We are encouraged not to blame or shame anyone in the group or outside it, but to focus on our own thoughts, feelings and experiences and to take
responsibility for them.
3. When our Judgments come up about someone, we will be aware of them and gently bring our attention back to the person speaking.
One of the immediate revelations we have when we begin working with the Affinity Process is just how many judgments we have about other people. When this happens, we have a tendency to beat ourselves up for having judgments. We tell ourselves “Look at yourself. You aren’t a very spiritual person. You have so many judgments.” In other words, we judge the judgment. And then we judge the judgment of the judgment.
If we don’t catch this downward spiral of judgment somewhere, it will continue indefinitely. The way we catch it is to accept the fact that we are making judgments. We just witness the phenomenon. We become aware that we are judging. And we hold this awareness gently. We don’t beat ourselves up. We don’t call ourselves names. We just become aware of our judgments.
Then, we own the judgments. We remember: “every judgment I have is about me, not about the other person. There is some part of me that does not feel acceptable or loved.” We allow our awareness to show us that wounded part of ourselves if it can do so. But we stay in our hearts. We don’t intellectualize the awareness. We don’t go up into our heads.
Then, very gently, we realize that we have been distracted away from the person sharing. We haven’t been listening to him or her. We haven’t been holding a safe space. We’ve been judging. We’ve been finding fault. So we let our awareness sink back into our hearts. And we start to listen again. We hear what the person is saying. We become emotionally present for the person who is speaking. This process happens every time we become aware that we have been judging. So we get plenty of practice being compassionate with ourselves.
While our goal is to create a safe, non-judgmental space for others in the group, the truth is that we are not always feeling safe ourselves. And when we don’t feel safe, it’s hard to create safety for others. When we own our judgments, we get in touch with our own discomfort, instead of blaming others for it. Then, we can be more honest about our own experience.
It seems that we are judging others. But the truth is that we are judging ourselves. If we don’t project, but instead get in touch with our judgment of self, we can share with the group more authentically. We can say: “I’m really finding fault with myself right now.” And that honesty will bring the group right into its authentic process.
The great irony of the Affinity Process is that our ability to create a safe, loving space enables our judgments to come up into our conscious awareness more readily. To the extent that we feel safe in the group, we can become aware of our judgments without beating ourselves up for having them. When we do that, our judgments may dissolve and we may be able to bring our attention back to the person speaking. But, if our judgments persist, honesty may prompt us to own them not just to ourselves, but to the group. Our willingness to take responsibility for our judgments and bring them to the group is testimony not only to our own authenticity, but also to the depth of safety that is present in the group.
4. We will not interrupt anyone’s process. We will give the person sharing our undivided attention. We will not engage in cross-talk.
One of the cardinal guidelines is that group members never interrupt another person’s sharing. If that person is totally out of process and is not following the guidelines, then the facilitator may interrupt that person, but group members may not. Even facilitators are encouraged to find less aggressive ways to confront group members who are out of process.
Every person in the group needs to have the opportunity to share and that sharing needs to be respected. Respect for the person’s sharing is shown by not interrupting him or her and by not engaging in side conversations with other group members who don’t have the floor. We are asked to give the person sharing our total attention.
Furthermore, the measure of our attention is the degree to which we are able to listen to another person’s sharing without judging that person or being distracted by our own thoughts. When we listen deeply, we accept the person just the way s/he is. We feel connected to that person in our hearts as we listen to his or her words. We don’t need to agree or disagree with what is said. We let our acceptance of what is said be a bridge which connects us to the essence of the other person. This is communion, an experience that cannot be conveyed by words.
5. We will take thirty seconds in silence to acknowledge each person’s sharing.
When a member is finished sharing, s/he should say “Thank you; I’m finished” or something like this to indicate to the group that s/he is complete. As a further sign of respect for the person who has just shared, we ask that the group hold at least thirty seconds of silence before another person shares. This silence is very important. It discourages people from responding in a reactive way to what has just been shared.
During the silence, people who are feeling triggered should be asking “what does this sharing bring up for me?” They should find a way to take responsibility for whatever thoughts and feelings have come up for them.
Some groups have found that it is helpful to acknowledge each person’s sharing by extending their hands and sending loving energy to the person. This is a nice non-verbal way to say: “I have taken your sharing into my heart. I accept it as your truth and I extend my unconditional love to you.”
Members who are acknowledged in this way may take time to make eye contact with the other people in the group or, if it feels safer, they may keep their eyes closed and just feel the energy. When they have taken thirty seconds to experience the group’s acknowledgment, they simply say “Thank You.” This indicates to the rest of the group that the sharing is complete.
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.
It is extremely important that we defer to people in the group who have shared less than we have. We must do this even if we think that what we have to say is important. No one in the group should share a second time until every person who has not shared has been offered an opportunity to have the floor.
The length of each sharing is significant. An average sharing is about five minutes. Sharings of ten minutes are not uncommon. If we take more time than this, we may be monopolizing the group’s time and attention.
Often, people who are shy will not speak unless there is plenty of silence. The silence gives them permission to share if they really want to. It is often helpful to have ten or fifteen minutes of silence toward the end of a group session if several members have not shared.
Silence provides the opportunity for some of the more reticent members of the group to share. However, sharing is voluntary. It is not necessary for all members to share in every group session. However, it is essential that each person have “the opportunity” to share.
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.
One of the key awarenesses of the Affinity Process is that everything that we think, feel or experience belongs to us, not to anyone else. If this is true, and we maintain that it is, then it should not be necessary for us to talk about anyone else. Someone in the group or outside of the group may be triggering us, but how we are thinking or feeling is our responsibility. We can take responsibility best when we make “I” statements, when we tell what we are thinking and feeling, and avoid making “You” statements or “S/he” statements.
When members take responsibility for what they are thinking and feeling in the moment, it is easier to stay present with their sharing. We can feel that they are being genuine. We can listen with our hearts as well as our ears.
On the other hand, when members need to talk about other people and have difficulty owning their own thoughts and feelings, it is harder for us to stay present for them. Yet, this is good practice for us. If we find ourselves making the judgment that “Peter is not in the process . . . he’s not owning his stuff . . . he’s not taking responsibility,” we get to see that our buttons are being pushed. Perhaps we are projecting our own issues onto Peter. Maybe we don’t stay in the process either. While on the surface
we are judging Peter, underneath we are really judging ourselves. That’s an important realization. So we make note of that and then bring our attention back to Peter. He is an equal brother, after all. He’s having the same difficulty we have. Now, instead of judging him, we can listen to him with compassion.
It is always good practice for us to own our judgments as they come up. Owning our judgments immediately restores our sense of equality with the person sharing and enables us to be authentically present with him or her. Having had all these judgments about Peter, I might decide to share with the group what my experience just was. After the thirty seconds of silence, I might say to the group. “I’d just like to acknowledge that my buttons are being pushed tonight. I have been making judgments about how people are sharing and thinking that they are not in the process. I’ve been looking at my judgments, and realizing that I’m projecting, that in fact I haven’t been in the process. I haven’t really been authentic in my sharing. Here I am judging you guys when I’m really feeling inadequate myself. I’m realizing just how hard it is for me to really tell the truth about what is going on for me. It’s hard for me to trust you with what I’m really thinking and feeling because that means I will be vulnerable, and I’m not sure I want to be vulnerable. It’s easier for me to hold back and make judgments about you than to look at myself.”
This communication is honest and it takes total responsibility for my experience. I don’t put Peter on the spot, because he is just the trigger. My comments are about me, not about Peter or about others in the group.
Of course, I could have said “Peter, your sharing brought up a lot of stuff for me. I was really judging you, but I know that’s a projection. It’s really about me, not you.” That is still good process, but why single Peter out unless he repeatedly triggers me? Whenever we single out another person, we run the risk that we are blaming and shaming. Or even if we aren’t, the other person may take it that way.
When we find that one person pushes our buttons over and over again, we might want to ask that person to meet with us for some Affinity sharing after the group ends. Often, it is more sensitive and effective to communicate these issues one to one than it is in front of the group. However, when we do this, it is very important to stay in the Affinity Process so that each person gets to speak and own his or her thoughts and feelings without being interrupted.
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.
When we share, we are trusting the group to respect our sharing and to hold it gently and lovingly. We hope that others will deal with any judgments they have about us and own them. But sometimes group members may go way out of process and verbalize a judgment about something that we said. Or they may interpret something we said according to their own life experience or conceptual filters.
For example, suppose after Peter finished speaking, I shared this: “I’m feeling that some people in the group are sharing superficially and are not being honest about their experience.” That is clearly a judgment that I’m making and I’m not owning it in any way. Even though I don’t mention Peter, Peter assumes that by the words “some people” I mean him, since he just finished sharing. Peter doesn’t say anything back, but he refuses to look at me for the rest of the group session. When he leaves, he hugs everyone in the group except me. Obviously, Peter is feeling judged and attacked by me. Unless he realizes this and owns it, he will continue to act toward me in passive/aggressive ways.
The energy between us will be difficult. It will be hard for us to be in the group together. This guideline would encourage Peter to speak up about how he feels. Ideally, he would do this right after I verbalized my judgment. If not then, he might do it later in the group or at the beginning of the next meeting. For example, he might say: “I’d like to share first today. Last week, I felt that my
sharing was discounted when you (Paul) said you felt that ‘some people’ were not sharing authentically. I felt hurt by what you said, even though I realized that you were probably right. It is hard for me to tell the truth about how I’m feeling. I’m afraid if I do you will reject me. Well, I felt rejected anyway. So it really pushed my buttons. I didn’t even want to come to the group today. My
pattern is to run away when I feel that others don’t accept me. But I realized that I had to come tonight and tell the truth about how I was feeling, even if it meant that I would get rejected again. ’Cause I know that my pattern is not to hang in there, not to stand up for myself, not to give others the chance to know me. I’ve been thinking about this all week. And I’m glad I had the guts to come here and say this. It feels like a real breakthrough for me.”
Peter is touching reality deeply. He is owning his feelings, being authentic, and letting me know what my judgment brought up for him without blaming me. That helps me to see the effect of my own behavior. It helps me to see that I have many of the same issues that Peter has. Perhaps that is why Itend to find fault with him. He is a good mirror for me. And now he is modeling the process for me in a way that I can really learn from. His courageous honesty is making it possible for me to be honest with myself and others. He is showing me how to tell the truth and take responsibility at the same time.
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.
Let’s take a different scenario in the above situation. Let’s say Peter decided to tell the truth about how he was feeling right after I made my judgment of him. Suppose he said: “I need to share again. I’m feeling very hurt and angry about what you just shared, Paul. It seems to me that you were making a judgment about my sharing when you said ’some people are sharing superficially.’ I’m not feeling very safe or honored being in this group right now.”
This communication is clear, authentic, and responsible. It helps me to see how my actions have affected someone else. This guideline asks me to take this information in without defending myself. I just need to acknowledge what Peter is saying, not to agree with him or to take responsibility for how he feels. I am not responsible for how Peter feels, even if I triggered him. My focus must always be on me, not on Peter. If Peter’s sharing brought up feelings for me, then I need to take time to get in touch
with those feelings and share them with the group when I’m ready.
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.
This process is most effective when we deal with what we are thinking and feeling right now. The present is the place of power and creativity.
To stay in the present, we must trust the silence. When we first ask ourselves if there is anything which is heavy on our hearts, anything that is causing us to feel anxious, afraid, guilty, judgmental toward ourselves or others, we may not be aware of anything. If that’s the case, we should remain silent until something surfaces in our awareness that we know we should share.
As participants we are discouraged from giving a book report on our activities during the last week. Even if something upsetting happened to us during the week, we would share that only if it still felt unresolved.
On the other hand, even when we think that nothing is up for us, we can be unexpectedly triggered by someone else’s sharing. When we find ourselves strongly agreeing/disagreeing with, or making judgments about, something someone else has said, we know that our own issues are coming up for healing. Sharing at such a time can be authentic, if we have the courage to tell the truth about what we’re thinking and feeling without blaming the person who triggered us.
11. We will keep everything that is said in the group confidential.
Since group members will often share intimate details of their lives in the Affinity Group, it is essential that everyone in the group keep what is shared confidential. This means that the information does not leave the group.
Just as you don’t want another member telling details about your private life to a spouse or a friend, you need to refrain from sharing private information you have about other members of the group. This is an opportunity for you to practice the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
You are advised not to talk with any member of the group about some other member’s sharing. That is a violation of the agreement to keep everyone’s sharing confidential. Such violations compromise the safety and trust in a group like nothing else.
In order for the group to continue to feel safe, members need to be comfortable sharing from their hearts. Confidentiality builds continued trust and safety. Re-member, you demonstrate your unconditional love and acceptance of other group members not only during the group, but when you go home as well.
12. We will honor the silence, knowing that it offers us an opportunity to become more deeply present to ourselves and others.
The silence is the healing agent in the Affinity Group. Spirit always works in the silence, helping us to move into our hearts and connect more deeply with ourselves and others. It is in the silence that we learn to hold our judgments with compassion. It is in the silence that we own our own fear, instead of projecting it onto another group member.
Our awareness works in the silence. Just by being aware of our fears and judgments without beating ourselves up we begin to rest in a deeper and more peaceful state of consciousness. This is the existential ground of our being, the place of simple awareness in which the breath comes and goes and the events and circumstances of our lives are accepted as they are. In this state, we do not struggle with our lives. We do not judge ourselves or others. When we rest in this place, we know that everything that is happening is perfect just the way it is.
Silence takes us into this place. That is why we mustn’t be afraid when people in the group stop talking. It is indeed a great blessing. By staying with the silence, those who really need to speak will be given permission. The group consciousness will deepen until the feeling of love is almost palpable.
If you have ever been to a Quaker meeting in which the silence is held deeply, you know the power of the presence that manifests when people practice unconditional love and acceptance of one another. That presence is so deeply healing and all-embracing that words are not necessary. Indeed, words often break the energy and bring people out of their hearts.
I always tell people that when you sit in the silence, you won’t have any doubt about when it’s time to share. Your heart will start beating, your hands will start sweating, your chair will start shaking and you will feel called to speak without knowing what is going to come out of your mouth.
When this happens, you aren’t speaking from your ego or limited consciousness. You are speaking from your heart and opening to whatever healing you need at the time.
While the goal of the Affinity Group Process is not to heal anyone, healing does happen. It is a byproduct of acceptance and compassion. It is one of the paradoxes of spiritual life that healing comes not when we seek it, but when we open our hearts wide enough to give and receive unconditional love. For only love heals. No technique or process in and of itself can heal.
When we surrender into the silence, we come fully into the present moment. We sink down through our fears and our judgments. We breathe and accept. We open our hearts. We make peace within and without. We become host to the presence of the love, whose greatest joy is to abide in our hearts.
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 and remember its purpose.
It is easy to judge others and react to their behavior. The Affinity Group Guidelines help us to be aware of our judgments so that we don’t react to other people in the group. But we don’t always practice the guidelines. We make mistakes.
It doesn’t help the group to single someone out and say “You aren’t following the guidelines.” Even if this statement is true, it can be experienced as an attack. Whenever anyone in the group is criticized or attacked, it makes the space feel less safe for everyone. To avoid making others wrong, we simply ask for a moment of silence when we are not feeling safe in the group. We request this silence in between sharings. We don’t interrupt anyone’s process to ask for a moment of silence. Any request for silence should be honored by the group unless someone already has the floor.
During the silence, members try to re-center, observe their thoughts and feelings, and remember that the purpose of the group is to provide a loving space where it is safe to share. It is amazing to see how effective such moments of silence are in helping to return the group to its purpose. Silence helps us breathe, center, accept and deepen in our experience. I am always amazed by its power to bring us back to love and acceptance.
14. Remembering that we won’t do this process perfectly, we will be gentle with ourselves and use
whatever transpires in the group as an opportunity to practice forgiveness.
The Affinity Group is a slice of life. It is never perfect. We make mistakes. We don’t follow the guidelines, even though we clearly intend to. Both facilitators and members say inappropriate things. We don’t always stay in our hearts. We aren’t always present for those who are sharing. Often, we push each other’s buttons and feel hurt or angry. We slip into blaming or shaming. We
That’s not the end of things. In some ways, it is really the beginning. When we feel safe enough in our group to totally lose it, we are sharing ourselves on a whole different level. Then, we experience what it is like to be held compassionately when we think we least deserve the love and acceptance of others. To receive that kind of unconditional love, as well as to offer it to others, can be profoundly healing.
No matter how far the group strays from its purpose, it can always return to it. Any mistake can be acknowledged and learned from. Every time we go “out of process” we have an opportunity to see our detour and recommit to the process. We don’t have to beat ourselves up. We don’t have to feel guilty for making a mistake. We just need to say: “I guess we’re all being hard on ourselves here. Let’s take some time in silence to be in forgiveness of what just happened and to remember why we are here.”
Without the practice of forgiveness, we cannot experience genuine intimacy with others. The morethe group bonds, the more even subtle violations of the process stand out and beg for correction. When we can acknowledge and forgive our mistakes on an ongoing basis, we can continue our journey into greater and greater intimacy.
Commentary on Group Agreements
1. We agree to honor the purpose of the group.
The purpose of the group 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. If we are going to participate in the Affinity Process, we must be aligned with this purpose and willing to remember it constantly as our reason for coming together as a group.
2. We agree to practice the guidelines.
The Affinity Group guidelines are the vehicle through which the purpose of the group is achieved. The purpose tells us what we wish to accomplish together. The guidelines tell us how we are going to accomplish our goal.
When joining a group, it is essential that each member understands and accepts the guidelines. People who don’t feel comfortable with the purpose statement or the guidelines should not join an Affinity Group.
Members’ willingness to be guided by the purpose statement and to follow the guidelines is the agreement that binds them together. It is important that this agreement be emphasized on an ongoing basis. To accomplish this, members are asked to read the purpose statement and the guidelines aloud at the beginning of every meeting.
3. We agree to be on time for every group meeting.
Many groups have found it demoralizing when some of its members are late to meetings. When members are late, the group has to wait until they arrive so that their entrance will not be disruptive to the group process.
To avoid potential problems, it is suggested that each member of the group be responsible for arriving at least ten or fifteen minutes early so that the group can begin and end on time. This respects the time commitment made by other members, some of whom may need to leave punctually to be home for children or other commitments.
4. We agree to attend every meeting of the group.
When joining an Affinity Group, members need to realize that they are making an 8–10 week commitment. This commitment is important because it facilitates group bonding and ensures a continuity of experience for members of the group.
Participants should join the group with the intention of coming to every meeting. When emergencies come up that must be dealt with, the group member involved is asked to let the facilitator know that s/he won’t be able to attend that meeting.
The stability of the group membership helps to maintain the feeling of safety and trust in the group. Each member contributes to that stability by making a point to be on time and attend every session of the group.