This post describes a process for exploring and developing novel kinds of social interactions. These interactions are also connected to our inner emotional experiences and spiritual understanding. Let me explain what I mean by this.
A social interaction is a situation in which two or more people participate and act to achieve a certain goal. To mention a few examples: dining at a restaurant, checking out at a grocery store, watching a lecture or a theater performance, job interview, and playing basketball.
Novel kinds of social interactions
By “novel kinds of social interactions” I mean interactions which go beyond the normal kinds we are used to in our daily lives. Here are a few examples of interactions that are non-standard, or that were innovative at one point in the past, i.e. new ways for people to relate to one another that never existed before in human history:
- Discussions in a Facebook group: You can now discuss topics of interest with people from all over the world that you have never met in person. You can do it asynchronously, i.e. it doesn’t happen in “real time”, and each person can contribute to the discussion at any later point in time. The discussion thus spreads over hours, days, or even years. Also, the discussion is completely documented, and searchable. If you told people 100 years ago that such a means of communication would exist in the future, that would be totally miraculous, novel, and exciting for them.
- Gifts circle: A gift circle is a group activity where participants share their needs and what they can give, and form connections based on this information. Read about it here. Whereas people of course helped each other in various ways throughout history, this particular format is a new invention, accelerates the process of helping, and creates many new opportunities that would not have been possible otherwise.
- Mastermind group: A group of people who meet regularly (possibly using group video chat) to help each participant advance their personal goals. Each person in turn tells the others about one goal as well as encountered obstacles, and the others give advice based on their relevant knowledge and experience. This technique is extremely useful for brainstorming, to helps one understand the goals and articulate them more precisely, and solve practical problems on the way to accomplishing them. But most people never heard of this idea or did not form such a group for themselves.
- Empathic listening circle: In this activity, participants take turns in sharing their personal experiences, emotions, and challenges, while all others listen with an open heart, non-judgmentally. The point is not to give advice to “fix” problems (as with a mastermind group), but to create a supportive space in which people feel comfortable to share their inner worlds – something that is rare or nonexistent for most people in our modern society. The conversation can be unstructured, or it can be guided by questions such as: “What makes you feel vulnerable?”, “What makes you feel really physically excited?”, etc. A high level of interaction in this kind of group is based on “radical authenticity”, i.e. being acutely tuned to one’s emotions and expressing them in the group, especially the ones that are more challenging, such as embarrassment, shame, guilt, envy, regret, and other vulnerable feelings.
- Non-violent communication: A set of principles for communicating effectively with others, while expressing emotions and needs without psychological violence such as criticism, blame, or manipulations. People who use these principles interact with each other in ways that are totally different from conflictual patterns that commonly arise in relationship situations. You can actually see the difference between the normal version and the NVC version in these videos that contain role playing of many familiar situations (a dispute between parents and children, some problem with the boss, etc.) It is an extremely valuable boost to a person’s life, happiness, and success to know about these principles and to be skilled in using them.
- T-groups: A T-group meeting does not have an explicit agenda, structure, or expressed goal. It serves as a “laboratory” for experimenting with inter-personal communications and the expression of emotions. Participants learn about themselves (and about small group processes) through their interaction with each other. Under the guidance of a facilitator, the participants are encouraged to share emotional reactions that arise in them in response to their fellow participants’ actions and statements. In this way, participants can learn how their words and actions trigger emotional responses in the people they communicate with. The novelty of this kind of social interaction is echoed in psychologist Carl Rogers’s statement that T-group are “…the most significant social invention of the century.”
- Psychodrama, sociodrama, family constellations, and the empty chair technique are all techniques that use role-playing for acting out psychological and social issues in one’s life. It can be a simulation of a challenging situation that occurs often in one’s life or happened in the past (such as in childhood), where members of the group take roles acting out figures in the protagonist’s life. A variation is when a person does not participate in the playing out of one of his life stories, but simply watches the enactment by others in the group. This kind of activity is very instructive, and can help one to become aware of, and eventually process and release, repressed emotional pains.
More unique interactions
To the above list we may add “bizarre” kinds of interactions, as one sometimes encounters in self-development or spiritual workshops and festivals:
- Sitting in front of someone and staring into each other’s eyes without breaking eye contact. At first, this may create an uncomfortable feeling, but later on, a feeling of deeper connection may arise. To remain in a “being” energy, a presence, with another human being is a very powerful and transformative experience.
- You stand in the center of a circle of people, and everyone is staring at you. This makes you feel very self-conscious and uncomfortable, but it’s an excellent exercise to develop awareness to the thoughts and emotions you experience – worries about what everyone is thinking about you, feeling embarrassment even though there is no logical reason for it.
- Everyone doing the same voice continuously, creating a feeling of being “engulfed” by voice.
- Who is in?: In this activity, people sit in pairs opposite each other. At each turn which lasts for several minutes, one person repeatedly asks the other “Who is in?” or “But who are you, really?”, regardless of what the other person replies. The point of this strange-sounding exercise is to make people aware how they try to describe themselves in expressions that are limiting – their age, place of residence, profession, family status, or their interests, emotional problems, etc., where in fact, who they “really are” defies any verbal description. This allows disidentification with the “false self”, and appreciation of one’s boundless inner consciousness.
- Aum meditation: This two-hour group meditation guides the participants through 14 aspects of the human experience, such as: laughter, sadness, hatred, forgiveness, silence, life energy, and more. This is done through movement, vocal expression, and role playing. This meditation is intended to allow people to connect to emotions they don’t normally allow themselves to feel, and to also experience how the emotions are transient and can change quickly, thus showing how on the one hand we can allow ourselves to feel, but on the other hand, not get completely identified with them, developing a deeper consciousness.
These activities cause the mind to be in a situation it is not used to, and so it is unsure how to react, thus causing emotions to arise and to bubble.
The above are just a few examples of the kinds of social interactions that I’m aiming at. They are novel because most people never heard about them or imagined them. People have new kinds of experiences, emotions, and insights when they first participate in such activities. Furthermore, some of these activities also bring to light the connection with our inner world: our emotions, fears, hopes, attitudes and feelings towards other people in the group or in our lives.
Discovering and inventing new kinds
So what other kinds of novel social interactions that are also connected to our inner world can we invent? What will we discover by using such new kinds of interactions?
Here is a possible process of discovery. In the group, we use self-awareness techniques to connect to our inner self, become aware of what emotions and sensations we are experiencing at this moment, and then as much as we feel comfortable to, we tell others about what we experience, or say that we do not feel comfortable enough to share.
But this is just the beginning. We then continuously ask ourselves the question: “In what new ways can we interact with each other now, which would further explore our connection with each other and with our inner experience?” We ask this again and again, and each time, we come up with new ideas. We can use various techniques for coming up with novel ideas, such as guided visualization, role-playing, and intuitive painting.
Then, each participant notices how they feel about the new suggestion, and shares the feelings. If all participants have a positive reaction to the idea and want to try it and explore it to see what happens, then they do it, and notice how they feel, and then share their feelings.
But if at least one participant does not want to actually try the idea, then the participants don’t do it, and instead, they share how they feel about it. This can lead to a conversation and sharing about related topics and issues, personal experiences from the past, fears and other emotions, etc.
Thus, we explore the inner experiences that arise inside us in our shared situation – our thoughts, emotions, sensations, visions, and wishes. We deliberately put ourselves in novel and possibly uncomfortable interactions, and see what happens. We investigate why we feel the way we feel at this moment, in response to what others say and do.
What is the purpose of this process of discovery, and the novel kinds of interactions? The point is to create a supportive environment which helps us explore our inner selves as well as our connections with others.
This environment creates opportunities for investigating our inner states such as restlessness, embarrassment, insecurity, rejection, confusion, vulnerability, presence, calmness, tenderness, excitement, enthusiasm, and joy. This allows us to overcome the disconnect that we have from our emotions and from other people’s emotions. Participants are able to explore the boundaries of their comfort zone, and take small, careful steps to venture outside this zone – on their path inwards and outwards.
We can open up and share the most personal things about ourselves which we may not have anyone else to share with. Even if people have close relationships in their lives, such as with a spouse, they can’t always talk with them about all the things that trouble them. They may sometimes need an external point of view on delicate situations.
This environment further allows each of us to reconnect to disowned parts of ourselves, by exploring our “shadows”, bringing them to light, from our unconscious to our conscious awareness. Then, these parts can be integrated back into our center, so we can feel whole again rather than fragmented.
We can tell about past experiences that were especially exciting for us or had a large emotional impact on us, and then investigate why they were so enticing. This will allow us to understand better how we can infuse much more excitement into our lives, how we can intensify feelings of aliveness, vitality, positive energy, enthusiasm, and elation.
Emotional connection with others, a feeling of belonging, is a central pillar that gives purpose and meaning to our lives. In order for real connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to really be seen, to agree to be vulnerable when expressing ourselves and showing to others who we really are deep down, despite our fears of being criticized and rejected, of being judged as not good enough. In the group as described here, there is only acceptance from others, with no criticism, so the group helps us to practice this courage of being authentic.
The activities in the group create very special moments for us together. They are profound and transformative experiences which open our psyche, widen our hearts, stir our emotions, extend our horizons, and expand who we are, to transcend the limitations of our current self. This transformation awakens tremendously powerful positive forces and energies that were dormant within us, causing them to burst out and make us radiate and feel truly alive.
Who are the participants?
Participants in the group must already have a higher-than-average level of self-awareness, openness, confidence, courage, respect for themselves and others, kindness, and compassion. They are considerate of each other’s feelings and needs. They can can listen to others with an open heart, and share their inner world courageously.