Universal Connections Workshops: Insight, reflection, and action, guided by compassion.
Universal Connections Workshops are a way to create within us and among us direct experiences of care, support, and love that prompt acts of lovingkindness. They are a practice of insight, reflection, and action guided by compassion. Each step begins with the discovery of connections that create awe, care, and joy. The discoveries heal broken hearts, mend injured souls, and calm restless minds because unconditional love is felt. They help us develop a deeper sense of who we are and what we can do together. They create the actual experience of Love Beyond Belief.
The experience of Love Beyond Belief is the actual experience of feeling connected to all of life at once: feeling awe, wonder, and love of life itself. The access point to this state of consciousness isn’t thinking; it’s feeling. In this interior domain of human experience, one feels enlivening compassion, care, love, and resonance with all of life. Accounts of this inner life of the self become stories about triggered emotional values (affects).
What distinguishes Universal Connections small groups from other forms of small group ministry? The inclusion of embodied practices and the deep awareness of emotion within the spiritual context. Universal Connections small groups establish a setting in which the entire group holds each individual in an environment of love. This experience prompts acts of lovingkindness for self, others, and the world.
- Group focus: Groups may form around a particular affinity (such as young adults or parents), interest (such as mitigating climate change), or activity (such as gardening). For some groups, the focus might be on extended check-in; for others, the focus might be on a series of topics chosen by the group. Any group might choose to shift focus after a time, based on the consensus of the group.
- A facilitator guides each session. Facilitators also meet together regularly following the Universal Connections small group model.
- The group formulates a covenant of relationship, including holding each other’s thoughts and feelings with respect, welcoming of new members, and service. (Suggested questions for formulating a covenant: Why are we here? What is important to us about how we are with each other?
- Suggested “small group” size: no more than 10 participants.
- The group meets regularly (at least once a month, ideally twice a month).
- Each group decides what its group activity of service to the wider community will be (linked to a chosen topic or not), and then every few months participates in the chosen activity together.
Universal Connections Curriculum and Workshop Description
This four-week workshop is designed as a spiritual practice that deepens connections with yourself and others. Each workshop session becomes an access point for nurturing connections and generating insights, reflections and actions guided by compassion.
The workshop unfolds as a mode of consciousness called Love Beyond Belief that is always present in your life. The poet Derek Walcott calls this way of being the self that always loves you.
In this workshop you not only learn how to recall experiences of feeling loved beyond belief, but you also create new experiences of feeling unconditional love as an ongoing spiritual practice in your life.
This workshop is for humanists, theists, artists, educators and scientists, poets, mystics, and all who seek an expanded way of being compassionate in the world.
- Recounting personal narratives
- Learning through shared stories and reflections
- Respecting and honoring personal experiences
- Creating a covenantal community of trust and care
- Practicing compassionate engagement with oneself and others
Persons will have greater access to the rejuvenating, spiritual realm of their bodies and minds. They will explore a mode of consciousness that has been called the authentic self and the true self. Participants will be able to define what the term spirituality means in their own personal secular or religious terms. And they will be able to answer the following questions:
- How does your journey inward become a spiritual experience that connects you to others?
- When your body feels part of all existence, why does your mind feel wonder and awe?
- Why is grace a hallowed feeling found in a loving heart?
- Why do you feel free and happy when you journey inside yourself and reach the stars?
- When do you feel like a pilgrim on a sacred journey into your own life?
Persons who take this workshop will have the experiential foundation and develop the mental clarity requisite for a spiritual life that helps them always feel loved and cared for. This mode of consciousness frees persons to feel gratitude and joy in uplifting ways that can prompt acts of lovingkindness in the world. Students in this workshop can join with others in the class and create Universal Connections small groups (six to ten persons each) to continue their work together after this four-part, two-hour weekly series of workshop sessions ends.
This workshop thus creates what it teaches: Universal Connections small groups. It also serves as the first step in training facilitators, teachers, and organizers who want to use small group community-building processes to deepen connections that heal and transform the world.
The goals of this workshop will be achieved by:
- Listening to others with care and compassion.
- Paying attention to the longings of one’s own heart with compassion rather than judgment.
- Practicing nonjudgmental awareness.
- Establishing within oneself an ongoing sense of gratitude and appreciation that prompts acts of lovingkindness toward oneself and others as foundational building blocks for creating nurturing communities that together can heal and transform the world.
Persons in this workshop agree to abide by a Group Covenant. The goal of the Covenant is to establish a set of ground rules for right relationship where justice, democracy and human dignity prevail.
- Participation takes place “popcorn style” so that no one feels pressured to speak. We honor each other’s sense of privacy.
- Share from personal experience, feelings and thoughts: We will use “I” statements and share stories from our own lives.
- No fixing: Each of us is here to take our own inner journey with group support as a community spiritual practice. We will refrain from making “fixing” suggestions to others unless invited.
- Do not gossip or tell other people’s stories, both within the group and outside the group.
- Share the time and attention of the group equally and respectfully: We will listen as deeply as we share.
- Welcome silences: After someone has spoken, we will pause without filling the space with words.
- Any reference to harm to self or others, when disclosed in these groups, will be shared with the proper authorities by the group facilitator.
- Start on time – End on time: We honor each other’s time and commitment.
Universal Connections small group format – continuing the journey
- Opening suggestions:
- Centering Music
- Centering reading calling the group together: Unison or responsive
- Lighting a candle or chalice
- Embodied practice: Breath meditation of slowly inhaling and exhaling at least five times (led by the facilitator) and then saying together “Thank you, breath of life.”
- Check-in: What’s going on in your life right now? How are you? How is it with your spirit?
- The Practice: Deep listening, without comment, as each person speaks. Each person should count to five silently after the person has spoken. Then the next person speaks. Persons speak when they are ready to speak, rather than follow a protocol in which the check-ins move in a linear direction. Check-in: What’s going on in your life right now? How are you? How is it with your spirit?
- Focus: Experiencing, learning, discussion, reflection, planning, and action around the group’s chosen focus.
- Check-out: How do you feel right now? How are you?
- Closing reading and music
- Extinguish candle or chalice