Flourishing with Groups. A Subliminal Story for Group Self-Enquiry

By Simon Bell

The Subliminal Stories were originally written intended for use in group contexts. They are a device for prompting a group which is managing some change process or event to begin to think about this issue by externalising the key feature(s) to a fiction or story which can in turn prompt new lines of thinking.

Try this group act of Mindful self-enquiry.

Assuming that you have some authority over the process, gather your group – you will all need at least an hour to run through this exercise.

When the group is settled and prepared to listen (a little time spent in mindful silence is very helpful) read the following story to the group. Read clearly but in an engaged and engaging manner. Try not to sound preachy.

Pole

A vast blue-sky is nailed like a dirty cloth over the burnt landscape of rolling dunes, rocky outcrops and withered vegetation. The sun, not a sphere but a painful centre of brighter and brighter sharpness hangs vertically overhead, slit in the cloth, blazing down painfully on the captive panorama which has forgotten the feel and touch of rain. The burning heat flat-irons everything below and the tiny dots of occasional, lonely, circling birds, high overhead show no inclination to explore the lifeless enormity. Best to circle and circle and move on to some place where life may at least have potential.

In the centre of our view there is a discordancy to the endless backdrop of heat, haze and limitless aridity, of people-less, life-less, point-less land; a pole.

You have seen them in a thousand locations. They are the familiar of roadside and street corner. Ranging in ranks over hillsides, cascading in profusion over suburbs, stalking up steep ravines and lost in ubiquity on the cities main drag. They carry the cables and dishes which bring the power and news, Netflix and HBO, telephone and Skype to the lives of billions. They profuse from their birth home in the industrial north, all the way to the hopeful south, the rising east and the meditative west. They are everywhere.

So, why not here?

In all the places of the fractured world, this is one not instantly consistent to the idea of pole. The place is too empty of life, too distant from interest, too desolate of content. Pole means many things totally inconsistent to the context here revealed. Pole means activity and action, people in vehicles and yellow jackets, instruments of mechanical agency, rhythmic noises of artifice and a purpose to fulfil a project, a process a task.

Purpose, project and task are anathema to this place.

And yet the pole remains, a contradiction to context and a jarring contrast to the natural, burning chaos all around. Perpendicular with precision, it seems to look out with authority over the surrounding land. Somehow the pole is the centre of it all, this latest addition, new and tarry, dwarfed and absurd; it seems to dominate the meaning of all else that provides the backdrop for its enduring verticality. An un-deviating seven metre line in a line-less place, stretching to eternity.

When the story has been read, allow a minute or so for the ideas to settle and merge with the busy thoughts of the members of the group. When you feel ready, ask the group for responses to these questions:

  • In general terms, what do the members of the group consider to be the main meaning of the story? The group will provide a number of insights here but find a way to choose just one for now.
  • How is this meaning relevant to the current situation facing the group? What does the meaning say about the current situation facing the group. When you have some clarity about this consider the next question.
  • What value can the group gain from this relevance and these thoughts? Value here may mean, ideas about the group’s situation, a prompt to do something or an idea about what might be important to avoid.
  • What insights emerge in terms of the value and the group’s tasks? At this point the group can flesh out the value thought as an insight to action. This usually means that the group decides upon some priority to tackle next. Finally;
  • What action does the group wish to explore as a consequence? Deciding upon an emergent action is often the trickiest part of the process. What can, should and could be done in the light of the insight?

It is almost always good to finish the consideration of the story with a period of silence and mindful ‘letting go’ of the outcome. It is surprising to me how often and silence and ‘sign off’ at the end of a thinking process can provide a potent catalyst to what ever follows.

If your group repeats the exercise it can be helpful to see if the initial meanings and interpretations for action change and deepen. Keep an action plan if action is now suggested. Certainly, note down the responses to the questions from the group. Return to these answers periodically and see how the response changes. Responses and actions can be monitored and assessed over time.

Keep your Spirit Level: a Mindful Use of Subliminal Stories

By Simon Bell

At the Bayswater Institute we make use of short stories as a means to engage individuals and groups in a considered appreciation of their context, issues and concerns. We find that stories provide a powerful means for self-examination. The fictions engage a kind of back-door to the things that concern us. They can provide a powerful means to start a conversation with yourself about the things that may be upsetting you or just causing you angst.

Here is an example for you to try.

You will need about 20 minutes in order to engage in the Subliminal Stories process.

I suggest that you place the story in a mindful setting. So, settle down in a comfortable place and take a few seconds to control your breathing, focusing on the in-breath and the out-breath. Give this a couple of minutes.

When you feel ready, let your mind wander over the issues of your day, the thoughts of the moment and your main concerns. Try not to hang onto any of these elements, just try to let your mind wander, like a bird flying over a great landscape of trees and mountains. All of it is important but it is all below you. Stretching out. No single element is necessarily more important than any other part.

When you feel calm and your breathing is steady, read the story below, The Walk. Read it carefully and try not to judge the content too quickly. Let the story seep into your mind.  and then, look at the questions which follow:

The Walk

“You regularly walk. You like to walk and there is always a good reason to indulge yourself. A walk can be for a variety of reasons. You walk maybe to work or to see friends.

Today the route is well known to you, held in muscle-memory and repeatable almost with your eyes closed. Parts of the walk are really pleasant. Vistas of park, trees, well-thought out housing developments with good combinations of different kinds of dwelling. The people you see seem to belong and to know that this is ‘their’ place. You do not feel like a stranger. You are sharing their neighbourhood, but it might as well be your own. A walk among familiar homes.

But, parts of this particular walk are more mysterious. At times your leisurely pace quickens. In some parts you walk a little quicker. In these districts you have not looked around, tending to keep your eyes in front. You have not looked down all the side streets, but you have glimpsed dark and curious buildings and there are shops which seem to have no obvious purpose. There is one shop in particular.

It is on the corner of a particularly shady side street. Is it even a shop? Well, when it first caught your attention you noticed it because it stood out in strangeness, darkly against the shadow. it has a shop window and a shady, glass door but there is no writing above the window and the interior is so dark it is hard to make out anything in the dim light.

You don’t know why but one day you are a little ahead of your schedule and your curiosity is peeked. Deliberately turning down the side street you stand in front of the glass frontage. Now you are here you notice that there seems to be a blue flickering light deep inside the interior and, as you shade your eye to look more intensely, you can see weakly lit the outlines of mysterious shapes. Statues of curious design, mirrors reflecting back the blue light onto paintings or hangings, tables littered with un-guessable objects and stands providing space for shadowy curios. You would like to go in but you are not even sure it is a shop let alone if it is open. You hurriedly retrace your steps back to your habitual path.

Each time you pass you ask yourself if you will be brave enough on this occasion to stop and enter, each time you don’t.

Then, one particularly dark and dreary day, when the rain is saturating, as you pass, you see that that the shop door stands open. Without thinking you turn from your usual route and enter.” 

Now, take a moment to breath and reflect and, with the story still fresh in your mind, read and consider your responses to each of the following questions:

Question 1. What is the main meaning of the story? – What message or core or essential meaning does the story hold? There may be many meanings which occur to you but, for now just think of one.

When you are ready. Read the next question:

Question 2. How is this meaning of relevance to you? How does it impact on your life and your challenges right now. Why is it important? Again, give yourself time to think of your response and, when you are ready try the next question:

Question 3. Think about what is the main value that you can draw from this relevance of the story. What does this value bring to the concern you identified earlier? Don’t rush your response. Take time to think about the value. The word ‘value’ is an interesting word. What do we value and what of value is here? When you are ready try this:

Question 4. What insight does the identified value provide for you? Finally:

Question 5. What action might you engage with as a consequence?

When you have considered what you might do next, spend a couple of minutes just breathing and thinking about nothing at all.

See what changes this day as a result of thinking about the story.

Subliminal Stories – a BI method developed by Simon Bell

Post By Professor Simon Bell

In solitude or with others, some things are too difficult to be dealt with directly. Sometimes we need to find a way to address underlying issues by roundabout means.

My starting point is two-fold. It can be summed up by the two following sentences:

We are needful of harmony with each other.

We are needful of peace with ourselves.

By: “needful of harmony with each other” I refer to the quality of the relationship we have with the others who come into and move out of our lives.

By: “needful of peace with ourselves” I refer to the quality of our self-knowing.

These two precepts underlie the intention and content of the Subliminal Stories method.

The intention of Subliminal Stories is to provide prompts or ‘calls’ to mindful consideration of the various elements of our inner relations. In reflecting on the stories used by this method, you are encouraged to reflect upon your Self and your Self with others and with things. Others like your family, work groups and friends. Things like nature, technologies and events in your life for example, interviews and holidays.

Reflections prompted by the stories may include questioning your motivations and motives, assessing your strengths and your weaknesses, considering your impact on others and their effects upon you. You may find the stories mirror some obvious and explicit event in your life; you may find that the stories address implicit and subliminal sources of concern and anxiety.

The prompts or ‘calls’ contained in the stories are invitations to sublimate, to look below the surface of your accustomed responses to yourself, your social context and your relations with the things that surround you and to allow new ideas and responses to emerge. Looking below the task in hand to the task below can free us from restrictions, allowing us to move ‘through the walls’ of the presenting problem. This in turn can lead to responses which you might not have considered before.

In this process I make use of fictions, stories which are objects which can provide means to address subjective problems, but problems which are too sensitive to be openly addressed more directly at this time.

There are no intended outcomes other than success in your exploring.

One of the Subliminal Stories is included in the video below: