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.