Study Guide – feedback 2020

RESPONSES from five participants of the course TO LIVE WELL
Held under the auspices of The Contemplary & The Centre for a Compassionate Society, from the 6th October to 10th November 2020:

Session time 7 – 9.30 pm.
Participants: 7 women
Key theme: “we are not in therapy, and each of us is here for our self”
Group introductions in the opening session revealed that the dominating interest in the journey was the matter of Forgiveness.
Summary of the content:
The first week lays the foundation for confidentiality, listening without correcting, and building trust.
The second week introduces feelings and emotions in times of grief and loss, and how one responds to that.
Week three introduces awareness of how my emotions impact my communication in relationships. The heart and emotions play a crucial role in this course.
This opens the door for weeks four to five where forgiveness and apology come into focus,
Week six makes repentance and justice meaningful.

First respondent:
1. What were some of the best moments for me in participating in this group?

-People share their insights and interpretations of the context, and provide different perspectives.
_-group discussions with people expressing agreement to what was shared.
– light-bulb moments – realizing what was blocking my progress of healing and forgiveness.

2. What were the more difficult times for me in the sessions?

-Remembering the Rwandan genocide and reading about atrocities that I did not previously know about.
– Realising that throughout my life I had actually had a number of traumas that needed to be unpacked. This being said, I could only focus on the worst or biggest trauma and not all distressing events. I now have the tools to heal more.

3. With whom will I share this study guide and what questions do I have about using the material?

– 2 friends come to mind; a counselor and a pastor – both female and both suffered traumas. I would like to encourage both to actually do the course.
– is the course content copyright? (I don’t think it is, but not sure)

4. What changes or improvements would I like to see in the sessions?

– there was not enough time to spend on group discussions
-we needed to skip breakout rooms due to time constraints
-condensing the course into 6 weeks [from 10 sessions] was too much, in my opinion. I suggest 8 weeks of 8 sessions and allow time for a chat after the session finishes to encourage/build trust and comradeship.

5. How am I changing in my life as a result of this study?
– recognizing triggers and now have the tools to deal with them
-learning to forgive myself, accepting the past
-not allowing the trauma to overtake my thinking – recognizing it and stopping it
– seeing other people differently – especially when they have adverse reactions; thinking of their journey as well as my own.

6. What would I say to others who I think could be part of a group?

-it’s for anyone struggling with forgiveness of themselves and/or others.
– ultimately should this be a tool to be used in schools and universities? Give people the tools needed to deal with trauma/forgiveness before it happens.

7. In what ways did my mentor/support person assist me?

-talking this through with another person allowed me to clarify points I was struggling with, and receive encouragement to continue to process, and make me go over again some points to make sure I understood the process. They also listened with compassion and no judgment.

Second respondent:
1. Best moments:
-I loved the gentleness, non-judgment, and support from the facilitator.
-Light-bulb moments for me were: I must forgive for me, not others; I must also be ready to forgive; and understanding forgiveness is for my benefit, thus allowing myself acceptance of the past and moving forward.

2. Difficult times:
-the first two sessions were difficult for me. I found it hard to talk openly until I trusted the group.

3. Will share with whom?
-due to my past I haven’t told many about doing this study of forgiveness. If a friend raised their issues of forgiveness I would share what I have learned and encourage their participation.

4. Changes or improvements:
The majority of cases we studied involved open apologies to the victim. For most of our study group, no apology has occurred. Inclusion of further cases/stories of forgiveness with no apology or discussion of cognitive steps to take towards this would be well received.

5. How am I changing in my life?
It allowed me to see I was forcing myself to forgive for the benefit of everyone else. I now understand more what forgiveness should look and feel like: not conditional, the anger dissipated! Openly discussing forgiveness and its value in healing has allowed me further contemplation and exploration.

6. What I’d say to others:
-I loved the simplicity of the course, demonstrating incredible role models who have forgiven perpetrators. This allowed them to move on and even embrace ongoing relationships with them.

7. Mentor/Support person role;
Due to the ‘isolation’ of my issues, I had limited support connections. I, therefore, reached out to our group and was enveloped with kindness and caring. A number of us supported each other throughout the course allowing for stronger connections, openness, and the sense of being heard. It took me out of the isolation of my ‘secret’, giving me the courage to share with others. I can also see the possibility of offering some level of forgiveness in the future.

Third respondent:

1. Best parts:
Connecting with others, sharing our stories, the ground rules we established in which I could have confidence the group would honour my privacy

2. Difficulties?
After week two I didn’t want to return! I spoke about this in the group and this was very freeing

3. With whom will I share this SG? A friend is very interested in doing this course, as I would tell her about it weekly. I’ll be bringing her to our catch-up.
NB This respondent also introduced a friend who participated in the same group.

4. What could improve in the sessions?
There were times I felt we had to rush because it was ten weeks squashed into six. The downside of this was missing out on work in pairs.
I’d have loved to do more on reflective listening also.

5. Changing my life?
For me the best happened in the input of the last session: The physicality of putting my palm out and saying “I forgive you “ has been wonderful.
I’m also practicing this with myself, which is wonderful thank you.
I also loved your concept that listening is the greatest act of love. This is what we do in AA, we listen in silence when one is speaking

6. What could I say to others? People share their insights and interpretations of the context and, providing different perspectives.Group discussions with people expressing agreement to what was being shared. ‘Light-bulb’ moments – realizing what was blocking my progress of healing and forgiveness
7. Mentor/Support: I didn’t actually have anyone to debrief with. I could have, I just didn’t act on this suggestion.

Fourth respondent:

1. What were some of the best moments for me in participating in this group?
* When I realized that this course wasn’t about Rwanda and forgiveness but about myself & forgiveness. It was confronting – I was there for a purpose.
* The unity that was part of this group. The trust and openness were phenomenal.
* Others sharing was so open and honest and trusting
* Spirit of God moving all the time.

2. What were the more difficult times for me in the sessions?
* Confronting my own un-forgiveness, recognizing it in regards to my mum (I was an unwanted child)
* Also needing to respond to a friend who I still see; in the group, I became aware of my disappointment and anger that I had not dealt with. I am still sitting with it.

3. With whom will I share this Study Guide and what questions do I have about using the material?
* A young couple who separated due to an affair; the course would be wonderful for them.
* I have told a number of people about the course. Waiting for a prompt or sign of interest from them.

4. What changes or improvements would I like to see in the sessions?
* The sessions went very quickly. Two into one was a lot. More time. The course was over before I realized it.
* All the women were committed to a longer time – not wanting it to end.
* We were energized, could have taken more.

5. How am I changing in my life as a result of this study?
* I’m looking more at my responses to situations and attending to the difficult challenges this raises.
* Examining my inner life; and aware of responses; being accountable for my emotional responses – look at it and break it down.

6. What would I say to others who I think could be part of a group?
* It’s a wonderful opportunity to have a look at your life.
* Helps you to look at things you may have ignored – what is sitting there like sediment; becoming open to new awareness.
* It’s confronting but also healing and restorative.
7. In what ways did my mentor /support person assist me?
* She listened to my summary and she would ask me about my feelings and thoughts. It deepened the learning.
* It clarified things for me. Encouraged me to sit and journal with ideas.

Fifth respondent:

1. What were some of the best moments for me?
*A growing sense of a new circle of friends at that time. (On the phone from inter-state)
*Refreshing to have people from outside my world to engage with despite, and because of, having no history together. No past back-story. Coming as I am, intending to be actively a part and share in the safe space we all agreed to hold.
*A non-judgmental space, but one we were able to question and even challenge.
*Genuine caring for each other and interested in each other’s story. This filled a gap in my life, of not having people to hear my story at a deeper level.
*Good to look at the Rwandan stories intimately and take time to reflect on them.
*Four of us also took the opportunity to meet twice as a small group to support one person, and we each shared more of our stories. Good to see different members moving forward and gaining understanding and help.
*The gentleness in the way it was led; and the space given to think, and listen.

2. What were the more difficult times for me in the sessions?
*Sometimes I was not quite sure about what to do with the pre-reading tasks.
*Difficult to apply some of the principles and ideas to forgiving and moving forward, especially when there is no acknowledgment of wrong done or pain caused. I thought we were going to do what the Rwandans went through in their healing, with regard to their need for therapy.

3. With whom will I share this Study Guide?
*Only my support person knew I was doing the course. I had to keep it private.
*I have since told one person that I did the course and it was helpful for me.
I need to process more and get further down the track before telling others.

4. What changes or improvements would I like to see?
*I recommend that it be a longer course, as it was designed. Would give people more time to absorb and process. None of us wanted to stop.

5. How am I changing in my life as a result?
* I’m a bit stuck because I really need to set aside time to go over the latter sessions and to consider them deeply and make choices based on that consideration. (Have been gearing up for other events and a health issue that have been more urgent since the course concluded).

6. What would I say to others who I think could be part of a group?
*The journey of the workshop is one that values you as a person in your situation; it doesn’t have ‘pat’ answers, does not try to force or enforce things, rather it is invitational, and offers understanding, in a deeply meaningful way, of the journey of forgiveness and healing.

7. In what ways did my mentor/support person assist me?
* She was very willing to do it; when I did have issues and needed to speak of my stuff, she was a good listener.

(Collated by John Steward, 12 Jan 2021).

Study Guide – feedback 2019

2019 RESPONSES to the Study Guide sessions:

No of Respondents: 9 persons from three Groups (8 women, 1 man)
(Note: not every participant has responded to all the questions)

1. What were some of the best moments for me in participating in this group?

The small group discussion and the deep sharing that all group members participated in.
Hearing the stories of the participants in the group and in the book, and the video clips. The challenge to me was in holding up the mirror to myself, my thoughts and feelings around forgiveness, and how my actions impact others.

The size of our group (of 5), allowing permission to have a voice and be heard
The conversation emerging, our own stories become the focus of the topic.
Reflection time – very helpful

Realising how strong people can be, especially after going through such horrific occurrences.
Acknowledging that I too can live a more fulfilling life.

Hearing another life story and telling mine – what a privilege.
The respect and kindness with which the group heard my story of grief.

Hearing other people’s stories.
Connecting with my own unhealed pain and realizing there is hope to move forward.
Watching John’s gentle style of leading the group.

The sharing and listening in a safe community
Understanding the power of community

I learnt the value of engaging with the meaning of my own story.

Exposure to Rwandan stories.
Understanding the complexity of forgiveness and the need to face pain first.
Being around a gentle, thoughtful group of people seeking to learn.

When group members engage with each other, we become a community learning together, rather than ‘a leader-led’ group.

2. What were the more difficult moments for me?

Wondering if working with a group the leader would have to have an idea on dealing with potential emotional issues that arise in this work.

Holding other’s stories/ needing time to process
The recognition that human beings have the capacity to do great harm to others, history shows us how this can happen; yet also we have the capacity to heal and forgive

For sure the book is the saddest and yet the most enlightened book I have ever read.
In the beginning I didn’t think I could continue because I felt it was all so senseless. I am glad I continued through the course.

An unexpected outpouring of my grief. In this session I misunderstood the instructions/intent of the session and hence opened the door on grief, then couldn’t shut it. The group responded very compassionately and appopropriately so it was OK, but initially I felt awkward.

Talking about myself.
Realising my TA stance with respect to my husband.

Lack of time – 3 hour sessions would have been good.

This process deals with things inside me – as a group we have walked through the inner jungle, getting perspective and can see the hills and valleys beyond.

Confronting nature of the Rwandan massacre portrayed in personal stories.

3. What further questions do I have about using the material?

I think there also needs to be recognition of different learning styles of people in adult education and this will need to be taken into account.
How to include art making as a way to engage with the material
Can the course be run without the stories from Rwanda?

Adaptability into a church congregation struggling with grief, conflict etc?

How to use it in a church situation – how to present the idea of the group in a way that attracts people who are ready and willing to participate?
The need for each participant to have a suitable support person.

Can this material be tried with Teenagers in years 11 & 12, Inter-generational groups as well as people hurting and grieving through loss and rejection?

I hope the material will make its way into my CCT teaching and my therapy.

4. What changes or improvements would I like to see in the sessions?

Very word based – some more time in exploring the possibility of other modes of learning styles
Consider 3-hour sessions to in-depth the experience of each session- and do more practical work.
There are a variety of activities in the material that we are not able to cover due to time constraints. What would be the implications of running the course for 3 hours and enabling the participants to in-depth the course? e.g. I know I made the comment about not liking role plays, the reality is they are a good way of learning, it is a pity that we ran out of time to do that part of the learning. I would like to do more partner discussion; this helps build the group dynamics.

Broader range of recognition of different learning styles. Huge amount of material offered in each session, but I can see how it can be modified to suit the differing needs of a group (which we did do in session 3).
When referencing pages for homework, it would be helpful to have the headings, as it makes the pages easier to find when using Kindle.

It may reflect the fact that I missed the first session, but I felt a little uncertain about what the process is that we are doing – given that it is based on the longer Rwandan courses. Are we going through a personal process or learning to conduct a group process?

The session 3 introductory video I found overwhelming because it was packed with information.
I felt there was too little time in 2 hours to go through the material in some sessions.

More time is needed (eg 3 hours).

I think sometimes the instructions could be clearer. I think there needs to be opportunities/mechanisms to bring the material into closer interaction with our personal experience so we are not just learning about forgiveness in the abstract.

5. How am I changing as a result of this Study?

Thinking about forgiveness and what the steps are to forgiveness? I recognize the strength of real forgiveness and being prepared to give forgiveness time.

I think the study is helping me deal with my own grief and realize, whilst trivial in relation to Rwanda, the feelings and emotions generated are important in relation to my personal growth.

I am reflecting more on my actions and the way I behave. I feel I am less judgmental. There is less fear within me.

I loved the reflection on “I’m OK You’re OK” (session5) – I will practice this.

I am realizing that my emotions aren’t so scary or abnormal and am hopeful rather than fearful that I can learn to express them better.
I am learning not to be ashamed of how I feel or be worried about others’ reactions.

More deeply thinking about the need for active forgiveness

It has given me a calmer attitude towards forgiveness.

I have inner reserves of peace

I am feeling more calmness and patience.
My children have noticed the difference and say to me: “Why aren’t you getting angry (like you used to react to what we did/said)”?

I found tools and strategies to be a better listener when I engage with my family and people who have been hurt.
I have a different (new) perspective on ‘letting go’.

A greater understanding of forgiveness.
I’m Ok, you’re Ok – starting interactions from that place.

More aware of the nature of forgiveness and what is required.

6. What would I say to others who I think could be part of such a group?

This is well worth being part of. The course is a way of enabling understanding of issues of conflict, forgiveness, restitution and healing based on the Rwandan experience. I will design a brochure to hand to prospective participants.

I can see huge potential for those who have a willingness to explore ways of taking opportunities to create a more peaceful world.

To discover your trauma through the words of others in this course is a way forward for everyone. It gives the courage to live with emotional intelligence and to be your best self.

Here is an opportunity to learn to feel and grieve in safety and to heal and to forgive. However it is only possible with self-honesty and willingness to be open to the process and trust the other group members and have a support person.

Take some time to think and process, read the readings and find a conversation partner (mentor).

It gives a path to peace, and tools and strategies to make the principles practical.

This work involves the whole person – heart and mind.

We (a group of three mothers) want to note the worth of this material for those in situations needing family violence healing. The people in this group have all done ‘work’ (outside of the Church) that, although helpful, did not assist in areas this program does. The dealing with our own emotions and healing, particularly in relation to forgiveness, is not really covered well in other approaches. We all noticed that grappling with forgiveness in a proactive way makes a big difference to healing and peacefulness.

The forgiveness process is important to the healing after violence, but only once recovery has begun by first working through the effects and consequences of the violence.

Heart-warming, challenging stories.

7. In what ways did my mentor /support person assist me?

We had conversations about how the course can be used in a congregational setting, as well as general discussion about the course and book.
I recognise the importance of having a support person or buddy to work this journey with the participant.

I took any issues arising for me to my Spiritual Director; it was a very important thing to do.

My support person had a willingness to hear what I had to say/share about the course and the journey.

By their listening and encouraging me to participate. Helping me process what went on in me in each session, so as to continue the work of the session, which brought up things that there was not time for, or were not appropriate to deal with, in the actual session.

My husband is always there to debrief, and provides a safe space to express my feelings about the learning and the group experience.

I found it helpful having my partner in the same group – lots of opportunity for further conversation.