REFLECTIONS ON STARTING AN ACIM GROUP
By Bridget Thomas
By definition starting a group is not something one can do alone. Therefore it was something of a challenge for me when, several years ago, in conversation with Tom Carpenter he suggested I find someone called Val Phillips to help and encourage her in starting an ACIM group. This sounded exciting if rather daunting but helping someone else felt good. What I didn’t understand then was what an opportunity this was giving me to undo my own misperceptions.
By this time I had developed strong habits of aloneness. I lived alone, I ran my own practice and felt “safer” when I was on my own rather than with others. At the same time I wanted to be with others and to share but didn’t know how to. I wanted very much to find an answer to the question “What is Love?” which had been with me for as long as I could remember and I also wanted to know the truth of who I am.
I did find Val soon after I returned to England and we were soon joined by two others Amanda Rayment and Sandy West, both of whom were studying the Course. And so began our group in Bristol. We met weekly in the daytime at Val’s house and in time others joined us: some to stay a while and some passing by. A year later we began an evening group in my house.
The first step, where Val and I began, has always been to offer the desire to begin a group to the Holy Spirit and ask that all who can be of assistance will come forward. The response to this request can sometimes be very challenging because all have come for a loving purpose, but they may not come in a guise that is comfortable for the one who called them! I wanted a group to be a part of and to share with but I was very attached to doing things by myself and being “in control.”
I recognised that I seemed to be “leading” the group and that I had difficulty in communicating with Val. Indeed I was replaying the same scenario I had played out in many other situations in my life. I also seemed to get affirmation of my “leadership” from others in the group but I didn’t like it when they saw things differently or wanted to share feelings and experiences which reminded me too uncomfortably of the ones I had tried to suppress. It made me feel very insecure.
The pain and discomfort I experienced because of this brought me slowly to the practice of self forgiveness that the Course tells me is my only function. It was painful but necessary to recognise that the ego was at work and that, rather than try to do this on my own from a place of separation within myself, I needed to bring these feelings of fear, insecurity etc. to the Holy Spirit, the Presence of Love within and ask how to respond from Love rather than separation. In the course of this process I was also undoing many misperceptions of my family and healing relationships with them.
It was too confronting to share all of this in the group or even with Val at that stage but I did begin to speak of it slowly to a close friend who helped and continues to help me a great deal. Recently I recognised that I needed to speak to Val about all this and asked Holy Spirit to be my guide. Val met me with her characteristic generosity of spirit and we began a very honest dialogue together, each of us having the intention to undo our misperceptions and practice forgiveness. We have now come to recognise that we were the perfect partners to undo this thought of separation together. And what joy and freedom that is bringing us both: truly a miracle. Now it is such a joy and so easy to spend time and to connect with Val.
I am sharing this with all of you because I wanted to encourage anyone wishing to start or join a group to do so. Offer your desire to the Holy Spirit and all that you need will come forward but it may not necessarily be quite as you expected. As we discovered, it could turn out to be so very much better than you ever thought possible!