Several months ago I spoke before a spiritual discussion group in Phoenix, Arizona that calls itself “Out of the Box.” The moment I entered the meeting room, I could feel the electricity in the air. This audience was different. This gathering of otherwise ordinary people, by meeting weekly to explore beyond the limits of dogma, had found a way of mutually bootstrapping one another into the realm of the extraordinary. It promised to be an exceptional evening – and it was.
A few weeks later I spoke with the founders, Shari Eres-Leve and Dan Nease, to learn more about what makes Out of the Box so vibrant and productive. What began as a few people meeting in Dan’s coffee house has now expanded to five established weekly groups. Here is their recipe for creating an Out of the Box group in your neighborhood:
Invite a few “light-minded people,” as Out of the Box calls them, to meet in a comfortable, quiet place. Private homes are too restrictive, coffee houses too noisy. Metaphysical bookstores, party rooms in restaurants, meeting rooms at libraries, even the children’s area at a Borders or Barnes and Noble, have proved more conducive.
Ask each person to write one or more questions of a spiritual nature and put them in a box – hence the name of the group. One question at a time is pulled out of the box and becomes the topic for discussion. Since in a single session all questions are rarely covered, the box gets quite full over time. As the weeks and months pass, the group develops a focus and a style according to questions its members want to consider.
The format is simple: The group sits in a circle, and a facilitator (rather than a leader) welcomes people as they arrive and keeps the meeting organized. Another person, acting as group secretary, gathers contact information (name, address, phone, email) and creates a database (Excel) for announcing future gatherings.
The facilitator opens the meeting with a simple meditation or expression of gratitude, asking that the space, the participants, and the discussion be harmonious, and then explains the format. The paper on which a question is written serves as a Native American–style talking stick – it is passed around the circle and whoever holds it is the sole speaker at that moment. Everyone else listens attentively, honoring what the person is saying as their truth and give it their full attention, even if they don’t agree with what it being said. All comments, even remarks to oneself, wait until the open discussion that follows.
If someone prefers not to comment on a certain question, they can just pass it along. Once the question has traveled all the way around the circle, an open discussion begins. The facilitator calls on people in the order in which they raise their hands.
Over the years, Shari has refined the meeting process, bowing to whim and creative impulse. Out of the Box meetings in Phoenix now open with each person introducing themselves by first name and answering a “fun” question such as “What astrological sign are you?” or “Where were you born?” This ice-breaker lets everyone’s voice be heard. Announcements, including announcements of future meetings, follow. Just before the first question is selected, members are invited to share experiences – events, synchronicities, epiphanies – since the last meeting that are relevant to the group’s interests. Sometimes these are so profound that a question is never pulled from the box.
If the gathering is large, participants are asked to keep their comments short (2–3 minutes). Sometimes a single question fills the entire meeting; sometimes many are discussed. It is the facilitator’s job to keep the session vibrant and flowing, occasionally proposing a thought-provoking question as a seed for future consideration. The meeting concludes with a hand-holding circle. All the participants are acknowledged and invited to be the love they want to see on the planet in the coming week.
I’ve recently discovered that the groups meeting in Phoenix have counterparts in most cities across America and, I suspect, the world. Something major is afoot. There is no formal movement with a name, no spokesperson, nor are the groups consciously connected. It’s as if millions of tiny chrysalises, their contents silently incubating on well-hidden tree branches, have all received the same cosmic signal that their time has come.
Most of us, unless we are already incredibly adept, can go farther in a group than on our own. The group dynamic brings things out of us that might otherwise lie dormant, and we discover the wealth of wisdom, experience, and capacity in people (and ourselves) we might otherwise brush aside as “ordinary.” This is simplest, cleanest, most effective path to empowerment – to turn not to a guru, a workshop, or a dogmatic study group but to each other.
It also makes for a tremendous audience. When a group of people is already committed to participation and exploration, as a visiting speaker I’m free to merge energies with them, and together we can venture beyond the final frontier. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Jean-Claude Gerard Koven is a writer and speaker based in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. He was a featured weekly columnist for the UPI (United Press International) Religion and Spirituality Forum and is the author of Going Deeper: How to Make Sense of Your Life When Your Life Makes No Sense, recipient of both the Allbooks Reviews Editor’s Choice Award and the USABookNews.com Award for the Best Metaphysical Book of the Year.
©2004 – 2021. Jean-Claude Gerard Koven / All Rights Reserved.