Spiritual Emergence Network

Elisclare Lynch O’Connor talks to Mavis Arnold about the spiritual emergence network, a support group which she founded in Dublin in April, 1993 for people who have done holotropic breathwork.

In her book, The Stormy Search for the Self, Christina Grof wrote the following: We began to realize that there was a sizeable group of people who had transformative experiences that they had never talked about with anyone for fear of being considered crazy. Many others said that they had made the mistake of telling the wrong people about their experiences, they had been hospitalized, medicated and given psychiatric labels, even though deep within themselves, they felt they had not been involved in a pathological process. Mental-health professionals, physicians and clergy, repeatedly told us of their dissatisfaction with professional limitations and of their own often lonely work, which departed from traditional approaches. They were interested in locating like-minded colleagues for mutual support and the exchange of information. Arising out of this need, Christina Grof founded the Spiritual Emergence Network (SEN) in California in 1980.

This is the background to the establishment by Elisclare Lynch O’Connor of the first SEN support group in Dublin: “I am a member of SEN and while it may have been my idea to set up the group, it was very quickly taken up by a number of people who do Holotropic Breathwork and who saw the need for a support group. In no way do we see ourselves as an elitist group, but we believe we have to confine it to people who do Holotropic Breathwork, both as a protection for ourselves and also for the people who might join the group without having experienced this powerful work. We see our role as accom­panying and supporting each other. People who have had transformative experiences can feel very isolated and lonely and need the companionship of people who understand what it is like for them.

“Integration of the material which may be released during workshops, is not part of our purpose, though I suppose it may happen, given the quality of the support. We want to help people to own what has happened to them; embodying the material, if you like, not burying it. We do not give advice, nor is it a substitute for therapy. In the early days some of the people who came found it hard to accept these constraints and subsequently the group. But our aims are very clear: we meet to support each other in our own pro­cess. Many of our members will be in personal therapy but it is not a pre­requisite for joining.

“Ours is a circular group, with no hierarchical structure. We meet once a week. There is a voluntary coordinator who helps the group to settle and feel secure. There is a brief introduction, a comment from each member and a short relaxation exercise followed by a meditation. The aim and purpose of the group is made clear with a strong emphasis on confidentiality. Then the members who so wish may share their experiences. There is no pressure on anyone to share. The coordinator holds the work of the group in focus and, if the boundaries are not kept, he/she might very gently remind the group of the preamble which is read at the beginning of every meeting.

“This peer group is made up of people in different stages of their journey who share common experiences and understanding. It will help us with how to talk about our experiences and with whom a place where we can be heard and understood without being judged. It can give us a sense of community where we can lose some of the feelings of loneliness and isolation that can lead us to believe that we are the only ones who have had such experiences. The purpose and aim of the group is not about giving advice, nor is it a substitute for therapy. It is about supporting each other in our own process.

“Every group has its limitations and will never be exactly what each person wants. It is up to each person to take responsibility for him/herself in the group, how much or how little they need to share, while at the same time understanding the notion of reciprocity in support networks, namely that they involve giving as well as receiving support.

“Because we are aware that many people are curious about Holotropic Breathwork but know little about it, we hold an open night once every two months. This meeting is open to everyone and we always have a facilitator there to answer questions and explain the process.

“We may have as many as 14 people at a meeting or as few as 2. Mostly they come several times after a workshop. Then maybe they stop, although we have a core group who come regularly. But we have been told that the very fact we exist is a support it itself. People are reassured that if the need is there they have a place to go. The group shares at a very deep level and I accept that it might not be suitable for everyone. There is a lot of pain expressed, but never to the extent that the member cannot handle it.

“Christina Grof has acknowledged that support groups for Holotropic Breathwork are few and far between and that more are needed. I should point out that we are only an element of SEN. We don’t have a telephone helpline, a referral system for people going through a transformative crisis, or an educational component, though I would very much like to see the service extended. I know that the need is there and that we perform a useful function. There is a sacredness about our meetings: that is why people come.”

For further information about SEN, venue and times of meetings, telephone Elisclare Lynch O’Connor at 01 285 9637. Anyone interested in learning more about Holotropic Breathwork should read the article “Healing and Transformation: the use of Non Ordinary States of Consciousness” Inside Out Issue no. 13, Summer, 1993.