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Creating An Empowering Wellness Community

By Lisa Reagan

How can Gathering Groups peacefully and effectively discuss controversial issues?As Pathways Connect Gathering Groups are becoming established around the country, facilitators have begun to contribute their insights and ideas for the Pathways Connect Gathering Guide, as well as share their concerns with discussing “controversial” issues in groups. While the Gathering Guide provides a new group with tools for communicating compassionately with one another, as well as energizing icebreakers that help us to get to know each other and just have fun, the purpose of the groups, ultimately, is to empower one another with the experience of honest exchange in a safe community setting. The unique Dialogue and Resource Guide that accompanies every new issue of Pathways magazine provides a group with a treasure trove of resources to explore together, as well as thought-provoking Talking Points and Dialogue questions—designed for peaceful, not antagonistic, exchanges. In a conscious living community, how we talk to one another is just as important as what we are talking about. And sometimes what we talk about can be intense!

Leah Deragon, co-founder and CCE of the Birth Roots center in Portland, Maine, knows which “hot button” issues are the most difficult to explore as a facilitator of parent groups. “While we say one size doesn’t fit all, there are issues that can be predictably challenging to discuss. The big three are vaccination, circumcision and co-sleeping. Do you have any advice for how to approach these topics in our Pathways Connect group?” I was grateful for Leah’s honest question and the opportunity to answer it. In my experience of working with families who tackle informed choice making, the take-home message over and over is this: The orientation of the parent determines the question asked, and the question asked determines the answer found.Simple enough, right? Well no. Not if you start out, as most of us do, feeling dis-oriented and scrambling to find answers to questions you never considered before becoming parents. How do we participate in our own orientation, also known as a worldview or paradigm? In social science theory, the idea that we understand the world through framing is a scientifically acceptable way of describing the filters that allow our brains to create or reject reality—especially when confronted with new information that challenges our preconceptions, much less our entrenched views. For a true inquiry into any issue to occur, and for new information to be integrated into a typically resistant brain, an individual must develop awareness of her brain’s filters and a reframing process needs to take place. In the world of conscious living, this process is called paradigm shifting. It’s when we become aware of the limitations of our own understanding and social conditioning, sense the empowering possibilities on the other side of these old habits of thought, and then summon the courage to ask new questions and take responsible action. Paradigm shifting is the necessary first step in the informed choice making process. The process of making informed choices is a learning curve, one which we grow into with experience and knowledge that matures our confidence, wisdom and trust in the intelligence of our intuition—our innate impulse toward wholeness and wellness. In the beginning of this learning curve, parents gathering in groups might believe the question they are there to discuss and want answered is, “Should I vaccinate/circumcise/co-sleep?” The beginning is a fine place to start, and the reason Pathways Connect exists: to help parents initiate paradigm shifting and navigate the informed choice making process! Unfortunately, starting down a road of personal or group inquiry with this sort of oversimplified, misleading question can only lead to highly charged, emotional exchanges that will doom any attempts at supportive, respectful discussion…much less lead to a confident, personal choice. Further along the learning curve of informed choice making is the idea of questioning the questions we are asking, or reframing our questions so they serve as rudders that point us to where we want to go. Think about it: How do you know if you are asking a question whose premise is grounded in a paradigm that understands wellness and can provide an answer? How do you know if your inquiry is the one you intended to make? Do you really want to expend your precious energy reacting fearfully and getting nowhere? To find the answer you really want, the question needs to be questioned, your intention consciously acknowledged and a genuine exercise in inquiry initiated. For parents, the real underlying question/intention can be: How do I create and support the wellness lifestyle for my family? When this question is the guide for our inquiry, we can go places. However, this level of inner inquiry and awareness requires us to be honest with ourselves. Is this the question we are asking? Or is the question underlying the original question (and therefore our unconscious intention) something more along the lines of: How can I not alienate my in-laws or friends, who are a precious form of support for me, by complying with their views of parenting issues instead of making a choice that is right for my family? If social acceptance is the real question, the real rudder on journey, whatever “answers” we engineer through our brain’s filters will meet that unconscious intention. If wellness is chosen as the guide for inquiry, an exciting and empowering process takes hold, as parents are now free to ask: What is wellness? How is it created? What is the role of illness in health? What is my personal plan for creating the family wellness lifestyle? What are my resources for making informed choices? What choices am I prepared to make? What consequences of my choices am I prepared to handle? Once we’re on the right path, with our intentions consciously acknowledged and with the right questions in place to guide our inquiry, something else becomes obvious: We are less fearful. Why? Because we have shifted our inquiry’s premise to one of an expectation of empowerment, instead of a fear of rejection or loss. This shift in awareness is the result of reframing that can initiate a profound paradigm shift—a measurable biological change in the structure of your brain’s ability to process information that leads to a new worldview. Since worldviews create worlds, can you imagine a world of empowered parents and children expressing their innate potential? We can, which is why Pathways Connect is committed to helping parents take on the informed choice making process. Here’s the bonus material: With a new paradigm to support the informed choice making process, we also have access to all of our IQ points! As psychiatrist Bruce Perry’s work shows, when we become fearful, we move into our lower “lizard brain” and lose 25 to 50 IQ points. As our fear increases, our ability to think rationally decreases. (To put this loss in perspective, the average IQ is 100, and 30 points gained or lost on either side of the IQ bell curve leads to either genius or mental retardation.) With this information, it is suddenly not surprising at all, but understandable—even predictable—that a group of parents who agree to set out on a journey of inquiry with rudders that lead nowhere would become increasingly frustrated and fearful, leading to a group’s failure to connect, much less create an empowered wellness community. Thankfully, there is another way. When we consciously take on the questions that most frighten us in a group setting, we not only bear witness to the truth that our innate impulse toward wellness is greater than our resistance to change, but we also create the opportunity to model for our children what it means to be courageous, kind, respectful and intelligent, all within the space of a few hours! In the end, these challenges are where the tools of conscious living shine and the mission of a Pathways Connect Gathering Group becomes clear: to train ourselves to think clearly and react compassionately through reframing and paradigm shifting, to learn to research thoroughly, to boost our confidence in our ability to create wellness in our families, and to respect others who wish to do the same. With the right orientation/paradigm/worldview, we can choose to compassionately and respectfully meet one another as companions on a journey, right where we are, on our pathways to family wellness.