Introduction 
We need to start 
making Share Circles. 
Badly. We need local 
groups that support our 
urge to change, that...
control still call the global tune and 
eventually turn with cyclic regularity. 
In the Middle East, Syria is counting 
mo...
A 
Free 
Guide 
To 
Building 
Share 
Circles 
All you need is this manual. And it’s 
free. 
You have dreamt of change. You...
1. Why do we need 
Share Circles? 
What are you seeking 
in life? Is it 
contentment? Is it 
comfort? Is it pleasure? 
For...
happiest countries and the USA 150th 
out of 178, rather than looking for 
success in material things, we can 
take a leaf...
that in the hands of our political 
leaders. 
So, that leaves us with choice ‘3’. If 
you want to liberate yourself from 
...
cooperative ones, the explosion of 
personal independence that has 
chipped away at the trust and respect 
necessary for h...
We’re constantly at threat from the 
terrorists, the ozone, the emerging 
disease, the weather, the next meteor, 
the econ...
receive what we need in life is first to 
learn how to give it. 
The more people give it, the more it 
becomes an essentia...
2. How Do You Set Up a 
Share Circle? 
Share Circles are small 
neighborhood groups 
comprised of friends 
and acquaintanc...
Scientific research has conclusively 
proven that meditative and awareness 
techniques reduce stress7, improve 
sleeping p...
The great thing about Share Circles is 
that the vehicle of practice is entirely 
up to you. Whatever your group of 
frien...
community who practices, inviting 
them to your qi gong share circle is a 
no-brainer. You are not seeking to 
‘rope peopl...
3. The Three Shares 
The Three Shares define 
what your Share Circle 
is formed to share. 
Their purpose is to 
align ever...
making you unhappy, how can you 
change anything without running the 
risk of making your self more 
unhappy? As mentioned...
alleviate this problem of continuous 
reaction and enter a state of being-ness. 
This means that your awareness 
practices...
your practice and during the days 
between each Share Circle meeting is 
very important. It is certainly wise to 
encourag...
A 
Free 
Guide 
To 
Building 
Share 
Circles 
6. Have Fun! 
While we may take our 
practice seriously, life is a joy 
ride...
Conclusions 
The world is not well. It 
needs spiritual 
medicine. 
But you can help make 
it better. 
•Eighty per cent of...
A 
Free 
Guide 
To 
Building 
Share 
Circles 
your life immediately and there is no 
time to waste. You may not be able to...
A Free Guide to Building Share Circles - Spiritual and Meditation Groups for Your Community
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A Free Guide to Building Share Circles - Spiritual and Meditation Groups for Your Community

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For More Info please visit http://www.michaelpaulstephens.com/guides-and-manuals.html

Share Circles are formed by groups of people who wish to share their spiritual practice. This document shows you how to build your own Share Circle in your neighborhood, as well as teaches you basic mediations that you can practice together with your friends.

Share Circles are inclusive of all religious denominations and creeds because their purpose is simple: genuine happiness through self-awareness.

Download the ‘Free Guide to Building Share Circles‘. Call some friends. Practice. Repeat until genuinely happy. It’s that simple.

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A Free Guide to Building Share Circles - Spiritual and Meditation Groups for Your Community

  1. 1. Introduction We need to start making Share Circles. Badly. We need local groups that support our urge to change, that share the need to talk or sit in the peace of the moment simply in awe of who we are. Our communities do not have such places. We must build them. We have to start doing something different. All the normal things we do to create change haven’t worked. They just reflect our current reality from minds trained to find comfort in what already exists. If we are to commit to creating real change in our lives then nothing less than an evolution of human consciousness is necessary; from a consciousness that is capable of hatred, greed and selfishness, to one that realizes the potential for genuine happiness within every human spirit. Why do we accept so much suffering in our lives as background noise, collateral damage and ‘a part of everyday life’? Just because suffering has become normal doesn't make it inevitable. We just have to learn to create happiness and accept nothing less. Suffering is a warning about the type of change you need. It is a like an email from your subconsciousness to your consciousness: from you to you. It says “Something is wrong!”, “Something must change!” It is the recognition of your higher self that your connection to the illusion of the physical world has become too great and you must learn, once again, to escape it. Physical suffering, mental suffering, energetic suffering or spiritual suffering; each reflects the other and as it manifests it reflects the severity of the warning. Sickness and death are just the final warnings, best avoided. If we can expand our awareness of how the messages from our mind, body and energy systems feel and what they mean, we create the opportunity of choice: to repeat the same patterns that created our current reality, or evolve by learning new ways to create new patterns. If we do not create the awareness, we simply keep repeating the same patterns, in ignorance, forever. The process of evolution is one where a species selects options that create desirable change. Darwin didn’t realize that natural selection, in humanity in particular, was also dependent upon mental energy. We literally have the power to choose whether to evolve away from patterns that cause sickness and misery and evolve into patterns that create genuine happiness and wellbeing. The beauty of this is that, not only is wellbeing a really nice state of existence, it also mirrors a corresponding elevation in our spiritual energy, which is the fundamental energy of evolution. The question of Share Circles is simple: “Do you dare to evolve?” It is October 2013 now, as I write the update of this Share Circles guide. Surpassingly little has changed in the world since I wrote the first version in 2011, although the appearance may be to the contrary. Like a merry-go-round, the situations change but the basic dynamics of fear, threat and A Free Guide To Building Share Circles www.michaelpaulstephens.com 2
  2. 2. control still call the global tune and eventually turn with cyclic regularity. In the Middle East, Syria is counting more that 100,000 dead, thirty Greenpeace activists are about to go on trial charged as Pirates for having dared challenge Russian oil exploration in the Arctic and Edward Snowden’s revelations of secret electronic surveillance by Western governments against their own people raises little more than an eyebrow in the minds of people too weary staying alive and afraid to worry about a bigger picture. How easily we forget that the bigger picture also contains our own image. It is true that there is little point in revolting against the powers that be. It is counterproductive to anyone seeking genuine happiness. It just exacerbates the anger, hatred and distrust that fuels and expands the very suffering we are trying to strip from our lives. But there is also no longer an excuse to sit on the fence and watch the world polarize into forces that will fight for the last scraps of the illusion that is destroying us all. You have to create your own force for genuine happiness if you want to be free. The will to change comes from within. If you seek real change, you must be prepared to change your diary first and foremost, shifting your daily routine so that everything else is less significant than your effort to change you and become someone who no longer reflects and reinforces in the world the very patterns you are trying to escape from the inside-out. The motivation for your own transformation must become, not a matter of debate, time or negotiation by the inner you struggling between what seems important and what is really important. Your personal mission to attain genuine happiness must become the unstoppable force and immovable object around which your entire day revolves without question. This doesn’t mean that we have to become spiritual gurus or social dropouts to affect meaningful change. On the contrary. Transformation must happen within the context of society, not from beyond, above or outside it. We have all spent far too long succumbing to the excuses of modern people; the lack of time, the pressing engagements and trivia, the reasons for making no real difference to the pain we smother with the rush for pleasure and excitement. Believe me when I say that the world is on the cusp of an epoch where your decision to become a catalyst for change is as important as the one chosen by Oppenheimer’s scientists to construct the nuclear trigger. The difference is that, if you choose to change, the fallout from your realization will be an explosion of peace. This manual is a description of Share Circles, why we need them, how you can set one up and what to do when you’ve created one. Share Circles are a way to reset your routine and for anybody who wants to do so to get involved in their own process of change. They happen on your terms, on your turf, at your time and in your way. There are no more excuses for why we cannot, don’t know how to or do not have the resources. A Free Guide To Building Share Circles 3
  3. 3. A Free Guide To Building Share Circles All you need is this manual. And it’s free. You have dreamt of change. You have imagined it. You have debated how, why, what, where and when. Yet the world still awaits it. Stop talking. Start sharing. Evolve now. Michael Paul Stephens November, 2013 info@michaelpaulstephens.com 4
  4. 4. 1. Why do we need Share Circles? What are you seeking in life? Is it contentment? Is it comfort? Is it pleasure? For the sake of argument, let’s just call it ‘genuine happiness’. Knowing this, your initial journey in life is as simple as first understanding what genuine happiness is and how it can be attained. The thing is, as you look about your life and your society, what support structures are at your disposal to help you do that? What structures currently exist in our societies that take your search for genuine happiness as seriously as you should? Is it religion? Well, one of the essential requirements of genuine happiness is to attain peace but there is not much peace found in the way we practice our world religions, is there? Let’s just take Christianity as an example: did you know there are more than 34,000 Christian denominations1? By their very nature, religions are divisive. They define for you what is true and what is not. What good to you are any institutions, religious or otherwise, that seek to promote peace but cannot be inclusive of different opinions and perspectives? At this rate we will just keeping dividing faiths again and again until we have 6.5 billion different religions! We are creating larger, more divided egos, not more unified and cohesive spirits. Genuine happiness is a process of bringing people together and helping one another to fulfill those needs, not of dividing them into one tribe and next. We need a more inclusive way towards peace. “Maybe the economic system holds the key to my genuine happiness?”, you might ask. Think again. While the entire world’s population may be convinced that economic success is a prerequisite of genuine happiness the statistics show that we live in a world where 40% of all wealth is owned by 1% of its people and the bottom 50% of our world’s population has just 1% of its total wealth2. In other words, if you’re poor, you may have to wait forever for your turn to get rich and share the joy. Luckily, there’s another way to look at this situation from the perspective of the poor people of Vanuatu, who didn’t wait to get wealthy to be happy. The 2006 New Economics Foundation Happy Planet Index showed that Vanuatu, a pacific archipelago nation in the South Pacific with a population of a little over 200,000, was the happiest place on earth! With a life expectancy 8.8 years lower than USA and a GDP of just USD $3,346 (that's $66,454 less than the highest income per capita country in the world, Luxembourg), Vanuatu found something beyond material assets to focus their desire upon. While the Happy World Index lists Luxembourg 74th on the list of A Free Guide To Building Share Circles 5 1 David B. Barrett, et al., "World Christian Encyclopedia : A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World," Oxford University Press, (2001), ISBN-13: 978-0195079630 2 “40% of world's wealth owned by 1% of population”, Tuesday, December 5, 2006, CBC News
  5. 5. happiest countries and the USA 150th out of 178, rather than looking for success in material things, we can take a leaf out of the Vanuatuans playbook to look inside ourselves for a material chance at genuine happiness. Perhaps politics is our best shot at creating social peace? I think not! The political system has become so intertwined with the economic system that its difficult to tell who is running what anymore. And it’s getting worse. For example, since the year 2000 the number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled to 34,7503 but we shouldn’t expect that trend to stop at the shores of the USA. It is becoming endemic and the norm within political systems modeled on Western principles. Your choice of leaders is just one arm of the monster or the other. Which do you grab? The fact is that the system is not going to change from the top down any more than turkeys would vote for Christmas. Clearly, wherever we look, the structures through which we should be seeking genuine happiness, have not been designed for that purpose. It doesn’t matter whether you dig even further and deeper into other systems like education, justice, military or the prison system for example, you will not find any systems created for genuine happiness anywhere amongst them. In contrast, you’ll find control, certainly. You’ll find order, absolutely. You’ll even find a kind of fairness that is so fair it totally disregards individual needs and hands everyone the same raw deal! But, genuine happiness? No! None of the systems of any society on this planet have been created for people who genuinely seek happiness because none of the people designing those systems have any idea where genuine happiness comes from. If you want to create real and sustainable change towards change you have but three choices: 1) Retire to the mountains of Bhutan and become an ascetic hermit in the pursuit of enlightenment or 2) Put on your Che Guevara T-shirt, grow a beard and revolt against the system and its tyranny or 3) Create a new environment for your life where genuine happiness becomes possible. The problem with choice ‘1’ is – not practical! As much as we might all look great in a saffron robe or knotted longhi, the ascetic life is not for everyone. There must be a way to live in society and yet still seek spiritual growth without going all ‘mung beans’ and ‘lentils’ on the world. The problem with choice ‘2’ is that there is already too much anger, bitterness, jealousy and power-lust in the world already! Adding your rage against the machine is neither going to solve the problem nor make you feel any happier about life as you’re doing so. Yes, you may get motivated (or arrested!) but it is the passion of self-destruction, not self-realization and the world already has enough of A Free Guide To Building Share Circles 6 3 Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, Washington Post, “The Road to Riches Is Called K Street - Lobbying Firms Hire More, Pay More, Charge More to Influence Government”, June 22, 2005
  6. 6. that in the hands of our political leaders. So, that leaves us with choice ‘3’. If you want to liberate yourself from suffering, you’re going to have to do it yourself. No one else cares about your peace. No one else will be motivated to make your life a better place to be. The only possible alternative is to realize that genuine happiness, at its most fundamental level, is an inside-out- do-it-yourself job. It starts by learning how to create an environment where genuine change towards genuine happiness is genuinely possible. People are unhappy because we spend most of our lives covering up our unhappiness with a sheen of pleasure and distraction…,which causes more unhappiness! It is great to have fun and indulge one’s self once in a while but it can have terrible results if we begin to believe that this is life’s ultimate purpose. In actual fact, it is this very illusion to which the world is dangerously addicted. We have become increasingly ignorant, not only of the reality that exists beyond our material desires, but of the means to escape the illusion that those very desires actually appear to be our salvation! We have handed off our responsibility for clean water, good food, safe neighborhoods, a stable job and a peaceful world to institutions whose greed has poisoned the water, genetically modified the food, ghettoized violence, created economic mayhem between nations and sells weapons as a recipe for global peace. What do you think they’ll do to your spirits, given half a chance? And the truth is, we’ve already given them more than half a chance. A recipe for genuine happiness this does not make. If we are serious about creating genuine happiness, not just for our selves but in our families and our communities, we must first open our eyes that it is you and I who will have to do the dirty work because no one in any political or economic power really cares, understands or cares to start understanding. There are no votes in it. Secondly, we will have to look for the alternatives to the lifestyle that has created the unease or dis-ease that exists in our current reality and find innovative solutions to apply them. If I were to put a word on these alternatives, I would not suggest propose ‘hermit’ or ‘revolution’. I would suggest a further reaching and more profound leap called Provolution. In my experience during the last 20 years traveling across four continents, there is a dwindling sense of spirituality in communities in all nations as well as a contracting awareness of what it will take to get it back. The result is a decay in community fabric accelerated by the competitive values we have preferred over A Free Guide To Building Share Circles 7
  7. 7. cooperative ones, the explosion of personal independence that has chipped away at the trust and respect necessary for healthy relationships and the slow erosion of family as the core unit of society. Statistics tell us that nearly 40% of EU marriages4 and nearly 50% of US Marriages5 end in divorce. In some countries up to 50% of children “will witness the breakup of a parent's marriage. Of these, close to half will also see the breakup of a parent's second marriage."6 How can we be expected to be genuinely happy when the very structures that naturally support our happiness are failing us and we are failing them? Our societies are failing to be social anymore and with it we lose one of the most powerfully cohesive energies that make humanity human - caring about one another. If you believe, as I do, that better relationships will result when people begin to have a better relationship with their own self, then we must not allow the notion of spirituality to be relegated to some new age dream or quirky pastime. It must be a socially integrated tool by which a deeper understanding of your mind, your body and your energy system helps you to reconnect to your own self and those around you. While the everyday world wants you to keep watching 30-second ads and remain desensitized to the way in which whole societies are groomed to become cows, milked for their economic worth, your mind, body and spirit is screaming to you: “listen to what I need”. The key to genuine happiness is inside you, not outside and the more one awakens to that fact the louder the cry becomes to do something different, to try anything different, to create something different. All you need to do is wake up to what your natural senses are telling you that you need to do… and then do it. And do it again. And again... Spirituality is about self-discovery. It is about breaking the archetypes that define a human being as a job, or a status or a class or a color or a wealth or any of the other perceptions that divide us and place us all in little sub-groups that wage war and hate against each other. People are not intrinsically like that. It is a lie if you have been told that we are. We live in an environment of conflict because conflict is what we condition all around us in our thoughts, words and actions. We are placed from birth in artificially constructed competitive situations that begin to seem natural to us. Economists, business people, politicians, sociologist and scientists warn warn us in so many different ways and time and time again that there is not enough money to go around, not enough food, not enough space, not enough jobs, not enough opportunity – now, if you want to survive, go out and fight for your share. A Free Guide To Building Share Circles 8 4 According to ‘Marriage and divorce rates: EU comparison, 2002’, available on the British Government website of the Office for National Statistics, showed that nearly 40% of all EU Marriages ended in divorce, a figure that includes Greece, Spain, Ireland, Spain and Portugal, predominantly Catholic countries where marriage is considered sacred. 5 Furstenberg, Peterson, Nord, and Zill, "Life Course," 656ff. Cited on page76 of The Abolition of Marriage, by Maggie Gallagher 6 National Vital Statistics Reports, Volume 57, Number 19 July 29, 2009 ‘Births, Marriages, Divorces, and Deaths: Provisional Data for 2008’, table A
  8. 8. We’re constantly at threat from the terrorists, the ozone, the emerging disease, the weather, the next meteor, the economy, invasion, cyber crime, immigration, religion, identity theft, pedophiles, serial murderers and confidence tricksters; every where we look there is threat after threat after threat as if someone has realized somewhere that to divide people from one another through a constant state of fear creates a malleable, gullible and predictable citizen. Is it any wonder that so many people are scared, aggressive and alone? Our mind, our body and our spirit implicitly knows that to be free we must let go of all those habits and feelings that have created slavery in our own shape and form. Our freedom has not been really been snatched from us by advertisers, politicians, corporations or any external bogeyman. We have chosen to relinquish it by default, so frequently selecting apathy over action and denial over awareness, allowing surrogates to act on our behalf rather than standing up and choosing to act independently and with courage. We are better than this. We are more than this. We can do more than this. The purpose of this booklet is to create a simple, obvious structure by which people can rediscover that courage and that hidden piece of themselves. It is a way by which we can do it together, through people sharing their process of growth and self-improvement because we are all connected. Our loneliness and sense of isolation expands because these connections are dying and we are allowing them to die. It is time that we stopped allowing that to happen and took responsibility for moving in a different and more nurturing direction. We need to raise our awareness and expand our connectivity by talking to one another about our problems, our suffering and our pain. Someone around you, close to you, in your community, right now, knows how to help you and you know how to help them. You just need a way to find each other. You just need the means to connect. We need to work together to create genuine happiness by recognizing that, when we support others in their spiritual growth, the natural return is an investment in our own. You may already have a meditation practice or a routine. That’s great. But so many of the clients who visit my wife and I come with the greatest of intentions and passion to regularly practice their process of change, but have few venues in which to do so. Thus, as soon as they return to the rhythms of their regular lives, their passion is swallowed by everyday grind that they have not necessarily chosen for themselves, but has become a part of the inevitable structure of paying bills, saving for retirement and making a name for one’s self. This is why Share Circles are important. They are a locally based, regularly scheduled support groups in which the sharing of your spiritual process with like minds ensures that you regularly top up your personal passion by means of the encouragement and wisdom of kindred spirits who have realized that they need exactly the same thing. Each knows that the best way to A Free Guide To Building Share Circles 9
  9. 9. receive what we need in life is first to learn how to give it. The more people give it, the more it becomes an essential and common vitamin within society at large upon which anyone with an appetite can feast without the sense of being some hippie or weirdo. On the contrary, what is astoundingly weird are the soul destroying customs and rituals that have become the ordinary mantras of life. In contrast, Share Circles are refueling depots where we can all replenish and nourish the energy of our human spirit. The Chinese say that when the tiger comes down from the mountain, the villagers will kill it. Trying to practice personal change within a group of people who have no intention of allowing you to reflect at them the very path that frightens them to death is the equivalent of this proverb. What odds of survival does your dream of transformation really have when those around you so desperately need to snuff out any rebellion against the status quo? It may cause them palpable suffering, but, the masses quietly conclude, the status quo is at least a known evil far preferable to the unknown evils hidden within the temperamental fluctuations of change. Thus any who might bring down change upon society is target for the pressures of peers for whom the status quo is a load worth bearing. This is why you need a Share Circle in your community. Within your community, there will be many people who do not want you to change because your suffering reminds them of their own. They will rationalize suffering away as the norm of life. They will argue that things could be worse. They will criticize any movement that threatens the illusion of stability. And that’s up to them. But there will also be many who see the insanity of being tolerant of bearable suffering. They will see the possible and dismiss the incredulity of lethargy and laziness. They will shine within, often humbly dulling their fire in deference to those whose light glows less bright. But they are around you. They are in every neighborhood. In every street. Maybe even in every home. Build it and they will come. A Free Guide To Building Share Circles 10
  10. 10. 2. How Do You Set Up a Share Circle? Share Circles are small neighborhood groups comprised of friends and acquaintances who have chosen to commit a little of their time to the process of their personal evolution. The purpose is for all members of the group to share awareness practices and insights that contribute to the energetic growth of the entire group. They are intended to be free, local, regular and without hassle. You can start a Share Circle in your kitchen, on your front lawn, in your loft or anywhere else where there is enough space for a small group of people to sit down together and share thoughts, a meal, ideas, a meditation, advice and suggestions. Due to their casual, convenient and excuse-proof design, there is no reason why you cannot create a Share Circle in any neighborhood on earth and, if there isn’t already one near you, there is no excuse not to create one yourself, today, now. Share Circles have no inherent political or religious affiliations. They are defined by the people in them. Indeed, the ways of the outside world are irrelevant within a Share Circle as they are designed to change the inner you, not the outer ‘it’ or ‘them’. Share Circles are also autonomous of any central body. They have no leader, and they have no hierarchical structure. They are not clubs, societies or secret groups. They are inclusive, not exclusive. Share Circles do have a loose set of guidelines called the ‘Three Shares’, which are outlined later in this manual. These guidelines are intended to align the Share Circles in purpose in order that they stay connected to attaining genuine happiness for its participants while providing the flexibility for each group to be independent, unique and suited to the individual needs of its participants. Finally, I want to make something very clear. Share Circles are not cults. I want to get that doozy out of the way from the very beginning, as the notion of creating local groups based upon personal transformation will surely send shivers through the conservative mind. A cult has certain characteristics such as requiring devotion to idols, leaders, symbols, or extreme behaviors that, according to the Wikipedia ‘Cult’ page ‘could be, reasonably or unreasonably, considered strange.’ While it could be argued that many awareness modalities are practiced by a minority of the global population and therefore constitute ‘strange’ behavior, we must not let our prejudice of different or novel things interfere with the key conclusion made earlier: to build viable change in society, society must do something different. The inevitable sensation of ‘different’, will initially, inevitably be strange. But let’s put that strangeness in context also. It helps us to understand why different practices and modalities have a real and empirical benefit, not just to the individual but to society at large, despite that information either being ignored or denigrated by those for whom the status quo is a very profitable deal. A Free Guide To Building Share Circles 11
  11. 11. Scientific research has conclusively proven that meditative and awareness techniques reduce stress7, improve sleeping patterns8, speed up medical recovery9, reduce blood pressure to the extent that commonly available drugs perform the same function10, reduce cholesterol11, reduce the likelihood of heart attack12; the list goes on and on. However strange it may appear to you, the practice of connecting to yourself, also helps us connect to wellness and the sense of genuine happiness that society has thus far been unable to create using its current structures. Setting up a Share Circle 1. Contact People You Know Setting up a Share Circle is simple. Just let some friends know what you’re doing (which is always the best way to actually get them to show up!) and set a regular time, date and location where you will hold the event. I would limit the Circle to no more than ten participants or even less if space is limited, simply because its a good idea to stay within your specified time limit. With ten people sharing their ideas and experiences, it can take a while and people like to keep their schedules neat! Of course, some people may want to bring friends, who you may not know. Some groups may start with different groups of people coming together from different sources. There are no set rules or guidelines for how the makeup of a Share Circle will evolve. You could even advertise locally, if you’re game. Put up the event on a local notice board in your coffeehouse or community center. That’s not to mention the wonderful power of social media these days. How easy is it to message you friends on Facebook and set up a Share Circle? Simple. And, if the group becomes diverse, you can even set up a discussion group to share ideas and techniques. 2. Set an Agenda Set up your Share Circles agenda so that people know what they will be doing. You might meet at 7PM each Wednesday, share some snacks that you each prepared or bought, meditate for 20 minutes and then share your weekly experiences with one another before going home at 9PM. Alternatively, you might meet twice a week, practice 30 minutes of yoga one day and tai chi the next. The structure and practices are entirely up to you and the forum will have a great database of share circle routines, meditations and practices that each group can submit, try out and share with one another. A Free Guide To Building Share Circles 7 Herbert Benson, M.D. Harvard Medical School, author of The Relaxation Response 8 Dr. Gregg Jacobs, Psychologist, Harvard- 75% of long-term insomniacs who have been trained in relaxation and meditation can fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed. 9 IDEA Health & Fitness Source, September 2000 10 Journal of the American Medical Association, “Meditation significantly controls high blood pressure at levels comparable to widely used prescription drugs, and without the side effects.” 11 Health, October, 1994, reported that “77% of individuals with high levels of stress were able to cool down-lower their blood pressure and cholesterol levels-simply by training themselves to stay calm.” 12 Stroke Journal, reported in Psychology Today, 2001, “Meditators over 6-9 months showed a marked decrease in the thickness of their artery walls, while non-meditators actually showed an increase. This change translates to about an 11% decrease in the risk of heart attack and an 8% to 15% decrease in the risk of stroke.” 12
  12. 12. The great thing about Share Circles is that the vehicle of practice is entirely up to you. Whatever your group of friends is into, that’s what you can start with. Remember, you can always change and shift the group as time goes on, or even vary the practices as different members start up or join. On occasions when I have had friends join my Share Circle who are particularly skilled in a certain practice, I commonly hand over the session to them so that I can learn something new too. It keeps the circle fresh and fun for all participants. 3. What About Leadership? Does the Share Circle need a leader? Technically not but it must be started by someone! There is no necessity that this person is a spiritual guru or regular practitioner either. Don’t let your ego or your fears get in the way of starting one. If you don’t know how to meditate, for example, don’t worry! Your friends probably don’t know either! So, find a solution. Download my free Guide to Mediation and share that! Or start your Circle by sharing a book you’ve read and talking about the spiritual practices in that. You just have to find a common spiritual bond and play it out. I remember some years ago many little groups starting up over the book “The Secret” and people watching the video together an discussing the implications and experiences of using the law of attraction. Regardless of what creates the group or who creates the group, it is not necessary to wait for someone to come into your life who knows more than you do about all this spiritual stuff! You’re enough! So the message is simple here: don’t wait for perfect conditions. All you need to do is take responsibility, get the ball rolling and agree amongst yourselves when each meeting will be. Alternatively, different members can set up different events each week, so that responsibilities can pressure can be shared. Or you can assign responsibilities so that each person has a fixed role in organizing a part of your Share Circle meet. It’s entirely up to you to get some nice routines and rituals together that suit the energy of your group. Just make the events fun, practical, informative and a learning experience for everyone involved. 4. Someone Has to Drive the Process, But Be Cool About It! Like all things in life, Share Circles change and take time to grow. People in your Share Circle will come some weeks and not come the next week. This is to be expected. Don’t project your high expectations onto others. That attitude will just alienate people who consider the process somewhat more of a casual affair than you do. Remember, some people may just join to fill an evening and that’s fine. You never know what might sink in if you give them time and space. This does not mean that you should not approach people who seem a good fit for your Share Circle. Some people are obvious candidates. If you’re a qi gong practitioner and you know of another person in your A Free Guide To Building Share Circles 13
  13. 13. community who practices, inviting them to your qi gong share circle is a no-brainer. You are not seeking to ‘rope people in’. The process is far more organic than that. It might be more helpful to consider the setting up a Share Circle as holding an energetic space for members of your community that they may or may not choose to use. That is their choice. All you can do is hold the space, a reflection of your energetic intention rather than you will or ego. You cannot drag anyone into it and should not try. Let people be attracted to it naturally without pressure from your side. 5. What Happens if I get Too Many People Attending! Give up! No, just kidding. The great thing about Share Circles is that, if they get too big, you can simply create another one and split into two. One part of a group may want to meet more regularly or at different times or locations, for example. You don’t need much of an excuse to start one and as startup costs are virtually zero, there is no barrier. You can start a Share Circle on a street corner, if you have to. All you need are people willing to share their ideas, experiences and wisdom to help one another through life. The important thing is not to try to hold onto the people in a Share Circle as if they have become your spiritual possessions: “They’re in MY group, not YOURS!” etc. This is really counterproductive to the whole process of releasing attachment and attaining spiritual freedom and obviously creates more jealousy and loathing than genuine happiness. While the principle of being a local resource, unencumbered by the desire for success or recognition is powerful, so is the need taught into us to be successful, make a name for ourselves and be the hero! It is important for anyone setting up a Share Circle to recognize that and to try to check the ego each time we thinking about what the Share Circle really means. At the end of the day, like a river to refresh the weary villager, the Share Circle is a resource. It is not really anything special at all. We have simply lost the connection to the essential benefit of having a clean, invigorating river running through the neighborhood. This unfamiliarity may endow the Share Circle with un unfamiliar sheen but it is a return to a resource we have given up, not the creation of a new resource that we are inventing. It may seem strange to contemplate the creation of Share Circles as a means to return a community to a natural resource but it isn’t so strange that we should lose touch with the essential components of life. Who would have known, just thirty years ago, that even drawing uncontaminated water from a local river would become an international problem? Share Circles, like the river, are not a new phenomenon at all. They are just a return to recognizing the essential ingredient for a life of genuine happiness, ingredients that should course through the heart of every community, without contamination, without greed spoiling its immaculate surface and without one’s ego becoming greater than the desire simply to serve a basic natural need of humanity: consciousness. A Free Guide To Building Share Circles 14
  14. 14. 3. The Three Shares The Three Shares define what your Share Circle is formed to share. Their purpose is to align everyone in the group and all the groups to a common purpose in order that anyone who joins one or starts one knows what they’ll be getting. It is important to realize that these Three Shares are not set in stone. They are not the 12-Step process of AA, the rules of a fraternity in your collage or university or the policies of your company! They do not serve the same purpose as the regulations of such institutions. The only reason I have written them here is to offer the tentative Share Circle Organizer a framework by which they can confidently set up their Circle and not have to worry about how it could be done. The Three Shares are fairly simple anyway. There is nothing controversial about them and they have been fermented over the course of many years spiritual contemplation. Use them if you need them. Leave them behind if you do not. Don’t get too hung up on order and control, merely use the minimal structure to get the job done. The Three Shares are: 1. Shared Purpose 2. Shared Values 3. Shared Responsibilities Let’s look at them each in turn. Share 1: Shared Purpose If you are not aligned in purpose, how can you work together to get where you want to go? The purpose of Share Circles is simple: • Genuine Happiness through self-awareness I could spend a few books talking about the importance of self-awareness in the process of creating happier people but the basic concept is simple: if you are not aware of what creates your suffering, how can you cure it? In layman’s terms this means that Share Circles are designed to help you get to know yourself better. This process is key to better health and happiness as a mental, physical, emotional or spiritual problem can only be solved if you are first aware of what it is! This idea is complimented by Share 2, when we go into more detail about how we attain this. Share 2: Shared Values Values underlie your behaviors. They define what will facilitate achieving your purpose and what will not. In Share Circles we share four values to help us attain Share One: “Genuine Happiness through Self Awareness “ a) Awareness b) Equanimity c) Connectivity d) Perseverance a) Awareness If you are a surgeon, to begin surgery without first exploring the root of the issue you wish to cure would be, not only dangerous, but negligent too. The same is true of a person wishing to change their life to be genuinely happy. If you do not know what is A Free Guide To Building Share Circles 15
  15. 15. making you unhappy, how can you change anything without running the risk of making your self more unhappy? As mentioned previously, this is the rationale of the vast majority of society - “Why change anything when their is a risk we will exchange our current suffering for worse?” This is a paradoxical fear we must transcend if we are to use our Share Circle for anything greater than enforcing our current paranoia! Awareness is the purpose of all meditational techniques. You learn to listen to your body, your mind, your emotions, whatever the subject of your meditation might be. This gives you insight into the root causes of suffering as and when it arises. You begin to feel the connections between your mind, body and spirit, how one creates the other and how attachments to certain conditions and expectations build into us the seeds from which this suffering germinates throughout the course of our lives. As you focus your awareness on the germination and become familiar with how it feels, you become more and more sensitive to it and can build techniques to watch the seeds germinate, grow, mature and die away without getting wrapped up in them as being your possessions. This is how you can take a meditative technique and extend this awareness beyond your practice and into daily life where practice makes perfect! By being aware of what you are doing and how you are feeling throughout your day, you are more able to make adjustments to feel better. If you are unaware, however, you will go through your life like the proverbial bull in a china shop, wondering why accidents keep happening that are not the result and responsibility of other people, but a creation of your own lack of awareness and resulting indifference to the responsibility for having created them. b) Equanimity What is equanimity and why should a Share Circle value it? Equanimity is when the mind is balanced and able to sustain a state of calmness at all times. It is unmoved by events, situations, words, sounds or any other stimulus. Therefore, an equanimous mind is incredibly valuable because it creates a state of bliss in your life and who wouldn’t want that? Imagine being able to deal with any crisis, any emotional issue, any conflict or problem with a clear and balanced mind unaffected by rampaging emotion or automatically triggered reactions. This would be valuable indeed, wouldn’t it? This is why it is also a value of a Share Circle. Some people say to me, “Equanimity sounds like becoming an emotional zombie? Why would I want to become a robot like that?” In fact, you are far probably far more robotic in your reactions now. That is what creates suffering. As you meet events and situations in your life, you react according to past experience, not the present situation. Reactions are conditioned into you, just like we might program a machine to respond time and time again to fixed stimulus or input. Therefore, equanimity is a state of mind that we cultivate in order to A Free Guide To Building Share Circles 16
  16. 16. alleviate this problem of continuous reaction and enter a state of being-ness. This means that your awareness practices help you to generate a peaceful mind that is aware of its surroundings and therefore fully equipped to respond in a way that is balanced and harmonious rather than conflicting and emotional. c) Connectivity Connectivity is the value of connections between people. We can hardly live genuinely happy lives if we do not have fine quality relationships with people who love and respect us for who we are, can we? Therefore, Share Circle participants strive to build bridges of trust and respect between all members of the group. As we will learn in the section on communication, how we talk to one another and feedback information is a large part of this. Is our communication constructive or destructive, for example? In the search for genuine happiness, Share Circle participants place a premium on behaviors and attitudes that build the trust and respect critical to relationships built on firm foundations. d) Perseverance Nothing changes if we all give up when we hit the first barrier. Be sure, there will be many barriers to your happiness but by persevering to develop equanimity and connectivity with the rest of your group, you can overcome anything. Understanding that everything passes, a key learning as you become more and more self-aware, helps perseverance and passion to grow. Don’t give up. Keep Practicing. Keep meeting. Keep sharing. Share 3: Shared Responsibilities a) Practice b) Feedback a) Practice Nothing changes without practicing different things. Closely connected to perseverance, practicing is what Share Circles do together. You meditate together, you talk together, you tai chi together, you yoga together, you find a spiritual recipe that suits your group’s participants and, well…get practicing. It is true to say that knowledge without application is entirely useless. So, if you have learned a meditation and don’t practice it each day, there is little point in knowing it. I know both practitioners and teachers who would much rather find someone to fix them rather than put in the hard work to fix themselves. Of course, it is much easier to sit back, relax and let someone else do all the work, but true transformation of the spirit cannot occur from external influence. This is a quick fix that only has momentary effect. Real change in your life will not come about without a solid commitment. Share your practice in your Share Circle and take what you learn home to practice in your familial life, at work and throughout your day. That’s when application really matters! b) Feedback Being able to talk to one another and feedback the experience you have in A Free Guide To Building Share Circles 17
  17. 17. your practice and during the days between each Share Circle meeting is very important. It is certainly wise to encourage feedback each session as each member of your group will have a unique perspective on each practice and a unique experience during the week. What is important to understand with Share Circles is that you technically have no leader and so each person must step up and play their part in being both a teacher and a student with the rest of the group’s participants. Each must also play their part in moderating criticism and the tendency to want to change people from the outside-in. In some Share Circles, participants will know each other quite well, in others, not so well. In some, there will be people more open to change than others and so, in order to ensure that feedback is always conducted in a way that is conducive to the value of connectivity and quality relationships, I include the following communication suggestions: Communication Circles 1. Suspend your Ego Ego says “I am right – you are wrong” This creates conflict. Everyone has different experiences and ideas so removing your ego from a Share Circle helps you to become both a student and a teacher, learning and teaching without preference for one role or the other. 2. Observe your Emotion, don’t Indulge it! Emotion is important to experience but it is not a great to act upon. People will feedback or say things that trigger emotions inside you. Watch them. Listen to them. Use them for awareness practice. Learn how to avoid indulging them. 3. Speak Your Truth Your truth is unique. Without it, the world would be different and thus it is vital that you express it so that it is not forever lost inside you. In Share Circles everyone has a duty to speak their mind but to do so with love and respect of others. If you have feedback, say it and try to say it as if it was coming from your higher self. If someone else has feedback, listen with love. 4. Listen with Love If we don’t listen to others, we cannot learn from them. Maintaining full awareness when others are talking is an act of respect and appreciation. Hear each word as guidance and each sentence as a reflection from which to learn a great lesson. 5. Nurture Trust and Respect Whatever we say and however we listen, always maintain in your mind the belief that what is being said is with respect and what you say must always be based upon respect. None of us can change others. Our words are not a force for change. They are tools that others must pick up. A Free Guide To Building Share Circles 18
  18. 18. A Free Guide To Building Share Circles 6. Have Fun! While we may take our practice seriously, life is a joy ride and should be kept light. We do not make light of problems, but we lighten people’s load and give them the power to raise themselves up. Keep your Share Circle a place of light. Keep it fun. In one gathering I have attended here on Phuket, one of our customs is to pass around a ‘talking stick’, which is actually a crystal that, when we are holding it, we become the primary talker and everyone else becomes listeners. You will find you own ways of communicating but remember, love is still the best way of communicating with anyone. 19
  19. 19. Conclusions The world is not well. It needs spiritual medicine. But you can help make it better. •Eighty per cent of humanity live on less than $10 USD per day13 • Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names14 • In the year 2000, less than 1 per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school15 The current systems have created these inequalities and each of us, connected to those systems by our participation in them, have played our part. Do we continue to keep trying to create a fair wage from unequal distribution systems, more winners from competition and greater love from the stark mechanisms of economics or do we shift the focus from fighting the monster to healing our own wounds from which the monster has grown? New systems won’t evolve by themselves. They will only grow when aware minds recognize that the problem exists within each of us and we are ready to accept the responsibility for change. Share Circles are designed to support the expansion of your consciousness that will help transform the world from a place where we must worry about the next meal to a place where we can focus on the development of the human spirit. This won’t happen overnight but it will never happen if we don’t start today. When I first wrote this guide over three years ago, my two children, Jacob and Aine were two years and three months old and three months old respectively. At the time, I mused in these conclusions how their human spirits might have endured by the time they were hitting forty. In the mean time I have witnessed in just three short years the polarization of the world into a wider schism between material desire and spiritual pursuit with little sign of it diminishing in distance or ideological exclusivity. But what I have realized with greater clarity is the little we can do to influence others in their choices in life. Even our children will eventually take flight and do their own thing. It is only by our own example we can live and one of those examples is to be unflinching in our dedication to our principles and blind when we look back and wonder whether anyone is actually following! You may well read this and think to yourself, “Not to worry, I’ll start taking this sort of stuff seriously when I get a bit older” but here’s the thing: you only have the present. The time for change is now. You owe it to yourself to start dealing with the luggage of A Free Guide To Building Share Circles 13 Martin Ravallion, Shaohua Chen and Prem Sangraula, “Dollar a day revisited”, World Bank, May 2008. They note that 95 per cent of developing country population lived on less than $10 a day. Using 2005 population numbers, this is equivalent to just under 79.7 per cent of world population, and does not include populations living on less than $10 a day from industrialized nations. 14 Carol Bellamy, “The state of the world's children”, 1999, UNICEF 15 Chris Brazier, “State of the World” New Internationalist Issue 287 - Feb 1997, 20
  20. 20. A Free Guide To Building Share Circles your life immediately and there is no time to waste. You may not be able to change the planet today but you can change the place on the planet that you occupy with immediate effect. If you are of the feeling that time is accelerating, you are quite right. Nature is teaching us all that the present is indeed a gift and we must work together to create the moment where we are all present as one and not as many. I hope that my children will grow up taking responsibility for the state of the collective human spirit by expanding awareness of their own. I hope they will have a chance to live in places where Share Circles have evolved into communities that we would all prefer to live in. Indeed, I know full well that hope is not enough. We must each go beyond dreams and create realities that bear the fruits of delirious possibilities and impudent ambition. Share Circles can play their part in this transformation and we cannot make human evolution much simpler than a couple of hours a week spent listening to the beat of your own soul. After this, the rest is up to each of us. The only barrier between a future of shared ideas, awareness, compassion, and community support is the mind that remains blind to their wanton absence within the ordinary rituals of our modern world and insensitive to the suffering that has usurped their place. We have created societies that are growing apart, growing tired, growing in anger and resentment. And this isn’t really growing at all. In a Share Circle anyone can grow. All you have to do is dare to evolve. 21

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