As I’ve reflected with my friend and colleague Eileen Malo on the extraordinary experiences we had last year with the Tarsia Center’s program “Journey to Wholeness and Integrative Growth,” our thoughts repeatedly return to the power of mentored small group work. We see deep, continuing bonds and ongoing growth in the lives of those group members even now, many months after the formal completion of their program. So we’re glad we decided to carry the mentored small group model over to the upcoming “Pathways to Integration” series. We’re starting to think it’s the “secret sauce” of transformational growth and healing!

It begins with an interesting paradox about the spiritual path itself: The awakening that starts us on the path originates in our most personal, interior spaces, yet ultimately it is a path that cannot be walked solo. Have you noticed how one of the first impulses of spiritual awakening is to want to share it with someone? Maybe this is because the path in its essence is a journey from fragmentation to wholeness, and it is largely in and through relationships that we grow in wholeness. As we develop deeper connections – with others, with parts of ourselves, and with that greater reality we call God – we experience our greatest transformation. As one member said concerning the small group that we worked with last year, “It made me feel connected on a deep level.” Another remarked, “I have experienced first-hand the power of these light-worker connections with like-minded souls. The intimate connection is vital.” Another member, who described her transformative process as being like progressively removing heavy rocks from her pockets, said that, “One of the best aspects … has been having the company of other travelers who are accepting, supportive, and actively removing their own rocks.  I am very grateful for the opportunity to connect with people at such a deep and sincere level.  For me, this has been a rare and very rewarding experience.”

Maybe this is why small group work—such as that found in Study Groups—has always been at the heart of the Cayce model of spiritual growth, healing, and transformation. In one way or another, we all need a group of fellow-travelers who can be a source of support, inspiration, and fresh perspectives that spur further growth. It doesn’t matter how big and loving your circle of family and friends may be, if no one among them shares your quest for spiritual connection, you may feel spiritually lonely at times. But there is an even more important aspect to group work that we can easily overlook: the need for diverse points of view that shake up our assumptions. And for a group to function in this way, mentors who serve both the group process and every individual within the group can make a big difference.

A spiritual coach-mentor is not a guru or spiritual teacher. He or she is not there to present a set of beliefs but rather to work with you as you explore and expand the scope of your own beliefs and how you apply them to the thorny issues of real life. A mentor will bring compassionate observation and encourage you to look at things in ways you might not have considered before.  Participants from last year’s mentored work were able to say retrospectively, “That one-on-one time with two coaches was difficult at times emotionally but pushed me to look at things I might have otherwise totally avoided. Invaluable!” and “Coaching was one of the best parts … because they provided a personalized approach to my issues.”

An experienced mentor will have been through many of the highs and challenges that will occur in any long-term spiritual unfolding, and is like a guide on a mountain trek who knows some of the pitfalls – and some of the most spectacular vistas. Within the small group process, a mentor will provide structure for the group interaction and gently guide it toward transformative experience for all of its members. When asked how this mentored group was able to do what previous programs or personal attempts at growth had not been able to do, one participant said that it “Provided a strong supporting structure to actually dig in and do the hard work required for true personal transformation.”

This same participant described how she internalized the expansion of perspective that the mentored group process encouraged: “I am now able to notice, witness, and clearly identify personal patterns, habits, and beliefs in such a way that I can begin to unravel and transform them. My confidence, knowledge, and understanding has been transformed.  Mostly, my perspective has been uplifted so dramatically that I see myself and the world in a whole different light.” 

Another, who had entered the program expecting it to help her find a post-retirement “work” to do, found instead that it was a time to process thoughts and feelings from difficult life experiences that the achiever-self of her career had pushed aside. The carefully structured group process and her individual mentoring sessions helped her to do that kind of deep processing. “[It] helped me challenge that old belief that work makes a person worthy; a nonworking person is somehow less … and to accept the value of inaction, solitude, and quiet…With less emotional baggage, with more clarity on energies, and with the support of a cohesive group,” she continued, “I am now ready to travel onward.”

For all of us, spiritual growth requires us to continually “travel onward.” In fact, the entire path from fragmentation to wholeness could be described as progressively bringing to light and then integrating that which we previously pushed aside, hid from, or were simply unaware of within ourselves. For this daunting task, we need others. There is a sweet spot where the personal attention you receive from one-on-one mentoring intersects with the leveraged power of the small, intentional group. And therein lies the power of a mentored small group.

Keys to Emergent Awakening, the first offering from the new Pathways series, is designed around this principle. It is offered in a format that makes the transformative experience of last year’s Journey to Wholeness and Integrative Growth accessible to those who do not have the time or monetary resources for a continuous, year-long program. This time, we are offering four-month intensives at a rate of approximately two per year. In addition, Keys and many of the future modules can be taken as stand-alone units. But for those interested in the most powerful growth, we highly recommend getting on board for the launch.  As one of the Journey participants said about the things we are going to do during Keys to Emergent Awakening, “This program has proven to be one of the most significant and life-affirming choices I have ever made [and] I think that it is crucial for participants to do this work on our unconscious blueprint of motivation. Without this, then everything else is just ‘parts of the transformation puzzle.’”

For more details about this program visit www.edgarcayce.org/tarsiacenter