In the 1960’s, Timothy Leary coined the term “set and setting” referring to the context that influenced the outcomes of his experiments using psychoactive drugs to shift subjects into non-ordinary states of consciousness. We use the term “set” to describe one’s mindset, and “setting” as the environment in which an experience occurs. Now we’re not suggesting that you administer psychoactive drugs to your participants, though I’m sure that would make your job a whole lot more interesting. What we are suggesting is that “set and setting” play a significant, often overlooked role, in your work as a facilitator or group leader. Here, we will look at Set or the “Shaman” archetype and your role in affecting the mindset of group members.
The set is the collective mental states in your group. This includes their thoughts, judgments, beliefs, mood, and expectations about the work, the group, and/or particular group members. According to Neville and many modern thinkers, mystics, physicists, and others, our expectations and intentions about what will happen has a lot to do with our experience of what does happen.
Imagination creates reality… Man is all imagination.
– Neville (1905–1972), visionary and mystic
The Shaman Competencies
- Select and time process to consider group “state”
- Intervene to shift state in support of task
- Employ words, icons, symbols, and activities relevant to group culture
- Create rituals for learning, connection, transition
Detecting State Changes. Maintaining mind states conducive to the work at hand involves reading the current state of your group. Group queues suggest that a state change is needed. Body language is an obvious indicator. If people are sitting up in their seats, actively engaging and maintaining eye contact, they are obviously present and their state is aligned with the work. If on the other hand, they are slumped in their seats, gazing off into space, doodling, or otherwise distracted, a state change is called for. Also, check in periodically to get a sense of your own state. Are you feeling tired, bored, or disinterested? If so, perhaps something needs to change. Check in with group to validate your experience.
Making State Changes. Interventions can be made at the physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual level. Respective examples for each level are: physical: take a break or get up and move in some way; mental: change the process or direction of the discussion or activity; emotional: engage in an activity that connects people with their feelings or inspires emotional shift through inspiring story, song, or video; spiritual: engage in a ritual or ceremony to deepen connection among group members. When making interventions to shift state, or in designing any of your processes for that matter, consider the following points:
- Consider naturally high and low energy points
- Make frequent state changes (every 5-7 minutes) to improve attention.
- Will the group have what it needs (energy and capacity) to do what you plan?
- Will they be ready to do it? (i.e. sufficient trust and capability)
- What will be the result?
- What will be the emotional state of the group and individuals?
- Will the group be mentally ready for the next step?
- Follow High stress activities with low stress activities
- Critical use of breaks
- Biological needs (bathroom, food) (Facilitator: drink lots of water)
- Mental breaks (to release stress)
- To acknowledge shift of attention and energy
- Time to think about other things
- Breaks: Coffee, meal, bio, overnight
The Bowl. Several years ago, during a weekend workshop at our local community college with a group of learning disabled students, I thought I’d try something a bit provocative. This was a personal growth workshop aimed at facilitating self-awareness around effective and ineffective behaviors to improve workplace success. I decided to bring in a crystal bowl used to create rich harmonic sounds for meditation and ritual. Though I was a bit unsure about trying what might be considered by many to be a little too mystical for a college course, I trusted by intuition and decided to give it a go.
I placed the bowl, of opaque white crystal, measuring ten inches in diameter, in the center of the table in front of the room. After some introductory remarks about the work to follow, I told the group about the bowl. I said something like this, “This is a crystal turning bowl I brought from home that I thought might help us focus and tune in to each other today. This bowl creates a very pleasant sound. The sound it creates is said to resonate with a body center responsible for our will and our action in the world. Since we are all here to clarify and strengthen our ability to act effectively, I think that playing this bowl might help us off to good start. You may find that closing your eyes will be most beneficial and simply let the sound fill you.”
I then played the bowl for a minute or so. There was a tangible sense of quiet and stillness in the room. It felt as if we had actually “attuned” ourselves to a common, peaceful mind state. I played the bowl each time we came back from a break and people scrambled to turn off the lights and get down on the floor to enjoy the experience. It was obvious that everyone loved it.