"If we don’t fight hard enough for things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don‘t really stand for them." --Paul Wellstone (1944-2002)

As most things go, this offers a couple views but it is really all one picture. When it comes to making balanced choices in life, participating in ANYthing these days seems to come with many strings attached. Group participation can be a challenge that might actually add to stress and anxiety. We may wonder why that is, what more we can do to overcome whatever holds us back. This is where taking a good look at our mindful, relevant participation is important.

The first view of relevant participation comes, perhaps not surprisingly, from my own participation in various groups over my lifetime. Whether it was going to school every day, church every week, or facilitating monthly support groups, I have learned that the biggest part of being in any group is being there--showing up and making things happen. What I got out of any group endeavor usually varied, but many of us understand that “what’s in it for me” plays a big part in bringing us back repeatedly.

Some of us attend to group functions without the benefit of looking at our participation with a critical eye. We may seek to feel out how well we fit within a particular congregation. There may not be much to decide. If there is only one medical practice, school, or church in the area, our choices are already made.

For those of us with more of a variety, we may take a harder look at why we return on a regular basis. Taken down to its most basic form, many get-togethers include the ingestion of something, most often the sharing of some sort of food or drink. A school, for example, may give its students lunch. Religious services often have “communion” of some sort, as a way to elicit socialization and a participatory meal. It is something we have come to expect.

In addition to refreshments, keeping any audience coming back on a regular basis does take some doing. A look at what it takes a local theater to produce a play can be very enlightening. Just as a theater’s ticket sales often drive future offerings, attendance at volunteer groups may depend on the task.

Do we attend a group for entertainment and diversion, or to pool our energies in order accomplish a particular social mission? Whether it is curiosity, the need to convey a certain message, or to serve a genuine drive of support, we enjoy gathering together to share each others’ company and energies from time to time.

On a more intimate level, there comes a time when sharing life as part of a group changes over time. Growing up, we are so very much a part of a family structure, no matter how large or small that may be. No matter the family size, “friends of the family” are often included in many special life events.

As with everything, groups large or small do change. Children grow and leave the nest, students graduate from school, church members age and pass away, social groups elect new leaders, members move, and so forth. Gatherings are one of the best ways we have to show or track how change can happen over time.

Big changes can happen to a group that may render them more or less relevant in the lives of their members. Then what do we do?

We can recognize the need to form a group, but what happens when things change? How relevant is a group when its members no longer participate? For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is lack of interest, attendance at various group meetings can fluctuate. Have you ever been a member of a group “in name only?”

Unless joining a group is part of some ego excursion, most of us prefer to think we are there as a member to make a difference. What does being in a particular group have to offer? Do I have a say in what goes on and does my voice or vote count?

Would you consider it a waste of a person’s precious time to show up for an important reason, and not have others attend? It can feel like someone’s worst nightmare: “What if I held a party and nobody came?” We can probably recall at least one such instance where the number of people was less than expected. How did that feel? It can be a sizeable waste of time and energy.

So from families (large or small) to other groups, what does our own bit of involvement look like? How many mailing lists are you on, and are you attendant to the needs of the group that considers you a member? Are you there to support all the group efforts, either in real life or in a virtual capacity by joining with the use of technology?

How many groups might you have been involved with during your life that you feel you have outgrown in some way--whether through the natural maturing process or out of choice to move on? What happens to the remnants of our energies once our needs and interest has waned or we move on?

I mentioned strings earlier--what do we do with the many loose strings associated with our group involvements? Does the group leave a legacy that is passed on to and absorbed by the others? Following the energy trail, where does the energy go when a group dissolves entirely? It must go somewhere, surely. All the loose ends must be tied up at some point.

How relevant are the activities in which you participate? Physical groups that comprise more than a few people do generate energy all their own, essentially creating yet another entity of sorts. No matter who is involved, a successful group’s structure withstands the fluctuations of change. However, who determines the necessity of a group’s existence, if not its participants?

Perhaps the need for a group’s existence continues, while the parameters of gathering change. Groups that once met in person may find greater ease in meeting up using technology. Technology can help provide a service while saving travel time and fossil fuel energy. We see this used with telemedicine to treat patients from a distance, or a webinar used to educate groups of people scattered in various locations.

Other factors affect group dynamics; for example, the balance between managing the seasoned members while adding newer ones. Being part of an open group does give many opportunities to see who comes and goes, along with the many changes that take place. When we attend family functions or other reunions, we get the opportunity to see how people change over time, and reminisce about experiences.

For most of us, being part of a larger group is something we might only enjoy occasionally. As we think of our group experience, we often take a measure of satisfaction. How much of what we do is done in service? Would we continue be part of a group without noting the feeling of being grateful we were there?

Attendees may not be as aware of what it takes to put a gathering together--even something we might consider a “regular” event. We can observe that large, special events include a greater amount of group participation. Entire businesses are devoted to wedding or event planning, for example.

There are smaller gatherings like meetings, ritual or religious services, classes, or support groups that also rely on some structure or process to be completed. Time together is framed to a great degree, may include a guest speaker or impart useful information, and often includes an opportunity to share your voice in what transpires.

That feedback piece is a critical part of the group process. We all like to feel our time and energies are relevant--that we have a reason to be there and that we have somehow progressed by being in the group or event. It can be proper and sometimes expected to offer some kind of response that lends itself toward balance. It helps to know how the audience feels.

In this way, we are all stakeholders when we share participation. Keeping an eye on how we “belong” to any group does shed light on how change and transformation occurs. Using our voice lets others know how we are doing and where we are going.

If we look at the overall aspect of being together, it is what we do that adds to our energetic and experiential repertoire. Our mindful and heartfelt participation is as important to a regular, successful endeavor as it is to life itself.

Namaste ~ Blessings!

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