Effective Reflection Skills for Trillium Peers – by Joanne Lee & Margit Bantowsky © 2018

The purpose of Trillium Mutuality Circles is to support and empower practitioners in their whole-being realization process, in the heart and spirit of the Trillium path.

Serving this purpose well requires awareness, commitment, and skill. The simple process of speaking authentically, listening with our whole-being, and reflecting skillfully can be profoundly catalytic and healing, while a lack of such skill and awareness can be retraumatizing, especially after sharing ourselves vulnerably in front of others.

As CC Leigh so beautifully put it: “Just as gazing addresses our deep need to be seen, conscious sharing addresses our deep need to be heard in a nonjudgmental way.” Being heard in this way can lower our resistance to being exactly as we are, and drop us more fully into our Divinely-Human Wholeness.

The following exercises provide direct experiences of feedback that does and does not align with the overall aim of supporting conscious, embodied awakening. Students new to the Trillium path can begin to develop effective habits, while seasoned practitioners can benefit from periodic reminders of these basic practices.

Keep in mind these exercises are aimed to reinforce our core intention to support mutual awakening by cultivating increased awareness and skill around giving feedback. The goal is to create a climate in which we “lift each other up” rather than “call each other out.” Cultural habits of minimizing, storytelling, and giving advice are deeply embedded in our psyche . . . of course they’ll slip out of all of us! A generous environment is much more conducive to learning and daring than a rigid, rule-based one, so practice rather than perfection is the life-positive orientation here.

Important Note: Because in a peer-led mutuality circle we meet as equals, no one – including the Facilitator or a TA mentor – holds the role of teaching or setting other students straight with respect to the Trillium principles. That function is reserved solely for Trillium Awakening teachers in good standing. However, mutuality circle Facilitators are strongly encouraged to lead topic discussions using materials that Trillium teachers have created.

Exercises in Giving Feedback

Practicing the following six categories of feedback in dyads is a useful way to gain experience and discernment, and is a great tool for any mutuality circle. The suggested exercise sequence is designed to evoke the most visceral awareness of the difference between ineffective and effective feedback.

Note: there are other types of feedback besides these six categories, but these are the most common ones.

Set Up

Begin by dividing the mutuality circle into pairs (dyads). You can either have participants count off “1-2-1-2” or let them self-select partners. If there are an odd number of participants you can either have one group of three, or the facilitator can join a dyad (while also running the exercise).

Run the Exercises

Facilitate the following 3-step sequence for each of the 6 categories of feedback. First describe and demonstrate the category, next have dyads practice it, and then invite debriefing to share what was noticed and learned.

Step 1. Describe and Demonstrate the Category Explain the feedback category to the group, and then do a quick demonstration of it in front of the circle. You can do this by asking someone in the circle to briefly share something about their life (1 minute or less), and then having the Facilitator demonstrate the feedback style being explored.

Step 2. Dyads Practice the Category Have the dyads practice the category of feedback in two rounds, which are timed by the facilitator. Each round should take about 2 minutes. Identify who will speak and share first – this could be the “1’s” if you used the counting off method, or you could have shortest hair go first, or just let the dyads decide.

Round 1: Speaker #1 shares something for 1 minute. Then the listener gives feedback in the style being explored for about 30 seconds. Followed by 30 seconds of silence for each person to notice what they are feeling and how this exchange was for them.

Round 2: Without debriefing, switch the roles and have speaker #2 share for 1 minute. Then the second listener gives feedback in that style for about 30 seconds. Followed again by 30 seconds of silence to notice their experience.

Step 3: Debrief the Category After both partners have taken turns speaking and giving feedback, invite some reflection on the experience. Some possible questions include:

“What was your experience as the speaker?”

“What was your experience as the listener?”

“What impulses did you notice underneath the feedback? (esp. what motivations lead to the first four, unsupportive feedback categories)

You can choose to have the dyads debrief with each other first, and then do some “popcorn” style debriefing into the large circle as a whole. Or, you can simply forego the intra-dyad debrief and go straight into whole-circle popcorn debrief. Once the experiences and insights from that feedback category have been debriefed, go back to Step 1 and do the next category.

Six Categories of Feedback

We strongly suggest that you first explore these four common ways of giving feedback that do not support the embodied awakening process.

1. Storytelling

After the speaker shares, the listener goes off into their own story and “steals the thunder” from the speaker. There can be a quality of one-upmanship, e.g. “My experience is worse/better/juicier than yours.” Or there can be an intention to display empathy, e.g. “I know exactly how you feel; that’s how I felt when this same/similar thing happened to me…” Basically, storytelling completely diverts attention away from the original person who shared.

2. Interpreting / Analyzing / Judging

After the speaker shares, the listener applies some sort of diagnosis or label onto the speaker based on what they just shared. For instance, the listener might say something like, “It sounds like you might be depressed or have anxiety issues.” Or, “Of course you’re angry. That person isn’t respecting your boundaries.” Or, “That’s just a typical Rot, or Shakedown experience.” Or “That is a really great sign, you’re so lucky because you’re experiencing Witness Consciousness.”

3. Minimizing

The speaker shares something tender, and the listener minimizes it by somehow suggesting the speaker shouldn’t feel the way they do. For example, the listener might say something like, “But you’re such a wonderful person. Of course you’re loved.” Or, “Oh, that’s not really so bad…it could be so much worse.” Or, “You should be happy that at least you have a mother you can have a relationship with.”

4. Advice Giving / Fixing

After the speaker shares, the listener gives advice or tries to fix. It can be direct, for example “You might try doing more greenlighting around that” or “It might be good for you to practice more self-kindness.” Or, the advice may be somewhat indirect, as in “When I was in the same kind of situation, I went to Dr. Smith and it was great.”

These final two categories of reflection help the speaker make deeper contact with their experience, and better supports their awakening process.

5. Mirroring

The listener gives the speaker back to themselves:

Exact Words – the listener will say back the exact words or phrase that the speaker shared, e.g. “I heard you say….”

Essence – the listener will hone in and reflect back the core essence of something the speaker shared: “I hear how hard this is for you.”

Paraphrasing — the listener gives back the “gist” of what they heard, being very careful not to distort by adding their own interpretations or projections!

6. Responding

The listener shares how they were impacted by what the speaker said – what their organism’s “response” to the sharing was:

Physical sensation — the listener very briefly reports a physical sensation they noticed while they were listening to the speaker. It can be helpful, but not necessary, to mention a specific moment in the share: “I got goose bumps when you spoke,” or “I felt an ache in my heart when you talked about your child.”

Emotion – the listener briefly reports an emotion that arose inside them during their partner’s share. Again, a specific moment can be helpful: “I felt sadness hearing about your loss,” or “I noticed a wave of delight inside me when you were talking about your recent vacation.”

Image or phrase — the listener briefly reports, without interpretation, an image or phrase that arose while listening to their partner. Could also be a sensation that has an image with it. For example: “Listening to you, I just got an image of a wide blue sky,” or “When you were talking about your father, I felt my skin crawl, like there were ants on it,” or “After hearing your share, I’m left with the word “Grace.””

Struck or touched by — the listener briefly reports something they were really struck or impacted by: “I was impacted by your calm composure as you spoke.” Or “I was struck by the clarity of your share,” or “I couldn’t help noticing that you kept balling your hands into fists.”