Question: Derek, next month I am expected to lead a group discussion on a spiritual topic of my choice. I thought maybe I can use your books for that, but I've never done anything like it before. Can you give me some pointers on how to get started?
Answer: The Tao of Daily Life is specifically written to mirror real-life discussions in a group setting, so it is definitely suitable for what you have in mind. The discussion can be a lot of fun and spiritually enriching once you understand and apply the process. Here's how it breaks down into six simple steps:
- Choose a story. The stories vary in length and complexity, so you have quite a few options open to you. Your choice may depend on the amount of time allotted and your level of experience. For instance, if you are just starting out, you may wish to choose a shorter story to help ease your way into leading discussions.
- Prepare your points. Each story is followed by its own "The Tao" section. Read it in advance and highlight the points that you feel are significant. Also, write down any additional thoughts as they occur to you while going through the text. These will really come in handy later on.
- Tell the story. Some prefer to simply read from the book. That's perfectly fine, but I always ask people to also consider the option of telling the story in their own words. Personalize it with your unique style; add drama and emphasis as you see fit; make it an expression of your own Tao. In my opinion, this is the best way to get the most out of it.
- Request feedback. When you are done telling the story, pause for a moment to let it sink in, then ask the participants for their initial thoughts. This first round of exchange, before people have a chance to edit themselves too much, can be very telling about the group's disposition and state of mind. This is also where you can set the tone for what follows.
- Segue. This is where your advance preparation pays off. See if you can take something that someone has said and smoothly transition into one of the points you have previously identified. The more seamlessly you can do this, the better the discussion will be and the more people will get into it. Don't try to force the conversation into any particular direction. Go with the flow whenever possible, and give it a gentle nudge once in a while to guide everyone along.
- Summarize. As the discussion approaches its end, it will become evident that several main points will emerge as the group's conclusion. This will be a combination of elements from your preparation and spontaneous insights that the group has generated. Wrap up the discussion by summarizing them one by one, and for each point stress the importance of applying it to life through action. Set a personal example by describing how you will incorporate the wisdom you have just acquired into your daily activities, and then make a specific request for everyone to do the same thing. This is perhaps the most critical step of all, because it is where we plant the seed for life transformation.
A properly conducted discussion about the Tao is one of the best tools to accelerate personal growth, particularly for the person leading it. You will learn a great deal from everyone and feel a powerful connection to the Tao through the group process. In fact, you may even enjoy it so much that you'll want do it regularly. If so, I would encourage you to go with your feelings. You can be sure that your investment of effort will be rewarded many times over.
Good luck with your upcoming discussion, and most importantly -- have fun!