I actually started writing this post soon after BiCon but inevitably other things and stuff took precedence so it’s only finished now – sorry for the extreme lateness …
Spiritual is probably not the first word you would associate with a BiCon. The Survey shows that the vast majority of attendees (or at least the ones who fill out surveys!) are either atheist or agnostic. But there will still be a substantial number of People of Faith attending a BiCon. And some, like me, find that the emotional pressure-cooker effect and constant busyness of the Con mean it’s important to make space for some quiet, reflection and getting in touch with the spiritual.
I have facilitated multi-faith spiritual spaces at several previous BiCons. It’s different each year and no matter how much I plan it advance I find I have to adapt and change it in the moment, to suit the particular group that has gathered in that particular time and space. Which is fun and a little bit scary… Though of course in the end it’s the group that make the workshop rather than what I say and do.
Anyway, this is how 2014’s multi-faith spiritual space went:
There was a medium sized group of attendees, who took some time to arrive and settle. The multi-faith spiritual space was straight after Symon’s excellent “What the Bible Really Says About Sex” workshop and there was some crossover in participants, although I thought there would be more. Symon’s workshop was a very thinky and discussion-based – looking at details of texts and comparing different translations. I found it intellectually stimulating and the different points of view were fascinating.My workshop was aiming to be something very different. Most BiCon workshops seem to be largely word based (which as an auditory learner works well for me but doesn’t suit everyone) and I wanted to use different sensory modalities to create a different kind of workshop experience.
We were a bit late starting, waiting for people to turn up and get comfortable. We sat in a circle of chairs around a rainbow cloth and an LED candle (so as not to set off smoke alarms!) and chatted for a bit which hopefully gave people time to fully “arrive”. Then I did a fairly standard workshop welcome introducing myself and explaining the basic ground rules of confidentiality and respect. I reminded people that there can be a lot of pain around issues of sexuality and spirituality and to be gentle with each other and ourselves. Then we went round in a circle giving our names and one word or phrase about how we were feeling right now (I think it’s important to bring ourselves into a shared space by checking in about where we are at the start of a workshop. It’s hard making people stick to just one word or phrase but my experience is that if you don’t the name round can end up eating the rest of the workshop. I think my word was something like “tired”)
We came together as a group by chanting the vowel sounds together. I didn’t want to use words associated with any particular spiritual tradition but reckon that all words have vowel sounds in so they should cover everybody’s favourite/meaningful words. We started with the English vowels of A, E, I, O and U and then speakers of other languages shared their vowel sounds with the rest of us (this was quite a challenge for me trying to find the unusual-to-me shapes in my dyspraxic mouth – that’s probably a good reminder of what an almost entirely English language BiCon must be like for someone who thinks in another language.)Next we had another round of the circle briefly talking about our spiritual backgrounds – there was quite a mix, mostly various flavours on pagan and new-age with some Christians (and others having grown up Christian but then found it hard to stay in the church because of attitudes to sexuality and gender) I would have really liked to have some input from people from other traditions too.
We then talked about whether BiCon can be a spiritual space. My feeling is that it is – if we decide it is. Separating the “spiritual” from “the rest of life” is just another false binary that we don’t have to get trapped in unless it’s useful to us in a particular time and place. We shared a period of silence for everyone to approach their understanding of the spiritual/God/Goddess(es) and be mindful in the way that was most meaningful to them while the sounds of the rest of BiCon and the West Yorkshire rain happened around us.
The next step was to share blessings. I asked people to think about the blessings they found in being Bi – or an ally – and being at BiCon. And then to think about their hopes and wishes for the rest of the group. I asked for everyone to try to find a movement to express sharing blessing with the person next to them as we went around the circle. Outside of the world of formal dance it’s unusual to share meaningful movement and I found it incredibly power and er … moving … to give and receive blessings in that way. We ended up spontaneously sharing the final person’s gesture of blessing as a group. It was a joyful kind if gesture and it just felt right.
Finally we brought our concerns for others to the circle (some people would describe this as prayer). I provided some smudgey pastels and some small, textured pieces of paper and asked people to make a mark, a smudge of colour or a symbol to represent their concerns. I had deliberately provided materials it would be difficult to draw accurately with because I didn’t want people to get hung up on their artistic ability or lack of it (when I’ve facilitated “This Is What A Bisexual Looks Like” Life Drawings Workshops I’ve found that most people are far more worried about sharing their drawings than about modelling for each other). Some people’s concerns were about their close people and others were for international political situations (I’d asked people to focus on just one thing so we weren’t there all day – I know everyone’s heart is big enough to contain a multitude of hopes and fears and desires for change). We arranged the piece of paper around the “candle” and spoke briefly about each one. Then we ended the session holding hands in silence around the “mandala” that we’d made together.