Creating an ITP group is a learning process and a practice of its own. We’ve been on a journey since our formation in 2012. I started with Tim Cleary offering open sessions for an ITP San Rafael group. We had been members of the Community ITP group that met in Mill Valley for many years. We had the honor of having George Leonard and Michael Murphy attending and leading sessions and special programs in that group. We both then participated in the Mastery ITP programs that were held at the Aikido dojos in San Francisco and Mill Valley for ten years. We also participated in special Aikido programs that were held at both dojos. We both live in San Rafael and commuted together to the San Francisco programs. When we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, we would often talk about starting our own group in San Rafael and how special that would be. Finally, we decided to make our discussions a reality.
We talked with Pam and Barry about setting up a new group. We started meeting at Susie’s Studio in San Rafael. We had several open sessions and then inaugurated the group. We were excited to have ten people who committed to join the group. We conducted it with the established format of a regular ITP group session, in which we started with a Kata, followed by personal sharing, then a presentation of a structured program, and a close. Tim and I were responsible for structuring and presenting all the sessions.
We eventually moved from Susie‘s Studio to the San Rafael Community Center, and from there to the Falkirk Cultural Center. We have gone through different phases where we had more members. It is interesting that we started with ten members, grew larger for a while, and then came back to the eight dedicated members that we have now.
Our meetings start at 7 p.m. PST and go to 9 p.m. PST. We’ve always had this schedule and are adherent to keeping to these times and not starting late or running overtime, thus respecting everyone’s schedules. We decided to meet three Wednesdays out of the month rather than four to make it easier for our members to plan programs and attend the sessions. We always had issues for members who were driving to the sessions, either from work or from a different community, as they would get caught in rush-hour traffic. Members dropped out because of this. Sometimes we would use a laptop computer or a phone for connection to the session to make it easier for people to attend remotely. At the start of Covid, we moved our meetings to online only. During Covid restrictions, one of our members relocated to Oregon. Two other members, who were located in communities an hour’s drive away, found the remote meetings made it possible for them to attend easily. The use of remote connections has really worked well for us, and we have an exceptionally tight community.
When Tim and I were running the group, we were doing the majority of the presentations augmented with special guest speakers. In 2018, Tim decided that he needed to devote more time to his music and withdrew from our group. We really missed Tim and the energy and thoughtfulness he brought to the group. However, we used this opportunity to embrace George Leonard’s philosophy of taking the hit as a gift. The gift was that we reconceptualized how we were presenting programs. We made everyone in the group a co-leader and encouraged all of the members of the group to create and present programs.
We ask members to present their programs for one month. We have had a wonderful array of programs since then, and everyone has participated in bringing topics they have found are calling them and sharing them with the group. We also devote one session a month to extended meditation and personal sharing. This deep session seems to offer a special time and balm to support our body, mind, heart, and soul. We have had some wonderful presentations including those by Rich Sigberman where he has us do creative projects. During one session, he had us draw a comic strip and then share and explain our drawings to each other. Dusty Niles has been sharing Aikido philosophy and moves with us, incorporating the energy in our LET and Kata practices. Julie Perkins has shared practices offered by Wendy Palmer meant to help support our movement and sensory experiences throughout the day. Pam continually guides us on our Path of Practice with the resources offered to members. There are many more sessions to highlight but not enough space to include them all in this article!
Because we have a small cohesive group, our personal sharing has become much deeper and closer. We have a community that truly has their hand at our backs. We know that there is a group where we can show our true selves and discuss our practice and our personal growth goals without judgement. We share what works and doesn’t work as we experience our practice together. There is no judgment and no advice, but there is a supportive community that helps us navigate through these difficult times. We are coming out of the Covid phase now, but I do not think that we are going to go back to in-person meetings. Rather, I think we will have special occasions where we gather together and share the joy of being with each other in person.
There is also the greater community of all the ITP groups that we are a part of and are connected with. I am proud to be one of the co-leaders of The Evolving You Sessions (formerly GLEE) that support sharing programs presented in one group to other ITP members who then can present them to their groups. These sessions were formerly aimed at group leaders but now are open to all ITP members. The programs and many resources are posted on the ITPI website. These resources are great support for both individuals and groups to use in creating programs and deepening practice.
I have often thought how lucky we are to have this special community that helps us navigate through all of the challenges that we have had, not only these last few years, but through the many years of ITP’s existence. Our programs have brought together incredible, generous, and loving people from around the world holding a vision of creating a better world for everyone.