Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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20 Dec 2005

The Common-or-Garden Potato as a Tool for Peak Oil Empowerment.

potato manDeveloping community Energy Descent strategies, as has been discussed in previous posts, involves a community creating a vision of the future it wants. Arising from this is the need to facilitate the community taking the next step to create the future it has visioned. I would like to offer an exercise you might like to try to help this to happen.

It began life as an exercise in Skye and Robin Clanfield’s book “The Manual of Teaching Permaculture Creatively” called ‘bunyips’. I have evolved it further through an exercise I developed for the Mens Group I was part of in Ireland (hi fellas!), and here have adapted it further for use in Energy Descent work.

supermanI would see this as an exercise to do near the end of a peak oil awareness course, or a permaculture course, when people are familiar with the arguments and fee equipped to start making changes to their lives. To do this exercise you will need: a bag of washed potatoes (enough for 3 per person), a packet of cocktail sticks, a couple of sharp knives, and access to outside where people can collect leaves, more sticks and whatever they want. This is best done with a group of people. Ask them to sit quietly for a short while and think about what it is in their lives that blocks their being able to start building a lower energy future, to make changes to their lives, to practice voluntary simplicity, to consume less and live more. What techniques does the mind throw up to divert us from starting to live like we know we will need to very soon? It could be denial, fear, suppression through shopping or some other addicitive behaviour, a range of things. Then ask them to turn that round, and look at what personal resources they would need in order to be able to deal better with this in future. Think of a time when your mind threw up these obstacles particularly strongly. To be able to deal more effectively with it, what skills or qualities would you need next time?

WOnderwomanThen ask them if they could embody those qualities in a Superhero, who would he or she be? What would its name be? What would his/her powers be? Then give each person 3 potatoes and a bunch of cocktail sticks, and ask them to make this Superhero. You want them to come back together in 15 minutes, you tell them, with their Superhero, to tell the group all about them.

When they do this, the results are great, very funny but also quite insightful. The final part of the exercise is to suggest that people take their Hero home, and put him (or her) somewhere in the house where they most often feel whatever it is that the hero is the anecdote to. They are not to tell anyone else in the house what the Hero is about, as it will lose its power. He/she just sits there, and we can draw the power from this Hero when we need it.

I have done this before with the Men’s Group and found it very powerful. I’d be interested to hear how it works for you. Giving physical form to the qualities we will need is very powerful, and it is much more accessible if the figure is slightly silly! It means we can laugh together but also it is a powerful tool for clearing away some of the obstacles we put in the way of change.


**Silly Post Script with thanks to Tom, who spends far more time than is healthy hunting down daft things on the Net**. Now that you are familiar with the great potato, you might like to pit your wits against Darth Vader, to see if he can read your potato-focused mind. Check out Sith Sense, and see if the Sith Lord himself can see inside your mind and see which vegetable you are thinking of.

*The Potato Man graphic was ‘borrowed’ from a very funny comic strip, **”The Astounding Potato Man Does the Bar Scene”**, which you can see here*.