8 Jun 2010
Notes from a Co-Creating Earth Based Communities Workshop: by Sophy Banks
Here is a guest post from Sophy Banks from Transition Training, recording a recent workshop held just outside Totnes exploring Co-Creating Earth Based Communities.
“The weekend of 14 – 16 May 2010 saw the first joint venture between Transition Network and Process Oriented Psychology, shortened to POP or Process Work, in the form of a weekend workshop on “Co-Creating Earth Based Community”. Thirty two people attended, a mix of people training in Process Work, those from the Transition movement, and several who are involved in both. I’m not a process worker, although many of the techniques were familiar to me, and as someone who’s trained in family constellations it was interesting to see another systemic approach to working with what happens in groups. In what follows I’ve had a go at describing parts of the workshop because I see the insights of process work as enormously helpful in understanding group dynamics, especially how to work with rank and power, and be creative with conflict – key skills for successful projects in all parts of Transition.
Process workers have been involved in helping to facilitate all kinds of conflict, from organisations to war zones. Gary Reiss, who led this workshop, was returning from Palestine and Israel where he does ongoing work with communities that are living with reality of war, truce or relative peace, and life and death are everyday issues. One particular method, called World Work, gives large groups or communities a way of dealing with really charged issues – racism, violence, inequality – and creating some shift in the stuck polarised dynamics that are present. I imagine scenarios in the not to distant future when we may be facing heated conflict in our communities over access to land or food, inequality of wealth, perhaps even getting to issues of life or death and needing to find ways not to build gated communities and shut out or shoot down the people who seem to threaten us, or be shot by those who have more than me. World work and process work tools are one of the methods that I imagine being able to help us if we get to that – as they are already helping with the social injustice, violence and division that are here right now.
I apologise right away for the probably inaccurate and simplified description of Process work principles, and encourage anyone interested to go back to source material to understand what it’s really about. We have invited some teacher of Process Work to run a workshop on conflict at the Transition Conference, so if you are interested in learning more please come along to that.
The workshop explored two main themes – working with conflict, and rank and power.
Working with Conflict
Process work evolved in the 1970s and 80s, originally the creation of Arny Mindell whose first training was as a quantum physicist. As many scientists do, he saw the shift in world view between causal linear scientific ways of working, and the complex, co-arising dance that quantum sees, and was interested to apply this to human systems.
Some insights from Process Work –
- That everything that is expressed in a human group – whether a small group in a room, or a nation, is part of the whole picture, in relationship with all the other parts. If we ignore or exclude any part we are missing an essential piece of the whole, and it will express itself in another form, or through another person.
- That all the parts are also in each one of us – that the outer form reflects what we find inside ourselves – what I like, judge, push away, what’s comfortable or unbearable on the outside will reflect what I like, judge, push away within myself.
- The place you observe from is key in determining what you see. In process work a lot of emphasis is placed on being flexible – moving to another position within the system to see how things work from there, and finding a “meta-position” – one where you can see the whole without being entangled in the system itself.
POP also identifies different levels of reality that are present
- The consensual or surface reality – what’s physical, visible, spoken, conscious.
- The dreaming level – what doesn’t have form, isn’t spoken, but is present and may be referred to. These include ghost roles – present but unoccupied, body movements that contradict what is being (called double signals), feelings or ideas that are from the past or future and others.
- The unity level – the place where duality is resolved and all is one. A place recognised by spiritual traditions, where there is simply acceptance of what is, love, oneness.
Simple Conflict Resolution Exercises
In the first morning we were given simple steps for working with conflict and invited to have a go in pairs, either with something real or role playing a situation outside. I was interested in the breadth that he included as “conflict” that could be worked on in this way (am I in conflict with nearly everyone I know?) –
Who hurt you? Who do you want to be closer to? Who are you jealous of? Who is so not you? Who do you feel one down or one up with?
(Really) Basic techniques for Conflict work
There are much more detailed descriptions of these steps, but I’ve included a summary to give a flavour:
- Understand the three positions to take in conflict – my side, your side, and the neutral or meta-position.
- Gain consensus to work on an issue – it’s much harder to resolve if both sides haven’t agreed to do this.
- First take your side – stating the arguments and expressing the feelings. Stay with this until it feels possible to take the other side.
- Take the other side – and from here you are both listening actively and noticing what’s happening at a dreaming level – what’s unsaid, out of conscious awareness till now?
- Notice if you express the other side’s position with judgement or contempt – if you do you’re still on your side! Change places to help step into their shoes and see it their way.
- Take the neutral position – see how the two sides are entangled, relating, connected with each other.
- Both sides do all these steps, taking turns to state my side, your side, swap, take the neutral place.
- Keep moving between the positions until you come to enough of a shift to move things on for now. It doesn’t have to be perfect or complete.
- Appreciate yourself and the other for working on the conflict.
Someone in the group had a small conflict with me, and it was great to go through this process, ending up clear, relieved and closer than before. I liked some of the “more advanced skills” as well like “picking up accusations” – that can be really helpful in diffusing conflict. “You’re right, sometimes I don’t listen properly to you, and I’m really sorry. I get too pressured and I don’t always get my priorities right”.
Earth Based Facilitation
An evolving edge in Process Work is to include the Earth as a support for the facilitator and deepen our connection with the Earth as a living presence. The principle seemed to be that the Earth already includes everything of life and death – all the different energies and forms that are expressed – so it provides a meta position for any disturbance, difficulty or conflict, however serious or extensive.
The basic method is to feel into the energy of the situation, perhaps finding it in a place in your body, and then imagine a place on the earth which includes that energy. It might be mountains for solidness and rigidity, with a river for movement and flow; it might be a forest for darkness and growth.. as you facilitate you keep reconnecting with the image and energy of this place, inviting the Earth somehow to be with you and keep you open to new insights and possibilities.
Rank and Power
A second key area which has less to do with applied quantum physics is understanding how rank and power work in a group. See below for recommended further reading on this. In simple form, we all have rank for different attributes or qualities, and this affects how we relate to each other and how groups work. Rank can come from many things.. just a few are
- Contextual rank in a group or organisation – includes having official status (the boss), belonging for a long time (founder members especially have rank), being expert in relevant fields, being well connected to other organisations
- Social rank – in UK groups this comes from being white, wealthy, healthy, able bodied, heterosexual, not too young or old, male, educated, “conventionally good looking” and so on. This is also contextual – in some groups there can be a contradictory social rank – in the civil rights or women’s movement where many of the traditional power structures were challenged people had rank for being one of the oppressed groups.
- Personal rank – qualities which give a person rank are often more subtle. Some are – psychological rank, from self awareness or having come through suffering or hardship; spiritual rank, e.g. from a deep sense of connection with the divine or dealing with issues of life and death; emotional intelligence that helps with good relationships, being a parent or grandparent, and so on.
There are many many more, and in any group complex interactions around rank are happening all the time. In traditional hierarchical organisations informal rank is overridden by the assigned rank of boss and worker – which eliminates the need to figure out rank, but causes many other problems. In non-hierarchical organisations with cultures that value equality strongly it can be unacceptable to name or acknowledge rank at all, making it difficult to deal with.
The POP approach to rank is to understand it, own it, and put it to good use. This includes learning to share it with others, how not to abuse it, and being willing to be challenged about it.
Exercises on Rank
In small groups – of about six – take it in turns to talk about a kind of rank that you have, how that feels, how you can use it to good effect.
[Another exercise that I really like doing is to get a group that works together to explore different kinds of rank in the group. Do this with someone facilitating. Take it in turns to name a quality or characteristic that gives people more or less rank. One end of the room is “high rank” the other “low rank”. People put themselves where they feel they are, and can then talk about how it feels to be where they are – or challenge someone else’s self perception. A group will usually find different qualities where different members are high and low rank, and people will often be encouraged to own more rank than they perceive (and sometimes less!).]
World Work – a Large Group Process
On Saturday afternoon we went into the first of two full group processes. This starts with naming whatever people want to work with – what’s in the room right now? Most of the themes had something to do with Transition – either the organisations that make up the “Transition movement”, or the process of transition we are all in – from one system of living and world view to another.
Once consensus was reached the process opened – in this case the opening question was around flying. Is it OK to fly? On one side were people who have made the commitment not to fly, facing people who are still flying, or standing in the place of enjoying the technologies we have and the joy and experiences they bring.
It’s pretty hard to remember or describe in detail what happened after that. Gary described the process as “complex” as opposed to “linear” – because there were many people present who understood how the methods work, the process moved really fast, through many different intense and interconnected issues, and flowing around the room as different people picked up different themes. With a less experienced group the process would have been slower and more focused on one issue at a time – exploring both sides, using the techniques described above, to get more insight and connection before reaching resolution, and sparking the next piece.
Some of the issues we covered were – the destructive nature of the Industrial Growth system, its disconnection from life, that at some level it operates like a machine. But also it’s providing sustenance, jobs, material goods that we all need – none of us are separate from it. Does it have something to do with men and women, masculine and feminine? How does death come into the picture?
Talking with some people who were less familiar with this kind of group process I can see that it wasn’t very accessible – so much happened so quickly that it was hard to follow, and I (and others) were left with a feeling of indigestion that evening.
So it was interesting that when we started to go into a second large group process the dynamic that came into focus was about speed – the facilitator being challenged for going too quickly, and then taking time to really engage with this question. I found myself starting to get frustrated – we only had a short time, and I wanted to get on with it. And then I realised that this is exactly the tension that I feel in Transition.
Speed and Slowness
Several others recognised this as a split in their group, or in their lives – especially people in Transition groups. In the Totnes Heart andn Soul group someone named it as the challenge of holding “true patience in the face of profound urgency”. Even as we explored this topic there was a speediness in the group and the facilitator had to work really hard at one point to get the group to slow down – giving two people time to really go into the detail of what was happening between them.
What showed up in the process is that it lies very close to the split between people who are task oriented and those who focus on process. What are we doing, or how are we doing? Task oriented people expressed their frustration at being slowed down by people wanting stillness, or to wait, or to include feelings. Those who prioritise process said there couldn’t be a real change if we stick to the same paradigm of not paying attention to relationships and feelings, of overriding our personal well being and burning ourselves out along with the planet.
This was the closest the group got to splitting into men and women. The antagonism was helped when each could appreciate their need for the other, and value the other side. The feeling of the whole process was more spacious, and I found it more digestible – again mirroring a familiar feeling in my Transition work, that after being in an intense field like the Copenhagen talks it takes me days and sometimes weeks to get fully back to normal – and I wonder how it is for people who go back to busy jobs and get on with the next intense negotiation or political process.
The theme that emerged from this was the sadness of some parents in the group that children weren’t present – and that children are so separated from the adult world in general.
Including the Marginalised
Another theme that is often present in this kind of work is the question of what is marginalised. Every group will have some edge beyond which it can’t go, and that territory beyond it’s comfort zone or awareness is sometimes called its shadow or unconscious. You can find clues to what will be marginalised by noticing what the group judges or excludes – and if this isn’t clear look at the group’s aspirations or values and find the opposite. (For example if some of the core values of Transition are around inclusion, positivity, change, we will have difficulty seeing or valuing the places where we are exclusive, negative or stuck. But these qualities will also be with us in our organisations and groups! And many people have done a good job of naming some of the ways in which they are present already).
The process ended with someone expressing a kind of unity place – where we are all longing for a sane, healthy way of living, where everyday choices aren’t hurting others or destroying what we care about, and where we can live in harmony with people and life around us. It felt good to have that named, and as is always the way, there were unfinished issues from this process as well.
A great point that Gary made is about staying in relationship with those you are facilitating, and thinking about the after effects of the workshop. If a group starts to talk about really painful wounds between them and they are all living in a small community together, or working closely together day by day, what will happen when the facilitator leaves? Again this feels like a really important question for facilitators used to working with groups who come together for a workshop and then go home to different places – and something that we (I) can learn from communities who live and work on their shared issues together. People living in intentional communities or ecovillages have often developed forms of group process that enable difficult feelings to be aired and conflict to worked on.
An overarching question for the workshop was – what can Transition and Process Work learn from each other?
There seemed to be much that Transition can useful from Process Work – tools and methods that can be learnt and applied to work with conflict and issues of rank; as well as a systemic understandings of disagreemtns, difference, power, and how as humans our inner and outer worlds mirror each other.
“What can Process Work learn from Transition?” is a more subtle enquiry. Already leaders in the Process Work field are widening their view to include the Earth as part of the field of working – through Earth based techniques – and this expansion beyond viewing human systems as the only important ones feels to me part of the shift that we Transition envisions. There is also something about the Transition message – understanding the massive changes that will come about as a result of resource depletion and climate changes, and the importance of local community resilience in effective responses to this, that can put out a call to Process Workers to get involved with local community processes such as Transition, and offer their skills to the work of building resilient community through group processes.
I believe that the enormous and increasing gulf between rich and poor are tolerated in a society where at least everyone can imagine there is a better life somewhere in the future as economic growth continues. However when we stop being able to grow these differences will become much more acutely felt – are the poor really going to put up with having a fraction of the wealth and be expected to take less each year when energy descent kicks in? If not, how are we going to manage the process of redistribution, and shifting the habits of the rich to go on awarding an every increasing share of the cake to themselves?
It’s been great in recent months to see Process workers are coming forward to find a way to offer their services to Transition, and we hope to explore this further in the coming months. We’re still short of resources in Transition Network to get an organised conflict support / mediation service up and running, but this is on our map of things to seek funding for – and we hope to explore possibilities further at the conference. We’ll keep you updated through the Transition Network newsletter and website.
Thanks to all who took part in the workshop, and especially to Gary for the inspiring facilitation, and to Mark and Sue for their work in organising it.