The community making guidelines I started to use many years ago were mainly derived from Scott Peck’s work, described in his book, The Different Drum, for which I am very grateful. My main departure from Scottie’s approach to what he called community building, is to affirm from the start that we are all facilitating all the time. This will often still mean that someone is fulfilling the function of primary facilitator, while including the facilitation of participants learning how to participate freely in that function (I hope that makes sense!). The more successful that person’s facilitation, the quicker will be the transition of the group to its own sustained facilitation using the guidelines and natural laws of community making. I imagine a time when only in an emergency will a particularly well experienced or respected facilitator be needed, called for and invited to take care of things for a while, until normal service is resumed.
What follows here, in no particluar order, are the devices, mantras, patterns, tools and ideas that have come to me over the years and which I have gradually incorporated into a way of designing and sustaining life and community that makes sense to me.
I like to install a cauldron or safe container in the centre of the working circle to hold all the input. This helps people to speak the truth freely. Being able to speak into the cauldron often means we can be more loving than if we projected a personal reaction across the circle at someone. The cauldron represents the alchemy as well as the safety of the group process, the magic that is the aggregation of our collective wisdom, strengths, skills and differences.
The cauldron, or womb or matrix, is the place where anything develops and represents the female principle of holding content safely. (see gender politics) The most famous cauldron in British mythology is the cauldron of the Celtic goddess Ceridwen. The ancient Celts thought of it as that which contains and that which gives everything we need. I have a fancy that when times were hard and the hunt had failed, everyone brought to the big cauldron over the central fire whatever they could find in the way of roots, herbs, leftovers, grains and seasoning, which was cooked up into a stew. As each person took their share into their bowl, they took comfort in a game of imagining that it was the most wonderful, perfect food, because it was what they had and why not make the best of it.
This safe ‘female’ container in the centre of our community making processes is not a sacred object, but a sacred symbol. It can be anything we have to hand, a bowl, a cup, just as long as we honour each other’s place around it and constantly renew each person’s commitment to hold their own centre securely around it. We are then individually and collectively responsible for the safety and creativity of the community process. Some people want to put flowers in it, or a candle, or other ritual paraphenalia, but I feel it needs to be empty to remind us that we need to regularly empty ourselves of our preconceptions, judgements etc if we are to be truly present as part of our community.
Staying until the end, until agreed completion
To sit in a circle and communicate in a way that is safe, creative and empowering requires a prior decision to keep our arses in the room, preferably in our seats, in trust that we will actively support each other to honour the commitment not to leave, that is to stay present without aggressing each other and agree not to leave before the end.
Flight is arguably as much of a problem as fighting. At least in the chaos of a noisy row there is the possibility of a movement into reconciliation and forgiveness. A community making itself needs to continually be willing to honour and engage with the desire for flight out of the group process. Why do we take ourselves away when the going gets tough? What is it we are afraid of ? If we know that these feelings can be expressed of we need to, then those with such feelings will not need to act them out.
Expressing strong and different emotions and feelings without fighting
Agreeing not to fight is not the same as agreeing not to be angry or express other strong emotions. All our communication in a community making circle can be held safely if we install a safe container in the centre of our circles and make sure that each person present is playing their part and holding their own personal centre firm and secure around the edge. This means that we agree to continuously re-affirm our individual and collective commitment to create and sustain the safety and acceptance of all differences and feelings that exist in the room. Then we can empower the quality of creative communication that can allow us to be the change we want to experience.
We’re all different and exactly the same too. The way we see things in the world, our personal perspective is not necessarily the way things in the world are. The way we see is as unique as our fingerprints and so just the way we see and we need to constantly remember that everyone sees differently. Opinion isn’t really worth a light, neither mine nor anyone else’s. The word opinion comes from the Latin, to opine, and means to state something as if one thinks one is right. To think I am right means that I think there is something that is wrong and I am back in the wasteland of dualistic consciousness. I would rather that even a surgeon operating on my body was doing it from their perspective and not their opinion, so they could change their minds about strategy as soon as they came across the unexpected.
Hearing someone else’s different perspective doesn’t mean we need to either agree with it or disagree with it and we certainly don’t need to accept that people have the right to act out the desires of their perspective. In the chaos stage of community making, there will be much expression of the pain, confusion and limiting beliefs learned in childhood. The cauldron is there to receive all this material and hold it safely as it alchemises. It can be allowed to flow out of people’s stuck and wounded places and into the cauldron, even encouraged. Along with an absolute agreement that there shall be no physical violence, there can also be clear interventions to remind people to direct their invective, reactions, anguish, fury or grief into the cauldron so that no-one in the circle needs to be verbally abused.
If I see a child about to hit someone over the head with a toy train, I will certainly intervene to stop that from happening. However, making them wrong for wanting to do that at the same time would be counter-productive. A confused and angry child simply needs the security of knowing that an adult or adequate facilitation from another child, has protected them from themselves. In using our power in a way that is also loving, free and truthful, we are then in a beautiful position to teach the child about what is socially and culturally acceptable. We can ask what they were thinking and feeling when they picked up the weapon they weren’t permitted to use and help them to understand and integrate those feelings. When a child is cared for in this way they learn fast because they have been accepted (loved) as they are in the moment.
Of course not all strong feelings are childish. Passion and strength of emotion is also expressed freely from an entirely integrated place and when that happens, the cauldron receives special gifts to add to its bounty.
Emotional experience is as important as intellectual experience
The community making experience encourages all of us to integrate our emotions and our intellects with our experience. One intervention a facilitator might make is, “I hear what you are saying and interesting as it is, I’m not getting your feelings about it. Please try to join up your head and your heart and then I can hear you much better.”
It is probably true that women in our time are more ‘in touch with’ their emotions than are men (this is of course an almost cliched generalisation, but useful here (see gender politics) so please forgive me) A problem that I see is that an intellect dominated mode of communication has become normalised. This means that emotional self expressive communication and behaviour is seen as less valuable than the ‘cool’ and intellectual, which is conversely trusted more, so men are more generally trusted than women (which is why it is still far more difficult for women to adopted as parliamentary candidates than men). We here a lot about how men need to get in touch with their feminine side, but less about how women need to get into their male side. I feel that in the community making process we have an ideal opportunity for women and men to initiate each other into the different strengths and dimensions of experience in each other’s gender. When we have our emotions and intellects fully integrated, we will be strong and wise enough to care for each other and our world.
A commitment to refrain from deejing
The verb to deej was coined at Turners’ Field some time in the mid 1990s through realising that most people have grown up to be defensive a lot of the time and what a block that is to learning happily and freely. The mainly young people who came to stay with me and learn about permaculture and community making, couldn’t resist defending themselves if they were challenged about some limiting belief they expressed or about some discrepancy between the words they were using and the real communication and experience that seemed to be underneath them. I gradually realised that they were defensively explaining, excusing and justifying themselves in an attempt to ward off an experience of being made wrong or seen to be foolish or inadequate. One day I was sitting listening to what had become frustratingly familiar defensive reactions to something I had offered as a reflection or suggestion. As is my habit, I had a pencil and a jotter at hand and I wrote down the four words, defensive explanations, excuses and justification and saw that they made a neat acronym.
D efensive E xplanation E xcusing and J ustification
There’s a heck of a lot of deejing going on in the world! Many of our great leaders do it systematically. Our teachers and parents do it and when we have fully internalised the game we do it to and for ourselves and then each other and eventually our own children.
Deej, Deejed and Deejing are great words which define a phenomenon of our times that is definitely getting in our way. The words are short and sweet, with an edge but not a barb in them. When someone deejes, I might say, “Oh, that’s a good deej!” If their response is a perplexed, “What on earth is that?” I explain and may or may not tell them how it originated, depending on whether or not I think that will be useful. If they are already familiar with the term, they usually grin wryly and are able to choose not to feel criticised. They will often say something then about how useful the word is and thank me for reminding them about it. Please try it out for yourself and see how far we can spread it around for people to use to make life easier and more interesting.
A holistic trinity of truth, love and freedom
The experience of community is living in the moment through a holistic trinity of truth, love and freedom, not in any order or supremacy. This isn’t like dividing up a pie into three pieces, with equal amounts of each element present. It’s a unity, you might say a tri-unity, a trine, a triad, a three-in-one experience of freedom, truth and love being equally and fully present all the time. Of course this is a high ideal, but it is something to aim for. I try anyway and if I’m very lucky I might get there for a few minutes in a day.
This holistic trinity acts to protect our new forms from old hierarchical ways of thinking, communicating and behaving.
If we say that love is the most important thing (many well meaning people try to insist this must be so) then we run the risk of the love corps coming along and trying to impose that as a new belief system, righteously telling others whether they are being loving enough or not.
If we make truth the most important thing, then we are at risk of having interpretations imposed on us by people who think they are specially qualified authorities on the truth. Facts are in fact rare and new sciences such as quantum physics are showing us that reality is in fact constantly changing and mysterious.
If we make freedom the most important thing then we are at the mercy of people who think they should be allowed to do what they like if they can. The corporate world is wrecking environments and communities when it doesn’t apply the holistic trinity and check out if the freedom to do something is truthful and loving at the same time, all the time. If freedom is not also truthful and loving, and therefore freedom for all, then it is not real freedom anyway, but merely license, to exploit, pollute etc.
Hierarchically structured and organised systems require coercion to keep them in place and all coercive systems rely on carrots and sticks, reward and punishment, approval and disapproval, acceptance and rejection, to sustain themselves. These binary control mechanisms are the essence of dualistic thinking, consciousness and social control. By the time most of us were seven years old or so, we have internalised the rules we know we need to obey to survive. What has suffered, often chatastrophically, is our uniqueness, or originality, our natural assertiveness, playfulness, idiosynchrosies, our imaginative courage, our ability to co-operate freely, honestly and lovingly and perhaps worst of all our integrity.
While these dualistic controls are in place we will never be free to fullfil our individual or collective potential. The fear that is essential for social control is part of a continuous, self replicating cycle of fear, blame and shame, what we might call an unholy trinity. It is no wonder that we are frightened of being blamed, and frightened of the shame that is heaped onto the scape-goats that are essential for a hierarchical system to survive. If some are to be top dogs and in charge, they have to be right, so some have to be made wrong. The world we live in has evolved over 400 years since the ‘enlightenment’, to frame and favour competition over co-operation and to reward individualism over community. Those with the strongest advantages within this licensed market of consumerist greed capitalism get rich through exploitation of the whole system that rewards its very particular skills and characteristics. Crime is one extreme price we pay as a society for the injustices and hypocrisies of our elitist heirarchical economic systems. We lock up so many people for revolting against it, or refusing to obey its rules, or growing up sick because of its cruelties that our prisons are overflowing.
With all belief systems, there will always be those, either appointed or self appointed, who pronounce judgement, impose the rules and police transgressions. Seeing love, freedom and truth as one actuality, a unity, could also be seen as a belief system, but because it is ecological, that is complex and inter-relational, it is likely to be self sustaining and not need to be policed in the way of hierarchical politics.
If we further add beauty as a fourth element, as many indigenous cultures have done, then we make a square foundation we can indeed build a new world upon