2019: Community Gathering

On 28th September there was a Community Gathering for sharing thoughts, discussing, and meeting together in the light of today’s political tension and uncertainty: Brexit, populism, the Climate Emergency, Extinction Rebellion, and other features of our present world.

All of us are impacted ourselves and yet are also in roles (such as therapists or counsellors) where we are supporting others who are in various states of confusion, distress, anger, cynicism, or denial. How can we best support others when we have strong feelings ourselves?

Malcolm Parlett shaped and facilitated the day.

In the true Gestalt tradition, we began with the “What Is” as our Gathering came together in place of the advertised Lecture. Malcolm laid out the loosely structured programme, the whole day being an experiment. We also invoked (as usual) the spirit and memories of Marianne Fry, and remembered that earlier gatherings had occurred in our MFL history. 

We identified what the organisers did NOT want the day to be: simply replicating what was freely available in other forums; plunging participants into despair; becoming artificially and unrealistically hopeful; or becoming competitive in our activism. 

Instead, hopefully, it could be a time for reflection, exploration, increased understanding, and celebrating differences; an opportunity to create a safe yet stimulating space; a time for renewal, re-equilibrating, and finding deep roots of inner security.

Early on in the meeting, we paused to hold Jasenka Pregrad (our intended MFL speaker, who was sick) in our collective consciousness, sending her silent meditative healing from our community.

We also acknowledged the seriousness of the subject matter we were gathering to consider, and the fact that, as currently alive representatives of the human species on Earth (planet dwellers and world citizens) – and, as it happened, all of us living in Britain at a time of great upheaval and political division – we nevertheless were all very different.  Our thoughts, hopes, fears, and feelings of overwhelm; our life choices, imagined futures, areas of “righteous indignation”; and our political and spiritual beliefs and attitudes, were not identical. Our personal integration of opinions and values makes a unique configuration that emerges from the totality of our life-history, family introjects, the culture we were born into, and the various influences which we have encountered throughout our adult life – and which we are still experiencing. This means that while we may appear to share, for instance, the same political opinion, it is never exactly the same in terms of the particular weight given to it, or the accompanying feelings, and perceived implications.

We began working in pairs, acknowledging our present preoccupations, fears, and relationship with the news and the global crisis. Pairs then came together to form fours, and later these further coalesced to become groups of 8 or 12 participants. Reports back to the entire group suggested a great divergence, along with profound moments of intimate sharing, of resonance, expansion of outlooks, and respect towards others and their thoughts and experiences.

Participants drew upon numerous Gestalt themes, understandings, and insights as they shared their thoughts and experiences. There was an interpenetration of professional and personal experiences. There was space and opportunity to acknowledge and reflect upon the many themes, dilemmas, and topics that arose. There was reference to the “collapsing ground”; the contrasts between the “horrors of events like the Brazilian forest fires” and “the rising power of people to act together to make a difference”. Feelings (that “can be a starting point whatever they are”) included “guilt, my own shame about how we live”, and “discovering similarities gives me hope which supports me”.  

Just a few examples from so many: Some referred to how talking together served to heighten awareness (e.g. “That ‘splitting’ and dissociating, whilst being destructive in the long term, may also have a protective and defensive function in the short term”; that “Amid hysteria there’s a need to keep calm… using my basic tools: centring, grounding, breathing”). Many reported feeling mobilised (e.g. with “the pressure of urgency, where can I exercise most influence?”). Others defined next steps: “I take away a commitment not to pursue the duvet option”, “ I am going to start a conversation”, “…meeting with people who don’t share my views”, or had new insights into their process: “I struggle to accept ending – life dying”, “I have got used to the luxury of convenience”; “I will need to develop a new discipline”; “Non-acceptance of what is, is not a place to start”.

In addition there were more collective realisations: for example, “An emergent awareness concerning accessing support, supporting self and taking both one’s own and collective action”; “The value of meeting – the day was going to be different and now it is something else”; “In the face of collapsing together, realising we are not alone. We’re dancing in a river of chaos”; “Maybe the field has to collapse to see what can then emerge”.

We remembered some of Marianne’s sayings: “Feeling Hopeless, Hope Less”; “It’s a great moment when you give up hope”. Hugh Pidgeon offered quotes from Vaclav Havel on hope and doubt, including:

Isn’t it the moment of most profound doubt that gives birth to new certainties? Perhaps hopelessness is the very soil that nourishes human hope; perhaps one could never find sense in life without first experiencing its absurdity.

There was a welcome to the idea of Gathering, as an addition to the tradition of an annual Lecture, this perhaps recognising that although different audiences are present for the various Lectures, there is an ongoing community (or common-unity) of people attending, experiencing a shared field that offers a welcome continuity year by year.

This Gathering was instead of the planned lecture by Jasenka Pregrad on “Surviving War Trauma” and who was indisposed.

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