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Some thoughts from Rupert Meese

Archive for September, 2009

Samaritans selection day

Posted by Rupert Meese on September 23, 2009

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I recently volunteered as a ‘listener’ for the Samaritans. The Samaritans do amazing work and change the lives of thousands of people each year, often changing lives means saving lives, through the simple act of listening. Their philosophy and understanding, that advice is not the answer, is so in line with the principles that I work from as a Symbolic Modeller that I could not ignore my sense of a call to duty that I got whenever I considered volunteering. And so, I want to write about the selection process to encourage anyone else considering volunteering.

The Samaritans selection process starts online at (here) or by calling the special volunteer line (UK: 08705 62 72 82). Samaritans local branches are interested in anyone volunteering over 18 with the ability to listen and remain open minded. A comprehensive program ensures that volunteers are fully trained and supported in the role that they take on and no formal training is needed before applying. Volunteers are expected to put in

When you apply on line you fill in a simple form and the local Samaritans branch get in touch to let you know about the next information day. This is a chance to visit the Samaritans local office, talk to volunteers and get to know the whole philosophy and approach. This is a really interesting and informative day in itself. When I went it was to the office in an old terrace on the outskirts of town. The building was basic and the atmosphere that it gave was somewhere between cool and neutral, and somewhat institutional. I was a little unsure what to expect, but the four volunteers that hosted the day were each warm and enthusiastic about the service that they offered, and in that I had the clear sense of the value that they got from volunteering. Rosie, one of the volunteers, took us through the typical journey of a trainee volunteer: six weeks of training follow selection, mostly, in our case, on Tuesday evenings with a couple of Saturdays thrown in for good measure. Much of the training, she says, centers on ensuring that volunteers are actively listening rather than attempting to give advice. I know very well the power that listening with attention can have. In my circles we call keeping the listener/facilitators stuff out of an interaction being ‘clean’. Following the training, during which volunteers gain experience through roll-play and exercises, the volunteer starts on a rota, attending the office to answer phones and e-mail around once a week and including around one night shift a month. The trainee is far from ‘let loose’ however. At this point they enter a six month probationary period during which the trainee is supported by a mentor. Initially the trainee shadows the mentor listening to the mentor answer calls, then taking calls with the mentor close at hand, then having the mentor available to offload following any difficult calls, and so the process of becoming a fully fledged ‘listener’ is supported all of the way. That support does not stop at the end of the probationary period either. After every shift a duty officer is available to turn to following any particularly difficult or harrowing calls.

I left the information day with a very clear sense that the work being done by the Samaritans was too important to ignore and so I completed my application form, including two referees and was delighted to be given a date to attend the selection day, which the branch run three times a year.

The day started at 10 in the same building as before. Around twelve of us attended along with four Samaritans who’s job it was to make the judgment about admitting each of us into the fold. Having said that, the day was largely relaxed and informal. After some presentations about the work of the Samaritans we got to work with group exercises. These were largely designed to get us talking in the group, giving the selectors the chance to hear our voices and opinions and so get to know us a little. It was, in fact, a very gentle process. The final exercise after lunch was great fun – we were tasked with deciding, in groups, which six out of nineteen candidates should survive the end of the earth, the remaining thirteen perishing along with the rest of the population! The final part of the selection day was for each of us to be interviewed by two of the selection panel. This was also relaxed and enjoyable, with wide ranging and interesting questions.

All in all it was a considerate, well structured experience managed well by committed volunteers and I look forward to starting the training.

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Biodanza: The Sisters and Brothers of Mercy

Posted by Rupert Meese on September 22, 2009

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We sit in the closing circle of the fourth international Biodanza festival. I sit snuggled up against my firm friend Carol. She reaches over and gently strokes my arm and I rest my head against hers. Four days ago we were strangers, but a lot can happen in four days. We’ve taken risks together and we’ve shared deeply. The strange thing is that the first time we ever spoke to each other was just five minutes ago.

Patra, who had spent the last days cooking for and looking after the 120 delegates spoke in the circle and said “I’ve been watching you all dance over the last four days and I’ve come to realise something: This this stuff could change the world”. He’s right.

So what’s going on. What is Biodanza (often pronounced bee-oh-danza) and why is this more than just a quaint hippy love-in? Well, the first thing is that we are, all of us, simple ordinary people. All walks of life, all manner of world views, all ages. Clare who’s in her sixties says to me with a big smile “I came because I was always told as a girl that I couldn’t dance and I thought it was time to learn something different. I had no idea that Biodanza was so much more than that”. The dance itself is straightforward, there are no steps to learn and it’s impossible to get it wrong. The days of the festival are broken into two or three two hour dance sessions or vivencias, with time to eat, talk and chill out in between. We have met together at Osho Leela, a beautiful and welcoming commune in Dorset.

Biodanza is the creation of Chilean anthropologist Rolando Toro. At the time he was working in a psychiatric unit for severely disturbed patients. One evening he organised a party for the residents and staff, to pass the time and offer a diversion from the chaos of ward life. The staff and patients dressed up and danced and as he watched he was struck by the changes he saw happening in front of him. He saw a kind of health and vitality returning to both the patients and staff as individuals and into their relationships. The quality of that difference was so profound to him that he set about understanding what was happening. The final result was a theoretical model of how specific journeys through movement and encounter with others could result in a reorientation towards the natural biologically driven physically, emotionally and spiritually balanced human condition. It facilitated a return to the way god or evolution intended us to function. Something that NLP founder John Grinder called the return to the state of grace that we are all born entitled to. He called it Biodanza.

A typical Biodanza session or vivensia goes something like this- music plays as we enter the room and we variously dance, lie down or greet friends. Niraj (of the Dorset School of Biodanza) the teacher for this vivensia lets us know that it’s time to start and we move to stand in one big circle, all holding hands. For the next two hours we will be silent. “We are silent because words take us back into the head” Niraj explains, “Biodanza gives us the chance to inhabit the body, and it is the body where the emotions reside. Biodanza is about reconnecting with the body, with the emotions, with the sense of self”. Music starts and slowly we begin to step to the right, moving to the rhythm. Being silent we look across the room and meet the eyes of those around us. The music sways and swings and as you look around and greet people eye to eye it is hard not to smile. In fact almost everyone ends up smiling, the joy just starts to spill around. You don’t have to smile though. Another key aspect of Biodanza is that it is built on authenticity. Every interaction with another is negotiated there and then in the moment. From how you feel and how the other responds. It is not about what is expected or what anyone else is doing, but how you actually feel in relation to the person in front of you right now, and how as you start to express that, the other responds to you. It is this negotiating of authentic felt relationships that at once carries much of the power and ensures that Biodanza encounters are safe and respectful.

As we dance in a now winding sinuous circle the music stops and Niraj introduces a walk. A simple one at first, just walking our own walk, to music, greeting others with the eyes as we pass, then in pairs, holding hands, changing often, being with another. There are many kinds of walks, the walk of power, the walk of purpose, the walk of sensuality, the walk of exuberance. I like the walks. This time Niraj demonstrates a walk of exuberance: joyful, energised, dynamic. Then it’s our turn. I am well aware that sitting with a coffee at home or at the office, that this could sound, well, a bit naff. It is different there though. The light shines in through the big windows, the rhythm of the music is doing something deep inside. My whole body is ready to move and I have the permission and guidance to enter into it. I walk forward, bouncing across the floor, arms raising high, swinging from the shoulders and spine and hips. Really inhabiting my exuberance at being here and living life. Quickly I’m laughing and filled with joy. It feels good. It feels good to share it with my companions in the room, all equally exuberant. This kind of joy is welcome in my life and this opens up a question which people come to again and again over Biodanza. The question is “But is it real?” My answer it that the effect, both immediate and long term, is real. There is an element of play about what happens. There was no particular reason for me to feel exuberant before this exercise and there may be none afterwards, and so I play by choosing to enter in and inhabit my exuberance. But what happens when I do? The immediate effect is that if feels good. Feels really good. But also it shows me the way in, shows me what it is like, how to get there, what relating to others from that place is like. It simply makes my exuberance more accessible. That right there is the real power of Biodanza. To enrich our maps with great new experiences of what is possible, and the more we do this in Biodanza the more comfortable and able we become to negotiate the same kinds of relationships outside.

The vivencia moves on from walk to dance. Sometimes internal, eyes closed, centred around the self, sometimes danced in relationship to others. Each has a special power and connects us in a vivid and fully embodied way to aspects of our humanity and tribal nature that are so underplayed and underdeveloped in our culture, in ordinary life. To reconnect with these missing experiences is like drinking the water of a cool sweet spring after months of thirst. The vivencia ends two hours later, as it began. Moving in a circle hand in hand, passing each other, saying fair well and thank you for what has been shared. A small sweet kiss is the frequent currency of our appreciation.

There are some kinds of profound truths that one can not easily convey through writing. Poets manage with the commitment and collusion of their readers. if I had the craft and blessing to properly render any of the profound shared experiences in poetry, I would still rather not impose that burden on you. My intention is to be as prosaic as possible in my assertion that Biodanza has that which is both necessary and easily accessible for the health of the human spirit in the complex and essential business of being in relationship with those around us.

I often write openly about my passion, vulnerability, tenderness, love and joy. One of the reasons that I do this at all is that I’ve seen the same in every human being that I’ve shared with in Biodanza, seen the same, and been moved to the core by the beauty of it. And when I’ve shared my felt and immediate emotional world, wordlessly, with another, I’ve been met with tenderness and acceptance. Actually, on reflection, and since I promised to be prosaic, it is also true that sometimes people are met with discomfort. The odd thing is that discomfort can’t dominate as is so easily can ‘in the real world’. Simple and universal humanity put before another, shared in the room, prevails, shines through, and discomfort, well, discomfort fails, fades, persists, whatever. Lit by the full light of the presence of another soul, a little discomfort is seen to be a very small thing.

I have said that we are ordinary people. I want to reiterate that. This is not an exclusive gathering of beautiful people. We are, between us, all kinds of wonky. One of the wonders for me is that the judgments that I make about people are always washed away in Biodanza. It so often turns out that the “she looks really unapproachable”, or “he looks bad tempered” are a very thin veil as we connect from the humanity beneath our masks.

There are some odd things to get used to as you walk around the festival. It is quite common to see couples curled up on sofa’s together or walking hand in hand. Not that there’s anything odd about that in itself, but Biodanza couples are not necessarily like other couples. They are, more often than not, the oddest pairings of the old and young, the trim and the crooked, the prim and the chaotic or any combination imaginable. It can seem odd when viewed through filters that expect all touch to be seduction and all intimacy to be a kind of mating. Of course the reality is something different. People respond to beauty and life affirming connection through what they have shared together in the vivencias. When you risk your vulnerability with another and they respond with love and kindness a bond is created. The more deeply one shares the deeper this bond runs. It often seems that the deeper love between a partnership who have shared like this is from the partner who was privileged to tend to the vulnerability of the other, as much as from the other who took the risk, shared their vulnerability and was met. And that is the nature of many of the pairs, basking in a shared love and intimacy that is not based on sex or courtship, but rather comes from a brief touching of souls.

If you’ve ever listened to a song written from the heart and were filled with emotion and wished that you could do that: be the source of that creative and passionate out-flowing, then in Biodanza you can. Really you can. Elizabeth Gilbert tells that the celebratory Spanish shout of “Olay” is a derivative of the Islamic Moorish chant of “Allah” which comes from seeing the work of god in the dances of the dervishes. She says “Olay” to all of those who put their heart into their creative work. For me it is “Olay” to all those with the courage to meet each other in Biodanza. Days after I return from the festival, while sitting quietly, I notice my soul dancing to itself, a light and sinuous dance to a joyous rhythm.

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Deeply Felt Community

Posted by Rupert Meese on September 11, 2009

Unstone Grange

Unstone Grange

I’ve just got back from a week at Unstone Grange, a large old ramshackle house in Derbyshire that was host to this year’s “Facilitating Ourselves”. Six days of community building using the model laid out by M. Scott Peck in his book “The Different Drum”. I want to answer straight away the question “what is community building (sounds a bit dull)?” The condensed answer is that community building is the attempt to create a community of people without compromising their individually. This does indeed sound a bit dull, but how you get there, and what happens when you do is absolutely crackling. It is singly the toughest most uncomfortable, most demanding and most deeply satisfying activity that I have ever been part of.

“MEN WANTED FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES,
BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS,
CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOR AND
RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS.”

As the possibly apocryphal ad’ for Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition runs.

There were nineteen of us at Unstone Grange. Nineteen individuals with 189 relationships between us. Many of those relationships were already well established, many were completely new. All were forged fresh over those six days.

Our ordinary notion of a community is a group tied together by a common ideal. That the ideal bonds the community is normally key. Each individual submits to whatever the community ideal is, and, to the extent that the ideal is loose and undemanding, then the individual keeps much of their identity but is only loosely bonded with the community. If the ideal is vigorous and demanding then the community is strong but the individual must submit much of their identity in order to belong. And example of this might be a cult where there are accusations from outside of brain washing as the individuality of the cult members is subjugated to the ideals of the group’s leader. So what happens when there is no common ideal to submit to in the name of community? Chaos? Actually, yes, at first. For one thing there can’t be a leader. A leader, a benign dictator, could only create a binding ideal. The only commitment from members in this kind of community building is the commitment to not withdraw. To stay in the group, in the circle. There are facilitators in the group, it is their job to hold the group as it struggles to find it’s way to community. The only thing is the job of the facilitators is almost exclusively silence. So, a leaderless group with no clear ideal. Thankfully there are guidelines to help. The group meets in a circle for ninety minutes at a time, twice a day, the instructions are: to speak only when moved to speak; to speak in “I statements” rather than generalizations, for example “I’m annoyed” rather than “you are annoying” and to be specific not general such as “my divorce was awful” rather than “divorce is an awful thing.” Of course with no leaders these guidelines are often broken and it becomes down to the group to address that. I say it’s down to the group, but this brings up an important aspect of community building. When all individuality is fully respected there is no one left to speak for you. No one to represent your interests because only you have your interests. The difficult and painful thing is that you have to do it for yourself. If you don’t like it that those guidelines are broken then there is only you who can say so. So, it is often chaos in the circle, but when the chaos is allowed to run, as it has to be, at least two things happen. The first is that members of the community start to hear each other, start to sense each other as individuals. The second is that eventually everyone fully realizes that they are lost. Lost or stuck. Once that happens something else takes over, Maybe attempts to organise, or rescue each other, but these are doomed and run themselves out. Eventually a stillness settles, and community maybe, just maybe, community starts. It’s difficult to say what that means but you can tell when it happens. Someone speaks into the silence and shares from their heart. There are no attempts to patch it up, make it better or change it all. Life, after all, is seldom so simple as to be fixed by sage advice from someone across the room from you. Rather the space opens to that person who spoke and reaches up to greet them. All attention is with them, all hearts are present. You can simply feel it in the room. Someone will speak after them, and in some magical way, what they say is a response to the gift that has just been given and the whole group grows. When it works, community heals like a group waiting at the bedside of a Victorian fever patient. Waiting and hoping and willing towards health in a shared vigil that is both helpless and powerful beyond measure. Am I being clear? Can you imagine that? Eighteen unique individuals, all of whom you know and love for the pain that they have shared, waiting at the bedside of your darkest fear and longing? It is quite a remarkable thing to be part of.

Outside of the circle, in which we spend three hours each day, there are the ‘small groups’ and ‘open space workshops’, as well as cooking and tidying and time to relax or play. The small groups are groups of three or four, allocated at the beginning, who meet together for support. A kind of mini community. My group was a beautiful godsend to me. We met in the ‘Cedar Room’, a bedroom with three beds, and so our small group always had a little of a dorm-room feel about it. I shared it with three remarkable people who I loved and who showed me the most astounding commitment and courage in working through my stuff with me. They were a real strength to me and the source of some very special friendships. When it’s our turn to cook we spend three hours dancing madly about in the kitchen to Queen and serve our gorgeous vegan curry dressed in drag and with “I want to be free” blasting out.

Open space had a great range of workshops put on by the participants from Hakomi to men’s groups. I ran a Grovsian Clean Space workshop, taking the group through James Lawley and Penny Tompkin’s newly structured Clean Space Light process. It’s one that has just recently been refined in the Symbolic Modelling developing group. Evenings we spent story telling, playing games or talking around the fire…

It’s hard to convey the mixture of joy and struggle that all of this entails. F*** this is hard, is one common remark in the breaks. Another more eloquent in the circle is “it’s such a risk. God, It is such a risk.” And we do take the risk, often we do take the risk of being ourselves, in our glorious broken imperfection. And sometimes we are met with such love and compassion, and sometimes we hurt each other or confuse each other or loose each other. And this is where the true glory is: because of that one commitment not to withdraw, even in all that, we do not damage each other. We stay with it and work through the pain and confusion. Or we come back to it, or we find a way. And what results is so profound and so rare and so valuable that I don’t think there is a name for it.

Like Shackleton in the end I don’t think we were successful. Not in creating and sustaining community, but we came pretty damn close. We had moments and moments of extreme beauty, and pure joy. We were witness to life striving towards the light, struggling to express itself. We submitted ourselves to our own lives as bravely as we were able. We fought hard for each other, and when time ripped us apart again at the end of six days, the cry in the circle of “I will not let this end well, I refuse to end it well” was the one that moved my heart.

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