Tag Archives: Participation

A safe place …

… is a place where we are welcomed and included in all our being; physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. A safe place is a place where we can fully be ourselves and express, share, give insight to the brightest as well as the darkest places of our soul; here we can portray the pattern as well as every little detail of the landscape that lies within us.

It takes commitment, participation to include ourselves. It takes humility and empathy to be able to include others. It takes contemplation and self-awareness to develop these qualities; they are all essential group ingredients to provide a safe place, a place for peace to develop, a place for us to lay down our weapons, our armour, our shields of protection and fully open ourselves towards change, embracing our whole being.

Painting by Monica Giglio

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People want to engage …

People want to engage with their whole being, head, heart and hands.

If we try to create social and environmental conflict awareness through posters, flyers, web articles, newspapers and movies we engage people in thinking, in using their heads; there is still that element of ‘Me and Them‘, ‘that’s what THEY tell ME‘ or ‘look what THEY do‘. We fail to integrate or engage people’s whole being and make them be a part of what is happening.

This will be important to think of when we want to achieve social change: how can we engage whole people and how can we make them take ownership in the solution, be a part of the solution in progress.

That’s what makes visitors feel at home at the Panya Project so quickly. They are integrated in daily activities from day one; working at the farm, cooking, cleaning, things we all do communally and some things they do at home as well, caring for the most basic needs. At the same time they have the opportunity and the freedom to start something on their own, to bring change and own ideas. They are a part of the community, and they are the community when their whole being is engaged.

Mindfulness

Facing East, I’m calling the element Air into the circle, asking for the power of the sun, sharp precision and focus in my undertakings. I find peace through clarity, the innocence of the infant as the wind blows through the deepest valleys of my being. May purity and truth guide our inspiration and intuition in every moment, in every step.  

It is a miracle to walk on water. The Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says that the real miracle is to walk on the earth. We all can do that, can’t we? But have we ever actually been present walking on the earth? How do the feet feel on the ground, the wind on our skin? Have we ever been aware of that… and appreciated it? Are we aware of the sensations that a smile brings to our bodies? Have we ever fully listened to one of our fellow human beings, our friends, our children? Have we ever eaten a tangerine?

Adding a handful of loving kindness and compassion to awareness gives us mindfulness – the Buddhist dharma of being lovingly present in every moment and in whatever we do. Visiting Buddhist temples inThailandandCambodiawe often encountered stair steps that are leading to the Buddha statues double or triple as high as the ones in a normal house. Why? I asked. It is not an easy walk to reach the highest, the Buddha, I was told – it is a walk done in full awareness and participation. Every step is a step in mindfulness as we climb the steps of realisation. Every step is of equal importance, is the next possible step, the present moment, … every step is peace.

Only in realising the universality, the interconnectedness of every step in life, only when we put our feet in front of each other in full awareness, in full participation, we’ve actually done a step.

In this way mindfulness is not an idea that is practiced in meditation alone – mindfulness is the tool that lets us be, that makes us live in every moment, that connects us to our surroundings, the world and the people. We can practice mindfulness in every moment: when we breathe, breathing in, I know I’m breathing in, breathing out, I know I’m breathing out; breathing in, I’m here in the present moment, breathing out, this is a wonderful moment. It is the breath that in a subtle way connects us to the outside world, from the moment we’re born until the moment our body passes away. We can practice mindfulness while walking: I’m breathing in and I’m breathing out, I have arrived and I am home, in the here and in the now, I’m breathing in and I’m breathing out.

When the Buddha explained the idea of mindfulness to a group of kids, he gave them a tangerine and made them feel it with their hands while peeling it, feeling the sensations on their tongues while eating it, every sensation in the mouth and through the body. How does it feel to eat a tangerine in full presence and participation?

Another way to practice mindfulness in the modern world is through listening – what Thich Nhat Hanh calls deep listening. Deep listening is practiced by his followers and others all around the world. In our modern world of distraction and individualism can we really deeply listen to each other? Are we able to hear what another person is telling us without building our personal opinion in our heads, already thinking of what we’ll say next? Can we hear what our friend says, can we hear what our bodies say, what the earth says with every movement she makes? To listen is to understand. Can we breathe in understanding, walk in understanding, be in understanding? Can we walk the earth in peace, reconciling with every step we make? Can we be in loving awareness, in full participation, in mindfulness?

Participation and communication pt. two: the stages of community building

The main reason for communities to break apart is conflict; conflict mostly caused through a lack of communication. When people get together and discover their freedom, they feel like there is new meaning in their collective but also individual lives. They mostly experience some kind of deep harmony. Scott Peck in his book ‘A different drum’ names this the first stage of community building, where we discover and live our similarities and common interests and goals. He calls this stage however ‘pseudo-harmony’ because during the phase of discovering new individual and collective meaning we tend to oversee each other’s vices.

Therefore the stage of ‘pseudo-harmony’ is mostly followed by the second stage, the stage of chaos and conflict. Most of us probably know this from relationships that seem so perfect in the beginning; often only until we start discovering each other’s differences. When conflict arises however, community often falls apart, because peaceful communication based on understanding and compassion is not something we’ve learnt or are acquainted with and therefore fails. This ends up in disappointment, defensive talking, assumptions, accusations which in turn end up in a lot of the early ideals losing their meaning.

So what is it that makes communities succeed when others fail?

According to Peck, the second stage should be followed by a third one: the stage of emptiness, introspection and self-reflection, trying to understand the other side as well as looking for the fault within ourselves. It is here that we realise the dimensions and the depth of the levels on which we have to work together. In conflict resolution, communication and self-observation are put to the test. If self-reflection is not achieved in a way that encourages participation, social sustainability is not achieved. Often parts of a community fall into a false acceptance, letting decisions just happen, not complaining to avoid further conflict; however with parts of the group staying emotionally unsatisfied.

The ideal of equality and the potential of collective wisdom are both lost through a lack of communication. Little communities that were looking to make a change in society end up mirroring that society that they wanted to change; structural hierarchy, authoritarian organisation, majority vote – structures that put one on top of the other and create winners and losers in a system of inequality.

If a couple, group or community reaches over that third stage of emptiness and goes towards an integrated harmony as a forth stage, they have completed the cycle, effectively dealing with conflict and setting up an organisational structure that is free and dynamic enough to be successful, sustainable while engaging every member in participation and fulfilling its up to highest potential. Any day, it might start the cycle anew.