Observances of a Wandering Fool
Allow me to introduce you to Alex Duffy one of the stalwarts of Transition in Ireland. He has been involved for at least the last five years, working in many different guises and only recently decided to take a rest from day to day Transitioning struggle. Whilst he has officially gone away he continues to "lurk" so I have been able to tempt him out of his cave by requesting him to write a piece on his thoughts about Transition in Ireland (Marella Fyffe - Transition Omagh).
The Fool is the first card of the Tarot. The Book of Life, and in the context of this tale represents the protagonist of this story, me, on my journey through life searching for true meaning, and consequently ‘right action’.
My own ‘Journey to the East’, begins in 2007 searching for sustainability with the Ecovillage Design Education in Wongsanit Ashram, Thailand, which was founded by the Spirit in Education group and is a two-month residential which includes a Participatory Learning facilitation course.What an experience this turned out to be, living, learning and sharing with people from all over the world, in a way where materialism was not the prevalent way. Where ‘being’ was truly valued over ‘having’ and I learned to relate in a way I had not done in many years, the innocence of touching, feeling, laughing, dancing, singing and sitting in silence - all the skills a being needs to know if one is really to immerse oneself into humanity with ease. India was next and a visit to Auroville, a global city of humanity in the making. Auroville, India 2008. What a magnificent community experiment Auroville really is, with many failures that each have valuable lessons, and many successes that quietly teach their way to the observant visitor. Both of these places have hosted Trainings for Transition since my visits.
Upon my return to Ireland I was introduced to the Transition Movement, and immediately sensed a great opportunity to learn and experiment with the knowledge I had gained in my Ecovillage Design Education. I settled down to work in earnest, signing up and completing an MSc in Sustainable Development with Exeter University, while acquiring new facilitator skills with; Cultivate and Community Resilience, Transition Network as a Training for Transition trainer, Permaculture Design Course, creating a new learning journey, Transition to Resilience with an alliance of very interesting groups, which included Transition Network, in a EU Learning Partnership.
My thesis is available here as a 4 part film for those of you who are interested in Education for Sustainable Development, (ESD) follow the link to partnerships to view it. As I had not really settled in one particular locality I was giving my time to the steering group for Transition Ireland and Northern Ireland and have worked in the capacity of trainer, secretary, web developer, event organiser etc. over the last three years and have recently stepped down from any active role now in order to establish myself as an independent Shamanic Practitioner. My ‘Journey to the East’ has ended for now and I have arrived back to where I began, and I find what I originally thought is true, that sustainability is a state of being.
What have I observed during my time with the Transition Ireland and Northern Ireland Network?
TINI gathering, Ireland 2010.
It’s been a difficult group to be a part of because it is voluntary and doesn’t get to meet very often and so many of the inconsistencies in action plans are not picked up on until it is too late, and when nothing has really happened it can be very disempowering for everyone involved and they tend to drift away.
At these kinds of meetings in general, I have noted that we may oscillate between wanting and giving, talkers and the doers, and this is all about motivations which I suggest are examined openly and honestly at all times during the meeting and that when one is making a proposal it would be very helpful if the motivations behind this are stated and examined at the same time as this would make it very clear whether it falls into the ‘somebody should do this’ or the ‘I will do this’ category.
“To know its limitations is also to discover its strengths”
So it occurs to me that it may be time to realise the limitations of the group and in so doing move together to achieve one or two small successes, which may be very encouraging and empowering. Certainly I feel that dedicated resourced and paid coordination would really help move things along and is sadly lacking.
Facilitation and leadership are difficult and contentious areas and agendas that are too full are impossible to manage effectively. I have attended two many frustrating trainings and meetings where it is like a whirlwind to get through it all, but I have had the good fortune to experience the opposite too, slow careful programs.
In the impatient rush too many details get lost and the potential to miss the very essence of the topic is very likely. This is a very common western way of thinking and it is thought that quantity is effective; in my experience the opposite is true. It may be helpful to prioritise the really important issues before the meeting by poll, simplicity is the key to success, I believe.
TINI meeting 2011
Neutral facilitation is probably only available from outside the organisation and true social leadership nurtures collaboration, self-reliance and protects against bullying of any kind, which often emerges in community groups as dominant people assume authority and force their position upon the group by a variety of means. This can be very difficult to deal with as the dominant people will have convinced themselves that their actions are for the common good, at worst one can become a willing participant in this group hierarchy and vie for favour with the self imposed leader/s, at best one can seek to bring the power topic to the table for open debate. Power as a subtle energy may be grasped and manipulated by the experienced without their really knowing the disempowerment that this can cause at the other end of the scale and how it is really the antithesis of their proclaimed aims.
I propose that if time is taken at the beginning of a meeting to establish a good heart space the communication that follows will probably be more balanced and genuine. In practical terms, sitting in silence for about 10-15 minutes, inwardly examining ones motivations for being present at this gathering and searching for what one can offer to the company present, may well bring out that steady carefulness that will balance the racing head and slow it all down to a manageable pace, like ‘slow food’… the ‘slow meeting’ technique is well worth experimenting with.
What really struck me during my thesis was Stephen Sterling’s elucidation of the three levels of learning. Put very simply they are as follows….
• Level 1 is primarily the realm of the objective fact.
• Level 2 is when the facts are challenging ones beliefs and these beliefs are now being examined and questioned.
• Level 3 is the epiphany that changes ones beliefs and therefore one lives differently as a result of the realisation.
Level 3 is the holy grail of ESD and this is an event that happens deep within one’s being. This, I believe, is the object of the exercise; we want folk to really care about the planet and each other. It’s not possible to tell someone to have this experience; it evolves within oneself from certain sets of circumstances and one such circumstance is being part of an intentional nurturing trusting group that is completely honest, safe and non manipulative. Of course it doesn’t happen independently of the Level 1 and 2 experiences. But without it, real and lasting change is impossible and I suspect that many ‘Social Leaders’ or ’Change Agents’ have not realised the significance of this fact, Level 3 is more than an intellectual event, it is centred and experienced within the Heart.
I have experienced groups who incorporate the heart methods, and examine their motivations, carefully, honestly and openly, and allow true collaborative feeling relationships to develop as opposed to the agenda driven, expedient and intellectual leadership models of the old political style paradigm and see an emergence of a new form of consciousness which is still in its infancy in these times. Collective/creative/emotional intelligence, are some of the names I have come upon for this and these I believe facilitate the Level 3 learning experience, which leads to real and lasting social change.
What questions do I imagine this network may now profitably ask itself?
Why, in a localisation movement, have a central network at all and what is the real need?
Do those who have elected themselves to be the network group, imagine these needs or are they ascertained with the involvement of the local initiatives on the ground and how may they be developed and centred in the heart?
Alex J Duffy
Photo 1 The Fool Tarot Card
Photo 2 Auroville
Photo 3 TINI Gathering 2010
Photo 4 TINI Gathering 2011