Thursday, June 9, 2011

Consciousness Cafe

I had lunch today with a dear friend whose diverse career has embraced psychiatry, interior design and gardening. She spent a period in situ training people from the Caucasus to work with people traumatized by the ongoing conflict and with the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, founded by the inspirational and redoubtable, Helen Bamber.

One purpose of the lunch was to invite me to be the guest speaker at the 'Consciousness Cafe': a monthly meeting in Totnes that gathers to explore a broad range of issues around consciousness - what is it? how does it work? what meaning does it carry or possess? How might it be transformed within both personal spiritual quest and social transformation? It sounded a fascinating format and gathering of disparate minds so I agreed for September: to talk about both the work of the Prison Phoenix Trust and the broader metaphor that 'We are all doing time': that we all inhabit different forms of imprisonment that condition our lives, our behaviours - and what our work with people in prison (on meditation and yoga) have to teach us all on becoming free, realizing from within a different potential.

I am delighted to be invited: to return to a space and an activity that I have inhabited too little of late - the interface between intelligent exploration and adult education. It is a space I have loved: maybe it is an inkling of things to come!

We, also, talked about a parallel meeting with 'Transition Totnes' on exploring social innovation. I think we (from a work perspective) have a lot to learn from the Transition movement - not only about the content (how to build sustainable living spaces in an age of gathering resource constraint) but also on methodology (how do you galvanize/organize communities to take effective action on this content when the system conspires against you).

A related theme occupied one of our sessions today on complexity - what is the dissonance between our expressed values, say towards a simpler life, and the actual lives we lead? Are we simply feigning our real values, geared towards consumption, and lying about the virtues of simplicity?

I think not but we assume that values are 'ours' (they inhabit our skin) rather than being a dynamic interaction between 'ourselves' and the multiple contexts/systems in which we live. Values to be lived need sacrifice or support - the former is for the few, the latter is necessary for the majority.

So, for example, in Macedonia, when I first arrived there was virtually no crime. This was not because Macedonians were inherently more virtuous than other people but partly because they inhabited social networks that we known and transparent. The social networks could not be bear the presence of a criminal and worked to avoid it through means both positive and negative. As those networks broke down - people became more autonomous, geographically distant etc - so crime edged upwards. Opportunities to perpetrate crime grew (as did inequalities that fostered it), sadly.

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