How to share our reflections on questions that speak to us?
“And so I decided that I needed to start with an open mind without an ideology, and find out what paths people are walking in the absence of a label, like Deep Adaptation, and see if it’s possible to understand what is common among the humans who are walking these paths, that’s not related to a single ideology.”David Baum
How the ‘4Rs’ project started
Wendy and Dorian launched the Conscious Learning Festival in early July 2021. I found it a very interesting initiative, as I felt it opened up an important new sphere of enterprise within the Deep Adaptation Forum that is about ideas, as distinct from the well-developed sphere of facilitation.
This gave me the idea to experiment with a new meeting format, which would make use of many of the regular DAF processes, such as check-ins, but which would be about discussing ideas. These meetings would be based on the 4 Rs of Deep Adaptation, as a legitimate target of inquiry that we should elucidate within our community, and perhaps extend with more ‘Rs’ – as a way to take from a common starting point, and a way for people to build on it.
During July and early August, I had conversations with several active DAF participants, to clarify what the process might look like for these calls, and what format to use. Participants found that the 4 Rs were useful:
- to provide a “scaffolding” to help people process their response to collapse-awareness,
- to show a way of moving beyond the initial emotional shock,
- and potentially to be a tool for other communities, as well as our own.
We decided to plan regular Zoom meetings which could help collect wisdom over time, without being prescriptive. We also envisioned creating videos based on the 4 Rs which could work as “conversation starters,” “explainers,” “thought-provokers,” and “scene-setters,” particularly useful to newcomers arriving in DAF.
The first calls: Developing a format
On Aug. 20, I created the #four-rs-project channel, in the DAF Slack workspace, to discuss and plan facilitated events and the production of communication resources around this project, and to share insights emerging from these activities.
On Aug. 25, I ran the first iteration of an experimental “Four Rs Discussion Club” online. In the first round, each participant had two minutes to bring up their own ideas about the 4 Rs. I found that people had an amazing variety of approaches: the Four Rs can accommodate everything from farming, to giving up farming to live in a mobile home, to making films, to organizing your neighbors, to organizing your singing group, to making a map of spiritual advancement.
I realised that this incredible variety among individuals was a primary challenge to creating a coherent model for discussion! One point of general agreement seemed to be the desire for “community.” That led us to questions of “on-line” vs. “real-world” community, and other interesting issues.
In the second round, individuals asked questions of other individuals, who had two minutes to respond. This was good, in that it allowed for reflection and curiosity about others’ views. On the other hand, it was unsatisfying, because the responses were short and therefore shallow, leaving many depths unplumbed. This confirmed to me that the balance between depth, participation, and time available is the critical issue for a discussion group. If everyone tells about themselves, then their time must be short and the discussion is shallow. But if one person goes into depth, then everyone else is reduced to listening — which is more like a Q&A or a webinar.
How to provide maximum participation, while also generating useful focus? One possible solution to this, in my view, was the perennial technique of “small groups.” I found we could use the first round to let people bring up topics, and then in the second round, let people divide into small groups according to their preference, to go into depth. This is essentially the Open Space model, writ small.
Insights from the main discussion series
Building on the lessons from the first workshop, I ran two more sessions of the discussion club on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, in different time zones. The topic was “Resilience: What do we most value that we want to keep and how?”
After a brief presencing exercise, we went “around the table” and each person offered what they have on the topic. I set a timer on my Zoom screen to give each person 2 minutes 30 seconds, which seemed to be plenty while also setting a boundary.
I also experimented with a new technique: After each person spoke, I asked the group to type into the Zoom chat questions about what they had just heard – questions they thought the speaker was asking, questions they wanted to ask the speaker, or questions inspired by what the speaker said. While these questions could have provided topics for breakout rooms, in these sessions we stayed in one group for a general discussion. The list of questions provided a shared foundation of ideas, helping people to focus and interact with each other (rather than devolving into individual rants, which can happen). The resulting conversation was coherent and deep, with useful ideas surfacing from individuals for respectful discussion by the group. At the end of the second session, I realized that a good conclusion was to go back and ask everyone to actually answer the question posed by the topic: “What do we most value that we want to keep and how?” This provides a glimpse of where people have arrived after the process of the discussion.
I received positive feedback from participants, who said they found the time pleasant, engaging, and worthwhile. One participant wrote me: “That was a stellar discussion the other day. Thank you for moderating. Probably one of the best discussions I’ve ever been in and we could’ve gone on and probably even deeper. We almost got to the real pain (TBD).”
I collected the questions that were asked, to provide a written record of the thoughts and themes of the discussion, on this file.
On Sept. 7 and 8, I ran two more discussions, on the topic of “Relinquishment”: “What do we need to let go of so as not to make matters worse?” I used the same format as previously:
- State the Question
- Around the Table (using timer at 2:30)
- Discussion (could be in breakouts)
- Revisit the Question.
It occurred to me that this event format could be used to discuss any question at all: to “State the Question” in a way that seeks actual answers is a great way to give direction and motion to the discussion. However, regardless of the question, people will be sharing their own story, so in a funny way it doesn’t matter what the question is, as long as it “hooks” people’s individual experiences!
People loved the timer in the “Around the Table” segment! One participant didn’t want to start until they could see the timer on the screen. It creates a boundary and a container, giving a sense of safety. Two minutes thirty seconds (“two-and-a-half minutes”) is a good length of time. (In another context, I saw a moderator holding up their phone timer to the screen, so you could use a timer without the technical device I use to include the timer in my Zoom frame.)
I keep waiting for the “Discussion” segment to break down, but it didn’t. It’s 40 minutes of free-form talking, and seems like it could be fragile. Hazards include: someone talking too long (because there is no timer in the Discussion); someone talking too often (the “White Man” problem); people ignoring other people and doing their own rant; meaninglessness or chaos.
It seems congenial to use the Zoom “Raise Your Hand” feature, in addition to on-screen hand-raising. People seem to start doing it spontaneously, and it’s good for the moderator who sees people pop up in order at the top corner of the screen.
Using the chat to make notes about the conversation seemed to be very effective. Seeing the speaker’s key ideas extracted in real time lets people know they’re being heard, and helps the group focus on what’s being said. My idea about “collecting questions” may not be that useful. I found it was just as interesting to note key statements from the speaker. What you don’t want is people commenting on what the speaker is saying, inserting their own ideas. The chat is for reflecting and collecting, not extending the discussion. That’s distracting rather than helpful.
I finished with “Revisit the Question,” actually reading it again and inviting direct responses. This allows people to state their conclusions and to voice their progress and learning from the session. It also serves as a “check-out.” This was perhaps the most useful technique to emerge from this experimental process!
The collected questions (and statements) from these sessions are here.
On Sept. 14 and 15, I ran two new sessions on the topic of “Restoration: What could we bring back to help us with these difficult times?” (I added, parenthetically: “What have we lost? Where might we find it?“)
I used the same event format as previously. I gave up trying to create questions from what people said and simply made notes in the chat of what they did say. Between “Around the Table” and “Discussion,” I browsed the chat and said out loud some of the points that had been made, as a way to seed and anchor the discussion.
The notes are here.
Finally, in September, I ran two sessions on the question of “Reconciliation.”
What I learned from this workshop series
On Oct. 8, I joined the recap call of the Conscious Learning Festival to share what the outcomes of this project had been for me.
In terms of substantive learning, one thing I found in running these workshops was that discussions around the first 3 Rs (Resilience, Restoration, and Relinquishment) ended up being discussions about community. Resilience can only be found in community. The relinquishment we need to do is the relinquishment of the individual mindset. And the restoration is the restoration of community bonds, which gives us strength. So it’s very interesting that those that those conversations converged on that single singular idea.
The last one, reconciliation and about making peace, went to a different place – a place of responsibility. People wanted to talk about their responsibility to the people they had wronged, with whom they needed to make reconciliation, and that covered everything from one’s personal sense to a historical sense of colonialism and reparations. There was special emphasis on their responsibility to the next generation and their individual children, their actual children. How could they reconcile with their children, given the terrible, the story of a terrible future that they are being required to tell right now?
Interesting procedural learning also happened for me. Running these sessions and reflecting on them iteratively led me to develop an event format which can be useful to discuss any question within the context of an online group. Also, I found that a group of about six to eight people cohered in each of the two separate sessions I ran each time. So it became the same people coming back, which is great, because you get a coherence, you get a mutual understanding, shared background, and so you can get deep into it. However, I did feel the desire that this could be a wider discussion that could be have a wider application.
It also occurred to me that a group of six to eight people is too many – or not enough. If you want a big group discussion, then you need 12 or 15, or 30. And you use breakout rooms, and everyone gets a chance to sort of mix and mingle. And the voice the voice of the crowd is very encouraging and gives a sensation of activity and being in touch with a group which is very energizing, it can be healing. And then on the other end, if you have one person or two, then you can ask them open ended questions and get to learn what their thoughts really are. Because for most of us, it takes 10 or 15 minutes at least to just even get into what we’re thinking. It takes a while to let that play out at the speed of normal human speech. So that’s why half an hour is the bare minimum for a person just to give the first level of their exploration of the topic of collapse, in any meaningful way. So the discussion group of six or eight people is not enough time to get into it, but not enough people to give a sort of buzz of group vibe.
So I started considering how to continue to engage in discussions on questions like the four R’s, but in a way that’s sort of tilted for broadcast, as it were, instead of six people talking to each other, maybe two people talking to each other, with me as a moderator, as a program, a show, something like a podcast, but as a little discussion. I wanted to figure out how to better share with others, not so much the knowledge we may have, but our reflections on the questions that speak to us, in a living process of inquiry.
This led me to start a YouTube channel, “Collapse Club.” Through this platform, I publish the conversations I have with interesting thinkers from the field of collapse-awareness (not just from Deep Adaptation, which is a subset of that field), people with insight and wisdom. I want to explore commonalities between the various humans who face into the central question of “How are we to live in the time of collapse?” – while breaking down ideological boundaries in the process. My hope is that these recordings can be of value to people who have not yet begun to walk the path of adaptation, awareness and acceptance. It’s a way of trying to draw from the well and give the nourishment of what’s inside to those who are outside, so that they can be comforted, and find the motivation to embark on their own path. Maybe this will also help the group of people who are aware and accepting to keep growing as time goes on.
A key insight from these conversations so far is that relationships and connections are central to the entire question. Relationships with oneself, with other people, with the natural world, and with the divine. When you’re looking for answers, you have to look to what connections do you have. What relationships do you have. If our problem indeed is separation, then the cure is connection.