Friday 27 March 2015

Relational Change at the Relational Movement Summit

March 15-20, saw international leaders in the Relational Movement gathering at Esalen to share how we have been collaborating to develop advances in relational theory and praxis. Together we created a programme for the 50 participants that aimed to gather stories enshrining the values of the Relational Movement and translate these into individual and shared actions that would go forward into the world.

Helena Kallner, Martin Capps, Caroline Matters, Barbro Curman, Malcolm Parlett and Sally Denham-Vaughan had the task of representing Relational Change and developments in the UK, Scandanavia and elsewhere in Europe.

We reported on learning we had harvested from our experiences to date of initiating CANs, (Community Action Networks), and COPs, (Communities of Practice). In particular we highlighted that cultural sensitivity and contextual complexity precludes any straightforward ‘roll-out’ of action practices from one context to another. For example, many of the initiatives reported from the American groups focused on the need to ‘deconstruct’ corrupt institutional practices and provide support for not-for-profit/voluntary groups to build alternative services. In contrast, activity in the UK has focused on participating in work aimed at protecting some of our precious public services, (e.g. the National Health Service), and developing supports/competencies to assist in that process.

Our learning regarding differing contexts and projects was facilitated by a series of regular meetings in small ‘home groups’. Here, a process of social mapping supported people coming together around specific and diverse issues, including climate change, youth mental health, LGBT issues, racial and ethnic power structures, anti-bullying practices, gender issues, organizational development, social activism, somatic practices and creative/writing projects. These groups facilitated vital and intimate bonds between participants with shared interests.

In addition, four major workshops highlighted contributions provided by the major practice groups represented at the summit: psychotherapists/service providers, social activists, organizational practitioners and somatic practitioners. These workshops highlighted our essential inter-dependence and the need for strategic/bridging functions between these groups within the Relational Movement: a point that was beautifully brought to life in the closing ceremony when the social activists and organizational practitioners organized a demonstration in support of recognizing the contributions of the psychotherapists and somatic practitioners.

Any conference at Esalen is deeply affected by the amazingly beautiful environment of Big Sur: the Pacific Ocean, the natural hot springs, the richness of wild life and warmth of the sun. All these riches contributed to a growing sense of the incredible preciousness of life and the need to protect the future of the planet and all the diverse forms and varieties of life that inhabit it. Again and again we reminded ourselves that we are ‘of the field’, not ‘in a field’, and that as humans we play a vital role in the field’s health, or destruction. We are thus depending on each other to create conditions where we will all flourish.

We closed the summit with all 50 participants committing to take action to carry the movement out into the world. Many of us recognized that we do that in very many ways every day, so it is not new heroic activities that are needed, but rather an audit of our current activities to see where and how they align with our values, what supports are needed to enable us to sustain them and how we will hold ourselves and others to account. A vital role was seen for community practice groups, specific campaigns, mutual support, organizational development and community building. We ended the summit with a beautiful ritual reminding us that we are all carrying the seeds of the relational movement out into the world and celebrated by sitting together and singing “Imagine’: the song had never sounded more beautiful or inspiring

Within Relational Change, we came away feeling particularly proud of the contribution we have made to developing theory and practice in Organisational Development, (ROG), and committed to looking at ways more groups could access this training. We also confirmed that we will initiate discussions aimed at developing a longer programme for psychotherapists, coaches, consultants and community builders who want to develop their personal presence, embodiment and use of self in their practice.  In the meantime, we would draw our forthcoming residential opportunity to your attention. We discussed the need to spread the word about our relational approach through trainings, writing, supervision courses, psychotherapy and coaching. We also committed to explore a range of ways of meeting to support each other more in the work and to building our community of values throughout Europe.  We would welcome any ideas and initiatives on this topic and encourage you to  “Watch this space”…….

Meanwhile, here are some brief words from Sally, Martin and Helena regarding what the summit meant to them.

Martin: “I am so pleased to have attended The Relational Turn 3.0. Gathering in the grounds of beautiful Esalen was inspiring, moving, challenging and inspirational. I am left with connections made, friendships started and developed, and a strong sense of purpose. I know in my bones that being a Relational Change associate is right for me and am very glad I committed to developing this work.

Sally: “An opportunity to delight in the richness of Esalen as a support for the work we all want to do in the world: to be inspired by the actions and commitment of others. To see again the power of collaborative projects in sustaining and supporting our work”.

Helena: “Those of you who have been to Esalen know it is a very special place – one that holds many stories and that has been ground for many personal transformations. Knowing that this was where the Human Potential movement started, and that we about 50 years later had gathered to build the relational movement, felt very special to me. 50 years ago, many felt the need to break out of norms and collectivism and explore their individual potential. Today our needs are somewhat different, we need to re-learn to listen, feel and connect to each other. I see that both movements aim to reclaim our Humanness, and responsibility for the world we live in.

What I take with me from the summit is feeling re-assured that when we call our work ‘Relational’ that does not mean that we don’t value individuals and differentiation within the community. There is a difference between individualism and individualistic. I greatly valued our discussions on how cultural variations effect how the Relational Movement develops and takes shape in different contexts. I left the summit feeling more clear and committed to the work we are developing in Relational Change as so much resonates with my values and why I once decided to get involved with gestalt therapy: the connection between personal development and social change.”

Sunday 17 November 2013

Relational Change Open Day: Starting A Fire…by Sue Gammons

On 4th November, Relational Change held their first open event, an invitation for anyone interested in Relationality to come along and explore this topic with Marie-Anne Chidiac, Sally Denham-Vaughan and Mark Fairfield.  Approximately 25 people gathered at the Ability Media Centre in London - some were therapists, others were working in organisations or with community groups, and all had an interest in how they could bring the importance of relationships into sharper focus in their work.

After some initial introductions, Marie-Anne, Sally and Mark each shared inspiring and moving stories of an aspect of their relational histories, how this informed their values and ultimately led to the formation of Relational Change. In small groups we then shared our stories, leading to identification of a personal value. We explored together what we were already doing to live this value and what more we were called to do.  We shared some of our most personal stories, many of which had rarely been shared before but heavily influenced our work today, and our resonances with others' stories.  In doing so, a community was forming, one where people talked of deep connections being made, trust developing and a place where they could find mutual support.

One participant on the day had the following to say:
"Thank you for a really inspiring and moving day.  I loved every minute of it and learned a great deal. It was a real privilege to work with [Sally, Marie-Anne and Mark] and your transparency and integrity.  It was also a delight to be with a group of such engaged people prepared to explore new ideas and exchange thoughts so deeply. People who want to be positively impactful through the way they live their lives, and who have so much to offer.

So I feel enhanced by the process and felt that I had really said “hello” - to those with whom I worked in triads especially - but in some way connected to everyone in the room because of the way that you held the day.  I love it when I leave a day reluctantly, knowing there is more to share, rather than wanting to pelt out of the door and get on with other things!"

Another said:
"Some words stayed with me yesterday which seemed supportive in keeping the fire tended until we are mustered again, at which point no doubt the fire will look after itself.  These were; stand up, my street, movement, called forth, passion, grass roots and turning the soil. I awoke with these words all around.

About ‘relational’ I thought it’s about something being exchanged, and me and the other being changed. Seems sort of obvious now ..."

The outcome of the day was the formation of three regional Community Action Networks, in the  southeast and southwest of England, and in Sweden. Community Action Networks (CANs) bring together people who share values and seek mutual support to make positive change in their neighbourhoods and community groups.  Participants of CANs (usually about 7 to 12 people) meet regularly to deepen their leadership capacity, brainstorm about what they want to change, and plan actions for positive change.

If anyone is interested in joining one of these CANs, please contact us. 

Thursday 31 October 2013

CREATIVELY MOBILISING: Comments from our Practitioner Training

We recently ran the first part of our Practitioner Training and introduced participants to the importance of sharing values, gaining support and building connection when forming communities. Together with our partners at The Relational Center in California and Relational Matters in Australia, we refer to this educational curriculum as the ‘Relational Movement’. This blog features comment from one of the participants with responses from another participant, Lucy Chamberlin and course leader, Sally Denham-Vaughan.


Saturday 6 July 2013

Being There: The Relational Change Community Day

Following the last meeting of the Relational Change Founding Community in London on June 24th, 2013, the usual ‘Action Notes’ were distributed. One of the attendees suggested that it could be helpful to offer more of a ‘felt-sense’ of what being at the meeting was like, (thanks to Shaun Whatling of our Advisory Group for the suggestion).

Clearly, a major reason for founding Relational Change was to try and establish a supportive and stimulating community, and the day was conducted in that spirit. Sue Gammons, (Advisory Group Member), provided a feedback from ‘The Relational Turn’ Conference at Esalen, and led an experiential enquiry focussing on individual passions that might be supported via membership of Relational Change. We also continued to discuss shared principles that form our organisational DNA.

We asked Mike Clark, (Advisory Group Member and non-Gestalt practitioner), to write a few words about his experience of the meeting. Very generously, Mike agreed, and here is what he wrote: we hope you find it interesting.

Being There: The Relational Change Community Day: June 24, 2013.

Starting a new, collaborative initiative is exciting, but also nerve-wracking.  Everyone comes along with some idea of what they are starting, but they cannot be concretely sure how it will turn out, nor how others feel and think about the ideas. 

As an outsider to the Gestalt world I had only a vague sense of what Relational Change (RC) was about but saw something in how it seemed to overlap with various social science ideas I had read about, plus I felt that it resonated with my sense of how people ought to act.  Others will have had more concrete ideas of what RC was or ought to be about.  They may have also needed a clearer idea than I to be able work out how it fitted with their worlds that were already full of Gestalt work.  Part of the beauty of a new endeavour like RC which is developed in the right spirit is that it can accommodate a broad range of ideas and needs and be mutually nourishing.

So, what was it like for me, with a career in research, to attend the last RC community day?  The enthusiasm of people is energising for me as I see their ideas and actions emerging to develop RC activities.  Various metaphors were used to help make sense of where RC is at.  The idea of a walk in the woods was used and extended and reinterpreted.  From a pleasant summer's afternoon stroll with friends to a fairy tale of scary monsters in the dark depths, the story evolved.  I was reminded of  the story supposedly written to win a bet that a fully formed story could be written in 6 words. The authorship is attributed to Hemmingway, but it probably pre-dated him. The story is:

 'For sale: baby shoes, never worn'. 

 Imagination and emotive connection - in abundance in this story and in RC meetings.

RC will forever remain in some sense evolving as people, ideas and situations emerge and interact to develop new endeavours.  This is part of the excitement - though nerves will jangle again at times.  But there is, and will remain, a sense of a core set of ideas and principles for RC to keep returning to.  This may not always be fully articulated in one 'constitution', but members will feel it and it will help to provide an overall sense of purpose and unity, and from which to develop new energies and ideas.

Mike Clark.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Living and Working within a Relational Frame

Can there ever be justification for truly barbaric acts?  The Woolwich brutal and sickening murder of a young soldier in the south of England this week reminds us that as a species we are capable of totally un-relational and unspeakable acts of destruction.   Hannah Arendt wrote of the ‘banality of evil’ and yet this murder seems all but banal or ordinary.  This was an intentional act, thought out and planned for maximum impact and media exposure. 

Is there any way we can understand the motivation of the killers within a relational frame?  

We could of course scrutinize their individual histories and backgrounds of the killers and find psychological problems, personal or political grievances as well as hardship that may lead them to that day.  But is that enough of an explanation?  Yes of course, being relational means taking account of the context or situation in which behaviour takes place but can we really relinquish our sense of agency and responsibility that has allowed many to overcome horrendous situations? 

What does it mean to be ‘relational’ and how does it support us in our lives as human beings?  

Come and join the conversation on this very topic at our low-cost Open Event on the 4th of November in London.  The day will be facilitated by Marie-Anne Chidiac, Sally Denham-Vaughan and Mark Fairfield

An International Movement for Relationality
Since March, we have a new partner organisation in Australia/New Zealand, called ‘Relational Matters’ and founded by Leanne O’Shea. Together with The Relational Centre and Relational Matters, we have linked up to start discussing ideas for an international relational movement, whereby we can explore the notion of relationality in different cultures and communities around the world. We are very aware that no ‘one-size’ of ‘Relational’ fits everyone, and are keen to promote a pluralism of ‘relational varieties’, fitted to supporting and sustaining both people and the planet in differing contexts.