The Direction of “ZEGG” Forum in the U.S.

There seems to be a lot of buzz about “ZEGG” Forum in the U.S. these days.  Different teachers of it are popping up everywhere (some even offering certificates!) and even more people are clamoring to get “trained,” etc.   Of course, as the first North American trainer in ZEGG Forum, the buzz is getting back to me, sabbatical or not.  Here are some of my thoughts on it:

In the beginning of 2012 I was asked to give some Forum trainings in Europe and so decided it was time to visit Tamera and re-visit ZEGG.  I wanted to see how Forum was done at Tamera (which I had never been to) and see its evolution at ZEGG (which I hadn’t visited for almost a decade).  I also decided (for spiritual and personal growth reasons) that it was time to revisit NFNC’s Summer Camp West.  I was disturbed by much of the Forum I saw that year–in all three places–but I was most disturbed by what I saw at NFNC’s Summer Camp (and later to a lesser degree, the Maui Forums).

[For those of you who were with me at that Summer Camp, please understand my Forum opinions are completely separate from my other opinions of Summer Camp and would be the same regardless of my experience there.]

Back in the days I when was visiting ZEGG frequently, the Germans often complained that Americans are primarily looking for “emotional homeland.”  Rather than looking to make world peace or serious culture change, Americans were wanting to feel “safe” and “loved” and often engaged in “emotional indulgence” when participating in group processes.  This concept fascinated me–especially as I watched Naka Ima turn into “Heart of Now” back in the early 2000’s.  As I paid attention over the years, I started noticing it elsewhere and in surprising places.   In fact, the Germans were not alone in this observation–as I did more and more work with internationals over the years, I heard similar complaints from other international facilitators.  Facilitating Americans (and other native English-speakers) is just downright different than facilitating other cultures–they want you to create an emotionally “safe” space for them and will often take up more space to get their emotional needs met than other cultures.  (In fact, one can even see something like this in Time magazine where they make their content and cover stories far more “emotional” for Americans while keeping it political and hard-hitting in the rest of the world.)

“It is not a sign of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society.” Krishnamurti

We live in a world that cultivates disassociation, disconnection, and isolation.  We’re also a culture where individuals are suffering from intense loneliness and disconnection from their sense of purpose.  In our Western society, we have many ways of coping with this, but one of the foremost is through addiction.  Many of the more well-known addictions are from physical substances (alcohol, drugs, etc.), others are more obviously behavioral (i.e. gambling and porn), but many psycho-emotional addictions often go unnoticed.  The hormonal highs we get when we engage in activities that elicit strong emotions (i.e. war, abuse, dare-devil stunts, “new relationship energy,” group processing) are also highly addictive, both physically and emotionally.  Emotional processing can fall into this latter category.

It’s well known that emotional processing provides both a temporary sense of connection as well as a physical hormonal “high” (for those of you who do workshops, think “workshop” high).  The more intense the processing, the more intense the high.  And, as science has shown, these hormones are quite addictive.  In emotional processing (group and otherwise), the emotional highs that come from processing also create a temporary sense of intimacy, which we all crave on a deep level.  So much so that many frequent workshop attendees find that they can’t get a sense of connection without the intensity of workshops and/or group processing.  However, one thing that processing does not do is create lasting intimacy on its own.  Think of it like salt–some is necessary to make the fullest flavor come out in food, but too much can be addictive and, at the extreme, makes the food inedible.  It certainly does not take the place of the real food ingredients in the dish.

So back to Forum in North America (and now to a lesser extent in other places in Europe):

Forum was designed as a tool for those living closely together.  It was intended to provide a stage for the exploration of the human condition and a means to individually and communally evolve ourselves into a world without fear and violence.  The creators of Forum didn’t need it to create a sense of intimacy–they were already engaged in deep intimacy with each other (sexually and otherwise).  Nor were they going for the high that comes with emotional processing or looking for a “safe space” to vent their emotions.  Rather, they were looking to evolve themselves and their project and found that Forum was an incredible tool.

Most of the North Americans using the Forum are not living in community (though many of them long for it).  They also do not have the group intimacy and common vision that the designers of the Forum intended Forum participants to already have.  As a result, many Americans have begun using the Forum for an artificial (and temporary) feeling of  intimacy normally created through other means.  On top of this, more and more folks are looking for ways to get (and keep) the intense (and addictive) hormonal high that can come from group processing.  At this point it may very well be an almost invisible epidemic in the personal growth/Tantra/etc. workshop communities.  This combined with the American tendency towards emotional indulgence (which, after more than a decade of exploration I believe to be an accurate description) and what I can only define as “workshop leader ego” is a recipe for a total twisting of what ZEGG Forum was intended for.

Of course, if one wishes to create an group experience where these things play out (generally resulting in a modified form of group Gestalt therapy) that’s fine.  Many have found group therapy and witnessing to be very useful.  Less fine, I think, is when charismatic facilitators take advantage of the endemic loneliness of people and the addictiveness of workshop highs.  This has been a trend for a while now in the workshop world, one that deeply disturbs me.

Either way, using ZEGG Forum outside of the context from which it was created is no crime, but let’s be honest: it then becomes something other than “ZEGG” Forum.  I would encourage most of the U.S. folks doing Forum to drop the “ZEGG” from its name (or “Tamera” for that matter) and call it their own thing.  It would be far more accurate.  As for me, I’m seriously rethinking my part in the U.S. Forums and am tending towards teaching it only in venues for which it was intended or at the least for which we’re honest about our modifications (i.e. when we take it into the group therapy realm).

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3 Responses to The Direction of “ZEGG” Forum in the U.S.

  1. Nicole Hartley Bradford says:

    Terrain, I’m looking for more info about you personally as a facilitator and human. You are clearly exploring things I am learning and yearning to learn about by doing. Can you direct me? I’m a fledgling community house founder/space holder with a vision of a small ecovillage (small to me being 160 people)…inevitable I’m committed to getting as close as I can in this life. A forum style practice looks like our next step…we will be learning sociocracy with Diana Lease Christian next month…and some people connected with Tamera ate offering to seed Forum here in Calgary AB.. my own …I’ll call it…trauma load …I’ll think is keeping me in search mode for something of the deepest…and no most effective…and did I have this idea it’s about depth in the people participating…which for me logically calls for a super solid mentor…to start. So I’m looking for one. Any insight is welcome.

  2. Nicole Hartley Bradford says:

    Grr. I didn’t edit my autocorrects away. I hope they don’t interrupt too much. I’m sorry.

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