What Is The Forum?by Dolores Richter
History of The Forum
Project Meiga began as a research project committed to the spirit of experimentation, but both in content and method lying well outside the purview of institutionalised science. The project was conceived as interdisciplinary life research in biology, physics, medicine and psychology designed to re-integrate the fragmentation in all parts of life that permeates modern society. It was very soon realised that this kind of radical research could only be done rigorously and systematically in the laboratory of communal living and working.
Professor Dieter Duhm was the initiator of this social experiment in holistic life research which from the very beginning focused on the basic issues that invariably arise out of humans living together. Thus the nature of love, forms of relationship, the origin of jealousy, conflicts about authority, and concepts of raising children came under the social microscope. Identifying basic human longings and needs, investigating the roots of latent fear and violence, examining what constitutes disease and healing, finding ways to optimise nutrition and raise energy, all became grist for the experimental mill. The project enquired as well into the source of life energy (God), meaning and goals for life, examined creation theories, and attempted to evaluate possible long-term directions for evolution in the history of mankind.
The Forum developed out of a need for a process to study safely these kinds of fundamental social questions. In the course of time it became one of the most essential institutions both to investigate the topics of interest, and to build the strong community vehicle necessary to contain the energy released by these experiments in living.
There has recently been an interest from other communities to use the forum as a "method" for building interpersonal structures strong enough to withstand the conflicts that arise out of living and working together. To assist their work we began to offer Forum courses and seminars. This working paper attempts to compile some of our experiences of the last 15 years and to distil some principles and guidelines from them so as to maximise the chances for the success of a Forum created away from Zegg. The formulated rules and forms cannot be used in a rigid and fixed way. Through actual experience a group grows in competence and unity and eventually it leaves the rules behind in the way a child learning to ride a bicycle eventually leaves the training wheels behind. Indeed, the higher the common energy, trust and the dedication to truth in the group, the less rules and fixed forms you need. Once understood well and internalised, the forms become a kind of ceremony that raises the energy and magic of the moment.
This working paper constitutes descriptive literature about the Forum. It is not prescriptive because the Forum is not a technique or method that can be learned systematically and used anywhere under any conditions whatsoever. A meaningful Forum needs a mental-spiritual basis of unity and a communal realm of experience informed by living human values such as trust, truth, love, home, solidarity and responsibility. The forum is designed to work with people who are living together, sharing a common vision and who are committed to certain values. The more I feel committed to that vision and those core values the more I will feel committed to working in the Forum with the individuals of my group. Thus a Forum wouldn't work for a short term therapy group, although it might work in a business with the committed people.
What is Forum
A central and essential value for the Forum is trust. And there are two distinct but complementary fields of behaviour in every community that must be sharply separated before people can trust each other or not. The community must make a clear differentiation between problem solving involving information and factual discussions, versus a process designed to aid transparency of ideas and intentions. In both fields questions of power, money, sex and love will invariably arise. If these issues are not transparent, paranoias, distrust and alienations arise which will invariably undermine the community's problem solving ability. The Forum is thus a critical process for ensuring the transparency so essential to the community. It is there that we reveal our patterns in power and decision making, where we lay bare what is happening in our love-lives, where we bring to awareness our real intentions, where both the light and the dark get their due.
The Forum constitutes an artistic way of organising sharings, a stage for whatever is happening inside ourselves. Here one's true motivations, one's deep feelings, longings, ideas and emotions become public. This focus on transparency, sharing and clarifying unsolved situations of daily life make it an invaluable catalyst for one's own growth. But the Forum is also a unique kind of research model for the study of what constitutes a human being. Because we believe that each one's personal issues are exemplars of a general human issue, the Forum elevates these personal issues, by putting them onto a common human stage shared with general social issues like money, war, love, violence and power. The individual in the Forum is reassured by knowing that what he or she brings up is true for many.
In order to create this transcendence the individuals making up a Forum sit in a circle. One person who is "working" or "presenting" goes into the middle of the circle as though going onto a stage. So the "actor" holds centre stage and the others form the audience. The actor gets the full attention of the group, with the power and the space to speak and act without being interrupted by the others who initially play the role of spectators.
When the "actor" has finished, then others can step into the middle to give feedback and express what they perceived. Now the actor can learn what others think about him and what they have to say which supplements, broadens and sharpens the personal issue he brought forward. The discovery of what others think and value about us, what perhaps keeps them from loving us, what meaning we have for them provides the essential social feedback and clarity that shapes us as social beings.
Each Forum, the length of which is agreed in advance, usually about 90 minutes, is guided by a facilitator whose task is to direct the presentation to bring out the general character of the personal issue. Thus each and every Forum becomes a learning process for all present. The facilitator alone may intervene in the presenter's process, sometimes to confuse the presenter, sometimes to interrupt or to divert him if he or she gets stuck in repetitive thought trains. It doesn't make sense to allow somebody to speak forever if the personal drama becomes too drawn out and boring. Transparency is served when the person in the middle finds out about this boredom arising in his listeners. The facilitator has sensed that people were passively listening and silently thinking how boring is the story. Can the presenter be thankful for the intervention that brought to light the effect his words were having on his audience?
The more knowledge one has about one's own habitual patterns of thinking and behaving the faster one can perceive them in others and intervene in a supportive way. The facilitator who doesn't feel love and acceptance for the actor probably should resist intervening. Thus we see that the qualities of a facilitator include a high awareness of ones own emotional character, motives, thought forms and feelings. The skilful facilitator possesses a broad human knowledge, a high social consciousness and a deep sense of responsibility. At the same time the facilitator remains merely the member of the group who has taken on the temporary role of directing the Forum process. You could accurately characterise the facilitator as a channel focalising the energies, issues and processes. To some extent that does mean directing and shaping the process. Nevertheless, the facilitator has no answers, proffers no solutions, but rather remains in the role of a "focaliser", asking questions to bring out and broaden the issue, mirroring the actor in a way that opens up the issue, reveals connections, and connects with the vitality.
Before beginning of Forum it is important that everyone in the circle delegate to the facilitator total trust to direct the process. So the circle, which contains the potential actors for the session, gives the facilitator the power to invite the presenter to sing a song, to stand on one's head, to be a chicken...be whatever the facilitator intuits would be helpful for breaking a habitual pattern. And the facilitator can only fulfil this role faithfully when the full trust of the entire circle is given. And that trust must extend to the actor who sets aside questions about the direction of the facilitating. For all this conferred power, the facilitator is not above the group; he or she remains a member of the community and can be questioned and or criticised after the Forum. Only when the focaliser enjoys the full trust of the group can the high energy emerge which makes it possible to break through old habits in a co-operative, creative and playful flow.
The Forum is not primarily aiming at the solution of an issue. Rather it is about making the essence of the issue visible. You could say, accurately, that it is about seeing what is, because seeing is loving. When we see the core essence of a person a feeling of love that transcends personal sympathy wells up in us. The ideal of the Forum is to bring out the beauty of the person revealing their highest potential.
Often the Forum is also about sorting out the different factors and feelings that have an impact on the situation. The solution of an issue more often than not turns out to be a letting go. So first there is an understanding and then there is the releasing of an attachment. This letting go never happens by attacking the issue directly. It is more likely to occur by taking a playful detour which at first sometimes seems to lead away from the solution. Perhaps I am in pain about the jealousy I feel when my friend has gone to another, and the facilitator directs me to sing a song. The Forum wants to lift the energy level, wants to trigger the life force and its expression. When the energy can be successfully raised a change of perspective on both the body and soul level happens. Sometimes this energy shift can be very simple, as when the facilitator invites the actor to move faster, or to exaggerate gestures, or to put a sound to the feeling. When the energy shifts, a new position may often be discovered from where the solution of the problem can develop. In this sense the Forum aims at change in the moment, leading to liberation of the actor and the group.
Facilitating is far from a neutral moderation because the values underlying the Forum imply a partisan position . Forum supports what is authentic, alive and true. It supports what comes into the light beyond politeness and the daily games of hiding and disguise. We have become so used to hiding our feelings that we often lose touch with them. We laugh when we feel like crying, we reject those whom we desire the most, we say no where we feel yes, and yes where we mean no. In the Forum we experiment with different sides of ourselves to find out how they feel when they are given permission to speak . So you might go to one corner and speak from one voice inside yourself, and then go and stand in another corner and speak from another, perhaps opposite, voice inside yourself. Theatrical suggestions can shift the energy sufficiently for a thought buried deep inside to be expressed.
Just by stepping into the Forum, inviting witnesses to your process, and making that commitment to trust and authenticity, you begin to discover flexibility and ease in dealing with your own emotions. Through playing different roles and possibilities of behaviour, for example, one may discover that being angry with someone is just a surface emotion. At another level you may discover that the deeper wish you didn't dare to express is one of a closer connection. As soon as one comes into contact with a deeper need and finds a way to express it and have it heard, the anger disappears.
Trying out different ways of behaviour and theatrically acting out emotional processes is an important step toward dis-identification. I come to see that I am not this anger, I am not this fear, I am not this jealousy. The way I am thinking and reacting at the moment is actually only one possibility out of many. To lose identification with these passing states means that you have found an inner position of witnessing what is going on, of standing back from it. You have found your unchanging centre. In that place you find yourself no longer attached to the seemingly so important plans, needs, fears and calculations that are present in this particular moment and which will be replaced by a host of new ones in another moment. That insight allows an easier and more playful stance. From the witness position you do not project the experiences of the past into the future, you are no longer tied to the restrictions of the ego and your intelligence is freed to act. For example, when your partner or your lover makes plans that do not include you, and you react with fears of abandonment from the past, in that moment you are totally identified with this fear of loss. Then in the forum as you express your worry and your sadness through some theatrical performance, that very expression brings you back to your own joy and humour of existence. You dis-identify from that fear and are able to see that behaviour of your lover or partner is simply his or her true path in the moment, and you can be the detached witness from it.
This kind of work leads us to our core, our inner truth, to expression freed from hiding and pretence. The stage that is the Forum is above all about truth. Not truth as a moral category, but what shows up when we listen deep inside and allow ourselves to trust others. The truth that emerges when it no longer makes sense to maintain fences and wear masks.
What comes to the surface when we begin working in Forum is not always nice. In the beginning, the suppressed and the hidden emerge into the light of awareness. However, an effective and skilful Forum will bring out the dark side with humour, or in some other theatrical way so that it can be enjoyed. The group learns to express fear, competition, envy, jealousy, and malice as theatre on the stage of the forum. Keeping these patterns and feelings buried underground pollutes the environment.
At the same time, the Forum should not be misused as a dumping place for undigested emotions. There is no substitute for each individual's ongoing inner work, nor is can the Forum replace the community's need to evolve it's standards, values, guidelines for behaviour, it's vision.
For the Forum to make sense, the development of a life and love culture in which truth is highly valued is essential. Whether what one showed in Forum was nice, whether it was malicious, whether you showed the light or the shadow sides of yourself, all has to come from inside without pretence. When essence comes through it will always evoke love, because all things expressed with truth and honesty evoke love in those that take part in this process.
The Forum is a school, one devoted to the exploration of Life. Sometimes you will be surprised what you say when you step fully into the role of the actor in the centre of the Forum and the process begins to flow. You are surprised, from what you see in yourself and from what you see in others, to discover the complexity of the human phenomenon. You may see as in a kaleidoscope its beauty, its potential, its confusions and its violence. In Forum you may experience the echoes of human history reflected though the experience of different individuals. All these discoveries pave the way to change and development. Doubtless the path to social consciousness, compassion and contact requires an inner metamorphosis and Forum, because it is simultaneously personal and social, has the power to bring this about in us. As Dieter Duhm has put it, this metamorphosis
In the Zegg community we have learned to limit the Forum to the area of emotional issues. When we want to problem solve, plan, or discuss factual decisions that concern the whole community we do that in a large group session we call the Plenary. The Forum remains a platform for the emotional, sexual and personal processes that concern the community or the individual and is not concerned with intellectual problem solving.
The residents of Zegg meet once or twice a week for a Plenary. Additionally, they meet at least once for a Forum and once for a Sunday "matinee." The matinee is a sharing in which individuals present their ideas about goals and visions for the community. They may also share ideas about political events, historical perspectives suggest goals for personal development or float ecological or pedagogical proposals. This is an intellectual platform, one we value highly for keeping alive and developing further the vision around which the community came together. If a community wants a strong supporting human basis, then its members need both a deep understanding of one for another, and a living vision which goes beyond the personal desires of the individuals which make it up. So the Forum, the Plenary and the Matinee complement each other.
Further ad hoc meetings that build community occur depending on interest and need of the individual living and working groups. Should anyone have a conflict with his or her work team, they can call a Forum. Indeed, anyone can call a Forum at any time, on any issue sufficiently charged and significantly interesting to attract a group and a willing focaliser, who can be emotionally neutral on the issue.