Engaging Our Community – My Experience

My experience of the ‘Engaging Our Community’ conference began almost a year ago, when I and a few other committee members were busy with the final two of twelve months work preparing the one day ‘Enriching Our Community’ conference in London. I realised that we would only have nine months to organise the 2015 conference, and that a new structure would need to be created in order to share the workload amongst more people and make it a less stressful and more satisfying experience.

As I reflect back, from the initial proposal to form a Conference Organising Group (COG) separate from the Organising Committee, and the search for people to join it, to my role as Programme Lead on the COG and the rich conversations and explorations I enjoyed whilst developing the theme, structure and final programme, I begin to appreciate the extent and range of my journey and engagement with the gestalt community.

Working alongside a large group of colleagues was successful in achieving the intended outcome of sharing the workload, and also provided the many mutual learning experiences which come from collaborating on a challenging project together. As well as the structure and business like planning of the COG, I have also appreciated the unexpected pleasure of making connections with new people and deepening existing relationships, and realise that we will always have this shared experience.

I have an image of many colourful threads weaving their way through the Gestalt community, creating unexpected patterns through contact with others. Some vivid patterns that stand out are early discussions with Toni Gilligan around the different circles of engagement and the wider fields we are all part of; a Skype exploration across the seas with Michael Clemmens sparking off ideas and noticing excitement at the emerging shapes of commonality; re-meeting Hugh Pidgeon with a few close friends and engaging in a rich multi layered dialogue interspersed with watching his insightful film which fed an inspiration to invite him to participate in the conference.

And then, a couple of hours before the conference began, meeting with those whom I had invited to lead the large group pieces (Toni, Michael, Hugh, Belinda Harris and Adam Kincel), gathering together as a group for the first time. We met to articulate with each other the particular colours of the threads we each brought, and to notice where and how they have and can meet each other, and noticing the patterns that we create in the process. Some of the colours that stood out for me were our shared interest in the marginalised and those who do not feel supported to speak, and of how the organisation can support different voices; how we define another in order to feel that we belong, of owning our shadows; and how language can be in service of the pre-reflective.

It was from a desire to try to share some of this rich pre-conference engagement, dialogue and dance, that I faced my intense dislike of public speaking and chose to introduce the three large group sessions from a personal perspective. I pushed myself right to the tip of my growing edge, only just resisting the magnetic pull to turn and run from the room. I knew that whatever words I chose to speak I would think that they were not enough, that they hadn’t done justice to the experience or the people or the unfolding journey, and hadn’t illustrated the particular colourful patterns our threads had woven together. However, I wanted to try to complete the circle of that gestalt, and trusted that people would hear my intention.

I have attended many conferences as a participant only, and it is with some fondness that I remember the freedom and lightness of those experiences, as compared to one where participation is very much secondary to organisation. However, I know that I will continue to integrate my learning from this experience into other aspects of my life, and I can warmly encourage anyone who has not yet taken part in the creation of such an event to consider doing so.

Jacqui Lichtenstern