Reflections on the Community Day

by Malcolm Parlett

Before I got caught up so intensely in working for the UK to Remain part of the EU – prompted by fear of the opposite result, which has since hit us so brutally – I attended the wonderful Community Day organised by UKAGP. I have several reflections, looking back on the day from a post-referendum vantage point – and finding points of resonance with our wider European story in the process.

I was around when UKAGP was formed – as were several others who attended the Community Day. Part of what happened was that we revisited the basics of the organisation: why we exist, how we came about as a professional community, and practising what we collectively believe in.

Two strong, distinguishing features of UKAGP stand out: first, that within Britain, the organisation is a confederation, a collective, a communal enterprise that manifests its shared love of Gestalt. It came into existence as a counterpoint to the EU equivalent of ‘national differences’. Historically, the various institutes and trainings around the UK grew up separately, developing their different personalities, styles, and ways of interpreting Gestalt and they were often suspicious towards other similar organisations. What slowly became evident, however – especially through international conferences, and a shared growing literature – was that there is also an unmistakable culture, style, philosophical attitude, and creative spirit which is shared among Gestaltists: something special that differentiates us from other approaches and supports us in being ourselves, and awareness of which is re-created afresh when we get together. So we recognise our similarities as proponents of Gestalt in Britain and Northern Ireland, while also acknowledging areas of distinctiveness. In this regard, UKAGP underlines and ‘carries’ the shared ideals we hold in common, (rather in the same way that the EU at its best is able to demonstrate something that transcends varied national differences).

Second, we acknowledged that UKAGP is the vehicle that represents the British Gestalt community explicitly in the European context, being affiliated as we are to the European Association for Gestalt Therapy (EAGT), Through this European connection, we are reminded of our richness and openness as a specialist field and our readiness to reach out to others from across the whole European continent and beyond. Given that Gestalt enthusiasts and seekers are not thick on the ground – that is, conceived in merely national and local terms – we are reminded that through UKAGP’s institutional membership of EAGT, we are included within a continent-wide community of professional peers, all interestingly varied and from whom we can learn. It is part of our stable ground. We must hope that this European connectedness is enhanced and valued even more now – given the post-referendum situation we are facing in the UK.

The Community Day reminded us of so much: our origins and purpose, and what holds us together. In the characteristic way we have long evolved in the Gestalt world, we met, conversed, and made new contacts and connections – never departing for too long from (1) acknowledging what was happening in the room; (2) manifesting inclusiveness and welcome to different voices; (3) cultivating respectful dialogue, good listening, as well as plain speaking (rather than making vague ‘speeches-into-the-air’); (4) exploring departures from ‘what felt deeply true to the great majority of those present’; (5) tracing the points of emerging interest and energy, and (6) identifying what needed to happen next that would serve the meeting best.

These all helped the distinctive quality of energy and good feeling to come into existence. In my book, Future Sense, I call it an emergence of ‘Whole Intelligence’ that arises from creating a shared relational field, taking response-ability for what occurs within it, remaining embodied, recognising our own contributions to the field, and being open to experimenting with what is unfamiliar and yet necessary.

Altogether, I thought it was a wonderful day, and I was glad to be part of it. I found myself inevitably feeling ‘grandparently’ at times and was delighted to reconnect with some fellow grandparents. But what stands out most vividly for me was meeting subsequent generations – bringing energy and expertise, newly discovered enthusiasm, colour, vibrancy, the torch being for ever passed to those newly finding for themselves the joy, courage, and challenges of pursuing Gestalt. For me it was like being immersed in spring and early summer again rather than in the autumnal normality of my present professional existence. Inevitably, too, there were reminders of today’s leaders having to grapple with similar issues that previous generations encountered in their time – like the time demands of leadership and of serving the community, often without a lot of support.

UKAGP needs to spread its benefits and the rewards of participation as members. Some did not come because it was ‘only a community day’, with no stated ‘professional theme’. How much they missed that was pure Gestalt in action! For members, there are also practical advantages. For instance, I sold copies of my new book Future Sense: Five Explorations of Whole Intelligence for a World That’s Waking Up, at a discounted price.* I also had an opportunity to invite Members to the Marianne Fry Lecture in Bristol this September. **

Finally, I want to convey immense thanks to the organisers, who worked behind the scenes to make this stylish, informative, and friendly event such a success. They give their time and effort to make good things happen. By volunteering to be an organiser yourself, you can have a ‘shared Gestalt experience’ more often and more fully, sharing with others while also putting yourself forward to help make things happen. Everyone benefits: many discover new friendships through working together, and how they can enjoy enhanced ‘response-ability’ – it’s a great ‘personal development opportunity’!

There’s an exciting challenge – to take Gestalt forward, both nationally and internationally into its next emergent phase…. (If only there had been an equivalent Remain message – strong, well-articulated, positive, and espousing our best British values: that would have ‘set the field’ aright!)

* Details of how to get copies of Future Sense are on my website www.fiveexplorations.com. (There is a book review by Sally Denham-Vaughan in the current issue of the British Gestalt Journal). If anyone wants contact with me about my book, or wants me to come and talk about it to a group of Gestaltists, please do contact me at malcolm.parlett@virgin.net.

** The Lecture will be given by Belinda Harris on Fear, Love, and Learning. For details, see www.mariannefrylectures.com.

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