On the 2nd November a group of thirty Alef Trust students, alumni and faculty including directors Les Lancaster and Jessica Bockler transmuted from the digital realm of our online community to meet in London for a workshop day. Participants travelled from Oman, the United Arab Emirates, USA, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Switzerland, Malta, Spain and the UK to attend. This encounter answered more than the lingering questions such as what everyone looks like without a headset, engaging emotion, mind and body for a day of enriching dialogues, activities, deep connections and – yes – fun! As Les remarked in his opening words, “When you’re present together there’s something extra.” And yet, this was a presence that went beyond those gathered to somehow include everyone who was not able to be here, as well as the leaves which dappled with the sun casting shadows onto the carpet trod by countless feet before ours.
An overarching framework of Appreciative Inquiry loosely structured our journey through the day’s theme of illuminating what can support and nourish us as we work within a transpersonal paradigm, and what transpersonal practices can bring to the world. As Jessica playfully proposed, “The day is an inquiry into this quest that we all share. I have no idea what will happen!”
Appreciative Inquiry is used in communities as an approach to organisational change and is informed by five principles. The first and foremost is the constructionist principle which states that we co-construct the systems we inhabit through our interactions and language. Our words create worlds, and new possibilities for action and thought emerge from our relationships.
The simultaneity principle draws attention to the process of inquiry itself and the way questions are asked as a catalyst for change, and the poetic, anticipatory and positive principles also contribute towards inspiring action and positive change by turning the focus away from the problem and towards what is already working and how we can enhance this.
The first activity contributed to our co-created inquiry was a short yoga session with Laura. We relaxed into our new surroundings, stretching and exploring postures accompanied by our conscious breath. Jessica continued with some vocal and body warm-ups as we tuned in to notice what needed moving, massaging… noticing how the breath is released and playing with the voice to get ready for day.
“Setting intentions, now there’s a challenge,” continued Les, sharing that if there’s one thing he believes it’s that everything has an outer and an inner aspect. He gestured towards a handmade oil lamp on a low table. “When I light the lamp that’s what’s in my heart and my being. To connect at all levels. Connecting with what is in this space and what is beyond at a deeper level.” We stood in a silent circle as Les stepped forward to light the lamp, sensing our personal and collective intentions resonating around the room.
Shifting into the second stage of the inquiry and dividing into small groups, we discussed our experiences of embracing transpersonal practices which we felt had somehow contributed to a community or organisation we’ve worked with. Feedback which flowed back into the larger group included the Noble Middle Way of “both and”, accepting seemingly contradictory paths and integration, the importance of respecting difference when navigating the connection between self and other, and accepting things we don’t know.
The question of what nourishes us as a community around the world, as well as the Alef community, was then explored by interweaving suggestions and practices. We lay with our heads aligned towards seven Tibetan singing bowls as Jules explained that each bowl correlates with a different chakra and with the planets. Each sound is an expression of the collective sound of “aum”, like the chakras are expressions of our collective oneness. We surrendered to her invitation to bring the intention of connection and community back into our body, and let the sounds carry us to where we need to go, releasing mental activity and noticing how the sounds feel in the body and where they take us. “My intention is to create a positive healing space for everyone,” she affirmed. The frequencies lifted us on a subtle inner journey which continued to shine in our eyes as we stood up for the next activity.
Les began by working with the breath, bringing our attention to the oxygen coming into the body and the spiritual breath centred in the heart. He shared an embodied kabbalistic practice of transforming the letters at the heart of the Hebrew language and tradition into a powerful dynamic combination of breath, movement and sound. The first letter, A, Alef, can be traced back to Egyptian times. It is silent, associated with the breath, but wants to move – to the next letter, B, Bet. Its energy comes from intention, a movement of creation which begins with silence. He urged us to connect with the creation that happens in every moment and with the intention behind creation which is to bring about manifestation. After exploring these two letters for half an hour he remarked that “there are 22 letters, how long have we got?!”
We gathered in a circle to drop words into a pool… expressing what nourishes and inspires us in the transpersonal community… dropping words into the silences between the resonances of the Tibetan singing bowls being played… every droplet creating a ripple…
Inspiration…community…courage… presence… oneness… wholeness… here… acceptance… challenge… forgiveness… inspiration… communication… love… nature… spontaneous… oneness… peace… silence… diversity… laughter… kindness… reality… food… dancing… internet… warmth… cats… home… light…darkness… presence… spontaneity… acceptance… authenticity… patience… curiosity… gratitude… joy… compassion… playfulness… sisterhood… dreams… growth… the night sky… love… art… receptiveness… curiosity… surrender… discernment… vision… energy… the sun…
A delicious vegetarian buffet lunch arrived, and we enjoyed the opportunity to continue chatting and getting to know each other.
What better way to prepare for the third stage of dreaming and envisioning than some gentle Qi Gong exercises with the experienced martial arts student Rong? She guided us to sense the energy from the dantien as we held certain postures. “If anyone asks, you can all now say that you know some kung fu,” she optimistically encouraged.
David then led a guided group meditation to encounter and converse with our Higher Self. Eyes closed, hearts open, he described a tranquil beach where we went within to encounter and integrate our shadow. He later shared that although any location can be chosen, a beach is especially powerful as it includes all the elements –water, sunshine, breeze and sand reflecting the integral essence of the transpersonal.
Returning to the question of intentions we considered the transpersonal approaches and practices discussed in the morning. Where do we want to go from here and what do we want to create? How can we contribute to positive change? Themes were suggested, clarified, written on large pieces of paper and placed around the room. After eight themes had emerged we wandered around them, contemplating our resonances and constellating in small envisioning pods around the one that spoke to us most deeply.
“Following your vocation, through the world of work”
“#bethechange/ inspired empowered action”
“ generational change”
“resacralisation of the body”
“trauma education within the transpersonal”
“imagination and everyone’s stories”
Paper rolls, marker pens, crayons, picture cards, conversations and creativity flowed as each pod developed suggestions, inspirations and artwork to share in a short presentation. The energy generated was remarkable. It felt like such an enriching experience of harnessing powerful forces of constructive dialogue that drew on diverse participating voices to envision and engage with these uncurling leaves rooted in an emerging holistic paradigm. “I would love to see how we develop these conversations,” reflected Jessica at the end of the presentations. “I think the Alef Trust is exactly about bringing these kinds of conversations into the world and facilitating change. We might be doing this through education right now with the Masters program and Open Learning, but I also sense there might be evolutionary jumps in what we’re doing, which involve all of you and of course all the different projects you are doing around the world.”
Les commented on how much has already changed since the course began about 25 years ago. Other student reflections included that “coming together as a group was nourishing and re-energising.” “Indeed, it’s very difficult to do anything on your own.” “The unfolding of the day was so organic and beautiful; new ideas were born into existence, smiles and laughs were shared, and most importantly, an awareness of our intention to actively grow the field of transpersonal psychology was carried throughout the day.” “It was really refreshing to be able to share this; I can’t talk like this with the people around me.” “Great conversations, I’ve learned a lot.” There was a thoughtful pause.
“The thing about the heart is that it wants to be on the outside. It wants to grow and expand. It wants to sing,” said Les, drawing the session to a close. He guided a vocal practice based on three sounds. One comes from the heart and chest region, another from the lower belly, and a third from the head. We joined voices, listening to each other, beginning in silence, letting our song soar and finishing in silence. The final reflection was sung together as we looked into each others’ eyes and spread around the room: “Remember we are walking on sacred ground”. We stood in a silent circle as Jessica stepped forward to extinguish the lamp, recalling our personal and collective intentions as we prepared to go back out into the world.
Text: Francesca Hector
Photos: Sue Bradley, Denny Ellis, Francesca Hector, Nick Theo