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Things We Share – Reflection on the Planning Group of the First Peace Elicit

The lyrics by the Guatemalan feminist singer and poet, Rebeca Lane come to mind when I reflect upon gender, relationships and love. They are from a song called mujer lunar – moon woman – a song that speaks to my heart and guides this article right into the overall topic of this volume: Gender and femininity; a topic that is very broad and that also influenced us, a group of four people, in the planning and conceptual preparation of the first Peace Elicit that took place in April 2016.

Gender roles, for women and for men, are dominant social categories of determining identity and social behavior in many societies. Issues of identification or non-identification with gender are maybe one of the most sensitive topics within communities. Several waves of feminism have passed and lately, queer and transgender discourses and the LGBT movement (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender movement) have found their way from social margins to a relatively broad public sphere. In some countries like Australia, Nepal or New Zealand, a third gender category is legally recognized. Due to social norms and standards, gender, and especially sexuality, remain taboos and yet form one of the constituting elements of social interaction and relations at the same time.

I do not love you because of your sex but for the things we share.

Rebeca Lane

Elicitive Conflict Mapping (ECM), a method for conflict analysis, offers a useful framework for visualizing different layers that constitute the persona – the mask of a person. Along the lines of the chakras in the yogic tradition, the first and founding layer is the sexual-family layer. This stores all perceptions, frames, dos and don’ts related to the family and sexuality of a person. For peace workers, the engagement with questions about identity and encountering differences is crucial. We often work in environments where we encounter people with controversial opinions, attitudes and social values. In some contexts, the awareness of the social construction of gender is existent and people may not identify themselves within the heteronormative matrix of relationships or within the duality of men and women. Still, traditional perspectives and expectations on the roles of men and women within society are extremely important and reproduced.

To realise holistic peace work, an authentic encounter between the peace worker and the conflict party is necessary. Therefore, it is crucial that the peace worker is aware of his/her topics, dynamics and patterns. This is one of the reasons we are conceptualizing the Peace Elicits – a safe space in which the qualities of human nature that are hidden within the person’s mask can be made visible through bodywork and consequently create a more holistic way of connecting to the own self and the system the self is embedded in. Questions like How do I perceive myself as a woman or man? Can I relate to these categories at all? What does it mean to be a man or woman in different social contexts? – are examples to open a space for reflection on the topic.

Conception of the first Peace Elicit “Yin and Yang”

How did we get to the topic “Yin & Yang” for the very first Peace Elicit? In a nutshell, the process of conceptualizing and planning the first workshop was an elicitive one. We were open to the energy that was “there” and allowed this energy to flow and correspond throughout the planning process, as regards to the topic but also the group dynamic. In a first intense brainstorm meeting, gender and sexuality appeared to be a present theme.  Taking the transrational approach seriously, the resonance and correspondence between the planning group members was present and took us through an interesting and transformative journey as individuals and a group of four friends – two men and two women. We experienced an intense group dynamic that was not free of conflicts and that brought us even closer.

At an early stage, we faced the limitations and problems related to a workshop with the theme of gender and sexuality. We did not want to discuss and deconstruct in a post-modern style – ending up confused not knowing if men and women do really exist. A Peace Elicit is thought to be a space of encounters that go beyond the cognitive engagement with a topic. It is about experience and authentic encounter, which is done best through body oriented methods of elicitive conflict transformation. Also, we wanted to make the topic as open as possible for everyone. Therefore, one of the crucial guiding question was: What does it mean for each and every one of us to think, live, play out, discuss and embody our very personal relation with what it means to be a woman or a man, something in between, not defined, or uncertain? To grasp this approach, a thematic shift is needed: Turning away from modern categories and postmodern critique and to focus onto the energetic perspective on male and female is helpful.

Yin and Yang

From an energetic perspective, dualities are twisted and dissolved. This is visualized through the great triad, better known as Yin and Yang. Yin stands for the feminine energy, the lunar energy and Yang for the masculine solar energy. According to this perspective, it is important to understand that using the word “feminine” and “masculine” refers to a certain quality. A quality is energy that everyone can feel, independent from the biological sex or social gender. The feminine energy is connected to certain qualities like intuition, patience, acceptance, letting go or trust. Parallel to that, the quality of yang represents the male aspects within a person, relates to the sun and stands for qualities like mind, ratio, courage and power. These polarities, plus and minus, unify. Everything is polar, which means that every existence is constituted through two polarities that come into being from the tension it creates. The psychologist Carl Gustav Jung talked about Anima and Animus, female and male archetypes understood as personifications of the unconscious. Anima, the female archetype stands for the female part in the inner personality of a man and Animus represents male figures in women. From the energetic perspective, there is no separation of dualities, there is no either or – there is just the all-one of all principles, the integrating of dualities. Peace out of the overcoming of the dualities also means the overcoming of gender which results in the return to the androgynous state of being, a cosmic being. If we also use this idea for the question of feminine and masculine principles, they exist in every one of us – may we consider ourselves woman, man or not. These energies are qualities within us.

Peace Elicit Yin & Yang

During the first Peace Elicit we took the group on the journey to discover, feel, embody and share these qualities together. Central questions were How does it feel to embody our masculine / feminine aspects, and how does it feel to embrace all of these different qualities? Does it resonate or if not, why and how can we play this out together as a vibrant community of peace students, scholars and participants?

After we had worked out the theoretical foundation for the workshop, the next step was to find an adequate structure and methods to embody the topic and to dive into a collective wave of group process. Remembering this process, I realize how organically and intuitively the structure and method was found. In general, it was useful for the planning of the Peace Elicit to follow Gabrielle Roth´s model of the five-rhythm wave. The day of arrival is arriving, connecting and being in flow. The main working parts of the seminar are staccato, chaos and lyrical. Towards the end, the space is already open for stillness. We chose the methods according to that wave and thus had a beautiful opening circle on Friday night and started the topic early Saturday morning with a heart opening meditation. To have a “cognitive fundament” the main part was opened with a discussion on Yin & Yang and the qualities explained above. With this knowledge, former peace student Rosalie Kubny opened the dance floor and guided the group through an intense day of dancing with the qualities, embracing them, sweating, melting and letting go. To give participants  enough time to eat, to recover and to have some quality time alone or with others, a relatively long “open space” was planned before another intense evening part of sharing and connecting in the transparency circle. The very last exercise was a relaxing and integrating group method with the aim to unify all the aspects of the self and the personal experience connected to the topic.

Reflection on the planning group and my own journey

It was very interesting how strongly the chosen topic resonated with each and every one of the planning group on a personal level and throughout the group process. We found ourselves in interpersonal conflicts and challenges often directly related to our feminine or masculine energy or the way we interacted as a planning and, at the same time, facilitator group. We arrived one and a half days earlier to set the location and, even more importantly, to find ourselves as a group. A tension present since the long car ride from Berlin to Austria was made visible. Although there were tears and frustration the process was necessary in order to be able to work together and to guide the group through the experience. The dual challenge we faced during these days was being facilitator, organizer and participant at the same time.

During the workshop “Elicitive Facilitation: Concepts, Qualities and Skills” held by Josefina Echavarría and Norbert Koppensteiner in October in Innsbruck, we worked through the core essence of what it means to facilitate. This experience was extremely helpful to reflect on the role of the facilitator and deepen our understanding of what we want to achieve with the Peace Elicits. One important principle of facilitation is the willingness to set one’s own wants aside and to be present for the processes of others. Therefore, it was so important to be aware of our own process and the team’s process as a whole.

On a personal level, I can say that the topic is still resonating strongly within me and that questions like What kind of woman do I want to be? What does it mean to define myself as a woman? are currently very present themes in my private life. It helps me to connect to myself with those energies, knowing that I also have male aspects within me that I can embrace. I try to live the balance between being a woman and being a human being that is constantly learning, living, loving, failing, experiencing in an unbreakable relation to others. Locating myself within my body and learning how to love myself as I am is a process that I consider crucial in my development of becoming a facilitator i.e. someone who holds the space for others. If I am not able to love myself, it is difficult to be present for others, as love is also the grounding intention and intrinsic quality of being, which lies at the heart of wanting to be a facilitator. The experience of witnessing the healing quality of group processes and the authenticity of relations that are worked on during the Peace Elicits, represented for me the essence of what it means to be human – no matter if we define ourselves as woman, man, queer or transgender.