Dare to Imagine – delving into super-resilience

In October 2017 I co-led a weekend at Hazel Hill Wood called Dare to Imagine: Growing into the Future - exploring super-resilience with Nature’s help. When we gathered round a campfire on the Friday evening, I described this as a quest: a shared search for something valuable and elusive. It was certainly a fruitful adventure.

The first thing which struck my co-leader Jane and me was the diversity of our group of ten. We had a few people with PhD’s and great academic experience of our field, along with some who were into poetry and song, and others just trying to make sense of the craziness of our current world.

We worried that the diversity was too much, that the group would polarise and fall out, but the reverse happened: a spirit of nourishment blended with adventure, in which everyone soaked deeply in a huge range of experiences and processes.

The basic proposition which I invited people to explore in this weekend was: The present is pretty overwhelming, so the future is hard to face. But let’s dare to imagine a positive upside to these pressures, and see them as an invitation to evolve into greater resilience. The idea of super-resilience has grown rapidly in significance and urgency for me in the past three months through two of my main projects: Scanning our Future and Nourishing the Front Line.

As you may imagine, it’s hard to sum up what emerges in such a group, and any attempt has to be a reductive fraction of an organic whole. But here are some of my highlights:

  • The idea of super-resilience is valid, very worth exploring, and we haven’t yet found a better name for it.
  • Various aspects of such an exploration can only be done in a group, and the right people, processes and setting make a huge difference. Our collective gifts included support for vulnerability, cumulative insights, safety, fun, and inventiveness.
  • Facing into the future is hard, but can help a lot with super-resilience: see more below.
  • We need to dare to dream and imagine a positive future: without this, resilience will just be mitigation and coping.
The campfire was a focus for our shared journey.

The campfire was a focus for our shared journey.

The shape of our weekend broadly followed the five stages of the Hero’s Journey, the archetypal quest process as outlined by Joseph Campbell. Hazel Hill Wood played a major role in all this. On the Friday evening, at the campfire, I invited everyone silently to call in guides and helpers for our quest (human, mythical, angelic), and then we all stood up and turned outwards, facing into the dark forest, and called for its help on all levels, from practical to emotional and spiritual. We also called in the support of the four elements and compass directions, adding a ritual quality to the quest.                                        

The processes in our journey were partly creative ideas from Jane and me, and partly led by members of the group. Saturday morning set a flavour of widening our outlook and opening to different ways of seeing. We began with Jane leading Shinrin yoku: the Japanese process which translates as forest bathing, a mindful immersion in nature.

After that, I invited people to find a tree as ally and guide for a back-casting process: picture your life in the year 2030, and then explore what decisions you made in getting there. For the latter, I invented a method which worked well. People got into trios, joining hands, and walked slowly forward from the present toward three ropes on the ground, representing 2020, 2025 and 2030. When one person felt a blockage or worry arise, the whole trio stopped and worked on it. This quote is an example of the benefit: “I found that facing into something helps: once I’d looked at the implications of a nuclear war, I could set it aside and move forward.”

The second half of Saturday morning was an open space session, with three conversations initiated and held by members of the group:

  • How fear and dreaming relate to each other.
  • The role of stories in personal and group resilience.
  • Exploring how to find joy and grounding.

Other powerful insights and surprising delights came from the poems and songs people brought to the campfire on Saturday evening, and from the movement and guided meditations people led on Sunday morning.

By Saturday afternoon it felt like we were ready for what Campbell calls the Dark Wood: a way of facing deep fears or suppressed issues. Jane and I offered our own take on the four-stage Deep Ecology approach described by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone in their book Active Hope.

Later that afternoon, we ritually released these fears and moved on to explore hopes and dreams for a positive future. We shared ideas from Per Espen Stoknes on Grounded Hope, and from Thomas Berry’s inspiring book. The Dream of the Earth. Then we invited everyone to spend some solo time in the wood, questioning their own dream. Here are a couple of examples:
-    “My dream is to shift my efforts to change the world from work to play.”
-    “I want to function in the world without being emotionally numb.”
-    “I dare to dream that my future and our collective future are exciting, not fearful.”

I don’t think any of us expected this group to produce complete resolutions or conclusions. What we all felt when we parted on Sunday afternoon was nourished, illuminated, and motivated to continue our explorations of super-resilience. Here are some examples of parting intentions:
•    I intend to slow down, so I don’t get too scattered.
•    I need an ongoing spiritual practice which keeps me connected to the joys of life.
•    I want to find my community.
•    I intend to look regularly at what is impacting and numbing me.

For myself, I learned a lot about my own super-resilience and the different forms this may take for others. There were many insights and resources which I shall take forward in my two projects, and I intend to run another group exploration at the wood next year.
Finally, here’s an eloquent overview of ingredients for super-resilience which one of our participants wrote just after the weekend:

- 100 cubic yards of Ability to ask for someone to listen and hear me when I struggle
- 50 gallons of Recognising my fears and worse case scenarios
- 108 tonnes of Relentless positivity!
- 64 cubicmeters of Sharing my story and hearing others', so that the web weaving us together can be understood in order support everyone
- 50 terabytes of Say yes when offered help
- 90mpg of Joyful service to others
- 43 gigawatts of Trust that I will be safe no matter what
- 43 millennia of Find time each day to connect to my inner guidance, my soul, my purpose, and to investigate the nature of existence and divinity
- 49gazillion seconds to pause and reflect
- 6503 acres of Regular physical exercise.  
- another 108 Tonnes of Relentless positivity
- 20 years of good, consistent sleep
- 9806 kg fresh, nutrient dense food
- and last but definitely not least, an infinite supply of dark chocolate. Any negative side effects of this will be balanced by all of the above.