Ritam "Catching the Dream"

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Catching the Dream

By David Nightingale

Over a period of two and a half years the aim of the dreamcatcher forum has been to help nurture the manifestation of the galaxy plan of Auroville in a spirit of Human Unity, whilst utilising the various ground realities to stimulate the emergence of all-embracing solutions.

The underlying belief is that through developing our capacities to listen to each other and to work together, we thereby create a more positive environment where win:lose situations become simply unacceptable and where classic win:win solutions are transformed further into win:win:win opportunities. This initially requires participants to embrace the possibility of ‘both/and’ solutions as opposed to ‘either/or’ decisions and further that they remain open to key insights with which to ‘tai-chi’ difficult situations so that the resulting solutions transform a seemingly intractable problem into a profound opportunity.

The primary means used to achieve these ends is through the exploration of tools and techniques which can help to synthesise a positive group expression, which would delineate inspiring and uplifting architectural and urban design parameters to lead us inexorably in the direction of building a ‘yogic’ city. The hope is that the township might thus develop in such a way that it would nurture an increased awareness and consciousness in its inhabitants, and that at some point in the future it might be as obvious through perceiving its atmosphere that one is in Auroville, as it is obvious from its surroundings that one is in Venice...

The initial seed of this exploration was planted in the summer of 2005, when it became clear to a number of architects that although they were working on various studies to design large areas of the future township, most of these attempts were distinctly lacking over-arching parameters which might help to produce a cohesive final product.

After experiencing a number of more-or-less typical brainstorming sessions, and partly due to the difficulty of finding a common time when all the participants were available, the dreamcatchers hallmark of holding sessions at sunrise on different rooftops around Auroville was born. Not only are most people available in principle to attend sessions at this time, but the half-light and subsequent sunrise also help to inculcate an atmosphere of receptivity to whichever glimpses of the higher vision wish to emerge.

Each session begins with the chanting of an ‘opening’ mantra and a period of silent contemplation. This prepares the space for an initial check-in round where all those who felt called to come that morning have a chance to share their insights on the theme at hand, after which the circle is open for further input. A ‘talking ball’ is used not only to help maintain a space for listening, but also to attempt to limit our tendency of rushing to speak as soon as someone else has finished, in that only the one holding it may speak and it is returned slowly to the centre for the next one to take.

A few basic rules also help to guide our weekly explorations – the first being that there is no censoring of any idea no matter how unlikely it is (either one’s own or anyone else’s), secondly there is no discussion (which helps to maintain a quiet, introspective space) and lastly attendance is one hundred percent voluntary (so in principle everyone who turns up for a session really wishes to be there).

In the week between sessions everyone is free to write-up their perceptions and share them with others through the mailing list. Eventually the clearest of these ‘pearls’ (aka ‘bullets’) are written up as separate sheets for community feedback in the Dream Spaces.

Over the first few months of this experiment a wide range of topics were touched upon, covering all aspects of the future township, but at some point it became clear that when we allowed the same theme to run over a few weeks a number of more subtle insights began to emerge, and in many cases a point was reached where a particular solution or approach simply percolated through the filters of our perception. The experience is an interesting combination of ‘fission’ and ‘fusion’ reactions, where seemingly disparate and diverse pieces converge into a new sense of purpose and direction for the topic under consideration.

Since many planning themes in Auroville had become politically sensitive over the years, dreamcatchers decided to focus on the somewhat neutral theme of ‘entrance’ for their first public interaction, and it was at this point that the dreamweaving process emerged.

Since we needed a corollary to the morning sessions, we began to have ‘sunset’ dreamweaving sessions to explore more interactive techniques, with the aim of hosting the first Dream Space in the community. One approach the modern world has excelled in is hierarchical structures, with a manager or visionary at the helm and an army of people doing their bidding; however in dreamweaving we wish to move beyond not only this paradigm, but also the resulting reaction to it of seeking watered-down consensual solutions. It is a case of seeking the ‘highest common factor’ through a synthesis of intuitions emanating from the hearts and minds of those present, rather than cobbling together the ‘lowest common denominator’ emerging from the suppression of individual expression to land up with that which everyone has been able to agree to.

As an example, after a fairly typical brainstorming session where each of those present sits quietly by themselves for fifteen to twenty minutes exploring ideas on how to present the Dream Space, people then come together to share their insights with the larger forum. In the ensuing discussion, the aim is not to see who fights hardest for ‘their’ vision or ‘their’ idea, but to truly aim for the emergence of that which wants to happen. This can of course sound not only somewhat esoteric but also rather unlikely; however a disarmingly simple formula has helped us move in the right direction.

Anyone who feels strongly drawn to a particular solution or approach, either their own or someone else’s, can suggest its implementation to the others and offers to ‘carry’ that part of the process. This acceptance of this responsibility gives the person concerned the prerogative to guide it in the direction of their choosing; however if someone feels strongly that any aspects of this approach would be wrong they are free to express this, and the initiator is obliged to modify it in such a way so as to get unanimous support (or at least sufficiently to not have anyone feel the need to stop that particular part of the process). The key ingredient in this is not to just block something for the sake of it, but to truly feel into the veracity and strength of the proposal, and given both time and an open attitude our experience is that it invariably leads to richer more holistic solutions. The process continues to build up layer by layer on its strengths until a final plan or product emerges.

I think it is fair to say that although none of our processes could yet be described as ‘perfect’, in each case beautiful environments have been created where various degrees of synthesis were achieved, whilst the sense has definitely grown of an improvement of our group decisions.

The first Dream Space occurred within the ‘Certitude triangle’ on the theme of ‘Entrance’, the second one was in Revelation on the theme of ‘Green’ and the third is already in preparation on ‘Mobility’ and will hopefully manifest somewhere on the Crown. In each case we have moved closer to the more practical issues within the township and the Zones, whilst using the opportunity to refine our techniques and build up a body of work and awareness as a strong foundation for the more challenging subjects.

Over this period of dreamcatching further opportunities have also emerged to help us move slowly in the direction of concrete manifestation. After the first ‘Entrance’ Dream Space we received an invitation from the Visitor’s Centre to explore the new visitor access, where it has been envisioned since many years that guests might park near the tar road and approach Auroville over one of the dams in the canyon below Aurodam. From this work a three-phase plan emerged, answering not only the short and mid-term solutions required in the vicinity, but also integrating a new ‘public’ entrance to Auroville at the edge of the Green Belt next to Irumbai village, as initially suggested in the Dream Space. This would not only help to stop a large percentage of the polluting traffic from entering Auroville, but would also provide the opportunity for visitors to experience different aspects of the Green Belt in an environmentally friendly way whilst simultaneously preparing them for a deeper experience of Auroville.

Highlighting the gradual transformation of a ‘tabula rasa’ into a ‘tabula verdi’ over the past forty years, the Green Dream Space called for unique solutions to the challenge of interweaving a township into this verdant green carpet. To help in this task a ‘Green Book’ has been proposed, which would aim to be a companion to the ‘Architects Book’ and which would focus on the work of the ‘green-belters’ over the years.

All along it has been an important aim of dreamcatchers to create a process which is welcoming to ‘non-professionals’ in planning and architecture, but a big step has also been made to share these techniques with non-Aurovilians through a ‘design studio’ held over two weeks in March 2007 in Verité community. Twenty extremely enthusiastic ‘guinea-pigs’ gave themselves to a totally new approach to group design, and the feedback on this from both participants and observers was extremely positive.

On top of the techniques already mentioned, a tool was developed during this workshop through the adaptation of the well-known ‘Conversation Cafe®’ methodology to more design-oriented goals. The key elements in this remain the same as in dreamcatching – no censoring of ideas, respectful listening and a moving away from the ideas that this concept is “my” concept. However this is a more dynamic exercise and prepares one for actions to be manifested. It involved participants dividing up around tables into groups of four and then devoting twenty minutes to the exploration of different solutions to a specific design brief through sketches, doodles, quick models and write-ups, after which all but one person from each group change tables. The ones who remained behind then take a couple of minutes to brief the group, and the co-creative process continues from there. This process occurs three times over the course of an hour, after which the full range of solutions are presented to the whole room and elaborated further. This technique not only fired-up the enthusiasm of the attendees early on in the process, but in conjunction with the more introspective dreamcatcher process, offered a rich cross-fertilisation of ideas and possibilities from which to harvest more collective holistic solutions.

Last-but-not-least dreamcatchers have taken up the challenge to envision an alternative solution to the Crown, which we feel would not only strengthen the original form of the galaxy plan but would also encourage a greater interweaving of routes within and around the Crown area. It has been a great opportunity to use the tools we have developed collectively to incorporate a number of dreamcatcher parameters in one concentrated area of the township.

Dreamcatching or dreamcatchers as an open-source planning forum is very much a “work in progress”, open to anyone for any amount of time. We have no fixed agenda or finished product in mind. As we evolve new ways of communicating and working together, it leaves the path open and flexible for greater opportunities and challenges, in researching a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity. If nothing else, the past two and a half years has brought much joy and learning along the way, nourishing our work and life in Auroville.