News & Notes 627:Update on the Active Residents Assembly (ARA) experiment

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627 icon.jpg   News & Notes 627
12 December 2015

Update on the Active Residents Assembly (ARA) experiment

The main purpose of the ARA is to build agreements and solutions in a spirit of harmony and solidarity for the community's various problems and challenges. The ARA has no formal power or status: it is an experiment in personal and civic consciousness. It is also an experiment in finding different ways of meeting/being together and of trying to access a more intuitive mode of understanding in addition to that of the mind.

Those who sign up (by contacting the RAS) agree to attend regular ARA meetings and receive information that will prepare them for conscious participation.

The second introductory meeting of the Active Residents Assembly took place on Saturday, 28th November. During the first introductory meeting, two weeks earlier, attendees had drawn up a preliminary list of the most fundamental issues that Auroville needs to resolve if it is to make progress towards fulfilling its ideals. As only about half of the people who had signed up for the ARA (over 100 Aurovilians and Newcomers) attended this meeting, it was decided to contact everybody online who had shown interest in the ARA and invite them to add to the list of important issues.

Once this was done, the full list was circulated. Each person was then asked to identify the two challenges from the list that they felt were the most ‘doable’ in terms of leading to a practical outcome in a short time span. After totalling up the choices, the top four were:

  1. the need for a clear and inclusive decision-making process ratified by the RA which fosters the spirit of unity
  2. the need to attract and engage the youth in all our activities
  3. solving the housing problem
  4. finding how to select the right people to occupy administrative positions

The purpose of the second introductory meeting was to decide which of these four issues the ARA would take up first. Initially, to set the tone of the meeting, a quote of The Mother was read out in the four languages of Auroville: “We only have to go deep enough into ourselves to find the inner Sun and let ourselves be bathed in that delight...”

[“You only have to go deep enough within yourself to find the inner Sun, to let yourself be flooded by it; and then there is nothing but a cascade of harmonious, luminous, sunlit laughter, which leaves no room for any shadow or pain.” (On Thoughts and Aphorisms, p.156)]

Participants then broke up into a number of small groups to allow everybody’s voice to be heard, and each group was asked to identify the one issue from the four that they felt we should begin with. The small groups then reported back. It emerged that there was no unanimity: different groups identified different issues as the preferred starting point, or, seeing the linkages, combined many of the issues. The smaller groups were then asked to form two larger groups and, taking into account the discussions so far, try once again to come to agreement on the first issue to be tackled. When the two larger groups reported back, there was still no overall agreement in the room. At this point, one of the facilitators asked everybody to make the attempt to drop their preferences, to go into silence and see what emerged. After the silence, one of the participants noted that a profound shift had taken place in him. He realized that the real point was not for one view to prevail over the others but for people to experience unity, harmony, with all the other participants. This he now felt. Building upon the sense of trust and solidarity in the room, the facilitator suggested that we no longer try to identify which issue to begin with, but that a small team form to prepare the next meeting and we trust them to decide which issue or issues should be taken up and how we would work upon them. This was agreed upon, and about ten participants volunteered to be part of the preparation team for the first full meeting of the ARA. It was also agreed that this would happen within one month, and that it would be a half-day meeting.

While the ARA initiative is very much an experiment, and nobody knows how it will work out, the feeling at the end of this preliminary meeting was very positive. It was particularly pleasing that not only a number of youth attended but also that they were enthusiastic participants in the discussions and were listened to attentively.

Some of the comments were: ”That was fun”; “When is the next meeting? I want to come again.”; “I felt safe and not intimidated to speak up – and people listened to me!”

Subsequently, the Governance Action Group plus other Aurovilians who helped organize the event made an evaluation of the meeting. Some of their conclusions were:

  1. The most important thing was the way we came together from the heart and built trust with each other. We need to develop more processes to encourage people to speak from the heart.
  2. From the beginning, there was a sense of care and love in the way the room was prepared and in the choice of music. The reading of the text in four languages also made a strong statement about inclusivity.
  3. The request for people to drop their preferences and go into silence helped to make a critical shift. After that, people were more willing to trust whatever emerged and not hang on to a particular point of view.
  4. It was great to see so many youth there, and to see them gaining confidence as people gave them the space to express themselves.
  5. The small group work gave an opportunity for people to speak who would normally have remained silent.
  6. People with young children find it difficult to attend such sessions. We should consider providing some kind of care facilities for young children at the meeting venue so that parents can attend.
  7. We should continue experimenting with the way we meet.

Active Residents Assembly meetings are open to all Aurovilians and Newcomers over the age of 16 years. We need your voices, your aspirations, your goodwill, and your hearts. We cannot do it alone!

The Governance Action Group