Shulamit has been gifting me with a pleasant cross-medium introduction and dialogue about Restorative Circles. I first wrote about it a few weeks ago and yesterday Shulamit left a comment on it with a link to two wonderful videos featuring Dominic Barter. I enjoyed and drew inspiration from both videos (this is the first I’ve seen and heard of Dominic) and I invite and urge you to view them – Dominic carries a wonderful message, softly delivered in a pleasant voice and manner:
I watched both videos yesterday and they were the last thing on my mind before falling asleep. My mind linked to two posts I wrote in the past. One is about a divine experience in working with dancers in which I learned to differentiate between pushing and violence. The other, written more recently, was written in response to another post on a similar theme, was an inquiry into the idea of friction (tapas) in the Yoga Sutra.
This morning Dominic’s words on “The System” continued to move through me. Particularly I was taken by Dominic’s story in the second video where he admits that he was naive and unable to follow through on his idea to give students an escape space in the classroom because he realized he wouldn’t be able to support the structure within the bigger “system” in which he was operating … to which one of the participants asked for clarification on what he meant by “the system” … which set me off on my own trajectory.
What Is “The System”? (Inspired by Robert Pirsig)
There is in us an unrelenting creative instinct (a seeking that can be tempered but cannot be extinguished) – an aspiration for better – a kind of movement that took, for example, Dominic Barter from “Conflict Resolution” towards “Conflict Facilitation”. Occasionally this brings us into what Robert Pirsig calls an experience of Dynamic Quality – it lifts us up and out of existence as we know it. When this experience fades, and it always does, we are left with something else – what Pirsig calls an experience of Static Quality.
I have come to understand and believe that “The System” is a residue of experience. It is an accumulation of Static Quality that has been left behind by Dynamic experience. Some experiences are completely private, other experiences are shared & experienced in intimate circles and some have been shared with many others – they are common experiences.
“The System” is an illusion that arises out of necessity. It is the least personal part of experience – it is a body of experiences that is shared with many others. It is so common that it can be mistakenly set aside and referred to as if it were an independent external living thing. Given enough time we can become convinced that it actually is an outside force – one that acts on us, one that controls us – when actually it is merely a static part of our perception – patterns that we like(d), solutions that we’ve solved (or were solved for us) and are comfortable with as is.
“The System” can be functional or dysfunctional (and that too can change over time). It paves roads, supplies water, grows crops, collects garbage, build schools – it accounts for most of what we call existence. One thing “The System” doesn’t do is question itself – it does not have a creative instinct. It’s center of gravity is stability not change. When it becomes dysfunctional we get angry at it – we demand that it change – and it never does. It can’t – there is no “it” – we’ve invented it, we give it life and we’re the only ones that can change it.
“The System” is inherently an experience of conflict – it is walls that both shield us from the elements and at the same time keep us from seeing what is outside and limit our movement. There are times when we draw comfort from being inside and times when we seek escape. It is a golden cage of our own making. It is a much-practiced balance like the one we achieve when first learning to walk and then take for granted as we move in the world throughout life (until walking becomes difficult again and less obvious and we can better appreciate it’s qualities).
What Does the “The System” Do? (Inspired by Patanjali)
My teacher has, over recent months, called my attention numerous times to two sutras – both of which I feel support an understanding of “The System”. Both translations and commentaries are from TKV Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga.
“All that can be perceived has but one purpose, to be perceived.”
The purpose of all things, according to this sutra, is to be observed. “The System” too is there for observation. Hence my belief that Dominic’s Restorative Circles is first and foremost an introspective tool – albeit a social one. Dominic’s inspiration itself seems to be rooted first and foremost in his personal introspection and observations.
“Does this mean that without a perceiver the objects of perception do not exist?”
Desikachar’s commentary on it makes a connection I was looking for:
“The existence of all objects of perception and their appearance is independent of the needs of the individual perceiver. They exist without individual reference to cater for the different needs of different individuals. The needs of an individual may only be defined at a particular time. Some needs may be periodic or spasmodic and the needs of the individual cannot be considered more important in terms of quality and justification then those of another.”
The technical interpretation is that things exist regardless of whether or not you perceive them – they exist because one or more people need to observe them – though different people may see the same things in different ways – depending on their needs. When applied to “The System” this sutra comes into an interesting light – it is about shared perception – the things that make us into groups, be it families or societies. “The System”, seen in this light is a social meditation – a Yama practice – it isn’t so much about fixing it or resolving it but rather seeing it for what it is.
What is Restored?
Personal aspirations for a better life are an internal conflict – they demand that we abandon something tried and true for something potentially better. Change always requires that we surrender something to make room for something new. The comforts of the old and the doubts about the new can be an obstacle in embracing change – so we put it off, we wait for “the right time” … which is fine until we break or someone else in our social circles notices what’s going on and demands change. When the demands are ignored or rejected they become louder and louder until they are eventually addressed.
Years ago I applied to join an organization that ran hot-line services for psychological support in Israel. I was accepted and went through a training period. During this period we learned that the organization acts as a social interface for “mentally disturbed” people (who at the time accounted for 85% of the calls – many of them from regular callers). Part of the training was to establish a clear relationship – who is helping who – who is well and who is ill – all while flying colorful flags of openness, acceptance and embrace. I objected to the dogmatic perspective – but I made it through the course. I had a great time doing my shifts – talking to “crazy” people was relaxing – almost a meditative experience. The organization then decided to have monthly meetings to “support us volunteers” and make sure we were holding up ok … and not losing sight of who is ill and who is well. I refused to partake in these meetings and was shortly after dismissed. Ironically, a couple of months ago they called me (not personally – they were probably going systemically through the phonebook) to ask for donations because the organization is in financial distress.
When I first learned and read about Restorative Circles it gave rise to a similar image in my mind. My understanding was that Restorative Circles was training people to facilitate “Restorative Circles” in their communities – a structure that again seemed to reflect a power structure between “those that know how to restore” and “those that need restoration”. It may have been a preconception or misunderstanding on my part – I still don’t know enough about it to make a better assessment. But from the two videos above it seems to me that the people in attendance are there for themselves – restoring their own clarity, refining their own perspective, extending their tools of introspection. That I get and applaud 🙂
On a personal note – I am writing these words 2 weeks before moving to Romania to make a home. I was introduced to and been observing Restorative Circles in a time of transition and change. I am moving away from Israel with a feeling that I failed at making a connection with the (static) society in which I have lived most of my (dynamic) life. There used to be a popular cliche in Israeli politics (maybe there still is but I have no idea what is going on in Israeli politics) about the Palestinians that “we (Israel) don’t have a partner (Palestinians) for dialogue”. I am leaving feeling the same way about Israel itself. I occasionally still wonder if there was something I missed, something I could have done – was there a restorative circle I could have joined or created? Maybe from a distance I will be able to see what I couldn’t see from up close?
“If you don’t like our present social system or intellectual system the best thing you can do … is stay out of their way.”
When this post was completed I came across this video which tells more about Restorative Circles. I do feel that whatever was born in Brazil will probably need to go through some kind of transformation / adapatation to more modern western settings. I have a feeling that better is more obvious when you live in a shantitown with an open sewer then it is when you live in a home with food, water and electricity and you live in an illusion of western abundance. Though I do agree that the core of knowledge is already present in everyone, I feel that it is, in the modern west, hidden beneath more layers and distractions.