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Day 4 - March 18, 2020
We decided to have a party that night. The original plan was that on the final night of the Village, there would be a farewell celebration. But as some people needed to leave earlier due to closing borders, we figured the party should happen sooner as well. Plus if there were to be another celebration on the final night, all the better.
In order to prepare for the festivity, that morning Mel called for an Open Space session titled Lubricant for our party – a taxi trip to Tam Ky, where she, and whoever wanted to join, would go to the nearby town to find alcohol. She came back with 12 bottles of wine, half red half white, and 2 bottles of local ginseng liquor. On top of that, there was a fridge constantly stocked full of beers at the resort.
Beside alcohol, another component of the party was a bonfire. We asked the resort to provide us with enough firewood to burn for a couple of hours. Whoever built the fire must have a different sense of scale, for the pyramid of wood was taller than me. “That is not a bonfire,” Mohit said, “that is a holy fire.”
As the sun went down, the wine started to flow. There was a brief moment of panic when we found out the resort didn’t have a bottle opener. Fortunately, Steve dug one out from his backpack, in which, as a nomad, he carried most of his possessions. Sipping from a cup, which also came from the backpack, Steve told me of his traveling life, which was now jeopardized by the pandemic. He didn’t have a home to go back to, and most countries would probably refuse to take him. He had a ticket to go to Australia after the Learning Village, but who was to say the border would stay open until then?
As Steve and I talked, the people around us started to get drunk on alcohol and companionship. The sound of music and merrymaking enveloped our hushed conversation. Neither of us wanted to move, for the joy and love around was helping to hold the weight of the fear and loneliness that my mentor was divulging. There wasn’t much that I could do to help his situation, other than giving the gift of listening, to make sure that his story was not forgotten
We were pulled away from our conversation when Lannah came in with a speaker, asking people to grab a chair if they need it and follow the music. The great fire was already roaring when we came out. People danced wildly around the intense column of heat, I flailed my arms and legs without a care in the world. The pile of empty bottles started to grow bigger than the full one. I gave Steve a haircut shot, where he tilted his head back and I poured liquor directly into his mouth. For the moment all the pain and trouble in life were forgotten.
Day 5 - March 19, 2020
Every day we started with a check in activity to see how everybody was doing and prepare people for the day. That day check in was led by the Australian team, who introduced a bird from their home called the Kookaburra. “It is also called the Laughing Bird because of its call,” Megan explained, “and today we are going to mimic the call of the Kookaburra.”
She took a moment to mentally prepare herself, “I can’t believe I’m about to do this in front of people.” She bent over with low hiccupping chuckles, then gradually straighten up before threw her head back and exploded in raucous laughter Ahahahahaaa. “Now everyone joins in!”
I realized that mimicking laughter, especially in a group, turned to genuine guffaw pretty quickly. A few seconds after we started, we were doubling over, tears in our eyes, hands slapping knees. And that was how we started the second to last day of the Village. By the way if you are curious, here is an example of the Kookaburra’s laughs.
There were 10 Open Space conversations throughout that day. I only participated in one, hosted by Narayan and Arvind, called Systemic Constellation.
Systemic Constellation is therapeutic method founded by German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger. In my understanding, this method works by tapping into the interconnectedness of all things in the universe – similar to the Buddhist’s concept of interbeing – and manifests hidden tension in the most physical way. This method has not been proven scientifically, even Bert Hellinger himself refused to speculate about how it works, saying “I’m unable to explain this phenomenon, but I see that it’s so, and I use it.”
Our Constellation started with one person, Tuan, as I’ll call him, who shared his struggle. He didn’t talk about the context of his issue, it wasn’t needed, he just spoke out loud his question “How to make peace with pain, block and tension in order to find fulfilling relationship?” Then Narayan asked him to pick people in the group to represent different aspects of his question. There were representations for his family, himself, past relationships, peace, tension, etc. The idea was that whatever Tuan needed to see about his struggle, it would be transmitted through thoughts and physical sensations of the representatives. Each time he picked a representation, he moved them to a position that felt right. Everything was done based on instinct, not conscious thoughts.
I was picked to be a representation, of which I knew not. Other than Tuan, none of us knew what we were representing. After all the representations were chosen and the constellation was set, the process began. Immediately I felt like a noose wrapped around my neck, choking me and pulling me backward. I fell to the floor, constricted to a fetal position. “I need help…” I uttered, yearning for the attention that never came. After a while of curling up on the floor, a thought came to me “I only have myself, I can help myself.” I was able to sit up then and breathe more normally. I saw that one other representative was having it much worse than I was, crying and being pinned to the floor by an unseen weight. Other representatives tried to help, heaving the one on the floor up, to no avail. After a lot of shouting, questions, and frustration, the representative could finally stand up. The central tension was resolved and the constellation concluded.
I had no idea why I felt what I felt. I heard Hieu, as I’ll call him – the one who struggled the most in the constellation – said “It was so weird and scary. I have never lose control of my body like that.” I didn’t know how Tuan interpret the whole experience either; we weren’t encouraged to dissect what had happened anyway. Later that day, I did see Tuan having a long conversation with another friend, whom he had had trouble with in the past. Maybe the constellation showed them both what they needed to see so that the healing process can begin. As the sun was sinking behind the trees, Tuan, Narayan, Hieu, myself, and a few others played soccer on the sand. My boyish enthusiasm quickly turned to dispirited realization of how out of shape I was, gasping for air merely 15 minutes into the game. We didn’t keep score. Instead, every time a team conceded a goal they had to do push-ups. We were no longer hosts nor practitioners, just a bunch of kids playing a game. And so we ended the day as it had begun, laughing together.