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Ecopsychology in practice; the heart and soul of

communities in transition

By Hilary Prentice

Transition Culture

For the last six years I have lived on Dartmoor, in Devon, latterly in the orbit of a small but vibrant town called Totnes. An extraordinary process began in this little town a year or so ago, formally launched as 'Transition Town Totnes' (TTT) in September 2006. It has inspired other Transition Initiatives (villages, cities, post codes, islands..) around the country, over thirty in the last 8 months, and is being watched around the world. Why is this process 'going viral?

I would argue that the response has been so powerful because many people are waking up to the fact that we live in truly exceptional times. TTT has a particular and precise conceptual focus; it is centred around 'Peak Oil', the understanding that big changes are inevitably underway, as our oil-rich, oil dependant global economy and way of life are forced to change because of the peaking and then declining of discoveries of new oil fields, combined with continually increasing world demand for oil. Many world experts in fact believe that the peak of world oil production is about now; 2007 or thereabouts, and that dramatic economic and social change will soon be upon us. This coincides of course with a critical time in terms of our response to climate change, a phenomenon directly caused by our burning in a few decades of fossil fuels that were laid down over billions of years.

The vision of Rob Hopkins, its prime initiator, and that of many others, is that rather than head blindly towards catastrophic collapse, we plan ahead of time to create a truly sustainable way of life in our local communities. This means in terms of energy, food, transport, housing, creativity, and a resilient and vibrant human and earth community. Central to this will be the creation of an Energy Descent Plan for the town and surrounding communities.

A huge amount has already gone on in the last year or so - education through showings of films and speaker meetings, 'Open Space Days' as a vehicle for open discussion and debate, a ten week evening class taught by Rob, run three times a year, and a series of skills workshops entitled 'Powering up for Power-down'. Renewable Energy workshops have been run over the summer, a local food directory has just been published, and Totnes is creating its own local currency, the Totnes Pound. Businesses have been coming together to look at 'oil vulnerability auditing', and local government has endorsed the project. Working groups have also been set up – so far around food, energy, local government liaison, housing, economics, and the arts. The group in which I am involved, and which will be of interest to members of pcsr, we have called 'Heart and Soul', or the psychology of change.

Heart and Soul

Early last summer I was invited to initiate a 'psychology of change' group, - the first group to get started. I was daunted and inspired. Here was an extraordinary opportunity for an ecopsychologist – to find ways to support the 'inner work' involved in an ambitious project of social and environmental change.

I began working with a colleague, and we started by organising a series of events for people involved, or thinking of becoming involved, in the broader transition process. These would be spaces to come together, share thoughts and feelings, connect with each other, tap into the developing 'field', process, and hopefully generate support, insight and shared vision. My colleague facilitated the first two events. She is a trained family constellator, and chose to develop that form to enable workshop participants to ask broader questions about their role as a member of the earth communithy.

We then formally launched 'Heart and Soul'. We combined song, talks, and a process adapted from Joanna Macy's work, in which half the room listened as our descendants from 200 years into a positive future, to their partners speaking as themselves. What was it like back then; how did you feel, what gave you strength?

Our next event was a 'Truth Mandala', drawn directly from the work of Macy and Seed from the 'despair and empowerment' tradition. This is a ceremony or group process that supports people to express and release the more painful feelings about what is going on -grief, anger, fear and not knowing are represented in the mandala. This process was undeniably tough, but also appreciated by those who attended.

We have now also started to hold monthly open meetings. Over twenty people have been coming along, and the room is full of therapists, dance teachers, shamans, meditators, interfaith ministers and more. We held an Open Space Day in February, exploring psychological, spiritual and consciousness aspects of transition, which over 80 people attended. My colleague facilitated outdoors rituals on or near the Equinox and Solstice, dreaming into the future near the solstice, honouring the great mother and releasing our lack of abundance consciousness at the Equinox. Another member of the group facilitated a ritual in the centre of town at the beginning of the G8 gathering, around climate change. Our next project is facilitating the forming of 'Home Groups', intended a bit like the consciousness raising groups of the early womens movement. There is a great deal to assimilate and digest when the situation of peak oil and climate change begins to dawn on us, so support groups in which to process, make sense of, and encourage and inspire each other may turn out to be an important part of the transition process. The launch of Home Groups is about to happen as I write.

This has been a brief description of an attempt, as a psychotherapist, to find a way to be directly and productively involved with political, spiritual and transformational process. It has been a challenging and rewarding venture, but one I would recommend to any pcsr member- perhaps there is a Transition Project beginning where you live, and perhaps it is looking to start a psychology/consciousness group...

References and Resources: For Open Space information

Macy J and Brown M (1998) Coming back to Life; Practices to reconnect our lives, our World. New Society Publishers.