23rd February 2013

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This morning we started with an ‘Eyes On’ exercise. Attendees were encouraged to sit with their chairs facing each other, knees just touching. They were asked to look into each other’s eyes and to notice the various thoughts, emotions and shifts in perspective that emerge e.g. worries about their physical appearance; compassion towards the other person; an awareness of noticing the other person; an awareness of the other person noticing you; and seeing another person who (like all of us) has known joy, pain, and suffering in their lives. It is a powerful exercise that impinges on cultural etiquette and personal boundaries. It has a capacity to evoke many ‘moving away’ behaviours where the person tries to avoid or hide difficult thoughts and emotions that arise during the exercise. The attendees were encouraged to notice these ‘moving away’ behaviours and to be open to their experience. Thanks Corinna for participating in this exercise with me!

I demonstrated the ‘Passengers on the bus’ metaphor to the attendees. Because we had mapped the Matrix out on the floor of the room in which the workshop was delivered yesterday, it was a perfect opportunity to get attendees up on the floor and act this metaphor out over the top of the Matrix. I amended the exercise for application to Sierra Leone by calling it the ‘Passengers on the jeep’ exercise. An attendee (Malvi) was invited to come forward to represent the driver of the jeep. He was situated on the left hand side of the matrix immersed  in sources of suffering in his life; very distant from the valued-life direction in which he wanted to move (i.e. the direction which he wanted to drive his jeep). I asked Malvi about what he thought his valued-life direction was. He spoke about his wish to live a peaceful life; to contribute to the community, and to assist the needy. We then spoke about the various different problems that can arise when we attempt a journey in a jeep in SL. The group shouted out: mechanical failure, flat tyres, rough roads etc.

An attendee was asked to represent ‘mechanical failure’ and step forward to stand on the Matrix in front of Malvi; blocking his route forward. I spoke with Malvi about obstacles that he has faced in attempting to move in his valued life direction of living a peaceful life, contributing to the community and to assisting the needy. He spoke about how frustrated he has been by the negative attitudes that others have expressed to him in the past – we likened this frustration to the mechanical failure that the jeep driver might face. We then likened other sources of suffering such as financial worries and physical health problems to the flat tyres and rough roads that that could provide obstacles for the jeep driver in pursuing his valued life direction. A further two attendees represented these obstacles. Each of the individuals representing these obstacles stood on the Matrix physically blocking the journey forward. The attendees acting as the obstacles spoke lines aloud representing the areas of suffering that they represented.

We discussed how getting caught up with the obstacles might not be the most fruitful way forward. In fact constantly meeting these obstacles head on a continual basis would potential lead us to run out of energy (or the jeep to run out of fuel). We discussed how negotiating problems that arise is part of the rich fabric of life. In this way, we explore the potential importance of bringing these obstacles with us as we proceed. Rather than being an obstacle to us journeying forward in the valued-life direction, our sources of suffering can become passengers in the jeep.

At the mid-morning break two of the attendees took the opportunity to speak with me about difficulties that they have been experiencing in their own lives. It was touching to note the trust that they placed in me to sharing their problems. Drawing on the ACT principles that we had been discussing, I was able to provide them both with some advice.

As with the previous day the temperatures inside and outside the room were high. So, the focus again was very much on keeping the action interactive. Immediately after the lunch, I used a ‘body-scan exercise’ to demonstrate the process of mindfully tuning in to the sensations of tensing and relaxing different parts of the body.  Beate then demonstrated the ‘Life Line’ exercise to provide multiple exemplar training for consolidating the ACT processes. This approach originated by Joanne Dahl is very effective at helping attendees to understand the difference between behaviours that are set a ‘moving away from suffering’ agenda and those that are set by attempts to ‘move towards values’. Beate was joined in the facilitation of this aspect of the workshop by Hannah who again made an excellent contribution.

This afternoon provided a chance for attendees to consolidate some of the key learning points through the use of role-plays. To conclude the workshop, people were asked to volunteer one or two learning points that they will take away from the workshop. It was powerful to hear the responses of the attendees. Corinna (who had been feeling under the weather today) soldiered on to help folk to complete post-workshop questionnaires that will contribute to the evaluation of the workshops. We then had some group photos taken of the facilitators, organisers and the attendees which will make a great keep-sake for the future. A number of the attendees were keen to invite us to make visits to their workplaces during our visit. We were touched by this and we look forward to taking them up on these offers. There were no goodbyes at the end of the workshop. We know that we will return and see these people again.

So two of the three workshops have now been completed. We had a celebratory beer together afterwards. There was a heady mix of emotions for us to share: joy, relief and a pinch of exhaustion. The group have bonded really well, we communicate with each other so openly and everyone makes an important contribution. We are looking forward to a day of relaxing tomorrow, visiting the University of Makeni and other projects on Monday and then travelling on to Bo in the coming days.

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