ZEGG Forum – a ritualized form of communication for larger groups

Ina Meyer-Stoll
Achim Ecker

ZEGG ecovillage in Germany developed its own form of transparent communication, which is now being adopted worldwide by various social networks and communities: the ZEGG Forum. It was born from a desire for truth and healing, both personal and global. Forum creates an empathic social environment that supports us to stay present with all that is inside, however it may feel. A guiding principle is: “there is nothing original inside of me, that is bad or wrong”.

ZEGG-FORUM is a ritualized form of transparent communication for larger groups. It offers a “stage” upon which people's thoughts, feelings or anything that moves them can become visible to others. One person, “the presenter” steps into the middle of the circle of the group and presents herself. It is like an existential stage for the whole person which includes the physical and verbal expressions, the mind, creativity and feelings. The aim is to reveal whatever is authentic, alive and true and to share the inner motivation behind actions. It is a powerful tool to reveal the blind spots in a persons awareness and to harbor the treasures that lie in our “shadow”. By this sharing a space of trust and openness is being created between people and a healthy transparency when it comes to the issues of love, power and decision structures. It helps to maintain a clear distinction between factual discussion and emotional processes. The forum is thus a significant building block in the development of self-knowledge and trust within the community. Participants experience freedom and a permission to be who they are and allow others to witness themselves.

The ZEGG Forum benefits from more than 35 years of experience in group dynamics and conflict resolution. We developed the Forum in 1978 to make all processes transparent and understandable for all involved within a group in a long-term social experiment. Since then we keep changing and expanding its format.

Here is how it works:

People who get involved in Forum generally take one of three vital roles; the presenter or protagonist, the facilitators and the “mirrors”. The group gathers in a circle.

The presenter enters the center of the circle to share what moves him or her. He is invited to use the whole space in the middle, feel free to move around, to speak, act and to connect with her feelings. The presenter may share about her or his experience of a situation. The only goal is to be or become authentic.

The people in the circle support the presenter with their full loving awareness and presence. Their role is to perceive and to witness the process. It can be very powerful and touching to witness someone going deeper in the middle. Often topics touch issues for many in the group and their own processes are triggered. We can learn that many of our emotional processes are similar and whatever happens in the center is an exemplar for all around.

Usually each Forum is guided by two profoundly trained Facilitators. The training is to become more authentic in themselves and learn to be with emotions when they arise in the circle. They are “midwives” to assist the authentic process of the presenter. Ideally a person of each gender facilitates the Forum. The facilitators alone guide the process and they may intervene at any moment. They are given the trust of the group to guide the process following their experience and intuition. The purpose of the facilitator is to reveal the personal truth of a person, her power, his highest potential in order that he or she and the group can experience it.

When the presenter has finished, others can step into the middle to share what they perceived. We call this a “mirror”. It means several participants offer their perspective of what they have noticed one after the other. It is a gift for the presenter to learn what others think or feel about him or her and what they have to say, to supplement, broaden and sharpen the issue he or she brought forward. On the path to grow in self experience, this form of social feedback is indispensable. It is the presenter who carries the responsibility to accept or decline a mirror's insight depending on whether it makes sense to her or him or not. Even the best mirror is just a signpost on our path; it doesn't save us from walking the path on our own.

An effective and skillful Forum will bring out our feared shadows with humor, or in some theatrical and unidentified way so that it can be perceived without judgment. Sometimes the energy shift can be very subtle, as when the facilitator invites the presenter to move faster, or to exaggerate gestures, or to put a sound to the feeling. Trying out different ways of behavior and theatrically acting out emotional processes supports the presenter to detach from his emotional states. He directly experiences that he is more than his changing emotions.

How do we use Forum in our communal life?

Everybody who lives at ZEGG learns the basic guidelines of Forum. So everybody here is familiar with the format.

We have some Forum groups which run for about 90 min. Some meet once a week. Specially for becoming community members there is a continuous Forum group which meets once a week for about two hours. The community with its more than 100 members is too big now to have one Forum group for all. Forum works best with 15 – 35 participants.

One challenge with Forum is that it only makes sense when you practice it continuously within the context of a group that is more or less stable. It is important for building trust to have a continuous space and be able to keep working with the same people on the same issues. This then creates a communal experience and more understanding and connection between people. Because we live in a community where many members are either busy or traveling due to their work situation and it is almost impossible to have a Forum for everybody every week.

For the whole community we sometimes invite for a thematic Forum, where we share our personal and non-personal opinions on a certain issue. We organize three “community intensive times” throughout the year, which are well attended and run for two or three full days. There we share changes in our lives and perspectives on community issues. And we use the time to plan and share around specific issues like “how do we each deal with money”, “how do we want to build houses” or how to design the next year and our big events.

The Forum is still part of our continuous journey at ZEGG towards a lively space of fluid relationships, conflicts, feelings and friendships. It is both an inner and an outer work fed by the fertile soil of trust and transparency that Forum creates. At the same time we started to make use of tools like Non-Violent Communication (NVC) and other community building tools. Living in community helps as it forms a supportive environment for growth and provides ongoing continuity. We see this as our contribution to the world we want to see - a world that forms from deep within the hearts of the people. Transparent communication and Forum is part of the glue that keeps our community alive and together, it lies at the heart of the community.

It should be clear that you cannot do it without experience just by reading the description. But it should give you an idea. If you decide to get to know or study it, or if you want to invite a trainer to your community, please visit web-page: www.zegg-forum.org.

In addition to the Forum the community members meet regularly in a variety of ways: in men and women groups for more intimate sharing, the Sunday 'Matinee' to share ideas on a spiritual and mental level; the Plenary for matters of information and decision-making; sharing meals, festivals to mark the seasons; making music; art actions; dance; the sauna; and for communal work.

Citations: 
When citing this article, please use the following format: Ina Meyer-Stoll and Achim Ecker (2013). Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO) Newsletter, Volume 2, Issue 16
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