One of the most innovative and well received elements of the International Transition Conference 2015 was the Requiem for the Global Industrial Growth System. Attended by over 80 people it gave a rare opportunity to reflect on our relationship to this vast system, to imagine witnessing its dying, and symbolically make the transition to a new and different way of living. Here’s an account from Hilary Jennings of Transition Tooting (London) and Transition network board.
“When Sophy sent an email asking for help in ‘holding’ a Requiem for the Industrial Growth System at the Transition Conference in September I didn’t hesitate to agree. In some ways this represented a significant marking point for me in my process of understanding and engaging with Transition. Eight years ago when I first became involved this offer would have been meaningless. Despite a general sense of unease with the world as I experienced it, the term Industrial Growth System meant nothing to me and the concept of participating in a Requiem would have seemed alien and a little unnerving. Eight years on with a far deeper understanding the crisis of our current systems and a growing interest in the power of ceremony and ritual – I seized the opportunity to support Sophy in this ‘co-created, unrehearsed, experimental process’.
A month on from the experience and I carry with me moments from the ceremony that still resonate as clear as a bell.
In the moment of remembering as we passed backwards in time and then forwards again through the phenomenal developments of the past century I hear the clear voices of positive good that this system has bought us, in health, education, learning, culture, connection, alongside the increasingly harmful side effects that make it unsustainable.
I recall the voice of a fellow Tooting transitioner speaking directly to the System – thanking it for the many things that science and technology have bought to his life – but saying ‘f**k you’ for not taking into account his children’s future and ‘f**k you’ for taking into account only humans.
I hear the voice of a young mother holding her small child speaking eloquently of the fact she owed both their lives to modern medicine – but looked forward to a day where childbirth could be reclaimed by mothers. As the child was passed into the future, each hand held by one of its parents, carrying a sense of hope and potential.
I remember writing my wish for the new system – ‘ Enough’ – and attaching this small label to the larger tree and hearing the many hopes around the room building into a reassuring and coherent sense of whole.
Emerging from the Requiem into the beautiful early evening sunshine I felt a strong sense of how far I have come in my small journey of understanding – and how far we might all travel if we can do so together and in hope.”
Requiem for the Global Industrial Growth System – view from the inside
Below is Sophy’s account of how the ceremony came together – the spark of inspiration, what happened, and some resources for those who want to create something similar.
The sparks of inspiration..
At the Findhorn New Story Summit in 2014, a gathering of around 350 people, a group from the Open Space sessions brought something to the closing of the event. They invited people – around 30 – to stand as representatives of leaders of industries that are significant in the industrial growth system – fossil fuels, mining, telecoms, and pharmaceuticals were among the ones they suggested (see image). The audience were invited to welcome them, and then as they stood in the Universal hall we just looked at them – as they looked at us, seeing each other in silence. For me it was one of the most powerful experiences of the week long event, even though it lasted just a few minutes. I took away from it the need for us to “see” these industries, as people, and for them perhaps to experience “being seen” in a welcoming, respectful, profound space.
Another influence was reading some of the Pope’s Encyclical which came out earlier this year, and then seeing an article titled “Requiem for the Arctic” in the paper. I felt sad – that people are creating ceremonies to mark the passing of huge parts of our living earth – what about the passing of the thing that is destroying them. I ask myself questions like “if the Romans had really paid attention to waht was happening before their civilisation collapsed, what would that have looked like?” I think processes of reviewing their journey – the destruction as well as the creation, the hurt as well as the benefit – and then acknowledging what was coming to an end, might have helped them find a way to transition to something new instead of just imploding.
Somehow from all these, the idea of creating a Requiem for the Global Industrial Growth System took form – and the response I got from colleagues and friends when I suggested it confirmed others were excited and intrigued by the idea!
Designing the process and gathering the team
The facilitation team for the requiem included facilitators from the Conference “international team” – Tara (Netherlands), Ellen (Italy) and myself, staff and board of Transition Network and students from Schumacher College. Two people volunteered as team leaders, who were briefed about their team’s role – so that the process could be choreographed without any rehearsal.
In addition I invited six local elders of inner Transition – all women – to sit and “hold the space” – just bringing a heart-centred, still, witnessing presence throughout. So the people holding was a wide mix of nationalities, ages and perspectives. Jo Hardy who offered to provide a music sound-track, and Robin de Carteret – who has taught songs to Transition Conferences in the past – was invited to teach the final celebratory song.
Although drama isn’t particularly my thing I wanted this to have a theatrical element, props and images for people to interact with and move through. Others helped me to make the banners, coffin, and wooden plaques representing “what goes forward”
Getting clear on the intention felt really important, knowing that our relationship to this system is complex and charged, spanning the paradox both that our lives depend on it in some ways, and our lives – and those of all future generations – are threatened by it. For some it is evil and needs to be brought down, for others it contains the seeds of the future we need. So how to create something that could honour and give a place for all different perspectives, holding an attitude of inclusion, compassion and respect to people in all parts of the system – those it harms and those who benefit; those who work in it, and those who work against it? It’s a big ask, and I found those words – inclusion, compassion, respect, really helpful to keep coming back to in the design.
The ceremony followed stages, outlined below –
Opening – welcome and introduction.
In the middle of the room is a table with a coffin, draped with white cloth. Beneath are objects – wood and material. We set the frame for this process, and our intention.
Remembering the life of the GIGS.
Walking backwards to imagine going back in time to its “beginning”. Walking forwards imagining moving through the centuries, speaking aloud what we know of its life, from many perspectives, both human and not, small and large scale.
As we go forward, people stand in the centre, holding banners representing some of the industries.. Mining, Arms and Armies, Industrial agriculture, Pharmaceuticals, Fossil fuels, Manufacturing, Entertainment..
The Present moment
Silence to just see this system as it is represented – how are we interconnected with it, its good and its harm? What feelings arise, witnessing it, and being seen also by it. Knowing that is made by, and of, people like us? Imagining that we know it is in its last phase of life, preparing ourselves for that death
An opportunity to feel into, to draw or write, to speak our last words to this system.
Dying– imagine witnessing its dying, not knowing how long that death will take, or what it will look like.
As the “coffin” containing the symbols of the system, and our last words are carried away, we make space for what is left behind. We recognise that something of all these industries have been with humans since the beginning of our existence of humans. ‘## could make these explicit.. How does the original purpose of its industries survive in a good way? What will we still need?
Threshold to the new – moving together through an archway, signifying the transition to an unknown future, already with us and being created.
Offering prayers and wishes, writing these on labels which were hung on a “tree of life” representing the shift to a way of living honouring the natural living web of which we are a part.
Joining together in song. We sang a “peace song” – a multi-part harmony which includes words from many traditions.
Om Mani Padme Hum (Buddhist)
La Ilaha Ill-Allahu (Muslim)
Shanthi Shanthi (Hindu)
Gloria in Excelsis Deo (Christian)
Oh Great Spirit, Sun Earth Sky & Sea, You are inside, And all around Me (Pagan)
As an echo, and acknowledgement to the seed from Findhorn, we brought the Tree of life from the Requiem into the closing of the conference, and asked a few people to stand in the centre and represent sectors of the industrial growth system – and just be witnessed by the audience in silence (see photo)
Reflections and feedback
My main reflection on the whole process was the absence of the voices who weren’t in the room, and who often get missed. I notice in the feedback that others were surprised by the level of anger or negativity towards this system – which makes me aware of the very different views peopl ehold.
I had played with the idea of widening representation by inviting people to hold another perspective beyond their own (something we did in a Totnes event to great effect) but decided not to make this process any more complex!
Here are some reflections from participants
A touching and remarkable process. Beautiful and thought provoking. Roll it out wide and far.
I would love to attempt this elsewhere and be grateful for some help/discussion about doing so. The placing of silent elders around the activity to “hold the space” was especially inspired and particularly beautiful.
The Requiem was very intense and left me feeling furious (with the GIS)!
One of the crucial pieces that supports a healthy letting go and moving on is the process of honouring. This is so often missed out, both in inner and outer work. In the requiem, this was dealt beautifully by a part of the process which surfaced all the great things that the Industrial Growth System had brought to us. We spoke into the circle all the things we were grateful for, putting aside for while thoughts of all the things that we felt very ungrateful for…
..Hearing people speak into the circle on behalf of the extinguished species, the devastated communities, the polluted rivers was overwhelmingly full of grief for me. Thankfully the space felt safe enough to let those emotions flow, and although I felt drained afterwards, I knew somehow that I’d feel more resourced in the coming days.
I was surprised by how many voices see negativity in the past 150 years of human experience, and it made me hold up hope as some sort of beacon. I was surprised by how emotional the experience was and how much it felt like our next steps mattered to future generations
It was very thought-provoking for me, and a real taste of preparing for something that may be slow to happen. Also, always humbling to reflect on the down-side of the industrial revolution, as my great-great-great-great grandfather was one of the earliest initiators of the Industrial revolution, Richard Arkwright, who invented the spinning jenny, and little knew what forces he was letting loose.
This was the experience that brought the most depth.. tremendous in allowing inner movement for me; and I especially loved singing together at the end.
This was my personal TNcon 2015 highlight
Where it goes next
There have been several requests for information about the process from people interested in repeating or adapting it. A Transitioner in Mexico told me he had incorporated it into the Day of the Dead.
Another participant is thinking about including it in a public walk through his city which coincides and draws attention to the COP 21 climate talks in Paris coming up.
In its simplest form I imagine you could take the elements and make an impromptu ceremony using objects from nature or nearby.. following the flow of remembering, feeling the interconnection, expressing last words and feelings, witnessing the dying..
Then the movement forwards – what we take with us the original purpose, passing a threshold, sharing wishes or prayers, singing or some other celebration of the new.
I was interested in the possibility of offering a public street theatre version of this in Paris itself and involving more people to make something really visual, musical, physical. If I were part of it I’d want to have much more of the unspoken voices being heard or seen – the animals, landscapes, trees that have gone, the cultures that have been wiped out, the traumatised, impoverished, enslaved, imprisoned, the people still fighting for their land and ways.. Maybe seeing those who have died as ghosts, come to the funeral, and others still living acted out..
It feels really exciting to imagine enacting the death of the old system while politicians are prevaricating or being proactive about the shift to something life sustaining. I wonder how much publicity it would get.. ? Or if these were held simultaneously in different places while the COP talks go on..?
I’ve created a resource with a detailed description and notes for facilitators so that others can use elements of the process. I encourage anyone who wants to do so to really sit with the three words embodying the principles of its design.. inclusive, compassionate, respectful.. and please let me know about your experiments or experiences!
Huge thanks to all who helped create the Requiem, and everyone who took part. Below – all labels and wishes from the celebration.