Day 18 @EDE Class: Reflection, Open Space

Sep 13, 2018

Morning reflection

First thing in the morning, Anna gave everyone 2 minutes to stand in the center of the room and share their personal reflection on the first half of the week. It felt unusual as  in previous days the entire class did only 10-minutes review together.

But people took the opportunity to express themselves. Some thoughts were about economy of ecovillage, which is the subject of study this week. But more reflected on the EDE class experience in general. As one after another member talked, I sensed how important it is for everyone to be heard. It’s not only the formal lecture and in-class exercises that count education, but the experience of being a part of this new community and growing with it.

Some quotes. To be respectful, I don’t identify individuals here.

  • “Ecovillage movement needs to develop a close relationship with the mainstream sectors of the society, in order to promote the movement.”
  • “I am feeling my heart is quite empty. Many things can come it. They can also go out. “
  • “I keep thinking why I am here. I never thought I would build an ecovillage. I don’t think I will do so in future either. It’s about what kind of life that I want to lead.”
  • “To reach consensus, we need to switch from “focusing on ME” to “focusing on WE”. 

Yet, not everyone felt positively.

  • “I am feeling less approved by the class.” 
  • “I think this one-by-one reflection is a waste of time. I am almost thinking of dropping out (the class).”
  • Another student simply avoided sharing reflection and moved to a corner seat.
Some time during the day, we did this simple exercise: walk towards the center of the circle with our right hands reaching out, till we gradually form a spiral of connected hands. Not surprisingly some chose to remain on their seats and didn’t participate. For those who did, it’s another practice of hand, head, and heart. (photo by ZHU Yu)

What I was impressed is that Anna didn’t leave out those dissatisfied. She talked to a student who thought individual reflection a waste of time, while the rest of the class was working on exercise. What she found out is that the student preferred more lectures from the teacher to hearing his classmates’ individual reflection.

I can relate to him to some extent. Sometimes people talked about things very loosely related to class subjects. And it often takes life experience, which younger members may not have,  to come to really good insight. However, there is meaning to hearing everyone out: feeling the DIVERSITY in a community, and learning to accept that it is diversity that makes the community healthy and resilient. 

Open Space

In the afternoon, we had an “Open Space” session. Class members who have professional experience in certain economy topics hosted separate group talk on their topics, while others hopped around the “open space” to learn from different groups.

A senior classmate was sharing his experience of running a tourism resort in a rural village. (Photo by ZHU Yu)


Welcome to complexity

We discussed the 19 typical steps to start an ecovillage. It’s a framework developed by Fellowship of Intentional Community (Website). The steps cover from choosing a location and basic financial structure, forming a mission, to building houses and moving to the property. Some steps are one time effort, while others are ongoing , such as “practice  a fair, participatory method for decision-making and self-governance”.

Then we did this exercise to sort out a box of more than a hundred cards, each describing a very specific activity related to one of those 19 steps.

Our group was sorting a large number of activity cards.  (photo by ZHU Yu)

In such a group exercise, it’s an opportunity to observe other people’s problem-solving thought process, and how different opinions emerge and how consensus forms. There was no an explicit leader. Everyone took part autonomously.

We were particularly confused why some cards have lots of duplicates, such as “Conduct a mediation to resolve conflicts between community members, or to resolve community-wide conflict.”, “Sing together”, “Play music together” . The number of cards seemed to have overwhelmed us. Our group left the exercise half done by the time we had lunch break.

After lunch I went back to the classroom and sorted the cards alone, putting the energy of a big and satisfying lunch into use 🙂 ). At some point, I finally figured out that the duplicate cards were there for a reason. At different stage of building an ecovillage, there will be conflicts that you need to resolve. And when you reach a milestone, you should celebrate, by singing together, playing music together or else. “The more you celebrate together, the less likely you have conflicts.” Anna later commented.

Tada! (photo by the author)


People of the day

Mingming is the only secretary, and the only full-time staff, of China Ecovillage Network, a co-organizer of this EDE class and a 9-month old NGO pending for official registration. I came to know him since I signed up for the class. He was always very patient and responsive to my questions over WeChat (the dominant social media app in China). He was also resolute to turn down my request for a single bedroom (not revenge here 🙂 , now I am happily living in a bunk-bed dorm with 3 other lovely ladies), with a plausible reason. When I checked in on the first evening, I was really surprised that he looks as young as if just out of university. He was, just a year ago.

Mingming, sharing his reflection with the class. (photo by ZHU Yu)

How could the responsibility of building an alliance of ecovillages in China be hung on a  shoulder so young? I jokingly challenged Mingming when we had lunch together. He wasn’t offended but opened up. He studied philosophy in university and became passionate about revitalizing rural areas. He started participating in activities since sophomore year. By the time of graduation, he already got involved in Sunshine Ecovillage Network, one of the founding organizations of China Ecovillage Network. When the latter was founded last December, few people were available for the secretary’s job, a position with not much financial prospect but lots of minute administrative work and involving travelling to rural places. But Mingming thought the work was very meaningful and didn’t mind travels. Since onboard, he has visited about a dozen would-be ecovillages in China. As I understand, his goal is to develop a formal organizational framework and grow membership from ecovillage projects in China.



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