I always enjoy and am inspired by doing the Serum discussions at Greenbelt. If I describe what we do it does not sound like much in terms of ‘putting on an event’ – we welcome everyone, explain some simple ground rules, have someone give a very brief ‘thought for the day’ and ask a question which is then handed over to the small groups sitting around the tables to discuss and explore before feeding back at the end – yet I am always surprised by how such a simple formula can produce so profound an experience, “humbling and powerful” in the words of the journalist from the Guardian who attended last year. On reflecting why this is the case I think it is a combination of tackling some of the biggest questions you can ask in an environment of respectful listening, where you are not out to win the argument but to share and learn from different perspectives and experiences and in so doing start to find commonality as well as difference with others. This year we asked three different questions on the three occasions serum took place: how do our beliefs (whatever these happen to be) relate to and shape the way we actually behave?; do we only really search for god when we are desperate rather than comfortable?; is life all about winning and death all about losing? In the process of discussing these questions you raise others which go deeper into the issue.
Re. life and death/winning and losing, my group asked how can we fully live in the reality of death which comes to us all, what does a ‘good life’ look like? what does a ‘good death’ look like? How can we process grief and loss? Would the practice of wakes help us to come to terms with the reality of death by being in the presence of a dead body – how this can offer a strange comfort in that the person is no longer present, it is just the body that is left?
My experience of this discussion was that with the help of the others in my group we were able to look at something we don’t often look at together, a topic that is often avoided and can make us feel uncomfortable. Serum provided us with some parameters in which to undertake this exploration, to take part in a considered and respectful reflection where the challenge of different perspectives and experiences can be heard in a non-defensive, non-confrontational manner. At its best this is a process that I find converting in that it causes me to go back and question the way I see things. It also provides a space in which I begin to find some common ground with others, that by sharing individual experience and thoughts it starts to become possible to share meanings and interpretations of that experience that translate across the divide.
For those interested in these kinds of discussions serum is happening every other Wednesday starting next week – see link for more details.