I stumbled over the term the first time when i attended a grief ritual held by Naf Tali in berlin in december 2018. When he said it, it hit home right away. We were 8 or maybe 10 people, coming together for the first time, to grieve together. I had had a tough year of deep climate despair, my divorce had happened 2017, i was 44 and still not at home in this world and i didn’t know any longer what to tell my little kids about the world they were growing up in. The backpack of things i had to let go and grieve for had grown enormously the years before and i was longing for this to be acknowledged and seen. And held.
And there we came together, being led into ritual, play, dance, closeness, openness to witness the other, to with-ness as Bayo Akomolafe puts it so beautifully. We were there to be held and to hold. To hold the grief of other people we didn’t even know. And there we were. A sudden village.
A sudden village
If you look this term up you will have to do some searching. It seems to actually come from the community around Hector Aristizábal, the founder and artistic director of ImaginAction, who are doing amazing work with disadvantaged and traumatized people and communities through theater and art. I also found it in the work of Clarissa Pinkola Estés, who uses it as well in the context of working with people affected by traumatic experiences. I did not find a definition. The closest to a description i found comes from a text about an ImaginAction workshop — “from action back to imagination”:
Our group will become a sudden village and a human laboratory as we use our own stories and interests to explore diverse methodologies which will help us imagine alternatives to our common challenges and provide opportunities for communal healing.
“It takes a village to raise a child” we say. But it also seems to take a village to hold grief, withness brokenness and heal traumatic experiences. I only really understand that since i listened to Nora Bateson speak about brokenness that’s within the interrelational space rather than attached to an individual.
My health is not my own. My health is the whole community’s, it belongs to the elderly, the youth, and even to the biome of organisms that live in my body and in the soil. This, is the opposite of everything that the last centuries of manufacturing, education and politics have forged into societal infrastructure and even the making of identity.(https://medium.com/@norabateson/my-health-is-not-my-own-ec824c463cb)
So, what about this sudden village?
What about this village at all? What’s in a village, that makes this term hit home so well? If i look at the healthy side of communities in functional villages, i find “it’s all there”. The food from the forests and fields around it, the craftsmanship from the people in the village, the care for each other, the feasts, the rituals, the deep knowing of each others stories, the genuine interest for the whole to thrive, the focus on a bigger “We-Space” than just on individual satisfaction, the taking care of the children and the elders, the stories, the fireplace, the home, the hugs, the solace, the warm smell of freshly baked bread. All it takes is there.
The word village is said to come from a protoindoeuropean root *weik- meaning “clan”. The clan is the tribe, the group of people that i belong to, that are part of me being at home somewhere, taken care of, sharing good and bad times, food and shelter, grief and joy. The people holding me accountable, forgiving me, knowing me, holding space for me when i reach my limits. My extended family unit, kin.
Where do we have that today?
Where do we have that tomorrow?
Our clans and tribes and families are spread out, scattered, all over the place. We live in neighborhoods that are not necessarily bound by above qualities of a rather romantic idea of a village. We do not necessarily share these qualities within our extended family units. And still we long for nothing more than that. If we’re lucky we have a few friends or a group of likeminded souls that we can lean into, or we have a therapist, or maybe our partner is holding this space for us. But quite often, especially the realms of brokenness we hold whithin our chests and dreams stay unaddressed. Unheld. Un-withnessed.
How can they be addressed, when they are so deeply engrained into our colonial “connective tissue” (term in this context from Nora Bateson/Gregory Bateson) that we perceive the brokenness as normal and unspeakable? And, even worse, as individual? It’s like the incredible brokenness we live with the taboos in the money system. We take resources from the commons (the earth, water, soil, air, life, plant and animal people), we build things with and from them and then sell them, making money with the money we make from selling what is not ours in the first place, destroy our and other lifeforms habitats while doing so in a ruleset of a deeply flawed capitalist system that directs the flow of privilege and status and individual property always to the ones that have more than enough, literally destroying life on the planet trans-forming it into virtual non-matter “money” on virtual non-matter “bank accounts” — but these bank accounts are not to be talked about. Your debt is your individual problem, your wealth is your individual success, we don’t talk about money, you’re not supposed to know what your colleague “earns” while contributing to one of the biggest brokennesses we’ve ever collectively created.
Where is the village that can hold our grief? Where can we come together to withness what needs to be addressed but can’t be said?
A capacity for desirable futures
When i sat in that circle, back in Berlin in the winter of 2018, sharing my deepest shit that needed some light and digestion and composting with people i had never seen before, i understood that i was part of this sudden village. We had created this space that was so needed to shed light on things that were kept in the dark before. It was maybe even easier to share the unspeakable in this circle of strangers then with people we would meet again the next day and the day after — strangely enough. But it helped me address sadness, grief and brokenness from that day on. It helped to not shy away from the unspeakable, to open my heart, to be courageous, to trust. Even in complete strangers.
The times that lie ahead of us will need us to develop this capacity. The sudden village capacity. We will need to dream with strangers, grieve with neighbours, trust people we don’t know yet. We will need to hold space for people we just met. The scatteredness of our tribes and clans and families make it necessary that we come together with people we haven’t met before to process and witness the dying of the old and the birthing of the new on the very land we stand on. The melting of the in between into juice and soil, from which desirable futures may or may not emerge.
So let me try and define the sudden village and the capacities that go along with forming it:
“A sudden village is a group of people, who have not been a close group before, coming together for a rather short period of time to digest, process, grieve, mourn, learn together, hold space for each other and to perform actions and imaginations that bring life back into numbness, movement into stuckness and words into the unspoken silence in order to witness and perceive the brokenness in the interrelational space in between us.”
“The sudden village capacity describes a set of capabilities of a (human) being in a group that enables the group to form a sudden village. The set of capabilities contain being able or at least willing to
- host myself well & take responsibility for my own and the groups wellbeing
- be hosted by others
- establish a genuine caring interest in (almost) every other human being
- respect the space of the other without the need to stop their processes
- experience my own triggers without acting them out
- take active part in rituals that open spaces for exceptional emotions and feelings
- “step out of my comfort zone to step into my comfort zone” (term from Jeroen Vermeer)
- enjoy and allow physical contact through dance, embodiment, being comforted and/or held if people so wish and consent to
- have the courage to show my own exceptional emotions without dodging or bypassing
- trust myself, the group and the process to bring forth what can be processed at that time”
This is by far not complete and it does not mean that who cannot (yet) show up with these capabilities cannot be part of a sudden village. In fact, the less we are able to show up like this, the more important is a sudden village for us to be able to give our in-dividual brokenness into the communal space and have it become a dividual brokenness. I myself have grown exactly in and through these spaces and i have not always been able to show the above capabilities of the sudden village capacity. And i still bring brokenness. We all do. It’s in the interrelational space.
Let’s bring it on and in, so that we can see it. And heal.
As last time, you will find the roots of this story at the end of it. The ideas are not my own, the stories are not my own, there’s people and concepts contributing to the me’s being able to write this piece. I can trace the stories that contribute to you being able to read this back about 23 years. My love and deep respect for our shared time and conversations go out to:
Alexandra Robinson, Alma Omega Maegan Melissa, Jonathan Klodt, Jenny O’Hare & the Re-EDEN-ing family — Jeroen Vermeer, Jackie Thoms, Rainer von Leoprechting & the Fraendi family — Nora Bateson, Phoebe Tickell & the Warm Data and Cloughjordan family — Andreas Duda, Heike Pourian & the Precamp family — Ümit Konuray & the Leadership³ family — Mary Alice Arthur and the Art of Hosting family — Hilarion Petzold, Juergen Lemke and the Integrative Therapy — Pablo Schickinger and the Weltweite Initiative Family and again many, many more.
and to qoute Nora Bateson once again (and i really tried to link the fb post here, but fb wants to stay in fb):
Ideas are their stories, they are not naked.
Ideas are clothed in the experience and languaging of those that give voice to them. Ideas are made of relationships, they travel on and through relationships. They are not smooth bullets flying through the air, they are encounters aggregating between us, the land, our art, other ideas…
To separate ideas from the relationships in which you, or I find them is to strip them of their vitality.
Ideas are not just dangling, they are living in particular spices, brewed in their own sauce of our hurts, our glee, our unique searching.
This makes a big difference that makes a big difference.
We can say that it is impossible to trace the origin of an idea, and that is no doubt true.
But you know where you met, and that meeting is something not to be erased. The meaning of the idea to you is shared in the way you share it.