Tuesday 19 April 2022


Taking Climate Experts out of the Box: Part 2 - The Alchemy of Facilitation


Image: Marega Palser


Taking Climate Experts out of the Box Part 1


It feels a lifelong enquiry to attend to what conditions are necessary for transformative facilitation. How might we create, lead and/or co-create processes which ignite the imagination? Processes which are effective, and bring about deep and enduring change? How can we host meaningful spaces which help support that change, create new possibilities, and inspiring narratives? Spaces that manifest practical actions working with some of the most significant issues of our time such as climate change, social and ecological justice?


I believe that facilitation can be a bridge, a connecter between the worlds of art and science, body and mind, process and policy. I am a ritual artist. In different spaces, I do different things. Within this space, I am an artist/facilitator and the process I’m engaged when I hold space and facilitate is as creative and artful as anything I was involved in whilst making and touring theatre. The difference is that instead of performing for a passive audience, I am now seeking to invite full participation in a creative conversation where all participants are potential performers on a greater stage where the script and the narrative have yet to be written. All of this speaks to the ‘Alchemy’ of facilitation.


Since my introduction to ‘eco-facilitation’ at Schumacher College, I’ve designed and facilitated many different processes and spaces, large and small, mainly under the banner of Emergence. These include: large-scale walking dialogues; immersive creative conferences, symposia and gatherings; pop-up happenings in unexpected locations; geographically distanced, socially connected ritual spaces for women; intimate councils and conversations; ceremonies for the end of life with the dying and the bereaved; and guiding people through meaningful rites of passage in nature involving major life transitions, solo time and fasting.


In all of the above I have responded to the invitation, the space, the people in a unique way which ensures that no two processes are ever the same. I’m increasingly aware that each encounter with a new group or process changes me – that I am facilitated just as much as I am facilitating! I’m also learning that there are many common elements which must be present for this magical unpredictable process to be effective and enduring. Here are some of the essential elements I work with:


A Map

I always work with a variety of maps and structures: Joanna Macy’s ‘Work That Re-connects’ spiral; the Presencing Institute’s ‘Theory U’; the School of Lost Borders’ ‘Four Shields of Human Nature’; the Ohaij Foundation’s‘Way of Council’; and Dead Good Guides ritual structures to name some. At times, the map is as simple as marking a Beginning, a Middle and an Ending, as with any good story. Although each map is a holding structure, at a deeper level I believe that what we are doing with any change process is creating space for a new living ceremony to emerge in the service of life.



Space for Emergence

I am an eternal student of Emergence and continually look to invite in the ‘Mystery’, the unexpected, the ineffable, in my life and work. This sometimes appears in the form of synchronicity or serendipity. It can involve connecting to Carl Jung’s, ‘Spirit of the Depths’ and ‘Spirit of the Times’. In other instances, it might feel more like connecting to ‘The Muse’, the ‘Creative Process’, Art, God or the Gods. This necessitates a process of ‘tracking’, being in dialogue, listening to how the universe is talking back to me, and making room for what wants to emerge through this group of people in this particular time and place. Inviting periods of silence, song, myth, story, poetry, movement, time outside in the living world, connection to the body and inner senses all help create this space both in the preparation and in the facilitation itself.



I always pay close attention to aesthetics, and the sensory - in the invitation, the food, the materials, the room or environment in which the activity takes place. Implicit in this is an invitation to make beauty and to be beauty, not superficially but at depth. We find opportunities to ‘speak beauty’ and ‘what serves’ for example in the ‘Council’ form – this involves an invitation to speak and listen with depth, honesty, spontaneity and specificity from the heart. I consider beauty as aligning to truth, health and wholeness. My work, informed by my practice as a craniosacral therapist, is to not just treat the symptom or orient towards dis-ease, but to look for, support and amplify the beauty or health that is always present – in a body, a system or a group.



This needs to be specific to the group, the context and the moment. For me, it often involves returning to the beginning, the original blueprint or invitation time and time again to see what wants to happen at this juncture in this place, through me and the group. Each stage or draft of the workshop is an iteration and needs to be built upon; expanded at the same time as being stripped back to its essence. I constantly enquire ‘what is the intention’ of this activity, this session, this process, whilst also accepting there will be a multitude of other meanings as well as the ones I might consider. There are many stages to alchemy including Separation,Distillation and Fermentation and they all have their own particular role. Am I serving the initial intention or invitation or distracting from it?



How do I and we, balance linear and cyclical time throughout the process? How do we honour both ‘clock time’ and ‘deep time,’ and truly hold the opposite realities that there is never enough time, and that time is abundant and infinite? This is a challenge with any group but especially in climate work where there is a desperate and very real need for solutions not just now, but yesterday. 



What does the space, room, venue in which the process takes place require, want or support? How do we ‘Create the Container’ for the alchemical process to be effective? How can we acknowledge and bring in all the necessary elements? How do we balance the inner and outer, (in the room or body) with life outside the room, the great outdoors, local and global policy, the complex multi-dimensional living earth? Sometimes we decorate, work with, or have to ‘undo’ a space – take out the desks, remove the computer consoles, push back the chairs, sit on the floor, remove our shoes, and get outside and walk on the earth. And what of the ‘emergent spaces’ – the scheduled or accidental breaks where unstructured conversations flow? These are often the places where connection or insight happens, plans are hatched, collaborations envisioned and next steps taken. How can we get ‘outside the box’ at every opportunity?


Ceremony & Ritual

This is where space and time overlap and are always and forever present. Making space for ceremony and ritual involves including meaningful, relevant, and practical activities within the facilitation, which frame, recognise or support a change of state, or embody an intention. How might we incorporate suggested or self-generated actions or creative offerings into the programme which are attractive, relevant to the situation and the individuals present, and which have depth and meaning?


Image: Marega Palser




Now I am writing this list, it feels that I could go on and on!


Of course, language is important too. It is a tool for connection and disconnection – what is the language we use, we desire, we need to bring something new into being? The alchemy of facilitation has language at its core, from the email invitation to participants, to the language we use and invite in the room. How do we re-learn or re-member how to speak to one another and to speak to the world ‘outside,’ in the words of Thomas Berry, as a ‘communion of subjects not just a collection of objects?’


Also, I believe there is always a story, text or a poem which must be in attendance at any gathering. This will bring with it its own life and will. Each story has its own spell and spirit as, of course, language always involves spelling of one kind or another. The power of myth, the folk story, the personal story, cannot be overlooked. If story is not consciously invited into the room as a blessed guest, it will still find its way in, and not always with good intent. Often, preparing for a project I am researching, wondering, reflecting what story wants to come. If I am patient and can listen well, it will come of its own accord. In the case of the Climate Lab, it was the ancient story of the sunken land of Cantre’r Gwaelod.


What I now know…

I am not an objective observer of or outside of any process I facilitate. I cannot invite a process without living it and going through it myself – in the planning and in the orchestrating. This is the main lesson I’ve learnt from guiding and facilitating processes. Each and every time, I must be unmade, dis-arranged, dis-assembled and go through a process of un-becoming in order to let the new form, the new shape, the new idea emerge through me and through the process. This is all part of the process of Alchemy. I wish it wasn’t, since it is never comfortable, but experience has shown me that it is always necessary for the work to be truly grounded and valuable.

 Fern Smith


To Be Continued…

Part 3 – The Gathering – details the first day of theClimate Lab

Part 4 – The Responding – details the second day of theClimate Lab.


Fern is a Ritual Artist and Craniosacral Therapist.






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