ponedjeljak, 10. prosinca 2012.

7th International summer seminar – Practicing philosophy, 6 – 12 august 2012, La Chapelle st Andre, France

If I am to speak about this year’s Practicing philosophy seminar it would be hard to start with just seminar activities that held place beginning with Monday, 6th of august.
After long 36 hours of traveling by couple of buses and trains from Osijek, my home town in Croatia, i finally arrived to La Chapelle st Andre, small picturesque village in Burgundy, France, late in the evening on Saturday, 4th of august. I was warmly welcomed by our hosts, Oscar Brenifier and Isabelle Millon, spending the night at their home. After a good sleep, on Sunday morning i was able to discover a bit more of this strange experience, especially as most of participants arrived. Almost everyone of over 40 of them came to Oscars house during the day, brining their own views, thoughts and expectations, telling me that they are from Iceland, Peru, Netherland, Belgium, Mexico, Argentina, Iran, Russia, France, Norway, Sweden or New Zealand.
After initial introductions and everyone settling in places inside village or tents in some gardens, official seminar begun on Monday morning in Salle de Fettes, big hall for local parties. There, big number of us who participated in this seminar for the first time, started to realize what it is going to be all about.
At first, we struggled to express our complicated views and thoughts on subject of argumentation in a workshop held by Oscar Brenifier. No matter how hard we tried to resist, he was able to teach us how to think in simple terms and with reasoning. Of course, it was hard in the beginning, trying to be smart in front of your colleagues with different titles and experience, but as the seminar went on it was really clear that there are no titles, no smart people, that we all should just reason as much as we can, in order to better understand both what others are trying to say and what we think for ourselves, expressing our thoughts as simpler as possible.
As helpful and insightful Oscar’s and Isabelle’s workshops have been, participants were also able to experience many other practices held across the world. We were divided into 2 smaller groups, each of us attending 2 or 3 workshops a day and also participating in numerous activities during lunch breaks or in the evening. After tiring Monday’s workshop dealing with argumentation, we continued to deal with same subject on Tuesday, but with more enthusiasm and with better work atmosphere in smaller group, trying to grasp the process of thinking and, for some of us, new methods of group work. Every day, after lunch or dinner, we participated in activities such as: guided tour through the village of La Chapelle; excursion to town Vezelay where we visited the Basilica of St Magdalene, famous medieval pilgrimage site where relics of Mary Magdalene are kept; small tournament in French national sport – petanque; philosophical walks with Peter Harteloh (Netherland); also swimming in nearby lake; visiting local castle where we had dinner and really interesting task of philosophizing about numerous objects present in the room; and in the end, organizing music band and concert by participants for participants where everyone had a really good time.

But, fun part aside, great time for thinking development was at workshops and we had a chance to see really creative and interesting practices. As we were divided into groups, I wasn’t able to participate in all workshops, but the ones I’ve seen made strong influence on my attitude towards work. Ivan (Russia) held a workshop about safety awareness where we learned a lot on how people usually live in their own perception of reality and not in reality itself, clearly emphasizing examples from everyday life, where and how things can go wrong and how can we improve them by our process of thinking. Further, in workshops held by Isabelle Millon and Audrey Gers (France) we had a chance to go deeper into Oscar Brenifier’s methods, learning both how we think as a group and how we can facilitate certain groups as teachers or trainers. In these workshops we saw how teachers/trainers can easily state a problem in front of a group of participants and then by active listening guide or direct the group towards understanding each other and correct solutions. Later on, we also participated in Guido Giacomo Gattai’s (Italy) workshop which dealt with philosophical conceptualization and traveling – each participant had to choose a concept they learned during a travel and once the most interesting travel story is chosen everyone engage in questioning of chosen participant, making workshop very similar to concept of group consultations. Also, group philosophical consultations workshops were held by Audrey Gers and Peter Harteloh, each dealing with different method at the beginning: Audrey’s based on client’s question about the problem they have and Peter’s based on a (zen) story stating the problem, after which participants engage in process of questioning by playing the role of a consultant. However, Peter’s workshop has also one subprocess, as he calls it The Ultimate Question, where participants, after they have heard the story with hidden problem, have the right to ask just one question, the ultimate question, which is essential as first question after client has stated their problem; each participant has to think really hard before they ask the question, since nobody else from the group has the right to ask another question (also, before participants hear the story, they have to guess who is the person from group who’s going to ask this ultimate question, which was interpreted by some as who is the most impatient inside the group). Once after the ultimate question is asked, participants don’t look for an answer, but rather analyze why this question would be right or wrong to ask as first question after we hear the problem. Another interesting workshop held by Peter Harteloh was philosophical walk. It is really interesting approach to philosophical conceptualization and outdoors walks. A piece of paper with quote from famous philosophical works is given to all participants (10 being near ideal number). Participants have to find the main concept behind the quote and then start the walk. Main rule of this exercise is ‘either you walk, either you talk’, meaning that participant must walk silently on prearranged route and contemplate about the found concept. When participant finds the place, during walk, which for some reason he associated with chosen concept he must stop the entire group, say which concept he has chosen, explain how is the concept related to this specific place, after that read the entire quote and others have right to ask him certain number of questions, depending on time or number of participants. Participating in this kind of workshop gives a really good exercise for both mind and body, also giving a chance for the group to better know each other, based on relation between concepts and places. Furthermore, workshop held by Nelson Hoedekie (Belgium) was really fun and interesting to participate in, but a bit hard to follow the rules. After initial motivation concerning Buddhist dead body experience, we started a game called Black box, where each participant had to write a question starting with ‘Who…’ which had a goal to give us answer on participant and both how the group thinks of them and how they think of themselves, predicting whether they will be chosen by others in answering certain questions like ‘Who will profit the most from this seminar?’. At the end, Sandrine Thevenet’s (France) workshop has shown us the relation between art, philosophical conceptualization and argumentation, dealing with task of drawing mostly abstract concepts and accepting or refusing arguments why would the drawn representation suit the suggested concept.
After each workshop, everyone participated in discussion giving feedback to facilitators on what they liked/disliked, what was good or wrong, what can be very well used or improved in further practice. This kind of feedback was very useful for facilitators, since they can get instant information from participants and be aware of possible mistakes as well as good practice they have conducted.
Except workshops, every evening before dinner both groups would gather at Salle de Fettes for session of philosophical consultations. This practice was done in small groups of three or four people, doing individual philosophical consultations to each other, everyone having to play role of philosopher/consultant, client or observer. Consultations would start with client asking a question about a problem he has, philosopher would continue consultations by questioning the client and observer would mostly observe and give feedback after the 10/15 minutes of consultations or would play a role of coach and try to guide philosopher when needed. Most of us found this exercise very useful and we couldn’t wait the time for consultations to begin with work. It was interesting work to do no matter which role you were playing, since in this circle you knew that you will get every side of process and will be able to consider it with others, comment it after work is done or even continue the work after dinner. Other than these consultations which participants held among each other, we also had a chance to watch public consultations with Oscar Brenifier as philosopher and any other participant as client volunteer. Oscar held consultations with client for one hour, after which the observers could ask him questions or comment on what they witnessed. Of course, comments and questions were very useful for everyone, since Oscar gave us interesting answers and reasons why he asked certain question or why he wouldn’t ask other kind of question. At this point, I can only say that philosophical consultations are concept which made most influence on some of us and even before the end of seminar we agreed that we should stay in touch via Skype in order to continue this practice and that we will also try to do it with our friends after everyone gets back home.
At the final session of the seminar we had a task to say something about what seminar meant for us. I had only one sentence to tell: It was life changing experience for me. Oscar replied to me with a joke: Just, please, don’t commit suicide here, do it when you get back to Croatia. Of course, nothing so drastically came to my mind, what I really wanted to say is that the whole experience of summer seminar in La Chapelle changed my views on the world and my thoughts about myself. I heard similar sentences at the beginning of seminar from participants who came to La Chapelle for second or third time, but I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about. After a week spent in that small village with all kind of different people, from different places, with different thoughts I found out not just more about myself, but more about what philosophy really is, or at least what it should be – your thoughts expressed by clear spoken words in dialogue with others. I couldn’t decide which of these three concepts – thoughts, words and others – is most important, but I’ve seen in La Chapelle that unity of aforementioned three makes not just basic foundations for philosophy but also gives philosophy its meaning.
In conclusion, I would like to state three things that I’ve learned after this seminar: First, in order to do philosophy, I shouldn’t just delve into books and worry too much what Hegel, Kant or any other philosopher was trying to say, I should rather dwell among people questioning their thoughts or acts and allow others to question me as well. Further, if there are just 40 people from all around the world willing to overcome any differences between them and join into positive common cause, whether its philosophy or any other subject, and making friends along the way, then all people should consider doing such a thing, because at the end they will see that there really are more things we have in common than there are small differences. At the end, I’ve learned the real importance in relation to self and to others. If you want to truly understand others, you need to listen carefully their reasoning, accept it if it’s clear and decline it if it’s vague, until it becomes clear. Also, if you want to be understood by others, you need to take off your masks and express yourself as clear as possible, just the way you are.

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