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Open Forum: Medicine for a Polarized World

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

Can you imagine clicking a Zoom link and entering a global conversation about the war in Ukraine? Or about other hot issues like racism, climate change, fascism, gender, genocide? A place where people from all sides of a polarized issue are invited to share their experiences?

Meet Processwork: a global community of people committed to raising awareness. Processwork has both therapeutic and facilitative applications—you can visit a Processwork therapist for private sessions, or engage with groups (open to all) for “Worldwork” experiences, sometimes involving hundreds of people.

Last weekend, I attended an online Processwork event: an Open Forum on the conflicting interests of Russia, Ukraine, EU/Nato/US. This critical Zoom conversation, with nearly 300 people joining from around the world, moved something deep in me. I left the call feeling engaged and connected to the issue and humanity. I realized:

Group processing and communication is medicine for the world.

We need connection to heal division.

In this online Open Forum, which included many Ukrainians and Russians, we heard the cries of Ukrainians, of Russians, and of many with mixed blood. We witnessed someone in the role of Putin, and also the role of the troops who “just follow orders.”

Sitting in the dark with those stuck inside their apartments in Kyiv, I sensed the overwhelming deep need to be and feel together. Through the tears, the challenge of translation, the pain, and the love, we each found ourselves through seeing and hearing each other. By the end, there was an overwhelming group desire for more: more Open Forums, more connection, more time to process such difficult experiences.


In Open Forums, everyone can participate. Sometimes a panel of dedicated speakers are invited to present the various perspectives within an issue. The intention is to welcome and engage the diversity of voices and perspectives within, or in the background of, any polarized or challenging situation. There is generally an opportunity for anyone who wants to participate to speak for a short amount of time.

Exploration happens both through acting out roles and speaking personally. Facilitators at times invite the voices that surface to interact with each other. This style of group exploration creates a profound atmosphere. Spontaneous healing often results through the playing out of roles in facilitated, heated interactions.

Even though the topics are challenging, sometimes impossible-feeling, by immersing ourselves in a polarized yet safe environment, a deeper level of our humanity tends to rise to the surface. Taking risks to express the diversity of opinions, feelings, experiences, and understandings together, we feel more contact with ourselves and each other.

One of the Processwork foundations is the intent to unfold multiple levels of reality, deepening and widening our perspectives. Beneath what we consider “consensus reality” (the things most people agree to be factual), we can uncover multiple layers playing out beneath the surface. Feelings, culture, ancestry, impulses, economics, history, ideas, and many other factors influence each of us. By bringing out the diversity of layers and roles influencing any situation, a deeper sense of wholeness arises. Processwork is excellent at nurturing the variety of voices in a group, helping them rise to the surface. When we are able to slow down enough to see and hear each other, tangible shifts occur.

Changes in group atmosphere: hot spots and cool spots

Processwork facilitators look for “hot spots” and “cool spots.” These can be sensed in the group, in the air of the room, as a significant shift in the atmosphere.

When something inflames the central issue or creates a feeling of constriction or increased intensity in the group, it is called a hot spot. Hot spots are fertile opportunities for growth and profound comprehension. The facilitators slow the process down. The group feels into the central wound, the heat of the conflict, clarifying the roles and deepening awareness. We look for what is valuable, and what still needs to be named. Strong emotions surface at hotspots: rage, clarity, relief, fear, exasperation, etc.

A cool spot is the opposite experience, a natural de-escalation. This is an often-surprising moment when the feeling between opposing sides momentarily shifts in energy and suddenly, they seem to “get” each other. Opponents can suddenly see, hear, and care about each other; the roles become blurry and fluid. The sides momentarily depolarize in recognizing each other’s humanness. When a facilitator catches cool spots, it sparks a moment of promise. Rigidity yields to deeper, more human connection. Cool spots are easy to ignore (in any group or relationship), as it is too easy to roll quickly back into the conflict, to marginalize any warm feelings or openness that may arise. When the cool spot moment of mutual recognition is held and deepened, recognizing care and concern for the other, a transformation happens beyond relief in the current situation. We recover our faith in ourselves and humanity.

If you would like to join in the international awareness-based conversation about what is going on in our world, attend an event! Open Forums are now popping up everywhere. We are sitting in the fire together until our shared humanity is revealed.

To connect with the global Processwork community:

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4 commenti

Thank you so much for this crystal clear explanation of open forums! This is just what I was looking for.

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Diane Wong
Diane Wong
05 mar 2022

What wonderful information and the background of roses is beautiful. Watch out for the thorns, we all have them. But smell the roses.

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Amy Palatnick
Amy Palatnick
08 mar 2022
Risposta a

Would roses be as beautiful without their thorns? ❤️🌹❤️

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