Photo by Tamara Cvetković (left)
“How Simple the Answers Are”
Testimonials from Council in Bosnia/Herzegovina
In March 15-18 2016, The Zen Peacemakers, together with the Center for Peacebuilding and led by Center for Council Director Jared Seide (Read Jared’s report of the training here), conducted a four-day Way of Council training for 22 Bosniak, Croats and Serb women and men. This training is another step in the peacebuilding effort to address the deep suffering in the balkans following the genocide of the ’90’s.
“When I think of Council… It is fascinating how many layers of prejudices and expectations you have to strip off yourself to enter into an honest heart-to-heart conversation. It is fascinating how even when you think you have reached that point, you get astonished realizing how far you have to go to get to the point of speaking and listening heart-to-heart. And it is fascinating how, when you think that nobody sitting there with you can surprise you anymore, you discover that you have not even started that conversation. It is fascinating to discover that everybody can go far beyond in sharing the pain we all have. But above all, it is fascinating how simple the answers are. All you have to do is to be there, to step in it and let yourself be… whoever you never had an idea you were.” (Nikica Lubura-Reljic)
Firstly, I must commend Jozo’s and Jared’s patience, which was needed to overcome all the mechanisms Bosnians use when somebody tries to open them and provide safe space for sharing their deep fears and emotions. As I anticipated, it took a bit more time to establish the container and include everyone equally. This experience has showed me that even though “my people” might seem tough and distanced, they can’t “escape” the power of council. In my opinion, all the singing, humor and hugging we tend to do in any serious situation are only defense mechanisms we use in order to cover our true selves. And council manages to defragment it, not to exclude it or make it forbidden but to infiltrate and include it in a completely reassuring manner. People truly heard each other, while overcoming the need to comment, to fix or to preach. They left council with much more faith in themselves and with the hope that its future use will help others to grieve, heal and laugh.
This experience has given me such immense knowledge and confidence. It answered a bunch of questions, gave a completely new perspective on the use of council in our work and helped overcome obstacles I imagined we’d have in the “logistical” sphere. Bringing it to Bosnia showed it in a different light, as something palpable, possible and real, so I’ve decided to commit to it and practice it with my family and friends — which resulted in my first “solo” council. Having in mind that I would never do anything without being sure that I could lead it till the end, and that I take my work perhaps too serious, the fact that I decided to do it shows how successful our training was.” (Ivana Gospođa Tapisirović)
The first day I was really confused and asked myself all the time: ‘What am I doing here???’ When I returned home, I found myself sitting with much passion and I spoke about all the work we did with my family, and started to try to convince them about how important Council was. I still don’t know what, but something happened with me this first day. Day by day, this wonderful and magical 4 days of training changed me, and it changed my attitude about others. The simple ‘rules’ push you to be careful with communication, to listen, to be open in front of people whom you are seeing for the first time. The facilitation was so nice and simple, charming, and in a subtle and easy way I was drawn into the process. I learned from what I heard and absorbed the words. I realized this workshop is different, you haven’t any paper, or material… it`s strange! But, step by step, this kind of thinking and communication with others starts to be part of you. Just today I saw things that are changing in me — in my every day communication with family, friends, on the job… When I found myself almost on the verge of aggravation with my family, because of the training, I realized that I was not really worried or angry. I really started to listen from my heart and talk from my heart.
I sincerely believe that this is the true path to understanding and to happiness for all of us. I strongly believe that Council is a way of communication, and conflict resolution, that must be part of everyday life for all of us. I would be so happy if one day this method could be included in schools, obligatory for all. I’m richer as a result of this experience, I have new people in my life who I value. It was an amazing experience that I recommend to everyone. We will try to expand it! Thank you for the opportunity to be part of this.” (Mira Mehmedović)
BiH, as all ex-Yugoslavia, is a very patriarchal society, something I experienced so deeply years ago. When Jared decided to do “fish bowls” with men and women separated, the subject would come up over and over again. It was astonishing to hear one young man say how he feels frustrated since he loves cooking but his mom would not let him do so, for that was not a man’s job. Or to hear others revealing that they had been taught that a man is not supposed to express emotions, to be tender, to be soft. I could recall, with sadness, growing up a country where boys don’t cry; I, myself, never shed a tear in 22 years (probably the reason why I can’t hold back my tears today). It was wonderful to see how council could soften the hearts, the gender weight and the bias.
There were so many precious moments, stories, heart openings, laughter and joy, some I will remember for a long time: the woman whose heart came back to life, the woman whose husband, each night of the workshop, had to bear witness to her joy of deep transformation, and above all the last council we did in small groups of 4. By coincidence, mine was an all men’s group, each of us of different ethnicity. We did 2 rounds of deep sharing and then, as we reached the end of our time together, one man asked a favor: he wanted 4 of us to stand up and hug each other. So there we were 4 men in a circle holding each other in a deep hug for a long while. Not far from us, there sat a group of 4 women who, being deeply moved watching the scene, stood up and celebrated.” (Jozo Novak)
The ZEN PEACEMAKER ORDER invites you to join in Council in our Bearing Witness retreats in Auschwitz/Birkenau and the Black Hills.