Over the last few days, the Life Itself Bergerac Hub had the pleasure of hosting Les Maisons d’Intelligence Collective (MIC) for one of their twice-yearly retreats or ‘camps’. This group was brought to our attention by Valerie, a pioneer of Life Itself who is also a member of the collective. To briefly explain, the MIC is a co-operative. Its central concern is with ‘collective intelligence’: in how to support and harness the enhanced capacity afforded by group collaboration to bring about knowledge and positive outcomes. The group aims to embody collective intelligence in its own functioning, and to bring it to the public. The ‘MIC camp’ was, in large part, a sustained way for the group to focus on these aims; the group reflected on and deepened their own practices, and planned for the upcoming months. What the MIC camp generated was, also, a form of co-existence between the MIC and the Life Itself (LI) Hub: we ate, talked and inhabited side by side (having first undertaken and received negative results from our Covid-19 tests, of course). Here follows some reflections on the weekend – and on the points of interaction and exchange between LI and Mic – from the perspective of LI.
LI does not hold commitments for its residents on the weekend, and the MIC camp was busy largely during the day with their own initiatives. This meant that there weren’t a huge amount of structured moments of interactions between the group. The main exception to this, though, was food. LI prepared dinner on Friday and Sunday, and the MIC cooked all day Saturday and prepared a Sunday brunch, with all the food being vegetarian/vegan (and outrageously delicious). We (all 20 of us, more or less) ate together in the dining room, and sat over three tables, mixing up the seating so that MIC camp and LI were diffused throughout the space.
What food allowed, moreover, was interconnectedness as a group. All across the tables, the buzz of conversation could be heard throughout mealtimes. Although the language was sometimes a slight barrier, (mostly enforced by the inept monolingualism of our resident Brits), we managed well – through a combination of French, (more commonly) English and our wonderful bilingual translators. Conversations between individuals ranged from the profound to the everyday; at any one point, if you tuned into the chats around you, you could hear speech ranging from silly banter to talks searching for the deep meaning of community, Holacracy, activism, and more. Moreover, on Saturday night we engaged in a whole group conversation where we sought to explore and explain the meaning of MIC, of Life Itself and of our shared interests. This acted as a chance for all of us to open up about our paths and to listen to others about theirs. Ultimately, it was beautiful to see the way in which members of MIC and LI used the shared space at mealtimes as a time to converse, to learn and to grow. The shared dialogue we created was greatly beneficial to both sides, it would be safe to say. It is immensely gratifying and moving to see, moreover, how the connections formed through these dinner-time chats has stimulated new connections outside of MIC camp, and arrangements, for instance, through interviews on private blogs.
Outside of preparing and eating food, there emerged organic and beautiful moments of interaction between MIC and LI. Two specific events stand out in this regard.
The first was a shared evening on Saturday night. Here, in the presence of a fire – beautifully constructed and maintained by our resident fire-man Charley Lee – members of LI and MIC congregated and sat. We talked, drank wine, played board games, knitted, and laughed. It was wonderful to be able to socialise in a livelier way than we have been accustomed to as of late, and this moment led to a really memorable evening.
The second point of contact was on Sunday afternoon, where a series of members from MIC and LI engaged in an embodiment exercise in the local park. This involved us placing emphasis on our bodies and the experience of physical activity in nature. We played ‘stuck in the mud’, which was frankly an exhilarating experience. It was interesting to notice just how competitive a bunch of adults got at chasing each other, and how defiantly we strove to freeze or unfreeze our team mates, depending on what size we were on. The adrenaline and energy allowed a chance to really lose ourselves in the game, too. Perhaps we all just need a game of stuck in the mud from time to time. We also carried out a group practice of silently choosing a flower plant, and then embodying it through our movements. This required team-work and cooperation, and was an example of practical ‘collective intelligence’, in effect. Focusing on a flower, with the Southern French sun shimmering down, and the Dordogne behind us, it was hard not to feel deeply connected to the natural world, too. This activity really put into practice a lot of what made this weekend so great: a chance to creatively connect and enjoy doing so.
It is worth reflecting, finally, on how the MIC perceived this experience. Like the Life Itself group, they were moved by the time together, In their words, ‘For all of us this MIC Camp has been such a wonderful retreat. First, among us. We’ve been able to reconnect after too many months spent mainly through zoom screens. We’ve also deeply shared our views and feelings on topics that mattered most. This has helped us make key breakthroughs. Second, with the Life itself community. We’ve been inspired by your energy and dedication to bring forward another world, one that is sustaining life, empowering people and embodying joy. A great experience for us all.Last, feeling the many resonances and echoes between our two projects is just amazingly stimulating. It’s a bit like suddenly finding and encountering new members of your own family. A blessing that was made possible by Valerie’s great intuitions. Deep appreciation from the MIC collective for all this.’
Overall, it is lovely to celebrate what was a marvellously enjoyable, educational and moving weekend. It was really brilliant, from the perspective of Life Itself, to share the space with MIC, and we are touched by the fact that they feel the same way. We hope that the connections that we have formed will lay the foundation for future deepening interaction. We are already looking forward to attending events of theirs like the ‘open doors’ event later this year – a 72 day series of activities, projects and initiatives hosted by the MIC that the public can be involved with, such as around collective intelligence in food, or governance. The English speakers amongst us are desperately planning to practice our French for that! We also can’t wait to see them all again in person. From all of Life Itself, we would like to say thank you!