The Australian fruit salad experiment
Type of spiritual experience
A description of the experience
Australas Psychiatry. 2009 Aug;17 Suppl 1:S142-5. doi: 10.1080/10398560902948464.
How the all fruits salad creates sweeter futures in rural and remote mental health.
Lloyd R. Centre of Remote Health, Alice Springs, NT, Australia. firstname.lastname@example.org
This paper outlines evidence of efficacious outcomes from mixing people living with diverse mental health challenges and/or intellectual disability. The intention was to show how mixing up people who are differently challenged can be efficacious in (re)habilitation terms. Two separate experiences of sharing personal narratives were involved, along with creative expressions in music, art and filming, combined with group gatherings providing discerning feedback for each other on members' day-to-day progress. After 12 months of 'open urban tribe' gatherings in Sydney, where participants formed a community of belonging, the model was adapted for use in Alice Springs. The original group developed a cycle of interactive ritual rhythms, and these became a special feature of their self-help, peer support approach. The Sydney project modelled community-based rehabilitation, and that process then informed the processes initiated in a rural, remote location.
Regular whole tribe gatherings 'in the circle' combined with mentoring 'aunties and uncles'. By sharing stories and giving personal feedback on their progress, participants developed skills and confidence in self expression. Relating to each other and the group, and sharing creative expressions (group craft activities, dancing, small group performing) added depth to the experience of participants. Stories and celebrations were filmed, along with meetings to discuss progress and reflect on how to improve our process of sharing together. Ways for individuals to work on improving their life experiences were shared across the group, which generated a combination of forms of inquiry: supportive, collaborative and appreciative. These were combined with reflexive qualitative ethnographic recording by the researcher, to report and reflect on the whole process.
The original 12 month open urban tribe formation (May 2004-June 2005) in Sydney led to regular gatherings where participants sought to come together and celebrate their being with each other until 2007. From that model further work was undertaken in Alice Springs in early 2008, applying a smaller version of this approach to a new community group. The narrative testimony and witnessing in the first group formed one element of what participants called 'the magic', which they commented on throughout their time together. It was their way of just being together (what this author calls their 'metaphorical energetic presence' alongside each other) that carried the power of this tribe's interactions. Mirroring and feeding back messages to each other that they belonged, that they had an identity, role and purpose together, was a key influence on wellness. That they were seen and loved by all participants was a vital element in the dynamic. These combined to create an effect dubbed 'Working the Business of Life' (WTBOL), a group sharing process providing practical feedback on how to maintain balance in life. By giving everyone a sense of being nurtured in their day-to-day lives, WTBOL showed that people of mixed consciousness can assist each other's healing, growth and development. The value in mixing people of different challenges was that it created a rich field of exchange of their beingness, and mutual appreciation and support. Each had compassion for the other's challenge, and this helped their own process of growing beyond their own challenges. The process has now been successfully applied in Peer Support Training Workshops for Consumers and Carers (November 2008 in Alice Springs).
Arising from this work, the All Fruits Theory (AFT) argues that mixing people of diverse consciousness, in contexts of trust and safety with each other, can lead to enriching personal acknowledgement and a sense of belonging. By sharing stories, joining celebratory activities, it is possible to generate interactive rhythmical ritual cycles of companionship, celebration, communion and contemplation. The project thus stimulated purposeful motivation and intention to engage in new activities. Individual and group social and emotional wellbeing were enhanced by participating. The author argues that these results show that, just as biodiversity is essential for ecological sustainability, 'onto-diversity' (i.e. valuing diverse ways of being and knowing) is what is needed in rehabilitation settings. When applied across cultures, ethnicity, gender, class and capability differences, these wiser ways of knowing can lead to more sustainable ways of being (i.e. what this author calls 'onto-diversity for suss-tainability', playing on the modern slang term for 'sussing things out'--meaning gaining better understanding of what's really going on).