Conference Reflection: WAR IN UKRAINE – Ingeborg Tiemann
PCCA Virtual Event WAR IN UKRAINE – A Space to Share and Reflect in the Midst of an Ongoing War
2-4 September 2022
Mushrooms between the Roots – Jerusalem, 16.09.2022
There was much discussion about individual identity and collective identity, individual roots and collective roots. In my inner eye, the picture of roots of large trees appeared, roots that interconnect and perhaps in their way communicate beneath the surface. A woman in my event group mentioned that mushrooms play an important role for such roots, they can form with them a kind of beneficial symbioses. This stirred up in me the following metaphor:
The different ethnic identities are like trees with deep roots in the soil of the past. In the earth, the roots might have their system to connect with each other. What is the role of mushrooms, or more precisely said: fungi between them? Biologists say that some kinds of mushrooms nurture the roots, provide them with water, give them essential nutrients and create protective webs around them. Furthermore, and this strikes me with a view to this conference, they hold the soil together and care for the communication system between roots of nearby trees, like a kind of “wood wide web”. Just under the surface, there is a life-sustaining network, unassuming often and widely ignored. It serves as channels of communication about dangers, for example about enemy attacks and upcoming droughts. In short, mushrooms protect for the sake of life growth not only of individual trees, but also of the whole forest.
I try here to see the conference set-up in this metaphor: I could imagine that the staff is working in such a mushroom function: to provide protection and nourishment for growth to the participating “trees” with their different collective identities. One participants mentioned the lack of being cared for in this online setting: food is not served, everybody is disconnected from the other by their own “tile”, and that especially now care for this is particularly important after the long “food” neglect during the pandemic. What the conference showed is that “tree”-identities in themselves are complex, and there is a tendency to a rather insular existence that takes in those who are nearby, but excludes others and let these others starve on contact. There was a feeling that the assumptions that were put forward by the staff did not provide rich enough food. The topic of distrust towards authorities strongly came up.
Can roots communicate without mushrooms? Can a system work out of its own or with only minimal involvement of staff? Speaking about distrust, the fear seemed that these
“mushrooms” might limit the life force of the “trees” instead of helping to enhance it. There was distrust in authorities, distrust in their nurturing intend. Some “trees” in this conference showed themselves as being very mighty, having their own strong roots, seemingly without need for “mushroom”-support. They might survive. However, will the whole forest survive if there is no adequate mushroom system that cares for the interconnection between roots? There is a serious downside when roots and mushrooms disconnect. When one nurtures only one’s own life force and the one of one’s confidants, the story probably ends with the survival of the fittest. Some of the other roots will be destroyed; part of the complexity of identities will fall into decay. As it is also seen in the current war, parties in a war often do not care about complexity. The mushroom metaphor suggests that a third party can be very helpful, more than this: absolutely necessary for taking up the protective and life supporting function for the very diverse ecosystem of groups in conflict.
It is interesting that much of the transforming work mushrooms do is happening in places deep down in the soil, not in full daylight – a description that prompts the image of touching the realm of the Unconscious. What does this mean for the setting of such a conference where the staff always states that its meetings can be observed at any time by the participants, so to speak in full daylight? It is striking that this rather unguarded attitude in staff meetings does not prevent distrust. – In wars, secret peace negotiations can be a proper place for nurturing life force as an analogy to the described mushroom function. Whether and how this could be translated into this kind of conference: well, biologists teach us that there are different species of mushroom of whom we only know 5-10 % on our planet. There is still room for discovery.
Standpoint – Jerusalem, 14.09.2022
Several participants said that during some months of the war they had serious difficulties with walking. The same happened to me.
This experience of difficulties with legs interrupted my normal way of life heavily. It evoked strong anxiety: never to be able to walk again like before, great helplessness. The legs refused their service, movements were painful. My reactions became slow. Also the sense of balancing seemed to be affected. This was an experience of being almost totally stuck. Not only my body, also my mind was affected. My thinking narrowed down, as if body and mind reduced itself to the basics, to the essentials.
As also others experienced this, I assume that the war in Ukraine played a role in this. Particularly when I was reminded in the conference of the experience with my legs. Now in the conference I experienced a wish to stop moving, even a wish to stop knowing which might have been an expression of anxiety. My conviction that more and more weapons will worsen the problem of a war and that at the end the weapon industry will be the greatest benefactor of this development – which will raise the danger of more wars in the future – this conviction of mine together with my pleading for negotiations made me in the conference feel fully stuck. I felt helpless in view of the strong advocacy of the young people from the Ukraine who live in a highly dangerous situation – how can I argue against them with my advocacy for less weapons? Impossible without hurting their feelings and anyway, why should they listen to someone like me who is living in relative peace whereas they are in the middle of the war?
The feeling of being stuck, of anxiety, of helplessness, of not knowing what could be helpful – this was the feeling when I could not move my legs in previous war weeks. This feeling came back in the conference.
On the last day of the conference I came to the point of suspending my own view, for the sake of trying to listen to those who are in the war and to listen to myself, to my body and soul. I realised that at this moment of the war situation it became important for me to endure the situation as it is, without knowing what to do, also not too quickly jump over my feeling of helplessness to conclusions. My own history and living situation positions me against strong enemy pictures that came up in the conference. I felt the urge to be loyal to myself in this respect, at the same time condemning strongly Russia’s war against the Ukraine. I had to resist the wish of some Ukrainians to take their side “100 %”, as some of them put it. As I said, I only could do one thing: to suspend my view, to listen to the others and into myself and to endure the feeling of being immobile. This is where I stood at the end of the conference, so-to-speak my standpoint. It did not change the feeling of helplessness and of not knowing how to act. Such was my insight, although an extremely unpleasant one. It is very painful that some Ukrainians seemingly see this as a kind of betrayal of their struggle.
Abortion – Jerusalem, 11.09.2022
War stirs up many ugly sides of being human. The conference mirrored this. The online format brought up sexual harassment, kept them physically in check but not in their offending and wounding consequences. This happened in the large group, perhaps also in other formats of the conference. A shocking moment for me was when the title of our event group, which called itself “old pregnant women” immediately was commented on with the term “abortion”. This comment was made by a female staff member who happened to be the conference director. I felt numbed, being aborted myself by this statement. Why this comment? Personal reasons for this aside, the title of our group touched on two very vulnerable groups in war: old people, women in general and pregnant women in particular. This incident showed how easily they can become targets in a war – in this setting with male and female staff members as bystanders who did not intervene – and how quickly words in this vein can do serious harm. The cult of strength that is exercised in a war – that echoed also in this conference – encourages such a denigration of vulnerable groups who are perceived to be weak, as this conference mirrored.
As to the title of the event group: the image “old pregnant women” surely evokes something that on the surface level of reality sounds in itself contradictory. Ridiculing reactions were uttered or at least to be felt. It seems in a war it is very hard to use language figuratively; and it seems the reality of bloodshed calls strongly for a literal understanding. With a view to immediate solutions, figurative expressions seem rather irrelevant. If I understand the concept of such a conference right, it strives for giving the unconscious a chance to emerge. If so, In this case it might not be such a bad idea to confront reality with imaginative and even paradox thinking – for the sake of giving the unconscious more space to appear.