“The bus” is a central figure in a methodology for collective inquiry that emerged as a response to the need for difficult, honest and sober conversations where the integrity of relationships are prioritized above the emotional charge of the content being discussed. The methodology is being tested by our research group as a container for conversations about colonial continuities and decolonial possibilities.
“The bus” has a structure of four decks or levels of engagement. The first deck is the most basic. The narrative below is an example of what would be used to create and hold the space for this methodology with a group of participants.
Imagine everyone in the room as single deck buses full of passengers of different ages. In each bus, there is a driver, passengers gathered at the front, in the middle and at the back. On your own bus, there are passengers you know and passengers you don’t know. There are passengers who are drawing your attention, others who want to hide from you. In this space, any encounter between individuals will be an encounter of “buses”. The point of this first exercise is to learn to observe and sit with the people on your bus, without judgement. In order to create the conditions for this to happen, you will be shown a bus-response-inducing stimulus and be asked to draw your bus focusing on three passengers within it that call your attention: one at the front, one in the middle and one at the back. You will register what each passenger is saying with a speech bubble, a thought bubble and a heart bubble, representing what is being said, what is being thought (and why) and what is being felt and anticipated (e.g. hopes, attachments, fears and anxieties). You will be given sometime to sit with what is happening on your bus and to observe what is happening with the process of observation. In relation to your passengers, pay attention to their age and form (are they human?), whether there is trauma involved, their level of tolerance for uncertainty and their response to being observed. In relation to your own observation (you observing yourself observe), pay attention to your relationship to the activity itself: are you worried about following instructions accurately? are you adapting the task? are you distracted? are you resisting it? There is no right or wrong here, just observe.
Next you will be asked to sit in pairs to share what you want to share in relation to what you have learned from your observations. It is important to emphasise that you are not being asked to describe what is happening on the bus or in the observation itself, but what you are learning about the bus and the process of observation in general terms. You can use your drawing as an example if you want, but the focus of the conversation needs to be meta-analytic (related to the process of learning itself) and not confessional (related to yourself). Then, you will be asked to sit in groups of four and report on what you are learning from listening to other people’s reports of their learning. Finally you will be invited to share with the group 1. one thing that may have surprised you and 2. the current state of your bus: whether things seem a)ok, or b)things are being processed, or c)if there is something “burning” that needs to be expressed or vented. If we take the metaphor of the bus further, sometimes, when the bus is travelling too fast or through winding or rocky roads, individual passengers can become nauseous and therefore the bus needs to stop so that they can “vomit”. In this methodology, the “holding the (vomit) bucket” phrase is used as an invited agreement for non-judgemental listening of something you may not completely identify with (within your bus), but that needs to be expressed. If you ask for “the bucket”, we will check with the group if people are ok with listening to something potentially triggering without judgement and without being triggered. Those who feel that they may be triggered at that moment (regardless of the reason) may choose to leave the space for a while.
The other decks
“The bus” can also be conceptualized as a four deck vehicle representing four layers of selfhood: 1)me, 2)me and you, 3)me in you, and 4)neither me nor you (“us” in an “I” beyond form and time). The first, basic layer of the bus represents one lifetime of a self within a bounded body: all the experiences of one’s embodiment in flesh, time, and space. Therefore, within “the bus” a person would find aspects of the psyche related to hers/his responses to being socialized within their social groups. On the second deck of the bus (me and you), a person would find the communities they have a connection with also within the bus (both positive and negative connections). On the third deck of the bus, there is one living organism, consisting of different cells and organs known and unknown in different forms. The larger organism metaphor (represented by planet earth) emphasizes co-constitution, co-dependency, co-vulnerability, entanglement beyond what can be cognitively registered, as well as a larger temporality where responsibility extends beyond one’s species and lifetime. The fourth deck of the bus (neither me nor you) represents a metaphysical level of selfhood beyond time and space, that exists alongside the different temporalities and embodiments represented on the other decks and that stands for the co-constitution of death and creation, shadow and light as the source of both destruction, creativity and possibility.
It is emphasized that our modern socialization has given us language for decks 1 and 2, but has stripped us of language for decks 3 and 4. This is partly due to the fact that the Enlightenment legacy of this socialization attempts to reduce being to knowing and knowing to controlling (I think therefore I am), while decks 3 and 4 represent being that cannot be reduced to knowing and that are beyond human control. This desire for control also affects the quality of language used to describe and manage decks 1 and 2, what we call “thick language”. Thick language works like a heavy blanket that tries to envelope and restrict the movement of the world into fixity in meaning. In contrast, thin language works like a veil that allows for flow, flexibility, mobility and play of meanings, in the understanding that meaning, although necessary, cannot apprehend reality and that being cannot be reduced to knowing: the world cannot fit any box. Work on decks 3 and 4 necessarily require “thin language”. If “thick language” is used, these decks are captured back in boxes that will tend to be defended and protected as the “truth”, in efforts steaming from desires to eliminate uncertainty and indeterminacy.
If the bus decks are introduced in a collective inquiry, participants are asked to pay attention to which deck they are called to attend to, and to develop more familiarity with the decks they have not been encouraged to explore.
This methodology is counter-intuitive because our social experience demands and rewards displays of coherence, self-transparency, purity and control, therefore most of us have not been encouraged and are not used to talking about internal complexity, diversity or contradictions. As we do not have a established vocabulary to express these aspects of the self, we tend to repress them. When we repress something we dis-identify with within ourselves, we will tend to project it outward, as a trait we don’t like in others and sometimes this is perceived as a threat, prompting justifications for hate and even extermination. In other words, if we cannot sit with our own complexity and indeterminacy, we will not be able to sit with the complexity and indeterminacy of the world around us. The denial of these complexities and fear of the unknown create a desire to make the world fit in a box of certainties that offer us (false) securities and creates harmful projections and unrealistic expectations that are very damaging to our relationships. Our attachments to the illusion of control over these boxes and fears of the unknown and of uncertainty create the fragilities that make it almost impossible for us to not want to control our lives, relationships and each other. Trust becomes conditional on predictability and affirmation (of boxes). Therefore conversations that expose what does not fit in or that which is hurt by the boxes we hold dear in order to feel safe, break the agreement of predictability and affirmation and are perceived as uncomfortable, threatening or (self)destructive.
Depending on how the methodology is used and experienced, the figure of “the bus” can support individuals and groups
- to register experiences of selfhood beyond meaning inscribed in self-image, identity, and codified understanding
- to examine the affective dimension of our relationship with knowledge and knowledge production
- to face and sit with paradoxes, contradictions, complexities and diversities internal to the self
- to identify the relationship between external social demands and individual affective, intellectual and subsistence investments
- to observe the symptoms and effects of one’s attachments to coherence, authority, certainty, virtue, mastery, leadership, superiority and control
- to articulate and assess projections and unexamined compensatory patterns of addiction
- to build stamina to engage productively and agonistically with dissonance, dissensus, complicity, conflict, ambivalence, divergence, indeterminacy, and imcommensurability
- to develop dispositions of self-permeability and affectability where relationships not mediated by knowledge or desires for identification or dis-identification
- to discern between wants and needs and their sources
- to reduce collective anxieties and to transform conflict into generative experiences