Our ESRI Tracks & Open Space

A 'thematic track' is a series of 3 short skill-building sessions held every day with the same sub-group of 15-25 to allow for a deeper exploration of a specific topic over the week. All ESRI participants are invited by email to register for a track of choice.

The following four 'tracks' and one 'open space' will take place:

👉 A - 'Investigating the lived experience of (un-)sustainability'

Co-facilitated by Katrin Heimann, assistant professor, Aarhus University; Pascal Frank, postdoctoral researcher, Leuphana University Lüneburg; Maren Michaelsen, postdoctoral researcher, Witten University; Fynn-Mathis Trautwein, postdoctoral researcher, University of Freiburg

Recent scholarship argues that inner states and processes play a crucial role for understanding current unsustainability and initiating changes toward a sustainable future for individuals and society. However, research inquiring into inner dimensions of (un-)sustainability is still very much in its infancy, and so is the search for methods providing access to these inner dimensions. Against this background, this track will reflect on the relevance and potential of first-person research in the context of sustainability.

Based on a general introduction to the topic (session 1), participants will experiment with reflexive diaries and micro-phenomenological interviews as two methods for collecting rigorous and detailed data on lived experience of (un-)sustainable behaviors (session 2). We will conclude by discussing the challenges and potentials of these methods, including the tension between science as an objective method and science as an art of transformation (section 3). All participants are encouraged to engage in a short self-reflection project on related themes (e.g. consumption behavior, experience of nature, self-care) prior to the track in order to ground the workshop on an experiential basis.

👉 B - 'Exploring mindful co-creation and community-building'

Co-facilitated by Enrico Fucci, Dara James, Annika Lübbert, Wolfgang Lukas, Francesco Noera, Mary Rees

This track focuses on co-creating a contemplative intersubjective playground. We facilitate a collaborative space in which we gather and explore needs and ideas for a supportive community of (mindful) researchers: how might such a community grow and support all of its members?

Our exploration will be practical. As facilitators, we rely on the experience gathered in the Mindful Researchers community, where we organise bi-weekly meetings that combine deep listening with playful explorations and more personal (holistic) sharing of our work. As participants, the diverse backgrounds of experience and the current situation that each of you/us brings are equally important elements of the co-creative process. The activities we propose involve social contemplative practices, such as Listening Circles and aspects of Insight Dialogue, and co-creation practices from participatory design and action research.

The three days will roughly follow three steps:
Opening - setting and preparing the co-creative space 
Deepening - intersubjective contemplative work
Manifesting - co-creative summary and refinement of elements that have emerged

The Mindful Researchers are a grassroot community which has been gathering since ESRI 2020. We have been inspired by a shared need and aspiration (1) to reconvene our personal contemplative practice with formal research and working commitments, and (2) to explore spaces and gather tools that support us in our work as researchers, while cultivating a contemplative and embodied attitude. 

Please also see our Mindful Researchers website

👉 C - 'Dialogues on Francisco Varela’s path'

Co-facilitated by Catherine Bastien-Ventura, Ven. Holger Yeshe and Luisa Damiano (ESRI Planning Committee members)

This track, dedicated to the memory of Francisco Varela, proposes a participatory exploration of his research path through dialogues. We will encourage the participants to engage with us in conceptual dialogues on Varela’s scientific investigation of life and cognition, resonance dialogues between this research work and the scenarios of our lives, and experiences of deep dialogues among us, realized through meditative practices.

Our focalization on the explorative power of dialogue relies on the centrality this has in Varela’s research, where the notion of “dialogue”, or “conversation”, indicates an emergent way of conducting science. In a few words: Refusing the classical ideal of an objective, totalizing scientific inspection of nature, and practicing science as a slow, subtle, attentive, multiple, endless process of interpretation. More concretely: Deciphering the systems populating nature by building a increasing multiplicity of different levels of description, and moving from one level to the other when the systems, through their manifestations, indicate the limits of the observer’s descriptive framework, and suggest directions for its further enrichment and re-articulation. Adopting this methodological approach meant for Varela to reject the classical, Cartesian scientific heuristics of the “monologue”, which proposes the regulative ideal of a scientific observer who explores an inert, independent, transparently accessible natural world from a neutral and external point of view. With the “heuristics of dialogue” Varela opted for the structural openness and inherent uncertainty of a two-way conversation with nature: an explorative interaction involving the scientific observer and the system s/he explores in a symmetrical relationship of knowledge, since both of them are integral, immerse parts of the natural world, and evolve interdependently as systems of the same kind – “observing systems”.

After a brief presentation of the main traits of this heuristics, our track will invite the participants to undertake with us a dialoging co-exploration of the ways in which this heuristic option generated some of the most relevant aspects of Varela’s research on life and cognition, and today can help us to open new paths of investigation – itineraries oriented to deepen our interrogation of ourselves, the others, and the world we share in this era of global changes and pandemic.

The three sessions will combine research in cognitive biology, epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and contemplative sciences. They will address key themes and notions characterizing, respectively, Maturana and Varela’s autopoietic cognitive biology, the Varelian theory of autonomous systems, and Varela’s enactive view of mind. Each session will propose a short theoretical introduction, followed by open discussions and meditative practices directed towards deepening the comprehension of the theoretical contents addressed by integrating them into our lives, our experiences and our paths of explorations.

👉 D - 'Being and Moving in Presence'

Co-facilitated by Ven. Ayya Anopama and Hsuan-Hsiu Hung

This is a contemplative space to explore creatively being and moving in relation to others, to allow the unfolding of insights in each other's presence and awareness.

The practice-based track is inspired by relational meditation and the guidelines of Insight Dialogue (originally developed by Gregory Kramer) which are further explored through somatic movement and improvisation. Participants are invited to enter the track space to settle, embody, be and/or move with whatever lingers or emerges in them after each day’s thematic discussions while opening to what is there in the present moment of encountering each other.

The sessions are guided by gentle prompts and invitations, both verbal and non-verbal. We will be and reflect together as a whole group as well in pairs/small groups in break-out rooms for relational exploration, contemplation and response.

In stillness and in movement,
between us,
what’s it like to…

Pause - Stop for a moment. Find here and now. Call forth mindfulness.
Relax, Receive, Allow - Release tension in the body, receive, allow things as they are.
Open - Expand awareness into mutuality; be mindful of internal, external, and both.
Attune to Emergence - Notice and yield to change, to not knowing; allowing change itself to become the object of practice.
Listen Deeply - Listen with the whole body, receive and rest in the world, listening from the silence beneath the words.
Speak the Truth - Discern the inner truth that would be spoken, offer words in kindness.

👉 E - 'Open Space'

In addition and in parallel to the tracks an 'open space' time slot will be offered. You do not have to register for it beforehand.
In this space one can explore innovative and unexpected collaboration within the ESRI community. This specific space will be dedicated to help shape collaborative projects around topics that will be brought by the participants themselves.