Process Work Spaces – Triggering the Magic Within …


My Journey

In late 1993, I participated in my first behavioral lab at IIM Ahmedabad. Titled ERI, in ways more than one, this lab marked my life both for the good and the ‘not-so-good’. Suffice it to say, that the lab ended up reinforcing my deep ambivalence to success, capitalism, and the world of becoming, and I emerged as what was perhaps true at that time, and yet I was blind to it – a confused, lonely, angry, and frozen young man with a very little idea of what life is all about. ERI teetered me over the edge, and with associated trauma, loneliness, and pain, to seek, to experiment, to gamble and most importantly to get lost … in a journey to find something anew.

In 1998, I was back again at the Sumedhas Summer Program for my internship – a two week lab, with a cognitive intent of becoming skilled in behavioral work. I was carrying a lot more baggage this time and immersed myself into a process-work space similar to ERI that had pushed me into a painful oblivion may years ago.

Was I keen to come back – not really – for unconsciously, this was another mad gamble, a veritable straw for the drowning me clutching for hope and redemption. However this particular process work experience was intense yet benign – it, through the energy of the group and the facilitators, generated healing, hope, and new insights – an intensely magical experience for myself. It also helped me acknowledge the gifts offered by the earlier lab in 1993 – the gifts of search, experiment, and self reliance.

Looking back, both these labs evoked a lifetime commitment towards working with groups – whether through the process-work spaces / labs offered by Sumedhas or through group relations conferences in India and abroad. Each time in a lab space, I have experienced a quality of certain magic unfold – an energy that cannot be evoked by one individual, insights that cannot be monopolized by one individual, and an intense sense of love and companionship that cannot be offered by one or the other.

I write this blog for any reader who is curious to understand how such spaces are created, sustained, and deployed and the conditions for unleashing the magic that I have personally experienced. Let me begin by differentiating Reflexivity from Reflection that happens in a process work space.


reflexivity 4

Reflexivity versus Reflection

Very often, we invite someone to a process work space by saying that it allows for deep reflection on one’s identity (who am I?), one’s socialization and role-taking, and new choice making. Yes, most such spaces offer time and energy for reflection – such times are rare these days for those of us who are playing multiple roles and engaging with diverse systems. The gift of reflection is valuable as it allows us to step off the treadmill for some time, and review, recalibrate, and renew ourselves. We feel good about it.

However, lab spaces such as Sumedhas Summer Program offer a lot more than the gift of Reflection. For many of us, it offers us to examine our own ‘Reflexivity’. Allow me to build on the narrative of Reflexivity for it is important.

The principle of reflexivity was first mooted by William Thomas in 1923 as the Thomas Theorem –the situations that men define as true, become true for them.’ In Sociology, Reflexivity is an act of ‘self-reference’, where it refers to the ability or capacity of the individual (agent) to recognize forces of socialization, and change his or her place in the social structure.

  • An individual with low reflexivity would be shaped largely by the environment with no real choices for self.
  • An individual with high reflexivity may actually shape himself or herself in terms of roles, desires, politics, values and so on.

Thus Reflexivity, to put it simply, is to understand the lens with which one looks at self and the environment or the context, and in referencing this lens, creates new meanings, new intents, and new actions for self. Reflexivity is the idea that a person’s thoughts and ideas tend to be inherently biased. In other words, the values and thoughts of a person will be represented in their work, in their relationships, and in their choices.

Let me give an example – an individual carrying the memories of being victimized in the past, often ends up unconsciously setting himself or herself as the victim because the current lens of looking at phenomena create a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ – a process referred to by both Merton and Karl Popper.

Unless there is sufficient energy invested into engaging with the lens of looking at self and the world, and transforming the lens itself, chances are that labs become a space for mere catharsis, breakdowns, and pseudo-wombs, and once the person goes back, processes of victimization continue.

reflexivity 2

So to me, the first magic that happens in a stranger group sitting together in a Sumedhas Summer Program, is when groups engage, share, and dialogue on the lens that each brings in with herself or himself. Authenticity and Reflexivity go hand in hand for the space itself creates multiple lens of looking at the same narrative. It is the collective energy invested by the group to tear down the socialized defenses of each individual, and to reach into the ‘lens’ of the actor is when something new emerges.

Only a group, and very often stranger-groups, allow for this to happen.

However, I am also aware that sometimes groups don’t delve deeper for working with reflexivity is a lot tougher than working with reflection. When one is stuck with Reflection, one becomes dependent upon the facilitator (often called as faculty) for new reflections, new insights, and new knowledge. This dependency is dysfunctional and the lab space is remembered merely as a cathartic space to weep, to emote, to vomit, and to let go.

There are many who believe that one can be a spectator and watch others ‘reflect’, and then one can collect treasures of insights, of lessons learnt, of new ideas – unfortunately it doesn’t work this way either. The consumer mindset is quite dominant in most spaces including Sumedhas spaces, where the lens of working is to tell oneself that learning lies out there, and if one pays money (fees), the learning can be bought over.

The other defense that I hear people talking about when unwilling to engage with reflexivity is that of being ‘introverted’. I don’t think introversion or extroversion (or any of these lens acquired with judgments, values, and biases) can be an excuse of not wanting to work with reflexivity.



Reflexivity and the magic that I seem to be promising in this note, requires a greater effort of every individual within the group – to work with the notion of truth, to be authentic, to keep the witness inside alive even though the actor roles become seductive, and to engage and offer, to receive and to create new meanings.

Yes, just like my first lab, reflexivity can also create confusion, dissonance, alienation, rage, fragmentation et al – well these only get exposed as one takes a deep dive. These gifts are immensely valuable in their own right – for these also provide the energy to re-look at the lens. So yes, a lab space would evoke painful memories, would raise ugly reflections as a mirror, would create turmoil and immense sorrow, and yes if reflexivity happens – would create immense magic that offers new meanings, new choices, and new actions.

Process work spaces are voluntary in their spirit and all of us who join groups uphold this value. The act of joining a GRC or a Sumedhas Summer Program is an act of autonomy, of authorizing oneself, and an act of ‘reflexivity’ where a person chooses to challenge the Thomas Law – by joining in a space where new lens of living and loving can be created.

Those of you who like this blog – please visit and check out the Sumedhas Summer Program 2016.


13 thoughts on “Process Work Spaces – Triggering the Magic Within …

  1. Gagan, i loved your piece. I felt connected and to the first summer program. Many a time, when i choose to raise myself in situations, it is born out of a certain reflexivity that got seeded years ago. The fun is checking it out once a while of the intensity of such an intent. Warm hugs my friend. Nostalgia is a drug that comes in many forms….

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  2. I think the difference between Reflection and Reflexivity is important and needs to be brought out more clearly. Perhaps a few examples of how the “lens” impacts “what we see” will help. Suggest you redo the piece a bit and use it as reading material forSP

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  3. Thanks for writing this, Gagan!

    Process work to me, is about creating spaces for oneself and for others, spaces that allow one to explore and challenge the assumptions one has built over a period of time and perhaps become entrenched in one’s ways. Sometimes these assumptions are comfort zones because they have given us “success” or acceptability but are also places of limitations and constraints that create struggles and dilemmas.

    Process work spaces, in my experience, are safe spaces for one to be an observer unto oneself, create opportunities for one to get different perspectives, and for experimenting with the new hypotheses one makes after challenging the assumptions… so that one can create new possibilities of for oneself and one’s potential. Many a times there have been thoughts and “processes” that were initiated in an experiential lab which, at that time, seemed like unanswered questions, churn, discomfort and over a period of time through continued observation and experimentation translated into what you refer to as, the “magic”.

    I also believe that process work offers a certain personal growth (call it self-awareness, reflexivity, ability to observe-question-reflect-act) that makes it a building block of leadership for individuals and in organizations, without which any effort in leadership development can at best be a “program” that is imposed from the “outside” and therefore not dynamic enough to respond to the ever-changing circumstances….

    Your piece has triggered a lot of thoughts in my mind – and I am tempted to attempt writing a piece myself! 🙂

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  4. This is a super post. The seeking of the truth, the looking at own lens, going beyond catharsis, very nicely articulated in this

    Mustafa On 08-Apr-2016 1:40 pm, “Incorrigibly romantic …” wrote:

    > tao_warrior posted: ” My Journey In late 1993, I participated in my first > behavioral lab at IIM Ahmedabad. Titled ERI, in ways more than one, this > lab marked my life both for the good and the ‘not-so-good’. Suffice it to > say, that the lab ended up reinforcing my deep ambiva” >


  5. Dear Gagan, very nice post and I started to read this with a lot of interest. However, while the piece is very informative I did not get a feel of the magic that you experienced and the experience of self reflexivity that you have had. I wish you would write more about that.


    1. Haha – i can be only informative – the magic happens when one experiences it. I can at best explain the some of the tangible ingredients including reflexivity ,,,


  6. Your skepticism has a relevance – i think the process of such claims has also a collusion from the participating member – who may not really want reflexivity as such


    1. Dear Atul and Gagan, It will be helpful to clarify as to what each one of us means by “magic”. As far as I am concerned Magic is nothing but a “perspective from a different lens”. A magician does not fabricate a reality-a magician merely manipulates the lens through which people see the reality. If we apply this frame to process work then we can see that it is a space wherein a phenomenon can be engaged with through multiple lenses, thereby giving an individual an opportunity to “reflect upon” the lens through which he/she is looking at the reality. Different people take this opportunity in different ways. One can put them into four broad categories-
      1. There are people who remain entrenched in their own “lens” and consequently remain sceptical or at best receive some dry cognitive learning.
      2. There are people who open themselves to looking at reality through the lens provided to them by others ( mostly the facilitators). They experience considerable relief,healing and some insights into themselves. Typically, they express themselves through sentiments like “oh, I never saw things in this light or I was unnecessarily carrying this burden of guilt and shame etc. etc.” For them the experience is like being with a “magician” who has suddenly opened up a whole new world for them. Needless to say, this is the group which is most dependency-prone
      3. There are people who take the opportunity to reflect upon their lens (in the sense of becoming reflexive).They also experience some “magic” but it is not all that “awe inspiring” for them because they are able to relate their new perspective with the changed lens with which they are looking. However even for them the experience may remain short-lived because reflexivity is a process and not a one time event.The dependency in their case is more likely to be towards process-work settings rather than any specific individuals.
      4. There are people who make reflexivity into a practice of their day to day living. For them there is nothing magical about reflexivity or the new perspectives that it generates. It is exhilarating yes but not magical.
      This response has become longer than what I had intended, but thank you both for helping me to clarify this for myself. warmly, Ashok


  7. Tao_Warrior : ) Thanks Great read as usual, as Ashok Ji said would love to hear more on how the lens get impacted from what we see … it helped me to understand Reflexivity better…and yes while one should be authentic keeping the witness alive at the same time is the key…will understand more when we speak…see you soon…

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