In previous posts (see “Life (and Power) on the Resilient Edge of Resistance” and “At the Heart of Regeneration is … the Heart (and the Gut”), I have written about my experiences with the Weston Network and the Respectful Confrontation training and apprenticeship program and more recently with the Fierce Civility teacher training program, which I began in March of this year. This most recent experience, including a 5 day retreat with a small and racially diverse group of skillful practitioners from around the US, again drove home the importance for me of embodied practice generally, and specifically to manage our nervous systems and engage in interpersonal “co-regulation.” To me, Joe Weston is a true magician, a masterful teacher and coach, and someone that hashelped me to develop deeper reverence for my body and its wisdom (along with very adept healers, Dr. Eve Capkanis and Gwen McClellan).
A few weeks ago, Joe gave me a draft of his forthcoming book, currently titled Fierce Civility: Transforming Our Global Culture from Polarization to Lasting Peace, and asked that I do a critical review. I came away with more appreciation for what he and The Weston Network are trying to achieve in these fractured and fractious times. “Civility” has (almost) become a dirty word, seen as naive and impossible by some (at least when considering certain cultural and political divides), and as harmful by others, if “being civil” means not speaking or hearing truths or working for social justice. Joe appreciates all of this (writing at one point – “Even our passivity has taken on a tone of aggression”), and holds the concept of civility in dynamic tension with fierce-ness.
Fierce civility is not about “chronic niceness” or conflict avoidance, but rather advocates for stances of assertiveness (as opposed to aggression) and receptivity (as opposed to passivity). Fierce civility is not about glossing over systemic and structural injustice and oppression, even as it does not shy away from promoting personal responsibility and accountability. This delicate and sometimes difficult balancing act was definitely a topic of conversation this past weekend when our Fierce Civility cohort (whom Joe has dubbed “love ninjas”) gathered on the heels of Friday’s US Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade. That is a discussion that will continue, no doubt. Joe writes in his book, “We are technologically overfed and spiritually malnourished,” and encourages people to intentionally change their diets (quality and quantity) as a means of effectively making both personal and systemic change. And best if this is work is done with supportive community.
There is much more to say about the book, as well as the practices that the Weston Network teaches (though better to actually read the book and engage in the practices), but for now, I wanted to share (with Joe’s permission) some particular quotes that struck while reading the draft and that have stayed with me.
“True martial artists would say that they learn how to fight so that they can pivot away from conflict and aggression and prevent fighting, and that is true power.”
“Imagine in a conversation if the goal on both sides was to protect yourself, the other and the conversation itself from unconscious reactivity and the lack of civility that can unexpectedly seep in.”
“When we give the extremes all of our attention, our focus is turned towards them and away from the larger majority of people who hold more nuanced, less reactive views of the same issues.”
“What if the most courageous, revolutionary and impactful thing you could do at this time is to cultivate a daily practice of aligning with your humanity, embody a deeper level of resilience, avoid burn out, as well as maintain and deepen authentic relationships?”
“This is what true freedom is: freeing yourself of unexamined beliefs and biases; gaining confidence to stay regulated in challenging situations; opening your heart in safe and empowered ways, and protecting against any threats to civility and non-violence.”
“Many of us have forgotten that debating issues can be fun, not a life-or-death experience. We have become frightened and turned off by the messiness of human interaction and the process of creating something new.”
“The two halves of the heart pump with and against each other. This dynamic interplay might look pretty volatile to the human eye, but the body knows that that level of assertiveness is necessary to keep the system healthy and vital.”
“We are seeing a shift to cyber and economic warfare. The techniques may change, but the primitive impulse for war has not. And while we may have peace treaties, we are not seeing the global cooperation needed to sustain life.”
“If only hanging out with people who already agree with you were going to solve our problems, we would have already solved them.”
(Quoting Gabor Maté): “Safety is not the absence of danger; safety is the presence of connection.”
I love frisbee and have for as long as I can remember. Recently, as I was entering into a few weeks of sabbatical time away from work, a friend asked me what I thought would be most regenerative of my mind, body and spirit during this time. In addition to rest, slowing down, being generally mindful, and taking a break from screens, social media and the news, one of the things that came top of mind was playing frisbee. I have memories of my teenage and twenty-something self in utter bliss and a sense of timelessness, hurling a disk across a vast expanse at a corner lot in our neighborhood in Flint, Michigan or at a lakeside park in upstate New York with my dad or a friend, feeling the breeze, watching the frisbee glide and rotate against a backdrop of brilliant blue sky and feeling the grass massage my bare feet as I ran to make a catch. Heaven.
This is a love that I seem to have successfully instilled in my three daughters. And one of them, our eldest, has taken it to another level this season through her involvement in her high school varsity ultimate frisbee team. I have only played “ultimate” a couple of times, and very informally, in my lifetime. Growing up in the Midwest US, this was not “a thing” the way that it is here in the northeast. And it turns out that at the high school level in this community, it is taken quite seriously and is played with great skill. Having said that, the culture and success of the ultimate frisbee boys’ team here has been particularly striking in that it seems so different from what one usually thinks about in terms of high performance athletics. The more I have learned and experienced this current high school ultimate frisbee season, especially in the context of these times, the more I have appreciated what is happening right under my nose, forall that it gives to the teenagers involved and would seem to offer a mainstream culture hurting for lack of alternative ways of being, well, more human(e), especially in adolescent and competitive contexts.
My oldest daughter, Annabel, also plays varsity volleyball, which takes up a lot of her time in the fall. When she got involved in frisbee during the spring, one of the first things I noticed was her overall upbeat attitude and holistic appreciation for her teammates and the ultimate culture. “There just isn’t much drama,” Annabel explained to me at one point, “and people are really kind, supportive and frankly mature.” In a sense, ultimate to her is not just a sport, but a way of life. She went on to explain how in ultimate games there are no referees, that players take responsibility for calling fouls and then talking it out if there are any differences of perspective. I’ve witnessed this a number of times in games and have been impressed that even when there is clearly tension and disagreement, the players manage to work it through – some beautiful self-organization and respectful confrontation/ fierce civility on display!
I also came to appreciate early on in this recently completed spring season, the joy-full, heartfelt, and creative expression that comes up during and around games. After one memorable game, the two competing teams sang songs they had composed to one another, conveying appreciation for the adversary. In another case, after one team scored, the other team gave them a standing ovation as a salute to the level of play and skillfulness on display. In a recent tournament finale, the boys’ team was down a couple of points with not much time remaining and called a timeout. Instead of getting down on one another or into a heated strategic conversation, they played music and engaged in a playful dance circle for a couple of minutes, then went on to win the game. And when someone accidentally hurts someone else during play, they make sure to stay engaged with the injured person, showing genuine care and making sure the person gets the support they need.
The camaraderie and respect on display is really remarkable. The boys’ and girls’ teams come to one another’s games and cheer each other on. “You just don’t see this in other sports at the school,” says Annabel. Each time someone scores from either team there is an outburst of celebration from whoever is cheering from the sideline. If someone makes a mistake on the field they are supported by players on and off the field, and the invitation is for everyone to move on. It is not unusual to see the boys come together in a game to hold hands and take a deep breath together to gather themselves, and for both teams to engage in a mindful moment before a game. Annabel says to me, “We genuinely love each other and enjoy being with one another.” This shows and comes through time spent outside of practice and games building relationships and rapport, including through community service projects. (the most recent being at the local survival center).
There is also a core element of mindful inclusion and paying attention to privilege. The boys’ team recently made the decision not to go to a “by invitation only” national conference because of its exclusivity and tendency to only include mostly white teams and privileged schools. The girls’ team, in light of its multi-racial make-up, has had open conversations about anti-racism and anti-sexism. And there has been an attempt to create across programs an authentic and welcoming community for LGBTQ+ team members, including an open embrace of trans athletes.
One last point worth making. There is a very mature invitation by members of the ultimate teams to take personal responsibility and, as Annabel explains it, “focus on controllables, not uncontrollables.” In other words, to enact the serenity prayer, knowing when to push for change and when to let go and just flow with what is. I can see how this is impacting my daughter and her teammates in a time that begs for this kind of discernment.
In a world that can seem at times so unmoored, this spring ultimate frisbee season and the remarkable leadership of these local teens has given me hope for the present and future.
As you review the framework, would you share your responses to the questions below in the comments?
What does it bring up for you?
Where do you find yourself focusing your thinking and efforts?
What might you want to explore, start, continue or further develop, or stop doing in any of the stages?How does the framework help you prioritize and perhaps find empowering areas for action and partnership?
As you navigate the complex times of COVID-19 and racial uprising, consider what it would take to transition through these four dimensions, what needs to be in place, what is already in place, and what we need to reimagine and rebuild.
1 – In the Trauma Dimension: How are we responding to the impact of trauma from COVID, racism, and other shocks?
Racial Equity & Justice:
Are we removing racialized barriers to emergency resources?
Are we using a racial equity impact analysis tool to understand and evaluate our response? Even when we feel rushed?
Are we recognizing deep racial harm in our organization and networks?
Are we pausing and engaging in quick and meaningful stakeholder engagement to guide our responses and ensure less harm?
Are we attending to both relationships and results as we carry out our work?
Are we acting and responding with humility, empathy, and transparency?
Are we practicing presence and accountability?
Are we connecting with diverse networks to gather and share information and foster flows to address critical needs?
2 – In the Reckoning Dimension: How are we grappling with deep distress and the reality of shifting resources? How are we embracing racial uprisings for change? How are we embracing uncertainty?
Racial Equity & Justice:
Are we acknowledging inequities revealed by crisis?
Are we acting to undo the racialized impacts of our actions?
How are we recognizing the leadership of Black people and what are the lessons for our organizations?
A couple of months ago I was invited by Visible Network Labs to give a presentation to the Network Leadership Training Academy on regenerative networks. This was of course done virtually, and I was already wanting to not simply present or talk about the topic, but invite people into some kind of embodiment of it (given regeneration is about bringing life to life!). And so here is how I, along with a team of collaborators, invited people in …
We began with a truncated grounding practice that I received from The Weston Network/Respectful Confrontation community, which invites people to align their energetic center (gut), heart and mind, while cultivating deeper connection to self, surrounding and others. At its best, this practice boosts life force (chi) and gets energy and emotion flowing within and between people. Indications from the Zoom chat afterwards were that a number of people were indeed “rejuvenated” by the practice.
Then we showed a video for the song “The Play” by Minnesota-based singer songwriter Peter Mayer. The imagery is very evocative of the grandeur of life and the lyrics invite the listener/watcher to consider their role as both observer of and participant in this amazing show of creation and evolution. What do you feel moving for you as you take this in? See below:
Then we moved on to a group read (by the diverse, ad hoc and spontaneously named Regenerative Network Players) of a number of quotes that connect to these themes of networks, life, flow and evolution. People were then invited into trios to meet one another and share what caught their attention in one or more of these quotes and why. Inviting you to do the same:
“We are the living conduit to all life. When we contemplate the vastness of the interwoven network that we are tied to, our individual threads of life seem far less fragile.” – Sherri Mitchell (Weh’na Ha’mu’ Kwasset, “She Who Brings Light,” Penobscot lawyer and activist, author of Sacred Instructions)
“Life did not take over the planet by combat, but by networking.” – Lynn Margulis (evolutionary theorist, biologist, science author, educator, and science popularizer)
“You’ve got to keep asserting the complexity and the originality of life, and the multiplicity of it, and the facets of it. This is about being a complex human being in the world.” – Toni Morrison
“We must create civilization(s) for equitable human wellbeing within a healthy biosphere. Since our thinking produced self-inflicted existential threats, the main challenge is to find a practical way to reconcile our thinking with the logic of life.” – all-women Emerging New Civilization(s) panel. United Nations
“The basic pattern of organization of a living system is the network. Ecosystems are understood in terms of food webs, i.e. networks of organisms; organisms are networks of cells, and cells are networks of molecules. More precisely, a living system is a self-generating network within a boundary of its own making. Each component of the network helps to transform and replace other components, and thus the entire network continually creates, or recreates, itself.” – Fritjof Capra (scientist, educator, activist)
“Ultimately there is no independent heroic ego, only the collective work of sustaining and evolving life by reshaping the relationships between the community and its larger context.” – Carol Sanford (thought leader, regenerative “resource,” author)
“As we learn to become better observers of our aliveness, we can more fully participate in our evolution as human beings and generate sustainable action or change that is aligned with what we care about.” – Eunice Aquilina (somatic and leadership coach, author)
“Seeing energy flows so that we can engage with them in positive ways is not some mystical, esoteric art, but the role of engaged human beings.” – Joel Glanzberg
“Look well to the growing edge. All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge.” – Dr. Rev. Howard Thurman (author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader)
From there, we moved into a brief presentation on regenerative networks, with some of the following points:
Networks are the underlying structure of life.
That said, there is sometimes not much life or liveliness in our human networks, and sometimes they can even become deadly.
We might think of many of the problems we face in this world as being linked to the difference (as Gregory Bateson once put it) between the way humans think and the way the rest of nature works.
A key going forward is getting back in right relationship with the rest of life, and to align with the processes of regeneration.
Regeneration points us to the self-feeding, self-renewing processes that living systems (including us) use to nourish their capacity to thrive for long periods of time, as well as their ability to adapt to unexpected, sometimes threatening, circumstances …
Long-term human thriving is rooted in large part in healthy socio-ecological webs that are diverse, intricate and dynamic.
We also talked about how stories can help point us in the right directions, including a growing number of cases of the practices of ecosystem restoration and regenerative agriculture (see below).
“What do these stories inspire in our thinking about how we might live and practice in our human networks?” we asked.
And amidst these stories of regenerative practice taking root and growing in different places, we also looked at how these approaches have impacted individual human beings, their life and liveliness. For example, research shows the following:
With the hope and and excitement that these kinds of revelations generate, we then presented a set of measures and design features that might help cultivate greater regenerative potential in and through people’s networks, with some time to discuss what most resonated:
There was not nearly enough time to process all of this very deeply, or to look at a list of network cultivation practices we had at the ready, but we did hear growing curiosity about what it would mean to intentionally focus on developing regenerative potential at the individual, group and larger systemic levels in a variety of contexts, which has expressed itself in follow-up emails and conversations.
Hoping the same will be the case here, if you feel so inspired. What’s moving for you now?
Note: This blog was authored as a framework to assist leaders moving people and organizations through COVID-19. Shortly after it was written, the racial uprisings of 2020 began after the many deaths of Black people in the United States. We have since updated this framework to bridge the approaches we believe are necessary for navigating both COVID-19 and racial injustice. Please view this blog and new resource.
As we find ourselves rowing in uncharted, uncertain, and scary waters, feeling like we’re up against waves of deep tension and crisis, we know that we need to row together in new and deeply collaborative ways. Yet under current conditions, many leaders are overwhelmed with concern about their own organizations; their staff, volunteers, Board, constituencies, and networks. We are all problem solving minute-to-minute and facing many critical decisions – decisions which could determine if people have a source of income, if they will receive essential services, and, indeed, even if they will remain healthy and alive.
We need to support leaders at all levels – individually, organizationally, and at the level of the ecosystem of networks around them – to work strategically and collaboratively in this critical moment. We are using IISC’s Collaborative Change Lens, to harness the power of collaboration by focusing on love, racial equity, and networks. We are supporting leaders online, and will eventually support them in-person (yes, that day will come), to plan and move through the stages of transformation offered in this framework during the pandemic and beyond.
Organizations, communities, networks, and even individuals may experience these stages in linear ways. Or, they may dip in and out of the stages at different times as they move through challenges and opportunities. We are supporting them to shift from emergency responses to creating conditions for resilient futures that create regenerative and equitable systems that are sustainable for the longer-term. This includes helping individuals and groups “do what they do best and connect to the rest,” and to act in networked ways to strengthen response and movement.
As you review the framework, would you share your responses to the questions below in the comments?
What does it bring up for you?
Where do you find yourself focusing your thinking and efforts?
What might you want to explore, start, continue or further develop, or stop doing in any of the stages?How does the framework help you prioritize and perhaps find empowering areas for action and partnership?
Facilitate rapid problem-solving and decision-making in the face of immediate needs, heightened risk, chaos, and/or uncertainty.
Focus on relationships and results for rapid decision-making and crisis management
Engage in quick and meaningful stakeholder engagement of those impacted by critical and consequential decisions to generate effective responses.
Ground all decisions in what is best for our shared humanity and fate.
Act and respond with love, humility, empathy, and transparency.
Let those in critical need know they are not alone.
Show up with and model presence and focus.
Avoid “savior syndrome” and respect the dignity and voice of those most in need in the moment.
Recommit to racial equity practices and approaches from the organization’s past that can build resiliency.
Anticipate and remove racialized barriers to accessing emergency resources and uniquely tailor responses to account for historic inequities to eliminate disparities in the emergency response.
Foster connectivity and flows between leaders in various sectors and ecosystems to gather and share information, understand the current reality, and respond to complex problems.
Tap into diverse networks to address critical needs and discover new possibilities.
Eliminate bottlenecks and liberate the flow of critical resources.
Grapple with the reality of fewer resources and more distress within the organization/community.
This is the first post I ever wrote for IISC and dates back to this day 11 years ago. I have edited it only a little, in light of Václav Havel‘s passing,and it seems telling that it could have very easily been written for these COVID19 times, which are an extension of the patterns that have been at play for a while in our world.
Former (and first) President of the Czech Republic Václav Havel told a little story that may provide a little guidance in these times. In 1989, only a few months before he completed an incredible journey from prisoner to president of his country, Havel found himself in a dire situation. The dissident-poet-and-playwright-turned-politician, who had risked his life numerous times in the fight against communism, was walking with a friend in the countryside outside of Prague.
In the near total darkness, he suddenly fell into a hole, a deep pit surrounded by cement walls, which he realized was a sewer. Disoriented and covered in muck, Havel tried to move but this only made him sink more deeply. His friend above was joined by a number of people who gathered around the rim of the hole and tried frantically to rescue Havel. It was only after someone managed to find and lower a long ladder, nearly thirty minutes later, that Havel was saved from an untimely ending.
From this freak accident, Havel climbed not just to dry land, but to the presidency, a truly amazing turn of events. Having lived through a number of seemingly hopeless circumstances, Havel continued to be a profoundly hope-full man. He saw hope as a state of mind that most often does not reflect the state of the world. Hope for him emerged out of the muck of absurdity, cruelty, and suffering, and reached not for the solid ground of what is certain, but for what is meaningful, for what fundamentally makes sense. Hope, in his view, was not the same as optimism. It was not the belief that something would ultimately work out, but that it felt true in a very essential way, beyond what was relayed in headlines, opinion polls, and prognostications.
Obviously we are now faced with circumstances that demand some faith on all of our parts. With the uncertainty of a volatile economy and a swirl of other forces, there is plenty to be pessimistic about. And if we consider Havel’s story, the antidote is not to be optimistic in the sense of desperately looking for something that tells us everything will be alright or return to being as it was. Rather, the more powerful response comes from within and attaches itself to what most deeply motivates us, what tastes most like truth.
Peter Forbes of Knoll Farm once said that, “New culture is formed by people who are not afraid of being insecure.” (maybe because they realized that security is over-rated or not really a thing). That may be the promise of this slowdown, if we can quiet the chatter, avoid panic and attune ourselves to what is waiting to grow out of the cracks in the foundation. The question is, in following those roots and shoots, how far are we willing to go? And who will be out fellow travelers?
How can we go from emergency response to stewards of emergence?
Over the past couple of months I have brought the poem below into a few different gatherings. Amidst flux, uncertainty, volatility, and pending collapse, it can be difficult to figure out how to orient, what to hold onto. So leave it to the poets to throw us a life line. Or in this case a thread.
William Stafford is a source of consistent solace and sanity to me, and “The Way It Is” I have found particularly grounding …
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change. People wonder about what you are pursuing. You have to explain about the thread. But it is hard for others to see. While you hold it you can’t get lost. Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die; and you suffer and get old. Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding. You don’t ever let go of the thread.
Colleagues and I have used this as an opening check-in with various groups and then invited people to name their thread. Here is some of what has come up:
People, those that I care for and who care or me.
The moral arc that bends towards justice.
Courage to hold on to what is possible.
The fire of passion.
Love, love and love.
What is the thread you hold that guides and grounds you in these times?
This week, my boss told me she loved me. It was not problematic, in fact it was beautiful. It was following a few days we had taken as the IISC network to get clear on our next strategic steps, considering how we are part of a movement of racial equity change makers.
While we have spoken for several years about how love is a central part of our collaborative change lens, we are doing an ever-better job of embodying it, first with ourselves and then with our clients.
Cornel West tells us that justice is what love looks like in public. He and others have revitalized a tradition that is more holistic and does not segregate love, both in the feeling state and the action state, from our work for equity. Many have preceded us who carry that wisdom. In gatherings of activists and change makers, I hear people yearning for our full humanity, to be able to have emotions as we work, to feel whole in our beings, to feel like we each belong. In our work spaces, especially when we are working at our life purpose, we yearn for satisfying and impactful spaces where we are paid what we need, can bring a wholeness, and can enjoy people and art. One of our labor foremothers in Lawrence, Rose Schneiderman, put it this way– “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.”
Over the past five years, we have been trying to center love. We do that in light ways, by using the word, and by bringing a variety of practices to our IISC and client spaces: intentional breathing and meditation, appreciations, embodying joy and love as we start a day, reclaiming space and time for fun and playfulness and relaxation. While these can be light touch, they are also not to be underestimated. Too frequently, we and others, make it through many a work day without any of this.
And this year we have been committing to dipping our toes in further. Some of the ways we are experimenting with and aspiring toward love at IISC:
We prioritized a small group of practitioners to imagine what equity work with love at the center looks like and how that differs from an organizing or facts-based strategy
We let each other know that everyone belongs and that everyone is loved.
We take pauses before entering difficult work or conflict settings
We try to start our own and other gatherings from a place of vision and abundance
We are embedding more practices into our training and consulting and coaching work
Love is definitely an emotion and can be expressed in words. It can also be felt more fully if it is in everything we do from how we interact throughout the day, to how we design spaces, to how we use time and build in pauses, to how we deal with mistakes and conflict.
This week, as we gathered around what might be heady material, editing our theory of change and planning our next strategic steps, we used half a day to get to know each other and our cares through honoring ancestors, building an altar, and talking about our fears and anger. And this intent was spread throughout our time.
One activity that many found deeply connecting is described below. I am calling it “Greeting with love and joy.” It was intended to ground, to center joyfulness, and from there to greet one another in silence and with a depth of connection.
These are some of the ways the activities and spaciousness made me feel vulnerable, more willing to share more truth, more open to hearing others and more open to seeing them fully, less reactive, loved.
Love surely is the answer to many questions. And it is not easy. We need to honor the time it takes, and we need to take seriously how to prioritize and integrate love, especially during times of conflict, and in all our work, including finance!
We are curious how love comes to work for you. What are some examples? Where are you feeling challenged?
Greeting with Love and Joy
This activity starts with time in a standing meditation to get grounded and connected to the world around us, to “gather” some elements we might need and to recall a time of joy. We then spend time in silence, connecting to others in the gathering, by walking around and stopping to gaze at another person from that place of joy or love. We end with some music or a chant to allow people to shift back into sound and return to the circle.
Guided breathing to center and to gather elements.
Ask people to stand with legs shoulder-width apart and either eyes closed or gazing down. Lead them through a series of deep breathing:
into their centers.
into their length, grounding into the floor and connecting through the head to the sky, gathering an element from each place.
into their back bodies to feel supported by ancestors and into the front body thinking about their commitment to the work.
into their side bodies to connect to people on either side of them and in the broader community.
back to center to imagine a moment of joy or love, to envision the sound and smells and feel that so they can carry that into the next piece of the activity.
Now let that picture and feeling of joy expand in your body from a kernel in your belly, out through your body, and to begin to expand beyond you.
Walk around for a minute with your eyes mostly down, feeling your joy in your step.
Now, raise your eyes and with the joy throughout your body, stop as you encounter another person. As you encounter each person, you are invited to pause for 10-30 seconds, as you are comfortable, and gaze directly into their eyes. You are bringing your joy & love to the greeting, you are seeing them in their joy, and you are receiving the love and joy in how they are silently greeting you.
Continue this for at least 5-10 minutes so that people can greet most others in the room. Consider integrating virtual participants by having multiple video stations so that participants in the room can stop by those stations to gaze at their colleagues who are remote.
Invite people to return to the circle/their seats. I ended with a short song/chant that I know as a way to bring sound back to the room and transition out of this intense moment of connecting. You can also ask people to journal or share feelings or an appreciation after they return. The intensity is both in insisting that we are connecting from love and in the silent but powerful eye gazing.
“By coming to the edges; by staying longer in the place that is supposedly without utility, empty, null and void; by dwelling with the bewildering awkwardness and staying with the trouble; other places of power become visible.”- Bayo Akomolafe
At a recent community of practice gathering of IISC consultants – a space in which we reveal our learnings and challenges – we explored the radical importance of creating spaciousness in our personal lives, as well as in our training and facilitation rooms. I believe spaciousness is the slow food of facilitation.
Slow food is used in progressive circles to describe living an unhurried life and taking time to enjoy meals and simple pleasures. It’s the complete opposite to fast food culture which, much like American work culture, is based on white and capitalist dominant norms of urgency, desperation, quantity over quality, and progress as always bigger and more.
We have forgotten to slow down. To say “no” lovingly. To just stop and pause lightly even for a few moments or minutes. IISC affiliate and former long-time Senior Associate Andrea Nagel shared at our community of practice session, “We can’t just talk our way into being. We need to be ‘in being.” Miriam Messinger, IISC’s director of practice, agreed and pointed out that “We have a fear of ‘being’ and we are rewarded for ‘doing’ in our culture.”
In our work with a client organization’s Race Equity Design Team, a member shared in a recent gathering, “We do have people who say no, but they have little power – we dismiss them. There is an unspoken sensation that we realize that ‘no’ is really not an acceptable word.” The team challenged themselves to slow down and get to the heart of things.
As facilitators and trainers, we can uproot white supremacy and capitalist culture just by adding spaciousness and slowness to our approach and design of meetings and gatherings. We can start with meditation and art, and we can focus on flow. Reduce the number of topics on an agenda. Pause to give people chances to breathe or take in moments of silence. Encourage people to empty their thoughts onto a page. Bring them into nature to walk and stretch. We can be firm on allowing at least one hour for people to eat lunch at day-long meetings so they can eat with intention and connect to people, and give no fewer than 15 minutes for a quality break. We can talk slower, walk around the room slower, and let space and time ebb and flow to allow people’s emergent thoughts to come into conversations. These thoughts are often the most strategic, brave, and authentic, and often the ones that allow new ideas to come into being and new cultural norms of collaboration to take hold.
There are times for high energy in a training or facilitation, but we can still offer spaciousness — more time for conversation and more time for self and group care. The rush of life and dominant culture will take us and our conversation over unless we intentionally create spaciousness. We have to re-condition ourselves to slow our minds and reduce or focus less on our “tasks”. If we disrupt the dominant pattern for one minute, one hour, or one day, it’s a victory in our current society. We can engage in practices to help us “be” in true and transformative collaborative relationship with one another.
The board and staff of Interaction Institute recently gathered to learn from others working to bring about racial equity and to talk about how we build a board structure that supports or propels our work in new ways. To start the day, we did an icebreaker I called, “Reclaim for Liberation.”
A colleague planted this seed. What are the qualities or traits we once had that have been taken from us—by family dynamics or trauma, by histories of oppression, or as we have become adults and try to live in the dominant culture? And which of these do we actually want back?
Sometimes, as we are reaching for liberation, we find ourselves fighting against what exists. What we need more of is the vision of what we are heading toward. And sometimes, we imagine that we need completely new tools and skills and ways of being to get to our vision. What if we actually know (or used to know) most of what we need for transformation?
Growing up in this culture and transforming ourselves to fit, particularly as women and/or people of color and/or queer people, we shed things that are not only elemental to us but deeply important for our ability to move forward. Much of this is related to how white supremacy impacts our ways of being and asks most of us to be much smaller than nature would have us be.
When we did the exercise below, people told each other short stories of what they wanted to reclaim for the journey. The words that came up included play, song, dance, carefree, silly, laughter. And then the members of each small group used their bodies to create a sculpture embodying the words and feelings of their group.
It would have been even more effective if we then had kept those ways of being fully present throughout the day, particularly when more challenging conversations emerged. I would like now for us to practice bringing those skills into difficult conversations and see if they help us to speak and solve together.
Try this meditation and share what you see in the group. Do more possibilities or new pathways forward emerge as a result?
Reclaim for Liberation
Allow 20-30 minutes, ideally.
Let people know that in this work for liberation we sometimes feel that we don’t have all we need for change. And perhaps some of what we need we have lost on the way or was taken from us. We are going to spend time individually and as a group reclaiming some of the lost qualities that can be important to us now.
1. Start with a guided meditation (5-6 minutes to set up and lead people in and out)
Ask people to take up space in the room; to spread out; can stand or sit
Get planted—feeling souls of feet on ground, butt on chair if seated; close eyes or soft gaze
10 deep breaths
Feel your body planted—feel the souls of your feet touching the ground, feel your hands resting on your legs or by your side
Roll each shoulder back—breath into your full breadth, feel connected to those around you
Hear the sounds of the room
Breathe to elongate—feel the roots shooting down from feet, up from the crown of the head reaching toward the sky—feel your full length and integrity
Ask people to travel back in years; begin to imagine a place you felt joy or lightness, a sense of freedom
What sounds do you hear?
What are you seeing around you?
Are there any smells?
Are you inside or outside?
Is this a place you recognize or a specific setting that is important to your childhood?
Are there people around you or are you alone?
Play in this space, enjoy the feelings.
Is there a piece of yourself that is present that you may have left behind? Is there a feeling or essence of that self that you want to bring forward and reclaim? Is there something (playful, clear, relaxed) that may be useful for your liberation today?
Draw people back to the room – come back into your body, hear the sounds around you, become more conscious of your breathing again, take time to come back into the room, and – when you’re ready – open your eyes.
2. In Trios (8-10 minutes) [decide in advance if there are any instructions needed about how to form trios—such as with people you don’t know or with whom you work less frequently]
Each person gets a minute to share the quality that you want to bring forward. Ask yourself: What did I see in my younger self that might serve me in my liberation work today? Share a picture, words or a posture.
Each group decides on a way to share back with the full group—encourage a physical sculpture or representation that captures everyone’s words or the quality of what was shared
3. Share back with group—up to 1 minute per group.
4. Ask people to call out some of the other words or feelings they want to carry into the day. You may want to capture some on a chart so you have a visual for your time together.
5. Decide as a group how you will keep pulling in these useful ways of being. This can be particularly useful if you have decisions to make or tensions to address. Ask people to consider an embodiment of their word or quality before engaging in such a conversation.
At IISC, we are using guided meditations to spark transformation in the hearts and minds of participants in our facilitation and training rooms.
This is one I offered to thirty Black leaders brought together by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in New York City this summer. They were asked by First Lady Chirlane McCray, wife of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, to develop recommendations to increase the numbers of Black mental health providers. But our job in the end was so much more. It was helping them to discover ways to re-imagine mental health care for Black communities, and to encourage Black people to go into mental health fields to free Black people from the emotional and spiritual binds of pain rooted in systemic and historical injustice.
It was the deepest honor to create and share this meditation with the group as I lost my mother in 2002 to mental illness and the health care system that “treated her”.
Get comfortable Anchor your feet and back Breathe natural breaths at your own pace
See what’s on your mind about today See your obligations outside of this room and let them float past you and away
Call on your images of your ancestors See the faces of your family Present And Past
Think about the history of Black people What images do you see of pain? Of pain as they face hardship? As their mental health deteriorates?
Of triumph? As they triumph over, and their mental health improves and sets them free?
What supports did they have to help them heal and achieve wholeness? Who helped them? How?
Who helped you in times of need? In times of mental burden and stress? How?
Thank your ancestors Thank yourself Breathe once again those breaths of life And come back when you are ready
At Passover, there is a song about being thankful for each thing we are blessed with. Dayenu means “it would have been enough.” It is a call to appreciate the small things and to recognize that they are enough. And yet, within the “enough” there is a simultaneous recognition that the first gift or step is not enough without the next one.
In a world where racism is rampant, and where the impacts are real – often deadly, even – is there an “enough” in terms of being collaborators for change? It feels like it is never enough when lives are at stake.
On the one hand, there is never enough until we have envisioned and called into being the liberated and equitable and pleasing community that allows us all to thrive. This reality requires a commitment that is bone deep. It is the kind of commitment that requires constant thinking and action to live into new ways. It is held knowing that upending racism and racist systems is something to die for.
On the other hand, each action, each change to the individual and to the system, needs to be celebrated. For that one moment, it is enough. As long as we know that a new moment emerges when more is needed, and the past action is certainly no longer enough.
What is the first step and what is the next one? For many white people striving to be collaborators, the work begins with learning and knowing and then shifting awareness, then teaching, then ultimately embodied anti-racism practice in relationship with other white people and people of color. Perhaps a move from external to internal; from pointing out the faults of others to seeing how, despite best intentions, we are each implicated in racist systems; from tight vigilance to looser living and correcting.
Reading books and learning by black artists and intellectuals who have created parts of the world we want Dayenu
Understanding the history of racism and how it got institutionalized in the US and globally Dayenu
Bringing a new consciousness to my actions as I walk through the world Dayenu
Naming racism in all-white spaces Dayenu
Building authentic relationship across difference Dayenu
Helping other white people along the journey through openness and kindness Dayenu
Showing up as a vulnerable person who can acknowledge my mistakes and own my racism Dayenu
Ongoing learning through books, workshops, conversation, community Dayenu
Contributing to and investing in multi-racial community at work and at home Dayenu
Putting my life on the line Dayenu
The work of a white ally or accomplice is never ending, to be sure. It requires a lot of effort. And yet, it should not be a slog. We are doing this for ourselves as much as for anyone else. We recognize that ending white privilege and white supremacy allows us to be full human beings as we disrupt the notion of superiority on which this country was founded.
In my work in trainings and coaching, I encourage both the ongoing effort and the need to celebrate.
Maybe this is one way to be gentle and joyful in our work for liberation – to celebrate each small step as if it were enough while also knowing that it is never enough until we are all free and that we need to want and to create more.
What does it mean to you to do equity work with both insistence and gentleness, step by step?
“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach… What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estes