Posted in Your Experiences
February 11, 2019
Image by Clearly Ambiguous, “Solar System,” shared under provision of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Last week, I was invited to a convening held by the Social Impact Exchange to do some work with funders who are considering and/or investing in systems change (as opposed to say programmatic) strategies. The invitation was to kick the convening off by helping to “open minds and hearts to new ways of thinking and doing.”
At IISC, we have been playing with what it means to “think,” given what can tend to predominate in many maintstream settings is highly analytical, disembodied and heart-dismissing approaches. Our belief is that we need to (re)claim the fullness of our intelligence in order to create the more beautiful world we know is possible. As our friends at Management Assistance Group have written:
“Too often, we stay in generalized and practical knowing, rarely dipping into foundational knowing or artistic knowing in meaningful ways. By not intentionally drawing on these, our theories and action plans are often disconnected from our values and beliefs, and the bedrock experiences of our lives.
Moreover, privileging one way of knowing over others marginalizes and ignores other truths that people bring from other ways of knowing. This marginalization often lies at the core of conflicts, systemic barriers to change, and inequity.”
To support people in this direction of more holistic knowing, we are creating more space to explore our individual and collective interiors, sit in and with spaciousness and silence, explore reality and possibility in more embodied ways (movement!) as well as engage in deeply relational interactions that can be heart and soul expanding.
At one point during our opening, I offered a collection of systems-oriented quotes and sayings and invited people to do a self-organized group read of them (whoever felt so moved to speak, though only one quote to a person). People were asked to pay attention to what moved inside of them as they read and heard these quotes. This was done, in part, to help dislodge people from unexamined thought patters. I was explicit about this and introduced the exercise with these words from quantum physicist David Bohm:
“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
When the group was over, and after a moment of silence, people were invited to share with a partner what they were most struck by and why. You are invited to do the same with the words below, to read in silence or aloud, to share any reactions and resonance and also to offer other systems-focused quotes/sayings that you have found to help open and expand some aspect of your thinking.
Image by Matthias Ripp, “Planetary System,” shared under provision of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
“A system cannot fail those it was never intended to protect.”
– W.E.B. DuBois
“The problem with problem-solving is the idea that a solution is an endpoint.”
“We act as if simple cause and effect is at work. We push to find the one simple reason things have gone wrong. We look for the one action, or the one person, that created this mess. As soon as we find someone to blame, we act as if we’ve solved the problem.”
– Margaret J. Wheatley
“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
– H. L. Mencken
December 6, 2018
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.
October 10, 2018
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?
- Look around
- 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.
June 18, 2018
“Words are how we think, stories are how we link.”
– Christina Baldwin
Last week I had the privilege of facilitating a two-day Network Learning Lab for a remarkable group of conservation leaders and network weavers. I co-designed the session with Olivia Millard and Amanda Wrona of The Nature Conservancy (and at the instigation of Lynn Decker of the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network) to connect and strengthen the capacity of those working at the intersection of ecosystem health and human/community development while building networks at local, state, regional, national and global levels. Our design was informed by input given by the participating network weavers themselves about their core challenges and learning objectives, while leaving room for the unexpected – enough spaciousness for the network magic of emergence to happen.
As with other network leadership institutes that we at IISC have had a hand in designing and facilitating, the experience last week had as its foundation plenty of opportunities for the cohort to authentically connect, to get to know one another on both professional and personal levels. And as with both leadership development sessions and ongoing network development initiatives that we support, we turned to storytelling as a way to create bonds and understanding. This included time for the participants to tell brief stories about their networks, doing so in 5 minute informal bursts sprinkled throughout the two days (which could also have been done as Pecha Kucha or Ignite presentations). The intent was to create a bit more understanding of what might make each network unique in its aspirations, attributes and accomplishments and to whet people’s appetites for further conversation at breaks, meals and into the evening.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
– Maya Angelou
We also set up a couple of exercises within the first hour of the lab for people to hear more about one another’s paths to the work they currently do, not by ticking off their resumes, but by telling stories about what happened to and moved them to be where they are now. Time and again, when I facilitate this kind of exercise, it shifts the tone of the gathering in the direction of greater openness and trust. And as we touched on in our debrief of those exercises, inviting that kind of storytelling into our work can send a signal about what is validated with respect to forms of knowing, expression and parts of ourselves to bring to the table. Along these lines, we also drew from poetry and other forms of creative expression, including a stanza from a favorite William Stafford piece, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” which, to me, gets at the heart of network building … Read More
January 29, 2018
I migrated to the United States in 1998 via the F1 visa application process. This process allows a family member who is a citizen to apply for immediate relatives to become permanent residents. The premise of this process is one of family reunification and the applicant (citizen) must be a resident in the United States during the greater part of the application period. In my case, my mother was the applicant so this meant that during the better part of two years while I was in high school my mother had to live in the United States while my brother and I lived in Trinidad. Being separated wasn’t the only thing we all/each sacrificed; there are several ramifications of this process that go along with the privileges of becoming a US citizen. And, I don’t make light of those privileges, especially as my particular immigration story is indeed one of great privilege relative to the experiences of those who are currently under direct attack by the federal government and by the right wing media. (I say “currently” not to say that undocumented immigrants were not under attack by previous administrations, but to say that I do not know when naturalized citizens and permanent residents will be under direct attack, as well. We’ve already seen it begin with the “Muslim Ban.”) But this reflection isn’t about the politics of migration, although we would do well to continue to reflect deeply on that. Rather, I am contemplating the state of my heart as an immigrant.
One thing I have noticed over the time that I have been in the US is that my heart is always torn in two. As someone who straddles two different ways of being, two different nationalities, two different ways of looking at the world, it has been a doozy for reconciling identity. On the one hand, this is stressful, but on the other, like so many other third culture people I know, it is actually a great super power. I can see the world from different perspectives and can necessarily integrate them in a way that produces something better than the sum of the parts. Immigrants have super powers, y’all. We can take the best of many different worlds and create beautiful, delicious, vibrant expressions of what liberatory futures look like.
Today, one of the experiences that I’m yearning for that comes from my culture is the annual ritual of liberation we call Jouvay or J’ouvert. I won’t go into all the history of colonialism and slavery that gave rise to this tradition, but I will say that in the modern era it is a great spiritual cleansing and a public ritual of liberation that takes over the streets of Port of Spain during the climactic second-to-last morning of the Carnival season. (This year it will take place in mid-February.) Carnival itself is a letting go, a festival of liberation based on the pre-Lenten Catholic festivals of the French and Spanish when they gave one last hurrah to the vices and proclivities of the flesh before engaging in the 40-day long period of fasting beginning on Ash Wednesday. During our Jouvay, participants adorn themselves in handmade costumes, and in mud, oil, paint, and cocoa or baby powder, and they chip through the streets in great abandon under cover of darkness in the early hours of the morning until just after sunrise. Jouvay begins at 2:00 a.m. and ends around 7:00 a.m.! I am watching friends in Trinidad prepare for this day by gathering mud, by gathering the friends they want to be with on the road, and by beating the drum of anticipation for the ritual that allows for release and rebirth.
I crave this ritual or any other ritual of liberation that allows us to let go, to be free, without trappings and accoutrement, without fear. To experience what it is like to just have love, and music, and dance, and laughter, and spirit…and rum. I am craving stories of the feeling of liberation here in the US. I am craving a liberation praxis. So often when we are asked about liberation as activists, we describe the struggle, the fight, the organizing, the process towards liberation. But I want to know…what elements of liberation are people experiencing right now even in the midst of the struggle? Even if it is for just a moment or an hour, when do you feel free? What are the experiences we want to expand in our liberatory future because they make us feel a little bit free now?
December 4, 2017
“Emergence notices the way small actions and connections create complex systems, patterns that become ecosystems and societies.”
A couple of weeks ago I was in Michigan to do a presentation and discussion with representatives from a number of inspiring networks focused on local food production, food access and public health. I was invited by my gracious hosts at the Center for Regional Food Systems at Michigan State University to share a bit of network theory, tell a few stories and cover key concepts around network thinking and action to help advance and cohere some of the good work happening around the state.
Towards the end of that morning session, a couple of the participants mentioned that their heads were swimming and a few acknowledged that along with their excitement, they were struggling with how complex and difficult “net work” can be.
I felt their pain and was moved by their honesty, and offered something along these lines, with a bit of post-event embellishment. … Read More
October 24, 2017
“Relationship is the fundamental truth of this world of appearance,”
Over the past several years of supporting networks for social change, we at IISC have been constantly evolving our understanding of what is new and different when we call something a network, as opposed to a coalition, collaborative or alliance. On the surface, much can look the same, and one might also say that coalitions, collaboratives and alliances are simply different forms of networks. While this is true, it is also the case that not every collaborative form maximizes network effects, including small world reach, rapid dissemination, adaptability, resilience and system change. In this regard, experience shows that a big difference maker is when participants in a network (or an organization, for that matter) embrace new ways of seeing, thinking, and doing. The following revised list continues to evolve as our own practice and understanding does, and it speaks to a number of network principles to guide thinking and action:
August 2, 2017
Photo credit: Ginko biloba leaves by James Field (Jame). Ginko trees are considered endangered even though they are cultivated worldwide, because so few live in the wild. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unportedlicense.
I’ve often said that language is difficult, but it’s all (or at least most) of what we have to communicate complex ideas. I can remember when doing “diversity work” was seen as cutting edge, relevant, and powerful. It was an effort to change historic structures of exclusion, to change outcomes for people of color and women who suffered the brunt of racism and sexism. It was a chance to speak truth to power, and it seemed for a while that power was listening. Until it wasn’t. Or, more precisely, until the listeners started to hear “diversity” and think only about “heterogeneity.” With the stroke of a pen checking off boxes, the work was domesticated, watered down, simplified, and downsized into simply getting different faces in the place. And folks who were thinking bigger thoughts had to find new ways to talk and to get others to think and act on inclusion and equity.
I remember in the mid-2000s when I started saying “We don’t do diversity work, but if you want to think about diversity, equity, and inclusion, we might be the right people for you.” Now, I’m afraid, that equity might be running its course. I’m encouraged, on the one hand, by how many more people and organizations are asking questions about equity. And about how the equity conversation focuses on what we want, not what we don’t want. I’m all about the positive vision of life chances fulfilled without barriers based on any aspect of identity. And it’s also clear to me that some of those folks are using the language of equity precisely to avoid talking about racism, sexism, and other -isms that produce and sustain inequities. Somehow “equity” and even “inequities” are more comfortable rolling off the tongue than racism, classism, sexism, or homophobia. I wonder if “equity” as a concept is headed the way of “diversity.”
Still, if we are going to advocate for equity as the superior growth model for our country, as our friends from PolicyLink have so aptly argued, I wonder what language will help to keep our attention focused on dismantling the drivers of inequity in order to increase the odds that we’ll actually achieve something approaching equity. The science surrounding the origins, consequences, and remedies for unconscious bias or implicit association seem to be promising entry points for some people who are reluctant to enter a discussion doorway marked “racism” or “privilege.” And, research and practice around communications and messaging gives us other avenues to pursue. In these days of particularly fraught racial discourse, what are you finding useful in your practice? What are you finding gets in the way?
July 18, 2017
One recent night, my son stomped out of the house, hurt, telling me that I should stop defining who he is and what he can do. My daughter followed after him, asking that I think about what I had done to cause the blow out. I meditated, cooked dinner, and two hours later we were eating a great puttanesca together.
That evening – and other parenting moments – have led me to recognize that my best liberation and change work these days is mothering. While there is so much to write and share about parenting, here I will glean what I can from my children about ways to improve work.
Here are five things I do with or learned from my kids that might work for you as well.
Just do it. Be silly, open up new parts of the brain, laugh, release endorphins. Do it at home and do it at work. Brain science tells us that laughter and play opens us and what flows is much more effective than working from worry and constriction. It does not mean that there are not real-life worries and real dangers everywhere—poor health and racism, for starters—but it is an invitation to play along the way. I re-learned how to play from my kids. I invest time in being as goofy with them as possible and bringing some of that spirit of laughter and fun into my work. We work a lot, it should be fun and fun generates new possibilities. What is the work equivalent of running through the fountain or blowing bubbles? What do you do at work to create fun and be creative?
Honor who they are and not only what they do or how well they do it
In work settings and movement building efforts we of course need to keep our eye on results. In racial equity work, that focus is particularly important as we have seen how changes in laws do not necessarily lead to changes in heart, nor does understanding lead automatically to reducing disparities. And yet, we know from parenting that honoring who a person is and valuing them for that is so much more important for long term well-being and success than a good grade or accomplishment. How can we keep our eye on the big changes as we honor ourselves and our co-workers for who we are and the spirit and talents we bring and not just what we produce?
Walking down the street, it is often the adults walking with children—holding hands or skipping or watching the trains – who seem most present and look happiest. It is a reminder that of how critical presence is for all of us. At a recent convening, The Confluence sponsored by MAG, someone offered this gem: “less prep, more presence.” Let’s make sure that we bring impeccable presence to our workplaces. Whether at large gatherings, staff or member meetings, or one-on-one conversations, bring your full presence. How do you stay present, planting seeds that flourish in the moment and over the longer term?
Show love and caring
While this may be an “of course” in family, it needs to be just as much so in the workplace. At a network gathering last week, I went to the bathroom, tired, after facilitating a challenging session on health equity. I found someone there in tears, having just lost a family member. I was able to show her some tenderness. The next day she reminded me how important the care I offered was for her and, in fact, opened her to learning. These moments, large and small, present themselves daily. What is the workplace equivalent of the schnuggle? Can you find more moments to show love to your co-workers and partners? What might that elicit?
I don’t need to be in something with my kids to know how incredible it is for my kids.
While my daughter plans a social justice orientation program for students at her college, I can simply watch her and her peers create and experiment; I can stand aside and watch it blossom. I have to let my kids experiment in the world and experience their ups and downs. I don’t have to help or be in it to know it will be an incredible learning experience. This is a good reminder to allow people to try new things and to flourish and stumble with their work, and learn from it all along the way. How do you practice standing aside?
People in organizations – just like in our families – need this level of tending and love. We all need play, space, and autonomy to create great things. It is a truism that change starts at home. Perhaps it is less clear that home can improve our work. Let’s garner those lessons.
What else can we learn from the kids?
March 10, 2017
“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.”
Grace Lee Boggs
The past twelve months I had the pleasure of working with a team from Food Solutions New England to design and facilitate its first Network Leadership Institute. This initiative grew out of FSNE’s ongoing commitment to cultivating thought leadership and network leadership “to support the emergence and viability of a New England food system that is a driver of healthy food for all, racial equity, sustainable farming and fishing, and thriving communities.” Another impetus for the Institute was a year spent doing system mapping and analysis that revealed four leverage areas for advancing a just, sustainable and democratically-owned and operated regional food system, including cultivating and connecting leadership. Read More
August 30, 2016
“A good solution solves more than one problem, and it does not make new problems.”
– Wendell Berry
An essay that I return to now and then, including over these past summer months, is Wendell Berry‘s “Solving for Pattern.” Published in 1981, the piece essentially considers systemic approaches to more “sustainable “agriculture, though the concept alluded to in the title has wider application. The phrase “solving for pattern” is an invitation to take a larger and longer view of “problem-solving,” to think about interventions that serve a bigger picture in more sustained and multiply beneficial ways.
Solving for pattern, according to Berry, runs counter to reductionist and mechanical solutions, which lend themselves to more predictable and relatively contained situations. When reductionist solutions are applied to more complex and systemic situations, they are more prone to failure and to exacerbating negative aspects. Real-life examples include:
August 17, 2016
Networks, or webs, are core to living systems. Thinking and looking through a network lens can help people to understand the patterns and quality of connection that either make life possible and enable liveliness or threaten life and livelihood.
Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, in their work on “cognition” in living systems, propose that there is no knowing outside of connecting or relating.
“The world as we know it emerges out of the way we relate to each other and the wider natural process.”
In other words, according to Maturana and Varela, it is through connecting and relating that “a world is brought forward.” The quality and qualities of that world depend, in large part, upon how people and other elements of living systems connect and relate to one another. Read More