Holding Tension

July 14, 2011 Leave a comment

“Tension and transparency of tension create capacity.”

-Mistinguette Smith


|Photo by ideowl|http://www.flickr.com/photos/ideowl/3737550476|

Last week I blogged from Knoll Farm in Fayson, VT, where I was  serving as a co-trainer of our Whole Measures workshop, which we offer in partnership with the Center for Whole Communities.  In that post I reflected on the connection that the Knoll Farm site creates between people, and between people and land.  A remarkable aspect of the Farm is its intentional design, in that its human-made elements naturally work with and build upon the contours of the landscape and draw people’s attention to certain dynamics that reflect essential truths.  An example is the large yurt, that sits on an outcropping at the end of an old logging road.  It is a welcome (and welcoming) sight as one rounds the bend having climbed a fairly long steep incline.  Its brown and green colors integrate nicely with the forested landscape, and its very structure invites one into contemplation about the life that surrounds it and with which it is in relationship.

For those who have not been inside a yurt, it is a circular structure, with no corners, no head or foot.  In the case of the Knoll Farm yurt, the roof is marked with an oculus that affords a beautiful view of the verdant canopy above (and one might speculate about the view it offers in reverse of occupants from the tree tops).  The walls are comprised of wood lattice-work with an outer surface of canvas that together support the roof with tension.  One is readily able to observe this tension-in-action in the exposed wood on the interior.  The big yurt is symbolic in both its circular construction, often used by Center for Whole Communities staff for dialogue, and its generative use of tension, inviting different perspectives and experiences to intermingle and together build greater collective capacity to sit with difference, accept others as legitimate others, access deeper truths, etc.

This idea of transparent tension has come in handy lately, in both personal and professional situations, where stress across various lines of difference has been present.  In a recent challenging conversation with my wife, we talked openly about our relative relational differences as an extrovert (her) and an introvert (me).  This shows up at times as difficulty in “finding” one another when we have different needs (connection or alone time).  Rather than be disappointed, we used this recognition as an invitation to become stronger as a couple, to consider how our marriage (as a system) benefits and develops from having these differences.  The same kind of question is coming up in various groups with which I am working that are marked by differences of style and perspective.  Tension can help us to build collective capacity if we name it, hold and note it as a systemic dynamic rather than any one person’s or group’s fault, and then consider the question of what we might build together by working with and across difference.  This is not to say that doing so is by any means easy.   And I continue to picture the yurt as an invitation to weave a lattice-work of possibility from where our differences meet and overlap.

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  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Love the image and the notion of visible tension. I’m sobered, though, by experiences I’ve had of visible tension that have done less to build capacity than to diminsh it. I think it takes a lot of skill, faith and trust in one another to make sure that the tension actually does create capacity.

  • Hector Acevedo says:

    Thanks Curtis!

  • Jen Willsea says:

    This is so helpful, Curtis! Thanks for the personal example as well. There is so much to learn…!

  • Curtis says:

    Thanks, Cynthia. I have also found it sobering to surface tension. And I am finding it helpful to work with people to build and see the larger crucible in which that tension may play out. In my conversation with Em, we literally pictured that our challenging conversation was held by something much larger (and loving!) in the form of our robust marriage. And of course, when that larger container has not been built, tension can threaten to engulf (or actually does engulf) a group. Not to be taken lightly!

  • Two more things I’ve learned about facilitation, tension and capacity:
    1) It takes skill to build a yurt, and special ways of being to live beneath its roof.
    2) It takes a calm spirit and a steady hand to hold the tension in something – a hoop-house arch, a laundry line, an argument — taut enough to be of use, but without breaking.

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