Standing in the Fire

March 16, 2010 3 Comments

Standing in the Fire

Our friend Larry Dressler just published a book titled “Standing in the Fire” it’s about “leading high-heat meetings with clarity, calm and courage.”  Curtis wrote an earlier post inspired by the book.  Larry interviewed a wide number of experienced facilitators and I was particularly appreciative of the way he high-lighted the words of our Executive Director, Marianne Hughes.

Referring to what I like to call “the inner condition of the intervener,” Larry says:

Too often, training in facilitative leadership stops there.  We think that knowing what and how are enough.  But as Marianne Hughes, a thirty-year veteran of high-heat meetings, says, knowledge and skills are not sufficient:  “We have a methodology and extraordinarily skilled and well trained consultants, but that would never be enough to do the work.”  What is often neglected is the third critical dimension of mastery for fire tenders.  It is the dimension of who we are being as we use our considerable knowledge and skills. (29)

Referring to what he calls “Holding Possibility,” he writes:

For example, Marianne Hughes leads the Interaction Institute for Social Change, a consulting practice that works exclusively with leaders who are tackling complex and challenging social issues.  She describes what it is like and how she must be the steward of possibility in this kind of setting.  “It takes so much energy to hold the center on the belief that this is going to work.  We know it because we’ve seen it work.  They don’t know it because they’ve never seen it go well.” (76)

And inviting us to take care of ourselves, he takes us into Marianne’s more intimate world:

The cleansing ritual is most commonly an act of washing.  It can be as simple as mindfully washing your hands at the end of a meeting or as elaborate as soaking in the herb-infused bubble bathe accompanied by your favorite music.  Marianne Hughes once described her cleansing ritual to me this way:  “For me, the bath is the physical action of letting go of the day, really caring for myself, and consciously resting and relaxing.  It’s literally letting this day go down the drain.”  There is symbolic power in the practice of post-meeting cleansing, and in the case of the bath, it can become a very practical act of self-care.  However, we don’t need water to cleanse ourselves of the day.  Taking a brisk walk, reading a passage of poetry, or writing in a journal can have the same benefit. (183)

Larry also quoted me in an epigraph to his first chapter “Fire for Better or Worse,” a bit of a confessional, really –

It was a familiar feeling – tightness in my chest and the back of my neck.  This told me it was time to breathe, trust, let go of attachment to outcome, listen deeply to what was going on, and test things that might or might not go well. (9)

I like the way Larry hears things, and as a facilitator of group process, I’m very appreciative of what he has to say in this book.  I’m looking forward to presenting with Larry this April in Chicago at this year’s conference of the International Association of Facilitators.  The presentation is titled “The Facilitator’s Inner Journey” and we will be working with Erica Peng, Roger Schwarz and Maureen Jenkins.  Looking forward to it!


  • Curtis says:

    Thanks for representing, Gibran and Marianne! And thanks Larry for your great work and the service of this book. I tweeted last week my gratitude for remembering those four powerful words that right me when I’m at risk of being off-kilter while facilitating – “It’s not about you.” Yes, the who matters, and it also is important that we make sure that it doesn’t matter too much!

  • seeyoujay says:

    holla Gibran! i love the insights about the intimacy of cleansing. it makes me think of how drinking water is another act; one that also takes agua. and also, that makes me think of how men who do not wash after using the WC end up not cleansing their emotional/spiritual selves throughout the day.

    btw, u going to if so, will u join the spirituality working group?

  • seeyoujay says:

    give JW my best. tell her i missed her voice @ our recent bd meeting!

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