The Golden Hour

April 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Last week Melinda and I had one of those experiences where everything seemed to come together. We were in Farmington, Connecticut with grantees of the Graustein Memorial Fund’s Discovery Initiative, training them in collaborative leadership techniques for their community-based work around improving early childhood education and care. For starters, the group was remarkable. The chemistry of those that came together from around the state was what any trainer or participant dreams of, and the shared passion for and commitment to their work was nothing short of inspiring. Beyond that, Melinda and I just seemed to be on our game, pulling from a wide range of tools with a well-coordinated readiness to go as deep as the group seemed willing to go. Collectively we created a space that filled gradually with rich learning, self-revelation, strong connection, and things that are still difficult to articulate. It was the kind of session that people left saying, quite literally, “I am different than when I arrived.”

Later as Melinda and I were driving back home on Friday evening, still savoring those three days, we turned a corner on the Mass Pike, and the city of Boston leapt up to greet us. It was around 7:30, the end of a beautiful clear spring day, and the sun was in such a position that it illuminated everything in a rosy hue and accentuated every nook and cranny, making buildings seem almost more than three dimensional. I have always loved that time of day, when the world becomes softer and more vibrant. Come to find out from Melinda that there is actually a name for this in photographic circles – “the golden hour” – the first and last hour of sunlight during which the sun’s rays travel obliquely through the atmosphere, lending indirect radiance and enhanced color to whatever they touch.

Photo by Don Tiffney. From Fotoviva Art Prints.

Reflecting back on our time in Farmington, I find this concept of the golden hour to be an apt lens through which to view our experience. I walk into most trainings wanting to create a space where people can “go deep” beyond simple skills acquisition. Of course, this does not always happen, or to the degree that I wished. And yet I know I can’t force the issue. To me there is (and was) power in coming at the less tangible (i.e. softer) aspects of collaboration and leadership obliquely. By leading with and offering practical skills, and then grounding this offering in a demonstrated quality of presence, trainers create fertile space for depth, should participants choose to go there. Shining the light too directly on emotional or spiritual elements can risk overexposure (to run with this photographic metaphor) and having folk turn away. In my experience, including our time in CT, subtlety is often the key to helping bring out radiance from and accentuating the presence of others. This is in a sense keeping with the quote attributed to St. Francis that suggests that the most powerful sermons are spoken in deed not words, through example and not exhortation.

And I am curious to hear others’ thoughts and experiences. What have been the keys to your “golden hours”?

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  • Curtis says:

    Follow up: It’s interesting to note that the golden hour is a concept that exists in medicine as well (thank you for the further edification, Melinda). It refers to that time following a traumatic event when intervention becomes critical, and that often determines whether one lives or dies. I see connections to our notion of the “strategic moment” in group work, when trainers or facilitators are faced with a key decision about how to move people forward, and timing and attunement are everything. Powerful thing, this golden hour!

  • Santiago says:

    Hey Curtis, great post. I find it interesting, this golden hour thought. When it is in the photographic world, or the natural world, the golden hour is defined by the indirect sunlight (to some degree) which highlights the world. And, in medicine, it is the time that requires direct attention. Maybe the “direct” piece of the golden hour in nature, is really the direct attention we give to nature because of this rosy, indirect sunlight. But you are right, either way, it is a time where movement and action occur.

  • Andria Winther says:

    Gorgeous metaphor, thank you for bringing it light! (Oh jeez, I actually didn’t mean to make a pun, it just tapped out from my keystrokes.) So gratifying to hear of the continued progression of the work happening in CT, can’t thank you two enough….

  • Linda says:

    Wonderful post Curtis. I also love the metaphor! As for your question, I find the golden hours in the work seem to come from wholeheartedness and connection. When I can bring my best self to the work. Which requires, for me, a lot of attention to being fully present, fully in the moment and responding to what emerges in the space. Connection seems to be key.

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