The Discipline of Community

Last week I cohosted an event in Salt Lake City, The Discipline of Community: Perspectives and Practices to Restore Who We Are and How We Are Together. It featured Margaret Wheatley, long-time friend and colleague, and Peter Block, new friend that I’ve found inspiring for many years. Together we hosted 70 community leaders in a day together. To listen. To engage each other in conversation. To notice friends and allies in shared work in this local region. To begin to imagine added practices of being community. To see in community what we can do in local, small groups to support an evolution of healthy humaneness together.

The premise of this gathering was that although there is much yearning for community in most people, it takes discipline and essential practice to realize or reify it.

I appreciated these words from Meg, inviting us to create “islands of sanity” together. She offered an image of contemporary life being like a centrifugal spinner that separates us from one another. The tyranny of speed and competition tend to do this. Yet ironically, these are times when we most need to be together.

Meg also offered several perspectives — many of which I could hear as practices for creating community:
-knowing that our desire to think and be together is biological
-supporting and building trust in one another (my friend Tim Merry recently shared this in a question he uses with teams — “What am I willing to let go of to be in the truth of the work itself and relationships of trust with others?”)
-accepting that humans want to be generous and caring with one another
-suffering comes from NOT paying attention to what is emerging between people (it’s a voice I’ve heard in Meg over the years inviting a shift from command and control leadership to working to support conditions for emergence)

Peter offered several protocols that he is learning about and practicing:
-welcome the stranger (be with people you don’t know)
-every way of describing what is happening is fiction (I very much relate to this; it is a deep understanding of the perceptions that we inhabit as objective declaration of what the world is)
-don’t be helpful (it was a welcome to stay in the uncertainty that evolves our experience together)
-confronting people with their gifts (a beautiful practice of generosity, and of receiving from others)

I offered an experiential exercise I created recently to help people feel the difference between what is simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic. So often it seems that we in community work, particularly under duress, try to impose a simplicity that dishonors the truth of the work in its complexity.

A key exercise in practice was to have participants in teams pick one of three questions to explore together:
1)Explore a recent action or decision that reveals your belief about human goodness.
2)What are the ways that you are staying awake together?
3)How are you adding to your capacity to dwell in complexity?

If the intent is to create, build, or sustain community, these are the kinds of questions that make for most helpful staff and board meetings. I love them as capacity questions — building capacity to do well the things that people care about.

The last part of the day was a brief touch on interest groups in the area. So that we could meet again. So that people could see one another if they haven’t already. So that people could know their neighbors, those interested and committed to similar work. So that participants could see some of the friends and colleagues that they might get started with.

-air quality in the valley
-self-sustaining communities and transitioning from fossil fuels
-preserving species and animals
-diversity as strength
-healthcare and healing
-rap music and working with youth
-raising children
-grieving and healing
-finding joy in the life you lead
-reclaiming faith groups as communities of practice

Overall it was a very helpful day. Good for enabling further work together that supports the essential work of community that we are up to in this valley. Gratitude to Meg, Peter, and all that showed up to be in learning and connection together.

Tweets of the Weeks

  • Very clear message on the need for transition in how we see the world and ourselves in the world. From Ervin Laslo. 
  • A must read on “The Space Between Stories” from Charles Eisenstein.  Thank you @aerindunford.
  • Learning from #Chol-Bastyr 4: Changing the space changes the energy.
  • Learning from #CHol-Bastyr 3: Take a walk to ground, take care of self, move, and remember how simple things can be.
  • Learning from #Chol-Bastyr 2: For rural naturopaths, nobody knows our field of medicine :((. Nobody knows our field of medicine!!
  • Learning from #CHoL-Bastyr: Want to think outside of the box? Fear keeps you in the box.
  • There are a few human basics. I appreciate this one. 4 minutes featuring Brett Dennen. Shared with me by my sweetie. 

On Mentoring

Wise words from friends Chris Corrigan and Tim Merry on the Art of Hosting List Serve. On mentoring and eldering.

From Chris

Everything I have learned about mentoring has been in the context of traditional culture, whether with indigenous Elders from Canada or in the traditional Irish music community.  Traditional Irish music is played and kept alive in a structure called a “sessiun.”  There is a repertoire of thousands of tunes, but most musicians who have played for a while will have a hundred or more in common, and that can easilymake for a long evening of playing together.  Sessiuns are hosted by the oct experienced musicians (traditionally a Fir a Ti, or Ban a Ti man or woman of the house).  These guys are responsible for inviting people in, inviting tunes, keeping a tempo that everyone can play with, resolving any conflicts…in short they are the hosts. 

But they are also the teachers and the mentors and they dispense wisdom, lessons, encouragement and direction during and between tune sets.  If you are smart and you are learning you try to sit near them in the circle to pick up teachings. 

With Irish music, the best mentors I ever had always did a few things well:

  • They were better musicians themselves than I could ever imagine myself to be
  • They created space for me to play with them.  But they didn’t invite me to lead the session when I was just beginning.
  • When they knew I had a set of tunes down they invited me to lead that set
  • They pointed out things that I could DO, rather than things not to do, and if they played flute (my instrument) they showed me on their what they meant.  There was never any abstract conversations about the music or technique.
  • They protected me from “hot shots” who like to show off by playing tunes you have just learned too fast for you to play with them.
  • And when I was ready I got invited into more and more responsibility with the sessions and was eventually invited to perform with them.

What was beautiful about all that was that, even when i became colleagues with my mentors I never lost the sense of gratitude of being able to play with them.  Even today 20 years later, it is a treat for me to play with those who taught me.

My experience with hosting practice is exactly 100% the same.  

From Tim

When I was working in Ontario on the YSI project, I was hosting a large youth gathering with an Ojibwe Elder called Gerrard. Some folks on the list know him. I asked him how you become an elder … and he said “when the community starts treating you like one”.

Loved that. I wonder how this consciousness could apply to mentorship ..?

The Shape of Organizational Energy

The image is the torus. Energy comes in, expands, and returns. Expansion and contraction at the same time. Breath.

A helpful image shared on the AoH listserve is here.

The works I’ve been using to apply this to teams and organizations are something like this:

1. We come together to touch the hearth. Or the center. The energy of the whole. The purpose.
2. While together, through questions and stories, we notice what emerges that could not have happened alone. Notice what has energy for this group.
3. We take those learnings in the form of commitments and offerings for the next season of work together. Or work apart. The stuff we just do in the world or in the organization.
4. We regather to share the learning and touch the hearth again. To let go of that which doesn’t have energy. To notice next surprises.

A system that feeds on the energy of what is created together. Commitments fueled by that experience and clarity.