Re-entry Action Exercise — Roq Gareau

Below is an exercise created by hosting companion Roq Gareau. He led this exercise when we worked together in New Mexico earlier this year with Navajo Health Services.

Hello Marita (and friends).

I don’t have anything written up for this, and I am happy to write something up today. I created this exercise to help people have one solidly grounded, authentically motivated item for action upon re-entry into their lives after a workshop. All too often, after a workshop that stirs the soul and sounds the heartstrings, re-entry can be a real test to see if you can stand in your new awareness. This process is deliberately created to lead the participant from an introspective place to a very active, collaborating place and back to an introspective place, so that the intention is well grounded in both the inner and outer world. I experimented a lot with personal leadership plans and noticed that for many, follow through was challenging and often felt like a chore. This process was born from a bunch of failed exercises. I am constantly shifting it a little to suit the group, but the following outline seems to work well for most groups. For most participants, this yields a simple, yet often profound, action for change that they enter into joyfully – in fact, the activity itself invites the participant into the shifts needed for the action to actualize.

I have called this activity “intention for re-entry”, “personal leadership plan”, “one small step”, “the change experiment” and “the action plan harvest”. I haven’t settled on a favourite yet – take your pick or make up your own! This exercise is really a combination of tools that I have adopted and adapted from other teachers. The intention and coaching circle from Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea. The inquiry milling (question harvest) from Joanna Macy (if your fellowship is not familiar with her book “Coming Back to Life” and accompanying DVD “The Work that Reconnects,” I highly recommend both and are available on And the guided visualization from the work of Jean Houston. All that is needed for this process is a group that has done some good work together, one host (that also participates in the process – I have gained great clarity for wise action myself in participating as host), a space with lots of room for people to walk about and sit together, a good time keeper, some blank 8.5X11 paper or cardstock (the cardstock is more durable and easier to write on when walking around), some pens and about 1.5 hours (times can be adjusted to make this work in an hour or expand into 2+ hours).

Hosting Instructions:

STEP 1 – Intention setting (~15 minutes)

Hand out a blank piece of paper or cardstock to each participant and have them fold it in half lengthwise so that it’s like a small book. The cover of the book can be numbered page 1, the inside (when opened) can be numbered page 2 on the left and page 3 on the right, and the back cover can be numbered page 4. “At the top of page 1, write down one thing, one intention, that you would like to follow-through on after this workshop. It can be anything at all, just make sure that it is something that you have passion for and really want to do. It’s often helpful just to write down the first thing that comes to mind, and feel free to take the time that you need to write down one thing that feels true for you.” Give the group a few minutes and when it looks like about half the group is done – “Take the time that you need to set your intention, and if you are done, go ahead and draw a box around your intention and use the rest of the space on this page to list the numbers 1 to 15 as though you were starting a list.” I’ll usually draw this on the whiteboard or flipchart (a page with a box at the top and then the numbers 1-15 in a column starting below the box to the bottom of the page) so people have a visual description also. “When you have your page numbered, read you intention once again, and next to the numbers, write down the first 15 questions that pop into your head. These do not have to make sense and you are not answering them now. Just let yourself get really curious and let this curiosity flow right onto your paper without even thinking about it.” I usually give the group about 5 minutes for this and you may see a few struggling with this. I’ll often say, “some of you might have gotten 5 or 6 questions easily and then got stuck…remember this is flow writing, so if your mind is saying ‘what’s another question’ or ‘why is this so hard’ maybe that’s the very question you need to write down to get access to more.”

“When you have your 15 questions, go ahead and turn over to page 2 and re-write you intention statement in a box at the top without looking again at page 1. For some of you, your intention might shift a bit after all those questions, for some of you it might be exactly the same.”

STEP 2 – The inquiry milling (~15 minutes)

“Take the time that you need to complete your original intention statement and questions on page 1 and your re-written intention on the top of page 2. When you are done this, stand up and make your way to the back of the room (or wherever the most space happens to be) where you will find yourself bumping into another person. It’s like a pinball machine back there! When you bump into someone, face them and read your intention statement at the top of page 2 to them. They will then respond with their curiosity and share with you the first 3 questions that come to mind in relation to your intention. Write these 3 questions down – they are like nuggets of gold! Switch, do the same for the other and then move on to bumping into someone else. See how many questions you can each harvest for your intention. Resist any urge to jump into giving advice or answering questions. Stay in the inquiry, be curious!”

Eventually, the whole group will be milling around, bumping, listening and trading questions. After 10 minutes of milling, regardless of how many questions have been collected by each participant, call the group back together and have them sit together in same-sized groups (4-6 at each group works best, but have as many same-sized groups as possible i.e. if you have a group of 25 including yourself, have 5 groups of 5, or for 23 have 3 groups of 6 and 1 group of 5 etc.)

When everyone is seated, I usually hold up my worksheet and say, “by know, each of you have your intention statement and 15 questions on page 1 and your re-written intention statement at the top of page 2 followed by a bunch of questions from others in the room. Now, go ahead and turn over to page 3 and re-write you intention statement in a box at the top without looking again at page 1 or 2. Once again, for some of you, your intention might shift a bit after all those questions, for some of you it might be pretty much the same.”

STEP 3 – The Coaching Circle (~40 minutes i.e 4X10 minutes or 5X8 minutes or 6X7.5 minutes depending on group size)

“For the next 40 minutes, we are going to experience a coaching circle. We are going to split the time so each person gets the same amount of air time. When it’s your turn, share with your group your intention statement at the top of page 3 – you may even want to share your first and second intention statement if it has changed a lot so the others can get a sense of the evolution of your intention. You will be receiving some feedback from your very own council of peers, and you get to instruct the group how you would like to use your time…Do you wish to receive some advice? Some feedback? More questions? Ideas on where to start?…this is your time, you get to shape the direction of the conversation. If you ask for some advice and the conversation moves in a direction that you don’t like, stop it and share with group that it is not working for you and request what will work for you. Feel free to use the rest of page 3 to take notes on your coaching session. Your greatest gift to the group when it is your turn to be coached is to ask for what you need and open yourself to receive. Your greatest gift to the group when it is another person’s turn to be coached is to offer what you can and open yourself to give.”

Have a volunteer be a reliable time keeper in the room – it’s a good idea to have a non-verbal cue for when it’s time to switch (i.e. a drum or bell). “See who wants to go first in your group and from there we will proceed around the circle until everyone has had a turn. The sound of the bell (or drum) will mark the start of the first coaching session and will also indicate when it is time to shift to the next person.”

STEP 4 – Guided Imagery and final reflection (~20 minutes)

“I would like to invite each of you to move from this space of excitement and collaboration back into a quieter place. Shift your body as you need to and make yourself comfortable in the room. I want to invite you now into an inner journey, so, if it feels comfortable, go ahead and close your eyes and pay attention to what you see and hear in your inner landscape. Give your body permission to soften and notice what it feels like to draw breath in and out of your body. I will be offering a guided visualization and I invite you to notice what draws your attention, and just know that you are in control of your experience.”

Every time I do a guided visualization, it is slightly different based on what I am seeing and what moves me. As host, feel free to improvise here, and make sure to give your description enough shape for participants to “walk into” and enough openness so they create there own unique experience. Speak slowly and deliberately. Here is an example:

“You are walking in a forest along an old, old trail. Many people, for many years have walked this path. Notice the feel of your feet upon this path, upon the footprints of many others. Notice the light, the sound, the smells of the forest…[pause]…as you keep walking you notice that you are walking gently uphill. The air is getting thinner and the trees are getting smaller. You are at the base of a mountain and the trail is leading you up the side of the mountain. You notice how it feels different to be walking upon the stone of the mountain than the forest floor earlier. The path is getting quite steep and you get to a place where steps have been etched out of the rock to make the climb easier and safer. As you climb each step you notice the unique symbol carved into it. These steps represent generations of work. Work by others many years passed. The staircase leads you up the side of the mountain to a doorway entrance into the mountain. The door is open and you know that you are meant to enter. You stop before the threshold and you notice all of the workmanship in that doorway. Notice what it looks like. Do you recognize some of the symbols? You take a deep breath and enter through the doorway. It is dark, but in the distance you notice the flickering light of a fire dancing on the curving rock walls. You walk towards the inviting warmth and you come into an open room in the heart of the mountain. You know that you are welcome here. You look around the room and you notice an elder sitting next to the fire. You recognize this elder as one of the wisdom keepers. The elder motions you to sit in the empty chair nearby. You sit in the chair and you feel the warmth of the firelight on your skin. You look into the gentle, piercing eyes of the wisdom keeper and it begins to speak. You know that these words are for you. This is important and you know that you must remember what the elder shares. You listen…[long pause]…The wisdom keeper stops and with a warming smile you turn and look into the fire to see the last flickering flame go out, leaving only the glowing embers. You look up to notice that the elder is gone. It is time for you to leave the mountain. You stand up and thank this womb-like space and you enter the darkness of the hallway to be welcomed at the doorway by the early evening light. Feeling strength in your legs you move down the steps of the mountain with ease and you welcome the damp air of the forest in your lungs. Moving back along the familiar trail in the forest, you return to the place that you left when you began this journey and you find yourself back in this space, in this time.”

“Bring yourself back gently and take some time to write down some notes of your experience of the guided visualization at the top of page 4. What did the elder share with you? What are some of the details that you noticed? What are you noticing and feeling now?” Give participants a few minutes for this – when most of the people look like they are done, invite them to make sense of the whole experience…”Now that you have experienced being in inquiry alone and with others, have coached and been coached, and have consulted your own deep wisdom, what is surfacing now? What is your intention now? So what is this really all about? What is the intention behind all these versions of intentions? What is it that you know that you need to do now? Go ahead and write down your final intention statement now at the bottom of page 4. This process has now been harvested for you on this page and it yours to keep, to support and remind you on your journey and your re-entry into the world out there, where your wise action is needed.”

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