Known By Your Noticing


It is December in Utah County, just after Christmas. The first snow of the year has fallen at my elevation, 4,500 feet. The deeper snowfalls are yet to come, but this tiny skiff still catches my attention through the window pane of my back door, looking out into my back yard. I like how the snow sits on the iron meshed picnic table, where I’ve had summer meals with family and a few friends. I like how the snow sits on the chimenea, that I’ve fed several times over the last four months to create ceremonial burn and letting go. I like how the snow sits on the damaged canoe hung on the back fence. The canoe gave up floating reliably many years ago — I chose to make it yard art rather than landfill. I like how the snow collects around the spot where I buried my dog Shadow a little over a year ago, after his full 14 years of his life.

This back door bridges the upstairs bedroom part of my home with the downstairs living and kitchen area. I pass this paned window often. With first snow, the view beckoned a moment of my attention. I’ve always loved the insulation of winter. I’ve long loved the quiet of winter that slows me and others into reflection — even as the noise and tensions of the world escalate.

We can be known, and perhaps should be known, by what we notice.
It’s one of the key access points for any team or community to connect.

I’ve been inviting this known-by-noticing many times over the last few months of events that I’ve hosted. At the Art of Hosting in Denver at the end of November with co-hosts Erin Gilmore, Chris Chopyak, and Lawrence Kampf. At The Circle Way Advanced Practicum in December with co-host Amanda Fenton. On phone calls with clients in planning and friends in learning.

Perhaps we are best known by what we notice, in the moment.

You see, who we are, I’ve come to learn, changes. It’s not the bedrock stuff that supports our changes over the years. It’s the way we enter into the scenes in front of us. It’s the way we give ourselves to the scene, daring to welcome being moved by the people and the learning and the experience that is in front of us. We change, all of us, despite the many narratives of consistency.

And therein lays a fundamental reason why I continue to work through dialogue-based, circle-based modalities of creating connection and collaboration with groups of people. It is our job, dare I say, to be noticers together. To offer meaning. To wonder out loud about meaning. To plan projects. To stay with the details. The dare to make story a key format for learning together.

Welcome knowing others by what they notice. Welcome knowing self by what you notice. Even the silliest of details. I trust, and will continue to host spaces in which gifting our noticing changes what we do and how we are.

It is quiet in my home now. The sky is blue today. The January sun has risen over the Wasatch Mountains east of me, now illuminating a valley of glistening snow on mountain tops, in valleys, and in back yards like mine. Today I return to writing and blogging after four months of choosing deliberately not to. Sometimes it was hard not to — and felt crazy. But I was determined to follow the gut feel I had to let go, and to welcome a different kind of noticing.

I look forward to reentering noticing — yours and mine — through writing and words, to further develop the inner and outer among us, to further create worlds and teams of kindness, consciousness, and, flow.

Essential Sustainability

Last week I was at the Intermountain Sustainability Summit, invited by my friend Bonnie Christiansen to host some Round Table Discussions. The summit was the 8th annual, held for the second time at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. The summit is growing. In size. In awareness of. In creating community and essential connection. It was really fun to be a part of, and to spend the day with another good friend and colleague, Kinde Nebeker, who also facilitated these Round Table Discussions.

The opening keynote was Robert Davies, who is among many things, a physicist. His presentation on planetary boundaries was engaging, clear, and informative. It was also painful. He was speaking a narrative on the state of the planet and its resources. What I always appreciate in complex topics like this is the simplifying down to language that is easy to grasp. For example, “if everyone on the planet consumed at the rate of the average american then we would need five planets worth of resources.” Or that “we as human beings are overspending the bank account that is planetary resources. However, unlike human beings or corporations that make this mistake, the planet is not able to file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.”

It’s painful material. But it’s honest material. One of my favorite parts was in the brief question and answer period when someone from the audience began his question with an appreciation — “I enjoyed your talk.” It was just cordial. However, Rob Davies responded quickly and playfully, “Then you must not have been listening.” The message is dire.

When it came to the “what to do” part, there were two pieces that caught my attention in particular. The first was a concept from Joanna Macy. “Slow the damage. Repair the damage. Re-imagine the system causing the damage.” Again, simplicity. Accessible narrative. It’s a framework for anything from an individual beginning to recycle to countries trying to meet thirty year goals of carbon reduction and alternative energy development.

The second piece of todo from Rob Davies was a simple statement that invokes citizenry. “If you want to make a difference, the first thing is to talk about it.” Ah, that’s gold, right. Just talk about it. Just explore forms of listening together.

I’m both excited to hear this statement, and a bit saddened too. The excitement is that this is basic work that I often state as “remembered” work. I work in the fields of dialogue and change. We have to turn to one another. That’s the story for me. To be smart together. To be honest together. To be imaginative together. To take on hard things together.

The sad part for me is that the containers for listening in contemporary society, and more accurately, in the awry practice of meeting, is really freaking askew. Town meetings that are shouting matches. Dialogue panels that turn quickly to interruption at scale. Essential pause and silence that are filled with enormous amounts of data that is filling, but just not nourishing enough to further waken human spirit.

Sustainability is not just about planetary resources of water, clean air, and food systems. It is all of that. Essentially. However, sustainability is also about human beings rekindling genuine curiosity together, the essential spirit of working together rather than against.

Thanks Bonnie Christiansen, Alice Mulder, and all that convened such a great summit and invoked such good attention to sustainability on lots of layers.


Death and Taxes

It was United States founding father, Benjamin Franklin, that once spoke what is now an oft-used phrase about impermanence — “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

It was the 5th century BC Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, that spoke another oft-used phrase about change — “the only thing constant is change.”

I’ve been thinking about these two statements a lot lately. Personally, checking my own ability to adapt. With my 19 year-old son, encouraging him in some movements in his life. With my designs for groups convening that I know need to go to a place of deeper learning — “relationship to uncertainty” is a doorway.

Life is uncertain. Inherently. Despite any of our heroic, societal efforts to mask the not-knowns. You can’t get around it. Like death and taxes.

What’s called for in us is the ability to be in change (yes, about now would be good to offer the qualifier, “do as I say, not as I do”). Learning to be with impermanence and a continued change is a life-long practice. No finish line. Never done. Learn some in our teens. Some in our 20s. And 30s. And on. And on.

Learning to be fluid and adaptive is a massively good skill. Doing that from a clear enough sense of who any of us are (that doesn’t change so readily) — that’s gold!

For me, one of those orientations I learned from my grandmothers, is that I’m a learner. There is always learning to do. That statement grounds me to be able to shift into the multiplicity of environments that I learn in. Now I’m learning as a father. Now I’m learning working with educators. Now I’m learning as I offer a workshop. Now I’m learning as I grieve a pending loss of my dog. Now I’m learning as I live in Utah. Now I’m learning as I live in Seattle.

I remain the learner. The place or the topics that I learn in doesn’t remain. My ability most needed is being fluid.

Amidst impermanence. Amidst change.