An Exercise to Begin With

I’m thinking of gatherings where people are together for a good chunk of time — 1-3 days. But I imagine a shorter version for a shorter meeting.

I’m thinking of groups of 30-40 people because that is what I have most immediately coming up, but I imagine, it could be much more or less.

I want a good start. An interesting start. More than description of an albeit, good program. That description could be, and probably should be, included. But I want a beginning that feels like more than dusting off an old encyclopedia. I want to set a tone that is more than description as the first thing that people experience in a gathering when few people know each other. I want an immediate encountering of self. And each other. And the space that is between all of us, the collective whole.

Step 1 (5-10 minutes) — Individual Participant Work.
On a piece of paper write three words and one sentence to each of the following questions (these are samples):
– What were you good at as a kid?
– What do you love about the place you live?
– What is a superpower that you have (others may know or not know of it)?
– When was the last time you ate spaghetti?
– What scares you?
It’s not meant to be a polished essay. It’s more of an activation of thinking and feeling.

Step 2 (5-10 minutes) — Create Engagement, Groups of 2 or 3.
Share a bit of what you wrote, and what happened for you as you wrote it. Feelings? Surprises?
It’s not fixing. It’s creating friendship and grounding.

Step 3 (5 minutes) — Share in the Full Group
Let’s hear from a few of you. Popcorn style, out loud — are there noticings that you want to share from your sharing with your small group?
It’s not transcribing what happened. It is building expectation to witness each other and pay attention together.

Step 4 (5 minutes) — Create Bridge to Purpose of Gathering
Here’s the bridge for me. I want questions that point to the subjective (there is no wrong answer), the personal (showing up), the unknowable (vast and complex), and the irrelevant (spaghetti, really?). There are no wrong answers in each of these qualities.

I want what can feel like a bit of purposeful distraction that dislocates certainty that people have or that they think they should have as they begin. I want distraction that dislocates certainty and expectation of what people thought would happen to begin the gathering — to wake ourselves up in the context of the gathering. It’s not charismatic hand holding for me. It is fierce commitment to the entity that is the group.

Leadership — here’s the bridge — leadership and being in any form of group together requires an ability to dislocate certainty. Can any of us claim that we know everything that is happening? Of course not. That’s different than knowing important stuff, I understand. In participative leadership, in community engagement, in working with teams — there is a need for us to get good at being in messes and surprises. There is a need to become acutely good at working with what emerges through interaction with each other. That’s the game. Everything that follows — tools, methods, frameworks — all those good things are about helping to build this capacity.

To beginnings.


Everything is Not What it Seems

I’ve started reading a book recommended by my partner, Teresa Posakony. It is by Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman called Spontaneous Evolution. The main theme is about society participating in evolution (evolving the way we evolve) by making a significant change in beliefs and behaviors. I met Bruce Lipton once — his presentation was full and intense. He knows a lot of stuff and weaves it quite fiercely to create bridges between science and matters of spirit.

Generally speaking, I find it delicious to crack open a new book. I love the introduction and I love the table of contents, and preamble, and preface — as ways to understand the narrative arc that the author is about to invite us to ride upon. A ride is coming — that is what I love. One that might tease and tumble my imagination.

In this book, Spontaneous Evolution, Chapter 1 is titled, “What if Everything We Know is Wrong!” Funny that I just noticed it is punctuated with an exclamation point, not a question mark. The authors aren’t asking if this is true. They are asserting it.

I find it exquisite when people take on this theme of “everything we know is wrong.” It’s the river under the river. For me, more often I speak it as “all is not what it seems.” Or even more accurately, that everything is incomplete because this fantastic set of symbols that we call words, could never express the fullness of what is — it’s a good system, but remains a reductive system.

It’s the description of the nature of reality that has so often felt off to me, rendering much of the discussion and action plans that we humans create, off as well. A key first step for working and living together as teams, or families, or communities, is to be willing and able to explore the underlaying story that supports our knowing and insights. One of my colleagues has been reminding me of the need for “round world” rather than “flat world” strategies.

There’s a story in this chapter by Lipton and Bhaerman that illustrates how our perception (and certainty) can trick us. And by us, I do mean all of us. It’s not whether we will be wrong that is the issue to me. Rather, it is whether we are willing to engage with self and others about the incompleteness of it.

“Gaze into the sky on a clear, dark, moonless night, and you will see thousands of pinholes of light — each one a massive, magnificent star in a Universe too large to imagine. Focus on one star and realize that it might no longer exist but may have burned out and collapsed into space rubble eons ago. But because the star was light-years away, illumination from its former existence is still visible, serving as a navigational guide for mariners.

Now, turn your gaze from the heavens to our less-than-heavenly Earth and ask: ‘Is it possible that we have been charting our course by a burned-out philosophical star? What if our belief system about life is wrong?'”

Good, right? Following a star that has already died. I love the reference.

I think that the most important disposition that I’ve been able to offer in working with groups is to, just for a moment, help them (and me) entertain the notion that we might not have it all figured out. Curiosity is the need — that’s what I tell them. Dislocation of certainty, even for a moment — this reawakens a fundamental human quality of evolving not just what we do, but how we are together.

The willingness to engage around such vulnerability of not knowing, and just maybe, not having it all figured out — that’s a game changer.