Toward Wholeness

It isn’t knew to be seeking wholeness. Many spiritual traditions for eons have been encouraging this, to get the inherent wholeness that underlays the outward expression of this life. In physics, it was David Bohm who pointed many of us to the “implicate order.” Ken Wilbur is another who has been pointing many of us to understanding the integratedness of the personal and the communal, the subjective and the objective. The thing behind the thing behind the thing — that turns out not to be a thing. Wholeness is the gold in that treasure hunt.

This weekend I was glad to co-host with my friend and colleague Quanita Roberson. This was our tenth hosting of a weekend retreat that we call QT. There were nine of us in a weekend of deliberate curiosity together. Play together. Slowed pace together. Quality time together. Wonder. Wander. Mystery.

In this time of QT, most of what we talk about begins with a set of symbols through which the intent is to move toward more of a wholeness orientation. Inner and outer. Personal and communal. We are deliberate about inviting a range of symbols. Sometimes it’s a formal set of cards (like Caroline Myss’ Archetype Cards). Sometimes the symbols are stories that we share (like, what is the “yes” that brought you here). Sometimes the symbols are a round of sharing dreams from the previous night.

It’s in this last one, sharing dreams, I’ve learned particular pattern that shifts us from a light playfulness to a rather serious journey toward wholeness. It has a few steps that have quite subtle relevances.

When a dream (or dream snippet) is shared, spoken out loud,

  1. The wholeness starts with the invitation for anyone to speak / share a statement, “If that were my dream…,” This is deliberate. We aren’t offering dream coaching or divining for the dream teller. That would be interesting, I suppose, but has never been the purpose for me, nor the skillset. “If that were my dream…,” invites picking one detail that stands out. The lake. The hammer. The connection to mother. The pink towel. No wrong answer.
  2. The next move for the person identifying the detail is to say a few sentences of why the interest. Again, there are no wrong answers in this, because it is personal. There are no wrong answers in the personal journey that is toward an inherent wholeness. For example, “If that were my dream, the detail of the lake stands out to me because when I was a boy, I used to spend time as the lake with my cousins, my sister, and my grandparents.” This steps invites an emotional connection. Or sometimes a naming of a principle from past waking life experience (e.g., “Joy matters.”)
  3. The next move is to bring the access to the emotional connection forward to current waking life learning and experience. For example, “That memory as a boy at a lake with family was a joyful time of my life. It helps me to see some of the joy that I currently have (or that I’m currently missing) in my life now.” It’s this last step that invites and encourages people to be wildly associative, and, well, quite frankly, productive in a move to wholeness, by being willing to explore what is personal.

For most of us, this movement toward wholeness requires being a good noticer. It means speaking as honestly as possible about what it is like to be them, and to speak with willingness to wander in some transparency. It means being willing to get wildly associative, using symbols in front of us (cards, stories, dreams, a phrase from a poem, etc) to explore the inner territory, the personal (that is always connected to the outer). It means giving ourselves permission to wonder how any moment in time and experience is connected to a longer arc of time of who we are being and becoming, or, how the longer and more complex arc is connected to the simplicity of just this moment of now.

Ah, toward wholeness. I know there are many ways in. I’m grateful for that. This invitation to build associative capacity, to recognize that all of it is in each of us — I find that to be true — creates a rather different and healthy kind of feeling in an among groups of people. I’m glad for that too.

It’s all about encouraging ourselves and others to move with this attention. Just as it has been for so long.

People Who Ponder

I’m grateful for this photo taken by Betsy Sobiech at QT Cincinnati. I didn’t know she was taking it. It was last weekend, which feels like eons ago now. That’s what missing fantastic quality does. That’s me on the left. That’s Chris Smyth on the right. What’s funny is that as we walked, slowly, Chris commented about the contemplative posture. We laughed in that moment.

I think it really matters these days to have times of ponder. And people to ponder with. I’m glad for this with good humans. I’m uniquely glad for this with men. It is, simply, one of the things we lost when we lost initiatory practices. I’m grateful to be in a body of work that holds contemplativeness as central. That’s sense making. That’s witnessing. That’s sharing story. That’s leaning into rather than away from mystery. That’s leaning into rather than way from grief. All of that is code for something I think we humans are naturally oriented to do — to seek and contribute to an energetic of connection and learning. So that we can do a pile of good in our varied vocations and walks of life.

Quanita Roberson and I will host / do more of this in the near future in a 16 month learning cohort model. Fire and Water: A Leadership Journey and Rite of Passage begins virtually in August and face-to-face in October (registration remains open). It’s where we will, I hope, further instill in each other the deep ponder in community that leads to creating courage to face the troubles of our times. In the inner, and outer. In the now, and the long arc. In the individual, and the communal.

Yes, please join us. For the ponder. For the eons.



Powerful Questions

It’s the day that my friend and colleague Quanita and I will be beginning to host a weekend retreat. It’s QT. It runs Friday – Sunday. This time there will be eleven of us. From Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Cincinnati. And me from Lindon, Utah. This time, we are seven men and four women. It’s deliberate curious wander together which has a way of resetting the internal compass for most. It’s a gathering that I love and that has become even more deeply enriching each time.

I’m thinking a bit, on the day that QT begins, about some of the questions and topics that I’m bringing to the retreat. That I want to learn about. That I want to hear and share stories about. Wisdom. Connection. Funny. The relationship of inner to outer. The relationship of now to the long arc. Dreams. Ritual. Superpowers. There’s a big list. I know that we might get to two or three. But I’m not worried. It isn’t scarcity of time. I know that these are all connected. And, I continue to learn that it’s the energy, the vibration of the stories shared, the entanglement of our curious wander, that really moves and changes us.

I’ve decided to change some of my topics into questions, writing them on post-it notes. I know that what moves an interesting topic to a kind of communal engagement is a question. And I love feeling the questions come through me. I’m just playing so that I can share them with Quanita to see how they align with her interests and sense of the group coming. Hmm…

On wisdom — What is some of the essential wisdom you are discovering these days?
On connection — What is some of where you are feeling critical connection these days?
On funny — What is some of what is funny to you these days?
On inner / outer — How’s that inner / outer thing going for you? What’s your inner showing you about your outer? What’s your outer showing you about your inner?
On superpowers — What is one of your superpowers? Tell a story.

These are a sample, but after Quanita made a few observations and appreciations about these kinds of questions, I realized that there is a pattern to them that helps them be useful for engagement.

  1. Ask for some, not all (“…what is some of…”) — This presumes that none of us can say all of it. We can try. We can be rather clever. Or articulate. Or just brilliant. But “some of” is an invitation to freedom of choice. It’s also an orientation that acknowledges it’s not possible to get all of it. Language and words are great tools. And needed. The kicker here is to welcome the spirit of wholeness (it’s all connected) yet the freedom or partial and incomplete (yet complete enough).
  2. Ask for feeling, not just data — This presumes that most (or, er…, um…, all) of experience is subjective and not objective. Sure it’s true that we humans make lists and are rather impressive in our quantitative and qualitative sharing. I tend to be one that wants to reclaim the subjective, the sense-making that is filtered through the rather complex beings that we are with “no two exactly the same.” “What’s your feeling…” returns us to the validity of wonder.
  3. Ask for these days, not all of time — This presumes the value of just noticing what is alive and apparent now. Or recently. It doesn’t ask for a comprehensive summary of all time. It doesn’t ask of a literature review of all possible responses. It just asks for some of what is current, trusting that what is alive now might have more relevance in a continued emergence kind of way.

I love asking these kind of questions. I love being in these kind of questions. I suppose because it moves me / us into a kind of real time sensing together. It gives us chance to grow in the sun together if I stay with a living systems reference. And, just for fun, more mechanically, it gives us chance to calibrate a bit together.

I’m a student of questions. I’ve had good teachers that have themselves been oriented to being students of questions. There is an essence in the question that creates a doorway to shared meaning making, sensing, witnessing. What a delicious taste of it I got with this lovely group of people in weekend retreat. Enriched.

What, How, Who

One of the most common reference points I hear in working with groups is the desire to give full and immediate attention to the “what.” This is the “doing” part. It’s the church that wants to create in two hours it’s next five year strategy. It’s the university that wants to grow its prominence. It’s the non-profit that wants to host a community awareness event. “What” is the implementation part. It’s so often perceived as the accomplishment part. It’s noble. It’s needed.

One of the most common interjections that I offer to the “what” conversation is the equally important focus of the “how.” It’s not just “what” we do, but “how” we do it that matters a bunch. People get the need to be smart. They even get, kind of, being smart together. But it’s less common to get the orientation that is “how” groups work together. This is process stuff, not just content. It’s leaning in to questions together. It’s seeking shared wisdom through listening and telling stories. It’s slowing down. It’s going deeper. It’s deliberate use of participative methodologies to create encounters of learning and connection. The “how” is for many, a revolutionary step.

With a few colleagues, lately we’ve been talking a bunch about not just the what and the how, but also the “who.” This is focus on the individuals in relation to the group. It’s a focus on the inner world, not just the outer. It’s maturing thought and emotions. This is the kind of language that tips into what some perceive as therapy and counseling. Fair enough. However, the “who” is mostly being honest enough to go another layer deeper into the sense-making that goes on within, that then shapes the what and the “how of how is going.” This has some neuroscience to it. It’s got a pile of self-awareness in it.

What. How. Who.

I recently enjoyed reading Larry Dressler’s book, Standing In The Fire. I think I met Larry once, briefly. He’s connected somewhat into the Art of Hosting body of work. His writing is thoughtful, invoking in this book, the metaphor of tending fires, as much on the inside as on the outside. It’s the clarity, calm, and courage part from his subtitle. Larry tells the story of the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire in Montana, a raging blaze that was overtaking fire-fighters. Vast forests were consumed in that fire. People died in that fire. However, some people didn’t by taking an unusual chance. Burning a patch to lay down in, so that the forest fire, moving as fast as 30 miles per hour, would “jump” over the firefighters. It worked.

Larry invites a narrative that many of us are invoking — being smarter together. And being transformed by fires of contemporary life and leadership. I liked what he shared about “what” so often being associated with knowledge. Yes, knowledge matters, but it isn’t enough on it’s own. The “how” is associated with skills. I’d suggest that the practices and methods of participative leadership and engagement are really important skills. It matters to know circle. It matters to be able to host an open space format. The third area of “who” connects to self-awareness, which of course, is on-going. Without self awareness, the “how” and the “what” are too devoid of context. It makes a difference. It’s the ability to know one’s own relationship with grief in order to host others in their processing of grief. It’s being able to encourage a group to dwell in its fear, to find the medicine, because you are in your own process of relating to fear.

I love the awareness that comes with attention to “who.” It’s so much in the work that Kinde Nebeker and I convene around The Inner and Outer of Evolutionary Leadership. It’s so much in the Humaning retreat space that Quanita Roberson and I offer, QT, to get to more of the foundation layers. It’s so much in the work of circle and other participative forms that helps us dance the space between the interior and the exterior.

What. How. Who.
Knowledge. Skills. Self-Awareness.

It’s so much the conversation, expanded, that groups are needing, and I believe, looking for.