For Longing — John O’Donohue

I used this poem recently, at the beginning of a World Cafe, that was shaped to focus on awareness of norms (internal and external), desired departure from such norms, and desired movement toward what has the energy of calling in life and in work.

It’s a poem that I love, for the way that it points me / us toward the deeper colors of longing. Much like this maple tree with brilliant sunlit yellow, last week at the Fire & Water Leadership Cohort.



For Longing
John O’Donohue
blessed be the longing that brought you here
and quickens your soul with wonder.

may you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
that disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.

may you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
to discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.

may the forms of your belonging – in love, creativity, and friendship –
be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.

may the one you long for long for you.
may your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.

may a secret providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.

may your mind inhabit your life with the sureness
with which your body inhabits the world.

may your heart never be haunted by ghost-structures of old damage.

may you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
may you know the urgency with which God longs for you.



It’s a couple of the most basic shapes.

In the background, a circle, this time for 50 people. It is the hearth to hold us turned to one another. For four hours. In view of each other. In some heart. In some intention.

In the foreground, rectangular tables with groupings of four chairs at each ends. These are pods, with paper and markers. To again hold us turned to one another in smaller groups with deliberate questions that will invite possibility.

On this day, yesterday, it is a school system and community. I’m cohosting with Quanita Roberson. We are helping to gather faculty. And parents. And board members. Spaces readied for those who want to be involved in the imagination of a next layer of strategic plan, sourced by wondering together. For their school. For their families. For the broader community. For the broader field of education.

These are two of the most basic shapes I use. That ready us. To go together, in better ways. In head, heart, belly, and hands.


Own Your Container


In the last month I’ve been able to use Open Space Technology as a key part of working with groups in multi-day gatherings. One of the things that I consistently see, and love, in Open Space is that people open up in a different way. They get what they want and feel a kind of “aha” — even surprised shock, that it worked. A bit like realizing that the simple turning of the key (or pushing the power button) of a car actually does turn it on. I’ve seen the “aha” in participants ranging from the really onboard types all the way to some heavily skeptical types — there’s nothing quite like seeing skepticism cracked open to satisfied accomplishment.

One of my key insights in the last month has been about, what I would call, “owning you container.” Open Space is a container. Just like World Cafe is. And The Circle Way. Yes, there are nuances between them. But they are containers for people to do a particular kind of good within them.

With Open Space, I’ve noticed a myth that feels off to me. It is that there is no structure. “You can do whatever you want.” This is one of those statements that is kind of true, except when it is not. Yes, there is freedom intended and amplified in the process of creating an agenda / market place. Yes, there is freedom in self-organizing where to host and what to host. Yes, there is freedom in the law of two feet — go where you can learn and contribute. But all of these principles of freedom are intended to create, or add to, a sense of responsibility — the group taking responsibility for its learning.

If you own the deeper purpose or responsibility, then self-organized working groups are not anything at all wishy washy. And the “owning the container” part for anyone hosting, is to set structure within which an enormous amount of freedom can flow. It’s just like an Ultimate Frisbee game. Though the game is very fluid, and depends much on honor, there are still rules that create the container that is Ultimate. It’s not the structured plays of an american football game. But it is a container for a particular kind of game to occur that emphasizes working with the moment. To invite people to play Ultimate you must own the boundaries and rules that are Ultimate — or you’ve got something else entirely.

It was one of my friends, Toke Moeller, that I best remember talking with about the “gift of the river bank.” The river bank prevents flooding, creating boundaries for a body of water to flow, never being the exact same river in any two moments. So it is with Open Space and other participative process — flow within a container that is different than scripted steps within a presumption of certainty, often imposed by a few on behalf of many. By being clear in yourself about what is happening in Open Space, oh my, people are deeply satisfied by the gift of that container.