Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Shout Out to the Things I Care About

Earlier this year I had a mini revelation.

I have for a while had unease with the story of the good life that I had come to take on.   That story says that we Find The Problem With The World, then dedicate our life to the odyssey of that problem (Our Passion), and in the end find The Solution (thusly Saving The World, and of course being The Hero of The World, not that we'd ever admit it out loud).

I knew this story was counter-productive, but I didn't know what else I was supposed to do if I wasn't trying to understand The Problem and find The Solution.

I found an alternative in Meg Wheatley: we should strive to keep connected to what we care about.

Like so many revelations, I didn't know at the time whether it would be of any use.  It clicked a puzzle piece in a satisfying 'aha' moment (inspiring this blog post), but I couldn't say whether it would lead to anything.

In the months since I have been sitting with this alternative intent, to see where it takes me.

The first thing I realised is that I care about a bunch of things which are not The Problem (or what I might say at a networking event is My Passion).

At the time I was infatuated with my new nephew.  I was having dreams about him for goodness' sake!

I also realised how much I appreciated my new nephew as an opportunity to spend time with my sister... something which, if I'm honest, hadn't happened that much since we were mere bubs ourselves.  We always* got along fine, but never had too much to do together.

I realised how I didn't just 'like' parkour and my movement practices, but that these are really important and fulfilling for me.  I, likewise, have been known to have parkour dreams.  (Cat passes like you wouldn't believe!)

It took no realising to be aware of the obvious subject of my affection, my wonderful Michelle.  It goes without saying— though today, on our two and a half year anniversary, it can't hurt to note the obvious. (xx)

Which leads me to the second thing I realised about what I care about... which is that caring about all of these things is okay.

The World Saving Hero complex is a total stress.  When your life story is the Saviour of the Earth, you ain't got no time for that.  There are not enough hours in the day to be Mr (or Mrs) Fix It, let alone trying to be all of these other things as well.  There is not enough space in your attention to be anything other than the Savior; dedicated, committed, focused (neurotic?).  There is not enough warmth in your heart to be anything other than the bleeding heart on the cross of humanity.

It is pretty clear that if I'm going to Save the World, there is actually no room for any of the things in my life that I care about.  Every one of those things, from the people I love, to the food that sustains me and the movement that nourishes me — each of these things is an obstacle in my Hero Journey.  I must either discard them, or live with them as festering welts of resentment and guilt — compromises hidden within the footnotes of the story that I tell about myself.

The life of the hero is broken.  If we start to think that we must fulfill such lofty ambitions, we invite the pathology of losing touch with the things we care about.  If we lock ourselves into the story of Our Self, The Saviour, we are committing the fatal falseness of turning our backs on the truth of our being.

But when you let go of the pretense of heroism... all of these other things we care about become okay.

It is part of our fundamental humanity (our fundamental existence as an organism), that we are not uni-functional machines.  We are not mere cogs in the machine of salvation... but rather rich expressions of life.  We mean many things to many other people, and serve many other functions to many other beings.  We are one of innumerable subjects in the vast web of creation.

In the new story of self, the story of life —a story which reflects back onto us the reality of the living universe we see around us— we need not find the Problem nor the Solution.  Our role is to integrate the diverse and complex feedback which we receive from the world (which includes from within ourselves— not that it is possible to make a distinction), to trust in the whole-body intelligence agent that is our human being, to embrace its functioning and to embrace the truth of those things it tells us is important — the things we care about.

And if we care about different things... well that's okay.

Do I contradict myself?  Very well, then I contract myself;
I am large, I contain multitudes.
—Walt Whitman

That's what it means to be alive.

The world is an abundant richness of life.  We are not machines in the hero story of salvation, but living beings, emanations of the wonder of the universe.  The fullest possible expression of our being only comes in communion of our diversity.

So I accept now that caring is okay.  May I embrace my multitudes.  May I continue to live a full life, a fitting mirror of the abundance of creation, in communion with the innumerable things that I care about.

May you do so too.

// This post is my 'plus one' post of the #31Thousand project

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Skeptics - Facilitator's Best Friend

As a facilitator, one of the scariest things we can come across is the skeptic.  This is scary whether they are skeptical of the intent and possibility of the gathering, or of us, our role and our plan as facilitator (much less of an issue, but personally harder to bear!).  But they can also be one of the greatest assets of the group... I always try to remind myself of this, and to act with the courage to make the most of their contribution.

I normally open a gathering with a check in (round the circle, person by person, with a name and a few words), which is prime opportunity to uncover such skepticism — the best possible result.

After 'hellos' from myself and often from the sponsor or convenor, and after a statement of the story and intent for being there, people are in a suitable frame of mind to check in with the intersection of their own personal history, and the shared path they are joining.

In ideal circumstances, a simple invitation like "how are you feeling about what we intend to do today" works wonders.  In less than ideal circumstances, it might take a bit of work to uncover the subtext behind people's guarded responses... this can be tricky, but worth trying to open them up, perhaps with a "I sense there is a bit of unspoken reluctance... would anyone like to speak to that?"

Either way, if we're lucky, the skeptics will have been open enough to share that "we've been here before, I don't think it will work, and I'm not optimistic about the plans we have for today, they won't amount to anything".

If we're properly unlucky, these people have been forced to be there, which lands us in a kettle of fish we need to navigate to getting them properly engaged.  But for the moment I assume they have chosen to join us in the gathering, as has everyone else.

Now is the decision moment... where we decide to cover our backside and fudge around the issue by reinforcing our authority and what positive responses we heard from the group... OR to embrace the challenge for the gift that it is.

I know different people have different styles of facilitation, so this may not apply for everyone, but for me, the primary goal of facilitation is to host the right quality of space for people to get into really genuine and meaningful conversations.  This is like a biodynamic farmer, every single one of which will tell you that their number one focus is the quality of their soil.  I guess that makes me a biodynamic facilitator...

So with that in mind, it is easier to see the skeptics for the gift that they are.

These people are supporting the quality of the soil, by demonstrating qualities that are perfect for meaningful conversations.  They are not troublemakers (yet ; ), but leaders of the group!

What's more, they are inviting us to be humble and vulnerable enough to accept the tension they are inviting in to the group.  This is the perfect kind of challenge to ourselves model the kinds of behaviours that no amount of description or permission-giving will enable: being grateful for all contributions, accepting difference, opening ourselves up to be vulnerable to change.  Imagine the quality of conversation that would be possible if everyone demonstrated these behaviours!!

So this is the perfect opportunity to respond, with genuine gratitude, something like
"thank you to those who have shared their skepticism openly... this is exactly the sort of honesty that will make for really powerful conversations today... and thank you as well for joining in today despite your skepticism... that dedication as well is valuable and will hold us in good stead... what I have heard is that there is skepticism from a few people around [fill in the blank] ... have I understood that correctly?"
Hopefully yes!  But if not, it will quickly be clarified.
"This is definitely a challenge worth being mindful of, and I'd like to make sure we keep this in mind over the course of the day.  I think for the time being though it is worth us plugging ahead with the plan to [do the next thing / follow the plan / whatevs]... is everyone okay with that or do we need to spend a bit more time here and make sure we're going in the right direction?"

Whoa!  We've invited confirmed, card-carrying skeptics in the group to torpedo the whole workshop!

If anyone does pipe up and say "yes it's all wrong and everything needs to change!", then we're in trouble!  Especially if they try to hold the stage for a three hour monologue to do so...  But at least it's out of the way early, right?  All plans are out the window.

It's not so bad though.  I have been in almost this exact situation before, a few times actually (did it sound like I was playing back a scenario?), and I have yet to have anyone who thought it was not a good idea to forge ahead.  And not just moving on to the next bit as if nothing had happened— but forging ahead together, not apart, with renewed authority as facilitator, with some skeletons out of the closet and on the table and everyone having felt heard, and with some demonstrations of impeccable, genuine behaviours that will be exactly the grounding needed for conversation a level more powerful than would have been possible otherwise.

What a gift!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Plus One

'Adding one' is one of the most disproportionately powerful practices I have adopted.Its source is movement practice.

The genesis for me is the so called 'warm up' of the Yamakasi, as shared by Chau Belle, one of the founders of the practice of parkour.

The warm up is a series of repetitions of fairly basic movements, like sit ups, interspersed with traversals, like running up stairs.

Rumour has it, Chau Belle undertakes this very specific warm up drill prior to a parkour training session.  It takes him an hour, and by the end of it he is ready to go.  I have not met anyone personally who has completed it in under two and a half, and they definitely were not ready to go.  (Everyone does agree though, it makes you very warm.)

Sometimes you don't really know what to believe.  But it doesn't matter.  The moral is the same... Chau Belle is a superlative human, possessed of great strength and endurance — that would not be possible without a unique training philosophy.

51 Push Ups

The movements themselves are not particularly inspiring.  Things like push ups.

The first time I was led through it (by Stef), I was somewhat confused by our repetition counts.  First we did 6 push ups (and 6 step ups).  Then 11.  Then 16.  Then 21.  Then 26.  Then 31.  Then 36.  Then 41.  Then 46.  Then 51 push ups.

(No, they weren't full push ups. Who do you think I am?  Chau Belle?)

Having collapsed in a heap, Stef explained the rationale for all the odd numbers.

When we're doing repetitions, we do our set because Reasons.  We want to get stronger, we want to get fitter, we just want to move... whatever.  It doesn't matter.  A set is a set.

When we're doing the Yamakasi warm up, we add one more repetition to all of our sets.  Do one more, for something else.  Whatever you think deserves it.  Anything.

You might want to call it a dedication, a commemoration, an affirmation, whatever you want... but you don't need to.  I guess you could share it... but most of the time that would be kind of weird. (And as you'll find out, not as easy as it sounds.)

The only important thing is to do it.

That's it.

Philosophy of adding one

That's the story, and you can make of it what you will.You can do your own thing however you want.

But if you train with me, we will add one repetition to all of our sets.

I insist on this because of how powerful it has been for me, and because of how surprisingly deep it is as a practice.

When we add one, we make our practice about something other than ourselves.  I think about this as the 'gratitude effect'.  Some people do gratitude diaries, or check-ins, or things like that.  I just add one.  This is the least subtle impact, the poster child for adding one, and rightfully so.  It's immeasurably powerful to live with a disposition of gratitude.

When we add one, we infuse our actions with meaning.  We reconnect our physical and our semiotic worlds, strengthening the neural pathways of our practice, and the interellationships between the things we value.  We learn to decompartmentalise our experience.

When we add one, we are forced to check in with ourselves, and what is important to us.  (And realise that it may not be what we thought.)  When we're 5 pushups in, we can rationalise the 'right' response.  We can do one for our mother, or our partner, or our god.  But sooner or later we slip up.  We think about the guy with the beret and the colourful socks.  We think about the ring of the circular saw from the construction site on the other side of the river.  We think about the massaging effect of the pebblecrete on the bruised and scratched heels of our palms.  We think about the sister we've always taken for granted.

Adding one makes us think about things we never realised we valued.  It is like a technicolour shortcut to dream interpretation.  It's all right there.  (And if we keep doing it, we learn to listen.)

When we add one, we prove that we can continue. We prove that the first 5 or 50 or 300 were not a fluke.  We turn our nose up at the logic of those that say "well you only did 300, who says you could do any more?"  Adding one isn't the same as doing a set one longer or higher.  It is making our first step into the future an affirmation.

When we add one, we mess with the way we normally think about 'finishing' and 'winning'.  We undermine our belief that the end is ever the end.  That there is such thing as 'enough'.  Adding one loops an ending into an open-ended continuity that says "there will always be more".  Any victory is fleeting, as defeat may lay just around the corner - so nevermind winning, and just do one more.

This gels clearly with parkour, a passionately anti-competitive practice.  When you start adding one this same philosophy infects the rest of your life as well.

Don't worry - it's good for you.

When we add one, we tip our hat to the complexity and the diversity of the universe.  Nothing ever has a simple cause, effect, rhyme or reason.  There is always more.  There is always different.  There is always another angle.

What hits this home most of all is that the actual experience of adding one.  If you were to write your life out in linear, logical consciousness, then each extra one would have its own 'something'.  But the something doesn't matter.  What matters is the practice of adding one.  And adding one doesn't necessarily result in a particular something.  Sometimes it results in a feeling.  Sometimes it results in a list.  Sometimes it results in a whole bloody essay.

It doesn't matter - just add one.

So, this as my +1.#31Thousand