Posts categorized “Flow”.


Spellbound this morning watching Sean de hOra, a famous old Irish singer, performing his version of the Irish air Bean Dubh an Ghleanna (The Dark Woman of the Glen).  He is a gorgeous interpreter of the “sean nos” or old style of Irish singing, which is deeply emotional and moving evoking in the performer something of the duende that Lorca wrote about in flamenco.  In both flamenco and sean nos, there is a sense that supernatural creatures are near by, and there is tradition that links the singing of these songs to the kidnapping of the singer by fairies, so powerful is the song.

For these reasons – the weight of emotion being communicated and the fear of being lost – a tradition in sean nos singing is to have someone engage in “hand winding” with the singer and you can see this in this video.  It is a gesture of amazing empathy, and it brings the singer into the fullness of the expression of the song without him fearing being lost or taken away.

Here is Ciaran Carson:

In the ‘hand-winding’ system of the Irish sean-nós, a sympathetic listener grasps the singer’s hand; or, indeed, the singer may initiate first contact and reach out for a listener. The singer then might close his eyes, if they are open (sometimes he might grope for someone, like a blind man) and appear to go into a trance; or his eyes, if open, might focus on some remote corner of the room, as if his gaze could penetrate the fabric, and take him to some antique, far-off happening among the stars. The two clasped hands remind one another of each other, following each other; loops and spirals accompany the melody, singer and listener are rooted static to the spot, and yet the winding unwinds like a line of music with its ups and downs, its glens and plateaux and its little melismatic avalanches.

What do you notice here?

A good time to do right.

Martin Luther King Jr., writing from teh Birmingham City jail in April of 1963, mused a little on time:

I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of goodwill. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy, and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

I was thinking on this as I approach my 45th birthday and as I was thinking about my beautiful 16 year old daughter and my spirited 12 year old son.  Coming back today from a glorious gathering of leaders from the new world of community, one might say “rock stars of the new consciousness” in Petaluma California, I was thinking about the way I want my children to use their time on this earth.  What came to mind was the Mary Oliver quote: “Tell me what you will do with your one wild and precious life.”

And of course they can’t tell me what they will do, because the work my children will do hasn’t been invented yet.  But if there was some advice for them lurking out in the ether, it would probably be in that King quote.

This is a good time to do right..

Time and creativity

Nice little video which demonstrates factors which enable creativity and those which impede it.

Getting beyond the reaction

My friend Bob Stilger writes today from the radiation fields of Fukushima where he has been joining people for the past year in the work of remaking lives after the tsunami and the meltdown.  It’s worth heading over to his blog to follow his ongoing discoveries there, but here are some good bits from today’s posting:


People are learning how to co-exist, and more, with the radiation.  One story I heard was about a town that wanted to have a festival with an outside play area for their children.  Playing on the ground has become prohibited.  They spent days and days cleaning one park so that it was radiation free — now, one morning — so the children could play.  Tomorrow will be a different story.  I thought of a learning center in south Texas that partnered with Berkana for a time – Llano Grande.  When I visited there once I listened with interest as teachers organized a trip.  One of the things they took into account in their planning was who was an illegal alien and who wasn’t.  Special arrangements had to be made for the illegals.  That was just the way it was.  Others somewhere might be arguing about immigration policy, but at the community level you just work with what you have.  So it is in Fukushima.  You work with what you have.

My most amazing session of the day was in the town of Minamisoma.  It was a community of 70,000 people.  As the radiation settled more than 50,000 were forced to leave.  Gradually people have been allowed to return and now the population is around 50,000.  Part of Minamisoma is costal and there the tsunami damage has been untouched since 3.11 because of the radiation — it still looks exactly like the costal areas in Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures did in the weeks after 3.11.  But people have returned because it is their home.  They have returned to build something new together.

Early in 2012 some friends got together and decided to hold a future festival.  More than 1000 people from the community participated.  Music performances, presentations, dialogs — many different activities to engage people and invite them to think about their future together.  At the end of the day one of the organizers, a woman who runs a local laundry offered a toast:  before 3.11 we had a reputation for being quiet and just waiting for the government to do what they wanted.  Now we know we must do it ourselves.  We cannot wait for government.  We must join hands and create a future together.  And that’s what they are doing.

In June the opened a Future Center on a corner of a neighborhood.  People started to use it immediately.  Those who organized it said we don’t actually know what a Future Center is, but we know we need a place to create a future together — so we started.

The leadership circle is a delight — a truck driver, a laundress, a dairy farmer, a nurse’s aid, a bartender — ordinary people who have come together because something had to be done.  One had been evacuated from Minamisoma to a town several hours to the north.  It took her more than a year to be able to make her way home.  Another spoke of how his family has been torn apart — he and his wife want to stay here, in their home with their children.  His parents accuse him of killing his children and have moved north into Miyagi.  He thinks they will never speak again.  But these people have stepped forward because they must.  This is home.  There are dangers — but there are dangers everywhere and this is home.

They know this is long term work.  One person spoke of how we hold individual future sessions and that is good.  Things happen in them, but what we are really doing is working to gradually change the mindset of the community.  We are helping ourselves realize that we can and will create a future together.

They are just ordinary people who are working together to create a life.  With each other.  Now.

Any person, any where in the world who promotes nuclear energy should be required to come and spend a week in Fukushima.  They should be required to walk through Itakemura and experience its silent desolation. They should be required to talk with the parents who take days to make a playground radiation free for a few hours so their children can play outside again.  They should be made to look at a future made invisible and then explain to people what they will do differently and how they will solve the problems of the soft underbelly of nuclear energy — dealing with the waste.

These people are strong.  They will figure out how to live in a healthy and resilient way here in Fukushima.  They will not be swayed by people who they think know what’s best for people who live here.  It is their own future.  They know they will make it together, working with what they have.  They are amazing.

via Fukushima: Beyond Reacting –Bob Stilger’s Notes from Japan #36 ~ October 1st :: New Stories.


Dealing with disruption

I was listening to a brilliant interview with the theologian and scholar Walter Bruggeman this morning.  He was talking about “the prophetic imagination” and using the poetry of the Old Testament prophets to make a point about a key capacity that is missing in the world right now: the ability to deal with disruption.


SImply, disruption is what happens when the plans we thought we had have suddenly changed.  It could be a major economic collapse – a black swan event – or something so small as your bus left early.  How we respond to disruption is a key capacity for individual resourcefulness, and how we collectively deal with disruption is a key capacity for resilience.
It is interesting, as Bruggeman notes, that our frame for understanding the future is basically consumerist.  We purchase certainty.  It’s as if we invest in the present because it guarantees a given performance of the future.  When we buy something, we expect to receive quality and a guarantee that if it doesn’t work according to plan, we can hold someone else responsible.
That understanding about the way the future is supposed to roll out infects everything we do.  When events overtake our assumptions about the future, we look for someone to blame, someone to be accountable, someone to make it right.  I can find all kinds of ways in which I expect people to OWE me something.  It’s as if our participation in the social contract guarantees that our expectations will be met.
But they never are.  We cannot all live in our ideal worlds.  Diversity and complexity means disruption.
The greatest challenge of our time I think, both individually and collectively, is how to equip ourselves for disruption.  There are many patterns that scale across dimensions of practice, and a few key ones may be:
  • Self-awareness. Knowing your own response to disruption is helpful.  Do you get stressed by unexpected change?  Do you take it in stride?  Does your community shake and shudder with fits and paroxysms or do you just give up?  All of these reactions are common and they are interesting.  And they are not anyone’s fault or anyone else’s responsibility but your own.  Learning to be resourceful with disruption begins by knowing how you deal with it.
  • Stop. When events overtake you it is wise to stop.  The worst thing to do is to continue to pursue the course of action you initiated before the disruption occurred.  As an individual, stopping is easier than doing it as a collective.  It often takes a loud voice to get a group intent on achievement to stop what it is doing, so being prepared to stop means paying attention to the small voices – the ones inside yourself and the ones inside your team.
  • Look for surprise. One of the basic operating principles of Open Space Technology is “Be Prepared to Be Surprised.”  My friend Brian Bainbridge lived this principle, even from within the relative security and certainty of his life as a Catholic priest.  As a result he welcomed surprise with delight.  Looking for and preparing for surprises isn’t just a good self-help trick though.  It’s excellent planning.  And because by definition, you can never know what will surprise you, the best way to prepare for surprise is to train your outlook to work with it rather than against it.  Lots of energy is spent beating back the results of surprise.  We would do better to be able to see it’s utility and work with it.
  • Welcome and engage the stranger. There is a Rumi poem called “The Guest House” I love that has these lines in it: “This being human is a guest house.  Every morning a new arrival…Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows who sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honourably.  He may be clearing you out for some new delight.”  the stranger contains the answer.  When disruption occurs, it is like a door opening through which floods unfamiliarity.  That all comes with strangers and many of those strangers hold the answers to what to do next, but you have to take the time to engage with them.  And never discount the stranger among you, the person you thought you knew that suddenly becomes a different in the midst of a crises.
  • Choose wisely. Meeting the chaos of disruption with the order of stillness helps to create the space for wisdom.  Not having stillness means one gets caught up in the rush and tumble of chaotic disruption and one reacts instead of acting wisely.  Becoming still and then stopping has similar results.  Balancing chaos and order gives us the time and space to make a wise decision.  The opinions of others help here.  If you are alone when your life is disrupted, you might not have the breadth of understanding to make a wise decision.  You may end up travelling in a direction that takes you away from where you need to go.  When you make a choice, choose wisely.
  • Commit. Finally commit fully to your next move.  This is principle that is alive in the field of improvisational theatre.  The scene takes a surprising twist and as an actor you have two choices: hang on to the story you were previously developing or let the new story line change you.  You can tell an improviser that only half commits to the new story.  They become immediately stuck in a space that is too constrained to move.  They are wanting to work with the new but unwilling to abandon the old.  When disruption occurs it is already too late not to be changed by it.  So commit fully to the new world so that you can be a full participant in it.


How to meditate while leading a workshop

If you run a lot of workshops or facilitate group work, you probably have times when you are inviting people to work in small groups for short periods of time.  You might want people to reflect on a question for a couple of minutes, or work in small groups for a half an hour or even just take 30 seconds to write an insight.  Some people like to time this stuff out, pull out a stop watch and count the seconds, but there is a 2 for 1 technique you can use that gets the job done and sneaks in a few moments of meditation and mindfulness.

Your mileage may vary but it turns out that for me, a full in breath and out breath lasts about six seconds.  So now instead of timing things with a stop watch, i just sit and breathe.  Ten breaths equals a minute.  When I give a thirty second warning, I just take five breaths and call the group back.  Counting breaths is a well known meditation technique which focuses the mind, stills the thoughts and promotes mindfulness.  And if you are anything like me, that is a welcome practice in hosting strategic conversations and learning.   It’s good for you, and as a host, good for the group.


A living body is…



“A living body is not a fixed thing but a flowing event, like a flame or a whirlpool: the shape alone is stable, for the substance is a stream of energy going in at one end and out at the other. We are particularly and temporarily identifiable wiggles in a stream that enters us in the form of light, heat, air, water, milk, bread, fruit, beer, beef Stroganoff, caviar, and pate de foie gras. It goes out as gas and excrement – and also as semen, babies, talk, politics, commerce, war, poetry, and music. And philosophy.”

– Alan Watts

via whiskey river.

Action, complexity and a centre

Just coming off an Art of Hosting with friends Tenneson Woolf, Caitlin Frost and Teresa Posakony.  Something Tenneson said on our last day as we were hunkering down to do some action planning, has stayed with me.  He said something like “it is easy to create actions that go off in a million different directions, but much more sensible to create actions that come from a common centre.  There is something about holding that common centre together invites trust so that we can release responsibility to action conveners and known they are initiating works that comes from our common shared purpose.”

People often make the distinction between talk and action, largely in my experience as an objection to the amount of time it takes to be in conversation around complex topics.  It seems that with complexity the conversation is endless and can go on forever.  And almost by defintion, that is true.  That can be a very frustrating experience if you consider the action – reflection process to be a linear one in which we spend time figuring out what we are going to do and then go and do it.

That approach works well in the complicated domain where everything can be known, or enough can be known that we can discern the wisest path forward.  But the complex domain contains a number of features which makes that kind of linear thinking folly.  First of all there is the prospect of emergence: things will happen as a result of interactions in the system which could never have been predicted and which may radically alter strategy and action. Secondly, actions undertaken in the complex domain cannot have their success or effectiveness guaranteed and therefore complex systems actually benefit from having many actions undertaken, with an ongoing developmental evaluation process as to the efficacy of these actions and the connection to the centre of action is constantly changing.

A lot of the work I do in hosting conversations is about both discerning what is our shared purpose as well as generating action that can come from that shared purpose.  And, with the smart clients I have, we repeat that cycle over and over as they continue to operate in a changing and complex world.  It creates strategy that represents a fine line between reacting and hedging your bets on some pretty good ideas.  Conversation and time and a wicked question helps us to check into and explore a deeper core purpose that can lie at the centre of ideas for action.  I have been lately calling this a generative core: an idea at the centre that is so powerful and compelling that it alone can inspire interesting and creative ideas. There is an energy to a generative core that is inviting, and that seems to make people WANT to be in conversation and relationship with it.  There is a quality to the questions that lie in the generative core that open ourselves in exciting ways to new possibilities.  Good conversation can help to illuminate this core purpose

Action planning from this place means coming up with good ideas and designing what David Snowden and others have called “safe-fail probes” which allows us to begin small.  In the Berkana Institute we call this approach “start anywhere and follow it somewhere” indicating that this kind of action creates its own momentum over time and therefore needs to be shaped and carefully watched.  Action that arises from agenerative core can be borne in conversation, and should be developmentally evaluated in conversation.  Conversation becomes a key tool in designing, evaluating and making meaning of what is going on.  And while actions and probes are being designed, tested and implemented, at the same time we have to pay attention to what we are learning about our core purpose, because that is always changing too.

This is not easy to understand, especially in a world where proceeding in an orderly direction from point A to point B is a desirable and seemingly sensible thing to do.  But understanding the nature of complexity is important for action planning, because it can actually unleash the kinds of ideas that otherwise seem to never come to the surface.  And it can make a community or organization powerfully resilient to shifts and changes that require retooling without stopping.  It seems like a long investment of time to be in conversations that slow things down, but I invite slowing down to go fast, because the speed at which activities and ideas can be implemented on the other side of a well centred and well bounded discernment process can be breathtaking.

Visioning as the estuary of action

This is an estuary.  It is the place where a river goes to die.  Everything the river has ever been and everything it has carried within it, is deposited at it’s mouth where the flow slows down and the water merges with the ocean.  These are places of incredible calm and richness, but they lack the exciting flow of the torrents and waterfalls and cascades of the upper river system.

Yesterday I was speaking with a client who worried that an initiative we had begun together was heading towards the estuary of action – a long term visioning processes where lots of things are said and very little is done.  “We’ve done that before,” she said.  Nobody likes that.  I wracked my brain to see where it was that I had led this group to believe that this is what we were doing.  We had done a World Cafe to check into some possibilities for the organization and we had done a short Open Space to initiatie some experimental actions.  We had learned a little about the organization from these two gatherings, and we were, at least in my mind, fully entered into a participatory action learning cycle, working with emergent ideas, within several well established constraints.  I was surprised to hear the fear spoken that what we were doing was “visioning.”

Then I realized that what we were dealing with was an entrained pattern.  People within this organization associated dialogue with visioning, and the results of dialogue with a mass of post-it notes and flip charts that never get typed up, and action that never comes of it.  Likewise, it turns out that the associated planning with a process that begins with a vision, and then costs out a plan and takes that plan to a decision making body which then rules on whether the project can proceed, by allocating resources.  Both of these views are old thinking, rigid patterns that lock participants in a linear view of action that looks like this:



The truth is that I had been viewing the process as an action learning cycle:

So now that we are a little clearer on this, there was a distinct relaxation among the group.  We are heading into some uncharted territory and it is too early to nail down concrete plans about what to do and likewise simply visioning doesn’t take us anywhere either.  Instead, we are harvesting some of the rich sense of community that exists, opening some space for a little leadership, inviting passion and responsibility and making small starts,  The small starts are confirming some of what we suspected about how the organization works, which is good news, because we are developing a pattern of action together that will help us all as we move forward to do bigger things with more extensive resource implications.  This is the proper role of vision and planning in emergent and participatory processes – gentle, developmental, reflective and active.


Field work, football and Tiki Taka

A brilliant post from Field work, football and Tiki Taka @ Dance of Unity:

Their style of play is known as Tiki Taka, commonly spelled tiqui-taca in Spanish. In Wikipedia is it shortly described as “A style of play characterised by short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession.” With Tiki Taka the ball is continuously passed between team members in a way that the whole team operates as one intelligent field, rather than sum total of talented individuals.