For those of you that read in newsfeeders you won’t have noticed that I changed the template of the blog again. I think it’s now a little easier to read, but let me know.
At any rate, light blogging this month. I have been involved in some incredibly draining work of late, the most recent of which required me to be substantially bigger than I normally have been. I was holding space for a day long circle dialogue on Aboriginal child welfare in British Columbia. It was a full day with many important people from throughout the system who came together to look at how we might work at changing the deepest assumptions about the child welfare system to focus on interdependence. A very rewarding day, and a few reports are forthcoming, but I found myself deeply tired after this event. On reflection, I think it was largely a result of holding myself in solid purpose, and deeply committed to facilitating a process that took a conversation to a place none of us could have guessed. It was, in the words of Donald Rothberg, committed action with nonnattachment to outcome. And it’s a very draining thing to do.
When I say that the day required me to “be bigger” I mean, metaphorically speaking, that process work like this requires us to be both big enough to contain the energy and the edges of the circle, and small enough that we don’t get in the way of what is emerging. It is to be both committed to the action and invisible enough that the outcome arises collectively, without personal baggage attached. And there was another level at work here too, in which I needed to embody the values that were being articulated by the group. They were saying for example, that the Aboriginal child welfare system needs to be based on the assumption that no one person can make a decision for a child. For a facilitator hearing that who is willing to embody this deep change in real time, I was required to be in a present moment of reflective practice: “How can I embody this emerging value and validate the group’s sense that we need to base process on this value? Right now, even?” Very tiring to do that and still hold the container open.
I mention Buddhist teacher Donald Rothberg because today I was listening to this podcast where he speaks of this kind of work. Towards the end of this talk, he mentions characteristics of committed action with nonattachment to outcomes:
- Appreciating the journey. If results are not everything, then we can have a greater appreciation for the journey we are on, and we are better able to live in the present moment and be of best use there.
- Recognizing that there is no failure. This is not to absolve oneself of responsibility. It is rather to adopt the mindset that every experience contains the seeds of great teaching. We can learn from everything that happens if we view “results” as simply another point in time at which we reflect, and that we undertake that reflection with no judgement. Rather we seek to evaluate based on what we can learn in the present in order to adjust our future actions. Developing these reflective capacities is a central practice of good facilitation, good leadership and good action.
- Long term view. Accepting the fact that failure is really just an approach to results means that we are freer to see the impact of our work over the long term. Rothberg mentions the founder of Sarvodaya, Dr. AT Ariyaratne who says that the peace plan for the civil war in Sri Lanka must be a 500 year plan because the roots of the conflict extend back that far. There is no way we can measure results if there is a 500 year view, but if there is to be true, deep and sustainable peace in Sri Lanka, the solution must come from the true, deep and sustainable foundation. Nonattachment to outcomes allows us to see deeper causes and longer term sustainable solutions. We work then on a vector, in a direction and not towards an end in itself.
- Resting in the mystery of how things happen. I can think of dozens of small decisions in my life that have resulted in huge life changes. Deciding one afternoon to visit a friend who offered me a job which set my career in motion. Waking up one morning and deciding it was worth it to brave a autumn sleet storm to see a live CBC radio broadcast, and meeting my life partner that morning as a result. Everyone has these experiences. The fact is that nonattachment to outcomes admits the possibilities that the smallest things might actually have the biggect impact. You may spend the next year at work toughing it out to bring a project to life, working late hours and always being the last one to leave the office. The project may be a success or not, but what if the relationship you develop with the evening security guard, the simple greetings and the occaisional short chat were enough to bring him from a state of despondant isolation to appreciating life again? Sometimes people can be brought back from the brink of isolation and suicide by people reaching out to them. That may be the most important result of your year long project.
It’s a serious practice, this idea of being fully committed and nonattached to outcomes, but recently it has helped me get through some heavy work. I wonder where it shows up in your life and practice?