How do we open up a conversation about race in the wake of tragedy like the one that took place in Charleston, South Carolina?
Every painful conversation is unique, and every context may require a different approach from the facilitator. Whether you’re holding a town meeting or community dialogue or an informal conversation around the dinner table, in my experience, the best place to begin any truly challenging discussion is with our immediate, felt experience. In our conversations about race this last week, I would begin with the emotional impact of the news of the shooting in South Carolina.
I would pose a simple question like, “How is everyone feeling right now?” and then allow perspectives to pour forth. The expression that I would first want to support is an emotional one, that of pain and loss in the room—the pain of the murder of innocent people and the loss of the nine beautiful souls who died at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church.
It may seem obvious, but people will often rush over emotions to problem solving or political strategizing or discussing facts—but it isn’t satisfying. Presencing the sorrow and grief is fundamental to our human experience and it is unifying to a group. It binds us in the heart, reminding us of the vulnerability we share and of our capacity to care. Sorrow is softening, humanizing, and humbling. So we need to open space for the pain to pour forward, and for the emotions of grief, of loss, of sadness to actually come into the room.
The gut wrenching pain of the murder of innocent people is conveyed by sorrow, grief and loss. The gut wrenching pain of the murder of innocent BLACK people AGAIN comes in a wave of anger, torment, and outrage.Read more
One of the most important things a facilitator needs to practice is facing the fear of criticism that comes from standing in front of a group.
Every time you step in front of a group, whether you are a beautiful and seriously talented pop star like Beyonce or a quick, clever media personality like Jon Stewart, a politician or an athlete or a car salesman, there is a certain amount of criticism coming back at you, even when people are your fans.
Usually it is not spoken, sometimes it is, but the criticism is alway present in the field on a subtle level, which means we feel it and often unconsciously defend against it. The people in the room are sorting through their experience: do they trust you, do they approve of what you are doing, do they want to go where you are taking them?
A good performance will transmute the criticism in the moment into a beautiful and coherent energetic field, but the next day in the papers and in retrospect, the criticism might come back.Read more
Lately, I have been listening to the audio biographies of some of the U.S. Civil War generals—Ulysses Grant, Robert. E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, to name a few. People ask why a Zen teacher has even the slightest interest in military history. The short answer is that I am curious about leadership that calls for a flurry of strategic and tactical decisions under pressure, and in the type of person willing to make those urgent calls.
General U.S. Grant is known for unwavering loyalty to the Union cause and for his relentless pursuit of his plan. Robert E. Lee, the commanding general of the South, is remembered for his aggression, speed, and use of audacious movements in the face of overwhelming odds. Stonewall Jackson, also a rebel and the most eccentric of these generals, was a genius of stealth, maneuver and surprise. He was capable of moving an entire army as if by magic, without leaving a trace of his whereabouts nor an indication of where he would appear next.
In his genius, Jackson may be the most supreme example of command and control leadership. He could maintain the cover and agility of his army because he never shared his intentions with anyone—I repeat—anyone. He never disclosed his considerations, he never revealed his conclusions, even to his own officers. He refused to elicit their views on the matters of the war, tactical or strategic, but when an order was given by Jackson, they were simply expected to move. If not, his soldiers and officers were severely disciplined.
In spite of this, he wasn’t immune to input. Early in the war, he created a war council comprised of his closest lieutenants, precisely to include their thinking. But when they made what he considered to be an inferior call, he never asked them again what they thought. They resented his autocratic style in the beginning of the war, but after they realized they were in the company of the genius, they became his devotees.Read more
My Zen teacher, Genpo Roshi, once told me a long time ago, “You can’t work with a voice that comes up in the room if you don’t know that same voice in yourself.”
What Roshi meant is that anytime you are facilitating a group of people in a dialogue or group process, and a participant expresses a thought, a feeling, a perspective or “voice,” you as the facilitator need to quickly locate that same experience in your own interior awareness; that is, if you want to remain present, congruent, and trustable in front of the room.
This idea is not an entirely new idea in human development circles. Jung pioneered the idea of shadow work, which is the psychological practice of bringing the unacknowledged, marginalized, or shameful parts of experience into awareness. The same phenomenon occurs in forms of Tibetan Buddhist practice and in many shamanic rituals.
Likewise, philosopher Ken Wilber has repeatedly emphasized in his writing that anyone who wants to fully awaken should not not only meditate, but also find a method for including the difficulties of conditioned existence and acknowledge the disavowed “shadow” elements of his or her mind and life.Read more
I took an interest in the clip that was all over the internet last week of an episode of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, the comedian-talk-show-host exchanging with Sam Harris, the atheist-turned-mindfulness author, and Ben Affleck, the actor. If you haven’t already seen it, here’s a link to view the clip of their heated discussion.
Bill Maher begins the discussion by asserting that both he and Sam Harris have been trying to make the case that “liberals need to stand up for liberal principles” like freedom of thought and speech, religious freedom, freedom to leave a religion, and equality for women, minorities, and homosexuals, but says you can’t say those things about Muslims.
Sam Harris responds by asserting that, as he said, “Liberals have failed when it comes to theocracy, and have been sold this meme of ‘Islamaphobia’,” which is the problem of conflating criticism of Islamic doctrine and with bigotry towards Muslims as people.Read more
Since our last IF newsletter, Dr. Cindy Lou Golin’s Integral Life Practice Prison Project was awarded a grant from the MetaIntegral Foundation! The funds she receives will be use to continue her ILP project with the incarcerated. Her approach includes facilitating ILPs via snail mail, developing an ILP workbook for the incarcerated, and conducting train-the-trainer programs with selected inmates.
Last week we chatted with Dr. Golin to learn more about her innovative project—here’s what she shared with us:Read more
Last week, our Integral Facilitator faculty member Rob McNamara shared a provocative perspective on preparation and planning on his blog.
“The most dangerous tool you currently have is the plan you are already holding in your hands. Why? Because the plan makes assumptions that you likely do not question every day. Every day you should be getting out of your plans such that you can adaptively respond to life in creative and innovative ways. Gain more altitude. Get more perspective.”Read more
Ten Directions programs are designed to serve the unique personal and professional development needs of exceptional individuals who seek to bring more consciousness to their work in the world.
Our deliberately developmental learning programs orient to each individual as an embodied instrument of change or “self as instrument”. This means that throughout our programs, we emphasize personal transformative practice to support the development of embodied presence, skillful perspective taking, masterful communication, compassionate engagement and fluid responsiveness to complexity.
We focus primarily on creating programs that address the domains of leadership performance, facilitation mastery, facilitative leadership, and personal development.
We attract participants who:
Ten Directions learners are mature and purpose-driven individuals who are committed to engaging complex issues, diverse worldviews and value systems in service of creating emergent, creative and elegant organizations.
By collaborating with uncommonly insightful and gifted teachers, Ten Directions is cultivating an ecosystem of consciously developmental offerings that will contribute to closing the gap between our human condition and our human potential.Read more
As an experienced leadership developer, I thought myself quite the expert at developing capacity in groups and helping leaders master new competencies, and over decades of work, I felt I’d learned the most effective ways to do that.
The learning culture I had long subscribed to is characterized by its emphasis on valuable information and knowledge combined with engaging, self-directed approaches to learning. My approach as a trainer and facilitator used tried and true rituals and forms to facilitate learning—chatty peer-to-peer activity, self-directed learning, information gathering and opportunities to create conceptual maps and theories, experiential learning, small groups that exchange ideas and test out concepts.
In many ways, my approach as a workshop trainer was to point to new information or knowledge, and devise creative ways for the information to be absorbed and digested. And back then, I would have asserted that this experience I was offering was “transformative” for my clients.
Yet my first personal experience of truly transformative learning took place in a setting that surprised me—at a live intensive with an Integral Zen teacher—which didn’t at all match the existing expectations I had about how learning “should” take place.
When I first entered the room where the workshop “teacher” sat at the front of the room, facing chairs arranged in rows, it felt really weird. In fact, it felt wrong to me—ineffective, and even inappropriate.
Because I favored the view that really effective learning is something that’s not done by someone sitting at the front of a classroom, I was quickly caught in a tumbling list of judgements and assessments about where I was and what was going to happen.
You may have noticed this happening to you in a workshop or training. Your seeking mind impatiently wants to hear about “the top three characteristics of XYZ”; or you notice your judging mind becoming annoyed because “I get this already” or “I don’t like the way this is presented.”
Of course, discernment is good and useful. However, it also orients us by fixing us to our opinions. With fixed opinions, we become less open and available to information, novelty, creativity, and less able to respond fluidly to complexity.
What surprised me was that the experience challenged my notions of ideal learning environments and engaged an entirely new dimension of me in the learning process.
My experience working with an Integral Zen teacher invited me to go much deeper than I would normally (in a typical workshop setting) for several reasons. Obviously perhaps, it actively engaged me in introspection and reflection. I instantly felt a quieting down in my body—a settling, grounded feeling as my breath slowed and my awareness ceased jumping from thought to thought.
Because the teacher offers teaching injunctions that are often just a simple phrase or question (a “pointing out” instruction), my attention is drawn to an inner dimension, in contrast to the hyperactivity of my analytical mind. Through the process, the teacher is adept at helping me to see my own inner dialogue and the fixations of my mind. Gradually, with practice and attention, I can begin to release them. As a result, my awareness becomes freer.
As an “experienced” professional facilitator, this changes the way I relate to my self, others, and the environment around me. My identification with being an expert—the authoritative figure at the front of the room—loosens. My need to have the chairs set up in a particular configuration lightens. The persistent struggle of my ego to defend me against something, someone, some facet of my experience is a struggle I can see anew, and therefore relate to. As a result, the degree of choice and the freedom I have access to expands dramatically.
Sure, it’s true—there is always a lot to do when facilitating or engaging groups. We manage time, agenda, listen for agreements. Our minds are constantly engaged, it seems, in what is happening out there. Yet what I have learned, and continue to learn, is how much is going on in here—and how vital it is for me to be able to access and use this inner awareness.
From the inside, when my presence is centered and stable, I can use my self-awareness as a resource. I am able to notice reactions, contractions and pick up on subtleties I would have missed, much more quickly. Over time, I can relax into an attitude of not-knowing, which frees up more capacity for me to be open and respond to what is arising in the moment. I can include more of myself in my facilitation, and can more masterfully give people the experience of having their contributions included and understood. I am more fluid, agile, responsive, and authentic.
When we learn how to relax the grasping and judging our minds so often engage in, we can be more fully present to our entire experience, which means we can embody inquiry, rather than having to identify with what we know and the answers we already have.
Cultivating the capacities of grounded presence and perspective taking are essential for those who wish to work moment-by-moment with the complexity and diversity inherent in group dynamics and organizations. Utilizing these capacities, a masterful Integral Facilitator® orients to the true nature of the group process, its being and becoming, and its context and environment. In my experience, Zen awareness is the domain that offers me greater access to my own depth, which is precisely the doorway to accessing more depth in service of the group.
The challenge we face as leaders and facilitators is not about merely more—more expertise, more knowledge, more skills. If we are really on the edge of our game, at the front line of our own development, then our challenge is to find opportunities where we can receive and accept the gift of being seen, choose to participate in our own growth, and open up to being an instrument for the emergence of what will most serve all of us.
How can we become more capable of working with whatever comes up in our lives in a way that actually supports the growth and evolution of all human beings?
When we cultivate presence, we are more able to work with the here and now, take more perspectives, and embrace more of our experience—including dissonance and conflict.
We have more choices, and more capacity to address the full complexity of what is happening—in the energetics of a room, in the emotional domains, in the realms of power and authority, decision making, and conflict.
Being able to open up to a deeper reality beyond our own notions of what’s going on in a group begins with three essential moves:
Often, the last move can be quite challenging.
How do we catalyze a group to become more coherent, and deepen the quality of engagement and intimacy?
One of the pillars of Flex-Flow experiences in groups occurs when individuals shift their awareness from first person experience to the experience of the group or the whole.
As facilitators, leaders, and participants, we can generate greater coherence and enhance the quality of our work together by shifting our group’s awareness from “I to We.”
By shifting our attention to others, sharing our impressions of the collective space, and noticing coherence and common characteristics of the moment we can significantly heighten our participation in the group awareness.
Here are some practices we’ve explored in our workshops that you can take into your life and work:
CULTIVATING COHERENCE AND COMMUNION IN GROUPS
Hopefully, after reflecting on these practices, you’re curious about how these kinds of techniques could be used effectively with a wide variety of group cultures and styles. To deepen your learning, you might find it helpful to reflect on these questions about your own approach:
Individual and collective development are interrelated, because as we develop, our experience in groups changes.
We become more at ease, less fearful, less instinctively competitive and self-protective. We feel more freedom to be ourselves, and we have fewer struggles with the otherness of others.
We have access to creativity, we enjoy the support of others, and at the same time, we are willing to experience more authentic challenges. We live with liveliness and vigor.Read more
Our work life today depends on our ability to effortlessly collaborate with others while executing our goals with precision and ease.
And every one of us—regardless of whether we are a leader, manager, coach, or consultant—needs to develop the awareness and skills of a facilitator in order to influence the successful outcomes of our endeavors.
As our understanding of the complexity of organizational life and human relationships evolves, many of us realize that we can no longer depend on hierarchical structures to lead the way, nor do we have the time to spend in lagging consensus or feel-good processes.
In order to help teams and groups achieve their objectives, we need to be able to rapidly assess and understand context, develop agile and effective plans, and have the skills to help a group respond dynamically throughout the process.
We need effective tools—yes—but even more, we need the presence and skill to recognize and respond to the emotion, conflict and obstacles that naturally arise in our engagements.
In order to work optimally within complex, fast paced environments, today’s innovative professionals need to be as adept on the inside as they are on the outside.
And in developing ourselves as facilitative leaders, the challenge is not to add more tips and tricks to our repertoire. Rather, it is to deepen our presence and ability to respond wisely and effectively to what is arising in the moment.
An Integral approach is a profoundly useful framework for illuminating the patterns within the complexity we are dealing with.
By addressing the deeper dimensions of group dynamics and the myriad subtleties of human interaction, an Integral approach supports us (no matter what our role) to become more effective, light on our feet, and creative in our responses to group challenges.
With practice, Integral Facilitators cultivate the capacity for presence in spite of what is going on—whether it’s anxiety, boredom in the room, or a leadership struggle.
They can flex and flow fluidly, are more creative and open, more comfortable with difference, and have less anxiety and fear.
As a result, our teams, projects and collaborations unfold with flexibility, precision and ease. Agreements get made, people follow through on their commitments, and emotion, humor and conflict can be navigated with ease.
Please join us for our upcoming Next Stage Facilitation, and the prerequisite for the six-month Certificate Program:
More information, resources and training is available at www.tendirections.com/programs/