Friday, July 15, 2005

Conversation and place

Wednesday night we had a long wait for the ferry home as we arrived back from a long trip just at refueling time. I took Rowan and Gareth (Beric was alseep) for a walk along the seawall and down the visiting vessel pier. They had a marvelous time running up and down the metal gangway making it reverberate to their footsteps. They were laughing their heads off--to the great amusement of all passersby. While i was watching them I found that my thoughts were drawn back to the week before when I had walked in the same place while having a conversation with a friend.

We had used some of the physical features of the place to illustrate some of the points of a complex idea. I found that as I approached those features again, the ideas we had connected to them, sprang strongly to mind. This put me in mind of the Aboriginal concepts in T.C.McLuhan's, The Way of the Earth. The Australian Aboriginies see the landscape as imbued with sacredness--teachings, songs, spirits, ancestors. Every rock, stream, tree, vine, gully represents a unique and essential concept. It was interesting to experience place as a mnemonic device--as a key to deep learning--and the learning will also always be attached to the person who shared it with me. The visiting vessel pier will now always 'hold' this deep concept for me. adds a whole new dimension to the landscape.

I am appreciating the richness and depth that McLuhan's book is adding to my experience. It is a rare privilege to be invited into such different ways of experiencing the world.

Comments not fully functioning

Apologies to all those who have left comments recently. The comments are being posted, but they are not showing up on the counter, so I didn't know they were there until a couple of you alerted me that you had left comments. They were there alright...but just not showing. I will investigate further...

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Passion versus motivation

I was in a planning meeting today to design a program for an upcoming funding proposal. One of the challenges we had to address was how to create real and lasting change for participants who had a long history of being stuck. Our conversation drifted a bit into how we had seen this happen for previous clients and for ourselves. The insight arose that traditional forms of motivation or motivational coaching were fairly ineffective. Especially when compared to engagement with a true passion. Our collective experience seemed to support the concept that if we can generate a true and deep passion, that has the power to overcome entrenched resistance and old defeating patterns. We are now thinking about how to incorporate this element of passion generation into the program. And of course we are talking about Open Space... How can we open space and hold it long enough and strong enough that these participants will begin to fill it up with their dreams and aspirations?

Thoughts from the G-8 activist camp

Starhawk has been sending email reports from her work with the G-8 activist camp. They have been inspiring and challenging. Her latest post, as they take apart the camp that housed several thousand people for the past week, is beautiful and thought-provoking.

By setting up an encampment, where we all had to live together for a week, we were constantly faced with the real life, practical implications of our politics. Does anarchism simply mean that no one can ever tell me what to do, whatever state of consciousness I’m in or however I’m affecting the good of the whole? How do we respect the individual freedom of those who are in no state to make rational decisions or listen to the needs of others, and who gets to decide? And at what point does the good of the whole override the absolute freedom of the individual? It’s one thing to consider these issues in the abstract, another to spend half an hour at 2:30 AM trying to get a drunk to move back from the police lines.

And there were also many moments of wondrous beauty. At night, before the disco music started, groups would gather in the eddies of the meandering path through camp and play African drums or Scottish pipes. The Irish barrio, each night, would be gathered around the campfire, playing fiddle, singing songs, or listening to each others’ poetry as their ancestors have done for centuries. One night the Infernal Noise Brigade, a radical marching band from Seattle, led us all in a procession around camp, joined by a samba band and challenged by the disco block. Another night, a midnight candlelit vigil walked from the gate to the police lines, carrying with it a palpable blanket of silence, and placed its candles at the feet of the riot cops. We had rituals around the faery hawthorne tree at the edge of camp, and deep conversations around the kitchens and campfires. We had meetings where people listened to each other and let their opinions change, where we brought our best collective thinking to a problem and went away heartened by the experience.

Saturday night, we were taking apart our improvised road, made of softboard laid over sticks that were milling waste from a local timber company. There was no practical way to re-use or recycle the sticks, so we pulled the boards off, piled up the sticks into pyramids, and burned them. One by one, bonfires came alight: five, eight, thirteen, seventeen, dancing beacons of flame under a new moon. A woman told me that this was one of the fields where William Wallace, Scotland’s great hero, had called people to fight against the English invaders by lighting beacons in the field. We were all feeling sad at the ending of the camp, but the fires cheered our hearts and seemed to burn away any stuck or negative energies. John, the Irish fiddler, Brice, who is an expert at both renewable power and psychic energies, and I stood in the center, playing music, singing, and drumming, with an abundance of fire all around us, beacons calling us all to the ongoing fights for freedom. The faeries were very pleased.

And now the camp is gone, the field is bare again, the experiment is done. But because it existed for a short time, in some realm of being it exists for all time, complete with all its problems and promise, a seed of what is possible.

Starhawk's reflections reaffirm my belief that more of us need to begin actually experimenting with our lives. We need to consider seriously taking the risks inherent in creating new ways of living together. If those of us with the commitment and vision to change and to discover and develop the skills necessary for sustainable living don't couple this with actual experimentation, we will never reach the stage of practice. It will all remain theory. At some point we need to be willing to embrace and go beyond our fears. We need to walk into the messy, uncomfortable, humanity of living together, before we can create a viable new alternative--an alternative that is provable and replicable across a wide range of contexts.

I know that many of us are doing this in small and large ways in our own communities and work. But I have this sense of it not being enough...of needing to see radical and holistic engagements with all levels and facets of daily life. (And that could just be me--feeling frustrated with my own transformative struggles...) I think a lot of us are looking for that last little unknowable piece of information that will make it all okay to move forward. But the mystery of the future isn't like that...we have to jump in with both feet (and all our faith and heart and courage and best intention). We need the taste of the new in our mouths, the feel of it between our fingers, the sound of it roaring in our ears, and with our hearts pounding from our struggle to learn to swim in its vast expanse.

I am so grateful and indebted to Starhawk and all the other courageous and fragile human beings who are putting their safety, security, comfort, and futures at risk by daily living their commitment to a mere a dream of a better way of being together with each other and all of life.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Conversation as peak experience

I came across this quote from Anais Nin yesterday:

"The value of the personal relationship to all things is that it creates intimacy and intimacy creates understanding and understanding creates love."

This connected to some thinking I have been doing about peak experiences, flow, and emergence. I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Chris Corrigan on Wednesday about sensing the emergent, that flowed from this comment in his blog:

I find myself more and more focused on finding the questions that help us discern these two subtle presences: the seed of the emergent future crossing the abyss back to our present moment, and the place where our feet fall on the other side of that abyss, the place where our hearts are all ready present in that desired future.

The emergent in this case is being encountered in facilitated conversations. Chris referenced Otto Scharmer's U-Theory and the practice of 'presencing'. As I am currently understanding it, the emergent is encountered in a state of flow--or no thought--when moments and actions are not separated by thought, but rather are connected by something more subtle (soul or spirit?). In order to engage with emergent thought we often use the practice of conversation. I started wondering what the quality of conversation would be that would fulfill the no-thought requirement.

Several of the peak experiences in my life have been conversations. The only common characteristics of these conversations have been that they were with intimate friends and they were about emergent understanding or thoughts. The experience of these conversations verged on one-mind. Where the emergent thought was all--centre stage--egos disappeared in its service. Thought-speech was all of a piece, flowing--not without effort--but with a quality of inspiration and immediacy. There was a sensation of being transported--pulled up out of the normal self--almost like descriptions of channelling.

So, I further wonder, if these conversations exemplify the kind of conversation necessary to engage with the emergent, is an intimate relationship a necessary precursor? Which brings us back the the Anais Nin quote. Intimacy creates understanding creates love. For me the concept of love has always stretched to include the unseen force of the Absolute (or Spirit or God or Goddess or Brahman or whatever makes you happy) and serves me as a cypher for the action/information of the Absolute as it acts upon/influences the manifest. To me the emergent is all about sensing the presence of the Absolute and engaging with (or downloading) the information being made available.

So, to rephrase Nin, intimacy creates the conditions for peak conversation (deep understanding and trust; sympathy) which creates the conditions for the presence of the Absolute to be sensed which is the condition necessary to engage with the emergent. Implications...a lot of us are relying heavily on the internet and other technologies to connect us to have these essential conversations (you know about saving the world and all...), but can these technologies provide the necessary intimacy that seems to me to be prerequisite? Or do we still need serious face time? If that is so (and i *am* willing to be wrong about it) do we need to pay more attention to creating co-learning, co-living space for those who need/want to engage in these conversations? What is the necessary level of intimacy? What conditions and skills support the development of intimacy? Or is it all in the emanations of the Absolute? ;-)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Looming crisis in communication?

Are we on the verge of a looming crisis in interpersonal communication? This blog was named after an insight i had while listening to Stephen Downes talk at the Northern Voice blogging conference. The concept is that words are not neutral tags, they are deeply embedded in and imbued with contextual baggage that warps or draws meaning to themselves and away from the communicator's true intention--the way the orbits of planets are altered by the gravitational pull of other large objects.

This contextual baggage is of two basic natures: historical and experiential. Every word has a history of usage. This history is generally known and shared among speakers from within a specific cultural (and sometimes a whole language) group. This history, we as communicators can become aware of and to some extent mitigate for. We often know when a word has more than one strong meaning and can specify which we are using.

The other kind of baggage--experiential--is almost impossible to know or accomodate for. Each person has a unique set of experiences of a word-concept and word-connections that subtly alter the meaning of what is heard. It is a part of the subjective filter we all bring to our communication. We can become more aware of this filter, but very few of us can avoid its functioning at least on some level.

Now, pull to this the concepts of the evolution of consciousness and the functioning of memes. For those of you who haven't encountered the Spiral Dynamics folks, you can check this out more fully at their website. To keep this short ( I will 'cause I have an intransigent cold and need to get some sleep--which has been more than elusive lately.) I see a schism developing that is not merely about generations, but about levels and types of consciousness (in SD terms--I think particularly strong between yellow or turquoise types and the others.). This difference in consciousness creates a wider gap in experience and hence a greater gravitational effect on the words we use to attempt to convey our thoughts and meaning to each other.

It seems to me that communicating ideas is becoming increasingly difficult. The words are elusive, often completely misunderstood, and building bridges of understanding seems to take either an immense effort of background defining or falls into metaphor and poetics--the calling card of the mystic...

How does it seem to you? What might this mean to the art of conversation? Or to the great work of transformation (ie: saving what's left of the planet) that is before us?

Will try to break this down a bit more in future posts.