Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Open Space memorial

20061111_Funeral Flowers_9_7, originally uploaded by the view from in here.

While it feels strange to discuss my grandfather's Life Celebration in terms of facilitation practice, i want to capture and share the learning. I feel grateful to the minister of the Anglican Church where the celebration was held as he was knowledgeable about and supportive of Open Space. I am humbled by my grandmother's trust in me. She really has no idea what i do, and no understanding of what OS is, but still she was open to letting me share what i had to give. And for that i will be forever grateful.

I did not use pure OS--as you might imagine. My intention was to both honour my grandfather's life and to provide a meaningful ceremony for all present. In the end, i used a confluence of OS, circle, and Whole Person Process.

We set up in the afternoon, two days before. We were expecting about 60 people, so we set up in concentric circles of about 30 chairs each, with four aisles aligned to the altar and the main entry door of the church sanctuary. We placed three small coffee tables (okay one coffe table and two wonderfully colourful tables from the Sunday School) in the centre of the circle. It took a while to get them positioned properly, but in the end, they supported the energy flow by inviting people into the circle and creating a clockwise flow. We covered the tables with white and green church linen. On the central table, we placed an oval mirror and on this a floral centre piece with a candle. The inspiration for this was from circle practice where the fire in the centre draws people back to spirit when the conversation gets difficult. On the other two tables we placed photos of my grandfather from different times in his life; they were placed upside down. The photos were to be used for the transfer-in process from WPPF.

On the day of the ceremony, people gathered and i rang the bells to begin. I introduced myself and then introduced the minister who led everyone in prayer. Then it was time to open the space. I walked the circle
and invited everyone to look around and see who was here with greet each other with their eyes. The principles were implicit rather than explicit--this was not the time for formality or rigidity--everything needed to be deeply personal.

Whoever comes became: We are all family, all friends. There are no strangers here.
Then i said, "We are all here to celebrate Len's life--to honour the life that he led and the legacy he has left. We are here to share a few of the moments where his life touched ours. To share what he meant to us--as best we can at this time. Please know that your tears are a blessing to that legacy and so is your laughter. His life was a special gift to each of us--and for a few minutes today, we can share that with each other."

Then it was time for the transfer in. I said that we had a gift for each of them and they were invited to come up and choose a picture from the tables. I invited everyone to believe that whatever picture they chose was the one they were meant to have. We took a minute of silence to reflect on the picture, on what it told us about Len. Then i invited everyone to find a partner or two and spend ten or fifteen minutes sharing whatever they wanted to. This is from WPPF and allows everyone to warm up their voices (it's tough to stand up and speak at these things--and my grandmother was scared that no one would). It also gives those who just couldn't possibly get up to speak a chance to share what they needed to share with someone else.

I rang the bells again after about 12 minutes and we all took our seats again. I invited each person who felt like it (and nobody had to) to come and take the microphone and share a memory of Len or what he had meant to them. I added that: "There may be silences and that is fine. We are all here to share what we can and sometimes silence is what we need to share."

People got up and shared stories, some read what they had brought to share, email messages were shared out and read into our circle. At one point my mother suggested that i offer to take the microphone to anyone who felt they couldn't get up. I honoured her request and was glad i had. It's not what i would usually do, but grief needs accommodation. There were several people who wanted to share, but just couldn't bear the idea of meeting anyone's eyes. They were so glad to be able to contribute by having the mike passed to them.

In about 50 minutes it felt like we were done. I said, "We may be finished, we may not be." i gave us all a minute in case someone was still gathering their thoughts. Then finished up with, "Our formal time for sharing is ending." I invited the minister back into the circle for a final blessing. When he finished i thanked everyone for what they had shared and for their presence and support. I invited those who wanted to do so to light a candle in Len's memory from the one on the central table. And we adjourned for refreshments and more sharing. The circle was open. The whole ceremony took about one hour and fifteen minutes.

Open Space invited the presence of Spirit and let us all feel each other's presence. It allowed for each of us to contribute as we felt able. It honoured the grief present and gave us all a brief glimpse of what lay beyond it. Circle supported us with fire in the centre, the heart of family and community. WPPF supported us in bringing our whole self present. It supported healing by integrating both sides of the brain, by inviting our voices, and by helping us to hear each other with open hearts. It provided a liberating structure to what might otherwise have felt overwhelming.

The feedback has been very positive. Many people have remarked on how fulfilling it was--on how it was just what they needed. That was what i had hoped for: to provide an honouring space and time that would be meaningful and healing for those who came.

I did not have long to prepare for this, as you might imagine, so it just flowed from my heart and what felt right and possible in the moment for all of us closest to it.

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