Michael Herman
Opening Space for Business Agility

 
 
 

Four Practices for Living Peace

by Michael Herman for [Living Peace], an e-book by Raffi Aftandelian and friends, July 2008. (and latest contribution to InvitingLeadership/MainWritings)

Some years ago, Chris Corrigan and Michael Herman had a conversation about what they called "The Four Practices of Open Space," in the course of teaching Open Space as the practice of Inviting Organization. I asked Michael for the latest version of the Four Practices. He said there wasn't any latest version, a version, that is, that was finished, and never finished. I asked again. And then he sent this. I like it for its messiness (I imagine someone with ruffled hair), meandering, honesty and earnestness, a thin veil for a deeper clarity, emerging quietly by itself. Enjoy!

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bad news, raffi. or maybe the following is something that we can use... started out to be proof that there was nothing to say. and maybe the story of that is the story we need. i'll finish writing it now and click send. then you tell me if it's anything interesting.

i spent a couple of years thinking and writing and talking and teaching (on and on) about what some of us started calling the "four practices." in the end, i decided they didn't matter. much as i'd like to, it never makes sense to write them down. they might not be doings. or maybe not four doings. or they are different than what i can yet articulate. here's what they might be called today...

  1. open heart
  2. invite perceive let go take notes rest...

these four practices are still a bit jumbled and muddy, you see. but if that's so, then how do we know there are four of them? well, because there are four quadrants. in the story we've made up. (that we actually borrowed from ken wilber. who borrowed and blended it from everyone, or so it would appear from his bibliographies.)

in this story, there is an inside and and outside. there is a self. as in, me, myself. and a bigger body that is us. these dimensions flow together. one swirl, through four seasons. inside me, then inside of us. outside of us, the stuff we can see. and finally me or you, standing out in the crowd.

yes, we could write these things down, the things to do inside and outside, as myself and everyone. we could call them The Four Practices and it might sound good, but it wouldn't be what i or we actually *do*. what we actually practice. bother. what is it that i'm actually doing when i do what i do?

years ago i opened a space in australia. something more than 100 teachers talking about the future of education, in a huge skybox at an even huger cricket stadium. talk about space. huge sunny green field space. and practice. not the cricketers, the groundskeepers. taking care of things. taking care of that huge space. getting it ready for the next big thing.

a lot of practice is like that. we're just doing the things we do, the things that we can do, the things that we are. groundskeepers keeping up the grounds. when i finished my opening and everything got underway, breakout groups and all of that, one woman came over to see me. to find out something about me. what she really wanted to know was what i was doing when i opened the space. actually, what i was doing *right before* i walked around the circle and did my little opening briefing. what i was doing while the big chief leader gave his three-minute welcoming speech?

i asked her what it looked like i was doing. "being space," she said. "that's pretty close to what it felt like i was doing," i said. and then we had a nice chat about space. what we are. how we move. meetings and organizations and all kinds of other things. everything that comes after "being space." the four practices is the story, a story, about being space.

i know the first practice has something to do with opening heart. remembering, appreciating, rolling around in the space that i am before i am anything else. i choose to remember that i'm more than the things i do, or have, or have done. more than my circumstances. bigger than just my body. there are thoughts and feelings and sensations all bubbling up, washing through me, or over me. but where do all these things come from? or go? the best word i have for the answer to that is "space."

it's all around us, yes, but there is also some sense of an inner space, mind space, heart space. i find it in the physical center of body. heart space. so that's the first practice. that's the first thing i do. find that space. touch it. settle into it. rest. enjoy. delight. slurp. pick your favorite flavor of satisfaction. not so much a practice, a doing, as an experiencing. so the first thing is to just have that experience, before we start, a meeting or anything else. awareness of space. in space. as space. before anything.

the second practice (and everything else) comes after that. but what to call it? something about clarity. noticing what is. looking, speaking, inviting, and the like are all too strong, or too specific, for what i experience, because it's not just one of them. it could be any of them. "noticing" seems the cleanest way to say it, but that's not enough. there's some sort of expressing, as well. maybe this second practice could be called "bringing the inside out." it might be as complex as a meeting invitation or as simple as saying "aaaahhhhh..." this practice includes all the ways, that i (and you) have for bringing what's inside heart space out -- where others can notice it, too. hearth space.

this follows so quickly, so automatically, from heart space, that slowing it down to talk about it here really just sounds silly. and then, everything else happens even faster, if that's even possible. we send the invitation, or sigh the sigh. we say the idea, do the opening briefing, or share any other expression of "what i think..." or "what i see..." or "what i feel..." and so on. and then we never really know what will happen next. it's all a big experiment, soup without a recipe, if we let it go that way.

let it go. the third practice. letting go, in the sense of letting movement happen. supporting movement. sometimes i call it "letting go forward." trusting movement. letting things (and people) be as they are, and do what they do. .the sensation of being carried along, riding the flow of everything. the opposite would be a sort of swimming upstream, trying to get back to how things where. or trying to hold things in place. or swimming downstream, trying to get to someplace we think we should be, instead of being where we are. letting go uses whatever it is that's already happening. we ride the wave or run the river that already is. sometimes surfing, sometimes floating, but always actively choosing between the two. controlling self instead of others.

finally, in the midst of all that, every so often, there is grounding. a moment of rest, between surfing and floating. just sinking. getting feet back on the ground. making some sort of mark on the earth. digging in. leaving footprints. in meetings, it's taking notes and publishing proceedings. elsewhere, it includes everything from “taking a stand” or sometimes we say “standing our ground” to things as wispy as taking a nap, letting body sink into something soft. always and everywhere, owning our place in the world.

opening heart space. sharing what's inside. letting everything move. owning what shows up. (rinse and repeat.) or we could say “passion, contribution, learning, and responsibility,” but usually we say open space technology runs on “passion bounded by responsibility.” and we invite participants to “maximize their own learning and contribution.”

it's open space technology, the open space we live in, and the open space that lives in us. we can tease these things apart in words, but mostly we need to live them all together in the world. the four practices of living peace.