When I first moved to Bowen Island in June 2001 I was struck by the ease with which one made connections. I became curious about the way the community worked and started making notes about the qualities of the place. These first impressions were powerful, patterns seen through the eyes of an outsider and my father in law encouraged me to write them down. I did so, and began publishing them to my website and my first weblog was born.
Initially the idea was to record my “beginner's mind” with respect to the island. However in August 2001, during the OSonOS? IX event, I got into a long conversation with Avner Haramati from Jerusalem. Avner wanted to know something about my island and I told him a story of two thieves who had recently been driving around Bowen breaking into houses and stealing electronics. They were caught when they ended up in the ferry line up. The police were waiting for them and when they were spotted a cross-island chase ensued – “at speeds exceeding 40km/h” as the local paper reported. The thieves were eventually caught after the commandeered a kayak and a skiff, both of which had no method of propulsion. They drifted into shore into the waiting arms of the local constabulary.
As I told this story Avner sat rapt. His work is facilitating dialogue within Israeli society and between Israelis and Palestinians. For him, this keystone cops story was almost fantastical.
“To think there is such a place where these are the big stories,” he said reflectively. Later I wrote that story up and made reference to Avner, providing a link in the story to the front page of the Jerusalem Post by way of showing what Avner's daily reality is in contrast.
When Avner returned to Israel, he related the story to his business partner Tova Averbuch. Tove followed the link, read the story and clicked through to the front page of the Post which that day carried a story of a suicide bomber in Tel Aviv where she lived. Tears in her eyes, she emailed me with a simple note of gratitude: “Thank you for seeing us.”
From that point I have always kept Avner and Tova in my thoughts when writing about Bowen Island. This profound sense of connection surprised me but it was the prelude to a much more powerful experience that was to come two weeks later.
On the morning of September 11, 2001 I awoke to the news that the World Trade Centre towers had fallen. I found a video feed online, and watched the events of the day unfold, and my first thought was “Connection.” The word emblazoned itself on my consciousness. I had a strong sense that without connection we were doomed as societies and communities and that we had to reach both inward and outward. It was a common sentiment on that day and like many others, my inbox filled with messages from around from people just reaching out. On the OSLIST the conversation became quite reflective and entered a period of deep inquiry as to the power of the work we were all doing now that this era of connection for survival had begun.
A few days later I was walking in the woods with my three and a half year old daughter. She was playing a game in which monsters lurked at every turn, behind every bush and tree. We were careful and vigilant and walking on tiptoes lest we be eaten. I played along with her thinking too how remarkable it was that she was playing out of the pattern that had been in the world that week, of fear and hidden dangers. Curious to know how she might deal with this problem I asked her what her plan was for the monsters.
“Feed them,” she said.
“Feed them?” I was confused.
“Yes,”she said. If we feed them they won't want to eat us.” I was struck dumb at this idea. There was something beautiful and counterintuitive about this, and yet the idea struck me deeply. Thinking about this idea of making good in the face of terror and uncertainty seemed to get beyond the idea that the correct response was either vengeance or restraint. Aine had showed a third way that was full of the power and energy of the vengeful and yet oriented to life affirming choice. When I later told this story to a friend of mine, he encouraged me to write it down and tell others. I did so and I forwarded it to the OSLIST. From that point onward, the story began a remarkable journey around the world.
Within a couple of days, Aine's idea had traveled the world. I received responses from people who had been touched by the idea of fiercely making good. Many of the responses were hostile and castigated my naiveté. Many of those that derided the idea as childish and stupid had missed the point of the story, seeing it only as a way of placating terrorists. But others saw the story for what it was, a parable of making good.
One day I received an email from a woman who worked at Boeing in Seattle. She wrote to say “I work at the place that made the planes that were used in the World Trade Centre attacks. What can I do?”
All I could think of was the lesson of Aine's story about creating connection by making good. I suggested that she find a way to feed people in her community, that the most important thing to do was to do something good right now in a place that would make a difference. She searched around for a soup kitchen in Seattle and volunteered. When she contacted me a few weeks later, she said her life had changed, that she had discovered meaning and that she had discovered that she could be needed and appreciated.
The simplest of gestures, volunteering at a soup kitchen. But it embodied the spirit of Aine's story, that in making good, especially in times when it seems most practical to make war, is the thing that feeds and nourishes.
In our model of the practices of inviting leadership we sometimes use an agrarian metaphor to talk about the way in which the practices flow. We start with appreciating the seeds that we have, the products of harvesting what was good last year. We choose the seeds we want to grow; the ones from the strongest plants, or the ones that produced the most fruit. We plant an water them, helping them to take root and grow and connect to the soil and the land and then we harvest them when the time is ready and the good that comes from that seed gets recycled into the cycle again. The food nourishes us, the waste feeds the land the seed returns to us again.
Making good is very much like that. We start by noticing and appreciating what we have, what's good and what works – the positive core of appreciative inquiry. We give our attention to this core and in doing so it grows to occupy a greater part of our awareness. When it becomes impossible to ignore, we find ways to support it and keep it growing so that we might do deeper good. Action that arises from invitation is powerful indeed. It is supported by a deep architecture of compassion, truth and flow and when those elements are present, we find ourselves making ripples in the world and ultimately making peace.
We have two stark choices for our work in this world. We can choose to make things that support life or make things that deny it. In aligning ourselves with life supporting dynamics and movement, we cannot help but choose to make good.
These practices are rooted in deeply natural ways of being. It might be said that evolution proceeds from appreciation, conscious or otherwise. Members of a species open when the find themselves attuned to a reproductive choice. They seek to join with the partner most likely to guarantee their success. Parts open and attention flourishes. The invitation to choose to connect then takes over and when the young emerge they are supported either by parenting or by being deposited in the environment most likely to support and nurture their growth and connection. It is such a natural pattern that we hardly recognize it, and yet it shows up everywhere where people are engaged in life affirming activity, or what we call making good. Life affirming activity, by its very nature, invites more of the same and a cycle begins that spreads in ripples.
The day before a practice workshop on Bowen Island, Michael and I were standing by the shores of Kilarney Lake on Bowen Island. The water was flat and the air was still. We practiced throwing a few stones into the water and watched the way the ripples dissipated as the energy spread out. As we stood on the small alluvial beach, a small squall came through and it began to rain. At first drops fell many feet apart on the lake, the energy from their waves lending the lake a dappled surface which ultimately fell calm again. But as the rain began to come on stronger, many more drops began to fall and the ripples began to stack up on each other. A small wind cam up and ripples that were traveling in the same direction as the wind became small waves, propelled and developed by the added energy of the wind. Within minutes small white caps had developed and just as quickly as the squall had come up, it passed over, leaving the lake dappled and rippled and then eventually flat calm again.
All we can do is make ripples. We make good and do things that seem in alignment with life and we wait to see if the spirit of the times takes over. The echoes of breath and wind in “spirit” resonate so strongly in this metaphor. Making good becomes amplified when it is in alignment with the spirit of the times. Our ripples move out into the worked in ways which we cannot control, but when they land in alignment with others and with the “way the wind is blowing” small ripples become big waves.
My deeper inspiration for this idea of making good comes from Vaclav Havel who, in a powerful essay called “The Power of the Powerless” outlines his politics of “living in truth.” In the essay, Havel tells the story of a greengrocer who comes to work every day and places two signs in his window. One says that he is open and the other says that he is a member of the communist party. As the essay progresses, the greengrocer confronts the truth of his daily actions and eventually concludes that it would simply be a little more true if he only placed the “open” sign in the window. And so he stops places the communist party sign in the window, and he notices that nothing happens. Perhaps others have noticed the small change, but the authorities seem to have bigger fish to fry. The greengrocer on the other hand sees this as a small victory
This political orientation is generally held to be responsible for the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1989. Although the system came apart in that year, the collective strength of many people living in truth over many years made it possible for the unraveling to occur without bloodshed. [probably a little more to come on this...]
Submitted for your consideration, as they used to say on The Twilight Zone…
I am a newcomer to the notion of “morphogenetic fields” - basically fields that contain information whereby social or biological structures take shape (see more at Wikipedia)- but whether they exist or not I’m keenly aware of something like that happening in working with groups.
Yesterday I was working with a small group and we saw something happen that surprised me. The field within which we are working is philanthropy and we are designing a program that will help Aboriginal non-profits develop capacity. This work is supported by foundations and other funding and has a great deal of goodwill associated with it. Our work has taken us into designing a program that is based on sharing, free exchange of materials and learning and funding. Our language is full of the language of gifting, sharing and capacity building.
The participants in our design consultation groups were given an honorarium for being in attendance, and yesterday several of those participants donated their honorarium to one organization that provides meals to homeless folks. The gesture was out of the blue, and had no connection to what we were talking about when the first person volunteered their money. That made me curious about where the volition for doing so had sprung from.
I think that as a facilitator, a lot had to do with how we were shaping space, or shaping the field. The conversations throughout the day were about this very thing, and then to have the behaviour manifest so clearly and so out of the blue made me wonder about the power of shaping space, awakening moments, and working with morphogenetic fields. Several folks have been commenting here recently about this idea of shaping space and awakening moments. Here is a concrete example of how doing so creates emergent phenomena like the sudden donation of $500 to a mobile soup kitchen.
Some amazing conversations today about how to move forward from this gathering, which is including questions of sustainability of movements like this, in financial ways, energetic ways and in reflective, inquiry and learning ways. I have spent the morning in small groups, informally constituted thinking about how to move a gathering like this into a “bodhisangha” and enlightened community.
One way we are thinking of doing this is harnessing the power of gifts, and today we are playing with three modalities of giving. There is the Buddhist dana, which is the gift given for the gratitude of teachings received. There is the gift that works in gift economies, the act of paying forward. And there is the gifting I saw happen in Maori hui in New Zealand, the giving mode of the koha.
As I understand it, and saw it practiced in New Zealand, koha is a practice that comes from agricultural times. “Ko” means “to plant” and “Ha” means “breath” or energy.” These days, at the end of a hui (or a meeting) the practice is that a koha is given and it often accompanies an intention. We’re playing with that idea today and we’ll see how it shows up in the moving forward of the “bodhisangha” and the other action requiring sustainability coming out of these conversations.