Performance Art

a small lightbulb went off today on the phone with andy mitran, professional musician and founder of the men’s art forum.

i’ve been reflecting on the importance of that forum lately, as i consider what of my own creativity i can and can’t bring to my work, sometimes tempered by how much my clients are willing/able to bring or not bring, or what they’re willing to invite/allow others to bring… noticing how much i am enjoying my half of wedding planning, too, working with the flow of gathering, drumming, storytelling, and the rest of the ritual process in the mansion space we’ve booked… remembering, too, the easy enjoyment of the work i was doing in london, in the maintenance of the meditation center.

i’ve been wondering about how to describe and invite this more actively in my current working. then today, andy got me thinking about my art again, whatever that is. i guess my medium, interest, and aptitude (or at least genuine fascination) is with space and flow, how things move or flow, happen or get done, with ease, and in time. but what kind of “art” is that? maybe some sort of performance art? yes, what i do is artful. and yes, there is a bottom line. flow and cash. creativity, design, measures, frames, etc. yes, this fits.

it follows then, that what we so often do in business is focus in on the measures. if we did that in music, there’d be nothing but lines, no notes. and no images inside of frames. no surprise and no joke. so i want to find ways to bring this conversation into more of my working situations. this makes space for meetings that are more than method. makes space for the messiness of actors to actually get in and do real performance, beyond a tidy little script. business and community, connecting and collaborating, as performace and art. bravo!

i wonder, does this view change how i practice? …and what else does performance art mean or do or change?

Dalai Lama Interview

A fascinating interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama appears in the Daily Telegraph online today.

…a short, squat man runs through the rain from his garden into his sitting-room, his maroon robes flapping behind him. The broad face, set into permanent laughter-lines, is unmistakable. He is chuckling.

“At least monks don’t need hair-dryers,” he says, chortling. His readiness to break into laughter is his most striking characteristic: his laugh is uncontainable and uncontrollable, ricocheting around the room even when he is discussing atrocities.

On life in the West…

“It is fascinating,” he says, speaking in slightly stilted English. “In the West, you have bigger homes, yet smaller families; you have endless conveniences – yet you never seem to have any time. You can travel anywhere in the world, yet you don’t bother to cross the road to meet your neighbours; you have more food than you could possibly eat, yet that makes [some people, with eating problems] miserable.”

The West’s big problem, he believes, is that people have become too self-absorbed. “I don’t think people have become more selfish, but their lives have become easier and that has spoilt them. They have less resilience, they expect more, they constantly compare themselves to others and they have too much choice – which brings no real freedom.”

On eating…

Like all Tibetan monks, he eats an early breakfast, then lunch and no supper. “My younger brother, who lives with me, teases me and says I rise so early only to get to the table first because I am so greedy. I eat what I am offered. It’s the pig diet – a little bit of everything: porridge, meat, Tibetan dumplings, vegetables.

On marriage and happiness…

He has lived as a monk since childhood, but the Dalai Lama views marriage as one of the chief ways of finding happiness. “Too many people in the West have given up on marriage. They don’t understand that it is about developing a mutual admiration of someone, a deep respect and trust and awareness of another human’s needs,” he says. “The new easy-come, easy-go relationships give us more freedom – but less contentment.”

“To be happier, you must spend less time plotting your life and be more accepting.”

So, how about wedding “plotting” as a practice of mutual admiration and being more accepting? Nice to mix this into all the catering, stationery, and other details that have seeped into my once-upon-simple life.

Wondering, too about those couple of hours I spent this morning absorbed in economic data and financial investing. Not always so simple to know (and accept) that we already have what we need!

Money and Illusions

Funny that I should run all of this together in one post, but such is life these days.

First, I’ve been meaning to blog something for the last couple of days. I’ve got plenty of things to post, but the one idea that keeps screaming at me is that there’s nothing like a heavy dose of wedding planning to screw up what used to be a perfectly good blogging practice.

Then this showed up in today’s Daily Reckoning email…

…imagine a typical householder. We saw him just the other day, courtesy of a Fed study. He has a house, but he has almost no money. He has no pension, no stocks, no bonds, and no savings. Nada. Zilch. His real hourly earnings are either flat for the last several years, or actually going down, depending on whose numbers you believe. He can barely pay his mortgage. He cannot seem to pay off his credit cards. When the week’s bills are paid, he has less money left over to spend as he pleases – according to Elizabeth Warren’s calculations – than he did during the Carter administration.

Now imagine that his house suddenly doubles in value. Is he really better off? What can he do but borrow against the inflated value of the house. When he borrows, the air holes grow smaller. He’ll have an even harder time paying his bills. He can barely breathe as it is. Being a fatter cat makes him feel good about himself, but it doesn’t really help.

Somehow it’s all about Money and Illusions, except the wedding is actually shaping up pretty nicely. Think Appreciative Prairie-style Catholic Buddhist Open Space Hippie Solstice Drum Circle and if that doesn’t really mess you up, you might just have some sense of what is actually goin’ down this June.

Walkout Challenge

Walkout Challenge Day coincides with the day that Gandhi reached the sea and made his own salt (April 6). It is a chance for us to look at what we have been able to walk out of and walk on to, and where we feel like taking the next plunge. It’s an opportunity to honor the risks we are taking in our own lives and the exciting adventures we are embarking upon. And it’s a day to get together with friends, new and old, and remember that we have companions in our life’s journey.

On this second day of Spring, with wintry winds still howling here in Chicago, I’m hoping that it will yet be warm enough to start my (mostly) annual fasting routine to coincide with this day. For me, the walkout day is about cleaning up one’s act, taking responsibility for that which we can and must do for ourselves, like body, food and health. Changing ourselves is the most important kind of SmallChangeNews.

Thanks to my friend Shilpa Jain at Shikshantar – The Peoples’ Institute for Rethinking Education and Development, in Udaipur, India, for this.

Heart Practice

I’ve written previously about the four essential practices of Open Space Technology:

  • Opening Heart
  • Inviting Attention
  • Supporting Connection
  • Grounding the Energy

When I first applied this view to my work, after 10 years of opening space, I found they made everything easier. I could do opening heart, during set-up. Then I could invite attention to start the meeting, and so on. One step, one task, one practice at a time.

In my latest facilitations, however, my learning progresses. I am finding that all I really need to do is the first practice, opening heart, and the rest happens almost automatically. This feels more like a river current carrying me and the rest of the event along.

I can see the other practices go by. I know that I’m doing them. And not doing them. At my best, they are becoming more like things that go by in a river, rather than goals or tasks I swim toward, accomplish, or do.

As I rest, relax, and open the space that we might normally refer to as heart, I find that the mental and physical state that arises leads naturally into the next thing, inviting attention. That attention allows supporting connections. Energy flows in and from the connecting and conversing, and automatically seeks ground in some tangible (real) action or product. And those actions and products, however large or small, become the foundation for deeper rest, relaxation and opening.

I find it easiest to start with heart and opening, but I suppose we can start anywhere, as long as we’re willing to be carried through all four seasons or dimensions of practice. If I can’t relax my heart, I can go back to past results, or back further, noticing whatever supporting connections I might have available. But more and more, it is the physical sensations of heart that tell me most clearly where I am, when is right, and what to do.

I’ll be gone on retreat for the next couple of weeks, resting in practice. Find me again here in March, or join us in April!

Are You A Buddhist?

People sometimes ask me this question, usually because of my monk-like hairdo or some other Buddhist-like things I say and do. I always have a hard time answering. While some of my teachers are well-known Tibetans, what to say when they talk like this…

In Buddhism we have an incredible arrangement: universal education from beginning at birth up until death, as an old person. I feel these things could be put into a universal language. Give up religion, give up Buddhism. Go beyond the Buddhism. Essential aspect of the philosophy put into the scientific language. This I feel is my aim.

…about Essential Education? So, I don’t know if I’m a buddhist or not, but I care about awareness, education, practice, wisdom, and compassion.

Unimagined Capacity

I lunched at RecentChangesCamp with Jon Ramer and Jair. Our storytelling is well summed by this bit from Jair’s site:

You have — within you — the fuel to thrive and to flourish, and to leave this world in better shape than you found it. Sometimes you tap into this fuel – other times you don’t. But the sad fact is that most people have no idea how to tap into this fuel or even recognize it when they do. Where is this fuel within you? You tap into it whenever you feel energized and excited by new ideas. You tap into it whenever you feel at one with your surroundings, at peace. You tap into it whenever you feel playful, creative, or silly. You tap into it whenever you feel your soul stirred by the sheer beauty of existence. You tap into it whenever you feel connected to others and loved. In short, you tap into it whenever positive emotions resonate within you. — Barbara Fredrickson, Positive Emotions & Psychophysiology Laboratory @ University of Michigan

Jon mentioned some conversations he’s been having with others about “Unimagined Capacity.” He tells remarkable stories of people discovering this unimagined power. It seems to me that we need more conversations about this. When was the last time you discovered some unimagined capacity in yourself or your people?

Blogging Me Away

Blogs are about being changed, more than changing others.

Bonk. This Johnnie Moore line really smacked me. Still reverberating in mind, a week after I read it here. And the whole notion of blogging for the disruption of it, for the internal and indirect effects it has, as illustrated by Hugh Macleod in the case of doubling of sales for Stormhoek wine.

Fascinating to consider what we’re disrupting in the Open Space practice community with the blogging we’re doing at OpenSpaceWorld.ORG. Perhaps the notion of who really is the open space practice community anyway!

Challenging in my own practice, two… disrupting myself and what I have come to think my business is all about. Consultant, facilitator, teacher, manager, practitioner, coach, writer, partner… running together in new ways these days.

Four into One

wendy farmer-oneil mentioned InvitingOrganization and the Four Practices, yesterday on the phone, and wondered if we shouldn’t name a fifth practice and dimension, a center space that is some sort of stillness.

my answer… yes. and, but, not like that.

i’ve suggested four seasons, quadrants, practices. and yes, there is stillness, reflection, settling in the first one, opening heart. that requires that heart rest in something, like pelvis and legs, the support and ground achieved in the third and fourth practices. but this stillness is not the thing she was really asking about, i think. it’s not a peer to the other four, not a separate center.

it is bigger. i think it is their union. their all all-at-once-ness without loss of distinction. in terms of strategic questions, it recalls the highest level question is “how light is your organization?” at that level everything runs together, and light is love, clear, fast and power.

so yes there is a center, and a perimeter, and it is also the ground that the whole map is drawn on, the page or the screen. and finally, remember that each of the quadrants can be cut into those same four quadrants, a fractal slide into a space that refuses to be theorized, where we can only just do it. in this fractal view, four quadrants inside of each of the quadrants, we see the all-at-onceness is fully present in each of the four.

there is no fifth season, no new peer to the four, and there is always a center, an edge, a ground and a space that is always present, in each of them in time, and all of them taken together, which is impossible to name. it’s not a fifth or separate practice, but the gift of all practice, then thing that emerges in experience when we do the other four.

and this is the easy, all-at-onceness, all-together, everything works out quality, sometimes called ‘community’ or ‘high learning’ or ‘flow’ or ‘fun’ or ‘spirit’ that emerges when we practice these things in the form of open space technology.

Horns Horns Horns!

Opened a small space today for a bunch of CFPs (certified financial planners) here in Austin, Texas. Tonight the Longhorns won the national college football championship. Suddenly the cars were bumper to bumper downtown here and the horns have been blasting now for a couple hours. Might be a long night.

Open Space Practices Refined

I woke up New Year’s Day with new language for what I’ve posted previously as “Open Space Practices”. That is, what is it that I think I’m really doing when I’m facilitating Open Space — or working or just living in it?

opening heart – might be a physical embrace or simply a time of quiet reflection, eventually some theme or purpose might arise. in open space, it is the themes and purposes that arise in the hearts of leaders that we turn into invitations. by opening heart, we discover or rediscover the thing(s) we love. to open heart we almost always need to rest.

inviting attention – might mean getting up on a soap box to speak our truth, or sitting down and really listening to somebody. in open space, the invitation comes from listening and then goes out to invite more conversation. by inviting attention we open new views and sharpen focus. to invite attention we almost always need to ask questions and tell stories, about what was, what is now, and what is next.

supporting connection – could be as simple as a business card, a handshake or walking hand in hand, but might be as complex as social and analytical software tools. in open space we use circle, bulletin board, the law of two feet in a marketplace of ideas and conversations. by supporting connection we make conversation, decision-making, and commitment possible. to support connection, we almost always need to open and hold spaces for people, work, and information to move.

grounding the energy – might be as simple as a souvenir, a journal entry, a summary document or action plan. in open space it’s usually a proceedings document and the actions that it guides, but it could be anything that marks or documents what’s new and different and helps to make it more real and lasting. to grounding the energy we almost always have to take responsibility, for recognizing, creating and/or securing value.

What I like about this version is that the four of them finally seem to match each other, each one now languaged as part of the same whole. They seem simple enough to think about actually doing and complex enough to truly practice. I think they work on many levels, from working professionally with organizations to living intimately with a partner or family. Finally, and most importantly, they seem an accurate account of what I’m attempting in my own life, not just things I’m explaining and suggesting that others should try.

UPDATE: I was facilitating Open Space today (140 CFPs in Austin, TX) and as I’m setting up, I’m restless as usual before the start. What should I be doing? “..oh, yes, just open my heart…” I think, and relax into that. In a few moments, it’s time to start, what to do now? “…oh, yes, ring the bells, invite attention…” and then as soon as everyone gathers, I support connection, with eyes, and briefing marketplace and bulletin board and proceedings typing. This was a short one, so I ring bells at the end of sessions, as reminders, grounding. And invite comment at the end of the day, evening news, evening grounding. We try it again tomorrow. Practice.

Happy New Year

happy new year graphic

New Year’s Eve is largely overrated. Or maybe I just peaked too early. My favorite Eve memories are from grade school, when we still lived near Detroit, watching the Orange Bowl, staying up late, and waiting for the Ball to drop in Times Square.

Mom and Dad used to drop us with my grandparents. Grandpa always went to bed early. My younger brother and sister faded on the floor in front of the tele somewhere between 11:15 and 11:30. Grandma’s head was bobbing by 11:45. Then I’d wake them all, except Grandpa, just in time for the Ball — and guns.

After the ball dropped, we’d always hear guns going off. We’d go open the front door and listen to the neighborhood people celebrating — with guns? I never could quite figure that impulse to shoot guns in the air at midnight, nor what happened to all those bullets when they came back down.

It went pretty much the same every year, for what could only have been a handful of years, but I always enjoyed the whole of it. New Year’s Eve has never been quite the same in Chicago (the ball drops at 11pm? how weird is that?), without Grandma and Grandpa, and the guns.

Harold Pinter: Upon Us All

Some days ago, I received from my friend Tim Reeves a copy of the speech delivered by Harold Pinter on the occasion of his recent receipt of the Nobel Literature Prize. Pinter is a famous british playwriter, born in London of jewish descent, and has long been a human rights activist. His biography and a bit of his speech…

…As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false? Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so…

…I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say… Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word or an image. The given word is often shortly followed by the image… The first line of The Homecoming is ‘What have you done with the scissors?’ The first line of Old Times is ‘Dark.’ In each case I had no further information…

…A writer’s life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don’t have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection – unless you lie – in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician…

…I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory…

What have you done? Dark. Truth. Obligation. No further information. 2006. Is Upon Us…


King’s Cross via Heart Feed

kings cross station, andy borrows

This turned up in my new Open Space Aggregator yesterday. Recall that Open Space runs on principles like “Whoever comes is the right people” and “Whenever it starts is the right time.”

Normal news aggregators like Bloglines require us to plug in lots of addresses and then they feed us *everything* from those places. Euan once swore off the things, claiming an affinity for context, as I recall. I’m now attempting the same, opting instead for a folder full of bookmarks, because I just don’t like the push of all those feeds.

Instead, when I think of someone, or have a moment to wander down the virtual hallway of the home office here, I scroll down that list and pick somebody. I read down their latest, and then maybe swim out horizontally through some of their links, blissfully unaware of all those other postings everyone else has piled up for me to read.

Whatever I click is the right blog, the right posting, the right link. Thanks to Andy Borrows for this, my first discovery! Open Space Aggregator. Heart feed. Aaaaahhhhh…..

Opening Space for the Infinite

The relative quiet of winter settles in, even in the center of this big and windy city. Newly wireless, freed from my desk chair, I find myself exploring the theology of Paul Tillich from my living room couch.

…since things in existence are corrupt and therefore ambiguous, no finite thing can be (by itself) that which is infinite. All that is possible is for the finite to be a vehicle for revealing the infinite…

Recently I discovered that Tillich was in fact a central teacher for one of my own central teachers (and friends), Harrison Owen, originator of the Open Space Technology approach to meeting and organization. Thanks to Ashley for uncovering these connections via email.

All of which has me returning and reviewing, this evening season, my own work and practice, in Open Space and beyond, as finite version and vehicle for the infinite. I notice that these two inform each other, how I see is what I see. Body as vehicle of perception. Training as vehicle of understanding. Practice as vehicle for confusion. Patient, persistent, opening, visioning, offering, grounding, as vehicle for…

I teeter on, in the open space between doing well and doing good.

Giving Thanks

…from Jill’s parents’ place in Dallas this week. This is one of my favorite times of the year, when things still do get a little quieter, making space to take stock, give thanks, and revisit what is most important for the coming weeks and months.

In sorting things out last night, I notice that I am in working conversations with more people, seeking to do good things in more and more different kinds of places, than ever before. There is more clarity about practice and more good company than I can ever remember. There are more questions and confusions and uncertainties, too — but lately, these are not the obstacles that they have been in the past.

I’m grateful for all of the good people who are finding me these days, new clients and colleagues inviting me into their work and organizations, friends old and new supporting me in life and work. Grateful, too, to be back in Chicago, making a home with a partner, with plans for a wedding, and possibilities beyond. Life is plenty.

Wishing you same… and unplugging ’til next week.

Rocky Mountain High

Reporting in from Aspen, Colorado, where I will be facilitating The Conversation, a large-ish Open Space Summit on the future of what it means to be Jewish in America in the 21st Century. Where else to have this visionary meeting, but on the mountain top? Some interesting innovations built into the program, to be reported on later this week.

Aspen itself is absolutely gorgeous. I always breathe better in Colorado. I love it here. So much more space, room to breathe. My theory is that the mountains make us more aware of how far we can go up, but whatever the reason, it’s working for me. Looking forward to having Jill here later in the week.

Meanwhile, there’s a big climate change conference finishing up just before we start. Al Franken almost ran me over coming around a corner in the hallway today. Theresa Heinz Kerry standing next to me at the front desk as I was checking in. And Al Gore passing by later this evening. Too bad they’re not working in Open Space!

Oh yes, and I guess the John Denver festival is just wrapping up, down the road a piece. Woohoo!

© 1998-2020 Michael Herman. All Rights Reserved.