On February 3, 2017 my former partner and I shared parallel messages to let friends know what was happening in our personal lives:
This message let a wider circle of friends know what was happening in our internal worlds, but for most of my interactions with people, for months, when asked “how are you?” my answer was “good.” Sometimes I’d be more honest and say, “You know, I’m ok today. I have some stuff going on and I’m not at my best.” But the majority of time, the most people knew was that I was “good”, or “fine”. Just like them, I suspect, I gave the answer we all hope to hear, that all is well.
Here’s what I have learned: there is no way any of us can possibly know what is going on for someone else by looking at them, or even briefly talking to them. It is irresponsible to think that we can.
There is no way any of us can possibly know what is going on for someone else by looking at them.
As I hunkered down to make sure I kept it together during a significant time of transition in my life, and made my way through the world, I realized that no one else knows what is going on for me. A handful of people got close and gave me the gift of love and support, but when I went out to get groceries or went to work, I did not have a sign on me telling others what was happening. Even if I did have that sign — 21 year marriage just ended — they would still have no idea what it meant for me. All they have is their story.
It is not possible for others to know my story and what it means to me. And this tells me that when I see others on the street, or in a workshop or at work, it is not possible for me to know their story and what it means to them. I can not know by looking, and I can not know by hearing a wee piece of story either. All I can know is the meaning I make of the story I tell myself. All I have is my story.
It is not possible for me to know their story and what it means to them… All I can know is the meaning I make of the story I tell myself.
The tricky work of being in relationship with others is in recognizing that my reaction to what others do and say is my reaction. The stories I tell myself about them are my stories. To show up as my best self with them means I have to be aware of the stories I tell myself.
I have learned this because the stories others tell themselves about me are not my experience. Here are a few story pieces a handful of people have shared directly with me:
There must be a reason why! There must be someone to blame. Who made this happen?
You have lost so much! You are alone, without a partner. This is tragic.
You must be lonely.
You must not know what to feel, so I will tell you how you must be feeling.
You must not know what to do, so I will tell you what you need to know. Here’s how to handle money… here’s how to handle the separation agreement… here’s how to handle the kids.
These stories these dear people carry about my and my situation shape how they offer support to me. As they listen through their story, they act in ways that soothe them, not me. Despite good intentions, they are not supporting me at all. To me, what they say and do can feel disempowering; I sense a pre-supposition that I am broken, flawed, that something is now missing in my life that should be there, that I am incomplete. These stories that are not my own and have the power to deflate me — if I let them.
In contrast, a series of other stories have revealed themselves to me, that recognize and support my journey:
It took courage acknowledge the need to separate.
It took courage to enact the separation.
This is a time of transition, confusion and metamorphosis.
This is hard work and you are capable of handling this.
I am available to listen, with out judgement, and simply be with you.
This set of stories embodies an entirely different way of supporting me because they are listening for my story; they are not listening through their story. To support me, they put their story aside and make room for me. They trust that I am fully capable of living through a difficult time. When we spend time together, they give me space and room to figure out my next steps without inserting their agenda. If they are uncomfortable and upset about my new reality, they are able to put that aside and not let it run the show.
I have a new understanding about what it means to be heard and supported as we make our way through our lives. For me specifically it means this:
I pay more attention to my own state and ability to be with others. If I am not able to listen for their story (and only able to listen through my story), I need to remove myself.
I pay more attention to the quality of listening in others toward me. If they are only capable of listening through their story, and I am in need of support, I remove myself. If they are only capable of listening through their story and I am capable of listening for their story, I will stick around and be supportive.
I choose to notice the stories I tell myself, check if they belong to me and if they are disempowering myself and/or others.
When learners get to take the stage and show what they know, in whatever way they choose, it is amazing what will come out. They seem to learn more with this responsibility.
At the end of The Art of Hosting the Beauty in Difference last month, participants hosted themselves to notice what they knew and understood differently at the end of our four days together. They noticed–of course–that they learned different things and show what they learn in different ways. There was a 3D artifact, a skit, a musical, a dance and the team that hosted them in this experience by offering minimal, yet effective, structure.
This poem was caught while listening to them describe what they learned when pausing to notice what they had learned.
The stories we tell ourselves shape our lives and the world around us. When we are closed to learning more about ourselves, the stories we tell ourselves knock us about and take us wherever they want to take us. If open to learning about ourselves, we see that the stories we tell ourselves are stories we choose, whether consciously or unconsciously.
If open to learning about ourselves, we see that the stories we tell ourselves are stories we choose.
When it’s over, it’s over. This is one of the principles of Open Space Technology a conversation process founded by Harrison Owen. The idea is this: when your conversation feels like it is over, ask, “is it over?” If yes, you move on to another conversation that energizes you. If no, you make arrangements to continue. Continue reading How to say goodbye
Sometimes a circle of two is all it takes for an opening of the eyes, the heart and the soul. A circle of two where another sits across from me and witnesses my growing awareness. A circle of two that enables me to stay in it.
A circle of two enables me to stay in it.
The words of Alexander Hamilton in the Broadway hit, Hamilton: “seize the moment and stay in it.” Now granted, Hamilton is heading into the battle of Yorktown when Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has him say these words. (The words that immediately follow are, “It’s either that or the business end of a bayonet.”) For Hamilton and his mates it’s about staying alive, literally. The metaphor applies to life today, whether we find ourselves physically fighting for survival, or in a more spiritual way.
Sometimes, to “stay in it”, to stay in the battle of grappling with growing awareness in myself, I need someone to sit with me. Here are the wise words of Camilla Gibb, in This is Happy:
Soon enough, words are pouring out, two winters’ worth of ice thawing overnight: the grief and that tight know of anger lodged in the pit of me becoming unstuck. Unmoored, though, they threaten to destroy everything. The feelings are bigger than me, stronger. I am aftraid of their intensity; I am afraid of going crazy, of doing harm, of standing on a bridge plenty high enough, when this is no longer, if it ever was, an option.
One witness, though—one reliable and loving witness with the capacity to hold—can change what you are convinced will be the inevitable outcome.
It is hard work to see and feel what we don’t want to see and feel. Witnessing growing awareness, without judgment, is a beautiful gift to give self and others.
I found myself in the company of people a couple weeks ago who completely understand and respect others’ needs to set limits and boundaries for themselves, so we can enable each other to show up well. In the language of The Circle Way, this is the “ask for what you need” agreement. In reflection, I have learned that I am not always quick enough to realize what I need, let alone ask for it. I didn’t.
Here’s what happened. We circled up for a board meeting for a few days and we had a lot on our agenda so we met for long, full days. On day one, I got up early to maintain my morning practice of writing and walking. On day two I was feeling under the weather, so I chose to sleep in the morning. Still under the weather on day three I chose to sleep. My ability to function and contribute lessened and lessened with each day both because of not feeling well, but also because I did not give myself the things that nourish me every day: time to exercise and fresh air and time alone to write and read.
Over the last several years I have become more introverted; I need more time alone to figure out what I think and feel about things. A day full of other people (including mornings and evenings), let alone several days, is a challenge to my inner well-being. I need time alone to look after my introvert so I can be my best self, for me and others. Without this time my energy stores deplete and my ability to be my best self declines.
I need time alone to look after my introvert so I can be my best self, for me and others.
Last week I didn’t take the initiative to make more time for myself, or to ask for our work schedule to change to allow more spaciousness. This opportunity to reflect has allowed me to see two underlying ideas.
First idea: I want to be in the room where it happens. Just like Aaron Burr in the Broadway hit Hamilton, I want to be there when great stuff happens. I don’t want to miss out on anything and I want to be a part of everything. If something neat is happening, I want to be a part of it.
Second idea: my needs are not as important as others’ needs. In my drive to be in the room where it happens, I fear rocking the boat, or letting other people down by either proposing something preposterous, or by simply not being available when needed.
Our meeting was productive and meaningful. It was a challenging time for us and we met each other well and yet I feel that for me, and how I show up for myself, there is room for improvement. How can I spend days with others, from dawn into the evening, in ways that maintain or even increase my energy stores?
Two contrasting shapes of how to spend three days together come to mind:
Here are five simple ideas about organizing full days of meeting:
Understand the purpose of the gathering at all scales: the reason to gather, the intention for each day and each chunk of time in each day.
Identify expectations and outcomes for the gathering that include both the tasks of the work and needs of the people to do that work. What kind of spaciousness is needed for what purpose?
Start a bit later than usual to allow for the spaciousness of life in the morning (checking email or social media, exercise or meditation).
Decide what works best for lunch and supper breaks. Is it a short break so the day can end early? Is it a longer break for spaciousness? Is the spaciousness needed before the meal or after? Are we sitting down together or can individuals go off on their own to eat?
Designate chunks of time for the whole group to meet. When does everyone need to be together? When can people work on their own schedule? Remember: the days do not have to be the same.
Unscheduled time in our lives helps us do our work. Over a few days of meeting, it is essential to find play time both with others and alone. It helps a group be its best self. When we look away from the tasks at hand, for a moment even, we can see what needs to be done more clearly.
Unscheduled time in our lives helps us do our work.
In my case, I learned that I need to let go of the need to be in the room where it happens and give myself space to discern which room I want to be in. Further, I need to make room for the work to work me, for this is how I find my way, how I figure out what and how to contribute to the world around me.
Asking for what I need is about enabling myself to be me.
How do you make room for you to be you, for “it” to happen?
I’ve noticed lately that the work I do is invisible to most people.
Last weekend I played a lead role as MC and hosted generative conversations at the Council for Canadian Urbanists annual CanU Summit–I was not the topic of conversation. I provided little content and set people up to meet each other and explore how to move their work forward. While they got into conversation and the room buzzed and hummed, I tended to their well-being in invisible ways.
A highlight of the Summit was the conversation I hosted between Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and neighbouring Enoch Cree Nation Chief Billy Morin. In the conversation, the Mayor proposed a new national aboriginal museum that made the headlines. The picture that appeared in the newspaper is the Mayor and Chief sharing a laugh, as it should be. Only my microphone and paper are visible in the bottom right corner.
Earlier this month I co-costed two conversations with citizens, business, government and community leaders about how the city learns–and how we can embrace being a city of learners. I found myself, as part of the hosting team, setting them up to make learning habitats, enabling them to identify and embody the living city systems of which they are a part. They did the work, they provided the content and they made meaning of their work. My content was invisible. It was not even my job to make meaning of their work: it was their work to do.
Nine years ago I walked away from a high-profile job in city hall and shelved the ambition that fuelled my ability to sustain that work. At the CanU Summit I watched the movers and shakers move and shake. I was out of the frame as the Mayor and Chief had a moving conversation. I was looking after plates and spilled coffee as my city figured out how it learns. I have to admit that my ego has a hard time being content with invisibility.
I’ve been wondering, what does the invisibility have to say? Here’s the response:
CONtent vs. conTENT
What are the gifts of invisibility? What is the CONtent I have to offer about invisibility? I realize that the invisible is asking to be made visible, and I also realize that I’ve been making the invisible visible these last few weeks in a series of blog posts. Here’s what I’ve seen and shared over the last few weeks.
A big lesson from a participant in a workshop who felt lost and couldn’t find her place in an unfamiliar way of collective listening (listening through World Cafe vs surveys or interviews): I am only one voice in many. (Making meaning as a system).
The feeling of being invisible is part of what we have to grapple with to create cities and communities that will thrive for each and all of us.
Where do you find meaning in your invisibility?
Note – This post was published in Nest City News on September 30, 2016.
Have recent global and local events of tragedy and terror left you overwhelmed and despairing? Do you wonder how it’s possible to see all that is good and true and beautiful when suffering is so prevalent? Would your hope and personal capacity for weathering this turbulence be restored by having occasion to talk and listen with others who, too, are deeply concerned for the well-being of our precious world?
Would your hope and personal capacity for weathering this turbulence be restored by having occasion to talk and listen with others?
If so, you are invited to join a circle conversation to explore these and other questions. A space where:
our stories are safe and sacred
we speak with intention
we listen with attention and curiosity
we offer no advice or critique
any answers and insights we might come to are our own