Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Opening Chicken

Over the course of our 35 years as an intentional community, Sandhill Farm has had an incredible variety of visitors, and therefore, we've accumulated an equally incredible wealth of visitor stories. One of my favorite memories goes back about 25 years, when we asked a visitor for his impressions of the community after being with is for a week. After a moment of reflection, he replied solemnly, “I really like chickens.”

For a moment, no one spoke. After all, we had been living with poultry (and our own egg supply) almost from the beginning and most of us had a fondness for chickens, but we also knew that no one had ever considered that such a standout feature of our community life. Some of us were thinking, “Did he really say that?”

Well, it turned out he didn’t. He’d said that he really liked check-ins, and we’d all simply transposed the vowels. We had such a good laugh over it that we decided, on the spot, to start calling check-ins chickens, and have incorporated that malapropism into our local argot ever since.

• • •
Last Thursday, Ma’ikwe and I arrived in Asheville NC for Weekend IV of the two-year Integrative Facilitation training we’re conducting in the Southeast. That evening we had one of the most amazing chickens I’d ever experienced.

Ma’ikwe and I set the tone by describing our journey around opening up our marriage to include the possibility of having other lovers [see my blogs of April 19, May 7, May 21, and June 1 for more on this], and we immediately had everyone's attention. That set the stage for sharing deeply with one another about what was going on in our lives, and here's an overview of what came out:

Person A: My marital challenges are getting better. My wife and I are now talking regularly about our relationship and it’s made a surprising amount of difference that I’ve learned (in this training) to raise my energy to meet hers when she’s upset. As you know, I’m a teacher and I’m missing graduation to attend this training weekend; I was really torn about having to make the choice, yet couldn’t stay away.

Person B: Work is totally chaotic right now yet I knew I needed to get away for a weekend. If I’d stayed home and worked, it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference—it’d be just as crazy Monday morning whether I'd worked all weekend or not.

Person C: I’m visiting a nearby community on a trial basis and having a very positive experience. While I’m getting closer to being ready to facilitate groups, I'm not quite there. I’ve still got considerable performance anxiety.

Person D: I’m trying to enter the job market right now, but the timing is terrible. My marriage is shaky, but we’re doing counseling together and trying to save it.

Person E: I was discouraged by backlash at my home community to working on conflict. It took me a while to work through my feelings and see how much my pushing for this is not helping. On the other hand, I mediated a session between two people who’ve been at odds with each other for years and they achieved a breakthrough with my help. That felt great. I’m also struggling to decide between continuing to work at the college I’m at now, which is great but has no job security versus accepting a tenure track position at another college.

Person F: I'm struggling with diminished energy. While some of it may be aging, I suspect it’s mostly emotional turbulence, and I’m working on trying to control things less and trusting that things will work out well even if I’m not so directive.

Person G: I’ve recently joined a new clinic and I’m overwhelmed by the workload. I'm happy to take a break from it this weekend. Meanwhile, I’m inspired by what my partner has been getting out of the training.

Person H: I’m deeply involved in process work at home and am excited to be applying what we’re learning in the training. Already I’m seeing meetings more clearly and regularly have ideas about how to improve things. My growth edge is working with conflict. I’ve been clearing the decks in preparation for adopting, and am starting to look at which country I’d like to focus on.

Person I: I’m exploring life at a new community and it’s being very rich. I’m even experimenting with taking on a leadership role in my prospective home. In the last couple months I’ve gotten a chance to teach a consensus introduction, and that went well.

Person J: I’ve been exhausted by the task of shutting down a 6-year business with my husband. Though it was clearly the right decision, I got to see how much I want to be liked as a leader and how painful it was getting criticized by employees we had to let go. In meetings it’s become increasingly clear to me how crucial it is to have clear objectives. In recent months I’ve been able to get to a much better place about concentrating on learning and not getting distracted about looking good when things don’t go well. I also just ended a term on the local school board, where I was able to make a big difference in turning around the energy at meetings and finding good people to fill open seats on the board.

Person K: I just deposited my first payment as a process consultant! I’ve been teaching a group in California how to conduct salons and they love it! I want help this weekend with ideas about how to handle a difficult person in my community who drives me bonkers.

Person L: I used what I’ve been learning at meetings of the local fire department and people liked what I did so much I was voted Firefighter of the Month. I love what I’ve been learning about conflict, and was even able to apply it in a dispute with my ex-wife. After I stepped back from my own hurt and thought about how things must look to her, I was able to make a bridging statement and she stopped fighting me. It was a miracle!

Person M: I wrestled with two big challenges the last two months: a) I discovered that my family owed the IRS about $20,000 and I knew my husband was going to pitch a fit when he found out; and b) my husband and I have been trying to adopt a second child for about three years and we just learned that our application has been rejected. There are now new rules for international adoption and we’ve been told we have to start over. We’re devastated. Meanwhile my home community has been very appreciative of my growing skills as a facilitator.

Person N: I’ve had no room in my life to prep for this weekend, and haven’t read the handouts. At work I’m finding myself in a dissociated state, as I’ve realized I’m not doing what I want to be doing with my life. I’m exhausted at the end of each training weekend and am terrified of doing emotional work. Still, I keep coming back...

Person O: I’m just an auditor and this is my first time in the circle. I get it that people in this training are working on themselves and not just here to learn rules about how to run meetings!

• • •
To be sure, this was not a random mix of 15 people off the street. These were, in fact, a bunch of people who choose to scratch an itch about learning how groups can function more cooperatively, and there wasn't a chicken in the bunch. This was a snapshot of how far a group can travel down the road of authenticity and connection after just three prior weekends sitting in the fire of group dynamics together. Ma’ikwe and I were honored to be among them.

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