Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pausing at the Reflecting Pool

When my friend Alline Anderson wants to let others know that she has familiarity with a certain dynamic, she is wont to say, “This isn’t my first rodeo.” Being prone to metaphors, I’ve always cherished that turn of phrase.

A week ago Ma’ikwe and I concluded a round of our two-year training in integrated facilitation that was centered in the Southeast. The training is comprised of eight intensive three-day weekends, spaced approximately three months apart. While most weekends we spend the bulk of the 48 hours from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon prepping, delivering and debriefing live work with the host community, we depart from that routine on the final weekend. The last day of the last weekend (which took place seven days ago in North Carolina), the class meets all day to give each other reflections on how we’ve come to see that person and their development over the past two years. When we warned the class that it would take 6 hours, they scoffed (how much could there be to say?). It turned out the class was right. It took 8.5 hours—and nobody wanted to leave early.
Here’s the way we set it up. After taking care of logistics, 15 of us (13 students plus Ma’ikwe and me) settled into a circle of attention. As people felt called, one by one we assumed the spotlight. After offering some self-reflections about the two-year journey just concluded, that person moved into the center of the circle where they listened without comment as everyone, in turn, offered their concise statements (averaging two minutes each) about how they saw that person.
While that may seem a woefully short amount f time in which to offer a summary, we’d been practicing the facilitator’s craft of concision for two years and had also been learning to minimize our tendencies to repeat what someone before us had already contributed. Thus, each person was getting about 30 minutes of concentrated honesty and depth from a pool of people who had seen them through thick and thin; through moments of grace and disgrace; through moments where we channeled the divine, intermixed with stretches where we were lost in the wilderness.
While the comments were overwhelmingly positive and constructive, it can be excruciating to sit there and just take it. Last Sunday—much like the two-year training itself—paradoxically went on forever, and at the same time was over in a blink. There was laughter, tears, and more open countenances than you’d see at a snake handling. In short, it was awesome, and a perfect culmination to what Peter Buck (one of our students) claimed was “the most consistently authentic experience he’d ever had in his life.” While we only had our own flawed-yet-divine selves to see us through the two-year maze, we made do—simultaneously learning the art of helping groups navigate tough issues and lifting ourselves up in the process, getting clearer about who we each were and who we wanted to be in the world.
While last Sunday was not the first National Finals Rodeo for Ma’ikwe and me, we knew going in that the students had no idea what it would be like to try to keep their psychic balance for 30 minutes while silently riding the wild bull of deep honesty. We were all dishrags at the end, having been lovingly thrashed around by the compassionate and caring insights of our brothers and sisters.
What could be a more auspicious way to start the first day of the rest of our lives?

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