As we prepare to move into our second iteration of the International Learning Village at Statenberg Manor in Slovenia, I have revisited my notes from last summer to distil some thoughts that can help us to start from a more intentional place as we gather to take up where we left off in August 2012.
The following is simply a list, in no particular order, of the practices I observed us developing during our time together last year.
- Generosity – At the heart of Circle Practice is the injunction: “offer what you can, and ask for what you need”. Dropping beneath the often disturbing conversation about money, last year we learned how important it is to openly express real appreciation and recognition. Many of us who live in the capitalist West have forgotten this, used as we are to close our transactions with an exchange of money, which tends to preclude the opportunity to build the relationship further. Living in the spirit of inquiry in the Learning Village offers us an abundance of opportunities to explore how generosity in both giving and receiving can deepen and broaden the web of interrelationships that form the basis for true community.
Keeping the sacred fire – The presence of an ‘indigenous’ culture carrier last year allowed us to experience the extra dimensions that some lineage and ritual can provide. Regardless of the tradition that is practiced – in our case it was Pawa’s Nuu-chah-nulth lineage from the west coast of Vancouver Island – we entered collectively into a shared sense-making grounded in the practices of offering to the spirits of the land and place, the directions, the ancestors. The ‘grandmothers’ of the community stepped up explicitly to the practice of holding space for the gathering and offered sessions of deep sensing every morning in circle, in the presence of the flame that burned all the time that the community was in Open Space, open to all who wanted to attend. These turn out to be alchemical moments in the cauldron together: if we cook together for long enough, some wisdom will infuse into the stew.
Inviting in the subtle dimensions – our community turned out to have quite a few ‘Aquarian shamans’: individuals sensitive to subtle energies and the teeming life that goes on behind the veil of surface appearances. In the Learning Village, everybody is invited in to subtle sensing: no one person has the whole picture, but each one is encouraged to speak what he or she senses into the middle – even if you don’t know what it means: somebody else might hold the key.
- Passion and responsibility – life in Open Space can manifest its full potential only when each person participates fully: bringing their unique passion and individual responsibility as a contribution to the whole. This is when we truly learn what it means to live by the Law of Two Feet: my most authentic contribution is to be fully myself at all times, and to live the fullest expression of that truth.
- Community – is a side-effect of the Learning Village. The foundation is learning to host myself.
Conscious intention – Speaking our intention makes the implicit explicit – and life goes more smoothly when we do this. Good intentions can lead to unexpected consequences, especially when left implicit. Those unintended consequences can offer great opportunities for learning, but only when made explicit. So in the face of misunderstandings and disagreement, we examine our assumptions and speak them in the name of shared clarity.
- Protect a minimal structure – last year someone offered this wisdom: “Lock everything you think you will need inside your house (with the key), then check later to see whether you still need it.” Collectives have a tendency to want to keep tweaking and adding refinements to the group norms, that then crystallise into rules. We learned last year that the minimum structure of Open Space was all that was needed. All other attempts at refining and improving gave us opportunities to reclaim our passion and responsibility for our own two feet, to reclaim our own judgements and expectations, and to LEARN our next lesson.
- Hosted learning – having learning as the purpose of the village and our reason for participating allows us to release our judgements about what is going on. Hosted learning provides both witnessing and container. The field calls out my behaviour.
Hosting with Place – last year we recognised some of the many ways in which the manor of Statenberg, the neighbouring village and its natural surroundings hosted the community and contributed to its wellbeing. Place is very present to intentional gatherings of humans, and when we explicitly invite and invoke the place to participate, it shows up in remarkable ways. As we move around the space, we can notice small details that give us pleasure through their beauty and evanescence – the way the sunlight falls on a stone, the butterfly that lands on my knee just as I speak a profound insight. This little miracles of cosmic presence are amplified when we share them with each other.
- Hosting diversity – in a Learning Village, some folks want to innovate, whilst others want to preserve. We live in creative tension, understanding that the Art of Hosting – the common core of our learning community – has some basic foundational patterns that define its identity. Last year we learned that being in community is like ‘homeopathic broadband’ – it amplifies whether or not I am connected to myself. In a diverse community, settling down can happen in one place (in the men’s circle, for example) at the same time as wildness is happening somewhere else (around the fire)… At the core, this is about hosting diversity: how do we allow it all to be there? The introverts, the people who hate being here, the people who aren’t ‘joiners’? We learned that the stronger the centre, the further the diversity can spin out the fringes without fragmenting the whole.
- Recognising roles – the very fact of identifying the different roles, elements and functions that show up in our community enriches its complexity. Last year we witnessed the emergence of a number of roles, and naming and claiming them made their practice more intentional: there were historians who made meaning; map-makers who saw what we were doing and how it affected the whole; hosts who stewarded certain inquiries on behalf of the whole; harvesters who captured and represented our village life in colour and form; shamans who sensed the subtle and offered sacred ritual. And there were intentional apprentices to each of these roles: we come to the Learning Village to build relationships so that we can identify those who can mentor us in our development. The role of mentor earned special attention, because it comes with some baggage, so some etiquette is needed. Mentorship is invited by the mentee. The mentor does not teach, she holds up a mirror: as the mentee, the invitation is to witness me, and to bear witness to those parts of me that I do not yet see. It goes without saying that the mentor also learns.
- Butterfly meetings – those chance encounters around the ‘official’ sessions allow for synchronicity to play its full part. In fact, the whole gathering is one big butterfly meeting, and understanding this can help to open our eyes to the way the Kosmos shows up and participates.
Holding space is a core activity in any Open Space context. Seen from the outside, it looks a lot like ‘doing nothing’. In reality, though, it is an intentional practice that demands full presence: when the space is not held, the subtle container of the minimum structure that lends the community and its conversations overall coherence is weakened, and everyone feels it. Last year, because we were in Open Space for five whole days, we invited all members of the community to step in and hold space on behalf of the whole when they felt called to do so – no need to be a member of the hosting team, in other words. Although space holders don’t participate in sessions, they could be seen taking pictures, bringing fruit snacks to the different groups, and even walking in the local village! At the end of the session, the space holder would share with the whole community what he or she had witnessed or learned from that perspective.
- Harvesting is an act of generosity towards the whole, capturing moments of meaning and weaving them into a coherent picture that enables the community to witness itself. The presence of some truly gifted graphic facilitators last year brought inestimable value and gave villagers of all ages the opportunity to learn new skills and contribute in unexpected ways. Photography, poetry and prose produced a number of artefacts that have outlived our time together.
Celebration – the very fact of coming together as a village that learns is a happening worthy of celebration. Our friendship, our differences, our children, our longings, our passions, our creativity and good will – the fact that as human beings we are coming together because we choose to co-create the future our hearts tell us is possible, rather than staying at home and surrendering to the dismal prospects that await us if we carry on ‘as normal’. And so, as a learning village, we practice the art of celebration at every opportunity: celebration is in the knowing of it.