Monday, August 31, 2009

"Holy Work" — Arielle Bywater

I attended a workshop this weekend with the Coho folks about facilitating meetings. Mundane topic, one would think--except that it wasn't at all. Instead, it was a group of folks from different backgrounds trying to figure out how to run meetings in which we can meet one another with compassion, curiousity, and good will in order to work toward a greater good. In the process of learning how to do this, we had such a meeting: lots of laughter, good food, friendship and ideas exchanged.

One highlight for me: Dyan, the woman who led our training, asked everyone to get into "spectrum" formation over an issue as an example of how to use this meeting technique. (It involves people lining up according to where they are on a "spectrum" in terms of their feelings about a certain issue.) The issue she gave us was how we felt about firearms in the cohousing community. As someone who has lived mostly in major urban centers--New York City, Boston, and Chicago--my adult life, and who has never hunted (I don't even eat meat!), I sort of assumed that a room full of eco-minded progressives such as we have at Belfast Cohousing would all be of like minds: "Firearms in our community?! No way!" Little did I know! The "spectrum" line ran the gamut, and soon I was paired up with another Coho person who was as pro-firearms in the community as I was against.

And guess what? After only a couple minutes of discussion on the topic, my mind was changed. Absolutely changed. While I like to think I'm open-minded, I am also opinionated and pretty reactionary, so it was utterly refreshing to see how easily and smoothly my mind could be changed...and with zero conflict. This happens all too rarely in my life! In place of conflict and stubborness was a genuine willingness to listen, on both sides, and the result was that I walked away from that day with a new understanding about the culture and belief around firearms in rural Maine...and my own ignorance on the matter.

And this was just a sample exercise, to demonstrate how to use a technique! We weren't even really discussing firearms in the community!

Dyan called what we were doing that day, gathering to learn how to be better at facilitating and participating in our group meetings, "holy work." It struck me that this was not an overstatement at all. There is something deeply spiritual about trying to form an intentional community. It reminds me of meditation, or other difficult, worthwhile spiritual practice.

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