At the core
Not really because she had said or asked something that had prompted these thoughts, no, she simply sat there and listened with great attention and care. All the while she would look at you with her large dark eyes and you would suddenly feel thoughts emerging that you never realised were in you.
Momo could listen in a way that people who felt lost or undecided all of a sudden knew exactly what they wanted. She could listen so that shy people suddenly felt free and brave. Or unhappy and depressed ones would feel confident and happy.
And if someone thought their life was useless and meaningless, he himself only one in a million, one who doesn’t count and who can be replaced as easily as a broken pot – if he went and told Momo, small Momo, while he was talking he would realise in the most wondrous way that he was totally wrong, that he himself, exactly as he was, was unlike any other human being and therefore special to the world in his own special way. Such was Momo’s ability to listen! (‘Momo’ by Michael Ende, 1973, p.21)
The story of Momo has accompanied me since childhood. It is the tale of a little girl who is an orphan and lives in an old open air theatre in Greece. When she sees her friends loose meaning and quality of life due to an ever faster pace and search for material gain and status, she is the one who takes on the ‘time thieves’. It is a wonderful narration about the woes of (post)modern values and lifestyles, about imagination, storytelling and about the loss (and gain) of humanity and friendship.
In the story, Momo, when pursued by the time thieves (for she poses a real threat to them with her timeless, playful ways of living) encounters Master Hora, the guardian of time and his tortoise, Kassiopeia. When Momo becomes fearful and wants to run faster to escape her enemies, she reminds her that ‘those who go slow arrive in time’. In my practice, at the root, I still take many of my cues about the art of listening from the wisdom of this childhood story.
Momo listened to all, to dogs and cats, to crickets and toads, yes even to the rain and the wind in the trees. And all spoke to her in its own way. Some evenings when all her friends had returned home, she sat alone for a long time in the big stone round of the old theatre above which the star-sparkling sky con-caved, and she simply listened to the great silence.
Then it appeared to her as if she sat in the midst of a giant ear drum that listened out into the world of the stars. And it appeared to her as if she heard a quiet and enormous music that found its way strangely into her heart. On such nights she had particularly wonderful dreams.
And if you still think listening is nothing special, then go try if you can do it like that.
(‘Momo’ by Michael Ende, 1973, p.22)
The art of creating generative spaces for conversation
What is the magic of co-creating spaces in which significant conversations can take place? This is the work I have been doing for more than 30 years. In the 1990s my main teachers were the elders of the National Peace Accord in South Africa.
They had been the magicians behind the scene of the seemingly miraculous transition process (which was in fact risky, brutal and the result of many generations’ hard work). They were people whose enormous skill and ability to diffuse situations of extreme, at times deadly tension rested on a quality of awareness to detail that I had not experienced anywhere before.
Going along into situations of such severe conflict my mentors would walk in calm collected and connected as if it was the most natural thing on earth. It was often as if the entire situation let out a sigh of relief. I could see bodies relax, tempers calming down, and even noise levels drop.
Part of my work today still involves offering or supporting mediation processes in situations where conflict has escalated to a stage that those involved cannot constructively engage with each other anymore.
Some of the characteristics described above – albeit in a less ‘heated’ form – are always at play in situations where we seek to ‘offer dialogue’. Nelson Mandela is cited to have said that ‘putting people in a room who agree with each other is not dialogue’. One of the core challenges facing us in South Africa (and in many ‘post’-colonial and ‘post’-conflict situations) is to come to a place where we can live our disagreements more openly and honestly (unbound from the politeness of the reconciliation years). Yet how do we work non-violently and in ways that nourish and connect rather than destroy and project?
On this basis I offer space for:
- Hosting Creative Conversations
- Co-creating Trans-Boundary Learning Systems
- Supporting Organisations in their Evolution
- Dreaming up and Actioning Creative Gatherings to achieve a Common Purpose
A few years ago, my colleague Ghalib Galant and I hosted a leadership development process for young leaders in the peacebuilding and human rights fields called ‘Spinning the Web of Relations’.
In the first module of that learning series, we encountered a tiny spiderweb, full of dew droplets in a hole in the ground. It was hidden and we may have passed it were it not for the careful eye cast during the initial collaborative exercise. This exercise was called ‘eggselent’ and people had to build conducive structures to prevent an egg from being broken in a one metre free fall. As most of the participants worked in vulnerable communities, they wondered: What are we protecting? What are we doing to create the resilience and cohesion that prevents violence? That’s the moment we came upon the little spiderweb in the hole.
The insight at the time was about the power of building ‘webs of relations’ in a situation that seems outwardly stuck and not moving. In needing to keep communities safe, little visible action could take place. Yet underneath the surface a new energy was growing in the form of building relationships and new ways of relating across social and political boundaries.
Participants of that first workshop commented how powerfully moved they had felt by the metaphor for protective collaboration through webbing – sheltering in a tree, making a nest, wrapping, shielding, guiding, hiding that which is dear. The many strategies that communities employ to keep safe in times of war. Mimicry. Mock collaboration. Carrying two party cards flashing the one or the other, as needed. Carrying hurt. Carrying hope. Surviving. Always.
The learning from challenging situations and young leader’s responses of resilience and resourcefulness continue to inspire me and my work.
Being in Nature has been an experience that has given me strength, courage and insight since childhood. My father was a marine biologist and took us on walks to the beach, picking up shells and observing the migrations of the birds. I remember the sensations of wind and weather, animal and plant worlds and how these walks contributed to my foundation as a human being. In my work I find nature is an avid co-creator.
Be it a contemplation on leadership or a quest for healing, whatever my client may be seeking, nature offers itself as a source and resource, to be discovered and, often, re-discovered as such.
Goethe says: Part of my practice is to find the pregnant point out of which life arises.
I love that! It is so resonant with how I see my practice in service of life and aliveness on this planet.
Practically this means that we go out and spend time in nature, connecting to our senses and honing our faculties of perception. This serves us in connecting to the flow of the life process
Goethe also says: Every new thing, well observed, opens up a new organ of perception inside us.
The Goethean approach to social engagement is premised on the belief that much can be learned from observing natural phenomena for learning the social space. In taking people on journeys through nature and allowing them to sharpen their faculties of observing natural phenomena, I have seen how people begin to watch more carefully what is happening in themselves, in their organisation, in their society. Goethe and my favourite writer Ben Okri share in common the pursuit of ‘seeing with new eyes’:
With great care we prepare, practising unrelentingly. Immersed in this river of practice, I enter each encounter, ready to die, ready to see the ugliness of the wound. In my nakedness I stand, not knowing, but looking, looking. Comes the moment when my naked not knowing is discovered, revealed. And in the movement that ensues I practise being true. I stand still. I move. I relate. I embrace shadow with courage.
Having thus wrestled comes the time to surrender, let go, let die, so the something calling can be born, can come through. I am the source at that very moment. (Footnote: When very big things are happening inside, there are often very few words available. Humour helps.)
Healing then is beholding the becoming, including what has been and what is to come, across time and space.
Then I rest and recover. For if I heal myself, I am healing the world.
(Undine’s Harvest from the Week ‘Through Goethean Eyes’: Can a practice that foregrounds observation play a healing role in the world? November 2014, Towerland Wilderness)
Body, Movement and Creativity
I have made the observation in my work that our bodies, our capacity for movement and for creative expression all play important roles in our transformation processes. The biggest wisdom for all shifts and changes we may seek lies inside our bodies; our bodies are actually inherently intelligent. When we listen to that wisdom, life energy is released and we get in touch with what really matters.
One way to get in touch with the body is through the sensing work in nature, another is through movement and dance, yet another is through the gateway of artistic expression.
I incorporate these modalities into my work whenever I create spaces for individuals and groups:
- Conversations in Colour – allowing yourself to meet blank canvas
- Meeting the Dancer inside – creating the movement you seek
- Working with Clay – earthing and grounding my visions
- Music and Song – finding my own tune
- Play – daring to play seriously, or to seriously play again
- Writing – write that Story that’s been calling inside you for so long or say it simple, write a Haiku.
- Breath Work – connecting to your self, your body and your life force through powerful breathing techniques
- Yoga and Aikido – these are ancient teachings that are as relevant as ever and we weave them in, working with qualified teachers.