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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hinkleman

Oxygenating the soil of our hearts...AIREA Global, Madrid Edition 2024

The Invitation

In November 2023, I was finishing a week of travel & work in Portugal with some amazing humans/organizations. Having gone back and forth with my new friend/colleague, Ester Ortega, about using a piece she had created around one of John O'Brien's recent offerings in a talk I was giving earlier in the week, Ester asked what my itinerary was for the rest of that week.  I had one day open, a Saturday, prior to flying home Sunday. Next thing I know, I'm on a train from my hotel in Porto, with Ester who flew from Madrid to Porto to meet with me. Therein lies a lesson in embodied purpose. Amongst many of her gifts, Ester is a connector. And on this Saturday, which may have been a restful Saturday 'off' for either one of us, certainly Ester, ended up a day spent in conversation, in doodling, in planning and storytelling (all while embracing the struggle of a moderate language barrier).

"Who needs to be part of this conversation? What are we missing? What is happening in your community?" Questions and inquiry flowed out, then in, and onto paper. This long-form invitation too compelling to combat with any logical reasons not to accept. After deepening my understanding for just who I was sitting across from and what this gathering was about, it became clear; this vision of AIREA Global, born originally in Madrid in 2015, now expanding and reaching out internationally, would be something myself, and my team from Life Works, needed to be a part of.

AIREA Global Madrid 2024 XX Edition

"I felt in need of a great pilgrimage, so I sat still for three days."

~Kabir, Mystic/Poet/Saint

Did myself, Beth, Lamika and Jere (Our Life Works Team) all have to actually take a fairly long, physical pilgrimage to get to AIREA Global in Madrid this April 2024? Yes. Did the true pilgrimage start once we arrived at Santa Maria de los Negrales Spiritual Center? Yes. Upon the opening of AIREA Global on April 15, 2024, our team from Life Works in San Diego, California, joined 100 human beings, citizens, from 11 different countries for 3 days of stillness, 3 days of inquiry and conversation in our collective pilgrimage...and our Global Sangha was formed.

AIREA, in English, means to aerate. As it relates to the soil we live with, one source from a quick search on the internet describes the process: "Soil aeration is defined as the exchange of gases between the soil and the atmosphere. Since plant roots and soil microorganisms absorb O2 and release CO2 during aerobic respiration in the soil profile, soil aeration is one of the most important determinants of soil productivity." What does this mean? For me, it means the use of an effective metaphor by the co-creators and facilitators of AIREA Global. An invitation to come together, in community, still enough to see ourselves and each other. To sense ourselves and each other. To tend to the soil of our own hearts, that we may collectively join together in the cultivation of compassion and understanding of our shared struggle and unifying mission. Our shared humanity and realization that Inclusion is only possible when we embrace the idea that Love is foundational to our capacity to grow. AIREA Global curated a Brave Space to ground ourselves into the soil we stand on, together, and dig a little deeper. A Brave Space to shine the light of Awareness a little brighter, and to hold each other with a warmth which enveloped our presence with each other, strengthening our capacity to unearth and be with the darker moments of our journeys, and opening room for the necessary elements of oxygen (Breath) and compassion (Love) to fertilize the soil of our hearts.

Intentional energy toward the cultivation of the qualities of our hearts, into the deeper levels of our soil, affords us a much greater opportunity to harvest the fruits of our community garden. Together, working in unison in our newly formed community garden, we feel energized in our mission of building inclusive communities; living, breathing and loving together. Another byproduct of the tilling of our hearts soil, are the cracks formed, not only oxygenating, but letting light in. In a piece written several years ago, John O'Brien wrote about what can come from noticing and working with the cracks and the importance of our capacity to be present with what is right by and for people if we somehow shine some light in. "By attending to the present, stepping away from crowds that reproduce oppression, finding voice, and accepting the insecurity of refugee status, hearts will move to love. Perfect plans and errorless performance are beyond our reach, but thankfully imperfect offerings will do to let in the light." 

How do we get to the depth necessary to grow?

The design and flow of our time together at AIREA Global was bolstered by Theory U and the Levels of Listening, brought to us by Otto Scharmer and his international team at the Presencing Institute, based out of MIT. This framework provides a compass to guide us on our journey of transformational work. Systems change is heavy lifting, and these elements provide us a structure to lean on when we're tired and to the space to discover, when we're energized with curiosity.

In order for us to move into the field of the future, we must attend to 3 Voices: Judgment, Cynicism and Fear. The antithetical qualities needed to quiet these voices are: Open Mind, Open Heart and Open Will. These qualities provide the anchors needed to maintain the stillness needed to tend to the soil we're seeking to cultivate. Once we're stable, we get to the depth needed to aerate effectively by setting intentions and paying attention to the Levels of Listening.

Level 1: Downloading is our default. It is where we listen with closed minds, reconfirming old opinions and judgments...just waiting for our turn to speak.

Level 2: Factual (Noticing Differences) begins to Open up our Mind by observing and suspending the Voice of Judgement. We disconfirm old data and confirm new data with a sense of curiosity.

Level 3: Empathic (Emotional Connection) begins to Open up our Heart by redirecting the Voice of Fear. We start to see through another person's eyes with compassion.

Level 4: Generative (From the future wanting to emerge) begins to Open up our Will by letting go the Voice of Fear. We connect to an emerging future whole: a shift in Identity and Self. Level Four, Generative Listening, is where we fully embody the transformation of consciousness from Ego, to Eco. From Me to We. This is where the magic happens. AIREA Global was and is the collective embodiment of these deeper Levels of Listening.

Observing, Honoring and Letting Go of our Shame

An initial holding question for conversation in groups was around the sharing of our "shames". Heavy doesn't begin to describe the weight of the stories brought forth by the Sangha, yet, with encouragement to not judge ourselves and to practice self-compassion while sharing, the exercise was doable...and important. For us to basque in the light, we must first recall, honor, learn from and let go of moments/stories from our past that we are not proud of. Moments such as:

  • Perpetuating "Power-Over" dynamics

  • Not taking care of ourselves...disembodied living

  • Dissonance

  • Avoiding conflict for self-preservation/career-preservation

  • Making decisions for people, without the people's input or presence

  • Segregated education

  • Building a wall between ourselves, our emotions and those of others

  • Placing people in Institutions

All of these threads, from across several different groups, connected us in our shared, dark pasts. I experienced a felt-sense of warmth in my belly and a bit of a gentle tingle up and down my spine. My body reminding me that in the midst of the heavy tension and heartache in the room, we were being held by the facilitators representing Fundacion Inclusion y Apoyo Aprocor and AIREA Global. We were being held by each other. In my deepest center of understanding as a human, I believe we must first hold ourselves. We must hold ourselves with compassion. When we hold ourselves with compassion, including our shame, we are capable of holding others, and their shame. Community can not thrive without citizens embracing other citizens...walking shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, on the path to a good life for all. The journey to healing starts when we bury, let go of, and eulogize our Shames...together. And so, the team from AIREA Global held us with compassion through this phase of our pilgrimage, in stillness, in conversation and with the intention of creating the space for the critical gases to reach, mix and wake up the exhausted soil of our hearts.

Holding Questions with Generative Listening

With newly found space for exploration, we were held, again, by these questions:

  1. "Que estamos haciendo hacia la comunidad?" (What are we doing toward community?)

  2. "En esta mirada comunitaria, Que es lo que te parece mas importante?" (In this community outlook, what do yo find most important?)

  3. "Que te seta frenando?" (What is holding you back?)

We were tasked with listening to each other with Open Minds (Level 2-Curiosity), Open Hearts (Level 3-Compassion), and Open Wills (Level 4-Courage). In addition, we were asked to raise ideas, innovations and/or intentions up with balloons, signifying our capacity as citizens working together to bring forth the light needed to lead us out of the darkness of our Shames and into the field of an emerging future. The heaviness in the room shifted, both visually and, again, as a felt sense. Perhaps the use of another gas, helium, in lifting the balloons of our hopes and intentions, represented the lifting our spirits.

  • Creating welcoming spaces for conversation and connection to happen

  • Realizing community is not just a physical place, it's an energy we carry within

  • Breaking down silos of services, so we can connect as Citizens

  • Cultivating our Awareness as a means of discerning the choices in front of us

  • Shifting from Control & Power to supporting each other

  • Expectation of Citizenship "Community and Inclusion begin the moment we're born."

  • Revolution will take time...we're here planting seeds

The result, a community garden, albeit a temporary one here in this space, but a representation of the possibilities of application back home in our places, in our communities.

Resting in the energy of what just transpired in conversation (Inspiration from the World), and making good use of the ample breaks throughout the day in reflection, we were held with these questions:

  • What do you find most important?

  • Where could the new alliances be?

  • What could we improve from what we are doing towards the community?

The Big Hop! (Crystallizing and Prototyping)

Moving from inspirational conversations with our newly formed Global Sangha,

for the first time all week, we were now invited to find the teams we came with. In the spirit of Open Wills, we take the Big Hop as a team, collaborating and co-creating Concrete action to take back to our lives. Our personal lives. Our organizational lives. Our community lives.

Our team mulled the concrete elements we're paying attention to:

  • Partnering with Civic Activists

  • Creating Rituals (Grateful Table: A celebration of our teams, families, allies and storytelling)

  • Innovation Labs

  • Spell 2 Communicate

  • Wellbeing Studio

  • Speed-dating

It is now up to us to keep shining the light of Attention onto these Intentions, concretizing them further into the foundation of who we are.

The next phase of our journey took us up and down the west side of the room, to listen, inquire and be with the ideas of teams from 11 different countries. Teaching us with each storytelling, how connected, across borders, we truly are. Life Works identifies as a learning organization, so we appreciate the opportunity to touch into the depth of our own being and the gift of connecting and growing from the depth of our Global Sangha. This sort of environment enriches our organizational soil with the most essential of gases.

Celebration through Music, Art, Poetry and Neighbors

Contributions to AIREA Global came not only from those who attended, with their stories and wisdom. The hosting team engaged with local artists, writers, creators, wood-workers, etc., welcoming contributions from neighbors and citizens in community.

Contributions came from:

  • Jaime, el ceramista (The Ceramist) who "created each of the cups and glazed them with a Japanese technique using local oak ashes."

  • Ito, el carpintero (The Carpenter) who "came up with a simple way to get the world from one place to another"

  • Begona, la mujer de la imprenta (The Woman of the Printing Press) "Begona always helps us by checking the thousands of typos"

  • Emilia, la poeta (The Poet) who "opens us to look at life in a different way"

  • Miriam, la artista (The Artist) who "speaks from within life with an immense force that gives us the gift of word"

  • Marcos, el sastre (The Tailor) who "has been stitching a thousand stitches during the day and night so that all the notebooks would be ready on time"

  • Dani, el hombre paciente (The Patient Man) who "if you're in San Lorenzo, be sure to stop by his bookstore...'Walden' is by Dani"

  • Carlos, el musico (The Musician) who "brings us the invisible possibility that everything works and the enjoyment of the music"

  • Lina, la hostelera (The Hotelier) who hosts "One of the best cafes in the area and a very inspiring place to work"

On the eve before the day we were to depart, a celebration like nothing I've ever experienced unfolded. Local musicians, joined by members of our Sangha, played and sang and jammed and held us with the energy of their unique, individual gifts, in literal concert with one another. Joy. Love. Merriment. Celebration!

"I believe everything we dream

Can come to pass through our union

We can turn the world around

We can turn the earth's revolution."

~Patti Smith, "People Have The Power"

Under the unifying and infectious energy and direction of Markus Vahala from Finland, the Sangha formed a community choir, belting out Patti Smith's anthem "People Have The Power". Voices united. Hearts converged and we were swept up into a moment, a feeling of what is possible when citizens come together for the common good.

My Heart's Expansion...People!!!

I've been on a transformational journey in my own life for several years now. It stems from years of internal struggle, a white-knuckling I continue to process and work with...and it's lead to an awakening of my heart, soul and purpose.

This awakening aided by so many elements, experiences and most importantly...people. I am fueled and bolstered by the humans I encounter and add to my Sangha in this work of Inclusion and building communities that work for everyone. I am touched in deeply meaningful ways in hearing the stories of struggle and triumph from others who walk this same path. We need each other. We ARE each other. Community is not just a place. It is an energy felt when hearts connect. AIREA Global connected my heart to those familiar and new...and with the awareness-based, compassionate facilitation of the AIREA Global Humans, our community garden is thriving and our Sangha is strong.

"Only those who observe themselves, can listen to themselves.

Only those who listen to themselves, can know themselves.

Only those who know themselves, can love themselves.

Only those who love themselves, can love others."

~Pablo d'Ors

As Kabir teaches, we are only an intention to sit for 3 days away from a great pilgrimage. Practices of stillness, daily, touching into ourselves with a non-judging, compassionate quality, are paramount for our stability in this world. AIREA Global offered us a pilgrimage to collective stillness, accepting Margaret Wheatley's invitation to "Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters." The soil of our hearts has been tended to, for now. It is a practice needed consistently. We must pay attention to the qualities of our heart and the cultivation of Love, Equanimity, Compassion and Appreciative Joy. When we cultivate these qualities of the heart, we have hearts capable of inclusion. Hearts that include and value ourselves, importantly, as humans of worth. Only then can our hearts include other hearts. For it is our hearts and the connection to others, that form the bridge to Inclusion.

I am eternally grateful to Ester for that day in Porto. For leading by example. What a gift to be in the presence of embodied purpose...highest purpose. Isn't that what all of this person centered planning mumbo jumbo is all about? Illuminating our Highest Purpose? Person Centered Planning is at risk of becoming mumbo jumbo when it's written and/or used in ways that serve regs or compliance or Systems.

When we go about the Business of Person Centered Planning with our heads in devices, or in meetings, or in meetings on our devices...or with hearts dulled by the prevailing cynicism felt in the culture of the day, at least in my experience in the United States...we become, as John O'Brien teaches us in his piece "Surviving Cogworld", the very mechanization of the System we seek to change. Not awake to that which is all around us. Lacking Awareness of our own agency as practitioners. As citizens. When Person Centered Planning is embodied, lived, acted out daily with Awareness and Attention, it becomes something much larger than ourselves. It becomes a connector, like Ester. It becomes a living testimony to the power of Intention and sheds light on the story of What More Is Possible. A connector committed to Inclusion with an energy to do right by do right by Community...with Community, in Unison.

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