"We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature." ~Sonya Renee Taylor
For many of us, 7 months into this pandemic, "normal" might feel like our current existence. While being side-swiped by this heaviness in March, our worlds careening off the road, shattering into pieces, we've slowly picked them up and patched them together in some sort of jumbled puzzle. Fragmented energy, scrambling to formulate means of survival...each of us in our own place. Do this for 3/4 of a year, it may start to feel like this is just our new normal. Alas, read Sonya Renee Taylor's words and remember where we find ourselves now is nothing short of a portal...a portal we are called to walk through as the way to manifesting the world we know is possible for all of us.
Where We Began
Back in May, we sent out a call...an Invitation across the state of California. The first words read were those of Sonya Renee Taylor's quote about a return, or not, to normal. We began with the metaphor of disruption and cracks. Cracks providing light and glimmers of hope if only we decide to wedge ourselves into the cracks...embodying the energy required to be agents of change. I originally heard the use of the language of 'wedges' from a mentor/teacher/friend, Jack Pearpoint (inclusionpress.com) in the context of a different call/initiative I'm involved with across North America called Pathfinding Outfitters. We'll be talking more about emerging Pathfinding Outfitters opportunities for all of you to explore, invest and engage in soon...stay tuned.
The image below comes from the original Pathfinding gathering back in April. The red stone figure you see wedged in the crack is a representation of an inuksuit. Brought to light from a piece written by John O'Brien titled "Places of Power" John writes "For more than 4,000 years people in the Arctic have served their many purposes by creating inuksuit, stone figures that stand in the place of a human being. Some Inuksuk mark places of power, thresholds of the spiritual landscape that supports people to live in sustainable ways."
Those of us who comprise the Threshold 4 Change community, accepted an invitation to be the wedge. We've decided to hold the tension of this moment, be with one another and lean into new and challenging frameworks while navigating our personal lives through unprecedented times. For this, speaking on behalf of my co-initiating team, Joe Donofrio and Beth Gallagher, we thank you. We are grateful for your commitment to being wedges in these times of disruption, holding open cracks of light. Our hopes and intentions for this community were to make space for humans interested in beginning a process of deep listening, conversation and action to affect sustainable, systemic change throughout the state of California. First convening over several months in order to settle in, build relationships, present and hold us with our chosen framework of Theory U and finally to form Local Hubs across the state...carrying forth the energy and wisdom harvested from Threshold 4 Change into our local communities through prototyping and action.
However, if we move too quickly, we lose a hold of this space of opportunity. We watched the 1st in a series of three video messages from Terry Chapman "From Reaction to Response" where Terry invited us to ponder a few questions. "Who are our teachers, our allies?" Here we give pause and reflect on those already in our lives we look to for guidance and support. "Where and who is our community and how can we deepen this community?" I would like to think, for this initiative, we are each other's community. Threshold 4 Change continues to grow and deepen in our understanding of each other, providing a foundation of strength as we walk this path together. And finally, "What are my practices that help me stay grounded during these times of disruption?" Here Terry encourages us all to remember we all need to stay grounded, leaning into our practices, whatever they may be. Stay focused on keeping ourselves right, first and foremost, if we are to be effective collectively in this endeavor. (For more about Terry Chapman, visit https://centerforpurposefulleadership.com/)
Using this message as our conversation starter for our first gathering in June, we spent time orienting ourselves to the process of being with one another, in a safe and vulnerable space. I recall a feeling of warmth and openness. I recall seeing faces familiar and new, each beaming with a sense of connection to this movement and to each other. We left our time together in a state of wonder and uneasiness, not truly knowing what was to come, but trusting in the process and the framework guiding us along the journey.
Theory U and the Presencing Institute (www.presencing.org) have had a huge impact on the T4C Co-Initiating team. With full hearts, we hold this framework with you as a means of guiding us through the process of real change.
Theory U offers a stark contrast to the ways groups of people have attempted to affect change for centuries. It first calls for us to stop, slow down and Observe. (For a refresher of Theory U, check out https://www.lifeworks-sls.com/post/a-learning-journey-to-berlin-the-presencing-institute-and-theory-u). Remember the wedge. The pressure great, the urge to move, yet we are called to stay still and just observe. Observe the genesis of such pressure. What is the directionality of the pressure? The angles? Who are the players? What am I observing in myself? Otto Scharmer asks us to "Bend the beam of observation upon ourselves" as a first step...not a step, really. Rather an individual intention to create space for us to be still.
We heard from Terry Chapman once again, unpacking Theory U as he understands it, in this clip titled "Curiosity, Compassion, Courage." Terry frames curiosity, compassion and courage as elemental antitheses to the 3 Voices Otto Scharmer reminds us need attending. These are the Voice of Judgment, the Voice of Cynicism and the Voice of Fear.
Scharmer refers to the antitheses as having an Open Mind, Open Heart and Open Will. We must suspend the Voice of Judgment if we are to have an Open Mind. We must redirect the Voice of Cynicism if we are to have an Open Heart. We must let go the Voice of Fear if we are to have an Open Will. While we found ourselves in the early phase of this initiative, we found ourselves with little motion and lots of stillness. Stillness providing us an opportunity to observe where we are as individuals and slowly observing where we are as a community of people from all over the state. We've had to let go of things in our lives that have proven to be non-essential...both personally and professionally. Partially as a means of survival. Survival in the midst of a pandemic is enough. Survival as a 'normal' way of life, as citizens living in communities and neighborhoods, is unacceptable. Yet, too often when sitting in meetings about people, reading reports about people, developing plans about people, we lose sight of the human being we are meeting 'about'...instead of 'with'. This is a structural issue and it is pervasive throughout our system. We perpetuate the cycle of survival for the System on the backs of people 'surviving' whom we are called to 'serve'. What is required is a complete and total paradigm shift, an understanding that all of us, yes all of us, this Threshold 4 Change community, comprise the System. We are the System we set out to change. Our first challenge is to "bend the beam" back onto ourselves and affect change within through letting go of archaic patterns of thought and routines. We find the capacity for change in our stillness.
Where We Are Now
This poem by Shel Silverstein (one of my favorite writers) brings to light the importance of the Invitation. It is quite likely that all of us here identify as one of these: a dreamer, a wisher, a liar...a hope-er, a prayer a magic bean buyer...and yes, some of us may feel like pretenders.
A critical element, too often missing, which connects us all, is the Invitation. A simple, yet profound gesture. Human beings are hard-wired for connection. When we accept an invitation to deepen our connection with each other, we step into new possibilities. We begin to hear each others' stories in ways we have precluded ourselves from hearing. We've been in stillness with each other for the past several weeks. Sensing from one another a shared energy. Through letting go of our roles and labels, we find ourselves leveling the social field we all comprise...to a shared humanity and shared experience. Is this not our intention? Speaking on behalf of the T4C Co-Initiating team, it is certainly our intention. We believe to affect any sort of meaningful and lasting change, we've got to have an understanding of one another as human beings first. Did we invite everyone here intentionally holding a myriad of labels within our System in California? Yes. Now that we have been working through the U process, are we asking to Let Go of these labels? Yes.
When we see and sense in each other that our collective stillness can and will cultivate a collective energy of change, we can move forward together in lock-step. Our welcoming, valuing and understanding of each others' stories provides the foundation for the deepening of relationships. Relationships are the threads necessary to hold together the fabric of this work. We are weaving these threads together to create the magic carpet we will ride together as we harness and harvest our collective wisdom and crystallize our journey moving forward.
We were invited to watch the third video in Terry Chapman's series as a means of pushing the energy forward of thinking and pondering our "golden thread of purpose" along with those golden threads of the humans we have connected with in Threshold 4 Change.
You can click on this link to see the video again. For some reason, it wouldn't embed like the other two. Alas, we are flexible, and we move on.
Terry asks us: "Who will listen me into being?" I love this question. When we find ourselves at the bottom of the Theory U journey, in Presencing, we are still with what we are sensing...present to what we want to emerge in the future. Embodying our highest future self, our highest future potential, as our personal sherpa through the mountains of systems change. We cannot do this alone. We need each other. So where we've been and where we find ourselves now, is a magical place.
We've observed ourselves and each other. We've let go of non-essential elements of our lives and work. We've been, and are now, in stillness...both individually and collectively. Now we begin to Crystallize our journey.
Theory U calls us to slow down dramatically from our normal operating procedure. If you think about the path we've been walking, it's been since May. An acceptance of an Invitation to be a part of this initiative. It is October. Five months later, we are just now getting to a place of action. Months of slowing, deepening, understanding and sharing. We find ourselves Crystallizing our journey together as we matriculate up the right side of the U process toward Prototyping. I've alluded to this previously in sessions together: Joe, Beth and I went through the U process to end up with this Prototype...Threshold 4 Change. We had been observing ourselves and each other within the System for years. With the pandemic hitting, and in separate stillness, Joe sent out his invitation and we accepted. We all now walk together in the U process, embedded in Threshold 4 Change, our Crystallized vision and Prototype.
Where Are We Going?
Our collective Prototype with Threshold 4 Change will be the creation and cultivation of Local Hubs. What is a Local Hub? The idea of a Local Hub derives from Hubs within the Presencing Institute, specifically around U.labs: "A hub is any physical or online space, organized around a shared context such as a place or interest, where u.lab participants come together to learn and co-create, using the frameworks and methods offered through the course. Hubs are helping people to translate insights into action, as well as co-creating with others." ~The Presencing Institute
In the context of Threshold 4 Change, we've created a state-wide network of support. Moving forward, T4C will remain as a place for us to connect and hold each other up. We will convene periodically to check in with each other and to share and listen to stories of prototypes happening all over the state...launched from our Local Hubs. We wanted to harness the energy from across the state, introduce and deepen an understanding of Theory U as a framework to utilize in our local communities as a means of affecting systems change. The invitation now is to take this framework, form a Local Hub and hold space for innovation and change.
Watch this clip from Otto Scharmer for a jumping off point:
Otto Scharmer frames the creation of a good hub in 3 anchor points:
Clarifying Intention: As a hub host, what are my intentions? What are the questions I want to explore? What are the intentions of the group and questions we want to collectively explore.
Be comfortable with the unknown: What we know to be true having worked with Theory U over the years, is there will always be an energy of uneasiness. Our default is to want to know what to do, what is happening, etc. Trust the process. We've all walked through the U journey together with T4C. In our local hubs, we will walk through the unknown together.
Facilitation: What Scharmer speaks of here is the need for a facilitator or facilitators, within the local hub. Depending on the size of the group, or who is in the room, graceful facilitation is critical. Remember the Levels of Listening we introduced on our second call. When we can hold space for Level 3 Empathic Listening and Level 4 Generative Listening, we have opportunities for creating foundations strong enough to bolster effective prototypes.
Logistical Info for Local Hubs
Size and Location: This is entirely up to you. As Scharmer points out, it can be a handful of friends in a living room, or a larger group of colleagues in a public space. The important thing is to make it work for you and your hosting team. Don't feel like you need to Host alone...find co-hosts. Perhaps some are on this T4C journey in your local community as well.
How Often Do We Convene: Again, this is up to you. At first, it may be that you meet less often as you lean into the U process of slowing down...orienting people to the process. Holding the questions and setting intentions. As you move along, you will sense what the group is feeling and figure out a rhythm to the frequency of your gatherings.
Support: Joe, Beth and I are here to support the Local Hubs in any way we can. If you have questions, or are bogged down, you can reach out to us via email or through the Mighty Networks platform. Lean on each other. We have a community of people on this initiative with a wide-array of experience working with the Theory U framework. Be OK with not knowing all the answers...it's more important to hold space for the questions. Take your time.
On-Going Communication: The Mighty Networks platform has the capacity for us to create sub-networks. These are the Local Hubs. This gives us the opportunity to stay connected and see what all the Local Hubs are doing across the state. You can pose questions and thoughts as you do already on the larger platform.
Here is a clip from Katie Stubley, a hub host in Western Australia:
So we find ourselves in the T4C journey Crystallizing our collective Prototype...Local Hubs. We've been introduced to and have deepened our understanding of Theory U as a framework for change. We have spent time sending out invitations to connect with allies in this community through the sharing of our stories. We are tending to the soil of our relationships with each other, nurturing and valuing our stories as human beings living a shared experience. We truly do share something in common. Our humanity. It is in our shared humanity, a place where we drop all labels, where see each other as friends, supporters and allies.
I leave you with another reminder by way of this short video...an example of how connected we really all are, even if we aren't aware of it. This journey is about awareness. It is about awareness-based collective action. Let's be awake to the notion we all share in this journey...collectively awake to the notion that we are indeed at a Threshold 4 Change.