Grueling, exhausting and a never ending seesaw is how the 12 participants of the week long writing retreat I facilitated at the beginning of this month describe 2016. “Please help us find a way to reflect on the year, make sense of it somehow and find a way to focus on our writing” they asked.
What was your year like? Do you want a fun and meaningful way to make sense of it for you?
On the Wednesday morning before breakfast I offered to facilitate an embodied reflection process with reflecting on and making sense of 2016 as strategic intent SNE style. Here I will share with you what we did and give you a way to do it yourself at home. You may also like to try it with a group. Finally I will offer you a version of the same exercise using drawing, rather than embodiment for people who prefer this medium or do not have the luxury of space just now.
Setting up a space
Find a room or section of garden where you will be left alone for the next 30 min or so. A place with a variety of pieces of furniture or rocks and benches and grass is ideal. This space will represent the landscape of 2016 for you. We used a large round thatched roof hut designated as workshop space at Kufunda Village outside Harare, Zimbabwe, where the writing retreat was held. The neat circle of chairs you see now in the picture were grouped arbitrarily around the space, e.g. one on the platform in front, others turned on their sides or standing seat to seat and covered with a blanket. The idea was to create a variety of structures to work with.
Kufunda Village is a learning community 13km from Harare Zimbabwe. It is a self sustaining collective where they farm organic grains. They also run participative leadership workshops, a Waldorf primary school and are open to visitors for workshops and conferences when they are not running their own courses. I was there facilitating a writing workshop for 4 days with 11 members of the SLOW Art network – SLOW is for ‘The Social Life of Waste’.
Transitioning into play
Four participants came for the session and I invited them to move around the space getting used to its new configurations.
“Imagine that the whole space is immersed in a mist – a mist that has settled on your memories of 2016. Let’s whoosh the mist away and out of all the little spaces and hollows.”
We used our arms and voices to whoosh the mist away, Large and loud whooshing for open spaces and small delegate whooshes for blowing it out of narrower spaces, moving our bodies and hands low on the ground or high in the air. The process helped us explore the space as well as warm up our bodies. It also switched on our imaginations and engaged our play muscles.
Into the open experimentation phase
I explained that I will name different kinds of moments that they may have experienced during the year. For each moment I would invite them to find an appropriate spot in the room and place their bodies in a position that expresses that moment for them. There would be 5 such moments and we would place them one by one on the 2016 landscape that is the room.
Typical SNE style, I designed these moments with the mythic structure of story in mind. However, I am mindful of the fact that these moments may not follow one after the other for each individual.
The moments I chose were as follows:
- A moment of being called to a higher purpose, where you experienced an inner tug (relating to a call to adventure in the hero’s journey).
- A moment of conflict, doubt or confusion (relating to the uncertainty and doubt on the threshold as you cross into the world of adventure in the mythic structure).
- A moment of complete ordinariness, even slog (relating to the tedium of the journey and the continuous small trials and tests).
- A moment of unexpected joy, surprise or reward (relating to the reward that follows the ordeal).
- A moment of utter despair, loss or defeat (relating to the moment of death and sacrifice present).
Note: I did not mention in the workshop that these moments relate to the mythic structure of stories. It is just mentioned here for those of you who are interested in the design aspects of workshop processes in general and in the lens of Strategic Narrative Embodiment (SNE) in particular.
Why these moments? Why five?
I picked moments that were diverse in energy and spread across the mythic journey landscape. I chose five because I find that is the maximum amount of moments a brain can hold without getting muddled and needing a script of some kind as reminder. As it is, people might still get muddled, so you can let them mark their spots in the room with sticky notes. You can use them yourself in a private version of this too.
Here is how I facilitated the process
You can follow along:
1. Plotting the moments
Find moment one: being called to a higher purpose – an inner tug. Then breathe into it three times. With each in breath you imagine that your body is a mould and you are pouring soft plaster-of-paris or cement into the mould. With each out breath it hardens allowing you to cast this moment in time. Once you have done three breaths, climb out of the sculpture and look back on it. Climb back in to see if you can find the position again and then climb out and begin walking through the space once more.
Repeat with moments two and three: (a moment of conflict, doubt or confusion and one of complete ordinariness or slog).
I did this with the first two moments and then we were joined by two more participants. I told them what we were doing and named the third moment, letting them come in at this point. Now we went back and rehearsed the first three moments up till now. I would have done this even if we did not have new arrivals, but as it happened this gave them a chance to catch up.
Go back to each of the three moments and pause in each one by one. As you do, order the moments chronologically in time as they happened during the year. Repeat the sequence and find a flowing movement from one to the other to the next.
One participant asked: “What if the moments slide into each other and reoccur more than once in the year?” I answered that they are free to repeat moments or find a way to move through the sliding.
Play with it.
Once you had established the pattern of chronology you want, introduce moment 4: A moment of unexpected joy, surprise or reward. Breathe into it as before and then slot it into the flow of time. Finally add the fifth moment (one of utter despair, loss or defeat) in the same way.
2. Playing with the journey
For the next few minutes I invite you to move through your sequence experimenting with different kinds of energy: high, light energy; slow, deliberate, heavy energy and any other kind you fancy to try. Continue with this until you run out of steam.
Finally, pick one last energy texture to play with, but instead of stopping at the fifth moment, move through the final moment in your sequence to the moment that might lay beyond it. This is where you rest and come to a stop. Repeat one more time.
If you are doing this process on your own, take a journal or paper and pen and write about the experience and what it was like for you, Set a timer and write nonstop for 5 to 10 minutes.
In the larger group, I waited until all had come to rest. Then I asked them to pair up and walk each other through their journeys. I explained that they can share as much or as little as they are comfortable with.
The process of moving beyond the final moment into what might lie beyond is already an integration move on the part of the design. However, complete the process in your own reflective writing: give this moment some thought and write a concluding sentence capturing the meaning of this moment for you.
In the group I invited participants to share in the large group what that moment was like and what it meant to them.
Here are some of the participants’ responses:
Louis: “It was rather insightful to me that my final moment was not what you might expect. My fifth moment was the moment of being defeated and instead of the sixth moment being one of breaking free, it was instead a moment of acknowledging that breaking out was not an option at the moment. Rather I should find a place of stillness amidst it all. I just stayed right here in a space of being.”
Johan: “Mine was no moment of acceptance or resolution. I still feel rather tired and caught in it all, though that might just be the hangover talking. I did find the courage to look up and consider new possibilities or perspectives.”
Ingrid: “I found it very emotional to revisit some of those moments, but in the end I found a way to let it go and move on from there. I don’t need to dwell in it anymore.
Ricardo: It was more than just a reflection, it was rather transformative.”
Zima: “I thought my year was just hard and difficult, but I discovered moments of joy that I had forgotten.
Karel: This practice of being aware of where I am and considering what it might lead to is something I would like to try and do more of. I usually just let myself be in the moment without considering the bigger picture. I probably won’t use the body movement thing though.”
The same reflection as a drawing
If you feel like Karel did, you can happily replace the body movement with drawing. Take a piece of black paper as your landscape of 2016. Draw a feature of the landscape for each of the five. A mountain top for the moment of calling, a waterfall for confusion, a cave for defeat, etc. Now you can draw a path linking them chronologically. This represents the path you had walked this year. Take a pen and trace your steps as you walked this journey. Follow the pattern a few times, pausing at each moment and imagining yourself in that place on the landscape.
Finally move your pen to a sixth spot and draw what you think you may find there on the landscape: a tree? A spring?
Again, reflect by writing for 5 to 10 minutes.
Let me know what comes up for you as you do this exercise.