Archive for the ‘Art used for Change’ category

Through The Earth

May 19, 2021

May 2021 – I’ve just taken part in a “Writing Through The Earth” course with the esteemed Lightweaver, Bhavana Nissima.

Hers is as much a personal development workshop as a writing workshop. Bhavana puts our attention on what she calls ‘de-colonizing’ our writing – letting go of the ‘shoulds’ and even of the audience. She elicits our own reactions to our own writing. Her metaphor of the process of writing is: a tilling of the soil, and then a planting of seeds for the next cycle.

I’ve so enjoyed being with 11 other AMAZING women writers – all in India – who also are seeking their own next growth edge.

The assignments were word count restricted and the in-class ones were time boxed to 10 or 15 minutes. The constraints were so useful to get the unedited thinking on paper.


That act of recovery, the walking, it helps in so many ways. Today you took that walk to see what you could see about grief in nature :  the trunk choked up by the invasive ivy, the tree branch that was barren of leaves, and seemingly dead.  But you kept on walking and looking, past those reminders.  And then you recalled that you don’t need reminders, that the grief bits are as much part of you as the sap of the tree is the life of the tree.  And you realized that its okay to feel your blood flow again, to acknowledge your aliveness rather than bury your grief where no one can see it – which you had done.

Oh yes, the positive you on the outside, showing all the progress, while hiding the reality in replies to the comments, that many fewer people would see.  


You wrapped the gift of yourself in 58 years of courageous toil and birthing. That energy bundled, that time spent unseen: now look, see, and jump for joy with your newly signed and stamped lease. You can dance and tango with all your energy released – that ribbon untied. 

Lift yourself out of your limits; rise up that inch and a half taller that you are. And…  bend down to your grand-nephew – to see him where he is.  Hone now the skill of connection, in your late years glory and new-found peace.

Glow in all that the sun grants you. Soak in your vitamins, hydrate your soul, bathe in the smells of the spices you now have at hand.  Love all humbly, yourself mostly.

At My Birth (In My Mother’s Voice)

I looked up and saw the doctor there – that white coat (aging, I thought) and hadn’t I just been about to give birth?
And his advice, I later conveyed to my over-the-ocean needy parents – needlessly needing to know everything – was that: This nut-infested-loony-old-school-unshaven-squirrel – darting in and out of hospital rooms – as he talked-at-me-through-me and drowned-out-my-gut-instinct: “That I should not breast feed. It would be too hard on me after the C-Section.”

Generation 0 – Immigration

Wiping, vacuuming – and this: identically uniformed 
To – what – take away their uniqueness?
Make them unidentifiable for the tips?
Shining car tires, back breaking work
Yet, TipCash into the communal tip jar  – who divvies it up? The owners?

Then there is Kim’s.  Kim’s Tailor.
That’s what the sign says and the Yelp reviews are stellar
Like the car wash, efficient, designed to please the tech-politician-lobbyist-monied.
On the wall: famous politicians. Mr. Kim wears dress trousers, perfectly starched shirt.
Whirring, clicking, stopping, whoosh –  sewing-machine-workers laboring.
How long to build a reputation, put kids through college?


I got up to leave. The shoes first.  Then my little tote backpack.
What did I need – well that’s the wallet, the journal, the glasses, maybe water. It depends.
Glancing outside – what weather? Opens the Juliet balcony slider door and senses…

Ah that’s a wear-layers-weather.  Got me the layers.  Then the what ifs… what if I want to read along the way?
Where will I go? The mask, the keys, and then out the door, glancing back at the un-soaked beans. Goes back in, soaks them.

Down, down down, step by step, thinking of backtracking my thoughts – so many – flowing all morning.
Not flowing, bumbling about – the plant lights, the bean soak, the tweet about spatial data cubes of the future affecting the way we live, drive, see each other – down the road, yes, but still. I decided walking down, that yes, I would try to remember my thoughts as they come, and not let them flee. For if I had them, I had a reason for them, and if I let them go without being intentional about it, then I was not a good thought keeper….  Not even a housekeeper keeps everything, but surely they keep what they keep with a purpose.


Is aliveness
Is breath
Is eating
Is holding
Is feeling
Is listening
Is resting
Is beholding
Is praising
Is praying

Beyond the sleep
Beyond the dreams
Beyond the fields
Beyond the conscious
Beyond the sensory

In the heart
In the gut
In the mind
Out of one’s skin
Out in the world
Out to serve

A millisecond nod
A wink
A hope, and maybe a rope
A devotion
A lifetime connection
A weight lifted
A gift received
A hammock
A meal cooked
A celebration
A rite of passage
A letter received
A thank you
An effort seen

Sisters Care (or Sisters’ Care, or Sister’s Care)

That early morning plane ride, the last time she would ever be here. The goodbyes to my kids, the cajoling to get her up and into the car. This, until then, the hardest moment of my life.

Like a yank or a push – a different kind of birthing – birthing to give up – to un-shoulder my mother’s late life care – not autonomic like that strongest muscle of the human body – the uterus – but forced by some other mechanism I didn’t understand – guilt, shame, inadequacy, lack of support -some web of this culture which doesn’t allow for all the things we wish for but that somehow gets us to wish for everything.  I drove with an incredibly heavy heart, flew with anxiety tightly holding my sadness, sitting next to her, smelling her, listening to her repeat herself about going home, asking about the clouds. The clouds held us lightly as we navigated the unknown, alone together.

I could more easily get out the snarled tangled mess in my daughter’s long hair day after day than figure out the right way to support my mother in her state, my state, our state.   My mother’s Alzheimer was too far advanced – on the flight back I cried again that I couldn’t, uncontrollably.

My sister had said: bring her to me. You’ve done your part for years.
Let me take over now.

Temenos Retreat – A Journey of Change

April 23, 2012

View from Kayser Ridge log cabin


Temenos is a retreat experience created and inspired by the life work of Siraj Sirajuddin, who is also my personal coach. Siraj has been using the Temenos retreat format in his work with organizations that are undergoing change.  This past weekend a group of 5, including Siraj, headed up to Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, to beautiful mountaintop log cabin called Kayser Ridge that is used throughout the year for various sorts of retreats.  The group itself was not formerly connected through a work setting – we had all chosen to join in this experience to 1.) Learn Siraj’s techniques for facilitating group change through experiencing them as a group and 2.) Explore our own life journey and our own dreams and visions for the future of our individual work

Backing up a bit, let me explain a bit about the concept of this retreat. Temenos means container in Greek.  The container can be thought of in this context as the space, energy and interactions created between people. A marriage is a container. A group at work is a container. A set of people on a retreat is a container. Just use your imagination to think of all the containers you step into and out of in your daily work.  The significance and usefulness of this concept lies in the acknowledgement and respect given to the container while contributing to the development of its potential.  What I mean by this is that by ‘naming’ and using the word ‘container’, we have consciously acknowledged that we are more than loosely networked individuals – we have purpose as a group and goals to reach.  While we are in the container, we give our full attention to its purpose and growth.

As a change agent sharing this technique, Siraj both observes the container and participates within the container. Siraj moved in and out of these two roles, guiding the container and modeling the techniques for us to practice and learn.  On the retreat, Siraj was mostly inside the container – as he modeled the activities and responded to others as a participant, but at times he would stop us and say he was stepping outside the container to give us the meta-level view of what he was observing about our container. As a change agent, practicing the meta-level view of observation of course requires an extra level of thinking and abstraction. And even purely just as a participant, the listening required during the entire weekend (11 or 12 hours each day) was intense.

A short blog can’t possibly do justice to the experience of the Temenos retreat. However, I would like to share some of the techniques and learnings.

Check In

This was our ‘entry’ mechanism – a familiar round of introductions by each member of our group. We shared briefly our inspiration for coming and hopes for the session.


Siraj gave an introduction to the timeline for our work and introduced us to his big-picture model for change agency. Suffice it to say that within the introductory framework, there was something called Personal Vision. To achieve personal vision, one starts by creating an Influence Map, which we did next.

Influence Maps

Influence Maps are pictorial representations of our life stories. Each person independently reflects and draws the events of his or her life that they feel compelled to share. The maps can be depicted in any way and with text if desired. When everyone is done, we take turns telling our life stories. Each person in our retreat took 1.5 to 2 hours for the sharing portion, including time for some open questions at the end.  You have to experience this to know – but what happens is that a web of incredible emotional, intellectual, and social connections is built between all the members of the container. We found not only during this exercise, but emanating from this exercise over the course of the weekend, that connection points between us spanned experiences of pain, growth, struggles, places, relationships, and much more. One person commented at the end:  ‘It is absolutely riveting to realize how little we know about other people.’

After completing the maps, we stepped outside the container to briefly record our learning from this exercise. I noticed

  • Listening is a form of respect and is an art and a discipline.
  • Influence Maps involves intense storytelling of a very personal nature. These create empathy hooks between people and connect the space between the members of the container.
  • Small changes in awareness of the person that sits opposite you have a large impact on how you interact with them in the present and the future.
  • Later presentations are more intense – I believe this is due to the slow build of safety in the container – that people feel more able to share more about their past and think of things they might not have initially depicted on their own maps. I like to say of this phenomenon: ‘the connections become thicker’.

Clean Slate

The next exercise we did was Clean Slate. Clean Slate is an essential element of the change process. It combines a look back over your past and a hard look at the present. So here is how it works. Each person answers first this question: How have, in the past, one or more of the ‘container’ systems you have been in failed you? You answer this with 5 or 6 examples and then continue with answering this question: How have you failed these container systems? The group reassembles and shares the results… This process clears the air through acknowledgement and forgiveness and allows you to move into a better pattern. In some organizations Siraj has coached, the organization has benefitted from this cleansing activity so much that they have implemented variants of ‘Clean Slate’ on a regular basis (similar to say a retrospective) with incredible success.  My learning from this section was entirely related to the second question and how it interplays with the dysfunctions described in my answers to the first question. I was able to explore my own accountability as a player in the ‘containers’ that I perceived as having failed me.

Personal Vision

After Clean Slate, we went on to draw our Mandalas. Mandalas are picture/symbolic representations of our future. How do we see our personal future in a  picture without words?  Each drew and we followed with presentation, comments and feedback. At this point, the container was so resilient and comfortable for everyone that I sensed a vested interest by each participant in the future vision of each other person. This aspect of the retreat was extremely intense for that reason.  As a group that had JUST come together, that did not know each other well, we were able to bond over the network of shared past-history story elements to appreciate fully the future visions and positive outcomes for each other.

Compelling Shared Vision

The next step break up into pairs to create a picture of our Compelling Shared Vision. In an organization this would pertain to the organizational container represented by the people doing the drawing. In our case, we paired with people we knew from our retreat without an organizational context, but we still came up with amazing shared visions of a future that we might support each other with. We brought forth all those shared personal connections from the Influence Maps to weave a new tapestry for the future. These maps combined the personal and the shared into one.  It was a little hard to get started since we are not related to each other through a work environment, but we did achieve beautiful shared visions anyway. Each team of two shared its drawing and explained it to the others. We ran out of time to then create a shared Mandala which would have represented our more global shared vision for all four of us. You can imagine how this might be useful with an executive leadership group in an organization.  This was very powerful sharing and visioning.

At this point day 2 was almost over and some people had to leave early. We wrapped up by exploring the process of ‘exiting’ a container and re-entering a different container. Based on the changes we experienced in our ‘retreat’ container, how would entering back into our ‘family’ containers be difficult or different and how would we ease that process.  This discussion helped us understand the impact of change on the surrounding environments and how other containers could benefit from our changes, but only if respecting the new (container) – the one we were entering back to.  My take away from this and the whole weekend in general was that the web and sphere of influence is complex. It is an interaction of containers with each other, of a container with its participants, and of the participants with each other within a container. All of these interactions are dynamic and changing over time and over space.

We also covered some more advanced concepts of Siraj’s work:

  • attributes of a container (too many to mention and we only covered the surface of each)
  • typical archetypes (influencers in service of the container) in organizations


We each checked out by summarizing our appreciations to each person and wondering how we would absorb all of this into our professional and personal lives. It is really the beginning of a fascinating journey of change.  We will stay in support of each other and reconnect through social media.

To my fellow participants, thanks for a wonderful experience!

To readers who want another participant’s view of this retreat, please read this blog by Peter Stevens, Scrum Coach and Trainer!