Today I facilitated a very hard meeting for a group. As a long-time facilitator, using a Quaker-style model of facilitation funneled through 30 years of learning about community in the bioregional movement, I have a lot of experience and training to draw upon, but that doesn’t mean that I necessarily know what I’m doing, or what to do moment by moment, but then again, such is the nature of hard meetings.
While it would violate confidentiality to go into details, I can say that like happy families, which are all alike (according to Tolstoy), hard meetings tend to be alike too. There is usually a conflict impossible one to resolve without hurting someone or everyone, disagreeing on the main focus of the group or the group’s whole identity or any number of other layers upon layers of challenges. There’s no clear road map, and sometimes you even can hardly tell if you’re driving through thick fog, an ice storm, too close to an active volcano or too far from home.
At such moments, I try to listen as deeply as I can to what people are saying, and I look at their eyes, watch their posture and gestures, not because I’m suspicious, but because of the opposite: I have faith in them to convey possibilities and directios. Going on what my facilitation mentor, Caroline Estes, says about how each of us holds a piece of the truth, and that together, we compose the group wisdom, I open my heart, eyes and mind to divining whatever I can from those present. After all, intuition is only a fancy word for paying attention.
I also listen to the space. Today, we met outside, which was lovely because the wind rose and wrapped around some of our quiet moments and also some of what was said, reminding us that we’re not alone. In this respect, I sometimes, like today, asked for moments of silence (sometimes in such moments, we hold hands and breathe together, and sometimes we just listen to the space between and around us).
Facilitating hard meetings sometimes means ambling into the land of miracles, but mostly, it’s harder going. Often, the meeting needs spaciousness and time to hold the hot and weighty anger, sadness, betrayal, frustration and other tricky emotions that are part and parcel of any group trying to do anything over the long term (and sometimes even for the short term). I believe very much in the power of witnessing: of listening to what’s being said, doing what I can to encourage others in the group to witness fully and let themselves be witnessed fully. Just hearing what the issues and emotions are is rarely enough, but it’s a helluva good start and the only way to aim toward some kind of grace, clarity, and gumption.
“The only way out is through” — or so goes a favorite song of mine sung by Lui Collins, and hard meetings are that line illustrated in depth. So today I did what I could to hold the space: I breathed with people, I asked clarifying questions, I tried to name and mirror what was being shared, and I stayed with the pain and discomfort, particularly related to not knowing what would happen. I asked the wind for help, and the wind responded.
And when it was over, I got in the car with Ken and immersed myself in “Men in Black III,” a great counter stretch to the hard meeting, but then again, stopping alien attacks on earth is usually far easier to figure out than living, working and changing the world with a handful of other humans. The courage people bring to hard meetings, and the willingness to stay and go through the underground tunnels and twisting trails inspires me, however, even more than Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith.