while the form and formalities of convening
may vary over time and
because of the human vessels
that embrace it and carry it forward
the foundation of good practices
and good intentions will remain
as long as there are those of us who remember
always to speak from our hearts
without preconceived notions or ideologies
and to create opportunities
for others to do the same
In this tweeting, texting world, I find myself wondering whether the art of real and connective conversation will be lost like other great human skills that have become obsolete, such as navigating by starlight or starting a fire using only dried sticks, or tending to a vegetable garden in our own backyard.
To find ways to counteract this trend, I have spent years training in and practicing the Art of Convening™. This is a process developed by Craig and Patricia Neal and expanded upon in their book by the same name. It outlines in detail a particular way of gathering together in community that allows our individual and collective wisdom to emerge in the spaciousness of a time and place that is purposefully created by certain procedures and rituals. These groups may be made up of like-minded or diverse participants, friends or strangers, colleagues or competitors. They often span many other differences as well, including age, sex, culture, interests, and expertise. For me, the great AHA! was witnessing a method that offered a surer path to deep and meaningful connection.
What creates a cohesive whole is, first and foremost, the intention to develop this sense of unity, and, secondly, a series of specific rituals and practices designed to establish a container of safety and acceptance that allows all voices to be respectfully heard.
The result is both magical and moving as well as practical and powerful.
Here is one simple practice based on a process used in the Art of Convening™: First, offer a sincere invitation to those you would like to join you in a circle gathering. Once you are all together, sit in a circle and place a lit candle in the center to evoke the image of a campfire as a reminder of the way our ancestors gathered since time immemorial. To ensure the full engagement of each participant, take time to invite each person’s support and wisdom through a ritual that is sometimes referred to as stringing the beads. In this ceremony, you ask each participant to imagine that every person present is a unique and precious bead, and your voices are the string that will link you together into one beautiful necklace. This process, which is based on many ancient traditions that respect the value of deep listening and heartfelt speaking, allows every voice to be heard.
Now ask an inviting question like, “What’s alive in you right now?” Allow each participant to take a turn speaking without interruption. If you need to limit the amount of time each person speaks due to time constraints, use a timer and gently ring a bell or chime as a reminder when their time allotment is coming to an end. Instruct them to say, “I have spoken” or “these are my words” as a way to ensure that they have been allowed to fully express their thoughts. The listeners respond with “Thank you” or “I have heard your words.” When all the voices have been heard, open up the circle for further conversation and expansion on the thoughts expressed.
Margaret Wheatley, one of my favorite thought leaders, wrote a book titled Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future. As the title so eloquently suggests, our best hope for the future lies in our ability to turn to one another with curiosity and respect. With whom might you be drawn to do this now?