How imperfect circumstances led me to give voice to what was inside and create space for all
I arrived in Montreat, North Carolina for our Artisans of Peace gathering later than I would have liked. Everyone else had arrived by Thursday afternoon and gathered to share dinner that evening. Another commitment in Washington, DC, didn’t allow me to arrive until late Thursday evening.
Sitting on the plane, I thought about what was happening in Montreat. People were gathering from diverse places, meeting in person for the first time. I knew from experience that these first hours and encounters would be critical to setting the tone for the following five days of retreat. I felt a little pang in my side, a sense that I was missing something special. The airplane cruising south at 500 miles an hour didn’t seem fast enough.
I knew I carried significant responsibility for what was about to happen. As Program Director for unRival Network, I had shepherded the Artisans of Peace program launch. The group had been meeting virtually for eight months, and these coming days were what we’d all been working toward. I felt the positive energy and expectation in the group’s communications. All of our work is a team effort, and I knew my colleagues had everything in hand. Yet I still felt a deep responsibility for the work ahead.
Have I missed something critical?
When I arrived at the retreat center at 10:30 pm, it was clear that I had missed something. Although a few who had arrived from distant points had gone to bed, many were still sitting at the table, and the atmosphere was electric. I sat down among them with a reheated plate of food. Over the next few minutes, the group laughed several times, referencing something that had happened before my arrival. I felt distant as if I was hearing the laughter through a long hallway and a locked door.
Our unRival team had learned the power of these “gathering” spaces, what we call “threshold moments.” I’d learned to program and execute these moments. But most importantly, I’d learned how to feel them in the way that the body often feels true things.
As I lay in bed that night, thinking about the work ahead of me, I wondered if I’d missed something critical. I feared I might not be able to catch up.
As the group gathered the next morning, so much was right. The space looked out on a beautiful lake and the variegated spring green of the mountains. My colleagues had built a comfortable and inviting space and given attention to those little details that put people at ease.
On one level, I was at ease. But on another level, I was filled with doubt as I prepared to facilitate. Have I missed something critical? Can I catch up? Do I even belong? Am I good enough? I felt like all eyes were on me. A part of me wanted to summon a cheery bravado to jump into the work before us, ignoring these feelings in my body. But a deeper part of me resisted.
Putting doubts on a shelf
As we gathered in the circle, I focused on that deeper part of me. I slowed down and took a breath. I took time to notice the details of the room, those who shared it with me, and the looks of curiosity on their faces. I invited them into the uncomfortable task of looking at and noticing one another. I was marking a transition for the group and for myself. As I slowed, the tightly wound energy of fear and doubt deep down inside me began to relax.
Rather than hide what I felt, I chose to share my sense of having missed something critical. I voiced my sense of doubt. I acknowledged the task of facilitating as a holy act and my sense of insufficiency. As I voiced the words, I could feel the fears and doubts losing their power. I saw in the circle of people around me not judgment or revulsion but warmth and recognition. I noticed their own relaxation and the beginning of momentum in the room. My own muscles relaxed.
At that moment, I knew in my body what I’d cognitively known in my mind even before this threshold moment… they all had similar doubts about themselves and what they brought to the room. I invited all of us to set those doubts aside, to “put them on a shelf” and be present. I modeled this, imperfectly, with shaking hands.
Rudder moments, boldness, and vulnerability
Many years ago, a mentor noted how I’d shown up in a tense staff meeting with a comment that shifted the room’s energy. He called this a “rudder moment” that gently shifted direction and flow. That language has always stayed with me. I recognized that we’d just experienced a rudder moment. It would have never worked if I’d perceived myself as a subject and those in the room as an object. It only worked because I flowed with it myself, did the work myself, and allowed the moment to act upon me.
This decision to speak the feelings and set them aside gave others permission to do so as well. As we worked together over those five days, I saw each one of my fellow participants act with boldness and vulnerability. The ongoing honesty nurtured safe, nonrivalrous space for growth.
I come away from this experience reminded of how important brief moments of decision are. On the first morning of our retreat, I could have put aside my doubts and pushed forward with feigned confidence. I’m confident that the outcome would have been different. I’m glad I slowed down, breathed, and spoke what was in my heart. I’m glad that this created the space where others could do the same.
Want to learn more about how unRival Network and the Artisans of Peace program are disrupting rivalry and advancing the cause of justice and peace? Click here to access our free resource, Peace is Possible.
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