In order to create change in any system, we must first cultivate the capacity for change within ourselves, and change requires practice.
Our core practices of Awareness, Story, Dialogue, Creativity, and Working with Difference are central to the work we do at CWC – internally and externally. They support us in remembering, envisioning and creating a more just future.
A little background on what we mean by, and why we prioritize practice.
Our capacity to be present and in relationship with people who see the world differently than we do, to act in alignment with our deepest values, or to work through challenging issues together—all call for our most alert, mindful presence.
The industrial consciousness or mindset that has created our current reality has some key characteristics that are deeply embedded in our work culture. It prioritizes efficiency over impact. Decisions are made top down. It is reductionist, which assumes a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts. It is linear – presuming a sequential progression of events – and it is competitive. Success is defined by growth and profit – money is the measure. This approach to building our economy and our infrastructure, cars, roads, bridges, and other important innovations has been incredibly effective. And yet, we have seen that unchecked, the impacts of this dramatic growth can be devastating to the very systems of life that we depend upon.
Mahatma Gandhi’s oft-repeated quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” sounds so simple, and yet it is one thing to know that we need to “be the change,” another to know that change is possible, and another still to make the changes that are required of us. This is where practice comes in. If we are to begin to transform ourselves, to change at the deepest level, we need to know our own mind. We need to cultivate awareness moment by moment, so that we can begin to create new pathways in our brains, new ways of being in relationship — to those we live and work with, to the way we live and work, and to the natural world.
In all of our engagements at Center for Whole Communities, we bring in various forms of what we call awareness practice — which, depending on the faculty member who is leading that retreat, might be sitting or walking meditation, Qi Gong or Tai Chi, or perhaps the process of becoming aware of our own energy and connecting it with the world around us. All of these and many other practices cultivate awareness, or what psychologist Daniel Siegel calls “mindsight,” the ability of the mind to perceive what the mind is doing. Our capacity to be present and in relationship with people who see the world differently than we do, to act in alignment with our deepest values, or to work through challenging issues together—all call for our most alert, mindful presence.
Overcoming the fragmentation in our culture and in our movements for environmental and social change will require leadership from each of us that prioritizes the well-being of the whole community. We need to lift our heads out of our various trenches as we “battle” to save the planet, and step out of our fighting stance into relationship. We need to tend in a holistic way to the people and places we care deeply about.
In the last 25 years, we [dominant forms of western culture] have begun to explore different approaches to addressing our industrial and technological challenges, looking to nature as model to design everything from water pumps to house paint. And yet we have only scratched the surface of how we might learn from nature as we design our organizations. The key barrier to applying the brilliance we find in nature to human systems is ourselves. It is our own habits of mind that are creating conditions not conducive to life on the planet. It may be too late to turn the tide on climate change, but it is not too late to transform ourselves – not too late to cultivate radical change in our lives and work.
CWC Core Practices
Helps develop our capacity for deep listening and insight. It allows us to see our own patterns, the first step to creating change. Includes practices such as sitting meditation; yoga; walking meditation; mindful speech; breath awareness; embodied awareness; awareness of triggers, labyrinth walking, etc.
How we use awareness practice in our work
In our organizational work this often is as simple as mindful check ins to begin meetings, or designing meetings/retreats with more spaciousness and creativity. Working with agreements that support self-awareness through paying attention to intention and impact. Slowing down to learn, reflect and integrate. Simple but important work, this practice allows for subtle and sometimes not so subtle shifts. We cultivate the understanding and the importance of an individual leader’s capacity to be present and aware of their own mental/emotional/spiritual states as they do their work, and then support that with the practices outlined below.
Stories change the way we act in the world. They help us, our colleagues and partners imagine the future differently. At CWC, story-centered practices includes Story Circle; listening for story in dialogues; developing story prompts; creating environments that facilitate sharing of story; gathering collective stories; etc.
How we use the power of Story in our work
Story is often skipped over as a method for connection and change-making. Indigenous cultures are steeped in story – it is how they share the meaning of relationship, of our place in the cosmos. Story is essential to being human – we make meaning through our stories. We bring attention to the power of story in our work and community environments – and while many understand this inherently, it is rarely practiced in organizations. Each time we convene a group we invite the practice of story – through introductions that ask deeper questions, in order to tell of successes and challenges that we have learned from, in order to understand who we are in our differences, and our oneness. Tell us a story about… in this way we invite leaders to show up in the space as themselves first and foremost. Through this practice we weave connection and strength that supports us in the challenging work of interrupting old and destructive patterns. Story cultivates the ground of change.
Conscious Conversation lies at the heart of Dialogue. It slows down the speed of engagement by employing deeper levels of listening. Council Circle, Claremont Dialogues, Bohmian Dialogue, and dialogue dyads are some methodologies we use.
How we use Dialogue in our work
We practice techniques around conscious conversation in our retreat settings and in our coaching and program design work. Conscious conversation brings awareness practice into a collective experience. Again, a slowing down is created to make space for new insights, and voices that are often marginalized or silent in the rapid-fire discussions that dominate many dynamic work environments.
Working With Difference
Means reaching across all aspects of difference in order to see and hear one another so that true collaboration and innovation are possible. Includes exercises around earned and unearned privilege; identity; observing relationships between difference and power; identifying and valuing differences that increase capacity; using caucusing along identity lines, and cultivating skills for alliance building.
We bring this practice in last here, not because it is least important, but because we believe it is all of the practices we outline above that make it possible to navigate the sometimes difficult terrain of working with difference.
Working Across Differences in our work
The human mind seeks connection and affirmation and we often find it with the people around us who reflect our beliefs and experiences – those who think and believe as we do. Whole Thinking in Practice recognizes that it is the diversity in our ecosystems and human systems that create resilience. We are whole as we are able to fully embrace and value our differences as sources of strength, and learn from those differences. It is hard to do when there are histories, wounds and fears that keep us from being vulnerable. Wholeness exists in all of us now. Coming together in that wholeness – amidst our brokenness – is what creates transformation.
Artwork credit: Crystal Clarity
Crystal Clarity is an Illustrator, Muralist and
Teaching Artist born, raised and based in New York City.
Her work serves and celebrates women of color and
communities of color. Her vibrant organic urban styles
merge the intersections of culture, gender, spirit and
city life. Working in a variety of mediums from pencil to
paintbrush on anything from bristol to brick walls,
her work can be found on contour-cut plywood, canvas,
or covering the side of a building in any one of
the inner city boroughs.
Art by Alixa Garcia