Angeles Arrien was a cross-cultural pioneer and mentor to thousands. Her seminal book Four Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary provides four elemental practices that have helped guide my learning journey about the habits of healthy communities. Angeles passed away on April 24th, 2014 and has been deeply missed. Read on to learn about four elemental practices that can inspire us to think about a more inclusive recovery from the pandemic and the healthy transformation of our society.
Right now, we are celebrating the first responders and health providers who are saving lives and the often underappreciated people providing essential services for those who can shelter in place. We are also seeing widespread need to connect more deeply when physically distanced and a superbloom of creative approaches to cultivating community. What can we do to support people’s ability to embrace new insights about how much we need each other as well as the hard evidence of the ways our society and communities have been weakened to the point of failure? To have “grateful seeing” about what we have, while understanding the waves of fear and anxiety that swirl in and around us?
The four practices identified by Angeles Arrien – an integration from indigenous cultures across the world – can be a resource to help us replenish ourselves and help us connect with our deeper selves and wisdom. In turn, we can apply these practices to creating the conditions that help community members make clearer sense together of longstanding complex challenges as well as some startling new opportunities. Even in the midst of the current loss of lives and livelihood, there is a concurrent readiness among many for new ways of seeing our collective capacity. To make sure such significant losses have not been not in vain, let’s start now to co-imagine and begin co-generating a more inclusive, abundant and sustainable future.
This moment asks us to wake up and be present to what is happening. In any circumstance, it requires great intention to bring more than our distracted multi-tasking selves or just our professional identity. Now, we are confronting such dynamic challenges without enough information to support our usual ways of coping, This is the time to acknowledge that our true power shows up when we come forward with our whole selves – connected to our breath, body and heart.
We each have a role to play in bringing forth a better future. We may be seduced by a storyline that someone else will fix the situation for us – but underneath that is a hunger to be of use and to know what is ours to do. We are being called to show up with all of ourselves, the wounds and fears and heartaches as well as the strengths we claim and the talents we’ve hidden.
Being present also means being aware of how we are responding to circumstances. With greater mindfulness, we increase our powers of observation and reduce our reactivity. People who are present are not just reacting to stimulus but developing an array of skillful responses to adapt to changing conditions. As Victor Frankl explains: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” By being present, we help ourselves and each other develop our “response-ability” to the situation in front of us.
Facilitator Practices: To help the community members you work with increase their ability to be present:
Many of the workplace leaders and public officials I work with have been trained to be suspicious of emotion. If one only hears outbursts of frustration, that feeds a perception that emotion is unhelpful and “unprofessional.” But listening for and understanding what has heart and meaning for a group or community provides the single most important clue to the essential energy that supports or blocks a path forward. Rather than being “superfluous,” what has deep meaning is essential information to understand our present situations.
We can pay attention to how we respond to the stories we tell ourselves and common narratives passed on in our culture. Which lift us up? Which make us feel “called to the occasion” of our larger destiny? Which ones leave us feeling depleted? Left out? Angry? The more we connect with our own interior and the interior of those around us, the more effective we are as facilitators. In most community settings, participants read our hearts rather than our facts to decide if they trust us. Let’s honor our right brains as well as left brains, our intuitive ways of knowing as well as our rational minds, our hearts as well as heads.
Facilitator Practices: To help the community members you work with increase their ability to pay attention to what has heart and meaning:
This practice is needed more than ever. Our current media and political systems might lead us to buy into the cynical view that we live in a post-fact society. Yet, there are absolutely real conditions that affect some or all of us, such as who is or isn’t able to get health care, what wages are paid for what kinds of jobs, levels of food insecurity or trends in air quality. We often hear challenges as problems that need to be solved by “others.” We may be quick to assign blame when responses fall short and have narrow understanding about the history and sources of the problem. Instead, we can help people look at multi-dimensional situations as objectively as possible and outline the systemic factors, current barriers as well as bright spots and opportunities. We can all listen better if we are not hearing a story that we need to “defend against” – or that makes us feel pressured into acting alone to “save” something. If we feel secure in our “enoughness,” we no longer need to tell stories that slant the facts to save face. There is a fundamental relief in speaking truth.
Facilitator Practices – To help the community members you work with increase their ability to tell and hear the truth without blame or judgment:
Our most positive path forward is going to be a co-creation that is informed by our mutual vision and intention. We may have a particular idea of what a better situation or better society would look like. As facilitators, we must remain open to the ideas of others, creating space for people to imagine their own visions for the future. Because the extent of the issues facing our communities and society can be vast and multi-dimensional, we cannot know all of the relevant dimensions and what needs to come forth. Being unattached to outcome does not mean that we don’t care. Instead it means that we have come to trust that there are additional perspectives, deeper insights and unexpressed energy and resources waiting to be invited to bloom. We can be informed – and often delighted -- by what appears.
Facilitator Practices – To help the community members you work with increase their ability to be open, but not attached, to outcome:
Whenever I approach an inflection point in my personal as well as professional life, I return to these four practices. Now, with an unprecedented global pandemic rearranging almost all of our assumptions about what makes for a healthy and sustainable society, I welcome your reflections about how these timeless principles and practices resonate for you.
Susan Stuart Clark, firstname.lastname@example.org