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Creating Flow

The Freedom To Be

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I was excited when I first went through the brochure of the Learning Societies Unconference. For two reasons. One, it was a gathering of people, in a manner I had never experienced before. Two, they seemed my kind of people. They were expecting more than three hundred people from across the world, with a variety of backgrounds to explore new ways of learning and living. Moreover, there was no structure to the conference; hence, it was called the un-conference. It would emerge as we went along. It worked for me. Anything that questioned mainstream education and economics and believed in going with the flow definitely had my vote. It seemed as though I had found my community at last.

As I reached Hideout, the rural venue, three hours from Mumbai, it took me a while to settle into the variety of people I suddenly came across. People who had attended earlier conferences greeted each other with shouts and hugs, like long lost family members. I smiled politely and shook hands. I was new to this family. Yet the distinctive character of the community was felt. These were people who had walked out of mainstream institutions, schools and corporations, and were searching for new ways of educating their children and living more authentic lives. Some had covered ground in that journey, while others were just beginning. Most importantly, it gave me a sense of community. I felt mainstream here!

The next five days were to be devoted to learning, sharing, listening and bonding. Each day began with an open space and members offered to hold workshops on a variety of topics. The workshops offered were mind-boggling! Ranging from the power of spaces, making of caps, sharing unschooling experiences, effective listening, radical honesty, creative letter writing, tarot cards, non-violent communication, belly dancing and the much anticipated unconventional relationships – to name a few. I offered one on finding inner authority. Then there were mela-shops of different organizations doing a variety of work in the developmental sector ranging from education to ecology. This seemed like a learners paradise.

I floated mostly. Without any agenda.  Allowing the day to unfold. Here is what I learnt.

On Learning

My primary learning was that learning and unlearning is a myth. There is nothing to learn or unlearn. Every learning or unlearning results in a new answer. Another concept. And each concept comes in the way of experiencing life. We keep replacing old concepts with new ones and perpetuate the illusion of learning. Giving precedence to learning over living.

Each time I think I have found a new way to live, to relate, to educate I feel fortified with answers. Until the answers crumble when dashed against the incomprehensible mystery of life. Then the mind searches for new answers, new masters, new books, new theories. Once it finds the new answer, it rests for a while. Until the cycle is repeated. Little realizing that the problems of living stem from the mind, the questions come from the mind and the mind finds the answers too. The mind labels this activity learning or unlearning. A poor substitute to living.

On Relating

Just as the nature of the mind is to create constructs, we look for the ideal construct to relate. Marriage, the traditional construct having failed, the mind now looks for new answers through unconventional relationships. Each construct – open marriages, polyamory, fidelity, commitment – is picked and examined closely. A hidden hope that the exploration would give the magical key into this mysterious terrain of relating between a man and a woman. Some of us have questions, some have answers, while others have stories to share.

In the search for a new construct, I realize that I am missing a crucial moment of relating. To myself, in this very moment.  And if I am not relating to myself, how will I ever relate to another.  Thus theories, concepts and constructs relate to one another other, leaving feelings unfelt and needs unarticulated.

On Authority    

Every time I seek an answer from another, I create authority. Every time I give an answer to another, I become an authority. From some I seek answers. To others I give answers. What is common is my need for answers. Where does this need stem from? What is it like to live without answers? Is it possible?

Yet I speak. I speak of how to be free, when I am bound. I speak of becoming independent, when I cultivate dependence. I speak of relating, when I myself do not relate. I speak to humans, when my own humanness awaits expression. Have I become a commentator on living, at the cost of living?

On Freedom

Does freedom mean being unbounded? What if my unbounded expression creates inconvenience to another? How does one then live as a free individual within an interdependent community? Is being free flowing, allowing for chaos to create, letting it evolve organically, indicative of my ignorance or my reactiveness to the system that confined me for so long? Can individual freedom truly exist without agreed norms and boundaries?

In the absence of basic norms, who decides? In absence of clear time boundaries, who waits? In the absence of clear roles, what remains undone? If my primary purpose is to learn, when will I learn that freedom and boundaries go hand in hand?

On Sensitivity

I talk of being sensitive to the environment, to nature, to the value of hard work and honest labour. But what of my sensitivity in communication to fellow human beings. Does not sensitivity have more than one flavour?  How swayed am I by my commitment to a singular value, that I am blinded to my own verbal violence? Am I so lost in my own story of sensitivity that I do not see my insensitivity to others?

How different am I from the terrorist or the rioter who kills for his value? Have I lost my sensitivity and rationality in my story of self-righteousness?

On Facilitation

I wish to facilitate inclusiveness. Facilitate listening. Restore peace and harmony. What is my need to do so? In the process am I giving up my authenticity to play a role, live up to an image of what I aspire to be? Am I listening to myself? Am I at peace and harmony? Have I explored myself deeply enough or am I seeking solutions from the outside?

What would happen if I gave up the security of a technique to communicate? Or the crutch of an approach to facilitate?  What if I got up one day to see all that I had learnt had been erased? Would I then get in touch with what I felt in the moment? Would I then risk becoming vulnerable to express my need to another? Or would I become immobilized if there was no one to facilitate me? And I run to find another mask that would make me socially loved and accepted?

On Feelings

Why is it so hard for me to be in touch with my feelings? The most fundamental aspect of my being. What draws my energy constantly towards the concepts and theories of the mind? Seeking answers, giving answers in a symbolic language that by its very nature is untrue, fragmented and static. Inadequate to meet the needs of a life that is dynamic, animated and whole. How do I perceive this whole without fragmentation?

Am I myself fragmented? Seeking completion, belonging and acceptance from family, friends and community? Will my search ever end?

On Creating A New World

In my pursuit to create a new world, a better world, for my children and the generations to come, am I missing out on another world? The world inside of me. Have I ever looked inside. Not introspecting, analyzing or interpreting, but simply looked and noted without words. Or am I so busy setting the world right that I have no time to stop and note the world I carry within.

Can I ever bring integration outside, if I am divided inside? Can I bring peace and harmony to the world, without bringing it first into my heart and mind? Is the world a reflection of my own mind? Am I the world?

 ***

During the conference I stayed in a dormitory in the home for the aged run by Christian nuns. It was reminiscent of my growing years in a convent boarding school. There was fixed time for everything. The gates of the home shut at 10.00 pm sharp. Often we had to wait outside in the hope that the Sister would be kind enough to open it. She mostly did and we would scamper inside muttering “Sorry” under our breath.

What I loved most about the place was the lake adjoining it. There was a dam and the water flowed into a small pond with rocks and pebbles. I went there for a bath every morning. It became my morning ritual. Often as I used to go for my bath, I would come across a few participants gazing at the sun. Drawing energy from it. Everything about the place was so energising. The cool air, the green cover, the gushing waters, the still rocks.

As I stepped into the waters and took the first dip. I entered another world. A fluid world of swirling gushing current. The world above me lost for a moment. Till I emerged for a breath of air. The sun continued to shine radiantly. The morning breeze played harmoniously with the trees, caressing the leaves with playful curiosity. For moment everything seemed perfect. Everything in nature seemed as it was meant to be.

Was I not an integral part of nature? Why then why did I seek perfection? Change? Evolution? Growth? Standing right in the middle of The Garden of Eden I sought it everywhere, other than where it seemed to be. Inside of me.

As I arrived in Mumbai I needed a day to ground myself. Even though I had traveled a mere three hours, I experienced a mental-emotional jet lag of many eons. I felt as though I had journeyed into the cosmos of each person present there, a catharsis leading to a realignment of my own cosmos.

Bringing me closer to myself.

***

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“What do you do?” We are often asked. The question leaves us stumped. Depending on who’s asking, our answers may range from – organisation development, HR consulting, leadership development or team building. Some people end up thinking we offer life skills. Well the actual answer is peculiar. We do neither of the above, yet all of the above. Let me explain.

First, why is it difficult to explain what we do? Second, what we do and what emerges out of it.

My work is purely experiential, hence difficult to explain. It is like asking someone eating a chocolate ice cream what does it taste like. He will say “it tastes like chocolate ice cream”. Now, if you have tasted chocolate ice cream you will recall that taste from memory. But if you have never eaten it before, then chocolate ice cream are simply words and you are as clueless as before.  Since what I do is not something I have experienced others do, I don’t really have words to explain it. In which case I use common words that people will relate to – OD, HR, Training, Coaching etc. Of course these have so many connotations based on the listener’s association with these words, that he simply puts my work under one of these buckets, and is quite satisfied thinking he has understood what I do. But that is not what I do.

So what do I do? Simply put, I engage people in conversations. With themselves or with each other. It is my belief that all that is manifest in the outer world is on account of the inner conversations of people. These conversations may comprise of beliefs, values, ideas, notions, concepts, theories, philosophies, prejudices, perceptions, views, opinions, judgements. Call it what you may, all these form part of our inner conversation, that becomes our self-identity. When this personal inner world relates to another person’s inner world it creates a relationship. When there are more people bound together, it creates a culture. Cultures gives rise to systems, processes, policies – stated or unstated- to manage a social unit. Be it a family, organisation or a nation.

In the work we have done, I have observed that engaging people in facilitative conversations brings awareness of mindsets, values, strengths, weaknesses, cultures, roles, systems. It also highlights how these are related to each other and helps to identify what is functional and dysfunctional in a particular situation. These conversations are very real. By that I mean pertinent to the person’s current life situation. Since neither of this is intellectual or cognitive, it impacts people at a feeling level. These conversations have the capability to impact mindsets and beliefs, during the course of the conversations itself. Even views the person may hold about himself. Quite unlike intellectual learning, where concepts are gathered, to be put to good use later. Which in my experience rarely happens. It only adds to the concept bank of a person, without creating any shift in consciousness.

So what use is this? The beauty of it is, that it can be put to any use. Ranging from helping individuals get in touch with themselves more deeply, facilitating full self-expression to building organisation cultures. The outcome is mostly a by-product of these conversations. A recent interview and interactive process we did with the leadership team of an organization to my mind built individual and group self-awareness, opened communication blocks, examined individual styles to organizational roles, identified key organizational blocks, built ownership to the organisation brand and vision and identified the next strategic initiatives for organizational growth. Did we start with these objectives? No. We simply started and ended with facilitating conversations that were unarticulated. Bringing multiple perspectives to awareness for exploration and enhancing the gestalt of an individual to experience himself and another. Whatever objectives were achieved, were an outcome that of that process.

I often tell people, what I do cannot be told or sold. It can only be experienced and recommended. People who have experienced our work and found value in it, become our brand ambassadors. We recently did a group coaching exercise for young adults, as a part of a two year leadership program called Gandhi Fellowship. Enclosed below is a testimonial from Tripti, the Head of that program. It was one of the most fulfilling assignments and the comprehensive testimonial is reflective of how we work. Even though the focus in this assignment was the individual and not the organisation, our approach in all cases remain the same. Facilitating the unsaid.

In conclusion I am reminded of the saying “The proof of the pudding lies in eating it.”

And, knowing what Flow does lies in experiencing it!

Testimonial from Kaivalya Education Foundation

{http://www.gandhifellowship.org}

Flow conducted a five day Personal Reflection process for the fellows of the Gandhi Fellowship program. The brief to Flow was to design a process that would enhance the fellows’ self-awareness, get them to systematically begin exploring the question, “Who am I?” and thus be able to reach clarity about themselves so as to enable each fellow to articulate to herself his/her early version of their ‘private dream’; which is a the pivot around which the Gandhi Fellowship program is designed.

 Flow had to design a process that explored the innermost questions of each individual but it had to be done in a group and it had to be designed for 40 people. How to design a standard process that can be customized to the needs of each individual? And most importantly how to do this an environment that is emotionally and psychologically safe? These were the issues around which Flow had to work.

 Added to this was the challenge that these were no regular corporate employees, who would do a process simply because they had been asked to. The Fellows are individuals who will not do anything only for the sake of it and they are people who will ask questions and demand reasons for what they are getting in to.

 Flow Consulting designed a process that effectively and intelligently worked around the above-mentioned challenges and constraints. The design of the process was accurate to the last minute and yet left room for ideas and emotions to flow when needed. Within a tight design there was room for adaptation, participation and even co-facilitation. The beauty of the process was that by the second day fellows themselves had begun to contribute to the facilitation process.

 The process stretched the limits of all, the fellows and of members from Flow Consulting too. A process of such intense nature that extends for five days can be a emotionally and psychologically draining but Ajay, Payal and Jaya flowed through the ebb and flow of intense emotions with consummate ease.

 What I appreciate most was their ability to connect with, respect and appreciate the uniqueness of the Gandhi Fellows. This attitude percolated to the fellows and so they were able to draw  real appreciation and respect from the Fellows.

The most evident outcome of the process has been that the Fellows have learnt how to accept the emotion they are feeling at a given moment and  then give word to their emotions. This ability to connect to the ebb and flow of one’s emotions is the first step towards taking responsibility for one’s feelings, which in turn is a giant step in reaching true maturity. Flow has made a huge contribution to this growth in the journey of the 40 fellows.

Tripti Vyas

Head: Gandhi Fellowship Programme

Kaivalya Education Foundation

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The room was well lit. The air, conditioned. The music, gentle. People in coats and ties, some sitting alone, others standing together. Quick handshakes, half smiles, polite conversations. A taste of corporate India one summer morning at the banquet hall of a star city hotel.

The banner read “Learning Conference”, a get together of HR and learning professionals. Practitioners and consultants. To learn about learning. Some eager to share what they had learnt. Others keen to learn from their learning. The power point ready to assist in the learning process.

The proceedings began with a talk. It answered- Why we are here? Why it is important to be here? What we can achieve by being here? A quick speech, delivered with eloquent flair. The audience reminded of their importance now seemed willing to learn.

The first slide flashed “Understanding Psychometric Instruments”, the topic of the day. “What is psychometric?” asked the sari clad elegant looking presenter. A senior executive of a leading consulting firm. A few hands went up. Each answer anticipating being the right response. The second slide flashed “psyche + measure”. A tool to measure the mind. Effectively employed while recruiting, training, assessing, developing human talent in an organization. Larger the numbers, easier the sifting process. Removing the chaff from the grain.

As the slides moved, the room seemed to be divided into vertical and horizontal lines. Square shapes everywhere. Boxes for everything. Measures. Outcomes. Performance. Talent. Growth. Each well explained, well sorted into its own box. The audience seemed satisfied. Things were becoming clearer. Knowing what went where. What cause, lead to what effect and vice-versa. Mental shaped problems fitting into conceptual shaped solutions. Learning seemed to be happening.

Yet another shape emerged within the boxes of that room. A wiggly wobbly hole. A gaping hole inside of me. As though devoid of soul. Seeking human touch. For no reason and no outcome.  Yearning for creativity and relating without any measure. Longing to speak a physical language, without words and numbers. The wiggly wobbly hole began wondering what was its place in a world full of concrete hard squares? Getting no answer it felt sad and disillusioned.

I carried the hole with me that day. Was humanity wrong? Or was I wrong, to question the working of the whole human race? A corporate machine, measuring every action and sorting people into buckets.  Every bucket to be poured into the ocean of organizational outcomes. The abstract had consumed the physical. Result had overpowered relating. Profit had overshadowed people. Index had depleted individual.  Every instinct in me cried, humanity was wrong. It was a lonely place. Being pitted against your own race. Seeing something, which others did not seem to see?  Yet something did not seem right. Making them wrong. Making me right.

As I sat watching the sea that night, the wiggly wobbly hole grew bigger. The isolation felt stronger. Each wave brought a new question, painfully lashing into the recesses of my being. What is the purpose of my life? Is there any value for my values, so distinct from the world at large? What am I to do?  What is my destiny? Each question left me feeling empty and hollow. Another part of me felt as though I was judging the world, putting myself on a higher pedestal than others. I felt lost. Was their a middle path, of holding onto my values, without being self-righteous?

The moon was full that night. Gazing luminously at the frothy sea.  Clouds like unrolled cotton balls, kept changing shape. The waves washed the sands, leaving new imprints with every sweep. The sea breeze carried its salty sticky flavour to the shore, with a differing force each time. The canvas kept moving changing. It occurred to me that everything in nature is wiggly wobbly. No concrete shape, unlike a man made world. No boxes, no squares, no triangles. Shapes keep changing, merging seamlessly into each other, giving birth to new shapes. The moon, the sea, the sand, the breeze and the enveloping blue darkness are all one. Doing a cosmic dance ordered by a supreme intelligence.  With a deep conviction that the immediate now, whatever its nature, is the goal and fulfillment of all living.

Perhaps we humans are a part of that cosmic dance too, only we don’t realise it. As though suffering temporary amnesia and forgetting our oneness with existence. And the perfection of what Is. Even when it seems imperfect. Cutting the physical world into pieces through the scissors of the mind, using dual blades of number and words. Finding fault with it. Then trying to rectify it with effort and outcome.

Suddenly in that moment, words began to crumble. Corporate, non-corporate, values, right, wrong, me, them, squares, holes. All of them. The concrete inner world of concepts became wiggly wobbly. It gave way to an empty silence, in touch with physical sensations alone.

In the silence, all wrong become right. Infact there was no wrong or right. Just IT. An intense impersonal aliveness of the now! IT, was the simplest word to describe a wordless reality.  All purpose became purposeless. Things were the way they were. The way the world functioned and what I felt about it was part of  IT. They were not separate. They were part of the same dance. There was a silent acceptance of them, of me and our disagreement. Also the acceptance of the illusion that separated us.

This was the isness of life.

This is IT.

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As the participants poured in and took their places, the streaming light from the large windows flooded the room, making it seem more spacious than it was. Each had their own expectations. Their own dreams. Yet for these two days, their roles as social entrepreneurs got them together. This was a leadership retreat and they had come here to learn about negotiation, delegation, time management and engaging stakeholders. At least, that is what they had planned for their training needs.

The two facilitators had a plan for the training, as well. The projector in the middle of the room was part of the plan. So was the power point they had prepared. They were confident. They had done this before. Two hours of presentation and two hours of engagement. It was a safe bet. For them, and for the participants. With the structure in place, what could go wrong?

Apart from the participants and the two facilitators, there was something else in the room. An unseen alive force. Something vibrant, yet still. It was the spirit of that room. Created out of the unconscious intermingling of the deepest desires, fears and beliefs of all those present. It was witnessing the gathering unfold. It had a life and a plan of its own.

The ‘training’ began with a question. A question each, that a member wanted to explore. That question led to more questions. Questions of all kinds. Probing, searching, looking in the deepest corners of the person. Like, a slithery snake made of questions let loose inside, looking for what was hidden, unacknowledged and unappreciated. Some questions were evaded, some were answered. It did not matter the snake had access to what was inside. It knew. Now the task was to bring the hidden to light, the results of the first exploration.

What emerged was a child and an engineer. The child was rebellious. The engineer analytical. Neither were listening or reflecting. The child wanted and the engineer rationalized. How could learning happen? It didn’t. Yet the framework was rattled. Was shaken. Learning would happen. The process had begun. The seed was sown. It would grow in its own time.

The sharing moved the spirit of the room. Other participants wanted to find the people hidden inside them. The hidden stories waiting to be told. Very soon, the projector was swept aside unused and the power-point forgotten. What really mattered now was to explore and share the unconscious spirit. Drink from the well of the unknown. A bitter portion that illuminated life.

As we explored the room was filled with more participants. Characters from within. Unseen yet very much alive in each participant.

We came across a small girl that wanted to play in the rain. Yet was afraid of getting wet.

We found a guerrilla warrior ready for the next battle. Yet not strategising enough to win the war.

We discovered another small girl that was now grown up. Yet finding it difficult to say goodbye to her old self.

We found a grass-root leader who had found his roots at a young age. Yet to develop the capacity to have difficult conversations.

And each character had a story to tell. An untold story. We narrated its story and set it free.

At the end, the participants felt lighter. The facilitators felt fulfilled. There was meaning in discovering and sharing stories. It was not part of the training plan. It was not part of the skill-list the participants had posted. Yet it was real. Healing. Self generative. Like a dip in the icy cold Ganges waters at Rishikesh. It pricks you all over. Yet invigorates your soul.

The ‘training’ that was planned for four hours extended to two days. The spirit of the room had staked its claim.

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