Experience: Groping in the Dark
We were stuck. The issue that we came to address hadn’t budged and it was not for lack of trying. We brainstormed, broke into small, then large groups. The needs of each individual were fully aired and acknowledged. We even took a few minutes for restorative, centering practice. Still stuck. A tensioned-filled silence crept over the group—a kind of dark dread of not knowing while harboring a struggling desire to find a solution.
After a while of sitting in the darkness of not knowing, we started to turn on each other. One person blamed the anointed/appointed leader, another defended the leader’s courage in bringing the issue in the first place. Then the leader gave a long speech that completely fell flat. A few folks who hadn’t shared yet completely withdrew and muted their Zoom video. As the facilitator, my breath was feeling constrained and my heart pinging. I was stuck as well– tools and processes strewn from the toolbox, personally drained, and ready to give up. There was a tunnel of darkness closing in; daunting, looming and rigid.
A quiet voice began from a corner of the group we hadn’t heard from in a while. He said with a quivering, humble tone, “I feel so sad that we are at where we are right now. We had such care and good intentions and yet we are in a very hard place.” It was such a simple, true voicing that the tension was pierced like a balloon. Other people came forward to describe how hard it was for them to be in this place. And one by one the group picked itself back up. A tiny spark of light glimmered in the darkness.
Relevance: Emerging Light
My dear friend and elder Lily Yeh once told me, “The smallest spark shines through the darkness.” It was her way of reminding me to have the courage to bring light forward no matter how hard things become. Her wisdom was not born from the Pollyanna of positivity, nor the flailing struggle of trying too hard or wanting too much. Hers was about a simple, difficult truth told with all of the messy tension and raw humanity that complex things deserve. When one truth is told its flicker draws more attention to it, until, little by little, the light starts to grow. It becomes an emerging light.
Practice: Gathering Light
When you and the groups you lead find themselves in a hard, sticky place, here are some ways to encourage and gather light from the darkness:
- Pause with purpose: Don’t keep hitting your head against the wall. Take a break, send people outside, and encourage them to focus on something else for a short time. Then ask them to return.
- Feel with the body: One of the go to places when stuck is the body. Ask people to notice where they have pain, tension, or stuckness. Be specific and descriptive. This helps people to get out of fear and into real. Yes, you can do this in even the most “corporate” of settings as long as you are clear about why it’s being done.
- Attend to emotion: Negative emotion is hard for almost everyone. It is easy to detach and resist it. Rather than run away or fight, request that people tune into what they are feeling and diligently call it forth. It’s helpful to write down these feelings.
- Voice what’s true: Once people have tended to their own body and emotions, give time and space for sharing what is true for them. This should not be forced nor should people be shamed or coerced. You may have to be very patient. And you may have to be okay if no one comes forward. Your role is to notice what emerges and honor it. Like gathering light.