playback ost story (long)

Chris Weaver chris at
Sun Feb 4 21:04:56 PST 2001


Tired as my body is after this weekend's retreat, I can't seem to sleep
without posting a story to the list.  And I even tried.  Diagnosis: a real
case of storytelling fever.  Must have caught it from Chris Corrigan.
Thanks for the replies to last night's story.

1.  Post-Talking Circle
2.  Whatever Happens
3.  Better Than a Nap
4.  Convergence
5.  Transparent Facilitation (a reply to Meg Salter's posting, re: Chaos and
Open Space)
6.  Ritual

1.  Post Talking Circle
We began this morning at nine, at N's house on the shoulder of a mountain a
few miles down from Hickory Nut Gap.  N offered Yoga at nine, while I worked
on the space-time matrix etc.  Sure enough, the twelve participants arrived
in a state of deep readiness after the Saturday night talking circles.  I
began my opening by laughing out loud, and saying that this was the first
time ever that, at the starting time, all the participants had been sitting
in the circle waiting for me, with the singing bowl still silent on the

This readiness is also testimony to the resonance that was emerging between
OST and the practices and capacity of these Playback Theatre folks.

A few weeks back I floated to the OSLIST the question of whether to perhaps
integrate the use of Playback forms into the design of the OST retreat.  The
list told me to open a straight OST.  This is what I did, and it was exactly
the right advice.

2.  Whatever Happens
My internal jury's still out on the wording of this principle.  Here is what
I found myself saying this morning:  "The next principle is, Whatever
happens is the only thing that could have.  Basically, this is not true.  At
this moment, the possibilities of what could happen today are infinite,
based on our level of awareness and the free choices we will make today.
But this principle serves as an important and useful reminder about letting
go.  As soon as we enact our choices, they become what happened, and
accepting them as fully as possible and letting go is a very useful

I do not know what these words meant to them this morning.  Oh well,
whatever happens...(smile)

One more note from the opening:  There is one segment I use, straight out of
Harrison's User's Guide, which I have really learned to love.  Here's how I
said it today:

"You may be wondering what to do if you convene a discussion group and
nobody comes.  Or what if one person comes, and then after five minutes,
they exercise the Law of Two Feet.  (Nervous chuckles).  In my experience,
this could mean one of three things.  First, it could mean that the topic is
a terrible idea."

(Deadpan.  Silence.  Then, Big laughter and breath from the group.)

"The second thing it could mean is that the idea is very important, both to
you and to the group, but that the timing for the idea is not right based on
the current energy of the group.  The third thing it could mean is that the
idea is deeply important, both to you and to the group, and that the timing
is exactly right, and that the person holding space for the idea right now
is you.  If you find yourself in this position, I encourage you to reflect,
to unfold your thinking, to make a report, and to post it on the newswall.
I have seen a pattern, again and again, of these ideas making a powerful
contribution to the event in the closing circle and in the convergence

For me, using the "terrible idea" line is a way of helping the group to
"face the roar," to step into the fire.  I like what it does.

3.  Better Than a Nap
Today I discovered a new practice that for me is better than a nap or
picking up coffee cups.  With a small intimate group and no newsroom (we did
handwritten reports), I had very little to do.  As I thought ahead to the
3:30 to 5:30 convergence, I realized that paper would be needed, both for
writing personal commitments and for action planning.  I hadn't prepared a
form.  So I gathered some materials and settled in at a table at the edge of
the main room.  For the personal commitment papers, I drew a big circle,
tracing around a big clay bowl.  For the action planning forms, I drew
bordering lines that angled in a bit from top to bottom of the paper.
Around the outside of the open space within the circles and the converging
lines, I began to color the borders with colored pencils.  I made 21 copies
of each form.  This took a surprisingly sweet long time to do.  In fact, I
sat at that table for almost the whole three sessions, coloring.  During the
day I was approached a total of three times.  It was a lovely way to hold
the space.

4.  Convergence
The convergence I used this afternoon was drawn from OSLIST advice,
particularly from Diane Gibeault.

3:00 - Afternoon News
I opened by outlining the convergence steps ahead.  We did a once-around for
afternoon news.  As Diane had predicted, people kept their comments short,
knowing that we had a lot of work yet to do - pacing themselves, I think.

3:15 - Energy Snapshot
I had forgotten the sticky dots, so I had cut little strips of post-its, and
gave each person five.  I opened:  "This exercise looks like several things
that it is not.  It is not a vote.  It is not even a prioritization process.
I call it an energy snapshot.  We will take seven or ten minutes in silence
at the agenda windows (using large glass windows for the bulletin board was
rather nice today, how the light passes through).  Reflect on your personal
energy, and which of the topics posted today you resonate with right now,
and stick your strips on those sheets.  Topics that receive fewer strips are
not less important than others.  I know that you haven't had a chance to
read all the reports, so just shoot from the hip."  It took seven minutes.
The energy was nice.  I did not feel a need to refer to the results as a
group afterward.

3:30 - Personal Commitments
My deep thanks to Jeff Aitken for this simple process.  It was the deep
heart of our afternoon.  I scattered the pencil-colored empty circles on the
floor, and invited people to take one, go where they were comfortable, and
spend ten minutes writing their personal commitments to the theatre company.
"Maybe ten minutes is too short.  Do you want fifteen?"  "Ten's good."
After ten, I rang the bell.  I believe that the drawn circle, and the color,
inspired a lot of artistry.  The commitments were written in spirals,
multiple colors, radiating arms.  I decided, with group permission, to
include these personal commitments in the book of proceedings.

We did a once-around.  Reading these personal commitments was enormously
powerful.  Particularly interesting to me was the way that the conflicts and
wounds that had been aired in the talking circle the night before found
their resolution in the words of these personal commitments.  People
embodied responsibility deeply.  The group had internalized the "Aho"
response in all the talking circles, and these Ahos were truly resounding.

4:00 - Action Planning
Opening:  "From my fly-on-the-wall perspective on some of your meetings, I
know that much of what transpired today has been absorbed and internalized
by the group.  There is deep alchemy going on.  Some actions will emerge
from today without the need for any action-planning process.  The intention
of this time for action planning is not to force into a plan anything that
will not benefit from this exercise.  That being said, I expect that time
for action planning will be a useful tool in bringing some of your
commitments into being.  I invite you to take an action planning paper, to
find people you would like to plan with or to work alone, go where you want,
and determine some action steps, time-lines, and specific responsibilities."

This process was organic and a little muddy.  A motivated planning group
developed back in the bedroom, and worked hard for 40 minutes.  One
participant, who stayed in the main room, told me that she was frustrated
that there was duplication; she didn't know what had been going on elsewhere
and had no agenda wall to help guide her.

4:45 - Closing Circle
Energy dip.  It was late in the day and we had done a lot of talking
circles.  I was antsy.  Also, the group had agreed to have a ritual outside
at the very end (see below), to honor a company member who was leaving the
next day to move to Wilmington (and to begin a Playback company there).  I
raised the question of whether we needed this closing circle.  "yes, maybe,
sort of..."  We decided to do it.  In true improvisational fashion, the
person who began picked up an orange from the center.  When she was done,
instead of passing it to the left, she threw it across to somebody else.
The "airborne orange" method was just what the group needed for its closing

5.  Transparent Facilitation
Here, in appreciation of Meg Salter's posting to the list today, I wish to
share a personal experience.  As is probably evident, this event was a
wonderful privilege and experience for me in holding space for a small
intimate group.  I felt uncommonly clear and grounded throughout, and did
not experience the sense of loneliness I sometimes feel in this role.  This
changed at about 2pm, when something really came up.

Woven in with the work of the day was the thread of processing the reality
that one of the company members is dying, at home now with Hospice workers.
The Playback company has been actively working through their grief for
months, including in rehearsal time.  This level of consciousness allowed
them to dip into emotions around their friend during the retreat with
remarkable grace and integration.

At about 2pm, as I was coloring at my table, and a few words about this
friend were shared in the meeting nearby, I got blindsided.  I am still
moving through my grief about a dear friend and mentor of mine who died
suddenly on January 13th.  Hearing the graceful words from the group, it all
came up for me, and I fought back the rising tears.  Conscious in my
space-holding role, I walked back to the bathroom, locked the door, and
melted down.  The timing, I thought, couldn't have been worse.  I know how
long it can take for these feelings to run their course, and it was very
painful to have no one to open up to.  I knew how important my role would be
an hour later in the transition to convergence.  I "composed myself."  I
tried to "get transparent again."  After a while I went back out to my table
and that half hour was very difficult.  I went outside for a while and
rested my back against a tree.

At 3:00 Afternoon News I made the decision to speak.  My tranparency was
gone, and as the talking stick approached my heart was pounding.  I
remembered to breathe.  I said, "My job here in holding space is to be as
transparent as possible, but I need to share something that is coming up for
me."  I was really scared, and they knew it; I felt a shock-wave in the
circle.  "I am working through my grief about my friend who died
unexpectedly three weeks ago.  Hearing you talk about your friend is
bringing this up for me.  If I was with most groups I work with, I would not
talk about this.  I would do my best to hold my feelings at bay and do my
work.  But I want to tell this to you now because I feel the level at which
you are holding the space here with me.  So I just ask for your help in
continuing to hold the space if it happens this afternoon that I can't do

I did not feel much relief - I was tense and still scared at this acute
shift in my role.  My feelings of sadness were replaced by basic fear, and
it was hard for me to hear the next few speakers in the circle (who
continued to share their personal reflections).  For the next five minutes
or so I cascaded through emotions - sadness and fear and isolation.  The
group went on and did their thing.  They supported me energetically exactly
by holding the space for the group, and, I am sure, with conscious
compassion.  When the convergence began, I was pretty much able to let it
all go and do my job.  It was one of those times when I was grateful to have
a clear plan.

I honor Meg's contribution by pasting it in here:

Another version of the story - Buddhist - is the constant intertwining of
the formless state - the ultimate emptiness/ void , which then manifests as
radiant energy, and then ultimately as form. Constant movement/ dance. And
where we rest/ how the form manifest is pretty much determined by our intent
and depth of personal practice. - which leads us to the preparation of the
facilitator for Open Space.......!

It is all, indeed, a dance.

6.  Ritual
The group's closing ritual went this way.
R was about to leave the group, to go forth into the world, down to
Wilmington, by the ocean.  We gathered outside under the tall bare trees,
under an impossibly-large expanse of rock on the mountain southeast of the
house.  R held a sea-turtle skull in his hands.  He shared the story of a
dream he had of becoming a sea turtle, a little baby one, and swimming a
long distance.  Then we did a "Warrior's Dance," gifted to us by Michael

The Warrior's Dance is silent.  R stood in the middle of the circle, arms
down, palms outward facing east.  We encircled him, arms raised, palms
facing in.  He turned around in a circle, ever so slowly, in silence except
for his feet in the leaves and the two dogs wrestling nearby.  Slowly, once
around, back to face east again.

Then the company musician gave us our breath back.  We sang Summertime, from
Porgy and Bess.

That's how it was, and that's how it is.

Blessings to all,

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