playback ost story (long)

Meg Salter meg.salter at
Mon Feb 5 16:19:38 PST 2001

playback ost story (long)Beautiful story Chris -  thank you.(and thank you for your acknowledgement too!!) I guess there are times when transparency means telling it like it is -ie the feeling states come shining through - while of course not making it any one else's problem  AND continuing to do you job!! You are invisible in you role and totally present in your person!

Meg Salter

MegaSpace Consulting
meg/salter at
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Chris Weaver 
  Sent: Monday, February 05, 2001 12:04 AM
  Subject: playback ost story (long)

  Dear OSLIST,

  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 floor.  

  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 practice." 

  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 process..."

  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 circle.

  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 it."

  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 Cook.

  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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