This June, I had the great fortune to participate in a leadership retreat in California for social entrepreneurs interested in building a better world. The hosting organization, YES!, “connects, inspires and collaborates with changemakers to join forces for thriving, just, and balanced ways of life for all. YES! works at the meeting point of internal, interpersonal, and systemic transformation.” The organization performs direct facilitation through group retreats and workshops, called jams. A jam is a collaborative encounter where the contributions of each participant weave together to create a spontaneous harmony. YES! produces jams around the world, and they often have themes like arts for social change or are place-based, locally or regionally. This particular jam was a new experiment in that it flowed into the BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) conference, where many of the participants were planning to present their work in New Economics.
The Evolving and Emerging Economies Jam was hosted on a beautiful Quaker retreat center in the redwoods of Northern California. During the Jam, each participant introduced ourselves to each other by sharing stories. We then played a connectivity game, where each of us (secretly) chose two people and attempted to stay equidistant between them as we all moved around. The exercise demonstrated how we are all interconnected. We shared our experiences afterwards. It was really difficult to maintain balance while in constant fluctuation! It was like a microcosm for the governing laws of human interaction.
After this activity, we created an agreement field by agreeing to honor the confidentiality of the present circle and engage respectfully throughout the Jam. Another interactive game was initiated: Secret Angels. Secret angels deliver presents to each other through intermediary agents while attempting to keep their own identity secret. Throughout the retreat, I received some quality massages and some great mentoring advice for the projects that I’m working on. The gifts I gave consisted mainly of brownies and related species of chocolate, and because my own love for chocolate became clear to the group early on (I hosted a chocolate-making workshop, the clandestine source of chocolate soon became obvious. Activities like secret angel bonded us together through the gift, both giving and receiving, a recurring theme throughout the Jam.
Before going further, we wrote our intentions down on small squares of paper, traded them with each other until nobody knew who was holding whose intention, and then we sat back down and read them out loud. Afterwards, we stuck them on the windows of the room, where they would live for the remainder of the Jam as an amalgamation of the collective aspirations of the group.
Then we danced. Dancing was a common theme, before and during group sessions. In this case, each of us shared a signature dance move for the others to imitate. I executed my classic full-body vibration, eliciting constant eruptions of laughter. Looser, we then shared what is alive for each of us in the present moment, what are the struggles that we each face, and where our areas of growth are.
The first time we broke into groups was for an adaptation of one of my favorite activities, World Cafe. Many activities were done in twos and threes, leading to greater intimacy and deeper sharing within the group. Through the World Cafe and other activities, we shared our beliefs about money and value, and collectively mind-mapped a number of words onto posters that joined the intention sticky-notes around the room.
Another prevalent theme throughout the activities was somatic participation. Through image theatre, we acted out words through body expression and mapped ourselves in an evolving ecosystem of change-makers. The Jam offered a framework created by Jodi Lasseter and friends at Spirit in Action, called the 4 R’s. It groups social change into four quadrants: ReImagine (visionaries), ReCreate (makers and entrepreneurs), ReForm (policy-makers), and Resist (activists and organizers). This map is used as a tool for conceptualizing our work and our selves. If you know me, you could easily guess that I landed in the ReImagine sector, being the utopian idealist that I am. I got to play with my imaginative side in a visioning exercise of my ideal future, and what I saw was a world where everyone is driven by their passion. I saw a network of “schools” that served as pathways for passion discovery and for subsequent training in the necessary skills sets to turn passion into livelihood.
One of our last activities utilized Open Space Technology. I hosted the question, “How can we nurture and continue relationships created here for personal, interpersonal, and systemic benefit?” One of the objectives of YES! is to create a collaborative network of individuals andorganizations, and some of the final hours addressed this. The first segment of the Jam leaned towards the the personal and interpersonal levels and started to delve into systemic issues, while the second half of the Jam was more heavily focused on the systemic.
Before we knew it, the time had come to head back to the Bay Area. The BALLE Conference was hosted at the Scottish Rites Center in Oakland, another footprint of an early American settler presence, the Freemasons. The conference was an exciting gathering of social entrepreneurs, policy-makers, activists, and new economy enthusiasts. I learned aboutthe slow money movement, the engineering of a community entrepreneurial ecosystem, applying permaculture principles to local economy networks to build resilience, and how to facilitate and cultivate transformative leadership.
The parallels between the Jam and the BALLE were numerous, some synchronicities were almost unbelievable (like when an entire conference room sung a song that we as a small group had sung just two days earlier). There was another moment where the speaker instructed a room of listeners to pick a stranger, look into their eyes, and then we reflected to each other what we saw (another activity we had done days earlier). I also noted a number of parallels between the Jam and an Ecovillage Design Education course I had helped to facilitate at InanItah in Nicaragua a few months prior. New techniques in holistic education are bridging inner personal transformation to the alignment of values and work. I am witnessing increasing numbers of people who live meaningful, passion-driven lives that weave work and play, personal with interpersonal and systemic.