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  • michellesholliday

Aligning with Life in Our OD Practice

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

What is our responsibility as Organizational Development and Leadership Development practitioners in confronting the crises we face as a planet? Which unique gifts do we have to offer to the biggest questions of our time? How do we take a stand as individuals, as organizations and as a field to act for the good of the whole?

These were the questions that drew together a group of thoughtful people from around the world for a deeply nourishing 2-hour call in February 2022. We were three co-hosts on the call: Din Van Helden, Joeri Kabalt and I, representing a larger team of stewards from the growing OD for Life movement. After Din guided us in a lovely meditation to draw support from our ancestors, we acknowledged that humanity needs to find a way to put life at the center of everything we do. The starting point, we proposed, is to align ourselves individually and collectively with life’s wisdom and needs. To show up most of all as stewards of life's ability to thrive. Those of us who guide leaders and organizations have a special and important responsibility in this work. Through conversation in small groups, we explored practices that help us show up in this way, creating space for “being” as much as “doing.”

  • Many named immersion in nature, both as a daily personal practice and as a collective experience to guide us towards wiser action.

  • Others mentioned meditation. Joeri described her daily meditative walking practice “foraging for beauty” near her Amsterdam home.

  • Several said they turned to journals, documenting gratitude and seeking insights and inspiration.

  • Movement like yoga, tai chi and qi gong came up often. Dance is "life moving through you," we noted with some delight.

  • Conversation itself came up more than once, in one case guided by the philosophy and methods of Nonviolent Communication. We can find our way to wisdom together, with enough open-mindedness and open-heartedness.

These sharings affirm the collection of practices we have been noticing and gathering across many contexts. So what becomes possible when we bring these practices of aligning with life into our work with groups?

Din shared some details of a recent 3-day facilitation project where she felt profoundly aligned with life, as if she were channeling a force that was larger than herself. It was an inspiring story, with a set of powerful questions, a trusted collaborator, and a crashing waterfall all playing supporting roles. The outcome was that even the participants who had been standing skeptically with arms crossed were moved to deep emotion and to new levels of learning and wisdom.

Others on our call then shared their own stories of powerful moments, when they felt they were sensing and serving life’s wisdom. In one case, against all odds in a bureaucratic and hierarchical context, the outcome was a feeling of solidarity and care — “a juicy love fest!” “I fell in love with them,” our storyteller said of her client group.

And still others shared with some vulnerability that this is not often their experience, that there are many barriers to this kind of presence and potential — barriers in our contexts, and in ourselves. We could all relate

As we talked through these kinds of blocked experiences, the emergent wisdom seemed to be that we have to get comfortable with that discomfort of not quite connecting to others, to ourselves, to life. We have to stay with it, search further for the heart-centered question that might open up a portal, listen for the rhythm of possibility. Self-care, preparing ourselves, and preparing the setting can all help us be with and work through that discomfort. The “juicy love fest” storyteller shared that it had taken her a week to ready herself for that breakthrough moment.

Near the end of our call, one participant shared the story of group hosting work he does with his father around Conscious Parenting. He described the opening and closing ritual of gratitude, of honoring the space and the energy of the group, of inviting wisdom and guidance into the circle. On the spur of the moment, he agreed to close out our own call in this way, and it was a wonderful modeling of what is possible.

In our debrief immediately after the call, Joeri, Din and I agreed: we fell in love with them, everyone on the call. That seems to be one measure of how well life was invited to be a guide. Just as important, our sense was that the experience had left us all just a little more resourced to align with life's call to wisdom and care.

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