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Glimpse of the Future #3: Nature and our own bodies are vital partners in this work

A wonderful community has been gathering to imagine what the work of Organizational Development needs to become — what we are yearning for it to become — if it is to be more fully aligned with life’s ability to thrive. “OD for Life” we’ve been calling this budding movement. It’s been primarily an intellectual exercise, as we think and talk and dream together. But what we have seen, also, is that we find important guidance from nature and from our own bodies. Not only that: we may not be able to do that more "thrivable" work of OD without tuning in to the visceral experience of our own aliveness in the world.

Perhaps by instinct or intuition — and drawing on the work some of us do as nature guides — this was an intentional feature of our one-day gathering in December, even when Covid forced us into an online format rather than the two-day forest retreat we had originally planned.

For example, Din welcomed us with a guided meditation in which we each held out our own hands, gazing on them with concentrated attention and care, imagining the lineage that had led to them. We were here representing generations past as well as future.

From there, we reflected on the sources of our intellectual inspiration. On whose shoulders do you stand? was the question Joeri posed. Of course, no one had actually stood on someone else. But somehow, invoking the physical metaphor made the question feel more embodied, connecting to the ways those people and their ideas were alive in us and shaped our very being.

As our conversation continued, this kind of evocative imagery and association abounded. We talked about the OD for Life movement as the fire we gather around, a space of story and transformation. As a circle of care. We imagined the community as the soil we’re tending together.

In the afternoon, we each went outside in our own surroundings for an hour with the intention of attuning with nature. We returned with thoughts of “cultivating a sense of belonging” with each other and with the whole of life; of heeding “a call from elders to come back to the heart,” and of “letting go of the river bank and going with the flow of life.” “When we go into nature in a particular way,” observed Andres, “a different kind of knowing emerges.”

I pointed out that we naturally tune in to our bodies and our own aliveness in times of birth, if our circumstances allow it. When my children were very young, I had no choice but to surrender to the physical rhythms of life. When they were hungry, I fed them. When they were tired, I helped them sleep, and I slept, too. It was a deeply nourishing “time apart from time,” a period of profound presence and vitality, even in my exhaustion.

We can also find this in times of dying. I told the story that my Belgian friend had just related to me: of setting aside everything to care for her father in his final months of life. It was a surrendering to what was emergent and needed in the moment. To her surprise, people told her that she seemed to be glowing with purpose and life. And she felt it. Her father told her that it was the most vibrant time of his life, too, even as he was withering and dying. The story was powerful and moving.

This deeply embodied presence in birth and in dying seems to be an opening up to life’s wisdom and possibility. Our actions become guided by life.

The question I offered to our OD for Life conversation was: can we show up this way not only in the drama of birth and dying, but in the mundane middle? Can we bring that level of presence and alignment to a meeting? What would it look like? And what difference would that make?

Being intentional about connecting with nature and our own bodies seems to offer key pathways to such presence and the insights that can come with it.

There’s one more angle on this that is growing in urgency. As the collective trauma of the dominant system accumulates in each of us, and in some more than others, this purposeful attunement seems more and more vital. "The climate crisis, a symptom of colonial capitalism, is happening to our nervous systems,” tweeted climate activist and somatic practitioner Selin Nurgün recently. “We need body-based frameworks to understand & transform this trauma while we continue organizing & surviving. A 'mindset' shift, ain’t gonna cut it."

A life-aligned practice of Organizational Development must surely incorporate this attention to healing our bodies if it is to be a means of healing society.

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