The U path: a spark ignited in Yarrambat.

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In a recent blog entry, “Where does the time go”, I mentioned my wonderful experiences with the slower pace of life in community at the edge of the “bush” in Yarrambat, Victoria, Australia. There is much more to the story.

It was mid November, 2010 when a group of people from diverse backgrounds and geographies gathered for two days in Yarrambat to, well, to be creative; to get to know one another; to enjoy some scones, jam and tea; to listen carefully; to be present to one another; to share our stories and our wisdom; to reflect upon why, how and where community forms and sustains itself. One of my roles in this gathering was to share my experiences in Asset Based Community Development as a shalom-maker (co-creator of community well-being).

Our gracious host for the gathering, Adrian Pyle, invested over a year in planning, inviting and bringing together this diverse group: no surprise since he has the very cool title and role of Director, Relationships Innovation with the Uniting Church in Australia. In planning the gathering, Adrian adapted a model known as Theory U, developed by MIT professor Otto Scharmer, and applied the path of the “U” to inform and shape our community time. As Adrian puts it:

The path of the “U” as I am using it can be seen as a general spiritual path, giving access to a life of “earth community” rather than empire. A range of spiritual traditions, philosophies and models can be seen to give access to the path… it [the U path] is like an inviting campfire, around which are drawn various parties interested in ideas of post-colonialism and non-violence and from backgrounds across, organizational development, community development, faith development and national and international development.

And, so it happened last November. We dipped into the “U” and emerged with fresh new connections and concepts that bridge across our various communities. Participants of various faith traditions and professional disciplines were profoundly moved and felt the synergy to continue conversations, connections, and plans; even across the planet.

From the spark ignited at Yarrambat, and continuing on the U path, community is both expanding and converging. As social entrepreneur, writer, teacher and developer Gail Plowman writes in “Dealing with social problems that get stuck” and “The Church – a ‘presencing’ body for advancing sustainability”, the transformational processes of community-building are taking place in ways and locations previously unimagined.

As sparks ignite in our communities, like Yarrambat, it is vitally important to our collective future to attend to and follow a U path for the common good of our neighborhoods, our neighbors and our planet. Adrian Pyle writes:

Creating conditions for more people to follow the “U” path therefore means creating the conditions where truly unique neighbourhoods can develop in every place and time. Nurturant, local neighbourhoods are the spaces which can be made safe enough for the true selfhood of the individual to emerge. This means that there must be heightened awareness of the educational, organisational, philosophical, spiritual and political conditions which create such neighbourhoods.

Where is your community on the U path?

N. David (Dave) Cooper, MDiv, MSW, CPM of Shalom-Makers: enlarging the circle of community.

Where does the time go?

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My grandmother, born in 1886 near Atlanta, Georgia, used to say to me, “the hurrier I go the behinder I get”. How true! As I have progressed through my formative years – graduate school and professional life, now a second career – I have come to appreciate, first hand, my grandmother’s statement. It now has a rich contextual meaning that it did not when I first heard it as a teenager.

A philosophy professor of mine once said, “Wisdom can never be taught. It must be lived”. There is some truth in his statement. However, I am still not so sure that we cannot learn practical wisdom across generations. I sure hope that we can and will. If we cannot, and will not, the costs to ourselves, our society, our planet will be immeasurable.

I recently read a reflection by a young woman, Brigitte, who quoted her nine year old son: “the key to speed is not to hurry”. Brigitte urges me (us) to be ‘mindful’ of societal ‘brainwashing’ that has the effect of compelling me, pushing us, to increase the speed of life at nearly any cost.

Where does the time go?
Koala Crossing sign on the road between Geelong and Lorne in Australia, by Dave Cooper.

Brigitte’s entry and my recent experiences with a very special presencing gathering in Yarrambat, Australia, have caused me to slow down, to pause, and to listen. Presencing, a blend of the words presence and sensing, refers to the ability to sense and bring into the present one’s highest future potential — as an individual and as a group (from Presencing Institute).

Where does the time go?

Apollo 11 is the mission that first landed a person on the moon, July 20, 1969.

Times are changing. Our journeys through these times, and the ways we respond, individually and collectively, yield both good and the not so good. My grandmother lived through the times of horse and buggies, the advent of the automobile, heavier than air flight, and a person walking on the moon. From our home in Florida, we watched the Saturn Five, Apollo lunar missions that were initiated by President John F. Kennedy in the early 1960’s. These late 19th and 20th century discoveries and the amazing changes they initiated have yielded much. Yet, I can’t begin to imagine what my grandmother must have experienced as the speed of life around her increased exponentially: what a blur. We are witnessing similar exponential change in the 21st century.

I remember a marketing phrase from the early 1970’s. I think it was IBM that coined it: The “new” computer will increase productivity so much that workers will have three day weekends. The reciprocal has proven to be true. In the U.S., we do much more work and have far less time in which to slow down, to pause: where is that three day weekend?

The goal of creating increased leisure time in order to spend some of it with family, friends, and in our communities is embedded in the computerization marketing message of the 1970’s. Of course, in America, increased leisure (quality) time has not been realized. Over the past thirty or so years, we have experienced the financial necessity of multiple wage earners in our families. We work longer hours so we can consume more stuff at a faster pace, then rush home to hurriedly finish our day so we can slow down.

Having returned from a wonderful time in Australia, and taking time to reflect upon the wisdom imparted to me by friends, former strangers (now friends), and family, I have slowed my pace. I pause. I listen attentively. I am present and sensing. Even with multiple competing demands, I make time for conversation. I enjoy a coffee or tea at a café. I give my family members an extra hug. I correspond with people in my communities, both near and far. I am actively and passively participating in presencing for the well-being (or shalom) of one another, our communities, and our planet.

Where does the time go?
Kafe Kaos in the seaside village of Lorne in Australia, by Dave Cooper.

The Hebrew word for whole-community well-being is shalom. While shalom encompasses much more than can be translated into English, shalom is manifested when there is shared power, equity and mutual beneficence among physical, social, economic, political and spiritual organizations, institutions, and systems. Shalom is not simply a transcendent hope; rather, it is a concrete, tangible, proactive, wise, investment of all resources (including time) to work in concert for the common good.

I am deeply engaged with shalom-making in communities across the United States and abroad. I facilitate, train, coach, support, and advocate for shalom-makers as an independent consultant and via the Drew University Shalom Initiative. I apply Asset Based Community Development and community organizing principles and techniques to help communities develop and achieve their own outcomes. Shalom-making is not easy and not for the timid. It is an emergent, locally-led, co-creating, bold, sustained, and collaborative endeavor for the healthy and whole transformation of the communities in which we live, work, learn, and play. I am a shalom-maker: enlarging the circle of community for the common good.

This post also appears on http://colabradio.mit.edu/.

In an upcoming entry, look for more on Australia and the wonderful people that I met and worked with there.