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Photo: Christine Locher

Embodiment, facilitation and holding a space in gallery view

We are all “zoom-bies” right now, in how we show up with others. Under lockdown, most of our lives plays out via various online platforms. It is where and how we meet, enabled and limited by platform functionality. I have been supporting Joan O’Donnell, an advanced Social Presencing practitioner, doing group work through zoom. Space, bodies, relationships, structures, dynamics, embodiment and responses, getting stuck and unstuck together. Everything about this sort of work wants to be live face to face, and now it can’t be.

And yet, we meet and do the work. We explore who we are at this very point in time. Within ourselves, “chair-shaped” for some, “tethered” with a (headphone) cable to a machine, too big a chin at that camera angle. And as we are with others. Establishing personal contact in a gallery view and in small breakout groups, allowing the body to respond, trusting the mind to fill in the blanks to make it real enough. It feels real in many ways. Dropping into the body behind the stories our minds keep telling us. Receiving and responding in movement, using the spaces our cables allow us, and the infinity in our minds and hearts.

Trusting this is as real as it feels in those moments of magic. Trusting that, even when it feels gnarly and strange, human interactions are sometimes a bit like that and we are able to hold that for ourselves and others. Like we always do. That, even if we were in all in the same room, it is never fully clear who and what is meant, and who responds to what and whom. Face-to-face, we have a lot more sensory input to go by, and a few more decades of practice. We are designed to do this, and yet there is still so much to learn and explore in this together in this work. Zoom is fairly new, and now we are exploring that. Hoping for the wifi to hold.

We are able to take it surprisingly far, further than I thought possible working with that kind of tech in other settings. Using the whole body, and taking time to debrief helps a lot, as does the careful design of each segment under the constraints we have. Like live face to face, the work creates and amplifies connection. The bonds created there feel real, as do the insights and “in-felts”.

Connecting over distance always feels a bit like creating newer versions of ourselves and our relationships in a different dimension. When we meet live, these dimensions all collapse into one and we then need that extra moment to catch up with ourselves and each other to allow all our different versions out there to fully synchronize. That would have rung true centuries ago as well for meeting someone in person that has corresponded with at length after a long separation. We have always done that since we had means to communicate at a distance at some level of depth. It just seems to accelerate and intensify now as we accelerate and intensify everything, and as connections feel more precious and vulnerable in our heightened anxiety and loneliness, and as a lot of our affiliations are often less within the community immediately around us.

When we connect virtually, it still creates a connection that is real somewhere, somehow. It is what we have right now, so this is what we are working with. We work though getting stuck and un-stuck, through relating and connecting, working with what is, and what wants to move first. How we handle transitions, how we hold ourselves in them. And how we hold each other in all of that. Like we always did in that work. It still works.

What strikes me the most about the current situation is how big the amplitude got between the beauty and the pain in our encounters. This amplitude requires a completely different set of holding capacity. For self and even more so for others. And across time and distance, with a stamp-sized zoom picture over increasingly unreliable connections. How do you hold the everything of life behind the gallery view? I don’t think we know quite yet how to live like that. Collectively. How to make that a life that’s still real enough. To find the strength to keep going with what we have, what is still possible. And rebuild things from there for whatever happens after. How we want that “thereafter” to be.

The session chat debrief notes are sublime poetry. Love notes to our humanity. Fragile. We can’t recreate the human touch. We can just stand there and try and hold the grief, bear witness in gallery view, and somehow help make things better. It is brutal. It is beautiful. It is our life right now. For the most part, it still works.



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