March Update: Sensing into the Mindfulness for Change Network

Things are changing in Mindfulness for Change — maybe reflecting the impermanence of all things, the seasonal nature of life. This is a little update on the things that I’m sensing in the Mindfulness for Change network at the moment, and what’s happening in this particular season. One of the themes of this update is celebration: it’s something I don’t believe we do enough of in our culture, to take a breath and celebrate the good things that are happening every day.

I’ve been at or near the centre of Mindfulness for Change since its conception. One of the original intentions was to provide a nurturing, wellbeing-centric space that could allow for community to build and people to support each other in the diverse mahi (work) that they were doing in the world. In this I believe we’ve exceeded our own expectations — each hui we’ve hosted has felt like it’s created a strong, wholesome community feel and genuine, lasting connections have formed that in many cases have extended into everyday life.

Another of the original intentions was to grow organically, and to sense and respond rather than command and control. Those of us in kaitiaki roles in the community have veered away from a central strategy and focused on creating space for members of our community to connect and support each other to work on meaningful projects that speak to them — and also to support each other to embody the change they want to see, whatever they happen to be doing.

Projects

This too has been a success. Here’s an update on the projects that I’m aware of:

  • At the start of this month we had the fantastic Mindful Leaders Conference at Te Papa: 175 delegates from all over New Zealand came together to listen to world class home-grown and international speakers talk about mindful leadership in different sectors of society. This was organised by members of our community: Andrew Morisson, Kerene Strochnetter, Jess Stuart, Martin Giles, and others.
  • Tough Talk, Sam O’Sullivan’s project on men’s mental health, is about to launch its second season, and has been producing tools that will be offered as courses later this year.
  • Human Skills, led by Sarrah Jayne, is expanding from teaching trainee programmers at Enspiral Dev Academy to offer courses to businesses all around Wellington.
  • Ovio Mindfulness Solutions, led by Cheryl Strawbridge, is going from strength to strength, and is planning to collaborate with Human Skills to create a joint mindfulness + human skills offering to businesses.
  • CoLiberate have been selling out courses in Mental Health First Aid for the last four months, and the Wellington’s very first mental health gym continues to blaze a trail where no one has gone before, with a recent write-up in Concrete Playground magazine.
  • The Tech Between (Peter Jacobson, Michael Smith and I) have launched our website, and are now offering a beta version of our companion app to individuals and organisations offering mindfulness, mental health, and workplace training programmes. (Contact us if you’re interested in an app for your programme)
  • The Good Registry, Christine Langdon’s project, has been continuing to make it easier to give the gift of giving, tackling materialism by giving people an opportunity to practice generosity. They’re focusing on helping people to provide registries for weddings and other special occasions.

This is not to mention Pause Breathe Smile, led by Grant and Tash Rix, which is now delivering a NZ-based, international quality mindfulness in schools programmes in over 230 schools around the country. I also think its important to acknowledge the people who are doing work that isn’t a “project”: the change we are doing is often personal, relational, and subtle: it doesn’t always look like a big, highly visible project but may bring about large qualitative shifts in people’s lives nonetheless.

Working Groups

While we’re doing a stocktake of the action in the Mindfulness for Change community, there are four working groups that have started since last November’s Auckland Hui and the recent Mindful Leaders Conference:

  • Healing Healthcare Working Group, exploring how to bring healing to the healthcare system and prototype new ways of doing healthcare, and will be making a submission to the upcoming Mental Health system review in April/May this year.
  • Mindful Nation NZ Working Group, investigating how the Mindful Nation UK report and integration of mindfulness training in parliament and different arms of government might apply in the NZ context, particularly with regards to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and Te Ao Māori.
  • Storytelling Working Group, prototyping how to get more stories of vulnerability, workplace wellbeing and mindfulness practice into the public sphere, to create a wider visibility of all the great stories that many of us have the privilege of seeing in our work.
  • Wellbeing Organisations Council Working Group is talking with organisations who are known to prioritise employee wellbeing and test the idea of them coming together to form a council akin to the Sustainable Business Council, Pure Advantage, or B Corps.

The working groups are going to be visible on Loomio — so if you want to check out the progress and contribute then go to the Mindfulness for Change Loomio group and find the working groups on there, they will be subgroups within the Mindfulness for Change Loomio.

Wellbeing and Needing Others: My journey

We are, explicitly, a wellbeing-centric community: a wellspring for people working for change to come and experience nourishing connections and practices together. So, with all this progress on projects and working groups, it begs the question: how are we going with our wellbeing??

The sense I get from the people that I’ve been in contact with is that many of us are feeling quite busy, and while many are not at the point of burnout yet, there is a risk of that happening if we are not proactive about looking out for our own wellbeing.

Another theme that I’m seeing is the sense of needing support from other people. Many of us are used to caregiving or supportive, leadership roles. We might have great skills supporting others, and achieving things ourselves. But what I’m seeing now, in myself and in others, is a need to learn to reach out for support. To receive gifts that we are not able to give ourselves. To move beyond independence into interdependence.

My version of this has been realising that “I” am not as much of an individual as I had thought. In previous times when things had been rough for me, I’ve been able to “dig deep” and find personal strength to get through. Last year, in my internship year of clinical psychology training, I went through a difficult time, and when I went to that well, there was nothing there to dig up. I was in New Plymouth, away from family and community, away from good eating habits in the flats I had been in in Wellington, and in a state of constant stress from the extreme demands of my university course.

What I’ve learned as I’ve recovered from that year is that this internal strength I’ve prided myself on in the past was somewhat of an illusion. Strength and resilience for me has become more about creating the conditions: good nutrition, good sleep and exercise, support from friends and family, manageable workloads: when I have all (or at least some) of these factors going well, then I can make really valuable contributions, take on high workloads, connect well with people, and make good decisions. When I have none of those things, then I can’t. It’s not so much me, it’s the conditions that contribute to the interbeingness of me.

My journey has been one of learning to connect with my heart, to connect with a sense of play, to find a greater sense of rhythm with natural processes, and to improve my gut and skin health through making big changes to my nutrition. These have been gaps for me, and while I’m doing my own learning around these areas, the process has been greatly helped along by support from reaching out to people who have gifts in that area, from within MfC and the wider Wellington community.

Community: How Do We Do This Together?

Community is based on people giving their gifts in service of one another, to meet each other’s needs. In pre-industrial times, we relied on community for a lot more of our basic needs. In contemporary times, we no longer need community to provide many of these needs of enough food, shelter, etc. What we do need, which I believe no corporations or government agencies can truly provide for us, are genuine connections with others. Friendships. People we can turn to for support in the difficult times, and who can help us enjoy and celebrate the good times.

I believe our mainstream culture is out of practice in living in community. This means that in Mindfulness for Change, where we are building a community to support each other, there’s learning to be done (or perhaps unlearning). Reaching out, asking for what we need — it can be unfamiliar, or uncomfortable. It can require a degree of vulnerability. I’m curious about how we can get more of that happening in our community.

Maybe it is a process of unlearning: if it is actually more natural for humans to be in community, as we have for most of our species’ history, then perhaps there is conditioning we can peel away through mindfulness practice to remember how to do this.

Maybe we can learn from Te Ao Māori, where identity is tied into whakapapa (ancestry), whenua (land), and whanau (family and relationships), and the individual cannot be understood except in relationship with these bigger-than-self concepts. There was a post about potentially running a Te Ao Māori + Mindfulness Hui on the MfC Facebook group. This post got a lot of interest, and Peter Jacobson and Will Moore have had a number of conversations about this idea. Wouldn’t it be great to see that happen?

Peter Jacobson and Clare Barrett have floated the idea for some of us to visit Parihaka to learn about how they live in community and in solidarity with the original peace settlement on that land (the same one that inspired Gandhi to his method of non-violent action). The Parihaka community have a celebration on the 18th/19th of every month where the community is opened up to the public. This could be an opportunity to build whanaungatanga with that community and learn what we might have to offer each other.

Proposal: We move from Concentric Circles to The Advice Process

One way to build community outside of hui might be in the way we make decisions together, which can be done in a way that opens up and empowers all of us to make decisions from a place of connectedness. For much of the first 18 months of its existence, our community was structured around the concentric circles model of kaitiaki, members, and friends, with each circle out representing 10x as many people and each circle moving inwards representing 10x more time and energy commitment. In 2017 a kaitiaki group delivered three hui across both Wellington and Auckland, as well as starting up Meetup events and monthly newsletters, among other things.

One of the intentions of the 2017 kaitiaki group was to do ourselves out of a job. We wanted to invite others into roles so that we had a cycle of people contributing and moving through the metaphorical kaitiaki space in the centre of the concentric circles. Our intention was to set up processes that could be carried out by a diverse group of people in the community, and to communicate this with the wider community so that people felt able to contribute and to have an awareness of what they could do if they wanted to contribute.

One process that I’d like to offer that our community try as an experiment is consent-based decision making, and to employ the advice process. The advice process is how the self-managing organisations in Reinventing Organisations make decisions. In the advice process, “any person in the organisation can make any decision. But before doing so, that person must seek advice from all affected parties and people with expertise in the matter.” Laloux adds “the person is under no obligation to integrate every piece of advice; the point is not to achieve a watered-down compromise that accommodates everyone’s wishes. But advice must be sought and taken into serious consideration.” The point is to seek consent, not consensus.

One of the people Laloux interviewed in his work on Reinventing Organisations, Dennis Bakke, observed that following the advice process “creates community, humility, learning, better decisions, and fun. That feels to me like it aligns perfectly with what we do well at hui and want to create more of in between hui. I propose that we employ the advice process in our community, and that we do this through the Facebook group, through Loomio, and through face-to-face connections.

What needs doing?

If we employ the advice process, there are a whole bunch of things to contribute to. The 2017 kaitiaki group set up a bunch of things for the commons of our community which simply need the community to start using them (if we want to). Here are some of the commons things that have been set up that we would love people to contribute to or offer to be kaitiaki for:

  • Hosting Hui. We love hui! Speaking as someone who’s been involved in organising each of them so far, I know that it’s not sustainable for the same group of people to be hosting them every time. I also know that I and other past hui organisers would really love to support others to run hui, and offer our knowledge and experience — but not to feel an expectation that it is our job to do this all the time. Talk to me, Caroline, Sarrah, Ming, Peter, Sam, Justin, or Richard if you’d like some support to host a hui.
  • Hosting Meetups. Ditto hosting hui. Talk to Sarrah, Ming, Elli, me, Peter, or Caroline about how to do this. We like the meetups to feature different things that are happening in the community, and to be an opportunity for peer learning, as well as whakawhanaungatanga (relationship building)
  • Producing or contributing to Newsletters. The newsletter is there to share the stories that are happening in our community. Email your news or content you want shared to newsletter@mindfulnessforchange.co.nz. If you have energy for piecing content together on a monthly basis — or even rotating in every few months, contact me, Jess Stuart, or Caroline.
  • Sharing our stories. There is so many wonderful things happening in our community. There is a real opportunity to share these stories and help to inspire more change. Storytelling is a method of changemaking all of its own, and there is some top quality material to work with in the people in our community and what we are doing. Mindfulness for Change has a Medium Channel that anyone can submit content to — that is just one way of sharing stories.
  • Community sensing. In Reinventing Organisations style organisations, there is less of a focus on 5-year plans and strategy and much more emphasis on sensing and responding. This is a mindful process, and it requires listening into the needs of the people in the organisation and the people engaging with the organisation, the opportunities that are emerging at any given time. Doing sensing conversations or sharing through the Facebook group to give the wider group a sense of where the opportunities are is really useful to enable this sensing and responding process.
  • Your own ideas. Bring your own energy, your own creativity to it. Do your own sensing, use the advice process, and create useful, beautiful things.

Thanks for reading! Much love and appreciation for all the wonderful mahi you’re doing and the care and attention you’re bringing into your life.

Nick