El Arte del Liderazgo Participativo: The Art of Participatory Leadership Oaxaca, Mexico

Over the past five days, I have been deep in the process of co-hosting the Art of Participatory Leadership in Oaxaca, Mexico. We were a gathering of community organizers, indigenous leaders, educators, environmentalists, artisans and farmers, representing a beautiful diversity of Oaxacans from both the rural and urban contexts. We came together at La Calera, an old limestone factory, which after 27 years in abandonment was converted into a space for art and community. In this rustic, creative space of re-invention, we dove deep into a process of conversation and embodiment that brought to life a model for leadership that the world is asking for.

the circle

We created the conditions for people to experience what it’s like to work together in ways that harvest the collective wisdom of the group, because we are wiser together than we are alone. We are living in a time of history when we can no longer rely on individual leaders to solve the complex problems at hand, we need all of our voices and perspectives working together with a shared purpose. And this workshop was all about how we can create the conditions for that to emerge. We shared tools for hosting conversations that matter in organizations, communities, and wherever we are.

world cafe
                                                                       The World Cafe

As hosts, Aerin Dunford, Sergio Beltran, Megan Martin and I came together wanting to make this art of hosting different. We really wanted to sink into what it looks like and feels like to be authentic leaders. In nature, the most thriving systems are the ones with the most diversity. This is the case for organizations as well, which need different kinds of people and leaders working collaboratively for creativity to bloom. The more in alignment we are with our unique approach to leadership, centering our strengths and gifts in service of the collective, the more powerful we are, together.

The art of hosting conversations that matter, like any art, is a practice. Breathing and being present is the base of this practice. When we are truly in the present, we can listen deeply, and open to what wants to emerge. Working with Theory U, we began practicing opening the mind, heart and body, to be truly awake, and aware of the possibilities that are available to us, but that we cannot perceive when we are closed.

el espacio caordico
                                                     Megan and Sergio sharing the Choardic Path

What thrilled me to no end, was that we integrated the body into every step of the journey. Woven into the fabric of our design we created the conditions for body to be engaged alongside conversation. We moved through breathing, conversation, play, movement and storytelling in a seamless flow, allowing us to deepen our connection to Source, embodied wisdom and each other.

el acojedor

In our closing circle full of laughter and tears, there was no doubt that the past five days have been deeply transformative for each one of us present. We felt the power of the human spirit and what we are capable of when we truly come together with a shared purpose. We each connected to a deeper part of ourselves, expelling limiting belief systems with more clarity of how to re-forest as we continue to journey from the heart.


Art and Social Change Jam, Ben Lomond, California

After two of years of being part of the organization and facilitation team for the Toronto Jam, and nine years of being told “you should go to a Jam”, I finally accepted the generous offer and was a participant at the Art and Social Change Jam. Why did I wait so long? To be honest, I struggled with believing that I deserved the investment of time and resources for a reflective retreat. Even up to the day before I left, I was feeling guilty, thinking “What am I doing taking a retreat? I should be working!”

I’m so glad I pushed through my old scarcity thinking and followed my gut which both softly and assertively said: “Go!”

Because in the loving embrace of community, I received oceans of affirmation supporting me to be the artist I am, in all the roles I play in the world. Regardless of the absence of certificates or degrees, whether I am designing or facilitating a program, performing on stage or organizing a community gathering – I am an artist. Learning to stand in my power as an artist, remembering that I am a healing dancer, that art is my birthright, and my creativity is my gift to the world. A gift that the world needs to heal, re-create and re-imagine outdated, oppressive systems.

Step dancing with Nandita, Sezin, Elif and Ezra. Photo credit Tony Santaana
Step dancing with Nandita, Sezin, Elif and Esra. Photo credit Tony Santaana

Being an artist in this world can be hard. A limiting belief system that recurred in this gathering was the idea that “I am not enough.” It was painful to see how deep this current runs through so many of us. How penetrating the societal undervaluing of art is, how scarcity thinking has invaded our systems and minds, stopping us from being BIG, being BRIGHT, being the POWER that we actually are. Affirmations came up again and again as a necessary remedy to fight this illness.

We affirmed each other and ourselves, and through this so much opening was made possible. It may sound cliché, but it’s true that love heals. In the practice of beloved community, where I was seen and heard, I allowed myself to be witnessed processing deep fears and insecurities, standing as obstacles between me and my dreams. And so did many of us.

Photo credit Jayeesha Dutta
Austin and Annie-Rose perform a Secret Angel presentation for Esra. Photo credit Jayeesha Dutta

We had the space to understand what success looks like for us as artists, and to envision our future. We had the opportunity to receive support in one of our ventures, and thanks to these collaborations, I will soon be starting a course in entrepreneurship for artists.

Nancy Marguiles graphic recording: conversations on success, value/worth, barriers, and support for artivists.
Graphic recording by Nancy Marguiles capturing a World Cafe conversation on success, value/worth, barriers, and support for artivists.

I was jamming with my two-year old daughter Naïma, which was a jam of its own. Exhausting and full, it was overwhelming at times. And yet everywhere I turned, there was support for us. As a parent who is seeking to cultivate learning communities outside the formal school system, it was important for me to share this learning space with Naïma. And we danced…

Photo credit Jayeesha Dutta
Rehana and Naima.  Photo credit Jayeesha Dutta

Thank you to SWB and YES! for your generous support, making it possible for Naïma and I to attend the Jam! We are eternally grateful.

Ka’nikonhriyohtshera – Fostering Emergence of the Good Mind

This weekend changed my life. I attended Ka’nikonhriyohtshera – Fostering Emergence of the Good Mind – a weekend workshop at Six Nations Reserve. Lead by Diane Hill, a Mohawk consultant, educator, and social worker, this 3-day program utilizes research drawn from the quantum sciences and the study of cellular biology, epigenetics and neuroplasticity, to show how the human body heals itself.

The body uses its nervous system to process and integrate our many life experiences. Our bodies have trillions of cells designed to absorb the shock, pain, trauma, sadness, negativity that our experiences can cause – if we learn how to stay in the body and breathe. Breathing is what allows the body to process experiences. But what we most often do is get into our heads, into the ego and start thinking about what happened, analyzing it, trying to rationalize it, make sense of it up there. This is what schooling and society teaches us from the beginning. But what we are not taught is that understanding something from the intellect, doesn’t free you from it. Depending on the story you let the ego/mind tell yourself, you could feel better about it, or worse, but either way, it’s not gone. It’ll come back again, because the body hasn’t processed it on a cellular level.

The body is processing trillions of pieces of information every moment. The mind can only process 7-9 pieces of information at a time. The body is supremely wired for this purpose, and it doesn’t lie.

The body stores our experiences not only from our lifetime, but also the experiences of our ancestors, which are stored in our DNA. We have hundreds and thousands of people living in us.   We carry their worldviews, even if we disagree with them, unless we do the work to really transform and release them. That’s what this program is all about.

Being in the body, and breathing. De-cloaking. Speaking our truth. This is the work of this program. And it changed me. I am a different person today, on a cellular level, than I was when I came in.

I learned so much about myself. About what has been holding me back from being my most authentic self. For me, my conditioned self – what I was told I should be, didn’t match up with who I am, and who I want to be. But still I was holding belief systems and attitudes of the system I was raised and conditioned in. Scarcity thinking, credentialism, what a “successful life” looks like, what ‘real’ work looks like, what ‘productivity’ looks like, not being enough as I am, needing to be in someone else’s shadow…and the list goes on. These belief systems no longer serve me, and in fact never did, so I let them go. And continue to let them go as they come up. By being in the body, and breathing…

And I embrace abundance – there is more than enough for everyone, including me, doesn’t have to be hard, I can make a living doing what I love, and the money will come, I can be seen, I am here, I am enough. And so are you.

For more information visit http://www.dianehill.net

Beyond just a bunch of talking heads: Incorporating the body into conversations that matter

The Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter

Columbus, Ohio May 15-17

About five years ago I encountered the Art of Hosting and it shifted the way I approach and facilitate collaborative leadership. Recently I had the opportunity to attend a unique Art of Hosting training, hosted by Confluence Unlimited in Columbus, Ohio, which was the first of its kind to integrate the embodied practice of Social Presencing Theatre into the art of hosting conversations. As a dancer, theatre artist and InterPlay Leader, who has been experimenting with integrating embodied and conversational processes into participatory leadership for the past decade, I was very curious to see what this was all about.

What is Art of Hosting?

The leadership approach Art of Hosting (AoH) activates the collective intelligence in a group to find new solutions to the increasing challenges of the world of work today.   It is a response to a world that is becoming increasingly complex and fragmented, where true solutions and innovations lie not in one leader or one viewpoint, but in the bigger picture of our collective intelligence.[1]

Art of Hosting, Columbus, Ohio
Art of Hosting, Columbus, Ohio, 2015

AoH is an emergent group of methodologies for facilitating conversations in groups of all sizes, supported by principles that help maximize collective intelligence, integrate and utilize diversity and minimize/transform conflict. Processes facilitated in this way tend to result in collective clarity and wise action – sustainable, workable solutions to the most complex problems. The approach ensures that stakeholders buy into the process (because they participate in the design and the process is by defininition transparent) and make ongoing feedback, learning and course correction a natural and efficient part of life.[2]

Social Presencing Theatre (SPT), as described by Arawana Hayashi is

“A practice that uses embodiment and the intelligence of the body as a basis for expanding awareness. By increasing awareness and letting go of preconceptions, we tap into our wiser self and into the greatest potential of the situation. Awareness gives birth to insight, innovation and skillful action” – Awarana Hayashi

Facilitated by SPT practitioner and clown Heidi Madsen, the embodied component of the training, invited us into simple practices that helped strengthen the quality of our conversations. It reminded us to take a moment to connect to our breathe, before and during conversation, to check in with our inner state and to speak with intention.

Image Theatre Toronto YES! Jam, 2014
Image Theatre Toronto YES! Jam, 2014

Social Presencing Theatre is rooted in Otto Schwarmer’s Theory U, a practice of leadership that invites us to lead from the highest future possibility by being aware of the “blind spot of leadership” – the inner place from which we operate. For Schwarmer, the quality of leadership is directly related to the inner state of the leader. Social Presencing Theatre as a practice was developed to support leaders to be more aware of their inner state, and their relationship with others. It is a practice of bringing oneself into the present moment, truly open to all the possibilities available and from that state of connection and awareness, making what Hayashi calls a true move.

Of course, this is much easier said than done. For most of us, the invitation to step into our bodies through embodiment exercises, is terrifying. We each have our own body deals, maybe we have been told that we can’t dance, or we are so used to operating from our heads that it feels almost foreign to think with the body. As is to be expected with any experiment, all of these challenges presented themselves at this retreat. It gave us the opportunity to reflect together on how we integrate embodied and conversational practices in a meaningful and accessible way. Not just as an add on.

Some learnings that came:

  • Incrementality is key: people can go deeper in baby steps.
  • Warm-Up: we all need time to move out of head to body
  • Breathe is a powerful and accessible embodiment practice that can be introduced before every conversation as the thread to connect the body throughout a day of conversations
  • We need more time to be in the body in order to tap into its wisdom
  • There are many embodiment practices to support having conversations that matter and we need to continue experimenting and exploring

I am grateful to be apprenticing with the Art of Hosting team in Oaxaca, Mexico in leading El Arte del Liderazgo Participativo August 19-23, 2015 and look forward to continue experimenting with integrating body-based practices into this work.

[1] The Art of Hosting. Confluence Unlimited Workbook. 2015.

[2] The Art of Hosting. Confluence Unlimited Workbook. 2015.