In the Beginning – team initiatives and how to work with differences

A friend of mine read my previous journal post and had a few questions for a situation she is currently in. I certainly do not have extensive experience in beginning schools, but some of my other experiences in organising conferences and working in groups on various projects in various capacities help me in my intuition and I would like to share some of my thoughts on her questions.

I want to approach one question tonight:

“How does one work with the spiritually forming being in the early days, when others are so focused on the practical aspects of forming (as opposed to the spiritual forming).”

I’d like to rephrase this a little for different contexts.

How does one work with the delicate, foetal-like spark of an organisation in its inception, when others are focused on the form the organisation should take?

I spoke in my last post about how the spirit of a school and the form it takes can often appear or be opposed to each other. This is a natural occurrence as they each champion a different reality; one somewhat free of time and space, observable by a sharpened intuition, the other built on physical information, able to be controlled, measured and acquired. It is part of our work in an organisation to find a way to mediate between these two realities, this is challenging work, but also deeply rewarding. This work will take up much of our time no matter how new the organisation or project is; and this is right.

I’d like to digress a little and describe an experience I was privileged enough to have while organising a conference with two others. We made a decision very early on to (during our very regular, timed meetings) focus on our observations of the spark/flame/spirit of the conference we felt called to organise; we wanted to see if a form would naturally drop into place. We wanted to see how far we could push this apparent inaction in order to see if the right form would find the spark, rather than imposing a form onto it. We had the strength of being a small group who knew each other well and could trust in the others’ honesty, however difficult. The process took us months and no matter how prepared for the wait we were, there was still some anxiety as the dates of the conference drew near. This process was not seamless, but it was successful. The learning I took away from the experience is that it is possible to allow form to approach the spirit peacefully, but that it takes no mean amount of trust to do so. The form, consisting of mainly controllable, measurable information and things can come together very quickly with clear intent and will. This approach would not be appropriate in most contexts, but my point in bringing it up here is that form and spirit can peacefully co-exist.

Another experience, is something well encapsulated by a quote almost categorically (and unfortunately incorrectly) attributed to Goethe¹:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”¹

I would like to draw attention to the word ‘committed’ and ‘decision’ in the above quotation. Although the last two sentences speak more of action in a formal sense, the main part of the quote speaks of mindset and attention, the commitment to an initiative – that this brings with it unforseen events, it brings with it form.

Now the actual quote from Goethe’s Faust apparently inspiring the former:

Enough words have been exchanged;
Now at last let me see some deeds!
While you turn compliments,
Something useful should transpire.
What use is it to speak of inspiration?
To the hesitant it never appears.
If you would be a poet,
Then take command of poetry.
You know what we require,
We want to down strong brew;
So get on with it!
What does not happen today, will not be done tomorrow,
And you should not let a day slip by,
Let resolution grasp what’s possible
and seize it boldly by the hair;
it will not get away
and it labours on, because it must.”²

In fact, the expressions here are very similar to the previous quote, only more theatrical. Once again there is much will in this quote, but I ask for your attention to hone in on the words and meaning of “While you turn compliments”, “Then take command of poetry” and ‘resolution’ toward the end. My aim is to point out that although at first what seems important in it’s meaning is pure action, what is being said has a lot to do with resolution, commitment, decision and in effect, trust.

To create, we must trust. In this trust “what’s possible… will not get away and it labours on, because it must”. The action, the forming arises from the intent; and the intent, the inspiration (which… “To the hesitant it never appears”) is a direct effect of observing the spirit trying to come into being.

Sometimes the people we begin projects with appear to be working against us, or at least against what we see to be the best way of going about things. I know that my personal strength in initiatives is my ability to see subtle relationships/mindsets and movements of intention, and to apply encouragement where necessary and sometimes act the devil’s advocate; this gift is impotent without others who can drive forward other important aspects. It is only in community that my gift can shine, but that doesn’t mean it is easy to work with others. What is important is that I can say ‘I trust the others to activate their gifts in this context’.

There is this thing often said about acting out of love or fear. I’m not a particularly sentimental person, so the love part never really make sense to me. However, change it to trust and fear, and I get it.

So with the above in mind, I come back to the original question:

How does one work with the delicate, foetal-like spark of an organisation in it’s inception, when others are focused on the form the organisation should take.

I would suggest to try, even with one’s natural inclination at feelings of being right, to ask (and hopefully answer within the context) the following questions:

Has an environment been created in the initiative group that fosters trust rather than fear?

How can trust be fostered in this group in a way that acknowledges your differences, strengths and indeed weaknesses honestly and respectfully?

What agreements can be made in order to foster an open and active group dynamic, where people are trusted to “get on with it!” whatever that ‘it’ is that they have been delegated to do? How can everyone be held accountable to the spirit of the initiative, with a feeling of trust rather than interrogation?

A fantastic and inspiring woman called Lisa Devine spoke at the very first conference I attended from the organisation I later worked within. She does a lot of work with groups and also counselling couples and families and once explained that she saw herself (a priest) as working herself out of her profession as people learned to trust their own divinity (which I was enamoured with). She talked about the situation in groups where people try to be polite, metaphorically cutting off their limbs in order to have consensus for group decisions and how she felt this was most certainly not the way to progress forward.

She said that in order to make decisions filled with integrity, each member must ‘hold the flame alive’ that lives in the centre of this group. In doing so, and allowing each person to be inspired and honest (perhaps picture Pentecost here to illustrate), each person may feel whole in the becoming initiative, feel heard by the others and feel most useful in its forming.

This is by no means an easy path, but I hope that my musings might help some along it.


¹ best attributed to Scottish mountaineer W.H. Murray (though also not in its entirety), who may be said to have done a loose translation of a quote from Goethe’s Faust for the last sentences. Some more information here.

² Goethe, from Faust I, Zeilen 214-230

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