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Leading From Any Chair

From Of Seeds and Sowers, NAICR’s distinguished newsletter that includes current programs, projects and tele-classes, as well as humor and inspiration. Visit the site to learn more about the work of Barbara Ashley Phillips and Kenneth Cloke.

You’re sitting in a meeting that’s going nowhere. You’ve heard all the speeches before. You could have written from memory the script that is being played out. You heartily wish you were somewhere else.

Then you remember what you learned recently about heart space. Just to pass the time, you decide to engage, and see what happens. You open, and soften, in the heart. As your body is flooded with the re-collected experience of love – perhaps from gazing into a little baby’s eyes, perhaps from a heart-stopping experience in the natural world, perhaps from your love for your Mom or Dad, or the love light in your partner’s eyes – you notice the now-familiar feelings of warmth and fullness inside. You sit back and breathe deeply, with full attention. Your face relaxes. Your impatience vanishes. Time no longer gnaws at you around the edges.

Somehow, you are seeing and hearing things differently, picking up meaning and seeing opportunities that were invisible moments before. At first, you notice several times that you have popped back into your thoughts. Each time you noticed, you knew exactly how to re-connect, within. A little smile tugs at the corners of your mouth. Your shoulders drop a notch or two as the tension in your neck and shoulders slackens a bit. The tightness in your solar plexis relaxes also. Your jaw softens.

You notice a sense of spaciousness. As your inner listening wakes up, you realize you’re listening to others with broader and deeper awareness. The attention you are now able to give each speaker in turn seems to affect them. You notice that in your own mind, you want to make this a goal. Then, you check your body’s cues and discover that you’re in your head. You drop back down, inside. This is too precious to be lost on a goal.

There is more candor in what you are hearing. The discussion is becoming less polarized than it was. You easily read between the lines: you had forgotten how powerfully what’s not said, communicates itself. You recall, without blaming yourself, that you don’t always notice the subtexts. You enjoy that you are noticing them now.

Your heart softens toward each of the others. You see what they are trying to accomplish, what they had given up hope could be accomplished. You see how various conditions – poor structure, poor timing and formulaic speech and leaning on assigned role — have blocked these aspirations. No longer do you see the meeting and the others as a burden, imposing on your all-too-scarce time. Time seems to expand. You shelve your own personal agenda, and pursue your real interest in what, really, might be accomplished, right here, right now. It feels good to ponder that what you thought was your personal bottom line wasn’t the end-all and be-all of the possibilities. You enjoy the relaxation that comes from letting it go.

Somehow, now, you know just what to say, to whom to say it and when to speak. Your words have power. There are few of them, but they are just exactly what is needed at that moment. You and others begin to speak from the wisdom of the group assembled. People are surprised and pleased to hear their own thoughts echoed in others’ contributions. And as people begin to trust that they will actually be heard, they speak more candidly.

The discussion becomes more relevant – and more honest. Honesty leads to honesty, in the atmosphere to which you are contributing by being in your own heart. One of your colleagues notices, and drops down within herself, as well. The atmosphere in the room improves noticeably. You feel her drop in your own body and smile a little in the direction from which it has come. You sense a field of group thinking might eventually develop in this group, that only a little before, had seemed so unpromising.

Now, this meeting is taking on the qualities of an adventure. Your attention is fully engaged and you’re having a great time. Time flies. As the meeting breaks up, you find yourself engaging in interesting conversations with others. You feel invigorated and refreshed. Some real movement has taken place. Your time was, indeed, well spent.


Barbara Ashley Phillips

Barbara Phillips has 19 years of widely varied mediation experience, specializing in complex, technical and sensitive matters. A graduate of Yale Law School, Phillips served as an Assistant United States Attorney and practiced primarily federal civil trial law in Oregon and California prior to becoming a mediator. In Phillips' mediations,… MORE >

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