As part of our Artful knowing programme, we recently invited Kathryn Winterburn to co-host a webinar exploring the artful practice of writing and the hidden wisdom that can be found therein. It was such an insightful event with one attendee commenting that it helped to "summon the unseen!" which is what our artful sessions are all about.
Kathryn has kindly written a blog for us to share, which she was moved to write following the event. Thank you Kathryn, we are sure you’ll enjoy reading her blog below as much as we did.
Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder. ~ Rumi
I believe that change can only really happen when we engage in new and different actions. To know what different action to take often needs a provocation. In organisational contexts we often attempt to enact change while still engaging with existing or old methods and wonder why the change doesn’t stick. This seems to happen almost unconsciously. As OD practitioners and change agents we have our familiar methods that we are comfortable using and of course do help however we also know that being too comfortable can become a static space;
“The path of least resistance is what makes men and rivers crooked” ~ Hopi
Increasingly I have sought to work with the less or even unfamiliar through the use of writing practices. This artful practice is one that I had been quietly cultivating for many years but carefully saved for my spare time. In bringing this into my day job my intention is to help groups, teams and ultimately organisations to step into unfamiliar territory where there is a stated desire for change. Incorporating what I had mistakenly identified as a recreational activity into my work invariably felt risky. It challenged my own practice, sense of self and definitions of work. Repeatedly, I have witnessed the difference it has affected in individuals and groups, as people find themselves in an act of curiosity that activates a different perspective and different conversations.
It was therefore with some trepidation that I offered to share this practice within the Mayvin community as part of the Artful Practice series. It was a deliberate choice, not totally altruistic, since I expected sharing with an audience of similarly qualified professionals would offer personal stretch. A risky discomfort from which to learn. And so it was that a group of about 40 practitioners had the experience of, “falling in”, as one participant described it, into a deeper space and were witness to the feelings and emotions that were quickly revealed.
Writing practice comes in many forms and I anticipated would be familiar to at least some members of the audience. My version is an adapted fusion of exercises that I have studied, learned and regularly practice. My teachers and influencers include, Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott, Pamela Winter and Hojin Sensei.
We begin the session with poetry, which by its nature immediately speaks to the imagination. On this occasion The Daisies by Louise Gluck. Reading out loud to the group, first my voice and then a different voice. The choice of poem is not a random act. Choosing a poem is part of my process, finding one that holds some resonance with the group, their context or their particular challenge. Reading is followed by a writing round taking a prompt from the poem and following its pull; keep the pen moving, no stopping, editing, thinking, just writing whatever comes up. A second round of writing follows, taking a prompt from the first round, one’s own words, where do they lead?
Now comes the more difficult part of the process, reading our writing to a small breakout group. Listeners are instructed to listen with full attention, no interruption, without judgement and without comment. Only after everyone has an opportunity to read do we move gently into discussion. The immediate temptation to comment on what we’ve heard, but the helpful discussion is the one about the process and our experience of it rather than a critique of the writing.
It is deep and intensely personal and as participants confirmed it can be emotional. The process quickly unlocks and does take people to a deeper space; “the speed at which sharing can develop and an immediate emotional intimacy with others” was certainly experienced in this session.
Reflecting on the post session comments, it is interesting to me that some participants appeared to interpret the instruction not to comment on the writing as a direction not to discuss the emotion of it;
“…a lack of acknowledgement of an emotional disclosure somehow felt uncomfortable. So, I couldn’t help myself and had to say something!”
And from another;
“It was almost impossible not to in a way.”
The experience of the process, especially if it was an emotional experience, is in my opinion exactly the discussion that we should be having within organisations. The reason we don’t comment on the writing is to avoid judgement (no good or bad) and competition, precisely so that we can unpick the experience and start to learn something of each other at a more profound level than may be usual.
Words are important, words are the way into things, words are the things we use every day to communicate. Because we use them with such regularity, we take them for granted or hold assumptions about their meaning and those who utter them. Rarely in organisations or in our day to day do we make time to question the meanings that we individually hold. Even rarer do we have collective conversations about the words we use or what they mean in practice.
In our efforts to get things done, we assume that everyone is “on the same page” and “singing from the same hymn sheet.” Even when we are singing from the same hymn sheet it is remiss to assume that we are all singing the same tune. Practices such as this help individuals access the depths of their own mind and groups get beneath the surface of things.
Creative practices open up discussion and possibility, divergent thinking. Finding ways into a deeper discussion with colleagues and teams offers a rare opportunity to learn more about ourselves and each other, reveal different perspectives and crack open new ways of seeing. Through such dialogue we also unlock the possibility of arriving at shared understanding. As one participant poignantly described it;
“Showing people that what they think they know, isn’t necessarily what they really know.”
The reason this practice has become central to my OD work, is summed up in this paragraph by the author Deena Metzger;
“Some people fear seeing or feeling anything about which there is no general agreement. For others, it is thrilling to be aware of innuendo, shading, complexity. For those who do not wish to step away from consensus, the creative is useless at best; at worst, it is dangerous. But for those who are intrigued by the multiplicity of reality and the unique possibilities, the creative is the path they must pursue.”
Thank you once again Kathryn for writing and allowing us to share this captivating piece, if you'd like to connect with Kathryn you can click here to get in touch via LinkedIn.
And if you'd like to come along to a future Artful Event, take a look at our Events Calendar