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Becoming Aware of Metaphor

Using metaphor consciously is another skill involved in mastering facilitation. Humans make sense out of things by comparing what they know with what they don’t know. If the comparison says one thing “is” another thing, it qualifies as a metaphor. If I say it is “like” another thing, it qualities as an analogy. For instance, I could say that the Grove Facilitation Model™ is like a mental keyboard for composing meaning along the “staff” lines of the Four Flows. This is an analogy. With this comparison one might infer that the real process of a group is as complex as a real piece of music, and not be confused with the keyboard. That makes the design and elegance of the “keyboard instrument” even more critical, and hopefully encourages improvisation and “playing around.”

Much of the complexity of working with groups, and especially working with groups as a graphic facilitator where one is writing and drawing down what people say, is learning to understand analogy and metaphor and fly easily through them without getting stuck and confused. (Notice the “fly” metaphor?) Just to make sure everyone isn’t stuck in any specific representation of these ideas (i.e. the specific way the Four Flows is drawn as channels), I also share it as a set of concerns that surround the body of a facilitator, shown in the illustration of the facilitator as a conductor accompanying this piece. Although this is still a musical analogy it is a different representation that chases out different understanding.

In the facilitator illustration, the Grove Facilitation Model’s attention flow is mapped onto the head, the energy flow into the left hand, the operations flow as the right (control) hand, and the information flow being the platform one stands on as a graphic facilitator. This way of looking at it, if one appreciates it as an example of a classic “four-fold operator” in Process Theory, shows the substantial aspects we experience (our emotional life and our physical life) as the two opposing hands on a horizontal axis. Arthur M. Young insisted these two modalities cannot be appreciated consciously at the same time; that we choose to either tune into our feelings on the left hand or to make decisions and control and interact precisely with mechanisms on the right. These “real life” aspects are complemented by two imaginary aspects, which are illustrated on a vertical axis. Our attention (the freest way we relate) is illustrated around our heads, and our objective thinking (which is constrained by the generalizations of language) is illustrated as the platform we stand on. Neither of these is substantial in the same way feelings and physical form is (i.e. they don’t have weight, force, or physical form).

Now I realize that in this short blog post I can’t fully defend this way of seeing things or even explain it fully. I want simply to give a flavor of the nuances that a skilled facilitator entertains when thinking about thinking. Working with multiple mental models is a core skill in more masterful levels of practice.

Working the Flow of Attention

Because attention is fundamental, I thread reflective process throughout my work as a facilitator. If you think of attention as a flashlight (metaphor again), then it can be broad or narrow beam. It can also be turned inward or outward. A facilitator needs to not only be aware of his or her own awareness but also imagine what people in the group are attending to. So how does a person develop mastery in being aware of attention? I use an exercise in workshops that involves people creating large personal portraits of themselves inside an outline of their bodies drawn by a partner. These portraits are “current state” pictures looking at four aspects of ourselves (these questions were derived from thinking about the Four Flows). We ask ourselves the following questions:

1. What inspires you?
2. What nurtures you?
3. What intrigues you?
4. What are you committed to?
5. What gifts are you bringing to this workshop?

An example of one of these drawings is shown above. Answers to question #1 are along the top. Question #2 answers are along the left side. Question #3 answers are along the bottom. Questions #4 answers are on the rights side. Question #5 answers are inside the body outline.

Identifying Growth Edges

Ringed around the room, these portraits give participants the sense that they are surrounded by mythic Olympians! We use them to identify our “growth edges.” The idea of “growth edges” compares humans to living trees, and assumes that each year we add rings of new growth. As we age more and more of ourselves is established. Notice, though, that even older trees have a percentage of their growth that is on the edge, moving out into new territory. In psychological terms, my edge includes those things I am just becoming aware of but haven’t yet embodied. I believe I can discover my edge by looking at what attracts me in other people that isn’t present yet in my own life. I can also look at what repels me. Both represent awareness at our edges. One can only be attracted or repelled by something one is ready to understand. Otherwise we wouldn’t even notice. I’ve learned that when I begin to pay a lot of attention to something, then it begins to gather energy. I learn more about it, and eventually it actually manifests in my physical world and life.

My edge is “working without using talking; working with the subtle energies.” As I enter into my elder years I am more and more seeing my service as being a “holder of the container” rather than the contents for a group. Listening with full attention without talking creates a container of listening around another person. And the active ingredient, I’ve come to experience, is the extent to which I am sincerely  engaged in opening to the other person’s communication inside my own consciousness. I believe that ultimately the methodologies of meditation, yoga, journaling, dreamwork, and the like are pretty essential to making much progress in mastering attention and awareness. The Grove doesn’t espouse any particular path, but I encourage people to find one that works for them.