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Say More: How We Gather

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

top view of four individuals made of clay hugging in a circle with a lit candle in the middle

One of our guiding principles at Thought Kitchen is: All Things With Intention. This includes how we gather, which is a bit counter-cultural to many Western marketing and meeting social norms. Since some of our practices and requests may feel a little odd to anyone who is new to Thought Kitchen, I'm sharing some of the intention and the why/how/what behind a few of our practices. As with any other practice, we check in from time to time to ask, "Is this still working for us?". So, this is a snapshot of our current practices in this moment.

Closing Registration 24 hours Before an Offering

Maybe you've gone to register for Weekly Sangha Sit and have been frustrated because registration is closed. The screen might look something like this

Registration is closed.  See other events.

or this

Times of Weekly Sangha Sit offering, including the one for October 25, which notes "RSVP Closed"

It's perfectly normal if your thought/feeling is, "What the heck?! I wanna go to this tomorrow/later today! Dang it, I'm disappointed registration is closed!"

Here's the deal: We spend time and energy preparing for every offering, and knowing who is going to attend (and if anyone is even planning to attend) supports us in showing up in the way we want to show up. What do I mean by that? It means I know who's planning on attending, I've thought about what I'm going to offer, and why I've chosen that particular offering. This allows my heart and mind relief from preoccupation about whether anyone will show up and the unpleasant feelings that arise around that preoccupation. It allows me to use my time and attention (my two most precious resources) differently when nobody registers for an offering. All of this supports me in staying out of resentment, which allows me to more easefully be a version of myself I like a whole lot better than the version mired in resentment.

It also models the culture I'd like to live in, one that is thoughtful and intentional and not breathlessly running from thing to thing to thing to thing. One that doesn't model exhaustion as status symbol. One that doesn't support creating "emergencies" out of things that aren't actually an emergency, which leaves all of us humans better resourced to attend to actual emergencies. One that recognizes that my work commitments are only part of my commitments to myself, family, community, and role as citizen of the world. One that honors and values the time and energy it takes for all of us to attend to all of our commitments.

We work to communicate the 24 hours deadline like this

RSVP button with "Registration closes Nov 7, 12:00 PM EST"

and also by noting it in social media posts and offering descriptions.

We also know that things happen, we all miss deadlines from time to time, and we're all doing the best we can. So, if you happen to miss a registration deadline for something, and it's not moments before the offering, you can always reach out to us to see if we can accommodate your attendance.

Asking for an Emergency Contact at Registration for Services and Offerings

It may feel weird for us to ask you to provide an emergency contact when you're going to attend a service or offering, especially one that is delivered via Zoom. Are we just being nosy or what?

This practice arose from two incidences. The first was when I was meeting with a course buddy in an online cohort program I was in a few years ago. As we were talking back and forth via Zoom, my buddy got very drowsy and then slumped over. As I watched this and kept asking, "Are you ok?" without getting much response, concern and worry arose as I sat several hundred miles away, realizing I only knew their email and their spouse's name. It was an AWFUL feeling.

The second was when one of us was expecting a one-on-one coaching client who never misses an appointment but didn't appear and didn't reach out to say "I'll be late" or "I got tied up" and wasn't answering calls or texts. As we were trying to figure out a next step, they reached out to let us know they'd gotten tied up.

In order to live into our value of taking care of each other, we include a request on our registration forms for an emergency contact and phone number, along with the assurance that we'll only reach out if you don't appear, we can't get in touch with you, and we're worried about your well-being.

Emergency contact request on registration form

To date, we haven't had to use anybody's emergency contact, and we hope we never do. Also, if you choose not to share that information with us, we respect your agency to make that choice. As we outline in the Group Agreements, no is a complete answer.

Group Agreements: An Integral Part of How We Gather

In 2019, when I first began imagining what creating and delivering mindfulness-based offerings could look like, I realized I wanted to learn more about facilitation models and gain some practical experience by practicing facilitating. John Snethen had introduced me to the work of VISIONS, Inc. and invitations like “try it on” and “’I’ statements.” I found the Centre for Holding Space and trained with a cohort in the Holding Space Foundation Program. That’s where I learned about asking for what I need and offering what I can, “No is a complete answer,” and the use of a bell to signal a pause.

As we've continued to learn and practice gathering-- in-person, synchronously online, and/or asynchronously online-- the work and teaching of Priya Parker and Ezra Bookman have also woven their way into how we gather. The Group Agreements have found their way into the fabric of all Thought Kitchen gatherings, including our online home here on our website.

The current version of Thought Kitchen’s Group Agreements includes 13 items, alchemized from VISIONS, Inc. and Centre for Holding Space. If we are facilitating a workshop, we send the Group Agreements to each participant ahead of time, ask them to review them, and invite questions or concerns before our circle gathers. At the beginning of our time together, we review them and ask for consent. For multi-session workshops, we remind participants about them and ask for continued consent at subsequent meetings.

For some presentations and continuing legal education offerings-- especially when our time together is short, we're not diving deeply into tender subjects, and/or asking for participants to share personal details-- we don't need a super sturdy container for our gathering, so we don't utilize the Group Agreements.

In our online space, we utilize the Group Agreements for our synchronous offerings as well as in the Kitchen Forum and other asynchronous community sharing spaces. The Group Agreements are linked in the footer of every page of our website.

The Group Agreements are:

1. We will hold stories and personal material with confidentiality. We will ask permission before we share a story or idea that is not our own outside of this group.

The foundation of our time together begins with making a promise to each other that what happens in circle stays in the circle.

2. We will listen to each other with compassion and curiosity. To the best of our ability, we will hold space for each other without offering unsolicited advice, trying to fix each other, or judging each other. To the best of our abilities, we will create a space free of shame and blame.

Inviting our compassion and curiosity supports us staying in our hearts rather than our brains. I’ve found that oftentimes feeling heard rather than feeling like a problem to be solved creates connection as opposed to separation. 3. We will ask for what we need and offer what we can. This is a space of reciprocity, respect, and personal responsibility, so we will look after our own needs while supporting others in having their needs met as much as we are able.

This also includes taking what feels supportive and leaving what doesn’t. 4. We will honor each person’s autonomy and dignity and will work together to make this a consent-based environment. We will support full participation by all who are present, but nobody will be coerced or manipulated into doing or sharing something they’re not comfortable with. “No” is a complete answer.

I’ve found that this one sometimes creates discomfort. When I dive a little deeper into why, I find that it can feel counter-cultural to say “no” or “pass.” Also, I am deeply committed to creating a consent-based environment for every offering I facilitate, so we work through the discomfort together.

5. We commit to making this a “brave space” where we will be patient and gracious with ourselves and others while daring to sit with our own discomfort when it arises.

This is where I sometimes invite self-compassion and staying curious a little longer. Also, “no” is a complete answer.

6. We will treat this space as sacred and will take shared responsibility for what happens in the space.

Although I am facilitating (often co-facilitating), each of us-- whether host or guest or facilitator or participant-- is responsible for what happens in the space we create. 7. During the group, our facilitators will watch our need, timing, and energy. We agree to pause at a signal (a bell), and to call for that signal when we feel the need to pause.

We often co-facilitate, which means one facilitator is acting as host of the circle and the other is acting as guardian. These roles can change during our time together. Sometimes, in a group that meets regularly, a participant may act as host or guardian during part of our time together. 8. We will honor creators, writers, makers, etc. by crediting whosever’s ideas/stories/art/etc. we share (unless they prefer to remain anonymous, or we can’t find the source).

It’s not OK to offer somebody’s work without crediting them. 9. We will be willing to "try on" new ideas or ways of doing things that are different than our experience.

Many of the practices feel awkward the first time (or several times) I try them, kind of like a young human learning to walk. The invitation is to try before deciding it’s not for you.

10. We will practice self-focus by attending to and speaking about our own experiences. We will do this by using “I statements” and will not speak for a whole group or express assumptions about the experience of others.

The lawyer energy in me especially likes “I statements” because it supports my lawyer brain from starting up with thoughts like “Does every [fill in the blank for “type” of person] really feel/think/act that way?” when I hear a statement that paints a broad group of people in a very homogeneous way. It also allows me to understand how the person who is speaking feels/thinks/acts about a particular topic.

11. We will practice acknowledging when our intent and impact do not align and will do our best to repair ruptures caused by misalignment.

I sometimes call this the “circle back.” It is very helpful when I learn that something I said or did landed differently than I what I intended. The circle back allows me to understand my impact and repair the rupture by acknowledging and apologizing.

12. We will practice using and considering “both/and” and will ask for support in holding paradox as it arises.

Practicing holding two things that are true but may feel incongruent at the same time can be truly transformative. An example: I’m doing the best I can, and the situation I’m in requires more than I’m able to give. This acknowledgment allows a truthful conversation about next steps to find additional support for me, find a substitute so I can step away, etc. 13. We will practice mindful listening by fully listening to others speak rather than planning what we’ll say when others are speaking. It’s ok to pause, reflect, and respond rather than react.

This one can also feel very counter-cultural and awkward because “dead air” in other contexts is disfavored.

four figures made of clay hugging each other in a circle with a candle in the middle

These 13 commitments work together to create a container for our gathering together so that we can learn about ourselves and others.

I hope this helps you understand the intention behind the infrastructure of how we gather at Thought Kitchen. If there is something you'd like us to consider doing (or not doing) to make our gatherings more accessible and inclusive, I hope you'll leave a note in the comments.

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