Monday, October 1, 2012

Group Intention: A New Way to Work Together

This is the first in a series of posts exploring new developments in the Open Studio Process. The power of intention as a personal practice to guide art making and as a means of navigating our reality is well known to those of us who have made the practice a part of our lives. The OSP holds that intention is the way we connect to the Creative Source. What does this mean? Beyond our individual rational mind is what I call the "place of all possibility," the quantum space where all the possible choices in any given moment reside. In every moment we call forth a particular reality and collapse the infinite possibilities into one. This goes on below the threshold of awareness most of the time. We are rarely aware that choices are being made; we simply think we see "reality." The Open Studio Process challenges us to look at our closely held views and ask "What else can this be? Is there another way to understand this?" Recognizing that our consciousness is by definition limited, working with intention challenges us to carefully examine our thoughts in order to bring into being the reality which meets our highest ideals.
Groups working together are often unaware that as individuals they may hold differing and even contradictory intentions for their work together.  I have been experimenting with group intention, which is simply working toward a shared language about what is to be called into being, making art to access that place of possibility and then receiving through witness new information and clarity of purpose.
I'd like to share an example of an experience of shared intention and some observations about how this works.
I recently attended a strategic planning meeting of the Open Studio Project, the community space in Evanston, IL that provides the Open Studio Process and facilitator training programs along with a host of special community groups. Those present included past and present staff, board members, and me.  I am a co-founder of the Open Studio Project, but I do not have a formal role in the structure presently.  I often help teach in the facilitator training program and go there to make art when I am in town. I am a compassionately interested outsider.
Soul of the Open Studio Project
After a discussion of issues and challenges facing the studio we were left with about 30 minutes of meeting time. Some present had stated initially the wish to have art making as part of the meeting but here we were with a practical need to identify next steps for the strategic process of running the business of the studio and not much time. I think it is fair to say that even in this group of folks experienced with the Open Studio Process it felt at that moment like an "either-or" situation. Either we do the hard work of articulating work steps or the pleasurable activity of making art.
 I suggested we use identifying next steps as a group intention, make art, witness and see what happens, essentially employing the Open Studio Process to access answers from the Creative Source. This suggestion was embraced. Because of my particular role, I stated my intention thusly : "I receive clarity about next steps for the OSP and how I am involved in that." My image came quickly. An excerpt from the witness said: "..the plant is a reminder that all growth is organic and the white is the spirit that remains alive." The spirit identified itself as the soul of the OSP "Just show up together and I show up too" the image said. All well and good but what about the nitty gritty of specific steps? I wanted to know. The image then suggested we reverse the order of the meeting next time and make art before engaging in the discussion. "Let yourselves feel me and dissolve a bit in me; then the nitty gritty isn't so tedious."
Someone mentioned they had tried making art first at a meeting but everyone got off on their own tangents. The key here is the joint intention. We all enter any group endeavor with varying degrees of focus and energy on any given day. The art process can contain us as individuals or as a group entity depending on what we are trying to accomplish. Having a shared group intention to serve the needs of the studio allows each person to show up at the level they can that day in service to something larger than themselves. By contrast,  making an individual intention about whatever is most urgent in one's own life means we are very likely to be pulled more deeply into our own process which will not  shed light on ways to serve the larger goal of the running of the studio.
What was also striking to me was that I did not receive an answer about next steps. That answer came to others present who are more central to the day to day working of the studio. It is not my place to guide the strategic plan but rather to offer the perspective of an engaged outsider, a useful perspective but different from that of a key staff member or board member. This was a great lesson to me.
I would love to hear from anyone who tries this out. Are you part of a group that might benefit from forming a group intention to guide their process? Please let me know your experience and share in honing this new edge of the Open Studio Process.