Group Reflections on the Work and Teachings of Ria Baeck: a Collective Narrative
Produced by Fyodor Ovchinnikov
On Wednesday, June 2, 2021 a group of participants from Brazil, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Kenya, South Africa, and the United States gathered for the eighth virtual peer learning session of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformationprogram to discuss their reflections on the work and teachings of Ria Baeck.
ABOUT RIA BAECK (full bio)
Ria is a transformational change professional, a co-founder of Percolab Belgium Coop, and the founder of Vitis, whose core purpose is to foster deep transformation in individuals, organizations, and society. She combines deep compassion, bodily awareness, and a lust for life to her transformational facilitation.
PROCESS & CONTRIBUTORS
Ria was among 11 guest teachers confirmed based on the preferences and financial contributions of 40 registered participants of the Thought Leadership for Systems Transformation program. Participants had one week to study Ria's materials on their own before gathering for a peer learning session. The peer learning session provided an opportunity to share individual reflections, identify emerging patterns, and craft a collective message to Ria to help her prepare for a live session with the group. The recording of the live session based on this narrative will be published soon.
Participants’ reflections were recorded and used to produce a collective narrative according to the Collective Narrative Methodology. Christiana Gardikioti, Gabrielle Cook Jonker, Joshua Baker, Julius Khamati Kuya, Ken Homer, Kennan Salinero, Klaus Mager, Maria Talero, Naveen Vasudevan, Rafael Calcada, Tarek Soliman, Tatiana Vekovishcheva, and Zen Benefiel participated in the session and contributed to this narrative.
The idea of collective presencing was very resonant for many of us. Some of us brought a lot of felt sense of experience with this, and we honored the value of it, so we would like to share a message of appreciation and gratitude to Ria for the comprehensive and inspiring articulation of this paradigm and this worldview.
This message is also one of acknowledgment. Some of us brought up the point that the Art of Hosting was not well-known in the early days, so we talked about the journey of being a pioneer and walking that path with a few friends, and of how this might have had aspects that made early practitioners feel lonely, so we want to acknowledge struggles and share appreciation for holding on and for the stewarding that Ria has been doing.
Harmonizing Our Presence on this Planet and Creating Coherence without Control
Talking about the context for this work, we explored the idea that the narrative of what we are about is so important to our human brains. In this group where we are looking for coherence, we are feeling a sense of transitioning away from the old narrative of safety through command and control, safety that is provided by a masculine father figure kind of society where the emotional inner part was not safe to work with or be exposed as part of the operational schema. This makes us wonder how we can create coherence without control.
We discussed that we are now challenged as a species to harmonize our presence on this planet with the needs of Gaia to maintain the capacity to support life as we know it. It is indeed a moment in our history that will determine our collective ability to survive. All of life is sacred and must be protected to secure our collective future. Some of us pointed out that a continuation of present day tribal conflicts will lead to a global breakdown which is already visible and soon irreversible.
Balancing the Individual and the Collective While Dealing with Trauma
In the materials we reviewed, Ria talked about collective presencing where the individual is listening to oneself and the collective. This makes some of us wonder how the balance between the individual and the collective plays out. How can a community become an amplified expression of each member’s individuality? How does that—the individual and the community—become seamless?
Knowing that a huge percentage, perhaps 90 percent of individuals, have gone through trauma and much of it is unresolved, some of us are asking: if we do not have time to have each person do the shadow work, the trauma resolution individually, how does that happen in a group process? Is there a transition from the safety that is created by strong masculine command and control leadership to this emergent group leadership?
We talked about active listening as the entry point to communication that opens up space to sense, empathize, and co-create a shared story. Reflecting on the idea that stepping away from ourselves to be able to listen is a skill, some of us wondered what Ria has seen that helps develop that skill in individuals and takes into account that our bodies are listening too. What would she recommend for tuning and honing the bodies, tuning and honing that listening within the group in the context of the paradox between the individual and the group space that she talks about?
Creating Conditions for Listening and Opening Our Hearts to Those Who Do Not Care
As we talked about listening as an entry point, we were curious about what tools Ria uses for creating the space of listening and how this shows up in the various formats that she has seen. How is she dealing with individual invitations and bringing in the voices? Specifically, what about the time element? How long does it take to bring in the softer voices and how long does it even take to bring in the softer voices of the loud voices that are not listening with their whole body, that are not bringing their whole selves, that have not maybe even addressed the trauma and are still working very much from the head?
We also wonder how Ria intentionally includes those who do not care. We spoke about the ‘99 percent’ versus the ‘one percent’ and the related conflict in our society. There is a certain part of the population that does not care about justice, equality, sustainability, regeneration, etc. and some of us wonder how we can include them even if they do not want to be included or they do not care about including us. How do we include those who do not really care about the planet and how do we keep our hearts open for them as well?
Working in Sharp-Edges Contexts through Shadow Work and the ‘Wounded Bird’ Metaphor
We explored this deep interest in understanding how to do the work of engaging in contexts that are sharp-edged and less-than-ideal, contexts that are not curated such as political contexts: for example, mask denial and resistance in the United States among other polarized topics. How do we bring collective presenting into spaces that are already structured hierarchically in which there is already so much power of exclusion and conflict present? What the work of collective presenting looks like in that kind of dance, which is more like intervention that has to be done in a messy context rather than neat, curated spaces. We are interested in details and specifics, in practical know-hows related to the role of the collective shadow in working in these messy, sharp-edged contexts. Can shadow work in groups help us make space for people who are so traumatized that they may be unable to even cross the threshold? Can shadow work in groups allow us to take a stand in a way that doesn't reinstate dynamics of hierarchy and exclusion, and power over?
We also discussed the idea that in Aikido we can have a ‘wounded bird’, a wounded person that comes in with their wounds yet has the embodied experience of accomplishment and success. Can we operate at that higher level of embodied success in a safe space without having to deal with the shadow side underneath that? Has Ria seen that? What might that look like?
Practicing Collective Presencing in Service to Life
In our conversations, there was a deep acceptance and embracing of the role of attunement and mindfulness in collective presenting. In some of our small group experiences, we went through being mindful of ourselves, being mindful of these spaces, being mindful of the words, being mindful of the reactions that those words can have, being mindful of our own attitudes and always acting on the learning mindset. After that we went on observing the space: there is a variety of people, a variety of knowledge. We discussed that sustaining space and being open is a way of learning and we also explored how this interplay. Being mindful is a source of knowledge, but we are part of the system and we are observing it from different spaces, from different places.
When we become aware of the space, the environment, we start seeing this environment as a dynamic dance and this dynamic dance is a source of knowledge, the opportunity to sprout which provides the support, the space for things to happen. While present, we are observing this dynamic dance, and when we observe it, we get it to see what is in the middle—this pulsing of care, connection, anger, discomfort—and the question here for some of us becomes “Are we serving life? Are we open to these mistakes to serve life?”
Spreading the Art of Hosting Globally and Exploring the Role of Cross-Network Learning
Some of us from places where the Art of Hosting is not so popular were very curious to know the features and elements of the Art of Hosting and the ways to learn it. How can we watch the process and learn the various elements and aspects of the Art of Hosting? How does this process unfold and how do we access the collective knowledge that is being generated? How do we learn to identify the question? How do we engage with this mindset of learning as we go? Is there more guidance, is there a path or a methodology for that? Some of us also wanted to know what we can do to be aware of how other people are reacting, how to influence what we have in other people and also in ourselves. How do we open an invitation to such a space and how do we cultivate this view in more people to include them as participants in this unfolding process?
Some of us pointed out that the Art of Hosting seems to be quite prevalent currently in so-called ‘Global North’, in places like Europe and North America. How do we take it to cultures in the South, to Asia or Africa, to countries like China, or to other parts of the world where it is not so prevalent today? So how does the Art of Hosting community plan to take it to different parts of the world?
As Ria recommends that work should be done locally, and questions the purpose of all these 'networks' some of us wonder whether for meta-level shifts in whole sectors like science (or education, or politics) there is usefulness in sharing across networks. Is there a place where there actually is purpose to networking across geographies?
Passing the Practice Further and Keeping it Alive
How do we know when somebody is ready to be a facilitator, especially when this practice is taken to other cultures and people are far away from one another? We understand that a lot of Art of Hosting gatherings used to be in-person, but now that things have changed, when the practice is passed on to other people, how do we know when a person is ready? How does Ria and others ensure that the Art of Hosting and the Collective Presenting remain vibrant spaces of presence and not just become a set of tools and methods because often this can become just mechanical? How do we ensure we keep it alive?