EFLI Intern, Savannah Holden, spent last weekend exploring "Leading from the Emerging Furture" at Omega Institute. Read her reflection below...
This weekend I had the privilege to attend a 3 day event called “Leading from the Emerging Future” with Arawana Hyashi and Otto Scharmer from the Presencing Institute at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies. The conference was both an introduction to Theory U and to Social Presencing Theater, as well as an opportunity to connect with other professionals working in change-making fields to connect and collaborate on innovative ways to make their workplace and the world a better place.
First of all, I should say that Omega is a fantastic place to learn anything new. As a 200 acre retreat center with all of the beauty and serenity that comes with camping, yet all of the comforts of a 5 star hotel, it’s pretty hard not to feel relaxed and peaceful there. Workshops such as these represent experiential learning at its best: a hands-on, deep-dive experience with people that are equally excited to learn something new, in a place that fosters reflection and development. Over three days, the workshop lead the group through many different phases. The first night gave the lense through which we were supposed to think about the rest of the workshop, and was mostly shaped by a short film that Otto showed called “Overview”, in which astronauts describe their experience of seeing earth from space. The film is extremely powerful, and has the ability to suck you out of your little world, little problems, and little agenda, to contemplate the whole. It emphasizes the fact that despite all of the borders and boundaries that have been drawn, despite how large we think of our world being, in reality, we are but a tiny planet in the middle of deep, dark space. There is only so long we can create a mess before everyone is forced to clean it up- and the mess we are currently creating is quite a doozy.
Throughout the next two days, Otto and Arawana lead the group through many activities that were extremely similar to exercises we do at Eileen Fisher: journaling, meditation, one on one conversation walks, and movement activiites. While most of what we did was very interesting and helpful, there were definitely times in which it felt a bit more like group therapy for 50-somethings than a workshop on change-making, and as Praise and I were the only people there under 25, that was probably to be expected! The most transformative moments came on the second afternoon, where we formed groups to discuss issues in the change-making process both in our lives and in the world that we wanted to collaborate and move through the “U” on. Praise and I were part of a group that was discussing a topic that seemed to become a central focus for many people for the rest of the conference: race, class, and the accessibility of “change-making”.
This is a topic that I have been thinking about a lot recently, and particularly came up during my time at Omega. As I looked around and saw the beautiful grounds and the lake, took a dance class, ate delicious, organic food, learned about Presencing and institutional and personal change, and slept in a cozy, safe bed, I couldn’t help but think about all of the people who weren’t there. While there were obviously some exceptions, almost everyone peacefully walking across the Omega campus, or gliding out of a transformative yoga or self-realization class was over 25, white, and most likely able to pay the hundreds of dollars it costs to spend even a few days at Omega. I began to think about all of the other “change-making” initiatives going on in the US and around the world, and couldn’t help but ask myself, “who isn’t there?”. This was a question that our group, and later on the room at large, kept asking ourselves: “Who isn’t in this room? Who isn’t involved? Who doesn’t doesn’t have the time and capacity in their own lives to think about changing the system?” Most often, the people who do not have access to those opportunities are those that would bring about revolutionary change. After all, if you’ve never experienced a problem first hand, how deeply can you actually work with it to change it?
The world is filled with people trying to do the right thing: building sustainable business, giving to charity, buying less, buying greener, working at non-profits, trying to help those in need, and I feel so lucky to have spent a weekend in a beautiful place, included in a conversation with many of them. But until everyone is included in the conversation, until people aren’t making decisions for others in the name of service, until community conversations are actually representative of the community demographic, and new people are having a new conversation, the New Economy and the Emerging Future are going to look a lot like the old one.