Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Pop Star Dies, A Nation Disappears...

Now THIS is social commentary - for the past weeks Iran has been the number one story - now it's faded from the headlines over the death of a washed up, and apparently drug-addled and financially ruined pop-icon who the media have spent the past 20 years vilifying - what's THAT all about? Guess they are mad they won't have him around to kick anymore.

CNN dedicated the whole night Thursday to Michael Jackson, the proclaimed "King of Pop" - Iran was reduced to ticker status. The Iran posts on Twitter dried up, replaced by RIP MJ...

What does it say about our society when a nation is in revolution, trying to free itself from oppression, that world economies are near ruin, and we forget that completely so we can mourn a musician? Yes admittedly a musician who in his prime changed the music industry (some would say saved the music industry with "Thriller" - I own one of those 100 milion copies sold) and pop culture, paving the way for a generation of stars.

Michael Jackson will probably be the last of the great icons - there will be no more Elvises, or John Lennons, or Michael Jacksons - those stars who many remember where they were when they died. Here is an interesting article on that subject from the New York Times carried by my local paper - Fame Will Never Be The Same.

I give Michael Jackson full dues for who he was and what he did, but he was at best a shell of himself when he died and the media revelled in that, spending most of their time the last twenty years vilifying him as a child molester and for being just plain weird - now all of a sudden he was a genius and an icon who will be missed - that's the real story - the hypocrisy and gnat-like attention span of the media, and of society as a whole.

And what of Iran? Has it disappeared from Western consciousness? Is it yesterday's news? Even the Twitterverse has dried up and the number of green avatars is shrinking. Yes, much of the drying up of news is likely due to everything being shut down in Iran, but where has the World's outrage gone? Oh yeah, it's been put aside for MJ. Rest in Peace Michael - maybe now you will have the peace and joy that seemed to elude you in life.

Let's mourn for Michael Jackson and his family, he will be truly missed and remembered by millions of people. But let's not forget the millions of people strugglingto be free either. Time for the media to get their eyes back on the stories that matter - Iran, climate change, the world's failing economic systems and so many more that will impact us in the following days, weeks, and months. Hmmm...

(Map from Iran Tours)

Shambhala ALIA Institute 2009 - A Few First After Thoughts...

It's been a couple of days since the end of ALIA 2009, and my head is still full of "stuff" ("stuff" is the universal technical term :-)). Thought I'd spend some time getting some of that stuff down here along with some of the links and resources shared by others during the week.

One of the benefits of going to ALIA this year is that it brought me back to being people-focussed. It's not that I am not people-focussed, I mean as an educator if you are not people-focussed, you have issues. It's just that after a long academic year, working with processes and policies, and procedures, the people-focus can at times become a little fuzzy. Mine is now sharp and crystal-clear - good timing as we move into the summer and planning for next year - hiring, enrollments, academic advising - all people-centric activities. At its core ALIA is about people, as any form of leadership should be - it's about the people around you and how they all best fit together.

ALIA and the Shambhala movement are definitely people-centric and in many ways self-centric too - it was good to rediscover some of that self through the meditation practice, through calligraphy, and through the modules and rich conversations - for me ALIA was like a spa for my mind...

Lots of resources and links available for anyone looking to learn more about ALIA or thinking of attending next year (I highly recommend it). The ALIA Web site does a great job of describing the institute. The best resources though are the ALIA Community (a Ning site I think), and in particular to ALIA 2009, the Summer Institute blog. If you want to know more about ALIA, the ALIA Community is a great place to start. Sign up and engage in the conversations...

One of the most interesting people I met at ALIA 2009 was Thomas Arthur - juggler, filmmaker and coach, he was the videographer and photographer for the week. Here is the video harvest he compiled that was shown at the closing ceremony:

Shambhala Summer Institute 2009 from ALIA on Vimeo.

Amazing stuff - the original video is at the ALIA Blog (lot's of great pictures of the week from Thomas too), and at Vimeo. Also, check out Thomas's company Woven Essence. He is a unique individual who would bring something special to your space.

Still more "stuff" to reflect on, so I suspect that this will not be my last post on ALIA 2009. A great week and now it's back to the campus and seeing where all this "stuff" fits. Hmmm...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Shambhala ALIA Institute 2009 - Day Five

Can it be Friday already? The past five days have literally flown by - hard to believe that ALIA 2009 is over. Well, the institute might be over by the thinking, reflecting and general going Hmmm... is just beginning, so I guess this would be the end of the beginning...

A great end to a great week. The principle today in our last module session was Clarity - bringing things together - we did a circle of younger-elder-middle - very powerful stuff - each takes that role and says a word or phrase of what comes to them. Interestingly enough younger and elder are very close as both are about self, while middle is different as the middle is about others - cool stuff and a very neat exercise. Think that may be why youngers and elders get along so well - they are asking the same questions (look at the relationship between a grandchild and their grandparents...).

Ended the session with Barbara getting us to make a last mark using a big brush - all done in silence and very powerful (one of my big "takeaways" from this week is the power of silence - something I will incorporate into my practice). I drew an open circle representing the importance of community and being open to invite more in.

Then in probably one of the most spiritual and intimate moments of the week Barbara was asked to make the final brush stroke, but before she did, each of us in turn took a moment to touch her - a way of adding some of us to the stroke - a wonderful moment. The picture above is her stroke, or perhaps it is our stroke? Lots of hugs as we ended and lots of picture which I'll get up on Flickr this weekend...

After lunch was a wrap-up of the wealth discussions started at the world cafe and what can tangibly be done - it took a turn away from leadership and more into the Shambhala spirit I thought, which was not a bad thing , but for me, not what I came to the Institute for. The closing event was really nice, with a video of the week and the presentation of a Shambhala pin and its significance to all first year attendees got a - done with great sincerity and reverence. I admire those who follow the Shambhala principles and spirit and I think that there is (and I have) a lot to learn from them.

The institute ended from my perspective, the only way it could with Barbara Bash making one final mark - here it is and you can get from it what you will - it is rich and full of meaning and I am sure that everyone who attended ALIA this year saw something unique in the brush stroke.

So what does it all mean? The full answer will take a while, but here is some what I've got so far:
  • Silence is powerful, and rich, and full of thoughts and deeds - in many ways better than voice or sounds
  • I am very good at what I do - I had a lot to offer and I did - I think it was appreciated by many as evidenced by the hugs and comments as we parted
  • I like calligraphy - I am not good at it yet, but that does not matter, and I love the spiritualism, the quiet, the mystery of the stroke, and the relationship with the brush. The only thing that I have found in my life that comes close is hitting that perfect golf ball through a morning mist...
  • Questions are the key (which is great because my colleagues, friends, and learners will tell you that some days all I do is ask questions - no answers, just questions) - just need to be better at crafting and asking
  • In many ways, answers are not as important as we make them out to be - sometimes the best answer is another question
  • It's not about the tools, it's about the hosting - letting go and checking your ego at the door
  • Give up control to the field or community
  • The module hosts this week were beyond amazing - I spent a lot of time watching them and how they interacted with us and each other - they had a plan, but were also flexible and open to allow us , the field or community to go where we needed to be. So if your group or community wants to do some exploring or learning you need to get Chris, or Tim, or Barbara to help you with that journey. And many thanks to Caitlin Frost too for her insights and for sharing Chris and her children with us this week - the brought some cool things to the mix. Thanks to you all, I learned so much from each of you and from all of us - thanks all!!
I know there is a lot more and as I review my notes and thoughts over the next few days and weeks that there will be more to say here - I loved the exercises we did and I will be bringing them "home" with me to add to what it is I do (and when I have that figured out, I will know where they all fit too :-)).

I will be back at ALIA next year - the modules and sessions were amazing and it was a transformational experience - I would recommend the experience to anyone looking to do some stretching and expanding of their comfort zone. I got a lot of validation from the week too - I know I'm very good at what I do, but rarely think of it that way in comparison to others - it was nice to see that a lot of what I do is OK. I'm not ready to be a Shambhala warrior anytime soon, but they do offer a lot of things to think about and that is never a bad thing. Hmmm...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Shambhala ALIA Institute 2009 - Day Four

Another full and amazing day at ALIA. I missed meditation this morning because there was a bunch of us in a great conversation about everything and nothing - what to see in NS, education, fishing, we were all over the place - very cool people :-).

The module session principle today was ? (or the principle formerly known as ? with apologies to Prince :-)). The practice of asking questions. I was in my glory :-) - I LOVE questions :-). One of the first things we talked about was what makes a powerful question? Here's the list:
  • Simple & Clear
  • Thought Provoking
  • Generates Energy
  • Focuses Inquiry
  • Challenges Assumptions
  • Creates New Possibility
  • Evokes More Questions
  • Fearlessness (came from the group)
Also came to the conclusion that when hosting or facilitating don't work alone, work with all - helps with the hard questions and avoids ego. We then did a neat exercise around elder, adult, and younger - what kinds of questions do each of the groups ask - very cool - at the end could have switched the title of the Younger questions sheet to Elder and they would have been relevant (if you think about that explains the close relationships many of us have jad with grandparents and why your kids may get along so well with their grandparents - they ask the same questions :-)) - very cool.

I took pictures of the sheets and will get them up on Flickr this weekend. Questions should change and shift and cause more questions. I got a lot of value from talking about questions - and again silence came up as a good tool for use with questions - key I have found with questions is that in many cases it's not the answer that is important, it's the next question, and the one after that that gets everyone engaged in the journey...

We then did an open spaces exercise - would love to try one at the College - I see some real practical uses for the technique to get learners and others involved in solving problems and making issues their own. I love the principles of Open Spaces:
  • Whoever comes are the right people
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • When it starts is the right time
  • When it's over, it's over
The Law of Two Feet - when you don't like it use your two feet and leave :-). Lots of great open space resources at Chris Corrigan's Web site - (in fact check out his whole site along with those of Tim Merry and Barbara Bash - all are simply awesome and very useful).

The afternoon session was our second calligraphy session with Barbara - we got big brushes and ink today! :-). Drew four different characters and all done in silence - a very spiritual, relaxing, connected, wonderful, anxious, amazing experience - felt like you were in a relationship with the brush (sometimes you drew what you wanted and sometimes the brush drew what it wanted :-))- so relaxing - I may have to investigate further. Hmmm...

BTW I have been saying "Heaven, Heart, Human" all week and it's actually "Heaven, Earth, Human" - that's OK because my Heart is my Earth - my grounding, and my centre - it's a very neat and spiritual way to look at things...

Last session was a world cafe on what we can do about the world and wealth and community etc. - actual solutions to problems. Run simultaneously in three places - at ALIA, in Second Life, and on Skype (I'm a big fan of both - been in Second Life (SL) for over 3 years - I'm hondomac Dalgleish in SL , and I've had a Skype account even longer - no more long distance charges...). I thought they might have better integrated them all with voice, but they just read the transcripts from SL and Skype - a good start though, and proof that you can use virtual worlds and other technologies to connect with people. Next step would be live interaction between the three technologies to have one slightly larger world, complete with two-way voice and video - the technology exists to do that now...

Here's a look at the world cafe, Second Life style...

Many thanks to LoriVonne Lustre (in SL) for the postcard. If you are ever in Second Life, track down LoriVonne - she will greatly enhance your SL experience...

The week is drawing to a close, but I think much of my learning is just beginning - there has been a lot of great information and discussion this week - now the distilling, reflecting and actual using of those principles, tools, and techniques that work for my situations begins. Welcome to the end of the beginning. Hmmm...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shambhala ALIA Institute 2009 - Day Three

Another interesting day at ALIA - I even managed to keep my eyes open for most of the meditation session this morning :-).

Today in the module we looked at emergence, what is starting to emerge from our discussions on hosting etc. There was a lot of silence today - my God I never realized how powerful silence was - I plan on using it a lot more - again in the circle we were asked to say what had emerged for us - I said a deeper awareness and the knowledge that silence was as powerful or more powerful than voice or noise. The power and energy of the shared thoughts in the circle and in the room were quite palpable

We did a very cool exercise working with limiting beliefs. We were asked to pick a group (I picked learners), and to write down beliefs about them that were negative or limiting - so I wrote down things like frustration, lack of effort, not coming to class etc. The one I chose for the exercise was "Learners work hard at avoiding work". We then paired up (I got lucky and was paired up with Chris Corrigan - amazing guy...) and went through a facilitated discussion that was almost completely silent except for some guiding questions and gentle facilitating - I think it would be amazing to try with faculty or even learners. Some of the guiding questions asked were:
  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know it is true?
  3. How do you react - what happens when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?
Then we turned the thought/belief around - very powerful stuff.

Balanced rocks - what do they mean to You? Balance, synergy, community - connectedness? Hmmm...

We were then sent on a 10 minute silent aimless walk after which we came back and made an ink stroke on a piece of paper - mine was a diagonal line across the page - meant journey and two sides and a lot more to me :-)

Had an interesting session this afternoon on complementary currencies - some of teh examples include LETS Local Exchange Trading Systems (here is a link to a list of LETS worldwide) , the Onion River Exchange, Global Community Initiatives, and LASER were some of the resources mentioned - brief economics lesson on the difference between currency and money and then a look at different types of complementary currencies - there are a lot of them around - seen by some as the salvation of the world economies (complementary currencies are not new - depression-era "scrip" was one of the examples shown). Annapolis Royal has set up a complementary currency. The concept of the various kinds of complimentary currencies and the power and stability they can bring a community are some things to think about. How would the introduction of complementary currencies in Canada (besides the business ones we know like Air Miles, Aeroplan, and Canadian Tire Money...) effect our economy? Or do we already have large scale use of complimentary ecomonies hhere - we just call is volunteerism? I like the idea of a time bank as a way to increase community activism and engagement.

Another great day at ALIA - I think I'm starting to get the big picture of "Heaven, Heart, and Human" and how I might apply it to parts of my life. Another full day tomorrow...

(Currency and Community Image from Gwendolyn Hallsmith)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Shambhala ALIA Institute 2009 - Day Two

Another wonderful day at ALIA. Started this morning with 45 minutes of mindful meditation - went better than yesterday - almost kept my eyes open the whole time :-). I found the experience restful and at the same time difficult - lots of adjusting to find my centre and trying to clear my mind - it's obviously a life-long practice that requires a lot of commitment and practice.

The module session today was good - some very cool exercises to build community and we went through both an appreciative inquiry and world cafe exercise. One of the exercises involves putting people in a circle then selecting someone who folds their arms over their chest, closes their eyes and is launched into the circle by someone - they keep walking until someone on the edge of the circle stops them and sends them off in a different direction. You then slowly add more blind walkers to the mix and watch the fun happen - people on the edge holding walkers so they don't collide and sending off in a clear direction - I think it would be a great ice breaker for classrooms, and at our own faculty and staff development program.

The afternoon session on calligraphy was amazing - who knew drawing lines could be so spiritual and involve the body as much or more than the mind... We weren't trusted with ink today - a very good thing :-) (we get ink on Thursday :-)), so we drew lines with water on paper - a very cool, focussed, and yet relaxing exercise. Also did some body movement to get the feel of how the body moves through calligraphy - Tai Chi based. Barbara Bash was the facilitator and she is amazing - she has such a calma nd commanding presence. She passed on a poem about calligraphy from one of her mentors:

Bone Heavy
Spirit Light
Heart Even
Intention Far
True Interest
Self Expressed
Upright Energy
Dives and Swirls

(Professor Chong Man'Ching - translated from Chinese)

It captures the art and life of calligraphy perfectly for me.

So much is floating around in my head after the first two days of ALIA - I'll keep twittering and blogging my thoughts, but some of the things I've captured so far are:
  • Heaven, Earth, Human
  • Do everything with intention
  • Wealth is all around us and in many ways has nothing to do with money
  • Silence is as important as noise
  • Let communities form themselves from within - guide, don't direct (already knew that one!)
I've taken a few photos of what we've been creating together and I will eventually get them posted to my Flickr photostream.

Another day full of ideas, and notions, and intentions and a lot of things that made me go Hmmm...

Shambhala ALIA Institute 2009 - Day One

Day One of the ALIA institute was thought provoking, active, and a little overwhelming too - 7:15 AM - 6:00 PM - what a day! and it flew by! This is going to be a transformational week.

A great group of people - very eclectic and interesting - the Shambhala followers are very calm, very centred and very, very smart - they speak softly, almost in a whisper - slow talkers - you really have to pay attention to them - an interesting technique. It initially came off to me as pretentious, but that's not the case - very genuine and caring...

Silence seems to be valued almost more than speech and noise (although there was lots of that and movement too :-). Everything has a purpose and all has meaning - very significant and a different perspective for sure. The following guiding principles are the foundation of the ALIA Institute:
  • Authenticity - there is a depth and clarity of attention and intention (this word has been used a lot at ALIA - intention is fundamental in any word or deed) as a foundation for leadership
  • Clear Seeing - effective leadership begins with seeing situations clearly and directly
  • Inherent Capacity - building on the inherent intelligence and creativity of people and groups. The module I am in "The Art of Hosting Conversations and Collborations Across Generations" speaks a lot to thsi inherent capacity in people, groups and communities
  • Transformative Learning - leadership development is seen as an ongoing journey of personal and collective transformation. This has been my experience so far. The ALIA institute combines art, music, meditation and other techniques and disciplines out of my current comfort zone, resulting in quite a transformative experience for me so far
  • Transformative Action - no sense having learning without action - it is an ALIA Institutre guiding principle that the programs and acticvities we are seeing this week will enable us to put into action items of change - I think that this will bevery true...
I have seen ecidence of these guiding principles in everything I have participated in so far.

After the opening address we began with a session of Mindful Meditation that went well except I couldn't keep my eyes open (I need practice). I found it to be a balancinga nnd centriung exercise, one that I will do every morning of the institute and possibly beyond.

There was series of "getting to know us exercises" - we were arranged in a circle by age (16-68), we went to the four points of the compass based on where we had come from (Hungary to Australia, to California to South Africa and back to Nova Scotia), and then joined in a dance of head, heart and hands - got warmed up and met some great people. I can see a great use for these exercises with any froup or classroom. Again the words intention, inquire and learn came up - a banner of intentions was created. My intention for the week is to inquire and learn...

One of the main themes of the week is wealth (in all its shape and forms) - we had a learning cafe on several questions around wealth and most of the discussions had little to do with money - the focus was on community and the wealth of the spirit and other forms of wealth and poverty - being rich and poor in many ways at the same time. An interesting perspective on complementary currencies as well. Some great stuff on complementary currencies here. Heard from Silas Louie from Zimbabwe on teh use of a complemetary currency that brought economic stability and a sense of community to his community

The afternoon was dedicated to the module sessions - mine as I said is "The Art of Hosting Conversations and Collborations Across Generations" hosted by Chris Corrigan, Tim Merry and Barbara Bash who are all great facilitators - at first I thought they were going to do all the talking, but they were just setting context - we did a talking circle - we were asked what our source was and who we served - my source was my passions, particularly my passion for learning and I serve my learners, faculty and staff, but also the economy and people of NS - several people were brought to tears by their stories - I think there will be a lot of tears and laughter before the week is out. Also got into a conversation about Choas and Order - I mentioned that I loved chaos over order in my classrooms because it caused learning - got lots of good feedback.

An amazingly full and eventful day that just flew by - it's taken me this long to digest things for this post - an amazing start to what wil be an amazing week. Hmmm...

Shambhala ALIA Institute 2009 - Day One - Opening Address

Day One of ALIA started bright and early with breakfast at 7:00 AM (I was fashionably late at 7:45). The opening keynote was "Bringing Authentic Leadership Into Action", by Michael Chender, a consultant and member of the Shambhala community. He spoke of several themes that will be explored throughout the institute - authentic leadership, complexity, and wealth.

Authentic leadership is a path or process not an ideal and will not be defined by ALIA - it's part of the journety of bringing the best to a situation and our current uncertain times demand authentic leadership. As you can see, lots of food for thought right from the top of the institute. I'm just starting to define authentic leadership for myself, but I think it inckudes being aware of everyone and including them in the process. There is more, but that's yet to clarify...

Complexity is ever increasing - the immediacy of the use of technology and the Web - authentic leadership is the essential ground from which to interact or work with complexity. ALIA is a relatively technology-high conference - it is being filmed and photographed, the site is tech-friendly with wireless and wired access, and several people in the audience were using Flip and similar style video cameras. In fact Michael specifically mentioned that he expected his address to be on the Web within the hour - more complexity and immediacy.

He talked about wealth and the need for appreciating natural wealth - I think there will be a lot of talk this week about wealth and most will not be about money.

Michael ended his address talking about meditation - the practice of doing nothing, and the ALIA approach of meditation and the arts bringing mind, body and action together - for me this will be the most interesting part of the journey this week as it is out of my comfort zone (not a bad thing). Finally, he wished us an unnerving week and I think it will be just that.

An interesting start to the week - lots to ponder on and lots to look forward too. Hmmm...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Shambhala ALIA Institute 2009

This week I am attending the Shambhala ALIA (Authetic Leadership in Action) Institute at Mount Saint Vincent University.

The institute started Sunday evening with an opening banquet and guest speaker. I had a great time - some absolutely fascinating people. Sat at the same table as Susan Szpakowski, the Executive Director of ALIA - a very calm, sure, centred woman - there may be something to the Shambhala way if she is an example - a very caring person - when I spoke with her it was like I was the only person in the room, and she was the busiest person in the room too!

The guest speaker at the opening banquet was Shauntay Grant, Halifax's Poet Laureate - very powerful writer and a great storyteller - there is a real story telling theme to the conference and one of the major themes is wealth - not just monetary wealth, but wealth of mind, and spirit, and knowledge, and sharing - it is going to be a very cool week.

I plan on Tweeting the conference when I can- I'm hondomac on Twitter and will be using the #alia hashtag. Here is the schedule for the week -

I'm looking forward to an interesting, thought-provoking, challenging, and maybe even a little bit of an uncomfortable week - a week full of learning options and opportunities. I'm going to try and post at least once a day, but there is a lot here that makes me go Hmmm... so may not be a daily event...

Image - ALIA Logo from the ALIA Institute Web site.