I planned to write, this week, about the Authentic Leadership and Facilitation Training. Of anything I've created that is the most involved and Sara-esq program, a synthesis of 3 years of facilitation experience. My underlying hope was that some of you might even want to attend. We were meant to do two trainings this month - one in Austin Nov. 21-23, one in Baton Rouge Nov. 14-16. Then, two nights ago, the woman who was organizing the Baton Rouge training called to tell me her son (a core and much-loved member of the Austin authentic and Ecstatic Dance communities) had been killed in Houston, on his way to Louisiana's first Games Night.
Writing this, I feel a cold, spacious depth in my chest. A heaviness in my eyes. Tired, resigned, and sad.
I went to Burning Man, a few months ago, with the intent of experiencing and accepting the cycle of life and death. I wanted to be surrounded by an explosion of exquisite creativity. I wanted to know that all that beauty was going to end. When the temple burned on the last night, I watched the glittering fields of people seeing their notes to lost loved ones go up in flames, and I thought: I DO NOT HAVE CONTROL.
This post is both about a project - thinking through a Games Night about Life and Death - and about a shared human experience. We all die. We all watch people we know, and care about, pass away.
I turn 23 this Friday. I want to celebrate my years knowing they will come to an end.
- GAMES NIGHT: LIFE AND DEATH -
When I plan an event, I start by feeling what emotions I and others experience around a topic. Death brings up fear - grief - uncertainty - panic - scarcity - stillness - clarity. I think about my relationship to this, and how others' might differ: I'm young, but many in my community are not. I'll need to make space for all of our voices to be heard. I think about how to bring about a synthesis of spaciousness and thematic focus. I also think about how I want the room to feel at different points throughout the night. My aim is to take us on a safe journey through shared human experience. This means not shocking people into depth too quickly, providing integration at the end, but also finding opportunities for full expression of our truth, however raw that may be. It means leaving space for both peoples' stories and their emotions.
Given all this, here's my sample plan for the night:
- Scene-setting: Lights are slightly dimmed. Lit candles are set around the room. -
INTRODUCTION and AGREEMENTS (15 min)
- Authentic Relating Games are a place for honesty and connection. We get a chance, in this container, to look at parts of ourselves and our experience that we may not have the space or safety to address in day-to-day life. Here, you are welcome. We want to see you. We want to see all of you.
- Tonight, we'll be exploring the theme of life and death. Many of us never think directly about death. We know it's coming, someday; but it's the bogeyman in the closet, the shadow under the bed. Yet, by thinking about endings, we come to enjoy our existence more. By thinking about the impermanence of ourselves and those we care about, we bring more love into every moment before it leaves. Tonight we will honestly confront the reality of endings - and celebrate the joy of life right now.
- Respect yourself, lean into your edge, confidentiality by request, stay present, check your assumptions.
- Underlying agreements: Welcoming, acceptance, truth, choice.
DROPPING-IN GAMES (25 min)
Meditation (10 min):
- Count off 1 and 2. 1s turn to their left, 2s to their right. Make eye contact. Notice how you feel with this person. Imagine the life they've had, who they were once and who they are now. Notice every detail in their face. Extend regard to them as a fellow human being. Feel that regard being extended from them to you.
- Turn to the person on your other side. Notice them, how you feel with them, the small, unique ways they are themselves. Imagine them 10 years from now, 40 years from now. Recognize that they won't last forever. Appreciate how they are right now, knowing that someday they will no longer be here.
- Turn back to center. Close your eyes. Notice what it feels like to be you. The blood in your veins, the beating of your heart. Think of yourself 10, 40 years from now. Let the feeling of age settle into your bones. Feel yourself as a being in time, a self that will change. A self that will end. Let yourself know that someday you will die. Feeling that in your body, appreciate yourself for how you are right now.
- RE-PRESENCE TRIAGE -
- This is an intense night. If you need assistance, remember that you can always ask to step out and talk with a facilitator.
Sentence Stems (15 min):
- Name + "I have lost...."
- Name + "I have brought _ into being"
BUILDING GAMES (20 min)
Anybody Else (15 min)
- Standing circle. Anybody can volunteer to step into the center and share a truth. If what they say is true for you, step forward one step. Look around. Step back. Next person goes. Sample stems: "My relationship to death is..." "If I were 80, the one thing I would have wanted to accomplish is..." "The person whose death I worry about the most is.." "What makes me most glad to be alive..." "Thinking about my death, what I most want to create is..."
Shares (5 min)
- BREAK - (10 min)
Life and Death (30 min, shares for 15 min)
- This is loosely adapted from a game I found in a book on deep ecology exercises -
- Dim the lights and put on soft music.
- Divide room into 4. One corner is fear, one anger, one grief, one celebration. Leave a space in the middle for nonverbal meditation and personal experience. Have a facilitator in each corner, and a "talking stick" that can be passed between people (so that everybody listens to the talker). Let people join any corner they desire, based on their emotions in the moment, and form a circle in each corner. Participants can move between circles anytime they desire. Touch is welcome, by consent. In any circle, people can share about their personal experience and/or memories of life and death. As they do so, they should try to stay in connection with the rest of the group (the facilitator can help this to happen by gently empathizing and drawing the person out into relationship in the moment).
- We all experience death. Authentic relating is about sharing humanity, supporting each other in what it's like to be on this earth; so let's mourn and celebrate that together. If or when you share, let it be not just your story. Let it be everyone's. And no matter how intense your experience, leave space for others to share as well.
- After about 30 minutes (or whenever the energy seems right), wind down the game by asking people to start letting the words fall away, and connect nonverbally in whatever emotion they're experiencing.
- Expand back into a big circle. Use the talking stick to take shares.
INTEGRATION GAMES (30 min)
Love Honey (15 min)
- Have everybody join hands. Keeping in mind the memory of those we love, of life and of death, begin to sing wordlessly. Let the group build harmony.
Truths (15-20 min)
- Share an experience you had with someone in the group, and the impact it had on you. Use the sentence stem: "When you...I felt...", optional: "And what I'm taking into my life from that is..."
Announcements (10 min)
- Closing -
...It's been an intense week. Between birth, death, moving, and working to coordinate events for the next few months, I feel both deepened and aged. Thank you all again for your support.