Berkana Blog

Berkana Steps into a Bold Experiment in Living Systems

by Aerin Dunford on March 13, 2012

All living organisms and all living systems rest. From the smallest single cell organism to vast aspen groves connected via intricate networks of roots, life must pause, be still, relax, hibernate, lose its leaves. Stillness is a state of being which allows organisms to later thrive. If perennial plants did not shrivel up and lose their leaves in the winter, they couldn’t reserve their vitality to come back in the spring. If we did not go to sleep every night, we would not have the energy to do all that we need to do during the day. There is a Chinese saying: “the circle of wholeness is made up of action and stillness.” We all need to rest from time to time.

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Come On Irene!

by Aerin Dunford on February 28, 2012

No more prizes for predicting the rain, only prizes for building the arks.” —Don Beck

This quote appeared on the invite for the Vermont Art of Hosting that took place in late August, 2011. Little did we know that a week after the training Vermonters would be putting their ark building skills to the test when the torrential rains of Hurricane Irene tore the state apart. The calling question for our Art of Hosting was: What are the conversations we need to have with each other to build healthy and resilient communities now? We explored meaningful conversation as a catalyst for community building in the region, where belonging, identity and neighborliness are dyed-in-the-wool traditions.

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Play, Connection and Resilience

by Erin Maile O'Keefe on December 29, 2011

“Play is training for the unexpected…”
—Marc Bekoff, Evolutionary Biologist

Kinesthetic Learning

I grew up dyslexic and learned at an early age that if I could build, move, act, dance or in some way experience the learning process in my body, the information would then penetrate my brain. If I engaged in body play, I retained the learning. Today I identify and am identified as as a kinesthetic learner. Of course, we were all kinesthetic learners in our early development and tons of research now supports the connection between brain function and physical movement. Over the past decade, play has become an emergent topic in neuroscience research.

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Communities are the Leaders of the Future

by Drew Love on December 20, 2011

There will be a picture that will be the iconic image of the Occupy and Arab Spring movements and I would like to request that that picture be taken from a distance. The picture should be taken at least from one of the skyscrapers that looks down on Wall Street, catching a bird’s eye view of thousands of people, or maybe from a distant alley away from the busiest parts of the streets of Cairo. If it’s possible to somehow capture everyone in a single image, I’d encourage the photographer to do just that.

I make this request because I’m not interested in seeing the face of just one person added to the historical canon of “great men” who have changed the world. Don’t get me wrong, many of these people did wonderful things for the people they cared about, and they most certainly did help change history. However, they were only able to help make that change because they stood on the shoulders of millions of others who came together around a shared vision. Read More »

Inviting the Quiet Gift

by Dick Durning on December 7, 2011

Recently my wife and I were guests at a high end gala in Chicago. The evening’s high point was listening to the event’s two honorees, both human rights activists, one from Indonesia and the other from Zimbabwe. Their simple words and humility captured everyone in the ballroom. For a brief time there was a community sharing the company of two remarkable people.

Then, the gala “got back to business.” The mood shifted. A designated “ringmaster” challenged us to dig a little deeper so the event could reach a new level of support. Everyone had received a little transmitting wand that allowed us to enter donations and be recognized on two gigantic screens. “Oh look! There’s Jack and Sally Jones.” This was the culmination of the gala–a celebration of the donor.

Reflecting back on the eventing, two questions came to mind: Where does the “quiet” gift fit in this world of ours? As individuals and communities, where does the natural flow of our giving show up? Read More »

Transforming Public Health in Nova Scotia with Participatory Leadership

by Michelle Murton on November 29, 2011

Co-authored by Nicole Druhan-McGinn

We have begun a new journey in Nova Scotia, one that has challenged us to re-imagine, regenerate and reinvigorate our public health system. In December 2008, a group of practitioners and partners in public health from across the province began searching for new ways to bring people together to seek solutions that would benefit the public health system and improve the health of our population.

We recognized that to address the current challenges, we needed to tap into the wisdom of diverse stakeholders, and doing so required a different approach. One that fostered leadership, collective ownership, deep listening, and innovation. Our approach was rooted in participatory leadership, believing that change for the common good called for involvement, collective intelligence and co-creation to discover new solutions and wise actions. We invested in learning new ways of working together using participatory methods including Art of Hosting, Appreciative Inquiry, World Café and Theory U. We chose Theory U to guide our journey as it encouraged fresh ways of being and seeing the world and its opportunities, and uncovering solutions together. Read More »

Art of Hosting and Shaping the Future of Dentistry in Canada

by Marielle Pariseau on November 29, 2011

When it comes to my own health, I have simple rules: work out hard three times per week, take an early morning walk in the woods with my dog every day, always look for meaning in my life, live and love as hard as I can, everything else in moderation. These simple rules take care of my physical, mental and spiritual well being. I’ve found that when I’m physically fit, I usually also feel mentally strong. Hard cardiovascular workouts have the ability to bring out brilliant ideas or sensible solutions to difficult problems.

I belong to a very mechanistic profession. I’m a dentist. Reduced to my simplest expression, I drill and fill teeth for a living. Not much meaning there… But because, like pediatricians and obstetricians, I see my patients more often than most other health professionals, I’m uniquely positioned to impact health. So a few years ago, somewhere between a meditative walk in the woods and a hard cardio workout, a wild dream was born: Shaping the Future of Dentistry. Read More »

Whole Person, Whole System

by Warren Nilsson on November 23, 2011

Originally posted on Organization Unbound.

Many people involved in social purpose work champion the idea that organizations need to become places where we can relate to each other not just as roles but as whole human beings. We believe that when we are free to express dimensions of ourselves that don’t fit neatly into job descriptions, our work becomes more engaging and our relationships more authentic.

I think this is true. But what is less well understood is that treating each other as the patchwork, unruly human beings we are, rather than the zippered office functionaries we pretend to be, is also the only way we can really come to understand, let alone affect, the larger institutional patterns we are trying to change. Read More »

Hablamos de la Comunalidad

by Aerin Dunford on October 26, 2011

Last night I went to a talk by local anthropologist, Benjamín Maldonado about the origins and history of comunalidad. Given Berkana’s focus on healthy and resilient communities, I thought it would be worth my time to learn a bit more about what people here in Oaxaca mean when they talk about community. Comunalidad is a framework that grew out of the work of a small group of anthropologists here in the South of Mexico at the end of the 70s. This theory explores the essence of indigenous communal life in this region. Read More »

Rising to the Occasion

by Nancy Fritsche Eagan on October 17, 2011

It was so busy earlier this month here in New York City with many moving parts and lots to pay attention to. I woke up on Friday morning (October 7) to the announcement that the Nobel Peace Prize 2011 was awarded jointly to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”. I was already planning to go to the book launch for Leymah Gbowee’s, Mighty Be our Powers, held at the Inter-Faith Church Center and sponsored by the National Council of Churches.

Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama congratulated the three joint winners of the Nobel Peace Prize in handwritten letters. On October 13, he said: “We have an obligation to promote a new vision of society, one in which war has no place in resolving disputes among states, communities or individuals, non-violence is the pre-eminent value in all human relations. And for this, the role of women is crucially important.” Read More »

At the Intersection of Power and Participation

by Chris Corrigan on October 5, 2011

This blog comes to us from friend of The Berkana Institute and Art of Hosting practitioner, Chris Corrigan. It was originally published at ChrisCorrigan.com on October 3, 2011.

Leaving New York today. It has been an incredible four days here working with my good friends Kelly McGowan and Tuesday Ryan-Hart and Lex Schroeder, Anistla Rugama, Alissa Schwartz, and Aswad Foster. We were running a workshop called the Art of Social Justice in which we were investigating the intersection of participatory process and social justice work. Over three days we explored a framework that Tuesday has developed and investigated with Kelly for the past year. The framework includes and transcends the gifts and drawbacks of traditional social justice frameworks and of what we know about participatory process.

Tuesday is writing a lot more about this, but the essence of the framework is that neither social justice analysis nor participatory process are enough on their own to move us into the new forms of leadership that are needed in a world where social inequity and power are becoming increasingly complex, and where traditional forms of organizing are no longer reflective of the interconnected nature of global society. Read More »

Working Locally to Support Upcycling as a System of Influence

by Aerin Dunford on September 16, 2011

This fall will mark the five-year anniversary of the first time I upcycled my own trash. With the help of friends from SoMoHo (Soweto Mountain of Hope) in South Africa, I transformed a couple soda cans into a pair of earrings, a necklace and a bracelet. Since then I’ve become increasingly passionate about the practice and the mindset behind upcycling (making things that are more useful, beautiful or durable from what was previously considered garbage).U.S. citizens generate around 251 million tons of waste a year – 4.6 pounds per person per day. I’m convinced that if we begin to recognize waste as the most abundant resource on our planet, we’ll not only contribute to “solving” what is currently one of our most pressing global dilemmas, we’ll also become more creative, both individually and collectively. I’m also convinced that creative thinking is absolutely essential to develop during times of increasing complexity and uncertainty. Read More »

Walking Out Isn’t About Abandoning Institutions. It’s About Abandoning Beliefs.

by Deborah Frieze on June 15, 2011

In my May 21st blog, I bemoaned the decision to shut down more than a dozen schools in the Boston public school system—most of which serve low-income neighborhoods. I wondered what “walking out” of this system might look like, and went as far as suggesting “…that might mean pulling our children out of the school system and turning to one another to create neighborhood learning spaces which replace schooling with discovery.”

And then last week, I found myself in a fascinating conversation with the board of a progressive Massachusetts-based foundation whose commitment is to restore the quality and equitability of the U.S. public school system—not walk out of it. They believe that our educational institutions can and should prepare all children—regardless of race, gender, class or native language—to fully participate in our democratic society. Was I suggesting that our schools were doomed to failure? That there was no hope for the future of public education in the United States? That our only options were to stay inside fighting a losing battle or to abandon public schools and invent something entirely new? Read More »

Hosting What? Consciousness, Wellness, Wholeness, Resonance

by Tenneson Woolf on November 29, 2009

I was in Rosendale, New York in early November 2009 at the Lifebridge Sanctuary. With a co-hosting team of Nancy Fritsche Eagan, Martin Siesta, Silas Lusias, and Kelly McGowan, we were close to completing the third of three days for an Art of Hosting training. It was going well. We had just completed a lovely and deep circle hosted by participants. The weave of that group was feeling particularly close.

I’ve hosted Art of Hosting trainings now over many years: open enrollment trainings like the one in New York; client engagements also when there is a more specific purpose or strategy to be developed; hundreds of cafes, circles, appreciate approaches, and open space working groups. The simple know-how of any of these methods and others are really helpful skills. Read More »