February 20, 2012

Hi, this is Sam, reporting from Dancing Rabbit’s 2012 annual retreat.

We’re in the thick of it now. The first weekend of our annual decision-making retreat began Thursday evening and ended Monday afternoon. We have a few days off before going back to meetings on Friday morning.

Retreat opened on Thursday evening with a potluck dinner and check-ins. “Check-ins,” for those unfamiliar, is a time for a group of people to get together and just listen to how each other are doing. Around here a variety of groups use them, from couples to committees to sub-communities, and once a year we check in with everyone at Dancing Rabbit who cares to attend, which is most of us. This annual retreat check-in helps us move into the process of decision-making at meetings with an awareness of each other’s state of mind, heart, and physical health so we can understand better and be more compassionate of different viewpoints and reactions to the ways things are. We make decisions by consensus, which means that while we may disagree on what the best way is to get a job done or accomplish our mission, we are bound to make decisions that everyone in the group are willing to live with, and agrees are best for the group. That makes being able to hear each other with an open and sympathetic ear–and to voice our own truths with confidence that others are hearing us that way–not just nice, but essential to getting anything done. A couple of hours spent in check-ins is a good investment in a year’s worth of decisions everyone in the group has given his or her approval to.

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and flower petals. Sometimes people cry in meetings, sometimes people become angry and exhibit bad meeting manners. We don’t always hear each other as well as we should, and we don’t always express ourselves as well as we could. Sometimes we don’t understand ourselves and our own motivations well enough to share truthfully in a meeting, and that can be very difficult for everyone. Meetings can be emotionally uncomfortable places to be at times. It takes maturity and willingness on the part of all participants to really listen to our community members and hold their feelings with gentle care.

Fortunately we have a skilled pool of meeting facilitators, and we’re in the process of increasing both the skillfulness and the size of that pool with a two year facilitation training. The facilitator’s role in a meeting is complex: He or she must maintain order, make sure everyone who has something to share has the chance to share it, interpret each contribution for others in the meeting to understand, help those who become frustrated, angry or sad to feel understood, and otherwise guide the discussion toward the objective at hand, whether it’s a decision, approval of a proposal, a brainstorm, or a sense of direction for a committee or other body to use to move forward in line with the will of the community.

This year, retreat meetings have gone remarkably smoothly. During the first weekend we got our group goals and priorities agreed to, our budgets approved to send to the board, our volunteer positions and committees acceptably filled, and guidance given to the Human Resources committee as they move forward with crafting employment policies. We heard from the Membership and Residency committee that we’ll have a total of 62 members, residents, and children living here come Spring. Pretty soon (some would say, last year or so) the number of people involved will make whole-group consensus will be too unwieldy. Future Decision-Making is hard at work figuring out how to make decisions as a group now that our group is getting so big. We gave them our approval and guidance as they move forward with that complex and very important job. Through all of this, people have asked good questions, made good points, and come together with solutions that work for everyone, even when none of the choices originally presented are universally acceptable. We finished some topics early, so we could give more time to others and even finish this weekend one meeting earlier than planned. I’m filled with gratitude for the spirit of community and the people I live with.

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community of more than 50 people and growing. We practice ecologically sustainable living in Rutledge, Northeast Missouri. We offer free tours to the public from April-October. For more information, see our website at www.dancingrabbit.org, visit our blog The March Hare at blog.dancingrabbit.org, find us on FaceBook at www.facebook.com/DancingRabbitEcovillage, follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/dancingrabbit or give us a call at (660) 883-5511.

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