The only pleasant part of the negative temperatures of late is the satisfying way that wood splits. Or realizing that no matter how old you are, breaking the brittle top layer of a frozen puddle with your boot toe is secretly satisfying, like cracking through the top of a creme brûlée. Maybe humans just like to break things, especially if it can be a clean, crisp snap.
Nik writing to you all in the middle of Dancing Rabbit’s yearly retreat. Now that sounds great, doesn’t it?! When the logs are so cold they practically chop themselves, the whole village goes on a 5-day retreat. Where to this year? Costa Rica? Barbados? Pocahontas, Arkansas? No thanks, we’ll just hole up in the Common House and be happy for radiant floor heating.
But what kind of retreat is that, we all might ask? Aren’t we supposed to be getting away from this workaday, goat-eat-goat world?
Well, retreat at Dancing Rabbit is a time to come together and present what has been happening for each of us (and our committees) over the last year—to take count of what we accomplished and then decide where we want to intentionally put our energy in the coming year (but there’s also trainings and connection exercises and of course puppet shows, just like any other company retreat…).
Committee reports are always a highlight of retreat, as one would imagine. A lot of committees are needed to run the ins and out of this village, and an annual presentation is the place to let their work shine.
Some of the more memorable reports included the Village Council’s long list of decisions and proposals, accompanied by a slideshow of all the fun things the rest of the village got to do (like sledding, playing frisbee, climbing rocks…), which made us all appreciate our elected body of core decision-makers as opposed to the olden days of endless plenary meetings to get anything decided on. Did I mention there was an accompanying sound effect for each and every decision mentioned?
Eco-progress, a committee that oversees our village’s progress in everything… eco, forwent the power point presentation (to conserve power most likely) and went the Subterranean Homesick Blues route, making all their slides on recyclable cardboard. I’d never seen so many fascinating bar graphs…
Our non-profit and outreach arm’s reports were a bit more dry, but full of accomplishments and challenges alike. But then Land Management’s report was presented by a blind, inter-dimensional frog, who gave us a thorough diatribe on garlic mustard. Par for the course, really.
Beyond the reports and presentations, training exercises sprinkled the days. One such exercise on how to navigate difficult and possibly explosive questions from visitors and guests, was called “Steppin’ in it,” where we discussed how not to “step in it” and make things worse when dealing with such questions. Questions we discussed ranged from, “Why hasn’t anyone built a bicycle-powered smoothie bar yet?” to “Can I camp with my dog and three cats?” to “In the common house, where can I plug in my electric cat-waxer?” And now we are prepared to answer those inevitable questions with more grace.
The second part of retreat is reserved for very important planning; and the strategy is for it not to be planned! Well…kind of…although there is a lot of planning that goes into it, there is no specific agenda besides achieving…something…something yet unknown.
OST, or Open Space Technology, is an approach to purpose-driven leadership in hosting meetings, conferences, community events, symposiums, and of course retreats. It focuses on a specific and important purpose or task but begins without any formal agenda, and reaches beyond the overall purpose or theme. OST has been used by NASA, schools, telecommunications companies, local governments, and countless other organizations to create waves and changes in the way those organizations spend their energies and even how they run.
Using OST in our retreat gives us an open door and clean slate in what we want to achieve in the future, but can also be used as a problem-solving strategy to improve what we are already doing. If something isn’t working, or if something big emerges in OST, it can get a lot of traction on its way to being changed or implemented.
For those of us here who want to change the world, we first have to be ready to implement change in our own communities. Sometimes I think the latter is the harder one. But when ideas come, when new ways are presented, and we can get behind them to make a change, change starts.
And it can be a nice clean snap.
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Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.