Throughout this entire global pandemic, I have felt lost. I chalked it up to the aftermath from the feeling that “my life got flipped turned upside down” (Jeff 1990). The loss of livelihood, the loss of purpose, the loss of people, pets, and things; all of this could have accounted for each individual feeling of uncertainty in my life, and to some extent it did. What I did not realize was that through this loss, and likely only through experiencing this loss lies the path to some of the greatest opportunities in my entire adult life.

I have been finding solace in concepts and ideas I am able to learn through courses and share in incredible discussion boards dialogues and debates; however, things in the world and in our society still do not make sense to me. I keep (and am likely to continue) flipping simple conversations in these forums to a global perspective and have taken many posts from the intended mezzo level either down to a micro level and make it all about me, or up to a macro perspective and engage in debating societal concerns. Somehow what follows does both.

This past weekend I tuned into the GAIA (Global Activation of Intention and Action) Global Forum, held by the presencing institute, which encompassed the culminating presentations after fourteen weeks of discussions between some incredibly smart change-leaders across the globe. I wanted to write this to document and share some of my first experiences with the presencing institute, as it was one of the most enlightening moments of 2020 for me and allowed me to practice empathy, enter and provide some intentional holding space, and absolutely utilize some of the ideas Judith Light talks about appreciative inquiry.


The GAIA Global Forum - “Moving from Ego to Eco”.

In the first keynote, four knowledge-bearers and cultural-holders of Aboriginal tradition spoke from Whadjuk Noongar country (the area around Perth, Western Australia). Dr. Noel Nannup’s perspective of the oppression he feels in Australia spoke as eerily familiar from those issues in our American society today.

The quantity of incredible realities shared from these beautiful and insightful humans to over 1000 participants were powerful. I felt what it was like to hold space for them and their truths, and was able to feel true empathy during times when they were speaking of the hurt that they still feel from colonization, the pain they feel when they look at the current state of what our society has done to their ancestors planet, and their beautiful understanding of the concepts of shadow, light, and silence.

Dr. Noel Nannup, Noongar Elder, storyteller and cultural guide started the group off, and was followed later by Professor Emeritus Colleen Hayward. Professor Hayward spoke of how what we know as ‘uncomfortable silence’ is not actually uncomfortable but is a necessary part of the conversation; that silence is the path that leads us from the head space to the heart space. Silence is about humanity.

From my experience, Dr. Nannup was one of the two most impactful speakers in the forum. The following is a topic he welcomed us into the conversation with:

"Good Spirit come and sit with us, and on us, and guide us as we have this chance now. This one chance in history that is being presented to us. As everything reaches a crescendo and starts to come closer, and closer and closer, and impact on us as humans. And as it does that, we need to acknowledge the past. And for us to survive and cope, particularly myself in this world that we’re subjected to; and we are just a minority in, in this part of the world. We have to walk backwards into the future, because we can’t bear to see all of the things that are coming at us from the front. And we can’t concentrate on caring for ourselves, let alone anything else. And we deflect all of those and as they do deflect away from us, we can see our ancestors. And our lineage going back thousands and thousands of generations. And as we look at it, we connect to it."
"Sure, there are shadows… The sun is making the shadows, or the moon is making the shadows. We understand the shadow has always been there. And we need not concern ourselves with that shadow because you don’t get a shadow unless there is light. So, there must be a light somewhere casting that shadow. We concentrate on the light. And it moves not slowly. Nothing travels as fast as light. Therefore, you don’t get the shadow until the light is there. And if we concentrate on the shadow, then we are robbing ourselves of time…"

-- Dr. Noel Nannup, Noongar Elder, storyteller and cultural guide.


In another impactful sessions, Dr. Dayna Cunningham spoke at length about the violence and uprising in America and continued a discussion Otto had begun earlier, utilizing the words ‘I cannot breathe’ as the literal strangling of Black Americans, and the allegorical strangling of our society, and our earth. This is just one of many ideas that Dr. Cunningham shared with us that I found impactful:

“The violence of inattention [in America] is looking at unemployment and the high level of unemployment and preventable disease and failure to teach children, incarceration, poverty, homelessness, illness in Black communities; and to not think that something is wrong with our country. That’s a form of intentional violence... [It is] also living within communities that have benefited from the inheritance of wealth from the homesteader act which gave free or low-cost land to 20% of white American families; while simultaneously… snatching from recently emancipated African Americans the land that was given to them to have a fresh start in the country that they built with their hands and their bent backs. And not noticing that”.

“These things are caused by structures of violence upheld by centuries of intentional violence, not noticing the agreements of whose lives matter and whose lives don’t matter and averting the gaze; averting the gaze as people suffered and died”. Dr. Cunningham goes on to say that the first step in achieving not violence, is making violence visible; and not averting our gaze.  She continues, “Otto spoke of the Berlin wall coming down, and in this moment when other kinds of walls are coming down. In the US we don’t have a wall, but we have Confederate monuments, and these are glorifications of murderous traitors who fought for the right to trade in human bodies. There’s a whole parade of them down Monument Ave in Richmond, Virginia but we also have them in the North… I believe that these statues upheld and fortified our own inner walls that allowed us not to see each other’s humanity. That allowed white people to not see the humanity of Black people. And these statues are coming down”.

“All over our country the statues are coming down, and in their place these beautiful bright bold huge street murals declaring Black Lives Matter are appearing. Suddenly… this is transpiring. If you had told me that three months ago, I would have laughed directly at you. It’s like the wall, three months before it came down, five weeks before it came down, nobody would have thought it and then suddenly it’s there. Suddenly it gone… The statues are coming down, the walls, the inner walls are coming down, but our work isn’t done. There are centuries of structural violence that we still have to attend to. A member of the presencing community a few weeks ago said, “The antidote to structural violence is structural love…”

-- Dr. Dayna L. Cunningham, Executive Director of the Community Innovators Lab at MIT

One last moment from the event –the overall impact of which I have not even begun to scratch the surface of analyzing– occurred in the second session on Saturday, after being given an option between sessions investigating Music, Social Presencing Theatre, Social Poetics, and Visual Scribing, I chose to attend the Social Poetics track of discussion and exercises discussing “Leading to the Future”.

In a primary session of about 400 participants, we were asked to write about our current moment. After the 8 min exercise the 400 people split to 4-person breakout groups and shared what we wrote and reflected on each other’s words with our group members. I was paired with two very nice women from New Jersey and another from Cornwall, England. From there we returned to our larger poetry group and after hearing a few people share with greater collective, we were asked to incorporate thoughts from the other writings we heard into a continuation of our writings about our emerging future. One participant’s adaptation of “Get Up, Stand Up” was the resonating thought for me and many others.

From there, we once again went back to the same breakout groups to discuss. After our return to the larger poetry group is when it got interesting. We were asked to type a single impactful sentence into a portal that created a rolling list of phrases related to the group feelings of current moment. These were displayed for us all to read and read aloud by moderators. From there the transition to a similar experience with a sentence from the group’s cumulative future. I know nothing about poetry and had no clue what to expect from “social poetry” but hearing similar thoughts and ideas eloquently phrased from LITERALLY every corner of the globe was incredibly impactful. The cumulative poem was then shared with us all. I do not consider myself a writer, but I did want to share what I wrote from that moment and my emerging future are included below.

American versions of Berlin’s troubled wall sit on borrowed time. Oppression of an overbearing and obsolete ideology long past due. Monuments to those deemed notable by the lost are memorialized in the shadowed statues turned rubble of our lives. Societal guilt lies in these shadows. Americas pain is hidden here so white society does not have to feel it. With this realization comes necessary silence; required reflection. 

Get up Stand up; your America needs you now. With the fall of monuments, we must rise. It is time to fight back the injustices of our ancestors and continued by us all. Gone now is Berlins wall, where oppression was led into the light. So too must America’s oppression go with the monument’s movement from the shadows.

If you made it this far, I am both humbled and impressed. Thank you for taking the time.

–– D