Focus Subtleties: Meeting Magic
Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue
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of Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue: Collection of papers and notes, problems and possibilities on the new frontier of high-risk gatherings concerning social development
Occasionally, perhaps under special circumstances, meetings "come together"
and "take off" as if by magic. It might be called serendipity. There is very
little indication of why this comes about or how it is to be described objectively. It can
happen when every care has been put into arranging the meeting and selecting the
participants, or it can happen under extremely non-ideal circumstances. The following
notes indicate some possible directions for further reflection on the question.
In such a case there seems to be a strength in defining the central point of focus by
discussions which use it as an unspoken reference point. The totality of tangential
dialogues is then facilitated by this approach, whereas "going to the heart of the
matter", and efforts to render it explicit, effectively only introduce perturbation
and fragmentation. (Note that non-directiveness, being the non-imposition of a line of
discussion, is only loosely related to indirection in this sense).
There usually seems to be a strong element of paradox in such cases, or at least a
tolerance of it and a suspension of judgement. (The meeting could almost be considered a
collective reflection on a Zen koan).
Associated with paradox is a context which permits incompatible perspectives to be
"bracketed" and held in complementary juxtaposition. It is the shared attitude
underlying this contextual awareness which provides a subtle interface between the
The magic tends to occur when participants are attuned to each other or empathize with
each other, possibly stimulated by a quota of antipathy which provokes a search for a more
fundamental level of harmony (cf the use of this concept in certain group
As in the previous point, when the right mix of participants is present, they react in
unpredictable ways to produce interesting transformation for all concerned. (The
"recipe" analogy may also be used).
6. Aesthetic elegance
There seems to be a special economy and proportion of structure and process which can
only be described in aesthetic terms.
Relating to the previous point, there is often a sense of evolving and mounting drama,
engendering appropriate events at each stage. There is a collective awareness of how each
event is charged with significance.
8. "Invisible hand"
Relating to the previous point, at certain moments events seem to be guided by an
unseen hand, so well do they emerge spontaneously and fall into place unplanned. There is
a strange "rightness" to the flow of events.
During the course of such meetings, deliberate actions usually tend to be of less
significance or else their significance emerges totally transformed in relation to the
original intent. The more participants can approximate to the Taoist attitude of
non-action, the better the event for all concerned (cf the adage: "Don't push
the river. Guide the canoe").
Relating to the previous point, participant appreciation of the event depends on
ability to "let go" and "flow with the stream of things". This seems
to call upon instinctual and intuitive aspects of personality, appropriately blended by
the participant (cf the Japanese concept of hara). It should perhaps be contrasted
with unconsciousness and "stream of consciousness" monologue.
11. Humorously quixotic
In contrast to the heavy quality of conventional meetings, such events have an
underlying thread of humour strangely blended with wisdom (cf the Sufi tales of
Nasruddin). This also serves as a very powerful and rapid means of conveying an
The flow of such events tends to evoke a childlike innocence and sense of wonder in
participants, which is to be contrasted in conventional meetings with the defensive
attitude towards ignorance, a pervasive cynicism, and childishness under certain
13. Magical shifts of perspective
Characteristically in such meetings, apparently insignificant events brought about in
an unforeseen manner can trigger major shifts of perspective (cf the Zen tales
concerning achievement of satori).