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Focus Subtleties: Meeting Magic

Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue

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Part H 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 (1991).


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.

1. Indirection

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).

2. Paradox

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).

3. Incompatibility

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 perspectives.

4. Attunement

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 meditation techniques).

5. "Chemistry"

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.

7. Drama

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.

9. Non-action

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").

10. Non-conscious

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 explanation.

12. Innocence

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 circumstances.

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).

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