I'll be hosting the Thanksgiving dinner at my house again this year. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays! I love the delicious food, the connection, expressions of gratitude, leftovers for days afterward (or sometimes weeks) and of course the people. As I move into this time of year, the Art of Convening reminds me that gathering my family and friends requires more preparation than just buying the food, planning the menu, cleaning/decorating the house and confirming the guests. It is now that I am accutely aware of the "inner game" of convening.
I've learned over time that when my family and long-time friends show up in my environment, so do the memories (some fond, some not so fond), old conflicts, celebrations, hurts, confusion or chaos I may have experienced with them - whether I'm consciously aware of it or not. While the Art of Convening was initially developed to help organizational leaders have more effective meetings, I have learned that the same principles that are effective in a work or organizational context are also effective when gathering family and friends - and possibly much more necessary for cutting through the clutter of our history.
I've experienced first hand how much the inner game of convening can make or break a gathering of those closest to me, more than any other preparation. Now is when I see the value of keeping a regular (or, more likely in my case, irregular) practice of exploring who I am. I go for walks alone, meditate, and reflect on myself - quietly revealing what I'm ready to discover. This kind of practice is the center of the convening wheel, At the Heart of the Matter. I'm doing this because I know that the experience of being with the people closest to me will move me, one way or another, and I need to know during this powerful time, clearly, who I am and how I want to be with them.
When I have brought to my awareness all of the intentions or motives I can think of for my gathering, both good and not so good (showing off, getting even, reliving the past, controlling outcomes, having fun), I can consciously choose to set aside anything that might sabotage my gathering and choose to keep intentions that are in line with who and how I want to be. I like to concentrate particularly on the desire for authentic engagement with my guests. This is the practice of Clarifying Intent. I don't need to know exactly why it works. I know from experience that when I do this clarification, making an effort to bring up and consciously set aside anything that may be a distraction from what's important, it makes a difference in me and others in my gathering - intention has substance that is perceived and acted upon.
Because Thanksgiving is a tradition, sometimes we invite certain people because we always have or we think we have to. I realize that in order to convey a wholehearted and generous invitation, I need to do more thinking about the value and precious, unique presence of each person I'm inviting. In the midst of an unresolved conflict or disconnection it sometimes doesn't seem possible, but with practice I have learned to acknowledge lingering negative feelings, set them aside for now, and concentrate on the ways in which that person is a gift in my life. When I do this I realize how much I really do want everyone to show up and contribute their presence to our gathering. This is the way I play the inner game of the part of convening called, The Invitation. It goes beyond the invitation itself, into my attitude, appreciation, and conviction that everyone I invite is wanted and needed.
As part of the ongoing invitation, a couple of years ago I started making a small paper placename for each person at the table with a little drawing on each one. The practice of making them gives me a chance to refIect on each person and the gifts they bring. I leave the option open for guests to trade places at the table if they'd rather, but having their names there provides another opportunity for sincere welcome.
So, as Thanksgiving gets closer, I am taking the time to prepare (play) the inner game of convening. I don't have to buy, store or cook yet. I just think, contemplate, appreciate and communicate sincerely. This is significant groundwork for my gathering. I hope it will result in a way for us to be together in as good a way as we can - and that's what's important to me.
I'll create another post closer to Thanksgiving with some other ways that the Art of Convening principles influence the way I do Thanksgiving and other family and friend get-togethers. Subscribe to the blog to get an email when a new post is ready.
Comments welcome. How do you pay attention to the inner game during holidays? Are there traditions or challenges you'd like to share? Do you have questions (for Craig, Patricia, or me) about convening during the holidays?
We'd love to hear from you, and Happy Thanksgiving!
Cynthia (Cindy) Wold is a Co-author of "The Art of Convening: Authentic Engagement in Meetings, Gatherings, and Conversations"