“A stranger in a strange land” – that was me last week, 6 days in California will do that to you, leave you confused, bamboozled and yet somehow curiously uplifted.
I knew what I was getting in to as I sat the course myself 4 years ago but I wasn’t prepared for how different it would be helping to deliver it. Maybe it was people’s descriptions of themselves – ranging from “unashamed tree-hugger” via “mystical” right the way across to “in business but looking for something else, you know, more”, or perhaps it was the sun which turned my mind. Whatever it was I know that it had a profound impact on me.
The course content is pretty intense, teaching you ways to deal with physical and emotional trauma, come to terms with grief / loss and generally take good care of your emotional health. It requires a lot of trust in the room and those introductions are all important. I think that as the only British guy there I was expected to provide the “stiff upper lip” and people were genuinely stunned when I suggested that we would also have some fun.
People dealt with huge, complex issues and yet the techniques started to yield results. As their confidence improved they started to adapt the processes, adjust them to their needs. They took everything apart to see how it worked and then rebuilt it in the way that best suited them. I heard one person describe it as like playing with Lego, endlessly constructing, adapting and innovating with the same basic blocks…..
As someone who earns a chunk of their living from providing training it was also useful to see the style of delivery. No powerpoint obviously, a grand total of 10 flip charts for 5 days training. Everything else experiential, demo led practicals and conversation / reflection. There was a huge emphasis on the quality of feedback and the idea that we had all the resources we needed within the room (and more specifically in each other). The ratio of resource team to delegates was 1 to 6 with a lead trainer at the front.
This allowed for a really good exchange of ideas and experiences. The learning felt organic and dependent on the care and attention of the individual. Indeed I had an interesting discussion with someone about talking to plants as a key way to nurture them (this was California after all, what do you expect?) and that metaphor was firmly in their mind as a way to express their development.
What of the fun though? I hear you ask. Well every day my journey to the training was by bike. I travelled through suburban San Mateo, over the 101 freeway and then alongside the San Francisco Bay to arrive at the anonymous airport hotel where the training was. My route took me by Coyote Point and each day I would stop and sit for a while, gathering my thoughts either before or after training (generally both). In Native American lore the coyote is seen as a creator, teacher and keeper of magic. It is also a joker and seeks short cuts, reminding people not to be too serious. It’s key energies are simplicity and trust.
Now without wishing to generalise it’s fair to say that Americans aren’t big on irony and have a different sensibility when it comes to jokes so I figured they wouldn’t appreciate my sense of humour. Instead what I decided to bring was the simplicity and trust. I made it my mission to engage with everyone in the room (50 odd people) over the 5 days. Sometimes it was a chat, an exchange over break time, other times it was assistance during an exercise or feedback afterwards. I gave reassurance, advice and above all, support. I’m sure you can guess what I got in return…….