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Chicago Branching Streams Conference Report

A report on the Branching Streams Conference in Chicago, where Peg was presenting Right Use of Power and Appreciative Inquiry.

09/25/17 12:40:am

The conference for Branching Streams, the affiliate sanghas of San Francisco Zen Center, was held at the Cenacle, a Catholic facility at 513 Fullerton Pkwy, in Chicago. It’s a nice facility for a small conference. The rooms are small, with a bed, a desk, a little sink, and a closet, but clean and comfortable. Bathrooms are shared, down the hall. The meeting room was on the lower level, a large room with carpeting and comfortable chairs and folding tables. It was quiet and the neighborhood, right at the north end of Lincoln Park, is older brownstones, now very upscale, and shaded with trees. The weather was absolutely glorious, about 68-70º and sunny every day. 

Steve Weintraub was coordinating the program, and his wife, Linda Ruth Cutts, the central abbot of SFZC was there, as well as Linda Galijan, the President of SFZC. Greg Snyder, from Brooklyn Zen Center, and many other people I had met in various meeting and conferences were also attending. It was the perfect audience: Zen teachers with a great capacity for paying attention and for self-awareness and mindfulness.
Thursday morning I did a three hour presentation on Right Use of Power. I was a bit nervous about it, because I had completely taken apart my previous structure for this work. I wanted to organize this workshop by providing first a general introduction to Right Use of Power, then three main sections: the individual, the sangha, and the world. For the individual section, we explored our personal relationship to power and to stepping into power, abuses or misuses of power folks had experienced, and our need not to deny or suppress our power. In the sangha section we talked about the power differential and the difference between intention and impact, about role power in sanghas, and the difficulty people have recognizing and stepping into the responsibility for their role power. We also explored leadership styles, both the positive qualities and the shadow side of each style. For the world section, I drew on the work of Joanna Macy, the current climate (the Buddha’s fire sermon: “all is burning”), Joanna Macy’s three domains of effective action (holding/blocking actions, provision of structural alternatives, and transformations of consciousness), the public expression of the moral clarity the world is in need of now. I read the Shambala Prophesy and David Whyte’s “Start Close In” to finish. There was a wonderful response to this work, from both the participants and the leaders from SFZC.

I followed with an afternoon breakout session on abuse of power, feedback, and repair, about an hour and a half. I organized the section on abuses of power around abuses based on the four dimensions of the power spiral. This was mainly providing content. Then I organized the rest of the presentation around three key points: Prevention, Mitigation, and Repair of abuses of power. We only had time for one exercise, the feedback script, in the Prevention section. Prevention has to do with the proactive efforts we can make to avoid abuses of power by ourselves or others. Feedback is critical to this, but so is the kind of awareness of our own conflict avoidance strategies, past conditioning, and tracking indicators, especially for the person in the up-power position. In the Mitigation section, we talked more about up-power/down-power differentials, the importance of tracking for indicators in both positions, and the continued importance of feedback. In the Repair section, we talked about the five steps for resolving difficulties, and walked through examples, but we did not have time to do any practices with it. That proved actually to be fortuitous, because later I was able to use a small incident that happened between two people at the conference to demonstrate the five step repair and it seemed quite helpful to the group. People were very happy with this session. They especially loved the feedback as investment in relationship concept. 

The second day of the conference featured a keynote by Taigen Dan Leighton on social activism, which drew deeply on the Buddha’s teachings as well as Dogen’s writings, but was much too short, in my view. I would have loved to hear more! He trained with Joanna Macy, who was a mentor for him, and also engaged in the antinuclear work she was doing back in the 70’s.  His talk was followed by a panel of folks engaged in social activism in their sanghas. I was very interested in these initiatives and hope to discuss possibilities with our own sangha. 

I was also asked to consult confidentially with several participants about particular issues in their own sanghas and relationships with students. These individual consultations seemed to go very well. 

Finally, on the third day I did a very brief (1 1/2 hour) overview of Appreciative Inquiry, extremely truncated, but still very well received. I was really constrained, and this is such rich material that it was hard to say what folks got out of it. But the evaluations were very positive about both presentations and the breakout session. It was a great pleasure to be able to share these models with the sangha teachers and leaders, and to see how powerfully they responded to them. 

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