An extraordinary thing happened Saturday. In the dwindling light of evening in my living room — 10 of us gathered, as women, as girls, as sisters, as humans. We were of many ages, we came from different shores, we might have studied different things and worked at many places — we were from different mothers but we were not the Other to each other…….
Episode 1 of the Traveling Pants Exchange kicked off. I had organized TPE to kick-off Reinvesting the Past into your Future. To say good-bye, I had wanted to bring back the women of my past, from financial services, to meet the women of the present, from the creative and healing arts. I had wanted to see if we could gather and ignite a future of co-created culture. A culture of inter-disciplinary exchange and cross-pollination, a culture where we could boldly “step out of our paradigm” and question beliefs, assumptions, biases in the spirit of radical openness and connectivity. A culture of safe space where we only had to be ourselves, as Experts of our Own Story. (As articulated by various design thinking schools, and as heard on an IDEO webinar, David Kelley on Design Thinking)
I asked us to tell our story in three words- how we be, what we do and what we are becoming.
How we be- started with our names, our “line of business” and why we were there. How we be, quickly became, how many we were within, in our multiple personas with the many roles and responsibilities. We were women, who wore many hats and many voices.
The topic of the evening was being yourself in your body through the ritual of embodiment. My friend Kat Szekely, actor and yoga instructor, started with an exercise in embodiment, of feeling yourself by standing on your own feet. She then led the group into a drill on neutral mask from physical theater, put forth by Jacques Lecoq. We were asked to retrieve an object that we “would not leave home without”. We reached in our handbags, looked on our person and embodied it, and allowed ourselves to be endowed such.
“There are three masks: the one we think we are, the one we really are, and the one we have in common” — Jacques Lecoq
“The neutral mask is a learning tool for actors — to help them develop emotional honesty and economy of movement , and to give them an inner core that is balanced, centered and focused while they express powerful, authentic emotions on stage.” (http://www.foolmoon.org/neutral-mask/)
Each woman participated and shared her experience of what just happened. In wearing the neutral mask, we were able to drop the mask of who we thought we should be, and get in touch with who we already were. We talked about our mothers, of a filigreed necklace where the heart meets voice, of “depth, curl and dimension”, the symbolism of a ring. We talked about standing on our feet, solidly planted where we were, not where we should be.
Some of us talked about transformation- moving lives, moving careers, moving from one box to the other; all the while trying to honor the inner-moving-self. Some of us talked about flowing between boxes and making new boxes when the old ones did not fit. We talked about boxes that were imminently flexible, boxes that allowed creativity and autonomy, essential for the moving self. Some of us talked about how it was not change that we were afraid of, but what we have been told, change can be like.
In our reflections, we were verbs, we were nouns, we were pronouns. And present participles. We acknowledged Becoming as a process, which is constant and “in-motion”.
Mixing and matching many personas takes work. It requires finding a new center. It takes practice to be easeful with “the incredible center of being off-center”, “the middle way that is not down the middle”, “allowing for the pendulum to swing both ways”, “the equilibrium in the disequilibrium”- “the non-work-life balance.” But that evening Kat taught us one way to come come back to “neutral”. The neutral of the safe and the strong space, a held space within.
“Neutral is holding the centre” — moving with grace, dignity, power, and direction in times of rapid change and crisis.” Jacques Lecoq
We are women in process. We are women in becoming. We are women who support each other. We bring our openness, our desire to connect and share a page from the experiential playbook. We are eager and hungry to step out of our paradigm and learn how we be. And this is how we are becoming, creators and custodians of a new, co-created culture.
We come bearing a singular intent — of dreaming and wanting to mix and match all of the above; and to do justice to this one awesome, extraordinary life. Our tapestry is one of richness and multiplicity. We are the face of diversity. And in that shared intent and purpose, we are the face of inclusion. We are the face of unity in diversity.
This article appeared as part of Series on the New Culture of Work on LinkedIn. For more of my writing on behavior change and life as a series of experiments, please follow me on www.radicaleverything.com/blog
May the dancing spirit thrive within!