Wednesday, March 12, 2014

My life as a landscape

Christa and I recently returned from a month long trip to Thailand. One of our responsibilities was to teach organizational core values to adult students. We had fun with this, using creative exercises and discussion to engage the students in different ways (intellectually, creatively, visually, relationally, spiritually).

We led one exercise we call "My Life as a Landscape". We've used this exercise for years and I don't remember where the idea came from. It's a fun little exercise that can yield profound results. 

We ask participants to imagine their life as a landscape. Is it rocky or smooth, mountainous or flat? Are there trees, shrubs, grass, rivers, oceans, hills? Is it cold or hot, rainy or dry? Is it summer or winter? These questions get people thinking about where they are at in life in a visual way.

Then participants draw their landscape. The results are fun and interesting. Because most adults don't draw regularly, it can feel vulnerable, but something childlike and profound often emerges.

The bigger payday usually comes when people share about what they have drawn. Talking about the visual picture opens a window into peoples' experiences, thoughts and emotions. 

In the context of a group of people committed to each others' growth, this kind of sharing is quite useful, since peoples' ability to be helpful to their friends, peers or coworkers depends partly on how well they are tracking the actual stuff of their life, stuff which can be surprisingly difficult to get to since most of us are not good a personal reflection, let alone sharing these inner processes with others. Growth, however, requires exactly this combination of personal reflection and transparency with others. 

This simple exercise helps people with the challenging task of personal reflection, and when done in a group context can be a catalyst for transparency and vulnerability -- opening up a window for people to see each other more clearly, providing an opportunity for the support, encouragement and accountability that leads to growth. 

Here is life as a landscape as of last week. The drawing is more complex than the ones we do in seminars, and I'm a trained artist, so don't take this as an example of how the exercise should look -- just as an example of the process. 

Here's how I describe the drawing:

I'm in a space ship traveling through space and an interesting array of planets and angels. Other ships are here near me. Some travel in similar directions, some not. I'm exploring, I'm on a mission. It is beautiful, it is a bit overwhelming and confusing as well. I am looking for a planet to call home, but I am already at home in my ship, in the dispersed fleet that I am part of, and in the context of my commanders' presence and his homeworld I have yet to discover. The wider context is vast and mysterious, dangerous and beautiful, but their are shipping routes that I'm familiar with. I travel these shipping lanes regularly making forays off into new territory then back to the familiar "paths".

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