As our lives becomes increasingly complex and disconnection from nature becomes the norm, we tend to forget that our lives are the offspring of nature. Therefore, when I get confused about something, reflecting on nature metaphors or natural processes often reveals useful answers.
Following this line of reasoning, survival literature offers us the following general rules around the relative importance of the basic elements earth, wind, fire, and water.
- (Wind) Breathe air within three minutes.
- (Fire) Find warmth/shelter within three hours.
- (Water) Drink water within three days.
- (Earth) Eat food within three weeks.
It occurs to me that there may be a useful correlation here to facilitation. Indulge me for a moment as I make the following comparisons of the earth elements to aspects of group process.
Wind: This is air that equates to our breath. Our breath sustains our vitality and is often used as a meditation or physical anchor to help us stay present. As our breath becomes shallow, the first thing to go is our higher cognitive function. When this happens, we are prone to fall into conditioned responses to stress and emotional reactivity. Our presence as facilitators is our first greatest ally and gift to groups.
Fire: Fire is often attributed to passion and is a universal symbol for energy. Groups have no need to come together without a shared passion, vision, or interest to move forward collectively toward a goal. Without interest, energy, or passion, group work is dead from the start and it won’t likely survive the first bite of the cold night air.
Water: Water has long been viewed as the symbol for the feminine. Water will fill any space provided. And whatever is dipped into it is freely embraced without reservation. Feeling welcome in a group quenches our thirst for connection and intimacy with others. When the flow between group members is blocked or guarded, our work together becomes dry and difficult.
Earth: The earth is our ground, literally, and the food of its harvest sustains us by rebuilding and repairing our bodies. In an endless cycle it also receives our waste and converts it once again to life in its many forms. When one is said to have his feet on the ground, we think of a person who is solid, stable, and who knows where he’s going. When we are not grounded nor fed by the earth, we stop dead in our tracks. Groups not accomplishing real results die or spin in circles.
So what does all this elementary talk mean for us as facilitators and how might we use it? I see two things of importance here.
1) In the past I’ve written about the integral elements of facilitation that include Self, Task, Process, and Relationships. These basic elements correlate to these tangible aspects of group dynamics. I tell you how in a minute.
2) While all of the elements of group process and of the earth are required for our effectiveness and survival respectively, there is an order of importance that can be ascribed to each one.
A Hierarchy of Survival
Wind (Self). Group leadership can be very challenging. In order to be an effective leader, the most persistent demand on you is to be present in the moment with your full intellectual and emotional faculties. Your breath is your ally. When you are attentive to your breath, you are present in the moment and while the “wind” may not be at your back, you’ll at least be at your best to take on the challenge.
Fire (Task). With your attention in the moment, the next thing that is most critical to measure is the energy and focus of the group. If they are not gathered to define and pursue shared interests, there is no energy to take the first step and no fire to light the way forward. For if there is no desire to accomplish a task together, there is no forward, and it’s time to go home.
Water (Relationships). If there is a clear commitment to a task and shared desire to move forward, now we can get somewhere. But we need to get there together or it’s not shared. Along the way, the going may get tough and we’ll need to work through anything that blocks the flow of communication within and between us. So now we pay attention to the flow between us. What dams or barriers are present? Where is flow already happening? Who is thirsty? And for what?
Earth (Process). Now that we are willing to work together toward our goal, we must ask, “Is our approach working?” Or perhaps a better question is, “Is our work grounded in results that have a possibility of occurring in the world as it is?” If not, we must go back to make sure all of the prior elements are still intact and if so, adjust our approach accordingly.
How have these insights spoken to you today? What do you plan to do or not do as a result? Please click on the Add Your Comments link above and share your thoughts, stories, and experiences around this topic. we’d love to hear from you!