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Open Sentences Practice

A practice adapted from Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World, by Joanna Macy and MoIly Young Brown (New Society Publishers, 1998).

This "three-sentence" exercise is designed for use at meetings about a major issue or problem, after participants have just received information on the issue. It provides a swift, easy way for people to voice their inner responses to the situation. The structure of the exercise helps participants both to listen with total receptivity and to express feelings and thoughts that might usually be censored for fear of judgment or adverse reaction. The sequence of sentences moves from thoughts or viewpoints to feelings, then to possibilities that tap new energy and ideas. The exercise lasts approximately 15-20 minutes.

People sit in pairs, face to face and close enough to attend to each other fully. One is Partner A, the other Partner B. They are asked to sit in silence until the exercise begins. The facilitator/guide for the exercise speaks the unfinished sentence, then the pairs respond: Partner A repeats the sentence and completes it in her/his own words, speaking to Partner B, and continues spontaneously for the time allotted. Partner A does this for each sentence before switching with Partner B. The facilitator again speaks each sentence, with Partner B repeating the sentence and completing it. The listening partner - and this is to be emphasized by the facilitator - keeps silent, saying absolutely nothing, and hearkening as attentively and supportively as possible.

For the completion of each open sentence, the facilitator allows a few minutes - or longer if the momentum is strong. Provide a brief warning each time before speaking the next sentence, saying "Take a moment to complete what you are saying," or "Thank you." A clap or a small bell may be used to bring the group to silence, where they rest a few seconds before the next open sentence.

The issue questions may be phrased by the guide in the following way:

1. I've just heard a lot about [the issue] and the questions I still have are ...

2. What I'm hearing about [the issue] makes me feel...

3. But [the issue] presents some new possibilities, and facing it together could enable us to...

To order Coming Back to Life, contact New Society Publishers at 800-567-6772 or on the web at