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Food for (new) Thought

[Barbara Coffman of Ashland, OR, wrote me the following letter. I then sent her a note requesting clarification on a few points. I've interspersed our subsequent conversation in italics like this, into the relevant places in her original letter. I hope the result is clear. -- Tom]

Dear Tom,

A little story... a couple weeks ago I, too, started running out of gas for
weighty meetings. I have been noticing an unorchestrated phenomenon
occuring in this area. Small circles of people have begun to form--based
on proximity, affinities, church alliances, friendship, whatever. Many of
these have been meeting now for 7 to 9 months; the initial banding together
always seemed to focus on nerves and buckets -- anxiety and food pails.

A friend and I decided to invite representatives from a number of these
circles to an afternoon conversation about what we have learned. Very soon
on, we hit the same hilarity you wrote of at the Bay Area organizers
meeting. We discovered that the universals were the new "f" words... food
and fear. We began talking in food metaphors that described everything
there is to know about anything in the world. By time we were done we had
moved into the temple (our kitchen) and were paying hysterical tribute to
our gods. And, as you said, something shifted. We laughed our way out of
some invisible box, and we found ourselves in another room altogether.
It's qualities were lightness, hope if not downright sureness, and some
impersonal color of love. I suspect we had finally arrived at some platform
for thought aligned with that "thing in the wind" that you wrote of,
behind all of this.
[Note from Tom: In a subsequent communication, when I asked Barbara about her use of the word "impersonal" in the above paragraph, she explained that there was an energy in this meeting that arose despite people's differences and unfamiliarity with each other -- an energy "that ignites the upside. I didn't know several people in that grouping but, despite our obvious differences, we were nourished by one another and felt the power of our connection as an ongoing generator in the field. Maybe there are new energy sources as well as new food sources." But now I'll return you to her original letter, where she has more to say about meetings and circumstances "where something shifts."]

What if the shift itself is the point? What if the pattern of circles is
like the pile of mashed potatoes in Close Encounters? What if all roads
are heading towards that shift, and everyone needs to simply take the next
step, and then the next. and then the next..What if addressing your pet
fear practically, opens the door into the shift? What if there is a
spectrum of "jobs" in this impetus, ranging from personal preparedness, to
community collaboration, to bridging into another substance of thought?
[Note from Tom: In response to this list of "What Ifs," I felt moved to reply, "What if you have hit the nail on the head? What if we are all part of the tide, each wave making way for the next wave in. Pulled by the moon. (What's the moon, in this case? ... What if some people have to wonder what the moon is, even if there isn't an answer, because that's part of the pulling...)." But now back to Barbara's original letter:]

I have held an image of a quiet elders' circle in the midst for a long time that
is tending [to this unfolding of Y2K]. We are just beginning to play with this
now, as part of the new govenmental forms called for. What if that space,
consistently tended, could provide some kind of safe passage into the
future? I am committed to discovering the shapes and processes which are
the flows into what is to come. If you know of others who are crashing
about in this territory, I would be most grateful to know of them.
[Note from Tom: In her subsequent note, Barbara suggested that some of us are doing our "eldering" in an environment that's like soup -- "soup that we are at once swimming in, ingesting, drowning in, and cooking ourselves. I have the sensation of being both a pawn and a creator of the Y2K controversy. The forces at work are both obvious (like our City Council deliberations) and more insidious (like values and assumptions that have driven us all to a brink). I'm intensely aware of the unseen manipulations and power struggles writhing away behind the scenes in many a board room... and, on the other hand, of the moon" (referring to my comment, above, about the mysterious forces pulling the tide of change).

When I asked Barbara about her reference to "new governmental forms" she replied that she and a friend were "looking for the elemental configurations which could drive this community. As Peter Senge says, the leader is more the designer of the boat than the captain. I'm also trying to find a cross-section of this community that could hold it all, consistently over time, that individuals or leaders could reference. I would like to help this grouping find its footing, its language, its unique dynamic."

She went on: "I work in community development and organizational change, and am experimenting with this funciton in exploratory conferences, and as 'embedded' functions in organizations. I am talking about dedicated, conscious, reflective circles. My deepest exploratory work has been with 7 women over 5 years, feeling our way into leveraging change in the 'whole' through use of our own capacities and relationships." This sounds very co-intelligent to me! -- Tom]

It is remarkable how shifting the lens on this whole thing restores
the "juice", kindled not out of fear, but a love for life and its natural
ways that has been strangely dulled for a long time.

I am surprised at how deeply touched I am by your letter. Perhaps
one of the reasons we resist the shift is because of the threat of intimacy.

Blessings to you, Tom, on this eve of the new year. Writing this feels like
part of my ritual for the day. Indeed, I am excited about life anew.


Barbara Coffman

When I wrote to Barbara, "What a delight! What a sweet fellowship this is turning out to be. This is some journey!" she replied, "This is probably what we signed up for. Good thing we didn't know the details in advance."