Mid-February. Wednesday morning. A team meeting.
So far, so normal. We have a practice of taking a few moments at the beginning of team meetings to reflect, or be mindful of the day, before we get down to the week's business. This particular week one of our colleagues was facilitating, so it was down to him to guide those moments of mindfulness. I think most of us were momentarily surprised by the invitation to follow him outside, and when this was followed with an instruction to take off our shoes/boots and socks, it has to be said that there were a few nervous giggles and exclamations. We were then asked to walk around on the grass.
I refer back to my opening sentence - it was mid-February! It wasn't a frosty morning, but still...
My boots and warm socks lay abandoned out of reach, and I was walking barefoot on the grass. Goodness, it was cold. But then something happened. We were invited to stand in a circle and just be conscious of our surroundings. We stood still. I stopped walking and thinking how cold each step was, and as I stood still my feet stopped feeling the cold. In fact, they started to warm up and within moments of standing still, my feet were beautifully warm. They nestled down into the mossy, springy grass, and felt as warm as if they were snugly wrapped in woolly socks and slippers.
I was surprised by this sensation, and certainly hadn't anticipated how pleasant it felt. However, we couldn't stay there all morning when there was work to be done, so we had to leave our spot and head back inside, and as I walked back across the grass each step became a bitingly cold reminder that it was still winter, and cosy footwear was a necessity.
I was sufficiently impressed by this experience that I gave it some serious reflection, and got to comparing it with my work as a community builder. These moments of mindfulness that we share as a team before meetings give us an opportunity to mentally slow down and stand still, and I started thinking about the importance of this in our working lives, and how so many of us spend our 9-5 rushing from meeting to meeting, appointment to appointment, and ticking boxes, targets, time sheets etc. But the process of building community isn't, or certainly shouldn't be, an exercise in box ticking. We shouldn't be constrained by having to spend time filling in time sheets - how ironic is that?
If we want to build community, we have to build relationships. Relationships are not a target. Relationships need to be real. Authenticity takes time, but not the sort you can fit into a spreadsheet. If we have to be constantly monitored, checked, evaluated and ticked, we become an exercise in bureaucracy and our work nothing more than a series of statistics. What role do you have in your own community, among your friends and neighbours? Are you a statistic there? Or are you John, who does great BBQ's, or Andrew, who plays the piano, or Jean, who grows enough vegetables to share with everyone? The relationships we build through working in communities should be no less genuine. Margaret isn't a box ticked, she's Margaret who knits blankets for the hospital. Jim isn't a number in a category, he's Jim who can mend your toaster. We need to stand still long enough to feel the warmth of the community, just as I stood still long enough for my feet to feel the warmth of the earth through that outer layer.
If we are constantly on the move, our footsteps are going to be superficial. They will only skim the surface, and our feet will remain cold. If we truly believe in what we are doing then we need to stop and stand still in the midst of community, and only then will our feet warm up and our footsteps leave a lasting impression of where we stood among residents.