On the street where we live
We are all spending time in our neighborhoods. The coronavirus has us getting to know our neighborhood in new and expansive ways. A walk around the block has become a highlight for the day and is literally grounding us during these otherwise frightening times. I am seeing neighbors, definitely 6 feet apart, whom I have never seen before. There is a polite and observable agreement when we pass each other, leaving enough space for us to pass freely and comfortably.
I’ve also noticed positive messages on the sidewalk written by kids, maybe adults too. “Be kind,” “help each other,” “I am grateful.” I can’t recall any time in the 30+ years I have lived here to witness such affirmations written in colorful chalk along the path.
It is possible that this stay at home order is teaching us the inside and outside of space and structure? What I mean by inside, is space for ourselves and reflection. How are you managing emotion? Are you able to keep a calm, coherent and balanced mind and body? Our home work space is taking on a new look as well. Some are sharing space by using kitchen tables or a living room cubby that allows for a shift from one activity to another. Home brings us physical structure and also a place for an open structure in ourselves.
Our virtual conference call
When we convene on our conference or video calls, are we allowing for the structure of our conversation to be inviting or flexible? This is an interesting notion, for many who have studied small groups such as Peter Block. The idea is to engage and create a supportive and intimate enough experience for everyone so that we’re all able to be the best version of ourselves. It can work for a one-on-one call, or on with a large group. Some leaders have the advantage of understanding this balancing act, while others are entirely new to getting work done on a strictly virtual basis. Many of us have grown up in “results-first” environments where people come second. We have focused so much on the “what” of work and maybe not as much on the “how”.
I find that starting calls with a check in about how someone is doing, or what concerns they have, opens up the space to talk about feelings and challenges. My friend and respected professor and consultant, Jeremy Hunter suggests we create an “island of coherence” during this time: call on our resources to bring attention to the good things in our life. Resources can be special people in our lives, or our pets, or places that bring a smile to our face. These things allow space for deeper breathing. In this way, as we see in meditation or mindfulness, a space for rest, reflection and a healthy nervous system makes for better choices.
Then, there is structure
Through this unique time, we’re also seeing the power of technology and its limits. This brings me to structure. Too much structure can be confining, while too little is an idea many of us are simply not used to.
I just read about American architect, Christopher Alexander, well known for building “spaces for the soul.” He was born in 1936 in Vienna and is widely influential as well as being an emeritus professor at Berkeley. His theories about the nature of human-centered design have impacted many fields of study. He wrote a book, A Pattern Language, which is less about building structure, and more about how design choices help us build better relationships. According to Alexander, it is the story about how something you care about in your home, or the décor of the room that comes from your life – the things you care about. I suggest surrounding ourselves with the good stories that make us smile.
Do you think people are more whole in themselves when we work in spaces that allow them to tell their story? Since we are all working from home, we either have the luxury of finding our place where it just seems right, or we adapt a space that could play more than one purpose. Our colleagues on the other end of the call learn more about our space and who we are with each zoom call.
How will this experience change the way we think about the space at home and the space in our minds? Will we notice slower heart rates, deeper breathing and ultimately a new level of calm in our conversations with others? This is what emotional resilience will look like. Will we make better choices for our work and the growing dilemmas we face going forward? I believe that our home provides a reflection or window into who we are and we get to share more of that and ourselves with our colleagues in the days ahead.
There is finally a real opportunity to look at space internally and externally. What the neuroscientists have known for a very long time is that the inner work we do supports healthy nervous systems allowing us to weather the storms of chaos and make space for ourselves and others. We just might see more neighborhood signs reflecting hope and gratefulness. Design your space and think about that which supports you achieving inner freedom, creativity and the influence you express in patterns and choices of your daily life.
Sherry Benjamins is an advisor and coach dedicated to advancing the human side of business. She focuses on developing tomorrow’s leaders today and how to work in a world that challenges every notion we have about how to succeed. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org