Opening Space through Contemplative Practices: How Facilitators Foster a Field of Collective Learning

Opening Space through Contemplative Practices: How Facilitators Foster a Field of Collective Learning

Lyn Hartley (Organizational Learning and Development, Canada)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4793-0.ch012


This chapter compares and contrasts Scharmer’s Theory U with a grounded theory developed through extensive interviews with facilitators at the Shambhala Institute for Authentic Leadership summer program. The grounded theory of “opening space to foster a field of learning” describes four consecutive sets of practice illustrating how the facilitator creates an external environment conducive to emergent group learning. All the practices relate to opening space in the learning environment for authentic experience. In addition to the external environment, this research demonstrates the importance of a facilitator’s ability to cultivate an internal sense of openness and awareness.
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For the past twelve years, the Shambhala Institute (now known as Authentic Leadership in Action or ALIA) has held a one-week summer program in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. In 1998, the concept of the Institute was born when practitioners of the Shambhala meditation community began a dialogue with pioneering leaders in the field of organizational and social change such as Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer, Margaret Wheatley, Adam Kahane, Juanita Brown, and Art Kleiner. The group was interested in fostering a new model of leadership development that could build on the Shambhala wisdom training and whole-system change. Since 2001, 250-300 people from around the world annually attend the summer program.

The annual summer leadership program is unique as a learning environment on several levels. First, many of instructors at the Shambhala Institute are long-term practitioners of Buddhism and many of them studied directly with Chögyam Trungpa, one of the first Tibetan Buddhists to teach in North America. Second, the program integrates contemplative arts and meditation practices based on the Shambhala tradition introduced by Chögyam Trungpa. Third, while transformation may happen at an individual level, all of the instruction at the Institute takes place within groups. The Shambhala Institute offers an interesting opportunity to investigate how facilitators create a dynamic learning environment for leadership development with eastern philosophical underpinnings. The goal of the Summer Institute is to provide an experiential learning environment that integrates tools of strategy and innovation combined with mindfulness and awareness-based practices.

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