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Global Flipchart



July 2016
| Issue #4

Trend: Facilitating moments of stillness

Wiebke Herding interviewed Klaus Althoff, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). GIZ provides services worldwide in the field of international cooperation for sustainable development.

How can you lead a group of people into deeper reflection and new ways of thinking? How can we foster innovative action for sustainable development? These were key questions for the design of GIZ’s programmes on leadership for global responsibility. During the learning journeys composed of multiple workshops and placements, participants from Indonesia, South Africa and Germany came together to explore ways to address today’s big challenges – from climate change and poverty to corruption.

“Many participants came from high pressure environments, with overarching strategic plans and fixed objectives. What happens when this business as usual doesn’t work anymore? Can you let go? You end up at a place of not-knowing”, explains Klaus Althoff, project coordinator at GIZ.

“The door opener to transformation was mindfulness and reflection.”

The programme encouraged participants to working collaboratively in diverse groups to reflect differently about today’s problems. “The design of our learning journeys was heavily influenced by Otto Scharmer’s work on Theory U: we saw that a strong connection to personal values and purpose was critical to develop leadership and allow for new possibilities to emerge. And the door opener to all these transformations was really mindfulness and deep reflection.”

One approach that has been successfully applied is a set of simple qigong practices that combine movement and mindful breathing – a sample exercise is included below. Integrating stillness into meetings and work sessions does not have to be complicated, Klaus Althoff says: “We used a mix of methods. I would say: Use the approach you know best, and keep it simple. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel – your role as a facilitator is to create a safe space, and to care for the group. A spirit of trust is the main ingredient to help people to go deeper into reflection processes, maybe even let go of control.”

Even when GIZ started delivering parts of the leadership programme as a virtual course, mindfulness played a big role: “We invited a meditation teacher to lead an online session and meditate with us. Participants later told us how much it meant for them to sit in deep contemplation with others around the globe.”

Participants of the programme were encouraged to apply the approaches in their work environment. Melinda Swift, head of department in the regional administration of Gauteng, South Africa, for example transformed the way her administration manages natural resources: “Instead of hiring temporary workers to get the job done, we now support the local community in developing sustainable livelihoods and entrepreneurship.”

Method: Simple movement meditation

  • Stay in front of the group, be present and invite the group to join you in the following exercises.
  • Internal Arrival: Take one step forward in standing position; „Have a look if there is enough space behind you“; breathe in, breathe out. Close your eyes and take a step backwards; announce: “With this step you slow down. Let us start.”
    • Shake your body; then tap it down.       
    • Observe your breath: Close your eyes; breath 3x deeply
  • Let heavy thoughts go – invite lightness. Start by bringing your hands in front of your belly and hold them actively „wind beneath the wings”. Breathe in, then:
    • Breathe out and slowly push the palm of one hand forward. Keep your attention on the middle of the palm: „Push a rock away”
    • Breathe in and come back with ease, fill the lungs with fresh air.
    • Repeat with the alternating arms a few times.
  • Connect earth and sky. Stand with your feet shoulders wide, knees slightly bent, your hands formed to bowls in front of your belly.
    • Breathe in and regain strength from earth; lift up your hands at heart level
    • Breathe out and move your hands to the sky, open your arms in a funnel shaped form, loose elbows
    • Breathe in and regain strength from sky, let your hands sink at heart level
    • Repeat a few times.
  • Collect good energy. Rub your belly in circles. Strongly rub the kidneys, then push your hands from the kidneys to the belly again. Hold your hands on your belly for a few breaths.

Originally developed by Birgit Hegemann, Coach for Health, Motion and Meditation and adapted for this article.