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Archives: 'Being Present'

January 18, 2013

Rhythm of Camping

I am writing from Coles Bay, Tasmania – famous as Australia first Plastic Bag-free town!

After 3 weeks in Tasmania we finally scored some waves this morning – a lovely little right at Bicheno. Whilst waiting for set waves on my SUP I started thinking about the rhythm we are in on this leg of our journey around Tasmania.

We have stopped asking each other  the question – “What time is it?”. Our day is quite simply regulated by the rumblings in our tummies and the rise and fall of the sun. We have realised how time-bound life is at home. We are also cherishing every moment of this time-boundless trip. Whilst I write this, Ingrid and Griff are playing a card game, Lachie is writing his journal and Hamish is playing music on the iPad. No plans and no deadlines. It’s living a life of Open Space where passion (doing the things we love) is bounded by a discipline … a responsibility for things like keeping our camper organised and for teaching (un-schooling) our kids on-the-road.


Left – Kids keep the daily budget so we can stick to our target!
Right – Our Mr7 (Lachie) writes a daily journal … he has a unique “in-the-moment” style

I’ve been applying Open Space Technology to my work with groups of people for years now, and every so often the simplicity of the Open Space principles amazes me. Like I said above, this camping trip is not bounded by the clock on my iPhone – “Whenever it starts is the right time” and “When it’s over it’s over”. We have a plan but we riff around the pre-thought notes and, like this morning’s surf,  seize opportunities as they arise – “Whatever happens is the only thing that could have”. We meet people along the way and form new relationships. In the remote bush camps, kids are amazing at launching into a day of beautiful play without the toys and stuff we left behind at home. Kids are not selective about who they play with and, from what I’ve observed, apply the principle “Whoever come are the right people” naturally.

And on that note … I’ve got two kids at my side pestering me with a sing song version of “I’m Hungry …”. I’ll leave this post with selection of kids’ creations in and around campsite across Tasmania.



GeoffBrown | Being Present, Gone Supping, Just observations | Comments (2)

January 13, 2013

Knowing my kids on a whole new level

Another thing I’ve noticed on this off-road trip around Tasmania is my kids. I pay plenty of attention to them at home, but … when you get to hang out with them all day, every day that’s when you really get to know them.

Both Ingrid and I are really seeing their individual traits – their frailties, humour and their gifts! More though, we are noticing the relationships between all 3 boys. I can see, more clearly than ever, who niggles who and when. I am sensing the friendship, love and respect between them.

We have a little more than 2 weeks to go where we are constantly in each other’s company. 4 canvass walls and a canvass roof is our home. We are eating home cooked meals from the camp stove and we are exposed to the elements from the time wake to bed. We are growing accustomed to the lack of facilities when “out bush”. We are not running by the clock, but instead, by the need to eat and sleep. None of us have missed our toys from home as nature offers so much more!



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January 1, 2013

Preparing for any event

Here’s a draft post that I forgot to publish …

I just heard a live interview with 11 times Surfing world champion, Kelly Slater, about what he does to prepare for his heat that day. A pro-surf event that happened in December at Hawaii’s famous Sunset Beach.

This got me thinking about my own preparation on the morning of a facilitation gig. I’m right in the middle of my preparation now, with an event starting in 2 hours from now. I’ve just come off two days of facilitation and have another 2 days to follow.

When you are in the middle of a big week of performing (cause that’s what it feels like) maintaining energy levels is key. You have to nourish your body, mind and spirit … if you don’t then performing at your best is impossible. This is true of any endeavour.

I can tell when I haven’t prepared because my instructions/explanations about process become ‘waffly’ and incoherent. Lack of preparation, for me, creates a thick fog in the space between me and participants – the very people I am there to serve. My ability to read the moment by moment group dynamics diminishes. Time slippage occurs and, physiologically, I sweat a lot more. My demeanour is heavy and I wear a frown. Poor preparation, especially lack of sleep, impacts everything for me!

When I prepare well, the opposite happens. When giving instructions or explaining a process, I know when to terminally shut-up and keep things brief (thanks Chris here and Viv here in point #4). Most importantly, participants and my clients walk away feeling nourished with a sense that we cracked open some complex nuts!

So, here’s what I’ve been doing this week in Melbourne to stay fresh and focused:

– start the day with plenty of water and a session of sitting meditation

– steer clear of too many carbs and stick with protein … and don’t mix the 2!

– It’s probably very risky … but, I ride everywhere (on my Melbourne Bikeshare Bike) between workshop venues and meetings

– And yes I allow myself one coffee each morning at the Slip’s Cafe on Albert St

– Get to the venue well before participants … take my time to set up and “notice” what’s in the room because sometimes spaces have unique attributes you can use later. I also imagine the space full of people and run through some possible openings

– When working with Chris Corrigan earlier this year he pointed out the “nature of the sound” of a group. I now, after intially struggling with the concept, understand where he is coming from here. From time to time during conversation processes like World Cafe, I’ll turn away from the group and just listen to the sound of conversation. By allowing myself the time to notice this “group-sound” (and block my visual sense), I have another way of sensing … which leads to new ways of responding to the group needs.

– Steer clear of most workshop food (although today’s was an exception to the rule and I indulged)

– Drink plenty more water

As I grow older and wiser, I am becoming more disciplined on the points above. Feel free to share your own “preparation” tips in the comments … even if it’s unrelated to facilitation.


GeoffBrown | Being Present, Facilitation | Comments (1)

August 2, 2012


How well do you listen? It’s a practice that I have to continually work on in all aspects of life – as a parent, partner, friend, family and consultant. Like with most of us, my attention tends to drift toward my thoughts, ideas and next thing I want to say. With discipline and practice I have learned to really listen when facilitating groups. Here are some other people and ideas who have taught me about the art of listening:

Chris Corrigan and listening – I have developed some habits and techniques that turn my attention toward the group. Lately I’ve been practicing this simple breathing technique that Chris Corrigan writes about here. Chris’ technique helps me to tune into the “sound” of the group conversation and provides another way of reading the dynamics between people in the room.

Herman Hesse and listening – I have just read Hermanne Hesse’s Siddhartha. A character named Vasudeva the Ferryman teaches Siddhartha the art of listening. Siddhartha feels the joy and connection that comes from being listened to. I just love Hesse’s words in this passage …

“Vasudeva listened with great attentiveness. He took in everything as he listened, origins and childhood, all the learning, all the searching, all the joy, all the suffering. This was one of the greatest amoung the ferryman’s virtues: He had mastered the art of listening. Although Vasudeva himself did not utter a word, it was clear to the one speaking that each of his words was being allowed to enter into his listener, who sat there quietly, openly, waiting: not a single word was disregarded or met with impatience: Vasudeva attached neither praise nor blame to what he heard but merely listened. Siddhartha felt what a joy it was to be able to confide in such a listener, to entrust his life, his searching, his sorrow, to this welcoming heart” p. 88 

Theodore Zeldin and listening – I have been learning a lot about listening by applying a principle to every conversation I’m in. The principle is this … “I am willing to emerge a slightly different person from this conversation with you”. When you start a conversation with this principle in mind, it is amazing what you hear from the other person. This mindset helps me to be still, quiet and attentive. There is a richness to the conversation that is lacking when I am swept up by my own thoughts and inner voice. I learned this principle in working alongside David Gurteen who shared this quote by historian Theodore Zeldin

 “The kind of conversation I’m interested in is one in which you start with a willingness to emerge a slightly different person.” Theodore Zeldin.



Johnnie Moore and listening – A few years ago friend and co-conspirator Johnnie Moore taught me a phrase that has stuck with me … Notice More, Change Less. It’s the idea if limiting your interventions and not playing the role of outside expert in trying to make stuff happen. Johnnie has taught me to simply “support what is emerging from within the system, not operating on it as the cold outsider.” In his Change This manifesto with James Cherkoff, he builds on this idea of a willingness to be changed in our interactions …

“In the world of improvised theatre, which inspires a lot of our thinking, the player who tries too hard to drive the narrative is accused of scriptwriting. The one who tries to tell jokes is encouraged to stop gagging. The real skill in performance is to fully take on the offers of the other players and be changed by them. Then what you offer back is likely to develop the drama.”

Viv McWaters and listening – A willingness to “emerge a slightly different person” opens up learning possibilities in every interaction. It’s not about agreeing with everything either … sometimes the lesson is simply that other people hold a different point of view to me. In Applied Improvisation we apply the principle of Accepting Offers. Saying ‘Yes And’ builds on what the other person offers. It means that others walk away from conversations knowing they have been heard and understood. This “knowing I’ve been heard” outcome is critically important in building relationships and trust. Viv McWaters writes about this principle here and says

“Adopting a ‘yes, and…’ mindset is all about accepting offers. You don’t need to like the offer, or even follow-through. It’s about the initial moment of acceptance rather than rejection. It’s about seeing that there’s more to making a choice than it’s either this or it’s either that. It’s about noticing the offer in what others say and do. Sometimes it’s hard to notice an offer – it’s a small offer, or it’s tentative, or it’s hidden amongst a whole lot of noise. Make big offers yourself. Notice the offer in what others say and do.

To accept is such a gift. To be accepted is such an honour.” Viv McWaters

So, here’s my offer to you and reminder for me … during the next conversation you have with someone (anyone), experiment with these listening principles. I’d love to hear what you notice and learn from this!



GeoffBrown | Being Present, Facilitation, Gone Supping, Leadership, Yes!And Improv | Comments (1)

July 22, 2012

The pulse of the southern ocean

There are few forces on earth as powerful as the ocean swells and tides. In response to lunar forces and weather patterns, they shape our coastlines and have the power to transform whole dune systems overnight.

Down here along the coastline of south western Victoria, the vast Southern Ocean plays her tune. She’s unpredictable and only fools dare not respect her power. Pulses of swell travel thousands of kilometers to reach our shores. Each pulse of swell forms a unique wave, different to every wave before it.

The sands along our beaches shift and move beneath the water surface continuously – nothing stays still and everything is moving. When the sandy bottom forms banks of the right shape, the waves on the surface break in long, pleasing lines. This is what brings a smile to face of surfers who call the coast home. When such banks appear on a section of beach, the rumors between locals spread and swarms of wetsuit-clad surfers converge to surf the incoming waves.

The reefs are a more consistant proposition for surfers. The impact of the waves erode and change the reefs over hundreds of years – barely discernible over the career of a surfer. But, like the beach breaks, every wave that breaks across it’s rocky surface is different. The swell size, direction and frequency together with the wind speed and direction are features that all surfers build an understanding of. When all of these factors line up in the sweetspot, everything gets put on hold. Builder’s tools are downed, consultant’s computers go into sleep mode and even some shops will say “Closed, back from surf in 2 hours”. Surfers will happily drive interstate on weekend to catch waves likes theses …


My home town of Aireys Inlet has its own surfing culture and history. There are local’s breaks and secret spots. The one thing that every surfer has respect for is the ocean. Her power and unpredictability. From beautiful and inviting one moment to ugly and menacing the next! Knowing your limits as a surfer and learning to read local conditions are prerequisites. Respect for fellow surfers and an understanding of the culture is just as much a part of it.

Good friends of ours in Aireys grew up in the most south-western coast of Victoria in Portland and Cape Bridewater. They grew up with Adam Robinson and his family and Adam’s incredible surfing skills on on full show in this video. Enjoy the surfing the delights of Cape Bridewater …

Surfing Cape Bridgewater from Rob Dog on Vimeo.

GeoffBrown | Being Present, Gone Supping, Living Systems & Complexity, Presentations & Slideshows | Comments Off on The pulse of the southern ocean

June 22, 2012


When I arrived in Vancouver a fortnight ago, the weather was pretty much the same as when I left Melbourne. I’d been traveling for a whole day and even the date and time hadn’t changed much! Surprisingly, the ocean temperatures were warmer around Bowen’s shores than at home. I am starting to think that winter surfing on our coast requires the same bravery and thick skin as it does in Tofino’s summer on Vancouver Island.

Arriving home on Tuesday morning was a shock to the system! Melbourne was basking in sunny skies but the temperature was only 6°C! The wind chill was way below zero and it hasn’t stopped raining in the past 2 days. The season has shifted and our true, 38°S winter has arrived.

I now rely on the booties and a hood to stay alive when surfing and our wood stove has been on 24-7. The winter greens are flourishing in the vege garden and the soil is cold and wet. It’s time to plant garlic and onions and the fruit trees are bare and in need of a winter prune.

We are staging the annual Lantern Parade at the local school tonight – in celebration of the Winter Solstice. Mulled Wine, hot chocolates and warm food will accompany singing and storytelling. The shortest day of the year has been celebrated for centuries across many cultures. It marks a key shift in the year. For me it has more meaning and resonance than even the New Year.

My recent trip across the equator and time zones to Canada has revitalized my desire to learn and experiment even more. I learned so much from working and playing with Steven and Chris. As the days grow longer I’ll be writing and sharing more on this so stay tuned.

To close … here’s a place I really want to visit – Tofino on Vancouver Island.



GeoffBrown | Being Present, Gone Supping | Comments (1)

April 18, 2012


Around Aireys Inlet, the sight of me on my SUP (StandUp Paddle Board) cruising the river or riding waves in the surf, is a common occurrence. I am passionately addicted to SUP’ing. It’s a physical workout and a mindful retreat wrapped into 1 activity.

Today, the surf was terrible … so I was drawn to the river which was was calm and tranquil.

Today, like every other day on the SUP, I discovered something new about my paddle technique and my position on the board. Tiny changes in my feet and head position and my visual focus have dramatic impacts on the glide and speed of my board through the water.

Today, like every other day, I noticed my surroundings and soaked it up.

And today, unlike every other day, I realise how fortunate I am … how grateful I am to you, my friends and family.

GeoffBrown | Being Present, Gone Supping | Comments Off on Gratitude

February 7, 2012


I am the proud owner of a set of cards that will go with me everywhere … I have already used them (today) and can think of at least 3 more group gatherings where they may be useful.

The cards are called Group Works – A Pattern Language for Bringing Life to Meetings & Other Gatherings. – the Group Pattern Langauge Project even have a Facebook Page here.

Friends and colleagues Chris Corrigan and Dave Pollard have written about the cards at their respective blogs here (Chris) and here (Dave) – read these post to a feel for what they are and how these Pattern Cards might be used.

Within the box of cards, the overview booklet says … “The Group Works cards express shared wisdom underlying successful approaches that is more specific than general values less specific than tools and techniques. In order to distinguish whether or not a particular idea was a pattern, we asked ourselves questions like:
– does this describe a feature that shows up over and over again in group processes that fulfill the purpose for which they were called?
– does it happen across many different methods?
– can it take a variety of forms?
– does it show up at more than one scale?
– does it describe an action that can be consciously undertaken by conveyors and/or participants?
– does my gut respond to this with a sense of recognition?

My Own Pattern Card – Solitude

The set of cards includes blanks – inviting us to create our own cards. After reading through the cards, a new card emerged for me whilst out SUP’ing in 3 foot surf yesterday. Here it is …


Solitude is something I need when diving deep into group conversations. One of the reasons I love Open Space so much is the permission to walk away and have time alone … over a coffee, a short walk or even a retreat to the hotel room for a quick nap (I have had numerous participants do this during the course of 2 and 3 day Open Space gatherings!).

Being alone with your own thoughts can be a scary place and some people avoid it. Being mindful of creating space for this down time, rest and solitude is important for me.

Note – I just discovered the “Rest” card as I was designing “Solitude” and the two go hand in hand …


GeoffBrown | Being Present, Facilitation, Gone Supping | Comments (2)

December 15, 2011

Leading from within community

There is lot’s happening in my local community and that’s where my energy has been directed lately. It feels like there has been an explosion of local, community issues. Wonderful ideas have also emerged and I have noticed a great deal of leadership from within our community – I have been working at the edges in whatever way I can.

Tomorrow night it’s my turn to play a lead role. I am co-hosting a conversation that is centred on a question of Need – “What does our school community need from the Parent Club in 2012?” The other question I like is this one – “What is the need that Parent Club can uniquely meet?”. Beyond the questions, we have invited this conversation to take place at the newly opened local pub. There will be no butchers paper or post it notes or marker pens. I am hoping it will feel like a conversation amoung friends. Whoever come are the right people and whatever happens …

Hosting these conversations whilst inside the content, with my own points of view, will be challenging. I am sure to learn a lot … Just like I did a couple of months ago when I was a participant at a government lead workshop. That experience lead to this post called ‘When facilitation is insulting‘.

GeoffBrown | Being Present, Community & Belonging, Facilitation, Leadership | Comments Off on Leading from within community

December 9, 2011

Sitting with Dad

My dad is dying. His health and vitality has diminished rapidly in recent weeks. We all knew this time would come, but nothing can really prepare you for the final part of the journey.

Dad has been living with cancer for the past 10 years. He has had some fit and active years in this time and he has experienced the birth of new life in the form of 5 grandchildren. He has bravely fought liver cancer for over 4 years – it takes most people within 2. My mum’s strength and love has played a huge part in his longevity.

Me and dad really connected today. And although we didn’t speak many words, our physical touch and presence said everything we wanted to say. We both cried … and as dad pointed out to me, “there’s not much to smile about right now!”.

We are all confronting our own fears through this journey as well. I can’t even imagine what this is like for mum and I’m sure it’s different for my sister and again for my boys. I’ve been struck by my own feeling of mortality and vulnerability. I feel like every step and every breath is somehow different today. As I sit here writing in my parent’s house, I somehow feel like a stranger … a stranger to the schedule of medications, hospital visits and the rhythm of my parent’s routine. Then, in the same breath, I feel at home like the boy who once lived under their roof.

During one of our moments together today Dad said, “I don’t fear death son … it’s this pain and discomfort that’s getting to me!” Being with dad when he is suffering is all I can do. Today I read to him and at times he laughed. I nearly stopped reading when he appeared to be asleep, but he murmured, “Keep going”. I rubbed his aching back and his restless legs.

My dad will live on inside me after he is gone. He will surface in my dreams and in my conscious thoughts. I’ll be reminded of him when I least expect it. I’ll see him in my own reactions to events and his wisdom and teachings will continue to guide me.

Just lately, I’ve been writing about the vulnerability we feel – on stage, during an argument with a loved one, when watching our kids taking risks. Today, with dad, I learned a whole lot more about sitting with fear and paying attention to that which makes us vulnerable.

Hugh’s Big Love cartoon


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