I’ll never forget the moment. It was May of 2008, and I was walking into my first module of Rubenfeld Synergy training. I had recently arrived at the beautiful Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, and didn’t at all know what to expect. After a tasty vegetarian dinner at the dining hall (oh, how much I’d complain about the food in the coming years!), I was off to meet the colleagues and faculty I’d be working with for the next four years.
All of my education experience thus far had been more formal: college and university, degrees and classrooms. Before deciding to study Rubenfeld Synergy, I had looked into – and been accepted in – a few graduate programs in psychology. So when I walked into the little meeting building – called Juniper – at Omega, I wasn’t quite ready for what I found.
The room had altars around the sides, little gatherings of fabric and stones and pictures and objects, loving creations. There was a circle of chairs, and a series of stones on the floor making a path. There were paper cutouts on the wall, spelling out the words “The GROUND of RSM.” The faculty I began to meet all seemed to be smiling a bit too widely. I wasn’t sure whether I’d walked into a kindergarten classroom or a cult meeting.
My defenses went up immediately. (Later that week, after so much journeying, I would play an over-the-top version of my surly, armored self in a sketch: my hood pulled over my head, shifty-eyed and sullen like Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club.) I became even more suspicious and doubtful when I found a fancy-looking binder, with the RSM logo and everything, on my chair, only to find it was empty. Where was my curriculum, a syllabus, forms to fill out? Where was any formality? What was this educational process to be? And why are they taking out crayons and paper now?
We spent the evening talking about what the ground we felt we were on looked like, and then drawing it. Mine was a twisting black road, full of uncertainty, a desert highway with a vague yellow road sign and a threatening sky. I didn’t know what I was in for, or whether I wanted to be there.
Only as the week progressed did I learn how much this was part of the process for me. As I’d hear – and later say – countless times in the subsequent years, “that’s information, too.” My ground was shaky because I was breaking new ground: I had to open myself to a different kind of learning experience, one that involved my whole self.
As I’d learn, GROUND was an acronym: standing for the fundamentals with which we approach our work. The six words: Gentleness, Respect, Openness, Understanding, Noticing, and Discovery. Turned out, I had something to learn about all of them.
In the coming weeks, I’ll explore these concepts one by one as they apply to this work. Stay tuned.