Participant Reflections 2011

Peter Block
Peter Block

Angeles Arrien Response

“For the past seven years Chautauqua at Mount Madonna has been a gathering place for teachers, leaders, innovative business owners, healthcare professionals, parents and students to learn and grow from and with each other. It is a circle of engagement, which evokes the best of people’s gifts and talents to be shared. Each year in a fishbowl context, the students of Mount Madonna remind us how inspirational and important value-centered learning is. In this enriched learning environment which includes the integration of art, music, and reflection in small and large group interactions, we become a community to explore what matters most to us, and leave renewed and filled with possibilities and perspectives of how we can evoke the best in each other in all circumstances. Through Ward’s ingenuity, vision, leadership, and acute discernment, he extends annual invitations to explore different themes from diverse perspectives, that always ignite meaningful conversations which inspire creative application in different contexts that are important in our lives!” — Angeles Arrien

Peter Block Response

This gathering is notable for its humanity and egalitarian nature. It is as much about neighborliness as anything else. It is not about education, it is education. Learning from collage, music, thought and questions are the pedagogy. I attend because of the quality of the human beings in the room. The program features Ward who convenes and holds the intention, Larry brings an intimate literary instinct, Angeles the mysteries, Vivian a little facilitative wildness, Bob and Shantam the genius of chord progression and the breath in a song. We glimpsed the real thoughts of our mostly grown children, no small feat. The lesson is that education reform is in our hands. It is not about curriculum, or planning, or master teachers, or measurement. It is only about replacing performance with humanity and valuing relationship over competition.  I was driving in the suburbs today and saw the signage for Blue Ash, Ohio. It displayed the name of the town and the tag line underneath was “Aspire, Achieve, and Advance.” This shamelessly names the materialistic and divisive intention of the modern American classroom. The Chautauqua gives form to the original American Possibility of aliveness, freedom and the experience of joy. — Peter Block

Robert (Larry) Inchausti
Robert (Larry) Inchausti

Robert Inchausti Response

The Chautauqua convinced me of two things that have been rattling around in my head for several years, but for some reason, I never had the words or the confidence to accept. Now that I’ve seen these ideas confirmed publicly by Peter Block and Ward, and Angeles and Bruce, and Cheney and Amber and Vivian and Quincy and Bob and Susan (and others too numerous to mention), I can at last own up to my own beliefs.

The first is that the era of performance (or shtick) is over.  No one wants or needs to be preached to again, explained to themselves, or given answers to their problems by some “higher” (more famous or more ideologically driven) human being. We are either all in this together– working out our shared destiny in fear and trembling and with mutual regard—or we are forcing our own conclusions, agendas or projects upon others in order to shore up some weak image of ourselves.

We went through a time in the sixties and seventies when there was a flood of innovative thinkers and teachers and visionaries. I’ve even written books about these folks. But in retrospect, these intellectual stars and cultural divas were a bit over-indulged, and so their imaginations became a bit excessively self-referential as the century moved to its close.

I am thinking of counter-cultural heroes like Ivan Illich, Marshall McLuhan, Muhammad Ali, Norman O. Brown, Allen Ginsberg and Maya Angelou—charismatic souls who eventually disappeared into their own untethered ideas of themselves, and by so doing bred a kind of cult of personal vision and celebrity that infected the entire culture with a desire of “hold forth.”   Perhaps, the reason the internet evolved into a tool for narcissism and self-promotion has more to do with this aspect of our culture than the nature of the technology itself. Everyone is peddling an answer, a shtick, a REVOLUTION of one stripe or another. But—and here is the thing I learned at the Chautauqua– everyone knows these programs are bogus, boring, insincere self-promotions.

The era of the guru is over, and systems for world change (or conquest) a dime a dozen.  None of them can work because once you freeze creative perception into a idea, you become—to borrow an elegant phrase from Norman Mailer—”the rhetorical equivalent of a bugger on his victim.” Perhaps this is why we hate politicians who are constantly repeating themselves, and why –when Maya Angelou started her own line of greeting cards for Hallmark titled “The Wisdom Collection”—our collective stomachs turned all at the same time.

Indeed the entire mass media — from publishing houses to radio stations—have become the weapons for attention getting know-it-alls hoping to colonize our minds with their images and ideas. For thinking people, television is no longer a wasteland but a form of Crime Watch where cultural predators assault their victims in full view of entire neighborhood making all of us complicit in their crimes. And the new media (Twitter et al.) haven’t under mind these manipulations at all, so much as invited us all to participate in them on an unequal footing—each Tweeter believing the false promise that, perhaps, they too can manipulate the masses in some self-interested way if they only become one of the manipulators.

So I guess my first revelation was that the jig up is up, that shtick has been called out, and that the cultural task at hand is not to “get an audience” for one’s ideas or “market” one’s programs, expertise or cause, but rather to let the performance driven society with its gurus and celebrities die a peaceful death through non-participation in its inanities.(Although I still reserve the right to watch Celebrity Rehab as a form of anthropological research!) I know now with a new surety that I  have only to turn my attention away from the Society of the Spectacle to defeat it. This is far easier than organizing a movement against movements on Facebook or becoming an anti-celebrity celebrity–which has taken a huge load off my mind!

The second insight was more personal: namely, that what motivates our best work is love—not in the abstract—but in the feeling of it—the emotional experience of love—and that if I am not actually feeling positive regard, love, trust, or admiration for my students, I am probably not doing them (or myself) any real good.  The value of Being—expressed better by the poor children in South Africa better than the moneyed elites—is universally available at all times to all people through love, generosity, trust and selfless presence. And that this is not an intellectual achievement but an act of the heart to which I must come back to again and again.

These two insights also helped me to understand why I was so taken by Leonard Cohen’s little essay “How to Speak Poetry” warning writers not to create works or false personas through which to extract the admiration of others.  Here is a short excerpt:

“What is the expression which the age demands? The age demands no expression whatever. We have seen photographs of bereaved Asian mothers. We are not interested in the agony of your fumbled organs. There is nothing you can show on your face that can match the horror of this time. Do not even try You will only hold yourself up to the scorn of those who have felt things deeply. We have seen newsreels of humans in the extremities of pain and dislocation. Everyone knows you are eating well and are even being paid to stand up there. You are playing to people who have experienced a catastrophe. This should make you very quiet. Speak the words, convey the data, step aside. Everyone knows you are in pain. You cannot tell the audience everything you know about love in every line of love you speak Step aside and they will know what you know because they know it already. You have nothing to teach them. You are not more beautiful than they are. You are not wiser. Do not shout at them. Do not force a dry entry. That is bad sex, if you show the lines of your genitals, then deliver what you promise. And remember that people do not really want an acrobat in bed. What is our need? To be close to the natural man, to be close to the natural woman. Do not pretend that you are a beloved singer with a vast loyal audience which has followed the ups and downs of your life to this very moment The bombs, flame-throwers, and all the shit have destroyed more than just the trees and villages. They have also destroyed the stage. Did you think that your profession would escape the general destruction? There is no more stage. There are no more footlights. You are among the people. Then be modest. Speak the words, convey the data, step aside. Be by yourself. Be in your own room. Do not put yourself on….Do not work the audience for gasps and sighs. If you are worthy of gasps and sighs it will not be from your appreciation of the event but from theirs. It will be in the statistics and not the trembling of the voice or the cutting of the air with your hands. It will be in the data and the quiet organization of your presence. Avoid the flourish. Do not be afraid to be weak Do not be ashamed to be tired. You look good when you’re tired, You look like you could go on forever. Now come into my arms. You are the image of my beauty.”

When I first read them, these words spoke to me, but I didn’t really understand how important they were until I experienced their meaning in operation first hand at the Chautauqua where the traps of knowing, expertise, helping, and being in-the-know were exposed as the very things systematically distorting our lives, politics, communication systems, and souls. And once I saw this, I knew immediately—once again– that I had to change my life. — Robert Larry Inchausti

Taylor Krilanovich
Taylor Krilanovich

Joel Kauffman Response

I spent a few days recently at an Education Retreat that was at a center where we installed solar.  Amazing group of people that have built a community and school.  I was one of a few non educators there but every topic translated to business perfectly.  I took away a few gems that I wanted to share with you because I do feel that they are transformative.

“If you lead with vulnerability, creativity and genius will follow” – this was a quote from Ward Mailliard, President and one of the founders, on the last day and it summed it up for me.  So often we make decisions and act like that is the word of God.  But none of us really know, we are all just trying our best.  If you lead with authority no one wants to be creative and risk being wrong.  But if instead you open with the possibility that you do not have all the answers and that genius can come from any of us, it is much more likely that it will.

The youth are wise and we should bring their creativity into our business and Gov’t.  One of the unique things about this conference is that there were kids there age 14-18.  There were many famous educators and authors but the most profound and honest thoughts came from a 14 year old girl.  It made me realize that we believe in our society that Wisdom is somehow gated by Age.  Meaning only the old can be wise.  This was so clearly not the case at the conference.  I thought of my own example.  Growing up in Santa Cruz and running a business at a relatively young age of 26 I was able to focus our business on what the community wanted because it was so obvious to me.  It was easy to succeed.  How can we bring the energy and wisdom of youth into our business?

– We need to create time in our business to allow for creative ideas to flow.  I have heard of many examples where companies shut down for two months of the year,  1 year out of 7, or give their employees one day a month to work on whatever they want.  In all these cases the company ends up profiting from the space they give their employees because they bring back ideas that add profit to the bottom line.  What can we do at our company to break from the endless grind that we are all a part of and allow creativity to flourish in our work place.
On this topic I just asked all the Marketing Coordinators to take wed off and do something they never have time to do in their life.  They are all extremely stressed, overworked, underpaid and thinking of leaving.  No chores, shopping or childcare, just by themselves.  At the end of the day everyone is going to spend an hour reflecting on their job and life.  I will let you know what comes out of it.

Hopefully these ideas resonate with you as much as they have with me.

Joel Kauffman

Vice President of Marketing & Business Development
Real Goods Solar, Inc

Bob Caplan, Shantam Galuten
Bob Caplan, Shantam Galuten

Shantam Galuten Response

When I was invited to participate in Chautauqua, I immediately said yes, without knowing anything about it, mostly because of the feeling I got being asked. You said to me, “hey, weirdo,” or something like that, and I felt your meaning. My father used to say, “The best gift you can give someone is your attention.” When you called me a weirdo, in your weird loving way, I felt seen. I remember asking you what Chautauqua is, but I don’t really remember your answer. I remember asking follow-up questions, but I don’t remember the answers to those either. I just remember hearing vague concepts and enticements. It seemed like the more I asked the less I knew what to ask. But now I get it. You were building mystery.

As I reflect back on the retreat, I am still filled with the feeling of mystery. Even after having gone through it with everyone, I have very little I can say about what it is. What I can say is that the mystery was present the whole time. It’s almost as if the goal of Chautauqua was to ground us in mystery, to learn how to harness it and keep it alive. I remember so much beautiful detail about what happened, but I would never choose to explain it in those terms. I know now, as you likely did when you first approached me about it, that it’s different every time. That’s what it’s about, I think. It’s about discovery.

I built some strong connections with a lot of new and wonderful people, and I learned a great deal about myself.

Thanks to everyone for your faith and encouragement, and for discovering me, and letting me discover you. I look forward to more.

Beth Riley Response

My days have been so enriched by our time together. As I reflect on the three days it was miles deep…an experience of Chiros and deep contact. I arrived somewhat exhausted and disillusioned with my work in Middle and High School and left feeling full-hearted and stronger in the conviction that took me into teaching some 30 years ago.  I was so inspired by Peter Block’s clarity and precision in vision and speech, Angeles playful spirit, Chenes’s open-heartedness and your kind and caring presence through it all. The kids completely surprised and delighted me. Larry’s stories were totally absorbing and refreshing. So much laughter and love was in the air. All this and yet, the most amazing thing that happened, was seeing myself, hearing my story and holding my gifts in a completely fresh way that truly build the “Self as Agency” possibility in the world. All of my life converged into a confluence of meaning and, now, action as I was seen and valued in my passion for the preservation of life. Thank you a thousand times. I very much look forward to the next round. — Beth

Wallace Boss Response

Attending this Chautauqua was absolutely the highlight of my year. There were new kindred spirits to undoubtedly have further rapport with. It was especially a blessing to have time with Peter Block, who I know has been an inspiration to you. I plan to look deeper into his work.

The grace of both your and Vivian’s creating space for thought and growth is truly singular in my experience. To cite a ‘for-instance’ in contrast: the DMBA Fellows program I participated in last year at the California College of the Arts was often on my mind during the Chautauqua. For all the talk last year about ‘best practices’, last week it was manifested with you and the rest. So again, thank you for a wonderful first of many Chautauqua’s on my part.

Further conversations about if and how I might offer ‘salon’ curricula to your students actually seems quite beside the point at this moment. This years Chautauqua has already informed my thinking in an important way and will influence how I carry on. Creating curricula with your class in mind will be a valuable exercise for me, whether or not it will actually be implemented with your students. Nonetheless, I will be writing out such a curricula in the next few days and I look forward to your feedback on it!  A FYI on where my head is at can be characterized by two of my new post-its: “creating the negative space where genius can appear” and being “an expert only in modeling process”. But I plan on getting the exact timing and exercises down on paper, to be sure.  —  Wallace