SPT Amsterdam: birthplace of new perspective

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Aug 9 2022

Complexity

SPT Amsterdam: birthplace of new perspective

As you allow yourself to be led by your heart, beautiful things can happen. That’s how SPT came into my life. SPT what? Social Presencing Theater? My initially clumsy explanation of this layered work, with the remark that it really isn’t theater, often met with a blurry look.

Description SPT got a little better each time, see here [insert link to Social Arts page on website]. But instead here I want to tell about my first encounter with SPT and the alliance that formed between us. After all, writing about a love affair without giving an impression of the Other is not going to work. So if you are curious about what SPT is, read on.

So SPT and me… our first encounter was during the Presencing Foundation Program in 2015 in Berlin. I was there to learn about Theory U, which I wanted to apply to organizational change and learning. My heart makes a jump when I think back to that week: wonderful environment, inspiring group and the cream of the crop when it comes to facilitation.

And suddenly -I think on day 2- Arawana Hayashi appeared on the program. We streamed into the room from the fresh morning air and took our seats in a circle. Arawana and her team immersed us in an approach that thrilled me.

It is difficult to do justice to the experience that is SPT without falling into abstractions. Carefully chosen words only touch on reality, like the words on the menu in a starred restaurant. But let me do my best to put words to it.

They are sweet memories. Of simplicity and space for the body. The body not just a vehicle of our head, but revalued as a powerful tool to retrieve information and create perspective. Quick to the core, even in complex projects with many stakeholders. I got goose bumps: a bridge was built between the world of consciousness work, which was so familiar to me, and the complex challenges in my work.

And on that proverbial bridge also danced -prominently- the arts! The language of observation rather than interpretation made me happy. It felt like coming home to a long-forgotten reality. Formerly intuitive, but frankly long forgotten: the recognition of the need for shared creativity as a starting point in the creation of new realities.

Reassuringly, that direct experience then landed on the bed of the cognitive part of Theory U. Not just a disconnected experiment, but then ‘around the table’ again with the new perspective. Focus on a clear intention. I was a wondering toddler on a journey of discovery. And a question arose in me with a hopeful answer, for what if we approached organizational or social issues in this way more often? How much room for profound change would then be created?

A few years later, I was a participant in cohort IV of the Advanced SPT Training. I traveled to a different time zone for it and landed uncomfortably in a group that seemed the exotic counterpart of my current team in the government. A mix of activists, change agents, consultants, academics, artists and therapists who were doing impressive work. The program was intensive and energizing; on the way home, it felt like I had spent three months in wonderful faraway places.

Once home, I got to work on the assignment we were given leading up to the next training block: each of us would start an SPT Exercise Group at home. Ouch, that was some tough logistics on top of a heavy interim job and a young family. And aside from that, I still had a lot to learn about SPT. I soon let go of the reins. Pfft maybe not the time after all.

But every six months we met again with our ‘cohort IV’. For a deep dive into the work and renewed energy. What you give attention grows, and so it went with the practice group. Just before the 2020 lockdown, we met monthly and cycled home afterwards with a wow feeling. The common thread remained the question of what happens when we apply the principles of SPT to complex challenges in our lives and work.

Adventurous innovators and wonderful people made up the group: Josephine, Dave, Marike Anke, Rooske, Philippa, Tim, Alison and many more. We worked with issues from education, climate, racism and organizational development. Perceptions tilted, resulting in healthy out of the box action.

In 2020, we moved into the online space. Was it possible to stay connected even through the screen? Well surprisingly, it was! The bodily experience of the work proved to be a buffer against zoom fatigue, and with minor adjustments we even managed to do systems constellations.

As lockdowns moved like dominoes around the world, interest in SPT grew worldwide. The global community of practitioners grew closer. The Presencing Institute put SPT in the spotlight more and more, and the release of Arawana’s book was a milestone for the work.

I no longer walk like an amazed toddler at the hand of SPT. We now have a mature kinship and I let it feed me. And in turn, feed the community by hosting this low-threshold practice group. Because in today’s day and age, we can’t afford to pass up this kind of approach.

Still curious? Come to an (online) meeting, look here for more information. Updates also appear on the practice group’s LinkedIn page. Arawana Hayashi’s book The Art of Making a True Move can be found here.

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