I once was asked how I’ve managed to create a culture of vulnerability.
Flattered, I remember sitting down to write a whole blog on how to create cultures of vulnerability, tracking back through what I’d done so other people could duplicate the formula. The longer I sat at my computer, the less I had to say. So, I did what I often do when I am stuck inside my head: I return an idea to its basic meaning by looking up the origins of words.
I started with create. The late Middle English definition of create is "to form out of nothing."
Then I looked up culture. Culture comes from the Latin cultura. It means to grow, to cultivate, as in “cultivate the soil.”
The whole idea started to deconstruct. Create and culture don't go together.
I know it’s a buzz phrase these days, like “How to create strong company culture,” or “create a culture of innovation in the workplace,” or “create a culture of sustainability.”
But cultures don’t form out of nothing. Cultures are cultivated from elements that already exist. You grow a culture just like you grow plants- you put in the dirty work.
In Arkitekt, we’re not creating anything that doesn’t already exist within each of us: our awakeness, our aliveness, our capacity for untold depths of love and compassion, our ability to listen and bear witness, our compulsion to show up when people are hurting, our determination to stay in it with each other even during the hardest times.
It’s called learning how to be human, how to be fully alive.
We happen to call it Arkitekt, but we didn’t create the work. We just create spaces where the work can take place.
It sounds simple but to do it well, we need to be clear about what we are and what we are not...and these discoveries can only come from practice.
We turn the soil over and over again, sifting and weeding, reflecting and responding, looking for what is revealed as we participate.
This is scary for me.
I am much more comfortable with the idea of creating an Arkitekt culture of vulnerability in a petri dish inside my lab with the locked door, experimenting in secret until the curriculum is airtight, the website is perfectly written, the mission statement is pithy and catchy at the same time, all of our facilitators are pre-trained, I’ve read all the books and thought all the thoughts, and we have a kick-ass PowerPoint presentation to visually prove the validity of the whole thing.
If left up to me, I would put so much pressure on myself to create the perfect something out of nothing, that nothing would ever come of it.
It’s scary to learn how to do Arkitekt by doing Arkitekt, just like it’s scary to learn how to be vulnerable by being vulnerable, just like it’s scary to learn how to be human by being a fleshy farty human.
Life happens in the living, and only when we meet it with present awareness. It doesn’t happen in a controlled environment where we can never grow beyond our preconceptions of what’s allowed to occur.
In her “Instructions for Living a Life,” poet Mary Oliver says: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” It’s the best kind of advice.
To pay attention, you have to be present. Be awake inside your own life. Pay attention to the conversations you are having, the people you are running into, the authors you keep hearing about, the dreams you wake up remembering, the recurring themes of your days.
Then engage all of it with wonder. Zen Buddhism calls this “beginner’s mind.” Jesus calls it “becoming like a little child.” It means keeping the openness and humility that comes with having no idea what you are doing. The openness makes you a channel to receive and pass on whatever comes your way without your judging mind and your blind-spotted ego squeezing the life out of it.
Then you do something with it. You tell about it. You enact it. You become it. Whatever it is you long for, you are the one intended to cultivate it in the world.
Seven years ago, when fifteen women gathered to bring in the New Year with collage journaling and picking Words of the year and sharing stories in a circle, I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew that I needed a space to be real, so along with the help of a few good friends, I decided to try and make the thing I longed to experience.
Five years ago, when seven women, none of whom I had known longer than two months, showed up at my house in Colorado to bring in the New Year, I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew I had been depressed for the entire six months I’d lived in Colorado and I needed a sisterhood. I needed the same thing I’d needed two years before in Virginia- a space where I had the freedom to speak my truth and know it would be received without judgment or criticism. I opened the door and invited people in even though I was scared. The voice of conviction was slightly louder than the voice of fear, so I said YES. We shared Words over our year and collage journaled and talked about what was really going on, and we kept doing that every month for the rest of the year.
Four years ago, when twenty women met in my backyard studio, I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew my good friend Carly, who I trusted, suggested we combine her movement to empower leaders and my monthly gatherings into a larger, more structured thing, and I said YES. We called it Arkitekt without really knowing why. We gathered without knowing where we were heading. We wrote the first curriculum at her dining room table while our seven kids played in the basement.
That first official Arkitekt gathering in 2014 birthed seven more gatherings, and the work continues to seed and spread. We currently have 21 facilitators and 12 gatherings, and somewhere around 300+ women who have experienced the work of Arkitekt.
By January 2018, we will have 34 facilitators and 16 gatherings.
We don’t advertise. We aren’t yet on social media. We don’t have big donors and we aren’t funded by any organization.
We are a group of grassroots women volunteers cultivating the soil and responding to what comes up because we see the fruit of this work and we know it’s worth the effort.
2017 has been an incredible year of growth.
This time last year, a friend who lived in Asheville, North Carolina, expressed a desire to start Arkitekt in her town. Because of her, we rewrote the facilitator training manual, made a facilitator training PowerPoint, had our first facilitator training on January 10, 2017, and launched our website. Yes, this time last year we did not even have a working website! My friend decided to wait on facilitating, but her first brave YES catalyzed growth.
Because more and more men married to Arkitekt women were looking for a space to do the same kind of soul work, my husband and another Arkitekt husband started Manifest in February of 2017. Nine men have met twice a month for the entire year, and more gatherings will follow.
Because my husband believes in this work, he bought me a podcast microphone for Christmas in 2016 and told me to start recording conversations with Arkitekt women. It took me till the summer of 2017 to muster up the courage to do it, but now we have two recorded podcasts in the hopper and ideas for many more.
Because a few good women from Arkitekt saw a need and offered their YES to help things grow, we have a Core Leadership Team of seven women that meets once a month. Through our meetings, we researched financial structures, met with a non-profit lawyer, decided to become an LLC with a give-back arm, opened a bank account, went through a Strat-Op and Storybrand training to improve the clarity of our language and mission, started bi-monthly work sessions, began using Patreon as a platform for financial sustainability, organized our database of members, and designed and printed t-shirts with a local printshop.
Because of feedback from many of you and the encouragement to keep showing up even when I feel inadequate to the task, I wrote an Arkitekt Field Guide for new participants, started recording Arkitekt story and training videos on my iPhone, collaborated with two other facilitators on writing 9.0-12.0 curriculum, began another round of edits on 1.0-8.0 curriculum with an editor and fellow writer, and made an Arkitekt Welcome Video for the landing page of the website.
All of this in 2017.
I did not start out the year knowing this would all be happening. The good life- the life of paying attention, being astonished, and telling about it, unfolds each time we show up to faithfully turn the soil and water the seed.
For almost four years now, we keep trying to describe what it is we do, and as we practice doing it, it slowly reveals to us what it is:
We cultivate spaces of refuge where women can come alive.
What I know for sure is that every human on this earth longs to be seen and heard and held. I know that when a woman experiences the felt presence of love and acceptance without qualifications or agenda, she begins to remember who she is and she begins to rise up into the fullness of herself. Who knows what might happen from there?
I’ve seen women quit their jobs, leave abusive relationships, start their passion project, go on a pilgrimage, parent their children with more compassion, lean in to the hardest parts of being married, show up at Thanksgiving without all the triggers, invest in their own self-care without apology, find Jesus, find belief, remember how to hope, reconcile with family members, do the hardest thing, speak a brave YES, speak a brave NO, withstand deep loss without losing center, practice truth and love in the face of fear.
Our job is to show up and trust the unfolding. The rest of it is a mystery, a wondrous participation.
It takes the pressure off having to do it the right way, or having to know the whole thing ahead of time.
It returns each of us to the childlike embodiment of this truth: we already have everything we need. Look inside. Cultivate what you find there.
We have a big vision for 2018, yet we hold this vision with an open hand.
Yes, I have hopes and dreams. I turn the soil and I pray to discern what is revealed. I notice what’s happening around me and I ask my trusted team what they see, and we collaborate. We listen to your feedback and respond.
By the end of 2018, we hope to have edited, printed, and bound editions of each semester’s curriculum, with a separate journal-style publication for Word Exploration. We hope to have monthly offerings for members and facilitators for training, enrichment, and building community -starting with a monthly newsletter. We want to support local makers by offering more Arkitekt tools for sale like mugs, essential oil blends, and candles. Finally, we hope to have a comprehensive Facilitator Training program that will certify facilitators in best practice.
This vision may become reality or it may evolve into something different. No matter what, we promise to keep doing our own soul work and the work to discern where this community is moving.
We ask the same of each of you. Put in the time, with a few good people by your side. Do your best with the work in front of your face, making peace with all that is beyond the scope of your knowledge and the infinite variables beyond your control.
Look for the place where your joy and the world’s great need intersect, then drop down into that soil and commit to cultivating something.
To what end? More has yet to be revealed.
For what purpose? To be present and to love.
What more can we do? What more need we do?