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Ways of Rekindling Life’s Enchantment, with Michelle Strutzenberger – PS61

Episode Introduction

A couple of months ago, I received a beautiful email from this show’s guest, Michelle Strutzenberger, announcing she was embarking on new starts and opening up new possibilities.  After 15 years at Axiom News, where she’d worked as journalist and curator, she was moving on. Among her aspirations was to focus her talents in the area she had wanted to develop further: children’s book authoring.

Michelle’s email touched me – she’s magical with words.  And, I have been a fan of Michelle’s work and Axiom News.  Over the past years, Michelle had written a couple of pieces about my innovations in Appreciative Inquiry.  We had this personal connection.  Our lives had touched.  On the one hand, I was surprised and sad that she was would no longer be with Axiom.  And on the other hand, I was admiring that she was following her heart by venturing into new territory.  As I didn’t want Michelle to disappear from my life, I reached out and we agreed to record our chat as a podcast.

Episode Overview – Rekindling Life’s Enchantments

Life's Enchantment, Michelle StrutzenberbergerIn our preparation call some weeks before recording the episode, Michelle and I touched on a number of possible topics for our recorded conversation.  Towards the end, Michelle offered the topic of “rekindling life’s enchantment.”  It spoke to me and felt right as a topic to explore together.

In this episode, we start on topic, and then meander through the conversation in a free-flowing, organic way. We, in fact, cover a number of topics including Michelle’s 15 years with Axiom News as a generative journalist.  We reflect on what makes journalism generative.  Michelle introduces her new book, The Secret Talent Shop of Pineapple River that is seeking a publisher right now.  I inquire into the the craft of writing and how it calls to Michelle.  

We then circle back to our topic “rekindling life’s enchantment” towards the end of the show when Michelle offers some delightful way to intentionally reconnect with magic, whimsy, mystery in our lives.

What Might “Rekindling Life’s Enchantment” Awaken in Us?

Michelle recalls the enchantment she and her twin created for themselves when they first arrived in Canada as immigrant children.  Even in times of uncertainty, they discovered the gift of being awake to, and seeing the spark, the allure in the conditions they found themselves in at different times.  Despite bouts of heartache, and sadness and fear, they were open and alive to the delight of life.  The enchantment – the magic and mystery and charm and whimsy – emanated from the reality of living life fully.

Intentionally Creating Conditions for Life’s Enchantment

If you find yourself somewhat numb and in a rut, or feeling fearful or threatened by your current circumstances, you can intentionally set out to create conditions that will find yourself delighting in life again, or reconnecting with your whimsical side.  In fact, it is most likely that when facing adversity, the greatest opportunity to defend against the adversity or suffering is to rekindle enchantment and find new delight in life again.  

The Secret Talent Shop of Pineapple River

Michelle’s second book, The Secret Talent Shop of Pineapple River features the wonder, excitement and adventures of four children as they unearth a most surprising treasure – the secret talents of their neighbours.  The book is very much inspired by the spirit and intention of asset-based community development, the work of Peter Block and John McKnight of Abundant Community in creating abundant communities and the worldview and practice of Appreciative Inquiry – both participatory change methodologies that shine the light on strengths, capabilities and imaginings of what is possible.  

Please visit the book's website to read a Portion of Chapter 10: A Heart Cleaned Out in a Hurricane

Building on Strengths and Dreams

In creating her book, Michelle’s own strengths and her ability to dream come to life.  Her story explores what might be possible when communities thrive and where people lift each other up, honoring their gifts and talents.  It invites what’s possible when we see the gifts in each other.  What delights is that by lifting up everyone’s gifts in a community, wonder, adventure, excitement is sparked.

Influence of Generative Journalism

Linking back to our topic “rekindling life’s enchantment”, I asked Michelle if she always saw the world this way.  She has no hesitation in expressing her gratitude for her work as a generative journalist at Axiom News.  This type of journalism complemented her own natural talents and worldview as a writer.  Take a look at Michelle’s post listed below to learn more about generative journalism.

During her 15 years at Axiom News, the team with founder and CEO, Peter Pula pushed up against watchdog journalism, sparking new possibilities about how journalists go about their work.  As generative journalists, the inquiry is about people’s strengths, assets and what else is possible.  They seek to find ongoing dialogue and partnerships to generate change and deepen relationships through a soul connection.  

A Meandering Conversation – A Calling to Create

Together we touch on other a number of other subjects such as the creative act of writing. If it’s a calling, it implies one just has to do it.  For Michelle it’s, in fact, the creative process – the act of bringing something new into creation – which calls or compels her.  To quote Michelle:

A sense of calling…

A calling is something you discover, not something you choose.  It’s about responding.

Circling back to Our Main Topic – Rekindling Life’s Enchantment.

After meandering far because I followed my curiosity into Michelle’ significant contribution to the world, we circle back to our topic, “Rekindling Life’s Enchantment”.  

Michelle offers a number of ways to find the delight, mystery and reverence akin to a sense of life’s enchantment.  Not only can we create the enchantment through our own experiences, as she and her twin did, and most children do, she offers that we can be nourished by the enchantment of others through their art, poetry, writing, music and a variety of performance media.  

A surprising twist that makes beautiful sense is when enchantment comes to us because others find us enchanting. For example, a child responds to us with wonder; or, in early stages of romance when life’s wonder opens up.

Michelle offers also that we can rekindle life’s enchantment in the knowing that God always delights in us.  When we have that faith, we are not dependent on others.  Our spirit is freed and allows us to delight in all that is around us.  

How to Connect with Michelle

MIchelle's website about The Secret Talent Shop of Pineapple River

Michelle on Twitter

Michelle on Facebook is Newshemayim

Michelle on LinkedIn

 

A Tiny Selection of Michelle’s Writing

Decoding a Generative Story

What if Marginalized Neighbourhoods Crafted Their Own Handmade, Place-based Economies?

Young Man Journeys to a Meaningful Life, Disability and All

Books Mentioned

Header Image

Norman Rockwell ‘Land of Enchantment' mural 1934

Attribution:  Plum leaves on Flickr

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Ability to Dream Influences your Destiny

When it comes to bringing positive change into your life, it might start as a wish, or an aspiration, or a dream.  We know from history, some of the biggest dreamers have created the most lasting positive social changes. The ability to dream allows for anything to be possible.  Imagining a desirable future is what keeps us going,

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

In the work I do as a change agent, whether as a coach with individuals or a consultant in a community or an organization, early in the process I seek to inspire every individual to see themselves in a new dream.

Ability to Dream

Ability to Dream Accepting we have the ability to dream big and bold, how to act on your dream is what comes next. Appreciative Inquiry, the transformation change method I teach and practice provides a beautiful framework to bring dreams to life – not only individual dreams, but also collective dreams.

Collective Dreams

Some of my most personally rewarding, professional experiences are in designing and facilitating teams or community groups to dream their future.  They may not be aware that's what they are doing at the start of an project, but as they follow the process, that's what they discover – they all have dreams of how they want their work to be, their communities to be, their worlds to be.  From a place of deep listening to one another, people discover a sense of union with each other and that there is also something larger.

Appreciative Questions

David Cooperrider is creator of the transformational change methodology, Appreciative Inquiry. Professor Cooperrider has worked with the Dalai Lama, Heads of States from all over the world and with top business leaders. He explains:

Appreciative Inquiry is a way of designing questions that allows us to dream and devise big ideas together, instead of focusing on problems.  It can quickly bring out the best in people and has been adopted by businesses worldwide.

Dream is in fact the 3rd step in the Appreciative Inquiry methodology.

As an example, in a planning session, here are some of the questions, I might invite participants to engage in:

  • What is important to you about being here today? 
  • What does this project means to you and the community?
  • How might you bring your strengths and talents to this project?
  • What opportunities exist and who will benefit?
  • What most excites you about this project?
  • What three wishes do you have for this project?

Inner Work happens before the Outer Work

These questions tap into peoples' values, their gifts and talents, their aspirations, their emotions, and their dreams (wishes).  In these conversations, people listen and learn.   As they find interdependencies, they tap into their creativity. The possibilities of being able to share a dream is more likely than they may have at first considered.  In fact, they are doing inner work while they are also committing to outer work.

 If you are interested to learn more about how I do this work, please take a look at my Services Page.

How Heartfelt Conversation Is Co-created with Appreciative Inquiry

I continue to be struck with wonder at the transformative power of Appreciative Inquiry. It doesn't matter how often I'm present to the experience of  Appreciative Inquiry, the magic, the power, the spirit to move people toward each other to give of their best selves and share their aspirations never fails to deliver.  The collective energy among a group of people who don't know each other at the start, irrespective of how many are in the room, who they are, what the topic is delivers expressions of hope, possibility and positive potential.

Affirmative topic of Generations Wiser Together

I've just come off designing an AI workshop and facilitated the same workshop with two very different groups.  The goal of the groups was the same.  We were inquiring into the affirmative topic of Generations Wiser Together.  My client, WiseTribe.us worked tirelessly to bring groups together in two different towns.  We aimed to attract as much diversity as possible.

Heartfelt Conversation - younger and older person in dialogueIn the one group, we achieved our objective of great diversity.  We had a good mixture of ages – from 70+ to 17 year olds.  A good balance of genders, and a good balance of Caucasians and African Americans showed up.

In the second group, in a smaller town, we were not as successful with attracting diversity.  The group comprised all Caucasian women in their 40s, 50s and 60s, with an 88 year old and a 20 something.

Yet, in spite of the different group compositions, the magic of Appreciative Inquiry came through.  We opened up space for people to converse deeply and at length with each other.

Maximizing Diversity

Following the classic AI interview protocol, we invited the group members, seated in a circle, to pair up with someone, requesting tJack and Junehey look around the circle and find someone least like them physically.  So we had younger black men paired with older white women, and younger white women with older white men.  Regretfully, we had no older black men.

The connections that were formed in that initial discovery conversation set the tone for a continued evening of enriching discovery, deep sharing, surprise and delight, joy, laughter and demonstrations of great talent from group members.

Co-creating Wishes and Dreams

Demonstrations of great talent came in the second phase of our AI protocol when groups shared their wishes and dreams for a wiser world, when generations are living more wisely together.  With the invitation to be as imaginative and as playful as they dared, groups in less than 30 minutes co-created presentations of their wishes and dreams.  Words and ideas they had been sharing moved from the head and heart into the body.  Embodiment of artistic talent through poetry, music, dance and drawing transformed the space and transfixed the groups witnessing each others' performances.  Spontaneous applause and appreciation broke out after each group had performed.

Heartfelt conversation - Wisetribe 1We moved into identifying opportunities – what might we design that could bring the dreams and aspirations into reality?  What ideas did member of the group have that could strengthen the bonds across the generations and help bring about a wiser world? Here was the chance for members to share what they had a passion for, would be willing to take responsibility for.  They invited others to join them in their dreams.

Opportunities for a Wiser World

Opportunities for a wiser world ranged from bringing Eastern practices into one of the hospitals in town in the form of meditation and yoga, that would not only help patients who could take part in such activities, but especially for the staff who experience stress in their jobs in the hospital environment. Another suggestion was to take the produce being cultivated in an organic farm into restaurants in the town.  One woman, a retired journalist, was excited to take the AI questions and ask them in her community to deepen connections among community members.  Moreover, she was inspired to reach out to her journalist colleagues, hoping to bring some media attention to the intergenerational wisdom exchanges.

Simplify ChartAnother project that inspired a young woman was to assist older people in their “right sizing”.  She had discovered that when she helped her father simplify his life by sorting through all his possessions, amassed over a life-time, their love, respect and appreciation for each other strengthened.  She listened deeply as he told the stories associated with different objects before he let them go.  She learnt so much about her father's past, valuing the experience, she felt so many other older people might also enjoy telling their stories as they simplified their situations for a new phase of their lives.

Heartfelt Conversation

In our closing circle, where the participants are invited to share a high point of their experience and also what they might to take forward from the experience and implement for themselves, the insights and connections were truly touching.  This is when the magic and transformative power of Appreciative Inquiry is evidenced.  At the beginning, we were a bunch of strangers and in 3 – 4 hours.  After a series of heartfelt conversation, we had deeply touched each other's lives, through a series of intentionally constructed affirmative questions that seek to discover the best in people, their communities and the world around them.