4 of us, 130 of them, 4 days, 13 team captains, 42 huts, 11 parties, 2 sunrise-walks, 26 videos, 1 podcast, and innumerable conversations among a range of people who were all-in, and who continuously offered each other the space to be whoever they are, or want to be.
We were there to coordinate a company get-together: A 4-day, offsite programme in the heart of the Ardennes, where people connected, listened, shared, laughed and played. For that brief period we had the honour to serve a whole company, in whose presence gratitude comes easily.
Mind you, at the beginning it didn’t feel as though any of that would happen. As the procession of people came rolling in during late afternoon of the first day, I felt overwhelmed by their numbers and the sheer quantity of variables over the coming days. I wondered to myself just how this experience might offer me the kind of satisfaction and delight I find time and time again in my work.
Thankfully, all of us – my three colleagues, the 13 appointed team captains, and I – were fully committed to delivering the highest quality to a large group of people who had arrived by car, plane, bus and bike, and who would have no notion of the constant stream of programme changes, impromptu consultations, late-night debriefs, and last-minute decisions.
It was those conditions which helped to make the experience as special as it was because, among the nerves and the tension, there was solidarity, clear intentions, and good ideas, together with a real sense of flow and ownership. We all had a voice, and we listened to each other. At times we also stood our ground, whereas at others we had no choice but to rethink on the fly – a process which was not only honoured by the surroundings as everything fell beautifully into place, it was also invisible to those taking part. And on top of all that, the weather was perfect.
Those people, whose arrival en masse had provoked my anxiety, were the same ones who made the whole experience what it turned out to be. Throughout the preparations, the event itself, and especially on the final day when it came time to say goodbye, there was a sense of friendship, even with people I had never met before; as if what we were creating would ripple out into the world, and we therefore had a duty to deliver the highest example of what’s possible when people bring a clear commitment to connect and listen, and allow themselves to be fully seen.
The subjects for each of the four days were Roots, Stability, Connection and Ambition. We wanted them to ground themselves in their own personal history and that of the company (an inclusive, passionate, and caring band of people, according to my previous experiences of them).
We asked them to consider what stability means for them, and perhaps recall their own personal stories of instability. We sought ways for them to connect – with each other but also with themselves – as well as asking them to consider what might happen if they continue to value and support each other in the ways I have often witnessed in their midst, but have not always seen in other companies.
They did everything we asked of them. They woke up early; walked together in the dark; connected with each other; supported and challenged each other; listened, cooked and ate together; and when we asked them, they opened up together, too. Our job was to be as invisible as possible, whilst ensuring that they were always the focus of whatever we did with them. We were there to serve.
Indeed, on the final night, during the big party *, I recalled Karaj’s words to me many years ago, when he told me that my job is to serve people: The pinnacle of service, he had explained, is to serve and have no-one know you were there. Of course, they all knew we were there throughout, but long before the party had truly got going, all four of us left quietly, returned to our hut, and chatted briefly before retiring to our beds with satisfied smiles on our faces, our work almost done, whilst everyone else continued to celebrate.
I found my voice during those four days. I found it in a rather unexpected way: through a podcast I had recorded one morning before breakfast, just a few days before the whole event began. Mine was the voice-over on a 30-minute walking meditation which prompted people to reflect on the formative events of their life. It turned out to be quite a special intervention on the morning of Day 3.
Having asked everyone to rise at 5am on Day 2, it felt somewhat of an imposition to ask them to be up and dressed at 7am the next day, go outside, and walk the grounds of the location. We wanted them to explore their lives whilst moving along the meandering pathways and undulating lawns, whose trees had allowed us the day before to span a handful of slack lines, offering everyone an unequivocal demonstration of instability and support.
There was also the lake, where many people found themselves standing in contemplation, as the glorious pink-orange sunrise lit up the sky in an unexpected and deeply appreciated symphony of colour.
The beauty of a walking podcast – aside from the movement, the fresh air, and the outdoors – is that everyone is quietly indulging in the exact same experience, but in their own unique way. They are free to move as they please, and yet remain connected to the whole; an archipelago of wandering minds, each reflecting on the same topic, but always within the context of their distinct existence.
The compliments I received for that voiceover and the experience it gave people, spurred me to revisit the seven podcasts I recorded in 2019, in which I read the early pages from my book. I was surprised by their quality, and the ease and fluidity with which I articulated impromptu additions to the written text.
Then, two days ago, I recorded a one-take, unrehearsed practice run for a pitch I am due to give in a week’s time. Again, watching it back, I was struck by the power of what I have to say, as well as the tone, pitch and volume of my voice. These are new discoveries for me, and they empower me in the same way as the realisations from the past two years. (See Absolutely Brilliant and Meeting Myself Anew.)
It feels like a revelation of something which has always been there, maturing gradually in the background, and whose time has now come. It turns out that my voice, granted substance by years of curiosity, insight and application, has a soothing and persuasive quality to it.
People have told me in the past that my work needs a wider audience. In December I wrote that I am off the leash. In the previous piece, I wrote that I am ready to move. Now that I have finally found my voice, maybe I have everything I require to go wherever I need to go, do whatever I need to do, and serve whatever and whomever I need to serve.
* At that same party, I took a private moment to celebrate day 3,652 – the final day of the tenth year – of daily exercises.