I’m writing from the conference itself on day 5 of a 5-day conference, wanting as best I can to give those of you reading this a sense of the experience. First, the location, event structure, and participant mix.
The location, Brasilia, is a city I still know nothing about and have not seen because the conference site is 30+ minutes from the city in a residential conference center where everyone (350+ people) eat, sleep, and attend large sessions and small group events. The food is quite plentiful and good, the rooms have balconies, and it is quite warm here. Most people are room sharing (4-5 people per room), but I requested my own (and am paying extra) because I am noise sensitive and can’t sleep when anyone snores. What I didn’t consider is that this is a very social group that talks a great deal, likes to party, and stays up late. So at night, the noise carries from both the music outside (party time) and the central congregation area of the site. All this ceases between 1 and 2 AM. Needless to say, I am sleep-deprived, but still going.
The conference structure (and there is one) is, as they say here, “flexible and fluid.” Others might describe it as non-visible, constantly changing, and hard to decipher. The mornings start at 10:00 AM, except when they start earlier. Lunch is sometimes after the morning sessions end (which is really in the afternoon, somewhere between 1:30 and 2:30), and the afternoon sessions start somewhere between 3:30 and 4:00 and end somewhere between 7:30 and 8:30. Sometimes there are evening sessions that start at 10 PM, but sometimes they start earlier.
Claudio is here all the time – he always leads the not-so early morning sessions, first with a meditation (I love his meditations) and then with some information or by calling subtype groups to the stage and getting reports from them regarding their “therapy sessions” that have been occurring 2 to 3 times per day. These “therapy” sessions are always in subtype groups led by a therapist versed in the Enneagram, Gestalt, and often family constellations work, but sometimes these therapy groups are really discussion groups, with a topic given by Claudio. When these therapy sessions are indeed “therapy” sessions, a person volunteers and the therapist works with that person, enlisting others as needed. Most people go to some of these. While Claudio is around all the time, we are almost always in groups, so we have very little time learning directly from him. In general, he seems pretty content.
During other session times (and sometimes during “therapy” session time), we get several choices of workshops. These other sessions (and the food) have been my favorite part of being here. One session I attended was a movement/mask experience in which we learned how to embody various mask personas using masks created by master craftspeople. With expert instruction, a superb design, and exercises reminiscent of theater games, we were transformed. The value? It is about completely owning parts of ourselves, using masks, energy, and movement as the vehicle.
My other favorite session was led by Rafael Ruiz y Garcia from Mexico City on Gurdjieff dance. Although it is called “dance” (probably because it involves movement and music), it is really more a sequence of physical body positions, one for each type, that create an extreme physical experience of the character of each type. But there is more. The process makes you have undivided, focused attention among several elements simultaneously. For example, you have to count in a non-sequential order at the same time as you stay completely aligned and center, all the while moving sequentially from one type position to the next. And while all this is occurring, the leader is shouting irrelevant distractions at everyone to, well, distract you (which you are not supposed to be). It is really hard to do, but so worthwhile.
If you could follow the above two paragraphs, this next one will be easy. Of the 350+ participants, 99.9% are SAT graduates or current participants who have not completed their SAT work. SAT is the name of Claudio’s lengthy, intensive sessions that occur in 4 sequential parts. Maybe three of us (including me) have never been through SAT. Most speak Portuguese (we are, after all, in Brazil), many speak Spanish (participants from Spain but also Mexico, as well as Central and South America). There is also a large Italian contingent here. Then, there are 5-6 native English speakers.
Many participants who speak Portuguese also speak Spanish, but not Italian or English. Many Spanish speakers speak neither Portuguese nor Italian, but do speak some English. A few of the Italians speak English (sort of), some speak Spanish, and few speak Portuguese. Of the native English speakers, two speak Spanish (sort of); one speaks Portuguese fluently, and then there’s Louise from Australia who speaks Australian English. Although she’s 26 years younger than I am, the age difference doesn’t seem to matter very much. We hang out together and are enjoying it.
As you can imagine, given the semi-structure (which I sort of like in some ways), combined with the lack of many people fluent in English, I feel like I’m always trying to find out what time something starts, where I’m supposed to be, and whether I can find someone to translate for me. Matthias, a young man fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, English, Italian, and German, has been given the role of English translator, but he is also coordinating many other things, and I feel constantly guilty always asking him what to do and where to go. In general, he is patient, but he is very tired now.
Now that the context and more has been covered in the blog, I will turn to my own challenges covered in the first blog written before I left for the symposium, starting in the reverse order from my first blog.
Challenge 3 | what to wear
Oddly, I put very little time and energy into what to pack (really, what to wear), and what I’ve worn has been fine. Almost everything I brought has been well utilized, fine for the weather and personal comfort, and I do not stick out as if mis-dressed for the occasion. Most people are wearing, shorts, tank tops, sandals, long skirts, and lightweight pants. There is one woman (a 1-1 Four) who wears the most beautiful and tasteful pants and tops. Other than her, fashion and style do not seem to be very important in this subculture.
Challenge 2 | going it alone
I have been alone quite a bit (in a sleeping room alone, at breaks or lunch sometimes, not having people to converse with due to language). On the other hand, many people have been very friendly, several have tried to speak English with me, and I have had some rewarding conversations/interactions with multiple people who are new to me. In particular, there have been two young male (26-29) business consultants who have been delightful, two different women my age who have been great fun, and the lovely Four mentioned earlier. These are all in addition to Louise from Australia and several great women and men from my social subtype Two group. One of them is so lovely that even though she speaks English, she began a very long conversation with me in pure Portuguese, forgetting completely that I speak no Portuguese whatsoever. I took this as a compliment. Over time, I am understanding both Spanish and Italian much better, having studied them both years ago, but Portuguese is a big challenge.
Challenge 1 | the session(s)
My sessions were the most perplexing part of the conference (and the most illuminating). My big session for all 350+ people was done on day 3. I had 1.5 hours, was fully prepared, and the topic was exactly what Claudio requested from me: how the Enneagram is being used in organizations and with what results. I chose (with Claudio’s approval) to share the 2011 Best Practices Report results because it covered 20 countries (so it wasn’t US-based only), 72 companies from a wide array of industries, and it gave a clear “how to” in terms of strategies to use and applications to suggest to clients. Even more, it went far beyond just my work alone, which was very important to me.
With a few power points (5 in all in 4 languages) and an easy-to-read handout, also in 4 languages, I was ready. While presenting, I felt calm, centered, energetic, warm, and very present. I also used stories and anecdotes. All was good, really good, until the first question from the audience, which was something like this (and this is a paraphrase, but close): Since all corporations are evil, and the people who lead them are also evil, why should we be doing any work in organizations at all?
I was really surprised by this question, which was really a statement. What I was thinking was this: Wow!?! Do you really think that all organizations are evil as well as their leaders? And even if you don’t like for-profit organizations, didn’t you hear me say in the beginning to think of this report as about organizations, not just for-profits – for example, non-profits, schools, religious institutions, and any congregation of places where people do ongoing, work together? What about when Claudio spoke about the importance of moving the Enneagram outward to increase global consciousness? What about when I said that organizations are the places where people meet and so it is an excellent way to help “distribute” the Enneagram?
But what I answered was something like this: Well, there are all kinds of organizations; some do some bad things; some do some great things; and there are organizations in between. But the ones that are open to the Enneagram need our help in being more conscious, as do the people in them. Then I talked a little more about making sure that when we do the Enneagram work, we ourselves to it with the highest integrity, etc. And then the time was up.
The net result was complex, to say the least: on one hand, all 50 copies of the full report I had brought were gobbled up like candy and many, many people wanted more, so I referred them to my website for downloading. About 20 people climbed onto the stage to ask me questions and look at my books and training tools.
On the other hand, I could feel very strongly that many, many people there really believed exactly what the questioner had asked and took it a step further: that organizations are evil, that the leaders in them are also bad if not evil, and that anyone who consults to an organization, especially with the Enneagram, is also an evil doer. It was such a strong vibe from many (not all) that this was a big challenge for me: to not take it personally, to not get defensive, to not withdraw (since I am sensitive to negative energy thrust my way), and to not get mad (as in “I came all this way and did all this work to be told directly and indirectly that the work I am doing is evil and I am evil). I am not making this up! Later that day and in the days after, multiple people – people in the conference who are leaders, coaches, consultants or who want to bring more consciousness to business – came up to me asking for much more information on very specific how to’s, but also mentioned (and in a way apologized) for the “evil” attribution to the organizational Enneagram and to me as its messenger.
What I learned thus far, directly from people here who wanted to talk about it (and there is certainly more coming), is that the idea that organizations are the evil empire is a subtext in the system. The fact that I am an American was a minor theme (the stereotype that we’re all into money), particularly in the Brazilian culture. In Brazil, I was later told, they like small stories, very personal. They might have liked a story about how one person in a business setting was transformed. I gave the big story of transforming systems, given with smaller real examples. I was also told (by men) that it would have been worse had I been male (as in macho competition) and the fact that I had such easy stage presence made it very attractive to some, but may have been threatening to others.
What about my 2nd session, the one on the Enneagram and conflict that Claudio wanted and said to the conference coordinator to make sure to schedule the afternoon of my general session? It never happened. This is the session I also asked the coordinator about multiple times: where and when would it occur. Well, I knew from the start she would not schedule it. She said she just kept forgetting to tell people or didn’t know she was supposed to, then eventually said I could do it at 8 AM the following morning. That was not going to work for me: there was no time to announce it or post it and these early morning events are supposed to be stretching and long meditation-type sessions. In addition, I had been unable to fall asleep before 2 AM each night due to the noise. So I let it go.
On night 4, when Claudio and I had a short chat about my general presentation, he said he was really unhappy that my smaller session had never been scheduled because he had asked the coordinator multiple times to do so. He also said he really liked the information I shared in the general session, mentioning that while he didn’t have great hopes for mega-corporations to change, my session gave him more hope in the change potential for the less-than-large ones.
And for the evil empire that is the Enneagram’s use in organizations, he said he hoped I could “steal” some of his people to do this work. I told him that I’m working on it. Many of these wonderful people have already approached me about what they are doing, how they can learn more, and who they can connect with in different languages to bring the Enneagram more into the word of organizations.
My trip wasn’t really what I had hoped or expected given the deep and widespread resistance to using the Enneagram in organizations, particularly the attributions of evil. One woman told me that prior to my session, she had surrounded herself with incense and candles to protect her from this evil. But once she was exposed to my session and discovered that I was a Gestalt-trained person and seemed ethical, she totally relaxed and wanted more.
It was a challenge for me as a Two to be in the midst of and be the target for the negativity, but I did manage to stay engaged and present. And I had some lovely conversations with Claudio, met some people with whom I will stay in touch. I had the experience I was supposed to have.