Liminal Pathways Blog
Uluru at Dusk, Central Desert, Australia
This past fall I went live with my new website giselawendling.com and blog Liminal Pathways. Liminal Pathways is also the title of a framework I have developed based on my evolving understanding of rites of passages as an archetypal framework for understanding human systems change. The word liminal comes from the Latin and means threshold or margin. It alludes to the in-between period in a change process where we are no longer the old and not yet the new, when the transformative process is the most active. The Liminal Pathways blog features essays on this topic.
In this post I introduce 13 essays that are very special to me and which I originally wrote for my Liminal Songlines blog. I these essays I reflect on my experiences exploring the spiritual healing tradition of the Aboriginal people of Australia while I was living there from 2009 to 2012. I write about the timeless wisdom of the Aboriginal people, their ceremonial practices and art, what they can teach us about relating to the land, and how to care for ourselves and each other during a time of change and challenge. You can find links to these essays at the bottom of this post.
Learning About Ceremonies: The Peruvian Andes and The Kalahari
My prior immersion into the shamanic/mystical tradition of the indigenous people of the Peruvian Andes, specifically the Q’eros, together with my participation in the healing dances of Kalahari Bushman in Africa, had instilled in me a deep desire to go deeper.
My field trips to these remote places helped me understand how traditional people live their lives in a world in which spirit is present all around […]
I have been thinking a lot about how organizational cultures change and the challenges that are part of adopting and developing new cultural practices and norms. It is clear to me that culture change requires attention over time, reflecting on what is working and what is not, and a co-creative approach to help make it stick. But I have a cautionary tale about imposing processes that we believe in on people who aren’t ready.
This is a story from my years teaching at Sonoma State University, when I first began teaching a core curriculum course in humanistic psychology to undergraduate students. This was when I encountered an interesting culture change challenge, symbolized by moving chairs. […]
Recently I teamed up with Laurie Durnell, The Grove’s co-president, to design and facilitate a visioning and culture development process with the College of Business Administration at Cal Poly Pomona. The college of six academic departments and more than 5,000 students needed to move beyond a culture of silos, update some of its administrative processes, and address what seemed to be a lack of opportunities for innovation. As the college was getting ready to celebrate its 50th anniversary and was shifting from a quarter-based to two-semester-based system, the timing was ripe for a major renewal process.
This is a story of how change methodology, dialogic practice, and visual facilitation combined to achieve a successful result, symbolized by the completed Grove Storymap® (see above).
Launching the Project
Our first step in the process was getting clear on the specific objectives. The dean of the college, Dr. Erik Rolland, asked us to:
- Support the college to move beyond a culture of silos to become a culture that more fully embraces change, collaboration and innovation;
- Develop a strategic vision and associated initiatives that inspire new and bold actions to stay competitive in the marketplace while working with very real resource constraints;
- Strengthen the momentum for several major procedural changes, including moving from an academic quarter system to a two-semester system.
To begin building relationships, we held initial interviews with representatives from the various academic departments and staff units to learn about the challenges and opportunities facing the college and to assess the college’s readiness for change. Erik was interested in activating organization-wide support for change, and he knew of The Grove’s high-engagement processes and how they support alignment around change and […]
Here is a case study written for The Grove Journal about one of several whole-systems change projects I have been co-leading with David Sibbet and other Grove consultants.
Driven by economics and demand, the University of California’s newest campus in Merced is expected to double in size by 2020. No fewer than 72 change projects faced Michael Reese, vice chancellor of Business Administration, in 2016 when he engaged The Grove’s Gisela Wendling, Ph.D., and David Sibbet to facilitate a campus-wide 2020 Visioning and Change Alignment Process.
The process combined large-scale strategic-change consulting, visual facilitation, Grove Storymapping®, and interactive-network technology in a series of large summit meetings with faculty, staff and students. The meetings were guided by a Change Alignment Team (CAT) of top project managers led by Reese and the former dean of the School of Engineering, Erik Roland.
At Chancellor Dorothy Leland’s insistence, the process streamed real-time to students, staff and faculty who couldn’t attend the face-to-face meetings. An interactive platform provided by Grove partner Covision allowed virtual and in-person table groups to share the same visioning, goal-setting, and insight-sharing activities.
Reflections on Racism
Recently I attended a ‘dialogue on race’ which my friend and colleague Ronita Johnson hosted. Somewhat by surprise, it led me to reflect on how my understanding and experience with racism, as someone born and raised in Germany, might be quite different from those who were born and raised here in the Unites States.
Many participants, both people of color and white people, shared stories of their earliest experience of racism. We also talked about American slavery, the current presidential elections, black pride, the police shootings, and other injustices that African Americans experience. We discussed the notion of race as an anthropological construction and racism as a symptom of a power system that is rigged toward the advantages of a few.
I walked away from this dialogue feeling quite stirred up and touched by the often heart-wrenching personal stories that were shared. “Is racism really about color, or is it about maintaining structural inequality so that a few can profit?” Questions are like doorways and guides for learning; I took this one with me from the dialogue.
This event led me to reflect on my own orientation. I came to the U.S. when I was 21, and my childhood in Germany was of course quite different from those who grew up in the American South or New York or Los Angeles. My early life was marked by Germany trying to come to terms with the Holocaust. As a child I remember that we were not allowed to tell jokes about Jewish people, although it was quite all right to tell jokes about our other ethnicities or nationalities. I also recall that no […]
Recently I was invited by Meridian University, where I also teach, to host a dialogue via videoconference on Crucibles of Change: Guiding Liminal Processes in Organizational Life. Here is the link to the video stream.
To me the crucible is a generative image. Once we come to understand what a crucible is, we begin to see it everywhere, especially in our work as change agents.
I invited Alan Briskin, author of Collective Wisdom, David Sibbet, my colleague at The Grove Consultants International, and Bethe Hagens, who I came to know years ago at an Anthropology of Consciousness conference. As an anthropologist, exploring liminality has been a significant part of Bethe’s research and academic work. The four of us had a wonderful dialogue. Here is the video link.
The Grove intensive Designing and Leading Change that David Sibbet and I lead explicitly explores how to identify and shape crucible-type situations and events in larger change processes. The Liminal Pathways Framework which we introduce in this three-day workshop indicates the crucible phase as the center of the transformative process—at the threshold or place of transition where one is no longer the old and not yet the new.
In chemistry, crucibles are used to melt metals and combine elements under strong heat. Alchemists used crucibles in an attempt to turn base metals into gold, and they explored how their own magical interactions might cause a transformation to occur. So the crucible has become a metaphor for human containers (or processes) that can handle a great amount […]