Category Archives: Blog

Facilitating ‘Others’ Meaningfully


Over the past month or more, i have had many experiences (2 x DEEP, 2 Raccoon Circles) of trying to help others understand and differentiate ACTIVITY and EXPERIENCE. I think many people got it! Yet it was a struggle for me to articulate it, and i always wondered why people found it so difficult. No, i’m not trying to show off!

So this is my new understanding!:

  • Facilitators get rather involved / excited in the activity itself, with an imminent danger of rescuing the group because anything else would be a failure (for group and F (hereafter stands for Facilitator, and P for Participant).
  • F dont know what to look for.
  • F dont really think through what they are doing the activity for.
  • F know very little about the topic they want to facilitate! Aha! That’s the big one! (i think). Lets take this a little further.

This is what i have seen so far during the sessions.

  • F choose an activity
  • Decide what topic / theme it might be relevant for
  • Run the activity
  • Fumble!

Interestingly, most people i have seen don’t fumble with the questions themselves – which we believe is Facilitation. The questions come out alright, but they appear irrelevant or badly timed or meaningless in the moment. Why?

They know very little about the subject / theme / topic itself!

These are the most commonly addressed topics with adults and children:

  • Decision Making
  • Collaboration
  • Leadership
  • Teaming
  • Problem-solving
  • Confidence / self esteem
  • Empathy
  • Self awareness
  • Goal setting
  • Risk-taking
  • Responsibility

Ask yourself:

  1. How much do I know about these subjects?
  2. Am I aware of any models?
  3. What is the psychology behind these behaviours?
  4. Whats the theory behind making this happen?
  5. What is the thinking behind these behaviours?
  6. How do these behaviours play out in group situations?
  7. Is there a way to develop new skills around these behaviours?

If we got these questions answered (through books, google, reading, etc), i think we would know what to look for, and therefore what to ask. We will be able to connect activity to experience more meaningfully.

I also think this is the one big reason why the quality of our work is often poor. Many of us lack the ability to connect the experience to the theory and models, so we leave a lot of loose ends for us, as well as the groups we work with. So let go some of these:

  • I don’t learn from reading!
  • Reading is such a drag.
  • Theory is boring.
  • I don’t understand from the written word
  • Give me the questions i will ask them.

We really need to begin to educate our own minds before we can attempt to educate others, otherwise we will always live in a world of ACTIVITY, not EXPERIENCE.


The 3 C’s Idea – Conditioning


For centuries we have been conditioned by nationality, caste, class, tradition, religion, language, education, literature, art, custom, convention, propaganda of all kinds, economic pressure, the food we eat, the climate we live in, our family, our friends, our experiences—every influence you can think of—and, therefore, our responses to every problem are conditioned. Are you aware that you are conditioned? That is the first thing to ask yourself, not how to be free of your conditioning. You may never be free of it, and if you say, “I must be free of it”, you may fall into another trap of another form of conditioning. So are you aware that you are conditioned?”

                                                                                                                      – Jiddu Krishnamurti

Early this year I was asked to do a session with Outdoor educators on ‘Professionalism’. It’s not a word I have been fond of because of my own past associations with the it, often along with the word ‘maturity’. The image of a suited, expressionless person is what I see. It means different things in different cultures too.

When I was able to let go of that image consciously, I realized I had no other idea about what ‘professionalism’ meant. I decided to redefine it in my mind as a map. What words do I associate with it? The map grew to confusing proportions before clarity began to appear in the form of patterns! That is so similar to what happens when I say I am confused. It’s an unmanageable state of ambiguity with random un-connected thoughts. Stay with it long enough without forcing a solution, and patterns and clarity appear! I just loved that moment. Here is an image of my thinking.

Let me try and describe what emerged. I also notice that conditioningthis is applicable in every moment and aspect of living. It isn’t new by any means. Its just another way of looking at our lives.

There are 3 things that have an influence on everything we do. The past we come from, the Present moment, and the future or what we want to see happen. Most times we are either in the past or the future. Both affect our present emotional state, and therefore our behavior. So it makes perfect sense that we need to be aware of what from our past is influencing our present actions, because that is certainly going to inform our conduct.

This is certainly true when we are in the role of an educator, attempting to enable another’s learning. I put together a list of things that affects our Conditioning. The present Consciousness has the ability to influence our Conduct. These are the 3 C’s of the model.

This ‘model’ has become a center piece of almost everything I have done since. It just makes a lot of sense to me, and it appears a far easier way for me to understand why I do what I do. Let’s take a dive into what Conditioning means. My partial list included the following:

  • Upbringing – the way I have been brought up, the things people told me was right, wrong, good, bad, things to stay away from, things to reach out for, definitions of success and failure.
  • Schooling, Training – the way I was taught may become the way I teach.
  • Personal preferences – an idea about the way things MUST be (dress sense, eat with the right hand, don’t use bad words, silence is a good thing in the classroom, respect means not challenging what you have been told).
  • Morals and Values – they have strong cultural influences. Living together is unacceptable.
  • Beliefs

June Blunk puts it interestingly. See if any of these sound familiar to what you do.
Take a moment to analyze the statements (reactions and thought processes) listed below to find out if you can personally relate and recognize your own conditioned mind in action:

  • When I react negatively, it just happens
  • It is like a trigger and off I go
  • I am not sure why I react the way I do
  • It is a reoccurring pattern that repeats itself whenever I get in situations similar to this one
  • I can’t help myself; it is just how I am (Warning sign of an extremely conditioned mind, keep reading for your own sake and for those that you love.)

While the past may not be a rationally sound place, it is also the place we reach out to in the absence of any other answer that makes sense. It’s a comfortable answer to ambiguity. I choose it because that is the only thing I have seen others do. Most importantly, its easy!

When our only explanation to our behaviour is one of those stated above, we allow our conditioning to directly affect our behaviour in the present. That may not be the most appropriate response. Primarily because it is an un-thought through response. If am in the classroom, and a student challenges me, I am more than likely to respond with “Sit down! Don’t be disrespectful!”. That is what my teachers may have done to me. That would be the easiest way to respond in that moment.

The question for me is – how appropriate is that? In a world where knowledge is abundantly available, it is possible that what and how I am teaching is many generations old. In order to enable my audience to learn, I need to be a little more open to outcome. There isn’t one answer to anything. I certainly don’t have all the answers, and therefore the need to allow oneself a moment to reconsider my response.

That moment of consideration is what I am choosing to call Consciousness (alternate word could be awareness, in the moment, being present, open to outcome, etc.). In a while I shall share the idea of what I mean by Consciousness.

Would love to hear what you think.

Challenge By Choice

Challenge by Choice

Challenge By ChoiceThis is one principle that has caused many practitioners to respond with quizzical looks when you explain it. Rightly so. We all understand the word ‘Challenge’, but the word ‘choice with it seems to cause some discomfort. Choice isn’t a part of our schooling.

Traditionally it is the educator’s job to design content and process for their groups. If it is the schooling system, then the education board knows best, so as a teacher I refer to their documentation, and follow the prescribed books to ensure that the children know what they are supposed to know at the end of the year. If it is an outdoor and adventure based program, I set things up so that they go through the series of activities either alone or in groups. At the end of the day I have covered the ground I wanted to, done what needed to be done, and have a good night’s sleep.

The idea of CBC is imported. Some of us who have been exposed to the American way of doing things have learned to value it greatly. It originated in the seventies at Project Adventure Inc, USA. This is how it is described on their website:

Challenge by Choice asks that participants challenge themselves and participate fully in the experience. Recognizing that any activity or goal may pose a different level and type of challenge for each group member and that authentic personal change comes from within, Challenge by Choice creates an environment where participants are asked to search for opportunities to stretch and grow during the experience. 

What I think is alien, is the choice of words – ‘challenge themselves’, ‘authentic change comes from within’, ‘search for opportunities to stretch and grow’. While we may agree with the value that these things bring, we create little opportunity for ourselves to practice them. Yet, those of us who have allowed the value of these words to permeate into our work, experimented with offering choices, even little ones to the groups we work with, realise the power they bring to people.

So how do we practice CBC? This is what Julie A. Carlson and Kirk Evans (in ‘whose choice is it?’) say about it. There appear to be 3 core values involved.

  • Participants should be able to set their own goals. Success is not in completing the entire element, but in reaching one’s own predetermined goal.
  • Participant should be able to choose how much they will experience. They must be able to determine when the ending point of their journey on an element arrives. Rohnke (1989) refers to this as offering the participant the “opportunity to back off when performance pressures or self-doubt become too strong”.
  • A person with little-to-no knowledge about the experience you are going to put them through cannot make an informed choice regarding their participation without some information.

In a classroom if you were to practice it, you might give them an overview of what they need to learn by the end of the year (information), then offer them the challenge of deciding when and how they are going to do what; i.e. make their own topic learning schedule for every contact session for the week, month or year. Whenever you feel its getting overwhelming for them, you might jump in with a few questions to clarify, or set smaller boundaries, etc. All this time they are doing the work, setting their own goals, learning new skills, enabled by the teacher.

In the outdoors you might get them to choose a hill to climb, get them to consider how long they might take, what they might need, how they will carry what they need, who will do what and so on. All the time they are doing the thinking, arriving at crossroads, having to make decisions. The educator’s job is to hang in there, listen, watch, and create back-up plans in case. The intent is not to have a perfect trek. It is to have an experience designed by them for themselves. At the end of it, a conversation about what need to do differently in order to have a different experience will certainly help. Even through the reflection, the participants are setting their own goals, choosing how much they will experience and making all the decisions that need to be made.

Needless to say, this demands a completely different set of skills from the educator. The educator’s competencies must exceed the student’s, besides being watchful, listening in, being patient and staying with the speed of their process. It our job to be the cushioning and safety net for the group in case it chooses to back off in the face of an intellectual, physical, social or emotional challenge that they cannot handle.



Whom is DEEP meant for?

When we started the course in 2011, it was designed for teachers and classrooms.

Its meaning and value has gone through considerable change over the 4 years. Going by the feedback received about what they got from the course, it looks like it could be for anyone. To narrow that audience (which sounds like the whole world), I know that when we are in class, I build a context for whatever is taught around 2 things whenever I present an idea – Group work / Community and Relationships.

All learning appears to happen within these 2 contexts.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Building a better understanding of oneself, and then
Applying it to everything that happens around us.

Over the past 4 years we have had people from a wide variety of walks of life attending. Here is my version of the list:

  • Passionate people wanting to educate instead of teach, looking to put more meaning into their classrooms, work-life and relationships.
  • Practicing coaches and facilitators
  • Mothers wanting to understand their children in a more compassionate way. The days of ‘No’ and ‘Don’t’ appear over. With the wide exposure children have through media, it seems wiser to learn the skills to manage their curiosity, rather than kill it.
  • Radio and voice-over artistes stepping into education as a career.
  • Engineers, doctors, psychologists wanting to understand facilitation and process-work to enable them better in their professions.
  • Outdoor educators, NGO folks, people managing people at organisations.
  • And then the breed that I love! Minds on the edge! The itch to do something they have always known they loved, but couldn’t pursue. Coming to that place where what they DON’T want becomes a little clearer, and what options they have  . . . .  Its like standing with feet itching the sand on a beach, looking out to an open sea, searching for that faint silhouette of a ship somewhere on the horizon. It’s there alright! We just have to find it! So many of us are on that beach a lot of the time.

These are some of the reasons people want to do DEEP:

  • Bring change to self, followed by society so we can have better tomorrow.
  • I feel my personality has several blocks. I would like to get rid of them. I would like to ‘let go’ (I dont know of what) but I feel this course will help me do so.
  • I want all the relationships in my life to become more enriched.
  • I want to restore my faith in humanity and so I want to learn to be more open to people more accepting and less judgmental.
  • I want to focus on my work as a trainer/educator (experiential) and hence I have set it upon myself to get trained as much as possible for my sessions to become more dynamic and scientific in approach.

This is what they want to learn:

  • 1. I want to become a more effective facilitator. 2. I want  to design more effective workshops. 3. I want my workshops to help bring about personal and organisational change.
  • Learn and practice self-facilitation. Improve effectiveness of my facilitation skills. Use wider methods, techniques and approaches in educational programs.
  • I want to learn a better way of dialogue with various groups of people on the home front and work front .
  • Some basic principles of experiential education so as to work with school going kids for teaching them EVS and Ecology.
  • How to create an environment where a child learns to ‘be’.
  • To facilitate myself to work more openly with various groups.
  • What is the exact premise of experiential learning? How could it be facilitated in a real classroom where I work ?
  • Experiential Education – theories and practices. Learning Processes
  • Tools for Conflict/Communication Management in Children and in Organizations
  • Conducting Effective Reflections
  • Behaviour Management in Children
  • Team Building tools and modules
  • Energizers, ice breakers – how to effectively use them and how to train facilitators to use them better.

You will notice almost all of these fit into the categories I mentioned earlier: Group work / Community and Relationships.

The course will cover most of this, and more.

If you have more questions about the program, feel free to mail me at, or call me at +91 9096000121, or write in comments section. I will respond.