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Prospering with an Unknowable Future 2015

December 5, 2015 - December 6, 2015

$150 - $550

This retreat continues an inquiry that began at the Institute in the spring:  Disaster As A Springboard and continued in Spokane in the fall with Dancing With Gorillas.  Now, How Do We Prosper with an Unknowable Future?



Most people in the Northwest didn’t expect the summer of 2015. We didn’t know our world would be tinder dry and that fires would rage. We didn’t know how many humans and how many animals would lose homes and lives.

Can we befriend the unexpected? Can we simply accept it as the foundation on which we will build the rest of our lives?

What do we do when things fall apart?  Can we come awake enough to grab the unexpected as an opportunity to build the lives and communities we actually want?

Job loss?  Mud slides? Blinding insight? Death of a partner? Fires?  Poet Gerard De Nerval reminds us we cannot plan for these times — When you gather to plan, the universe is not there. How do we find our universe, each day?  How do we prosper with an unknowable future? How do we act on what is possible now?

Bob Stilger’s stories from Japan’s disaster area since early 2011 will inform this workshop. He has helped thousands of people come together to speak the truth and listen to each other and find their way forward. It has been a winding path and now, still, the old normal is gone and a new normal is elusive. What he’s learned is that the focus is not disaster, it’s not even building resilient communities. It is simply, how do we prosper with an unknowable future?

Canadian pianist and leadership guide Michael Jones and other members of the New Stories Team will join Bob and lead us in exploration of how we find forward after our old normal disappears. Britt and Izumi Yamamoto will share the iLEAP’s experience in working with younger activists all over the world who are exploring these same questions. Heather Johnson and Dan Mahle will bring in what they have been learning and seeing from countless sessions by good-hearted people at the Whidbey Institute over the last several years.

Collectively, we know a lot about how to live in brittle times. And we’re learning more. More than a decade ago analyst/activist Tom Atlee quipped: things are getting better and better, worse and worse, faster and faster. His words ring true today. As the old normal continues to fall away it is easy to get confused and frightened. In our own lives, as well as in our communities, businesses and organizations, we often try to just exert a little more control to get back to the old patterns – even if we didn’t like them very much!

How can we step forward differently? What if, instead, we were able to look at the breakdowns and collapses in social systems as a time of punctuated equilibrium, a time when extraordinary, perhaps revolutionary change is possible (have a look at this wonderful article by Connie Gersick, 1991, on punctuated equilibrium — a concept we need to understand). What kinds of leadership are called for in this time and how do we find the courage and clarity to offer ourselves to the systems they serve?



1. Are you an instigator of innovation?

You are, right? You might be in business or government or a non-profit or a community based organization. What is it you are trying to create? What’s the challenge or the opportunity that has your name? How do you begin to discover how to give shape and life to that which is growing inside of you and how do you do it in the company of others? How can you use the many things falling apart around us as springboards for creating the new?

2. Are you ready to lean in and come into deeper relationship with people from across the generations?

That’s the key, you know. We are all in this together. We need the insights, questions, strengths and vision of all generations. There is a way forward. We turn to each other and into fields of deep authentic inquiry combined with the energy of rapid experimentation and prototyping to find our next steps and the next. Finding what’s yours to do in the world is a combination of discerning what it is you will stand up for and who it is you will stand with. It is learning how to individuate and claim your work and learning how to reach out and find those who will journey with you.

3. How will you stand with people and communities that have been traumatized by disaster – perhaps as close as the next valley?

There are three phases of disaster—emergency or stabilizing; building resilience to respond to what’s happened; and the long road of transformation. When things fall apart—an earthquake, violence in schools, an emotional upheaval—a new space is opened. There can be enormous pressure to return to the old normal, even if we didn’t like it. Often, the long road of transformation becomes the regression back to what was. How do we hold spaces open for each other to build what is possible now?




Our weekend together will be grounded both in disaster and beauty. They go hand in hand.

Bob Stilger, as well as Susan Virnig and Lynnaea Lumbard will offer us stories and lessons about Resilient Japan where on March 11, 2011 the northeast coast of Japan – the Tohoku Region – was hit with a huge 9.0 magnitude earthquake. Forty-five minutes later a tsunami with waves over 50 feet and traveling more than 50 miles an hour decimated the coastal area.  The next day the reactors at Fukushima began to explode. More than a half million people were left without homes or jobs or both.

Michael Jones will bring in his nuanced understanding of beauty and place as the foundation that hosts all that we do. His book, the Soul of Place offers a framework for discovering where we stand and how we move forward.

The workshop will also draw on Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter and Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects.


Header photo by William Veerbeek—Tsunami Victims memorial, Ishinomaki / JP, 2012
Sidebar photo by Marnie Jones
Flower photo courtesy New Stories
Other photos courtesy Scott Mauk


December 5, 2015
December 6, 2015
$150 - $550