IV. Ritual & Reflection: A Workplace Table of Inspiration
A Table of Inspiration is a wonderful addition to life in organizations. The Table of Inspiration creates and develops what might be called a “center of gravity” for your workplace: a place where the community finds its center and communal grounding.
These kinds of places are an important factor in any kind of community, whether formal or informal. People always find a place and a way to congregate: to share from a deeper place and find community support. Barbershops, parks, and cafés are good examples of community places that serve as centers of gravity. While these places may rise and fall away spontaneously, the intention of creating such a center can have long-lasting benefits.
Where are the in-between spaces in your workplace? Is there a kitchen, hallway, water fountain, or copy machine where people naturally converge? A place where the unofficial conversations happen around work or non-work related themes? These spaces are too often thought of as places where productivity slips and concentration is lost. Often, organizations discourage the use of these spaces. However, it may be more helpful to try and use those spaces productively.
The Table of Inspiration can be used to learn about each other in new and profound ways through sharing stories, symbols, and people that are meaningful to us. It encourages modes of communication that are not typical in the workplace.
If you decide to set up a Table, regular attention will keep it alive. During staff meetings, you may want to set aside time for making additions to it and to comment on anything previously added.
Your office may choose to come up with themes for the Table related to the time of year, holidays, current events, or periods of historical relevance. This can help to keep it fresh. On the other hand, it can also create disruption if people feel attached to the continuity of certain elements in the Table: this can be a place of exploration for you and your co-workers. Either way it can be helpful to have elements of ritual or ceremony in the changing and maintenance of the Table of Inspiration, so that everyone feels involved in the ongoing process. It doesn’t have to be a big to-do, but changes should be made with some level of public recognition.
What should be placed there? Nothing is objectively prohibited, but it should be used as a “sacred space.” However, the definition of “sacred” can vary from day to day and from person to person. Whatever is considered meaningful should be valid. For many people, humor is sacred. For others, religion. The commitment to having a space that is open to all forms of sacredness, even its most mundane or playful forms, can be a challenging, but fascinating, experiment. Items that are funny, poignant, powerful, inspiring, silly, sad, or controversial can all be helpful, as long as people learn to relate to it in an open and spacious way.
If something is placed on the Table of Inspiration that people find offensive or troubling, this should be seen as an opportunity for dialog and discussion in your office. Maybe your coworkers would be interested in setting up some ground rules or protocol around use and development of the Table. Having intentional forms for dealing with conflict helps prevent organizational trauma and guides the organization on a path toward learning.
Here are some ideas for building your workplace Table of Inspiration:
- Many altars include the four elements of fire, earth, water, and air in material or symbolic form. Also, something alluding to the six directions of north, east, west, south, above, and below is common. These elements help create an understanding of the broader, universal context in which these offerings exist: reminding us of where we come from, what we ultimately depend on, and in what direction we are headed.
- Photos of inspiring people related to your work can be a powerful way of reconnecting with deeper intentions and motivations. Constituents, leaders in the field, and historical personalities can help us ground ourselves in the rationale and inspiration for our work.
- Cloth, ribbons, candles, and other decorations can help make the Table more compelling and beautiful.
- Musical instruments. Natural things. Unnatural things. Trinkets.
- Things representing the past, present, and future.
A Seasonal Offering Ceremony
One way of integrating the Table of Inspiration into your office is for the staff to formally revisit it at the beginning of each season to set the tone and provide a base of reflection for the period ahead.
Spend some time collectively dismantling the last season’s altar. If it feels appropriate, it may be powerful to do this in silence, with individuals reflecting on the objects they are removing from the altar. Some potential questions to keep in mind may be: How have these offerings guided you through the past four months? Have they provided you with hope or inspiration during difficult times? Have they provided challenges to you? What will you be happy to let go of? What will you miss? It may also be interesting for your group to talk over these questions out loud while pulling off the materials from the old altar. Experiment with one or the other to see what works for your group.
It is important to commit to some basic form when constructing the new season’s Table. For instance, all staff should be present and should be invited to bring materials well in advance so that the Table can achieve its richest expression. It will be more powerful if people engage it with a good deal of preparation. Once gathered, staff should be invited to place their materials on the Table one at a time. They should be invited to say a few words about their object, but should also feel free to place them without comment. After the new Table of Inspiration is complete, the group may choose to spend five or ten minutes in silence reflecting on the stories and objects.
Here are some questions that may help guide the construction of each new season’s Table.
• What have you learned from this season in the past?
• What experiences have shaped your understanding of the season?
• What stories, ideas, and sensibilities are you carrying with you that may effect how you experience the season?
• What do you most hope for the season, yourself, and your work?
There are myriad days during the year that mark significant events in the religious, cultural, or historical calendars of this and other societies. These days can create spaces for sharing and learning the wisdom that underlies their significance. They can also be useful tools for encouraging staff leadership around the altar’s development.
Religious or Spiritual Holidays
Delegate responsibility of celebrating the event to an individual or small group who is interested in a particular holiday, allowing people to share from their own traditions and teachings. Staff members who claim particular religious traditions may want to share those thoughts, beliefs, and teachings with the group. If two or more religious holidays coincide on the calendar, people from different traditions can share their perspective and lead a discussion on what traditions can learn from each other and how it may be relevant to the work of the group.
Weekly Staff Meetings
If your staff is energetically engaged in the construction and development of the Table of Inspiration, you may want to keep the momentum going by engaging it at more frequent intervals, instead of waiting for the next big holiday. Even if you choose to focus the construction into seasonal sessions, additions to the altar should be acceptable any time a staff member feels moved to do so. In order to maintain consistency, you may want to provide a space at staff meetings for people to share what they have added during the past week. Explore the ways in which the Table might become an integral and dynamic aspect of organizational life.
We hope that this concept of a workplace Table of Inspiration can be helpful to you and your organization. We think that it is an invaluable tool for creating deep understanding between the collective, as well as a more profound connection to the work that you are engaged in. Your group’s Table will be unique and develop in ways that no one can predict. We hope that your organization can embrace this mystery and develop a shared relationship with a sacred space.
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