The Garden: We’re in It Together By Pat Heavren, MHSA
each take a turn trying to get the other to cross over to your side.”
This was the icebreaker exercise that introduced a forty-hour mediation and confl ict-resolution certifi cate training spon- sored by the law school of the university near where I live. I registered for the course in the midst of a career change; a couple of years after leaving an executive job in non-profi t management and before a dive ahead into the world of alternative healing and neo-shamanic studies, where I landed as a mediator of an entirely different sort, one who parlayed between the visible and invisible worlds.
The attendees were mostly attorneys expanding their skills to meet the growing demand for non-adversarial, collaborative alternatives to handling personal, business, and community disputes. Others came from human-resource, civil-service, and advocacy backgrounds. Besides the lone ombudsman, I was the odd one out with no affi liation or title. My only real mediation experience was as a kid, being caught in a tug of war by parents who battled more with silence than shouting before they eventually split when I was twelve.
As I looked around for a partner for
the icebreaker, my eyes caught the gaze of a friendly guy I’d talked to earlier. He’d recently completed his law degree and was looking to open a family-law practice.
24 Natural Nutmeg - July/August 2020
ind a partner,” one of the facilitators said. “When you do, draw an invis- ible line between the two of you and
“Eden was the place where
self-awareness dawned (along with fear) after eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was the ultimate metaphor that traced how human beings moved from living in harmony with nature in the land of “And” to the land of “Or,” from which the story of separation has radiated ever since.”
- Pat Heavren, MHSA “You go fi rst, Don,” I said, taking a few
steps back from the imagined line we had drawn between us.
“Sure thing…Well…so Pat, how about
coming over here to my side of the line? You look a little lonely over there.”
I smiled tolerantly at what sounded to me like a lame pickup line.
“Well,” Don said while clearing his
throat, “it’s a real great view from over here. I know you can’t see what I see from where you’re standing.” He glanced left and right with an exaggerated look of mar- vel on his face. “In fact, it’s so wonderful, you really need to see it from my perspec- tive.” Don held out his hand as if to pull me across the imaginary line.
I decided to play the role of devil’s advocate.
“You know, Don, I’m really happy that it all looks good on your side of the line. But I like it over here. I may pay you a visit
one day, but right now, I don’t want to give up what I have.”
After a little back and forth, Don rec-
ognized I wasn’t ever going to concede and gave up.
Around us, all sorts of negotiations were occurring among our classmates, from the half-comic to the wildly exag- gerated. People were breaking the ice and having fun, obviously taking advantage of the permission to act in ways they usually suppressed. One man pulled a wallet out of his suit-jacket pocket and tried to bribe his partner across the line. The various spirits of confl ict rose, gleefully liberated, on this makeshift stage in the shadow of a statue of Lady Justice, unleashing the sepa- ration stored in the collective DNA of all of the wanna-be mediators in the room.
As I prepared to take my turn at the icebreaker task, I knew I needed to go beyond the various charades of seduction, power struggle, logical appeal, bribe, and threat to fi nd another approach. I looked at Don, put my hand in my pretend back pocket, and wrapped my fi ngers around something invisible. I dropped into a squat and rubbed the pretend item in a zigzag over the highly polished wood fl oor. I stood up, placed the mimed object back in my pocket where it came from, and smiled across at Don.
“What was that all about?” he asked with a dumbfounded expression as he tried to maintain his best bridge-builder, fl edgling-mediator tone.
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