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Internal Sociocracy

I wrote this story mostly for people who've read a bit about sociocracy. If a concept doesn't make sense, try looking it up on Sociocracy for All.

This past fall, facing some difficult decisions, I started a practice I call Internal Sociocracy (IS). I hold meetings of the "parts" of my psyche, as defined in Internal Family Systems. Instead of using the methods of Internal Family Systems, which some parts of me don't like, I got out my sociocracy book and used it as my guide to facilitating a meeting.

Everyone was on board! Twenty-five parts showed up for that meeting, at it went on for three or four hours. I had another one the next night, and the next, and the next. I conduct these meeting with paper and pencil, because switching writing hands or even changing my grip on the pencil helps me tune into different parts one after the other. I had access to many parts thanks to The Empress and the Witch. The Empress represents the character most often expressed by my right hand, the Witch with my left, and other characters in the story correspond to various other parts of my psyche.

Three or four more parts joined in later meetings, saying they'd been feeling discouraged or marginalized but now that I'm using sociocracy, they'll participate. Sometimes voices or perspectives show up identifying as ancestors or spirit guides rather than parts of Tamias. I welcome them and their input, and I do not give them consent rights in decision-making. Trippiest of all, one participant who had been at that first meeting admitted to not really being a part of Tamias, and left.

With 20-some parts in every round, some of them struggling with the format, some needing emotional support in the middle of the meeting, and the part that was facilitating pausing to look at the book and figure out what processes to use, four hours wasn't long enough to get much done. I wanted to have a full meeting with at least a check-in round, consent to the agenda, one agenda item, a meeting evaluation and a check-out round. What I did was more like consent to the agenda, look up appropriate process for the first agenda item, start the chosen process, get sidetracked by a part that really needs to take up space with its own emotional process and then turns out to also have something useful to say about the agenda item, continue the chosen process, realize it was 2 AM and I was falling asleep in the middle of a sentence, put my notes aside for next time and go to bed. When I came back the next evening, I'd have new information or ideas I'd thought up during the day, so my Internal Sociocracy meetings never quite caught up with day-to-day life. I did make a few minor decisions in IS meetings that I could act on, and more importantly, these meetings were amazingly therapeutic. Considering the external stresses I had to deal with at the time, I sort of expected to have a whole mental breakdown, and instead I was able to eat, sleep, parent, go to work and feel generally okay about myself. I'd never had such results from professional therapy. In fact, I've tried many kinds of professional therapy over the years and it basically doesn't work for me, so to invent a self-therapy method that really does work meant a lot to me.

A few weeks later, I received an invitation to join an exclusive emotional process retreat. I'd been fishing for that invitation for years. However, there were some thing about it that weren't exactly what I had hoped for.

The deadline to reserve my spot was three days away. What to do? "To go or not to go" went on the agenda for my next IS meeting.

In the meanwhile, I had a phone call with my very wise (and very busy) friend S, who helps me iron out my wild ideas and find the bits that are worth keeping. S consented to spend some of our precious conversation time on my decision-making process about the retreat. I outlined the situation, like this:

The part about the Nazgul is metaphorical, obviously. It relates to spiritual privilege and marginalized spiritual experience. I didn't expect the facilitators of the retreat to understand it at all, with any amount of explanation. S partly understands, because we'd had multiple conversations in the past about this particular consideration and S has some relevant background experience. For the purposes of this little story, please just imagine that I had Sauron's ring in my pocket and expected the Nazgul to track me down sooner or later. It was that serious.

When I'd named all the considerations that came to mind, I said, "I guess I'll take this topic to my next Internal Sociocracy meeting. Is there anything you'd like to say before we move on and talk about something else?"

"Wow," said S, "I'm so impressed. Some of the things you mentioned there could easily have led into a trauma vortex, or self-pity, or needing to process a particular topic for the rest of the call, and instead, you just calmly, concisely described each consideration and then went on with the list."

We decided that was my mind working more sociocratically than it had in the past.

I had trouble planning my next meeting. The book I was using is Many Voices, One Song by Ted Rau and Jerry Koch-Gonzalez. It specifically cautions against processing a proposal and a counter-proposal at the same time. The proposal, "Go to the restreat! Sign up now!" had formed in my mind as soon as I saw the invitation. By the time I finished reading the invitation, the counter-proposal, "No, let's not," had also formed. I was dealing with a yes/no question. I remember feeling annoyed at the book for not covering this situation.

Then I read that section again, and decided to try what it suggested: Process one proposal at a time. Process the counter-proposal later, if it's still relevant.

I backtracked to the challenge and the opportunity, the invitation I'd just received. We had a round about needs, then picture forming, then proposal shaping. As various Parts of Tamias (and guests) generated some creative proposal pieces, I was glad I'd stopped focussing on the yes/no question. Instead of a deadlock between two incompatible options, we now had several compatible proposal pieces that fit together into a four-part proposal we could all consent to:

The facilitator I contacted was happy to plan a phone call and arrange to save my spot until we had a chance to talk.

They were also glad that I was open to waiting for the next retreat if we needed more time to consider whether it was a good fit for me. The retreat turned out to be a recurring event, more frequent than I had imagined.

I soon found another group process opportunity that seemed much more aligned with my needs, and signed up for it. (It was healing, empowering and challenging. The safe container definitely broke, and I think that was connected to my presence, but no one else thinks so. At least the Nazgul didn't show up.)

S was honoured to be asked to hold space for me. Considering that most ways other people hold space for each other don't work with me involved, planning a weekend for me is a great challenge for the two of us as collaborative problem-solvers and for S with their unique skill set.