Experiment 3: Leaning in, Leaning out..4 Weeks Co-living and Co-working in Bali

In February 2019 I flew out to Ubud, Bali for a month to participate in a co-working retreat with 20 individuals from all over the world. Unsettled (beunsettled.co) is, in their words “a community for those who embrace uncertainty and value meaningful human connection. Who believe that feeling a little bit “unsettled” is a positive impulse for change, innovation, and discovery.”

Essentially it is a curated experience for creatives, entrepreneurs, digital nomads and those who are in professional transition. In all of the experiments I have participated in so far over my sabbatical this experiment was both the hardest emotionally but ultimately the most rewarding from a connection and learning perspective.

I want to say up front that I have never been to Bali but fell in love with the place. Ubud is a beautiful, spiritual place surrounded by rice fields. There is also much to be gained from the Balinese culture and their belief in Tri Hita Karana, a life philosophy that locals live by so they can live in harmony with their community, their spirituality, and their environment.

I leaned into every opportunity. I rode scooters, participated in Cacao ceremonies, Ecstatic and 5 Rhythm dance, visited the islands, got up at 1 30 am to walk up Mt Batur to view the sunrise, danced at the Beach Clubs, meditated daily and practiced yoga. I engaged in some of the deepest conversations that I have had with some of the most amazing people. Conversations that tapped into my vulnerability, my fears and my aspirations. I made connections that will last a life time. I also worked on the edit of my book, led a workshop and ran an improvisation comedy evening.

I also leaned out towards the end and this proved to my greatest learning.

It took me 3 weeks on my return (hence the delay of this post) to fully understand what was going on. There were three main reasons. First, I lost sight of discipline and routine. I am happy being spontaneous and throwing myself into things, but I am happier when I have a sense of discipline. In my mind discipline creates freedom which sounds an oxymoron but in my world it is true. This includes exercise, what and when I eat and drink, when I get up and when I go to bed. Maybe it was FOMO but by the end I felt like I burnt out trying to fit in too much rather than just pacing myself.

Second, living with 20 other people over 4 weeks has its rewards but by the end it became emotionally intense not just for me but for others.  In the past, when I experienced emotional intensity, my pattern would be to withdraw. I didn’t want to do this because the purpose was to step outside my comfort zone and to break patterns. I didn’t fully withdraw but I did lean out and some of the relationships that I formed early on were impacted. I also noticed that post the program I have kept in contact with 2 – 3 people and even then I needed space before I was able to reconnect.

The third reason was a challenging relationship with one of my fellow participants. A person who right from the start didn’t want to engage with me. This tapped into what Bob Kegan & Lisa Lahey refers to as the Big Assumption. In my case my big assumption is if I don’t matter to others then I have no value. It is something I have done much work on in the past 18 months and have made really good progress. Yet even with this progress I still had someone that triggered it and rather than focusing on how I mattered to many of my fellow participants I ended up focusing on this one conflictual relationship. Even my confirmation bias was seeking data to confirm my big assumption.

So how has this experiment helped in my growth.

  • The importance of discipline. Some may find discipline constrictive but in all aspects of my life discipline creates freedom. Productive habits are simply my way of practicing self care.
  • No matter how much you do work on yourself you can still be triggered around your limited beliefs and Big Assumption. When I take others through their Immunity to Change (Kegan and Lahey) one of the experiments I ask them to contemplate is to watch their Big Assumption at play without judgement. It’s not easy but it helps you to take ownership of your own stuff rather than projecting it.
  • Relationships take time, and work! It is easy in the honeymoon phase when everything is fun and new to easily connect with people. When the novelty wears off, priorities change, we can become judgemental or less curious or we start to see things we don’t like in others. That’s when relational skills really matter. This requires leaning in, having the difficult conversations, being vulnerable and sticking with it even if it feels messy. This experience made me reassess my approach to some relationships in my life.
  • The importance of creating space from moments. Regardless of how busy we are we need to identify those moments where we can re-energise. It may be a walk at lunchtime, to the train or on the way to a meeting. Find your small moments to create energy for yourself.
  • Ubud is a beautiful spot with great food, delightful people and an environment that encourages you to live in the moment.
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