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Twice yearly, Change Elemental staff participates in a retreat to connect with each other, reflect, and co-create the future that we want, together, living into our shared vision and dreams. At a recent retreat, our team created space for each of us to explore our individual purpose, values, and gifts, how they connect to the organization’s purpose, and how we can bring them more fully in support of our collective vision and values. Facilitated by Sharon Bridgforth and Omi Osun Joni L. Jones of Our Next Now, we practiced new ways of being and doing together by embracing the many ways we make meaning of the world while exploring what brings us joy and purpose in this work. Reflecting on this powerful experience, which included energizing art-making, writing prompts, storytelling, movement, and other creative practices brought to us by Sharon and Omi, the Learning and Practice Pad was inspired to create more space for play, fun, and creativity as we continued to learn and explore our purpose and practices within the organization. (The Learning and Practice Pad guides ongoing organizational learning in support of experimentation and practicing the elements of a thriving justice ecosystem. Learn more about our Pads and shared leadership structure here. Some questions that guided the Pad: 

  • How might we expand our creative practices to deepen our reflections and insights about what guides us in living our vision today?  
  • How might we sense what’s important to us more fully?

The Learning and Practice Pad—Elissa Sloan Perry, Alison Lin, Monica Tyran, Natasha Winegar, and Mark Leach—shared stories of mentors and individuals who have inspired us and lifted up the importance of creative wisdom, play, and fun in learning and reflection, including clarifying purpose and values. After Monica Tyran shared about her experience creating a “sense diary,” the Pad decided to facilitate this creative process with the entire staff to capture noticings that may be reflective of what we hold deeply within us. Collectively, we have been exploring our individual purpose, values, and gifts, how these connect to the organization’s purpose, and how we can bring them more fully in support of the vision. We saw the sense diary process as an experiment to more deeply explore our individual purpose and values.

The sense diary process comes from Sister Corita Kent’s book, Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit. It’s described as “a valuable record of sources and resources. A tool that enables us to become aware of and retain detail often lost or imperfectly remembered.” The Sense Diary helps you see the interrelatedness of things and how specifics from one subject may apply to the next—it helps you sense what is important to you over time. 

Sense Diary Exercise

What we did

For one week last spring, everyone on staff created a sense diary to continue connecting to our innate creativity to make meaning of our purpose and values (individually and collectively). Here’s how it works:

  • Choose a container to use to create your sense diary (i.e. sketchbook, Padlet, whatever feels easiest to access daily, etc.) 
  • Each day, create an entry. You can include: 
  • Songs you like/heard that day, books to be read or books you have read, film/movies seen or to be seen. 
  • Fun facts about subjects that interest you, found online or in reference books. 
  • New words, words with descriptions, single words that have a ring, wake you, or that make you want to do something, funny words, mysterious words, or words that feel strange to speak.
  • An image or multiple images!! No Limits!
  • Date each journal entry.

Some tips to make it easy: 

  • Connect your collection to your everyday routine…what are you reading, hearing, seeing? 

Once the week of collecting/gathering in the diary was over, each person picked one or two diary entries that stood out the most to share with our team. As we went around in a circle, the person sharing did not say anything or share any words as to why they chose that particular entry. Staff members would look and offer short reflections on the entry shared, typically just one or two words that came to mind, adding layers of meaning-making that the person may not have sensed themselves.

What we learned   

This process felt like a reimagining of what connecting and learning about one another could look like amongst us when we engage our creativity, artistic wisdom, and intuitive wisdom. We were able to see each other and ourselves from different perspectives that felt refreshing and new, especially for staff who’ve known each other for years. We all enjoyed the process of collecting images, words, music, poems, etc., and, ultimately, seeing ourselves in the collection of what we take in, appreciate, and absorb in our lives on a daily basis. We deepened our sense of what is important to each of us – what energizes and guides our decisions and actions, what is important to us, and what gifts and wisdom we bring to this work.  It also planted some ideas for the Learning and Practice Pad to continue to design and foster more creative experiences to live – not just talk about –  into our vision and values today while embracing new and remembered ways of being and doing, and seeing the threads that connect us, individually and collectively. 

Try it out!

Now it’s your turn!  We invite you to create your own sense diary, a creative daily practice that releases and expands deep thoughts, ideas, feelings, and ways of being, becoming a beautiful record of moments in time that offers insights into what is important to you over time—your purpose, values, and gifts.

Collaged image

Collage credit: Monica Tyran

2 thoughts on “Cultivating Purpose: A Creative Practice of Noticings, Reflections, and Sensing

  1. As some who has been journaling for decades as well as creating vision boards, I LOVE this idea of doing this activity to build community and deepening relationships!

    Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Thank you Veronica! I’m so happy the sense diary exercise connected with you and if you interested to find other journaling ideas, you should check out Sister Corita Kent’s book, Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit or Lynda Barry’s book, What It Is.

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