Monday, April 6, 2009

My first exposure to FLOW, a socially minded movement started in Austin

by Guest bootstrap blogger Nina Godiwalla

I’ve always been fascinated by the Transcendental movement. It was driven by people determined to live out their idealist values, even if they had to shut themselves off from society to do so. One of my favorite short stories is by Louisa May Alcott, who lived in one of these utopian communities that her father was attempting to create, Fruitlands. It was a utopian socialist experiment in farm living and nature meditation. Maybe my fascination with these idealist groups is because at heart I’m an idealist, but at times, the harsh realities of life can make me a cynic.

The Transcendentalists come to mind because I just returned from my first FLOW ( meeting in Austin. I learned of FLOW at Austin’s RISE conference for entrepreneurs, last week. During our meeting, we discussed what FLOW meant at length. FLOW’s mission is to liberate the entrepreneurial spirit for good. The end goal is conscious capitalism. I’ll give you the shortest version I heard. If people live conscious lives, this will lead to conscious businesses, which will lead to conscious capitalism. We sat in the room as lay people to FLOW. We were led by two facilitators who have been discussing this philosophy for over four years along with the leaders of the concept, John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO, and Michael Strong, a serial entrepreneur.

I am intrigued by the philosophy because it harmonized two of my life passions, which I find often conflict: mindfulness and business. FLOW provides a philosophy that allows businesses to exist in harmony with so many of the human ideals that are often foregone in name of profits. Whole Foods does operate in this innovative way. There are very few companies where so many employees really do adore their employer. The last Whole Foods person I spoke to said, “I never feel like I’m working here.”

We must have been so fascinated with one another at the FLOW meeting because by the time we finished introductions, the meeting was almost over. The group was interesting: one participant was part of Safer Way, the health food store out of a garage in Austin that later turned into Whole Foods. Back in that time period, folks had afros and were all smiles. Another participant was a former senior corporate executive who left the Board Room to take on work that her heart was calling her to do. There was also someone working on a project for child entrepreneurs, ranging from 6 years to 14 years old. Other participants included some who were laid off and eager to hear a new perspective on life. We all sat there eagerly and open-minded.

You could tell the grassroots feeling of FLOW because it was headquartered upstairs in the woman’s house who hosted the meeting. Even at 8pm, the staff workers were coming in and out of the house, diligently working, while we discussed the FLOW philosophy. Her upstairs was FLOW’s Fort.

There was a conscious effort to be inclusive. No one could be in front of or behind the circle we sat in. When we couldn’t find one night that we could all agree to meet next time, there was concerned looks accompanied by a long, defeated pause. At the end, we were handed sheets about how to use the Socratic practices during meetings.

Everyone had their own take-away for the evening. We did all leave inspired by the new thinking and the possibilities it could mean for our lives and the community. As one participant said, “it is relieving to have people to connect with on this journey.” Another quote some shared during the meeting, “The world needs you. Live your life so you can be found.”

Nina Godiwalla

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