My learnings from the olive groves of Tuscany

A reflection on Greg Rooney and Margaret Ross’ Mediation Retreat

Tuscany June 2019

When I first saw the title of Greg Rooney and Margaret Ross’ “Mediation Retreat”, I felt it was a play on words from the common concept of a “Meditation Retreat”. I anticipated it would be a practical workshop where we would be instructed in methodologies for conducting mediations. In attending the retreat in Tuscany in June this year, I soon realised that it was a retreat. On the first morning, we followed Margi for a walk through the olive groves. We walked in silence which allowed us to focus on the beautiful surroundings and to feel a growing sense of unity with the international group of people. We stopped at one point and Margi invited us to place our feet firmly on the ground. She then directed us to look up at the sky beyond the mountains and to remind ourselves that we are a part of the sky as well as the earth.

The ensuring days of the workshop were a meditation on the art of mediation. The theme was “Shifting the focus from mediating the problem to mediating the moment.” Margi and Greg gently facilitated our group’s reflections on our work as mediators. We considered what the parties in a mediation may feel and how to help capture the parties’ feelings and needs to assist them to resolve their disputes. Also, we explored how we feel as mediators when we undertake this work. For all those times you’ve wondered what was really going on in the room in a mediation, this retreat offered ample opportunity to reflect and examine. And for all the times you’ve wondered about your own reaction to the parties or their conflict, this retreat drew this out of ourselves.

Margi and Greg introduced some novel concepts to us from their disciplines to help us to understand the intrinsic nature of mediation. They did not crowd us with information so that our own concerns and thoughts about mediation could be fully explored. We were exchanging ideas with mediators from the four corners of the globe – Canada, Finland, Ireland and Australia. To hear perspectives from all of these countries was a unique opportunity and made me feel more grounded as a mediator. I left the retreat feeling supported by the international mediation profession and grounded in my position on the earth.


I wrote the above reflection after the week-long retreat, when I was in Milan for the start of my European holiday. The epilogue to this reflection is about my return to work in Australia in July. When I conducted pre mediation meetings and mediations, I noticed something different about myself. I felt that I was bringing an approach that was from the retreat. And it wasn’t just from our discussions at the retreat but how the retreat was conducted. We had discussions every morning in the garden in a circle, like an Aboriginal talking circle. Margi and Greg would ask us what thoughts had emerged overnight since the discussions of the day before. At first, no one said anything and I noticed how comfortable Margi and Greg were with silence. Eventually, someone would say something and then the discussion would start to flow from all around the circle and before we knew it, we were talking for an hour.

Also, Margi and Greg each had a wonderful “listening face”. They would gently listen, calmly without any sense of rush, with an authentic curiosity. Their relaxed approach made everyone slow down and this gave space for reflection. Sometimes I have found that I when I deal with referring managers who want mediations conducted urgently, I have had to slow down the process. Margi and Greg modelled this calmer concept of time.

So in my recent pre mediation meetings and meditations, I have felt a greater sense of calm. I walk in at a slower pace, not to be hurried by anyone but present myself at a meeting calmly and ready to model this for the person I am meeting. I feel more comfortable with silence, I am more likely to allow the person some periods of silence to gather their thoughts so that their true feelings and ideas can emerge. I feel more mindful of how the person presents and how they impact on me. These things give me more information about how ready the person is to resolve the conflict they face.

The retreat brought out a reflection on the intensity of human emotion. How much pain some people can feel, particularly in a mediation that impacts on their life so much. And it caused us to reflect on how we as mediators can feel so much empathy. How we can be drawn in and affected by human emotion. It was a reminder that in all mediations, at the core there is intense human emotion and we as mediators must be mindful of that to ensure safety in mediation. And we must remember our role in assisting parties to find the words to express what they feel about the conflict in a constructive way. As agents of patience and perseverance, we can assist parties to find in themselves the options and paths towards the resolution of their conflict.

In Tuscany, I slowed down and reached an inner peace among the olive groves. I felt a great bond with my fellow international mediators. In every mediation I do now, I hope to bring to my presence in the room the tranquillity that I felt in Tuscany.