Leading up to Engage, our retreat for women with love in their hearts and fire in their veins, Desiree Adaway and I are having a series of conversations that you might want to listen in on. In this one, we ask the question “What does it mean to engage?” We talk about stepping into the fear place, building community, and moving into the direction in which we feel called.
By Heather Plett on June 19, 2013
By Heather Plett on June 17, 2013
I have a love/hate relationship with the word “intention”. I feel similarly about the word “manifest”. In the coach-y personal development world that some of my work fits into, people like to say things like “you have to set your intention in order to manifest your dreams”.
That kind of statement always makes me cringe a little.
The cringe comes from years of experience that has taught me that, despite what we want to believe, the universe is not an ATM machine that will spit out crisp, beautiful, unwrinkled dreams if only we punch in the right code. There is no simple magic – unless you’ve put something into the account, the ATM machine has nothing to pump out.
It also comes from the part of me that is fed up with the me, me, me culture we live in that I wrote about in my last post. We can’t expect our dreams to come true unless we are willing to invest in the collective dreams of our community.
In addition to those reservations, I also continue to believe that there is a God who orders the universe, and most of the time, we don’t get to see the big picture the way God does. There are times when we’re going to have to live through devastating disappointment – when our dreams come crashing at our feet – and we won’t understand the value in all of that heartache until we’re far into the future looking back in the rearview mirror.
All of that being said, I haven’t entirely given up on the word “intention”.
About ten years ago, I read a book about naming your personal mission and setting the direction you want to head in your life. At that time, I was employed in a government job that made me miserable and I was looking for some path out of it and into something more in line with who I am and what I’m passionate about. In the book was the suggestion that you should write out a “day in the life” journal page as though you are writing it five years in the future. The author of the book claimed that nearly everyone she knew who’d done that ended up almost exactly where they wanted to be.
I wrote my journal page, and you know what? The things I wrote about doing are almost exactly the things I spend my time doing now – teaching, hosting workshops, and writing. It took a few more than 5 years, but I landed where I’d hoped to land. The only part that didn’t come true was my wish for a house with a front porch and a porch swing. (I’m still holding out hope.)
There is definitely something about naming and owning your desires that helps you move in their direction.
So, despite my reservations, I still believe in intention-setting. I just believe in a little realism thrown in for good measure.
Here are a few of my thoughts on intention-setting:
- Your longings and passion are there for a reason. God gave you a desire to do the things that you love to do and it’s not selfish to want to do them. It’s only selfish if you keep them to yourself or if you do destructive things with them. Explore the deep longings in your heart and set an intention based on who you truly are and what you have to offer the world.
- Be prepared for a lot of detours on the path. Just because you set an intention doesn’t mean you’re going to get a straight path to its realization. Like I often tell clients, your journey is like a labyrinth. You always know that the centre is your destination, but sometimes you turn the corner and find yourself further from the destination than you were before. A few years after my journal-writing, for example, I found myself out of government and in a non-profit job that I loved, but that wasn’t quite where I expected to be. I learned a lot from that job though, so I have no regrets. Keep following the path and one day you’ll reach centre, though centre might not always look like you expected it to look.
- Hold your intentions lightly. Sometimes, on the path to making your dream come true, you’ll realize that there’s actually a bigger and better dream in store for you, or that you were dreaming the wrong dream, or that your dream is rather selfish. The things I teach in many of my workshops now are actually even more close to my heart than what I wrote about in the journal because I’ve done a whole lot of learning in the intervening years. Much of that learning came in the form of really tough lessons and disappointments. Be prepared to adjust your dreams or let some of them go.
- Even when you go through the dark night of the soul, trust that the light will return in the morning. In the past couple of years while I’ve been building my self-employment dream, there have been many, many times when it’s been so hard I’ve been tempted to give up. And yet there continues to be this driving force in me that hasn’t given up hope that I’m doing the right thing. It takes a lot of trust to get through the darkness, but once you’re through, you begin to realize the value in that dark path. I have learned, for example, that my work in the world is partly about helping people navigate in the dark. I couldn’t do that work unless I’d been in a few dark places myself.
- Be a gift-giver. Don’t make the realization of your dreams be solely about you and what you have to gain. Be a community-dreamer – set intentions for the collective good instead of your selfish good. Give your gifts to the community and be prepared to let your dreams change in the face of what your community needs. In my journal page dream, I was rather ego-focused, dreaming of the kinds of workshops I wanted to facilitate on my own. Since then, though, I’ve been immersed in the Art of Hosting and I realize that the work I now love to do, and the work that I believe will change the world, is more about co-hosting in circle and getting my own ego out of the way.
By Heather Plett on June 14, 2013
Earlier this week, I was feeling a little discouraged about the “me, me, ME culture” that seems so pervasive in our North American affluence. I wrote a bit about that in my post about all of us being citizens of the world.
Some days, I go through my social media streams, or I stand in a grocery story checkout, and almost all I see are self-focused posts, advertisements, and magazine headlines about how “you deserve to pamper yourself” and “you can make all of your dreams come true” and “you owe it to yourself to buy yourself more things” and “you can manifest abundance and an easy life”.
It makes me want to say what I sometimes say to my children, “It’s not all about YOU!”
Let me say right from the start… self-care is a good and necessary thing, and I am in no way suggesting that you shouldn’t be good to yourself. Many of us struggle with being kind to ourselves, so I understand the importance of reminding people to take care of themselves. I do this often in my courses, workshops, and coaching sessions. I was raised by a mother who modelled self-sacrifice and self-deprecation, so I know how hard it can be to honour ourselves.
The problem is, many of us replace self-care with self-centredness. We justify selfishness – buying ourselves extravagant and wasteful things, doing things that harm the earth, and ignoring other people in our communities – because we believe that we deserve it. In doing so, we isolate ourselves and we marginalize others.
We forget that we need community. We forget that we need to serve each other. We forget that in all of our lives, there will come a time when we will need to rely on the compassion and kindness of other people. My broken foot this week is reminding me of just that – I need people to do many things for me that I would normally do myself.
After the discouragement earlier this week, I started reading various stories coming out of Gezi Park in Turkey that gave me renewed faith in humanity. What began as a protest against the destruction of the park has grown into so much more. People are standing up to police brutality to protest the way that the concerns of common citizens are ignored by their government. In the process, they have created a beautiful community where they share food, make art, do yoga, look after each other, and dance.
One of the most beautiful stories I read was that of the mothers who showed up to form a human chain between the protestors and police after the Prime Minister told them to take their kids out of the park to protect their safety. I was so moved by that story, in fact, that I created a Facebook group to represent a virtual chain of mothers who stand in solidarity with those mothers.
What I love about these stories is the fact that they show that, at our hearts, we are a communal and compassionate people. When there is need among us, we show up for each other. When someone else is threatened, we stand united against the threat. This doesn’t just happen in Turkey – it happens in all parts of the world.
In the Art of Hosting work, there is something called the Four Fold Practice, which teaches that wholeness in this work (and in our lives) comes when we commit to each of the four practices:
- Be Present and cultivate a strong practice of hosting yourself.
- Participate in conversations with deep listening and contributing from the heart
- Host others with good process
- Co-create a way forward together
This is a beautiful reminder that, to live in community and in a world that needs each of us to show up and offer our gifts, we must host ourselves, participate actively, host others, and co-create a way forward. None of these can stand alone, and none of these is a complete picture. Unless you host yourself, you cannot offer deep listening to others, nor will you be prepared to host others.
I created this mandala awhile ago, playing with the idea that all four of these practices are connected, that there is a flow and an interdependence among them as we learn to work with our own gifts and the gifts of others, and that they are all part of what it means to be in circle with each other.
The more I do this work, the more I know that it is imperative, paradigm-shifting work. We cannot continue to function in a self-centred world, nor can we function well if we fail to care for ourselves or others. We need to rely on each other, but we also need to recognize our own strengths.
If you want to learn more about this, you’re welcome to attend a one-day introductory workshop on The Art of Hosting and Harvesting Conversations that Matter that I’ll be co-hosting in Winnipeg on July 24th.
By Heather Plett on June 11, 2013
Saturday was going to be a perfect day. I didn’t have much planned, so I could get some of my long overdue cleaning done, and then enjoy the irresistible Spring weather with a bike ride, a wander in the woods – maybe even a trip to the zoo. Maddy was vying for ice cream. It was going to be full of ease and fun, mixed in with a little bit of cleaning.
Saturday turned out to be a far-from-perfect day. After deciding it would be best to start the day with a bike ride, Maddy and I headed to the garage for our bikes. I never made it to my bike. At the bottom step into the garage, my ankle collapsed (I think I stepped on the edge of something on the floor), my foot hit the floor at a weird angle, and I was suddenly face to face with the concrete, writhing in pain.
A few hours later, after the pain got increasingly worse, an emergency room practitioner told me that I’d broken a bone in my foot. I limped back out into that irresistible Spring weather on crutches and in a cast. No bike ride, no wandering in the woods, no trip to the zoo.
It got worse. That evening, limping into the bathroom, I suddenly felt very dizzy. “I think I might pass out,” I shouted to my husband, and then woke up on the floor, my face next to the toilet.
It got worse. My husband and daughter got me onto the toilet, and then the vomiting started. And more passing out. And more vomiting. (This is not new – when I vomit, I usually pass out at least once. Nobody knows why.) In between the vomiting and passing out was the weeping and extreme self-pity. “Why is this shit happening to me?” I wailed. I suspect I got food poisoning from the creamy coleslaw my husband picked up at the grocery store.
I’d like to say I’ve been in a perfectly good place since then – that I came to terms with the injury, put it into perspective, and cheerfully adapted my life around this inconvenience. Because I’m just that evolved. That would be a lie.
Sure, there have been moments when I’ve had a remarkably good attitude, when I tell people “I guess the universe thought I should sit down for awhile,” or “just when I was teaching a lesson on surrender for my Lead with Your Wild Heart program, I got a bonus lesson myself,” or “perhaps this will be a good time to work on my book, since I can’t do much more than sit.”
But there have been lots of moments in between those good-attitude-moments when waves of self-pity wash over me. “Isn’t it enough that my mom died and my husband had a heart attack in the last six months – do I really need ANOTHER challenge in my life?” or “Doesn’t God know that I really, really need those Springtime walks in the woods to help heal me from an extremely tough winter? How can this be fair?” or “I have two trips, half a dozen classes and workshops to teach, AND my annual visit to the Folk Festival coming up in the next month and a half – how the hell am I supposed to do all of those things on crutches?!?” or “I just want to phone my Mom and let her feel sorry for me for awhile. It is so FUCKING unfair that I can’t phone my Mom anymore!”
The waves come and the waves go, and I try to weather them all. Self-pitying-whiny-woman, super-spiritual-accepting-woman, angry-bitter-why-me-woman, stoic-and-determined-not-to-let-this-get-the-better-of-me-woman – all of those people reside in my head, along with a few of their friends.
Here I am, sitting in the middle of all of that, trying to find the simplicity in the complexity of these voices, trying to be okay with what shows up, and trying to extend grace to every version of myself as she appears.
This is my practice.
Telling super-spiritual-accepting-woman that she doesn’t need to make so much effort to find the path straight to the deeper learning. And when she retorts with “But… I’m a TEACHER! Teachers are supposed to be wise and find lessons in things and…” simply smiling and telling her that it’s okay, the learning can wait.
Holding the hand of stoic-and-determined-not-to-let-this-get-the-better-of-me-woman while she tries to figure out a way to prove to the world that she is superwoman and can still cook supper, teach her classes, and accomplish great things, and letting her sink into her weakness for awhile instead. “It’s okay – your husband and kids are perfectly capable of fixing supper and doing the laundry. And – just look at that! They’re doing it willingly!”
Choosing not to beat up on self-pitying-whiny-woman when she needs to feel sorry for herself, but just letting the tears flow for awhile, observing the hurt that is behind them. “You’re human – you’re allowed to have human emotions.” While she cries, just trying to be the compassionate mother I would be to my own children, or that my mother would be to me if she were here.
Biting my tongue against the platitudes that are intended to fix angry-bitter-why-me-woman, like, “it could be so much worse – you could have broken BOTH feet!” and “what right do you have to complain about First World problems when people are starving?”, but rather letting the waves of anger pass and extending kindness to her in the moment. “Fixing” usually turns out to be more like “putting a bandaid on a wound that needs air”.
This is my practice.
Being present for what is.
Simply noticing the emotions – the hurt, the anger, the frustration, and the sadness – and letting it all pass.
Letting the healing and beauty show up in little moments – the way the light makes the leaves outside my window glow – instead of desperately clinging to my need to walk in the woods.
Welcoming gratitude when it comes. Like when my daughters willingly show up with food or help pick me up off the floor.
Extending grace to myself, again and again.
Letting people help me.
Letting myself be wounded.
Letting my heart feel broken.
Letting myself be healed.
Seeking patience, one little moment at a time.
Seeking acceptance of who I am.
Inviting myself to keep learning.
This is my practice.
There’s a good reason why it’s called “practice”. It doesn’t come all at once. It comes only as I commit to it, again and again, and start over again each time I fail.
This morning I failed. I cried. And it was what it was.
This is my practice.
By Heather Plett on June 6, 2013
Standing in the park on Saturday, surrounded by my students after the Stand Up Super Games, I got a little choked up. I was immensely proud of this great group of students who’d pulled together, despite some of the rough spots they’d been through, to create a great event for a good cause.
Yes, the students had initiated the event because their assignment in the PR class I teach is to create some kind of PR campaign, but the energy they put into organizing it and fundraising for Osborne House showed that it had become so much more than an assignment; it had become a cause. Most of them showed up in that park not just because they wanted to pass the course, but because they cared for the women taking shelter at Osborne House due to domestic violence.
In showing up for a cause that they care about, my students were demonstrating that they are citizens of the world and they are doing their part in trying to make it better.
In his book, The Abundant Community, Peter Block talks about the difference between citizens and consumers.
“A citizen is one who is a participant in a democracy, regardless of their legal status. It is one who chooses to create the life, the neighbourhood, the world from their own gifts and the gifts of others. A consumer is one who has surrendered to others the power to provide what is essential for a full and satisfied life. This act of surrender goes by many names: client, patient, student, audience, fan, shopper.”
Sadly, there is a tendency in our culture to forget what it means to be citizens and to focus instead on our rights and entitlement as consumers. A recent news story about a man who refuses to mow the lawn on the boulevard in front of his home demonstrates that tendency. He believes it is “the city’s” responsibility to mow that piece of grass, forgetting that “the city” is each and every one of us who live here and that we all have responsibility to care for the place in which we live.
This man is not alone in his sense of entitlement and lack of commitment to the world around him. How often have you heard people complaining about the government, when they do very little to lobby the government for change and often don’t even vote? How often have we ignored the fact that our neighbours may be struggling with poverty or oppression because it’s “not our problem”? How many times do we ignore the damage being done to our earth because we assume we deserve the creature comforts that are produced from the earth’s limited resources?
As a friend living in Haiti reminded me on Facebook this morning when I ranted about this issue, this is the “tragedy of the full belly”. When we have too much, we expect too much. When we become self-reliant, we assume we don’t need other people and that they don’t need us. We stop contributing to our communities because we can get along just fine without them. And when we stop being community-minded, it becomes less and less important how our actions impact the people around us.
That’s why I got emotional when I was standing with my students in the park. In showing up for this campaign, they demonstrated that they haven’t forgotten about the need to contribute to their community. They’re willing to step out of their own comfort zones, forget about their own entitlements, and serve a cause that is bigger than them. This is what we need to foster more of in our schools and work places. This is leadership.
Meg Wheatley defines a leader as “anyone who is willing to show up and help”. Leaders, in other words, are those people who remember their citizenship and are willing to be part of a larger community. The students who contributed to the Stand Up Winnipeg campaign are willing to stand up and be leaders.
The more I do this work, the more I feel passionate about the need for us to stop being so focused on ourselves and our entitlements and start serving as citizens and stewards of the world. That’s why I’m so excited about the three upcoming events I’ll be co-hosting this summer.
On July 6, I’ll be in Ontario co-hosting Ignite: A day of retreat for women sparking change. On July 24, I’ll be in Winnipeg co-hosting The Art of Hosting and Harvesting Conversations that Matter. And then on August 1-4, I’ll be in Asheville, North Carolina, co-hosting Engage! A retreat for women with love in their hearts and fire in their veins.
All of these events are designed for people, like my students, who want to stand up and be counted, people who are willing to be citizens of the world, people who understand that communities thrive when each person shows up and makes a contribution.
These events are not about the old understanding of the leader as a hero, they are about a new understanding of the leader as a host. A host shows up and makes people feel comfortable. S/he engages people in meaningful conversation. S/he makes sure there is good food to eat. S/he is a steward of the place in which she lives. S/he builds community, not from the front of the room but from a place in the circle.
STAND UP now, and let’s make the world a better place.
By Heather Plett on May 28, 2013
“I can’t imagine one single thing that could have improved upon this day.“ That was my Facebook status on the second day of the women’s leadership retreat I co-hosted this past weekend. Yes, it really was that good.
If you had asked me, three years ago when I was dreaming up my self-employment, what my perfect work would be, I would have described a weekend like this one. “Hosting a group of women in a beautiful place while we explore – independently and collectively – how we can use our gifts to make the world a better place,” is what I might have said, and that’s what I did this weekend. I am grateful for UNPAC, the organization on whose behalf I organized the retreat and was able to make it available to rural women in Manitoba.
What were the elements of this weekend that made it work? I don’t usually write “how to” posts, because they seem a little too simplistic for the depth of this work, but here’s a list of things that I believe are important elements for a retreat like the one I just hosted.
1. Start and end with a circle (and throw a little circle in the middle for good measure). This has become imperative in my work. A retreat like this has to include meaningful conversations and spaces for intimate relationships to happen. Those things don’t happen very easily in straight rows of chairs. At the start of the retreat, we gathered everyone into a large circle and one by one we shared the stories of what had brought us to that place. It’s a beautiful way to set the stage for the rest of the gathering. From the very start, this group of women was a community, and that happened because they spent the first evening looking into each other’s eyes.
2. Gather in a beautiful place where you can connect with nature. There’s a very different energy that shows up when you meet in a space where nature is just outside the front door. Nature grounds us and makes us feel more deeply connected. I once tried to plan a retreat in a downtown hotel, and I had to cancel the plans (and do a lot of scrambling for alternate arrangements) because I had to trust my gut feeling that the space just wasn’t conducive to the kind of intimacy and connection I wanted to host. As a host who gives a lot of her energy away in a retreat (and even when I’m a participant), I know that I have to find opportunities to wander in nature in between sessions or I have a hard time staying present and awake. This past weekend, I found an hour to wander in the woods and was delighted when I came across a beaver munching on a twig at the edge of a marsh. I later learned that a beaver totem represents the building of community.
3. Give participants opportunities to share their gifts. Because this was a retreat meant to foster leadership in the participants, we invited the women to make offerings to the group in whatever their giftedness was. On Saturday afternoon, we had a series of 10 minute talks given by anyone who had interesting ideas or projects they wanted to share, and then we had three simultaneous creative workshops where participants introduced other participants to new skills and ideas such as painting, creative writing, and The Way of the Heart. In addition, we had a laughter yoga session, an Irish dancing session in the parking lot, a drum circle, and offerings of reiki, energy healing, poetry, etc – all generously offered by retreat participants. Not only did it make the retreat more interesting and fun to include these things, it gave those making the offerings a safe place to practice some of the things they love to teach or do for other people. The fact that everyone’s gifts were accepted and valued strengthened the sense of community at the gathering.
4. Share the hosting responsibilities. The more I learn about community and the Art of Hosting, the more I recognize the importance of having more than one host for a gathering such as this one. When there is only one host or one person who’s seen as the “expert” in the room, then not only does that person have to carry a lot of weight on their shoulders, but there is much more risk of the ego getting in the way There is also less of a chance that genuine community will be formed. A single person (especially one who’s seen as the expert) at the top is a hierarchical model that makes participants feel like their own wisdom is less valued and they are therefore less inclined to bring their own gifts to the gathering. In addition, that single person can begin to feel that whatever goes right or wrong is their responsibility. Finding someone with whom you are comfortable working and who is practiced at keeping their ego out of their work is priceless. I was grateful to work with my colleague Lori at this retreat.
5. Take a holistic approach to creating variety in the itinerary. We all learn and engage differently, and so it is critical to bring in a variety of ways of engaging with the content of the retreat. We spent a lot of time in circle and small group sessions, but we also watched a couple of videos, did a hands-on creative expression workshop in which we built community out of random materials, spent some quiet time journaling, etc. We also made sure there was time for body engagement through laughter yoga and Irish dancing. And in the evening, we gathered around the fire for laughter and storytelling.
6. Move people toward real and doable action. Connection, storytelling, and learning are important building blocks, but to foster leadership in people, and to encourage real action to take place after they leave the session, it’s important to spend some time imagining what steps they can take to integrate the learning. In the Art of Hosting work, there’s a great process called Pro-Action Cafe in which individuals are invited to step forward with their ideas for projects, businesses, community action, etc., and they receive the gift of supportive conversation around their idea. At the end of our retreat, eight people walked away with more concrete ideas and networks that will support their work going forward. In addition to this, after watching a short Meg Wheatley video from the Women’s Leadership Kit, each person was invited to write their answer to the following question on a card: “Who do you choose to be for this world?”
7. Plan fun into the agenda. This is pretty self-explanatory, and yet we sometimes forget to do it when we’re trying to cram a lot of meaningful content into our gatherings. People can’t integrate deep learning into their lives unless they have a chance to balance that depth with times of play and release. One of the women brought a large community drum to the gathering, and in the evening, she taught us some drum songs and some of us drummed while others danced. It is incredibly cathartic to pound a large community drum with as much vigour as she invited us to do! After the drum circle, we headed outside to huddle around the fire and share some deep belly laughs.
8. Give people something to do with their hands. I think it is especially true for women (and some men, but I don’t think it’s quite as universal) that we enjoy processing our thoughts and we have an easier time entering into conversation if we have something to keep our hands engaged. I’ve always encouraged people to doodle, because there’s good evidence that suggests that doodlers retain more information than non-doodlers. At this retreat (and others I’ve done), people were invited to work on quilt squares that represent Manitoba women’s stories. We’ll sew the pieces into a large quilt and it will make its way across our province, spending time in small town art galleries, coffee shops, and women’s resource centres.
9. Remember the little things, but be prepared to let some of those little things go. I love to add little touches to retreats (like a colourful tablecloth on the table at the centre of the circle, a beautiful candle, decorated name tags, small gifts for participants, etc.), and I know they add special touches to the event, but I’ve also had to learn to let those little things go when they don’t work out the way I’d hoped. I’d hoped to offer childcare at this retreat (because UNPAC’s work is about removing barriers for women), but we stretched our budget too far and that didn’t work out. Also, I’d bought beaded bracelets to give everyone at the end, and then found those bracelets when we were cleaning up and most people had left for home. The childcare worked out in a way I hadn’t expected and I’m pretty sure nobody went home upset that they didn’t get a gift at the end.
10. Trust that the right people will show up. This retreat filled up remarkably quickly with very little promotion, but it doesn’t always happen that way. Some of the things I’ve offered have been equally beautiful, but have only attracted a few people. It’s taken a fair amount of personal work, but I can honestly say that I’ve (mostly) learned to let go of my ego-attachment and expectations as far as numbers are concerned. If only a few people show up, they’re the right people. If lots of people show up, they’re the right people. This particular gathering attracted an amazing large circle of women and I can’t imagine a better combination of people sharing a weekend, but if only a handful had shown up, it could have been equally meaningful.
By Heather Plett on May 23, 2013
Last night, I was privileged to be present when Neda, a former participant in my Creative Discovery class and Horses & Mandalas workshop, launched her first poetry book, Neda: Whisperings of the Divine. Neda is the same person who gifted me with the beautiful prayer shawl mentioned in this post.
Neda is a 68 year old grandmother. She started writing poetry in 2007. She says that poems suddenly started pouring from her soul, even though she’d never been a writer before. They showed up because she was willing and open to try something new and to be a conduit of the Divine. I’ve witnessed her beautiful openness in class several times when she was willing to jump in and try things that were outside of her comfort zone. If you ever meet her, you should ask her to show you the beautiful journal cover she made in our class.
This morning, I had a conversation with my dear friend Diane. Diane just turned 70 and she’s also a grandmother. Diane and I met a few years ago in circle training with Christina Baldwin, and we co-hosted last summer’s Gather the Women gathering in Peterborough, Ontario. At the end of one of the days at Trent University last summer, Diane and I dove into the river in our clothes.
In this morning’s conversation, Diane wanted advice on the best (and simplest) technology to use for a new radio interview program she’s starting soon. She also wants to launch a new website and start offering some new wisdom sessions (that are kind of like coaching, but need a different word). Diane is on fire to do the work she feels called to in the world – hosting women in circle, teaching about spirituality and the feminine divine, and being a mentor to women like me who are in this work. By the end of the conversation, we’d dreamed up a new retreat we’ll be co-hosting this summer.
Not only do I feel blessed to have two such incredible women in my life, I feel humbled and inspired. These are women who aren’t afraid to do big, bold, creative things at a time in their lives when people might expect them to slow down. They’re not afraid to entertain the Muse, even when she shows up at unexpected times in their lives. They’re not afraid to say a big, open-hearted YES to life.
The next time you feel like too much time has passed in your life and it’s too late to do anything significant or creative or scary, think about Neda and Diane. Think about these beautiful, wild-hearted women, and dare to say YES!
By Heather Plett on May 16, 2013
Three years ago, I read an article called Boys Don’t Cry, by Richard Rohr. Since then, I’ve been sharing it with nearly everyone I know who’s raising sons. The article speaks of the challenge men face in a patriarchal world…
After 20 years of working with men on retreats and rites of passage, in spiritual direction, and even in prison, it has sadly become clear to me how trapped the typical Western male feels. He is trapped inside, with almost no inner universe of deep meaning to heal him or guide him.For centuries, males have been encouraged and rewarded for living an “outer” life of performances, which are usually framed in terms of win or lose. Just listen to boys talk—they have already imbibed it, and usually with the encouragement of both dad and mom. The world of sports, contests, American Idol, video games, and proving oneself is most males’ primary “myth,” through which he frames all reality.
Many news stories lately have demonstrated exactly what Rohr is talking about. Whether it’s the young men who raped Rehteah Parsons and the community that failed to support her, the owner of A&F who believes that girls need to be slim and boys need to be big and muscular, or the evangelical pastors who brag about their hot wives in leather pants, it’s clear that there are far too many men being raised with skewed views about what it means to be masculine.
Sadly, our young men are being socialized into a world that continues to believe that being masculine means that you have to dominate, you have to win in competition, you can’t show your fear or humanity, and you’re allowed to abuse other people now and then for your own gain.
Patriarchy has done as much harm to men as it’s done to women. In a world where boys don’t cry and the toughest football player is the biggest high school hero, young men grow up feeling shame over their weakness and their ordinary human feelings of fear and sadness. If they’re not as strong as society expects them to be, or if their interests are in the arts instead of sports and competition, they risk being labeled “gay” or “sissy”.
As this article suggests, men are in a “masculinity crisis” where their roles have changed, they’re pressured to live up to “pornified ideals”, they can’t show their emotions or be vulnerable, and they’re looked down on if they reach out for help.
In the three years since I read Richard Rohr’s article, there has been a question burning in the back of my mind… “how can we help the men?”
I do most of my work with women, and, in fact, my current byline is “helping women live and lead with courage, resilience, and authenticity”. I like working with women. It’s easy, it’s safe, and it feels like important work. There are few places I feel more content than when I’m in a circle of women sharing stories and being vulnerable. Women are socialized for this kind of thing – building relationships, sharing stories, and being vulnerable with each other. Next weekend, for example, I’ll be hosting a women’s leadership retreat for 35 women, and I know that I will come home inspired and energized.
It’s important work… but I know that there is still some work that is whispering in the corners of my mind that has yet to be realized.
How do we help the men?
Not long ago, I started a Facebook page called Women Changing Leadership about the need to bring more feminine wisdom into the way we lead. Although I love working from that platform… I’m wondering… how do we help men create a similar one called Men Changing Leadership? We don’t just need women working on this issue, we need men working on it.
Men are hurting too. I see it everywhere I turn. Men want to be able to live in full expression of who they are. They want to be allowed to be more vulnerable. They want to be able to cry without ridicule. They want to be able to build relationships that aren’t based on sports scores and fast cars. They want to be able to cultivate their inner lives in healthier ways than they’re encouraged to. They want to be taught how to handle their rage, their fear, and their sadness. They want to sit in conversation circles and share stories, just like women do.
In the public relations classes I teach, I occasionally invite the students into circle to have sharing time, especially when some conflict has arisen in the group. I find it interesting that it is often the young men in the class who come to me afterward to tell me that they really appreciated the opportunity to be in circle and share how they’re feeling. They aren’t given these opportunities very often. I am pleased that, for two years in a row, the students in this class have chosen to work on a group campaign that speaks out against violence toward women and raises money for a local women’s shelter. This year’s campaign, Stand Up Winnipeg is about encouraging men to be stand-up men who challenge the stereotype and dare to care about ending violence toward women. Though they may be socialized to be “tough guys”, the young men in my class give me hope that there are those who have the courage to be themselves.
A few years ago, I was at a retreat where a circle of women gathered at the side of a beautiful lake in Ontario to learn about circle and storytelling from our wise guide, Christina Baldwin. Throughout the time we were there, our conversation was frequently punctuated by gunshots across the lake. Apparently it was hunting season.
It was a stark picture of how the socialization of the genders had resulted in such different activities on either side of the lake. On one side, women brought their vulnerability, tears, and stories into circle. We even built a labyrinth out of dried leaves to represent our journey to our deeper spirituality. On the other side, meanwhile, men were working out their aggression through the sport of shooting birds. Possibly the only conversations going on were about their choices of weapons and how successful they’d been in the hung. (Yes, I’m making a generalization for the cause of this article. It is not my intention to offend anyone with this, but to open a conversation.)
At some point in the weekend, I found myself thinking, “how do I row out to the middle of the lake to meet with the men?” That thought hasn’t left me since, even though I make most of my living working with women.
I feel an ongoing tug to find a way to meet with more men, to invite them into circle, to listen to their stories, to give them safe space for their hurts, to help them challenge the stereotypes, and to encourage them to be vulnerable. That doesn’t mean that I want them to deny them their masculinity – far from it – I simply want to help them find a balance, a yin and yang of masculine and feminine. If they need to end the circle time with a rousing game of floor hockey, or go back to the other side of the lake to find a duck for supper, they can do that.
The question is… how? How do we help them? How do we make safe space and then convince them to step into the space? How do we let them know that we’re not judging them, but we want to support them? How do we invite them into meaningful conversation that will serve ALL of us? I ask it because I really want to know… men and women who read this, please share your thoughts in the comments so that we can start a conversation.
While I consider what more can be done, I’ll continue to do what I’m doing in my classroom and wherever people will welcome me. I’ll push the chairs into circle, I’ll invite men in (along with the women), and I’ll do what I can to host their longing and their pain.
And some day, as someone suggested recently, I may create a version of Lead with Your Wild Heart for men.
By Heather Plett on May 14, 2013
Like many Canadians (and people from all over the world), I have fallen in love with astronaut Chris Hadfield in the last four months. Not only is he an exceptional human being (Canada’s first commander of the International Space Station, a gifted musician, and a gifted photographer) he brings us all back to something that many of us lost when we left childhood – a sense of wonder.
Every time he posted an image on his Facebook page, the caption was some version of “Look at this amazing view I have the privilege of seeing! Look at how beautiful the earth is! Look at all there is in this universe to marvel at!” Every time he posted a video about life in the International Space Station, whether it was about what happens to tears in zero gravity, how to clip your nails in space, or how he makes a peanut butter and honey sandwich, the tone of his voice said “isn’t this cool? I’m so glad I get to share this with you!” Every time he wrote or sang a song, whether he sang with the Barenaked Ladies, or did his final ISS parting song, Space Oddity, you could hear the delight and awe in his voice.
His sense of wonder was paired with his great generosity, and that’s why so many people fell in love with him. He clearly took great delight in sharing his experiences with us.
I am happy to say that I was raised by parents who, like Chris Hadfield, taught me to witness the world with a sense of delight. Every Spring, my Dad would write “frogs” on the calendar on the first day that he heard them singing. If he found a bird’s nest in a tree, he would almost certainly drag one or more of us kids out to the tree to see it. One of my favourite photos is one that he took of dandelions – what he said were the most under-appreciated flowers in the world.
Mom was the same. On lazy Sunday afternoons, we would go for drives in the countryside and explore old abandoned homes, because she was intensely curious about what was inside. Any chance she got, she would climb trees, just for the fun of it. Even in her dying days, she watched the birds at her bird feeder and delighted in the variety and beauty of each of them.
On Mother’s Day this year (our first since Mom died), my sister and I drove out to the small town where we grew up to visit the graves where our parents now lay buried. We had a lovely day together, first at the grave, and then in the park with the swinging bridge we used to play on, and in the field where we used to hunt for crocuses when Spring finally came.
Instead of the desperate sense of emptiness that we both thought the day would be filled with, there was peacefulness and nostalgia in our conversations and our wanderings. Much of the day was spent doing exactly what Mom and Dad taught us to do – finding the beauty in the world. We got muddy on the riverbank, trying to get the right angle to photograph the swinging bridge, and we got our clothes covered in dry grass and dust, lying in the field trying to capture both the crocuses and grain elevator in the same shot.
I was reminded, once again, of the power of beauty for healing and transformation. The grief was still there, but in seeking beauty, we were able to breathe hope into our lives.
In our pragmatic, goal-oriented lives, we forget to pause for beauty. “Wandering in crocus fields is for people who don’t have important things to do with their lives,” we tell ourselves.
Wrong. Wandering in crocus fields is ESSENTIAL if we have important things to do with our lives. Beauty is imperative!
In my travels in the world, I have seen people whose lives are full of wealth but not much beauty. I have also seen people who live in poverty but surround themselves with beauty. I would rather live in community with the second group of people, because they know joy, they live generously, and their delight shines in their eyes.
Last night was one of those impeccable Spring evenings when the wind calms, the sun’s setting rays are warm and golden, and the air is full of the hope of new life. I couldn’t resist wandering through my neighbourhood once again, seeking beauty and letting myself be filled with awe.
I am grateful for every moment that brings wonder into my life, and I am grateful for the capacity to witness it.
And if you still need convincing that a search for beauty is imperative, watch this short video of a 109 year old Holocaust Survivor. “I see beauty everywhere.”
By Heather Plett on May 11, 2013
Around this time last year, I finished what I thought was my final edit on my book before starting to figure out how to get it published.
Not only did I finish it, but my friend Segun shared the first 5 chapters of it with his advanced graphic design class and gave them the assignment of developing a book design. I visited the class and was shown more than a dozen versions of what the book could look like if I brought it into print. It was a thrilling moment. I even reserved the url for the book title, confident that I would get it into print one way or another.
It’s tricky, this business of writing a memoir. Life is messy and unfinished, and it’s difficult to tie it up with a pretty bow at the end.
Last year at this time, the book was called “Butterfly at the Grave”. Now I wonder if I should call it “The Unfinished Business of Living, While People around You are Dying”.
The book has been growing in me for more than a dozen years. It’s the story of my stillborn son Matthew and the huge impact his short life had on my life. It started growing even before he was born, when I was sitting in the hospital waiting for him, on an unexpected sabbatical from my life. During those three weeks, I wrote in my journal “some day I will write a book and it will be called ‘The Journey of a Woman’.”
The problem is that while the book was gestating in me, other deaths happened that changed my life just as much. When I started writing it two years ago, I was pretty certain it would focus solely on Matthew, but then one day I realized that I couldn’t ignore the impact that my Dad’s sudden death had on my life.
And then… while I was trying to wrap it up… well, Mom got cancer. I wrote this in the last chapter, just before finishing the first draft a year and a half ago…
“On Mother’s Day this past year, I was having an especially horrible day. After spending the afternoon with my mother who was experiencing the ravishing after-effects of her first chemo treatment, I came home completely spent and emotional. It finally hit home just how devastated I would be if I lost my Mom. Our relationship hasn’t always been an easy one, especially in recent years when I and my siblings had to get used to the idea that she married again after Dad died and things shifted fairly significantly. And yet, despite the challenges, I love her deeply and I don’t want to lose her.”
You know the rest of the story. I lost her. So… how can I now end the book on that note when I know just how much her loss means to me?
I’m not sure. This book still wants to be born, and at some point I just have to say “finished”, but I suspect it’s not finished yet. I think a few more chapters are going to emerge before I finally see it in print.
Life is unfinished, imperfect, and messy. I suppose that, even when it’s in print, this book will always be unfinished.
Grief is a class we never get a final grade in.