I’ve come to the woods to remember who I am. As I write this, I’m off-the-grid, offline and unplugged, tucked into a tiny cabin by a lake, with just enough solar power to occasionally charge my laptop so that I can write. I cook over a propane stove and haul water in a bucket to wash my few dishes. The only bathroom facility is a compost toilet in a little outhouse just a little further up the hill. I brush my teeth with a cup of water and then spit into the woods. I haven’t showered or looked in a mirror for two days. When I need a break from writing, I wander down to the dock and watch the ripples on the lake. In the evenings, I light a fire and sometimes I read under the light of my headlamp.
Just now I wrote in my journal, “I love it here. It soothes my nervous system. It ignites my creativity. It allows the words to flow onto the page. I love it in all its variations – the rain of yesterday, the sun and warmth of the day before, the deep fog of this morning, and even the chill that made me pull my sleeping bag tighter in my little loft bed last night.”
This kind of solitude and connection with nature nourishes me and re-ignites the spark that sometimes gets dampened by the over-stimulating, demanding, noisy world. I am more myself here, more grounded, and in greater equilibrium.
I know myself here. I remember that I am part of nature – both contributing to it and receiving from it. I am in reciprocal relationship with the woods, the birds, the lake, and the trees. I talk to chipmunks and listen to the songs of the loons floating across the lake. Sometimes I talk to myself.
I know my body and I trust her needs. I know how to meet those needs with the simplicity of what’s available to me. I have little judgement of my body out here in these woods, because I see it in relationship to all that is around me – everything that is both imperfect and wildly beautiful. There’s a gnarly oak tree not far from where I sit and… gosh, she is beautiful in all her imperfection. Out here, I begin to move to the rhythm of the woods and the moon, and my body remembers herself into beauty.
The noise of the city makes me forget these things sometimes. I forget my natural rhythm and my place in the order of things. I forget my beauty and I begin to see myself through the lenses offered up to me by social media, advertising, and capitalism. My body begins to absorb the ways that she has been devalued. In the city, I am fat and aging, and both of those things make me more invisible. In the city, I know my flaws and I get sucked back into the drive for perfectionism. I judge myself through the yardsticks that the patriarchy, white supremacy, and colonization have imposed on me. I evaluate myself through the expectations of other people.
Out here, I disconnect from all of that. I disentangle myself and I stop performing according to the script for which I was trained. I become more fully embodied, more fully in love with myself, more fully visible.
Sometimes I find myself wishing I could stay here, in these woods, but I’m not sure that is wise or even possible for me. I know that I need community too. I know that I need to be part of the world. And I know that this deep connection I have nurtured with myself and with the natural world I am part of is a gift that many are longing for, so I have some responsibility to bring it back into the city with me. I know that, so I sit here in this beautiful place and I write words that I will share with you, my readers and friends.
Sometimes when I teach people the practice of holding space for themselves, they think it’s simply about self-care, but that’s only a small part of it. Holding space for yourself is about knowing yourself, truly seeing yourself. It’s about living a deeply embodied life. It’s about making yourself visible so that you can see yourself more clearly without the lenses that have been passed down to you. It’s about recognizing the harm that’s been done to you by the systems you’re part of. It’s about healing that harm, and then divesting yourself of those systems as much as you can so that you can be free.
Ultimately, holding space for yourself is about freedom. It’s the kind of deeply embodied freedom that I feel when I’m out in these woods. It’s about connection with all that is and acceptance of all that cannot be changed, and it’s about presence. It’s about nurturing relationships of reciprocity and grace with all human and non-human beings, knowing that you are an integral part of all of it.
No, I can’t stay in these woods. I will emerge in a few days and return to the places where people gather to have meaningful conversations and to wrestle with the many complexities in the world. I will emerge because I still have work to do and a contribution to make. But I will return to these woods whenever I need to be reminded of who I am.
There’s a place I love to walk. I discovered it at the beginning of the summer, when my daughters and I rented a little house in a different neighbourhood of the city than where we’d lived before. It’s a low-lying area along the Red River, ending where it meets the Seine River. It’s an area that’s frequently flooded in Spring when the rivers swell their banks. You can see the marks of past floods on the trunks of the trees that are rooted there.
I love this place because it feels liminal – a space between two realities. Sometimes it is solid land, sometimes it is part of the river, and sometimes it is covered in thick, gooey mud after the water has subsided. It’s special (and somewhat mystical) partly because I can only navigate it when Mother Nature gives me permission. Whenever it is wet, I have to walk a different path on higher ground.
I have a greater propensity for liminality than most people. I go seeking it in nature and in life because I want to understand it, to know it as deeply as I can even though its very nature is to remain always somewhat unknowable. There’s a mystery that draws me to it, and so I make choices that seem baffling to many because a strange siren call beckons me toward this mystical place.
In anthropology, liminality is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage. It’s a space of transition, threshold, ritual, and quest. In most of the literature about it, liminality is a temporary place that has an end-point – a place we eventually emerge out of when our new story begins. It’s what happens when we lose our job, a loved one dies, or we move through puberty into adulthood.
According to Victor Turner, one of the pre-eminent early writers on the subject, liminality can have three dimensions – a moment, a period, or an epoch. Momentary liminal spaces are sudden events, like death, divorce, or illness. Periodic liminal spaces are stages of life, like puberty or the shift into elderhood. Epochal liminal spaces are those that last a lifetime, like when someone steps out of or is exiled from society (monkhood, for example). (Source: The Uses and Meaning of Liminality)
At least in Turner’s early work, there is some apparent judgement of epochal liminality. He talks of “stuckness”, “failed ritual” and “danger”. These qualifying words seem to miss out on the beauty of what is offered from this place of suspended liminality. What about those of us who feel called to lives of liminality? Those of us who live as edgewalkers and wanderers, always witnessing society but never being fully part of it? What about the value of the lessons we learn there? What of the gifts we offer to those who don’t spend their lives in quest as we do?
I don’t know why liminality is so deeply embedded in who I am. I don’t know why I seek it out in such an intentional way that I sold my home last year (as soon as my daughters moved away) and have been nomadic ever since. Perhaps if I were more connected to my own ancient indigeneity, if it hadn’t been so intentionally trained out of me by colonization, religion, and patriarchy, I would have a better understanding of the purpose and calling in this restlessness. Perhaps I would see myself (and the society I live in would see it too) as some kind of medicine woman, explorer, alchemist, or guide. Perhaps there would have even been a ritual way of commissioning me into it – a robe placed across my shoulders, perhaps, and a walking stick offered for the journey.
What I DO know, after years of doubting my purpose, years of wondering why I didn’t fully know what it meant to fit in, and years of judging my restlessness, is that there is value in this calling. It may not be fully understood, in a culture that centres capitalism, colonization and consumerism and distances itself from spirituality and indigeneity, but it is necessary. Perhaps now more than ever, it is of value.
Now, when the world feels increasingly wobbly and the systems we’ve created that used to make us feel secure only add to the wobbliness, we need guides for the liminal spaces. We need people who have the resilience, resources, and capacity to skillfully navigate what is unknown and unknowable, people who understand the quest and aren’t afraid to lead other people through it. We need people with courage and strength to face the uncertainty.
Several years ago, around the time I was leaving my full-time employment to set off on this quest called self-employment, I heard a speaker at a conference say, “The world needs more people who know how to navigate in the dark.” In that instant, the whole world went still and everyone else in the room disappeared. I knew she was talking directly to me. I was very much “in the dark” at that moment, having quit my job just after my then-husband attempted suicide. As much as I felt lost and overwhelmed at that time, though, I had a strong sense that there was something in me that was being strengthened by the darkness for a higher purpose. I’d felt it years earlier, too, when my stillborn son Matthew was born and I felt oddly at peace and empowered as I navigated the darkness and grief of that time.
Perhaps that moment, when the whole room went still and I heard the words of the speaker as a clarion call, was my modern-day version of a commissioning into this work. Perhaps that was my invitation to stop doubting myself and step fully into the confidence that this work was calling me. Not long afterward, I started the work that would eventually lead to my first book and the Centre for Holding Space. I have been faithful to the calling ever since.
Lately I’ve had some new thoughts about liminality and about the value and purpose of this space. It occurs to me that liminality is not just the space in between “what was” and “what will be”, but it’s the space between polarities. It’s the space between black and white, good and bad – even male and female. It’s the space of “transition”, “transcendence” and “transness”. It’s the curved line on the yin-yang symbol
In liminality, old boxes, definitions, polarities, beliefs, and dogmas fall apart. That can feel like a scary and destabilizing place to be. We can’t make sense of this new space from within the limitation of our old version of sense-making. We try but we always fail. Often, we try to put the genie back in the bottle but the genie refuses. The genie is a lover of freedom.
I believe this is part of the reason why the rights of trans people have become such a focal point recently (at least here, in North America). Trans people represent liminality – the space in between male and female – and many people want to put “the genie back in the bottle”. For those people, the world makes more sense, and it feels safer if gender exists only on a binary.
Many people bemoan the fact that more and more people are coming out as trans and that there is greater and greater demand for gender-affirming care. These people have constructed a belief that there is a “gay agenda”, that drag queens are grooming young children into gay lifestyles, and that providing more supportive spaces in schools for trans youth is a threat to family rights. I hear the fear of liminality in these people – they want to return to what they believe was a world that made sense and where they could keep their children safe.
I have a very different view of this issue. I feel hopeful that more and more people are seeing themselves for who they truly are, outside of the definitions and binaries that once boxed them in (and that we, as a culture, were addicted to). I am encouraged by those who find themselves in “epochal liminality”, outside of the limitations of linear, binary thinking. Just as I resisted the language of “stuckness”, “failed ritual” and “danger” in the anthropological literature, I am much more inclined to see the beauty and value of what is transpiring and to challenge the resistance.
This form of liminality is not without precedent among non-human animal species. In an episode of the podcast, You’re Wrong About, there’s a fascinating exploration of queer animals, including an island with an unusually high percentage of lesbian seagulls. According to the research done by the podcast host, our awareness of how much queerness shows up in animals is limited largely because there is fear and lack of funding that limits the research.
I am hopeful that that is changing and that, despite the political push to “put the genie back in the bottle”, there is increasing openness to the liminality of queerness. I am delighted to be witness, for example, to the ways that my daughters and their circles of friends explore gender and sexuality. There’s a playfulness there, an openness to possibility. They inspire me to explore it for myself as well, to step into liminality with them. I don’t feel any of the fear that I might have in my younger, more religious days (or that I witness in some of my friends).
I believe that trans people, and all others across the 2SLGBTQIA+ spectrum, have a gift to offer the world from their place of liminality. I believe that many have gained wisdom from their own personal quests that the rest of us can benefit from. By removing themselves from the boxes that once confined them, they are modeling what it can look like to no longer be confined by the systems we’ve created and that now harm us. I believe that instead of resisting and marginalizing them, we should be listening and paying attention.
I feel similarly about the number of us who are now identifying as neurodivergent. There is freedom in exploring what it means to remove ourselves from what is seen as “normal”. There is gift and possibility when we step out of the frame ourselves, or when we listen to those who do.
Bayo Akomolafe once said, in a conversation in which he talked about the neurodivergence of his son, that “whiteness attempts to flatten everything” and I hear the truth of that. Systems of dominance, like white supremacy, colonization, and patriarchy, attempt to flatten us, to put us all in boxes and to keep us there. Those of us who live in the liminal spaces are forced to reside in spaces that feel more safe for the dominant culture. We lose our uniqueness, we lose the ceremonies that celebrate and empower us to step into our special areas of giftedness, and we are forcibly distanced from our own internal sources of wisdom.
When we break out of those boxes and see ourselves outside of the lenses of those systems, when we enter the liminality of a world that’s less definable, we bring dimension and possibility back to a flattened world. Instead of marginalizing those people who live in liminality, we should be embracing them, calling on their wisdom and gathering around them in the public square.
I want to say to those people who find themselves embracing their own liminality (whether that is in their queerness, their neurodivergence, or some other way), in much the same way as I heard from that speaker several years ago, that “the world needs more people who know how to navigate liminality”.
The world needs YOU, my friend, even if you’re currently feeling lost and overwhelmed and wounded by frightened people. The world needs you to continue to be true to yourself despite the efforts to put you back in a box (or a closet). The world needs you to be courageous and strong even when there are those who fear for your safety.
The world is changing and we need new skills for this changing world. One of those skills is the ability to navigate liminal spaces. Who better to guide us than those who are, by their very nature, liminal?
I have been sick this week, so I don’t have a lengthy reflection to share with you, but I thought I’d still take the time to offer one simple thought that came to me while I was in Vancouver.
I was fortunate enough to be in Vancouver for the blooming of the magnolia trees. We don’t have magnolia trees in Winnipeg, so it’s a rare treat to see them in bloom.
The tree outside the window of my friend Lisa’s apartment wasn’t quite ready to burst open, so she drew me a map to make sure I’d get to see at least one tree in bloom before I went back home to the prairies. “Glorious magnolia tree” is what she wrote on the map, and I carried that map with me in search of beauty.
The map did not disappoint. There wasn’t just one glorious magnolia tree but several lining a short block. Some of the blossoms were pale pink, some were white, and some were dark pink. All were in raucous, glorious bloom.
As I stood there, staring in awe at the sometimes refined and sometimes sloppy blossoms bursting out all over the trees, this thought came to me…
A magnolia tree makes no apologies.
It doesn’t ask permission to bloom. It doesn’t apologize for being big and bold and pink. It doesn’t worry if it’s not as demure as the tree down the street. It doesn’t hide its glorious blossoms behind leaves or branches.
There is not a moment’s hesitation in a magnolia tree’s fulfilment of its purpose. It only knows that it must live up to what’s put in its DNA to do. It only knows that it must respond appropriately to Spring’s invitation to burst into bloom or it won’t be able to produce seeds for future magnolia trees.
I wonder what it would be like if we all lived more like magnolia trees.
What if we simply trusted that each of us has a purpose that involves blooming and not hiding those blossoms? What if we dared to be big and bold and beautiful? What if we stopped worrying about how others will judge our shininess? What if our only authority on when to bloom were the seasons and not the people who prefer to keep us small?
If you want your life to amount to something – if you want to produce seeds that will grow beautiful things in the future – then you need to be prepared to burst into bloom when the time is right. No, you might not have a calling that looks as bold as a magnolia tree (perhaps you’re a tiny violet hidden in the grass close to the ground) but whatever you’re called to do…
Don’t apologize for bursting into bloom.
Just go ahead and burst open. And if it’s not your season to bloom, then rest for now and trust that the blooms will come.
In 2004, Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.As the founder of the Greenbelt Movement, she mobilized thousands of women to plant millions of trees across Kenya. Besides planting trees, she was instrumental in freeing political prisoners, protecting women’s rights, and creating a more democratic election process.
I knew some of these things about Wangari Maathai, but before I read her biography, Unbowed, I had no idea just how much she’d had to struggle through nearly every step of her journey. For starters, her husband divorced her because she was “too strong-minded for a woman” and he was “unable to control her”. From then on, in a patriarchal society, she was forever branded as obstinate divorced woman who didn’t know her place and shouldn’t be trusted.
That didn’t stop her, though. She felt strongly compelled to work for the environment and for women’s rights and so she stuck with it through multiple imprisonments, repeated death threats, and almost every obstacle possible. For most of her adult life, she was fighting a corrupt government that wanted to silence her. When nobody would rent office space to her organization because they’d become too controversial, she opened her small home to a staff of eighty. When the death threats became too plentiful, she went into hiding but refused to stay silent. When mothers were protesting the unjust imprisonment of their sons, she slept with them in a church for months on end. When the government was fostering conflict between tribes, she met with them in secret to try to bring them back to peace.
What compelled her to do all of that? She had a PhD and a professorship – she could have chosen to live out her days as a mild-mannered professor. Why did she risk her life again and again for what she believed in?
She simply couldn’t see any other way to live.
“Many people assume that I must have been inordinately brave to face down the thugs and police during the campaign for Karura Forest. The truth is that I simply did not understand why anyone would want to violate the rights of others or to ruin the environment… What people see as fearlessness is really persistence. Because I am focused on the solution, I don’t see danger. Because I don’t see danger, I don’t allow my mind to imagine what might happen to me, which is my definition of fear. If you don’t foresee the danger and see only the solution, then you can defy anyone and appear strong and fearless.”
I was thinking about Wangari Maathai this week as I coached my clients. Many of my clients also feel compelled to do hard things. One is preparing to run for politics, even though she knows it will be the hardest thing she’s ever done and she will get beaten up along the way for being an idealistic woman. Another is studying to go into the ministry, even though she’s already butted her head repeatedly against the patriarchal church and faces a double whammy of discrimination as a disabled woman. A third is determined to finish a book that’s taken her twenty years to write, even though she’s over seventy and has every right to take the easy road at this stage of her life. Still others are advocating for human rights, following non-conformist paths into work that nobody understands, and daring to heal from abusive pasts.
What makes these women do what they do even though they know it will be hard? When I ask them this question, they usually just shrug and say “I just feel like I have to. It doesn’t feel like I’ll have a fulfilled life if I don’t at least try.”
For those of us following a path to authenticity and our own calling, there will invariably come a time when we find ourselves compelled to do really hard things. When that time comes, we know that if we don’t make the choice to go through, something inside us will die.
It might be the risk of quitting a job or ending a relationship or walking away from an opportunity or standing up for justice or caring for an autistic child or giving up our material goods or fighting a broken system or protecting the oceans or planting vegetables or writing a book or becoming a poet. The hard things in our lives might not seem like hard things for others, but for us it takes all of our courage to stay the course and face the fallout.
Why do we do it? Because we have no other choice. Because something inside us compels us. Because we don’t want to die unlived lives. Because, like Wangari, we choose to focus on the solution and not the obstacles.
It’s a little like natural childbirth. Once your body decides it’s time to go into labour, you have no choice but to go through. When my second daughter was born, close on the heals of the first, the first labour pain brought back a rush of memory of how hard it had been the first time, and I said out loud “I change my mind. I’m not having this baby!” But I really didn’t have a choice. This baby wanted to be born and my body knew it had to let that happen, no matter how hard it was going to be. And when the labouring has done the work of opening the cervix, and the compulsion to push comes on, there is nothing our minds can do but follow along on the course the body feels compelled to take.
And sometimes we feel that compulsion to do the hard thing even when we know the outcome is almost certain failure. We still have to do what we have to do, or we die. When I was told that my third baby had died in utero, I didn’t know how I’d find the strength to go through what my body had to go through to birth him. How can one go through excruciating pain without knowing there is a hopeful outcome?
And yet… I found the strength. I had to. My body gave me no other choice. And it turned out that what the social worker had told me was right… “The birth will be hard, but there will come a day when you won’t regret going through it, because at least then you will know that that this baby is real and you have a right to grief him.”
Sometimes we do hard things even though we’re pretty sure they’re doomed for failure. Wangari Maathai has been instrumental in planting millions of trees, but in the time those trees were being planted, just as many were being cut down. One might wonder whether the end game was worth the struggle. And yet, she simply knew she had to do it. Because it was the right thing to do.
Another woman who does that in our country is Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party. She knows that, every time she gathers a slate of candidates to run for election, there’s an almost guaranteed certainty that all but one or two will fail. And yet she keeps doing it. Because it’s the right thing to do.
In her book, So Far From Home, Margaret Wheatley talks about those people who just keep doing hard things, even though they know the pain of repeated failure.
“My great teachers these days are people who no longer need hope in order to do their work, even though their projects and organizations began with bright, hope-filled dreams. As ‘the blood-dimmed tide’ of greed, fear, and oppression drowns out their voices and washes away their good work, they become more committed to their work, not because it will succeed, but just because it is right for them to be doing it.”
And so, we strap on our boots and prepare to do the hard work. Because it is right for us to be doing it. And we know that even a painful joy is better than no joy at all.
Note: If you are seeking your path through the hard things, you might find some support in The Spiral Path which starts on Monday.
“Something is shifting in my life. I feel lost. Everything I once depended on and believed in feels unstable and unreliable. I don’t know who I am anymore.”
I hear some version of this story almost every week in my coaching work. Somewhere in the middle of their lives, women (and men, though I hear fewer of those stories) go through a period of transition when their world shifts and the ground feels wobbly under their feet. They’ve left behind an old story but haven’t found themselves in the new story yet. They don’t know how to define themselves anymore and they’re not even sure they have much value.
The stories are almost always accompanied with tears and some measure of shame. They think they’re doing it wrong. They think everyone else has it figured out. They think there’s supposed to be a straight path between the old story and the new story. Or they think they were foolish and selfish for no longer being satisfied with the old story that once felt comfortable.
They’ve been fed a false narrative.
While still in high school, they were told that they’re supposed to figure out “what they want to be when they’re older” and then they’re supposed to follow a straight path to the “American dream.” They’re pretty sure that means that once they’re forty, they should have everything figured out and the question that once plagued them will have all been answered or at least have faded in importance.
But once they get to a midlife point, they realize that the questions are getting bigger and more urgent. They don’t know what to believe anymore. They don’t really know who they are. They don’t understand the meaning of their lives. They discover that motherhood, or their career, or the book they got published, or the dream they brought to fruition doesn’t satisfy them as much as they’d hoped. They’re feeling empty and lost, like a boat adrift at sea.
It’s such a common story that if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard it, I could go on a very lovely vacation to the Caribbean.
The first thing I do when I hear this story is give them permission to cry and feel the grief. The second thing I do is tell them “This is where you’re supposed to be. This is a woman’s journey. You have to give yourself permission to be lost for awhile. It’s the only way you’ll find the path to your more authentic self.”
We all need to go through the empty place in order to connect with our deeper selves.
Every woman I know who has found her way into a deepened wisdom and a deeper sense of calling has gone through the empty place between stories. They’ve all found themselves adrift at sea somewhere in the middle of their lives, where they had to let go of old paradigms, old belief systems, and old ways of defining themselves. It was only when they let go of the resistance and the need to “be productive” and “be successful” that they were able to sink into the deep stillness of the empty place between stories.
Nobody wants the complexity of real transformation.
The mess and the grief of letting go of the old story is scary and uncomfortable. We want the simple solution that many of the self-help books are selling us. We want ten easy bullet points.
But real transformation is more like the labyrinth. Real transformation invites us to step off the path into a complex, labyrinthine journey.
“Most of us arrive at a sense of self and vocation only after a long journey through alien lands. But this journey bears no resemblance to the trouble-free “travel packages” sold by the tourism industry. It is more akin to the ancient tradition of pilgrimage – ‘a transformative journey to a sacred centre’ full of hardships, darkness, and peril.” – Parker Palmer, Let your Life Speak
The labyrinth teaches us much about the journey through transition.
When we enter the labyrinth, we are invited to release. We let go of Story A. We let go of our expectations, our “American dream”, our comfort level.
Once we reach the centre, we are ready to receive. But our cups can only be filled up again if we reach that place empty and open. We’ve emptied ourselves of the old story so that the new story can begin to grow. At the centre, we receive guidance from Spirit, we receive grace, and we receive the strength we need to continue the journey.
When we are ready, we return. But we don’t go back to Story A. We return with the new story that has begun to grow at the centre. We return with a deeper connection to our authentic selves. We return ready to step into Story B.
What’s surprising, though, and always somewhat unsettling, is that Story B bears little resemblance to Story A. Story A fit into a much cleaner box. Story B has a lot of loose ends and a permeable border. Story A was black and white. Story B has a lot of complex shades of grey.
We are invited into a place of non-duality.
As Richard Rohr says in Falling Upward, the story for the second half of life is one of non-duality. When we are in a story of duality (the first half of our lives), we see the word in black and white, right and wrong, good and bad.
Rohr describes non-dual thinking as “our ability to read reality in a way that is not judgmental, in a way that is not exclusionary of the part that we don’t understand. When you don’t split everything up according to what you like and what you don’t like, you leave the moment open, you let it be what it is in itself, and you let it speak to you. Reality is not totally one, but it is not totally two, either! Stay with that necessary dilemma, and it can make you wise.”
Many people resist the invitation into Story B. They want to stay in a place where the world feels secure and safe. They hang onto a black and white world and they judge those who introduce them to shades of grey. Those people often become the fundamentalists who fight with all their might to resist change. They close themselves off in a box of self-preservation rather than step into a place of ambiguity.
But there is little value in hanging onto Story A when the new story wants to emerge. Your comfort will soon turn to bitterness, your safe home will become your prison.
Our world wants us to move, individually and collectively, into Story B.
There are many thought leaders who believe that our world is in that empty place – the place of chaos – between Story A and Story B.
Yesterday, I participated in the first session of ULab, hosted by Otto Scharmer of MIT and Presencing Institute. On this MOOC (massive open online course) there are 25,000 people who are connecting to talk about the transformation of business, society, and self. We’re learning what it means to be in that “place of disruption” between stories. While on the webinar, thousands of us were tweeting from all over the world about what is ending and what is emerging. There’s a general consensus that the world can’t continue to function unless we step into a new story, a new way of connecting with ourselves, each other, and the world. But before getting to that new story, we have to let ourselves be lost for awhile.
In The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, Charles Eisenstein talks about The Story of Separation that the world has been living in. That’s a story that keeps us locked in a financial economy that demands growth and the pillaging of the earth for the resources that feed that growth. It’s a story that has us living as separate, self-sufficient individuals instead of in community. It’s a story that requires a greater and greater investment in military actions that help us protect our resources and our self-sufficiency.
The new story that the world is longing for is a Story of Connection.
It’s a story that brings us back to a healthy relationship with each other and the earth. It’s a story of trust and compassion, community and spirituality.
As the diagram above shows, we won’t get to the Story of Connection until we are ready to release the Story of Separation, step into the centre of the labyrinth, and receive the new thing that wants to be born in each of us.
If you find yourself in that empty place between stories, know this – you are not alone. You are living a story that is playing itself out all over the world.
We are all trying to find our way into the new story. Some of us are desperately hanging onto the old story, some of us are ready to hospice the old story into its death, and some of us are ready to midwife the new story into its birth.
In the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, there are a few cells, called imaginal cells, that hold the dream of the butterfly alive while all of the other cells see only the end of the world that was once their caterpillar life. Those imaginal cells lead the transformation into the new, more beautiful thing that is meant to emerge.
In my work, I am blessed to be in connection with many imaginal cells – people who sense the end of Story A has come and who believe that there is something new and better emerging. Perhaps you are one such cell.
Perhaps you have been invited into the difficult stage of transformation so that you can serve as a model for others coming after you.
I invite you to consider that whatever you are going through right now, you are going through something that is helping you emerge into the more beautiful world. And your transformation is part of the transformation of the world around you.
Step into the labyrinth. Let yourself be changed.
Need some support on this journey through transformation? Registration is now open for The Spiral Path: A Woman’s Journey to Herself. In this 21 lesson course, you’ll be guided through the three stages of the labyrinth journey.
Note: Please read all the way to the bottom to find out how you can participate in a special anniversary project and be entered to win a prize.
Ten years ago, I started my first blog. It was called Fumbling for Words, because I am a passionate gatherer of words and am always fumbling for the right ones to articulate the complicated things that show up in my brain. And I really, really wanted to find the right words that would connect me with people because, even more than words, I love people. And I love meaningful conversations that connect me to those people.
In the beginning, there was a very particular reason for my blog. I was preparing for my first trip to Africa, a trip I’d been dreaming of since I was a child. I was traveling there in my role as Director of Communications for the non-profit organization I worked for at the time. Though I was delighted with the opportunity, the reason for going complicated the trip for me. I didn’t want to arrive on African soil as a “donor” meeting up with people who were “recipients“. That created too much power differential for me. I wanted to arrive as an equal, a story-catcher, and a listener.
I thought a lot about that, and when I think about things a lot I write about them. Writing is like breathing for me – it helps me exhale what doesn’t serve me and inhale what I need. Here’s an excerpt from my very first blog post.
Will African soil welcome me? Will the colours be as rich as those in my dreams? Will the zebras and lions gaze at me knowingly with eyes that say “we knew you’d come some day”? Will it make me feel hopeful or sad? Or both? Hopeful that this world is a vast and intricate thing of beauty and there is so much more space for me to grow and learn. Or sad that somehow I have hurt these beautiful people by my western greed and western appetite.
I won’t preach from my white-washed Bible. I won’t expect that my English words are somehow endued with greater wisdom than theirs. I will listen and let them teach me.I will open my heart to the hope and the hurt. I will tread lightly on their soil and let the colours wash over me. I will allow the journey to stretch me and I will come back larger than before.
That trip changed me, as did subsequent trips to other parts of Africa and to India and Bangladesh. Each trip cracked me open in both hard and beautiful ways. They fueled my love of stories and ignited my passion for meaningful conversations that connect people across the barriers of race, gender, language, and class.
When you travel with an open heart, you have an opportunity to look deeply into your own heart to examine your privilege, your prejudice, your preconceptions, and your understanding of power. Traveling to Africa caused me to question how the seeds of colonialism had grown, unbeknownst to me, in my own heart. What subtle things do I do in relationships because I assume I have a right to this privilege? What ways do I take for granted that I am entitled to power? And in what ways am I uncomfortable when people assume I have power that I don’t feel I have?
When I came home from Africa with the responsibility of sharing stories with Canadian donors about where their money was going, I did my best to offer dignity and respect to each person whose stories I shared. I was determined not to use images that branded people as helpless victims, and the stories I told were always about their resourcefulness and ability to thrive even in difficult circumstances. But still… there was always a restlessness in that work, because I was always telling stories for the purpose of raising money rather than sharing stories as a way to build bridges, change paradigms, and find mutual healing.
That work served as a catalyst for me to dig deeper and deeper into what it might mean to build healthy relationships and host meaningful conversations across power imbalances and racial divides. My ongoing inquiry brought me to The Circle Way and The Art of Hosting. The circle, I am convinced, is the best place to start. The circle invites each person in each chair to bring themselves fully into the conversation, to serve as leader and listener, change-maker and healer.
As I reflect back over my ten years of blogging, it’s clear that I keep circling back to the same inquiry that ignited my first blog post and that brought me to the circle. In the 1521 posts I’ve written, and in the work I now do, this question comes back again and again.
How do I create safe space for meaningful conversation where barriers are removed and real growth and change can happen for all of us?
This question took me deeper and deeper into this work, inviting me into more and more challenging conversations and situations. It led me away from that non-profit job into self-employment, it helped me build relationships with people all over the world who are hosting conversations like this, and it led me again and again back to the circle. This blog became a kind of virtual circle, inviting people into the conversation.Collectively, those of us who have gathered here (and on connected social media) have been having meaningful conversations, removing barriers, and encouraging each other to change and grow.
Together we have been learning to live more authentically, more courageously, and more compassionately. We’ve stretched ourselves, we’ve shared grief stories, we’ve celebrated together, and we’ve grown our relationships.
As I look back over 10 years of blogging, I look back to where it all began – back to that place where my tender, open heart, was ready to be stretched and changed, and ready to be in relationship with people who would change me. You, my dear reader, have stretched and changed me, just like those people I met in Africa. For that I am deeply grateful.
Though I haven’t been back to Africa since I left that job, it continues to hold a place in my heart. It’s beautiful, yes, and I’ve met amazing people there, but I think the piece that keeps calling me back is the opportunity to peer into my own privilege and to dive in to relationships that help me grow.
These things are also possible here at home, and I’m finding more and more ways to engage with this inquiry right here where I live, where the most challenging issue is the way that we as descendents of the European settlers have separated ourselves from the First Nations people through colonization and margnalization. I am seeking to understand more about the intersection between power and love and how we can build bridges by understanding both.
When my business (and blog reach) was growing earlier this year (thanks to you), I knew that I needed to use whatever influence I have for good, beyond my own income. I wanted an opportunity to support people with access to less privilege than I enjoy without allowing my support of them to contribute to the power imbalance.The best way that I knew to do this was to let someone from within that community take the lead, someone who was stepping into her own power and was already working to serve a more beautiful world. I didn’t need to look far. My friend (who’d been a youth intern on my team for a year while I worked in non-profit) Nestar Lakot Okella had started a school in the village where she grew up in Uganda.
Because I already have a high level of trust in Nestar’s ability to lead and be a change-maker, it didn’t take much for me step alongside as an ally in support of Uganda Kitgum Education Foundation. I hosted my first fundraiser in celebration of my birthday in May, and with your help, my dear readers, we were able to send more than $2000 to the school. Since then I’ve been sending a portion of the proceeds from programs such as Mandala Discovery and The Spiral Path.
This past week, I received a set of photos from Nestar and they brought tears to my eyes. They were very simple photos of men making chairs, but they meant so much.
Nestar’s note said: “I wanted to share pictures we got from Kitgum. We are able to order 125 chairs and 125 tables and 1 bookshelf for every classroom. All the items are being made locally in Kitgum, so the local community can also benefit from our school project through the jobs created.
“Thank you for your contribution which has partially made this possible. No more learning on the floor for our students next year, YES! :)”
It delights me to no end to imagine the children returning to their classrooms after their winter break ends in January to find out they now have chairs, tables, and bookshelves in their classrooms!
Today, as I celebrate 10 years of blogging, it seems beautifully appropriate that what started as a way to capture my stories of Africa has brought me full circle to this place where I can use my blog as a platform to support the learning and empowerment of young people in Africa whose school was started by a leader from their own community. Some day I would love to be in relationship with the students of that school, not as a benefactor to beneficiaries, but as co-learners and co-creators, working to make the work a little bit better.
And that brings me to my special anniversary campaign.
I want to continue to support the education of children in Uganda AND I want to support my own dream of taking my writing to a broader audience.
I love the idea of us learning and growing together in separate parts of the world. I imagine myself sitting in one of those blue chairs in a circle with them, each of us stretching and growing into our capacity, reading books and writing books and learning to be loving, powerful change-makers and leaders.
This is where you come in. I want to invite you to support my 10th Anniversary Book + Books Project:
The students at UKEF need textbooks. Nestar tells me that there are only one or two textbooks for each classroom and they want to buy more. A textbook costs approximately $12.50, so it wouldn’t take much for us to buy enough for every one of the 300 children at the school.
I intend to publish a book in 2015. As many of you know, this has been a long held dream of mine. I completed what I thought would be my first published book two years ago, but I set it aside when my mom died and then it never really felt like it had evolved into what it was meant to be. The book is now evolving into one called “Circling around to this” and it will be the story of how I’ve been growing into the question above and how it has led me to circle, labyrinth, mandala, and spiral. (Who knows… I might even visit Africa on a future book tour!)
If we are able to raise $7500, there will be enough to buy textbooks for all of the students AND I’ll have most of what I need to publish a book.
If this blog (or my newsletters or any of my writing) has touched you in any way in the last ten years AND you believe all children should have access to education, there are two ways that you can support this dual fundraising goal:
Make a donation using the form below. Half of all money donated will be sent to UKEF for textbooks (or for whatever else Nestar decides the money is best used for – I am determined to let her and the school leadership make the best decisions they need to make without this becoming donor-controlled). The other half will be set aside for the publishing costs associated with getting my book into print.
To make this a little more interesting, I’ve put together a prize package. At 5 p.m. central on Friday, December 19th, I’ll pick a name from all of those who have contributed, and one lucky winner will receive the following (total value $204 + shipping):