“How do you get to be so free?” Caterpillar asks wistfully of Butterfly.
“Surrender,” Butterfly whispers as she flutters by.
“But… I’ve read all the books, taken all the classes, and I just can’t seem to get off the ground.”
“What do you mean – surrender? Surrender to what?”
“To the Mystery. To your Creator. To your own DNA.”
“How do I do that?” Caterpillar frowns.
“Climb up in that tree, let go of the branch, and spin.”
“But I don’t know how to spin. Do I need to take a course? Is there a manual?”
“You’ll know. Once you’re up there on the branch.”
“I’ll know? How will I know?”
“It’s written in your DNA.”
“What happens next? Do I have to spin my own wings?”
“No, silly,” Butterfly giggles. “You spin a cocoon.”
“A cocoon? I’ve never heard of that before. What do I do with it once I’ve spun it?”
“You don’t do anything. You just wait. Inside the cocoon.”
“What good does waiting do? I have too much work to do to sit around waiting in a cocoon. I have housework to do and children to feed and… well, that’s just ridiculous.” Caterpillar turns away, her eyes back on the ground.
“Well, then you’d better give up your dream of flying, because that’s the only way to get up here.” Butterfly’s wings carry her a little higher.
Caterpillar glances back at the sky. Her eyes fill with tears. “But… I really want to fly. Can you tell me a little more? Please. What comes next?”
“The hard part. The surrender.”
“So we’re back to surrender again. That doesn’t seem very helpful. And it’s kind of confusing. What am I surrendering?”
“Everything you ever knew. Every cell of your body. Every story you’ve ever told yourself.”
“I have to give up EVERYTHING?! Isn’t that asking a bit much?”
“Yes, but it’s worth it.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Oh yes. It hurts.”
“How do you handle the pain?”
“You won’t like the answer.”
“Tell me anyway.”
“Surrender. And trust. You have to surrender to the pain and trust the process. You have to give up control and let your body turn to an ugly gooey mushy substance while you wait for transformation to happen. Your friends (those who haven’t learned to spin yet) will turn away because they won’t recognize you. It will be the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do.”
“I don’t know if I can do it. I can’t handle that much pain.”
“Do you want to taste the sky?”
“Oh yes. I really, really do.”
“Then you have to let go of the ground.”
I’m excited to announce a new series called “Let go of the ground & taste the sky”. I’m gathering stories of people who’ve learned what it means to surrender (in big or small ways) to the Mystery. I’ll be sharing those stories here in the coming weeks. To get this off the ground, here’s one of my own stories…
p.s. If you’re learning to surrender, I’m cooking up an offering (I hesitate to call it an e-course, but it’s something like that) where we can learn and practice together. Look for details soon!
I made a big scary decision this week about something I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time. (More on that in the weeks to come.) Since then, I have been waffling between excitement and pure unadulterated terror.
I was cycling to work yesterday when one of those terror moments struck. “What do you think you’re doing?” said the voice of fear. “This won’t work, you’re foolish, you’ll fall flat on your face and end up regretting this decision for the rest of your life… blah, blah, blah.” You know the gig – I don’t have to spell it out for you.
But then another voice showed up. A more gentle and yet bold voice. “Remember whose shoulders you’re standing on.”
When I was at ALIA last month, Meg Wheatley asked us a question that has stuck with me since. “What are the fearless things your forbears have done? On whose shoulders are you standing?”
As I pedalled my bike, my fearless forbears lined up in my mind. My Mennonite ancestors who faced martyrdom for their faith and their commitment to pacifism, justice, and community. Those who’d left Russia to come to Canada because they believed in non-resistance and wanted to live in a place where they could claim conscientious objector status in times of war. Those who’d fought the harsh elements to build homes and livelihoods for themselves in Canada. And then my parents who’d uprooted their three small children (I was one year old at the time) to move to a small town where they knew no one but felt a calling to reach out to people there (and I can tell you oodles of stories of the people whose lives they touched).
Suddenly, my decision didn’t feel so risky anymore. “If these people can risk life and livelihood for what they believe in, then I can take a few chances too,” I thought. “They have paved the way for me – cleared some of the rubble from the path long before I even came along so that life could be smoother and more free.”
The fearlessness didn’t end with my forbears. Later that day, I was amazed at how many stories started showing up (randomly, through links forwarded by friends, people’s blog posts, newspaper articles, etc.) about people doing fearless things that surely gave them many, many moments of terror and self doubt. One of my favourites is the story of the family that sold everything to spend three years biking from Alaska to Argentina. Imagine!
And so I ask you today… on whose shoulders are you standing? What brave things have been done in your lineage that make it easier for you to follow your path and face the things that scare you? Or what stories outside of your lineage have inspired you to be a little more fearless?
I don’t remember the question that we were supposed to discuss at our table group, but I remember where it lead us. One of the women at the table was the newly appointed head of a women’s program at a university. She was wrestling with where she needed to lead the organization after the departure of its founder.
She’d had an a-ha moment that week and had come to realize that what was ironically missing in the program was a truly feminine approach to leadership. It was modeled too closely after traditionally masculine styles and needed to evolve into something new. I think it was during our conversation that she had the even deeper realization that she had, in fact, been hired because her background in engineering made her well skilled at thinking like a man.
What she said touched me in a place so deep I didn’t even know it needed touching. “Yes!” I said. “YES! That is a systemic problem! I see it everywhere! It’s the major flaw of the feminist movement – that it poured so much of its energy into getting us access into men’s role and teaching us to adopt men’s wisdom and leadership styles that it forgot about what it SHOULD have put energy into – raising the value of women’s voices, women’s roles, and women’s wisdom and leadership styles.”
Spilling out beneath my words were so many memories of the times I’d tried to introduce things like “feeling checks” into staff meetings, or clay molding into annual visioning exercises – the many times I’d intuitively felt compelled to introduce a more feminine style of leadership. BUT almost all of those times I’d been met with so much resistance that I’d simply given up and fallen back on old models. Oh, I could write a book about the times when I let the fear hold me back from what had always come so naturally. Too many times I saw those things dismissed as frivolous, or “just a silly girl’s ideas”.
During the course of our conversation, something rather magical happened. I don’t think I realized just how magical it was until it was done. There were markers at our table and a paper tablecloth. As I so often do when I’m sitting in a meeting, I picked up a marker and started to doodle. The man at the table asked “can I add something to your art work?” and I said “oh certainly!” And then, with a gesture, I invited our other two tablemates to join in the fun.
It seemed innocent enough, but it was transformational. Soon, we were all animated and energized in both our conversation and our art-making. Each of us added our unique flare to the tablecloth and each of us built on something the other had done. At one point – though I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it – the man at the table tried to put a square black border around the area where we were making art. Something bubbled up from within me and I resisted, scribbling all over his border as he drew. The other women joined and soon we had spilled over the border into every direction. Defeated, but with a good sense of humour, the man happily added to the “outside the box” art. (To be fair, at another point, I ruined a sun that the man was trying to create by prematurely drawing a line around it.)
By the end of the discussion, we’d filled the whole tablecloth with art, and we’d helped the leader of the woman’s program realize some of the steps she’d need to take when she got home. On top of that, I think each of us at the table had a unique a-ha moment that emerged from both the art and the conversation.
Mine didn’t fully evolve until later. I knew that something significant had happened, but I didn’t at that point know just HOW significant. Some day I think I will look back at that collective doodle art and remember that it represents the moment my life changed.
Because, my dear friends, that moment was the culmination of so much wrestling, so much thinking, so much struggle to find my focus, my truth, my place of belonging. Remember the necklace metaphor – how it wasn’t the struggling that untangled the necklace but the slipping from my hands and dropping to the floor? Well I think that moment was the “dropping to the floor and untangling my truth.”
What am I talking about? I’m talking about THE VERY THING that I’ve been grasping for. For years now I’ve known that my greatest energy comes from sharing wisdom – through facilitating workshops, writing, public speaking, etc. – about the things I’ve learned about creativity and leadership. I’ve known that somewhere in all of that lay the nugget that would lead me into the next phase of my vocation. Only… I couldn’t seem to find the right shaped nugget to fit me. It all seemed too general, too vague – too unfocused. I thought I found a few times, but it never felt quite right.
And now, after a week at ALIA, and especially a remarkable moment of doodling, I have clarity that I’ve never had before. The purpose that is evolving for me is TO TRANSFORM LEADERSHIP THROUGH FEMININE WISDOM! There it is! Bringing more creativity, compassion, art, soul, and holistic truth to leadership. AND helping those people who think their feminine passions and gifts – art, spirituality, motherhood, body wisdom – do not make them qualified for leadership recognize that the world needs them to help in its transformation.
It’s simple and yet it makes so much sense. Look around you – wars, oil spills, climate change, oppression – isn’t it clear that we have a leadership crisis on our hands? Isn’t it clear that the old models aren’t working anymore? It’s time for a new model and I believe that new model includes a much bigger space for feminine wisdom. I’m not saying that all the male leaders need to be replaced by women – I’m simply saying that both men AND women need to learn to trust their feminine wisdom more.
It’s an idea as old as the Bible, and yet as often forgotten and marginalized as so many other truths in the Bible. Sophia. Wisdom. FEMININE wisdom. It’s what Solomon wrote so many sonnets about. It’s the feminine wisdom of God.
THAT is the power I’ve been called to stand in, the wisdom I’ve been called to share. It’s time to get busy sharing it!
How will this evolve? I’m not quite sure, but I am excited. I know this… I am not really “fumbling for words” anymore. This is something new and it will need a new space. Maybe it’s “leading with your paint clothes on” or maybe it’s “sophia leadership” or maybe it’s something else I haven’t thought of, but I’ll be spending the summer thinking about it and hopefully by September something will have emerged.
Hang on for the ride, because it will most definitely be colourful and exciting!
We might think that knowing ourselves is a very ego-centered thing, but by beginning to look so clearly and so honestly at ourselves—at our emotions, at our thoughts, at who we really are—we begin to dissolve the walls that separate us from others. Somehow all of these walls, these ways of feeling separate from everything else and everyone else, are made up of opinions. They are made up of dogma; they are made of prejudice. These walls come from our fear of knowing parts of ourselves. – Pema Chodron
A couple of days before leaving for ALIA, I had a “dark night of the soul”. I had just facilitated a full day visioning/strategic planning exercise with my local staff and I walked away feeling completely depleted. I had put together what I thought was a great day of connecting, creating, and visioning, that included a nice mix of body, mind, and soul. We did some body movement stuff, played with clay and scissors and paper, had a great lunch together, and did some good ol’ fashioned brainstorming.
It went relatively well, but some time in the mid afternoon, this enormous sense of failure washed over me. It wasn’t anything specific that happened, or anything anyone said, it was just this really heavy, dark presence in the room – my own gremlins, I suppose – telling me “This isn’t working. You’re losing people. You’re not accomplishing anything with all your creative ideas and gobbledy gook. They want to see RESULTS. GOALS. ACTIONS PLANS. You should have stuck with a neat and tidy strategic plan in square boxes on a spreadsheet.”
That night, I was feeling wounded and depleted, but I didn’t do the wise thing and just spend time in soulcare. I started out that way, and thought I was doing okay, but I wasn’t really listening to the signs well enough. Against my better judgement, I did some reading I shouldn’t have – reading about how to dream big, bust out, and be a firestarter. Oh what foolish timing. It resulted in an all-out panic attack. “I can’t do this. I’m not a leader. I’m a fraud. I don’t have enough focus. My creativity is pointless. My ideas are shitty. I should just stick to the easy stuff where the risk of failure is so much less.”
And then it moved from there to “What the hell am I doing flying halfway across the country to spend a week at an Authentic Leadership institute? I’m not a good leader and I don’t deserve it and I’m wasting my organization’s money and I won’t fit in there and nobody will want to have me as part of their group because I won’t have any wisdom to share. I should give up on this leadership thing, because almost all of the people I lead would happily tell you I suck at leadership and should have become a mechanic instead. Except that I wouldn’t make a good mechanic either, ’cause I’m pretty pathetic at everything I try.” You know where these things go, right? You’ve been there too, right? PLEASE tell me you have… just humour me and play along so I won’t feel so much like a neurotic weakling.
Because I knew she would hold my fear gently, I sent a panicy pain-filled email to my dear friend Christine, and she did exactly what I expected her to do – exactly what I would have done if I’d received the same kind of email. She said, (I paraphrase) “take a deep breath. You KNOW that you are in the right place, doing the right thing and ALIA is EXACTLY where you need to be. And remember… it is no big surprise that you’re going through all kinds of whacked out emotions and fears, given the fact that you are still healing from the river of pain you’ve waded through this Spring.”
And, of course, even before I got her response, I started feeling better. Just putting those fears in writing and trusting them to a friend shrunk them into a manageable size. She was right, and when I took a deep breath, I knew that all was well with the world.
It didn’t take long after arriving at ALIA that I found myself in tears – but this time for a different reason. This time it was because my whole body knew that I was in the right place. Not only that, but all of the things I had been learning, all of the things I’d been writing about, all of the things I had been leading my team through on that visioning session were the RIGHT THINGS. Here I was surrrounded by people who were trying and tripping and dreaming and creating and sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing at the very same things I was trying to do as a leader.
A few days into ALIA, I was in my module on Leader as Shambhala Warrior and we were talking about fear. Meg Wheatley led us through an exercise in which we sat facing another person, and for 5 minutes, one person would ask the other person “what are you afraid of?” When the other person answered, the first person would say “Thank you. What are you afraid of?” In doing this, we dug deeper and deeper into our real fears.
At first, I said the expected things. I was scared of failing, scared of hurting people, scared of not being a good enough mother. But then some surprising things started to come up. “I am afraid that I will never again get the chance to feel the freedom I felt when I jumped out of an airplane.” “Thank you. What are you afraid of?” “I am afraid that I won’t be able to teach people what it feels like to have that kind of freedom.” And then, just before the five minutes was up, “I am afraid of my own power.”
And there it is, the bottom line. I am afraid to be powerful. I am afraid to step into the power that the Creator has available to me. I am afraid to serve goodness and justice and beauty and wisdom in the bold and powerful way that I might be called toward. As Pema Chodron so wisely says, I am afraid of knowing parts of myself. Because then more will be required of me.
Yes, it’s my birthday. It is with great relief that I say good-bye to last year and usher in a new one. Last year seemed to be the year of “refining” and in my experience, refining is rarely fun. I’m ready to move on!
The beauty of turning 44 is that you’ve reached an age where you care less and less about how silly you might look. Some day I’ll probably wear a purple dress with a red hat! 🙂 Or a Mardi Gras mask to work. (Darn – I wish I’d thought of that today!)
As a way of ushering in a new year, I want to make a new commitment to myself, and I’d like you to join me! Please raise your right and repeat with me the pledge of the Sisterhood of the Burning Bra:
As an esteemed member of the Sisterhood of the Burning Bra, I hereby commit to doing my best to do the following:
commit to the fire the old stories that serve no other purpose but to shackle me
listen more carefully to the wisdom of my body and honour it when it sends me signals related to hunger, fullness, rest, and movement
not listen quite as carefully to the negative voices in my head that are usually lying to me
giggle with glee when I feel like it
make a confession when I have wronged someone and then believe that I am forgiven
lean on my sisters around the circle and trust that they will offer compassion, wisdom, and courage
let myself be guided into the place of power that the Creator makes available to me
stand up more boldly and say “NO!” when people try to shovel unnecessary guilt on my shoulders
wiggle my toes in the sand and be moved by the sense of touch
honour the other sisters in the circle and offer them my giftedness
dream really crazy big dreams
not allow fear to hold a larger space in my life than it deserves
wear Mardi Gras masks (or silly hats or mismatched socks) once in awhile, just for fun
gently forgive myself for the times when I fail to live up to these commitments
hold occasional rituals where I burn symbols of the things I want to let go of
Thank you for being in my circle! (And by the way, I welcome all brothers into the circle too! Some of you are my best allies and I don’t want to leave you out!)
For a couple of related posts, check out my guest posts at Square Peg Reflections and at Blisschick. I’m delighted to have been welcomed into their spaces on this special day!
I’m having a hard time putting into words what yesterday meant to me. None-the-less, I want to share it, even if the words fall short of the truth.
First there was the conversation with a coach/magician
After a full day of meetings (Aside: What the heck is going on? Meetings seem to have exploded all over my calendar lately! I can barely catch a breath!), I had a coaching call with Randi Buckley.
Honestly? I’ve been a little skeptical of the whole coaching movement. Any time anything becomes too trendy, I start sniffing it for snake oil and I tend to distance myself somewhat. Not that I don’t believe in coaching – I’ve taken several “coaching for leaders” workshops and have found them quite helpful – it’s just that trends often bring out the people who like to jump on the bandwagon and aren’t necessarily the genuine article. On top of that, hiring a life coach seems to have an element of narcissism that doesn’t sit well with me. (My apologies to my friends who are coaches or who hire coaches! You are all wise and wonderful, so I’m not talking about YOU!)
Needless to say, I’ve never worked with a coach, even though I know people who swear by it. But when I won Randi’s free sessions, I thought “why not approach it openly and welcome whatever might come of this?” Since it was free, I had nothing to lose.
Well, it turns out that Randi is the real deal. Seriously? I think she’s part magician. Or at least mystic. It wasn’t very long into our conversation that she started voicing things that she picked up in my words and energy that were so dead on they were scary. And with only a few well placed questions, she had me digging into demons, identifying the places where I deal with “imposter syndrome”, and voicing big crazy dreams I’d never dared whisper to anyone.
One of the things Randi encouraged me to do (which, I admit, I resisted at first) was to examine some of the negative voices in my life to find the truth hidden behind them. I didn’t realize how powerful that was until this morning when the real live negative voice (not just the ones in my head) I talked to her about made a significant energy shift and actually paid me the FIRST EVER compliment I have heard coming out of those lips – and all because I’d started the conversation with an acknowledgement of the wisdom that person had put into an email the day before.
Then there was the “Sisterhood of the Burning Bra” party last night.
Again and again, I am blown away by the incredible energy that a group of like-minded, open-hearted women can welcome into their space when they gather in a circle. There were fewer people in that circle last night than I expected, but they were the RIGHT people. (The gremlins wanted to convince me that people don’t really like me and hence hadn’t made my party a priority, but I banished those gremlins from the party pretty quickly and they had no choice but to whimper on the other side of the gate.) More importantly, they were MY people – the women who I know will always come into my circle when I need them, to share their warmth, strength, wisdom, and energy.
I felt a little silly about following through on my desire to burn my bra, but Michele built a lovely fire and the women who were there held me in such a safe space (not to mention cheered me on!) that I couldn’t resist. Before the bra was committed to the flame, I talked about what I was releasing and how I was newly committed to treating my body as a sacred space. And then we all watched it burn until there was nothing left but the underwire.
What came afterward was more than I could have dreamed of. Each of the women in the circle wrote whatever they wanted to release on a piece of paper and committed it to the flame. Fear, procrastination, regret, past hurts, and ego were all swallowed up by the fire. (Yes, there were pictures taken, but the files seem to have corrupted themselves in the downloading process, so you’ll just have to trust me.)
At the end of the night, I shared a little story of the necklace that hung around my neck that I’d just purchased. It’s a silver lizard. Martha Beck talks about the “lizard brain” – the part of our brains that lives in a world of “lack and attack”, where we are always tempted to focus on what we are lacking and what is attacking us. I am determined, in this next year of my life, to get better at the practice of silencing the lizard brain that keeps lying to me about my shortcomings and attacks – hence the reminder I wear around my neck.
Tomorrow marks the end of another year of gathering wisdom along this journey, and the beginning of another year of practicing to get it right.