Permission to Play

On Friday afternoon I took myself out on a play date. I started with a nice lunch in a lovely cafe in my favourite bookstore. After many years of business travel, I grew fond of eating alone in interesting cafes. It’s not something I do very often in my own home town, though, so it felt like a rare treat.

After lunch, I wandered through the bookstore (and yes, I treated myself to a book), and then headed to the conservatory (an indoor tropical garden) with a chai latte, my camera, and my mandala journal. The flower garden at the conservatory was fully of orchids and crocuses, and I soaked in the colour like a hungry addict getting a hit of Spring.

I had to carefully guard my playtime last week. It had been a hard week, with a few too many twelve hour days of marking papers, teaching, and prepping for teaching, and I knew how badly I needed time off. When I got a very good invitation to serve on an interview panel for a women’s leadership program, I almost gave up my Friday afternoon playtime. But I managed to stand firm and say “no”.

It’s how it always is, isn’t it? Playtime falls at the bottom of our priorities. It’s the thing we do “if we have time” after fulfilling all of the duties that fall on our shoulders. First we have to be responsible friends, moms, employees, business owners, homeowners, community members, etc. After all, that’s what a grown-up does, right? Take care of responsibility first?

Whenever I teach creativity classes, I almost always assign some kind of playtime for the weeks between classes. This past week, for example, I told my students that I wanted them to fill a page of their new art journals with colour. “I don’t care what it looks like,” I said, “I just want to see it full of colour.”

I already know what I’ll hear next Thursday, because I hear it all the time. “I didn’t have time. I couldn’t work it into my schedule. My husband made me feel guilty for goofing off while there were dishes to be done. I was too busy driving my kids to all of their activities.” I’ve heard it all before, and it all boils down to the same thing. “I don’t know how to make playtime a priority in my life.”

What we fail to realize, though, when we use those excuses, is that we are not only trivializing playtime, we are trivializing our own self-care and investment in our happiness. We are putting everyone else’s needs ahead of our own and forgetting that the best way to be of service to them is to first find our contentment and self-worth. We are also forgetting that play is a crucial part of growth, even for an adult.

Those people who make time for play also know how to work hard and how to pour themselves with passion into their lives.

Play isn’t trivial – it’s transformative.

Play helps us get in touch with our deeper selves. It helps open our imagination and gives us a greater creative advantage in all areas of our lives.

Play helps us deal with stress – often more successfully than talk therapy does. It gives us greater balance in life and helps us cope with the times when we must struggle.

Play is also one of the greatest learning tools. I’ve seen it in my classroom when my students’ eyes light up when they’re allowed to play and often don’t realize how much they’re learning from their play.

Play is a community transformation tool. Engage in play with your community, and you invite each other into a new space of possibility, creativity, and connection.

I was once leading a staff planning session where most of the time was spent in play. We tore pictures out of magazines to make vision boards and we got our hands dirty playing with clay. One of the men in the group was clearly stressed out by how trivial the day was and asked more than once “When are we going to get to our action plan?” I didn’t say much, but at some point, while he was holding a clay model of our group’s vision in his hands, he had an a-ha moment and said, “Oh, I get it now! This IS our action plan!” Even strategic planning can be transformed with a little play.

As we grew into adults, we learned to relegate play to a child’s activity. We had more grown-up things to do. And yet, we are missing out on so much if we don’t make play a priority.

What will YOU do this week to make play a priority?


What if the outcome is not your responsibility?

Recently I was asked to reflect on the greatest learning that I took away from 2011. “Patience and trust are the biggest lessons that showed up,” I said. “They’re lessons I’ve had to relearn a few times in my life.”

It takes a lot of patience to build a creative business, especially if you prefer to follow intuitive pathways and ask a lot of deep questions instead of crafting foolproof business plans. And it takes a lot of trust to believe that the path you’re following is the right one when there are lots of bumps and curves and the destination continues to looks so blurry.

Last year’s word was “joy“, but sometimes, when I’m being honest with myself, I wonder if the word that best defines it might instead be “worry“. I tried to follow joy, but in the process I did a lot of worrying. Did I do the right thing quitting my job? Is this dream really going to pan out? Do people value my work? Are any of my efforts going to pan out? Am I ever going to make enough money?

Recently, a question has popped up in my mind repeatedly when I’ve started to take the worry path.

What if the outcome is not my responsibility?

What if I am only responsible for sharing my gift and not how people respond to that gift?

What if my only duty is to follow my muse and I don’t have to worry about whether or not people like what I produce?

What if the only thing I need to do is be faithful to my calling, show up and do the work, and then trust God to look after the rest?

What if all the striving I do to be a “success” is wasted effort and I should instead invest that effort into being as faithful as I can be to the wisdom and creativity that has been given me to share?

When I take that question seriously, it gives me a great deal of peace. When I let go of the outcome or the sales or the response of other people and focus instead on being faithful to the process and my own commitment to excellency, the knots stop forming in my stomach and I can breathe more deeply.

My mandala practice is helping me learn this lesson. I make mandalas for nobody but myself (even though I’m willing to share them). For me, they are about the process. I show up on the page, pick up the pencils or markers that I feel drawn to, and let whatever needs to emerge on the page. What shows up is almost always about something I need to learn or be reminded of or discover. It’s not about the art. The outcome is not my responsibility. 

A few months ago, I was supposed to do a community-building workshop for a leadership learning institute in my city. Only three people registered for it, so they decided to cancel it. I was able to let it go at the time because I was already overbooked and needed the breathing space. They were still interested in the content, though, so they rescheduled it for January 23rd. This time, there are already 14 people registered, ten days before the event. I had to let go of the outcome and trust that, if I was faithful to what I felt called to share, and did my best to let people know, the right people would show up who need to hear what I have to say. The outcome is not my responsibility.

So far, my Creative Discovery class only has 3 registrants, even though I’ve promoted it more broadly than the last class that had much better registration. It doesn’t matter. I feel called to do this class and I know that it will be what those three people (and I) need even if nobody else shows up. The outcome is not my responsibility.

I’m putting the finishing touches on my book and writing a proposal to try to get it into the hands of agents. When I start reading books about how to write a proposal and how to land an agent, I can get my stomach tied in knots over whether I’m doing things the right way, whether I’ll ever be successful, etc., etc. But then I have to pause, take a deep breath, and make a mandala like the one above. It doesn’t matter if I’m a “success”. I feel called to share this book with the world and I will do so even if I have to self-publish it. The outcome is not my responsibility.

Letting go of the outcome doesn’t mean that we should get lazy about the product, or that we shouldn’t work hard to let people know about what we’re doing. But once we’ve worked hard to follow the muse and been diligent in offering the gift to the world, we need to let it go and trust that the people who need to find it will.

I love the principles of Open Space, an Art of Hosting methodology for hosting meaningful conversations.
* Whoever comes are the right people
* Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
* When it starts is the right time
* When it’s over it’s over

In other words, the outcome is NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY!

And now it’s your turn… what do you need to let go of?

These things I know about myself

*  I would rather teach people to think beautiful thoughts than to create grammatically correct sentences.
*  I believe that beauty and justice are inextricably intertwined and I want to bring more of both into the world.
*  I believe that the greatest inventions, discoveries, and solutions emerge when people start asking the right questions.
*  I believe that you have to ask a lot of questions in order to get to the right ones.
*  I am happy when I can help bold creativity blossom in those around me.
*  A little part of me shrivels up inside when I find myself stifling creativity with too many rules and judgements.
*  I am easily distracted by colourful markers and clean white paper.
*  I believe that personal leadership is more important than positional leadership.
*  I choose community over team, circle over hierarchy, and family over corporation.
*  I believe that shared stories open doorways to transformation.
*  I am less productive when I haven’t had time for deep contemplation and equally deep play. The two go hand in hand.
*  I believe that our differences are important but that they should not divide us.
*  I delight in making new connections with people whose ways of looking at the world intrigue me. I am open to letting them change me, if it’s for the best.
*  I am committed to hosting and being part of more conversations and inquiries that follow spiral patterns (moving inward to deeper wisdom) rather than linear pathways.
*  Deep and soulful listening is often the best gift I can give anyone, and so I strive to keep my mouth shut and my ears open more often.
*  I believe in walking lightly on this earth, and hope to some day use fewer resources for my own personal gain.
*  I want to be open-minded and open-hearted and to live with delight as my constant companion.
*  I believe that vulnerability and truth-telling can serve as catalysts for deep relationships and profound change.
*  I believe that in order to create one great work of art you have to be prepared to create at least 100 mediocre ones first.
*  I believe that time spent in meditation, prayer, and body movement is never time wasted, and I hope to some day live like I believe it.
*  I believe that God created each of us to do good work and that we cheat our Creator and our world when we let our self-doubt and fear keep us from doing it.
*  I want to bring more colour and light into otherwise dreary spaces.
*  I strive to be more courageous tomorrow than I was today.
*  I believe in daily transformation, continuous learning, and growth that doesn’t end until the day I exhale my last breath.
*  I am committed to doing my best work, which is at the intersection of creativity, leadership, community, and story-telling.

Leaderless or Leaderful?

Note: this piece was included in this month’s newsletter. If you haven’t subscribed yet, be sure to do so, over there on the right.

Last week while I was in Toronto, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon in St. James Park at Occupy Toronto. I found the experience to be very moving and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since.

What struck me first when I entered the park was the lengths to which people have gone to turn the park into an intentional community. One of the deepest values that was apparent immediately is the value of caring for each other and creating a safe and welcoming environment for everyone. The other value that’s clear is the value of volunteering whatever gifts you can bring for the benefit of the whole.

There is a food area where donated food is available free of charge, a free library where books are shared and free classes are taught by volunteers, a medical tent, a logistics tent, a recovery tent (for people in 12 step programs), a safe women’s area, a silent meditation area, a volunteer sign-up area, a town square where general assemblies take place twice a day, a music zone, and an information table for people who are new to the park. While I was there they were looking for volunteers to set up a children’s area. Everything is free and everyone is welcome.

Shortly after I arrived in the park, I discovered why it had been so quiet – participants were returning from a rousing protest march. They brought great energy and enthusiasm to an otherwise quiet space. Here’s a short video capturing some of the energy they brought with them:

The energy wasn’t all positive. Clearly there had been conflict on the march with one group wanting to march through the financial district and the rest of the group prefering to stick with the initial plan. Apparently someone had told the police  that the group that wanted to go to the financial district was planning to incite violence. The people in that group insisted that it wasn’t true. As their voices raised in frustration, a few people stepped out of the crowd to offer them deep listening and a way to reframe their stories so that they could once again offer positive energy to the group.

The true test of a community is how they handle conflict, and though there is much to admire about the intentionality around the Occupy movement, they are not immune to the challenge of having various factions in their midst bringing different viewpoints and differing passions. Gather people with passion into the same space and at some point, you’re bound to experience conflict.

As soon as the marchers returned, the general assembly began in the town square. Young facilitators did their best to manage the energy in the large and passionate group. Using the human microphone (the speaker shouts their words, and then the group shouts them back so that more people can hear), they tried to give voice to all of the concerns and ideas as they arose. To increase people’s opportunity of being heard, they asked us all to break into circle groups to offer our personal ideas of what things should be done in the future. After the circle time, spokespersons from each group brought the offerings back into the larger group. Then, at the end of the meeting, a speaker’s list was formed, inviting anyone who still felt they had something important to say to add their name to the list.

The process wasn’t perfect, and it was clear that the facilitators were learning (and making up) the process as they went along. Those of us who have facilitated large and passionate groups know that it’s challenging to give voice to so many people, especially when there is conflict involved.

I would argue that those imperfections and efforts are what makes the movement beautiful and potentially powerful. No, the movement is not one of perfect clarity (as the critics continue to say). Each person brings a different desire and restlessness to the circle.  But what is remarkable is that so many different voices are coming together to create circles, live in community, and share their questions, passions, ideas, and alternatives for the systems that have begun to enslave rather than serve us.

Whenever something new is emerging, we have to be willing to walk through chaos to get there. We have to have the patience to sit in the ambiguous spaces. We have to let the questions sit heavily on our hearts.

One of the speakers who stood up during the general assembly spoke the words that have resonated the most loudly for me since that afternoon. “People say that we are a leaderless movement,” she said. “I would suggest that instead we see ourselves as a leaderful movement. We must ALL see ourselves as leaders in this new journey we’re on.”

And THAT is the beauty of the Occupy movement. For the community (and movement) to succeed, each person has to step into personal leadership and offer their gifts into the circle. Those who have medical skills have to show up at the medical tent. Those who can teach meditation, have to show up in the meditation area to coach others. Those who are facilitators need to offer their skills to the general assembly. Those who are good at diffusing conflict need to step in and help where they can.

Each person brings his/her passion and ideas and a willingness to listen to the passion and ideas brought by others.

That’s wisdom that goes far beyond the Occupy movement and right into our lives. Whatever your gifts are, show up and offer them for the good of all people. And then listen and receive what others have brought.

YOU are a leader and you need to step into that role in order to serve the people who are waiting to be served. That’s the only way community can work.

Looking for wild green spaces

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I like to explore green spaces.

See those little pockets of green all over my neighbourhood? I’m attracted to them like a magnet to steel.

Since this has been my summer of wandering (and the summer of beautiful weather), and training for my upcoming 100 km walk, I’ve had a chance to explore a lot of green spaces. It’s become a habit of mine – scan a Google map, find a patch of green I haven’t explored yet, and go.

Sometimes I find lovely parks I didn’t know existed, with manicured paths, and child-filled play structures.

Often though, I walk past the manicured parks to the next green space.

My favourite discoveries are not the parks. My favourites are the untamed, unruly, un-manicured spaces that scream out to my inner child “EXPLORE ME!”

And explore them I do, these little pockets of wildness. I climb over underbrush, hop over puddles, shimmy under fallen trees, and push through thick branches, until I am so deep inside the green box on the map that the city just outside the boundary ceases to exist.

Inside the green I find hidden streams, magical trees, colourful mushrooms, raucous wildflowers, and – when I’m lucky – deer.

What I find most of all, though, in those untamed green spaces, is my own wild heart.

I remember what it means to be wild and unruly. I remember what it feels like to be free of the tidy little boxes I let society place me in. I feel the lilt come back to my step that tells me I am following my heart and not the expectations of others.

From the moment I step off the well-traveled path and into the green square on the map, I am transported back to my childhood, when I used to roam the woods on our farmland, imagining myself a gypsy or an explorer.

The child in me revived, I revel in each discovery. I stare in awe at the leaves quivering in the breeze and twinkling in the sunlight. I marvel at the patterns in the bark of trees. I giggle at the bare patches where it looks like fairies have danced. I look deeply into the magical eyes of deer.

It doesn’t take much to give my wild nature space to breath. Just a little green shape on a map.

Go… find one of your own.

And if you want a companion, take me along.

An end of summer sale, in honour of ME! (And you!)

Which way shall I wander next?

At the beginning of this summer, I turned 45. It was kind of a big deal – a mid-way point in my life.

When I turned 45, I decided that, instead of getting all serious and introspective (like I am inclined to do), I would do something fun to honour what I like about myself.

And so I created the e-course “A Path for Wanderers and Edge-walkers” and started writing lessons about what it means to be a wanderer, a globe-trotter, an edge-walker, a gypsy, a gadabout… in other words, what it means to be ME.

And then I spent much of the summer wandering. I wandered through my city, I wandered on beaches, I wandered through the woods… I wandered on foot, I wandered by bicycle, and I wandered by canoe. While I wandered, I came up with lessons and inspirations and I TOOK GREAT DELIGHT IN MY WANDERING! Not only that, but I learned a lot from it and realized that my wandering edge-walking spirit is one of my greatest strengths. You can see a lot from the edge that people in the centre can’t see.

Now I have completed 12 lessons in the series (none of which I wrote at home – it seems I needed to be doing the wandering in order to write about it), and it is some of my very favourite writing ever. It’s writing that stretched me to think outside the box, to re-define myself, to dig into my spiritual self, to re-imagine the world, and to see other people differently.  I hope it will stretch you too.

One of the things I learned this summer is that not only am I a wanderer and an edge-walker, but most of the members of the tribe I tend to gather around myself are wanderers and edge-walkers too.

Here’s a quote from someone who’s been enjoying the series this summer:

“Heather’s unique blend of practical wisdom, passion & creativity is reflected so eloquently here. She instinctively knows how best to inspire & encourage, capturing perfectly the deep yearning of every edge-walker & wide-eyed wanderer! The rich mix of personal story-telling (with corresponding photographs), a treasure trove of insightful interviews plus a wealth of probing questions, provides the reader with much to ponder. It is both challenging, hugely inspirational & deeply uplifting – a real treat! Thank you!” – Jo Hassan

Last week I spent a good deal of time compiling all 12 lessons into an e-book. When I wander, I like to take photographs, and this e-book not only has 115 pages of juicy, rich, inspiring content, it also contains 115 of my original photographs from my global wanderings.

I am so in love with this product that I want to share it with everyone.

Here’s a list of the lesson titles:

1. Permission to be a wanderer

2. What does your Wandering say about You?

3. Risk Making Connections

4. The Wanderer at the Edge – On Naming Ourselves

5. When Journeys Change us – Slowing Down to the Speed of Soul

6. Curiosity DIDN’T kill the cat – Life as a Learning Journey

7. At the Halfway Point – Self-care for Wanderers & Wandering as Self-care

8. Following the Thread – A Wanderer’s Journey

9. Like the Wild Prairies, Remember your Nature

10. The Blessing of the Pelicans – Guidance in the Wandering

11. Wander to the Right – Playing with your Brain

12. Wandering as Spiritual Quest

Each of these lessons includes an interview with another wonderful wanderer. Find out who they are here.

For a sample lesson, click here.

Since it’s nearing the end of summer, I’m in a good mood, and I’m in the final stretch of preparing for my 100 km. wander in early September, I want to give you the chance to buy “A Path for Wanderers & Edge-walkers” for half price.

That’s just $12.50 for 115 pages of juicy, fun, challenging content. (But only until the September 7, and then it goes back to its regular price of $25.)

To learn more about it click here. On that page, you’ll have the option of buying it as a set of emails that you receive each week for 12 weeks or as a complete 115 page e-book.

If you already know that you want the complete e-book, go ahead and click “Add to cart” below.
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