photo taken by my talented sister, at thousandwordsphotography.ca
A few posts ago, I mentioned the winding path that one must take up the side of the mountain when the ascent is too steep for the ordinary wanderer.
That metaphor has been ringing so true for me recently, especially in this self-employment journey. Each time I think I’m on the right path, I hit a curve and find myself going in a different direction entirely, never really sure that the path will get me to the top.
When I left my job and started this journey, I was quite convinced that Sophia Leadership was the right path and that feminine wisdom and leadership were the passions that would drive my business. There were so many signposts pointing me along the path – whether it was a horse named Sophia, a fortuitous statue with the word “Sophia” engraved in it, or the amazing experience I had in a circle of women gathered by the lake for our Listening Well retreat.
But then the year ended and a new one began and I found myself feeling restless, knowing something was trying to be born. As it turned out, it was a memoir stretching the walls of my figurative womb, trying to push itself into the light of day. Without totally abandoning Sophia Leadership, I stepped away from some of the passion that drove it to give space for the book to emerge. The book is about my stillborn son and the way that he has been my spiritual guide in my life as I learned and relearned many lessons of surrender.
When the book was in the birth canal, and my primary focus was the labour pains of bringing it to life, I just didn’t feel much like writing about feminine wisdom or leadership and I no longer knew whether Sophia Leadership was the space I belonged. “All I want to do is write,” I thought. “And I don’t want to be restricted by these boxes. Not everything is about Sophia or about leadership.”
So I began to contemplate switching my blog to my heatherplett.com site and making it a more general space about personal growth and transformation and stillborn babies and surrender and LIFE.
But then I hit another switchback on the path. The first draft of the book got done and I started sharing it with a few trusted readers. And as I shared it, I started to realize that it really IS about feminine wisdom AND about leadership, and I really hadn’t switched paths after all.
A few other signs showed up as well. I facilitated an in-person leadership workshop and sat in a circle of people hungry for a new paradigm for leadership, eager to make a difference in the world, and uncertain they have the right to call themselves leaders. They were leaders in search of a guide to point them to the right path.
And then I facilitated an online leadership learning circle for How to Live with your Paint Clothes on, and the same thing happened. An incredible circle of women bravely voiced their calling to leadership of some kind and admitted they were unsure of how to do it and how to work outside the old paradigms of leadership we’re all surrounded with. More leaders in search of a guide.
And then I had an amazing conversation with Bridget Pilloud, and she pushed me kind of hard when I said I was thinking of giving up Sophia Leadership and told me that there is a huge need among women in leadership (including herself in a previous career) for someone to help them see their paths clear to a place where feminine wisdom is honoured and accepted.
Last but not least, Sophia spoke to me in a bookstore. It was one of those restless days when I couldn’t find a book to settle the angst that had taken up residence in my heart. I was wrestling with my wandering tendencies, and the winding path and wondering WHY OH WHY I couldn’t just settle into an ordinary easy path like other people. There were relationship things going on as well that reminded me of my tendency to be an outsider, always on the edge of the circle when others are smack dab in the middle having all the “easy” fun.
Flipping through an art magazine, I heard Sophia whisper “you are called to the edge.” Bam. Just like that. A proclamation that answered so much of my angst and unsettled feelings. “You are CALLED to the edge. This is not an accident.” I’m not SUPPOSED to be in the centre of the circle having easy fun. I’m not SUPPOSED to be one of the people who get called to seemingly easy and straight paths. I’m meant to be out here on the edge.
I am an edge-walker. I am most myself when I am at the edge of the circle where I can serve as witness both to the things going on inside the circle and those happening outside. I am a leader whose vision of what’s ahead on the path helps direct the people at the centre who have less clarity. I help people feel safe because they have a sentry at the edge. I serve as scribe, witness, and facilitator for the people in the centre because I am less attached to the gravity and ideas that pull everyone to the centre. I watch for dangers and I help people avoid them. I follow new ideas and new paths because I know the people in the circle need them.
The particular edge I am called to live on is the edge called Sophia Leadership. I feel more and more certain of that. Bringing feminine wisdom into leadership is edgy, difficult, and not always popular work, but the people in the centre NEED this work. Everywhere I look I see more and more leaders in search of a guide/mentor.
When I walked out of the bookstore, I felt simultaneously like a great burden (of unknowing, doubt, uneasiness) had been lifted off my shoulders, while a whole new burden of responsibility and calling had been added. But the burden was not mine to carry alone – Sophia God was there carrying it for me.
The clarity has carried me through to today. The top of the mountain is becoming a little more visible as I round this latest switchback. I’m not sure how “edge-walker” would play on a business card, but I know what it means to me, and that’s what matters.
In the spirit of being an edge-walker and guide, I am offering new services and clarifying some old ones. Thanks to the roadsigns, there’s more clarity to them than anything I had on this website before. Perhaps one of them will resonate with you. If you need guidance, or if you feel a similar call to the edge, I would love to work with you and serve as your guide.
You can find the buttons for these services on the right-hand side of this blog. Or click on the one that appeals to you below.
(By the way, I am totally in love with the photo my sister took at the top of this page. On my face you can see that perfect mix of seriousness with a hint of a smile, angst with a hint of devil-may-care, and strength with a hint of softness that makes me who I am, standing out here on the edge.)
Before and after the leadership workshop that made me cry (and laugh) I got to hang out with a bunch of young feminists this past weekend. I was too old to participate in the ReBelles gathering, but I could at least volunteer and be inspired by their energy and passion. I worked at the registration desk and the merch table and I served some delicious vegetarian chilli to a bunch of hungry (and wet) feminists who’d come out of the rain after marching on the streets.
I was there for three reasons.
1. I wanted to be inspired by their passion and commitment and was hoping that some of their energy would rub off on me. I think we all have a lot to learn from those younger than us and I was open to the learning.
2. I feel a calling to be a mentor and supporter of young women leaders in the next generation and I want to do what I can to encourage them as they step into their own leadership and power.
3. I know some of the organizers and I am quite fond of them.
Though I wasn’t allowed in the workshops or plenary sessions (they were quite intentional about maintaining the space for women under 35 and I respect that choice), I got what I wanted out of the experience and I’m glad I went.
The truth is, I’ve been discouraged lately by what our generation is doing with feminism and I think it’s time to turn things around again.
As I said when I created Sophia Leadership, on my “About Sophia Leadership” page, the feminist revolution opened doors for women – doors that lead us into the houses of power. We became leaders and politicians and educators and business owners, but to do that, we had to learn to think and lead like men.
The post-feminist movement helped women tap into our sources of power – our spirituality, our creativity, and our intuition – but we didn’t take those things into the houses of power with us. We were mostly busy making the connection between our heads, hearts, and bodies in our own spaces for our own benefits.
We so enjoyed the freedom that the feminist revolution earned for us that we started spending most of our time focused on ourselves, buying all the self-help books we could find, going to all the yoga and spiritual retreats we could afford, and justifying all the choices we made to pamper ourselves instead of being in positions of servitude as our mothers had been.
What we forgot, however, is that along with freedom comes great responsibility.
I firmly believe that it’s time for the next step in the women’s movement. Now it’s time to merge what we learned in both the feminist and post-feminist eras and make some BIG changes. I suspect that it might be the next generation who will do the bulk of the work of ushering in a new era of feminine wisdom, and so I want to support it where I can.
That doesn’t mean, though, that we – the over 40 crowd – have an excuse to go back to our insular world of self-care and self-focused spirituality. Our young leaders may be the ones with energy and they may be the ones to do the turning, but they need us, their mentors, wise women, sages, and crones.
They need us and we need them. I was so glad to be part of a mutual benefit society this weekend.
And here are a few of the things the young feminists taught me:
1. Make your work, retreats, and gatherings accessible to everyone. Instead of gathering with only the elite who can afford spiritual retreat centres, find ways to prepare simple meals, host people in homes, charge on a sliding scale, and make sure the emerging leaders from poor and marginalized groups can afford to participate.
2. Be intentional about including only ethically produced and purchased food and products – things that are gentle on the earth and that weren’t produced by under-paid labourers in faraway factories.
3. Combine art and body movement workshops with political/advocacy workshops. Find ways of blending them in ways that are uniquely feminine.
4. Dare to be passionate. March in the streets. Write manifestos. If things need to be shaken up, SHAKE THEM AND DON’T APOLOGIZE!
5. Be intentional about creating spaces for those you’ve gathered, and don’t apologize to those you’ve excluded. But then honour those who support you from outside that circle and hold a feast for all to celebrate together.
6. Bring in wise women as elders, honour them and let them advise you, but do not let them run the show if you have people in your group quite capable of organizing gatherings.
7. Make the space as safe as you can for emerging leaders, by doing small things like asking the rental facility to ensure the guards on duty while you gather are all women.
8. Don’t leave until you have some clear action items and then follow up to make sure there is MOVEMENT. Don’t let people simply go back to their homes with warm fuzzies forgetting their commitments to positive change.
It’s true what they say… in order to really learn something, you just have to step forward with the audacity to teach it.
Several weeks ago, I introduced a new series called “Let go of the Ground” about the importance of surrender in the process of transformation and growth. As soon as I introduced it, I knew I was onto something important, and so I started working on a special “e-basket full of goodies for your transformational journey“. I gathered a lot of ideas, did a number of interviews and was quite excited about offering it to you, my readers and friends. It felt like a calling. It felt important. It felt like an area in which I had, rather reluctantly, become an expert.
I thought (rather arrogantly, I admit) that I had been sufficiently through the chrysalis stage of surrender and transformation, that I could (from my butterfly perch up there on the top branch) offer wisdom and encouragement to all the other caterpillars and chrysalises down below. I had full intentions of releasing that offering on my 45th birthday (May 20). It seemed so perfect, so arrived and self-actualized right there in the mid-point of my life.
But it seemed God had other plans.
“There’s a deeper lesson you need to learn first,” Sophia whispered, and then she handed me an oddly wrapped package. Inside was the “gift” of another opportunity to surrender, another opportunity to gain wisdom, and another chance to learn just what it means to be broken open and transformed. I nearly threw that package right back in her face. “That’s okay,” I wanted to scream. “Keep your ugly gift. I’m quite fine without it. I’ve had enough of these and one more just feels like too many. Give it to someone who needs it more than I do.”
And then She patted me gently on the head and said, “You need this, my dear. It may seem like an ugly, useless gift right now, but you’ll see the beauty of it in the end. Go ahead – open it.”
And when the wrapping slipped off, broken pieces started falling out into my lap.
Just before Easter, my mom found out she has cancer. And not just a simple “cut you open and toss it out” kind. It’s the kind that’s full of unknowns and uncertainties. The kind that leaves us all shaky and unsure of where the ground has gone. The kind that leaves me wondering whether I have what it will take to sufficiently support her through it. She started chemo yesterday and then there will be surgery, and more chemo and…?
And then, as though that weren’t enough, other circumstances in my life started breaking me even more wide open. I became painfully aware of how little was under my control and how little I could “fix” on my own. Some areas of my life that I thought were up to me to hold together started falling apart and some of the shattered pieces started slipping through my clinging fingers. Finally, after a fight that lasted far too long, coupled with WAY too much anger and betrayal, I had to let go – surrender – and admit that I didn’t have the answers. And that letting go involved hurting someone that I care deeply about.
What did I do? I cried, I screamed, I paced the house like a caged animal, I cried some more, I spent a lot of time doing nothing, and… I may have thrown a few things. It wasn’t pretty. It still isn’t.
But then, gradually, I started listening to the whispers of Sophia again. “Remember those things you were going to teach people to do during their process of surrender? Why aren’t you doing them?” Oh yeah. THOSE things. The things I KNOW will help me work through this bitterness and self-pity. (Oh, but how I wanted to stay right there smack dab in the middle of a pool full of self-pity!)
I started directing some of those screams and cries toward God. (Some of them just came out as “God – what the FUCK?” But the God of my understanding can handle that.) I went to my son’s grave. I made my best effort to surrender my pain into God’s hands. I made regular trips to the labyrinth. I trusted my broken pieces into the hands of some people who love me and know how to support me. I wrote in my journal. I went running (and talked to a few geese along the way.) I painted (though the best I could do some days was to cover a canvas in black paint). I listened to music that inspired me (an album appropriately titled “The Long Surrender“.) And finally, I let a professional into the private spaces to help find better ways of rebuilding what is broken.
And what am I learning (or re-learning) in all of this? I am learning that Sophia God has a better idea of what I need than I do. I am learning that, in the end, God longs for my happiness as much as I do, and s/he wants to bring me through the pain back into that place of joy. I am learning to trust that still small voice in my heart that points me to what I really need. I am learning how much I have the capacity to give in a relationship before I feel depleted and need to re-fill the well (and say no, if necessary). I am learning to trust my fierce voice instead of silencing it. I am learning which relationships I can trust and which I may need to let go of. I am learning to be much more honest with myself and the people I love than I’ve ever been. I am learning that flowers always come back in Springtime. I am learning that screaming and crying are okay, as long as they’re not the only things I do. (Trust me – the screaming and crying is far from over, but they feel a little more healthy today than they did a few weeks ago.)
This morning I feel more peace than I have in a long time. This morning I might be able to add a little light to that black canvas.
Some day, I will be ready to offer you my learning, and I know that it will be the deepest, richest thing I can possibly offer. It will not be cheap or easy, but it will be full of the wisdom that Sophia God has lent to me in this long surrender.
p.s. One of the concepts I teach about in How to Lead with your Paint Clothes on is “Embrace the Chaos”, about how the most chaotic times in our lives – like the one I’m in right now – are often the best breeding grounds for creativity and growth. It’s one of the many lessons I’ve learned in leadership and life. Check it out, even if the only way you’re a leader is in the fact that you “lead” your dog for a walk every day (as one of the new members of the Paint Clothes Tribe said).
Throughout this federal election, I have been watching to see whether any of the people hoping to get elected to represent Canadians in Ottawa would exhibit the qualities of Sophia Leadership. I had almost given up the search (oh, politics is such an ugly game, isn’t it?), until I watched the acceptance speech of the first Green Party representative ever elected to Parliament, Elizabeth May.
When I watched her speech, I thought “Now THERE’S a woman who deserves a Sophia Leadership Award!” And so a new award was born out of that thought. Because I think that, along with encouraging more people to unleash the power of feminine wisdom in their leadership and their life, it is my responsibility to celebrate it when I see it in practice.
With that in mind, I honour and acknowledge the work of Elizabeth May.
Elizabeth, I hereby present you with the Sophia Leadership award:
– for your courage to restore civility and respect to the House of Commons
– for your determination to end heckling in Question Period
– for your deep and unwavering commitment to the environment
– for modelling integrity and authenticity in a political arena where those things are not often valued
– for speaking truth to power
– for refusing to embrace the politics of spin
– for giving us all hope that a new leadership paradigm is possible
– and for demonstrating that women can be strong and fierce without compromising those things that make them feminine.
THANK YOU ELIZABETH MAY! You have given me hope.
I have mixed feelings about last night’s reports that Osama bin Laden is dead. On the one hand, I understand the need for justice and I ache for those people still living with the deep loss that 9/11 caused. I was in New York City a month after the towers fell and I breathed in the smell of death and shared in the collective grief of that beautiful city in that beautiful country. I understand why people would want to destroy the person responsible for so much destruction.
On the other hand, though, what does this resolve? Does bin Laden’s death offer us any more hope for peace? Does it provide a salve for any of the wounds inflicted by him? Does it suddenly stop terrorism from forming in other parts of the world?
Sadly, terrorism does not operate under the logic that “oh – they killed bin Laden, best not to attack them”. Terrorism thrives on death. Think of the people willing to give up their lives for their cause, who hi-jacked those planes, or who blow themselves up regularly as suicide bombers. They’re not afraid of death. They will not go silently into that dark night.
Vengeance is a frightening thing once it gets ahold of you. And it has gotten ahold of a lot of people since 9/11. I keep wondering how many people will have to die in Iraq and Afghanistan before the need for blood has been satisfied. Sadly, when it comes to vengeance, there is always collateral damage. I was saddened this morning to learn that, in the attack on bin Laden’s compound, a woman was killed because she was used as a human shield. She is only one of the many, many people who have been killed in this decade long fight to avenge 9/11.
Many years ago, when a man broke into my apartment and raped me, my dad’s first reaction was to admit how badly he wanted vengeance on the man who hurt me. It was a primal and fierce reaction, and – I’ll admit – it made me feel loved. I was angry and hurt, and to see someone who loves you take up that anger and hurt along with you feels good at the moment. And so I understand the need of so many hurt Americans to see their country (and supporting countries) rise up and support them in their anger and pain.
But the legacy my father left me was not vengeance, it was peace. If he had gone after my rapist and demanded he pay for his crime with his life, he would have only served to spread hatred a little further. Instead, my father modelled peace and forgiveness in all that he did, even in learning to forgive my rapist. One of the greatest things he taught me in life was that pacifism and love are always better options than war and hatred.
Is it possible that, instead of seeking vengeance for any more hurts, we can learn to model peace for the world, just as my father modeled it for me? Can we quit fooling ourselves into believing that an eye for an eye will somehow usher in peace? Can we learn to forgive those who trespass against us and spread love instead of hate?
This morning I keep thinking this thought… “oh how badly we need Sophia leadership. Oh how badly we need wisdom that is feminine, spiritual, intuitive, creative, visionary, and compassionate in this time of so much unresolved hatred and hurt. Oh how badly we need love.”
I pray that it will be so.
From an ad for meditation cushions, it jumped out at me.
Don’t just do something. Sit there.
Hmmm. Clever. I liked it enough to clip it out and add it to my vision board for 2011.
Yesterday, after dropping my niece off at the airport, I brought a chai latte and my journal to my son’s grave. It’s the place I often go when I need a little quiet contemplation, and it seemed right to visit on the first day of a new year.
As much as I speak with some bravado about letting joy direct my path this year, there’s a piece of me that’s still hanging onto some “oh my gosh I quit my job and I have no idea how to build a business” stress. I often wake up in the morning with a vague feeling of panic. I’m navigating a whole new world without a map, and that’s scary.
Those are the things I was thinking as I sat at Matthew’s grave. When I quit my job, I knew I’d need some transition time, and I took it. That’s what the month of October was for. I thought I could put it in a neat little box, and then on November 1st I’d be rarin’ to go. But it didn’t quite happen that way. Transition took longer than I expected. I jumped into my teaching role, but when it came to the other stuff I was planning to do, I just wasn’t finding a lot of momentum.
“Okay then, give yourself a little longer,” I thought. “Teaching is taking a lot of energy. Perhaps that’s enough for now, and then on January 1st you’ll be ready to rush full speed into a myriad of projects.”
So it was that, on January 1st, I sat at my son’s grave. “Now is the time,” I thought. “Today is the day that the momentum needs to kick into high gear.”
Sadly, though, there is still so much that isn’t clear. No lightening bolts have flashed words across the sky “this is your path, follow it and don’t deviate. Here are your ten easy steps to success.” Almost every day I think up a new project or a new direction (there is no shortage of inspiration). But after the ideas comes… nothing. No momentum, very few accomplishments, and no knock-your-socks-off clarity of direction.
I have to admit, a niggling fear keeps eating at me that I need to get better at writing business plans, and action plans, and marketing plans and goals and objectives and … well, maybe THEN – if there were an artificially constructed linear path laid out in front of me – I’d kick myself into full gear and follow it.
Into the cold wind at the grave, I whispered “Sophia God, show me some direction. Give me clarity in what I should do. I am confident that I am following a path I’ve been called to follow, and yet it still feels so unclear.”
In a moment, the wind whipped a whirlwind of snow around the grave. A spiral. Not a linear path.
After the whirlwind, the stillness. The blank slate of fresh snow like frozen waves drifting across rows and rows of graves.
And in the stillness, these words came back to me “Don’t just do something. Sit there.”
Really? That’s it? That’s the wisdom I came here to find? That’s the brave new world that January 1 is ushering in?
Inside the warmth of my vehicle, I scribbled my questions in my journal. Stillness? Is that the path I’m supposed to take?
“Yes, stillness. Stop the scurrying and worrying and hurrying. Stop the wheel-spinning and the trying too hard. Stop the striving. Stop. And wait. And listen. Pray. Meditate.”
“Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength.” (Isaiah 30)
Wisdom won’t be tied up in little boxes to be reached for and plucked along artificially constructed linear paths. Wisdom comes to us in spirals. In whirlwinds. In whispers. At gravesides. On labyrinth paths. Wisdom appears in a heart that is ready for it. In a heart that is still. In a heart that listens. A heart that waits.
And so, despite the part of me that stubbornly insists I have to be BUSY to have value, I claim this mantra. Don’t just do something. Sit there.
Not exactly a business plan. But it’s the lesson that Sophia God wants me to learn. And relearn. I will try to be a patient student.
* * *
Today, a friend shared this video of David Whyte speaking about the place of poetry in the corporate world, and this poem found me…
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.