“The success of our actions as change-makers does not depend on what we do or how we do it, but on the inner place from which we operate.” – Otto Sharmer
Last week, the city that I love and call home was named “the most racist city in Canada.” That hurt. It felt like someone had insulted my family.
The article mentions many heartbreaking stories of the way that Indigenous people have been treated in our city, and while I wanted to say “but… we’re so NICE here! Really! You have to see the other side too!” I knew that there was undeniable truth I had to face and own. My family isn’t always nice. Neither is my city.
Though I work hard not to be racist, have many Indigenous friends in my circles, and am married to a Metis man, I knew that my response to the article needed to not only be a closer look at my city but a closer look at myself. I may not be overtly racist, but are there ways that I have been complicit in allowing this disease to grow around me? Are there things that I have left unsaid that have given people permission for their racism? Are there ways in which my white privilege has made me blind?
Ever since the summer, when I attended the vigil for Tina Fontaine, a young Indigenous woman whose body was found in the river, I have been feeling some restlessness around this issue. I knew that I was being nudged into some work that would help in the healing of my city and my country, but I didn’t know what that work was. I started by carrying my sadness over the murdered and missing Indigenous women into the Black Hills when I invited women on a lament journey.
This week, after the Macleans article came out, our mayor made a courageous choice in how he responded to the article. In a press conference called shortly after the article spread across the internet, he didn’t get defensive, but instead he spoke with vulnerability about his own identity as a Metis man and about how his desire is for his children to be proud of both of the heritages they carry – their mother’s and his. He then invited several Indigenous leaders to speak.
There was something about the mayor’s address that galvanized me into action. I knew it was time for me to step forward and offer what I can. I sent an email and tweet to the mayor, thanking him for what he’d done and then offering my expertise in hosting meaningful conversations. Because I believe that we need to start healing this divide in our city and healing will begin when we sit and look into each others’ eyes and listen deeply to each others’ stories.
After that, I purchased the url letstalkaboutracism.com. I haven’t done anything with it yet, but I know that one of the things I need to do is to invite more people into a conversation around racism and how it wounds us all. I have no idea how to fix this, but I know how to hold space for difficult conversations, so that is what I intend to do. Circles have the capacity to hold deep healing work, and I will find a way to offer them where I can.
Since then, I have had moments of clarity about what needs to be done next, but far more moments of doubt and fear. At present, I am sitting with both the clarity and the doubt, trying to hold both and trying to be present for what wants to be born.
Here are some of the things that are showing up in my internal dialogue:
- Isn’t it a little arrogant to think I have any expertise to offer in this area? There are so many more qualified people than me.
- What if I offend the Indigenous people by offering my ideas, and become like the colonizers who think they have the answers and refuse to listen to the wisdom of the people they’re trying to help?
- There are already many people doing healing work on this issue, and many of them are already holding Indigenous circles. I have nothing unique to contribute.
- What if I host sharing circles and too much trauma and/or conflict shows up in the circle and I don’t know how to hold it?
- What if this is just my ego trying to do something “important” and get attention for me rather than the cause?
And so the conversation in my head goes back and forth. And the conversations outside of my head (with other people) aren’t much different.
At the same time as this has been going on, I have been working through the first two weeks of course material for U Lab: Transforming Business, Society and Self. In one of the course videos, Otto Sharmer talks about the four levels of listening – from downloading (where we listen to confirm habitual judgements), to factual (listening by paying attention to facts and to novel or disconfirming data), to empathic (where we listen with our hearts and not just our minds), and finally to generative (where we move with the person speaking into communion and transformaton).
As soon as I read that, I knew that whatever I do to help create space for healing in my city, it has to start with a place of deep listening – generative listening, where all those in the circle can move into communion and transformation. I also knew, as I sat with that idea, that that generative listening has to begin with me.
If I am to serve in this role, I need to be prepared to move out of my comfort zone, into generative listening with people who have been wounded by racism in our city AND with people who live with racial blindspots. AND (in the words of Otto Sharmer) I need to move out of an ego-system mentality (where I am seeking my own interest first), into a generative, eco-system mentality (where I am seeking the best interest of the community and world around me).
So that is my intention, starting this week. I already have a meeting planned with an Indigenous friend who has contributed to, and wants to teach, an adult curriculum on racism, to find out how I can support her in this work. And I will be meeting with another friend, a talented Indigenous musician, about possible partnership opportunities. And I will be a sitting in an Indigenous sharing circle, listening deeply to their stories.
I am not sharing these stories to say “look at me and all of the good things I’m doing”. That would be my ego talking, and that’s one of the things I’m trying to avoid. Instead, I’m sharing it to say “look at the complexity that a thinking woman (sometimes over-thinking woman) goes through in order to become an effective, and humble, change-maker.
That brings me back to the quote at the top of the page.
“The success of our actions as change-makers does not depend on what we do or how we do it, but on the inner place from which we operate.” – Otto Sharmer
The inner place. That is what will determine the success of our actions. I can have all the smart ideas in the world, and a big network of people to help roll them out, but if I have not done the internal work first, my success will be limited.
If I don’t do the inner work first, then my ego will run rampant and I will stomp all over the people that I say I care about. Or I will suffer from jealousy, or self doubt, or self-centredness, or vindictiveness, or all of the above.
If I don’t do the internal work and ask myself important questions about what is rooted in my ego and what is generative, then I could potentially do more harm than good.
So how do I do that internal work? Here are some of the things that I do:
1. As we say in Art of Hosting work, I host myself first. In other words, I ask of myself whatever I would ask of others I might invite into circle, I look for both my shadows and my strengths, and I do the kind of self-care I would encourage my clients to do when they find themselves in the middle of big shifts.
2. I ask myself a few pointed questions to determine whether the ego is too involved. For example, when my friend came to me to share the work she wants to do, hosting circles in the curriculum she has developed, there was a little ego-voice that spoke up and said “But wait! This was supposed to be YOUR work! If you support her, you’ll have to be in the background.” The moment I heard that voice, I had to ask myself “do you truly want to make a difference around the issue of racism or do you just want to make a name for yourself?” And: “If this is successful in impacting change, but you have only a secondary role, is it still worthwhile?” It didn’t take long for me to know that I wanted to be wholeheartedly behind her work.
3. I pause. As we learn in Theory U, the pause is the most important part – it’s where the really juicy stuff happens. The pause is where we notice patterns that we were too busy to notice before. It’s where the voice of wisdom speaks through the noise. It’s where we are more able to sink into generative listening. In Theory U, we call it “presencing” – a combination of “presence” and “sensing”. There’s a quality of mindfulness in the pause that helps me notice and experience more and be awake to receive more wisdom.
4. I do the practices that help bring me to wise thought and wise action. For me, it’s journaling, art, mandala-making, nature walks, and labyrinth walks. I never make a major decision without spending intentional time in one of those practices. Almost always, something more profound and wise shows up that I wouldn’t have considered earlier.
5. I listen. The ego doesn’t want me to seek input from other people. The ego wants to be in control and not invite partners in to share the spotlight. If I want to move out of ego-system, though, I need to spend time listening for others’ stories and wisdom. This doesn’t mean I listen to EVERYONE. Instead, I use my discretion about who are the right people to seek wise council from. I listen to those who have done their own personal work, whose own egos won’t try to trap me and keep me from succeeding, and who genuinely care about the issue I’m working on.
6. I check in with myself and then move into action when I’m ready. Although the pause, the questions, and the personal practice are all very important, the movement into action is equally important. There have been far too many times when my questions and ego have trapped me in a spiral and I’ve failed to move into action. Just thinking about it won’t impact change. I need to be prepared to act, even if I still have doubt. If I fail in that action, I can always go back and re-enter the presencing stage.
This is an ongoing story and I hope to continue sharing it as it emerges. If you, too, want to become a change-maker, then I’d love to hear from you. What are the processes you go through in order to ensure your “inner place” is healthy and your listening and actions are generative? What issues are currently calling you into action?
If this resonates with you, check out The Spiral Path, which begins February 1st. Based on the three stages of the labyrinth, (release, receive, and return), it invites you to go inward to do this internal work and then to move outward to serve in the way that you are called.
Also… we’re looking for a few more change-makers to attend Engage, a one-of-a-kind retreat that will teach you more about how to do your inner work so that you can move into generative action.
This post is part of the 30-Day Bloom Your Online Relationships Challenge. If you’d like to play along, you can sign up here (don’t worry — it’s FREE). We’re working through these small, powerful actions together and sharing our questions, learnings and experiences in a Facebook group. And we’d love to have you join us!
In the group facilitation work I do (in The Art of Hosting and Harvesting Meaningful Conversations), there’s a mantra that we repeat to ourselves long before we enter the room to host a retreat, facilitate a planning session, mediate a conflict, teach a class, etc. It’s simple – just three words…
Host yourself first.
What does it mean to “host yourself first”? It means, simply, that anything I am prepared to encounter once I walk into that room, I need to be prepared to encounter and host in myself first. In order to prepare myself for conflict, frustration, ego, fear, anger, weariness, envy, injustice, etc., I need to sit with myself, look into my own heart, bear witness to what I see there, and address it in whatever way I need to before I can do it for others. I can’t hide any of that stuff in the shadows, because what is hidden there tends to come out in ways I don’t want it to when I am under stress inside the room.
AND just as I am prepared to offer compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and resolution to anything that shows up in the room, I need to offer it to myself first. Only when I am present for myself and compassionate with myself will I be prepared to host with strength and courage.
To serve the world well, I need to serve myself first.
How do I do that? I do it by being honest with myself about my emotions, by engaging in the creative/spiritual practices that sustain and enrich me, by working things through in my journal or in a walk in the woods, by engaging in self-care, by getting support from the right people, and by claiming my own power and authority before I step into the room.
A few years ago, I was frustrated over what was happening on social media and I started questioning my presence there. I was getting dragged down by pettiness, I was feeling pressured into “doing social media marketing the way the pros tell me to”, I was wasting too much time in mindless surfing, and it was all feeling rather icky. I was suddenly painfully aware that I’d let go of my authentic voice and my sense of purpose.
And then the words I’d repeated so often in my in-person work came back to me… “Host yourself first.” Oh yeah… right.
So I asked myself, “what if I apply this to my presence on social media?” What if, when I’m on Facebook or Twitter, I take myself more seriously and consider myself to be “hosting meaningful conversations” the way I’m doing in retreats and in the classroom? What if – before I post anything – I check in with myself to test the emotions around what I’m posting and to make sure it’s coming from a place of authenticity and positivity rather than ego and marketing? What if, before I walk into the “room” on Facebook, I make sure I’m clear about my own values and passions and boundaries? How will that change the way I interact?
I started experimenting with it, and it didn’t take long to realize that my online presence had shifted. I was returning to my authentic voice. I wasn’t just posting for the sake of being popular or funny or to make a sale. I didn’t do anything just because the pros told me I should do it, but instead I did what flowed organically from who I was and how I wanted to be in the world.
To solidify my commitment to hosting myself first online, I wrote my social media manifesto, naming all of my intentions in how I wanted to show up online. (Click on it to see it larger, or scroll to the bottom of the page.) I shared it and invited others to do the same.
People started responding. Beautiful conversations resulted. New and deeper relationships grew. More people bought what I was selling because it was coming from the kind of authentic heart that people were longing for. My business grew and my social media reach grew, but more importantly my relationships grew.
How do you host yourself first?
Here are a few tips:
1. Do your personal work before you go online. Start with whatever creative/spiritual practice sustains and enriches you – art, meditation, journaling, dance, walking, etc.
2. Sit with your emotions before you broadcast them. Are you angry, sad, disappointed, confused? Sit with them for awhile, without judgement, and honour what is showing up. Ask yourself: “Is this is an emotion that is worth sharing (and perhaps asking for support for) or worth holding close to my heart?”
3. Ask yourself each day how you can be of service to the world. How can you serve the people in your social media stream – with uplifting posts, with humour, with invitations to justice and compassion, with offers to support them, with meaningful conversation, with reminders of how beautiful/kind/courageous/resilient they are?
4. Remind yourself that each person in your social media stream (including yourself) wants to be loved. When you think of it that way, then the things they do that annoy you are softened somewhat because you recognize in them a quest for attention and love.
5. Choose your own mantra that you repeat to yourself before you post or respond to anything. It can simply be a question: “Is this authentic to who I am?” or “Is this serving the world in a positive way?” Or a statement “I choose beauty.” or “I am a messenger of light.”
6. Think of yourself as a facilitator or host when you appear on social media. If this were a party or retreat you were hosting, what kind of atmosphere would you like to create? How would you like to make people feel about themselves? What kind of conversations do you want to facilitate?
7. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to anyone else you’re hosting. If you were hosting a party and someone was feeling down and discouraged, you’d sit next to them and listen to them and offer encouragement. If they were celebrating something, you’d celebrate with them. Offer the same kind of compassion, encouragement, and friendship to yourself. When you do that to yourself first, you’ll feel much stronger and more able to withstand the highs and lows of social media engagement.
8. Write your own social media manifesto. Start by journaling about all of the things that are important to you about how you want to engage online. Then write a list of your commitments. Share them or keep them to yourself – whatever feels right. If you want to, share them in the BYOR Facebook group.
NOTE: When you’re done trying out today’s challenge, come visit us on Facebook and let us know how it went. What did you share? What was the response? Was it easy for you? Hard? No right or wrong answers here — we’re all just experimenting!
Image credit: Leyton Parker
Earlier this week, I was feeling a little discouraged about the “me, me, ME culture” that seems so pervasive in our North American affluence. I wrote a bit about that in my post about all of us being citizens of the world.
Some days, I go through my social media streams, or I stand in a grocery story checkout, and almost all I see are self-focused posts, advertisements, and magazine headlines about how “you deserve to pamper yourself” and “you can make all of your dreams come true” and “you owe it to yourself to buy yourself more things” and “you can manifest abundance and an easy life”.
It makes me want to say what I sometimes say to my children, “It’s not all about YOU!”
Let me say right from the start… self-care is a good and necessary thing, and I am in no way suggesting that you shouldn’t be good to yourself. Many of us struggle with being kind to ourselves, so I understand the importance of reminding people to take care of themselves. I do this often in my courses, workshops, and coaching sessions. I was raised by a mother who modelled self-sacrifice and self-deprecation, so I know how hard it can be to honour ourselves.
The problem is, many of us replace self-care with self-centredness. We justify selfishness – buying ourselves extravagant and wasteful things, doing things that harm the earth, and ignoring other people in our communities – because we believe that we deserve it. In doing so, we isolate ourselves and we marginalize others.
We forget that we need community. We forget that we need to serve each other. We forget that in all of our lives, there will come a time when we will need to rely on the compassion and kindness of other people. My broken foot this week is reminding me of just that – I need people to do many things for me that I would normally do myself.
After the discouragement earlier this week, I started reading various stories coming out of Gezi Park in Turkey that gave me renewed faith in humanity. What began as a protest against the destruction of the park has grown into so much more. People are standing up to police brutality to protest the way that the concerns of common citizens are ignored by their government. In the process, they have created a beautiful community where they share food, make art, do yoga, look after each other, and dance.
One of the most beautiful stories I read was that of the mothers who showed up to form a human chain between the protestors and police after the Prime Minister told them to take their kids out of the park to protect their safety. I was so moved by that story, in fact, that I created a Facebook group to represent a virtual chain of mothers who stand in solidarity with those mothers.
What I love about these stories is the fact that they show that, at our hearts, we are a communal and compassionate people. When there is need among us, we show up for each other. When someone else is threatened, we stand united against the threat. This doesn’t just happen in Turkey – it happens in all parts of the world.
In the Art of Hosting work, there is something called the Four Fold Practice, which teaches that wholeness in this work (and in our lives) comes when we commit to each of the four practices:
- Be Present and cultivate a strong practice of hosting yourself.
- Participate in conversations with deep listening and contributing from the heart
- Host others with good process
- Co-create a way forward together
This is a beautiful reminder that, to live in community and in a world that needs each of us to show up and offer our gifts, we must host ourselves, participate actively, host others, and co-create a way forward. None of these can stand alone, and none of these is a complete picture. Unless you host yourself, you cannot offer deep listening to others, nor will you be prepared to host others.
I created this mandala awhile ago, playing with the idea that all four of these practices are connected, that there is a flow and an interdependence among them as we learn to work with our own gifts and the gifts of others, and that they are all part of what it means to be in circle with each other.
The more I do this work, the more I know that it is imperative, paradigm-shifting work. We cannot continue to function in a self-centred world, nor can we function well if we fail to care for ourselves or others. We need to rely on each other, but we also need to recognize our own strengths.
If you want to learn more about this, you’re welcome to attend a one-day introductory workshop on The Art of Hosting and Harvesting Conversations that Matter that I’ll be co-hosting in Winnipeg on July 24th.