On surrender, trust, and abundance

Last Friday was a bad day – one of the worst I’ve had in a long time. I spent a lot of time worrying and stressing and trying to control the outcome of things that were outside of my control. I also spent a lot of time beating myself up for doing these things (because I know better), and then getting really down on myself for not being further evolved than I am.

I won’t go into all of the details of what was going on, but one of the things was my disappointment over low sales of Lead with Your Wild Heart. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on this program and many emails of interest, and I am completely convinced that it is a beautiful and meaningful program, so I let myself believe that those things would translate into significant sales. I was wrong. For whatever reasons (a saturated market, wrong time of year, marketing to the wrong people – your guess is as good as mine), sales were low, and that means that once my current contracts end at the end of June, I’ll have to work harder at finding more sources of income over the summer. Sigh.

Things began to shift over the weekend, though. I took a couple of long walks in the woods, visited the museum with my family, and walked the labyrinth where crocuses are beginning to bloom. The coming of Spring helped to shift my perspective. Life can’t be all bad when crocuses are blooming.

A few things kept going through my mind on the weekend. First of all, I reminded myself of an ongoing mantra of mine… “The outcome is not my responsibility.” In other words, I am not responsible for how many people show up to receive my teaching, I am only responsible for whether or not I offer my gifts and whether I do my best to make them available to people. I’m doing that. I’ve poured my heart and soul into Lead with Your Wild Heart and I KNOW that it is the best possible expression of my gifts. I also know that it is a deeply meaningful journey for people who choose to take it. I offer, people receive, and that is all that I am responsible for. The numbers have no relevance to the value of the offering.

The other thing that kept going through my mind was what we’re taught in Art of Hosting“whoever shows up are the right people.” This is what I tell myself every time I teach a course, host a retreat, or throw a party. Even if only two people show up, they are the right people. Even if I show up alone, I am the right people. There is value in large gatherings, and there is value in small. If the offering is made, the right people will show up whether it’s two or twenty or two hundred.

And so I spent my weekend surrendering, trusting, and letting go. I walked, I prayed, I released, and I trusted.

Now, there are some simplistic versions of this story that we all want to believe in, and one of those versions would be this: “After letting it all go, I attracted abundance, hundreds of people showed up and I was rich.” That’s the version you might seek after focusing on things like the Law of Attraction or The Secret. I hear that version ALL THE TIME on the internet and I cringe every time I do.

That version has a limited view of what “abundance” means. That version sees abundance as monetary gain, or all of those things that make life easy and smooth.

The real version of the story is still about abundance, but it has nothing about money or fame, or even ease.

Only a couple of more people registered. No crowds were knocking down my door. Abundance showed up in different ways.

On Monday, it suddenly occurred to me that there was absolutely nothing on my calendar on Tuesday. AND I didn’t have any projects due or papers that needed to be marked right away. WHAT?! How could that be? My calendar has been over-crowded for months now, and there is almost always a to-do list a mile long.

Not only was the day wide open, but the weather was stunningly beautiful after many long months of snow and cold.

A free day AND beautiful weather? That sounded like abundance to me!

I dedicated the day entirely to self-care. After dropping the girls off at school, I packed my journal and camera, bought a chai latte, and headed out to a provincial park not far from the city. I found a hiking trail and I wandered for hours in the woods. Then I stopped at the beach, and dipped my toes in the water, feeling like I’d been sprung from the prison of a long, hard winter. When I got hungry, I drove into the city, picked up some picnic food, and ate lunch at a special place called Oodena, a celebration circle near the forks of the two rivers that run through our city.

It was an exquisite day and I relished every moment of it.

But it got even better…

In the evening, I came home to find a package had been delivered by someone my daughter didn’t know. Inside was one of the most beautiful hand-knit shawls I’ve ever seen. I was dumbfounded. This was for ME?! I opened the letter in the package and discovered that it was a gift from a very special woman who’s been a student in my Creative Discovery class. She’d poured love and prayers into every stitch of it – specially for me. “Heather, I prayed that you and your family would be blessed with all that God knows is right for you and that He would guide you and give you the wisdom you need as you travel your path. His beautiful shawls seem to have a wonderful ability to heal, to encourage and comfort and to give solace and protection, especially in difficult times, and they give the most warm Divine hugs too.”

The shawl is burgundy and magenta, and this is what she learned about the meaning of the colour magenta: “Magenta represents universal love at its highest level. It promotes compassion, kindness, and cooperation and encourages a sense of self-respect and contentment. Magenta is the colour of the non-conformist, the free spirit. It pushes you to take responsibility for creating your own path in life. Magenta inspires change, transformation, growth and personal development.” And then she added: “Do you recognize yourself in all this?”


prayer shawl

It was especially meaningful to receive this gift from someone I met through one of my courses. She has been touched by my work to offer her own gifts. (Her first book is coming out in publication next week!) What more could I ask for than to be an inspiration for other people so that gifts continue to flow in the world? I don’t need hundreds of people to show up – I just need the RIGHT people to show up!

And… I don’t need a lot of money, when I have abundance of another kind. I have the abundance of being part of a gift economy that can never be measured by monetary transactions.

Just one more story of abundance and the gift economy… this morning I went to yoga class at my favourite studio and I didn’t have to pay for it. Why? Because I have exchanged coaching sessions for yoga sessions with my coaching teacher! We are both sharing abundance and money has nothing to do with it.

Yes, abundance shows up, but it may not look the way we expect it to look, and it may only show up when we’ve walked through the fire of surrender and trust.

The promise I made to myself

18 - ring

Three and a half years ago, I brought myself a promise ring.

I was visiting Banff at the time, after a business-related road trip through Western Canada. Visiting Banff always brings up mixed emotions for me. I love the beauty of the place, in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, but it holds a sad story from my past. I lived there the summer I turned 19, and it wasn’t a particularly happy summer. I was in that “trying to decide whether to stay safe in life or to take more chances and risk getting hurt” phase of early adulthood. Sadly, I let the things that happened to me that summer convince me that safe was a better option. I gave up the plans I’d had to change schools and move to another province and I went back home to nurse my wounds and play it safe.

One of the places that always brings up deep longing for me is the Banff Centre. When I lived there, my roommates and I sometimes went to watch visiting performers, and each time I went, I’d think “oh, if only I were talented enough to spend time at a place like this!”

When I visited three and a half years ago, I drove past the Centre and started to cry. I cried for the young woman I was more than twenty years earlier who believed she wasn’t talented or worthy. I cried for the hurts that young woman had already suffered and had yet to suffer. I cried for the long journey I’ve had since then, learning to trust both my worthiness and my longings, and learning to be both resilient and courageous through the hard times.

When I drove back into town after visiting the Centre and the resort where I spent the summer cleaning other people’s mess out of hotel rooms, I wandered through the downtown and dropped in at a jewellery store. In a flash of inspiration, I bought myself a promise ring with a blue chalcedony stone.  (I later learned that the chalcedony speaks of spirit and trust and is known as the Speaker’s Stone, the stone of one who must measure his words. It encourages reflection and meditation, its gentle radiance preparing us for action but helping to hold back words we might regret. The great Roman orator, Cicero, is said to have worn one around his neck.)

Later that day, I sat in a cafe with my journal and wrote the following promise to myself:

I promise:
– I will take more chances.
– I will believe that I am an artist.
– I will trust my ability.
– I will look for opportunities to paint and make art as often as I can.
– I will sign up for another class or workshop that stretches me.
– I will honour the muse.

I couldn’t go back and make those promises for my 19 year old self, but it wasn’t too late to make them for my 40+ self.

Last week, in the last lesson for Lead with Your Wild Heart, I invited participants to make a commitment to themselves and to honour it with some kind of gift, like a ring. That tweaked my memory and I went back to find the original post I wrote about the promise ring I’d bought for myself. I started crying all over again – not because I was sad anymore for my 19 year old self, but because I am delighted for my 46 year old self that I can honestly say that I have kept my promise to myself.

I have done just what I said I’d do. I took more chances (quit my job and started a business), started making more art and taking art classes, I’ve been honouring the muse, and trusting my own ability.

Nothing to date has felt so much like an honouring of that promise as the creation of Lead with Your Wild Heart. Nothing has felt so much like it is emerging out of my most authentic, most beautiful, most Spirit-guided self.

I’ve just opened registration for the second offering of Lead with Your Wild Heart, and I can say that I am thrilled beyond expectation with how beautifully it has turned out. This has been an exercise in trusting my own wild heart, and I know that it will serve as a gift to all those who take it into their own wild hearts.

And now… can I tell you a little secret? I’m dreaming of taking some version of Lead with Your Wild Heart to the Banff Centre for Leadership Development. I don’t know yet how to make that happen, but I’m sharing the dream in hopes that will help me get closer to it.

I’m trusting my wild heart and seeing where it leads.

Hosting the future that wants to emerge (using Theory U in a women’s leadership circle)

I have the great privilege these days of co-hosting a women’s leadership program that meets every second week in a small town an hour and a half from the city where I live. There are so many things about this that I love, including the fact that I have a regular reason to drive out into the country and see the wide open prairies and the wild, alluring woods. With no parents left to visit, I don’t get out to my rural roots often enough to suit me.

On the drive out there yesterday, we had a rare and wonderful sighting of a lynx as it dashed across the road and ran off into the snowy woods. It felt like a moment of blessing.

Yesterday’s session focused on facilitating change. The best change process I know of is Theory U, a process I was first immersed in at ALIA Summer Institute and that I’ve been a dedicated student of since.

I introduced the idea of a Change Lab, where-in we would walk through the U process by casting ourselves in the role of community leaders who recognize the need for change in how the community is organized.

I started out by sharing the story of Baba Yaga’s House in Paris, France, a home created for aging feminists by a circle of women who realized that none of the available models for seniors’ housing fit with their values or expectations of how they wanted to live. (I encourage you to listen to the podcast at the link above.) “Imagine we are these women,” I said. “We are faced with an established community model we know doesn’t work for us, and yet we haven’t found a new model that we’re comfortable with.”

From there I moved on to an explanation of Theory U, a method for co-creating social change. Instead of trying to find a direct route from challenge to solution – the way some of the more linear models do, with brainstorming, strategic planning, etc. – Theory U takes us on a deep dive into the unknown. Instead of trying to direct change, we host what is wanting to be born. Instead of trying to control, we let go and let come. Instead of expecting the future to look like the past with just a few tweaks, we invite a new future to spiral up out of the brokenness of the past.

Theory UIn Theory U there are three main parts – sensing, presencing and realizing. In the sensing phase, we are invited to use all of our senses to witness what is present. We are invited to suspend our judgements, opinions, assumptions and mental models, and to use our eyes and ears and the feeling of our bodies to sense into whatever the context is. We host conversations, we ask good questions, we listen deeply, we watch with full attention, and we notice how our bodies feel.

In the presencing phase, we are invited into the inner work of grounding ourselves in our bodies and paying attention to what is emerging. We listen into the space and learn from the future as it emerges, letting go of our expertise and experience. Rather than moving directly into problem solving or brainstorming, we take time for retreat and reflection. The best place for presencing is outside in nature where we ground ourselves in the earth and lean into the trees.

The third phase is Realizing. In this phase – on the upward movement out of the U – we “let come” what wants to emerge. We bring insights, sparks of inspiration, and crystals of ideas into prototypes. We move into action quickly and create small projects that can move the vision forward.

When I introduced Theory U to a women’s circle in Ontario last year, someone pointed out that I’d just drawn a woman’s breast. She said it with laughter, but when we started to unpack that, we realize that there was resonant truth to what she witnessed. This process definitely has a feminine aspect to it (as is laid out in this article by Arawana Hayashi) and it relates well to an infant suckling at the source of his/her life. It’s about going back to Source, it’s about seeking nurturing and rebirth, and it’s about the kind of rest and retreat that a mother must seek every few hours when an infant needs to suckle. It’s about being innocent, vulnerable, uneducated, without judgement, and open to a new future, just like that tiny baby. Since that first observation, I’ve brought up the idea every time I introduce it, and it always opens up interesting dialogue.

Once I had introduced the Theory, it was time to move into practice. To start with, I did one of my favourite things to do in workshops – I dumped a pile of garbage on the floor (things I’d gathered from my household recycling bin). “This,” I said, “represents the chaos and brokenness of the systems that no longer work for us. Out of this, something new wants to emerge, but we don’t yet know what it is. It will be up to us to host that new thing into being, without relying on what was or casting judgement on the ‘way it’s supposed to be’.”

In the Sensing phase, I asked them to sit in one-on-one conversations with a few different people in the room. “Ask deep questions, explore what is present, and use your senses to witness what is. Suspend judgement and don’t rely on past or second-hand information.”

IMG_3879After a few rounds of conversation (too short, but all the time we had), they were invited to move into Presencing. “If it weren’t a cold winter night outside,” I said, “I’d encourage you to move outside for this part. Instead, find a quiet place inside where you can be alone with your thoughts and with whatever wants to emerge.” (As an aside, it felt beautifully appropriate that we were gathered inside a mandala home, a circular home built with great intention around honouring the four directions, giving space at the centre, and blending into the beauty of nature that surrounds it.)

The next phase brought them back to the garbage on the floor, where they began to explore what wanted to emerge. Some felt stuck and really didn’t connect right away with the garbage on the floor. Others were eager to jump in and host the emerging future. Before long, though, everyone had made a valuable contribution to the scale model of the new community that wanted to be born.

We spread our community out on a large piece of cardboard on the table. Some pieces represented a connection with nature, others represented a connection with our neighbours, others represented a connection with opportunities/arts/beauty/etc., and still others represented a deeper connection with self and the sacred.

When we sat discussing the panorama in front of us, we realized that the resounding theme of what was emerging was connection. We were all longing for connection – with each other, with the earth, with the water, with the Sacred, and with ourselves.

IMG_4020One woman asked “If recycling is the bi-product of a culture of consumption, what can replace consumption as our dominant paradigm that will no longer have a requirement for recycling?” Connection, we agreed. We need deeper connection.

Before we departed for the night, I invited the women to consider (in their private moments, when they were back in their homes) “How might each of us be ambassadors for connection in our communities? How might we begin to invite this future into the circles in which we live?”

The women left with new lights in their eyes that hadn’t been there when they’d entered the room – all because of a pile of garbage and a time of connection.

(Next week’s session flows beautifully out of this… We’ll be talking about making connections in women’s leadership circles, using the new toolkit created by my teachers Christina Baldwin, Ann Linnea, and Margaret Wheatley.)

Note: If you want more inspiration on this, visit Presencing Institute, read Theory U, Presencing, or Walk Out Walk On.  

My wild-hearted wisdom circle

As soon as I began to imagine Lead with your Wild Heart, I knew that it would be a program that would bring together the wisdom of a broad circle of people. I started making a list of the authentic, vulnerable, and wild-hearted people that I admired and that I knew that people could learn from, and the list kept getting longer and longer. (To be honest, it could be three times as long, but I had to draw the line somewhere.)

When I sent out invitations to these people, almost without fail they responded with “yes, yes, YES! This is a beautiful thing and I want to be part of it!” In the end, I have gathered together an incredible wisdom circle and I am excited to share these amazing people with you.

Here’s a brief introduction to who they are and how they’ve inspired me (in no particular order). To learn more about their wild-hearted wisdom, you’ll have to register for Lead with your Wild Heart!

About a dozen years ago, when I was feeling rather lost in my leadership journey, I started looking for new leadership models and I came across the work of Christina Baldwin and her partner Ann Linnea. Christina and Ann’s primary work revolves around bringing circle back into the way we gather in our communities and workplaces. In that dark moment, it felt like they lit a candle for me, offering me hope of a better future. Since then, I’ve read almost everything Christina has written and I’ve had the privilege of participating in a story/circle workshop with her. I consider her to be one of my greatest teachers. I now use the PeerSpirit Circle Guidelines for almost every course, workshop, or conversation I facilitate. I highly recommend Christina and Ann’s book The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair.

Janell Kapoor likes to play with mud. With a passion for living in close connection with the earth, she teaches natural home building and is the founder of Kleiwerks International. She has traveled around the world, both as a student and teacher of natural home building techniques. Janell has a beautiful spirit that’s quickly evident when you have a chance to chat with her. One of the things I learned about her recently is that she loves to walk barefoot in the woods, which seems like a great way to get in touch with your wild heart!

I became intrigued with Marianne Knuth’s story when I first read about it in Storycatcher (by Christina Baldwin). Not long after reading about her, I had the pleasure of meeting Marianne at ALIA, where she was one of the hosts. Marianne is the founder of Kufunda Learning Village in Zimbabwe, a place I long to visit some day. Kufunda seeks to create their own sustainable solutions in a country that has been wracked with financial crisis and conflict. Built on a unique model that encourages people to be self-reliant, community-oriented, and resilient, members of the village develop (and share) skills in permaculture, organic farming, making herbal remedies out of locally grown plants, eco-building, renewable energy, and community building.

Jodi Crane found her wild heart through play. She is a play therapist, a counseling professor, and a mom who loves to be creative. I love the fact that she has a long list of credentials (including a PhD in Counseling and Student Services) that would imply that she’s a serious scholar, and yet her greatest joy and the wisdom she shares most broadly with the world is the gift of play. If anyone knows the value of bringing more play into our journeys toward our own wild hearts, she does!

The first thing that happens when you get a chance to talk to Julie Daley is that you get lost in her deep, wise, and soulful eyes. In her presence, I feel instantly safe and seen. She is an open-hearted and wise healer, catalyst, dancer, and writer. She writes beautifully at Unabashedly Female, she teaches creativity and leadership at Stanford University, and she offers coaching and courses that help guide women into their own internal landscape, a land where the sacred feminine makes herself known in Her own way.

I first met Michael Jones when we were both participants in a leadership intensive at ALIA Summer Institute. He didn’t speak often in the workshop, but when he did, his words were rich with wisdom. One evening, he delivered the keynote address and played the piano. Even on stage, his words were few and measured (and interspersed with some of the most gorgeous music I’d ever heard), but WOW did they pack a punch! He spoke about the power of place, and then he demonstrated by playing music that had evolved out of certain places that were meaningful to him. The next day, I rushed to the bookstore to buy his book Artful Leadership and his cd Almost Home. I devoured his book as soon as I got home and listened to his cd non-stop for weeks. My view of leadership was transformed. More than anything, he gave me permission to believe what I had always wanted to believe, that “in a time of vast mistrust we need leaders who are candid and truthful, willing to be present to their vulnerabilities, fears, and concerns, and able to articulate them as openly and thoughtfully as their aspirations, dreams, and ideas for change.”

Three years ago, I encountered Christine Claire Reed online and knew almost instantly that we were kindred spirits. At the time, she was just beginning to rediscover her love of dance. Having dealt with years of rather debilitating depression, her journey in recent years has taken her to a place of healing and wild-hearted wholeness through dance. After immersing herself in various forms of yoga dance, healing dance, and elder dance, she took a courageous step and opened the Girl on Fire Movement Studio a year ago. She now teaches women to get back into their bodies to find healing and hope.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Filiz Telek is the term “imaginal cell”. Like the cells in a chrysalis that hold the hope of the future, she senses the beauty of the butterfly world emerging. She has spent the last couple of years living in the gift economy and traveling to places where she sees the Brave New World emerging. Her role in life is to serve as a storyteller, filmmaker, and edgewalker, showing us glimpses into the future that help propel us forward with hope. I don’t think I could improve upon the way she describes herself: “Wild at heart, free in Spirit, curious in mind, I am a nomadic artist, world traveler, spiritual seeker, a process host, a social innovator, an Earth activist, a community organizer whose purpose is to serve the evolution of human consciousness and awakening a sense of possibility and sacred in human heart & spirit.”

I was intrigued with Ronna Detrick from the first time I discovered her blog. She specializes in seeing the wisdom stories about women in the Bible through fresh (and often controversial) eyes. It was this freshness that really resonated for me, and I kept going back for more. Since then I have had the privilege of having many Skype conversations with Ronna and have benefited from her wisdom, her doubt, her questions, and her big open heart. She is a truth-teller who boldly takes the women she teaches and coaches into deeper understanding of themselves and their faith.

The first time I heard Peter Block speak at ALIA in Columbus, Ohio, I spent most of the time scribbling in my notebook because I didn’t want to forget even one tiny bit of the wisdom that flowed from his mouth. His words resonated in such a deep way that I felt like I had come home. One of the first things I remember him saying was “when we gather like this, with you sitting in rows of chairs and me standing at the front teaching you, we are accepting the patriarchal view of the world, where one has the power and wisdom and the others have to sit in subservient positions receiving it.” He went on to talk about how badly we need to move back into community, based on feminine wisdom and the shared leadership of a circle. After his talk, I approached him and said “as a woman who deeply believes what you’re talking about, I would love it if you would write a book about the rise of feminine wisdom. You have a lot of influence and I think more people need to hear about this.” He laughed and said “that’s not my job. It’s yours. You write the book and I’ll support you.”  Well, I haven’t written the book, but in teaching this course, I’m taking a step in that direction, and I’m pleased to say that he’s living up to his commitment to supporting me. Peter is the author of several books, including Community, The Abundant Community, The Answer to How is Yes, and Stewardship. 

Some day I want to meet Gail Larsen to learn from her and to thank her for the wisdom she has shared with the world. I have been aware of her teachings for awhile, but really immersed myself in them last year when I listened to an audio version of her book Transformational Speaking on a long drive across the prairies. Transformational Speaking is a process that reveals the part of you that is fully capable – right now – of opening hearts, inspiring change, and moving others to act through public speaking. It’s about finding your “original medicine” and speaking from your wild heart. I’m exited about my first (and hopefully not my last) opportunity to speak with Gail!

I think the first thing that created a bond between Lianne Raymond and me were our stories of similar childhoods growing up in the prairies. It didn’t take long to discover that the things we had in common went much deeper than that. Lianne is a gifted teacher and coach, and I think that her greatest gift is her ability to reach right to the heart of a matter before most people have even begun to scratch the surface. She serves as my wisdom-source whenever I have questions about Jungian psychology or Marion Woodman teachings. Through her coaching and teaching, she helps people to live and love with wild abandon.

Soon after Connie Hozvicka and I met online, we began to discover remarkable synchronicity. We would often find ourselves going through similar experiences or having the same thought processes in reaction to what we witnessed. At the beginning of our friendship, Connie and I were both stuck in jobs that no longer made us happy. Within months of each other, we each took bold and scary steps into self-employment. Connie now runs Dirty Footprints Studio where she awakens fearless creativity in others, inspires each soul to radiate their heart’s unique expression, and guides individuals to ruthlessly trust their innate wisdom. I’ve had the pleasure of participating in one of Connie’s live workshops, and I can tell you that she teaches with a wild-hearted passion and authenticity.

I first encountered Deborah Frieze when I read the book she co-wrote with Meg Wheatley called Walk Out Walk On. Not long afterward, I had the pleasure of participating in a leadership intensive workshop that Deborah was teaching at ALIA. The workshop was based on five of the stories that are shared in the book, of communities from around the world that have walked out of unsolveable problems and destructive individualism and walked on to create the world they wished for. It was one of the most inspirational workshops I’d even attended, and I now refer to the book often in my own teaching. Deborah walked out of her own career as an executive in the high-tech industry, following her wild heart into work that sustained and energized her, supporting friends and colleagues around the world who are creating healthy and resilient communities.

Chris Zydel is the Wild Heart Queen herself and I am tickled pink that she will be part of this program. Few people model wild-hearted living as much as Chris does, and I am delighted to have her as a friend and mentor. For more than thirty years, she’s been serving as a creativity mentor for women (and a few men), first as a psychotherapist, and now as a teacher (and writer) of Creative Juices Arts. Though I haven’t yet been to one of her retreats, I can tell by the photos and videos that they are juicy, deep, soulful, and wild-hearted. At her retreats (and teacher training) she teaches people to paint from their wild hearts in an environment of encouragement that awakens their artist’s souls and challenges them to become spiritual adventurers journeying to their own creative source.

It wasn’t long after Desiree Adaway and I met on Twitter that we started to joke that we’d been separated at birth. (Don’t let the colour of our skin fool you!) In many ways, we could be twins – she just came out of the womb a few months earlier than me. We have similar world views, we’re both raising daughters, we’re both passionate about social justice, we both spent many years of our careers in leadership in international development, and we’ve both been to some of the poorest parts of the world. From the start, when we were both on the verge of walking away from the non-profits we were working for, Desiree and I have served as a mutual support system for each other – sometimes she does the crying and sometimes I do. Though we’re similar, we also balance each other off. When I get a little lost in my untamed creativity, she keeps my feet on the ground. When she overworks herself or gets stuck in left brain patterns, I send her to the store for coloured markers and tell her to start playing. Desiree serves as a consultant and coach to organizations that are dreaming of a better world. She’s fierce, bold, wild-hearted, and full of wisdom.

The first thing that drew me to Hali Karla was her prayer paintings. In one of the first posts I saw, she was inviting people to send her prayers which she then printed and embedded into a painting. I was struck by this beautiful offering for the way it took prayer to a creative and community-oriented place. Since then, Hali invited me to share my story in her series about artist healers. I love the wild-hearted way Hali describes herself: paint-slinging word-wrangling artist, dreamer, visionary, life-loving learner, seer, seeker, wise woman in training, explorer, nature’s child, light and vessel, believer, taste-tester, shape-shifter, sundancing moonspirit Source devotee, play-in-progress, music-maker, booty-shaker, space holder, environmental sponge, witness to Healing, cheerleader for consciousness expansion, just another Being looking for a little peace of mind, and ultimately just an Acolyte to the Muse…

Cath Duncan has a deep and wise heart and I knew I had found a place of safety with her from the first time I encountered her. What first bonded Cath and I was our shared stories of baby-loss. When she lost little Juggernaut, I shared with her my own story of losing Matthew and then discovering, in the 12 years since, how much he still has to teach me. When Cath decided to honour Juggernaut by walking 100 kilometres for the Kidney March, I knew I wanted to walk with her. Together we went through three days of excruciating pain and exhaustion, and that created a bond between us that has grown since. Cath now serves as a grief coach and has co-created a Creative Grief Coaching certification program for people who want to explore the emerging field of grief and creativity.

Thomas Arthur is one of the most unique and intuitive people I’ve ever met. He is part juggler, part artist, part shaman, part poet, and part naturalist. I first encountered him at ALIA where he presented a performance that was a combination of juggling, dancing, and earth-wisdom-sharing. Thomas is the enchanted host of Earthanima where he invites people to listen to the wisdom the animate energies living within our planetary nature. Through performance, short films, digital images, conversations and workshops Earthanima unfolds an expression of wonder and delight integrating the natural wisdom of this living planet with the compassionate heart of our human intelligence. I often use the Elementals, a set of imaginative creatures Thomas has found in nature, to inspire the writers of my Creative Writing for Self-Discovery class.

Michele Lisenbury Christensen has started a Hot Love Revolution. It doesn’t take long after you encounter her that you know she knows a lot about love. Love shines out of her eyes. She says she’s on a mission to help happy, well-loved women save the world. Sounds pretty wild-hearted to me! The core of her coaching work is what she calls “sacred ambition” – the way our aims in the world can stoke the fires of our spiritual development – and vice versa. My first encounter with Michele was when I took part in the first offering of Teach Now, an online course she teaches along with Jen Louden. It was one of the best courses I’ve ever taken and it changed the way I teach.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Hiro Boga is the word kindness. She exudes it. Every encounter I’ve ever had with her has been one of genuine, openhearted kindness. She believes that each and every one of us is a sacred gift and that our presence is vital to the wellbeing and evolution of our world. She works with passionate people who are working to create the lives and businesses they truly desire. All of her work is anchored in a very simple, grounded premise: organic business growth flows from deep inner growth and harmony.

I can’t remember when I first encountered Lisa Wilson online, but I believe it was her beautiful, gracious smile that drew me in. The story I read on her face was one of depth and wisdom. Though there’s a lightness and sense of fun about her, she has been through great pain and struggle and so she serves as a light-bearer. Lisa is passionate about passionate living. She is an awareness artist who wants to encourage people to create wildly, to pursue their passions with fervent focus, and to mindfully go where they have not gone before (but she doesn’t want them to forget about the dirty dishes). Through Lifeunity, she offers insights and invitations of how to practice being mindful, compassionate, and present for your mundane matters.

Jen Louden is exuberant, generous, and wild-hearted. She’s got a long list of accomplishments (including six published books that sold in the millions, and an appearance on Oprah), and yet she is one of the most approachable people I know. I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with her several times, and I’ve learned a lot from her, especially through Teach Now, an online program for teachers who want to “love the world into wholeness”. Her books are all about how to create a life of wholeness, based on self-kindness and self-acceptance. She leads retreats, coaches, and encourages women to Savor and Serve.

I fell in love with Ann-Marie Boudreau this past summer at the women’s gathering that I co-hosted in Peterborough, Ontario. The first things you notice about Ann-Marie are her twinkling eyes and her beautiful, resonant voice. At the gathering, Ann-Marie led us in all kinds of playful music-making and movement, and each time she did, she’d pull out another intriguing instrument none of us had ever seen before. Ann-Marie is a sound practitioner and psychotherapist. Her mission is working with communities and individuals to enable them on their personal journeys toward self-realization and fulfillment. As a multi-instrumentalist and improvisational vocalist she is adept at performing on a wide range of instruments, the sitar and harp being unique to her repertoire. She facilitates a wide variety of sound-related, interactive and experiential workshops that invite the inner child out to play.

The first thing that intrigued me about Kate Swoboda was the fact that she refers to herself as Kate Courageous online. I am found of courageous women, and so I was pretty sure I’d like her. I was right. Kate runs a site called Your Courageous Life. Practicing courage is her expertise. Teaching others how to powerfully work with fear is her vocation. She stands for righteous integrity and ferocious love, all in service to living life on your own terms and being a force for good. She doesn’t believe in “kicking fear to the curb” and speaks instead about embracing our fear and stepping forward in courage.

Two and a half years ago, Kathy Jourdain and I learned how to be Shambala warriors together in a leadership intensive taught by Meg Wheatley, Jim Gimian, and Jerry Granelli. We faced our fears and by the end of the weak we’d formed a blues band together and each person in the group had written a blues song. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of serving as a story coach for her as she wrote her memoir about the shifting shape in her life after she found out her identity was not what she’d always believed it to be. I’ve witnessed Kathy’s amazing growth in the past few years as she’s followed her wild heart into writing, teaching, and hosting conversations. She is actively involved in the Art of Hosting community and she travels the world teaching people how to host meaningful conversations. Kathy’s passion is co-creative, collaborative leadership born out of what more is possible in teams, organizations and communities when people are also engaged in self leadership journeys.

I think Rachelle Mee-Chapman’s blog was one of the first ones I read on a regular basis. She wrote candidly about her own personal journey toward the kind of spirituality and community that her heart most longed for, and I found myself drawn in to this story. Since those early days of blogging, she went on to launch Magpie Girl, where she serves as a guide for people who are searching for their right-fit spirituality and who value art as a spiritual practice. After getting a master’s degree in theology and spending fifteen years as an ordained minister, she said goodbye to ordained ministry. She now calls herself “relig-ish” and teaches that we each can create our own theology and build a spirituality that fits. She is a misfit, a heretic, a rabble-rouser, AND a person of faith.

Spend time with this amazing wisdom circle by registering for Lead with your Wild Heart.

Coming back to my wild heart

Ten years ago I was lost. I had just returned to work after my fourth and final maternity leave, and I was completely miserable. Not only was it hard to leave my baby every day, but I was in a job that didn’t sustain or inspire me. All it did was drain my energy every single day. In those days, it wasn’t unusual for tears to flow on the way home from work.

Five years earlier, I’d taken my first leadership job in the government and I took to it like a duck to water. I loved the challenge and I loved my team. I was inspired and energized by the opportunity to provide them guidance and unleash their creative potential. I had an eager and talented young staff and we worked together beautifully, finding creative ways to communicate and commemorate the sacrifices our veterans had made.

At the start, it was good, but then things started to go wrong. For one thing, I started to internalize some of the messaging I was hearing at leadership workshops and from leadership mentors. “Keep your feelings out of leadership.” “It’s about control and moderation, not about passion.” “Don’t let them see you vulnerable.” “Use your head and ignore your heart.”

For another thing, I stepped away from that first job to take one that offered higher pay and more security. Unfortunately, it was all wrong for me and the environment was toxic. It was a science environment where most of the leaders were in their roles because of their knowledge of science rather than their leadership abilities or their understanding of people. As a professional communicator, I was usually the only one at the management team table who didn’t have an advanced science degree. In an environment that valued left-brain logical thinking, there was little space for my right-brain, intuitive, heart-based approach to leadership.

I felt lost – like a foreigner in a foreign land. If this was what leadership entailed, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a leader anymore.

And then one day, I started to explore a new way of looking at leadership (that was much closer to the way I’d intuitively lead when I’d first started) and it felt like someone had offered me a lifeline. I can’t remember whose work I discovered first, but three writers started to show up on my radar screen – Christina Baldwin, David Irvine, and Margaret Wheatley. All three wrote about authentic, community-based, vulnerable leadership. They inspired me to lead from a place in the circle, live simply in a complex world, and turn to one another. (I am deeply grateful that in the years since then, I’ve had the opportunity to attend workshops with all three of these incredible teachers.)

Not long after that, I left the government for non-profit. It was a job I loved, but it was also one that challenged me in more ways than I’d ever been challenged before. Every leadership ability that I thought I’d gained and every principle I thought I valued was put to the test. I led a national team that was mostly full of fiercely independent people who didn’t really want to be lead. I was emotionally abused, I had a lawsuit filed against me by someone who felt she was wrongfully dismissed, I witnessed more than one emotional breakdown among my staff, and I had to deal with multiple conflicts and miscommunications between staff. It was a good place to work, but it was hard and I often felt very much alone. I was floundering and there was nobody to talk to about it. I searched for a circle of other leaders who might serve as my support system, but I found none. The best I could do was have regular coffee dates with my friend Susan who understood my challenges and was always a good listening ear.

When I finally left that job to become self-employed, I knew that one of the things I wanted to do was to serve women like me who knew they had a calling to be in leadership in some form or another (whether at the boardroom table or the kitchen table) and needed someone to support and guide them. I tried to do that from the beginning, and I briefly offered a program called “How to Lead with Your Paint Clothes On”,  but there was something holding me back that I had to work through first.

The truth is, there were some failure stories that were getting in the way of my calling to support other emerging leaders. There was the story of my last year at the non-profit, when I was so burnt out that I was mostly ineffectual as a leader. There was the story of the ugliness of the lawsuit (that was never resolved, by the way), and the difficulties surrounding that relationship. There was the story of the pseudo-coach who’d blasted me for my unprofessionalism when I responded emotionally to a staff member’s suicide threat. There was the story of the many attempts I’d made to build a unified team out of independently-working people spread across the country.

Every time I’d think about offering a leadership program for women emerging into leadership, I’d get blocked by the gremlins that told me “you failed at leadership – what gives you the audacity to think you could teach people?”

And yet, the memory of the lifeline I’d been offered in my most lost place kept propelling me forward. I knew that the woman I was ten years ago desperately needed women like me to serve as her guide – women who’d been through the challenges, admitted her failures, had a few glorious moments, and learned from her mistakes. I knew that she needed someone who would encourage her without judging her. I knew she needed to be given permission to lead with her heart and not just her head. I knew – more than anything – that she needed someone to say “You’re okay. You’re enough. You’re on the right path. Don’t give up.”

This summer, I had the privilege of co-hosting a beautiful circle of 44 women at the annual Gather the Women gathering, and I walked away inspired once again by the need this world has for more women to gather in circle and offer their hearts into the service of transformation. After asking the women to share stories of courage, I knew that the most courageous thing I could do would be to more boldly and confidently step into the role of guide for women emerging into leadership.

Finally, after two years of self-employment, I am ready to offer the thing that’s been tugging at my heart for years – a personal leadership program for women emerging as changemakers, artists, visionaries, storytellers, and edgewalkers.

It’s called Lead with your Wild Heart, and it comes directly from my wild heart to yours.

First and foremost, it’s about redefining leadership. I believe what Margaret Wheatley says, that “a leader is anyone who is willing to help, anyone who sees something that needs to change and takes the first step to influence that situation.”

This program is for you if you’re imagining a better future for yourself, your community, or the world. It’s for you if you feel something nudging you to step into your courage. It’s for you if you’re the lost young woman I was, stuck in a corporate world that’s eating away at your soul. It’s for you if you’ve been wounded by a patriarchal model of leadership and you need healing and encouragement. It’s for you if you need permission to follow your heart. It’s for you if you’ve been longing for a program that honours ALL of who you are – body, mind, and spirit.

I offer this humbly, admitting that I have made mistakes and that I still have much to learn in my journey. Because I still have much to learn, I have invited a number of wise, wild-hearted friends to share their stories and wisdom with the participants of the program as well. I’m honoured that a long list of willing guides (including some people who’ve been my own teachers) have stepped forward and agreed to have conversations with me that will be recorded and made available as part of the program. Follow the link to find out more.

I hope that you’ll consider joining me and/or share this with other women you know who might need it.

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