Seeking Sanctuary

sanctuary

I sat on the shores of the lake, watching the birds float and fly past. A cormorant stood on a post, its wings spread wide to the sunshine. The lake is a wildlife sanctuary. In that space, the birds are safe to do what is truest to their natures. No predators can harm them there.

Sanctuary. A place to be safe.

Wildlife sanctuary. A place to be safe in your wildness.

Near the lake was a church. I wandered inside. It was beautiful, polished, and serene. A sanctuary.

And yet… it wasn’t a wildlife sanctuary. My wildness did not feel safe in that place. I wanted it to – longed for a real sanctuary where my wildness was honoured – but I didn’t trust the immaculateness. I couldn’t feel safe revealing all of myself in that space. Too much of me had been judged in spaces like that in the past.

“What if I DID feel safe in this space?” I thought. “How would church be different if it were more like a wildlife sanctuary? If it were the kind of place where we could be totally free to be our wild selves without feeling the pressure to conform? Without having to protect ourselves from predators? What if it truly represented the wild way that God loves?”

As though to test my question, I took off my shoes and stepped into the baptismal font. The water was cool and sweet against my skin. It felt good – a baptism of my wildness. But it didn’t feel safe. I kept an eye on the door, expecting a stern priest to walk in and send me away for defiling the church. All I dared to reveal was my feet. I stepped out quickly and tried not to leave footprints.

I went back outside to the lake. There I felt safe. With the birds and the trees. I took of my shoes again and didn’t worry about footprints.

A week later, at another lake, giggling in the dark with a small tribe of friends, I tripped through the woods and stepped into the lake. Tentatively, we inched our way into the dark water. It held us and invited us further in. We gave ourselves to it. Bathing suits came off and we let ourselves be baptized in our wildness. For long lazy moments, we floated – just a little bit fearful and yet fully wild and fully alive.

This was our wildlife sanctuary. Here we were safe to reveal all that we were. Here we were wholly loved – by the water, by each other, by the gods of our understanding.

From the moment we step away from the safety of our parents’ arms, we are each on a lifelong quest for that place of sanctuary – that place were we can dare to let ourselves be fully wild, fully naked, and fully baptized. Sometimes (far too rarely) we find it in a church, sometimes we find it in the woods with a circle of friends. Sometimes we only find tiny whispers of it that make us long for more.

Once we find it, we know that we need more of it and we know that we need to commit our lives to co-creating it for others. Because there is nothing quite like the feeling of knowing that we are fully loved and accepted in our nakedness. There is nothing that makes us feel more alive and beautiful.

Together, those of us who have learned to reveal our wounds and our nakedness to each other, become co-creators of circles of grace. We are wildlife sanctuary keepers. We are witnesses of the kind of God/dess who longs to help us create REAL sanctuaries, not artificial polished spaces where only those who have washed first can step into the baptismal font.

Because living truthfully in our wildness is the only way to fully be alive.

If you are longing for more of your wildness to be revealed, step into the sanctuary of Lead with Your Wild Heart. You are safe here.

Why do we need to gather the women?

hands with rocks 3I am nearing the mid-way point of my journey. Tomorrow I leave the west coast and head to the east.

I have been trying to write a blog post about my amazing experience at Lake Tahoe, at the annual Gather the Women gathering. I have been trying to come up with the words to describe what it means to be held so tenderly, honoured so graciously, encouraged so generously, loved so fiercely, and seen so clearly, but the words fail me. It will require more processing than I’ve had time to do. For starters, this is what I wrote on my Facebook status:

For the past three days, I have been beautifully held – by a circle of women, by the earth, and by the Divine. I opened my heart, and it was guarded tenderly. I danced on the earth, and my body rejoiced in every cell. I spoke from the depths of my wild heart, and my wisdom was welcomed with grace and openness. I stood on the shores of the lake, and was healed by the beauty. I was hugged and held and touched in tender, nurturing ways that soothed the wounded child in me. I was blessed with an eagle feather and many words of love, and I offered back as many blessings as I received. I am woman, I am loved, and I am whole. Thank you Gather the Women for creating such a safe space for growth, healing and emerging power.

I don’t fully know how to articulate it, but I know that this is really, really important – this container that women create for each other – this safe sacred space where we can weep with grief, dance with passion, embrace with tenderness, speak with wisdom, and shine with the light of the Divine. Rarely have I been in a place where women can show both their vulnerability and fierceness (and many things in between) and be honoured in the whole beautiful complexity.

The women are rising. The feminine is waking. The energy is shifting, and we are the light bearers and the water carriers. We are the midwives and the edge-walkers. We are the healers and the dreamers. We are not only the caretakers and nurturers, but the fierce warriors who have the love and the power to help birth this brave new world.

We cannot do this work alone. We need a powerful container that can hold the birthing, heal the wounding, and balance the emerging power with fierce, unconditional love. That container was beautifully demonstrated in a circle of women on the shores of Lake Tahoe.

I am honoured to be holding my place in that container. May we have the courage to birth what is coming next.

 

Note: Please consider joining Gather the Women. Anyone who holds a vision like you see in this post is welcome. We need a container that can hold all that is emerging, and if you feel called, that container welcomes you.

Also, if you feel called to do this kind of work, please consider joining the next offering of Lead with Your Wild Heart. It will break your heart open, challenge you, encourage you, and prepare you for whatever your work is in bringing in this brave new world.

My amazing journey

I am home after nearly two weeks of journeying across the prairies. It was amazing. I am replenished, encouraged, and feeling full of the goodness of this earth and the people on it.

I am still on a bit of a high and not entirely sure that I have the right words to articulate what this journey meant for me, but I’m going to try anyway, before it slips too far into the past and is lost in a sea of other stories that want to be told.

Part 1: Journey to myself

“In solitude, at last, we’re able to let God define us the way we are always supposed to be defined—by relationship: the I-thou relationship, in relation to a Presence that demands nothing of us but presence itself. Not performance but presence.” – Richard Rohr

Though I could have easily gotten to Calgary with one long day of driving (and have done it many times), I chose to make the trip in two days so that I could savour the trip and enjoy a night of camping by myself. As Richard Rohr writes in Falling Upward, the older I get and the more I learn to love and understand myself, the more I enjoy my own company.

From the moment I left the city limits, I knew there was going to be something special about this journey. It was a stunningly beautiful day, with the kind of fluffy, storybook clouds artists and photographers pine for. It was also the perfect season, when there are still rich summer greens mixed with subtle autumn golds, browns and reds.  The canola and flax are in full bloom, the wheat and barley fields are readying themselves for harvest, the round bales are beginning to be laid out across golden hay fields, and the calves born in early summer are strong, virile, and rambunctious.IMG_2027

Everywhere I looked, the prairies seemed to be laying out their finery for me. I couldn’t resist stopping for photos of bright red barns set against bold blue skies, fields where flax flowers flowed like the waves on a peaceful sea, and ditches where butterflies and dragonflies danced from wildflower to wildflower.

When I pulled into Regina, I stopped for a bottle of wine and a cheap plastic wine glass (to enhance the picnic I’d brought from home) and headed to my campsite by a lake. The first thing I spotted at the campsite was a shiny loonie (dollar) on the ground – like someone had left it as a good luck charm.

Pushing through a broad strip of clover that stood higher than my head and smelled of heaven, I came to the lake. There in front of me, for no reason I could ascertain, was a picnic table half submerged in water. I waded out to the table and sat on it for awhile, snapping photos of fishermen, seagulls and rocks. The sun was about two hours from sunset, as far as I could tell, but I didn’t want to miss a moment of its setting. So I brought my picnic lunch and journal to the table and spent the next two hours on my little wooden island in the lake, hidden from view from most people by the huge stand of clover along the shore.

Those two hours were magical. My senses were heightened after a day full of prairie beauty, and every angle, every bit of light, every shadow, every rock, every bird, every line, and every reflection was drenched in beauty. For two hours I sat in awe, watching the light change on the lake and the clouds glow in the sky. God’s presence was palpable. It was one of those thin places that the Celts talk about, where heaven and earth collide.IMG_5909

After the sun set, and night began to drift across the lake, I lit a fire at my campsite and had another magical hour of capturing light of a different kind – orange, glowing, flickering, pushing against the darkness. From the largeness of the sunset sky to the smallness of my cast iron fire pit – I was mesmerized by light.

The next day was much like the one before, with equally piercing blue skies and impossibly white clouds. I wandered on the beach, took pictures of more birds, feathers, and rocks, and then started the drive to Calgary. At one point, a storm rolled in, and the clouds changed to dark and dramatic. After two days of beauty, I wasn’t surprised to see a rainbow show up.

By the end of the day, I felt like I had just been courted by a devoted lover who was doing everything s/he could to make me feel special. In the words of Richard Rohr in the quote above, I was very much in “the I-thou relationship, in relation to a Presence that demands nothing of us but presence itself.” I found God on the prairies and God laid out the finest that the prairies had to offer to make sure I felt loved.IMG_2668
For more photos of my prairie journey, here’s a little video I put together.

Part 2: Journey to my family

“Always remember, there was nothing worth sharing
Like the love that let us share our name.” – The Avett Brothers

The purpose for my trip to Calgary was to visit my oldest brother, Brad, who’d been diagnosed with cancer a few weeks earlier and had had a three foot section of his colon removed the week before. When I’d heard about his cancer, I’d felt an intense need to spend time with him, and so I took advantage of the opportunity. It’s been a hard year for our family, after losing Mom to cancer in November, so the bond between us feels especially important.

If you met my big brother, you might marvel at the many ways that our world views are different, and – on the surface level – you might even question how we find common ground. His politics lean further right than mine do, he’d rather spend the afternoon in a hockey rink while I’d choose an art studio, and he doesn’t see the point in much of the self-discovery or community-building reading and writing I do while I’d be bored to tears with the kind of detail-oriented computer coding he does. (It almost seems like a cliche that he has a degree in math and I have a degree in literature.)

And yet… if you looked at only those things, you’d be missing a lot. For one thing, there’s something about 47 years of shared history, stories, jokes, faith, questions, and grief that creates a common language that few people in the world can understand. There is great safety and comfort in that common language, especially after you’ve lost a few of the only people on earth who know it. When you are in a place where you can speak that language and ask those questions without fear of judgement, it is worth more than gold.

And there’s another thing… unleash us in the mountains, on the prairies, or by the seashore with our cameras, and both of us can wander happily for hours. (Or – in the case this week – lament the fact that we can’t wander for hours due to a recently broken foot and major surgery.) And then we can sit together on the couch for another couple of hours going through the pictures to find the few in which we’ve captured the light just right.

In those things, there is plenty of common ground to make a trip across two provinces after a cancer scare an indescribably worthwhile thing to do.

I didn’t know how this visit would go, and frankly, I was a little worried to see what cancer was doing to my normally energetic and adventurous brother. On top of that, my sister-in-law (whom I also love dearly, and would easily cross two provinces for as well), has been dealing with some pretty heavy things this year, and my teenage niece has had an interesting recent time of learning more about her identity as well.

I expected their home to be full of turmoil and sadness… and yet… it wasn’t. There was a surprising amount of peace and grace in their home, not to mention a whole lot of love. My brother has a remarkable capacity for accepting life as it is and enjoying every moment that he can, and my sister-in-love has a remarkable capacity for making meaning of what is and articulating it in a way that shines new light into it. Plus they both have a deep faith that sustains them and gives them hope.IMG_2773

One of the most poignant moments of the visit was when I stood next to my brother in church (yes, he’s stubborn enough to go to church two days after being released from the hospital) and sang “Come Thou Fount”, a song that has a rich history in our family and was sung at both of our parents’ funerals. “Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come; and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.” The Bible verse that those lines are inspired by was made into a wall hanging for Mom and Dad’s 25th anniversary, and hung in their home for twenty-three years after that until Dad died and the farm was sold.

Another poignant moment was standing at the shores of Lake Louise on a drive into the mountains. My recently broken foot and his surgery wounds meant that we couldn’t walk far, but it felt like a moment of grace to be able to stand there with him and Sue, enjoying the beauty around us. We are all broken people, heading inevitably to our deaths, and yet there are moments of beauty, grace, and light, and for that we carry on in this journey.IMG_2740

Part 3: The journey to others

“In helping others, we shall help ourselves, for whatever good we give out completes the circle and comes back to us.”   ~ Flora Edwards

The final destination on this journey was a small prairie town, perched on the border between Saskatchewan and North Dakota, that looked a lot like the prairie town I grew up in. In North Portal, people trust each other enough to not only leave their doors unlocked but to leave the border unlocked. When you go golfing, you start out in one country and end in another, and they trust you to leave the parking lot through the same entrance (Canadian or American) that you entered through – no passport required. There used to be churches on either side of the border, but when their numbers dwindled, they joined and now meet in the new Canadian church in winter and in the older American church in summer.

In that town, there is an old school building that looks a lot like the place I spent the first nine years of my school life. There are not enough kids in town to fill it anymore, so they started bussing the kids to another town and sold the building to one of the townsfolk who put a friendly neighbourhood bar in one classroom and rents the other classrooms out to artists, healers, and others who need space.

In that building, Visions Art Guild holds their annual retreat. It’s a blissful week of summer camp for artists, with the local church ladies catering their meals, and everyone pitching in to do the dishes and keep the place clean. During the day, they make lots of art, have occasional inspirational sessions, and encourage each others’ creativity. In the evenings, they drink wine, make a little more art if they feel like it, and have a few good belly laughs (especially on the night of Frida Fest, when everyone dresses as their favourite Frida Kahlo painting or photo).

Every second year, they bring in a facilitator to inspire them in some area of growth. This year I was that lucky facilitator. On the theme of journey, I was invited to do three full sessions (a couple of hours each), three mini-sessions (about 45 minutes each), and one-on-one coaching sessions for anyone who wanted them (nine sessions). In between I got to make my own art and wander from station to station being inspired by the different styles and different mediums. Some worked in acrylics, watercolour, and oil, one added tiny twirly stitches to art prints, one did beautiful beadwork, one made fanciful beings out of found objects, one played with adding fabric prints of her prairie photos to her loomed rugs, one incorporated hand-dyed paper with natural objects, and one worked on a complex mixed media collage backdrop for her fanciful raven drawings. I dabbled with acrylics, watercolours, and mandalas, and took a lot of photos.

At the beginning of our week together, one of the retreatants helped me make a labyrinth in the grass, and that became the foundation of our exploration into the theme of journey. On the second day, I read Dr. Seuss’ “Oh the Places You’ll Go”, made road signs for the twelve places in the journey from the book (the prickly perch, the waiting place, etc.), and added those to the labyrinth. In addition, I’d collaged the words they’d sent me in response to some advance journal prompts onto a long piece of paper that represented the journey we were on for the week, and that piece of paper became a group art project that we added to throughout the week. We also made prayer flags to represent the things we most want to invite into our lives, our art, and our relationships.

What can I say about that week? For starters, it was SO MUCH FUN!  Hanging out with artists and being inspired by their creative techniques and their capacity to see beauty made my own artist heart soar. For another thing, it was SO RELAXING! Yes, I was facilitating and coaching, but there was just so little pressure and the women in the group were delightful to work with and host in circle. They were receptive and responsive to my questions, they jumped into my activities with their whole hearts, and they embraced me as one of their own. And for another thing, it was very, very FULFILLING. In the coaching conversations, when I saw their faces soften with some new wisdom that was growing in them, and in the circle when I saw them opening themselves to new stories that will help them walk in the world with new courage, I knew that God was working through me to create safe space for their authenticity to show up.IMG_6087

This is my absolute favourite kind of work – gathering women in circle and fostering their growth, creativity, and leadership. This is the kind of work that feels so much like play I almost feel guilty when they pay me at the end of the week.

I left that little prairie border town feeling like I was floating on a cloud. That beautiful circle of women gifted me with more than I could have possibly gifted them. They gave me tangible gifts (shoes, jewelry, a hand-woven rug, artist trading cards, and more), but the intangible gifts were far greater. They gave me love, acceptance, inspiration, and trust.IMG_6065

Part 4: The scary part of the journey that reminds me of the value of all the rest

“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I would never have to live without you.”  ~Winnie the Pooh

This part of the journey was so brief it hardly bears mentioning, and yet it was so impactful it belongs on this page.

About an hour before I got home, driving along a single lane highway, a half-ton truck coming toward me swerved into my lane when it was only about 100 metres away and came at me full speed. I swerved onto the gravel shoulder on my right, and then the truck swerved there too, looking like the driver was determined to kill me. I swerved left (thankfully there was no other traffic), missed the speeding truck by mere inches, and then started spinning out of control, convinced I would end up rolling in the ditch. I finally came to a stop in the middle of the road, and turned back into my lane.

In the rearview mirror, I could see that the truck had turned around and was coming toward me again. I took off as quickly as I could, not interested in sticking around to see if they were coming to check if I was okay and apologize or try to kill me again.

The rest of the way home, my heart was racing, and I kept bursting into spontaneous tears. Just the day before, while still at the retreat, I’d gotten an email from Brad saying that the prognosis on his cancer is not good, that it has spread to his liver and possibly his lungs, and that – even with chemo and surgery – there is an 80% chance the cancer will kill him within 5 years. Between my near-death moment and the knowledge that I might soon lose my brother, life started feeling exceedingly fragile.

When I got home, hugs from my kids and a hot bath helped calm me down. I had to host a call for Lead with Your Wild Heart, so I did what I could to centre myself and be present for whoever showed up. Fortunately, the call morphed into a delightful hour-long conversation about the value of hosting meaningful conversations in circle, and I became energized talking about the work that most inspires me. That call also inspired me to write the following on Facebook:

Life is short. I know it sounds cliched, but believe me – it is. One day you find out there is an 80% chance your brother’s cancer may kill him in less than 5 years, and the next day a crazy driver tries to kill you, and then you find out a dear friend is having eye and kidney complications far away in South Africa and you can’t hug her, and everything just feels so fragile that you want to gather everyone around you and hug them and tell them to BE REAL, BE PRESENT, and BE GOOD TO EACH OTHER. There is just NO DAMN POINT in wasting your time doing things that are not authentic and full of love and true to the purpose God put you on this earth for.

Please… do me a favour, and stop wasting your time with lies and masks and artificial lives. Stop trying to please the people who don’t have your best interests at heart. Stop trying to live up to an unrealistic ideal that has nothing to do with who you are. Stop trying to find your happiness in money and possessions and fake happiness. Find people who believe in the beauty that is in you, hang onto them, and don’t stop holding each other until you all emerge with more courage to do the things the world is longing for you to do. And then hold onto each other some more, until you have spread every last bit of love God has put in you to spread and your work on this earth is done.

 I nearly died on the highway today, and that moment shook me to the core, but at least I can say one thing… I would have spent my last week on earth doing EXACTLY the kind of work that I was put on this earth for – hosting REAL people in circle, giving them a safe space to be authentic, encouraging their creativity, and inviting them to live to their most beautiful potential.

I will keep doing this work and spreading this love until my time is done. Are you with me?IMG_6166

And with that, I end this part of my journey but continue on with the ongoing journey of my life, loving the people around me, living in the beauty that God is making of me, and serving the world with the gifts that have been entrusted to me with whatever time is left for me on this earth.

If you’re on a similar journey to a deeper place, and could use a guide to help you, consider signing up for one of my “Back to School” coaching sessions.

 

Sometimes you scream and sometimes you whisper

blue and whiteSometimes the knot in your stomach that’s been hovering at the edges of your life for too long starts growing and you feel like it will strangle you from the inside.

Sometimes the self-pity cassette is on repeat in your mind and you can’t get past the part about how hard this year has been and how it doesn’t seem fair that so many people’s lives seem easier.

Sometimes the fact that you broke your foot feels like a metaphor for how your life is stuck in one place and you can’t seem to move forward.

Sometimes, while you’re stuck in that place, it also feels like the world is spinning too fast and too many of the people you love are falling off the edges.

Sometimes, in the middle of all that, you get the news that your big brother has cancer and, though it’s the kind that is usually halted with early detection, “this is not early detection.”

Sometimes that news knocks you over and you feel vulnerable and scared, because it comes just six months after cancer stole your mom and two months after it threatened to take your mother-in-law and a couple of years after it threatened to take your sister-in-law (twice) and you feel like cancer is eating away at your world.

Sometimes you realize only when their mortality stares you in the face how much a family member means to you, and you have to admit that you’re kind of terrified of losing them.

Sometimes you scream “God, why is all this shit happening, and why does my family have to go through so much, and why can’t you give us EASY for awhile? Are you even paying attention, or did you go off and take a nap somewhere while we suffer?”

And then sometimes you’re sitting outside under the shade of a giant tree, listening to singer-songwriters tell the stories that articulate your own ache, and you feel momentary contentment sweep over you like the breeze on your face. In that moment, you look up, and spot two bald eagles flying overhead and you watch in wonder until they disappear behind the trees.

And sometimes it just so happens that your sister is walking by at that moment, and you stop her and say “did you see the bald eagles?” and both of you remember that it was a bald eagle that was perched on a tree just before your mom died, and your sister spotted another one the day you buried her, and ever since, bald eagles have been connected with your mom. And you also remember what your aboriginal student said about bald eagles being God’s messengers, carrying your prayers to heaven.

And then sometimes – in one of those synchronistic moments for which there is no explanation – Jordie Lane is singing on the stage “Like a bird you swooped down, you edged closer, then off you flew… I could die looking at you” just as the eagles come back into your line of vision, and you and your sister and a few other people in the crowd around you stare in awe.

And sometimes pure magic happens, and those two eagles clasp talons in mid air, and – with their wings spread wide – do a mystical, dangerous, spinning dance, spiralling toward the earth. And the crowd gasps as one and you know that you have all just shared a sacred moment.

And sometimes you marvel that the vary talons that rip apart the flesh of fish and small animals are also the talons that clasp together in this strange and wondrous sky-dance.

And sometimes you whisper “God, you have created a mysterious, achingly beautiful world, and for some reason you showed up in these eagles today. I don’t understand any of this, but I thank you for this moment.”

Out of exile

I make mandalas, write in my journal, paint, do a bit of yoga, and sometimes meditate. All of these things ground and centre me, but my primary spiritual practice is walking in the woods.

path in the woodsI feel closer to God when I’m in the woods than anywhere else I can think of. Yes, God shows up anywhere (and one of my most meaningful God-experiences was during a three week hospital confinement when I lost my son Matthew), but I have the easiest time quieting my mind and opening my heart when I surround myself with the stillness and beauty that the woods offer me. Add to that the body engagement of walking, and I feel like I’m Eve in the Garden of Eden, walking with God at my side.

For three weeks now, I feel like I’ve been banished from the Garden. This broken foot means that I can’t walk and I can’t even drive myself to a place where I can sit at the edge of the woods.

It’s been agonizing. I know it sounds like an over-dramatization, and I know that there are people in the world with much bigger problems than mine, but it’s been really, really hard. Harder than I would have imagined. I am just not good at sitting still.

It’s been especially hard because all of this long hard winter, while I watched my Mom die and my husband come near to death with a heart attack, I kept telling myself “at least it will be Spring soon and I will be able to find some healing in the woods. I will sit on my familiar stone bench and pour out my grief to the birch trees. I will stand on the riverbank and the Dancing Goddess Tree will offer her strength. I will follow the deer into the woods and they will whisper ‘everything is going to be alright’.”

When I first heard the doctor say “broken”, my thought was “does God hate me? WHY?! Why does another shitty thing have to happen just when I felt like I was on the road to healing?”

And then for the next three weeks, I wallowed in the misery of my exile. I tried to turn to my other spiritual practices – I made one pathetic mandala, I wrote a page or two in my journal, and I got halfway through a collage – but nothing worked. Everything just served to make me feel more restless than before. God felt a million miles away, and my wild heart felt frantic, like a caged animal.

On Thursday, the doctor finally said I was free of crutches and could walk reasonable distances on my boot. On Sunday I practically begged my husband, “please drive me to the gate at Henteleff Park, drop me off, and I’ll text you when I’m ready to come home.”

The park gate felt like the door to my cage. Not too many steps down the path and I felt like I had finally come back home. Out of Exile. Back to the Garden of Eden. Back to a place where God walked with me.

stone bench 2I limped as far as my favourite stone bench in the middle of the birch trees, and I laid down on my back, staring up at the fluttering leaves. The breeze on my face was God’s kiss. The birds sang God’s love song. “Welcome back to the Garden,” they sang. I started to cry.

I don’t know if there is a “why” for the breaking of the foot. I don’t really believe that “everything happens for a reason and that the universe conspired to break my foot to teach me an important lesson.” I can’t get my head around that kind of fatalism. I do, however, believe that we are meant to work our way through difficult times and then find meaning in the darkness that helps us better understand and appreciate the light. For me, at that moment, lying on my back on a stone bench, feeling like a refugee who’d returned home after a time in exile, I found some profound meaning that was much bigger than a three week period of restlessness.

More than simply a moment in the woods, it suddenly became for me a metaphor for my life. Since that three week period in the hospital more than a dozen years ago, when God showed up in a series of strange and mystical encounters (and during which time I eventually lost my son Matthew), I have been working my way back from exile. In the hospital, after a night of wrestling with God, I woke up to how far away from my authentic Self – my wild heart – I’d become. Like the last three weeks of my life when I couldn’t walk in the woods, I’d been living like a caged tiger, exiled from my home in the wilderness.

There was a void in my life, and I knew it, but instead of trying to break free of the cage by seeking out spiritual practices  and meaningful work, I was attempting to fill it with money, a prestigious career, material possessions, food, etc. In the hospital, when all of those things were suddenly unavailable to me, I finally recognized the futility of my search. I suddenly knew that to fill the void, I would need to find the path back to my own wild heart, back to Spirit, and back to a more authentic life. Right then and there, in the hospital waiting for my son to make his appearance, I started that journey and have been on the path (with a few detours now and then) ever since.

A few years ago, when I was beginning to understand the meaning of all that, I read the following quote from Peter Block and knew instantly that he was talking about me.

“Leadership is about rearranging the chairs, getting the questions right, putting citizens in front of each other and then knowing what’s worth focusing on. The leadership I’m longing for is the leadership that says my number one job is to bring people together out of exile, out of isolation, and into connection.” – Peter Block

My experience in the hospital and in the years following, in which I gradually returned from exile by quitting my government job, traveling the world working for the cause of justice in non-profit work, and then quitting that job to teach, write, and host conversations, have been preparing me for the work of bringing people together “out of exile, out of isolation, and into connection.”

Coming out of exile means a returning to that which is authentic in all of us. It’s about living wholeheartedly, in tune with each other and the earth. It’s about being in community and extending love and compassion to each other and to ourselves. It requires of us that we turn away from the destructive, disconnected, disenfranchised lives of independence, competition, and over-consumption. It’s a return to simplicity, a return to our hearts, a return to our bodies, a return to each other, and a return to the wild.

This is the work I do now, and this is what I invite you to in my coaching, writing, teaching, and workshops – a return from exile. I know what it’s like to feel trapped and separated from the one thing that will make you feel whole. I know what it’s like to long for a more authentic way of living. I know what it’s like to feel like you’ve gone so far from home you can never return.

I also know what it’s like to return to the wild and finally feel alive again.

If you’re ready to come back from exile, let me help you. After a busy few months, I am finally accepting new coaching clients. Perhaps you’ll be one of them? Contact me and we can start with an exploratory conversation.

And if you want to be in that circle of chairs that Peter Block talks about, learning more about the kind of leadership that brings people out of exile, join me and my colleagues at a one-day Art of Hosting workshop.

p.s. For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on a memoir about how my time with Matthew changed my life. In recent months, I’ve been stuck, knowing that something was missing. Laying on the bench in the park on Sunday, I think I finally found the thread that will tie the book together.

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