Finding my why (and helping you do the same)

discovering my why

As I approach my 50th birthday, I am celebrating my “why”. The above picture is just that – me, in the middle of my “why”.

In the picture, I’m teaching from the floor. When we teach The Circle Way (as I did last week), we often teach from the floor. Rather than standing at a flip chart or chalk board at the front of the room, we kneel or sit on the floor inside the circle with a flipchart in front of us. Or we simply sit in the circle at the same level as everyone else.

Why is that important? Because we don’t teach from a place of hierarchy. We teach from a place of humility, a place of service. We teach from a place that demonstrates our own commitment to being in the learning with those we teach.

In that photo, I was talking about “the groan zone”, the place in the middle of a decision-making process when we feel like we’ve lost our way, but we’re really on the verge of bringing something new to life. (From The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making.) I’ve spent a lot of time in the groan zone, and it’s because I have that I have found my why.

My why is found in teaching from the floor. My why is unfolding as I sit in the circle. My why is being a lifelong learner and sharing that learning from a place of humility. My why shows up when I practice holding space.

I teach from the floor because I believe in connection. I believe in deep conversations. I believe in community. I believe in the circle. I believe in confident humility.

Here’s an inspirational short video on finding your why.

If you want to find your why, I know what can help… The Spiral Path.

As I mentioned last week, I’m making a series of special offers this month so that you can celebrate my birthday month with me.

This week (and for the remainder of the month), I’m offering The Spiral Path to you at 50% off. So that you, too, can find your why.

To claim your offer, enter the following code into the coupon field on the registration pagebirthday

Also, Mandala Discovery is still on for 50% off until the end of May. Same instructions – use the coupon code: birthday.

You can get two of my courses for the price of one!

And next week, I’ve got a brand new offering that I can hardly wait to share with you!

Who calls you to your greatness?

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” ~ Mark Twain

Tomorrow, after I teach a storytelling workshop for a national non-profit, I’ll be heading out on a special annual pilgrimage. A twelve hour road trip in good company will take me to the Black Hills of South Dakota, where I will gather once again with the women of Gather the Women.

This will be my third year in this circle of women. I can hardly wait to be with them again. When I am in this circle, I feel fed, held, honoured, encouraged, and strengthened. Even though we only see each other once a year, women in this circle have supported me through the grief of losing my mother, encouraged me in the growth of my business, and cheered for me every time I’ve done something brave.

But the primary reason why I keep going back?

They call me into my greatness.

These women want me to succeed. They want me to be bold, strong, and successful. They want me to make a mark in the world. They believe wholeheartedly in my work and cheer with their whole hearts when I do it well.

Why? Because MY work is OUR collective work. And because when I succeed, we ALL succeed.

become greatThat’s the way it is when you surround yourself with powerful women who aren’t threatened by other people’s power. We succeed together and we leave the world a better place.

Are you longing to surround yourself with that kind of support?

I can help. What those women do for me, I want to do for you.

I want to call you into your greatness.

I want to cheer from the sidelines as you succeed. I want to nudge you into those places that feel scary but you know are right. I want to help you find your path.

How can I help you?

1. Come join Pathfinder Circle where you’ll find yourself surrounded by other women who are also daring to find their paths and step into their greatness. (It’s an online coaching circle that meets once a week for 8 weeks, starting September 30th.)

2. If you want to step into your greatness in your writing, sign up for Openhearted Writing Circle. (It’s a one-day online writing retreat, on October 4th, that will help you crack open your heart and pour it onto the page.)

3. If it’s one-on-one support you need, sign up for coaching. If you’re a leader/facilitator/teacher/coach, check out this offering.

Many years ago, when I was in my first leadership position, I realized that helping other people shine is just as good as shining yourself. Because we all benefit from each other’s glow.

Let me help you shine.

Daring to stand in the trembling

dare to stand in the tremblingA dozen years ago, I taught my first class on creativity and spirituality. A small circle of women gathered each week to give themselves permission to play, to explore creativity as a spiritual practice, and to exhale deeply.

Each week, with our hands in clay or paint, we cracked open the vulnerable places in our hearts that held the shame of our unworthiness, the fear of our failure, and the resistance to allowing ourselves to do that which brought delight.

Almost every week, I found myself in the middle of “the trembling”. I’d spent most of my life ignoring my body, so I didn’t recognize at the time that it was sending me powerful messages. As I’d host the women’s stories of heartbreak, fear, shame, and triumph, my whole body would begin to tremble, like it was shivering from cold. I’d have to clench my jaw sometimes, or hold my hands under the table, afraid my shaking might be seen.

At first, I chalked it up to nervousness. This was brand new work – work I’d been longing to do for years – and I didn’t know if I would succeed.

But it wasn’t nervousness (or at least it wasn’t only nervousness). I’d done much scarier things in my career (like hosting press conferences for Prime Ministers) and none of those scary things had caused the shakes like that.

In the words of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the trembling came in those moments when I was in flow… “completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

This was so much more than nervousness. This was the message my body was sending me that I was in my right work.

That class led to other classes, to other circles, to other soulful conversations, to other art-making, and to other work that made my body vibrate. It was the beginning that eventually lead to everything I do now.

The trembling showed up again and again, while working with coaching clients who dare to crack their hearts open, while hosting women’s retreats where tears reveal the most honest truths of the heart, while inviting corporate clients to risk exposing themselves in meaningful conversations, and while writing blog posts that come from a deeper place of knowing than anything I’ve tapped into before. The trembling tells me I am on the right path, doing the right work, talking to the right people.

When I hosted the first call for the Idea Incubator, I invited people to share where in their lives they are feeling the trembling. As they shared what was cracking their hearts open, I felt my own trembling begin again. This is my work. These people with open hearts and brave dreams are my people. I stand here, trembling with them.

What if, the first time it showed up, I’d simply interpreted the trembling as fear and learned to shy away from it in the future? What if I’d never taught another class because I was too embarrassed to be seen with shaking hands? What if I’d been careful to stay in work that never made me tremble?

What if YOU ignore the trembling? What if you take the safe road? What if you never dare to let yourself be scared? What will you miss?

The trembling is our messenger. It’s trying to get our attention. It’s trying to wake us up and point us in the direction of our hearts’ longing.

Don’t ignore the trembling.

Sometimes jealousy is my greatest teacher

A few days ago, as I scanned my Facebook feed, I realized that a great number of people I know and love were busy making their way toward interesting gatherings in four places around the US – Portland, Phoenix, Nags Head, and Minneapolis. I was genuinely happy for my friends who were having great opportunities to connect, co-create, stretch themselves, and be refreshed, but underneath the happiness, something else started bubbling up…


Jealousy. Not-enoughness. Self-pity.

The whispers were quiet at first, but then they got louder.

“They’re all busy having a much more interesting life than you have.”

“You don’t really deserve to be at any of those gatherings.”

“They’re connecting with people who are much more interesting than you.”

“The last retreat you tried to host had to be canceled because not enough people signed up. You’re just not interesting enough to draw in the kinds of people that these events draw in.”

“Maybe if you published a book, or did more significant work, people would start paying more attention to your work.”

“Your life is kind of boring and ordinary, isn’t it? While they’re all out having a great time in beautiful locations, you’ll be shopping at Costco, cleaning your house, and driving your kids to all of the places they need to go.”

By now you might be thinking “But Heather… you just had an amazing trip and you were at two really cool events in beautiful places. What right do you have to be jealous of anyone else when you’ve had such great opportunities lately?”

Unfortunately, jealousy has a really short memory, especially when it comes to the good things in our lives. In fact, you can be in the middle of the most beautiful day you’ve ever had, and jealousy can STILL remind you that someone else out there has it just a little bit easier and that the sun shines just a little bit brighter on their house than yours.

Fortunately, I’ve gotten to know jealousy over the years, and I’ve discovered something interesting about it.

When I allow it to be, jealousy can be one of my greatest teachers.

“Teacher?” you’re probably asking. “Shouldn’t I try to banish jealousy rather than invite it in to serve as my teacher?

Well, here’s the thing that I’ve discovered… honouring jealousy as my teacher takes away its power to harm me.

Here’s what I do when jealousy shows up to torment me:

1. Inquire into what it’s trying to teach me about myself. When I’m jealous of someone, it usually means that they have something that I feel I’m lacking. Why is that lack showing up in my life? Does it mean that I genuinely want that particular thing (fame, money, friends, a published book, etc.), or does it mean that I’m carrying a story about myself that I would feel more complete if I had that thing? Would I REALLY feel more complete if I had that thing, or would I simply start looking for the next thing that would fill the empty space in my life?

2. Fill the lack in my life with gratitude. Jealousy can not co-exist in the same space with gratitude. When I start to genuinely honour what is good in my life by naming that which I am grateful for, jealousy loses its power. Suddenly it can’t convince me to believe any stories of lack because my life is full. Today, for example, as I stood looking down at a sink full of dirty dishes that seemed dismally mundane compared to the glamorous things other people were doing, I turned my heart toward gratitude, thanking God for the food that I’d had the pleasure of eating from those plates and the loved ones who’d sat with me while I ate. My life was abundant after all.

3. Set intentions to seek out more of those things that jealousy is pointing me toward. If, in my truth-seeking, I discover that my heart really is longing for something that another person has, then I ask myself what it will take to attain that thing. If I want more opportunities to host retreats or speak at conferences, for example, what can I do to make that happen in a way that is authentic to me? If I want to grow my work, what courage will it take to get there?

4. Offer blessings to those people who have the things that I seek or are doing the work that I long to do. Just like jealousy and gratitude cannot co-exist, jealousy and blessings cannot co-exist. Whenever I can, I try to extend either a silent or spoken blessing toward whoever triggered my jealousy. This is especially important if I recognize that the people I am envious of are doing really important work in the world – the kind of work I want to do more off. In this case, I really want all of the people gathering in these four places to do beautiful work together, because I believe that their work is leading to more conscious living and deeper connection in the world – two things that I deeply value. I want to be connected to good work like theirs, and so I send out a blessing that their work will spread, and that mine will spread too, and that more people will live with intention, integrity, connection, love, and courage. When I begin to look at it like that, I realize that their success is in correlation with my success rather than in competition with it.

5. Be honest and vulnerable in the relationships where I need to be. Often, there is surprising value in being vulnerable with the person who triggers my jealousy. Several years ago, I found myself dealing with a lot of jealousy toward a friend who seemed to breeze through life much more easily than I did. Because we lived in close quarters and I brushed up against this shadow often, I knew I needed to address it. When I told her what was going on, she broke down and admitted that she’d always been jealous of me too, convinced that I made friends more easily than she did. What resulted was a deep and lasting friendship, built on our shared vulnerability.

There is still much for me to learn from jealousy, and so I suspect it will continue to show up in my life to teach me. In the meantime, I offer this blessing to all of those who are gathering in meaningful circles and doing good work in the world:

May this time together be one of healing and deep connection.
May your hearts be broken wide open as you sense into what wants to emerge in this circle.
May you step courageously into the light and may you carry that light with you into the world.
May you hold in your hearts all of the people who are being drawn into this work and may you feel their love from all over the world.
May each of you honour the wisdom you bring into the circle and may you have the courage and discernment to share it generously.
May you also know when silence is the best course of action.
May you know deep trust, both in yourselves and in the others who have gathered.
May your words be full of grace and love and may your questions be full of truth and openheartedness.
May this time you spend together send a ripple of love and healing into communities all over the world and into the earth itself.

From hero to host

GTW 2013In the past week, I have done three interviews – two where I was guest speaker for online courses and one where I was a guest on an upcoming telesummit on feminine wisdom.

The theme that kept coming up in all three of those conversations, and in my recent talk at Patti Digh’s Design Your Life Camp, was this:

We don’t need another hero. (Thank you, Tina Turner.) What we need instead are people who will serve as hosts.

This is not an original thought to me, but the more I learn about it, the more central it has become to the work that I do.  (I learned it first from my teachers Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze, and have become immersed in it in my work with The Art of Hosting and Harvesting Conversations that Matter.)

We have built too many of our models (in business, government, church, Hollywood, etc.) on the expectation that someone will show up as the hero to save us from the ills of the world, or that we have to show up as the hero for someone else. What that does is create environments where our heroes have too much power, we assume that the rest of us don’t have the capacity to impact real change, and we become complacent in the face of violence, destruction of the earth, racism, economic imbalance, etc.

Here’s what Meg Wheatley has to say about the difference between a hero and a host:

You’re acting as a hero when you believe that if you just work harder, you’ll fix things; that if you just get smarter or learn a new technique, you’ll be able to solve problems for others. You’re acting as a hero if you take on more and more projects and causes and have less time for relationships. You’re playing the hero if you believe that you can save the situation, the person, the world.

Hosting Leaders create substantive change by relying on everyone’s creativity, commitment, and generosity. They learn from firsthand experience that these qualities are present in just about everyone and in every organization. They extend sincere invitations, ask good questions, and have the courage to support risk-taking and experimentation.

The more I learn about what it means to serve as a host leader, the more I am determined to incorporate it into every part of my life. I am a host leader in the way that I teach at the university, inviting my students into their own creativity, innovation, and way of learning instead of trying to impose my ideas on them. I am a host leader in the way I lead retreats, starting always in circle, where we look into each other’s eyes, see the humanity there, and share our stories in a way that invites both vulnerability and strength to show up. I am a host leader in the way that I parent, creating a container for my children to grow into the best version of themselves, instead of trying to mould them into my view of what they should be. I am a host leader in the way I coach, asking meaningful questions that will reveal my clients’ deepest wisdom and truth.

How can we be more intentional about serving as host leaders? Here are some of the thoughts that have emerged from my many conversations with my teachers and fellow-learners on the subject:

  1. Start with curiosity. Leaders are usually taught to be decisive and knowledgeable, and to “never let them see you sweat”. That’s a hero model that closes the door to new things showing up and to other people bringing ideas and questions into the room. Instead, open the door to possibility by being curious. What is opening up? What is possible? What do people bring? What would happen if…?
  2. Host yourself first. Get clear on who you are and where you stand. Find the practices that help to ground you in your own truth and wisdom and that help you withstand the pressures of ego and “the way things have always been”. Inquire into your own stories, triggers, and fears first so that you are more prepared to host what shows up in the circle. (A practice like Mandala Discovery can help with that.)
  3. Be vulnerable. Admit what you don’t know. Admit that you need other people. Admit your failings. It may seem counterintuitive, but vulnerability is one of the greatest strengths of a leader. Vulnerability invites courage, growth, and meaningful relationships.
  4. Invite vulnerability in others. Create a space where it is safe to fail, to fall apart, to not know the answer, and to take risks. People will show up with all of who they are when they know that they are safe.
  5. Trust other people and invite them to bring their creativity, commitment, and wisdom. Every time I teach, I begin by saying “I am not the only person who brought wisdom into the room. Everyone of you brought wisdom, and it is my hope that at some point in this class, you will feel comfortable enough to share it.” Trust them and give them autonomy.
  6. Ask good questions that open up meaningful conversations. Good questions are invitational rather than assuming. They invite energy rather than trying to contain it. They serve like a garden hoe, loosening the soil so that the seeds can grow.
  7. Be an active and engaged listener. An effective host leader spends a lot of time in silence. That’s something that’s taken me a lot of time to learn as a leader/teacher/parent – that I am more effective when I am listening to other people than when I am trying to fill the space with the knowledge I feel compelled to offer people. An effective listener/host allows the people in the circle to get closer to their OWN wisdom and stories rather than trying to adopt someone else’s wisdom.
  8. Start with a “heart at peace” rather than a “heart at war” (from the book Anatomy of Peace).  A heart at war sees others as objects to be overcome, colonized, monopolized, directed, changed, while a heart at peace sees the humanity in each person.
  9. Rearrange the chairs. Most of our classrooms, boardrooms, conferences rooms, etc., are set up in a way that honours the hero model, with the expert at the front of the room. As my circle teachers, Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea say, “change the chairs and you change the conversation.” Get people into circle and teach them that each person in that circle has some responsibility for holding the container and for honouring every other person in the room. There is no room for a hero leader in a circle.

If this is something you’d like to learn more about, I invite you to attend the upcoming Art of Hosting training that I’ll be co-hosting in Winnipeg in November. This is the kind of training that I wish everyone could take at some point in their life. The more of us who take it, the more the world will change.

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