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.

Return to your Wild Heart

 I have seen too many wounded women.
I have watched them lose the light in their eyes when the shadows overcame them.
I have heard a thousand reasons why they no longer give themselves permission to live truthfully.

I have seen too many wild hearts tamed.
I have witnessed the loss of courage when it’s just too hard to keep being an edgewalker in a world that values conformists.
I’ve recognized the fear as they take tiny brave steps, hoping and praying the direction is right.

“I feel guilty whenever I indulge in my passions. It feels selfish and irresponsible.”
“My husband doesn’t like it when I talk about feminine wisdom, so I keep it to myself.”
“If I write the things that are burning in my heart, it will freak people out. So I remain silent.”
“I used to love wandering in the woods, but I never have time for it anymore.”
“I just want to have a real conversation for a change. I want to feel safe to speak my heart.”
“My job makes me feel dead inside, but I don’t know what else I can do.”
“People expect me to be strong and hide my feelings now that I’m in leadership. I feel like I have too much bottled up inside that I can’t share with anyone.”

“Sometimes I think there must be something wrong with me. I just don’t fit in.”

“There is so much longing in the world. I get lost in that longing and don’t know how to sit with it.”
“I wanted to be a painter, but I needed a real career. I haven’t painted in years.”
“People think I’m strange when I share my ideas, so I’ve learned to keep them to myself.”
“I can’t go to church anymore. I don’t feel understood there. But I haven’t found another place where I can find community, so I often feel lonely.”
“There’s a restless energy inside me that wants to be free. I long to be free.”

So much woundedness has been laid tenderly on the ground at my feet.
So many women want their stories validated. Their fears held gently. Their tiny bits of courage honoured.
I hear them whisper “please hear me” through clenched teeth.
I see the tears threaten to overflow out of stoic eyes.
I recognize the longing.
I know the brokenness.
I feel the ache of silenced dreams.

They come to me because they know I have been broken too.
They trust me with their whispers because I am acquainted with fear.
They look to me for courage and understanding because they witness my own long and painful journey back to my wild heart.

I see you.
I know you.
I honour you.
I love you.

You are beautiful.
You are courageous.
You are okay.

You can be wild again.
You can trust your heart. She will not lie to you.
You can live more fully in your body. She will welcome you back.
You can go home to that part of you that feels like it’s been lost.
You can find a circle of people who will understand you.
You can step back into courage.

You have permission to be an edgewalker.
You have permission to speak the things that you’re longing to say.
You have permission to be truly yourself.
You have permission to step away from your responsibilities for awhile.
You have permission to wander in the woods.

You also have permission to be afraid.
And to wait for the right time.
And to sit quietly while you build up your courage.
You don’t need to do this all alone.
And you don’t need to do it all at once.

You don’t need to shout before you’re ready to whisper.
You don’t need to dance before you’ve tried simply swaying to the music.
You can give your woundedness time to heal.

Take a small step back into your self.
Move a little closer to your wild heart.
Pause and touch the wounded places in you.
Just breathe… slowly and deeply.
And when you’re ready, we can do this together.

If this post resonates, please consider the following:

1. Join me as I host a circle of amazing women at A Day Retreat for Women of Courage in Winnipeg on October 20th. Pay what you can.

2. I’m creating a new online program called Lead with Your Wild Heart (related to the themes in this post) that feels like a coming together of a thousand ideas that have filled my head in recent years. Add your name to my email list (top right) to be the first to hear about it and to receive a discount.

A journey into authenticity – taking my seat and meaning it

The first time I attended ALIA, I cried my way through the welcoming address. “Bring your vulnerability and your brokenness,” Michael Chender said, and I thought “Yes, I’ve come to the right place.”

I was feeling profoundly broken and exhausted at the time. Things had gotten difficult and discouraging at work and I knew I was no longer in the right place. On top of that, my husband had just gone through a devastating bout of depression that resulted in a suicide attempt, and I felt like there was no place in my life where I was standing on solid footing.

In my brokenness, I found ALIA and the incredible community that is drawn to it every year. When Meg Wheatley asked, in the Leader as Shambala Warrior leadership intensive I was in, what broke our hearts, it wasn’t hard to come up with a list of things. My heart felt like it was broken into a million pieces, all shattered on the floor.

ALIA is like no place I’ve ever been. It’s a place where you’re encouraged to be curious, vulnerable, broken, foolish, and unsettled. It’s a place where mindfulness comes before anything else, and everyone practices meditation at the beginning and end of each day. It’s a place where learning is holistic, and every workshop includes some creative practice such as dance, music, art-making, and play. It’s a place where people recognize that the world needs to be changed, but first we need to work on changing ourselves.

That first time I attended, ALIA helped me begin a long healing journey out of my place of brokenness. Nobody there expected me to gloss over my brokenness, or rush into fixing it. Instead, they honoured it and gave me a safe place to learn and grow and be changed.

The next year, I knew I needed to go back to ALIA, and yet it was difficult to come up with the funds in my first year of self-employment. Happily, I could negotiate a deal with the administration that I’d do some promotional work for them in exchange for a highly discounted registration rate.

I was in a very different place that year, having been through a lot of healing and growth by then. I was happy to be there in a position of service, able to help people by supporting the organizing and harvesting teams.

I was surprised, however, to find that I hadn’t healed as much as I thought I had. I was still feeling quite tender, and, when I ended up in a workshop that focused on play, I discovered that I wasn’t quite ready for play. At the beginning of the Walk Out Walk On leadership intensive, I still wanted to cry instead of play. By the end, though, it was clear that play was what I needed more than I realized. Some of my healing happened through opening the door to play.

One of the most profound moments at last year’s ALIA was the moment when Yolanda Nokuri Hegngi seemed to speak directly into my heart from her place on the stage. “The world needs more people who know how to navigate in the dark,” she said. Yes, that was a calling meant for me. I’d been through the dark and I was learning how to navigate.

When I was honest with myself that second year (more in retrospect after the fact than in the moment), I realized that, as much as I was healing and growing and learning to navigate in the dark, I wasn’t as authentic as I wanted to be. Partly because I was figuring out how to promote my new business, and partly because I had offered to work in exchange for registration, I felt some pressure to impress and make people happy. In the deepest places in my heart, I knew how badly I wanted people to like me. Part of my brokenness from the year before still lingered.

This year, things were much different again. I hadn’t really planned on going. Of course I wanted to, but knew that it would be difficult to come up with enough funds. I’d said a little prayer about it, and then let it go, trusting that if I was meant to be there, I would be.

I’d erased it from my calendar and wasn’t obsessing about it at all. I felt quite relaxed in my letting go.

And then a remarkable email showed up in my inbox the day before it was set to begin. One of my coaching clients, who has found great value in our work together and who I’d encouraged to attend ALIA, emailed to say that she’d missed her flight and wanted to offer me her ALIA registration and accommodations in exchange for some more coaching.

Wow! What a huge offering! Part of me felt unworthy to receive such a gift, and yet another part of me knew that this was the answer to my prayer.

I booked a flight, rearranged my schedule, and within 24 hours was on my way to Halifax. I was overwhelmed but deeply grateful.

Receiving the gift and believing that I was worthy had a huge impact on my state of mind while at ALIA. I didn’t have to earn anything or prove anything or be anything that I wasn’t. I didn’t even need people to like me. I just needed to be present and receive the abundance that had been offered me. Out of that abundance, I could share my own gifts with those I came into contact with, but not in a desperate, needy way.

Before the first morning’s meditation practice, Alan Sloan told us to sit on our cushions with a regal posture – to think to ourselves “I take my seat and I mean it.” His words leapt out at me. I wrote them on my hand, knowing I needed to contemplate them further.

Those words set the tone for the rest of the week. Each day, I was reminded to be fully present in a confident, authentic way, trusting that I was worthy of being there, worthy of receiving abundance, and worthy of offering myself to others in a way that flowed out of my abundance rather than out of my need.

It was remarkable how things shifted for me. I was no longer broken and needy as I was the first time I was at ALIA, nor was I inauthentic and needy as I was the second time. I was present, confident, hospitable (to myself and others), and full of abundance. I had reached a deeper place in my authenticity.

Several remarkable moments followed that reinforced my theme of “taking my seat and meaning it”. In one of those moments, Bob Wing reminded me (through early morning aikido practice) that standing in my power in a grounded, centred way means that I am less swayed by both compliments and insults. In two other moments, people told me that something I’d shared during the course of ordinary conversation might just be the most profound things they’d take home from the week.

On my last evening there, the annual tradition of having an expressive arts performance/participatory plenary took place. At the start, Barbara Bash (who teaches the beautiful, meditative art of Big Brush painting), was painting at the front of the room with Jerry Granelli (a remarkable jazz drummer) accompanying her. She then invited three people to join her at the canvas. I stepped up, knowing how meaningful the experience would be. She gave us painting instructions and we began, while behind us Jerry instructed the audience in the accompanying music they were to create.

It was a beautiful moment that I won’t soon forget. My brush strokes were simply vertical lines on large paper, intersecting with the horizontal line and dots that the others were painting, and yet it felt profound and moving. When I stepped away, the thing that I had focused on with close eyes became a beautiful painting when I viewed it through a wider lens.

Later that evening, Barbara told me how beautiful it had been to watch me paint. “You were just so present in your painting,” she said, “not worrying about what others in the room were doing, but just fully present with your brush”. I smiled. She had no idea how profoundly her words reflected my whole experience of that week.

The next day, just before I left, one of the speakers used the term “confident vulnerability”. That was the second thing I wrote on my arm. It felt like the right thing to go home with.

I returned home at midnight on Friday and the very next day I co-hosted the Horses and Mandalas workshop with Sherri Garrity. I thought that I would be exhausted, but instead I was energized, alive, and very present. Again, I was able to offer of my gift out of a place of abundance and not need or brokenness. I took my seat and I meant it.

There were two moments in the workshop that Sherri lead us in simply watching the horses in the arena, reflecting on how they impacted us and what we learned from them. In both of those times, one horse stood perfectly still and stared directly into my eyes. He did not back down and in his eyes was encouragement for me not to back down either. “We are connected,” he seemed to say. “Your courage is reflected in my eyes.” He was regal, calm, dignified, and fully confident in the way he interacted with other horses in the herd. You could say he “took his seat and he meant it.”

I later learned that the horse’s name is Fintan. He was a rescue horse who went unappreciated for the first 16 years of his life, bouncing from one place to another and eventually ending up at a horse auction. The owner of the farm where we held the workshop eventually found Finn neglected in a field, skinny, with a sway back, overgrown hooves, and halter sores on his face. Yet, by some miracle, his beautiful spirit was protected and Finn remains sweet, gentle and willing to trust. Finn now teaches people about forgiveness, trust, and triumph. He is beautiful, regal, and demands respect.

Finn chose me, and I know he was meant to complete the lesson that I learned at ALIA. Receive the gift, let the abundance flow through me, take my seat and mean it, and go forth with confident vulnerability.

Thank you Finn and each of the people who touched me at ALIA.

I take my seat and I mean it.

Holding other people’s dreams tenderly

Yesterday was a powerful day. One of those days that leaves you vibrating with energy when it’s all over.

In the morning, I was a guest in a design class in the School of Art at the University of Manitoba. My friend ‘Segun teaches design there. He’d asked me to share the manuscript for my memoir with his students, so that they could design it as one of their assignments. My visit to the classroom was for the purpose of giving them feedback on their designs, so that they have some experience in working with a client in the design process.

I expected to see design concepts on a screen. I wasn’t expecting to hold copies of MY BOOK in my hands. Wow! What an amazing feeling that was! And these weren’t ordinary designs – they were all beautiful! The students are in their third year of art school, so their talent is exceptional. Suddenly my long time dream of becoming a published author began to feel like a very real possibility.

The book (at this point, at least) is called Butterfly at the Grave. Here are some of the possibilities of what it might look like.

What felt especially powerful about the morning was the way that these students had so tenderly treated my words and ideas, honouring them with art, photography, and beautiful treatment of text. Each one of them explained the way they’d interpreted my words and translated them into art, demonstrating a real sensitivity in their approaches.

In return, I held their creations tenderly in my hands, gave them gentle (and hopefully helpful) feedback, and encouraged them in their pursuit of art.

The afternoon was similar in some ways, and yet very different. As a board member of UNPAC (a feminist organization that works to empower and advocate for women), I’d been asked to serve as a mentor for our Changemakers program. In this program, women are mentored to become leaders in their communities. The target audience is largely marginalized women who live in the inner-city.

I sat with three of the women for most of the afternoon. Throughout the course of the program, they have to work on developing some personal project that they are passionate about – either some business idea that they want to grow, or a community leadership role they want to take initiative on. I served as their advisor, giving them feedback on their ideas and helping them bring more clarity and focus to their plans.

I listened deeply, trying to give each woman the tender and honest respect and encouragement that they need. I would like nothing more than to see these women succeed in their plans.

After our smaller advisory circles, we all joined in a closing circle to offer our final thoughts for the day. There are few things I like more than sitting in a circle of women – especially when those women are talking about stepping into leadership in new ways.

I’m sure that people who saw me on the bus on my way home wondered why I was smiling the whole time.

I was smiling because I’d been touched by so many people throughout the day. First there were the students who’d tenderly held my dream in their hands (and I’d tenderly held theirs in mine), and then there were the women (most of whom have lived difficult lives where trust can not be assumed) who trusted me enough to let me hold their dreams for even a brief moment and offer ideas on how to shape them.

It all felt so very powerful.

This is the way that dreams grow. We plant seeds, add dirt, and then we have to trust other people to help us water those tender shoots when they start to grow.

This is the way that communities grow. We honour each other, give helpful feedback, take risks in trusting each other, and believe in each other’s projects.

This is the way that love grows. We share, we listen, we help, and we give, until each of us shines more beautifully than we did before.

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