Seeking 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.

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.

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.

Bringing the mandala into your journey of personal growth

I saw the wisdom in her eyes. She’d lived nearly 70 years on this earth and had walked with grace through a lot of pain and growth and self-discovery. As her coach, I wasn’t sure what I could offer her. I often wonder that when I see the wisdom in the eyes of my clients, and yet I show up and ask the questions, and somehow they always end up taking a step even deeper into their True Selves. It’s a beautiful thing to serve as witness, storycatcher, and guide.

She had just shared the story of a middle-of-the-night breakthrough in which she’d realized that she was still carrying a burden of anger with her. She was seeking clarity about what the anger was about. Was she still angry at her husband who’d died a few years earlier? God? Herself? She wasn’t sure.

At the end of the session, in which her own storytelling helped her find some of the clarity she was seeking, she looked over at the mandala journals beside me. “What are those?” she asked. “These are my mandala journals,” I said. “When clients are interested, I offer them some mandala-journaling processes that help them work through some of the questions sitting on their hearts.”

Her eyes lit up. “Tell me about them.” And so I did. I found the ones that I thought might help her peel back the layers of the question she was sitting with, and walked her through the simple instructions. “Sometimes,” I said, “when we’re stuck inside something so deep that we don’t have words to help us unpack it, a mandala can help us find a path through.”

mandala - deeper source“When we simply use words in our journals, we can get stuck in left-brain thinking. We try to use logic and reason to work our way through our questions. The deeper soul questions don’t respond well to logic and reason. They need to be invited into a different space – a deeper space in the heart where intuition, creativity, and spirituality rest.”

“A mandala is such a space. In invites you deeper into your intuitive heart. It serves as an invitation for those questions so deep and shapeless you don’t have words to define them.”

When I looked at her again, I saw something new in her eyes – softening, understanding, and gratitude. Something had shifted. Something in her heart had opened up. “Thank you,” she said softly. “Thank you for giving me this tool. I think you’ve just gifted me with exactly what I need.”

A week later, a mutual acquaintance emailed me to say she’d seen my client in the neighbourhood. “She looked lighter than I’ve seen her look in years. Something has been lifted off of her shoulders.”

I didn’t take that woman’s weight off her shoulders. She found the path through her own anger to a place of lightness. I simply asked the questions and gave her some tools to help her on the journey.

That look in her eyes, however, served as a catalyst for me. (It’s almost always the case that I gain as much from my coaching clients as they gain from me.) I’d almost forgotten the value of mandala journaling, until she reminded me what a powerful tool it can be. I’d let it slip in my priorities, under the other work I was doing, but suddenly I knew that I had to bring it back into my primary work. I needed to make it available to other people seeking paths through their pain, anger, inertia, grief, fear, stuckness, growth, etc.

I dove back into it, and before long, I’d created the foundation for Mandala Discovery: 30 Days of Mandala Journaling. 

mandala - jung quoteIf you’re looking for a new tool that will help you entertain the questions in your heart, perhaps Mandala Journaling is for you.

This is not about art-making or technique (there are lots of other art journaling courses out there for that purpose). It’s about providing you with a simple tool for deeper self-discovery.

For only $45, you’ll get an introductory booklet about mandalas, a pdf that lists what kind of tools you might want to have on hand, one mandala journaling prompt every day for 30 days, and access to a private Facebook group where you can share your mandala journaling questions and insights.

Your soul questions are calling you. Why don’t you create a space where they can feel safe?

What wisdom is hidden in your own voice?

labyrinth starts hereWhen you stand at the very centre of the Carol Shield’s labyrinth, as I did yesterday evening, and speak out to the edges, you will hear your own voice echoed ever so slightly back to you. You have to listen very carefully to hear it and you have to be standing in exactly the right spot or the echo evades you.

In labyrinthian journeys, the centre is known as the place where you open yourself to receiving from Spirit, after walking in and releasing what was previously getting in the way.

Which begs the question… what am I meant to receive from the echo of my own voice? What wisdom is already hidden in me that I might not yet be aware of?

Yesterday in church the pastor spoke about giftedness – how we need only be faithful with our gifts in order for them to multiply. At the centre of the labyrinth, I thought about that in relation to my voice. It’s a gift that already exists, coming out of a wisdom that God has already planted within me, and I don’t need to keep looking elsewhere for my source of inspiration.

Faithfulness to our gifts means that we must exercise them, train them, and grow them. Practice and study are both very important, but what’s also important is a deep level of trust in the gift itself.

In our eagerness to perfect the gift, and our insecurity about using it before it is sufficiently polished, we forget about the ancient wisdom already there. We forget that the unpolished gift already has beauty.

When I was a child, I had a growing realization that I had a unique ability to see things – to really see them in a deeper way than most people did. When I would try to explain things that I’d seen to other people, I knew by their lack of understanding that they’d never witnessed them in the same way that I did.

These were fairly ordinary things, but for me they had an aura of magic. For example, I was always captivated by the image of deer leaping over fences. That sight would freeze me in my tracks and I was stand in awe at the magic I had just witnessed. When I would try to explain how that sight impacted me, people would usually look at me with a puzzled look and I knew that they’d only ever seen deer leaping over fences as ordinary and not transcendent.

I stopped talking about things that seemed mystical to me. It made me feel too much like an oddball. Now, years later, I recognize that ability to see things as a part of the ancient wisdom buried in me. I am a meaning-maker, a storycatcher, a seer… perhaps even a mystic. I see metaphor and meaning in things that pass many people by. I receive messages from deer or trees or sunsets and I walk away changed. It’s still not always easy to talk about (as I mentioned in my last post), but I am growing in my ability to trust it.

In The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, Richard Rohr talks about the three ways to see a sunset…

One man saw the immense physical beauty and enjoyed the event in itself. This man was the “sensate” type who, like 80 percent of the world, deals with what he can see, feel, touch, move, and fix. This was enough reality for him, for he had little interest in larger ideas, intuitions, or the grand scheme of things. He saw with his first eye, which was good.

A second man saw the sunset. He enjoyed all the beauty that the first man did. Like all lovers of coherent thought, technology, and science, he also enjoyed his power to make sense of the universe and explain what he discovered. He thought about the cyclical rotations of planets and stars. Through imagination, intuition, and reason, he saw with his second eye, which was even better.

The third man saw the sunset, knowing and enjoying all that the first and the second men did. But in his ability to progress from seeing to explaining to “tasting,” he also remained in awe before an underlying mystery, coherence, and spaciousness that connected him with everything else. He used his third eye, which is the full goal of all seeing and all knowing. This was the best.

The third man, who sees with his third eye, is a mystic. As soon as I read Rohr’s description of what it means to be a mystic, I knew that this had something to do with the way that I’d always seen the world. The seeds of mysticism were already there when I stood in awe of deer leaping over fences.

I have read a thousand books, taken a thousand classes, and yet none of them can teach me to access the ancient wisdom – the wisdom of the seer – that is already within me. None of them can point to the gift that is meant for me to share. For that I must quiet all of the external voices, remove myself from the noise of my life and walk a labyrinth or wander the woods. That is when my own voice is echoed back at me and I know that I already have what I need.

What is the ancient wisdom buried in you? It may be body wisdom, heart wisdom, or head wisdom. It may be the ability to see justice, create order, experience beauty, shape stories, make people laugh, or offer compassion. What did you already know as a child, but might have been afraid to speak of or do or be because it made you seem like an oddball? What do you now need to do to create space for that wisdom to emerge?

To start with, find a quiet place where your wisdom can echo back to you through the silence. Walk away from the noise of other people’s voices and expectations and stand in silence with your God. In that quiet place, let your gift emerge from its hiding place, let it fill your heart with knowing, and give yourself permission to trust it. Then, by all means, practice, train, and polish it, but don’t forget to use it in the meantime. It already has value.

The gift is yours – be faithful in using it and it will multiply.

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