I am one month post-chemo. This past weekend my friend Kathy and I shared, along with 170 others, a conference on Transforming Leadership, hosted by the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpenteria, California. We met many fine human beings, and heard some extraordinary speakers.
So much of what was shared seems crucially important. And so I’m taking my notes from the conference and transcribing them for you. I will be sending out one speaker’s notes each day this week.
Emails and phone calls are welcome. I need to ponder what I heard, so I am sharing the things that resonated – said more clearly than I am able.
Matthew Fox: Leadership as a Spiritual Practice
We are in the dark night of our species.
We need the courage to learn new ways: Our systems have separated justice from law, learning from education, spirit from religion. We can do better. We must each trust in our calling.
It is time to move beyond the domestication of the soul. Nature is a mystical encounter which reminds us that life is chaotic, wild and peaceful. What carries us down in spirals to the deep places within us where wisdom resides? What side of consciousness do we need now?
Gary Snyder, 1967: “The next great step for the species is to step into the nature of the human mind.”
Rainier Maria Rilke once said: “All beauty contains terror.”
Matthew Fox, 2012: “We have forgotten the sense of what is sacred.”
The beginning of the journey to the sacred is wonder and awe. Knowledge by itself is only raw power. We need to travel the path of wisdom, the red road spoken of by our native ancestors. As leaders, we need to midwife for grace.
The call of the leader is for us to put our own inner house in order; to return to our inner call of what is sacred.
Mary Oliver once said: “My work is in loving the world.”
We have both an outer life and an inner sanctuary, where we keep trust with ourselves and all our meaning and all our values. We need to return to the place where we live our outer lives in the inner sanctuary, at one and whole. Our outer work will not be small if the inner work is good.
There are forces at work that want to use each of us for purposes far greater than we know. Hildegaard Bingen once said, “We are a feather on the breath of God.”
Four Human Practices that Span All Religions
VIA POSITIVA: The path of awe. We need to have a love affair with our vocations to rediscover our sense of awe, where we can marvel at the every day. From this place emerges both individual and group visions, visions we can fall in love with. The universe is a sacred reality: Stand still, listen and remember how to be astonished.
VIA NEGATIVA: The path of silence and grief. If your heart has been broken, you are human. Grief is a practice we all need, as anger is only the first level of grief. Leaders have to be able to grieve to lead, as grief is a boulder in the heart that blocks us from our creativity. In the silence of the soul we each need someone we can talk to. When we do not grieve, we don’t remember our stories, we do not know our history, we cannot learn from our mistakes. The soul grows through subtraction, not through addition: we lose, we grieve, we learn.
VIA CREATIVA: The path of outer work in the world – we are a people who makes things. The greatest failure of leadership is a failure of the imagination. We are fed by the joy of learning and creating. To find this pathway, we need to calm our reptilian brain, the place of “fight or flight”; we need to embrace our mammalian brain and activate our neo-cortex. It is in the joining of compassion and creativity that all things become possible. Creativity, however, is always chaotic. We need to rediscover the relearn the dance of chaos and order. Einstein once said, “Feeling and intuition are one.” Fundamentalists are those who believe that the devil is in the imagination. We must reawaken to the Via Creativa to find the path forward.
VIA TRANSFORMATIVA: The path of outer work that is filled with justice and compassion. When we join the circle of wisdom from the ways before to the arrow of action we find the spiral in and out. This way gives us the wisdom to choose what we are to do. We do not want to go overly long into process, and need the balance of masculine and feminine energies. EE Cummings once said, “There is shit I will not eat”. In the 1930s, the intellectuals of Germany believed they could dialogue with the Nazis, that there was a way through the coming clouds in which they could “save their jobs”. Sometimes this is not so. Sometimes we have to love something more than the fear of losing it in order to truly live: It is not about preserving our institutions. It is about bringing full energy to bear on what you know from your inner sanctuary to be the pathway forward.
A leader’s aspirational quality is not as important as it is to empower believers who take wise and right action that comes from their deepest truths. You can’t change a system unless you are part of a system; but if you can’t make change then it is time to leave the bus.
How do we make change?
- Get in trouble, stir things up
- Create conflict, pursue debate
- Use humor
- Discern whether your voice is still being heard
- You can let them kick you out, this may be the pathway of greatest learning
- Use the press and media
- Find and expand your allies
- Don’t be so orthodox and pure you cannot dialogue
Note: As I distribute these thoughts, I am doing so in the spirit of the leadership demonstrated by the speakers at the conference. I attempt to be specific and truthful to their words, I know I am accurate in conveying their intentions. If you are taken by the notes on any speaker, know that you can google their name to access their books, their writings, their audio tapes and learn more.