Hosting From A Deeper Place: The Art of Hosting the Subtle

The subtle and the physical.  Both are all around us all the time.  The eyes see the physical and we perceive it as “real”, tangible.  It often takes more than the eyes to “see” or sense the subtle.  Since we have learned to rely on our eyes, we have lost much of our conscious connection to the subtle. Yet, it is all around and within us even as many of us are oblivious to it.  It is a natural extension of the physical phenomena or/and the physical is a natural extension of the subtle.  Yet we complicate our understanding of the subtle, ignore it, believe it inaccessible or non-existant.  Or, believe that if it does exist, only a few really gifted people can access it.

Speaking for myself, up until a few years ago, I didn’t believe those gifted people included me. Now I know we all have this “gift”.  It is a sense many of us are re-learning, remembering how to tune into.

This understanding was one of the things at the heart of the call for Hosting From a Deeper Place: The Art of Hosting the Subtle, co-hosted by Narjara Thamiz, Gustavo Prudente, Jerry Nagel and me. Our time together was guided with the purpose of “joining together in a learning field to deepen  individual and collective capacity to host complexity.”  Implicit in that purpose statement is the notion that in order to host complexity well, we need to tune into, discern and understand the subtle, the energetics, the deeper patterns that are also at play.  Tapping into this in an intentional way has the potential to shift the nature of the work we are in and the results we achieve.

Openly talking about the subtle has challenged many of us in the work we do.  Too many times we have bumped up against hearing that this way of working is “woo-woo“. “Don’t want any of that “woo-woo” stuff here, we need practical results.”  Yet, when work is in flow, when it is emergent and generative, people understand that something different happened, that something impactful, useful and powerful has influenced the results, the actions flowing out of the work.  We have been trying to find ways to describe it, words and phrases that are understood and accepted in the world of business, government, non-profit.  Yet truly hosting from this deeper place is beyond words, beyond knowing and beyond not knowing.  This is the exploration that called us.  What does it means to access this place with intentionality, a place of presence.

The first time I explicitly remember hosting from a deeper place was with Jerry Nagel the first time we hosted together in Nova Scotia in 2011.  We looked beneath individual behaviours that were sparking to discover the patterns underneath, working with the subtle field.  Tapping into the deeper patterns elicited design ideas that produced a complete shift in energy, in relationship and conversation within the group.  We happened upon this through inquiry and, when we noticed the palpable shift in the space, became curious about what we had tapped into.

In my last post, I wrote about our design process, about being in the not knowing and riding the waves of emergence that kept surfacing during our time together at Hosting From a Deeper Place in Brazil.  It was all part of working with the subtle and working with the subtle went much deeper than that.

Some of the people who came, came because of an intense curiosity about the subtle, including people who have had near death experiences, experiences with shifts in consciousness, with tapping into different dimensions.  They arrived with curiosity about what we meant by the subtle, invisible forces, that which is before the naming.  Their experiences, our experiences, as diverse as the number of people who came.

The subtle field showed up, in subtle and not so subtle ways.  The beautiful property of Espaço Arco-Íris was designed for this kind of work and hosts groups in this kind of energetic field.

Despite interest from many parts of the world, the people who responded live in North and South America.  In our opening circle, Narjara remembered a dream she had in the early days of our conversation about this gathering.  She had dreamt of a condor, not knowing what it was, discovering the Hopi prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor, a meeting of cultures and energies, a shift from leadership from the mind (North America) to leadership from the heart (South America).

The hosting team designed for the first day and a half.  The third day was co-created with participants.  The fourth day was open space.  We were holding the mystical and practical in our field and this too showed up in the open space.  A session on tarot cards was offered for messages related to our gathering and other events in Brazil at the moment.  Jerry offered the flow game, a mystical tool itself applied to deep and often practical questions people bring as they host themselves.

I offered a question about spirit guides, guardian angels and power animals, what do they have to do with our work?  As I write this I notice my own tension between wanting to share this story and my uncertainty about how it will be perceived by people who read it, who were not there, wanting to honour the integrity of each of us who were part of this overall experience of Hosting From a Deeper Place, not all of whom were part of the session I called.

Taking a deep breath, I am continuing to share, inviting those who continue to read to bring your curiosity and open heartedness to what you read.

My open space session turned into two as someone in the circle shared that one of the participants channels a guardian and would we welcome the guardian into our circle with any messages meant for us?

the circle in the woods

Anita Gomes joined our circle, noticing that the guardian she channels was indicating she wanted to share with our circle.  The guardian’s name is Vó Antônia or Grandma Antônia. She is a “Preta Velha”, from Umbanda, a Brazilian religion that blends African religions with Catholicism, Spiritism, and considerable indigenous lore.

Vó Antônia is an old black woman with completely different characteristics and mannerisms than Anita.  She also has a lovely manner and a beautiful sense of humour.  Those in our now expanded circle had both personal questions and broader questions for her.

There were key messages that resonated for me.  Vó Antônia shared with us there is no need to doubt the existence of the subtle.  It is as real as the physical.  There are entities, beings, guides that support each and every one of us, whether we are aware of them or not. We are on the same team, we just live in different houses.  When asked if we should be looking for signs she told us it is long past the time when we need to look for signs.  No books falling off of shelves, windows being rattled, doors opening mysteriously, smoke signals being sent.  It is far simpler than we make it out to be.

We rely on our eyes too much. They give us false information. We look for physical beauty.  We look for ways to show how special we are, how gifted we are.  Seeing through the heart allows us to see through many false pretences.   Seeing in this way we will be in our knowing.  We will be able to trust our knowing, trust ourselves.

It is not too late to save the planet.  We are already working in service of the planet.  We do not need to be afraid.  As above, so below.  As within, so without.  As in the physical, so in the subtle.

Our gathering might seem small but its impact is significant.  When we leave, we simply need to keep doing what we are doing, seeing from the heart, knowing all is intertwined.  Walking the paths that call us, living purposefully, meaningfully, intentionally.  We are weaving the web of the past and the future together for the present moment.

For me, I came home from this experience in Brazil in the space of expansiveness, remembering from time to time to take a breath and sense beyond my physical form to where the boundaries blur and my consciousness swims, intermingled with other essences of and from the subtle.  To remember that it is not two separate things – the physical and the subtle – it is all part of the same essence, each in its own way.  To remember that my spiritual journey, my life journey, my career path are not separate things that I need to think about how to combine, work and the sacred are all essences of the same thing.

It was and is, of course, different for every one who was there.  The group is still alive and sparking in beautiful, interconnected ways of story sharing.  Many are sharing how they are hosting from a deeper place and what that means to them.  Most of us are still in the discovery of what it means, how it is showing up, how the subtle and the practical are dancing together in powerful, beautiful, noticeable ways.

We are curious to see what more the story is becoming, what more we are each becoming, individually and collectively.

And, while we were told we didn’t need to look for signs, the pictures taken on our last day in our opening circle outside showing orbs of light in the sky and around each person in the circle no matter where we were standing seems a pretty good reflection of the energy field expanded by our time together in exploration of the practical and the subtle.  Tricks of light or just light?  Simple, really.  Beauty and grace.  Expansiveness from the heart.

orb of light in the treesorbs of light

Journey to Open Heartedness

Love is the conversation we need to have.  A post from Dogma to Divine I read this morning illuminated for me what to write about today.  Love.  Not romantic love. Not love with attachment or conditions.  Love as a way to be in the world.  Love as a way to hold space – with others, for others, for ourselves, for conversations that want and need to happen.  Love as a healing energy.  Love as a pathway in the world.  Love as an illuminator.

open-hearted (1)

Fear tries to obliterate love.  The inner voice of the judge tries to shut it down.  We have come to associate so much disappointment with love, we are afraid of love.  Afraid to let it wash over us, our relationships, our way of being in the world. We are afraid we will be disappointed, exposed, hurt.  Afraid we will be vulnerable in ways that allow others to take advantage of us, our good heart, our good intentions – in which case it is no longer love but something posing for love.

We are afraid to know ourselves from the field of love.  We are afraid to know others from the field of love.   Yet it is who we are at the core.

It is hard to love others when we do not love ourselves.  It is hard to let love in from others when we do not love ourselves.

Love is misunderstood.  We have come to attach so many conditions – or feel conditions attached –  to it that rediscovering what love is becomes a practice, a journey to open heartedness. If we allow it.  If we invite it.  We are not even aware of the conditions and the expectations we attach to it.  To those we love.  “If you loved me, you would….”  Yup.  Fill in the blank.  For any one you are in relationship with.  We all have many of them.

If you loved me, I wouldn’t have to tell you what I feel, what I need from you.  If you loved me, you would just know.  Because you don’t know, you don’t love me.  Now I am hurt. Now I shut down.

If you loved me, I wouldn’t have to love myself.  But if I cannot love myself, I cannot let your love for me in.  I deem myself unworthy, undeserving of your love.  Not romantic love.  Human to human love.  Spirit to spirit love.  Soul to soul love.  Just love.

We discover love and how we relate to love through relationship with others.  Yes, romantic love counts here too.  And it is so much more than that.  Children. Parents. Siblings. Friends.  Colleagues. Acquaintances. Strangers on the street. Those who love us.  Those who challenge us.  Those who don’t even know they impact us.  Or don’t know how much.

Disappointment arises when expectations, hopes, conditions we are carrying are not met.  When we harbour this disappointment it casts shadow over the field of love. When we replay it over and over again, it grows.  Then we feel the need to armour ourselves because we have learned love only leads to disappointment.  Anger shows up.  That we would be treated so.  That someone else doesn’t care enough about us.  That people are only mean and selfish anyway.

The journey to open heartedness invites the inquiry – into hurt, pain, grief, disappointment, attachment.  It invites the release of whatever shows up during the inquiry. It invites forgiveness.  Of self.  Of others.  An opening up of space.  Expansiveness.  Generosity.  It also invites inquiry into joy, beauty, delight and love itself.  It is a pathway to peace.   A practice we don’t get perfect but we can perfect the practice of inquiry and deepening the journey to open heartedness.

Practicing love does invite us into our own vulnerability.  A vulnerability that comes from our willingness to see ourselves fully and allow others to see us.  In all of the imperfectness of who we are.  Vulnerability that invites  us to be in our strength and power.  We can be in a field of love and make different choices about different relationships. To be in some.  To not be in others.  To make conscious choices. To appreciate our choices. To make choices that invite generosity of spirit, not from a place of hurt, anger or denial – although some of the choices may start there.  We have the opportunity to shift the shape of the story at any time.  It comes with hosting self.  Growing awareness.  Growing practice.

Generosity and a willingness to love others without an expectation of performance in return for love or even having that love returned in the same way.  This is a difficult practice at first.  To let go.  To not follow a path of hurt or shame.  Just to offer love.

Love is the conversation we need to have.  Now.  Always.  With each other.  With ourselves.  As we journey deeper into open heartedness, we grow our acceptance of self.  Of others in their journey, wherever they are in their journey.  It doesn’t always require words.  It can simply radiate from the heart.  Become a way of being in the world.  The more it becomes this, the more people respond, even when they don’t know that they are, or what they are responding to.  Love is the conversation we need to have.  All of us. Every where.

Shape Shifting Along the Path of Soul Journey

There are times, more frequently and consistently lately, thankfully, when My Self is in step with My Soul – my soul journey.  My Self has taken a long and winding road, full of pot holes, steep slopes and obstacles on the path, shifting shape in subtle and dramatic ways, to find her way to My Soul.

My Soul holds loving space.  Patiently waiting with full invitation for My Self to notice, to step in, to fall in, to embrace.  Sometimes My Soul whispers to My Self to help My Self find her way.  Sometimes she beckons loudly.  She always trusts My Self will find her way back. If not in this breath, maybe in the next.  If not in the next or the next after that, when there are no more breaths in the physical My Self, setting the non-physical free to blend back in with My Soul.  There is no time limit.  My Self manufactures urgency that My Soul does not assume, does not need, in the moment, a moment that could be a moment as we know it or a lifetime as we experience it.

When the two, which I have playfully named My Self and My Soul as I lean into what it is I am even trying to understand and discern here for myself, are in synch, there is a depth of stillness, beauty and love that envelops me in every way imaginable and emanates out in the world in palpable ways.  Synchronicity flows.  Miracles follow miracles and wonders never cease.

My Shape Shifting Lion Friend – on for the Soul Journey

I have known this soul journey through unconsciousness, awakening, pain and sorrow, joy, love – to greater and lessor degrees.  I have often thought there must be ways to get to it just from joy, that pain and suffering are symptomatic of the human condition and should be optional.  There are easier ways, most of us just don’t seem to choose them.

Earlier today, running in a beautiful Nova Scotia fall morning, through my neighbourhood, down to the Bedford Basin, along the waterfront, up to and down the main road, through a path along a little stream, back in a quiet neighbourhood and along the lake to home, I was present to my physical experience.  The air crisp and cool.  The sun filtering through the leaves of the trees – what’s left of them anyway.  My feet crunching through the fallen leaves.  Not thinking of things but holding my own self, my own experience with curiosity.

I notice this sense of transition – again, never ending, always in it transition.  I see the world around me, my actions, my work, me, changing, shifting shape all the time.  Often subtlely.  I feel things slipping off and new things budding.  It’s often quite lovely.  And I feel sorrow and joy.  Great depths of sorrow.  Great expanses of joy.  Either of these experiences can evoke tears and either are perfectly okay.  I am learning to hold them without judgment, just the noticing.  Oh, and the allowing.  Allowing them to flow when they appear – for joy or sorrow or any other number of reasons they may appear.  And, of course, it is not just tears but any range of possible expressions of emotional state, many of which are quite delightful.  Including stillness.  Including exuding love – like  a magnet, attracting people, experiences  stories and more love.   I am learning that when you travel the path of love, all things are added.

When I first moved into my house two and a half years ago, for almost two months I woke up every day feeling joy and delight.  Every single day. It was so lovely.  I understood that instead of struggle, perhaps joy could be the baseline experience that informs our journey, that we keep springing back to when we let go of whatever is getting in the way of joy.  It was quite a revelation born of the wondering and expectation that was beginning to creep into my awareness that maybe one morning soon I would wake up and not feel joyful.  I wanted to invite the level and intensity of joy into my life, every single day.

Then, financial realities began to hit.  Time began to bleed, minutes into minutes, days into days.  I could feel stress in my body and I knew it was being created not by my experience in this moment, but by my thoughts foraying into the future and the past, forgetting to reside in the beauty and okayness of Now.  My Self separated from My Soul for a little sojourn in other places.  My Soul tenderly held the space for My Self to explore.  The exploration in service of soul journey.

As I listen to Esther Hicks channeling Abraham, a conglomeration of non-physical entities, and Abraham speaks about expansion, I’m now getting it.  Abraham says, what’s the good of a banquet if they only offer what you want?  Where is the opportunity for growth and expansion in that?  If all my days had stayed only in that joyful place, would I have experienced this new depth of soul journey, where My Self is in tune, in step with My Soul more often, if some disturbance hadn’t entered my field of awareness?  If they hadn’t shown up, maybe I would have been content to stay within the boundaries of my lovely new home because I’m sure loving my solitude when I have the opportunity.  Instead, the murmurs of discontent show me what I don’t want, causing me to look for more of what I do want and then attract to me and my journey the most amazing, remarkable experiences.  I’m shape shifting yet again and how lovely is that?

It’s not struggle. It’s not even transition. It is being, experiencing, allowing.  There is no struggle if I don’t.  Lots of letting go of illusions and opening up to more and more of what I want – My Self walking with My Soul more often, inviting me to show up fully, to hold space more deeply, to carry things more lightly and allow myself to be swept along to the next shifted shape that is the new hallmark of a journey that only gets better and better.

Credible Vulnerability?

No wonder we are so challenged by the idea of vulnerability, especially personal vulnerability.  It was a revelation to me to do an internet search on the topic.  What came up first and most was this kind of explanation:

  • the inability to withstand the effects of a hostile environment
  • window of vulnerability as a time frame within which defensive measures are reduced, compromised or lacking
  • Achilles Heel
  • capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt
  • open to moral attack, criticism or temptation

No wonder most of us shudder when the topic of vulnerability comes up.  It is in our collective consciousness and organizational cultures as weakness not as strength although much research confirms the power of vulnerability as pointed out by Brene Brown – beautiful and powerful in her own vulnerability.

I an in a renewed deep dive into this exploration thanks to the conversation that may have surprised and delighted me the most at The Art of Participatory Leadership and Social Innovation in California at the end of August 2012.  A conversation I did not expect to be witness to or our high tech company participants to be in.

It arose out of a World Cafe conversation on complexity in response to the third question: what’s stirring in you now as you contemplate complexity (after exploring complexity they’ve been in and barriers and supports for being in complexity)?  My attention was caught by a table where two men and two women were deep in a shared reflection of where vulnerability meets credibility.

The conversation went something like this:

“Yes, I know it’s a good thing to be vulnerable, but how do I be vulnerable and still be credible as a leader, in my organization.”

“It’s not safe to be vulnerable. You are seen as weak.  How can you be vulnerable and not appear weak?”

“I would lose credibility.”

“First you need credibility, then you can be vulnerable.  But how much credibility is enough?”

“Maybe allowing yourself to be vulnerable will show your credibility.”  Is there such a thing as credible vulnerability?  What does that even mean?

All of this led me to wonder what we mean when we speak about vulnerability – what’s in the field?  A lot about weakness  and protection it seems. This resonates with my journey personal journey, one of Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Open Heartedness.  The invitation was to move beyond believing emotions make me weak to understanding them as a guidance system that will never steer me wrong if I pay attention.  In the context of leadership, particularly participatory leadership, vulnerability does not equal weakness, defense systems do, but how and why is that so?

Thankfully Brene Brown is turning vulnerability (shame too) on its head so we can lean into it differently.  She says, “Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy ~ the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.”  And also make us the most human.

Sounds pretty personal.  What does it have to do with work? Because as much as we try we cannot be one person at home and another at work.  We suffer from the incongruency and it shows up wherever we show up.  People sense it, even when, especially when, we try to hide and know, from the place of deep knowing, when they have encountered someone in the fullness of their authentic journey and their vulnerability.  They often name it as courage.

Brown says what we are most seeking is connection.  It is why we are here, it gives meaning and purpose to our lives.  I hear the yearning for it in so many people who are drawn to Art of Hosting and related gatherings.  In order to have connection, we have to let ourselves be seen.  Truly, fully, seen.  But then we risk people seeing our weakness, our shame, any inauthenticity or lack of integrity we feel we may be carrying. We make ourselves vulnerable.

Interestingly, when I looked up the definition of credibility it is the quality or power of inspiring belief; the quality of being believed or accepted as true, real and honest.  Seems to describe what I think of as one aspect of vulnerability.  And it’s simple.

Given this definition, the relationship between credibility and vulnerability is so intimately entwined it is hard to separate out which comes first and which you need more.  If we can begin to see vulnerability for the strength and authenticity that it is, instead of as a weakness we cannot show others, our credibility instantly begins to rise.  But how?

There is no simple solution to this.  It requires courage and risk and a path of hosting yourself, growing self awareness and presence.  It requires the courage of being imperfect and of compassion – for self and others, particularly for self.  Finding the way to allow ourselves to be vulnerable without inviting criticism or recrimination – the fear of which intimidates us and makes us believe we need to protect ourselves. This is the conundrum.

Vulnerability is part of an intentional journey of learning to find our voice from the depths of our strength, our sense of worthiness, love and belonging, from the place of whole heartedness.  It is also part of the art of what we do.  The only way to trust is to risk.  The only way to risk is to trust. The only way to do this is to do it.  Risk as much as we dare.  Pause. Reflect. Learn. Embody. Trust. Risk a little more.  Eventually we shift the shape of our experience, our understanding, our credibility and our vulnerability. We live into it as the asset it is rather than the deficit many of us have experienced it to be.  It is not our vulnerability that is the challenge.  It is our fear of our own vulnerability that brings the weakness.

We didn’t name this conversation.  It showed up in an unexpected place.  Speaks to the yearning.  Speaks to what’s missing.  Speaks to the invitation.  Speaks to the first step.  Easy.  Difficult. Complex. Simple.  Choose.

Ode to My Dad – Raoul Hector Jourdain – on his 79th Birthday

March 29 is my dad’s birthday.  This year he will be 79.  I’m sure when he came into this world, and as the beginning days of his life unfolded, had he looked ahead, he would not have imagined where his journey would take him – the good and the bad.  I would not have imagined the shifting shape of it either.

Hector Jourdain and his youngest grandson on bridge of the Bluefin

I didn’t meet my dad when I was born.  It was some weeks or months later when he came into my life – or I came into his.  And then, for him, it was love at first sight.  Maybe for me too but I don’t remember.  What I became aware of later is the connection I’ve always had with my dad.

He was not always an easy man to live with.  There was a lot of tension in my house growing up and even after I left.  He and mom had their share of battles and I had some of my own with him, though few.

Having said that, people were always welcome in our home – from the earliest days of my memory.  No one was ever turned away – visitors, from near or far.  My friends from school came to play and often stayed for supper. Always room for more.  It fostered a sense of hospitality in me that only grew over the years.  That, and friends could be like family – experienced over and over again during Christmas holidays in particular for quite a few years as a large group of friends gathered for a traditional Gaspe meal after midnight on Christmas Eve.

The sea has always been in my dad’s blood.  He has owned a few boats over the years but his pride and joy was a beautiful wooden boat, the Bluefin, which he owned for thirty years.  With care and craftsmanship, he rebuilt that boat from stem to stern over the time he owned it.  If that boat could talk, many a story would it have to tell.

I already lived in Halifax when the Bluefin came to dad.  He and my mom always enjoyed having guests aboard – and that remained true to the final summers we went out on it.  In the early years, it was much more of a party boat.  I and my friends were always welcome.  Most of the time, anyway.

Dad's pride and joy - Bluefin

There was one time, during Chester race week in August, that a fairly large group of my university friends arrived for the weekend.  We boarded the boat, loading up with supplies we brought – food and beer… and a bit more beer.  My father watched as we brought two-four, after two-four, after two-four on the boat until he finally said to me, “How much is enough?”

Then there was one spring when we offered to help him paint the inside of the boat to get it ready for summer launch.  It all started off well enough… until the beer came out.  And then… well, let’s just say dad found yellow paint in places it wasn’t supposed to be for years afterwards.  I still can’t figure out why he never really responded to future offers of assistance!

When his first grandchild came along, he beamed.  It was probably the only time he stopped by the house unexpectedly on his way to and from the airport.  It was an unexpected delight – maybe for him too.

When my first marriage was ending, I knew I needed to tell my parents.  I took that journey alone.  Fear was in my belly and my mouth was all gummed up.  I was disappointed about disappointing, along with all my own disappointment about my marriage ending.  I thought when I shared the news – saying to my dad, “We are living under the same roof but it was like we are living very different lives,” that he would fall off his chair.  Instead, I almost fell off of mine when he said, “I kind of noticed that.”

No questions asked, he and my mom helped me move.  No judgement – not to me anyway.  A lot of love and caring.  I saw that love and caring demonstrated over and over again in obvious and less obvious ways.  In particular, I saw the love and caring my dad demonstrated towards my mother in the final decade or more of their marriage – more and more consistently than I had seen it at any other time.

If someone would have asked me years ago (and maybe they did), I would have imagined that my father would have died comparatively early in life (he did have his first triple bi-pass surgery when he was 45 – thankfully his health status leading up to that also triggered his decision to stop smoking) and my mother would still be living in the full vibrancy of who she was well into her 90s.

Instead, it was a different path that unfolded.  My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 20o1, again in 2005.  Somewhere in that period of time was the onset of dementia that ultimately took her into long term care in 2008 until her death a few weeks ago.

My father became my mother’s care giver.  At first it was in little ways.  Noticing the little things that were not quite right.  There were a few conversations about my mother forgetting this or that… like forgetting to turn off the oven, or turn on the washer.  Then it became more obvious, like mom put the banana bread in the oven, went to take it out five minutes later and couldn’t understand why it wasn’t cooked.

This eventually evolved into my father watching out for my mother 24 hours a day.  He watched over her day in and day out, night in and night out – including taking care of her hygiene – at home and sometimes in public places.

When my mother died, my parents had been married for 54 years.  On their 50th wedding anniversary in January of 2008, my brother and I had planned a celebration for them.  We had hoped for a big celebration. It ended up being a small celebration in their home.  I spoke a few words.  I had already planned to speak about the two things I felt I integrated into my life from my experience with my parents – that sense of hospitality or everyone being welcome and unconditional love and support.

This took on whole new layers of meaning in the week before the 50th anniversary when I learned that I had been adopted and had never known or suspected it at all.  The feelings of unconditional love and acceptance were magnified as that story unfolded and I had a conversation with my father about aspects of my life I had known nothing about.

As the story emerged, I was asked if I was angry.  I pondered the question and then responded, “If I looked at this from the perspective of people have been lying to me all my life, maybe I would be angry.  But I look at it from the perspective that people made the best choices they knew how to make.  They wanted to do the right thing and choices were made out of love.

My father is a man who wants to do the right thing.  This was most evident in the latter years of his marriage to my mother.  He loved my mother.  He wanted to do well by her.  He exhausted himself as he watched over her, tended her and took care of her until the very last minute when we admitted her into long term care.  Then, every day, he went to visit her for over a year.  It was hard for him seeing mom in her diminishing world while he still lived in the house that had been their home for over 3o years.

There are many stories in this man’s life.  I only know some of them.  They are not all pretty but they are all representative of a man who has lived a complexity he might never have imagined, who has given a lot, cares about craftsmanship and doing things well.  He has traveled many roads and still has a few to go.

Dad is in hospital, yet again, as I write this.  This too has been a pattern of our relationship over the last decade.  He has an amazing will to live and is incredibly resilient despite health problems that have been challenging him over the years.  We live into and learn together – through thick and thin.

There are things I know about him and things I don’t.  We have a pretty dynamic relationship and a few patterns that have been showing up.  One thing I do know about him is that he loves me.  On the rare occasions when I tell him I love him he always says to me, “I love you more.”

I wish him a happy 79th birthday knowing he would be much happier if he was home for it.  I also wish there will be many more for him with a quality of life that allows him to pursue, in ever more gentle ways, the things he loves to do and do well.

Human Tragedy Story Often Obscures Soul Journey Perspective

For a long time, I have believed we are soul journeyers having a human experience. The beauty and challenge of life is that our assumptions and beliefs get tested along the way.  Most recently for me, one way has been through my mother’s journey.

When the symptoms of my mother’s dementia were becoming more obvious in the years before she went into long term care, I knew it as a soul journey and experienced it as a human tragedy story.  This became more pronounced when she went into long term care.  Instead of being the only person in a household living out a bizarre new set of behaviours,  losing her capacity to communicate and do simple things like change the channel on the TV, she became one of many old and dying people no longer able to care for themselves, most living in their own little diminishing physical worlds.

The human tragedy story is amplified in these circumstances and places.  It is hard to see past the story of tragedy when it stares you in the face as you walk down hallways that evoke very visceral reactions in what you see, smell, hear or otherwise encounter – even in a place as loving and caring as the place my mother experienced as home in the last four years of her life.

How many people came up to me, my brother or my father after mom’s funeral to share amazing stories about her that captured the essence of who she was and then proceeded to talk about how they just couldn’t visit her at Harbourview Haven.  How hard it was if she didn’t seem to recognize them.  How hard it is to be in that building when as a culture we have become disconnected from the death chapter of the life cycle.  We no longer experience it as part of the natural flow of life but as something to be feared.  Walking in a place where death is imminent generates fear and discomfort for many of us.  It did for me when I first began visiting my mother, but through my mother the shape of my experience shifted.

For the few who were able to manage a visit or two, they expressed how amazing it was when there was a flicker of recognition in something she said.  I learned how many people besides me she called “little one” (really mom?!) and that was a point of reference for them.

There are others who saw enough through the human tragedy story to visit often.  My mother had a few of those regular visitors although we often didn’t even know it since she couldn’t remember who visited or when they did.  Deeply grateful for those dear friends.

The length of mom’s journey with dementia and her stay in long term care, invited me more deeply into this paradox of understanding  the human tragedy dressing of soul journey.   The phrase “oh, that poor soul” makes me chuckle now.  We use that phrase to describe the human tragedy perspective.  It is the physical experience that appears poor, not the soul journey perspective if you believe, like I do, that we make some choices before we manifest into physical form about what it is we want to experience for our soul journey this time around.

As my mother become more disembodied, I embodied the soul journey perspective from a deeper, more encompassing place of understanding.  Towards the end, her human tragedy story didn’t register for me anymore, only the soul journey perspective.  This gave me a high degree of peace during her long transition process, allowing me to live my life fully even while being present to my mother’s journey and our family care around it.

For the gifted people who work at Harbour View Haven, it seems to me they also see past the human tragedy perspective, treating each individual with full dignity and respect.  Treating them as if they are fully functioning, fully present human beings.  It was a gift to observe this most keenly in my mother’s final hours. It made me wonder what would happen if we all treated others all the time with this kind of dignity and respect – whether we thought they deserved it, whether we thought they were fully human or not.

Living simultaneously with my mother’s journey, my journey and the rest of life, I’ve been thinking about how to express this all so it does not fuel the human tragedy story. I now speak about “the many streams of life”.  We are all in many streams of life all at the same time. Stuff happens.  Stuff comes up.  There is a life giving invitation to be well in all of it, although a more typical response is to be stressed by all the things that come our way that we have to take care.

I’m leaning into this invitation to flow with the many streams of life as though that is what they are, rather than challenges.  Greater spaciousness beautifully shows up.

And then there are the lessons of embodiment that have been present for me in a big way already in 2012.  As I embody my experiences and my learning I understand more deeply my life’s events, my relationships and my soul’s calling.

I’m not saying the human tragedy story isn’t real.  But the soul journey perspective is also just as real although harder for many to see, obscured by the human tragedy story.  The soul journey perspective allows me to live into joy and delight and allows me to fall in love over and over again in a way living into the human tragedy story does not.

For my mother, I continue to experience a dance of joy, delight and lightness as her spirit soars free from the human tragedy unfolding of her physical body.  She continues to be my teacher and my friend and very, very real in my human experience.

Intentionally Shifting the Shape of the World in 2012

Wow.  2012 is a breath away. When I started the Shape Shift blog I wrote: “the shape of the world is shifting. It is constantly shifting but never more so than now. This is evident in health care, education, finance, communities, technology, organizations and other systems that have become vital to how we function today.  We can be passive recipients of the impact of these shifts in the world or we can become active participants in shaping the future of the systems, organizations and communities that we feel passionate about – that are near and dear to our hearts.”  This was true when I wrote it, and started Shape Shift Strategies Inc, in August of 2009.  It is even more true as we are on the brink of 2012 – a year that has been much prophesied and written about.

If we are paying attention we can literally and figuratively feel the earth shaking underneath our feet as significant shifts take place – in the natural world and the manmade world.  Earthquakes and tsunamis in New Zealand and Japan, the Arab Spring, Occupy to name just a very few.  I say paying attention with the full awareness that there are many of us who see the greater scope of these stories and feel the significance of them in our very beings and there are many who do not yet see the stories under the stories that show up in mainstream media – a medium that is struggling with seeing and understanding the deeper patterns of these movements in the world.

If I am to imagine into 2012, I can only imagine that the chaos and complexity of our systems, our social structures and  our communities will increase.  This because of the reluctance and deep resistance of letting go of what we know, even when we know it doesn’t work anymore, to embrace what is waiting and wanting to be born.  It is so hard to see new ways when all we can see is what we have already built.  I’ve seen it in the conversations surrounding the Healthier Health Care Now gathering set for Utah early in January.  “We want you to be different, but please do it in familiar ways.  Because we don’t know how to support something that looks and feels different, especially when you cannot tell us exactly what it will look like in the end.  We have to be accountable, after all.”

How do we become accountable for our future when we are anchored to what we know, what we have always known, what already exists?  This is why the chaos will increase.  It is already telling us what we know no longer works.  Our collective response?  Hold on tighter.  Don’t let go.  How deeply shaken do we need to be to let go, let fly into the void of the unknown?

Thank God for the growing pockets of people, teams, communities and communities of practice who see a different future and who steadfastly work toward it in the not knowing.  There are so many I can name – because I am part of them – and so many I can’t because I don’t have knowledge of them but I am not so insular as to believe they don’t exist.  Paul Hawken’s work in Blessed Unrest is just one indicator of this world wide revolution that is taking place right under our very noses – whether we see it or not.

Those of us working and living  in the spaces of not knowing the specific shape of the future or of what new systems could emerge from the old as we are shaken free in the chaos, we are Warriors of the Heart.  To be a Warrior of the Heart and be well, we need personal practices that keep us connected with source and allow us to access our own resilience, courage, compassion, strength, joy and love.  There are individual and collective dimensions of practice. We build personal capacity in our individual practice.  We amplify, accelerate and activate so much more when we come together in our collective work and journey.

2012 may show us more and more the intersection between the relational field (love and loyalty) and the strategic field.  We have treated love and loyalty somewhat dismissively – the soft skills side of the equation.  In business we need to be hard – hard nosed, make hard decisions.  What if this is not true?  What  if our greatest path forward is to embrace more fully the relational field so that our choices are actually more strategic, have a longer term view and value all the things that are important to our survival in a time when so much of what we have always known seems threatened?  What becomes possible when we sink into what we’ve known even longer than what we’ve always known – the wisdom and knowledge accessible to us in ancient wisdoms that become more present to us as we pause and listen deeply – to the earth, to the whispers in our own hearts, to the yearning we have to be connected to something that has deep meaning and purpose. What would a world look like that connected through love and loyalty and then developed strategy for the highest good of us all?

The shape of the world is shifting.  It always has been.  Is it shifting faster now?  Feels that way.  What is the intentionality we can individually and collectively bring to amplify, accelerate and activate the shift we desire to see in the world?  What is the shape of the world you want to live in to?

I experience such deep gratitude and appreciation for my friends and colleagues (the ones I know and the ones I haven’t met yet) around the world.  You inspire me.  You lift me up in the moments when I have lost sight of my own light.  You give me great hope for what is possible in a new world order.  I am humbled and honoured to do amazing work in the world with people I care deeply about – from a place of open heartedness and a field of love and connection that makes possible the impossible – only seeming impossible because we can’t always see the how.  The how stops us.  The vision and intention for shaping a future we want to live into compels us all forward.

Walking the path of not knowing.  Setting strong, clear intentions for what I want to see unfold in my own path of shifting the shape of the world in 2012, letting go of the how and inviting what is ready – and urgently wanting – to show up.