Blinded by White Privilege

“We need an advisory committee to advise the steering committee on how to involve the communities that are not here.”

 “We just need to empower…”

 “We could provide mentors or buddies for people so they don’t feel uncomfortable coming into the room.”

 “Maybe we need someone to come and help us get comfortable with having the conversations.”

All seemingly innocuous comments that are meant to be helpful in addressing a lack of diversity in a room full of forty or so almost all white, highly educated, corporate like people for a conversation about the next steps of a voluntary organization whose mission is dedicated to creating an inclusive society.  Innocuous because, as white people, we do not even know what we are saying.  We are saying, “How do we make it possible or more comfortable for others – the other – to come into our world?”  (And it was a diversity discussion that also included seniors, disabled and very young people as well as people of colour.)

There is no consideration or thought that maybe others don’t want to come into our world or that there are other worlds and world views that exist that maybe we should be more curious about. That we should meet at some point other than in our own world view.  That the invitation to “come and join us and we’ll figure out ways to make it easier for you” might not be all that inviting.

It is the difference between being in your own home and being a cautious guest in the home of another.  Sometimes as guests, we are on our best behaviour. We try to fit into the context of the environment we are in but maybe we never fully relax, never really feel invited to show up fully.  It might even look like we are fitting in but when we go back to our own home, our own environment, we are finally able to relax, knowing someone is not going to judge us or patronize us because of assumptions they are carrying they cannot even see – even when it might be right in front of them in full living colour.  Cannot see because white privilege is blinding.  It blinds us to the things we take for granted without knowing we take them for granted.  In 1988, Peggy Wellesley wrote a thoughtful and eye opening piece on White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.  Twenty-five years later what she writes is just as relevant and real as it was then.

I never have to wonder if I will be followed by store staff or security guards when I go shopping.  I never have to worry about being arrested at night while locking up my place of employment (and certainly not more than once), keys in hand, police parked in the parking lot. I will never be mistaken for the janitor as I move furniture prior to an Art of Hosting training to get the room ready.  But these things have all happened to friends of mine whose skin is not white.

And it is simple but powerful things that often get overlooked, partly because we are not even aware and partly because we don’t understand how important these things are.  Language is one of those things.  I am paying attention to the language and invitation in a way I never did before and it is taking me on a deep journey.  The opening sentences of this post are a beautiful example of how I am listening with new ears and hearing through the lenses of some of my friends who keep challenging, in loving, gentle but fierce ways, my world view.

Carolann and new friends

Ursula Hillbrand, Dave Ellis, Renee Hayne, Carolann Wright-Parks and Barbara (Bob-e) Epps-Simpson – a few of these people (Dave, Carolann and Bob-e in particular) have been instrumental in helping me expand my world view.

Pictures are another thing.  When I asked my good friend Carolann Wright-Parks, with whom I have had the privilege of co-hosting with in service of the African Nova Scotian Faciltiators Guild, if she knew of any African New Brunswickers who might be interested in attending the Art of Hosting training there this past November, she said to me, “Kathy, I looked at that invitation but I didn’t see myself there.”  She wasn’t meaning herself – she was meaning there were no people of colour in the pictures.  The pictures were from the previous AoH training in New Brunswick.  There were no people of colour at that training.

World Cafe with Diversity

Now I have pictures I use of my friends that illuminate the greater diversity that is showing up.

Not too long ago, in my own naivety, I would have shaken my head, wondering why it mattered.  Wondering why we were not attracting people of colour into our trainings.  Wondering why, even though we keep trying to invite it, we cannot achieve greater diversity.  But now I know why it matters.  It matters because I don’t see it when I look at pictures. Blinded by the white, I do not even realize I identify with the people in the pictures.  I am already there.  Many of my friends haven’t been able to identify with the people in the pictures in the same way.  I am much more aware now of the pictures I use in invitations.

In Minnesota, there are a few good friends in an exploratory conversation – Dave Ellis, Barbara (Bob-e) Simpson-Epps, LeMoine LaPointe, Nancy Bordeaux, Jerry Nagel and myself about what it takes to generate transformative conversations on power, privilege, race and racism – because the ones we’ve been in aren’t yet creating the kind of shift we believe could be possible.  The language of social justice, restorative justice and racial justice has only taken us so far.  What is the language that is needed to take us – all of us – to a different conversation, to a different reflection, to a different perspective, where equality is based on diversity, not on sameness?  What is the language that is a door opener and invitation to shifting the shape of the conversation as we’ve known it?  We don’t know it yet.  We don’t presume to know it.  We know it is needed and we feel now is a time of greater receptivity.  We are excited and hopeful to be in the exploration.  Just like we are in the exploration of Growing Hosting Artistry at the end of January 2014 in Minnesota where we will explore world view, creating safe containers, working with shadow and a few other themes that seem central to growing our depth and capacity as hosts.

Now when I am in a meeting like the one I described above, I find myself stirred up and agitated, sometimes even outraged whereas I know a couple of years ago I would not have seen it.  I would only have seen how progressive the people and the thinking are – which is also true.  And that makes me curious. More and more I am aware of bringing expanded listening and awareness and a willingness to speak up from gained experience and exposure to questions and friends who will not let me rest in naivety or white blindness. And I am grateful to my friends for their boldness, courage and willingness to be in the openness of challenging our limiting beliefs so we can host ourselves into what will hopefully be the transformative space, individually and collectively, that will show us the way into the transformative conversations we are yearning for.

Power and the Four Fold Practice

 ~co-written by Jerry Nagel, President of Meadowlark Institute and Kathy Jourdain, Founder of Shape Shift Strategies Inc.~

“Power is the strength and the ability to see yourself through your own eyes and not through the eyes of another.  It is being able to place a circle of power at your feet and not take power from someone else’s circle.”Lynne V. Andrews, Flight of the Seventh Moon

One of the underpinnings of the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter is the Four Fold Practice. This is a set of practices that invite us to host self, others, processes or groups and to be in co-creation or community of practice with others. Serendipitously coming across the above quote in a little offering about the energy of the magician, generated a whole new level of reflection about power and the first two practices for us.

four-fold-practice

The first practice for the Four Fold Practice is to host yourself, to be present or have presence.  When you focus on and grow this practice you know your center and ground and the strategies, personal practices or disciplines that enable you to access this place within yourself.  You can then stay present more often in more and more challenging situations and you can find your way back to presence more quickly should you find yourself off balance for any reason – as we all do from time to time in the flow of life.  In essence, you become more powerful in presence because, like the above quote says, “power is the strength and the ability to see yourself through your own eyes and not through the eyes of another.” Your understanding of who you are is internally rather than externally validated.  For us, what this affirms is the benefit of having a regular practice of self-reflection, not as a process for self-criticism, but out of knowing self or seeing self.  This is a life practice.

The second practice in the Four Fold Practice is to participate by hosting another and allowing yourself to be hosted.  It is a reciprocal relationship when you are tuned in enough to feel the balance between listening and speaking for each of you, which does not necessarily mean equal time.  Sometimes you listen more, sometimes you speak more. Sometimes you need to host someone else and sometimes you need to be hosted. “It is being able to place a circle of power at your feet and not take the power from someone else’s circle.”  If you show up powerfully present you have no need to try to take away someone else’s power nor do you feel threatened by them because your sense of self comes from self rather than from needing anything from another.

“Knowing others is intelligence, knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power.” Tao Te Ching

This does not mean you cannot be in a space of shared power.  When you are truly powerful, you are also able to fuel the other person’s circle of power without lessoning your own, inviting and allowing them to step more into their own humanity and to bring it fully into the space between you and shared by you. Through this you build the relational field.  This is particularly important when you are part of teams, building the relational field to host groups and processes from a place of individual and collective presence and attention to what is present in the moment. It lends itself to the conditions for co-creation in a team or in a community of practice. It opens up the possibility to move into the generative space at the bottom of the U (from Theory U).  And this is where we often say magic happens – the magic in the middle.

“Magic makes it possible to use the limitless power of spirit to reshape the world in accordance with the fondest desires of the soul.” Donald Tyson, New Millennium Magic

This is part of the exploration we will be in at the end of January 2014 as we co-host with others Growing Hosting Artistry, to be offered in Minnesota. A sneak peek, since the invitation is not quite ready, is that we will explore world view as a lens to deeper work, what it takes from us as hosts to create containers for powerful work, become curious about new narratives that want to live in the world now, how to skillfully deal with shadow and projection, the impact of the relational field including among members of the team on our hosting artistry and how to design for the work at hand.  Hosting artistry begins with knowing self and our power and being in the place of centeredness with individual and shared power.

Jerry-me-others outside for opening ritual

Jerry Nagel and Kathy Jourdain – co-authors, co-hosts, friends and colleagues

Half Way Through 50 – Deepening In

I’m half way through being 50. Well, maybe a bit more than half way but it is summer and I think the whole summer can count as half way if I want it to. And it’s not that I’m trying to resist or sugar coat the reality of linear time moseying along at sometimes frightening speed. I’m excited about being 50 – and for what comes after that.

Recently I have had the awareness of how much this year is a U journey for me. Maybe every year is, but it is particularly prominent this year.  There are three big chunks of Theory Usensing, presencing and realizing. They do flow, but they are also iterative and there are many U journeys within overall bigger, longer, more expansive U journeys. And thank goodness for that.

I was excited to recognize I am in the presencing phase.  I felt invited to more fully relax into the summer and the continual unfolding of my journey, of me.  The transition to realizing energy will arrive as I go to California in late August, the first of many trainings with good people in varied environments.  Even as the energy shifts, sensing and presencing will continue to be a rhythm in each day, each experience, each movement.

So, what does this mean for me to feel the presencing energy of these moments this summer? And why the heck is it even important? In a post from a few months ago on turning 50, I wrote:  “This is a time for me to break old, limiting patterns, to step more fully into what is mine to do, to completely embrace my purposeful path and live into all that has been on my own edges for awhile.”  The ability to do this is activated,  amplified and accelerated by presencing.

Part of presencing is being in stillness.  The summer has been providing me with this opportunity.  The stillness that comes from not too many meetings or other obligations and lots of choice along the way about where to tune in time and attention.

Presencing is also about letting go and letting come.  Being in the stillness allows not just the witnessing of this but the embodiment of it.  I feel it fully in my body and in my spirit, in my being.  I sense the deep movement I am in and know with that sense of deep knowing that I am embracing my path, my unfolding and yes, my living into what has been on the edges.

It is evidenced by how fast I have been spinning into and out of turmoil in these last few months.  Faster than I ever have before.  I’m learning how to be in it without being overwhelmed by it or projecting it onto someone else – trying to make my experience someone else’s fault; enquiring into my experience to understand what is mine to own, what is projection from someone else, what I need to let go of and grab hold of, what is mine to learn.  I feel a bit of joy and anticipation in it and am not needing to rush into the next phase.  When I feel my anxiety rising because my book still needs editing and is sitting waiting for me and I don’t yet know how I will publish it or any other of a myriad of things I’m in the middle of, I breathe, let go of following those thoughts into the future of doom and trust the book’s energy will invigorate me in the right moment.

Work opportunities arrive, some land, some flow away.  Trusting the right things will show up.  Seeing where the invitations are, the openness, the readiness for me, what I have to offer and my journey.  Seeing where the energy isn’t.  Feeling how it is guiding my path.  No need to try to grab everything that might be within reach but being intentional about moving with the flow of what is mine to do, where I am needed, where I’m not.

I’m witnessing the evolution of my own spiritual growth, my knowing who I am.  I find myself leaning in, not jumping to conclusions, not lashing out at others but sharing my experience and my questions, and breathing through experiences that would have spun me out not even that long ago.  At the end of each of these periods of turbulence, I come out more grounded, more deeply connected to my core and my purpose and less attached to people, places and things – ready to let go of anything that hooks me and anything where the energetic openness is not available.

Trusting the guidance from the subtle realms and feeling more deeply connected – with a sense of, “of course this is how it is, how simple, easy and available.”  Opening more fully.  Yes, the journey to open heartedness and somehow even more than that.  Surrendering with joy and delight into the shifting shape of my world.

Shadow Days

“Kathy,” she said to me, “You think your emotions make you weak.”

“Yeah,” that seemed self evident.

“You’re wrong,” she said.  “Learning to live into your emotional experience, be in it and learn from it will make you stronger and more powerful.”

I was highly skeptical.  She, by the way, was/is Sarita Chawla, a beautiful, elegant, graceful, powerful woman I met at ALIA in 2008 who offered to coach me.  I was skeptical but prepared to be proven wrong.  She nudged me, coaxed me and provoked me.  She made me angry and frustrated. She helped me discover the voice of my internal judge and find strategies to disempower its impact. She guided my journey from one of walking through my experience to one of living into it, learning to enquire into my emotional response to see, sense and understand what is there for me to learn.

She was right.  I am stronger, more compassionate and more powerful.  It’s been quite the journey, of course.  I am usually more serene, centered, present and calm.  Joy, delight and love are usually the emotions that dominant my day-to-day experience.

But not everyday is like that. I also have shadow days.  I can’t help but think that everyone does. That we all have days – or parts of days – where we go to deep, dark places.  The days when we are overwhelmed, when the internal judge is speaking nonsense to us about who we are or aren’t and we tending to believe it, when we are off our center, discombobulated, sad, feeling pulled in many directions or just want to let the tears flow – or perhaps we can’t stop them from flowing.

In 2009, a friend and I spent a day on the land at Gold Lake, Colorado.  Our dear friends Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea helped in the preparation for that day.  One of the things they suggested was that the sites we chose be far enough away from each other that we couldn’t see or hear each other – in the event that we wanted to cry out or wail.  At the time, there were so many other experiences that were alive for me, wailing was not one of them.

Recently, I went for a run in my neighbourhood in Bedford which took me down to the park on the water.  I needed the physicality of the run and the touch into nature, taking the time to sit on the grass, meditate and reflect while looking out over the water.  The sadness that was in me, triggered interestingly enough by the offer of a gift that I do not yet know if I will accept, was so intense that tears did flow and I had the feeling that I wanted to wail.  The intensity of emotion alive in me.  The vibrancy of experience.  Convention kept the wail in.  I wasn’t sure how other park users would respond if I gave way to such a depth of sadness and grief in a place one wouldn’t expect to encounter it. Not the tears though, I let them flow.

I’ve witnessed a lot of people cry.  One-on-one. In small and large groups.  Through processes where people are able to access their own emotional experience.   There aren’t many who can let the tears flow without apologizing for them.  One of my dreams is that we can live in a world where we no longer feel the need to apologize for our tears – such a beautiful expression of release.  I no longer apologize for mine – even when they show up in a large group experience.  I no longer try to diminish my experience but want to honour it and my passage through it.

Of course, I don’t want to be stuck in my experience either.  I want to understand the story that is alive in me that leads to the tears or the anger or the frustration or whatever else it is that is showing up.  When I understand the story I can release it, shift it or rewrite it – and I often do.  It is part of hosting myself to deeper places in my life and growing my capacity to host deeper space for others. It is part of my journey to open heartedness.

More and more, I am understanding my experience in relation to me, to own it in relation to my journey, to not project it onto others  – or blame others – who may have triggered something in me.  The people around me are a beautiful reflection of where I am in the journey – the ones who trigger things and the ones who simply mirror back the beauty of the journey and the beauty of me as I show up – usually, often, in the depth of who I have been able to access since I began the journey of understanding that my emotions are my ally and that by acknowledging them, living into them and learning from them I grow my capacity to host deep space, to host another human being, to host myself.  I am deeply grateful for the wide array of friends who reflect back to me the depth of my journey.

I am not afraid anymore.  I know vulnerability is not weakness and that strength grows when we are willing to know what is rising up in us, willing to meet ourselves in the many ways we show up, allowing ourselves to be in our power, strength and beauty, also without apology but always with compassion, humility, delight and joy.

And it is okay for some days to be shadow days.  It is part of the journey.  We all have them.  They do not make us weak.  They show us the path to strength and beauty.  I no longer feel the need to wail in this moment, but who knows what the next will show up.  I am exactly where I need to be.

Not every day is full of light.  Not every day is a shadow day either.  But facing the shadow brings light to even the darkness of those days and by becoming aware of the story that is alive in me, I can shift the shape of the story, of the day and of my life – which I have been doing story by story, day by day.

Recognizing and Releasing the Potency of Your Internal Judge

The potency of the internal critic/voice of judgment is insidious.  It is a master chameleon showing up in many different cloaks, rending itself almost unrecognizable.  It creeps up on you when you least expect it, plays havoc with your centre and your ground and runs wild until disempowered. It can be persistently in your experience and it can reappear after a long time away.

As soon as you try to debate it, convince it or argue with it, you engage it and increase its potency.  It loves a good argument.  It’s wily and it rapidly changes its stance to retain the upper hand.  You could be arguing a point and as soon as you get close to “winning”, it will change its direction.  Sometimes so much so that it now argues in the opposite direction and, if you are caught in the argument, you often miss the inanity of it.

My internal judge was running rampant yesterday but I didn’t recognize it until this morning – partly because it’s been awhile since it has been so present in me.

Yesterday I felt out of sorts, de-energized and unable to achieve any substantial progress toward my livelihood. Little things irritate me and make me impatient. I recently had a few days away on a little min-vacation.  My dad had a medical appointment yesterday that I attended with him and then went for lunch – a beautiful little pattern we have. My son is now beginning March break and I am dedicating time to being with him in some small adventures along  the way.

The internal critic is standing back with its arms crossed, shaking its head.  “Yup.  And just when are you going to get your work done?  Your emails sent? Meetings arranged?”  A little feeling of panic seeps in.  When am I going to do that? There is no time!  The panic rises up in me and now there are butterflies in my stomach and a promise of a headache in the offing.

“And, just what were you thinking, going off on a holiday when you have so much to do?”  it asks.

“Because we all know that a break away is important to maintaining energy and reinvigorating mind, body and soul so work and life flows easier.” I respond.

“True,” says the internal critic.  “But you know you couldn’t really afford it either.”

“I used points to fly.  I didn’t shop.  I shared accommodation.  I had some money tucked away for this break.” I argue, beginning to spin.  “And, in all that travel time, I did a full edit of my book.” I say, trying to find the positive, be appreciative, tune into what’s working.

The internal critic nods grimly, “Yes.  And what’s happened to your since then?  It’s been sitting beside your computer the last few days and nothing more has been done.”  (This would be a total of two days, by the way.) “Just how long do you think it’s really going to take to finish that puppy and get it published?  As if anyone is really going to read it.  Well, of course a few people will, but not the numbers you are hoping for.”

Wham. Wham. Wham.  Deeper and deeper in.  Fighting with myself to find my appreciative state.  To find my centre, my ground. Knowing in my mind I am my own worst enemy in this moment but not able to pull myself out of the spiral. Knowing I am out of my centre and it should be a simple matter to slip back in.  It’s not what I do – my actions that are important now, it’s finding the right internal vibration in me.  And my vibration is all out of whack which deepens my fear.  Tears of despondency show up as I believe into judgment, after judgment, after judgment.

Exhausted I fell into bed and dreamed.  I dreamed about flow.  I woke up this morning feeling better, feeling lighter.  Then the storylines began to filter in again.  Then the bolt of realization.  So self critical.  So self judging.  So the voice of my internal judge!  Big sigh.  Of course.  How had I not recognized this insidious internal berating voice taking me backwards and forwards in my imaginings, giving me no peace in the present moment.

A lesson I learned before: whenever my emotions run amok, it is a good clear sign that my internal voice of judgment is lurking in the shadows of my mind, making me a crazy woman!

In simply recognizing it and naming it, its potency is released.  Whoosh! I felt myself shift completely into the present moment, smiling at how this internal judge had found its way into my experience and rocked my core enough to have me questioning myself, my self worth and my path, once again.   No longer fighting and resisting it, simply naming and noticing.  Not arguing.  Acknowledging the power of an adversary that has so much to teach me when I pay attention; even the not paying attention is teaching me.  All it took to shift me back to my centre and my usual sense of joy, delight and calm was to pay attention, notice, name. Now I prepare to bake with my child and dance into this day in a whole new and renewed way thankful for the moments when I see the choices clearly.

Art of Hosting: Example of a Collaborative Network

The Art of Hosting is an example of a collaborative network.  It’s not the only one but it is the one I am most familiar with and it is the one I find myself speaking about most often when the topic of new models of organization or business comes up.

The Art of Hosting network emerged organically, even before it was called Art of Hosting (AoH) as practitioners of dialogic processes gathered to inquire into what it was they did that was different and what were the conditions that contributed to their successful consulting or process work.  They created the conditions for relevant and meaningful conversations to occur in such a way that the conversations individuals, organizations and communities had were different and more impactful than the ones they traditionally had had and where wiser, more informed action often emerged.

As trainings were offered – always co-hosted by a team, they were a place of co-learning and open source sharing and such a meeting of mind, heart and spirit that people naturally wanted to stay in touch to continue sharing and learning.   Teams of hosts were invited into the same work together and variations of these host teams emerged as people newly introduced to AoH who wanted to deepen their understanding and practice began to call AoH trainings and join host teams.

Somewhere along the way, the AoH listserve was born and, as is typical of listserves, there are sporadic bursts of activity around themes that catch fire among some list serve members and there is also silence for some periods of time.

There were always people who carried a deep curiousity about this work and what, for many of the AoH practitioners I know, is a sense of deep calling.  They – we – work together often, deepening learning and often find each other at other gatherings like, for instance, ALIA.

From early on the notion of stewarding began to emerge and there have been many conversations along the way about what is stewarding, what is a steward, who is a steward, what is the AoH, how do we protect the integrity of this work, is there a brand, what do we do when someone calls an AoH training and no one in the network seems to know who they are.  These kinds of questions are integral to gatherings of stewards – practitioners who do not just use the AoH in their work but tend to the larger field.  A steward seems to be someone who understands deep within themselves what we call the DNA of the AoH – the formative field from which the AoH emerged.

Over the last decade, the number of AoH offerings has grown exponentially through public offerings and through client work that many of us are engaged in. These offerings have now occurred literally around the world, although not in every country yet.  We have experimented with forms of AoH like the Art of Participatory Leadership, the Art of Collaborative Leadership, the Art of Social Innovation, the Art of Harvesting, the Art of Protection, the Art of Humans Being and I’m sure there are more.

The AoH network is not without its faults or its own shadow.  It resists defined structure, hard and fast rules and continues to be organic despite calls from time to time for definitive answers.  It resists responding in traditional ways and roles.    Not everyone is happy with the way it works. And it works exceptionally well.

There is no central office and there are no staff.  While not a perfect system, AoH host teams are invited to share a percentage of the revenue earned in trainings to help support the technology that is key to connecting this global community and to offer something to those in this network who host this on our behalf.  And any of us can also contribute personally.

The AoH community is held together by a strong sense of purpose and principles in the work, a commonality of language and practice and core methodologies, processes, and world views. We understand that before we can host others, we must host ourselves and that we grow the body of knowledge and our own knowledge and practice through communities of practice.

It is easy to find people to work with on small and large projects and on systemic change work because there is such a strong alignment of principles and values.  I’m a sole practitioner but I’m not a sole practitioner because at any given time I either draw on the body of knowledge of the AoH or the mates I have in this network.  I have the privilege and benefit of often working on international hosting teams – here and elsewhere.

As the network grows, the sense of caring for the core of the AoH grows stronger amongst those of us who feel we are stewarding something here,  recognizing that it is completely impossible to control how it spreads, nor would we want to.  That is both the beauty and power of it – and the frustration.   It is a chaordic organization.

When we come together as teams to work together there are no hard and fast rules but there is certainly a sense of honour and integrity in relationships and of patterns of hosting and relationship.  We operate by agreement and we determine who and how host team members get paid by agreement achieved in conversation each time we gather.    People who are not part of this network sometimes have a hard time understanding that we don’t necessarily need a written contract to work with each other (like when one of my good friends was trying to get into Halifax to co-host with me and others and the customs officials asked several times to see the non-existent contract).

We care deeply about this work, about this body of knowledge, about this community and about the relationships we have entered into that are enduring for many of us.  We have a lot of conversation – purposeful conversation.  We don’t have a lot of structure.

A lot of information on AoH can be found on the website and on the community ning.  What I’m offering here is just one version of a very large story, the beginning of which I did not actually witness.  I don’t think this form of organization is the right form for every organization but with the clients I work with who are in a question of what next and how to structure their organization, I offer it out as an example to take some learnings from.  I also talk about World Cafe and Berkana, among others, as organizations experimenting with different organizational models.  Built on trust.  Built on relationship.  Purpose.  Principles.

And, it will be one of the collaborative networks used as an example during the Art of Collaborative Leadership next month in Halifax as we explore the conditions that foster good collaborative networks and what their role is in shifting the shape of the world.

Meeting the Stranger Within

You know the stranger within before it is a stranger, when you are very young, before you learn concepts of right and wrong, good and evil.  Before you build the constructs around yourself that become essential to your survival – shaping your life so that you fit in, to make people happy – particularly your parents and other figures in your life you look up to or depend upon for survival at a young age.

As a baby, toddler and child, you learn it is not safe to expose this inner being, that somehow it is a threat – usually to others around you.  You begin to hide it and so begins the journey of the stranger.  You seek it out less often and then you forget where you hid it or how to unbury it, for a long, long time.

This being has shifted into a stranger and you come to believe this stranger within lurks in the shadows.  Because you believe this, you are afraid, deeply afraid, of what you might find if you seek it out. After all, others were afraid of it so so should you be.  You spend much of your life trying to thwart the stranger, running from your fear instead of facing it.  In so doing you create more shadow obscuring the stranger within even more.

Every now and then, the stranger finds an opening and bubbles to the surface.  You glimpse it but it is so unlike what you are expecting, you don’t recognize it.  Maybe you have been inspired or encouraged by it and now want to find it, but it is elusive.  You find it hard to believe that this stranger you have glimpsed lives in the shadows so you begin to look everywhere for it but where it actually lives.

You look to others to validate you and your experiences.  You compare yourself to others.  You, on occasion, take false joy in your journey because you can measure your progress and success – externally.  But deep inside the stranger is rumbling, calling to you, sometimes gently, sometimes with a strength and persistence that rattles your cage.  It is trying to guide you but you cannot hear it, cannot feel it except for the deep tremble you interpret as fear.

You believe the stranger is the one that causes your actions to be incongruent with who you fundamentally believe you are – which just proves to you that what lies at the core must be in shadow and is not to be trusted.

These things happen in your life, conspire even, to force you on a journey to discover the stranger, or as Anais Nin puts it: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” It becomes time to intentionally shift the shape of who you are and how you show up in your own life.

As you take those first tentative steps to know the stranger, you step into the shadow and you discover that maybe, just maybe the stranger does not live in the shadow.  That this stranger you have feared is at the core of all your failings, all your struggles, all our misguided actions, maybe that stranger is an illusion conjured up by the shadow you have both created and feared to keep you from the exploration of the real stranger – intended to keep you and the stranger safe but instead causing you countless struggles and detours along the way.

Stepping into the shadows is a necessary step to passing through the shadows to where the stranger actually resides – at your core, not in the dark but in a light that is ready to shine brilliantly as you brush away the shadow you no longer need, need to fear or need to build.

Some of the fear and the tremble that shows up is in the knowing that to allow this stranger to walk with power and strength in your life may require changes in your life and your lifestyle, changes in your relationships and changes in you.  What you need to let go of to allow your full essence to come into being.  These are often not easy shifts to make because they involve other people and they involve you, your notions of who you are, who you think you are and who you are capable and deserving of becoming.

The real stranger is no stranger at all.  It is the incredibly gifted, talented, beautiful, authentic soul residing inside of each of us, including and especially you, waiting for the opportunities, the growth, the courage, the love and the joy to burst out in full bloom.

This is what the step into the darkness will expose – that it is actually a step into the light, a journey to the core to the stranger remembered, not as a stranger but as a gift, a friend, an essential self.  What is the courage you need to meet the stranger within?