Stepping into a Legacy of Learning

CP HostsIn late September I had the privilege of co-hosting with local friend and colleague, Beth Sanders, The Circle Way training practicum with founders and master circle practitioners, Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin.  Seventeen people joined us, from Germany, Indiana, Minnesota, British Columbia, together with a strong local contingent.

Strawberry Creek Lodge welcomed and held us for the five days, providing nourishment for body and spirit, its simple and natural beauty – with acres of glowing golden aspens and towering spruce and pine, leaf-covered trails, beaver, moose, coyote and bird – creating the larger container into which we created our circle of intention, learning, curiosity, and compassion.

P1010046It was the second time such a circle had been called.  In 2011, the day before I departed for three months abroad, I emailed Ann and Christina wondering if they’d come to Edmonton to teach circle.  Then, too, seventeen of us gathered at Strawberry Creek Lodge in the glorious splendor of fall of 2012.  Then, intent to bring circle more fully into my personal and professional work, hardly would I have imagined this manifesting as co-teaching with Ann and Christina during their final off-site training.

In the weeks prior to this circle, in the moments between “skippering” our home’s renovation, I felt anxious, apprehensive even.  In counsel with a wise woman, she offered that of course, such would be the response to stepping into a legacy.  Relief with having been so deeply heard, with having received the “frame” for understanding and navigating this new role and context.  My choice of token to bring to the opening circle’s centre, the solid pewter sea urchin, its circular shape and surface covered with tiny circles, its weight signifying the gravitas of the occasion for me.

Kana Ishii Paszek Photography, 2015Together, we four held well the circle’s directions, energies, and teachings.  Together, we were both present to and in a grief that came in with this circle – supporting, shepherding and stewarding, with clarity, focus and compassion, several momentous transitions.  Together, we practiced and modeled a cornerstone Circle Way agreement: “ask for what you need, offer what you can.”

And in the end, after a mid-night of Northern Lights that shimmered in the brilliant sky, clear after a day of blustery wind and steady rain, the torches passed, marked by the green and orange “Glassy Baby” candles, gifts from Ann and Christina to Beth and me.

Now Beth and I mark our own stepping in to create a pattern of learning experiences for the next phase of our lives.  We hope you’ll join us for circle practicum trainings next spring and summer, and our newest (ad)venture, Soul Spark: Step Into the Fire of Doing the Work You Love to Do. Soul Spark

Thresholds Claimed

“You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done…you are fierce with reality.” – Florinda Scott-Maxwell, The Measure of My Days

P1000033A month ago I traveled to Halifax, en route to a vacation touring Newfoundland.  The week before my departure, I was thick into the preparations for and co-hosting our third Inside Outside Leadership gathering, this year focused on transitions and thresholds.  In readying myself for both journeys, I realized how Halifax has become my “heart place” for acknowledging and crossing thresholds.  So to spend a few days there was completely apropos given my own recent threshold, turning sixty and stepping into what the late Angeles Arrien calls the first stage of elderhood.

A bit of the backstory…I first went to Halifax in 2002, to attend what was then called the Shambhala Institute of Authentic Leadership, truly a transformative, deep dive into learning that significantly changed the course of my work, relationships, life.  It became my professional community of practice, and I attended for several more years, the most recent being in June, 2010.  Then, I recalled having to go “toe to toe” with my director to justify using the allocated professional development time and budget for this event.  In hindsight, I realized this and another similar conversation wherein I “spoke truth to power,” most likely led to my position being “abolished” the following year, and put in play my eventual decision to “retire” in June, 2012.  I remember flying across Canada, staving off a migraine, and feeling nauseous with anxiety the closer I got to Halifax.  After a bit of soul-searching, I disclosed to my Halifax “sisters” who met and fetched me, that I felt I was about to cross a threshold – the first time I ever recall using this particular word – sensing an enormity and knowing only that I upon my return home, I’d complete those final weeks of work, and then begin my long awaited, year long, deferred salary leave, a year in which I was intentionally designing experiences to open me up to Life (studying process painting in Taos, NM with the method’s founder, Michele Cassou, and travelling “sola” to Europe for three months.)

File created with CoreGraphics

File created with CoreGraphics

ALIA (Shambhala renamed) is masterful in designing the space and container for potent, transformative learning and community making.  (Read Susan Szpakowski’s Little Book of Practice for a beautifully eloquent description of how.)  And wouldn’t you know it, that year, as the group convened for the first time, “threshold” was our welcoming metaphor and ritual.

41GyeErgUvL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_Threshold, as described by Angeles Arrien in The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom (2007), is “the place or moment where transformational work, learning, or integration occurs.” (9)  She makes the distinction between a threshold and a gate, with the latter being:

“the protecting and testing that must occur before we are allowed entry and permitted to do the work at the threshold.  Gates are often considered places of initiation or entryways into holy places, sacred grounds, or spiritually significant transitions.  Deep archetypal feelings may surface when we are ‘at the gate.’  Instinctively, we recognize that we are required to let go of what is familiar, prepare to enter, and open ourselves to the unknown.  Our passage through the gate is irreversible.  After we open the gate and stand upon the threshold, we must do the work of transformation.” (10)

In the book’s forward, Arrien’s “Celtic friend and colleague,” the late John O’Donohue wrote, “Each life must find its true threshold, that edge where the individual gift fits the outer hunger and where the outer hunger fits the inner hunger….a human life can be understood in terms of a narrative of its thresholds.” (x)

Have I told you that over that year of intentional threshold crossing, I broke three hand mirrors?  The first being during that week at ALIA.  The second, as I prepared for my last trip to Italy, a bus tour of Sicily.  The third and final, the hand mirror I travelled with throughout Europe, and found shattered when I unpacked upon arriving back in Canada.

download (1)Or that during that weekend before ALIA, when I celebrated with my “sisters” in Mahone Bay, enjoying fresh lobster, wine and heartful conversation, gifting them each with tiara, scepter, shawl and the book The Queen of My Self, evoking another threshold, the tarot card of death appeared in each of my readings?

It was never lost on me the potency of that particular June, crossing through the gate into the threshold that, now in my fifth year, I anticipate will continue for the yogic seven.  The archetypal feelings and signs foretelling that my life as I had known it would shatter, die, shift and change.

So yes, it was with perfect and subtle attunement that I spontaneously added on the Halifax layover, and shared another fine weekend, in that same comfortable home with my “sisters,” again enjoying our tradition of fresh lobster, fine wine and heartful conversation.  Now each of us five years older, tending to Life’s changes as children move and marry, parents flounder with less time than more, careers shift and end, health waxes and wanes, and “what next?” hovers large on the horizon.  Stepping into what Life is calling forth from us, for us.  Learning what it means to be an elder. Claiming its gate and threshold.

Perspectives with Panache, 2016

PS – With bittersweet and perhaps even divine synchronicity, John O’Donohue passed over unexpectedly on January 4, 2008, a few short months after writing the forward to Angeles Arrien’s book.  In her introduction, she writes about their friendship and his forthcoming book, To Bless the Space Between Us, which was published posthumously on March 4, 2008.  Angeles Arrien passed over in late April, 2014.

Creating Relational, Cross-generation Spaces

ulab-overviewFor the past two months, together with over 25,000 others, I was part of an experimental global learning community hosted by Otto Scharmer and his team at MIT.  Called the U.Lab, it was a six week experiential journey down and up the U, as in Theory U, bringing to life Scharmer’s most recent book, Leading from the Emerging Future (2013).  In addition to deep listening practice, “tweeting impressions,” reading, posting and responding to reflections, contributing to “wordle” summaries, and hosting a weekly face to face learning “hub” in my local library, I viewed several hours of video presentations by Otto and interviews with guest faculty, including his mentor, Peter Senge.

In the final week, and last segment of Peter’s interview, he said a few things that deeply resonate with me and give affirmation to my work:

“Well, I think a lot of the most important leadership will come from people in their 20s, and actually people 10 years earlier.”

“And, again, it’s a real tragedy when people are so busy, trying to get it done, that they’re not paying attention to the relational space they create. Because this relational space they create is what will determine what gets done.”

On Being Parker CourtneyOne morning last week, while sitting with my dear old Peggy dog, I tuned into one of Krista Tippett’s podcasts from her wonderful On Being website.  Titled “The Inner Life of Rebellion,” it featured Quaker elder, educator and activist Parker Palmer, and journalist entrepreneur, Courtney Martin, in a cross generational conversation about the inner work of resilient, sustainable social change.  Listening, I was particularly struck by their genuine respect for each other, and to their mutual commitment to creating relational, cross-generation spaces in which to share and witness the stories that have potential to transform us and our world.

During and since, it’s been my heart’s delight to be in several of these spaces, from the evening where fourteen of us gathered to consider how we might work together “unusually” (and I had the sudden, somewhat daunting realization that for the first time I was the oldest in the room!), to the sorta-surprise morning birthday party at the Duchess for one of our younger friends who left family abroad to make family and life here, to the monthly community of practice meeting I co-founded from the Leading in Emergence learning labs.  Intended as a “practice field,” a safe space to allow our alumnae to prototype the new behaviours, mindsets and cross boundary collaborative cultures (Leading from the Emerging Future, 246), I participated, again as the oldest in the room, in a thoughtfully hosted conversation on how safe space is created within government and with its constituents.

copy-cropped-InsideOutsideLeadershipHeader8I look ahead, with the energy and promise of our lengthening days, to knowing I will soon, again, have the honour of cohosting two such spaces.  In early June, together with Marg Sanders, we’ll be gathering with twenty women for our third annual Inside Outside Leadership weekend, this year focusing on transitions.  And in late September, I’ll be co-facilitating a Peerspirit Circle Practicum with Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, and Beth Sanders.  As Christina and Ann are actively transitioning out of this teaching work, it may well be their final training, as they pass the torch to others of us in The Circle Way community. P1060618

If you are yearning to sit in, or are keen to polish your skills in convening such rich spaces, please click on the above links for details and registration.  I’d love to have you join us and welcome you to take your place.

Leading in Emergence….lessons learned from travelling abroad


That’s “hello” in Turkish.  For the past two weeks, I’ve had occasion to speak this and other Turkish words and phrases – Please, Thank you, Where’s the toilet? Good morning, Good bye, How much? – as we toured from Istanbul through central and western Turkey.  A skim across the surface of this ancient culture and beautiful land, as we floated above the magical terrain of Cappadocia, dove into the cave dwellings at Göreme, walked among the archaeological ruins at Troy, Ephesus and Pamukkale, witnessed the mystical whirling dervishes and their founder’s tomb in Konya, and tasted our way through Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and Spice Market.

Now as I settle back home, and make my way through the nine hour time difference, I’m in that odd, in between space of holding a myriad of new and novel sights, sounds, scents and impressions that filled me to the brim, with the anticipation of co-hosting a second Leading in Emergence learning lab November 6-7, in Sherwood Park, Alberta.  No doubt a side effect of jet lag, I’ve been thinking about how travelling abroad and stepping into a different culture invites me to consider how similar the frames, practices, and competencies are to navigating the slippery terrain of emergence and complexity.

Driving in Istanbul – it’s in the genes I was told.  A pattern emerges, flows and then collapses into the next iteration of chaos, backed up with a cacophony of horns. Cars, taxis, buses…bumper on bumper, stalled for minutes that become hours, apparently irrelevant traffic lights.  Pedestrians seem to intuit the space and pause to nimbly move between, around, across tram tracks, through intersections.  Or, in our case, abandon the taxi caught in a standstill, and walk to our destination.

The call to prayer, five times a day, every day, though NOT at the same time of day, is aMinaret.jpeg significant frame that organizes the comings and goings of people and their systems.  In the morning especially, I would hear the chant start at one minaret, and then a few moments later from another, then another, and another…like a wave that would build in crescendo, and then fade away voice by voice as the summons concluded.


Mesmerized by the “sema,” a  cultural exhibition by the whirling dervish sect of Sufism founded by Rumi, it demonstrated how prayer and moving meditation have been used for centuries to connect with the divine to awaken knowing and wisdom for uncertain times.

Our very experienced tour guide knew to make an early reservation for the hot air balloon ride, given we’d be at the whim of winds and weather.  Unabashed commitment paid off, as seven of us soared with fifty other balloons at sunset over the fairy chimneys while our ambivalent tour mates, not sure they wanted to pay the price, postponed planning to the next day.  It was not to be, as the skilful pilots assessed the winds unfavourable for safe flying.  Know, plan, commit, act are the lessons here.Cappadocia KebapSeduced by aromas of grilled food, we sampled and savoured, only to have our guts protest…an embodied knowing that won’t be denied!




How has travelling to other places opened you to new impressions and insights? What are your stories about emergence and complexity…when you’ve felt uncertain and coped with chaos…sensed and intuited patterns…let go to let come and step into the space of bold action?

A Page Turning Summer and a PSA, of sorts

Labour Day weekend, the last hurrah of summer for so many of us here in the Northern Hemisphere. (I note this because my blog stats show many readers from the south, which astounds and delights me!) Here in Alberta, we’ve had a remarkably warm summer. As I posted last time, to sip my morning coffee outside watching the sunrise (OK, some days wrapped in my Pendleton blanket!) and eat al fresco three meals a day for most of July and August has been a long awaited first in many years. I’ve spent many lovely hours sitting in outside in my deck chair reading…

Ruth Reichl. The last reigning editor of the now deceased Gourmet Magazine, and former food critic for the New York and LA Times, Reichl has authored several memoirs, and a recent fiction, each about my favourite reading subject, food. Not so much recipes, as the personal connections and memories food conjures, and where it comes from, its history, how it’s prepared and tastes. OMG the descriptions of taste! To develop a palate such as that of Reichl and other of my esteemed food writers, M.F.K. Fisher, Elizabeth David, Laurie Colwin, and Gina Mallet, would be a vocation worth pursuing. I devoured and savoured every word of every book Reichl wrote, in the early days of July as I designed this new website. (Seeing two delicious films, Chef and the glorious adaptation of the novel, The One Hundred Foot Journey complemented my reading about food. Could I ever get enough?)

Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. Loaded on my Kindle, this was my travelling volume, but because I knew it’d be a regular “go to” reference, I just bought a hard copy. Based on Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, LaLoux has written an accessible, practical “guide to creating organizations inspired by the next stage of human consciousness.” He researched twelve, cross sector pioneer organizations from around the world, who successfully operate on breakthrough principles of purpose driven, self-organization, and self-management. Using 45 criteria, including organizational processes and structures, human resources (recruiting, training, evaluation, compensation), cultural infrastructure elements of communication, office spaces, interpersonal relationships, and leadership, what becomes evident is the emergence of a new coherent organizational model, which he calls TEAL. I’m jazzed as we apply this book to work we’re doing for the next generation of The Circle Way.

Sue Monk Kidd’s The Mermaid Chair. I’ve had this on my shelf for several years and turned to it instead of re-reading my dog-eared copy of her Dance of The Dissident Daughter because I needed to paddle around in some beautifully written women’s fiction, instead of diving deep in process. I came back to shore refreshed.

… Again, The Power of Collective Wisdom and the trap of collective folly, to design my online book study of the same. This 6- week course will be available globally from mid October to late November. I’d love to have you join the class of educational leaders to add spice to conversation!

…Finally, the profoundly wise Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by James Hollis, PhD. A friend introduced me to and offered to loan me her borrowed copies of several of Hollis’ now out of print manuscripts. I declined, again steering away from the deep dive into deep process, but days later found myself at the local library compelled to explore the stacks. I just noticed the cover endorsement: “Nourishing…Like a master chef, James Hollis knows that good food for the soul cannot be ordered to go.”  Hmmm…apparently Reichl was the appetizer, and this was definitely the main course and then some for my summer reading feast.

Hollis writes a “no holds barred” provocative examination of the shifting agenda and purpose of the second half of life in which he intends to, and does, “stir thought, trouble sleep and provide some wider perspective” based on the tenets of Jung and depth psychology.

This book spoke truth to me, in part due to my clinical training based on psychodynamic theory, and personal therapy aligned with Jungian psychology. It passed Hollis’ test of resonance, which he describes as being “critical to our capacity to gather a spirituality that brings deepened connection and meaning into our lives.” (200) Taking time this summer to ponder more fully the significance of my own illness, Hollis states unequivocally:

 “…We are obliged to thank our symptoms, for they catch our attention, compel seriousness, and offer profound clues as to the deep will or intentionality of our own psyche. In the end we will only be transformed when we can recognize and accept the fact that there is a will within each of us, quite outside the range of conscious control, a will which knows what is right for us, which is repeatedly reporting to us via our bodies, emotions, and dreams, and is incessantly encouraging our healing and wholeness. We are called to keep this appointment with the inner life, and many of us never do. Fortunately, this insistent invitation comes to us again and again.” (21)

I just read this book, and feel deeply affirmed in regard to my personal journey and how this has become manifest in my work, website and new tagline: attending to the inner live, to live and lead with courage, clarity, compassion and creativity.

There is much more in this volume, and if I’ve piqued your curiosity and stirred your soul, I recommend you seek out the book. However, what I really felt compelled to write here, my PSA (public service announcement) of sorts, is how he describes depression and its treatment, particularly in light of the current and much needed conversation.

Hollis instructs us to recognize that the word “depression” is being indiscriminately used to describe different causes, states of being and levels of meaning. It’s been reduced to a “one size fits all” approach to treatment which most often means a prescription rather than delving into the more time consuming, hence costly, exploration of its symbolic meaning. He clarifies three types of depression:

Biologically based depression that typically appears across family histories, which is most successfully treated with anti-depressant medication combined with short term, often cognitive-based, therapy.

Reactive depression, appropriate to a significant loss in our lives and tends to vary in intensity and duration in proportion to the amount of energy we invested in who or what was lost.

“The child going off to college, the end of a relationship, downsizing at work or retirement – all can occasion a reactive depression, as the psychic energy that was once invested externally loses its object or container and reverts to the personal psyche…Grieving is an honest affirmation of the value of the original investment of energy. No grief, no true investment occurred.” (73)

He reminds us that even in reactive depression there is a task that awaits us,

“namely the invitation, indeed the necessity, to examine where we may have been over-invested in the lost other, where it was carrying too much for us. When that energy returns to us, it is ours to carry, and ours to invest in ways that serve the development agenda our souls always wish from us.” (73)

In his professional experience, medications confuse and may obscure this exploration.

Intrapsychic, or dysthymic depression, suffered by each of us at some time over the course of our lives, is the reaction of the psyche to the impact upon our souls, of our culture and to the choices we’ve made in living our lives.

“No matter how successful we have been in the outer world, judged by standards external to us, if we are not living in accord with the intent of our soul, depression is likely to follow. The more I try to do what ‘I’ wish to do, and the less it is what the soul intends, the more depressed I will become.” (224)

To have the courage to inquire into and heed the response of the question, “What, then, is the summons of my soul?” is the way through.

This may not pass your “resonance test.” But if it does, may Hollis’ words, and those of aligned authors, like Parker Palmer, bring courage, clarity and compassion to we who suffer depression, and help us find our way through to living in accordance with the soul’s agenda.