Sunday, May 20, 2012


Wisdom from elders, elders of the Hopi nation in particular, was the next topic of Margaret Wheatley’s talk.  She shared the following Hopi prophecy:   

Here is a river flowing now very fast.  It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid, who will try to hold on to the shore.   They are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.  Know that the river has its destination.  The elders say we must let go of the shore.  Push off into the middle of the river, and keep our heads above water.   

And I say see who is in there with you and celebrate.  At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves, for the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.  The time for the lone wolf is over.  Gather yourselves.  Banish the word struggle from you attitude and vocabulary. 

All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.  For we are the ones we've been waiting for.

Wheatley’s discussed her book PERSERVERANCE where she used the Hopi wisdom above as a way to inspire readers to persevere.  She highlighted that our reason for letting go of the shore is not to save ourselves, but to be available as the middle of the river is a place of service – it is the place where people will be looking for guidance on how to survive out of reach of the shore and follow the rivers destination.  We need to banish the word struggle from our vocabulary and we are the ones we have been waiting for.    

We need to be aware of our habitual responses to ambiguity and uncertainty and through this awareness we can respond in more meaningful ways.  We need to realize we cling to the shore and be willing to let go to reach the place where we can be effective.  And we need to develop and name strategies that we can use to help us stay in the middle of the river.

These strategies will include: finding ways to enjoy uncertainty instead of fighting it; finding the experiences of boredom as a reminder to let go of the shore – of the known;  paying attention to the need to be responsible to, react to, and enjoy the company of others; and asking for help and guidance from these others.  And we need to ask ourselves – how often do we take time to reflect?  Awareness gained by reflection is a key to keeping our head above water while we journey in  the middle of the river.  

The problems we face will require thinking skills that we don’t yet have.  Poverty, education, healthcare are but a few of the areas where the problems we face are escalating.  And the institutions that are in place to deal with this issues are dysfunctional.  So who will we choose to be, and how will we sustain our energy?  The tough issues we care about will need us to address these questions if we are to be around for the long term that will be needed to address them. 

This is a tough call in these times when self-care and self-sustenance are mis-perceived as selfish.  It is often easier to get caught up in becoming the absurd hero – like the mythological character Sisyphus who was condemned by the gods to spend eternity rolling a bolder up a mountain, only to have it roll back down when he got to the top.  (For more on the topic see the blog post here.)  His eternity of hard work resulted in nothing being accomplished.   

The sense of urgency we feel to deal with the issues we are concerned about create failure in our relationships.   Motivations from anger or outrage fail to give us to capacity to persevere.   The more urgent the issue, the more time we need to take to nurture relationships.  And our increasing passions interfere with building and maintaining those relationships.  The desperation that fills the voids results in us trying to work harder, and we become judgmental.  As the issues take us over, we become ineffective. 

Do we choose free will and find ways to nurture ourselves and our relationships or do we accept the condemnation to keep pushing the boulder up the mountain?  It is times like this where we need to choose to use our minds and take time to reflect and think like a human being, rather than spending our time spinning mindlessly on the gerbil wheel.  We also need to spend time reflecting with our colleagues on what we just did.  It is this communal reflection that will be necessary in these times where it is rarely practiced. 

Wheatley moved into the final part of her talk with a discussion of the stress that dominates our world today.   When we become stressed, we lose the ability to think and we can not connect the dots.  We have no sense for the context of where we find ourselves.  We no longer possess human brains.  We find that our memory loss is equivalent to being distracted.  We are simply so distracted that we cannot remember anything. 

The sinking of the Titanic is an example of how distraction can sink our ships.  Three days prior to the sinking of the Titanic, reports had been issued about icebergs that would be encountered.  The captain responded with a minor course correction followed by the order of full steam ahead.  Forty minutes prior to the sinking, another shipped radioed the Titanic trying to warn them about the impending icebergs in the area.  The Titanic radio operator responded to this warning – “shut up, shut up, I am busy”.   We all push things away because we are busy, and we can suffer drastic consequences.  The simple solution is to pay attention – and to create conditions that allow us to pay attention, and then to act accordingly.  We need to take time to think – personally and collectively. 

Too often we focus on the task and forget about the process, the socialization, the community.   An example of an organization that understands the importance of process is The GreenBelt Movement  founded by Wangari Maathai.  It is an organization that was instrumental in inspiring the women of Kenya to plant over 40 million trees as a way to protect their water supplies and provide wood for fuel and materials.  They did this by including a celebration as kickoff of the tree planting work.   It is through celebration that we come to know peace.

And it is an inner peace that can only come through personal practice that will help us to build community.  These practices are many and varied and can include prayer, meditation, walking, spending time with a pet, making music or art, or participating in joyful accomplishment.  Whatever the practices, they will need to be increased in order to raise the peace in this increasingly un-peaceful world.  Start with finding a daily practice, practice it ten minutes a day, be disciplined in your practice, and practice it – or be eaten alive!  

It is up to us.  Find a name for what you want to be, and be fearless.  Stretch toward service – not profit.  With fear and aggression on the rise – take a stand for good human life.  Vow not to increase fear and aggression in the world.  Adopt values counter to our current culture.  Strengthen yourself through practices that increase inner peace.  Do this so you can stay in the middle of the river.  It is our time to serve the world.  Wake up before you die and remember that when you were born – you rejoiced!

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Margaret Wheatley continued her talk by reminding us that new cultures are formed by a few people not afraid to be insecure.  These reformers proceed down what they know is the right path until they are apprehended.  They do this because they know that in a disaster situation there is no risk.  When you are already in the middle of a disaster, don’t be afraid to try new ways.  And practice perseverance – the ability to work with what we have and not to wait for something we don’t have.  

The skills that we will be needed to stay the course include the ability to: remain vulnerable and open; accept insecurity and risk; float free; and accept ambiguity.   And with that she led the large group into a discussion.  She outlined a procedure promoted by THE WORLD CAFÉ organization which developed a format that can be used to host large group dialogue.  She instructed the attendees to break into groups of 3 to 5 people to share their thoughts on what they had heard so far that got their attention.  

She reminded us to have group and individual responsibility, to choose people to join with who did not look like we did, to be present to the differences in what we heard, and to be aware of when our attention wandered from listening to the person who was sharing.   She also requested that at the end of the discussion that when we saw her raising her hand that we would all raise our own hand and stop talking.  At the end of the 20 minutes of discussion, Wheatley raised her hand and within seconds the hundreds of people engaged in conversation stopped and returned their attention to the stage.  It was an amazing demonstration of a large group of people being responsible.    

Wheatley then moved into more ideas that would help leaders to weather the storm.  These included the need to perverse, in the sense of turning away from the dysfunctional standards that currently drive our culture.  We need to stand for the counter-culture and play the role of the warrior.  Being a warrior is one answer to the question she started her talk off with, “Who do you choose to be for this time?”  It is not a warrior in the sense of using violence to kill our enemy that she was talking about, but rather a spiritual warrior – someone inspired to do the right thing, despite the consequences.   

One of the keys to finding courage in what some are calling end times is to be able to appreciate and use the fine art of satire or dark humor.  She gave an example of one bumper sticker that has come out that says “When the rapture comes, this car will be empty”.  A good dark humor responsive bumper sticker she saw read “When the rapture comes, can I have your car?”  We need to take nothing too seriously, least of all ourselves.  We need to make fun of things, especially the behaviors and actions that deserve to be made fun of.  And when behaviors are ridiculous, they need to be named as such.   

Friday, May 4, 2012

Ordinary Men and Women

We are but ordinary men and women.  And because we are ordinary men and women, then we are non-conformist rebels - dreamers.  Yes, yes we can say that that overweight woman in Walmart - buying all her shit there - that is a dreamer-rebel?  Yes.  (...).  The rebellion can be be dormant, latent, but it is there and it is ordinary men and women that can produce the change in the world.

Gustavo Esteva, from a talk given at the Economics of Happiness Conference in Berkeley California, March 2012. 

Click here to see the talk. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


A few weeks ago I spent a Friday afternoon with Margaret Wheatley   and about four hundred other folks who came to hear her talk about SPIRITED LEADERSHIP IN CRITICAL TIMES . The talk cosponsored by Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality and the Loyola Center for Spirituality was held at St. Catherine University in St. Paul Minnesota.  Her talk was balanced by the music and songs of singer/songwriter Barbara McAfee. 

Wheatley is one of my favorite authors on the topic of leadership.  At the end of her three hour discussion I came away feeling energized to go out into our troubled world and find ways to make it better place.  What follows are some of the highlights that I took away from the afternoon of her sharing of what she believes leaders will need in order to thrive in these troubled times.  

She opened the afternoon by asking the attendees, “Who do you choose to be for this time?”  To be an effective leader requires that we know who we are and what is important to us.  We need to know what it is we long for.  Evaluating these important issues is what will ground us.  And she reminded us that struggling with the difficult issues of our day “it’s no big deal, it’s just our turn”.  According to Thomas Merton, “Humans have a responsibility to their own time.”  And indeed if we don’t step up to deal with the issues of our day, who will?    

And with that she launched into what she described as “the depressing journey of our time”.  In these dark times we cannot change the world as it is, but we can open ourselves up to it and find gentleness, decency, and bravery that is available to all of us.  Many of us are experiencing the feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted.   

She shared an excerpt from a recent email she had received that explained how the sender felt like she was crossing a raging river by hopping from rock to rock, but the rocks seemed to be disappear below the surface of the water before she could reach them and she worried that her next step might l cast her into the current out of site of the distant shore.   

We are told that “we need to do more with less” and we face increasing conflicts, fear and anxiety, and more polarization.   And those who attempt to lead us prey on our fear and anxiety and try to terrify us of their opponents.  Instead of trying to understand the complexity of the problems we create, we look for someone else to blame.  And because of our failure to think critically about the issues, we simply blunder our way from one crisis to another, blaming the other, and allowing our burgeoning bureaucracy to keep us tied to our meaningless work.    

And in this constant crisis mode we try to find quick fixes to our problems.  One example she shared was the old slogan that is still relevant to today, “Drink Coffee.  Do Stupid Things Faster with More Energy”. 
And it is these futile attempts that bring about the feelings we have that were portrayed in the cartoon she showed  with the title “THE HISTORY OF MAN” - followed by a frame with a man asking the question “WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING?” -  followed by “THE END”.  Our busyness and dysfunction block our ability to answer the question and learn from the answer before it is too late.   

And so in these trouble times where there are no large institutions that are working well, where bad values dominate, and where we have desperate men blaming women (a reference Wheatley was making to the recent news of the Catholic Church clamping down on nuns in the United States), where do we turn?