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Leading Through the Blizzards


There’s a Leonard Cohen song, The Future, which refers to “the blizzard of the world” crossing the threshold and overturning “the order of the soul”. Leaders experience this blizzard in many forms, including an ever-increasing volume and velocity of challenges and complexity. The blizzards faced by business leaders can cause them to lose sight of what matters most and to lose their sense of orientation.

Author Parker J. Palmer describes how: “…farmers on the Great Plains, at the first sign of a blizzard, would run a rope from the back door out to the barn. They all knew stories of people who had wandered off and been frozen to death, having lost sight of home in a whiteout while still in their own backyards”.

The Center for Courage & Renewal, co-founded by Parker Palmer, encourages leaders to explore and enquire into their inner and outer worlds. In an approach that is rare in leadership development settings, the Courage to Lead® retreat explores important topics metaphorically, using poems and stories that embody the topic. Palmer calls these embodiments “third things” because rather than representing the voice of the facilitator or participant, they have “voices of their own, voices that tell the truth about a topic” and evoke from us what our authentic or deeper self wants us to pay attention to.

Highlighting the potential and challenge of this approach, Palmer cites T.S. Eliot and notes that what Eliot said about poetry is true of all third things: “(Poetry) may make us… a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves”.

For example, in response to the subject of “The Blizzard” and the Leonard Cohen lyric you might take 15 minutes to reflect and write in a journal your answers to the questions (NB: If you don’t think you have time to do this, that very response highlights the potential value for you of this reflection):

  • What is the nature of the blizzard(s) in your life and work?
  • What contributes to it?
  • What does it feel like to be in it?
  • What does the blizzard obscure?
  • What gets “lost” when you’re in it?

A companion exercise, about tying the rope to the barn, is to work with the poem “The Way It Is” by William Stafford:

RopeThere’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Questions for reflection on this poem are:

  • What are some threads – personal beliefs and convictions that you try to hold onto in your life and work?
  • What helps you hold on to them?
  • What makes it difficult to hold on?
  • Have you ever had to explain about your thread? How have you talked about it?
  • What might it mean to “follow” your thread, rather than pull or push it? How does that change things?
  • What does it feel like to be separated from your thread? Say, by losing something, or choosing a path that isn’t really yours?

I began a recent Introduction to Courage & Renewal with these exercises then explored a range of related authentic leadership subjects drawing upon the work of the Center for Courage & Renewal. Participants at the introductory session said this approach: “Provides the opportunity to reflect on what courageous steps need to be taken to align your outer life with your inner values – excellent”; “Excellent workshop – an opening of the doorway to explore myself in a reflective and deeper way. Highly recommended. The use of poetry contributed to the strength of this workshop”; and “Rodger created a rich and safe holding space to explore living authentically. The day was very well-crafted, facilitating new depth of understanding and awareness”.

The introduction was a preview of the Courage to Lead® retreat that starts at 5pm Friday August 28th and runs to 1pm Sunday August 30th at Houchen House Retreat & Conference Centre, Hamilton, New Zealand. You are warmly invited to this rich opportunity to reflect on and revitalise your leadership. This could be one of the best leadership investments you ever make. For further information see

(This blog originally appeared here.)

Rodger Spiller, PhD, MCom (Hons) has researched and taught leadership since 1984 and applied this wisdom as a pioneering leader in ethical and responsible investment and business. He is widely published, including in an international book on Authentic Leadership. He is a trained tertiary teacher, certified coach, enneagram teacher, and current Facilitator in Preparation with the Center for Courage & Renewal.

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Backsighting and Current: Reflections on Moving Forward with Grief


My beautiful younger brother Darren died a few weeks ago.

As I ponder about the ancient practices of wayfinding, I have become newly aware of some of the currents that affect the direction of my travel…

Up until his death, I must admit that I have tended to be much more of a future-oriented planner. If I have trouble living in the present- and I do- it is because I am thinking about the next shiny event ahead. I have not been one to dwell on past events. I am not prone to nostalgia or regret. I do tend to get ahead of myself.

Yet, I now find myself drifting in grief… thinking much more about memories from childhood. Especially in the mornings, in that moment just before full wakefulness, I notice the pull to remember. I find myself daydreaming: recollecting events with Darren and also with my aging parents. The family cabin at Neskonlith Lake… our backyard on Rosewood Ave… hiking trips into Bachelor Heights… As though I am still trying to understand something valuable that is obscured in these memories. As though I am trying to orient my identity and my present from these early signposts.

New insights have been arising from my pondering traditional open-ocean navigators of the Pacific Island- in practices that predate the use of a magnetic compass, maps, charts and GPS. These wayfinders used a variety of practices to maintain an awareness of location and direction.

One practice is described as ‘navigating from astern’.

Navigating facing backwards was contrary to the navigational practices of most of the voyage, in which the wayfinder faced forwards to take in the sensory data. The conventional perch of the navigator was near the back of the boat and facing ahead. This allowed a wayfinder to use the ocean canoe as a compass needle. One could make reference down the side of the boat for noticing speed and direction. This constant data collection and analysis- taking in the boat’s speed and noticing the direction of swells, waves, winds, birds, sun and clouds and the moving star compass and moon of the night sky- helped inform a wayfinder’s sustained internal map and helped provide for a consistent bearing.

sailing-away-with-wakeHowever, in the first hours of any voyage, as the boat moved away from the land, there was a reverse skill. Essential information was available to a wayfinder by facing not forwards, but backwards. In the midst of moving forward to new waters, it was facing backwards towards the fading land and to the boat’s wake that provided accurate direction.

At the start of the voyage, the most reliable flow of information came from what was being left behind… from the past.

Looking backwards, a wayfinder used a set of references to create a line or trajectory. It might be a few dominant trees, a cliff or another feature. It might be a deep valley that ran away from the shore and provided a line of deeper shadow. A wayfinder needed at least two objects on the land, or the shadow of a valley, to then extend a line out in the ocean. This imagined line extended through the boat and all the way to the destination island. Imagine the sights on a gun to help understand this practice. In some navigational descriptions, navigating from astern is indeed called ‘backsighting’.

This line was the known path to the intended island. It pointed out to sea and to where the boat was going. Facing backwards and keeping in alignment provided the necessary starting direction to orient the navigator. This information of what landmarks to use for which island was passed on from elder navigator to younger. It became known voyage after voyage by paying attention. The home island might provide several of these lines of reference to various islands nearby and far away.

As the boat moved away, the visible drift of the current could also be recognized. This was essential information to find an accurate bearing. A constant pull to left or right indicated the presence of current: current that changed and shifted in both direction and strength throughout the year. If the wayfinder noticed that on what should have been a consistent bearing that the landmarks were drifting out of alignment, there was an active current.

As a wayfinder noticed this current, an internal compensation came into play. The bearing was adjusted for what current was evident. If the current was moving the boat towards the left, the wayfinder adjusted course to the right to average out the effect of current.

Of course, backsighting ended when the land was too far away to see the alignment markers. The wayfinder would move to the forward position and continue the voyage on this determined bearing by looking ahead, now that it was no longer possible to backsight.

I think I’m backsighting.

My memories of Darren, moments with my parents, and related recollections up to this present moment are somehow aligning themselves. There is a line of landmarks from which I am moving away. I sense this line continuing through my body and into my life ahead.

I am not ready to return to facing forward- perhaps a glance of orientation is all.
I sense I must remain true to the alignment of memories- to this bearing. And this course takes me out to the deep ocean. The land is still visible to me in these precious weeks of remembering… yet I know that soon it will fade from view.

I have detected current as I look back. I can see in my earliest memories of my family, my school experiences and into young adulthood… I see the curve of my wake and this noticeable deep flow of energy for which I need to learn to compensate. I sense this current in my body. It will take me off course- it pushes me off my true bearing- unless I learn to adjust for it.

Some of the current I have noticed:

  • An inherited fatalism- not a powerful current of victimhood or the intensity of a martyr-complex… but a more subtle flow of ocean around me… made up of what?… a resignation to the powers-that-be… a powerlessness in the face of these forces… a corrosive cynicism inherited in a shrug and the question not seeking an answer of ‘what can I do?’;
  • Developed guilt from my evangelical religious heritage- this current has been stronger in the past;
  • My temperament and personality… I am an intuitive thinker who spends much more time and is more at ease in my head than in my heart or my body;
  • And just yesterday, in a courageous encounter with a dear friend- I once again detected the old current of racism, colonialism, and fear of the other… and the constant current of my white male privilege.

Years ago, I first noticed these currents.
I had hoped to voyage to an ocean in which they were not at work.
I thought they were weeds in my garden that I could eradicate with diligence and hard work.

Backsighting is revealing to me that my ocean is my reality.

The currents are not going to go away. I do sense less force from them.

My wayfinding is no longer a hope to live current-free… rather, navigating well involves a simple practice of noticing. Grief is teaching me to stand and look back and notice the wake. And as I become more fully aware of the currents, my practice is to update my inner map. I readjust and compensate and continue to find the true course… a line passing through me and extending out to the world I am sailing towards- within me and around me.

Dan Hines bio picABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dan Hines is a Courage & Renewal® facilitator. Dan is a leadership consultant for business, educational, and religious organizations, a coach and speaker, and an ordained priest in the Anglican Church of Canada. He also consults and mentors church leaders in association with his colleagues at Companion Way. He also consults about intentional communities and co-operative living from his ongoing experience with the RareBirds Housing Co-operative. Read more reflections like this on Dan’s blog: Breathing Like Stone.

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Bursting the Bubble and Weaving Real Connections


Excerpt from Journal entry, June 20 Saturday ~ New York

The screeching of the J train is jarring to my ears, reminding me that I am not quite ready to wake up and be in this world of New York’s hustle and bustle. My daughter and I are on the subway heading to meet up with my son and daughter-in-law in the heart of New York City. Masses of people are everywhere. I notice a young woman with heavy make-up sitting to our left on the bench. With earphones in, she is sitting there cryingmuddy tears tainted with mascara flowing down her cheeks.

Having lived in Brooklyn for a few years, my daughter begins to educate me in correct subway conduct. She explains “subway voice”meaning it is considerate to lower one’s voice when talking in a subway car. Then there is the backpack issue. Once, I almost took someone out by turning too quickly, my backpack swinging around to hit the person right behind me. Thus I am reminded, it is vital to sit with things on my lap or between my legs.

And then there is the big ruleyou don’t engage. Perhaps a quick flash of a smile as a thank you for someone moving to create space for you. No words, no eye contact, no engagement. Questions are okay, as New Yorkers proudly enjoy sharing knowledge on how to get around this vast city. Otherwise, engagement pops the bubbles of space that surround each person. This bubble of silencea space suit of sortsis what allows everyone to live in this crowded, demanding city. People thirst for privacy and a few moments of solace before moving out into the mass beehives on the street above.

Carefully creating our standards based on what we enjoy and don’t enjoy around communication, we create an invisible bubble. The list is long and narrow. We talk about politics only if we agree, it’s okay or not okay to share feelings, one is suppose to ask about your family first or be direct in asking for a favor, talk about sports or the weather, it’s okay to text while talking, it’s not okay to text… the list goes on and on.

Of course there are many cultural, racial, and regional differences that are important to be honored. But I am speaking more of the bubble we put up during an encounter with a stranger. If someone crosses the line, we are quick to judge. Glancing away to ignore someone’s comment or a delivering few sharp words put them back into their placethat is how we let someone know there is a line and YOU JUST CROSSED IT.

How is it that we have individually and collectively created such a long list of rights and wrongs about how we communicate? Although the stereotype of a New Yorker is that they are rude and distant, this image is only a reflection of our dominant society where we are increasingly putting barriers between “us” and “them”.


Healing the Heart of Democracy: Now available in paperbackParker Palmer in his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, invites us to back up and revisit engagement with each other in more life-giving ways. “We are all in this together” is his first habit of the heart. What does this mean if we truly understand that we are interconnected and not separate beings?

People continue to come in and go out, changing the count on the bench at every stop. At this moment, there are three people between me and the woman crying. Stop after stop she continues to crythe type of tears that seem to come from the depths of one’s soul. Wiping them off with a briskness, she seems to put a stop to them. Yet she continues to cry, quietly and freely, for many more stops.

I begin to watch people watching her. Though not directly, some steal a look and then become even more focused on their own book, newspaper, or music. Eventually, she stops crying.

What vulnerability to cry in this crowed vessel. I find that I am deeply touched by her tears and extraordinary courage to show this depth of emotion on the ordinary subway route. Doesn’t she know about the rules? And yet, how many times have I been so moved and touched, crying from the depth of my soul with those same big, sloppy tears? Plenty, but not on a subway car with 80 other people.

Our stop is next. My daughter gets up, moving skillfully out the door next to our seats. A look of surprise comes across her face when I tell her I am going out the other door. With only a split second before the unforgiving doors close, I gently bend down, and lightly touch the crying woman’s upper arm.

“Many blessings on you,” I whisper to her. Taken off guard, she looks up with a surprised expression. I repeat my words. Time stops with a pause. She smiles a lovely smile, one that I’ll never forget, as she looks deeply into my eyes. “Thank you,” she whispers. Next thing I know I have stepped out as the train door closes behind me.

My daughter is curious why I went out the door farther from our seats. My attempt to explain is mixed now with my own tears. I still can’t say completely what it was, this engagement with this stranger. My tears came down my cheek, as they do as I write this. There is something so deeply touching to be present to someone elseto just be with them in whatever they are experiencing. And that is all I did.

We are all in this together and I am so grateful for these moments when I feel my humanness and connection to others. That’s itjust a simple interactionbreaking the implicit rules of engagement. I am reminded of the phrase from Marge Piercy‘s poem, “The Seven of Pentacles”:

“Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving
Keep tangling and interweaving…”

This is a life I can endurepracticing a habit of the heart that brings me back to myself.

Susan Kaplan is a trainer, coach and consultant. She is a Facilitator for the Center for Courage & Renewal and for the Rocky Mountain Compassionate Communication Center, providing personal and professional development and leadership support. She is an Adjunct Professor for the Graduate School of Social Work, University of Denver, teaching community practice and mind-body connections. Check out Susan’s upcoming retreat – Leading From Within: The Gifts of Abundance and Scarcity, August 21-23, 2015 in Denver, Colorado.

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The Magic of Easy-Bake Oven Brownies (Or, How I Accidentally Became an Educator)

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

(*Note: names and identifying information in the following story have been changed in this essay to protect privacy and confidentiality)


It was my birthday. I was turning 28 years old, and had been a school social worker at a K-6 elementary school for two years. Other than the fact that it was my birthday, it was an ordinary morning. Students were coming and going from the office where I worked, and the sounds of chattery children filled the air. As I made my way down that main hallway, I was stopped by a girl I’d been working with for a few weeks. Her name was Sherry, she was in 4th grade, and was having difficulties at home. When she saw me, her face lit up and she called my name.

“Mrs. Bondioli! Here, I made you these. Happy Birthday!” Sherry said.

She took something out of her ripped backpack, unwrapped it from the napkin she’d used to protect it, and handed it to me. It was a small plate of Easy-Bake Oven brownies, the kind that you make from a mix and bake in a child’s oven. They were covered in pink sprinkles, and presented themselves in a variety of shapes and sizes. The plate was smudged with chocolate smears, and the hands that held the plate were dirty.

But I’d never seen a gift so beautiful.

“Thank you so much!” I gushed as I accepted her gift, touched that she’d remembered my birthday. I offered her one of her own brownies, and we stood in that hallway together, on an ordinary October morning, eating those brownies. In that moment, I was changed.

Working as a school social worker, in a school setting, had never occurred to me. I was an Undecided major at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for as long as possible, and was the queen of every “Introduction to…” class. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I did know that it needed to involve helping people.

I finally landed on social work. My first job post-graduation was at a county human services agency; I was a case manager for children and youth who were involved with juvenile court for delinquency charges. It was a fulfilling job, always interesting and stimulating, but incredibly stressful, and burnout was high. After 4 years, I had the most seniority on my unit, and I was feeling the burn. While I definitely felt like I was helping these kids, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t getting to them soon enough, that I could have done more to help them and their families if I had intervened earlier. My work felt insufficient. It was time to try a new approach.

At the UW-Madison Graduate School of Social Work I was once again unsure what concentration was right for me. Among the choices, I decided that school social work would be best. I had always liked school, hadn’t I, and besides, the work schedule sounded great (no “on-call”! summers off!). I thought, “I can give this a try for awhile.”

Little did I know that this was all Before Brownies, and that I’d just made a decision that would lead me to my true self.

After being hired at Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools, I quickly realized how different a school setting was than my previous agency. I was not ready for the pace and focus and I felt “out of my element.” I was slow to react to teachers’ calls for help, I was more focused on establishing my own practice than being in a classroom, and most critically, I felt separate and isolated from the “real teachers”. I didn’t feel like my voice was equal with theirs.

Parker-Palmer_Courage-to-TeachIn his book The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, Parker Palmer states, “If we want to grow in our practice, we have two primary places to go: to the inner ground from which good teaching comes and to the community of fellow teachers from whom we can learn more about ourselves and our craft.”1 Not only did I not see myself as an educator, but I certainly wasn’t going to admit that to any of the other staff in my building. I felt clumsy, inferior, fraudulent. Could I even be effective in this environment?

Then, I got the brownies.

After Brownies, I began to see myself differently. Like the Skinhorse in The Velveteen Rabbit, I started to feel Real. Somehow, I had reached that girl, a very difficult, stubborn, defiant girl who was a victim of so many circumstances that were out of her control. I had gotten through to her heart and opened it even the tiniest crack, and that’s when I realized that I was an educator too.

I might not teach children to read or write, but I was certainly able to teach them to love themselves and others, to positively cope with the chaos that existed all around them, to embrace their friends in appropriate social play, to find and rely on trusting adults, and to help them leave my school a little stronger and more resilient than they were when they came. I began to realize that I indeed had an educator’s heart.

As my confidence as an educator grew, so did my effectiveness. I became more open and more connected to students and parents. With regard to my colleagues, I finally felt like one of them. I leaned in and listened to professional development conversations, and I chimed in at staff meetings. Going into classrooms to support student behaviors felt more comfortable to me, and was also more helpful for the student. With each situation, I felt more confident to bring my skills and expertise, meeting difficult students and parents where they are at and guiding them to find their own skills and strengths. I began to hear the hum and feel the heartbeat of the school, and to find my place within it.

I am now proud to call myself an educator. I have a purpose in a school setting, and I feel like I belong here. Every day is not perfect, and I know that there will be bumps and fumbles along the way. But I truly believe that I am doing the work I was meant to do. What’s more, I can’t wait to see what I’ll learn next. Hand me a brownie – I’m home.

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Finding Hope in Hopeless Places

I was in a recent discussion when someone made the comment, “We’ve created a world that no one wants to live in and it seems we’re all working very hard to keep that world going.” We nodded with the sense that he had named a sad truth. But there is hope.

In this brilliant and important TED talk, human rights lawyer and justice activist Bryan Stevenson explains that truth for me: how we in the United States live fundamentally divided lives. (And wherever you live, I suspect you will find ways to apply his points.)

He makes the case that our humanity, our identity, our integrity as individuals and as a society depend upon our capacity to pay attention to injustice.

In a timely and timeless way, Bryan challenges each of us to be more courageous:

“We have in this country this dynamic where we really don’t like to talk about our problems…We have a hard time talking about race, and I believe it’s because we are unwilling to commit ourselves to a process of truth and reconciliation.

“…Ultimately we are talking about a need to be more hopeful, more committed, more dedicated to the basic challenges of living in a complex world.

“Innovation, creativity, development comes not from the ideas in our mind alone. They come from the ideas in our mind that are also fueled by some conviction in our heart. And it’s that mind-heart connection that I believe compels us to not just be attentive to all the bright and dazzly things, but also the dark and difficult things.

“…Vaclav Havel, the great Czech leader, talked about this. He said, ‘When we were in Eastern Europe and dealing with oppression, we wanted all kinds of things, but mostly what we needed was hope, an orientation of the spirit, a willingness to sometimes be in hopeless places and be a witness.’”

Click the image above to watch his video and then consider:

How can you “be in hopeless places” with a hopeful spirit?

How do you cultivate a “mind-heart connection” that helps you commit to facing the truth?

terry-catalystWith gratitude,

Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. Explore your identity and integrity at a Courage & Renewal program.

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Take Action in Response to Charleston

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

Top row (L-R): Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Daniel Simmons Bottom row (L-R): Susan Jackson, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance Source: CBS News

Please take action on behalf of the nine people murdered on Wednesday, June 17, at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C.: Top row (L-R): Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Daniel Simmons.  Bottom row (L-R): Susan Jackson, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance. Photo collage source: CBS News

As you may know, the Center for Courage & Renewal is a partner with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s “100 Million Healthier Lives” initiative. They have sent out a call to action to all partner organizations, and we’d like to share it with all of you:

The attack in a Charleston church this past week was horrific and heartbreaking. We know this is not the beginning, this is not the end, and this is not unique to Charleston. Racism is an insidious disease which has caused gaping wounds in our country. The tragedies of Charleston, Baltimore, and Ferguson in the past six months are but symptoms of this disease. Achieving our audacious goal of 100 million healthier lives requires that we address this issue—we cannot ultimately address the root causes of inequity in our country without the recognition that we are one human family.

Through 100 Million Healthier Lives, with your support and with the support of our partner organizations, we have an opportunity to join voices and come together in collective action to address individual, institutional, and systemic racism.

Would you pledge to take action with us? Click on the link below to sign up to take action and report actions you’ve taken.

We invite you to pledge to take one or more of the 9 actions below, one for each life lost in Charleston (CLICK HERE TO TAKE THE PLEDGE):

  1. Take the implicit bias test ( on race and one other category to learn more about your own biases.
  2. Convene a moment of silence in your workplace or neighborhood.
  3. Talk about what happened in Charleston with a friend.
  4. Become trained: Attend an upcoming Undoing Racism, Fundamentals of Facilitation for Racial Justice Work, Racial Equity ( or other training.
  5. Join racial justice conversations: Many are already going on in your communities to listen, speak up, and be willing to be of service. Find out who is working on this in your community and partner with them.
  6. Convene a dialogue on racism in your community. We can help with this.
  7. Make your support visible: Add something to your email signature or a sign to your home showing where you stand.
  8. Learn more: Commit to getting to know someone who is different from you—take the time to understand their story and be in relationship with them.
  9. Invite others to take action: Share this email with colleagues and friends through your networks and conversations, post on social media, and invite others to pledge to take action with us.

Please report what actions you have taken so we can keep track of the response:

We will be hosting a special webinar on this issue on Wednesday, July 1st from 4:00-5:30 PM EDT. You can join the webinar by clicking here (…) or dial into the call at 1-866-469-3239 (access code: 620 004 361).

The 100 Million Healthier Lives Leadership Team

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A Weekend, a Mountain, and a Circle of Trust

Trekking the route of the forest fire

The surgical fellow just two weeks shy of completing his nine-years of medical training sat across from me. His eyes vacant and looking down, he spoke in a detached way, as if describing someone other than himself:

“My body feels like rubber… I feel nothing but dread… I can’t imagine ever feeling joy again.”

Educari – the root of the word education means to make whole… I wonder how we have come so far from its original intent. I wish I could say the experience of this fellow is a rare occurrence, that it is an anomaly, and that our medical training produces healthy and whole physicians. I also wish I could say that the environments where our physicians are practicing cultivate and support their health and their joy in the practice of medicine. This is not the case, and it is delusional to think so.

Physician burnout is threatening the foundation of the U.S. medical healthcare system.The costs—in addition to physicians’ lives—are quality of care, safety of patients, treatment outcomes, patient satisfaction, nurse turnover, hospital staff morale, and financial performance. Physician burnout truly is threatening the very foundation of the U.S. health care system.

What can be done? Where should we start? The task seems daunting, overwhelming. The environments are set up to suck the soul; the individuals sell their souls as if they are unaware that there is another choice.

At a time like this, I remember my father’s admonitions:  Whenever you are at a crossroads (or in Courage language “whenever you find yourself in a tragic gap”) do three things:

    1. Go into nature
    2. Create a community
    3. Let your heart speak

And that is what we did – twelve physicians, an 11,000+ ft. range in Colorado, and the invitation to retreat, renew, and nurture leadership from the inside out.

Physician Leaders - Flat Top Wilderness (group)

As we faced the mountain at the base and began our journey up, the vastness and greatness of the mountain overtook us. We felt small in a most honoring way. Every step reminded us of our small place in a great universe – the landscape recovering from the devastating 2002 forest fire; nature’s defiance as it returns again and again; the amazing wildlife; and the enormity of the mountain itself.

The hike begins in the Flat Top Wilderness

As the oxygen became scarcer and our physical stamina was challenged, we began to take turns helping and encouraging the ones who were struggling. Those who were able carried others’ packs, slowed down to support one another, and pulled together as a team. The spirit was contagious and the motto was: “Leave no one behind.” We were going to make it as a team no matter how long or what it took.

Thanks to the water carriers

We all made it safely to our base camp, where we established our Circle of Trust and spent the Memorial weekend around a fire, blanketed by a carpet of stars and listening to the wild in us and around us. This Circle of Trust continuing medical education course was an invitation to begin to recover the “rubber bodies” and the “deserted souls.” No cell phones, no PowerPoints, no lectures or tests – just a Circle of Trust and the courage to dream that we, too, could recover from the devastation and return to our true selves again.

This one experience won’t change medical education or medicine practice in a significant way. Not yet, anyway. But, this small group of doctors might just continue to defy the “ecological disaster” that threatens the very foundation of their wellbeing; inspired by nature’s vulnerability and resiliency, they may just choose to sustain renewal.

We returned from this wilderness experience having understood like never before some most basic truths about being human:

  • We are indeed a small part of this great universe;
  • There is a wholeness in each of us and we can begin to recover it; and
  • We are powerfully and amazingly strong; capable of achieving great heights when we create a community for the journey.

Herdley Paolini, Ph.D. is a Courage & Renewal Facilitator who works with healthcare professionals. She is also Co-Program Director for Health and Health Care at the Center for Courage & Renewal, a licensed psychologist, and author of the 2009 book, Inside the Mind of a Physician.

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“Living From the Inside Out” – Parker Palmer’s Naropa University Commencement Address

In his May 10, 2015 Naropa University graduation address, Parker Palmer offered six brief suggestions about the road ahead of the graduating class of 2015. Parker, an accomplished author and scholar, is the founder of the Courage & Renewal Center and in 2011 was named an Utne Reader Visionary, one of “25 people who are changing your world.”



PARKER J. PALMER:  Thank you so much, Jerry [Colona], dear friend, Naropa University graduating class, relatives, friends. I’m deeply moved and I’m profoundly grateful to be here.

This is a wonderful moment in everyone’s life, and I’m going to take just a brief moment of personal time to say it’s doubly wonderful for me because not only is my wife here, but my son and his wife, and my two little granddaughters ages 8 and 6 are here.

[applause] […]

And I just want to say a word about them because I’ve been thinking a lot about them in the Naropa context.

So two years ago my wife and I were in Golden, and we were hiking in the foothills with Naiya, 6 years old, and Kiara, age 4 at the time. And they both were hiking barefoot up these rocky trails. I finally asked Naiya, “How can you do that? It hurts me just to watch you walk this terrain barefoot.” And she very quickly and instinctively said, “Well I’m a nature girl and nature loves me and I love nature except for the spiky parts.”


At which point Kiara, then age 4, wanted to say something about herself, and she said, “And grandpa, I’m a vegetarian, except for bacon.”


So my sense is these two fit the Naropa vibe, would you agree?


[…] I’m honored to be here but my true honor is that I get to share this important moment in the lives of the class of 2015. A deep bow to all of you, and a deep bow also to the friends, family, relatives, strangers, and to staff, faculty, and administration of Naropa University who have helped you come to this day.

Naropa is a very special place. I think some of you know that the contemplative teaching and learning movement is now getting traction in higher education around the country. It’s slow but it’s coming, coming to an extent one could not have imagined 40 years ago when this university was founded, let alone even 30 or 20 years ago. And Naropa has planted those seeds. This is a granary of something that is now growing. Our task is to the let the world know where the granary is…


…so let’s try to do that, get the word out. I have tried to be your emissary—I want to do that on into the future because I think what happens here is a very important contribution not only to you as individuals, but to higher education and to the world at large.

I have two modest graduation gifts for the class of 2015. I wish I had more to offer but, for now, this. The first is six brief suggestions about the road ahead of you, and the second is a promise to stop talking in about 12 minutes so you can get on that road sooner rather than later.

My first suggestion is simple. Be reckless when it comes to affairs of the heart.


Now, since half of you misinterpreted that…


It’s true I spent the 60’s in Berkeley, but I’m 76 now and… well there may be snow on the roof but there’s still a fire in the furnace.


Anybody know CPR?


What I really mean, parents and grandparents, is be passionate, fall madly in love with life. Be passionate about some part of the natural and/or human worlds and take risks on its behalf, no matter how vulnerable they make you. No one ever died saying, “I’m sure glad for the self-centered, self-serving and self-protective life I lived.”


Offer yourself to the world—your energies, your gifts, your visions, your heart—with open-hearted generosity. But understand that when you live that way you will soon learn how little you know and how easy it is to fail. To grow in love and service, you, I, all of us, must value ignorance as much as knowledge and failure as much as success. I know this is ironic advice on graduation day, but clinging to what you already know and do well is the path to an unlived life. So, cultivate beginner’s mind, walk straight into your not knowing, and take the risk of failing and falling again and again, then getting up again and again to learn. That’s the path to a life lived large in service of love, truth, and justice.

Read more …

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Your One Wild and Precious Life


Here in Seattle we’re turning into summer and I feel a lingering pull to slow down and reflect, a pull captured powerfully by Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” that ends with the lines:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Why now?

I spent much of the first 50 years of my life in schools first as a student, then a teacher, then an administrator. I miss the seasonal rhythm of school: starting with a bang in the autumn, working hard through the winter, bringing it to a finale in spring before closing up shop for the summer. I believe this rhythm tracks deeper natural patterns encoded in all of us through a thousand generations of having to be attuned to the cycles of the seasons.

The end of the school year is bittersweet for me:

  • a promise of freedom and a change of pace,
  • the loss of ending a year and saying goodbyes,
  • the very hard work and long days of exams, finishing coursework, grading, report cards, graduations, and
  • the jarring transition from 12 hour days to being able to sleep in and not have a thing I have to do.

That day after the term ends and the students and staff head home for summer break was always a reflective time for me:

  • sadness and relief together as such an intense community experience ended,
  • pain about what I’d failed to do
  • celebration as to what I’d accomplished and
  • anticipation as to what I might do the next year.

As a nonprofit leader for many years now, I often wonder when this school year will ever come to an end!

With acknowledgment to all those in the global south who are turning into winter, join me.

How do you experience this time of the year?

“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

terry-catalystWith gratitude,,

Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

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Turning To Wonder In Order To Create Safe Space

A few months ago, Reverend Wint Boyd shared a story on about how his congregation took an unexpected journey with a former clergyman who had been charged with vehicular homicide. Wint said it was “a tangible and daily experience of paradox and tension holding, to be sure.” Below, Wint recounts the story again and uses a Courage & Renewal touchstone to describe what happened.

"quote-LAt its best a church community should be a place of nonjudgmental love. For me, there’s a deep connection to the Courage & Renewal touchstone of ‘turning to wonder.’

For a variety of reasons, this colleague from another denomination found us in the immediate aftermath of a horrible car accident that resulted in the death of an innocent and lovely woman in a nearby community. Rather than becoming a setting to explore the details of this accident, Sunday mornings in worship with our congregation became a lifeline for him during the months he awaited his fate and eventual conviction of second-degree reckless homicide.

Week in and week out, he attended worship, sang with us, prayed with us, and sought spiritual solace with us. His presence was quiet but consistent. He didn’t ask for special attention, indeed didn’t want to make us uncomfortable with his presence. As a person of faith on his own difficult journey, he was longing for the spiritual space to worship with others.

On his last Sunday before going to prison, a few of us surrounded him in a small prayer circle, in which we prayed difficult and honest prayers. Amid the tears, this new friend made a point to tell two of us pastors, “Remember that what you do here matters. It matters immensely.’ At the same time, while he was grateful for our pastoral care, most of the healing and solace came from ordinary members, many of them unknown to him before his attendance in our worship services.

When our church receives new members, we share a covenant that includes the commitment to ‘journey together.’ Sometimes this can mean ‘journeying’ into unwanted, dark, difficult, or surprising places with each other.

At its best a church community should be a place of nonjudgmental love. For me, there’s a deep connection to the Courage & Renewal touchstone of ‘turning to wonder.’

TOUCHSTONE:  When the going gets rough, turn to wonder. If you feel judgmental, or defensive, ask yourself, “I wonder what brought her to this belief?” “I wonder what he’s feeling right now?” “I wonder what my reaction teaches me about myself?” Set aside judgment to listen to others—and to yourself—more deeply.

Part of what I love about turning to wonder is that it’s an invitation to suspend conclusions. It is to step back from my immediate opinion – pro or con – to say “what is happening here?” How do I sit with what is rather than quickly determine what should be?

Rock_balancing_(Counter_Balance)The principle of turning to wonder is helpful in community and congregational life because many of us struggle with rushing to judgment. It helps us create a container for deeper listening to the complexity of someone’s story, especially when they exhibit attitudes and behaviors that are confusing. By turning to wonder, we don’t try to fix or save someone. Instead we contribute to an environment for us all to find our voice and grounded center.

I’m grateful for a community that embodied this and pray that all involved – perpetrator and his loved ones as well as the victim’s loved ones – will find this sacred space in their lives.

This safe and ‘wonder filled’ culture in my congregation has been forming over time. I’ve been looking for language to name it and articulate it. The idea of a safe container for our own soul work has real resonance. We are aware that many come to the church curious or even distrustful about the nature of congregational life. We know that many have felt violated by religious communities in the past. We want to welcome them but also let them self reveal on their own timetable. We try to remember that when people come to church, they want to be in control of telling their story.

One way of describing it is ‘invitational.’ Come as you are. Share what you’d like. Show up as much as possible. We are here with our welcome and the Welcoming Spirit. We trust that with openness and honest interaction we’ll grow as a community. But we don’t control the pace or the outcome.

Winton BoydWinton Boyd has been Senior Pastor at Orchard Ridge UCC in Madison since 1999. He has been a facilitator with the Center for Courage & Renewal since 2007. In this capacity he has worked with cross professional groups of men and women in settings across the USA and British Columbia. He and his wife of 30 years, Tammy, have three young adult children.

Join Wint in late October 2015 for a 3-day retreat, Living an Undivided Life: Finding Wholeness in Your Life & Work

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