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I Want to Live Fierce with Reality and Lead from My Self

Nick RossMy work with leaders takes me all over the world and puts me in the company of men and women with tremendous responsibilities in the world of business. I work with major corporations at very senior levels, providing educational programmes; workshops and retreats, around themes of self-development.

At first blush it’s a stark contrast to my ‘first career’, which involved working with addictions, homelessness, social disadvantage and the UK prison system.  I say ‘at first blush’ because as the years have gone by I’ve come to notice how much of life is a deeply shared experience. I meet as much addiction and as much confusion in a corporate meeting as I ever did in a homeless shelter. The suffering is acute wherever soul and self are divided.

There are thousands of books written about leadership every year; it’s not news to say that leadership is big business. There are so many definitions that try to speak to what leadership actually is, but it’s difficult to define since it’s clearly not one thing. Leadership shifts with the identity and integrity of the leader. A Hidden Wholeness, when I first read it, gave me some clues around the subject that felt honest, true and real to me and are now foundational to my work.

My work is not about helping leaders develop new techniques or clever methods to be more productive, get results or become more efficient or effective. Maybe that will happen as a byproduct of our time together, but it’s not the root of the work. For the folks I work with, the greatest concerns are in the tension they feel day to day between the life within and the life around them.

In an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, many of the people I work with feel anxious, vulnerable and overwhelmed. Overwhelm in fact is probably the biggest private concern that executives share, along with fear and the behaviours that they adopt to try to keep things together.

When I traveled to San Francisco for my first retreat I was looking for a programme that I could apply in my work. But when I immersed myself into the depths of the work itself, I realized that the work is really about me. As the soul speaks so things start to change.

I asked myself: How does this apply to the way I actually live my life, the sense of integrity or division I actually feel? What does it mean to ‘let me life speak’, to allow my vulnerability to open me, even break me towards the one gift I really have to offer which is my self-hood, my wholeness? These are the questions I am still sitting with and living into today.

"quote-L You need only claim the events of your life to make them yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, you are fierce with reality.

—Florida Scott Maxwell

I remember reading a quote somewhere by Florida Scott Maxwell: “You need only claim the events of your life to make them yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, you are fierce with reality.”

What I have come to know is that I want to live fierce with reality—that this is my birthright. And such an undertaking requires, as T.S. Eliot put it, “nothing less than everything.” It helps me as a facilitator, as a son, as a friend, but it’s most essential because it gives me ground to stand on as I am.

There is a tremendous difference between using the work (any work) for the benefit of others, and actually embracing the work itself, owning it. A poem that speaks to me deeply around this is called ‘The little ways that encourage good fortune, by William Stafford.

Wisdom is having things right in your life
and knowing why.
If you do not have things right in your life
you will be overwhelmed:
you may be heroic, but you will not be wise.
If you have things right in your life
but do not know why,
you are just lucky, and you will not move
in the little ways that encourage good fortune.

The saddest are those not right in their lives
who are acting to make things right for others:
they act only from the self–
and that self will never be right:
no luck, no help, no wisdom.

I am starting to appreciate what Stafford was saying. Wisdom is having things right in your life and knowing why. Not nice in your life, not happy or good even, but right.

What does doing courage work mean for me? Well, most of all it has involved coming to terms with aspects of my own life I have not been able to own for a very long time. Specifically, I have begun to find the courage to embrace my own longstanding struggle with depression and the additional suffering caused through the many means of self-medication I deployed for decades to keep the pain out and the show on the road.

I see now what I could not see before and that is perhaps the greatest gift of all in circle of trust. I feel vulnerable to my truth in a new way, but strangely, that vulnerability has not crossed a line into shame, which had been a long familiar companion to me in my life; familiar, stifling and distressing.

"quote-L Wisdom is having things right in your life and knowing why.

—William Stafford

Today, more and more, I find that I lead who I am, I teach who I am, I befriend and coach and am the son and father and partner as who I am. I am learning the art of gentle and generous integration. Integration—the act of embracing integrity—I am discovering, takes time; it cannot be rushed or bullied by anyone’s agenda—even my own ego’s. It requires silence and stillness, solitude and friendship.

I notice through my own direct experience that when I feel and allow the current of my life to move through me, when I let self and world meet in a spirit of love, discovery and exploration, that I feel a freedom I have rarely known, that I feel true, honest and real. I am aware at times of a feelinga feeling of faith really, a trustingthat the greatest gift I can offer in any moment is indeed my Self-hood and that this is the pearl of great price.

In that respect to paraphrase a poem by James Autry, my life is becoming my work: We do what we know we must do, we nurture the threads of our lives and respect the lives of those we meet and work with as the most important act of leadershipwe do all this…and business takes care of itself.

Nick Ross is director of A Different Drum, a professional training and coaching business in the United Kingdom.

Discover a Courage & Renewal program for your own leadership in work and life.

Best Courageous Books of 2014

We’ve had a few requests for book lists, so here are our favorite courageous reads of 2014! Use the index below to see books under each topic (the order is random).

2014 Books for Everyone

sallyhare_book_2014Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do: Stories of Living Divided No More – Quilted together by the Writers Circle of Trust
by Sally Z. Hare and Megan Leboutillier (Eds.) with contributions from Parker J. Palmer
An extraordinary glimpse inside the human journey to live with integrity, with wholeness by 21 diverse people who share their stories with stunning honesty and openness… In his contribution to the book, Parker J. Palmer writes: From the moment I began writing fifty years ago, I’ve known that my ideas wouldn’t matter much if they simply sat there, inert, on the printed page. So I am deeply grateful for people who “put wheels” on those ideas… The contributors to this book have done exactly that. Here they share their stories of what it means to decide to “rejoin soul and role” and live “divided no more…” All of these people are participants in what I have called the “movement model of social change.” … It is the ancient movement to fulfill the human possibility, a movement that’s forever calling us to embody what it means to be truly human.

Healing the Heart of Democracy: Now available in paperbackHealing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (paperback re-release)
by Parker J. Palmer
In the same compelling, inspiring prose that has made him a bestselling author, Palmer explores five “habits of the heart” that can help us restore democracy’s foundations as we nurture them in ourselves and each other. This 2014 paperback edition includes TWO NEW FEATURES: (1) A chapter-length Introduction in which Palmer explores his political experience since the book first came out in 2011, including a new way to understand “the great divide” in our political life. (2) A detailed Discussion Guide with links to online resources—including 40 brief video interviews with the author—to facilitate more dialogue across political lines of the sort the book has inspired since it was published.

The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible
by Charles Eisenstein
In a time of social and ecological crisis, what can we as individuals do to make the world a better place? This inspirational and thought-provoking book serves as an empowering antidote to the cynicism, frustration, paralysis, and overwhelm so many of us are feeling, replacing it with a grounding reminder of what’s true: we are all connected, and our small, personal choices bear unsuspected transformational power. By fully embracing and practicing this principle of interconnectedness—called interbeing—we become more effective agents of change and have a stronger positive influence on the world. With chapters covering separation, interbeing, despair, hope, pain, pleasure, consciousness, and many more, the book invites us to let the old Story of Separation fall away so that we can stand firmly in a Story of Interbeing.

The Endless Practice: Becoming Who You Were Born to Be
by Mark Nepo
Called “one of the finest spiritual guides of our time,” this beloved teacher explores what it means to become our truest self through the ongoing and timeless journey of awakening to the dynamic wholeness of life, which is messy and unpredictable. Nepo navigates some of the soul’s deepest and most ancient questions, such as: What does it mean to inhabit the world? How do we stay vital and buoyant amid the storms of life? What is the secret to coming alive? Nepo affirms that not only is the soul’s journey inevitable, it is essential to our survival. The human journey is how the force of life grows us, and no matter where we go we can’t escape this foundational truth: What’s in the way is the way. As Nepo writes, “The point of experience is not to escape life but to live it.”

On Purpose Before Twenty
by Adam Cox
On Purpose Before Twenty tells a story of youth in which young people want to participate in making the world, discovering their significance and purpose through myriad forms of doing and creating. These non-negotiable needs develop by kindergarten, and are the essence of shaping a purposeful and focused life. Our serious regard for the potential of young people makes the world a more welcoming place. It is as much an essential form of stewardship as protecting forests, and creatures living on the brink of extinction.

Man’s Search for Meaning (gift edition re-release)
by Viktor Frankl
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir of life in Nazi death camps has riveted generations of readers. Based on Frankl’s own experience and the stories of his patients, the book argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward. Man’s Search for Meaning has become one of the most influential books of our times, selling over twelve million copies worldwide. With a foreword by Harold S. Kushner, Frankl’s classic is presented here in an elegant new edition with endpapers, supplementary photographs, and several of Frankl’s previously unpublished letters, speeches, and essays.

The Art of Communicating
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, bestselling author of Peace Is Every Step and one of the most respected and celebrated religious leaders in the world, delivers a powerful path to happiness through mastering life’s most important skill. In this precise and practical guide, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh reveals how to listen mindfully and express your fullest and most authentic self. With examples from his work with couples, families, and international conflicts, The Art of Communicating helps us move beyond the perils and frustrations of misrepresentation and misunderstanding to learn the listening and speaking skills that will forever change how we experience and impact the world.

Developing Cultural Humility: Embracing Race, Privilege and Power
by Miguel E. Gallardo
Developing Cultural Humility offers a unique look into the journeys of psychologists striving towards an integration of multiculturalism in their personal and professional lives.  Contributing authors—representing a mix of “cultural backgrounds” but stereotypically identified as “White”—engage in thoughtful dialogue with psychologists from underrepresented communities who are identified as established and respected individuals within the multicultural field. This text is useful for stimulating discussions about privilege, power, and the impact race has on either bringing people together or creating more distance, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It demonstrates to readers how to engage in the process of examining one’s own “culture” in more intentional ways, and discusses the implications as we move towards engaging in more dialogue around multicultural issues.

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks
by Jeanne Theoharis
The definitive political biography of Rosa Parks examines her six decades of activism, challenging perceptions of her as an accidental actor in the civil rights movement. Presenting a corrective to the popular notion of Rosa Parks as the quiet seamstress who, with a single act, birthed the modern civil rights movement, Theoharis provides a revealing window into Parks’s politics and years of activism. She shows readers how this civil rights movement radical sought—for more than a half a century—to expose and eradicate the American racial-caste system in jobs, schools, public services, and criminal justice.

Tears of Silence (paperback re-release)
by Jean Vanier, Foreword by Parker J. Palmer, Photographs by Jonathan Boulet-Groulx
Acclaimed as a man “who inspires the world” (Maclean’s) and a “nation builder” (Globe and Mail), Jean Vanier has made a difference in the lives of countless people — including those with disabilities and the many people who have been moved by his life’s work. Rereleased to commemorate the 50th anniversary of L’Arche Internationale, an international network of communities for people with developmental disabilities, Tears of Silence is an inspiring book of poems on the topics of alienation and belonging, featuring intimate, never-before-published black and white photographs from L’Arche communities around the world. This edition includes a new introduction by Jean Vanier and a foreword by author and education activist Parker Palmer.

How the Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice
by Pat Schneider
“When I begin to write, I open myself and wait. And when I turn toward an inner spiritual awareness, I open myself and wait.” With that insight, Pat Schneider invites readers to contemplate their lives and deepest questions through writing. In seventeen concise thematic chapters that include meditations on topics such as fear, freedom, tradition in writing and in religions, forgiveness, joy, social justice, and death, How the Light Gets In gracefully guides readers through the artistic and spiritual questions that life offers to everyone.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
by Robin Wall Kimmer
As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer asks questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces indigenous teachings that consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take “us on a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise” (Elizabeth Gilbert). Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices.

2014 Books of Poetry

teachingwithheartcoverTeaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach
by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner (Eds.) Foreword by Parker J. Palmer, Introduction by Taylor Mali, Afterword by Sarah Brown Wessling
Each and every day teachers show up in their classrooms with a relentless sense of optimism. Despite the complicated challenges of schools, they come to and remain in the profession inspired by a conviction that through education they can move individuals and society to a more promising future. In Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach a diverse group of ninety teachers describe the complex of emotions and experiences of the teaching life — joy, outrage, heartbreak, hope, commitment and dedication. Each heartfelt commentary is paired with a cherished poem selected by the teacher. The contributors represent a broad array of educators: K-12 teachers, principals, superintendents, college professors, as well as many non-traditional teachers. They range from first year teachers to mid-career veterans to those who have retired after decades in the classroom. They come from inner-city, suburban, charter and private schools. The teachers identified an eclectic collection of poems and poets from Emily Dickinson, to Richard Wright, to Mary Oliver to the rapper Tupac Shakur. It is a book by teachers and for all who teach.

A Permeable Life: Poems & Essays
by Carrie Newcomer
A Permeable Life: Poems & Essays is Carrie Newcomer’s first book, and it’s a cause for celebration. For over two decades, Carrie has gathered a legion of fans who know and love her work as a mindful, soulful singer-songwriter. In this book she reveals herself to be a first-class poet and essayist as well, showing us the aquifer of intuition and insight from which her music and lyrics flow. Read this book, and find your heart and mind opening to a more permeable life.” – Parker J. Palmer

by Judy Brown
These poems are part of an inner dialogue about transitions and turnings, and the lessons the natural world can offer us. In Judy’s leadership work, she invites folks to detail the steppingstones that have brought them to where they are in their work and their life. It is that process from which this collection takes its name: steppingstones. Mark Nepo writes: “Judy Brown’s poems are subtle, like rain on the surface of stillness inviting us to wait for the ripples to clear. In Steppingstones, she explores the solidity of presence and our capacity to hear ourselves within the gift of Nature; so we might better meet this life.”

Blue Horses: Poems
by Mary Oliver
In this stunning collection of new poems, Mary Oliver returns to the imagery that has defined her life’s work, describing with wonder both the everyday and the unaffected beauty of nature. Herons, sparrows, owls, and kingfishers flit across the page in meditations on love, artistry, and impermanence. Whether considering a bird’s nest, the seeming patience of oak trees, or the artworks of Franz Marc, Oliver reminds us of the transformative power of attention and how much can be contained within the smallest moments. At its heart, Blue Horses asks what it means to truly belong to this world, to live in it attuned to all its changes. Humorous, gentle, and always honest, Oliver is a visionary of the natural world.

This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems
by Wendell Berry
For nearly thirty-five years, Wendell Berry has been at work on a series of poems occasioned by his solitary Sunday walks around his farm in Kentucky. From riverfront and meadows, to grass fields and woodlots, every inch of this hillside farm lives in these poems, as do the poet’s constant companions of memory and occasion, family and animals, who have with Berry created his Home Place with love and gratitude. With the publication of this new complete edition, it has become increasingly clear that The Sabbath Poems have become the very heart of Berry’s entire work. And these magnificent poems, taken as a whole, have become one of the greatest contributions ever made to American poetry.

2014 Books for Leaders

laloux-bookcoverReinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness
by Frederic Laloux
In this groundbreaking book, the author shows that every time humanity has shifted to a new stage of consciousness in the past, it has invented a whole new way to structure and run organizations, each time bringing extraordinary breakthroughs in collaboration. A new shift in consciousness is currently underway. Could it help us invent a radically more soulful and purposeful way to run our businesses and nonprofits, schools and hospitals? The pioneering organizations researched for this book have already “cracked the code.” It’s hard not to get excited about this finding: a new organizational model seems to be emerging, and it promises a soulful revolution in the workplace.

Flourishing Enterprise: The New Spirit of Business
by Chris Laszlo and Judy Sorum Brown, with John R. Ehrenfeld, Mary Gorham, Ilma Barros Pose, Linda Robson, Roger Saillant, Dave Sherman, and Paul Werder
Drawing together decades of research along with in-depth interviews, Flourishing Enterprise argues that strategic, organizational, and operational efforts to be sustainable reach the potential of flourishing when they incorporate one additional ingredient: reflective practices. Offering more than a dozen such practices, this book leads readers down a path to greater business success, personal well-being, and a healthier planet.

Authentic Leadership: Clashes, Convergences, and Coalescences
by Donna Ladkin and Chellie Spiller (Eds.)
The majority of authentic leadership literature focuses on the individual leader. However, the authors in this volume expertly focus on the premise that leadership is a relational phenomenon and not something that can be distilled down to the actions of one leader, be they authentic or not. What is authentic leadership? Does it require a leader to express his or her true self even if that true self is less than ‘wonderful’? How do followers know the difference between real and fake leaders anyway? What happens when cultural expectations of what constitutes authenticity clash? Can a leader be ‘authentic’ within virtual contexts? International scholars and practitioners from the fields of philosophy, sociology, psychology, leadership, business and the arts address these and other provocative questions, often with surprising results, in this cutting-edge update of the theory and practice of authentic leadership.

The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision
by Professor Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi
Over the past thirty years, a new systemic conception of life has emerged at the forefront of science. New emphasis has been given to complexity, networks, and patterns of organisation leading to a novel kind of ‘systemic’ thinking. This volume integrates the ideas, models, and theories underlying the systems view of life into a single coherent framework. Taking a broad sweep through history and across scientific disciplines, the authors examine the appearance of key concepts such as autopoiesis, dissipative structures, social networks, and a systemic understanding of evolution. The implications of the systems view of life for health care, management, and our global ecological and economic crises are also discussed. Written primarily for undergraduates, it is also essential reading for graduate students and researchers interested in understanding the new systemic conception of life and its implications for a broad range of professions – from economics and politics to medicine, psychology and law.

2014 Books for Educators

teachingwithheartcoverTeaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach
by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner (Eds.) Foreword by Parker J. Palmer, Introduction by Taylor Mali, Afterword by Sarah Brown Wessling
Each and every day teachers show up in their classrooms with a relentless sense of optimism. Despite the complicated challenges of schools, they come to and remain in the profession inspired by a conviction that through education they can move individuals and society to a more promising future. In Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach a diverse group of ninety teachers describe the complex of emotions and experiences of the teaching life — joy, outrage, heartbreak, hope, commitment and dedication. Each heartfelt commentary is paired with a cherished poem selected by the teacher. The contributors represent a broad array of educators: K-12 teachers, principals, superintendents, college professors, as well as many non-traditional teachers. They range from first year teachers to mid-career veterans to those who have retired after decades in the classroom. They come from inner-city, suburban, charter and private schools. The teachers identified an eclectic collection of poems and poets from Emily Dickinson, to Richard Wright, to Mary Oliver to the rapper Tupac Shakur. It is a book by teachers and for all who teach.

The Mindful School Leader: Practices to Transform Your Leadership and School
by Valerie L. Brown and Kirsten L. Olson
For educational leaders who feel overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted, this book offers explicit practices to help readers avoid burnout and become the mindful, poised, effective leaders they were meant to be. The book also offers real-time encouragement with portraits of educational leaders who are incorporating mindfulness practices, like attentive breathing, mindful walking about the school building, or calming pauses in the office throughout the school day into their leadership portfolios and everyday lives. Chapters present a brief overview of school culture and climate, research that describes the effectiveness of mindfulness practices, and helpful tips for incorporating mindfulness in daily life.

chip-wood_teaching_for_equityTeaching for Equity
by Linda Crawford and Chip Wood
Teaching for Equity returns teaching and learning to the primary relationships between the teacher and student, student and student, school and family. The book outlines an array of applicable practices to help you personalize students’ learning. Parker J. Palmer says in his review, “Here’s a vital book on a critical topic by two of our wisest, most experienced and devoted educators. New standards and more testing will not cure education’s ills. But by building “relational trust,” teachers, leaders, students, and families can return our schools to full health. This book is just what the doctor ordered.”

2014 Book for Health Care Professionals

Rehumanizing Medicine. Pre-order at Amazon.Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine
by David R. Kopacz
Physicians and professionals train extensively to relieve suffering. Yet the systems they train and practice in create suffering for both themselves and their clients through the neglect of basic human needs. True healthcare reform requires addressing dehumanization in medicine by caring for the whole person. Re-humanizing Medicine provides a holistic framework to support human connection and the expression of full human being of doctors, professionals and patients.

The Ecology of Wellness for Nurses: A Personal and Professional Resource
by Sharon Olson
The Ecology of Wellness for Nurses encourages compassion, courage, and self care for nurses of both genders and all levels of experience, from nursing students to skilled R.N.s. Sharon’s comprehensive ecological wellness model speaks to readers with meaningful insights and compelling encouragement for making positive changes in their lives—changes that can help spark a much0needed renaissance in nursing and in the hearts of those who choose, or have chosen, to be nurses.

2014 Books for People of Faith

Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith
by Erin S. Lane and Enuma C. Okoro (Eds.) Foreword by Andrew Marin
The latest book in the I Speak For Myself series addresses the experiences of faith, gender, and identity that remain taboo for American Christian Women Under 40. Is it our desire to remain childless in a Catholic tradition that largely defines women by their ability to reproduce? Is it our struggle with pornography in an evangelical subculture that addresses it only as the temptation of unsatisfied men? From masturbation, miscarriage, and menstruation to ordination, co-habitation, and immigration, this collection of essays explores the most provocative topics of faith left largely unspoken in 21st century American faith life.

How Do You Pray?: Inspiring Responses from Religious Leaders, Spiritual Guides, Healers, Activists and Other Lovers of Humanity
by Celeste Yacoboni (Ed.), Foreword by Mirabai Starr
How Do You Pray? was born from a vision in which Celeste Yacoboni was told to ask the world, “How Do You Pray?” She reached out to leading spiritual, shamanic, scientific teachers, guides, and activists and asked for their response. Culled from those responses is an original and deeply personal collection of essays. Talking intimately and candidly about how they pray, these personalities encourage the reader to contemplate the intention of prayer in their own life. This collection speaks to the reader’s heart and asks What is your soul’s expression? How do you dance in ecstasy, bare your soul to the divine? Bow in gratitude? Merge with nature? Cry out for guidance? How do you pray?

The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton: A New Look at the Spiritual Inspiration of His Life, Thought, and Writing
by Daniel P. Horan
Millions of Christians and non-Christians look to Thomas Merton for spiritual wisdom and guidance, but to whom did Merton look? In The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton, Franciscan friar and author Daniel Horan shows how, both before and after he became a Trappist monk, Merton’s life was shaped by his love for St. Francis and for the Franciscan spiritual and intellectual tradition. Given recent renewed interest in St. Francis, this timely resource is both informative and practical, revealing a previously hidden side of Merton that will inspire a new generation of Christians to live richer, deeper, and more justice-minded lives of faith.

From Enemy to Friend: Jewish Wisdom and the Pursuit of Peace
by Amy Eilberg
“A pioneer in the work of Jewish chaplaincy, healing and spiritual direction, Eilberg has spent the last seven years stretching her heart and mind to answer the call of peace building in our world. In this much anticipated book, she inspires and defines yet another new field, inviting Jews to join her on the spiritual adventure of the twenty-first century: encountering the “other” with curiosity and compassion. Digging deeply into her knowledge of Jewish text and tradition, Rabbi Eilberg gently but firmly shows us what it might mean to become rodfei shalom–pursuers of peace. I cannot imagine a more important journey, nor could I hope for a wiser guide.” —Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer

Listening to the Truth of Myself: A Letter from Inside/Out Prison Exchange

Well, Mr. Palmer,

Inside/Out Prison Exchange programI never thought I would be writing to you, especially in this capacity. However, I have a few confessions for you. You see, I tried my hardest to dodge reading “Deep Speaks to Deep: Learning to Speak and Listen” from your book, A Hidden Wholeness. Coming from a Caribbean background, and trying my hardest to move forward with the traditional mode of learning, I felt lost.

You see, I was unsuccessful in my quest for higher education. The conventional classroom/lecture setting did absolutely nothing for me. The deliveries of the teachers were impersonal and sometimes I was strategically seated at the rear of the class. There was such a separation with regards to me, the teacher and the students. I felt disconnected and the experience became too overwhelming for me to enjoy learning. I will confess that I was not successful in acquiring the needed credits to pursue my ultimate dreams of a degree in Sociology or Humanities. So, broken, I dropped out of school.

I am currently incarcerated at a Canadian federal institution for women. The last thing I need is sympathy. What was meant for bad has turned into the biggest blessing of my life.

I was introduced to the Inside/Out Prison Exchange where I learned about you and embraced circle pedagogy. Initially, I avoided your material like the plague but once I did accept it, I was hooked on your concepts. “No fixing, no saving, no advising, no setting each other straight.”   In this information age we are living in, I could not have imagined that suggestion being passed along much less adapted.

Stubborn as I am I did not want to confess that a white upper-middle or upper-class man has impacted my way of life. You have taught me how to trust my inner teacher and most of all to speak my own truth. Black, female, and to further add to my intersectionality, I am a federally incarcerated student at Grand Valley Institution for Women. And I have learned the value and importance of listening to the truth of myself and others like you suggested.

denise-quoteHad I been schooled in the circle pedagogy model from the elementary level I know it would have tremendously impacted my life in a positive, holistic way. I feel some unpleasant events I went through in my life might have been eliminated due to lack of support where my opinions were not valued. Because of circle learning, I am more aware of my feelings and fellow world citizens. We all have a story to tell and we should be allowed to voice our stories without fear of rejection.

Mr. Palmer, you would not know how much it would mean to me to have the opportunity to meet you in person. To be honest with you, I would count it as a major honor to meet you face to face. Just out of curiosity I inquired of my fellow learning partners if hypothetically they would like to see or hear you. Overwhelmingly, unanimously and positively, the answer was absolutely YES!!!!

I have a proposition for you. Here goes: If we (a credible university, Wilfrid Laurier University, the university that offers the Inside/Out Prison Exchange) were to invite you to Ontario, Canada, as a guest, would you please consider? All expenses would be covered and you could grace us with your presence for a few hours. Please think about it and could you graciously inform us of ‘your truth’ at your earliest convenience. P.S. we would even accept a letter if you decline our offer, for any response would delight us…TRUTHFULLY!!!



The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program ( is a partnership between universities or colleges and correctional facilities that allows professors to teach semester-long courses inside prisons. The students are both university (“outside”) students and incarcerated (“inside”) students. In bringing these two groups of students together in person, the Inside-Out program seeks to break down the barriers (both literally and figuratively) that separate us. See previous blog posts: Deep Meets Deep (Nov 2012) and Learning to Speak from My Soul (Apr 2013).

Kindness and Connection at Gate A-4

mamool-cookiesAs our news fills with stories of deep divisions and violence from communities close to home and across the world, I offer you a different story by one of my favorite courageous poets. It is a story of building community across difference.

Have you ever depended on the kindness of a stranger? Or felt connected to a community that seemed to spring from the best of everyone’s heart?

This story inspires me. I hope it inspires you, too.

Gate A-4
by Naomi Shihab Nye

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been detained four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.”

Well – one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly. “Help,” said the Flight Agent. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke to her haltingly. “Shu dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying.

She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, “You’re fine, you’ll get there, who is picking you up? Let’s call him.” We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to her.

She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for fun. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her?

This all took up about two hours. She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies – little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts – out of her bag – and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo – we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they were covered with powdered sugar too. And I noticed my new best friend – by now we were holding hands – had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere. And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, this is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate – once the crying of confusion stopped – seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

From HONEYBEE, Greenwillow Books and used with permission.
Naomi Shihab Nye’s most recent book is THE TURTLE OF OMAN, (Greenwillow) 2014.

Warm regards,

Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. You can discover the power of story and connection at a Courage & Renewal program.

Today’s blog is a mirror of our monthly Words of EnCOURAGEment e-newsletter. If you’re not a subscriber yet, sign up so you don’t miss anything!

Seeing Humanity in the Context of Race and Racism

This opinion piece follows a week of escalating racial tensions around the grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson, a white police officer who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown, an African American. The event has sparked heated debate about excessive use of force against people of color. Sherry Watt, a higher education professor and facilitator with a focus on issues of diversity, asks that we begin to see this issue from both sides and take greater consideration for humanity. 

This week I heard former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani state and restate that black people perpetrate overwhelming numbers of crimes against black people. I am not discounting the fact; however, I am concerned about that fact standing in isolation.

This point isolated carries a message that contributes to the racial problems in America. It does not situate the crimes within the larger system of institutional and structural racism. It isolates this issue as if it does not exist outside of poverty and other partnering problems that are systemic and not individualized. It allows those ignorant of the larger context to believe that there is something wrong with “those” people and not our system.

Overly forcible acts of violence happening to young black men, in particular, are situated within a larger context. It’s a cyclical problem due to years of socialization about what it means to be a man, what it means to be black, what it means to be white, and what it means to be disenfranchised…



Also read Sherry’s previous article: A Better Way to Talk About Difference


Sherry Watt has been a Courage & Renewal facilitator since 2007 and has worked at a number of higher education institutions. She is currently Associate Professor of the Higher Education and Student Affairs program at the University of Iowa. She is an author and the editor of the forthcoming book, Designing Transformative Multicultural Initiatives: Theoretical Foundations, Practical Applications, and Facilitator Considerations. Her research on privileged identity exploration expands the understanding of the various ways in which people react to difficult dialogue related to social issues. Sherry has almost 20 years of experience in designing and leading educational experiences that involve strategies to engage participants in dialogue that is meaningful, passionate, and self-awakening.
Contact Sherry Watt. 

Camp Courage Canada – The Sound of One Voice

Meet our Canadian Courage & Renewal Facilitators

At the height of the glorious colours of a Canadian autumn, October 24-26, 2014, a group of Canadian Courage & Renewal facilitators and friends gathered near Toronto, on the traditional lands of the Mississauga Anishinaabe people, on the banks of the Credit River, for the playfully named first “Camp Courage Canada.”

We began by each introducing ourselves with a Canadian Third Thing (a poem, a song, a piece of art, a story) that connected to our sense of place, our sense of identity in the Canadian context and our connection to Courage & Renewal work. It was a lush interweaving that celebrated our diversity, and stitched us together across our wide geography.

Canada-BonvoyageWe came from six of our ten provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia. Our circle included five men and ten women, people from the LGBTQ community, educators, clergy, youth workers, folks from the non-profit sector, and independent consultants. We are artists, dancers, musicians (guitar, ukulele and mandolin), dreamers and planners.

Many of us in the circle have heartfelt engagement with Aboriginal people and communities in Canada, and yet, there are no First Nations people in our circle. This becomes a question for us, as we imagine circles that honour, include and welcome all. Also, we don’t yet have facilitators for whom French is their mother-tongue, which is unfortunate in a country that is officially bilingual. We also hope to have facilitators someday in Quebec and New Brunswick with the capacity to facilitate en français.

We were gathering just days after an incident of horror in our nation’s capital, Ottawa, where a gunman shot an honour guard at a War Memorial and then entered the Parliament Buildings and shot several people, before being shot himself. Recalling this horrible incident in circle gave us cause to reflect on our sense of identity as a nation of peace that has recently struggled with our growing role as participant in wars and injustice.

We held the paradox of calls to courage and calls to peace—the sense of a graphic loss of innocence and a need to maintain a hopeful vision of generosity, care and compassion. It was an important time to be together as Canadians practicing Courage & Renewal.

In the retreat, we named the importance of discussing and welcoming less visible diversity, addressing issues of class, disability and mental health, as well as the full expression of human spirituality, being clear that no language of the spirit has privilege. As Canadians we still have a way to go as we seek to live into the sense of wonder and promise that comes when we practice radical hospitality and honour a spirit of welcome in Circles of Trust.

Gathering in a Canadian forum, we enjoyed many conversations about expressions of courage and people of integrity from our own national story: Louis Riel, Nellie McClung, Elijah Harper, Viola Desmond, Chief Dan George.

Many facilitators brought music from Canadian artists: music by Harry Manx, The Wailin’ Jennys, Sarah Harmer, Loreena McKennit, Connie Kaldor, Gordon Lightfoot, Raffi, The Canadian Brass, and Hey Rosetta, to name but a few. (Go on a Google search, if you want to expand your awareness of Canadian singer-songwriters!)

The video below is from a Manitoba Group called The Wailin’ Jennys, a song about voice and agency, the power of ‘one’ and the transformative power of ‘becoming one’! Enjoy.

DianneBakerWe ended our retreat standing joyfully in the wind on the cliff above the Credit River, celebrating our unity and our uniqueness in a spontaneous kicking and throwing of orange, brown, red and yellow fall leaves, blessed by letting loose and reclaiming our Canadian voice.

Dianne Baker is Courage & Renewal facilitator and a counseling therapist and consultant in Manitoba, Canada. In her agency work as a therapist for adults with disabilities, connecting individuals with the wisdom of their inner teacher is rich and enlivening work.  Dianne is excited about helping the Courage network grow in Canada. Touching and honouring the earth as a spiritual discipline, she is a gardener, canoeist and scuba diver.

Learn more about or contact our Canadian facilitators here.

It Takes Courage to Improve the Health of 100 Million Lives

The goal: 100 Million Healthier Lives by 2020
What’s needed: Courage and Collaboration

Join the Guiding Coalition for Health

The Guiding Coalition for Health is welcoming new members. Learn more here and join the discussion on Twitter at #Coalition4Health.

Join an Information Call
November 14 at 11:30am-12:30pm ET. Want to learn more about the 100 Million Healthier Lives initiative? Enrollment is free. Join to share ideas and ask your questions.

Listen to WIHI Audio Program
Tune in to WIHI’s radio show on November 20 from 2-3pm ET. Learn more about the initiative and celebrate the 100,000 Homes Campaign.

For the latest news, go to:

NOVEMBER 24TH is the last opportunity to register here as a founding partner of 100 Million Healthier Lives! This is also the place to submit your brief initial action plan, which helps us learn more about you.


Physics defines “escape velocity” as the speed at which an object needs to be traveling to break free of a planet’s or moon’s gravity. Members of a new multi-sector coalition want to break free of the status quo and create a culture of health and wellbeing.

This new coalition intends to break free of the gravitational pull of mismatched and sometimes perverse incentives, political gridlock, and fragmented systems that have driven an over-reliance on health care fixes over proactive investments in health within communities.

In October, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) convened over 200 leaders from patient groups, grassroots community organizations, community health, public health, academia, business, finance, government, and healthcare for “Escape Velocity to a Culture of Health,” a working meeting to create the Guiding Coalition for Health and begin to co-design initial steps. (See previous blog.)

The Center for Courage & Renewal is one of some 30 founding partners of this coalition that is committed to learning together how to best support community efforts to improve the health of 100 million people globally over the next five years.

With me at the October meeting were Courage & Renewal Facilitators Pamela Seigle and Estrus Tucker. Estrus and I are each co-leading a workgroup for the Coalition.

“We need a quantum leap toward the creation of health across the country,” said Maureen Bisognano. president and CEO of IHI, “We must align organizations and sectors to achieve something far greater together than any one group could ever achieve alone – a monumental shift toward health, as we’ve never seen before.”

To achieve an unprecedented goal for health and wellbeing, we know will take new ways of working together. Our success will depend on the relationships we build, and the processes that support a broad and open collaboration.

What I’ve seen in our work with leaders from across all sectors is that when people are in an environment where they feel safe to listen deeply to their inner wisdom, to connect with their own wholeness, and to listen and learn from each other, they most often locate the courage to reach beyond existing constraints.

At the Center for Courage & Renewal, we’ve learned that the most powerful source of societal change begins with creating conditions that honor the identity and integrity of each person, invite each of us to show up fully, and, together, to create deep relational trust. The trust we need in the Guiding Coalition is the kind that can hold tension and help us engage in meaningful, honest dialogue with both courage and kindness.

For the Escape Velocity meeting, the leadership team of the Coalition developed Guiding Principles, both for our collaborative way of working and to support our relationships. We invited ourselves to name the touchstones that would serve our being fully present and adapted many from the core Courage & Renewal touchstones.

By agreeing to these guiding principles, our hope is to continually create conditions that honor each other and what we each bring to the coalition, and allow us to have the open and honest conversations that will help us do this good work.

Here are some of the relational Guiding Principles to which the 100 Million Healthier Lives Guiding Coalition has agreed for our work together and with the people we serve to support our forming trustworthy relationships, as we begin to share our stories and use our collective wisdom to co-create a widespread culture of health and well-being.

  1. Be present as fully as possible. Speak our truth from our hearts and minds.
  2. Listen generously to each other’s truths. Trust that we all hold a piece of the puzzle and we need each other’s pieces to understand the whole picture.
  3. Embrace differences and be open to learning from each other.
  4. When the going gets rough, suspend judgment and get curious. Be quick to forgive and ask open questions to understand.
  5. Honor each other’s learning and resourcefulness. Trust we each will learn and contribute in our own way, that there is no need to “fix” each other.
  6. Make space to pause and reflect to deepen our thinking.
  7. Be willing to have meaningful conflict to create unprecedented goals and solutions. When needed, seek council for help with conflicts.
  8. Allow our ideas to be developed further by others.
  9. Seek common ground. When we can’t fully agree, we commit to a unified decision and to see what happens from a humble posture of learning. If we have made the wrong turn, we will discover it together and turn the right way together.
  10. Accept that we will sometimes fail, but will learn together and move forward.
  11. Help each other to have the confidence to spread our wings, be creative, and take on new roles.
  12. Balance our yearning for change with patience for the process of change and growth.
  13. Make the way we work together an example of what’s possible.

Dr. Hanna ShermanHanna B. Sherman, MD is the Program Director of Health and Health Care for the Center for Courage & Renewal/ In her role, Hanna works with leaders and organizations in health and health care nationally and internationally to develop safe and trustworthy spaces for personal and professional growth, positive change, and life-giving choices. Organizations Hanna has worked with include Mayo Clinic Florida, Mission Health System, and Cambridge Health Alliance.



Let’s Talk about the Inner Life of the Rebel

When we heard that Parker Palmer was going to be on stage with Courtney Martin at PopTech 2014, in a conversation hosted by OnBeing’s Krista Tippett, we really wished we could be there. The theme of this year’s event is Rebellion and it sounds right up our alley:

“The spirit of rebellion is at the heart of some of the greatest advances in science, technology, medicine, business, design, art and more. Rebellion is about leadership, courage and the instincts to grow, adapt and persevere.”

Lucky for us, PopTech is generously allowing us to be there virtually with videos available online.

Here’s the full video of the talk with Parker, Courtney and Krista, plus the audience questions, which ended in a standing ovation. Grab a coffee and enjoy their 90-minute conversation about what it means to be a rebel by being true yourself, why powerful people must take a pause to reflect, and the importance of community in social movements.

You can also follow Parker and Courtney via their regular columns at the OnBeing website.

Resilience for the Rough Road

Resilience for the Rough RoadWe all go though times when the roads of our life feel a bit rough. It takes courage to go down a road you’ve never been down before. Unknowns await around the bend, out of sight.

It takes perseverance to keep going when you’re unsure exactly what’s coming up next. It also takes a wise kind of courage to slow down.

What do you do when you see signs of a “Rough Road” ahead?

What signs do you get from within?

If you name the road Rough, how might that change the way you proceed?

You have choices. You can continue, but slower. You can stop for a moment, regroup. You can get out your map and double-check that you’re on the right road (and you can always turn around if you’re not).

“Rough Road” doesn’t mean don’t go there. It just means take care. It’s a reminder to pay closer attention to obstacles, look out for potholes, and slow down around curves. Welcome the wisdom of those who put up the sign to say, “been there, done that, take care, and continue.”

Plug that information into your internal GPS and let yourself be guided by trust in the signs, trust in the road, trust in yourself, and trust that the road will take you somewhere worth going.

Warm regards,

Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. You can build resilience for the rough road by attending a Courage & Renewal program.

mail iconToday’s blog is a mirror of our monthly Words of EnCOURAGEment e-newsletter. If you’re not a subscriber yet, sign up so you don’t miss anything!

African Youth Leaders Explore Difference, Creativity, and Self-Awareness through Poetry


On August 10th, young leaders from eight East African schools set out to engage in dialogue across religious, ethnic and gender differences at a camp called The African Youth Leadership Experience (AYLE) 2014. The goals of AYLE were: to develop life skills in self-awareness and self care, appreciate and learn from difference, learn how to handle conflict, and develop creativity, leadership, community action and social entrepreneurship skills.

Andrew Nalani, a student at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, designed and directed the ten- day camp in collaboration with a local NGO in Uganda and Partners for Youth Empowerment (PYE). Below, Andrew reflects on how attending a Courage to Lead retreat earlier this year helped him direct this project.

Three days before the participants arrived for camp, I sat in the quiet of my bedroom, wondering what I had thrown myself into. For two years I’d been designing a youth project to promote peace and understanding, and it was finally taking shape. It’s paradoxical how I was filled with enthusiasm when designing the camp, and now three days before opening I was saturated with fear and self-doubt. “I don’t know if this will work. “What if no youth shows up?” “Who do I think I am, this young, to pull this off?” It was this last question, “Who am I anyway?” that ushered me to the threshold I feared to step over—my own personal place of leadership.

I recalled words I’d heard Sheila Belanger, a nature quest guide on the west coast, say: “Deep hospitality is first and foremost an inward process.” Before I could extend deep hospitality to the youths who’d show up to camp in three days, I had to welcome those parts of me—my fear and my capability—as ushers towards the threshold of my own personal place of leadership.

poemsgavelanguageI began to name my benefactors, those people who have recognized, named and affirmed the gifts that I bring to community. Remembering my benefactors evoked a sense of gratitude within me and reconnected me to the benevolent, courageous and creative parts of my being. I also glanced over the notes I’d kept from a clearness committee for which I was a focus person during a Courage to Lead retreat in February. In that instance, I knew I was held in the same delicate way as I was during the clearness committee process at the retreat.

Memory leads us home to community, and at home, we find courage to be our very best selves. To nurture this courage, I ruminated on David Whyte’s poetry, and two particular poems, Henry Nouwen’s “Work Around Your Abyss” and David Wagoner’s “Lost” in Leading from Within: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead. These poems helped me give language to what I felt strongly within, but struggled to name. What I could not name is what I feared because it was unknown.

I had never been in a place with this much responsibility, for twenty-nine youths from different backgrounds, and staff members who were older than me. I feared especially how this new stage in my life would change me because my interest in youth empowerment is linked to some of my own critical experiences growing up—my ‘abyss’. Nouwen reminded me, I must not be completely absorbed by the pain in my abyss that I “fail to pay attention to the wound I want to heal.”

Poetry inspired in me the courage to swim through the ocean of uncertainty, and offered me a space safe for me to develop the capacity to remain present to my own transformations.

Upon arrival, the twenty-nine students spent time creating community norms and agreements that would support them all in achieving the general camp goals, but also their personal goals and intentions. One of the agreements, “Wisdom is in the questions,” supported the community in asking questions and learning across differences. Another agreement: “To fail is okay,” set the stage for participants to take creative risks without fear of failure.

For the rest of camp, the students participated in experiential activities and workshops designed to achieve the camp goals. Some of the activities included: challenge course, public speaking, transforming inner dialogue to allow growth, intercultural encounter, and conflict transformation. Participants also had a chance to develop their creativity through theater improvisation, community singing, visual arts, crocheting, break dance, and of course, poetry.


On day four, gender day, the males and females had separate programming focused on examining cultural gender prescriptions and the celebrations and challenges of each identity. The women read and reflected on Maya Angelou’s poem, “Phenomenal Woman.” Each of them wrote a poem in response to their reflection on Angelou’s poem, and compiled what they’d written into a collage. They shared this collage of poems with the men at the end of the day.

One participant noted, “I have grown into a person who appreciates herself as a phenomenal lady, and also how to solve conflicts in a beneficial way.” Their enlivened, assertive and reflective presence testified to the new place of power each of them had stepped into for the day, ushered into this place by the grace and healing power of poetry.


At the end of every day at camp, following dinner, the whole community slowed in pace, gathered to hear a poem read by a fellow participant or staff. We then spent fifteen minutes in silent (quiet time) reflection about its message, or about the events of the day. Afterwards they’d share their reflections in groups of six. We opened our first quiet time with Marianne Williamson’s “Our Greatest Fear,” which ushered the community to another threshold of truly showing up in our gifts and saying yes to the discomfort of risk-taking.

couragedoesntfindus“I am courageous enough to influence my friends and peers for positive change because I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone during AYLE,” one young person mentioned later during camp. I learn from this young person that courage doesn’t simply find us, rather courage is inspired as we wholeheartedly engage with the unknown that scares us, trusting the creative risk we are capable of when supported in a safe community.

Now a little over two months post the AYLE camp, I look back and see not only the participants’ growth, but also my very own. I emerge out of the experience aware that there seldom are easy answers to leadership. The journey is on going and each step in this great unknown calls for courage. For me, reading and writing poetry inspires that courage and provides replenishment along the journey. As an AYLE participant put it, “AYLE is a caring mother, which makes young leaders grow with courage.”

I am grateful to my benefactors, and to all whose words have fed my spirit, and to the communities that have mothered me into a deeper, more authentic, and more courageous place of personal leadership.andrewnalani

Andrew Nalani is from Kampala, Uganda and currently a junior at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. He is majoring in religion, and hopes to design an independent study in transformative learning. He is also the student director for the office of religious and spiritual life at the school’s Tucker Foundation. Outside of class, Andrew has volunteered in the area of youth empowerment for the past 3 years.