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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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How to Build Trust in Schools


Sometimes I scratch my head when I read about the government’s efforts to improve schools: new standards and tests that have to be implemented immediately, punitive teacher evaluations, and threats of school closures and job losses. All methods that I’m sure have the school employees’ amygdalae firing off 24/7, not to mention the students’.

Instead of incapacitating people’s ability to problem-solve or try new ideas—which is what fear does to us—research on school reform strongly suggests that policy-makers should be encouraging school leaders to take a more humane approach. In their seminal 2002 study on the reform efforts of twelve Chicago public schools, authors Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider found that enabling positive social relationships between the adults was the key to successful school improvement—and that trust was at the heart of those relationships.

What does trust in schools look like?

Trust in schools comes down to one thing: psychological safety. By this I mean safety to speak one’s mind, to discuss with openness and honesty what is and isn’t working, to make collective decisions, to take risks, to fail—all things researchers tell us are required for deep organizational change and transformation.

Yet this kind of safety doesn’t come easily to schools. According to Bryk and Schneider, the adults in a school community rely on each other to do their jobs correctly and with integrity. The challenge is our expectations for one other are very diverse, based on our unique backgrounds, including our previous school and work experiences.

At one school where I taught, each teacher had differing expectations about how much extra effort teachers should put into their work—a huge bone of contention between the teachers who left after the last bell and those who worked into the evening. And when expectations are largely unconscious or unspoken, it becomes impossible for others to live up to them.

We also make assumptions about the intentions behind a person’s behavior, and, as we all know, assumptions are often wrong. For example, parents and teachers may think the principal made a particular decision based on his or her career advancement rather than what’s best for the students. If we don’t feel psychologically safe to question our assumptions and expectations with each other, trust flies out the window and our relationships suffer.

Building trust among adults

I’m actually not surprised that education policy has yet to embrace the idea of building trust in school environments. For one thing, it’s hard to measure and hard to implement. It also requires us to take an honest look at ourselves, both personally and professionally, and potentially surface those parts that are painful or tender to the touch. And trust-building is just not part of a school leader’s training.

Fortunately, a new program piloted by the Center for Courage & Renewal called Leading Together: Building Adult Community in Schools has been found to be effective in cultivating trust in school communities. In a nutshell, the program helps principals and their staff members create a safe space to do the necessary inner work for building trust and community.

Developers of the program, Pamela Seigle and Chip Wood (creators of the social-emotional learning programs Open Circle and co-creator of Responsive Classroom, respectively) and Lisa Sankowski were inspired to develop Leading Together based on their previous work with principals. “We saw time and again that principals were experiencing a tremendous sense of isolation, despair, and overwhelm,” explained Seigle, “The role of the principal is not structured in a viable way – they can’t build school community alone.”

Using the principles and practices of the Circle of Trust approach developed by Parker J. Palmer and the Center for Courage & Renewal, along with methods such as active listening, discussion protocols, reflection, song, mindfulness, and poetry, school teams made up of the principal and teacher-leaders spend four days during the summer and two more days during the school year with the Leading Together facilitators and each other envisioning how they will foster trust amongst the adults in their schools.

“After four days with Chip and Pamela, you feel like you can take on the world,” said elementary principal Paul Carolan, “but it’s not about that. It’s about getting a truer sense of who you are by making the space to be more vulnerable—and to do some great learning.”

With the on-going support of the program’s facilitators, the teams return to their schools and begin the challenging work of implementing their ideas. Ed Kaufman, an elementary principal, described the resistance he met from some of his staff members. “Teachers would say to me, ‘we have so many educational things to talk about. Why are we doing activities to build trust?’ It takes time to help people realize that working on our relationships with each other will make the rest of what we do so much more effective and efficient.”

Finally, after several months of doing this work, Kaufman saw that things were starting to shift. “At a staff meeting, we were using one of the Leading Together protocols called ‘Connections’ where people volunteer to share something professional or personal with the rest of the group,” he described, “Normally three or so people participate. This time we had twenty-five people who wanted to share something. I realized that this was a turning point.”

The rewards of building trust

Even though trust-building may seem like an uphill battle, in the end it pays off. For one thing, it lowers teachers’ stress levels. “In the past, I’ve had some very difficult challenges with teachers when they started feeling overwhelmed,” said Carolan. “The angst is still there, but it’s tempered because we’re using the Leading Together protocols to figure it out together.”

Carolan also found that educators participated more in decision-making because they felt their voices were now being heard. “I had so many teachers volunteering to help with our school development plan that I had to pick and choose who would be there,” he said.

Kaufman discovered that he was better able to help teachers develop professionally. “As an administrator, when teachers don’t know or respect you and you push them hard,” he explained, “it can make the relationship less cooperative and congenial. Our work with Leading Together has permitted me to get to know teachers better and have deeper conversations in ways not meant to be negative, but to challenge them to grow and learn.”

Middle school principal Patricia Montimurro felt that the Leading Together practices added years to her life. “I’ve found an inner peace that wasn’t there before,” she said. “When I opened up to slowing down and being present, it made me feel more confident about my work and less concerned about the ‘what ifs’. My staff also saw me become calmer, which helped them be calmer, too.”

In the end, the ultimate beneficiaries are the students. Kaufman found that as his teachers collaborated more with each other, they became more invigorated by their work, which led to more engaging and thought-provoking curriculum for the students. “They also connect better with their students,” he observed, “and they’re more sensitive to their students’ relational issues.”

Ultimately, principals have to realize that building trust doesn’t happen overnight. “This is hard stuff,” said Seigle. “Being in relationship with each other is harder than rocket science. And it’s something that you always have to be working on.”

But, according to Montimurro, the heart of education is trust. “The field of education needs this as much as it needs test results, standards, and teacher evaluations,” she explained. “If we’re going to keep good people in education, we need this work because it’s so stressful.”

How to Build Trust in Schools” by Vicki Zakrzewski originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. To view the original article, see

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Self and the City: Finding Meaning in Our Work Depends on the Communities Around Us

Ideas become reality only when we experience them — in our bodies, our selves, our daily lives.

So when a great bunch of Philadelphians gathered recently in the Great Hall of Neighborhood House, at Christ Church, for the WHYY event “City and Self: Bringing Humanity to Work,” that’s where we started — and I hope where we ended up, as well.

Path, place, self and city

People from across the city came together to look at the four areas that have emerged so far in the ‘Human At Work‘ blog: path, place, self and city.

In other words: the physical path to work, or the larger path your work life has taken (or not); the workspace; the meaning or purpose (or lack thereof) you find in your work; and the city leadership that can help you to feel more fruitful at work.

Susan leads the panelists in questions about path, place, city and self. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

We had a terrific panel of Harris Steinberg, of the Lindy Institute at Drexel; Andrew Phillips, from the Charter High School for Architecture and Design; and Geoff DiMasi, from the design firm P’unk Ave. and the business/civic-service network The Junto. Chris Satullo and I moderated, and we had skilled facilitators to guide the audience into groups to listen and to talk.

And I have to say, I’ve rarely felt a space so vibrating with energy.

Harris Steinberg (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Steinberg — who had just gotten off the plane from a business trip to Chile — led off talking about the importance of walking in the city in order to process things, and then letting where your feet lead you transform your thoughts. Phillips took us into the workspace of a classroom of students, many from underserved communities, connected with him, each other, and their curiosity to learn. What came up first for DiMasi was the question, not just of bringing himself to work, but his “best self” and what that looked like.

When the discussion shifted to the audience, people noticed what was coming to mind for them and wrote it down on little sticky notes, which they then harvested onto a large sheet for each table. The room buzzed with conversation as people began to find the real stories that were inside of and around them — the yearnings and the hopes — triggered by path, place, self and city.

Audience members had vibrant conversations in small groups. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Toward the end of the evening, Satullo led the panel and tables in culling the connections between self and city and what could make Philadelphia a more meaningful work environment. And what was wonderful was how it took real stories to help reshape the question.

Yearnings for a connection to the city

Both from the panel and from the audience tables, we heard yearnings for beauty, meaning, acknowledgement and support of a city wider than just Center City, mutual support among workplaces and working neighborhoods, and civic leadership that looked deeply into the real learning that underlies the rubric ‘education.’ DiMasi pointed out that the inequalities and poverty in Philadelphia gives everyone a chance to be persistent in looking at it again and again, and never to look away.

Geoff DiMasi (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

And among these points, we consistently heard about the importance of vulnerability that’s involved in truly doing your work well; and how creating an environment in which people are encouraged to grow as humans — including those folks who are students — is profoundly meaningful for everyone, above all, perhaps, for the person managing and creating that workspace.

In other words, the question of Philadelphia’s leadership and how it can support richer work experiences in the city left behind the two-dimensional stump speeches of a mayoral campaign and took on the flesh and bones of real lives. And from that process, new possibilities began to emerge.

Just as beautiful as the conversations were the big yellow sheets filled with sticky notes, with bits of ideas and key words written out in all kinds of handwriting as ‘footprints’ of the evening — spread out now on my apartment floor.

sticky-notes 600x600

A sampling:

  • “How can you bring your best self when your work isn’t valued?”
  • “Seeing through the eyes of others.”
  • “Define ‘pathway’ through time.”
  • “How can we have this conversation without mentioning money?”
  • “Be willing to leave the path.”
  • “Strategy or door? Choose the door!”
  • “Beauty expresses the soul of the city.”
  • “Passion and policy.”
  • “Having a ‘path’ at work is a luxury.”
  • “Joy doing work with those who enjoy doing work with you.”

When we all said goodbye that evening, it felt like we had only — and reluctantly — paused the energy.

My three takeaways? First, gather up a good set of questions and some great minds, and then trust the process. Better things will happen than you could have predicted. (Thanks, team!)

Second, I hope mayoral candidates will allow themselves the courage to enter into connections between work, self, and city — whether other peoples’ stories or their own. It can be a better route to transformative decisions than the seeming (and false) certainty of promises. How can you be productively vulnerable in your work? Can you see your own job as helping create a city that encourages people to grow in their work?

And third: We’ve only just begun.

This article originally appeared at WHYY NewsWork and is reproduced here with permission of Susan Richardson, Human at Work blogger.

Susan Richardson  |  Human at Work  |
“Spirituality is embedded in our real-life bodily stuff,” is Susan’s basic (inelegant) take on theology. The Assistant Minister at Christ Church Philadelphia, where she loves working with all ages and stages of life, Susan is also adjunct faculty in world religions at the College of New Jersey and freelance editor/research for the Faith and Work Initiative at Princeton University. As second-career clergy, she’s always had a particular interest in how spirituality comes to work with us, one way or another. (Image courtesy of Jacques-Jean Tiziou)

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The Good Life Takes Resilience


We seldom talk about the warrior spirit in our Courage & Renewal retreats. I haven’t been a warrior myself, although my father did hard combat service in the Pacific in 1944 and never spoke of it to his children. I only know it haunted him.

That’s why the story behind this new book caught my attention. In RESILIENCE, Navy SEAL Eric Greitens writes letters to a brother in arms who is struggling with PTSD and the aftermath of serving in Afghanistan.

His friend needs the courage to come back to life. The courage to create “the good life” for himself by reconnecting to meaning and purpose. And tapping into wisdom, including his own. He needs to find what to do with his suffering wrought by combat. He needs resilience.

The recent events in Baltimore and Nepal remind me that we all need resiliencefor the challenges of everyday life and for the overwhelming times when it seems the whole world is sending prayers for resilience and strength.

I hope this excerpt offers some encouragement today:

“The Good Life” Takes Resilience 

Math is a subject that allows for precision. If I ask you “What’s seven times seven?” you know the exact answer: forty-nine.

But what if I ask you “How do you deal with fear?”

Lifeand the subject of resiliencerarely allows for perfect precision. Real life is messy. Attacking your fear can lead to courage, but there is no equation for courage, no recipe for courage. It gets mixed up with anger and anxiety, with love and panic.

This isn’t an excuse for sloppy thinking: the virtues have been the subject of rigorous, disciplined thought from before Aristotle to today. But when the question is “How do we live a resilient life?” we also have to be ready to accept ambiguity and uncertainty.

There are strategies for dealing with fear and pain. There are strategies for building a life rooted in purposeful work. There are strategies for building a home that is happy even when things are hard. But the strategies won’t reach into your life and resolve your fear or your pain. You have to live your answer.

And look, Walker, nobody’s ever going to hand you a prize for resilience. There is no certificate. No T-shirt. (And don’t even think about a tattoo.) There will be no line to mark the point in your life at which you “got” resilience.

With resilience, you and I are not in search of an achievement, but a way of being.

Remember all of this when you go to live your own answer. You demand a lot from yourself. In this case, you’re going to need to be patient, even kind to yourself.

You won’t be able to judge most of what you do by a standard of imperfect or perfect. Usually, our standard will simply be worse or better.

But better sounds good, doesn’t it?

RESILIENCE by Eric GreitensExcerpt from RESILIENCE by Eric Greitens. Copyright © 2015 by Eric Greitens. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Eric Greitens offers his friend encouragement, sincerity and wisdom. We see how friendship often also demands leadershipleading others to uncover their inner strength.

Who can you encourage today?

Where in your life do you (or others) need resilience?

terry-catalystWarm regards,

Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. Develop your resilience and leadership at a Courage & Renewal program.

"quote-L"quote-ROf all the virtues we can learn, no trait is more useful, more essential for survival, and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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Heartbreak, Violence, and Hope for New Life

In respectful acknowledgement of the immense suffering that is happening in places like Baltimore, Maryland, and the nation of Nepal, as well as the immense suffering that continues around the globe without as much visibility, we would like to offer this writing by Parker J. Palmer on the topic of heartbreak, violence and hope. It also recently appeared at OnBeing.

Protests at the Baltimore Police Department following the death of Freddie Gray, April 25, 2015. wikimedia commons.

Rubble in the aftermath of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal, April 25, 2015. wikimedia commons.


A disciple asks the rebbe: “Why does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon your hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The rebbe answers: “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.” —Hasidic tale

Heartbreak comes with the territory called being human. When love and trust fail us, when what once brought meaning goes dry, when a dream drifts out of reach, a devastating disease strikes, or someone precious to us dies, our hearts break and we suffer.

What can we do with our pain? How might we hold it and work with it? How do we turn the power of suffering toward new life? The way we answer those questions is critical because violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.

Violence is not limited to inflicting physical harm. We do violence every time we violate the sanctity of the human self — our own or another person’s.

Sometimes we try to numb the pain of suffering in ways that dishonor our souls. We turn to noise and frenzy, nonstop work, or substance abuse as anesthetics that only deepen our suffering. Sometimes we visit violence upon others, as if causing them pain would mitigate our own. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and contempt for the poor are among the cruel outcomes of this demented strategy.

Nations, too, answer suffering with violence. On September 11, 2001, more than three thousand Americans died from acts of terrorism. America needed to respond and plans for war were laid. Few were troubled by the fact that the country we eventually attacked had little or nothing to do with the terrorists who attacked us. We had suffered; we needed to do violence to someone, somewhere; and so we went to war, at tragic cost. A million Iraqis lost their lives, and another four million were driven into exile. Forty-five hundred Americans died in Iraq, and so many came home with grave wounds to body and mind that several thousand more have been victims of war via suicide.


Yes, violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering. But we can ride the power of suffering toward new life — it happens all the time.

We all know people who’ve suffered the loss of the most important person in their lives. At first, they disappear into grief, certain that life will never again be worth living. But, through some sort of spiritual alchemy, they eventually emerge to find that their hearts have grown larger and more compassionate. They have developed a greater capacity to take in others’ sorrows and joys, not in spite of their loss but because of it.

Suffering breaks our hearts — but there are two quite different ways for the heart to break. There’s the brittle heart that breaks apart into a thousand shards, a heart that takes us down as it explodes and is sometimes thrown like a grenade at the source of its pain. Then there’s the supple heart, the one that breaks open, not apart, growing into greater capacity for the many forms of love. Only the supple heart can hold suffering in a way that opens to new life.

What can I do to make my tight heart more supple, the way a runner stretches to avoid injury? That’s a question I ask myself every day. With regular exercise, my heart is less likely to break apart into shards that may become shrapnel, and more likely to break open into largeness.

There are many ways to make the heart more supple, but all of them come down to this: Take it in, take it all in!

My heart is stretched every time I’m able to take in life’s little deaths without an anesthetic: a friendship gone sour, a mean-spirited critique of my work, failure at a task that was important to me. I can also exercise my heart by taking in life’s little joys: a small kindness from a stranger, the sound of a distant train reviving childhood memories, the infectious giggle of a two-year-old as I “hide” and then “leap out” from behind cupped hands. Taking all of it in — the good and the bad alike — is a form of exercise that slowly transforms my clenched fist of a heart into an open hand.

Does a nation-state have a heart that can become supple enough to respond to collective suffering without violence? I doubt it. But since I don’t know for sure — and never will if I don’t keep the question alive — I’m not going to yield to cynicism. There are enough real-world facts and possibilities to justify hope. (There is much more on this topic in my book, Healing the Heart of Democracy.)

Remember how people around the world stood in unity with us for a few weeks after September 11, 2001? “Today,” they said, “we, too, are Americans,” because they had known suffering at least as painful as ours. Suppose we’d been able to take in the global flood of compassion that came our way during those post-September 11 days. We might have been given the grace to consider the alternative to war many proposed at the time, including the late theologian and activist, William Sloane Coffin:

"quote-L“We will respond, but not in kind. We will not seek to avenge the death of innocent Americans by the death of innocent victims elsewhere, lest we become what we abhor. We refuse to ratchet up the cycle of violence that brings only ever more death, destruction and deprivation. What we will do is build coalitions with other nations. We will share intelligence, freeze assets, and engage in forceful extradition of terrorists if internationally sanctioned. [We will] do all in [our] power to see justice done, but by the force of law only, never the law of force.”

That proposal aimed at turning suffering toward new life. As a nation, we lacked the moral imagination and capacity of heart to respond to our suffering with anything other than massive violence. So today we are living into Coffin’s prophecy of “ever more death, destruction and deprivation.” We have traveled some distance, it seems to me, toward becoming “what we abhor.” Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.

But alternatives abound in our personal and political lives. Will we use them? It depends on our willingness to exercise our hearts so that when suffering strikes, they will break open to new life.

by Mary Oliver

Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
This winter
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.

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Reflections on Earth Day: Place and Belonging


“They Took My Place”

by Carol Kortsch, Courage & Renewal Facilitator, Writer and Gardener at Stonehaven Commons

Retreat work digs to the heart of the matter of being human – who am I, what is my deepest longing, and how do I offer myself back to this world? Always as a retreat leader I learn most when stopping and listening – inside and out – to all that is around me. Very, very, often I am shocked back to the reality that I am not alone, that I am part of a living, breathing planetary community we call Earth.










All photos above © Carol Kortsch

One afternoon, as a participant in a 5-day intensive outdoors retreat, I joyfully marched down a woodland trail, then hiked off-trail into the backside of a wilderness property in NY State. I was more than excited to have several hours of solitude pondering my place in modern life; it was especially wonderful to have already chosen the perfect spot beside a stream and a hollowed-out tree that I would revisit each day. When I had come across it the day before, it reminded me of my childhood drawing of a perfect fantasy-escape-hide-away so I knew it was ‘mine’. Imagine my shock that afternoon, to come upon another member of our group quietly meditating and settled into ‘my’ place! With 40 acres of pristine woodland and only a dozen people – what on earth was she doing here? Now I can recognize, after the fact, that many of earth’s profound synchronicities happen in most unusual ways.

She never saw me, but as I wheeled around and stumbled back into the undergrowth, these words were wrenched from my heart: “They took my place.” Never had I spoken this before, or even thought it, but they precisely summed up ancient personal pain, and released a river of petulance streaming from a buried memory bank. Lost from wandering and emotionally distraught, I finally put my head down on a felled-log. Then with awe, I recognized my personal grief was only the beginning—my broken-open heart became a portal through which a much larger experience was being offered.

“They took my place.” I was given the gift of bearing witness to both the grief and the sustainability of that eco-circle of land. The physical spot became ‘my new place.’ For that afternoon and the days to follow, the grief of the forest in ancient old growth stumps and limbs rotting around me, the mating calls of barred owls at sunset and the thunderous drumming of pileated wood-peckers resounded through me and opened up an intense sensory world, connecting me inside and out in ways that I had never known before. As awareness clarified, both outrage and insight amalgamated and for a time I was able to hold and be held by both sides of the tragic gap of my humanity. I recognized that I am not only joined to this body called Earth, but I am earth. “Why is it so hard to offer the tender, ‘wild love’ of being nature-beings to our own human bodies and to each other? These are my relations, my dearest neighbors, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. How outrageous that we as humans have marched in and possessed this sentient community and called it ‘mine.’”

In addition, later in the day, I was most grateful for the gift of a reflective and loving human community: to speak from the heart into the center of the circle, to be witnessed and honored by an awesome silence, and also to be surprised by the fire-storm of anxiety that my story provoked from several members who guiltily were sure that they were the offending person (that became part of their story to tell.) It is curious how reflexive guilt and shame or any other shadow emotion can be door-openers to depths of soul in community – if each person is given time and space to sort out their inner story which is always chock-full of painful and humorous illusion! Circles of trust offer so many tender and often hidden portals like this for each individual’s soul work—if we take the time to stop, look, and listen.

This Earth Day I am grateful to continue the journey alongside so many individuals within safe communities, who each provide ‘my place’ to continue exploring down well-trod and wild paths, both as leader and as follower. And, today I write with a longing to speak more clearly on behalf of ‘our place’ – especially our dear plant and animal friends who suffer and yet offer such wisdom in their companionship. As the sun and moon cycles move us together into an uncertain future, I pray for the gift of cleansing grief to enter our circles, for loving communities to come back to enlivened senses, and discover the holy and sacred Oneness of which we are all a part. There is enough room and a joyous welcome for each of us in this Circle of Life – let’s find and relish it together!


Carol KortschCarol Kortsch is a facilitator trained by the Center for Courage & Renewal and offers retreats from her wilderness soul as a life adventurer and Earth listener. She worked internationally for 20 years establishing live-in rehabilitation, counseling, and training communities before moving to Radnor, PA where she lives, works, and writes from Stonehaven Commons.

Consider joining one of Carol’s upcoming retreats:
Soul Care Circles at Stonehaven (April 24 & 25)
Renewing Our Courage to Work & Live Wholeheartedly: for Courage & Renewal Alumni (May 2)
Soul Care Circles at Stonehaven (July 19 & 20)
Sustaining your Wild and Precious Life – a weekend at Kirkridge Retreat Center (July 24-26)

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StoryCorps App Lets You Record Stories

Dave Isay hard at work in a recording booth. Photo: StoryCorps

Dave Isay hard at work in a recording booth. Photo: StoryCorps

StoryCorps—often heard on NPR—has become a treasured national institution over the past decade. If you’re not familiar with it, click here and listen to some brief but powerful real-life stories.

Dave Isay is the founder StoryCorps. He’s a remarkable man I’m privileged to know—remarkable not only because of his many awards, but because his passion is to preserve and share people’s stories. As Dave says, “My wish is to help create a world where we listen closely to each other and recognize the beauty, grace and poetry in the lives…we find all around us.

Last month, Dave received the TED Prize, an annual award of $1,000,000 to an individual “with a creative, bold vision to spark global change.” His vision was to create a StoryCorps app for mobile devices that would allow anyone, anywhere on the planet to interview another person and share the result with the world.

Thanks to the TED Prize, that vision is now a reality—you can learn about it here Then download the StoryCorps app for use whenever you’re ready to interview a treasured elder, a favorite teacher, or anyone whose story deserves to be preserved and shared. Imagine how much that would mean to the interviewee as well as to you!

As one who believes that the preservation of the world is found not only in wildness (to quote Thoreau), but in learning each other’s stories, I was moved by the way Dave Isay ended his TED Prize acceptance speech:

“Together, we can create an archive of the wisdom of humanity, and maybe in doing so, we’ll learn to listen a little more and shout a little less. Maybe these conversations will remind us what’s really important. And maybe, just maybe, it will help us recognize the simple truth that every life, every single life, matters equally and infinitely.”

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“Welcome to the Human Race” an Interview with Parker J. Palmer on the Topic of Depression

bk04125-darkness-before-dawn-published-cover_1excerpted from Darkness Before Dawn: Redefining the Journey through Depression, April 2015, Sounds True.

This experience called “depression” is isolating to a greater extent than I imagined could be survivable, but I realize that this incredibly isolating experience ultimately reconnected me with the human community in a deeper, wider, and richer way.

Tami Simon:  Parker, I want to start our conversation by talking about redefining the journey through depression and your experience of navigating through the darkness.

Parker J. Palmer:  I like your emphasis on redefining depression for a couple reasons. As a person who’s suffered three profound experiences of clinical depression—two of them in my forties and one in my mid-sixties—I’m aware of a couple of things. First, at the most basic level, our culture defines depression as something shameful. This angers me because it leads to a situation where millions of people are suffering not only from depression, but live in an aura of shame about it, as if it were evidence of some sort of personal weakness or character flaw. The good news is that recently there has been a more open discussion about depression, which is a sign that we’re moving beyond the taboo state of affairs in which people who experience it are shamed.

Another way we need to redefine depression has to do with the way it has become “medicalized,” which obscures the spiritual dimension of some forms of depression. I do not reject medical approaches, especially with respect to those elements of depression that are tied to genetic makeup and brain chemistry. I’m not against antidepressants categorically—in fact, I’ve personally been helped by them. In the short term, they put a floor under my emotional life so I could gain some clarity as to what was happening within me. My objection has more to do with the fact that many psychiatrists do not engage in talk therapy to help people make meaning of the experience, but simply prescribe drugs as the sole course of treatment. This tendency we have to want to reduce depression to a biological mechanism seems to me misguided and ultimately harmful.

So, redefining depression from something taboo to something that we should be exploring together in open and vulnerable ways; from something that’s purely biological to something that has dimensions of spiritual and psychological mystery to it; and from something that’s essentially meaningless to something that can be meaningful—all of this seems to me to be important.

TS:  How were you able to make meaning from your three encounters with depression?

PJP: When I was in depression, making meaning was impossible—it was just an experience to be endured. For me, it’s a mystery as to how people survive that deep darkness. I’ve come, over the years, to say that depression is not so much like being lost in the dark as it is like becoming the dark. In the depths of depression you have no capacity to step back out of the darkness, or move a bit away from it, and say, “Oh, look at what’s happening to me. What’s this all about?” When you become the dark rather than being lost in it, you don’t have a self that is other than the darkness. Therefore, you can’t get perspective and try to make meaning of it.


I often hear people say, “I don’t understand why so-and-so committed suicide.” Well, I understand why this happens, I think. Depression is absolutely exhausting when you’re in the depths of it, and people who commit suicide often, to put it simply, need the rest. The mystery to me is why some people come through to the other side and not only survive it, but thrive in the wake of it. I’ve wondered about that question a lot, and I’ve never come to an answer that fully satisfies me. All I can say is that I somehow managed to get through the worst of the worst of times—and every time, it was a very lonely journey. In each case I had some help from the medical side, I had some help from the talk-therapy side, and I had some help from one or two understanding friends who knew how to be present to me in that experience.

Unfortunately, many friends and acquaintances didn’t know how to be present to me. They were scared of me, I believe—they didn’t want to come anywhere near me, as if I had a contagious disease. Or, they offered me well-intended but inadvertently hurtful advice that allowed them to leave their version of a “gift” in my hands—and then get out of the room as quickly as possible. Of course, in this situation, that doesn’t feel like a gift at all, but a rejection, or even a kind of curse. So when people say to me, “I have this friend or relative who’s depressed—what should I do?” I usually respond, “Well, I can’t prescribe in detail, but I can tell you this: do everything in your power to let them know that you’re not afraid of them. Be present to them in a way that expresses faith and confidence that they have what it takes to make it through. Don’t come to them with cheap encouragement of the sort some people tried on me: ‘But, Parker, you’re such a good guy! You’ve helped so many people, you’ve written such good books, you’ve given such good talks. Can’t you fall back on all of that and pull yourself out of this hole?’”

When you hear something like that at a time in your life when you’re feeling like a worm, when you’ve totally lost your sense of self, what you say to yourself is something like this: “I guess I’ve defrauded one more person. If they ever understood that I’m really not a good guy, and that all that stuff I’ve written and said is meaningless, of absolutely no utility now, they would reject me and cast me into the outer darkness.”

Similarly, people came to me and said, “But, Parker, it’s such a beautiful day outside! Why don’t you go out and soak up some sunshine and smell the flowers.” Well intentioned as it may be, this kind of counsel is ultimately more depressing than encouraging. I knew intellectually that it was a beautiful day, and I knew intellectually that those flowers smell perfumed and lovely to other people, but I didn’t have an ounce of capacity in my own body to really experience that beauty or that loveliness. So the encouragement to get outdoors and see how lovely it is turned out to be a depressing reminder of my own incapacity.

Having worked my way through that very lonely journey—where only a few people were able to offer the kind of presence and support that I needed—as I came out to the other side, a couple of things happened that allowed me to start making meaning of the experience. One is that I found myself [to be] a more compassionate person. When you suffer, if you hold it in the right way, in a supple and open heart, you become much more empathetic toward the suffering of others.

Another way to say this is that you become less afraid of other people’s suffering. You’re more willing to be present to it in a faithful, abiding way because you’re no longer treating it as a sort of contagious disease that you too might catch. You’ve been hollowed out by your own suffering, which makes space inside you for the suffering of other people. You’re better able to offer an empathetic presence to them.

In this way, you start to develop a sense of community which, in an odd way, begins to normalize the problem. Empathy born of suffering says to you, “We’re all in this together, and this is part of the human experience.” Since having the experience of depression three times and emerging on the other side, it’s very clear to me that the most important words I can say to someone who comes to me with almost any form of suffering—after I’ve listened to them deeply, after I’ve attended to them profoundly—are, “Welcome to the human race!”

No matter how horrendous their experience, there’s nothing in me that wants to say, “I can’t bear to hear this!” or “How could you ever let such a thing happen?” or “Now you’ve taken yourself to the margins of the human community.” On the contrary, what I want to say is: “Welcome to the human race. Now you enter the company of those who have experienced some of the deepest things a human being can experience.” So you start to make meaning of it, it seems to me, by realizing that this incredibly isolating experience called “depression”—and it’s isolating to a greater extent than I imagined survivable—ultimately reconnects you with the human community in a deeper, wider, and richer way.

A second kind of meaning-making I’d name—after this opening into compassion that depression can help create—is that surviving depression can make you more courageous. After each of my depressions, I noticed that my capacity to put myself in challenging or intimidating situations had grown. For example, if I’m giving a lecture on what’s wrong with medical education to a few thousand medical educators, that would have been a very intimidating experience for me thirty or forty years ago. I would have been operating out of a lot of fear and ego defensiveness. But once you’ve survived depression, you can say to yourself, “What could be more daunting than that? I survived depression, so the challenge in front of me right now doesn’t seem all that fearsome.” Then everyone benefits because when I’m not threatened I’m more likely to speak from a soulful place, not an ego-defensive place—and my message is more likely to be well received, even if it is critical. So that’s another way in which I think you make meaning: depression becomes a benchmark experience against which other things just don’t look so bad. And since we have frequent experiences of facing into things that look pretty tough, that’s a real asset, something of real meaning.

A final way that I’ve come to make meaning out of depression is through sharing the experience as openly as I know how to with others. But before doing this, it’s important that a person’s experience of depression, of becoming the darkness, be well integrated into his or her self-image and self-understanding. If there is any residue of shame or a sense of being personally flawed, then the experience may not be ready to be shared, and it could in fact be unhelpful or even dangerous to do so.

After my first depression, which was in my mid-forties, it took me ten years to feel that it was well integrated enough that I could begin to write and speak about it. Only then did I have the ability to say, “Yes, I am all of the above. I am my darkness and I am my light. I am a guy who spent months cowering in a corner with the shades pulled down, as well as a guy who can get on stage in front of several thousand physicians and deliver some challenging messages. I am all of that, and I don’t need to hide any of it.” It’s my way of saying to myself, “Welcome to the human race! We humans are a very mixed bag—and, Parker, that includes you!” As soon as I was able honestly to say that to myself, I was ready to share my experience in ways that can be healing, therapeutic, and encouraging for others.

shopcarticon64Purchase Darkness Before Dawn to read the second half of this interview with Parker J. Palmer. Available through Sounds True and Amazon.

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Your Potential Is Waiting

The other day I heard someone say that we’ve created a world we don’t want to live in. Hearing that felt like a challenge.

Because I believe we CAN create a world we DO want to live in. It will take courage and it will take more people trusting themselves to make a difference.

That’s why I feel hopeful when I see this video by our friends at Luck Companies.

I love the way they challenge us to align “that thing” on the inside with how we choose to make a difference:

“…That thing that keeps reminding you that there’s more to life than just going through life. That thing is your human spirit, the extraordinary potential you were born with.

“It’s your choice whether or not you use your potential, a conscious choice. […] One thing you will do is positively impact your own life in immeasurable ways. And as a result, you’ll make a difference in the countless others, over and over again.

“Your potential’s waiting. Patiently. Go. Use it. Make a conscious choice to be great.”

So how will you make a difference today in ways that only you can?

terry-catalystWarm regards,

Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. Connect with your human spirit at a Courage & Renewal program.

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Shadow and Leadership with Parker J. Palmer

This post originally appears on The podcast is credited to Reboot and Jerry Colona.

As Carl Jung repeatedly declared, our goal is wholeness, not perfection. People living soulcentrically are not untroubled or unchallenged. They are not beyond experiencing times of confusion, mistakes, and tragedies. They have by no means healed all their wounds. They are simply on a path to wholeness, to becoming fully human- with all the inevitable defects and distresses inherent in any human story and with all the promise held by our uniquely human imagination.
Bill Plotkin. Nature and the Human Soul – Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World

Episode Description

Who are you? What do you believe to be true? What do you bring consciously to the world? And, even more interesting, what do you bring unconsciously to your work, your organization, your relationships? How does that which you have either denied about yourself, or feel uncomfortable about, shape your life, either positively or negatively? What lies in this unseen shadow? And why is it important for you to explore?

The work of today’s guest shows up in just about everything we do here at Reboot so we are thrilled to have one of our key teachers, Parker Palmer, join Jerry Colona for a discussion on a very important and powerful topic: Shadow and Leadership.

For episode quotes and transcript, visit

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