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A Personal Reflection for 5777

I am sitting at a small maple desk built by someone’s dear hands in the 1800s, or so I was told by the antique dealer I purchased it from. I know it is old because the craftsman built it without using one nail, the desktop smooth, dipping ever so slightly where I imagine many papers were written, bills paid, homework completed, masterpieces created. Outside my window is a tall poplar tree, beginning to turn a bright yellow, with the change of the season.

autumn-leafFor many, approaching fall is a time to relish the crisp air of early morning, shorter daylight, raking leaves, carving pumpkins while sipping hot apple cider. For me, this time of year is a time of deep reflection, of returning to what is most valued, a time when my calendar reminds me to pay close attention, consider the year past, make amends to those I may have harmed, and harvest what is most important to my soul-keeping, my family, my world – to begin again, with renewed purpose and promise. This time of year, as I approach the Jewish Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, followed by the festival of Sukkoth, my prayers are ones that reconnect me with my core self, my relationships with God and others, my work with my community and beyond, the rich nourishment that sustains me and brings wholeness to my life.

As I enter Elul, the twelfth month of the Hebrew calendar, a month that means “search” in Aramaic, I begin a practice of searching my heart through reading prayers, prose, and poetry as a path back to my inner spirit. This work is in preparation for the first day of Tishrei, the beginning of the High Holidays, of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, where it is commanded that we hear the blowing of the Shofar (a hollowed out Ram’s horn), whose notes are meant to be a wake-up call, to summon us from our complacency, a call to repentance. Here, in my small office, amidst a pile of sage words, those on sheets of paper and those bound into books, a week before the start of days spent with family and friends, attending services filled with meditative prayer, gratitude, atonement, remembrance, and festive meals of celebration, breaking fast, and harvest, I am alone with my thoughts.


This past year has been both joyous and challenging. Personally I have much to be grateful for: I spend time with my children and new grandson, I am enriched by good work, I have completed my preparation as a Center for Courage & Renewal Facilitator, work that aligns with my values of living whole, to be welcoming, hospitable, open, curious, present, and generous of heart. I celebrate these practices and community as a positive life force. And yet, it is knowing this good work and my deep yearning for a more gentle and harmonious world that has created a hole, one that my reflection brings me to – an unsettled place felt in the pit of my abdomen, a shadow place that I feel turning, emerging from our nation and world. Every day for days and days it seems that the current brings news of discontent, hate, and tragedy. I look at the words on my desk…thinking, How can this be? Is there an answer here?

It is this poem, “My Child Wafts Peace,” by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai (translated by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav) that sits on top of my distinguished pile. It is this poem that is staring at me, begging me to read it once again, like a prayer unanswered:

My Child Wafts Peace

My child wafts peace.
When I lean over him,
It is not just the smell of soap.

All the people were children wafting
(And in the whole land, not even one
Millstone remained that still turned.)

Oh, the land torn like clothes
That can’t be mended.
Hard, lonely fathers even in the cave of the
Childless silence.

My child wafts peace.
His mother’s womb promised him
What God cannot
Promise us.

*The traditional burial place in Hebron of
Abraham, and the other Patriarchs and
Matriarchs of Israel.

I read this poem, every year, often sharing it with friends to remind us that coming together in prayer at the High Holidays is a charge and an opportunity. A child is at peace in its mother’s womb, once born, it is only we who share this earth that can make peace. This year, Yehuda Amichai’s words haunt me more than past readings. My reflections bring me to an even greater awareness of a troubled landscape. I remember easier days, or so it seems. Days when we were not burdened with hateful words tossed around as though they are void of meaning, days not filled with lies hanging in the wind like linens on a clothesline, days bereft of bellicose and bullets. Reflection is the hard work before the real work. This year I hear my soul louder than ever before, like a drumbeat in my head and heart, one that I cannot turn away from, a question that I must respond to, a wrong that cuts through me, one that I have to stand up to and do whatever I can to bring healing to the cries, hope to the discouraged, and help to those most in need.

This year rather than harvesting well wishes and happy memories, I harvest my thoughts – my deepest fears – but I will not sit with them and allow them to grow. No! I will put them into a plan of action – there is an urgency, no time to be content. This is a time to reach out, to be giving and open to receiving the stranger, those that are different. This is a time for loving-kindness, for deeply listening to the needs of another, for radical hospitality. I will be reminded to do so with every blast of the Shofar, a call to my better angels. At the Yom Kippur memorial service, I will hold the names of my great-grandparents and grandparents, never forgetting that they were seen as strangers in this land. Remembering how they loved this country for its acceptance of others. And when I begin to tire or feel lost, I will hold these words by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, so that I can be inspired to keep going:

“The test of faith is whether I can make space for difference. Can I recognize God’s image in someone who is not in my image, whose language, faith, ideals, are different from mine? If I cannot, then I have made God in my image instead of allowing him to remake me in his.”

– Jonathan Sacks, from The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations

Personal reflection is not always easy; it often requires facing truths that have been set aside for another day. This year my meditation teaches me that returning to my true self will require walking a path with strangers. As 5776 on the Hebrew Calendar comes to a close, I find I am holding realities that are deeply concerning, issues that need a lot of attention, but I am not disheartened despite the challenges. I am instead uplifted by the many individuals and communities who are doing great work to bring about positive and lasting change. At the conclusion of Rosh Hashanah services we wish each other Shanah Tovah Umetukah, A Good and Sweet Year. I cannot think of a better wish for all of us.

 is a Courage & Renewal Facilitator, Professional and Personal Relationship Coach, and Founder and CEO of a new social profit, Create Safe Space, Inc. whose mission is to 
cultivate thriving environments of integrity that inspire healthy relationships, support individual potential, and grow communities of purpose and well-being – envisioning a world where we hold each other’s dignity as closely as we hold our own.

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A New Manifesto for a New American Dream


The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream dives deep in a most refreshing way. In this thoughtfully curated, graceful yet punchy book, Courtney E. Martin has created a holistic, all-in-one manifesto for a brand-new American dream. A good manifesto for community, belonging, and creativity should be lively and earthy, and this book is both of these. It owns up to our shortcomings, but it is ultimately filled with bright and unyielding hope.

From the stories of countless brave people and communities, she’s quilted one madly beautiful patchwork quilt of what it looks like to choose challenge. Choose beauty. Choose love.”

This is the American dream I want to aspire to, one that, I believe, all of us long for in our deepest selves. It’s a dream of belonging, closeness, and interdependence.

Of being brave, of choosing love over fear.

Of choosing relationships over “stuff” – and creating new rituals to make meaning for all of it.

“We must seek meaningful work, love our people well, and prioritize play and pleasure – now. We must listen to that quiet, brave little voice saying ‘enough’; we must consider what it has to say about the overvaluing of money and the undervaluing of time.”

– Courtney E. Martin
The New Better Off

Reading the book brought me back to myself a decade ago, when I was still in undergrad trying to wrestle meaning out of the stories I’d been told about “success.” All of that came into focus when I graduated and had to decide where to go and what to do.

The recession was fresh and jobs were scarce. For a few months after graduation, I lived with friends-like-family who extended “radical hospitality” to me when I really needed it. I tried to find a 9-to-5 job, to no avail. Since I was in a rural area with little ch­ance of finding work nearby, I decided to change it up by searching for a close-knit urban community first, moving there, making friends, and searching for a job. It was risky, and I didn’t have much margin for error, but I leapt.

Thankfully, it worked out. I found an intentional community that welcomed me with open arms and helped me find both good housing and meaningful work.

hand-labor-187951_1920Throughout my two years living with and participating in this urban community in the Midwest – not unlike the cohousing communities Courtney describes in The New Better Off – I learned a million different ways that “wealth” and “success” could be defined.

Maybe it was the community storefront on the corner, used by everyone for every occasion, and open for music and poetry nights, for baby showers and wedding receptions, for marking events in our neighborhood’s life, both tiny and momentous.

Maybe it was the friend who decided that she could ask each neighbor on her block if they would be open to lending her a patch of land – and so her problem of lacking access to farmland could be solved by stitching together by so many little pieces of yard.

Maybe it was the rambling old buildings that would otherwise be left to rot and were instead reclaimed and lovingly tended by a motley crew of community members.

Maybe it was the communal embrace of a neighborhood in need of TLC – where many, many people said, Here. This.

ripening-tomatoes-1530464When I moved to Seattle, four and a half years ago, I brought that community with me, as well as a deep recognition of the importance of interdependence. I was inspired to ask my new friends in a new city for help – even to the point of asking one friend if I could start a garden in his yard, since I didn’t have access to a plot of land anywhere else. Planted on a steep slope outside of this friend’s fence, my garden has become even more priceless as the years go on. It’s a flourishing “wealth” that gives and gives – my greatest investment, by far.

And I’m learning, thanks to The New Better Off, that it is investments like these that exemplify what “new better off” looks like. I take comfort in that. When culture tells me that success looks different, that success is glitzy and starred with dollar bills, I can go to my garden, look at the sweeping lavender, the happy calendulas beaming over the beets – and remember:

Success is relationship – as I glance at my friend’s house.

It is community – as I stand in the garden and chat with neighbors who have taken to calling me by my favorite nickname, “Farmer Jo.”

It is love of good, heart-nourishing work – as I weed and water and bend and mother the tiny watermelons and green tomatoes.

“We are delighting in the surprises of spontaneous reciprocity. We are remembering the power of intergenerational interaction. We are colliding and reassuring and repairing and planting and, along the way, turning into imperfect, edifying communities.”

– Courtney E. Martin
The New Better Off

Courtney’s book thoughtfully, vividly stitches together vocation, freelancing, caretaking, finances, homeownership (or the lack thereof), parenthood, attention, and – above all – community. Reading it, I realized afresh that I was not alone in finding my wealth in neighborliness and in relationships with others. Her lovely, wide-ranging exploration of burgeoning redefinitions of the American dream introduces us to folks all over the country, everyday people who are finding new and exciting ways of building communities that watch out for and nurture each other.

And, reading this book, I was inspired with new insights, fired up with ideas about how to be a better, kinder, more hopeful friend, neighbor, coworker, and human being.

The New Better Off comes alongside of you in the heart-filled meeting space of your being and doing, and says “I get it. So let’s be brave, together.”

JoVanceJo Vance recently joined the Center for Courage & Renewal team as Marketing & Communications Associate. A stalwart believer in the power of stories to spark change in the world, Jo is passionate about creating space for those stories to be shared through effective communications. When she’s not hiking in the mountains or by the ocean, Jo volunteers with fellow environmental and social justice activists, works on a poetry manuscript, and delves into her ever-evolving stack of library books.

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The Wrong Bend, The Right Place


In the car and on the way to the airport and some time away from it all I took a deep breath. It had been a long slog of one thing after another. It was time for some perspective that only the mountains might provide. I knew this. I needed to get back to where nature, the seasons, and animals teach and offer another way.

What are the indelible moments of your life,
when time and place,
inspiration and awe,
brought you to a more profound sense of soul and self? 

Navigating to the airport, I got caught at a light at one of the busiest intersections in Chicago. I looked to my left in time to see a man transfixed by his phone. He was nearly hit/hurt/maimed/crushed by an SUV that came screeching to a halt as the man wandered across the street oblivious to the fact that his life nearly ended or would have been changed in significant ways.

I just shook my head.

The light turned green and on I went toward the airport and freedom from that kind of obliviousness.

But I was soon stopped at another light. I glanced to my right and saw a woman with her cell phone in one hand passionately talking, and by the animated expressions on her face it seemed she was deeply committed to making her point. Meanwhile her other hand held a leash for her dog. The dog was urinating on a sign, a puddle forming on the sidewalk where she stood…in it. Distracted and clueless. Standing in it. Making her point while her dog made one as well.

I shrugged, shook my head again and wondered when was she going to notice? 

bustleOff I went. All I could think was please, get me away from all this distraction and busyness.

Finally I got to my seat on the plane heading to Denver where I would catch another plane to some peace and perspective in Bend, Oregon. I texted my itinerary to my contact who would be picking me up in Bend and then turned off my phone. Done. Now, time to turn off all the chatter in my mind and settle in.

I dozed, waking up as the plane landed in Denver. How nice to just be for even a little while.

But then I powered on my phone and it lit up with messages and texts and emails. I started scrolling…Hmm. Really? How is that possible? In my haste to get out of the chaos of my life and the city, evidently, and somehow, I had been moving a bit too fast when I booked the plane ticket.

I was flying into the wrong Bend, Oregon.

How did this happen? I don’t make mistakes like that. The smugness I had felt earlier as I was leaving Chicago vanished.

Options considered. I boarded my next flight to North Bend (the wrong one), rented a car, drove four and a half hours to the airport at Redmond/Bend (the right one). The owner of the retreat center met me there – an amazing lady! What a beautiful drive through the mountains. Right? At least I didn’t get hit by an SUV or find myself standing in dog urine. It could have been worse.

But I had to wonder…what other things had I missed or confused or went flying past these last months?

Finding Myself at the Right Place


That next week awareness and new perspective came as I settled into some much-wanted time working with horses on a ranch and writing at the pump house that looked out across a pond and the mountains. There were so many things I had simply lost track of and forgot even existed.

As a teenager my grandpa had given us a horse. He knew what he was doing as taking care of a horse is a lot of work and not just about riding on the weekends. I had gotten to know that amazing creature, her moods, instincts and joys.

I was longing to return to some of those moments from southern Indiana when I had learned so much about myself and life. It seemed that here in Redmond Bend, a new chapter was opening in my life. The ranch’s horse trainer was giving me tips for reconnecting with my earlier horse sense.

“All you need to do is focus your intention, look where you want to go and breathe in. The horse will follow.”

What?!? This is not going to work. I don’t remember anything like that from when I was a kid but then again, that was then and this is now and I am older and have discovered a lot since then. And so I looked at my trainer as if she had three heads and said in my most polite yet I-think-you’re-crazy voice, “Could you please say that again?” She smiled and said, “Let’s practice.”


Greg Eaton with Calvin

Easy for her. I was the one sitting on this enormous and majestic white Arabian horse named Calvin. She said, “When you want to go, you simply breathe in. When you want him to stop, exhale and root down in to the saddle.”

“That’s it?” I said.

She smiled and simply said, “Yes. Begin when you are focused and ready.”

Focus. I was so used to shifting from one project to another. And while I gave each project my full attention, or at least thought I did, the idea of deep focus and rooting down and simply breathing that intention was not in my norm. The trainer was asking me to clear out everything in my mind from this morning to what would happen this afternoon to what was happening online and at home, and simply be here in this saddle on this horse.

I looked at a tree across the way, took a deep breath. Calvin immediately responded and off we went. I spent the next hour learning and being reminded of the difference between deeply focused intention and priorities that just kept shifting. When I lost that deep focus, so did Calvin. When I was clear, we were in sync.

Focus your intentions at
The World’s Thin Places
and Your Quest


It was easy to think of that afternoon with Calvin as magical—and limited to a vacation. But with some time and reflection, I realized that this way of being exists in the world. It is what happens when we are in the moment, paying attention and connected. Magical and ordinary and possible all at the same time.

I decided I wanted more of those moments.

For the rest of the week my intention and direction were clear. I committed to being where I was, head up and eyes open, fully participating with the people, horses, and events in front of me. I slept well. I laughed a lot. I learned even more.

Be where you are.
Focus your intention.
Look where you want to go.

It was much better that way.

getcontributorlargepictureGreg Eaton is a Courage & Renewal facilitator based in Chicago, with decades of experience working with leadership development, change processes and organizational systems. You can join him and his co-facilitators in another magical place—Quebec City, Canada—for a Courage & Renewal retreat called The World’s Thin Places and Your Quest. Click for details.

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Don’t Turn Away, We Need Everyone

At one of our final circles of the Academy for Leaders, a woman broke the silence with a comment about addressing social and racial inequity during the Academy. She suggested that if we truly want to practice valuing Otherness, Creating Community and Living with Tension, then we should use the process to talk about systemic oppression and discrimination.

I need to acknowledge that it was a woman of color who spoke up and started the conversation. Too often, white people are oblivious to the nuances and pain of racism so we don’t start conversations about race. That was true for me in that circle. Because of my skin color privilege, I wasn’t pondering how a powerful process like the Academy for Leaders could be used for racial healing.

Even in this safe space, it was brave to raise the topic of inequality. After all, the question is often met with silence, defensiveness, and anger. But, here, in this space where we were putting the Habits of the Heart and Touchstones into practice, silence would have been a breach of trust. Holding space, being open and valuing otherness weren’t abstract concepts to us. We’d experienced together the power of deep listening and I personally felt a soulful transformation from my conversations and reflections with this group of people.


The circle responded and we explored ways we could continue our work together, building on the mutual respect and trust within the group, to challenge the status quo and the inequities we observe and experience.

The next morning, as we shared breakfast, we took a first step toward planning another retreat focused on inequality, particularly racial inequality. Seven of us decided to pursue this conversation: four women of color and three white women. As we pulled out our phones to plan our next meeting, we pondered a name for our group. After a brief discussion about being allies for one another, someone spoke up and said, “No, we’re accomplices.” That seemed right: We were accomplices in challenging the harm and pain directed towards the “other” – people of color, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community.

In my calendar I wrote, “Courage/Accomplice Group.” We agreed on a central location. We carpooled. We gathered. We took notes, exchanged ideas. We laughed, shared articles, and planned.

We set another meeting date for the following month: July 8, 2016. In the 48 hours preceding our meeting, two black men were killed by police officers, one of whom, Philando Castile, was gunned down in our capital city of St. Paul. We sat around a large table at the Perkins in Monticello, Minnesota with a weight of sadness hanging over us. We weren’t sure how to start our conversation.

broken-glass-colorsThen, someone shared this question: Where are we feeling vulnerable as we face these tragic events, and where do we find strength?

The same brave soul who started the conversation at the Academy talked openly about the pain she was carrying. The day after Philando’s murder she was participating in a work meeting. As the group was doing a check-in, she shared her sadness over the shootings and said she needed to talk about what happened and the impact on their community. But her words were met with silence, even denial, with one person giving voice to his belief that it wasn’t relevant to their work.

They turned away at a moment when she needed their presence, and she cried heavy tears as she talked about the betrayal she felt, the disconnection from her colleagues. As we held space for her, I wondered what had been taken from the community in turning away. What gifts did they withhold? How did their reaction prevent healing?

I admitted to keeping myself distracted the day after Philando’s murder, but was forthrightly called out by a Facebook post stating that “what we need is for white people to get off their couches, off Facebook and show up.”

There I was. White. On my couch. On Facebook. I called my older brother, the one who introduced me to the ideals of working for social justice when we were just kids. Together, we drove over to the Governor’s Mansion in St. Paul where hundreds had set up camp and where Black Lives Matter provided space for expressions of anger, sadness, and a demand for justice. I took a picture of a sign that said, “Don’t Turn Away. We Need Everyone!”


Don’t turn away. If I had to sum up the Academy for Leaders with one bold slogan, it might be this. Don’t turn away. Rather, embrace the hard and rough edges, the unknowns, the questions, and the vulnerabilities.

What an extraordinary gift to be with this group of women at this time. As so many in our country were feeling hopeless, not sure what to do, we had one another. We had a place to share our grief, our sadness, our hopelessness. And we were looking to one another for the questions to ask that could lead to healing our communities and enter into a new dialogue on race in the midst of this pain.

Just hours after our meeting, the Dallas shooting took place. Five police officers dead as “payback” for the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The question from our meeting came to mind:

Where do we find strength? And my heart filled with gratitude for the women around the table the previous day. Our strength comes from turning towards one another with open hearts.

Practice deep listening at
the Academy for Leaders


Next cohort begins November 10-13, 2016 at Pendle Hill near Philadelphia

Click here for details

At the memorial service in Dallas, President Obama closed with this:

“Can we find the character, as Americans, to open our hearts to each other? Can we see in each other a common humanity and a shared dignity, and recognize how our different experiences have shaped us? …That’s what we must pray for, each of us: a new heart. Not a heart of stone, but a heart open to the fears and hopes and challenges of our fellow citizens…With an open heart, we can stand in each other’s shoes and look at the world through each other’s eyes.”

Opening our hearts to one another.

In Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatley talks about the order that comes out of chaos through small influences occurring in different places, the unseen organizing of the world, the conversations that ebb us closer to discovering our shared humanity with the Other. I wonder how many conversations are happening around the country in the midst of the pain and I feel hopeful thinking about how they will move us out of chaos into a time of greater understanding.

Our Courage/Accomplice group has created space for us to turn towards the hard questions and open our hearts to each other, giving voice to our experiences and hopes for the future and remembering: Don’t Turn Away. We Need Everyone.

Marna Abiopicnderson
lives in Minnesota and is a nonprofit leader with expertise in organizational effectiveness and major donor fundraising. She has served organizations focused on human rights, conservation and violence against women and children. Currently, Marna is the Director of Development and Communications for Nonviolent Peaceforce, an international nonprofit that protects civilians in violent conflict using unarmed strategies. She attended the Spring 2015 Academy for Leaders in Minnesota.

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The Importance of Shared Silence


Here’s a lovely meditation on silence by Gunilla Norris. I find it compelling because it names the importance of both personal and shared silence:

Within each of us there is a silence
—a silence as vast as a universe.
We are afraid of it…and we long for it.

When we experience that silence, we remember
who we are: creatures of the stars, created
from the cooling of this planet, created
from dust and gas, created
from the elements, created
from time and space…created
from silence.

In our present culture,
silence is something like an endangered species…
an endangered fundamental.

The experience of silence is now so rare
that we must cultivate it and treasure it.
This is especially true for shared silence.

Sharing silence is, in fact, a political act.
When we can stand aside from the usual and
perceive the fundamental, change begins to happen.
Our lives align with deeper values
and the lives of others are touched and influenced.

Silence brings us back to basics, to our senses,
to our selves. It locates us. Without that return
we can go so far away from our true natures
that we end up, quite literally, beside ourselves.

We live blindly and act thoughtlessly.
We endanger the delicate balance which sustains
our lives, our communities, and our planet.

Each of us can make a difference.
Politicians and visionaries will not return us
to the sacredness of life.

That will be done by ordinary men and women
who together or alone can say,
“Remember to breathe, remember to feel,
remember to care,
let us do this for our children and ourselves
and our children’s children.
Let us practice for life’s sake.”

“Shared silence is…a political act,” Norris writes in her book, Inviting Silence: Universal Principles of Meditation. That may seem like an odd claim, but in my experience it is profoundly true. Shared silence is at the heart of the Quaker tradition, of which I’m a part. For centuries Quakers – though few in number – have been disproportionately represented in movements for peace, truth, and justice that have had political impact.

Norris pinpoints the reason why. Silence “brings us back to basics, to our senses, to ourselves.” In the silence, we have a chance to get re-grounded in fundamental human values, and “the lives of others are touched and influenced” in ways large and small.

I invite you to spend some time meditating on the words above, and — if you don’t already do so — practicing silence alone and with others. I think you will find it revealing and rewarding.

With warmest regards,


Parker J. Palmer
Founder and Senior Fellow
Center for Courage & Renewal

P.S. In my latest book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, there’s a section on silence, solitude, and the practice of “getting the news from within” which resonates with Norris’s meditation.  You can also experience this sort of shared silence at any Courage & Renewal retreat.

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Fierce, Beautiful Wholeness: Why I Look Forward to Courage Camp

The wild winds roared the spring I first learned about “hidden wholeness,” blowing in from the Strait of Juan de Fuca and buffeting the shore. I watched the white-capped sea tossing and turning, a constant thrum of energy. At night, as I drifted to sleep, the old Victorian house where I was staying creaked like a ship. I was on Whidbey Island for my last spring residency in a Master of Fine Arts program, where I had been studying poetry for two years, exploring inner and outer landscapes.


Although I became a better writer through my degree, the most powerful gift it gave me was the chance to experience nourishing connections with other people. Because of this close-knit community, I grew into the bravery that I needed that stormy March to embrace my grief over painful losses I’d experienced. Now I could hold that brokenness and, underneath it, uncover my hidden, yet fierce wholeness.

This is why I find a home in the Circle of Trust® principle that “a ‘hidden wholeness’ underlies our lives.” I didn’t have these graceful words then, but they perfectly describe the discovery I made, as I learned to stop circling the center and, instead, dive straight into it – finding new strength to write truthfully from both shadow and light.

The kinship with others that I experienced as a poetry student – what I sometimes, with a wide grin, refer to as “writing camp” – afforded me the time and space to make that vulnerable discovery. There, I learned that a community with integrity and compassion at its core is sometimes the only place where this sort of change can blossom. I’ll admit I was a little worried that I wouldn’t find a community like that again.

I didn’t need to worry.teachingwithheart

A teacher friend of mine recently shared her struggles with me, hungry for a nurturing place to rest and learn as a teacher and as a human being – and I felt immensely grateful to be able to share Courage in Schools and Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach. She called me a day later to say how hopeful this had made her for the new school year.

It’s easy to lose heart when you don’t have opportunities to connect with your “hidden wholeness,” when you face difficulties at work or in personal relationships and need to find clarity and peace. It’s frighteningly easy to become cynical.

It takes courage to remain open, to search for tenderness in your own heart and the hearts of others, a tenderness which is a special kind of strength. My friend and I finally have an opportunity (thanks, Courage & Renewal!) to root ourselves in a new kind of community learning – a place where we can continue the work of uncovering and shining out of our fierce, beautiful wholeness.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll get to call my first Courage & Renewal experience “courage camp.”

JoVanceJo Vance recently joined the Center for Courage & Renewal team as Marketing & Communications Associate. She holds a multifaceted background in communications, project management, and fundraising through her various roles in the nonprofit arts and grantmaking sectors. Before working in communications for a private foundation, Jo delved deeply into arts management through positions that included running the office of a visual arts center in Cincinnati and writing grants for a mid-sized theatre in Seattle. She completed a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Humanities from Houghton College in upstate New York, and in 2013 she received a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from Seattle Pacific University. A stalwart believer in the power of stories to spark change in the world, Jo is passionate about creating space for those stories to be shared through effective communications.

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Free Online Class by Parker Palmer on Bridging the Political Divide

Parker J. Palmer, teacher, author, activist, and an outspoken advocate on faith and democracy issues, will teach an online course that is open to all from September 5-19, 2016. After that time the course will be accessible via the ChurchNext library, though it will no longer be free.

We are in the midst of what may be the most polarizing and contentious election cycle in recent U.S. history. Many observers note that the political rancor and rhetoric has reached all time highs, injecting unprecedented fear, division, and unease into our culture. Parker Palmer believes our current political climate provides a rare opportunity to think more deeply about who we are as people and a nation.

This course is intended to spur thought, conversation, and action around current political tensions. The class, a series of video lectures and discussions, can be taken anytime between September 5 – 19. Students can sign up today. No special software is required. It will take an average learner about 45 minutes to complete. Registration is free and open worldwide.

For more information and to register click here. Resources for Congregations, including downloadable posters, bulletin inserts and a Launch Guide can be found here or at > The Big Class.”

Throughout the free course, participants are encouraged to ponder and discuss what it means to live faithfully in a society racked with political division. “We the people have made America great,“ says Palmer. “And re-discovering our potential, in light of the present political climate may be our greatest challenge and reward.”

This ChurchNext course is made possible by the generous support of Forward Movement, The Episcopal Church, Bexley Seabury Seminary, Living Compass, and the Center for Courage & Renewal. ChurchNext creates online Christian learning experiences that shape disciples. ChurchNext is devoted to helping people grow in their Christian faith, improve their lives, and better the world. Learn more at

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Healers in Need of Healing Cannot Heal

How do we catalyze conversations about the transformative change needed in health care, including changing training and the environments of practice?

We lead from who we are, and we gain meaning from why we do what we do. If the “who we are” is burned out, cynical, and lacking in self and other compassion—and yet we feel we have to save face and not admit to it, and the “why we do it” is focused on economic transactions—no amount of academic education on leadership theory will help us engage ourselves or others in the healing process.

We are not going to have a cadre of effective physician leaders until we have a cadre of well and integrated physicians. And we are not going to have authentic healthcare culture transformation until we have a transformation of individual clinicians.


Nevertheless, we reject the notion that physicians are victims. Instead, they are often co-creators of this unfortunate reality. They are co-creators by:

  1. Continuing to accept the “status quo” and expecting that the leadership of our healthcare systems and our political structures will fix the problem;
  2. Buying into the professional drive that leaves important parts of themselves out of their professional and personal lives;
  3. Perpetuating a culture of “silent suffering” and denying their own humanity; and
  4. Ignoring self-care as imperative to calibrating themselves in order to sustain this most meaningful, but most stressful work.

We must invest in the formation of leaders with inner capacity that will allow a questioning of long-standing frames of reference that are no longer useful (i.e., reactivity, competition, individualistic goals, invulnerability) and create the conditions for a new frame of reference (ie, interdependence, interrelatedness, team work, vulnerability, inspiration, respect).

Note: This excerpt is from “Healers in Need of Healing Cannot Heal” by Herdley O. Paolini, PhD; Mark H. Greenawald, MD, originally posted on, May 20, 2016.

Herdley Paolini, PhDHerdley Paolini is a licensed psychologist, teacher, and author. She has over 30 years of experience in the counseling field. In 2014 she founded The Institute for Physician Integration, an organization dedicated to the well-being and Leadership Development of Physicians. Prior to her current position, she created and for 12 years she directed the Department of Physician Support Services at Florida Hospital where she also focused exclusively on the development, integration, and wellness of physicians. Her work takes a prevention perspective, influencing both individual as well as organizational change through CME curriculum, leadership development, and creative programming.  Find out more at


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Hearing Your Genuine Voice

There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”

Who is the real you behind your resume? Who is the genuine you who wakes you up in the middle of the night for a heart-to-heart chat? Not the inner critic, not one of the many voices that chatter in your head. But the calm, still inner voice you can trust.

by Shinkichi Takahashi

I don’t take your words
merely as words.
Far from it.
I listen
to what makes you talk—
whatever that is—
and me listen.

The most basic tenet of Courage & Renewal is that everyone has an inner teacher. We believe that every person has access to an inner source of truth, named in various wisdom traditions as identity, true self, heart, spirit or soul. The inner teacher is a source of guidance and strength that helps us find our way through life’s complexities and challenges.

Today pay close attention to your own reactions and responses, to your most important teacher, your Self.

Where do you hear the whispers, or shouts, of the genuine voice inside you?

With gratitude and best wishes,
Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. Circles of Trust are an opportunity to listen your inner teacher and encourage others to hear their own inner wisdom, too. See upcoming Courage & Renewal programs on our calendar.

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!

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How Our Holacracy-Teal Hybrid Helped Us Through Heart Surgery

holacracy-bookLast September felt like the beginning of a school year with a new curriculum when we decided to try out Holacracy for our small nonprofit staff. Due to some downsizing in the midst of ongoing strategic discernment and organizational growing pains, we saw the need for better defining “how we work” so that we could determine how best to engage our limited staff resources.

Nine months later as if it were finals week, we were tested when our Executive Director required unexpected open-heart surgery and our “next in line” was halfway around the world on a business trip. Holacracy played a part in saving the day. Business proceeded as usual, with our small staff taking on roles that had been clearly discussed and defined. We’re good at self-organizing and stepping up to get work done, but Holacracy helped clarify decision-making accountabilities. Work continued with hardly any balls dropped while he was away for surgery and six weeks of recovery. (He’s back now, hearty and hale.)

Click to go to HBR articleIn the July/August issue of Harvard Business Review, the article “Beyond the Holacracy Hype” examines the myths and the promise of self-managed teams. The Center for Courage & Renewal recently examined the value of Holacracy ourselves after testing it for nine-months. The resounding conclusion, despite some initial resistance, was that we don’t want to stop, we want to learn more, and we want it customized to our own culture and needs.

Although we haven’t adopted Holacracy’s constitution as our formal operating system, we have found aspects of the framework to be a secret ingredient in navigating our own VUCA world.

The timing of our staff reflection and open-heart surgery coincided with new expansion. Receiving grant funds to hire two new staff coincided with needing to replace the MarComm assistant who is moving on. Holacracy roles are helping us define the hiring in a much more efficient, transparent way. We are sorting through our business model complexity, our budget realities, and our vision for hiring people who have the heart for what we do with an ability to bring their gifts in more agile ways than a rigid hierarchy might allow.

In what could be a very stressful, fearful situation where we might go to our default corners of control and command, Holacracy gives us a paradigm shift to reimagine our team, our work, and how we want our culture to support our small team to deliver on our big mission.

Disconnecting Soul and Role was Disquieting at First

Reconnecting soul and role is the heart of our mission at the Center for Courage & Renewal. We teach a set of principles and practices called the Circle of Trust® approach so that people “reconnect who they are with what they do”. We believe great things can happen when people commit to becoming more authentic, self-aware and adept at building trust within themselves and between and among people, uniting across lines of difference. People become more resilient and engaged for the long haul when they reconnect to their meaning and purpose—and to each other. And that kind of wholehearted leadership is good for individuals, teams, organizations, communities, and for the greater good of any worthy cause.

Imagine the seeming incongruence of Holacracy’s idea that it’s important to disconnect soul from role. Holacracy considers a role distinct from a person, with specific accountabilities and decision-making authority. When a new task needs to be done, you ask “the role” not “the person.” That means you don’t say “Will you do this for me because you like me,” or “because I’m your boss and I say so,” or “I’m desperate—do you have time?” It means you can say no or yes or let’s figure out who is best to do a new task done based on our roles. And if it’s a task that doesn’t fall under anyone’s domain, you can determine objectively how it fits into the strategic big picture. Is taking that on a good opportunity calling for nimble adapting, or is that a symptom of scope creep that often derails the best of intentions? Do we need a new role altogether?

Click to see book at Amazon

Click to view book at Amazon

Defining roles as separate from soul was at first a challenging concept for us where we invite each other to always show up in our “wholeness.” You could say our founder, Parker J. Palmer, wrote the book on wholeness—A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. Inspired by Palmer, Frederic Laloux names Wholeness as a teal concept in his book Reinventing Organizations, in which the Center for Courage & Renewal and Holacracy both appear as case studies. For us, wholeness is not limited to the “soul & role” of an individual or the diverse composition of a group. We strive to see the paradox of both/and as the whole. A Courage & Renewal practice around paradox is learning to “hold tensions in life-giving ways” (see our Touchstones).

Holacracy has given us an additional lens for processing tensions, and calls us to be even more clear about our Purpose so that we can self-organize well. If your hope is to see self-organized employees working together to achieve and express your organizational purpose, you have to cultivate self-aware individuals within a corporate culture that walks the talk about trust. Below is more about how Holacracy has complemented the strengths of our aspirational-teal organization.

Implementing Holacracy for a Small Staff, Big Mission

Seven of us (soon to be nine) work at the hub of a global nonprofit comprised further of almost 300 independent facilitators, a Board of Directors, three co-Founders, plus a Program Team who work as contractors. So far, only the Center staff have applied Holacracy.

We had the help of Dianne Dickerson, of Duet, a consultant working for us on a pro bono basis as a generous way she chose to learn more about implementing Holacracy before charging fees. We were not always happy guinea pigs in the early phase of monthly Governance meetings to define our roles. But it was the most important groundwork we laid. Among the seven of us, and considering the downsizing departure of our Associate Director last year, we divvied up and defined who does what and why. We came up with the roles playfully named which added some fun and ownership.

Table 1 shows how we matched new Holacracy roles to our existing traditional job titles. Because the role titles are long and some roles overlap into multiple areas, this is presented here in a chart. Normally, Holacracy would visualize staff relationships in circles and sub-circles.

Table 1: Current Holacracy Roles at the Center for Courage & Renewal

Executive Director MarComm Director Development Officer
Board Handler; Buck Stops Here; Lead Link; Major Gifts Magnet; Org-wide Strategy, Vision, Direction; Program Visioner Marketing & Communications Director; Bookmeister; Lead Storycatcher; Program Evaluation Lead; Policy Writer; Online Donation System Manager; Online Vendor Liaison; Holacracy Secretary Development Officer; Development Data; Invitational Retreat Coordinator; Mail Chump
Office Manager &
Program Registrar
MarComm Assistant Bookkeeper
Office Manager; Program Registrar; Board Wrangler; Mail Chump; Debt Hound; Back Office Coordinator; Holacracy Facilitator Copywriter/Editor; Graphic Designer; Jostle Knight; Online Donation Setup; Online Megaphone / Case-Maker; Program Data Coordinator Bookkeeper – Numbers Ninja; Debt Hound; Keeper of the Force
Facilitator Program Director Schools/Leading Together Director Schools/Healthcare Coordinator
Director of Facilitator Preparation Program; Director of Clergy Program Leading Together Leader Leading Together Coordinator; Health Care Program Coordinator

Some of us defined our roles into very specific “accountabilities” that sounded much like our To Do Lists, naming the nuances of who does what on sub-teams. Others chose to define our roles in broad terms, partly because those roles have recurring tasks that are clearly defined. The number of roles also reveals the overlapping and DIY nature of a small nonprofit staff, which is also why we haven’t defined sub-circles yet.

Highlights from Our Self-Assessment

As our staff reflected on what has worked well about adopting Holacracy, here’s what we agreed upon:

  • We appreciate the format of the weekly tactical meetings for an efficient way of informing each other with metrics, project updates and generally keeping us out of our silos, which can happen even in a small staff.
  • We will move to a quarterly Governance meeting unless the roles are becoming unclear and lack of clarity around decision-making or other power issues seems to be causing problems.
  • For now, we will not adopt the Constitution or the strictest form of Holacracy implementation, because the constraints are not worth our agility at this time.

Our staff made the following comments about how Holacracy has helped.

“Holacracy facilitates work when people are absent; things don’t stop when people are out.”

“We are more fleet of foot in addressing new situations. We are able to move forward more quickly rather than thinking out and addressing every possible challenge in advance.”

“Tactical meetings with the criteria for raising tensions help us focus on solution seeking not just naming problems.”

“Tactical meetings with the criteria for raising tensions help us focus on solution seeking not just naming problems. We name real, immediate tensions, not predictions of what might go wrong and it means someone owning it, then proposing action to resolve it.”

“The focus on processing tension helps us efficiently drill into what’s important rather than seeing whole mess of things. We go right to the stuck places that are most important. I’ve been surprised by that in a great way.”

“We’ve brought the language into the rest of our work, especially around problems. I like when we ask “that sounds like a tension to raise” or “how does that fit into a role?”

“In subtle ways we’ve made Holacracy our own, softened the edges of the protocols without losing the power of the protocols.”

Because those positives are worthwhile reasons to continue with Holacracy, we will find other ways to handle what didn’t work so well. Here are a few examples:

  • Tactical meetings are run by an elected facilitator whose job is to shut down things that fall outside the Holacracy rules, which can be stifling to any group of creative and curious people who rely on lively intellectual discussion to do their work. Freeform discussion tends to shut down and then not everyone gets included in later meetings, losing richness of diverse input and creativity. We agreed to call a Holacracy time-out to allow space for vital brainstorming to ensue, letting the facilitator watch for it derailing the meeting completely.

We agreed to call a Holacracy time-out to allow space for vital brainstorming to ensue…

  • The frequency of meeting once a week for tactical meetings feels burdensome when our workload is high. We agreed it’s okay to can cancel the weekly tactical when too many people are absent, and not have Governance monthly. We also agreed awhile back not to have tactical meetings on Mondays. We meet Wednesday mid-morning.
  • We will recommit to defining roles where work is falling through the cracks and priorities need reassessed in light of available resources.
  • We sometimes miss the chance for reflection that our Circle of Trust approach uses for check-ins, such as a piece of poetry to ground us in our time together. Rather than force it, we agreed that any of us can bring in reflection for check in our check outs, if we are moved, but it won’t be forced onto the strict agenda.

Perhaps the best learning we’ve seen is that the Holacracy process has helped each staff person find and exercise their voice in the operations and direction of the Center. It has helped us all grow developmentally and take responsibility for our needs, tensions, and speaking up about them. These benefits coincide nicely with our own Courage & Renewal practice collection known as the Habits of the Heart.

Our Own Hybrid Boils Down to Trust

The HBR article authors wrote, “…one of the greatest challenges of implementing the goals at scale is insufficient leadership. When leadership is a shared responsibility, everyone must understand and practice it.”

Further the authors summarized, “Companies must also work out how much hierarchy and process they need to ensure coherence and what other kinds of “glue,” such as shared purpose and a common ethical compass, they can use.”

For us, trust is the glue. If you want to create efficient, self-organized teams, you have to start with self-aware individuals who can trust themselves to take on the responsibility of their roles and trust each other to get the work done. Open, honest communication is vital and that requires relational trust.

You’ll need to walk your talk about trust…

If you want each person to help express the evolutionary purpose of the organization, you’ll need time for honest reflection on your individual and organizational purpose, hopes and values.

You’ll need to walk your talk about trust, and create the trustworthy conditions in which people truly are welcome to own their roles, to make decisions, even to fail while being accountable (holding themselves accountable out of integrity, not fear).

You must also be clear in the wholeness of your own leadership (honest about your strengths as well as your limits as just one paradox of the myriad you can manage). Teal leaders must be able to create a community of understanding and shared commitment to a bigger vision.

Beyond Self Management to Transformation

At the Center for Courage & Renewal, we’re setting our sights further than self-management. By starting with self-awareness and self-management, fortified by more capacity in relational trust, we believe we can create more courageous leaders. Those leaders will be better equipped and sustained to bring about the collective courage that will create collaborative solutions to seemingly intractable problems, transforming the world we live in.

Hybrid Holacracy Will Help

Holacracy will be one ingredient in our own evolution. We will continue to define our roles and accountabilities for new hires. We will consider defining roles for those who work closest with us in our stakeholder organization. We will explore the rubric of “Emphasize X even over Y” in our strategy to help us discern priorities and resources. We have already embraced Holacracy as an effective way to process the tensions of reliability and adaptability, and we will continue to live into the promise of effectiveness and faithfulness to our higher purpose. We’ll see where we are six months and a year from now, and adapt.

Holacracy isn’t only for emergencies, like when your boss is unexpectedly facing open-heart surgery. It’s also for when your staff is healthy and whole, as we are now, because it helps us take our collective work to the next level of effectiveness.

In times that are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous for nearly every organization on the planet, we all need people who are willing to step into leadership with a wholeness of voice and agency. We need to develop habits of the heart. Holacracy holds promise if applied or adapted with authentic engagement, discernment and the courage to try something new.

Shelly FrancisShelly Francis wrote this in her roles as CCR’s Marketing & Communications Director, Lead Storycatcher, Bookmeister, and Holacracy Secretary. Her forthcoming book explores how people have applied Courage & Renewal to their life and leadership. She has worked for two of the organizations featured in Frederic Laloux’s book, Reinventing Organizations. Shelly enjoys her practice of viewing every hard day as a case study.

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