Lurching forward like a toddler learning to walk—this is how I experience life transitions. It doesn’t feel graceful or balanced and I’m acutely aware of my vulnerability as I lean into each next step. I lurch my way through big things like having a baby or deciding where to plant our family after grad school as well as more quotidian things like offering a new service through Bird in Hand (mini-retreats!), contending with a neighborhood conflict, or managing my own fatigue in the face of a long to do list and a short night’s sleep.
This weekend I left our three little ones and Richie and headed to a gorgeous retreat center on Bainbridge Island off the coast of Seattle hosted by Courage and Renewal. I was deeply restored by the company of wise guides (including Parker Palmer, a favorite author and wisdom teacher) as well as thoughtful peers.
(Photo: Up on a canopy tower. It was wild– so tall it swayed in the wind like a tree top.)
We read poetry, we walked and talked in the woods, we ate ridiculously good food from the onsite garden (and everything was gluten free!) and we talked about the deep stuff of life: how to find the courage to rise up within ourselves and inhabit our own most beautiful and authentic life. Together we explored how to serve and to love in the multiple roles represented — as educators, ministers, social entrepreneurs, community organizers, foundation directors, writers and artists– and how to continually nourish ourselves as we stand in the “tragic gap” between the present moment and the world as we yearn for it to be.
I left the island with a full heart and a new metaphor from Mark Nepo to describe the art of facing change (which is really the art of living– given that change is a constant):
Salmon have much to teach us about the art of facing things. In swimming up waterfalls, these remarkable creatures seem to defy gravity. It is an amazing thing to behold. A closer look reveals a wisdom for all beings who want to thrive.
What the salmon somehow know is how to turn their underside—from center to tail – into the powerful current coming at them, which hits them squarely and the impact then launches them out and further up the waterfall; to which their reaction is, again, to turn their underside back into the powerful current that, of course, again hits them squarely; and this successive impact launches them further out and up the waterfall. Their leaning into what they face bounces them further and further along their unlikely journey. (From The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have (2000))
Now my people are not fish people. I was reared in a city which rises like cotton stalks from blackland prairie– the historic land of the longhorns– and a climate often dry and hot. Maybe that is why this description struck me with its freshness.
Honestly it is a bit of a revelation to even claim some of my choices as courageous. I tend to look at myself through a pretty critical pair of glasses (which has to do with my enneagram number but critical self-gazing is a practice many of us share regardless of personality type). When wearing these specs I see myself take a step in a new direction and I’m too busy wishing it had looked like a ballet leap to commend myself for the lurch.
But upon further examination I can see the courage flowing under the surface in such moments. Below the static of anxious thoughts in my head, a squeeze in my heart or tightness in the gut—which seems to be how my body holds the tension of change—I do sense a deeper energy propelling me forward when I honor my core desires and soul truth about the work and life which is called out of me.
I’m no ichthyologist but I imagine it wouldn’t really work if the salmon faced the current with their scaly back– the part of their anatomy more suited to deal with the harshness of a wider world. Somehow it’s the collision between the power inherent in the stream and tender fish belly which propels them onward.
So too in my life I observe this paradox: when I am willing to be vulnerable to the beauty and suffering embedded in the moments of my days and to do the work of positioning myself well amidst these tensions, I experience a holy encounter with the unfiltered power of life. This feels simultaneously like a smack to the core and a leap toward home. And then I regain my senses, hone in again on the direction I am called, and position myself for another blow.
Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
If not fun exactly this salmon metaphor strikes me as true. And while it can be hard to see the courage within our own lives I definitely see courage flowing through the lives of the people I work with. I see it in the carefully crafted family vows of a couple willing to risk love again in a second marriage and claiming a space to honor and include their children in the wedding service. I see it as coaching clients name a dream for a new career which more fully matches their deeper self and take steps in that direction. I see courage in parents who are striving to cultivate their children’s sense of mystery and wonder and reaching for an honest answer to their kids’ profound questions even as they themselves don’t have it all figured out. As Nepo explains: “In order not to be swept away by what the days bring, we, too, must find a way to lean into the forces that hit us so squarely. The salmon offer us a way to face truth without shutting down. They show us how leaning into our experiences, though we don’t like the hit, moves us on.”
Now its not all lounging around and waiting for life to smack you. Salmon tap into a deep inner wisdom and as I understand it work pretty hard to swim the wrong way up the stream to their hatching waters. But when the going gets really rough, when the ascent is impossible to the naked eye, that’s when they rely on the energy of the current rather than their own volition.
What experiences are you leaning into in the stream of your life?
Are you able to identify and align yourself with this deeper energy of courage?
Courtney Pinkerton is a holistic educator, writer and retreat leader living in the Dallas area. Courtney’s work focuses on the intersections of spirituality with green living and social engagement. She can be reached through her website www.courtneypinkerton.com.
Does your life fit like a glove? Today we offer this beautiful photo and a few questions to ponder. We hope this moment of Courage & Renewal brightens your day.
Outside the retreat-center kitchen hung dozens of garden work gloves. Some were small, bright, and colorful and others hefty, well-worn, and gray. All of them had been put to good use over time and towards a common purpose. They all hung there -- hung in there -- together.
At Courage & Renewal, we use "third things" -- images, stories, poems, music, objects -- as metaphors for reflection. At a recent retreat in New York facilitated by Eric Baylin and Ann Myers, this display of gloves became an impromptu third thing about community.
Come with us on a mini-retreat for a moment. Print out this image or zoom in on it here. Write about it, if you'd like. Then share the photo with someone and have a conversation.
- What do you see in this photograph?
- What do these work gloves say to you about your life today, where you are or where you'd like to be?
- Where does your life fit like a glove? Where does it not?
Share your reflections at Facebook page or here on this blog!
Today's post was a mirror of our Words of EnCOURAGEment newsletter. Subscribe here.
Would you like to experience one of our signature retreats like the one where this "third thing" originated? Learn more about our "Journey Toward an Undivided Life" retreats - click here.
Or click the date to get more details:
- May 8-10 Reisertown, MD (near Baltimore)
- July 11-13 Minneapolis, MN
- Aug 14-16 Bainbridge, WA (near Seattle)
- Sept 19-21 Paris, Ontario (near Toronto)
- Oct 17-19 in Estes Park, CO
If you are exploring becoming a Courage & Renewal facilitator, you'll need to have attended at least one of our retreats. Read more about the Facilitator Preparation process - click here.
by Terry Chadsey (April 10, 2013)
What is the cost of not cultivating our own integrity? Some say this is "touchy feely," or "it would be nice if we had the time and resources," or "it is really not about the important stuff." Nothing could be further from what I know is true. The cost can ripple out into the world in devastating ways as the Center's board member Courtney E. Martin illustrates in her op-ed at Christian Science Monitor, Atlanta cheating scandal and Lance Armstrong: How to avoid 'ethical slip':
The Atlanta educators charged with cheating and cyclist Lance Armstrong both fell prey to 'ethical slip' – when little by little, each adjusted his or her own internal compass to point the way of the growing crowd. Self-reflection and friendship can help prevent us from losing our true north.
The nation is reeling from news that 35 teachers, principals, and other education leaders in Atlanta have been charged with being part of a cheating ring – altering and fabricating test sheets and inflating test scores. Continue reading...
Listen to Courtney E. Martin's related interview April 9 on NPR's Talk of the Nation: Listeners are asked to weigh in on "When has your own moral compass slipped from true north?" Click the player below:
Guest blog by Jodi Rouah (April 3, 2013)
A non-incarcerated student from the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program shares from a semester-end speech about how Parker J. Palmer’s book A Hidden Wholeness turned her life around.
I am what the program calls an “outside” student. It is a rare opportunity, to be able to enter into a prison and engage with the individuals behind these walls in the way the Inside-Out program has allowed us to do. (Read earlier blog written by a prison inmate.)
The Inside-Out program asks its participants to learn with our whole selves and to welcome transformation. The program has had a powerful response because it emphasizes learning together through collaboration, dialogue, and engagement with others but also within ourselves.
Before the program started we were all made aware of the logistics for participating in the class. First names only, no identifying information shared, and contact prohibited between inside and outside students beyond the classroom. Simple enough, I figured.
As an outside student my purpose was not to study my inside classmates, nor was I there to counsel, teach or advise. This was a little harder for me to grasp because my lovely ego believed that I give some of the best advice a girl can give.
I’m sure the people in my life would tell you that my voice can be pretty strong at times. In fact, I’m sure some of my classmates would tell you that it can be pretty intense, too. However, discovering this about myself has been one of my most valuable lessons I will walk away from this experience learning.
One of our first class readings was by an author named Parker Palmer and his book A Hidden Wholeness. The chapter is “Deep Speaks to Deep, Leaning to Speak and Listen.” I genuinely believe that this class reading literally turned my life inside out.
You know when people tell you that it always gets worse before it gets better? Well, did I ever learn that through the last few weeks. I struggled with this reading at first, and now that I look back at my experience, I would say that I struggled in my first few weeks of class as well.
The chapter refers to speaking one’s own truth and listening receptively to the truth of others, all within a circle of trust, which I might add is quite fitting considering all of our classes take place sitting in a circle formation. The chapter kept screaming at me, or at least it felt like it was, to listen to my own inner teacher, to hear her voice. But about what, I thought?
I received my answer a few weeks later. We were participating in a lively discussion about finding innovative ways to eliminate violence against women. Alliances, conflicts, agreements and disagreements flourished in all different directions, but it got intense and emotional very quickly. I left class that night shaken by my experience. I felt like I was on fire about the issues discussed. Now don’t get me wrong, I was not traumatized. I was doing exactly what I believe I needed to be doing, listening to my inner teacher and trying to hear her voice.
I spent the next couple of days trying to figure out why I was struggling with the events that unfolded in that evening’s class. I went to our teacher the following week, and Shoshana pointed out that I am a very process-oriented person. She agreed that the events of that evening’s class were emotional, yes, but that others appeared to be okay. It was clear that I had to figure out why I was not. I agreed, although frustrated with myself, and walked away believing that with time my inner teacher would tell me what she wanted me to learn.
The creative pedagogy of the Inside-Out program allowed me to examine the composed and readable version of myself that I have constructed and carried around for years. My inner teacher has taught me that I fight very hard to be seen and heard. In recent years I have taken this to an extreme due to some of my oppressive life experiences. Throughout the years, people have made a lot of assumption about me, and I wanted to challenge and prove people wrong.
According to what I understood from Parker Palmer’s book, I was using my speech instrumentally rather expressively, and this extended beyond the walls of Grand Valley Institute. This is how I had been communicating my whole life.
I had been speaking with a goal of trying to influence people with my speech, unconsciously of course, but nonetheless doing exactly what I was asked not to do within this program: counsel, teach, or advise.
Since learning this about myself I have been trying to speak expressively, of my own truth, rather than trying to influence others.
I have even tried to speak less in class or with family and friends. Not because I want to make a point or have people notice a difference in me, but because I want to honor my inner teacher and let her know that I am attending to her voice.From here, I will always try to speak from my soul rather than from my ego. I believe I have genuinely learned what it means to speak from the center of my own being to the centre of the circle and I doubt that I would have learned that anywhere else but here.
In the past few minutes I have shared with you my very personal journey through this class experience, but please don’t forget that there are 18 other students who have been on this journey with me and who have had their own transformations as a result of the Inside-Out program, continuing to move beyond the walls that separate us.
Jodi Rouah lives in Mississauga, Ontario and is completing a Masters of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University. She was part of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program at Grand Valley Institute for Women, in a class named Diversity, Marginalization and Oppression.
Announcing our newest program, Courage & Retrieval® and our first offering, Courage to Heel®.
Our canine companions live with so much heart & soul, dedicated to their jobs of making the world a better place through their presence. Yet even dogs need time to paws and reflect on the meaning and purpose of their own life -- to retrieve the wisdom of their true selves. With keen ears to listen deeply to their canine souls, dogs will enjoy the companionship they find in the newest Circle of Trust.
by Eric Baylin (March 28, 2013)
“The arts are necessary in our schools and in our lives
not as mere entertainment or afterthought but as
essential means to give tangible form to our experience,
visible demonstration to the felt quality of life.
They deserve center stage.”
“Enter the arts center stage,” says the narrator at the opening of the video.
It is evident in these few short clips from the Mission Hill School that the arts are central to the lives and learning of these students. A school that offers the arts a full seat in a child’s education is one that truly understands and respects the multi-dimensional requirements for a child’s emotional, intellectual, and expressive growth.
Children come alive through the arts. When words fall short of naming a feeling or experience, it’s time then to dance, or sing or pick up a brush.
As an art educator for over 40 years in both public and private schools, I have seen on a day-to-day basis how engaging with the arts offers students a range of ways to “speak” and to develop a “voice”. Every child —everyone, in fact—needs a voice to give shape to his or her inner world and to establish a rightful and confident place among peers. Apart from verbal language, the arts provide a different and powerful set of languages that provide multiple opportunities for developing one’s voice.
I’ve seen it time and time again. A quiet high school girl, who gets lost in the social shuffle of adolescence, discovers her capacity to make powerful images through the lens of a camera. Suddenly she speaks through pictures; others sit up and listen, recognizing her in a new way. A young man boiling inside with teenage angst finds in sculpture a way to give shape to his turmoil, where words could never fully capture the range and color of his inner life. And another young fellow, a soccer player whose sunny disposition wins him a wide circle of friends, discovers that modern dance is the art form that allows him to speak in a different way and that brings him great joy.
Too often in education we see the arts first to go when budgets are tight. Yet there is more and more evidence that the arts not only support emotional growth but bolster intellectual development as well. Some would say that a flexible imagination is as necessary to progress in science as it is to the arts. To see a school like Mission Hill embrace the arts on center stage is truly heartening. They’ve gotten it right.
And what about adults? What’s important in the education of children is likewise important in the re-education of adults.
When I work with adults, I often hear about the damage that was done when the arts were offered too narrowly or not at all, when sparks that might have flourished if fanned with some encouragement, instead were left to settle under the ashes of insecurity or efforts judged too harshly.
The good news is that those sparks can always be re-kindled.
There is a very real parallel to the kind of work that we do in Courage & Renewal and to a vital approach in arts education. In Courage & Renewal programs and retreats we carefully create the safe conditions for renewal of the soul. Through poetry and metaphor the hidden part of us is more inclined to step forward and “tell it slant” as Emily Dickinson would say, to approach inner matters of great import more obliquely than head-on. In the same way the processes of art, working with images, movement and sound may provide different avenues for the truth to make its way into sunlight.
And the guarded soul wants nothing more than to emerge as the artist in some shape or form. With safe space and some gentle coaxing the sparks can re-ignite.
The arts are necessary in our schools and in our lives not as mere entertainment or afterthought but as essential means to give tangible form to our experience, visible demonstration to the felt quality of life. They deserve center stage.
(March 22, 2013)
“I need to start moving at the speed of my soul, not any faster.”
Parker J. Palmer, inspired by Carrie Newcomer
Thanks to all of you who tuned in Wednesday night for the amazing conversation between Parker Palmer and Jerry Colonna. The dialogue was absolutely riveting, exploring a wide range of topics related to work, humanity, authenticity, depression, community, solitude, and rest.
In case you missed the live broadcast (or if you’d like to watch again) you can view the 90-minute conversation here:
May we all take to heart Parker’s important insight that we are first human beings before we are human doings. And what a great idea to keep in front of us as we approach the start of the upcoming Getting to the Heart of the Matter workshop! Learn more.
There's more conversation happening at Cojourneo.com where you can see the questions and comments of listeners. Parker and Jerry will be posting written answers to these questions.
As Parker and Jerry said in the broadcast, “Welcome to the human race.”
by Jerry Colonna, founder of Cojourneo.com (March 18, 2013)
After hours of careful listening, my therapist offered
an image that helped me eventually reclaim my life.
“You seem to look upon depression as the hand
of an enemy trying to crush you,” he said.
“Do you think you could see it instead
as the hand of a friend, pressing you down
to ground on which it is safe to stand?”
- Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak
I met Parker Palmer long before he met me. It was March 2002. I was on a plane to Arizona and I had in my carry-on some things I’d meant to read for a while. Among them were two pieces given to me by my sister Ann: When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron and a magazine article. Ani Pema’s book became my gateway drug into Buddhism–but that’s another story.
The article was an excerpt from the book, Let Your Life Speak by Parker. I knew others had written openly about their struggle with depression, with difficult challenges of the heart but Parker’s grace, simplicity, elegance, and care, spoke to me. His words released something from deep within me. I wept.
Several weeks before I’d stepped out of a meeting in lower Manhattan and stood just shy of the still-smoldering wreckage that was Ground Zero and wanted to die.
It hadn’t been my first encounter with suicide. As I often add when sharing this story, “Hello darkness, my old friend.” But thankfully I called my therapist instead. And thankfully instead of giving in to my wish to be put in a hospital, she suggested I get myself to Canyon Ranch for good food and daily massages.
A little later I was weeping in seat 7D, wondering who was this man who spoke so fiercely, with love and heart, and with no trace of maudlin self-indulgence? Ten years later–my life radically, lovingly different—I found myself on a call with Parker, laughing and knowing and laughing some more.
Parker and I came together through my teammates at Cojourneo, Kevin Friedman and Dan Putt. Parker and our good friends at the Center for Courage and Renewal have crafted a workshop built around the principles underlying his Healing the Heart of Democracy. The partnership strengthened and blossomed as this year began.
Then, just weeks after Aaron Swartz, Jody Sherman killed himself. As with so many in this industry, Jody and I had crossed paths a number of times. The first was 17 or 18 years ago when he joined Lycos–one of the first companies I’d helped birth into being. The last was in 2012 when he attended a workshop I’d given on behalf of the guys at Venture51. In that workshop, Disappearing into the Fire: Surviving the Startup Life, I tried to address the emotional demands of this delusional thing called entrepreneurship.
I remember the end of that day, my voice raspy and tired, I paced the room asking in desperation, “What are we doing to ourselves? What are we losing when we pursue this magical, impossible task of building a company?” I wish I could say that I had looked into his eyes when I’d asked those questions. I hadn’t. But later, in that Jody way, he grabbed my hand with a firmness that felt even then a little too tight and said: “Thanks Jerry. That was great. Maybe we can grab coffee sometime and catch up.” I nodded and headed for water.
A distraught client emailed me the day after Jody died. So many people were hurt by the news–whether or not they knew him. I tweeted, emailed, reached out to friends. I wrote to Parker.
My request was simple: Help me help them. We decided the best way to respond was to embody what we believe: that speaking about the existential difficulties, being authentic even in our collective guilt, pain, and fear, is–as Parker coined it in Let Your Life Speak–Leading from Within. We would have a conversation about the ways in which this merger of self and work exacerbates the pain as well as Parker’s notion of the Tragic Gap. We’d invite others to join us.
The conversation, sponsored by Cojourneo and the Center for Courage & Renewal, is in two parts: the first will be via video chat on March 20 at 7:30 p.m. EDT. You can register for that here. The second will be in person on April 19 at 2 p.m. at Naropa University in Boulder; register here. Both are free.
I have no illusions about our coming up with solutions. I have my theories about why I think the entrepreneurial path is so damn hard but, really, I have no answers. And I’ve written plenty about those dealing with the Monsters (One client said last week, “Um, that’s all you ever write about.” Not true! Okay…so maybe it is true but still…). I just know that there’s something powerful in the simplicity of friends coming together, to listen and to hold each other.
What little I know about the Quaker wisdom tradition comes from my friend Parker. His vision of a Circle of Trust—which comes from that tradition–is such an exquisite example of the opportunity, the responsibility–before all of us: to be the friend whose hand holds another still; to make it okay for them to be with whatever is happening. Simply that.
And, with a nod to yet another wisdom tradition, it is in fact a heart-wrenchingly beautiful yet difficult and hard gift to be simple.
So we will sit, first on a Google Hangout and then later at Naropa. We will talk and we will listen. We will be together.
Yesterday my son Michael sent me a link to a video of a young poet. Watsky spoke to him. This morning, as I write, I recall Watsky’s deeply personal, deeply affirming observation: “We live in a house made of each other.”
Come sit with us. We’ll build that house.
If a sadness
Rises in front of you,
Larger than any you have ever seen;
If an anxiety, like light and cloud shadows,
Moves over your hands and everything you do.
You must realize that something is happening to you,
That life has not forgotten you,
That it holds you in his hand
And will not let you fall.
Many thanks to Jerry Colonna for letting us reprint this article from his blog.
Join Jerry and Parker J. Palmer for a live interactive discussion
on the toll of merging identity and work.
Wednesday, March 20, 7:30pm EST.
If you can't make it then, we'll post a link to the recording afterward. http://bit.ly/PJPsuL
by Chip Wood (March 14, 2013)
This week's Chapter 4 video of A Year at Mission Hill, considers the questions: What is the relationship between our social & emotional well-being and our capacity for intellectual growth? What are the opportunities and the obstacles associated with full-inclusion classrooms?
In this next installment from Mission Hill we learn that the school has been “designated” a full inclusion school by Boston Public Schools. This means that children who attend Mission Hill with moderate and or more challenging needs are to be included in regular classrooms with appropriate specialist support in those classrooms. As we hear, it would have been counter to Mission Hill’s approach to place these students in “substantially separate” classrooms where special services would be provided (which is the case is many public schools that often have both “substantially separate” programs as well as inclusion classrooms for more moderate needs).
“Building bridges of empathy and understanding” is not a priority standard in the Common Core goals in Massachusetts or most other states. Massachusetts has created a set of “Guidelines on Implementing Social and Emotional Learning Skills K-12”. But these skills, unlike those in academic areas, will not be tested any time soon, nor will new teacher evaluation requirements, also currently being required nationwide, take into account the competence of teachers to build bridges of social understanding as a major performance factor. Academic test results, however, will be front and center measurement standards of teacher competence.
It may be that the “frequently held belief that schools have to choose between children learning emotional literacy or learning to read a book” is a “false choice” and that schools like Mission Hill know this and are teaching both in a truly inclusive way. However, when results on standardized tests increasingly determine teacher and principal competence, their retention and a school’s ranking or grading by state departments of education, the choice becomes weightier.
Teachers and leaders like those at Mission Hill increasingly stand in what Parker Palmer has named the “tragic gap” between their deepest held beliefs and current reality. In our work, Courage & Renewal honors and supports “circles of trust” like those we see at Mission Hill to sustain the inner voice and deepest competence of the teaching life.
- Learn more about Courage & Renewal programs for teachers and educators.
- Click to listen to a podcast with Parker Palmer about the "tragic gap".
- Visit the Chapter 4 website of A Year at Mission Hill for a great list of thought-provoking resources to watch, read, listen and do.
A FREE free, live discussion with Parker J. Palmer & Jerry Colonna
Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 @ 7:30pm - 9:00pm ET
How do we protect ourselves from being consumed—body and soul—by the pursuit of our life dreams? We invite you to participate in a live online event with Jerry Colonna and Parker J. Palmer. Join the conversation about finding a way to deal with the "deforming pressures" that threaten to crush the leaders of startup companies.The recent tragic suicides of extraordinary entrepreneurs and discussions on Hacker News, have sparked an emotional debate about the hardships created by launching a new enterprise. While the outcome may not always be physical, we sometimes pursue our dreams in a way that is tipped toward being death-dealing rather than life-giving. Jerry and Parker will take us beyond the specifics of recent tragedies and invite us to examine how we "conspire in our own diminishment."
The problem with entrepreneurship is not that it can be quite the emotional roller coaster at times. Pain is inevitable. The problem is that many go through this difficult journey in solitude, assuming that they are in it alone.
Too ashamed to admit false choices.
Too proud to express doubts.
Too afraid to face judgement.
Too guilty of letting mentors/employees/family down.
Too exhausted to turn around and start over.
All of the above.
Reasons gradually add up, and yesterday’s uncrushable, admirable entrepreneurial spirits become today’s emotional (and often mental and physical) isolates. This disconnect from purpose, people and progress can magnify the inevitable startup strains, turning them into silent suffering.
Cojourneo and the Center for Courage & Renewal invite you to take on a different option: a Safe Space for startup leaders and professionals to open up and learn from two entrepreneurs, who have experienced the inner turmoil first-hand and managed to come through, wiser.
Join Parker J. Palmer and Jerry Colonna, life coach and former venture capitalist, for an open and honest dialogue on merging identity and purpose:
Examining how we "conspire in our own diminishment"
Finding support and healing with and from each other
Pursuing our dreams in a life-giving way
An opportunity to speak live "on-air" with Jerry and Parker
If you have a friend, colleague or a family member who may be experiencing startup strains, please invite them to join in the conversation. You may be making a much-needed difference in their life and work.
Learn more and register: http://bit.ly/PJPsuL
by Mardi Tindal (March 7, 2013)
I begin this year with gratitude - gratitude deeper than I would have predicted.
It was a privilege to serve as Moderator of The United Church of Canada from August 2009 to August 2012, but there were times when I felt I’d be lucky to survive. Thankfully, I completed my term feeling whole, even if weary.
It may be the relative isolation of ordained ministry (they are set apart, after all) which produces clergy who now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most. I have learned the loneliness that comes when I serve as a lightning rod for others’ deepest hopes and fears. It’s easy to be swept away by the loudest demands and lose track of one’s own calling. A particular kind of accompaniment has kept me from being driven off course.
Courage and Renewal® retreats have made it possible for me to do the necessary work of “connecting my soul with my role.” They have made it possible for me to deal more resiliently and gracefully with the deep personal challenges of leadership: the bitter injustice of undeserved criticism and the equally corrosive effect of undeserved praise.
In these retreats, I have participated in “circles of trust,” a spiritual discipline articulated by Parker J. Palmer, and rooted in the Quaker tradition. Circles of trust offer soul-deep practices of integrity. They take me more fully into the heart of my faith where the inner life and the outer world are held together as companions more than competitors. Palmer’s ‘habits of the heart’ have given me a framework by which to remain whole as a leader in community.
I’ve discovered new ways to respond to critics, for example, by practicing the habits of holding tension in life-giving ways while still maintaining my own voice and agency. Typically, when someone criticizes me or my church, I want to set them straight! But painful experience has taught me that heady arguments rarely change anyone’s mind. So it’s been a relief to have a more creative path, a way to respect both my own convictions and those of the critic, making new conversations possible.
I’m-right-you’re wrong is not only toxic – it’s boring. It’s much more compelling to hold the tension of competing views, that space in the middle of an argument of contradictions where the possibility exists that, just maybe, a fresh thought may be born.
Habits of the heart that focus on appreciating the value of “otherness” and creating community helped me chair national decision-making meetings in which we were more hospitable to one another and our differing views.
Our tired habits of ‘win-lose’ tend toward simplistic, either-or decisions in which only some feel included. But any decision involves us all, either willingly or unwillingly. An understanding that we’re all in this together is yet another ‘habit of the heart’ to be practiced. Honouring the complexity of such decisions, and the equally marvellous complexity of everyone affected by them, encourages compassion. Leaving the “win-lose” model behind allows us to make difficult decisions that better reflect how we are in them together.
After our recent national meeting, a former Moderator wrote: “It was the most gracious General Council I have ever attended, with no rancour or discord. This does not mean that no one ever disagreed, but that when they did they were treated with respect and acceptance. I am sure that many will go back to their home churches to emulate this style.”
It is possible for us to become the community of wholeness to which we are called - and for leaders to remain whole as well. If you’d like to explore these habits of the heart with other people of faith, please consider joining Parker Palmer and me in August for a 3-day conference and retreat, Habits of the Heart: The Courage to Practice a Faith Worthy of the Human Spirit.
Mardi Tindal is a Courage & Renewal facilitator living in Toronto. She is also a speaker, consultant and Immediate Past Moderator, The United Church of Canada. Follow Mardi on Twitter @marditindal or online at www.marditindal.com.
By Chip Wood (Feb 28, 2013)
Here in A Year at Mission Hill’s Chapter Three video, we have a clear example of a school that (one might expect) will fold Common Core and new state standards into their already-rich, thematic curriculum (rather than the other way around) --- a “site-based” curriculum that provides its students the opportunity and access to their childhood, the natural world, and minds alive. The final scene in this video of the student behind the rototiller is an extraordinary metaphor; the teacher walking beside the student, the earth turning over afresh under his guiding hand and mind, being readied for planting.
It takes enormous courage, conviction and vocational clarity to create and sustain such a school and keep teacher minds alive and well-tended for the many seasons of the school year.
A school with time dedicated to relationships, inquiry and intellectual devotion to well-planned curriculum can evolve a sense of place, pace and trust in the developmental capacities and proclivities of its students.
Have you read The Courage to Teach or participated in one of our retreats or programs in education? Please share your story or comment to about how this has influenced your work with children or adults.
Find out more about opportunities for such Courage in Schools experiences.
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