In the Courage to Lead for Nonprofit Leaders retreat series co-facilitated by Ken Saxon and Kim Stokely in Santa Barbara, California, one of the exercises at the fourth of five retreats is to invite participants to design and create prayer flags.

The following morning each participant presents their flag to the entire cohort, and then the group ties them all together. The metaphor is to honor the unique creativity we all possess while allowing us to collaborate on a single work of art with a common goal, which is far more than the sum of its parts.

At the end of the retreat, the group decides where they want the flags to fly. The most recent cohort sent the prayer flags to a preschool for at-risk children and then to a facility serving people with disabilities. After those two stops, cohort member Chris Tucker offered to take them with him to Bhutan’s famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery.

I woke before dawn in Kathmandu to catch the daily flight along the front range of the Himalayas across a narrow strip of India to reach the remote Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, known for its guiding philosophy of Gross National Happiness. I carried only a day-pack with a special cargo of a handmade prayer flag from the 6th cohort of the Courage to Lead for Nonprofit Leaders retreat series in Southern California.

Dodo, my appointed Bhutanese guide, met me on the tarmac in Paro airport dressed in a short robe, a kilt-like garment, dark knee socks, and hiking boots. After our greetings, I explained that I had come with a very special goal of delivering prayers for the world from a group of thoughtful leaders in my country. I opened my pack and his eyes grew wide as he unfurled each panel, every one thoughtfully designed and created by one of our Courage to Lead members. Speaking Bhutanese words in soft reverent tones, he examined the art work and words and smiled broadly. I asked him if he could help me find the right place to hang our prayer flag? He said that he would take me to one of the most sacred places in all of Bhutan, the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, where the breeze and combination of elements are most auspicious.

A few days later we made the six-hour hike up through the forest to a rushing waterfall. Across the gorge, the ancient monastery clung to the cliffs as if part of the mountain. In the clear mountain sunshine, we hung the Courage to Lead prayer flags among others exactly in the spot that Dodo knew was just right. Once we tied the long strand securely, Dodo said a prayer, brought his hands together over his heart and smiled. I smiled too, visualizing each of us who made the flag stopping in our daily routine to imagine our collective messages of inspiration and peace waving in the springtime breeze here on the roof of the world.

You can see Dodo hanging the prayer flags in a short video here.

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