Jeannette McCullough on ‘keeping the heart of the world alive’

JeannetteThis week our local Toronto community, and the whole earth community, unexpectedly and wrenchingly lost a beautiful soul.

In 2009, as part of a series of interviews with transformative leaders, I talked to Jeannette about what mattered most to her – how she saw the larger challenges of the world and how her work contributed to building a better future for all.

In this interview she describes the times we are living in as a ‘dark night of our species’ and looks 5-10 years into the future.  Our central challenge, she said, was to ‘find our way back’ to our connection with our hearts and to ‘keep the heart of the world alive’.  As she describes the local transformative community of which she was so central, along with its strengths and blindspots, she asks us to ‘focus on the possible.’  “Anything is possible.”





On Consciously Completing 2015: A Ritual of Completion

buddha mit mandalaDuring the holiday season, in the midst of invitations or expectations from friends, family, (and perhaps our own desire to rest and ‘veg-out’ with holiday television specials), it can be challenging to take the time to complete the old year.  

We might even wonder if it really matters, if spending the time reviewing the old year actually makes a difference to the year to come. After all, New Year’s is just a date on the calendar, a day like any other. Isn’t it?

What I’ve found is that, even though the turn of the year may seem somewhat contrived, it is important to mark endings with conscious completions. Doing so creates the inner space and conditions to access deep yearnings on the edge of consciousness and to open to new visions of possibility.

When we don’t complete or create conscious endings, we risk cluttering our inner and outer worlds with unexamined assumptions, too-long to-do lists and in repeating patterns that or may not serve us.

Here are some suggestions for how to complete the old year in a way that opens up space and possibility for the new.  Please feel free to read through them first and adjust, making the process your own!

1) Dedicate and commit some devoted time to the process. How much time you spend is up to you – you can protect some time each day for the next week, or devote a half or full retreat day to dive deeply into the process. Even taking a few moments to read through the process will engage your unconscious mind in the questions.

2) Create your space intentionally to support your process. Create ‘sacred space’ by closing the door, unplugging the phone, lighting a candle, or putting on meditative music. Prepare your favorite cup of tea. Perhaps you’ll want to begin with a prayer or meditation, or to invite a trusted loved one to join you.

3) Gather together the things you use to record your year. This might include:

a) Anything you used last year to record your intentions, goals or visions

b) A journal (personal and/or business), planning calendar (paper or electronic) or notebooks

4) Review any intentions, goals, plans you made last year and take inventory of what actually unfolded during the year. It may help to consider the various areas of your life, for example;

a) Health & well-being – medical, dental, exercise & diet, other dimensions of health

b) Heart & spirit – heart / mind / spiritual practices, growth & support

c) Re-creation – travel, time in nature, rest / rejuvenation, inspiration / art / creativity, fun & pleasure

d) Family & friends – significant other(s), relatives, community (local & extended)

e) Home – physical environment, home improvements & maintenance

f) Finances – income, debt repayment, savings, special needs (eg projects, travel, training etc.)

g) Work or career – includes business & training

h) World – contribution / leadership, gifting, volunteer work, transition-readiness etc.

In reviewing these areas, it’s important to acknowledge BOTH the highs and lows of the year in each category. What was fulfilling and where were your successes, breakthroughs and accomplishments? Where did you and your life shine? What was hard and where were your disappointments, failures or challenges? Where did you not meet your intentions and goals? Reviewing the fullness of your life in this way can help you gain perspective on where your time went and what truly mattered. It can also ease the self-judgment that many of us feel when we ‘wonder where our time has gone.

5) Allow yourself room for emotion, for joy and gratitude at your successes, for grief and frustration for the areas that were hard or in which you didn’t make the progress you had hoped. Invite all your feelings, and allow yourself to feel them fully.

where is my life going6) Reflections & Learnings When you have acknowledged your feelings, and can look back over the year from a calm, centred place, reflect or journal on what you learned in the past year – about yourself, your life, your needs, and about goal-setting. Some of the following questions may help…

a) Your happiness and fulfillment: What made you happiest? What nurtured you? What do you most want to take forward with you? What might you want to do even more of in the coming year?

b) Your inner growth: Where did you shift the most or show up in the midst of difficulty? What surprised you? What challenges grew you or were blessings in disguise?

c) Practicing self-compassion: How might you have not yet acknowledged yourself for who you were or for what you accomplished? Or have been too hard on yourself?

d) Your completions: Where has your idea of what you wanted changed? What no longer serves you or has changed in priority? What are you ready to let go of or leave behind?

Aromatherapie mit Weihrauch7) Design a ritual of completion to celebrate and release the energy of the past year. This could be include one or several of the following:

a) Re-read or review your notes on this process

b) Write a letter to yourself from your highest, wisest self or to anyone with whom you may need to complete (you can decide whether to send it after it’s written)

c) Ripping up your inventory and burning or throwing them away

d) Saying a prayer

e) Creating your own completion ritual through art, music, movement or a combination of these.

The important thing is to not become overwhelmed with this exercise, to allow yourself to create your own way and rhythm of consciously completing the year. Simply declaring that you’re ready to let go of the old and make way for the new can suffice if your heart and mind are fully behind the intention!

May 2016 be a miraculous year for you, one in which you are deeply nourished and fulfilled.  May it be a year when your gifts and vision bless the world in new and powerful ways.  And may you know, deep in your soul, how much your presence on this earth matters.

With my very best wishes for 2016 – for you and the world,


Could you use a bit of loving support so that you can bring more light into the world in 2016?

Let’s explore how – please click here to arrange a free 20-minute consultation.


You matter far more than you may think!

As published in Sybil Magazine, December 2015

As published in Sybil Magazine, December 2015

(#12 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

How do you respond when someone disappoints you?  Maybe you don’t hear from friends when you’re sick or in crisis.  Maybe your best friend doesn’t remember your birthday. Maybe someone doesn’t return your phone call or show up on time.  In our disappointment and hurt, it’s easy to conclude that we don’t matter.

Sometimes there’s truth in the belief.  When someone isn’t there for us we may NOT matter to them as much as we’d like.  And we should keep in mind that their life may be far more complex and challenging than we know.  But when a friend or loved one consistently drops the ball on our relationship, time and time again, it’s time to look closer.  We can make excuses by saying they’re busy, preoccupied or whatever justification we can make to keep them in our lives.  But if they just keep on hurting us through their unresponsiveness it’s a sign we may be hooked into wanting them to be different than they are.

If we surround ourselves with such people we can forever be at the effect of ‘not mattering’.  When we get hooked into trying to placate others or trying to prove our worth it can send our mood, energy, vision and effectiveness into a downward spiral.  But when we acknowledge that not everyone is able to give us what we long for, without making it about us, we get to choose what to do about it.  We can choose to confront the situation or to set boundaries on our giving back.  Most importantly, we get to decide who we surround ourselves with and the messages we take in from others.

It’s important to surround ourselves with loving supportive people who encourage us, believe in our dreams, show up when they say they will and apologize when appropriate.  It’s the wind beneath our wings, the thing we need to remind us of our best selves.  Cultivating those relationships is far more important than constantly struggling with someone we wish would be different.

In the end, though, our relationship with others mirrors our relationship with ourselves.  When others don’t treat us well, it’s worth stopping to ask: “How am I not in right relationship with myself?”  How am I neglecting my needs, values, or dreams?  How am I not there for myself?  When we focus on these things the debris of bad relationships falls away.  When we stand for ourselves in our own heart and mind, no one can shake us.

We all matter, every minute of our lives.  Our words, actions and mood affect others automatically – either positively or negatively.  So next time you question your value to others, reach outward and touch someone else’s life with kindness.  Mattering is not always about changing the world or being important in the lives of others.  It’s about doing small things with great kindness.

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you.  What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” 

~ Jane Goodall

The Myth of ‘Not Enough’

As published in November's issue of Sybil Magazine

As published in Sybil Magazine, November, 2015

(#11 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

It’s all around us – the deafening sound of ‘not enough’. Not enough time, money, expertise, common sense, love… Just listen and you’ll hear someone lamenting that there just isn’t enough.

Sometimes there’s an element of truth in it. Maybe you don’t have enough fabric to make the dress you’ve envisioned, or you just can’t pack three weeks of project work into a day when you or your manager haven’t planned well. But I’m not talking about ‘not enough’ as a unit of measurement, something you need to consider when baking a cake.

I’m talking about a core mindset in our culture that says “more is better” and “there’s not enough to go around.” That shared, unconscious belief would have us scramble to be, do, and have more because of the assumption of insufficiency. That cultural mindset is so loud, noisy and powerful that it’s difficult to see – never mind unhook from. But it keeps us engaged as hamsters on a wheel, addicted to having, doing and being more. And having us feel wrong, bad and insufficient when we don’t ‘measure up’.

The cultural mindset of ‘not enough’ has horrible consequences. In our larger world it justifies decisions that would value profit-making and the stock-piling of wealth over the well-being of people, the environment and the fate of our world. In our personal lives it would have us locked into proving ourselves to our bosses at the expense of our health and our home life. It would have us rack up enormous credit card debt to have that new indispensable thing we think we need. Or constantly building our expertise through new training instead of actually getting out there and sharing our gifts and our message. Instead, we can remain scrambling, anxious and chasing what is always ‘just out of reach’ or ‘what will prove our value’.

The deeper truth is that we’re all blessed with gifts, skills, abilities, relationships and conditions that we often overlook because we’re so busy trying to be, have or do more. Health, time, the capacity for love, the ability to draw inspiration from nature or give to friends in need – all of these are precious forms of wealth.

The good news is that we can unhook from the cultural myths of unworthiness and insufficiency by looking in the mirror and seeing the true value and worth looking back at us. When we stop and appreciate what we have – this moment, this relationship, the learning opportunity of this challenge, we begin to notice the wealth and plentitude we already have in our lives and world.

Whoever you are and whatever the conditions of your life, you ARE blessed. The world does not need you to be, have or do more. It just needs you to get off the hamster wheel of insufficiency and share the blessing of your gifts.

Learning to love your questions

As published in Sybil Magazine, October, 2015

As published in Sybil Magazine, October, 2015

(#10 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

Uncertainty – we hate it. Most of the time we associate it with anxiety and confusion. And for good reason. Successful women, or so we’ve come to believe, are confident and sure of themselves. They know where they’re going and how to get there.   They don’t lay awake at night filled with questions about their lives and decisions. They know. Or do they?

We like to be certain. It gives us a sense that there’s solid ground beneath our feet. There’s comfort and momentum in knowing what we’re doing. It brings order and predictability to our lives and the world around us.   So when we’re uncertain, we think there’s something wrong – with ourselves or with our lives.

Let’s face it – the chaos of uncertainty is uncomfortable. It can leave a hole in the pit of our stomachs or make us want to hurl or run in fear. That’s why so many of us learn to over-control our jobs, our lives, our relationships, and our expectations of others. But what happens when life forces us into transition, or when we feel called to grow beyond the safe little or medium-sized boxes of our lives and embrace the wild blue yonder of uncertainty? In those moments we don’t know what lies ahead or how it will change us. That’s part of the attraction and the terror.

Years ago a beloved teacher shared that we navigate best not by what we know, by the fixed stars in our lives, but by our deepest, most insistent and perturbing questions. As I explored this in my work with transformative leaders, I found that this very capacity – to not know, to make friends with uncertainty, and to stay with one’s most profound questions – was indeed the most important guide they possessed. Why? Our questions open the door to what we don’t know, to what we know but don’t want to admit we know, and to the deeper questions (and answers) of our souls.

It’s true that an architect can’t design a building without a clear blueprint, just like we can’t live into our greatest potential if we’re not called forward by a clear and compelling vision. But sometimes our visions, plans, goals, and lives become so fixed that we can’t see the vast possibilities living outside of them. Our questions beckon to us because they contain our barely articulated hopes and our as-yet-undreamed dreams. They offer larger possibilities than certainty would have us believe.   Our questions change us and they change whatever we wonder about.

As the poet Rumi said, ‘love the questions’.   Especially the difficult and persistent ones. They’re the light in you trying to show the way.

The vision you didn’t know you had

As published in Sybil Magazine, September 2015

As published in Sybil Magazine, September 2015

(#9 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

What does the word ‘vision’ mean to you? Usually a vision paints a picture of a positive, inspiring future – one that motivates and supports us to be and do our very best. But there’s another kind of vision – the kind we don’t know we have. These visions are shared with almost everyone around us – our parents, teachers, friends, the media, and our colleagues at work. Like the air we breathe they’re so pervasive that we rarely give them a second thought. But these invisible visions can sometimes sabotage our future.

Take our vision of aging.   In western culture the dominant story of aging teaches that we are at the pinnacle of life when we are young. In our 20s and 30s we are at the height of our powers – our beauty, strength, intelligence, focus and productivity. It’s the time we’re most sure of our selves, our capacities and our future. It’s the time we believe in and go for our dreams.

As we move into our 40s and 50s we move into a story of gradual loss, degeneration and decline. We try to preserve our youth and ‘forget’ to celebrate milestone birthdays. As women, we often notice a new ‘invisibility’ creeping in as we struggle to keep the weight off and the wrinkles away.

Then, at or around 65, we retire. For some it’s a welcome time, a time of reward for a life of hard work and dedication. A time to slow down and savor life, to enjoy family and friends, to devote to hobbies or take the trips we’ve longed for. But the general assumption behind the cycle of aging in our culture is that of decline and diminishment. As we age we lose our value as productive workers and are ‘put out to pasture’ to make way for younger, more energetic colleagues.

Illness and death do visit everyone eventually. But research has shown us that the health and potential of our elder years may be drastically influenced by the vision and purpose we hold. When we expect decline, lack of value, and a growing isolation from the mainstream of life as we age, that is what we come to experience. That is the story we live into.

It’s up to us. We can allow ourselves to be defined and limited by cultural assumptions of uselessness, defeat and decline. Or, we can rewrite the story of aging. We can choose to own the unique perspective of our later years and to value this time as the harvest of our life’s experience. We can be role models, embodying wisdom in action. We can choose to act on behalf of what matters to us and to future generations. And in so doing we can live into the vision of becoming a generation of true elders who can change the tide of history.

What your dream will ask of you…

As appeared in Sybil Magazine, August 2015

As appeared in Sybil Magazine, August 2015

Why do our biggest dreams tend to bring up so much fear and resistance? Anyone who has dared to dream big knows the story. You start out daring to dream about something you really want. You fall in love with your dream, excited by the promise of the future, certain that the road ahead is paved with sparkling sunlight. For a while you eat, drink and sleep your vision. You tell everyone you know. You work doggedly for it. And then it happens – your first serious road-bump or obstacle.

Maybe you don’t get accepted into the program you need to launch your dream profession. Maybe your CEO turns down your pitch to lead your cherished project. Or maybe, after putting your heart and soul on the line through your marketing, no one signs up for your amazing transformational course. Whatever the obstacle, it can knock the wind out of your sails. It can make you doubt yourself, scale back your dream and settle for something less – something safer, more certain and predictable.

The hard truth is that when we hold a dream or vision, especially a big one, we DO NOT have the ability to achieve it. Why? Because dreams, by definition, are not reality. They exist as sacred but fragile seeds in our hearts, minds and souls. Those seeds ask us to stretch, grow and evolve beyond who we are now to become someone else – the person who can actualize it. But the pathway to that result is not guaranteed, not easy and not linear. Not ever. It consists of twists and turns, obstacles, adventures. It will challenge us beyond what we can do not once but multiple times. It will ground away our edges until we learn and develop the capacity to BE the person who can live our dreams into reality.

So the real reason that our dreams can terrify us is not because we’re afraid of failing or because there’s so much is on the line. It’s because our dreams will ask us to die to who we are, time and time again, to become the person who CAN bring the dream to fruition. The process can challenge some of our most cherished ideas of who we are and what we are able to do. It can have us wrestle with our demons, blind-spots and inadequacies, to acknowledge our areas of incompetence. The process will humble and bring us to our knees if we are to live into our true greatness.

Real visions ask us to die to who we think we are to become the hero or heroine of our own story, accomplishing the million trials along the way that hone our ability to shine. The trick is to love our challenges and who we are along the way as much as we love our vision and promise.

Handling your worst ‘visibility nightmare’


As published in Sybil Magazine, July 2015.

(#7 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

What’s your worst ‘visibility nightmare’? Being raked over the coals after giving a presentation at work? Shaking as you stand before a packed auditorium? Freezing on your first live radio interview? Putting yourself out in public can be a tender and fragile act, and research shows that fear of public speaking is second only to the fear of death. But what makes the prospect of stumbling in public so frightening?

My biggest nightmare was the fear of being publically attacked. Afraid of ‘slipping up’ and feeling humiliated, I imagined wanting to sink through the ground and disappear. So, as a preventative measure, I did disappear. I continued improving myself to make sure I was ready. And when I did write, I held back my most raw and powerful voice in favor of a writing style that was ‘popular and acceptable’. I stayed safe, but I also held back my gifts, my career, my income and my impact in the world.

And then it happened. One sunny morning I wrote a story about a fugitive peacock that went viral on Facebook. Readers loved the story. They wrote that I had inspired and made their day. They said I was a beautiful writer. But then it came – one highly critical note that took issue with a phrase I used. The reader accused and labeled me and invited me to examine my beliefs and assumptions.

The critic surprised me but I didn’t have the reaction that I thought I might. I asked myself: “Should I respond and explain or defend myself? Should I apologize or ‘process’ the matter with her? None of those responses felt right.   And then I made a choice – I chose to NOT turn her criticism into self-attack.

When someone judges or criticizes what we put out into public it doesn’t mean that we have caused or are responsible for their reaction. It doesn’t mean that we owe them an explanation, retraction or apology. But I do think we owe our critics something – the respect to pause and consider what they have to say. Each of us has blind-spots. So we SHOULD stop and reflect on how they might they have understood our words, how their life experience might have been different, and whether there’s something they might teach us (which may or may not be different from what they set out to teach us). But we’re not obligated to be ‘wrong’.

I’m now grateful to the critic who criticized my sweet peacock story. Because the experience set something free in me – the belief that I have to be perfect in order to show up fully in public.   Speaking your truth publically comes with risks – the risk of angering someone, and the risk someone may criticize and point out your flaws – rightfully or not. But censoring yourself is far more damaging.

The Myth of the Early and Late Bloomer

(#6 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)
As published in Sybil Magazine, June 2015.

As published in Sybil Magazine, June 2015.

Is there a ‘right time’ to bloom? The question may seem a little silly asked in this way but it’s at the heart of many of the dilemmas that women have shared with me over the years.

Younger women often believe that it’s too early for them to step into their power. Often they’ll work flat out, hoping to prove their worth to their supervisors. Or maybe they’ll hold themselves back from applying for that dream job because they believe it requires a degree, credential or experience that they don’t have.   And perhaps they just have a vague notion of not being ready because they haven’t paid their dues.

And certainly there’s an element of truth here. We don’t want someone in first year of medical school performing surgery on a loved one. But on the other hand, too many of us waste precious years waiting to be ready. We can waste our lives waiting for permission to step into our dreams, missing the fact that we have unique talents that others don’t have and that, in many dimensions of our lives, we’re already in full bloom.

On the opposite end of the spectrum there are the so-called ‘late bloomers’. They’re the ones who have a sense that they haven’t quite stepped into their calling, full voice or potential and are secretly afraid it might be too late. Often they fail to recognize the many ways they have bloomed throughout their lives. Instead, they focus on the sense that time may be running out and their fear that the last bloom is the only one that matters.

In both cases, it’s ourselves – our harsh ‘inner critics’ – that really are the problem. And a disempowering set of cultural beliefs about success, power and what it means to blossom.

But when you think about it, are the flowers that bloom in May any better or less beautiful than the ones that blossom in June – or even September?  Is the fragrant desert flower – the one that blooms once year at night – any lesser than the geranium that thrives in full sun all summer long? Are perennials better than annuals?

It seems to me that nature offers a profound lesson. In the garden of life there’s no such thing as too early or too late to bloom. We’re all uniquely beautiful and each of us unfolds according to our own inner rhythms. What’s inside of us can be honored, nourished and supported but it can’t be forced or rushed or stuffed into boxes of ‘supposed-to-be’.  What does support us is patiently tending those gardens, and paying loving attention to the unique needs, conditions and roots of our lives.

Unpacking “The Confidence Myth”

As published in Sybil Magazine, May 2015

As published in Sybil Magazine, May 2015

(#5 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

Is there a single factor preventing women from owning their full power?  According to some recent articles the answer is yes.  According to these authors the glass ceiling is kept in place by self-doubt or lack of confidence.  But is it?

As a transformative leadership coach, I see the toll that self-doubt can play on the lives, dreams and influence of women.  And I know it’s critical that we each take responsibility for transforming limiting beliefs and for taming over-active inner critics.  But attributing the glass ceiling to a single factor serves to cloud the issue.  In a subtle way, it blames women for their self-doubt.  And, as a result, it helps to keep the glass ceiling in place.   There’s a larger story at play here.  Trying to fix ‘self-doubt’ in isolation is like trying to fix a symptom while ignoring an underlying medical condition.

A few years ago, when hired to teach a university course on The History of Women’s Art, I chose to focus on why so few women appear in art history books.  Often it was assumed that women weren’t bright enough, creative enough, gifted enough, or devoted enough to take their places alongside names like Michelangelo and Raphael.   But as the art historian Linda Nochlin explored in her essay “Why Have there been No Great Women Artists?” the truth was much more complex.

The absence of the female Michelangelo was related to systemic issues – social and role expectations, issues of exclusion, and lack of training and mentorship opportunities for women.  Truth be told, there were plenty of examples of women’s art in the areas where women were allowed to practice – such as flower painting.  Women just weren’t allowed to be members of the ‘Academy’ and so they weren’t allowed to train, practice or excel in the more prestigious areas of art such as history, religious or mythological painting.

We’ve come a long way, thankfully.  Increasingly women are admitted to graduate programs formerly reserved for men.  Women are now doctors, lawyers, scientists and company executives.  We’re contributing to changing traditional workplaces, and are striking out to create our own visionary businesses.  We’re also at the forefront of challenging old models of success and proposing alternate ways of working.  But systemic limitations continue to both support the glass ceiling and to erode women’s confidence.

So when I hear that ‘self-doubt’ is responsible for women’s lack of success I’m uncomfortable.  I admit that it’s up to us to change the limiting beliefs that keep us stuck.  But it’s also time to open up the conversation and look at the bigger picture.  What is the real root of those limiting beliefs?  We need to heal and transform the root, not simply fix the symptoms.