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 is ‘wisdom leadership?’

buddha mit mandalaI believe there are many components of creative, wise leadership.

And I believe that leading from your deepest wisdom and creativity is what will guide you (and serve the world) best.

But here’s how I see wisdom leadership. 

It’s the ability to…

To value and appreciate who we are at our core and to stretch and grow our capacities as individuals, colleagues, community members and leaders.

To rise above limiting personal identities, collective beliefs, paradigms and trance-states and live into new stories about ourselves, each other and the world.

To see the challenges and opportunities of the present more fully and clearly (rather than closing off in denial, business-as-usual or despair).

To hold a vision of possibility and cultivate our capacity for creativity.  To think, live and lead outside of the box.

To re-imagine what our world and our institutions could be without throwing out the gifts and lessons of the present and the past.

To reach for higher perspectives and more creative solutions through integrating contradictory truths, contexts and experiences.   To rise above polarities and contradictions, to include multiple perspectives.

To include, consider and respect the needs and perspectives of all peoples, the earth and future generations in our visions, actions and decisions.

To speak and be visible on behalf of what matters most deeply.  To be quiet and listen to the earth and one’s own heart and soul.

To partner with the unknown.  To sense into the outlines of the next world without forcing clarity.    To navigate in the midst of chaos, complexity and uncertainty.  To be willing to experiment, learn and course-correct as we go.  To love the questions, imperfections, mistakes, and each other along the way.

To lead from inner awareness and congruency.  To be compassionate with our fears, heal our core wounds, resolve our inner conflicts so that we can be our highest selves and model what we wish to see in others and the world.

To be collaborative and co-creative leaders.  No matter what our individual capacities, we can see more clearly, imagine more fully, create more wisely if we do it together.   To navigate the traps and shadow side of groups and collectivity so that we can access the collective, co-creative wisdom our world needs.

To hold tight to the future of our world while letting go of controlling, directing or knowing the outcome.