Purpose Fellow, Margaret Wheatley
by Craig Neal
Patricia and I created a traveling conversation with Meg back in 2002 and 2003 to support her newest book and its powerful premise that we are all change-makers. Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future. On Tuesday, Meg spoke to her latest book: Who Do We Choose To Be? Facing Reality | Claiming Leadership | Restoring Sanity
Meg: “When Turning to One Anotherwas first published in 2002, I made a rash statement:
‘I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again.’ I still believe this. I still believe that if we turn to one another, if we begin talking with each other – especially with those we call stranger or enemy – then this world can reverse its darkening direction and change for the good. And I know with all my heart that the only way the world will change is if many more of us step forward, let go of our judgments, become curious about each other, and take the risk to begin a conversation.”
A poem by Meg that has been shared many times in our Art of Convening Training programs:
There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.
Ask: “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?” Keep asking.
Notice what you care about.
Assume that many others share your dreams.
Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.
Talk to people you know.
Talk to people you don’t know.
Talk to people you never talk to.
Be intrigued by the differences you hear.
Expect to be surprised.
Treasure curiosity more than certainty.
Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible.
Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something.
Know that creative solutions come from new connections.
Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.
Real listening always brings people closer together.
Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world.
Rely on human goodness. Stay together.
Thank you, Meg and Barbara, for a great gathering and even better conversation. Conversation and engagement with one another creates a community of purpose and provides a way to grow with one another. Take advantage of this weekend and engage with those around you!
"The key to creating purposeful and lasting relationships is to design the conditions for authentic engagement and trusted connections."
21 years ago CPL (Center for Purposeful Leadership), formerly Heartland, embarked on an experiment to create convening communities and professional leadership environments to consider what was needed to deal with a rapidly changing world. We came to learn that leadership is always an inside game, so each session or meeting integrated personal and professional growth, centered on the power of essential conversation.
The power of essential conversation. With the rise of social media and events around the world, people are making their voices heard. Whether that is through yelling or peaceful conversations, situations can take a wrong turn. However, there are simple practical ways to create environments that support empathy and understanding in even the most toxic situations. CPL harnessed the wisdom of years of listening and learning about how to create safe and generative spaces for the sake of authentic engagement and the highest possible outcome of the group. We developed The Art of Convening methodology as the recipe for these engagements.
Harnessing the wisdom of the group. For 18 years we convened leadership events with their sole purpose being the creation of a powerful conversation in support of leaders navigating an unknown future. We learned about the purpose of a format built around leadership stories that invoked principles, ethics, and new ideas. We combined these stories with convening practices such as principles of conversation, in-depth Inquiry, active listening and reflection to create an environment to harness the wisdom of the group.
Purposeful and lasting relationships with accountability and trust. The key to creating purposeful and lasting relationships is to design the conditions for authentic engagement and trusted connections. This can occur when the container is set for essential conversation.
The words below reflect the power of purposeful relationships:
"Our organization needed a rapid culture shift and reached out to CPL to help. Twelve of our global leaders engaged in the Art of Convening virtual training enabling them to participate from locations around the world. The seven sessions of teaching, collaborating, and presenting case studies were powerfully engaging, with full and enthusiastic participation. Outcomes include meetings that became more inclusive and collaborative, leading to efficiencies in delivering stated meeting outcomes, cross-functional relationships and renewed alignment to the organization's vision."
-President, Global service organization
At CPL, we are here to help you pave the way towards productive collaboration and purposeful leadership in yourself and organization. Follow us on our LinkedIn page and subscribe to our blog to receive more information on transforming your organization.
Craig, Alec, and grandsons Henri and Charlie preparing for a long weekend in the BWCA. We will leave from Sawbill Outfitter, heading north on some of the same lakes and portages we will cover on September 1 for the 1st-ever Father/Son Journey.
6 fathers and sons are ready to journey September 1-7 (Craig/Alec, Jim/Jules, Joe/Justin). We invite one more Father/Son duo to join us.
The next group Community Call is Mon. 8/26, 12-1pm Central.
If you are interested in knowing more or registering, Click here to email Craig or call Patricia at 612-889-5812!
The Art of Convening is a vital study for anyone serious about developing their talents as a convener of meaningful conversations. Within my indigenous culture there is a prophecy that speaks to the survival and evolution of our society occurring when the committed step forward to serve as the facilitators of meaningful conversation.
The wisdom contained in The Art of Convening can surely aide these caring activists in serving our communities and organizations as the responsible leaders that our society needs. I extend my appreciation to the authors Craig and Patricia Neal for providing the “Convening Wheel” framework to guide gatherings that can give rise to meaningful and authentic conversations. My experience as a community organizer, meeting facilitator, and ceremony leader has only been enhanced by the wisdom they share in this powerful handbook. -- Dr. Roberto Vargas
What is your committed step forward to serve?
The AoC Grad community is a worldwide web of individuals and organizations actively creating a global renaissance of thought, heart and behavior.
This new Training is a direct result of years of conversations with AoC grads seeking an in-person practicum that brings together all the accumulated learnings from the 45 Core and Advanced Trainings. Craig will be assisted by 2 or more Advanced Grads. 10% discount for AoC Graduates
Guided by Craig Neal, originator of 'The Art of Convening'
The Certification at a Glance
Thursday-Sunday 3-1/2 day Residential Training Program, Virtual Training Cohort Calls:
- Thursday 5:00 pm to Sunday 3:00 pm
- Pre-Training Orientation Call
- Two 1:1 Coaching Calls with Craig Neal
- Four 90-minute Maestro Conference calls
- Experience a highly interactive and dynamic learning environment in-person, andvirtually utilizing innovative MaestroConference technology
- Session Audio Recordings
- Pre- and Post- Assessments
- Private Online Learning Platform
- Eco e-learning workbook
- Certificate as an AoC Certified Convener
- Limited to 20 Participants
- All graduates will be listed on Heartland's website as resource providers and catalysts for transformation (if you choose)
- International Coaching Federation CCEUs (applied for)
- Course Book:The Art of Convening: Authentic Engagement in Meetings, Gatherings, and Conversations, Craig and Patricia Neal, with Cynthia Wold (book included in cost of training)
Format & Benefits
- Be part of an intimate in-person and virtual learning Cohort format- limited to 20 participants.
- Thoroughly review and embody the theory, principles, and practices in the The Art of Convening book as the primary text for the Training.
- This is a Practicum with emphasis on sharing actual case studies from your life and work environment. Your progress will be supported personally and online.
- Maximize personal and professional relevance by advancing interpersonal skills.
- Learn direct application to your work and life via course readings, focused journaling and reflection time, case studies, and exposure to guest graduate Conveners.
- Receive sample Workshop Templates.
- Belong to an engaged and inspired graduate community of intentional leaders.
- Utilize the Convening Wheel, beginning At the Heart of the Matter, all the way to Commitment to Action: discover and learn each Aspect with relevant Convening Principles, while also collectively exploring the distinct Challenges of successfully applying the AoC in professional and personal situations.
Schedule & Cost: learn more here
Residential Training: November 8-11
Location: Riverwood Inn and Conference Center, Otsego, MN
Virtual Training Cohort Calls:
- Pre-Training Orientation
- Two 1:1 Coaching Calls with Craig
- Four 90-minute Cohort Calls via MaestroConference
10% discount for AoC Graduates of any course
Thursday: reception and dinner
Friday: 3 meals and break snacks
Saturday: 3 meals and break snacks
all course materials, The Art of Convening book
- $2495 double occupancy
- $2695 single room
A $750 deposit holds your place and rate
Payment plans and limited Scholarships available: contact email@example.com
I've really been interested in a book that came out last year - around the same time as The Art of Convening - called Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other by MIT Professor Sherry Turkle. The main point of the book, as told by Turkle in her TED talk in March 2011, is that a generation of "digital natives" have grown up in a world where electronic contact is perceived as natural. Unfortunately, if often substitutes for genuine human connection - while at the same time, engendering a yearning for the kind of real connection that is often missing in these managed digital environments.
Turkle also spoke this year, on March 1st, 2012, at TED. That talk, titled "Places We Don't Want to Go,"
has not yet been published, but in the blog post that describes it, Turkle is quoted thusly:
"A teenager says to her, “Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.” There is a feeling that conversations are difficult because we don’t have the ability to edit as we talk, and so can’t present the exact face that we’d like to. ”Human relationships are rich, and they’re messy and they’re demanding. And we clean them up with technology. We sacrifice conversation for mere connection."
Read that quote again. Now read it again.
It occurred to me, reading that paragraph, that the real value of the Art of Convening has not yet been manifested. The ability to have a "real" conversation may be slowly lost as a skill as our culture becomes more and more dependent on a "performance of connection" rather than genuine connection.
Like Turkle, I'm not suggesting that digital devices and methods are not useful or that we should junk them, but the ability to connect, for real, is no small thing - and many of us will require help to engage outside of the digital performance arena. Our ability to "see" each other - not the managed performance of each other - requires a strategy that The Art of Convening can provide. I think of it now as a technology of conversation that is an essential element in the momentum of the increasing digitalization of our lives.
The Art of Convening provides a simple formula and practices that a convener uses to provide a safe "container" for us to venture into the vulnerable place of trust, recognition and yes, messiness, where genuine conversation resides. This skill is more and more absent from our everyday lives - and critically absent from the lives of our children, grandchildren and young colleagues.
I've said from the beginning of the process of writing it that I'd love to see The Art of Convening book on the bookshelf in every conference room and every dining room as a guide for those of us yearning to communicate in a meaningful, human way. I continue to learn from it myself, every day, and still have a lot to learn.
I'm grateful to Sherry Turkle for doing the kind of work that examines our humanity as it may be outweighed by a digital environment that create a ubiquitous shell around us. Turkle recommends putting technology in its place. My response, or bias if you will, is to recommend "The Art of Convening" as a means (one of perhaps many) to regain that balance.
Please add your own comments. I'd love to hear about your experience with "digital natives," conversation and connection strategies.
Cynthia (Cindy) Wold is a co-author of The Art of Convening: Authentic Engagement in Meetings, Gatherings and Conversations.
Shoveling Snow With Buddha
In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.
Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.
Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?
But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.
This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.
He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.
All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.
After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?
Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck.
and our boots stand dripping by the door.
Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.
~ Billy Collins ~
(From The New Earth, p 293)
Awakened doing is the outer aspect of the next stage in the evolution of consciousness on our planet. The closer we get to the end of our present evolutionary stage, the more dysfunctional the ego [our collective ego or dominant worldview] becomes, in the same way that a caterpillar becomes dysfunctional just before it transforms into a butterfly. But the new consciousness is arising even as the old is dissolving.
We are in the midst of a momentous event in the evolution of human consciousness, but they won’t be talking about it on the news tonight.
On our planet consciousness is awakening from the dream of form. Consciousness can now begin to create form without losing itself in it.
Awakened doing is the alignment of your outer purpose—what you do—with your inner purpose—awakening and staying awake. Through awakened doing, you become one with the outgoing purpose of the universe. Consciousness flows through you into this world. It flows into your thoughts and inspires them. It flows into what you do and guides and empowers it.
Not what you do, but how you do what you do determines whether you are fulfilling your destiny. And how you do what you do is determined by your state of consciousness.
Read about Heartland community member Paul Thompson and his road to Copenhagen in this morning's edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Nowadays, Paul Thompson lists his occupation as "climate changer."
Interviewing the retired Minneapolis teacher, you don't really have to ask questions. Mention climate change and he's off, memories and opinions bouncing from south Minneapolis to New Guinea to the Maldives, talking of green living and floods and biodigestion.
"It's all so intricately interwoven, and all of it revolves around having a healthy planet," he said. "It's about fulfilling the promise of what it means to be alive."
This week, Thompson, 61, has carried his enthusiasm to Copenhagen, where he is an official delegate to the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The meeting started Monday and runs through Dec. 18. He's there not only as a representative of Edina's Energy and Environment Commission but also because of connections to a group called ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, which made him a conference delegate.
Heartland: A Global Resource for Evolutionary Leaders
Heartland:Heartland delivers the future through conversations of thought leadership and transformation in intimate ways and settings. We connect, convene and support evolutionary leaders engaged in creating well-being for all in our communities, organizations and the world. Join our vibrant community with others looking to step forward in new ways.
-Join the Heartland Network (free): Heartland Network
-Become a Convener or hone your Art: The Art of Convening TeleTrainings
-Be Inspired: by our unique VisionHolder Calls
-Attend & Engage: The Thought Leader Gatherings (MN, CA)
Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957: I am convinced that love is the most durable power in the world. It is not an expression of impractical idealism, but of practical realism. ...(read more)
Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, love is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. To return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Someone must have sense enough and religion enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love.
"Creation does not take place
where there is a scattering and dissipation of energies.
Creation requires a gathering together and focusing
of your power within a circle of commitment -
like a seed, and egg, a womb or a marriage…
Consider wisely the ways in which you would
use your power and then around those ways
draw the sacred circle of commitment.
In the warm atmosphere of that circle, the power
of love builds like a storm above the wet summer
prairie until suddenly the circle can hold no more
and explodes in the conception of the new.
This fire is more powerful than any one of you."
White Buffalo Calf Woman, from Return of the Bird Tribes, by Ken Carey
FireHawk and Pele Rouge bring an ancient “medicine” teaching perspective on Leadership to the Minnesota
this Friday. We will be working with the “4 Shields of Leadership” - Creator/Adventurer/Healer/Warrior - they will guide us through a process and conversation to expand our stories and experience of who we are as leaders.
The Medicine Way
Our forebears used simple, organic structures of “social architecture” to assure that all voices were heard in order to find their way to the same kind of balance that they saw in the rest of nature. Nature uses universal principles of balance to foster life that is capable of sustaining itself generation after generation after generation. These principles became known in many diverse cultures of the Americas as "The Medicine Way."
Medicine, as used in the term "Medicine Way," comes from a mistranslation of the word Medowewin, an indigenous word meaning "Wholeness." A Medicine Man or Woman was one who aided a person in restoring a larger wholeness to his or her body and life.
The term "Medicine Way," therefore, means a Way of Wholeness - a way where each decision is considered from a number of perspectives, so that nothing is left out - a way where our connection to the larger whole of life is built in to our thinking, speaking and acting - a way in which we see ourselves as a part of life, not separate from it - a way in which the Sacred, or the Holy is not compartmentalized, but is invoked and considered in all of our human activities - particularly in the ways we interact with each other every day.
Medicine Wheels are maps of wholeness and balance derived from thousands of years of observing what “works” in natural systems. Each wheel is related to and builds upon every other wheel. There are wheels for knowing ourselves, wheels for gathering wisdom, for making decisions, wheels for healing and many other wheels for seeing into and resolving life’s difficult challenges. We might think of them as compasses that help us find our way when we are lost, in danger or seeking to discover the next layer of awareness of who we are, how we choose to live and what is ours to do in this life.
“Finding and voicing our soul's longing is not enough…. If our intention is to change who we essentially are, we will fail. If our intention is to become who we essentially are, we cannot help but live true to the deepest longings of our soul.” Oriah Mountain Dreamer, The Dance. In the Medicine Way, there is no greater responsibility than to live and express fully the essence of who we are – in concert and harmony with other humans and with all of life.
"Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television."
Paul Hawken is one of the true elders speaking clearly and passionately to what is before us as an interconnected & interdependent planet. I have know him since the 60's and marvel at his growth and maturity into the kind of leader we are yearning for.
Commencement Address to the Class of 2009
University of Portland, May 3rd, 2009
When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was “direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful.” Boy, no pressure there.
But let’s begin with the startling part. Hey, Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation – but not onepeer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement.
Basically, the earth needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.
This planet came with a set of operating instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, and don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food – but all that is changing.
There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING. The earth couldn’t afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.
When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, "So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world." There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.
You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen.
Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way.
There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider. "One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice," is Mary Oliver’s description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world.
Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots. Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown – Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood – and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit. And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, and non-governmental organizations, of companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled inhistory.
The living world is not "out there" somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. Think about this: we are the only species on this planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time than to renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.
The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe – exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a "little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven."
So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.
This extraordinary time when we are glob ally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, challenging, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.
A Fire Inside: Thoughts on the Credit Crisis and the Creativity of Winter
Outside my window the wintry English fields spread, as they have for centuries to the dark, smoke blue line of woods that limit the horizon of the valley. A bright fire burns in the grate to my left, while outside I can hear the call of a barn owl cutting the still, even air. All is exactly has it has been for many a hundred year in these Cotswold hills where I happily find myself this winter's day. Everything from horizon to horizon is eternal and quiet and seemingly unchangeable - except, that is, for one tiny but extraordinary portal I can open on this laptop to a parallel world of web-borne news, a world supposedly more real than the quiet one I inhabit this cold but beautiful evening.
With a few clicks, I can enter an astonishing world of worry, anxiety and for many individuals, and indeed whole societies, material hardship, brought on by the cessation of credit. Out of the hermetic silence of a quiet winter day I can take a few short steps and almost touch the sense of panic and the extraordinary breakdown in trust that has stopped the flow of currency from one person to another, one bank to another, one society to another. It is as if the cold hands of this financial season have touched every last monetary stream and rivulet, and frozen them over. It is winter here in the countryside with all its well-loved beauties, but out in the world of money, it is winter with another form of terrible beauty, the winter of disappearance, immobility, and the worry fret and anxiety that comes from seeming to have very little shelter from its effects. It is always a trauma for the human psyche when those elements it has over-invested itself in at the periphery of life are withdrawn, and the spring-like world of growth and opportunity seems to close down, as if the old currencies have become worthless while we as yet do not know how to value or harvest the following season. But this form of trauma has also been seen by many of our great religious, contemplative and artistic traditions as an invitation back to another kind of valuation, a return to a more internal focus, an opportunity to revive an old friendship with the place from which all the peripheries are recognized, priced and named. This internal, alchemical, almost catalytic core of identity-making and decision-making has long been associated with the soul of an individual; the part of us attempting to belong to the world in the biggest way it can; the part that witnesses our outer actions, stirs our conscience and quite often seems to be at odds with those other parts of us trying to game the system at the periphery. It is interesting to think that what may be a financial trauma for the surface personality may be a break for freedom for a more serious, central core of the psyche, the part that understands its own mortality and secretly knows that it will eventually all come to a place where we have to give up on all the peripherals anyway, at that unknown, appointed crossroads when our particular individual life as we know it, comes to an end. In times of difficulty, it is tempting to think that creativity, vision and new possibilities must be put aside simply in order to survive. It is tempting, when the financial tide goes out, to act from a sense of impoverishment; it easy to feel abandoned when the source and sense of our riches are no longer in the summer air but hidden deep in a form of winter potentiality.
"The practice of radical simplification, however, might not mean living in a desire-less, enlightened state, but simply catching our desires as close to the center of our experience as possible."
It is always very hard to understand that the world has shifted to another axis of generosity; one not so readily recognized. When we feel bereft of one form of support we can easily forget that it is because we might be meant to put that particular form of comfort aside and look to a fiercer more internally grounded stage of our maturity, one that might emanate from a simpler but surer ground than the outer sky of mirrors and monetary instruments we might have constructed for ourselves in the so-called real world. It also might be surprising to think that there are just as many forms of courage and creativity associated with disappearance and doing without; just as many satisfying elements of aliveness associated with a winter as with spring. This central, core conversation to which we return in each succeeding winter is both nourishing and deeply disturbing, it seems heedless of any flimsy structures we may have erected, it seems fiery in that it burns familiar things away and yet provides another form of warmth emanating from a more nested, interior hearth. In my experience the first necessity of an individual in finding this fiery, core conversation is a radical form of simplification. To get to the core conversation we have to withdraw from the edges. Whatever expenses we have been making at the margins of our lives in terms of emotions, finances or time-based commitment must be brought back to the central conversation that makes the most sense. Radical simplification often entails a seemingly ruthless withdrawal from secondary involvements, it also involves simplifying wants and needs to grant us another form of freedom not necessarily involved with the freedom to buy anything we want at any time. Arguments for indiscriminate buying to revive the economy are circular and lock human beings into a never ending cycle of buying goods that are non essential, with everyone encouraged to live beyond their means, to the ultimate dismantling of the natural systems that supply those wants in the first place. The practice of radical simplification, however, might not mean living in a desire-less, enlightened state, but simply catching our desires as close to the centre of our experience as possible. Practically, we can catch a need for an expensive new sports car early on in the process by buying a second hand version of the same, we can catch it even earlier, nearer to the center, by renting one every now and again, without having to go to expense of maintaining it, we can catch it very close in indeed, by attempting to live out directly the very qualities that underlie the desire itself. Without the prop of the car, we might try to cultivate a certain air of freedom as if the wind was always in our hair. The withdrawal from the literal, over- concretized periphery where everything is counterfeiting for something closer in, almost always leaves us dealing in another more imaginative currency at the center. Now that our focus is shifting away from the peripheral bubble of promised riches, we are just beginning to be reminded again of the depths of poverty, both in the developing world and the United States where the social safety net for those in difficulty has been worn almost to nothing. But it is exactly this re evaluation of the periphery and the renewed emphasis on what is essential that will bring spending back from mere baubles to infrastructure and education, back from foreign adventurism to a coherent approach to the sources of terror; in the United States especially there must be an attempt at a better health care system, a more cohesive, less poisonous political conversation and a renewed relationship with a world in desperate need for it to return to its foundational ideals. This new faculty of valuation can be quite disturbing to the way we might have priced and measured out our life in the recent, unbalanced, heady times. The road of radical simplification almost always leads to the door of the great and unwanted unknown. The door to begin with seems to open on to nothing we at first can recognize. To enter through that door we have to cultivate what Suzuki Roshi called beginner's mind, where we stop having to know and name everything in advance and allow ourselves the satisfactions of discovery and revelation. In doing this we actually start to re mould our identity in the form of the learner and listener. Learning, listening and radically simplifying as we go we might have a possibility of opening up that catalytic core where very few elements need combine to create a great deal of new energy. A decision made from this core has enormous leverage on the outer world where we see, hear, work and have relationships. This internal center appears when the outer peripheries have bankrupted themselves, fallen and become a loam that we must plough back to enrich the ground. In the depths of winter under the cold night of wind and stars and shut off from the garden, we look for those hidden and invisible springs that will uncoil, in the still summer air, each new, yet to be imagined rose. David Whyte
DAVID WHYTE Poet, Author, Lecturer
Poet David Whyte grew up with a strong, imaginative influence from his Irish mother among the hills and valleys of his father’s Yorkshire. He now makes his home, with his family, in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The author of six books of poetry, and two best selling prose books, he holds a degree in Marine Zoology and has traveled extensively, including living and working as a naturalist guide in the Galapagos Islands and leading anthropological and natural history expeditions in the Andes the Amazon and the Himalaya. He brings this wealth of experience to his poetry, lectures and workshops.
May your day be filled with the grace of knowing you belong to this time on earth for the sake of a world that work for all. -Craig & Patricia
Thanks & blessings be
to the Sun & the Earth
for this bread & this wine,
this fruit, this meat, this salt,
thanks be & blessing to them
who prepare it, who serve it;
thanks & blessings to them
who share it
(& also the absent & the dead).
Thanks & Blessing to them who bring it
(may they not want),
to them who plant & tend it,
harvest & gather it
(may they not want);
thanks & blessing to them who work
& blessing to them who cannot;
may they not want - for their hunger
sours the wine & robs
the taste from the salt.
Thanks be for the sustenance & strength
for our dance & work of justice, of peace.
~ Rafael Jesus Gonzalez ~
(In Praise of Fertile Land, edited by Claudia Mauro)