The Gift of Shadow

I have been intrigued by the notion of shadow ever since I came across Debbie Ford‘s book, The Secret of the Shadow, years ago as I began the more conscious part of my journey.  The idea that it is everywhere, in everyone of us and in our group dynamics was a revelation at the time.  The fact that there are real gifts in it when we develop enough courage to dive in was illuminating.

Shadow is not a bad thing.  It just is.  It exists. Where there is light there is also shadow.  We can really live into the light when we are ready to acknowledge shadow.

For some reason, we have made that acknowledgment really difficult in the world we live and operate in today.  We have made it “bad” through our fear of facing it, surfacing it or acknowledging it and so we try to pretend, individually and collectively, that it isn’t there.  We tiptoe around it, we dance around it, we grow frustrated by it and still it often remains a challenge to name.  We think it only exists in some places, but it actually can and does show up in all kinds of places and even in the groups and organizations that are doing amazing and, do I dare say, enlightened work.

My good friend Christina Baldwin, author of The Circle Way and Calling the Circle, and, along with her partner Ann Linnea, keeper and steward of circle practice for over twenty years (long before it became more fashionable as an effective and powerful meeting practice) defines shadow as: “the things that cannot be said or, if they are said, are said at great peril to the speaker”.

This great peril is often that the speaker is ostracized.  As the speaker is shut down, so are others who will not now venture to name the unspoken things and then any avenues for the naming of shadow are also shut down.   Unproductive group patterns and dynamics become entrenched in the group and members of the group pretend to each other that all is well.  And yet in this scenario, it means that people no longer feel invited to show up as full human beings.  They feel the need to leave a part of themselves parked at the door and this is often the part that would most wonderfully, fully and impactfully engage them in the work ahead.

Anytime things cannot be spoken, they surface in actions and interactions in a group.  They show up as frustration with process or lack of progress and as blame: “if only that one person (or that group) would get their act together, we’d all be fine.”  The impact of shadow shows up in lack of engagement by some members of the group and by side conversations that happen outside of meetings that do not serve the health and well being of the group.

It is not unusual that someone who has been perceived as the problem can leave the group and yet the actual problem persists.  It is now acted out by someone else.  The longer the patterns persist, the harder they are to surface and to break.

Aside from fear of being ostracized, the other reason people do not name shadow is because they are afraid of hurting other people in the group.  They do not have language or process around how to do this well and it is a skill that can be developed.

One of the tenets of Circle Practice is understanding there is a centre to the circle – or the work or the group – and if we focus on the centre it enables us to transcend two way debate,  personal attack and interpersonal dynamics and speak to the underlying patterns – that are often showing up in very overt ways.  To be able to name tension in a group or situation is one very simple way of relieving the tension.  “Yes, we’ve noticed and are aware that it is here.  How will we choose to move through it now?”

The simple act of naming can, quite remarkably,  diffuse a lot of tension and shadow.  How would the shape of our world shift, the shape of our meetings and the shape of our relationships shift if we could honour the fact that shadow exists, it shows up – instead of pretending it’s not there?   If we understand this, it frees us up to look for the gifts inherent in shadow and use those gifts to build our effectiveness, connection and cohesion as a group and as community.

Shadow is not something we deal with once and it is gone.  It will show up again.  But if we stay tuned to it, name it when it is present and work through it, more light will shine into our lives and the work we do.

Contemplating Joy

Byron Brown, in Soul Without Shame: A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within, asserts that compassion, strength, love and joy are essential soul qualities.  He says that ego – or our internal judge or critic – would have us believe this is not true, that we are in constant search of these qualities and that usually they are unattainable, maybe because we believe we are not worthy.

A constant search for these qualities would always have them in the future and, while we may have fleeting glimpses of them, they are elusive.  We are thus, by default, relegated to a life of strife and striving, doomed to be ruled by the internal judge or critic who, when we are not doing well admonishes us that we can do better and when we do well, first congratulates us and then says, “How long do you think you can keep that up?”.  Stepping out of this habitual, ingrained pattern in our thoughts and in our life takes conscious, intentional effort but when it happens we experience moments of freedom – even joyful freedom.

Of the essential soul qualities, it is joy I am contemplating most frequently at the moment.  Joy because, as the shape of my world has shifted, I feel joyful – often.  I wake up in the morning feeling joyful, go to bed at night feeling joyful.  I don’t necessarily feel joyful every moment of every day but at least I’ve become aware of my emotional journey and am living into it – rather than walking through it as if it was happening to someone else – or, maybe, happening to just a shadow of myself rather than the multi-coloured range which has become more available to me over the last couple of years.

Joy feels freeing and expansive.  It is fed by gratitude and appreciation. It is fed by noting it and sinking deeper into it – surrendering to it, letting it seep into all my pores, breathing it in with every breath and back out into the world so other people can also feel the expression of joy – even if they do not know what it is they are experiencing.

And as I notice joy and joyfulness in my life, in any given moment, every now and then I also notice the little voice that says — yeah, sure it’s summer now, but what about the fall?  How do you know you are actually going to keep your business busy enough to sustain yourself in the fall?  You should be worried about that now!

Hmmm, you should be worried about that now.  Sounds like the voice of my internal judge wanting to be heard – in fairness to it, it does want to keep me safe and financially sustainable, but it has a limited range of options with which to do that and they all include struggle, worry and fear – emotions I am very familiar with – as I am also familiar with how constricting and how limiting they can be, shutting down the capacity of the soul to be in full expression – which includes full manifestation that comes from a place of trust.

Most of us have learned that life is full of struggle and if you want to get ahead you have to work hard, really hard – and even then there are no guarantees.  We have learned that life is not handed to us on a silver platter, we have to work in order to live and adversity makes us stronger – you know that phrase – that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

Okay, so there may be some truth in that but I declared awhile ago (a bit more than a year ago in fact) that I was welcoming ease into my life.  I’ve had varying degrees of success with that over the last year and a bit – it takes intentionality and really paying attention  in any given moment, and, for now, it seems to be more and more a characteristic of how I am living my life and what is showing up in it.  It doesn’t mean there aren’t difficult things or moments that show up. My father’s diagnosis of prostate cancer is a good example, the uncertainty of this story as it unfolds over the next 6 months to a year and the impact on me as his main source of support in his health care.  Or my mother’s journey with dementia in a long term care ward.  Or entering yet another new phase of my life as both of my older children prepare to depart to different provinces in the fall for University.  But it does mean I entertain these stories, events in my life, with a different kind of graciousness which invites ease into how to hold them them.  And it doesn’t mean I can’t feel joy or be in a state of joyfulness as I experience the ebb and flow of my life and the ebb and flow of the lives of people I care about.

I am welcoming ease, welcoming joy and welcoming the full array of what all needs to show up in my life, saying no to worry and to fear, yes to presence and to calm.  I am aware that fear, worry, frustration are waiting in the wings some days, some moments, but I am no longer expecting them and no longer inviting them – consciously or unconsciously.  Every moment will take care of itself.  And, if I believe that, it is a far more playful and fun way to show up in the world, a world of joy and joyfulness.

If it is true that the other shoe will drop, why can’t it look and feel like the first one rather than the one we allude to: the heavy handed, heavy-hearted counterpart to joy, love, compassion and strength?

Immoral Power or Powerless Morality?

I am still basking in the glow of my ALIA Institute experience last week (my 5th one, by the way) and this morning find myself pondering concepts offered by Adam Kahane from his new book Power and Love.

Kahane said, power properly understood is nothing but the strength to bring about purpose and love is the drive to unite the separated.  Both power and love have generative and degenerative sides.  What makes power degenerative rather than generative is the absence of love and what makes love degenerative rather than generative is the absence of power.

The idea of this continuum for both power and love makes absolute sense to me.  The idea of experimenting with the blending of power and love with greater awareness has me on the edge of my seat.

I was particularly struck by the expression: immoral power and powerless morality.   We have come to believe that power corrupts, is held in the hands of a few and is the source of much that is bad in the world.  We believe that people who sit in the place of love are ineffectual and weak – other than a few prominent examples like Mother Teresa or Ghandi whom most of us have trouble identifying ourselves with.

While we  may believe the antidote to power is love, when we swing too far in that direction it often becomes inaction and ineffectual.  How many of us have avoided stepping into our power out of fear and the belief that power is bad?  How many of us have self-righteously sat in the place of love waiting for it to right all the wrongs of the world – or have just given our power away?

Kahane says it is not a choice but a paradox.  We can’t choose just one.  We need both.  We just need to find the balance between power and love.  In any given situation, what is needed of me?  If there is too much power, act with love.  If there is too much love, act with power.   When we work with this consciously and intentionally, then power and love  gradually overlap and we find our place of greatest effectiveness and greatest movement for any given situation.

Shape shifting, shape shifting,in a soulful way, leaning in, claiming it back, leaning in, growing open, shape shifting, shape shifting in a soulful way” – some of my  “blues band” lyrics that just spilled over onto this page as I consider the journey of power and love I have been traveling the last 5 years.

The Mind Cannot Take You Where the Heart Wants to Go

The mind cannot take you where the heart wants to go.

I wrote this statement at the bottom of a random piece of paper that has been floating around my desk for some time now.  I do not remember how it came into my awareness but it has caused me to pause and reflect every time I happen upon it.

This simple statement is why so many dreams go unrealized.  Our dreams reside in the heart and beyond any logic.  The mind seeks safety through logic and analysis.  In so doing, it has the potential to paralyze the dream – and often does.  It shuts down vision, beauty, aspirations and possibilities while looking for the right way or the right time to do things or waiting to have enough – information, money, time, experience.

In waiting for the logical evolution of things, there is no right time.  And yet, right time and right timing emerge through heart space and consciousness if only we pay attention to what is whispering in our awareness.  It requires a different kind of listening born out of quieting the mind, stilling the body and surrendering to the inspiration of the visions and dreams that call out to us, reminding us what is ours to do in the world right now.  It takes courage and fierceness, even gentle fierceness will do.

We do need both the heart and the mind in order to realize our dreams and our potential and to contribute to others doing the same.  We have however, tended to lead with our minds and, with the shifting shape of the world, it is time to lean into leading with our hearts – in our relationships, our work and our lives.  This is how we will contribute to the healing of the world we live in and the regeneration of its people – us included.  The more we live our inspiration, the more we gather and feed the energetic field that is also shifting the shape of the world.

The mind cannot take us where the heart wants to go. We need to grow our wisdom, capacity and faith to lean into the calling and movement of the heart.  Once the heart choices are clear, the mind becomes a tool to move mountains to achieve what it originally thought not possible.

As we lean into and lead with our heart choices, the shape of our personal world will shift and so will the shape of the world we work and live in.  I see it now.  I experience it now.  Many of my friends experience it now.  If we stay true to where the heart wants to go and connect with others who are doing the same, it is only a matter of time before this movement is more real, tangible, recognizable and palpable in more and more places.  It is not about not doing hard core work, transformational work, difficult work, systems work.  But it is about leading it with heart and noticing how much more powerful all of our work and our relationships become and how much more able we are to create the shift we want and need to see for our future, the future of our children and their children’s children.

Social Media Changing Social Norms

Had a fascinating conversation with a small group of people at #PodCampHfx last Sunday about the role of social media in shifting the shape of the world.  I was particularly interested in its influence along the chaordic path – that place between chaos and order we seem to be navigating more and more frequently in the world right now.

The Chaordic Path

The Chaordic Field

I wanted to understand more the influence of social media on the chaordic path and  what the opportunity is to influence it more strategically or with greater intentionality.  I also shared the stepping stones of the Chaordic Path: need, purpose, principles, people, concept, limiting beliefs, structure and processes, and practice.

Social media facilitates networks or webs of people in making interconnected relationships more visible.  Partly because of this it is also driving greater transparency in today’s world.  Buzz spreads rapidly through Facebook or Twitter and it is a lot harder to hide information, indiscretions, faux pas’ or worse.  Even with privacy settings, you cannot control what someone else posts.

There was a time that technology was isolating for people.  It was easier to sit at home emailing people half way around the world than it was to go knock on the door of the next door neighbour.  The rise of social technology though is enabling people to connect and reconnect with each other in ways that also generates in person contact.  Friends in a city will find each other through social technology – on the web and in person.  There are examples of how Twitter friends, who may or may not have actually met each other,  arrive at conferences and then set up the opportunity to meet face-to-face.

What was most interesting in our chat at #podcampHFX was how often the word community popped up.  I have noticed that people are yearning for community and sense of connection and social media seems to have created pathways to community in surprising ways.  And the most intriguing thought: social media is transforming our social norms, changing the parameters of acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour, doing this broadly and maybe more swiftly than any other social norm shift in the history of civilized society.

I’m still reflecting on how social media is shifting the shape of our world and contributing to the regeneration of community.

Giving Birth to Freedom

Giving birth.  I have been thinking about this a lot this past year.  I have given birth to a new company: Shape Shift Strategies Inc.  I am giving birth to a new book: Healing Across the Ages; Releasing the Hold of Family Secrets.

Most importantly, 2009 marked the year I gave birth to the second half of my life.  This birth had a nine year gestation period and it is only now I realize its correspondence to the last decade.  How lovely that 2010 is  marked with this newness for me.

As I’ve been reflecting on the quiet and alone time I have had this holiday season, what has registered for me is also the birth of a new feeling of freedom – and that brings great joy.

It is the freedom that comes from being really good with my own company – not feeling martyred in being alone or feeling sorry for myself, but truly settling into being with myself.  It doesn’t have to be happy alone time – it can also be time to just sit with what arises in me, especially as I consider the journey, and the people who have influenced it, over the last three years or so.

The freedom of not wanting, and not being lost in the wanting, of what isn’t.  The freedom of accepting people, situations and relationships for who and what they are.

The freedom of accepting myself for who I am,  for the essential soul qualities I have been unearthing and sinking into and for the talents I have been allowing to flower so I can do what is mine to do in this world, in this lifetime – boldly bring my healing gifts to the shifting shape of the world and the regeneration of its people.

2010 is the beginning of a new era.  It is for me for sure.  I sense it is for others too and for the world.  I believe we are at a pivotal time in the evolution of the human race, where we really know that the old ways of walking through life and tackling big issues do not work any more.  We are more ready to wake up than we have ever been and it is for the waking up process that I have been preparing.

I am only in this place of freedom thanks to a decade long awakening journey that I’m sure is not completed yet but is now on a new plateau, a new level of vibration.  It is thanks to people in my life – good people, friends, colleagues, coaches, and some challenging relational experiences over the last decade – including the challenging relationship I’ve had with myself, that I am able to be in and recognize the birth of this freedom.  These have all been great gifts to me and, at the beginning of this most important decade, I sit in a place of deep gratitude and appreciation for all those people and all those experiences.

The best is truly yet to come and, my intuition is, that it will look very different than what we’ve seen and what we can imagine.  I have never been more ready!  Happy New Year, happy new decade and Happy Birthday to all that is good in this world.

Training together for clarity, love and courage in 2010

This New Year’s Eve posting has been evoked by my friend Chris Corrigan.  He said: “Let’s let this next decade be one where we train together in clarity and love. The fierce love of courage and maturity that it takes to bring peace in the world, in our collective and individual realms.”

The shape of the world is shifting and never more so than right now.  We all bear witness to it.  Some of us focus on the doom, gloom and fear of it.  Some of us focus on the hope inspired by passionate, creative people of all ages who are awake or waking up to the notion that we are all connected and that what I do as an individual, no matter how small or localized, really does make a difference.

If we inspire one other person by the way we live our life, by our optimism, by our hope, by our actions, that will have been enough.  But the hidden, still yet to be fully discovered story in all of this is what Paul Hawkins speaks of in Blessed Unrest.

We are part of a movement that is greater and deeper than we know or can know.  This movement is flying under the radar of the media and mass culture so far.  It is a shared understanding arising spontaneously – everywhere and across all boundaries all at the same time.  It is a civil rights movement, a human rights movement, a democracy movement, a social and environmental movement.  It is marked by kinship, community and symbiosis. It has no center and no one spokesperson. It is humanity’s immune response and it continues to grow.

As it grows it is beginning to see itself more.  People from around the world are beginning to connect in both the obvious and the strangest places – Copenhagen, list serves, FaceBook – in person and through social media.  There is a heightened sense of it coming out of Copenhagen as more and more people become aware of the need to take responsibility and act – rather than let our fate wait in political speak and negotiations.

I think the characteristics of this movement are exactly what Chris said – The fierce love of courage and maturity that it takes to bring peace in the world, in our collective and individual realms.

We all need to be warriors in this training ground of clarity, love and courage.  This is my call to action for 2010.  I’ll be there.  Will you?

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Shifting the Shape of Climate Change

I have been following the news  of the climate change talks in Copenhagen – mostly through friends of mine who are there – with growing interest.  I have never really been a big believer that government or our political leaders are going to lead us to the solutions to the problems we face in the world – big or small.  The culture they operate in – largely one of debate, negotiation and posturing – is very entrenched and makes it particularly difficult for them to shift.

If I only paid attention to the political conversations, it would be very disparaging indeed.  However, the conversations  that most capture my attention are around inner climate change.  This is something we can all do something about – and must do something about!

This morning on Facebook, my friend Mitch Rhodes wrote: “at a gathering in Copenhagen, Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke about being on the winning side. With our hearts and minds we must firmly believe we are on the winning side and shift to that place with conviction and dignity. It’s an inner struggle as much as an outer struggle.”

He also posted: “Many activists/protesters have anger in their hearts. A theory U-activist holds the power of love in their heart and facilitates the emergence of a just future. Gandhi comes to mind as an example.”

I have been a proponent of Theory U since I first came across it in 2005.  I say yes to being a Theory U activist, holding the power of love in my heart.  The way to shifting the shape of the world in a conscious and intentional manner is by each of us putting our stake in the ground, changing our own thoughts and behaviours and understanding that our actions make a difference in the world and to the world – no matter how big or small.  By our thoughts and actions we will attract others who are also willing to shift and by doing so, we will build a larger and larger field of resonance for the greater shift we want to enact in the world.

Will you be lost in the apparent hopelessness of this large scale global crisis or will you contribute to healing the world (and self to as it turns out) fully, with your heart, mind and soul, firmly believing you are on the winning side, shifting to that place with conviction and dignity?  I will meet you on the winning side!

The Groan Zone of Transition

I’m in it! The gentle flow of it and the zany spin of it.  I am deep in the groan zone of transition – marriage separation, emerging new business and the birth of the second half of my life.

If I had posted this a couple of days ago when I first became aware that what I was experiencing was groan zone related, this entry would would have communicated an intense amount of stress and pressure related to all the normal groan zone challenges – resources, relationships, fear, questions around whether the vision for the new directions are even achievable.

But this is the beauty of the groan zone.  Wait a day, or sometimes a few hours or even just a few minutes, and the gentle flow of the path, or the zany edginess of it, will take you different place – thankfully.  So I write this post from a place of greater calm, groundedness, faith and trust in the path that I have embarked upon in this second half of my life – a journey that requires a greater amount of trust and faith than I have ever experienced.

On this path is the new company:  Shape Shift Strategies Inc.  What will it do?  Good question.  I’m asking it too, while knowing at the outset it will be the vehicle to continue my craft as a process artist – hosting, consulting, coaching – providing services to existing and new clients, working collaboratively with colleagues from the Art of Hosting network.  As I continue to step more and more boldly into bringing my healing gifts to the shifting shape of the world and the regeneration of its people…. well, who knows how Shape Shift will support this.

In this transition, my life is full of unresolved details – a new website (ready in a couple of weeks has been my mantra for awhile), attracting the resources for a move so full separation is possible, writing a book and book proposal for Healing Across the Ages: Releasing the Hold of Family Secrets, staying on top of client work, spending extra time with my dad, since my mom is in long term care for dementia,  following a minor surgery that put him in the passenger seat literally and finding time to do the things that nourish my soul: being inside of nourishing relationships, meditating, exercising and spending time with my kids.

In the bad moments….  the tension is palpable.  It is important not to ignore those moments and not to get lost in them either.  Fortunately trust and faith carries me far and the work of this second half of my life is so compelling I don’t have time or inclination to be lost for long.  I am able to focus on the flow rather than where the current is stuck.  Knowing all this strengthens my journey, builds my capacity and deepens my ability to stand boldly in my purpose.

Welcome to my Shape Shift Blog

The shape of the world is shifting. It is constantly shifting but never more so than now.  We can be passive recipients of the impact of these shifts in the world or we can become active participants in shaping the future of the things that are near and dear to our hearts.

I take this to heart in my life.  The shape of my world is shifting and transitioning once again.  My husband and I, also business partners, have decided that our journey together is complete.  We have consciously and intentionally decided it is time to separate personally and business wise.  This is easy for me to say now, but much of the journey leading up to this point, like many transitions, was not so easy.  It became easier when I could finally reach a place of fully appreciating the gifts of the relationship – of which there were many.  They get lost sometimes in the pain of transition or even just the pain of being in relationship together when does not work the way you hoped or dreamed.

Then there is that great line from the Rolling Stones song – “You can’t always get what you want, and if you try sometime, you find you get what you need.”  I definitely got what I needed.

My journey over the last decade or so has led to a birthing process.  I am birthing the second half of my life.  In these early days of the second half of my life, I am claiming the following purpose: from this place of deep rootedness to my spiritual lineages, I boldly bring my healing gifts to the shifting shape of the work and the regeneration of  its people.

The second thing I am giving birth to is this new company: Shape Shift Strategies Inc.  It is the entity through which I will bring my gifts to the world.  It feels like it is an entity unto itself that will shift into its own shape over time.  It wanted to be born and I am excited to give it life.

This blog will be used to comment on the shifting shape of the world – my world, the world, worlds I work in, am connected to or interested in – worlds that are near and dear to my heart.  Things, people, issues that I want to bring notice or intentionality to – places where I intend to be an active participant in the shifting shape of the world.