conscious cairn-versation

rock cairnThis is a conversation I have been wanting to have. For weeks, actually. Why conscious cairns? Because I have come to realize that the significance of cairns depends entirely upon context. On mountain sides, they tend to signify the direction to follow when a trail is unclear, as across sheer rock. When constructed within a clearly marked circle, they are more likely to hold ritual significance. But the cairn constructed along woodland trails or in open meadows would most likely be an act of art. Which is what brings me to conscious conversation about them.

At Red Rocks, a woodland park in downtown Burlington, VT, where I daily walk with my cherished canine companion, I have taken to observing the ups and downs of several cairns. By which I literally mean, that one day a beautiful cairn is up, carefully constructed with artful balance baffling the eye while challenging gravity. The next day, it is gone. Not merely fallen down; but carefully dismantled, its component stones scattered  or buried in an apparent attempt to undo any memory of its prior existence.

I dwell on this because, while there are clearly people like myself who enjoy both building and contemplating inventively piled stones, it seems there might also be those who feel, for whatever reason(s), somehow threatened by them. At least, this is the conclusion I have reached, short of issuing a questionnaire to walkers in the park. A thought I did, at least fleetingly, consider, being of curious constitution myself.

Instead, I patiently re-build the three cairns I have taken personal interest in when they are down. I carry on conversations with my imagined source of their destruction. I marvel at the additional creative ways others have placed mossy stones within decayed trunks; piled and bridged flat stones to create a waterfall effect; worked stone, branch and birch bark into complex sculptures that celebrate the interaction of human creativity with found natural objects. They feel to me like celebrations of life. Clearly they have been created with conscious intent – if not to guide our way, then to invite us to stop and contemplate a while. Like Tom Woodman, in his short “Zen and the Art of Cairns,” I could sense that someone had shaped the environment through piling stones in certain ways and my appreciation of the landscape was richer because of that. I do not need to understand the particular message behind such an action of conscious creation in order to appreciate it.

seeing the world as we are

labyrinthWhen I say ‘we see the world not as it is but as we are,’ I’m offering a timeless leadership lesson consistent with groundbreaking work in the biology of cognition. We all tend to think of ourselves as objective observers, but none of us is. If I want to see things change ‘out there,’ first I need to see change ‘in here.’ PRESENCE: HUMAN PURPOSE AND THE FIELD OF THE FUTURE, Peter Senge, et. al.

Something I’ve learned, many times, as a trying-to-become-conscious leader is that, when we stop paying attention, stop opening space for processing relationship, groups entrusted to our guidance can flip into ‘negative mother’ projection. Their language starts filling with expressions of resistance to ‘control’; they rebel as if something unpleasant were being imposed upon them. In the absence of conscious structure and the ‘good enough’ mother, things fall apart. Enter the Shadow, defined by Marion Woodman as ‘unacknowledged resentment, competition, bids for power, jealousy.’

If we are to be leaders who do no harm, it then becomes critical to ‘do our own internal work’ so as to avoid projecting our shadow onto others. Over the 21+ years of Women Writing for (a) Change’s life as an actively evolving community of becoming-conscious women, we have all been faced with challenges to our leadership at one time or another. Continue reading

common sense for integrating shadow

Credit: creepypasta

Credit: creepypasta

from Mary Pierce Brosmer, founder of Women Writing for (a) Change(TM). This is part of a draft of the second chapter of her book with the working title Uncommon Sense: Leadership Lessons from the Heartland. The chapters are organized and being written seasonally, with liturgical and poetic overlay. The street paper, Article 25, published the whole chapter to date in its current issue.

Primer:  Common Sense Practices for Integrating Shadow
1.  Deal with your own shadow on a regular basis before attempting this work with those for whom you have responsibility.  I don’t care how busy you are. Stop. Write your personal versions of the prompts you’ll ask your staff to respond to. This writing is to keep you honest and grounded. You don’t share the private writing  with them, but when you  are in group sessions, you must write, and you must share, or it is an abuse of your positional power
2.  Enter this kind of work with the understanding that it’s relational, dynamic, and must never descend to pro forma, rote, or uninspired.  Allow it to be both steady and allow it to evolve or it will become just one more dog and pony show.
3.  Gather your staff or community on a regular basis, NOT just when there is a crisis, or when you have the energy for listening to them, or have just come back from a seminar filled with new ideas you want to suddenly implement. The practices I’m describing leverage the collective intelligence of a group. Continue reading

the incredible power of women’s wisdom


“The vision statement of Gather the Women Global Matrix concludes with the line, “Together we can activate the incredible power of women’s wisdom on a planetary scale.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Women are speaking out against rape in India. Women are vaccinating children against polio in Afghanistan and, shockingly, paying for it with their lives. Women are brave souls.

As we start the new year, let us honor ourselves and all women for what we do. When we gather in our circles of women, let us take time to acknowledge our activism, our contributions, our nurturing, our humor, our wisdom, and anything else that we value. For once, set the self-deprecation aside. Speak up. Be true to yourself.” from ‘Activating the incredible power of women’s wisdom’ posted 1/7/13 by Barbara Belnap on Gather the Women’s blog (the name of the group comes from Jean Shinoda Bolen’s book of the same title, Urgent Message from Mother: Gather the Women, Save the World.)  A fabulous book, by the way, well worth reading. Again and again.

And, of course yesterday, February 14th, was One Billion Rising. Smack dab in the middle of our writing circle yesterday morning, we rose up and danced around the room joining our determined energy with women around the globe to stop violence against women and girls. While true, of course, that a small group of women dancing in an obscure writing studio in northwest Vermont in and of itself will not change anything, the symbolism is undeniable: change starts with each one of us, women and men.

Whatever it takes, we must change beliefs that permit females of all ages to be sexually abused, to be routine targets of senseless violence. There is much to say on the subject, and I for one shall continue to do so. Meanwhile, check out some of the video clips of the day’s Risings around the globe. Read Annie Finch’s Invocation for the One Billion Rising, premiered in Portland ME yesterday. Raise your voice. Write your stories. Contact your leaders. Get involved. Don’t stop dancing and rising and demanding – now is the time and WE ARE THE ONES we have been waiting for (thank you, Sweet Honey in the Rock!).