Teaser — Book Publishing Nearer

For the last year, a lot of my writing practice has been creating and compiling poems. The poems mostly begin with raw material from my private journal. It’s been sense-making. It’s been healing. It’s been getting the inner to the outer. The title came to me as I was learning to befriend despair, rather than just resist or deny it.

Along the way, a friend encouraged me to consider publishing to book format and harvest. I’m grateful for the support of CentreSpoke Publishing.

I’m excited (and a bit nervous also) to share that a book release is near.

A Cadence of Despair:
Poems and Reflections on
Heartbreak, Loss, and Renewal

I’m awaiting “proof copy” now. Which means that after a few more edits, it’s going to print. Ordering information will be available mid March. As will a  website with more info and context.

A Cadence of Despair has some pretty thick and heavy material in it. It’s got the deeply personal that I believe connects to the broader universal. My intent has been honesty. Authenticity. Vulnerability. The chapters follow a progression that descends to shame and grief, peeks up with hints, insights, and friendships. It descends again to loss and fear, to rise again to renewal and new life. I would offer that the descent is as important as the ascent in these journeys of well-being that so many of us seek. I wrote this book (it’s also accurate to say that this book wrote me) originally thinking it was more for men, but I think it is for women also — we are all trying to find our way.

I’m grateful for readers and the praise they’ve offered, which will be included in the book or on the website. Below is a little sample from a few of my writer friends.

From Christina Baldwin, Author of Life’s Companion, The Seven Whispers, Storycatcher, and The Circle Way

In this brave and vulnerable book, Tenneson Woolf illustrates once again that we humans are made stronger at our broken and mended places. His mid-life descent, survival, and ascent into a man still in process is a profound map. We may try to avoid these dark corners, but whatever we, the reader, face will be strengthened by the light he shines.

From Margaret Wheatley, Author of many books including Perseverance, Leadership and the New Science, and Who Do We Choose To Be

Whenever anyone tells the truth about their experience, hiding nothing, we have the chance to recognize the human experience. Dark nights of the soul are an initiation into spiritual wisdom. Dwell with Tenneson in these poems and you’ll know what this means. If you find yourself in these pages, you will have received the gift that Tenneson offers.

From Charles LaFond, Author of Note to Self: Creating Your Guide to a More Spiritual Life

Tenneson has wandered the valleys of grief and the mountains of success. His poetry is a companioning prescription for anyone living life with all of its joys and sadnesses. These poems are soul-food – healthy and healing. Drink deep of these poems and be not alone.

From Ann Pelo, Author most recently of From Teaching to Thinking: A Pedagogy for Reimagining Our Work

In his brave book, Tenneson embodies the courage of vulnerability and the grace of truth-telling. “Be with life,” he writes, and that’s the story he offers us—the story of being with life, in grief and discovery, with companions and alone and, always, with steadfast presence. In his poetry and essays, Tenneson opens his heart to us, and invites us to open our hearts to life.

Excited. Nervous. Grateful. And near.


3/17/20 — It’s now live. Please enjoy exploring here and ordering a copy as inspired. With appreciation.

Christina Baldwin on Collective Urgency

My friend Christina Baldwin writes recently about flocking Starlings, murmurations, and what she suggests we humans can learn from them regarding our human organizing and participation in society. She writes about collective urgency.

Individual birds synchronize their flight by spatially tracking with the six or seven birds closest around them;


So first gather six or seven folks and empower one another: read and watch and talk together, practice taking actions, communicate outwardly. Hold onto one another.


Each small flock joins the larger collective, by slipping into activity already in motion;


Then with your small group join the next larger thing happening around you: where do you stand and with whom do you stand?


The great size and constantly shifting shape of the flock confuses predators: a hawk, for instance, cannot figure out how to get its talons around this mirage of energies;


This is the power of great marches: a sense of safety when moving in tens, or hundreds, of thousands in peaceful demonstration; occupying space, linking arms, singing the revolution into being. Is danger present? May someone get hurt? Even killed? Yes. It is always so. AND YET—the collective survives.


It is also believed that there is an exchange of information going on about good feeding grounds for the next day.


By acting in coordination, we leave messages, stories, maps,–evidence of our flight and fight, in these times when we rise together—a murmeration of starlings becomes an urgency of citizens.

The pictures and videos linked in Christina’s post are well worth following. They filled me with wonder.

For times such as these, I need the reminder, the simplicity, and the encouragement to have courage.

Thanks Christina and all who are murmering.


Books are tools, right?

For me they are. Some, of course, contain descriptions of tools. For me, however, most of my books provide ideas that help me to create tools.

Sometimes the tool is a story. Sometimes, an important phrase that I can link to personal experience and story. Sometimes, the tool is a framing, a simple set of premises that change how I / we look at our experience and make sense of it.

We humans are indeed sense-making creatures. We can’t help it any more than we can help breathing. And just like our breath is sometimes shallow barely reaching our lungs, so to can our sense-making be shallow. Or restricted. Or calcified.

We humans need to relearn and expand our sense-making. We need to reclaim our breath.

We do this together. It’s just different, and more, that what we do when we are alone. And, some of us humans need to do some of this alone. It’s what helps us be in the group with good contribution.

I continue to learn this.

The stack of books above is what I carried with me in recent travel and work. I know, it was a bit crazy. However, there were passages and phrases that I wanted to have with me. I wanted the energy of them with me. Some of them I even used.

From left to right, here’s a headline from the books above, some of the tools helping me and others to see and to be awake.

Participatory Leadership Journal (Kathleen Masters, Tenneson Woolf) — I love sharing this expression of Art of Hosting with faith community leaders.

Teaching With Fire (Sam Integrator, Megan Scribner, Parker Palmer and a bunch more) — Great poems and stories of the people that selected the poems that point back to an inner and outer fire.

The Invitation (Oriah Mountain Dreamer) — Expands on an invitation, often used, to get real. “It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for…”

Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change (Pema Chodron) — Invites us to lean in to the fundamental reality of a changing world within us and in the external.

The Seven Whispers (Christina Baldwin) — Christina has such a gift to distill complex life down to simple, yet profound practices.

The Exquisite Risk (Mark Nepo) — Ah, I love the depth that are in these essays that invite and challenge radical authenticity and honesty.

Walk Out Walk On (Margaret Wheatley, Deborah Frieze) — This book includes rich stories of real communities daring to step out of the paradigms and craft the future together from a different set of beliefs and practices.

The Circle Way (Christina Baldwin, Ann Linnea) — Circle is the most fundamental practice and skill to be able to go together. It takes us beyond tricks and manipulation to honest and humble listening together for wise action.

To Bless The Space Between Us (John O’Donohue) — Pick a poem, any poem. Pick a blessing, any blessing. He had a gift to invoke the real and the inspiring in all of us.

Improv Wisdom (Patricia Ryan Madson) — Improv may invite a lot of play. However, it also invites a deep quality of presence together and some alternative practices to get there.

A Hidden Wholeness (Parker Palmer) — I love how this book calls out more of the relationship between our inner worlds, and our outer worlds.

7 Paths to God (Jane Borysenko) — Points to the invisible and an inherent holism.

A Simpler Way (Margaret Wheatley, Myron Rogers) — This delicious book offers a new story to carry us into a more compelling and satisfying future together.



Be An Expert — At Inviting Expertise

Many of us have an interesting relationship with “expertise.”

On the one hand, there is learning from people that really know stuff, that have paid attention, that have studied with rigor, that have learned through some hard knocks. It’s always great to be with people who are good at what they do, or clear on what they know.

On the other hand, there is a kind of externalizing responsibility away from ourselves that is also packed in to expertise. There is a shadowy cultural pattern of projecting way too much solution and rescue into finding just the right expert. It’s fun to look for super heroes that will fix everything. It’s just not super real.

In my work, I face this shadowy externalization often. I work in complex environments. Organizational systems. With teams that have been charged by systems to do a whole lot of good. I work so often with good people who are trying to make sense of those complex environments and to learn to move within them in ways that feel helpful and life-giving. I work with people who have desire to reshape the paradigms. It’s natural to look for expertise, to be in good learning, to be in due diligence, to be thoughtful.

Well, if attraction to expertise is here to stay, let’s accept that there is a range of nuanced expertise. For me, there is a kind of alternative expertise that I’m committed to giving air time and cultural practice. It is the expertise of inviting expertise to come forward from the group.

There is a maxim that I so often work from — there is more wisdom in the room that there is in any individual. Notice, this does not presume that there isn’t wisdom and knowhow in the individuals that can hold some preference. It just points to another quality of wisdom that arises from those in the room interacting. Of course there is power in many perspectives. Most of us know this (except when our egos wrench away the steering wheel — guilty as charged, right). Yet pressure, and leadership habit, often regress us to expertise that smacks of  command and control, and of the external and obliterates the instinct to listen together.

In the Art of Hosting community of practitioners, fifteen years ago I was part of creating what became known as “Hobbit Tools.” It was born out of a conversation that I was having with my friend and colleague Toke Moeller. We were at Aldermarsh on Whidbey Island, Washington, one of the best retreat centers that I’ve been lucky to meet at repeatedly. Toke and I had just finished cohosting an Art of Hosting (also Christina Baldwin and Teresa Posakony). It was just Toke and I sitting in our meeting space that was now all tidied. Flipcharts were recycled, our participants were gone. It was a time to simply appreciate the silence and the immediate memory of the moment.

My mind was cooking (because the gathering had gone so well). My heart was singing (because that’s what happens when things go well, right). I took the opportunity to ask Toke for some clarity, given the many wonderful things that I’d been a part of the previous three days with participants. “Toke,” I began, “if you had one tool to rely on, what would that be.” Toke has a knack for getting to the simple — it’s one of the things I’ve always love about him. After some pause — why rush — he said, “Be present.” We both held a silence for a moment. Be satisfied with just two words. Be present. There is expertise in that. It’s related to learning from an expert about presence, but the primary invocation was to “be” it.

I smiled at Toke, and my never-far-away-little-brother part of myself asked playfully, “And Toke, if you had two tools, what would the next be?” Toke smiled again. It’s what good learners do together, I think. He paused again, looked out the window at Aldermarsh’s open field for a bit, and then replied, “Have a good question.” There is expertise in that too, and, this expertise points to inviting expertise in others, doesn’t it. Ask. Engage. Encounter.

A couple months later, Toke and I were working together with a group in Ohio. We were staying with another brother in this work, Phil Cass. I remember at breakfast one day Toke talked to me with excitement. He had furthered our conversation from Aldermarsh and had added a third tool. “Pass a talking piece,” which was really code for pass a listening piece, which was really code for listen, listen, listen. Listen to the group. Listen for the wisdom in the room. Listen for what is not just cumulative in us, but also what arises among us.

In the way that I know Toke’s fierce commitment to listening, he asked me, “Is there anything that you would add to this Tenneson?” I love this irrepressible commitment to a co-creation. I responded with what showed up in my belly — “Harvest.” It had deep meaning for me, and for us. Harvest. Notice. Make it visible. Give it a temporary tangibility that gifts the group with seeing some of it’s own wisdom.

Toke is a hobbit at heart. Simple person in whom the still waters run deep. So is Phil. They helped to pull that same quality out of me — I think we did with each other.

Be an expert in inviting the expertise out of others. That “Hobbit Tools” has grown into interesting and expanded teachings by others. It’s great to see. But somewhere in that story from that first Art of Hosting at Aldermarsh, rests with me this reframe of expertise that is so often culturally overlooked or invisible — it isn’t providing more from the external; it is inviting more from the internal and from the group that is trying to go together.

In an age of “look it up on youtube,” there is a video for everything. Yes, that’s fascinating. And helpful. For everything from folding paper airplanes to fixing cars to meditation techniques. Awesome! And, and, and —  let’s not forget the nuanced and essential quality of expertise that people everywhere are hungry for, and I think recognize when the see it, even when they (we) have forgotten in practice. Inviting forward what people know, feel, and wonder about, is itself an overlooked and much needed expertise.