Presence First

It was many years ago now that I asked my good friend and colleague Toke Moeller, “If you had one tool, what would that be?” We had just completed an Art of Hosting, the first in North America, helping to further encourage the body of work that is participative leadership. We were at the Marsh House at the Aldermarsh property on Whidbey Island in Washington State. The building and retreat center were empty, 30 bodies had scattered out into there varied destinations, after having been together for three wonderful days together. This was 2002. Toke’s response, in the quiet of this now empty building, was “presence.” His words echoed just a tiny bit in the empty meeting space. Those words have not stopped echoing in me.

It was only a day ago that in conversation and planning with another friend and colleague, Christina Baldwin, I heard similar words. She was sharing what was the essence for her, a version of response to “Why circle?” “Presence,” she began, “is what changes how we are together. Presence is what people are longing for. Presence is what people are struggling to have in a world that requires tending through multiple distractions. Circle helps to create this.”

There it was again. Simplicity. If in doubt, give energy and attention to presence. Showing up to listen to silence together. To listen to each others words. To listen to what is in the middle of those words and that silence that glues them together.

Both of these people, Toke and Christina, are woven into my soul. They are both kind and gracious. They are both welcoming. They are both fiercely committed to good. My friendship and growing up with them is one of the things I’m most grateful for in my life.

And there are days, for all of us, when returning to the simple advice from friends that travel life together, is the only thing that seems to matter.

Presence first.

At the Pace of Tea

This week has been a full week. Like most weeks are. Calls to be on. Meetings to join. Material to prepare. Much to fit into the space of a day, and often evening or early, early morning. I’m grateful that these are all with good people.

This week has been a week that I haven’t felt great also. Bit of an upset stomach. I’ve been telling people in my meetings and calls that I’m drinking a lot of tea. Soothing. Comforting. Feels a bit slowed down, in a kind way. I shared it with a few of my colleagues and friends, “I’m moving at the pace of tea.”

It feels like the norm of contemporary society is not the pace of tea. That’s for grannies, right. I love it that my Grandma was a tea-drinker. I have super fond memories as a kid dunking a cookie in an afternoon cup when staying with my grandparents over summers in Saskatchewan. The cup above is one of hers, given to me when she died last year.

The pace of tea isn’t the pace of coffee. Nor the pace of Red Bull. It’s not pressed to squeeze more into each moment than is physically imaginable. It is more patient. Like the feeling of cool sand on your feet on a hot summer day meant to be meandered at the beach. Tea for me is something to relax into.

One of my teachers (and friend and colleague) is Christina Baldwin. Her book The Seven Whispers: A Spiritual Practice for Times Like These is a beloved gem. It’s short. Clear. Inviting. Filled with story as Christina does so well. Feels like tea.

Christina includes as one of her whispers another reference to pace — move at the pace of guidance. “In a world of speed and distraction, pace of guidance invites us to combine the practices of measured movement and listening. Speed is some guy running through the airport shouting into a cell phone. Pace is going around the block with a three-year-old and noticing everything the child is noticing.”

Pace, whether of tea, or of guidance, is an essential skill to develop in times like these. And not just for weeks of feeling upset stomachs. In fact, just maybe, there’d be fewer societally upset stomachs with the invocation of tea a bit more often.

I Am Thankful For

In honor of US Thanksgiving, today, I wrote this poem this morning. Particular thanks to Christina Baldwin for Seven Whispers. that are never far from my ears these days.

I Am Thankful For

He who first taught me the singular importance of breath,
the empty space,
and the silence that restores.

She who first assured me that the pace of this world
is but a deeply embedded construct
that takes but courage to interrupt.

He who invoked clarity of purpose,
the invisible leader,
not through his dominating words, but through his kind inclusion.

She who surprised me,
and maybe herself too,
with a direction that changed everything.

They who insisted I ask for what I need,
to follow my imagination,
and offer myself as gift.

They who welcomed another to the table, always,
because there was always room to be made;
that was my first religion.

They who filled me,
in the crunch of autumn leaves under my feet,
with a remembering and belonging that is ancient.

The Seven Whispers

You know how some books are tiny in size and length, but pack a wallop of meaning in them? The Seven Whispers is like that for me. It’s written by friend and colleague, Christina Baldwin (2002), who has among her gifts, the one of being able to be very clear. She reaches and touches the broadest perspective, and then brings it back down to the dirt and mud we stand upon.

Christina’s subtitle, Listening to the Voice of Spirit is essential — no, she is not talking about a particular spiritual tradition, but invoking a deep quality of listening in and among us. It’s what many of us working with groups are hoping for — listening to what is emerging from our interaction together. The title of her introduction, A Spiritual Practice for Times Like These is brilliant. It names time just enough about time to make it timeless.

These days I find myself saying these whispers to myself, weaving them in to my teachings, and feeling that all I need to stand on is right in front of me. Enjoy the read. Gift yourself with the book (nope, no commissions for me — just the satisfaction of sharing something I really care about and find helpful).

The seven whispers are:

  • Maintain peace of mind.
  • Move at the pace of guidance.
  • Practice certainty of purpose.
  • Surrender to surprise.
  • Ask for what you need and offer what you can.
  • Love the folks in front of you.
  • Return to the world.