There Are Very Few Who Find The Center

I appreciate this quote from Kabir, the 15th century Indian poet and mystic, offered by a participant from our recent series on “Engaging Shadow.” In particular, the stirring and the invocation to find a center. The stirring of the human psyche that seeks attachment and certainty so easily. The invocation, and remembering that there is a center to find, perhaps more inhabited with uncertainty.

Friend, please tell me what I can do about these

ever-changing dramas I keep spinning out?

I gave up my fashionable clothes & had a robe made,

but I noticed the cloth was well-woven.

I traded the fine cloth for worn burlap

But I still threw it elegantly over my left shoulder.

I tried to forget my sexual longings

And now I feel angry a lot.

I gave up rage and now I feel greedy all day.

I worked hard at dissolving the greed

And now I am proud of myself.

When the mind tries to break its link with one thing

It clings to another thing.

Kabir says, Listen, my friend, there are very few who find the center.

Core Practices of Life-Affirming Leaders

From my work in the 90s with The Berkana Institute, where we often affirmed, “Whatever the problem, community is the answer.”

Meg Wheatley wrote these practices. I found myself looking for them as a resource to use at the Engaging Shadow series that Kinde Nebeker and I are hosting. Engaging shadow, or as one participant spoke, befriending shadow is important work that connects to these great practices.

Core Practices of Life-Affirming Leaders 

Here are some of the behaviors and practices of leaders who are able to nourish and evoke the best qualities in people. By doing so, these leaders affirm life’s capacities to self-organize in creative, sustainable, and generous ways.

Know they cannot lead alone. In these complex times, no one person is smart enough to know what to do. Many different perspectives are necessary in order to gain a fuller understanding of what is happening.

Have more faith in people than they do in themselves. This is especially important in organizations and nations where people have been oppressed or told they’re not capable of being creative or powerful. Leaders patiently and courageously insist on peoples’ participation as the means to discover their potential and contribute to the organization.

Recognize human diversity as a gift, and the human spirit as a blessing. We each see the world differently. When we share these unique perceptions, we gain a larger perspective of what’s going on. And it is only our great human spirits that bless us with hope and possibility even in the worst circumstances.

Act on the fact that people only support what they create. And only act responsibly for what they care about. Therefore, leaders engage people in anything that affects them. Decision-making processes expand to include more and more voices.

Solve unsolvable problems by bringing new voices into the room. Systems grow healthier as they connect with those formerly excluded. New and different information changes how we define the problem, and make new solutions available.

Use learning as the fundamental process for resiliency, change and growth. When reflection and learning are built in to all activities and projects, people become intelligent. We quickly find workable and innovative solutions. Without reflection, we keep repeating our mistakes.

Offer purposeful work as the necessary condition for people to engage fully. When people know why they’re doing their work and connect with the purpose of it, they then assume responsibility for that work. They become creative and work hard to find the most effective solutions.

On Shadow — To Try


Last week at the first session of our series, The Inner and Outer of Evolutionary Leadership: Engaging Shadow, Kinde Nebeker offered a “To Try.” It was homework. It was practice. It was a call to attentiveness.

  1. Feel it.
  2. Be willing to explore if there is a kernel of truth in it.
  3. Follow clues, and feel it again, now for difference.

This is solid advice and practice that I’ve taken to heart myself in the last four days. And even though it is practice that feels familiar, there is something additionally powerful in being reminded. What’s happening for me is what Kinde and I invoked in the group — “you will get what you are willing to look for.”

It’s feeling like a lot. Mine is a kind of terror, mentally and emotionally, about a suppressed thought that I generally have preferred, unconsciously, to keep suppressed. That thought has even more power when connected to a few life experiences that were painful. It’s easy to see how the movie playing inside of me can become so rigid, fearful, and punishing.

As Kinde and I shared with others in the session, when working with shadow, there are some closely related landscapes. Trauma is one. Conflict is another (or at least a gateway in to shadow). Even sabotage. And, there are many important and related ways of working with these. Therapy and counseling come to mind. The Work of Byron Katie is another, that is so good an interrupting the movie.

Feel it — this is very much about being willing to stay, unprocessed as Kinde reminds me, in the feeling. The ickiness. The painfulness. The fearfulness. The immediate impulse to deny. My partner Teresa Posakony teaches that these are all responses of contraction, neurally entrained liked carved canyons in our minds and psyches, that activate our reptilian brains — the ones that know mostly flight or fight. She says, “the part of our brain that we need for such experiences is mostly offline because we default to contraction.” Stay in the feeling. The stickiness. The ache in the back of the neck. The ever so slight turning of the head away, as if we can look away, and avoid, making it disappear. We all do this — let’s not kid ourselves. This is a call for awareness and interruption, not perfection and denial.

Explore the kernel of truth — of the “it.” That nasty thought or feeling that we are trying to stay clear of. I love what my friend Caitlin Frost does with these kernels in her Work of Byron Katie. “It may be true, which can be freeing to realize. Just because it is true some of the time doesn’t make it true all of the time.” I find that the sharing of these embarrassing kernels can become such a humanizing process together. We get to recognize a widely shared experience, shifting it from a mythology of extremely isolated.

Follow clues — I love the way Kinde speaks of this as clues to liberation. It’s not court room testimony clues that we are looking for. It’s not proof and absolutism. Nor is it a mind game to convince us that everything is OK. It’s clues that unlock the hold that a blind spot, or a shadow-infused stress, or a trauma-impacted rigidity can have on us. The surprising (and yet not) thing is how many clues there typically are. It turns out the world is not colluding against us.

I’m grateful for this simple “To Try.” I’m excited to move our attention in the next session from this awareness of shadow in self to exploring how shadow becomes part of groups. And I continue to hope for an evolution of who we are as humans, and how we are together, in the needs of communities, large and small, that we claim as dear.

Coming Into Relationship With That Creature In The Corner

Tomorrow Kinde Nebeker and I begin a three-session series on Engaging Shadow. Exploring shadow in self. Engaging shadow in groups. Evolving shadow in leadership. We will be a group of 12-14, meeting for three evenings, all within eight days total. The gift of some depth together in the month of December, which can often be lost to the pressures of commercialism.

With this series upon us, this means that the last couple of weeks for me have been about noticing the teachings I like to share and some of the exercises I’d like to create. There’s that one on projection — yah, that would be good. There’s that one on blind spots — yah, that would be good too. I like it best when design “arrives” to me. When it comes to me rather than me chasing it. Kinde is a good partner in this dynamic, encouraging it and calling that out in herself too.

My short list of first ideas quickly became a full whiteboard of smushed notes and inspirations. One of those inspirations was the simple image that helps me invoke and invite coming into relationship with shadow. Not fixing it. Not making it go away. Being in relationship with it. In my image, I’m in a large room, about 20 feet by 20 feet. It has thick, stone walls. It is underground, with only a tiny window through which daylight can shine. It is a dirt floor. In the corner of this room is a creature. In my image, it is a grand lion, a great cat. I can’t really ever see the lion, and for many years, haven’t even known that it was there. But now, I’m becoming aware of it. The lion is something I fear. Its presence is something I want to deny. The lion is both majestic and scary.

This series with Kinde and the others that will join is largely about coming into relationship with that creature, that lion in the corner. Coming to know that it is there. Coming to know more about what awakens that lion. Coming to learn a bit about approaching it, or welcoming it to approach me. Maybe coming to laugh with it a bit, and learn to scratch it’s ears in delight. This series is about all of that with something powerful, yet largely unseen. It may take more than three evenings, that’s true, but most good, essential things do, don’t they.