Choose To Be

Well, it’s been quite a week in the United States. Primarily I’m talking about demonstrations and riots in support of equity and justice. George Floyd, a black man, was killed a week ago in Minneapolis by a police officer, a white man. That white man faces murder charges in criminal court today. The demonstrations and riots included peaceful gatherings. They included statements. They included grief and suffering. They included invitation to stand together. Some of the demonstrations included violence and wanton acts of destruction.

There is pain in this country. The largely un-faced part of that pain is the beginnings rooted in slavery and colonization. Many people are living remarkable lives in a remarkable system of economic growth and production. However many are not, also. And many are not safe, seen, nor treated with dignity. And, arguably, the unsustainableness of a production system that is not in harmony with nature itself, is boiling over the edges of the pot.

There is pain in this country. It’s a pain that pushes even CoVid to the background.

I’ve written previously about Meg Wheatley’s book, Who Do We Choose To Be, published in 2017. Meg has always had a gift at discerning an important question and then anchoring it in impactful principles.

Her book feels grounding to me, in these times. One for it’s fundamental centering in such a question. Who do we choose to be, when the pot is boiling over? Who do we choose to be when we are angry and mob mentality is spreading faster than CoVid? Who do we we choose to be when the white-washed mythology of the country causes pain, suffering, disease, and death?

I would suggest we human beings are at a very important turning point in our time as a species. As Meg names in her subtitles of the same book, it is time for us to face reality in much more deliberate ways. It is time to take a knee — such an impressive solidarity gesture — to offer ourselves to the great unknown of where we go from here, knowing that it isn’t back to where we came from.

I don’t know where we go from here. I do know it is powerful to get to the more reaching questions, even if they are painful and require many of us to face deep-dungeon-fears in our individual and collective psyches about who and how we are.

There is pain in this country. It is our willingness to turn toward each other, and our willingness to grow more matured and integrated psyches, that might just pull us through into the new.

There is pain in this country. I’m glad for the gestures of human goodness from average citizens that start with saying hello to the person next to us, then grabbing a broom to begin sweeping, while perhaps reflecting thoughtfully and quietly, sweeping our interiors to find the courage to go to the unknown together, in who we choose to be.

Taking Care, And a Few CoVid Resources

Where I live, like it is in many places, there is a “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Directive. I’m glad for leadership offered by those tracking the bigger picture of CoVid, and it’s impact on systems failure — be they health care resources, unemployment support, manufacturing and distribution challenges, or a whole host of other things that are likely to be everything from wobbled to collapsed. Where I live, it feels like waiting for a CoVid storm, and watching it play out with huge heartbreak in other cities within this country and in other countries.

So, I remain, like many others, trying to make sense of things. Trying to pay attention. Trying to grow the limits of what I can pay attention to. Trying to be present. Trying to be helpful. With self, other, and this place (both my virtual communities and my local geography).

I’m reminded of a story Meg Wheatley told years ago that anchors some simple todos that I find myself reaching for in these times. Meg tells of working at a school, I think it was for elementary kids. On the day that she was there, there was a fire alarm. All the kids and staff proceeded outside in pretty structured ways. On that day it had rained a bit outside. The school yard was muddy. It meant that when the kids came in, it was a lot of muddy shoes. By the time Meg made it back in, what she saw was rows of shoes left at the door. Not muddy hallways with janitor racing for mop.

As Meg shared this story, she highlighted three practices that she saw in the experience with shoes, and three practices that are good grounding for these times.

  1. Take care of yourself.
  2. Take care of each other.
  3. Take care of this place.

I find myself needing to remember these kind of stories right now. I find myself grateful for a simplicity that creates values-based actions within complicated, complex, and chaotic times.

There are a few CoVid resources I’ve particularly appreciated lately. I’ll just list them, and a reason they’ve felt important. 

Charles Eisenstein, The Coronation — this is a long one, 9,000 words, but I find Charles to be wonderfully honest and thoughtful. He can refreshingly stay in the questions.

The Point Magazine, Quarantine Journal — because I need something that is not just statistics. They just started this within the last couple of weeks. Because, it’s good to know data. It’s also good to know human interest stories.

Shawna Lemay’s Blog, Transactions with Beauty — I love her humanness, her sharing outloud ability to witness her journey and what she sees in others. Her recent post, “And Yes” was the one that caught my attention in a CoVid way. 

So, wishing each of us the best we can in taking care. And in perusing resources. But also in just leaning in to this remarkable time of redirected urgency. For some — in my circles it’s health care professionals, teachers, and faith community leaders that are so on the front line. Urgency is mass effort and fatigue and worry and presence.

Thank you. Self. Each other. This place. Thank you.

For others, this urgency needs to be steered to a much more surrendering willingness to go to the deepest pools within one’s psyche. To the emptiness. To the loneliness. To the fatigue and worry that is so present in many. It would be crazy to miss this urgency also. I know, which probably ought not to be called “urgency” but rather “surrender” to what is I hope in me, others, this place, an evolution of who we can be as people together — not just waiting it out, hoping not to die, and then chasing the old ways.

Thank you. Self. Each other. This place. Thank you.


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.

Maxims for Collective Leadership

Maxims are overarching statements of principle. Maxims are guidelines. They aren’t the operating plan with all of the needed detail. Maxims are what you return to before, during, and after a implementation to gut-check integrity of offering.

Yes, I’m a person that relies on maxims as some of the deep work in organizational change — that’s with teams, communities, systems. The maxims invite doing with purpose rather than doing just to fill time, or to appear busy, or to approximate accomplishment.

This weekend I was perusing materials on collective leadership, an initiative being offered in Scotland, that is impressive in its scale and in its simplicity. It’s an initiative that my dear friend Meg Wheatley is helping to shape (and who shared the materials with me).

I was also delighted to find “Myron Roger’s Maxims,” that are helping to guide the initiative. Glad in part because the maxims are good, and point to the deep work of change. Glad in part because Myron Rogers was one of my first mentors in this work, going back to the early to mid 1990s.

Enjoy these:

  • Real change happens in real work.
  • Those who do the work do the change.
  • People own what they create. (I’ve tended to say this over the years as “support” rather than “own.”)
  • Start anywhere, follow it everywhere.
  • Connect the system to more of itself.
  • The process you use to get to the future is the future you get.

What I appreciate most in these, and what I loved most in Myron those 25 years ago, is that he had a way with getting to the guts of things. And he had a way with simplicity in words.

I’m glad for the many ways that his words have carried into my work with systems, teams, and communities. To try to create an integrity of invitation.

Maxims. Guidelines. Gut check.