For Learning — Project, Personal Quality, Self Care, Reflective Practice

Fire & Water Cohort in Connection, November 2019

I’m four days out of the first five day Fire & Water Leadership Cohort Retreat. Four days that have included a wee bit of rest. Much tending of other project-related email. Co-hosting another client system. Travel to return to Utah (I watched and enjoyed the film “Yesterday” this time). Arranging for my broken furnace to be fixed. Getting a few groceries. Some exercise. Reweaving with family. Some crossing fingers that there is enough time for enough of the all of it.

I notice that that these days with Fire & Water are lingering with me. We’ve invited and invoke significant layers of journey together that really began in August 2019 and carry forward to November 2020. Even the naming of the longer journey seems to enrich a bit more of it. Sometimes we choose the journeys. Sometimes the journeys choose us. It seems to work that way, doesn’t it. I find that both exciting and a bit scary too.

For this Fire & Water cohort, we spent some deliberate time in retreat on lots of things, including Project, Personal Quality, Self Care, and Reflective Practice. I’m holding myself to these. I’m cohosting, but of course, am in the journey also. I find that these reflections are lingering with me in an extra way. And as a community, we are holding / helping each other to such commitments.

Project — For me, the applied learning of Fire & Water is to all of my other work. I continue to be involved in helping to bring the Art of Hosting format and Participatory Leadership to geographic regions and to client systems. I continue to offer practicums, workshops, and online offerings for The Circle Way. I’m developing process and material for an online wisdom circle with Quanita Roberson. I continue to work in client systems that seek better ways of working together and being together. I continue to bring practice for better humaning together. My applied learning from Fire & Water initiation is to bring added depth, honesty, and clarity to all the rest.

Personal Quality — I think for me this is most fundamentally, a quality of flow. For me it has something to do with flow with life itself. There is a certain vitality that I know well from bringing myself and others to participative process and learning together. Flow — it might be better called courage. Or surrender. Or deeper intuition. Or trust. Or honesty. These all seem to go together don’t they.

Self Care — I can think of a lot that I do. I can think of a lot that I don’t do but keep saying that I should do. My most goto in self care practice (in this case, tending to my body) is riding a stationary bike. It’s not a lot. I ride pretty vigorously most mornings (just 3.5 minutes). I ride with less vigor most evenings, 15-25 minutes. It’s not a lot. But I notice I miss it (my body misses it) when I go a few days without it.

Reflective Practice — Again, there’s a lot I could do, or even should do, but I’m not trying to speak to that question. My goto is simple breathing 15-20 minutes. For me it is mostly in the morning. I journal when I wake. I write dreams if I have them to catch. Then I breath, often in the dark or by candle light. As slow of breath as I can get. For me that is 15-30 seconds per breath. I’m guessing there is a combo effect for the breathing and the journaling. Generally, I blog after breathing, which extends reflective practice. Side note — reflective practice with community is gold.

Yes, so, this Fire & Water Leadership Cohort stays with me. I’m naming these four aspects of learning. It seems like these will remain as post-it notes on the wall, for the duration of the journey, and will fade over the next year in appearance, but also likely deepen in awareness. Some journeys are like that.

The Essentialness of Personal Care for Leaders

I loved the conversation I had yesterday with a colleague. We have a friendship and colleagueship that began twenty years ago, but connects once every few years. On a bit of a whim, we decided to have tea together. Via Zoom that helped shrink the 2,000 miles of geographic distance. Because we could. I love conversations that have the pace of tea. You don’t gulp tea. It’s slower. It has plenty of holding mug in hand, just for the feeling of the deeper warming.

As so often happens with genuine invitation to wander together, and with the lightest social agreement to light circle structure, there is tremendous richness that shows up. It’s friendship. It’s learning. It’s sharing story. It’s connecting ideas. It’s following a bit of mystery.

One of yesterday’s gifts for me in learning was both of us reaffirming the essentialness of personal care for leaders. And as my friend reminded me, this includes in particular, some reflective practice.

The story line goes quite like you would imagine:

These times are complex. Most are being asked to do a lot, and often within very short timelines. Most are needing to learn to be in relationship with many moving parts (or better, to learn to see these moving parts as a whole). There’s a lot of stress. And when stress meets stress in other, boy, we need some skill to not just slide into a hot mess of blame.

The timing of involvement is relentless. Yah, “relentless” is a rather burdensome word, but I think it’s accurate. There’s little or no spacing between. There’s often multiple projects that many of us are handling at one time. Expectations are really high (because we care about doing good). But it’s full on.

Many of us sacrifice personal care so as to be in the complex and relentless timing. There’s a certain seduction to a certain nobility in this sacrifice. It can have the appearance of being rather heroic. Oh dear, though there be a temporary rightness in that, it is rather short-lived.

My friend and I were naming how what’s missing in so many people’s leadership training and practice is self care and reflective practice as a way to best be in the complex and the relentless. We are all human. We aren’t machines. We aren’t crafted to merely and rotely persist in perfection as if on a gigantic cosmic assembly line. It’s good to be diligent and committed, yes indeed. But the longterm life of us and the systems we are in, are at stake here, addressed quite significantly by self care.

Here’s some of the small ones that I count on.

  • Periodic tea with a friend, like yesterday.
  • Even small chunks of time working in my yard, getting my hands dirty. And away from my computer.
  • Physical exertion, wether exercise or more of that yard work.
  • Reading just to read, for the enjoyment of it without needing to produce anything.
  • Tending to life needs. The floor still needs mopping. Or the wood chopping. Or the appointment with the dentist. Or the vacuuming. Or walking the dog.

My goto with reflective practice is meditation. Typically 20 minutes of quiet breathing in the morning. That and a few forms of writing. This blog. A personal journal. A collection of poems I’m writing and compiling. A hand-written journal that catches night-time dreaming.

The interruption in societal pattern here is that personal care and reflective practice are not superfluous and self-indulging, but rather essential and core practices. For health. For grounding. For expansion of ability. For kindness. For wholeness. For a pile of things.

The invitation is as you would imagine. Stick to this care and reflection. Or, start it again, even in very small chunks. Encourage others to do similarly for the good of all of us in this rather fascinating human journey.

Maybe start with tea, with someone you see as an old and very wise friend.



Locked and Blocked — Um…, Time For Self Care

Where I’d planned on being today is in Portland, Oregon. I was to be working with Kevin Hiebert, Sara Rosenau, and Jessica Riehl preparing for an Art of Hosting that starts tomorrow. I was to be thick in the questions, adding to our anticipated field. It matters that people come together. Over 50 in this case. To learn. To be in practice together. To be in connection together.

And then, a few medical urgencies surfaced over the last five days. Number one, my neck locked into position atop my head with virtually zero rotation left / right and up / down. What! Wait! A lot of pain. No, it’s not from any particular incident or injury. Just real. Can’t drive real. Can’t see to the sides real. Stinging shoots of pain whenever I moved my head. Locked.

And then, well, actually before that, a number two urgency. A kidney stone moving and creating a lot of pain. I remember that kind of pain from 10 years ago when I had a kidney stone. Lot’s of lower back pain. It’s got “Oh Oh” written all over it. Blocked.

I’m the kind of human that comes from other humans that generally tough it out and play through it. I wrestled a lot with this decision to just go to Portland and make the most of it, or to give myself permission for self care. I’m glad for my team and friends that encouraged the latter, self care. And, well, toughing it out was a rather slim option with this severity. Getting my body in the room isn’t enough for this kind of work. It takes much more heart and soul.

So…, I got the X-rays that show an odd curve in the top of my spine. Got the meds to help with muscle relaxing, pain relief, and removing the swelling. Got the meds to help with kidney stone. Got the appointment with the physical therapist for this morning. I’m glad that such things are available.

So…, longer story that is unfolding made short, I’m in Utah. Glad for these roses in full bloom in my back yard. I’m in self care, which I know is what many of us are learning. Hosting self. Still not through my grumbles, but there are some things you can’t argue with. Body is one of them.

I participated in a call with the team yesterday. To hear and see the design for the coming days. It looks delicious. It includes questions about uncertainty (when have you experienced…), which I find so valuable. Being able to be in your own uncertainty is one of the key potencies for people to learn these days. I got to hear some overarching themes that I loved. One, awaken to presence. Two, attune too emergence. Three, lean into experiments. That’s good stuff.

I’ll be cheering from the roses on this one for those gathered in Portland, “The City of Roses.” A bit sad. Actually a lot sad. But also grateful for colleagues and friends that rally around principle and friendship.




My First Circle — A Story by Karen Doyle Backwater


The Circle Way Newsletter is monthly. It’s loaded with good. Story. Tips. Invitation. Connection to community. Just sign on to get it — for perusing, or to accompany a good cup of tea, or to guide your practice of convening.

This month (August) features a story by Karen Doyle Buckwalter. Karen was a participant in one of the online classes that Amanda Fenton and I hosted earlier this year. Karen is thoughtful. She’s committed to questions that shape her applied use of circle. She’s committed to supporting circles, to using circles, because, well, it just makes a big difference.

Karen’s “First Circle” was focused on the importance of self-care (in rather complex and demanding times). I love Karen’s inclusion of this line from Brianna West —

“True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake,
it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.”

In the way that I know of Karen, I imagine she has a lot that she could offer by way of guidance to people. She could offer some pretty good and helpful answers — she is a social worker and psychotherapist by profession. But Karen’s point in hosting the circles, three of them, was to convene the space in which participants, including herself, could be wise and thoughtful together. The Circle Way is after all, a container for such exchange to happen. It’s an organizer that helps us lean in with honesty and wisdom to find what is among us, all of us, rather than just isolated and individual forays.

I love Karen’s overarching questions for her three Saturday sessions.

  1. “What are three things you are grateful for? What do you need in your life right now to thrive?”
  2. “What part of you is calling out for healing right now? What brings you joy?”
  3. “What was most meaningful for you about our Circle and what will you take with you?”

It’s simple design. It’s powerful interaction. Thanks Karen. Read her full article in The Circle Way Newsletter.

Circle is the root of most of the convening work I do. I’ve often said, if you want to get better at all of the participative methodologies, go deeper in circle. This sentiment and practice continues to grow in me.

Join, yes, please, in the offerings. Or stay connected globally with others, growing in applied use of circle. For self care. And for a pile of other things that matter.