A friend of mine was having a really bad day. Imagine the worst day ever and multiply that by a thousand and you get the kind of day she was having.

Now, this friend is a profoundly wise person who runs a huge business in New York City. Additionally, she has had years of experience in meditation, contemplation and practice. In effect, she has courage, and she has muscle. She knows how to center herself, how to not take things personally, how to create right perspective and how to surrender. She knows how to be present in the here-and-now. She knows all the philosophical tactics to get over her suffering and return to wholeness. Basically, she could take anyone to the spiritual mat and my bucks would be on her.

But for reasons any normal person could understand, this day presented more than she could handle. It did. And she found herself at a café, crying uncontrollably into her double shot cappuccino. She had houseguests coming later that day, and like this she was ill prepared to meet them with any equanimity, much less hospitality.

She had to pull it together, and fast.

Sobbing, she called her husband, who implored her to call her dear friend, or call her spiritual director, or to come home and take a walk, maybe take a bath, and just find some peace again. She knew none of these things would work this time.

‘You know,’ she said to me dryly as she was recounting the story, ‘sometimes you just have to use whatever tool you know is going to work.’

So, purse in hand, she bolted up from her table and headed straight for the local high-end cosmetic boutique, The Cos Bar.

She burst through the glass doors, the counters were teaming with customers trying on lipstick and examining eye pencil color palettes. A saleswoman spotted her instantly and met her half way.

Gesturing towards her tear-stained, world-weary face, my friend looked this saleswoman straight in the eyes and said simply,

‘Fix this.’

The saleswoman took my friend’s hands and slowly led her over to a chair in front of an enthusiastic display of various cosmetics.

‘Honey,’ said the kindly saleswoman, in that velvety southern drawl (that all cosmetic saleswomen seem to share), ‘everything’s going to be just fine.’

During the makeover, my friend and the kindly saleswoman discussed all manner of essential profundities such as Kim Novak’s much-discussed appearance at the Academy Awards, and whether or not Meryl Streep had had work done (she hadn’t, they concluded).

Five hundred dollars later, my friend was back on track. She walked out of The Cos Bar feeling centered, lighter and grounded. She was ready to move forward in clarity and strength.

In the words of my wise friend, yes, sometimes you just have to use whatever tool you know is going to work. Don’t make the mistake of missing the depth of her choice, just because it appeared superficial. When a tool, any tool, serves wholeness, it is always sacred.

I think sometimes our philosophical, spiritual and religious concepts deny us the use of a lot of ways back in to wholeness, because they appear ‘unenlightened’. So we try to be ‘good’ and ‘wise’ and do all the right things and we’re still a mess, especially on those really-really-bad-times-a-thousand days. And we flounder and we don’t know why we can’t find our way.

In my friend’s story, I see a profound exchange — of vulnerability, of authenticity, of kindness and of wisdom. Who cares if eye shadow, lip-liner and concealer were the medium.

I’m going to toss you a gauntlet. How about you sit down and write a list of ten tools—really outrageous, indulgent, out-of-the-box ideas—that you know will help you get back to center. Then, you’ll have a list handy just for you when your having one of those ‘really-bad-times-a-thousand’ days, when nothing else works and you have to pull it together.

And please don’t write ‘meditation’ or ‘walking’…no, none of that wholesome saccharin sweet Hallmark stuff. I mean take a risk. Go ahead — go over to the dark side. It’ll be ok, I promise. I won’t tell anyone.

To get you started, I thought I’d share a few of mine.

1. Have sex (preferably with someone you love and trust, in my case, my beloved husband) — my body knows much better than my mind the way back to sanity. When my body leads and my mind has to hop in the back seat, I’m restored to where I need to be.

2. Dance — I play my iPod over my speakers, really loud, and dance like crazy — I have different playlists for different moods. I have sad playlists, angry playlists, joyful playlists, and earthy playlists. This gets me out of my head, and allows my body to process intense feelings.

3. Go shopping — just do it, and get over yourself about it. If I’m feeling broke, I go to thrift stores and go treasure hunting. One well-scored, three-dollar item is all it takes to make me happy.

4. Ride my horse — at a gallop. This helps me to feel unfettered. What ever your horse is, ride it at full tilt.

5. Buy music — the kind that is really speaking to me in that moment. This helps me to remember I am not alone.

6. Clean out a closet or drawer — I love throwing stuff away. Let me say it again. I really lovethrowing stuff away. It gives me great joy. Yes, ok, sometimes I’m politically correct about it and donate. But sometimes I just need to chuck it into a giant black trash bag and walk it ceremoniously out to the trash bin, and fling it in, and slam the lid down again. This helps me to feel unburdened.

7. Visit puppies at the animal shelter — I know, that sounds weird. But we’re lucky to have a no-kill shelter in my town. We also have several animal sanctuaries. Every dog and cat will have a home eventually. So I get to let my inner child lose in the puppy runs and have a ball. They remind me what is important.

8. Indulge in my favorite TV series — the darker the better as far as I’m concerned. Breaking Bad and True Detective really helps me find my heart again. Comedies also help, but again, darker is better (that’s just me). My favorite comedian? Louis CK of course.

9. Work on my business’ excel spreadsheets — there are rules to math and equations. Hanging out in that black and white world of rules and expected outcomes based on those rules helps me to feel safe again.

10. Drive in my car down the highway with the music as loud as possible — it feels like my very own private flying sanctuary. This helps me to feel free.

I recently spent time with my friend again. Life is still throwing her some heart-shredding challenges. But she’s finding new ways to keep her head above water; I can tell you they are downright unconventional. And they are working. She’s a blessing to be around. She’s radiant. And it isn’t just that new lipstick.

I’ve been having a lot of tornado dreams lately. Freudian analysis aside (please), I finally figured out what they were telling me. I was getting sucked in. I was being invited to learn a new skill—how not to. Dreams are cool, because they are filled with wisdom and teachings.

Tornado dreams have always been one of my dreaded re-occurring nightmares. They would rage through my childhood, giant screaming monsters prowling and looking to swallow me. And in every dream I would run and hide. I would find the tightest, tiniest, smallest crevice, and hide. If the tornado couldn’t find me, it would leave.

As a very sensitive child it would make sense that life felt overwhelming like a tornado. I felt other’s pain, their desires, their needs and demands and I felt it all so closely, I thought it was my problem to solve. And so I spent a lot of my life running and hiding from overwhelming situations. Alternatively, I would scream and rail against them—a fierce terrifying monster myself. Neither worked.

But lately those dreams have been shifting. I don’t hide. I stand there, but I’m also very aware I could be consumed in the roaring chaos. I’m trying to find another way, a more effective way, to navigate the storms—mine and others’—and not get sucked in. In essence, by not getting sucked in, I’ll lead better, in my personal life, and in my company.

Most leadership programs ultimately fail. Why? Because, in spite how much leaders know about ‘how to lead’, they lack the emotional courage to meet the chaos. In a recent Harvard Business Review blog, Peter Bregman writes, ‘Emotional courage means standing apart from others without separating yourself from them. And remaining steadfast, grounded and measured in the face of uncertainty.’

Essentially Peter has found an eloquent way to say, ‘don’t get sucked in’. Sounds lovely on paper, but this is tough work.

In cultivating emotional courage (among other things) to face the tornados of life, it’s important to surround yourself in ‘good company’. What I mean by that is to have wise friends. Don’t waste time with the other kind of friends. You want friends who hold you accountable. Friends who face life bravely. Friends who walk their talk. Friends who you admire. Friends who really see you.

So now I have a confession. I’ve spent the last three weeks getting sucked in. Given that we’ve been sandwiched between blood red eclipses and all kinds of squared-mars-conjunct-craziness, it’s no wonder. It was Kansas. It was Oklahoma. It was tornado season.

And when I say sucked in, I mean majorly. I quit writing, I stopped going to the gym, I forgot to hike, I ate junk, I didn’t sleep. Flinging myself on the couch one despairing afternoon, I was Maria Callas in La Traviata. ‘I don’t want to be a grown up anymore!’ I howled.

When you get sucked in to that tornado, it’s important to call one of those ‘good company’ friends. Immediately.

So the other day I called one of those friends. ‘Help,’ I squeaked.

She was there, and so present. She reminded me that when situations are intense, and people around you are going through their own version of a twister through a trailer park in Texas, you have to be able to determine what’s yours and what isn’t. There were storms at her house too, so she was really pleased to be reminding herself as she reminded me.

And I’m going to tell you what she did for me, so you can do it for yourself the next time your diving for the storm cellar, Toto under your arm.

She asked me to recall a time in my life when I was truly detached from a problem, or when I knew the difference between ‘mine’ and ‘theirs’. Could I remember a time when that spell of over responsibility was broken?

I could remember it instantly. ‘Got it!’ I said.

‘And can you remember where you were, what was happening, what was around you? Can you imagine you are back there?’

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘Good. Now, tell me, what does that problem that you were detached from look like from here?’

‘A red balloon.’

‘How far away is it?’

‘Three feet.’

‘How do you feel in your body?’

‘Peaceful, quiet.’

‘What do your ears hear?’

‘Not much…it’s quiet.’

‘What do you taste on your tongue?’

‘The coffee I had this morning.’

Like this, my friend kept moving this sense, knowing and skill of detachment, into my body in present time. And within moments I was grounded again, quiet, happy and even loving. The tornados slipped quietly into the tiny red balloon in front of me, suspended unthreateningly about three feet away.

Until the concept of detachment can become a bodily sense, it tends to remain a mental concept. And a cold, distant one at that. But this wasn’t cold, it was true. The red balloon put everything back into ‘right relationship’ and ‘right scale’.

When you summon your spell-broken moment, when you remember being peacefully detached from something, it’ll probably show up as something different from a red balloon. One friend of mine has a dog in front of her, another has a square box.

So I spent all day with my little red balloon floating in front of me. I was more centered, more compassionate, and responded from love instead of fear. And I don’t mean I responded from ‘love for’ anyone; I responded from being inside the peace of love itself.

And then another thing emerged that I found helpful.

In that spaciousness I began to explore what the hook was for me in each situation that sucked me in. I discovered that each hook had to do with some very deep fear or doubt I had about myself. I took the time to confront each fear and each doubt and disabled each hook one by one.

One hook was a belief I was not a good enough mom. The other was some strange superstition about not trusting my capacity to love. The other hook was a belief that if I made myself smaller, it would make others feel safe. And the other was that if I took responsibility for everything (and I mean everything), then I could fix all the problems around me.

My red balloon, and the hook-disabling it afforded me, created a different kind of field around me—not a flat tornado-prone field, but instead a field of ease and calm. And I noticed things began to resolve in unexpected and delightful ways. This, to me, is the inner game of leadership. The magical, quantum quality of being the change one wants to see in the world.

But we can’t do it alone, at least I can’t. When life gets windy, head towards your nearest wise companion, remind each other to find detachment in your bodies’ wisdom, and welcome the opportunity to discover the hooks of lies you believe about yourself.

I have a folding plastic chair that I keep near the horse paddock, home to a small family of six horses. Many times a week, I hoist the chair over the railing, unfold it in the middle of the enclosure and just sit. It’s the perfect way to not only ‘share territory’ with my equine companions (a deceptively simple but potent training technique), but to observe their behaviors.

Sometimes things are tangibly still, like sitting inside a Tibetan monastery. Sometimes, things are moving—one horse pushing another with silent subtle gestures, which leads to the movement of others—a sea of to and fro. At other times, things are playful and robust, with dust flying and giant bodies tumbling and arching. Sit around and watch the horses long enough, and you notice a deliberate regularity to their behavior that serves a common purpose of safety, peace, joy and success.

The horse herd is a 40-million-year-old system that not only succeeds, it thrives. This endurance defies the conventional definition of ‘sustainability’ and invites us to learn something from these powerful, wise and sensitive animals.

Allegorical use of horses as a window into the management of our own social organizations may seem at best romantic, and at worst a cheap stretch. We are not animals, we tell ourselves, and our brains function differently, and besides, horses can’t balance a budget. But this thinking not only over estimates our superiority, it underestimates the intelligence of nature. And, in fact, as mammals, our brains are hardwired for the same need for safety and success as the horse. It is our nature-deficient culture that robs us of true insight, robbing us of wisdom that could prevent professional and organizational demise.

According to Arie de Gaus former executive with Royal Dutch Shell and author of The Living Company: Habits for Survival in a Turbulent Business Environment, the average life expectancy of a multinational corporation—Fortune 500 or its equivalent—is only between 40 and 50 years. And the people working inside these organizations fare even worse. Top-level executives increasingly experience depression, anxiety, burnout and breakdown. Estimates are that over 50% of executives have experienced depression, and rates are estimated higher for those in top leadership positions. But statistics for professionals are nearly impossible to come by due to the stigma surrounding the topic.

Our culture defines a limited way of leading and being in organizations. With its dominant, hierarchal, hard-fisted, do-more-with-less, might-means-right world view, our lens through which we imagine a successful organization is distorted. And without clear seeing, we see no way out except through prescription medications. Such distortion dictates historical accounts, scientific assumptions and education, and hence perpetuates itself. So when we look to the horse for wisdom, we realize that it even cloaks the truth behind true herd behavior. We are told, for example, that a herd is governed by a roguish stallion, who runs his ‘harem’ of mares across hill and dale (yes, ‘harem’ was the actual word of choice used to describe the herd in an equine behavioral science book published in 1952).

But peer into the horse kingdom with clear eyes, free from the mythical cultural overlay, and you will discover that something quite different is happening. Herds operate in what is referred to as a ‘moveable hierarchy’, that is, that the leadership shifts and moves depending upon the need of the herd. Often it is a mare, or a team of mares who govern the herd, and a stallion (or gelding in a domestic herd) might also share this position with the mare(s). The mares determine the ‘right place’ for each member of the herd based on each individuals temperaments, gifts and weaknesses, and they are responsible also for disciplining those who behave in bullying or anti-social ways. Contrary to folktale, the herd is not there to serve and bow to the dominant’s whim simply because he is ‘boss’. Instead leadership’s goal is to serve the good of the whole. It’s premise – care, love and safety.

Terms like ‘boss’, ‘pecking order’, ‘survival-of-the-fittest’, to describe herd dynamics, obscure the profoundly nurturing and relational nature of this arrangement. The immense power of the herd is accessed not through what we would conventionally coin as ‘strength’, ie, toughness, might and ferocity, but instead through its sensitivity—empathy, listening and quiet presence. Imagine if, as children, we were told the truth about the herd, how that might have differently informed our sense of true power.

How does it all work, and how can it work in an organization? In order to liberate power, the herd has some very specific emotional and psychological needs. The needs are interdependent, and when applied to organizational dynamics, liberate all kinds of capital not only for the organization, but for each member. The needs are: congruencesense of personal space (a right to be here), leadershiprelationship, and place (belonging).

Congruence: Non-predatory animals are acutely sensitive to truth telling. Their lives depend on it. A mountain lion lurking in the bushes, wanting to pounce on the herd, registers to them as ‘incongruent’. He is pretending he is not there. He is aiming to be invisible and unthreatening, yet aiming to eat a horse. To survive, horses must have such a keen sense of their surroundings. They can feel a predator 500 yards away, AND feel that predator’s intentions. One has to appreciate this capacity for extremely subtle nuances of sensitivity. If they only felt the predator’s presence, and were not be able to discern his intention, they would be fleeing unnecessarily, expending precious energy, all the time.

If we go out to catch a horse, with our halter behind our back, acting as if we want nothing from him, he’ll register this as incongruence. We are the same way, if a leader promises to protect our local library, but is secretly shaking hands with a real estate developer who has eyes for the property, we feel something’s up. We register incongruences all the time, but we talk ourselves out of them. No wonder modern culture experiences increasing rates of chronic anxiety. Incongruence is a threat. And without congruence people, and horses, feel existentially unsafe.

But there is a deeper nuance to congruence here that is essential: to be as one is, in any given moment. This is a state of being that is about being fully present moment to moment, without some subtle contraction to change it, alter it, judge it. If I am anxious, I let the anxiety live inside me without panic. If I am bored, I allow it to be. This may sound radical. ‘But,’ you say, ‘if I let myself just be anxious, then nothing will change!’ This is a trick of the mind. Change only happens through real presence, peace and calm. And being panicked about our anxiousness hasn’t changed anything except make us more anxious.

In learning to be congruent, we learn to tell ourselves the truth. I suggest this practice to my clients: each day, all day, tell yourself the truth.

Please note: this does not mean that because you’re telling yourself the truth, you now have to share it with others, or make radical changes externally. Pressuring yourself to do that undermines your practice because it will make your task seem too overwhelming. No, just keep with a simple internal practice of telling yourself the truth. Is your body telling you that you are sitting down to coffee with someone you’d rather not be with? Just notice; tell yourself the truth. Is your gut telling you to be weary of that new girlfriend? Just notice; tell yourself the truth.

With our clients, working to master presence and congruence is a fundamental practice that underlies all of our other work. And here the horses are expert teachers. Horses (and people) need to feel that those around them are congruent – telling the truth (and telling themselves the truth). Here again the dominant cultural paradigm misleads us. Many of us were told, ‘Don’t let a horse know you’re scared or he’ll take advantage of you.’ Again, another tale. Horses don’t mind fear, or anger, or frustration or dislike. What causes them concern is when we are feeling a so-called negative emotion and not comfortable with it. That registers as incongruence. The tale is based on a misunderstanding—most people are uncomfortable with fear, and it is that incongruence that makes a horse mistrusting, not the fear.

The tale is also based on a basic cultural overlay that emotions are not good things, and need to be controlled at all cost. Kerry J. Sulkowicz, MD, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and the founder of the New York City-based management consulting firm the Boswell Group says, “Some of the worst work environments have a ‘macho’ culture where there isn’t much attention paid to the way people feel.”

In our work at the Institute, we coach our clients to be emotionally courageous, to be able to bear and be fully present with their entire range of feelings and emotions. They then cultivate that skill to apply courageous presence with others, and thus wield a powerful, effective, confident and positive influence especially in high anxiety situations.

Of all the needs, congruence is the most fundamental. Without congruence, all other aspects to herd safety are compromised. It is exactly the same with human beings. In order to feel safe, we need to feel congruence within ourselves, and externally. Without it, we begin to feel stressed, and in chronic cases of incongruence, we can become ill.

Sense of personal space and right to be here: Through being congruent we know and befriend ourselves, and gain a sense of our right to be here as is. This comes quite naturally to horses; it would never occur to them that they were worthless, had no right to be here, shouldn’t take up space, should be different, or should not get in the way. Spend time with horses you’ll get a sense of their unapologetic presence and their unambiguous solidness on the ground.

You’ll also notice that each one maintains a sort of cushion of air around them through which they negotiate their personal space. Through this larger cushion of air, they in fact take up more personal space than their actual physical body mass. When people allow themselves a similar ‘cushion of air’ around themselves (energetically, emotionally and metaphorically), many positive things happen. They feel more present, more sensitive, and more aware of other’s crossing their boundaries. They are also more aware of others’ personal space, energetically and emotionally. They feel more confident too.

It would also never occur to horses that they were separated from all of life. Culture distorts this knowing for us, and leads us to imagine we are disconnected from all things—individual solitary silos, aliens and imposters—which leads us to either ‘play small’ by pretending to have no influence or ‘play big’ by wielding overbearing influence. Knowing we belong to and are connected with all things gives us more confidence to safely, unapologetically just be here, present, and grounded without any unnecessary egotistical props.

Leadership: Again, our culture gets it wrong with the herd. We are told the lead horses are dominant, when in fact the two are very different. Dominant horses are the ones who disrespect boundaries and are bullies. Because of their behavior and unless they are corrected, they tend to be isolated from the group altogether. Naturally, no one wants to follow them. The lead horses are the ones who display alertness, a keen sense of their surroundings, and a respectful kind but justly firm presence that establishes and protects all members’ place in the herd.

Unfortunately, human dominants tend to procure leadership positions (due to our tolerance for incongruence), hence our confusion around leadership. This leads to organizational misbehavior, irresponsibility and poor public policy. It’s a shame, because such a culture discourages those more sensitively inclined to take leadership positions where they are most needed. Many good hearted, wise, sensitive professionals who come to us are ambiguous about concepts of leadership, power and influence because they imagine it to belong in the domain of the dominants. This is a gross misunderstanding and is leading us down a dangerous path. The key behind true leadership is not dominance but justness.

Horses teach people how to be excellent leaders because they respect nothing short of justness, along with clarity, presence, genuine care and the willingness to make requests. And in fact, they will constantly test their human students to see who is the leader—the horse or the human—not because they are ‘vying for power’ or ‘needing to see who is boss’, but because the safety of the herd depends upon it. When a client steps into his or her leadership role with their horse through making clear requests, the horse is instantly soothed and calm. Why? Because requests mean they are being taken care of.

Relationship: Horses become stressed and depressed when isolated. They need each other to thrive. It is sad to note that it is a common practice in North America and Europe to board horses in stalls, or loose boxes, separate from one another. But we do the same with ourselves as well. We go it alone, isolate when we feel frightened or overwhelmed, and create organizational structures that discourage truth telling and thus encourage isolation. It may look like we are all together, but we are alone together. Much more can happen in the creative synergies of authentic collaboration, supportive community and creating allies around us who hold us accountable to our authentic best.

Place: Through leadership, requests, relationship and congruence, every horse in the herd has his right place so that he can best joyfully thrive and contribute to the wellbeing of the others. Some horses are more comical, and provide entertainment and play, some more pensive, others have immense curiosity. In Jim Collins’ bestseller Good to Great, he makes the well known bus analogy. “First get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats and then figure out where to drive it.” This is not cutting edge thinking, this is 40-million-year-old wisdom. The herd is constantly moving towards placing the right horse in the right seat on the bus, and establishing the right direction to drive it. Hmmm, that’s a strange image. But anyway, you get it.

To move forward, we need to wake up and see that our culture is based on a fair share of ‘husbands tales’, and also a dominant predatory paradigm. While the predatory paradigm has its place (there is nothing wrong with predators—in certain circumstances bringing out the lion within is acutely necessary), it was never meant to be the whole story. It only accesses half of our capacity. Human beings are omnivores, not just predators or just herbivores, and so we have within us the capacity to engage in both predatory and non-predatory approaches to power. Having the capacity to make an informed, wise, deliberate choice between our capacities poises us for greatness, and the possibility for making real, sustained and responsible change in the world.

I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other.
— Rainer Maria Rilke

I just completed a five-day sabbatical, and found it so worthwhile and invaluable that I wanted to share how to pull one off without too much drama. It was the first of two to three such sabbaticals that I have planned to take each year—representing a new precept to myself to nourish my life, work, soul and creativity.

Even though I knew the value of taking time off, I still found it challenging to give myself permission to have a true sabbatical. And so, yes, it took me about five years after I first heard of the concept to finally commit to them as a regular feature in my life. Ok, I’m a slow learner.

But now that I’ve had my first, I’m hooked. And wanted to share some ideas on how to make sure they become a regular feature in your life too. Why take a sabbatical? Because it makes you wiser, stronger, more courageous, clearer, smarter, more present, and more in touch with your authentic rhythms, instincts and impulses. This leads to more joy, peace, creativity and productivity. Aren’t those good enough reasons?

First of all, don’t make the mistake I made over the last five years and kid yourself you’re taking a sabbatical, when all that’s really happening is everyone in the household has gone out of town. The trouble is that being at home leaves you vulnerable to all sorts of distractions and responsibilities—watering the plants, cleaning house, tidying up that closet, finally. While this kind of solitude is nourishing, it is not a sabbatical.

Secondly, don’t make the mistake of thinking a sabbatical is some kind of grand institution whereupon you need twelve months off, sanctioned by a grant, a house on the beach, laptop under arm to write your first novel.

Sabbaticals can be all shapes and sizes…from one day to five days to a week or longer. What makes them happen, is you make them easy. And what makes them potent, is you follow a few basic guidelines. Here are a few tips to help you pull off both:

Figure out a realistic time frame— for me, I wanted to be able to do two or three each year to regularly ‘inform’ my life, so I needed to keep my sabbaticals brief enough to fit into my busy schedule and commitments, but long enough to feel like I could go deeply into my process. I settled on four to five days each, two to three times a year. I call these pocket-sabbaticals. This suited me much better than one huge month off, that would have been practically, if not completely, impossible.

Get out of your house, and if you can, get out of your town—it doesn’t have to be far, but it’s better if you are away from your usual haunts. Distraction of familiarity and habit will prevent you from going deep into your process of self-discovery. I found my perfect place a two-hour drive away, into the mountains.

Plan to take a technology diet—as one your sabbatical guidelines. Technology invades your space and your psyche. One minute you’re looking up an interesting website, and the next thing you know, someone’s pinged you on Facebook.

Find a place that gives you solitude—ideally find a place that does not have Internet or cell reception so you will not be tempted. My favorite set up was a very inexpensive cabin in the woods that was a 10-minute drive from any cell reception or Internet.

Figure out a realistic cost—this does not have to be an expensive venture. In fact it can even save you from your usual weekly expenses. Friends may be out of town for a week and want a house-sitter. Camping is awesome for those so inclined. There are very inexpensive accommodations once you take away the need for wireless Internet.

Set it up in advance so that you will not be interrupted—warn colleagues, family members and friends that you will be away and will not be available. Put an auto-responder on your email. Put a message on your cell phone. Set up an ‘in case of emergency’ plan with the support of a helpful ‘front guy or gal’ to field messages. Make sure you define clearly what an ‘emergency’ really is for yourself (think exposed jugular). In my case, I had any urgent matters forwarded to my husband. And he was the only one who could contact me for real emergencies.

Make the structure work for you— sometimes the best-made plans can have a few kinks in them. By the time my sabbatical time rolled around, it was just at the time my oldest was hearing back about college acceptances and needed my company; something I did not anticipate. Rather than cancel my sabbatical, I created a 30 minute window each day from 4:30 – 5 pm, whereby I would drive the 10 minutes for Internet access, download emails and listen to phone messages, and deal with any urgent and important matters. Again, I had to be very clear inside myself about what was ‘urgent’ and what could wait.

Plan a post retreat ‘make up work’ day— this saved me when I was worried about the onslaught of work that might be awaiting me post sabbatical, and prevented me from dealing with work during sabbatical time. I tacked on an extra ‘day off’ to my sabbatical for this purpose, which allowed me to catch up on emails and the like, before hitting the pavement of usual work again. I did not tell people I was ‘back at work’ again until the following day.

Remove the need for errands—Pocket-sabbaticals are great for this because you can easily purchase a week’s worth of food and supplies, and download any books and music you might want or need in advance. Errands are time and energy vampires.

Know what to bring—this is the fun part. Anything goes. I brought journals, art supplies, books, my dog (he’s a great hiking partner, plus, I liked the extra company in a remote cabin in the woods!), music, poetry, hiking boots, delicious food, movies, and a box of old family letters.

Know what not to bring—just as important. Work, catch up work, bills, your productivity, an alarm clock, or any kind of clock  for that matter, your ambitions about finally ‘getting healthy’ or ‘losing weight’, making those phone calls to out of town friends, or becoming a vegan.

OK, now you are on sabbatical, now what:

At first it’s hard—Expect the first part of your sabbatical to feel like a bit of a hell realm, or you might just feel really exhausted and want to sleep all day (please do it). Wayne and I call this the ‘hands across the threshold’ phase because its the phenomenon where you wish you weren’t doing this stupid thing or  find reasons to sabotage yourself. And it really seems, based on our own experience and in observing others’, that it is usually about 15 to 20% of one’s initial time. If you take three days off, expect about a half-day of drama. If you take a month, expect almost a week. Seems like some kind of sabbatical physics.

You may notice you are more vulnerable and tender, or perhaps a kind of incessant worry and anxiety sets in, or the boredom becomes unbearable, or some drama from the outside world sets you off (for me it was all of those). Whatever it is, know that it is normal, and that it will pass and will reveal a delightful new world that only this kind of solitude can provide.

Follow the thread—this is by far the best advice I’ve received from Wayne about sabbaticals. Because, after all, one wants to know what to do on sabbatical! What does follow the thread mean? Simply allow your heart and your whimsy to take you from moment to moment. Feel like napping? Do it. Diving into a novel? Cool! Taking a walk? Yes. Gazing out the window for an hour. Why not? Dancing? Yes! Trying your hand at a haiku (it’s 5-7-5 by the way)? Of course.

Many take a much more austere view of sabbatical time, forcing themselves into intense yoga poses, hours of meditation, fasting, eating tofu, or—God forbid—doing the Master Cleanse. I believe that if you create such a tight environment, you will dread your sabbatical and will therefore either sabotage it, or never take it. The point being that you want to create a space and time that feels nourishing, safe, and delightful. Yet, you want to protect it from distraction and anything that might sabotage it in any way. This takes a kind of radical personal honesty with yourself about where you draw your lines.

So much wisdom and learning happen in the allowance of delight, wonder, and play. This is different than distraction (such as shopping, web surfing and generally engaging with the world), it is allowing the authentic rhythm of your heart’s knowing take you from place to place. Yes, it will feel indulgent, it will feel rich, and it will nourish you. And without even realizing it, you will descend into your own inner knowing and discovery in all kinds of unexpected ways that you could never have imagined.

Be open to signs, symbols, dreams and synchronicity—when you say ‘yes’ to your inner life, your inner life responds…even externally. Oh yeah.

Keep a journal for sabbatical insights— you may have all sorts of untapped wisdom or discoveries or questions show up that you’ll want to remember and harvest for your daily life. It doesn’t have to be a written journal, collage- or art-journals are wonderful too. For fun ideas about this, see all the images here, or Google ‘art journals’.

And what about when it’s over?

Plan for a gentle re-entry—when you emerge you will feel more, sense more, be more in tuned with yourself than when you went in, and so you need to allow for a re-entry that will support your new found presence and quiet. A ‘post sabbatical catch up day’ can help with that, but resist the temptation to schedule lots of appointments where you might see lots of people right away. Take it slowly. Another good reason to keep it slow for a few days is because many essential post-retreat insights continue to trickle through. Don’t get yourself so busy that you don’t have space and time to notice them.

I’m looking forward to my next sabbatical in about four months. Sabbaticals make great gifts too. You can give one to a friend, spouse, or family member by supporting them to carve out the time, and setting up the location and arrangements. Our families and workplaces can become a place where the pocket-sabbatical becomes part of the culture. More importantly, if we become allies for one another in the quest to build sabbaticals into our modern culture, we allow for more humanity and wisdom to push through the pavement of business as usual.

Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives … most of the things that are interesting, important, and human are the results of creativity… [and] when we are involved in it, we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.
– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

There’s a great theosophical myth perpetuated in our culture that is based on this one core misunderstanding: that there is humanity, and then there is the divine, and they are two. Out of this misunderstanding is born many painful polarities: work and play, self and other, time-off and time-on, business and pleasure, heaven and earth, and so on. These views are what lead me to conclude at some point in my life that running a business was one of the most conventional, boring, one-dimensional endeavors one could imagine. It also lead me to believe that being human, and in general, just being alive, was a bit of a bummer.

Which is true, if that is what one believes. Inside this idea we spend our lives enduring the weekdays, looking forward to Fridays, and dreading Mondays—52 cycles a year, for decades. We search for safety, while avoiding risk. Basically, we just get along. According to the most recently released Gallup poll,  only 13% of people worldwide like going to work. Even for those fortunate enough to ‘enjoy’ their work, there can exist little deep meaning. Year by year we become increasingly numb to the absence of that meaning, and decreasingly alive and vibrant.

After college, and after a few excruciatingly boring stints at three large companies, I was fortunate enough be asked the following question, ‘If you could do anything in the world and make money at it, what would it be?’ Why, I was asked, did I need to separate my life into sections of work and play, creativity and productivity? Fortunately these questions pointed me towards meaningful work, and a life navigated by curiosity. And they continue to run like a mantra through my life, keeping me close to the truth of how I want to spend my days.

The trouble is, this is not our usual cultural mantra, and we are faced with enormous push-back when we search for ways to live and work that really ignite our passion and creativity. There are a few times in our life when we are vulnerable to this push-back: after college, after grad school, after a long sabbatical or long trip, when we are fired or laid off, when we are newly divorced and need to get back on our feet again, or during any other large transition in our life (death, illness, break-up, birth of a child, child off to college, moving, etc). But these transitions are also brimming with creative potential, and tend to be the times when our vulnerability breaks us open to our hearts’ longings.

But this is not a rave about ‘finding your passion and doing it’. Though it a very worthy topic, it can feel like one has to put off living their passion until they quit their job, start a blog, and move to Costa Rica. This post is more about living creatively within what are already, right now, your current circumstances. I believe that in allowing creativity to seep through the cracks of every day, it will have its way with you and seamlessly lead you to a passionate vibrant life.

Let’s first get down to the basics. Just the physics. You, being here, alive. Exhale, and just give yourself a full two minutes to take in this paragraph: entertain the possibility for a moment that this lifetime is a gift, not just in that clichéd, sentimental way, but really take a moment and imagine that this is the most amazing place to be in the universe, at the most amazing time in history, right here, right now. Take in the fact that you are sitting here, reading this, your heart pumping, your chest breathing, your body filled with life force, your feet pressing against a planet that supports you, and gravity keeping you gently grounded here. This life, this body, this set of circumstances. And imagine, just for this moment, that this entire orchestration of life, body, earth, circumstances, is not just for you to endure, or to survive, but to thrive and shine. And let it sink in, that within these miraculous circumstances, you have a very, very limited time.

Taking time to really experience the above is the primary inspiration behind all creative inspiration. Whether made implicit or explicit, those who live creatively, live from that place of embodied gratitude and wonder. It’s not a religious thing; it’s an embodied thing, a physics thing. Life really is this way, except that culture, news, media, and that core theosophical misunderstanding would have us believing otherwise. Diverse spiritual views aside; most of us can agree that creativity is a powerful, non-denominational approach to meaning. And for some of us, feeling that creation principle flow through our days, brings us as close to the bone marrow of the sacred as we can be.

So whether we call it ‘creative’ or not, every moment, every endeavor, every organization, every political policy, actually is our creative expression. So we may as well do it mindfully, because a lot of our collective expression right now seems to be reflecting that sense of enduring life, rather than shining through it. Let’s not wait.

If you want to live more creatively, do not do the following (or, how to live a flat, boring, uninspired life):

  1. Jump out of bed and rush to read email first thing, without any time for self-reflection, meditation, self-care.
  2. Ignore synchronicities and signs.
  3. Lean on adrenaline to rush through your day, running from task to task.
  4. Never have a Sabbath – day, weekend or week
  5. Navigate by ‘how’ of what you do, while having no idea of the ‘why’  behind it.
  6. Watch and listen to the news, without discernment.
  7. Engage in one more self-help book, healing practitioner, or personal development guru before you feel ‘ready’ or worthy to be of service.
  8. Never ‘check in’ with yourself to feel if something is right for you before you proceed or say ‘yes’.
  9. Navigate through external indications and signals.
  10. Bury yourself in technology, alcohol, gossip, preservative-laden foods and other mind-numbing substances.
  11. Never dance alone in your kitchen, sing loudly in the car, read poetry, go to a gallery, draw, write or journal.
  12. Surround yourself with naysayers.
  13. Avoid nature.
  14. Avoid trouble, problems, risk and anything messy. Ew!
  15. Say you are doing any of the above because it is serving, being responsible for, or taking care of someone or something else.
  16. Forget about gratitude, daily.

Many people have confusion around the concept of creativity. They imagine innovative technologies, or great music, or something visually captivating. This allows them to undermine any hint of it when it peaks through their own lives. Creativity is simply life force. It is often heralded by a sense of aliveness, curiosity or lightness. If you feel it moving through you, it’s creative. It doesn’t have to be pretty, tidy, right, balanced, productive or skillful to be creative. It only has to feel alive. It doesn’t have to please others, win awards or end up on a TED stage. It only has to exist for you, and be set free to roam around in your life. If you do things to numb or squash that feeling, because you think its stupid, indulgent or dangerous, then you invite mediocrity and boredom. The more ways you invite the sense of aliveness into each moment, then the more your life will begin to transform into a creative, deliberate life. And the more all of your endeavors will begin to reflect it.

Imagine the change in the world that would be possible, if our businesses and organizations were deliberate expressions of our creative dreams, rather than mere money-making machinery.

I’ve been thinking a long time about our sister Miley Cyrus, since she first wagged her tongue at me across my living room floor. That fateful VMA performanceunleashed a maelstrom of various commentary ranging from ‘leave the poor girl alone’ to finger wagging feminist disapproval, even rage. Why all that anger? Internally I watched my own opinions swing like a trapeze artist, curious to witness my mind’s fixation, as I have absolutely no interest in pop-artists and their antics per se. But I do have interest in how art affects public discourse, and what is says about us as a culture.

Finally it hit me, why my mind kept badgering the point, and why there was so much public anger around the topic. The context of the Miley Cyrus conversation — ‘she’s evil’, ‘she’s cool’, ‘she has a right to do what she does’ is completely off the mark. The conversation centers around her body and her sexuality and the push-pull arguments around a woman’s worth—completely assuming the words worth/body/sexuality belong in the same sentence. They don’t. And that points to where we as women remain imprisoned in cultural viewpoint and evaluation that is just plain wrong, and needs to stop. Frankly while men’s sexuality and body are seldom up for public discourse, women’s bodies and sexuality are public fare game. They are the public’s right. They are the public’s possession.

When the swing in my mind finally settled I realized that, for me, the Miley Cyrus display meant nothing about women’s rights, women’s free expression, sexuality, her body, fading childhood innocence, emerging womanhood, or the loss of American wholesome-ism. It meant hardly anything of any significance or meaning at all. I just found it ugly. It just didn’t appeal to my taste, and that was all it was.

There are plenty of female artists who move their bodies in ways that I find more pleasing. Beyoncéslayed 108 million Americans at last year’s Super Bowl. So strong and powerful was her show, that it seemed to many of us that the football game was a sideline act to support her—and not the other way around. Her moves were every bit as raunchy and provocative as Miley’s. They were just prettier.

Astonishingly what the Miley conversation reveals is that we still remain inside a tiny world defined by our sexuality and our right to be sexual or not, when to be sexual, how to be sexual, as if that were the important discussion. When instead, it should not be up for public discussion. What we do with our bodies is no-one’s business! We should stop the conversation. But we don’t. We pander to it, and live within it and call it freedom of speech. And worse, we prime our little girls to be ready for that same gladiator ring.

We walk them through the hot-pink aisles of the girl clothing section of our local department store and frock them in short miniskirts and lacey bras. We mock their developing breasts by parading skeletons down the Vogue runway, and then teach them the language of plastic surgery and breast implants. We teach them to flirt, manipulate and reward them for beauty. We teach them to be Beyoncé; we are horrified when they are Miley. And when Miley shows up, we want to wash our hands of her. But the two are the same.

Miley did not invent twerking, we did. Miley just followed the cultural modeling that we as women (and men) have perpetuated. And that is why we are angry when we talk about her. We don’t like what we’ve created and we don’t want to look at it because it means we must take responsibility for it.

Beautiful women and beautiful moves aside (please), Beyoncé the icon, while bold and inspiring, still only gives women a tragically limited palette from which to define true powerful intelligent womanhood. If she is lifted up by our culture as one of the finest our gender has to offer, then we are in big trouble. Big trouble.

What this means it is it’s still a man’s world, governed by men’s values, men’s media, and we are still living inside it. Our emancipation, our rights, our expression, our worth is still being forged within the walls of that world—and call it feminism. We should, instead, define the feminine through a completely different paradigm. We need to step out of those walls completely and define a whole new set of rules for ourselves. We don’t just need ‘equal pay’, we need ‘different pay’. It’s like we as women are running up the aisles of an airplane, thinking we are adding more momentum to the flight, when we are on the wrong plane in the first place.

No where are the consequences of our tight framing more evident than in the economic sphere. According to the most recently released The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, 1 in 3 Americans today live in poverty or hang on the brink. 70 million are women and the children who depend on them. Worldwide, women make up half the world’s population, yet represent 70% of the world’s poor. There is a disturbing global trend of increasing, not decreasing, gaps in income between the sexes. This is being called the feminization of poverty.

Media is of course where the confines of this masculine worldview is most celebrated. Row upon row of women’s magazines display the limited discourse that remains tightly corseted between weight, fashion and housekeeping. Television and movies keep the trance alive, save for the rare heroine who (literally) punches through the veil. But even she is sexy and beautiful…and, oh yeah, violent.

It’s not that a man’s world is inherently bad. It’s just that it is only half the equation. Therefore the lack of a real feminine culture—that stands outside of, and alongside of the masculine—is problematic for both sides. Oppressing the feminine not only results in unspeakable horror, violence and tragedy for women and young girls around the world, but suppressed feminine power can come out sideways, twisted into passive aggressive subversions that damage both genders. At its best, the world flounders along with only half a wing.

Therefore, this is not a women’s issue. It is not a gender issue. It is a civilizational issue, an ethical issue, and one that costs everyone. It cannot be solved exclusively within the context of women supporting women. We are beyond the realm of Annie Lennox’s sistas doin’ it for themselves. If an entire system is broken, then we need our brothers along side us to make things different and help tear down the masculine walls that define and strangle us all.

Outspoken lioness Jada Pinkett-Smith wrote:

How is man to recognize his full self, his full power through the eye’s of an incomplete woman? The woman who has been stripped of Goddess recognition and diminished to a big ass and full breast for physical comfort only.
The woman who has been silenced so she may forget her spiritual essence because her words stir too much thought outside of the pleasure space.
I am sure the men, who restructured our societies from cultures that honored woman, had no idea of the outcome. They had no idea that eventually, even men would render themselves empty and longing for meaning, depth and connection.
When woman is lost, so is man.

Like a fish in water, it is hard for us to see what we live inside. It is too close, too familiar and feels too natural. So we have to begin by educating one another. In my work, I find that men are very surprised and open when I point out certain ways that feminine oppression, sexism and double standards are apparent. They literally do not see it, and are grateful to know about it. Sometimes we can point that oppression out in a third person exchange with another man; sometimes we can point it out when it is another woman doing the dirty work on her sister (this usually surprises my male cohorts the most). Sometimes we can point out when the feminine inside—men or women—is being silenced. We can point it out during movies, books, or lectures. The important thing is to start seeing it, naming it and calling it out to others.

We can, both genders, befriend each other and help teach one another to see that toxic water we swim in. We can do it right now, in our workplace, in our schools, in our families. And then we can start to make real changes that are not about putting the masculine down, or fitting the feminine inside him, but lifting the feminine up to her rightful sovereign place next to him. Free, emancipated, powerful in her own way.

This will be a world filled with possibility we’ve only barely begun to imagine.

It had been a challenging two weeks at best. A series of disappointments and challenges had collided with my plans, work was heating up, the holiday ‘frenzy’, and my teen’s college application process that continued to grab every one of my spare moments, all rose over me like a Harry Potter Dementor and sucked my life force away. By new years day, I was so thin on the ground, that everything was becoming a ‘problem’.

So I did what any New Mexico gal would do, and took off into the icy mountain trails with my faithful dog Pablo. Somewhere into the second frost-laden breathless hour, between the first and second creek crossing, I found myself again. By the time I came off the mountain, I was not only found, but surrounded with enough reserves of resilience that I could meet my life with clarity. And as familiar as this scenario is, I am always startlingly astonished how different I am and how different my world looks when I take good care of myself. So, being new years day and all, I made a few 2014 pacts with myself to support me to have more days like these.

It’s one thing to make new year’s resolutions, and many tout that making them is a useless waste of time. But its quite another to use the birth of a new year to prompt oneself into imagining the kind of life you want, and crafting steps—baby steps—towards that end (admittedly, any time of the year is the right time). So, I thought to share with you some of the great strategies I have learned to help create a deliberately lived year:

Find the ‘Why’ of your life – We spend our days on all the ‘hows’ – the to do’s, the endless errands. But take some time pondering the real meaning of your life – what gives it spirit, passion and lift? What informs your desires and dreams? It is your meta-reason behind many things. For me, lifting up and showing people their wholeness, is my ‘why’. What is yours?

Dream, baby, dream – Schedule some you-time, an hour or so, to dream. Let your ‘Why’ navigate what you might imagine for yourself. Grab a cup of coffee and nestle into your favorite chair, or take a walk in your favorite location. Set no limits for yourself on this one. Don’t edit yourself in terms of what you imagine ‘is possible’ or what ‘is not possible’. What kind of life do you imagine you want? What would you do? And just as importantly, what would you not do? Who would you spend time with? What risks might you take? What dream might you go for? Then free-write everything down.

Based on what you write above, determine your year’s goals / desires – A life is made of years, which is made of months, weeks, days and hours. This year is the start of the rest of your life. To change your life, you can start by changing your year, your months, your days. What are some of the things you want to do this year that will lead you towards your destination? For example, do you want to start a blog? Do you want to travel to a particular place with your children? Do you want to invite a student studying abroad to live with you? What about more time with your spouse or partner? List them all.

Based on what you write above, determine five to seven broad focus areas of your year that will serve those goals – for me it is writing, family / marriage / friends, adventuring, building my business, health and wellbeing, and learning / education.

Make it effectively practical – Here is where the year is broken into the baby steps of your each and every day. After all, great things are accomplished through a series of small actions. Like this, each day becomes your building block.

Create a Word document (one page) that has between five and seven same-sized boxes (or if you are not technologically inclined, just draw the boxes). Take up all the space on your page for the boxes. At the top of each box write each focus area, leaving the rest of the box empty. When you are done, you should have five to seven boxes on one page, with one focus area per box. Print or photocopy dozens of copies of this, because it will be your blank ‘template’. Each day you will grab one of these templates, and fill it out with your various ‘to do’s’ for the day, putting a ‘to do’ item in each of your boxes. This is your daily ‘to do’ list. But instead of a random list of ‘to do’s’ based on whatever is screaming at you the loudest, the box format supports you to do things that support your focus areas, that serve your goals. You give yourself dominion, and literally steer your life towards your dreams.

For example, in my ‘Build my business’ box, I might have ‘Return Ed’s call’, and ‘Draft client proposal’. In my ‘Learning / education’ box, I might have ‘Set up appointment for training session’. But each of these seemingly small actions, is taking me towards a greater dream of, say, publishing my book, or running a successful visionary company.

Be realistic for each day, don’t over schedule yourself, and try as best you can to do something each day, or at least every two or three days, in each and every box. Use your long list of goals and desires to help you navigate towards particular outcomes. If you notice one box remains consistently empty week after week, do something to change that, or decide you aren’t really up for that focus area after all and erase it from your template. At the end of each day, evaluate how you did, and fill out a new sheet for your next day. For more information on how to work this incredibly effective system, see the website of Peter Bregman and his book 18 Minutes: Find your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done.

Create allies – Have friends around you who know about your aims and believe in you. Illicit their active support in keeping you on track. One friend makes sure that we get out and hike every week. Another calls me every other week to see how I’m moving along on my client building. Also, keep in good company – be with people who are congruent with your aspirations, who help you keep reaching outside of your box. Inspiring entrepreneur, Jim Rohn said, ‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’ Who are the people you spend the most time with? Who would you like them to be?

Never email first thing in the morning – Email is a technological Dementor. It sucks your life energy, robs you of your dominion, and determines what you are going to do for the day. Plan a regular one hour ‘email time’ each day and stick to it. If you are like me, a lot of work happens through email, but guess what, a lot of ‘non work’ or ‘non essential work’ or ‘non immediate work’ happens there too. To cope with those who ‘expect’ you’ll be on email all the time, I let them know my email habit. I also designate five minutes (and five minutes only) at the first of the day to see if anyone has something really urgent (as in sliced jugular kind of emergency), or to see if there is a cancelled meeting. Otherwise, everything MUST wait until my designated email time. When you cut down, then only the essential rises to the surface. I promise. For more on how to do this effectively, see The Four Hour Work Week.

Create a morning sanctuary – Make it first thing. Make it sacrosanct. This is time for you to journal, meditate, and set your day on the right course. At first journaling can seem awkward and silly, but once you get in the habit of it, you’ll establish an intimate relationship with yourself that liberates wisdom and intuition throughout your days.

Schedule regular sabbaticals for yourself – You don’t need a grant or some long term plan of writing the great American novel to do this. Establish something that works for your lifestyle. Two weekends three times a year to be in solitude and away from technology is all you need to change your life. Our very own Wayne Muller wrote a best-selling book on this topic – Sabbath. And check out my blog on how to give yourself a ‘pocket sabbatical’, short, easy, manageable.

Learn the art of saying ‘no’ – Genuine kindness means having the courage to say what you can and cannot do.

Dreams don’t happen just by dreaming them; they require focus, attention, and small baby steps, done hour by hour, day by day. But with hard work and commitment, they help us to shape our life from one of ordinariness, governed by random external forces, to one of magnificence and wonder.

In that spirit, allow me to share a poem:

For a New Beginning
By John O’Donohue(1956 – 2008)
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

I hope your year is brilliant.

Other helpful resources:

Zen Habits
Live Your Legend – get the Free Passionate Work Toolkit and lots of other goodies http://liveyourlegend.net/email-updates/
The Awakened Heart by Gerald May

Like many little girls, I was bitten by the horse bug at a very young age. It was my neighbor’s fault. One Saturday morning, she decided to unload her horse off of her horse trailer and walk him down the sidewalk of our manicured suburban neighborhood, to our front lawn and ring our doorbell. Still in my Winnie-the-Pooh pyjamas, hair tangled wildly in a nest behind my head, I ran bare footed to where he stood, towering several stories above me.

I placed my foot in my neighbor’s laced hands and hoisted myself on to the warm soft back of this immense and mysterious creature. My tiny fingers clasped at the final tuft of mane, at the end of his long neck. I wrapped my short legs as tightly as possible around his broad frame, pointing my toes for added length. He continued grazing on clumps of green grass, each mouthful precipitated by a strong tug that I felt through his whole body. His giant ribcage expanded and contracted between my bare calves. His fur shone rainbows of golden browns and reds. And his smell, oh, his smell—a perfume of sweet sun-kissed hay and meadow flowers. I was intoxicated. I was love-crazed. I was rapturous.

Within weeks, my bedroom transformed into an equine shrine—posters of herds racing over my bed, Brayer models of all breeds, ages and colors on my shelves and cavorting on my carpet, a dog-eared copy of Billy and Blaze under my desk, books on-end creating makeshift stables and paddocks, and used copies of tack catalogs strewn under my bed. Even my poor dog Kim, a medium-ish poodle, was designated my steed, begrudgingly wearing a towel for a saddle pad and a belt for her bridle.

I remember the surge of endorphins that would pulse through my body as I galloped and pranced with my horse-cohort, Kay-Anne Williams, across the front yards of our block. I was the black stallion, and she was always the painted mare. We were, in those moments, all things—we were horse, we were rider, we were wind, and speed and freedom, and we were wildness itself. Sometimes we could coerce her younger brothers to chase us with whoops and hollers on their bikes—cowboys and Indians chasing ever-elusive mustangs through the canyons of the neatly contiguous houses.

You could call it love. But I would call it more than that; I was taken. And as much as I tried to escape it during various chapters of my adult life, I have discovered that equus has as much taken me, as I have taken them. What is this irrepressible passion? And why does it refuse to leave me alone? Only in recent years have I begun to understand the nature of its workings in my life, and the lives of others who have been taken too, be it by art, music, or the immensely creative pursuit of leading a business.

Debra Roberts is a master beekeeper, wise-woman, and a dear friend. As she remarks, she is ‘kept by her bees.’ These gregarious creatures were quietly but persistently in her life since a young age, but came rushing in all at once after a sudden illness forced her into Sabbatical. During this time, she made contact with the family of a deceased Hopi Elder who had made a strong impact on her years earlier, and felt compelled to make a several-days’ sojourn into the empty desert to deliver honey to their household. Upon opening the door, the Elder’s daughter-in-law exclaimed that they had just run out of honey and had been wanting more. From this moment on, bee-influenced meetings and circumstances continued to pollinate Debra’s life, until finally arriving at beekeeping school in Ashland.

An advocator of bee rights and natural bee colony regeneration, educator of beekeepers, and visionary behind what she calls ‘the women’s movement as expressed through women’s ways in the apiary’, Debra has become an unusual and dynamic voice in dialog about women’s spirituality, as well as the saving of our bee populations.

As ‘taken’ women, she and I often find ourselves in conversation about our beloveds—winged and four-legged—and share our insights and curiosities about a life, as she calls it, ‘in service to the sacred other’. Here lies the difference between something we love (a passion or hobby), and something we serve, which becomes an altogether different relationship.

Though I was mad-crazy about horses as a young girl, and throughout early adulthood, it was only in my late forties that my passions truly transformed and matured into what philosopher Martin Buber calls the ‘I-Thou’ relationship. Buber proposed that we address existence in two ways: The attitude of the “I” towards an “It” (I-It), towards an object that is separate from us, which we either use or experience. Or, the attitude of the “I” towards “Thou” (I-Thou), in a relationship in which the other is not separate from us.  I-Thou is a relationship of mutuality, service, generosity and reciprocity. While I-It is a relationship of separateness, use, and detachment.

Even though I did indeed ‘love’ horses, in all honesty, my love for them was all about what they could do for me. Sure, I would brush and feed them. I would pet them, whisper sweetly, and give them carrots. I wasn’t cruel or unkind in the conventional sense. But all of this was in service ultimately to what I wanted with them. Kindness is not the same as service.

But my daughter Sahaja began riding at age four, and this heralded a new chapter. When she turned eight, I ended up purchasing her a plump round bay Welsh pony named Pippa, who lived in a small field down the road from our house in rural Australia. Pippa decidedly took very good care of Sahaja most of the time, and when she didn’t, it was always a good lesson towards Sahaja’s blossoming character.

One day, Sahaja turned to me and announced that ‘she did not want to learn horsemanship in the traditional way’, and she ‘wanted to do it differently’. I was game. Years of training as a professional dressage rider in the US in my twenties had jaded my love of riding. In response, without any other options available to me, I just retreated to quiet trail rides in the fields and on the beaches. Though I missed the engagement with the horse that dressage offered me, I was not willing to force such ambition onto the backs of my horses any longer.

Enter, Louise, our first natural horsemanship instructor who skilfully taught Sahaja and I together how to work with horses in an authentically collaborative manner, without bribery, punishment, fear, force or manipulation. Like Debra’s fated honey delivery, my encounter with Louise and her methodology heralded a series of meetings and circumstances that delivered me to the alter of the sacred life through horses.

My husband, Wayne Muller, co-founder of the Institute of the Southwest, says, ‘If God is love, then what you love is the way in to God.’ In his usual way of keeping the sacred close and easily available, he is affirming what Debra and I—and many others who have been taken by art, music, a vision, a purpose—have come to know. Love is the way in, and service to that love, or that which is loved, is the way through.

So ancient is this pratice, the Aboriginal people of Australia, a 60,000 year-old culture, have a word for this particular kind of love—KanyiniKanyini means ‘unconditional love with responsibility’. A dear friend and mentor, listed custodial Elder of Uluru (the great red rock in Central Australia), Uncle Bob Randall says this:

If only people could just see this and show it by living right and living a life of service, not only to other people but to other living things. It is our responsibility—not just Aboriginals’, but everyone’s—to live by what my people call the Kanyini principle. There’s such a huge family you’re responsible for, and who you belong to, because they see you as belonging to them as well. And when I say family, I mean all beings, not just human beings.

If we were to step into our lives with such undeniable sacred regard for the ‘other’, how might we be different? How might we treat our children? Our colleagues? Our employees or employer? Our clients? How might our businesses operate, and what outcomes might they have? How might it change the legacy of our families? And perhaps more importantly, how might it shape the sense of meaning in our own lives?

I watched recently as a client excitedly shared a story about a shift that occurred in one of her routine staff meetings. After months of working hard to change her own approach towards work and her employees, she was beginning to witness a transformation at her firm. Radiant, she recounted. ‘People are beginning to listen to one another,’ she said. ‘They’ve begun creating a way that every person’s voice is heard!’ So significant was the change, that entrenched dynamics were melting before her eyes, liberating each staff member’s strengths and gifts. Now her firm was beginning to reflect her sense of meaning, rather than her fears or simply her dry ambitions.

Where to start? Simply look for where you are taken. Ask yourself what pursuits, people, places or things capture your passion or curiosity. And then serve it, or them, as a sacred other. Do it with a generous heart of reciprocity. Meaning will begin to pour into your days, and will transform how you work, learn and live.