January 2, 2012

Dear One and All,

A few days back, my friend Mary Parish and I spent some quiet time together musing about what we might be sensing for ourselves, and for each other, in the year ahead.  Not New Year’s resolutions, so much as a dissolving of the constraints of old ways of thinking, old expectations, old demands we place on ourselves.

That shift from resolution to dissolution recalled a small women’s group we have called “feet to the fire,” originally so named so we could remind each other, sternly, about the promises we had made to do one or another thing—keeping each other’s “feet to the fire.”.  Now the group is still called “feet to the fire” but to remind us to enjoy the small pleasure of life, the warmth, to enjoy having our feet near the fire.

Last year brought some unexpected gifts that I am carrying into 2012—gifts that have given me joy, and that also leave me with  important and challenging questions.  In early December I was part of an Advent retreat at Lutheridge, a conference center near Ashville, N.C.  It was an unusual experience for me—ecumenical yet rooted in the Episcopal church, a mix of music and Celtic theology,  folk songs and chanting, high spirits and laughter, prayer and dialogue.  My role was to provide evening experiences that would help people return home and hold onto the sense of renewal that had been part of their four days together.  And as it turned out, the conversation was much about creativity—as a link to spirituality, authenticity and sustainability of leadership.  That experience left me musing about the way creativity, and creative practice, nurture leadership and authenticity.  Wholeness.  Unity and wholeness.

Another ongoing experience is presenting me with similar questions. I am part of a group collected around the Fowler Center for Sustainable Value at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve.   We are exploring (my imprecise framing) whether spirituality (broadly understood) might be the missing dimension required to move organizations (and the planet) toward environmental sustainability (I like the term “flourishing” better).

As a group of Distinguished Fellows, each with our own expertise and experience with one or another (or all) of the dimensions of this question, we’re laying out our own thinking.  And we’re interviewing leaders and thought leaders about their experience with spirituality and sustainability and the relationship between the two.

Recently we were on one of those very complex conference calls (complex for me because we can’t see each other!) and realized that we were working with three words that carried huge baggage for various people: sustainability (which many of us define as flourishing), spirituality (which we define by many words that point toward that dimension of life, but not meaning religion) and leadership (which I define as the way of being, individual and collective, which moves people at any level and in any role to take stewardship action on behalf of what matters, on behalf of the whole.)

Laughing, we realized that we are trying to clearly define the relationship among three notions which are themselves oddly indefinable.  And yet hugely important.   And we are doing that on behalf of a University management school which wonders how it might prepare students to enhance their capacities to address all three.

I often say that when something is very important, and yet it seems beyond our words to capture, then we are likely in the space of poetry.  An odd paradox.

To close for today, here’s a poem that touches the call of the immaterial, indefinable and how that call shapes poetry:


Writing poetry

Is the practice

Of seeing in stillness,

Listening for silence

That has wonder

Beneath it,

Holding the grains

Of gratitude

That remain after the

Whispered wave

Of the moment

Recedes to the sea.

Judy Brown

Take care,