Category Archives: Conflict transformation

Why Our Stories Matter

IMG_5348Matthew Fox, in his autobiography, Confessions: the making of a post-denominational priest, included this quote by Ellie Wiesel, “Whoever survives a test, whatever it may be, must tell the story.” I thank the heavens that Matt took this piece of advice to heart.

Matt and his stories have been instrumental in my professional and personal development over the past twenty years. If the Universe offer us clues where to find needed treasure, it has been far from subtle in urging me to pay attention to this brave and extremely brilliant being. I went to college in Madison, Wisconsin (Matt’s childhood home), was born on December 15th (the day he was famously silenced for a year by Opus Dei), and, although I went to Catholic high school, I was baptized Episcopalian (Matt’s past and current religious affiliation). The clues continue, and I am glad for the consistent nudging!

I want to recommend Matt’s story held in Confessions as we navigate how to fight for what is compassionate and right in these difficult times. Three key approaches in Matt’s life sing truth with me. First, I love his wicked sense of humor! He teaches me how to detach through not taking ourselves or greater tragedies too seriously. Detachment is a core cross-cultural skill for living well. Angeles Arrien described detachment as “caring deeply from an objective place.” Matt cares deeply and has suffered great loss, as you will read in his autobiography. When I first met him in 1998 it was clear how much he loved his Dominican brothers and was adjusting to being recently defrocked for his progressive views on the environment and feminism. The sense of loss was evident, and Matt had me hooked when he said something to the effect, “Five hundred years ago when you were branded as a heretic you were burned at the stake, now,” he added, “your books just sell better.” In his first speech after the year of silence, Matt began, “As I was saying fourteen months ago.… when I was so rudely interrupted …” Humor creates the space we need to survive and to be brave. As Mahatma Gandhi shared in his autobiography, “ If I had no sense of humor, I should long ago have committed suicide.”

Second, I wish to follow Matt’s constant search for wisdom through communing with saints past and present. He reached out to Thomas Merton in his early spiritual formation, searched out the best ritualists across the spiritual traditions including Malidoma Somé and Starhawk, and sought guidance from Fr. Bede Griffiths, Buck Ghosthorse, Joanna Macy, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalom and MC Richards. This is a purposeful list I add here if you wish to learn more about environmental or justice-based activism. His work is based in the writings of Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Aquinas to name just a few. Matt is a seeker of the larger whole. How can we all keep asking for more knowledge, ferreting out the greater truth and learning from the wise ones?

Last, I admire Matthew Fox’s courage to be a prophet. He has been willing over the past fifty years to speak truth to power structures that may not want to hear it. As you will read in Confessions, Matt seeks justice and equality for all and is willing to keep sharing this truth, regardless of the consequences. He tried compromise and working within the system as well and reminds me that this approach has its place, but truth is transcendent. We all deserve to be treated equally regardless of our gender, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic class or ethic group. This truth cannot be watered down, or shouldn’t be ever hidden, and this often terrifies existing power structures. Matt is willing to stand up and in his standing, we are braver and know where to place our feet.

Thank you Matt for sharing your story and wisdom. Happy birthday and may all your days be blessed.

What do you pray for?

For the past few  weeks I have been walking the Camino de Santiago. This ancient pilgrimage route runs the width of northern Spain taking you to the Galician cathedralimage where St. James’ bones are reportedly entombed.  Walking the whole  500 miles in one fail swoop has been on my bucket list after walking it in halves three previous times.

Lighting candles for others, and your journey, in the myriad of churches along the route is a common ritual. I have been holding a set of loved ones in my thoughts along this path and lighting candles for them has made sense. I appreciate that a friend recently sent me  an article on the value of prayer for secular and religious people alike, and of just holding gratitude for those around us in this manner. One of my mentors, Angeles Arrien, asked that we honor her after her death  by lighting a candle each month for a year on the 24th, the day she passed, and send along a prayer. I will complete that tradition tomorrow.

But, what do you pray for?

There are prescribed prayers in all the spiritual traditions, but what am I to wish for when praying for another? Walking hundreds of miles, you have time to think and this has been a point of deep consideration. I found I initially want to pray for health for those who are sick, that friendships are mended where suffering exists there, or that someone will get a good job. These wishes fall apart quickly when I think about how I am playing god as I start to guess how another’s life should turn out next. I am the conflict lady who likes to remind, at least herself, that we need discord to grow. Often my initial prayers were selfish requests to keep those I love with me in a way that makes me comfortable.  My  candle prayers, with hours to consider them, have needed to get away  from specific solutions into the essence of what I want to send out to another.

Drawing from the Taoist and Buddhist play books, I found that what feels responsible is to wish for another’s well being. What form that will take is not my call. I started to modify a  Buddhist metta prayer that goes, “May you be filled with loving kindness, may you be well, may you be peaceful and at ease, may you be happy.”  Praying for well being, may not mean someone is cured of an illness necessarily, or a friendship is rekindled, since well being may come through these  challenges. Sending thoughts of well being to someone who is no longer in physical form seems to fit better too.

What does this have to do with leadership and playing life well, which is blog’s theme?  I can easily get focused on form when coaching or teaching another. It is a constant temptation to hope for what others should learn or how they should behave.   Not only  arrogant, I close down possibility when I get into specific solutions. Yet, if I am holding a more detached  yet engaged wish for their true well being, I am much better at my job.  This begs the question, how might we live our work as an effective prayer?

Show up

I am not the first, nor will be the last, to write about the recent passing of Angeles Arrien. Angeles was an internationally renown and beloved teacher/ cultural anthropoAngeles Arrienlogist whose work has been a foundation of my own. She left us suddenly and unexpectedly on April 24th with her pearls of wisdom arising as answers as we each wrestle with her passing.

Angeles’ core philosophy included four life practices that are found throughout the world’s indigenous cultures, called The Four Fold Way. They are: 1) Show up, choose to be present 2)Pay attention to what has heart and meaning, 3)Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome and 4)Tell the truth without blame or judgment.
When tough times come, it is all too easy to want to run away. Grief physically hurts. It pulls stomachs into knots and bends us to its will as we weep with happy memories appearing unbidden, torturing us with the knowledge that they will never be again.  You think you are safe and then turn a corner or wake up from a dream and Mr. Grief belts you again. A week after Angeles’ passing, our beloved dog Kiki also left us very suddenly, so we had some pretty visceral grief practice these past two weeks.

Where to begin to create greater ease? I keep hearing, “Show up, choose to be present.”  Show up for the loss, for the pain, for the tears and the disappointment. Pay attention to the intensity of the grief and feel the jagged edges within when it feels impossible.  When I was researching Worst Enemy, Best Teacher  I was struck by how the world’s warriors traditions all include practice in enduring pain. They counsel fasting, sparring, and endurance activities that push the initiate to find strength through intense discomfort. When you land on the battlefield of loss, it all makes sense. Showing up is the only way to get through. The 12th century Sufi mystic Jalal ad-Din Rumi, once prescribed that the cure for the pain is in the pain. 

Arrien also connected showing up to the cross-cultural archetype of the warrior through her research.   Running away, although it is alluring for a moment, creates a dragon that chases until we are willing like a knight of the Round Table, to turn around and confront. Whenever we are in a leadership role, it demands that we show up for the tough times. When profits disappear, projects are cancelled, or key employees are lost, the warrior work begins.

Also, when there is ease and comfort, we need to show up and pay attention to the gifts and strengths of those around us.  Show up and recognize the impermanence of it all and give thanks. It will be no surprise that Angeles was an expert in the practice of gratitude and wrote her final book, Living in Gratitude on this subject.

Angeles mentored a huge gaggle of us, and from them, I am also gathering jewels.  Cheryl Esposito, Leading Conversations, brought back the memory that when Angeles would be driving home a critical teaching and we would find ourselves much too serious, she would begin to say, “Kisses, kisses” and blow them out to the audience. Today, we are all blowing kisses right back.  Thank you Angeles.

First “Conflict” Once Removed

A favorite game at extended family reunions used to be point out a tribe member and then see who could properly to identify the relationship. My first cousin Charlie was an expert. He would remind me that my kids were his first cousins once removed as well as our aunt due to a great aunt adopting one of our mother’s sisters. I usually was quickly lost when we would play where Charlie could maintain clarity and rattle off the titles of everyone in the room.

Relationship chart

Relationship chart

Charlie’s gift has kept on giving this week as I have been muddling over how to decipher and describe conflict relationships. Using my cousin’s logic, you’ve got your first degree disputes: you and another are fighting over something. If it is a business relationship, you and that person might be the named parties on the mediation documents. At home, the two kids screaming in your hallway at each other would be the clear participants in the battle. In these cases, we know the disputants or the “sides.”

Meanwhile, what about the sister/wife/business partner/friend of one of the folks you would name above? How would you name her? And, more importantly what is her role?

In honor of Charlie, I want to give that sister/wife/business partner a title — 1st Disputant Once Removed or 1DOR.  A 1DOR will be anyone who is one step back from a conflict, but connected due to their personal connection to a direct player.

Being a 1DOR is a muddy role.  If your wife is fighting with another, does that mean you are fighting with that person as well? What can you say? Where, if anywhere, are your opinions best spoken? In the case of the two kids screaming in the hallway, what is the best position for the third sibling who was in her room reading?

Sometimes we can stay out of the battle while it is fought and resolved. Our loved ones can fight with another while we listen and stay out of the fray. We might provide a few words of encouragement or support as tempers rise and recede. Conflict brings opportunity, but it is also messy, risky and can be dangerous, so laying low would be an advised strategy here.

Meanwhile, some disputes linger and battle lines are drawn. The third sibling can’t hide in her room forever. Your family feuds with a neighbor for years, do we wave at the neighbor when you pass him in the car?  Who is fighting in the US with the government of Afghanistan?

I met with a friend last week who shared she has been exhibiting symptoms of anxiety seemingly for no apparent reason. It was disconcerting her, but as we discussed the past months, it became clear that her role as a 1DOR for both sides of an ongoing dispute had been wearing her down. She can’t escape the enduring conflict, she has little power to resolve it and doesn’t want to take sides.  As I listened, I wondered when my 1DOR status has adversely affected me without my conscious awareness? Stepping back, I was struck by how often I have been a 1DOR as a sister, mother, wife, friend, employee, community member and citizen. This called me to consider more deeply how I can best play in that role.

In my next posts, I will cover how we might naturally react as a 1DOR given our default conflict styles and an ancient Hindu practice upon which we can draw for support.

Who are you?

Last week Lillian Brummet for interviewed me for her Conscious Discussions radio show.  The topic of our conversation was Overcoming Conflict and Challenges, and I thus got the opportunity to talk about all my books including Thriving Through Tough Times: Eight Cross-Cultural Strategies to Navigate Life’s Ordeals.

Lillian was a knowledgeable interviewer and has a trick of calling for more authenticity from her guests; she began with a seemingly simple question, “Deidre, who are you?”

Paraphrasing Lillian, she asked, “When you meet the eyes of that lady in the mirror – who is “Deidre” really? Share information about who you are as a person – outside of what you do or the job or the training you have …”

Hungry birdChallenging questions send my brain searching for analogies. With this query I landed on one found in the Hindu Upanishads. Each person can be compared to two golden birds sitting on a single branch. One bird eats the fruits from the tree or engages in life. The other, what some would call the Self, just watches.

So who is Deidre? Which bird?

I could tell Lillian pretty easily about the hungry bird and shared some of “my” preferences, personality quirks and passions. The hungry bird gets bouncy around new ideas, loves to ski, speak Spanish and backpack and also has a habit of saying “yes” a bit too often.

But what of the other bird?  I was flummoxed on how to introduce her. I can forget the watching bird exists, but she is as critical as the Deidre that shows up in the world.

From a leadership perspective, our watching birds provide us the wider view.  They are the ones who notice that “we” are angry, depressed, or making a mistake. Leadership guru Ronald Heifetz describes the watching birds as the critical ability to get on the balcony and observe while our hungry birds are dancing around the floor.

Spiritual traditions have long advised that we connect often to our watching birds. Both the ancient traditions and modern leadership theory suggest that we should cultivate this relationship daily. If we can stop to clear away thoughts and just watch quietly, we can foster a better understanding of this witness self.  I don’t think I can explain who she is; sorry Lillian! However, sitting quietly reminds me to listen to my watching bird’s observations and strengthens my ability to step back from stressful situations, notice what is occurring and pause before I respond.

And, so I pose to you Lillian’s simple question, “Who are you?”