Relationships, Leadership, Letting Go

Hello Everyone,

The Mullet River

I’m writing this month’s blog from the couch in my house while looking out over the Mullet River in Plymouth. The edges of the river are freezing up and are covered in a thin layer of snow, and it seems as if the river is freezing from the south to the north. The Mullet has a nice steady current, and because of this there is still good flow in the center – movement and stillness. I feel very fortunate to have this view from the big picture window of my place.

I’ve been doing a fair amount of self-reflection lately as my final days of running Windhorse are coming to a close. It’s been an interesting time for me – and I’m very excited to have this completion and see what opens up for me in the next phase of my life. Currently, my plan is to unwind and invite more stillness in.

One of the things I’m doing right now is working at a horse farm in the area. It’s manual labor: cleaning out stalls, feeding the horses, and at times taking them out to their paddocks. I find this work very peaceful and satisfying. The woman who runs the place has a deep love and knowledge of horses (as well as human nature, as you can learn a lot through work with horses). I’ve learned much from her in a very natural and relaxed way. Her husband is equally astute. He’s been on farms his whole life and has a way about him that is direct and spacious at the same time. I feel incredibly grateful that they are part of my life right now.

I was speaking with her the other day about hierarchy. We didn’t actually call it this, but horses have a definite established order to their relationships with each other. There is no questioning it. They just are who they are and do what they do. The stallions are stallions, the mares are mares, the geldings and fillies are who they are. This seems to work very well with no problems unless the humans who care for them don’t understand it or have lapses in awareness. When this happens the horses suffer. (So do the humans!) I like the different personalities of the horses as much as I do the people I encounter at the farm.

This brings me to my topic for this month’s blog, which is not exactly hierarchy, but relationships. In general, relationships with different generations, and in particular, relationships between people who are in charge and those who aspire to be. I can only speak to the communities that I know, so realize that what I’m going to write is simply my own opinion based on my own experience of myself and others. I understand that I bring as much, if not more, to a situation and it’s dynamics than those I’m in communication and community with: more simply put, I’ve got my own reality and I take it everywhere I go. I don’t mean this in a derogatory way but just as it is; everywhere I go, there I am with all my baggage.

Let me get to it then. How do we work with the wisdom and energy of different generations as it relates to leadership of a given organization or community? I will give you a concrete example of why this contemplation arose for me. I was thinking about the Shambhala Buddhist community I am a part of and love, and I was wondering how to empower others (but I don’t really care for that word as I think it has been overused, so I just looked up synonyms and found a few I like: give permission, allow, unshackle, give freedom to). So, how do we allow the younger (and younger does not necessarily just mean age, but in this context I am considering younger in age rather than younger in terms of practice and study with this community) members the freedom to gain experience, fail and succeed, share their wisdom, and grow into their wisdom? How do we let them be in positions of authority? When will they be given permission from those who are in charge to take on more responsibility and leadership within this community? When do we let go and trust? When do we stop having “shadow governments” within our organizations? This may be a hard pill to swallow for some of us but I say it because I’ve heard it many times: so and so is the director but really x and y run things from behind the scenes. I suspect this is not something unique to my Shambhala community.

In the last four years of my time running Windhorse, I have heard from many people a generation or more younger than me (I’m 49) lamenting about the various obstacles on their path to help create and be more active players in the Shambhala vision of helping to create an enlightened society. That sentence was a little wonky…let me try again; they feel shackled. (My word. I’m glad I looked up synonyms for empowered!) Many of them have a deep respect for the wisdom of those who have gone before them and at the same time they can see the fear that some leaders have of giving up control, or perhaps another way to say this is letting go of something they love and worked hard to create.

As I am writing this I understand that I am currently one of the “people in charge,” so I am speaking to myself just as much as I am speaking to others in my own generation and the generations before me. I think there is a potential fear within the older generations (my own included) of not being valid or of benefit to the community once one no longer holds an official position or title within the leadership sphere. There is also the possibility that we who hold leadership positions are worried that things will fall apart if we step down. Another opinion of mine is that some may feel that because of the length of time and effort spent practicing and studying the Shambhala Buddhist teachings we have the right, if not the authority, to make the final decisions on matters. I’m just throwing thoughts out here folks – not lightly and certainly not without consideration. Here are a few more thoughts to consider: We care so deeply about this path that we are excited and invigorated to continue to lead; we want to see our personal vision manifest; and I’ll end with one more….we see the wisdom and inspiration of the generations younger than us and we want to help them so they don’t make the same mistakes we did.

I am going to continue with my boldness here and offer speculation about the generations of practitioners younger than me. How might those of you who came after Generation X, what my generation has been labeled since we were born between the mid 1960s to 1980, think about the question: How do we work with the wisdom and energy of different generations as it relates to leadership of a given organization or community? Perhaps you feel unheard, belittled, patronized, frustrated, unwelcome, sad….and on and on. Maybe you don’t feel any of those things and you just accept what is happening and work with it. Maybe some have already left to find another community where they feel more welcome and accepted.

I’m quite certain that I do not have the perfect answer to the question but, as you’ve probably guessed, I do have some suggestions for all of us to consider or discard. I will keep it short since I’ve made this blog very long this time around! You may be sick of me by now….I’m getting there myself, to be honest. So, for what it’s worth, hopefully it may be of benefit.

If we communicate from a place of honesty, kindness, and directness I think that’s a very good start. Honesty with ourselves first and foremost – this takes a lot of discipline, exertion, bravery, and fearlessness. Kindness to ourselves and others – I don’t mean kindness in a sense that we only say nice things to each other. This is a trap that a lot of us fall into. The kindness I am referring to is more along the lines of being genuine and thinking and doing what is actually the most beneficial to any given situation. Here’s a quick example: If I am having difficulty understanding why someone is acting or doing something in a particular way, and I feel it isn’t of benefit to our community or that it is hurting me, rather than talk to a bunch of other people about the way I feel I go directly to the person I am having trouble understanding. Do I do this all the time? No, because it is really hard and brings up a bunch of fear and ignorance in me. BUT, I continue to aspire to do it more and more. Directness is critical and if done with a deep understanding of why you feel you need to tell someone something, consider how they might react. Taking that all into account, moving forward with what you have to say in a way that is without aggression or acting with a twist (ulterior motive), this is beneficial.

We have no control over how another person reacts to what we feel we have to say or do, but we do have control over our own intention and motivation. A phrase I’ve heard many times that I try to apply to difficult communication situations goes something like this: “A clean sword stroke.” Think about the opposite – a dull blade sawing through something. Which hurts more? When we waiver and waiver, backtrack and backtrack, gossip, hem and haw we perpetuate confusion and this causes suffering. If, on the other hand, we take time to contemplate our motivation and intention before we act, we have a better chance of being direct, which can bring clarity and lack of ambiguity to a situation.

It’s a difficult path we are all on and waking up, paying attention, and not being servants to our thoughts, egos, and habitual tendencies takes tremendous effort and gentleness. Meditation/Mindfulness Awareness practice is essential in my opinion; sitting simply, following the in breath and the out breath, becoming aware of and inhabiting our body, and being present right now is the foundation for leading a less self-centered, what about me life. Waking up involves a much larger vision. It definitely must start with oneself, but the motivation must include all of society.

I’ve taken two days to write this blog. Today the river has stopped moving, at least on the surface, but I know it is continuing to move beneath the layer of ice that has formed. The Black Capped Chickadees are fluttering away and the sun is shining.




4 thoughts on “Relationships, Leadership, Letting Go

  1. Sue-
    I never got tired of hearing your viewpoint… 🙂 I think it is a great question to pose, what do younger people need here, how should we both communicate? Your answer was i think spot on- not to self protect but to utilize kindness/thinking of others. They say somewhere out there in mainstream spirituality circles, “if you want love, be love”. It is self-fulfilling, it does not look for something outside of oneself, like a child does to an adult. It is recognizing we have the power to stop externalizing, and take ownership.

    So if you want recognition or levity or partnership or leadership, etc., be it. You know, i have been a part of this community for almost 20 years, and when i was younger i did want a LOT more levity, spiritedness, even silliness. That was my trip!! Maybe i have learned to find that outside of this community but I don’t think about it anymore. The deep wisdom I got from this place was not to be tossed out. But those that still burn to have something they envision take root here, i say Go For It.

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