Written by Michelle Baldwin, Executive Director, Pillar Nonprofit Network
I am the one who creates brave new spaces for play, belonging and connection.
Do not proceed if you want your life to remain as it is. These are the words I heard a month before starting the Foundations of Purpose program in a preparation call. I remember in this moment feeling overwhelmed with both excitement and fear, but sure that I wanted to embrace the learnings that would come with attending the program.
The program was aligned with my reflective practice and research fellowship; it was about pausing, reflecting, shaking things up and capturing my personal journey and the organizational journey of Pillar. As a leadership development opportunity, the program fit with my goals for the fellowship of deep reflective practice, exploring this next stage in my purpose and career and tapping into my creative potential in my work and my contribution to the world. Preparing for such a journey is as important as the journey itself and the facilitators of the program provided pre-reading and a life alignment review to look in the mirror and reflect to the degree our inner and outer selves were aligned. I journaled about what life stage I was at, my intentions for taking the program and what I know about my unique path of service at this time.
This type of program provides the space, time and backdrop in nature for leaders to step outside of their roles and reflect in order to connect to themselves and to their organizations in new and different ways. For myself, these explorations helped me to reset, reaffirm my purpose and set intentions for how I would continue to be in relationship to myself as a “human being” not a “human doing.” Read more if you would like to know about the deep growth and learning I experienced during my time at Foundations of Purpose.
The power of human connection
Leading up to the program, I was on a call with my “learning sister” and she shared the wisdom that I should look at this program as an inflection point and not to look for the big aha or put bookends around it. This perspective was my first shift. When I arrived, this friend and I met up and you could feel the vibrations of sheer excitement and terror from both of us. Her aunt, who is an energy healer with those in an oncology program, came over and she sat gently in front of my “learning sister” and put her hands on her knees. My friend and her aunt talked through the feelings and discussed her background of blending energy healing and science. After this process, it was clear that my friend was feeling a greater sense of ease. I was mesmerized and any doubts I had in the power of a human to sense and heal someone who is open to it were gone in that moment. I too felt the shift and I was able to show up open to being excited and terrified and holding space for both feelings.
Sharing my search for my purpose
During this program, in one of our early sharing circles, we were asked to tell a story and share images of the life we are inhabiting now, a dream or the life we were looking to step into. I told the story of walking the beach with my toes in the sand while the sun was shining and searching for beach glass. I expressed the pure joy in finding a rare piece of beach glass. I told this story as I felt that searching for beach glass, the sounds of the waves, the sun on my face and my toes in the sand was a metaphor for the journey I have been on to find that rare and unexpected experience that aligns with my values and purpose. I wondered if my journey ahead in the program would provide that very experience.
Deep ways of knowing
“The longest journey is the journey inwards.” – Dag Hammarskjöld
There is so much to share about the journey of the inner and outer arcs and we explored both elements throughout the program. Our inner arc is finding the deeper aspect of our self and soul as well as our unique way of being alive. Our outer arc is our external way of living out this sense of purpose. It is not a linear path, it is winding and produces creative tension as we seek for our inner and outer arc to be in rhythm. We explored deep ways of knowing our inner selves and our sense of purpose as well as how to live with those in harmony with our hearts, our bodies, our imaginations and our minds. Some of it I am still processing, some of it I am keeping close to my heart and some of it I will share with you.
Asking good questions
Asking good questions has been something that I have embraced as being the key to personal and community work. When we were asked to take a few minutes to answer “what brings you most alive” and “what terrifies you or makes your tremble,” the words flowed freely in my journal. I felt like I must have known this inside of myself and just needed to get it out on paper and to express it. Below I’ll share my deeply personal answers to these questions, in hopes they may help other leaders to engage in a deeper exploration of self.
What brings you most alive?
- Being with others, connecting and helping others achieve their potential
- Being in nature – toes in sand, feet in water, in the mountains or on a hike in the trees
- Being playful, silly, laughing, letting go and being free
- Being just not doing, taking time for myself and tending to self
- Being someone who sees how things intersect, collaborating and finding shared vision
- Being someone who sees the fullness of every person and seeks inclusion and love for all
- Being on a spiritual journey – this is new and necessary, seeing energy, nature and love as giving me a sense of aliveness
- Being me, being with you and being with all
- Being an ecosystem tender who weaves soul power
What terrifies or makes you tremble?
- Being in a room with those who hold power, typically men and feeling less than, dealing with imposter syndrome
- Being at a moment of having to let go of those whose values are not aligned or who are taking more than they are giving
- Being at a moment where my own mental health is slipping as I support others with who are struggling and not being able to re-centre
- Being not good at art and expression, suspending judgement
- Being liked as my driver, but knowing that what people think of me is none of my business
- Being in a place where personal challenges make me feel like I am not best self at work
- Being in nature and knowing we are nature and when we feel most alive in nature, you are part of it
Inviting my protective voices
The program being located at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity was a driver in my decision to make this program part of my fellowship. I knew the location was nestled in the beauty of the mountains, forests and trees, and I feel that nature listens when you speak, and if you listen, she will speak to you. I cherished the time we had to be out in the forest to do our reflection. One of the activities we were asked to complete was about exploring our protective voices that arise in us when we are in fight or flight and to hold them without judgment. While completing the exercise, I was down by the water on a cliff sitting on a rock and I naturally found myself choosing a tree, and yes talking to that tree, that represented my protective voices – loyal soldier, rescuer, inner critic and conformist. I thought about how these voices had served me in the past, how they affected me finding and living my purpose and what might happen if they actually came true and I invited them in their wholeness from a place of compassion, love and respect. I searched for clarity, love, respect and let go.
Wisdom from others who have come before you
One of many connecting points for me during the program was hearing insights from two incredibly inspiring women who had participated in the program and both experienced significant reflective journeys. One of our speakers came to see their purpose as being an ecosystem tender. This revelation had resonance for me and provided a step forward in my own clarity that I had alignment on my purpose. It also made me see that what I was learning and discovering throughout the program was how to tend to myself to be whole and be in deeper relationship with myself. Another aha moment from one of our wise speakers reinforced the idea that what other people think of me is none of my business and my constant pull to do what others think I should be doing needed to be let go. The gifts and seeds of wisdom that the facilitators and other participants in the program shared through their words, thoughtful expressions, movement and performances will always be something that I cherish as essential to my discovery.
The journey to coming home
To prepare us for the journey of coming home and how we would choose to share our experience with intention, we created a reintegration plan. This was a brilliant way to think about our one day, one week, one month and long term plan to live out what we had discovered and took away in our mind, body and spirit. We had a coaching call with one of the facilitators, a video call with all the participants, an email thread of sharing and reflection and prompts along the way as gentle nudges to come back to our purpose. As a way to integrate the core ideas and values as a declaration of taking what I had learned and come to know, I created a personal manifesto upon my return. It captures what I want to hold onto and my foundation of purpose. I hope in sharing my manifesto other leaders will pause to reflect on the inner values that guide their lives and their work.
I am the one who…
Believes in the infinite and possibility,
Creates an impact simply by being more of who I am,
Falls into the deepest conversation I can have with myself,
Embraces that the longest journey is the journey inwards,
Is curious about the atmosphere of my dreams,
Explores what makes me feel most alive and what makes me tremble,
Accepts that what others think of me is none of my business,
Wonders where is the wild in me,
Holds myself with tenderness, with clarity and with love,
Steps into the light and opens up to the vulnerable,
Finds and crosses the threshold,
Finds my gift and gives it away,
I am the one who creates brave new spaces for play, belonging and connection.