Set it Free

birds in the shape of a heartSonya was stuck. Every time she came in for a session, she seemed more inextricably wedged into a life she hated. It wasn’t that she lacked means: Born to wealth and privilege, Sonya had beauty, education, and the talent to become what she’d longed to be—a songwriter. But she couldn’t take the steps that would make her dreams a reality.”It’s just too hard,” Sonya sighed during one session. “I’m stuck in the life my parents want for me. I’ll marry a rich man, have 1.7 kids, do what I’m told. I’m trapped. Completely trapped.”

I couldn’t help comparing Sonya’s comments with another conversation I’d had when I was in Cambodia, doing interviews for a World Bank project. A vibrant man I’ll call Khet told me about his experiences during the war-torn 1970s, when he’d been imprisoned, starved and sentenced to death.

“One night they told me I would be shot at sunrise,” Khet said. “So, you see, I was completely free.” I stopped him. How did he figure that one? Khet smiled. “Things could not be worse,” he explained, “so I was free to take any opportunity that came.”

And an opportunity did come. As he and some other prisoners were being led to the execution ground, Khet bolted, running for a weak spot in the wire fences. He fully expected to be shot, but the other prisoners distracted the guards enough to spoil their aim. Khet escaped into the jungle.

“You see? My fellow prisoners were free, too,” he said. “No matter what happens to your body, madame, if your heart is free, you are free.”

Most people think more like Sonya than like Khet. My clients routinely tell me they’re deadlocked, hemmed in, blocked, controlled by circumstance. If you feel that way, it isn’t because you don’t have the option of charting an exciting, meaningful journey through life. Trust me, the options are there. You’re at an impasse because you’ve been trained not to seize—or even recognize—the opportunities that lead to the fulfillment of your dreams. Your body is free but your heart is in prison.

Our hearts are imprisoned for just one reason: The only language they can speak is truth. Unlike the mind, which can be persuaded to accept the most bizarre ideas (“Look, it’s the Hale-Bopp comet! Time to kill yourself!), your heart tells it like it is, without bothering to be tactful or socially appropriate. Free hearts rock boats, break rules, do things that disrupt the system—whether that system is a dysfunctional family, a bloated bureaucracy, or the whole wide world.

As a result, few of us speak the truth out loud. All our lives we’ve been hearing things like: What you are thinking/feeling/saying/becoming, etc., is stupid/rude/scandalous/sinful/depressing/ridiculous/unoriginal, etc. All the infinite variations on this theme convey just one message: Silence your heart or you will be rejected. Rejection hurts our little social-mammal hearts so much that just the threat of it convinces most of us to cooperate with our enemies. This is a two-step process: First we go dumb, learning never to speak our deepest truths. Then we go deaf, refusing to hear our own souls.

Sonya was a fully heart-bound when she came to see me. For thirty-some years, her life’s journey had been steered by social expectation, slowed by fear, stymied by conflicting demands. Bad news: If you’re a normal human, you probably act like Sonya at least some of the time. Good news: As your own jailer, you—and only you—can free your heart whenever you want.

To release your heart, you simply reverse the two-step process by which you locked it up. First you begin to listen for messages from your heart—messages you may have been ignoring since childhood. Next you must take the daring, risky step of expressing your heart in the outside world. It’s lucky this process is so simple, because it’s also terrifying.

Step 1: Tune In

People with captive hearts often spend years thinking very hard about things like reawakening their passion or discovering their destiny. This never works, because such information is stored in the heart, not the brain, and is expressed by feelings, not thoughts.Sonya was so numb to her emotions that she couldn’t tell a surge of love or pathos from, say, gas. Not to worry. Paying attention to any feeling unlocks your heart, and if subtle emotional nuance eludes you, physical sensations will do nicely. Try the exercise I assigned Sonya: Write a detailed description of everything you’re feeling in your body. If you do this for more than ten minutes, you’ll find that you’ve also started describing your emotions.

As Sonya began to write about her chronic exhaustion and headaches, a torrent of truth burst from her heart into her conscious mind. “I hate the socialite scene,” she found herself writing. “I want solitude. I need music.” For years her heart had been trying to send these messages through physical symptoms. As she began to listen, those symptoms faded. Sonya’s prison walls were coming down.

Step 2: Think of This As “Shock” Therapy

Once you begin listening to your heart, I guarantee it’s going to say some things that shock you—otherwise, you wouldn’t have locked it away in the first place. You may discover that your heart wants to spend your paycheck on flowers or wear purple spandex to a board meeting. You don’t have to act on these impulses, but you must not judge or repress them.

Treat your heart like a tired, hurt child: Accept its tantrums, revenge fantasies, and pity parties, but don’t get stuck in them. Say kind things to yourself: “It’s okay that you love your goldfish more than your in-laws” or “Of course you want to stab Billy’s third-grade teacher with a meat fork—all the moms do.” When you acknowledge your forbidden feelings calmly, you’ll find that you actually have more control over your actions. It’s when feelings are repressed that they burst out in dangerous, unhealthy ways.

The more you tune in, the deeper the truths your heart will tell and the more intense your emotions will become. You may feel great pain about times others have hurt you—and, worse, times you have hurt others. But as this pain flows through you and begins to dissipate, you’ll find something beneath it, something astonishingly powerful, something one philosopher called the “all-pervading radiant beauty” of your heart of hearts.

Step 3: Defy your inner jailer

At this point you’ll begin to realize that your heart is telling you where to steer your life. You’ll know the next step because you will begin to long for anything that connects you to it.

When desire really comes from your heart, deciding to act on it will bring another strong sensation. You’ll feel an extraordinary clarity, the sense that something inside you has clicked into place. Of course, your Inner Jailer might not agree. You may be flooded with reminders that your heart’s instructions are stupid or boring or rude. Don’t listen. Run.

Step 4: Run for the jungle

I’ll never forget the moment Sonya stopped daydreaming about sending her songs to a music producer and decided to Just Do It. It doesn’t sound like much—until you try it yourself. Acting on your heart’s instructions means abandoning all those careful strategies for avoiding rejection and bolting toward the fertile, gorgeous jungle of human imagination and possibility.

I’ve watched in awe and admiration as many clients took the enormous risk of freeing and following their hearts. I’ve seen high-income executives joyfully switch to low-paying careers as artists or forest rangers, and people who grew up in poverty dare to believe they deserve decent money. I’ve seen folks adopt children with AIDS or lose 50 pounds. As a 13th-century Zen master said, “The place is here: The way leads everywhere.” Once you are present in your own heart, you’ll find your life going places your mind has never even dreamed of.

Step 5: Spread the word

Toni Morrison said that “the function of freedom is to free someone else.” This is the final step necessary for keeping your heart at liberty, and you do it in just one way: by telling your story. However you do it—a journal, an artistic creation, the pictures you hang on your walls, or the way you raise your children—telling your story demolishes the barriers between your heart and the outside world. I won’t lie: This means that your heart will be exposed and, yes, broken. But it’s important to remember that a heart is imprisoned not by being broken but by being silenced. There will be people (often the people you most want to please) who won’t like what you say. It’s going to hurt—and it’s going to heal.

When Sonya started sending out her demo tapes, she became what she called an overnight failure. For months no one so much as acknowledged her creations. Sonya’s heart broke, but she refused to send it back to prison. Instead she began to think like Khet facing execution: Since things could not be worse, she decided to drop her inhibitions. Her music became less derivative. She began writing raw, gut-deep songs that horrified her family—and impressed some producers. Sonya began to find her “tribe,” the people who understood her true self. She’s still far from famous, but her heart is free, “and that,” she told me, “is what it’s really about.”

As you learn to live by heart, every choice you make will become another way of telling your story, calling your tribe, and liberating not only your heart but the hearts of others. This is the very definition of love, the process that makes all-too-human people and societies capable of true humanity. It will chart you a life’s journey as unique and authentic as your fingerprint; send you out, full of hope and breathtaking exhilaration, onto paths you never thought you could travel. It is the way you were meant to exist. If you stop to listen, you’ll realize that your heart has been telling you so all along.

Zero Attachment, Zero Anxiety

I have put myself on a very strict health regimen this summer. It has nothing to do with eating or exercise; it is a thought/emotion regimen, which, in the end, has many more concrete results than any physical diet one could undertake. My program is the “zero attachment, zero anxiety” diet. Mind you, shooting for no anxiety or attachment at all is extremely ambitious, and not something I would have undertaken five or even two years ago. It was only after twenty-some years of meditation and daily “mental hygiene” (noticing and dissolving all thoughts that cause suffering) that it even occurred to me to shoot for absolute clarity.

So far, I am failing abjectly.

Nevertheless, my goal has helped me see many glaring issues that before seemed so minor as to be inconsequential. The most striking thing I’ve realized is that the thought of “magnetizing,” or drawing things toward me, contains the assumption that what I want is “out there” in the world and I have to go find it. It creates a feeling of distance and inaccessibility. When I release all attachment and all anxiety, I notice that the things I want feel present and inevitable, as real as humidity in summer air.

When the temperature of a day reaches the dew point, the moisture in the air, which is invisible to the eye, suddenly appears everywhere. It was always there; it just needed a certain temperature to become visible. Similarly, everything we need to make us happy is waiting for the “temperature” of our inner life to create the dew point where it can become material form. The dew point temperature of all your desires is a feeling of normalcy. It is not high excitement, nor grasping, nor yearning. All of those emotions contain anxiety and attachment — try them right now, you’ll see.

To give you an example of what this feels like, think about the feeling you have watching a beautiful sunrise. You may experience awe and intense gratitude, but you will not be thunderstruck, amazed or hysterical. A sunrise is glorious, but it is normal. We aren’t attached to the sun continuing to shine because we are sure it will.  If you can feel that way about the arrival of your soul mate or the success of your business, my recent experience convinces me it will appear around you like dew. Everything you want is there right now, waiting to become visible.

The emotions I’ve learned to soften and dissolve during my “no anxiety, no attachment” regimen are things like intense excitement and amazement. Even amazement implies that a good thing was unexpected or incredible, not that it was normal. Try replacing amazement with awe in your own life. Replace yearning with the knowledge that what you need is inevitably yours – that you are actually pushing it away with any grasping or yearning you may feel.

I realize this is exactly the opposite of the advice I wrote down years ago in my book, The Joy Diet. This is why we must always keep up with current research. I take it back and expect that all of you will graciously forgive me for my previous oversight, because I live and work with the most incredible people in the world — which is absolutely and totally normal.

Riding the Wave ~ Surf’s Up!

Before I even met O Magazine‘s Editor-in-Chief, Susan Casey, I had a hunch she was on the Team.  (If I haven’t explained this to you already, the “Team” is my word for the people whose unspoken mission is to help heal the world.  You would not be reading this if you aren’t on it.)  What other explanation could there be for a women’s magazine editor writing a book on sharks?  (The Devil’s Teeth – fascinating read. Pick it up!)  When I met Susan, ostensibly to discuss my column, all I remember talking about was the personalities of individual sharks and how in the world we may be able to save the oceans.

This winter, Susan wrote another book called The Wave.  It describes the physics of abnormally large “rogue waves,” suggests theories about how they occur, and tells stories of extreme surfers who travel the globe searching for monster waves where they can play.

As I read Susan’s book, I continually felt a tickle of electricity along my spine because I have been sensing a kind of wave rising around all of us for some time now.  It is a wave of transformation, a wave of innovation, a wave of compassion.

A few days ago, for reasons I cannot remember, I ended up watching video footage of the recent tsunami hitting Sendai, Japan.  I don’t generally sit around watching YouTube videos, but I was abnormally fascinated by this one.  I watched it, maybe five times, all the way through.  If you watch this video, please watch it all the way to the end.  The sheer mind numbing scale of the power of that wave must be seen to be believed.  If you’d like, I invite you to take a minute to click here, watch it now, then meet me back here ~ ~ ~

~ ~ ~ Welcome back!  Wow, huh?  There aren’t words to describe this event.

I’m not sure what happened to my computer, but after I had watched the video repeatedly, it somehow switched to a different website.  What I saw here was one of the surfers Susan Casey describes in The Wave.  It’s professional surfer, Mike Parsons, catching a swell that has just the right physics to be a monster.  Please click here and watch this all the way through as well. ~ ~ ~

~ ~ ~ Wow, huh?  I am terrified by any wave over two feet tall, yet this man will remember his experience on the monster wave with joy and awe for the rest of his life.

After alternating between these two videos for most of a day, it suddenly occurred to me why I found them so compelling.  The wave of energy that we’ve all felt – many of us for years – is coming ashore.  It is building height and power, and if you expect to hide out in any concrete structure, you are making a big mistake.  All the rules are changing.  The old institutions and patterns of life that our social selves have been trained to believe in are being uprooted and will soon float away.  This is only a crisis if we cling to them.

The way to be safe – more than safe, joyful and delighted – is to climb on board the smallest, lightest, most nimble platform you can find.  For some of us, that’s an entrepreneurial business.  For others it’s knowing a trade – like horse whispering or life coaching – that will make sense of the wild new world for the people we hope to serve.

I don’t know what your surf board looks like, but I know you own one.  It’s built into your soul, and that is the only place you’ll ever find it.  I invite you to watch these videos again, to feel for the sense of power rising beneath you, to let go of grasping or clinging, and to paddle out for the joyful ride of your life.  Surfs up, people, it’s time!

~ Martha

After publication of this article, a reader commented that this post makes light of a disaster that destroyed life and property at a catastrophic level.  Just to be clear, I want to say that my coaching focus has included things like genocide survivors, homeless addicts, people who are dying, and others in calamitous situations.  I didn’t mean to make light of the tsunami; I meant to make heavy the changes we are seeing all around us.  Last week I met a man who has been through three wars, and has seen people die violently.  “Still,” he said, “there was a serenity that I could access.”  He called this “surfing the mystery.”  I had barely met him and certainly not told him my “surfer” analogy.  It was one of those synchronistic statements that makes me believe even those who face truly monstrous situations can find lightness, balance, and peace.

A New Level of Healing

I’ve always enjoyed looking for life coaching challenges out on the fringes of human experience, and I’ve always been optimistic about what coaching can do for people. This last month I reached new levels on both these counts. After spending several glorious days watching the wildebeest on land that was once “healed” by the same Team members I met in South Africa, I found myself in Rwanda, wandering through the genocide memorial and looking into thousands of the saddest faces I have ever seen. I am not easily daunted, but from a life coaching perspective, Rwanda officially daunted me.

In the most densely populated country in Africa, I don’t remember seeing a single happy face. The genocide might as well have happened yesterday. As someone whose corporate mission statement is “to eliminate unnecessary suffering” I didn’t feel I could take this lying down. I’ve left Rwanda, but Rwanda has not left me. As I’ve reached deeper than ever before to think of methods that could heal such horrible wounds, I’ve been growing as a coach by leaps and bounds.

Like the magical helpers in the classic hero’s saga, some truly blessed things arrived to help me as I considered Rwanda’s plight. First and foremost was the presence of three awesome coaches: Ashley Jansen, Susan Baghdadi, and Cindy Leech. These incredible women maintained such a tangible level of calm and love that I came to believe we could, in time, begin to heal even the darkest wounds humans have inflicted on each other. Another was a wonderful family who invited me into their home and allowed me to participate in their calm, loving, completely untroubled daily lives. The family consisted of one silverback male, two ladies who could have ripped off my arms, and several small, extremely furry babies. Standing and watching wild mountain gorillas, looking out through a forest similar to the movie Avatar, I could feel that wherever love for nature and for other beings arises, all things begin to heal.

Before we left Africa, the other coaches and I were already dreaming up an intensive “life coaching pellet” which could be taught to health care providers anywhere in the third world and left to ripple outward into the population at large. We’re already hard at work on this new life coaching product. I am up at night scheming for a way to get back to the most difficult place I have ever been.

Passion can take you to some frightening places. It can leave you facing seemingly insoluble problems. But it also brings friends, magical experiences and a range of understanding that just continues to increase. The world needs you to follow your passion – NOW!

Minding What REALLY Matters


mb- blog post-Jan.12

I don’t want to be a drag, but I’ve spent most of my time over the past few months thinking about a close friend – my age – who is dying. Oddly, as you may know if you’ve had this kind of experience, once you’ve accepted a loved one’s passing there is almost as much awe and wonder in the process of making this inevitable transition as there is fear and sorrow.

As we begin 2011, the brevity of life is especially clear to me, and because of this I am more committed than ever to really living every moment I have on this planet. This has brought me several surprises. For one thing, I discovered that my personality is more cat than dog. For years, I’ve pushed myself to be more social, more tail-wagging, more ingratiating. When I’m really honest, I wander off by myself almost all the time. I turned down several delightful New Year’s Eve invitations and went to bed at 9:00, not because I wasn’t in a festive mood – I was – but because a peaceful, restful new year was far more enjoyable for me than a noisy gathering. If this makes me the most boring human being in the world, I do not care.

My friend had lost the ability to swallow food or liquid, so all her liquids come from an IV (intravenous drip). She says she feels very thirsty, and as I sit with her, my mind goes often to the poetry from Mary Oliver’s book, Thirst:

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half perfect?
I will keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
Which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished…
Which is gratitude,
to have been given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleep dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

It may seem like a buzz-kill to sit in a hospital room quoting poetry. But don’t knock it until you’ve tried it; the “buzz” that often comes over me in this place between life and death is powerful and amazing. When I sit still and read, not moving at all, my friend begins to breathe more easily, and tells me that her pain and her anxiety diminish. Scientists now know that one human brain focused strongly and calmly “entrains” other brains, broadcasting peace that travels heart-to-heart, requiring no action whatsoever. The shortness of life, which we all discuss, but which is very clear to me at the moment, makes keeping and spreading a joyful peace more crucial than ever before. Let us keep our minds on what matters, which is our work, which is astonishment and gratitude. From this quiet magic comes a power for all other new years wishes to come true.

Rx For Modern Day BUSY

240The past six weeks have been a time of joyful but relentless activity for me. I attended celebrations in ten different cities, with literally hundreds of wonderful people. At times, it was like taking a refreshing shower… under Niagara Falls. Everything must be done in moderation, as a wise friend once told me — including moderation. So occasionally, I schedule periods of extreme activity into my schedule. This time I think I went just a touch too far.

A few years ago I landed in the hospital. No, correction: I actually landed on the floor of the Phoenix airport, en route to giving a speech in Texas. It was bizarre and embarrassing to lose control of my muscles and fall down in public. Physically, it felt like being bashed in the jaw while sparring in karate class; there was just no way to stay on my feet. At the hospital, doctors loaded me with fluid and electrolytes, then had me rest for several hours on one side of an emergency room, divided from the other side by a thin curtain. On the other side, I could hear a parade of patients answering questions like (this is a real quote), “So, where did he shoot you the first time?” Then they diagnosed me with adrenal fatigue and sent me home to rest. And rest. And rest.

If you have any of these symptoms, and I’m being serious here — please stop and give your body, particularly those stressed-out adrenal glands, time to rest. Cancel things, even things that seem important, to get more sleep. Go online and Google adrenal fatigue, or better yet, order the book Tired Of Being Tired, by Jesse Lynn Hanley, which became my Bible as I recovered from that low point on the airport floor. Whenever I get symptoms of adrenal fatigue, I go back on Hanley’s program.
This time, as always, it’s been hard to make myself cancel appointments and rest. People are cranky with me. Doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that I walk my talk and take care of my body, no matter what social pressures I may face. The same goes for you. If you’re the one who keeps the home fires burning, consider what will happen to your loved ones, and your life, if your light goes out. Sometimes moderation should give way to extreme rest and recuperation, for a while. If that time has come for you, I’ll see you in dreamland. Sleep well.

The moral of this story is simple: A lot of people, especially in these times of ever-accelerating demands, media-based stress, and economic insecurity, are getting beyond tired and into TIRED. Since that day in the emergency room, I know the red-flag symptoms of adrenal burnout. They include: having trouble waking up in the morning, even after what “should be” enough sleep; needing stimulants like coffee to feel normal energy; craving very sweet or salty food; small cuts, mouth sores or muscle fatigue that don’t heal; not giving a damn whether your shoes match your outfit — or each other; wanting to weep when other people ask perky questions; violent tendencies tempered by the inability to actually move.

Reptile Reminders

infinity snake
My most recent thumbs-up from Nature.

So I just finished the third an African STAR (Self-Transformation Adventure Retreat), and as always, I am gratitude soup. There’s always a new way in which Real Nature brings people home to their real nature. We all get messages from the wilderness, as soon as we begin asking for them. I just got one I want to share with y’all.

Years ago, I created a coaching system based on a model of change that was like a caterpillar’s metamorphosis. It had four stages of change we go through whenever something forces or tempts us to release the status quo. Stage 1 is death of the old order, and birth of the new. In Stages 2-4, we create new life structures and identities based on what’s been born.

In recent months, however, I’ve seen change happening so quickly there’s no time for solidity. We have to learn to live in Square 1, the least enjoyable square for most people. We need to get used to continuous death-and-rebirth.

There’s an old Taoist recommendation for surviving such a roiling river of change: “You go up when the water goes up; you go down when the water goes down.” If we’re in tune with our true nature, the times when “the water goes down” are periods of play—full of productivity, creativity, doing. Times when “the water goes up,” letting us bob to the surface for air, are the periods of rest. They’re for stillness, receiving, being.

If you can relax, this is a delightful rhythm of “do-be-d-be-do.” However, if you’re filled with fear—as your reptile brain or “inner lizard” tends to be—constant change feels like a series of horrific beatings interspersed with frustrating stagnation. Quieting those lizard-brain fears, relaxing into the flow, is the key to happiness.

I visualize this as an infinity loop—you know, the mathematical symbol for infinity, which looks like a figure “8” laid on its side. I wanted to show you this, but don’t get access to computer graphics as I write this.

Happily, Nature sends us what we visualize.

The illustration at the top of this blog is a harmless-to-humans snake who just arrived outside my bedroom door with a dead lizard in his mouth. He’s arranged himself in an infinity loop as if giving me a thumbs-up (given that he’s short a couple of thumbs). I can almost hear him saying, “Yes! An eternity of rest and play, free from useless fear, is how to thrive these days.”

In fact, it’s our true nature. And Nature wants to help.

The Willing Suspension of Disbelief

When you pick up a novel, knowing that the author plans to spin a good yarn, you perform a tiny trick in your head which Samuel Taylor Coleridge called “the willing suspension of disbelief.”  This means that although you don’t necessarily buy into the author’s reality, as long as you’re reading you will willingly accept the idea that Hogwarts is a school for wizards or that the Da Vinci Code could really be traced by an intrepid Harvard symbologist. I recently found an even more exciting use for the willing suspension of disbelief and I’d like to invite you to try it.
This happened, of course, in Africa (all the most exciting parts of my life seem to happen in Africa these days.)  Having completed a wonderful adventure with the STAR participants, a few of us rented a van and traveled to the high plain known as the Karoo.  This was once the site of a huge antelope migration.  Dainty little animals known as springbok grazed these grasslands in such vast numbers that the Afrikaan “trekkers” often had to stop and sit on their wagons for days to allow a single herd to pass by.  Otherwise they were trampled to death by these animals that weigh about 50 pounds apiece.  The Karoo was used to graze sheep and cattle, which destroyed the native grasses and exhausted the productivity of the soil.  Now virtually nothing lives there.  In the middle of this vast arid land is a small village, once a cattle farm, that has literally no economy.  
Our motley crew of ten Team Members (the only criterion for participation was an obsession with healing the earth) descended on this village, Philippolis, to be instructed by humanitarian and educator, Kate Groch. We shopped in the village store, seeing how much we could purchase with a Philippolis family’s monthly pension, about $30 to feed a family of four for a month.  We visited the school where Kate is training Philippolians of all ages in literacy.  Then we dreamed up ways the citizens of the village could earn a better life by restoring the grasslands and the springbok herds.  That night we gathered at Kate’s house and went into a collective, deep suspension of disbelief.  On a huge piece of paper we wrote our mission statement: to save the world by connecting human beings with the true nature of their own souls and of the earth.  
Everyone piled in with ideas.  The drama therapist we’d literally kidnapped from Johannesburg talked about using her skills to heal psychological trauma caused by apartheid and it’s associated evils.  The concert organizer planned a series of rock concert benefits and was assigned the task of writing a group anthem.  The tracker pitched in his knowledge of wildlife rehabilitation.  The two social workers planned to publish papers in academic journals to give validity and purpose to the entire enterprise.  The horse whisperer said she would help people heal emotionally and connect with the animals we hope to establish in the Karoo.  The business manager was all about fundraising.  So for one night not a single one of us disbelieved.  
We were completely committed to Margaret Mead’s famous quote “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world.  Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”  
The next morning within an hour, four surprise phone calls came to different members of our party.  A famous educator called to say he would donate three years of his life to the cause that Kate and her mother, Mo, are championing.  A large international clothing company called to say they were excited about funding whatever it was we were doing.  I got a call inviting me to meet with some of the most powerful philanthropists on earth.  And a Middle Eastern energy company which is leading the green revolution requested coaching for a number of their employees in the Middle East.  
There is no doubt in my mind that this flurry of good news came as a direct result of our small committed group forgetting to disbelieve for a few riotous, joyful hours.  I suggest that for your October harvest you bring together a small committed group of your own.  Make a plan to change the world.  For one night, don’t disbelieve that you can. 

Profiles in Team World, Part Two

Hello, Team!  I hope you all had a fabulous holiday, and are rested, refreshed, and ready to save the world in 2009.  I’ll soon continue writing about ideas to help us do that, but this post is one of my Team Member Profiles. 


Team Member Profile: J’Lein Liese

J’Lein Liese, December 2008

In the early years of the new millennium, the genocide in Rwanda had lost much of its steam.  This was largely because almost every Tutsi in the country had been slaughtered by the Hutu militia, and the remaining refugees had vanished into the forests or neighboring countries. 

Few Westerners had dared venture into Rwanda since the atrocities began.  So a petite, polite, smiling young blond woman, traveling alone, was an unusual sight at the Rwandan border.  Several hard-drinking Rwandan men hanging around the checkpoint were very, very interested.  And not in a good way.

“I had to get out of the car,” J’Lein Liese tells me a few years later, over coffee.  “And, well, I don’t want to sound paranoid, but the way they were looking at me was pretty unnerving.”

Paranoid?  To me, J’Lein sounds almost suicidally brave.  I’m terrified just hearing the story.

“They had that predatory look, and a lot of them began walking toward me, sort of circling me like a pack hunting.  So I do the girl thing and look at my driver, as though he’s supposed to help.”  J’Lein laughs, a deep, infectious laugh.  I’m hoping that’s the only infectious thing she brought back from her adventures.  “Of course the driver staring into the middle distance, pretending he’s never seen me in his life, and I don’t blame him.” 

“My God,” I say.  “What did you do?” 

Anyone wanna spend some time here?  Alone?


I’ve only just met J’Lein.  Our meeting in this coffee shop was arranged by a mutual friend, South African Team member Judy Klipin.  This is ironic, since we live just a few miles apart, in Phoenix.  In person, she seems much too pretty and harmless to have survived an encounter with Hutu militia. 

“Did you have a gun?”  I ask. I’m not a gun person—quite the opposite—but if I were ever in the position J’Lein’s describing, I would probably go all Charlton Heston.

“Nope,” J’Lein shrugs.  “So I had to use energy.”

“Energy,” I repeat.   Girlfriend, please!

“Yeah, you learn to use energy a lot when you’re deal with horses—oh, at one point I was planning to train for the in Olympic equestrian events, except before I finished my Junior Years, for some reason one of my lungs collapsed.  Which was fine, because it helped me realize that what I really wanted was to eradicate racism and prejudice from the planet.  Anyway…”

I’m furiously taking mental notes, storing up questions.  I have to hear how the Rwandan border incident unfolded, but every autobiographical detail J’Lein tosses out makes me want to shout, “What?”


Mental notes: ask J’Lein about her potential Olympic riding and her collapsed lung…


“So I gathered my energy together—“  J’Lein goes on.

“Wait,” I interject.  “How?”

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