Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Interviews with Syren and Support-a-Priestess

I've participated in two interviews over the last month, and realized I should share them on my blogs. That's a thing people do, right? Here you go.

Voices of the Sacred Feminine

I was on Voices of the Sacred Feminine with Rev. Dr. Karen Tate on September 23, 2015.

If clicking on the image above does not work, you can listen on the Blogtalk website here. This interview was audio only.

In this interview, I gave tribute to Shekhinah Mountainwater, discussing her life and work and what she meant to me as a woman and priestess. I shared about the creation of the Shekhinah Mountainwater Memorial Fund. We also delved into the political realm and discussed politics within Paganism, capitalism, and patriarchy. I shared about the other projects I am involved with, Gods&Radicals: A Beautiful Resistance and Many Gods West.

The interview was great fun and very interesting! Be sure to check out the vast library of archived interviews on Voices of the Sacred Feminine.

A Gathering of Priestesses

On October 21st I appeared on A Gathering of Priestesses with co-hosts Gloria Taylor Brown and Kathryn Ravenwood.

This discussion was a bit more personal - we talked about what led me to the path of a priestess, what being a priestess means to me, and some of the work that I do. (Who can discuss all of the work that makes up their life in one interview?!) :) We talked about the goals of the Shekhinah Mountainwater Memorial Fund, founding the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, and how my role as a priestess intersects with my other projects.

I was feeling a bit under the weather, but the discussion was still full of laughs. Gloria refers to the YouTube channel as "Priestess On Demand"! She has featured some amazing women.

A Poignant Question


At the end of the interview, Gloria asked me how the community could support me - I do so much supporting others, how can I be supported?

Isn't that the question! I didn't have a response, though it is something that is continually on my mind. Much of the work I do is behind the scenes: birthing and nurturing projects and helping others address questions of structure and dynamics, or local community-based service to people and place. My work is quiet, radical, and essential. It is not flashy. It is not even that eloquent. It doesn't earn me any name recognition (such as it is, within our communities). And it is still very hard and consumes untold hours of my time.

I'm currently taking a risk by choosing to be unemployed to continue pursuing my work. I'm dedicating more time to my writing and to supporting others. But as things stand right now, I'm not going to be able to do that for very long. I've considered the idea of crowdfunding and patronage, but there's the catch. I currently have little to "offer" to patrons, no "collateral" to point to as evidence of my personal work and ambition, and am far too busy to begin amassing a portfolio.

I'm still wrestling with the question of how to support the work that I do. I am going to take one step forward, however. I've placed a PayPal button on this blog. If you feel called to drop in a tip in support of the work that I do, in and outside of this blog, I would be eternally grateful. I'll contact you personally and offer a little something as a gift.

Until we can create a world that is out from other the thumb of capitalism, and in which all people receive an Unconditional Basic Income, we have to find ways to continue supporting one another and the work that we do. That is what I dedicate much of my time to. I hope you'll consider supporting me in return.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Guidelines for Effective Meeting Facilitation

I’ve been attending many community meetings again recently, and it has reminded me that meeting facilitation is a skill to be learned, practiced, and perfected, like any other. Here are some guidelines for how to facilitate an effective meeting, gleaned from my own experiences and training during 10+ years in community organizing, spiritual service, and non-profit work.


You need a facilitator. No really. Many community based groups are non-hierarchal and function with shared power, and rightly so. Unfortunately I have seen meetings devolve into counter-productive chaos in an effort to avoid appearances of any one person being in charge. The purpose of skilled facilitator(s) is to help create and hold the space for the work of the group, so that the group can achieve its goal. It is a position of care, not authority.

Select a facilitator. This may be the person who organized the meeting, or the group could agree on a facilitator. You could also share the role – for example, having one person as a time keeper, one as a discussion guide, one who is responsible for keeping the group focused.  

These are the essential responsibilities of the facilitator. A facilitator should have an understanding of group dynamics and feel comfortable pulling quieter individuals into conversation while also keeping the more talkative people in check so that they do not overrun the meeting. (How many meetings have you been to where one person took up the majority of the meeting and never really said anything of relevant importance? Yeah. We’ve all been there. That is an example of poor meeting facilitation.)

Set the goal of the meeting. Even if the purpose of the meeting is to socialize with the goal of networking, setting an intention is essential to a successful meeting. Not everyone will have the same goal in mind when coming to a meeting; even if it has been discussed prior, perspectives will differ. Establishing the goal at the beginning of the meeting will help make sure everyone is focused on the same thing. You can state the goal verbally or write it on a piece of paper and display it. Displaying the goal also gives the facilitator something to bring the group back to when the group begins to lose focus.

Create the framework.  Once the goal is set, you want to establish how that goal will be accomplished within the context of the meeting. This includes setting an end time, discussing the activities that will occur, and reviewing the points of discussion. This process will help alleviate any lingering confusion. Depending upon your group, this may also be written down and displayed, or it can be a verbal process.  

These steps are a part of building the container for the work, of establishing the focus and boundaries for the meeting so that participants are able to comfortably explore during discussion, feel valued, and leave with a sense of accomplishment. This does not have to take more than the first few minutes of the meeting. Think of the beginning of many wedding ceremonies “we are gathered here today to...” Gather everyone together, state the intended goal, go over what will happen, remind everyone what time the meeting should wrap, and then (if appropriate) ask if anyone has any brief points or questions to add. Then move into the meat of the meeting.

Check in/Introductions. Depending upon the size of the group and the familiarity of the individuals with each other, it is often helpful to do a brief check in and round of introductions. If the group is new, or if there are new people in attendance, doing brief introductions will lift comfort levels and give everyone a better idea of who is present and what perspectives they bring. The facilitator should give an example of what should be shared during the introduction, such as their name, what brought them to the meeting, what experience they have with the subject, and what they hope to accomplish, and reinforce that this is a brief introduction and should not take more than a minute per person.

If the group is familiar with one another, a brief check in will help everyone get settled, enhance group cohesion, and improve flow. Allow each person no more than a minute to say how they are feeling, what they want to accomplish during the meeting, and any questions they may have.

This period of the meeting does have the potential to go off-track rather quickly, so it takes a skilled facilitator to manage. Setting the guidelines and sticking to them, by reminding people to stay on track and within time limits will help. It is up to you whether to do this before the goal and framework is set or after, and will depend on your group. I have found it is more helpful for the flow of the meeting if it is done afterwards.

Some groups will pass around a stick, rock, or even a small hourglass (the minute kind from board games, for example) to facilitate the process. Whoever holds the item has the floor to speak and cannot be interrupted except to bring them on track and remind them of time limits.

Facilitate discussion. Now that the container has been created and everyone has been brought into the meeting during check in, the hard part of facilitation starts. In any group there will be a variety of personalities, experience, and comfort levels; managing that so that the meeting is effective and everyone feels like their time was well spent can be a challenge.  

The role of the facilitator is to guide and encourage discussion, help people stay focused, and reign in tangents. A variety of skills will help you as a facilitator. A basic understanding of group dynamics, power dynamics, and individual psychology particularly as it relates to intro- and extra-version will go a long way. This will help you pick up on subtle energy shifts and notice when someone is on their way to dominating the discussion. Introverts are not necessarily shy, but they do take more time to process information, and thus are slower to respond. Extraverts are not always domineering, but they do like to process information out loud, and thus are often the big talkers.  

A solid grounding in active listening is a great benefit to a meeting facilitator and will help to balance the needs of introverts and extraverts, who will both benefit from the practice. The facilitator can also help the talkative individual get to their point quickly, and then summarize their main point succinctly, thus giving the less talkative people an opportunity to process the main point and respond. It may be necessary to actively engage the quieter individuals. Putting people on the spot doesn’t always work, and I have had success with saying “I would like to give us a minute or two of quiet to reflect on what has been said. Then let’s hear from some people who haven’t spoken as much.” This brings some air into the conversation, puts the breaks on the overly talkative and allows space for the quiet individuals to be heard. (I am an introvert myself, can you tell?)

Some groups will pass around a stick, rock, or even a small hourglass (the minute kind from board games, for example) to facilitate the discussion. Whoever holds the item has the floor to speak and cannot be interrupted except to bring them on track and remind them of time limits. This can help balance out power dynamics, and give everyone an opportunity to speak, but it can also be a bit cumbersome. Try it out in your group and see if it works.

It may also be helpful to have someone who is not the facilitator take notes of key points brought up in discussion, so that they do not get lost. To wrap up the meeting, review the key points, give a few more minutes for discussion, and then decide on next steps. You should always end the meeting with a synthesis and “what’s next” so that people don’t leave wondering what was accomplished and what happens next. And of course, a big dose of appreciation all around for getting through the meeting, which hopefully was much more enjoyable for everyone with proper facilitation!

If you have any questions or would like some individualized help with developing your facilitation skills, or would like to discuss a group dynamic you are trying to manage, please do contact me!

Here is a great tip sheet from AORTA (Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance)
Some thoughts on evaluation and roles from Training for Change

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Many Gods West : Magic and Liberation in the PNW*

It is rare for me to review an event and have almost nothing critical to say, but that is what my experience at Many Gods West was. As an introvert with a solid dash of shyness, conferences can be challenging for me. But MGW felt safe and welcoming. The experience for me was as if the entire event was in dropped and open awareness, a grounded openess that is hard to achieve at conferences.

Capitol Building from the lake

The Conference

The conference started for me with Morpheus Ravenna's keynote address, which was a brilliant piece of theology and put words to my experiences and thoughts in a way that I had been unable to do myself. It was a wonderful affirmation to start the conference, and any doubts about being in the right place dissipated. Her address is posted at the link above, so I will abstain from any personal commentary for now and let you read it yourself.

I then attended Rhyd Wildermuth's discussion on Gods, Authority, and Creation of Meaning. Rhyd frequently says the things that people don't want to hear, and this was no exception. Reclaiming the power to create and own meaning is one of the core aspects of my polytheism. No one can dictate meaning to me, they can not speak to my experiences as if they are their own, they can not validate or invalidate who I am or what I do. That is my (our) power, and reclaiming it is essential to rediscovering enchantment and breathing mystery back into the world.

On Satyrday I had intended to start with Brandy William's presentation on Women Magicians and though I was disappointed with the cancellation, it worked out to give me a much needed slow morning and pleasant breakfast at the New Moon Cafe, a worker-owned cooperative cafe. Seriously, how cool is that?!

Olympia seems to be an awesome city. Within blocks of the hotel there was three Pagan shops, three local bookstores, several cafes, multiple places to eat with groovy folks who have no problem showing up as who they are in the world, and most importantly several parks and natural areas. It was the perfect location for the first West Coast Polytheist conference.

L Phaedrus' talk on anonymous spirits and what to do when a spirit is refusing to tell you who they are was very interesting. I attended it because it was something I hadn't heard a lot about, though I have experienced the phenomenon. It helped alleviate feelings that I must be doing something wrong, and gave me some additional tools to use. I'll be digesting that one for a while.

Occupy Your Heart with Langston Kahn was a beautiful discussion. I felt in Langston a powerful worker and shaman who truly showed up for the people in the room. I left feeling my heart open wider to the people and experience of Many Gods West.

There were many ritual offerings at the conference, and I was especially looking forward to the Devotional to Cathubodua. Coru Cathubodua seems to have a certain following within Polytheists, and I was curious about their work. I've also long felt the teasing presence of a Raven Battle Goddess, and for the weeks leading up to MGW my dreams had been increasingly active with Her presence. I entered the ritual without any expectation of what would happen but knowing that I needed to be there. And there, She was. It was an incredibly powerful experience and though I did not feel called to receive Her mark, I do know that my work with Her is just beginning.

Following a delightful dinner with old/new friends, I was planning on attending John Beckett's talk on infrastructure within polytheism. I was looking forward to it as I've been involved with creating infrastructure for quite some time and co-founded the Mother Grove Temple in North Carolina. But surprisingly, as folks were gathering in the halls I felt that distinct pull towards the Dionysus ritual. I don't play with the boy Gods, and so was resistant. After several minutes of arguing, I decided to attend the ritual instead. I am glad that I did - it was an hour and a half of ecstatic dance and free-flowing wine (of which I only imbibed a few respectful sips). Ariadne was also invoked so I danced for Her, with a tip of the hat to Her husband. I'm not sure it was uncouth for me to be there in that manner, but They didn't seem to mind.

I only had a little energy left for the evening music event at Obsidian, but I love the way MGW organized this event. A variety of musical styles was presented in a location where everyone could gather - rather than having to choose between events. The feeling of community permeated the air, and though I left early to retire to my room I carried that sense with me.

Sunday morning I had to be up in time to get to Sean Donahue's talk on Dead as Allies as Resistance. Personally I think Sean is one of the most brilliant, beautiful, yet humble thinkers in Polytheism. I had goosebumps of recognition and resonance during his entire presentation. Whether you call it the thinning of the veil or the rattling at the gates, it is obvious that the Dead want to be heard and those who are taken from this world before their time are angry and confused and need to be witnessed. This has long been a part of my work, and I am excited to hear about others doing the same. Can we have more discussion about this please??  Yes.

Anomalous Thracian is another one that I had only known as a "personality", but his discussion on Regional Cultus was both entertaining and brilliant. To be honest, I've forgotten many of the details but the overall impression has remained with me as one more piece to the overall experience of affirmation and inspiration that was Many Gods West.

For lunch on Sunday I coordinated a meet n greet with other writers for Gods&Radicals, and it was a highlight of the weekend to spend some time with the amazing people who were there, just chatting and joking and getting to know one another better. By this time I was personally feeling more comfortable and less introverted, and I wish we had had an entire weekend together!

I did not know Annar Niino at all, but as the Dead are such an important part of my work I had to attend her presentation on Feri and the Mighty Dead. The audience was a bit low energy by this time on Sunday, but the anecdotes she told were hilarious (Victor Anderson grating the ass of god?! Ha!) and the reminder of sensory memory and connection to our ancestors was very relevant.

The final ritual I attended on Sunday was for The Matronae, and it was the most powerful, meaningful ritual of the weekend. I will likely never be able to give words to the experience, but the call I felt was unmistakable and was something I had not felt since receiving and devoting to my primary goddess. So She/They and I are getting to know one another and will have much work to do.

Many Gods West was the kind of conference that I wish we had more of. Regional, focused, community based with a high caliber of speakers, ritualists, and discussion, without any of the arguing and ego massaging that happens in other places. The arguments that seem to happening on the internet now? None of that was present at the conference, to my knowledge. There was a sense of hospitality and respect that can be achieved when we approach each other from a place of community-building. I will be carrying that feeling and memory with me for a very long time - until (hopefully!) the next Many Gods conference.


On the Grand Stage of Paganism, I'm pretty much a nobody, an unknown. And I'm good with that. We talk of developing regional cultus, and that applies to our work with each other as well. I don't want to be A Leader, but I am comfortable leading and working with people on the level of close community, and have continued to do so quietly for over 15 years.

Even as a "nobody," I have always felt exceptionally welcomed in Polytheist spaces. No one has ever asked me for my credentials, or asked for empirical explanations of my experiences, or asked me to discuss the nature of my relationship with the Divines beyond friendly curiosity and note-comparing. Which isn't to say that it doesn't happen, but for me it has happened far more often outside of Polytheist spaces than it has within.

As a polytheist that finds meaning in diversity of experiences and ways of being in the world, I have a very hard time accepting that any way is the one and only way. Even when it comes to our atheist or humanist friends, I have to acknowledge that they came to their ideas through a path uniquely their own.

The Matronae reminded me that these paths can be woven together into a web of support and connection, but that there is also nothing wrong with cutting off a strand that does not belong. I do not have to forsake community for individuality and I do not have to allow individuality to poison community.

For me, being in self-defined space is an important part of my work. We have definitions and meaning thrust upon us from the outside all the time. I seek to reclaim that power and to say for myself who or what I am and what spaces I seek. Doing so does not have to cut me off from the rest of community - these are just the threads I weave.

In celebrating the multitude and the myriad, we can also acknowledge our differences, celebrate them, and respect our need to be with others who identify the way that we do, without building walls and separating webs. This is a part of building healthy, thriving communities. We still have a lot of work to do towards that end, and it is very clear that that work needs to be done now. Many Gods West was an important thread in that work, which will reverberate through the web for a long time to come.

*h/t to Niki Whiting for a comment she made from which I drew the subtitle of this article

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Book Review: She Appears! Encounters with Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion

She Appears! Encounters with Kwan Yin, Goddess of Compassion by Sandy Boucher, Published by Goddess Ink (2015)

(I won a copy of this book in a giveaway, but not on condition of providing a review)
Syren with She Appears!
Kwan Yin is one the Goddesses that moves in and out of my life, and She did appear to me through this book at a time when I needed Her. She Appears! is a treasure, a cool sip of water, a balm for the weary heart. Filled with poems and stories from a diverse set of authors, practitioners, devotees, and "average" people who encountered Kwan Yin's grace, it is very likely you will find something within this book to personally connect with. And the artwork! The artwork is spectacular, with traditional and non-traditional representations of Her. The artwork itself could fill its own book - in fact my only regret is that this was not published as a high quality art book, for it certainly could be. I imagine doing so would make the book prohibitively expensive, and at a price of $28.95, it is already on the high end of what I would normally pay.

Aesthetically, the book is lovely. The size of it, an interesting 8.5" x 8.5", makes it feel unique from other books and frames the content well without being too cumbersome to read while relaxing. The 30 pieces of artwork are sprinkled appropriately through the nearly 200 pages, and the color theme complements the material well. The only thing I wasn't in love with was the font. Each story is given an introduction by the editor, and then the story itself is in italics, except for the stories written by the editor which are in standard font. I found that to be a bit odd and it took some getting used to when reading the book. I think it distracts from the content a bit, but once I adjusted to the long stretches of italicized font it did help me to hear the stories as stories while reading.

The book is eight topical chapters associated with experiences of Kwan Yin. They are:
     Hearing the cries of the world
     Alive in nature
     When illness strikes
     Mothers and daughters
     Visitations/Gradual awakenings
     Kwan Yin as activist
     Death and grieving
     Final words

The content is brilliant and beautiful, with a variety of voices represented from Buddhist, Goddess, and non-religious communities. The diversity of stories still express a common theme: the love, compassion, and autonomy of this powerful Goddess. She isn't a Goddess to be easily dismissed.

My favorite chapters were probably Visitations/Gradual Awakenings and Kwan Yin as Activist. There is a powerful prayer in Kwan Yin as Activist: "Kwan Yin's Prayer for the Abuser" (author unknown). I struggled with this one; as I work with victims of abuse it is sometimes very hard for me to have compassion for the abuser. It is also sometimes very hard for me to hold on to compassion in my activism. Compassion can be expressed in many ways, and that is something that Kwan Yin and this book teaches us.

She Appears! Encounters with Kwan Yin is a book that I will be picking up regularly, flipping through to gaze at the art and read a story, whenever I need support and to remind myself of the many manifestations of compassion in our world. Purchase your copy from the incredible women over at Goddess Ink.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

On Leadership, Mentoring, and Embracing Change: A First Timers Reflections on PantheaCon

(This is the second post in my series based upon my experiences at my first PantheaCon. Though I discuss one of the PCon panels, the issues of leadership and developing communities reaches far beyond. I hope this contributes to continued discussions on how to create healthy networks of communities)

One of the panels I attended at PantheaCon was Turning the Wheel: Nurturing Young Leaders and Embracing Change.  Many of the panelists discussed their challenges as leaders, and the strides they have made in trying to reach out to the next generation. There were some very good points made, and overall I wish we had much more time to really delve into the topic. 
The recording is now up on Elemental Castings. I encourage you to listen to it – you may hear things differently and leave with a different take away.  Besides, there was a lot of laughter. Don’t take my word for any of it. Go listen!

Now, this panel was not staffed by young people – they all seemed to be around 30 and over – and this fact was owned up front by all of the participants. Jason Pitzl even yielded his chair to a younger leader when (teasingly) called out on it. I have great respect for many of the participants that were on this panel and seeing that this subject, which is something I am passionate about, was going to be discussed was one of the reasons I decided to attend PantheaCon for the first time.

I’m also glad that I did not agree with everything that was said, because it got me thinking in different ways about how we approach creating networks of healthy communities.

One of the things that got me about this panel was that, when it came time to ask questions, a few college-age Pagans spoke up, and asked about how to get invited into established spaces, how to be taken seriously, and what can they do to pursue the path of leadership. The responses that were given by the panel came across to me like a "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality. The suggestions included "just be persistent, knock the door down, push against the glass ceiling, make yourself be heard, fake it until you make it" and eventually people (implying people in positions of leadership) will take notice. I know the people on the panel are not proponents of bootstrap mentality, and I understand what I believe is the sentiment behind the responses: Don’t give up, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, don’t let anything hold you back.

But I’ve also heard these same pieces of advice from people who were in powerful positions and used them as ways to abdicate themselves of their responsibility to mentor and guide. And the same rhetoric is used by the individualistic, self-determination, capitalist proponents.

I was a young leader. By 25 I had co-established the first Goddess Temple in the Southeast, was leading large group rituals, had been teaching for several years, and facilitated a few small Circles. I'm not the majority, I understand that. But I had a lot of support along the way, people that somehow recognized what I was still figuring out, people that showed up for me, who welcomed me and guided me. It was hard. And I did a lot of it by my own determination and persistence. But never was I told to just pull myself up by my bootstraps and keep going. The people that I am honored to call my friends and supporters (both here and across the veil) were always there to help me – even if I didn’t always see it at the time.

I'm in my early 30s now, and personally I feel that it is an even more awkward stage than the 20s... but we'll get to that later.

How does this expectation that young people are supposed to figure it out on their own help to create healthy, creative, accountable communities? As one friend put it, in the 70s and 80s we(they) had to figure it out as they went along, because it hadn't been done before. But now, there are at least two generations of Pagans that can help the next generation. They don't have to make it all up. The way I see it, this generation is the first to truly have the opportunity and the burden of learning from those who came before and then working towards building a better future. But, it is up to us (the old guard) to change the culture so that it welcomes new leaders, new ideas, and new experiences. That is our responsibility, not theirs.

We seem to have a blind spot when it comes to the next generation.

We’ve allowed a very culturally-embedded difference to become a battleground – the generation gap. All too often I see an Elder or a Seeker denigrated because they said the “wrong” thing or don’t follow the same theory of tradition and practice that someone thinks they should. The younger generation looks at the older generation as people on pedestals that are holding them down, and the older generation looks at the younger like up and comers who are trying to change everything they worked so hard for. There is no trust, no love, no appreciation. This generation gap is only serving to divide and conquer. If the elders are always dismissive of the youth, and the youth are always angry at the elders, how will we ever learn and come together and work on the really hard stuff? We won’t. And then the ‘Oppressive Powers That Be’ win.

Our movement is inherently resistant to authority and rejects the idea of there being centralized leadership, which is a powerful resistance in this world. But the fact is we do have leaders and people who step into roles of leadership. These people are the Big Name Pagans (rightly or wrongly so) and the person who decides to start a group in their town because there is nothing else. We can acknowledge this and choose to model a different way, a healthier way, of shared power and well-developed leaders. Or we can continue to ignore it and suffer from those who will use the opportunity to seize power and wield it harmfully. I think it is time to model a better way.

So, how do we help develop the next generation of leaders? How do we create healthy networks of communities?

There are many ways to develop leadership, but as a movement Earth Based Religions (which I use as an umbrella term) are just starting to figure it out. So we look to other religions and other fields, gathering what feels right to our bosom and cutting away the rest. It’s a process, and with all of the other causes that are so front and center (and rightly so) it sometimes feels like this one should take a backseat. But I think it is essential to the healing and change we need. We haven’t been doing it right – and I can tell you that the younger generation sees it, and feels it, and doesn’t want to inherit it… and has some pretty damn good ideas about how to change it. 

I actually don’t believe that you can ‘teach’ leadership. You can teach some tools, share your own mistakes and talk theoretical scenarios. But you can’t just get up in front of a group, give a presentation on leadership (or a hundred presentations) and then say they are ready to be a leader. Leadership must be developed. It is a continuous process. It means making mistakes again and again and again. And it takes ongoing support.

My favorite leadership development model is a mentorship model. This model is one of the most time and energy intensive, but also has the greatest potential for individual and collective reward. To be successful, it also has to have a solid foundation of respect and trust, with a clear understanding of expectations and commitment. 

Learning never ends, and even the most experienced and skilled among us will have times when another perspective or someone else’s guidance is helpful. Never should we place a leader, elder, or mentor up on a pedestal and expect them to always have to figure it out on their own, either. Being in a position of leadership (as opposed to claiming a Title) is often tiring, draining, stressful work with little reward and few opportunities of reciprocity. We must build networks of support; communities that share power and value each other’s experiences and insights.

Naturally, these networks must be developed. You can’t create community-by-policy. And reciprocity becomes a huge issue – it can easily start to feel like you are doing all the giving and none of the receiving while mentoring. We can’t – and shouldn’t – dictate community or try to create it through policy. But we can create some loose structures to support the nurturing of community. For quite some time, I’ve been tumbling around the idea of a mentorship network. 

Now, I actually detest the term “mentor.” So, in tumbling around this idea, and discussing it with my dear friend Byron Ballard, I came up with the idea of Buds and Blooms

A healthy community, like an ecological system, is one of diversity, solid roots, room to breathe, supportive shelter, and healthy nourishment. The smallest beetle to the largest mammal and everything in between all have an important role to play; without any of them the entire system collapses. We must remember this in our networks and models of leadership as well.

So, a healthy leadership network has buds and blooms – but even the blooms need the support of the rest of the community to thrive, and the buds need the support so they can come full bloom. Different plants have different blooming cycles, just as different people come into their own bloom at different periods of their life – and they may die back and re-bloom again and again. 

This network of buds and blooms would allow everyone the opportunity to mentor and guide someone else, thus fulfilling the need for a feeling of reciprocity and building a community of support. Everyone would be paired up with their own bud, even those in their first sprouting. (Ok, am I losing you in the metaphor? Let’s just break this down into straight-forward terms)

My ideas for the development of healthy leadership are based in the belief that all voices and points of view are valued, and everyone has something to offer. The newest of newbs can support other newbies on their journey, and offer perspectives on the experience to the person guiding them, so that person can continue to grow as a leader. Experienced leaders can support one another instead of compete, and help each other through the journey of leadership with all of the ups and downs and mistakes and victories and exhaustion. 

Its been shown in mentorship models (yuck) that it is best to partner with someone who is not so far removed from your own current level of experience, so that they can still relate and feel the relevance of what you are experiencing. So when looking for a mentor, keep that in mind. Don’t aim for the BNP with 30 years of experience if you are fresh with 2 years of experience (and that is for many reasons). Discuss your current experiences, what you are struggling with, what you hope to learn – and if the person can’t relate to any of it or talks down to you in any way, they are probably not the person for you. Get references, ask around about their style and if anyone has any concerns. Once you find someone you can relate with, then it is time to set very clear agreements and expectations for the both of you, and create clear lines of communication. 

Ok, back to my metaphor of the buds and the blooms and creating some structure to help nurture leadership and communities.  I know we (as in the umbrella we) are generally resistant to structures – but, given the minority of our religions and spiritualties, and that many people do not live near others who can provide them guidance or can’t publically seek others out for any reason, I think some structures can have a place. So creating a network of individuals to guide one another could be a huge gift to our communities. There would have to be some kind of vetting process, particularly for Blooms. People would be paired and grouped in small nexuses (like galaxies), according to a diverse yet complementary mix of experience and needs, sharing support and power among one another (which would also help prevent any abuse). The validity of all perspectives and levels of experience would be emphasized and valued, while also creating the space for guidance for all regardless of experience.

Let’s take each other off the pedestals, offer our hands to those patiently waiting in the wings, and call each other in to the circle. We are all sacred, all divine, all worthy of respect and all inherently valuable. It’s time to co-create the future we deserve, take back our power, and show the “normals” how it can be done.