Leading The Way

Guest Post by Jane Large, Retreat Attendee & Mentor, Circle Member

What does it mean to lead, to be a leader? I believe that being a leader can take many shapes and that there are many different ways in which we may be called to be a leader and many understandings about what being a leader might look like.

What I am learning is that the most significant aspect of being a leader is discernment, being able to discern what is called for at any given moment by listening deeply from a Heart and Soul space and then being willing to take the action that is called for. It is knowing, are we being called to hold space, to offer encouragement, to offer advice or wisdom we have gathered from our own life experience, or are we called to share our gifts actively in what way or form that might arise? It is also being able to discern the difference between being triggered and reacting from a mind and ego place and being called to be leaders from a Heart and Soul place. Knowing how we are being called to be a leader is all about listening deeply from a Heart and Soul space, then taking the action that we are called to take at that moment, knowing also that from moment to moment that this may change, just as the Pace of Creation shifts and changes from moment to moment.

One of the ways in which I have been learning and practicing discernment is in my work as a secondary school teacher, a role which calls me to be a leader on a daily basis. No two moments are at a high school are the same and moments can shift very quickly when 1000 people sharing space each day for 8 hours a day. During any given teaching day, I not only plan and deliver curriculum, but am called to take on many leadership roles. Knowing which role I am being called to take and how I am being called to be a leader requires a great deal of discernment. During any given day I am an educator delivering curriculum, having to discern the best way to do so, so that my students are able to be successful learners. In addition to that leadership role, I may also be called to take on other leadership roles – a confidant to listen to a story or struggle, a ‘school mom’ as some students call me, the one ‘who gives the best hugs in the world’ to the kids who may never get a hug except from me (even though it is not recommended we have physical contact with students due to liabilities…sometimes I discern that breaking the rules is the best choice), a pep talk giver, a life-coach, the answerer of any question because if they ask they must really want or need to know the answer, the enforcer of rules, the “voice of reason”, the holder of space…. Sometimes I feel as though I ought to have a business card that lists my profession as Teaching and Social Services.  Sometimes in a day I may take on each of these leadership roles more than once, sometimes within span of minutes. Being able to do this successfully (most of the time) requires me to also hold space for myself so that I can discern how to take action, not from a place of being triggered, but from a Heart and Soul place, from a place guided from Spirit and my connection to the Divine Oneness we are all part of. It is one of the places where I bring my shamanic practice to life within my life.

I am the lead teacher for the Aboriginal Students Links student group at my school. It is a group for all First Nation’s, Metis and Intuit students, as well as any other student who wishes to learn about First Nation’s culture and teachings. For this group I organize, with the support of a colleague and community partners, a variety of activities – from monthly feasts, to attending Pow Wows, to learning circles with Elders, to hiking and canoe trips.

So far this year we have had 4 gatherings and our numbers have almost doubled since last year. We have about 15-20 new First Nation’s students at the school this year, most of them in grade 9, and many of them far from home, staying with billet families or their own extended family. For the students who I have been working with for 2 years there is already a natural rapport and level of trust between us. They know me and I know them. They know they can trust and count on me, and I know about them and how to best interact with each of them. For the new students and grade 9s, we are just getting to know each other, just beginning to develop that level of trust, rapport and comfort.

One of the newest students to our group is a young man who I will call Jay. He is a grade 9 student and he and his sister, Jade, both go to gathering by an educational assistant and initially they would not come into the room where we were gathering. Instead, they both hovered outside the door for almost the entire duration of our gathering. Eventually Jay snuck into the back of the room to grad a snack, but he would not join the circle and sat back by himself. Since then, a mere 4 weeks later, they have attended every gathering, though mostly they choose to sit outside of the room or outside the circle on their own. The next thing I noticed about Jay and Jade, which is striking, is that they almost never talk, and if they do it more of a grunt or mumble. When they do talk I sense that they feel they are taking a great risk to do so, as if someone at some time ‘stole’ their voice. The other thing you might notice about Jay and Jade are the scars that peak out from underneath their clothing from time to time, scars that tell stories of what they have experienced in their lives so far.

This is the story of how Jay taught me about what is to be a leader and how we can be called to lead in so many different ways, and what a profound affect we can have when we listen, discern and act. Today he taught me that sometimes a moment calls me to hold space and sometimes holding space is not enough and I am called to take a more active approach of leading while still holding the space I was holding initially. Today was one of those days, when I am called to hold space, but also to listen deeply from a Heart and Soul place and then take action based on what I hear.

Today we were at the YMCA to do a swim test and a canoe rescue activity to prep students for an upcoming day-long canoe excursion. As I waited for students to arrive and board the bus, Jay arrived with his signed permission form. This was miracle #1. I had given Jade the forms the day before and asked her to give one to him. The fact that he showed up at all spoke to my heart in profound ways. I had been holding space for him and Jade, that they might join us, because if they did not they would not be able to go on the upcoming canoe trip.

As other students boarded the bus Jay still stood by my side. I asked if he was ready to go, and he looked at the ground, shrugged his shoulders and mumbled that he didn’t know. As I listened with my Heart, something I was called to do many times with Jay today, I discerned that he might not be sure he was ready because he was afraid. So I offered that we might go together and get on the bus. He agreed. Miracles #2. When we got to the YMCA all the students went to get changed, everyone except Jay, who sat on a chair in the lobby. He does not have a swimsuit he tells me when I ask why he is not changing. When you are truly a leader, you learn to discern what is the correct response to have to what might be a challenging or potentially triggering situation. And so I listened deeply from my Heart and I knew the only appropriate response that was called for in this situation was, “Ok, let’s find you one then.” And so I did (fortunately my colleague had the foresight to bring a bunch of men’s bathing suits). Next Jay told me he needed a shirt to wear in the pool, which he also did not have. He said it had to be long-sleeved. I asked if the YMCA had any shirts for purchase or to borrow. The only option was to search in the Lost and Found bins to see if there was anything that would work. Jay and I went to the bins and he stood watching while I searched in the bins, which produced nothing by short-sleeve t-shirts. Without a word Jay headed for the change rooms, so I thought perhaps he might ask one of the other boys of they had a long-sleeved short he could borrow.

Ten minutes later I emerged from the change rooms with all the girls, ready to start the swim test. Everyone is ready and changed except Jay. He is sitting fully clothed on a ledge by the far end of the pool, swim trunks in his hand. At the moment I saw him sitting there, I realized that today simply holding space for this boy was not enough. I was being called to not only hold space, but also to take a more active role as a positive adult leader in his life. I realized that somewhere along his life path, he had forgotten how to lead himself, forgotten his worth, forgotten he was worthy of being part of a circle family. Today he was calling from his heart for someone to help him on a path of remembering. And since I am the only one he’d get on the bus with, I discerned that the person who was being called to support this young man to remember was me, at least for this moment. And I also realized that this situation called me to be a leader in many ways I had not yet been called to do, to bring so many of my medicines together at one time to be a leader for this person in this moment. Not only to hold space, but to lead by example, to lead by asking questions, to lead by listening deeply, to lead by taking action, to lead by being an adult that cared enough to take action so that this young man could complete this swim test and get to go on a canoe trip.

So I took a deep breath into my Heart, anchoring my awareness there, and headed over to sit with Jay on that ledge. Jay told me he needed a long-sleeve shirt to cover his scars. That sharing was miracle #3. There was nothing for me to say at that moment, but, ‘Ok, I’m going to find one for you.’ And so back to the Lost and Found bins I went again and dug deeper this time. I found a blue sweatshirt, a hoodie and a thick fleece jacket – those were the only long-sleeved options. Now it was up to Jay to take action, to decide if he was willing enough to wear one of these, even though they were not really ideal swim apparel. Jay chose the blue sweatshirt and headed into the change room. Ten minutes passed. Then 20 minutes. As time was passing I notice his friend, Dawson, going into the change room periodically and emerging alone. So I asked Dawson if Jay is coming out. He said he didn’t know but that Jay has changed into this swim suit. The fact that Jay is changed is miracle #4.

By this point we have been in the pool for over 40 minutes and all the other students have completed their swim test and are now doing the canoe rescue sequence. Something tells me that if Jay didn’t want to get on the bus alone, he isn’t going to want to do the swim test alone either. So I ask Dawson to tell Jay that I will swim with him while he does the swim test. I hold space because I know I can’t go into that change room and force Jay out, that this is also partly up to him to take action. However, I do imagine myself reaching out my hand and say in my head, “Come on, Jay, you can do it. I’ll swim with you.” Then in my vision his Soul self joined me. His Soul self stood tall with a smile on his face, not like the stooped and glum boy I see in the halls at school. My heart begins to warm up, and out of the corner of my eye I see the change room door crack up and Jay peak his head out momentarily. Now we only have about 20 minutes left of pool time to complete the test. Jay continues to stand at the threshold of the change room, just behind the doors, his head peaking out periodically. Another 5 minutes pass and he has not yet crossed the threshold. Dawson has gone back and forth a number of times also, but Jay still won’t come out.

Again as I breath and anchor in my Heart, I discern I am being called to take action again. Both Jay and I am standing at a threshold, being called to go deeper in our own spiral paths of learning. I stood at that door with Jay for 10 minutes. In that 10 minutes I learned a great deal about him – that he was afraid people would judge him for wearing a sweatshirt to swim, that his scars might show and that someone might see them. In that 10 minutes I also delivered the best pep talk of my teaching career. I spoke from a deep Heart and Soul place, speaking of how I see our circle as a big family who come together to support and care for each other and that he is a sacred part of that circle family. I spoke of the fact that we all were so glad that he came and that we were proud of him for having found the courage to do that. And then I asked him if he was willing to find the courage at that moment, knowing all of us cared for him and were willing to support him, to cross the threshold and get into the pool. By that time many of the boys we waving to him, encouraging him to get in (four of the boys had already told me they would swim with Jay if he wanted and do the canoe rescue with him). I said, “You have been so brave so far. The test only takes 5 minutes and then you can change back into your regular clothes. I’ll swim with you. Let’s do this together.” I took a step back to give Jay space because now it was all up to him.

And then he looked around tentatively, took a step out of the doorway and we got into the pool together. I swam with him the whole way, for 50 meters, then taught him how to tread water which he had never done before (and had to do for a whole minute without stopping to pass the test!). Then, with almost a smile on his face, he clambered into one of the canoes and completed the canoe rescue with the support of 4 amazing young men who showed their own ability to be compassionate leaders today. And then the biggest miracle of the day – Jay was having so much fun that he didn’t want to get out of the pool and stayed long after everyone else had gone to shower. Jay was the second last person to get on the bus, not because he was reluctant but because he and Dawson were still swimming and lounging in the hot tub only minutes before the bus arrived to pick us up. And when he got on the bus he was smiling and joking around with Dawson…and he didn’t need me to go with him.

Today Jay taught me in 2 hours more about being a leader than I had ever learned in 39 years of being alive. He taught me not only about how I am being called to be a leader, but that sometimes when we take the lead for someone they eventually remember to lead themselves again. They remember their hearts and the courage that resides there. Jay taught me that sometimes when we step up as a leader we also inspire others to be leaders in their own right, like the 4 boys who did the canoe rescue with him, not because I asked but because they were inspired in their own Hearts to do so. He taught me that many miracles and many layers of growth are possible if we are willing to be brave, and if someone is willing to give us a helping hand now and again to remind us of our potential.

Today was a miraculous day, a life changing day. Not only for Jay, but also for me. However, Jay may never know how much he taught me and supported me in my spiral path of learning and in learning how to use discernment to be the best leader I can be in any moment, and how grateful I am for these opportunities to learn. And that’s ok, because another aspect of being a leader is knowing that sometimes it is not about me but about someone else. Today was about Jay and being the leader that he needed so he could find the courage in his own heart to cross a new threshold and remember a bit more of his potential and that he is part of a loving circle family.

Home Practice

Discernment is a skill that we are being called to practice as we are being called to be leaders. So how is it that we discern we are being called to be leader? How do we know we are being called to act from a Heart and Soul place as opposed to simply reacting from our mind and ego to being triggered? One way of using discernment is to deeply tune into our senses – How do we feel when we are being called to act from a Heart and Soul place? How do we feel when we are reacting from our mind and ego when we are triggered? How do we hold space for ourselves in each moment so that we might be able to discern the difference between these two?

Think back to a time when you felt triggered and reacted to that from a mind and ego place. Tap into your body and connect to all the sensations you experienced. Note your own subtle ways of reacting when triggered.

Next, think back to a time when you felt called to act as a leader that came from a Heart and Soul place. How did you know you were being called from a Heart and Soul place? What did you feel with all of your senses? What differences are there between this feeling and reacting from being triggered?

Throughout your day, take notice of how you hold space for yourself and how you hold space for others. Do you take a moment to anchor into your Heart before you speak and act (because sometimes to act means to take not action at all, but rather simply to be and continue to hold space)?

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