Posts Tagged appropriate response

It Feels Good to be Running

Yesterday I rushed from lunch with a friend to a work meeting. Luckily the meeting ended early, since a quick check of my email reminded me that I still needed to prepare financials for the next day’s board meeting. I ran back to the office for 40 minutes, entered the latest set of donations into Quickbooks, and whooshed off an email before running out the door to a coaching appointment.

Traffic was heavier than I expected, so I arrived a few minutes late. Yet instead than feeling stressed and overwhelmed, I felt exhilarated and energized. After days of feeling lethargic and mildly depressed, it felt fabulous to be able to roll with so much action. I was in my flow.

I am learning that I have an optimal level of energy that I put out day to day. For the past several weeks, I have been operating under capacity in an effort to recover from a period of heavy stress. Instead of feeling rested and at ease, I was starting to feel depressed, unsure what to do, and unfulfilled. Yet I also know when I try to operate much over my capacity, I burn out from working at an unsustainable level.

I tend to err on the side of operating over capacity, so lately I have been practicing under doing it. However, it’s not working for me. When I am too far under capacity, my self care falls apart. I figure I will get around to meditation later. I can’t think of a good reason why I need to get off Facebook.

I know that operating over capacity can be a coping mechanism. Am I hiding from something? Am I avoiding hard feelings?

In this particular moment, I don’t think so. While running from thing to thing can sometimes be a way to run away, it can also be an efficient way to get things done. It’s efficient for me, as I get more focused and just get things done rather than fretting too much over how to do them. When I am busy, it’s easier to jump into rejuvenating activities like dance or talking with a good friend or writing or watching the season finale of The Voice. (Whoohoo Jermaine!)

I feel liberated, feeling into my natural capacity, feeling how the right tempo and flow unleashes my gifts of energy and motivation.

I know that my particular capacity is different from other people. And that my own capacity changes day to day, especially if I’m sick or been working over capacity for too long. But being present with my natural capacity, today, in this moment, I feel alive.

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Whoosh! The Bottleneck Was Removed

Just last week I sat with pools of dread, unsure how this Acting Director business would unfold.

It’s unfolding with a quick rush of energy. When a bottleneck is removed, things flow more quickly than normal. Work to shift staff and projects into place – work I thought might take a couple of weeks – was complete in three days.

The layer of dread has lifted, revealing a well of unprocessed frustration, anger, and inadequacy. Frustration and anger at past work situations where there was too much work, too much hard, not enough resources, not enough capacity. Inadequacy when I left that anger unexpressed, internalized it, and then endlessly analyzed “what’s wrong with me that I can’t handle this?” It’s still sitting heavy in my chest, just to the left of my sternum. My heart burns.

Slightly Future Me knows how this gets resolved. She is on the other side, the side where I’m not bringing quite so many unprocessed feelings to the table. The side where I’m expressing my frustration and anger appropriately, as a way to set clear boundaries and forge strong opinions.

What does Slightly Future Me have to say?

SFM: Oh! I am so much closer than you think. I’m so close, we barely have anything to talk about.

Me: But it feels like there’s still so much chest pain. It’s hard to believe that won’t take weeks to clear.

SFM: Remember the whoosh of energy when a bottleneck is removed? It’s not just about the organizational bottleneck. You’ve removed an internal bottleneck, a big one we’ve been working on for ages. Things that seem like they should take weeks are going to be done in days.

Me: Is there anything I can do to keep supporting it?

SFM: Meditation – just sitting with it and letting it unwind. Maybe try those trauma release exercises too.

Me: Is there anything else I can do to leave you little presents to make your day better?

SFM: Our weekend plans fell through … it would be lovely to make some new ones. And shimmy pop! And spend some time mucking in details this week – clean out the inbox and the phone messages please! Also, we should schedule a conversation with a slightly-future-version of me. Our next challenge is another layer of inadequacy around connecting with great spiritual beings who we need to call on for help.

Me: I thought we were already working on inadequacy? And it was going to be resolved soon?

SFM: Yes, we’re working on inadequacy/anger. This next layer is inadequacy/needs. There are lots of aspects of inadequacy for us to deal with. One of the many perils of living in a capitalist culture, with 24/7 media telling us that we aren’t good enough.

Me: Grrrrrr.

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(D)anger

Basilisk
Creative Commons License photo credit: asra_valorshon

Yesterday’s post on anger as a force for change sparked some spirited discussion among my facebook friends. One of the most brilliant and successful community activists I know said it best, “The problem is with this idea of ‘transmuting’ anger – like it must be changed or named something different (like judgment) to be ‘okay’ or ‘good.’ …. My anger simply is. And I will not call it anything but what it is – anger (and sometimes rage). No ‘transmuting’ for me because if my anger is the power that moves me then our anger can move the world.”

Anger is not my strong suit. Part of me has worked hard to be more comfortable with anger. But there is part of me that would feel happiest safest if I could just eliminate anger altogether. Some small part of me still links anger with danger. While I’ve found no etymological connection between these two words, the small ‘d’ that separates them evokes words like disaster, dire, deadly.

Yet I know this is my own reactivity. Instead of seeing anger plainly, I see it through the fear-soaked lizard brain that runs for cover, certain I’m going to be eaten. And perhaps this response ensures that I am eaten – hiding under the couch, eaten up inside that I couldn’t respond appropriately to anger. I might as well have served as someone’s fuel for all the good I’m able to do from under the couch.

To by angry in both smart and heart-felt ways, I first need to relish the full enjoyment of anger. What makes anger gorgeous? Who does anger well? When am I overjoyed to hear an angry word? More thoughts to come, and I would appreciate hearing what you love about anger!

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Anger as a Force for Change

salt march memorial, Delhi
Creative Commons License photo credit: nilachseall

“Anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world” – Mahatmas Gandhi

I have struggled to understand the role of anger in my work as a social justice activist. As a woman in US culture, even the act of expressing anger is radical. It goes completely against my Midwestern cultural upbringing to express anger visibly. I learned the fine arts of passive-aggression and transmuting anger into self-loathing at an early age. Every time I say, “I’m angry …” I feel like I’m finally expressing myself more fully.

Yet I have also watched activists full of anger get nowhere fast. The people they want to reach avoid them, dismiss them, and generally do their best to pretend they don’t exist. Sounds exactly like how we treated anger in my Midwestern family – if we ignore it, it will hopefully just disappear.

I made more sense of anger and social justice after hearing Donald Rothberg talk about the judgmental mind. Donald describes judgments as having two parts: one part insight, and one part reactivity. Most of my anger takes the form of judgment – it holds both a piercing truth and a volcano of emotion. Those who might have been interested in my insight are burned up by the explosion of hot pulsing lava. Those who were running away because they’d rather not hear my insight feel fully justified in their decision to flee. I’m left feeling terribly frustrated and unheard, and likely to explode even bigger next time since I’ve added the judgment “They don’t listen to me” to my long list of complaints.

What happens if I can tease apart my anger into these two components, separating the insight from the emotional reactivity? Can my insight – my “controlled anger” – be more fully heard by those who need to hear it? Can my emotional reactivity be healed and cared for, rather than spewed on others?

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An Appropriate Response: Wisdom, Compassion, & Courage

This is the fifth installment in the Appropriate Response series, a dharma-centric model for how wisdom, compassion, and courage guide our appropriate responses to the challenges of nonprofit management.

Also in the series:

An Appropriate Response: An Introduction

An Appropriate Response to Impermanence

An Appropriate Response to Suffering

An Appropriate Response to Egolessness

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Wisdom, Compassion, & Courage Form An Appropriate Response

How do we apply wisdom, compassion, and courage to all that we face in nonprofit management? Wisdom requires that we clearly see these three characteristics and how they shape our reality. Compassion asks that we respond with a heart well-tenderized by the Brahmaviharas so we can meet the world openly. Courage inspires us to practice the Eightfold Path in our daily work, from intention setting, to right speech and action with others, to mindfulness and concentration on what we do. By asking ourselves and each other how to apply wisdom, compassion, and courage to all that we do, we practice the dharma as we care for our nonprofit. We liberate ourselves as we work to support the liberation of others.

Dalai Lama Kyegundo
Creative Commons License photo credit: SFTHQ

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An Appropriate Response to Egolessness

This is the fourth installment in the Appropriate Response series, a dharma-centric model for how wisdom, compassion, and courage guide our appropriate responses to the challenges of nonprofit management.

Also in the series:

An Appropriate Response: An Introduction

An Appropriate Response to Impermanence

An Appropriate Response to Suffering

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An Appropriate Response to Egolessness
OCP Logo

Out on the Colorado Plateau Summit

Among all staff members, it is the Director who has the most temptation to become identified with the organization. Their key role as the face of the organization, as the person in charge, as the one responsible sets them up for ego-identification. I am most successful as a leader when I can get out of the way, when I can make it as easy as possible for others to contribute their best skills and talents to the cause. My practical Midwestern upbringing has served me well here. I care most about finding the most practical way to accomplish something, and am happy to take a front and center role when needed, and a behind the scenes role when that is appropriate.

I have found great success in team leadership models where 3-5 people come together, each contributing their unique skills, with the support of a larger team to paint a broad vision. For example, the Out on the Colorado Plateau summit had a 4 person leadership team that held the larger process. This team was supported by a committee of 20 who were involved in choosing the vision for the summit (visibility for rural LGBTQ individuals and communities), and several key decisions that had many pros and cons depending on the perspective you came with: holding the event at the local college or at the county fairgrounds event center, 2-3 keynote speakers with both local and regional appeal, approximate cost for attendance (free vs. $20 vs. much more than that). Sub-committees broke off (each led by a co-coordinator) to make detailed decisions about presentation schedule, media plan, secure food donations for the day of the event, and solicit sponsorships. It’s been one of the most well-functioning, engaged teams I’ve participated in. No one person was “in charge” of the process, but many contributed an important piece to make the event happen.

The flip side to practicing egolessness is tapping into the deep interconnectedness between us all. I find myself deeply drawn to projects where I can help foster a sense of belonging among people who have felt isolated and alone. In the process, I continually examine who feels welcome and comfortable in the spaces I create, and who does not. Knowing the pain of exclusion and loneliness, I seek to build spaces that include people often shunted to the margins – people of color, LGBTQ folks, women, people with disabilities, and immigrants.

This work was most powerful at SASO, where we challenged ourselves to examine our role as an organization in perpetuating oppression, and do our best to dismantle this. SASO, like many rape crisis centers, grew out of the feminist movement of the 1970s. Violence against women was a tool of sexism, used to keep all women in our place. As federal funding came for rape crisis programs in the mid 1990s, the radical edge softened, and oppression was rarely talked about.

Yet when we looked at statistics of sexual violence, it was clear that sexual violence was still being used as a tool of oppression – all forms of oppression. How else do you explain that Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped than all other races combined? That more than 70% of disabled women have been sexually abused at some point in their life time? That immigrant women and men were targeted for sexual violence, because perpetrators assumed they would never go to the police to report it?

We recognized that institutional oppression was often more insidious than overt interpersonal racism, and made a huge difference in whether people felt welcome in our agency or not. For instance, why did we not have even the most basic services available in Spanish? Why did we offer therapy support groups but not sweats in a Native sweat lodge for Native survivors? Why do all our brochures assume that it’s a woman who is being assaulted by a man, when we know men assaulted by other men, women assaulted by other women, men assaulted by women? How can we work in an office that isn’t even handicapped accessible?

While painful initially to look at our failings as an agency in being the welcoming and comforting space we wanted to be, our examinations led us to see clearly where we could improve. Monthly, we dedicated time to meet and set intentions toward change. We held each other accountable as we took the small but necessary steps to change how our agency operated. While the initial steps felt small (I’m going to call another rape crisis center with a Spanish hotline and see how they operate it), they built upon each other. I’m proud to say that five years later, SASO has model programs for engaging the immigrant community, Spanish language programs that are being requested around the state, helped organize the first ever LGBTQ Pride Festival in Durango, and finally operates out of an accessible office. Perhaps most notable, the majority of staff are people of color and identify as LGBTQ. The agency has become a welcoming place for those most marginalized.

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An Appropriate Response to Suffering

This is the third installment in the Appropriate Response series, a dharma-centric model for how wisdom, compassion, and courage guide our appropriate responses to the challenges of nonprofit management.

Also in the series:

An Appropriate Response: An Introduction

An Appropriate Response to Impermanence

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Responding to Suffering

178/365 - Don't Be Blinded
Creative Commons License photo credit: Www.CourtneyCarmody.com/

One of the biggest changes in context between the Buddhism of the East, and the Buddhism of the United States is our capitalist culture. Capitalism teaches us from birth that greed is good, that clinging to money and what it buys is what will make us happy. This huge delusion is a core root of the suffering that many in the US feel, including our general dis-ease that suffering should cease to exist if we do all the right things. We slip into the trance of unworthiness, thinking that all others have found happiness while we alone have been found unworthy. We are deeply desperate in our culture of teachings that remind us that holding on tight to our money is not what will lead us to happiness. Buddhism offers beautiful teachings on generosity. As the first teachings of the Buddha to lay people, it becomes a teaching practice to instruct people on the benefits of generosity. Every fundraising ask is simply a teaching.

Participating on the Fundraising Committee for the Durango Dharma Center, I have heard many lamentations about how the cultures in Burma, Thailand, and elsewhere in the east have a deep appreciation for generosity and the importance of giving generously to the dharma. This often leads to comparison to our own culture’s stinginess and our difficulty raising needed funds to keep our center open. Durango’s sangha is unique in that we have no guiding teacher, but a strong council of Community Dharma Leaders trained at Spirit Rock who guide our practice. We have been grappling deeply with raising enough funds to sustain our CDLs, so they can focus deeply on their own practice in service to our practice.

I draw deeply on the fundraising philosophies of Lynne Twist, whom I heard speak in 2008 at Upaya Zen Center. How asking people for money is a sacred ask, as we ask people to open their hearts wider to what they most care about, whether it’s our project or something else entirely. How fundraising is a healing profession, where we help people heal their relationships with money that get so distorted in the confines of capitalism. How fundraising asks people to drop the myth of scarcity and begin to live in abundance.

The roller coaster of nonprofit funding deeply challenges our ability to be equanimous. It can cause deep suffering. One of my largest challenges came on a day that SASO lost a major grant. I had been working as Director for a year, and had successfully raised an additional 25% to better support our foundational services of advocacy and prevention. SASO was a collaborator on a federal grant that was not renewed due to personnel changes at the granting agency. This grant represented almost 20% of SASO’s funding for the upcoming year. I had just 5 months to figure out how to raise that money through other means, or I would have to let go a core staff member.

I started making plans immediately for both scenarios. In financial management of our own assets during tight times, how do we keep our own money flowing to what we most care about? In times of budget cuts, how do we focus laser-sharp on what we most care about and celebrate what we are still able to do? And how do we do this at the same time we are deeply committed to increasing our fundraising efforts so that we do not have to make these deep cuts to what we have lovingly built? Between trimming the current year budget and raising money from several new donors and foundations, I was able to retain our core staff members. And in the process, gained new donors and streamlined costs down to what was most essential. The initial suffering in response to revenue cuts was transformed into gratitude toward the strength our agency gained in the process.

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An Appropriate Response to Impermanence

This is the second installment in the Appropriate Response series, a dharma-centric model for how wisdom, compassion, and courage guide our appropriate responses to the challenges of nonprofit management.

Also in the series:

An Appropriate Response: An Introduction

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Responding to Impermanence

winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all

Creative Commons License photo credit: jenny downing

We know that nothing is truly stable. In business, a strategy that is successful this year will go out of favor the next. The “right” way to fundraise with one person is the “wrong” way with another. The buildings we build today will need repair tomorrow.

On a May day in 2005, I woke up and went to work, thinking it was a day like any other. My first year teaching sexual assault prevention programs in schools was wrapping up, and I was looking forward to a summer where I could review my “pros and grows” – where I had succeeded and where I could improve in the upcoming year.

Liane met me at the door. As the Executive Director of Sexual Assault Services Organization (SASO) for the past four years, Liane had made a strong impression on me about how to run a nonprofit and maintain some balance and joy in life. I wasn’t expecting her news. “I’ve been hired to be the director of another nonprofit organization and am giving my notice today,” she paused slightly before dropping the next bombshell, “And Claire is probably going with me.” SASO was losing its two full time staff members, leaving me in my part time role to hold down the fort until new people were hired. Liane looked at me with some seriousness, “You really should think about applying for the director position.”

I had never seen myself as an executive director – at 28 I wasn’t sure I was old enough or had enough experience for the position. As I began to look at my mix of skills – skilled at writing, comfortable speaking in front of people, facility with budgeting and accounting, and enjoyment of working with people – I began to imagine that I could take a step into this role. What one day seemed an impossible challenge began to seem a grand opportunity. I applied, and got the job.

The learning curve was steep. As the last remaining staff member, I had to figure out how to hire staff, get them up to speed in an agency I had worked at for under a year, and start juggling the fundraising, grants, and financial management tasks that I was just learning to do. I quickly dropped any story that I needed to be “the boss” who was “in charge” and needed to “direct” everything happening “below” me. Instead, we were a team, learning together how to do our jobs, each a leader in our particular areas of expertise, each willing to help out the others when we needed an extra brain on a sticky problem. Our ability to drop the hierarchy and practice team leadership was noted; agency partners continually commented on the strength of our team and our ability to achieve greater success because of our approach.

I cannot imagine leading in another way, particularly in an organization dedicated to transformation and healing. Working with the trauma of sexual violence was our outer work. It is a deep practice of compassion, of being with the suffering of others, balanced with a deep practice of equanimity, of being completely unable to fix others’ suffering. As happens, this deep practice with others’ suffering continually touched into our own wells of suffering. The work is triggering, which while painful, is a great gift to be given the opportunity to face and heal our own suffering. We learned quickly that our inner work was just as essential. That when our own suffering was triggered we stopped to be with the feeling and honor where we’ve been. We would set new intentions, start planting those seeds, and tend to their growth. Our work together became a deep practice in inner and outer transformation, of ourselves and those we worked with. There was no division between our outer mission and what we practiced within. And there was much practice of joy with the realization that impermanence allows for the possibility of transformation.

In a nonprofit, how do we capitalize on our deep understanding of impermanence? A commitment to learning communities is key. By continually operating in a learning mode, we do not get entrenched in one right way of doing things. While we plan for things to change (because we know they will!), we focus on responding to current reality in the most appropriate ways possible.

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An Appropriate Response to the Three Characteristics of Nonprofit Management

I have toyed here with the idea that spirituality may offer a deeper rooting for nonprofits and nonprofit workers. I had more to say, but was a bit scared to really go there. Will folks who need rooting be scared off by frank talk of spirituality? Will I be able to do justice to intertwining spirituality and nonprofit work, in a way that helps people feel supported rather than feeling like it’s one more “should” they need to be doing?

Yet the world needs me to be me. And I am currently excited to think about how much my meditation and Buddhist practice would have helped me with nonprofit management. Especially by how much it will help me in future positions.

I had the opportunity to pull my thoughts together on this when I applied for my dream job right at the sweet spot between Buddhist practice and nonprofit management. I wanted to share here this framework I developed for Buddhist or dharma-centric leadership. Stay tuned for posts full of stories on responding to impermanence, suffering, and egolessness.

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An Appropriate Response: An Introduction

wrap your wings around me
Creative Commons License photo credit: timsnell

We talk of the two wings of Buddhism, wisdom and compassion. Like a bird flying through the sky, we need both wings of equal size and strength to get where we are going. Donald Rothberg talks about the recent addition by Vietnamese Buddhists of the body of the bird, which represents courage. In this age, we need to display deep courage to act, to not be paralyzed into inaction.

In a dharma-centric model, this combination of wisdom, compassion, and courage guide our appropriate responses to the challenges of nonprofit management. When we take our practice off the cushion and into the real world, it is critical to have clear comprehension of the three marks of all existence – impermanence, suffering, and egolessness. As we learn to do business in a dharma-centric manner, we will rely on using these three marks as three tools to help us succeed in finding an appropriate response.

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