Posts Tagged spiritual practice

Letting the Mistakes Go

One of the hardest things about being a new director is facing all the mistakes I make. Especially those mistakes where I know I could have done a better job if I just had more time to plan and consider my response.

Part of the learning curve in a new job is that my to do list just comes at me way too fast. And if I let the mistakes pile up, they start to weigh on me. And then I’m more tentative the next day, more indecisive, questioning my judgment. I don’t have time for this. And it’s not actually helpful.

I’ve instituted a new routine at the end of every work day. It’s especially helpful to mark the end of my day since I’m working at home. But it’s greatest use is helping me reflect on my day, learn what needs learning, and then let it go. The next day, I feel more free to keep trying, keep learning, keep screwing up, and keep learning some more.

I reflect on these five phrases

  • I forgive myself for any pain and suffering I have caused myself or others due to my own ignorance and confusion.
  • I ask forgiveness from all those whose pain and suffering I have caused due to my ignorance and confusion.
  • May I show love for the world by loving myself, just as I am.
  • May I be happy and free.
  • May I take what I learned from today, and use what I have learned to benefit all beings

Then I list five things I learned during the day

  • I need to have energy going into this weekend. Remember it’s better to be present than prepared.
  • Scary calls never seem to be as bad as I anticipate
  • I can speak clearly about my concerns, and it actually helps everyone.
  • People need rest. More than I think.
  • Just starting to jot down a messy list can magically turn into a polished PowerPoint presentation.

Often these learnings aren’t just from my mistakes – I am gathering information about what’s working so I remember not to get stuck by phone calls or fear of speaking.

Also posted for me to reflect on every time I sit at my computer: “Remember: There is no amount of self care that will magically make this situation easy. Some situations are just hard. Keep breathing. Relax into greater wisdom.”

Do you have daily practices that help keep you sane? What works for you?

Share

Tags: , , ,

Planting Seeds

Planting Sunflower Seeds

Creative Commons License photo credit: tjmwatson

Not Working As Planned

“I’m planting seeds. Planting seeds.” I was muttering to myself again, speed walking up Mission Street past Yerba Buena Gardens. I was trying to catch up with the march that had a 10 minute head start on me, thousands of San Franciscans protesting in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and people around the world on October 15. I had folded up the banner I was carrying, since it was too big and unwieldy to carry by myself.

I wasn’t planning on marching alone that day. I had made plans to meet up with two different people, and had put the call out to a thousand more. I really could have used a day off from organizing, but people seemed interested in marching and I wanted to support any glimmer of interest in Buddhist participation in the Occupy movements locally in the Bay Area.

But here I was, alone, feeling ridiculous that I couldn’t even carry the banner in a way that people could see who I was with. I felt like a failure, like I was wasting time and money and energy on a lost cause.

“When planting a tree, if you want to do it the right way and get fruit from it, how should you go about it in order to have a relaxed mind? You do that which is your responsibility. Getting hold of the sapling is your job; digging the hole is your job; planting it, fertilizing and watering it, and keeping the insects off it is your job. That’s it. Stop here. How fast or slow it grows isn’t your job. Let go of this part.” – Ajahn Chah in Being Dharma

Some days, it is so hard to remember my job as a community organizer. Fostering the conditions where people can come together, can show up, can take on leadership – this is my job. Ensuring people show up isn’t my job. How much leadership they take on isn’t my job. Wrapping up my ideas of success around having a certain number of people show up, or having people take over leadership, or having an intensely powerful experience – this is all out of my control.

How Do I Let Go?

This is where I’ve learned to be a better community organizer by studying Buddhism and meditation. I can say over and over and over again – this is not my job! Do not be attached to outcomes. Just don’t do it! But how do I actually do this? How do I practice letting go of outcomes over and over and over again until it feels easy?

In Buddhist practice, we don’t do it by starting with the hardest things. We don’t start with letting go of the outcome of an event that we’ve poured our heart and body and mind into.

We start simply. We start on the cushion, watching our breath move in and out. We watch our mind do what minds do which is THINK and PLAN and TELL STORIES and CHATTER. We watch how we are attached to certain outcomes of meditation. My mind should be quiet! My breath should come easily! I should be feeling peace instead of panic!

We look at these attachments first because there’s so much less riding on it. It is just us with our minds and bodies. No one is depending on our breath being a certain way or our mind being quiet. No one can see what’s going on inside, whether we are still or a tornado.

If Practice Is Hard, Taking It to Our Work is Harder

And yet it is still SO HARD to let go of these attachments about how our meditation is going. Especially when they are enmeshed with guilt and shame, with a running commentary about how we should be better, smarter, more relaxed. About how we are inadequate and unworthy. How we are a waste of space just sitting here, not even able to sit still correctly.

If all this is happening when we are simply sitting, imagine how much more is happening when we have other peoples’ needs also at stake? When we’re sure that others will judge us by how many people come out, who attends, whether it’s a transformative experience? These voices of shame and inadequacy scream louder and louder.

I feel like when I was an organizer without Buddhism, I found ways to cover up those voices. I would hush the stories of inadequacy and tell myself other stories about how I was adequate and worthy. I would fake confidence until I felt something that looked like confidence. I would work harder and faster, trying to quiet the voices by demonstrating just how hard working I could be.

And these strategies worked for awhile. People judged me to be successful, and I felt proud of what I could accomplish.

But these nagging doubts lingered. Patching over inadequacy and unworthiness was like putting a towel over an infected wound. I don’t see it anymore, but it doesn’t heal. Instead it gets worse. As I felt worse, I also had less capacity to manage my work, as I was depleted by all the faking, all the working harder and faster. Things unraveled.

Practicing New Practices

During the march last week, I tried out some other practices. There was a lot of breathing as I walked fast to try to catch up with other marchers. When I got anxious, I returned again and again to the words “I’m planting seeds” to remind myself why I was there. When I finally caught up with the march, I found a way to stretch my arms wide enough so the banner was mostly visible. I walked with pride, in connection with others marching even though I felt lonely.

After letting go of this outcome, I was happily surprised to not be alone for long. A nearby marcher who practices with an allied organization saw me and offered to hold the other end of my banner. She ended up marching with me for the next two hours. We eventually met up with the other two people who I had plans to connect with, who helped our contingent feel a little larger. A few others came up and thanked us for being there, glad to see our presence.

Whether people connected with me or not that day was no longer the point. Some days people show up, and some days they don’t. Some days people jump at the chance to lead. Other days everyone averts their eyes when you ask for help. Whichever day it is, the task is the same. Keep planting seeds.

Share

Tags: , , , ,

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

——-

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

Share

Tags: , , , , ,

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

——-

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.

Share

Tags: , , , , ,

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

——-

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.

Share

Tags: , , , , ,

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

——-

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.

Share

Tags: , , , , ,

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.

————

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.

Share

Tags: , , ,

Deeper Roots with Spirituality?

I’ve noticed the real lack of spiritual or religious foundations to the work of many social justice nonprofits. In some cases, that is good. I hate to see people who need help or who are continuously marginalized from society forced into certain beliefs (or forced into pretending to have certain beliefs) in order to get the help they need.

Yet I look at Martin Luther King, Jr as a counterpoint. His faith in a power greater than himself was essential for him to stay the course. I remember a quote of his I read at one of his memorials, how he stayed up all night doubting this path he was on. His house had been recently bombed, his life was at risk, as well as his family’s lives. He spent the night wrestling with God in prayer, trying to find some relief, some way to just fade back into the shadows, not to have to continue to lead this civil rights movement. Through the struggle, he found yet a deeper foundation in his God to move forward toward justice.

Harvest
Creative Commons License photo credit: h.koppdelaney

I am beginning to see ways that spiritual practice is necessary to sustain work that challenges the fundamental structure of our societies.  When it takes hundreds of years to do something so simple and obvious as to give women in the US the right to vote, we need to be sustained by something deeper. I’m not sure it matters what religion or spirit-engaging practice you choose, just that something sustains you. That could be as secular as a deep connection with nature and the earth, or as religious as a deep commitment to following one of the world’s major spiritual traditions. The connection to something larger than the self, the feeling that we are but one cog in a greater system that seeks justice, the solace found in watching a cycle of birth, growth, death, and regeneration – these help us make sense of the struggles for social justice we engage in.

Share

Tags: , , , ,