Photo by Claudia Lopez.
The next step after touching and feeling the ground is appreciating the inherent richness of the group. Once again the key shift is away from a missionary approach—in which the leader brings richness to an impoverished group that needs her or his wisdom. One of the brilliant insights in the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s 1968 study, Pedagogy of the Oppressed—arising from his years of experience teaching literacy to adults—is that the learner is always a co-creator of knowledge, not just a passive recipient of “bankable” information1. Similarly, this stage of bravery emphasizes cocreating. Social space is rich and filled with explosive, almost magical, potential because no one knows beforehand what we can make together. Who knew that the Berlin Wall would come down or that Rosa Parks would refuse to stand up?
The leadership capacity being developed here is the ability to feel more widely, more expansively. The chief operating officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, asked recently: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” This is certainly worth contemplating. We often allow ourselves to be hemmed in, corralled by self-doubt. We block our own creativity by the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. What if . . . ? Fear also limits our ability to feel the social field, to inhabit the collective present, to care for a wider community in an unbiased way beyond the well-worn grooves of our familiar likes and dislikes, our habitual prejudices (and, yes, let’s all admit we still have them). We are developing a capacity similar to Suzuki Roshi’s “big mind” only the emphasis here is awakening a big heart of expansive caring.
This isn’t then a set of suggestions for managing a group through better manipulation: “The Seven Habits of Highly Manipulative Leaders.” This begins as an invitation to be and to feel, in a slightly different way, the groups we are already engaging with, from family dinners to online communities. If we let go, momentarily, of convincing or persuading, defending or asserting, where are we? If we let go of our assumed identity of a “helping person,” who are we? Who are the people around us without our familiar names for them—the difficult one, the smart one, the kind one, the hilariously funny one? Richness emerges out of a space of not-knowing. In this journey into fearless spaciousness, we are becoming familiar with something flowing and yielding, adamantine and caressing, nurturing and cutting all at once. This is human potential.
1 Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Continuum, 2007).
Aarti Tejuja (third from left) and Gaylon Ferguson (center) with some of the pilot program trainers.
An exciting pilot program is underway at the Chicago Shambhala Center (CSC). With the encouragement of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and Norman Kerr, Gaylon Ferguson and Aarti Tejuja, executive director of the Shambhala Office of Social Engagement, have launched a “Training the Trainers” project.
Over the last five years, CSC has been working to end the violence plaguing young people in Chicago by expanding programming for nonprofits interested in mindfulness, deep listening, and community dynamics. Earlier this year, Gaylon and Aarti started training ten community leaders in basic goodness meditation instruction. The monthly sessions first focused on the importance of establishing a personal meditation practice, then on how to share the practice within their communities.
Aarti reports that the trainers were “released to the wild” for the summer. They’ll regroup this fall to report on successes and challenges. Aarti and Gaylon look forward to fine-tuning the program and extending its reach, both geographically and in terms of constituencies.