Monthly Archives: November 2015

Pencils and Tea for the Tillerman

Dear Sor Juana

I got our my pencils for the first time in years and have packed them into my bag, in anticipation of using them. They might stay there the whole weekend, they might not. I might sharpen them, I might arrange them as a spectrum, I might remember what it felt like to hold them last time we were together. These inanimate objects beckoning me are now packed away and I can hear them buffing up against books in my back pack and they will be vying for attention when I reopen my bag in a Kath and Kim kind of way saying “look at me”!

We put things down and take up them again, seasonal crop rotation.

There are poems and stories to be written, books, incubating on note pads, backs of tickets and shopping dockets, scraps here and there patiently waiting for the moment they will be birthed. The wait is longer than any elephant’s pregnancy. And now pencils are going into my backpack.   Perhaps this is a prelude, perhaps it is displacement, perhaps it is avoidance …. perhaps it is the persistence of pencils to be reunited on a page.

Harvest comes from seed sown in the dark.

First the soil must rest before the tilling can start and so the pencils will clear away some of the rocks and rubble, make space for the tears to fall on the page and water the ground. There will be deep breaths and sighs, a union of sorts between the elements and the body and then there will be space for the tilling and picking over the landscape. The pencils will be satisfied and eventually there will be tea for the tiller man in the kitchen. Cat Stevens will be wafting in the background while we remember who we were in another season and who we will become in the next. The page, white and virginal will be consecrated once the flirting and sidling up are over.

Advent is just around the corner, incubation after annunciation, labour pains before birth.

Muffins and Music

Dear Sor Juana

Been listening to myself tell tales of leadership and discovering a lot of food and music in the stories! I imagine in the convent your leadership would have had some similar features, your poems and presence commanding court.

I thought I would tell you a couple of stories. I once worked for a minister in government and every day and night the team I led would toil long hours and often in challenging circumstances. Keeping morale high helped productivity and building in times of enjoyment was essential.

In one setting I introduced Five Minutes of Fun on a Friday – we felt that was all we could really manage, but we would make then fun filled. Each week one of the team, regardless of role or rank was rostered to be responsible to bring this joy to us all and find a way for us to experience it together. The creativity was endless, a skittles game in the corridor, a tour of the office with lollies and soda looking at the art on the walls (which we barely noticed); a mock debate with fictional characters dealing with matters of state we were managing in the parliament. Fun won and usually went beyond the mandatory five minutes.

In another setting there was an industrial kitchen and again my team (still ministerial but a different portfolio) were often arriving very early and without breakfast. I would get into the office earlier and bake muffins and that fare became the staple for morning briefing. Each morning I would assemble everyone for five to ten minutes, every person would tell us all their priority for the day, and ask whoever they needed to help them or watch their back. The muffins were always appreciated and by the time the Minister walked in they were fed, briefed and ready for the day (and often night) ahead.

In another place where there were scores of casual and volunteer staff it meant that people were coming and going all the time and ways to build community and a sense of belonging even though you might only appear for a few hours a week was a high priority for me as CEO. I instituted the music box – a box of various percussion instruments – whistles, wood blocks, triangle, maracas, hand drums and all sorts of things to make a noise. There was only one rule, if you had something to announce or celebrate (eg a new grandchild, passing an exam, mastering a new skill, surviving a useless meeting) then it was your responsibility to grab the box and let everyone know that there would be what we came to call a “musical moment” coming. You announced the time of the moment, or it could be spontaneous, but our response had to be to join in. Moments often lasted less than a minute, although there were some very special and poignant moments over the years – the silent moment when we collectively mourned for someone’s loss and an extended moment when we celebrated a very large injection of funds.

For many of us, the workplace is one of the most primary places we find community, and it is extremely lonely when we don’t find community there. In leadership there is a serious invitation to host community and bring ritual and to make the space for the rituals to emerge.  I don’t often tell these stories, however have found myself sharing them this week in conversations about what works to build a cohesive team so thought they were worth sharing beyond the tables I have been conversing at this week. Leaders are custodians of community.



Work in Progress – Trevi Fountain – Rome Feb 2015

Made by Disappointment

Dear Sor Juana,

Managing our disappointments is an invitation to take up a new challenge to move from the broken to make something new and perhaps more beautiful, like in the Japanese tradition of kintsukuroi (which I have written about before to another). It is a signifier that has been broken – trust, hope, confidence – was worthy of being kept whole yet that wholeness was no longer its truth.   Moving through the disappointment is transformational, a liberation. This is a letting go, and an enabling. What was held in the container, now broken, is released. What ever the container is, be it the heart or the head, that container has served as a charging station and now this new thought or emotion is released and while not fully formed, is applied, to make a new way.

Disappointment is in many people’s lives, the rug being pulled out from under one’s feet, is an everyday experience.

Disappointment arrives after …

Hours of labour to be reduced to a single syllable response – no.

A generation of dreams to be washed away by the flick of a pen.

An agreed commitment is betrayed.

Unfavourable results presented as non-negotiable and intractable.

As disappointment wriggles its way out of the body, into the ether and into conversations it starts to transmute, empower and eventually transform. Disappointments inevitably are a call to action with redemption sewn into the seams.

I have been witness to many disappointments in people’s lives recently, and in some cases midwife to releasing those disappointments. There is the recognition that letting the disappointments linger is part of the grief, and then letting those same disappointments serve as the bedrock for a new way. As the awareness comes, it is like the gold of kintsukuroi making something more beautiful because it is broken.

Instead of By Appointment to some regal authority, how about we consider the idea of beautiful people being made By Disappointment?

Disappointment is just the initial meeting with the frontier of an evolving life, an invitation to reality, which we expected to be one particular way and turns out to be another, often something more difficult, more overwhelming and strangely, more rewarding.
David Whyte, 2003




Dear Sor Juana,

A good night’s sleep is a blessing, coming as it does in the form of closed lids relaxed against the eye, body limp, heart beating to the rhythm of rest, the Goldilocks room temperature a lullaby to the senses. Ahh!

To wake in the morning with the rays tinkling the louvers, inviting the day into the room and caressing those same lids to gently unfold is the blessing of the good night’s sleep.

I have taken to asking people how they are sleeping lately as a metric to how they are going … it has been projection on my part as my sleep pattern has been disturbed by bumps in the night lately. It is interesting how people are so readily able to join in this conversation and reveal what is happening in their waking hours from what happens when their body is lying between sheets while their minds work through the day. The sleep inducing laundry list includes elixirs from tea to alcohol, prescribed drugs, needles with tonics, breathing exercises, long walks, meditation, bathing, music. The gift of sleep in a babe for new parents has a bounty and gazing at a sleeping child is a balm for any exhausted mother.

What keeps you awake at night? is an oft asked question in my work with decision-makers, advisors and guides. I am now asking how are you sleeping at night and this is revealing how people are managing, coping, reflecting and integrating themselves into their challenges.

I am kept awake by the banshees creeping under the gap in the door closed shut stealing breaths and forcing their way through ever growing constricted airways of my love. I sleep in the promise of the new day bringing grit, grace and gratitude. With the help of others, my sleep is improving. Sleep is a gift and it is received with thanks.

St Elias - Patron Saint of Sleep

St Elias – Patron Saint of Sleep