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Center for Enlightened Leadership

Welcome to the second issue of The Lens. For some time now, CFEL has been aware of an emerging shift in global consciousness. A positive consciousness seems to be evolving organically around the globe at a time when the world scene looks quite bleak. In life, things often get worse before they get better. It is always dark before the dawn. A new friend who is named Lisa sent me a link to a website that captures this phenomenon in a planned movie called The Shift. The trailer for the movie can be seen at www.theshiftmovie.com  If it resonates with you, please pass it along. 

- Stephen L. Sokolow, Executive Director



Our Spiritual Navigation System

What's Joy Got to Do with It?

Smell the Real Roses
By Domenico PIAZZA

A Reality Check

Death of a Loved One Sheds Light on a Life's Deeper Meaning

Journal Keeping: Recording the Events of One's Personal and Professional Life

Problems Are Opportunities in Disguise

Celebrate School People: A First for the Nation Held in Maine

Rest in Peace

What If the Moment Sucks?

Yoga Sessions

Letters to the Editor
From Our Readers


Our Spiritual Navigation System

  Dr. Stephen L. Sokolow
  Dr. Stephen L. Sokolow
Executive Director and Founding Partner

I have a navigation system in my car. It’s a somewhat mystical device. When I want to go somewhere that I haven’t been before, I enter the destination and the system plans the best route in accord with my previous instructions as to whether I prefer the scenic route or the fastest route. I’m impressed by the fact that I don’t have to tell the system where I am at the start of the trip or anywhere along the way. Mysteriously, it knows. Everywhere along the route I can follow the system’s directions or I can exercise my will and take a different route. For example, the system may say, “Turn right in 200 feet onto I-95.” If I don’t like I-95, I can ignore the directions and take a different route.

If the system believes I have made an error and am going in the wrong direction, it may suggest that I make a U-turn and get back to the previously stated route. The system has mapped out an ideal plan to get me from my starting point to my destination. When I ignore the system’s advice, it automatically generates a revised plan to get me from my present location to the destination. The system never loses sight of the ultimate destination. It never loses sight of where I am, and it continuously tries its best to suggest the ideal route from wherever I am at any given moment. Often it takes me through uncharted territory. At times I think, “This can’t be right.” However, if I trust the system, invariably it will get me to my destination no matter how many times I deviate from the planned route.

One day, while following the navigation system on a scenic route, an insight came to me. It struck me that my car’s navigation system could be seen as a metaphor for my life’s journey—and perhaps yours as well. I am from the school of thought that holds that life is purposeful and that each of us has a divine purpose. Like my car’s navigation system, the Universe knows our destination, which is to say it knows our purpose. In life, as in the car, at each and every moment we can exercise our free will. We can follow the ideal path or we can choose one that may be longer, more difficult, more circuitous. Through our life’s circumstances and synchronicity the Universe is always trying to show us the best route. No matter what choices we make, the Universe never loses sight of our destination, and with endless patience brings us a revised plan. As a result of the choices we make, our route may be smooth or difficult—but it is always true.

I like having a navigation system in my car. I like the fact that even if I don’t know where I am, the system never loses sight of me. With my navigation system I know that I’m never really lost, even if it feels that way. I feel a little braver and willing to venture into uncharted territory because I know the system will guide me to my destination when I choose to use it.

What’s more, I trust that my spiritual navigation system works as well as or better than the one in my car. It never loses sight of me. It knows my purpose. It knows I have free will. Sometimes my choices are aligned with my purpose and sometimes not. When I choose paths that are less than ideal, my inner voice and life’s circumstances are always there to suggest the best way forward. The more I trust it, the more I enjoy the journey, and the more likely it is that I’ll arrive safely at my destination.  


What's Joy Got To Do With It?

  Dr. Paul. D. Houston
  Dr. Paul D. Houston
Founding Partner

A few years ago, my friend and colleague Bea Holland invited me to be a storyteller at a retreat on “joy in the workplace.” What a challenge! Not unlike Mudville after mighty Casey struck out, there is too often no joy to be found in the workplace. It is where we go to get the resources that enable us to pursue our joy elsewhere.

As an educator, I am particularly aware of the dilemma of finding joy in the workplace. I once was in a meeting of policy wonk types and suggested that the best school reform would be one that made our classrooms places of joy. The meeting essentially stopped. Joy? In learning? What a novel concept!

Yet real learning is indeed joyful. When I have a major or minor epiphany, it brings me great joy. Like the angel in the Christmas scriptures, learning brings us tidings of great joy. It gives us new ways of looking at old things. It creates new perspectives. It arms us with new tools. When someone learns something they are forever changed, even if only in small ways. But learning isn’t about degrees; it is about the degrees of separation on the path from ignorance to intelligence.

There is no happier or more joyful place in the universe (the Disney people may disagree with me on this) than a kindergarten classroom. The kids are there to learn, and boy are they happy about that! Contrast that feeling with a roomful of seniors in almost any high school. They’re counting the minutes until dismissal so they can pursue their real passions. What happens on that journey between 5 and 18? I think what happens is that those who create the learning conditions in school have forgotten that learning and joy do go together. They are not a strange pairing.

I believe those who make education policy and those who carry it out need to work a lot harder at not being “joy vampires” that suck all the juice out of the learning experience. Education needs to be about connection, and about meaningful engagement. If kids feel a connection to their teacher and to each other, and if they are given work that is meaningful to them and that actively engages them, I guarantee you they will find joy in the work they are doing.

A year or so ago I visited a classroom of seniors who were building robots to fight other robots. The joy and excitement I saw in that classroom could match any kindergarten class anywhere. Those seniors were learning metallurgy, engineering, and calculus—in order to build the robots they had designed. They weren’t watching the clock and waiting for the bell.

Our children—no matter what their ages—also need to understand that there is great joy to be found in serving others and in doing the right thing. It has always interested me that schools which require some service activities often find the kids continue the service after the requirement has been met. Why? Because they found meaning in the experience. And joy.

AASA President Sarah Jerome introduced me to a saying by the East Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. He said, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke to find that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” Joy is not a passive word. It requires action to get it going. It requires a sense of service to others. And it requires real learning. What’s joy got to do with it? Everything.


  Domenico Piazza
  Domenico Piazza
Senior Associate

Four barriers surround Dachau: a grass strip, ditches once filled with water, an electric barbed-wire fence, and the camp wall. Stepping on the grass strip would get you shot.

In 1972 we hesitated at this frightful barricade before passing through the gate. My wife Jan was frightened, and my daughter and son sensed our discomfort. Cheryl was 12 and Peter was 9. Jan was intensely susceptible to the suffering of others and worried that entering through those gates would be more than she could bear. I too felt an uneasiness growing inside me for myself and for our children. Yet I  clung to a belief that being present in that place and witnessing the physical location of immense inhumanity would somehow help each of us sense its reality in the world and the urgent need to fight it. Beyond books and documentaries, here was the very place—the barbed-wire fences, the outline of countless barracks, and the crematoria. Also, remarkably, just outside the camp there was a community where families had gone about their day-to-day lives. The horrific juxtaposition of normal provincial life, continuing while the crematoria streamed black smoke from the burning bodies of the damned, stretched human credulity.

We entered the camp. Over the gate, the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” announced with fierce irony, “Work Sets You Free.” I recall the silence and the vastness of the place. Two reconstructions of the infamous green barracks stood in the midst of an expansive pattern of 32 barrack foundations. Before us was the roll call area where prisoners, dead and alive, were counted morning and night. There had been a maintenance building facing this area. Printed on its roof for all to read daily were the words: “There is one path to freedom. Its milestones are obedience, diligence, honesty, orderliness, cleanliness, sobriety, truthfulness, sacrificial love of the fatherland.” In the distance we could see four modern buildings—chapels representing the religions of the inmates.         

The air was chilled on that April morning. The wind cut into us as we entered the vast camp in silence. A wrought-iron sculpture stood before the small museum of photographs to our left. It was the International Memorial created by Nandor Glid. Up close it appeared to be a modern sculpture of twisted black metal. As we walked away, my daughter tugged my sleeve to look back at it. Men’s emaciated bodies now clung lifelessly to a tangle of barbed wire. I tried to hear the sounds of countless footfalls or the barking of angry dogs, or the wails of suffering humanity, but only the gravel path beneath us affirmed our presence.

At the rear of the camp we entered the Church of Reconciliation, built in 1967. It was a tastefully modern structure with stained-glass windows depicting stories from the Bible. The organ caught Cheryl’s eye and she went closer to examine it. The chaplain appeared and introduced himself. He had been a prisoner in Dachau and survived until the U.S. army liberated the camp on April 29, 1945.

He told us of an event that occurred just before the end of the war. Anti-aircraft guns had hit an American plane and the pilot bailed out. As the prisoners below watched, his parachute opened and he floated in the wind toward the camp. Amazingly, he landed in the center of Dachau and was quickly apprehended. The pastor said he would never forget the look on the pilot’s face when he realized where he had landed. The pastor then asked Cheryl if she played the piano. When she said yes, he invited her to play something on the organ. She sat and played Beethoven’s Fur Elise.

At that moment I sensed oneness with human suffering and with human creativity. The worst of our regressions and the greatest of our potential were present in me. Consciousness and love emerged from a place of hopelessness and suffering. The Frenchman Michael Dubois’ relatives died at Auschwitz. When he visited that camp he experienced a sad and painful reunion. But the more pain he felt, the more love he felt. “Love rises from the souls in this place….”

We moved beyond the chapels. Separated from the camp proper, we saw a low brick building that contained three ovens. Small tracks were set up to carry the small trams into the fire. We learned that these ovens operated around the clock until the end of 1944, when they could no longer cope with the number of corpses to be “processed.” A sign outside the crematoria read “Think about how we died.”

Experience creates connections; external and internal knowing merge. 

Chiyo Takeuchi, a Hiroshima survivor, has said, “…in my experience it is often at times of terrible disasters that we discover the beautiful side of people. We never know how we are going to respond at such moments of crisis. We have two sides within us: the side that could do something good for someone we might not even know and the side that can be totally inhuman to others. Both sides are the same person. That is why the simplest kindness one shows at such times reveals the depth of human nature. I have written on the origami paper dolls that I make for people who visit the Peace Park in Hiroshima, ‘All men and women have love engraved in the deepest part of their souls.’ In this, all humans are the same.”


A Reality Check

  Adam Sokolow
  Adam Sokolow
Senior Advisor

Does the sun rise in the east? Of course it does. We only have to go outside and observe for ourselves how the sun always rises over the eastern horizon, arcs through the daytime sky, and then sinks out of our sight again in the west. Until the 16th century, believing their eyes, everyone was convinced this meant that the sun revolved around the Earth. We know better now, having learned at school that the Earth is part of a solar system. With this understanding, we can use our imagination to look down on our solar system as if from above, and clearly see why the sun seems to be circling the Earth. It is caused by the Earth’s counterclockwise rotation. Our sun is not rising over the horizon; it is our horizon that is sinking downward away from the sun. This provides the illusion that the sun is moving, when all the while it is actually the Earth that is revolving in its continual orbit around the sun.

This is a paradigm-shifting example of what I call a reality check: taking a step back from what seems to be apparent, then looking at it again from a more comprehensive perspective. This is similar in effect to using a zoom lens on your camera; you can frame something up close and personal, then zoom out and see the same thing in a larger context. For example, imagine someone who is breathing very hard, straining with what seems all of their will, their face contorted by their effort, lunging forward as if in desperation. At first glance this would appear to be someone in trouble, but when we zoom out, we can clearly see that this pained look was the commitment of a champion finishing first at the New York City Marathon.

There is a story about some children who were asked to put on blindfolds and then use their sense of touch to describe an elephant, which they had never seen before. The first child touched the elephant’s ears and said, “Oh, an elephant is thin and wide like a big leaf.” The next child hugged one of the elephant’s legs and said, “An elephant is like a trunk of the tree.” The third child felt the elephant’s tail and said, “An elephant is like a stick.” A fourth child touched the elephant’s belly and said, “An elephant is like a big boulder.” They then were asked to take off their blindfolds. Imagine their delight when they saw the whole elephant for the first time!

These examples illustrate that our interpretation of what we see often depends on our vantage point and the size of our conceptual world. In each example, false conclusions were drawn by the distortion of sensing something out of context. The first was based on an incomplete conceptual model. In the second example we lacked enough background information to inform us as to the true nature of the action, and the third was due to partial or incomplete information. How often we do this, goodness knows. This is why I believe it is always a good idea to do a reality check. Be willing to confirm your assumptions by taking a second look at the same thing from a different angle.

Sometimes this is as easy as looking in your side-view mirror before changing lanes as you’re driving down the highway. At other times it may necessitate challenging yourself before you habitually eat that delicious piece of cheesecake by reflecting on what your doctor said, “Rich desserts like cheesecake contain too much fat and sugar; enjoy some fruit or a heart-friendly desert instead.” Or a reality check may come in the form of an honest self-appraisal concerning one of your long-held beliefs. For instance, does the color of a person’s skin or their gender predispose you to some form of subtle prejudice?

The key to doing a reality check turns on your ability to ask good questions. Questions are wonderful, for they refresh your psyche to the innocence and wonderment of a child who asks with an open mind: What’s this? Who is that? What’s inside? How does this work?

I invite you to join me in continuing to probe beneath the surfaces of things in a series of essays that I am writing for The Event Horizon.


Death of a Loved One Sheds Light on a Life's Deeper Meaning

  Dr. Bea Mah Holladn
  Dr. Bea Mah Holland
Founding Partner and Executive Coach

When my phone rang early in the morning on Easter Sunday 2007, I braced myself for bad news—early-morning calls always heralded the death of yet another aunt or uncle. But this news was worse than anything I could have imagined: my close cousin Doug’s only child Stephanie, age 25, had been brutally murdered by her husband’s brother, a person afflicted with drug-addiction and schizophrenia. Doug asked me to deliver Stephanie’s eulogy, an honor that I accepted with humility.

The pain of Stephanie’s family and community was unfathomable, and I struggled with how to eulogize Stephanie and provide support to a diverse congregation of mourners. Using the skills of listening and inquiry that I harness in my professional work as an executive coach and consultant, I inquired as to those people who best knew Stephanie and then interviewed 12 people in all—those who knew her as their child, wife, niece, cousin, friend, and co-worker. What emerged was a magnificent tapestry of a loving person who actively sought to learn her unique life lessons, who developed deep connections with noteworthy impact, and who inspired others through the use of her mature yet fun-loving perspective. I decided to celebrate Stephanie’s life with a three-part eulogy: Remembering the Past, Now Honoring the Present, and Shaping Tomorrow.

In Remembering the Past, I was able to weave several stories from Stephanie’s life: her earliest closeness with family and friends, her strong gifts as a child prodigy violinist and as a student, her love of the ridiculous and the silly that she shared with several best friends, her level-headedness and deep comprehension and appreciation for the human condition. People experienced Stephanie as having the wisdom of an elder in her friendships, her relationships with relatives, her collegial relationships at the Grey Nuns Center, and her respectful, co-equal marriage. Everyone acknowledged her generous spirit and contagious positiveness.

Now Honoring the Present provided the frame for identifying the myriad of ways—all acceptable—that various family members and friends might be feeling and coping with this violent and incomprehensible loss. I was able to point out how Stephanie’s husband was directing his energy to proactively awaken the community through hosting a candlelight vigil, speaking with government officials and media, and setting up a trust fund so that other such tragedies might be prevented. I experienced her father Doug as moving toward reconciliation of her death with remembrance of the wonderful, special life that she lived, while I sensed the current devastation her mother felt each time she wanted to tell something to Stephanie, only to realize that she was no longer present in human form. I wanted to stress the importance of recognizing the lessons of grief in its many guises, of making the effort to love and forgive—particularly and including oneself—and of more intentionally connecting with others.

The final part of the eulogy, Shaping Tomorrow, was a call to live our lives with renewed consciousness, to ask of oneself, “If Stephanie were here, what would she do or want me to do?” I chose to invite people individually to remember: “In the whole world you may be only one person, but to one person you may be the whole world.” At the group level, I wanted to have people remember that there are opportunities in every interaction with family members, colleagues at work, religious institutions, and virtually every other community, because we are hard-wired to connect. While this tragedy has been dark and immobilizing, it also has the potential to empower and uplift us to new heights of consciousness of the transience of life, and to mobilize us with a renewed desire to live life to its fullest.

More than 400 people attended the service for Stephanie, and I was pleased that several people had been touched and at least momentarily reframed this tragedy enough to be inspired. There were many tears and a profound sense of loss and grief, but a grasping of mission and purpose in going forward as well. The mourners manifested a strong outpouring of sympathy for the loss that the parents, family, and husband had suffered, and my eulogy seemed to have deepened the compassion and forgiveness that people accorded others—and perhaps even themselves.

As the person delivering the eulogy, I was profoundly touched by the whole drama that unfolded and continues to unfold. Today, five months after Stephanie’s death, I find myself teary as I write, at the same time holding a renewed commitment to have every remaining breath count. I have a deepened sense of the brevity of my stay on this earth, and how I can only be sure about this moment to mobilize my gifts and talents. Moving forward, I am committed to joyfully and delightfully appreciate myself and others so we are the best versions of ourselves, and to co-create the conditions in which all people and other living things flourish, bequeathing a resilient and compassionate community.


  Dr. Claire Sheff-Kohn
  Dr. Claire Sheff-Kohn
Senior Associate and Mentor

One of the most significant attributes that makes humans human is their capacity for reflecting on and learning from their experiences.    

—David Hyerle

I remember vividly my first reading of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. As a teenager, I was profoundly touched by Anne’s story, told in her own words, of her two years of hiding in an attic in Nazi-occupied Holland during World War II. This experience—a young girl reading about another young girl—launched my intermittent but lifelong interest in journal keeping. Like other girls of my era, I received a gift of a bound diary, complete with lock and key to prevent prying eyes from reading my personal thoughts. I recall pouring my mind and heart onto those pages, recounting the ups and downs of adolescent life. Though I have never had the perseverance to make daily entries—sometimes going months or even years without writing a word—I have always turned to journal writing at times of transition in my life. I have used journal writing as a release, to explore thoughts and feelings, to analyze recurrent themes, and to set goals. Without journal writing I might never have completed my doctoral dissertation or addressed ongoing professional and personal issues.

Many years later, while on vacation at Disney World, I decided to attend the Disney Institute, an educational facility offering a variety of fun and interesting workshops. Wishing to further explore my interest in journaling, I signed up for “Journal-keeping—Creating Magic with Your Own Story,” led by a Disney artist. Through directed writing activities, I experienced possibilities for journal keeping I had never before imagined. I also learned from other participants that my use of journal writing for self-expression and goal-setting were only two of many potential uses. Some participants talked about journal writing as a means for leaving a legacy to their children, writing memoirs, recording creative ideas, amassing commemorative artifacts, and much, much more. Suddenly I felt foolish that it had never occurred to me to do anything other than write in my journal! The workshop facilitator and my fellow participants taught me that photos, cartoons, drawings, collages, memorabilia, or anything else of meaning could be wonderful stand-alone entries, or accompaniments to prose, poetry, song lyrics, or any other verbal expression. 

Journal keeping may date back to the invention of paper.

—Steiner & Phillips

I also learned that keeping a journal or diary makes one part of a long-standing human tradition. The oldest diaries in existence are the pillowbooks of Japanese court ladies and Asian travel journals, with examples of the latter dating back to the ninth century. Archeologists have found journals in the ruins of Pompeii and the tombs of Egypt (Steiner & Phillips, 1991). We know of many famous and creative people—Saint Augustine, Henry David Thoreau, Samuel Pepys, Louisa May Alcott—who recorded the details of their day-to-day lives and times. There also have been whole families—such as those of Sir Walter Scott and Leo Tolstoy—whose members journaled in concert with one another. There have been military records, weather records, business ledgers, travel journals, workout journals, and personal diaries recording the events of history. Within the past 40 years or so, exploration of one’s self and one’s experiences has been advanced by people like Carl Jung and Ira Progoff. More recently, K-12 educators have begun using journals across content areas to document student progress (Hyerle, 1996). With developments in the cognitive sciences and the work of people like Howard Gardner, this idea of multiple ways of expressing thoughts is no longer surprising. And now there are weblogs that chronicle personal experiences, spawning vast Internet communities of web-diarists (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2006). 

"The more grateful you are, the more grateful you become. The more gratitude you express, the more gratitude you receive. Genuine gratitude is empowering. It empowers you and those you lead."

—Houston & Sokolow

Houston and Sokolow (2006) are onto something. Being grateful also appears to have positive consequences for health and well-being. As Emmons and McCullough (2003) noted, “Scientists are latecomers to the concept of gratitude. Religions and philosophies have long embraced gratitude as an indispensable manifestation of virtue, and an integral component of health, wholeness, and well-being.” They have undertaken a research project on the nature of gratitude, and one finding is that “those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.” In another study, Emmons and McCullough concluded, “A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison (ways in which participants thought they were better off than others).”

It occurs to me that, as school leaders, we can bring about a positive result not only in our own lives but also in the lives of those in our districts and schools by combining journaling with the expression of gratitude. And imagine if our means of journaling were blogging—we could reach millions and maybe even touch the world!


Problems Are Opportunities In Disguise

  Joseph L. Jakubowski

Joseph Jakubowski
Senior Associate and Mentor

This past weekend I got together with a group of friends, some of whom are teachers in a New Jersey school. This group is a challenge for me, a former administrator, because they have become very cynical about education, its leadership, students’ ability to change, and the latest advances in education. They would have wanted me to put the word advances in quotations.

Anyway, they were discussing their dread of the opening of school in terms of the boring and meaningless superintendent’s speech and the boring comments from their principal. “Don’t they know that we just want to get into our classrooms and that everything else is just an impediment?” they complained. They particularly lamented the fact that a new principal had been assigned to their school, which they felt would be more of the same—that is, ineffective. “What she needs is to be a tough disciplinarian, get after the parents, and let us teach,” one of them said. I just said that they should give her a chance and let it go at that.

I saw these fellows again the evening of their first day back (we are gym cronies), and they were all very animated (and not just because they were working out at the time). It seems that after the boring superintendent’s speech (their words, not mine), the new principal greeted them with tremendous enthusiasm and presence and engaged them in a teacher-centered activity. She asked them to individually write down as many things that they could think of that they consider good things about the school. Then she asked them to write down all of the things that they thought were areas that needed improvement. She then had them read both lists aloud. Things that were good went into the “good” box. Things that needed improvement were written on the board and categorized. This resulted in such categories as discipline, parent involvement, instruction, professional development, student comportment, etc. She then made a commitment to the staff to address their areas of concern, but she noted that she could not do it alone and would need their help. She asked teachers to sign up to work on one of the categories as a committee. She told them that she wanted them to prioritize and come up with plans for change. As each area of concern was resolved, it would go into the “good” box.

I asked my friends why they were so pleased about having to volunteer for more work. They said that they really did not see it that way. They know how to handle most of these problems, but their ideas were never valued by the previous administration. They had nothing but praise for the new principal and were cautiously optimistic about the new school year ahead. If this was an indication of things to come, it would be a very positive change. Of course they were not looking forward to the workshops that were scheduled for the next day.

Brilliant! This principal took over a problem school with a problem faculty and took the position that “problems are opportunities in disguise.” She also created a great needs assessment that would outline the goals of school for the coming school year, and possibly beyond. Change cannot take place without a felt need for that change among those most affected. She rallied around the teachers’ felt needs and put a procedure in place to enlist their ongoing participation in a process in which they would serve as the change agents. Now those same disaffected teachers are in the beginning stages of a partnership with their administration. This process can be used to make significant change in professional development, and ultimately how teachers teach. The importance of teacher empowerment in key education areas cannot be overestimated. A belief in and by teachers that their knowledge of teaching and learning is important and is considered a valuable factor in decision-making can connect teachers to their schools and districts in powerful ways.

Could it be that I’m not going to have to hear all the cynicism about education and its leadership this year?

Problems are actually opportunities in disguise is an area of discussion in Chapter 5, “The Principle of Unique Life Lessons,” in Paul D. Houston and Stephen L. Sokolow, The Spiritual Dimension of Leadership (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2006)


Celebrate School People: A First for the Nation Held in Maine

  Kathleen Alfiero

Kathleen Alfiero

If the essence of life is freedom, the purpose of life is joy, and the result of life is expansion, then I was aligned with my purpose during the afternoon of October 18, 2006.  Years earlier, while working in a public high school supporting teenagers and their families, I had a vision—a dream that has become my mission. Eventually the conditions of my life allowed me the freedom to follow my heart. I set out to manifest the first part of what I had seen: doing something that I’ve been called to do.

After walking through the “greeting area” entryway at Maine’s Augusta Civic Center auditorium, 2,500 School People and guests took their seats. Students, parents, community members, and volunteers smiled, clapped, and cheered as they passed by. The first event of its kind in the nation, Celebrate School People was about to begin.

This production was part of my earlier vision: to create a magnificent way to acknowledge and thank School People, everyone who works with schoolchildren: bus drivers, administrators, teachers, cafeteria workers, social workers, guidance counselors, superintendents, ed techs, office support staff, librarians, school nurses, custodians, curriculum coordinators, coaches, college professors, early childhood educators. And at this gathering, every position in Maine’s educational institutions was represented. A major component of the project was a successful media campaign designed to raise awareness of the contributions of School People. Positive stories were featured in Maine’s major and local newspapers, on television, and on mall marquees reminding shoppers to thank School People on this day proclaimed by Governor John Baldacci as “Celebrate School People Day.”

Videotaped stories of School People—captured by my business partner and me over the course of a year—were shown on two huge screens on both sides of the dramatically lit stage. We had set our cameras up at schools, at the malls, on an island with a one-room schoolhouse, and even in New York City, where a former Maine student, Vanessa Cariddi, is living her dream as a prominent opera singer. We asked everyone we met the same question: “Is there a school person who made a difference in your life? If so, who was that person and what is your story?” There was a consistent theme in the stories we heard. Everyone we interviewed told us about a school person who cared about them, believed in them, and encouraged them to be the best that they could be.

Performances by Paul Sullivan, the Grammy Award-winning pianist and composer, along with children’s singing groups from around the state of Maine, added to the celebration. Mark Ruffalo, an actor from Los Angeles, held an emotional reunion onstage with his high school English teacher from Virginia. Maureen Corr, once Eleanor Roosevelt’s personal secretary, now 90 years old, traveled from New York City to share the story of how Eleanor came to initiate Teacher Appreciation Day in the United States. Poet Kellie Wardman read, “Ode to Mrs. Welch, My Fifth-Grade Teacher,” and a Maine principal spoke about a pivotal time in her young life when a school person said, “You can be anything you want to be, Donna.” Bea Mah Holland, a renowned educator, addressed the audience with wisdom, grace, and encouragement, sharing the quote, “To the whole world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the whole world.”

 Noel Paul Stookey (of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame) delighted the audience when he and the children sang, “I’m On Air,” the song he and Paul Sullivan had specially written and composed for School People, the honorees of this celebration.

“This day was my Heisman Trophy Day,” one Maine teacher said in his survey response. 

Enga, an elementary school principal, initiated an effort she calls, “Adopt a Child.” In her words, “On October 25 I challenged each of my staff to adopt a child, someone who is not in their classroom; a child they don’t know, and to be sure to reach out and speak to that child at least every week. The staff meeting followed the Celebrate School People theme.” 

My vision and dream continues. I’m expanding—stretching and growing—in my awareness of the choice to live with ease and grace. My vision is about the expansion of education so that all children will have what they deserve and need to flourish. I’m letting go of the oars and, instead, working in the most positive ways to contribute to a new world of education. I’m going with the flow of nature, and recognize that nothing I want is upstream. I invite you to join me and my colleagues at the Center for Empowered Leadership to contribute to a sea change in education.


Rest In Peace

  Maybeth Conway

Maybeth Conway
Senior Associate

Now that autumn is upon us, we’ll soon be treated to a vibrant stream of images that include apple picking, pumpkin patches, fall foliage, and Thanksgiving turkeys. Children will reenact our unique Halloween celebration, in which pagan ghosts and goblins walk hand in hand with elegant princesses and colorful cartoon characters to gather morsels of prewrapped candy in our sanitized version of trick-or-treating.

Just as All Hallow’s Eve has become a kinder and gentler celebration, I think it’s time that we also softened the spirit of one of the staple images of our Halloween festivities: the crooked tombstone with those familiar initials, R.I.P. For too many years, the phrase Rest in Peace has been reserved for poor departed souls who really have no control over how and where they are resting. I’d like to recommend that we rescue these words from their current morbid connotation and, instead, make them a vital component of the life plan for all empowered leaders. In doing so, we’ll embody the principles of balance and awareness that are central to such leadership.

Plenty of evidence supports the wisdom of this course of action. The news is filled with bleak reports of rising stress levels among those in leadership positions. Physicians and psychologists (and frustrated spouses) make dire predictions about the effects of prolonged stress on our beleaguered leaders. Burnout is endemic. Perhaps it’s time we paid more homage to the practice of peaceful resting. This is certainly not a new or unique concept. For centuries, philosophers and theologians from all traditions have espoused the value of contemplative practice. Monks have dedicated their lives to it. In Western leadership circles, however, rest and peace tend to be given lip service. Too often, overwrought leaders rely on fitful sleep and power naps to sustain them. Now where’s the peace in that?

Thich Nhat Hanh, the revered Vietnamese Buddhist monk, speaks to us of touching peace. First, however, he chides us gently for our frantic ways:

“We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment—the only moment there is for us to be alive.”

Then he advocates a path of gentle awareness intended to allow us to embrace the peacefulness that is inherent in each moment: “Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment” (Nhat Hanh, Thich, Peace in Every Step (www.thinkingpeace.com).

Now doesn’t that sound like a more inviting way of resting in peace?

Taking a more rational Western approach, Jon Kabat-Zinn promotes the restful art of mindfulness meditation. In his suggestions for daily practice, he recommends that we find respite from the tyranny of time for at least a few moments each day, becoming gently aware of our breathing and our breath sensations. He warns of the inevitable seductions of the mind that will draw us out of this peaceful rest. Without judgment or criticism, he recommends that we simply let that be part of our awareness as we return to conscious breathing. With a measure of sincere good humor, he then encourages us to repeat this process a few million times (Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness Meditation www.jonkabat-zinn.com).

Whether we heed the call of the monk, the clinician, or our own inner longings, our efforts to bring deep peace to our restfulness hold limitless promise. Someday, perhaps, we will come to associate the initials R.I.P. with empowered leadership. Until that day, may each of you joyfully, truly, rest in peace.


What If The Moment Sucks?

  Robert W. Cole

Robert W. Cole
Managing Editor
and Senior Associate

Please bear with me here. Allow me to vent a little. I’m having a bad day. No, a bad week. I’m leaving in two days for an overseas trip, not of my own volition, and right this minute I have a toothache. My 89-year-old mother, who has a memory span of roughly 20 minutes, just broke her pelvis and doesn’t know what’s happened to her. My son is giving me fits. (Don’t ask.) My youngest daughter just left to start college. And it’s 96 degrees outside, steamy as a sauna, as I write this rant.

But even as I growl and grumble and whine, I hear a chorus of voices kibitzing from over my shoulder. Ram Dass is chanting, “Be here now!” Eckhart Tolle tells me, “Wherever you are, be there totally.” Deepak Chopra says, “Accept people, situations, and circumstances as they occur.” And then, he adds, “Take responsibility for your situation and all those events you see as problems.”

All those sages, and many more besides, call out to me: Be in the moment! To them I respond: But what if the moment sucks? What then?

Am I the only one who feels this way sometimes, who moans to the well-intentioned ranks of gurus: “You don’t know what I’m going through right now!” I don’t think I’m alone.

Here is reality, however: None of those things I mentioned in the first paragraph is going to change anytime soon. Every one of them is standing smack between me and feeling a whole lot cheerier than I do right now. So what to do?

Well, for openers, I don’t like this gloomy place where I’ve been feeling mired. I know this place well; I’ve been here before. I’m not happy here. What’s more, being stuck here gets me nowhere. Something needs to change, or I’ll be here for a very long time, and I can’t tolerate that prospect.

There’s my aha point: For me, escaping from this dreary place begins with self-recognition. That requires me to call upon my Observer self. My Observer sees clearly, as I sometimes cannot, that my being in this space does not mean that I am this space. There is, always, a way up and out of where I am. As Steve Sokolow reminded me, right here is where the notion of choice comes in. Gerald Jampolsky put it this way: “Do you choose to experience peace of mind or do you choose to experience conflict? Love or fear?”

I choose peace. I choose love. And choosing them, I find that I can breathe again. Now if I could just get that toothache to go away…



Letters to the Editor
From Our Readers

Thank you for sharing the inaugural addition of "The Lens" with me!  I thoroughly enjoyed all the articles....a beautiful contribution to the world.  Jillian Darwish,  Cleveland, OH

Thanks for sending the CFEL Newsletter.  You and Paul Houston have carved out a unique aspect of leadership which I hope will be widely received.  John Allen,   Williamsburg, VA

Congratulations on the first issue of The Lens.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I often find myself returning to the notes from the CFEL workshop I attended a few years back when I needed some inspiration.  This e-journal will provide the same inspiration for many, I am sure, as most of our professional readings are devoid of the "spiritual dimension of leadership."  Thank you and all of your colleagues for your hard work and best of luck for continued success. Anne Mucci,  Mountain Lakes, NJ

I think The Lens is a great first effort.  Very professional in every aspect.  From an editing perspective, I had the impression that some of the articles were not complete in and of themselves, but required more explanation to be fully understood.  Given the nature of your overall project, this is to be expected, as many of the articles refer in some way to principles that you and Paul Houston have developed....This may be an inherent problem with short submissions....

I found the articles contributed by the ladies to be really excellent, in that they seemed both ongoingly provocative and yet complete. You and your team should be very proud of this effort. I have no doubt it will stimulate lots of activity and broad attention. Bart Pasternak,  Elkins Park, PA 


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