David Sibbet | Are You Feeling More Anxious These Days?
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Are You Feeling More Anxious These Days?

As summer heats up, I’m thinking ahead to the fall and Leading as Sacred Practice (LASP), the week-long conference that Gisela Wendling, Alan Briskin, Holger Scholz and I will be facilitating this October 23-27 (2017) at IONS’ Earthrise Retreat Center in Petaluma, California. Last year’s gathering in Germany was exceptional and some are coming back a second time, so I’m looking forward with anticipation. But it’s taken on some new meaning and urgency.stringofbeads

I began to feel strained several weeks ago supporting the launch of The Grove’s Global Learning & Exchange Network (GLEN) while simultaneously starting a year-long Leading Change Program in Minnesota for a cohort of 20 participants from several agencies in the Metropolitan Council. This last program ended with an inspiring “stringing-of-the-beads”; more on that later.

My strain showed up as unusual feelings of near vertigo and anxiety, strong enough to get my attention. I’ve always had a strong constitution and I generally work pretty flat out, but as I’m getting older things sit a bit differently. I did have a bout of panic attacks in 1994 that sent me into regular exercise, no coffee, and some hypnotherapy. Although I haven’t had any since, something told me these strange feelings might be linked.

What got my attention was a visit at Kaiser with a wonderful doctor about my age, Dr. Margaret Gold. She had a banner with seven chakras on a narrow wall near her window. Hmm. I asked if she meditated. She does.

She then paid me full attention, with the kind of deep listening you wish all medical people exhibited. About 10 minutes in she asked, kind of out of the blue, “Have you been at all upset by the current situation?” (In Northern California this pretty much means the political situation.) “Yes, I have been,” I replied. “Well, we have been experiencing a real spike in anxiety disorders here at Kaiser. I think the levels of uncertainty and confusion contribute.”

We talked some more and she affirmed that I was only presenting stress symptoms, not something deeper. “You need to dial down on the work. Do your meditations every day.” (Earlier I had described my practice of Tibetan meditations that take about an hour). “An hour for those is nothing in the scheme of things. Go walking a couple of times a week, stay away from caffeine, and watch your media input.”

So I began to meditate again every day. A week straight of hour-long meditations every morning, no caffeine at all (not even decaf), and some good eight-hour sleeps worked wonders. Last week I was back to feeling joyful. But my interest in putting out a call for people to gather at Leading as Sacred Practice has gone to a new level.

I’m beginning to think that accepting and opening to the sacred part of life—the light body side, the side that imagines and dreams and needs quiet time, and slow time, and spacious alone time, and community and dancing times, and inspiring work times—may be more than a nice-to-have in our “current situation.”

On the plane heading to Leading Change in Minnesota, I had read a long piece in The Intercept by Jeremy Scahill, Donald Trump and the Coming Fall of American Empire, in which Scahill interviews famed historian Alfred McCoy. McCoy has a new book due out in September, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power. I don’t want to get into this now, but there is plenty of evidence that not only our overall global influence is waning, but that the current administration is working hard to destabilize some of the key pillars. It makes my head hurt just reading and watching the news. Although I was feeling better, just this much input had me scanning for symptoms.

At the conclusion of our three days in Minnesota with the 20 people in the Leading Change cohort—from four agencies within the Met Council in the Twin Cities—we had a closing circle and invited everyone to “string the beads.” This is a traditional practice of thinking of each person in a community as a shining bead, each unique. As each person is honored and is allowed to speak their truth, the beads become a necklace. “Share your current condition–body, mind, soul and spirit,” Gisela invited. “And also, what hopes and fears have your attention here at the beginning of our year-long work. Conclude with one gift you have received from this experience or another person in these days.”

The participants’ responses moved Gisela and me deeply. These are all very capable young leaders, carefully chosen for this program, and their managers are fully supportive. They responded to being taken seriously–heart, mind, and body. They felt what it is like to have room for their inner as well as work life, learning that connecting these will be important in the change work they will be asked to do. They responded to the care we took to create a clean, safe, container for their work.

It was feeling the shift inside me right then that brought me back to our upcoming gathering and why it seems even more important now.

The Leading As Sacred Practice Conference is about exploring how we all come to the sacred in our own ways and sharing insights about how we each, uniquely, can bring more sanity and wholeness, not only to our personal lives but to our work as well. By leaning into inquiry, rather than answers, and by sharing real experiences, not just abstractions, we hope to dive under our surface confusions and understand the deeper patterns in our stress—and our hopefulness.

A wonderful group is already committed to coming. Several are coming a second time from Europe. If my words touch a responsive place, please reach out, call or write. There is much more than a short blog post can encompass. Click here to see the details.

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