Courage to fail

This time last week I was licking my wounds. I did not pass a weekend course in advanced wilderness and remote first aid. It might have been the early morning starts. It might have been the impersonal feedback from the instructors. It might have been that I was “off” those days. It might have been the conflicting feedback I felt I was receiving. But the bottom line is the same, whatever the reason.

I failed. And it’s no one’s fault by my own. 

Continue reading Courage to fail

The target is not the direction

NestCity-BlogPostOver the holidays, my neighbour Bob told me about the January Minimalist Challenge he and his family are taking on to remove from their home the things they don’t need. On January 1, one thing goes. On January 2, two things. On January 3, three things, all the way to 31 things on January 31, for a grand total of 496. Continue reading The target is not the direction

City glass


One morning last week I noticed the ground shifting.

As the fog lifted while I completed my morning ceremony at the top of my city’s riverbank, I decided to harvest some of the wee bit of sage there. After starting to collect it, I realized I need to make an offering. I stood up. Took a breath.

City Glass - valley in fog

I offer the gift of clear seeing. 

Then I noticed that some of the sage, and even the land on which I have placed a foot, is starting its descent into the river valley. The land is drifting.

I offer the gift of clear seeing when things are drifting. 

After a few moments, I walk away, to make my way to my work day. My mind drifts to an affirmation that has been nagging at me for many months, testing me to see if it is still true, about my ability to see cities. I’ve been asking myself if my work has anything to do with cities anymore.

I notice a truck in the driveway of a home nearing completion of its construction. The name of the company on the truck:

City Glass. 

Glass: a lens or optical instrument; a mirror; a drinking vessel; a greenhouse or cold frame; a window or windowpane; a barometer; a hard, brittle substance usually transparent or translucent made by fusing sand with soda and lime and cooling rapidly. Glass is something we see through. Cities are something I see through, even when drifting.

As glass can be shaped to be a vessel for drinking, the city is a vessel for its citizens. Or the city is a way to see citizens, society, who we are and what makes us tick. This is what I see and understand. This is my work.

Today, I notice that the answer to my question about the role of cities and city-thinking in my life came to me when I gave it time. Over the summer, my visits to the river valley have been rare, but it is in this time, in this place, that the understanding came to me. The place from which I asked the question is where the answer came, both the physical place, and the mental, emotional and spiritual place.

The city and I are deepening our relationship with each other.

I ‘see’ all this about myself as the fog that hovers over Edmonton lifts. And as I make my way through the streets and alleys back to my home, I have to make several detours to avoid a gas leak and the many crews of the utility company tending to  essential infrastructure. A foundational piece of my part of the city had shifted.

What is the essential gift you give to your city, allowing it to come out of the fog?



Argo – vessel – yourself


I have been quiet as I dig into the radical work of my find out what my soul has to tell me.

I have been quiet in blog land these days, pondering the effects of a second wilderness quest in June, and and stepping into an apprenticeship in this work. True to the quest pattern, trials have appeared, to test me. The first was the betrayal of a professional friend that invited me to discern the fiery gifts of the dragon. The second challenge was my husband’s fall and broken leg in the backcountry, where I noticed that ‘trail’ and ‘trial’ are almost the same word. In between these two events, I was starting to notice a deepening in the work that is calling me forth.

Though not writing here, I have been writing in my journal, looking for the things that are simply meaningful and heartfelt to me, but extremely meaningful and heartfelt. ‘My looking ripens things,” as Rilke puts it.

Here are a few clues I have about what’s ripening, of where I’m headed:

  1. Writing feels good. I write to find out what I feel and think. More importantly it allows me to reveal to myself what I already know. I get to know myself, my selves. It is a process of selving.
  2. The surrender of things. There is a transition underway in me that I see as a natural part of heading into the second half of my life. James Hollis names this as a transition away from acquisition to relinquishment.
  3. The surrender to things.  I have a better relationship with my ego-self who wants to fight and protect me. I don’t need to fight to be me, or fight anything that threatens my sense of me. I can surrender to whatever is happening and find my way within. (Note – exceptions are life- and morally-threatening events!)
  4. I am a traveler, a wanderer, in the underworld of the soul. It is a place I don’t like to go because what I find there is the truth that I don’t always want to work into my life – or what I think of my life. It is a dark, opening place that we rarely visit in my culture.
  5. What does it mean to find my place? Work that nourishes, social belonging, all in the context of physical place. ‘Place’ is something I can take with me everywhere. People are at home all over the planet. It is what I make of it.
  6. I hobble with confidence rather than fear. It may take a little creativity. When are the crutches needed? Not needed? How do I know when I am done with crutches? What crutches am I still using unnecessarily?
  7. I love the soft animal of my body. These words of Mary Oliver, ‘the soft animal of my body’, caused a wave of relief in my being and my relationship with my body. I am a soft animal. I am not a thin, lithe animal. I am soft and squishy.
  8. I am an activist for the soul. Or a soul activist. I have circles of people around me who purposefully embark on their lifelong journeys to find their truest, most authentic selves. We spend good time together, supporting each other on our respective journeys. We have Soul Circles. Our work is Soul Circling.
  9. I am a guide. A guide guided by soul, a soul guide, a wilderness guide, a civilization guide, a city guide…

As I was pondering all this last week, I was asking myself what it all means. I went out for a walk to my sage spot, and as I was walking I asked for a sign. It came on the side of a van:


This word has meaning for me because my kids love it when I say the line from the movie, Argo: “Argo f$%# yourself!” I dug around to find the meaning of the word. The argo was the ship in Greek mythology in which Jason and the Argonauts sailed for the the Golden Fleece. It is the vessel that accompanied Jason and his companions to fulfill their quest. Argo is a vessel, a container. It holds and supports the travellers.  A receptacle.

This word has further meaning as I reflect on last year’s wilderness quest, and my relationship with a green bottle – a vessel that allowed me to see my soul hungers.

I am stepping into a relationship with the paired twins of Nature and Soul, who I now recognize as the two trees I spent my solo time on this year’s wilderness quest.

I am stepping into radical work that will support people as they find their way and step into the work that is calling to them from the depths of their soul – rather than from external sources, or the inner voices that are external sources in disguise. This work is at every scale, from self to the city and beyond, and it always starts at home, with self and soul.

How do you circle up with your soul?

Are you the vessel your soul needs you to be? 




Do it yourself leg-repair


Three weeks ago today everything changed, 12 km behind the largest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, on a steep slope of unstable shale. Broken and wobbly leg bones. A fabulous EMT on holidays to take charge, layers of splints, 8 volunteers to carry a big man down to a helicopter waiting to get husband Peter to an ambulance, then a small hospital, then a large hospital for surgery. Angels of water kept us hydrated on a hot afternoon. Angels of strength carried our packs down the mountain for us to collect later. Angels of friendship, with big eyes, gave high-fives on their way by.

At long last, Peter found himself in the warehouse – a nursing station that looked like the halls of The Home Depot. Shelves of supplies in the corridor, nurses who showed up to do the bare minimum and left him to fend for himself. Swelling that means a 5 day wait for surgery will be delayed? Well, get the ice for yourself. Motrin to keep the swelling down? Well, we’ll only get that for you if you ask for it. The trick is, as with all do-it-yourself endeavours, it only works when you know what you are doing.

When you can’t move, you sit and wait, hoping for the best. In Peter’s case, he laid on a shelf, and someone came to dust him off now and then to check if he still had a pulse. Mostly, he hoped that no one forgot he was there and needed attention.

Then the call on day 6, on a minute’s notice, for surgery. In the operating room, purpose is clear. Here, what will happen is explained in detail. There is even a laugh – will they find a nail long enough to fit the long tibia bone in his leg (he’s 6’6″). Then he’s asleep and they get to work with a big nail, a drill, mallet, screws and a screwdriver. The power and hand tools of The Home Depot merge with the technology of X-ray vision to guide the work of deft hands to put things back in place and set Peter up for the needed mending.

 Nail and screws

The next day, as Peter hobbled about on one leg, he was tentative. He’d spent 6 days on his back, and the last time he was vertical he violently twisted himself into this predicament. As I watched, this question came to mind:

It is possible to hobble with confidence rather than fear?

I thought of the warehouse nurses. I have no idea if their indifference to their work is endemic to the whole hospital, or to their unit, but their lack of care was startling. Among the nursing staff, the disconnect from self and work was palpable. The collective disconnect was even more palpable. In contrast, a custodian was friendly and careful to make sure an extra chair arrived to accommodate our family of four. An orderly attending to another patient made sure a wheelchair fit Peter properly to get him to our car and take him home. The nurses didn’t help send him home well or safely at all. They were hobbling with a lack of confidence in their purpose to care for people waiting, in pain and discomfort, in the unknown.

As I watch Peter figure out his relationship with crutches, more questions come to mind:

  • What crutches are in my life?
  • When are crutches needed, not needed?
  • How do I know when I am done with crutches?
  • What crutches am I still using unnecessarily? 
  • Do I even notice when I’ve gotten rid of them? 

In many ways, the leg repair is do-it-yourself. Peter’s body will heal itself, but there are specific junctures where he needed the help and care of others. He couldn’t get off the mountain by himself. He couldn’t keep the swelling down by himself. He couldn’t get the bones in place by himself. In the weeks to come, he will test out his new leg, Mr. T he calls it. He will slowly put weight on the leg and see how he and Mr. T are going to get along.

He will slowly stop using the crutches.

Eventually he will throw the crutches away.

Then he will decide about going back to the mountain.

Mount Robson



Saul synchronicities


Noticing synchronicities, and responding to them, is one of the ways my deeper Soul-Self tells me who I am, and who I am longing to be. Today, the synchronicity is found in two Sauls: Richard Wagamese’s protagonist Saul Indian Horse, and writer John Ralston Saul.

Aboriginal books

Last year, I packed up and headed out on a wilderness quest. This year, I went again, as an apprentice guide, deepening into a pattern of being in better relationship with the land, and, more importantly, being in better relationship with myself. Following each experience, I found myself enjoying slow and relaxing time at the family cottage, beside a lake. I also found myself, upon both returns, reading the work of Richard Wagamese. This year, Indian Horse.

Saul Indian Horse is a young man reclaiming himself after the trials of losing family and a way of life, of residential school, and amazing hockey skill that brought him face-to-face with racism and hatred. His will to survive is tremendous, and in doing so he visits his land, and is able to tell his story.

I’d close my eyes and feel it. The land was a presence. It had eyes, and I was being scrutinized. But I never felt out of place.
I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t run the risk of someone knowing me, because I don’t take the risk of knowing myself. I understood then, as fully as I ever understood anything.

Saul tells the story of what it takes to be honest with oneself, to truly know oneself. Wagamese tells a story of the stories my country is telling and hearing, of the betrayals of Aboriginal peoples by non-Aboriginal people in residential schools through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the inherent racism that surrounds the schools and non-Aboriginal views of Aboriginal people. We are all starting to look the truth in the eye.

Saul’s exchange with his great-grandfather is as insightful for him as it is for my country:

‘The journey you make is good.’
‘What am I to learn here?’
He swept his arm to take in the lake, the shore, and the cliff behind us. ‘You’ve come to learn to carry this place within you. This place of beginnings and endings.’

My country is in transition, and the nature of that transition is articulated by another Saul, John Ralston Saul, in The Comeback. Saul charts the formation of our country, one where newcomers arrived and were treated as guests, with the expectation that hospitality would be returned in some way. Then oral agreements, treaties were signed, full of the notion of reciprocity brought by the First Nations way of being and agreed upon by the Crown and its representatives.

Balance and reciprocity. Much of what works in our society is based on balance and reciprocity. Transfer payments. Health care. The only group not to benefit is the group that actually installed this concept of governance. Again, for each of us as citizens it is a matter of being honest with ourselves. We must act to ensure that balance and reciprocity are applied in indigenous relations, as agreed to in the treaties. 

The notion of balance and reciprocity, a founding pillar of our country, originates not from European ‘founders’ of Canada, but from First Nations. In return, we ensure a lack of balance and reciprocity toward these same people, and even choose to destroy these people. This is a betrayal that has lasted for centuries now.

Saul wonders if the crisis we face in Canada is not in the Aboriginal world, as we think, but in ourselves.

But is the more profound crisis not in the non-Aboriginal world? If not, why would we find it so difficult to listen – to listen seriously – to the points of view coming from the founding pillar of our civilization? Are we so insecure? So frightened to absorb views that after all have been central to Canada’s establishment and survival? Or is it a lack of sensibility? An emotional wall constructed unconsciously to protect ourselves from the reality of this place? Or a simple lack of consciousness? Or all of the above? 

And the words of Grand Chief David Courchene in 1971, as cited by Saul:

We ask you for assistance for the good of all Canada and as a moral obligation resulting from injustice in the past, but such assistance must be based upon this understanding. If this can be done, we shall continue to commit ourselves to a spirit of cooperation. 
Only thus can hope be bright that there might come a tomorrow when you, the descendants of the settlers of our lands, can say to the world, Look, we came and were welcomed, and then we wrought much despair, but we are also men of honour and integrity and we set to work in cooperation, we listened and we learned, we gave our support, and today we live in harmony with the first people of this land who now call us, brothers. 
We hope that tomorrow will come. 

These Saul stories are the stories of my Soul, my desire to draw on the Indigenous nature of me, the land I call home, and the Indigenous people who were here before my descendants. These Saul stories point me to a new place for me and my work as a non-Aboriginal Canadian, to restore the principles of balance and reciprocity that are the foundational pillars of Canada.

I will say it, Grand Chief David Courchene, for myself:

We came and were welcomed, and then we wrought much despair. I am a person of honour and integrity and I set to work in cooperation. I have listened and I have learned and give my support. I desire to wish to live in harmony with the first people of this land, my brothers and sisters. 


I have spoken.



John Ralston Saul, The Comeback (Toronto: Penguin, 2014)

Richard Wagamese, Indian Horse (Madeira Park: Douglas and McIntyre, 2012)




Re-membering my inherent wilderness



When my Integral City colleague (and founder) Marilyn Hamilton was asked to serve as guest editor of the Integral Leadership Review, she extended an invitation to me to write an article, about whatever I wanted.

And the only story I wanted to tell was about the wilderness quest. The story started to come out here, but here is where it ended up.

Re-membering my inherent wilderness.

ILR headline

Others allow me to remember self


Today, I pause to notice what I choose to do with the peace in my life.

Canadians pause to remember today. To remember the 2.3 million men and women who have served, and more than 118,000 who died. To remember those who continue to serve. To remember Canadians who gave their lives and their future so that we may live in peace.

Today, I pause to notice the peace I experience in my life, in exchange for their sacrifice.



: to have or keep an image or idea in your mind

: to cause (something) to come back into your mind

: to keep (information) in your mind : to not forget something


How do we get stuck at simply remembering the past instead of re-membering the future, of bringing back into relationship what has been torn apart?

(John Phillip Newell


The peace in my part of the world allowed me to go on a wilderness quest. A month ahead of the quest, I recognized that my intention was to find the bigger ME that sees abundance in the world, to find my abundant Self. At the time, I called this my effort to rewire the reptilian in me, to awaken my whole being to what scarcity looks and feels like (no food for two nights in the wild). I did this safely, without fear of loss of life.

The peace in my part of the world allowed me to go on the wilderness quest with people who travelled safely from Canada, the United States, Germany and Australia. In my case, I drove 1500 km with one uneventful border crossing, and hours of beautiful countryside.  Nestled in the northern part of the Cascade Mountains that stretch from northern California, to southern British Columbia, I enjoyed the passage of Chronos + Kairos time.

Here's where we were, courtesy google map
Skalitute Retreat – google maps
The valley
Skalitude – a beautiful meadow, and the Sacred Mountain to the north

The peace in my part of the world allowed me to Earth gaze from Earth. I contemplated my self, my Higher Self and the nature of me and the nature around me. I was contemplating my planet and my place in it. I found a place to camp up the valley to the right of the Sacred Mountain.

Camp Red Chair on topo

The peace in my part of the world allowed me to listen to the voices of longing in my soul, my soul hungers.

Today is tuesday
on the Sacred Mountain
which means I notice
what I’m really hungry for
i have shelter
i am warm enough
my thirst is quenched
my hunger is 
for my soul to be seen
by me
for my soul to be seen
by others
for my soul to be seen
by this place
to see Me
to see Others
to see my Place
I am hungry for Me
here I am.

The peace in my part of the world allowed me to take time to settle in to the experience for weeks afterwards. In this time, I recognized that synchronicity is the Universe tapping you on the shoulder, a wild synchronicity that invites me to be awake in every moment. Further, I noticed cascading synchronicity, a series of events and understanding that revealed the synchronicity in synchronicity. Words in books, on maps, in experiences. Everywhere I went.

The peace in my part of the world allows me to fully be Me.

The peace in my part of the world allows me to look after others.

The peace in my part of the world allows me to look after place.

Thank you.



Ride vs. race


Last Sunday I was pumped and pooped. I finished my longest bike ride – 227km – as part of the The Ride to Conquer Cancer. I knew this was going to be a physical challenge, and it turned out to be a mental challenge that started before I even signed up for The Ride.

In April, my brother signed up for The Ride and invited me to join him. My first reaction was, “no way, I am not good at fundraising, I would have to buy a bike, I would have to train a lot.” But he had planted a seed that started to grow because I was looking for a new physical challenge, a goal for the summer’s physical activity. I said yes.

Scarcity-thinking was entrenched within me; I fussed about having enough time to train, I fussed about figuring out how fast we could go so we could finish in a respectable time, I fussed about the chunks of time when training would be impossible. My brother told me not to worry – we were going for a bike ride, not a race. How fast we finished didn’t matter.

But deep inside, I wanted to race.

Then, as I took this exploration of scarcity and abundance with me on a wilderness quest this spring, I received the gift of discerning chronos and kairos time.


Chronos = time. The passage of time. The measurement of time. Related words: chronology, chronometer, chronic, anachronism, chronicle.  Quantitative.  A specific amount of time. An day. An hour. A minute.  (Link to Wikipedia.)

Kairos = the right, or opportune moment in time. The supreme moment.  Qualitative. A moment. A season.  Crises that bring opportunity. The crucial time.  (Link to Wikipedia.)


I learned I was choosing to race with time.

A race is in chronos time; how fast I finish matters. A ride is in kairos time; I move from moment to moment, taking in the experience, shifting and adjusting, learning. In race mode, where I place matters. How I compare to others matters. In ride mode, I notice my accomplishment. I notice the physical challenge of cycling 112km one day, then 115 the next, when the most ground I have covered in a day is 60km. I notice the hum of 1700 cyclists and volunteers who raised $7.9M for cancer research. I notice the fellow I followed for a while, with this note on his back:

I ride for my brother, Henrik. 54 years old.
February 1950 to May 2014

This fellow just lost his brother.

I notice how wonderful it is to be healthy and ride with my healthy brother. I choose to notice what I have, not what I don’t have.

Here we are at the finish line.
Photo: Angella Vertzaya


Cascading synchronicity


There is synchronicity in synchronicity.

Three days ago the words wild synchronicity were front and center in my being; today the words are “cascading synchronicity”.  And it all has to do with walks in the wilderness.


Cascade – Noun

  1. A small waterfall, typically one of several that fall in stages down a steep rocky slope
    • A mass of something that falls or hangs in copious quantities
    • A large number or amount of something occurring at the same time
  2. A process whereby something, typically information or knowledge, is successively passed on
    • A succession of devices or stages in a process, each of which triggers or initiates the next

Cascade – Verb

  1. (Of water) pour downwards rapidly and in large quantities
    • Fall or hang in copious quantities
  2. Pass (something) on to a succession of others
  3. Arrange (a number of devices or objects) in a series or sequence


  • Mid 17th century from French, from Italian cascara, from cascare “to fall”, based on Latin casus.

(Note – above from Oxford Dictionary)


Three weeks ago I left Washington’s Cascade Mountains, where I went on a wilderness quest, with the support and guidance of Ann Linnea, Christina Baldwin and Deborah Greene-Jacobi (and apprentice guide LeAnn Blackert).  I walked up the meadow of the Smith Canyon Valley, and up the valley to the right to set up a camp on the flank of the Sacred Mountain for 48 hours of solo time, alone in the wild.

The valley
Photo credit: Ann Linnea

Since my return home, having turned my back on the Sacred Mountian, writing has been one of the ways I listen to myself, to integrate and incorporate the experience of the wilderness quest. Much of the writing has surfaced in blog posts:

  1. I went to rewire the reptilian in me
  2. I found myself face to face with the ways Chronos + Kairos time show up in my life
  3. I realized the quest was also about Earth gazing from Earth
  4. I received an invitation to explore  my soul hungers
  5. I noticed wild synchronicity around me


While sitting in the living room this week, I noticed a map my husband left on the coffee table. “Lake Minnewanka,” just north of Banff jumped out at me, and I recalled a walk along the shores of the lake almost seven years ago. I was in the middle of an intense learning experience and our hosts wisely gave us the gift of time that afternoon to integrate what we were learning, and decompress. We had a few choices, one of which was a guided walk in Canada’s Rocky Mountains with Rosemary.

I have to confess that Rosemary drove me nuts. I was hungry to get moving and do something physical after two and half days of sitting and concentration. I was alive to be outside, on the move. And Rosemary kept stopping. And talking. And we hardly moved at all.

I had a conversation with myself about how to handle my frustration. I could just bolt and do my own thing, but since we were a group, my hosts would get in trouble; to bring a group into Banff National Park, you must have a guide. I could just play along. I chose to surrender, to listen to what she was saying. I didn’t give up – I surrendered to Rosemary and her wisdom.

And what I heard was remarkable.

How nature – the wilderness – works is, of course, very similar to how humans work.

Upon returning to the formal part of learning experience, we were asked to write, in free flow, to let out what was in us. Rosemary’s wise words, as I received them, came through:



eagle nest
beaver dam
broken and whole
self and selfless
ice and snow
grass and green
onion shoots
evidence of animals
not seen
fire and rebirth
not destruction
the flames are on
the lee side
when the wind 
blows strong
amid the firestorm


I recognize this experience with Rosemary at Lake Minnewanka as THE point in my life where I learned to listen.

And then, in my living room, I noticed the name of a river that feeds the lake:



These two wilderness experiences have provided me with space into which I can expand into myself, and in so doing I expand my capacity to listen to the world within and around me, and to listen to me within me, and around me.  One experience was quick, the other longer in duration; both significant.



  1. The simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.

(Note  – above from Oxford Dictionary)


Noticing synchronicity is an invitation to explore a non-linear world. Noticing synchronicity is noticing a portal into deeper understanding of self, and our relationship with others and our places. It isn’t about explanation, but it is about understanding.

The synchronicity – having the word “cascade” pop into my consciousness as it did – invited me into a conversation with myself about the meaning of the word “cascade” in my life. The result of this conversation with myself is this post. I can see that the wilderness quest naturally flowed from my experience with Rosemary. Even though it was years later, I can see the trajectory; I can see a series of cascading events. The synchronicity is in how I happened upon the word “cascade” on the random map on the coffee table.

I’m betting that these synchronicities, the wild and the cascading, will be foundations for more synchronicities.

What synchronicities are you noticing in your life? How do you explore them?