Nurturing soul-based leadership that is grounded in the natural world has become an increasingly important concern in our work at Rites of Passage. In a recent leadership conversation, Tom Anderson, Dana Carman, Dane Hewlett and Executive Director Mike Bodkin joined Rites of Passage staff member Renee Sweezey to talk about their passion for this work and the leadership programs that Rites of Passage is offering in 2014.
ROP: What called you to do this work of leadership development, particularly as it relates to the Vision Quest?
Tom Anderson: I was drawn to and did my first Vision Quest with a leadership challenge in my own life. I was a guy in my mid-forties on the cusp of having everything I had been working for in my career. At one point I woke up and I realized I didn’t want that particular “everything.” I was now in a mid-life crisis moment. I began asking bigger questions– who am I, what are my gifts, who am I here to serve. My entree into this work was in search of what I would call, in a broad sense, leadership questions. It leans into leading yourself, guiding your life and a call to, what I now understand, is a North Shield (care for community) question.
Dane Hewlett: Leadership, to me, is about being receptive, open, flexible. True leadership allows for contact with a deeper, intuitive voice and listening to and letting that voice guide you. That’s been my experience. As to why I’m drawn to this work, a number of years ago I felt something deep inside me wanted to be heard and expressed, I felt a call to honor that. One of the ways I was able to hear that voice more clearly was going into the solitude and quietness of nature. When you are under the stars in the middle of nowhere you feel a part of something bigger than yourself. There, you cannot deny what you are being called to do at a deeper level.
Mike Bodkin: I’ve been working with a group that first quested in November 2012. So much of what is occurring with this group concerns coming back, living and giving, from this visionary experience in nature. The challenge is to remember the truth of what you’ve learned about yourself and the ability to trust your experience to guide you through. Much of it has to do with leadership as both self-leadership–being able to guide your own life led by your own inner truth and the vision received– as well as the capacity to be there in service to others from the same principles. The idea of authenticity is very big. People are changing jobs, finding work in the world that speaks to their inner gifts.
Dana Carman: I bring a little bit of a different dynamic. I quested just as I was turning fifty and almost a year into an unraveling of everything in my life that were my so called stabilities. A ten year marriage was unraveling. A company I was one of the principles in and had devoted my creative and professional energy to for seven years was no longer a fit for me, and a community that I was part of I now felt estranged from. This happened around the time of the stock market crash, my ex wife and I lost 2/3rds of our net worth. A year prior, my mother and my only sibling had died four days apart from one another. This was a very disorienting time.
I had had some experiences in my earlier life with what I call disorienting dilemmas where everything you consider stable is being shaken. My identity had been shaken up in a big way. Fourteen years earlier I had a shakeup in my life. The worst thing I did at that time was I tried to hold onto my life. This holding on actually slowed me down, impeding my ability to create something new.
In the most recent shake-up I was able to I lean on and trust my relationship to the natural world, which has always been my refuge. I was able to find Rites of Passage. I trusted Mike and trusted the structure of the quest. So for me it was allowing myself to fall and finding something stable in myself and my relationship to the natural world. From my quest I gained an embodied faith that I could begin to live from and to guide my life. I am so grateful when I look at the life I have now, seven years later.
My experience of questing and what questing gave me was so fundamental. I think those are leadership questions, what really matters, what is our life purpose, what are we here for. What choices would I make if I were to look at my life from the perspective of my death (dying to an old life). They are very different choices that I was able to make from the insight and the courage I gained during the quest. I made my life just taking a single step forward, then the next step, then the next step.
ROP: What is possible working in a Vision Quest setting and partnering with the natural world that isn’t available in more traditional contexts?
Dana Carman: As one who works in the world of leadership development and coaching this is what I experience as unique about the quest. One of the things that really got me about the quest, I knew this intuitively, was an opportunity to discover your wild nature in the mirror of wild nature, wilderness. That put words to something I had always felt in my life but had never focused on it in an intentional way. You could call our wild nature our relationship to the mystery. The part of us that is unpredictable, not packaged, that’s particular to us. Given the ceremonial nature of the quest, the liminal time that happens in the natural world, the group and the intentions, something really remarkable happens for almost everybody. This doesn’t happen in other settings in my experience. That, I would say is the tapping into the mystery and the kind of power and magic that can come from there.
The other thing that surprises me about the quest is that people know what they are there for. Rather than an experience of I’m going to come out of this and push to transform something, people come to claim a transformation that has been happening under the surface. They’ve never actually owned it, claimed it or spoken about it and had it mirrored back to them. There is something very alchemical that happens when you slow down enough to recognize, own, claim and speak to a group that’s listening to you in a committed way, to who you are now. That’s just magical. I’ve never seen that done as potently as I’ve seen it done on the quest. That’s what brings me back all the time.
Tom Anderson: The level of immersion. You go out on the quest, you eat different foods than you usually eat, you fast during the solo, leave technology and all its worldly connections behind. You’re not sleeping in the bed you’re used to. There is nothing in any way, shape or form that is like your normal day to day life. This is part of the stripping away. There is also the immersion in nature. We talk about eco-systems in business. What better way to understand this than spending several days living in the wilderness. On solo, in the wilderness, you’ve entered a highly complex world and yet it is simple, a Zen sort of experience. The biggest decision you might make is where you sit for the next hour.
Dane Hewlett: This is a death process, stripping away of everything you thought you were. For me this is the core of it. You have the opportunity to die (to an old life). There is no better place to do that than in nature. It’s a cocoon, as you die to the old life you feel part of something, something that that is holding you in a larger context. This awareness allowed me to go deeper into my experience.
The Vision Quest has nothing to do with adding on, it has everything to do with stripping away. This is not about sitting in an air conditioned room with a manual to follow. It’s not for everyone. For executives…there they are, alone in nature, they don’t need to do anything, it’s all happening without their control, without a plan. This experience can be earth-shaking for someone who works at the executive level.
ROP: How do you connect the quest, the hero’s journey, and the human need for meaningful work and service to something greater than one’s self?
Tom Anderson: The quest is a mirror for the whole journey that we take from childhood to adulthood, the journey of the hero. Diving into that place of darkness, metaphorical or literal, to find that gift, our calling, to bring that gift or vision back in service to something bigger than ourselves. This is the journey of stepping into the North Shield, the giveaway, care for community, from the West Shield, the going off alone to look within. The mythic hero’s story resonates so deeply with me because it is so universal. For people who haven’t had language for this, when I tell them of the hero’s journey, their eyes light up and they get it.
Also, there is something comforting about the framework of the Vision Quest. Wherever you are, feeling stuck, depressed, frustrated, you know that due to the structure of the quest there will be something coming next. That it’s natural that change will occur, allowing us to trust and to take the next step to follow the yearning where it takes you.
Dane Hewlett: The hero’s journey is a profound archetype. The Vision Quest is a tremendous vehicle to move us through the hero’s journey. We, all humanity, are called to undertake this journey. Some are in the early stages of this journey, youth to adulthood, some are at mid-stage and some are being called to come down from the mountain and take their place as elders.
The quest allows you to realize you are not alone. The hero’s journey is such a solitary experience, to have the ceremonial container of the Vision Quest, knowing you are not alone is critical.
Mike Bodkin: Isn’t it paradoxical that it’s one of the most solitary journeys, but by taking the journey consciously you’re joining everyone in humanity who ever taken that journey. It may be that the form of the Vision Quest is comforting in that it’s been practiced for thousands of years.
ROP: How does a leader make use of the Vision Quest over time?
Mike Bodkin: The biggest challenge comes after you get home. Up to now we’ve been speaking about the transformation of a birth, of a deepening, and a new identity. The transformation doesn’t happen overnight when you come back. The awakening happens through the ceremony but the actual embodiment of it, the ability to live it is a huge challenge for people. I hear about this from the group that we’ve been tracking for a year and a half. There is an artist, a business consultant, a professional comedian, participants from all different professions. The question they ask is “how can I live my soul truth through my work?” It’s not a simple question, it’s really a dialectic. It has to do with your habits that had been set in stone. You now have to start chiseling away at the stone and changing it a little at a time.
Dane Hewlett: For this enterprise to be effective you have to honor both sides of the coin. One side is the stripping away process of going into isolation, being alone. The other part is coming out of the experience, the quest, the alone time to become part of a community where you can give life to what you experienced. This is the other critical part of the quest, to be part of a community if people that are supporting what you are being called to do, giving expression to your gifts and that can challenge you when you fall back. To me this is when the Quest is most effective and powerful. This is why I want to offer a six month follow up process for the Men’s Leadership Vision Quest. To allow the experience to grow deep roots, to take hold. The community allows this integration a part of an ongoing practice.
ROP: This leads to the question: Why a Men’s Leadership Intensive (Vision Quest) that begins in May and continues with a commitment for six months of follow up?
Dane Hewlett: I feel called to work with men. One of the reasons, I did not have a father growing up. My father died when I was very young. After I did my quest one of the things I wanted to give back was to help other men live deeper more authentic lives, in part because I did not have that earlier in my life. I often talk about giving the gift you didn’t have. I’ve always felt moved and most effective when working with men. The other part of this for me is people with more masculine energy, most often embodied by men, grow and evolve in different ways than the feminine. Men often need to be challenged, pushed versus being nurtured. Men bring a different energy and qualities that need to be honored in doing this work.
I see so many men in their 50’s and beyond who have little connection with other men. There is a calling and a need for men in our society to find a deeper connection to one another. The Vision Quest with the six month commitment has that connection built into it.
Also for men, as young men they had a connection to the wild masculine. The wild masculine can be dangerous but it’s also vital. Men in mid-life tend to shut off this wild masculine, shutting off most of what is alive. The wild masculine needs to be tapped into again with consciousness and awareness. Men risk losing the juiciness of life when the wild masculine goes missing.
Mike Bodkin: The majority of a man’s identify often is associated with his work, so we men may end up relying on the feminine for our sense of connection, to our kids, to our community. Men can end up being the orbiting satellites in the family. When men return home from their competitive work environment, tired, somewhat distant, they’ve fulfilled the role as the functional provider yet so much is missing. This identity is soul killing. Men want to come in from the cold to a vibrant life.
ROP: Would you say a little about the other two leadership programs, the Quest for Authentic Leadership being offered in June and the Vision Quest for Transformative leadership in September?
Tom Anderson: Ever since stepping into the guide training, I always felt that I would be working with a specialized audience. It was my desire to work with people who reflected my story. I feel I can be of greater service to these people.
There has been a large part of my life where had one foot in the highly competitive, driven, masculine dominated, commercial real estate world, then I’ve had this other foot in the world of my spiritual life, my meditation practice and other modalities that I’ve worked with over the years. This work is a way for me to bring together these two aspects of myself. Working with a group that I can relate to as a business person and a leader in the business community, and as a Vision Quest guide I can use the spiritual tools I’ve acquired over the years for growth and development. I can be of service to people who are in turn serving other groups of people. If I can help that person to know the deeper gifts they bring, it brings me joy to think about the ripple affect they can have in their own communities when they go back. I’m at a place with my work where I feel confidence in my own path of bringing these two sides, business and spirituality, together. It’s time for me to now bring this program, The Quest for Authentic Leadership, to this audience.
Mike Bodkin: The third model for our leadership work is the Vision Quest for Transformative Leadership. As it turns out, this program has attracted a somewhat different client. Many of the people who come are young entrepreneurs, or those I would call social visionaries, people with a desire to make a difference and to do it through their own authorship. None of these people are making a lot of money but they have a need to give, to make a significant contribution from their gifts and visions. Some of these clients know they need to do their heart work even while they continue to earn their living through other work. To not do the heart work would feel like soul killing. The heart work, even if it isn’t the majority, needs to be included.
ROP: How would a person know if one of these programs is right for them?
Tom Anderson: What I’ve observed as I’ve become a guide is three types of people who show up for the quest. The person in their late 20s early 30s, they have degrees, experience in the work force and feel something lacking. There are those who are mid-career and have the realization that there is something more out there. And then those like me, in their 50s, who have been there, done that, and got the tee-shirt. There is the sense that there is still more to do and give. For someone further down the career path they might be thinking about how do I unwind from this career and who will to step into my shoes, who do I need to be mentoring, the questions of legacy in relation to leadership.
I caution people who approach this program like a job counseling program. If what you’re trying figure out is whether you should be an accountant or a doctor this is probably not the program for you.
Good indicators that point to readiness for a Vision Quest: A sense of emptiness or yearning that doesn’t have a clear source. Perhaps you’re thinking of quitting your job and you’re not sure why. Or you suddenly realize that your life is all job and you’re not sure why.
Mike Bodkin: It’s hearing a call to something beyond your ego, beyond our rational mind. That part of that longing, is reaching for something, call it spirit, call it the mystery, something invisible that moves in us and that we need to trust. Often it seems to come from being shoved into the corner, smashed up on the rocks. People don’t always choose to go there voluntarily.
Dane Hewlett: Feeling that deep tug inside of you, that there is something more to be lived, you want to give more, the story you’re holding of yourself has become tiring and you are tired of being tired. You have reached a point where the pain of staying where you and avoiding change is now worth the fear of moving forward. You may not know where you’re headed, but it’s got to be more real than what you are currently experiencing. People on the outside may have no idea you’re in that place. You may be very successful, a president of a company, and what you’re aware of is that there is a soul desire for something more, something to be lived.