She walked
like a holocaust; and closing her eyes,
she touched the invisible, boundless as smoke,
and was one with the night.

–from "Black Pantheress," by Pablo Neruda (trans., Ben Belitt)

Leadership is a Field

I believe leadership is a kind of psychic field where noble acts take place, acts of self-affirmation, trust, love and ethics. When the field is there, the right things occur, the right things come out of our mouths. Our deeds are part of a greater story. When the field is off, we stumble.

I was once doing some management training work in a very isolated location. To the west, a big snow-covered mountain hung behind the outpost like a dark cape. Scrub pines and junipers ran down the mountain’s flanks to meet cold plains to the east below.

One day, after a session, a woman named Ingred stayed behind to talk. She had seemed to be one of the sanest, most rational and experienced managers in the room. I admired her insights during class. But as we talked together and our conversation deepened, a great sadness seemed to envelop her. She talked about how trapped she felt in a narrowly defined job, and worse, how trapped she felt by the inbred, dysfunctional politics of a workplace literally hundreds of miles from the nearest city and fifty miles from the nearest meaningful grocery store. She felt discredited and dismissed — empty — and this had gone on for several years. She’d asked to transfer to another location for the company but was always told she was most valuable exactly where she was. The alternative was to quit, move those hundreds of miles and start over, and she was having a very hard time thinking about that.

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Finally, after a couple of hours it came out. She felt suicide might be an attractive and rational option. After all, she had no family, lived alone, had no friends among her co-workers, and so lived only for her boring job. So while she was healthier in some ways than others around her who were enmeshed in the high drama of their conflicts and messy relationships, in other ways she felt so unseen and depressed that it seemed reasonable to end her life. I sat with her in the vacant training room as the sun went down and it began to snow; listening, reflecting, trying to be a good friend even though I was a stranger. At some point well past sunset I began to feel that I had nothing more to offer. I felt awkward, maybe as empty as she did.

It was then I heard myself blurt out a question: “Ingred, do you think this is a beautiful place? I mean the mountain and trees and rocks here. Are these things beautiful to you?”

“Yes,” she replied, but it was clear from her eyes that she was wondering where I was going.

“Do you think the mountain and the trees and rocks need you to end your life?” I asked. I had no idea where that question had come from.

She thought for awhile and then very quietly she said “Thank you.” Her face relaxed and she straightened up her shoulders. “No, they don’t,” she said more firmly.

We kept talking and the moment passed, but she came back once or twice to that notion that the natural world around her did not require her death in any premature way. She was just feeling very, very alone.

Sometimes I think it’s the least crazy people that have the hardest time. When I asked a friend about this point the other day, she said to me, yes, she saw that, too. She saw it in herself. I asked her how she coped and she told me that at some point she realized the crazy-making place was exactly where she was supposed to be, that in that place you were supposed to listen to the Universe for the lessons about what to do. That was the point of being there.

And so, of course, all that reminded me of Ingred and our exchange that night at the outpost. There was a moment when I was feeling very dumb, not knowing what to do or say, but then something showed up, showed up in that field, came through me for her without my even understanding.

There was an irony, too. A year later, Ingred wrote to me to tell me that one of the people in my class had indeed committed suicide, driving his truck off the road at high speed. For awhile Ingred wrote me regularly to share news of the place. I’m afraid I was a lousy correspondent and eventually we lost touch, but it was clear she was doing much better.

Before I left that remote mountain, Ingred gave me a beaded medicine bag she had acquired up north from an Indian artist/healer. She wanted me to have it. It was a symbol of our conversation and the role she thought I had played for her. Although grateful — the medicine bag is one of my most treasured possessions — you must know it wasn’t me that did much of anything. It was the mountain and the trees and the rocks. It was the snow that fell down that night into the darkness. Somehow these things had given her hope.

It didn’t come from me. It came from the field.

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6 Comments

  • She walked
    like a holocaust; and closing her eyes,
    she touched the invisible, boundless as smoke, and was one with the night.

    ~Pablo Neruda (from Black Pantheress)

    One of my favorite magical creatures from a series of fantasy books I once read (late 80’s or early 90 ‘s) is a black panther by the name of Guenhwyvar. She was the companion of a dark elf who helped keep him company when he was lonely and also fought with him in battle. (He had to summon her though 🙂

    Your main post so eloquently speaks for itself, I can only thank you for sharing. And that the womans’ story and predicament so reminded me of the scene/story carried out in a video by Tori Amos called 1000 Oceans. She appears to be locked in a glass display case (as if a store display) and watching as the world unfolds and most just pass her by.

    Although you were in a remote and isolated mountain setting, it struck me that even in the midst of a well populated city, we can feel just as lonely and isolated.

    1000 Oceans by Tori Amos

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RTfCaj6beg

    As always, thanks for sharing your heart my friend.

  • Dear Dan,

    This is such a moving piece. There are so many things i want to say about what you’ve captured here. But what immediately came to mind was the work of quantum physicist, David Bohm. I’m certainly no expert on his work but its essence has always left an impression on me.

    Bohm, as you may know, introduced the concepts of Implicate and Explicate Order. The explicate being the order of the physical world (which to my mind is everything) and the implicate – the underlying order from which all unfolds.

    His theory of an enfolding-unfolding consciousness speaks of a universe that is undivided and whole. In this model the unseen and the seen are continuing transforming consciousness.

    For Bohm consciousness “involves awareness, attention, perception, acts of understanding, and perhaps yet more.” The implications of this unfolding, are then, unlimited with the possibilities of deep and meaningful connection.

    In all our experiences, we step in and out of these fields of energy. For Ingred, the energy of her workplace was dead to her. Of course, we have no idea of what, if anything, could make it come alive.

    This is true for millions of people caught in many circumstances. It is certainly true of many systems that have over time, degraded and devolved offering little transformative energy.

    When you so wisely connected Ingred to her environment, you reminded her of the deep unfolding of the implicate order – as Bohm said.

    In the depths of the Implicate Order, there is a “consciousness, deep down–of the whole of mankind.”

    You and Ingred shared in this moment as did the natural beauty of the environment that moved you – and ultimately reconnected Ingred.

    So yes, it’s in the field – but you were the actor that reconnected it.

    Beautifully done Dan.

  • Samantha~

    Thanks for the story and great link. I love how your mind works and the connections it builds. I especially appreciate your point how lonely we can be anyplace, including a densely populated space like a city. That’s the truth, isn’t it, and in that sense Ingred was kind of lucky, because she was in a place a great natural beauty, not a desolate urban landscape. There is much to speak to there in terms of mental health issues overall. Nature has a deeper value, as Louise explains so well in her comment below yours.

    Thank you so much, my friend!
    Dan

  • Louise~

    What a boon your comment is, rich with Bohm and his distinction between Explicate and Implicate Orders. I know his work less well than you, so your exploration of the story was amazing (and slightly haunting) and gives me much to think about. I read your comment out loud and I found myself getting just a little verklempt, you know, because of the deep recognition you offer. Thank you so much, Louise.

    One place this certainly takes me is the notion of “hidden” orders that often lie right on the surface, if we have the eyes to see them.

    Best to you~
    Dan

  • Wonderful story, and it puts a lot of things into perspective, and the importance of the true art of listening and acting from the heart and not the ego, I’m so glad you were there for her. 🙂

  • Hello Di!

    What a pleasure to see you’ve dropped by and left a comment. You are so right this is about the heart. The heart knows the field. The field knows the heart! Thanks so much!

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