Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Celebrating A Mentor: Robert Bly

At a dinner to honor Robert Bly during his Eugene visit last week, I had an opportunity to publicly express my gratitude to him for mentoring me for nearly 25 years. I know he has mentored thousands of men (without knowing it!) and probably as many women poets during his lifetime. For me, it felt like the right moment to voice my affection, admiration, and love for the man who has made such a meaningful contribution to my life and the life of so many people around the world.

After Robert was "toasted" by everyone at the gathering, I made my way to his table and gave my (mostly) impromptu talk about how we met, how attending his men's gatherings gave me a proverbial "kick in the butt" to start working with local men in support groups and workshops, and how his poetry has given me and everyone who has read his work "a thousand years of joy."

I also shared a funny story about my grandmother Hannah's reaction when I told her I had met Robert Bly at a poetry reading in Illinois. My "gramma" looked a lot like Robert with her white hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and ruddy western Minnesotan complexion. When I told the story to Robert and the group, I asked him to mimic my grandmother's wonderful grimace (which he did) when she had exclaimed to me, "Oh, that awful Bly boy!". The room (and Robert) filled with laughter. He then quietly asked me, "Did she tell you why she said that?" "Never did," I replied, but I suspect it was because Robert told many of the "unspoken secrets" of Madison and the people who lived there. I told him and the audience that her response had made such a big impression on me that I knew I better pay very close attention to whatever that "awful Bly boy" was doing for the rest of his life (and mine!). So I have ... and I've been blessed in ways I never would have imagined.

Looking back at that evening, I'm pleased that I was able to share with Robert many of the words I've written in my ethical will about him and his influence on my life. Many of the other men and women who've been important in my life died before I could tell them how much they mattered to me (or I finally "woke-up" to realize their significance in my life).

I encourage you to seek out your mentors who are still alive and tell them now the many ways they have made a difference in your life. And celebrate them in person as well as honor those who have passed on by including your thoughts about them in your ethical will.
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Monday, October 23, 2006

Embracing Elderhood: Interview with Dr. Bill Thomas

Several months ago, I wrote about the "Greening of Aging" describing what Dr. Bill Thomas is doing to change the "landscape" of elderhood. He founded the Eden Alternative to reform nursing home care in the U.S. and has planned new communities for elder living.

Dr. Thomas was is Portland last week and was interviewed by Don Colburn of The Oregonian. Here's a link to the interview:

"Embrace elderhood, doctor tells boomers"

I especially enjoyed the way Dr. Thomas differentiates between "adulthood" and "elderhood" when he says:

"So when does elderhood begin? When you stop acting like an adult and start acting like an elder. Elders begin to look at the world and live their lives with a much greater emphasis on being rather than doing. They're much more concerned about relationship, emotion, intrinsic satisfaction. They're no longer obsessed with doing and getting and having. Therefore, they can be a voice in our culture and our society that can help us find our way. You can even argue that one of our major problems that we're facing in America is that we have a society that's run by adults without elder supervision. Historically and around the world, that's a rare and dangerous circumstance."

I encourage you to read the interview and invite your comments. You may also want to read his new book, "What Are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World".
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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Honoring Your Mentors in Your Ethical Will

One section of my ethical will speaks to the women and men who have mentored me and contributed most to the "life-shaping" of the man I am today. Among the men I honor as a mentor is poet, Robert Bly.

What a joy it was for me last night to listen to Robert recite his poems in a room filled with 600+ people. I had not seen him or heard him in person for nearly 10 years, but his unforgetable, distinctly Minnesotan voice sounded as powerful (and familiar) as ever. Now 79 years old, I first met Robert at a poetry reading in DeKalb, Illnois (I was 38 at the time). Ironically, I was born in the town of his birth and where he lived much of his life -- Madison, Minnesota -- and I was studying journalism at the University of Minnesota in the late 60's when he was in Minneapolis protesting the Vietnam War.

At the reading in DeKalb, I recall Robert's poetry "transporting" me back to the landscape and towns of western Minnesota where we both had lived. Poems from his Silence in the Snowy Fields especially touched me and opened my heart to the beauty of poetry in a way that I had never experienced before. And, after the reading, when I introduced myself to Robert, he told me a story about a young family member he knew (on my mother's side) who had died in a farm accident while haying. It was a story so tragic that no one in my family had ever told it to me.

Robert Bly was in the forefront of poets against the war in Vietnam and continues to speak today against the war in Iraq. In his view, the Bush adminstration has made the biggest mistake of any American presidency, pitting twenty-first century capitalist fundamentalism against twelvth century Muslim fundamentalism. His poetry speaks with great clarity about war and our response as citizen's to the actions of leaders in Washington. Here's a link to a powerful poem he wrote in August 2002:

Call and Answer

The poem is included in his latest collection, My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy, which features many poems written in the traditional Islamic ghazal form.

Shortly after I met Bly in 1982, I read a magazine article titled "What Men Really Want" in which author Keith Thompson interviewed Robert about his views and work with men. What he said resonated deeply with my experience as a man and got me interested in the so-called "mythopoetic men's movement". I attended my first men's gathering in Michigan in the late 1980's (led by Shepherd Bliss) and the experience turned my life in a new direction. I joined a men's support group in Indianapolis where I lived at the time and plunged into reading everything that was being written about men and life as a male.

The momentum of the my men's group experience continued when I moved to Oregon. As I noted in my post yesterday, I partipated in men's gatherings with Robert Bly which, together with his book, Iron John, inspired me to begin "birthing" men's support groups in our community. Dozens of groups of 7-10 men came together for 2-hour sessions over eight weeks. My intention was to build enough trust in each group so the men could continue meeting by themselves (while I moved on to birth another group). For most of the men, what began as a scary experience on the first night transformed into genuine trust over the weeks together -- leading to male friendships that continue today. Some of these groups continue as well, including one I started for my own personal support which has met every week for nearly 15 years.

Along with the support groups, I initiated a weekend men's gathering at the Oregon coast -- gatherings of 10-20 men -- and held fifteen of them over a period of years. I also created and began teaching a class called "Understanding Men: For Women & Men" at our community college. Attended by more women than men, the classes of 12-24 people met weekly each quarter in the mid-1990's. I also created several "Healing the Hearts of Men" workshops which focused on healing of father-wounds, mother-wounds, men's anger, male sexuality, male spirituality, and intimacy with women. These short-term (4-8 weeks) sessions for small groups were among the most creative "outbursts" of my life.

In all the men's work I was doing (along with my counseling practice for men and couples), I used poetry, mythology, personal story, breathwork, and "talk-therapy" to help heal emotional wounds of the past and support people in creating the life they wanted to live in the present. It was often difficult, gut-wrenching work and I heard far too many stories of abuse and neglect by fathers (and by some mothers). But the rewards came in seeing people do their healing work and transform themselves in the brief time I was privileged to be a part of their lives.

So Robert Bly, dear man and poet, I bless you for being a mentor to me, for inspiring me to bring poetry back into my life (giving me "a thousand years of joy"!), and for your "kick-starting" the most challenging, creative, growth-filled, and fulfilling work of my life -- so far, that is!
Honoring Your Mentors in Your Ethical WillSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Your Legacy of Work: My Personal Story

Following up on my post about "legacy-thinking" in your worklife, I reviewed what I wrote in my ethical will about my own work legacy and participated in an interview last week that focused on a significant part of my life's work experience.

Reflecting on my legacy, the work I did with men in our community during the "men's movement" was the most satisfying and creative time of my life (so far!). I suspect that if I were to die today, what people would remember about my work is the impact it had on the lives of hundreds of men (and the women and children who love them) over an eight-year period in the 1990's.

For a story in advance of a poetry reading by Robert Bly tonight in Eugene, I was interviewed by a local newspaper columnist about my experiences with men and my view of the legacy of the men's movement. Here's a link to the story:

"Whatever Happened to the Men's Movement?" by Bob Welch - (The Register-Guard, October 15, 2006)

I appreciate Bob Welch ( for his heart-centered, openness to sharing his life experience during an interview. And I admire his writing and engaging style in speeches I've seen him give. Bob's love of his community, his family, and his life in Oregon "shines bright" in his columns each week and in the books he has authored including Where Roots Grow Deep: Stories of Family, Love, and Legacy, A Father for All Seasons, and The Things That Matter Most: Choosing Family, Faith, and the Simple Life.

During the '90's, I was deeply inspired by the poetry and men's work done by Robert Bly ( -- as were thousands of other men across the country. Attending men's conferences with Robert and participating in men's groups locally led to my work in facilitating men's support groups, leading weekend gatherings at Heceta House on the Oregon coast, creating several "healing the hearts of men" workshops, and teaching "Understanding Men: For Women & Men" at our community college. It was a challenging and life-enhancing time for me -- helping men deal with their anger and grief (mostly about their "missing" fathers), awaken to their full range of emotions, and become conscious, loving men in their relationships with women, children, and other men.

I loved seeing the transformation of men during an eight-week support group or men's weekend as they began to trust other men with their feelings -- to see men yell, cry, dance, drum, sing, share haiku poems (often their first poems ever written), laugh, and hold one another -- celebrating their manhood in the company of other men.

In those gatherings, men received (and have continued to receive to this day) the blessing of authentic male friendships in their lives. Such friendships are one of the most soul-satisfying experiences of a man's life. How different life on this planet Earth would be if every man (woman and child) had friends they could talk with about anything, be with through all of their life's ups and downs, and count on to "show up and be present" no matter what.

My hope for future generations is that the work done by men involved in the men's movement -- and by every man who "shows up" emotionally, physically, and spiritually for himself, for other men, and for woman and children -- makes a lasting contribution to peace and harmony in the lives of people throughout the world.
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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"Legacy Thinking" in Your Worklife

One of the areas for reflection in creating an ethical will is our worklife. For most people, experiences and accomplishments at work -- outside and inside the home -- are a significant part of their life legacy. For some, their work path has clearly been intentional ; for others, work has "happened" as they've lived their lives.

I'm always looking for ways in which people are thinking about their life legacies. Recently, I learned about a new book, Your Leadership Legacy: Why Looking Toward the Future Will Make You a Better Leader Today, which focuses on the value of "legacy thinking" for leaders. It offers a process for individuals to use in creating an "intentional legacy", including writing a legacy statement for themselves based on questions much like those I use with people creating an ethical will.

The authors, Robert Galford and Regina Maruca, say that for people leading an organization (or any group of individuals):

"... your legacy will be revealed in how your colleagues, employees, and others think and behave as a result of the time spent working with you.

If you start thinking about your leadership legacy now, you will greatly increase the odds of leaving a legacy that reflects your best qualities, as well as the elements of your leadership that you would like to see embedded in the fabric of the organization you leave behind.

More importantly, you will be a better and happier leader for the effort. In clarifying what you would like others to take away as a result of having worked with or for you, you will gain a better understanding of yourself in your role as a leader, and you will better understand how the big-picture view of your role is fueled by your actions on a daily basis.

Your legacy is today."

In my experience, the authors' viewpoint applies to everyone who takes time to consider their life legacy -- at any time or stage of their life. Whether or not you consider yourself to be a "leader" -- when you create an ethical will, personal legacy letter, or a "legacy statement" about your work -- you will better see how your daily actions are building a legacy of your lifetime. Thinking and writing about your legacy allows you to be more intentional about what you want to leave behind for future generations of your family, friends, and colleagues.

In upcoming postings, I'll share more of my own worklife legacy as well as some ideas for reflecting on your lifetime of work to "harvest" wisdom for your ethical will.

For more information about "legacy thinking" as described in the book, here's a link to an interview with the authors:

How Legacy Thinking Makes Better Leaders Today

I'd appreciate your feedback about the interview or the book if you've already read it.
"Legacy Thinking" in Your WorklifeSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, October 02, 2006

Another Revealing Question: Your "Free" Time?

Along with Mark Albion's question in my previous post, another great question to clarify your values is:

"How do I spend my 'free' time -- the time I take just for myself?"

When I ask the question in a class, sometimes people say, "I don't have any free time" or "I can't possibly take any time for myself!" -- both of which are revealing of a person's self-valuing (or, at least, of their level of busyness!).

More often than not, I see a person's core values expressed in their avocations, their hobbies, their volunteer activities, and other "free-floating" activities of their lives. Many people, of course, have jobs or careers that allow them to express their most important values every day in their work. For others, family life fully expresses their core values.

Ask yourself what you were doing the last time you had some "free" time (hopefully, as much as you want!). Were you at your art table creating beauty? Were you reading to a youngster? Were you in your garden? Were you learning something new you were curious about? Were you giving a speech about global warming? Were you volunteering in New Orleans, India, your neighborhood, or your church?

Was whatever you were doing with your "free" time putting one or more of your most important values into practice?

May you be blessed with an abundance of time in your life to express your heart's desire!
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A Revealing Question: True to Yourself?

In Mark Albion's book, True to Yourself: Leading A Values-Based Business, he asks a simple, but powerful, question:

"When people hear your name, can they say immediately what you stand for?"

I wonder. Am I as "transparent" to people I know and love as I think I am? Can they say immediately what I stand for? Best ask them!

Albion's question cuts sharply to reveal our core values-- asking us to look closely at how we're living our life. You may want to ask yourself and your loved ones his question (as I am) to clarify the values you want to pass on in your ethical will or personal legacy letters.
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