My dreams are trying to teach me how to be a leader. I mean a contemplative leader. And my last two dreams have been speaking as clearly as they can, beings dreams and all. So here is what I think they are saying.
In the first one, I am in a worship service and a woman was trying to sing a solo but her music was inaudible, so she could not find the pitch or melody line. She finally stopped. It was time for the next part of the service, but the pastors were not there to carry on. Something in me felt I was supposed to stand up and speak, but I had no script and did not know what to say. (I have had similar dreams of being led to stand up and share a song without having the music, or a sermon without the sermon).
In the second dream, I am with a group of people standing on a cement slab, which is apparently a space where we are to build a house. There is a foreman kind of man among us who has the skill and know-how to lead us, and we are to be the helpers. It is time to begin, even though we are not sure how to proceed, or what the house will look like, or even what it is for. There is a sense that we are to start building and more will be revealed.
These two dreams have something to teach me about being a contemplative leader, and perhaps they will serve as guides for you too.
Being a contemplative leader begins in vulnerability. We agree to step up and sing but we might not hear the guiding music clearly. We might not know how to proceed. We sometimes have to stop, and so we lead imperfectly. And this is NOT a source of shame. This is just what it is like to step up. Being imperfect in our leading is a given. But we are the ones who step up. And we do so in full human vulnerability.
Next: Being a contemplative leader is about following well, even when we do not see the way ahead. The contemplative leader is a follower first, which means we have to practice trust. And when we step up to lead, we do so as a follower of The Way of Unknowing. That means we do not have things already figured out. We do NOT have the clear vision and plan set to deliver to others in a top-down manner. We might be led to speak up without a script, and so we have to listen within for a Guiding Voice which will lead us all. We might be led to start a project even though we are not sure how things will unfold along the way. We will surely be led to trust and follow a Foreman who is not ourselves.
Next: When a dream group is called together to build a “house,” it seems like an obvious metaphor for building community. In the dream there was a clear sense of being a group of people who were willing and ready to work together. Contemplative leaders work together in community, and we are all following the wisdom of the Foreman. We are equals, each gifted with ability, open to and respecting each other’s gifts, willing to follow The Leader. We are able to be a team of contemplative leaders because of our attitudes of openness, respect, and willingness. (The opposite would be people who are closed, disrespectful, and willful).
Recently, I was in a group in which people were trying to talk over each other, interrupting each other, trying to get their points across, and having side conversations with whoever was next to them so that they could keep talking when someone else had the floor. It seemed to me the group was deteriorating into what we see in the public arena across America, and especially on cable news channels with panels of talkers. Civility is being lost in such gatherings. Contemplative wisdom, grounded in the guidance of the Inner Teacher, is absent. How could the Creator of the galaxies get a word in edge-wise when some people are interrupting each other and others are shutting down? And how could a community experience anything but deterioration with such practices?
There is another way, an old way, a sacred way of being a spiritual community revealed by my dreams. Contemplative leaders are seeking the open gate of heaven everywhere around them, and especially as they build community. And my dreams are at least hinting at the Way before us.
We are being called to practice our leadership with vulnerability and imperfection. We lead with courageous willingness to step up, following The Leader with trust, not knowing the way, listening within for the wise guidance of the Inner Teacher, listening to our peers with respect for their gifts, knowing a spiritual “house” is built together as a community, and openness to how multi-faceted and paradoxical Truth will be revealed through each voice in the community.
Today, I call on all of you contemplative leaders, (including those of you who are too humble to know you are a contemplative leader), to hear my dreams with me and to imperfectly practice your leadership with courage, trust, willingness, following, not-knowing, listening within, listening to the community, respect, togetherness, and openness. No small task. No easy solution. But we can do this together!