Exercise as a Practice

Dumbells for Sale by Andy Wagstaffe

Dumbells for Sale by Andy Wagstaffe


In 2002 I received the gift of 30 extra pounds. After a year of brownies and beer with little physical activity, my body sent me a message. I recognized I wasn’t going to be fit forever, and that it was going to take work. So, I started running again.

Yes, I needed to lose weight. But the gift was the telegram that I needed to be more embodied.

Committing to exercise was an important decision. First, I started feeling better. Not only could I walk up stairs without being fatigued, I felt my musculature. I become more attuned to aches, pains, and thus, other signals that my body is sending.

Second, weight training, running, and stretching offer me a chance to live between being goal-oriented and being process-oriented. As anyone who exercises knows, there are days when the body does not want to perform in the way the body thinks it should. Every repetition, stride, and hold of a stretch offer me the chance to ask the questions:

  • Am I listening to my body?
  • Am I pressing too hard?
  • Am I challenging myself?

These are not just questions for exercise, they are questions for life. When I press too hard, I risk injury and am apt to lose form. When I press too hard in other areas of my life the same is true. I risk sickness and fatigue, as well as becoming less effective and present.

But I also love the challenge. So, every trip to the gym lets me be in dialogue with this tension. I have the opportunity to feel embodied, strong, enduring, flexible, and alive. And I have the opportunity to listen to myself and learn when to retreat.

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Thinking Too Much


“Thinking only begins at the point where we have come to know that Reason, glorified for centuries, is the most obstinate adversary of thinking.”

Martin Heidegger

There are two things I hear my mentor say most often: “Where’s your heart?” and “You seem to be thinking a lot.” We have been in relationship long enough that I immediately know what he means. I’m thinking too much. I’m in my head.

When I’m in my head, I enjoy life less, I’m less nimble and adaptive, less creative, and I’m less aware of people and energy. It’s not a “bad” state of being. In fact, my habitual way of being – relying on my analytical self – is necessary for survival.

From a very early age, I was told I was intelligent. Living in an age and place that values this intelligence – the ability to learn and synthesize knowledge – means that I was encouraged to rely on, demonstrate, and increase my own intelligence.

While I received accolades (especially from the systems that reward this intelligence), I became less attuned to the things that matter most to me. Relationships, with others and myself, did not develop as well as long as I focused on being or looking smart.

It’s not that the brightest and happiest people “think” less, they just depend less on their analytical thinking. Einstein and DaVinci are examples, as are many of the greatest innovators throughout time.

I know when I’m embodied, I am more alive and able to connect deeply with myself and others. The intuitive mind is not just in my head, it pervades my senses and flows through and around me. This is when I’m creative and have a capacity to sense “what is.” Sadly, it’s hard to stay there. I revert back to my habitual ways of diagnosing, explaining, and planning.

PlansSees Possibilities
DissectsSees Connectedness
VerbalizesSenses Energy
Has KnowledgeKnows

The analytical mind is a good thing, we’ve just become too dependent on it.

“The revolutionary thinker must go beyond thought.  He knows that almost all his best ideas come to him when thinking has stopped.”

Alan Watts

With all the challenges across the globe, we can’t think our way out of this. We have millions of intelligent people but are not solving climate change, poverty, violence, etc. It’s going to take more than our rational minds to bring about a better world.

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Why I am a Feminist

Symbiotic Growth by Jason Hallman and Stephen Stum

Symbiotic Growth by Jason Hallman and Stephen Stum

Diversity and symbiosis: Twin principles that allow eco-systems to thrive. – Otto Scharmer

I’ve been struggling with this post for days. I’m passionate about the topic, and yet it is so difficult to address in writing as a white American male. Women have been abused, manipulated, silenced, disregarded, dishonored, and dismissed by men for millennia. I am not responsible, but I am. This is why it is difficult to write.

I was on a call this fall listening to the perspectives of women who have been working in two of many male-dominated realms: the boardroom and technology. I found myself pacing, feeling horrified, angry, and awkward hearing their stories. While it was difficult to listen, I was not surprised. I hate the judgment my wife receives as a woman who owns a business.

Prejudice, Language, and Questioning

What am I to do with this?

The conversations around male advocacy have picked up steam but are complicated. My experience and privilege are different than a woman’s.  Still, I can listen, believe their experience, and speak up — especially to my son.

We all have prejudices. We are human, so we quietly (or loudly) form judgments based on what could potentially help or harm us. It’s unavoidable. We cannot rid ourselves of judgment. We can only bring our judgments into consciousness which may or may not cause them to slowly crumble based on our beliefs and values.

I can speak out against misogyny and obvious sexism, but there are many more subtleties that I often catch within myself. Some Concerned Feminists did a great job of bringing this to attention recently in the form of a workplace bingo card. Our language matters, and it reflects our own biases and prejudice.

Any time I assume a cultural default (female nurse, straight athlete, male carpenter, black rapper, etc.) in my language, my prejudices leak. Pronouns of presumption (the unknown boss is a “he”) collectively have an impact. When I’m aware of my assumptions, I have the opportunity to ask, “Where does this come from?” “Is it true?” “Does it match my values?”

Asking myself and others these questions is key to chipping away at the effects of prejudice. “Why do I want to hire him/her?” “Why did I use that word?” “Why did I choose that gift for my nephew or niece?” Asking these questions is not about political correctness, it’s about becoming more conscious.

The Value of Diversity

Why am I a feminist?

The diversity that exists in the world is a representation of the diversity that exists in me. Every time the world embraces more difference, we all have more freedom.

I applaud the many people doing the work of social justice in the world. We need people to point out inequality wherever it exists. My part is to bring the light of awareness to my own prejudices, own them, and take action. I am a feminist because I want to live in a world of equal opportunity where differences are respected and honored. I value diversity and believe that our complementarities are essential for well-being. We need difference in order to thrive.

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Why I Believe in Community

Gold Coated Wall Details by Leonardo Aguiar licensed under CC BY 2.0

Gold Coated Wall Details by Leonardo Aguiar licensed under CC BY 2.0

I spend my days helping organizations thrive within their ecoystems. During evenings and weekends, I devote time to family, collaborators, friends, a circle of men, and folks from The Heartland.  My entire life revolves around community.

What is community?  Why is it important?

The Western focus on individualism, especially in the United States, has also led to a sense of separateness from each other.  We live with the burden of myths, including the self-made man, the American dream, and the objectification of everything.  So, as self-sufficient individuals and self-sufficient families, we keep our homes, possessions, finances, stories, and secrets to ourselves.  We cherish personal freedom, but sacrifice connectedness.  As George Monbiot writes, we live in an Age of Loneliness.

This is all shifting as the foundations on which our culture has been standing start to crumble.  The illusion of separation is beginning to become more evident throughout ecology, business, psychology, mathematics, sociology, and other fields.  We are all interconnected, and the more we sense the interdependencies, the more we can fully become ourselves within a more whole collective.

For me, community is a group of people who gather around a shared experience or purpose.  I am active within a spiritual community, a family, a neighborhood, a community of practice, and many others.  The deeper the experience and/or purpose, the deeper the community.  Regardless of the depth of the community, there are five elements that communities share.

A Place to Call Home

As Peter Block writes, community is “a structure of belonging.”  Belonging is a basic human need.  We join communities because we want to be known, seen, and accepted.  I want my skills to be known professionally.  I want my heart to be known personally.  In my diverse set of communities, I come home to each community when I share my experience and have it accepted – respected as unique and contributing to the whole.

Learning Deeply and Broadly

We need diversity in order to see ourselves more fully.  The ears and words of the Other help us see aspects of ourselves and our commonality that we cannot access alone.  On one level, I learn from my people I follow on Twitter.  On a deeper level, I learn through listening and sharing with members of my spiritual community.  It’s not just the absorption of knowledge – it’s the experience of sharing and listening that opens me to new ways of seeing and being.

Safe Place to Practice

Just as sports teams practice on a regular basis, we all need to practice being ourselves professionally and personally.  Whether I’m intending to grow in my ability to love and be loved, or wanting my business to be more successful, community offers a safe place to experiment and get feedback.  When I’m known and accepted, I have more space to flourish and stumble, go to my own edge or rest. The community can offer both celebration and empathy, letting me know that regardless of the outcomes, I am valuable.

Getting Support

The more we experiment, the more we are prone to fail and show our weak spots.  It’s crucial to have a place where we can acknowledge we make mistakes and still be supported.  In fact, communities thrive when the energy shifts from “look how great I am,” to “look how human I am.”  Having a soft place to land encourages more experimentation which leads to more growth.

Collective Action

Nothing is done nor built in isolation.  Everything happens in relationship, and more happens when a community is mobilized.  As my client Marti Spiegelman says, “The best results emerge in fertile collective environments, yet our smartest and most creative people often work in isolation.”  Communities offer a place to belong, learn, practice, get support, and also take action. With connections that already exist between us, we can move mountains when we have a shared purpose.

Why is community so important to me?  I believe it’s not the solution to every problem, but it’s interwoven with any sustainable solution.  Growth, happiness, a better future?  I cannot separate any of these from community.


The Dance of Relationship


“Tango magnifies” – Kapka Kassabova

I thought I was a salsa dancer, but I was wrong. After three months of salsa lessons, Pia and I had learned the basics sufficiently enough that I was dancing with Latina strangers in Southern California.  Not that I was comfortable, but I could pull it off.  The quick footwork and lively music seemed fun, much more playful than the waltz I had failed to learn ten years prior.

It was January of 2012 when I stepped into my first group tango lesson.  All of the American stereotypes of dancing with a rose in my mouth fell away.  It was elegant, precise, difficult, and very relational.

Thanks to Ana Savitzky & Marco Mambelli, we learned a new dimension of tango dancing.  Ana and Marco are beautiful people, passionate about the significance of the Argentinian dance.  I remember being told time and time again, “Lead with your energy, not your body.”

And herein lies the importance of tango in my life and in my relationship with Pia.  Our dance reveals our relationship, and my dancing signals where my life needs attention.

Tango is a mirror.  When I step onto the dance floor I will be taught, not just the frame, walk, steps, and form.  I receive cues when I am pulling or pushing my partner, when I am not making space, when I am not listening, when I do not see the floor, and when I am moving rather than feeling into my partner and the energy between us.

“Stop thinking.  Relax.  Be present.”

These words I hear in dance and other contexts for good reason.  Calculating my next step on the dance floor takes me away from the dancing itself, just as analyzing my internal and external world separates me from that self and world.

Our profound and excellent current teacher Paola Bordon says, “Tango is life.”

As much as I savor the fruits of nearly three years of learning tango, I don’t do it just for the sheer enjoyment.  It’s a relational practice for Pia and me, as well as a spiritual practice that brings me closer to my essence.


Personal Risks of Entrepreneurship


Stains by Ryan Hide is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I remember the feeling of that first contract in hand — a promise that an organization was going to pay me to “consult” rather than work for them.  Then the first invoice.  The first revenue.

After spending eight years working in the corporate world, and another four years in startup companies, I decided to start a business in 2009.  I was confident I could be successful, and excited to bring my experience and ideas into the world on my own terms.  I had six clients within fourteen months and I was definitely leaning into my own edge.

It felt as if I was a tea bag being submersed in boiling water with the aroma of possibility seeping out all around me.  My own enthusiasm was only matched by my fear.  What was my value?

I had started blogging in 2007.  When I become an entrepreneur, I mysteriously stopped.  Why, when I love to write, would I stop?

The thrill of starting a business captivates many of us.  It’s one reason entrepreneurs gather: to share the adrenaline rush of taking risks. What is discussed less is the fear.  I am not just a representative of “some company.” I am representing my idea, my team, or just me.  It’s very personal, regardless of whether I’m launching a life-changing product, or just carrying a bag into someone else’s office.

Perhaps I stopped writing because I like to control the risk.  By meeting prospective clients and partners face-to-face, I can discern what needs to be said and done.  “Putting myself out there” with words and ideas means those words and ideas could circulate outside of my purview.

Being a successful entrepreneur and hiding are not compatible.

Today I decided to take some more risks.

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