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Pilgrimage– Adding Meaning to Our Travels


Ellie: What are we talking about here, Stephen?

Stephen: We are talking about the pilgrimage we just went on this summer, up and down the coast, back and forth through our lives and my past and all that–family, friends, associates.

Were you on a pilgrimage to somewhere? Or from something?

Both. From the smoke. To a variety of people, really, and reconciling with the past in various ways, and various stages of my life.

How’d that go?

Overall, pretty well. Some moments were very, very hard.

Is there anything about the pilgrimage jig that you want to refer to?

The pilgrimage Wisdom Jig is about adding meaning to whatever you’re doing and  wherever you’re going. A lot of it’s focused on people you can meet and how you can connect with those people in a new and deeper way. Then, how those connections can add meaning and mystery to our travels.

How did your pilgrimage happen this summer?

This summer was in a bit of an experiment, traveling away from the Southern Oregon smoke and the heat, away from a place where I do not feel at home back to places where I have felt at home at various times of my life. With friends new and old I had lots of one-on-one conversations.

Stemming from those connections were new conversations with amazing people, people who are building tiny house communities for homeless people and talking about how those homeless people have spontaneously created leadership structures and organizations to support their shared needs even though they are this tremendously diverse community–ethnically diverse, economically diverse.  But, also they’re homeless for a variety of reasons. Some of them have lost their jobs because they were injured, some of them have mental illness problems, some of them have are fleeing domestic abuse or other family problems, some of them are addicted. But they have one thing in common and that is homelessness, and all of the needs associated with that.

That was a very interesting opportunity to learn from somebody who worked with those folks every day and helps them by building communities for them and organizing the rest of the community to help in that process– businesses and other organizations and individuals who actually build the tiny houses. What I am really excited about is going back to Seattle and meeting some of the leaders who have earned the leadership of their community of homeless people–formerly homeless people who now have tiny houses–and to learn from them how that happened.  What can we learn as business and nonprofit leaders from the homeless people who have spontaneously earned the leadership of their highly diverse community? That, to me, is an interesting question and that conversation brought tremendous meaning and richness to our trip.

Were there others you met on your pilgrimage?

Another example is talking with someone I met at a retreat years ago about her efforts to design events in which clinical professionals–doctors, surgeons, nurses, medical technicians–come together and share case histories from patients, stories of patients. Not to learn about the science, not to learn about the treatment, but only to process their own experience and their own feelings about it.

That shared processing of human experience created amazing connection, a bridging across education levels and earning levels and responsibility levels, and a returning to not only their shared humanity and their shared reaction and empathy for these patients, but also for their shared sense of purpose and their shared experience of loss.  They experience loss more than most humans do on a daily basis, and their experience of incredible connection and humanity, and the humility that they have in the face of humans going through really amazing transitions from health to illness or from illness to death, etcetera. Stanford Children’s Hospital is organizing events for these highly trained humans to take some time together to just be human together in the middle of the machine of diagnosis and treatment. It’s just beautiful and amazing to me. That’s what the pilgrimage is about, is being open to the mystery and the meaning that can be generated in these conversations.

That’s what the Humane Leadership Conference is about. It’s about really intentionally creating opportunities for these kinds of conversations around, how do we do this together?

Leadership to me is only that thing that two humans will try to do to be more effective when they’re trying to do something purposeful together.

It’s just us trying to be a little bit better than we were yesterday. Can 1 + 1 equal 3?  How?

Really good leadership is what allows that to happen in many cases. That’s what I’m interested in, is that synergistic quality of leadership. How do we learn? What can we learn from all these experiences we’re having? Some of the experiences are painful, some of them are quite amazing.

So that’s what my pilgrimage was about, was to begin, in small and close at hand kind of ways, reaching out to people I knew but hadn’t talked to about these topics, and asking, who else should I meet? Beginning to just engage, and start to host those conversations.

I was reading one night in Plutarch’s Lives of the Greek and Roman Nobles about Lycurgus, a Spartan leader who, upon coming back from a trip realized that the ineffectiveness of the king was not acceptable and something had to change. He didn’t want to overthrow the king, but things just weren’t working.

So he just went to 30 people he knew, one-on-one, and out of those conversations grew a consensus, so when they went to the king and told him how they wanted things to change. The king said, “Yeah, that sounds like a great idea.” They actually ended up creating a senate, a group of wise people who could advise the king. By going one-by-one, they had coalesced around some shared values and ideas.  

So that’s what my pilgrimage was about. That’s actually what the Humane Leadership Conference and the conversations it will contain are about, too.

For some questions to ask yourself before your next adventure, click below and download a PDF of the Pilgrimage Wisdom Jig.

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