I recently heard poet David Whyte speak at the International Coach Federation Global Conference in London. I’ve known his work for some time and his words never fail to move me. This time was no exception. His topic was the power of the pilgrim path, the journey to finding yourself. It’s a journey of peeling away all of the identities, beliefs, and assumptions you have taken on over a lifetime, and discovering what is underneath.
While many people take time off to go on a physical pilgrimage to a sacred site, David Whyte’s poems suggest that the pilgrim’s path can also be a way of life – that we can live every day as if we are on a pilgrimage to the heart of our being. It is a process of learning to meet life and circumstances, as well as the truth of our own being, on their own terms.
“On their own terms.” Those words jumped out at me as he spoke. Meeting things on their own terms means letting go of what you think you know already and approaching everything first from a place of discovery. It means letting go of assumptions and expectations, roles and attachments. Walking the pilgrim’s path takes a lot of courage, yet as you become more practiced at it, you discover that there is actually a part of you that already knows how to live this way. As you lean into that pilgrim part of you and learn to trust that there is something bigger than you supporting you, you are able to accept what is and choose to co-create with life instead of push against it. You discover trust and faith where you never knew it before, and you are therefore able to do greater things than you ever imagined. The pilgrim’s path is at the heart of Transformational Presence and transformational leadership.
As I reflected on David Whyte’s talk, I started to wonder if perhaps times of rapid change and uncertainty were inviting all of us to walk the pilgrim’s path. Our economic, environmental, political, social, and spiritual structures, paradigms, assumptions, and habits are all begging to be re-examined. Imagine if we as a society were to adopt the pilgrim’s approach – to let go of what we think we know and our assumptions about how things are supposed to work, and let things show themselves to us on their own terms.
Imagine if the pilgrim’s approach was at the heart of leadership today. On one hand, it is hard to fathom, yet on the other hand, it’s an incredibly liberating and exciting thought. Imagine if we reached a place as a culture where we could lean into the pilgrim within and trust that there is something bigger waiting for us that could carry us forward. Imagine if we could meet life from an open mind and an open heart and trust that there would be solid ground under our feet.
At our essence, we are love. The human heart is extraordinarily resilient if we trust its healing power. When we are willing to surrender to love and meet life on its own terms, each day we discover new ways of engaging without assumption or manipulation. We simply meet each moment as our next co-creative partner and see what wants to unfold. This is the pilgrim’s path. This is the path of Transformational Presence. This is the path of the transformational leader.
So what would it mean for you to step onto the pilgrim’s path and meet life on its own terms? Even if just for a week, or even for a day.
Just consider the idea. Let it roll around inside of you and see where it takes you. Although it is a path I’ve walked for some time, it’s an ongoing journey. I’m a long way from mastery. Yet what I know is that walking the pilgrim’s path continues to bring new levels of understanding and awareness and deeper inner peace. And I have found courage and strength to step out into the world in ways that I never could have imagined.
So I keep walking. And I keep learning and discovering and being surprised at the new openings that each day brings. I’m deeply grateful for the many gifts of this journey, and for that morning with David Whyte.
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