A few years ago, when I started working a spiritual program, I was convinced that the purpose was to render me perfect. Looking at people further along than me, I imagined them to be totally serene beings. I looked forward to the time when I would no longer feel anger, pain or jealousy, and when I would have perfectly loving intentions towards everyone I met.
Needless to say, I’m still waiting for that day.
Rather than enlightened thoughts, these expectations were a symptom of my lack of humility; they are part of what the sacred path is asking me to let go of. Today, when I look at those whom I want to emulate – to people I consider spiritual leaders – I do not see perfection. Instead, I see honest self-appraisal, a connection to themselves, to others and to a Power greater than themselves, and a willingness to be of service. That’s it.
There are plenty of them out there. One of my (s)heroes, writer and lecturer Marianne Williamson, has gathered an enormous following, not simply because of her firm grasp of The Course in Miracles, but because of her willingness to use its lessons in her life, and to be honest about her daily struggle with them. She doesn’t claim to be a fully enlightened being, or even to be better than the rest of us, she just wants to share what works for her. Crucially, this vulnerability does not make her less of a leader; it makes her a more effective one.
Maybe I’m alone on this, but people like Marianne inspire me more than those who claim to have all their s**t together or who act like they have all the answers. We might feel temporarily comforted by people who do that, but in the long run it disempowers us as we look to them to fix us or to do the work for us. As Marianne herself has said, in our quest to create a more peaceful, more beautiful world, the answers we seek will not arrive in the form of one intellectual insight, one practice or one magic pill we can all take; and gurus who offer us such things should be treated with suspicion. Political leaders who show no signs of vulneralibity, and who act like they are invincible (no names mentioned here...) are equally unhelpful, infantalising those who follow them, instead of empowering them.
So if the answer doesn't lie in the traditional "powerful leader" what will it look like to lead in this new way? My feeling is that it will come as a different experience we all begin to have of ourselves and of each other. Leadership will be less about how certain individuals inspire others, and more about the mutual inspiration we experience when we're in connection. The Divine Feminine offers us the chance to seek this experience by giving us the room to step up and come together in circle, with all our darkness and pain and whatever stuff we still haven’t worked through yet, and to experience leadership together.
This avoids the painful cycle of a patriarchal form of leadership that places a particular person on a pedestal only to drag them off it later. It also challenges us to reconsider our ideas about human intelligence, creativity and worth, and the way we have insisted for so long that certain people have more of them than others. Under the new paradigm, leadership practices emerge from and contribute to our growing faith that potential power lies in us all, not just in elite individuals.
So today I don’t need to be perfect; I need to accept humbly and gratefully that when I am connected to others and to Spirit, I am intelligent, creative and incredibly powerful as a force for good. And when I sit in isolation, when I try to be better than others, or to make them better than me, it doesn’t matter how smart I am, or how many clever ideas I come up with, I’m still not contributing to a better world.
Coming up in Part II…how do we practice this leadership at Women of Spirit and Faith?