Crisis Management Requires Heart Leadership

The entire west coast of the US is clouded with smoke from thousands of acres of wildfire. The sun, when visible, is a dark red. The pervasive, ground-level orange clouds send a fiendish, apocalyptic message of impending doom. Areas of mandatory evacuation are only 20 miles away and continue to creep closer. As the air outside our house has become hazardous to breathe due to fire smoke, my wife and I are confined to very limited trips outside with our N95 masks to spray the ash off our garden plants or to dash for necessary supplies. We had two overnight surprise interruptions of electric power to prevent fires from downed power lines during an unusually strong “wind event.”

I fantasize that we are in an above-ground “bomb shelter” from the nuclear winter of wildfire smoke. I begin to mentally compile a list of what to pack for an evacuation. Uncertainty haunts me most of the time, and the stress has begun to interfere with smooth family relationships.

My insecurity is part of the problem. If I allow myself to be overwhelmed by my insignificance, my powerlessness, my ignorance about how to contribute to the solution, then I am part of the problem. If I analyze a problem into all its pieces and don’t see where I fit in, then I am looking at the wrong picture, I am looking at a picture of my fears.

I forgot I have command of where I focus my attention. I turn my head, I look the other way. I turn my body, I take a step in a different direction. If I allow myself to list everything that has brought me to this place in my life, what has nourished me, supported me, helped me along — the list could be quite long. What are my strengths, who gave them to me?

And why? What has called me to this place, what love of life do I carry within me that moves me along, one step at a time? Where am I going, what is my destination? Never mind that I cannot see the entire path, I can see the direction my life is going. That picture is not acquired by analysis, it is brought to me by experience, and that is my compass, that is the radar that makes visible what I cannot see with my physical senses.

I have been using that experiential compass to steer my entire life regardless of how aware I have been of its existence. Yes, there are moments when the compass has led me to rocky and thorny places, propelled me off bottomless cliffs. Always, just as dreams will end, I “wake up” before I am torn to shreds, dashed to pieces, and what was invisible becomes visible. Then the direction of my life stabilizes into what I could call “ordinary reality,” daily routines of chopping wood and carrying water.

Yet in the middle of those experiences of insignificance and powerlessness, of free-fall, something clicks into place. Fear starts to become a companion instead of an obstacle, like a shadow I cannot lose, baggage that’s simply part of the journey. Ordinary reality becomes the dream, and the dream — the unfolding adventure of following the compass into incredible experiences — becomes a fascinating Reality. Whatever amazing thing will happen next?

The unsolvable riddles of disaster and catastrophe require me to just “hang out” with the questions, wait, watch, listen, and pay attention to the radar beyond the physical senses. Most of all I need to TRUST the process of my life’s dream, actively participate in the dream, invest in its reality and not buy into a comparison of little me to the huge problem.

In Reality there are no huge problems, there is only a Huge Compass.

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