Saturday, March 8, 2008

Seeing What Isn't There

A few years ago I watched a documentary about Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It had a huge impact on me because after watching it, one question hung in the air: How is it that these women could see so clearly what needed to change when most other women had been accepting the status quo for centuries? We have names for these kinds of people...pioneers and prophets.

A few months later I heard a woman speak about leadership. She said something I'd never heard before...that leadership requires seeing what isn't there. I immediately related that idea to the lives of Anthony and Stanton. They had a vision of what the role of women could be that did not yet exist. And they fought with everything they had to make it happen.

I began to wonder what I wasn't seeing yet.

I think the process of figuring that out takes at least two things. First of all, we have to question most of our assumptions about what currently is. As long as we continue to accept how things are, we'll never be able to see how things could be. I hear alot of people say "that's just how its always been." What would have happened if Anthony and Stanton had accepted that? Don't you think they heard the argument that women had always played a supporting role? But they had a different that they had no basis to believe was possible in the world. And yet they believed it could happen.

Secondly, I think we need to pay a radical kind of attention to ourselves and the world around us. For me, paying attention to myself means listening to that inner wisdom that is available to us all. Just as our body has amazing capacity for healing itself, our inner wisdom has amazing capacities for healing as well...if we'll only listen. I believe that Anthony and Stanton were listening to that voice inside that said they belonged in the world and had something to offer, even when everything around them denied that possibility. I believe their vision and courage came from what they saw in themselves.

Paying attention to the world is what those of us who blog probably do best. Our awareness is sometimes heightened beyond our capacity to absorb. But I think that's because we move so quickly to the need to fix things and then get frustrated with the limited tools we think are available to us. I think the answers are there, if we'll just take the time to pay attention.

I've quoted this poem here before, so please forgive me for being repetitive. It comes from the Northwest Native American tradition and is the response an elder might give to a young person wanting to know what to do when you are lost in the forest.


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

The wisdom of this poem goes against the grain of our fear instincts that would have us frantically running around the forest trying to find our way out. But I think there are powerful lessons to be learned from our lostness that might be exactly what we need to find our way home again. If we pay attention, we just might be able to see what isn't there yet.


  1. Thank you for this piece. Who wrote this poem?

    1. The author is unknown. It comes from the traditions of Northwest Native Americans.


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