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Leadership lessons from nature

Nuisance or Miracle?

tent_caterpillarI believe that creatures embody and show us deep wisdom about the world. In their physical beauty, intricacy and behavior, they are always offering new perspectives and opportunities for joy and gratitude.

To see creatures in this new way, sometimes you have to blur your vision a little. You know the way you see a baby, or a child you love, through the eyes of love the minute they appear in your mind or in your presence?

With creatures, sometimes it takes some practice to see them this way, especially if you are used to seeing them through ego eyes. For example, tent caterpillars. Here in the west, we generally consider them to be a great nuisance. If you’re a gardener or just want your trees to have leaves, tent caterpillars, in their great abundance and desperate hunger, are easily seen as the enemy.
When you blur your eyes with love a little, however, you may notice that they are fuzzy and


golden and curl their bodies gracefully when on the move. And they are the occasion for major celebration for robins, who feast on them with delight. Maybe this moth-face close-up will help you with the “love eyes.”

To help transform your frustration to delight, consider what tent caterpillars are capable of:

In early spring they hatch from eggs in a silken tent built to catch the morning sun. They “expand” the tent as they grow, and leave during the day to forage, returning to the tent in cooler temperatures and at night. In about a month, the caterpillars find a sheltered spot to weave a cocoon from their bodies, and in about two weeks emerge as a beautiful golden moth.

So, in six weeks they go from worm to wings.

What else are you seeing as a nuisance that could be a miracle, if you can blur your eyes a little?


Tiny warriors for Joy!

It’s hummingbird season here in the Pacific Northwest. In many cultures, hummingbirds are a symbol of joy, sweetness and balance.

They seem like tiny angels whose very existence  is a miracle. They go from flower to feeder in a nectar-scented cloud, defying the laws of gravity. They weigh less than an ounce, and flap their tiny wings 40-80 times per second.

However, they have another side.  (Cue ominous music…)

This week I’ve been watching the Rufous and Anna’s at the feeder on our front window, spellbound by their tiny antics. I’ve noticed that…

  • They are constantly chasing each other while emitting a helicopter-like buzzing sound and flaring their tail feathers to look bigger.
  • They swoop down with their tiny needle-like beaks poised for a fight.
  • While feeding, they remain vigilant, perched on eyelash-sized feet. They take breaks from drinking to scan the skies and trees, ready to attack if anyone should interrupt their meal, their thread-like tongues flicking out to get the last drops of nectar. (Table sugar boiled in water on my kitchen stove.)

I’ve been tempted to think that their joyful reputation was an oversimplification based on lack of understanding, since clearly they aren’t always in a good mood, let alone an angelic one.

And then it occurred to me: why should it be a contradiction to be a joyful warrior?

Our culture places these paradigms at opposite ends of a spectrum, implying that joy comes only through peace, or even passivity. And a warrior must be ever-vigilant to trouble, warding off feelings of contentment or rapture with adrenaline.

In my experience, however, joy arises when we create the conditions for it. It naturally emerges from a set of circumstances that are often of our own making. For example, when I get enough sleep, eat some protein for breakfast and spend 30 minutes engaged with the natural world in the morning, I tend toward Joy.

If I stay up too late watching Breaking Bad, have a cherry pop-tart for breakfast and start my workday in my pajamas, I tend toward stress, the opposite of Joy.

We often know exactly what we need to do to create the conditions for joy. The tough part, the part that requires a warrior’s focus and strength, is summoning the discipline to do what joy requires. In other words:

It takes work and discipline to create the conditions for joy.

A tiny creature that migrates about 5,000 miles each year must be very strong and vigilant to stay aloft and fed. So don’t you deserve the right to tend to your own basic needs for balance? Your existence is just as miraculous as a hummingbird’s.

Magnificent and…mean

In honor of the Independence Day holiday, I wanted to share this very brief recording of me describing an amazing display of power and persistence by our national bird, the Bald Eagle, and an Osprey.

We are all have the potential for an astonishing array of behavior. What will you choose today?

Click here for 3 minute audio blog