Political Dreamdoor Series

Dreamdoor Series: Part 3 – Eldership

Eldership grows in part from having experienced the issues yourself, having known yourself as both victim
and oppressor…Elders themselves have made the leap from one-sidedness to compassion.

~Arnold Mindell, PhD.  Sitting in the Fire.  Page 51.



It was my first political meeting.  We were starting to organize a local chapter.  The regional coordinator was in the area and called an impromptu early morning meeting to give us a quick orientation.  One of us had stepped forward to be the chapter leader.  The rest of us were ready to assist.


The meeting hadn’t gone for more than a few minutes before things became toxic.  One of our team abruptly criticized the leader for a series of recent, unclear communications.  The leader became immediately defensive.  The toxic back-and-forth escalated to the point of the leader taking on the role of victim and declaring a desire to leave the group.


Welcome to the team.


I know toxic communication when I hear it; in part because I’m a systems coach and toxic communication is a common failing of teams.  But my real expertise comes from my own unconscious use of toxic communication and having it damage relationships – both personal and professional.  I am a recovering toxic communicator.  I know toxins, especially the ones served up in this meeting:

  • Harsh Start Up – Beginning a conversation with an abrupt, negative and accusatory tone.  (Yup, been there, done that…)
  • Criticism / Blame – A complaint that attacks a person’s character or personality.  (I can chalk up the end of my first marriage in part to my mastery of this toxin.)
  • Defensiveness – Turning criticism and blame away, often back on the original criticizer.  Rather than diffusing the situation, defensiveness escalates it.  (Score three-for-three.)


The regional coordinator stepped in and quieted everyone down.  The incident was about to be stepped over when I stepped in.


“Before we move on, I just need to say a few things.  First, I hear both of your concerns.  You,” indicating the criticizer, “really want us to have clear, concise communications.  I agree.  This is really important.”


“And you”, indicating the defender, “want us to see that you are doing your best.  Thank you for being the one who stepped forward to lead the group.”


“As we go forward, can we remember that we are all coming from a place of good intent?”


The effect was immediate.  Everyone took a deep breath.  The feeling in the room softened and the meeting proceeded in a productive manner.  The leader agreed that it would be good to get some help with communications in the future.  Would anyone step up?


It was not my intent to step forward that day.  In fact it was the last thing I planned to do.  But I had come to take a stand and bring awareness.  My first lesson in eldership had begun.  “…The leader follows a plan; the elder honors the direction of a mysterious and unknown river.1


I was in.



[1] Mindell, Sitting in the Fire, Page 184.


Judith MacBrine dba The Mirror Group © Copyright 2012

Dreamdoor Series: Part 2 – Take a Stand

“…Facilitation is everyone’s responsibility. “Leader” types without facilitator-ship are old fashioned, thinking awareness+power are theirs. Yes, 99+1, all please take a firm stand, then all, please use awareness+
OCCUPY EVERYTHING . This helps the world change from power to awareness paradigms.”

~ http://www.aamindell.net/4098/news/2011-news/2011-january-through-may/, December 2011, Community??



In the back of my mind I heard Arny Mindell say, “Take a stand.”


I love to watch the CBS Sunday Morning nature segment.  Being transported to some beautiful place on earth with beautiful sounds of the elements and the flora and the fauna makes a good start to the week.  Overtime, my lazy Sunday morning TV-watching habit expanded to include the whole 90-minute show and then the following program, Face the Nation.  What juxtaposition:  the beauty of nature and the ugliness of Washington, DC.  I could hardly watch Face the Nation, but I did.


Take a stand.


Like many progressives, I get a lot of political emails.  Two organizations caught my eye.  The first presented political content that aligned with my world view.  The second presented a collaborative, respectful political process that aligned with my stand that “everyone is right…only partially,” so let’s work collaboratively together to get our growing list of frightening problems handled.


It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of our political system.  That’s probably why I liked being a government bureaucrat rather than a political staffer.  Contrary to popular belief, bureaucrats transform legislation into programs and projects.  Politicians…not so much these days.  So much nastiness.  What can one middle-aged woman, living comfortably in educated, affluent Davis  do that could possibly make a difference?


Take a stand.


But who am I?  Someone trained to “sit in the fire” like Arny Mindell.


Take a stand.


But who am I?  Someone trained to be present as a response-able Shambhala “spiritual warrior.”


Take a stand.


But who am I?  Someone certified as a systems coach who can listen and call forward both the majority and marginalized voices of the system and hold a space for “deep democracy” to happen.


But it’s soooo much easier to stay hidden and safe.


Take a stand.


On one side of the Political Dreamdoor was someone upset about our political system, watching from the sidelines.  On the other side of the Political Dreamdoor was someone who actively works to bring about the “what’s next” of our political system.


In April, I stepped through the door and made my first Congressional visit for the group wanting to change our political process.  Despite my three decades in government, I was surprised how nervous I was, just talking to a legislator’s field representative.  In May I took another step by joining my first political protest sponsored by the political group that aligns with my world view.


I took a stand…and walked from the sidelines…through the dreamdoor…into the fire…challenging myself to be aware.


Judith MacBrine dba The Mirror Group © Copyright 2012

Dreamdoor Series: Part 1 – Blue Jays and Pheasant

Dreamdoor – those events that catch and hold our attention…a potential opening to another world, another realm.  It is a door, an opening, an invitation that can be taken, or not.

~Arnold Mindell, PhD, The Dreammaker’s Apprentice, page 159.



It was New Year’s Day 2012.  I was in my office.  The window shade was up to let the sun from the front yard stream in.


Screech!  Screech!  Screech!  Screech!  I looked out the window and saw three bright blue jays.  One was in the tree squawking emphatically down at the two other birds in an epic blue jay battle.  One jay was on top of the other.  Feathers were flying.  The jay in the tree was screeching, seemingly cheering on the blue jay gladiators.


I’d never seen anything like this before and it shook me.  I ran to the window and began banging on it to get the birds to stop.  I even threw the window open to yell at them.  They finally flew away leaving feathers on my lawn and me in distress.


I couldn’t shake the feeling of this bird battle.  For some reason it reminded me of our political system:  two parties battling each other to the death and the media sitting up in its pundit’s perch, enjoying the battle, urging it on, providing commentary.


An hour or more went by and I still could not shake my feeling of discomfort.  In times like this, I turn to my bicycle and ride my four-mile circuit to exorcise my demons.  Often, when I’ve gone two miles or so, something lifts and I can find some new perspective.


It was at that two-mile mark that I caught sight of a female pheasant.  I’ve seen male pheasants in the open field further up the street, but never a lone female.  She was hiding between a fence and some plantings near the sidewalk close to the greenbelt.  I slowed and made a big circle back to the pheasant’s hiding place for a second look.  The pheasant flew away.


I don’t know what it was about that pheasant, but the discomfort of the blue jay battle lifted and I was filled with hope.


Somewhere, hidden from view, discrete women are busy nurturing the “what’s next.”  The time of loud squawking blue jays is coming to a close.  Despite the continuing squawk that fills our airwaves, something fertile is being nurtured away from the noise and glare.


Judith MacBrine dba The Mirror Group © Copyright 2012