Until recently I felt I wasn’t a terribly creative person.  Somehow, the message I got as a kid was that being creative was the pinnacle of being human, and it just seemed that I got the short end of the stick.  One of my earliest memories is of “cheating” on a 6-year old birthday party activity that involved drawing a rabbit with our eyes closed – I was already stressed out about not being artistic enough!  In college, I fell in love with (and later married) a music major, who also is an amazing writer, and I tended to let him be the “creative” side of our partnership.

On a Soul Renewal journey a few years ago, however, one of the participants said something that has made me rethink what creativity is.  She said the most creative act any of us can do is to look at something in a new way.  It seems basic – almost too simple – but when I really fully change the lens I’m using, it “creates” a new reality, perspective or story.  As I’ve put it into practice, it’s become one of the most powerful tools I have when I need to shift something in my life.

Around the same time, I started to actively look for other aspects of creativity.  In my mind, creative = artistic, and since I didn’t see that I had much artistic talent (as I defined it, at least), I had never really looked at other sides of it.  But what about creating a company…and then recreating it over time?  Or creating wilderness journeys?  Or creating two children?

And so, I’ve come to think of myself as more creative these days, but I know I’ve barely scratched the surface in terms of exploring what creativity is – and how it can influence our lives.  That’s a big part of why Larry Glover and I “created” our spring journey this year, “Inspired by Nature: A Journey into CR1022Creativity,” co-hosted with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.  It runs from May 11-15 and will be held in the land that O’Keeffe loved so much.  Click here or email me to learn more:  cheryl@leadfeather.org.

I’m catching up on some of my magazine reading this week and came across a very cool article in Sierra about awe.  As a researcher, I love reading about scientific studies that help explain why I feel things. As someone who helps people venture out into the wilderness, I found it even more fascinating, since apparently much of the time that we experience awe, it happens in nature.

Even though the word “awesome” is ubiquitous these days, the word awe technically means something pretty specific – a combination of respect, fear and wonder, all rolled into one feeling.  Most of us have experienced it, whether in the presence of amazing natural beauty, the birth of a child or perhaps a spiritual awakening.  Jake Abrahamson, the article’s author, describes awe as “when people encounter a vast and unexpected stimulus, something that makes them feel small and forces them to revise their mental models of what’s possible in the world.”

Psychologists are finding that being in a state of awe “can have profoundly positive effects on people.”  According to studies, “in its wake, people act more generously and ethnically, think more critically when encountering persuasive stimuli, like arguments or advertisements, and often feel a deeper connection to others and the world in general.  Awe prompts people to redirect concern away from the self and toward everything else.”

This last part really resonates with me, as I think back to when I first got the idea to create these types of wilderness journeys that build bridges between Native Americans and non-Natives.  Back in 2007, in anticipation of the first journey that I participated in with Duane Kinnart and Van Archiquette, I thought the journey might be a chance to reflect on my worklife – what I wanted to accomplish and in what direction I should take my company.  Not small questions, but definitely self-oriented.  At the end of the journey, I left with a much larger idea – to help others experience nature as a way to experience their most authentic selves.  It really wasn’t enough to focus on me…I’d get to do that too on these journeys, but I now felt a strong need and desire to share myself with others, in a way I hadn’t ever felt before.  The Ojibwa belief that we are all one – you, me, the trees, the wind, the eagles – seemed to have implanted itself firmly in my heart and soul.  There was no going back – thankfully!

As we get ready for our 7th Family Journey in Michigan’s wooded Upper Peninsula, I am so grateful to be able to share an awe-filled week with other families.  Seeing the kids’ sheer joy in catching frogs, amazement at the stars, and wonder in the sweat lodge, it all carries me back to that initial moment on Isle Royale in 2007 and makes me smile all over.

(Big thanks go to my old friend Rolf Winters for creating the Personal Leadership Journeys and inviting me until I said yes!)

The White place

I recently had the pleasure of being a guest on Mary-Charlotte Domandi’s Radio Cafe show on Santa Fe’s public radio station, KSFR.  Travis Teller, the Dine/Navajo medicine man who hosts Lead Feather’s Canyon de Chelly journeys, joined me for the conversation.

It was the first time I’d been interviewed for a radio show and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect — especially since Mary-Charlotte hadn’t spoken with Travis before, nor had she and I talked about how she was planning to connect our stories.  Thirty minutes was suddenly seeming like a lot of time to fill!

Mary-Charlotte, who has hosted the show for over a decade, is a total pro though and made us both feel at ease.  Taping the show at the Santa Fe Baking Company helped too, with its relaxed atmosphere and delicious scones — hard to be stressed there.

Travis and I began creating wilderness journeys together in 2010 and share a lot of the same perspectives on life, nature, our connection to everything and how much seeing things through another lens can help each of us.  We have a lot of fun with what we do and I’m always grateful to share time in the canyon with him on his family land.  Interested in joining us?  Check out this fall’s Canyon de Chelly journey and see how you can feel more connected too — to family and friends, to the earth…and ultimately to yourself.

Click to here to listen to or download the show.


Today I hiked one of my favorite trails, and off to the side where very few people see, is a beautiful medicine wheel made from stones and pine cones.  I have no idea who created it but am so grateful for its presence.  I go there to reconnect to the idea that each of the four direction is distinct and offers its own gifts to the world.  According to my Ojibwa friends in the northern woods of Michigan, East represents rebirth and spirit, with the natural element of fire.  South is for emotional growth, with the element of water.  The West is the physical world, represented by earth.  And the North, associated with winter, is represented by air and wind.

During last year’s Soul Renewal Retreat (link), one of the participants, my dear friend Liz Monroe-Cook, noted that one of the most creative acts is thinking of something with a new lens – akin to standing at the medicine wheel at a different point.  It seemed simple at the time, but as I put this into practice I see how powerful it is.  Just this weekend I was reflecting on something in my past that I had come to think of as something that had made me stronger, but that was essentially a negative influence.  It was something that, even after years passing, I still felt badly about.  It occurred to me that there might be another way of looking at it and I tried Liz’s suggestion of looking at it with a new lens.  I wondered – what would it look like if I thought of this as a positive influence?  I journaled a bit and soon I had this marvelous realization that this “negative” thing that felt like it had broken me open had actually been what made it possible for me to change and become more open and loving.  Without it, I might have stayed shut down and probably wouldn’t have the strong and loving relationships I have today.  I’ve started to look on this initial experience as a gift….not that I’ve been able to leave behind all bad feelings, but more and more gratitude is seeping in.

The medicine wheel represents this process for me.  How I feel about something usually is one point of view — being at one place on the wheel, one spoke.  If I need more insight or want a new vantage point, I can move to another place on the wheel and imagine what a rebirthing of that issue might be, or if it were like water and flowed easily.  What might this kind of reframing do if we all used it when we were feeling badly about something?  I look forward to exploring it more.