Listening for Fearlessness.

Participants in my Storytelling! The Musical workshop at Soul Camp West. These five fearless adults improvised their original mini musical called "Under the Pond! The musical." about a bitter and jaded bass who falls in love with a Stand Up Paddle Boarder who falls into the pond.  #nailingit #creativity #freedom #selfexpression

Participants in my Storytelling! The Musical workshop at Soul Camp West. These five fearless adults improvised their original mini musical called "Under the Pond! The musical." about a bitter and jaded bass who falls in love with a Stand Up Paddle Boarder who falls into the pond.  #nailingit #creativity #freedom #selfexpression

I just returned from Soul Camp West 2016 and my chakras are aligned, my angels have been channelled, and my spirit is nourished.  This Soul Camp experience proved to be far more introspective than my Soul Camp East experience.  I led two "Storytelling! The Musical" workshops, facilitated a conversation around Hacking the Fear of Public Speaking, and MC'd the talent show.   As I reflect on the highlights and takeaways from this experience, I'm immediately sent back to the Talent Show.

As a public speaking coach, I oftentimes take for granted the courage it takes to stand onstage and allow oneself to be revealed.  After years of doing it professionally it can become "just another day at the office."  At Soul Camp, I was reminded of the emotional and psychological hurdles many leap to cover the distance from offstage to onstage.  "Talent Show" doesn't adequately describe the experience. It is a Generosity Fest.  One after the other, participants stood onstage and sang, danced, shared stories, performed stand up, and played the drums.  Their offering was genuine.  There was nothing to prove.  There was nothing to show off.  There was an authenticity, vulnerability and sincerity to each participant's share that captivated us in the audience for over 3 hours.  3 HOURS!  No intermission.  Millenials sitting still for 3 hours.  Miracle - No.  I believe it was connected to the intention of the evening.  The audience knew that their job was to hold space.  They had a responsibility to show up, listen, love and give back.  The audience was responsible for witnessing and acknowledging the breakthroughs on stage.  The performers offered us their soul, their story, their humanity.  We received it and offered our souls, our hearts, our humanity.  It was magical.

So here's my request for the coming weeks: Where can you take on listening from a space of generosity and acknowledge the breakthroughs happening all around you?  I guarantee they're happening.  You just have to be present and listening to catch them.  Please feel free to share on our Facebook page!

Below we have information about our upcoming events.  I'm excited to be hosted by Mt. Holyoke College in Mid November, and thrilled to be sharing our third A Fearless Force: Public Speaking for Visionary Women Leaders in New York City in partnership with the Centre for Social Innovation.  To order tickets for the final presentations on December 8, 2016, click here!

Bringing in the Namaste! Soul Camp 2016

Campers participating in my Musical Theater Improvisation Workshop at Soul Camp East 2016.

Campers participating in my Musical Theater Improvisation Workshop at Soul Camp East 2016.

 

Okay.  I’ll admit it.  I was a skeptic.  I had been asked by founders Michelle Goldblum and Alison Leipzig to attend Soul Camp East 2016 (a sleep away camp for adults) at Camp Echo Lake in the Catskills last December.  I had just finished performing in a cabaret and immediately after the performance they both ran up to me and asked me to lead a workshop on musical theater improvisation.  I said yes.  It looked like a lot of fun.  Could all those campers be so happy?  Could there really be that much love?  Could it really be that much fun?

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon (8 months later) with the intention of creating space.  It was good to get out of NYC and play in open fields and stare at the stars.  We don’t look up in Manhattan, it’s not only a dead give away that you’re a tourist, but we’re also moving quickly on to the next thing.  We have a subway to catch, or running late to an appointment, or meeting up with a friend who lives five minutes away who you still only manage to see once a year.  I took advantage of every opportunity to rest, eat and laugh.  There was intenSati, Yoga, chakra clearings, numerology workshops and conversations with Shamans.  It was Hogwarts for the Soul.

In my accountability as Musical Theater Improv Teacher and MC for the Talent Show, I didn’t quite know how best to serve the campers.  With Fearless Communicators, I work with clients to unlock their voice and unleash their story.  I was not clear on how a one hour workshop, creating mini musicals, could have a similar impact.  No need to worry on my part, in the three workshops I led, voices were unlocked and stories were unleashed!  In teams of 5-6, campers improvised and performed original mini musicals set at Camp.  They plots ranged from an Alien Invasion to Mother Theresa running away from a traveling circus to become Camp Director.  The teams created a narrative arc using 5 snippets of songs to tell the story.  The five songs fit into the following order: Opening Number, I Want Song, Song of Villain/Antagonist, Climax Song, Grand Finale.  Several participants shared that they were terrified of performing and had a breakthrough in allowing themselves to sing and dance in public.  Some participants had been shutdown as children and told they had no business singing.  Some participants had studied theatre and had not performed in years, embittered by the business of "show business".  Most participants who attended the workshop said they came because it was the course on the schedule that most terrified them.  Perfect opportunity to give away FEARLESS bracelets!  One woman shared with me that after my class, and with the fearless bracelet on her wrist, she went to the sky village obstacle course that included a zip line.  She confessed to me that she would never have done that before my class. From show tunes to zip lines! How's that for Fearless!!!!!

Being the MC for the Talent Show proved to be an even greater gift.  More than the witty banter and silly introductions, I was most pleased with the intention of generosity for the festivities.  The occurring to me of most talent shows is a selfish and  unbearable.  "HEY THERE! LOOK AT ME! LOOK WHAT I CAN DO!"  The evening was anything but unbearable.  We sat for three hours - without an intermission- mesmerized as campers, counselors, and teachers shared personal stories, original songs, silly acts, and choreography.  People bared their souls and it was a gift to behold.  The performances also became an opportunity for the performers to practice being acknowledged.  Several times I had to call the performer back onstage to give them the space to receive the acknowledgement of their community.

So I’m now back in Brooklyn, caverns of internal space created, and reflecting on the experience of Soul Camp 2016.  The work that I do now with clients: voice, body, fearless self expression, acknowledgement was all present not only in what I was teaching at the camp, but most importantly in who I was being at the camp.  It didn’t look exactly like the workshops I lead now and none of that matters.  The campers were courageous, playful and fearlessly self expressed.  I'm excited to see what they create.  

I am not a Soul Camp skeptic any longer.   I’m all in. Can't wait 'til next year. #namaste #nailingit #yas

Nowhere else I would rather be!

Members of the 2016 Muslim Jewish Conference Arts and Culture Committee.

Members of the 2016 Muslim Jewish Conference Arts and Culture Committee.

“Why are you here?”  It’s a question that I get often from the participants at the annual Muslim Jewish Conference (MJC).  First of all, I’m neither a Muslim or Jewish.  I was raised Catholic and currently consider myself a secular humanist.  My religious identity, or lack of a religious identity, is not the determining factor of my participation.  Upon reflection, what inspires me about the MJC, is the international community of volunteers and participants who choose to gather and engage in dialogue and creation.  There are two stories from each of my MJC experiences that are indicative of why I go and why it’s important.

Last year during the interfaith Shabbat service, which happens on the Friday evening of the conference, the community was asked to walk on stage and light the Shabbos candles.  The auditorium had been set up and partitioned depending on the needs of certain observant participants.  There was a partition set up for the men who chose to pray with men and a partition set up for the women who chose to pray only with women.  The vast majority of the participants and staff sat in the mixed section.  At the beginning of the service I had noticed that their was one Israeli orthodox woman who was sitting by herself.  As I walked up the stairs to light the candles, I looked again, and she was no longer sitting alone, she was sitting with a Pakistani muslim woman wearing hijab.  

As co chair of the Arts and Culture committee this year, we asked our participants to bring objects that remind them of home and/or connects them to their religious identity.  They were asked to share a story about the object.  We had two participants this year from South Africa, one Jewish and one Muslim.  The Muslim participant went first.  He brought a scarf that he carries with him at all times.  Several years ago he got into an argument with his mother.  Seeking a place of refuge and comfort he ran to the mosque only to find that the mosque was locked.  In that moment, he remembered he had his scarf.  He laid it down facing mecca and started to pray.  The Jewish participant brought the tefillin that he was given on his bar mitzvah.  He doesn’t wear them anymore and yet travels with them.  He keeps them close just in case he will need them again.  In this simple exercise I immediately became connected to two distinct and yet parallel stories about religious identity amongst the backdrop of the political, racial and cultural landscape that is South Africa.   

There are intersections and interruptions that happen because of the Muslim Jewish Conference.  This is par for the course when you have over 100 participants from 30 plus countries represented.  Your views, opinions, beliefs, assumptions are all challenged.

The past two conferences have ended the same.  Gaggles of participants lying in a hotel lobby, telling stories, playing music, hugging each other, and speaking loudly.  No one wants to go home.  They stay up all night long, a vigil of possibility.  The hope that to spite difference, we can still come together, eat together, speak together, create together and love together.  So when asked again by a participant, “Why are you here?”  My new answer is - there's no where else I would rather be.

Fearless Launch! #fearlessfriday

This is the energy that is present when creating a Fearless Vision Session with the team at mobilize in San Francisco. 

This is the energy that is present when creating a Fearless Vision Session with the team at mobilize in San Francisco. 

It's launch day.  As CEO and FOUNDER of Fearless Communicators, I have been suffering from an acute strain of Fear of Launch.  The inner perfectionist has been at work for weeks resisting, avoiding, delaying, and hiding.  Now as someone who engages in a myriad of internal and external conversations around the topic of fear I have been able to distinguish that at the root of the inaction and avoidance is the belief that no one will care.  How many times are we blocked from sharing a great idea?  How many times do we prevent ourselves from speaking up and declaring what we want?  How many times are we stopped because we are afraid of other people's response?

In my experience there is only one way to counter the fear of launch- just launch.  SO here it is.  Our new website.  I'm so excited to share this with our present and ever growing global community of fearless communicators making a difference in the world.  April is a very exciting month.  Next week I lead the first Unlock Your Voice workshop in New York City, the first part of the Fearless Communicator Curriculum.  In two weeks I will be leading again at the Bravehearts Men's Retreat in Bermuda.  The end of April culminates with a #supercaliferosh event at the Center for Social Innovation called A Fearless Force: Public Speaking for Visionary Women Leaders.  Keep May 4th blocked off on your calendar - this will be the live event.  It has been a thrilling journey so far and I can't wait to meet more of you and continue to amplify your voice and unleash your story on the world.  1 -2 - 3- Launch and move lightly!

 
Lightly, lightly - it’s the best advice ever given to me . . . to throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly my darling . . . “
— Aldous Huxley, Island
 

Fearlessly Present

FLASHBACK: It has been a full day in Matoso.  From a presentation by the students at SCHAP School and a meeting with the SCHAP SCHOOL Board, to a conversation with community members in another village about the possibility of support for their CBO, to a motorcycle ride through south eastern Kenya watching swarms of people coming to and from villages for Market Day.  We finally stopped to recharge my phones at the SCHAP School which was the only space that had an outlet which was connected to solar panels.  It had been a full day.  My senses were shot.  I wanted to capture everything.  Every second that passed was another missed photo opportunity to capture the essence of my south eastern Kenyan experience.  I ultimately surrendered - I wasn’t going to capture everything, but I could be present to everything I witnessed.  It was exhausting.  As my synapses were recovering from information overload, I noticed from my vantage point that the sun was setting over Lake Victoria.  I walked to the fence of the school and stood silently as I watched this daily occurrence in a foreign setting.  From where I was standing I could see Uganda and Tanzania as well.  For many of the villagers this event was just a marker of another day, for me it was an opportunity to breathe and focus on the beauty of this gift - the explosion of color that erupts from the horizon as the sun disappears for the evening.  So I stood, quietly with my new friend Maurice and just watched.  No soundtrack.  No selfies.  Just silence and my breath in a foreign land watching one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever witnessed. 

FLASH PRESENT: I reflect on this exercise and discipline of being present as I sit in a coffee shop in Ashland, OR.  Ashland and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival were my home for two years.  I have intentionally not been virtually present over this week sharing on Facebook and Instagram as I normally do.  It has been a new discipline this week to be present with people and not "present with the intention to post" which is a space I normally occupy in my entrepreneurial, extroverted space.  The simple gift of conversation and intimacy with dear friends and colleagues in a community that I called home and continue to call home has turned into a huge opportunity to recharge.  I have had the privilege of sharing with my community here the personal accounts of my travels which so many have been following on virtual platforms.  I have been loved from afar, and it feels really good to be present to the love in person.  

It is enough to just be present.  Not dwelling on the past.  Not uberfocused on the future and the next.  There is plenty of time for that.  Whether you are staring at a sunset in Matoso, Kenya or sitting in a coffee shop in Ashland, OR sometimes the the gift and space of presence is fearlessly enough.

Kenyan Hotbeds: Part 1

Peter and his son Eduardo outside of their home in Matoso.  Matoso is a HOTBED of joy and family.

Peter and his son Eduardo outside of their home in Matoso.  Matoso is a HOTBED of joy and family.

There is so much of Kenya in the recent weeks and months that have been mired by the “Hotbed of Terror” CNN incident.  In sharing with family members and colleagues about my travel to Kenya, I was greeted by the coded language of our “Fear mongering” media blitz - BE VIGILANT.  I was not present to any “hotbeds” of terror during my 12 days in Kenya, but did witness others.  So I saw something and I’m going to say something. 

HOTBED of ADVENTURE

"No worries.  This is Africa!" Those words became a mantra as I sat behind Peter and the “boda boda” (motorcycle) driver as we rode through dirt roads that make up the rural southwestern Kenyan landscape.  I had arrived from Berlin the night before and starting at 11:00AM I began a 12 hour journey through Kenya to the home of Peter and his family.  The Guardian Angel bus would get me only three quarters of the way there.  The remaining passengers were packed into a large van which got us to Migori.  Once in Migori, I met with Peter and then 10 of us crammed into a car for another 45 minute drive.  There were 4 people in the front, four in the back, two little children and a trunk full of bananas.  Once we got out of the car, I thought we were done.  It is then that Peter turned to me and pointed at the motorcycle.   The driver, Peter, myself and my luggage bounced up and down on the winding dirt roads.  We arrived to the gate of Peter’s property and were promptly met by the little boy who was in many ways the greatest reason for the visit.  Peter, the director of the SCHAP Community School had named his first born son after me.  Little adventurous Eduardo had fearlessly walked alone from the house to the gate in complete darkness and he’s barely two years old.  

HOTBED OF GENEROSITY

Peter and his wife slept on the floor of their humble home to make sure that I slept in the only bed in their one bedroom home.  They slept on the floor along with their two year old son.  Everywhere I travelled in Kenya people went out of their way express unmatched generosity and kindness to me.

HOTBED OF INTEGRITY

There was a knock on the door at the home I was staying in Nairobi.  I wasn’t paying much attention because I was sorting through my luggage, preparing for an imminent departure to Bermuda.  The call came from downstairs that there was someone at the door for me.  I was a little confused, slightly excited . . . who could possibly be at the door to wish me off right before I was getting ready to leave.  I walked down the flights of stairs to the front door.  As I opened the door, I saw the taxi driver who had shuttled me around Nairobi for the later part of the afternoon through storms and bumper to bumper traffic. James reached out his hands and gave me my passport.  I had left it in the back seat.  He drove all the way back to Lavington to make sure that I had my passport.  I was probably 30 minutes to an hour from making the discovery and that would have been a complete shit show.  

Several FEARLESS students from the SCHAP Community School.  The SCHAP Community School is a HOTBED of Possibility.

Several FEARLESS students from the SCHAP Community School.  The SCHAP Community School is a HOTBED of Possibility.

Muslim Jewish Conference: Putting it all together

A magical walk through the Spandau Forest that included an impromptu serenade with my new friends.

A magical walk through the Spandau Forest that included an impromptu serenade with my new friends.

It has taken me five years to join the team of the Muslim Jewish Conference.  I was introduced to the FEARLESS Leader Ilja Sichrovsky five years ago.  He is a full hearted, passionate, bull headed Austrian with a penchant for cigarettes and red bull.  My dear friend Daniel Pincus had just returned from the second MJC in Kiev.  It was decided that I must attend the next one.  My acting career intervened, and only now have I been able to attend.  I kept getting asked "How did you get involved with the MJC?"  The response was easy . . . "How could I not get involved with the MJC."

That it met my expectations is an understatement.  I will share three brief moments of hundreds that continue to resonate. 

Ahmad is an Egyptian, who was involved in the Tahrir Square uprisings.  We sat on the bus leaving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as he recounted his experience of marching from the local mosque to the now infamous square on that thrilling January morning in Cairo.  As the protesters walked he recounted the escalation of violence from the authorities . . tear gas . . . water hoses . . . rubber bullets . . . single shots and then open fire.  I was transfixed by his storytelling until another attendee interrupted asking a non related question.  I’m still waiting to hear how it ends.  

Then there was Maryam, a Pakistani Social Impact Entrepreneur and the Vice Secretary General of MJC.  She wowed us with a definitive FEARLESS SPEECH at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin.  She emblazoned the hall saying “It is not the perpetrator of violence that is most dangerous, it is the silent bystander that does nothing.”  She continued, “You are not obligated to complete - you are not permitted to abandon.”  It was a clarion call for action.  DO SOMETHING.  

The most emblematic for me was a brief snapshot during the Interfaith Shabbat Service.  The coordinators were inclusive of various expressions of Judaism, from Orthodox to Reform - Sephardic to Ashkenazi - Israeli to American.  Panels were set up for the Orthodox participants who chose to worship with their own gender.  There was only one Orthodox woman who chose to sit in the allotted section.  As we approached the stage to light the shabbos candles, I noticed that sitting next to this woman was a muslim woman in hijab.  She joined her so that she wouldn’t sit alone.  A simple gesture - the gift of presence.  

I am a better man for having participated in the Muslim Jewish Conference.  My heart is full from the people I met and the humanity that I witnessed during those seven days in Berlin.   I am enlivened and challenged by the conversations that erupted from the intersection of over 120 strangers from over 40 countries.  As the conference was ending I found myself approaching absolute strangers and attempting to connect before it was all over.  I became present to my individual historical narrative and the biases I bring to the global political shifts from my privileged American perspective.  

I am grateful for Ilja who is a miracle worker - a man who has worked tirelessly to ensure that this event happens every year and honored he kept his promise to bring me five years ago.  I am blessed for being able to share a week with one of my greatest friends in the world and a true inspiration to me, Dan Pincus.  I am humbled to be in the company of so many fearless people committed to creating new spaces for interfaith cooperation, understanding, love and PEACE!  I can't wait for the next one. Azucar!

We've only just begun...

Maryam Mohiuddin Ahmad, Eduardo Placer and Daniel Pincus #working together - a Muslim, a Catholic and a Jew.

Maryam Mohiuddin Ahmad, Eduardo Placer and Daniel Pincus #working together - a Muslim, a Catholic and a Jew.

We haven’t even begun the conference and the wonder and joy of the interfaith work of Muslim Jewish Conference has already shattered my expectations.  Last night an international team of collaborators - which included three Americans, a Frenchman, a Pakistani woman, a turkish woman, and a Bangladeshi-American woman- researched two projects, born out of Pakistan,  called Mothers Agains Terror and The History Project.  

Mothers Against Terror, brings together an international team of collaborators, through Humanyst, an organization which brings together ordinary leaders to create a better world.  This project will bring together mothers who have suffered at the hands of violent extremists to take on the root causes of this violent expression in their home communities.  This organization believes that thefamilies of the victims are the best poised to make the greatest impact to shift the tide of radicalization at the local level.  They are currently connecting mothers of the 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram and the mothers of the 132 boys who were brutally murdered by the Taliban at the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan.  These mothers will be given financial support to be trained in deradicalization and reintegration of radical youth.  

The History Project is committed to the importance of multiple perspectives to historical narratives, especially as represented or misrepresented in history textbooks.  In 2013, a combination of forty Pakistanis and Indians published a new textbook that pieced together side by side accounts of the different perspectives on the same historical event.  These books were first released in Lahore, Pakistan and Mumbai, India to huge success.  The hope is to replicate this model in other conflict zones to give students helpful tools so that students gain an awareness to alternative perspectives to their historical narrative.

The Conference begins today and I’m already beaming with the formal and informal international collaborative potential of my fellow team members.  Here we go!

Fear of Getting it Right by Sean Ronayne

 Sean Ronayne swinging fearlessly over the Andes in the Casa del Arbol in Ecuador.

 Sean Ronayne swinging fearlessly over the Andes in the Casa del Arbol in Ecuador.

ECUADOR 2015

I started taking Spanish class in third grade. My teacher was Mrs. Dominicis. She was fabulous, fiery, and loved to dance— a legend. As I stood in the lobby of the Great Backpacker’s Hostel in Banos, Ecuador, last week, I thought of how disappointed she would be if she saw me standing silent next to Meri.  Meri completely handled our check- in.  I would say that I picked up about every fifth word because of context clues. I could tell from observing her that we were good to go with our room.  Patricio, the handsome man who worked at the hostel, had already started to fall in love with my friend who he called “Merisol,” I thought it was cute. 

This was the first full length conversation in Spanish I witnessed since arriving in Ecuador six hours earlier. I wasn’t distraught at my inability to understand.  I was groggy from a pair of flights and a four hour bus ride. I chalked it up to exhaustion.

The next morning I woke up exhilarated by my surroundings. Mountains dwarfed the the town, and everywhere you turned clouds appeared close enough to touch. Back in the lobby, we ate breakfast, and again, I creeped quietly behind Meri as she asked Patricio how we could get to Casa Del Arbol, home to the swing off the edge of the world. From their conversation, I understood that we had to catch a bus in town, so we thanked Patricio and made our way out. 

As we walked down the street I admitted to Meri how impressed I was at her Spanish. Despite having studied the language for upwards of ten years, I realized that I was horrified to use it with a native speaker. My mind buzzed through a slough of possible scenarios I was likely to face over the next nine days of travel. Meri could see my growing despair and reassured me that I would be okay. She insisted that I knew more than I thought and would have no trouble talking to people.

We walked a few blocks, and Meri asked some locals for directions. She seemed to make friends with each person we saw, forming an automatic connection with everyone we encountered. We came to the corner where we thought we could catch the bus.  We looked around and decided the convenience store on the corner was our best bet to confirm where we were going. We stepped inside and it was a small store. The counter was about five feet away from the door. I suddenly felt nervous.

I entered in front of Meri and was face to face with two workers from the store. They looked eagerly at us and I stepped forward to ask some clarifying questions.  My internal voice said, “Questions. Right, I need to to ask a question, using words, expressing thought.”  I actually said, “Umm … El Bus?” I pointed out the window towards the top of the street.  They stared back politely.  I continued, “El bus…esta en esta calle?”  I held my breath. 

“Si! El bus. Esta alli.” They smiled and we all laughed a bit. Wow. That was shockingly smooth, easy even. I hadn’t made a fool of myself, and the men even seemed charmed.

In that moment, I released my fear to communicate, to connect to another human being, to admit with a shrug of the shoulders or a quick laugh that I didn’t know a word. I wasn’t shunned or mocked. I was encouraged and engaged.  I gave myself a moment to think about what I needed to say, took a breathe, and spoke the words that came to my mind.  I remembered that as a person, I can’t really help but communicate with those around me. We are programmed to do it if we can just get out of our own way. I couldn’t help but think how proud Mrs. Dominicis would be of me today.