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Passing on the Mantle of Leadership with Intention and Grace
~ Transition of Leadership in the Vermont Pathwork ~
(Article written by Isabelle Meulnet, co-leader of Pathwork Vermont in May 2014)
Sahra Aschenbach is a student in her third year of studies in the Helpership Development Program (HDP3) of the New York region when she envisions and creates Pathwork Vermont (PWKVT). The year is 1996. For the next ten years, PWKVT is run like a personal business, and Sahra operates as its sole proprietor.
The upside of this arrangement is that it keeps things simple; the downside is that, as every year brings more students, PWKVT is growing beyond the point where one person can realistically manage it. Also, on the financial level, the lines between Sahra’s personal and PWKVT’s accounts get sometimes blurry, as Sahra does not hesitate to use her own money to fund a program, a workshop or a class.
In 2006, Sahra -approaching 71 years - is facing the reality that she is aging. Although she is doing all that is possible to keep this aging process healthy and graceful, she is realizing that there are no 100% guarantees that her good health will last as long as she might wish for Pathwork Vermont to be a viable and growing organization. Holding all the roles has become too challenging now that PWKVT has grown significantly and is offering PTP and HDP programs as well as Summer Retreats, Lecture Study groups, workshops, and intensives. She needs help. All throughout that year, she inquires into: What does the future of Pathwork Vermont look like? Who are the next leaders? What will the transition of leadership look like? Sahra intends to undertake this venture thoughtfully and without the pressure of time.
In April of 2006, a vision emerges of stepping down “sometime during the next few years; of being replaced by existing members of the Pathwork VT community, who will be answering the call to leadership. My longing is for Pathwork Vermont to thrive as I begin the process of letting go over the next four years. My vision is that I will remain actively involved as Pathwork Vermont becomes a fully functioning organization that has its own vision and mission, its own governance, a stable financial foundation, and is a visible presence which is attracting students to study and become part of our growing community. I am also holding a vision that Pathwork Vermont will remain an active and vital presence in the North American Pathwork Association as well as in the Pathwork worldwide, which it is now.” (Excerpt from a letter sent by Sahra to the Pathwork Vermont Community in April 2006)
What follows is a description of Sahra ‘s process of passing on the mantle of leadership.
I. Old Leadership ~ 1 leader
a) Brainstorming Process
In 2006 , all throughout our residential weekends, students from both Transformation and Helpership programs are invited to join Sahra in informal breakfast meetings to brainstorm and envision the future of PWKVT. Sahra proposes the re-structuring of PWKVT into a non-profit organization and the creation of a Leadership Team. She patiently describes all the many roles she has been holding for the last ten years- the “hats she wears” as she says- such as financial administrator, program director, curriculum designer, summer retreat creator and registrar, contact person for PWKVT, outreach person and visionary.
“I believe that what I am proposing is essential for Pathwork Vermont to continue to grow. I think it is very possible, if we start the work now, to have all of this in place by 2010 or 2011 I truly believe that we have the spirit and enthusiasm, vision and ingenuity, courage and integrity to embark on this exciting journey together.” (Excerpt from a letter sent by Sahra to the PWKVT community in April 2006)
By June of 2006, out of the committed collaboration of the members of a Re-organization Team, Pathwork Vermont’s mission and vision statement is created.
During the summer of 2006, Sahra contacts a lawyer and an accountant/CPA specializing in non-profit organizations. With their help, she begins the complicated and lengthy paperwork process required by the IRS.
b) Turning point: International Pathwork Conference in Mexico
In July 2007, Sahra - whose eyesight is rapidity failing - MJ and I - “her seeing eyes” as she calls us - fly to the Mexico International Pathwork Conference. Our mission is to learn how other Pathwork regions/countries have organized themselves.
The Mexican Pathwork reveals itself to us in two beautiful and inspiring ceremonies:
1. The Opening Ceremony – “ In the Alchemy of the Crucible, Pathwork Mexico was born - is led by Andre Leites, founder and director of Pathwork Mexico. Andres tells of his 20 years long, and at times difficult, journey to bring the Pathwork Guide teachings to Mexico. He shares the history of Pathwork Mexico: how it came out of the split from the Phoenicia Center after Eva's death; its struggle to stay alive; the conscious choice, ten years ago, to separate from the rest of the Pathwork world and the isolation that followed; its current state of 84 helpers, 20 teachers and 600 students and the longing of its members to reach out and re-connect with other pathworkers; which guided them to organize and create this International Pathwork Conference, bridging themselves with the Pathwork worldwide.
Throughout the week, the Vermont Team mingles with Pathwork leaders from all over the world. We ask what works and what does not work in their organization. We are curious to find out which regions are thriving / expanding and which ones are struggling / diminishing and why.
We seek the advice from Pathwork elders. From them we learn that what best support expansion is the ability of leaders to surrender their self-will to the highest good of the group. We notice that successful and thriving regions include Process Group time in all their meetings and gatherings, and if they can’t do it on their own (i.e. too much dissidence within the group members or too many masks of leadership at work), they ask for an outside facilitator to come to teach them about authentic leadership and when necessary, how to successfully engage in loving confrontation.
2. In a moving and inspiring Closing Ceremony, we witness Andre Leites, stepping down as founder and director of Pathwork Mexico and passing over the leadership “baton” - in this case an ancient and majestic gong - to the upcoming leader, Olga Tanaka, and her executive team, all emerging from the new generation of Mexican Pathworkers.
II. Transitioning Process ~ From 1 to 3 leaders
a) Creation of two entities: Board of Director and Leadership Team
In August 2007, PWKVT acquires its 501C-3 status and officially becomes a non-profit organization. A Board of Directors is created. Its primarily task is to manage the financial aspect of our organization. It has four members: three leaders-in-training – all HDP3 students - and Sahra Aschenbach.
The remaining tasks - which extend beyond the mere management of running a school - are now officially managed by theLeadership Team, which has four members (same members as the Board of Directors).
b) Requirements: Inner and Outer Preparation
To support her Stepping Down process, Sahra knows that at a certain point, the very young Leadership Team will need outside assistance and guidance. When the time comes, she contacts Lorraine Marino to facilitate two 3-Day Retreats, in which we are to explore leadership on both a personal and collective level.
To prepare for these retreats, the apprentice leaders are invited to inquire, meditate, and explore the following questions:
On a personal level , we ask ourselves:
- Where am I in my response to the call of Leadership in Pathwork VT? How willing am I to take on responsibilities and be of service? What are my Yes and my No currents?
- What are my transference issues, if any, with Sahra?
- Where is my individual fit on the Leadership Team? (e.g. what are my responsibilities & fears ; where am I on my exploration of personal will vs. Divine Will?)
- How do I keep functioning boundaries with other members of this team? How do I avoid experiencing separation, enmeshment, or loss of self when in a position of power and in relation to other leaders?
As a leadership team, on a collective level, we investigate:
- How to create a container of the highest vibration, which nurtures both individuality and community.
- How to move gracefully from a 1-leader organization to 4- leader (2010-2011) to 3-leader organization (June 2011, onward).
- How to identify and define the roles needed to manage Pathwork VT.
- What leadership qualities to develop or support in one another.
- How best to work together.
c) Chronology of the Stepping Down Process: a summary
April 2006: Sahra realizes she needs to prepare Pathwork Vermont for a transition in leadership. She envisions a Leadership Team guiding Pathwork VT and writes a letter describing this transition process to the Community.
September 2006: three HDP3 students answer the call to Leadership and join Sahra in becoming the first members of a Leadership Team.
August 2007: PWKVT acquires its 501C-3 status- Sahra sees herself “passing the Mantle of Leadership, in a ceremony, sometime in the next four years.”
May 2008: Sahra steps down as sole Pathwork Vermont Leader. She remains consultant to the newly formed Leadership Team.
September 2009: Sahra unexpectedly finds herself in a hospital, facing surgery. Her health is deteriorating more rapidly than was expected. She accepts that her four-year plan has now become a three-year process.
February and August 2010: two Leadership Transition Retreats facilitated by Loraine Marino bring on board a senior Helper,Ingrid Schirrholz, who becomes a consultant to the Leadership Team.
May 2010: During a Community Gathering, Sahra passes the “Mantle of Leadership” to the new Leadership Team. She is honored and celebrated in a beautiful Good-Bye Ceremony.
In August 2010, Sahra, feeling that the young Leadership Team is now in good hand and council, takes her final step back: she resigns from her position as president of the Board of Directors, permanently retiring from Pathwork Vermont.
September 2010: the new Leadership Team - freshly graduated from the Apprenticeship Program - solely runs Pathwork VT. Its three main members are Isabelle Meulnet, Mary Jane Ihasz and Anne Connell. One additional member, Ingrid Schirrholz acts as senior consultant and advisor.
III. Testimonies from Past and Current Leaders
From Sahra Aschenbach
I am astonished that a vision, which came to me in 1996, has turned into the reality of a vibrant Pathwork Community. Over the last eighteen years, 46 students have graduated from our Transformation Program, 20 from our Helpership Development Program and 10 have claimed Full Helpership. As I reflect on this amazing creative journey, I find myself so grateful to the NY region and its many teachers who helped shape me as a Pathworker and contributed to the creation of Pathwork Vermont.
My deepest gratitude goes to:
~ Judith Garten, who came to Vermont to teach our original Intro Workshop, which contributed to the formation of our first PTP class. From New York, she traveled to VT to bring her active support to the Vermont Pathwork. When I invited Judith in 1996, I had no idea that almost two decades later, students would still be enrolling to study, learn and practice the Guide’s teachings. Throughout the years, Judith stayed with us as teacher, mentor, and advisor.
~ Heda Kohler who, in 1996, skillfully taught our first Transformation Program.
~ Ingrid Schirrholz and Mel Sadownick, who, in 2000 came to teach, lead and help create and organize Pathwork Vermont. They were core participants in creating our programs and curriculums and became our next longtime teachers.
From other Pathwork regions, my sincere appreciation goes to:
~ Gene Humphrey for the role he played in influencing my vision. Throughout the years I knew Gene, he never ceased to remind me of the few things I was leaving out and needed to attend to. He was my mentor in realizing the importance of the integrity of a Pathwork organization. What Gene showed us was that we needed to be aligned with spiritual and secular guidelines and laws in order to be a legally recognized non-profit organization.
~ Brian O’Donnell who came to show us, what it meant to have a lower self and the difference between lower self and negative intentionality. His mastery brought us deeper in touch with the final step to being our real selves.
~ Lorraine Marino, my kind and dedicated helper, mentor and supervisor, who for years, supported my growth as a teacher and leader. She became the guiding force behind the process of our leadership transition. When it became apparent that we could not do this alone, I reached out to her. Lorraine kindly took me by the hand and - being a facilitator in Leadership and Organizational Development - skillfully guided us through the process. Letting go and stepping into Full Leadership was a process that was both enlightening, and at times, uncomfortable. This was a period of deep learning, as the new leaders found the courage to step forward. It took as much courage for me to step down and experience the grace and the pain of Letting Go and Letting God.
And finally, to the Pathwork Vermont Leadership Team:
~ Isabelle Meulnet , Mary Jane Ihasz and Anne Connell:“ Thank you for being able to embrace and carry the vision that came to me and more deeply, the vision of Eva. I am so grateful that the Vermont Pathwork continues to grow under your visionary, creative ability to manifest just what is needed.”
I feel honored and blessed to have been part of a community that had the gift of leadership, which allowed Pathwork Vermont to go on as a teaching and spiritual community, nationally and internationally.
From Isabelle Meulnet:
What I witnessed in the International Pathwork Conference in Mexico showed me that Ingrid Schirrholz, Sahra Achenbach, and all the teachers they have brought to the Vermont Pathwork are top notch teachers who artfully blend the teachings of the original Pathwork from Eva Pierrakos with the 50/50 Illuminations from Moira Shaw. I am deeply grateful for the exquisite leadership skills, patience and love every one of these leaders model and transmit to everyone they train.
On a personal level, I am learning that leadership starts with self-management and self-regulation. I am learning to manage the omnipotent ruler within and surrender more often than not to true authority. As a Leadership Team member, I am constantly looking to foster flow, balance, and harmony within our team. I am discovering that these qualities are the result of:
- creating and upholding Basic Rules of Conduct and Ethics that uphold “ the highest good”.
- doing group process with one another during our quarterly Leadership Team retreats.
- aligning with, living by and applying Universal Laws.
- aligning with positive intentionality.
- creating a playful and relaxing environment for all our Retreats and Community Gatherings that nourish the development of everyone’s highest potentials.
- offering mutual support and appreciation for ourselves and for all potential leaders : the ability to focus on and appreciate our strengths and make friend with our differences.
From Anne Connell:
Sahra had a four-year plan that took about three years. The main areas we focused in were learning the tasks of leadership and running non-profit school; and processing our interpersonal relationships in the three spheres of reality as we all moved into new relationships. Sahra led the way with her vision and was decisive up to and including when she realized she would step down earlier than expected.
We envisioned a time when we would be ready, then God decided it was time. The energy was more “let God & let go” in order. A little later Ingrid officially joined us in leadership, as she had always been a trusted advisor.
Out of this time came a sort of template for working together. Using Pathwork & 50/50 process, acknowledging that our work is sacred, is super productive. It brings awareness to our divinity and ideally this should always inform our efforts (anywhere, anytime). How we work together now sustains us as we hold leadership of Pathwork Vermont.
From Mary Jane / MJ Ihasz:
It has been both challenging and a privilege to journey thru this transition of Leadership with Sahra, Isabelle, Anne and Ingrid. Sahra had been my Helper and Ingrid my Teacher for five years. In my second year of Helpership I heard a call to be of service – to take over some logistic tasks – so it began.
Sahra held her vision with great care and continued to tend to it every step of the way. Her transparency with us was ultimately a wise model. I feel blessed by the opportunities and support I received so that I might come into my Leadership.
I have found my unique way to hold each Leadership sister, Pathwork VT and the students with Love, Faith and Trust. On the phone or in person we celebrate each other’s gifts and wisdom while creating a spacious, thoughtful container for The Guide’s wisdom to inform and transform.
From Ingrid Schirrholz:
Knowing that leadership transitions can be challenging, and when not handled well, undermine and weaken an organization, I can appreciate Sahra's foresight and wisdom, her determination and steadfastness in this transitioning process.
During the beginning of the transition Anne, Isabelle, and Mary Jane were students in the Helpership Development Program that I was teaching.
It has been personally rewarding to see three of my former students growing into competent and inspiring leaders. This certainly helped me in shifting my role from being their teacher to becoming a co-leader and a friend with each one of them. My joining the leadership team after our teacher-student relationship had ended has been a harmonious and enriching experience. I am impressed with their maturity, their passion for the Pathwork, their willingness to give to the community and their graciousness.
The glue that held us together throughout this conscious process of transitioning from one to four leaders – the Leadership Team - was our willingness to be malleable throughout the envisioning process. It was our ability to surrender again and again to a process of rethinking and restructuring ourselves. It was our willingness to trust, listen to, and answer the call of this entity called Pathwork VT. It was to enter a deeper level of purification and transformation. We asked for help and received advice and recommendation both from humans and spirit. We followed, so we could lead. We confronted each other when necessary and when we were, at last, willing to let go of our self-will, of “having our way”, we could open up to see and hear what else was possible for the future the Vermont Pathwork.
Passing on the Leadership Mantel