“Outcomes” by Barbara Belknap

February 8th, 2013 | Posted by Barbara Belknap in Activation | Articles | Gatherings

Kuan Yin in all her wisdom

Every couple of months I have to face the piles of paper in my home office and act, file, or recycle. Theoretically, everything should be online, but I have “binders of women” and agendas, minutes, notes, bits and pieces of paper on the cabinet, the book shelf, my desk, and in the corner on the floor. If I take a trip, like we just did to Costa Rica, the paper is waiting when I get home, while all the photos wait online to get transferred to Facebook.

This morning, I attempted to sort things out, and I found a folded wrinkled piece of paper titled “Outcome”. I think it was from a long-ago Gather the Women circle that my friend Darcy and I held. Darcy is a Life Coach and is adept at steering people away from indecision and towards clarity. Here is the list:


Step1: What is your goal – what makes you dance?

Step 2: What belief or attitude has to change – whose?

Step 3 – What knowledge has to be imparted or increased?

Step 4 – What behavior has to change?

Step5 – What action needs to be taken and by whom?

Years ago, in 2002, when I retired as the Executive Director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, I was at loose ends. I found the business card for an Anchorage friend, Alice, a Life Coach, and gave her a call. She asked me, “What do you do when you lose track of time?” I said, “I love to sing. I love being with women friends. I love to garden.”

Not long after my sessions with Alice, I saw an advertisement in the paper for the Juneau Pride Chorus Concert. I knew Marsha, who was the contact person, and I called her. “Marsha, do you have to be gay to sing in the chorus? My sister is gay, does that count?” Marsha assured me that all allies were welcome, and my job was to learn the music and be fully present.

That was eleven years ago and I’ve been singing in the chorus ever since. It is one thing I do where I lose track of time from the moment Leslie, the Director, steps up on her dais until she steps down again an hour later. Each season, we learn new music we have never heard before in our lives. We need to commit to listen to our practice CDs and show up ready to sing. Our annual concert in March is a sold-out success. Right now, we are having two-hour Saturday practices and two-hour regular practices on Tuesdays. As I drive back and forth around Juneau, I sing along to the practice CD. We’re having two hour practices now twice a week. It is a big commitment, but I love it.

The year I retired, I created a Japanese garden in my backyard modeled loosely after the ones I had seen on my travels to Japan. I needed serenity and I had vivid memories of feeling peaceful when I toured the gardens in Kyoto. I bought books and studied them. (At one point, my older brother Bill asked, “Are you still stressing out about your Zen garden?”) A well-worn piece of graph paper slowly morphed into a plan. To obtain the outcome I wanted, I used all the five steps listed above with my husband and the contractor who “skinned” the back yard and placed the stones precisely where they needed to be. Another contractor knocked out part of the master bedroom wall and put in a sliding glass door so that I can see my garden every morning. Each day, that garden gives me joy whether the rhododendron are in bloom, or snow weighs down the bamboo. (Yes, bamboo can grow in Alaska.) My husband gave me a marble statue of Kuan Yin and I see her every morning when I open the drapes.

Another seminal event occurred right around my retirement. I heard the phrase “Gather the Women” at a PeerSpirit Circle Practicum on Whidby Island. I was in search of knowledge about “community building” and a friend in Gustavus, Alaska, told me about PeerSpirit and their community building workshops. At the very end of an incredible week with Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, one of the women (Anne Fitzgerald) said she was going to a Gather the Women conference in Dallas. I loved the phrase, “gather the women”, and wanted to learn more. Anne didn’t think I would be interested. The Barbara she had come to know that week was just coming off of a career spent with fishermen, a lot of surgery, and was a “newbie”, but I was interested, and I followed up.

My first GTW gathering was in Los Angeles about ten years ago. I met Kathe Schaaf, Clare Peterson, Joy Adams, Marilyn Nyborg, saw Anne again, and met so many other incredible women. I felt lost in the vocabulary, confused by the rituals, yet eager to learn and find my way. Since then, I have been deeply engaged with the wonderful community of women that is Gather the Women. I’ve been the Matrix Convener for one term and am in the middle of my second term. Our circle of Conveners are all committed, and are dear friends as well.

Now, I need to be brave and go back into my office and finish what I started!

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