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Jun 01
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Transformative Leadership

Heather's stack of program reading

Heather’s stack of program reading

COLUMN: In Everyday Life
An Interview with Heather Scott

Heather Scott, former Director of Shambhala Online chats with Dan Glenn of the Shambhala Times about her experience in the Transformative Studies PhD program at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Could you begin by telling us a bit about the program you’re doing?

I’m in my first year of the Transformative Studies program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. This is a online doctoral program that supports trans-disciplinary learning in your chosen field of interest. It is a creative inquiry process which is one that combines robust scholarship with self-inquiry. It fosters learning through community and is very much a co-creative process.

We engage with people from all over the world in an asynchronous online platform but we also connect in real time from all the usual technology suspects (Skype, IM, FaceTime, Facebook). There is also close interaction with faculty so this provides an additional level of support,  guidance, and co-creation. I’m doing this program following my recent Masters in Transformative Leadership. That experience was so inspiring and so rich that I decided to maintain the momentum I had created and keep going!

What inspired you to follow this particular direction?

I am a life-long learner and graduate level work has always been an aspiration. My circumstances right now are such that I can do this. It’s the right time, I have found the right place, the right teachers, the right community and the right motivation and inspiration! Of course, being an online program as made it particularly accessible to me. I live in the countryside and study at a university has always meant moving which is not something I have been inspired to do, and certainly not to attend a traditional university. I was attracted to this school and this program because of the connection between personal transformation and social change. Personal development is built into the program.

I imagine there is a strong relevance to our Shambhala path and the notion of enlightened society. How do the two overlap?

There’s a strong foundation in systems thinking in this program so we quickly come to understand interdependence and interconnection. We are a diverse group of people who engage in seeing the other, listening deeply, and creating community. I think this way of co-learning is very much a social practice.

I am really struck by the variety of scholarship among my colleague and by how much people care about the world. It is extraordinary; people from all over the world are engaging in all manner of work and study and have come together in this program to explore more deeply together. And while it is by no means perfect, in my view, this is the educational model of the future… and the future is now! Our work is expected to be transdisciplinary, considering our topic from multiple perspectives, which is an approach so desperately needed to address the complex problems facing us in the world today.

With all the examples of “leadership” out there that are not based on principles of basic goodness, what does “enlightened leadership” or “transformative leadership” look like to you? 

I think transformative leadership is about self-inquiry and transformation first with an understanding of that connection to society. Transformative leadership is really needed for these transitional times. In fact, it’s an imperative.

I’m sure your Shambhala view and practice seeps into everything you do in relation to the program. How often do you overtly share it with you classmates and talk about your path as a Shambhala practitioner?

My Shambhala view is, at times, more in the background but it is always present. I’m particularly aware of it in contrast to some energies that come up in my learning community. For instance, when there is an atmosphere of stress or anxiety, which is to be expected in the rigor of this work, I notice how contagious it can be and how a certain dynamic can easily become established in the group. I try to offer a contrasting presence, usually by looking for the space in each situation and hanging out there! 

As for the program itself, we’ve been studying ideas around complexity, and systems thinking, social constructionism and cultural diversity. These topics lend themselves nicely to many of our Shambhala teachings so I have opportunity to share my view quite regularly. I tend to talk about my practice path, however, mostly when I am asked about it.

What are your aspirations for bringing this work into the world after the program ends?

I am interested in exploring the value of “not knowing,” the space that arises spontaneously when one is present. This is part of the impetus for my inquiry; what is the value of trusting in not knowing for self-development, and particularly for sustaining our capacity to be with uncertainty, and the unknown, basically our capacity to live in a post-normal world. I had the great fortune and honor to speak with Joanna Macy recently about this and something she said really resonated with me: “We are so scared of the necessary waiting that accompanies emergence.” Emergence requires patience with not knowing and you could say I am in the process of waiting! I do intend to write my dissertation but after that, who knows! I hope it might be something that could become a book for a broader audience. We’ll see!

Heather ScottHeather Scott was born in Toronto and lived in the UK for six years. She has a BA in Theatre from Queen’s University, a diploma in Radio Broadcasting, and a Masters in Transformative Leadership. She has practiced as a Registered Holistic Nutritionist since 1997 and was a senior instructor at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition in Halifax, teaching Ecology and Nutrition. She discovered Shambhala in 1994 when she literally stumbled upon a meditation group at Dorje Denma Ling. She is a Scorpion Seal practitioner, Meditation Instructor and Assistant Director, and a member of the Dorje Kasung. She served six years on the council for Dorje Denma Ling. Heather was instrumental in the creation and establishment of Shambhala Online, and was its director between 2007 and 2013. She lives in Wallace, Nova Scotia and am growing food bio-dynamically with her partner of 22 years.

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