Thirty years ago spirit first called me to join the PTS staff. I still remember the wonderful hodgepodge of feelings that came with this calling. I experienced honor, delight, surprise, nervousness, and a whole lot of awe. After five years of service to PTS I went on to build an exciting and meaningful career as a college professor and administrator in Arizona. That work sat steadily on the shoulders of my many experiences during my time on PTS staff. My gratitude for the training I received at PTS was over the top, and I saw my new life as one made possible by that initial choice to say yes to spirit. In hindsight, I see that call and my response as divine action. On returning to PTS last summer I saw how my experience in Arizona perfectly prepared me for the next phase of the adventure as I support the co-creation of the Transcendent Leadership Program. Divine hindsight again shows me that my life is a spirit-led journey. I was tapped in 1988 to serve and the true heart of this call to service is only beginning to be visible thirty years later.
February 1988 was an exciting time in MSIA with what looked to me like a lot of opportunity for everyone involved and of course, constant movement. But as a young person, relatively new to the Movement, one change shook me up a bit and that was when some of J-R’s personal staff chose to move on from their roles serving the church. I felt confused as I deeply admired that team for their loving and dedicated service. Around that time I went off to Yucca Valley for three weeks of Peace Awareness Trainings. While walking in the desert I was smacked with the direct and clear message that the only way to respond to my uncertainty was by stepping forward with my own counter offer of dedication and strength. I wrote a letter to J-R asking to join the staff in any role where I could be of service and sent it to Prana with someone going home in between the weekly retreats.
When I got home from the PATs, in my Prana mailbox was an invitation for an interview from the PTS Dean, Jeeni Wong (now Jeeni Lawrence). I don’t recall anything about the interview, but it must have gone well because I was hired part-time to assist the very busy PTS registrar. But spirit leads, and spirit had other plans. By the end of my first day on staff our registrar also chose to move on and I became an instant registrar and a half. When I accepted this job I was nervous because I hadn’t had any prior administrative experience other than the volunteer work I did in some of the MSIA and PTS offices as a Prana resident. But my heart was dedicated to serving spirit, the church, and the Traveler, and I thrived!
Discovering as a working-class kid who had never dreamed of an office job that I was really good at administrative detail and organization, clear communication, and creative visioning was a powerful time in my life’s journey. At the same time, I was raising a young family at Prana. I began to realize that my actual path and opportunities for learning and growth were not what I had thought they were going to be based on my limited understanding of my youth. The growth and healing that took place during those years opened doors and windows I didn’t know existed. My playful tagline as I began to discover the depth of my heart and soul was “You can’t get here from there.” I simply couldn’t believe, given my background, that this was my life.
For about six years my family thrived at Prana while I gained the awareness that I had what was needed to develop strong executive and leadership skills that served me well and would serve me professionally in the future. By saying yes to every opportunity that was present to me, I expanded and I learned. I became aware of who I was and who I could be. Personally. Professionally. Spiritually. I learned that nothing can happen that isn’t in alignment with spirit. Sometimes this looks like a change in energy that results in people leaving and new people coming forward. Sometimes it looks like enduring to the end, as our beloved John Morton demonstrated, and receiving the greatest blessings we can handle. Sometimes it looks like trusting spirit to give you exactly what you need to live and lead your life.
Being on MSIA staff in the 1980s meant being directly trained in effective and clear communication by the very best—including J-R. When you’re putting things together for J-R, you learn to do it error-free, judgment-free, and with great loving! And very importantly, you learned to take responsibility when you were off-track—responsibility by apologizing and by doing self-forgiveness whenever either was called for. On the other side of the room we were also learning computer skills and discovering this new technology called electronic-mail. Our impeccable training included multiple opportunities to study personal time and workflow management with David Allen. The kind of flawless attention to detail that MSIA staff thought of as basic work skills, would later serve me as exceptional work skills in the world.
Fast and rigorous learning can bring with it great opportunity for self-reflection—and reflection from a height that can effectively take it all in with divine hindsight as well as the divine foresight that is faith/trust. During one of my opportunities to talk to J-R about all that was taking place for me, he told me that I could get the kind of support I was seeking by enrolling in the University of Santa Monica and completing the two-year master’s program. Of course, I did this, and it was exactly what I needed to round out this part of my life’s journey. My USM experience provided me with what I needed to manage my personal stuff, through the lens of those universal spiritual teachings that invite and support us to live a life in partnership with spirit. And it also provided me with a master’s degree—not something I thought I had any need for. Yet.
My years on staff at Prana provided a gorgeous training ground with beautiful friends, family, and colleagues in a loving environment. I soaked in every bit of learning that I could while standing with arms wide open to grace! Then the decision to leave Prana was made by our little family over dinner in Larchmont one night in 1992. Our daughters were coming up on middle school and couldn’t quite see themselves being teens in Los Angeles. And Frankie’s and my parents were settling into their 70s (that seems so young now!) and we both felt called to live close to them during what turned out to be the beautiful final decades of their lives. After a sweet family decision by consensus, we returned to Arizona.
I knew that I was leaving with much more than I had come with or than I even thought possible. I was stepping out in the world trained by the best to do my best. In six years I had experienced immeasurable healing, growth, and learning through living with my family at Prana, serving PTS, studying the teachings though myriad venues and methods, and practicing it all. While all of this supported me in creating a life that was full and lovely, I was overwhelmed with the fact that from a purely professional perspective, it had also prepared me to embark in the world with a career in higher education administration. This truly wasn’t something I had considered. I spent years referring to myself as the accidental academic—after all, I went to USM for my personal learning and healing and didn’t even know how to spell master’s degree. Divine hindsight tells me that there are no accidents.
When we got to Prescott Arizona grace used her bullhorn to make sure I saw the job announcement for a registrar at Prescott College, a mission-driven and award-winning liberal arts college. But when I was called to interview, the college dean suggested that I go speak to the director of their brand new Master of Arts Program (MAP). The program had begun earlier that year and had 24 students enrolled. I was invited to join the staff and I jumped right in with what I thought of at the time as my being an overachiever. Of course it was actually my living up to spirit’s call for impeccability and dedication. Within my first two years at the college I once again absorbed the responsibilities of colleagues who left, and I very quickly became the director of the master’s program—a role that expanded over the 20 years I was in it to eventually include serving as associate dean and dean of graduate studies. By the time I stepped down from that leadership role in 2011, that little MA program with 24 students had evolved into five graduate programs, including a Ph.D. program, with nearly 400 students. I stayed on as a faculty member for some time after that before choosing to do what I curiously call “retiring.”
During my years in Arizona I often shared with J-R my immense gratitude for the blessings in my life that had so obviously come directly from my choices to work with him as my wayshower and to say yes as spirit leads. On every level of my life and existence I experienced grace and blessings and I understood that things could have been quite different if I hadn’t said yes to the call to serve and learn. One year at Living in Grace I was thanking J-R and John again very specifically for their amazing support of what I thought was simply my 10% level. I thanked them for the training I got while on staff, I turned and thanked Mary and Ron Hulnick, who were in the back of the room, and I said something like “I can’t imagine what else is possible…” And I recall J-R smiling and saying “When are you going to get your doctorate?”
Every day for 25 years I saw how I was contributing to that little college in the mountains by sharing what I brought from PTS and USM in skill, insight, and perspective. And every day I received the gifts that were shared with me by those I worked with—colleagues and students. I didn’t often experience people talking directly about spirit at Prescott College, but I saw how the people who were drawn there knew what it meant to live a life dedicated to loving service and love and care for all life. My colleagues who initially laughed uncomfortably when I said the words I love you were soon sitting in our closing circles at the end of our retreats talking about gratitude, loving, and community as family. Many times over the years I had the blessing to work directly with students who wanted to explore love and spirituality. Most recently I had the honor to work with two doctoral students who are completing and graduating this month; one wrote a dissertation on how to teach music from a spiritual and ecological perspective, and the other wrote a dissertation documenting the spiritual connection mountaineers have with the mountains, which one climber called the mirror to the soul. Shortly before I left the college for a two-year sabbatical leave that would end with my retirement, I worked with a team of doctoral students to co-edit an issue of a peer-reviewed academic journal on sustainability that focused on love.
Here is a link to the journal where you can see the many excellent articles we received about love, including one I wrote about how love has always been present in scholarship and activism, even if not directly named, called “A Pedagogy of Love.”
Now with the grace of hindsight I see the true perfection of this journey. I see how PTS and USM prepared me to create a career in service to love, learning, growth, collaboration, co-creation, and consensus. I see how that career prepared me to return to PTS to give back all that I can. In fact, I look back at my entire life—the family I chose to come in to, the relationships I’ve chosen, the work I’ve done—and I see how every step of my journey has perfectly prepared me for this moment. Spirit is leading. And I am saying yes.
That to me is demonstrative of transcendent leadership consciousness—spirit leading; saying yes. Transcendent leadership is a consciousness—among the faculty we call it TLC—and it is also a culture. I see how this powerful program is coming forward at a time when this culture is expanding and blessing us here on the MSIA and PTS staff. It’s an energy that is expanding far beyond our program and our staff community—a focus on loving leadership, authentic leadership, and conscious leadership is popping up in conversations all over the world in educational, professional, and personal settings. I see this as a direct response to situations in the world that remind us that we can do a better job leading and living from a consciousness of love and the awareness of the divinity in and around us. At PTS we are taking this conversation to the highest level of leadership we can currently imagine or understand, which is being soul or spirit led.
I know the obvious now; spirit had this lined up all along. I believe that the spiritual powers that guide my journey ensured that each person, experience, and situation was perfectly aligned to bring me to this moment. I believe that is true for each of us in our own paths and understandings/beliefs about spirit. I know now that the divine presence lined up a life for me that had endless surprises and lessons, and that always led me closer to this moment of bringing everything I’ve gained from those lessons and experiences back to my church, to this seminary, so that I can be part of co-creating a program that can reach people from many paths who want to lead their lives with love and divine guidance. I feel the power of allowing myself to step back and witness spirit’s absolute brilliance! I hope that you are looking at your own path with eyes wide open to see the grace and perfection of spirit’s plan for you. Spirit is leading. I’m saying yes.
In loving service and gratitude.
Joanie Clingan, Ph.D., is the dean of PTS’s new master’s program in Transcendent Leadership. The two-year program begins August 2018 with a six-day orientation in Santa Monica, California. The program is being co-created by a team of faculty working with spirit; it is being lovingly and thoughtfully designed to create and foster a supportive, engaged community of learners who connect from their homes using multiple technologies, and who come together in Santa Monica for five days in residence each semester. Information about the curriculum, faculty, tuition, and calendar is available on our website www.