Margaret Wheatley | Warriors for the human spirit

Margaret Wheatley cropped and reducedWarriors for the human spirit are leaders and activists brave enough to resist using fear and aggression to accomplish their work. Instead they train with discipline and confidence to develop the skillful means of compassion and insight. They aspire to use their influence and power to offer sane and life-affirming responses in this time of constant threats to the human spirit.  And they train as a community that continues well past the year program as a vital support for their continuing courageous work.

The first three cohorts of Warriors—81 people from 17 countries—will have completed their first year of training by June 2017. Two cohorts trained in Zion National Park, Utah. The third cohort trained at Schumacher College, Devon, England. In 2017, the training of Warriors will continue in multiple forms. Those already trained will have the opportunity to deepen their skills and serve as facilitators and guides to those now entering the training.

A Path for Warriors for the Human Spirit is based on the understanding that good leaders and engaged activists now require a very different kind and quality of training if they are to persevere in their work as effective leaders for their organizations, communities and causes.

It is increasingly difficult for mature, experienced leaders and younger, engaged activists to do their work without failing victim to exhaustion, overwhelm, self-doubt, cynicism and despair. These leaders do not need more training in how to create adaptive and resilient organizations, or how to advocate for their causes, or how to engage their communities. What they need is an entirely different category of skills and capacities so that they can act wisely and well, are able to persevere, and to use their influence and power to offer sane and life-affirming responses in this time of constantly increasing threats to the human spirit.

The trainings are intended to strengthen leaders, activists, community workers, and citizens to remain actively engaged in the world, supported by new capacities and a strong community, in devoted service to the human spirit. Participation in the trainings requires a one-year commitment to attend three on-site sessions every six months and actively participate in learning-as-a-community in the interim periods. The trainings develop in depth capacities and skillful means in three areas:


A Warrior for the Human Spirit aspires to bring sanity, compassion and discernment into situations where fear, aggression and self-interest have destroyed our better human qualities and prohibited effective actions.

Skillful Means are developed for:

  • dealing with situations of high conflict and polarized positions
  • dealing with situations of high volatility and strong emotions
  • learning to perceive without bias to access the richness and diversity of information available in any situation
  • analyzing complex problems for their multiple causes and conditions in order to develop sane solutions


Warriors do not leave the scene. They are people intent on doing the best work possible, wanting to make a meaningful contribution, aspiring to stay and be of service even as situations become increasingly more difficult and disheartening.

Skillful Means are developed for:

  • maintaining presence in difficult situations
  • cultivating a stable mind that reacts less and perceives more
  • acting with compassion and insight rather than aggression and fear
  • transforming difficult emotions such as anger, grief, sadness into energy for intelligent action
  • embracing the Identity of a Warrior for the Human Spirit, with its implications for service, perseverance and presence
  • confidently being a role model and mentor of the best human qualities, such as generosity, insight, patience, compassion


Warriors need the strength of a community even when working alone. Only with a trustworthy community do we develop the skills and perseverance to withstand the loneliness, criticism, self-doubts, setbacks and failures that are part of this path. Warriors need to know that they can call on each other at any time, that without hesitation they will be there for each other.

Skillful Means are developed for:

  • using the loneliness and stress inherent in activism and leadership as motivation to do the hard work of creating a strong community of support
  • training in processes that simultaneously develop individual skills and build a community of trusted allies and companions
  • strengthening the personal capacity to persevere because we have a supportive community to rely on
  • gaining insights and support for our leadership challenges from this community of practice
  • thriving on moments of joy and grace that always appear when humans work well together no matter how difficult the external circumstances

Three On-Site Trainings

The first iteration of the trainings, held between October 2015 and June 2017, covered the following territory. (The Berkana Institute may modify the design of future trainings based on their experience with the first offerings.)

Each Training is organized to focus on three content components:

  1. Forming the identity of a Warrior for the Human Spirit. What it means to step forward in this role. Defining the skills and capacities of Warriorship.
  2. Developing a stable mind that can maintain presence, clarity and authority in difficult situations. This is accomplished through meditative practices.
  3. Practicing Skillful means for acting wisely in difficult situations.

Training One: Developing Presence through Direct Perception

Direct perception involves freeing ourselves of conditioned ways of seeing (our biases, judgments, identities). We learn to perceive with clear minds and awakened senses.  Such clarity gives us the capacity to see what’s needed and the confidence to act in any situation with greater perspective and insight. Meg Wheatley is joined by two artists who are also skilled meditation teachers: Jerry Granelli and Barbara Bash.

Training Two: Transforming Difficult Emotions into Discernment and Wise Action

In this training we explore the difficult emotions that Warriors encounter, such as grief, despair, anger, sadness. Several mindfulness practices are taught for how to consciously welcome in these powerful emotions, and to work with them to transform their energy into wise actions. This training is critical to our ability to stay present in the midst of very difficult situations of injustice and suffering and not be overcome by them. As a counterweight to the heaviness of these emotions, we also explore how a good sense of humor enables us to stay in the difficulties. Meg is joined by three faculty: Jerry Granelli, Alan Sloan, and Ulrike Ebert.

Training Three: Wise Action: Joining Clarity with Boldness

Many of us are challenged by how to bring the more open, deep and accepting sensibility that comes from meditation, contemplation and inquiry, into synch with the bold, direct, decisive action that is often required in order for us to be truly useful in what we do.  We will explore how to develop the sensitivity in our daily lives and work of when to explore, when to hold still and when to act. Four faculty join Meg: Jerry Granelli, Barbara Bash, Michael Chender, and Chris Grant.

Interim Period between Trainings

Developing as a Strong Community and Personal Advisement

We have developed and continue to experiment with ways to build relationships among participants so that a strong and reliable community of support emerges that will last long after the year of training. Here’s what has been created so far:

  • monthly contemplations which we engage in as a community
  • an online site (NING) for exchanges including text conversations, photos and posting of resources
  • a monthly video call with each cohort using Zoom technology which enables us to see one another and also to break into small conversation groups as well as engage as a full group; each call features a teaching, a practice, and conversations
  • participants have created drop-in ‘rooms’ using Zoom where people are encouraged to meet informally at specified times
  • participants have created “accountability partners” where two or more people commit to frequent check-ins and hold one another accountable for commitments they’ve made around contemplation, practice or study
  • in person encounters whenever possible amongst the participants

Warriors have self-organized into a number of communities of practice and/or study groups. These include:

  • a weekly study group on Tokmé Zongpó’s Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva
  • communities of practice in the fields of health care and community development
  • bi-monthly circle dialogues around what it means to be Warrior for the Human Spirit in our most intimate of relationships
  • a book club based on Joanna Macy’s work Active Hope

Margaret Wheatley is co-founder and president of The Berkana Institute, a global non-profit founded in 1991. Berkana has been a leader in experimenting with new organizational forms based on a coherent theory of how living systems organize, adapt and change. Berkana is now training Warriors for the Human Spirit, leaders who learn-as-community, training with discipline and dedication to develop a stable mind and skillful means. These spiritual warriors do their work with compassion and insight, vowing to refrain from using aggression and fear to accomplish their ends.

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