What is a mentor?

I never knew about mentors until I was near middle age. A mentor was something that somebody else had, not me.

Other people who were already advanced on their path, had been taught, "mentored," by another very advanced person. Mostly men had these; could a woman have one, too? It also seemed to me that the mentor cared about the "mentoree" a lot. There was some mutual understanding like: I'll share what I know with you, redirect you, and guide you, because you are a special one on this path; whatever that path might be. Would I ever be that special to someone else? Would I ever be deserving of such a connection that would go far beyond teaching? Who would that be? What's my path, anyway?

Then some 15 years ago, after I was well into middle age, I meet her.

I am at a workshop she is giving on the Divine Feminine. I don't know at first that she is the one, or that she would ever connect with me. All I know is that she sparkles, she's special, and a lot of other people think so too. She has grace and humor, intelligence and compassion, insight and knowledge of so many things, on so many levels. She verbalizes spiritual thought and group field theory like a shaman and scientist rolled into one. I am in a trance around her. When we part, she whispers that I look beautiful in white, and to wear it often. Neither of us knows at the time I am about to be married. I am enthralled.

I hear this treasure of a woman also leads trainings in leadership. What could this be? A blend of heart and soul in the workplace? A path where beauty and creativity meet over a task? Could both these passions — the divine feminine and bringing connection to one's work — reside in the same human being? Very curious, I sign up for this group leadership training, again and again. I watch and learn with amazement how to make space for the outcast in the room, how to find the gift in the conflict, how to accept conflict as a natural stage for a group, just like adolescent humans. Groups and humans have the same life cycle. Imagine! I learn how our individual connections to each other, when well-tended, serve a bigger purpose for the group as a whole. I learn that anything standing in the way of me being close to another gets in the way of the functioning of the whole. I find the group forming a web, able to hold all our offerings, once our connections are deepened. I learn the freedom of trying on new roles in a group. I keep learning, and then learn some more.

During one yearlong training, I wonder, is this what having a mentor feels like? Can I self-authorize to claim her as that? I say, yes, and so I do. Her name is Amina Knowlan. She is that person who, every time I'm with her, lets me know I am a cherished being while she's demonstrating inspired facilitation skills combined with great vulnerability and humanness. She teaches me that being human is a fun, funny, painful and joyous form to inhabit. I'm proud to have her as a friend and as a mentor, and even more pleased to share her with Ashland. Soon, I will be in her tutelage again soaking up those inspired moments, laughing and crying at life, noticing the reverence she has for all things human. It is a gift to have her in my world, and an even bigger gift I give myself, to claim her as my mentor. Today, I acknowledge you, "Mentor Amina," for the peace you bring my heart, with your praise and appreciation, and for the connection cultivated with you that is so much bigger than both of us. May we learn from each other, always.

Amina Knowlan facilitates a workshop on the Matrix Leadership model of group experience March 31 through April 2. For information contact Toni Lovaglia at 541-708-0085, or email toni@matrixleadership.org.

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