I’m a writer, speaker, and peace activist living in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts. After graduating from Middlebury College, I spent eleven months trekking across the United States with a sign on my pack that read “Walking to Listen,” recording interviews with the people I met along the way. I co-produced a radio documentary about this project that was featured on Transom.org and This American Life, and my book, Walking to Listen(Bloomsbury, 2017), tells the tale of the journey.
Drawing from the experiences of my year-long initiation on the road, and from the abundance of lived fodder that comes from an active contemplative practice, I offer my work as a contribution to the collective project of learning how to be human together with love, by listening—united by our diversity, empowered by sharing the inherent vulnerability of being alive, and freed by opening to truth.
This work comes in three ways: I write, putting my wonder to words. I speak, spinning stories and mining them for insight. And I teach, exploring the practice of listening as a catalyst for connective presence, personal transformation, and peacemaking.
After working as a farmer for many years, Zoe has pivoted towards work growing capacity for connection, belonging and presence with self, others and the larger whole. She is trained in conscious communication and group facilitation, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. Zoe brings a variety of experience, having worked in a non-profit setting and as an entrepreneur, and also always her innate enthusiasm for what’s-in-the-room to her practice. She’s currently diving deep into learning about fear and transition; Zoe loves a good plunge into ice-cold water, and using metaphors that pattern off nature for human experiences. A mentor once described Zoe as having “attention surplus disorder,” a quality of uninterruptible focus that she brings to both narrow-scope research projects and broad and connective team-building work.
Hey, that’s me! And the other guy is Willie. Hi Willie!
Where to start?
True North is a big attempt to give to my community the very thing that I’ve most wanted: a space flooded with positive regard that holds me accountable, accepts me completely, and dares me to dream. To think. To act. As big as my heart can allow.
And its crazy to think how this project began, where it came from. Frankly, it came from sadness, grief, loneliness and depression.
I broke my back as a farmer in 2014 and was in bed for half that year. In bed with a busy mind. A mind asking questions like, “What the fuck is happening to me?!”, “How is this my life?!”, “What kind of impact could I make without a working back?!”, “Who will love me if I’m broken?!”, and “What am I going to do now?!”.
Ya know, just some light existential questioning.
Those questions led me deep deep deep into myself and ultimately into the trust of my worth, my value, my belonging. Healthy back, or not. (This was a lengthy and juicy process. Let’s talk.)
Soon, I found Men’s Work. I found mentors. I found trainings, certifications, and workshops.
I found that our deepest wounds hold the keys to our happiness, fulfillment, joy, creativity, and the greatest gift we can give to ourselves, family, community and planet.
Wounds. The very things that I had been working tirelessly to hide from those I encounter. To bury down for no one to find.
Wounds. The entryway into healing. Transformation. Liberation. Creative expression. Movement. Joy. Connection. Belonging. Peace.
Enough on the wounds already!
And to do this work. This brave work of seeing each other fully. Openly. And with acceptance. It needs to be in a group. Needs to be done with others. With co-workers. With teammates. With friends, families, lovers.
So, I began to bring this work into my community into small businesses, non-profits and higher ed. Sure, we were making Mission Statements, 5 Year Plans, and clarifying Core Values but really we were doing the hard and brave work of being seen. Being seen in confusion, or in anger, or in doubt, or in total excitement. But to really allow ourselves to be truthful, honest, brave, and connected -- trusting that what came of it would only strengthen the team, the department, the organization.
See, I’m pretty convinced that life is way sweeter, fuller, richer, wilder when we’re honest. Like, deeply honest. Like, Holy-Shit-am-I-really-about-to-say/do-this honest.
And now, to be bringing this work into all male spaces like fraternities and sports teams is huge gift. To work with young men, men who are often isolated in their feelings, alone in their struggles, and yet surrounded by other young men. To bring this work to them and to teach some tools, offer some insights and to listen deeply is a real gift. Especially considering the current cultural state of our young men.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with over 30 different organizations at the time of this updating (April, 2019) facilitating conversations, designing and running programs that bring people and teams together into the truth of who they are, what they value, and where they want to go. It continues to be rewarding, challenging and humbling work. And I’m grateful and fortunate I get to make my living in this way. In this beautiful, unpredictable, scary, challenging, hilarious, vulnerable and authentic way.
Thanks to everyone who I’ve been lucky enough to get to see, to meet, to know through this project.