Notes from the Celebration of Life for Doug Silsbee
Doug Silsbee’s Celebration of Life happened on Sunday, August 12 at 4:00 PM ET. There were over 120 people in attendance, sitting or standing outside the Pavilion at Bend of Ivy Lodge. People gathered who knew or love Doug or whose lives and growth were touched by Doug’s writing or teaching about the Presence-Based Coaching or Leadership work. This included former clients, many PBC students, work colleagues from recent or early days, fellow travel adventurers, collaborators and co-teachers, as well as folks from the Asheville community, and of course, his family.
The weather was lovely (if a bit humid) and many shared poignant stories or experiences with Doug. I was asked to speak on Doug’s work in the world. Below are my thoughts about Doug, and I offer them here in the hopes that it might resonate with your experience of Doug, help you to feel a part of that event, or spur you to take some time to reflect on your own version of Doug’s impact on you.
I want to say a heart-felt thank you and acknowledgement of all who have reached out with kind and comforting words of condolence and care around Doug’s passing. If I haven’t responded to you each individually, know that I am reading each note or email, and I am reminded of my gratitude for this community!
My thoughts on Doug and his work in the world…
Let’s take what Doug might call a “presence pause” right now, to notice where we are in this moment — in community – noticing the holding of this land – knowing we are all connected.
Three things about Doug:
• Brilliant Mind
• Big and Beautiful Heart
• Doug’s emBODY-ment of Presence
Doug had many, many interests, passions and lucky for us, these interests seeped their way into the Presence-Based Coaching and Leadership (PBC and PBL) work that Doug founded. From his love of icebergs, to interpersonal neurobiology, to the cosmos, to his invented word: Experiential Neuroplasticity.
Doug was a master teacher and synthesizer; and blended many seemingly diverse streams of thought and knowledge to create coaching and leadership tools that are simple, accessible and practical.
And of course, many of you know that Doug is the author of 3 cutting edge books on mindfulness and presence. Doug is widely viewed in Coaching and Leadership circles as an expert and thought leader on these two topics.
Doug was deeply curious, loved to learn, create and experiment, and the perspective he held was very BIG (and he sought out and loved hearing other perspectives). His love of planets and stars and galaxies showed up in a favorite exercise in PBC, he called “the Grand Tour.” (Did I mention Doug was also a great storyteller?) This exercise helped students experience and consider the BIGness of this universe and in that way, helped them to create some new perspectives about who they might aspire to be, what was truly important.
Big and Beautiful Heart
We know that Doug had a HUGE heart, and was regularly brought to tears when his heart was touched by someone or something that he cared about.
There has been an unbelievable outpouring of expressions of gratitude and remembrance of the impact Doug or this work has had on many, many people over the years. And, Doug had a huge impact on me personally and professionally, and on my development as a human.
I remember when I first came to Bend of Ivy lodge for that first PBC I training in 2009. As soon as Doug started talking, I knew he was going to be a teacher for me. His blend of caring, humor, rigor, presence and skill spoke to me right away. And his seeing of me and my heart (and the hearts of all of his students, clients, colleagues and of many people gathered here), was transformational.
He was an incredible mentor to me and a champion of my growth…when I started teaching with him, he had this knack of asking me to stretch just beyond my comfort zone, all the while conveying his sense of certainty I could do it.
I treasure the sweet, creative collaboration and teaching flow that evolved in our relationship over the years, around the curriculum of PBC and in the business.
And, Doug loved to collaborate with others. Many in this gathering (Sarah Halley, Luckett Davidson, and Carolyn Coughlin [who is on a mountaintop in Wyoming]) were privileged to work with him closely around the evolution of this work. And he had many Coaching and Leadership Development colleagues that he enjoyed close relationships with that, in his words, “nourished him.”
Doug was an avid outdoors-man and traveler, wilderness adventurer and lover of nature. He was one of the most generative and generous people I know, and he could build or fix almost anything (personally, I relied on him for his master excel spreadsheet skills!).
Doug was a pioneer in recognizing the importance of and integrating the body into coaching work. And the unique and powerful blend that is Presence-Based Coaching and Leadership is a direct reflection of both his passions and the collaboration of those teaching with him and those students receiving the teaching.
His tradition, before we started each retreat/training, was to take a moment (a “presence pause”), face each other, and ask each other: “Why are we doing this?” as a way of orienting to our purpose.
Doug was in touch with a deep sense of presence and of being located in the present moment, and his very being reminded those around him of the importance of right now as the only moment we ever really have.
Doug was transparent about his inner work and struggles in life. He continued to offer a beautiful teaching as he traveled in his journey with cancer, and both he and Walker were very open, conscious, and real about what they were going through. We are all grateful!
As I said, Doug never lost sight of WHY we were doing the work – the bigger picture of care and concern for people, the environment, and the planet.
I’ll end with this quote from December 2017 in Doug’s virtual Nine-Panes Practice Lab class, teaching about his new book, Presence-Based Leadership:
“I want to make sure that we’re not just working with these distinctions of sensing, being, and acting as an exercise in awareness or consciousness. This is not solely about self-actualization, or even primarily about self-actualization.
“It’s about contribution, it’s about what commitments we’re living in in the world. And then how do we begin to organize internally in order to fulfill on those commitments. In this work it’s more important to me that this work be in service to making a difference in an extraordinary time in human history, than that we all feel good about ourselves and be happy. If that happens that’s great, but that’s not the purpose of the work.
“So I want to always be connecting the macro-level of how do we act skillfully in the world, and how do we support others to act skillfully in the world with the consciousness work, and the awareness work that enables that to happen…”
As I said at the beginning, Brilliant mind, Big and Beautiful Heart, Embodied Presence. Gratitude to you, Doug, with a bow.
Watch the video below of the releasing of bio-degradable lanterns into the night sky by the pond to the sounds of Beethoven (Doug’s favorite) at Doug’s celebration.
Please feel free to express below any experience with Doug or this work that you’d like to share.