Self Awareness and Leadership

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A percentage of proceeds from event registration will be donated to Amnesty International toward causes related to women’s rights and equality.


On November 2, 2013 women ranging from college students to professors, from community to spiritual leaders, and a good number of men, gathered at Dominican University for the second session of The Roots of Women’s Leadership conference, focusing on Self-Awareness and Leadership.  Members of the Building Bridges Program Committee served as meditation leaders and moderators.  Pioneering women of varying faiths and backgrounds, offered lessons and practices from their own lives.

Master of Ceremonies, Sherna Deamer, began by noting that “self” goes hand-in-hand with the concept of “other,” and the our sense of self is influenced by our participation in many social groups, including families, and religious and cultural traditions.  She highlighted the goals of the event, which included both learning and action, especially the cultivation of insights and energy to be shared across communities and generations.

Dr. Nahid Angha welcomed everyone to the event, and noted that self-awareness and leadership also walk hand-in-hand.  Awareness of their one’s own strengths and potentials, and the possibilities the community offers, are decisive agents in successful leadership.  She observed that women are the safe-keepers of life, and the contributions of women to the advancement of civilization cannot be over-emphasized.  Building on the efforts of past generations, we have an obligation to make sure the doors of opportunity remain open for coming generations to develop their potential with dignity.

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Rita Semel, pioneer of both faith-based work and interfaith forums, spoke from her own experience, dating back to her work during WWII, “taking the job of a man” which she was expected to relinquish at the end of the war.  She encouraged women to be more aggressive in promoting their ideas, with determination and insistence that we have “something to offer that can make a difference.” While not diminishing the importance of men, Ms. Semel suggested that women excel in sensitivity, understanding, compromise, a keen desire to make things work, and talent for bringing people together, all of which are valuable qualities in facing our duty and responsibility, described by the Hebrew “Tikkun Olam” – to repair the world. Ms. Semel emphasized that one area that cries out for the participation of women is education, starting with pre-school; a sound education benefits both the individuals and society, and the lack of is a root cause of poverty and violence.

Rev. Jan Heglund, chaplain with the San Rafael Police Department, the FBI, and the College of Marin Returning Veterans Support Group spoke after Ms. Semel.  Having considered work at a prison or hospital, Rev. Heglund realized that working as a chaplain for law enforcement personnel and veterans is her passion, as is serving the community.  Observing carefully, she worked to gain the trust of police officers, which tends to be a rather closed community.  She learned that being a woman opened doors of communication sometimes closed between men, and  emphasized that being a person of faith is also a key to her success. She prays while en route to situations, and her ministry is grounded in her faith, not in a specific religious tradition, which is critical to enabling her to respond with compassion.  Rev. Heglund’s noted that all of her work is volunteer, which is not uncommon, and said that it is our responsibility to identify our gifts and then use them for the good of humanity.


Sensei Joanne Mied, currently on leave from the Buddhist Temple of Marin, began her talk with the premise that it is “easy to see the faults of others, hard to see our own” (a saying from Shakyamuni Buddha).  She introduced Pure Land Buddhism, the largest denomination of Buddhism in Japan but less well-known in the US, and its teaching that self-reflection (self-awareness) leads directly to awakening.  Sensei Mied posed the question: “How can one be a compassionate leader without self-awareness?” Sharing her own journey, she introduced four steps to self-reflection: humility (learn what we don’t know); self-observation; engaging in contemplative practices daily; and the realization that we are nothing and grace is everything.  She suggested that when we stop our habitual behaviors that distract us, we are able to see ourselves as we are. Engaging in contemplative activities may include meditation, walking, running, looking out the window, or whatever works best. The first glimmer of the fourth step is apparent when the heart opens and grace floods in; when this leads to a deep longing arising from the heart, along with the desire to steal moments away from all of life’s activities to spend instead in contemplation.  This self-awareness allows compassion and leadership to grow.

Bonnie Rose Hough was raised in a Christian tradition.  She reported that she learned to appreciate the power of the church when she spent some time in Mississippi during her college years. Volunteering in a legal services program, she successfully combined her interests in writing and in people, and while observing women attorneys who volunteered their time she was inspired to attend law school and become an attorney herself.  She found she was not comfortable working for a large law firm, or with wealthy people, but was instead drawn to offer her services to those who could not readily afford high attorney fees, and particularly to cases involving the rights of women and children.  Acknowledging the great benefits she has received from circumstances and role models, Ms. Hough said that in her current position her responsibility is not just leadership but also to engaging and inspiring others.  Quoting from Cesar Chavez, she said “it is an awesome opportunity” to choose how we spend our limited time on Earth.

Program participants committed to action on immigration reform, education, breaking through language and cultural barriers, actively listening to others in need, changing policy, and bringing the learning and positive energy from today’s program to their families, friends and communities.  Reflecting on actions that audience members might take, Ms. Semel encouraged everyone to find the issue that is most compelling to them, then put energy there and be a role model and mentor; Rev. Heglund recalled thinking “why doesn’t somebody do something” and realizing that she was that somebody. Sensei Mied described her naturopathic healing as “mid-wifing change in people,” and as Ms. Hough described her leadership style, she outlined a mode that is open to a range of ideas and encourages others to draw their own conclusions and make suggestions.

The program concluded with the inspired sacred music of Taneen Sufi Music Ensemble presented by Soraya Chase Clow and Salima Ginny Matchette, bringing everyone together in a beautiful closing. Their offering included their moving song calling upon the mothers of all the Abrahamic traditions, and all of our mothers, grandmothers, fathers, and grandfathers, requesting their assistance in healing our world.

Presenter Bios:

Screen shot 2013-07-13 at 4.57.34 PMThe Rev. Jan Heglund was ordained as an Episcopal Deacon at Grace Cathedral in 1994 and, after serving in Sausalito and Mill Valley, California, she is attending St. John’s Church in Ross, California.  She is a chaplain with the San Rafael Police Department and the FBI, having served at 9/11 and as the chaplain at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.  Jan was a founding member of West Coast Post Trauma Retreat, for emergency responders suffering from PTSD.  She received the Making A Difference for Women Award from Soroptimist International in 2008 and the Outstanding Clergy Award by NAMI of California in 2010.  Jan traveled to Nicaragua, Greece and Africa with Project Grace, a non-profit that takes women who have lost a child to a foreign country on a work project shared with the women and children of the area.  She is on the Advisory Board for the Humanities Department at Dominican College, and is chaplain for the Center for Domestic Violence, the College of Marin Returning Vets Support Group, and the local chapter of International Footprint Association, and a volunteer with Marin Agricultural Land Trust.  She is a recipient of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award and an inductee for the Marin Women’s Hall of Fame.  Jan is married and has four children and four grandchildren.

Screen shot 2013-07-13 at 5.03.37 PMBonnie Rose Hough is the Managing Attorney for the California Administrative Office of the Court’s (AOC) Center for Families, Children & the Courts, where she has been employed since 1997.  The focus of her work is on helping courts meet the needs of people who cannot afford attorneys for civil cases.  Bonnie and her team work to develop materials and education for the public to understand the legal process, and for judges and court staff to help them effectively handle cases with non-lawyers.  They work on court forms and document assembly programs to assist litigants to complete those forms.  Bonnie oversees 5 grant programs providing over $40 million in funding for legal services and court-based self-help programs where attorneys provide information to the public. She was a co-founder of the Family Law Center, a nonprofit legal services organization in Marin County, and served as its executive director and lead attorney for six years.  She was a co-director of the Marin YWCA and Woman’s Way prior to attending law school.  Bonnie received a J.D. from Hastings College of the Law, an M.P.A. from San Francisco State University, and a B.A. from the University of California at Santa Cruz.  She is an elder at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Marin City.

joanneJoanne Mied Sensei serves The Buddhist Temple of Marin in Mill Valley, although she is temporarily taking a break.   She received two Pure Land Buddhist ordinations in Kyoto in 2003 and 2007.  She earned a Master’s Degree from the Institute of Buddhist Studies, which is part of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.   She has three published academic papers on Buddhism, one of which is on Healing in Buddhism.  Her undergraduate studies at the University of Hartford were in math and electrical engineering.  Joanne serves full-time as a Traditional Naturopathic Doctor.  She lives in Novato with her husband, Ron, and their son, Jim, lives in Sebastapol.

RitaSemelRita Semel is an interfaith pioneer and Jewish activist.  She is a recipient of the San Francisco Foundation Community Leadership Awards “for her life-long successes in creating healthy, just, and inclusive communities in the Bay Area and worldwide.” She builds bridges of understanding between diverse religious and ethnic communities, and brings together the interfaith community to help alleviate poverty and end discrimination.  Rita has done more for interfaith relations in San Francisco than any other single individual.  She was a founder of United Religions Initiative, the San Francisco Interfaith Council, and the Interfaith Center at the Presidio.  She currently holds leadership positions at these organizations, the New Israel Fund, and Catholic Charities CYO.  Rita has served as trustee of the Graduate Theological Union, Chair of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio and Executive Vice Chair of the San Francisco Interfaith Council.

taneenMusical Guest: Soraya Chase Clow and Salima Ginny Matchette, members of Taneen Sufi Music Ensemble. Taneen’s music springs from the heart of prayer, inner practice, and spiritual discipline and is a celebration of heart’s longing to feel connected to the source of mystery behind this reality and the source of peace within us all. Taneen sings as an offering and a service intended to increase tranquility in the world. Taneen has performed locally and internationally at events that focus on peace-building, human rights, and interfaith understanding and cooperation, including such events as the Sufism Symposium; Women’s Partnership for Peace in the Middle East Inaugural Conference, Oslo, Norway; and at the Parliament of World’s Religions conference in Barcelona, Spain.

Building Bridges of Understanding Series (now in its 12th year), is a cooperative and educational program of the International Association of Sufism and Dominican University of California, Humanities Department, sponsored by Marin’s faith traditions and partially funded by the Marin Community Foundation.  Members of the Program Committee are representatives from Marin’s faith traditions, and have been collaborating to bring the Building Bridges of Understanding series to Northern California communities for over a decade.

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