The Gift of Chrysalis

I feel the capacity to care is the thing
which gives life its deepest significance.
– Pablo Casals


Chrysalis (now THE INNERWORK CENTER) was founded twenty-five years ago in Nancy Millner’s living room with her husband B and a small group of close friends. Celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary allows the opportunity to reflect on the gifts that Chrysalis has given me…and perhaps it does the same for you. Whether your exposure to Chrysalis has been brief and intermittent or long and deep, it’s interesting to note the impact it may have had on our lives.

My introduction to Chrysalis was through Kay Davidson, Chrysalis Faculty member and Mindfulness Teacher, around 1995. She was serving on the Board and asked me to help with programs. I then met Nancy, Betty, Trish, Carol, Jane, Peggy, Barbara, and others. I had never experienced a group of women quite like this one. They were about ten years older, and seemed to be wise, compassionate, grounded, and living their best lives. They were calm, capable, and making a difference in the world. I was jealous. I wanted to be like them. Chrysalis gave me the gift of myriad opportunities to learn from these important role models over the years. Ira Progoff reminds us of the importance of community: “This is solitary work that cannot be done alone.”

As I got more involved with Chrysalis programs, I met nationally and internationally known people like Marcus Borg, Parker Palmer, David Whyte, James Hollis, John Philip Newell, Devdutt Pattanaik, Andrew Newberg, Jim Gates, and most recently, Ruth King. These are just a few of the keynote speakers Chrysalis has brought to Richmond. My world has been profoundly changed by these people’s words, thoughts, and insights. Chrysalis has opened my eyes to a community of seekers possessing deep wells of wisdom.

Chrysalis has also taught me the value of stories in my life — my story and yours and ours together. Learning, creating, and sharing stories allows us to find our unique place in the world. Stories make life meaningful and create direction and guidance for us. Our shared stories connect us: Aristotle said that storytelling is what gives us a shareable world. When the Catholic nun, Simone Campbell, was asked where we start to solve the problems of the world, she replied simply that we begin with our stories. Tell me your story and I’ll tell you mine -- that is how we start to solve the problems of the world. Chrysalis has always valued my story, helped me write new ones, and find powerful connections among our stories.

Noted psychologist Carl Jung said, “man’s worst sin is unconsciousness.” The gift of consciousness may be the most important gift I have received from Chrysalis. Just being aware, being awake, and paying attention has been a critical learning for me. I have also learned the power of the unconscious. We live so much of our lives on autopilot. Jung said, “when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate.” Noted author and teacher James Hollis followed up with, “what I do not know within myself will make choices for me.” By understanding my own unconscious, I can create choices for myself.  All our encounters with the unconscious enlarge our lives and enrich our spiritual journey.

One of the new stories I’ve started telling is about my connection to the younger women I am blessed to work with at Chrysalis. Just as I was mentored and supported in my own spiritual and personal development by Nancy, Kay, Susan, and others, I increasingly find myself to be the “village elder,” which continues to be a rich and rewarding experience. Hopefully I am nurturing the next generation of young people who will carry on the proud legacy of this special organization.

Brené Brown writes, “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.” Chrysalis has shared these timeless gifts with me; it has allowed me to recognize that my life matters, that our individual and collective work here is deeply meaningful, and that it makes the world a better place.

Vicki B. Saunders, PhD has worked for the last 25 years as a professional facilitator specializing in female identity development, strategic planning, and executive coaching. Vicki has her PhD from Saybrook University in Organization Systems and a Masters Degree in Human Resources Development from George Washington University. She also holds a Masters in Jungian Studies with the Jung Institute in Houston and Saybrook University.

Elizabeth Smartt