The fable of the leader, the wise woman and the basket of strands

To create a new, regenerative future we are going to need to write new stories and use creative methods to share our vision for the future with the world. This fable came to me (Sarah Spencer) in a dream in July 2023:

Once upon a time, in a bustling kingdom, there lived a business leader who was known far and wide for their expertise in the world of commerce. They were immensely successful, but this came at a cost – the leader was constantly stressed, overworked, burdened by the weight of their responsibilities and the complexity of the world around them.

The kingdom was blessed with many happy children and their laughter and innocence brought joy to the leader’s heart. But this was tinged with sorrow as the leader fretted about the legacy they were leaving for the infants, and the harm being done to the delicate balance of nature.

The days seemed to blend into nights, leaving little time for rest or reflection.

One day, as the leader was seeking a moment of solitude to gather their thoughts, they decided to wander deep into the woods that bordered their kingdom. There, under an ancient oak tree and amidst the dappled sunlight and rustling leaves, they stumbled upon a wise woman, known in the tales of old as the Guardian of Hidden Wisdom.

The leader greeted the old woman respectfully, and she returned the gesture with a knowing smile. “I sense the turmoil within you,” she said gently. “The burdens you carry are many, and they weigh heavily on your spirit.”

Startled by her insight, the leader hesitated before confessing, “Indeed, I am troubled. There is much to oversee and manage, and I fear I have lost my clarity and focus.”

The wise woman nodded sympathetically. “I may have a solution that can help you,” she said.

 “To find balance, you must weave a basket.”

The leader was puzzled. “But how can weaving a basket alleviate my stress and responsibilities? I barely have time to catch my breath, let alone indulge in such a task.”

The old woman’s eyes twinkled as she spoke reassuringly, “Weaving this basket will bring you the wisdom you seek. Trust in the process, and you will find relief.”

Reluctantly, the leader decided to heed the old woman’s advice. They sat down and together, they began weaving the basket, working in different plants, vines and tendrils from the forest. 

The leader became absorbed in sensing and observing each strand as it was woven in.

The wise woman taught the art with patience and grace. As they worked, the leader found their thoughts gradually shifting away from their troubles and focusing instead on the rhythmic movements of their hands.

After many hours the wise woman, sensing the leader’s new-found calm, looked up from their task and spoke, “Now that you have discovered the power of the weaving itself, you are ready to learn the secrets of the strands.”

Intrigued, the leader inquired, “What do the strands of the basket represent?”

The wise woman replied, “Each strand represents the secrets of Life, the interconnectedness of all living beings, and the health and resilience of nature’s intricate balance. By weaving these strands, you will bring these profound truths closer to your heart, your mind, your words and your actions. Through your weaving you will bring health and joy to yourself, your people and the living kingdom that surrounds you.”

She continued slowly,

“The first strand represents observation – learning to see yourself and the world around you with new eyes

The second shares the secrets of creating life and finding purpose

The third teaches you that creating collaborations and inter-connected networks are the secrets to success

The fourth strands shares the magic of place and connecting with the land

The fifth strands will allow you to unleash great potential for innovation and creativity

The sixth shares nature’s great secrets of cycles, death and rebirth

When you weave the seventh strand you will discover how the great systems of Life do not hold power at the centre

The flexibility of the eighth strand, made of willow, will show you how to be adaptable so you can meet the great challenges that life brings

The ninth will teach you resilience –  with it you will be able to bounce back like a tree after a storm

The tenth strand is linked to the first and represents feedback – one of Life’s most magical processes – through this strand you will learn how to communicate so that your needs and the needs of others are met

The eleventh strand teaches the power of diversity – how valuing the many different types of people, living beings, ideas and ways of thinking, creates a healthier and more innovative system

The final strand, the twelfth strand is the strand of seasons and balance.  Through this you will learn to harness the power of rhythms and the changing seasons, for your life and your work. 

Days turned into weeks, and the basket slowly took shape. With each thread woven, the leader felt a sense of peace settling within them. The burden on their mind began to lift, and they could think more clearly than they had in years.

When the basket was finally complete, the old woman held it up, and the leader marvelled at its craftsmanship. The basket contained strands from the many different living beings that inhabited the forest, from the tiny strands of lichen to the towering willow, from the feather of a wren to the velvet of a deer’s antler, all woven into a beautiful sphere.  

“Thank you wise woman, the basket is beautiful, I understand its meaning now, and I am ready to make use of it” said the leader.

The old woman turned and, with a serious voice, proclaimed, “The basket is not quite finished. For it to be complete I need a hair from your head.”

“But already I have given so much of my time to my enterprise, to my team, and to the basket – why must I also give my hair?” 

“Trust me” said the wise woman “You, yourself must be present in the basket, enmeshed within the strands of the forest.  You must become truly part of the living world that surrounds you.  Only then will the basket reveal its magical powers.  The time has come for you to weave yourself into the basket.” 

So the leader took a lock of hair and, with the wise woman’s help, weaved it tight into the strands of the basket.  As they did so, a deep feeling of peace, of belonging and of acceptance came upon the leader.  

“From now on” the wise woman said, “this basket will be your guide. When you look into the strands you will see clearly how to live your life and lead your enterprise.  This will bring you much peace and true wealth.”  

“Place all your thoughts, ideas, worries, plans, tools and resources for yourself, your people and your organisation into the basket.  It will hold everything you wish, as long as what you place inside does not harm the balance of the forest.  

You will know when an idea or action is out of balance because the strands will not hold it and it will fall through the holes in the basket and pollute the earth.”

The leader gently took hold of the basket and started placing things into it.  To the leader’s surprise there seemed no limit to how much the basket could hold, and it was still light as a feather even with all the ideas, plans, strategies and visions placed inside.  The wise woman explained this was because all the living beings in the forest were now sharing the leader’s burdens and were holding their human cousin in their embrace.

A few weeks later, the leader returned to the wise woman in the forest to share some insights.  The leader explained that, on returning to the kingdom, they had expected to set aside the basket because it would be too burdensome to carry a vessel and work at the same time.  But that had not happened.

“Every time I put down the basket I found my head filled with other things – things that caused me stress, anxiety and more work.  When I picked up the basket again I had somewhere to place my thoughts, worries, ideas and this freed up space in my head.”

“Yes that is part of the basket’s magic” nodded the wise woman, for she had known that the leader would have to experience the power of the basket away from her guidance for it to have lasting effect.

“And what about your hands?” she continued

“I thought I would tire of holding a basket, even one as light as this, but each time I set the basket down, my hands filled with other tasks, and my big actions fell away. I became more overwhelmed, and felt my sense of purpose slipping from my grasp.  When I picked the basket up again, my positive visions for the future came flooding back into view.  

The magical thing is that the basket holds the ideas, tools and resources needed for my work and I still have one hand free to take the actions I want to!”

“You have now learned to harness the true potential of the basket of strands.” whispered the wise woman as she settled herself back down under the oak tree to wait for the next weary traveller. “Use them wisely and share them with those who are open-hearted and open-minded to new ways, as you are.”

As the leader held the basket, they could feel a profound sense of liberation. The weight of their responsibilities no longer bore down on them. They thanked the wise woman with a grateful heart, recognising the invaluable gift they had received.

For many years the business leader carried the basket with them at all times. Whenever the pressures of their work threatened to overwhelm them, they would place their concerns into the basket, knowing that they could now hold their worries without being consumed by them.  The basket guided them when times were difficult and helped them weather storms in life and work.

The presence of the interlocking strands reminded the leader that they were never alone and prompted them to seek out others to collaborate with, and with each new connection the basket became lighter and lighter.

The leader tested every new idea by placing it into the basket of strands. To start with, some ideas fell through the holes, leaving drops of pollution on the earth, but the leader soon became practised in which would be held in the embrace of the strands of the living beings (including their own lock of hair) that made up the basket.  They learned intuitively which plans would unleash new potential and create conditions for new life to emerge, just like the strands of Life suggested.

With a clearer mind and a lighter heart, the leader’s decisions became wiser, and their actions more purposeful. Their success in the business world grew stronger, but this time, it was accompanied by a newfound sense of harmony and balance.  As the children of the kingdom grew, the leader felt part of creating a better world and no longer felt anguish for the future of the children of the land or for the balance of nature.

People came from far and wide to learn the secrets of the strands which the leader gladly shared.  Each person was taught to weave their own basket, activating it with a lock of their own hair.  Even those who had initially scorned the wise woman’s ideas, couldn’t help but change when they saw the happiness and success that the baskets brought to whoever held them.

The people began weaving shared baskets too, with teams, enterprises and communities weaving baskets that took pride of place in the different parts of the kingdom.

As the baskets spread amongst the people, the forest itself grew healthier and stronger, sharing more diverse and stronger strands for the people to weave into their globe-shaped baskets. The forest and the people grew stronger together, connected to life in every decision that they made.

Many years later the leader returned to the forest to find the wise woman and thank her for the precious gift she had given, a gift which had now been shared throughout the land.

The wise old woman was nowhere to be seen, and instead a young man lived in the cottage under the oak tree.

“I want to thank the wise old woman, but I cannot find her,” exclaimed the leader.

The young man’s voice was joyful, tinged with sadness, “She has returned to the earth but if you look carefully you will see her in the soil and the trees and the plants and the animals growing in the forest, and she is there in the strands with which the people make their baskets.”  

The wise young man continued, “I am joyful because, before she died, she told me that she was content to return to the earth because her life’s work was complete – every human in the land now has a basket of Life’s strands!” 

“Can you keep a secret?” he whispered, “The wise woman also confided in me that very soon the people will learn that they no longer need to weave baskets –  because they now sense a deep knowing that the strands are running through them in whatever they do.  You will come to realise that you can access the wisdom of the strands any time you wish, by sensing inwards to yourself, and sensing outwards to the whole of nature. 

You will soon come to know that the whole Earth is the basket and you, yourselves are part of the interconnected strands of life. Strands that connect you to every other living being on Earth!”

And so, the story of the business leader and the wise woman in the woods became a legend, passed down through generations, a reminder of how the wisdom of the strands was lost and then re-found by courageous leaders who weren’t afraid to open their hearts, connect with those  around them and take on the joyful, unburdening task of weaving the strands of Life.

This fable came to me in a dream in July 2023 and brought together many of the themes we explore in our Think Like a Forest Regenerative Organisation Fundamentals programme.  

You can probably guess from the fact that I dream regenerative fables that I ‘live and breathe’ regenerative leadership and am passionate about bringing it to a wide audience.

This fable is, of course, a very different format from the programme (which is much more direct and practical), but I hope it has given some inspiration as to the ‘new ways of thinking, being and doing’ that we offer (and that the Earth needs).

Whilst the fable can, of course, be ‘analysed’ to understand its meaning, I would instead urge you to ‘sense into’ its meaning with your whole body, your senses, and emotions, and not simply employ the analytical (left-brain) part of you. This is a new (ancient) way of ‘knowing’ that balances the different parts of us and re-connects some of the separation that has occurred over centuries. This story of separation we will dig into in the programme, as it answers many of the questions of why we got into this mess and why there is hope for the future. The work of the regenerative leader is a sensing inwards and a sensing outwards – and it is a skill we can all cultivate.

With Abundance

Sarah Spencer

You can find out more about our regenerative programmes for leaders, businesses and organisations here

p.s I’d love to know what you think of the fable?  Did it move you, make you uncomfortable, did it lead to any a-ha moments?  Storytelling can be unfamiliar in a business context, but many people are now recognising that we will need to create new stories to share a vision for a new, regenerative way of doing business.

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