Giraffes, Charred Heroes & Sticking Your Neck Out
07 June 2007

A high-flying corporate executive dealing with people who were a 'pain in the neck', Dale Ferguson also experienced a literal pain (and tumour) in her neck. Exploring these connections through art, she embarked on an inner journey which changed the course of her life.

John Sanford says that dreams are God's unspoken language. We all dream at night whether we recall the dreams or not. One of my dreams brought the image of a giraffe... a blue giraffe. This giraffe later brought me important messages about my life and my soul.

As an English major I never planned on having a corporate or consulting career. My plan was to write, be Super Wife and have five kids. Fate turned me into a single parent of two boys under three. I kind of blew in sideways into a corporate management track career in a fortune 50 company. I held many positions and roles, including line and staff positions, profit and loss responsibilities, start ups, turnarounds and consulting firms helping people and organizations in crisis and restructuring. I learned quickly that in leadership one needs to have the courage to stick your neck out and take a stand; that we all learn best from experience...both good and bad. And, we all have clay feet.

I worked with many mid-to-senior level executives dealing with executive and leadership development, the human-capital side of mergers and acquisitions, and what I now call 'Charred Heroes'. These are people who have armoured themselves much like the rocket ships launched in Florida, coated with a protective fire proof shell to protect the rocket against the extreme heat of re-entry. Corporate survivors.

I love Tennyson's quote, 'The shell must break before the bird can fly.'

Many of the most successful people/heroes I have crossed paths with have cracked or broken their shell in very positive ways. In life and certainly in business we all seem to don our armour...our masks. In many cases this is appropriate and it can serve us well - up to a point. But in many cases the masks or armour can distance us from ourselves, others, our soul and a 'higher being'. The shell must break if we are to become authentic. I assist in breaking shells.

As a business consultant, several of the 'armoured' people I worked with left me with a tension in my shoulders and the left side of my neck. I finally realized they were indeed a pain in the neck. What was interesting to me was that ten years before I had a tumour removed from the left side of my neck. It was non-malignant and was said to be the type that rarely returned. Mine returned over five times over the course of fifteen years.

In college I was always drawn to art and was raised with lots of art and classical music. I wanted to be an artist, but finding myself a single parent, I asked an artist whom I admired if I could put two boys through college as an artist. The response was not encouraging, so I became an art collector and stayed in the corporate arena.

After my second surgery I coincidentally decided to take a clay class. My boys were grown and on their own and I decided to follow my heart. The first time I touched the clay an energy surged through my body and brought tears to my eyes...sweaty eyes I call it, when strong emotion surfaces when I least expect it, and when I am not ready to feel it or deal with the feelings. I found, in the figurative hand building classes I took, that the clay had a mind of its own. Figures would emerge that I discovered were healing deep soul wounds that had piled up during my corporate and consulting days, which are still a part of my life.

A series of talking heads created themselves. A concave man with a brown nose and a red power tie emerged, and named himself 'The Empty Suit.' A torso, with several glazes and a glaze pencil that, like automatic writing, drew lines on the figure, including her generous bottom...named herself 'The Bottom Line'. Messages came to me through the clay and also at night in my dreams.

As I continued my consulting and took clay classes I also embarked on the work of Carl Jung and some of his work on the symbols in dreams. One of the symbols that came to me was a graceful giraffe. I decided to make a giraffe of clay. Working on the long neck felt healing to my hands and indirectly to my own neck. I have had one neck surgery since I made the first giraffe. After that surgery, what seemed to be my soul voice came from within and said, 'I'm outta here in this corporate work...best you come with me.' I said I would follow, and continued with the clients I had, and accepted clients who came to me or were referred, that felt right energetically, and began my quest into deep work with dream symbols. I spent more of my time with the clay work, dream work and clients who showed up and felt right.

I have since made a series of giraffes. I have learned that they are a strong symbol of leadership... the lump on the head symbolizing the ability to see long distances, to stick the neck out and take risks, and to offer the vision of a third eye, via intuition and seeing the big picture. They have few if any predators and are not an attacking or aggressive animal. They are most vulnerable when they spread their long legs apart to drink water, the symbol of spiritual depth and transformation. They have much to teach me...about not keeping the head and the heart too far apart in the world of business and life in general.

The giraffes have helped me embrace my own vulnerability, which brings out authenticity, and helps me go within to depths that help me connect even deeper with self, God and others. Working with clay has helped me help others remove some of their armour, and come through the charred hero passage a more whole person.

My work in clay is my path to my inner world ... an inner connection, which brings insightful gifts of learning for me, as well as a chuckle or two. I love the multiple meanings that seem to emerge after the work is complete...meanings that have brought healing and humour in my midlife passage of not taking myself too seriously.

Dale Ferguson's art can be seen at dalefergusonart.com Her consulting work is through www.innerworksgroup.com

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