How to Be the Sage Commander

Entering the forest

“As the Sage Commander, you start with yourself. Thus the first question is not what to do, but how to be. Simply being oneself brings about a power that is often lost in the rush to be something else.” (The Art of War, Denma Translation Group)

We can’t hope to be clear and insightful in charge of others, if we can’t be clear and insightful when we’re just in charge of ourselves. Part of what we need to practice is cultivating the innate wisdom that we all possess, that is often obscured by our performance of what we think we should be.

Sounds good, but we need a path of practice to follow to make any such leadership ideas real and applicable. Here’s a simple Sage Commander practice you can do every day. Jim Drescher taught me this.

Jim and Margaret Drescher have an amazing forest woodlot at Windhorse Farm, and he has studied sustainable forestry with many experienced foresters. One old-timer, trying to get Jim to relate to his work in the forest in a more discerning way, told him, “When you go into the forest, stop and state your intention before you enter. Say it aloud, in a loud voice.”

Jim does this. I’ve tried it too. It’s strangely embarrassing to speak aloud when we’re totally alone. No one can hear us, but we feel exposed. How weird is that? We don’t like being exposed even to ourselves. But this can be a surprisingly powerful way of “starting with ourselves.”

Sometimes when I hear what I say it sounds trite or incomplete or self-deceptive. Sometimes I realize that I’m saying what I think my intention should be or what I think would sound good to others if they heard it. Sometimes I even feel I need to turn and walk away without entering the forest, to collect my thoughts and try again. I really feel as if the forest sees through my lack of authenticity. It can take a few tries to understand and accept my real, best motivation.

Try this when leaving the house in the morning. Find a place where no one can hear you, perhaps at your front door, perhaps in your car, perhaps in the bathroom with the water running. Perhaps not in the shower; too comforting.

State your intention aloud about some aspect of the day ahead. Choose something that matters. Speak up, as if you are telling not just yourself, but the world you are about to enter. You can’t do this silently in your head, you lose the power of it. Wait, and listen to it. Does it sound true? Ask yourself, “Why did I say that?” What does it tell you about yourself? If it doesn’t feel true, try again.

When you’re satisfied with it, step forward into that intention. Carry it with you. Perhaps find a place at midday to repeat it to yourself, out loud. Speak up. See what sort of feedback the day gives you about it. See whether you understand your intention well.

Why do this? Because it’s hard to be deeply engaged with life if we don’t know why we even show up. And it’s easier to be engaged with life if we feel we’re showing up for the right reason.

Doing this regularly over time, as a practice, gives us a moment each day to have some insight into what matters, and to be clear about what we’re doing. It’s a Sage Commander practice for everyday, whether we’re in charge of big, complex operations, or just ourselves.

To find our more about Windhorse Farm, which is now for sale, click here.


  1. Hi Crane- I really liked the Sage Commander article. This one in particular was timely for me, and it gave me shivers! that’s how I know for sure it’s relevant for me.

    I’d heard this advice about the forest before, but never incorporated it into my daily life; this time I will. Lately I’ve been feeling like a kite, flying in the wind, it’s an exciting ride and great view, but I’m aware that I’m only grounded by a thin string. At this particular stage of life I find myself looking for a stronger grounding without losing the exciting ride and view of flying.

    Your Sage Commander comes at the right time for me. It’s a do-able practice that will help me find my authentic intention in life, which could give me a stronger, more solid grounding, and probably allow me to reach even more heights.

    What often stops me from taking action is not knowing if it really fits with my values. The Sage Commander practice will allow me do-overs – if what I speak does not at first sound accurate or authentic, I can try again – no errors, just a path to clarity.

    Thanks for allowing the opportunity to comment – it’s my jumping off point for a new daily practice!

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