A Q&A with Sherwood Soley, IMS Development Coordinator
Sherwood Soley recently joined IMS as development coordinator, moving to Barre, MA, from Philadelphia. To welcome him to IMS and to help the sangha get to know Sherwood better, IMS staff writer Raquel Baetz interviewed him about his background, his work and meditation experience, and what he enjoys doing when he’s not fundraising.
Tell us about your background, including your experience working in development.
I started in development with the Pittsburgh Opera about 20 years ago and I loved working within the arts. From there, I went to Familylinks, a human services organization in Pittsburgh, where I worked as a community integration manager. This role involved connecting people’s desire to give with the needs of the organization.
I also worked in development at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum, where I organized a lot of donor events. I loved doing events there because it’s a beautiful architectural space filled with fascinating collections that tell the history of medicine.
From there, I switched gears a bit and began pursuing an interest in coaching for organizations. I was and am interested in how organizations bring a constituent in and how they cultivate deeper relationships with those people. That brought me to personal coaching and looking at how we move deeper into our own lives.
I have also taught yoga and meditation through Sheltered Yoga in Philadelphia. This is an organization that brings the practice of mindfulness into shelters, transitional organizations, correctional facilities, and more. I did a lot of different work there in addition to teaching, including helping to build the curriculum, fundraising, and organizational development.
What made you want to work at IMS?
I’m here because I love mindfulness. I love what it has done for me. I love what the Dharma teaches, and I wanted to continue to grow my learning within it. I want to root myself in the Dharma so that I am more grounded. And so that I can use my background and experience to share the Dharma with more people.
To be here, to have the support of this sangha, is amazing. You can feel the energy and the stillness everywhere here, and it’s a constant reminder to slow down and take a breath.
I also wanted to move to a rural setting. I had been living in cities for more than 20 years and it was time for me to return to something slower with access to more nature, parks, and forests.
What are your work priorities at IMS?
Right now, I’m focusing on our monthly giving program, Sustaining the Sangha, and how we can grow it into a rich, vibrant community. There are a lot of benefits to monthly giving, and I want people who give monthly to be recognized for the integral part they play in keeping IMS thriving. So, one of my major goals is to nurture and develop this group of people.
Also, I’m looking at our social media program and how we can reach new audiences through it. As we’ve seen with IMS Online, the appetite for mindfulness, meditation, and the Dharma is there. So, I’m working on finding that audience and developing them to continue to expand access to the practice and the teachings.
We are also in the process of upgrading our development database to enable us to provide more personalized information and communications with donors.
Tell us about your personal meditation practice and what it means to you.
I started meditating 14 years ago as part of my yoga practice. It slowly grew from there into my own practice at home.
I consider myself a spiritual mutt. I’ve studied with many different teachers and many different forms of mindfulness. My practice is about getting in touch with what’s moving through me. I’m interested in uncovering what the story is that I’m telling myself or showing to the world. Does it serve me? How can I live a story that’s more compassionate to the world and to myself? How can I be more forgiving toward myself for being human and for making mistakes? I’ve never been in this exact moment before, so how can I have an expectation of being perfect when all I have is what’s unfolding right here and now?
My practice—whether it’s on the cushion or off—is about being with the perfection of each moment, just as it is, without the story or expectations or wanting or desiring. It’s about learning to be kind with myself and noticing my relationship to the unfolding of my life.
What else are you up to?
In addition to mindfulness, I love science fiction, and I’m working on a project that combines them. I’m currently calling it “Earth 2222.” It’s the story of what Earth would be like if everyone meditated. We’ve seen a lot more people practicing meditation because of the pandemic. Schools are implementing meditation, as are hospitals, police forces, correctional facilities, etc. So, what if everyone started to meditate and it was commonplace? What does the world look like 200 years in the future?
Rather than writing a dystopian story of war, conflict, and struggle, I want to tell a new story in which society has begun to really shift, and we are more compassionate, loving, aware, and conscious of our choices, actions, and our interconnectedness.
Finally, I understand that you have a disco ball in your office. Is this true?
I wish it was! I hung a Swarovski crystal on a solar-powered spinner in my window, and when the light hits it just right, a rainbow of colors flies around the walls. It’s like a disco ball. It happens at 1 or 2 in the afternoon, so if you’re around and it’s sunny, stop in and be bedazzled by it.