Archives for category: Coaching

In the early days of map making cartographers designated unexplored regions with images of threatening beasts. “Here be dragons.” The image serves us today. How do we face the demons that lie within us?

A first step in confronting our dragons is to see them for what they are. My profession has taught me to pay attention to projection – the unconscious tendency to transfer our personal dynamics on to others whom we then blame (or bless). Becoming aware of our fears begins to defuse them.

A second step is to explore what our demons tell us about ourselves. Why are they there? In one of his letters written to a young poet Rainer Marie Rilke writes:

We have no reason to distrust our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors. If it has an abyss, it is ours… And if we would live with faith in the value of what is challenging, then what now appears to us as most alien will become our truest, most trustworthy friend.  (July 11th, p. 192) 

Lastly, when we befriend our fears by acknowledging their truth, we often find they hold a jewel. Rilke continues:

Let us not forget the ancient myths … about dragons that at the last moment transform into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act just once with beauty and courage. Perhaps every terror is, in its deepest essence, something that needs our recognition or help.

If our demons are powers that call out for our recognition or help, what is one of yours? What is its truth? Who is it calling you to be? What is it calling you to do?

 

Obstacles in our lives come from two sources, and each can define us. Powerful weather events – violent storms, floods, wildfires – inflict change that is outside our control. Less obvious but perhaps more influential are the constraints we impose on ourselves from within.

The stories we tell ourselves are one example of a self-imposed limit. Many of those stories originate with hurtful events that have scarred us or messages of inadequacy that we have adopted and reinforced by repetition – not smart enough, not attractive enough, not good enough. Many of us have carried these stories around for years. What if we could remove those obstacles and tell a new story?

Fear is the second obstruction that most of us face. Who hasn’t worried about being abandoned or embarrassed or failing at something important? Often, our fears block us from stepping out, up or in to our fullness. What if we could move through our fears to acknowledge and embrace our gifts and celebrate the unique person we are?

If you are one who tends to constrict yourself, The Book of Joy may be a good resource. A quick and inspirational read, the book captures five days of conversations between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Each has known incredible hardships imposed from the outside. Spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama has lived much of his life in exile. Spiritual leader of Anglicans in South Africa, Archbishop Tutu has lived much of his life under the system of apartheid.

Each has met those challenges with astounding resilience, revealing the inherent love, goodness and joy within their hearts. Their examples inspire each of us to remove the obstacles that hide the radiance of our own inner light.

 

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How many times have you plopped into bed at the end of the day too tired to remember or value the gifts in your waking hours? How many of your days have flowed into weeks and then months, perhaps even years, without your dreams interrupting your routines?

The start of a new year offers an opportunity to reset intentions. What if you choose one episode to be the day’s gift? At the start of the day set one expectation that you anticipate. At day’s end look back upon the interaction that had the most impact and the lesson it served up for you. During the day, when you are surprised by an interaction, pause long enough to wonder about its meaning.

I am adopting this practice and finding it to be a very useful way to nurture mindfulness, joy, appreciation and purpose. One example comes from connecting the dots between recent conversations with a colleague. They are leading me to a modest role in a project he is coordinating related to our mutual professional interests.

Just one thing each day can add up to significant shifts in our life’s trajectory. Words from Maya Angelou’s 1993 inaugural poem, On the Pulse of Morning, elevate the message.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need for this bright morning dawning for you. History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage, need not be lived again. Lift up your eyes upon the day breaking for you. Give birth again to the dream.

Women, children, men, take it into the palms of your hands. Mold it into the shape of your most private need. Sculpt it into the image of your most public self. Lift up your hearts. Each new hour holds new chances for new beginnings.

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Each of us writes our life’s narrative. Have you ever wondered why certain people have shown up in it? — those who lifted you up, those who darkened your days or those who left you wondering?

The closing of a year provides a timely opportunity to ask ourselves, “who were/are these people to me?”

Our stories have many purposes. They relay information and interpret events. They entertain. They also define us as individuals and communities.

Have you noticed that many of the most memorable stories are populated by distinctive characters? Often, they seem larger than life, exaggerated versions of our fears and foibles, our hopes and dreams. In most stories, and certainly in our own lives, the characters we meet often play a special role.

Reflect for a moment. Who were Tiresias, the Sirens and Cyclops to Odysseus? Who were the White Rabbit, the Cheshire cat and the Mad Hatter to Alice? Who were the Winged Monkeys, Glinda and Oz to Dorothy? Who were Yoda, Princess Leia and Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker?

In each case the characters represent more than their physical appearance. They tweak our curiosity. They threaten us and stoke our fears. They surprise us with insights and new possibilities. They tap our imaginations. They show us our courage when our knees are weak.

They are gatekeepers to the world of shadows and enlightenment. They are guardians of crucial information. They are guides who provide protection and encourage us to see the precious jewels in adversity. They help us see the essence of who we are.

Who are the main characters who populate your narrative? What was/is the meaning of their presence? Who are those who had/have the most impact on your life? What did/do they teach you about yourself and your journey?

 

 

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Has life ever handed you set backs or conundrums? Has it surprised you with health issues? natural calamities? relationship dynamics? job loss? cultural or political shifts? In one of his most compelling teachings, Alan Seale suggests that your answers to three questions may help you find your way.

When something extraordinary rocks our world, it usually exceeds our ability to explain or justify. A line from Bob Dylan’s song Ballad of a Thin Man comes to mind: “…something is happening here but you don’t know what it is do you, Mr. Jones?”

The first question is: What wants to happen here? Alan encourages us to turn from fear to curiosity. Since our usual explanations are inadequate, what are some possibilities that we haven’t considered? The Chinese word for “crisis” combines the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.” It takes courage to believe there is opportunity on the other side of our vulnerability. However, unless we venture, we will never know.

Who is that asking me to be? Responding to new possibilities may force us either to reclaim basic values we have neglected or to embrace capacities that we have failed to acknowledge. Who are the parts of self that the crisis is calling into the center of our personal mandala?

What is that asking me to do? What are steps I can take to acknowledge that I am not in Kansas anymore? I may not be able to rewind a circumstance, but I do have the power to move toward the openings that new possibilities present. The actions need not be large. They need only be sustained.

For a more detailed exploration of the questions Alan poses, read his blog for this week.

 

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In an article this week, Why American Leadership Fails, David Brooks differentiates between a career and a vocation. While the main thrust of his commentary is to illustrate current political dynamics, the distinction applies to each of us on our own life’s path.

A career is something you choose; a vocation is something you are called to. A person choosing a career asks, how can I get the best job…? A person summoned by a vocation asks, how can my existing abilities be put in service of the greatest common good?

 A career is a job you do as long as the benefits outweigh the costs; a vocation involves falling in love with something, having a conviction about it and making it part of your personal identity.

 A vocation involves promises to some ideal, it reveals itself in a sense of enjoyment as you undertake its tasks and it can’t be easily quit when setbacks and humiliations occur.  As others have noted, it involves a double negative – you can’t not do this thing.

As one who coaches others to live their lives fully, I find the double negative compelling. The question becomes, how do we discover the thing we can’t not do?

One answer is to clarify what we value most and the things we do best. What pursuits yield our greatest joy? What activities bring us the greatest fulfilment? Who are the people and what are the situations that most attract us?

Students and grads of the equine coaching program with whom Peggy and I work have found their calling and are developing it. You are blessed if you can you say the same about your own path. If not yet, then is it not time to take your next step?

 

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It is early Sunday morning. The candle burns without a flicker in the still air of the room. Rain begins tapping gently on the skylight, its arrival a surprise. As the tempo increases the mantra of my meditation yields to the refrain of camp directors I once knew. It is a silver day.

Implicit in that message were two expectations. On the one hand, it informed campers and staff that most activities would be held indoors or special gear was needed for being outside. At a more sublime level the announcement was a pivot to channel any potential disappointment into opportunity.

There are many silver linings to a rainy day. On our hillside the thirsty garden drinks, as do the parched fields. The empty brook bed sings again accompanied by the chorus of forest leaves deflecting the downpour. The bird baths fill. Outdoor projects yield to unfinished work inside. It is a metaphor for turning inward, and for those of us who are introverts inward is home base!

The greatest lesson of a silver day is a reminder about the power of expectations. They shape our attitudes and effort which in turn influence the way we show up. A quote attributed to Henry Ford says it all: If you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right!

What does a rainy day say to you? Do your expectations shift? Do you anticipate a rainbow?

 

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Ever wonder why someone in particular is in your life? That person may be someone who is dear or obnoxious, affirming or unnerving, compatible or divergent. What questions does s/he raise for you?

Those of us who belong to families or interact with children or work with our heads or our hands or teach or buy groceries or volunteer or show up as friends — in short, all of us – define ourselves by the way we respond to the questions posed by others. In fact, where would we be without the queries proffered by life and those with whom we share it?

Raising questions and exploring answers to those questions is critical to shaping our lives and the meaning that accompanies them. We need each other for that exchange. Those of us in the “helping” professions are taught to frame questions in such a way that in answering clients recognize and embrace their own truths.

Even in the midst of our perplexities or discouragement, whether in the asking or in the answering, questions are intermediaries of grace that can lead us into deeper levels of appreciation, insight, wonder, meaning and joy. Denise Levertov brings this home to us in her poem, A Gift.

Just when you seem to yourself

nothing but a flimsy web

of questions, you are given

the questions of others to hold

in the emptiness of your hands,

songbird eggs that can still hatch

if you keep them warm,

butterflies opening and closing themselves

in your cupped palms, trusting you not to injure

their scintillant fur, their dust.

You are given the questions of others

as if they were answers

to all you ask. Yes, perhaps

this gift is your answer.

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I took this morning’s first sip of coffee on the porch overlooking the distant hills. Day light crept across the trees below casting shadows on the far side of emerging leaves. Birds sang their songs of a new day’s connection, and thoughts of a friend came to mind.

Once more he undergoes chemo, this time for a new cancer unrelated to the first. His is a warrior spirit. His life is filled with passion and directed by purpose. It is this energy that will see him through yet again.

A reading from A Grateful Heart introduced me to another warrior whose attitude toward her cancer over thirty years ago provides a life lesson for us all, regardless of our history or the circumstances we face today.

In the lines below Dawna Markova’s message is both elusively simple and intensely profound. Our task in life is twofold: to find our passion, what we care most deeply about, and to live our purpose, that which gives meaning to our being here. Our daily choices both shape and convey the ways we fulfill the task.

I will not die an unlived life. / I will not live in fear

of falling or catching fire.

I choose to inhabit my days, / to allow my living to open me,

To make me less afraid, / more accessible, / to loosen my heart

until It becomes a wing, / a torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance;

To live so that which came to me as seed

Goes to the next as blossom

And that which came to me as blossom,

Goes on as fruit.

 

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This morning two thoughts met in my mind and began to dance. They extend their hands to you in hopes you will join them in composing your day, especially if you are one who is searching for your life’s purpose.

The first thought comes from yesterday’s meditation in Joan Borysenko’s Pocketful of Miracles. It reminds us to pay attention to the “still, small voice within.” It is that voice which holds the clues to our unique calling in the universe. Our task is to pay attention to it and dance with it.

Patience is related to authentic spiritual courage. It is the deep faith that the universe is unfolding as it should, even when things are not happening according to our own plans or timetables. All we can do is act in integrity, in accordance with our priorities and the guidance of the still, small voice within. After that, we must surrender all attachment to the results.

The companion theme comes from M. J. Ryan’s anthology, A Grateful Heart. As the father of four children who dance to the music of their own callings, the image has particular resonance.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost, the world will not have it.” So said dancer Martha Graham…we pray that each of us find our unique life force and express it as fully as we possibly can.

May each of us tune in to the still, small voice within and embrace the gifts of our special dance in the world.