Archives for category: Coaching

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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.

 

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Are you one who defers or deflects? I am too busy. I am not ready. I am not capable. I am not worthy. I am afraid too many of us have bottled up our real passions or dreams and put them on hold for some future “when the time is right.”

If you are one of those folks, call yourself out and resolve to make a change. With a new year just beginning, what better time than now?  The following poem by Judith Gass may help inspire a break through to “the full and magnificent tides of your own longing.”

Why are you waiting to begin your life?

Do you think the world must care and come soliciting?

Listen to the knocking at the door of your own heart

It is only faint because you have not answered

You have fooled yourself with preparations

Time left laughing while you considered possibilities

Wake up, you have slept long enough

Wake up, tomorrow may be too late

 

When you finally dare open the door

Your life will begin arriving

Cautiously at first unbelieving that the gate

So long locked against the tide has finally been opened

Then with swells of neglected dreams

Then with waves of joyful revelation the sea will follow

You will be swept by the full and magnificent tides of

Your own longing

That no one else can give you

That no one else can claim.

 

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At our monthly men’s group meeting this week one of our members remarked how quickly time is passing. Now in his sandwich years his life overflows with the joys and duties of spouse, father and son. Like many he struggles to balance all of this with grace, while at the same time responding to the nagging tug that wonders if there is something more to satisfy his soul’s longing.

More than twenty years his senior, I smiled to myself, having traversed much of the ground that lies before him – not that his journey will be similar to mine, but that he will continue to formulate his answers to the questions that life brings to each of us. For me the focus is the closing window of time remaining and the fear that it will slip away unattended.

I continue to ask myself two questions. Am I doing my soul’s work? Am I doing it with the people who love, challenge and encourage me? My joy and blessing is that I am able to answer YES to both questions.

Do you answer YES? If not, an opportunity invites you to take the first step now to move toward your YES.

As my friend spoke, the refrain of a favorite song visited me with its lyrical counsel about time, fear and friendship. It is Sandy Denny’s signature song also covered by Judy Collins.

And I am not alone, while my love is near me. 

I know it will be so until it’s time to go.

So come the storms of winter and then the birds in spring again

I have no fear of time.

For who know where time goes?

Who knows where the time goes?

 

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Ever think about how to get the knowledge you seek? Two guidelines may help. Be clear about the information you want and be mindful that the way you ask questions may determine the results you get.

If you seek facts, a direct question will yield a verifiable answer – what is the voting age? If you ask a closed-ended question – did you vote? – the response may be clear and quick (yes or no) but may end the conversation.

Inquiry is important to expanding our lives, and open-ended questions serve that purpose best. The following question stimulates a variety of possibilities: What would it take to maximize voting participation?

My sister introduced me to an organization that trains people from all walks of life to ask better questions and participate more effectively in decisions that affect them. The Right Questions Institute has developed a question formulation process that works with schools, community organizations, health providers, businesses and families. You can learn more at their website.

Some questions can lead us into the most important answers we seek in life, inquiries of the heart – why am I here? what is happiness? how can I make a difference? For the answers to these life-defining questions Stephen Mitchell counsels us well in his translation of advice to a young poet from Rainer Maria Rilke.

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves… Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

 

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Those of us who live close to the land are graced with many blessings. Moments like the one captured in the photo below are an example – an October sunrise from the ridge where we live.

Many gifts of the earth are essential to our survival – the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we consume. The aesthetic beauty of the earth expands our hearts; the sense of place grounds our spirits.

A poem by David Wagoner from the anthology Life Prayers offers another grace note of bounty from the earth. Have you ever been turned around in the woods, maybe even lost for a moment? Ever been turned around a bit in your life, having lost your direction? Perhaps you are facing such a time today.

For most of us finding our way (again) begins with being fully present to the moment and its messengers, “to know it and be known.”

Stand still. The trees ahead and the bushes beside you are not lost. Where ever you are is called HERE. And you must treat it as a powerful stranger. Must ask permission to know it and be known.

The forest breathes. Listen. It answers, I have made this place around you. If you leave it, you may come back again, saying, HERE. No two trees are the same to Raven. No two branches are the same to wren.

If what tree or bush does is lost on you, you are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows where you are. You must let it find you.

October Sunrise on the Ridge (2015) IMG_0306

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Our minds are magnificent liberators. They are also bedeviling oppressors. Much suffering in life is linked to the entrapment of our minds, as we become attached to the pleasurable highs and find the oppressive lows aversive. How can we mitigate the debilitating messages and harness our minds for happiness?

I am working on three strategies. The first is to interrupt the chatter. When the messages seem to be high jacking my thoughts or feelings, I find that a momentary deep breath or a change of activity provides a sufficient time-out to break through the static and allow me to refocus.

The second strategy involves the decision to create a new routine. Research on the brain is finding that a significant percentage of our daily behavior (40%) is habitual. The more the brain can relegate its management of repetitive situations to habit, the more it devotes its energy to paying attention and solving new problems. Two helpful resources for this are Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit and Daniel Goleman’s Focus.

For the past several years I have begun each day with a period of yoga, reading and sitting meditation. That routine has helped me diminish old patterns and pay attention to new potential.

The last strategy is the most difficult to do: let go of outcomes. That isn’t to say let go of dreams, setting goals and advocating for our beliefs. It means that despite our best planning, our most committed effort and our most devoted advocacy, results may turn out differently. Rather than bemoan the loss of what we had envisioned, we have the opportunity to open ourselves to possibilities we had never considered.

Taming the mind is both a daily opportunity and challenge. What strategies are working for you?