Thursday, December 1, 2011

In the Presence of the Other

Nothing is more important to me than being heard. Reflecting on what enhances communication and what hinders it, I have recently become aware of the presence of the "Other", that uncomfortable and unseen thing that sometimes creeps into conversations. This shows up in many ways, and I suspect that each of us has a slightly different perspective. Let me offer you some examples to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. Many years ago I approached a friend and shared with her that my grandmother had just died. She said "oh, I'm so sorry", and promptly changed the subject. The Other is often a taboo subject of some sort that causes someone to shut down and turn away. There is a much more subtle example on the other end of the spectrum.On occasion I have shared an opinion or belief, and heard in response something like this: "I wonder if this isn't a better word to describe what you're feeling (offering a word that changes the intent of what I said)... I totally understand what you're saying, we're so much alike." In this instance the response to the perceived sense of otherness is to adjust it to better reflect the listener's experience so there can be a bonding experience.

I have my own powerful and  personal reactions to the presence of the Other. Growing up in a reserved household, I experience great shock and dismay when confronted with a dramatic emotional blast. I may be similarly stunned when someone says or does something that confronts me with the reality of how unlike me they are. In both these instances I am simply struck dumb, in such a state of shock that I can barely move, let alone speak.

Given these everyday conversational hits and misses, and our likely very normal reactions when we experience the Other, it is perhaps not surprising that we find churches banning interracial couples from membership, states creating restrictive laws about immigration, and a Congress that is so polarized they can't be civil to one another, let alone get any work done.

As we move into the holiday season, I wonder what might happen if each of us sat in the presence of the Other, with all of our differences and disagreements, armed only with a sense of curiosity and a desire to understand? Earlier today I found myself humming "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me". Perhaps if we could all endure the unknown, the differences, just a moment longer, a bit more light could, and would, come into the world.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Rain of Leaves

The falling leaves of autumn teach me about letting go and passing away. I like to stand in the deep woods and watch the leaves rain down. Some seem to fall gladly and willingly, while others need to be shaken free by the wind. What I especially notice as I watch the leaves is just how easy it seems. One second the leaf is attached to the branch… the next second it is falling. The letting go seems effortless, and the descent is often slow and gentle. Watching this fills me with a sense of peace. I am quite sure that this is how I want to die. So I watch, and pay attention, every year. Trying to absorb the ease with which this happens and trying to take in just how easy letting go can be.

A friend recently asked “what do you do when things are hopeless?” (As a life coach people imagine I have the answer to questions like this). After some hemming and hawing I asked “what advice does your higher self have?” The response: Let go. Immediately followed by the question… but how do I do that? This is why I watch the rain of leaves every year.

While people typically connect the return of the light to the winter solstice, for me the light returns when the leaves fall. Living surrounded by woods, I see the light streaming through the branches as the canopy empties. The sun, sky, clouds and stars become visible in places they were hidden all summer. If you are contemplating letting go, look around to see where the light is streaming in. What is being illuminated? What is revealed that was once hidden?

My feet are crunching the leaves now when I walk through the woods. A thick layer of leaves is being laid down, providing a blanket of protection against the cold of winter and nourishment for next spring’s growth. This is the cycle of living and of dying. I imagine the leaves falling with a sense of relief and excitement… relieved that this part of their journey has come to an end and now they can rest. Excited about the transformation that will allow them to support the growth of the forest in a new and different way. In what ways do your experiences fertilize the ground for your next project or job, or just for tomorrow?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The One Thing I Know for Sure

The electronic universe has discovered that I am starting a new business. This has resulted in a plethora of e-mails every day that alert  me to the 5 Secrets of Attracting New Clients, the 3 Things I Must Must Not Do When Using Social Media, and the Sure Fire Way to Double My Income in a Month. They are all geared to assuring my success as an entrepreneur, and they all suggest that if I only do what they tell me that I will, in fact, succeed.

Well, my world is both more simple and more complex. Simple in that there is only one thing I know for sure: If you want to make something happen you need to Show Up and Do the Work. Complex because anyone that is paying attention knows that this can be a very difficult thing to do. Take, for instance, writing this blog. It is clear even to me that writing a blog is a good way to introduce myself to the world of potential life coaching clients. However, this means that I have to come to grips with a few facts of life. As an introvert, the act of writing a blog is all about becoming visible. This puts me on the shifting sands of risky business. The act of public writing forces me to swallow the belief that no one is interested in what I have to say. (Help me overcome this by leaving a comment... please!) Finally, blogging is just one piece of a larger challenge, which is to step out into the world in a new way. There are days when that scares the bejeezus out of me. And yet, to make this happen I need to show up and do the work.

There are so many other things I might be doing, but tonight circumstances have conspired to help me sit down and pound this out. It's raining. Nothing good is on TV. I've made a commitment to an accountability partner to write a blog post this week and next (it is often easier to just do something than it is to explain to someone why you didn't do it). And I have promised myself a reward when I finish this.

What are the things that keep you from taking the next step? Where do you find the support you need to stay focused on your goal? When was the last time you looked your fear in the face and then took the leap? If you are engaged in a process to bring something into being and are moving forward, give yourself a pat on the back and do something nice for yourself. Acknowledge that you have the motivation and fortitude to do this even if it's hard. If you're stuck... Find a way. Show up. Do the work.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wounds, Healing and Inspiration

In the movie Dolphin Tale, the dolphin Winter loses her tail after getting tangled in a crab trap. She is rescued, and healed, by a group of committed and loving people. Successfully fitted with a prosthetic tail, she has become an inspiration to many.

Since seeing the movie, I've been thinking about the link between wounds and inspiration. Losing a tail was a real tragedy and Winter was pretty depressed about it.They thought she might give up and die. But, with the help of people that cared she hung in there and look what happened. There is something about the storyline of tragedy, healing, and sharing that touches us, and this is something Hollywood is very good at delivering. Of course, people suffer grievous wounds every day, recover, and move into the world in ways that are awe-inspiring. This year a double amputee might qualify to run in the 2012 Olympics. Parents dedicate themselves to promoting anti-bullying initiatives after their child has committed suicide. People battle illness and beat the odds.

So now I'm looking at my life and my wounds, and wondering "What can I do? How can I take my personal struggles and triumphs and share them in a way that touches others?" In all of the examples I just gave, the wound is visible and obvious. Not all wounds are. Mine are deep inside, well hidden from view.So what can I do with that? How can the healing be made visible? Today, I have no answers, only questions. Those I can share.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Joy of Parachuting

One day, back in 1978, I looked “parachuting” up in the Yellow Pages, found a local “school”, and signed myself and a friend up for a Saturday morning expedition. This would be the fulfillment of a long-held dream.

Growing up in a town with a flying club, I expected to find a hanger, a few planes, and a tarmac runway. As we rattled up a dirt road to the address given, we were greeted with a 3-bay garage, a large expanse of grass, and a single airplane, reminding me of Sky King (which reference only children of the 50’s and 60’s are likely to appreciate). A scraggly looking fellow sauntered out to greet us. Some part of me was beginning to think this was not such a good idea. Being told that the primary training for flinging myself out of an airplane was to jump off this fellow’s workbench did nothing to allay my growing anxiety. Lynn, on the other hand, seemed to grow more excited with every moment.

My dread increased as we piled in the plane and headed toward the sky. Lynn was eager to go, so she was in the front seat, chatting and laughing. I sat in the back, trying not to be sick as my heart bounced like a drunken basketball between my throat and the pit of my stomach. When the time came, she stepped out on the wing, assumed the position, then jumped and did a perfect swan dive. Then she was out of sight. The pilot was circling as I moved into the front seat. Too humiliated to suggest we just turn around and go back, I went through the motions. Let me tell you what this involved.

The plane was a 4-seater, with wings atop the cockpit. Outside the passenger door there was a steel plate, about one foot square, which served as the step into – and out of – the plane. A strut began at the bottom of the plane and ran diagonally upward, attaching to the wing about four feet from the door.  First, you turn in your seat so your feet are on the steel plate outside the door and you are looking along the length of the wing. Next you reach out and grab the low end of the strut with your left hand. Then you haul yourself out of the plane, pivoting toward the front of the plane while grabbing the upper part of the strut with your right hand. (Remember, the plane is high up and moving.) Finally, you lift your right foot in the air and turn your head to the left so you can see the pilot and hear his direction to JUMP. It was at this point that it occurred to me that the pilot was going to have to land this plane with me standing out there.

JUMP! Such was the force of the command that I let go, and jumped backward, stepping off into empty space. After a moment the parachute opened and I had the opportunity to take a moment and look around. I felt like a milkweed seed, floating gently in space. The compelling experience was of total and complete silence. I fiddled with the controls on the chute to turn myself around and enjoy the landscape. Too quickly, the earth came up to greet me and I landed (with exactly the force of jumping off that workbench).  I was relieved and satisfied.

When the pilot landed the plane he came over and allowed as how he got a good laugh over my departure from the wing. “Your legs started going like you were running”, he chuckled. “You’re damn right, I was trying to get the @#$% back on that airplane”.

Clearly, there is a death-defying element to parachuting, and this experience taught me a lot about the gift of life. It is also perhaps my best example of moving through fear to achieve a desired goal. But most importantly it gave me a story to tell, one that has left people doubled over with laughter, especially when I act out the process of getting myself out of that darned plane. Do you have a story that you can share today?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

This I Believe

The world would be a better place if people knew where the creatures around their home lived. This spring a pair of mallards has been paddling in the ditch by my country road. Why they would choose the ditch over the nearby lake or pond is somewhat of a puzzle to me. Are they eccentric vagabonds? Are they introverts, seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of their comrades? Perhaps the ditch simply provides the shortest and most direct route to my neighbor’s house, where there is a daily buffet of corn and birdseed. Noticing the homes and habits of birds and animals has always given me a special delight.

A few years ago I purchased a pair of binoculars after taking the Spring Field Ornithology program at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology. When I got home I took a walk in my woods in the late afternoon and, spotting a woodpecker hole high up in a tree, I trained my binoculars on it. To my surprise there was a squirrel curled up in the hole, gazing quietly out into the dusk. I still recall the wonder of that picture – it was a moment of absolute contentment… for both of us. I tiptoed away.

Just the other day I saw a red squirrel dart into the narrow hollow of a tree. Looking carefully it was hard for me to believe that it fit through that small gap, but I could see it in there. How many times have I walked past that tree without imagining the shelter it provided to little animals? It gives me a warm feeling to know that there are safe and dry places for these small creatures… even when the winter scuffling in the wall of my bedroom leads me to believe they are making a home in my home. (We don’t need to talk about how I spent Christmas day this year trapping and carrying half a dozen mice out of my kitchen.)

Walking in the park I spotted a large pile of sawdust next to a rotting tree. The ants were carving a home in the trunk, and an ant (or two or three, all ants look alike to me) was making a continuous round. It would disappear into the trunk and pick up a piece of sawdust in its jaws. Then it appeared in the opening, balanced at the edge and dropped the tiny grain of wood over the side. Back it went to get another grain which it carried to the lip of the opening and dropped onto the pile below. By the time I noticed this activity the pile of sawdust on the ground was about six inches high. Clearly the ants had been doing this a long time. Do you think they were complaining? “Boy, I’ve about had it with this. I am bored to death. Let’s go out for a smoke.” Or can you imagine they were doing this job with pride and dignity, or perhaps something like joy?

Noticing that animals have homes is tremendously reassuring to me. The instinct to nest, and to find shelter, to settle in for a good night’s sleep and to contemplate the events of the day is not limited to humans. We are a part of a larger community, all going about their daily work and returning home at the end of the day. When I have the privilege of looking in the windows of some of these homes I am filled with a quiet satisfaction and contentment. I can’t help but believe that if more people paid attention to this, they too might experience the stillness of knowing that, for the moment, all is right with the world.

A duplex beaver lodge

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Up to your tailpipe in mud

On the day they were moving my neighbor decided to back the moving van across the lawn and up to their front door. He did not stop to consider that it had rained for the last two weeks. Twenty feet in he felt the rear wheels sink into the ground. Realizing he was in imminent danger of getting stuck he did what many people might do in that situation: he stepped on the gas and spun the wheels. Fast.

Before he knew it he was, well, up to his tailpipe in mud.

This story has a happy ending. The tow truck operator and his 10-year old son did a crackerjack job of winching the moving van out of the trenches. The neighbors tumbled outside to enjoy the spectacle and catch up with each other after a long winter. At the end of the day, a good time was had by all.

Since I became a life coach in Ithaca I have been noticing all the different ways that people get stuck in their lives. Some people get trapped in the notion that whatever they do must be perfect. For others, the voices of family and friends are so loud that they can’t hear their own voice… or if they can, they are reluctant to act in defiance of what others are telling them they should do.  

How many of us have found ourselves doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results? Sometimes it is hard to imagine that there might be other ways of approaching a particular problem or situation. And sometimes we just really don’t know what to do next.  We may be confronted with too many options, or too few.  The next step is simply not clear. 

As a life coach I help people get unstuck. Working together we can explore your options, expanding or evaluating them as needed. We can dig through the layers of “should” to discover what is important to you and how you want to express yourself in the world. You can redefine perfection in a way that allows you to move forward with confidence. Combining practical, down-to-earth approaches with creativity tools and techniques, I help people overcome inertia and become re-engaged in their lives.

Are you ready to climb out of your rut?
Are you at a turning point and need to make an important decision?
Is it time to live your dream?
If you find yourself stuck in the mud and want to reduce stress and feel more comfortable
with who you are and what you are doing, contact me.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lighting the Way

This is the season when adults who attended summer camp long ago begin to hum silly and soulful songs, reach out to old camp friends, and imagine packing our bags to head out for just one more summer lived out-of-doors. The foundation that camp provided still sustains me, forty years later. It gave me an understanding of the cycle of learning and forged my deeply rooted connection to the earth.

Those of us who grew up in the Camp Fire Girl tradition progressed through three ranks: Wood Gatherer, Fire Maker, and Torch Bearer. As Wood Gatherers we acquired basic skills and information, and established a context for our future endeavors. For instance, we learned how to be safe around fire, what types of fuel a fire needed, and how to organize the woodpile so that it would be easy to grab wood of the appropriate size when building and feeding the fire. The art of fire-building was practiced by the Fire Makers. We refined our skill at camp craft cookery, perfecting our one-pot meals and baking cobblers in reflector ovens. At night we warmed ourselves body and soul as we sang around our evening campfires, told stories, and listened to the trees whisper in the wind.

Torch Bearers played an important role in the ceremonial and spiritual aspects of camp. Having gained the mastery of fire, we planned and prepared the council fire at the end of each camp session. Paper sacks were stuffed with sand and candles, and then set to line the procession route. Torches were created by winding mouse mattresses (shhh! sanitary napkins) around poles and dipping them in paraffin. Oh, how we used to chuckle at this! On some level we delighted in the idea of our feminine products being used for such a sacred purpose... and we clearly took joy in the burning of these contrivances that were the source of so much discomfort and dismay.

As night descended, we lit our torches and led the campers to the sacred ground of the council fire ring. We come, we come to our council fire, with measured tread and slow, to light the fire of our desire…We stood at the four sides of our log cabin fire, invoked the four directions, and set the torches to the tinder. We reflected on our experiences and accomplishments, we expressed our gratitude, we laughed and we cried as our personal cycle of adventure, fun and learning for the camp season came to an end.
What is the tie that binds us together, friends of the long trail? Just this – we have shared the weather, we have slumbered side by side, and friends who have camped together shall never again divide.

How strong is your foundation?
What sustains you?
How do you honor the sacred?
How can you take your light out into the world and share it with others?

As a life coach in Ithaca, I provide a safe place for people to explore their deeper self and experiment with new ways of being in the world. If you want to feel more positive about what you are doing, and move forward with greater confidence, contact me. I offer visualization techniques and creativity tools to help you tap into your intuition and inner knowing so you can see the way more clearly.

Photo courtesy of Susan Neal. Check out her video/article on campfire cooking
This will have folks scurrying for onions, oranges, eggs, and gingerbread mix!

Friday, May 13, 2011

My Mother's Pink Kitchen

My eyes seek out, no, they hunger for, the eye-popping pinks and soft dusty rose, the creamy mauve, magenta, and rich cranberry of Ithaca's blooming trees: the magnolias, cherry and crab-apple trees, and our clusters of redbuds. These islands of color reach out and extend me a velvety caress, which I gratefully accept. Watching the petals spill from the magnolias and the squirrels chasing each other through the flowering trees, my body heaves a sigh and settles into a place of stillness and contentment.
While the jumbled colors of autumn send me scurrying to the grocery store to buy a box of Trix cereal, the clouds of pink hanging against a backdrop of blue and green startle up memories of my mother's pink kitchen. There was nothing muted or subtle about the pink kitchen in my childhood home. It was a simple, obvious, and unadulterated pink, as were all the appliances. My mother did not choose this color, mind you... it came with the house, and I'm sure she took a great deal of satisfaction when, a dozen years later, she was able to give it a complete makeover in blues and greens. However, she ruled supreme in the kitchen, preparing tasty and balanced nutritious meals that were dependably served at the same hour every day.

Today I wonder why I didn't run screaming from any shade of pink after living with the pink of my mother's kitchen. Instead, I cannot help but notice that my mother and I share a love of the more subtle shades of pink and coral. The understated elegance of her dusky mauve suits always gave me pleasure. And while it is certain that I shall never be appreciated for understated elegance, my own closet is filled with flannel shirts in cranberry and pink, bright pink linen pants, coral sports shirts, and peach colored sweatshirts.A half dozen baseball caps cover this color spectrum. Pieces of rose quartz litter the flat surfaces of my home.

Perhaps, after all, pink is a suitable color for the heart of a family home. And maybe, just maybe, I wrap myself in pink as a reminder of the love I continue to discover long after my mother is gone.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Death-defying Adventures

In my younger days I chased danger and adventure with abandon. Pulling into Boston traffic required a quick glance over the shoulder followed by a prayer and a heavy foot on the accelerator. One of my white-water canoeing adventures resulted in my aluminum canoe wrapped around a rock; it took two 300-lb men to pull the canoe off that rock. Then they both had to jump up and down in it a few times to bang the dent out enough for us to continue down river. On another white-water trip I maneuvered (not always successfully) a rubber ducky kayak through class 3 and 4 rapids on the Youghiogheny River in Pennsylvania. That led to a Wile E. Coyote moment where, immediately after seeing my life flash before my eyes, it seemed I might go splat! spread-eagle on a boulder the size of a house.

Then there was the day I jumped out of the airplane. That was so scary that I didn't have a suicidal thought for the next two years. Rock climbing and horse-back riding (best when followed by a session in a hot tub) rounded out those youthful adventures. Most recently, flying through the air on a zip-wire brought some of the old thrill back. I'm quite sure my rotator cuff injury is unrelated to this activity.

These are the adventures that help us to defy the odds, to press up against our limits and thumb our nose at danger. As I get a bit older I discover that I'm not quite so eager to take those physical risks. Life, it turns out, is important to me. And yet, there are risks that I take on with surprising willingness, even as I kick and scream in protest. As I approach a new career in life coaching, and confront the things I have to do to make this happen, the things that take me way out of my comfort zone, I feel like I'm throwing myself under the bus. In some sense this is the return of suicidal feelings, and it occurs to me that to move into a new life some parts of me have to die. The death of beliefs and habits, when they no longer serve us, can be transformative. To grow and change we must constantly shed our skin when it gets too tight. We must be ready to step into our potential, and embrace new possibilities that stretch us so much that our old skin bursts open and we step into the world, born anew.

Listen for a minute... what wants to emerge? What will you leave behind? What will you embrace?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Creating a Heaven on Earth

One of my deeply held ambitions is to create my own little piece of heaven here on earth. For a long time that meant simply "feeling better". More recently I've turned my attention to the process of creating. My job as a computer programmer is all about creating; programming is an ongoing process of experimenting, evaluating, adjusting, then testing, evaluating, and adjusting again until the end is finally achieved. Creating lifts me out of myself and puts me in an entirely different mindset. Instead of worrying about the future I step into the unknown with a spirit of adventure. How will I get from here to there? When things surprise me (and they often do) I respond with curiosity and wonder: What caused that to happen? How might I deal with that? How else can I think about this? There is always something new to learn.

For some reason I don't always apply the creating mindset to my "personal" life. Instead, it is easy to judge myself harshly, be concerned about the reaction of others, and trouble myself over small details. It's easy to fall into the trap of perfection, of being a victim, of believing I'm not good enough.

Can you bring to mind a job, project, activity, or hobby that fully engaged and energized you? What might happen if yo0u applied what you know about creating to the business of creating your life? Instead of remaining frozen in place because things aren't perfect, what if you said of course it won't be perfect the first time I try, so I better get cracking!... I'll take a first step, see what happens, and then adjust as needed.

The writing of Robert Fritz (The Path of Least Resistance, Creating) has reminded me of my desire to create a heaven here on earth. What do I want to bring into the world? What do I have to offer that is unique to me? It's hard to imagine anything more exciting - or worthwhile - than discovering the answers to these questions... and bringing them into being. If you're interested in the idea of creating your life, I'd love to talk with you!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Spring in Ithaca

Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.
Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always substance and increase, always sex,
Always a knit of identity, always distinction, always a breed of life...
JOY! I celebrate myself and sing myself.
Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
Do you feel the urge of new growth welling up inside you? Are the seeds you planted preparing to burst into bloom? Are you filled with wonder and anticipation at the coming of spring?

In Ithaca trees are budding, daffodils are bravely poking their heads up ready to bloom, green shoots appear everywhere, chipmunks are out, birds are gobbling food like there is no tomorrow... and it is still cold, windy, rainy with occasional flakes of snow. I'm impatient... with the weather... and with the extended gestation period of the seeds I have planted and cultivated. Personal growth and change has its own cycle, its own season. But I can feel the stirrings, the new insights, ideas, plans. Something is beginning to uncoil and break open. Something vital and alive. We don't often pay attention to what is happening just below the surface, in the darkness. I trust it... and I'm just plain impatient! The urge is upon me...

What is ready to spring forth in your life? What do you see emerging around you? What's going on just below the surface? What do you want to create in this season of fertility?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Welcome to my new blog and Facebook page

Friends and colleagues,

I am launching a new blog, as well as a Facebook page for my life coaching business. Stay tuned for some happenings here...