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The Holiday Project

candle luminaries photo for The Holiday Project by Annette Segal of The Valiant GroupWe yearn… for recognition, connection, meaning. And the holidays make that yearning acute.

  • Questions brim over the containers of our consciousness:
  • Are we remembered? Cared about? Included?
  • Do our greetings/gifts/visits matter?
  • What about the holidays is consistent with who we take ourselves to be? What isn’t?
  • Who makes up our “true” family?
  • Which gifts are meaningful?

And the yearning is heightened by the cultural messages that seem to intensify at this time of year – as though our very human needs are impacted by the calendar!

I find many of the folks I work with more anxious, more depressed or more withdrawn during December than the rest of the year. I sense a determination to make “the holidays bright” fraught with disappointment and stress.

What often happens during this time is attention seeping away from mindfulness practice and towards shopping, parties, vacations, hosting.

These events are wonderful – all – especially when they are approached with the mindset of paying attention to whatever is arising…”being with” it amidst all the “doing” required.

What is “being with”? It rests on noticing – noticing what is happening in the body, in the emotions and in the cognitive realm of thinking. Noticing is aided by slowing down, breathing and allowing the whispers of wisdom from our head, heart and bodies enough silence so they may emerge to guide us.

“Being with” includes treating ourselves with kindness, just for existing – without transactional
dialogues. Kindness in our thoughts, kindness in the way we treat ourselves can then infiltrate our actions towards others, the greater world.

“Being with” doesn’t preclude shopping, cooking, wrapping presents, sending cards or other typical activities. It invites deepening those actions by slowing them down so they are rooted in
caring, kindness, generosity – rather than obligation.

As we approach our activity from this place, we observe our own yearning in others and connect with them on the human playing field of recognition. We invite them into the present moment by inhabiting it ourselves – fully.

And so our holidays become holy days and whole-y days. Days in which we bring and offer ourselves in wholeness, neglecting neither our hearts, our bodies nor our thinking.

Taking on the holidays in this way is The Holiday Project – one that enriches whatever celebration we partake of – not just for ourselves, rather for each individual we encounter.

May your holidays fill with connection, meaning, recognition all held together by Love.

Leadership Embodied: How to Mobilize for Wisdom Now

Leadership Embodied- How to Mobilize for Wisdom NowSo you think your body is just the container to get your mind from place to place? Wrong! Or you imagine great leaders come only from great schools? Wrong again. Or perhaps, you imagine they are just born that way? Sorry, wrong again! Or partially wrong…yes some leaders come naturally with an innate ability to tune into themselves, but most learn it along the way – like you and me – through experience, commitment and dedicated practice.

Think about the great leaders…those that got BIG things done, inspired movements: changed history; an industry; a country; a sport – leaders like Rumi, Chade-Meng Tan of Google, Nelson Mandela, Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) Mahatma Ghandi, Janice Marturano of General Mills, Coach Krzyzewski of Duke University, Pema Chodrun, the Dalai Lama, Anne Lamott, Anne Sweeney (President of Walt Disney), Martin Luther King, Jr… the list grows too long to capture (made up of both men and women, of every religion, race and skin tone).

Even with EQ (emotional intelligence) getting more play time from the current leaders’ field of attention, the body gets short shrift, though we’re learning more and more about its powerful and precious offering.

Stephen Covey famously referred to “the space” between stimulus and response. Guess what container holds that “space” ? What allows you to activate the knowledge wedged there? Your body! So where’s the key to that magical chamber? Read on.

A lot of your “knowing” comes directly from your body if and only IF, you allow it. Notice I said knowing – not guessing, or forcing a solution, not facts and figures – no, plain, old fashioned wisdom. Why?

You’ve got a second brain – in your belly. Yes, the research found in the 1998 book The Second Brain by Dr. Michael Gershon points to how mood and well being are influenced by the secondary enteric nervous system.

“The second brain doesn’t help with the great thought processes…religion, philosophy and poetry is left to the brain in the head,” says Gershon, chairman of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at New York–Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, an expert in the nascent field of neurogastroenterology.

“The system is way too complicated to have evolved only to make sure things move out of your colon,” says Emeran Mayer, professor of physiology, psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (U.C.L.A.). For example, scientists were shocked to learn that about 90 percent of the fibers in the primary visceral nerve, the vagus, carry information from the gut to the brain and not the other way around. “Some of that info is decidedly unpleasant,” Gershon says.

The second brain informs our state of mind in other more obscure ways, as well. “A big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the nerves in our gut,” Mayer says. Butterflies in the stomach—signaling in the gut as part of our physiological stress response, Gershon says—is but one example. Although gastrointestinal (GI) turmoil can sour one’s moods, everyday emotional well-being may rely on messages from the brain below to the brain above. For example, electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve—a useful treatment for depression—may mimic these signals, Gershon says.

In every millisecond, your body is taking in vast amounts of information – far too quickly to process consciously. Temperature, another’s body language, facial expression, unconscious gestures, spatial configurations, mood, energy levels, emotional readings (for both yourself and others’) and synthesizing this data with all prior experience and oceans of ideas churning constantly through your brain above.

In the synthesis of thought, emotion and sensation, informed by both nervous systems, true “knowing” arises. This powerful mix is sometimes called “a hunch” or the more flatteringly “intuition” by those that don’t really understand it. Yet those who have practiced mindfulness and some somatic practice ( a martial art, Tai Chi, Qigong, leadership embodiment, yoga) can over time, sense into a situation, extract vast amounts of information, attune to the information pouring in, hone it, synthesize it and act. They avail themselves of what constitutes wisdom.

Its time to pay much more attention to this somatic( some – Greek word for the body) intelligence. Embodied leaders do. And you’ll want to integrate the wisdom from the body with that of your heart and mind for optimum leadership.

What’s the Skinny on Mindful Leadership?

What's the Skinny on Mindful LeadershipIn a discussion group that I belong to the question was raised whether mindfulness can be measured in actual behavior and whether a mindful leader is a more effective one.

Excellent questions. While I don’t enter into discussions with lengthy comments, I felt compelled to do so this time. And not because I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, considered by many to be a “woo woo” geographical bubble, but rather because in working with leaders in corporations, foundations and non-profits, I have seen the expression of mindfulness in action.

Mindful leaders begin with a sense of purpose rather than a list of objectives. The create objectives that align with the purpose and they get their teams to align around and preserve the purpose as they build and work.

They learn to be open to discovery – its part of what shows up in any mindfulness practice, the unconscious made conscious with rejecting anything unpleasant. Discovery drives the development – of people and products and themselves. So what about personal relationships on the job?

Here’s what I said: Mindful leaders never “lose” it – meaning they are self-aware, know their triggers and move into responsiveness, rather than reactivity. And that makes them more effective as their relationships work. Also, they bring compassion – for themselves and for others – not some weak tea version, but true compassion which isn’t about “liking” but more about deep understanding and acceptance of our very human selves. If that doesn’t have a place in the boardroom, what are we doing there?

And through their mindful state, they stay curious and open, so they can consider ideas vastly different from than their own without sticky attachment. Imagine! Openness! .This also makes them more effective. And both of these ways of being ( rather than limited behaviors) are observable over time.

Mindfulness allows for a deep connection to intuition (a way of processing much more input and synthesizing it) so these leaders are decisive when the need arises to be so – once the fire is raging – again using their executive function appropriately. And they know when its appropriate delegate.

Since mindfulness integrates the head, heart and body centers, they are more comfortable in their skins, on their teams, leading their organizations, despite their personality styles – since the integration transcends personality proclivities. When someone is comfortable, they invite more comfort from others. This opens the portals to creativity – much needed in our organizations.

Also, mindfulness accounts for flexibility, since by its nature it speaks to the dynamism of life. Mindful leaders can change course effectively when necessary.

They see failure as an opportunity to learn, to grow as a feedback loop – not a personal or team shame which closes down the creative channels. What good ever comes of shame anyway? Without it, they come back quickly.

Mindful leaders are also quite aware that much suffering comes from wanting things to be different than they are – including people – so they can accept people with less criticism, model this for their teams, and deal with situations more fluidly – not wasting time on “what should be” – making them more effective.

The list goes on…and the point is that Mindfulness, while not a template of specific behaviors, is a more like an orientation that results in a far more effective way of leading which others observe, emulate and which create a company culture AND finally produce profitability.

These days, powerful executive coaching must include mindfulness training to assure that leaders are effective, creative, strategic and approachable. And keeps the learning, a lifelong activity that inspires and motivates others.

HOW LANGUAGE REVEALS OUR REALITY: FOOD FOR THOUGHT

 

Tension in the conference room hit the red zone. One VP animatedly described his current project as “a battle”. He was angry with several people who report to him for “lagging” and one for “abrogation of duty”.  Others were “incompetent” as their inability “to take orders” demonstrated I was struck by his language. Did it describe his reality or help construct it?  What did it mean for the executive team’s future?

 

I am a coach and my work in that conference room demanded an understanding of where the executive team broke down, how specifically the issues affected the culture and what steps were required to bring these decision makers into enough alignment so the corporation’s mission could move forward.

 

“Listen deeply,” we are often told by communication experts. As coaches, though we nod sagely in response, what exactly are we agreeing to do? I suggest a critical first step is to attend to the metaphors our clients utilize which frame their unique perspective on reality.

 

We learned in literature class that metaphors and similes add interest to our writing and speech. And while that is true let’s concentrate on metaphors as more than a linguistic device. Let’s look instead at metaphor as a means to interpret the client’s world.

 

Metaphor is used here as any circumstance in which a person uses one conceptual category, circumstance or thing to define or describe another; essentially to understand and experience one thing in terms of something else.

 

Linguist George Lakoff and philosopher Mark Johnson provide convincing evidence that metaphors may actually be people’s primary mode of mental operation. They argue that because the mind is “embodied” – that is, it experiences the world through the body in which it resides – people cannot help but conceptualize the world in terms of bodily perceptions. Our concepts of up-down, in-out, front-back, light-dark, warm-cold are all related to orientations and perceptions acquired through bodily senses.

 

“She is a top performer” indicates a vertical orientation while he is falling behind” indicates a horizontal one. In the book, Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson  suggest that the metaphors through which people conceptualize abstract concepts influence the way in which they understand them. Furthermore, this understanding frames their actions which reinforces the metaphors, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

Consider some familiar expressions people use when describing ideas as food, plants, and commodities.

Ideas Are Food

What he said left a bad taste in my mouth. These are nothing but half-baked ideas, and warmed over theories.  I can’t digest all these new ideas. Can you swallow that claim Doesn’t that argument smell fishy? Now here’s an idea you can really sink your teeth into. She devours information.  This is the meaty part of the paper.

 

Ideas Are Plants

She has a fertile imagination. Her ideas have come to fruition.  That idea died on the vine. That’s a budding theory. The seeds of his great ideas were planted in his youth. He has a barren mind.

 

Ideas Are Commodities

There is always a market for good ideas. Great ideas are currency in the intellectual marketplace. It is important how you package your ideas.  She has been a source of valuable ideas.  

 

What can we discern about the speakers of these sentences? It is no surprise that humans attempt to understand vague, abstract or complex concepts in terms of more familiar experiences. The point is that the metaphor a person selects to frame a concept/experience necessarily focuses attention on some aspects while ignoring others.

 

If ideas are commodities, then they must be marketable. Focusing attention onthis metaphor emphasizes how these ideas will be received (bought) by other people and whether they are saleable.  This is very different from an orientation that holds ideas are plants. If ideas are plants, instead of rushing to get them out the door and to crank out as many as possible, ideas can be allowed to ripen and mature, to come to fruition. For the speaker who holds ideas are food, they are to be digested. Many ideas can then be tasted and tried. Ideas are to be consumed by that speaker.

 

In listening deeply we are able to note how the speaker who orients to holding ideas as commodities places value externally. A belief is expressed that value is in the eyes of the beholder (or buyer). Once we recognize this belief, we can check out whether this is true in other parts of life for this person. If his orientation is external, he places importance on how he is perceived. What behaviors would follow from this orientation? How would he assess others? Where would he find meaning? What role would self-image play in his life?

 

Returning to the conference room, I note that VP, who holds his experience as a battle, may see his role as a general and his direct reports as his battalion.  He is more likely to see his organization as a hierarchy than an opportunity for collaboration and to interpret requests of him as orders and to issue commands that are non-negotiable. What becomes important when listening deeply to him is checking whether this orientation holds for the rest of his life. If so, what is the cost to him to hold life this way? What is missing for him?

 

 

Since metaphors are particularly useful, as they define roles, how a person sees himself and others, quickly becomes clear to the coach. From here, an understanding of the speaker’s experience of the world emerges. Often, metaphors become an excellent predictor of the behavior the speaker will naturally assume. Knowing this, a coach can anticipate breakdowns.

 

When I worked with teachers, I heard many metaphors that disclosed the teacher’s orientation to his students. My classroom is a zoo, or my kids are really blossoming told me a great deal about how that teacher perceived of herself, her role, her students and education.

 

If a speaker sees himself as a gardener, his direct reports are plants to be cultivated. If he is a shepherd, they are sheep, unable to think for themselves. Furthermore, do these speakers think of their family members, friends and associates this way? What behavior would be predicated by these ways of orienting to others? To themselves? To the world?

 

As coaches we can begin to develop the competence of listening deeply by taking note of the metaphors we hear. We start with ourselves. Becoming aware of the metaphors we use, holding questions about the natural behavior that follows from this perspective – our orientation to others, checking these out  are important first steps. Anticipating breakdowns follows from there. Working this way, first with ourselves then with clients makes the command, “listen deeply”  a practical tool. Metaphors are powerful. Pay attention to them and your coaching will deepen.

 

 

 

How Language Reveals Our Reality: Food for Thought

 

Tension in the conference room hit the red zone. One VP animatedly described his current project as “a battle”. He was angry with several people who report to him for “lagging” and one for “abrogation of duty”.  Others were “incompetent” as their inability “to take orders” demonstrated I was struck by his language. Did it describe his reality or help construct it?  What did it mean for the executive team’s future?

 

I am a coach and my work in that conference room demanded an understanding of where the executive team broke down, how specifically the issues affected the culture and what steps were required to bring these decision makers into enough alignment so the corporation’s mission could move forward.

 

“Listen deeply,” we are often told by communication experts. As coaches, though we nod sagely in response, what exactly are we agreeing to do? I suggest a critical first step is to attend to the metaphors our clients utilize which frame their unique perspective on reality.

 

We learned in literature class that metaphors and similes add interest to our writing and speech. And while that is true let’s concentrate on metaphors as more than a linguistic device. Let’s look instead at metaphor as a means to interpret the client’s world.

 

Metaphor is used here as any circumstance in which a person uses one conceptual category, circumstance or thing to define or describe another; essentially to understand and experience one thing in terms of something else.

 

Linguist George Lakoff and philosopher Mark Johnson provide convincing evidence that metaphors may actually be people’s primary mode of mental operation. They argue that because the mind is “embodied” – that is, it experiences the world through the body in which it resides – people cannot help but conceptualize the world in terms of bodily perceptions. Our concepts of up-down, in-out, front-back, light-dark, warm-cold are all related to orientations and perceptions acquired through bodily senses.

 

“She is a top performer” indicates a vertical orientation while he is falling behind” indicates a horizontal one. In the book, Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson  suggest that the metaphors through which people conceptualize abstract concepts influence the way in which they understand them. Furthermore, this understanding frames their actions which reinforces the metaphors, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

Consider some familiar expressions people use when describing ideas as food, plants, and commodities.

Ideas Are Food

What he said left a bad taste in my mouth. These are nothing but half-baked ideas, and warmed over theories.  I can’t digest all these new ideas. Can you swallow that claim Doesn’t that argument smell fishy? Now here’s an idea you can really sink your teeth into. She devours information.  This is the meaty part of the paper.

 

Ideas Are Plants

She has a fertile imagination. Her ideas have come to fruition.  That idea died on the vine. That’s a budding theory. The seeds of his great ideas were planted in his youth. He has a barren mind.

 

Ideas Are Commodities

There is always a market for good ideas. Great ideas are currency in the intellectual marketplace. It is important how you package your ideas.  She has been a source of valuable ideas.  

 

What can we discern about the speakers of these sentences? It is no surprise that humans attempt to understand vague, abstract or complex concepts in terms of more familiar experiences. The point is that the metaphor a person selects to frame a concept/experience necessarily focuses attention on some aspects while ignoring others.

 

If ideas are commodities, then they must be marketable. Focusing attention onthis metaphor emphasizes how these ideas will be received (bought) by other people and whether they are saleable.  This is very different from an orientation that holds ideas are plants. If ideas are plants, instead of rushing to get them out the door and to crank out as many as possible, ideas can be allowed to ripen and mature, to come to fruition. For the speaker who holds ideas are food, they are to be digested. Many ideas can then be tasted and tried. Ideas are to be consumed by that speaker.

 

In listening deeply we are able to note how the speaker who orients to holding ideas as commodities places value externally. A belief is expressed that value is in the eyes of the beholder (or buyer). Once we recognize this belief, we can check out whether this is true in other parts of life for this person. If his orientation is external, he places importance on how he is perceived. What behaviors would follow from this orientation? How would he assess others? Where would he find meaning? What role would self-image play in his life?

 

Returning to the conference room, I note that VP, who holds his experience as a battle, may see his role as a general and his direct reports as his battalion.  He is more likely to see his organization as a hierarchy than an opportunity for collaboration and to interpret requests of him as orders and to issue commands that are non-negotiable. What becomes important when listening deeply to him is checking whether this orientation holds for the rest of his life. If so, what is the cost to him to hold life this way? What is missing for him?

 

 

Since metaphors are particularly useful, as they define roles, how a person sees himself and others, quickly becomes clear to the coach. From here, an understanding of the speaker’s experience of the world emerges. Often, metaphors become an excellent predictor of the behavior the speaker will naturally assume. Knowing this, a coach can anticipate breakdowns.

 

When I worked with teachers, I heard many metaphors that disclosed the teacher’s orientation to his students. My classroom is a zoo, or my kids are really blossoming told me a great deal about how that teacher perceived of herself, her role, her students and education.

 

If a speaker sees himself as a gardener, his direct reports are plants to be cultivated. If he is a shepherd, they are sheep, unable to think for themselves. Furthermore, do these speakers think of their family members, friends and associates this way? What behavior would be predicated by these ways of orienting to others? To themselves? To the world?

 

As coaches we can begin to develop the competence of listening deeply by taking note of the metaphors we hear. We start with ourselves. Becoming aware of the metaphors we use, holding questions about the natural behavior that follows from this perspective – our orientation to others, checking these out  are important first steps. Anticipating breakdowns follows from there. Working this way, first with ourselves then with clients makes the command, “listen deeply”  a practical tool. Metaphors are powerful. Pay attention to them and your coaching will deepen.

 

 

Tension in the conference room hit the red zone. One VP animatedly described his current project as “a battle”. He was angry with several people who report to him for “lagging” and one for “abrogation of duty”.  Others were “incompetent” as their inability “to take orders” demonstrated I was struck by his language. Did it describe his reality or help construct it?  What did it mean for the executive team’s future?

 

I am a coach and my work in that conference room demanded an understanding of where the executive team broke down, how specifically the issues affected the culture and what steps were required to bring these decision makers into enough alignment so the corporation’s mission could move forward.

 

“Listen deeply,” we are often told by communication experts. As coaches, though we nod sagely in response, what exactly are we agreeing to do? I suggest a critical first step is to attend to the metaphors our clients utilize which frame their unique perspective on reality.

 

We learned in literature class that metaphors and similes add interest to our writing and speech. And while that is true let’s concentrate on metaphors as more than a linguistic device. Let’s look instead at metaphor as a means to interpret the client’s world.

 

Metaphor is used here as any circumstance in which a person uses one conceptual category, circumstance or thing to define or describe another; essentially to understand and experience one thing in terms of something else.

 

Linguist George Lakoff and philosopher Mark Johnson provide convincing evidence that metaphors may actually be people’s primary mode of mental operation. They argue that because the mind is “embodied” – that is, it experiences the world through the body in which it resides – people cannot help but conceptualize the world in terms of bodily perceptions. Our concepts of up-down, in-out, front-back, light-dark, warm-cold are all related to orientations and perceptions acquired through bodily senses.

DANCING FROM DARK TO LIGHT

‎”Before you can see the light, you have to deal with the darkness.” – Dan Millman
What’s this mean?
Dealing with the darkness means being with the pain, the shame, the discomfort, the suffering or other difficult emotions.
It DOESN’T mean avoiding, making smaller, denying or escaping – the usual suspects (and for good reason – who wants to stay with hurt?).
Of course, having loving support for your process, a witness to your “dealing” is helpful and in the case of trauma, essential.
Only by dealing with our darkness, our shadow, can we claim the energy that we burn up in repressing, hiding, avoiding, forgetting – going to sleep.
And that energy, once released, bursts forth in creativity – light, to live more fully, more potently, more consciously whether we build great relationships or great buildings, write great poetry or letters of condolence.
Let’s be like water, receptive, flowing, powerful, dynamic (the vessel of life itself)…claiming our space in the universe fully, completely, uniquely. Then let’s shine our light wherever we go.

 

DANCING IN THE DARK: PART TWO

“Before you can see the light, you have to deal with the darkness.”

– Dan Millman

Experience is precious. Let’s investigate it!  We explored curiosity in Part One.  Why is it so important in shadow work? Curiosity occurs in freedom… freedom meaning here a space uncluttered by assumptions, judgments, suppositions and filled with a dynamic desire to learn, to know.   When we are truly curious, rather than compelled by some formulaic methodology, we allow our intuition into the room.  And, when we aren’t curious, a compelling question to ask  ourselves is, “What  shadow element am I supporting by keeping this door shut?” What we avoid being curious about is a powerful clue to some element of our shadow.

In our families, we learned that being curious about certain subjects was taboo. Yet certain topics brought not only recognition but rewards. The messages about the subjects to avoid were often further complicated by indirect signals (like facial expressions, shallow breathing or changing the topic). Bypassing our own verbal markers, we “metabolized” these messages without actually deconstructing them. They became shadowy, but strongly informed future patterns in us.

Some families disallowed the sad emotions – grief, despair, disappointment, for example,  weren’t accepted. In others, topics like money, mental health or sex were taboo.

Here’s a useful exploration.Where we were free to be curious, around what topics and where we we restricted? What arises ( sensations, emotions and ideas) when we touch into those unacceptable subjects, the ones that we were discouraged from pursuing. Observing ourselves as we explore our curiosity helps identify areas where we have dark shadows.

The next step, after identifying these areas is to see what strategies you employ in keeping parts of yourself hidden. Try this self-observation ( SO).

As you do this SO, try to get closer and closer to the experience of each moment of Presence and note more and more exactly what the experience is like emotionally and somatically (contractions, heat, numbness, energy, breathing, pulsing, heaviness, lightness – whatever).

Then, each day for ONE WEEK ONLY, YET IN DETAIL, take a few moments to note how these showed up in you: Be specific. Be rigorous.

Fear: (projection about the future)

Attachment: (inability to let go of a thought, idea, thing that doesn’t serve you)

Control: (choice that keeps you in the manager’s seat)

Entitlement: (a sense that something – space, action, response is owed you)

Manipulation: (indirect behavior involving an other to get something you want)

Anxiety:(projection onto the present based on the past)

What am I discovering about myself? What patterns emerge? What new questions do I have?

Practice

As the pattern surfaces, name it  gently and welcome it. Then exaggerate the emotional and physical sensations that arise with the thoughts (like turning up the brightness knob on the TV). Stay with the discomfort.  Check it out fully – what texture does it take, what color, what scent, what size, what taste. Staying with the experience offers up fresh insights… what the intelligence of this experience ( protection, avoidance, distraction for example). Once this pattern served a younger, less resourceful me. Does it serve me now? If not, I invite it to loosen (and eventually to leave) its grip.

By shining the light of awareness on our pattern,  we use less energy to keep the pattern in place and the place dark. We free some of our energy for other parts of living for our creativity and we take back our power.

BREAKTHROUGH 2010

When you are ready to turn failed New Year’s resolutions into real breakthroughs (achieved outcomes) you need a commitment to yourself, your growth, your development.

What makes Breakthrough 2010 work is that unlike resolutions, you devise a plan with a coach,  are held accountable to take action steps and  get ongoing support. You design a year in which, your aspirations take on an “in the world” observable  form.

Six rigorous  individual sessions following an  in-depth assessment meld your personal vision with the velocity  coaching  provides to create the results you demand this year!

Utilizing  a strategic plan, deep inquiry, somatic exercises,  self-observations and readings, you’ll clarify your desired outcomes, align your resources, overcome the inevitable hurdles. and achieve the results you want. Sessions are in person –  intense and mysterious, challenging yet supportive.

Now in Palo Alto and San Francisco.  Call  for more details.

Easy but not simple, Breakthrough 2010 is the dynamic launchpad for  the  new year.

Tuition: $1500 (some discounts may apply).

PASSION IS POWER: FINDING YOURS

“Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” asks Mary Oliver in a famous poem.  What is your answer?

And on a spectrum between  faint interest and rabid obsession  when are you in the red zone?  These days, when do you light up? Sometimes the details of humdrum making a living are so entangling that even the idea of passion loses it juice. Gregg Levoy, in Callings, says that “passion is accompanied by the sound of primal yahoos, castanets in the heart, the beating of wings.” When  and where do you experience this upsurge?

Passion is what we would do if we weren’t worried about consequences or the neighbor’s opinions or our self-image or just stuck in  outdated routines.. It is the path we would follow if we dared rip away the “shoulds” of our lives and seek beneath them for meaning and connection. The form passion takes is less important than the movement to staple it to our living. Regardless of whether we take up  the tenor sax, or  trek in Nepal, began writing children’s books or open a knitted shawl business, something profound shifts. Sometimes adversity points out strengths we didn’t know we possessed, or   a collaboration leads us in a new direction. We  may educate ourselves into a calling or simply add a magical  ingredient to our life without a total overhaul.  Regardless, we must find the courage to seek our aliveness. The movement towards our passion is  more critical  than the shape it takes.

Often we freeze because we believe  that living into passion means reconstructing our lives from the ground up – a daunting enterprise.  Sometimes inertia imprisons us. If we re-frame our fears, we find moving into passion more like a breathing into a conspiracy of Life coming to meet us, if we dare whisper what  ignites our creative force.

Reflection: In a journal over the next two weeks, record those events of each day where you came present. What sensations signaled that shift? What thoughts arose? After the two weeks, review for any emerging patterns. Then ask yourself: How can I bring more of this into my life?  What next steps am I willing to commit to and for what length of time? Who can support me in this?

Passion connects us to our humanity – our dynamic, creative potential. Through a passionate engagement  we respond to life  deeply, fully. Breath deeply, come  present and dance into your fullness. Like the knock of Love at the door, when passion rings the bell, there is only one response: Follow!

TRACKING INTIMACY: GETTING CLOSE TO YOUR PARTNER

Do your relationships feel stale? Are you wondering where intimacy is hibernating? Are you experiencing the “blahs” when you long to feel engaged, engrossed and connected? The sparkle may have fizzled or been stillborn. Now, your feelings of closeness may be hitchhiking towards the hills.

Unlike most skills, we are rarely taught how to communicate on a deep level. And in our busy lives, we often share the details of our days rather than the contents of our hearts. Intimacy is a habit that needs fostering like a good tennis serve or cleaning the trunk of the car. And the results are far more beneficial.

Start small. And start with yourself. (Its so easy to expect “the other” to be responsible for communication and connection.) Avoid setting up a “serious conversation”. Its almost guaranteed to build stress and cause avoidance. Be more forthcoming about your own feelings. Use phrases like “I wonder if…” or “Sometimes, I doubt whether I…” or “I’ve noticed I’m happiest when…”

State your feelings rather than your opinions on topics that are important. If what you’re saying includes the word “that,” hold back! Warning: most sentences of feeling that contain the word “that” – aren’t! They’re judgments! Use your smarts here. Think about it. Saying something like “I feel that she [or you)…” is not stating a feeling – its an opinion. That’s very different. Feelings words are words like: ashamed, embarrassed, sad, apprehensive, frightened, delighted, excited, nervous, serene, etc. Intimacy is built on feelings, not critiques. Watch how you express yours.

Ask questions about feelings too. “How do you feel about that?” is not the same as “What do you think about that?” Most of us express our thoughts far more readily and often than our feelings. Yet sharing what we feel is what connects us to another. When you’ve asked the question and your partner responds with, “I think…” listen carefully and try to focus on the feeling behind the thoughts. A gentle, “Umm, I get your thinking and am wondering how you  are feeling.” This takes practice – for both of you.

Remember, a deep breath is a good tool  to use before plunging in.  Also, it’s not helpful to criticize by pointing out what’s lacking when your partner shares. Taking in the words and the emotions you sense in much more helpful. And then, noticing what this evokes in you – your emotions and what arises in your body. Sharing that helps bring the conversations into the “Now” and away from history or projection of the future.  By far,  more useful are questions that bring  you both  to where you’ll be sharing on a more meaningful level what is true in this moment.

Practice courage. When you find yourself avoiding a topic, analyze why it’s hard to bring up. Ask yourself, “What concern, need, fear or desire is attached to this topic. What am I trying to avoid?” You may need to ask this question many times before the answers reaches you through whatever filters you’ve  creatde to bypass a difficult issue You may want to jot down the answers. The first ones may just begin to lead you down the trail to what is really at stake for you. Look closely at the thoughts that arise. When you can answer those question honestly you’re ready to bravely move forward. Know that successfully tackling these “hot buttons” builds confidence.

If the commitment to the relationship is bigger than the fear of the response you may  receive, the courage to tackle the difficult topics will appear! Make that a question you frequently ask yourself when you find yourself “just letting it go.’ Letting “it” go rarely is. Most often it is shutting a part of yourself down.

There’s a sad truth about hot buttons. Usually the topics we avoid are those that need airing most. When you’re clear on what makes a particular issue a “hot button” topic, take a deep breath. Develop an “I” statement to open the dialogue. “I” statements avoid blame. They are statements over which we take responsibility rather than point a finger. “I feel frightened when weeks go by without cuddling,” or “I felt secure when you told your parents we couldn’t visit until my big project was over,” are examples of “I” statements. They open a meaningful conversation and invite sharing.

Be realistic. You can only work on your end of the relationship. And that takes practice, a sense of humor and courage. Like any skill executed with style and confidence, practice and realistic expectations are the main ingredients. And when you fumble, laugh at yourself. Failure is only feedback on how to succeed next time.

When working on creating connection, remember to start small, start with yourself, be ready to laugh at yourself. Develop courage, be realistic and be patient. And try and try again. The result is strong cement that binds you with the human race, one person at a time.

COMMUNICATION 101 FOR LEADERS

Whether we’re dealing with under-performing employees, challenging direct reports, negotiating with difficult clients or discussing breakdowns on projects, difficult conversations arise. Few leaders understand the dynamics of difficult conversations. Most avoid them.

Great leaders skillfully decipher the structure of difficult conversations, interpret the significance of what was said, identify their own unspoken assumptions and manage strong emotions. They then try to discover the assumptions of the other person and navigate to resolutions that empower all parties.

Delivering a difficult message, no matter how much tact the speaker brings, is going to sting, maybe do real damage. There is a much better way however, than avoiding the issue or burying it in a larger issue or letting it “leak out” sideways.   Even when the difficulty is palpable, the conversation can be less stressful and more productive when some critical steps are taken.

What does it take to become masterful where it counts? First, separate impact from intention. If you focus only on impact, you will be unable to listen deeply to the other person who is acting from his specific intentions. The inability to separate keeps you in “blame” mode – unproductive at best and destructive to the relationship at worst.

Hold your view  of what is happening as a hypothesis. Remember, in science class you learned that a hypothesis is just as useful when it is proven wrong. Stay open to another interpretation of “the facts.” (And don’t pretend you don’t have a hypothesis.)

Listen past the accusations for the underlying feelings – yours and his. These need to be addressed as much as “the facts” if you hope to arrive at a resolution that dignifies all. Try assuming the other person’s role. How does it look from there? Regardless of the organizational culture, feelings cannot be dispensed with. Trying to eliminate feelings leads to broken agreements and destructive work place environments.

Use the language of feelings when talking about them. Say “I feel….” and beware the word “that” creeping into your expression. When you say, “I feel that…” you have left the arena of feelings and moved, almost imperceptibly, to judgment.  Stay aware! Feeling language includes such adjectives as disappointed, frustrated, overwhelmed, angry, depressed, exhilarated, enthusiastic, etc.  A great resource for the language of feelings and needs can be found on the Center for Non-Violent Communication web site. Giving voice to your feelings  models for the other party that emotion is  a legitimate part of your  conversation

Turn “my story” vs. “your story” into “our story” and give up blaming. Clearly each person in the situation has a point of view of what happened  that they will put forth. When these are woven together into a wider, third perspective, more of the “truth” of what happened is available.

We are complicated and so are our intentions. Move from judgment to investigating all the contributing factors  to the current situation – like avoiding, being unapproachable and role assumptions. This is a movement away from looking backward to instead,  looking ahead.

Expect imperfection. Allow yourself and the other person to be human, therefore to make mistakes. Failure is  only feedback!  If what is driving you is a an intention to have a productive, meaningful conversation that leads to either a solution to a current problem or a better relationship if future, the effort will be rewarded with improved communication skills.

And if there is more to resolve than one conversation can contain, agree to come back. Sometimes 2 or 3 passes are required to unknot a complex situation. Reflection time  between conversations can only be helpful, never harmful.

Finally, acknowledge yourself and the other  person for  your willingness to take part in a difficult conversation.