A Moment of Grace

Happy woman handshaking with a mechanic after a good serviceMany years ago, I walked into a retreat center in rural Missouri on road-shaky legs. I’d driven 9 hours from my home in Milwaukee through driving rain, and the last 3 hours led me deep into the rural Ozarks on snaking, hilly roads. I remember saying, “Where am I?” as I passed homes flying Confederate flags and a roadside revival meeting place. At last, I turned off the main paved road and crawled along for another mile on a graded gravel road, crossing two low concrete bridges that went through rather than over the creek, until I reached a hill top and the place I thought I was supposed to be… Read more

Check for “Eww…”

Right now, in this moment, take a look at your calendar.

It’s time for an “Ewww…” check.

It’s simple to do. As you review your entries, check to see if your instinctive first impression is, “Eww…”, in your gut or head or heart.

It’s oh so easy to say yes, and sometimes uncomfortable to say no. We get a lot of rewards for saying yes to the people making requests of us. It can feel quite appealing to our egos to be needed and wanted. “Would you make 50 lemon bars for the bake sale? Yours are the best!”  Or, “You know, we really need your leadership on this initiative.”

When we commit without thinking soberly and seriously about the impact of our yes, we can find ourselves overcommitted. Pause for a moment to consider how you feel when you realize your plate is too full. Resentful? Anxious? Stressed out? Irritable?

Being overcommitted generally doesn’t lead to feelings of peace, ease and satisfaction. When we’re running around like crazy, juggling like mad, we might have some illusory feelings of being important, or even of being a good person.

When we pause and really think about it, though, we generally aren’t the most fun people to be around when we’re rushing about without a moments of peace for ourselves.

Could it be true that you are capable of greater and higher service to others and yourself when you have the courage to reply with a graceful “Thanks for thinking of me, and I have to pass,” than responding with a reflexive “Sure!” that you later regret?

By cultivating the discipline of saying an honest no, your calendar will have far more “Ahh..” than “Eww…”

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives MatterThere’s been a great deal of dialog about this cry for action in our communities. A common response, primarily by white people, is to say, “Yes, but all lives matter.”

I believe that this rejoinder is part of the problem. When anyone responds this way, we yet again shift our focus away from a laser focus on the issue at hand, which is that in our country, the most overlooked and least-protested murders are those of black people.

By saying that black lives matter, no one is saying that other lives don’t. That’s just plain faulty logic. Of course all lives matter, but the reality is that we act as if some lives matter more than others, repeatedly, in our systems of justice, education, economics, housing, and on and on.

Let’s keep our focus on the problem, however uncomfortable we get about it, and not dilute the message or delude ourselves into complacency.


And Then There’s the Human Element…

Rescuing sea turtlesI saw this headline and photo on my Facebook feed this morning:

“The race is on in bid to save sea turtles.”

You may have had a similar reaction to mine: “Aww, that is wonderful. I’m glad people care.”

And then I did something interesting. I re-read the story as a metaphor for people who are cold-stunned. Read more

Who Do You Think You Are?

African American man is thinking intenselyIt actually matters quite a bit, this idea of self.  Our beliefs about the separateness of our Self or the connection of Self to everything else in the universe shape how we think, feel, and live each and every moment of the day.

What is the self? Is it different from identify or self-image? Am “I” my physical body? What does the Buddhist concept of no-self mean? Am I alone or inextricably connected?  Who is thinking these thoughts? Read more

“We Can Do This the Easy Way or the Hard Way…”

This famous movie line sums up the choice I had before me when I realized I was going to need surgery.

It all started back in February when my husband and I made a snap decision to go see the Lake Superior ice caves on our way home from a cross country ski and snowshoe trip to the Porcupine Mountains (okay, really big hills) in northern Michigan. We’d spent three days in a fairyland of sparkling powder, skiing through Christmas-card scenes up and down the mountains. The caves were only an hour and a half away, and we could just make it by sunset.

We walked a mile along the frozen shore in the subzero winds as the sinking sun colored the ice from gold to rose to violet. In the first cave we reached, we stood in wonder, grinning and gaping at the fantastical forms above and around us. I took a step deeper into the cave, and I slipped. “Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!” I yelped, cradling my left arm. “Something’s really wrong.” Read more

Busy is the New Fine

Woman On Her Cell Phone

Picture two friends running into each other at the grocery store. Their conversation goes something like this:

“Hey, great to see you! How are you?”

“Wow,  super busy. You?”

“Oh, same as you. Busier than ever!”

Sound familiar?

We used to say, “Fine,” even if we weren’t. There will always be situations where this exchange is meant to be a polite social ritual, not an invitation to download every trauma we’ve encountered over the past week. When we walk into the office in the morning or greet the barista, “Fine, thanks!” is a polite response.

But now, we aren’t fine.  We are busy.  Super busy.

Sometimes I wonder if we equate being busy with being valuable. If we replied, “I’ve been taking it easy the past few days,” would we fear being judged as lazy, unproductive, or – worst of all – selfish? Read more

Am I Just Lazy? The Real Reason We Resist Change


Bob Kegan teaching Immunity to Change

Last spring, I traveled to Harvard University to study with Dr. Lisa Lahey and Dr.  Robert Kegan. For the past 35 years, they’ve been developing a process for personal, group and organizational transformation called Immunity to Change. What they’ve learned in over three decades of research and field application is that they’re on to something that works. They’ve used this process with individuals who came to them for help and with international corporations on a large scale, and they get results where other approaches have failed.

While I walked from my inn to campus on the first day, I wondered what I would learn that surprise me. I felt that I knew myself pretty well after years of counseling, self-help and personal growth work, and coaching. As I sipped my coffee from a silver urn in the swanky Harvard Faculty Club, a diverse group of people from all over the world started to arrive, hailing from Russia, Australia, South Africa, England, and all over the US. There were ministers and therapists, leaders of industry and graduate students. I was energized by the passionate conversations we had about creating positive change in the world and was glad I came, no matter what the training was going to be like.

I suppose I wondered if the esteemed professors would be, well, aloofly professorial, but not at all.  Bob and Lisa were totally down to earth, warm and engaging, and clearly passionate about their work and their years of professional partnership and friendship. They set a tone of “We’re all learning and practicing and flubbing up together,” so we relaxed and dove in to some amazingly personal and vulnerable work together, experiencing the Immunity to Change process for ourselves before being trained how to guide others through it.

All was going smoothly – no surprises yet – when bam! They revealed the piece of their process that makes it distinctly powerful, picking up where most self-help leaves off and showing what was previously unseen and disconnected.

“Oh…hmmm….well, look at that…didn’t know that was still there…whoa.” That was my reaction when my own immunity to change was revealed. The “Whoa,” was the leverage I needed to finally move past a block I’d had for years, which I actually thought I’d already moved past. Amazing. Read more

I Have No Problems

My life changed in five minutes, playing catch with a child.

Opened lotus flower

Opened lotus flower

This summer, I met with Chris Holmes, the President of Penfield Children’s Center.  PCC serves children from birth to age three. As they state it, “Penfield Children’s Center is a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to help infants and young children with and without disabilities to reach their full potential through education, therapy services and family programs.”

This statement says what they do, yet you cannot fully understand who they are and what PCC is like from reading it. It’s like trying to describe the taste of salt to someone who has never had it. Before our meeting, Chris took me on a tour of the facility. Bright colors, natural lighting in every single room and hallway, soft corners and nurturing people – these are some of the elements that you find walking through the building. I was especially delighted by the office windows. Typically, office windows are in the door, or maybe in the wall along the hallway, at desk level. Windows here are 2 feet off the ground, so little ones can see what’s going on in there.

So you immediately see the combination of intelligent design, intelligent and warm people, and lots of thought given to adaptive spaces that meet the needs of all children, typically and non-typically developing alike. The biggest force at PCC, though, is the children. Laughing, crying, moving, sleeping, learning, playing, being goofy, waving hello, rushing up to hug Chris, the children brought the place to life.

And then I met Miguel and I was brought to life. Read more

Got Expectations?

“Sow an expectation, reap a disappointment.”Skier in the air

This adage confounded me for a long, long time. How can I not have expectations?  For example, if I pay for my groceries, I expect that I will be allowed to take them home. If I’m in a relationship, I expect to be treated with kindness and not be abused. These seem like reasonable, even healthy, expectations.

It finally dawned on me one day that I was confusing standards with expectations. The clear, hard light of reality shone through this word and revealed it to be illusory, a dream. Aha!  If I expect things to go a certain way, then when they don’t, I will surely be disappointed. Yet another way that I create my own suffering, again and again.

I’d like to say that I came to this realization years ago and have been so much more peaceful ever since, but I’ve only had hold of it for a few weeks. It took the process of selling two homes and buying one to open my mind to the truth about expectations. Almost nothing met my expectations. Read more