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…”

“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

Robert_Kegan_1

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

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

Walking Into the Unknown

We can't always see around the next corner

We can’t always see around the next corner

“I really want to go back to grad school this year.  I’m going to do it!”

“I wonder what it will be like?”

“Do I even remember how to write a research paper?”

“Will everyone be younger and smarter than me?”

“I have no idea how I’ll keep up with work and everything else in life and go to school at the same time.”

“It’s probably more than I can afford anyway. Oh, well.”

If you’ve ever had a version of this internal conversation yourself, then you’re in good company. This is an example of how we let our fear of the unknown cut our dreams off at the pass before we even got on the horse. Our imagination paints pictures about how things would or could or should be, yet it is rarely accurate. Even so, we give it the reins and let it lead us down the same rutted path.

On a recent backpacking trip in the Badlands of North Dakota, we realized we’d been walking for some time without seeing a trail marker. Granted, they were few and far between and usually hidden under brush or grass, but this felt a little too far between. We stopped and debated what to do. Go back? Bushwhack? Get out the map and compass? Go forward? As we looked around, we realized that the small canyon we’d wound our way into looked impassable ahead, and the funny thing was that it looked impassable behind us, where we’d just come from. The way wasn’t obvious or clear in any direction. Read more

Surrender

Have you ever had a major surgery, one that required a hospital stay and general anesthesia, one that opened up your body to hands and instruments?

I had laproscopic surgery on December 11, a partial hysterectomy to address increasingly incapacitating effects of large submucosal fibroids. Fibroids are benign growths that the majority of women develop in midlife. The location, placement and size of fibroids determine if they are undetectable and of no consequence, or if they create major problems such as pain, swelling, and extremely heavy bleeding, which mine did. After exhausting other treatment options that all stopped working, it was time for surgery. Read more

Gratitude for Gray Days?

During the post-meditation discussion with my sangha (a community that meditates and studies together) recently, we discussed thankfulness in light of the coming holiday. A person said that he’d been reading about how we could learn to be grateful for everything – not just the things that feel good, or go our way, or make us happy, but everything.

It got me thinking. Read more

Be Kind – You Just Never Know

WaitressBack in my dating days, I followed the sound advice, “See how a person treats service professionals (waiters, clerks, etc) – that’s how they’ll treat you in time.”  If someone was rude, impatient, or simply didn’t acknowledge the person providing service as someone equally deserving of courtesy, then that was information about my date’s character.

This rule applied even if the service wasn’t great.  My stance has always been, “You just never know – they could be having a really bad day.”  People have to show up for work after all kinds of challenging events occur, from a death in the family to being abused at home or being served divorce papers that morning. Read more