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Illumination

September 29, 2014 4 comments

IMG_5247During the autumn months in New England, we coaches have a co-conspirator in Mother Nature. Wielding her paintbrush and bending the angle of the light to move the seasons, She forces us to take new perspectives and directs our attention to marvels un-seeable in the full sun of summer or the winter dark.

A visit yesterday to the Trustees of Reservations’ Coolidge Reservation in Manchester, Massachusetts stimulated some reflection for me. With good reason, light is probably our most common metaphor for understanding…enlightenment, illumination, clarity. To see something clearly is to truly understand it. But I think the light during the transition from summer to fall works a more subtle magic. To see something differently is to understand it differently. What looks like a beginning might be an ending, and vice versa.

What practices help you bend the angle of the light to see things differently throughout the year? Particularly when you feel confused or stuck?

Figuring It Out

copyright 2012 Michael SchubertWith President Obama’s recent push for accelerated investment in brain research, we can expect the coming years to deliver a steady flow of discoveries about how we process information. This is welcome news for me, because I’m always up for a good story about mirror neurons or brain plasticity.

You can’t imagine how delighted I was when Daniel Pink published A Whole New Mind a few years back and proclaimed that “right-brainers would rule the future.” But I’m afraid the revolution may be slow in coming. The more we learn about our brain’s astonishing range and capacity, the more I am struck by our tenacious allegiance to “reason” and “logic” as the go-to tools for workplace problem solving. Regardless of the nature of the problem, we seem to think we can think our way out of it.

My heart goes out to the leader or change agent who, when confronted with a relationship challenge, or when puzzling over a question of vision or values, frowns and confesses, “I can’t figure it out.” Could it be—I might gently suggest—that not every problem lends itself to quantitative analysis? Rather than figure it out, could you…

  • Draw it out?
  • Dream it out?
  • Dance it out?
  • Sing it out?
  • Swim it out?
  • Bake it out?
  • Breathe it out?

Next time you’re struggling to make sense of something…what would happen if you turned to some of your other senses for insight? Maybe that’s what they’re there for?

Beeline or Meander

January 25, 2013 2 comments

tree rings

During yesterday’s confirmation hearing to consider whether John Kerry should be the next US Secretary of State, Senator Bob Corker commented to the nominee, “I think you have led a life that has brought you to this moment.”

Well, of course he has. Haven’t we each led a life that has brought us to this moment? No doubt, Corker’s observation was intended to highlight the internal logic of Kerry’s journey. As the son of a diplomat, a war hero and protester, a senator with long service on the foreign relations committee, Kerry’s life, in hindsight, seems to point specifically to this position.

But it probably didn’t always seem that way to him. In the bitterness of a lost presidential bid, for example, don’t you think he might have had moments when he bemoaned his life’s failure to add up? For most of us, life is more of a meander than a beeline. But with and without our help, our experience continues to accrue, endlessly shaping us and the moment we are in.

Even when the logic of our life’s trajectory isn’t so apparent, you can be sure it’s there. It is energizing and clarifying to make a conscious effort to discern that unbroken thread of purpose.

When you look back on the life you have led that has brought you to this moment, what would you say it’s pointing you to?

Braving the Discomfort Zone

April 10, 2012 7 comments

Waiting to singOne person’s fear is another person’s fun, right? A friend of mine is totally unfazed by donning 50 pounds of scuba diving gear and breathing apparatus to plunge into 75 or 100 feet of water, but when she is faced with the prospect of walking into a room full of strangers her heart races, her breath gets shallow, her palms sweat.

For me, singing in front of an audience can drive my anxiety up to acute levels. What sets off your fight or flight alarms? Regardless of what your particular challenge looks like, the fact that it feels risky is a solid clue to tell you that there might be something of substance for you to learn from it.

Oh, sure, we might wish to hang out endlessly in our comfort zones, those cozy, familiar, not too challenging places where we feel safe and self-assured.

Or we might crave more time in the flow zone that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has identified as the state in which people experience their greatest capacity for happiness and creativity. When you are absorbed in a “flow experience” he says, “…your sense of time disappears, you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger. And once the conditions are present, what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.”

These two inner-directed zones are absolutely vital to a balanced, joyful, healthy life, representing a spectrum of unconscious feeling that ranges from serenity to ecstasy. But even if we could choose to spend all of our time there, we’d be cheating ourselves out of something critical, wouldn’t we?

Just as important is that discomfort zone in which we get conscious about what scares us and what matters to us most. It’s there that we identify the gaps in our life and define our opportunities for growth and understanding. In short, it’s there that we learn.

It’s only in the discomfort zone that you can gather valuable data by asking, “What makes this experience so difficult for me? What would it take to convert these feelings of vulnerability, inadequacy, stupidity, frustration, or uncertainty into feelings of comfort and flow?” Your discomfort zone is a practice field where you can acknowledge and challenge your biggest fears and declare your intention to disarm them in pursuit of what you really care about.

When you choose to enter the discomfort zone with intention and curiosity—walking into that room full of strangers, standing up there to sing—you build your muscles for navigating this challenging zone the next time you find yourself there unexpectedly. Will you give it a try?

Shifting Vistas

For all my friends and clients who fret about feeling guilty or lazy when doing “nothing,” here’s a guest reflection from my wise sister Clare, reminding us all of the necessity for gazing…

NYC Skyline from Long Island CityGazing at eternity in skyscraper and pond

I guess I’ve always been a gazer. For as long as I remember, I’ve loved  to take time in the midst of my busy life to sit quietly and gaze, resting my eyes on vista—grand, simple, natural, human-made, moving, or still. The sights on which my eyes rest are portals to inner vistas; as I gaze out, I also gaze in, my consciousness free to wander in comfortable silence. This feels passive—but is it really a form of active inner learning?

I remember the last time I gazed out at the New York skyline. As I sat on my terrace on the East River’s east bank, bidding goodbye to my New York life, I felt the poignant turn of my own personal tide. The skyline show was a visual symphony of memory and feeling, and my emotions rose and fell with the surge of my shifting inner experience. This visual play allowed me to cement my inner understanding of my years there and to surf forward to what would come next.

And here I am now, in what came next. My newest vista is the small pond in my Virginia garden, with its cascading waterfall, graceful Japanese cherry tree, and ever-patient statue of a girl reading. When I first arrived, I was afraid my inner vista would shrink in this smaller life-view. But in fact, I think the opposite has happened. My reveries at the rock-edge of this pond have helped my awareness shift to the turning cycles of life, not just my own but the planet’s organic thrust and pull. Here, I feel the pulse of my consciousness as a member of the human community—dangling my feet in the water, I understand that we all recede and we all pour forth in an endless dance of connection and separation, growth and diminishment, life and its final cycle out.

And so, I realize that gazing is not just a passive rest from activity, but a necessary activity in itself, a practice of recharging of my inner eye to better equip me for my busy days. I wonder what my next vista will be?

Poets as Coaches

April 25, 2011 1 comment

book cover, Eating Her Wedding DressThis coaching business is nothing new. Helping people shift their perspectives, question their assumptions, follow their hearts—poets have been doing this for millennia.

In fact, metaphor, one of the tools that coaches find most useful in moving clients forward, is borrowed straight from the poet’s pen. There is magic in the way that metaphorical imagery can draw us out of our heads into a full body awareness of our challenges and dreams.

So, on those rare occasions when your coach isn’t available, you might consider consulting a poet who can guide you to new ways of sensing and thinking. And of course, continuing with the celebration of National Poetry Month, I have a recommendation for you.

The poets represented in Eating Her Wedding Dress, A Collection of Clothing Poems, from Ragged Sky Press, deliver joyful and poignant insights about what it means to be human as revealed through what we wear and what wears on us: How do we present ourselves? How do we connect with each other? How do we change?

How, for example, do we inhabit the experience of being laid off? You might read a thousand news reports and human interest stories about the effect of the recession on individual lives, and still something surprising clicks when a poet reflects on it:

My First Pink Slip
by Mary Langer Thompson

Not a lacy half or whole
silk of lingerie, but
a sheer missive
delivered today, needing
my unfashionable signature
saying I received it, not
that I agree not to cling
to a position gone.

The smooth Board decided
in private session,
secret even to Victoria,
taking action pursuant
to code section 44951
to unclasp me.

Four a.m. I awake
under a rusty moon
in a cold-hot sweat,
neglected in my negligee
drenched in worry.
I’ve finally been noticed.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Poets, like coaches, help you do the noticing. What are you noticing now?

Nowhere to Put It

February 2, 2011 3 comments

Light through snowy branchesGreg Heavener, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, New Jersey, might have been speaking for all of us when he reported a couple of days ago, “There’s nowhere to put it.”

He was talking about the snow, of course, but he may as well have been referring to the sense of beleaguered exhaustion that this relentless winter is visiting upon us here in the Northeast and elsewhere across the country.

Now, I know, I’m the one who’s always cheering us on to adopt new perspectives when circumstances have us feeling defeated. And I stand by that! But part of exploring new perspectives is getting perfectly clear about the one you’re in.

Robert Fritz, an important voice in the realm of personal growth, identified the creative potential inherent in the “structural tension” between what we have (our current reality) and what we want (our vision). His formula calls for a frank assessment of the now. And sometimes, let’s face it, a frank assessment makes us want to scream or cry.

I think of John McEnroe exploding into a fit of rage on the court after a line judge didn’t see it his way: “You CANNOT be serious!” He probably reaches his breaking point quicker than most, but it’s a sentiment we can relate to as we absorb one more layoff, one more foreclosure, one more rejection letter, or 21 more inches of snow.

So, yes, I’m all about getting from here to the vision. But I also know that tears and tantrums are built into the system for a reason. Don’t be afraid to let them do their work. They help you know when you’ve reached your limit. When “there’s nowhere to put it,” there’s nowhere to go but up.

Reflection

December 14, 2010 2 comments

Reflection at sunsetA couple of nights ago, at a service convened to sing in the Christmas season, the celebrant invited us to come back often. He suggested that his church, with the music it offers, creates an ideal spot for reflection and refuge from holiday stress.

I noticed how frequently we’re encouraged to “reflect” during this time of year, and I got to thinking about reflection. By its nature a relative term (reflection on…, reflection of…), the word reflection means, from its Latin roots, a bending back. To reflect is to reconsider something in a new light. Like a shadow or an echo or a memory, a reflection measures and translates the substance of the thing being reflected.

When my sister died in a flood four years ago today, there was no time for reflection. In shock, we were immediately occupied with the logistics of saying our unprepared and broken-hearted goodbyes. Yet in the months and years since losing Kate, I have repeatedly bent back to her life and her death in search of understanding and inspiration.

In that reflection I have found insight…

To reflect is simply to learn, and ultimately perhaps, to act with new awareness. More than just a trick of light, a reflection is less tangible but no less real than the thing that gives it being.

What are your reflections teaching you?

Off the Clock

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Chair in fallTime never stops.

Seconds dissolve into minutes into hours into days, months, and years. There are no real lines between one moment and the next, of course, but in our human desire to organize and manage our experience of time we divide it into these discrete units of increasing length.

Thinking about time this way is particularly important when it comes to coordinating with other people. We watch the clock and the calendar, paying close attention to our deadlines and commitments as we schedule meetings, pick-ups and deliveries, performances, product launches, and so on and so on.

That’s how our brains do time: We manage it.

Our bodies, by contrast, learn to be with time in a different way. For example, during moments such as the autumnal equinox, our awareness of the passage of time is heightened as all of our senses are bombarded with dramatic evidence of seasonal shift. For me, this is a time of sadness and acceptance; saying goodbye to the light and warmth of summer and preparing for darker, cooler days.

But this movement isn’t something that I measure in precise increments. It’s something I absorb gradually, organically, letting the changes around me fall into sync with the rhythm of my own heartbeat or the length of my breath. I let myself change with the season.

You don’t really need a dramatic moment to tune into a different awareness of time.

What happens when you take yourself “off the clock” and listen to what your body has to say about it?

Good To Be Home

photo by Mike SchubertAre you like Dorothy Gale who, when she finally makes it back to Kansas vows, “I’m not gonna leave here ever, ever again…Oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home!”?

Or are you more like the roué in Johnny Mercer’s classic, Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home? (That’s a yummy Susannah McCorkle rendition.)

I think I’m somewhere in between; far from rootless certainly, but happy to carry a definition of home that’s got a little portability.

For example, these days, I don’t have too many chances to sit on the back porch at my mom’s house and shoot the breeze with my sisters and brother long into a summer evening. But there’s something about being there that I can take with me wherever I go.

That sense of home might lower my blood pressure in a tense situation at work. It might lift my spirits when I’m feeling discouraged or low on energy.

It’s right there on Wikipedia: “As an alternative to the definition of ‘home’ as a physical locale, home may be perceived to have no physical definition–instead, home may relate to a mental or emotional state of refuge or comfort.”

You can really Be Home no matter where you are.

What takes you home? What is there about home that you take with you always?

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