Monday, October 31, 2016

Explore the feelings, too

I keep hearing about people who have ruptured relationships with family and friends over this year's presidential election. Obviously, there are many things over which we can experience conflict. But this election process has been especially pernicious.

So when I read last week in my copy of Thomas F. Crum's The Magic of Conflict, I found some helpful insights: "In creatively resolving those everyday fights at home or in the office, the willingness to understand the other side is essential. ... As long as we are involved at the level of the issue, we never understand the other side. ... Being willing to understand is your chance to embrace all aspects of a conflict, not just the positions, but also the feelings, the beliefs, and the interests that both sides have."

That makes so much sense to me. Our deeply held beliefs are so complex—and are about far more than the issue itself. They stem from feelings and interests and much more. So it's helpful if we can really listen deeply to another as they explain what it means to them to have taken the position they hold. And we need to fully examine our own position and be able to explore the many pieces that underlie that, too. If we can have respectful conversation around all those additional facets, perhaps we can actually hope to find common ground. After all, we are complex human beings. It follows that our positions and beliefs grow out of that complexity. Let's take the time to drill down and honor each other enough to learn what's under the positions of others as well as our own beliefs.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Let's bridge the divide

We've talked here before about the importance of finding common ground. It seems particularly important these days when that which divides us has been underscored far more than that which unites us. The political rhetoric and the media's use of polarism to boost ratings doesn't help us bridge the divide as we try to build connections.

In his book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life, educator and author Parker J. Palmer speaks of creating "circles of trust" (safe spaces where we can talk honestly and openly). He says one condition for such circles is the "creation of common ground on which people of diverse beliefs can explore issues of the inner life." Further, he says that "as we create open ground that welcomes diversity, we cannot allow people to wander aimlessly. The soul wants hospitality, but it also wants honesty, wants to engage challenging questions that we would prefer to avoid. How can we keep the circle open to diverse views while keeping it focused on difficult truths?"

Palmer uses the seasons as a metaphor for framing such explorations. In the fall, nature drops and scatters seeds. We, too, might think about the "seed of true self," as Palmer calls it. And in winter, we think about dormancy and what it might mean to name what's dead in us and how we might "winter through." He calls spring "the season of surprise" and invites us to look at the "both/ands" of life. Summer, of course, is a season of abundance and first harvest. He says it's a time to ask, "Whom is this meant to feed? Where am I called to give my gifts?"

Palmer's words and his metaphors offer much as we think about finding common ground. I highly recommend this book, in fact, as we work toward better listening and building bridges rather than fences.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

'Listen with your heart'

Yesterday we talked about listening with compassion. All of us need someone who will listen to us. Is there anything more wonderful than knowing we've really been heard? And understood?

To quote peace activist and Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh again from his book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames: "We know that many people suffer, feeling that no one is able to understand them or their situation. Everyone is too busy and no one seems to have the capacity to listen. But all of us need someone who can listen to us. ... Listening with empathy means you listen in such a way that the other person feels you are really listening, really understanding, hearing with your whole being—with your heart."

To listen in such a deep way takes intention, and it takes practice. It means we have to learn to set aside our own agendas and really tune in to the frequency of the other. We have become far too accustomed to multitasking, even when it comes to our communication skills. This isn't good for relationships.

Perhaps today would be a good day to start by engaging at a deep level with someone you know—and listen, really listen, to them. Listen with your "whole being—with your heart," as Thich Nhat Hanh says.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Deep listening involves compassion

Listening, really listening, to someone else seems to be a lost art, doesn't it? So often, we hear what we think the other will say rather than what that person actually does say. Or we don't really hear at all because we're busy formulating our response. Or perhaps we're thinking about the next five things on our to-do list.

Buddhist monk and Vietnam refugee Thich Nhat Hanh in his book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames says this: "Deep listening, compassionate listening is not listening with the purpose of analyzing or even uncovering what has happened in the past. You listen first of all in order to give the other person relief, a chance to speak out, to feel that someone finally understands him or her. Deep listening is the kind of listening that helps us to keep compassion alive while the other speaks, which may be for half an hour or forty-five minutes."

Most conversations don't involve the other speaking for that long. But still, we listen not to analyze. We listen to understand someone. We listen to keep compassion alive. That's a very different view of listening, isn't it?

We'll discuss this more in upcoming blogs. And I'd love to hear your views on listening, too. I suspect many of our conflicts could be avoided or at least settled if we could listen better—if we could keep compassion alive.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Mid-life: An open door

In her book Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh talks about our middle years as a time of shedding. She writes: "One is afraid. Naturally. Who is not afraid of pure space—that breath-taking empty space of an open door? But despite fear, one goes through to the room beyond."

And when we go through to that room beyond, we can be free. As Lindbergh says, "Perhaps one can at last in middle age, if not earlier, be completely oneself. And what a liberation that would be!" She asks, "For is it not possible that middle age can be looked upon as a period of second flowering, second growth, even a kind of second adolescence?"

And then being able to concentrate on our inner life, on who we really were created to be, much freer of masks and armor than ever before, we move forward far lighter—like the caterpillar that has been transformed into a butterfly. This may look like a withdrawal from the world, an isolation of sorts. But it's not really that, as Kathleen Fischer says in her book Autumn Gospel: Women in the Second Half of Life. "...a strong inner life enables us to move outward with fewer conflicts and greater clarity. It solidifies our sense of self and our values. It is difficult to really love others if we cannot love ourselves, and hard to love a true self that remains deeply hidden. What feels like emptiness inside us may be a self that we do not know, one that has never been loved."

Wow! These middle years and beyond are so full of promise. This is not a time for despair. A time for boredom or hopelessness. Adventure awaits. Take the journey through that open door—into the room beyond!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Mentoring—mutual encouragement

I've been asked to serve as a mentor to one of my congregation's confirmation students. I did that a few years ago and felt so privileged to do so. I always see mentoring as a two-way street, and it never fails that I learn as much as the person I'm mentoring—perhaps even more. So I really look forward to this experience once again.

You do not have to be asked officially by someone else to serve as a mentor. So many opportunities exist these days. I have nine grandchildren, too. So right there I have nine opportunities for mentoring. Perhaps you have grandchildren? Or you have neighbors? Or children of friends? Or just someone that you'd love to take under your wing, encourage and support in whatever ways you think are important. The work place is another good place to consider mentoring relationships.

And it isn't only young people who need mentoring. People of all ages can use some support, encouragement, a loving and caring presence and more. It really does take a village to raise us all.

What are some ways that you can be there for others around you? Do you know someone who could benefit from your presence? Someone to whom you can pass on your values, your knowledge, your legacy?

It's a mutually beneficial relationship. You will both end up encouraged and supported. Look around you today and see who could use a helping hand.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Time to refocus?

We can all use an antidote to the negativity and fear these days. I don't know what helps you get through it all—or what helps you stay positive. Perhaps it's time to refocus a bit?

Many people I know practice meditation, contemplation or mindfulness. There are many different forms of each. And I notice that people use these terms somewhat interchangeably, so you can't assume that another person means the same thing you do when they talk about their practices.

Be that as it may, refocusing yourself can be simple. Many mindfulness practitioners recommend simply paying attention to your breathing. Breathe slowly and consciously. Really pay attention to your breath. If your mind wanders, simply notice that and return to your breathing.

Many people also repeat a phrase or a mantra, something such as:

Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment.

Other people recommend breathing in peace and breathing out love—or breathing in peace and breathing out stress as a way to let it go.

I encourage you to do whatever works for you. We don't have to fall prey to all the negativity, fear and hatred with which we're surrounded. Be positive. Be thankful. Be hopeful.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ask some questions

On Tuesday we talked about the divisiveness in our society—and about how we might find common ground. We asked the Rodney King question: "Can we all get along?"

If we are to begin with ourselves in this endeavor, it means that we need to engage in some critical thinking about what we read and hear. We need to ask some hard questions about what others present as facts. Are there really only two diametrically opposed sides to an issue? Might there be a continuum of thought about any given issue? Might the writer or speaker have a high investment in their viewpoint or take on the issue? Do other people have a huge investment in it to the degree that they might be spending money to get that view out there? It's always good to ask who benefits from a particular story being told. Who wins and who loses? Do some fact checking and ask some questions.

We all like to hear things that are compatible with our own dearly held viewpoints. But it's good to at least hear—and try to be open to—other viewpoints as well. Even if you don't change your mind, you might gain some understanding of how the other arrives at her or his conclusion. That's worth something right there. 

This applies to our family and friendship relations as well. If your partner holds a strong viewpoint completely opposite of what you feel, can you see a continuum of thought between the two of you that might allow you to move closer to each other? Can you indeed find common ground? It's a worthy goal. And it's the start of building a more peaceful, thoughtful community and society.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Women's dirty little secret

 On Monday night my book club group discussed a lighter-weight book than we usually do. We'd had several heavy ones in a row, including a few World War II stories. This was more of a beach read:
The Girls of August by Anne Rivers Siddons.

I'm not sure what we expected from a light read such as this, but the discussion took us to interesting places. We talked about women's dirty little secret: the way we treat each other when we feel threatened or insecure. Some women shared painful experiences from childhood, when they were shunned or bullied by other girls. Others shared workplace experiences of the ways women can be vindictive—the ways we sabotage each other and fail to support and encourage. Some said they'd rather work for a man any day. Isn't that sad? But I understand the sentiment.

On the one hand, women are so relationship-oriented; and our friendships go deep. We'll do anything for a good friend—and we're there to comfort and encourage. At the same time, we sometimes get into what I call the "vying for the prom-date syndrome" and become competitive and vindictive, cutting each other down. We can be "catty," as one woman called it Monday night.

We kept asking why. Why are we women like that sometimes? Is it because we've never been taught how to compete like men do? Is it because we're conditioned to not show anger, to not be competitive—but instead to be "nice"? Is it because we're so relational? Is that why we carry grudges and hold on to things for so long, often nurturing the idea of revenge in our hearts?

We didn't have the definitive answer Monday night. But we came up with some possibilities—and it leaves us all more aware of how we treat other women. We need each other. We need to support and encourage one another. That's truly our best side!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

'Can we all get along?'

It has become quite clear throughout this election season that we live in an extremely divided country—if it hadn't been abundantly clear prior to this. Perhaps it's understandable, given that we are a country of such diversity. However, I don't think it's necessarily a predictable outcome of such diversity. And, honestly, the divide does seem to have grown over these past few months.

I often return to Rodney King's question, "Can we all get along?" (Remember Rodney King, the African American taxi driver who was beaten by Los Angeles Police Department officers following a high-speed car chase in 1991?) No matter the circumstances of King's situation, the question remains a good one for us to raise again all these years later.

Can we all get along? Although we represent different races, cultures, creeds, genders, sexual orientations, viewpoints and more, isn't it possible that we can find common ground somehow through our common humanity? Isn't there more that unites us than that which divides us? Is transformation possible?

Where do we begin to make that happen? The only place we can begin is in our own heart. We start with ourselves—and move out to our families and friendship circles, then to those other groups to which we belong—and on out as far as we can reach with our connections. But it needs to begin with us. No finger-pointing. No blaming everyone else. I'm responsible. You're responsible. And, like the stone skipped into the water, the ripples will begin to spread outward further and further. Like peace-making, it must begin with us. We must be about building connections.

So ... where can I begin today to build common ground with someone? Where will you start? After all, it is up to us if we want to see our communities and society transformed.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Stop. Switch gears.

There's simply nothing like gratitude for refocusing. Whenever I get caught up in negativity (and that's easy to do these days with all the negative news and political insults hurled back and forth between groups—and even between friends), I make an effort to stop. Take a few deep breaths. And think of three things for which I'm grateful right at that moment. Three things. That's not difficult at all. In fact, often I keep on going because there are so many more.

Right now as I write this, for example, I see brilliant sunshine outside. I'm so grateful for that. I can smell bacon corn chowder cooking in my crockpot for the guests I will entertain tonight. I'm grateful first that I have dear friends who will share food and conversation with me tonight—and second, that I have food to eat. And I'm grateful I have a home to which I can invite friends. And. And. And.

There's so much more for which I'm grateful. That's just for starters right now this minute. How about you?

Try that next time you get caught up in negative thinking. Switch gears. Soon you'll see blessings instead of problems.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Where's the justice for women?

Today I'm really at a loss as to what to write. This week has been a difficult one for us as women. So much talk about sexual assault. So much ignorance about it. Denial about how much it occurs in our society. Calls to repeal the 19th amendment. Women called liars when they report sexual assault and abuse.

I must confess it hits a lot of the hot buttons for me. I care deeply about justice and have spoken out for years on the issue of justice for women. So this is difficult for me. You, too?

I am a word person. So typically I'm not at a loss for words. But these days there simply are no words. No words! I'm heartbroken for all the women who won't be believed when they tell their stories of abuse and assault. I worry that they won't find safe places where they can heal. I'm frightened for what this says about us as a society. And I feel helpless. I honestly am not sure what to say or do that will shed light on the situation and not just heat.

Any of you have insights on this?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A pile-up of losses

On Monday we talked about grieving a loss a little at a time, only taking it one step at a time as we can manage. Today I want to talk about how losses sometimes pile up.

A dear friend of mine had foot surgery not long ago, dealing with the pain of healing and the limitations to her mobility as she heals. She faces yet another surgery in a few more days, so she is far from done yet. There are losses embedded in those experiences. Meanwhile, she suffered the loss of a long-term friendship recently. And now her beloved canine family member (of 14 years) died. That's a lot of loss to handle at one time.

This is when incremental grieving is really important. Sometimes all the losses pile up and hit us upside the head. And it nearly bows us down to the ground.

Other times, we might be able to just pull out one of those losses and do some grieving. Feel the pain of loss. Be honest about your feelings. Pore over the good memories. Know they will always be part of you if you continue to cherish and nourish them. And only when you're ready, imagine new life—and move on.

Many books and articles have been written on grief. Find something that's helpful to you. Or talk with someone who is a good listener and has empathy. And take your time. Really! Take. Your. Time. Our culture tries to rush through grief so we can get back to "happy" again. But there really is no way to rush grief. It needs time to simmer and stew. You will need to be with it before you feel like moving on. And even then, pieces of it may return from time to time. It's OK. That's normal. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Talk to me! What are you thinking?

What's on your mind these days? What topics are absorbing you? What consumes most of your energy? What discussions do you and your friends have that engage you right now?

I counted up the number of blogs I have written for Way2Grow Coaching since I began posting them in 2012. Before I wrote yesterday's, I had done 1,246 blogs. The topics arise from things coaching clients have brought up, from conversations I've had with friends and acquaintances, from my readings, from current issues in my life, from issues in the news, from past issues I've faced and many other sources. But here's where you come in: I would love to know what topics you would like to see addressed in these blogs. What would be helpful to you? What questions are you asking these days? What's on your mind or in your heart?

You can post your responses in the Comment box below (no one will see your name or email unless you choose to leave your name or email within the message itself). Or you can simply send me an email at and let me know what's on your mind. Another option is to go to my contact page and send an email from there.

I'd love to hear from you! I'm listening.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Grounded & positive

It may not matter which political candidate you support for U.S. president. I'm willing to bet that you, like most of us, are ground down by all the negativity and offensive insults hurled around—including by some we call friends! Facebook, for example, is filled with nasty comments and heated disagreements. It can be exhausting and suck energy clean away from us.

I want so much to stay positive, to do what Michelle Obama said her family tries to do in the face of hurtful insults: "When others go low, we go high." I do so want to do that.

I will confess that it's really difficult, though. I have thoughts and feelings about what I see and hear. Sometimes I choose to just "pass on by" and let it go. And other times, I really feel the need to interject another viewpoint or express deeply held convictions.

Honestly, I will be happy when this is all over. But I'm also not stupid enough to think we'll all suddenly return to being positive, agreeable and happy individuals the day after the election. So it will be up to each one of us to make a choice as to how we'll comport ourselves afterward. Truly, we have that same choice now, too. Can we stay grounded and positive? Can we do that and still express convictions? Is there a way to do that? Can we listen to one another even when we have profound disagreements? Can we be respectful?

Let's just remember, we each have choices.

Monday, October 10, 2016

One step at a time

Loss. Grief. Sadness. These things come to us all, in one form or another, at one time or another, throughout our life. Multiple times, in fact.

Most times you and I cannot change the situation that brings grief. We can allow ourselves to be changed by the situation, however. How do we do that, you ask. One step at a time.

Say you or a loved one received a diagnosis of illness the treatment for which comes with no guarantee of healing. You cannot change what is. You can decide whether to move forward with the recommended treatment after weighing whatever options there are. But you or your loved one have no control over the illness or even how effective the treatment is. What you can manage, however, is how you face the situation—by acceptance or by fighting it.

It is important for you to be open and honest about your feelings as you face this. Talk with others about your fears. Reaching out to others helps tremendously—even though sometimes our impulse is to isolate. Grieve whatever losses are involved. Do that as often as necessary. Do everything you can to stay as positive and hopeful as you can. Not only might it help the healing process, but you will have so much more energy and strength to face the situation. And when you can't deal with the losses all at once, do so in smaller steps. Accept what you can, one step at a time.

If you wish to talk about something heavy that's weighing on you right now, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary coaching session on how best to face it.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Anybody listening?

Listening seems to be a lost art these days. And during this current political season, the ability to listen to one another seems more of a long-distant memory than a possibility. It's so discouraging.

What has happened to our ability—or even to our desire—to hear one another? If someone declares their political party, or their preferred candidate, we think we already know all we need to know about that person. And we quit listening. We've already judged them. And they, us.

And when people are in conversation, those not speaking at the moment are busy formulating their response or thinking about a similar situation that happened to them that they want to share next. But what about listening—and actually hearing what the other person has to say? And even more than that, listening to what's not said? Often, what's not said is as important or even more important than what is said. Reading between the lines is such an art. But these days, so is simply listening to what's said.

Why don't we each commit to improving our listening skills? Perhaps we can practice each day by at least listening attentively to one or two conversations a day. Then we can up it to three or four. And then five or six. And incrementally, we can improve our listening ability. It really is a matter of intention and building up to a habit. It would be so worthwhile to do so. What do you think?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Share your gifts today

Do you have a sense of why you're here? Of what gifts you may bring to the world that the world really needs right now? Of your purpose in life at this time?

Perhaps that's really far more important to think about than the purpose of life in the macro sense. While interesting to ponder the purpose and why of the universe, perhaps it's more relevant to think about what you and I need to be about. That's something we can actually manage or control, to some degree anyway.

Each one of us has talents and gifts that can be directed to serve others—to serve a larger purpose. You may have a special knack for dealing with seniors. Or for nurturing children. Perhaps your focused attention to detail is needed by some organization that's desperately trying to tighten up and preserve its resources so it can better serve others. You may be an artist of one kind or another whose gifts inspire others and lift us above the mundane so that we can dream and fulfill our own higher purpose.

Whatever your gift is, don't be shy. Discover it. Name it and claim it. Be grateful for it. And happily share it with the world. Someone is waiting for what you have to give!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Boundaries, bullies & balance

I can't tell you how many people these days tell me about workplace bullies and boundary issues. The bullying problems that children have in grade school and that follow them all through high school and into college don't stop once they get into the workplace. Sadly, some people continue to harass and bully others even when they become adults. So we have to deal with this for much of our life. And it's downright painful.

Boundaries are essential borders each of us sets around what behavior we'll accept from others and what behavior we won't endure. They are crucial when it comes to bullies. Sometimes bullies don't even see the hurt they cause. Perhaps they are so tuned in only to themselves or they are emotionally unaware. It's always worthwhile to try confront a bully who has disrespected or mistreated you in the workplace. You need to do so calmly, however; otherwise, the message will be lost as a bully likely will escalate the behavior if she/he feels threatened. Calmly state your desire: "Please do not shout at me when you ask me for something you need," for example. You may want to add the consequence if the behavior continues: "When you shout at me in the future, I will need to leave the room. I will be unable to fulfill your request. However, if you can speak to me respectfully, I will continue our interaction."

Don't give up if the behavior persists. Continue to calmly state your desire. Of course, if the behavior continues for weeks and months, you will want to consider stronger actions, such as keeping a written record of the behavior and reporting to a supervisor.

There's no doubt that it's difficult to keep a balance between ignoring bullies and confronting them by setting boundaries. And it's especially tricky in a workplace where you fear reprisal either from the bully or from management. As we know all too well, sometimes the bullies appear to win the day. However, your well-being and emotional health matter. So you need to do whatever you can to stay in balance. If you would like to discuss this in a complimentary coaching strategy session, I invite you to contact me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Time to shed the masks

When we were young, we tried on several masks and suits of armor so we could protect ourselves from hurts and disappointments. We tried on those different masks or personas until we found some that worked to keep us from feeling too vulnerable. And after several years, those masks and suits of armor became so much a part of us that we scarcely knew who we were without them. Or we didn't know where a mask ended and we began.

One of my masks to avoid vulnerability is the one of extreme competence and toughness. Vulnerability to me is when I don't know what I'm doing—or when I feel weak and helpless. I project the image of strength and act as though I know what I'm doing even when I do not. That's what I learned to do when I was quite young. I'm trying to drop those now.

Here's the thing: As we age, we realize that our masks or suits of armor keep us from being completely authentic and real. We begin to realize the value of vulnerability. When I can show that I, too, am afraid and don't really know what to do in a given situation, others can admit to their fears as well. But when I act tough and strong all the time, others are afraid to speak about their fears and inadequate feelings.

So, though we added masks and armor when we were young, we do reach a certain age when we want to remove them. Having said that, I must clarify and say that we don't want to totally rid ourselves of them or pack them away in a closet forever. We can't "let it all hang out" with everyone in our lives. That simply isn't safe. There are times we need our armor of protection. There are some people in our lives with whom we definitely need masks. It's not safe to be unprotected.

You are the only one who knows just which masks to remove, when and with whom. It's your choice. You're the one who knows what authenticity looks like for you.

Monday, October 3, 2016

A stance of curiosity and openness

Have you noticed that at this stage of your life, you have more questions than answers? And are you learning to be okay about that? Do you keep a list of your questions—or at least some of them?

One of the 38 women who wrote in the book I mentioned earlier this week, Women Confronting Retirement: A Nontraditional Guide, Carole Ganim, put it this way:

"I have examined my life and looked at its next stage and made plans to participate actively in its evolution. The future is alluring and the possibilities for that future are multiple. I have always wanted to know all the answers, especially the answers to the big questions: Is there a God? What is the meaning of life? What is goodness? What is truth? Who are we? Why are we here? I know I will never have the satisfaction of getting answers, but I am still excited about the questions and I still want to find ways to look for answers. I have enthusiasm for what comes next and I can't wait to see what it is. I was once asked to write my own epitaph in a group exercise. I wrote: She kept looking."

Are you still looking? Do you still have a strong sense of curiosity? Do you feel you're still open and searching?