Journey to Open Heartedness

Love is the conversation we need to have.  A post from Dogma to Divine I read this morning illuminated for me what to write about today.  Love.  Not romantic love. Not love with attachment or conditions.  Love as a way to be in the world.  Love as a way to hold space – with others, for others, for ourselves, for conversations that want and need to happen.  Love as a healing energy.  Love as a pathway in the world.  Love as an illuminator.

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Fear tries to obliterate love.  The inner voice of the judge tries to shut it down.  We have come to associate so much disappointment with love, we are afraid of love.  Afraid to let it wash over us, our relationships, our way of being in the world. We are afraid we will be disappointed, exposed, hurt.  Afraid we will be vulnerable in ways that allow others to take advantage of us, our good heart, our good intentions – in which case it is no longer love but something posing for love.

We are afraid to know ourselves from the field of love.  We are afraid to know others from the field of love.   Yet it is who we are at the core.

It is hard to love others when we do not love ourselves.  It is hard to let love in from others when we do not love ourselves.

Love is misunderstood.  We have come to attach so many conditions – or feel conditions attached –  to it that rediscovering what love is becomes a practice, a journey to open heartedness. If we allow it.  If we invite it.  We are not even aware of the conditions and the expectations we attach to it.  To those we love.  “If you loved me, you would….”  Yup.  Fill in the blank.  For any one you are in relationship with.  We all have many of them.

If you loved me, I wouldn’t have to tell you what I feel, what I need from you.  If you loved me, you would just know.  Because you don’t know, you don’t love me.  Now I am hurt. Now I shut down.

If you loved me, I wouldn’t have to love myself.  But if I cannot love myself, I cannot let your love for me in.  I deem myself unworthy, undeserving of your love.  Not romantic love.  Human to human love.  Spirit to spirit love.  Soul to soul love.  Just love.

We discover love and how we relate to love through relationship with others.  Yes, romantic love counts here too.  And it is so much more than that.  Children. Parents. Siblings. Friends.  Colleagues. Acquaintances. Strangers on the street. Those who love us.  Those who challenge us.  Those who don’t even know they impact us.  Or don’t know how much.

Disappointment arises when expectations, hopes, conditions we are carrying are not met.  When we harbour this disappointment it casts shadow over the field of love. When we replay it over and over again, it grows.  Then we feel the need to armour ourselves because we have learned love only leads to disappointment.  Anger shows up.  That we would be treated so.  That someone else doesn’t care enough about us.  That people are only mean and selfish anyway.

The journey to open heartedness invites the inquiry – into hurt, pain, grief, disappointment, attachment.  It invites the release of whatever shows up during the inquiry. It invites forgiveness.  Of self.  Of others.  An opening up of space.  Expansiveness.  Generosity.  It also invites inquiry into joy, beauty, delight and love itself.  It is a pathway to peace.   A practice we don’t get perfect but we can perfect the practice of inquiry and deepening the journey to open heartedness.

Practicing love does invite us into our own vulnerability.  A vulnerability that comes from our willingness to see ourselves fully and allow others to see us.  In all of the imperfectness of who we are.  Vulnerability that invites  us to be in our strength and power.  We can be in a field of love and make different choices about different relationships. To be in some.  To not be in others.  To make conscious choices. To appreciate our choices. To make choices that invite generosity of spirit, not from a place of hurt, anger or denial – although some of the choices may start there.  We have the opportunity to shift the shape of the story at any time.  It comes with hosting self.  Growing awareness.  Growing practice.

Generosity and a willingness to love others without an expectation of performance in return for love or even having that love returned in the same way.  This is a difficult practice at first.  To let go.  To not follow a path of hurt or shame.  Just to offer love.

Love is the conversation we need to have.  Now.  Always.  With each other.  With ourselves.  As we journey deeper into open heartedness, we grow our acceptance of self.  Of others in their journey, wherever they are in their journey.  It doesn’t always require words.  It can simply radiate from the heart.  Become a way of being in the world.  The more it becomes this, the more people respond, even when they don’t know that they are, or what they are responding to.  Love is the conversation we need to have.  All of us. Every where.

Hosting Self: Practice Informs the Practice

Practice does not make perfect, thank goodness.  Practice informs the practice. If we pay attention, lean into what we are discovering and allow ourselves to be in the place of not knowing or in the space before the naming, just long enough for an awareness to arise, shift to happen, peace to arrive, clarity to emerge. Maybe just one of those things, maybe none of them, but something that signals to us that a shift has happened, is happening, within us.

This is all part of hosting self.  Like you, I don’t have it all figured out.  I’m in the thick of learning every single day.  Learning to be in my experience in any given moment – the moments I enjoy and the ones I’d rather not be in.

This is not always an easy practice, particularly in those days when we are experiencing challenge.  Hosting self  is only something we can draw on in those times when we really need it if we have been in the practice on a regular basis. In the practice on the days we don’t think we really need it. Days that are inspired, beautiful, peaceful, joyful.  And on the days that are just kind of blah.  If we are not in the practice during those days, on the days when hosting self is most needed to help reground and centre we will have no practice from which to draw on.

There are wearying days .  Even for people in regular, ongoing practice.  When I posted that sentiment on Facebook recently – that sometimes this hosting self thing is wearying before it transmutes into peacefulness and joy, someone asked me what I do to host myself.  A beautiful invitation into a little reflection and exploration.

There are a number of practices I cultivate on a regular basis to draw from on those days I most need to host myself.  In the midst of feeling challenged or feeling hooked, hosting myself usually starts with a noticing that I’m feeling “off” or hooked, acknowledging something is “rumbling” in me that I have not yet named and am not yet able to articulate with any clarity.

In the soonest moment I can – which might be immediately or in a few hours or after a few days – I become curious and invite myself into a little bit of sensing to see if I can source what’s been triggered in me.

It is important to acknowledging that whatever’s been triggered, whatever is rumbling, it doesn’t have to completely influence everything else that is happening in the moment or my day, week or month. It is simply one thread, not the only thread. If I allow myself to notice, I  may also notice that many of the other threads are light, positive, purposeful, delightful.  It is okay to absorb those threads too.  Just because one “rumble” might need some of my attention, it is not a disservice to it to still allow in joy and light.

My Shape Shifting Lion Friend - on for the Soul Journey

My Shape Shifting Lion Friend – on for the Soul Journey

I’m not sure why those moments of challenge call so loudly for attention we think we need to cloak ourselves in them.  We don’t.  We can learn whatever it is we need to know without becoming lost in it.  Most of us have become so conditioned to going full on into it we have to teach ourselves to slow down and broaden our view with deliberateness.  We also need to give ourselves permission to relax a bit and to treat ourselves with compassion.  As we sense into what’s going on we can also sense into what form of hosting self is being called forth within us.  There are many possibilities. Here I offer a few I personally draw on with regularity.  You may also have some of these and likely you have many more of your own.

Physicality is a good antidote to those off moments.  Sometimes I run or do other exercises.  Aside from wanting to enjoy a certain degree of health, mostly I crave physical exercise or movement to take me out of my head and into my body, to release tension or let my body have the movement it craves.  When I start to run or exercise, my mind is still often on whatever challenge has my attention.  I need to remind myself to let go of the thoughts or to intentionally bring in thoughts and images that will make me feel better.  Usually surrendering into the moment allows images or symbols to arrive on their own that contain beauty, joy and meaning.

Meditation is a great way to host yourself.  It’s not as difficult as most of us think.  There are many approaches, no one right way and, thankfully, perfection is not required.  I meditate almost every day even if for just a few minutes and usually for fifteen to thirty minutes. It’s a great way to start and/or end a day. Often I use a guided meditation because it helps to keep me in my meditation longer – even if I am not always (or even usually) tuned into the words, I know they are getting through to my unconscious.  In the moments I lose focus I am less likely to go into full distraction mode and get up and go do something else after just a couple of minutes.

One of my practices is to devour all the positive reflections, mantras and good news messages I can, to really absorb them – especially in those moments I’m feeling off.  It is amazing what they can do to lighten my spirit when I allow it.

Gratitude and appreciation are two amazing counter acting forces to those rumbling, grumbling, or worse kinds of days. I remind myself of all the things I’m grateful for, the path I’ve journeyed, how far I’ve come.  There is an abundance of things to be grateful for and they are a good reminder of how things always work out and sometimes in surprising ways.  It is helpful to remind myself I don’t have to have the how of it all figured out in order to begin.  Time over time I discover that when I let go of the how, miracles really do happen.

Journaling is a beautiful way to reflect.  Just sitting to write for a few minutes in  stream of consciousness can shed light on whatever has been triggered, make patterns and themes visible and bringing new insights that create the space to release what has been troubling us.

Finding a friend willing to listen with curiousity and compassion, without judgment.  Just to be there.  Not even to offer advice and certainly not to commiserate with us in a way that keeps us stuck.  Sometimes in talking it out, insights arise that help us move forward or understand how to address an issue or challenge or conversation in a way that serves us and whoever or whatever may have triggered us.

Tarot cards, prayer or other spiritual practices are another way of hosting self.  Anything that helps us be more present and aware.

It is good, almost essential, to remember that what’s happening in this moment is transitory and doesn’t make me – or you –  a dismal failure, just like successes do not lead to infallibility or guru-ness, just real human beings doing the best we can every day.  Some days are better and more masterful than others, but it’s all there in the mix.  Just people on a journey with good, delightful moments and challenging moments too.

All in the flow of things. There is far more flow of things when we are in a regular ongoing practice of hosting self.  How do you host yourself?  What are your practices?  What do you come back to over and over again that helps you regain your ground or stay centered?  Where you grow your self awareness, your curiosity and your self compassion?

Hosting self is an integral aspect of being able to host others. It is the first practice in the Four Fold Practice for a reason.  It is a beautiful inquiry to be in every day and in any given moment – not by making yourself a self improvement project but by surrendering into the unfolding journey.

Four Fold Practice

Resilience, Grief and Collective Consciousness

Human beings are remarkably resilient.  We have this amazing capacity to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get on with getting on after all imaginable and unimaginable nature of horrors, calamities, catastrophes, shocks to the system – that happen to us, to our families, our communities, our organizations, globally.   Hope really does spring eternal even though at times it is hard to access.  It’s like the grass, flower or weed that pushes it’s way through concrete to bloom again in the light of day.

I find myself in a deep contemplation of this resilience, despite, at times, overwhelming odds and continued attempts at suppression.  My contemplation of resilience is weaving together with grief and what is alive and communicated in the collective consciousness, without it being visible. This is alive and emerging for me because of work and conversations I’ve been in and over the last few months in particular.  What I write today are half formed thoughts percolating more with each conversation.

Recently I worked with a client – a department in a large organization – that has gone through a significant amount of change, restructuring, everyone applying for remaining positions and no one knowing the outcome.  This was the most recent in a series of changes.  I know I could be referring to almost any organization.  The conversation they wanted to have was how to work more horizontally in a hierarchical structure and how to be more transparent with communication.

We began with a circle, asking people what makes them hopeful.  Eleven people in the room.  Responding with a talking piece but popcorn style.  Nine spoke about what made them hopeful.  The tenth person, with tears just beginning, spoke about not having hope.  Not anymore.  Not after so much change and so little care for human collateral along the way.  The eleventh person went deeper in this vein, apologizing because she had nothing hopeful to offer.

We welcomed the tears into our circle.  Thank you for your courage and honesty.  For sharing what is alive for you in this moment.  Hearing about the hope expressed by so many was too much.  It evoked the other truth sitting in the room.  The truth of grief.  Before we knew it, many in the circle were in tears.  I was not surprised it was there.  I was a bit surprised at the depth of it.

Our organizations tend to make it hard to tell truth – not “the” truth, but the multiplicity of truths that exist in the same space.  And in change efforts, there is a tendency to just want to get it done, to move from A to B.  The fear is that if we factor in the human response, the emotional response, nothing will get done, we will be overwhelmed.  Yet not creating space for it drives it underground, like rivers under the earth that can destabilize what appears to be a solid foundation and where sink holes spring up unexpectedly.  We seem surprised when they show up, caught off guard.  I wonder why?

With this group, after welcoming tears, exploring the change curve which is predicated on the grief curve, looking at circles of influence, in just a couple of hours the group was collectively ready to turn toward the future – with collective hope and inspiration now bubbling through.  It was relatively simple though I don’t, by any means, believe or mean to say that all it takes all the time is just a couple of hours.  But I am curious about what it does take and how much more simple it likely is than we imagine through our fear and structures designed for effectiveness and professionalism.  Emotions?  Not so professional. Trying to banish them from the workplace?  Not so effective.

In a conversation with a friend after this event, she said to me, “We have forgotten how to grieve.  We think we are supposed to grieve alone, but really we need to grieve in ‘community’ – with others. Witnessing each other.  Holding space for each other.”  That’s what I witnessed with this group.  A collective experience of grief that showed up differently for each person.  Those better off feeling excited about opportunity but afraid to speak it knowing others were worse off.  Those worse off afraid to speak their disappointment and disillusionment Almost everyone experiencing some kind of survivor guilt after so many left.

For me, it sparked reflections on the grief embedded in collective consciousness.  I am by no means an expert on collective consciousness.  I understand it is “how an autonomous individual comes to identify with a larger group or structure.  It implies an internal knowing known by all, or a consciousness shared by a plurality of persons.”  Most of it is not conscious or articulated but it becomes visible through the patterns which show up over time – even embodied in individuals. It seems to show up in lineages.  I have witnessed the pain and grief of generations no longer alive in their descendants who were not even alive at the time of the harm – the pain and grief as alive as the time it happened, as in the people it happened to.  It makes me deeply curious about how this is possible, what it takes to release the grief, to open the space for healing?  I don’t have the answers of course.  But I yearn for the spaces where this can happen. Where we can show up with curiosity, with compassion, humility and grace allowing despair, sorrow, grief and pain to come in – the grief alive in this moment, the grief alive in the lineage from days gone by without resolution, yet.  Seeking the ways love, joy, delight, happiness can co-exist – in each of us, in how we show up, in our lineages too.

It brings me back to resilience. Everyday resilience as we arise each morning and go about our day, our lives, our business with varying degrees of success, the resilience of families, of generations, of communities and of our organizations.  I am in awe.  I am relieved.  I am inspired.  Feeling the call, as always, to perpetuate resilience, perpetuate hope.  To boldly, or quietly, bring my healing gifts to the shifting shape of the world and the regeneration of its people, to evoke and invite that in others.

This is the call that invites so many of us to continue to dive deeper into the journey of personal transformation and the call, by the way, to Hosting from a Deeper Place, the Art of Hosting the Subtle, in Brazil at the end of February 2013.

“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself.  If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself.  Truly the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.” Lao Tzu

As we each do our own healing work, we contribute to healing in the collective consciousness.  But what more becomes possible when we do this work in community – with each other?  This is one of the questions I carry everywhere I go.

Shape Shifting Along the Path of Soul Journey

There are times, more frequently and consistently lately, thankfully, when My Self is in step with My Soul – my soul journey.  My Self has taken a long and winding road, full of pot holes, steep slopes and obstacles on the path, shifting shape in subtle and dramatic ways, to find her way to My Soul.

My Soul holds loving space.  Patiently waiting with full invitation for My Self to notice, to step in, to fall in, to embrace.  Sometimes My Soul whispers to My Self to help My Self find her way.  Sometimes she beckons loudly.  She always trusts My Self will find her way back. If not in this breath, maybe in the next.  If not in the next or the next after that, when there are no more breaths in the physical My Self, setting the non-physical free to blend back in with My Soul.  There is no time limit.  My Self manufactures urgency that My Soul does not assume, does not need, in the moment, a moment that could be a moment as we know it or a lifetime as we experience it.

When the two, which I have playfully named My Self and My Soul as I lean into what it is I am even trying to understand and discern here for myself, are in synch, there is a depth of stillness, beauty and love that envelops me in every way imaginable and emanates out in the world in palpable ways.  Synchronicity flows.  Miracles follow miracles and wonders never cease.

My Shape Shifting Lion Friend – on for the Soul Journey

I have known this soul journey through unconsciousness, awakening, pain and sorrow, joy, love – to greater and lessor degrees.  I have often thought there must be ways to get to it just from joy, that pain and suffering are symptomatic of the human condition and should be optional.  There are easier ways, most of us just don’t seem to choose them.

Earlier today, running in a beautiful Nova Scotia fall morning, through my neighbourhood, down to the Bedford Basin, along the waterfront, up to and down the main road, through a path along a little stream, back in a quiet neighbourhood and along the lake to home, I was present to my physical experience.  The air crisp and cool.  The sun filtering through the leaves of the trees – what’s left of them anyway.  My feet crunching through the fallen leaves.  Not thinking of things but holding my own self, my own experience with curiosity.

I notice this sense of transition – again, never ending, always in it transition.  I see the world around me, my actions, my work, me, changing, shifting shape all the time.  Often subtlely.  I feel things slipping off and new things budding.  It’s often quite lovely.  And I feel sorrow and joy.  Great depths of sorrow.  Great expanses of joy.  Either of these experiences can evoke tears and either are perfectly okay.  I am learning to hold them without judgment, just the noticing.  Oh, and the allowing.  Allowing them to flow when they appear – for joy or sorrow or any other number of reasons they may appear.  And, of course, it is not just tears but any range of possible expressions of emotional state, many of which are quite delightful.  Including stillness.  Including exuding love – like  a magnet, attracting people, experiences  stories and more love.   I am learning that when you travel the path of love, all things are added.

When I first moved into my house two and a half years ago, for almost two months I woke up every day feeling joy and delight.  Every single day. It was so lovely.  I understood that instead of struggle, perhaps joy could be the baseline experience that informs our journey, that we keep springing back to when we let go of whatever is getting in the way of joy.  It was quite a revelation born of the wondering and expectation that was beginning to creep into my awareness that maybe one morning soon I would wake up and not feel joyful.  I wanted to invite the level and intensity of joy into my life, every single day.

Then, financial realities began to hit.  Time began to bleed, minutes into minutes, days into days.  I could feel stress in my body and I knew it was being created not by my experience in this moment, but by my thoughts foraying into the future and the past, forgetting to reside in the beauty and okayness of Now.  My Self separated from My Soul for a little sojourn in other places.  My Soul tenderly held the space for My Self to explore.  The exploration in service of soul journey.

As I listen to Esther Hicks channeling Abraham, a conglomeration of non-physical entities, and Abraham speaks about expansion, I’m now getting it.  Abraham says, what’s the good of a banquet if they only offer what you want?  Where is the opportunity for growth and expansion in that?  If all my days had stayed only in that joyful place, would I have experienced this new depth of soul journey, where My Self is in tune, in step with My Soul more often, if some disturbance hadn’t entered my field of awareness?  If they hadn’t shown up, maybe I would have been content to stay within the boundaries of my lovely new home because I’m sure loving my solitude when I have the opportunity.  Instead, the murmurs of discontent show me what I don’t want, causing me to look for more of what I do want and then attract to me and my journey the most amazing, remarkable experiences.  I’m shape shifting yet again and how lovely is that?

It’s not struggle. It’s not even transition. It is being, experiencing, allowing.  There is no struggle if I don’t.  Lots of letting go of illusions and opening up to more and more of what I want – My Self walking with My Soul more often, inviting me to show up fully, to hold space more deeply, to carry things more lightly and allow myself to be swept along to the next shifted shape that is the new hallmark of a journey that only gets better and better.

Your Emotions are Your Guidance System

This week has taken me to some deep places in my journey yet again.  Depth invites exploration – if we want it to, of course. In a conversation a few days ago,  a good friend who is near and dear to my heart asked me how I was.  I said, “I’m discombobulated and my emotions are near the surface.”

“My emotions are near the surface.”  What an interesting turn of phrase.  What I meant is that sadness, sorrow, angst, tears were all near the surface and tears would spill easily and effortlessly with the slightest provocation – sorrow or joy.

In a later email to my friend, I dug a little deeper to discover what was stirring in my soul that caused these emotions to be so near the surface.  In that exploration, I identified and released things that had been swirling around  and in me about decisions and choices I have no idea if I will even need to make.   I began to settle into a place of not knowing and not needing to know in this moment, trusting clarity will arise in due course.  No need for decisions or choices today.

a moment of reflection

A moment of reflection

I surrendered back into peace, joy and delight.  As I awoke in this state today, I had a little realization, an aha moment.  My emotions are near the surface.  They are just different emotions than yesterday or the day before.  Which got me to wondering.  Do I even think of joy, delight, peace as emotions?  Seems I do.  But not in the same way as I think of sorrow, sadness, anger and grief as emotions.  Without being conscious of it, I’ve been making value judgments about my emotional experiences - just like I tell people we do in the coaching and teaching work I do.

Yup.  Here I am, doing it too.  Sorrow, sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety – bad.  To have those emotions near the surface is bad.  Like they need to be contained.  We don’t really know what to do with them but many of us have learned that trying to contain them, while it might work in the short term, just doesn’t work in the longer term.

How many times people apologize for their tears, one on one, in circle, in some meeting or gathering, and how many times I say, “I look forward to the time we no longer feel the need to apologize for our tears.”  I have, for the most part, stopped apologizing for mine.  So it is always delicious to discover what all is still alive in me as I explore my own emotional state.

Today, my emotions are near the surface. Instead of a tear sliding down the side of my face, a smile might break out for no reason in particular, when I’m by myself, with my son, directed at a stranger or, as it turns out, the two Mormon missionaries who just rang my doorbell.

The strange thing is, just like we don’t necessarily know what to do with the emotions we judge as bad or negative, many of us also don’t know what to do with joy, love, peace, delight.  We can be pretty good if it’s episodic.  If there is a reason – like we have to have a reason.  We’re not so good at knowing what to do with prolonged bouts of happiness, joy or delight – but what a beautiful challenge to embrace.

If we are used to chaos and negativity in our lives, it just feels different to shift into a new normal – of peacefulness.  A new pattern.  A new way of being in the world. Shifting the shape of our experience. Quite delightful to cultivate actually.  And this state of being does grow on a person.  Thankfully.

What I’ve been learning in the course of my life’s journey is that our emotions – the full range of them – offer us guidance.  I used to think they made me weak – at least the ones I judged as bad.  I use to think being vulnerable was the opportunity for someone to attack me.  Now I know differently.  There is strength and power in vulnerability when it comes from authentic open hearted space.  And it takes courage to step into vulnerability.

My emotions are my guidance system.  They tell me how close or far away I am from my centre, from my soul essence. They are a clue to what I’m thinking, whether I’m present or living in the past or future.  If I inquire into my emotional state I can find myself.  And I can change my state of well being by paying attention to my thoughts, discovering what I’m holding onto that doesn’t serve me.

I like finding myself in a place of peace and joy but it’s okay if I find myself somewhere else too.  My preference now, through the journey of life, is to find my way back to a steady state of feeling good.

So today, my emotions are close to the surface.  I wonder what beautiful mischief might ensue?

Credible Vulnerability?

No wonder we are so challenged by the idea of vulnerability, especially personal vulnerability.  It was a revelation to me to do an internet search on the topic.  What came up first and most was this kind of explanation:

  • the inability to withstand the effects of a hostile environment
  • window of vulnerability as a time frame within which defensive measures are reduced, compromised or lacking
  • Achilles Heel
  • capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt
  • open to moral attack, criticism or temptation

No wonder most of us shudder when the topic of vulnerability comes up.  It is in our collective consciousness and organizational cultures as weakness not as strength although much research confirms the power of vulnerability as pointed out by Brene Brown – beautiful and powerful in her own vulnerability.

I an in a renewed deep dive into this exploration thanks to the conversation that may have surprised and delighted me the most at The Art of Participatory Leadership and Social Innovation in California at the end of August 2012.  A conversation I did not expect to be witness to or our high tech company participants to be in.

It arose out of a World Cafe conversation on complexity in response to the third question: what’s stirring in you now as you contemplate complexity (after exploring complexity they’ve been in and barriers and supports for being in complexity)?  My attention was caught by a table where two men and two women were deep in a shared reflection of where vulnerability meets credibility.

The conversation went something like this:

“Yes, I know it’s a good thing to be vulnerable, but how do I be vulnerable and still be credible as a leader, in my organization.”

“It’s not safe to be vulnerable. You are seen as weak.  How can you be vulnerable and not appear weak?”

“I would lose credibility.”

“First you need credibility, then you can be vulnerable.  But how much credibility is enough?”

“Maybe allowing yourself to be vulnerable will show your credibility.”  Is there such a thing as credible vulnerability?  What does that even mean?

All of this led me to wonder what we mean when we speak about vulnerability – what’s in the field?  A lot about weakness  and protection it seems. This resonates with my journey personal journey, one of Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Open Heartedness.  The invitation was to move beyond believing emotions make me weak to understanding them as a guidance system that will never steer me wrong if I pay attention.  In the context of leadership, particularly participatory leadership, vulnerability does not equal weakness, defense systems do, but how and why is that so?

Thankfully Brene Brown is turning vulnerability (shame too) on its head so we can lean into it differently.  She says, “Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy ~ the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.”  And also make us the most human.

Sounds pretty personal.  What does it have to do with work? Because as much as we try we cannot be one person at home and another at work.  We suffer from the incongruency and it shows up wherever we show up.  People sense it, even when, especially when, we try to hide and know, from the place of deep knowing, when they have encountered someone in the fullness of their authentic journey and their vulnerability.  They often name it as courage.

Brown says what we are most seeking is connection.  It is why we are here, it gives meaning and purpose to our lives.  I hear the yearning for it in so many people who are drawn to Art of Hosting and related gatherings.  In order to have connection, we have to let ourselves be seen.  Truly, fully, seen.  But then we risk people seeing our weakness, our shame, any inauthenticity or lack of integrity we feel we may be carrying. We make ourselves vulnerable.

Interestingly, when I looked up the definition of credibility it is the quality or power of inspiring belief; the quality of being believed or accepted as true, real and honest.  Seems to describe what I think of as one aspect of vulnerability.  And it’s simple.

Given this definition, the relationship between credibility and vulnerability is so intimately entwined it is hard to separate out which comes first and which you need more.  If we can begin to see vulnerability for the strength and authenticity that it is, instead of as a weakness we cannot show others, our credibility instantly begins to rise.  But how?

There is no simple solution to this.  It requires courage and risk and a path of hosting yourself, growing self awareness and presence.  It requires the courage of being imperfect and of compassion – for self and others, particularly for self.  Finding the way to allow ourselves to be vulnerable without inviting criticism or recrimination – the fear of which intimidates us and makes us believe we need to protect ourselves. This is the conundrum.

Vulnerability is part of an intentional journey of learning to find our voice from the depths of our strength, our sense of worthiness, love and belonging, from the place of whole heartedness.  It is also part of the art of what we do.  The only way to trust is to risk.  The only way to risk is to trust. The only way to do this is to do it.  Risk as much as we dare.  Pause. Reflect. Learn. Embody. Trust. Risk a little more.  Eventually we shift the shape of our experience, our understanding, our credibility and our vulnerability. We live into it as the asset it is rather than the deficit many of us have experienced it to be.  It is not our vulnerability that is the challenge.  It is our fear of our own vulnerability that brings the weakness.

We didn’t name this conversation.  It showed up in an unexpected place.  Speaks to the yearning.  Speaks to what’s missing.  Speaks to the invitation.  Speaks to the first step.  Easy.  Difficult. Complex. Simple.  Choose.

Shadow Days

“Kathy,” she said to me, “You think your emotions make you weak.”

“Yeah,” that seemed self evident.

“You’re wrong,” she said.  “Learning to live into your emotional experience, be in it and learn from it will make you stronger and more powerful.”

I was highly skeptical.  She, by the way, was/is Sarita Chawla, a beautiful, elegant, graceful, powerful woman I met at ALIA in 2008 who offered to coach me.  I was skeptical but prepared to be proven wrong.  She nudged me, coaxed me and provoked me.  She made me angry and frustrated. She helped me discover the voice of my internal judge and find strategies to disempower its impact. She guided my journey from one of walking through my experience to one of living into it, learning to enquire into my emotional response to see, sense and understand what is there for me to learn.

She was right.  I am stronger, more compassionate and more powerful.  It’s been quite the journey, of course.  I am usually more serene, centered, present and calm.  Joy, delight and love are usually the emotions that dominant my day-to-day experience.

But not everyday is like that. I also have shadow days.  I can’t help but think that everyone does. That we all have days – or parts of days – where we go to deep, dark places.  The days when we are overwhelmed, when the internal judge is speaking nonsense to us about who we are or aren’t and we tending to believe it, when we are off our center, discombobulated, sad, feeling pulled in many directions or just want to let the tears flow – or perhaps we can’t stop them from flowing.

In 2009, a friend and I spent a day on the land at Gold Lake, Colorado.  Our dear friends Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea helped in the preparation for that day.  One of the things they suggested was that the sites we chose be far enough away from each other that we couldn’t see or hear each other – in the event that we wanted to cry out or wail.  At the time, there were so many other experiences that were alive for me, wailing was not one of them.

Recently, I went for a run in my neighbourhood in Bedford which took me down to the park on the water.  I needed the physicality of the run and the touch into nature, taking the time to sit on the grass, meditate and reflect while looking out over the water.  The sadness that was in me, triggered interestingly enough by the offer of a gift that I do not yet know if I will accept, was so intense that tears did flow and I had the feeling that I wanted to wail.  The intensity of emotion alive in me.  The vibrancy of experience.  Convention kept the wail in.  I wasn’t sure how other park users would respond if I gave way to such a depth of sadness and grief in a place one wouldn’t expect to encounter it. Not the tears though, I let them flow.

I’ve witnessed a lot of people cry.  One-on-one. In small and large groups.  Through processes where people are able to access their own emotional experience.   There aren’t many who can let the tears flow without apologizing for them.  One of my dreams is that we can live in a world where we no longer feel the need to apologize for our tears – such a beautiful expression of release.  I no longer apologize for mine – even when they show up in a large group experience.  I no longer try to diminish my experience but want to honour it and my passage through it.

Of course, I don’t want to be stuck in my experience either.  I want to understand the story that is alive in me that leads to the tears or the anger or the frustration or whatever else it is that is showing up.  When I understand the story I can release it, shift it or rewrite it – and I often do.  It is part of hosting myself to deeper places in my life and growing my capacity to host deeper space for others. It is part of my journey to open heartedness.

More and more, I am understanding my experience in relation to me, to own it in relation to my journey, to not project it onto others  - or blame others – who may have triggered something in me.  The people around me are a beautiful reflection of where I am in the journey – the ones who trigger things and the ones who simply mirror back the beauty of the journey and the beauty of me as I show up – usually, often, in the depth of who I have been able to access since I began the journey of understanding that my emotions are my ally and that by acknowledging them, living into them and learning from them I grow my capacity to host deep space, to host another human being, to host myself.  I am deeply grateful for the wide array of friends who reflect back to me the depth of my journey.

I am not afraid anymore.  I know vulnerability is not weakness and that strength grows when we are willing to know what is rising up in us, willing to meet ourselves in the many ways we show up, allowing ourselves to be in our power, strength and beauty, also without apology but always with compassion, humility, delight and joy.

And it is okay for some days to be shadow days.  It is part of the journey.  We all have them.  They do not make us weak.  They show us the path to strength and beauty.  I no longer feel the need to wail in this moment, but who knows what the next will show up.  I am exactly where I need to be.

Not every day is full of light.  Not every day is a shadow day either.  But facing the shadow brings light to even the darkness of those days and by becoming aware of the story that is alive in me, I can shift the shape of the story, of the day and of my life – which I have been doing story by story, day by day.

Recognizing and Releasing the Potency of Your Internal Judge

The potency of the internal critic/voice of judgment is insidious.  It is a master chameleon showing up in many different cloaks, rending itself almost unrecognizable.  It creeps up on you when you least expect it, plays havoc with your centre and your ground and runs wild until disempowered. It can be persistently in your experience and it can reappear after a long time away.

As soon as you try to debate it, convince it or argue with it, you engage it and increase its potency.  It loves a good argument.  It’s wily and it rapidly changes its stance to retain the upper hand.  You could be arguing a point and as soon as you get close to “winning”, it will change its direction.  Sometimes so much so that it now argues in the opposite direction and, if you are caught in the argument, you often miss the inanity of it.

My internal judge was running rampant yesterday but I didn’t recognize it until this morning – partly because it’s been awhile since it has been so present in me.

Yesterday I felt out of sorts, de-energized and unable to achieve any substantial progress toward my livelihood. Little things irritate me and make me impatient. I recently had a few days away on a little min-vacation.  My dad had a medical appointment yesterday that I attended with him and then went for lunch – a beautiful little pattern we have. My son is now beginning March break and I am dedicating time to being with him in some small adventures along  the way.

The internal critic is standing back with its arms crossed, shaking its head.  “Yup.  And just when are you going to get your work done?  Your emails sent? Meetings arranged?”  A little feeling of panic seeps in.  When am I going to do that? There is no time!  The panic rises up in me and now there are butterflies in my stomach and a promise of a headache in the offing.

“And, just what were you thinking, going off on a holiday when you have so much to do?”  it asks.

“Because we all know that a break away is important to maintaining energy and reinvigorating mind, body and soul so work and life flows easier.” I respond.

“True,” says the internal critic.  “But you know you couldn’t really afford it either.”

“I used points to fly.  I didn’t shop.  I shared accommodation.  I had some money tucked away for this break.” I argue, beginning to spin.  “And, in all that travel time, I did a full edit of my book.” I say, trying to find the positive, be appreciative, tune into what’s working.

The internal critic nods grimly, “Yes.  And what’s happened to your since then?  It’s been sitting beside your computer the last few days and nothing more has been done.”  (This would be a total of two days, by the way.) “Just how long do you think it’s really going to take to finish that puppy and get it published?  As if anyone is really going to read it.  Well, of course a few people will, but not the numbers you are hoping for.”

Wham. Wham. Wham.  Deeper and deeper in.  Fighting with myself to find my appreciative state.  To find my centre, my ground. Knowing in my mind I am my own worst enemy in this moment but not able to pull myself out of the spiral. Knowing I am out of my centre and it should be a simple matter to slip back in.  It’s not what I do – my actions that are important now, it’s finding the right internal vibration in me.  And my vibration is all out of whack which deepens my fear.  Tears of despondency show up as I believe into judgment, after judgment, after judgment.

Exhausted I fell into bed and dreamed.  I dreamed about flow.  I woke up this morning feeling better, feeling lighter.  Then the storylines began to filter in again.  Then the bolt of realization.  So self critical.  So self judging.  So the voice of my internal judge!  Big sigh.  Of course.  How had I not recognized this insidious internal berating voice taking me backwards and forwards in my imaginings, giving me no peace in the present moment.

A lesson I learned before: whenever my emotions run amok, it is a good clear sign that my internal voice of judgment is lurking in the shadows of my mind, making me a crazy woman!

In simply recognizing it and naming it, its potency is released.  Whoosh! I felt myself shift completely into the present moment, smiling at how this internal judge had found its way into my experience and rocked my core enough to have me questioning myself, my self worth and my path, once again.   No longer fighting and resisting it, simply naming and noticing.  Not arguing.  Acknowledging the power of an adversary that has so much to teach me when I pay attention; even the not paying attention is teaching me.  All it took to shift me back to my centre and my usual sense of joy, delight and calm was to pay attention, notice, name. Now I prepare to bake with my child and dance into this day in a whole new and renewed way thankful for the moments when I see the choices clearly.

Human Tragedy Story Often Obscures Soul Journey Perspective

For a long time, I have believed we are soul journeyers having a human experience. The beauty and challenge of life is that our assumptions and beliefs get tested along the way.  Most recently for me, one way has been through my mother’s journey.

When the symptoms of my mother’s dementia were becoming more obvious in the years before she went into long term care, I knew it as a soul journey and experienced it as a human tragedy story.  This became more pronounced when she went into long term care.  Instead of being the only person in a household living out a bizarre new set of behaviours,  losing her capacity to communicate and do simple things like change the channel on the TV, she became one of many old and dying people no longer able to care for themselves, most living in their own little diminishing physical worlds.

The human tragedy story is amplified in these circumstances and places.  It is hard to see past the story of tragedy when it stares you in the face as you walk down hallways that evoke very visceral reactions in what you see, smell, hear or otherwise encounter – even in a place as loving and caring as the place my mother experienced as home in the last four years of her life.

How many people came up to me, my brother or my father after mom’s funeral to share amazing stories about her that captured the essence of who she was and then proceeded to talk about how they just couldn’t visit her at Harbourview Haven.  How hard it was if she didn’t seem to recognize them.  How hard it is to be in that building when as a culture we have become disconnected from the death chapter of the life cycle.  We no longer experience it as part of the natural flow of life but as something to be feared.  Walking in a place where death is imminent generates fear and discomfort for many of us.  It did for me when I first began visiting my mother, but through my mother the shape of my experience shifted.

For the few who were able to manage a visit or two, they expressed how amazing it was when there was a flicker of recognition in something she said.  I learned how many people besides me she called “little one” (really mom?!) and that was a point of reference for them.

There are others who saw enough through the human tragedy story to visit often.  My mother had a few of those regular visitors although we often didn’t even know it since she couldn’t remember who visited or when they did.  Deeply grateful for those dear friends.

The length of mom’s journey with dementia and her stay in long term care, invited me more deeply into this paradox of understanding  the human tragedy dressing of soul journey.   The phrase “oh, that poor soul” makes me chuckle now.  We use that phrase to describe the human tragedy perspective.  It is the physical experience that appears poor, not the soul journey perspective if you believe, like I do, that we make some choices before we manifest into physical form about what it is we want to experience for our soul journey this time around.

As my mother become more disembodied, I embodied the soul journey perspective from a deeper, more encompassing place of understanding.  Towards the end, her human tragedy story didn’t register for me anymore, only the soul journey perspective.  This gave me a high degree of peace during her long transition process, allowing me to live my life fully even while being present to my mother’s journey and our family care around it.

For the gifted people who work at Harbour View Haven, it seems to me they also see past the human tragedy perspective, treating each individual with full dignity and respect.  Treating them as if they are fully functioning, fully present human beings.  It was a gift to observe this most keenly in my mother’s final hours. It made me wonder what would happen if we all treated others all the time with this kind of dignity and respect – whether we thought they deserved it, whether we thought they were fully human or not.

Living simultaneously with my mother’s journey, my journey and the rest of life, I’ve been thinking about how to express this all so it does not fuel the human tragedy story. I now speak about “the many streams of life”.  We are all in many streams of life all at the same time. Stuff happens.  Stuff comes up.  There is a life giving invitation to be well in all of it, although a more typical response is to be stressed by all the things that come our way that we have to take care.

I’m leaning into this invitation to flow with the many streams of life as though that is what they are, rather than challenges.  Greater spaciousness beautifully shows up.

And then there are the lessons of embodiment that have been present for me in a big way already in 2012.  As I embody my experiences and my learning I understand more deeply my life’s events, my relationships and my soul’s calling.

I’m not saying the human tragedy story isn’t real.  But the soul journey perspective is also just as real although harder for many to see, obscured by the human tragedy story.  The soul journey perspective allows me to live into joy and delight and allows me to fall in love over and over again in a way living into the human tragedy story does not.

For my mother, I continue to experience a dance of joy, delight and lightness as her spirit soars free from the human tragedy unfolding of her physical body.  She continues to be my teacher and my friend and very, very real in my human experience.

Intentionally Shifting the Shape of the World in 2012

Wow.  2012 is a breath away. When I started the Shape Shift blog I wrote: “the shape of the world is shifting. It is constantly shifting but never more so than now. This is evident in health care, education, finance, communities, technology, organizations and other systems that have become vital to how we function today.  We can be passive recipients of the impact of these shifts in the world or we can become active participants in shaping the future of the systems, organizations and communities that we feel passionate about – that are near and dear to our hearts.”  This was true when I wrote it, and started Shape Shift Strategies Inc, in August of 2009.  It is even more true as we are on the brink of 2012 – a year that has been much prophesied and written about.

If we are paying attention we can literally and figuratively feel the earth shaking underneath our feet as significant shifts take place – in the natural world and the manmade world.  Earthquakes and tsunamis in New Zealand and Japan, the Arab Spring, Occupy to name just a very few.  I say paying attention with the full awareness that there are many of us who see the greater scope of these stories and feel the significance of them in our very beings and there are many who do not yet see the stories under the stories that show up in mainstream media – a medium that is struggling with seeing and understanding the deeper patterns of these movements in the world.

If I am to imagine into 2012, I can only imagine that the chaos and complexity of our systems, our social structures and  our communities will increase.  This because of the reluctance and deep resistance of letting go of what we know, even when we know it doesn’t work anymore, to embrace what is waiting and wanting to be born.  It is so hard to see new ways when all we can see is what we have already built.  I’ve seen it in the conversations surrounding the Healthier Health Care Now gathering set for Utah early in January.  “We want you to be different, but please do it in familiar ways.  Because we don’t know how to support something that looks and feels different, especially when you cannot tell us exactly what it will look like in the end.  We have to be accountable, after all.”

How do we become accountable for our future when we are anchored to what we know, what we have always known, what already exists?  This is why the chaos will increase.  It is already telling us what we know no longer works.  Our collective response?  Hold on tighter.  Don’t let go.  How deeply shaken do we need to be to let go, let fly into the void of the unknown?

Thank God for the growing pockets of people, teams, communities and communities of practice who see a different future and who steadfastly work toward it in the not knowing.  There are so many I can name - because I am part of them – and so many I can’t because I don’t have knowledge of them but I am not so insular as to believe they don’t exist.  Paul Hawken’s work in Blessed Unrest is just one indicator of this world wide revolution that is taking place right under our very noses – whether we see it or not.

Those of us working and living  in the spaces of not knowing the specific shape of the future or of what new systems could emerge from the old as we are shaken free in the chaos, we are Warriors of the Heart.  To be a Warrior of the Heart and be well, we need personal practices that keep us connected with source and allow us to access our own resilience, courage, compassion, strength, joy and love.  There are individual and collective dimensions of practice. We build personal capacity in our individual practice.  We amplify, accelerate and activate so much more when we come together in our collective work and journey.

2012 may show us more and more the intersection between the relational field (love and loyalty) and the strategic field.  We have treated love and loyalty somewhat dismissively – the soft skills side of the equation.  In business we need to be hard – hard nosed, make hard decisions.  What if this is not true?  What  if our greatest path forward is to embrace more fully the relational field so that our choices are actually more strategic, have a longer term view and value all the things that are important to our survival in a time when so much of what we have always known seems threatened?  What becomes possible when we sink into what we’ve known even longer than what we’ve always known – the wisdom and knowledge accessible to us in ancient wisdoms that become more present to us as we pause and listen deeply – to the earth, to the whispers in our own hearts, to the yearning we have to be connected to something that has deep meaning and purpose. What would a world look like that connected through love and loyalty and then developed strategy for the highest good of us all?

The shape of the world is shifting.  It always has been.  Is it shifting faster now?  Feels that way.  What is the intentionality we can individually and collectively bring to amplify, accelerate and activate the shift we desire to see in the world?  What is the shape of the world you want to live in to?

I experience such deep gratitude and appreciation for my friends and colleagues (the ones I know and the ones I haven’t met yet) around the world.  You inspire me.  You lift me up in the moments when I have lost sight of my own light.  You give me great hope for what is possible in a new world order.  I am humbled and honoured to do amazing work in the world with people I care deeply about – from a place of open heartedness and a field of love and connection that makes possible the impossible – only seeming impossible because we can’t always see the how.  The how stops us.  The vision and intention for shaping a future we want to live into compels us all forward.

Walking the path of not knowing.  Setting strong, clear intentions for what I want to see unfold in my own path of shifting the shape of the world in 2012, letting go of the how and inviting what is ready – and urgently wanting – to show up.