Tis the Season of Joy — And Sorrow

The holiday season is an amplifier.  It is often a time of great celebration and joy as family members and friends gather together in gift giving and meal sharing.  It is also a time of great sorrow for many as reconstituted families find new patterns of gathering and as many of us feel the absence of loved ones who are elsewhere, may have departed, are sick or dying or in long term care facilities or simply no longer a part of our lives.  And it can be overwhelming and stressful as we strive for perfection in a season that often already demands a lot of us and where expectations run high – the ones we have of ourselves and of others.

It is impossible to live life and not have our fair share of  joy, sadness and stress.  Simple little delights often bring the joy.  A particular Christmas song.  Lights.  Tree trimming. Christmas celebrations.  Buying someone that perfect little something – or creating it.  Traditions that are meaningful.  Conversations that are as delicious as the traditional holiday fixings.  Lovely memories.

The things that make the heart sing are a beautiful thing.  The things that make the spirit sad are harder to acknowledge.  Absences seem to be one of the most significant contributors to sadness at this particular time of year.  The absence of loved ones.  It is an experience I know.  We all do.

One example in my life: my mother is in long term care with dementia.  She’s been there now for three and a half years. Since May, seven months ago, we have been told she could leave us any day.  Some small part of her still inhabits her physical body while most of her is having a different kind of experience that is beyond my knowing at the moment.

She has been absent from our family Christmas celebrations the last two years physically and to varying degrees cognitively for longer than that.  A week or so ago, I was in a shopping mall.  Something in a store caught my eye. I was hit with a wave of missing my mother – really for the first time.  This woman loved Christmas and loved opening presents so much it happened so fast it was over almost before it began – until we found ways to slow the process down.  My mom was always like a kid at Christmas when it came to presents – until she forgot what to do with a present, forgot what it was or even how to open it.

We all have these kinds of stories.

Some of us have stories of being in relationships that are not fulfilling, meaningful or relevant anymore.  Some of us are no longer in relationships and carry sadness or regret as a result. Some of us are in relationships with loved ones who live far away from us.  This is a season that brings nostalgia about better times and brings heightened awareness of what is not working.  It shines a light on the imperfections of our lives and relationships.  It brings loneliness even as we are surrounded by people and festivities.

In a season that is “supposed” to be joyful, we don’t always know how to handle the emotions and times that are not.  When we try to suppress them, we just drive them underground for awhile.  They will resurface when an opening shows.  There is nothing wrong with surrendering into our sadness long enough to acknowledge it.  If it continues to overwhelm us deeply maybe we will need help to come out of it, but for most of us, surrendering into and acknowledging our own emotional turmoil, allows release.

There is nothing wrong with tears.  Truly, there isn’t.  Although many of us believe there is.  We apologize for our tears.  Like we are somehow weak and maybe imperfect because we cry – especially when we cry in front of other people.  But tears are releasing and healing and an indicator of our experience.  How much more beautiful it could be if we stopped apologizing for tears and let ourselves be in our experience and even have it witnessed by other people.  In the event it makes others uncomfortable, other people’s uncomfortablenss with our tears is not our responsibility.  And for most people who witness, it is also freeing for them.

As we allow ourselves to move through our own experience, we create more space for joy and delight to show up faster in our experience.  Staying in our sadness will not fill the absences, will not bring back people no longer here or bring people to us who are far away.  And most of those absent, would not want us to be lost in our sadness but would want us to celebrate the joy and vibrancy of life.  Even if they wouldn’t, our soul is inviting us to celebrate the vibrancy of life.

Another thing that detracts from the vibrancy of life is the stress of trying to make the perfect holiday – on top of so many other things that need tending – children, parents, work, life and death.  Very little of this stops just because it also happens to be Christmas and we now also need to shop, bake, decorate, wrap gifts, go to Christmas concerts and Christmas parties.

Some things could be left undone or done a little short of perfection.  How many cookies do you really need to bake?  How many presents do you really need to buy?  What if you boiled it down to the one or two essential elements that seem the most dear to you?  For me, it is gingerbread houses.  I make the house parts.  I thought about buying them one Christmas but realized how much a part of me is in this tradition – because I love to bake and love the delight of the gingerbread house process from start to finish.  Most of the rest of it I can let go – especially in my experience of reconstituted families.  When and how things happen is a matter for conversation and joint decision making that usually extends beyond my immediate family.

Tis the season of amplification.  What is joyful is more so, what is sad is more so, what is stressful is more so.  Tis also the season of reflection and remembering.  And maybe most important of all, let it be the season of self-care – because, in that, we shift and grow our capacity to embrace the joy, delight and imperfections of being human that are completely available to us in the season of amplification.

I’ve Arrived – At Least in This Moment

I’ve arrived.  I didn’t know this was where I was going but, now that I’m here, I can clearly see that this is where I was headed.  Feels good to have arrived.  In this moment anyway.  In the next moment, it might be different. That will be okay too because there will always be a next moment and I get that I get to create or co-create the next moment and the next.

By moment, I mean a period of time, linear time as we know it – maybe just a minute, maybe days, weeks, months or even years.  When it is a tortuous moment that goes on for awhile it doesn’t seem like this moment, it seems like an eternity.  I’ve had a few of those too. Looking back now over the course of my life, I see them for what they are – moments, in time, moments that reflect my journey and shape my life, my outlook, my wisdom and my experience.

Now, though, I seem to be in a moment of amazing open heartedness.  I’m just back from a run in my neighbourhood that takes me to a waterfront park and boardwalk and back again.  Every time I smile, nod or say hello to someone I pass, I crack open just a touch more.  And, so do they.  The moment might pass for them, but more and more I am finding this moment in my life lingering.

I like the feel of this moment.  The joy.  Delight.  Ease.  Beauty.  Love.  Flow.  Noticing my emotional state.  Noticing my reactions. Noticing where or what next to focus on in my own healing journey.  Not in the tortuous way I used to notice it.  Now it is just a noticing.  An observation.  A clue to what to pay attention to.   “Oh, look at that response.  Maybe there is something there to take a look at, a hook to release, an attachment to let go of.”  Surfacing.  Surrendering.  Swift, powerful movement arising all around me, in me, through me.

It is visible to me.  It is continuously reflected back to me because it is visible to others and I am open to receiving in whole new ways.  Some people comment.  Some just notice.  Some come closer.  Some rejoice with me.  In the people close to me, I see how much they love me and I feel how much I love them.  Feeds gratitude, appreciation and joy over and over again.

I have always believed in the Law of Attraction.  I have also understood that I have attracted even the things, people, situations I have not liked (and sometimes detested)  into my life.  Wanting to understand deeply the why of that was one of those moments of determination that led to many moments of revelation over a very long, tortuous moment in my life.

I tried to make the Law of Attraction work and at times I probably gave up – almost anyway – on being able to force it work in ways that work for me.  There are times it practically pounded me on the head while I was looking in other directions, focused on the how of things instead of the surrendering into things where truly miraculous “hows” could then show up in ways I could never have imagined.

Through the continuing journey I am learning how to allow, embrace, surrender and step into it.  Coming from a place of love, joy and delight.  Which is very different than coming at it from a place of desperation.  My favourite Law of Attraction material at the moment is Abraham-Hicks.  I have been infusing myself with their teachings.  One of the things they say is that whenever we want something, that something is actually two things – what we want and the lack of what we want.  Usually we are focused on the lack and not on what we want and we are desperately, pleadingly trying to convince ourselves, through stress and agony, we are focused on what we want.  Focusing on the lack brings, surprise, surprise, more lack.

They also say a belief is simply a thought we think over and over again.  So, I’m becoming aware of my repetitive thoughts so I can shift them and shift the shape of my life more and more to what I want.  Since really embracing this,  I am seeing and, more importantly, feeling the results.  In this moment, I’ve arrived.  I like this place.  I’m not exactly sure where I am headed next but now I know I’ll recognize it when I arrive and I know it will be even better than the place I am in in this moment – as hard as that may be for some to believe – I am aware that life, if I allow it, will only get better and better, no matter how good it is right now.

While I’m in this moment that I’ve arrived in, I’m taking some time to celebrate.  To notice flow.  To appreciate deep relationships.  To see how well cared for and nourished I am.  And maybe tomorrow, when I’m out for my run or grocery shopping or wherever my day may take me, maybe you and I will find each other, smile, nod, say hello, embrace if we actually know each other, say I love you if we are in deep relationship – and both our worlds will crack open just that much more and we will know that we have arrived – in this new moment, for the moment.

Turning to Each Other in this Time of Chaos

My news does not, for the most part, come from mainstream media.  Long ago I stopped reading the papers and watching TV news.  Far too depressing and non-constructive.  My news comes from other sources like the Art of Hosting listserve that I am part of (and you could be too, if you aren’t already) as well as other social media like Facebook and Twitter.  I am grateful to these sources and the friends I know in each of these media for the sharing of stories and events that show us all the courage, humanity, connection and community that we all know exists beneath and beyond the news coverage.

Government and related agencies, politicians, the news media do not know what to do.  They do not know how to respond to the mounting chaos in their countries and their communities.  They do not have answers – we all know this – and they are afraid to admit it, so rely on strategies that not only don’t work but actually contribute to making the situation worse (beefing up police presence as an example).  As one person from England suggested on the AoH listserve, wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone in a position of authoritative leadership would be able to see, voice and make more visible the larger patterns that are at work. Borrowing from his posting:

“We must now ask deeper questions. Why do so many young people believe it is alright to cause such destruction and distress in their communities? Whether it is ‘copycat’ activity or not, why is it happening? What does ‘community’ mean to each of us?  Across the country people are self organising, they are meeting in groups and cleaning the streets. Leaders are emerging. People are talking to each other. This is true community.”

If we are not seeing the kind of leadership we know is needed from our formal leaders, how do we continue to do this work in all the places we, ordinary people all over the place,  show up and influence where we can.  Let’s not undervalue our own systems of influence or own readiness to do what we know works – even if this is “simply” holding space, holding intention, infusing with love the situations and people we know about and the stories that touch us deeply – no matter where they or we are.

I read all the posts on what’s happening in London, Spain, Greece, Egypt, the US and other places from the perspective of ordinary citizens, friends and colleagues around the world who see the human story as it evolves, who sharpen their awareness of the relational field and the growing power to effect large scale systemic change from this place as well as individual one-on-one relationships – holding heart break and growing open heartedness, even in the chaos.  I share these stories with people I know who are not part of or even aware of these conversations.  It makes people hopeful.

My own hopeful heart continues to expand for every post I read.  There is a lot of trauma in this time but if that is what we, the world, needs to be able to see just how much the systems we have created or supported or just lived in do not work for us anymore, then we need to go through this to get to what lies on the other side.  I am imagining, working toward and living into a world and systems that emanate out of love, loyalty and community in the relational field because if we cannot turn to each other in our joy and our agony, there is no one else.  If we cannot turn to each other, we will not create systems that support life and resilience, courage and vibrancy.  If we do not turn to each other, we will live only in fear and isolation that propagates more of what we don’t want.

Everyday I experience encounters with people who are more and more ready to turn to each other, more and more ready to understand life as more than just the physical components that we see, more and more ready to embrace uncertainty and live into resilience, more and more ready to open their hearts in a time when the media reported news events might cause us to want to close our hearts and shut down, more and more ready to be intentional about shifting the shape of the world.  I am holding space for the courageous, the open hearted, the heart broken, the resilient, the cracks, openings and invitations.  I am working and writing where I can in support of a future I want to see emerge out of the chaos we are in these days.

From my heart breaking, open hearted journey to yours.

Relationship With Self: Base Point for All Other Relationships

The most important relationship to focus on, understand and heal is the one with self.  As you develop mastery in that pursuit, all other relationships automatically achieve a greater level of understanding and you put yourself in a place of conscious, intentional choice around each one.

This is a really difficult concept to grasp.  We live in a relational world.  We are always interacting with others and some people have a tremendous impact on our lives – good and bad. The Law of Attraction says we are consistently attracting to ourselves that which we focus on and tells us that we could actually attract anything we truly desire whenever we desire it.  Many of us have tried…. and failed.  I know I have.  But I have been successful too and the learning is that it doesn’t have to be hit and miss.  It could just as easily be consistently good as it has at times been consistently bad.

But in such an intertwined world how are we to know exactly how much power and impact we have as an individual?  Can’t our individual ability to attract be canceled out or muted by other people we live with, work with or are close to?  Or would we perhaps cancel out what someone else is trying to attract?  This is the question I have lived – and lived into -  for years now and even as I write this I see how either/or this scenario is.  Either I get what I want or someone else gets what they want but we both can’t get what we want unless we want the same thing.  What if it is actually different than this kind of scenario and many possibilities exist all at the same time?

I distinctly remember a few years ago feeling completely out of control and overwhelmed.  There seemed to be so many external circumstances (aka people for the most part) who impinged on my well being, my sense of self, my own competence and my clarity.  They created stress in my life, drained me of energy and fed habitual thought patterns in my own mind that I knew were not serving me and had the potential to make me gravely ill.

And I knew that I had attracted to me, and even created, even embraced, some of these circumstances.  What I had more difficulty grasping was how much of these difficult relationships and circumstances was me and how much was external to me or someone else.  And why?  Why did I attract such undesirable circumstances and relationships to myself because I would certainly never consciously have invited some of these things into my life.

Intellectually I grasped these concepts.  Living into them was a totally different story.

Then came the point, I also distinctly remember, when I knew I had to turn away from all the external stimuli and blame and turn inwards, turn off the vitriolic self talk,  to find the answers I was seeking.  Thus began an intense, deep, concept shattering phase of growth which began as an internal battle with loads of resistance and gradually shifted into a surrendering which now allows a beautiful, simpler unfolding of self and story which I embrace as part of my ongoing evolution or journey into open-heartedness.  And I couldn’t have done it without the support of a couple of different coaches I worked with over that period of time, dear friends and amazing healers.  The discovery and eventual joy in my journey was amplified because I learned to call on and lean into the support that was and is readily available to me.

I couldn’t change the people around me.  I tried.  I hoped.  I prayed.  I rationalized and bargained, “Yes, I know I’ve attracted this and contribute to it, but…..”  When I was out of options, out of hope and feeling myself slip away into a haze of oblivion I finally turned to the only relationship that I actually have the power to influence, shift and change: the relationship with self.  Sure I wanted to…. but did I have to go so deep?  Did I have to fundamentally change my views of myself and my life?  Did I have to let go of my sense of having been wronged and even harmed by others?   Couldn’t I just skate across the surface or go just under the surface?  Couldn’t I still hold onto some version of being right?  Did I have to fundamentally examine everything about me, take it all apart in order to invite the kind of dramatic change into my life I knew I was needing?  Damn.  Resistance.  Strong enough that it  required pushing through at times.

I learned, thanks to the lovely Sarita Chawla, that my emotions were the doorway into understanding what was really going on with me and I learned that when I  dissociated from my emotional state I was putting up strong barriers to the learning that was available to me.

As I broke down walls and reclaimed more and more of the essence of who I am, I began to stand stronger in the world.  I learned about healthy boundaries and I learned about allowing myself to show up more fully in the world and in my relationships.  I became clearer and clearer on what I wanted, what I didn’t want and what needed to shift in me in order for the dynamics of my relationships and my world to shift.

As I came to understand the relationship I had with myself better, I found ways to stand in my strength and my power and grew clarity about “my stuff” – what was mine and what wasn’t – and all the relationships around me began to also shift.  I found strength to walk paths I had cowered on before and I found the capacity to change the conversation.  I began to choose with who and how I wanted to be in relationship and more and more layers of protective coating began to fall away so I could show up in – and attract – more and more joy, delight, beauty and graciousness until I have come to the understanding that THIS is the baseline way of being.  Now I know that when my emotional state is anything other than joy, delight, beauty or love it is a signal to inquire into what’s going on, resolve within myself whatever needs tending to and reaching out, time and time again, for the assistance I need when I need it – because it is readily available and because we amplify possibility and healing when we do so.

I have learned more and more of the truth that it all begins and ends with my relationship with self.  When that it grounded, solid and resilient, so too is my capacity to show up in all the other relationships in my life – including the most challenging ones, the most beautiful ones and everything else in between.

New Models of Organization and Work – Are We Ready?

The shape of the world is shifting, pretty dramatically and quickly, right now.  Are we ready?  Are organizations and systems ready? These questions have completely captured my attention fueled by the conversations and places I’ve been in lately.

I’m not sure we are ready and I’m not sure we will ever actually be ready for the shift that is emerging in the world right now.  Systems and organizations are designed to be self perpetuating.  Threat and opportunity are viewed through the lenses and structures of the system or organization – we usually believe that we only have a certain amount of scope within which to bring about change – we can only get certain people’s attention for brief periods of time, we need to work within the system, within the structures, because there are some things you cannot change, some things that will not work.  They may reflect current reality but they are also limiting beliefs and as long as enough people buy into them, radical change will be stalled.  Yet radical change may be what is lurking right around the corner, ready or not.

What gives me hope?  One is the conversations I’ve been in lately around the 2 Loops of Systems Change with my Berkana friends and beyond.  You can read a bit about it here and you can find my own hand drawing of the model here: 2 Loops of System Change

This model shows that in the peak and the beginning of the decline of the mature systems, there are alternatives already beginning to appear.  These alternatives need space to find their way.  Some will grow stronger and some will fail.  The ones that do grow stronger need to begin to connect with each other to grow collective and individual strength and capacity.  There are people in the mature system (stewards or sometimes called “toxic handlers”) who see and understand the importance of this work and who hold the space and clear the way for these alternatives to grow.

The alternatives do tend to fly under the radar and are often not widely known, but they are there.  Maybe they will be ready in the event of collapse of the old systems although it is hard for me to fully imagine what a collapse of the old systems will look like.  Maybe we are already seeing it but just not recognizing it for what it really is.

While existing organizations are entrenched in their structures and processes, newer, usually smaller organizations  have greater flexibility, resourcefulness and resilience and the greater capacity to totally rethink how they are structured, how they deliver their goods or services to the world.  They often can do this at less cost because they don’t have as much “bricks and mortar” in place as larger organizations and it feels less risky because they have “less to lose”, or so it might seem.

What has me excited is the possibility of new business models that can emerge now.  I have found myself sharing stories about networks – the Art of Hosting network, World Cafe, Berkana to name a few – because these networks recognize themselves as networks, organic and emergent.  They trust in the capacity of people to self-organize and are held together and flourish because purpose and principles are clear.  They have a minimum structure and sometimes struggle with how to live models of organization that are outside of traditional structures, particularly because in times of stress people push for what they already know and are comfortable with.    They are open source, openly sharing knowledge and new learning in recognition that this sharing grows the body and field of knowledge.

I share what I know about these ways of organizing with businesses and other organizations I am in conversation with, not because I think they should adopt the specific models, but because I think there is wisdom in these ways of organizing that could inform new business models – especially business models that see the value in operating from a place of openness and open heartedness – which I seem to be running into more often lately.

More than ever, I feel we are on the brink of unprecedented social change around the world and I have a greater awareness of just how connected we all are.  I can’t imagine what exactly it looks like but I continue to grow my comfort and skill working at the edges of my own not knowing – thanks to collaborative relationships with people I am privileged to call friends.

Are we ready?  I don’t think we really are.  Does it matter?  This shift will happen whether we are ready or not.  Our greatest path to readiness is to grow our own capacity for resilience, dealing with chaos, complexity, simplicity and not knowing.

My next posting will look at some of these new models of organization to see what we can learn from them and maybe, just maybe, grow our level of readiness even just a tiny bit.