Sunday, September 29, 2019

Choose Your Own Mantra

My daily practice is the intention to stay present, to notice when ego's monkey mind takes over and—as in sitting meditation—come back to the present.

Often this means recognizing such triggers as anger, envy, hurt, or judgment and staying with the emotion, using what Stephen Cope in The Wisdom of Yoga refers to as restraint: ". . . the beginning of a process in which a pattern dies – beginning with the outward and visible gross behavior, and culminating with the death of the root of the pattern . . . These patterns, of course, take years or even lifetimes to be attenuated. But with each subtle attenuation comes an increasing sense of freedom and energy."

I've also used mantra meditation for many years, since I found the book Choose Your Own Mantra. Chanting (sometimes singing) a mantra can support your intention to be mindful.

Some online resources present a mantra as an affirmation such as "I will be successful in my career" or "I will have plenty of money." This is not an approach I recommend, because these desires can reinforce ego-patterns rather than transcend them. 

In Sanskrit the word "mantra" is derived from two words—manas, "to think/mind," and trai, "protect/free from." Thus, literal meaning of mantra is "to free from the mind." A mantra produces an actual physical vibration and carries high energy.

Because Choose Your Own Mantra is no longer in print, I offer readers a few possibilities to consider. (I recommend the Sanskrit instead of English because words in our own language have images that cause the mind to wander): 

Om Sri Maha Saraswatjai Namah (ohm shree muh-HAH suhr-uh-swuht-YAI nuh-muh)—deep study, mystical and academic wisdom. 

Om Sri Maha Lakshmiyai Namah (OHM shree muh-HAH luck-shmee-YAI nuh-muh)serenity of mind, humility, compassion.
Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya (ohm nuh-MOH b'huh'-guh-vuh-TEY VAH-soo-dey-VAI-uh)—invitation to Divine love.

Om Sri Kalikayai Namah (ohm shree KAH-lee-KAH-YAI nuh'-muh)grants mercy, in the manner of a loving mother to her child.
Om So'Ham (ohm soh-hum)—liberation from limitations of the body and lower mind.

Om Namo Narayanaya (OHM' nuh-MO NAH-RAI-uh-NAI-uh)total liberation, the ability to dissolve obstacles resulting from egotism.
A great sage gave this mantra to his disciple, instructing that those who were not worthy should not hear it. The disciple immediately went onto the temple top and shouted it for all to hear. When the sage questioned his disobedience, the disciple replied, "I do not mind undergoing suffering if all these people can be freed."

Monday, February 18, 2019

When Intuition Becomes Psychic

I’d been thinking about how to teach a method for heightening intuition, struggled for two hours, reviewing books and articles, choosing quotes, feeling blocked, decided to take a walk, let my mind wander and suddenly thought, “You’re trying to explain it rationally. Use your intuition.” Duh!

We’re all trained to some degree to be analytical, and consequently to doubt intuition that isn’t tied to direct knowing or experience. In her introduction to Inner Knowing: Consciousness, Creativity, Insight, and Intuition, Helen Palmer admitted that her “anchor in intellectualism made it difficult to accept even profoundly convincing intuition as being meaningful and real.” Palmer was referring to several incidents of her own inner knowing, the first of which occurred when she was deeply involved in the East Coast movement of resistance to the Vietnam War: “my imagination became as believable and solid as the furniture in my room.” She knew, for example, that a friend must take a different route across the Canadian border than the one planned and later found that others who’d taken the original route were stopped and arrested.

Many people describe intuition as a hunch based on experience. A New York Times review by David Brooks (1/16/05) of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking summarizes the author’s opening story. The Getty Museum in California was going to purchase a supposedly ancient Greek statue for almost $10 million. A team of experts with state-of-the-art measurement tools took more than a year to assure its authenticity. Then several art experts looked at the statue and knew instantly it was a fake. When asked to explain how they knew, one said he “heard” the word fresh, which seemed odd to him – on further examination he realized the statue was too “fresh” to be that ancient. Another felt a wave of intuitive repulsion. The outcome? “The teams of analysts who did 14 months of research turned out to be wrong. The historians who relied on their initial hunches were right.”

Well, certainly I encourage you to develop trust in your experience-based hunches. But the intuition that has served me so well is the kind Palmer experienced, the kind that led her to found the Center for the Investigation and Training of Intuition. Here’s what happened to me (a version of this was published in Charles Tart's "TASTE: The Archives of Scientists' Transcendent Experiences"):

More than thirty years ago, I attended a Silva course in mind training. Over several weeks we were taught relaxation and visualization techniques, including the development of a mental laboratory complete with desk, calendar, files, visual screen, a door beside the screen, and healing medications.

We were also told we would have an experience of extrasensory perception on the last day of the training, which I found intriguing but presumed impossible for me. For the final session we were instructed to bring in slips of paper, each with the name of an individual who had an illness or physical problem.

We first practiced on our own by placing the body of someone we knew on our mental screen and scanning for problems of any sort. I was mechanically following instructions when suddenly I saw a car colliding with a motorcycle at an intersection. I couldn't see the person's face, but because the friend I was scanning owned a motorcycle, I was alarmed. The instructor suggested I visualize the date of the accident and, if it had not yet happened, to send healing, white light to my friend. I pictured the calendar in my mental laboratory and was surprised to see the pages turning rapidly until they stopped at June 8th. I assumed this to be in the future, as the session took place in February.

After a break we were assigned a partner. As instructed, my partner – whom I’d never met – handed me a piece of paper that bore only a man’s name and the city where he lived. I closed my eyes, visualized a man on my mental screen, and saw that his whole left side appeared darker than his right. Using one of the techniques we'd been taught, I imagined putting on his head, and was immediately torn by depression, sorrow, and resentment. I could feel that my left side was crippled, that I had no hearing in my left ear and no sight in my left eye. I knew that hearing was intact in my right ear, but vision in my right eye was limited in some way, though I couldn't describe exactly how.

Then my partner told me this man was the son of a dear friend; he was only 21 years old and very bitter because he'd been crippled on his left side in a motorcycle accident at a four-way stop where a car had failed to stop. He had no hearing in his left ear and no sight in his left eye; his hearing was normal in his right ear, but he had tunnel vision in his right eye.

I was spooked by this, almost afraid to ask when the accident had occurred. My partner named the same date I’d seen on my mental calendar: June 8th. The accident I had pictured earlier that morning, before being assigned to her as my partner, had occurred the previous year!

Like Palmer I found this hard to believe, but the accident I “saw” was as real as the flash of an ad when watching TV. It was visible on my mental screen and in Technicolor, with sound effects.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A Leap of Imagination

Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society illuminates an approach to change that Tim Flood and I developed, based on the premise that staying completely within metaphors is an exciting and powerful way to bring about personal transformation.

Metaphor-driven change work also requires the coach to be fully present. But what is presence?
We first thought of presence as being fully conscious and aware in the present moment. Then we began to appreciate presence as deep listening, of being open beyond one's preconceptions and historical ways of making sense We came to see the importance of letting go of old identities and the need to control... leading to a state of "letting come," of consciously participating in a larger field for change (Peter M. Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, Betty Sue Flowers: Presence, pp. 13-14).
Spontaneous presence is absent of all preconceived notions, all self-talk, all assumptions and beliefs. It is trust in a knowing that has nothing to do with logical efforts. This knowing is absolute, unmistakable, and has a kind of magical quality.

The authors of Presence describe organizational examples. Here are two personal examples.

"Cloisonne Vases," by Mary Bast
In January 2008 I signed up for an oil painting class, purely from a desire to understand the medium so I could better appreciate works of art. To my utter amazement I found an affinity for painting, a complete engagement in the process: from preparing the canvas and setting up the palette to cleaning the brushes at the end of the class. I brought no expectation of being a "good" or "bad" painter, no preconceived notions, no need to control the outcome. By the end of the first year I had completed a large painting of two vases that had been in my family since the 1940's. I felt as if the canvas painted itself and I was the vessel of its creation by virtue of holding the brush in my hand.

My second example happened when Tim Flood and I were finalizing the materials for a conference play-shop about metaphors. We wanted to keep people moving and out of their left-brain preconceptions, so we envisioned notebooks that could hang from ribbons around their necks. We used every kind of logic to figure out the length of the ribbon, how to attach a pen, etc. but -- no matter what we did -- when testing the prototype the ribbon pulled the binding loose from the notebooks. Finally, when we were feeling "brain dead" (a good thing, as it turned out), I started laughing hysterically. Tim thought I'd gone completely off my rocker. When I could speak, I shared the image of a kangaroo with a pouch, my internal judge translating it as something "silly." But as I slept that night my self-critic also slept, and I awakened the next morning with the clear image of a two-pocket folder that could be converted, with a little snipping, into two "pouches." We had our solution.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Accessing A Meditative State of Mind Through Art

Many of us have heard about the benefits of meditation, but sometimes find it hard to do. Fewer of us know about the profound benefits of artistic expression. Creating art, however, is another way to access a meditative state of mind and the profound healing it brings. Maia Gambis, "Why making art is the new meditation," The Washington Post, August 25, 2015
Nancy Bell Scott
Over the past year I've come upon a most fascinating centering practice. I'd been painting with oils for most of a decade, then experimenting with acrylics and abstract painting, but always especially drawn to the interaction of arts--ekphrastic poetry, for example (poems written in response to visual art), found poetry (a collage of words that refashion existing texts), and art that uses words as part of the design, such as Kenneth Patchen's work.

Last year I discovered asemic writing in art, though Sam Roxas-Chua's Echolalia in Script: A Collection of Asemic Writing and the work of Nancy Bell Scott.

I'd also been following Jane Davies' Facebook page and, when she offered a downloadable workshop called "Text and Image," happily bought it. Some of my consequent text and image pieces included both asemic writing and lines from my own poetry. and I was charmed by the playfulness of this work, still thinking of these efforts as learning a process.

Mary Bast: "A Course of Action"
Then one of my clients went to the Helen Frankenthaler "As in Nature" exhibit and sent me a copy of the accompanying book.

Mary Bast: "Frankenthrall"
Instead of following the work others had done to combine words and art, I played with cutting out new shapes from Frankenthaler's paintings, and collaging them in abstract patterns, using her colors and textures as inspiration, making marks with black pen, frankly enthralled with the results, left.

I learned a lot about this artist, but more important, a new mode of expression had popped up from out of the blue, calling me to a completely centered creative space.

There was no plan, no thought, no judgment, simply free association, playfulness, and joy.

This also drew me to the realization that I knew little about women in abstract expressionism, and quickly discovered I was not the only one. So for many months I studied the works of historically underappreciated artists and created collages as tributes to their work (click here to view collages.).

When I had a pile of shapes, I put on disposable gloves, got down on the floor with a canvas, a big jug of M. Graham Acrylic Gloss Medium and Varnish, a brush, and just let things happen. Once the canvas was covered, and I felt the rightness of colors/shapes, I let it dry, then drew lines, circles, outline with a fine point Sharpie pen. New eyes. . . pure expression:
Contemplative beholding of art - indeed of anything - can lead to the animation of whatever is before us. New eyes, "the right eyes," suddenly open, waking us up, and consequently awakening everything around us. Arthur Zajonc, "Meditation and Art," Psychology Today, January 05, 2011.
A meditative approach [to art] advocates that we would be best served if we focused less on the "self" and more on the expressive part of the creative process. Such an approach is called pure expression rather than self-expression, because one has learned through meditation how to let go of the relentless self-referencing, self-dialoging, self-consciousness, self-criticism. "Art, Meditation, and the Creative Process," Shambhala Times, March 1, 2015.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

We'll See

"Such bad luck,"  said the villagers when a farmer's horse ran away.

"We'll see," replied the farmer.

When his horse returned with three other wild horses, they exclaimed "How wonderful!"

"We'll see," he said.

Then his son was thrown while trying to ride one of the untamed horses and broke his leg, The villagers, of course, offered their sympathy.

"We'll see," said the farmer.

Because of his broken leg, the son was passed by when military officials came to draft young men into the army.

Responding to the villagers' congratulations on his good fortune, the farmer replied, "We'll see."
This Taoist tale came to mind when one of my clients expressed frustration with the lack of growth in his business. "I might have to get a job," he said. "Horrible!"

His anxieties brought to mind my own concerns early in my career. I tested an online version of the John Holland Occupational Themes and found I was admirably suited to be a dental technician!

Seeking a logical solution may be helpful to some, but the failure of logic can be a cue to access your intuition. Maybe you'll only feel a nudge ("Something feels right about this, though I'm not sure why"). I've learned, even through experience that seemed to be a failure, how important it is to keep your vision intact: 
After completing my PhD, I quit the job that had carried me through graduate school to start my own business. Managing to squeak by for almost nine months, I finally reached the point where I couldn't pay the rent, and was getting desperate when a friend called. One of his former students worked for Shillito's Department Store's HR Department, and they were looking for an internal training consultant. The salary was barely a living wage, I regretted having to bypass my vision of independent consulting, but I had no other options.

We'll see.

Among other duties, I was responsible for sales training -- a real stretch for me. During my time there, I also worked on a project for the Director of Executive Development from the parent company Federated Department Stores (FDS), only a block away in downtown Cincinnati.

Three years into the Shillito's job, I was offered a job by a friend for twice as much as my current salary, working as an educational consultant with a software technology firm. I left Shillito's feeling somewhat disloyal, but I was barely making ends meet and couldn't turn down the extra income.

We'll see.

Three months after that, out of the blue, the FDS Director whose project I'd supported offered me a corporate OD job that again doubled my income. He said internal policies were such that I would not have been a candidate for that job if I hadn't left Shillito's.

In the corporate OD role, I gained experience coaching senior executives in Federated's many retail companies who were being primed for key positions in company leadership. Four years later, FDS was bought in a hostile takeover and their OD department eliminated. The severance pay was enough to live on for at least six months, but I didn't see any particular opportunities in my future.

We'll see.

A week later the Senior Vice President of Human Resources for CSX Corporation hired me as a private consultant for senior executive development in their subsidiary companies. I negotiated a contract with CSX that took me all over the U.S., yet left time to develop other business. I would not have known how to close that deal had I not had the sales training experience. And I'd not have been approached by the CSX HR person except for my work with Federated's executive development methodology, which he'd adopted for his corporation.

In the early stages of my new career as an organization consultant, a Cincinnati client introduced me to the Enneagram, which he'd learned in a spiritual retreat with Richard Rohr. Fascinated with how this model gave me useful insights into my clients' patterns, I started teaching it to all of them and taking extensive notes. This was early in the Enneagram's development beyond a small group of seekers, and no one was writing about its applications in business settings.

Intrigued by a request for articles on business applications from Clarence Thompson, then editor of The Enneagram Edicator, I contacted him, he began publishing my articles, became a dear friend and eventual co-author of Out of the Box Coaching with the Enneagram.

I could not have predicted or planned for the wavering trajectory of disappointments and opportunities that fulfilled my vision of having my own business, but on a scale of much greater experience and learning. Nor could I have known that path would eventually lead me into coaching by phone with clients all over the world.

As for what happens next, We'll see.
(An earlier version of this post was part of an article published in Enneagram Monthly, September, 2005.)

Friday, April 6, 2018

Play: The Stick That Stirs the Drink

Life without play is a grinding, mechanical existence organized around doing the things necessary for survival. Play is the stick that stirs the drink. It is the basis of all art, games, books, sports, movies, fashion, fun, and wonder. Stuart Brown, M.D., Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Mind, and Invigorates the Soul.
Early in his book on play, Brown describes his yellow Lab's reaction after a long car trip to a cousin's ranch: In half a second Jake is flying out the door, a blond blur zipping toward the pasture. He races at full gallop one way and reverses, paws tearing up the dust in a skidding turn, then accelerates to warp speed in the opposite direction. His mouth is agape, the corners pulled back in a canine grin, his tongue lolling out one side -- Doggie heaven."

Like Jake, we humans have the opportunity to take in a scene with all our senses and devote ourselves to playing there. Dr. Brown's research has demonstrated that play is not only fun, energizing, and enlivening, it is also a profound biological process that shapes the brain and makes animals smarter and more adaptable. In humans, play fosters empathy, makes complex social groups possible, and facilitates creativity and innovation.

I had a play-date with my friend Davis, arriving at Ichetucknee River State Park at 6:00 AM for a sunrise canoe trip. Eager to get started, we were the first ones in our canoe and thus the first ones to discover the cushions we sat on were damp from the fog clouding the water's surface and rising in swirls all around us. The temperature was 40° F and stayed there without significant change for our two hours on the river. Even though we both wore layers of clothing, we were soon shaking with the cold. We didn't even have the exertion of rowing to warm us because we were floating downstream in a group of canoes and only needed to paddle lightly to change course when heading toward a bank, another canoe, or an immersed tree trunk. 

Yet we were almost deliriously happy, every seemingly difficult obstacle to enjoyment an opportunity to laugh ourselves silly. Both of us are artists and we'd been talking for a year about photographing the Ichetucknee as inspiration for paintings. The river was incomparably beautiful, every element of water and shore made strange and new by the parting mist as we drew closer. 

It was completely different from photos we'd seen or paintings we'd imagined, and that difference was exciting and seductive. Between gasps of appreciation and shivers of cold, we each took photo after photo, our minds adapting to these unexpected circumstances with a playful attitude, no need to predict if it would get warmer or the mist would rise, so completely taken with this river's invitation to open all our senses. Like Jake, our mouths were agape, we were present to an environment over which we had no control, free to bask in awe, the shivering of our bodies irrelevant to the larger experience. The Ichetucknee presented itself to us as it was, not as we expected it to be. 
"When people know their core truths," writes Brown, "and live in accord with what I call their 'play personality,' the result is always a life of incredible power and grace." 
I'm intrigued by the idea of "play personalities," because play is the key element in changing our habitual patterns. The last section of my Self-Coaching Workbook, Pattern-Breaking Experiments, emphasizes "how to consciously enact a pattern, but with a small, creative, and often humorous twist . . . if you laugh when you think of an experiment, that's probably a good one to try." When brainstorming with clients about ways to change a pattern, I always know by their laughter when we've come up with something that will reframe their worldview and re-shape their brains. Imagine the difference between approaching a problematic pattern with a playful attitude or anticipating how difficult it will be to change something you've been doing all your life. 

For example, one of my clients described an aspect of himself he had to "watch," meaning he had to try to STOP doing it. Exploring this "do your own thing" part, he realized it was also the seat of his creativity and courage; it could be irresponsible, but also mischievous and playful. He wanted to feel more free to redirect his business focus without taking untenable risks, so I asked him, instead of saying NO to his mischievous part when it showed up, to consider what he might do that would invite its courageous aspect while remaining responsible. He immediately saw a lion "in the Serengeti Plains." This lion was "majestic, knows who I am, is attuned with my nature, assertive." 

So far so good. Then I asked him how the lion would express itself. "It would ROAR," he said, and started laughing. Ah, laughter, our cue that he could approach this change playfully.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Yin and Yang of Presence

Any problem you encounter can either feed your old, destructive patterns or provide an opportunity for major growth. A primary goal of change is "waking up" to habitual patterns. 

Borrowing from Stephen Gilligan (Summer 1999 Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter, page 8), full presence requires both yin (receptive) and yang (active) qualities:
In the yin mode, providing sanctuary, listening deeply, receiving with curiosity and open heart, and bearing witness with kindness and understanding.
In the yang mode being relentlessly committed to your spiritual growth, attending fiercely, guiding, setting boundaries, and challenging self-limitations.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Creative Listening

In the executive summary of Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges, Otto Scharmer writes:
Why do our attempts to deal with the challenges of our time so often fail? Why are we stuck in so many quagmires today? The cause of our collective failure is that we are blind to the deeper dimension of leadership and transformational change. This 'blind spot' exists not only in our collective leadership but also in our everyday social interactions. We are blind to the source dimension from which effective leadership and social action come into being. ("Addressing The Blind Spot of Our Time").
To access the source dimension, Scharmer suggests we slow down our listening, moving from the limitations of downloading ("Yeah, I already know that") and factual listening (the scientific approach, noticing what differs from what you already know), and even past empathic listening (knowing how the world appears through someone else's eyes), to generative listening (attending to the emerging field of future possibility).

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Know Thyself?

At midlife I met my devils. Much of what I had counted as blessing became curse. The wide road narrowed, the light grew dark. And in the darkness, the saint in me, so well nurtured and well-coiffed, met the sinner. Connie Zweig, Prologue, Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature (Zweig & Abrams -- Eds.)
When I was in college I wrote our dorm's script for the annual skit competition. The theme was "Know Thyself," drawing from the many sources for which that concept is key. Right now I can only remember biblical and ancient Greek references, and that we lost to a much livelier and less heady skit.

I was, of course, onto something that would lure me toward self-realization my whole life. But it wasn't until I was well into midlife, with only glimpses of my shadow self, that I began to truly engage with "the great burden of self-knowledge, the disruptive element that does not want to be known" (Meeting the Shadow, p. xxi, Introduction).

For the past few years I've been intrigued by Peter A. Levine's somatic experiencing approach to resolving trauma. Trauma is most obvious in severe cases such as the PTSD we've read about in war vets and victims of sexual abuse. Practitioners are now finding a similar freeze response in any situation of thwarted survival energy, such as the "normal" events of childhood that require tamping down our natural responses because of real or perceived threat, where we don't feel safe unless we hide from or conform to childhood situations.
The SE approach facilitates the completion of self-protective motor responses and the release of thwarted survival energy bound in the body, thus addressing the root cause of trauma symptoms.This is approached by gentle guiding clients to develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions.
I've recently found someone to help me deepen access to those most unknown parts. I'll give one example, noting that we don't have to understand any of this. No need to analyze, to know how or why certain aspects have been hidden. In my case, I had often expressed surprise that I'd never felt shame. I could be present to clients who experienced shame but, with one exception, I had no felt sense of it. I didn't particularly want to experience shame, and I don't know what triggered it for me this time, but two days after a session with my SE therapist, I awoke swimming in shame. She had given me the resources to stay present to any unfreezing and, though it was pretty awful, there was a difference this time from the earlier occasion linked above: I was also feeling excited, because I know all children are shamed to some degree ("How rude," "You're embarrassing me," "What a trouble-maker!") and I'd felt guilt ("my actions were bad") but now finally was finding shame ("I'm bad") more accessible.

The somatic experiencing approach is not one, I believe, that we can do fully on our own. I had tried to do so for several years after first reading Levine's In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. Any self-work vs. engaging with an SE-trained therapist is similar to the difference between rubbing your own neck and shoulders and having professional deep tissue massage.

What we can do on our own are some of the exercises suggested in Meeting the Shadow. These self-initiated actions can take you a long way toward knowing yourself:

Solicit Feedback from Others: This is one of the most effective ways to gain insight into your personal shadow, though it can be threatening. Learn how to listen and take in feedback that surprises or hurts you. When more than one person describes the same trait, especially, explore their observations more deeply.

Examine Your Projections: Whenever you have a strong like or dislike of someone else, examine them closely enough to identify the trait that pushes your button. The qualities you especially like or dislike are likely to be projection, a fairly accurate picture of your personal shadow.

Examine Your "Slips": Slips of tongue show aspects of shadow we wouldn't dare express consciously. Slips of behavior can be even more revealing. Think of a time when you said or did something that later dumbfounded you. A more subtle "slip" is discovering that others perceive you in a completely different way than you see yourself (see #1 above). This is information about an unknown part of yourself.

Consider Your Humor and Identification: What's said in humor is often a manifestation of shadow truth. Behavior that might otherwise result in fines or imprisonment can bring hearty laughter. People who deny or repress shadow may find few things funny. Notice when a joke or cartoon makes you laugh.

Study Your Dreams, Daydreams, Fantasies: Shadow may appear in your dreams as a figure of your gender or some opposite aspect of yourself, even in a form you fear and want to escape. Observe closely its actions, and attitudes, and words. When you're awake, where does your mind go, what images invade your thoughts? In these fantasies and daydreams are opportunities to know yourself, especially in ways that are difficult to accept consciously.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Veils Parted, then Snapped Shut!

Before I knew anything about the Enneagram I was coaching the head of a nonprofit agency in Cincinnati (let's call him "Brad"). After interviewing his staff and board members, I shared their feedback with him. The short version:
"According to your staff and members of the board, you're highly entrepreneurial, with a strong drive, and you're a masterful networker, building support for your organization's goals with the board and with influential members of the community. But your focus is perhaps too much on being 'Mr. Outside.' Your staff says you're not involved enough in the day-to-day, nuts and bolts aspects of running the organization, and they have a strong desire to build more teamwork. While consensus is a stated organizational value, they describe you as persuading people to do things your way in what is only apparently a consensus-building process."
"Why, that's exactly my profile on the Enneagram!" he replied. "Style Three." 

I was blown away by this response because, serendipitously, only the day before I'd received Helen Palmer's The Enneagram in the mail, mistakenly ordered instead of the book on genograms I was researching. Had Brad not made this connection I would have sent the book back to the publisher. Instead, I decided to read it so I could speak a language familiar to him.

That Saturday morning I sat in bed and opened Palmer's book. Her description of style Three's patterns gave me such insight into Brad's personality I decided to read more, starting with Enneagram style One, and to figure out my own. All had characteristics I could relate to, and I was beginning to give up on identifying myself. Finally, I made my way to style Nine.

As I read, I fell into an intuitive state of knowing: You're on to something big!  Every molecule of my body was tingling with the sense of veils parting, something I'd needed to know that had been standing slightly behind me, waiting to be seen. And here it was!

Underlining style Nine's mediator qualities, I thought, My whole consulting career has succeeded because of my skill in resolving other people's conflicts. I've used my gift in a positive way, but it's been reinforced so much, I've failed to look at my personal avoidance of conflict. I've been too busy helping other people not make waves! Continuing, I became excited to learn about this personality style's distractibility. This is so important to me. I'm going to go make a pot of coffee and spend the entire day reading about this wonderful system.

I wandered toward the kitchen, but in the hall on the way noticed a pile of dirty clothes I'd set out to wash, so I made a trip to the laundry room. When I returned to the hall I realized I hadn't started the coffee, but on my way to the kitchen saw the telephone and remembered I hadn't called my Mom in a week, so while the coffee was brewing I called her and we talked for almost an hour. The veil had snapped shut! 

As I sipped my third or fourth cup of coffee I walked around my condo, trying to decide what to do with the rest of the day.  

First, I'll get dressed.

There in my bedroom I saw Palmer's book lying on my bed where I'd left it more than an hour earlier, and again the veils parted.  

Not only had I been given a new vision of my gifts, I'd experienced a prime example of the ego-state that had held me captive -- distracting myself from the most important of my own agendas, to find myself behind the programmed patterns.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Following the Metaphor

(Two coach clients practicing with each other)

What would you like to have happen?

For me, I think it's about being busy. I'd like to be busy.

And what is 'busy' like?

Maybe it's like canoeing down white water rapids instead of being stationary in a lake; an element of movement, like going down a slide. An element of movement, some sort of slide downhill.

And is there anything else, when you talk about this movement downhill, is there anything else about that?

Well, it's invigorating, it's fast. Instead of the rapids, it's a picture of a slide, one of these slides you see shooting downwards, changing direction, the whole element of speed, excitement, uncertainty. 

So when you have this element of speed, excitement, and this uncertainty, is there anything else about that?  

It's fun; it's enjoyable. Yeah, it's fun.  

And what is it about 'fun'?  

Because it's happening so quickly you can't quite control it, but you can; you're on the edge. I think that's what I like about it. Time goes quickly, minutes go quickly. I think it's the quickness of speed that gets me.

Is there anything else about that speed, where time moves quickly?  

Well, the key is the angle of the slide. Unless it's angled a certain way it stops; the angle of the slide is critical. 

And what's that 'angle' like?  

It's quite steep, but it's also not the same angle all the time; it'll change, it'll slow you down a fraction, then speed you up; it's always busy, you can never predict it; it's happening fast.

You've got this angle of this slide, and it's steep, and you can't predict it, and it's happening fast?

Like a roller coaster.  

Like a roller coaster. Is there anything else about that?

I can see things coming toward me clearly. And the busyness and the speed of it is what I want. It's not something I'm trapped in; it's something I've chosen to go in; so in that way it attracts my desire for busyness. 

And reflecting this desire for busyness, what is that 'busyness' like?  

I suppose it's like wanting something but not knowing if you can create it. 

It's like wanting something but not knowing you can create it. So what is that like? Is there a feeling in there, a picture? 

I got a picture of jumping on climbing walls and not being able to predict if there's anywhere to put your feet and your hands. A bit like being spider-man but not knowing, if you throw yourself against the wall, if you'll stick. 

When you're spider-man and throwing yourself against the wall, is there anything else? 

It's like not knowing which wall to start with. It's being unsure of knowing which wall to start with. 

And not knowing which wall to start with; can you say more about that? 

Yeah, it's very unsettling. 

Anything else about 'unsettling,' when you don't know which wall to start with?

Yeah. It means you can procrastinate a hell of a lot.

And what is that procrastination like? 

A feeling of sluggishness. 

And how does that feeling of 'not knowing which wall' connect with that 'invigorating fast slide'? 

It's completely opposite. They're the antithesis of each other, and I'm often in the middle.  

And when you're in the middle of not knowing which wall and that invigorating fast slide, what is that like?  

That's like being in a hot country and a cold country at the same time. It's very strange.  

Anything else about 'that kind of 'strangeness'?  

It's very difficult to gauge where you are at because you go from one extreme to another, from a fast slide to a slow-down.

And is there anything else about that 'slow-down'? 

It's like the opposite of the slide, still in the slide, but you have to move yourself in the slide. 

So where are you when you're between the rock wall and the slide? 

I'm not in the slide. The slide is where I want to be. The rock wall is hard work.

And when you're on the rock wall, what needs to happen for you to get to the slide?  

It's like one of those bridges in Harrison Ford movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of those bridges that connect the two.  

What's that bridge like? 

It's quite wobbly. It's safe but you've got to keep your balance. 

And is there anything else about this wobbly bridge'? 

I think you need to be steady. 

Steady like what? 

Steady means a good rhythm. 

A rhythm. 

Yeah. A rhythm of intention; a rhythm of A to B, a rhythm of certainty across the bridge. 

And is there anything else about this rhythm of intention? 

I think it's just a rhythm where you need to make a decision and move to a place that's consistent. 

And can you do that? 

Yep. I'm doing that as we're talking. It's a lot longer than I thought it would be. It's taking a lot longer, and elements get in the way of crossing the bridge so it's not as easy as it might seem. But it's going to the right place. 

You're going to the right place when you're on this bridge that's sometimes a little wobbly? 

Yeah, it's uphill going to the slide. 

And what happens now on this uphill going to the slide? 

I quite enjoy the view, actually. This view is quite interesting. 

Where is this interesting view? 

It's actually going into space now. The bridge is in space and I'm looking into stars as I seem to walk endlessly, going up this bridge. 

And is there anything else about these stars and walking endlessly?  

It's a very different picture, a very enjoyable picture, a very motivational, inspirational picture. It's not a slog, actually a really enjoyable walk. It's a HUGE distance, a hundred times more than I originally pictured it, and it's an incredibly enjoyable walk to the stars

So can that incredibly enjoyable walk up this bridge to the stars, can that happen now?  

Um hmmm. 

What needs to happen for this walk into the stars? 

It's happening. I can see myself walking along. 

Anything else? 

It's like a Stanley Kubrick movie, out in space with music. 

And with this walk up to the stars where there's space and music, where is the 'busyness' now?  

Well, the busyness is quite a long way off. It's a matter of how long it will take me to get to the busyness. 

So a long, long time. Is there anything else about that? 

It would be better if the busyness were closer. 

What is the bridge to the busyness like? 

The bridge is quite easy to walk on; it just seems like a long, long bridge, stretching out into the far, far distance.

You enjoyed the bridge when it went from point A to point B from the rock wall to the slide and when it went up to the stars, and the bridge seems really long.

Yes, never-ending.

Never-ending. So what needs to happen for that bridge to shorten?

I've just seen a sign, "Go this way."

Which way is 'this way'? 

To the right. 

And what is on the right? 

I think it's more of a solid platform that leads to the slide. 

And this platform -- what is this platform like? 

It's very solid, takes you from a bridge that's quite solid, where you know you're getting closer to the slide. 

So with this wobbly bridge and then this solid, supportive platform, what happens to the 'busyness' now?

It starts to happen because I'm near the slide. I can hear it, I can feel it, I can see the angle; I'm at the starting point of the speed. 

So can the busyness happen now? 


What happened right before you stepped onto the platform? 

I think it's the rhythm on the bridge getting a little bit quicker; a number of things on the bridge have interconnected and come together, a natural speeding up of things at that point, speeding up, integration, coalition, absorption, all these words, starting to gel. 

Anything else about that speeding up, that integration right before you step on the platform? 

That also coincides with the inner integration of things happening. 

And what's that like when the inner integration happens? 

It's a bit like when the wall has footholds. You know it's right. Your body knows it's right. You've got an internal sense of it being right. It feels right. 

Is there anything else about that internal sense of when your body knows 'it's right'? 

There's an excitement about it. It feels good. Just about to step on that platform. 

Where is the busyness? 

In my feet.

Can the busyness happen now, that's in your feet? 

Um hmm 

OK, I want to check in with you. How are you with ending here? 


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Parts Party

From Virginia Satir (Your Many Faces), based on an exercise in John Bradshaw's Healing the Shame that Binds You, take a deep breath, relax, and imagine this happening as you read:

Close your eyes. . . Spend two or three minutes becoming mindful of your breathing. Relax. As you breathe deeply in and out, relaxing more and more, notice a screen in front of you and the number seven appearing on the screen. If you can’t see it clearly, hear a voice saying “seven” or picture yourself finger painting it. Then see, hear, or finger paint the number six; then five; then four, down to the number one. As you focus on the number one, let it slowly turn into a stage door and see it slowly open. Walk through the stage door into a small theater. Notice the walls and the stage. Look at the closed curtain. Sit down in a front row seat and feel the fabric of the seat. Make it your favorite fabric. Make the chair comfortable. Look around again and make this theater be any way you want it to be. 

Then see the curtain beginning to open. Let yourself feel excitement. As the curtain opens see a large sign covering the wall of the stage. It reads The [your name] Parts Review. Think of some part of yourself you really like. Imagine a famous person or someone you know well who represents that part and see that person walking out on the stage. Hear applause. Repeat the process with another part you like until five people are on the right hand side of the stage. Then think of a part of yourself you dislike or hate or reject, see it personified by a famous person or someone you know walking out on the stage. Hear a resounding boo as each of five parts you don’t like walks out to the left side of the stage.  

Now imagine a wise and beautiful person walking to the center of the stage. Just let your wise person appear. Notice whatever strikes you about this person, who then walks off the stage toward you, inviting you up to the stage to review your many parts. Walk around each person who represents a part of you; look each in the face. How does each part help you? Hinder or limit you? Take your time, gaze into all ten faces. What can you learn from each? Think of a current problem you have. See them interacting at a table discussing this problem. Notice what each part says. Does that help you? Hinder you? Would you like to change any part? Modify it until it feels right to you. Repeat that procedure with every part.  

Now, go around again, facing each part and imagining that part melting into you. Do this until you are alone on the stage with your wise person. Hear the wise person tell you "This is the theater of your life. All these parts belong to you. Embrace your selves, love and accept and learn from each." Show your wise person appreciation for the lesson. See your wise person walk away. Know you can call on your wise person any time.  

Walk off the stage. Be aware of yourself sitting in the theater looking at the stage where you play out your life. Let your mind see each of your newly modified parts float by and feel yourself as a whole person with many aspects and interacting parts. Say to yourself “I love and accept all of me.”  

Now imagine standing up and walking out through your theater doors. Turn around and see the number one on the curtains at the stage. Finger paint it and hear it. Then see the number two and do the same, then the number three and feel the life in your fingers and toes, letting this energy come up through your legs. See the number four and feel your whole body coming alive. As you see the numbers five and six, continue becoming fully conscious. See the number seven and be restored to your full, waking consciousness.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Open Mind, Open Heart, Open Will

In a world stuck in old paradigms, it is becoming more and more necessary to access a right-brain space where something new can emerge: an opening of mind, heart, and will that suspends judgment and assumptions.

* open mind - curiosity vs. judgment
* open heart - compassion vs. cynicism
* open will - relaxing into the unknown vs. fear

Otto Scharmer has shown a parallel with seven sacred teachings from an aboriginal community humility, honesty, truth, respect, love, bravery, courage:
  • humility, honesty, and truth deal with opening the mind (curiosity vs. judgment),
  • respect and love deal with opening the heart (compassion vs. cynicism), and
  • bravery/courage deals with opening the will (relaxing into the unknown vs. fear).

Friday, September 25, 2015

Embracing Pain, Overcoming Fear

Soul Collage: My Creative Self
Tonglen is a Buddhist breathing practice to overcome our fear of suffering, awaken the compassion inherent in all of us, and release the fixations of ego. Anytime you suffer, this practice will be healing. 

Even if you can't name your pain or experience it fully, you can sense it in your body. Stay in contact with that awareness and breathe in your pain with the wish to take away your fear. 

Note that you are not asking to take away your suffering, but rather your fear of suffering. Then breathe out relaxation, relief, joy. Do this for several breaths.

You can also begin the practice by taking on the pain of someone you know, breathing in the wish to take away their fear, breathing out relaxation, relief, happiness for several breaths.

Doing so, you may come face to face with your own fear, resistance, anger or any form of personal pain, often when you are feeling stuck.

Then you can change the focus and do the practice for yourself and all others like you who are feeling the same pain. I especially love this third aspect of tonglen practice, breathing in the pain of everyone in the world who suffers the same feeling, breathing out relaxation, relief, and joy. It touches me as a reminder that none of us is completely alone, that all our emotions are shared with anyone who has ever lived.

Tonglen may be a formal meditation practice. You can also use it any moment you experience pain or see others in pain. As you invite this larger view of reality, you'll begin to notice your perceptions changing. Your assumptions of how things are will not be nearly as solid as before.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

We love our egos, don't we? We get along so well together. And what a relationship! It’s been life-long, predictable, we’re safe—more or less. 

OK, fine, we get angry, we feel hurt, we challenge our constraints but, oh, the seduction of familiarity. 

And, typical of any long-standing relationship, breaking up is difficult—no matter how strong the desire to end it.

I’ve coached many clients to observe and break free from habitual patterns. But I must admit, for them and for me, ego much prefers to wear its mask.

Years ago I was scheduled to be in a workshop where I'd be videotaped describing my lifelong change process, and one of the questions would be about Enneagram style Nine’s fundamental belief: I don't deserve to exist. Though I didn’t consciously feel this way about myself, I knew the story was in there somewhere, and spent weeks prior to the workshop being mindful of clues to that belief. Slowly, I began to see evidence.

As a small example, I became aware how fast I read, even when enjoying fiction or poetry for pleasure. I heard, as if magically radioed in from my past, Mary is such a good girl. She does exactly what she’s told and she does it quickly. I remembered being praised for how many books I could read in a week. That expanded to memories of being praised at work for how quickly I completed projects. I saw how this fed my unconscious story: If I do things quickly, people will praise me, I’ll feel worthwhile, and deserve to exist. 

But I didn’t experience the belief, it was still an idea. This continued up through and past the workshop — interesting insights, a deeper level of awareness, a new perspective on coaching clients by looking for their fundamental stories. Still, I hadn’t yet experienced the truth of my story.

Several weeks later, I received the DVD of my interview, eagerly turned it on, and boom! I saw myself as fat, old, and BLAND. I was completely crushed. I could not identify with that woman on the screen!

For a full day my ego danced around looking for ways to accept the external evidence that contradicted my self-image. I read about strategies for embracing growing old. I considered following the path of aging boomer artists Alice and Richard Matzkin (The Art of Aging: Celebrating the Authentic Aging Self) and painting a self-portrait, warts and all — still feeding the story by trying to refute it: I am worthwhile as I am! 

Then, on the second day, I experienced the fundamental story that had been deeply unconscious until that moment. I am worthless. I don't deserve to exist. I felt it down to my bones, my heart was full of shame, and I knew it to be true.

On the third day, I fell through. The phrase fell through is inadequate to capture the experience. I can, however, describe my reaction when I again viewed the DVD of my interview. I felt compassion and even delight, a feeling akin to Oh, so that’s the body and mannerisms my soul is riding in

Since then I've seen significant changes in myself. My defensiveness dissolves more quickly — and in a way that’s very different from tamping down feelings — a sensation of lightness, each molecule more alive. 

I’m not saying I’m transformed, of course. In the immortal words of Valentine Michael Smith from Stranger in a Strange Land, “I am only an egg.”