Saturday, May 13, 2017

The History of Metaphor in Change Work

For as long as humans have had speech, we've been drawn to stories. Story-tellers and bards were honored and respected, their tales and poems used to teach, explain, and/or entertain. Harvard Business School leadership guru John Kotter said,
Over the years I have become convinced that we learn best – and change – from hearing stories that strike a chord within us... Those in leadership positions who fail to grasp or use the power of stories risk failure for their companies and for themselves.
You know from personal experience how some stories have affected you, changed your attitude, inspired you, provided hope. So the time-honored therapy tradition to use stories for healing is no surprise. A therapeutic metaphor can help clients gain the personal resources and enhanced world model they need to be able to handle their problems. Typically, as in the general history of storytelling, the therapist decides what story or metaphor will have the greatest effect.

There's also a growing interest in listening for a client's metaphor and running with it, while still staying alert to a direction that might resolve the problem. I used this more client-centered approach with a client who said she always felt "like the new kid on the block" when with her colleagues. I entered her metaphor by saying, "OK, I'm here with you. You've just moved in, and you're the new kid. What's that like? What are the other kids doing? How do they treat you? What are some ways you can get them to include you?" Notice how, even though we were both in the client's metaphor, the form of my questions kept me in charge of what direction to take. I was eager to find a useful outcome, and we did find one when she said, "They want to play with some of my cool toys!" She was then able to recognize "cool toys" in her current repertoire that helped her feel more comfortable with colleagues.

More recently, I explored symbolic modeling. Instead of the coach determining the direction of clients' metaphors, open-ended questions preserve clients' terminology and facilitate their self-discovery and self-development: "And being like a butterfly is for you...?" "And when does (your words)....?" "And then....?" "And just before that....?" The facilitator's questions are called "clean language," meaning they're not compromised by left-brain theories of where to take the session; the questions typically follow the client's lead.

Symbolic modeling theory has a formal structure, however, so the emphasis still leans toward tools the helper brings, which keeps the left-brain processes in gear. In the past few years I've moved into a more right-brain use of metaphor where I follow the client's lead, trusting that wherever we go will lead to a healing place.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Choose Your Own Mantra

A colleague asked me, "Do you engage in daily practice of some sort? What do you do to tune up, tune in?" 

In a general sense, my 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." Saying any word produces an actual physical vibration and—when coupled with intention—mantras carry 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): 

OPEN MIND  
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.
OPEN HEART 
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.
OPEN WILL 
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."

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Enneagram: A Compelling Vision

Susan Olesek's TED talk on behalf of the Enneagram Prison Project (EPP), Both Sides of the Bars, is the most compelling Enneagram presentation I've ever seen, for her own transparency, for her clarity and vision, for her compelling examples, for her intelligent presentation, and most of all for the power of her presence. This is the finest example of how life-changing the Enneagram can be in the hands of someone on an authentic spiritual journey.

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? 

Yes. 

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? 

Good. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

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.

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.” 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Om

To a yogi, no symbol is more powerful than the syllable OM, as witnessed by these words from the Mandukya Upanishad:
OM: this eternal word is all what was, what is and what shall be.
In the Sanskrit letter the long lower curve represents the dream state, the upper curve stands for the waking state and the curve issuing from the center symbolizes deep, dreamless sleep. 

The crescent shape stands for Maya, the veil of illusion, and the dot for the transcendental state. 

When our individual spirit passes through the veil and rests in the transcendental, we are liberated from the three states and their qualities.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Living Ourselves Into New Ways of Thinking

We stand in the middle, living and fully accepting our reality, neither taking this new awareness on from the power position nor denying it for fear of the pain it will bring. We do not think ourselves into new ways of living. We live ourselves into new ways of thinking.  Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs
We've all had peak experiences, times when we were washed with a sense of clarity, of deep appreciation, of being at one with the universe. Perhaps you were watching the sunset from a sailboat, or feeling unconditional love from someone who matters to you, or being present at the birth of a child, or hearing a piece of music that touched you deeply. 

This awareness need not be serendipitous. You can invite it.

Rohr suggests that when trapped in "the ways things are" we have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, to remain on a threshold where the old world is left behind but we're not sure of the new one yet. In this realm, where we hold a naïve awareness, everything belongs: darkness and light coexist, paradox is revealed.

In our everyday world, what we think we know is a world we've made up. In what Rohr calls the "second naïveté," that everyday world falls apart and a new one is revealed. In this return to simple consciousness (beginner's mind), "we are finally at home in the only world that ever existed." 

Some years ago I was entranced by the film Little Buddha, about a boy who might be the reincarnation of a revered Tibetan teacher. The acting was reserved and there wasn't much action or character development. Why it so appealing to me? Probably because it spoke to some of my personality patterns, an attraction to being Buddha-like. 

People feel safe with my peaceful nature. But one of my most difficult patterns to release has been the tendency to avoid conflict, the only path to real relationship. (Who are you dealing with if I agree with everything you say, if I distract myself from my own agenda, if I don't set clear boundaries about what’s important to me?)

Suzanne Zuercher (Enneagram Spirituality) writes of active contemplation, not passive surrender to the process, but carrying a posture of awareness, intention, and readiness throughout our daily lives: awareness of our habits of attention and how they play out uniquely for us; intention to invite our unknown and disowned parts to come forth, and readiness to take specific actions that shift our focus of attention: doing the things most difficult for us, staying present without avoiding or denying or projecting blame. 

When we remember to be present with naïve awareness, with beginner's mind, we can live ourselves into new ways of thinking.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

An Exploration of Profound Change

I bought the book Presence by Peter Senge, et al. because its title promised to illuminate an approach to change Tim Flood and I developed, based on the premise that staying completely within metaphors is an exciting and powerful way to bring about transformational change, and metaphor-driven change work requires being 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..." (Presence, pp. 13-14).
In other words, 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: "Wow! Where did that come from?"

The authors of Presence give a number of business examples, including that of Visa International. "Amidst a growing perception in the late 1960s that the whole credit card industry was doomed, a small group of Visa executives realized the system they'd created could never solve the problems to which it had given rise. They had to abandon their traditional organizational models and banking jargon. They needed a change in consciousness. Then CEO Dee Hock awoke one morning asking himself if an organization could be patterned on biological concepts so it could continually organize and invent itself. Visa is now organized as a network of more than twenty thousand member-owned institutions... " (pp. 170-171).

An example of my own experience with presence occurred as Tim and I were finalizing the materials for an IEA conference playshop 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.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

An Unconquerable Soul

Others who saw the film "Invictus" (Latin for "unconquered") may have been moved - as I was — to re-read the poem by William Ernest Henley that in the film inspired Nelson Mandela during his 27 years of captivity as a political prisoner.
 

Most potent for me in Henley's poem are the lines "I thank whatever gods may be / For my unconquerable soul."

I found myself asking what was the source of Mandela's gift, his own unconquerable soul, that his depth of compassion allowed him to bring two former enemies together with such certainty and courage? He personally had suffered greatly for his beliefs, and yet he found a way to be so completely present that he changed the meaning of "unconquerable." In his actions the word had nothing to do with war metaphors of "beating" or "winning." His "unconquerable soul" instead was an unquenchable flame.


Mandela modeled what all of us — and especially our world leaders — must be able to do. He moved through his own grief to a larger space where innovative ways of thinking are possible.

Now we grieve for Mandela himself. May we also hold the space that is beyond grief for a world where we welcome our brothers and sisters.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Think in the Beauty Way

In Be Careful What You Pray For, Dr. Larry Dossey describes the Navajo belief in the power of words, the importance of positive thinking and speaking in "The Beauty Way."

Dossey, a physician and researcher who has helped bring credibility to alternative therapies and to spirituality in medicine, distinguishes between 'loosely coupled systems' and  'tightly coupled systems.'

A lawnmower's gasoline engine is a loosely coupled system -- the parts are relatively autonomous and can be individually replaced when they malfunction. Far too many physicians treat their patients as if a physical malfunction is much like a faulty lawnmower part. Instead, human bodies are tightly coupled systems and highly interdependent.

So while doctors don't usually intend to do us in, the harm is nonetheless real when they make such pronouncements as "You're a walking time bomb" or "There's nothing more I can do." 

In contrast, researchers at Dartmouth Medical School have found the factor most highly correlated with survival and a positive post-operative course after surgery is the degree of spiritual meaning in a person's life. 

Whatever crisis you face, medical or otherwise, think in The Beauty Way. Ask yourself: 
How can I participate in my mental and physical health and not be a victim?

What is my purpose?

What is meaningful to me?

How might I make a difference in the world?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Vanishing into Something Better

Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth 
remembered me, she
took me back so tenderly, arranging
her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds. I slept
as never before, a stone
on the riverbed, nothing
between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated
light as moths among the branches
of the perfect trees. All night
I heard the small kingdoms breathing
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in the darkness. All night
I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling
with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

~ Mary Oliver, from Twelve Moons (1979)