Half Way Through 50 – Deepening In

I’m half way through being 50. Well, maybe a bit more than half way but it is summer and I think the whole summer can count as half way if I want it to. And it’s not that I’m trying to resist or sugar coat the reality of linear time moseying along at sometimes frightening speed. I’m excited about being 50 – and for what comes after that.

Recently I have had the awareness of how much this year is a U journey for me. Maybe every year is, but it is particularly prominent this year.  There are three big chunks of Theory Usensing, presencing and realizing. They do flow, but they are also iterative and there are many U journeys within overall bigger, longer, more expansive U journeys. And thank goodness for that.

I was excited to recognize I am in the presencing phase.  I felt invited to more fully relax into the summer and the continual unfolding of my journey, of me.  The transition to realizing energy will arrive as I go to California in late August, the first of many trainings with good people in varied environments.  Even as the energy shifts, sensing and presencing will continue to be a rhythm in each day, each experience, each movement.

So, what does this mean for me to feel the presencing energy of these moments this summer? And why the heck is it even important? In a post from a few months ago on turning 50, I wrote:  “This is a time for me to break old, limiting patterns, to step more fully into what is mine to do, to completely embrace my purposeful path and live into all that has been on my own edges for awhile.”  The ability to do this is activated,  amplified and accelerated by presencing.

Part of presencing is being in stillness.  The summer has been providing me with this opportunity.  The stillness that comes from not too many meetings or other obligations and lots of choice along the way about where to tune in time and attention.

Presencing is also about letting go and letting come.  Being in the stillness allows not just the witnessing of this but the embodiment of it.  I feel it fully in my body and in my spirit, in my being.  I sense the deep movement I am in and know with that sense of deep knowing that I am embracing my path, my unfolding and yes, my living into what has been on the edges.

It is evidenced by how fast I have been spinning into and out of turmoil in these last few months.  Faster than I ever have before.  I’m learning how to be in it without being overwhelmed by it or projecting it onto someone else – trying to make my experience someone else’s fault; enquiring into my experience to understand what is mine to own, what is projection from someone else, what I need to let go of and grab hold of, what is mine to learn.  I feel a bit of joy and anticipation in it and am not needing to rush into the next phase.  When I feel my anxiety rising because my book still needs editing and is sitting waiting for me and I don’t yet know how I will publish it or any other of a myriad of things I’m in the middle of, I breathe, let go of following those thoughts into the future of doom and trust the book’s energy will invigorate me in the right moment.

Work opportunities arrive, some land, some flow away.  Trusting the right things will show up.  Seeing where the invitations are, the openness, the readiness for me, what I have to offer and my journey.  Seeing where the energy isn’t.  Feeling how it is guiding my path.  No need to try to grab everything that might be within reach but being intentional about moving with the flow of what is mine to do, where I am needed, where I’m not.

I’m witnessing the evolution of my own spiritual growth, my knowing who I am.  I find myself leaning in, not jumping to conclusions, not lashing out at others but sharing my experience and my questions, and breathing through experiences that would have spun me out not even that long ago.  At the end of each of these periods of turbulence, I come out more grounded, more deeply connected to my core and my purpose and less attached to people, places and things – ready to let go of anything that hooks me and anything where the energetic openness is not available.

Trusting the guidance from the subtle realms and feeling more deeply connected – with a sense of, “of course this is how it is, how simple, easy and available.”  Opening more fully.  Yes, the journey to open heartedness and somehow even more than that.  Surrendering with joy and delight into the shifting shape of my world.

Slowing Down to Go Fast

Our world moves so fast we all want it done now, or yesterday – whatever “it” is. The paradox is, we don’t have time to go fast anymore. But it’s not just about slowing down. It’s slowing down, adding in intentionality, purposefulness and patterns of movement – often non-linear and iterative – to take us to places we’ve never been before but that we’ve dreamed and know have to be possible. We want to get to this new place but we keep repeating the patterns that have never gotten us there before – Einstein’s definition of insanity.

Add into the mix, the complexity of today’s challenges generally means it is not a straight path from A to B and even if it is, your destination is probably somewhere else.

What does slowing down mean?  One is taking the time to acquire new lenses with which to view the challenges and complexity we face.  Another is learning how to use conversational methodologies well – tuned into purpose and intention as a guiding principle for how to design, enter and engage the questions of most relevance to what’s needed now – in growing learning, tackling innovation or bridging organizational divides.  It is not simply a learning and development opportunity.  It can be a formidable strategy to grow an organization, engage a challenge, conceive of innovative processes and/or products that serve the mission or mandate of your organization – as you already know.

These things are all possible using the principles and practices alive in Art of Hosting practices and frameworks.  Art of Hosting is not just a training.  Seasoned practitioners use it in consulting work all over the world – in every sector, for small and large initiatives, to launch new organizations and teams and to shift whole systems.  It is not just theory.  It is today’s complex challenges made real.  And it takes time.

For the training work we do, we often get asked about three days.  When money is no issue the larger question that looms is, “Is it worth three days of my time?”  Well, that depends.  On how aware you are of the value of slowing down to go fast – slowing down to allow insight to percolate, new perspectives to digest into new approaches and new strategies to emerge in animated and reflective conversation with other bright lights called to gather together in three days.  Because there are an amazing number of bright lights who show up for any training – of all ages, backgrounds and perspectives.

The beauty of being in 3 days or more with the same group of people is it invites the pattern of divergence-groan zone/emergence-convergence to show up.  There are many times when I’ve been asked at the end of day 2 of a three day training how is it going?  If I write that story, it is a very different story of what emerges because even subtle things shift and change in one more overnight or one more conversation evoked through a powerful question.  There is something in a three day pattern that lets us sense more fully into what our questions are, explore them in the company of others also asking powerful questions, seeing not just synergy but emergence – where we all gain something that no one person brought into the room, and we begin to imagine, often with extensive detail, how we will use what we’ve learned when we go back to work.

Not everything needs to slow down of course.  Not everything needs three days.  Some need less.  Many need more. But we refuse to take the time – we believe we don’t have the time, other things are more pressing, we will get too far behind – lots of limiting beliefs we carry individually and collectively.   But what about the things that do need three days and maybe longer? Percolation does.  New perspectives often do.  Imagining – really imagining the new – does.  Shifting paradigms does.

When we give ourselves permission to slow down we also invite ourselves to be surprised by what emerges and how fast things move with new clarity.  It is a wise investment of time and necessary for those of us imagining how to shift the shape of the worlds we touch.

Hosting Lessons from the Field – Inviting Innovators and Pioneers in Health Care

It is just the beginning of 2012 and already the year has been rich in hosting lessons from the field, diving deep into new levels of awareness around hosting subtleties. It began in Utah early in the month, hosting Healthier Health Care Systems Now with Tenneson Woolf, Steve Ryman and Marc Parnes.

Marc Parnes

Marc, who is a physician, gynaecologist and host from Columbus Ohio, started us off on day 2 with a story intended to set the tone and challenge of the day.  He told of what was to be a routine surgery he was doing on a woman.  When he opened her up and looked inside, what he saw not only surprised him, it alarmed him.  Things that were not supposed to be stuck together were.  He could not see the path for the surgery.  He was not able to see his way.  He did not know how to proceed with the surgery as he stared at this jumble of internal organs.

All eyes were on him as he then he stood up in our circle.  We could feel the anxiety of that moment.  Standing there, Marc planted his feet shoulder width apart, just like he did on the day of the surgery, to ground himself.    As he closed his eyes, he described doing exactly this as he stood beside the woman on his operating table.  Then, with his eyes closed, he reached into the woman and began to feel his way around, searching with his hands for the openings he could not see with his eyes.

When he finished, he knew what to do.  He opened his eyes.  He could now calmly begin the surgery, having expanded his vision of what was possible by “seeing” with other senses.  The surgery was successful.

There was a collective sigh of relief in our circle.

We began to reflect on what Marc’s story had to do with innovation in health care, what it had to do with hosting.

After coming through the first day, we checked in as a host team and invited the voices of others who showed up to participate in the design process.  We tracked our day around purpose and intention.  We felt good about the design and flow of the day and we felt we had challenged people beautifully in our opening circle on day 1 by asking them to speak to the pioneer and innovator inside of them that had responded to the invitation, but not to speak too deeply to their work, promising that would come later.  We sensed that though the day had been good, something was missing.  With reflection, we realized we were still on the ground of old territory and familiar conversation, not the new conversations we had invited people into.

The invitation was to be in a different conversation about health care.  The challenge for this group was to move into what would be a new conversation for each of them. This amazing group of individuals carry in them irrepressible dreams for healthcare systems that thrive; for simplicity that doesn’t deny the complexity, yet responds well to it.  They continue to have high hopes for healthier healthcare despite having been in many, many conversations about shifting the systems within which they work and play.  Those who responded to the HHS call were already innovators and pioneers in health care.   Maybe the new conversation was not a collective conversation about a new global vision about health care but was about individual systems of influence and what was at the edges of their own learning that might be new territory.

Our challenge, as a hosting team, we realized, was in making sure we really did travel to new territory – not an easy challenge given the experience of the people who came.

We continually scanned what we knew that could invite people into new territory. We brought play into our process – a beautifully renewed learning edge.  Collaborative play, allowing us to see and experience our learning beyond the cognitive or intellect.  Then, through reflection, seeing our patterns in work and relationship in whole new ways.  Allowing inspiration to enter in.

At the end of day two, despite traveling much ground in the day, there was still a sense of restlessness in our hosting team that took awhile to fully sense into. Something edgy.  Something still not quite arrived at.

Checking in as a host team and, like the day before, with others interested in our design process, we recognized that we were happy with our design and the flow of the two days. We briefly wondered if we should be satisfied with where we were and consider how to enter and close our last day well. Yet there was something we still had not quite arrived at.  Something about the new conversation we hadn’t quite dug into.

We reflected on what we knew from our Art of Hosting experiences that would push the edges of where we were.  If we were looking for a groan zone or acupuncture point in our process, normally we would look to a point in day two.  But this timing did not show up in day two.  Were we willing to push our own learning and hosting to bring in something even  more edgy in the morning of day three?

We knew we would not get to where we wanted to go through another conversational or intellectual process.  We decided to invite this group of physicians, health care administrators and others into a guided visualization process, to invite them to explore their own future journey in healthier health care now. Following the visualization, we invited them into drawing or illustrating some representation of their experience in the visualization process, followed by a conversation with a partner to really dive into this experience in depth.

The experience was intense and provocative. It shifted the shape of some individuals.  It shifted the shape of our gathering.  It broke the pattern of the old and invited a new pattern. The World Cafe that followed was amazing.  It was sparky. Ideas flowed quickly.  There was a new quality that had entered into our space.

Once we saw it, experienced it, we could name it.  We had shifted from conversations that came from the head to conversations that now came from a deeper place.  The conversations were now embodied. People began to look at their own path and their own systems of influence rather than at points of the system too far beyond their own systems of influence to have any real impact.  We were in new territory.   We observed that embodiment shifted the conversation to deeper and more meaningful places.

As a hosting team we agreed to continue to push the edges of this group, knowing we still had a whole day ahead of us, even though if we had planned a visualization process, we would likely have planned it for the end of day two.  But sensing where we were, knowing what we were aiming for, keeping our essential calling questions close, we pursued our purpose and intention.  We continued to host potential right up to the moment of preparing to close our circle.

It isn’t over until it’s over.  We know that.  I have often heard it said in a hosting team.  And this time we lived it fully with a trust in each other, in what we were sensing and our willingness to flow with what was there.  Even as I write this, it is hard to describe the exact edge we were on or the truth of our experience.  But I’ve been reflecting on it a lot.  These reflections flowed into the last couple of weeks in Brazil, during Warrior of the Heart and a local Art of Hosting stewarding gathering, where we danced with flow to the most amazing degree – letting go of design to sense into what was alive and needed in any given moment.  More reflections on that later.

For now, the richness of the host team learning in Utah stays with me, embodied in my own experience in the best of ways.  I feel myself growing my capacity in hosting in the most delightful of ways, brought out by those I have the privilege to host with.  This year has started off so rich in learning, it makes me deeply curious for what the rest of 2012 will bring.

Healthier Health Care Systems Now!

Most of us know the intractable challenges of health care, no matter where we live. Many of us are battle tested, battle weary and battle scarred.  Yet, we continue to have high hopes for healthier healthcare.  We have irrepressible dreams for healthcare systems that thrive and are committed to wellness.  Just because some of us have been in this conversation for awhile, doesn’t mean the shift won’t happen, no matter how discouraging it gets at times.  Really how do we nudge the big machine of the system when it seems to be hunkering down that much more? What is the staying power we need to do this work in the midst of chaos and serious push back?

What do we do when we are asked to be different but the “system” wants us to do all the same things?  We are being asked to transform but please don’t look any different than you do right now?  These are tough scenarios, impossible push backs from a system that is seeking its own next evolution and afraid to go there at the same time.

Just because we can’t see the way, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  But what does it take to stay the path of pioneering, shift and change?

My good friends and colleagues Tenneson Woolf, Steve Ryman, Dr. Marc Parnes and I have put out a call to current day pioneers in health care systems change to gather in Salt Lake City, Utah from January 11-13th to unearth the deeper questions that sustain us and propel us forward on this mission for healthier health care systems now.

The more we are in conversation as a hosting team, with those planning to attend and those who wish they could be there but for various reasons find it impossible, the more inspired I become about how THIS conversation can and will be different and more than all the ones I’ve been in over the last 5 or 6 years.

I am particularly inspired about what connection can be made between this event and a global conversation on health care.  As we come out of a retreat together, what is it that we could collectively offer, or even teach, others about what we are leaning?  We see a Community of Practice emerging from this.  What does the CoP do together over a period of time that none of us can do alone?  What is the conversation that needs to happen in health care right now – today – that cracks it open in a new way?  What is the unifying force and what happens if it gets unleashed directionally?  How do we use the amazing technology platforms available to do this in whole new ways?

Other thought provoking questions that have been arising through the many conversations:

  • “The system doesn’t work that way” is not a good enough answer anymore.  How do we create systems that make sense to any of us?
  • Systems are more complex that we can manage – how about simpler systems?
  • What’s at the edges that if we could see it and understand it, might help us open up the middle?
  • What happens when we tell our stories of inspiration, especially the ones that are in danger of getting lost?  Can we revitalize these real world stories and our own capacity to be in the journey for the long run?

I am inspired by the Occupy movement, even as it struggles to understand what is next – like health care, like community change, like financial systems….  Charles Eisenstein writes about Occupy in this post on Where next for Occupy.  One of the things he says is, “We want to change the psychic and interpersonal substructure of the system we live in.”  Is this what we mean when we talk about health and wellness systems instead of illness systems?  What would happen if we could change the psychic and interpersonal substructure of health care?  What does that even mean?  I’m not sure but would love to be in that conversation.

Our hosting team has also been inspired by our friend Peggy Holman’s work on Journalism that Matters.  What if this gathering on health care that matters produces a similar set of principles; something like:

  • Health care professionals are stretched, refreshed and inspired to pursue innovations
  • New and often unlikely partnerships
  • Breakthrough initiatives
  • A community of health care innovators
  • A growing culture of innovative health care

We are not in this because it is easy.  We are in it because it matters.  Because we have tried many things, seen success with some and know there is what appears to be a long ways still to go.  Because “the system doesn’t work that way” is not a good enough answer anymore even if we haven’t quite seen the path forward.  Because we know we need to be in this together.

Because we feel in our very beings it is actually possible to create healthier healthcare and we know that it must happen more systemically. We are gathering with people who want to see and do leadership differently for the future of healthcare. With people who are hungry for new conversations. Who feel a responsibility for imagining and contributing what hasn’t been imagined before. With people who know that the way to take on big stuff is to turn to each other. Muck it up. Get curious. Stay focused.

I grow hungrier every day for this conversation now.  Wondering how much bolder I need to become…. we need to become… in a age that needs boldness and daring like never before.  What a good way to kick off a new year – and a prescient one at that!

Becoming an AoH Practitioner

One of the things that stands out from my Envision Halifax days when a team of us co-designed and co-delivered a nine month leadership program, meeting with the group once a month for either a retreat or a learning day, is how often people talked about getting their Envision “fix” – essentially being able to step out of the craziness of their workplaces into a deep breath of a different kind of space, where we often began with check-in circles and always entered into a conscious, intentional practice field of learning focused on self-leadership, team learning and community reflection and engagement.

The desire and need for this “fix” is directly related to how challenging people find it to bring their learning about new ways of interacting with people, creating the conditions for different conversations that lead to different results back into their work environments – and it is also what I hear from people who have just stepped out of their first Art of Hosting training ground.  “It is okay to do this here, but back at work, well, that’s another story.”

At the risk of stating the obvious, becoming a practitioner of anything takes…. well… practice.  And, I am aware of how risky it feels to try out new group processes or new ways of inviting conversation at work.  How many times we hear things like, “I could never use a talking piece at work.”  “I could never get our group to agree to use World Cafe.”  “People I work with would find this language strange and it may turn them off of even trying something new.”  Yes, all true AND there are always ways to begin practice.

People feel their credibility and reputation are most at risk trying something new with the people they work with all the time.   So one of the simplest possibilities is to look for other places to practice – with another team or department, in a volunteer capacity, with someone else who also wants to practice.

When we just begin to know the many and varied practices that are available through the Art of Hosting field and have little experience with them, we have less confidence in and knowledge of how the processes work and how people can be well and fully engaged in them.  Our own lack of confidence and fear can influence how the process unfolds.  For example, if the group has never participated in an Open Space before, it  may take a few minutes for them to warm up to inviting their own conversations when we open the space for their questions.  With experience, we know to be easy in that pause.  Without experience, it ignites our fears and then we want to jump in to make it happen, often over facilitating the space or the process, sometimes resulting in less than hoped for outcomes.  As grow our own experience and confidence in the impact of the process, we relax more which invites more flow and synchronicity into the space.

As for language, if it will be a barrier, don’t use it.  Rather than talking about circle practice, you could just say, “I would like to make sure we hear from every voice.  Maybe we could just go around the table and as each person speaks, the rest of us could just listen well to what they have to say.” Or, of course, whatever language suits you best.

Begin your practice in little ways.  Take little risks.  Change how you listen and see what difference shows up.  Use more questions, powerful questions, that invite people to respond differently.  Bring more curiousity to the conversations you have in the work you do.

Find places to practice the skills you want to develop more.  Find people to practice with.  Look for like minded people inside your organization with whom you can have conversations of discovery and potentially opportunities for practice.  Think of how you can intentionally shift the shape of your world.

Look for places outside of work to practice.  Take yourself back to another Art of Hosting training to deepen your understanding and skills and grow your courage.  Share success stories, small and large, so you and others can see the impact of making even small shifts.  Maybe you have an opportunity to be part of a calling team for an Art of Hosting in your organization or community.  You could look for an opportunity to apprentice in an Art of Hosting training with experienced practitioners and stewards so you learn to pay attention to and look for the nuances that can influence design, hosting and results.

Grow your confidence through practice and your practice will grow.  Don’t be discouraged easily.  Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunity, openings and invitations.  If you look for them, you will be delightfully surprised at how often they show up.

Join a community of practice.  If there isn’t one in your area, start one – even if it is just with a few people.  Join the on-line conversations and communities.  Observe and contribute when and as you are ready.

Whenever and however you can practice, do so.  Grow your courage through small victories and those victories will also grow.  You didn’t show up at an Art of Hosting training because you are risk averse.  You came because something called you.  My guess is, this work will continue to call you and you will continue to respond.  And there is a global field of practice that responds with you.  Be intentional, thoughtful and mindful and practice well.  Before you know it, you will recognize the Art of Hosting practitioner that is you.

A 1500 Day Collaborative Journey

In November 2006, the Council of the College of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia (CRNNS) embarked on a 1500 day collaborative journey, the likes of which they could hardly imagine was possible at the time.  What was clear was that the College had a vision and a mandate to grow inter-professional collaborative practice (IPCP) from pockets here and there across the province to a more widespread practice as one of the responses to a health care system in need of shifting the way services were delivered.

They knew this was not a mandate that could be achieved alone and they weren’t quite sure how to invite other professions into the conversation.  They contacted an Art of Hosting colleague of mine who invited me into the process and we worked with a team from the College to begin to clarify the work.

Early on we identified that this would likely be a long term process that would use Theory U to define the journey and Art of Hosting as the operating system. Before the journey could even begin, others needed to be invited into the conversation so that other people and organizations could identify what contribution and what level of support or commitment they were willing and able to offer.

The College hosted its first assembly in November 2006 to announce its mandate, speak what they were hearing in the system and being called to do, invite a broad array of health care professionals into conversations using processes like Appreciative Inquiry, World Café and circle which many participants experienced for the first time ever that day.

Out of this assembly a core team of about twenty-five people and financial support from a broad range of health organizations self identified to commit to a multi-year process that included two Art of Hosting retreats (one a sensing retreat and one a presencing retreat) to train the core team, deepen their understanding of the purpose and principles of the work and identify a strategy to move this mandate forward.  We called on Art of Hosting colleagues doing similar work in Ohio and in England to come and also support this initiative, bringing with them a wealth of experience and weaving in the stories from other places that increased the anticipation of successfully shifting the shape of collaborative health care in Nova Scotia.

The collaborators included: Annapolis Valley Health, Capital Health, College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Nova Scotia, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, Dalhousie University, IWK Health Centre, Nova Scotia Association of Health Organizations (now Health Association of Nova Scotia), Nova Scotia Department of Health, Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia, Registered Nurses Professional Development Centre and the Pictou County Health Authority.  The team included people from many of these organizations and was itself inter-disciplinary.

In between the two retreats, the core team embarked on a series of sensing strategies to broaden their own understanding of the health care system in Nova Scotia, identifying challenges and opportunities without assuming they already knew all the answers.  One purpose in this was to also engage a more stakeholders and learn from them what would capture their support, interest and imagination.  Seven group interviews and thirty five individual interviews were conducted, designed to elicit their private voice more than their public voice.  It is in the private voice that deep despair and incredible hope both reside.

The information that came back from these interviews was powerful.  So powerful it was used to invite back a large assembly of stakeholders in May of 2008 to hear the results and, most importantly, to hear the voices of the system spoken back into the room.  In response, somebody said, “What we are seeing is a crisis of the soul.”

We asked people: “What would you do that you’ve never done or dreamed of doing to change the future of healthcare?” They responded:

  • Change the way we deliver health care
  • Change the focus of health care
  • Change education of practitioners
  • Change what we say to communities
  • Change governance of health care
  • Change relationships and how we work together

We asked, “What should the purpose of the health care system be?”  To which they responded:

To create and maintain holistic, accessible support and care so that Nova Scotians may live well in a place they call home.

 

To facilitate and empower the individual and the community to create and maintain

optimum health as defined by the individual.

 

The purpose of the healthcare system is evidence based, person-focused, preventative, holistic, and uses a collaborative approach to optimize the health, safety, wellbeing and environment of people within their communities.

People made commitments that day and the College made a commitment to check back in later with their last assembly to acknowledge and celebrate progress.  That day happened in June 2010.

Six champion collaborative practice teams currently providing services in Nova Scotia were invited to present at the Assembly, modeling the way and illuminating the steps to successful collaborative care in Nova Scotia.

Have all the ideas identified in May of 2008 been implemented?  No.  But in 2010, there was far more collaborative care in Nova Scotia than there was in 2006 when the College began its quest and invited in collaborators, retaining its willingness to be a champion of this work and, at the same time, “letting it go” so that it could be co-created throughout the whole journey with those who stepped forward to share the leadership and responsibility of this work in Nova Scotia.  Other initiatives focusing on Collaborative Care also emerged during this time helping to expand awareness and the field of practice and this does not lessen the impact of the Inter-Disciplinary Collaborative Practice initiative in generating impactful responses to a system in need of change.

Some things have fundamentally changed.  Some things are still to come.

Relationship With Self: Base Point for All Other Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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