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.

Meeting the Stranger Within

You know the stranger within before it is a stranger, when you are very young, before you learn concepts of right and wrong, good and evil.  Before you build the constructs around yourself that become essential to your survival – shaping your life so that you fit in, to make people happy – particularly your parents and other figures in your life you look up to or depend upon for survival at a young age.

As a baby, toddler and child, you learn it is not safe to expose this inner being, that somehow it is a threat – usually to others around you.  You begin to hide it and so begins the journey of the stranger.  You seek it out less often and then you forget where you hid it or how to unbury it, for a long, long time.

This being has shifted into a stranger and you come to believe this stranger within lurks in the shadows.  Because you believe this, you are afraid, deeply afraid, of what you might find if you seek it out. After all, others were afraid of it so so should you be.  You spend much of your life trying to thwart the stranger, running from your fear instead of facing it.  In so doing you create more shadow obscuring the stranger within even more.

Every now and then, the stranger finds an opening and bubbles to the surface.  You glimpse it but it is so unlike what you are expecting, you don’t recognize it.  Maybe you have been inspired or encouraged by it and now want to find it, but it is elusive.  You find it hard to believe that this stranger you have glimpsed lives in the shadows so you begin to look everywhere for it but where it actually lives.

You look to others to validate you and your experiences.  You compare yourself to others.  You, on occasion, take false joy in your journey because you can measure your progress and success – externally.  But deep inside the stranger is rumbling, calling to you, sometimes gently, sometimes with a strength and persistence that rattles your cage.  It is trying to guide you but you cannot hear it, cannot feel it except for the deep tremble you interpret as fear.

You believe the stranger is the one that causes your actions to be incongruent with who you fundamentally believe you are – which just proves to you that what lies at the core must be in shadow and is not to be trusted.

These things happen in your life, conspire even, to force you on a journey to discover the stranger, or as Anais Nin puts it: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” It becomes time to intentionally shift the shape of who you are and how you show up in your own life.

As you take those first tentative steps to know the stranger, you step into the shadow and you discover that maybe, just maybe the stranger does not live in the shadow.  That this stranger you have feared is at the core of all your failings, all your struggles, all our misguided actions, maybe that stranger is an illusion conjured up by the shadow you have both created and feared to keep you from the exploration of the real stranger – intended to keep you and the stranger safe but instead causing you countless struggles and detours along the way.

Stepping into the shadows is a necessary step to passing through the shadows to where the stranger actually resides – at your core, not in the dark but in a light that is ready to shine brilliantly as you brush away the shadow you no longer need, need to fear or need to build.

Some of the fear and the tremble that shows up is in the knowing that to allow this stranger to walk with power and strength in your life may require changes in your life and your lifestyle, changes in your relationships and changes in you.  What you need to let go of to allow your full essence to come into being.  These are often not easy shifts to make because they involve other people and they involve you, your notions of who you are, who you think you are and who you are capable and deserving of becoming.

The real stranger is no stranger at all.  It is the incredibly gifted, talented, beautiful, authentic soul residing inside of each of us, including and especially you, waiting for the opportunities, the growth, the courage, the love and the joy to burst out in full bloom.

This is what the step into the darkness will expose – that it is actually a step into the light, a journey to the core to the stranger remembered, not as a stranger but as a gift, a friend, an essential self.  What is the courage you need to meet the stranger within?

New Models of Organization and Work – Are We Ready?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resentment, Anger and Grudges as Soul Journey Teachers

“If I destroy you, I destroy myself. If I honour you, I honour myself.” Nunbatz Men MAYAN

This is a daily meditation offering from White Bison.  The message: if I secretly hold a grudge or resentment against someone, I will be a slave to that person until I let them go so let me remember to look at my brothers and sisters in a sacred way.

This is a hard lesson to really accept and learn when we so want it to be about the other person! Yet when we hold that grudge, the person we hold it against actually has power over us.  To be even more direct, we have given our power away to them.  Nothing can be resolved unless they do something, healing cannot take place unless they do something.

What a sad and wretched way to live if this is what we choose – completely at the mercy of another’s journey.  What if they never change?  What if they never offer us what it is we think we need of them?  Or, even worse, what if they do and then we discover that that isn’t really the magic cure we’ve been waiting for? It’s not nearly as satisfying as we were sure it would be?

Healing of the soul is not an outer journey dependent on someone else.  It is an inner journey that only we can navigate.  Fortunately, there are many helpers, guides and teachers who show up along the way – but only when we are ready and can either perceive others as teachers or invite them as such.  It is easier to understand coaches and mentors as teachers, less easy to understand those we hold a grudge (or worse) against as a teacher although they often catapult our learning once we open to it.

When we feel wronged, and particularly when we feel deeply wronged, it is hard to step into the path of inquiry that asks: why have I invited this into my life?  This is not to make us wrong, make us a victim or cause us to take responsibility for another person’s actions.  This is solely to help us understand our own soul’s journey and the lessons we need to learn.

When I have felt marginalized in my life, I learned to ask the question: Why am I inviting marginalization (or marginalizing myself)?  How does that serve me in the place that I am in now? In a place of marginalization, I hide from stepping into my own power and purpose in life and, for some strange reason, this feels “safer”.

When I have felt voiceless in relation to other people I wondered what was my journey to reclaiming my voice?  I recognized my own feelings of judgment arising – about others and about myself – and learned to step into it, initially with great trepidation I might add, inquire into it, ease up on it.  Voicing my fears, issues and concerns in the light of showing up in ways I do not aspire to (as judgmental) began to bring me back to reclaiming my voice – a step toward also reclaiming my power – as a being of compassion, strength and love with important work to do in the world.

Jerry Granelli in my ALIA module  Leader as Shambhala Warrior said: if you resent one moment of your life, that is aggression.  Wow.  Just one moment of resentment is aggression.  Powerful.  It resonated strongly with my journey and learning to find the gifts in life decisions I’d made that I’d come to regret.  In truly finding the gift, the regret left, creating space for more compassion, strength, love and great joy – qualities that Byron Brown describes as inherent soul qualities in his book: Soul Without Shame: A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within – a book that literally changed my life.

Letting go of regret and resentment can be a daily exercise, a daily reminder that this is a journey and, when we do step into it, it is a shape shifting journey.  We get to make a choice about it every day.  We only come to understand it as a choice as we journey, as we learn, as we sink into the soul’s journey by inquiring – with curiosity – into resentment, anger and grudges as they show up in our life.

Life has an interesting way of bringing to us that which we most need to learn from at any given time. My experience is that by learning to embrace it, it is usually a gentler journey – and I’ve learned that the hard way – from all the choices I made that brought me into deeply intense learning experiences that I wouldn’t necessarily have “chosen” for myself but which I now see that my “soul’s journey” chose for me to create the conditions necessary for me to step more fully into the gifts, power and talents that serve me and serve my work in the world.

These soul journey teachers do not appear to be friends when they show up.  If we make them enemies as much as the others they show up about, we wither and die – literally and figuratively, spiritually and physically.  This is motivation enough to take the difficult first steps of seeing them for their enormous potential as teachers.  The more intense the experience, the greater the return in the soul’s journey.

Because at some point I embraced this journey – which was better than the alternative internal toxicity I found myself living in a few years ago, every day and most minutes in a day, I now find myself in a place of deep appreciation, gratitude and joy for my journey and the ALL the people in it who have contributed in some way.  Waking up feeling joyful does not get old!

What’s Breaking Your Heart Open?

What’s breaking your heart open?  Powerful question and powerful to notice how one little word in this question can completely change the tone of it from “what is breaking your heart?” to “what is breaking it open?”

Meg Wheatley opened the ALIA module “Leader as Shambhala Warrior”, that she co-hosted with Jim Gimian and Gerry Granelli at the beginning of this month, with this question and it was the question I woke up with this morning.  Some people answered with what is breaking their heart.  Sometimes the response stops there because that is as far as we have come in our understanding of the circumstance we are sitting in.  Sometimes it is so fresh we have not yet been able to move on to the next phase.

Meg was really suggesting that what breaks our heart can also break it open and in this place of open heartedness, even when that is about sorrow, we have a greater capacity to act and act with strength and compassion.  Her heart is broken about what is happening with the devastation in the gulf as a result of the oil spill and she speaks about this in in this blog posting in YES! An Antidote to Urgency.

In answering the question, I focused on what happens when our heart breaks open.  It is this question that most resonates with my journey over the last few years – learning to live into my experience – including and maybe especially my emotional experience, rather than walking through it as if I was going through the motions of some else’s story.   I think I tried to just walk through the motions for so long because I was afraid of being overwhelmed by sadness, despair, loneliness and hopelessness.  I tried to hold those things at bay and it did nothing to keep life from periodically crashing down around me.

What a difference it makes to notice and acknowledge my experience as I’m in it.  Contrary to my fear, it is actually freeing and liberating!  This morning I’m noticing how much I’m missing my seven year old son as we begin establishing the rhythm of a separated family.  It breaks my heart that he can’t be with me all the time and it breaks my heart open knowing how much I love him, how much he loves me and how much he is loved by others including his father and his father’s family.  This is a rhythm and a pattern we will all grow into, served by love.

Over the last five years, an expanded  story of my life has been pieced together as information has been unexpectedly  revealed to me about my journey, essentially since birth.  As I have absorbed all the information, it breaks my heart open to now know how loved, supported and guided I have been from the time I was an infant – even in my darkest days.

All those moments when I reach beyond the physical world and feel my connection with spirit or non-ordinary reality, it breaks my heart open to know there is so much more than our physical bodies and the things we can touch and see.  We are supported and loved in ways often beyond our knowing.

When I watch my older children grow into their own life paths and step into the next phase of their lives with both the maturity and immaturity of their age, it breaks my heart open to know that they have strong foundations and love in their lives.

And as I recount all the things that break my heart open, they all come back to love in one way or another – feeling it, accessing it, living it, speaking it.  Letting people I care deeply about know that I love them – in how I show up for them and in speaking it aloud from time to time.

My heart is breaking open, more fully and completely every day – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It has shifted the shape of me, my life and my business.  Thank you Meg for the question.  It lives on in me and in my journey.

Can We Be Done Now?

Last week, round about session 3 of my ALIA Module: Leader as Shambhala Warrior, as we were going back into creative process yet again, I recall sitting there thinking: “Can we be done yet?  I’ve had enough.  I’m ready to move on to the “real” work of the module.”

Immediately I chuckled at my own thought and the awareness that came with it.  Just a few weeks before, a colleague and I had been in that same question with a client about the status of the long term shift process we were in.  We told the client, we have reached the point where some of the people will begin to say: ” We have our document, can we be done now? Can I get back to real work now?.”

This raises two things.  The first is our concept of “real work” as something that does not happen in a conference, training or retreat.  If it’s not real, is it imaginary?  Un-real?  If it’s not real, why do we do it?  I love challenging this notion when it arises – this is real work too.  For myself, when I’m in retreats, I now think of  the outside world that does come knocking and “real” work happens in both places and many others in between.

The second thing is that when we encounter in ourselves or others this question of “Can we be done now?” it’s a pretty good indicator we’re in the groan zone.  The groan zone is a place that feels a bit murky because we lack some clarity in the moment about where we are and where we’re going – or how we are going to make use of what we’ve been learning or experiencing.  We may be tired or challenged and just want to get beyond it — or usually get back to wherever we were before we started.  And this is the opportunity in the groan zone.  Stick with it just that much longer and the opportunity for emergence and for clarity is primed.

What happened when I was in the groan zone last week around the creative process?  Well, we were being led, through exceptional leadership displayed by Jerry Granelli, to become a “blues band”, writing our own lyrics and actually singing them out loud while other people witnessed us – or really, while we witnessed each other.  I don’t sing. I don’t know musical form.  I can’t carry a tune.  I don’t write music lyrics.  The day we were asked to just hum the blues form, I felt a visceral reaction along with my sharp intake of breath… and then, I did it!  I told Jerry, he had butted me up against my fear.  He laughed, in a gentle and wonderful way.  I told him the good news was that in previous years, that would have been my terror I butted up against.

Last week, we had marvelous and thought provoking teachings from Meg Wheatley and Jim Gimian and I will write more about that in future blogs.  We knew though, as we were at “band practice” at 9:30 one night, that this band experience was bonding us into a community as we supported each other in writing our lyrics and setting them to the blues form and that this was the thing we would most easily and fondly remember as a collective.

In all my years of attending ALIA’s Shambhala Summer Institute this one stands out in my memory for the bond created within my module.

I traveled through the groan zone, pushed the edge of my learning, wrote my lyrics and sang them… sang them first actually (not because I volunteered though), finding a place of greater ease, peace and playfulness within myself and understanding the groan zone at a whole new level.

Thanks Jerry, Meg and Jim and my band mates!  Be warned – you now just mind hear me singing in places other than to my young children – like on the street when I’m out walking and “shape shifting, shape shifting in a soulful way…”.