Part of my day job is calling people to schedule coaching appointments. Usually people are polite and respectful, and even sometimes downright kind hearted and pleasant to talk to. Which is good news, since I’m calling them to put them on my own coaching calendar, so we’ll be talking again. It’s helpful to start the relationship off on a positive note.
But today I called a gentleman who wasn’t any of those things. Quite the opposite, really, he was quite mean and disrespectful. I asked if he wanted to set up a call, and he responded with sentences that tended to start with “you people” and “do you even realize” and so on, punctuated by sarcastic chuckling. In short, he made it personal and he wanted me to acknowledge that I was in the wrong. I was the enemy, and he was going to let me know it. Usually I am good at being able to internalize the fact that everyone is dealing with a plethora of issues that I do not know about and that are quite probably very challenging, resulting in unfriendly behavior; and hey, maybe this man was just having a tough day, or week, or year. His energy is absolutely the product of our broken culture, and at the end of the day, he needs love, too. But today when he was essentially scolding me for not being able to meet his expectations, all I could hear was “you aren’t good enough” and “this is why it’s doing me a disservice.” I felt like the bad child who doesn’t measure up, and I found myself apologizing and trying to hold back tears. Which is really interesting, as 1. I did nothing “wrong” and 2. I was quite kind, professional and offered what I had to give. He just didn’t find it acceptable. When on the call, I knew intellectually that his issues and his anger were not about me at all, but in the moment his energy triggered a response that I couldn’t control. I had to hang up the phone. Continue reading “The Other: Crumbs of Despair”
Act in ways that make you feel what you want to feel. ~Danielle LaPorte
I started listening to The Fire Starter Sessions a few days ago. I was already familiar with Ms. LaPorte’s take on aligning your actions with what she calls “core desired feelings,” but listening to these audio sessions has been a good reminder to actually take that advice. I spend a lot of time as a wellness coach asking about what underlays a desire to lose weight or stop smoking or get in better shape. In a corporate coaching world, sometimes it’s like pulling teeth to get people to pick up the telephone for appointments, much less talk about what they truly desire for themselves. But sometimes we go there. Sometimes people are willing to look deeply into what is driving them to want something different. And it’s always a feeling. Continue reading “Fire Starters”
May has taken hold in Minnesota with warm temperatures, very little rain and lots of sunshine. The lake is being swallowed up by weeds already, but the birds and frogs are conversing, the wildflowers are holding up their brightly colored arms in triumph, Jack in the Pulpit has returned to the shady parts of the woods and the crab apple trees are flaunting their beauty as only a flowering apple tree can. Life is emerging and flowing and thriving in every direction, and it shows no sign of letting up.
But in the midst of all this growth and aliveness, there is death, too. The river has claimed another young life. A dear friend lost her brother. A family in the community mourns a son. Cancer took a friend of a friend sooner than anyone thought it would. The sweet spring air is laced with a sense of loss, and it is jarring to try to find one’s balance as the beauty and vibrancy of a new season sits next to the sadness and grief of death.
We feel for the ones who lost those dear to them in unexpected ways. We wonder how to give our support, we are unsure of what to say. We suspect that simply showing up and feeling the enormity of what has happened is what is important, but we don’t have a road map for navigating something that has never happened before. No one does. Every death is new, never to be repeated. Like every birth, every blossoming, every newly unfurled leaf, death leaves us gasping in astonishment. It shows us the amazement of life, and it shows us the fragility. It offers these things to us as another’s life passes on into whatever comes next. Continue reading “Lost in Transformation”
Rebecca Solnit writes in A Field Guide to Getting Lost:
We [tend to] treat desire as a problem to be solved, address what desire is for and focus on that something and how to acquire it rather than on the nature and the sensation of desire- though often it is the distance between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing. I wonder sometimes whether with a slight adjustment of perspective it could be cherished as a sensation on its own terms – since isn’t it as inherent to the human condition as the color blue is to distance? What if we could look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you could own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed? For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints the next beyond.
When I read that, I am transported to a dusty red four-speed Toyota, and I’m driving west across South Dakota. After miles of corn fields give way to miles of grassy pasture; after the Missouri river valley gives way to rolling tall grass prairie; after you cross through the barren beauty of Badland spires reaching toward the sky, after the signs for Wall Drug say, “wait, you missed it!”……after all of that you finally come to the place where the Black Hills loom in the distance, and you marvel at the sudden change in the horizon. You are astonished at the majestic expanse that commands your sightlines and the welcoming darkness of what lays ahead. And then at some point as you continue on your westward journey, it’s gone. Once you reach the point where identifying individual hills and trees is possible, the black has vanished and only the landscape remains. They are just hills, now – beautiful and sacred as they always were, but the mystery that came with the space that was once between you and the place you sought is as gone as the distance that was closed to nothing. And when you look up and out past the place where the hills give way to grasslands again, you can see hints of the next place that you seek, and the color that tints that desire to arrive.
What do you think it would look like to just be with desire — to bear witness to it, inhabit it fully, approach it with what John Keats memorably termed “negative capability?” There is something profound in truly feeling what we feel without trying to change it. And perhaps when we sit with a feeling, be it longing, or melancholy or sadness, and let it do its work in us, it will – and then it will move on. Maybe we would feel less stuck all the time. Maybe we could then remember the beauty in the blackness of distant hills and let it carry us into whatever horizon might invite us in next.
Would it make a difference in how we progress toward the goals we have for our lives? Toward the vision that we seek to live up to? What would it mean to “own our longing?” in the same way that we acknowledge beauty and goodness and truth?
“Be joyful because it is humanly possible.” Wendell Berry has written a lot of words that eloquently illustrate basic truths, but I think these seven words are some of his most important for humans to hear and embody. Everyone has the opportunity for joy, even if it’s fleeting or hard to recognize or stuck under melancholy. The joy that is stuck or buried is even perhaps the joy that persists when things are challenging – it’s the joy that refuses to let go even when our human experience is wrought with hardship and despair and searching. It’s the joy that is still there even when we can’t see it, or when we let our focus go to the thing with the loudest voice – sometimes joy tends to be soft spoken. This is the joy that makes us human, the joy that is the love at our center, the joy that reminds us that though our emotions are real, we don’t have to let them control our life experience. We don’t have to let our life situation and how we feel about it dictate how we perceive what happens, or what doesn’t. We can be joyful simply because it’s possible.
Years ago I worked in a fitness facility that was set up to support the efforts of people affected by physical disability. There were special adaptive machine settings to accommodate wheelchairs, straps to secure a weak grip onto a bar and a warm water pool for bodies that craved the way swimming allows for limitless movement. The facility attracted all sorts of people – a lot of older adults recovering from stroke, children who were learning to live in a body that just wouldn’t cooperate in doing activities of daily living, and individuals who needed a place to exercise that saw them as whole instead of broken.
There is one woman who I will always remember. She was in her mid 40s and came rolling into the fitness center every Thursday at about 2pm. An accident 10 years prior left her with no use of her lower body, and limited use of her torso and arms. We spent the hour she was there each week moving from one piece of equipment to the next, and I helped her get situated by swinging the seat out so she could roll into place and strapping her hands to the bar or pulley so she could manipulate it. Every workout was the same – I don’t remember ever increasing the weight or seeing any progress in her strength or ability. She just showed up every week, did her circuit and moved on to the rest of her day.
What makes me remember her is that she didn’t convey frustration or anger. She never showed disappointment in the lack of noticeable physical progress. She didn’t complain about the ice in the winter and how her wheel chair slipped on it, or about how long it took to get in and out of her van, or about having to move from the home she loved because she couldn’t get to the bathroom on the second floor anymore. She spoke of her life before the accident not with longing and regret, but with gratitude for the experiences that she had when she could walk. And she spoke of her current life in the same way. Not with longing for her past, or with anger that she no longer had a body that would do what it once did, but instead with gratitude that she had a body that could carry her through life, and the new experiences and opportunities that occur because of the change in that body.
She took the joy that could have stayed buried under grief and hardship and used it to move through a really difficult transition. She took what could have easily become an avenue into bitterness and turned instead onto a path paved with beauty and appreciation for what the world can be . She didn’t let the accident and its outcome shout louder that the joy that was a part of her core essence. She didn’t let her life situation and how she felt about it dictate how she responded to what happened, or to what didn’t. She chose to be joyful because it was possible.
There was a blog post in the New York Times recently that explored the possibility that most people are motivated to keep exercising not by the “imperceptible” health benefits (like increased HDL or lower Blood Pressure), but because of how they feel because of it- because of that boost in energy, the ability to carry those bags up the stairs without stopping to rest, or a clear headed start to a busy day. I have heard the statement “I want to exercise to feel better…” hundreds of times over the years. The article in the Times gets into some other topics as well, but the point that is most useful to note is this: People are most inspired to stick with a new healthy behavior because of something that they can feel. This is not an earth shattering discovery – we know this. I hear multiple times a day that feeling better is a benefit that John Doe would like to see come of his new routine. Fear for his health might make him think he “should” start a new behavior—but the hope that he will be happier, that he’ll be able to enjoy time with his family without feeling drained, and that he will wake up ready to be fully alive each day—these things will give him a foundation to stand on.
We all have the opportunity to spend part of each day doing the important work of helping others tap into their inspiration, take the risk to hope, and feel alive. We can all help another feel into their foundation.
How can we do that?
We can be genuinely curious about each individual with whom we interact and listen for the things that makes another feel alive and moving into his or her full abundant potential. And when we hear those inspirations, we can point them out, or be curious and ask questions to learn more. Some people will be more willing to share than others-and that’s ok. The task of the coach, or the friend, or the partner, or the neighbor is to meet others who come to share their space in a way that respects where they are and supports whatever stage they are moving through. Some will be excited, some will be afraid, some will be angry and some will be indifferent. Yet they will all be human, and they will all have at their core something that will inspire them to move – in whatever direction they need to go.
We don’t know if we’ll find it, but we’re going in search of happiness.
– Kilian Jornet