The Gift of Presence: Even When the Going Gets Tough

The Gift of Presence: Even When the Going Gets Tough

When you work in healthcare, whether it’s in a fitness center, in customer service, in management, in coaching, as a physician, a nurse or administrative assistant, you are reminded, on a regular basis, that life is hard for people.  People are stressed out, people are managing chronic conditions, people have financial issues, people are grieving, people are angry, people are unsure.  People are also happy, satisfied, healthy, and thriving, but folks tend to their struggles before they share their joys.  Interacting with humanity, especially when it comes to something as intimate as one’s health and wellbeing, is messy and unpredictable no matter how hard we try to make it into a program or round out the edges or meet our outcomes goals.   So often we have the urge to swoop in to offer a solution, to look at the numbers and provide a suggestion, or to give advice based on what we see…

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These Times: Remembering the Essential

These Times: Remembering the Essential

Do you remember when there were shootings in Paris?  You probably do, it wasn’t all that long ago, and the world watched as the city of light went into lockdown and mourning.  Do you remember when a high school in a Colorado town gasped in astonishment when one of their own kids turned on his peers?  You probably do, because the world watched as the school went into lockdown and the community into mourning.  Do you remember all of the other tragic, rage-filled violent events that filled in the years between then and what has once again happened, this time in Orlando?  You probably do, at least vaguely, unless you were directly affected, in which case, you probably think about it more than you want to.  It’s not easy to forget things that are so far outside of normal life that they just seem like movies or bad dreams.

But back to…

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The Other: Crumbs of Despair

The Other: Crumbs of Despair

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”

Lost in Transformation

Lost in Transformation

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”

The Earth is Calling

The Earth is Calling

Gaia.  Mother Earth.  The planet.  Nature.  Outside.  Habitat.  Whatever you want to call this place, this conglomerate of matter, this energy field where millions of beings live out their lives — this very important element of human life is angry this week.  Maybe she has been for a while, or maybe she was just sad and exasperated before.  Maybe her soul has run the gamut of emotion and is as confused as we are.  But however she’s been feeling the last few years, this week she is angry.  You can see it in the brittle, dusty ground of a Minnesota spring, parched for moisture three months earlier than usual.  You can see it in the dry leaves, in how they writhe in the breeze, casting her irritation out over the ground.  And you can see it in the tsunamis and hurricanes and tornadoes that have increased in power and frequency over the last year years.  You can see it in the way the earth shook in Nepal five days ago, leaving part of her surface re-formed and thousands reeling in the aftermath.  Her anguish flows out over the cities in their concrete jackets, over the lakes and their expensive waterfronts, over the mountains that have been stripped of their peaks, over the garbage that floods her waterways,  and over the corn and strawberry fields that are toxic wastelands due to pesticides.   Perhaps she is tired of waiting for people to come around, to wake up and own what’s happening and to see her, to acknowledge — to remember– that she is here and that her wellbeing matters just as much as any human’s does. Continue reading “The Earth is Calling”

Waiting for the Sacred

Waiting for the Sacred

It is three weeks into the month of December and across much of the continental United States it feels like winter has arrived in full. The solstice – the official turn of the season – was yesterday: the end and the beginning.  Those of a Christian faith continue to wait in hopeful expectation for the promise of light to arrive on Christmas as another season of advent progresses.  The sun continues to rise and set in an ancient rhythm. Undertones of anger and injustice remain alive and well in too many places.  Living creatures die at the hands of other living creatures, for reasons that are as wide ranging as the stars even as they mirror patterns that have repeated for generations.  Traffic moves across the globe, we continue to consume, and our footprints seem to go deeper by the day.  Yet I hold onto expectations and hope that something better will reveal itself in a way that can be recognized.

Professor Debra Dean Murphy writes,

“Waiting” works if you live in a world where you know that a little more patience generally would do you good. “Hopeful expectation” has a pleasant enough sound if your life is going reasonably well at the moment. 


What does “hopeful expectation” sound like, look like in places where justice has long been delayed, meaning, of course, that justice has been denied? 

Hope is not wishful thinking; it is risk and action and the courage to undertake both.

But ……  it is also vulnerability and a willingness to walk alongside those whose hopes have been crushed.

Continue reading “Waiting for the Sacred”

Clean Blue Air

Clean Blue Air

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

—Mary Oliver

Dream Work   (Atlantic Monthy Press, 1986)

The world offers itself to your imagination. Your place in it is not set in stone – nor is it something to dread or resign yourself to. There are challenges, yes. Despair is real and familiar to all. But the winter still comes each year, as does the spring, summer and fall. Every dew wet apple blossom, every garden plot filled with creeping flowers and weeds, each crimson leaf, each sparkle in a newly white morning – each nuance of creation offers up a sense of place and rhythm. Know that you have a place in that rhythm. Your own – and you are enough.

Happiness Is A Cloud

Happiness Is A Cloud

I read an article in Orion Magazine the other day about happiness, and the pursuit of measuring it in a place that is on the other side of the world. I read about the clash of opportunity and preservation, and the struggle between progress and selling out. I read about what happiness is, and what happiness isn’t. I read about the tiny kingdom of Bhutan, and how their new consitution includes what they have dubbed the “GNH” or “Gross National Happiness.”

GNH is part of Bhutan’s plan for negotiating the wilderness of modernization without losing its soul. Every schoolchild, public policymaker, teacher, citizen, and civil servant has been asked to help create a society based on the four pillars of GNH: sustainable and equitable economic development, conservation of the environment, preservation and promotion of culture, and good governance.
I read about how the Bhutanese people have differing ideas on what will be good for the country, different ideas on what will lead to prosperity and happiness. I read about how people are starting to abandon bamboo lunch baskets called bangchung as insulated plastic lunch containers made in China are trucked in from India. And I read about a road that is being built up to a temple perched high on a cliff.

In a nation where there were no roads until 1961, this is a big deal. It means that the elderly can once again return to their holy place and take part in the ritual offering ceremonies, or pujas. It means no one will have to hike for miles with heavy packs, or use horses to transport heavier goods. It also means the use of cars becomes a reality, which means more people, which means more insulated plastic containers, which means more garbage. And it means more danger to the animals that also call the mountain home, and a loss of the health benefits from all that walking.

The road means so many things. This is what is happening. It is the thirst of people for an easier life. But there is a trade-off between peace and convenience.

It’s easy for me – here in the United States, sitting in my home office, typing on my computer, looking at my plastic pen holder – to look at the roads and modernization of Bhutan and think, “Of course, they should not allow that road, and continue to preserve the old ways of doing things.” It is easy to focus on the negative aspects that come with adding modern conveniences when I only read about them in a magazine. It is easy to forget that I don’t know what it is like to live without roads, or plastic containers or long treks to get to my sacred places. I wonder what side I would be on if I lived in Bhutan. Would I be against the road and the way of life that it threatens? Or would I be celebrating its promises of an easier and more connected life? I can only guess at how I might think if I had another culture and way of life coloring my perceptions of what is important. Of what is enough for a happy life.

What I do know is that Bhutan’s happiness doesn’t depend on the road, or how long it takes to get to the cliff side temple, or how many plastic containers are on the hillside. Based on my limited knowledge of this country and its people, I think life there will go on and happiness will be a part of it – because happiness has been acknowledged as an integral part of the human experience – contrasts and all.

…life includes suffering, and nothing lasts forever. Happiness is not something you achieve, or purchase, and then get to keep. As one Bhutanese friend explained when I tried to pin him down on the matter, “Happiness is a cloud. It comes and goes.”

So, I read about happiness and how one little nation plans to keep it central to what they know to be true. I read about the challenges that come with trying to define what ‘happiness’ means, and what it might look like to operate from such an awareness. I read that happiness doesn’t just go to the highest bidder and that it can exist despite brokenness. I hope, like the author does, that maybe this reawakening of what happiness might mean is the real gift that Bhutan is offering to the rest of the world.

And I hope that I can, like the Bhutanese do, agree to allow happiness to be the cloud that shadows my life, whatever it brings.


This post also appeared at enough.

Embody Abundance

Embody Abundance

Our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as being able to remake ourselves. ~Mahatma Gandhi

Embody abundance. I heard someone say those two words the other day. What does that mean, really? To truly embody abundance, do we need to have everything we want? Or can anyone who holds space for truth experience a way of being that is free of lack?

Maybe to embody abundance is to recognize the realness that underlies the illusory film that covers much of what we see in our day-to-day lives. Maybe abundance is always there, but we forget to see it.

In my day-to-day work, I usually get to practice from a home office. After moving 60 miles outside of the metro to a more rural area, I hardly ever go into the city anymore. I tend to like it that way, spending most days at home, either in a quiet space indoors or outside in the woods or garden.  When I do find myself navigating a more urban area, or even just venturing out of my familiar, natural spaces, my vision tends to get clouded with traffic, crowds, and consumerism.

When the clouds roll in, it is all too easy to forget the abundance that I am usually good at recognizing. Sometimes I forget to remember to see what I want to see.

What if I could remember to look past the traffic, past the crowds, and past the consumerism? I wonder what that view could be like. I imagine it might show me wildflowers in the freeway ditches, insistent at opening their petals to the sun, despite the concrete that mars their view.  It might show me a person, or two people, or a group of five, interacting with themselves, each other, and creation in a way that honors honesty and cooperation. It might show me vibrant new ideas that refuse to be pushed aside standing next to the whisper of peace that always keeps watch under the dull hum of advertising and shopping malls.

What if instead of seeing poverty, despair, pain, and cruelty in the world, we saw opportunities for growth, seeds of hope, room for healing, and the sharing of compassion? What if we could truly embody abundance in every thought?

Maybe it would make a difference in the reality that we live. Maybe—even when in unfamiliar, chaotic territory—if we look past the veils, under the illusions, and through the empty material desires of the current human experience, we will recognize everyday abundance in all things.  Perhaps then we can embody our abundance to experience and remember all that is, absent limits and free of lack.  Perhaps we can each take our life situation for what it is—a situation—instead of a sentence or definition; busy or not, and let it be a way for our being, our true self, to experience all that is worth experiencing.

Each life situation is a unique chance to embody the abundance that is already present. I can embody abundance. So can you. We just need to remember to do it.

So walk through a grove of aspen trees. Stand in a ray of sunlight in the middle of the city. Marvel at the way your physical body helps you carry out the mission of your soul. Focus. Spend time loving the present. Take some time off if serves you. Enjoy silence. Be loud when being loud helps.  Dance with your baby, talk to your neighbor, let the snow or rain melt into your skin, and see the art in the world. Look past the to-do list to what is. Find your abundance, and honor it.

This post first appeared at TinyBuddha.