Personal Reflection May 26, 2019

This morning I was listening to a Ted Talk of America Ferrera. She spoke so authentically about her experiences as an actress. When
she wasn’t getting the roles she wanted, she tried to become what she thought the world wanted her to be.
Didn’t work. In the end, she realized she was defining herself in the stereotype’s others had. She was doing this because she believed what others were saying. She accepted what others said was impossible for her because she believed it was impossible
for her.
Then she said something that really got my attention. “It’s possible to be the person who genuinely wants to see change, while also being the person whose actions keep things the way they are”
Keeps things the way they are… this rang true in me. What am I doing each day to keep things the way they are? I believe some aspect of myself, maybe like I’m not always honest, as a definition of me. Believing I am this and along with so many other negative
assessments of myself becomes like a prison for my potential.. for my dreams… I lose perspective and have a roller coaster ride like experiences.
Then America said, “Change will come to each of us who has the courage to question our own fundamental values and beliefs and then see to it that our actions lead to our best intentions.”
This is my rallying cry inside. This inspires me. This is an opening to greater freedom and the life I dream of.

Personal Reflection May 25, 2019

This morning, I was listening to a guided meditation on unconditional love. As I settled into the meditation, I felt someone I had a judgment of. This happened as the meditation teacher was reminding me that unconditional love is given without any need to be fulfilled. I immediately extended the feeling of love to the person I was judging and had no expectations for them to do anything. Literally, like magic, the judgment dissolved, and I felt peaceful. What a wonderful experience. I take this into my day to practice.

One person’s weed is another’s flower

Yesterday, I was sitting in our back yard having a conversation with a client. Our home sits along a vibrant, spring-fed creek. The beauty and tranquility of this spot, along with its rushing waters, creates a sense of peacefulness and wonder.

I was gazing across the stream looking at a “weed” that had sprung up over the past few weeks. I was told by a friend that it’s called jewel weed. It is beautiful, that’s for sure. It slender stalks are capped by beautiful orange flowers. The flowers are a favorite for the local hummingbirds.

Then I discovered some more about these “weeds”. The juice in their stems is a very effective antidote for poison oak. I have been an adult sufferer of poison oak. In fact, it was so systemic at one time that I was convinced the only way to curb its effects was intense treatments with steroids, which had all sorts of complications. If only I’d know about these “weeds” then.

As I was marveling at the wonders of this “weed”, I began to consider how we treat what we consider “weeds” in our lives. I first consulted Webster’s to find its preferred definition of the word. Here’s what I found: “a weed is a valueless plant growing wild, especially one that grows on cultivated ground to the exclusion or injury of the desired crop.”

I could feel the power of the word valueless, and the notion, “injury of the desired crop”. I’ve been taught that weeds are to be killed or rooted out with vigor.

How often do I look at my surroundings thinking that which I don’t understand is a weed? This could be an annoying acquaintance , a motorist who cuts me off in traffic, a relative whom I find annoying or an ethnic group that I don’t understand. The range is great in my personal world of weeds.

What’s happening is that my reality doesn’t fit with what I’m seeing. This reality is cultivated over a lifetime of experiences that shape how I view the world. It is my personal realm of truth. So when I see something that doesn’t fit, or disturbs my orderly world, I classify it as a “weed”. Now, I don’t use that word, but I do feel it’s valueless and it grows wild on my cultivated ground of reality.

I thought about this over the past day and find that my world is filled with weeds. When I encounter something that I don’t understand or doesn’t fit, I immediately want to classify it as something that is not useful and discard it. Wow, how much of the world am I missing?

LIke the jewel weed along the creek that could soothe my poison oak, the world is filled with experiences that at first don’t seem to fit my orderly thinking. If I can transcend this limitation, and not push away what doesn’t fit, I may have a surprise that truly astonishes.

More about the cup half empty, half full

We have all heard the adage, the cup is either half empty or half full. If you are like me, you say, “Sure I understand what that means.” What I notice is that the more I study something like this phrase, the more I get out of it. In our modern world, we have a tendency to read something once, hopefully in an abbreviated form, and believe we have extracted the essence of the message or lesson.

This is inconsistent with how we learn. We learn through repetition. If you are learning a new physical activity, I have heard it said that competence is attained at 1000 repetitions and mastery begins with 10,000 repetitions. If you talk with professional or Olympic athletes, and ask about their training regimen, you will see the validity of this. Even the greats, like basketball’s Michael Jordan, are the first to arrive on the practice court and the last to leave.

Today, Twitter has become a very popular means to communicate, albeit in 140 characters or less. Recent surveys reveal the popularity of texting versus email among teens and young adults. I’m not saying any of these innovations in communications are bad. I am suggesting that they not be the exclusive realm of our communication, or the mindset of brevity will exclusively become our way of life.

There is so much richness that can’t be revealed in a single observation, reading, viewing or conversation. One of my favorite books is The Alchemist. I have read this book over fifty times. Each time, I find something new that I would swear wasn’t there the past times I’ve read it. Rather than moving on to the next thing, I am finding it valuable to deepen my understandings with what’s already in my life.

Which brings me back to the cup being half empty or half full. As I was gazing over our back yard this morning, I had the thought that in the midst of this saying is a universal truth that is more profound than I realized. If I take the perspective that the cup is half empty, everything I look at is insufficient – my relationships, my home, my job, my income, my life.

This feeling of insufficiency is the root cause of resentment that can envelop everything. I remember feeling dissatisfied in a personal relationship. As my angst grew, I spent time enrolling others (including a therapist) in why my life sucked, and it was all the fault of the woman. I am particularly persuasive, so I had a number of believers in my story. Now, this support is short-lived, because it’s based upon a false belief. That belief is that you, or someone or something else, are the cause of why my cup is half-full.

Seeing the world as insufficient leads me to the conclusion that I’m ultimately powerless. After all, there are so many factors that are out of my control, how could I possible create anything. I just do the best I can. Feel the despair in that!

Tomorrow I’ll talk about the lessons of the cup is half full.

I Must Be Right!

The other day, I had a meeting with someone. I put the meeting on my calendar, when it was originally booked. Subsequently, the other person called, and asked to change it to a bit later in the day. I agreed.

Time for the appointment came and I forgot the phone conversation. I only saw what was on my calendar. I was surprised that he was late. I sent an email asking if he was OK, and then got on to other things. At the time agreed upon in the phone call, he arrived.

Still not remembering the change, I greeted him and said I thought the meeting was at the time on my calendar. He reminded me of the phone call. I still didn’t remember and here is where the lesson begins, rather than stepping back and saying to myself, “Maybe I forgot something”, I said, “Let me see if I can make this work.” I spent a few minutes rearranging the day, and then put my attention on our conversation.

The meeting was great. I am grateful for my ability to be present, no matter the turmoil of the preceding minutes. My wife (she sure shows up here a lot) was outside our house, where I have an office and witnessed this process. She reminded me later of how I had handled it.

Her observation gave me food for thought. What was going on that both created the “forgetfulness” and then my reaction? The part about forgetfulness was easy. When I spoke to this person, I wasn’t present with him. I remember now the call, and it came in the middle of a busy afternoon. I looked at my calendar during the call, and saw there was no conflict with the request. As soon as the call was completed, I went back to what I was doing.

The more interesting, and important, lesson for me is the programming I have to be right. I was sure that I had an appointment with this person at the time on my calendar. I was sure they were late. I never considered that I was the cause of the confusion.

How many times do I come into a relationship with the certainty that I know the truth of the situation? Maybe, I believe I know what some action they or I took means. Perhaps I believe our history is a true guide for how things are RIGHT NOW.

Whatever the reason, I am committed to being right. This isn’t just in these types of situations. I remember riding around Lake Tahoe many years ago with a friend. He was expressing his opinion about something (i no longer remember the details) and I immediately wanted to set him straight. He chuckled and said, “I knew you would see this differently than me.” I didn’t take the hint about my behavior and, in retrospect appreciate, his compassion.

I see this in my relationship with my wife. For example, this morning, she asked me to make some pesto from the fresh basil she harvested. I listened to her telling me how to do it, and my response was, “I know how to make pesto.” She remarked that that may be true, but she was offering a different approach to making pesto. I stopped and realized that I wanted to be right about making pesto and didn’t open myself initially to listening.

I find this is a common occurrence. I want to be the one who knows. This is a source of power for me. I know the cost, and it still happens automatically.

I find this present a lot in the talk radio world. People call to have support for their opinions and seem to vilify those who have different views. Being right helps me over the belief that I’m not enough. We’ve talked about that before. It’s a common thread of our humanity.

So what do you believe it’s important for you to be right about? Does being right bring you harmony in life? Do it gain something that truly important to you? Questions that may offer some valuable insights!

I’m sharing this with you so you, too, may take a look at your need to be right. A friend recently commented on this blog that it was like he was the priest in my confessional. I’ve thought about that, and in one sense he’s right. I am using this writing to open myself in service to you. I look around, from time to time, to discern what I’m not sharing. It’s always a clue that leads me to discovering other areas of self-deception. This makes our relationship one that I am grateful for each time I write.

Thank you!

What happens when you lower the water level in the lake?

I’ve been thinking about self-deception lately. How is that I can be rolling along without hardly a bump in the road and then land up in a pothole? This pattern seems to be a part of many of our lives. I’m curious about what’s creating this obviously not so pleasant roller coaster ride.

As I was musing about this, I saw a connection between my personal experiences and what I’ve noticed about myself and others as leaders. When everything seems to be working, whether it’s at home or work, I’m not particularly reflective about several fundamental questions such as, “ Am I feeling joy?” or “Is what I’m doing connected to why I’m here?” I seem to be under the influence of the vapors, or emotional happiness. I know that emotional happiness (rather than joy) is tricky. When I’m on the up slope of greater and greater happiness, I’m already creating the downslope of despair. Yet, follow the yellow brick road I do, without any apparent awareness that there is a consequence of this rising emotional feeling.

I suspect all this is connected to an old adage that says, “You can’t see the rocks in a lake until you lower the water level. (I’m from Louisiana where they say, “You can’t see the cypress stumps until you lower the level of the bayou”). When my lake is filled with the happiness euphoria I overlook so much. My higher energy lulls me into believing that this feeling will go on forever (it never works out that way and I’m surprised each time). A bit like my version of Lucy always pulling the football away just before Charlie Brown can kick it.

I’m noticing that the highs are changing. I remember feeling so excited when something good was happening (a new relationship or new client contract or receiving praise from someone I held in high esteem). This excitement would “lift my feet off the ground.” This high was addicting. When the crest of the hill was breached, I stayed in my high feelings for a while. I just couldn’t believe I was on the down slope again.

Today, I’m in the process of coming unhooked. At first, I was worried that I wouldn’t have any fun anymore (when I thing of that inner story I smile, because I know the price of that “fun”). This fear delayed action for some years. I just got so tired of the up and downs that I said, “The heck with the fear of no fun, I’m going to see what it would be like to step off the emotional gerbil wheel.”

The road hasn’t been without fits and starts. That’s always how it is with change. Yet, it’s worth it. My highs aren’t so high, but they are real. My feet are mostly touching the ground and I can sense the truth of my experience rather than the false story that is choreographed by the emotional high.

It’s the weekend and maybe it’s time to lower the water level in your lake. How about taking stock of the up and down cycles of your life and honestly see if it’s time to change them. If it is, talk to a friend about your decision and ask them to give you feedback when they see you moving away from reality. Your authenticity will deepen your friendship and carve a new direction for your life.

Sometimes it’s Good to do something that Really Scares You!

School had just let out for the summer and the first place I wanted to go was to my grandmother’s house. She was not working that day, so it was just the two of us for lunch. Being a typical thirteen year old, I wanted to go out and play while she was making lunch.

I ran out the back door and slammed it shut. Much to my surprise, I was immediately attacked by a swarm of pigmy wasps. I ran and still they followed. In all I received thirteen stings.

I immediately ran into the house and grandma’s maid quickly applied the old remedy of baking soda on the quickly rising welts. It was apparent that this was not a typical wasp sting situation. My heart rate was elevated and my breathing became difficult. My grandma called my mother so she could drive me to the doctor’s office (grandma didn’t drive).

I was ushered through the backdoor of the doctor’s office and placed on an examining table. It was clear to the doctor that I was in a major health crisis. My heart rate and blood pressure were at dangerous (read life-threatening) levels and my whole body was turning bright red. Immediately the doctor administered epinephrine.Initially, each time I received a shot, the symptoms dropped a bit, but still I was in danger.

In the middle of this drama, my doctor’s associate came in and announced, “I’ve never seen a reaction as bad as yours.” (You can imagine how reassuring this was for a thirteen year old). Over a period of two hours the medication kicked in and my systems returned to normal. It certainly was a good scare.

For many years, I carried a prescribed bee-sting kit. I never had to use it, but it felt good to have it when I was away from immediate medical care. In 2003, I was attending a program at a retreat center outside of Helena, MT. As I was sitting in a patch of clover, I put my hand on the ground for balance. Apparently, I disturbed a foraging bee and was stung between my thumb and forefinger. I waited to see if I had a reaction. Nothing. It seemed that my childhood experience was past. I have had several wasp and bee stings since that time and my reaction is what one would expect – a little swelling that quickly subsides.

Last year, I decided to become a beekeeper. I thought that since my sting incident was past, this should be no problem. Wrong! I built three hives and ordered bees for them. I went to the beekeepers house and brought the preformed combs and bees home. So far, so good. Once home, it was time for me to transfer the bees to their permanent hives.

This is when the fun began. As I opened the first temporary hive, the bees swarmed out. I was not wearing any of my beekeepers gear. I stopped in my tracks. My wife went into the house and brought out my gloves and helmet with veil. I put them on and then put my attention on transferring the bees. For almost ten minutes, I was frozen. All of my fears of death by bee sting were making themselves heard.

I was determined to move the bees, and finally did so. When I got to the third hive, I saw that the bees were more active than the first two had been. I again felt the fear rise up and started to move the hive anyway. In the middle of the process, a bee got inside my protective veil and stung me on the face. Panic was right in my face, and I did run away form the hive. I settled myself down and came back and finished the job.

Now its 2012 and I’m still keeping bees. I had a hive die over the winter and just picked up a replacement. Yesterday morning, it was time to move the bees into their new home. This time I was both aware of the inner fear and a new story – bee stings won’t kill me. I let this new story settle in and then began the work of moving the hives. When the first swarm of bees rose out of the hive and started pinging my head veil, I took a breathe and blew them away.

I felt a deep appreciation of my fear and the deliberateness to face it head on. In fact, my summer’s ambition is to have no fear of bees at all. I’m not sure if that’s how it will turn out, but that’s not so important at this point. I now have an experience of overriding my body’s fear when it is no longer helpful. I’m reminded that fear can be a strong teacher and is something to turn into rather than avoid!

I offer a few questions that may help you along your way. What is it that you are afraid of? How does it affect your relationships with others and yourself? Is it time to face the fear with appreciation and let it go?

Introspection and Leadership

In·tro·spec·tion – the act of looking within oneself. When I talk with leaders, they all agree they should take more time for introspection. When I ask them, “How would you do that?” They generally don’t have a clue.

Introspection needs a “pump primer”. I don’t simply sit in a chair and say to myself, “Well, what do I see?” Introspection is catalyzed by fully participating in activities that take me out of traditional conversations and into ones that touch my spirit. Some people read. Joseph Badaracco, a professor at the Harvard Business School, talks about the power of reading fiction for introspection in his book, Questions of Character: Illuminating the Heart of Leadership through Literature.

For others, it might be painting or horseback riding or carpentry. It’s about throwing oneself completely into this activity so that all the threads to the operational world are quieted and the act of introspection arises. Great leaders know the importance of this practice and they value it as much as a meeting with their most important constituents.

My personal practice for introspection is reading and writing poetry. When I lose myself into the feeling that comes from being with a poem, a mirror arises and I see myself in ways that were not possible before. A recent poem that touched my soul follows this post.

I encourage you to find your place to lose yourself. While I talk about leaders in this blog, I really mean you, for each of us is a leader in some way.

Until later,

Thomas

What Can I Say

What can I say that I have not said before?
So I’ll say it again.
The leaf has a song in it.
Stone is the face of patience.
Inside the river there is an unfinishable story
and you are somewhere in it
and it will never end until all ends.

Take your busy heart to the art museum and the
chamber of commerce
but take it also to the forest.
The song you heard singing in the leaf when you
were a child
is singing still.
I am of years lived, so far, seventy-four,
and the leaf is singing still.

~ Mary Oliver ~

New Perspective of the Story of Narcissus

Friday is my day of reflection. I offer this excerpt from Paulo Coehlo’s book The Alchemist, and invite you to allow yourself to see your greatness in the reflection of others.

… when Narcissus died, the goddesses of the forest appeared and found the lake, which had been fresh water, transformed into a lake of salty tears.

“Why do you weep?” the goddesses asked.

“I weep for Narcissus,” the lake replied.

“Ah, it is no surprise that you weep for Narcissus,” they said, “for though we always pursued him in the forest, you alone could contemplate his beauty close at hand.”

“But…was Narcissus beautiful?” the lake asked.

“Who better than you to know that?” the goddesses said in wonder. “After all, it was by your banks that he knelt each day to contemplate himself!”

The lake was silent for some time. Finally, it said:

“I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful.
“I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected.”

Until tomorrow,

Thomas

What is your Greatness?

 Simple question, “What are you great at?” Some can sing and others are great with relationships. Solving complex math problems is easy for another, while growing plants is someone else’s sweet spot. We are each endowed with “gifts” that are ours to polish.

It took me some time to understand what my gifts are. For starters, I was quickly relegated into thinking about my life in terms of roles. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was a question asked often by well-meaning relatives and adults. Usually they brought a set of approved of answers with the question. The problem is, this was the wrong question to ask.

I was on a track that was guided by others early on. By junior high, I was sure I wanted to be an electronics engineer. It was an improved version of my dad. Coming out of high school, I switched to being a business person. I wanted to be someone who managed and led people. This orientation was amplified in college.

So off I went on my life’s journey with my programming loaded. I had success and failure along the way. This was measured by the financial outcome of the businesses I started or managed. Deep inside, I felt a rumbling that this was the wrong way to think about myself. Yet, it persisted for many years.

As I slid into my 50s, my restlessness was pretty intense. I was reasonably good at the business game, and still, something felt off. I didn’t feel particularly energized by each win or loss. This unrest reached a crescendo a few years later. With the assistance of some wonderful teachers, I began to ask of myself the questions that the adults of my childhood didn’t know to ask.

I wondered what my purpose was. What was calling me to service? I also began to unearth what I loved to do. Most of my revelations were what I already knew. I held it in a new light. I realized that these things I did well, like understanding others concerns, seeing the truth of a situation, and clearly communicating were not fully developed.

Gifts are like precious stones, they are valuable in the raw form. Their real value though, can be more readily seen when they are polished and their facets are revealed. For the past ten years, I’ve been working on polishing my gifts and finding that they become great when I do.

Recently, I embraced writing as a gift and I have been exploring the craft of writing. It is exhilarating mostly and frustrating at times. Walking this track is honing my understanding of deepening a gift through recognizing the craft that surrounds it.

I am finding my greatness. It’s different than I thought and not about being better than anyone else. It’s polishing those stones and appreciating their facets.

Thomas