Surrender Presence & Intention… and my friend FAILURE

•June 22, 2012 • 3 Comments

What does it mean to SURRENDER oneself completely?   Falling in love with my husband.   Being swept down the river rapids in a raft.   Body-surfing the crest of a wave.   Facilitating a hot group dynamic when I am “on.”   All of these have a quality of surrender for me — of letting myself go into and embrace a greater force that PULLS me.   It is a force that is greater than I am — the force of love, of rushing water, of a group process and the human spirit that wants to express itself.    On the Flying Trapeze I have progressed to being an “advanced beginner,” which means that I am now working on taking off from the platform on my own,  building my SWING, and learning some basic “back-end” tricks.   It may not appear to be as fancy as a trapeze catch trick, but the SWING is an amazing and magical thing — and the most challenging and disorienting thing I have yet experienced.  It is, well, a wild rush.   It is teaching me to recognize my ways of responding when I step or leap or dive into a force that is greater than I am.

In these situations in LIFE or on the TRAPEZE….

…. Sometimes I close my eyes, grit my teeth, pretend it is not happening, and I shut-down until it is all over.   My body tightens, I go into survival mode, and I tell myself to hang on until it is over.    Hmm…. sounds like what sometimes happens to me in a difficult conversation with someone I care about,  or say, when I am confronted in a challenging way by a group I am leading.  The first few times that I tried the Trapeze Swing this is what I did —- held on tight and shut down until I heard someone yell “let go!”    This is what I would call RESISTING THE FORCE.

….Other times I surrender to the force and get completely lost and disoriented… it sweeps me away.    Hmmm….. sounds like when I find myself on an emotional ride and become completely confused and uncentered, or when I work with a group and get bounced around so much that I become completely ineffective.   On the Trapeze, my Swing attempts after the first few were like this.   I would leap from the platform, surrender to the momentum of the swing and a rush of dizzying disorientation would overwhelm me.   Each time the Trapeze would reach its top height and begin to fall again in the other direction, my stomach would swoop up to my throat and the “Whoooaaaaaaaaa!” of vertigo would take over.   In this state which I call SWEPT AWAY I am lost and at the mercy of whatever the force is that has me… be it love, anger, rushing water, or the swoop of the Trapeze.

…. I am just beginning to now get a glimpse of the magic of the swing and what is possible, and the incredible power that can come when SURRENDER, PRESENCE, and INTENTION occur simultaneously….  when I am aware of the force and of myself at the same time that I embrace it, surrender to it, and allow it to carry me.    When that happens, I become one with the force… I can create from and with it…. I can impact it as it is impacting me.    So I think of my relationships — the people who are dearest to me — and moments that we enter into a conflict or difficulty.  In the best moments, I surrender to it and embrace it — and move forward towards it with presence and a conscious intent to deepen the relationship.  Or, I think of a tense group dynamic that I am facilitating and moments when I am able to move right into the energy that is happening while at the same time noticing what is happening and holding one level of awareness on my role or intent to have some sort of impact.   In these scenarios if I can surrender to what is happening it  becomes a force that I am able to create from.   On the Trapeze, I am beginning to see that the SWING is all about this force and my ability to become one with it, rather than being about my strength or ability to “force” it to happen the right way.

I am very much a beginner at this SWING, and suspect that I have merely scratched the surface.   This feels like a really worthwhile muscle to build, and I wonder in my life…. if I were able to more fully SURRENDER with PRESENCE and INTENTION to the situations around me, what might become possible.

FAILURE.  Often as a leader of teams and groups I can inspire others about how wonderful it is to learn from failure, and how wonderful it is to risk failure… some reading this have heard me say that.  OK, guess what.  I think failure sucks.   True Confession:  The reason that I usually have succeeded with many things in life is because I have made sure that I quit before I failed.  Uggh.   I hate failure and most things related to it… I hate being afraid of it…. I hate being viewed as it….. and I have always worked pretty hard to avoid it.    And, OK, yes….. boy it sure is a good teacher.

On the Flying Trapeze I am experiencing lots of failure — and rather than avoid it I want to share it right up front (see my Blooper video below).    A few weeks ago I had what felt like a disastrous Trapeze class…. I just could not get it together, and just about every time I leapt from the platform something went wrong.   Finally, I told the instructors that I had had it and was leaving… it just wasn’t my day.   As I was leaving, I slowly became aware of how I was feeling and of the thoughts racing through my head.   I felt angry and frightened and very discouraged — the Trapeze is getting a bit more difficult and I am afraid of hurting myself.   I felt very angry with myself for failing.  And I said to myself “I cannot do this…. it is too hard for me…. I am too old, too fat, too weak, too inflexible…. if I keep doing it I will look like an idiot…. I might get hurt…. I need to quit now….”

I stopped in my tracks because I realized that often in my life I have found myself in that very same state — and on various important occasions I have surrendered (been swept away) by that state and have quit.   It took me right back to the moment in 10th grade when I quit the High School Diving Team because I was too afraid of getting hurt or failing on the more difficult dives…. I knew that if I continued I would have lots of painful failure and I wanted to avoid it, so I walked away.   Professionally I have declined complex opportunities when I have been too frightened of failure, or too discouraged when things have not gone my way.   Personally there have been too many occasions when my fear of failing or being hurt in a relationship has compelled me to walk away, or consider doing so.

And so, I chose to sink more deeply into that experience of failure…. down down and down more to explore what I might find at the bottom.    It is, for me, a dark abyss, like being at the bottom of a very deep well.   And there at the bottom is a very frightened little person, surrounded by the menacing dangers of life that loom large and threaten to destroy.   It feels very primal to me… the terror of being obliterated, and the raging force of destruction — perhaps forces that are fundamentally embedded into the human DNA and emerge in me in my own particular way.   As I explore these energies more I find that they transform, one into a sense of open vulnerability, sensitivity, fragility, and innocence; the other into a ferocity, passion, and white-hot WILL TO LIVE.  Ahhh… transformed, these are energies that I can make good use of when I find myself in my own moments of wanting to give up and abandon my quests.  Actually, it seems like what I am learning in the Swing of the Trapeze — there is a surrender involved to the discomfort and pain of failing — there is an energy to it.   My intent is to bring more presence into that experience, and allow it to bring forth the creative force of intention.

Please do feel free to chuckle as you watch this one…you will not be the first to do so ; )

I did “climb back up the ladder” and returned for two classes last week — very determined to improve the “Back-End Straddle Whip” that I had so much difficulty with before.   I found myself laughing and enjoying the failures more, and made some improvements with the trick…. I am filled with excitement about continuing this journey — on one level it is simply fun.  On another level it is serving as a great structure to strengthen my resolve to work out, eat well, do yoga.  And more than that it is working for me in a profound way to explore what makes me tick, and what makes me more free — and that is my quest.   If you have reactions to my musings, please leave them with a comment — I appreciate it greatly.

Suffering on the Platform of Life? The Warrior Says “No More!”

•May 12, 2012 • 1 Comment

The 30 seconds or so up on the platform BEFORE getting ready for the swing are intense, chaotic moments of panic, anticipation, doubt, and indecision.  In spite of that seemingly calm demeanor, there is a swirl of things going on in my head and my body….  the stream of consciousness goes something like:   Oh my God… I don’t have to do this… my heart is fluttering…. I can find a good excuse to back out…. no,  follow what you want…. but you don’t have to… you have heart disease you shouldn’t do this…. go for it!   

These are the moments before choosing, and as I wait for my turn I am most aware of all of the reasons that I do not want to do it, and all of the ways that it would be completely reasonable to turn around and climb back down to the safety of the ground.   And yet, I stay — I know that in just a few seconds I will step out to the edge of the platform, will lean out and grab the trapeze, and squarely face the opportunity in front of me.   I have been reading books by Carlos Castaneda recently and in his journey with Don Juan he learns to distinguish between the Hunter and the Warrior.   In these moments up on the platform, the HUNTER in me is active…. the part that notices with acute perception what is happening on the platform, in my mind, in my arms and legs and toes, and in my heart.   Just as the hunter in the forest listens and feels the most subtle shifts in the wind or sounds around him, the hunter within me strives to notice what is happening… my breath and beating heart, my doubts and urges to flee, and the undercurrent of fervent desire for something.   The hunter notices all of these signals, and with awareness selects the ones to pay attention to and to follow… the hunter points the way.   If the Hunter is awake, then the choice that I make is made consciously.

My turn comes, and I step up, inching my toes to the edge, holding a safety bar on the platform, and stretching my whole body out over the platform to grasp the waiting trapeze.  I look out and down and all around — this is it, it is right in front of me.   In just a few seconds I know I will here the call of the “Ready!  Hup!”   “Breathe,” I tell myself.   “Notice that you WANT something here…. the rush of leaping and moving into this experience…  you want to give yourself to this, to seize it…”   At this point, I have made the choice to move directly into this experience.  I still notice the parts of me that are afraid and that doubt.  My heart beats fast, and I remind myself to breathe.  I notice that I am committed to leaping.   “Feel your toes…. raise the trapeze bar UP…. breathe again” I say inside.   I hear the “Ready!” and bend both my knees.   Then I hear “Hup” and I jump up and out.   “Yes!   You are moving IN….”   This is a thrilling moment of the entering into the experience.  It is a bit like the second that a rollercoaster car reaches that split moment just over the top of the hill when it begins to move DOWN…. it is going, it is on its track… it builds a momentum of its own and it is not coming back.  It is the Warrior in me that has chosen to leap, that chooses with intention  to “enter into” the experience, to step over the line beyond the point of no return,   There is a paradoxical surrendering to the experience while simultaneously acting from will and intention.   An unpredictable whoosh of experience occurs that I am both “in” and that I am “present to.”    The Warrior has the capacity to act with both agency and surrender, moving fully into and through the experience while observing it at the same time.   It is not comfortable.  It is, however, very ALIVE.

There are many important moments in life when I find myself at a crossroads of choice.  In front of me, something that I want, that excites me, perhaps that I am frightened by but I know is needed, that has about it the urgent quality of something important being at stake.  Something that the most fundamental and real part of me knows to be the true path.   At that crossroad is also doubt, reluctance, and when something really matters fear and even terror.   This part wants to shrink back… wants to seek comfort of the familiar… wants the security of avoiding possibly painful moments of physical or emotional hurt.   Very often, I choose to remain on the platform, to shrink back and stay safe… and I realize that in that place I suffer.   I have spent a lot of time in this mode…. on the platform of life, suffering.   In this mode, I tell myself that there is some later moment in life when I can take the risky step.  The thing is, there is no such thing as later because all we have is right now — this moment — to choose to live or choose to die.

Recently I have noticed in a profound way the difference between remaining on the platform suffering, and choosing to enter into the difficult and scary place in my personal and professional relationships.   When I feel afraid, I tend to worry A LOT what other people will think and how they will react.  The prospect of making others angry or saying something that might prompt someone to reject me can be terrifying for me.  It is the neurotic tendency described by Karen Horney as “complying.”  When I have had difficulty in relationships, my tendency has often been to avoid confrontation… to shy away from being direct and honest when I have something difficult to say.  In the framework of Process-Oriented Psychology, it is a tremendous edge for me.  As a result, I have spent lots of time on the platform suffering… in some cases I have stayed on that platform fretting back and forth for years with certain people who are close to me.    A recent experience stands out for me with a friend and colleague who is someone that I highly respect and deeply love — and yet I have been suffering in this relationship for way too long.   In a recent interaction, I suddenly realized that I was “on the platform” and the hunter became active.  He noticed my fear, my sweaty palms, and the butterflies in my stomach.  He noticed, too, a longing for agency and self-authority.  He noticed the impulses of the child inside afraid of rejection, and he noticed love for this person and a desire for something more real and true.   I am not sure if it was a Warrior-energy or not, but I made the choice to follow what felt true, stepped to the edge, and spoke directly and honestly about the things that disturbed me in our way of interacting.  It was tremendously uncomfortable, and also tremendously alive.   On the other side of that experience, I realize that my compassion for this friend has deepened — I have more space, and more love.   We may or may not be able to reconstruct a new relationship, but I know that whatever we have will be cleaner and more authentic.   And, I have discovered a new capacity within myself… still a bit wobbly… but growing, to follow the signals of my heart with greater courage and authenticity.

Hope for the Guest

Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think…and think…while you are alive.
What you call “salvation” belongs to the time
before death.
If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive,
do you think ghosts will do it after?
The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten…
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the
City of Death.
If you make love with the divine now, in the next
life you will have the face of satisfied desire.
So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is,
Believe in the Great Sound!
Kabir says this:  When the Guest is being searched for
it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that
does all the work.
Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.
  (Kabir, translation by Bly)

So, what happened back on that trapeze?   In this class I was learning a new trick called a SET HOCKS OFF.   There is a real thrill in doing a trick and at the end reaching out for the catcher and making the catch.   Here is my Set Hocks Off!   Please add your comments to this post — it is very gratifying to see what reactions feelings or thoughts get prompted in others.

Reaching for Freedom

•January 11, 2012 • 5 Comments

My first catch on the Flying Trapeze... reaching for freedom

Today was a bucket list day.    For many years I have harbored a not-so-hidden secret desire to fly on the high trapeze.   Knowing it was not-so-hidden, my husband John gave me a gift certificate to the New York Trapeze school for Christmas…  and gulp, the not-so-hidden desire was plucked right into the realm of reality.    I knew that it was important to do this — and to do it now.  Not just because I have been intrigued to do it for a long time, and not just for the rush that I knew would come from it.  Some other yearning has been gnawing away at me wanting, but not quite able, to come into clearer view…   So, over the past few weeks I have been pondering what this flying thing is really all about.

Why now?   Well, this has been a time of struggle for me, these last six months or so.   It is hard to say it, so I want to lay it right on the table… I have been sad and isolated and feeling lost… grappling and battling with something illusive but deep inside.   I am getting older, and frankly not liking it very much.   I have lost my dear companions Revel and Puck.   I have lost my father and very recently my brother.  Life has seemed, well, hard.  In times when I get stuck in an almost despair-like sense of struggle and futility, I grapple between taking good care of myself and not treating myself well.  I notice that I am drawn to indulgences that are damaging to my heart and body and probably spirit, too.   This is not good for anyone, and especially for someone with heart disease.

All the while, the wiser observer inside watches…. “do you see yourself doing that?   Why is it that for someone who stands for life and realizing dreams and possibilities….  you are actually engaged in hurting yourself…. hmm.. why is that?”   The observer is often present — I notice that he doesn’t seem to intervene much… but rarely does he allow me the pleasure of indulging myself unconsciously.  That would be the downside of doing too much self-development.

Could it be that I don’t want to live?

Now, that is a strong question to pose.  It is an uncomfortable question to pose.  It is not palatable or even acceptable to say such a thing — especially if you are a ”be all you can be“ champion for human development.

It was confronting some months ago when I summoned more courage to ask myself this question more directly…. do I want to live or do I want to die?   The answer to that question was uncomfortably clear.  I want to live.  And, I want to die.  Wow….part of me wants to die…. wants to exit this life.   I notice that it is very hard to admit that truth.   I define myself as a champion for living… it is central to my work… it is how I usually strive to show up for others…. it is a process that is primary for me.   Wanting to die, however, is not — it is a part that feels dark, and shameful, and unacceptable…. not at all part of who I am.   Well, time to take a further look.

As I got more curious about that part, and summoned a bit more courage and a bit less pride… I needed to take a dive beneath the surface on my own well of grief.

(“Well of Grief”, David Whyte from ”Many Rivers Crossing“)

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief

turning down to its black water
to the place that we can not breathe

will never know
the source from which we drink
the secret water cold and clear

nor find in the darkness
the small gold coins
thrown by those who wished for something else

And, in this exploration, sinking beneath the pressures of life’s entanglements, the black grief of loss of those I have loved, rage at the unfairness of so much around me, I let myself imagine how it might be to just let go… to let go and die.   Ahhh…. breath.   Breathing free…. In that death I discovered an ultimate sense of freedom.  That freedom that has no limits, where one becomes all, where there is no me and you or even an us.   I imagine death to be a returning back into whatever free and universal spirit is… boundless, timeless, just being.  To me, it is bliss.  It is like lying in the grass and becoming the sun and the trees and the sky.  It is the moment sitting on the lifeguard chair on the beach at night when I become the moon and the rippled water.   This is what I am after.

Varrooommm…. back to life, here and now.  What an insight — my deep desire is not for death, per se, but rather it is for freedom.   I have longed for a greater sense of freedom all my life.  Gratefully, I have many moments and periods of life when I experience freedom, and certainly growth over the years has brought me more degrees of freedom.  And yet, in recent times, that freedom has been illusive and the more prevalent experience has been suffering.

From the Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield:

Pain is physical, suffering is mental.  Suffering is due entirely to clinging or resisting.  It is a sign of our unwillingness to move, to flow with life. Although all life has pain, a wise life is free of suffering. A wise person is friendly with the inevitable and does not suffer. Pain they know but it does not break them. If they can, they do what is possible to restore balance.  If not, they let things take their course.  –Nisargadatta

What does all of this have to do with the Flying Trapeze and my fervent desire to join Cirque du Soleil?

After mentioning my upcoming trapeze lesson and nervous excitement to a dear teacher recently, she asked me to tell her about my earliest childhood dreams.   That was easy…  as a kid, I dreamt of many things but the one single-most common, vivid, and visceral dream was always, always, of flying.  There was a period of time when on some level I was convinced that I knew how to fly….not just knew about flying, or imagined vividly what it must be like — no, I KNEW how it felt to fly.   I remember clearly the effort it took to take off into flight… the subtle maneuvering that was necessary with the wind and pressure of the air on my skin… the more uncertain it felt if I flew at a too-high height…. the feeling of looking down on our house and farm, and of being able to steer my direction while in flight.   And at the heart of those dreams was a sense of being free and unencumbered.

As I thought about it, memories came back of the many ways that this theme has always been present.

  • I recalled the summer of 1968 when I was about 9 years old… and the giant oak tree at the end of the lane.   I had bugged my Dad to create a trapeze for me in that specific tree, and finally he agreed to do it.   This was not a swing like one you could sit on…. I wanted a TRAPEZE.   I spent hours practicing my swinging, hanging from my knees, then dropping dramatically to swing from my ankles… and launching into a somersault dismount.
  • After joining the swimming team a year or two later, I immediately knew that I was not supposed to be swimming, but rather diving…  and that became the next pursuit.   What I loved about springboard diving was the sense of flying through the air, either with outstretched arms like wings or curled into a spinning ball… but flying.
  • Sheepish though I may feel to reveal it… there was also the time that I jumped from the roof of our house, much to the horror of my Mother who was doing dishes below, as Mary Poppins… with full get-up of dress, shoes, carpet-bag, and umbrella with a carefully crafted parrot-handle.   I reached that umbrella up to the sky, leaned out, and flung myself from the roof of the house.  Although I mainly got very skinned knees, I suspect I may have been leaping once again for freedom.
  • To this day, my single-most visceral reference point for the feeling of freedom is figure skating on ice, which became my next pursuit as a teenager and young adult.   The most full spiritual expression of freedom that I know is that moment, gliding fast over clean ice in a darkened arena — the light reflecting off the ice… and of leaping from the ice in a long spinning jump…. or just reaching out and and feeling the air rush by me.

As I had this conversation and shared these memories with my teacher, the connection which seems so obvious came into deeper clarity for me.   I have often said that my purpose in life is to create more freedom — for myself and for others.  But as many times as I have said that, in a workshop or to students of mine — it has always felt a bit, well, cerebral.  A bit too rational.  A bit too-well-worded.   What I realized is that my desire for freedom, my own and yours, has always been at the center of my being.  I have strived to find freedom from the inside-out… with my body…. always,  in some way or another.

Realizing this, my Flying Trapeze lesson became much more meaningful.  As I drove today to the New York Trapeze School, I thought about what really this meant for me.   I thought about the suffering that I have been entangled in, and my desire to be free of it.  I thought about how meaning in life, and a sense of being free, is not dependent on the absence of pain, or loss, or strife.  Those are all a part of life.   The quest is for greater degrees of meaning and freedom in the midst of all that life offer to us, good or bad,  each and every day…. in fact in every moment.   I am not solid yet in my capacity to be in that experience much of the time, but I am becoming more clear that it is the quest that I am on — to build or reveal or discover or uncover that capacity.

Well, let’s just say that they don’t waste much time at the Trapeze School.   It is pretty much, ”OK, everyone ready?  Let’s go….“   At various moments, I noticed my fear and my trembling and my doubt… my concern that my arms would not have enough strength, or that I would fall the wrong way.  And in each of those moments I remembered why I was doing this.  I thought of the phrase ”reach out for freedom….“ and I connected with the yearning in my heart for that freedom.   I need to remember those moments, because I know that I am always choosing which way to lean…. toward freedom, or toward suffering.  I am always choosing which voice to listen to… the one who says things like ”you can’t…. you shouldn’t… there is no use….“ or the one who says “just do it…. lean in…. trust yourself…. trust others…. follow your desire….”

And so I flew….  from the bar… from my knees… and ultimately letting go of the bar and catching hold of the catcher and flying.   I left giddy with excitement and a great sense of YES.  More importantly, it gave me a boost to get unstuck and actually write this — I feel a greater sense of purpose and direction.  A new quest is emerging in me around this theme of freedom, and of what it means to be free and choose to live at the same time.

Buy Your Ticket to Bombay Today¡

•January 23, 2010 • 4 Comments

My dear colleague Dr. Okokon Udo and I have been thinking lately about what it is that pulls us forward in big steps toward the vision that we have for what we want to create in our lives. There are many things, we thing… but an important one is being willing to “buy your ticket to Bombay.” And so, that ‘s the topic of this installment of our collaborative writing effort.

We just bought another pair of tickets to Bombay for ourselves! We have set a series of events in motion that will pull us forward toward a joint vision we have, especially in the moments when we forget, when we don’t know how, and when we’re convinced it is impossible. That’s the point of buying tickets to Bombay.

W.H. Murray was a Scottish mountain climber, and a human being who knew a lot about creating something extraordinary from any circumstances. During World War II, he spent three years in prisoner-of-war camps in Germany, Italy, and Czechoslovakia. While imprisoned and using whatever scraps of paper he could find, he wrote the first draft of his book, Mountaineering in Scotland. After it was discovered and destroyed by the Gestapo, he responded by starting again in spite of being near starvation.

Most famously, in 1951 he climbed Mount Everest. Imagine the world in 1951, and the prospect of climbing Mount Everest! The path was not yet known, there was no such thing as Gore-Tex, and certainly no cell phone. It was a venture that seemed impossible, but that was part of a clear vision and dream. His famous quote is often missing what has become, to us, the most important starting line. Here is the quote in its entirety:

… but when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money— booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

True confessions. we’re often lazy.

We get scared and get convinced that we shouldn’t take risks.

Probably most significantly, we get anxious about our security and, well, comfort. We have learned that left purely to our own devices, we would often prefer to stay warm and cozy on the couch rather than venturing out into the snow storm. But, in our heart of hearts…. in that part of us that is most alive, vibrant, and connected… the truth is that we LIKE snow storms.
Our sense of what is potentially possible for us and the life that we want to live… the impact that we want to have… the fun, the adventure, the love, the intimacy, the challenge… has always been bigger than our current reality. For many years the dreams that we held inside and would barely dare to speak, too often remained just that — dreams. Too often, after not mustering the courage or chutzpah to take risks, our security and comfort, over time the dream would dim and fade, eventually dulling itself into a subtle regret.

Ugh. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Somewhere along the way, we learned about “booking our passage to Bombay.” One of those times for me was about 7 years ago when my good friend from Colombia, Sonia, said to me: “I want you to come teach a coaching course with me in Colombia….“ At the time, it seemed very far out of my comfort zone. I said to myself, “isn’t that where people were being
kidnapped? Shouldn’t I focus on clients in my own backyard?”
And yet, listening more deeply, I could hear the rumblings of desire – a longing to stretch himself, to go beyond what he thought he could do, and a gut-level sense of YES, this is right. And so, before planning the course, before knowing who would be there, before knowing whether or not I could afford it, before the doubts became too rigidly fixed in his head…. I called American Airlines and booked my ticket to

As Murray says, in that moment providence moved too. In that instant my entire frame of reference shifted out of the space of doubt and fear within the context of I CANNOT DO THIS, to eager nervous excitement in the context of OH MY GOD IM GOING TO DO THIS.

For Okokon, it was almost eight years ago, when he finally decided to quit his secure executive non-profit job in search of a yet undefined call to finally commit to what his late father referred to as being an engineer of souls. At the time the pay and benefits were excellent, he was the primary breadwinner of his family at time when his wife had just completed graduate school and was without a job. The risks were extremely high at the same time that the conviction was strong. So he did what he normally would not do. With everything at stake including three young children to raise, acting on his coach’s searching question – “what are you afraid of?”, bought his ticket to an uncertain future as a coach, public speaker and consultant.

Today, I bought another ticket to Bombay. At 4:00 today (January 20), I dropped my application in the mailbox for admission to the Process Work Institute graduate program in Conflict Facilitation and Organizational Change. Okokon is also “buying this ticket to Bombay” —  his application is in process will follow in the mail soon….  (Hmmm…. Another lesson about how to pull ourselves forward toward an unreasonable vision is probably to align yourself with powerful allies — more on that in another blog!).

There are soooo many reasons for us to NOT do this.

  • We cannot afford it, and we don’t have the time.
  • We both have way too many academic credentials and do not need or want another one.
  • We promised our spouses that we would never go back to school.
  • We already know a bit about facilitating conflict. We could go on.

Those are all real. And yet…. if we listen more deeply, we can hear other rumblings. There is something I and my partner Sonia aspire to. We want to go directly to the most wounded segments of Colombian society — the parts that have been brutalized by the civil war, those who have wielded the weapons of violence, and those that have been victims.

Okokon on his part will be a cheerleading partner on my Colombia quest while responding to the call to lean into the ever present religious and ethnic conflicts in Nigeria and the divisive challenges and conflicts in Turkey. It feels scary even as he thinks about it but this is not a matter of whether he will but how soon he can get going. He first experienced the brutality humans unleashed on each other during a thirty month civil war and again during several brutal religious conflicts that claimed thousands of innocent lives. The goal is to get to the systemic causes of conflicts in the first place and help the different sides explore and find other ways. And, he can count on me as his cheerleading partner in Nigeria.

In all of these efforts, we want to find ways to create reconciliation where it seems impossible and bring forward the essential part of humanity however far beneath the surface it has been buried. From where we now stand, those feel like incredibly audacious and ridiculously uncomfortable thing to aspire to – it is way outside our comfort zones. We know, too, that left completely to our own devices, we most likely will shy away from taking bold action to make those dreams real.

We also know that if we put ourselves in the Process Work Institute program (which requires solid fieldwork) it will give us a structure that will absolutely make this work real, however much kicking and squirming we might do along the way. There is something powerful about listening deeply to our heart’s most unreasonable and audacious desire. To hear those rumblings and then ask ourselves: “What could I do that would pull me forward on this journey even when I want to back-out?” And then, on faith, buy your ticket to Bombay.

We know that when we “buy our ticket to Bombay” and it stems from that place of desire, it is an act of creation – and it feels so different from reacting to life’s circumstances. It feels to us like the distinction that Robert Fritz makes between creativity and problem-solving. He says: “There is a profound difference between problem solving and creating. Problem solving is taking action to have something go away – the problem. Creating is taking action to have something come into being – the creation. Most of us have been raised in a tradition of problem solving and have had little real exposure to the creative process.”   (Fritz, Robert 1989. The Path of Least Resistance, page 31).

There is a passage from the KJV translation of the New Testament which states that “faith is the evidence of things not seen” (Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 1). It is akin to Senge’s notion of “presencing” — of feeling into the future that is unfolding and giving it room to come into being. We want to become ever-more able to listen to the heartbeat of what our soul longs for — for the future that is eager and ripe to unfold if we will only allow it to do so.

And so, we ask YOU:

  • What are the rumblings in your soul that you can barely hear, that have you almost lose your breath if you dare to listen to them?
  • What would be YOUR ticket to Bombay? What would be the bold action that puts both of your feet solidly on the boat in a way that makes it much more difficult to turn back?
  • What do you know about audacious goals, and going after them?

With love and gratitude —- Art and Okokon

The Important Thing About Crossing the Finish Line

•July 23, 2009 • 7 Comments

What does it mean to “win?”

My teammate Denise promised that if I don’t redefine what winning means to me, she will slap me…. so, I’d better devote this last Blog entry to that very topic.

I enjoy winning and always have. I like to do things in which I have a good chance of shining and being successful. Truth is, I rather like the spotlight… and the accolades that come from performance. Often in life, I have avoided doing things… or have quit sports, hobbies, endeavors or professional pursuits when the competition became too intense or I thought I might not win. Generally, winning has meant finishing first, diving highest, performing the best jump on the ice, or making the most clever presentation — I love to shine bright. Actually, what I really like is to shine the brightest.

In the triathlon on Sunday….. after the open water ocean swim and the bike ride along the beaches of Falmouth…. I came to the final part which was a 3 mile run up and back a bike path along the water. Throughout the preparation for this event I have assumed and even joked that I would be somewhere bringing up the rear of the pack finishing the event — and that my intention was to take it as slowly as needed just to finish. That sounded like a good thing to say, and I didn’t really think I would be at the very rear. My assumption was that as a 50 year old, even with heart disease, I would go at a slow pace and that maybe I would finish in the last 10 or 20% of the group. Surely many of the people in their 60’s and 70’s would finish behind me. That would be respectable.

As I progressed, slowly, on the running part of the race, it began to dawn on me that there didn’t seem to be many people running behind me on the trail. I began to wonder “How many people are left behind me??”

As Denise joined me (sacrificing her own finish and doing most of the running part TWICE so she could join me) it hit me that, perhaps, I was actually one of the last people of the entire 650 or so people in the competition. It was at first really hard to let that sink in — I thought that it must be wrong.

After I made the turn at the half-way point and began to head back for the final mile, it became clear to me that I was not one of the last racers…. I was actually THE last racer. I was the person that was going to be the one coming in at the very end.

Initially, my heart absolutely sank with embarrassment and shame.

It was right about then that Denise said she was going to start slapping me, and I don’t think she was kidding. And then… one by one…. my team mates began to appear, having run out to join me and to finish the race with me…. John, Lina, Kerry, Chris, Vincent, Mary, Erica…. they began to run with me…. we laughed that I was like the President with his posse of secret service, because if I paused… they paused, and when I sped up… they sped up….

My Winning Team:  Denise, Chris, John, Lina, Art, Kerry, Erica

My Winning Team: Denise, Chris, John, Lina, Art, Kerry, Erica

I could feel their tremendous joy in their own accomplishment, and even greater joy in cheering me on and sharing this last leg of the race with me. I know they knew that mixed with my laughter and exhilaration was sadness and embarrassment.

John's Brother Vincent

John's Brother Vincent

And then as the finish line came into view…. I heard the SHOUTS of my dear friend Sherman and his wife Leia. As anyone from his Co-Active Leadership community knows, there is no voice of heart-felt support quite like that of Sherman. And I realized what it meant to him to have traveled across the entire United States just to be here for THIS moment — this one moment of cheering ME on as I reached the finish line. I felt as humbled to my knees as I have ever felt in my life.

Oooohhhhh…… this isn’t about me. This was about THEM…. about bringing people together in a way that has the human spirit shine. About joining together in common pursuit of goals that seem out of reach, and supporting each other and cheering each other on, and celebrating each other’s success.

The true prize in this journey — the real WIN — was in the team that got created, the sharing of both the struggles and the victory — and in allowing others to give of themselves in big and heartfelt ways. The incredible satisfaction of witnessing that, and knowing that I had contributed to making it happen, far far far surpassed whatever satisfaction might have come from crossing the finish line with a faster “more respectable” time. That is how I define my victory in this event.

I remind myself why I started this Quest in the first place, six months ago…. I needed a structure to keep me accountable to getting into better physical shape. I wanted to lost some weight. Mainly, I wanted to see what I could learn from my heart disease, and what I could learn about shifting my lifestyle to a more healthy one.

Art and his sister Mary

Art and his sister Mary

Well…. I didn’t lose the weight I wanted (that will be my next venture) although I did get my fitness on track and have gotten into much better shape (…. and discovered the fun of boxing…).

But more importantly, I have learned these things:

…. Triathlons (and many journeys in life) are accomplished by taking them one milestone (and, literally, one step) at a time. The important thing is to begin it — to declare it and proclaim it, and to say “Yes, you can support me…. please do…”
— Often, when the journey feels hard and uncomfortable, it is possible to slow down a bit, and keep going.
…. The journey is much more pleasant when I shift my focus away from my worry and doubt, and place it on the people around me, on the sun on my face, and the world around me.
…. Although I’m no longer sure that comfort is over-rated…. this I know absolutely: what matters is being FULLY ALIVE… and the way to do that is to say YES and put myself in the game in the first place.
…. The real essence of winning in life has nothing to do with how well I do, how I measure up compared to others, or how many points I have at the end. It does have everything to do with who I am surrounded by as I cross the finish line…. it is about the connection, joy, and human spirit that I can allow, nudge, coax, inspire in others — and, for that I will gladly have myself finish last every time.

If you are curious about the actual results, here they are: I placed 591 of the 592 people who actually finished the triathlon — I was the 1st runner-up to last, and completed the race in 1 hour 54 minutes and 39 seconds.

I want to give my heartfelt thanks to every member of the “Comfort Is Over-Rated Team” that have given me so much on this Quest — to the cheerleading squad with a very special thank you to Sherman and Leia, John’s family, and Trish and Camille. And my team of racers that joined me on this Quest: to John’s brother Vincent, to my sister Mary, to my Leadership buddies Lina, Kerry, Erica and Chris, and Denise. Finally, I don’t have adequate words to convey my gratitude to John. All I can say is that all of this is fundamentally driven by a fervent desire to LIVE, and to share that life with you always.



STAY in the RING!!!

•June 15, 2009 • 8 Comments

Whose f#($*&ing idea was this, anyway?

Over these past weeks, COMFORT has been looking pretty darn good….

Over-rated? There have been many many moments in these past weeks when every cell of my body has been yearning to run away from this whole quest… to run and hide…. to make up some excuses why this just really isn’t a good idea at this time, but thank you very much….

After the trial mini triathlon in Sudbury last month and my 407th place victory, I figured out that I have plantar fasciitis in my feet (oh… it’s not just turning 50 that has my feet hurt this much when I climb out of bed!…..)… I have been traveling every week and have not been very disciplined about training…. the reasons to flee have been mounting….

…and then, after buying myself a (very expensive…) full body wetsuit I summoned up all my machismo and determination to brave the waters off Gloucester harbor. With John and Heidi in their Kayaks to accompany me… (you know, not really necessary but just in case….) I eased myself into the water, step-by-step. My plan was to get out there….. dive in…. and get some good practice in by doing my first open water swim. I’m a great swimmer after all, I told myself…

That was the plan. I got out there, over the slippery rocks, noticing that both John and Heidi had rather worried looks on their faces…. I took a very deep breath…. braced myself, and DOVE FORWARD to begin my swim!

Within a fraction of a second, I was jumping up and down squealing like a stuck pig, holding my face in my hands, shouting in a high pitch “Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!” I cannot convey how painful it is on just the face to try swimming in the freezing waters of Gloucester Massachusetts during the first week of June. The good news is that I now know that I am able to squirm my body into the d(&*%&mn wetsuit, and can successfully remove it — these are no small feats, believe me. Initially, I felt horribly discouraged, and this fiasco contributed to my growing desire to QUIT QUIT QUIT.

There. I said it. I WANT TO DROP OUT! I WANT TO QUIT! I WANT COMFORT! (Imagine this sounding like a screechy whine for the full effect….).

When I let myself get all caught up in the details of the training and the event itself, I want to run the other way. And then, I remind myself that this isn’t about the event. It is about learning something about myself, about navigating my disease, about shifting my lifestyle. And, part of the lifestyle that I am shifting is about STAYING IN THE RING.

Several months ago I told my trainer Kevin that I wanted to change my workout a bit to include more cardio exercise. He looked at me and said: “Sure…. I think that you should try boxing.” ….pause….

Imagine the expression on my face — it was as though he had said: “I think it would be a good idea for you to sprout wings and fly to the moon….”

I looked up at him (he’s a tall guy) and said: “um…. OK, let’s try it.”

And so, a few times a week for the past six weeks or so, I have been learning how to punch, bob and weave…. have been working out on the heavy bag… doing shadow boxing… and beginning to spar in what someday might actually resemble a boxing match. This is a step waaayyyyy out of my comfort zone. I have never… not ever, not once…. been in any sort of fight in my life. The ducking part comes easily to me… the punching and being punched part is a bit more of a challenge.

Left Jab to the Heavy Bag

Left Jab to the Heavy Bag

And, guess what?? I am LOVING IT. In certain moments I tap into a very primal and very core “hunkered down, determined, aggressive, growling, male DESIRE TO PUNCH.” It is a part of myself I think of as “hell-bent determination” — like holding on to a rope and saying to myself I WILL NOT LET GO.

And, on this Quest…. I WILL NOT LET GO.

And so…. for Sibel from Massachusetts who sent me an email a week or so ago holding me accountable for my next blog entry (thank you sweetie….), I AM STILL IN THE RING AND I WILL NOT LET GO.

For Andrée from Toronto who sent me a note letting me know that she had passed the link to this blog onto her client who is navigating cancer…. I AM STILL IN THE RING AND WILL NOT LET GO.

For my Triathlon Team of Heroes….. Lina, Erica and Chris, Kerry, Denise, John, Mary…. I AM STILL IN THE RING AND WILL NOT LET GO.

For the various friends and students and angels who have been posting comments and sending your well-wishes…. I AM STILL IN THE RING AND WILL NOT LET GO.

I know that it is not about the event…. and it doesn’t matter how I do. I will swim and float and rest… and keep going. I will get myself out of the dang wetsuit and onto my bike…. I will walk up hills as I need to…. I will run and jog and walk… and I will STAY IN THE RING.

The things that make the difference to me are the fundamental commitment that I feel in my gut and my heart to be ALIVE… on lots of levels. And, honestly, it is YOU… your love for me, and your kick-in-the-butt at times calling me back. If I were alone in this, the level of difficult to STAY IN THE RING would be a lot higher. If I ever had doubts, I am quite certain now that the connection that we have with others… the hard-love that others provide (thank you, John…) makes the difference between staying and giving up.

And, I ask…. what is YOUR RING these days? What is the place that is outside your comfort zone that demands an element of STAYING POWER? That thing that you want to run from… and might start to give up on… but that you bring yourself back to with grit and determination?




Winning 407th Place

•May 11, 2009 • 9 Comments

We did it! Yesterday Team “Comfort Is Over-Rated” competed in the Sudbury Sprint Triathlon! And, I am very proud to announce that out of the 464 competitors… I was the 407th finisher with a grand-total time of 1 hour 22 minutes and 28 seconds. (Congratulations to Kerry, Chris, Erica, Denise and our grand-winner Lina for the stupendous job they all did!).

Team Comfort Is Over-Rated:  Queen Lina, Kerry, Erica, Chris, Art, and Denise

Team Comfort Is Over-Rated: Queen Lina, Kerry, Erica, Chris, Art, and Denise

The past few weeks have been very busy, and I found myself getting grumbly about this whole endeavor…. my feet hurt… it is taking too much time… I am never really “done”… blah blah blah. I realized that I was definitely losing sight of the bigger picture.

And so yesterday, as I swam and then biked and then ran, I kept asking myself: “What is this really about? If this isn’t just about swimming, biking, and running… what is it really for the sake of?”

I wanted for some great and wise inspiration to zap me like a lightening bolt of electric insight, but that didn’t seem to happen. What I did notice was how alive and joy-filled I felt as I ran (well, shuffled) along…

I noticed how much — even at this ripe age of almost-50 — what a egotistical judgment machine of comparison I am. “Hmmm… where are the fat people who might be more slow than I am?” I wondered…. “Oh! Good… that women is 72 years old… I think I might be able to do this faster than she can!“ “Wow…. that guy over there REALLY looks like a loser…. I think he might be more of a loser than me!…..” “I wonder if my gut is flabbier than that one over there?!“”“

Honestly… it is a bit embarrassing to admit how much of that chatter of comparison was going on in my head. And, then… I would notice it and it would subside and I’d return to being more present.

Rider 383...finished 392nd in the biking chunk.

Rider 383...finished 392nd in the biking chunk.

It made me realize that when people see me shuffling along, there is nothing about my appearance that would tell them that I have coronary artery disease… and how we (I) constantly judge others for all sorts of things… not good enough, too rich, not rich enough, overly smart, stupid, and on it goes.

And, the truth is, we do not have a clue what is going on with them, who they are, or what circumstances they might be navigating in their life. We are human, and guess what — each of us has circumstances at one time or another that challenge us to the bone — that make it hard to get through the day, that fill us with fear, or that make it difficult to get to the top of the hill.

As I realized that, I noticed that the judgments subsided, and I felt intimately connected with all these other humans that were moving along in this race with me, each at their own pace, some fast and some slow. Instead of noticing that I was ahead of them or behind – I noticed that in some way I felt connected to them. A certain “we are in this together” sort of kinship. My inner voice shifted to ”We did this!“ instead of to ”I did this better (or worse) than you did….“

I was fortunate as a kid to learn to swim at an early age, and I was on one swim team or another from the time I was 7 years old until high school. Taking it slow, it is a relatively comfortable part of the triathlon for me. (Woo-hoo… I came in 331st in the swimming chunk….) But more importantly, as I watched my heroic team-mates swimming their laps in the pool yesterday, I noticed how difficult the swimming part was. For some it was a struggle and at times frightening. And I thought…. ”Wow… look what they are willing to put themselves through to train for this event for me.“ I feel so deeply, profoundly grateful for them — when I hit my low points and want to quit, they are the ones I think of most; bringing them to mind rallies me. I know that they are both doing this to support me, and they each have their own aspirations and challenges for doing this that are their own. And so, Lesson #1: An essential ingredient in my capacity to change is my relationship with my key allies, friends, and teammates… I do not need to go it alone.

The other lesson that was reinforced today was, quite simply, ”yes I can…“ That wherever we are in our lives… whatever my own circumstances might be…. that is the place from which to embark. To be faced with challenges and obstacles is not a reason to say ”no“ and disengage from life — it is the place from which to say ”yes“, to embrace support, and to ask what is the next step.

So, it is now full-steam ahead for the Falmouth (real) Sprint Triathlon on July 19th. My training plan is set. My bigger challenge is to lose at least 10 pounds by then — that is the steepest hill I need to climb.

With gratitude —