Do you have an ideal picture of your life,
partner, job, children or even how you want your body to look like? It is
exactly these ideal images that can create suffering if it blinds other ways of
looking and experiencing the world for us. I recently learned the hard way how I was
still holding on too tightly to an old belief of how my CV must look like for
me to get the ideal job. In doing that I created my own straight jacket. When I realised that I was creating my own
suffering by my way of thinking, I also realised that I have the power to loosen
the buckles of the straight jacket. I can set myself free in letting go of the
picture I had in my mind.
This reminded me of what Mary Parker Follet
wrote about purpose in the 1920’s in a business management book:
“Last summer I noticed a strange plant in our pasture. I did not know what it was, I had no picture in my mind of what flower or fruit it would bear, but I freed it. That is, I dug around it and opened the soil that the rain might fall on its roots, I cleared out the thistles with which it was entangled so that it might have room to spread, I cut down the undergrowth of small maples near so that it could get the sun. In other words, I simply freed it. Every friendship which is not treated in this way will surely suffer; no human relation should serve an anticipatory purpose. Every relation should be a freeing relation with the “purpose” evolving.”
What pictures, that serve an anticipatory purpose, are causing suffering in your relationships or life?
Let go of the pictures, unbuckle yourself and set yourself free to evolve into more than you can imagine.
I don’t know about you but all the hype around a new year can make one feel overwhelmed or inadequate at times. This blog is not about how to make this your best year ever. Nor is it about setting new year resolutions that will last. It is about the act of beginning again.
The simple yet extremely difficult task of taking the first step into the unknown. I specifically use the phrase beginning again rather than starting over. In saying you are starting over there is an underlying assumption that what you did previously was incorrect. That you have to wipe the slate clean and start with a blank page. I don’t believe one can really do that. I believe that our past is part of who we are and will always live somewhere in our bodies. Every experience has the potential to enrich us. How we engage with all the different aspects of it (be it success, adventure, abundance, joy or even fear, loss, sadness) will determine how much we grow and learn from it.
Beginning again is about opening your eyes and allowing yourself to see and feel again as if for the first time. To enter your day with an openness that will enable life to touch you. In order to do that one needs to be present to the moment as it is. Not how you wish it to be. Therefore, it is a decision one makes numerous times a day and not only at the beginning of a year.
Beginning again means picking up the pen to write as if for the first time, though you’ve done it a thousand times before. It means putting on your running shoes to practise for the marathon even if your muscles are still tired from the previous run. It is about pursuing a goal while the voice of the inner critic is saying you are not good enough. Beginning again takes courage and requires trust. It is about opening the door, stepping over the threshold and showing up to who you are in this moment. Just this moment, this breath, this conversation nothing more and nothing less.
We all have the capacity to begin again. As Mark Nepo writes “The world begins anew each day. This is the miracle that makes not a sound, but which changes everything, if we can be quiet enough to feel it happen. When we participate in this, we begin anew each day.”
Beginning again is part of the natural unfolding of life. May you have many courageous new beginnings as you step into this year filled with uncertainty.
This time of the year one looks back at the year and reflect on the challenges and lessons learned. At the beginning of 2016 I started my own coaching business. One of the important skills of a coach is to learn to ask good questions. Therefore, I decided to translate some of the main lessons learned this year into coaching questions so that you can discover your own answer.
How committed are you to you and your vision?
Peter Senge writes in his book ‘The Fifth Discipline’ that a core strategy for any leader is to commit yourself to your own personal mastery and your personal vision. Shared visions for an organisation (what we care about and want to create) arises from personal visions (what motivates me and the future I seek). He writes that ‘ If people don’t have their own vision, all they can do is “sign up” for someone else’s. The result is compliance never commitment’.
But what does commitment really mean? It means that you commit yourself to the process of refining what you truly want. It means that you relentlessly root out the ways you are limiting yourself and continually practise to broaden your awareness. In essence it means that you genuinely care. When you are committed you genuinely care about yourself and what you truly believe you should do. You may think it sounds selfish. It’s not. When I’m genuinely committed to me. I’m also genuinely committed to you. My commitment to my vision is imbedded in my deep desire to serve others. It is not about me. It is about something larger than me but it starts with a genuine commitment to me.
How can you discover your way between the cup and the quart?
The space between the cup and the quart was a metaphor that I kept in mind this year as I held the tension between my current reality and my vision.
In his book ‘The Anatomy of Change’, Richard Strozzi-Heckler provides a wonderful metaphor for the anatomy of change that I want to share with you:
‘Imagine yourself sitting at a table holding a cup. The cup represents the quantity of potential, or energy or responsibility that you are able to integrate into your life at this particular moment. After being with this cup of yourself for some time, you notice that there is a quart container on the table. The quart represents the possibility of even more energy, responsibility, and love. You begin to recognise the quart is within your reach.
Since you have explored the limits of your cup, you feel an urge to move toward the quart. To remain with only the cup of yourself is no longer tolerable. You make the choice to reach across the table and take the “more” of yourself. Realising it is impossible to hold both cup and quart at the same time, you put the cup down and extend toward the quart. Panic!
Part way into your reach, you realise that the comfort and familiarity of the cup are gone, and you haven’t yet touched the quart. There is nothing. There are noboundaries, there is no known sense of identity or self – only emplty space, a strange new land. You are thrust into fear and doubt.
At this point, what usually happens is we quickly retreat to that which is known: the cup. It is safe, familiar, and easily handleable. Or we contract, frozen in our fear of the unknown. Somehow our system of education never teaches us how to navigate these open waters, to trust ourself and our energy in times of change. We need to rediscover the passage between the cup and the quart of ourselves.
The space between the cup and the quart creates emotional tension as well as creative tension. When you use the tension wisely it can be a source of energy. The tension is then exactly what you need to creatively discover your way between the cup and the quart.
How are you tapping into and building your network?
We cannot reach our goals on our own. We need people who care about us and share in our vision. This year I learned the importance of building relationships that nourish you and help to nurture your vision. In her book “Playing Big”, Tara Mohr refers to these type of people as ‘champions’. According to Tara a champion is a person that can see the future that hasn’t arrived yet. They are the people who think that the vision you have is achievable, and even destined. This then helps you to believe it can be done and motivates you to take the next step.
We don’t only need a network of support; we also need a professional network to derive new business from. This is a lesson that I learned the hard way. I realised that these types of networks don’t fall in your lap. You have to be disciplined to build relationships and grow your network in the field you wish to work in. Building that means stepping out of your comfort zone. It also means sharing your vision and making your work visible in a graceful and respectful way.
I trust that the above questions will be as valuable for you to ponder on as it was for me. That it will assist you to bring your unique vision to the world that so desperately needs it.
What will be the best choice? What is the right thing to do in this situation?
Our daily lives are filled with choices some important and others not so important. Lately I’ve been reflecting on how my choices, and the choices others made for me, have formed my life. Sheena Iygar wrote in her book ‘The art of choosing’ that our lives are shaped by the choices we make. ‘We make choices and are in turn made by them’.
The first time I became aware of decision-making was when I was about 6-years old. My parents had to decide if they are going to enrol me in Primary school at the age of six or seven. This is usually a big decision for children (like myself) that are born in December because our academic year starts in January. I remember that I had to undergo numerous tests to see if I was cognitively, emotionally and physically ready for school. We gathered as much information as possible to ensure that we made the right choice. At the end I did go to school at six and whether it was the best choice or the right choice one will never know.
I once had a discussion with a very wise person about the choices I made and regrets I had about some of the (not so good) decisions I made in the past. She reminded me that we all (including our parents, friends and family) make the best choices we can given the information available to us at that moment in time. In hindsight (even if it is 5-minutes after we made the decision) it is always easy to think that we should have chosen something else. But at that point in time within the specific circumstances you chose what you thought was the best. Reflecting about my choices of the past from this point of view really helped me to let go of some regrets. I know that my parents tried to do what was best for me when they choose at what age to enrol me at school. I don’t regret their choice.
Learning: We make the best choice we can given the circumstances and information available to us at that stage.
Healing question: How can I be kinder and let go of the regret for the decisions I made in the past?
They are the future waiting to be born’ – Rainer Maria Rilke
We all have a story. The stories we tell ourselves are shaped by our history, the struggles we faced, our failures and previous experiences. In their book ‘You are what you say’ Budd and Rothstein indicated that our judgments (such as ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘ I am not loveable’) are a function of our history of living and the standards for satisfaction that we’ve embodied. These judgments form part of our story (narrative) by which we then build our own identities, habits and our relationships with others. Our narrative forms a structure through which we interpret the world.
As protection is the most important function of the brain, we create habits and a spiral of thoughts to protect us. These thoughts often stem from fear of uncertainty or of what other people might be thinking. We work out who we are by the way others react towards us. So when we feel emotionally scared, the brain makes up a story about what is happening and how to stay safe. But sometimes these inner narratives of ‘I’ll never get ahead’ or ‘Life is unfair’ are unhelpful and bog us down.
The good news is that research indicates that we can challenge these stories and even change them. According to narrative therapists you can change the way you see the world by rewriting your story. You are meant to be in control of your story, not the other way around. We are all authors of our own lives. In creating a new story, that is aligned with your values, positive qualities and dreams you aspire to accomplish, you are creating a new reality at the same time.
To begin to foster change you first need to become aware of your current narrative. Pay attention to events that trigger it. Then actively choose to change your thinking when faced with these ‘triggers’. The task is to diminish the negative story and reinforce the positive story. In doing this you are training your brain and laying down new pathways to think and feel. Every choice gives you a chance to integrate the new story (such as ‘I am the hero or heroine of my story’ or ‘ I am an explorer in the adventure of life’) into your life. You can decide if you are going to remain stuck in your old story that is not serving you any more or are you going to create new habits or thoughts that can open up new possibilities.
We are each responsible for our own story. If you are holding anyone else accountable for your story, you are wasting your time. The psychiatrist, Carl Jung, once said, ‘I am not what has happened to me, but what I choose to become.’ What new way of being in the world, new story, can I invite you in?
There is an old Cherokee (Native American Indian) wisdom about a grandfather teaching his son about life. The grandfather told the boy “A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
It sometimes feels as if feeding the wolf of evil has become the status quo. We are confronted with negative news on a daily basis. The advertisement on television feeds our greed and not our need. It makes us believe that who we are and what we have is not enough. In the newspaper we read about corruption, politicians who lie and crimes committed out of anger. We envy people who have more than us. It is easy to yield to self-pity and blame negative circumstances for our place in life, because it does not ask anything of us.
Feeding the wolf of goodness takes courage. It asks of you to keep on believing in your dream even if the odds are against you. To challenge the beliefs and structures that limit your life. To face your fears and not hide from them because in avoiding your fears you are feeding it. Later it can become so heavy that you can’t move anymore and then you get stuck.
In every moment there is the possibility of a better future. A choice to be made. I want to challenge you to ask yourself every day for the following week ‘Which wolf am I feeding?’