Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It's All About Balance

I’ve been observing life and some of its glorious moments in terms of balance. Life seeks out equilibrium and so do we. I’ve been watching the balance of things: talking vs. listening, doing vs. being, working vs. resting, etc. I think that we also tend to think that we can force the balance to happen. I am reminded of the over-worked executive who goes on an island vacation, telling himself, “relax, come on, just relax”! The process of balance is about allowing it to happen, not demanding that it happen. What helps is the awareness that you may not be there yet. In other words, if you notice that you are out of balance, remain the observer of the imbalance, and soon you will get there. I experienced this in a personal example of preparing for a tele-class last week.

My colleague, Cindy and I were preparing to deliver a tele-class on making the transition back to school easier for parents and students. We both are creative beings who happen to be conscientious professionals, so every time one of us was being creative and off task, the other one would pull us back in. There was a constant battle between creativity and trust vs. organization and being prepared. Finally, we gave up and decided to let it evolve organically. I was incredibly fearful, for many reasons, one which was, I didn’t really know Cindy too well, so I wasn’t sure how she would react. In a tele-class, you can’t see each other, so I was missing the visual cues too. I had this sinking feeling that the whole thing would be a disaster and our coaching organization would never ask us to teach again! I was observing my concerns and yet, something inside me was daring me to do it. “Go for it”, I kept on hearing. And so we did…

The more we discussed the topic of our class, the more lost we felt. I felt like I had all of these ideas and no real structure. We decided to interview kids so we could better understand their concerns. The process of interviewing the kids in itself was eye opening. Sitting down and treating them like adults and asking them questions, created an environment in which they felt safe and listened to. From those interviews, we emerged ecstatic with the information, humbled by the experience, and more confused than ever!

I’d hear this voice that kept on saying, just let it go (yes, it was Cindy most of the time!). Let go of control, let go of structure and the need to organize. It was terrifying, because it is not something I have experienced before. I have put dinner parties together at the last minute without any plans. I have gone through days, or vacations without plans. But I have never done anything professional without a solid iron-clad and fool proof plan. This was the first.

I had read somewhere that out of chaos comes clarity. What they neglected to mention is that there is that in between phase, where fear is your only companion prior to clarity creeping in. Well, once I got over the fear, I settled into what I wanted the whole experience to feel like. I allowed the feeling of how I wanted to feel during the class, take over me. From that place, I decided how I would like to leave the audience and slowly, it all came together. I can’t say what specific thing made it work so effortlessly. I do know that I had to let go of a lot of old beliefs. I gave up the belief that you have to be overly prepared for a major presentation. I gave up the belief that it would be embarrassing if I failed. I gave up the belief that you have to have visual cues. And there are a lot more beliefs I let go of that I won’t go into here. I basically emptied my cup of beliefs and settled into the experience. Letting go of these old beliefs also helped the balance take shape.

What came together was amazing. Even Cindy was impressed with the results. The whole class took form and it was better than anything I could have pre-planned. In fact, I had a whole day to just bask in the glory of effortlessly creating something out of chaos. And in all honesty, at that point, it didn’t matter how the class would be received. I knew that together we had birthed a succinct and clear message, with plenty of opportunities for going in any direction the audience wanted to take it to. I had loved the process without being married to the outcome. It was fantastic! It was all about balance and getting out of the way. I think I will confidently practice this process for everything else in my life and trust that it will work out when and how it does.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Does Your Life Make Sense?

We were having one of those familiar chats that I crave with my husband, the person who probably knows me better than most. Out of whatever it was he was reading, he looked at me and explained how he saw me. I was sure he was wrong, but he wasn’t. He knew the story of my life and in a few sentences he blurted out that he thinks I left the “good life” because I was tired of pushing and being pushed. The image in front of me was the image of walking through Times Square right around 8 PM on a weekend, making it back home and instead of proclaiming victory in finding your way back home or making it in one piece, saying I’m done and I won’t be doing that again. He continued, “you just did too much, you tried too hard”. In some ways he is right. But if the push and pull made sense, if the “good life” made sense, I would still be doing it, regardless of how tired I was, or how hard it seemed to be.

Tama J. Kieves, Harvard educated lawyer turned author, speaker and career coach says it beautifully, “you can’t plan an inspired life”. She explains why she left the “good life”, “I left the good life for the only life. There is only one life and that’s the life in which we listen to our Spirit. Anything else is the blocking of life”.

The life that we strive to achieve is not achievable, because it is not a prize after winning a contest. It is not an endurance competition. We are so misguided about what life is, that we couldn’t possibly know how to live it. We have been so concerned about making it, having enough money, buying that dream house, paying for our children’s education, etc. that we have forgotten why we are alive. There are brief moments where we allow ourselves to truly enjoy life, maybe on that special vacation or meeting up with special friends. But then we look at that as just a break in the reality of life. We laugh at people who claim that life is not meant to be enjoyed all the time. You are supposed to work hard for a living. You are supposed to learn from your mistakes and make right where you have done wrong. There is this inherent system of reward and punishment built into our consciousness that drains all the joy out of living.

Going back to the conversation with my husband who preciously clings on to his “good life”, I agreed with his assessment. However, I added that I had to choose a life that made sense to me. It helps that I cannot lie and integrity and accountability are part of my genomic makeup. There comes a point in everyone’s life where you have to decide if you want to honor who you are, and embrace the values that you hold dear, or pretend that everything is ok and go about doing what you and everyone else you know is still doing. I chose to listen to me. And the funny thing is, I have never let myself down! And what’s even funnier is that we still doubt ourselves, we’d rather listen to the voices out there (the experts, our parents, our highly successful friends, the TV, etc.) than to the inner voice that has not failed us once. The challenge though, is to hear the voice. If we have spent our entire life, ignoring our inner voice, we can’t hear it anymore. It’s like the conversation of the loud people at the table next to you in a restaurant. If you are having a conversation of your own, you don’t hear their words. If you are alone or bored, you might listen to them and even if they are not too loud, you’ll hear what they are saying clearly. My wish for you is to really work on sharpening your ears so you can hear your own inner voice. It will take practice, because if you have spent a lot of time telling yourself to “shut up”, you won’t hear it because it has listened to you and has shut up. So, get really quiet and listen and you’ll know what to do if anything at all.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Falling Apart Is The First Step

She was touching her hair and straightening out strands of hair that did not need to be straightened and feeling the back of her ears to make sure that they were tucked in properly. When she wasn’t doing that, she was nervously recounting the details of some non-event that she thought I needed to know. She was skin and bones and looked like a teenager, but not in a healthy way. I don’t think she stopped long enough to notice that it was lunch time or to notice that she was hungry and maybe should eat something. Her nervous laugh made me uncomfortable, I didn’t know whether I should laugh along or just hope that it would end. She clearly was not interested in reading or in allowing me to read my book. I don’t think she could focus long enough to be able to read. I put my book aside and decided to engage in this one-way conversation at the pool, one mom talking to another. She was going through a terrible divorce and the situation at home was unbearable. Yet, she was holding it all together. I felt that she might burst into tears at any moment, but she didn’t. She had no idea that I was a coach, and I would have said something if the right opportunity came along. It just never did. She was proud of the fact that she was holding it all together, this was her strength. Something was telling me that she needed to fall apart, but this just wasn’t the time or the place. In fact, I don’t think that it was ever the right time or the place for that sort of sordid and out of control behavior. So, I listened reminding myself that true compassion is not imposing my ways on anyone else. She needed to be “strong” just a bit longer.

Too many are afraid of falling apart, even in the privacy of their own bedrooms or bathrooms that they will do anything to avoid it. They keep on going, they keep themselves super busy, they talk and talk rationalizing away, and then something will happen, or someone will say something, and they will melt down. For me when I was in that stage of existence, it was anything that reminded me of my recently passed away dad. Now days when I look back, I like to think that it was his way of facilitating my melt down so that I could start again fresh, and with a brand new sense of being. When we allow ourselves to fall apart, we surrender to what is and from that cleared space, brand new life can sprout if you are willing to look at things differently. This is one of the many reasons I love being a coach, I get to be there when things fall apart and then witness the new beginnings and the fresh starts. It is lovely to be witness to such growth. But the growth comes after the destruction and that is what I have learned to appreciate. The closer you are to falling apart, the closer you are to rebuilding your life. If we all knew this to be true, we might actually look forward to the next melt down and all the wisdom and opportunities it brings with it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What Are Your Credentials?

When I was asked to write about spiritual art, I wrote about everything else, but spiritual art. Since I am the queen of self-examination, I’ve been wondering why I haven’t written on the topic. I realized that I have felt inadequate and unqualified to write about a topic like spiritual art. After all, people before me like the famous painter, Wassily Kandinsky have written books on it and who am I to think that I have something to say about it. To make matters worse, I was never formally trained as an artist besides the few art classes that I had taken here and there. When I go to galleries and see the bios of the artists showing their art, I am amazed at their fabulous credentials and years of formal training, etc. In my mind, they are the ones who have permission to write about such things. Hence, I have chosen to procrastinate and avoid writing about it.

Recently, I met an Israeli artist who was incredibly talented and passionate about his art. He told me that he has been painting since he was 3 years old! And in the madness of our conversation, he mentioned his training in London which he seemed to dismiss. He was full of creative energy and knew with every cell in his body that painting is what he had to do. He did what he had to do in his art to get the message out. He used water color, gouache, ink, acrylics, anything that gave the texture and colors he wanted to express in his art. He didn’t consider himself an expert in any particular medium, but the ability to express what he saw and felt in a creative way. And I realized that I was so mesmerized by what I saw in front of me that the credentials of their creator were inconsequential.

This is the same principle in action when people hire people they know for certain jobs. They may not know where this person went to school or their prior work experience, but they know that they can do the job. The resume becomes protocol and part of the paper work required by the administrators. There are plenty of examples of recognizing that you can experience life without following any specific path, acceptance from others or validation. Then why is it that there are so many people, who are afraid to first, do what they love to do, and second, proclaim their passion?

We get stuck in our beliefs about what is important and of course, when we are even somewhat ready to let go, there is the 3-D world out there that supports our original beliefs to the point that we give up. But what we forget as we go about our lives playing our little roles and doing what we have been formally trained to do, is that the 3-D world or “reality” as some refer to it, is made up of our collective consciousness. If we believe that we are not qualified to do something, it feeds into the collective consciousness that believes that too. So, if we stop believing these self-limiting thoughts, we have a chance at changing it out there too. Every change has to start somewhere, why not have it be in your mind? We’ve all heard the saying: change your thoughts and change your life. Well, there is much truth in that and I am first to admit that I had forgotten.

So, I am going to take a few deep breaths and sit down in front of my laptop and start speaking my truth forgetting about my resume…

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Where Are You From?

We walked into his store shopping for some Native American jewelry. He was friendly, engaging and spoke with a hint of an accent. I asked him if he was from around here, and he said, “no, it is a long story”. He shook his head as if he were saying no, over and over again. He kept on uttering something along the lines of: you wouldn’t be interested, my story is too long, it might bore you, etc. He was helpful and kind and I felt that there was more to this man. After we purchased a pair of earrings, and on our way out, he asked me if I spoke Arabic. And that’s when he told me that he was Palestinian born in North Carolina, and a few other facts about his colorful journey to the present, a ski resort town in Colorado. Once he told me an abbreviated version of his stops along life, the light in his eyes died down again and he went back to doing what he was doing before we arrived at his shop. I walked away fully aware of the fact that I will not forget that man for a long time. I was imagining his life, his story, and trying to figure out how a Palestinian man ends up selling Native American Jewelry in a ski resort in Colorado.

Later on that night, strolling along the booths in an art festival in the same town, I was drawn to a specific booth. The paintings were beautiful and full of life and vibrant colors. One was more intoxicating than the other. I had to share my thoughts with the artist, an olive-skinned, disheveled and very artistic looking man. He was glad that I liked his paintings and asked me where I was from. He was an Israeli travelling the US on the art show circuits. He was incredibly excited and passionate about his art and enjoyed describing to me the process he goes through in his creative moments. His paintings were abstract and represented different aerial views of towns in Israel. He was proud of where he was from and at the end of our conversation he explained how the streets are so alive in Israel and this tiny town in the mountains is too quiet for his taste. I smiled and moved along. I will not forget him or his art.

I have already forgotten most of the people I met on our vacation, but those two men with such colorful stories and from such distant places will retain my attention for a while. The greatest contrast between the two for me was that the jewelry store guy felt like he didn’t belong here, but had to stay and make it work. He had nowhere to go back to and yet, he didn’t feel like he was home. The artist felt like he was a stranger too, but he had a home and was looking forward to going back to it. He had a place he belonged to.

I believe that we are all travelers in life, but some of us have the choice of being from somewhere we can go back to, knowing that it will be there pretty much the way we left it. Some of us can never go back or if we do, we go back to something that is not at all how we left it. The people, the buildings, the energy is all different. Those of us who cannot go back, find ourselves on wobbly ground. We can’t count on the past, it has been destroyed. We are unhappy with the instability we are facing today and we are completely uncertain of the future. This is true for anyone who is going through a major life transition. So, what’s one to do?

These are the opportunities that force us to go inside and look within for comfort, strength, hope, and courage. When everything on the outside collapses, as it does from time to time, it is important to be able to access our inner-self for whatever it is we need. However, most of us are completely unprepared to do this. Our lives have consisted of being educated, learning skills, working jobs, having families, and buying and consuming stuff. Most of us have not cultivated our inner-self except for perhaps going to our place of worship once a week or on weddings or funerals. And even that, is done not with a conscious choice to tap inside and listen to our inner voice, but rather to fulfill some obligation or duty at best. Transitions or change are the perfect opportunities for developing and strengthening our inner-self. So, the next time your outer world starts to collapse, remind yourself that this is a gift, a gift from you to you, a gift of unimaginable strength and trust to live a more meaningful and satisfying life. And then, make sure you have the support to strengthen your inner-self so you can move into this wondrous place. Finally, please remember that you can’t go back to how it was, because it has changed. Perhaps, now it is time for you to change.