Creating Community

Creative Use of Coaching Structure for Successful Change

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How can the creative use of coaching structures help you develop the professional and personal changes you really want?  

Life coaching is fundamentally a dynamic conversational structure— a co-creation between the coach and client to bring forth the new ideas, images, and perspectives that will best serve the client in creating transformative career and life changes.  From the beginning, I as the coach set up a special structure for effective change-making by creating a safe "container" between myself and my clients to help them go farther and deeper in exploring new possibilities and directions.

This "container" is the invisible structure that holds the energy and flow of the coaching conversation—while the coaching conversation itself is the structure that's heard and felt, and moves the client forward.  As I build safety and trust into the coaching "container," clients feel more grounded and more able to participate fully in the coaching exploration about what they really want to achieve.  

Using powerful, stimulating questions and imagery, I expand the conversation to help clients develop the big picture of what they really want, which can sometimes feel scary as well as exciting.  When they are clear about their new choices and direction, the coach can then re-shape the structure of the conversation to help them focus on choosing actions and timelines to manifest their dreams and goals.

Brian, a retired teacher, was struggling to complete the book he was writing based on The Remembrances of Times Past by Marcel Proust.  Brian had recently had a birthday and commented that he felt old, but that this next year for him was supposed to be one of "energy and change." Sensing that he was feeling discouraged about how his life was going because of the lack of progress with his book, I re-phrased this as "a year of energy and transformation." Then I asked him, "What's in the cocoon that wants to come out?"  

"Good question!" exclaimed Brian, and his face brightened. Then he described the image that came to him of a chick pecking its way out of an egg shell, emerging cautiously but gaining energy by moving.  "The egg is transformed into a chicken with its own distinctive internal structure," he said.  "By its own efforts, it's hatched from the limited external structure of the egg shell.  It's free to move and make sounds!"  With his energy opened by a resonant image, Brian felt ready to re-focus and create a plan for moving on and completing his book.

In this case, the structure of the 20-minute coaching conversation expanded with a powerful question that both acknowledged Brian's feeling stuck with his book and his life— and offered "cocoon" as an image of potentiality for transformative change.  As Brian connected with this image, he was able to take it further and create a new opening to go forward with his book. The structure of our conversation then shifted to a more straightforward planning mode with action steps, a timetable, and a method of accountability.

What I've found is that using creative structuring with coaching conversations supports people in getting out of stuckness and into successful outcomes.  This can help you—

  • Transform unsatisfying ways of working into heart-centered livelihood that feels successful and purposeful to you

  • Create more time and energy (life balance) for living with fulfillment and purpose

  • Shift gears into retirement in ways that feel deeply satisfying to you

  • Create more effortless, personalized, and authentic marketing outreach for solopreneurs

  • Learn how to have more effective coaching conversations with clients (mentor coaching)

What is the conversation you're longing to have?

Change-Making at Solstice— How the Light Gets In

Now, on the shortest day of the year, with even northern California cold enough to wear hats, scarves, and gloves, I'm reflecting on the seeming polarities like light and dark, love and fear, that have swung us back and forth over our political and personal landscapes this past year. For me, the experience has been like standing on rock cliffs, being battered and splintered by an ongoing series of huge waves under the low-hanging clouds of a storm.

One such wave was the result of the presidential election in the United States. For myself and the majority of the electorate there is now the fear of having a president, a Congress, and a Supreme Court that will actively work against what we hold dear for our society— a healthy environment, health care access for all, up-to-date public education, and fundamental equal rights for all— so that we may have work and build lives in connection with our authentic desires, our relationships, and our world.

At such times, it seems that there are only the polarities of storm or calm, vitriol or caring, hate or love, dark or light. When people are able to stand steady in the heart of the storm, grounded in awareness of the connectedness of life, there are ways to bring oppositional forces into calm and wholeness. And it is in this place of wholeness and connection that positive change can emerge.

Recently, for example, I heard the story about the brilliant poet, songwriter, and singer, Leonard Cohen, who just died this year, and how he quelled a riot at the 1970 Isle of Wight rock concert in England. I was there, too, one of 600,000 in the passionate, free-flowing audience, many of whom were upset about political, economic, and social injustices of that time, including the Vietnam War. However, since the concert went on day and night, I seemed to have slept through Cohen's 4 AM performance on the last night of the festival that followed a literally blazing Jimi Hendrix set.

This was what I missed. Apparently, on that dark, rainy night, the audience was cold and restive and trashed the stage. Cohen, awoken at 2 AM after Hendrix played, was only bothered because the organizers couldn't locate a piano and organ for his musicians. "I'll come out when you find them," he said, and did, two hours later. As film reviewer Mike Springer wrote, "Perhaps the most moving moment [was] at the beginning, when Cohen [brought] the massive crowd together by asking a favor: 'Can I ask each of you to light a match, so I can see where you all are?'" In this way, he gathered that huge group of disparate, upset people in a cold, damp, inhospitable place into one whole, and soothed them into listening with his calm and deeply centered presence.

Fast forward to 2008, to Leonard Cohen's concert in London at a time of world-wide economic depression. I was very moved by what he said before performing his famous song, "Anthem," to the people in his audience. Again, he brought them together by speaking to their feelings of fear, anger, and upset with lovingkindness— "Thank you so much, friends. We're so privileged to gather in moments like this when so much of the world is plunged in darkness and chaos."

And then he sang:

"So ring the bells
that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in."

In our lives, it's not so imperative to seek perfection as to embrace our wholeness.  This includes our stormy encounters, as well as the thin band of light we see on the horizon. When we put our attention on this light, we can see it radiating outward, reflected on the waves of the sea, reaching and opening our hearts.

So try this— when you find yourself in a difficult work situation, relationship, or political landscape, focus on whatever you can that is beautiful or inspiring in the midst of that challenge. Find that crack where the light gets in, whether it's a compassionate glance from a colleague, a memory of a loving moment, or a song that opens your heart. In this way, allow the change you long to make begin from within.

As poet and inspirational speaker, Mark Nepo, wrote in his book, The One Life We're Given: "When we can keep breaking through what has hardened and keep what is alive soft, the cracks turned into openings fill us with an undying light."

In this season's darkest days, may we celebrate the beauty of the light and love within us as we move forward into the challenges and changes of the new year.

Inviting Silence— the Power of the Pause

Over this past month, I've become aware in so many ways of the importance of inviting silence into our lives. You can't speak silence.  Speaking words aloud are the antithesis of silence. Yet when we come to the end of what spoken words can offer and invoke silence, there is a power and a presence there beyond anything we could ever have said.

Recently, I was writing some feedback for a coaching session I'd observed as part of a mentor-coach training with facilitators Marion Frankel, MCC and Edmée Schalkx, MCC. As I listened to the recording of the session, I was struck by several instances where the coach piled three questions one right after the other, without a pause. At one point, his client hesitated, confused, then picked a question at random to answer.

As a coach, I know it's easy to get into a place of rushing to talk when you're feeling nervous, when you're worried that your client hasn't understood your first question, or when you're pressed for time to help your client arrive at a meaningful outcome. Interestingly, the most valuable thing you can do at that point for your client— and yourself— is to pause after a straightforward, open-ended question. Then let the silence invite her also to pause, then go deeper into herself for a response that comes from what is true to who she is.

When I'm grounded and mindful, completely present with the person I'm coaching, I can feel the quality of openness in silence that allows for new awareness to come forth. As Marion tells us, "Just listen. You can leave your client all the silence she needs." In fact, silence becomes a gift you offer of trust in the other person's inner knowing. As Susan Cain says in her book, Quiet— The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking: "Why shouldn't quiet be strong? And what else can quiet do that we don't give it credit for?" [Take a pause here to absorb the experience of this second, very powerful question. Notice what moves you inside.]

Recently, another angle on the power of the pause came to me from my friend, Swedish opera singer Miriam Treichl. She linked me to a TED talk in which singing coach Antonio Pappano, working with André Chenier, star tenor, in a vocal master class, has a response of his own to Susan Cain's question: "The difficulty for the singers is how to deal with silence. That's when the quality of the singers is exposed. So I'm trying to work in the rehearsal room to get them to fill the silence with their own intensity."

In another synchronicity, on Friday, November 13th, as we learned of the carnage that had been perpetrated in Paris, the Berkeley Repertory Theater in California opened Ayad Akhtar's play, Disgraced, that features a protagonist who is a secular Moslem man. Though this was a play of many intense and angry words, the ending after the performance transcended them. As Robert Hurwitt wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle:

As devastating as are the final scenes of “Disgraced”— and [this] drama is as deeply unsettling as it is thought-provoking — the act of conscience that followed the opening night curtain call, Friday, Nov. 13, was even more profoundly moving.

As the applause died down, the actors stared straight ahead, fumbled for each other’s hands and bowed their heads for a simple, prolonged moment of silence. The packed, still house joined in unstated but explicit shared humanity and solidarity with the people of Paris. And, I believe, with freedom for art, thought and life itself. Yes, I wept.

After the terrible events of the day and Akhtar’s characters’ scathing attacks on — and passionate defenses of — Islam, most of us needed that moment of silence before heading out the door….

Ensconced in the communion of silence with the players and the audience, Robert Hurwitt and doubtless many others wept. In this pause was the expression of feeling and connection in the human community.

So what is it to invite silence into our lives? As we've seen, it is caring permission to go deeper into who we really are. It is being present with others to share our feelings and our common humanity. Overall, it is the opportunity to remember ourselves and for what purpose we are alive and connected to the whole of our planet, here, now.

“Got Your Back, Joe!”— Success with Authenticity and Community

I recently read the most gripping book, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown— the story of all the players and creators of the eight-oar crewing team from the University of Washington that won the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. At first, the author draws you in through the personal stories of the athletes, most of whom had to deal with financially and emotionally impoverished backgrounds to attend the university and then to be selected to crew for the boat destined for the Olympics.

At the same time, I also read Yes, Chef— the memoir of a brilliant, young chef, Marcus Samuelsson, who’s Ethiopian-born, raised in Sweden, and now a citizen of the US, living and working in Harlem in New York City.

What’s the connection? For me, a vital one is the counterpoint of Samuelsson with the highlighted crew member, Joe Rantz, in The Boys in the Boat. Both had natural talent for their winning directions, and both had to learn under extremely challenging circumstances that flair, ambition, and even intensive practice can only take you so far.

To take the big leap towards your vision of success, you have to acknowledge and accept the communities that still nourish you— where you were born, who raised you, who mentored or coached you, who your lasting partners are, who you can love and trust absolutely (who’s “got your back”). To live out your dream, to go for the gold, you must anchor yourself— your skills and your genius— in the community that has grown around you or that you’ve designed for yourself.

As George Yeoman Pocock, master crew shell (boat) maker and spiritual guide to Joe Rantz and his crew team, shared with Rantz:

“What mattered more than how hard a man rowed was how well everything he did in the boat harmonized with what the other fellows were doing. And a man couldn’t harmonize with his crewmates unless he opened his heart to them . . . ‘Joe, when you really start trusting those other boys, you will feel a power within you that is far beyond anything you’ve ever imagined….’” (from The Boys in the Boat)

Rantz, however, had such a hard-scrabble life— abandoned twice by his father after his mother died and from childhood having to work for his living— it was remarkable that he made it to college, hanging on financially by a hair during the Great Depression days. As for Samuelsson, he almost died of TB as a child in Ethiopia before being adopted by a working-class couple in Sweden. Both gained from that experience a hard-work ethic and reliance on themselves. Seeking and acknowledging the need for community support in meeting incredibly challenging goals was, understandably, a tough proposition for both.

“The psychology is complex . . . Rowers must subsume their often fierce sense of independence and self-reliance, [while] at the same time they must hold true to their individuality, their unique capabilities as oarsmen or oarswomen or, for that matter, as human beings.” (from The Boys in the Boat)

As Marcus Samuelsson found out, where he could be his most authentic self as a multicultural person of color, where he could best bring all his gifts as a master chef, was far from rural Sweden where he grew up— at his own restaurant, Red Rooster, in Harlem-- the famous and infamous ghetto and cultural nexus of African Americans in New York City. This is where he, his partners, his staff, his old friends, his new friends from Harlem, his family from Sweden and Ethiopia, and all his new and old customers could gather, eat, celebrate, and be at home.

“Food memories give people something to talk about— our food, our culture, our journey . . . The restaurant [Red Rooster] had to be a place that honored and mirrored the mystique of the renaissance but showed the new Harlem— inclusive of both old and new. The menu had to tell the story of all of Harlem’s residents— Latin, Southern, Caribbean, Jewish, Italian. When I cook, I see faces: When I make meatballs, I see my grandmother and her smile….” (from Yes, Chef)

Success like this goes beyond even the biggest imagining of Marcus Samuelsson. To create a place that sings and delights the palate and brings people, past and present, together from around the world into community— that is more than a goal— that is the gold!

As Joe Rantz discovered, in the best boat possible, with the right group of crewmates— the ones he could relate to and do his best with— he found both the support and the power of community— the joyful vehicle for the ultimate success of his and their dreams.

“That’s the deepest challenge. Even after the right mixture is found, each man or woman in the boat must recognize his or her place in the fabric of the crew, accept it, and accept the others as they are. The intense bonding and the sense of exhilaration that results from it are what many oarsmen row for, far more than for trophies or accolades.” (from The Boys in the Boat)

Beyond Jane Austen-- It Takes a Community to Create an Ebook!

Have you ever written a book?  Or thought about writing one?  I know when I had something I wanted to share I assumed that writing an article about something was a quicker, more useful way to communicate my ideas and thoughts to others.

Just over a year ago, however, I realized that I had enough professional material about life coaching to organize into a book, and I felt the energy inside me to go forward with this plan.  When I began actually outlining what I wanted to say in my book last February, it quickly became clear to me that I was not going to be Jane Austen writing and seeking publication in private ways.  I would be writing and self-publishing an ebook that would require a lot of input and guidance from people both known and unknown to me to make a showing in the world.

From the start, my book was a communal venture, based on the interactions between me and my clients during our coaching and body-energy experiencing sessions and teleclasses.  Requesting permission to draw from some of their responses and discoveries was a special way of affirming and coalescing what they had found of value in coaching together for their professional and personal transitions.

During the five months I was actually writing, my companions in community were friends who were also writing books, and my own coach.  With them, I began to understand that writing a book was moving me onto a larger platform in my professional development.  Now I had a larger message and a bigger vision to share!

As I moved into completion of my draft, I realized I needed permission from various authors I’d quoted.  I also wanted to find people whose opinions of writing I valued to read over my book and give me feedback.  Thirdly, I had to find authors and practitioners whose ability and integrity I appreciated to write testimonials.  The process of connecting with these authors, colleagues, friends, and family members was inspiring!-- and broadened the parameters of my “book community.”  What I tapped into was a wealth of generosity, insight, and support that brightened the transition from writing into the next step of creating a professional product.

The next people to enter my community have been professionals in the new worlds of editing, book design, formatting, and “platforming” to ebook distribution sites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks.  Here began another round of learning how to collaborate with and finally, turn over, my ebook “baby” to others who could midwife its debut into the world.

For example, the image on the cover of my book was a collaborative effort between me and my book designer, Mark.  Imagine trying to find one image to convey the words in my book title-- “success,” “soul,” “loving your livelihood,” and/or “living in balance.”  Where would you even begin?  What I found was that the first step was like asking a powerful question in coaching-- what was it I most wanted to express about the message of my book?  In the end, I followed my instinct and went with “The Wave” as an image of energy, empowerment, and forward motion-- while Mark’s skill made it radiant for the cover.

As I now begin the next big transition into spreading the word about my book, I’m reflecting on the power and support of my evolving community that unfurled organically as my book, Success with Soul-- Loving Your Livelihood, Living in Balance, gradually took form.  In this next part of the journey, I’m looking forward to spreading my arms wide to the ever-growing community that will open as my book moves out of my hands and takes flight!

Eve’s Journey-- Going for the Big Dream and Making It Real

I’ve just completed a 7-month journey of writing and editing my forthcoming e-book, Success with Soul-- Loving Your Livelihood, Living in Balance!  Now it’s in the hands of the layout people, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they will do to make it attractive and irresistible to read when it goes public in October.

I had no idea that writing a relatively short book based on my work experiences as a career transitions coach and somatic therapist helping people make positive changes in their careers and lives would be such a rich and demanding process. I’d written blog posts for several years on the value of doing work you love and living authentically, but writing a book about these topics was like navigating the ocean where before I’d been paddling in a pond. 

In writing a book, I realized I was now sharing the whole scope of my professional and personal discoveries about what makes work and life compelling and alive. 

Have you ever chosen to manifest a BIG dream you’ve really longed to make vibrantly alive for yourself, such as finding work or an avocation you love, having a child, creating a piece of art or writing, claiming a new path for healthy living, or in some way changing your life to serve a larger purpose? Then you know what an extraordinary experience it is to see the distant outline of your dream fill in, and become closer and more real, with each action step you take towards its fulfillment.

What is the impetus for taking a big leap forward in life (which is what writing my book feels like to me)? In my case, I sense it’s about widening my community in the world and taking my place more purposefully within it. With the publication of my book, I look forward to greater and more innovative possibilities for engaging with people embarking on inner and outer journeys towards positive change.

What is your impetus for taking a big leap forward and making a change that really matters to you . . . THIS YEAR? . . . NOW?

Learning from Japan-- When Is It Time to Ask for Help?

Around this first anniversary of the devastating triad of natural and man-made tragedies in Japan, I’d like to share my blog post of about a year ago with a great story from a small Japanese town in the affected area north of Tokyo.  The messages from its mayor are universal, timeless, and vital to our evolution as beings on this planet.

Almost a year ago, there was a very moving UTube video [“SOS from Minamisoma mayor”] of the mayor of Minamisoma-- a small town near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors, devastated by the March earthquake, tsunami, and threat of nuclear meltdown-- desperately but with dignity asking for help for his town’s citizens who still remained.  These people (only a third of the original population, those who weren’t killed, missing, or evacuated) were trying to support each other under the dedicated leadership of their mayor, Mr. Sakurai.  However, they couldn’t get help from outside the town, as delivery trucks with food and gas refused to come within 18 miles of the city because of potential radiation hazard.  People were starving, and without heat or even gas to leave the town.

Feeling unheard and unsupported by the Japanese government, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, and the local media, Mr. Sakurai agreed to talk in a video for UTube.  Later, Mr. Sakurai said he “credited the large-scale response to his video with helping those who remained in the stricken city to carry on.  ‘Suddenly, the world was extending its hand to us . . . We’ve learned that we are not alone.’”  Food and other relief supplies were then being delivered to the town by non-profit agencies, helping its people to begin to live their lives again.

People making career changes also need to consider, ”When is it time to ask for help?”  How do you know when you cannot do what you need to do by yourself?  How stuck or desperate do you have to feel before you reach out for the help you need?

Career and life coaches in the United States often work with people who struggle with our national ethos that taking care of all your problems yourself is the only acceptable route.  When they finally start working with a coach, they realize that finding the right kind of help for dealing with problems and making changes is a tremendous relief. They receive affirmation for their dreams and plans, plus appropriate support for moving forward into new areas of their lives. They also learn that asking for help before getting completely burnt out or stuck makes their lives much easier.

Mayor Sakurai was forced to give his speech on the video at “the darkest moment in the disaster.”  He and his townspeople reached out to the world-- and people all over responded.  As Mayor Sakurai and his town discovered, “We’ve learned that we are not alone.”  The lesson is, none of us need to be alone in our search for support in reaching our goals.

In fact, asking for help is really a mutually enriching experience.  When you ask for help, you allow others who help you live fulfilled by giving them the opportunity to share something they have of value with you.  At the end of his speech, Mayor Sakurai concludes, “Helping each other is what makes us human beings.”

Creative Problem Solving with Leaders as Heroes and Leaders as Hosts

Right now, I’m really excited about the October 22nd leadership event in Oakland, CA-- “A Call to Fearlessness-- Discover Your True Leadership Voice to Create Community and Joy!”-- featuring internationally acclaimed trainer/educator/author Margaret Wheatley and songweaver Barbara McAfee, sponsored by Bay Area Coaches. In fact, this event is making me consider more deeply styles of leadership, and exploring what is most important to me in claiming my own “leadership voice.”

Wheatley poses the question of “leader as hero or leader as host” as a way of introducing two very different ways of viewing leadership.  Leaders as heroes like to be visibly in charge, with all decisions in their hands. In Wheatley’s latest book, Walk Out Walk On (co-written with Deborah Frieze), she comments that this style tends to go to a place where “leaders lose trust in people’s ability to self-organize and feel the need to take control . . . compliance becomes more important than creativity.”

“Leaders as hosts,” on the other hand, encourage others to create solutions to problems by inviting people to share their creativity and insights together as a community, facilitating from the bottom up rather than commanding from the top down. These types of leaders, who “walk out” of groups where an excess of top-down leadership stifles creativity and ownership by other group members, “champion values and practices that respect people, that rely on people’s inherent motivation, creativity and caring to get quality work done.”

So I’m really looking forward to being at this event and hearing how might Wheatley address the Steve Jobs phenomenon-- that of a “hero”-style leader who brought Apple computer to an apex of international success while continuing himself-- and exhorting Apple techies to be-- unrelentingly creative and “caring to get quality work done.” If he’d lived, could Steve Jobs have saved the world and its numerous problems with a leadership style that was undeniably top-down and heroic, but also compellingly creative?

Actually, what Wheatley suggests is that “pioneers” whose work and leadership is outside the box in terms of creativity in solving problems need to have a framework of “community” that actively “[encourages] one another through the trials and risks natural to those giving birth to the new in the midst of the breakdown of the old.” In his own way, Steve Jobs did create such a community-- one that included the technological wizards who implemented his visionary products, the financial backers whom he convinced to back these products in advance, and the consumers worldwide who loved owning/holding/using Apple products of all kinds.

What both Wheatley and Jobs hold in common is the understanding that leadership that helps solve large, systemic problems involves “people who have walked out of limiting beliefs and assumptions and walked on to create healthy and resilient communities. [They] use their ingenuity and caring to figure out how to work with what they have to create what they need.” Though their “caring” is about different aspects of humanity’s well-being and movement forward, they both have supported people worldwide in perceiving new options for how they live and work in the communities of their choice.

For further details and registration for the Bay Area Coaches leadership event, “A Call to Fearlessness-- Discover Your True Leadership Voice to Create Community and Joy!”, please go to www.bayareacoaches.org.   [Note: Coaches can get 5 CCEUs (2 in core competency) for attending the October 22nd event or registering for the event simulcast.]

Japan and the Effects of Trauma - - Healing by Being Heard!

Several weeks after the catastrophic earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor near-meltdowns along the northeastern coast of Japan, newspapers here and in Japan are still running daily articles about the quality of the Japanese character in the ability of people there to absorb the overwhelming stresses of their overturned lives with “patience, persistence, and acceptance” (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/28/11).

What is less well-known is how well the Japanese directly affected by these disasters are coping emotionally with the huge magnitude of grief and loss they have been experiencing.  Trauma, to paraphrase Freud, is a breach in one’s barriers-- somatic (of the body), psychological, and societal.  The devastating events in Japan recently affected people in all these areas.

Peter Levine, founder of Somatic Experiencing™ for healing from trauma using body-based techniques, uses the term “copability” to describe a person’s ability to draw on inner and outer resources to survive, emotionally as well as physically, overwhelming events.  If a huge wave, earthquake, and radioactive leakage have suddenly destroyed your family, home, and livelihood, your ability not only to survive, but heal, may very well depend on your sense of personal power to act to support yourself and others-- combined with feeling heard and supported by safe people in your life and even your society.

One thing I’ve noticed recently are articles highlighting Japanese people speaking out concerning their feelings about what has been happening-- beyond their immediate concerns (whereabouts of family members, food, heat, shelter).  In the New York Times of March 31st, is a poignant photo of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko sitting in an intimate setting, listening to evacuees from the Fukushima area whose grief and fear are etched on their faces.  Though their role is largely ceremonial, the emperor and empress embody the essence of Japanese society.  If they are listening to what their people are feeling, it is a model for a people in a publicly stoic country to follow in helping others who are suffering in Japan to heal.

As a career/life coach and somatic healer, I know from the personal and professional successes of many of my clients that the power to recover from trauma and serious setbacks is entirely possible.  While it will take some time, support-- and is a definite learning curve-- being able to speak and share your feelings in a safe environment is a big step towards becoming empowered after grief and loss.

“Answer, if you hear the words under the words--
otherwise it is just a world with a lot of rough edges,
difficult to get through, and our pockets full of stones”

-- Naomi Shihab Nye

Learning From Japan - What Matters to You Most Now?

In the wake of Japan’s recent devastating earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear reactor breakdowns, there have been many stories about how people there have responded to the emergency situations and the survival aftermath.  In my mind, it’s brought up the question of what is truly important to each of us, and how we live that out.

A New York Times article of March 17th about reactions of people in Tokyo, about 170 miles south of the earthquake’s epicenter, said that “most Japanese are trying to uphold the ethic that they are taught from childhood:  to do their best, persevere, and suppress their own feelings for the sake of the group.”  The group ethic is strong-- which can be stifling for individual self-expression, but also insures the willing support of the community for its own survival.  As an electronics technician in Tokyo said, “I can’t [leave this area] because I have to work my hardest [now] for my customers.”

Up in Sendai, close to the epicenter, an American resident wrote in Ode magazine that “it’s utterly amazing that where I am there has been no looting, no pushing in lines . . . The Japanese themselves are so wonderful.  I come back to my shack to check on it each day . . . and I find food and water left in my entrance way . . . People talk to complete strangers asking if they need help.  I see no signs of fear.  Resignation, yes, but fear or panic, no.

From both these sources, it’s clear that in Japan, during times of need, at least, the value of “community” is a strong one, transcending individual fears, doubts, and confusion, and supporting the whole society.

Now I’d like to riff off the Japanese experience to explore what matters most to you at this time.  Do you want more social cohesion or more opportunities to expand your dreams for personal fulfillment?  Is there a way to balance the community values based on a more traditional society with the sense of expanded possibilities for individuals more prevalent in a more free-floating society such ours in the urban United States?  We might also ask, can a more individually oriented society come together as well in emergency conditions?

As a life coach, I support many people who have come up against a wall where they lose confidence about going forward towards new, more satisfying careers.  Their biggest fear is often what their family-- spouses and parents-- reflect back to them about the consequences to family stability of not continuing along the paths of their earlier training and work.  To which other questions arise-- What is it to be truly secure?  When do we need to trust our dreams in this regard?  Where do we really find our support?