Holding Presence

An Oasis in Time — What Is It to Make Time to Savor and Transform Your Life?

Do you long to have a way of taking a satisfying, daylong weekly "time out of time" from your busy life?  

Are you wondering if this is even possible?  

Have you tried taking a day off from work at the end of a busy week— and enjoyed it so much that you wanted to do it again— but never did?

If having a way to disconnect from an over-busy, over-technologized, incredibly hectic way of managing a life filled to the brim with work, family, friends, fitness, social activities (and probably no time for yourself) is important to you, you will want to read and take to heart the wonderful new book by my colleague, Marilyn Paul, PhD, An Oasis in Time— How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life.

An Oasis in Time is a deeply compassionate and profoundly felt exploration of the value of the weekly sabbath day— and why it's so important in our over-stressed, modern, professional lives. Just as importantly, this book helps you design, protect, prepare for, and live your own unique sabbath— or "oasis in time."  Finally, Marilyn Paul describes the transformational value of taking a weekly day off that is dedicated to nourishing yourself, your community, and your world — emotionally, socially, and spiritually.

As Paul says about her own life, "Years ago, before I discovered oasis time, I was a hard worker round the clock, or so it seemed to me.  But I was incredibly inefficient.  

I thought I was giving work my all, all the time, but actually I was slowly running out of steam . . .  Next weekend, I told myself, I will get organized, straighten out my priorities, go for a long run, maybe out in nature, and just get back on top of things.  But that next weekend never came."

And what is the cost of delaying finding and keeping your own oasis in time? What's so important about not burning out on the job? According to Paul, "The combination of a stressed immune system and the overuse of technology can lead to another serious outcome: burnout. This one word is so powerful, and yet it hardly captures the deep emotional and spiritual costs of losing one's inner flame."

Taking a whole day off to unplug and put aside your work gives you the chance to shift your life back into your organic circadian rhythm— back into replenishment, health, and connection with what else, and with whom, you love.

Furthermore, "Taking back our time is a subversive act these days. It entails claiming that . . . we can have a good day without achieving anything other than unwinding, slowing down, connecting, and experiencing grace.In other words, you don't make the world a better place by over-working, or over-stressing in other parts of your life seven days a week! By dedicating a day a week to enjoying being in the moment, gladly spending time with those you love, playing with them, having relaxing meals together, talking a long walk, or just reading a book you've saved for a special day, you add to what famed author and neurologist, Oliver Sacks, M.D., calls "living a good and worthwhile life— achieving a sense of peace within oneself." 

Just in case you think taking a whole day off from work each week isn't possible, An Oasis in Time has great tips for helping you shift your perspective, hold your time boundaries, and become a convert to the delights of "slowing down, connecting, and experiencing grace"!

I was particularly fascinated by what this book has to say about the potential of oasis time for transformation in our lives— "Our oasis time offers a chance not only for rest and renewal but also for transformation. This is the unexpected benefit of taking regular time off: The nurturing haven you create each week can become an incubator to support the kind of growth you need to face your greatest challenges. Oasis time, with its uniquely nurturing setting, provides the perfect conditions to prepare us for deeper engagement in life."

In other words, by creating a designated day apart for relaxation and re-connection with what you love and value that you may rush past during a busy week, you're building your inner resources of vitality, emotional resilience, and creativity. You're opening yourself to your fullest potential with ease!

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.

In Synch with Synchronicity-- Creating the Clues to Heart-Centered Change

What is synchronicity-- and how can we use awareness of its appearances to take compelling leaps into new, more fruitful openings in our lives?  Synchronicity can be thought of as happenings that coincide in ways that have deep meaning for the people involved. As such, they can offer clues or affirmation of where we want to go if we take the time to look deeper with our hearts and minds.

Phil Cousineau, in his book, Coincidence or Destiny?, says: “An experience of synchronicity is marked by elegance, symmetry, vividness, suddenness, poetry, or a truth that speaks to the heart.”  Furthermore, “there are no accidents in the circle of synchronicity . . . at least, not when one is on the path with heart, the path of destiny.”

As a career and life coach, my interest is very much in supporting people in finding their “paths with heart,” where their inner longings for change transform into new ways of working and living that are rewarding and heartfelt.  When my conscious attention is focused on finding and working with people at this level, I’m often aware of an energetic patterning within myself that appears to expand my opportunities to connect with them.

As clinical psychologist Dr. Kirby Surprise, author of the book, Synchronicity: The Art of Coincidence, Choice, and Unlocking Your Mind, says in a recent interview with the ezine, “SuperConsciousness”:

Synchronistic events happen when people see a meaningful connection between external events and their own internal states . . . As reflections of what people are thinking and feeling, most synchronistic events become very explainable . . . If you simply say, “Okay. What do I actually want?” and look for that, you get events that present you with the opportunities to pursue that pattern....

There are millions more patterns in the universe and in the room around you than you could possibly deal with. What this amazing supercomputer in your head [the brain] does is it only shows you the patterns that it thinks are most relevant to what you want to see.

So we do have the power to set up the context to call forth synchronistic events by combining the capacity of our brain with our conscious intention. Experiencing these events, however, often feels in the moment almost magical; and they do operate beyond linear cause and effect. Synchronicity is a web of connection that can reach into our lives in wholly unexpected ways-- through intuitive knowing, déjà vu, dreams, and sudden happenings that have an inner rightness but no explicit logic.

For example, I use the online network, LinkedIn, as a means of professional outreach. However, a recent connection with retired drama director, Stella, through LInkedIn about coaching had that amazing sense of "no accidents" that struck both of us.

One day, browsing through some LinkedIn messages, I “accidentally” hit a button saying “Connect” without knowing what I was connecting to.  Over the next couple of days, I got dozens of acceptances to “connect” through LinkedIn from people I didn’t know, or know of, in fields wildly divergent from my own.  Since I usually only connect with, or invite connections from, professionals on LinkedIn I know or know of, I didn't understand what was happening.

Then I got a LinkedIn message from Stella asking for a consultation about coaching.  I knew I didn’t know who she was, so I asked her how she’d heard about me.  She said she’d gotten an invitation to connect from me, but hadn’t known why, or who I was.  So she checked out my LinkedIn profile and found I was a coach specializing in career and life transitions.  This interested Stella, who was wanting to make major changes in creating a real community with meaningful friendships in her life.

She then checked out how I’d known about her and found that we did have a mutual LinkedIn connection-- though not among our primary contacts, but among the contacts of our primary contacts.  Our mutual connection turned out to be a woman who is a good friend of mine.  When Stella contacted her, my friend told her that I’d coached her at a critical time in her life when she needed support in making authentic life style changes.  She gave me a very positive testimonial, which encouraged Stella to consult with me about how coaching could help her create new changes in her own life.

So somewhere between my awareness of whom I enjoy working with and Stella's conscious desire to make vital changes in her life, a field of connection appeared manifesting in a happening that surprised us both. This “synchronistic event” was the cue, and clue, that set the stage for a deeper level of understanding between us that has led to a coaching relationship with rewarding new possibilities for Stella.

“Synchronistic events can indeed be a way for those very intelligent and aware parts of the rest of your supercomputer [brain] to try to talk to you, to cooperate with you, helping you in whatever creative problem solving in your life that you want to do.”
-- from Synchronicity: The Art of Coincidence, Choice, and Unlocking Your Mind

Here’s another instance of a synchronistic event leading to “creative problem solving” with another coaching client of mine. A science researcher and mother of two young children, Lana was telling me that her life had lost some richness for her, because she felt she no longer had any time for spontaneous visits and calls with her women friends. Just as she said that, the doorbell rang. Lana excused herself to answer it and then laughed out loud. The friend that she’d particularly been thinking of as she talked with me had just come to the door with a birthday gift for her!

Simply by paying attention to her deep desire to have more unscheduled time with her close women friends, Lana opened a channel that had become less present in these relationships. The synchronicity of her friend showing up at her door without previous planning affirmed for her the possibility she has within herself to change an unrewarding life pattern into one of “vividness, suddenness, poetry, [and] a truth that speaks to the heart.”

Creating Success with Soul-- What It Means to Be Really Heard

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Most people who’ve asked me about coaching understand that its primary purpose is to help people make positive changes in their lives. What’s less clear to them is how working with a coach will make that happen. People often have in mind the stereotypical image of a sports coach exhorting a player to go and do more and do better!

So I’d like to speak now to a fundamental quality that great life coaches possess-- the art of listening and engaging from that place of deep listening with their clients. With their attentive listening, such coaches are attuned, beyond the words themselves, to what the quality and tone of a person’s voice can convey-- whether she is present or distant, energized or stuck.

As the authors of the book, Co-Active Coaching, state: “To be listened to is a striking experience-- partly because it is so rare. When another person is totally with you, leaning in, interested in every word, eager to empathize, you feel known and understood . . . Everything in coaching hinges on listening-- especially listening with the client’s agenda in mind....”

We don’t often have the experience of someone listening to us with an open mind and undivided attention as we talk about something that feels vital to us-- for example, a change that may be so radical and life-altering that we’ve never spoken about it to anyone else. “Feeling heard” is very much about feeling safe and supported in sharing a new-born, vulnerable part of ourselves. For many of my clients, this, in particular, has been a major gift of their coaching experience.

What is it, then, to be a life coach with the great privilege of helping people change their work and their lives-- by learning to be active and dedicated listeners ourselves?  I’m a coach who deeply cares about people having livelihoods and lives that reflect and enhance who they genuinely are and what they truly value. I’ve had training and practice that’s helped me learn how to listen-- not just with my ears, but with my whole body-mind awareness-- to my clients’ deepest yearnings for, and hidden fears about, making changes that have soul and substance.

In this regard, I resonate to the following quote from Hilary Mantel’s amazing historical novel, Wolf Hall, about this ability to respond from a place of deep listening to help evoke transformative change in others:

He [Thomas Cromwell] takes it seriously, the trust placed in him; he takes gently from the hands of these noisy young persons their daggers, their pens, and he talks to them, finding out behind the passion and pride of young men of fifteen or twenty what they are really worth, what they value and would value under duress. You learn nothing about men by snubbing them and crushing their pride. you must ask them what it is they can do in this world, that they alone can do.The boys are astonished by the question, their souls pour out. Perhaps no one has talked to them before. Certainly not their fathers....

If you’re on the edge of making a change that could positively affect the way you work, relate, and affect the world around you, consider finding out for yourself what it means to be genuinely listened to and supported in creating the success you long for. Contact me for a free coaching consultation and experience for yourself the liberating gift of being “really heard.”

Loving Your Work, Working with Love

I’ve always admired and enjoyed being around people who love their work, particularly if they delight in inspiring others to grow and express their true potential.  So in honor of Valentine's Day, I’d like to offer a special valentine to someone who loved his work and worked with love to foster the joy of learning and transformation in others.

My high school English teacher, Warren Wilde, was absolutely passionate about exploring the wonders of literature with his students.  He was young, balding, and a brand-new teacher when he was hired by Los Altos High School in California.  As we students waited outside the room on the first day for our teacher to show up, we caught sight of a slight, balding man who seemed very nervous, constantly popping peppermint lifesavers (since he couldn’t smoke on the school grounds).  We watched him silently, thinking, what have they given us this year?

Within fifteen minutes, however, he was fully in charge of our skeptical honors English class, positing intriguing questions and listening intently to our responses.  There was no condescension in his manner of teaching, only a genuine interest in taking us deeply into new aspects of our lives through a growing understanding of a wide variety of literature.

We found out, too, that he could be challenging, daring us to broaden our unexamined acceptance of social norms and take risks with our thinking, our discussion, and our writing.  He was skeptical of platitudes, political dogma, fuzzy thinking, and going strictly by the rules.

In addition, he invited controversy as a way of heightening dialogue, for example, with the bomb shelter exercise.  This supposed that a nuclear emergency was about to happen and that each of us had a bomb shelter that would accommodate four people at maximum.  However, each of us were part of a group of four friends or family members; one of us would not be able to stay with the rest in the shelter.  How would we decide who to leave outside to face the nuclear blast?  How did we experience such a chilling process of choosing?

A number of us students were wrung out over this choice, and our parents were concerned.  But Mr. Wilde held firm and said we’d have to learn to consider the consequences of our choices and actions in life.  Later, I understood that this was a theme that ran through the literature that we learned to explore in depth with him.

As a person from a small town in Idaho, he found his calling working in a milieu that allowed him to live out his personal and professional dreams.  As I wrote in my book (Success with Soul-- Loving Your Livelihood, Living in Balance), of Paul Child, husband to famed chef, Julia Child:  “He was willing, over and over, to take risks, try new things, and most of all, fully appreciate and engage with whatever opportunities came his way.”  And so did Mr. Wilde, who introduced us to opera, which he loved, and later in his career, organized trips for his students to Europe to hear opera in its native lands.

When he died, in a tragic accident, ten years after his arrival at our high school, his memorial service was attended by a swarm of bereaved students from each year he’d taught.

What can we learn from being in the presence of a person who has the ability and confidence to inspire the transformation of our ways of thinking, feeling, and acting into truer, more authentic ways of relating and acting in the world?  For me, it has been about helping to empower others in similar ways through my own work and my relationships with others.

What about for you?

Connection and Intention - Why They Really Matter

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog over the past month know that I’m a great fan of the Oscar-nominated film, The King’s Speech, for its rich character interaction and development, plus the fantastic, dedicated coaching experience throughout!  I saw this movie for a second time, and was part of the repeat crowd afterwards still wowed by the performances of Colin Firth as Prince Bertie/King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as voice coach Lionel Logue.  This film is the journey of two unlikely partners in healing/transformation who, through this challenging process, also become friends.

A few days ago, when I saw another Oscar-nominated film, The Social Network, I was stunned at the contrast between these two movies.  Both involved characters who had major goals they met during the course of the films, and both explored the value of friendship in meeting these goals.  Viscerally, The King’s Speech filled me with warmth and a glow throughout my body-- while The Social Network left me with a headache and a chilled feeling inside.  (I know, I know, I’m out of synch here-- even though Facebook is very much part of my life now-- with the majority of viewers who resonated to this film.)

What made the difference?  I believe it’s about invoking the power of positive intention in the work we do.  Whether we’re creating revolutionary products or helping people make transformative changes in their lives, feeling fulfilled by our work depends on more than being first or making a fortune.  Fulfillment is also about deepening and sharing your commitment to connection with living beings, with life, in the course of doing what you love to do.

            I sense that in The King’s Speech Lionel’s intention of helping the king learn to live out his personal and professional mission (communicating clearly to the people in the British Empire) succeeded because of the caring connection that evolved between the two men during the coaching experience.  In The Social Network, however, Mark Zuckerberg’s intention in developing Facebook was to use his intellectual brilliance to get even with all those whom he felt looked down on him.

Working with this kind of limiting intention, it’s not surprising that Zuckerberg had only one friend, and by the end of the movie, none at all.  What was it worth to him that he’d developed the social online tool of the decade and became the world’s youngest billionaire?  At the end, we see him waiting, alone and unhappy, to see if his former girlfriend, whom he’d alienated, will become a Facebook “friend” with him. 

            As a career and life coach, I wonder what it would be like to work with Mark Zuckerberg as my client.  Now that Facebook is launched and his fortune made, what would be an area he’d like to change in his life at this time?  Might he wish to develop the gifts of friendship and intimacy?  What would he need to claim in himself to do that?