A Happy Person and Happy Coincidence

As I was walking from Farragut West metro stop to the meeting place of the Appreciative Inquiry Learning Group I met an interesting person. We were going to be viewing the movie “happy” (happy movie – do check it out if you don’t know it) and this figures in the story for me. (By the way, the link to the movie website is real. Other links that appear are random from some source that I can’t control– please ignore those.)

I needed to know which way to walk from I Street to get to N Street and didn’t want to walk a long block to find out if my guess was right. I looked around for someone to ask and decided to wait until the man I spotted was near enough. Good choice. He said he was going that way and slowed his long-legged stride to match my short-legged stride and began talking. He said he was not in a hurry- he had plenty of time to get to his volunteer assignment.

He talked about time and the importance of being present to the moment rather than always rushing past things. He talked about the power of god being in everything even the bricks we were walking on so that all of us are interconnected. He talked about being open to possibility and trusting that the right people and the right events would show up. He talked about really believing that something is possible and then taking some small step in that direction and watching what happens.

This man could have been speaking from several books I have been reading. But he wasn’t. He told me that not long ago he had been homeless. And in a homeless shelter he saw a man who had no legs and had only one arm. At once he thought what did he have to be depressed about when really he had so much. That was a pivot point for him. His vocation now is volunteer work and raising money for charitable causes.

The movie “happy” shows people all over the world who are happy often despite circumstances that might not look so happy to those of us in more comfortable circumstances. It asserts that once you have basic survival needs met more wealth does not bring happiness. It concludes that key components of happiness are having close family and friends, personal growth and community, i.e. helping the world.

I don’t know about this man’s close family and friends, but in that brief walk with him I witnessed his personal growth and his commitment to helping the world. I could have asked someone else for directions and I’m grateful I asked him. I experienced him as a gift.

Add comment July 12th, 2012

Spaces in Gardens and Life

As I was enjoying my yard today, adding the last bag of mulch, pulling up some weeds, trimming an azalea and wondering where I might transplant a small dogwood tree that volunteered, I thought about the value of space. I know that avid gardeners are also great weeders and I admit that I used to think that if it was green and could grow in the Virginia clay of my yard, good for it. But as I pay more attention these days I realize that the plants I appreciate the most are best able to be appreciated when distractions don’t interfere with my view of them. And I realize some balance of plants, stones, wood and space makes the most pleasing vista.

This caused me to think about space in my day and space in my life and whether I am more appreciative of people and events when they are not crowded together. I believe this is true. Some wonderful and constantly changing balance of good stuff and space are desirable. My opportunity then is to invite in enough good stuff and weed out enough distractions so I have space for reflection and appreciation of what I have just experienced.

Organic by definition, I love that gardens grow and change. I try to allow for organic emergence in my life, too. But I do realize my garden is best when I invest attention and labor in it- it doesn’t totally grow itself.

a 'dry stream bed' joins my uphill neighbor and me

a 'dry stream bed' joins my uphill neighbor and me

Add comment June 27th, 2012

‘Paying’ Attention

The English language is complex and can be interesting, as even native speakers of it know. Recently I was reading an article about our Metro subway system and eating lunch. At the end of one line were the words “riders will need to pay extra”. At that point I glanced away to take a forkful and in that moment I was thinking about paying more money for a particular feature and wondering how that would work. When my fork met my mouth I went back to reading and saw that the next word was “attention.” This created for me a whole new understanding of our phrase “pay attention.”

If I think of “pay” as an investment or even an item for barter it adds importance to the areas to which I direct my attention. What am I paying for? What return do I expect? And very importantly, am I squandering my attention?

Our attention does have value. Do we pay attention to the natural world around us? Do we pay attention to the needs and concerns of others? Do we pay attention to our own impact on everyone and everything in our environment. We can judge the values of a business or a government by the things on which it spends its money. How does my attention reveal my values and am I being true to myself in that to which I attend?

Add comment March 30th, 2012

New Life

It is an amazing March here in DC, with a warm springing urging the daffodils out, cheering the flowering ground cover and plants that are reemerging after the winter, rejoicing in the early cherry blossoms. i love witnessing the growth and fresh signs of life just as I do every year.

This March most amazing of all to me is the new life of my new grandson. I was privileged to cheer and watch him emerge into this world from the safety of my daughter’s womb Monday morning. I was not really sleepy during the long night of watching because my energies were completely focused on my daughter’s experience. I wasn’t one of the birth coaches, but I realized I was in coach/facilitator mode in being tuned to her energy and experience as she labored to bring forth this new human, and as her husband attended to her. And then the marvel of his actual birth!

One can only imagine the experience of the child growing and thriving and pushing against the limits in that dark secure surrounding, then being part of these urgent waves taking him down the canal and into the light. He arrived with only a small cry announcing his presence among us.

I think in our delight in exuberant shows of life we sometimes forget that gratitude is appropriate also for those periods of rest, of gathering energies, of quiet shifts and growth. These make possible the grand shows later. We all need those periods that mimic the rhythms of nature. And some labor in those gardens and wombs of life, supporting the healing or learning of others as they prepare for reemergence.

Welcome, Odin Nathaniel.

Add comment March 14th, 2012

Like Looking in a Mirror

“It’s like looking in a mirror and hearing back from myself.” This comment was made to me by one of my coaching clients to describe her experience of our work together. I was delighted because it is such a good description of coaching and particularly useful in distinguishing coaching from other work.

A good coach helps people notice things that had been there but had not received any focus or that could benefit from being viewed in a different way. A shift in a behavior or in an emotion that one brings to an activity can open up new possibilities for action and result. Sometimes noticing a behavior or emotion helps us bring them into play more often, when we want to call on them.

A friend who is also a coach was asking me recently how I create insights that are useful for the client, hoping to hear what process I follow. It was a great coaching question because I had not been aware of a “how” until I began to describe it to her. I described feeling a resonance with my client and then when the client described a situation to me and I experienced that situation as constraint or a block I knew that was an area where I wanted to create a new awareness.

I know this practice of coaching begs for a name so we can distinguish it from athletic coaching. “Executive coaching” and “Leadership coaching” really don’t tell the whole story. Newfield Network uses the term “ontological coaching” but I don’t find that very accessible. Perhaps it’s “mirror coaching”.

Add comment March 3rd, 2012

Stillness As a Path to New Results

A client wanted to explore being calm. The client already knew a path to calm and needed reinforced to use it – breathing, deep breathing in particular. A practice of just a very minutes of deep breathing a day will make it available when one really needs it.

The simplicity of this practice made the possibility very real and we used that starting point as a leverage for some other desired shifts in behavior, especially the need for increased skill in active listening. For this one can monitor one’s body posture as well as breath. If the body is positioned to pounce at the next break in conversation, a person is probably experiencing a sense of urgency to enter the conversation. In sitting back the body prepares for receptivity and a deep breath quiets the busyness in mind. This stillness prepares the way for truly listening to another person.

Active listening is a practice many people say they desire, but in the heat of the moment other desires become greater. This is true of other practices, too. The question is how to lower the temperature of the moment and find a little calm so other desires can come forward or reason can enter into the situation.

I’ve had several people report great success when they hold back from reaction and take a moment to reflect or process. Finding a way to “hit pause” is like having a magic wand.

1 comment January 18th, 2012

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a hole in time and uncertainty

This past week The Washington Post and AP picked up on an experiment conducted by scientists at Cornell University. It involved masking an event by having it occur in a way that the speed of light would not bring it to observers’ eyes or attention. The articles also referenced a slightly earlier experiment that bent light rays in such a way that observers could no longer see an object or its attendant event. If we can’t see what is there then what has happened to certainty in our world?

As much as we desire certainty and feel our world rocking when we can’t know things, many people have been reminding us for years that we can’t be certain of things. What I see is not necessarily what you see even if we are in the same room. The past really doesn’t predict the future, especially when circumstances are changing at a rapid rate. We used to think we could control our world. We are beginning to see that as an illusion.

The uncertainty of our world, or perhaps better phrased as the uncertainty of which we have become aware, makes many people uncomfortable. So if we can’t force tomorrow or even the next minute to be the way we want it to be how do we behave in a way to invite the most appealing or successful alternatives? Choice is still real. But if we look at circumstances, events and people as we have always looked at them we see no more than the possibilities we saw before and choices are very limited. The approach then, and this is the coach approach, is to slow down enough to ask ourselves what other perspectives we might take, how else we can see what is going on and our own reactions. In openness and inquiry lie the secrets to a future that unfolds more generously with more possibilities.

Add comment January 8th, 2012


I was listening to a jazz performance last night of Nasar Abadey (drums), James King (bass) and Allyn Johnson (piano), all out of DC, and Azar Lawrence (saxaphones) from California. The first piece they played is one of Nasar’s called “Covenant”. I thought I was hearing a covenant among the musicians to build around the tone of a chime that he used at the beginning and I began thinking more largely about basic covenants in jazz as the agreements of musicians to create around the spine of a piece of music and to honor the contributions of each other.

So I spoke to Nasar at break about my reflection. He affirmed the truth of it and told me there is also an agreement with the Almighty to receive inspiration and let the music flow through them. And, I added, it flows through the audience and back to the musicians in energy.

With the depth of this discussion I decided that “covenants” is a good topic for reflection and self coaching. Taking my advice I pondered and realized that a very important covenant in my life is among my adult children and me, and I further realized I had allowed it to remain implied. How much stronger it will be when we explicitly agree that we will tell the truth about what we need and about what we are able to promise.

I appreciate the “covenant” overlay on life events and future possibilities. I will offer that to coaching clients. My gratitude to the musicians for more than the immediate enjoyment of their music.

Add comment December 11th, 2011

Balance or Excellence

As a friend of mine spoke with a group of us last night about polarities the discussion called to mind a concern I had just been hearing about work-life balance. When I hear anyone mention “work life balance” I hear it as a shorthand expression for some larger concern and those larger concerns seem to vary with the speaker. I think polarity leveraging gives us insight into these issues. (See Polarity Management Associates.)

We Westerners seem to have a lot of training in either-or thinking, beginning with parental choices and extending into philosophical discussions about the horns of a dilemma. While some situations are indeed dilemmas demanding we choose one or the other alternative, we can see new possibilities for action by recognizing others as polarities as two legitimate values that exist in dynamic tension . The first basic example that Cliff gave us (see Cliff Kayser) was inhaling and exhaling. It’s easy to see the upside of each. Thinking a little about it we can all see the downside to staying in either mode to the exclusion of the other. Okay, so healthy life, in fact life at all, depends on our accessing both. We could make a shallow inhale and a shallow exhale and achieve balance. Is this the best way to make use of the breathing functions? Most of us don’t think so and it is hard to get through a day without someone, maybe even ourselves, saying “remember your deep breaths, with long inhales and long exhales”.

If we think about any polarities in our life (exercise-relaxation?, listening-speaking?, independence-dependence?, and many others you can think of quickly) we can see how either value can be very attractive, that both values are attractive at different moments, and that each has a down side when we do too much of it or remain there to the exclusion of the other. Are there polarities lurking within the work-life balance phrase? Some people might say yes and describe them as “dedication to quality work” and “dedication to quality personal life”. How you describe the components of these poles will be important to your decision for action. Describing the down side of each will probably come easily to those who notice a struggle. Polarity leveraging asks us to notice how much of the good stuff we are getting out of each of the two values, and how much time we are spending in the bad stuff (staying in one too long). It then asks us what action steps we can take to access more of each of the values. And what early warning signs should we heed that indicate we are going too far into the down side of either.

I believe setting up dedication to quality work and dedication to quality personal life as polarities encourages us to seek excellence in both and gives credence to those nagging feelings we have when we know it is “out of balance.” We could balance both by doing a little of each on the up side and also dwelling in the downsides of each, but it would certainly not be a satisfying balance. The attractive choice is clearly to seek ways of achieving excellence in both values and not only forgive ourselves for not living in one overly long but actually celebrate our ability to move between the two. In recognizing them as polarities we embrace both without guilt and ask what specific actions will take us on our chosen path.

Add comment December 1st, 2011

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