Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Will you show up and walk?


Sometimes I get calls from people who are hoping for a little magic to help them help someone else. The evidence on magic isn't very conclusive. While there are widespread stories of its effectiveness, most of the evidence comes down on the side of small, repeated changes in state and perception that gradually lead to a new way of thinking and feeling.

"Can't you speed it up through trance? I saw someone cure a phobia on youtube and it only took a minute or two." And behind the protests, I think I hear the voice of doubt whispering "maybe you're not as good as the magic ones."

In my experience, there's limited magic in showing up once. Magic happens when you are willing to show up for the time it takes for sustainable, reliable change to happen. I liked Change or Die very much because it lined up with my reading and my experience. Change happens sustainably when it is supported by three elements: Reframe, Relate, Repeat. If you like the article, buy the book (I am not an affiliate and don't get anything when you click). Reframing happens in an instant. Relating and repeating take time and will power.

If someone you love is struggling, the best way to help might be to get them to go for a walk with you three times a week until they feel better. If you know NLP, all the better. You can monitor their state and make hundreds of tiny adjustments as you walk. They won't even know why they feel connected, supported and better able to make decisions. There's a little magic in this.

The real magic happens with repetition. Lots of people would help if helping happened in the sit-com world of 22 minutes and done. Real help takes repetition and patience and showing up. Are you willing to show up, to coax someone who doesn't feel like moving into a 10 minute walk, to find your own breath and hold it while you match the dragging feet of someone who feels like they are walking through deep mud?

The question isn't whether you want to help. It's whether you are willing to show up and persevere while the change happens sustainably.

Friday, August 07, 2015

What metaphors can teach you about your desired future.


I've been at the beach.

As you can see, it's not a metaphorical beach. This picture was taken in the national park on the north shore of Prince Edward Island. The bird in the foreground is a real seagull.

This beach is a metaphor. It tells me exactly what I want in my experience as I encounter the clouds and the sunshine, the wind and the sand and the waves of life. It speaks to a paradoxical balance of elements, a balance of focus and soft edges, a balance of ground and flight.

If you asked me to describe what I want REALLY, I would stumble and hesitate. I would contradict myself and backtrack. I would have commitment issues.

If you asked me to tell you about this beach, you would know exactly what I choose as my experience and who I am choosing to be as I move forward.

This is my desired future.

But my desired future is not to stay on vacation - it's to bring this paradox into the clutter and contradiction and productivity that is my work and my life and my joy.




Monday, July 13, 2015

Can you be too self aware?

Someone told me at a conference recently that she was impressed by how self aware I was. And then, letting go of the point of the exercise (which was to give a compliment) she added, "almost too self-aware."

I know what she meant. Being self aware can lead to too-much-information syndrome. The self is a complex entity: getting to know it is a task that consumes a lot of mental energy. Using what you know requires even more. It can seem that it would be easier to just take a shot in the dark and hope you were making the right choice. It often seems easier not to notice that the self of which we are not aware is already having an impact on the people around us.

Being too self-aware is like being too alive: it means you can't hide from your interdependence with the world and it means you're going to get hurt. Sometimes you will be hurt because you will be aware of things in your life that you love and that other people threaten. Sometimes you will be hurt because  you will have to own up to things in yourself that scare you or shame you or make you anxious. Sometimes you will know your own desire and that will scare people who want you to stay safe and not take chances.

There is no such thing as too alive, even though alive comes with disadvantages. There is no such thing as too self-aware. There is only a endlessly complex journey into a self that is bigger and more complicated than you can know in awareness. Everything you discover in yourself is yours, and there is no point from hiding from the one person you carry with you in each moment.

Within you at this very moment there are strengths that you are afraid to own. They are the strengths to do the hard stuff, the strength to go it alone, the strength to lead. Owning them means doing something with them, even when what you do is a struggle and a challenge. But without owning them, they are like the mischievous fairies in children's stories, always showing up and making change when you least expect them.


The best way to predict your future is to work at knowing yourself better.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Surprising yourself: How unconscious process reveals healing

I am writing this from a desk on the top floor of Massey College, looking out over the courtyard on a beautiful sunny morning. It is a scene from every movie about scholars in long gowns thinking deep thoughts. It is a dream from a long, long time ago.  And it's an alarm. It's time to wake up.

In 1990, I defended my doctoral thesis. One of the examiners was then the Master of Massey College. And it wasn't until today, wondering why I was reluctant to go to the dining room for breakfast, that I realized I had made a choice. I wasn't here because I needed a bed close to my training. I was here to remember, to revisit the spectacular debacle that was my thesis defense and see it with new eyes.

I'm not sure why it has taken more than 20 years for me to know, absolutely, that Yeats, the poet we were discussing on the day in late summer 1990, would have been baffled by the conversation. I was young and fiery and I had written a beautiful, complex study of how beauty confronts violence and the deep roots of different kinds of injustice in the world. They - the examiners - were the leading edge of the baby boom (or just before) and every door had opened to them. They inhabited the pretend castles of universities, living solidly middle class lives without much need for quiet desperation.

I look back at my younger self and say, Be Brave. What they are saying is wrong for you and wrong for Yeats. He would be confused and unhappy to find that the middle class was using his writing to show that good poetry could smooth desperate violence into meaning and elegance. Yeats made meaning out of rage and embarrasment and his love for broken, hurting people. How could his point be to make these people more satisfied with themselves?

On that day so long ago, I argued that Yeats wrote poetry to disrupt, to pull the mind in different directions, to show that we must respond to unthinkable evil and hurt but we must not shape it into something that is safe. It is not safe. He was never safe.  And on that day, so long ago, the Master of Massey College (a woman) suggested quite kindly that I could not see the flow and perfection because I had two babies at home who must have disrupted my thought.

They passed the thesis that day, because it was undeniably good. But they passed it with faint praise and without support. In a time of excruciatingly few opportunities for young scholars, I was done.

And yet, here I am, twenty years later. Like Yeats, I am on the outside, not really part of any system. Like Yeats, I work to discover how it is that we are shaped for a world of such disruption. I teach people who have been hurt and trapped and show them that they already have what they need to look forward, to shape their meanings and their relationships, to see beauty. Like Yeats, I do the work I do because I love it and because I know that being on the edge of the systems you observe offers you a point of view where you can see useful things.

He never lived in a quadrangle. And as much as I love the designs of Ron Thom, neither will I.


Monday, June 22, 2015

The difference between the focal point and the message

What do you see when you look at this picture?  I took it on the road between Pacific Rim National Park and Port Alberni. It's a twisting, turning drive that reminds you how hard it is even now to make one's way through the mountains. The beauty combined with the twists and turns can put a passenger into a kind of trance. The camera interrupts the flow. It reminds me to look at something instead of everything.

I'm just starting to experiment with a camera, to move beyond "spray and pray" with a point and click and work at seeing through the camera. The point is not to take pretty pictures (although that helps with social media posts). The point is to understand how what we see is a composition - an interaction between what is there and how we choose to frame it.

When you look at this picture, you can see that the camera saw the young maple at the front in sharpest detail. That seems to make it the point of the picture. And yet the point of that drive is those mountains that wrap around every curve of the road and the lakes that are both still and fluid under their watch. What you see depends on both the content of the picture and your beliefs about what makes a scene like this worth a second look.

Every interaction you have, every situation that motivates or traps you, is like this picture. The focal point, the thing that grabs your attention, might be the most important thing. Or maybe it's the frame, the thing that wraps around the focal point and gives it context and structure. Or maybe there is a relationship that flows through the middle and carries the real meaning. You get to choose what you see when you look. You have to choose.

The camera has a focal point, but it's focus does not always carry the meaning you see when you look at the picture. The point of your next meeting might not carry the meaning of what happens there. The thing that leaps out at you might not be the thing you need most to consider.

Somewhere I saw an eye doctor quoted as saying "It's not the eye that sees. It's the brain." But that's only part of the story. It's the mind's eye that defines the message in the picture.