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Showing posts from December, 2009

5 years and 500 posts

I can't help but feel like I should have something big to say today. It's a little like stepping up to the podium and finding you forgot your notes at home - or maybe forgot even to make some notes. I've been blogging for five years. This is post 500. I knew it was coming, planned for it, worked for it, and now I need to say something.

What was I thinking? Most often, we ask ourselves that after we have done something surprising (and not in a good way). Today I am wondering what I was thinking when I started this blog. At the time, it didn't seem like a surprising thing to do - not even a major challenge. It seemed like one more way to use the web to carry on a conversation with clients and colleagues and prospects.

Five years ago I think I thought I was building a business, that I was doing the groundwork for something that worked the way businesses work. I thought that people would take our courses, give us referrals, that we would begin working in businesses a…

Twelve Days of Christmas

This year, we had friends for dinner on the 20th, which became a sort of 1st day of Christmas for us. While we have not been out or entertaining every day since then, we have had company for dinner twice more, drop-in guests, eaten out, had a birthday feast, and gone to the movies as a family.

Twelve days is a lot of celebrating. Partly because celebrating involves a lot of work - shopping, cleaning, cooking, cleaning, serving, cleaning. But partly because twelve days is a long time to step away from satisfying work and pleasing routines. I love my sons and I am glad to have them home. But I will confess that I am a little weary of needing to make each day special. I am ready to eat simple foods and watch television and go to the gym. More than that, I am ready to get back to work.

Work is never far away - this blog is evidence of that. This week has tempted me with quiet morning hours at my laptop (young men on vacation don't wake up much before noon). I have been reading agai…

Three wishes

If you could have three wishes, what would they be? There are always rules on wishes. The first rule is that these are wishes for yourself: you can't make wishes for other people. The second is that these are your only three wishes. There is no way to make more.

What would you wish for yourself as a new year begins?

I wish for clarity of purpose: to know what meaning I am trying to create through my thoughts and actions.

I wish for kindness: to be gentle with the people around me and to add something sweet or lovely to their lives.

I wish for - and the third wish is the hardest. The one that excludes all other possibilities. I wish for strength; I wish for grace; I wish for persistence; I wish for whatever it takes to move forward with imperfect strength and imperfect understanding. I wish to be in the presence of beauty.

Choosing one does not necessarily mean not having the others. But it means not wishing for them. It means letting go of certainty and trusting I will find …

The cost of education

My sons are both Art Sci's. That means that one is a grad and the other is a student in a program at McMaster University designed to allow a select group of students to explore what it means to adopt different models of thinking. Grads of this program typically go on to further education, so it's not surprising that the cost of education - and who bears that cost - comes up often in one form or another.

I forget who it was who said, "If you think education is expensive, try the alternative."

Education is expensive. Learning is a resource-intense activity that requires all of our attention and energy and, quite often, also our money and other stuff. It's also a wasteful process: we can spend hours learning something that we may have to unlearn just weeks or months later. It's hard to tell what will be useful until after you have spent time and effort and attention on learning it.

My sons were dismissive tonight when I said that part of the cost of education …

How do you know you want to change?

Maintenance is hard work. Whether you are looking after your waistline or your car, maintenance means looking after something that is not breaking and is not making any claims on your attention in the belief that paying attention now will cost less than paying attention later. It takes effort to keep things the same.

At any given moment, if you are not taking action to preserve something, you are allowing it to change. Some of that change will be so slow that it is undetectable - like the wear and tear of the wind on your house. Unless there's a huge storm, you won't notice that the wind has any impact at all. But the wind has an impact.

So the choice we make is really between exerting effort to change or allowing change to happen - a choice between directing change and letting change direct us. Staying the same is not really an option.

The new psychologies of choice are suggesting that making a decision to change is probably harder than whatever change we decide to make. T…

Identity, partnership and community

I have always been a private person. When I was young and small, I was shy. Somewhere during my undergrad days, I became someone who took some effort to know. Later, I grew into private.

The head of my college at Trent knew about me through English tutorials and Master's dinners. When someone told him to mention my soccer skills at a dinner, he thought they were trying to embarrass me. He knew the me who had a quick mind and a quick tongue in tutorials. He didn't know I could take a hit on the soccer field - or kick the ball farther than girls much bigger and stronger than I was.

I've always been hard to pull together and fit into a box - even for me. So it is harder and easier for me to fit my identity into larger entities. I stick with the groups I join - often for a long time. I let myself be part of things I do not own and cannot control, even when it means I drag myself, kicking and screaming - through bad meetings and bad decisions. I am good at honoring what work…

Because I said so

If you're a parent, you have heard yourself say this at least once. Generally, it happens when too much has been happening and you have more than one thing on your mind. You tell someone to do something and they ask why. And you say, "because I said so." When you're the kid, this sounds pretty lame but it also indicates that you are very near to crossing a line.

But "because I said so" sounds differently when it describes our own behaviour. Why are you doing that? Because I said I would do it. What are you loyal to him or her or that organization? Because I said so. How do you know you'll follow through with that? Because I said I would.

Everything we say is only words, and we all know that it is hard to predict the relationship that words will have with the world they represent. Sometimes we say what we mean with our words, and sometimes the relationship between what we say and what we mean is more difficult.

Yet, still we say "because I said…

Making mistakes better

I have been playing Sudoku again. When I first learned to do the puzzles, I thought that the point was never to make a move that you were not certain was right. Many of the puzzles I did were constructed that way: there was always at least one right move, however hard it was to spot, and each right move would lead to the next until the puzzle was complete.

Then I started doing harder puzzles. And I learned that, at least in some books, there was a point in each of the harder puzzles where there was no way to know the right answer. The best strategy seemed to be to use what was knowable to narrow the puzzle as far as possible and then to guess and see what happened.

The faster you make a mistake, the faster you can correct and find the answer.

Often, the right answer unlocks the rest of the puzzle relatively effortlessly. But sometimes, this will also seem to be true of the wrong answer. One after the other, the answers appear until, suddenly, it becomes clear that you've take…

Last night I wrote about spring

My last post ended with spring and today the weather is spring-like. It's mild and the sun is half-awake and gentle. Another day of in-between time. A time for gathering and weaving the dreams that will grow in 2010.

It's a little overwhelming, in Canada, to think about big dreams as January looms. Most of us are so caught up in getting through the winter that it's hard to clear the way for accomplishment. The snow we clear from our driveways is not as heavy as the snow that slows our mental footsteps. It takes an almost heroic denial of the obvious for Canadians to believe that nature is a natural environment for human well-being.

So today is a double blessing. Clear and mild, it is an invitation to dreaming, to feeling comfortable enough to turn intention and attention away from the winter. A day to believe that what you want is possible.

So, what is it you want to do next? You don't have to have a really big dream - no matter how big the dream, you have to star…

Winding and unwinding

The patterns of language are often hard to understand. Think about the word "wound." Without hearing it, you cannot tell whether I mean the result of winding something up or the result of hurting someone. In some way, it seems, getting all wound up is close to being hurt.

And yet sometimes it feels terrific to be all wound up, to be wired, to be on the edge of something exciting. And sometimes being unwound is like being deflated, a draining of potential energy.

Wind. Another confusion. The breath that turns and spirals, creating both tension and life.

Without winding, no energy. No potential for the spiral to create or generate. No spring.

Spring. A leap. A season of growth.

Without winding, no spring. Without spring, no fall. Without fall, no wound.

The patterns of language are strangely intertwined.

Twice a day?

It's Boxing Day. I've been sitting quietly with tea and reading, occasionally stirring to clear away some of the gifts and paper still strewn festively over the living room. It's December 26 and this is my 490th blog post. To make the magic 500th post by 2010, I'm going to have to blog twice a day. Hmmm.

It's possible. Everything seems possible in this brief period between Christmas and January 4, when the world starts at full tilt again. I have lost track of how many days I worked in a row in October and November and December. Now, for a few days, I have a little time in between. As I relaxed yesterday, I felt the stirrings of creative thinking.

Creativity requires a rhythm, a pulsing between the beat and the rest. When the space in between is too short, there's no room to interrupt patterns and create possibilities. Much can be accomplished, but nothing can be born. Ideas are born in the relationship between movement and stillness, in the tension betwe…

Maybe I'll start in September next year

It's the night before the night before Christmas. There are many, many cookies here that were not in the world this morning. I made 5 kinds of cookies today. They all seem to be very tasty. I also made 2 kinds of fudge. And started the appetizers for tomorrow's dinner.

This year, my mom and my sister and I have agreed that we will KEEP IT SIMPLE. In a strange way, this means that instead of shopping online for stuff, I am baking cookies for everyone I know. Simple means the house smells of vanilla and cinnamon and it will take an hour to get the kitchen clean enough to start again.

Simple is not as simple as it was in the days when my kids were little. In those days, simple meant hand made gifts for family, hand made, kid-crafted gifts for dozens of teachers and helpers, running a Sunday School pageant and, frequently, reading at one of the Advent services at church. Simple was miraculous. Or - at least- it now seems miraculous that I found a way to organize myself to …

Forever lights

That's what my family calls those stop lights that take a long, long time to change. They are forever lights.

You hit them sometimes when you're driving home late at night. You stop at a perfectly quiet intersection and wait and wait and wait in the stillness.

That's how it is with forever lights. They make everything still around them.

It's funny to think that so many of us are rushing and rushing and rushing towards that moment when everything will stop.

Because of a forever light.

The recipe books are out

I don't often cook from recipes anymore. I use a recipe as a sort of rough guide for baking, but I very seldom pull out recipes just to make dinner. Unless company is coming. And then I pull out recipe book after recipe book, testing dozens and dozens of meals in my mind.

Dan Gilbert, the psychologist who wrote Stumbling on Happiness, says that our happiness simulator only takes us so far. When we say, "If only. . . then I would be happy," we are usually at least partly wrong. Sometimes, admittedly, the same is true for my dinner simulator. The recipes don't come together exactly as they did in my imagination.

More often, however, my dinner simulator allows me to enjoy dozens of treats without gaining an ounce. It allows me to imagine being relaxed and comfortable and it allows me to imagine that for my guests. I think about who is coming and what I know of their likes and dislikes and I plot a strategy that will make for a whole evening of treats.

Quite often, hav…

When you just want to get your work done

Have you been that person - the one who just wants to get on with work while everyone else seems obsessed with the holidays? The one who drags him/herself to another Christmas concert or stands at a party, wine glass in hand, fervently wishing you could be doing something productive? I'm not talking about poor souls compelled by Scrooge-like bosses to work while everyone else plays. I'm talking about people who would genuinely rather be doing something other than celebrating the holiday season.

It's a good thing this is a blog. If it were a lecture, there would be an awkward moment now while everyone decided whether or not to put up their hands. Everyone would have to decide, because only a very few blessed souls feel like celebrating for the entire holiday season. Almost all of us have days when we wish the holidays were safely over and we could (genuinely) relax into our real work.

There was a time when my real work was baking cookies and doing crafts and inventing ways…

Feasting with friends

This is traditionally a time for feasts. In northern climates, it's a time when the harvest is complete and we are much less weary of winter than we will be six weeks from now. There is still some magic in fluffy snowflakes. And, in the world where pioneers lived, there was a better chance of having food for the feast than there might be later.

Feasts suggest abundance and they suggest thoroughly enjoying each other's company in a way that the more formal 'dinner party' does not. At feasts, there is so much food that food is not the only point. Feasts remind us that food is best enjoyed in good company with good music and good stories.

Sometimes it is said that enough is as good as a feast. Most of the time, it's not true. It is true that a feast can be created with will and imagination and only just 'enough' ingredients.

Tonight I am making a feast because I have been working too hard and too long not to thoroughly enjoy a break.

Want to come?

The importance of celebration

Today we got such good news that we had to go out for dinner tonight to show our gratitude and appreciation.

Appreciation can mean thankfulness - and we were thankful. But appreciation means something else, too. It means noticing the value of something with some precision. It means enjoying the details.

It's possible to get good news and get right back to work. It's not a good plan. It means that you have failed to enjoy or appreciate something of value to you. It makes it easier to miss out on something valuable next time.

We ate our way from micro brewery ale and baked brie through gingery scallops to lemon cheesecake. We were sleepy and happy. We laughed and talked and hoped together.

We celebrated good news today.

Getting the outcome you want

Yesterday, we held a party to celebrate a great year of training. Some people filled a room with chatter and laughter, food and hugs and stories. We had a lovely afternoon.

More people could not reach us yesterday. Some had hoped to come, and couldn't. Others had other plans.

As I connect with the people who couldn't come to the party, I realize again that the party served my outcome in several ways. It is almost as nice to hear the good wishes from people who didn't get there as it was to connect with the people who shared our afternoon. My outcome was not so much to throw a particular kind of party as it was to make a particular kind of connection with people as they think back on this year and look forward to the next one. All the nice notes remind me that just inviting people made that connection.

They also remind me that I am lucky to have so many people I really enjoy making a connection with as I celebrate 2009 and look forward to 2010.

Keeping the lights shining

It's the beginning of Hanukkah and Christmas is coming soon. Today, we hosted a really lovely party for NLP practitioners who have trained with us. The party ended just as it was getting dark outside. The darker it got, the brighter the lights on the Christmas tree seemed.

Sometimes clichés work that way. You know it's a cliché, and yet it is also tangible, a reality that catches your eye and your attention.

The lights on the Christmas tree look brighter in the dark. The shining eyes around you shine brighter when times are tense or scary. The flashlight that shows you just one step gets more of your attention than the fluorescent lighting in your office.

Lights shine when it is dark. People shine when we need them.

If we want to see them shine, we must allow ourselves to notice that it's dark out there. And we must notice with more vividness that the people with whom we are really connecting are already shining.

Running a great team

A friend is coaching grade 6 kids on a school team. We've had some deep and wide discussions on strategy as they approach the championship.

There are essentially two ways to go about being a winning team:
1) play only the best players
2) play all the players, looking for ways to take advantage of everyone's strengths.

It is less trouble to play only the best players and to play them until they drop. That's how most businesses run. Hire the best you can find and work them until they leave or get stuck or no longer fit your needs. Any coaching is only superficial: after all, you put the best players out there because they already know what to do.

It is more trouble to figure out how best to use all the resources available. It means paying attention to each of the players to discover how each player - even the weakest - can help the team. It means paying attention to when the best players are at their best and when a break or a word of advice could make them better. It means man…

Days go by so quickly in December

I am always surprised how much difference it makes when daylight is in such short supply. We do not actually need daylight for most of what we do: we have lots of ways to make light when we need it.

Yet it seems that days fly by when it's only light from 7 until 5. As much as we should be able to work as though nature is unimportant, we remain sensitive to sunlight.

Today the sun was shining - at least briefly. At lunch, I sat in a sunny window and felt warm.

Later, I walked the dog in the wind. It was not warm.

At the end of the day, those moments of connection with the natural world are more vivid, more memorable, than the hours spent on email or working my way through the Christmas boxes in the basement.

It's interesting to take a moment to think about the uncontrollable factors that sit at the edge of our awareness and change what we see.

Surprised by beauty

Tonight I went to the World Premiere of a new composition by Phillip Glass. I didn't know much about his work. Most of the time when I have heard new compositions at the symphony they have been edgy, a little challenging. That's what I was expecting.

It's not that the new piece doesn't have edges. It's just that they were much smoother than I had anticipated. I was surprised by the beauty of it. Just as I was surprised in the opening notes of the evening (a different piece) by how lovely the violin really is. I had forgotten how it sings.

It is easy to be surprised by problems, by irritations and by inattention. (Don't ask about the email I received from the Prime Minister's office promising, helpfully, to forward a letter to a minister who was copied on the original). It is harder to be surprised by things that are right.

It helps to be sitting next to your favourite people (I was out with my sons tonight). It helps to be sitting still and forced to b…

I hate marking

It's that time of the term: I have thick stacks of unsatisfying marking to plow through somehow. By next week, I'll have the rhythm of it, and I will have given up the idea that anyone will read the comments I am writing. It will be mind-numbing, but it will move more quickly.

Tonight, I am still trying to teach while I mark. It slows me down. I write questions I suspect students will never read, much less answer. I wish they had clearer heads and a better eye for detail. I hope, a little, to prod them into thought.

And I wish, a little harder, that I could read them writing about something that pulls at them, something that inspires them, something that they believe is important in a way that they cannot pretend to believe this assignment in this course could ever be important.

I so want them to present their best selves to the working world. Not for the world - which will not care very much. Not for the college - which I think could try harder to draw out those best selves…

Baking Christmas cookies

There are cookies in the oven as I write this, and more cooling on the table. They smell sweet and fresh and tempting. But they are not quite as tempting as they were in the day when the house was full.

Tonight, my husband has a cold and cannot smell the cookies. He's not especially fond of them anyway. I am baking for the office tomorrow, knowing that the treats I bring to the office coffee hour are always appreciated, usually with glee. I enjoy that.

And still, the cookies are not as much fun without boys in the house barely able to wait for the cookies to come out of the oven. I swear cookies smell better when they are baking in a house where they are eagerly anticipated.

By tomorrow, I will have made six or eight dozen cookies. Over the next three weeks, I will bake four or five times that many. I will make interesting variations on shortbread and I will make decadent squares and I will make healthier biscotti and I will make sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies that …

Blogging when words take more work than usual

Apparently our modem is sick. We have had inconsistent internet for several weeks and today we have none. So I am blogging from my iPhone. It is not ideal although maybe my Ityping will improve.

At almost the same time that I am writing this I am marking assignments. The frustrations of typing on my phone remind me that many of my students write English with difficulty. For them each assignment is a risk. They know that their writing is imperfect and that their work, however hard they work, is unlikely to make them look good. Yet they want their diplomas and they write their assignments.

Of course I struggle with reading and marking their mangled phrasing and hesitant paragraphs. But I also respect the courage it takes to put something in writing when you know the effort will reveal and make permanent your imperfect grasp of what others take for granted. It is hard to work when language is distorted and thoughts cannot be precise.

If my students cannot always proofread long enough or…

Working for your voice

Today I went to a party and was lucky: a mom was willing to share her two-month old baby boy. He was lovely - bright and alive and so eager to speak.

It's wonderful to watch the joy and intensity of a baby finding his voice. He gathers all of himself into the sounds he makes: you can watch this gathering as his face puckers and his body squirms and then - suddenly - joyously - there's a sound.

This is how we begin. Not with ideas. Not with concepts. With the desire to join the party, a desire expressed in energy that flows through our whole bodies, a desire etched on our faces.

And then - the smile that starts in the eyes and moves through the mouth to squirm its way into a whole being. A smile that begins because someone was listening.

Buying one of a kind

I just got in from shopping at the One of a Kind craft show. I love the connection you make when buying things that have been made by hand - and I'm also aware that the 'craft' in the show is the ability to make something reliably and well.

Not all crafts live up to that of course. Some, even at a good show, are flimsy or trendy or meant to be enjoyed briefly and then forgotten. But others are lovely and elegant and durable and enduring.

But what makes a handicraft one of a kind is not that the artist created only one from that pattern or idea; what makes it one of a kind is that it has a unique flaw. Every hand-made article is unique and that means that each is a little different than the ideal pattern.

Machines make things perfect. People craft them to be just a little unpredictable. Without their flaws and distortions, crafts would be just more consumer product, just more finely-tooled clutter. Instead, they are often keepers.

That's why I love things someone made…

Thinking about loving a goal

I am not a great believer in writing long lists of goals so that I can check them off as I achieve them or be pleasantly surprised when I retrieve a long-forgotten list. Actually, I am suspicious of wanting things for the sake of filling out lists or feeling productive.

It's not that I think it won't work; I am confident that searching for things to want will always result in a list of things that I could chase or do. In my mind's eye, I can write that list now, without even changing screens.

But. . . so what?

The most significant goals in my life didn't need to be written because they were always with me. I remember knowing by grade seven that I wanted to go to university on a scholarship. Knowing that shaped who I was, who I became, what I thought and what I did. I remember wanting to raise my sons to be smart and wise and loved (they are). I didn't have to write that on a list - I needed to be the mother who could do that every day (for twenty one years so …

When the sky is blue

I just looked up and noticed that the sky is blue this morning. Covered with wispy cotton clouds, but blue.

It's a moment for gratitude. It's December 2 and what we can expect is a sky that is grey. Blotchy grey, uniform grey, rainy grey or unsatisfying bits of snow grey - but grey. November and December are grey.

Not this morning. This morning the sky is blue. The sun is cautiously optimistic. The day is cold enough to promise that holidays are coming and that soon, the Christmas lights won't just look silly.

I'm going to use this patch of blue sky to energize a newsletter and then float me through internet trouble-shooting.

What will you do with your patch of blue sky?

30 posts in 30 days?

I noticed this morning that if I post every day until the end of December (I can even take Christmas off), I could complete my 500th post by the end of 2009. That seems like a worthy effort.

So let's take a moment and think about what it would take to make it happen. Yes, I have a computer and a data-capable cell phone so even if one is off-line, the other could serve in a pinch. I don't have much time, but it doesn't have to take much time to post. I have lots of ideas and I know more will come to me when I am writing more.

Necessary resources: check!

So what's the next useful question. Is it "what strategy will you use to ensure that you blog every day? " Or is it "what back up plans will you put in place to support you?" Or even, "what other resources will give you what you need to get this done?"

These are all very good questions. But they are not the next question I will ask myself.

That question is: "Can you imagine yourself…