Thursday, March 25, 2010

Earning Your Friendship PhD: How to Be a Black-Belt Listener

A black-belt listener is a master at listening for the feelings another person is expressing without judgment, comparison or evaluation, and looking for requests underlying the sharing.  To listen in this way offers another respect and honors the sacredness of who they are and what they are feeling and wanting, rather than what the listener may think the speaker should be feeling or wanting.  Becoming a black-belt takes a lot of practice, but small successes make a difference.  And don’t those we love deserve to be treated with such respect and honor?  They do, and so do we.

Simply, listening is putting ourselves aside to be fully with the other person’s experience.  This is a gift of profound friendship and caring – one that is a treasure to receive.  Brenda Ueland, a prolific Minnesota author and columnist, wrote an essay called The Art of Listening that describes the transformative possibilities this kind of listening can create in a speaker and in a listener.

       Do you listen fully to others, giving them the time to explore their own feelings, needs, and requests?   Do you jump in quickly with suggestions, stories, examples and help?  How would it feel if you didn’t provide suggestions for solutions?  What would it be like just to discover what the other person was going to say and what that person meant without a thought about your response?  How would it feel if others listened to you in this way?

      In my Thriving Through Change workshops there is a process in which participants share with a partner about an important turning point in their lives.  I warn the sharers not to tell the story.  Instead I give them a specific form for intimately sharing their experience without the story that was attached.  The listeners must remain silent until the end of each section of the sharing, then they may say only "thank you."  Sharers say this allows them to share deeply without fear of being judged.  Listeners say they feel relief, knowing they couldn't be expected to offer advice or "fix" the situation.  Instead they are free to be present and listen without preparing a response, since no response other than "thank you" is to be given.

      Here's a revelation affirmed by the vast majority of my workshop participants: people sharing with you don't want your help; they want you to witness their feelings and experience.  This is true of both men and women.  Most people will find their own way and do not want the listener to help.  In fact, unsolicited help can sometimes feel insulting.  So unless someone asks you for advice, do not give it.  This practice will move you toward a black-belt in listening.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Soul on Fire

This is a time of introspection and transformation for me. Can you relate? In addition to changing my work and residence and exploring new creative ways to earn an income, I’m looking at a deep transition in the way I regard myself and how I think about my body and my world.

Since my childhood a part of my soul has been connected to a reality that seems far away from the everyday world we seem to live our lives in. I distanced myself from it because I knew no one whose soul seemed similarly connected. Catholicism was the religion of my family, and its rites and theology were the boundaries of what could be believed.

But that calling of the soul never went away. There is something in me that continues to be pulled toward the vortex of the Mystery, even when I am enjoying chocolate, good food and wine, great clothes, a lovely home and car, fun with people that I love and pets I cherish, and meaningful work.

Media affects me. I get pulled into the idea that their view and emphasis are real and forget my groundedness in the greater Reality. I dislike admitting that. It isn’t that I don’t know better. It’s that the emphasis with which television, music, magazines, movies and art express a consistent message of fear affects me. And, unless I recognize that and choose to look away and consciously move toward programs, writers, artists and speakers who express a higher vision, messages of fear express themselves in my own experience.

If thought is creative–and we have ample evidence that it is–the more we dwell in fear, the more we create to fear. The more we develop opportunities for others to be immersed in group fear, the more we create worldwide fear. That could be a scary idea, but the opposite is just as true. The more we dwell in joy and delight, the more we create to enjoy and delight in. The more we create opportunities for others to experience inspiration, joy and vision, the more we create a worldwide vision of happiness. Why is it that fear seems more real and powerful than joy?

When we wrestle with inner challenges in order to grow into the people we could be, there is often a sense that we don’t know if the best in us will prevail. Rickie Byars Beckwith and the Rev. Dr. Michael Beckwith wrote a song called Make Me Stronger. The lyrics say,

I want to be better–an opening for God–to make me stronger…
Make me patient when I worry. 
Make me calm when there is strife. 
Make me loving when my heart is hard. 
Make me forgiving when I would be right…
[I must be] stronger to reveal more peace. 
I must be patient to reveal more love. 
I must be humble to reveal more power…
Make me stronger to reveal more peace, more love, more joy…
This is my prayer today, O God.

So today I say, Make me stronger, more resilient. Increase my laughter. Help me to let go sooner. Deepen my conviction that life is good and all is well. Dissolve all interest in fear. Show me how to swim in the ocean of gratitude and ride on waves of pure joy. Make me stronger.

The past year brought me many, many opportunities to come face to face with parts of myself that I have diminished, disowned or undervalued. I’m not talking here about things I’d prefer to improve. We all have aspects of ourselves that we find less than perfect. I’m speaking about honoring uniqueness and gifts, tossing them off as nothing special.

The roots of willingness to disown our greatness go beyond the conditioning we received as children–after all, we became our own enforcers of those rules, right? We may believe that we could not possibly deserve to have or expect to have more. And believing this, we may find ourselves sabotaging good that comes our way because we feel unworthy to have more than somebody else has.

But here is an important thing to consider: Spirit manifested Itself in the world through us with particular gifts. We are the stewards–not the owners or creators–of the gifts we have. There is no room for egotism about them, and undervaluing them is just another face of egotism. We are not their source, we are their conduit into the world.

We are asked to be good stewards of the gifts we have and to use them to bring blessing into the world, not to take credit for the gifts themselves, but to be responsible for how they are used. We are asked not to turn away the goodness that comes to us as a result of using these gifts, but to welcome it. The great goodness that comes provides us with more energy and nourishment to do the work entrusted to us, allowing Spirit to express and give even more in the world.

Our receptivity to our good demonstrates to others how to graciously surrender–to their gifts and the necessary expression of those gifts in the world, and to the sustenance Spirit draws to them to empower those gifts to be more widely given. Spirit is the director of the flow of the gifts, but we must be alive enough to let the flow through us at the fullest and highest levels we can imagine.

Our role, then, is twofold: first, willingness to show up and give the gifts fully, and to treat these gifts with the proper respect and awe and gratitude they deserve. And second, to let ourselves be properly nourished so that the gifts can do the work they were brought into the world to do.

Each of us has a unique way of expressing the gifts that are ours. Others may have similar gifts, but the way they give them will be different. Their audiences for their gifts will be different. Spirit has reasons why you and I have the gifts we have, and why they are needed now right where we are. We may never know these reasons. It may not be ours to know. It is ours to give the gifts we were born to give.

“What’s in it for me?” you might find yourself asking. “Everything,” is the answer. It is by giving the gifts that are ours to give that we open to receive all that our souls need for their deepest experience of fulfillment and at-home-ness. Joy never left us; it just got covered over as we fulfilled expectations and developed cultural ways of seeing, thinking and behaving.

To give our gifts and to honor them with awe and gratitude is to begin to live from joy, and to be attuned to and surprised by how much and how often signs of being loved and supported show up in our lives. A soul on fire can never be extinguished. Catch fire with the joy of who you were created to be and what you are here to express and give. The whole world is waiting.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Living A Life You Love

Today many people are setting New Year’s resolutions, putting attention on what they think they should change or accomplish or do better in this brand new year. Others spent last night celebrating the end of 2009. But what about putting some attention on what we want to experience, do and be in this brand new year?

Rather than applying should do, how about applying would love to do? Or would love to become or experience?

Instead of a resolution that includes built-in guilt for failure to follow through, how about considering an approach to the coming year from a perspective of enjoyment, joyful discovery, play, adventure, expansion, delight, confidence and fun?

What if this year could become an opening – a doorway – to a life worth living, a life we love to welcome each morning when we wake up?

Here’s a thought: try living this day as you would if you loved every minute of it. Try – for this one day – to include in it specifically those things you most want to be doing and experiencing in 2010.

If you want to travel, get travel brochures or visit online travel and lodging sites for a short time. (Don’t get internet hooked unless you want to spend 2010 in front of the computer!)

If you want to learn to cook, play an instrument, dance, fly a plane or communicate better with your spouse, find a way to taste that in your life today in some way that brings it closer to your experience. It doesn’t have to take a long time. A few minutes of something that brings a flavor of that good into your life is a good way to affirm your welcome for that experience or development.

If you want a new car, go for a test drive of something you would love to own. If you want to move to a new place go and drive in that area or research it online. You get the idea.

Be sure to enjoy what you’re doing as you’re doing it. Enjoy savoring it and claim it as easily yours.

Creation always happens first as an idea before it ever becomes an experience, so be playfully creative today.

This might be a fun practice for the first day of every month in 2010. An idea worth considering. It might even be worth putting on the calendar now so you can save the time to do it. A monthly sacred day for you just for the purpose of realizing (real-izing or making real) the life you would love to live. Aren’t you worth a day of creation each month? You bet you are!

I celebrate today and all the possibilities it holds as the gateway to 2010, and I celebrate all of you. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Change Starts Where You Are Now

Like many of you, I'm on the brink of major changes. I'm likely to be relocating around the end of the year, but where I'm going I don't know yet. It's even possible that the options I see before me aren't the only ones I'll be guided to explore and consider.

When I want to make a major change in myself or my life, my tendency initially is to wait for someone else to get it started or to point me in a direction or provide an answer. But the truth is that any time I've successfully made a major change in myself it happened because I made a decision to change. And it didn't begin to happen until I made that decision.

The steps to real, lasting change work in a specific way and in a specific order for me every time. It may be that this sequence is how it works for you as well.

First, after all the waiting, wishing, hoping, and excuses that may arise, I get frustrated with lack of progress. I am finished with "getting ready." At that point I Decide that I will find a way to make the change I am recognizing it is time to make. Don't underestimate the power of a genuine decision. Once you've really made that decision the universe begins to act on it immediately to move you toward it.

Next I Choose the method I'll use to support me in making the change. It can take some time and research to find the right method for me. Once I chose a successful method because I had seen a friend succeed with it who had struggled for years with a particular issue I was facing. I had seen her try method after method that was only successful for her temporarily. This one produced lasting results. I was convinced enough to try that and it worked.

After deciding to begin and choosing a method, I begin to do the recommended Practices. And practices is exactly what they are, no matter what the desired outcome may be. My journey to a desired outcome requires time, commitment, effort, and changing my daily patterns of behavior. Results come about gradually, but if I continue the practices they come steadily. Sometimes I do the practices imperfectly. Discouragement, set-backs, or cheating on the practice times may occur. These obstacles can slow down progress, but I found that if I returned to the practices, progress began again. The only thing that really de-rails practice for any of us is not doing it.

Support was essential for me to keep up my practice and to return to it when I had been discouraged or experienced some other kind of set-back. Others could encourage me, help me refocus my attention on the desired outcome, and give me suggestions to help me get myself back on track. Although no one else could do the actual work for me, feeling that I wasn't alone on the journey made the difference between giving up and continuing on. I have benefitted from coaches, therapists, practitioners, great friends and colleagues, inspirational reading and personal growth workshops. These help me re-ignite my passion and inspiration and remember the vision that started me on the journey. I see myself more clearly with their help and develop greater skills to meet the challenges at hand.

There are two things I have been teaching about a lot this past year that go hand in hand together as the last steps in the transformation process for me: Persistence and Repetition.

These are never issues for tiny children. They know what they want and are able to ask for it. They easily persist past the first "No" they hear. They keep their attention repeatedly on what they want to learn, do, or have. These are inborn talents that most of us are conditioned out of early. But they are there inside us waiting to be used.

Repetition is magic because it changes the physical geography of the brain. What is repeated becomes easier and we become more skilled at it, whether it's a behavior or a way of thinking about things.

Persistence is a particular flavor of repetition. It is a consistent, regular action taken repeatedly over a period of time until the desired result is produced.

Usually to make a major change requires mental effort to overcome all the thinking that has built up over the course of our lifetime that tells us something is improbable, unlikely, irresponsible, impossible, naive...Often the mental obstacles are more difficult to put aside than the ones that show up in form.

The change that I'm currently working with is demanding that I grow in new ways again. This is very good news because I will have more to bring to everything that I do as a result. New insights, new practices, new inspiration – these are life giving. The results are worth the effort and energy required to bring myself into consistent alignment with them and live from this new paradigm.

How about you? Is it time for a change? Try this: Decide now is the time. Choose the best method you can find that you trust and feel aligned with. Do the recommended Practices faithfully. Get Support. Repeat the Practices and Receive Support Persistently and Repeatedly until the change is your new way of living.

The point of power is always NOW. What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Prayer for Today

Innovation is timely and can open doors where no door seemed to exist. At the same time, the resources we have to re-center ourselves and establish a quality of trust and harmony in our attitude toward life are tremendously valuable when so much chaos pulls our attention.

While taking action is essential, action taken from a centered place yields more fruitful results than when taken from anxiety or fear. So, in the spirit of ancient wisdom traditions steeped in the power of prayer, I offer this one, created according to my own spiritual tradition. (A note to those of you not familiar with the New Thought writing style of Religious Science: the capitalized words below that one would not usually find capitalized in mid-sentence, refer to God or ultimate reality):

The vast, loving, creative, rich Presence of God is here with me now. It flows through all in perfect balance and harmony. It is the connecting harmony flowing through everything that exists. This Presence is Divine Substance–the raw material of creation–flowing constantly in, through, and as all creation.

Divine Substance is right where I am. I am created from It, and It flows through me. I know That Which Knows dwells within me. Abundance is right where I am. The Universe delights in flowing–as an abundance of all good–to and through me!

I claim and accept this abundance as my Reality now. I accept it in every wonderful form and channel God provides. I am One with the flow of Divine Good. Anything in my belief system that has blocked my awareness of this Truth in the past is now unblocked by the power of my acceptance, my words, and the shared consciousness of my spiritual community. The way is open and clear now. This abundance has always been the spiritual Truth of my being. I absorb and receive this good with unlimited willingness. I put it to use wisely, and for the highest good for all concerned.

I am immersed in great and continuous gratitude for this Truth. I celebrate the expression of this Truth in my own life, and in the life of my spiritual community! I live from this consciousness of grateful celebration now!

In peace and joy, I release this word of Truth into the Infinite Creative Law, where I know it is immediately acted upon and accomplished in Love. I let it go. I let it Be.

And so it is.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Cultivating Ourselves as "Thrivers"

As I sit before my computer prepping my Sunday talk for tomorrow on this gorgeous 4th of July, I came across some writing I saved from a meditation I did just before 1999 became 2000. I was considering the best ways to thrive in the new millennium, when I began to ask questions of the Universe and simply write down what came. I may have been reading Don Miguel Ruiz' book The Four Agreements at the time, as some of the suggestions seem to have come from there. The writing seems timely for me today, so in that spirit I offer it to you.

What is the practical value of loving others?
We are them. What we do to them we do to ourselves.

What is the practical value of loving ourselves?
It reveals to us who we really are and allows us to enter our full expression and enjoyment.

Why don't we just do it?
We just can't believe it. Our self-concept tells us we couldn't possibly be the Source expressed.

What would get us to believe it? What would get us to realize it?
We have to begin on Faith. We have to act as if, then we will discover the truth that was there all along.

What will motivate us to do this?
Dissatisfaction. The recognition that there must be a better way; a better life. Also, there are clues to let us know who we are.

How do we act as if?
We begin by envisioning ourselves as we would be when we have become that manifestation. Then we act according to our future self – our future wisdom. If we were that self now, how would we handle today's challenges? How would we motivate ourselves to do the things we thought would work? We do those things now.

What are the clues you spoke about?
Have you ever once in your life helped another person? Has anyone considered you a blessing to them, even for a moment?

Has anyone even once in your life helped you? Have you ever considered another person a blessing for you, even for a moment?

In these moments our true nature peeks out and shows through. In the moments we are feeling separated from others we just lost track of ourselves and our truth for a time. Even if we forget to gently remind ourselves, it will come back.

What are the ultimate secrets to thriving (in the new Millennium)?
1. Do not let anyone or anything make you afraid. Fear is a belief in separation. It is a mistake that makes you miserable and is completely unnecessary. Always turn over your problems to God, then do your best. That is enough.

2. Choose to be responsible for your own happiness. Cherish yourself and be kind and loving toward yourself. Dare to try new things and make discoveries. Ask questions rather than making assumptions.

3. Cherish other people. Be patient and gentle with their flaws and blindness. This will help teach them to do the same. Take nothing personally. Each person has his own personal work to do. Sometimes you will be in the path of it, that is all.

4. Cherish your life right now, just as it is. Bless the earth and all your personal blessings. Do this (throughout the new year) as often as you can remember to do it. Begin right now.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Finding Peace in the Midst of a Storm

In the midst of so many reports of businesses closing or laying off employees, it is more important than ever for us to find ways to build bridges across previous chasms of misunderstanding and intolerance.  There are ways we can find to work together cooperatively, even when we differ in the solutions we think will work best.  Perhaps it's time to find a third way together.  Perhaps there is some kind of both/and rather than the either/or it has been profitable to encourage us to believe in for so long.

Friends recently sent me the video clip you'll see below.  It depicts Americans from all over the country of various ages, races, religions and backgrounds, reclaiming the love, pride, and rights and responsibilities of citizenship through song.

Encouraging each other to hold on, look up, take action, and help one another can keep us moving forward, rather than looking back in anger or surrendering to despair.

At our Sunday service this past weekend, everyone in our congregation selected a slip of paper with the name of a country written on it on opposite ends.  We pledged to pray for peace for that country in our hands each day throughout the Season for Nonviolence, an annual program that runs from January 31–April 4.  Each slip of paper was then torn in two with the name of the country appearing on each half.  One half was kept by the person praying, the other half was dropped into a clear plastic box with a photo of Earth on its front side.  On Sunday, April 5th, we will all bring our slips of paper back with us to the service for the closing ritual we will share together for SNV. 

I've been reading some books lately that remind me of the power of imagination to set new discoveries into motion.  While pundits and news commentators imagine and speculate about all the trouble we could see, how about a different approach?  How about imagining what it could be like if we did work together successfully?  What would that feel like?  What would that look like?  What would change?  What would be healed?

During this time of what seems to be a lot of bad news, I encourage you to find good news to welcome and spread around to others as well.  

I send you love, hope, laughter, enthusiasm, imagination, ingenuity, and collaborative brilliance.  And yes, I send you peace: inner peace, peace in your relationships, peace in your neighborhoods, peace in your country, peace on our planet.