Saturday, December 29, 2007

Family and the Development and Transcendence of the Limitations of Self in the World

One does not need to be a coach, counselor or therapist to recognize the essential nature that family plays in the formation and progress of the evolving concept of self. For many, if not most, people in this culture, these holiday times of the year in particular bring to the forefront of consciousness the undeniable ambivalences that are included in and part and parcel of belonging, or not belonging, to a family.

We want to be happy with our families; we want our families to be happy with us. Or perhaps we wish to forget and escape our families and we want to be happy in our “new” families of choice or of evolution… or we want to be satisfied without family whatsoever. The potential for, and the occurrence of, real feelings of joy and/or abandonment can exist side by side, in varying degrees of comfort in individuals, in families and, really, in larger human communities as a whole.

In fact, our great gift and miracle of individuation requires that each of us occupy a different point along this continuum. Perhaps this is a major way indivuation is visited upon us, the members of a species that depends, in many very essential ways, upon the individuation of its members for its long term survival. Our families, good, bad and everything in between, are indispensable to the species’ requirements for its continued and evolving life on the planet. The reason you hate your father then, say, is, in this way, irreplaceable to how you contribute to the community and evolution of humanity.

So, our peace inside or outside of our family roles, or our lack of that peace and everything in between (in any number of infinite combinations) is irrevocably attached to our contributions to humanity’s survival. It could be said that to go through life without considering this basic fact, or to choose to remain in denial of it, is a major reason that powerful world figures can turn destructive in horrendous and deeply malfeasant ways… it is how they threaten our survival on the planet. Conscious or unconscious choice to remain ignorant of how we fit in, and with, is ultimately fatal on every level imaginable.

In this culture, as informed and defined as it is by western, post-pantheist, Judeo-Christian traditions, habits, and norms, we come into and leave these major solstice holiday seasons reaffirmed and re-informed in our various levels of ambivalence, however readjusted or re-confirmed, or dashed and transformed, and then we take them into the next year. We, perhaps literally and almost certainly symbolically, go back to the place where we were born, or we powerfully reject that place (or both). Once more we recognize or regret (or again, both) who we are, who we have been, and who we wish to be or become, or what we wish to shed about all of it.

That this annual revisit to the place of “home”… that inner and outer location of the central themes in our relationship to our craving for a balance of essential autonomy and intimacy… happens during the dimmest part of the year, at least in the northern hemisphere, almost necessarily connotes that it lives in a kind of a semi-conscious place of change between real and dream time. A time of difficult weather outside. A time, in evolutionary terms, that urges us to sleep more. A time of reflection, or perhaps a time of powerful avoidance. A time of escape to a place of reality and/or where we project our hopes, wants, loss, pre-verbal loves and wounds and rage.

This is, for all intents and purposes, the time of year when we are, if you’ll excuse the allusion to primitive Christianism, born again; when our concept of self can be reaffirmed, rejoiced in and welcomed again, or rejected, beaten up, transformed and evolved… or all of the above and everything in between in any number of mutations and combinations.

Where does each of us set our “meter” along the continuum between one endpoint of joy, unquestionable acceptance and belonging and, at the other endpoint, feelings of abandonment and loss or even success as we disconnect ourselves from attachment and damaging negative family patterns? How do we accomplish this re-calibration? Can we avoid the worst of the pain? Can we be loved, be lovable, while we question or challenge or change our roles?

If we are all gears in the machine of our family, how do we polish and repair our individual gear without crashing the whole machine? Is it possible to make important changes in our position in the overall workings without being blamed or accused of being the reason the machine sputters and clanks and terrifyingly threatens to self-destruct?

And why is it that some of us seem, even if we have long ago excised our individual gear from the malfunction of the workings of our particular family, to only be able to fit into other groupings in a way similar to the way we fit into our original family? Where we recognized the machine had terrible problems in the first place? Or why does our family-of-origin machine insist on trying to fit us into the same spot where we once unhappily turned, no matter how our teeth, fittings, rate of rotation and torque, have been readjusted, refitted, deepened and sharpened? How did that damn machine keep turning even while I thought I was NOT there? Can’t they see I’ve changed?

These are all questions to start change with or to recognize it from… but so many of them are asked out of places of pain and grief. How do we FIX that? And there are so many questions, aren’t there?

For those of us lucky enough to come out of, or to have created, families in which the comfort level with how the gears turn is high and generally conscious, and any maintenance is treated as the necessary work of love and belonging to an essentially meaningful structure of life, perhaps these questions feel less devastating at their core. We have built our families around the idea and practice that the questions must be asked for us and our family group to successfully manage the way forward… even if the answers are not easily forthcoming and are loaded with the kinds of sometimes painful ambivalences that are undeniable and ever present in our need to live in intimacy with others and at the same time stay in authentic autonomy.

For those of us who have some inner sight, but come from families in which family machine maintenance is fraught with fears from unconsciously grown and cultivated structures, the monsters of the darkness of what has been forgotten in shame and prejudice, denied or powerfully misplaced, these questions are at the core of our life’s greatest heartbreaks, suffering, neuroses and even the propensity for serious mental illness.

Belonging is not a choice. Intimate belonging is a core need. It is, at the very least, a foundation block or keystone of self concept and identity, and at the most, it is nothing less than what we live for.

For an extreme example, and at the heart of the United States’ present government’s currently officially condoned practice of torture, is the methodical, practiced, way in which the tortured person is stripped of belonging. Out of that violently induced terror of complete isolation from others lays the strength of torture as well as its great weakness and failure: a person stripped and terrorized out of every icon of belonging will admit to almost anything in order to be allowed to return to “the family”. In reverse, at the heart of the most successful, truly democratic, structures of government, in countries with the highest rates of quality-of-life satisfaction on the planet, is a demonstrated effort towards the ideal of equality, the idea that all belong… equally. That every voice is essential to the collective voice. That every one deserves to belong and is welcomed, in spite or because of, the crucial nature of how they are different. That each member’s basic needs should be equally addressed and filled and that each person deserves that measure of inclusion, simply because they are alive.

To require that one “earn” the ability to have needs addressed that are basic to life, beyond merely being present and alive as a living being, is in itself exclusionary, unequal. It necessitates that one member or subgroup of the “family” have ultimate control over the definition of what any other member must do, be, or contribute in order to be included and granted the rewards of belonging… that one gear or a few gears in charge of those defining characteristics are somehow more important, more equal, to the machine’s function… in spite of the fact that those who are determined to be less equal must, of course, remain in place for the machine to continue running, regardless of how much or little of value they are considered to contribute, or how ignorant the other ‘gears’ may choose to remain about the inherent and essential nature of that contribution.

These dynamics play out from top to bottom, in micro and macro systems of group and family functioning. They are, as well, inter-related and indivisible from one another all along the entire length of the continuum. To insist that a cultural acceptance of, say, spousal subservience from women in families, is not in many and varied ways reflected devastatingly in the larger social systems of reward, affirmation and inclusion may be powerfully demonstrated as a source of some of the greatest levels of societal unrest and subjugation, even if it is denied to be a major impediment to an evolving democratization in any society. Thomas Jefferson, and his peers who made family out of African slaves and then at the same time denied their legitimacy and claimed them less human, may be reasonably said to be largely responsible for the painful legacy of the failures of their own experiment in democracy and its repeated quagmires of failures, scandals as well as for the stubborn virulent vitality of one sector of “the family's” repeated and sometimes successful attempts to repeal basic political structures they inherited that evolved to protect true expressions of Jeffersonian spirit and its natural inclination to reach and sustain an apogee of social structures built on the idea of in-born equality.

In my work with families it was always interesting to me how a large proportion of people greeted me, almost literally at their doors, with the statement “We have a dysfunctional family”. It was so common, as a matter of fact, that I grew to expect it and soon included in most introductory visits a statement that went something like “I don’t believe in dysfunctional families. While I believe in individual and truly dysfunctional acts, I believe that the overall patterns and processes that create feelings of dysfunction in family members can and do contain the tools, scales and indicators that a family and the individuals in it use to survive… in the world and with one another”. (Well, perhaps I was a bit less wordy than that… but you get the idea.) “So lets talk about how your family functions, not how it fails to function…”

Of course, the families I worked with for many years were in the midst of a system crisis that was represented by one of the members’ dying and death: another catalyst to individual and family re-recognition of interactional patterns even more powerful than the annual family-based holiday. The anticipation and actual death of a family member necessarily requires that family members be confronted with how the gears of the machine of their family turn. This is an uneasy proposition at best, and potentially terrifying, depending on the nature of the role and calibration of the wheel that is soon to be absent, at least in the physical realm.

Beyond the almost immediate deflation of anxiety my statement about dysfunction created, and the way that it often successfully set the stage for authentic and useful interaction and problem-solving in family groups that were already shocked and reeling from the anticipation of, and/or coping with, great losses, it was, I believe, an honest and invaluable reflection of what is true about how families work as opposed to how they do not work.

If we were able to work toward the discovery of, and ultimately use, how the family works, as opposed to reinforcing the already self-flagellating attitudes with which the pop psych culture has saddled us regarding family function, we would be well on the way toward building a way to cope successfully with what feels like, and may very well be, an event or process that is life-threatening to the inner and/or outer structures that the family and each of its members have inherited and/or painstakingly constructed and maintained for generations; for good or bad or both. This might even be a tool or set of tools the family can rely on for the future, in other family challenges, losses, transformations and recalibrations.

We needn’t tear down a fine old department store in order to replace it with what may essentially be a pole barn. We can preserve what has potential and what works and find ways to revise function and form and go into the future. We can preserve the weight bearing walls and central gears, the fine irreplaceable stories in the woodwork and sound moving materials of love, desire and the essential need to be attached; the history of victories and familial heroism and unity in times of need, and the irreplaceable artistry in the fixtures and craft.

We can maintain what is familiar and important to our understandings of where we have been in order to go into a future that does not deny its pains and struggles and errors, but celebrates them side by side with successes and brilliance and the sources and journey of our right to love and be loved, what we need to save and what we need to revise, what we need to honor and let go of; the physical rendering of the miracles of individuation, our hopes for ourselves and those who will be born from and after us in the coming generations… our contributions to the greater family in our community, our country, our planet and our little place in a universe that is, on the whole, a puzzle made up of an infinite number of essential pieces… of which we are all at the same time the most important one.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

About Love, Partnership, Family, Community

Here is one of my favorite poems. It is a poem by Adrienne Rich from "Twenty One Love Poems" included in her book The Dream of a Common Language.

The picture, right, is one I took of my ten week old grand daughter Pearl


Your silence today is a pond where drowned things live
I want to see raised dripping and brought into the sun.
It's not my own face I see there, but other faces,
even your face at another age.
Whatever's lost there is needed by both of us --
a watch of old gold, a water-blurred fever chart,
a key. . . . . Even the silt and pebbles of the bottom
deserve their glint of recognition. I fear this silence,
this inarticulate life. I'm waiting
for a wind that will gently open this sheeted water
for once, and show me what I can do
for you, who have often made the unnameable
nameable for others, even for me.


I have been thinking about love, about loving, quite a bit since my visit with my ten-week-old grand daughter, Pearl, over Thanksgiving. Slowly, but simultaneously with astonishing and barely fathomable speed, she has attached to me and I to her.

How does this happen?

This is the magic of living, the supreme magic I believe: for whatever biological or anthropological reason given, or base need satisfied, the way we attach to one another is magical and deeply of us and beyond us. To deny the cosmic and ultimate necessity of such attachment is the ultimate sacrilege. It is to deny the only source of our ability to see beyond ourselves and to feel our place in, and our relationship to, our world. It is, I believe, what makes the species endure, understand and want to preserve, our future on the planet. When loving attachment is irretrievably broken, in a person or a group of people, a family, community, culture, it is the beginning of our downfall as a species and our will to fail the potential of our future.

The poem speaks of silences, of filling them and allowing them to be opened and readable. The poem is not one of the easy romantic love of sexual attraction, but of a greater attraction born beyond the lovers and inside them as well.

The speaker in the poem waits for the things of the world, the wind, the water, to open the silence, the negative space, to make the silence readable; to give the speaker in the poem the instructions about how to show love, how to return love given unselfishly: how to be in a state of love, a union of reciprocal loving action. The speaker does not ask for the silence to break, the speaker waits... patiently if somewhat fearfully... to be informed.

This is not a happy or jubilant poem either. It is quiet. There is a tinge of anxiousness. Of wanting to demonstrate connection, all the while being held, rapt in the knowledge that to want too much, to intrude into the silence and destroy it, somehow would change the nature of the love, of the moment of the realization of love, and the potential for communication through it.

My work as a coach inevitably concerns love. It concerns how to help others connect lovingly with others, and at the same time preserve autonomy, in a space of love with themselves. To preserve self while satisfying the deep undying craving for the mysterious and necessary connection to others in all forms and arrangements: with a lover, with a child, with a parent, with a family, with a community or work group.

We wish to find ways to make our lives meaningful, and we recognize, either consciously or indirectly, that the only way to accomplish that is to find connection, to love. To deny this fact creates war, in ourselves and, quite literally, in the world. To go to war in ourselves, against our innate urge to find the sweet and tidal balance between autonomy and connection, means creating illness. When a community does this, against itself or against other communities, the consequences are dire and deadly. They create the potential for obliteration.

When we allow our denied shadow sides to direct us forward in these inner wars, when we are dishonest with ourselves about our need for this balance, we fall. We become less than human. In the tarot deck this conflict is represented by the Devil card. Unattended to, such failure destroys personality and can also replicate almost like a virus in a family, workplace, community or culture, until we select leaders who make physical that illness and demonstrate it in the most detrimental ways: again, this is how we activate our potential to suicide and homicide... symbolically and in very real terms.

Divorce, family estrangements, workplace conflict, all are ultimately typified by the very healthy urge to find balance between autonomy and connection. Unfortunately, unlike the speaker in the poem, we often fail to allow the silence to be opened on its own terms, or through the naturally occurring events and opportunities the world give us, and how we go about integrating in them and it: "a wind that will gently open this sheeted water" to show us what we can do to love, to connect. This may not preclude asking for what we need, but it might make how we ask, and when we ask, and how we observe what we observe before we ask, necessary considerations.

Finally, when we grieve the naturally occurring separations that our search for balance, and our coming to terms with the ultimate losses represented by death, requires of us, we also are in a process of affirming our connections. Perhaps this is the most painful affirmation we are required to be open to and recognize, but it is not so much about separation and grief as it is about how we must love to live. With ourselves and with others.

Pearl, my little grand daughter, fell asleep several times in my arms. Where did her trust come from? How could she love me so immediately and so securely? I am, at times, overwhelmed with the responsibility of being loved in this manner: How can I best return it, what will I see, and what and how will I be shown "... what I can do/for you, who have often made the unnameable/ nameable for others, even for me."

Oh, if we could only create a world in which everyone regarded each other with some portion of this kind of love.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Reflections on Truth Telling

• What are the differences between truth and honesty

Some Quotes about Truth and Honesty

An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens.
--Thomas Jefferson

If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything.
--Mark Twain

Honesty is the best image.
--Tom Wilson

Our lives improve only when we take chances - and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.
--Walter Anderson

No legacy is so rich as honesty.
--William Shakespeare

Son, always tell the truth. Then you'll never have to remember what you said the last time.
--Sam Rayburn

When in doubt, tell the truth.
--Mark Twain

Honesty is the rarest wealth anyone can possess, and yet all the honesty in the world ain't lawful tender for a loaf of bread.
- - Josh Billings

A truth that's told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.
- - William Blake "Auguries of Innocence"

Truth exists, only falsehood has to be invented.
- - Georges Braque

No one can earn a million dollars honestly.
- - William Jennings Bryan

Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again.
- - William Cullen Bryant

Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that you've got it made.
- - George Burns

The easiest person to deceive is one's self.
- - Edward George Bulwer-Lytton "The Disowned" 1828

There is a case for telling the truth; there is a case for avoiding the scandal; but there is no possible defense for the man who tells the scandal, but does not tell the truth
- - G. K. Chesterton

Tis strange - but true; for truth is always strange; Stranger than fiction.
- - George Gordon, Lord Byron "Don Juan"

Truth, like light, blinds. Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.
- - Albert Camus "The Fall" 1957

Truth is the highest thing that man may keep.
- - Geoffrey Chaucer "Canterbury Tales. The Frankeleines Tale"

It is a fine thing to be honest, but it is also very important to be right.
- - Winston Churchill

• Why is it important for coaches to tell the truth to their clients?

Truthfulness is at the base of all trust. Without trust the coach/client relationship is based in falsehood and dishonesty. It cannot go forward. Without the truth, or truthfulness, the authenticity of feedback, reflection and the nature of the relationship itself rests on illusion.

• As a coach, how will you support your clients to hear truths that are difficult?

This question assumes that a truth being offered is one the coach is privy to and the client is not. It presumes that honesty/truthfulness about what the coach perceives to be true is the same as capital ‘T’ Truth, and I think the two things can be quite different things.

Perhaps their relationship is best drawn as a Venn diagram of intersecting circles. Perhaps honesty/truthfulness is a much larger circle with Truth being a circle, quite a bit smaller, made up of the relatively small number of things that everyone holds as incontrovertibly true, about which it is quite easy to be honest. Would the smaller circle of Truth fit entirely inside the larger circle of the things one can be honest or truthful about?

Say my client wanted me to support him or her in the defense of their belief that the truth about water boarding is that it is not torture. How would I go about doing that? How would I even go about coaching a prospective candidate for the office of United States Attorney General if he/she, truthfully, states he/she is yet unsure whether water boarding is in fact torture, and he/she wants me to help him/her prepare to present that ‘truth’. How would I say the truth, and in what form? What truth would it be? How would it be applied?

It is true that the prospective candidate has a truth. It is true that the truth they hold is shared by others, if not by me. It may also be that the truth they hold is totally alien to any truth I hold. Which part of what truth do I tell? Which do I focus on in my work with this client? Where is the tipping point between my participating in the promulgation of a truth that I may believe is dastardly and criminal, and my job as a coach, which is to acknowledge and assist my client in discovering and finding ways to live in their own truths? This is an extreme example, but certainly lives in the realm of the complicated nature of our relationships to our clients and to the truths that they hold; which ones can be challenged, and which ones are to be accepted as the product of diverse systems of belief and functioning on the planet.

I am not a complete relativist, but these considerations about truth and honesty are certainly thorny and un-easy… they live in a country in which nothing can really be taken for granted, a place where truths can be quite easily masked by the lies of style, necessity, politics, greed, unexamined habit and the fears of discovery and punishment, overt or passive.

How are we to hear what is the truth? How are we to reflect that truth back? Certainly it is important to consider all of these things before we attempt to “tell the truth” to our clients. Certainly, if we are truthful, we must consider where the intersections of our truths and our clients’ truths lie… and how far down the road of their truths we can go before we start to betray and damage our relationship to our own.

Still, there are times when a conversation swims willingly in the ponds of the intersection of our truths and our clients’… and these are productive, fertile, and crystal clear ponds. We must pursue those ponds, and not be too afraid to beckon our clients to go there with us… show them the scuba masks and safety equipment, assure them you will be right beside them all the way, and celebrate when you both surface, unharmed and enlightened by what you have discovered together

• What is the relationship between fear and the truth?

There may be many reasons to fear hearing truth; there may be many reasons to fear telling the truth. There is power in truth, in the telling or in the hearing, to those told and to those who tell it. There are good reasons to fear that power, and to respect it. One cannot avoid that power by pretending it does not exist, or pretending all truths are to be received joyfully or simply.

Even those who have no reason not to tell the truth can fear its revelation, and the power of transformation that the revelation holds. The truth destroys masks, even ones that appear to be unnecessary or transparent, hardly even there. But these masks have been essential to survival in some, even forgotten, way, and cannot be lowered without the acute awareness of how vulnerable lowering them can make us feel. We must respect our power as truth tellers and be aware of the kinds of fear people cultivate in relationship to the truths in their lives.

• What are your policies on confidentiality and conflict of interest and how do you articulate these to your clients?

My policies on confidentiality and conflict of interest will be included in my early communications with each prospective client and repeated as necessary to increase feelings and assurances of safety as the client/coach relationship develops.

Confidentiality, in brief, requires that no one be privy to any part of my discussions with my clients unless I have received written permission from my clients prior to disclosing whatever information has been deemed necessary and beneficial for the coaching process. It requires that, in consulting other professionals or for educational purposes, in order to better serve my clients, that I either receive written permission from the client prior to any disclosures, or take careful measures to protect the specific identity of those I am talking about and keep their specific identities anonymous.

These policies will be available in writing and stated and restated as needed.

• How can you create a trusting space that allows your clients to speak the truth?

1. Observe basic rules of confidentiality
2. Consult clients re their specific needs re establishing safety in the coaching relationship
3. Interact in respectful and authentically supportive ways
4. Repeatedly confer with the client about their feelings of safety and the progress they are making
5. Clearly communicate limits and boundaries of the client/coach relationship and the coach’s responsibility to maintain those boundaries to facilitate excellence in the coaching relationship and its outcomes.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Another Stafford Poem and Reflections

Here’s another poem from William Stafford that I like. Stafford’s one of my favorite poets for several reasons… and maybe this poem explains many of those reasons.

I had the privilege of meeting William Stafford on two separate occasions. My first meeting with him was during a writer’s conference I attended at Squaw Valley in California in the late 1970s. He really took, what I recognize now as, a coach’s approach with my worries, my venting, and my desire to find my own way through the conference. He didn’t offer much advice. He listened and was kind and he acknowledged my insecurities and the way I expressed them. I was grateful and more relaxed…. not feeling that there were some unstated behavioral “poet's” standards that I had to discover and then adhere to in order to go forward as a writer of poems at the conference, and then into the world. I could be myself. It was good enough.

I was a young writer, and looked even younger than I was. I was always surprised then, and I am even now in spite of my years, at the kind of interpersonal and inter-group power struggles that occur in groups of poets, in groups of artists and other groups otherwise, perhaps romantically, defined by the altruism and humanist intent in their over all aims and urges in the work that they pursue. I never expect these, rather darker, less than conscious, urges to arise in the open in such groups. When they do it alarms and dismays me.

At the conference I was early in my developing understanding that even in groups of people truly committed to doing good works for the betterment of the species, and the planet in general, there were deeply rooted conflicts; conflicts, often unstated or completely under-realized on a conscious level, that defined much of what I felt occurred and was accomplished. These worked as a powerful and distracting subtext in the dynamics of such a group… and in fact could pull the group apart, or at least distract individuals and the group itself away from its initial urges and goals. And it was painful in so many ways, to most of the participants.

At that time, in that situation, Stafford helped me retain my center in all this. He seemed to take some good natured humor in such interpersonal hijinks that had the power to divert people from their goals as individuals and in groups of otherwise like-minded people. This made the conflicts more manageable, and less overwhelmingly significant… but never really minimized the serious nature of what they could undermine, and what action toward mutual goals they could derail and roadblock.

I am unsure how this relates to coaching, aside from the fact that later I found that Stafford had been a conscientious objector during World War Two, which must have been a terrifically difficult public position to take at the time. In fact, it has been said, and I think it is overwhelmingly recognizable, that much of Stafford’s work is marked by the sometimes lonely process of exploring one’s lack of connection in the world, one’s essential alienation and homelessness even at home; and the search for, and discovery of, the sometimes fleeting seeds of connection that have the potential to, at least, be nurtured into being.

In this poem this is reinforced most in its focus on finding and staying with what is authentic, and how we need others to keep us to that line of authenticity, no matter how wavery it is, or our efforts are at following it. No matter how alone we might feel in our search to stay within eye/ear/touch/smell shot of it. Our efforts, and the line of authenticity itself, waver; and so, if we are ready to commit to the task, our efforts to find and re-find our connection to it weave in and through it… a braid. Braids are quite strong. Rope is a braid.

How does this relate to coaching? I think perhaps Mr. Stafford was really one of my early coaches. He had the power to influence my own direction… he knew it, he respected and was humbled by the power I had given to him in that role. And he respected me and acknowledged me. Never once did he minimize my perceptions about the things that disturbed me about how people, even I... in a process that is perhaps normal in spite of its deep difficulties as well as its intersections for celebration... fail to go forward in easy, straight, unified lines. Groups can only braid their efforts together the best they can… and sometimes they don’t do very well at all.

My own awareness of the nature of individual and group functioning , and my empathic, intuitive detections of the sub textually expressed conflicts, in individuals and in groups, have been a matter of constant distress, unpleasant surprise, and at times the desire, even need, to separate from others, from community. But this same curse is also a gift at the core of my strength as someone who wishes to be of service to others, as an artist and as a coach.

This is not an easy task, and the balance between separation and engagement continues to hugely define my awareness and the underlying tensions of my life. So, they have urged me to find my own road while also begging me to engage… to find a way to express the truths those struggles reveal to me to help others engage in their own journeys of discovery.

Because, of course, this struggle is the universal struggle. It is the struggle of every person. And it is the coach’s, and the poet's, job to integrate these polarities into the unified whole that is what we are as humans. Together/Separate, With/Without, One/Many, Individual/Community. “…it holds/ together something more than the world,/ this line. And we are your wavery/ efforts at following it. Are you coming?/ Good: now it is time.”

-- Bob


An Introduction to Some Poems

Look: No one ever promised for sure
that we would sing. We have decided
to moan. In a strange dance that
we don’t understand till we do it, we
have to carry on.

Just as in sleep you have to dream
the exact dream to round out your life,
so we have to live that dream into stories
and hold them close at you, close at the
edge we share, to be right.

We find it an awful thing to meet people,
serious or not, who have turned into vacant
effective people, so far lost that they
won’t believe their own feelings
enough to follow them out.

The authentic is a line from one thing
along to the next; it interests us.
Strangely, it relates to what works,
but is not quite the same. It never
swerves for revenge,

Or profit, or fame: it holds
together something more than the world,
this line. And we are your wavery
efforts at following it. Are you coming?
Good: now it is time.

--- William Stafford

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Our deepest fear

I got the following Marianne Williamson quote from a coaching client. I think it is worthwhile and relates to my own journey as well. I follow with a poem by William Stafford that I sent back to that client that I think relates more to the process of how we activate "our light", "our greatness". --Bob

Marianne Williamson, used in Nelson Mandela’s 1994 Inaugural speech:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”


A Living

Even pain can take you, in waves:
call the interval happiness. You can
travel; whatever nags you, you can
change it. You can roll this burden away.
In the pinched bend of your street
you can look back, or ahead, or wait.

And there is easy talk, for throwing
back like Annie-Over, or a minuet,
a way to act human in these years the stars
look past. And somewhere around you begins
that lifted road lighted by sunset, offered
again and again, laced where the sky lives:

Someday your road.

--William Stafford

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In the End

In the end none of us
knows how the story turns
out. We walk on
from the middle of a chapter – something
undone, out of some room unfurnished
into a journey by an alien unmarked river
always dreamed about; but even it curves away
into some darkening trees.
It is enough,

on this fine day with its scent
of hay and wind
from as far away as the big lake,
to know what circles we were able
to invent in the froth of our sky,
how we drew maps
over the boundary-less earth
of our dream, the Mobius
of our own short time.

Something in us, even in sleep, wants paths.
We invent the fluid machinery to install them
and name our truths, even love,
for the convenience of pretending
we know where we are going.

That is fine.
This is no complaint. We do
what we must do, a least
the best of us, who really have no thirst
for bloodletting or the massacres in oil
and its horrendous cartography of grief,

who have learned the power in our
who wait for the night to be done
when our children turn back to us
even after we walk on,
to make the story ours
however it ends

and what we can do together
just by saying yes.

Reflections on Creating Actions

Reflect on your own experience: How have you felt when others have encouraged you to take action when you doubted your strength, or ability in a specific area?

I felt I had reinforcements. Reinforcements in mind and spirit and energy to apply and to go forward into potentially unexplored terrain. Their confidence in me or the strength of their encouragement was transferred to me and swelled my own well of “can do” energy.

What are your top 10 strengths?

1. Creativity
2. Honesty with self and in how I scrutinize my world
3. Empathy
4. Intuitive understanding and recognition of internalized structures and systems
5. Sense of Humor
6. Eye for Beauty in my world and in people
7. Reverence for the sacred and miraculous in every day
8. Innate respect for equality between beings
9. Good powers of critique
10. Good bullshit detector

How do these support you in your development of your coaching practice?

They are the structure from which I recognize and build the value of each day of my life. As coaching becomes an integrated part of my life, it will be a part of them, and they will be a part of it.

Think of one goal that you will have for the next month. This may be a self-contained goal, or it could be part of something much bigger – like setting up your business! What structures do you need to put in place to enable you to achieve your goal?

• create and protect time to work on steps to goal
• create formal and/or informal way to list steps to goal
• ask for assistance as necessary, devise system open networks to make this possible
• create inner encouragement system to recognize positive value of work toward goal

Make a list of five people that you most admire and describe why you like them. What are the attributes that you want to make your own?

1. Lao Tsu. In spite of being dismayed with the world, and in spite of his own misgivings about the utility of his spiritual gifts in such a world, before he went off on his last physical and spiritual journey he gave into those who admired him when they encouraged him to leave a record of his beliefs and spiritual understandings. In that way he left one of the greatest spiritual guidebooks ever written, the Tao Te Ching.

2. Mrs. Tracey. My first and second grade teacher. Without coddling me she transferred to me a love of reading, she recognized my gifts, and encouraged me to apply them and love them. It was one way I survived my childhood

3. Federico Garcia Lorca. In spite of his great and powerful ambivalence toward his own mortality, and in spite of the fact that he was not an inherently political being, this Spanish Poet/Playwright, did not compromise his standards in spite of the danger it put him in during the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Evidence, long surpressed, indicates that he was assassinated by forces led by Franco and buried in a mass grave outside of his home town, Granada.

4. Thomas Jefferson. A great if flawed and very human man dropped into an epoch that transformed the way human beings govern themselves. He grabbed the opportunity, and understood his own foibles and how they were the same, equal, in every human. He was key in devising a system of government that took human foibles into account and was visionary in the way it tried to codify a way to transcend those foibles and accent human strengths.

5. Martin Luther King. Spoke loud and long and was the clear inheritor of Jefferson’s unfulfilled legacy of true equality for all. Spoke out against the odds. Spoke eloquently and with an unerring connection to the Sacred.

Who is on your support team? Is it big enough? Are there others you need to engage with more to support you in achieving your goals?

My family, friends and those who I have had the great pleasure of working with in the wide range of my professional and personal life. The people who believe in me and put up with my BS and remind me of my strength and gifts when I have forgotten them... It’s a group that could be bigger, but couldn’t be finer.I could explore connection to groups outside my natural support group and maintain, reestablish connection with those who have recognized my gifts and might be natural and authentic promoters of my goals.

Bob Vance