Sunday, December 21, 2008

To Our Children in a Season for Children

I don't know much about Dr. Ray Hawkins, but I was sent this by someone close to me and I wanted to share it.
It seems to me that this time of year is about children, whether out of the pagan/Christian/Judaic Christmas Hannukah season with its Santa Claus magic, lights, and gift giving, or from the birth of the child of the New Year as we head into longer days and time seems reborn. I thought Dr. Hawkins' thoughts were excellent reminders as we bless and cherish our children in our lives.

From Dr. Ray Hawkins:

"I find it difficult listening to parents who berate, belittle and disregard their children and then demand respect from them.

As a parent, you certainly do deserve to be respected and your children need to learn to respect other adults as well. But you must give respect to get it.

Introduce them to your friends in public, ask their opinion on decisions the family is making and let their ideas be truly considered and sometimes followed. Talk to them as you would an equal, not a servant. This starts early in life.

Every 5 year old wants to feel valued by a parent. They want parents to talk to them with respect.

If they see it, they will do it. If they hear it, they will say it. If they get it, they will give it."

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Poem About Growing and Passing Things On

For Pearl in her Fourteenth Month

You have become very industrious
now that you have walking down
to a wobbly science and rooms are organized
according to your constant wanderings,
the mysterious jobs you devise
making bowls and blocks and shoes into toys or tools,
stacking and un-stacking between
giving us all little wet kisses.

Your month is the same as my four years,
so when your mother leaves the room
and you go to the kitchen gate
to whimper or howl in genuine loss I know
those minutes last forever while mine pass
so quickly if I cried it would be because I
can barely hold on like I wish to hold on to you
after you bubble away from me in laughter.

You are so busy!
Tell me stories in your babbling
language until I can learn to transcribe
the dreamt world of a life so new
that the blocks and found toys
you put in your boxes and take out over
and over again, or present to me
with such an earnest gaze

have no choice but to become treasures
so full of your untarnished heart
that they fly up into my throat a yellow bird,
a song, the thread of my mother’s
blue eyes out of your open sweet face.
How can that be? We are not blood
beyond the possibility of the convertible nature
of genes that might suck up and be changed

by love over generations until
they describe me, and me in you, in the music of your voice
without the convention of any official language,
and better than I can describe myself.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In Response to Iris' Comment on my Last Post

In responding to your comment I feel I first have to make clear the difference between what a parent's job is and what a coach's job is. The parent by nature is given the huge responsibility of being an expert, a teacher, a diviner of innate gifts and talents, as well acting as a kind of life-long coach (as opposed to life coach?), psychologist and source of unqualified love and regard. While a parent may have much less control over the totality of a child’s make up and genetic predispositions, they are given the sacred task of guiding, teaching, limit-setting and loving.

While a coach certainly carries the responsibility of some of those same "jobs", the relationship dynamic between coach and client is mandated to take place on completely equal footing. Parents, it seems to me, have much more authority and responsibility in the relationship with their child (at least during the child's actual childhood) than a coach has in the coaching relationship.

If we take that equality to be the required norm in a coaching relationship, then we accept the fact that we, as coaches, must refrain from making judgments or proscriptions for where a client "should" be in any movement toward change... even if it is in the process of a change the client has stated he or she wishes to be engaged in. We are contracted through the nature of the relationship to stand along side of our clients and assist them in facilitating the rate and steps of their own change.

Resistance seems to me to be something the coach feels as a result of a certain dynamic in the relationship that may arise in the work toward change... denial too is a way a coach might define their own perception of the client's motivations and movement toward change, or lack of movement, as opposed to what or how a client would label it. How could a client label themselves such if they were truly “in denial”? As soon as they recognize their own “denial” they have, in fact, delivered themselves from it. Resistance or denial, then, are the products of a coach pushing in directions or for rates of change that are not in sync with the client; it is the way the coach defines feeling out of step with the client…. and when the coach places the onus of that uncomfortable dissonance on the client, instead of realigning themselves with where the client is.

It could always be that the change the client states they wish for is simply not to be had. The client may not be ready for it… or perhaps there are deeper issues at stake that are beyond the coach’s (and perhaps the client’s) power to uncover and resolve. In that case the work for the coach and client is to go where the client wishes to go, at the rate they wish to engage and explore coming to terms with how that change is not a possibility. This might also be the place in the relationship where we would bring into the coaching conversation other resources that might be useful, reset goals for the coaching relationship, or refer to other professionals.

Some Questions to ask a client when a coach is uncertain whether the client is satisfied with their rate of change and/or progress toward goals:

  1. How well do you think you are doing in moving toward your stated goal?

  2. We have talked about this pattern (or issue, difficulty, stumbling block) for several sessions. What do you think stands in the way of moving beyond it?

  3. Are you moving toward your stated goals at a rate you are satisfied with?

  4. Are you still committed to the goals we set when we started working together?

  5. Why do you think it has been difficult for you to move beyond this issue?

  6. What would it be like if you were able to move more quickly toward your goals?

It is hard to contain our own perceptions related to what is blocking a client’s rate of change or progress toward a goal… especially if it seems to be very clear to us. But as coaches it is important to remember that we are working to facilitate the client’s own voyage of discovery and change and we cannot really know the inner landscapes that they must circumvent and navigate to get to their destination. We must ask for those details and help them see them more clearly. We help them navigate by asking for clarification and the various viewpoints of what they see ahead and how they plan to steer around or toward it. The client is our only way of seeing what is ahead for them… and we must trust that they know, consciously or not, what lays ahead, what they can accomplish and how long it will take for them to accomplish it. We are mirrors and clarifiers, tools and navigational instruments.

And how much more satisfying for a client when they are allowed to chart, navigate, and discover their own way? The end result belongs completely to them… and it may be that it is more complete and more an innate part of their wisdom and genius if we insert as little of our own, perhaps premature, perception about their inner world as possible.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Thought About Client Resistance to Change in Coaching

Readiness to change is not automatically a trait that the client brings into the conversation or one that the client recognizes in its totality, but it can be brought about through interaction with a coach who is attentive to the signals and signs of motivation toward change and responds in a way that enhances them.
What is called “resistance” or “denial” is, in fact, the product of the practitioner’s assumption that the client is closer to change readiness than he or she actually is.
Resistance and denial are actually problems generated from the practitioner and not the client.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Satisfaction Saturday

My friend and colleague Iris Arenson-Fuller has invited me to be a part of what she has named "Satisfaction Saturday"... a day to integrate appreciation of the present and its gifts. This is my acceptance to her fine invitation:

I am fortunate to be blessed with what I call the happy gene. This does not mean I have no struggles or deep and dark passages, but that my urge seems always to surmount these, or go through them, and to appreciate them. I honestly cannot think of a time in the past that I prefer to be in... I like the idea of the future and though I have the normal levels of reverie about my past, my memories and my experiences, I am intrigued and interested in the future and work to be present in what the present offers me. Not always easy, but ultimately do-able.

I think, if I learn anything from my rough passages, and I have been blessed/cursed with some horrific ones since earliest childhood, it is that survival itself is a given, that change is unavoidable, and that I will learn to cope, adjust and find meaning... real meaning with real spirit and light, real appreciation.

I anticipate, on an individual and collective level, that this dark night of the human soul we are inevitably recruited to pass through together, will offer me the same gifts. This does not mean I will not feel despair at times, or loneliness, grief and even hopelessness, but that those times too shall pass and give way to other times until I no longer inhabit this bag of tissues and great spirit that is my home. Perhaps I shall take these thoughts too into my "Satisfaction Saturday"!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Viktor Frankl as a Basis for Coaching Practice

I am exploring resources for a paper I am writing as a final requirement in my work with International Coach Academy and I thought I'd like to share this one. The following is from the website of the Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy (link below). While I recognize there is a boundary between coaching and therapy, I think each can learn from the other. At any rate, I think many of Viktor Frankl's primary premises, or assumptions, are at the core of good coaching practice.

Assumptions of Logotherapy

The assumptions of Franklian Psychotherapy can neither be proved nor disproved with any certainty. This is also true with all psychotherapies. To see if these assumptions make sense in our lives we must assume that they are true. According to experiences of Logotherapist, these assumptions make sense. These assumptions include:

1. The human being is an entity consisting of body, mind, and spirit.

2. Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable.

3. People have a will to meaning.

4. People have freedom under all circumstances to activate the will to find meaning.

5. Life has a demand quality to which people must respond if decisions are to be meaningful.

6. The individual is unique.

The first assumption deals with the body (soma), mind (psyche), and spirit (noos). According to Frankl, the body and mind are what we have and the spirit is what we are.

Assumption two is “ultimate meaning”. This is difficult to grasp but it is something everyone experiences and it represents an order in a world with laws that go beyond human laws.

The third assumption is seen as our main motivation for living and acting. When we see meaning we are ready for any type of suffering. This is considered to be different than our will to achieve power and pleasure.

Assumption four is that we are free to activate our will to find meaning and this can be done under any circumstances. This deals with change of attitudes about unavoidable fate. Frankl was able to test the first four assumptions when he was confined in the concentration camps.

The fifth assumption, the meaning of the moment, is more practical in daily living than ultimate meaning. Unlike ultimate meaning this meaning can be found and fulfilled. This can be done by following the values of society or by following the voice of our conscience.

The sixth assumption deals with one’s sense of meaning. This is enhanced by the realization that we are irreplaceable. In essence, all humans are unique with an entity of body, mind and spirit. We all go through unique situations and are constantly looking to find meaning. We are free to do this at all times in response to certain demands.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Poem About the Cycle of Life

What the Ravens Want

What is it the ravens want squawking
this early as the sun struggles
to come through the iron clouds?

Some predictions of winter would have them
hover near the road waiting for another
accident involving porcupine or raccoon

or, for their whole clan, a doe.
It seems too early for such frozen dead delights
but still they remind us, when they flap up

away from our blind speed, as it gets colder
the more we kill with our fast passes or failed swerves,
the more they can clean away.

It is the sordid forgotten version of the story
of our emptying highways. Even now, as the cars
are sparser this far into the forests, the first flocks

of red orange leaves reflect in the glassy lakes.
Until a stiff arctic wind, that is. Up here
the waterfalls and last yellow wildflowers

down close to the floor of the woods
are accustomed to a final cover (big blueblack birds
out of a grip of white) of laconic early snows.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Love and Desire

Desire: A dangerous flame

Jeanette Winterson

Thursday, 18 September 2008 , The UK's Independent

Why is the measure of love loss? In between those two words – love, loss, and standing on either side of them, is how all this happened in the first place. Another word: desire.

While I can't have you, I long for you. I am the kind of person who would miss a train or a plane to meet you for coffee. I'd take a taxi across town to see you for 10 minutes. I'd wait outside all night if I thought you would open the door in the morning. If you call me and say "Will you..." my answer is "Yes", before your sentence is out. I spin worlds where we could be together. I dream you. For me, imagination and desire are very close.

Desire is always a kind of invention. By which I mean that the two of us are re-invented by this powerful emotion. Well, sometimes it is the two of us, sometimes it might just be me, and then I am your stalker, your psychopath, the one whose fantasy is out of control.

Desiring someone who has no desire for you is a clue to the nature of this all-consuming feeling; it has much more to do with me than it has to do with you. You are the object of my desire. I am the subject. I am the I.

When we are the object of each other's desire it is easy to see nothing negative in this glorious state. We become icons of romance, we fulfil all the slush-fantasies. This is how it is meant to be. You walked into the room... Our eyes met... From the first moment... and so on.

It is safe to say that overwhelming desire for another person involves a good deal of projection. I don't believe in love at first sight, but I do believe in desire at first sight. Sometimes it is as simple as sexual desire, and perhaps men are more straightforward there, but usually desire is complex; a constellation of wants and needs, hopes and dreams, a whole universe of uninhabited stars looking for life.

And nothing feels more like life than desire. Everyone knows it; the surge in the blood, cocaine-highs without the white powder. Desire is shamanistic, trance-like, ecstatic. When people say, as they often do, "I'd love to fall in love again – that first month, six months, year...", they are not talking about love at all – it's desire they mean.

And who can blame us? Desiring you allows me to feel intensely, makes my body alert as a fox. Desire for you allows me to live outside normal time, conjures me into a conversation with my soul when I never thought I had one, tricks me into behaving better than I ever did, like someone else, someone good.

Desire for you fills my mind and thus becomes a space-clearing exercise. In this jumbled, packed, bloated, noisy world, you become my point of meditation. I think of you and little else, and so I realise how absurd and wasteful are most of the things that I do. Body, mind, effort, are concentrated in your image. The fragmented state of ordinary life at last becomes coherent. No longer scattered through time and space, I am collected in one place, and that place is you.
Simple. Perfect.

Until it goes wrong.

The truth is that unless desire is transformed into love, desire fails us; it fails to do what it once did; the highs, the thrills. Our transports of delight disappear. We stop walking on air. We find ourselves back on the commuter train and on our own two feet. Language gives it away; we talk about coming back down to earth.

For many people, this is a huge disappointment. When desire is gone, so is love, and so is the relationship. I doubt, though, that love is so easy to shift. Loving shies away from leaving, and can cope with the slow understanding that the beloved is not Superman or Miss World.

We live in an "upgrade" culture. I think this has infected relationships. Why keep last year's model when the new one will be sleeker and more fun? People, like stuff, are throwaways in our society; we don't do job security and we don't offer security in relationships. We mouth platitudes about time to move on, as though we were doing something new-age and wise, when all we really want is to get rid of the girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife.

I don't want a return to the 1950s, when couples stayed together whatever the hell, but whoever said that relationships are easy?

Advertising always promises that the new model will be easier to use. And of course when you "upgrade" to the next relationship, it is also easier – for a while.

If you are pretty or personable, handsome or rich, serial relationships offer all the desire and none of the commitment. As sexual desire calms, and as the early fantasies dissolve, we begin to see the other person in real life, and not as our goddess or rescuer. We turn critical. We have doubts.

We begin to see ourselves, too, and as most of us spend our entire lives hiding from any confrontation with the self, this sudden sighting is unpleasant, and we blame the other person for our panicky wish to bolt. It is less painful to change your partner than it is to confront yourself, but one of the many strange things about love is that it asks that we do confront ourselves, while giving us the strength of character to make that difficult task possible. If desire is a magic potion, with instant effect (see Tristan and Isolde), then love is a miracle whose effects become apparent only in time. Love is the long-haul. Desire is now.

An upgrade culture, a now culture, and a celebrity culture, where the endless partner-swapping of the rich and famous is staple fare, doesn't give much heft to the long-haul. We are the new Don Giovannis, whose seductions need to be faster and more frequent, and we hide these crimes of the heart under the sexy headline of "desire".

Don Giovanni – with his celebrated 1,003 women, is of course dragged off to Hell for his sins.

Desire has never been a favourite of religion. Buddhism teaches non-attachment, Christianity sees desire as the road to the sins of the flesh and as a distraction from God. Islam has its women cover themselves in public lest any man should be inflamed, and jeopardise his soul. In Jewish tradition, desire ruins King David and Samson, just as surely as modern-day Delilah's are still shearing their men into submission. Yet it would be misleading to forget the love poem in the Bible that is the "Song of Solomon"; a poem as romantic as any written since, that gives desire a legitimate place in the palace of love.

And quite right too. Desire is wonderful. Magic potions are sometimes exactly what is needed.

You can love me and leave me if you like, and anybody under 30 should do quite a lot of loving and leaving. I don't mean that desire belongs to youth – certainly it does not – but there are good reasons to fall in love often when you are growing up, even if only to discover that it wasn't love at all.

The problems start when desire is no longer about discovery, but just a cheap way of avoiding love.

It is a mistake to see desire as an end in itself. Lust is an end in itself, and if that is all you want, then fine. Desire is trickier, because I suspect that its real role is towards love, not an excuse in the other direction.

There is a science-based argument that understands desire as a move towards love, but a love that is necessary for a stable society. Love is a way of making people stay together, desire is a way of making people love each other, goes the argument. This theory reads our highest emotional value as species protection. Unsurprisingly, I detest this reading, and much prefer what poets have to say. When Dante talks about the love that moves the sun and the lesser stars, I believe him. He didn't know as much as we do about the arrangement of the heavens, but he knew about the complexity of the heart.

My feeling is that love led by desire, desire deepening into love, is much more than selfish gene-led social stability and survival of the species. Loving someone is the closest we can get to knowing what it is like to be another person. Love blasts through our habitual sclerotic selfishness, the narrow "me first" that gradually closes us down, the dead-end of the loveless life.
There are different kinds of love, and not all of them are prefaced by desire, yet desire keeps its potent place in our affections. Its releasing force has no regard for conventions of any kind, and it crosses genders, age, social classes, religion, common sense and good manners with seemingly equal ease.

This is bracing and necessary. It is addictive. Like all powerful substances, desire needs careful handling, which by its nature is almost impossible to do.

Almost, but not quite. Jung, drawing on alchemy, talked about desire as the white bird, which should always be followed when it appears, but not always brought down to earth. Simply, we cannot always act on our desire, nor should we, but repressing it tells us nothing. Following the white bird is a courageous way of acknowledging that something explosive is happening. Perhaps that will blow up our entire world, or perhaps it will detonate a secret chamber in the heart. For certain, things will change.

I don't suppose that the white bird of desire is nearly as attractive to most of us as the white powder substitute with natural highs. Desire as a drug is racier than desire as a messenger. Yet most things in life have a prosaic meaning and a poetic meaning, and there are times when only poetry will answer.

For me, when I have trusted my desire, whether or not I have acted on it, life has become much more difficult, but strangely more illuminated. When I have not trusted my desire, out of cowardice or common sense, slowly I have gone into shadow. I cannot explain this, but I find it to be true.

Desire deserves respect. It is worth the chaos. But it is not love, and only love is worth everything.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Poetry of the Integration of Grief and Loss

The following is a poem by someone, Iris Arenson-Fuller, I have had the great pleasure of meeting through my work at the International Coach Academy. I reproduce it here because I believe it succinctly and movingly reflects on the ways our history of grief is necessarily interwoven into and an essential part of how we intuit, visualize and actualize our future... whether we see the future as out of our control and fated, or decide to take as much control of it as we can to make our dreams and hopes a reality.

Over the years in my work with grief and loss with those who have sustained a series of losses, traumas, or are facing the kinds of losses and great life transformation represented by the advent of a life-threatening disease, I have come to understand that the ability to go forward healthily into a life that is informed by such events or series of events must necessarily include the management of how those occurrences are present in our store of sense and emotional memory for the rest of our lives. That is, they are filters and batteries in the circuits of our generator of traumas, joys, learning and genetic predispositions that inform how we go forward and approach our remaining years. They cannot be escaped. They must not be avoided because they cannot be avoided. They are, for lack of better words, encoded, and can become part of how we are gifted as a species that is able to transform trauma into progress and enlightenment, for the purpose of survival, or they can, through avoidance or misplacement, become the source of continuing un-managed anguish and self-destruction... neurosis and even psychosis and collective evil.

Because I believe literature has been the greatest repository of the most complete understanding of how these dynamics come to the fore and are played out in the drama of our lives, I look to it and always have looked to it for guidance and understanding of the human psyche and the wisdom, love , grief and tragedy of our species.

Poetry especially is able to bring great truths, clarity, resolution and acceptance to our struggles as individuals and as a collective of souls. This poem is especially adept at bringing such truth to the surface of conscious understanding and I thank Iris for it!


Bear Daydreams
-Iris Arenson-Fuller (

Forty-five black bear sightings this year in town
help me imagine a large stuffed furball seated
on the pine glider, shaded by the tall
Dutch Elm awning and framed by beds of lilies,
strawberries and cream.
She smiles and turns pages of a storybook
about three little humans who visit her den
and sample her hospitality.
She is sure she belongs and never questions
in whose life she has come to live, or why,
or whose daydreams she has annexed.

I lean into the sun in the old lady’s field
behind the barn, hoping to coax my skin
into a warm new friendship instead
of claiming the redhead’s cancer birthright.
My grief sits on the grass in a Chinese takeout
carton where I packed it up for safe keeping
Sometimes I place it on the soft curve of my
belly and it rests, no longer heavy like cold stone
calling cards on graves, but now light, airy
nuggets of tears stir-fried carefully with smiles
and frozen-frame memories.

This grief is like some prosthetic limb
I wish I did not wear, and when I detach
it and hang it on the chair, I find it still
under the old worn quilt.
It steadies my core and carries me over
young meadows that wake early to stretch
and rub the dew from green eyes.
The limb is part of the body now,
incorporated into a company I did not know
I would ever inherit.
Daydreams crawl into my arms to nuzzle at
my breast as I study the sky, hoping
it is not a mirage.
Unlike my bear, I sometimes wonder in whose
life I have come to live, or if some creature
from a world I never dream has hijacked
my soul to weave into an intricate tale
and nested it in a florist’s box.
Then I spot the box, next to the bear
on the glider and I understand that
They have both been there, rocking,
waiting for me to find them today
under the Dutch Elm.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Powertool: The Authentic vs. The Mask

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,
( from the poem “An Introduction to Some Poems”)

As with most coaching powertools, upon first consideration, the terms in question appear to have a relationship of opposites. Truth vs. Fraud, Action vs. Delay, Respect vs. Invalidation, Trust vs. Doubt, all imply and carry a tension of opposing meaning and understanding of the action that the words carry with them. One might easily arrive at the conclusion that there is an inherent good/bad, positive/negative, implied in these pairings. It would be good to dispel this assumption from the very beginning in this discussion of how The Authentic and The Mask work as a kind of actionable “team” in coaching practice.

Perhaps the model of a yin-yang can be most useful in discussing the relationship between what is the authentic and what is the mask. No self-respecting Taoist would ever go so far as to imply that the darker side of the yin-yang symbol is bad. There is a movement and a relationship between the light and dark side of the symbol that clearly connotes the way these two forces are contained within one another and move each other.

We can say the same thing about the nature of the relationship of how, in coaching, the Authentic and the Mask work with one another to create an interplay and a way forward.

The Mask, as it is used in this power tool, becomes metaphor for what is hidden from plain sight, what is disguised; what, at first, may look to be in-authentic. As a verb the word ‘mask’ describes the action of masking. As a noun it becomes the mask itself, the thing that is used to disguise or hide. For this discussion it may be worth it to add, as well, that masks are used to decorate, to accentuate and to protect. Masks are used to entice and tease in a playful “game” manner. They are used to celebrate. The streets of Venice and even New Orleans are filled with masked revelers during Mardi Gras.

While the uncovering of what is hidden, the removing of masks, is largely what we, as coaches, might be occupied with in order to help our clients arrive at authentic progress and action that is, as described in definition 5 (see below), “true to one's own personality, spirit, or character”, it is just as crucial to understand the protective manner of masks. Masks are worn in toxic environments as a matter of sheer survival.

It is worthwhile to note that, while working with clients, our own coaching mask, based in true and authentic communication and a desire to assist others with their own travels toward self-realization and progress, can be useful in helping a client determine when, if and how he or she can lower their own masks. Sometimes, as clearly as a solution or way forward seems to us, it, by the very nature of its masked presence in the coaching conversation, remains masked to our client. There is a reason for this. We must respect that reason. We must be the catalyst for helping our clients decide for themselves when the “de-masking” can or should occur. We must at times mask our own knowledge and insight to help our clients find their own truths, their own way to their authentic selves.

We can help by helping them create a safe environment around themselves in their lives and in the somewhat rarified environment of our coaching relationship, but safety is key. Protective masks are there for a reason. We must respect their power and rationale.

Readiness to “de-mask” is a key element in our clients’ progress; as is conscious adoption of masks for protection and/or non-manipulative, authentic, positive, attention-creating action and strategies for healthy self-promotion.

For celebration too. Remember, in those Mardi Gras celebrations, particularly in Venice, the mask facilitates an ability to behave in new ways and try seeing new versions of oneself. With a mask one can often step out of old formulas and patterns of behavior into new perspectives. And, in that way, a good powerful question to a client seeking new, more authentic, self-expression or attainment might be “What would the mask look like that you would wear to help you try new approaches/perspectives”? -- or – “What kind of mask do you need to wear to feel the kind of courage you need to do that?”

Our skill as coaches depends on the tools and skills we use to assist our clients in their ability and facility to reveal themselves to themselves so that they can move forward in their stated goals and objectives. Our powerful questions, reflective listening, our challenges; the very reasons we are enlisted as partners for self-actualized self-awareness and actionable life improvements, are powerful! If allowed to, our compassionate and direct communication tools and coaching strategies will offer challenge enough for our clients who wish to step forward into a better way of seeing themselves and their lives, we needn’t take out the option of direct confrontation often… which can amount to a forced “de-masking”.. a rather violent act that, before readiness, can jeopardize the coaching relationship or even open up old deep wounds that we, as coaches, are not equipped to manage in a coaching framework.

I have always loved the William Stafford poem from which the epigraph at the beginning of this discussion is taken. Once I started seeing myself as a coach and started working with the ideas, tools and practices of coaching it came back to me. As I was visioning what my powertool might look like, and I settled on the word “authentic” as a core component (perhaps the core component), the poem came back to me strongly again.

I find the dictionary definition of authentic interesting in a number of surprising ways. That it has a now obsolete meaning of authoritative makes sense to me in that there remains a certain sense of authority in what is called authentic. Real, genuine, factual, reliable, true, worthy of acceptance, tested, are all words that are used in conjunction with the word authentic. Etymologically the word also carries a deep resonance of the authority of the act of genuine-ness and truth, or one who masters truth, from the Greek words for ‘master’ and ‘accomplishment’.

In order to accomplish truth, to master it and to be a master of it, we, as coaches, must appeal to our own inner authenticity with compassion and the honing of our abilities to connect to others in an accomplished, non-judgmental and empathic manner. This may require the use of masks, recognizing the masks our clients have in use, understanding in an authentic way how they are integrated in our clients’ self, in their dreams and their disappointments. We must, as well, understand and recognize how our own masks impact our ability to coach others inside, outside and beyond their own masks.

We don’t see it often now, but the masks once used in many masked balls were held to the face using a stick of one kind or another. Wearing the mask or lowering it was left to the choice of the wearer. The masks became a tool to enhance the playfulness of the event, to make the event more authentically celebratory. In this way, in the work of our lives and our clients’ self-actualized attempts to make their lives more successful, happier, more connected, and more authentic, the raising and lowering of our masks becomes a great tool, a safety net and a way to enhance our creative play: a way to guard and protect our tendernesses, a way to accentuate the real face we present to the world and a way to promote and present our inner faces, skills, gifts and dreams.


1. Can you describe three masks you routinely wear in public settings (work, school, social events)? Do they have positive functions? Negative functions?

2) Can you think of a situation in which a client’s mask was very apparent to you but not apparent to the client? Was it an impediment to their progress? What did you do?

3) Can you remember a time when you have forcefully confronted a person about a masked pattern of behavior that you thought was damaging their life? Did your confrontation have the desired outcome? If it did can you describe that effect? If not, can you describe how you would have dealt with the situation differently?

4) Find someone you trust and like and reveal your feelings for that person in a very authentic direct manner. Now find another person whom you care for and reveal your feelings for that person in a more playful, indirect, masked manner. Compare and contrast the two ways and the responses you received. Which did you like better? What are the pros and cons of each approach.



\ə-ˈthen-tik, ȯ-\
Middle English autentik, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin authenticus, from Greek authentikos, from authentēs perpetrator, master, from aut- + -hentēs (akin to Greek anyein to accomplish, Sanskrit sanoti he gains)
14th century
1 obsolete : authoritative
2 a: worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact b: conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features c: made or done the same way as an original
3: not false or imitation : real, actual
4 a of a church mode : ranging upward from the keynote bof a cadence : progressing from the dominant chord to the tonic
5: true to one's own personality, spirit, or character



A covering worn on the face to conceal one's identity, as:
A covering, as of cloth, that has openings for the eyes, entirely or partly conceals the face, and is worn especially at a masquerade ball.
A grotesque or comical representation of a face, worn especially to frighten or amuse, as at Halloween.
A facial covering worn for ritual.
A figure of a head worn by actors in Greek and Roman drama to identify a character or trait and to amplify the voice.

A protective covering for the face or head.
A gas mask.
A usually rubber frame forming a watertight seal around the eyes and nose and containing a transparent covering for use in seeing underwater.
A covering for the nose and mouth that is used for inhaling oxygen or an anesthetic.
A covering worn over the nose and mouth, as by a surgeon or dentist, to prevent infection.

A mold of a person's face, often made after death.
An often grotesque representation of a head and face, used for ornamentation.
The face or facial markings of certain animals, such as foxes or dogs.
A face having a blank, fixed, or enigmatic expression.
Something, often a trait, that disguises or conceals: "If ever I saw misery under a mask, it was on her face" (Erskine Childers).
A natural or artificial feature of terrain that conceals and protects military forces or installations.

An opaque border or pattern placed between a source of light and a photosensitive surface to prevent exposure of specified portions of the surface.
The translucent border framing a television picture tube and screen.
Computer Science A pattern of characters, bits, or bytes used to control the elimination or retention of another pattern of characters, bits, or bytes.
A cosmetic preparation that is applied to the face and allowed to dry before being removed, used especially for cleansing and tightening the skin.
Variant of masque.
A person wearing a mask.

VERB: masked , masking , masks VERB: tr.
To cover with a decorative or protective mask.
To make indistinct or blurred to the senses: spices that mask the strong flavor of the meat.
To cover in order to conceal, protect, or disguise. See Synonyms at disguise.
To block the view of: Undergrowth masked the entrance to the cave.
To cover (a part of a photographic film) by the application of an opaque border.
Chemistry To prevent (an atom or a group of atoms) from taking part in a normal reaction.
VERB: intr.
To put on a mask, especially for a masquerade ball.
To conceal one's real personality, character, or intentions.
ETYMOLOGY: French masque, from Italian maschera, from Medieval Latin masca, specter, witch, mask

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Pre-Marital and Wedding Coaching

I want to share the outline to a wedding ceremony I assisted a couple in composing and that I facilitated recently as part of the Pre-Marital and Wedding Coaching part of my coaching practice.

I was originally ordained as a minister when two friends of mine asked me to find a way to officiate at their wedding. The picture above is from that wedding.

It has been an exciting discovery for me to find that planning, creating and facilitating a wedding is a natural fit for coaching. I start with the expectation that the couple will meet with me for at least three hour sessions prior to their wedding, and that their wishes, ideas and dreams about how they want their wedding to look will be the prime factor in how the wedding turns out... and that I am the facilitator of their plans and do not have any pre-conceived ceremony that I will force on them beyond the very few required aspects of the ceremony itself. In that way every wedding is individually designed and totally reflects the couple who are marrying and the people they have invited to witness their vows and include in the ceremony.

Because I believe that a marriage ceremony is largely concerned with vows and promises a couple makes before a loving and committed group of family and friends regarding the nature and commitment of their relationship, a relationship based in love, respect, admiration and joy, much of my focus is on helping the people involved compose a beautiful ceremony in which these promises and vows are spoken aloud. In fact, as the following ceremony details, the ceremony may include promises that those in attendance wish to make to the couple being married.

This can happen in many ways; in as many ways as there are couples and weddings. That being said, the weddings I perform are generally not based in religion, but in the powerfully spiritual basis of how people promise to be loyal and loving to each other on a long-term basis.

I specialize in smaller, less than conventional couplings and am honored to perform same-sex ceremonies or ceremonies that celebrate other configurations of human union and public declaration of love, trust and commitment to a life together.

I should note, in the following ceremony, the "stone ceremony" was something the bride invented during one of our pre-marital and wedding coaching sessions. This kind of ceremony is most effective at smaller gatherings. Also noteworthy is the fact that this is the first wedding I have performed in which readings from the Bible were used, and although the couple in this ceremony chose not to have music or songs, most couples prefer to insert a song or two in the ceremony.


I. Welcome ( Use bell to call people together, Ken stands with me, then flower girl and Julie walk in. before short declarative/exuberant welcome)

II. Reading from Song of Solomon, Chapter 2 verse 10 through 13, Ch 8 verses 6-7
“My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love.”
III. What the bride and groom would like everyone to know about them .
The bride and groom invited all of you to be a part of this moment because they wanted to share their great joy. This comes out of their desire to unite their two families into one. Ken and Julie are honored and blessed to have you all here and wanted to share the beauty of this moment with you in this beautiful place. Most of all they want to make you a part of their great declaration of love and promise… to each other and to all of you as a newly joined family.
IV. Stone Ceremony: ceremony for us to make promises to each other.
Explanation and instructions
a. As we were putting this ceremony together we found a way that makes everyone present a part of the ceremony.
b. every one will take a “promise” stone and place it in bowl
c. find the first stone that speaks to you and place it in the bowl
d. stone represents promises to/advice/hopes for Julie and Ken
e. I’ll go first as example
f. Attendees each go
g. Although Ken and Julie prefer you speak your promise out loud, staying silent is okay. Repeating what others have said is okay.
h. The bride and groom's promise to attendees
V. The bride and groom's vows to each other
VI. Formal Vows
Do you _____ promise to love, cherish, respect and protect _______ a. in sickness and in health b. in times of plenty and in times of loss c. in the face of good times and the in face of struggle d. when divine gifts are shared or when flaws are displayed e. Response: “I do”

VII. New testament reading:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophesies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
VIII. Now let us bless and exchange the rings you have chosen as emblems of your love and regard for one another. From time immemorial, the circle of metal has been an emblem of the sincerity and permanence of a couple's love and regard for one another and their union. As the precious metal turns again upon itself, so does a good marriage turn upon itself for its refreshment and renewal. It is in that spirit that I, and the rest of those present today, bless these rings.
(Bride/Groom) repeat after me: I give this ring to you (Groom/Bride)/ as a token that I shall love you,/ in all times,/in all places,/ and in all ways,/ forever/
IX. Pronouncement
I now pronounce you husband and wife! cheers and kisses

Monday, June 16, 2008

Four Powerful Questions

What to Ask Yourself Before You Create Assignments With, or Accept Assignments From, Your Coach:
(especially for those who are working on over-commitment)

1. How will that fit into your schedule?

2. Will you be able to fit that into your schedule and not jeopardize the quality of your experience of working on these issues?

3. How much are you willing to feel that this assignment is a chore?

4. Can you revise and adjust the expectation to complete this task so it fits more naturally in your flow of activities and day-to-day business? How would you do that?

On the Nature of Coaching Assignments

Assignments can be an important component of how I work with my clients. They serve to focus concrete action and energy toward the goals that have been identified and the progress to be made.

Many people have negative associations with the word 'assignment', perhaps left over from academic experiences. In coaching the process of arriving at assigned tasks, or at agreements to engage in focused thinking about actions or life processes between sessions, is quite different from how a school assignment is given, largely because of the lack of judgment that follows the assignments. There is no "grade" given upon completion.

Generally the assignments my clients work on are things they have come up with themselves, or arrive at rather naturally out of areas we discuss during the session. In that way, a client is able to control how much challenge and time the assignments take. Two examples might be: "Find time to play with daughter" -or- "Work on 'to do' list for plenary session scheduled for Fall" -or- "Be sure to take time to give yourself positive recognition during the day for each job well done".

The assignments come out of areas in which the client has identified they want to move forward... some are very concrete, others more in the realm of "Over the next two weeks think about..." or "Be aware of such-and-such while you are doing so-and-so and report during next session". The assignments are almost totally up to each client to compose, accept or decline, finish or leave unfinished. They serve to focus energy toward the progress the client identifies he or she wants to make. The client is the judge of their own progress. Assignments can work as a gentle encouragement to push forward with life change. The coach can be seen as an interested party with investment in the client's progress: a person to whom the client is, in gentle and non-judgmental ways, responsible to on a level and to a degree that the client determines.

Also, being unable to complete an assignment, to me, generally says as least as much about the assignment as the person to whom it is assigned... there is no real negative consequence from the coach... and being too busy to complete an assignment is a legitimate comment on the nature of the direction the coaching might take from that point forward... the outcome or lack of completion becomes a part of the conversation and part of a way to continue to work toward the identified goals and progress.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ten Questions About Your Fears

1. How are your fears useful to you in reaching goals, hopes and wishes?

2. How are they counterproductive in reaching your goals, hopes and wishes?

3. When are you most uncomfortable with your fears? Or… when do they produce the most discomfort for you? What do you do to manage them and the feelings they create?

4. Thinking back on your life, can you remember a time you were able to reach a goal when your fears seemed to be absent in the process? What was that like?

5. If you cannot remember a time when you were able to reach a goal without being largely or partly motivated by your fears, can you imagine how that might feel to you?

6. Do you know anyone who appears to you to be motivated toward achieving goals by something other than fears? How is their process or ability to reach goals different from yours? What motivates them?

7. How do you imagine you might be able to transform coping with fears into fearlessness, or into embracing your fears to change them into something less fearful and even exciting and joyful?

8. Assuming that working with fears is, by its nature, often a life long task, what do you imagine the best outcome would be in your quest to understand and calm your fears over the long term?

9. What techniques might you develop and practice to use on a time-to- time basis to transform fearfulness as it arises in you?

10. Make a list of what your fears feel like and times when they are most likely to arise. Next to the items on that list write down techniques you are willing to try, or have tried, to transform and/or calm them. What has worked and was has not? How can you use this list in the future?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

More Transformation Exercises From Rob Brezsny

Here are some more pespective challenging and altering exercises from Rob Brezsny's book *PRONOIA IS THE ANTIDOTE FOR PARANOIA: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings* which is available for sale at


Experiments and exercises in becoming a mysteriously truthful, teasingly healing, fiercely magnanimous Master of Impartial Passion

1. What three ideas do you hate most? Pretend you believe those ideas devoutly. Write about them as if they were the cornerstones of your philosophy of life.

2. The Shinto monks of Iso, Japan, have a curious custom. Every 20 years since the year 772, they've dismantled their central shrine and rebuilt it from scratch. In so doing, they pass down the knowledge of their sacred construction techniques from generation to generation. It's also an effective way for the monks to participate eagerly in the transitoriness of life, rather than merely being resigned to it. They practice the art of death and rebirth not just in meditation but through a practical long-term ritual.

Can you think of an analogous custom you might create for your personal use?

3. There is a disproportionate abundance of evil stepmothers in traditional fairy tales. Storyteller Michael Meade believes that's because the stepmother is a symbol of the soul's nemesis, and everyone has a nemesis. In fact, he says, we all need a nemesis to keep us honest, to challenge our assumptions and call our bluffs. With this in mind, brainstorm a short fairy tale in which you're rearranged during a visit from a stepmother.

4. We're acquainted with a group of Hell's Angels that has a unique way of honoring the deceased. Once a year the gang throws a party in the cemetery where their fallen comrades are buried, pouring beer on and snorting coke off their graves. Think about developing a similar approach to dealing with the dead parts of your own life. Don't just cry mournfully over the dreams and influences that have helped make you what you are. Dance for them; sing for them; leap into the air and kiss the sky for them.

5. Oceans are not exactly teeming with life. In fact, they're mostly barren, ancould rightly be called "wet deserts." Likewise, not all your emotions, even those that come in floods, are fertile. Some are automatic reactions that have discharged thousands of times since they were first programmed into you many years ago. They're mechanical, not organic. They became fixtures when you were a very different person than you are now. Identify these.

6.We all have a war going on inside ourselves. What's yours? Is it a just and fruitful war or a senseless and wasteful war, or both?

7. Hundreds of years ago, it was seemingly possible to buy forgiveness. Until Martin Luther came along to spoil the fun, the Catholic Church used to sell "indulgences," which buyers could supposedly trade in purgatory for a reduced punishment for their earthly sins. The forgiveness freaks at the Beauty and Truth Laboratory have revived this practice in a mutated form. For the right price, we're able to guarantee your absolution. To take advantage of our offer, simply send us a million dollars for each sin you want to have forgiven.

There's just one condition: You can't pay us with the government's legal tender. You must make the money—literally. Using crayons, paints, scissors, glue, collage materials, or other media, create your own version of large-denomination paper money. Instead of the images of politicians that typically appear on government currency, draw pictures of your muses and heroes and friends and pets. Rather than patriotic clichés and meaningless decorative frills, add sayings and symbols that make you happy. Be sure to write a description of the sin you want "indulged" somewhere on the bill. Send your payment to the Beauty and Truth Laboratory at P.O. Box 150628, San Rafael, CA 94915.

"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a
- Chuang Tse

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Poem About Renewal

Everything is Brand New

Something our six-month old knows
by heart, looking up at a winding gull;
hypnotized by the movement
of a palm tree.

During a long sail on a catamaran
her eyes are up in the canvass and she startles
when it flaps. Later, anchored under the sun,

she rocks and sleeps while I take my own
cynicism and regret, all fifty years of it, and
for the first time with mask and snorkel
drop under this swelling sea.

The last of its dying corals move
in milky bliss – angelfish and fans, crowds
of undulating jewels with fins,

everything brand new to me. Then
five barracuda arrive, a sleeker design than I.
I wind between them and, suspended,
they watch me pass. Startled by their size, clumsy,

in their vanishing world, I swim through, hypnotized.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Swimming With Dolphins

I have some new and powerful images now that come to me unbidden and with a dreamlike and perspective-altering frequency and quiet joy.

In these self-starting little vignettes I am pushing quite quickly across the water in fins and a mask and suddenly three dolphins, two stacked to one side and one to the other, surround me, look right at me, and coast along side of me for a while. All of a sudden they curve away, all in one direction and I am able to follow that turn for a while… our eyes locked as if the directions have been passed to me through eye contact alone. Other little mind-embraced youtube-like inner videos also involve dolphins catching up to me under the blur and muffled silence of water to swim beside me for a while… always looking right at me.

I was a little ambivalent about paying to have this experience, the experience of swimming with dolphins. I have not been sure of how such activity affects the dolphins themselves. And I am not sure how one would guarantee such facilities are primarily dolphin-centered, no matter how much they claim to be research facilities from which their discoveries and studies are actually invaluable to finding ways to support the continued existence of cetaceans (dolphins and whale and their water-dwelling mammal kin) in the wild.

I have had experiences while swimming in the ocean in which dolphins, swimming by all day in groups of threes and fours, sometimes approach quite closely as I stand to try to catch the next wave. They always seemed to approach and continue approaching until a little fear rose in me that had something to do with their size and their wildness… and then they would arc away until the next group came by. Why am I, and many others, compelled to seek out the company of dolphins? Why are we willing to wait for them to come to us in the water?

I don’t know. I have had many close and moving experiences with wild life over the years. My swims in the north woods lakes with loons have always left me lighter and convinced of the evolutionary basis of inter species empathy…that it is not just the province of the supposedly superior human development. But my swim with dolphins was different than the others.

For one thing I love to swim. I am at home in the water and feel completely relaxed by it. I have relationship to beings that live there. Perhaps I am envious. Years ago I remember reading articles that claimed that humans had actually evolved to live in the water (long head hair was supposed to be an evolutionary adaptation so that young humans had something to hang on to) and remaining quite skeptical about that, but intrigued to the point of “what if?”… especially as I swam and dived in a favorite body or water or a newly found and exciting place to swim. Maybe it was possible?

The dolphins have in some ways renewed that feeling of a lack of clear divisions with other mammals that have successfully returned to the sea… and done it smartly and in a mysteriously cogent and sophisticated manner that appears to include very real systems of communication, emotional connections with others, as well as a wish to communicate, be with, other species… even ones like ours that threaten their very survival.

Did my swim with them heal me in some way? This is the myth is it not? I am not sure. Swimming with them was a real work out though… and while I was doing it I was so in the moment and completely rapt by the ways they would surround me in the water, swim with me for a ways (the ‘trainers” would shout out “Bob!, Bob! to your left… they’re coming to check you out again!”) and be off again beyond the point that I could see them, that I was unaware of how they were burrowing into some unconscious store of images… that is until a few hours later when the images of swimming with them kept rising up as I went about my other routine activities of the day. I kept seeing them seeing me, moving through the muffled syrupy world of the sea, acknowledging some relationship, wanted to see and be seen… wanting to know.

They have skin you know. It is quite soft. Like the feel of a peeled egg in a bowl of water. This has nothing to do with fish or scales. It could very well be our skin should we ever develop leg muscles that send us effortlessly through the deep at twenty-five mile an hour.

I suppose I should tell you about the barracudas I swam near as well. Toothy silver torpedoes that I did not recognize as barracudas (among the hordes of brilliant reef fishes and waving coral) as I arrived in the midst of about five or six of them, suspended in the water… one at least four feet long… I thought barracudas had stripes. But no, these hung nearly motionless as the water sloshed the purple fans and long tentacles of the corals nearby. I felt no threat. Not until I got back in the boat and was told what they were. I think they were watching me as well.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Questions about Spirituality in Coaching Practice

Here are some questions I developed that relate to the integration of a spiritual perspective into a coaching practice. I developed them for a client who wishes to recognize and integrate a spiritual grounding in the coaching process, regardless of the issues being worked on, and perhaps, most specifically, to insure acknowledgement of the spiritual undercurrent that is integrated into all coaching process, even issues that may appear, on the surface, to have no spiritual underpinning at all. The assumption made, of course, is that problem solving, empathic support, and reasoning that leads to action, must be, by nature, spiritual. But how does that look? How is it practiced?

At this point I leave these questions blank, but I hope to fill in some answers over the coming weeks.

1) The assumption I make is that by using the term “spirituality” and applying it to a coaching practice, we make define-able distinctions between spirituality and religion. What do those distinctions look like to you?

2) What kind of skills do you bring into coaching practice that you feel are already well developed that would enhance your ability to bring a spiritual approach into your coaching relationships?

3) What skills do you feel you need to enhance or work to improve? How might we do that?

4) Can you describe a session you have had (as a coach or a client or both) in which, even if (or especially if) the work was definitely not spiritual in topic or nature, spirituality played a strong role in the outcome or process?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Poem about Separation and Belonging

"What Does it Mean to Be Separate in a Quantum Universe?"

"Everyday experience thus fails to reveal how the universe really works and that's why a hundred years after Einstein, almost no one, not even professional physicists, feels relativity in their bones."
--Brian Greene,
"The Fabric of the Universe"

The poetry here is in our memory
of these journeys to a trail of moss,
where lichen drapes black spruce;
where we step
carefully up caps of old stone to view
the undulation of a very clear lake
on a very clear day. Each of us preserves
the moment discretely. Later we bicker
specifics: which trail took us up,
how the first tree held us or how
we held it for balance, steady
in the wind, or just

to hold a tree. I remember these spaces
at an angle independent from yours. The inlets,
down there, festooned in rock
and succulents,
draw me in. They have their
gravity, but your focus may be further

to an island with sheer cliffs,
a rookery
of helixing gulls or curls that remain,
after all, waves. Still we are both here
climbing. And this is truth,
the rooms and fields and even

the rivers we have crossed
will be reported as if from different
countries of eyes.


Or back even further:
a sister, a brother, recall the terror
of a cruel parent;
another sibling, even present

in the same kitchen, does not
remember. Were they looking elsewhere?
For protection? Survival
of their own desires?
Some things are too terrible or real
for two people to recall in the same way,

memories spoon and fit
but somehow never agree
and, while attempting to travel the bridges
of wounded love,
mistake the unchanging space of yesterday
with what may have never been.



if there even is such a thing, we have grown
past all wounds in remembrances.
We travel through
the same spaces and accept
that what we see may not match.
I, on one side of the long path

closer to a complete surrender
to gravity, and you, over there, watching
a far eagle (or is it a Great Blue?)
unmoved on the unseen
sails of the air.
This is compliment, not conflict

and if at times, in the same ear,
facing the same way, you add
your stories to mine, a way forward
or not, completes.
I can stay here until the sun falls.
There is some great sway in the throbbing

sky -- lit and curtained
over loon
and cougar and a pack
of wolves that skulk together
each with its own vision
together whole, one, and fine.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

How do you determine what is ethical?

According to the dictionary the definition of ethical is "having to do with what is right or wrong or what is moral". Easy enough, I suppose, but the difficulty lies in the application of, and perspective from which one comes to, "right" and "wrong".

As the world has become more and more relativist, as cultural outlooks and great historical themes are re-examined from a more global and less narrow perspective of morality, the deepest and most civilization-shaping ideals of right and wrong have come to be questioned and re-evaluated. In some ways, what has been right in times past has become wrong; and what has been wrong has become right.

I remember a good example of this from my childhood. My father worked for a major regional electricity generating company and took great pride in the signs of industrialization the power plants were a part of: the huge smoking stacks, the belching automobile plants, the smoggy air. He used to take us on Sunday drives to see the power plants. Then at one point as we grew, the culture's awareness surfaced in us as children that all this effluent pouring into the air was not a good thing but a bad thing. I remember passing over a river valley, on one of those high freeway bridges spanning the sprawl of huge automobile and power plants spread out below, chanting "pollution, pollution, pollution" with my sisters as my father drove. Suddenly these signs of industry and "progress" were no longer to be celebrated; no longer "good". This was especially difficult for my father, I think.

How does this apply to coaching? I think that taking a simplistic, unchanging view of ethics when working with people is dangerous, but at the same time one can be guided by an over-arching dedication to ethics that would allow for change when change is ethical and due.

Standards and degrees of honesty and a firm grasp on the spiritual nature of the concepts of right and wrong are perhaps the best guide posts to use when determining what is ethical. Listening to and gathering evidence, being committed to seeking an ethical approach, allowing change in one's previous stand if the evidence indicates that a change must be pursued in order to conform to one's standards of ethics, getting active support from trusted others who are similarly committed to ethical behavior, are all ways one can be sure to be following ones own ethical standards.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A New Poem That Relates to Coaching

The possibility exists

that your fear is well founded. Once
I woke up well before dawn and the moon

was so silver I was afraid I was dead there in the tent
where there were no boundaries and no wind. Still
drunk in sleep and lost in that blast of pale light

I thought I could teach ways to see this fear
as if there is any other thing to see,
a bird not wholly occupied by the flight

of the beautifully hungry: beating wings or carcass
by the side of the road. A youngster running
collapses dead in the gym, another with too much

of her own combination of anesthesia
is found without shoes as pale as the snow
where she has taken a permanent sleep. So

yes, there are reasons to be afraid. I’ve seen the shots
of legless men back from the endless wars
no one can win. I’ve sat in the vertiginous room

in the acrid fog of loss and tried to make good
the terror in a woman’s eyes when she cannot shake
the winter kudzu from her brain

and none of the drugs help, not with this terror,
and all we can do is give her a safe room
and a sofa to sit with her thin legs

folded under like a bird in winter. Even you and I
who appear to walk through our dreams unfettered
have our own ministries of fear, unrequited, a crater

in the road we’ve accustomed ourselves to
approach in low, steer around if we can, or rock through
like a boat, slow. I have no secrets, I am afraid as well.

There will always be that night, locked
in some oblivion of love or drink, even the forgetfulness
of genuine happiness or grief, when the car will bang

and the tire will smash and everything will stop
and the night will let loose a quiet so calm
even the few small flakes that fall

thunder through the inestimable dark
where something must happen and does
only because, for a while, we don’t know what to do.

The possibility exists,
just then, that we will find someone
coming toward us crunching home through the dark,

someone we have never noticed because in this world
every stranger is enemy, every face an emblem of the fear
the endless broadcasts tell us it is crucial to feel. Gradually

but quicker than we have been taught
the dark becomes ink then, a place to be together in.
How do I know this is true? In what other light

or potential for warmth or reason,
or what other story can we find to live?
Even if, then, we must find our own way home, alone.

--- Bob Vance.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Can Coaching Work with Grief, Loss, Dying and Other Catastrophic Life Change?

During a coaching class the other night, the animated and interesting conversation related to the nature of individuation in clients and the need to balance the ability to cultivate trust, understand and implement the client’s innate learning and problem-solving styles, all while helping the client reach toward and attain their stated goals. I was an active participant in this conversation and had offered that my years of experience in hospice work and grief and loss counseling had offered me a kind of gift in how it became necessary for me, in order to be successful, to integrate a coaching style and other support into each patient and family’s natural rhythms and styles of seeking, discovery and change.

I had pondered earlier in the discussion the fact that, with some people in my hospice work, my ability to stay with them through lengthy conversations that seemed to have little to do with the nature of our work in grief, loss, or anticipatory grief, determined how much progress they were able to make once the conversation turned, more directly, to one that involved setting goals and assessing and implementing coping strategies. I wondered aloud during the class discussion if, in fact, I stayed too long in the more social “pre-amble” before I got to the real work of grief. I still wonder this, though even now I can’t think of a time in which any impatience to move into more goal-centered talk in coaching/counseling related to death, grief and loss didn’t result in automatic resistance… and vice versa: any patience I took the care to observe and implement inevitably paid off with rich and productive work in that session and any forthcoming ones.

My reason to bring this up is two fold. In the first case, it has always been my desire to fit grief and loss work, and work with those anticipating their own death or the death of a loved one, into a coaching framework. I have been unsure if that combination would be a good fit, in spite of the fact that I believe my counseling technique has always leaned toward a coaching style as opposed to a more analytic expertise-based counseling or therapy style. I have always seemed to be able to narrow a client’s search for resolution that the discomfort their grief, loss and death events elicits into more concrete and actionable perspectives and behavior change. During the course of my classes with International Coach Academy I have gathered a host of reasons, both for and against, continuing to pursue, at least in part, a way to apply coaching to death, grief and loss work. This conversation in class again amplified some of my ambivalence, in that the techniques I have used through my career have been called into question (by me, mostly) in order to flesh out their worthiness in whole or in part, to see how much or what proportion of them can be transferred to a coaching practice.

I still believe that coaching and grief and loss work are natural fits. And I hope, by the end of writing this, to be able to further itemize why this is so. I think I have, in many respects, already done that for myself at least on an intuitive level. Now the job is to review, isolate, identify and improve the techniques I have used so they become more reliably accessible to me during coaching, particularly coaching those who come to me with problems related to loss or anticipated loss and major life change. Now the job is to integrate those techniques more readily and consciously into my best practice.

The second case, in the two fold reason I bring this up, also involves interactions in the class that night:

After I described some of my interactions and applications of coaching style in my grief and loss and anticipatory loss work in hospice, one of the other participants in the teleclass made the point that she thought the biggest difference between a hospice counselor’s work and a coach’s is that, in the hospice work that she did, she came into a session with an individual or a family with a set agenda that was largely hers. She felt that that may have worked in hospice work, but it is in direct opposition to what we as coaches are expected to do. In coaching, the agenda must be set by the client. I read, perhaps misread, an assumption on her part that all hospice counseling work is done in this way.

I asked myself: Was that true of my work? I was left without a response to her because I felt she might be right, or that her perspective was worth more than a passing consideration as it was exactly the kind of feedback I was interested in, in forming my own approaches and thinking about how I might, or might not, continue to seek to include grief and loss and other thanatological concerns into my coaching practice. Her comments have been very helpful in further defining my own perspectives and I am grateful to her.

That being said, however, and after some thought, I think I have to conclude that the majority of the reason I was successful in my role as a hospice counselor is largely because I went into, especially a first meeting with a family, a patient, or the grieving, with an relatively empty agenda; an empty canvass. My way was to have some questions ready, to integrate them into the initial assessment interview, and to find out what aims the patient, the family, or each individual in the family had in their search for a way to proceed through, and cope with, the devastating events in their lives that had also brought me into their lives. If I carried agenda items into a session they were gleaned from what had already occurred historically between the client and myself, and were easily set aside if more pressing matters emerged, or if the circumstances had changed significantly since my last session. I am not sure I would have had the successes I had in the field had I proceeded in any other way.

This is not to disparage the woman in the class who had good points to make about the potential differences between a counseling approach and a coaching approach. However I believe, now more than ever perhaps, that a coaching approach is particularly effective in grief and other thanatological work, and that, in fact, a counseling approach, that often assumes expertise and a presupposed “correct” way to manage such devastating life change, is contraindicated.

As in most coaching in general, the people encountered in grief work who seek a coach’s assistance are normal or high functioning people who wish to traverse a rocky and frightening… and normal… part of life. They are not often interested in what the coach or counselor thinks is normal or good or workable… they want to find that out for themselves… or already know on some level, through experience and workable coping strategies of their own.

I had, what I witnessed to be and understand even more now to have been, an unusual level of success as a Hospice counselor… and this was precisely because I left the agenda of healing and grief initiated change up to each individual. I helped them remember what their core values are and were. And if they seem to have changed due to loss, or even to be newly bereft of integrated core ways to manage life’s quandaries due to the power of grief, I helped them rekindle old values, strategies for change and coping, or build new ones. I coached them in ways to approach any changes they were forced to implement due to loss in their lives. I facilitated meaningful conversation with them using the signifiers of meaning that they, not I, brought into the relationship.

And so I believe that work in the field of grief and loss related to everything from divorce to anticipation of death, advent of life-limiting disease process, or one’s own imminent death, can perhaps best be served through a coaching approach. At least for me.

It is exciting to me to think that I will be able to continue to offer people a way to build a path through life’s most devastating times through my coaching… and perhaps with an improved perspective and techniques, tweaked and honed by what I have learned through my training through the International Coach Academy.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Some Self-Coaching Questions, Statements and Exercises


1) Are you willing to change the way you see this situation?

2) How would you like to see this situation resolve?

3) Where in this situation do you feel you have the least power to make change?

4) Where in it do you feel you have the most power to make change?

5) How would your world look a month or two after the situation had resolved? How would it look a month or two from now if it does not resolve?


What are the three most powerful Perspectives from which someone could live their life?

a) You can be open to change

b) You have the ability to facilitate change

c) You can accept where you have power as well as accept where you are powerless.


Create A Dream Solution

Take five minutes to dream your most perfect outcome or solution.
Be as fantastic and “dreamlike” as you can be in visioning how your dream outcome comes into being.
You might want to draw the dream outcome, write a song or poem or story about it.
Perhaps you can turn yourself into a favorite animal in the dream or have a favorite “action” animal help you take action toward fulfilling the dream.

List what parts of the dream is obtainable and what is not obtainable.
How far from the dream can you reasonably expect to be able to reach?
What about you is like the animal chosen?
How can that part of you be enlisted to help you take action?
How might that animal also be a hindrance?
What five actions will take you closest to the dream outcome?
What is the first action? When can you take it?
What part of your dream outcome must you say goodbye to and allow to remain in the realm of dream?

Creative Depth Charges

Here is something from Rob Brezsny's Astrology Newsletter, January 30, 2008. I am by nature a skeptic about such things, but Mr. Brezsny's zany-to-the-point-of-revelation take on astrology and life itself always tickles and enlightens me some. I thought I'd share these because I think they are creative and depth enhancing exercises that might even be used in a coaching session or in self-coaching to help shift perspective, and do it with a little humor, fun and "game".

by Rob Brezsny

Part One: Experiments and exercises in becoming a rebelliously kind, affably unpredictable, insanely poised Master of Supernal Mischief.

1. "I have not used my darkness well," mourns poet Stanley Moss in his book Asleep in the Garden. He's right about that. His forays into the realm of shadows rarely lead to redemption. "One fine day/ I shall fall down ... in a prison of anger," he moans in one poem. "In this country I planted not one seed," he announces elsewhere. Other samples: "vomit is the speech of the soul"; "We die misinformed"; "How goes a life? Something like the ocean/ building dead coral." But enough. Let's not indulge Moss in his profligacy. Instead, we'll appoint him to be your anti-role model: an example of what you don't want to become. May he inspire you to regard your sorrows and failures as sources of disguised treasure; as raw materials that will fuel future breakthroughs. Now write a poem or story in which you use your darkness well.

2. Acquire a hand puppet, preferably a funky old-fashioned one from a thrift store, but any one will do. Give the puppet a name and wear it on your hand wherever you go for several days. In a voice different from your normal one, make this ally speak the "shadow truths" of every situation you encounter: the dicey subtexts everyone is shy about acknowledging, the layers of truth that lie beneath the surface, the agreed-upon illusions that cloud everyone's perceptual abilities.

3. All of us are eminently fallible nobodies. We're crammed with delusions and base emotions. We give ourselves more slack than we give anyone else, and we're brilliant at justifying our irrational biases with seemingly logical explanations. Yet it's equally true that every one of us is a magnificently enigmatic creation unlike any other in the history of the world. We're stars with vast potential, gods and goddesses in the making. Dramatize this paradox. Tomorrow, buy and wear ugly, threadbare clothes from the same thrift store where you got your hand puppet. Eat the cheapest junk food possible and do the most menial tasks you can find. The next day, attire yourself in your best clothes, wear a crown or diadem, and treat yourself to an expensive gourmet meal. Enjoy a massage, a pedicure, and other luxuries that require people to wait on you. On the third day, switch back and forth between the previous two days' modes every couple of hours. As you do, cultivate a passionate indifference to the question of whether you are ultimately an unimportant nobody or a captivating hero.

4. Is it possible that in trying to repress some of the things about yourself that you don't like, you have also disowned potentially strong and beautiful aspects of yourself? What are they?

5. Inventor Thomas Edison came up with a lot of ideas that went nowhere. While trying to develop the perfect battery, his unsuccessful experiments were comically legion. "I have not failed," he mused. "I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." There are other ways in which he didn't match the profile we usually associate with genius. He rarely had a dramatic breakthrough out of the blue, for instance. Most often, he tinkered and fussed until he discovered some new useful thing. Of his 1,093 patents, some were inventions he purposefully set about to create, but most he simply stumbled upon. Describe an area of your life where you've discovered 10,000 ways that don't work.

6. Chantepleure is a word that means "to sing and weep simultaneously." Think of a memory that moves you to do just that.

7. For the 2001 Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, artist David Best constructed the "Mausoleum: Temple of Tears." Made from wooden pieces of dinosaur puzzles, this pagoda-like sanctuary took him weeks to perfect. Pilgrims who visited it were encouraged to write prayers on the walls, mourning dead loved ones and exorcising adversaries who had passed over. At the end of the festival, Best hosted a mass ritual of grief and burned his masterpiece to ash. Draw inspiration from Best's project. Create a talisman or ritual tool out of whimsical junk, use it a while to catalyze a catharsis, then destroy it or throw it away.