Monday, December 21, 2009

Surviving Solstice Period Holidays: A List That Refuses to Pretend

I don’t pretend this is what anyone wants more of: yet another list in the exponentially growing blob of lists of pretend wisdom that promise to make your solstice period holiday easier, wealthier, cheaper, more fun, healthier, less stressful, less devoid of central religious figures and beliefs.

I do invite you to consider, however, whatever it is you really might want from this time of the year, no matter how invested you might or might not be in any of its more mundanely celebratory or religiously-based streams of events and customs. No matter how much you hate them or love them.

Let’s face it. We’re stuck with a plethora of feelings about the season whether we like it or not. Let’s stop pretending we can escape it or make it something it’s not or cannot be.

Let’s stop pretending we can get away from the constant dome of bad music in every public place we walk into, or that we can quit trying to find the one version of that one song we haven’t heard yet that makes us cry because mom or dad liked it and they are gone now.

This is a list about not pretending.

It is a list that does not pretend that buying or giving material gifts is wholly satisfying when what one wants, in a more and more fractured and anti-intimate world, are more opportunities to be intimate… to know more love.

Nor does this list imagine that somehow our list of gatherings of friends and family will be without dread, without pain, without too-small portions of unmitigated and unqualified joy and love the way it is portrayed by every blessed advertisement for everything from electric shavers to the hoards of plastic doodads and hoozits that come parading across our consciousness every time we open a magazine, a book, newspaper, email or internet site.

This list imagines that life goes on and that, during the holidays, there are opportunities to make it more livable, more understood and understanding, more truly connecting and more accepting of what cannot be connected, understood or livable.

So are you ready? No? Well, give it try anyway. Something might work… even a little. And if it does, I’d sure like to know!

1. Say no to events and people that drain you and have drained you every year for the past three years or more. Do this especially in regard to family gatherings you dread and have always dreaded. Can you afford to sacrifice yours and perhaps your significant others’ holiday by trying yet another time to make your Uncle-in-law into something other than a fat Nazi drunk? Say you have other plans, and then don’t waste time feeling guilty. Try the next thing on the list.

2. Schedule one-to-one face or phone time with someone who nourishes you. At the end of the initial time together, schedule the next time. Don’t leave it at “We’ll get together soon” Mark it on your calendar. A variation on this would be to make a face or phone time “date” with someone whom you’ve only ever communicated with via the internet. Try it, hetero, bi-, or homo, with a same sex friend, or, as a couple, try it with another couple.

3. Charmingly corner someone you think you might like at a holiday function. Ask them an open-ended question that demands more than a yes or no answer.

4. At a party tell the truth about a complicated way you feel about something to someone you inherently trust and do not know well but would like to know better; someone you haven’t connected with in a long time, or have had a long past misunderstanding that has never cleared. In the last case purposely avoid making a statement about that misunderstanding. Make an opportunity for meaningful conversation first.

5. Make an agreement with yourself to quickly end your part of any conversation that revolves around “dissing” someone who isn’t there. Change the conversation to one about the moon last night. If that doesn’t work, walk away complaining of urinary urgency.

6. Make a list of open-ended questions (see #3) that have the potential to start in-depth and rich conversations. Take the list with you to gatherings that you aren’t sure you will enjoy. Review the list in the bathroom in-between mingling. Practice them before you use them and don’t expect success every time. Remember, people are hungry for this kind of talk… and don’t worry about excluding politics or religion. You’ll find out soon enough what isn’t acceptable, or you might make a joyous connection with others who agree with you and each other more than disagree.

7. Make time for great, memorable sex with someone you love.

8. If you end up at some gathering of people and it is turning out as badly as it has every other year, try responding in a way you have never responded before. Be silly and loud. Laugh loudly and run from the room, taking someone with you and then look out a window and call everyone’s attention to the stars, or the snow. Stage a fake fight with someone you came with who is also having a bad time. Say: “I told you to use the rubber", loudly but not too loud… then "now look at the trouble we’re in” as you walk angrily from the room. Try anything… including going upstairs and visiting with the children who aren’t really asleep. They’ll love it.

9. Make your grief and sorrow over the deaths and/or absences of lovers, family members, beloved friends, spouses or parents a part of how you observe your holiday. It does no good to repress such things. And feeling badly about feeling badly becomes an exercise for sleeplessness, a bad drunk, or panic attacks. Find ways to give yourself and others time to remember. Feel good about tears even when it hurts… and it mostly does. It matters not how long ago the loss was. I always suggest a place in amongst the decorations with remembrance candles and/or pictures of loved ones lovingly and frequently tended to. Regularly start conversations with others who knew the person who is gone.

10. Don’t expect that bad family/friend relations can be mended or made better by doing the same things that have always been done. If you want to reconcile, you must invent new places and ways to attempt this. Start a conversation, not a solution. Be ready to forgive yourself and let go of the way you have been hurt so it does not continue to hurt you.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Poem For Knowing Place and Gratitude

Waking to Birdsong

Wild in the first light, catchments
of dreams, choruses
of the dawn star

cast out of the darkness
flails the new near shadows
where even the moon

has failed to crease the trees.
Cedars, river, beech,
old hemlock, stumps from beavers,

birdsong all
a chorus from the spinning
uterus of our stars. Galaxy,

whole mountains
of little winged things flying
that bring us day.

the paths between the tops
of trees. Awake

the calliope
in the near new sky. Awake
the grass by the golden rivers

where beavers
and the other nocturnal workers
hear those bells of slumber

and the rest of the blue-eyed
furless and furry world comes to. Waking

to birdsong all hallelujah
to the sun.
We arrive in another circle

another twist
in the molten membrane
of these beds of stars, oh

these little winged harbingers
of going on.
Even suicidals rise

and for just a few moments
are busted into
by joy.

The paymasters of the cheats
of the kings
close their eyes

on their ledgers of blood
and remember the children
they must have been,

once. The blasted kingpins
of the ugliest secrets and torture
cannot out sing these cherubs

of dawn. My dreams
as elevated as they have been
cannot compete

with this chorus.
I walk to the river.
They dip and rise and follow me

one after another over
the miracles of water. Darkness yes
will soon be shattered.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gifted Child = Gifted Adult

(from the blog "The Gifted Way"

Who was I?

This is a recurring question for gifted adults because the intensity of our childhood experiencing has a direct bearing on our adult gifted success. It also offers valuable clues to understanding those things that don’t work so well for us.

In particular, the question: “What fascinated me when I was three years old?” seems of special significance. This is because the passionate preoccupations of three-year olds so often seem to form the foundation of success in a wide range of gifted adults.

The number of gifted and creative artists who recall their passion from their very early years is legion.

"I danced myself out of the womb.Is it strange to dance so soon?"Marc Bolan. "Cosmic Dancer".

At three or less, musicians pick up violins or start hammering on drums; dancers shake their booties; painters discover negative space without realizing there was ever anything else.

As an example, if you enter: “I started drawing when I was three.” as a single statement on Google you will get nearly 150,000 responses from illustrators, artists and so on. Substituting “playing piano” brings up 3,000. “Writing” only gives rise to 9, but includes one of my favorites: “I started writing when I was three years old, but it wasn’t until I was seven that I was first published.”

If you simply enter: “I started when I was three.” you’re greeted with nearly a million dancers, skiers, stamp-collectors, violinists, riders, soccer players etc. And these are only the people who feel compelled to commit their biographies to the Internet.
Pre-occupation to Occupation

Given that three is an age that has great significance for our future, how can we use the lessons to be learned from it?

Unconsciously building a gifted future.

Lucky the child whose obvious interests attracted parental support. S/he would all-unconsciously have started on the path to mastery and clarity.

But what about those of us whose creativity didn’t manifest through a musical instrument or box of crayons? We have to look harder to see where we come from.

The effort involved in this considered examination is highly worthwhile. Through it our uniqueness becomes apparent by revealing our own history and balance of preoccupations.

I hope you’ll take the time to uncover your own. As a process it can reinforce some affectionate self-recognition as well as open the doors to greater self-understanding.

As a guide to what I mean, here are some of my early qualities:

I was very clumsy at drawing.
I read a great deal.
I took every opportunity to go exploring on my own.
I built complex houses and towns from building blocks.
I focused a great deal of attention on my mother’s welfare, not least because we moved every six months or so, sometimes halfway round the globe.

How does that translate into today?

I still read a great deal. And, as reading is practice for writing, I write a great deal.
I’m very independent, an explorer in thought and in location.
I have always worked with complex systems demanding deconstruction, re-architecture and re-construction. This applies to my work in computing, in writing, and of course in the ongoing task of understanding and re-framing human nature.
My “taking care of mom” shows itself in dozens of ways, from a tendency to be over-solicitous in personal relationships to volunteering my time on committees. Many a professional or non-profit organization has reason to be grateful to my mother!
I’m still very clumsy at drawing.

Your mind is an iceberg

If your present life is more or less in accord with your three-year old preoccupations then you’re probably reasonably happy.

Out of sight but in the mind. What's concealed can slow you to a crawl.

However, if you’re finding it hard to follow through on your early enthusiasms, it could be due to your unconscious mind. Like the lower part of an iceberg, this is the hidden power that dominates your actions.

Brain research has made it clear that it is the unconscious, not the conscious, that rules our decision-making and thus our lives. (Check out Jonah Lehrer’s book: “How We Decide” for confirmation of this.)

Experts of all kinds have contributed their estimates as to when the development of our unconscious mind is ‘finished’. Such estimates typically fall in an age range between two and seven.

So where does that leave us?

Where does that leave us? Perhaps shockingly, it leaves us being managed by the assumptions and beliefs of – let’s average it – a five-year old. With our mind like an iceberg, our consciousness is the ten percent above water while the real weight and power lies massively beneath the surface.

This explains so much of what we find challenging. Our conscious mind says: “Let’s go to New York and look at some art,” but our unconscious wants to go surfing. With nine tenths of us pulling one way we are bound to end up in some compromise situation.

In this case, rather than New York it might be a trip to Malibu. There you can spend the days at

Surfrider Beach while taking side trips to the Getty Museum.

That kind of compromise might seem harmless enough but supposing your conscious mind is saying: “I need to save for a rainy day,” while your unconscious is saying: “There’s no point saving. Someone will just steal it from you.”?

The inevitable – yes, inevitable – consequence is that you will effect a compromise between these two positions. And it’s unlikely that it will meet all your conscious self’s need to save. So you will fret . . . and fret . . . and fret.

I want to correct any impression that I assume that the childhood unconscious tends to be irresponsible. It often isn’t. There are plenty of people who consciously think: “I ought to have more fun,” while their five-year old unconscious is nudging them to keep working “just in case.”

What to do about it

When our early preoccupations work for us, life is grand. But what happens when they don’t?

Gifted and creative individuals are highly sensitive. We feel conflict intensely and will take great steps to try to resolve it. The sense of going where we don’t want to – under the control of something hidden - is thus very painful and discouraging for us.

It’s never going to be easy, but the key to tolerating such apparent conflict and inability to achieve our objectives is first of all to make our five-year old selves real. Picture yourself back in that tiny body, mentally recreate a room in which you spent a lot of time, and allow these questions to pass across your mind:

Who were you then? How did you experience yourself?
Where were you? What events and family dynamics were determining your life?
Where did you go to be yourself and what would you do there?
What were the actions of your parents/caretakers showing you about their belief systems?
Did they all send the same message? Were you able to reconcile any conflicting messages and if so, how?

You can call for reinforcements when you know what you need to overcome.

The more clearly you are able to re-experience yourself at that time, the more understandable your current conflicts will become. And, much more importantly, the more you’ll be able to work with them rather against them.

This is because by revealing your most counter-productive beliefs to yourself you discover where your conscious will needs reinforcement.

You can use this information to help you find the appropriate assistance to tug you in your preferred direction. This assistance might come in the form of a person, a book, or some other form of external energy. You’ll recognize it when you need it.

And now . . .

I’d love to hear how your fascinations as a three-year old reveal themselves today. Just add your comments below and tell us your story.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Genius and Eccentricity

Actually, I think the idea that genius automatically carries with it the price tag of eccentricity or a kind of insanity is over-stated and under-supported by what ever kinds of research could be done to prove it.

That we are more interested in the lives of geniuses may only mean that we tend to be attracted and entertained by the eccentricities of history’s most examined, scrutinized characters. We are less likely to be interested in more mundane lives of those others who are just as integral to the full spectrum of human inventiveness and genius.

We are also less likely to scrutinize in so personal a way individuals in the rest of the population that are not considered genius, and so really have no way of comparing which “sample” has a greater degree/proportion of insanity/eccentricity.

We are also attracted by the eccentric on one level because, I think, it reminds us of our selves, our community of friends and family, our relationships, our inner lives and our own potential participation and desire to participate in the genius of the species.

I work in the mental health field so I have some background in this. The fact that we tend to know more about the lives of those who are considered to possess genius may throw off any untested theory that there are a greater proportion of eccentrics and/or a greater degree of insanity among those who are considered genius than those who are not.

As my work involves a much, much larger proportion of people who are not considered genius than people who are (although I might petition that rather arbitrary application of the definition for a definition that recognizes that everyone has, at least, the potential for genius in their own lives and community and may apply it in their own way), and as I am privy to the deepest life quandaries and pathologies of these people, of which there are numerous and frequent examples, even among the many who look to be quite "normal" to those who are not privy to their inner, more private and secret, lives, I am skeptical about any claims that the proportion of eccentrics and/or level of insanity among those who possess genius are any higher or lower than among the general population.

Though I would be glad to change my own theory if someone could fashion and implement a far-reaching enough study, I am not sure how that could be done, if one considers the enormous barriers of subjectivity that all this naturally calls into play.

How would we measure genius? Certainly not by IQ alone. How would we measure eccentricity or insanity? Certainly the behaviors and intelligences of any one culture, historical time frame, or social milieu can only be defined along a continuum from harmfully insane or eccentric to mind-numbingly dull and normal if each is left to be defined within its own sets of relative norms and abnormalities.

What system could we devise to compare these various and potentially innumerable sets of norms? Would we say that Moses was crazy for hearing a burning bush speak in the voice of his god if we are willing, at the same time, to continue to put much weight into the commonly held idea that artists like VanGogh or Sylvia Plath were insane because they heard voices? What is our system of measurements and how do we determine a manner of implementation of a system of measure that is absent our own set of assumed norms?

It could be that it only appears that the "genius" segment of the human community has more than its share of eccentricity because we know more about them than even our own “normal” neighbors and, in addition, we are attracted to genius, love the stories of their struggles, loves, pathologies, failures and successes simply because they DO reflect our own lives, families and communities of loved ones so well. Their stories are ours.

Another reason we may like to focus on geniuses’ foibles has something to do with our own deep feelings that our lives lack the kind of meaning and import that the lives and accomplishments of geniuses have and we are, on some levels, envious. So we like to balance their accomplishments against our own by diminishing their lives against our own lives.

Oddly enough, if my own theory holds true, we would be better off seeing their lives as comparable to ours in that they have the same struggles, heartbreak and victories, on very personal levels, that any of the rest of us do. Then, perhaps, we would also be more able to recognize and catalyze our own potential for genius.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Anger Worksheet and Anger Log

Anger is normal and a healthy response. It is the way we manage anger that becomes problematic.

Healthy shows and uses of anger are misunderstood, stigmatized and often vary by culture and family. Some displays and uses of anger are useful and lead to healing and motivation, others become repetitive patterns of avoidance or aggression, passive or otherwise.

Passion and variances in affect are often interpreted wrongly as anger, just as passive-aggressive or aggressive, harmful, anger displays are sometimes excused as normal or to-be-expected in certain groups and genders or are stereotyped as a part of some activities, sports or roles.

The following is a good anger worksheet and anger log that can help you understand your own anger and how to begin to modify how you use and display it. Thanks to Pine Rest Christian Hospital and The 10th Annual Michigan Substance Abuse Convention for some of this information.

Anger Worksheet

  1. What things, persons or events, over which you have no control, do you keep trying to control?

  2. What do you do to try and control this person/situation?

  3. What is the consequence of your struggle to control the uncontrollable?

  4. The one situation that frequently resulted in my becoming angry was:

  5. List at least 3 factors or conditions that seem to influence your anger.

  6. List 5 anger cues or signals. These are the warning signs that tell you, or others, that you are beginning to “lose it”.

  7. What are the Physical Signs?
    Clenched jaw, fists
    Raising your voice
    Feeling hot
    Rapid heartbeat
    Rapid breathing
    Becoming quiet, withdrawing

  8. What Else?

  9. Remember: Anger causes 178 chemical changes in the brain.
    Adrenaline numbs the frontal lobe of the brain-the seat of our thinking capacities


Anger Log

Use to track individual anger display episodes.

  • What Happened?
  • Why did you get angry?
  • Rate anger on scale from 1 – 10
  • What body signals did you notice?
  • What thoughts did you have?
  • What were you feeling?
  • What were your actions?
  • What were your choices?
  • What, if anything, would you do different next time?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Effectiveness of Phone Sessions: Testimonial From Client

Not being able to meet with Bob in person, left us skeptical as to whether coaching would work for us. After our first phone session and a few awkward minutes, Bob was able to take control and put all our fears to rest. Bob has a unique ability to really listen. You don’t have to be sitting across from him to know that you have his complete attention. Equally important to us was his fairness and sincerity and respect. With Bob’s help, he dissolved a stressful and tense situation and shifted our focus back to each other. Bob never chose sides, he only led us to rediscover the things within ourselves to improve upon. We were so lucky to find such a compassionate and experienced professional. Anyone who has the pleasure of working with Bob will take his lessons and apply them throughout their lives. We thank you Bob for all that you have done for us.

Larry & Penny Everett

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

35 Inspirational Quotes

“All the old bindings are broken. Cosmological centers now are any- and everywhere. The earth is a heavenly body, most beautiful of all, and all poetry now is archaic that fails to match the wonder of this view.”

Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By


“…it would be plain that this is what everybody wants, and everybody would regard it as the precise expression of the desire which he had long felt but had been unable to formulate, that he should melt into his beloved, and henceforth they would be one instead of two. The reason is that this was our primitive condition when we were wholes, and love is simply the name for the desire and pursuit of the whole.”

Plato, The Symposium


“The smell of coffee had been like a spider web in the house. It had not been an easy smell. It had not lent itself to religious contemplation…”

Richard Brautigan, “Trout Fishing in America”


“But the reason Jefferson, throughout his long life, was carried away by such impracticabilities was that he knew, however dimly, that the Revolution, while it had given freedom to the people, had failed to provide a space where this freedom could be exercised. Only the representatives of the people, not the people themselves, had an opportunity to engage in those activities of “expressing, discussing and deciding” which in a positive sense are the activities of freedom.”

Hannah Arendt, On Revolution


“What of the future of rare native wildflowers?... …Birds are mobile; they can return easily to their niche. And some seeds have parachutes or are carried by birds. But what about the others? Can seeds remain viable in the soil for half a century or more, until succession renders their habitat suitable again? We know little about this.”

Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret McKenny, A Field Guide to Wildflowers


“But what after all is one night? A short space, especially when the darkness dims so soon, and so soon a bird sings, a cock crows, or a faint green quickens, like a turning leaf, in the hollow of a wave. Night, however, succeeds to night. The winter holds a pack of them in store and deals them equally, evenly, with indefatigable fingers.”

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse


“Rather than speak of my certainties – I have so few and they are of so personal a nature – I prefer to tell you of my efforts to acquire them. I write to understand as much as to be understood. Reflected in all my characters and their mirror games, it is always the Jew in me trying to find himself.”

Elie Wiesel, One Generation After


“Time, within him, had become as small as a heartbeat, as large as death. He was no longer hungry or thirsty; he no longer desired children and a wife. His whole soul squeezed into his eyes. He saw – that was all: he saw.”

Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ


“I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance”

e.e. cummings, Love and Its Mysteries


“But when the strong were too weak to hurt the weak, the weak had to be strong enough to leave”

Milan Kundera, The Incredible Lightness of Being


“Our mothers, unlike their white counterparts, had to try and make a home in the midst of a racist world that had already sealed our fate, an unequal world waiting to tell us we were inferior, not smart enough, unworthy of love. Against this backdrop where blackness was not loved, our mothers had the task of making a home.”

Bell Hooks, Salvation


“All creatures are involved in the life of all others, consequently every species… all nature is in a perpetual state of flux. Every animal is more or less a human being, every mineral more or less a plant, every plant more or less an animal… There is nothing clearly defined in nature. “

Denis Diderot, D’Alembert’s Nephew


“Probabilistically speaking, it is mind-bogglingly more likely that everything we now see in the universe arose from a rare but every-so-often expectable statistical aberration away from total disorder, rather than having slowly evolved from the even more unlikely, the incredibly more ordered, the astoundingly low-entropy starting point required by the big bang.

Yet, when we went with the odds and imagined that everything popped into existence by a statistical fluke, we found ourselves in a quagmire: that route called into question the laws of physics themselves. And so we are inclined to buck the bookies and go with a low-entropy big bang as the explanation of the arrow of time. The puzzle then is to explain how the universe began in such an unlikely, highly ordered configuration. That is the question to which the arrow of time points.”

Brian Greene, The Fabric of the Cosmos


“Needless to say, not one dime has been spent conducting research or medical follow up on any of the 458,290 Americans that the Department of Energy lists as having been present at one or more of the atmospheric bomb tests.”

Michel Uhl and Tod Ensign, GI Guinea Pigs


“Today I mourn him, as I can,
By leaving in their golden leaves
Some luscious apples overhead.
Now may my abstinence restore
Peace to the orchard and the dead.
We shall not nag them anymore.”

James Wright, An Offering for Mr. Bluehart


“From having all these and other feelings I noted that the interior prayer bears fruit in three ways: in the Spirit, in the feelings, and in revelations.”

The Way of a Pilgrim (translated by RM French)


“We Americans claim to be a peace-loving people. We hate bloodshed; we are opposed to violence. Yet we go into spasms of joy over the possibility of projecting dynamite bombs from flying machines upon helpless citizens. We are ready to hang, electrocute, or lynch anyone, who, from economic necessity, will risk his own life in the attempt upon that of some industrial magnate. Yet our hearts swell with pride at the thought that America is becoming the most powerful nation on earth, and that it will eventually plant her iron foot on the necks of all other nations.”

Emma Goldman, Patriotism


“Those that desire the life of this world with all its frippery shall be rewarded for their deeds in their own lifetime and nothing shall be denied them. These are the men who in the world to come shall be rewarded with hell-fire. Fruitless are their deeds, and vain are their works.””

The Koran


“I think it is imperative that feminists dismantle the institutions that foster the exploitation and abuse of women. The family, conventional sexuality, and gender are at the tops of my hit list. These institutions control the emotional, intimate lives of every one of us, and they have done incalculable damage to women.”

Pat Califia, Feminism and Sadomasochism


“Ah, demoniac madness! He rages most of all at the thought that eternity might get it into its head to take his misery away from him”

Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death


“This is like rejecting the notion that a Heaven lies someplace beyond the end of the path of life. Heaven, so to speak, lies waiting for us through life, ready to step into for a time and to enjoy before we have to come back to our ordinary life of striving. And once we have been in It, we can remember it forever, and feed ourselves on this memory and be sustained in time of stress.”

Abraham Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being


“Whatever such a mind sees is a flower, and whatever such a mind dreams of is the moon. It is only a barbarous mind that sees other than a flower, merely an animal mind that dreams of other than the moon. The first lesson for the artist is, therefore, to learn how to overcome such barbarism and animality, to follow nature, to be one with nature.”

Basho, The Records of a Travel-worn Satchel


“The otter is agile, fluid in its movements as the water that is its favorite element. Yet on land it is not as light on its feet as the weasel or marten and seems almost to plow through the snow. This is revealed by its tracks, which sometimes appear in a snowy trough. Characteristic too, is the long mark in the snow where the otter has slid. Coasting is enjoyed occasionally by the mink, but the sport is developed to the extreme by the otter.”

Olaus J. Murie, A Field Guide to Animal Tracks


“A genuine old-fashioned barbecue is as fascinating and as gay as a strawberry festival. The big ones seem to be getting more and more scarce, just as the strawberry social with Japanese lanterns and pink crepe paper seems to be giving way to more exciting refreshments and boogie woogie.”

James Beard, Cook it Outdoors


“There can never be a single story. There are only ways of seeing.”

Arundhati Roy, War Talk


“Many, again, having observed in others or experienced in themselves elevated feelings which they imagine incapable of emanating from any other source than religion, have an honest aversion to anything tending, as they think, to dry up the fountain of such feelings. They, therefore, either dislike and disparage all philosophy or addict themselves with intolerant zeal to those forms of it in which intuition usurps the place of evidence and internal feeling is made the test of objective truth”

John Stuart Mill, The Nature and Utility of Religion


“Blessed are you whose worthiness gives scope,
Being had, to triumph, being lack’d, to hope.”

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 52


“Look, I admit I find this man’s supposed bisexuality confusing and I don’t quite believe it. But what are my options? A two-minute roll in the hay with you, where you make no distinction between sexual intercourse and push-ups; and then a happy evening of admiring your underarm hair and your belt buckles?”

Christopher Durang; Prudence, from the play “Beyond Therapy”


“Dogmatism reveals itself not only by its inability to conceive the inward or implicit illimitability of the symbol, the universality that resolves all outward oppositions, but also by its inability to recognize, when faced with two apparently contradictory truths, the inward connection they implicitly affirm, a connection that makes them complimentary aspects of the same truth.”

Frithjof Schuon, The Transcendent Unity of Religions


“A Jewish Merchant, on a ship off the coast, observed the Crusader siege of Acre and described it to his mother in a letter: ‘I arrived in Palestine before Acre was conquered and therefore witnessed the vicissitudes of the siege. We constantly faced the danger of death, for we were near [the Crusaders] day and night, hearing their talk as they heard ours, and our bread was colored with blood’”

from Joel Kraemer’s “Maimonides; The Life and World of One of Civilization’s Great Minds”


“It grieved Whitman – as it did Lawrence – that there was no open, legitimate way to express love for a man, but it makes no difference to our understanding of him to know whether or not he went to bed with men. The secret shameful things that he feared in himself were incorporated in his store of sensual delights. Outwardly they seemed unexpressed. The blossom of his body’s shamefulness was a terrible beauty to him, part of his revolutionary inner life. “

Philip Callow, From Noon to Starry Night; a Life of Walt Whitman


“Through the thin red silk my cool flesh glistens
lustrous as snow fresh with fragrance.
With a smile I say to my beloved:
‘Tonight, inside the mesh curtains, the pillow and mat are cool.’”

Li Ch’ing-chao, Tune: Song of Picking Mulberry (Translated by Eugene Eoyang)


“The world was divided into two parties which were trying to destroy each other because they both wanted the same thing, the liberation of the oppressed, the abolition of violence, and the establishment of lasting peace. On both sides there was strong sentiment against any peace that might not last forever – if eternal peace was not to be had, both parties were committed to eternal war, and the insouciance with which the military balloons rained their blessings from prodigious heights on just and unjust alike reflected the inner spirit of this war to perfection. In other respects, however, it was being waged in the old way, with enormous but inadequate resources… …for in the meantime the intellectuals, visionaries, poets and dreamers had gradually lost interest in the war, and with only soldiers and technicians to count on, the military art made little progress.”

Hermann Hesse, If the War Goes On Another Two Years


“I have been thinking of the difference
between water
and the waves on it. Rising,
water’s still water, falling back,
it is water, will you give me a hint
how to tell them apart?”

Kabir, Forty-Four of the Ecstatic Poems of Kabir; Versions by Robert Bly


“I like my life and I am satisfied with it. I am not in need of any additional gilding of it. Life without privacy and without obscurity, life reflected in the splendor of a plate glass show case is inconceivable to me.”

Boris Pasternak; I Remember


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Family's Responds to "Exploring Feelings of Being Lovable"

The following is a letter that one of my clients got from a family member after the family spent an evening discussing my last post, "Exploring Feelings of Being Lovable, 12 Questions and Exercises".

I can't think of a better use for these questions and exercises and I am gratified and honored that this family took the opportunity to use them to enhance their relationships to one another. I think it takes a lot of courage to disclose and discuss such private and deeply held feelings. I also think this letter says more than I can say about the positive results of using such a method to build more gratifying intimacy in one's family. And it sounds like it was fun too!

Dear Mom;

I was having trouble sleeping and I got to thinking about our 12 question conversation last night. It was very interesting to hear every one's views on themselves, each other and life in general. In particular, your thoughts about not feeling like you could be yourself throughout most of your life for fear of rejection or feeling like you just weren't good enough. That brought something to my mind as I sat here in my office thinking random thoughts. You spoke of certain times/events in your life that you needed to hear that you were loved and didn't receive it. I can not relate to that particular scenario but I am almost certain that I can tell you about something that you do not spend nearly enough time thinking about. How you have affected the people around you. I'll give you some examples. I'm aware this is going to sound really weird coming from me but hear it goes. Be patient, I'll get to my point.

You and I have had many conversations often involving self reflection but until the last 17 months I never really paid that close attention to my side of the story. I'm sure you have probably said a prayer or two about your own situations in life but have never realized how many peoples prayers you have unknowingly been god's answer to and often times at the sacrifice of your own happiness. This was just my one personal example. I bet if we could look back 3 years ago in a dirty old dilapidated house in northern Michigan we would find an old lady praying for someone to help her. Or 12 years ago in St.. Charles we'd find Larry (probably not praying but certainly hoping) to find someone to spend his life with.

Or several years ago your father wondering how he was going to get through life without your mother and then probably praying to find someone (I mean anyone) to takeover for you so you can try and get on with your life and stop worrying about him. Or your brothers, again probably not praying but certainly hoping, that someone is going to take care of dad after their mother died so it wouldn't be such a burden on them. You single-handedly compensated for your daughter's lack of a father and still managed to raise her to have a good heart which after hearing more about the town she grew up in seems almost like an impossibility.

I guess what I'm getting at is I can't help but think that a lot of the pain you have endured in your life was actually everyone else's pain. You would rather take it upon yourself than see someone you love hurting. We talked briefly during our 12 questions quiz about how people in you life have not always let you know how much you mean to them. I think there's a couple of reasons for that aside from the obvious emotional instability. One has tobe the fact that many of the people in your life don't even realize the huge sacrifices you have made for them. The second has to be that most people are not nearly as compassionate as you and therefore, once again, don't think about letting you know how much they appreciate you.

Well I love and appreciate you mom. Not just for the cookies. For the chicken salad too:)ha ha. You have unknowingly been the ongoing answer to my prayer and not only improved my life but my relationship with my wife, my family and my business. Thank you. Apparently Pam is right, my universe responds to my prayers. So my new prayer is that you will not only soon get the happiness but the relief and care that you have given to so many others. But you have to be willing to recognize it and accept it and for once not cure someone else's pain at the sacrifice of your own joy.


(anonymous at the author's request)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Exploring Feelings of Being Lovable: 12 Questions and Exercises

by Bob Vance

Remember, these questions and exercises are for creative exploration. There are no right or wrong answers. It is best to answer spontaneously, or to use them as a basis for meditative, even prayerful, contemplation. Take your time!

1) Who was the first person to tell you “I love you”? Describe how you felt. If you cannot, why do you think that is so?

2) Who was the last person to tell you “I love you”? Describe how you felt.

3) Is there an important person in your life who has never said the words “I love you” to you, but who you know loves you? What part of that is comforting? What part is uncomfortable?

4) What thoughts arise in you when someone says “You have to love yourself before you can feel love from others”?

5) What does loving yourself mean to you?

6) If you could love yourself better how would your life improve?

7) Do you think there are actions that you can take that might move you toward feeling more loved? If so, can you list three of them? If not, why not?

8) In 25 words or less write your personal theory about how important love is to your life. What experience from your life makes this theory true?

9) Write the names of five people you know love you. Indicate if they have ever said they love you. Regardless of that answer briefly describe how you know they love you.

Have you ever said ‘I love you’ to each of those five people? How do you show them you love them regardless of whether or not you have said it?

10) How do you think your feelings of being loved and/or unloved affect your overall satisfaction with your life?

11) Name three new things you think you can do that will help you feel more loveable when you are feeling unlovable. What do you think might go right or go wrong if you try these new things?

12) What fears do you have when you think about talking honestly to one person you trust about your feelings of being unlovable? How might talking to one trusted person about this help you feel more loveable? If you think it would help, how soon can you do this?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Real Work

by Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

20 Ideas for Open-ended Questions and Statements

-- to Develop Authentic Trust, Get Good Results from Assessment Interviewing, and Engage in Therapeutic Relationship Building

1. I’ve never had that experience. Can you tell me more about that?

2. That sounds difficult, what did you do that helped you get through that?

3. That sounds difficult, were there things you did that didn’t seem to help very much? What were they?

4. That’s interesting. A few years ago I had a similar circumstance in my family. At first we didn’t know what to do about it. What did you do?

5. That happened a long time ago. How does that still effect your way of seeing your self and your family (husband, father, sister etc…)

6. You really brighten up when you talk about that. How does that make you happy?

7. You seem confused and sad when you talk about that. What about that experience made it difficult?

8. When you think about that, how does that relate to what is happening now?

9. I am interested in how you see yourself in that kind of circumstance, can you tell me more?

10. It will help me understand you more if you can give me more detail about that experience, do you mind telling me how you got from there to where you are now?

11. We are about the same age, I can tell you that thinking about an experience like yours in my life makes me fearful(scared, worried etc), how did you cope with those feelings when it happened to you?

12. You are from a different generation than I am. I know my father/mother don’t talk much about that time in their lives. It would help me understand and help you more if you could describe those years a little more.

13. Wow. That was an exciting part of your life. What do you think was the best part of that experience for you?

14. You must miss him/her terribly. I lost my (mother/father/sister/best friend) a year ago and it surprised me how hard it was… what was the hardest part of that loss for you?

15. You know, yesterday I really got angry when something like that happened to me too. It sounds like you wish you would have done something different in that situation… what do you think would have worked better?

16. You really didn’t want to come in today, I know. Is there a way I can help you feel more comfortable and safe until you can leave (until we are done)?

17. How do you like people to talk with you when you are not feeling well?

18. How can talking about that help you?

19. Tell me the rest of that story, that’s really interesting and it will help me get to know you.

20. I am glad you are willing to tell me such personal things, I want to reassure you that this conversation is confidential. What else about that experience makes you feel so sad?

These questions are meant to be jumping off places and jump-starters for questions individually designed for the unique situations with clients in which coaches find themselves.

The basic idea is to be aware of and work to relate the authenticity of your own interest in your clients' individual processes and sets of concerns through a judicious use of self-disclosure and finding common ground; at the same time creating an awareness in your client that he/she is the expert in his or her life by shining a light on their role as teacher of their life to you, the student.

Developed by Bob Vance

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Questions for Coaches: When a Client Quits

  • At which session did you have an inkling that this was not going to work?

Are you satisfied with how you dealt with that inkling, both internally and with the client?

  • Did the client's lack of directness about the effect of the sessions continue even after you explored her intention in coaching and her will to change?

  • Do you feel that at some point you should have adjusted your expectation of what change means to this client? Her expectation of rate of change?

  • When do you think you would have ended coaching with her and how would you have done it?

  • What did you do well?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Nine Questions and an Exercise to Jump-Start Change in Your Life

1) How long has the change been needed?

2) What is the situation's history?

3) What are the external forces that keep the change from happening?

4) What are the internal/personal forces that keep the change from happening?

5) What are the top three reasons the change needs to take place?

6) What are the top three excuses/rationales made for keeping things status quo?

7) Are there parts of the ultimate goal/dream that can be compromised in order to still make needed change occur? Is reaching part of the goal, implementing part of the change, acceptable? Why and why not?

8) How quickly and/or gradually can the change be implemented?

9) Who can be enlisted to support and help facilitate this change and who will challenge it?

10) Exercise: Make a Change Flow Chart

a) Take two pieces of paper and on each draw and label a box for your “Start Point”, or where you are now. Label one paper “Vision Flow” and the other “Real Time Flow”

b) Decide upon a number of outcomes, no more than five, and draw boxes representing those outcomes vertically down opposite side of the "Vision Flow" paper from the "start point" box. Label those outcomes if you can or leave them blank until you are able to label them as you proceed.

c) Determine what your first action steps can be (no more than five), make a box for each step on "Vision Flow” piece of paper nearest the "Starting Point"; label each with name and a time frame for action.

d) As you are able, continue visioning flow-boxes and connections, in however many steps necessary, and with as many choices as is reasonable and useful, between your “Start Point” and your “Outcomes”. You can do this as you complete each step and move forward in your vision of change through the flow, or design a complete plan for your vision of change right away. You can also do both.

e) Your “Real Time Flow” chart can be filled in with boxes for the actual steps taken as they occur. Label the boxes with time frames and compare vision and real time. Adjust expectations, time frames and nature of outcomes as you proceed and is necessary.

Note: The less rigid you can be in relationship to expectations of differences between your vision and real time the more creative and less self-judging this exercise will be. The ideal way to proceed might be to see the "Vision Flow” as a fluid and changeable process. Doing it in pencil, or at least using pencil for the names and time frames, might facilitate an optimally creative and productive approach. That being said, incorporating actual time limits and needs is recommended. The “Vision Flow” chart and the “Real Time Flow” chart should interact with each other in productive and positive ways and be a way to document and encourage needed change.
After completing one step your major question can always be: "What is/are the next step/s I can take toward my goals?"
Created by Bob Vance BPh LBSW CPC

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Courage by Anne Sexton

It is in the small things we see it.

The child's first step,

as awesome as an earthquake.

The first time you rode a bike,

wallowing up the sidewalk.

The first spanking when your heart

went on a journey all alone.

When they called you crybaby

or poor or fatty or crazy

and made you into an alien,

you drank their acid

and concealed it.


if you faced the death of bombs and bullets

you did not do it with a banner,

you did it with only a hat to

cover your heart.

You did not fondle the weakness inside you

though it was there.

Your courage was a small coal

that you kept swallowing.

If your buddy saved you

and died himself in so doing,

then his courage was not courage,

it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.


if you have endured a great despair,

then you did it alone,

getting a transfusion from the fire,

picking the scabs off your heart,

then wringing it out like a sock.

Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,

you gave it a back rub

and then you covered it with a blanket

and after it had slept a while

it woke to the wings of the roses

and was transformed.


when you face old age and its natural conclusion

your courage will still be shown in the little ways,

each spring will be a sword you'll sharpen,

those you love will live in a fever of love,

and you'll bargain with the calendar

and at the last moment

when death opens the back door

you'll put on your carpet slippers

and stride out.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

on forgiving and being forgiven

forgiveness is a great concept, but cannot be taken lightly or as the easiest, shortest way toward conflict resolution

forgiveness, I believe, must be asked for to be given

forgiveness, as healing a process as it may seem to be, is first and foremost a process and not an event

dramatic forgiveness displays (like the one I read about involving the woman who was the girl in the napalm photos from the Vietnam War who publicly forgave the pilot who dropped the napalm) are great and powerful, but forgiveness generally does not happen in such dramatic and succinct, cathartic ways. Nor should it

forgiveness means hard and potentially frustrated work in the long-term process to right and alter the course of a chain of events spawned by the original wrongs and the perpetuation of those wrongs that by their nature grow ugly, strong and insinuated into the very fabric of the generations of actions and people that may pass between the time the seed of harm is sown and the forgiveness worked toward, spoken and finally safeguarded once it occurs
forgiveness cannot be considered to be an automatic phenomenon that comes about through the mere asking or giving

forgiveness, asking and giving, is action not words

effective granting of forgiveness means never allowing oneself to be hurt again in the same way that one was hurt by those who wish to be forgiven

asking for forgiveness requires an acceptance of the fact that it may not be enough, may not be deserved, and that even asking may not be acceptable as an adequate gesture in relationship to the dramatic and permanent changes set in motion by the manner in which those who were hurt were hurt

those who ask for forgiveness must do it in the spirit of understanding that asking for it does not mean they will be saved from the consequences of admitting their culpability... in fact it means that they bow to those consequences and accept them willingly and humbly

forgiveness is weak and shallow when it is used with the hope of forgetting the harm done. Forgiveness is only useful when it allows remembrance

most of all, forgiveness can not and should not been seen as an easier road toward resolution of harms committed than justice. Justice is separate but inseparable from forgiveness; they may overlap and may rely on one another for true and sustained resolution.

those who ask for forgiveness as a way to release themselves from facing their responsibility for the ongoing chain of events that their harmful actions seeded and set in motion do not ask for forgiveness but for deliverance and an un-earned freedom from the chain reaction of their guilt.

forgiveness un-asked for cannot be given, but letting go is always an option. Letting go works as a way for those who have been harmed to prevent how they have been harmed from continuing to harm them, or as a way to strategize and manage the nature of how the harm’s scars affect movement and feeling. Letting go implies building good and flexible, non self-harming, defenses against the perpetrators of harm and often implies and/or requires external or internal non-violent estrangement.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

5 Random Thoughts On the Expression of Human Potential and Spirit

On the Tensions and Bigotry Between Ways of Believing:

This is where the work begins and ends. To be able to continually make distinctions between what is sheer bigotry and cultural megalomania disguised as religious integrity and practice, and what is truly a part of effective human perceptual evolution... that part of each religious tradition that in fact does deserve respect and nurturing.

There is something of a winnowing out that has to take place with a constant vigilance or else we stand to lose some of the daring heights and depths of how the species has come to broaden and account for our own peculiar manner of perceiving ourselves on the planet, in the cosmos. Without it, god or no god, we deprive ourselves of the basis upon which we must go forward or die. Secularism, atheism, formalized agnosticism belong in this pool of what has been called religious/spiritual as well... because, on a transcendental level, there is not enough difference between the highest renderings of our way of seeing ourselves in the world to bother with.

Questions to ask during this winnowing search process: What has been useful but is no longer useful? What continues to serve evolution and survival of the whole species that has been in place but is threatened with extinction (and what can we do about it?)? What changes in our beliefs about "the other" do we need to invent and institute to survive? What about our collective belief patterns increase the friction between beliefs and what enhances our transcendental unity?

Here-in Lies the Difference

Here-in lies the difference between the expressions of the highest aspirations of humankind side to side with its lowest denominators of cruelty, mass murder, violent bigotry and hate. That both ends of the spectrum are contained in a single human attribute, its penchant for religious spirituality, is typical of almost every aspect of human life on this planet. It is why Tony Blair's recent foray into support for religion can never be taken as seriously as the bombs and murder he unleashed upon the unwitting and innocent who may have been praying the most genuine prayers available to the human heart. It is why the religious who go forward with no ability to poke fun at their own foibles, and who cannot see the damage from their most megalomaniac collective actions, are at the root of most of the collective sins that humans can muster; and it is why those whose belief in atheism is so religious that ultimately they commit the same errors of ethics, morality and cruelty of thought and deed they speak so vociferously against.

On The Error of Thinking Society Can Go Forward Without Coming to Terms and Facing the Consequence of the Past

A refusal to come to terms with the past and acknowledge the wrongs done... as well as ask for some kind of atonement or indictments for the worst of the guilty by first familiarizing oneself with the details of what must not happen again in order to truly move forward... is a tactic used by uncommitted alcoholics and other "stuck" personalities and systems that believe that they can move into the future without doing an exhaustive inventory of the past and how one got where one got.

Those who practice these kinds of refusals are more interested in bringing their enablers firmly over to their side than they are in instituting real change. They are terrified of being abandoned by the people who wittingly or unwittingly support them in their personal and/or systemic failure to change, in their addiction to patterns of behavior that are destroying them. And they are just as terrified of the change itself. The addictions (in this case to what? Oil? Big Money? perceived loss of control and power? Deep guilt by complicity? Cars? Mass murder and torture? Hiroshima ?) have a biochemical, electrical, systemic, hold on them. They are terrified of the vacuum of a monstrous unknown that they, perhaps errantly, perceive must follow a true commitment to change.

This refusal to look to the future while concurrently carrying and reading the completely open book from the past is a faulty and manipulative excuse to maintain, consciously or purposefully unknowingly, the unexamined tactics and habits of the past that are patterned into a system of avoidant and repetitive failures. It is exactly how and why the system or person ends up, time and time again, back where they started.

If you are not familiar with, and have not gathered extensive evidence and research about, what went wrong and why, from, in particular, the people and other systems your actions have damaged the most, then you are not really committed to moving into the future unencumbered by the same self-defeating patterns from which you claim to want to be loose.

Pay attention campers. Leaders who refuse to judiciously and, in a democratic system, publicly, examine and autopsy the systemic diseases that have felled us are not as much interested in developing a cure as a major characteristic of how they move forward as they are interested in putting a new mask upon the unrelieved symptoms. They are not much interested in moving forward at all.

What Pushes Us Forward Starves Us.

History shows that people/cultures who migrate, live and grow into desert areas, or into areas otherwise balanced in a precarious climate, soil and geological combination, often fail quite spectacularly... and often for the same reasons they had initial success. The laws of evolution hold fast here: cultures, like species, that cannot change as fast as the environment around them fail and die, or migrate out, supplanting, conflicting with, and/or integrating with the cultures they find in their new residence.

I was just talking to a friend about relatively minor climactic changes that were largely responsible for the French Revolution and the subsequent Reign of Terror. Two years of no growing season due to a mini ice age (only two years!) immediately prior to and concurrent with the rumblings of large scale social change pushed the masses into full scale revolt.

Let them eat cake? How shall we arrange it on the platter around your head?

It simply does not matter what kind of climate change we are talking about, or what we name it: it will take very little change, in relatively short durations, in climactic terms to change the face of human society beyond recognition. How do we charge this kind of change with evolution as opposed to devolution?

One Strength of the Species

One strength of the species is the manner in which it adapts to changing surroundings, threats, landscapes and climates. This has been key to the survival of the species. Part of this mechanism lies in refusing to adapt beyond any phenomena immediately felt and perceived to be 'at hand'. Humans are gifted, and cursed, by this evolutionary adaptation.

They are gifted in some ways at making quick "getaways" and flights or fights to stay alive, but they cannot manage, biologically and mentally, to change behavior and approaches to the landscapes that have not arrived yet, in the future, somewhere else, no matter how predictable.

Failures in almost all world political systems are something of a proof of that... ie: the collapse of capitalist systems due to the dismantling of safeguards put in place during the last global crisis in capitalized systems is indicative of a species that is unable to respond to crises that cannot be "felt" in the here and now, no matter how predictable. Can this phenomenon, perhaps encoded, be used to our benefit?

The True True Creation Myth

Oh come on now... we all know humans were birthed in a stream of the effluent of Kharpi, that most peculiar of the warlords of HarHar! Why else would we wear spikes on our sunday shoes? Why else would the fish in the nether spots resemble Katharine of Aragon?

It is high time these scientists and the hopelessly lost bible creationists realize that without the Yarmalooks of Treeza, our skyscrapers would be the size of your dog biscuits. Its time to reclaim the history of humankind, as we sprung from the adam's apple of the saints of pleebahahahaha.... everyone in my advanced reading group has come to that conclusion and the trees answered yes yes... "you are the children of the toilet brush and the descendents of the toe nails of Koookash! Rejoice!" The truth is now known here-abouts and also in the thundering water closets of your aunt Silvie.

So, with that in mind: Remember we shall all someday be taken up into the tundra of Blooobeefun... that day when we have reached our perfect toe nails and no longer need to stand in line for the Twittertwatter. Hallelujah! All the great mysteries are solved. No need to think or diet. Let's have some bangers!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Why Would You Choose Me to Be Your Coach?

Over the twenty-five years I've worked in the human service, counseling and life coaching field I've discovered my innate understanding of the multi-faceted nature of human personality and human relationships. This seems to me to be more of a gift than a learned skill… or at least less learned in a purely academic manner.

That is not to say that the application of that gift is automatically useful to me or anyone else who has it… that is where developing and practicing skills comes in.

I can confidently say that the work I have done in recognizing and establishing professional boundaries between my needs and the needs of those I serve has resulted in a level of expertise that is flexible and compassionate, but also respectful of the maintenance of the kinds of boundaries that are the most useful in the effective, affecting, productive, goal-focused coaching relationship. As I have often stated: my goal is to help my clients become their own coaches.

What personal attributes and perspectives do I rely on to keep my coaching relationships healthy and moving forward?

  • Self awareness of the nature, extent and limits of the gifts that brought me into coaching in the first place.

  • An understanding that coaching cannot be seen as a way to exert control over others or bring others over “to my side”.

  • Good supportive family and friends that offer outlets for human relationship outside of client relationships.

  • Willingness to always be in a state of learning. Each client brings an inner textbook of norms, talents, gifts and processes.

  • A willingness to eschew what has worked in the past for what can and will work in the future.

  • An ability to disconnect my own process from expectations of others’ process.

What makes me a great choice as a coach?

  • I am empathic by nature, but have married empathy with various learned and practiced interaction and interviewing skills that make what I know on an empathic level more apparent and useful to progress forward in others.

  • An ability, due to experience and hands on learning in the helping professions, to make quick assessments related to the nature of the processes and essential coping strategies that people, couples and families/groups use… and then to employ them in the manner in which I work with people to help them see, understand and employ them toward positive change.

  • Good sense of humor used liberally and in appropriate doses

  • A good solid understanding of the difference between my needs and my clients’ needs

  • A refusal to be maneuvered into the role of the least favorite parent, or the voice of that parent, in my dealings with my clients. I routinely ask my clients to be a better parent to themselves than their parents may have been to them.

  • The insistence that my work with people be centered on strengths, kindness and gentle persistence, and that it is their responsibility to take a tough stance against any persistent lack of follow through, once identified, not mine.

Saturday, January 31, 2009


I think the following is a poem that explores and explodes ideas that to be accepted in a circle of friends, or any of the larger circles of social networks and society in general, one must stay a follower. It goes a long way, and beautifully, to reinforce the idea that to get anywhere together our circles of friends, family, country and associations are best served through having a circle that is made up of leaders. This poem is especially applicable to the current trend toward faceless internet social networks.

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

—William Stafford

New Ways of Being

I always found that new ways of being often unfold without a fully conscious input from us as we go forward; as if we recognize after the change has been in process for a while exactly what characterizes it. We just keep putting one foot in front of the other and suddenly the light goes on: "Oh yeah, that's who I have become!"

Four questions to ask yourself about recognizing and tracking inner change:

  • What little things are you doing that are revised or new?

  • Do they feel okay enough to keep around?

  • How do you distinquish between what is forward motion and what is regression?

  • Is regression sometimes a way forward?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Poem about Dreams and Family

In My Dream

In my dream my mother who has been dead fifteen years
helps me take the fish hooks out of my shirt

after I retrieve boxes and boxes of music
from the garage where I left them years ago.

In the dream the boxes are piled where
my father kept his tools, under a ladder

to the attic that was never there when I was a child.
It is the house where I grew up and the hooks are not easy

to dislodge, my mother says nothing, but the music is in good repair.
I am excited to find some singers I have forgotten

I owned. The dream comes after a week of dreams
in the middle of months of grey snowy weather

and one day, yesterday, when the sun
made us feel like mole-people emerging from our caves

finally into the frigid air.


Yesterday I talked
to a young man who has manage to fence in his beasts

but has friends who have succumbed once again to theirs
and without admitting to it he talks about the fear

of his sick tigers coming out to tear him up again.
He says that lately he has had many dreams too

and we speak of tomorrow, and spring, and building
walls against the return of monsters

and living even if they do return. I say: in my dream
my mother is kind as she unhooks me and does not even

tear my shirt. What does this all mean?


I wake
in the dark again, not long before the alarm and wonder

about all the people I work with who must stay angry at something
just to keep themselves from being swallowed by the grief

of it all, the wars, the torture, the little losses
every day at work set into the cloth of our unconscious

and in puzzles of bare trees outside the empty houses.


In another dream
I only now remember, there are the flowers my mother grew.

None of this is easy, I tell the young man

but you might be able to do it.
We have coffee and laugh.

--- Bob Vance

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Eulogy For My Father

Eulogy For My Father
Robert A. Vance 1923-2009

One of the things I learned in my years of work as a family counselor for a hospice organization is that each member of a family has an equally valid, and often very different, piece of the over-all story of the family member who has died. I learned that parts of the story that are difficult to tell and hear are as important as the parts that are full of the spirit of life that fills each and every one of us and is expressed in deeply spiritual and loving ways. We needn’t tell every part, but it is important to acknowledge the totality of all the pieces. Without all of the pieces we are left with a flat, paper doll, version of the person whom we have loved; not a living, breathing, complex and miraculous individual of whom there exists not a single duplicate in the entire universe.

Family legacies and stories are similarly complex and go back much further than any living memory. The birth of the good and the bad in our families precedes, by far, our very limited ability or willingness to recall.

I was born in the city where all of my sisters and I were raised because of the sudden death, one month before my birth, of my father’s father. At that time my Dad and Mom moved back to Mt. Clemens, Michigan from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania due to my father’s overwhelming loyalty to his mother; loyalty that came from years of the kinds of family struggle that were typical during the Great Depression.

My grandfather was a jack-of-all-trades who built the home where I was raised and where he died. He was, in Alcoholics Anonymous parlance, one of the early “Friends of Bill”, and in spite of his constant battle with alcoholism, I believe his early death in his fifties from heart disease was a direct result of the nature of the disease of alcoholism. He had served in the trenches in France in WW1 and was apparently, as is common among men who suffer what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, very reluctant to speak about the horrors he had seen. He was not a very nice drunk.

My father and his mother, my grandmother, from what I can gather, were often forced to rely very heavily upon each other in order to survive even when Dad was very young. My father sold honey door-to-door from a wagon during the Depression to help the family get by. He was an only child. He went on to become the first person to attend college in a family that has roots in this country that go back to the Revolution and before. One of our earliest ancestors was among the Hessian German mercenary soldiers hired by the British to fight the Americans during the Revolutionary War. This ancestor was captured by George Washington’s troops during the battle that included Washington’s famous Delaware River crossing. He was subsequently made a prisoner-of-war in a camp where, I have learned, Thomas Jefferson probably visited. Jefferson was homesick for things European and found it among the Hessians there. Our ancestor, like many of those Hessians, switched sides to help the American cause because they were treated better as American prisoners-of-war than they had been by the Brits.

My mother likewise showed incredible strength and resourcefulness as a child growing up. She could pick up almost any string instrument and play it and made sure each one of us learned an instrument and/or sang in choirs. Sometimes I believe her near perfect pitch and love for music were among the big reasons she survived, rather spectacularly, her own father’s unsettled inner conflicts and his resulting cruelties. She survived as well due to the enduring strength and resourcefulness of her mother and her mother’s Iowa farmer father and mother, my great grandfather and grandmother. Among my earliest memories are the family visits to their farm south of Des Moines, and then again to the small house where my great grandparents lived after they left the farm and into which my sisters and I released a jar of captured fireflies that glowed off and on throughout the night. That same night my great grandparents were heard giggling in their bed.

That my father and mother found one another is one of those necessary and true miracles of two people who need exactly one another to become the best adults they could and who, by fortune and fate, heal each others’ childhood wounds by becoming each others’ greatest aspiration. They completed one another.

One of my parents’ goals in raising children was to be better at parenting than their parents had been. I believe they accomplished that goal. One of the goals that I believe I share with my sisters has been to be better at child-rearing than my mother and father were. I believe this has been a goal met as well. I challenge our succeeding generations with that same task: be better at raising your children than we have been. If you never have children then I challenge you to work in the world even better than your parents have. Don’t be satisfied with what was done before. I challenge you with this task in honor of my father’s and my mother’s legacy. It is what they wished for, for all of us. It is the way we can make the world better.

To finish I want to share something I sent out to my email list after my father died and a couple of the responses I received:

‘My father died yesterday. He had a stroke while opening holiday gifts at my sister's home in Pennsylvania. He was taken to an ICU unit at the local hospital where his condition deteriorated over the week. He died peacefully with people around him who loved him and who he loved, and with my sister Linda acting as midwife and shepherding him into whatever follows this life.

My father made an incredible life for himself after the early and unexpected death of his soul mate, my mother, in 1991. They met during WW2 when he was an Army Air Corps cadet expecting to be shipped overseas. They married a month after meeting. My grandmother, my mother's mother, routinely bragged about what a good looking couple they were. And boy, could they dance!

My father and mother went on to have four children and, in many ways, each of my parents served as healer for the other, deliverer, savior, good news, and best best friend.

In spite of a rough few years after her death that included serious, life threatening, health problems, as well as the death of his own mother in 1993, he went on in a way that could only be called inspirational... traveling the world, making friends every where he went through Elder Hostel, and cultivating an active respected role in his community and church. He lived on his own until the end and only recently began to tire of the harsh Northern Michigan winters.’


Grief is a necessarily solitary process I guess, since we all mourn a different loss when someone dies; one loses a friend, another loses and adversary; one loses a husband, the other a brother, the other a dad. Still, I think a man losing his father has some commonality of experience for all of us.

Kurt Colborn, Erie, Pennsylvania


My folks… …met right before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and went together only six months, married, and they had met at a dance club. And over the years they were really into dancing too: like the couple who dances together stays together. It worked for them!

Balyn (Linda Balent), Boston Massachusetts


On occasions like this I am always reminded of the Serenity Prayer. I am sure you are aware of it.

It is good to note that he had a full and satisfying life. While opening a gift in this life he gifted himself with the ones to follow!! I am sure he leaves behind a grateful and loving family that misses him and will carry his legacy forward.

Chandra Chandrasekhar, Chennai, India


I understand how it feels when a parent dies.

I give you all of my heart and humanity for this transition.

It sounds like yr dad was a great man.

But, this is what I know.

You are a man filled with righteousness, justice, & compassion.

You are a man who has taken on the idea that you can make beauty by simple letters and trust.

You believe in beauty.

You believe in truth.

A son does not get this on his own.

It takes a great man to make a son who has the eyes for this sort of madness.

I go out in my yard tonight and say a hello and goodbye for your dad.

It is dark, I am sincere, I wish you well.

You are now free.

And more lonely.

Rob Hutton, Seattle, Washington


This poem was written to be read out loud during a Jewish memorial service for parents/relatives who have died .Yartzeit (Yart-zite) is the anniversary of the day that a loved one has died which is remembered each year. A Yartzeit candle is the candle someone lights once a year on that anniversary. One could call it a memorial candle. Hopefully, this poem brings the mind back to the love and good deeds that the deceased loved person has done in his/her life that live beyond the temporariness of life and geography and that reach to the next generation. –Diane Baum

One loving person
passes love on
father to son
sister & brother
mother to daughter
Like a stone thrown
in still water
rings ripple out
more and more
in widening circles
till they wash against shore
One loving person
doing good
it starts in the heart
begins to connect
from one's own place
in the neighborhood
and on to affect
the city the country
then out into space
One loving person
reaches out like a seed
and plants whole forests
from one good deed
One loving person
is a call
it echoes all
around the town
like a ringing bell
the sound travels outward
from listener to listener
from parent to child
to more children still
Like a candle for yartzeit
small but bright
throws its light
against the wall
down the hall
out the window
and into the night....

Diane Baum, Grand Rapids, Michigan