On the islands of Hawaii, in their indigenous kahuna tradition, it is said that when a village member succumbs to a serious illness or a string of bad luck, the family is called to gather and confess their thoughts about that person. Such thoughts, it is believed, literally influence not only that person’s health, but shape the events in his life as well. The thoughts and beliefs are called out, one by one, and dispelled through the witnessing of the entire community, thereby assisting the person’s healing. 

The kahuna were indigenous practitioners (a Hawaiian word meaning priest, sorcerer, magician, wizard, minister, expert in any profession) and often were healers, navigators, builders, prophets/temple workers, and philosophers.

The revered kahuna Kūpaʻiulu of Maui in 1867 described this counter-sorcery ritual to heal someone ill due to hoʻopiʻopiʻo—another’s evil thoughts. 

I’ve seen this principle at work in my own life. A few summers ago I was engaging with a horse, named Pete, whom I sometimes used for the equine-assisted process I do with clients. Not a member of my usual herd of horses, Pete usually spent his days taking tourists up and down the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Only sometimes would he work with my clients, helping to facilitate their self-discovery.  

This particular hot July afternoon, Pete had endured a long day of trail rides, only to find himself at the end of the day, in the arena with me asking him to respond to a request. He looked at me sheepishly. I thought, ‘Damn, this poor guy, he’s spent the whole day lugging punters up the mountain. Who am I to ask him for more?’ He seemed to agree. His head hung low. His coat looked dull and his eyes glazed over. We stood there listlessly for a while, and then I put him away feeling dejected. 

That night I called my horsemanship mentor in Australia, ‘I don’t think I can work with that horse,’ I said. ‘He’s got too much else to do, and it’s not fair to him.’

She thought for a moment, ‘Let me ask you something,’ she said. ‘Can you tell me….what were you thinking about him?’

I told her how miserable I thought it must be for him to drag people up desert hillsides in the hot sun. How abused he must feel. How he was too old. How sad it is that people treat horses so badly in general, and how victimized he must feel.

I pitied him.

‘And….,’ she paused carefully, ‘…how do you think it felt to be pitied by you?’ 

I had been called out. ‘Horrible,’ I said.

‘And…,’ again she paused, ‘…how do you think he might respond to such pity?’ she asked. 

I got it. I thanked her and got off the phone.

The next day after the end of another long hot day of trail rides, I pulled Pete out of his paddock and walked him to the roundpen. The only thing that was different was me. I suspended my thoughts, judgments, assumptions and ideas about Pete, looked at him and kissed the air in an invitation that he trot out energetically in a circle around me. 

A sparkle twinkled in his eye and he lunged ahead, bucking a little in delight. For 20 minutes he played and danced at the end of my line, alert, joyful and fully present. 

I was humbled. And a bit saddened. The only thing that had stood between Pete and his joy were my limiting thoughts about him. 

Compassion’s dark underbelly is pity. Sometimes in our need to care for others (or our insecurity to really show up authentically in front of them) we inadvertently make them small. We make them small when we think they can’t handle something, or when we imagine they don’t have what it takes.

‘I’m not ever going to tell my sister that I’m gay,’ remarked a friend to me the other day. ‘She won’t be able to get her head around it. I’ll just end up taking care of her feelings.’

I saw myself in his comment. How easy it can be to inadvertently hold someone else small because of our own projected fears that we are the ones in fact feeling small, fragile and vulnerable? What opportunities for growth, expansion and self-discovery are we unilaterally denying others through assuming they can’t handle something?

And more importantly, how do we limit ourselves and our own expression when we deny that authentic exchange?

My older son has decided to take a gap year from college. As a new yet content ‘empty-nester’ this  development confronted me. How was I going to share my home, where I both worked and retreated from the world, with an expansive 19 year old? I was tempted to hide and not show up for all of the gritty, authentic conversation about who pays for what, who cleans up what, and how much I need him to respect the sanctuary of my home. I thought he’d think I was petty. I was worried he would reject me. I was convinced I wouldn’t get what I needed. I was holding him small, and myself as well.

Love demanded another option. It demanded my vulnerability. And so I gathered my respect for my son in one hand, and my respect for myself in another and headed right into a conversation unfiltered by my fears and assumptions. And guess what. He showed up. 

When we hold someone small and keep them mentally contained in a defined box of assumed limitations, something sadly weird happens—they oblige. Like Pete, they stand there listlessly dull. They meet our expectations.

What if, like the kahuna, we called ourselves out on that? What if as a community, when we noticed someone flailing, someone crumbling under life’s pressure, we gathered around that person and confessed out loud our limited beliefs about them? 

What if, when we noticed ourselves flailing, we stopped and acknowledged our limiting beliefs about ourselves? Or if we felt unsupported, we stopped and acknowledged our limiting belief about another?

Imagine what we might be capable of in a world of ‘not small’.

This summer a girlfriend and I strode out into the Colorado wilderness with forty pounds on our backs and lived above tree-line for several days. 

The winter previous was a harsh one, leaving little snow melt by July. All hikers before us were turned away by icy catwalks that plummeted thousands of feet below leaving no margin for error. Just two days, and a few extra degrees of warmth, granted our passage by mere inches of melt. Hence, we were the first people to enter that native domain in months, and the only ones there for the entirety of our stay.

The presence of pure unadulterated wild was palpable. It was a world yet unveiled, and as such, uncompromised and fiercely prescient. We could smell the musk of the mountain lions on the granite boulders as we scrambled over them. We felt a thousand eyes upon our backs. Not one human footstep had yet broken the pristine silence. We were there as fragile guests, our welcome tentative.

We set up base camp at a high ridge lake, our voices awkward and tiny against the immensity of rocky ranges and peaks around us. And there we lived, with just the barest of essentials, and only our most true and unadorned selves. Deer visited our camp by morning, and the screams of she-cats echoed around us, close, by nightfall.

Living in that simple and raw way revealed a kind of deliberateness that became beautiful to me. Each moment was mindful. Economy of movement and consumption was an imperative. Only a dab of toothpaste; just this much food; only that much heat to boil a minimal amount of water for tea.  

And the senses, stripped of modernity’s incessant noise and chatter, were alive to every shift in energy, every smell, every presence. Silence became the norm, and words were used to communicate only essential true things. We were awake. And it called us to be responsive and deeply present in every moment. Not because it was the spiritual thing to do, but because our lives depended upon it.

The beauty of our surroundings invited us to tend graciously to it, preserve it, like monks in a Zen garden, carefully combing behind us as to leave no trace.

Economy of effort and consumption, presence and beauty—these three things seem to create a life deliberately lived. 

A bit later, I spent some time with a friend who lives on a boat. There I witnessed a similar way of being. Walking out onto the pier, the world of noise and haste is left behind leaving only stillness. A boat embodies both symmetry and simplicity, with only so much space on which to live.  That space needs care, attention and tending in order that the boat can remain in the water season after season with its integrity and beauty intact. To safeguard such a lifestyle, my friend must, day after day, live deliberately. 

The movement of the sea underneath was a constant reminder of an untamed wilderness that stretched out forever. Senses remained alert and constantly tuned to the natural world. Words regained their meaning. Time took on new shape.

Staying on the boat, I was watching a kind of an art form unfold—only a dab of toothpaste; just this much food; only that much heat to boil a minimal amount of water for tea; combing behind him so as to leave no trace. Beauty, economy, presence—a monk in a Zen garden.

This kind of living requires a different relationship to time and space. You can’t just rush around throwing dishes in the dishwasher while texting that you are going to be late to your next meeting, feeding off of adrenaline. You can’t run through your life like a bull in a china shop, buying too much, eating too much, spending too much, expending unnecessary energy, all the while never looking up to see the awe and wonder of what surrounds you.

A life lived deliberately requires a sense of sanctity, that this one present moment is full, beautiful, alive and deserving of mindful attention and care. And what it provides is a way of being that is more instinctual, and leverages way more power, precision and influence. 

Perhaps it is not more we seek, as in getting more things done, having more things, and going faster and bigger, but less, so that we can better align with our true purpose this world.  

I’ll leave you with the words of Henry David Thoreau.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” 
 – Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

I walked into the hospital room and asked Elsie, his caregiver, if I could have time with him. She smiled warmly and closed the door quietly behind her, muffling the sounds in the hallway, leaving just the rhythmic humming of his oxygen machine.

I was alone with my father for the first time in years. Not since that summer in the mountains when we shared breakfast each morning before anyone else was up. He would clink his spoon in his cereal bowl just loud enough to wake me up, and I’d softly pad down the stairs. It was our thing. It was our time. He’d tell me stories and I’d listen.

The room was dim and cool. He lay sleeping, the morphine finally taking the edge off of his pain. Once a lion of a man, six foot four, with a temper to match, now just a wisp remained. The blankets were pulled high up to his chin, swaddled like a child, covering his once broad shoulders.

The sight of him like that caught in my throat as I moved to sit near him. And all at once the bitterness washed aside and all I could do was press my hand upon his heart and move in close to his body. I needed him to know I was there.

I needed me to know I was there too.

Several years earlier, I had decided I was never going to see him again. Alzheimer’s ravaged his brain and took away his filters, making him say things that hurt me, entrenching a certain life-long dynamic we shared, one that resulted in my enduring belief that I was ill-deserving of good, kind, present love.

But in my father’s final days, someone very close to me fought on behalf of my heart by insisting I go see him. And go in dignity and honesty.

“Death brings things you will never understand now,” he said. “Don’t rob yourself of this time with him. Please just don’t do it.”

I was defiant. What on earth would I be able to resolve with a man whose mind was gone? Who was passed out asleep most of the day, surrounded by people and caregivers? I was far from interested in some imagined Hallmark card reconciliation. It wasn’t going to happen. It was too late.

Regardless, something cracked open, and I had a sudden sense I needed to get there. And fast. I didn’t know why. I absolutely had no idea why I felt I needed to go. I was baffled, but followed the impulse.

As if on cue, events started to quickly change. An email arrived stating he had stopped eating, and his temperature was rising. I’d received a few of these over the months, but he always rallied, so I had learned to ignore them. But this time I grabbed a 5:30 a.m. flight. It landed me inside a miraculous window of time, when no one was there. Just he and me.

A spoon clinking in a cereal bowl.

I pulled the chair up closer, and pressed my hand more firmly upon his chest. I said a few things. Angry things. Resentful things. True things. I remained for a long time like that, my hand on his chest, getting things off mine. It felt strange throwing all of my pain upon this now defenseless man. But I knew I had to do it.

Then a most unexpected experience emerged—gratitude. It poured in like radiant sunlight through a cold empty room, provoking the recognition of countless gifts:  that I was his daughter; that he took me to untamed lands; that I inherited his tall body and brains; that the challenges he brought were the very making of me. They outnumbered every hurt, every disappointment.  

I told him I loved him. I spoke it out loud. I told him that my children loved him too. And that everything was working in my life for a change. And he didn’t need to worry.

I was done. Wrung out. 

After the words subsided, I felt a most palpable sense of peace. It took hold of every neural pathway, and seized my thoughts into emptiness. It was a warm bath of a visceral surrender. I knew he and I were inside this peace together. It was real. It was something beyond what I called ‘my life’, ‘my story’, the things I did or he didn’t do. There was no remorse. No regret. No shame. Everything was perfect, and I knew it to be so.

All at once who he and I really were together became tangible. In spite of our tumultuous story together, in spite of the alienation and drama, we were something so much bigger than that. And it was love. We were love.

At that moment, he took his final breath. A kind of a sigh. Gently, softly. And he left. Not suddenly. It was more like a gradual departure. A sweet lingering. An indescribable joy overcame me, a joy that insisted to be felt and embraced. I remained bathing in a sublime sense of deep sufficiency for another long while. My hand remaining on his chest.

And then I got up, straightened my jeans, and walked out of the hospital to catch my returning flight.

I’ve been sitting here over a blank page for hours trying to figure out what I want to share with you about this experience. There’s something important to say. Some kind of smoke signal from the fringes.

It’s something about everything being really ok.

What if everything is just ok? Just deeply, truly, sublimely ok. What if our stories, our personalities, our ambitions and failures are just simply some wisp of a presence that has nothing to do with what is actually real? What if, regardless of what we do or don’t do, love is the only thing that exists? Like really, not just theoretically. What if it is the only thing that we are? What if that love is utterly and completely unconditional.

And what if death is simply the final let go into that most fundamental truth? A final total embrace of love itself, into the arms of love itself, confirming our birthright: that we are love itself.

In the work that I do, I find myself increasingly curious about this country’s growing obsession with pharmacology to alleviate suffering. Certainly what was once a right-sized response to genuine need, has become an insatiable and destructive behemoth.

Nowhere is this most evident than in the emerging prescription pain pill crisis that is weaving itself across every sector of American life, regardless of race, class or age. According to recent statistics, one in every four US families is affected by opiate addiction. It has been heralded at the largest man-made epidemic in history.

The media only gives this story a light nod by moving it into the hysteria of heroin use. And, no arguing, its statistics are stunning. A government survey found that the number of people who reported using heroin, 373,000 in 2007, rose to 620,000 in 2011. Eighty percent of them had used a prescription painkiller first.

However, the heroin story eclipses a greater, more pervasive story about how the need to not feel pain is becoming a cultural posture—indeed an entitlement— in America, that is unraveling the fabric of our society. Behind the gates of wealthy communities, in our boardrooms, in our churches, in our schools both public and private, lurks a tsunami of addiction that threatens to rob us of everything we hold important and precious.

I remember when I first caught a glimpse of how lost we were becoming. It was several years ago when I was contracted by an Australian publisher to create an anthology of stories on the topic of belonging. The book is called, aptly, Stories of Belonging (Finch).

One of its stories is a transcription from many days of my recorded interviews with of one of the listed custodial Elders of Australia’s Uluru (known to the whites as Ayres Rock), and a member of the Yankunytjatjara people. Australian Aboriginals are oldest surviving civilization, and today have the poorest outcomes and lowest life expectancy in the world.

Like all indigenous history, his people’s was one of horror, bloodshed, spiritual annihilation, and soul theft.

I called him ‘Uncle’ as was the respectful way to address him. Three long days of listening to his stories, irrevocably changed me. From him I learned that there existed the possibility to actually know you were one with everything, not as a spiritual experience, but as a basic assumption and knowing. Just like we know we breathe air.

After our time together, we went to the airport to catch our flights back home. In the early hours, the terminal was empty. I was relieved for no people, as I was suddenly aware of how vulnerable I was feeling back in ‘the modern world’. I wanted to grab Uncle by the arm and run away somewhere safe, like the desert.

Instead I asked him if he wanted a coffee.

We sat down next to each other in an empty café, sipping our cappuccinos. Uncle continued speaking. He talked about death, and how his people never mention the names of those who have passed away. They believe that the dead become one with something so precious, so sublime, that it is too sacred to even whisper their name.

For two hours Uncle continued to share such stories, while modernity began to awaken around us, and whirl past—men in suits walking briskly, talking frantically on cellphones, women in heels texting while balancing bags and satchels, late passengers hurtling past in a panic, children with Hello Kitty rolling bags.

We were the eye of some mad storm, bowed over the story of mankind’s existential belonging to all things, their denial of it, and their theft of it.

That moment, in the reflection of Uncle’s way of being, I saw modern man’s true face. Contrasted next to this wise, ancient person, I saw only spiritual destitution and an undeniable poverty of the soul.

I began to cry, as did Uncle. At first the tears were for Uncle and his people and what they had lost, but then the tears came inexplicably harder, from a place forgotten.

‘Are you crying for my people?’ he asked.

I nodded. And then I shook my head.

‘I’m crying for mine.’

He looked at me confused. I tried to explain, realizing how insensitive this may have sounded.

‘What happened to your people is the worst tragedy. I am by no means trying to diminish it when I say this…’ He listened.

‘Uncle, we could only do to your people, what we did to ourselves. We took everything from you, but there was one thing we could not eradicate–your memory of what you lost.’

I pointed to the crowd of people rushing past.

‘Look at them. They are the walking dead. And worse, they have no idea what they lost.’

And then I pointed to the most privileged, a Caucasian man in a well-tailored suit racing past shouting into his Bluetooth.

‘And he,’ I said, ‘though lifted up by what seems like white male upperclass privilege, is the most lost of them all.’

Nothing was the same for me after that moment, which now largely informs all my work, and my writing.

I’m convinced that this pain-pill epidemic is a symptom of that soul impoverishment. In a culture that demands comfort, pills are the final convenience. One could blame big pharma, the doctors, capitalism and pharmacists. But the epidemic would not have taken such vicious hold had we not been vulnerable in the first place.

While Hilary Clinton aims to make this a major campaign issue, I believe it important that we not just deal with the symptom. As a society, we must deal with its cause.

The good news is that the cause can be healed by each one of us, in the way we live our own lives…by calling back into our lives things like grace, soul, and meaning.

The workplace is one area where meaning and humanity must be restored. Which is why I love the work of Peter Senge (Presencing), Otto Scharmer (Theory U) and Fred Kofman (Conscious Business) to name but a few.

As a start, watch for areas where you trade true meaning for comfort.

I’m not religious, but I do enjoy some of the archetypal references found in certain scripture, Lucifer being one of my favorites. Lucifer, was beloved archangel who stood so close to God that God’s light made him appear like God himself. His belief he was himself the light caused his fall from grace.

Lucifer is the saccharin to sugar, a flashlight to the sun. And, comfort is the Lucifer of peace.

We rush all day chasing Lucifer: to get to the elusive end of our checklists. To medicate our anxiety. To find greater efficiencies. To text while driving. All for the ultimate holy grail of a peace we imagine awaits us if we could just get it all done.

But it’s a mirage we chase. And the more we chase it, the unhappier we become. And in a culture that is used to getting what it wants, prescription pills provide the ultimate Lucifer to enlightenment itself.

So next time you are looking for your next fix, in what ever way you define it, turn instead to something Uncle taught me that he would turn to…a tree, a pet, a sunset, a breath, a touch.

What we are really looking for exists right now, unconditional of any to-do item checked off; unconditional of whether our back hurts or not, or our marriage is working. What we are looking for is the real thing, our explicit sense of belonging to the whole.

…of Belonging itself.

References:
Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, by Sam Quinones
Huffington Post, What Hillary Clinton Could Do About the Opioid Crisis 
Stories of Belonging (Finch), edited by Kali Wendorf
Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions, by Gerald May

I know, we’re tired of the word leadership. “If I hear that word one more time,” said my friend who is the CEO of a tech company, “I’m going to throw up.” (Glenn, this blog is for you).

I was bothered. How else are we supposed to say it? But I also get his sarcasm. When a concept becomes a cartoon character of itself, and ends up on those cliché soaring eagle posters pinned over the water cooler at the office, then we have to roll our eyes and cast our sights towards the next cutting edge.

I remember in the days I identified myself as someone ‘spiritual’ (complete with long sojourns to India), anything with the word leadership embedded in it, went straight to the trashcan (or recycle bin as it were). Leadership was for those courting ego, I piously thought.

Regardless of one’s source of cynicism, the concept of leading, of being a leader, is vulnerable to misunderstanding, and with that we miss an opportunity. So before we reject the land of leading (and it’s Hallmark card imagery of zen gardens and a solitary figures in front of a still lake), I’d like to argue that we have not yet gone deep enough into the soul of it.

How I know this is by the various comments I receive from men and womenmostly womenwhen I describe the work I do. “That sounds so terrific,” they say, “but I’m not really a leader.” Or “I used to run a company, but now I’m just taking care of my parents.” And “I am more of a behind-the-scenes kind of guy.”

These comments point to a fundamental flaw in our concept of leadership that is based on an outdated paradigm which infers that there is a leader at the top, or in the front, or at the fore….and then all the rest of us behind, or under. Right? Wrong. It’s wrong for lots of reasons but I’m going to address two: it’s wrong structurally, and it’s wrong conceptually. Hang with me.

 Leadership is not about a position, it is about a mindset.

Our current culture assumes certain structural hierarchal attributes to leadership. We believe that leaders are at the top, or in the front. Think about it. When someone says leader, check out your imagination. If you are like most of us, you might see a figure, alone, at the top of some hill, or at the front and center of a crowd. If you are romantically inclined, you might imagine your leader like Mel Gibson donning blue face-paint astride a mighty black horse.

We imagine this because we’ve seen few, if any, other models.

There is one model out there that demonstrates another kind of leadership. The horse herd is a 55 million-year-old system that is so effective, it places horses as one of the most successful mammals. Contrary to the myth of the aggressive solitary stallion, the herd is governed by a sophisticated lateral ‘moveable’ shared leadership governance that serves the whole. Leadership is assumedmoment to momentdepending upon the presence and responsiveness of any given horse. In other words it is those necessary qualities that arise in the present moment that dictate leadership, and not the horse itself. While a horse may embody a basic propensity towards presence and responsivenessgiving her a certain rank as leader over timethis can change quickly depending on the circumstances, and who is the most responsiveagain, in the moment.

What this means is that, using the herd as a non-predatory leadership model, leadership is available to you, all the time, in the form of your presence and responsiveness in the moment, not depending upon your position in your work and life.

Conceptually, if you imagine that leadership is about position, then it undermines and undervalues your presence and awareness in every situation. It’s easy to make leadership conditional upon external events, and roles, rather than internal resources.

In his seminal book, Conscious Business, Fred Kofman distinguishes two essential internal mindsets: Victim and Player. Each of us has both. It’s best to think of this Victim / Player archetype like a flashlight. Where you put your focus (shine your flashlight) determines which mindset you are in. The Victim mindset puts focus on what you cannot control. The Player mindset puts focus on what you can control.

A victim statement sounds like this: My computer crashed, all my files were lost.

A player statement, same scenario, sounds like this: I didn’t back up my files, and so I lost them when the computer crashed.

Here are two more sets:  ‘It’s hopeless,’ (victim), and ‘I haven’t found a solution yet’, (player).

‘Traffic was terrible,’ (victim) and ‘I made writing that last email a priority over getting here on time,’ (player).

A player mindset takes circumstances as a challenge that allows you to show who you really are, and what you stand for.

You will take accountability within any situation, regardless of their position of authority. For example, if you are a direct report to the CEO, and the CEO attacks you in an unskillful fashion regarding below-par results in a project, you can as a player reshape the conversation to be much more collaborative, informative and constructive conversation. This is being a leader to the leader in that moment, by modeling skillful communication.

Being the leader means that we work to step into our best, most authentic and skillful selves each and every moment by being accountable first and foremost to ourselves, and then to the others around us.

Every moment becomes a moment to be a leader, from the grocery store line, to the kids’ soccer game, to the boardroom. We are called upon to be the change: to model a more constructive conversation, to engage in a greater sense of presence, to participate in the collective with more awareness.

Real success in our lives is not about meeting goals, it’s about how we live. When we crown ourselves as leaders, we claim a joy that comes with that dignity and integrity. So, be joyful, and ride on.

Every month my colleague Anne Fullerton and I host a Women & Power conference call for women who have attended one of our retreats. This particular circle of wise women has been coming together via phone for almost a year and a half now. Each month, we explore a particular topic that is emerging for the group and last night’s topic was resistance.

Curiously, the topic emerged on the heels of inquiring into passion. Resistance and passion, we discovered, are inexorablyand annoyinglyconnected. So to serve our commitment to a more passionate, purposeful life, our circle of women dove wholeheartedly into passion’s counterpart.

‘It’s such a puzzle…’ said one member, ‘…sometimes resistance comes as an intuitive knowing that I should not do something. And sometimes resistance asserts itself between me and something that I should do, or even want to do, like work out, take time off, or journal.’

We hate resistance. It’s uncomfortable. It’s a puzzle. And when it stubbornly plants itself on our doorstep, many of us blame ourselves, judge ourselves and muscle ourselves through it. We tell ourselves we’re lazy or stupid and to just get on with it. We call ourselves cowards and failures. We say we’re bad friends, or terrible parents, or incapable of commitment.

So the women’s circle decided to do something bold. For one month they invited resistance in, and took the time to explore it completely through the lens of unconditional inquiry: What is resistance? When does it come? How long does it stay? What does it require? Why is it there? Is it just some kind of pathology, or is it a messenger? Should we trust it, or crush it?

After a month, here’s what we discovered: there is an invitation inside all resistanceto wrestle with it. Resistance is neither good nor bad, it is a doorway created to make us pause, wait, reflect and question. If you are willing to heed its invitation, then it will provide you with deeper insight into all manner of things.

Sometimes it makes us pause and discover that we don’t need to do something, or it is not in our best interest to do it. I recently committed myself to facilitating a workshop with several other people. I love my work. I love facilitating dialog. But for some reason, I found myself increasingly resistant to doing this particular workshop.

At first I berated myself, ‘Oh, you are just feeling intimidated by the topic; stop it!’ ‘You’re just a loser; you just want to sabotage yourself.’ Then I went into my own private version of spiritual conspiracy theory, ‘Something terrible is going to happen at the retreat and you are sensing it…cancel it!’ or my personal favorite ‘Your plane is going to crash.’

After spending some time with it, and discussing the above scenarios with a mentor friend, she said, ‘Or….it could be something else entirely.’

‘Like what,’ said I, in an accusatory tone of disbelief.

‘You could just be exhausted,’ she said succinctly.

I started to cry. She was right. It had been an enormously emotionally taxing winter and I had yet to catch my breath and recalibrate my life. The workshop was scheduled in a particular window between my children’s school holidays, and it was a possibility for some rare solitude me-time. Just the idea of several days off made my mouth water. 

I resigned from my facilitation post and took the time instead.

Sometimes resistance gives us insight into other helpful information. Like when we resist things we love.

My favorite thing in this entire world is taking my horse Artemis out for a long ride in the mountains. And guess what I resist most? You got it, taking Artemis out for long rides in the mountains. So, instead of judging myself as entitled, lazy, no longer passionate, or pathological, I spent some time with it. I discovered that it is not the time or the riding per se that I am resistant to. It is the fact that I hold myself to such high standards when I ride. How silly is that? My resistance was an doorway to discovering a hidden habit of self-criticism, and an opportunity to heal it.

No more resistance to rides in the mountains.

If you think about exercise, the principle of resistance is important. Resistance training works by causing microscopic damage or tears to the muscle cells, which in turn are quickly repaired by the body to help the muscles regenerate and grow stronger. The breakdown of the muscle fiber is called “catabolism,” and the repair and re-growth of the muscle tissue is called “anabolism.”

Anabolic means to grow, and that’s exactly what happens after you break down the muscle fibers with resistance exercise. In fact, many biological processes of growth in the body require some breakdown, or catabolism, prior to re-growth. For instance, bones must be broken down first before calcium and other growth factors repair the bone and make it stronger.

So, resistance in our life helps us grow and become stronger. It breaks down our plans, our beliefs, and our preconceived ideas so that we can be better. So that we can live better. If we embrace it as an essential personal development mechanism, available to us as a means to pause over, to wrestle with, and emerge from with new insights, then life becomes more magical.

But if we try to muscle through it, berating ourselves along the way, then we miss how life supports us to grow and become wiser.

Next time you are resistant to anything, drop what you are doing (or not doing, or dreading doing, or forcing yourself to do) and hang out with it for a while. And then take it by the hand and hit the mat. It’s your wrestling buddy sent to bring you a gift.

(with much thanks to Linda, Marilyn, Betsy, Hilary and Cheryl)  

(excerpted essay on wisdom for Kindred Magazine webinar, May 2015)

Perhaps the most unfortunate consequence of modern life is the loss of the instinctual wisdom-self. No where is this more evident, than in my hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico where droves of pale and pasty tourists arrive each day during the summer months to bear the dust and heat, and peer reticently into things more ancient.

Known for its Anasazi origins, Santa Fe is surrounded by Indigenous communities with names that echo ancestral embrace—names like Puyé, Tesuque, Taos, Ohkay Owingeh, Pojoaque and Cochiti.

Most visitors remain outside these communities, preferring the less confronting safety of Santa Fe’s new synthetic side — the margarita-drenched bars, the shops with faux Indian crafts, and the Anglo-cowboy musicians. Those more curious, arming themselves cameras, hats, maps and sunscreen, load into tour buses and rental cars and venture up canyons and washboard back roads to behold what they don’t even know they have forgotten—the taproot into wisdom’s wellspring, our collective human legacy.

It is here, in these pueblo communities, that their members dance themselves back into mountain spirits, into bear, deer and buffalo. They dance themselves back into their ancestral lineage—two legged, four-legged, and winged.

Standing for hours, arms folded, eyes behind sunglasses, the outsiders watch the corn dancers, the buffalo and deer dancers. They hear the jingle of ankle bells, the beat of the drums, and feet pounding the dusty earth, calling to spirits, announcing their place on the common ground of this earth. There is, among the outsiders, at best a mild interest, at worst a kind of unnamable malaise and ennui, a sense that something is missing for us as modern people. But what it is, we cannot say.

While the dancers in front of them them call out to those they remember, drum to the stories still alive in their bloodstreams, honor the wisdom gleaned through centuries of tradition, the outsiders are left with only forgetfulness.

We are wisdom-starved and have forgotten our way back in. We find substitutes instead—productivity, efficiency, data and metrics. The twenty first century is abundant with ways to access such information. At the touch of a screen we can know the stocks, the weather, the trends, the timing of our flight, our optimal sleep, and the best most efficient route through Chicago during traffic.

What is wisdom and how does one cultivate it? It has been defined as the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, intuition, common sense and insight. Wisdom is a disposition to find the truth coupled with an optimum judgment as to what actions should be taken in order to deliver the optimal outcome. What makes wisdom elusive are certain elements within that definition such as insight, truth and intuition.

In preparing to write this essay, I was overcome with uncharacteristic procrastination. Why was I so resistant? I realized it was because the subject matter intimidated me on some level.

What I realized is that the very word implies some kind of authority, or dominion over. And in my striving for wisdom in my own life, I’ve felt anything but. In fact, contrary to external impressions of what wisdom must look and feel like, my experience is that wisdom feels extremely vulnerable, unclear, and at times lonely.

So the very conjuring of the topic, and how I might write about it, and invite you the reader to explore it with me, placed me in a state of uncomfortable unknowing. The place, in fact, where wisdom is born. So let’s start there — in that dark, murky and mysterious place of the unknown.

Knowledge, in our culture, is valued over not-knowing. And even though the more obscure, and lets say esoteric, ways of decision-making elbowed their way into blockbuster business books with titles such as Trust Your Gut and Predictably Irrational, big data soon eclipsed the fad. ‘The gut is dead,’ announced a recent New York Times article on data optimization, ‘Long live data.’

Data is a way we can be certain, and when questioned, be backed up by reams of facts and figures. Data unites us, in an odd, cold kind of way, in the same way scientists might hover together over a petri dish. And to that end, it keeps us from feeling alone. Who’s to argue with the data?

In, 2007, when Barack Obama first visited Google’s headquarters as a candidate, he announced himself as less a torchbearer than a data connoisseur. “I am a big believer in reason and facts and evidence and science and feedback,” he said. But I wonder if Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King or Aung San Suu Kyi were data connoisseurs, would they have been as effective, inspired and inspiring?

There’s a crack in the data trance and it has to do with things innately living, the un-measurables. How does one, for example measure kindness? Delight? Joy? Grief? Kindness? Trust? Depth and meaning?

Enter leadership (in our own lives or inside an organization)—where the hubris of knowingness and certainty trips right over the extended foot of wisdom herself. I remember landing hard, face-planted in my own theories, facts, formulas and ideals. Leadership brings us right to the bone marrow of creativity and problem solving, forged through intuition, presence, sensing future possibilities and awareness—in effect befriending the unknown, the seat of wisdom.

Paradoxically, leadership is where we most want knowledge, formulas and models, and resist less than certainty. A simple search for leadership books on Amazon reveals over 133,000 unique titles. We want the data. We want formulas that will guarantee success. And while being informed, skilled and knowledgeable is a commendable and necessary undertaking as a leader, knowledge without insight and intuition leaves us strident and righteous at worst, and impotent at best.

So where along the way of this tumultuous voyage do we find our resources for wisdom-making? And how, if not backed by data, will we know it’s the real deal? What if we make a mistake? What if something gets broken along the way? What if what is wise in one moment, proves to be folly the next?

Wisdom requires we embark on the archetypal hero’s journey.

The First Step: Culture as a Trance
All heroes’ journeys begin with crossing a threshold. We have to leave one world and enter another. That threshold requires us to walk out of our current culture. To understand why we must cross that threshold, and look back at what we call ‘culture’, it’s important to understand what culture is, and why, to gain wisdom we have to begin to orient ourselves outside of it—to be in it but not of it.

Joseph Chilton Pearce describes culture in his book Biology of Transcendence. “Culture is a body of knowledge concerning learned survival strategies that are passed on to our young through teaching and modeling,” he writes. “It becomes the living repository of our species’ survival ideation and is at the root of every issue of survival. Culture, then, is a mutually shared anxiety state, a powerful catalyst of thought that converts all events into its own nature.”

While at its best, culture includes the highest achievements of humankind — art, music, poety. But at it’s worst, it breeds war, despotism and tyranny, as seen when certain cultures clash. Culture is the water we swim in and cannot see. When not seen for what it is, culture becomes a highly influential force in our choices and decision-making. Many imagine themselves to be free thinkers, yet their mindset is still confined within their cultural constructs.

‘The world is created of separate unrelated forces’, ‘vulnerability is weakness’, ‘success can be measured’, ‘time is money’, ‘emotions are bad’, and ‘faster is better’—are examples of cultural assumptions that wield enormous influence over our lives, and our organization’s lives, when unexamined.

Culture is a fundamental deviancy of intellect from intelligence (or wisdom), because of its massively unnatural, arbitrary and illogical nature. It values data and metrics over everything else. It domesticates us from intuitive vibrant beings, to domesticated dull-eyed beasts of burden.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés provides the perfect recipe for such wisdom-depriving domesticity:

  1. Take an original.
  2. Domesticate her early, preferably before speech or locomotion.
  3. Over-socialize her in the extreme.
  4. Cause a famine for her wild nature.
  5. Isolate her from the sufferings and freedoms of others so she has nothing to compare her life with.
  6. Teach her only one point of view.
  7. Let her be needy (or dry or cold) and let all see it , yet none tell her.
  8. Let her be split off from her natural body, thereby removing her from relationship with this being.
  9. Cut her loose in an environ where she can over-kill on things previously denied her, things both exciting and dangerous.
  10. Give her friends who are also famished and encourage her to be intemperate.
  11. Let her injured instincts for prejudice and protection continue without repair.
  12. Because of her excesses (not enough food, too much food, not enough sleep, too much sleep, etc), let Death insinuate itself close by.
  13. Let her struggle with “good girl” persona restoration and succeed at it, but only from time to time.
  14. Then, and finally, let her have a frantic involvement in psychologically or physiologically addictive excesses that are deadening in and of themselves or through misuse (alcohol, sex, rage, compliance, power, etc.).
  15. Now she is captured.

(Reverse the process, and she will learn to be free.).

So, to invite wisdom into your life, requires going feral. The word feral derives from Latin fer meaning ‘wild beast’. In common usage, a feral creature is one who was once wild, domesticated, and then reverted back to a natural or untamed state. Wisdom resides in those natural and untamed states. It requires you to constantly cross that threshold, into that ‘crack where the light gets in’, and look back to see culture for what it is—nothing more than a mental creation, held together by tape and string. Only then can you be free to feel, access and participate in a hidden language as ancient as the stars, whispered between the lines in every moment.

We cannot, and should not, throw culture away. We have to live wisely and freely within it, while releasing its stronghold on our beliefs and values.

The Ecology of Body, Community and Spirit
Once we wake up to culture, and its unnecessary grasp, then we are open to listening to the ways wisdom yearns to take a foothold in our lives. To do this, we must befriend a trinity of forces…our bodies, our communities and spirit. Together they create a potent ecology that mutually supports, nurtures, informs and protects.

Through this three-way support system, we can set up for ourselves a perpetual means to cultivate wisdom.

Our Bodies
The body holds, through its DNA, an ancient remembering and intuition informed by all who came before us, our ancestors and the ways they walked this earth. Each cell holds a wisdom way of knowing forged through millennia. That is why the drum beats in Indigenous ceremony around the world, so as to wake up the body through a vibrational resonance that each cell carries.

It is interesting to note that most religions, theologies and cultures vilify, objectify or mechanize the human body. “Our body is the horse our head rides around on,” writes Linda Kohanov in The Tao of Equus in her calling to refer to our bodies as a living wisdom-system, available to inform us in every moment. We treat our bodies like beasts of burden, or worse, like machines. We dull our emotions; we avoid the mess of sweat and blood; we place shame over our sexuality.

“Our culture fears all natural processes: birthing, dying, healing, living,” writes Christiane Northrup in Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. “Because our culture worships science and believes that it is ‘objective,’ we think that everything labeled ‘scientific’ must be true. But science as it is currently practiced is a cultural construct rife with all the biases of the culture in general.” One of those biases is against the body and all that it feels and senses.

“Ultimately,” she continues, “I’ve found it enormously empowering to realize that no scientific study can explain exactly how and why my own particular body acts the way it does. Only our connection with our own inner guidance and our emotions is reliable in the end. That is because we each comprise a multitude of processes that have never existed before and never will again.”

She goes on to say that our entire society “functions in ways that keep us out of touch with what we know and feel.”

In this societal view, we tend to think of our internal organs as refined machines that do a particular job. The heart pumps blood. The stomach digests food. The brain thinks. However our amazing bodies are an elegant sensing, intuiting, mystery-knowing organism. A relatively new field of neuroscience called ‘neurocardiology’ and ‘neurogastroenterology’ uncovers the actual brain-functioning of the heart and gut. Both have their own independent nervous system.

Back in the 1960s, research conducted by John and Beatrice Lacey—pioneers in the field of psychophysiology—showed that the heart has its own reasoning that is not determined by directives from the brain. Subsequent investigations revealed an actual pathway and mechanism allowing the heart to send influential messages to the brain. Neurocardiology research led to the development of the concept of the “heart brain” in 1991.

The heart at least 40,000 neurons, as many as are found in various subcortical centers in the brain. The heart and brain have a two-way communication and yet, between the two, it is the heart that has final influence over the brain and not, surprisingly, the other way around. The heart is actually a governing system of the body and brain function!

The stomach also fires off signals to the brain via its own extensive network of neurons. According to Michael Gershon, chairman of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at New York–Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, there are 100 million neurons in this “second brain.” This arsenal far outnumbers the neuron supply in the spinal cord or the rest of the nervous system outside of the brain. So the stomach has plenty to tell the brain as well. Research shows that about 90% of the fibers in the vagus nerve—the main nerve for the gut—carry information from the gut to the brain.

Since the body—the part below the neck—has dominion over our discernment, attitudes, actions and decision making, it is time we start putting our presence and attention there. Listening to what those actual physical places in your body are ‘saying’ befriends how wisdom speaks to you.

Joseph Campbell’s famous line ‘follow your bliss’ might better comprehended in a slightly less dramatic, more practical tone. ‘Go with what feels right’ might feel more graspable. It is an essential navigation tool moment to moment.

Invariably when I work with men and women to help them reclaim their sovereignty through their bodies’ knowing, someone always says, ‘but what if I’m wrong?’ It’s a worthy question. Fear of doing something wrong gets at the root of one of our greatest fears—doing something wrong, and because of it, I will be abandoned.

But consider for a moment, what if your body, and all of its legacy of wisdom, is trustworthy? We are told we are broken, damaged. That we were raised with attachment deficiencies, and therefore we cannot trust ourselves. And so we cling to data, formulas, cultural norms. But which would you rather trust, an elegantly synchronized anciently informed living cellular system, or a historically created fear-based mental construct?

Indeed, living from authentic wisdom instead of culturally accepted formulas, does require a radical vulnerability.

Community
Here’s where community comes in. And when I say community, I don’t mean those caught in the cultural trance, who would only encourage you to ‘stay safe’, or ‘not rock the boat’. I mean a carefully cultivated group of people that you have created who are, like you, aspiring to walk through that cultural crack and claim a wisdom-informed life.

There’s a certain freedom with letting go of constructs. How free are we within it? How must space is there to truly be ourselves? To what extent can we play? Wisdom requires listening with both inwardly and outwardly directed ears that listen not for just any whim or urge, but for our deepest, highest, most soulful desires. People who really know us, our community, know those desires, and can reflect back to us if we have strayed off track.

Good friends cheer on our authentic, bold and wise selves, and encourage us to push past our comfort levels and explore new ground, but will be there with a raised eyebrow if we’ve hit some strange extreme.

In the 90s I spent a good while with an old Indian sage. He used to say it was important to ‘surround oneself with good company.’ He meant exactly this.

But even a great community has its imperfections. That’s where the third part of the wisdom ecology comes in.

Spirit
Whether you call it God, Goddess, the universe, consciousness, life-force, mystery, higher power, or soul, it doesn’t matter. Something’s there, and that something is in concert, every moment, with you, as you. It abides in places that require conscious dedicated effort and discipline to access. And like any muscle, your spirit muscle has to be worked, and tended to, on a regular basis in order to strengthen its voice inside you.

This tending-to is called devotion.

Meditation, journaling, art, time in nature, solitude, prayer, poetry, dancing and music are all devotional practices.

You don’t need lots of time to have devotional practices. Five minutes of meditation, ten minutes of journaling, pausing after a phone call to drink in the sound of the birds—all of these moments allow you to hear a more subtle call.

Wisdom as Liberation
If we are going to create a better world for ourselves and for our children, we have to take that leap into the unknown, away from efficiency, productivity, proof and data. We have to be willing to tap into that source of wisdom available in our bodies, in mature perceptive enlightened communities, and through practices that put us in touch with the mystery.

Wisdom is available to each and every one of us. It is our birthright. It is our imperative if we are going to survive. It is there, every minute, waiting for you patiently, waiting to be born through you. The ways in are numerous and, like all things mysterious, have no formula. So just start, start anywhere.

Dare to be different. Dare to follow your gut and your heart. Expect to be challenged and confronted. Expect for there to be onlookers, arms folded, their eyes behind sunglasses. But remember, just like the deer dancers of Ohkay Owingeh, all you need to do is listen.

Resources:
Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
The Biology of Transcendence, by Joseph Chilton Pearce
The Heartmath Solution, by Doc Childre
The Awakened Heart, by Gerald May
Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, by Christiane Northrup

It’s 5:30 a.m., nothing is awake, not even the sun. That’s the time I know I will be alone. It used to be hard to wake up at that hour, but now I fling myself joyfully towards it like an inner city child running to the shore of the ocean. It’s a promise between me and me, that from 5:30 to 6:30 is mine to indulge in any way I please.

In the old days, the word alone was treated as two words, all one. Solitude is just that, returning to a state of all oneness, of wholeness. It’s an essential part of a creative, deliberately engaged life. Without it we dry up and whither. We lose meaning.

Nowhere was this made more obvious than when I was a breastfeeding mother of two very young children. Solitude became virtually extinct in my life. One afternoon I had a dentist appointment to replace four fillings. I’m terrified of dentists. It doesn’t matter how much Novocain they inject, I’m in a cold sweat. But I sat in his chair and two blissful hours later, when it was time to go, I asked if he could please just do a root canal, something, anything so that I could sit in that chair undisturbed just a little while longer. That’s how starved I was.

Modern life leaves us like breastfeeding mothers. We’re always attached to somethingour smartphone, our computer, our to-do list, our Facebook. And while none of those things are inherently bad or uncreative, they do suck up our time and energy. If we don’t retreat and replenish ourselves, we compromise not only our health, but also our ability to be deeply and powerfully engaged.

Interesting, the newest subgroup emerging as amphetamine addicts is middle class and upper middle class mothers.  Adderall – a nervous system stimulant ordinarily prescribed for people diagnosed with ADHD, has become acerbically known as ‘Mother’s little helper.’ According to reports, between 2002 and 2010, there’s been a 750 percent increase in Adderall prescriptions for women between 26 and 39. The reason? They’re trying to keep up with it all.

It’s hard to be reflective when you’re on speed. As life hurtles at increasing digital velocity, we think if we run faster, be more efficient, then we’ll be more productive and effective. Wrong.

We end up making ourselves sick. And unimaginative, dull, and uncreative.

Solitude is not a wasteland of passive empty nothingness, as some believe. When taken deliberately, it is palliative and preventative. It heals us from exhaustion and prevents us from succumbing to stress-created illness. But it is also a place to deeply listen and reflect, an alter to which we return, head lowered in reverent receptivity for things whispered from our souls to ourselves.

And as much as I love, and prefer, long adventurous sojourns where I can drink from solitude for days, realistically solitude can more easily be courted in small doses. The key is to be able to tune out distractions. A glance out the window to the sky in the middle of a meeting, choosing to walk to an appointment instead of drive, reaching into a book of poetry and reading three lines these are all ways in that cost nothing, but give everything. Think of these moments like your own tiny fold-up sanctuary, that you can spread out in front of you whenever, and wherever you like.

So next time you are jotting things down on your to-do list, put at the top of the list ‘solitude’, and find it in tiny places every day. Then see if you can claim it in bigger spaces, an hour each day perhaps. At the crack of dawn if necessary.

I’ll leave you with some words from one of my favorite women of all time, Eve Ensler

“Cherish your solitude. Take trains by yourself to places you have never been. Sleep out alone under the stars. Learn how to drive a stick shift. Go so far away that you stop being afraid of not coming back. Say no when you don’t want to do something. Say yes if your instincts are strong, even if everyone around you disagrees. Decide whether you want to be liked or admired. Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out what you’re doing here.”

I’m re-reading one of my favorite books, Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. I read it in the early nineties when it was first published, but with 23 years under my belt since then, I have a lens of wisdom through which to reread each remarkable, inspired word. This is not a book for women, it’s a clan-call to the feminine in all of us, that which has been diminished, silenced, shamed and domesticated.

Using storytelling as a teaching medium, Estés masterfully grasps the very taproot of archetypal instruction that directly speaks to our ancient and untamed psyches.

One of the stories, the Romanian tale Vasalisa, describes the soul-journey of the retrieval of intuition. In the story, Vasalisa is sent into the forest by her wicked stepfamily. There she meets the dark magic crone Baba Yaga, who threatens to eat her unless she finishes certain taskstasks that are designed to grow Vasalisa from a naive too-nice innocent, to a wise warrior. One of the tasks was to separate a bazillion poppy seeds from the dirt, and mildewed corn from a huge pile of whole corna brutal lesson in discrimination.

Part of growing into our intuitive wise-warrior selves, is accepting the harsh lessons of discrimination, to determine the difference between things of like kind. Things like real love from false love, nourishing life from spoiled life, friend from foe, and the useful from the not useful.

Many of us were not taught self-determination. We were not taught to trust our intrinsic natures, our own personal sense of knowing, our internally directed discrimination. Instead, life presents itself externally as a banquet, from which we choose. If the item is not in the banquet, then we go without, or bend ourselves to choose something ‘sort of like’ the thing we really want.

Being externally referencing is a way we tame our feral native landscape. And when we do that, we deny ourselves the capacity for real power, meaning and purpose in our lives.

But when we are governed by our undomesticated instinctual selves, we begin to ask ourselves, ‘What do I crave? What do I desire? For what do I yearn?’ Such questions are the first step towards a sacred fidelity to oneself.

In service to that fidelity, it is useful to have a list of non-negotiables. With the same no nonsense approach that one commits to brushing one’s teeth twice a day, non-negotiables are practical yet non-yielding building blocks that create a life of substance and strength. The key is that you cannot give them up. That’s why they are called non-negotiables. In other words, you can’t cheat on you.

Here are some examples from friends, clients and from my own list to get you going:

  • An hour each day, first thing, to tend to your soul-self through meditation, reading poetry, journaling, or whatever it is that feeds you. During this hour, you do not allow any interruptions.
  • Only surround yourself with life-giving people. See my previous blog Keep Good Company  
  • Regular, specific, time off.
  • Stay true to your values (what are they?).
  • Don’t let your credit cards incur debt.
  • Time with family and friends who, when, how much?
  • Respect your time yours and others. Put each minute to good use. Be on time (preferably a few minutes early), communicate when you are more than 5 minutes late, and never inconvenience the other person with your tardiness.
  • Be accountable when you say you are going to do something, do it.
  • Never text while driving, or during meetings.
  • Have at least three sit-down dinners with the kids each week.
  • Save money each month.
  • You’ll only work with certain kinds of clients (what are the guidelines?).
  • You’ll only commute ‘x’ amount to work.
  • No emails after 6 pm.
  • Only ‘x’ amount of TV each week.
  • Live within your means.
  • What are your non-negotiables, in life, in work, in your relationships? Take some time and write them down. To discriminate what you want in your life, and what you do not wantto separate the poppy seed from the dirttakes discipline, mindfulness, will and spirit. And it often means holding out for what one wants, in the face of enormous pressure.

As Estés writes, “Refuse to let anyone, or anything, repress your vivid energies…that means your opinions, your thoughts, your ideas, your values, your morals, your ideals. Let your own innate cycles dictate the upsurges and the downward cycles of your life, not other forces or persons outside yourself, nor negative complexes from within.” 

As we honor our own and each other’s authentic selves, and their skillful expression, we co-create a world with new possibilities and freedom.   

It’s 5:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning and already my phone chimes with a text message. Life can be a marathon. And with technology creep granting our accessibility to anyone and everyone 24/7, life is not only a marathon, but also a deep sea dive, a Grand Prix race, a steeple chase and a space launch all wrapped up into one.

I’m not complaining. It’s a glorious wild ride. And every day we are alive, is a gift. So how do we meet the marathon-sea-dive-racecar-steeple-space-launch in a way that engages our possibilities, but limits our burn-out?

In the bestselling book, The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz argue that managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal. ‘Every one of our thoughts, emotions and behaviors has an energy consequence,’ they write. ‘The ultimate measure of our lives is not how much time we spend on the planet, but how much energy we invest in the time that we have.’

Using the bio-dynamics of athletic training as an analogy, the authors provide a lot of accurate common sense. They assert that ‘seeking stress’ is actually a good thing. ‘Stress is not the enemy; paradoxically it is the key to growth. In order to build strength in a muscle, we must systematically stress it, expending energy beyond normal levels.’

This is pretty radical thinking in a culture that is all about ‘reducing your stress’. And of course the key word there is ‘systematically’.  What they are pointing to here is an ability to build capacity through a rhythm of rest and exertion so that our bodies (and minds) can carry us into a life of passion and purpose.

However, this rhythm is not the only secret to life’s strength training. We must also nourish ourselves by tending to our emotional, physical and spiritual bodies as well.

We have to access our inner ‘elite athlete’, and treat ourselves with the same loving discipline. When I was pregnant with my two children I learned the importance of befriending my body, and engaging with it in a collaborative way to meet my ultimate goalan easy birth and a healthy child. It was for me the ultimate gold medal. I learned that the more I listened to my body, and tended to it, the more it gave back to me in terms of energy, strength, resilience, wellbeing, clear thinking and optimism.

But in our culture, we treat our bodies like machines. We fill up the tank every now and again, and wonder why we wake up with pain or anxiety. We expect our bodies to put up and shut up. And when our body begins to speak to us through unwanted symptoms or disease, we seldom inquire into the source of that symptom. The usual approach to symptoms is to prescribe some kind of Band-Aid, something to soothe us and make us feel better. We seldom ask ourselvesand certainly our doctors rarely ask‘What is out of balance that needs to be changed?’

We can’t wait for a culture hostile to rest, nourishment, reflection and self-care to change. We have to make changes in our own lives. What if I told you that in just one week you could be smarter, happier, more successful and have better relationships?

Here are 10 super easy ways to a better, more delightfully engaged, more passionate and more present you right away –

Get enough sleep what more is there to say here? No more arguing. In keeping the Nike tagline…just do it.

Pump up the vitamins don’t get lost in vitamin-land. Just take the basics – a good multi, omegas, and B’s. Buy from companies that source from high quality botanicals and ingredients. If you are really depleted, ask your doctor to treat you to a B12 shot, or even better, a Myers Cocktail. You’ll leave the office with wings.

Reward yourself any time you achieve a small victory. Say you finally made that really hard phone call to a client you’ve been putting off for weeks, or you signed a great contract. Immediately go out and reward yourself with something, not necessarily expensive but that feels indulgent. This fires reward centers in the brain, and reinforces courageous neural pathways for doing difficult work. We tend to overemphasize our failures and ignore our wins. I just bought myself a pair of groovy socks after telling a difficult client I was no longer going to work with them.

Have solitude time every day and do what nourishes you. Make it a non-negotiable. Read poetry. Meditate. Draw. Journal. Unplug the phone and get away from the computer. This does not include exercise time. This is downright soulfully luxurious you-time.

Don’t stress about stress stress is good. Just find a way to create periods of rest and nourishment within it, so you can sustain the mental, emotional and physical endurance needed.

Exercise besides all the other benefits, this keeps oxygen flowing into your brain so you can solve problems better, and generate inspired ideas.

Eat a rainbow  when my kids were little, instead of eating their ‘fruit, veg and protein’ we ate from the colors of the rainbow. If you are getting greens, reds, purples and yellows, you’re doing pretty well. Get yourself a Ninja blender and a smoothie recipe book and have fun throwing the entire rainbow together for an easy way to pump yourself with nutrition on the go.

Watch energy eaters this can be people, projects or activities that just suck the wind right out of you. You know who and what they are.

Keep your eye on the ball don’t waste energy on ‘what you don’t want’ and instead engage in ‘what you do want’. The former breeds negativity, victimization and stagnation, the later keeps you moving forward.

Be generous when you start taking care of yourself, and setting better boundaries to protect what you want in your life, you’ll have more to give away to places you really do want to give.

You probably have your own list of ways to keep you at the top of your game. Feel free to share them on the blog comments. Or email me and I’ll start a new thread. We can support one another to be the winners we know we can be.