Tag Archives | Curiosity

Still Life


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"The First Thing I Thought Was Beautiful" from Remember to Look Up, Tip #3: Appreciate Beauty

Recently my eye fell on a little grouping of berries and pinecones that I had arranged – one of several still lifes I had composed around my home for the holidays – and I thought about the term “still life.”

I probably first heard the term in 9th grade Art class, when we practiced painting “still lifes” to learn the mechanics of creating the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface, experimenting with color, light and shadow.

What an odd term, I thought, “still life.” Technically, the items in a still life aren’t alive, or they aren’t alive now. Flowers. Fruit. But they once were.

Where did the term come from, I curiously wondered. I thought of all the “masters” who painted still lifes centuries ago. The term has certainly existed for centuries, far longer than since I was in Junior High mere decades ago.

What was it, I wondered, that first compelled a painter to capture such a vignette on canvas? Was it composed just for that purpose? Was the artist so moved by something that caught his or her eye that s/he had to paint it? Was it the way the light caught the curve of the apple, the way the shadow fell behind the strawberry, the way the colors of the flowers seemed to glow from within with a vibrance that the artist knew would soon fade? Was it a way of capturing, in a simple vignette, the treasured memory of the loved one picking the flowers, the time spent gathering the fruit, the meal shared? Was it a moment of piercing, unexplainable beauty? Or was it simply an exercise?

Was it something meant to capture the symbology of abundance, of appreciation of the fruits of the earth and of our efforts, no matter how simple?

Or was it simply a place for the eye to rest, to be still in the stream of life?

It occurs to me as I clear away the decorations, the leaves, berries, boughs, and seedpods, simple though they were, to hold the space for the new year and its adventures to enter, that I must remember to create one new Still Life where my eye can rest for a moment before I go on about my way.


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Playing Chicken


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Today I was folding laundry, absent-mindedly looking out the window. A movement caught my eye, and I saw…

…a chicken.

I live in a fairly busy residential neighborhood and, even though we’re only two blocks from the county fairgrounds and we are almost out in the country, we are also one block from Main Street and this is a bustling neighborhood. Even so, I’ve seen raccoons, possum and all manner of birds – but no chickens.

Until now.

I shouldn’t be surprised; backyard chicken-keeping is becoming more and more popular. I have even considered it.

What to do?

Hmmm. I had seen the man who lives across the street outside a few minutes before, looking at his house. Maybe he was looking for a lost chicken.

So I went outside and starting talking, clucking and chirping to the chicken, slowly getting closer and herding it away from the street. It – she – spooked a couple of times but not too badly, and after a couple minutes I was able to pick her up, clamping her wings to her sides so she couldn’t start a flap (so to speak).

I took her across the street to the house on the corner. As I got to the gate, a woman and her little girl were walking down the street toward me.

“That’s a chicken!” the little girl said.

“It’s a pretty one, too,” the mother said. (She was, too: A very pretty black chicken with green highlights in the feathers. “Does it live here?”

“I hope so,” I said. “I just found it across the street, and I saw the man who lives here a few minutes ago walking around; maybe he was looking for it.”

“Let me open the gate for you,” the mother said (since my hands were full).

She did, and I went up onto the porch. Dilemma: How to ring the bell? I tried to poke it with one finger, then leaned on it with my elbow. The chicken just clucked.

No response.

Sigh. Now what?

Well, I figured, if it’s their chicken, I should just leave it. If it’s not their chicken, at least it will be safe behind their white picket fence. (Yes, a white picket fence.) So I put her down and said goodbye and let myself out, and went back to my laundry.

I couldn’t just leave it there

It didn’t feel right, though, and I was curious. Was it their chicken? What if it wasn’t?

So I finished folding my laundry, while peeking periodically out the window. She was still in the yard across the street, happily foraging in the lawn, eating seeds and bugs. When I was done, I went back across the street.

This time, without my hands full of chicken, I was able to open the screen door and knock on the door. The Man of the House opened it.

“Hi,” I said, “I live across the street. Do you keep chickens?”

“No,” he said, “but there’s one in my yard.”

“I know, I put it there,” I replied. (He must think I’m nuts, I thought.) “I found it across the street, and I saw you outside looking around a little while ago so I hoped it was yours.”

“No,” he said, “it’s not mine, but I have a dog that would probably like it.”

At this point his wife and little girl came out to see what was happening. “We saw that chicken a few days ago,” they told us. “It was almost dark, and I thought, ‘Is that a chicken?’” the mother said. They went on to tell me they had seen it a few houses up, so I thanked them and turned to retrieve the chicken and leave.

“So, we meet again,” I said to the chicken, and started to herd her toward the fence, clucking and chirping at her. She clucked back. I tried not to think about the family peeking through the curtains, watching me. This time I tucked her under one arm and lifted the latch on the gate, let myself out and pulled the gate closed.

Not so fast…

Well, the hen didn’t like being tucked under my arm, so she started to scratch with her legs and got one wing loose. I dropped her on the parking strip.

She wasn’t a particularly ambitious chicken; happy to be set down, she contentedly started scratching and pecking at the parking strip. I slowly herded her away from the street and toward the fence, and soon picked her back up, wings clamped to her sides, and started walking up the street.

She just clucked.

“I must look pretty funny,” I thought to myself, “walking down the street with a chicken.” Oh well. It certainly wasn’t the first time I had looked silly and certainly wouldn’t be the last.

What if I couldn’t find her home? I wondered. She was a really nice chicken, pretty, well cared for, no bald spots, gentle. Someone must certainly miss her. If all else failed, I decided, I would take her back to my apartment. (Although I didn’t know how I would navigate opening the front door and opening the slider to my patio with both hands full of chicken. And I couldn’t imagine what my cats would think when I set down a bird bigger than either of them to open the door.) Anyway, I figured I could let her roam on my big patio, which is enclosed by a tall privacy fence. (Which hasn’t kept raccoons and possums from visiting and eating the goldfish in my fountain, but at least she’d be safe from dogs and traffic until I could get a coop built.) But I would put up signs before committing to keeping her permanently.

Next stop

I walked down the block past a few houses, bird in hand. At about house three, there was a young man outside putting something in his truck.

“Excuse me,” I called. “Does anyone around here keep chickens?”

“Yeah,” he said. “She lives across the street.” He paused, then added, “She’s free range.”

Apparently, I thought. “Thanks,” I said, and crossed the street (thinking, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” “Because I carried her…”) to a pair of duplexes. As I walked toward the buildings, wondering what to do next, a woman opened her apartment door.

Going home to roost

“Hi,” I said. “Is this your chicken?”

“No,” she replied, “It’s theirs,” and pointed at the other building. I turned around and saw a teenage boy looking at me through the window. Then a woman in her forties opened the door and came out with two young children.

“Hi,” I said. “Is she yours? I found her wandering around.”

“Yes, she belongs to my fourteen year old son,” she said, looking at me like she couldn’t decide whether to be friendly or suspicious. “She has a coop in the back and she just wanders around during the day.”

“OK,” I said, and put her down in the driveway, where she happily started poking around. “She’s a nice chicken, I figured someone would miss her.”

The mom decided on being friendly. “Yes, we’ve had her for about six months. She just started laying eggs. Her name is Kentucky Fried.”

Seriously.

“I’m surprised she let you pick her up,” the mom continued.

“Birds like me,” I said. “I used to keep ducks.” That sounded weird, even to me, but it was relevant – that’s how I knew how to pick her up.

Anyway. I said goodbye and went home to put away the laundry. (After washing my hands.)

The Moral of the Story

The moral of the story is this: I was curious about finding a chicken roaming a street I wouldn’t let my cats out on. And I had to choose between a) the risk of looking silly while attempting to solve the mystery and b) doing nothing. I didn’t want her to get run over, or to have her people miss her, even more than I didn’t want to look silly or (worse) like a busy-body neighbor. Sometimes the fear of looking silly can keep us from being curious and taking risks, but we get to choose whether or not to let it stop us. And it’s usually not as bad as we fear.

All’s well that ends well, I suppose. I met a chicken today. And several neighbors. I wonder what my encounter with a chicken portends for 2012?

Maybe I’ll get a chicken…

Photo Credit: “Australorp Pullet In The Henhouse” by Paul L. Nettles


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Sound Mass


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Hey!

Hello!

There’s been a lot going on around here lately, which is why this blog has been quiet for a few weeks. That’s no excuse for being out of communication, though. I’m embarrassed to admit it took a friend leaving me a voicemail asking if I was OK and noting that it had been a LONG TIME since she’d gotten a blog post from me to remind me how long it has been!

When I was in college, hanging out with the Music majors (they were way more fun than my fellow Psych majors), I learned about the concept of a “sound mass.” But while Wikipedia quotes Edwards’ comment that sound-mass “obscures the boundary between sound and noise,” there hasn’t been much noise around here lately. Instead, there has been so much going on that it’s like a giant chord with so many notes that it is like a wall of sound with a few themes that have managed to rise to the top like cream. (I know, that’s a mixed metaphor. But I like it.)

So here’s my attempt to share the sound mass with you in a completely different medium, with some of the recurring themes that are weaving themselves together. Lately I’ve been…

  • Working on a big project for a client, requiring a lot of concentrated effort, learning the dialect of that business. I am very grateful for the steady work and an income stream that will help fund the next couple of months.
  • “Vendorized” to work with clients of the state Department of Rehabilitation, coaching them through successfully settling into new jobs and working with my first such client.
  • Talking to an increasing number of people who are comfortable… but uncomfortable. Itchy. They’re thinking, “There must be More… but how do I find it?” There is lots of forming new habits, exploring, guiding, questioning. I am grateful and humble to be a part of their journey.
  • Consulting with several small businesses, providing coaching and consulting. It is awesome fun as they have breakthroughs and golden “Aha!” moments and lots of incremental progress. We’re working on a variety of initiatives, ranging from building new habits to delegating to attracting new customers to articulating core values for guiding the business to building a new framework for employee reviews. Good stuff, and again I am grateful and humble to be a part of their journey.
  • Helping two different friends with big garage/moving sales, paying attention to the dynamics of Letting Go of Things, enjoying the interactions and circus atmosphere of the sales, and enjoying the little community that springs up around a sale and falling in love with people and their stories and blessing them and the money they exchanged for new treasures, feeling gratitude for the friends, the wealth, the fun, the exhausted sense of accomplishment.
  • Wrapping up my tenure as the US Country Facilitator for Sedaa’s Global Brain Trust, a wonderful online community for Organization Development (OD) professionals. I have loved the time I have spent working with the founders and the Global Operations team, and it is time to bring in fresh energies while I focus on building my own practice.
  • Participating in kindred spirit Andrea Lewicki’s launch of her new website, where she explores thoughts about curiosity and its applications. Andrea, like me, believes curiosity can change the world! The Grand Opening was a two day event, with interviews with some of Andrea’s favorite curious people – including me! You can view the recordings for a while longer at Andrea’s site.
  • Launching a Facebook page for Susan T. Blake Consulting, which I’ve put off doing until just recently. But now I have a place I can post short things that don’t quite fit here, and have conversations with people. Come on by and check it out!
  • Working with my friend and mentor, Michael F. Broom, and a small team of cohorts, to create, launch and promote a new series of webinars on managing team conflict. We are looking for someone to take over promoting Michael’s Center for Human Systems via social media on a volunteer or internship basis, so if you know anyone…
  • Noticing recurring themes of balancing friendship and business. Accepting help as well as giving it. Noticing my relationship with money. Noticing what I procrastinate about.
  • Wishing for more time to work on projects I procrastinated on before and have less time for now, chuckling over “Be careful what you ask for.” Wondering, is my procrastination because my priorities aren’t my priorities after all, or am I letting fear get in the way? Fear of what?

And lately I’ve been wondering a lot about abundance, about gratitude, about creating the kind of life I want to live. As I work to grow my practice, trying to make a living and support my clients and the small businesses around me, I count my blessings during these times and abundance is more and more on my mind.

You can see the threads of it throughout my life over the last few years. I talk about the importance being grateful in “Remember to Look Up;” I have been practicing Amy Oscar’s “More of This, Please” for a number of months; I have been reminding myself and others that Everything Is Going to Be All Right. (That’s another story, which I haven’t written yet – stay tuned.) And I have been thinking a lot about the work I really want to do as a consultant and coach, and what I am willing to do to make this little business fly. Thinking about what I really want. How many people really know what they want?

So when Birdy and Mike Diamond invited me to contribute to a program they wanted to develop about living abundantly, because of the synergy between my focus on curiosity and one of the steps in their program (Hint: It’s all about asking the right question), I of course said Yes. And for the last couple of months I have been pondering and practicing and exploring and noticing and writing. We are practicing and exploring not only our material but the practical aspects of teamwork, collaboration, and distribution of duties. Noticing coincidences and synchronicities and being open. Practicing gratitude. Pondering how to invite abundance into my life, developing material with Birdy and Mike and our partner, Nathara, and writing about it over at the Awesome Audacious Abundance website.

It’s perfect, really. Curiosity is fundamental to abundance. There is always more to learn, always more to do. And in our experience, living an abundant life is an interactive, participatory thing as well as a positive mindset. And Curiosity IS an abundant mindset.

So I invite you to pop over to http://www.a2abundance.com/ and peruse the blog posts we’ve been contributing about everything from Time to Money to Courage to Perfection to Magic Carpets and more. If you like what you see, sign up in the right sidebar to receive new posts (or arrange an RSS feed if you prefer). We are in the process of developing a variety of offerings to help people live more abundantly, and you can learn more about those offerings by signing up for the Explorer’s Club at the bottom of any blog post. At the same time, I laugh and am reminded of the proverb, “We teach what we most need to learn.” Come learn with us!

Meanwhile, I’m back at work in the world of Curiosity, and happy to be here! I am looking for more contributors to the next round of Captains Curious posts, so if you are interested please drop me a line at susan @ susantblake . com.

What’s happening in your life? Do any of these themes resonate for you? Please leave me a note below!

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Captains Curious: The Practice of Curiousity


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Welcome to Captains Curious, a weekly series of guest posts on the subject of Curiosity. The newest contributing member is Sandi Amorim! To learn about the other Captains Curious, please click here.

I’ve been asking questions my whole life

I’d have to confirm with my mother but I think I started talking in 1965 and it would be safe to say I started asking questions shortly thereafter.

I’ve been asking questions my whole life.

That’s what happens when curiousity is one of your core values, as it is for me.

I want to know how things work, what makes human beings tick and what really IS the meaning of life.

I want to know.

So I live my life inside the questions, both personally and professionally. My clients say I’m relentlessly curious, which triggered my curiousity about the word relentless.

No surprise really; this is how my life works.

I hear something => it triggers my curiousity => I ask questions.

Think back to your childhood and how naturally curious you were, how the questions arose effortlessly. You really didn’t have to think about them too much. If anything, it seemed there was an endless supply of questions, much to your parents chagrin.

Where did your curiousity go?

When did you stop asking questions of yourself and others?

What had you suppress the natural curiousity you were born with?

It’s drummed out of us, I know, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be cultivated. Like anything worthwhile, you can turn it into a practice.

Yes, I’m serious. Practice asking questions.

  • Notice which questions come easily to you.
  • Notice what kind of questions make you uncomfortable.

Socrates set us on this path by asking disciplined questions to pursue thought, explore ideas, open up issues and problems, and uncover assumptions.

Leonardo da Vinci called it curiosità: an insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.

You can practice!

When I first became a coach, I had a cheat-sheet of questions on my desk. Even though it came naturally for me, because I wanted to really hone my skill I used this sheet to help me remember what worked.

Here are a few sections of the sheet to help you get started:

Ask questions about the future:

  • What will it look like when you have achieved your goal?
  • What will you see, hear and feel when you’ve achieved your goal?

Ask reframing questions:

  • How would you view this problem if you were twenty years older? Or twenty years younger?
  • How would this situation look from another point of view?
  • If this situation were funny, what would you be laughing at?

Ask questions to debrief:

  • What worked or didn’t work about this situation?
  • What have you learned about yourself from this situation?
  • What learning did this situation provide?

People worry about asking the right question, but when you come from a place of curiousity, almost any question will work.

Why? Because questions reliably shift focus and energy.

“Great minds ask great questions. The questions that ‘engage our thought’ on a daily basis reflect our life purpose and influence the quality of our lives.” – Michael Gelb


I’ve learned that it’s not so much about asking the right questions but rather about asking them at the right time, and the only way to learn that is by practicing.

Instead of asking why a situation is the way it is, ask how you might contribute to the solution.

Instead of asking close-ended questions (yes/no) ask open-ended questions that create a space of possibility and move things forward.

You may not be relentless as I am, but you can certainly develop this skill.

Curious about how this might work?

Let’s experiment this week.

  • Begin each day by asking yourself a well formed question.
  • Use the examples above and let yourself be playful about it.

When you come from that place of curiousity, people tend to be much more open and willing to respond.

Try it and let me know how it goes!

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Sandi Amorim is a fiery coach and instigator on a mission to have you shine. She works with creative, entrepreneurial women who are tired of “someday, maybe” thinking and ready for her style of bold-hearted coaching. You can find her sharing her passion (and asking a whole lot of questions) at Deva Coaching.

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Would you like to submit a guest post on the subject of Curiosity? Send an email to susan {at} susanTblake {dot} com with the subject line: Captains Curious.

Captains Curious: Meet Me in Curiosity


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Welcome to Captains Curious, a weekly series of guest posts on the subject of Curiosity. The newest contributing member is Andrea Lewicki! To learn about the other Captains Curious, please click here.

Meet Me in Curiosity

Curiosity makes us better people to each other. Curiosity seeds engagement and empathy, not competition.

It means we are genuinely interested in each other, not in how we rank in comparison.

But that’s not how we usually meet each other. You know the drill: A room of strangers at the start of an organized gathering. Everyone takes a seat and the host delivers a welcome message. Then these words fill the air:

“Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves.”

Left on our own, we choose to meet in Competition

Several years ago I walked into a room with a dozen or so other people I had not yet met. It was my first day of class in an executive business school program. We had come straight from a day of conference rooms and email floods. We were a room full of managers on our best alpha behavior. Small, formal greetings. Minimal eye contact. A silent commentary running through our minds while we sized each other up.

Competition was our default setting.

The introductions were predictable – the high performance of posturing. We offered up impressive titles with immense responsibility. Grandiose workplaces emerged from the fine print of the business cards tucked away in our pockets.

Our interactions throughout this course remained stiff and awkward. Class discussion was minimal – we spoke to our professor, not each other, seeking her approval for our egos. Delivery of our assignments and presentations was wooden, perfunctory. Often, we appeared to be fighting boredom.

Meeting in Curiosity, a twist on an old routine

A year later I joined 30 other students on our first day of a different class. Even more managers, prepared to make an impression.

We introduced ourselves, but with a twist. This time the professor asked us to tell the class something about ourselves that most people didn’t know. Without the titles, the job, the same old cocktail party lines.

The energy in the room was…different. We were a little nervous and a little excited at the same time. During the process, we laughed and smiled together. We asked each other questions, wanting to know more. We sought each other out during breaks, making connections through mutual interests we otherwise would have missed.

Most importantly,we shared our multi-faceted selves in a way that increased empathy and decreased competition. We were curious about each other.

We were present more as our whole selves.

The dynamics in this group were distinctly different. In-class discussions were lively and fluid between classmates and our professor. Breaks often ran long because they were full of conversation. Group projects were imaginative and creative, with active particpation.

Curiosity gave me a second chance

I almost missed out on a great friendship because of competition. I initially met my friend in the first class. Right away I didn’t like her. There was something about her behavior that got under my skin, and I didn’t like being reminded of it every time our class met.

I made a lot of assumptions about her. All of them were wrong.

We were introduced again in curiosity during the later class. Instead of assuming, I asked. So did she. We discovered a mutually shared interest and soon became good friends. All because we finally met in curiosity and gave each other the opportunity to be more of ourselves.

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Andrea Lewicki designs experiences for people to re-engage and maintain their curiosity. She believes that true curiosity is an ego-less quality that seeds kindness and compassion, and that the world is a better place when we can be who we really are. She lives in the Seattle area with her husband. You can meet Andrea in curiosity at the Grand Opening of The Lewicki Agency, a 24-hour interactive, live streaming event on Oct. 28th. You can find out more about her work and the event at www.thelewickiagency.com. She can also be found on Twitter at @Andrea_Lewicki.

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Would you like to submit a guest post on the subject of Curiosity? Send an email to susan {at} susanTblake {dot} com with the subject line: Captains Curious.

Caregiving, Rhetorical Questions, Compassion, and… Curiosity


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In which the Universe says, “Oh, you’re ready to start talking about Caregiving? Great, here’s another chance…”

My last blog post was about Caregiving, and soon after I published it I found myself plunged into another Caregiving situation.

For one of my cats.

And I was amazed – appalled, actually – at the impact it had on me.

I made decisions, I gave her medicine and did all the things the vet told me to do, and I did the other things that needed doing. And yet…

I was a wreck. I was on the verge of tears much of the time. I had trouble concentrating. I worried – What if I had to put her to sleep? How much was this going to cost? Should I postpone my trip to Seattle? Was I giving her good enough care? Was I neglecting my other cat?

And I wondered…

How did I ever manage to be caregiver to my late husband and work full-time and maintain some semblance of composure and concentration, and professionalism at work?

Maybe, I thought, my composure and concentration at the time weren’t as good as I thought. I remember sobbing in the shower before going to work. I remember praying for help, for strength, for patience, for guidance. I remember feeling like I could never do enough, never do it well enough.

I talked to a friend

I talked to a friend of mine about this, a friend who happens to be a licensed therapist and a coach. She also, it turns out, has done Bereavement Counseling. She asked if she could tell me what she thought.

I said yes. (And I appreciated that she asked.)

She said that when I was caring for Bruce, I was probably in Emergency Mode. I did what had to be done. With Abby, the stakes are different. (I also had time to prepare, in Bruce’s case, like the metaphor about the frog in hot water.)

She also said that there may be an element of Post Traumatic Stress, and that this situation is triggering reactions from when Bruce was sick, reactions I often didn’t let myself feel at the time.

Pretty smart, isn’t she?

I lightened up on myself

So I lightened up on myself. It didn’t change the emotions I was feeling, or the trouble I was having concentrating, but I started allowing myself to feel it without judging myself for it. Not beating myself up for not being perfectly composed and competent.

I remembered something I already knew

And in thinking about the questions I’ve been asking myself and the universe, I realized something. Or remembered something I already knew, but now understand in a different way:

There are productive questions and unproductive questions.

Rhetorical questions like “Why can’t you…” and “How could you…” are whips.

Asking rhetorical questions is not practicing Curiosity, it is whipping.

Asking why something is happening is curiosity if I am really looking for the answer and not beating myself (or someone else) up with a belief.

Rhetorical questions are not born of curiosity.

Rhetorical questions are not really questions at all, as they are not looking for an answer, they provide an excuse to state an answer that is usually a belief – and is frequently a negative one.

Sometimes the wording is important, but more often the intent and the emphasis are key.

For example…

Rhetorical Question: How did I EVER manage to be a competent caregiver to my husband when I am such a wreck about a cat?

Answer: Ha, you only thought you were competent caregiver. You really suck at caregiving – for people and cats.

Curious Question: How DID I ever manage to be a competent caregiver to my husband when I am such a wreck about a cat?

Answer: That’s a good question. You rose to the occasion, and even though you cried and you prayed and you felt like you floundered through uncharted territory, you did what needed to be done. Maybe not perfectly, but well. Well enough. Maybe it only feels worse because it also brings up memories from before.

Hmmm. Curiosity not only honestly seeks an answer, but it holds hands with compassion.

I thought I knew that, but I guess I forgot.

Or maybe some lessons in this (hopefully upward) spiral of life are learned over and over.

And so I offer you this: When the voices in your head are asking you questions, hit the Pause button and ask yourself whether they think they already know the answer, or are they honestly looking for an answer? Are they open to a different answer?

And if you find yourself asking questions of other people, hit the pause button. Do you really want to find an answer? Or are you just trying to make a point?

Applying curiosity to the issue, and to our behavior, can change everything.

Note: Abby is recovering and I am regaining (?) my sanity. She is scheduled to have her stitches removed tomorrow, and hopefully life will return to some semblance of normalcy.


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Captains Curious: Meeting Resistance


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Welcome to Captains Curious, a weekly series of guest posts on the subject of Curiosity. The newest contributing member is Tina Robbins! To learn about the other Captains Curious, please click here.

I was very excited!

When I first learned about Captains Curious and the opportunity to share a post here, I was very excited. I was just starting my own blog and so I told Susan that it might be a couple of months before I could contribute. In the time that passed I considered what I would share… and I couldn’t think of anything.

Enter Fear and Resistance

I told my wife, “I think I don’t have any curiosity,” which she obviously told me wasn’t true, because everyone has some curiosity in them. But I wasn’t feeling it. I developed a lot of fear and resistance around writing this post.

This happens to all of us at some point. We start to do something that we think is really awesome and then out of the blue… wham… we are stuck, mired in fear and resistance. We procrastinate and allow ourselves to get distracted and pulled off course. Then we run up against deadlines and start to feel overwhelmed. That is exactly what happened to me.

So how did I move past it?

With curiosity, of course.

There is a concept in Zen Buddhism called Shoshin, or “Beginner’s Mind”, which means to approach things without any preconceptions or expectations. It means letting go of what we think we know and approaching things with openness and curiosity. This idea has been adopted by a variety of spiritual paths, and for good reason!

Approaching the world with beginner’s mind can totally shift our perspective, even… maybe especially… around things we find difficult. It allows us to sort of step outside of ourselves, to look at things from a different angle, without the baggage we carry with us.

So, I approached my resistance with beginner’s mind.

I began to notice when the resistance would creep up around other things. I would catch myself engaging in negative self-talk and something in me began to ask, “is this true?” and usually the answer was No. I began to meet myself with love and curiosity observing my resistance, like a researcher might study the behaviors of animal in the wild, noticing my patterns and behaviors.

I started to ask myself questions, much like I would talk to a client to help them get to the core of their situation.

What triggered my resistance? What was I afraid of? How did it make me feel? Are there past events that I am recalling with new situations? What eased the resistance?

See… and this is the kicker… I use curiosity every day with my clients. I am curious about what they are thinking and feeling and I know how to ask the questions to help them process their stuckness, their resistance, and their feelings of overwhelm.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have curiosity. It was that I was afraid to turn my curious eyes on myself. We are all a little like that, I think. It is often easier to help others work through their process than it is to work through our own.

If we employ some curiosity and look at things with a beginner’s mind, we can move through the hard and move on to the awesome!

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Tina Robbins is a Certified Professional Coach specializing in helping women who want to reclaim their energy so that they can focus it on what is most important in their lives. She believes we can all find our place of passion, power, and purpose. Tina lives in the Denver Colorado area with her spouse and menagerie of animals. She is a spiritual seeker who has spent years on the path of discovering the Divine in herself and all of us. You can find her at her blog www.openroadscoaching.com or on twitter @openroadscoach.


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Curiosity and CareGiving?


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The Backstory

A friend of mine has recently found herself being thrust into the role of Caregiver and, as we have chatted about it, I have been able to share some of what I learned from my own experiences as caregiver to my late husband.

At the end of one of our chats, she suggested I write a blog post about Curiosity and Caregiving.

I didn’t see the connection

Curiosity and Caregiving?

Quite honestly, I didn’t see it at first.

But the more I thought about my experiences, and about what we had been discussing, the more I saw a connection. I had simply been too close to it to notice it before.


She got me curious about the connection between curiosity and caregiving!

A different type of curiosity

Was curiosity involved when I was a Caregiver? Not the lighthearted, childlike quality we usually associate with curiosity. But I certainly did a lot of questioning and wondering, and these are definitely central to curiosity.

Not the railing-at-the-universe kind of questioning (Why me? Why Bruce?); that’s just not part of my vocabulary.

Searching for tools

But as his health began to deteriorate, I began searching for information. Thank Heaven for the internet, which made it possible for me to research Bruce’s condition and possible treatments, and to look for resources for myself. They say “knowledge is power,” and my need for information, my curiosity, drove me to search for knowledge that helped me to not feel powerless in the situation.

Is being desperate for answers curiosity? Yes, I suppose so. One type, anyway.

Searching for causes

As his health began to deteriorate, it also began to affect his personality. And I certainly had lots of questions about that. Why was he becoming so short-tempered (which was totally unlike him)? Was it me? Did he not love me anymore? I didn’t really believe that was the case. But I wondered, I questioned, and I came to several theories.

One theory was that his normally high pain tolerance wasn’t high enough anymore, and his pain level was exceeding his ability to cope with it. And the methods he had learned for coping with chronic pain were no longer working. For example, he told me long ago that he had learned to focus his attention on something exterior to him and send the pain to that; I suspected that melting doorknobs wasn’t working any longer.

Second, I began to suspect that, in addition to the physical pain he was in, part of what I was seeing was possibly related to some form of dementia. The research I had been doing kept turning up articles on coping with angry outbursts in people with dementia, and they described what I had been observing. This helped me to not be surprised when Bruce told me he was concerned about early-onset Alzheimer’s. I was almost relieved when he shared his concerns with me and told me about an episode that had particularly frightened him.

What did surprise me was when he told me he was afraid I would leave him now that I knew. And I realized that this fear was part of what was driving the behaviors that were part of a Bruce I didn’t recognize.

So when my friend came to me in great pain and frustration with the rude behavior of a friend for whom she has become a caregiver, I was able to help her wonder whether fear might be at the base of that behavior – fear of abandonment, fear about her deteriorating condition, fear of, well, everything.

Don’t get me wrong; this doesn’t make bad behavior acceptable. But it does make it easier to understand, and this can make it easier to deal with.

Searching for new approaches

This is another area where curiosity is important in caregiving: Wondering what is happening with the other person, rather than judging them (“Oh, they’re just ______”) or taking it personally. Being willing to walk in their shoes for a moment.

And this is where curiosity and compassion go hand in hand. Curiosity must be non-judgmental and compassionate so that, as a caregiver, I can wonder, “Is s/he afraid? I probably would be. Maybe it would help set him/her at ease if I tried this.” And sometimes the this is just asking rather than assuming.

Curiosity, Tools and Compassion

Being a caregiver for my husband was both wonderful and horrible. And, in retrospect, curiosity did help me through it. By utilizing my curiosity to find information and resources, I was able to do (at least some of the time) what they tell in you in the airline safety talks: Put on your own oxygen mask before attempting to help the person next to you.

It also gave me tools to give good care and be a better advocate with the medical professionals we encountered.

Perhaps most importantly, curiosity, coupled with compassion, also helped me to walk in Bruce’s shoes at times and to adjust my words and actions and pay attention to whether that helped or not. It also helped me to be compassionate with myself when I was tired or frustrated or scared or felt unappreciated or didn’t live up to my own expectations.


Funny, but until my friend asked me about it, I had not drawn a connection between curiosity and caregiving. It sheds some new light on my experience, and if you are in a caregiving situation, I hope it sheds some light on yours as well.

Whether you are the caregiver for an aging parent, a spouse, a sibling, child, or friend, be gentle with yourself as well as with them. Look at the situation through the lens of curiosity; it can help you find resources, and it may help you to shift the dynamics of a difficult situation. Looking back on it now, I can say that it did for me.

=>Here is a link to a resource I found tremendously helpful when I was in need of resources: http://www.caregiver.com

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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Captains Curious: Curiosity, Transformation and Transformative Leadership


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Welcome to Captains Curious, a weekly series of guest posts on the subject of Curiosity. The newest contributing member is Raj Neogy! To learn about the other Captains Curious, please click here.

First, my story

Getting here was no easy task. It started in the womb, when my mother decided to abort me and changed her mind moments before the doctor arrived to perform the procedure. When I popped out, I was cyanotic – a blue baby. My heart was wired incorrectly and I was not getting any oxygen. So I was whisked off for my first invasive surgery. When I hit 6 months, I had my second surgery. And by the time I was 2, I had my third open heart surgery. Needless to say, safety was not something I understood well, if at all. Just to make this really clear – my heart stopped three times, for each surgery. And I was “revitalized” or, in essence, “reborn” thrice. At 35, I started noticing a pattern emerge: For me to feel alive, I needed to have near death experiences. When I had that awareness, I was rather stunned.

The story continues with my parents getting divorced at the tender age of 4. And my life falling apart at 7, when I moved in with my step-mother. For 11 years, I endured physical beatings, emotional torture and utter humiliation and cruelty. And then to top it all off, I came out at 19 and was promptly disowned. “Be straight or leave” is what my father said.

When I left, I immediately drowned myself in cheap beer and by the time I hit 27, I was only black-out drinking. Not recommended as a relationship-building skill!

I was what you called a “functional alcoholic.” I prefer the term “functional dysfunctionyte.” By the time I was 28, I was traveling around the world for business, making great amounts of money, meeting amazing people, teaching cutting-edge technology. And I was a serious mess. I was angry, reactive, defensive, impulsive, arrogant, and mean. What I didn’t know was that I was also tremendously sad, painfully hurting, severely traumatized and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

All my initial forays into therapy were shameless expeditions of flirting until eventually the cutest one of them all called me on it. I, of course, blatantly denied it, left her office and never went back.

It was after pulling the plug on my second start-up, where I worked insane hours for three years and lost $100,000, that I crumbled. I didn’t know who I was anymore and completely fell apart. Suicidal and lost, I tumbled into an abyss of confusion. And eight months later, I lost my job, my wife and the house I lived in within a one week period. I now found myself homeless for the second time. And I couldn’t fake it any longer.

Two months prior, I had started an 18 month self-help program at NLP Marin. It was an amazing 18 months of peering into my life, and it laid the foundation for who I have become. It also taught me a list of core questions that have changed the way I engage with people.

I then got an MA in Transformative Leadership Development, as I wanted to do change work with individuals, teams and organizations. I took this program (offered at CIIS in San Francisco) so I could formally learn leadership skills and disseminate those learnings to others. What I realized a year after graduating was that I was really learning the skills to lead myself, to actually walk toward the talk, and where I continued the healing journey. Once I graduated, I entered a post-graduate depression which segued two months later into my psyche imploding, causing the last of my shell to fall away.

Curiosity

It’s taken me a long time to get to where I am now and the journey has been challenging, at times miserable and often downright difficult. But through it all, there was one element that kept me taking the next step: Curiosity.

When that life and death pattern came into my awareness at 35, I had profound curiosity as to why I kept manifesting that pattern, so I started asking myself questions about “the Why.” Mostly, I was curious about how I could get the pain to stop. It was unbearable, and all the coping mechanisms were falling to the wayside. I decided that if I wanted to heal and move through the pain, I had to get curious so that I could shift both my thinking patterns and behavioral patterns.

Transformation

So I held up a mirror, looked in it every day and started asking myself questions about me. “I wonder why that is…I wonder what is behind that…this just happened, what need of mine is not being met…what made her say that just now?” These questions, combined with my ferocious curiosity, afforded me the courage to continue to take each tiny step toward healing.

Transformative Leadership

In my quest for healing and all of the learnings that I have come across throughout the years, I noticed many patterns. Some of the patterns that we run unconsciously become outdated and are no longer useful. Some even become detrimental. How do we transform them? In the diagram below, I outline the path of the 7 Phases of Transformative Leadership, the first phase being Curiosity.

These phases have helped me untangle destructive patterns, unearth the roots of the patterns and allow me to choose something different.

Curiosity

Curiosity is the first of seven phases in Transformative Leadership. It’s the crowbar, the key to unlock a dead bolt, the hand gently reaching forward. Curiosity is the starting point and the entry way. Though it is the first phase in the diagram, curiosity is always welcome to visit any phase at any time. The 7 Phases of Transformative Leadership is not a linear process, but rather a fluid adventure in exploration. You may begin at a decision, act accordingly and have an unexpected result, sending you back to curiosity. You may have an awareness about something, which triggers a question, which results in more awareness which then results in yet another question.

Awareness

Think back to a time when you had one of those “Ah-ha!” moments. It could have been about yourself, your partner, your friend, your toddler, your coworker. The experience may have gone something like this: “Oh…when x happens, y person responds like this.” And then you make a decision: “Remember not to leave the food on the counter, otherwise the cat will eat it.”

Self-Reflect

This piece isn’t so much about wondering why the cat eats food left on the counter as about what’s going on with your 17 year old son who forgot to put the food away…and your reaction. It’s about looking at the reaction fully and seeing what the need is behind that reaction. Is the reaction to storm into his room and begin yelling about responsibility? Or is the reaction getting frustrated and cleaning up the mess yourself? If the reaction is on the spectrum of annoyed, angry, irritated, etc, it’s usually about a need that is not being met in some way.

Decide

This is the fork in the road, the pivotal moment, the point where you make a choice. You choose to explore your own set of feelings and not storm into his room. You choose to give yourself empathy and set aside some time to talk to him later when you’re calmer. Decisions are always about two choices: It’s about choosing one thing and not choosing another. When I choose to eat the salad for dinner, and not the pasta dish: I am choosing one thing and not the other. We always have choice, whether we choose to see it that way or not.

Act

Now that you’ve made your choice, it’s about aligning your intent (the choice you decided to choose) with impact (your behaviour). How are you behaving and how is your behaviour being received? Did you achieve the results you wanted? If not, why not? (Curiosity!) Did you have a real heart-to-heart with your son? Or are you noticing that while you may have wanted it to go one way, it actually went the opposite way – or another way entirely that wasn’t even on your radar?

Realign

When we drive a car for a period of time, we eventually wear out our tires. We make a choice about replacing tires and often get them realigned. Wheel alignment “provides safe, predictable vehicle control.” How different is this from humans? Sometimes we’re worn out from the week, jet-lagged, hungry, injured or feeling down. We may need to have a little extra care in realigning our intent with our impact.

Review

Ever filled out an evaluation after attending a training? What about after eating a meal at a restaurant? Or how about a 360 or employee evaluation? Maybe after watching a movie with friends and discussing it over chocolate cake? Taking inventory of an experience is important, especially when it relates back to us. When we know what is in our suitcase, we won’t be petrified going through customs. When we are either hiding something we don’t want others to see or we are just not sure what is packaged inside ourselves, it can be a scary thing to look inside.

So how can this help you?

The answer is: I don’t know. All I know is from my personal experience and the countless stories I have heard from others with whom I have worked. Each person has moved through each of these phases at some point through their life trajectory, whether consciously or otherwise. The key is to create a heightened level of curiosity which allows for a greater sense of awareness. In becoming conscious of entering and exiting The 7 Phases of Transformative Leadership, you have a greater ability to make the choices that you truly want. You begin to align your intention with your impact much more accurately and you travel on path in which you experience freedom in ways you may not know yet.

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Raj Neogy, MA is a consultant, facilitator, and entrepreneur who offers training and consulting in topics such as transformative leadership, conscious business and breakthrough strategy. She has worked with over 500 corporations and organizations worldwide over the last 20 years, including Fortune 100 companies like Sony, Adobe, JVC, and amazon.com. She is the principal of Argien Consulting www.argien.com and founder of Queer Leadership: A Global Perspective.

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Eagles and Turkeys and Music in the Air


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Sunday Morning

Sunday morning I got up and, rather than sipping a leisurely cup of coffee, I got dressed, grabbed my camera and went for a walk on my favorite nature trail.

One of the things I love about my little town is that it is laced with walking and biking trails. My favorite is about a mile from my home and is only open to foot and bicycle traffic. It winds through meadows and along a greenbelt next to a small river, and is either home or a stopping place for a variety of wildlife. I have encountered deer, fox, feral cats, turtle, ground squirrels, red squirrels, snowy egrets, great blue herons, Canada geese, mallard ducks, turkey vultures, red tailed hawks, red shouldered hawks, lizards, and tree frogs. Not to mention a host of small birds, including goldfinches, house finches, bushtits, red-winged blackbirds, scrub jays, mourning doves, band-tailed pigeons, cliff swallows, black phoebes, acorn woodpeckers, Anna’s hummingbirds, and plenty I haven’t identified yet.

So on Sunday morning I set out at the crack of dawn, wondering what I would see and who I would meet.

My first encounters…

I started with my regular encounters with the finches and flycatchers, common on nearly all of my walks. I stopped to take pictures of a snowy egret where the creek and the path pass under the freeway, and he obliged me by posing and being quite patient with me.

Up above my head…

I walked on, and at a point where oak trees on either side of the trail form an arch overhead, I paused. I heard a sound… it wasn’t a cluck, and it wasn’t a squawk. It was more like a … mrrrrp. I heard it again. From overhead. Then I heard it from tree on the other side of the trail. Mrrrp.

I stood quite still, slowly looking up into the branches above my head. Mrrrp. Finally my eyes focused on a large brown bird amongst the leaves. Mrrrp. It was a turkey!

I heard the mrrrp from several places in the trees above me, and realized there was a family of turkeys roosting in the trees, checking in with each other. I counted five young turkeys and the mother, happily perched in the canopy of leaves.

Now, I have seen turkeys on the ground on numerous occasions; in fact, wild turkeys are quite common around here. It is not at all unusual in July and August to see families of turkeys with their chicks parading around.

But in trees? That’s a new one on me. In retrospect, I remember a friend telling me that the turkeys on her property roost in the trees, but I had never seen it myself.

As I stood there, trying to get some clear pictures, a group of walkers came by.

“There are turkeys up in the trees!” I told them. They stopped, and looked, and marveled.

“This may be a dumb question,” one of them said, “but do turkeys fly?”

“Apparently,” I answered.

I wondered, how old do the young turkeys have to be before their mother can get them to fly up into a tree, away from possible predators like foxes or raccoons? How does she protect them until then? They were clearly unconcerned about me (although they were apparently talking about me) being on the ground below them, but couldn’t a hawk swoop in from above and grab one for breakfast?

That’s nice, but…

You may be wondering, “What does this have to do with business, or consulting, or coaching?”

Well, everything.

The day before, I had been talking with a successful professional who has been struggling with standing up for what is important to her in her home life, and it struck me that you can’t be partially true to yourself. Once we put a stake in the ground or take a stand about something, it becomes more and more difficult not to do that in other areas of our lives.

The same thing is true about curiosity. Once we begin noticing what is going on around us and we being exercising our curiosity about what we notice, that spreads into all areas of our lives.

Curiosity, like enthusiasm, is contagious

If I hadn’t noticed that “mrrrp” in the trees above me, and if I hadn’t been curious about what it was, I never would have seen turkeys roosting up above my head.

If I don’t notice what’s going on with my thoughts and reactions, I can’t wonder why I haven’t been successful with something, or why I have been successful with something, or why I am uncomfortable around someone.

If I don’t notice what’s happening with a group I’m working with, or a process I’m part of, I can’t wonder why things are happening the way they are, or why we can’t seem to improve something, or what needs to be done differently.

If I don’t notice they way things are, I can’t appreciate what and who is in my life, and I can’t wonder what I need to do to make things even better.

Noticing and being curious apply to everything, beginning with our inner worlds and extending to everything around us.

And when I share what I notice with others, they often get curious too.

Soaring with the eagles

You know that old adage, “It’s hard to soar with the eagles when you’re surrounded by turkeys”? Well, in this case, being surrounded by turkeys is a very good thing. If you notice them.

All of this talk of turkeys mrrrping up above my head reminds me of a song… enjoy!



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Photos by Susan T. Blake

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