Tag Archives | Fear

Remember Who You Are


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This post was inspired by, among other things, recent posts by Justine Musk and Julie Daley and a note from my cousin, Maritherese. Thank you, ladies.

Last year, in the Spring, I was preparing to lead a workshop. It was new. It was big. It was exciting.

I was terrified.

I stopped at my favorite park, which happens to be on the way from here to almost anywhere (at least I make it be on the way from Here to There), to walk the trail and think, which I often do. This time, when I stopped at the giant rosemary bush and pinched off a tip and inhaled its pungent fragrance, I prayed. “Help me! Send me guidance.”

And I got an answer.

Clear as a bell.

So fast that I was still inhaling.

“Remember who you are.”

My exhale became a sigh of relief. Remember who you are. Yes, I can do that. I know what I know. I am a teacher.

I was able to center, to focus, to relax. To stand in my power. I taught my workshop, and it went well. I shared my knowledge, people laughed in all the right places, and my voice was my friend, not my enemy.

Remember who you are.

I walk that trail often, and it has become a ritual to pause, pinch a sprig of rosemary, breathe it in and remind myself, “Remember who you are.” It is my church. It is my labyrinth. That breath fills my body, my heart soars with the hawks circling overhead, my feet grow roots down into the earth, and I connect – with myself, with everything.

Remember who you are.

Here’s the funny thing. Who I am is constantly changing. Who I am is shaped by my experiences, by who I meet. By what I learn. By what I choose, by what I avoid. I am constantly changing.

And. Who I am is unchanging and eternal. My friend Lewis Brown Griggs speaks in his TEDx talk about our souls being at our core as if at the center of a tornado, where even a feather is in such stillness that it can’t be harmed. I love this wonderful metaphor – it reminds us that who we are cannot be killed or damaged or lose access to the Light and Love from which we all come, no matter what horrific events befall us.

Remember who you are.

Not long after my walk in the park and the workshop I taught, I met a horse who changed my life. We introduced ourselves, and spent some time being together in the pasture. Then he suddenly laid down next to me in the grass. So I laid down next to him, and we rested together. It was…sublime.

I didn’t find out until later that it was unusual. Highly unusual.

Much later, I asked Lewis what he saw when I was lying there with Prince (for this event was witnessed by the group of coaches I was with that day). He said, “Comfort. An amazing sense of complete and total comfort, and when you were lying there with your head on your hand, your head next to Prince’s, that sense of comfort expanded to include everyone who was watching.”

Wow. That kind of blew me away.

I realized that it wasn’t just something that happened to me, I co-created it. And it wasn’t something that just happened to me, it included others. That was a powerful pair of realizations.

Later I was telling this story to my friend Julie, and I told her that I had realized that this was, as one of my teachers says, one of my “Superpowers.” That I am able to create a safe space for others where important stuff can happen.

Julie thought about it for a minute and then said, “It isn’t something you do. It’s who you are.”

Oh my.

Remember who you are.

When I am fully who I am, that makes a safe space for others. To be. To be who they are.

Remember who you are.

The other day I was walking the trail, breathing in the perfume of rosemary, and it occurred to me that remembering who I am means that I have known who I am. I have only forgotten. And yet I am always getting to know myself. Apparently that continual discovery is continual remembering.

I recently had an insight about fear, and about the part of myself that is afraid. But that part of me isn’t Me. I had a glimmer of understanding that there is an ancient and eternal me that isn’t afraid, that knows what to do and can do it.

And. I am more than a widow, more than a survivor, more than a teacher, more than a friend, although those are all part of my experience.

Remember who you are.

“They” say people can’t change. Yet I see people change all the time. I have changed.

And. If we are ancient and eternal, the good news is we don’t have to change. We only have to remember who we are. We are not what we do, or what we have, or the choices we make. We can change those things.

If we remember who we are, we can make choices that are in alignment with that.

Remember who you are.


Tell me, what do you remember about who you are?
Please leave a comment.

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Image courtesy of Idea Go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Grief and Joy


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This is the continuation of my previous post – which you can read here.

As I began to embrace shifting the focus of my coaching and consulting away from traditional Organization Development, Change Management and Executive Coaching and toward Grief work, an idea began taking hold in my head and my heart. It both mystified me made perfect sense. And it scared the hell out of me.

It scared me so much that, like Jonah, I ran away and found myself in the belly of a whale. Hiding. Waiting.

What was that idea? This:

Grief and Joy are the same.

Wha…?

I Know It to Be True

It makes no sense… and it makes perfect sense. It confuses me when I try to wrap my head around it, and it resonates through my body and out to the tips of my fingers.

My body knows it to be true. The same body that has experienced wracking sobs that felt like they would tear me apart, drain me dry, leave me desolate. The same body that has felt surges of energy when I have truly connected with others, and not just in sexual activity. My body knows it to be true. When I hold this idea for a moment, my body knows it to be deep and real like taking a deep breath. It fills me and feeds me like oxygen.

I don’t understand it, but I know it to be true.

Grief and Joy are the same.

A little bell in my soul goes ding. It resonates.

The Belly of the Whale

My brain, on the other hand, does NOT know it to be true. My brain is flummoxed. It resists the idea. How can two such different experiences be the same?

And how could I do this work with such a crazy idea as a foundation?

That is what scared me, scared me into silence and into running away until I found myself in the belly of the whale.

Grief and Joy are the same.

If someone had said this to me when I was in the deepest desert of Grief, in the bleakness and desolation… If someone had said this to me when I was there, I might have wanted to slap them. The way I wanted to slap well-meaning friends who said things like, “You’ll be ready to let him go someday.” I wanted to slap them… and they were right.

And yet…

If someone had told me that Grief and Joy are the same when I was fresh in desolation, maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to slap them. Maybe, at a time when I was in touch with the physical pain of loss, I would have recognized the truth of it with my body.

Even though the physical experiences of Grief and Joy are so different.

And yet…

As I write that I am also struck by how similar they can be.

How similar the paroxysms of grief, the waves of wracking sobs, the grief spasms, are to the waves of orgasm.

Grief – the emotion of separation – and Joy – the emotion of connection… they are the same thing.

Or they are part of the same thing.

My brain says No, and picks out the millions of differences and distinctions. My body says Yes, and breathes into it.

I breathe through it.

Perhaps it is like that. Joy and Connection are the breathing-in. Grief and Disconnection are the breathing-out.

They are both breathing.

They are One.

Someone – I don’t remember who – once said, “Grief is how we love those we have lost.” So Grief is the emotion of connection, too.

Joy is the emotion of connection. And Grief is the emotion of connection. And if A=B and B=C, A=C. They are one, and they are different.

They are One.

And so I have come to the point of acknowledging the fear that this knowledge brings up in me, the resistance to the idea, and to embracing this knowledge, trusting the truth of it. And sharing it with you. Thanks to the help of friends, and to the fact that I can’t un-know it. I must share it. I was not meant for the belly of the whale. At least, not forever.

In the novel “Ordinary People,” Judith Guest wrote, “People who keep stiff upper lips find that it’s damn hard to smile.” We must embrace Grief and Joy. We cannot have one without the other. We can not live without them both.

They are One.

There is more to be said on this subject, and I hope you will tell me what you think.

Meanwhile, here is my promise to you:

I hold this thought for you when you are in the desert and I walk with you. When you dance in delight I will dance with you.

They are One.

Come with me. I will walk with you. Let us prepare… and experience it… together.

You are not alone.


Welcome to the rebirth of Susan T. Blake Consulting and Coaching!
Please contact me to talk about
dealing with – and preparing for – Grief. And Joy.

In the coming days, weeks and months I will be writing more about Grief, and Joy, and how they touch our lives in expected and unexpected ways.

And I will continue to write about birds, and horses, and Curiosity.
It is all Connected.

Please leave a comment, and share this if you are so moved.

Image courtesy of khunaspix / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Grief and Its Twin


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Over time, I have gradually come to the conclusion that my Right Path is to be working with Grief. With people who are grieving, with the people who support them, and with organizations whose people are experiencing – or preparing to experience – change and loss.

Now, considering that I’m a widow, and a coach, it may seem like a no-brainer. But it was a surprise to me at first. At first I resisted the idea.

And even as I came to not only accept but embrace it, sometimes when I thought about working with Grief, my brain would still say, “No, really? That’s so depressing. So dark.”

But I have a secret, a secret that lights me up and makes it not only possible, but thrilling, to work with Grief.

What’s that secret?

Joy.

Wha…?

Joy.

My friend Joie Seldon, who writes and mentors around Emotional Intelligence, taught me something very important:

Think about it. When you connect with someone, and you think, “Wow, this person is really neat,” or “Wow, they really like me,” or “Wow, I am so Freaking LUCKY,” or you don’t think anything at all but just bask in that connection for even a second, that is Joy.

What, you may ask, does that have to do with Grief?

Everything.

As I realized that my path is leading me to grief work, and I thought about the connections with others that brought me to that realization, I remembered what Joie had taught me. And I realized this:

Not the state of disconnection, but the loss of a connection.

Stephen Jenkinson, in his beautiful teachings on grief and dying, says, “Grief and the love of life are twins.” I would say it a little differently: Grief and Joy are twins. They are connected, they go together. Like two sides of a coin. One is Heads, and one is Tails.

Grief honors the lost connection, and in doing so honors and reflects Joy.

I can say that now, having survived the darkest, most barren days of my life while living through the grief of losing my husband of 22 years, my best friend, my favorite person. But in those darkest days I in no way associated Joy with what I was going through.

And yet.

In the days leading up to his death and after his death, people went out of their way to connect with me, to support me and catch me when I fell. I met people I wouldn’t ever have met if Bruce hadn’t died, and we connected. This is important, because I felt his absence so profoundly that I felt disconnected.

From everyone. And everything.

From life as I knew it.

From God.

But people flowed into that vacuum and created a lifeline. A net. And I became part of the net for others.

And I know that my grief was, and is, an honoring of my connection to Bruce. The depth of my grief was directly related to the depth of our connection.

So even in my darkest hour, in those darkest times, Grief and Joy went together.

Knowing that, feeling that, having experienced that over and over, I accepted that I can hold on to that as a a lifeline as I do this work. Even more, I accepted that I can hold the space for both Grief and Joy as I do the work, and hold that space for others, even if I don’t use that language.

It’s our secret.

But then…

As I contemplated this link between Grief and Joy, the connection that gave me the courage to embrace shifting the focus of my coaching and consulting away from traditional Organization Development, Change Management and Executive Coaching and toward Grief work, another idea began taking hold in my head and my heart.

And it scared the hell out of me. It scared me into silence and paralysis for several months. I ran away, and found myself in the belly of the whale.

To Be Continued

Image courtesy of khunaspix / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Who’s Got the Car Keys?


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He’s one of those friends that when I ask “How are you?” he really tells me. And when he asks me the same question, I tell him.

So when I saw him the other day and he asked me how I was, I thought back to our last conversation, two months ago, when I told him I was having trouble moving forward with the work I know I am supposed to be doing, the work I am called to do, because I’m afraid people won’t get it, they won’t believe me, they won’t want to talk about this. But when I told him at the time, he got it. I thought about the lack of progress I’ve made… and I really told him how I was.

“I’m OK. But I’m stuck.”

And what started out as “Hey, how you doin’?” turned into lunch.

We talked about what needs to be done to get things going (publish the blog posts that announce my new focus and my message, reach out to people who are in my network). I didn’t give him any bullshit about working three part-time jobs (which I am) and not having time to Do What Needs to Be Done. I just put it out there.

“I’m scared.”

He didn’t wave it off. He didn’t say, “There’s no need to be scared.”

He didn’t even ask me what I’m scared of. (There’s a list. But the What isn’t the point.)

What he did do was point out that this wasn’t Me being scared, it was the Little Girl Me. And it was OK for her to be scared. In fact, it’s her job. (One of her jobs.)

Then he said something that hit me between the eyes:

“Just don’t give her the keys to the car.”

Now that’s a metaphor I can get into.

“Just don’t give her the keys to the car.”

I laughed out loud, and said, “She must be the reason I haven’t been able to put the car on the market!” (That’s another story. One he didn’t even know about.)

She can be scared. I can comfort her. I can let her go hide. The real me, the Ancient and Eternal Me, she’s not scared. She knows – I know – what to do, and can do it. But if I give Little Girl Me the keys to car and let her drive – or she hides the keys under the sofa cushions – then we’ll never get anywhere.

“Just don’t give her the keys to the car.”

So over the last few days, every time that fear has cropped up, that resistance, I’ve thought of that. And laughed. And then done a little piece of the work that needs to be done.

And I made a poster for myself and taped it on the wall where I can’t miss it:

I’m tempted to write Dammit! in fine print at the bottom.

But I’m keepin’ the keys.

Get ready. We’re going for a ride.

Being With


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Yesterday I went to the wedding celebration of a friend of mine. A friend whom I hold dear, although we don’t spend that much time together.

I almost didn’t go.

I looked forward to it all week, but when the day came I was reluctant.

I would be going alone, and I didn’t think to call anyone to carpool. Would there be anyone there I knew? I feared going and being surrounded by others but feeling isolated. Would my little gift be good enough? They wouldn’t miss me if I didn’t go…

Wait a minute. I would miss them if I didn’t go. And, I said to myself, there were a lot of people she could have invited, and didn’t. She invited me.

I wrapped up my little hand-made gift, with something for each them, something personal, far more personal (aka Vulnerable) than something I might have gotten from Pottery Barn or wherever, and wrote in my hand-made card with one of my own photographs on the front. And off I went.

I arrived at the wedding party and, as soon as I arrived, a friend I hadn’t seen in months waved at me and said, “Come sit by me!” We chatted and caught up while we ate plates of Mexican food and drank margaritas, watching as party-goers learned salsa dancing. Other friends came and went from our little group, dear friends, new friends, acquaintances I hadn’t seen in several years.

Then a man appeared in front of me and held out his hand, inviting me to dance.

I have never salsa danced. Ever.

And I feel very awkward when it comes to any dance that requires Following.

And.

Remember the movie, “Risky Business?”

Sometimes you just have to say, “What the fuck.”

I put down my plate and got up. And danced. And it worked! “It’s just like walking,” my teacher said. “You’re doing great!”

How funny, I thought, not long ago I needed help walking after a horse stepped on my foot, and my walking partner said, “We’re just dancing, and you get to lead.” “That’s good,” I remember thinking, “I suck at following when I dance.” Now I was dancing, and my partner was telling me it was just like walking, and I was doing great at following. Hmmm.

We danced, and I danced several times throughout the afternoon between conversations and hugs and laughs. Ultimately I ended up in a corner with three other friends (two old, one new), just talking and Being With. It was lovely.

As we were helping our friend load up her car with gifts and leftovers, one of her friends, with whom I had danced, handed me one of the last flower arrangements to be given away and said,

“Here, Wild Thing, you need some flowers.”

Wild Thing? Me?

I laughed, and accepted. The flowers, and the name.

This morning I got up and drank my coffee and caught up on blogs I follow, and I noticed a distinct theme. The first, What We All Need, was about the importance of just being with. The second was about belonging, and how it is a distinctly 21st Century Challenge that requires stepping outside of our comfort zones. The third was about belonging to ourselves, receiving what is here and receiving the sacred. Through just being with it. Hmmm.

Belonging. Comfort Zones. Accepting. Showing Up. The truth is that if I am willing to step out of my comfort zone, I sometimes find greater comfort. I’m glad the voice that says, “I do belong” is louder than the voice that says, “I don’t belong.”

Which voice do you listen to? Which voice do you encourage others to listen to?

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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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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Two Old Women – A Parable


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Once Upon a Time, two old women were abandoned by their tribe during a horribly long, bitter winter when the tribe did not have enough to eat. Members of the tribe did not want to do it, but they saw no other way to survive. There was not enough food to go around, and the old women slowed them down as they moved from place to place. There was much fear among tribe members – fear of the winter, fear of doing wrong, fear of starving, fear of cannibalism, fear of being left behind with the old women if they spoke up.

So no one spoke up.

The old women were aghast, and hurt, and angry. They could easily have given up, succumbed to self-pity and the cold.

But they did not.

The tribe did leave them their tent, the daughter of one of the women left strips of animal hide, and the grandson of one surreptitiously left them his hatchet. The old women decided to use these things, and the skills they had forgotten but once used regularly, to catch rabbits, build shelters and keep the coals of their fire alive. Despite their aches and pains and broken hearts, they moved to a new campsite and survived through to the next spring. They proceeded to build a comfortable shelter and stockpile dried fish, meat, and clothing made from the skins of the animals they had caught.

The two old women made a comfortable life for themselves, but they were quite wary of their former tribe members. They made sure that the place they chose for their winter home would be difficult to find, as they were afraid that the tribe would come back and steal what they had so carefully built over the summer.

The following winter, the tribe returned to the place where they had left the two old women. It was another difficult winter, and the tribe was nearly in as difficult a situation as they had been the previous year. They expected to find some evidence that the old women had died there, and were amazed – and hopeful – when they did not find that evidence. The chief, who had wrestled hard with the decision to abandon the old women, decided to do the right thing and sent his best scout and three hunters to search for the old women.

After a long search, the wise scout found the area where the two old women had established their camp. He smelled the faint smoke of their fire and called out to them.

Terrified, the two old women debated whether they should respond. They decided to face their fear and called back to the scout. The two old women shared some food with the four men, and they exchanged stories, warily.

The scout told the old women that the chief regretted leaving them behind and had sent him to find them, and that they meant them no harm. He also told them that the tribe was, once again, in dire straits and suffering great hardship.

The two old women again debated – what should they do? This was the tribe that had left them to die. Although they had more food than they could use by themselves, should they share?

The two old women recognized that they had the chance to do the right thing. Yet they also recognized that they were not ready for things to go back to the way they were.

They decided upon a compromise: They would share their wealth with the tribe, but they would maintain their separate camp. They had come to value their independence and relished the success they had made from reawakening and building upon their old skills.

In time, there were reconciliations and the two old women spent time with the young ones, teaching them the skills they had once forgotten, sharing their wisdom and enjoying new respect within the tribe.

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I recently re-read this legend of the Athabascan Indians of the upper Yukon, which is movingly told by Athabascan writer Velma Wallis in the little book, Two Old Women. I was moved again by the many lessons this story has for us, lessons about fear, courage, perseverance, confidence, humility, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

But this time the story offered me another meaning. The last time I had read this story was long before the economic troubles that began in 2007, long before thousands of companies faced starvation and fear in the coming economic winter.

Two Old Women, I realized, is a parable for this time. It carries much food for thought: Millions of people were abandoned by their tribes during this winter, left to fend for themselves with only a hatchet and a few supplies – and their wits. For many there have been unexpected benefits – new skills, rediscovered skills, opportunities for independence. For many there has been malnutrition and frostbite on many levels. For some there has been reconciliation. For most things will never be the same.

What lessons do you take from this parable? What role would be yours in this story?

I was one of the tribe members, until I became one of the old women. I am pleased to say that I have survived – and thrived. I will also never be the same, and I am glad.

What about you? The story is not over; what role do you play, and do you wish to change it? Is reconciliation possible? If so, what shape should it take?

Note: I do not tell the story of the two old women and their people nearly as well as Velma Wallis. I encourage you to get a copy of Two Old Women and let this fine storyteller weave her tale for you.


Photo Credit: Ian Britton, www.freefoto.com

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Captains Curious: Ditching the Daemons – Fear


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Welcome to Captains Curious, a weekly series of guest posts on the subject of Curiosity. This week: An encore from Captains Curious member Birdy Diamond! To learn about the series and the other Captains Curious, please click here.

Fear and curiosity cannot live in the same space

As my wonderfully wise hubby said in our “Curiosity in Times of the Tower” post, fear and curiosity tend not to be able to live in the same space.

Curiosity encourages you to take a breath, to look at things in a different light and from a different perspective.

So when you are in a place of fear, you can use curiosity to your advantage.

What fear is… and isn’t

Let’s stop for a moment and talk about what fear really is… and isn’t.

At the end of the day, fear is your body’s way of telling you that you are in the area of something new, a place you have never been before. Whether that place is physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual doesn’t really matter.

It’s new, and therefore it is scary.

Natural human reaction. Back in the day, it very nicely kept us from being eaten – which is, overall, a good thing.

Nowadays, while there are still things out there ready and willing to eat us, metaphorically and otherwise, the number of things that are new is nowhere near the same number as the things-that-are-new-that-are-also-dangerous. That number is distinctly in the minority.

And yet… we still have that same old fear reaction.

Curiosity rides to the rescue

What happens if you replace that fear with curiosity?

The literal thing is that you pause your emotional reaction and start thinking in a different way, from a different part of you.

The result is that you can breathe and analyze whether something is truly a threat to you, or it just appears that way because it is new.

Which is very important in Mike’s and my line of work.

Replacing the Fear with Curiosity

In our line of work, an expanded and expansive worldview is a must.

This means that one must be willing to not only suspend disbelief, but also to suspend the fear reaction in order to analyze what is really going on.

Curiosity is an excellent way to do both.

Curiosity lends itself quite nicely to the question-asking, the what-if thinking, that our profession requires.

Curiosity led us to making the explorations necessary to answer those questions, and the self-adjustments necessary to make those explorations.

The paranormal is a field filled with a lot of fear, almost by definition. If it is ‘beyond normal’, then it is new, therefore it is scary.

Except that it doesn’t have to be.

Two choices – Curiosity or Fear

You can hear a ‘pop’ or a knock that has no physical origin and be frightened, or you can hear the same sound and say ‘Hi!’, knowing that one of your friends has come to visit.

How did we get from fear to here?

Curiosity.

Curiosity led us to wonder if there was more out there, more than had been shared with us already.

Curiosity led us to explore a new career path, and to do the practice that let us get good at it.

Curiosity led us to calm our initial fear reactions long enough to find out whether new experiences would be really a danger or not.

Curiosity led, and continues to lead, us to explore further, to push the boundaries of what is possible.

Story Time

As an example, back in late 2008/2009, we came into contact with a being who is not native to this planet. Over the course of a number of conversations, we grew to become quite comfortable with the notion of talking to this being who is very different from us – physically, culturally, etc.

Curiosity led us to find the techniques and have the conversations that made understanding possible.

Even so, I was not yet ready to meet our friend in person. Something about that many fangs & scales in one space, no matter how friendly the being they were attached to, was just not something I was quite ready for yet and, embarrassed, I told him so.

Our friend understood. It was not time yet anyway, so it all worked out well.

Move forward to Hallowe’en 2009, when I met a gentleperson whom I am 95% sure was dressed in a Greys costume. Just out of curiosity, I asked myself “Self, I’m pretty sure this person is wearing a costume, and that’s not his own skin, but what if it were? Would you be okay with that?”

And to my delight, I discovered I would be.

Use curiosity to expand your worldview

Allow yourself to think of ‘What ifs?’ and realize that they don’t have to be made of Doom & Gloom.

Use curiosity in the face of fear to give yourself the chance to view things as they really are, and not just as you see them. :>

Use curiosity to dispassionately evaluate what is scaring you: Is it really a danger? Or is it just new?

Then act accordingly! :>

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Birdy Diamond and her husband, Mike Diamond, two “nearly-normal people in a not-yet normal profession,” run Paranormal Lifestyle.com, a business and blog devoted to helping people “put the ‘normal’ into ‘paranormal’.” They also explore other applications for their channelling across the various blogs of The Avian Empire.

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Post Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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