Tag Archives | Vulnerability

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

Power Is Not a Dirty Word


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It was one of those crystalizing moments, when lots of swirling puzzle pieces suddenly come together and the picture makes sense.

I was listening to an interview about Power and Leadership with Linda Kohanov, founder of EponaQuest and author of a new book, “The Power of the Herd.” I had read her first book, “The Tao of Equus,” last year, and was looking forward to the interview.

I wasn’t disappointed. “The Power of the Herd” presents a new view of Power and Leadership. Kohanov described how this evolved as a result of her work with a rescued stallion who had been abused:

“The most surprising thing to me was that I discovered that kindness, sympathy and understanding weren’t enough to heal the wounds of that level of misused power, that I had to become powerful myself. And yet I had to become powerful in a different way than the kind of Domininance/Submission power that abused him to begin with. And I really wasn’t sure what that was.” Healing With Horse Telesummit 2013

Kohanov went on to describe the journey she embarked on to discover – and embody – the power needed to heal that stallion, and what she learned. I was struck by three key ideas:

  • Predatory vs. Non-Predatory Power
  • The Importance of Boundaries
  • The Role of Nurturing and Companionship

These came together with other teachings to give me a new understanding of leadership, and of power.

The Puzzle Pieces

That’s the background. Here’s where the pieces of the puzzle began to fall together.

PREDATORY vs. NON-PREDATORY POWER

Over time, through research, observation and first-hand work with horses, Kohanov developed a model of what she calls “Predatory Power” vs. “Non-Predatory Power.” While horses are “prey” animals, they are herd animals and leaders of the herd certainly exert power over the other members. Language is important, though, and the term “prey” conjures images of quivering victims. This is not what she observed, so she chose the term “non-predatory” power.

What’s the difference, you ask?

Predatory Power: Leaders nourish themselves at the expense of the others.
Non-Predatory Power: Individual and group needs are met.

Predatory Power: Leaders value territory over relationships.
Non-Predatory Power: Leaders value relationships over territory.

Predatory Power: Leaders value Goals over Process – “The end justifies the means.”
Non-Predatory Power: Leaders value Process over Goals – The end does not justify the means.

While Kohanov developed this model as a result of working with horses, she works with people as well, and there are of course parallels to human leadership. She went on to talk about classic “dominance” leadership, and I was reminded of something Mark Rashid, a well-known horse trainer and author, teaches.

In his book, “Horses Never Lie,” Rashid describes two types of leaders he has observed in herds – often within the same herd: “Dominant” leaders verses “passive” leaders. Dominant leaders are the “alpha horses” that rule the herd: They eat first, drink first, and spend a lot of time reminding the others who is boss. But the other type of leader, rather than constantly asserting its dominance, seems to be chosen by the others. Why are they chosen? As prey animals, horses need to conserve energy so that they have it when they need to escape.

“Primarily they conserve energy in a herd situation by willingly following a leader that they know won’t cause them unnecessary stress or aggravation. In the herds that I had a chance to work with, it was evident that seldom, if ever, was the chosen leader the alpha horse. Rather, it was a horse that had proven its leadership qualities in a quiet and consistent manner from one day to the next. In other words, it was a horse that led by example, not by force.” (Horses Never Lie, Skyhorse Publishing, ©2000, p. 38.)

He proposed that it made sense to him, in working with horses, to be the kind of leader they would want to follow, rather than having to constantly force them to follow him.

That sounds great, except… language is important.

I was impressed with Rashid’s ideas, and I translated them not only to my own work with horses but to people, too: I kept thinking about my own experiences with “dominant” or “alpha” human leaders vs. leaders who lead by example. But again, language is important, and calling them “passive leaders” was a stumbling block for me. Apparently I wasn’t alone; in his new book, “Life Lessons from a Ranch Horse,” Rashid admits that created “quite a stir…After all, how can one be passive and still be a leader?

Well, Kohanov’s language and examples helped this to make more sense. If I go back and substitute “non-predatory” for “passive” all my resistance goes away.

But wait, it gets better!

VULNERABILITY AND BOUNDARIES

Kohanov went on to talk about how predatory leaders prey on their followers’ vulnerabilities, whereas non-predatory leaders protect their followers, honor boundaries and make it safe for members to be vulnerable in the group. Non-predatory leaders, she said, shield the weak, and members can show vulnerability in groups.

Here I was reminded of Brene Brown’s TED talk about vulnerability. I was also reminded of something my friend Vicki Dello Joio teaches:

“Boundaries remove barriers.”

What? I admit, the first time I heard Vicki say that it left me scratching my head. What’s the difference between a boundary and a barrier? How can a boundary remove a barrier? But what Kohanov said about vulnerability, and about boundaries, helped me to finally get it:

“When you’re setting a boundary, you’re simply claiming the space you need to feel safe and present and, as a consequence, more connected to the person you’re setting the boundary with.”

This makes it easier  – and safer – to be vulnerable as well. This is only possible in non-predatory power systems.

One more a-ha!

NURTURING AND COMPANIONSHIP

Kohanov also explained another aspect of herd behavior that caught my attention:

“There’s also another element to herd behavior that’s really important, which is acts of companionship and nurturing. They spend a large amount of time just being really quiet together, resting together, mutual grooming, grazing together, and all of those elements create this glue that begins to hold the herd together.”

This glue, this power, isn’t about fear, and it isn’t about territory. It’s about acts of companionship and nurturing.

But that’s not the a-ha.

Kohanov doesn’t claim that “dominant” leadership is always bad and that the “lead by example” leadership of “chosen” leaders is always good. Nor does she claim that successful herds are always supportive and nurturing.

As part of her research for the book, Kohanov studied various herding cultures, where humans live in close proximity with the herds they tend.

“What you find with Master Herders in traditional herding cultures is that they actually get to the point where they can use these various roles at will for specific purposes. So that a Master Herder knows when to act as Dominant, when to act as Leader, and when to act as Nurturing Companion.”

That requires consciousness or, as my friend Michael F. Broom teaches, conscious use of self. Conscious use of self isn’t only about recognizing one’s faults and getting out of one’s own way, but is about being conscious about what tools, or style, to use when.

Which brings me to something I teach (and my clients hear this a lot): We get to choose.

We get to choose not just our default mode, but we get to consciously choose which mode is right for the situation we’re in now.

A-ha.

Power is not a dirty word

Yes, there was a lot packed into that interview, so much that I had to listen to it several times. And when the pieces came together, this is what I saw:

  • It takes non-predatory power to set the boundaries that make members of a herd feel safe enough to allow themselves to be vulnerable.
  • Every member is responsible for setting and respecting boundaries; a member doesn’t have to be The Leader to set boundaries, but no member can be a (non-predatory) leader without setting boundaries.
  • Companionship and nurturing are also powerful and can bring and hold a herd (group) together.
  • There are, of course, various styles of leadership and different types of power, with different applications. No one type is ideal all of the time (our greatest strengths become our greatest weaknesses when taken to extreme). Dominance is necessary at times.
  • The real power is in knowing what type of power to employ when – and being able to do it.

Part of what was so interesting about all of this is that in almost every instance I could replace the word “herd” with “group,” “team” or “organization” – human herds. This all applies to human interactions as well as to equine interactions, and it has given me new insight into what many smart people are teaching about human interactions and leadership. (Funny how the horses keep giving me insight into other humans, and into myself. Even when we’re just talking about them.)

And whether it applies to horses and herds or to humans and organizations, Power is not a dirty word. Everything depends on the type of power that is being employed, and when.

A-ha.

The Defeat of Our Intuition


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This morning I watched John Bohannon’s TED talk, “Dance vs. powerpoint, a modest proposal.” It’s pretty fabulous. You can watch it here:

Cool, huh?

I don’t know if you caught it, but in the middle of his talk, one statement in particular caught my attention:

“This is the great pleasure of science: the defeat of our intuition through experimentation.”

I don’t know about you, but I hate it when my intuition is proved wrong. For a second, at least. And then…

That moment is a choice point. A choice between clinging to Being Right, and learning something. Exploring.

It can be really hard to let go of the security of Being Right, of that Beautiful Idea, and be willing to accept that there might be an even more beautiful idea. Or a less beautiful idea that is right.

I hate that.

And I love it.

We are Learners, as well as Teachers. Which means not only adding new knowledge, but often replacing knowledge. And it isn’t adding new knowledge that can be hard, but allowing the replacing of knowledge, allowing for the possibility of being wrong. The beauty of that is that once we (I) allow for the possibility of being wrong, we (I) allow the entry of the new idea.

Brene Brown talks about vulnerability and shame and it is those, the fear of them, that can keep us (me) from allowing the possibility of being wrong, allowing the defeat of our intuition. The desire to protect our (my) ego.

Which is where Curiosity comes in. “Hmm, what could work better?” I ask myself. “If this thing I was sure was true isn’t working, then what will work better?”

Sigh. It’s hard to know when to keep trying, and when to shift to a new approach. How long does one keep trying, applying persistence, before remembering “If you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you always got?”

Perhaps we (I) have to trust our (my) intuition.

Ha! ‘Tis a puzzlement.


OK, I was just about to hit Publish when I had another thought.

It requires both. Trusting our (my) intuition and being open to new evidence. And this is where Community is important – having people to listen to, to bounce ideas off of. Which requires vulnerability (again), being willing to let my community see me be wrong, and change.

Maybe that’s an important part of the definition of Community: The people with whom it is safe to learn, to be wrong, to grow. And to be a part of that Community, I have to offer that safe place to them, too.

Anyone feel like dancing?

Curiosity Is Like a Muscle


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Being curious sounds so easy, doesn’t it? If it is easy, why don’t more people do it? How can we foster and encourage it, both in ourselves and in others?

In my last post, I wondered about the things that keep us from practicing curiosity, from being curious: Habits. Conformity. Thinking we already know. Fear. In the end, people either continue to be curious or they give up their curiosity. They let their curiosity muscle get weak.

There is good news, though. Many, many people still practice curiosity. And even those who give up their curiosity, or keep it on a short leash, can regain it and make friends with it.

Are you afraid to be curious, to expose your curiosity? Do you make it safe for the people around you to be curious? We can choose at any time to be curious – about ourselves, about other people, about the world. We can foster that curiosity.

How?

How can I become more curious?

How can I encourage others to become more curious?

Ah, Grasshopper, I’m glad you asked that.

How can I become more curious?

Choose. Choose to wonder.

Be brave. Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable at times. Being uncomfortable is not permanent, and it is not fatal.

Listen to your inner chatter, and notice when you wonder about something. Then, follow the questions.

Be open to learning. Even experts don’t know everything, nor were they born experts. But they become – and stay – experts because they’re always learning.

Ask. Don’t just wonder; ask.

Have you ever heard someone say that the more they learned, the more questions they had? Start.

How can I encourage curiosity in others?

Be curious yourself, and be visible about it. “Be the change.”

Be open to being questioned. Don’t be offended if someone asks you a question; assume positive intent. It is as important to be open to being questioned as it is to ask questions. Make it safe, and lead by example.

Vulnerability: We must be willing to admit we don’t know.

We must create a safe place for others to ask questions, and allow them to be vulnerable, too.

Try It Out

If you are not in the habit of being curious, you can choose to try it out.

If you are in the habit of being curious, be aware that it is an easy thing to take for granted. So remember that it can be challenging for others, and try to make it safe for them to be curious as well. Set an example: Be brave, be curious, and invite others to come along.

What can you do, or do you do, to exercise your curiosity? Do you make it safe for the people around you to be curious? I’d really like to know.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mohandas (The Mahatma) Gandhi

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