Tag Archives | Wonder

Take Life by the Lapels and Shake It


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November 3, 2010. Today my late husband, Robert (the) Bruce MacRury, would have been 62. This is his fifth birthday since his death on June 14, 2005.

This birthday is a lot different from the first birthday. One of the things any widow(er) can tell you is that the first of anything is hard. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Holidays. Weddings, baptisms, funerals. The first car accident. The first time you have to figure out how to turn on the sprinklers. The first date. Some of those you see coming, some you don’t. But it’s still the first time you have to go through it without him. (Or her.)

One of the things I learned pretty quickly is that the anticipation is usually worse than the actual event. After dreading the event for days (or weeks) in advance, it was almost anticlimactic once it arrived. But perhaps that is because I also learned to be gentle with myself on those days. Although there was little planning I was able to do in those early days when all I could do was take each day one at a time, I did plan what I was going to do on those days. Even if it was only to plan to do nothing, or to play it by ear.

On Bruce’s first birthday after his death, I took the day off from work and went to a local park with a big lake. Bruce loved lakes and lake life, and if we didn’t live near a lake we would always find one near us and go hang out there whenever we could. So I honored the day by keeping some traditions, such as getting the first carton of eggnog of the season and a cranberry-orange muffin, and I went to the lake.

As I drove into the park, fairly early in the morning, the woman in the gatehouse asked if I was there to go fishing. “No,” I told her, “It’s my late husband’s birthday so I’m here to have a talk with him.” And she said, “Cool. Tell him I said Hi.” So I did.

I sat on the dock and drank eggnog and ate half the muffin and threw the other half in the water, along with a rose. I just sat and enjoyed the quietness of the lake, and talked to Bruce, and missed him. Then I made a little spirit bundle of autumn leaves and feathers, and went home.

The next year, when I was no longer living so one-day-at-a-time and was able to plan a little further in advance, I went to Yosemite for four days. By myself. We had been to Yosemite twice together, and it was a special place. This was also a special trip, symbolic in that it was my first trip by myself.

Every year it gets easier, although it is never Easy. I still miss him. He was smart, and courageous, and funny. He could always make me laugh. (When I showed the slide show for his memorial service to the minister who was to lead it, she said, “He was goofy, wasn’t he?” Yes, he was.) He was always up for an adventure. He watched cartoons on Saturday mornings. He would go out of his way to help people, and he was a teacher and mentor. He was my favorite person. And he believed in me.

I was talking to two girlfriends a couple of years ago, and I made the comment that I was very lucky. “You’re still lucky,” one of them said. She’s right.

It does get easier. It is a process. The third year I went back to the lake with a friend, and I can’t remember what I did last year (which says something). This year there was very little anticipation, and I am writing this post.

It does get easier. It is a process. I have reconnected with the wonder and sense of adventure that was part of our lives before. It’s part of what helped me commit to being here once I started to come up for air. I have learned not to drive myself crazy with guilt and what-ifs. I have learned not to ask, “Would I do this if Bruce were here?” He’s not here, so that question doesn’t have a place here either. I do sometimes ask, “What would Bruce say?” and that’s another question entirely.

I look at life differently now. I appreciate it more. I live it more. Not by going skydiving; I notice it more. I choose it more. And sometimes I have to grab it by the lapels and give it a good shake. I was thinking about that image last night, and how it’s not exactly a very Zen image. And yet it is a completely Zen, in-the-moment-right-now thing to do.

I have fallen in love twice since Bruce died. Neither relationship turned out the way I had hoped, but we are still friends. Those relationships do not diminish what I had with Bruce, nor does what I had with him diminish other relationships. I am writing, and singing, and taking photographs, and starting my own business. I am living a life I could not envision in the first months after he died. Life is good, even when it’s hard.

It is really too bad that it takes something significant like this to wake a person up, to make a person choose life. Maybe it doesn’t have to; maybe I can help with that. You can live. You can choose.

Yes, I look at life differently now. And I’m ok. I think Bruce would be happy to know that. And he’d be proud.

Happy Birthday, Bruce.

What Skydiving Taught Me About Curiosity


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It was one of the scariest moments of my life, when the person ahead of me on the airplane went to the door – and jumped.

And then it was my turn.

Believe it or not, I didn’t go skydiving for the adrenaline rush. But a friend of mine had been talking about it, and talking about it, and talking about it, until I finally asked, “WHAT is so fascinating about skydiving?”

And he answered, “It’s so peaceful.

*Puzzled look.*

Well, then I was curious. And I had to go.

So I jumped with two instructors at 15,000 feet. Now, Mt. Rainier is only fourteen thousand and something feet high. We jumped at 15,000 feet.

Nobody told me how NOISY it would be in freefall! Imagine being in a car with the windows open going 120 miles an hour. Only there’s no car.

But once the parachute opened – that beautiful parachute – everything got quiet. And it was peaceful. It was my favorite time of day, too – sunset. It was beautiful.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it hasn’t killed me. I learned that day that if I allow myself to follow my curiosity, I often get an unexpected bonus. In this case, the bonus was this: Now when I have to do something scary, I can say, “Pffft. I can do that – I’ve jumped out of an airplane!”

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber

What unexpected treasures have you discovered by being curious?

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

What Gets in the Way of Being Curious?


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I recently spent five days with more than one hundred fascinating people at the Become an Inspiring Speaker workshop. (And it was fabulous!) In one of the first exercises, we paired up to talk about our focus and our reasons for being there. I paired up with Ross Barrable, an acoustic sculptor and builder of wind harps. (How can you not be curious about that?)

I told Ross about my interest in wonder and curiosity as catalysts for creativity, innovation, learning, and compassion. His eyes lit up, and he asked me, “Why are people curious?” I suggested that a better question is, “What keeps people from being curious?”

We are hard-wired to be curious. Children are naturally curious, and grown-ups can be, too. In fact, the human brain rewards curiosity by emitting an opium-like chemical when a new concept is grasped.

Being curious is easy – as easy as falling off a log, as they say. Or is it? Some people lose their sense of curiosity. (Is it a sense? Is it a muscle? Hmmm.) Why?

If being curious is so easy, why don’t more people let themselves be curious? I think there are several reasons.

One reason is that well-meaning adults train children out of it. Children get scared, and we want to protect them. We want to look smart. And we get tired of all those questions. So we tell them what we know, or we tell them what we think we know, or we tell them to stop asking so many questions. Maybe curiosity gets squashed as people leave childhood and it is easier to conform than to keep being told to stop asking so many questions.

Another reason is just Habit: It’s easy to get comfortable, even lazy.

Another, more insidious reason is that we think we know the truth; for example, we think we know about people who are different from us. So we don’t inquire.

I think the main reason is Fear.

But I think the main reason is Fear.

By asking questions, I run the risk of:

Looking dumb.

Looking nosey.

Looking bigoted.

Looking disrespectful.

Looking defiant.

When we ask questions, we run the risk of being ridiculed for asking “stupid questions.” We also run the risk of getting new information that might force us to change the way we think. That can be uncomfortable.

Nobody wants to be forced to do anything, especially to change. I once read a quote attributed to Rosabeth Moss Kanter that said, “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed.” I think that is true.

So, why don’t we ask questions?

It’s easier not to ask questions; it’s easier to go along.

We think we know something.

We’re afraid to admit we don’t know something.

We’re afraid of looking dumb.

We’re afraid of changing our minds.

We’re afraid that if we allow one part of our worldview to change, the whole thing will unravel, and that feels like chaos.

Fear.

Being curious takes courage. I submit not only that courage is like a muscle, but curiosity is like a muscle, too. Like any muscle, the more you exercise it, the easier it becomes and the more fun you can have with it.

One more thought:

I submit that it takes more courage to admit that I don’t know or I am wrong than to get to know someone else.

I’ll say that again, a different way: It takes less courage to get to know someone who is different from myself than it does to admit I might be wrong, or that I don’t know. Once I am willing to admit that I don’t know something, asking the questions is easy by comparison. Even fun.

So, are you curious? If not, are you willing to wonder why? What keeps you from being curious?

Wondering How to Counteract Racism/Ageism/Sexism in Hiring?


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I was recently asked to write an essay on this subject, and I subsequently expanded on it and submitted it as a Guest Post to Michael F. Broom’s blog at The Center for Human Systems. I’m THRILLED to announce that it was accepted, so I’d be very pleased if you would click here to visit his site and read the essay. Then, please leave a comment and tell me what you think, whether you agree or disagree or have additional thoughts.

While you’re there, look around. The Center for Human Systems offers a variety of online and in-person programs, including the Triple Impact Practitioners Program from which I recently graduated. Originally developed for organization development professionals, the articles, blog and courses actually apply to anyone who desires to be more conscious in their dealings with others, including leaders at all levels and in all industries.

Stay tuned for more posts here on the subject of wonder and curiosity, featuring inspiration from cats, birds, spiders, yard sales, and Bobby Fischer! There’s some great stuff coming!

How Curiosity Can Help You Save the World


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The other morning I was watching Quest (a local science show on KQED), and one of the stories was about researchers who study the sun. And my mind went off on a tangent about astronomy, which has always fascinated me, and about the researchers – why are they curious about the sun and not about something else?

Which got me thinking about curiosity. This is a theme that has been popping up a lot for me lately.

I am curious about curiosity. The more I think about curiosity, the more I realize it is connected to many things:

Differences

Although we humans have much in common, we are also very different from one another. What is it that enables us to learn from those from whom we are different, rather than demonize them?

Curiosity.

Creativity

Creativity and innovation are buzzwords of this era, and they are touted as the crucial factors in the strength of enterprises and economies. But what drives them?

Curiosity.

Powerful Questions

The ability to ask questions is an important one. Not just any old questions, but good questions. Powerful questions. What is it that makes the difference between powerful questions and questions of defiance?

Curiosity.

Compassion

Compassion, the ability to feel someone else’s pain, is more correctly defined as the ability to feel something with someone else. (Com + passion = with + feel.) We can instinctively feel with those with whom we share similarities, but we are different from most others as well. How can we feel with people from whom we are different? What makes that possible?

Curiosity.

So, Yes. Curiosity can help you – and me – save the world. I wonder… What role does curiosity play in your life? Do you consider yourself to be curious? To what extent is curiosity part of the environment in which you work? Is it allowed and encouraged? Or is it discouraged and stifled?

What Do I Do? I’m Glad You Asked That…


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This post comes to you in response to a challenge from blogger and IttyBiz marketing guru, Naomi Dunford. (You haven’t lived until you’ve listened to her read Dr. Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go.)

In her most recent blog post (which you can read here), Naomi challenged readers to answer a very scary question: What do you actually do? Although I do try to answer that on my About and Services tabs, here it is with a slightly different twist – with the questions provided by Naomi:

What’s your game? What do you do?

I wonder. No, really, not about what I do. That is what I do. I notice how things work, how people think and act, and how human systems work (or don’t work). I ask questions that make people think.

That’s a practice that could be extremely irritating if not used wisely. But I ask questions that give people ideas. And I create a safe space for them to answer those questions.

I apply that in a variety of ways:

  • I rock at facilitating group discussions and meetings, especially when it involves getting people’s creative juices flowing.
  • I write and analyze surveys, drive strategy planning projects, develop and present training, and provide individual and group coaching.
  • I write about these and other things that make me wonder and that I hope will inspire you.
  • Oh, and I’m a photographer on the side.

Why do you do it? Do you love it, or do you just have one of those creepy knacks?

I do it for a lot of reasons. I do love it; I’m naturally curious about – even fascinated by – people, nature, why things are the way they are. I want to share that wonder, and I believe it can open many doors.

And I do have a knack for usually asking the right question.

Who are your customers? What kind of people would need or want what you offer?

Maybe I have a big head, but I think everybody needs what I offer.

Have you ever thought,

  • “Now what do I do?”
  • “I should get this, but it just isn’t coming.”
  • “It’s right on the tip of my tongue…”
  • “I wish I had someone to bounce this off of…”
  • “I’m pretty sure I know what they think, but maybe I should check. How do I ask?”
  • “I’m stuck,” “I’m trapped,” “I’m bored,” “I’m in a rut,” or…

Then I can help.

If you need someone to…

  • Come in and ask the questions that need to be asked, or
  • Help you to formulate the questions that will help you get useful answers, or
  • Maybe you want to have a team event that you can participate in without having to lead it…

Then I’m the one you want.

What’s your marketing USP (Unique Selling Proposition)? Why should I buy from you instead of the other losers?

Because…

  • I ask great questions that give people ideas.
  • I will tell you the truth.
  • I’ve been around, and survived a few things, and I know you can too.
  • I have a lot of tools in my toolkit, not just a hammer.
  • People say my meetings are fun.
  • I know the difference between being a Consultant and an Insultant.

What’s next for you? What’s the Big Plan?

In addition to helping more and more people build their curiosity muscles,

  • I’m developing a series of workshops on Asking Powerful Questions in both personal relations and business interactions.
  • I’m updating my ebook, “Remember to Look Up: 35 Tips for Making a Comeback.” The new version will include exercises to help you with some of the tips, and it will be ready by the end of November.

So there you have it. If any of this appeals to you and you’d like to talk to me about helping YOU out, click here. Or give me a call at (925) 580-6922. (I’m on Pacific Time.) You may also leave a comment if you have something to say but aren’t ready for us to work together.

I can’t wait to hear from you!

Bird Brains -or- How Do Birds (and People) Learn?


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My office looks out upon a patio garden that is twice as large as this room, and I spend a good deal of time here working – and contemplating the garden. The patio is enclosed by a six-foot privacy fence and shaded by a heritage Valley Oak. Over the years I have transformed (or more accurately, continually transform) it from an ivy-ridden rectangle filled with oak leaves and acorns to a miniature secret garden and wildlife sanctuary.

Two of my favorite features (which also drive me crazy) are a fountain and a bird feeder. The fountain I built several years ago from a large ceramic pot, and the bird feeder (and a separate hummingbird feeder) hang from a nearby post.

The fountain is a favorite with the birds, but it occasionally stymies them. The goldfinches were the first to figure out how to use it as a water source, landing on the spout and having a drink. The current spout also provides a spot where they can stand in the running water and cool their heels, which they often do in the summertime.

For more than a year I watched other small birds watch the goldfinches but never make the leap to perching on and drinking from the spout themselves. It wasn’t until last Spring that I saw various house finches and chickadees making the same use of it.

This morning a house finch visited who is apparently new to the neighborhood. A female (or juvenile) who may just be finishing molting, she has little tufts on her head that mimic a horned owl, giving her a slightly disheveled look. She landed on the edge of the fountain and spent a good part of the morning looking longingly at the stream of water coming from the spout. She hopped about on the edge, eyeing the stream, peering down at the water in the bowl, and flinching as water droplets would bounce up at her. She made numerous attempts to lean forward to drink from the bowl, but it was a big stretch and she often had trouble keeping her balance.

How Do Birds Learn?

Meanwhile, a male house finch, glorious with his red head and back, swooped down from the bird feeder, landed on the spout, and had a good long drink. Tufts watched him with her head cocked, and even hopped up and fluttered in the air while she watched. The male flew back to the bird feeder, but Tufts remained on the edge of the fountain, eyed the spout, and then continued reaching down for a drink. A few minutes later, the male came back for another drink. He clearly said something to her and looked at her while he drank. Tufts again watched him intently but again, after he flew away, she returned to stretching down, almost beyond her reach, to drink from the bowl.

How many times, I wondered, would she have to watch him before making the attempt herself? Just then, Tufts leapt off of the edge and into the bowl – and into the water. Much to her apparent surprise, she got rather wet. She flew up to the fence and shook herself off, and I swear I could see her frowning in contemplation. She hopped over to the bird feeder and munched for a few minutes, then flew back to the edge of the fountain – and hopped down into the water again. This time she hopped back up onto the edge, preened, stretched, and looked quite satisfied with herself.

Was her initial hop into the water an attempt to get at drink? Was it an unsuccessful attempt to land on the spout, or was it an end run? Was it her intention to take a bath, or was that just a serendipitous outcome? I’ve been sitting here for about two hours, and I haven’t yet seen her land on the spout. I have only watched her observing another bird drinking from the spout two times; how many times will she have to see it before she is willing to try it?

Maybe she will decide that the method favored by most other birds just isn’t for her. Maybe she thinks she is a much larger bird. (I have watched robins and blue jays drink from the edge of the fountain, but for them reaching the water is not such a stretch.) I have also seen other birds – hummingbirds and goldfinches – fly into the stream of water to get a bath. But I have never before watched a bird intentionally dunk itself in the water for a bath. Does she just not get it? Or is she afraid to try something new?

How Do People Learn?

How many times do we have to see someone do something before we work up the confidence to try it ourselves? How often do we fail at the attempt – or try an alternative – and end up accomplishing something entirely unexpected? And, how often does someone who has accomplished an act consciously demonstrate it for others, encouraging them to give it a try? How many times will they be willing to demonstrate until the student works up the courage to try – or courageously fails until finally succeeds? Certainly, being willing to live at the edge of chaos makes a difference.

* * *

Meanwhile, I am watching a goldfinch pull bits of cotton wool for nesting materials from the erstwhile suet feeder. She pulls and pulls and pulls, until she has a beakful that is nearly too large for her to take away. “Silly bird,” I thought, “why don’t you just make multiple trips?” Then I had to laugh at myself, thinking of all the times I have tried to carry more bags of groceries than I should, simply because I didn’t want to make multiple trips from the car to the house and I was fixated on what seemed to be the simplest solution.

In some ways, we’re not so different from the birds.

How Do Our Expectations Shape Our Reality?


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This morning I got up to the sound of rain falling. This made me glad, as my plants need watering.

But when I opened the drapes and looked outside, the streets were dry. What?

The wind was blowing strongly, though, and tree branches were waving and dancing in the wind. It is Spring, and the trees have only recently leafed out. I realized that the sound the leaves make in the wind is very different from the sound bare branches make in the wind.

The weather reports had predicted rain, so I expected it. And I misinterpreted what my senses told me because of my expectations.

I wonder: How often do we misinterpret data, whether provided by our senses or by numbers and reports, because of what we expect? How often do our expectations shape our reality?

If I believe that all sales people are solely motivated by money, then I will only create programs that generate behaviors that reinforce my belief. If I believe that people of a certain skin color or ethnic background behave in a certain way, then I will only notice those examples that fit in with my beliefs and use them to reinforce and serve as demonstrations of my beliefs – even if those examples are really only a small minority.

It isn’t until the curtains are opened and it is proven to me that the streets are actually dry that I realize it really isn’t raining.

Sometimes what we think is sound and current data (the sound of rain falling) really is sound and current data about something else (the sound of wind in the trees). How can we effectively interpret the data we are receiving?

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