All the Other Selves

I really like this quote:

“The original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out all the other selves, which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather”

 Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets

I like the way that it makes me uncomfortably aware of my internal conflict. On one hand I feel the shame of knowing that he’s right. I peruse the catalog of all of the other selves I have lived and it’s got more pages than I can count!

On the other hand, I read it with feelings of thankfulness and even a sense of freedom. I consider the work I have done to both recognize and reattach to my original shimmering self and I am proud of how it has allowed me to discard a bunch of old coats and hats!

My thankfulness comes from the appreciation I feel for the many kind and patient people who have both insisted on and supported the reemergence of my original self. These are the people who remain in this conversation with me, unwilling to put me in the box marked “Done” and unwilling to allow me to do so either.

I continue to clean out my closet and I continue to discover old coats and hats, fewer than before but still some remain.

Packing them away for good is the work of a life.


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Some good, hard questions

Do I insist on action when more reflection is needed?

Do I got lost in reflection when I need to get moving?

Do I default to the comfort of my competence when the discomfort of connection is what the moment requires?

Do I tend to think my way into a new way of feeling or feel my way into a new way of thinking?

Am I living from the outside in or from the inside out?

Am I spending more energy on fitting in when I should be standing out? Or on standing out when I should be fitting in?

Do I stubbornly remain at my desk when my body is asking me to get up, to move, to walk, to breathe, to play?


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Living a Redwood Life

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy
is in the eyes of others only
a green thing which stands in the way…
As a man is, so he sees.”

{William Blake}


Last year at this time, with the semester drawing to a close, I decided to share with my students some images from a recent trip to the Humboldt Redwood State Park here in California.

I wanted to share my childlike enthusiasm for these magnificent trees. I wanted to inspire them to seek out wonder and awe in their lives.  I wanted them to remember that in the field of “management” (which is what the course tells us we are studying) we do well to remember that organizational life is first and always a human endeavor.

I wanted them to believe my admonition that a profound sense of awe and wonder – an appreciation for the spectacular miracle that is any living and learning system – is essential if we are to appropriately honor the very real human beings present in our workplaces, responsive to our decisions, trusting of our intentions.

I then took it a step further. I encouraged, even challenged them to choose to be redwoods in their own communities. I suggested that such a choice comes with great risk because a redwood outside of a redwood forest would be seen as a peculiar, if fascinating anomaly. I then suggested that living a “redwood life,” conspicuous though it might be, might just inspire others to do the same, and that we might just create an entire forest of people fulfilling their potential for growth and impact. In fact, it would be the only way for them to survive.

Redwoods are shallow rooted, a shocking realization given their massive size. Instead of deep roots to support them they use their upper limbs to make contact with their neighbors and together form a dense network of mutual well-being.

Stand tall, reach out, help one another. Live a life of wonder and awe at the gifts of living and learning.


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Chinese Foot Chart

{Kay Ryan}

Each part of us
alerts another part.
Press a spot in
the tender arch and
feel the scalp
twitch. We are no
match for ourselves
but our own release.
Each touch
unlatches some
remote lock. Look,
boats of mercy
embark from
our heart at the
oddest knock.


“America Windows” (detail), Marc Chagall – The Art Institute of Chicago

Feeling Words

I was reminded the other day of just how easily my default responses flow from my highly developed rational self (left brain) rather than from my more vulnerable, less practiced emotional self (right brain).

I seek concrete explanations and action steps – my need to know how and why and to know it right now! – because they are easier to process than the abstractions of feeling that are implicit in every interaction.

As a result, my emotional vocabulary is far less developed than my logical one.

Fine, good, alright and No, I’m just tired are safe, easy substitutes for what’s really going on with us most of the time. They are shortcuts that rob us of a deeper understanding that is required for any relationship to be sustained and to grow.

Fresh off of this insight I decided to see what I could find online about “feeling words” and found this very helpful resource.

I’m going to print a few copies and keep them close by so that I am better equipped to both offer and inquire about a more thoughtful understanding of the feelings present at any given time.

I’m guessing that’s going to make my conversations a little bit scary and weird for awhile. I’m also guessing that, with practice, it will make them better, more meaningful and more fulfilling.

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The Emotionally Intelligent Person

Today I add another entry to the long list of “things I wish I had written” with this excerpt on emotional intelligence by author and philosopher, Alain de Botton. I have not read the book from which this passage comes but I have read most of his other works and I will be adding this to the library soon. If it is as good as I suspect it will be, I may have no choice but to buy a bunch of copies for colleagues, family and friends.
There is a lot of competition these days for the title of “most important thing we should focus on.” These are the big, scary things like climate change, political reform, education, healthcare…the list is all too familiar. I am confident in making the argument – more confident now, bolstered by Mr. Botton’s words – that none of these, none of them, will ever be effectively addressed if we do not have a seismic shift in our shared ability to practice emotional intelligence.

Please read on and be sure to visit the links below.


“Much anxiety surrounds the question of how good the next generation will be at math; very little around their abilities at marriage or kindness….

The emotionally intelligent person knows that love is a skill, not a feeling, and will require trust, vulnerability, generosity, humor, sexual understanding, and selective resignation.

The emotionally intelligent person awards themselves the time to determine what gives their working life meaning and has the confidence and tenacity to try to find an accommodation between their inner priorities and the demands of the world.

The emotionally intelligent person knows how to hope and be grateful, while remaining steadfast before the essentially tragic structure of existence.

The emotionally intelligent person knows that they will only ever be mentally healthy in a few areas and at certain moments, but is committed to fathoming their inadequacies and warning others of them in good time, with apology and charm… There are few catastrophes, in our own lives or in those of nations, that do not ultimately have their origins in emotional ignorance.”

– Alain de Botton, from The School of Life: An Emotional Education, as featured in Maria Popova’s wonderful weekly offering, Brainpickings.


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Welcome

To welcome something is to say “yes” to it. It is to encourage its existence and to join with it in a positive spirit of participation.

I choose this word as a companion to accompany me during these final celebratory and transitional weeks of this year. I think of it as a guidepost to which I can turn when preparing final grades, or decorating the house, or assisting in the wide variety of chores that will present themselves in the coming days.

I welcome the opportunity to read my student’s papers so that I can thoughtfully evaluate their work.

I welcome the opportunity to help prepare the meals that will serve as a centerpiece for our family’s celebrations.

I welcome the request to unpack the decorations and to work together to make our home an outward reflection of our inward beliefs.

I welcome the opportunity to offer to help when that offer is unexpected.

I welcome the opportunity to respond with ‘yes’ when the request I have received is unexpected.

I welcome the opportunity to create moments of connection in the busyness; periods of reflection in the push to get it all done.

I welcome the chance to live into the simple, meaningful lessons of this season of giving; to receive what comes in the spirit of friendship; to start with “yes.”


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Keep it Simple

The older I get the more I discover that my earliest educational milestones are more beneficial than my professional training.

I think it has something to do with the fact that in college, and certainly in graduate school and other certification coursework, the focus gets both narrow and esoteric. It leaves behind the pedestrian qualities of our basic humanness, perhaps based on the assumption that we’ve already got that down, which, of course, in so many cases we clearly have not!

I’m talking about sharing, waiting my turn, giving my best effort, helping a friend, saying ‘thank you’, not interrupting, asking for help, and so on.

When Robert Fulghum wrote that all we really need to know we learned in kindergarten, he was speaking about a set of generalized values and behaviors that truly are the grease in the gears of society.

What exactly each gear is for and how exactly each gear functions is the domain of competent specialists and that remains important work. That said, it is the manner in which those gears intersect – the smoothness of their interactions – that makes the difference in how we feel, which makes the difference in how we live.


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Ask for Help

When my daughter was in grade school, she had a tough time raising her hand in class to ask for help. She felt insecure about being exposed as “not knowing” and as a result didn’t get the support she needed when she needed it.

Once her teacher picked up on this pattern she suggested a strategy to help my daughter get more comfortable with the vulnerability required to ask for help. She gave her a rock to place on the corner of her desk, one side of which was painted green and the other of which was painted red.

When our daughter needed help with something, she would turn the rock to the red side, showing the teacher that she had come to a stop and needed help to get moving again. This allowed the teacher to quietly engage with her about the content and get her back on track.

The simple strategy of a painted rock gave our daughter a way to normalize her vulnerability and helped her learn that “not knowing” is precisely the “problem” that school exists to solve.

Sometimes, when I bump up against my own incompetence and the stubbornness that accompanies it, it would be a big help to have that rock handy.

I wonder if you would like one, too?


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