I have a little book that is based on the Enneagram—a typology of nine personality types. This book has what it calls “releases” and then “affirmations” for each of the nine personalities. Here are a few that seem to hit the spot for my personality today: “I release feeling cowardly and unsure of myself; I release my self-defeating, self-punishing tendencies.” And here are a few affirmations for today: “I affirm that I find true authority within me; I affirm that I am understanding and generous to all who need me.”
When we release and affirm all that is both light and dark in our personalities, we move toward living a life of freedom and joy.
Don Riso, the author of this book says: “The beams of love we need to learn to bear come from a higher part of ourselves that sees our suffering and is able to heal it.”
I had goals for the beginning of the term for The Servant Leadership School of Greensboro. Two weeks before classes began, I was a bit frantic about the high enrollment expectations I had set up, then I stopped and asked myself what was really at stake.
I found my level of frustration was not really commensurate with the problem—as we already had enough people in each class. I noticed how I was talking to myself and realized I was trying to appease some unrealistic standard I drive myself crazy with. I was once again striving for some kind of ideal that is not reachable most of the time, and of course, this results in stress.
Notice how our unattainable standards begin and end in the way we talk to ourselves. Have you judged yourself in the last three hours—comparing yourself to some high standard?
Sometimes the most important hairpin turn we take is in our thinking!
I was walking over a footbridge in a park. In the distance I saw a little girl, perhaps five years old, with a man who was probably her father. They were sitting on the edge of an empty stage under a pavilion. Nobody else was around. I watched the girl run to the middle of the stage but constantly look back over her shoulder to see her father. Finally he turned his whole body around to face her. She began to dance. He applauded and laughed. She ran to him and jumped into his arms. They delighted in one another.
How might we do this more often with one another? Just watching, laughing, connecting and applauding with abandon?
This is where the journey of the heart takes us.
I walked into a sandwich shop. I had been there twice before and each time I stood in a long line to place my order. But, on this third time, a young girl about eleven years old stood in line in front of me with her Dad. She slowly turned her head to each wall and then up to the ceiling and then to the floor. She elbowed her Father and, without words, he opened his backpack and handed her a camera. She walked up to the wall and took a picture of one of the signs. I had not noticed it before, but it was most interesting. She took a picture of the napkin holder and again I could now see that it held a unique design.
When they reached the front of the line she ordered with confidence “The Titan on white” and took a picture of the sign with the sandwich description above the cashier’s head. She had scoped out this place and had recorded what caught her eye. She was curious, engaged and observant. She was present to the potentially boring or even irritating moment. She helped me become present as well.
I wonder: Do I help others come into the present moment by my own presence?
I had a goal and a specific way that goal would show up in my life. I kept pushing for a young adult program in our community based on ones I knew about in two other cities. Nothing was happening. In fact, I kept getting push back.
On a Tuesday afternoon, I sat down and let go. I said to the universe: “I feel called to mentor young leaders. I thought this was a good idea but I am meeting resistance all over the place. Wrong timing? I do not know. So I let go and trust that if I am to mentor young leaders that something will reveal itself.” And the next day (I kid you not) the phone rang and a woman asked me to teach a graduate course in Nonprofit Management and Leadership for the local university. This offer was not anything I could have imagined—and yet it allows me to mentor young leaders.
When we make hairpin turns, we “put out to the universe” our heart’s desire and then we wait and watch to see what happens. Mystical, effortless, this is what happens when we trust our heart’s direction in leadership and life.
When I was a little girl, I remember that my mother would stop at odd moments and then stretch her body somehow and make a sound. I always wondered what on earth she was doing. Now I think I understand. She was using her body to change her disposition.
Perhaps one of us four children just tracked in mud from outside or she just realized she did not have beans to go with the hotdogs. The stretch and the sound through her body gave her a small window to shift to a different next step.
The body, obviously always with us, provides a vehicle for us use to transform stress into a more flexible and open option. Stretch today at the onset of distress and notice how your body can take you in a new direction
For the past two years, I have devoted a substantial amount of energy to a project—and I had high hopes for this work. Nevertheless, so far, the outcome has not matched my expectation. I am, in a word, disappointed.
I sat in this place for a few weeks and noticed how this feeling darkened my heart. Then I read something that turned me around in a different direction. “When depressed (disappointed) pause and kiss the ground.” I took this to heart and kissed what is present in my life right now—where I might focus some heart-filled attention: our daughter is graduating from college in a month; my husband is considering shifting from one kind of work to another; my friend just got a diagnosis of cancer (again).
Instead of wallowing in the gap between my high (maybe overblown?) expectation of something that is not happening, I am invited to “kiss” what is actually happening in my life right now.
When we make authentic hairpin turns in our lives, often we are brought back to the amazing aliveness of this present moment. What do you do with disappointment?
About a year ago, several of us got together and wrote a grant proposal for a project we were very interested in bringing to our community. When we took some movement toward doing this work together we found resistance to any change in some unexpected places. We were very discouraged and dropped any hope for this situation. However, this small group kept meeting occasionally and kept talking about the possibility of change for that environment.
Now over one year later, a request came “out of the blue” to take another look at this proposal. We gave this person the same exact document we had thrown away one year earlier. She read it and said: “Yes—this is exactly what needs to happen!” We have a new respect for “right timing” and are grateful for this renewed interest in bringing positive change.
Sometimes we “have to wait on the Lord” (as my Grandmother use to say) and expect miracles. Hairpin turns are full of waiting, surprises and miracles—in spite of our feeble doubts.
Last week we had a visitor—from four states over—who came to our school for three days. He was looking for “best practices” and heard about some of the work we are doing through our school. Each time I took him to a class or to a nonprofit affiliated with our work, he looked at me and said: “This is extraordinary.” For example, when I took him to a nonprofit that works with homeless people in our community, the chaplain told him that we had collaborated together for over two decades on numerous projects. When we left that meeting our visitor said: “Never underestimate the spirit of collaboration.
In our community we have two separate nonprofit agencies that work with the homeless—because they cannot agree—and as a result they duplicate services and waste resources.” When he left I had a renewed sense of gratefulness for our team, our work and all that the school has contributed to this community in the past two decades.
He helped me make a shift from what I ordinarily see as “ordinary” to “extraordinary.” This seems to be the journey of gratefulness—to see with new eyes the unique gifts all around us—and to appreciate anew.
I was asked to speak to a group of moms—all of whom had young children. I asked them to tell us what question they were holding about being a parent. They said things like: “How to get my child to do his homework?” and “How can I get the siblings to play nicely with one another?”
They seemed to want strategies to “control” the situation. I told them that the most important parenting strategy was to learn to be present to their own communication and to recognize how their own communication influences everything. I told them about the time our 4th grade daughter came into a room and I said something to her. She was silent for a minute and then said quietly: “Every time I walk into a room you boss me around.” She left and I was stunned. I started to notice my communication and much to my surprise, she was correct.
I was a busy executive and my communication was all about “getting stuff done” and as quickly as possible. I started to notice when I was present to her—in the moment—and when I was checked out. Often I was not “with her” although I was physically standing right next to her. Instead I was “onto” the next activity in my mind.
My parenting took a radical hairpin turn when I vowed to be as present as possible to my child—and to eliminate as much as possible bossing her around. Letting go, listening and being present to our children is one parenting strategy that will change the life of our family.