Good morning my dear SWOG blog friends! I don't often do tributes to SWOG stars.  Maybe it's because I think all of you on this blog are STARS, and so it feels kind of funny to single anyone out.  I make this exception because this person is not only a STAR in my mind, but she kind of epitomizes the "Strong" in the Strong Women of Grace. A dear friend from the Georgetown Cohort has been through about six months of hell.  Back in the late winter she started experiencing blood sugar drops which escalated in frequency and severity right up until she was diagnosed and then operated on for an Insulinoma (tumor in the pancreas) in early June.  Fortunately, the tumor was benign but the surgery was grueling, and the recovery--well--let's just say it's not been a picnic in the park. She was in the hospital over two weeks for the surgery, discharged, and then she had to be re-admitted less than ten days later for a few days.  She's home, recovering and making her slow and steady progress back to the land of the living. This was a fight.  This was not a given.  She couldn't eat.  She couldn't sleep.  Before the surgery she was at risk of dropping into a coma and not coming out, and after the surgery she wasn't able to hold any sustenance in her.  She was on more prayer chains than I can count, and those months between March and July must have felt like years for her. She tributes her husband, family and friends for helping her through, as she has graciously said in recent weeks as her slow and steady climb out of the abyss has allowed her more interaction.  She acknowledges the journey is not complete, and she still has a ways to go to regain her strength and energy level that she was robbed of through this ordeal. The other day I stumbled on a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that so captures the spirit of this woman.  
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
  March on dear SWOG.  You are an inspiration!  We hold you in our prayers and our esteem.      
I was trying to catch up on my Richard Rohr blog posts or at least place the new sub-theme this week in context.  Rohr takes a theme for an entire year and builds it out in sub-themes that he tackles each week or every couple weeks.  This week's theme is "Connecting with Universal Meaning."  I was intrigued enough to read on. After reading his post, I decided to listen to his 8 minute video introducing the theme for the year (2017) which is "From the Bottom Up."  There were several things he said during that video that inspired me to blog.  Yes, I know it's been a while.  I did have a vacation in there to Scotland...which is where my feature picture came from for today's SWOG blog entry.  Eilean Donan Castle is my favorite spot in the Highlands of Scotland and we were fortunate to have the sun come out just before we got there. But, I digress... Back to Rohr.  So back in the late 1990's all the world was talking about "paradigm shifts."  It was becoming an overused phrase and many CEO business leaders would suffer a gag reflex when someone in their HR or OD areas would use it.  So swallow hard, because I'm about to pontificate on our own personal "paradigm shifts!" Rohr quotes the author Thomas Kuhn who popularized the phrase, and it goes like this:
A paradigm shift becomes necessary when the plausibility structure of the previous paradigm becomes so full of holes and patchwork "fixes" that a complete overhaul, which once looked utterly threatening, now appears as a lifeline.
That quote really hit me as important in the journey of life.  We all create our own stories.  We create our own paradigms as we go through life.  Our stories are written initially by early influencers like parents, relatives, teachers, coaches and those who teach us and mold us according to their stories for navigating life.  Our stories help us choose and then rationalize actions and behaviors in accordance to our story.  We practice our politics and our religion according to the story we've adopted.  We choose our friends, our mates, our homes, our jobs according to the story we've crafted for ourselves. And here's the thing that nobody tells you early on in your story creation:  The story changes.  Yes, it does.  The story changes because something usually happens to us that makes us question our neatly created and well-maintained story. And, as the author says above, "when the plausibility structure of the previous paradigm (read here: story) becomes so full of holes and patchwork 'fixes' (read here: when we can no longer fit current events into our old story)... a complete overhaul now appears as a lifeline." This seemed to be saying to me:  Grab the lifeline.  Be flexible with your story.  Stay open to a different way of looking at things--including yourself.  Stay open to a different way of being.  Stay open to listening to the cues that prompt you to a different way of relating...to yourself...to others...to your spirituality. I think this is the underpinning of vertical adult stage development.  When your way of making meaning in life is no longer working for you; when it "becomes so full of holes;" it may be time for a personal paradigm shift.  There's a quote that goes, "Change your story, change your life."  I know that can work, too.  But, sometimes your life changes first and then your story doesn't seem quite right. Is it time to update the edition of your story?  I wonder how many editions we will write until it's all said and done?  
A week or two ago, someone on the Georgetown Listserv advertised these artwork "posters" from Society6 to help remind people of some sound advice during these uncertain times.  I could not resist purchasing one.     For those that can't see the verbiage, here's what it says:

THIS IS YOUR ASSIGNMENT

Feel all the things.  Feel the hard things.  The inexplicable things. The things that make you disavow humanity's capacity for redemption.  Feel all the maddening paradoxes.  Feel overwhelmed, crazy.  Feel uncertain.  Feel angry.  Feel afraid.  Feel Powerless.  Feel Frozen.  And THEN

FOCUS

Pick up your pen.  Pick up your paint brush.  Pick up your damn chin.  Put your two calloused hands on the turntables, in the clay, on the strings.  Get behind the camera.  Look for that pinprick of LIGHT.  Look for the TRUTH (yes it is a thing--it still exists).  FOCUS on THAT LIGHT.  ENLARGE IT.  REVEAL THE FIERCE ENERGY OF NOW.  Reveal how shattered we are, how capable of being repaired.  But don't lament the break.  Nothing new would be built if things were never broken.  A wise man once said:  There's a crack in everything.  That's how the light gets in.

GET AFTER THAT LIGHT.

THIS IS YOUR ASSIGNMENT

Here's the link to the Society6 site and the FOCUS print in particular:  https://society6.com/product/focus-by-courtney-martin-and-wendy-macnaughton_print#s6-7018448p4a1v45

I think it was Deepak Chopra that said something like (and I am going from memory so I'm likely paraphrasing):

When going through a difficult time ask the questions, "What am I supposed to learn from this?  What is this here to teach me?"

It's worth pondering.  Peace and blessings.

Being a Superhero

Somehow the day after the Free Comic Book Giveaway seemed like a good time to talk about indestructibility.  We often think of superheroes like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman in those terms.  They've been through all sorts of dangerous plots and still come out the other side whole. You just know, however, that this plot--ah, I mean post--will have a twist.  So let's start with Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation, and I will endeavor to apply his guidance to our journeys through life AND indestructibility.  

Dying Into Life

The Wisdom traditions look at dying and resurrection differently than we've been taught--at least in main stream Christianity.  And, just in case you're about to tune out because I've said something that typically bores or offends you, please read on.  Several of you are dealing with "destructibility" issues right now, and all of us will deal with them at some point in time during our lives.  Rohr says:
Death is not just the death of the physical body, but all the times we hit bottom and must let go of how we thought life should be...
Now, I've got your attention.  I've experienced "hitting bottom," and I've lived beside people who have lost children unexpectedly, who have lost spouses unexpectedly, who have lost parents unexpectedly, who have experienced debilitating health issues, who have lost jobs unexpectedly, who have lost life savings unexpectedly, who have lost siblings at a young age, who have experienced divorce unexpectedly, who have watched their companies experience rapid decline, and really, the examples could go on.  The examples of how "we hit bottom" are countless and usually don't happen just once in our lives. Here is where the plot gets interesting.  Let me continue to explain by returning to the quote from Rohr:
...must let go of how we thought life should be and surrender to a Larger Power.  And in that sense, we all probably go through many deaths in our lifetime.  These deaths to the small self (ego) are tipping points, opportunities to choose transformation early.  Unfortunately, most people turn bitter and look for someone to blame.  So their death is indeed death for them, because they close down to growth and new life. But if you do choose to walk through the depths--even the depths of your own sin and mistakes--you will come out the other side, knowing you've been taken there by a Source larger than yourself.  Surely this is what it means to be saved. Being saved doesn't mean that you are any better than anyone else or will be whisked off into heaven.  It means you've allowed and accepted the mystery of transformation here and now. If we are to speak of miracles, the most miraculous thing of all is that God uses the very thing that would normally destroy you--the tragic, sorrowful, painful, or unjust--to transform and enlighten you.  Now you are indestructible; there are no dead ends....This is not a one-time cosmic transaction, but the constant pattern of all growth and change.
 

What Does This Mean To Me?

I watch all of us hang on to ways of life, ways of thinking, ways of doing that no longer serve us.  I hear people say things like, "I just want to get through this so I can get back to my normal life." What if you're not supposed to get back to your normal life.  What if you're supposed to allow the "death" you are experiencing to transform your way of being, your way of thinking, your way of behaving?  What if there's a deeper message and you're being "pursued" to open yourself to the learning it can teach.  What if your greatest living is yet to come when you listen and allow the lessons to soak in, changing your thinking, your beliefs and, therefore, your outcomes?  What if you are indestructible because you are reborn to a new way of approaching your changed life? What if...?  Maybe you really are a superhero?!?!    

Impact = Intention

  OK, SWOG Lady...what in heavens name do you mean by that heading?   Well, I'm so glad you asked!! I was sitting in a webinar about a week ago and it was on coaching people in a certain stage of development.  The instructor--a really cool SWOG herself--said that so often our impact does not equal our intention and that is a great area for examination and continued development. I love that equation.  Yes, we're human.  So, this will likely be the case more frequently than we ideally would like.  After all, there aren't many people that circle in our worlds that start out with bad intentions.  Most people don't get up in the morning and say, "How can I really mess up people's days today?"  At least, I would like to hope we all bound out of bed hoping to do more good than harm.  And, yet, there's a lot of difficult stuff happening in our world and our lives. If our intentions are good, the next question becomes, "Do our behaviors and outcomes match or equal our intentions?"  And if they do not equate, then what is getting in the way? I'm spending a lot of time on this one.  It's tricky.  Sometimes you can control your impact and sometimes you can't--after all, how a message from you gets received by the recipient depends so much on their filters at that particular time.  But, I think more often than we suspect possible, we can get our intentions and our impact more closely aligned with one another.

How you ask?

Oh, I'm so very glad you did!! First of all, I'm still working on staying curious not judgmental...so I want to say right up front...I don't have the magic answers but I'm very willing to embark upon the discussion.  Most of you have read that I'm trying to meditate regularly and I've been using Oprah and Deepak Chopra's 21-Meditation series.  I'm almost concluded with one on "Hope," and it has some clues to our question posed above.  Here are some tidbits of wisdom from the series:
  • To reach people to share the energy of HOPE, you have to do more than just listen to them, you have to SEE them.  We all want to be seen and heard.  We all want validation.  When people are validated, they know you see them, you hear them and what they're saying means something to you.  They feel like they're not alone and that they matter.  That is the deepest reality, the deepest desire we all share--is to matter.  That's the way to make HOPE real--for anyone in your world--make them matter.
  • The feeling level is all important.  Just as people detect when they are being judged, they also detect when they are accepted.  Don't try to help someone if you feel you are angry, disappointed or ashamed.  Work on yourself first.
  • Getting to a place where you accept and welcome the other person's existence, then you will create a heart-to-heart bond at the level of feeling.  This bond can work miracles because it takes down barriers of distrust, defensiveness, guilt and shame.
  • Realistically, every relationship gets tangled up in the past, making it hard to relate without judgment toward someone else.  Especially in families--there's a tendency to put people in a box--believing they will never change. But consider how much you want to escape the box you've been put in.  Everyone has that feeling because everyone wants more freedom to be themselves.
  • When you allow that yearning of freedom in someone else, you can recognize how much you feel the same way and then ego doesn't block your view.  You genuinely hope for the best in every situation no matter what happened in the past.
  • Staying in present moment awareness is simply conscious experience without the mind's analysis or conceptualization (or judgment) including thoughts and feelings about the past and the future.  In any situation, allow yourself to be present to the experience without mental analysis and interpretation.  And you will find that you naturally drop the belief that you know what is best for someone else.
When our impact doesn't equal our intentions, so often we missed the mark through our communication.  We pre-judge what someone is going to say or what they should do or what we hope they will do.  We don't meet them with open minds.  We don't stay in the present moment with a spirit of curiosity instead of pre-set expectations.  We don't meet them where they are.  Why are we having difficulty having political discussions?  We're so entrenched in our own views and biases about the "way things should be" we have difficulty listening with an open, non-judgmental mind. And think of all the labels we use to pre-judge others:  Democrats, Liberals, Republicans, Conservatives, Felons, Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Refugees, Foreigners, Working Class, College-Educated, Veterans and the list goes on and on. When you hear those labels, can't you just hear your mind beginning it's mental gymnastics and assessments?

I dare you to...!

Here's a challenge for you:  take one day and a piece of notebook paper.  Be an observer of your mind.  Note how many times you pre-judge a situation based on who you're dealing with or who you hear about through the news or conversations.  At the end of the day note how much opportunity you have for changing your impact on people and outcomes.

And when someone doesn't treat you with that same open mind as is bound to happen...well, that's where grace comes in.  :)  
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.    ~William Shakespeare
   
   

Deep Listening

Oh my.  My journey seems to be ramping up.  I just completed a women's deep listening retreat in the rural foothills of Virginia with a community of women seekers from all over the country.  Our two wonderful guides were instructors from the Georgetown community.  Here is a poem from one of the lovely ladies which she wrote during a deep listening exercise.  It made everyone shed a tear, and I just have to share it with this broader community of men and women in the SWOG world.  It is so relevant in this season of Spring and time of rebirth.  

A Season of Fierce Blooming

All beautiful women here

Loving souls, brave souls,

Steel Magnolias

We share a proud strength

As we stretch into vulnerability

Like a flower opening to the Sun

Wild flowers, passionate roses,

Sacred lilies, vibrant daffodils

And many more

The variety is sumptuous

The colors breathtaking

Across the World we go about our blooming

Yet ALL connected are we

By the same fertile ground

That feeds our souls

And encourages our unfolding

Oh, Divine Garden

HERE I AM!

(Mary Carr 4/24/17)

    Thank you dear SWOG's for your grace and kindness.    
So, I’m sorting through “life” right now–yeah, I know–I’m always sorting through life.  But, I’m trying to figure out where next career and job-wise.  Some opportunities are presenting themselves which is exciting, AND it makes it difficult for someone like me to know which way I should turn. Late last night I opened a bottle of “Honest Tea” to take a few sips before I headed off to bed.  You’ve heard me talk before about Honest Tea and the quotes they have inside their bottle caps.  So, the bottle cap is lying quote side up on my kitchen counter top, and I was bending over my counter deep in thought.  I wasn’t focused on anything; I was just zoned out thinking about some of the options I need to sort through.  Quite frankly I was feeling tired and overwhelmed. Suddenly my focus zoomed in on the cap and I moved closer to read the quote.  Here it is:  
The ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.    ~Albert Schweitzer
  Hmmmm.  I think that was timely on the universe’s part, and I still believe there is no such thing as a coincidence!
From a fellow SWOG:
Let It Go from Danna Faulds Let go of the ways you thought life would unfold: the holding of plans or dreams or expectations – Let it all go. Save your strength to swim with the tide. The choice to fight what is here before you now will only result in struggle, fear, and desperate attempts to flee from the very energy you long for. Let go. Let it all go and flow with the grace that washes through your days whether you received it gently or with all your quills raised to defend against invaders. Take this on faith; the mind may never find the explanations that it seeks, but you will move forward nonetheless. Let go, and the wave’s crest will carry you to unknown shores, beyond your wildest dreams or destinations. Let it all go and find the place of rest and peace, and certain transformation
Trust and surrender dear SWOGs.  Trust and surrender.
Here's one to think about:

THE APPOINTMENT

What if, on the first sunny day, On your way to work, a colorful bird Sweeps in front of you down a Street you’ve never heard of. You might pause and smile, A sweet beginning to your day. Or you might step into that street And realize there are many ways to work. You might sense the bird knows something You don’t and wander after. You might hesitate when the bird Turns down an alley.  For now There is a tension:  Is what the Bird knows worth being late? You might go another block or two, Thinking you can have it both ways. But soon you arrive at the edge Of all your plans. The bird circles back for you And you must decide which Appointment you were Born to keep.   ~Mark Nepo
Wow.  I just came home from a celebration of life service honoring a 42-year old man who lost a very short battle to cancer.  He was the son of one of my former bosses, and I had met him only once-- so I was mostly there in support of his parents. After this 2-hour celebration filled with stories, laughter, tears and all emotions that go along with those, I feel like I know him better and more importantly heard the valuable lessons of how he lived. Zach resided in multiple places in the United States over his relatively short life.  He grew up in Pennsylvania but spent considerable time in New York City, Philadelphia, Colorado and finally California.  He majored in an engineering discipline in college but he ended up studying the ways of Native Americans in the west.  I remember his father scratching and shaking his head multiple times over the years when I would ask how his son was doing, and he usually ended with something like, "I'm not sure if he'll ever settle down and figure out what to do."  Of course his father--a classic baby boomer--was used to the ways of choosing a career discipline and following that discipline throughout your life until retirement. Ah, but the stories today.  The free spirit; the kindness; the sense of humor; the "being present" for people in his life; the choosing warmth, openness and helpfulness over impatience and aggravation; the making everyone that entered a room--even his hospital room at the end of his life--feel welcomed and honored; the singing in the shower and the car; the laughter; the hikes; the honoring nature; the loving animals; the being present for children.  I'm not kidding.  Person after person (and there were quite a few who spoke) had the stories to back up the character that was Zach. The last gentleman who spoke was a friend from Colorado.  He told us that just before he left for the airport to make the flight across the country for the service, he made a decision to change out of his dress clothes--so sure he was that Zach was laughing at him from somewhere in the spirit world.  And, instead he put on a flannel shirt, hiking pants, and substituted a duffel bag and a cooler for his suitcase.  He spoke of Zach the way everyone else had but somehow he captured the spirit of Zach in this last quote--from Tecumseh, a Shawnee leader from the 18th and 19th centuries:
Live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.  Trouble no one about his religion.  Respect others in their views and demand that they respect yours.  Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.  Seek to make your life long and of service to your people.  Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.  Always give a word or sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, or even a stranger, if in a lonely place.  Show respect to all people, but grovel to none.  When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength.  Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living.  If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.  Touch not the poisonous firewater that makes wise ones turn to fools and robs their spirit of its vision.  When your turn comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.  Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.
Zach was an accomplished photographer and he had his own blog where he clearly demonstrated his talent and love for nature.  You can access his blog here:  https://feralzach.com/tag/zachary-e-dautrich/ Many of you know I've been aware of red tail hawks flying close above me on numerous occasions in the last year.  Well, Zach loved red tail hawks and has numerous gorgeous shots of them on his blog.  On the way out of the service today, we were handed a post card with one of Zach's red tail hawk photos on one side and the Tecumseh quote on the other.  Wow.  There are messages here for me to learn. Finally, I will send a note to Zach's parents to thank them for the service and for Zach.  I think his father, in particular, now has his answer about Zach's calling.  It wasn't so much about what Zach was "doing" that mattered...it was what he was "being" that brought so much joy, respect, laughter and peace to so many people who filled that room today. Rest well dear SMOG.