Friday, December 21, 2007

How To Call A Christmas Truce and Stop The War Within

I have another powerful story to share and this time it is a true historical account from World War I. The story serves as a wonderful reminder that we all have the ability to call a truce and enjoy a moment of peace. This is a great way to bring closure to the past year and create space and energy for expanded possibilities in the new year. In my case, I will make the effort to call a truce between my heart and my head and cultivate peace within.

Part I: True Historical Account of the Christmas Truce
(paraphrased from

You are standing up to your knees in the slime of a waterlogged trench. It is the evening of 24 December 1914 and you are on the dreaded Western Front.

All is quiet when jovial voices call out from both friendly and enemy trenches. Then the men from both sides start singing carols and songs. Next come requests not to fire, and soon the unthinkable happens: you start to see the shadowy shapes of soldiers gathering together in no-man's land laughing, joking and sharing gifts.

Plucking up your courage, you haul yourself up and out of the trench and walk towards the foe...

The meeting of enemies as friends in no-man's land was experienced by hundreds, if not thousands, of men on the Western Front during Christmas 1914. Today, 93 years after it occurred, the event is seen as a shining episode of sanity from among the bloody chapters of World War One - a spontaneous effort by the lower ranks to create a peace that could have blossomed were it not for the interference of generals and politicians.

Part II: At War With Ourselves

We are all at war with something or someone, and almost all of us are at war with ourselves.

I often experience a war happening inside myself between my heart and my head. My heart is moved in one direction but my head is entrenched on the Western Front. My head fires its big guns, telling me,

"It isn't possible. You might end up looking like a
fool. You might fail. And then people won't think
that you are good/cool/successful."

My heart retreats. It moves back into the trench, frightened by the sound of the guns, still yearning to be free. I remain frustrated and restless as long as the war wages on.

Ultimately, I know that I have the power to stop the fighting and that it is up to me to call a truce. And so I will.

Part III: How To Call A Truce

This year I intend to have a Christmas truce. I intend to facilitate a conversation between my heart and my head in the hope that these two important parts of myself can find a bit of common ground. I intend to relieve my head from the burden of always shooting everything down and I intend to let my heart go exploring.

Maybe it will only last one day. Maybe it will last longer. Either way, I know that my heart and my head will enjoy a taste of peace this Christmas. Who knows, it might blossom...

I encourage you to look at the battles you have been fighting, especially those raging on within yourself beneath the "I've got everything under control" surface. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How am I fighting against myself?
  • Where do I feel this battle happening inside me?
  • What effect does this war have on me and my life?
  • What would be possible if I wasn't fighting?

Invite the two apparent enemies to have a conversation. Ask each of them:

  • What are you fighting for?
  • What do you want?
  • What are you afraid of?
  • How can you help each other?

Finally, ask yourself, "What can I do to make peace in 2008?"

Expect it to work and keep practicing.

Part IV: Dalai Lama Quote on Peace

"We cannot achieve world peace without first achieving peace within ourselves - Inner Peace. In an atmosphere of hatred, anger, competition, and violence, no lasting peace can be achieved. These negative and destructive forces must be overcome by compassion, love, and altruism."

- His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Wisdom from a Fishing Village in Mexico

A friend recently told me this wonderful story and I am excited to share it with all of you. I hope you enjoy the story and my words about gratitude that follow.

In this blog...
Part I: The Story
Part II. It Is Possible Wherever You Are, Right Where You Are
Part III. How to Feel More Grateful

Part I: The Story

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

"Not very long," answered the Mexican.

"But then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the American.

The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. I have a full life."

The American interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat."

"And after that?" asked the Mexican.

"With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise."

"How long would that take?" asked the Mexican.

"Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years," replied the American.

"And after that?"

"Afterwards? Well my friend, that's when it gets really interesting," answered the American, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make millions!"

"Millions? Really? And after that?" asked the Mexican.

"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends."

Part II. It Is Possible Wherever You Are, Right Where You Are

Thanksgiving seems to be one of the few days where the average American slows down enough to be present with the joy in their life. Like the consultant in the story, we are so often focused on creating, accomplishing, and moving forward that we often fail to appreciate what we do have. I'm not saying that we should all just hang out and go fishing but what I want to bring attention to is the idea that both are possible - and not just on Thanksgiving Day.

So what is it about Thanksgiving Day that makes it easier for people to get in touch with the joy in their lives and appreciate what they already have? The practice of being grateful. Gratitude is a lens through which anyone can see and experience joy in the moment - wherever they are, right where they are. To be grateful is to be present. Gratitude takes us out of our heads and into the present experience of joy.

Sometimes it's easy to be grateful and sometimes it takes admittedly more effort. But even in the most painful and challenging times we always have a choice. We can choose to be grateful for what we have or we can focus on what we don't have. The following story illustrates the ability that we all have to choose to be grateful in the most extenuating circumstances.

Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi born woman, activist and social entrepreneur, tells a story of a refugee who she met in Africa. The refugee told Zainab about being raped, witnessing the murder of her many children, and walking for 14 years without ever being able to sleep in the same place for more than 5 nights. Zainab asked her what she was grateful for and the African woman responded, "I am grateful for the toenails on my feet that have regrown after 14 years on the road."

Part III. How to Feel More Grateful

What are you grateful for? Take a few minutes, even just one minute, to write down what you are grateful for. Give it a try (and I will too) and check in with yourself after a few minutes. You may find that you need more than a minute or two once you get going. When you are finished, ask yourself, "What feels different?"

I often recommend that my life coaching clients keep a gratitude journal. I have done this myself and I found it to be a powerful way to connect to things in my life that bring me joy, cultivate presence, and feel happier in general. It can be especially valuable in challenging times. Keeping a gratitude journal is the daily (or weekly) practice of taking a few minutes to connect to what you are grateful for and write it all down in a journal. If you start this practice please send me an email in a few weeks and share your experience.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Of Course You're Scared

I went on my first solo backpacking trip this summer into the High Sierras. I spent four days and three nights at 8,000ft with myself, the wilderness, and the fears that I brought with me. It was a meaningful trip on many levels and an excellent education on the subject of fear.

It baffles me that we spend decades learning everything about nothing but learn nothing about our most basic human experiences. This newsletter is an insufficient attempt at investigating our relationship to fear. It's a start, but the only real education is possible from each of us consciously experiencing our fears.

Note: I want to distinguish that the focus of this newsletter is on psychologically generated fears that hold us back, not the intuitive/animalistic fear of impending danger that preserves our survival.

Our Relationship To Fear

Fear is a survival mechanism. It is meant to keep us safe. If we never listened to our fears, we would take unwise risks, put ourselves in danger, and sooner than later our lives would be over. The problem is that it is often hard to convince ourselves that something fear inducing, such as public speaking, isn't necessarily dangerous. As a result, many of our fears end up holding us back.

As humans, we have the capacity to learn to fear something and to learn to manage our fears. It may seem obvious but people are terribly afraid of fear. Yes, it is scary and uncomfortable to be afraid but it doesn't have to be something that we can't be with. We can learn to develop a new relationship to fear.

It's Not All Bad

Normally, we see and experience fear as something bad or wrong yet fear can actually be a good thing. Fear indicates that we have an opportunity to enrich our lives by expanding the boundaries that are holding us back. It is the doorway to freedom and that which is most important to us. In fact, fear tends to surface when we are pursuing the things that are most important to us: self-expression, love, freedom, and realizing our dreams. Confronting and experiencing our fears gives way to incredible personal growth and the fulfillment of our deepest desires. When we lean into our fears and stretch ourselves, we push up against the walls of the box that we are living in and give ourselves room to live fully. The reverse is also true. If we are always avoiding our fears and constantly playing it safe, we get increasingly scared and limited. The box that we are living in doesn't provide the space for us to live the life we want and we feel unsatisfied.

How To Live With Fear

There are a variety of practices that can help us move through our fears but it ultimately comes down to our willingness to let ourselves explore the places that scare us. That said, we're human and it's not always that easy.

First, we have to be honest with ourselves when we feel afraid and tuned in enough to get in touch with what we are afraid of. This awareness is the foundation of developing a conscious relationship with ourselves and our fears.

It can be helpful to expect that we will be afraid so that when it happens it doesn't feel like something is wrong. Fear is normal and to be expected. More than that, it's possible to see fear as a good thing - an indication that we are moving closer to what is most important, stretching ourselves, and expanding what's possible. From this perspective fear isn't something to be so afraid of.

And don't just expect that it will happen, expect it to be hard. Of course it is scary. Again, this doesn't mean that something is wrong. Being with our fears is uncomfortable and difficult… and possible. So, feel the fear and do it anyway. It doesn't have to be smooth or easy for it to be possible.

It also helps to acknowledge the courage it takes to confront fear. Doing so gives us strength. From a place of strength, we can welcome the fear into our lives as an opportunity for growth, knowing that we have to meet it with heart to live life fully.

In the end what we should be most afraid of is complacency, not fear or discomfort. As long as we are getting that unmistakable feeling of fear in our gut, we know that we have an opportunity to grow and create new possibilities for happiness, success, and freedom.

Be With It

I've recently been through a particularly challenging time in my life. And I am still moving through it. Above all else, I discovered the value of "being with" everything that I experienced - the happiness and sadness and everything in between.

Those of you that know me well, know that in the past I have sometimes overlooked and failed to acknowledge my true feelings. We're all guilty of it; I just happen to be calling myself on it in a very public way. But it really is true for all of us to some degree. We all have times where we shut down, retreat, or avoid (consciously and unconsciously) the hardest and most painful feelings, emotions, and experiences. This newsletter is about the practice of "being with".

What Is The Value Of Being With?

The ability to be with anything gives us the freedom to do anything. It enables us to play it big. To really go for it. To pour ourselves into that which is most meaningful and important. To be ourselves and find our own path.

When we know that we can be with things like failure, ridicule, sadness, and loss we are less inhibited, more present, and more willing to take risks. We are less afraid of what may happen or the difficulty that lies ahead because we know that we can handle it.

Freedom doesn't come from rearranging the circumstances of our lives so that we can do whatever we want, it comes from rearranging ourselves and developing the ability to be with any circumstance whether we want it that way or not. When we rearrange the circumstances, freedom is possible in those rare occurrences when we are fortunate enough to get it just right. If we can rearrange ourselves by practicing being with, freedom is always possible.

The ability to be with also adds depth and meaning to our lives. When we stop excluding certain feelings and emotions, we can begin to open to the full range of feeling. We are more intimately connected to ourselves and the reality of what is. Our lives take on a certain richness and poignancy. In the same way that meditation helps us to see what is true, the practice of being with helps us to get in touch with our true experience.

What Are You Storing Up?

It may be easier in the moment to avoid being with difficult feelings, but what happens when we push aside the tuff stuff? Where does it go? It may seem like it goes away but it doesn't. It may drop out of our consciousness but it gets stored in our body and starts wearing on us, draining our energy, even making us sick. If you are in touch with your body, you can probably feel it right now. Take a minute to close your eyes and scan yourself for tension… What are you storing there? What is there that you aren't letting yourself be with?

Whatever we have stored up continues to act on us. It motivates our actions in an unhealthy way. For example, if we are feeling hopeless but unable to be with it, we may end up sitting around like a sloth or running around spinning our wheels trying to force something to happen. Either way we are out of balance, wasting our time and energy, and failing to function optimally.

The Only Way Out Is Through

What we resist will persist. It doesn't just go away. We have to feel it to release it.

It is there whether you acknowledge it or not, so let yourself feel it. You will be surprised to find that you can handle it. You can be with it. All of it. Give yourself permission to be angry, hopeless, sad, fearful, jealous, and insecure. The only way out is through. On the other side is a more confident You walking gracefully down your own path.

Ask yourself… What is hard for me to be with? What do I tend to avoid? Do I want to continue to avoid it, playing it safe and remaining in control, or do I want to be present and live life fully? If you want presence and fullness in your life, how are you going to create it? Seriously. It's easy to say that you want to live fully but it takes commitment and bravery to really do it. So, what are you going to do differently?

Find Your Own Path

This is the first newsletter that I've written for A Path That Fits. Thank you all for receiving it and reading it. My intention is to write a monthly newsletter that provokes new insights, learning, and growth. I want it to help you find your way - wherever you are in life - and develop your potential more fully.

I'm excited and a little bit nervous. It's exciting to be putting myself, my work, and my message out into the world. It's also a little scary. How will it be received? What will people think of it? Will I be able to communicate my insights, experiences, and passion for learning and self-discovery in a useful way? Lets find out...

Part I: What is "A Path That Fits"?

I believe that we all have a unique life path that fits who we are and what we want for ourselves and others. We also have a unique way of living and being on our path that optimizes our potential and effectiveness. It isn't just about what we do but also how we do it. Finding this path and living it allows each of us to express our natural gifts and create unparalleled value for ourselves and others.

Our path is what we do and how we do it. There is a path that fits our life as a whole and path(s) that fit our professional life, personal life, spiritual life, relationships and family. There are many possibilities but there are few paths that truly fit who we are, what we want, and why we are here.

Take a minute to ask yourself: How well does the path that I'm on right now fit who I am, what I want, and why I'm here?

Part II: Why aren't more people on their own path?

Unfortunately, there is rarely support for the process of finding your path. We are expected to just figure it out or let life take us. School stresses academic aptitude over self-knowledge and personal development. It's seemingly more important to get a successful job than a job you love. Society gives us the message that if we are cool and successful, we will be happy.

So we end up full of ideas and beliefs about the way things are that aren't even really our own. We get a map of how to live our own life based on how someone else lived.How is someone else's map going to help us navigate to where we want to go? How can we find a path that fits with everyone else's ideas in the way? We can't.

Take a minute to ask yourself: Whose map am I navigating from? What part of the map did I draw myself and what part did I unconsciously pick up from someone else?

Part III: How do you find your path?

Finding your path comes from within. It is about realizing what is already there rather than going out and looking for something. It is a process that is facilitated by self-awareness and mindfulness - by really, truly, and sometimes painfully listening to your heart, gut, intuition, and your life - and living accordingly. It requires you to surrender and let go of old patterns and beliefs that you know are holding you back. Other times, the process demands a revolution against the limitations of "shoulds" and what is considered "the right way." It may take time before the inner learning and growth shows up on the outside in the form of a new career path or more success and ease in your life, but it will.

Whether you are letting go or rebelling, if you are moving closer to your true self, you are finding your path.

The rewards are tremendous. The process is full of learning and growth. And when you are on your path it feels natural. It may not always be easy but there is a feeling of rightness that comes from knowing that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. You are realizing your potential, expressing your natural gifts, and creating value for yourself and others. It is a gift for everyone

Take a minute to ask yourself: What is my gift? What is the path that fits me?