Brian Wilson in his new album, No Pier Pressure, sings in his song A Beautiful Day, “if only we could hold onto this feeling and this beautiful day”. This is exactly how I felt as I held my first grandchild for the first time. Bringing my own children into the world was an unforgettable peak experience, filled with love and joy. My experience as a grandmother was peaceful and layered with even more complex feelings in addition to love and joy.
The wonder and dynamics of creation flooded all my senses in ways I never thought possible. Something very deep at the soul level engaged as I held my grandson. It was as if I could feel the passing of generations. It was a precious moment and a sacred privilege that filled me with gratitude.
As I sat rocking my grandson, Diogo, I could very quickly feel what scientists call entrainment, where two hearts begin to beat in unison. As his little hand with rosy skin and perfect nails wrapped around my finger, it immediately felt like deep and true oneness. The profound emotion of true connectedness to another human being was being triggered.
This moment of oneness served as a reminder to me of how distracted we all are on a day-to-day basis, suffering from what psychologists call attention blindness. We allow a myriad of distractions to creep into our lives to the point where we are collapsing at the end of each day under the weight of intrusions that make us question what we value. Our energy becomes fragmented, misdirected and misaligned. We lose our ability to recognize our true self that sits deeply within waiting to fill us with everything that matters.
On my first day with Diogo there was no need or desire for distractions, just peaceful moments of joy to be treasured forever. I had visited a place that defies linear logic and enables light and possibilities to unfold. It is a place that allows self-imposed blinders to fall away to see anew that life is precious and we are all one. I can’t wait to watch my grandson’s life unfold in all its potential greatness as I sit lovingly watching, supporting, and being there for him in meaningful ways.
When I am conducting programs where I am teaching managers how to be effective coaches, the most frequent question I am asked is, “How do I get my employees to do what I need them to do?” Most of these managers are racing around on a daily basis moving from one activity to the next. They are always on their way somewhere else. My role is to get them to stop and pay attention. I accomplish this with a provocative question. I ask each person to look in a mirror. I then tell them that they are looking at the answer to their question. There is usually stunned silence at first. Then the teaching begins.
The managers in front of me begin to see that they must first awaken compassion, purpose, and meaning in themselves before they can awaken it in others. The ultimate realization for them is that it is not possible to give to another what you don’t have. Once the endless motion they have placed themselves in stops, a shift begins to happen. By leaning away from the noise in their head, progress is made step-by-step. The nonstop voice that says the employee is the problem stops. Old patterns of behaviors that do not work now seem futile and new approaches crystallize.
Each manager starts putting down their judgments and conclusions so they can look anew at the person they need to coach. It actually takes immense courage for many of these managers to step out of their trance and stay awake at every moment in our time together. With practice over the course of a few days, I watch managers tear down the old patterns of behavior, discover what has always been right and true about themselves and the person they are wanting to coach, and weave something new for both persons. The managers learn that what they give to themselves they also give to others effortlessly. When was the last time you held up a mirror to yourself?
Recently I was at a client location and found myself at a lunch table with six other people I did not know. The conversation seemed completely random and unmemorable until I received an email from a person who was at the lunch table asking me for advice. She went on to say that my participation in the conversation at the lunch table opened her eyes as to what was possible in our world to make a difference.
I do not remember what I said. I do know that it was my heart speaking. We now know that the heart is much more than just a pump in our physical body. The mind and heart are connected, each with its own unique intelligence. The heart communicates in ways that significantly affect how we perceive and react to the world. My experience at the lunch table reminded me that our heart communicates with other hearts even when we don’t realize it, even in our moments of complete unawareness. It is said in the earliest Indian mystical texts that the heart is the organ with which one is able to see what is denied to the physical eye. Without our realizing it our heart reflects perfectly everything inside of it and in front of it. It doesn’t superimpose anything else on top of what is there. The message of one heart to another is pure and consists largely of the unseen. This disproves the idea of a separate and distinct self. This union of hearts happens often without you even knowing your doing it. It’s spontaneous. It is a different kind of seeing where the giver and receiver become one reality.
When is the last time you were really aware that your heart was seeing and connecting to another person? We often look, but don’t see. The ability to truly see another with an open heart resides in all of us, but often we ignore all the subtle cues. Being present and seeing another with wholeheartedness is the greatest gift we can offer another person.
Recently, I am sitting with a friend, her husband, and several other acquaintances. In the midst of a spirited conversation, my friend says to her husband who is known for speaking loudly, “inside voice, please.” There was something in her eyes at that moment that told me that she wasn’t really talking about the volume of her husband’s voice. A subsequent conversation with my friend revealed that her husband frequently speaks and reacts without listening to the subtle messages from others. It was a deeper kind of listening that she was trying to encourage with her comment to him. She wanted him to listen to the soft voice within that connects with the often unrecognized soft but emotionally powerful voice in others.
Often the whispered voice is present as you lurch from one aspect of a conversation to another, using your loud voice to make points that you perceive more important than those of others. It taps you gently on the shoulder when you least expect it. It whispers what is just beyond your awareness that is waiting to be discovered. Sitting on the edge, it hopes that you will make space for it to be heard. Putting the louder voice of self aside allows you to capture the newly opened space and the gifts that sit waiting to be unwrapped in more meaningful conversation. It takes courage to pause and resist the need to keep loudly talking your talk. When is the last time you broke the spell of the sound of your own loud talk to take notice of the softer, whispered voice within the conversation?
That evening my friend reminded me of how there is always something in every conversation waiting to make itself known. It is only when you stop using only your loud voice and listen in a different way that something new and unheard to that point becomes knowable. This requires that you put your ego in check and reserve opinion until the whispering voice is heard. Ultimately, when you listen to all that is not your loud voice is when you discover the most important part of life that connects you to another.
How often do you walk with a bent back and your eyes to the ground? The way we show up in the world each day matters. There is always an invitation, obvious or not, to be courageous and look up long enough to engage in a conversation with another to receive an unexpected gift. Each day there is a new possibility that someone will cross your path with a contribution that will make a difference for you. Often others can see what is special about you, even when you can’t. To receive the gifts of others you have to be completely present and willing to rearrange yourself to meet what is other than you at this moment. This is how what is invisible becomes visible, what is narrow becomes expansive and what is hard becomes soft. Sometimes you need to look into the face of another to be able to speak anew for yourself.
The world is full of unique, meaningful voices, if only you would stop and listen. Each of us brings a unique value to the larger whole. When you stand erect with eyes open, holding a space for someone else to enter, it is a small moment with the possibility of big ripples. It is like dropping a pebble into still water where the effect is much larger than the contribution of the small stone as it enters into water. You never know what is going to occur when you give yourself over to another person who steps into your path. Let yourself and your limitations be drawn by the stronger pull of another who may hold innumerable life lessons.
It is rare in life to receive an unexpected gift that moves us on a profound level. I am talking about the kind of gift that captures your heart and creates a deep feeling of gratitude. I was fortunate to receive such a gift on Thanksgiving Day this year.
I am in Maine for Thanksgiving with my son, his girlfriend, her family, and a friend. I walk into the kitchen and my son and his girlfriend are cooking and making final preparations for our meal together. It is their first Thanksgiving together and the first meal they are preparing for their families. Shortly, I begin to notice calmness to their work together and beautiful softness to their relationship. It is hard to believe that they have only been together less than a year. There is an unspoken flow to how they work together as they prepare their bounty, stir their pots, and offer a glass of wine to their parents. It reminds me of how my husband and I set out forty years ago to do our first Thanksgiving together as a young couple, but absent the calmness and flow.
The place for our dinner is a quaint two-room cabin with a wood burning stove on their property. We walk in and I feel like I am stepping into a photo shoot for Architectural Digest. The room is glowing with strings of lights and candles. The wooden picnic table is set to perfection with simple plates and glasses accompanied with handmade napkins stamped with each person’s initials. Twigs and branches of various sizes and shapes from the local woods serve as the perfect decoration on the table and lay over the string of lights above the table. The only thing that shines brighter than the light in the room is my son and his girlfriend’s talent for creating this idyllic setting. I feel I am witness to the rare occasion of many elements of a meal and its setting coming together like strands of silk woven into a beautiful tapestry.
As we enjoy the delicious food, the conversation is personal, meaningful, and heartfelt. I sit feeling pride for what my son and his girlfriend have accomplished. I recognize that something else is happening for me on a deeper level as well. I feel a pervading stillness that allows me to clear my mind and settle into my heart to feel emotionally connected to each person in the room with complete attention. It is a feeling that I want to hold on to as the day slips away all too quickly. Once again in life I am reminded of the unexpected gifts that come to us from others. I am full of gratitude on this Thanksgiving Day for the life lessons from a new generation.
Recently, I walk into a group mentoring session thinking I have “big” things to teach others. After all, it is a topic for which I have considerable expertise. I am excited to share what I know with a group that needs to learn from me so they can use the information to benefit others in their organization. I am expecting to deepen their knowledge regarding certain topics.
I begin sharing and making space for others to speak. I want to create an opening for learning through well-framed questions. I wait for a response and get nothing. I try again using one of my most evoking questions and still get no response. The great silence descends. It is like running into a wall. What I came to share is not what they are ready to receive at this moment in time.
I am immediately drawn into the tension of opposites. At first, I want to ride roughshod over their dissenting voices so they will not confound my learning objectives. I somehow find patience and endurance to hold the tension until something larger can appear. Gradually, their individual stories containing the truths of their particular experience begin to emerge. I can no longer avoid their suffering as I stand in the gap. I know if I do the tensions that are coming my way will just go under -ground and multiply. This is what creates dividedness.
My eyes and heart begin to open to their individual “little” stories that contain truths that begin to overshadow my intended “big” story. I abandon the pretense that I know what is best for another person. I realize that my effectiveness is as dependent on the people I am mentoring, as they are on me for their success. I allow the “big” knowledge that came in the door with me to be absorbed in the truth of their individual “small” stories. The strength of community and connectedness begins to wrap itself around me and the struggling group. Soon the “big” and “little” stories are all one with an obvious greater possibility for learning. We could now move forward.
One day you wake up, the door opens, and you walk through. It is a curious thing about transformation. All of a sudden you realize that it started a long time ago. We are all transformed by the choices we make or are made for us, as well as those we do not make. You now know you must move on because parts of you have already moved on. Waking up happens when you finally become very tired of the person you have fallen in to. You realize that you have hidden in the dark long enough. You had to disappear from life for a period of time in order to appear again in a transformed way. Feeling the heartbreak of your fallen self is the moment when you broke open and stepped through the doorway, finally starting to feel again the world and people around you.
This is when someone is most likely to appear in your life, and you find yourself in the right conversation. You are now an apprentice learning a different language as you make a new path through the conversation. It feels like everything has been waiting for you. Your voice is no longer being crowded out. This person brings what you have suffered through to the forefront of the conversation, along with your fears and hopes for the future. You begin to realize that it was the suffering that actually allowed your heart to break open. You understand the reason for your exile and begin to come back to your authentic self.
The life space that had become too tight for you begins to expand along with the conversation making it possible for you to speak anew. The previously undecipherable reveals itself. You needed another force in the room to say something you are not ready to hear so that you can burn what needs to die to be truly alive. You see that holding on means no future because nothing fits any longer. You let go and your invisible qualities show themselves. Leaning into the open doorway you see clearing on your road of life. Bringing new shape to your true self is now a possibility. This is the moment when you have just met a great mentor.
We often feel we are either a teacher or a student.
In my experience these roles are a paradox and reflect our tendency to think in polarities.
We think they are two separate terrains to navigate, but both roles are much the same and actually inform each other. Both roles are about learning and growth.
The paradox is the creative tension between teacher and student that allows the voice of each to be gathered and amplified.
Holding the tension between the student and teacher roles is also what deepens our level of learning. If we collaborate with what the tension is trying to do, it opens us up and expands our horizons.
We will not be able to be a great teacher unless we are a willing student. We cannot understand the benefits of being a student until we have taught something of value to another person. These roles are different versions of very similar skills. Both are necessary.
Escape Either-Or Thinking
It is time to stop seeing these roles as things that are this or that.
When we escape the grip of either-or thinking we nourish wholeness in our self and awaken our full potential. Whether we are comfortable with paradox or not, embracing both roles creates another level of knowing that allows us to think and learn together in more profound ways.
Reciprocal Teaching and Learning
We see these roles enacted at their best in mutual and reciprocal process of mentoring.
Effective mentoring involves not only the teacher finding the right student, but the student finding the right teacher as well. In this relationship, not only must the qualities of the mentor be revealed, but also the qualities of the student must be equally revealed.
This is what allows the full voice of each to be expressed and illuminated.
I invite you to experience the gifts of being both student and teacher.