Holding Yourself Responsible for Someone Else’s Anger is a Fool’s Errand

Holding yourself responsible for someone else’s anger is a fool’s errand. While this is true of many emotional experiences, it is particularly true of anger. Has anyone tried to hold you responsible for their anger? “Your actions made me mad,” is a prime example of projecting responsibility for their emotional state and lack of control onto someone else.

Anger is a perfectly legitimate emotion, although there are good reasons why we assign negative attributes to it. Everyone experiences anger at some point – even people who say they don’t. I used to believe I never got angry as I wrote about in this post on Emotions Are Your Guidance System. I grew up in a household where a lot of anger was expressed in unhealthy ways. Avoidance – internally and externally – was my strategy. It took me years to discover my own experiences of anger and to learn how to work with it in healthy ways.

However, there are many unhealthy and even dangerous ways that anger is expressed. If you have ever found yourself modifying your regular day-to-day actions or behaviours, self censoring, being guarded or strategizing how to bring up an unavoidable topic no matter how simple it would be under ordinary circumstances, to try to not make someone else angry – or to try to reduce their anger – you are likely bearing a burden that is not yours to carry.

Bearing the burden of someone else’s anger is a fool’s errand. It does not work. You are not and cannot be responsible for someone else’s anger – or their enduring emotional experience. Yet people who are perpetually angry are remarkably good at having the people around them bear that burden. And the people around them are remarkably good at assuming that burden, without even realizing that is what is happening.

emotional_burden__by_athalai_haust_d8ymuyg-preEven when you know logically that you are not responsible for someone else’s anger, the fear that ensues as someone repeatedly projects their anger at you is palpable and sometimes breathtaking. The desire to mitigate the fear to stop being a target of the anger, generates a protective response that, surprisingly for most of us, doesn’t often or soon enough include removing ourselves from the situation.

Someone who is unpredictable about where, when or what will trigger their anger causes uncertainty in the people around them. This uncertainty inevitably turns to fear. It is this fear that directs and influences your own desire to mitigate the situation, for yourself or for people around you, like children. And it is through fear of the other person’s anger that you take on the burden of responsibility for their emotional experience. They will have you jumping in hoops over and over again but there is nothing you can do that will make that experience any better or more satisfactory for them.

People who use anger regularly also use disgust and contempt. They express how they are offended, hurt or dismayed by your actions. They tell you that you are being so unfair to them. A person who lives with anger or rage feels powerful in the outburst of the moment. But that feeling of power also doesn’t last so more fuel is needed. That fuel comes from the next spark of anger, rage or outrage.

You are held hostage to the unpredictability of this person’s rage until you find a way to release that burden.

I carried such a burden for almost two decades. I tried to mediate the anger. I tried to protect other people from the anger. I failed. Over and over and over again. And yet, still I tried. I took on the responsibility, the other person tried to make me responsible and others around us also tried to make me or other people responsible. The only place responsibility and accountability did not fall was on the person who was generating all of the chaos and dysfunction to begin with.

If you have tried to bear this emotional burden for someone else, you may have noticed a few things about yourself, the situation or the angry antagonist.

  • What sets them off is unpredictable. It can even be a perfectly innocent comment or observation that gets picked up and spun out of context and out of control. The effect is that you start to watch everything you say even though it is impossible to predict what will set them off. You second guess yourself and your confidence suffers. And perpetually angry people can take one incident or wrong word and spin it for days, increasing the intensity of their anger even to the point of rage.
  • The angry person does not take responsibility for their anger or their own circumstances – it is someone else’s actions or behaviours that are at fault, that caused the anger. In this way, in their logic and rationale, it is someone else’s responsibility.
  • They use scorn, condemnation and disgust regularly. It is hard not to take that on when you are the recipient of it. They cannot believe that you did or said whatever you did or said –as if you are the person acting inappropriately. But it stops mattering when their opinion of you stops mattering.
  • Everyone around the angry person tries in one way or another to appease them – modifying behaviour, apologizing or finding a way to get out of the way. There may be short-term improvement, but until the person who exhibits this anger takes responsibility for their own emotional experience, there will be no long term solution. And addressing this requires insight, courage and the willingness to truly engage healing that they often are not ready or able to embrace.
  • Anger is projected not just in words but in the entire non-verbal, kinaesthetic and energetic field of the person – even when they say they are not angry, even when they truly think they aren’t, everything else about them says they are. And you get blasted with an invisible wave that knocks you off your own center.
  • People around the angry person get upset or angry with each other because no one has successfully deflected the anger or scorn. In this way, not only do they disrupt the field between them and you, the wreak havoc on the entire relational field. And the angry person takes up a disproportionate amount of time, thought, discussion and preparedness – individually and collectively – as we try to strategize how to deal with them.
  • If you are a target of the angry person, it is emotional and/or psychological abuse and it is traumatizing. Over time, you will be aware that your anxiety is increasing, you may have panic attacks, you are constantly on edge and you are a different version of yourself, which can be saddening and depressing. You may experience a physical “hit” with a rush of adrenaline or amygdala hijack even in the anticipation of that person’s anger or actions. It is destabilizing and demoralizing and feels like ever present danger.

There is an interesting discernment between running away and standing up for yourself by developing strong, healthy boundaries for your own health and wellbeing. The angry person will accuse you of running away as they seek confrontation as fuel. You will know you have done everything within your power to evoke a change in that person that was never yours to make and, when you are ready, you will release that burden by refusing to engage. When you truly make the shift, everything changes. You heal something inside of you and have new insight, strength and wisdom as you disengage from that energetic vortex and fuel your boundaries, deepening your own authentic journey. In my experience, this can seem to happen overnight, but that overnight shift is likely the result of years of journey to make it possible. It is possible. And you can do it. Be patient and gentle with yourself in the midst of the journey.

 

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When the Shift Happens, You Will Make the Decision

When I was in high school one of my very good friends had an on-again-off-again boyfriend. You know the kind of relationship – together for awhile, break up for awhile and back together before too long. And then there came a time, when she broke it off and it was clear it was for good; there was no turning back. Something happened. Something shifted. A clear decision was made. I later found out that a boundary had been crossed from which there was no turning back. Even though I didn’t know that in the moment, I did know she was never going back to him.

Recently, I was visiting with a friend who has been in an extremely challenging work environment where she is not respected despite the incredible value she brings to that company. She has struggled for a few years trying various things to change the nature of the relationships she must work with. And then an insight showed up resulting in connecting the dots between this situation and others in her soul journey, a shift happened and a decision has been made with clarity that will change the nature of the relationships – likely her departure from the company.

In my own soul journey, it took several subsequent insights and awarenesses added together to create a more seismic shift in order for me to make a decision – finally – to end my second marriage. I tracked a three year journey to get to that point and another nine months before the final decisions were made. Sometimes it is hard to track the more subtle shifts that happen over time that lead to the ability to make different choices but that does not mean they are not present.

When we attempt to run away, we often run back. If not to the same situation or relationship, to another one that resembles it – the same pattern. For a long time I was frustrated with my journey and life choices. I felt stuck. In Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness I describe this journey. Several times I felt like I was at the edge of the abyss, on my tiptoes, leaning over, ready to leap … but then … stepped back. It felt so anti-climatic, almost cowardly. It was hard to hold myself in compassion and grace in those moments.

highway to heart

Over and over again, I asked the question, why have I attracted these circumstances of my life to me. Many times new answers were revealed. “Because, at some level, I feel I deserve to be treated this way.” Boom. Unable to hold some previous decisions in life I had made with compassion, I felt I deserved to be punished. “Because, if I am really as powerful as many people tell me I am, and I keep shying away from that power or cloaking it, it has taken powerful circumstances in my life to force (invite) me to step into my power.” Boom. “Because I have been repeating patterns of my mother’s life – patterns I swore not to be circumscribed by and yet here I am.” And a subsequent revelation that I was repeating patterns of my birth mother’s life long before I ever knew she existed.

What I know, what I experience, what I witness in others so often, is that the decision is made when the shift happens. And we know it when it happens because it feels different. While we may be able to accelerate the journey, it is clear that the decision does not happen until the shift occurs – subtly or dramatically.

So, if you, like I have done, are being hard on yourself because you continue to stay in circumstances you know are not good for you, yearning for a different situation, stay with the journey, stay with the questions, hold the outcomes you are seeking steadily in your awareness.

One day you will feel the shift that marks the point of no return. You will wake up on that day and declare, like I did in one moment, “I am no longer afraid!” The next steps will be appear and you will walk that path with a clarity you did not previously possess. Until that moment – and after it – hold yourself and your journey with compassion and grace – because you deserve it, because it is needed, because you are worthy.

The Rawness of the Great Re-Patterning

This morning I made it safely out of the shower. Why was this an accomplishment? Because the last two times I showered, upon exiting, I was hit with painful, debilitating back spasms. They stopped me in my tracks and caused me to call out in pain. What did I do to cause this? Nothing different than I do any other time I get out of the shower.

When I went to see my chiropractor, Dr. Anne Desneiges at Innerwaves in Halifax, she offered that my back spasms were less physically and more energetically created. I told her the last time this happened was almost a year ago and she began to ask me about significant grief causing events that may have happened in the spring at any point in my life. It occurred to me that my birth mother left in the spring. It was an event I was too young to remember but it was grief filled and traumatic for my birth family and it caused the re-patterning of my life. There are many other spring events I could point to as well, but this stood out.

The muscle spasms originated in my back and were like a band that circled almost the whole way around my body – like a contraction when giving birth, especially the latter stages when the contractions are prolonged and breathtaking. My partner, Jerry Nagel, and I are symbolically in a birthing process with our main body of work, Worldview Intelligence. It has been gestated and incubated over a few years of intense practical and profound application and we have just hired Marc Lewis at 3 o’clock Marketing to create a look, logo, brand and website that will elevate this work into its next level of visibility.

Then I came across Lee Harris’ April video where he talks about the rawness of re-patterning in this current moment. He says it is a time of many mini dark nights of the soul and it cannot be avoided. As is true on the individual level, it is also a fiery time on the world stage as we all can see. This great re-patterning is cranking through all of us, especially the empaths among us.

This kind of levelling up hurts as emotions like grief, sadness and anger that have been abandoned come up for release. Seems it hurts physically as well as emotionally. I have seen and heard of other friends experiencing physical pain. And I am aware of friends displaying monumental acts of courage as they work to re-pattern relationships in their life that have been harmful.

It is clear that re-patterning is at work on the world stage as we look at the impacts of politics in the US, Brexit, the emergence of gay concentration camps in Chechnya and so much more. It is impossible to avoid if you watch the news or follow social media. It can be a relief to know that this kind of re-patterning is a natural and essential part of evolution – even if it doesn’t feel evolutionary in this moment.

So, what to do? Harris talked about daily practice and repetition. What lights you up? What are the practices or routines you have that put you in your center, especially when those around you are also off their centers? Do these things regularly even if just for minutes at a time. I would add, be self compassionate. This is all part of the natural rhythms of energy and life. And Harris has a reminder of us that I have often felt to be true – there is so much higher energy available to us with an abundance of guidance. It is not either/or, these are not distinctly separate things. Lower and higher energy and vibrations exist on a continuum. We can move ourselves up the continuum at any time simply by putting our attention and focus there.

If this kind of re-patterning is happening, maybe the best thing we can do is surrender into it and allow ourselves to level up.

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Patterning New Habits To Feel Good and Be More Focused

I have been “asleep” for over a year – since I dislocated a toe and stopped running. Running used to call me out of the house into the great outdoors. And it prompted other exercise as well. For over a year, I have not run, I have exercised intermittently, been a couch potato, eaten far more chips than is good for me and been self critical of my bad patterns. While I have held the intention to get more active again, with a travel schedule that makes routines difficult, it was easy to become a slouch.

Then there comes the moment when intention becomes reality and everything shifts. Even subtle shifts bring change. This September has marked that shift for me. I find myself being called outdoors again, even, or especially, in the middle of the day when the sun is shining. Not to run, but to walk. I know walking is good for me but until now it didn’t have the same pull as running used to. Then a friend suggested Nordic Walking with poles and my game shifted into a higher gear.

me-with-walking-sticksThe thing about walking with poles is that it changes your posture and gait. I call it power walking. The first time I used the poles, I was not in sync. My legs went twice as fast as before and my arms were moving at half the pace of my legs. I didn’t care. At least I was moving faster with seemingly little effort. The second time I went walking with the poles, it all came into sync. It was that quick. My posture is better, I hold my head high, my gaze straight ahead as I focus on synchronizing the rhythm of arms and legs. My gait is different and, again, it feels effortless to walk for almost an hour at a good pace. And the physicality brings more mindfulness and the more mindfulness brings more insight.

Regaining a better level of fitness, being outside, brings me joy. Pure and simple. And the walking reminds me of how simple it can be to repattern old habits into new ones. Other exercise is now easier to do, I feel better, I can already feel the changes in my body and I am becoming more focused which benefits my work. My energetic vibration is on a higher frequency and this means more of what I want is manifesting in my life.

It is also a reminder to be compassionate with self when in a pattern and rhythm you don’t like or that doesn’t seem to serve. The contrast alone is a helpful thing and holding the intention long enough gives it its own life force and it will eventually manifest. It cannot help but.

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Are you holding your sadness as a treasured possession?

 

5-of-cups-legacy-of-the-divine2Every now and then a question shows up that captures attention as if it was lit up in flashing lights. This happened to me the other morning as I pulled my usual three tarot cards from the Legacy of the Divine deck (my favourite) to help me imagine what the story of my day could be like. One of the cards I pulled was the 5 of cups. Not necessarily a favourite, I decided to open the interpretation book to see what jumped out at me.

Why do you sometimes cradle your sadness like treasured possessions? Are you afraid that the power of your heart will shatter it and force you to leave the safety of the shadowy misery you cling to?

Sadness as a treasured possession? Shadowy misery? Crap! And wham! Both at the same time.

A while ago I wrote about what is real and what is illusion. And I’ve written about my passive aggressive relationship with the law of attraction. And about limiting beliefs.

The journey of life has a way of dishing up illusion so we imagine we are in a different place than we are. It also has a way of waking us up to reality. Like these questions.

I feel the tremulousness of these moments in my life. Partner I love deeply who lives in another country. Re-imagining our work and our businesses. Feeling the pull of life, co-parenting, scheduling. Desiring ease and not always experiencing it. Am I cradling sadness as a treasured possession? Is it part of how I define my story? It is not what I want to hear, to believe is true in this moment but there it is right in front of me.

Am I clinging to shadowy misery? Am I allowing this to define and shape the story of my life in this present moment?

What to do about it?

  1. Allow the recognition of the response evoked by the questions. Yes, there is truth there. Still. After many years of journey.
  2. Invoke compassion for myself. It is a journey. It is not right or wrong or too long. No self-recrimination, just awareness.
  3. Journal to surface and release the patterns so deeply entrenched in my being that sometimes I fear they will never be fully released and most times now I can recognize as part of the unfolding journey – the journey to openheartedness.
  4. Meditate on the vibration I am aspiring to, to let it permeate my physical and soul essence to continue to attract my dreams.
  5. Take concrete steps, even if small, to show – myself, creator, the universe – that the dream I hold is the direction in which I am moving.

I share this because I know I am not the only one cradling sadness and clinging to shadowy misery. If this resonates, know you are not alone and follow the steps.

Tis the Season of Joy — and Sorrow

The holiday season is an amplifier.  It is often a time of great celebration and joy as family members and friends gather together in gift giving and meal sharing.  It is also a time of great sorrow for many as reconstituted families find new patterns of gathering and as many of us feel the absence of loved ones who are elsewhere, may have departed, are sick or dying or in long term care facilities or simply no longer a part of our lives.  And it can be overwhelming and stressful as we strive for perfection in a season that often already demands a lot of us and where expectations run high – the ones we have of ourselves and of others.

It is impossible to live life and not have our fair share of  joy, sadness and stress.  Simple little delights often bring the joy.  A particular Christmas song.  Lights.  Tree trimming. Christmas celebrations.  Buying someone that perfect little something – or creating it.  Traditions that are meaningful.  Conversations that are as delicious as the traditional holiday fixings.  Lovely memories.

joy at Christmas

The things that make the heart sing are a beautiful thing.  The things that make the spirit sad are harder to acknowledge.  Absences seem to be one of the most significant contributors to sadness at this particular time of year.  The absence of loved ones.  It is an experience I know.  We all do.

unhappy puppy in Christmas Hat

One example in my life: my mother is in long term care with dementia.  She’s been there now for three and a half years. Since May, seven months ago, we have been told she could leave us any day.  Some small part of her still inhabits her physical body while most of her is having a different kind of experience that is beyond my knowing at the moment.

She has been absent from our family Christmas celebrations the last two years physically and to varying degrees cognitively for longer than that.  A week or so ago, I was in a shopping mall.  Something in a store caught my eye. I was hit with a wave of missing my mother – really for the first time.  This woman loved Christmas and loved opening presents so much it happened so fast it was over almost before it began – until we found ways to slow the process down.  My mom was always like a kid at Christmas when it came to presents – until she forgot what to do with a present, forgot what it was or even how to open it.

We all have these kinds of stories.

Some of us have stories of being in relationships that are not fulfilling, meaningful or relevant anymore.  Some of us are no longer in relationships and carry sadness or regret as a result. Some of us are in relationships with loved ones who live far away from us.  This is a season that brings nostalgia about better times and brings heightened awareness of what is not working.  It shines a light on the imperfections of our lives and relationships.  It brings loneliness even as we are surrounded by people and festivities.

In a season that is “supposed” to be joyful, we don’t always know how to handle the emotions and times that are not.  When we try to suppress them, we just drive them underground for awhile.  They will resurface when an opening shows.  There is nothing wrong with surrendering into our sadness long enough to acknowledge it.  If it continues to overwhelm us deeply maybe we will need help to come out of it, but for most of us, surrendering into and acknowledging our own emotional turmoil, allows release.

There is nothing wrong with tears.  Truly, there isn’t.  Although many of us believe there is.  We apologize for our tears.  Like we are somehow weak and maybe imperfect because we cry – especially when we cry in front of other people.  But tears are releasing and healing and an indicator of our experience.  How much more beautiful it could be if we stopped apologizing for tears and let ourselves be in our experience and even have it witnessed by other people.  In the event it makes others uncomfortable, other people’s uncomfortablenss with our tears is not our responsibility.  And for most people who witness, it is also freeing for them.

As we allow ourselves to move through our own experience, we create more space for joy and delight to show up faster in our experience.  Staying in our sadness will not fill the absences, will not bring back people no longer here or bring people to us who are far away.  And most of those absent, would not want us to be lost in our sadness but would want us to celebrate the joy and vibrancy of life.  Even if they wouldn’t, our soul is inviting us to celebrate the vibrancy of life.

Another thing that detracts from the vibrancy of life is the stress of trying to make the perfect holiday – on top of so many other things that need tending – children, parents, work, life and death.  Very little of this stops just because it also happens to be Christmas and we now also need to shop, bake, decorate, wrap gifts, go to Christmas concerts and Christmas parties.

Some things could be left undone or done a little short of perfection.  How many cookies do you really need to bake?  How many presents do you really need to buy?  What if you boiled it down to the one or two essential elements that seem the most dear to you?  For me, it is gingerbread houses.  I make the house parts.  I thought about buying them one Christmas but realized how much a part of me is in this tradition – because I love to bake and love the delight of the gingerbread house process from start to finish.  Most of the rest of it I can let go – especially in my experience of reconstituted families.  When and how things happen is a matter for conversation and joint decision making that usually extends beyond my immediate family.

Tis the season of amplification.  What is joyful is more so, what is sad is more so, what is stressful is more so.  Tis also the season of reflection and remembering.  And maybe most important of all, let it be the season of self-care – because, in that, we shift and grow our capacity to embrace the joy, delight and imperfections of being human that are completely available to us in the season of amplification.

(Originally published in 2011 at Shape Shift Strategies.)

The Voice of Your Inner Judge

There is no more powerful limiting mechanism in our lives than the voice of the judge.  I don’t mean that other person – parent, spouse, child, teacher, boss, friend, co-worker, random stranger on the street or in the shopping mall.  It’s the internal voice of judgment or internal critic that often runs rampant inside of us that we barely notice, if at all, because it is so clever and really good at disguising itself – for self preservation really.

I first became intimately acquainted with my inner judge in 2008-09 during coaching work with Sarita Chawla.  She recommended I read Soul Without Shame by Byron Brown in addition to the work we were doing together. I will forever recognize this as a pivotal point in the shifting shape of my openhearted journey.  I wrote about the voice of the judge back then in an article.  I am reviving that article here now in an updated version .  When I first wrote this post, my inner critic was activated – obvious to me because of how I felt – and I am reminding myself of strategies I already know that help to deactivate it and release its grip on me.

When I first became aware of the force of the internal judge, I had been working with the concepts of self-leadership and hosting oneself for almost as long as I could remember – still do, of course.  I worked with coaches, read books, did courses, took part in and led deep group work.  I am generally a positive, optimistic person holding deep appreciation and gratitude for much of what transpires in my life and who shows up.  I have transformed the negative self talk of my “itty-bitty-shitty committee” into more appreciative forms of self talk and into periods of quiet in my mind.  I meditate and practice other forms of reflection and mindfulness.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered a voice of self judgment and self criticism that was booming loud and clear in my unconsciousness, stronger than any external voice of judgment or criticism could possibly be.  This voice constantly set the bar for my performance at the best that I had ever achieved.  The bar moved if I did better.  When I didn’t match my most excellent performance, even when I did extremely good work, this voice told me that I had failed, that I did not measure up and that I never would on a consistent basis.  Strong performance was interpreted as mediocre.  Criticisms from others, whether justified or not, was reinforced by this inner critic.

When I felt most down on myself or just down in general, this voice played a significant role – and still can in moments I feel most overwhelmed or vulnerable – until I expose it.  I didn’t actually hear it as a voice until I began to listen for it but I felt it strongly in many forms: sadness, unhappiness, melancholy, anger, listlessness, lack of motivation and many other emotional manifestations.

While I had been aware of this voice (or at least the emotions it manifested in) to some extent, I also prided myself on my journey of self-transformation and change.  Been there, got that medal, surely I must be done now, can I just get on with my life and success?  I realize now it was the voice of self judgment that said, “You’ve been doing this long enough, how come you’re not done?”

Part of the reason I had been pretty oblivious to this voice was because, in my quest to be calm Happy-sad masksand serene and professional, I skirted over my own emotional reactions.  I barely recognized I had them except in the odd instances where they overtook me.  Oh, was that an emotion that wasn’t calm and serene?  Oops.  Nope. Couldn’t have been.  It must have been something else.

Then, a friend told me I deal with my emotions intellectually.  So, I thought about that.  And I thought my friend just might be right.  Emotions don’t reside in our intellect.  They reside in our bodies.  We feel them and sense them.  We use metaphors to describe them.  We say things like, “That packed a punch!”  If we stop to notice, we will notice where it feels like we got punched.  And if we stay with that, we will begin to notice the impact.  And if we stay with it longer, we will notice the uncomfortableness and want to move onto something else.  This is where I am learning to stop.  I have learned to stay with it longer, until I can begin to discern the wisdom that is held there and that can only emerge when we give it an escape hatch to surface to the light.

It is in these moments that my voice of self judgment has come booming out at me in all of its voraciousness.  With all good intentions, all it wants to do is protect me – from failure, from being unlovable.  But its methods only serve to reinforce for me my failures, even to the extent of turning successes into failures, thus creating in my mind my own unlovability and unwantability.  I have also become aware through the Law of Attraction and the teachings of Abraham that this voice of the judge interferes with flow, abundance and allowing the full vibrancy of life.

CA red dress Day 1I learned to journal in this voice.  I am astounded by the punch it does pack.  Periodically I sit and check inside of me to sense into what I’m experiencing and feeling and what the impact is.  I journal what I am sensing until I feel done.  Then I check in again to see what I am experiencing, sensing and feeling, and then journal again. And then again, if that seems required.  I am committed to going the next layer deep and the next until I feel the light flood back into my soul and I feel a lightness of spirit and of body. This is what I want to amplify in my life now.

Exposing my voice of self-judgment transmutes it into a gift of understanding and insight after which joy can once again arise and take more of the space that is its, and my own, rightful due.  Now, instead of seeing my journey as one that should be concluded and being hard on myself because it is not, I see my journey and myself with a gentleness I could not access before as it was hidden underneath the protective layer of the voice of judgment.  I have always known, intellectually, that learning and growth is a life long journey.  Now I know it and accept it with a graciousness that only comes from the light.

(This post was first published at Shape Shift Strategies on December 20, 2011)