Sit By the River or Engage

“If you sit by the river long enough you can watch the bodies of your enemies float by.”  – The Art of War

Mississipi river

Mississippi River in Minnesota

This is an expression, that comes from the Art of War is offered often by my good friend and partner Jerry Nagel, particularly when conflict surfaces. It is a provocative and intriguing statement that I have been viewing as invitation.  An invitation to pause.  An invitation to host self. An invitation to sense whether to engage a conversation or situation with someone else or let it be.

Not every conversation is worthy of engaging.  Not every conversation will produce results or take you to a clearer place. Not every conversation will do what you think or hope it will do. Coming from an Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter perspective, you might wonder if that is almost a sacrilegious thing to say; but perhaps part of the discernment is in whether ultimately the conversation will matter – and to whom?

To truly invite a conversation that might be powerful, it is helpful to discern your own desire and motivation in wanting the conversation.  This is part of the inquiry in the pause, in hosting self.  What is the reason for the conversation? Are you really wanting a conversation or do you just want to make your point or download on the other person and not care about or hear their point of view?

This is where a second bit of advice is useful:  “Feedback should be given from the part of you that wants to grow and learn to the part of them that wants to grow and learn.”  I’m not sure where it is from but I heard it in an Open Space session that Juanita Brown initiated on World Café at a Gathering we both attended in October 2013.  It gave me pause and invited me to reflect about some situations requiring my discernment – whether to invite a conversation or not – or a few conversations.

When you ask yourself if you want to give feedback from the part of you that wants to learn and grow – an openhearted space, it becomes pretty clear.  If you are willing to be in conversation, if you can do it without attachment to how the other person takes it in, you might be ready to invite the conversation.  If you are only wanting to download and don’t want to hear the other person’s perspective then it might not be wise to engage the conversation – because it is not a conversation you are wanting, only an opportunity to express yourself, your frustration or your hurt.  An opportunity to blame someone or point out where they are not hosting themselves – from your perspective of course – because how do you know they are not hosting themselves in whatever way they relate to that practice of presence?  It is your assumption, your lens, your perspective, your worldviewyour judgment and it might not be true. And, in all likelihood, it is not true in their experience of themselves – as hard you might find that to believe.

And it is also quite likely the other person’s actions have nothing to do with you and more to do with them, what they need, what they hope for.  You just happen to seem to be in the way.  Sitting by the river will help you discern that.  If it has nothing to do with you, and the other person is either intentionally or unintentionally trying to cause harm, eventually it will catch up to them and they will, metaphorically of course, float down the river. We see or feel lack of alignment in others, even when it is not clear, even when we cannot put a name to things.  Simply waiting may reveal far more than engaging – in some situations, since we are our own worst enemies and motivation and intention eventually reveal themselves.

Sometimes when you are being challenged it has nothing to do with you. By hosting yourself you might be able to sort that out.  If you engage something in a defensive or challenging way you are more likely to fuel the situation than turn it into a powerful, openhearted conversation. And you can ask yourself questions like: What is the point of engaging?  Will it be a learning field?  Is there an ongoing relationship that needs to be tended to? Can it be left alone?

When you do engage, engage the conversation, not the person. Invite the conversation with as much clarity as you can and bring the level of fierceness and openhearted vulnerability to it that will make it powerful.   Sometimes that is a light touch and sometimes it is very fierce and it can be more fierce when it comes from a place of clarity, compassion, curiosity and openheartedness.

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The Revelation of a Family Secret

In 2008, at the age of 46, I found out I had been adopted. Other than when I was a teenager and wished from time to time that I had been adopted (didn’t most of us have fantasies about that?), I had no idea. It was one of the most incomprehensible moments in my life and a glimpse into the stranger in me. In this 5 minute interview clip with Terry Paul Choyce, I share what it was like to have this family secret revealed to me.

Gratitudes to Spencer Dwyer who created the musical intro especially for the interview clips and who also edited the original interview to produce bite size chunks. Gratitude also to Terry Paul Choyce for the interview itself on her Interconnections radio show ast CKDU.

Story at work

Taking Whole: Building Authenticity With the Johari Window

Good leaders are often recognized for their qualities of genuineness and authenticity.

Authenticity is the quality of being real or true. The public perception of an authentic person is the same or very close to the “real” person – who they are in private or with those close to them. In the language of our Worldview Intelligence work we call this “taking whole“.

People who are authentic are comfortable with who they are, what they discover about themselves, their worldview and what shaped it, and they have a willingness to continually grow who they are. They know a lot about themselves and they are comfortable expressing who they are to others. They are also able to embody chaordic leadership or chaordic confidence which is growing increasingly important in today’s complex times and when we seek engagement of multiple voices to address the questions and issues at hand.

The Johari Window is a framework that allows us to practice better understanding of self and thus provides a means for any individual to evolve their own authenticity. The Johari Window was developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham and was first used in 1955. It is as effective today in developing a broader self understanding as it was then.

The dimensions of the Johari Window are representative of an individual’s whole personality or psyche. The dimensions are: what I know and what I don’t know, what others know and don’t know. They are illustrated in the following matrix:

johari window

What is known to us that we show other people is Open. These are aspects of ourselves that we are consciously aware of and willing to freely share with others, thus these aspects are also known to others.

The second aspect is what we know about ourselves that we keep Hidden from other people. There will probably always be things we do not disclose to other people. Disclosure in and of itself is not the issue. The question is why are you not disclosing and how much energy is contained in keeping these things hidden from other people?

It is impossible to be truly authentic if we fear other people knowing certain things about ourselves. We have all made decisions, choices or taken action in our lives that we regretted, are embarrassed about or just wish we hadn’t done. It is part of human nature, part of the growth process. Sometimes we don’t want other people to know because we are afraid they will think less of us – possibly because we think less of ourselves. It could be because we have identified ourselves with what we perceive to be a failure instead of recognizing that failure is an action from which we can receive feedback, as discussed in The Wisdom of Failure article.

Sometimes we keep things hidden because we feel like an imposter, or maybe we feel shame about something we did or something that happened to us. Other people tell us what a great job we are doing and yet we feel like we do not deserver the praise or accolades. We keep our fears and uncertainties to ourselves.

When we keep things hidden because of our fears, this takes energy. As long as it takes energy, it detracts from our ability to be truly authentic. If we don’t disclose things about ourselves, simply because they don’t seem relevant anymore, then this doesn’t have the same quality as those things we are afraid to disclose. It does not consume the same energy. In the right circumstances or for the right reasons, we may disclose these things about ourselves and feel perfectly comfortable doing so.

It is not whether things are hidden or not that is problematic, it is the amount of energy they consume in staying hidden and whether fear of disclosure is the motivator for keeping them hidden. Once I began to learn the story of my birth mother, after finding out later in life that I had been adopted, I understood fear was a big motivator in her life.  She was afraid of being found out so she kept many of her stories hidden, not to see the light of day until after she died. She did not disclose her past, that she was married or that she had children and she lived every day in a new constructed life in fear of being found out. So much so, she never told her own adopted daughter when her birthday was.  “Fear and worry are the interest paid on trouble that never comes. They shut the door on what more is possible – love, forgiveness, ease and the rewriting of stories of our lives that could instead be lived with grace and empowerment.” – Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness, p 208

A third aspect is Blind. This is what we don’t see or know about ourselves, but others see. This includes what we imagine to be true of ourselves that others don’t see. For instance, we may imagine ourselves to be a great leader, but if you ask people around us, they may not see evidence of this.

The blind category may include things we genuinely don’t see about ourselves and there may be things we are somewhat aware of but don’t acknowledge or don’t want to see. Just before my first divorce, I was going through a very difficult time in my life and was very unhappy. I covered it up by being very busy. I didn’t know how unhappy I was, I was afraid to see it. Some of the people around me were aware of it, however they were unable to broach it with me because I was not ready to hear it. Later, when I was ready, I was shocked to hear how many people could see so clearly what I could not or would not see for myself.

Asking others for feedback is a sure way to shrink our blind aspect. We can do this informally by asking friends, family members or work colleagues we trust. We can do it formally in our work or learning environments through the use of feedback mechanisms like 360s.

The final aspect is Unknown. This is what we don’t know about ourselves and what others also don’t know about us. Because it is unknown, it is impossible to know exactly how big it is but we do tend to shrink it over time, especially if we are consciously on the path of growth and self awareness.

This information resides in our unconscious. Sometimes it is revealed to us by something that happens, sparked by events or situations, outcomes from choices. It could arrive with a new Aha! It could be uncovered through work we do on any of the other three aspects. By revealing a bit of ourselves to others, we open up a discussion that may provoke some other information to come to light. By taking in what other people are willing to share about what they see, we may also trigger some learnings in the unknown quadrant.

One other way to discover the unknown is through the mirror principle. The mirror principle is a tough concept for most of us to understand when we first hear it. It basically says that whenever we have a strong reaction to someone – positive or negative – it is because they are mirroring something back to us about us. We are like them in some way. This is fine for most people when the reflection is positive. It is much more challenging when we consider the reflection to be negative. The mirror principle gives us some of the most valuable information about ourselves if we are open to receiving it.

One area of my life that had been completely unknown to me and many around me for decades, is my gift to see spirit and work with energy, which I write about in Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness. Although I have always believed in energy, spirit, reincarnation and the existence of other life forms, I always thought only very talented and gifted people could access that information, not everyday people like me. When I was first told of my gifts and even when I first experienced them I rejected the information as not being plausible. As I grew to accept and be more curious about these gifts it began to shrink the Unknown aspect of the Johari window and invited me into a deeper exploration of things I did not know about myself. As I began to speak and write about this aspect of who I am, it shrunk this window more and grew the Open window.

The four aspects of the Johari Window are fluid. They are not generally of the exact same size and shape. The more authentic you are, the larger the Open aspect and the more likely you are to continually find ways to expand it. Generally this is done through a process of disclosure and feedback, curiosity and learning. Not only do you become more authentic as you expand your Open aspect, you release energy that can then be used to your benefit and you create more peace and contentment for yourself. It is worth the risk to learn to be more open.

designing a loved life

Embracing Projection

One of the ways we distance ourselves from the stranger within is by projecting our issues, our own shadow, on to someone else, as if they were really someone else’s issues or someone else’s fault.  We do this with greater and lessor degrees of consciousness.  Every one of us has projected onto others at some point and we have all been the subject of projection too.

Projecting onto others is a way of externalizing the source of our pain.  This happens when we are afraid to examine how we might be the source of our own pain.  It is easier to blame someone else and we can become quite skilled in rationalizing why it is about someone else rather than ourselves.  It is one more way of giving power and voice away.

“We cannot get from others what we have not given ourselves. We cannot receive all the goodness, love, beauty, and joy that is awaiting us if we shut it out, if we believe ourselves unworthy.” ~ Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness

Sunset at the lake in Lake Park, MN

Sunset at the lake in Lake Park, MN

Learning to embrace that which we want to project, brings it home for healing. When we can do this we reclaim our power, reclaim our voice.

The other side of this is when we are the subject of projection.  It can be confusing when we are on the receiving end of projection.  It can appear in many ways from an angry outburst to a very logical rationalization of why we are portrayed as the antagonizer of the other person, why they somehow cannot do better, why they are stuck – because of something they believe we have done, somehow we have held them back – or so they want to believe.

One of the ways we can recognize projection is by the energetic impact that comes with it.  This energetic impact is often what creates the confusion within us, especially if we are new to the awareness of being projected upon.  For myself, I use to take it on, figuring there must be something wrong with me, something I could fix to make everything all right.  I gradually became aware that not all that was being projected onto me was mine. Then I needed to learn to discern what was mine to work on and what belonged to the person doing the projecting so I could let it go.  The mantra, “no one can create in my reality unless I let them” became a life affirming guide in the journey.

The fear was that what was projected on to me was my stranger in action, the stranger in me that I felt needed to be disarmed.  But the only way to disarm what we perceive to be the stranger is to embrace it. In the embracing of it we “take whole”, as my partner Jerry Nagel says in his work on World View, and we once again step into our power and our voice, inviting us into openheartedness in whole new ways.

The journey to open heartedness is not about being exposed in a way that is threatening or harmful.  It is about waking up and opening to the full range of emotional melody that resides within us—the full range, the rich textures of symphony that wants to make itself heard, not just a narrow range of notes played in isolation.  Through the journey to openheartedness, I am learning to live in and with vulnerability—not as weakness but as strength—and I am relying on emotions as a guidance system that is unfailing the more I learn how to use it.” ~ Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness

My emotional guidance system will tell me when I am projecting, when I am being projected on, as I listen to it. It then is also a guide on what aspects of me, of the stranger in me, need to be embraced into wholeness of being.