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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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

You Are Not the Story Someone Else Wants to Tell About You

Stories.  They are how we make meaning of the world.  What happens in your life shapes who you are. The stories you tell about your experiences, the interpretative lens you put on the experience, shapes you more. Sometimes it is hard enough to remember that you are not your stories.  It gets even more complicated when other people tell stories about you, to you and maybe to others, well intentioned or not, that they want you to believe, that may or may not reflect your own experience of who you believe or know yourself to be.

And it is, if you take a moment to think about it, surprising how many people have a need to tell a story about you or about other people. (Oh, and you do it too, just in case you thought this is all about “other” people.  If you are honest with yourself, you will acknowledge you also tell stories about who other people are that you want to believe or you want them to believe – good, bad or indifferent.)  It is a dynamic process of being in relationship – from intimate relationship to “I don’t even know that person but I’ve read what they’ve written or I’ve heard about them”.

Case in point, how much do we project onto celebrities without really knowing anything about them other than what the media, paparazzi and twitter feed would have us believe? Or, rich people for that matter? Lots of judgment.  Lots of projection.  Lots of blame, as if other people having money or success somehow directly affects whether you do or not.  It’s actually not about them.  The sooner you stop focusing on what’s not in your sphere of influence and start refocusing on what is, the sooner you reclaim your power, your sense of self, abundance and flow in your life.

Part of the way you learn to distinguish the stories you are telling of yourself – or the stories you own or need to own as ours – is in relationship and interaction with others. Others provide a reflection back to you of where you are in your journey.  But it can be difficult to distinguish when it is a reflection of your journey and when it is a projection of someone else’s view of you.  And projections abound. The less sure you are of who you are the more likely you are to be influenced by the story someone else wants to tell about you.

When you are unsure of who you are, you are more likely to seek external validation, in fact, you are more likely to invite projection.  This sometimes happens when you want to please others, meet their expectations of who they want you to be in relationship to them. Sometimes it happens when you do good work, are seen to be a good leader or get magnified to some super human status (to greater and lesser extents depending on how well known you are). Then you feel good, but it is fleeting. More often you disappoint others.  Sometimes you argue with them about their view of you.  Often you do not feel seen or supported.  The irony is, in intimate relationship in particular, the opposite is also true – the other person also does not feel seen or heard.

It is always interesting when others disagree with you about you, insisting their view of you, their story of you is the right one and that you need to do something about it. (And, again, read that you also do this to others.)  That may be true.  The question is, what are you responding to?  Someone else’s need for you to be different so you fit into their view of who they want you to be or your own need to walk a path of personal alignment or integrity which might invite you into your own journey of growth and change? You have a choice, although you are not always aware that you do, or even happy about it.

Messiness of entanglement. Is another person providing a reflection of who you are or a projection of who they think you should?

Messiness of entanglement. Is another person providing a reflection of who you are or a projection of who they think you should?

It can get really messy. Different people have different hopes and expectations of you in the midst of all their own struggles. Even one person’s expectations of you can shift and change, sometimes over a period of time and sometimes suddenly with no warning.  Or not change at all, even though you do.  It gets way more complicated when there are many people you are trying to please or appease. Either way, as long as you rely on others to validate your experience or your sense of who you are, you give away your power and the ground beneath your feet is really sand that sweeps away and upends you as the tide shifts – which it does continuously.

We all have people who wish we would live into and believe the story of us they carry in their own mind, their own interpretation of their experience of us, as they seek to understand their own identity in relation to us.  When others need to believe a certain story of you it is likely that they themselves might not have a very good understanding of who they are.  They might be giving their power away – even trying to give it to you and then, sometimes, blaming you for it.  It is easier to look at others and assign blame to them for your business not growing, your abundance not flowing, your relationships not working, for you not being happy than it is to understand how you step into your own power.

It is alluring to want to believe other’s stories of you when they are stories of success.  At the same time, if you do not see or own that success for yourself then you have dissonance within yourself that will rise to the surface in some way, often in self-sabotaging kinds of ways.  It is more impossible when the story others want you to live into is how you disappointed them.  But, you are not that story any more than you are the story of success that you do not own.

You can step into your own power and not take power from someone else.  Are you willing to put your power on and own it instead of wondering when someone is going to come and take it away from you? Or wait forever for someone to give you permission for what is yours all along? You have a choice. You have many choices. You can choose to discover who you are in your own journey to openheartedness.  You can choose to live into the stories of how you want to live. You can choose to be powerful in setting the course of your own life.

All Things Are Here – In My Life and Experience – By My Invitation

When my youngest son was a toddler and a preschooler, he could throw a temper tantrum like I had never experienced before or maybe even believed possible.  He could throw them in private at home and he could also throw them in public places, equally well.  I once did my whole grocery shopping with him in a fit because my options were limited.  When he was in a tantrum, which could be set off by seemingly inane things, he was beside himself, working himself up into more of a tempest with each minute that passed. Yelling.  Screaming. Throwing himself around. He was truly inconsolable and, believe me, we tried many different ways to soothe him. Nothing worked.  Anything tried only made him worse, as well meaning friends and strangers sometimes found out.  He needed to exhaust himself from whatever swirl of emotions was in him.  When he was done, he was done.  He was ready for apple juice and a snuggle, to let go of where he had been and to move forward – almost as if nothing had happened.

I have no idea how many temper tantrums he threw.  Enough to observe a wide range of reactions and responses in myself.  Learning, as difficult as it was, he needed to be left alone, to be in his own journey of discovery of how to self regulate.  It was challenging to bear witness to and challenging as a mother to seem to have no strategies of success to help him feel better.  So many things activated in me – disappointment, frustration, my own rage, sadness, despair, feelings of failure – as a mother and a person.  Also fear when that moment became projected into the future and images of this child as a temper tantrum throwing adult made me fear he would not find his way in the world, find his way to maturity.  Learning not to personalize his behaviour, not to make it about me instead of about his experience. Learning patience, to move at the pace of guidance – one of the seven whispers in Christina Baldwin’s book of the same name.

Maybe the most significant learning was in letting go.  After what could sometimes be an hour or more of a temper tantrum, my son was ready to let it go.  An awareness and curiosity arose in me as I pondered what seems like typical adult reactions – the desire to make it about the relationship, to see it as personal attack, to want the other person to suffer as much as we perceive that we have suffered at their hands, as a result of their behaviour. “Just because you’re done, doesn’t mean it’s over. Now you need to bear the consequences of what you just did – to me.”  We want to stay grumpy even when the other person has moved beyond it.  Why do we do that? He was not angry at me.  He was not deliberately trying to ruin my day.  He was caught up in his own experience.

Staying grumpy, staying mad, seeking retribution, sometimes seeking apology, wanting the other person to admit they are wrong, are ways of externalizing our power – giving it away to someone else.  A toddler in a temper tantrum.  A person we care about in their own disruption or projection.  We want them to make it better.  We want them to pay. And who does it serve to be that way?  No one.  Especially not us. Not the relationship either.

“In my life, I have told many stories that externalize or give away my power.  Learning to own my own experience and my own power has been and continues to be a significant part of my journey.”  Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness (Chapter 1)

Candle in hands

All of this has me reflecting on relationships – the ebb and flow, beauty and challenge that show up, sometimes in equal measure although sometimes it just seems that way, because of where we focus our attention.  When we have an argument with someone dear to us, sometimes that argument and the energetic imprint of it takes precedence and becomes the defining energy of the relationship.  If we focus on it, focus on how wronged we feel, that is what we grow.  But we have a choice.  We could choose to focus on the beauty, the joy, the qualities of the other person that we admire, adore and love.  They are there in equal measure and often more.  These could be the defining qualities of the relationship.

To know we have choice invites us into self reflection and self hosting – to discern what is our own to take care of and what needs to be taken care of in relationship, so it does not become the shadow underbelly given life by trying to repress it. This is a discernment and we may not always get it right.  But what if we could be in relationship in an attitude of appreciation, love and forgiveness?  How would that change the dynamic, flow and connection in relationship in contrast to when we focus on the moments of hurt, pain, disappointment?

I often need to remind myself that “all things are here by my invitation or attraction of them in one way or another.  If I were not attracting these experiences, the insights that arise from them could not be in my experience.  This includes people, events, situations, timing and flow.” Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness Chapter 1.  This is the invitation to hosting myself, to be self reflective.  If I can find clarity in this, then I can know how to show up in relationship, what I can heal within myself and what I need to bring to the relationship, not through righteousness or justification but through generosity and curiosity to understand how to deepen relationship, to create the invitational space to show up in the fullness of who we both are as human beings – in our strength and our vulnerability, to not feel the need to hide or the need to defend.

“With great intentionality, I have been shifting my focus to tell more and more of the stories of appreciation, gratitude and love.  I am telling more of the stories of the way I want my life to be rather than of how I don’t want it to be.” Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness Chapter 1.  And this is an ongoing, often daily practice.  It would be so much easier to live a cocooned life but people are always going to show up in one way or another no matter how hard we might try to shut them out.  Easier isn’t necessarily better.  The opportunity for growth shows up in those moments, invited whether we think they are or not.

A beautiful example is my son.  Not a toddler anymore.  A young person who has been learning how to self regulate his emotional experience who no longer throws temper tantrums.  Now it is a beautiful journey to witness.  He is such an old soul teacher for me in this journey to openheartedness, embracing all that shows up on the path.

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.