Today I will be teaching a course... ironically about teaching. One of the primary things I will be looking for as a learning outcome throughout the delivery of the course is whether the learner can create a welcoming environment, or in other words, a container for the learners they teach.
What does that mean?
Hopefully, we all have that teacher we remember from our youth who made us feel special. That teacher who made learning seem easy. We all remember that waiter or waitress who made us feel like our presence was important. And we remember those who made us feel the opposite.
While the container is influenced by the learning content, and the lighting, the physical space, it is also influenced by the personality and actions of the person or people within the container.
How can I make the container I am in feel welcoming to others?
When learners feel threatened or bored, they do not engage in learning. You can offer all the content you want and the learner may get very little out of it. The most important thing any instructor can do is create a space that is welcoming and interesting.
The same is true in our family containers, our neighbourhoods, our political groups, our recreation groups. You will only ever be as successful as you could be when the who is more important than the what. It is why so many feel that gender rights are essential to them. It is why women joined a suffragette movement. It is why when governments told us to stay in bubbles and wear masks, there was backlash. The goals of the Covid rules was to reduce the virus - the virus was the what. Unfortunately the who were not considered as strongly. The result, we all felt unsafe.
Let me put in an aside here... I do not envy the government trying to deal with the who of hundreds of thousands, millions of people. Even billions. You will never please all of those people. So I say thank you to the government for your efforts to protect us from a global pandemic. But I am also in NS where we had Dr Robert Strang who many fell in love with. Why? Because during a global pandemic, he was a voice of reason, of calm and steadiness. He felt like our Poppop, our Grampy. He made us feel safer.
Consider the containers you are moving through. Do they make you feel welcomed? How do you influence the containers you are in? See what happens if you focus on the who rather than the what.
Which do you see? The young wife? Or the mother in law?
There is a quote that says, "We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are." This statement has been accredited to Anais Ani, and to others from earlier times. Suffice it to say, it is an idiom that is rich in truth.
I have been pondering this truth of late. As my mind meanders to judgement and criticism, I am reminded, I am seeing things as I am. I growl with derision about the driver in the car passing me only to meet at the lights, judging the driver's lack of consideration. Where is my consideration for others? Where am I breezing past others in my haste? I realize I do breeze past, not taking the time to say Hello or ask how someone is doing.
I consider the fast pace of my walk with the dog, not patient while she sniffs the scents along our route. I am getting this walk done, in haste, not in awe or wonder. Not curious about what is different about the day. I rush through emails, missing the misspelled words. Yes, I like the driver am rushing through the world without concern for those around me and how it may impact them.
Amazing to have the health and strength to shovel my driveway. Yes, there is much to be grateful for and much to appreciate.... but my mind, like the minds of many go to critique, judgement. To resisting what is for what we want more.
Challenge: Look today for what gives you a sense of awe. I remember standing by a stream at a yoga training one spring and noticing the water run, the flowers in bloom and realizing, these elements of nature do not compete or chase, they just exist without comparison. And they do not suffer as humans with their judgement and criticisms do. Expand your view from judgement to appreciation and see what happens to your stress.
I did get to reschedule on a different route arriving three hours earlier. But more importantly, I have had time today to just sit and type. Just sit and ponder this comment made in a corridor. I spend a great deal of energy trying to control my world. I try to:
What happens when I resist the reality that I experience? I feel frustrated, anxious or angry, annoyed. Basically fairly despondent when it becomes too much.
What if I tried on this idea that everything will work out, whatever happens. I'll get to my destination, not at the time I wanted, but eventually. Even if I don't, perhaps I will still be able to be positive if I stay open to whatever outcome arises.
I sure hope the gentleman in the corridor is right. "It will all be okay, whatever happens."
I would add, I truly believe that this will only be true if I choose to look for what is okay, whatever happens.
Brene Brown describes beautifully in her book, The Atlas of the Heart, it is this sense of belonging that is a fundamental part of our hierarchy of needs. She says, "Love and belonging are irreducible needs for all people. In the absence of these experiences, there is always suffering."
Interestingly, note that self-esteem is the level AFTER love and belonging. In other words, our ability to feel esteem comes after we sense we belong or are receiving love. Add to this recognition the idea that problem solving and a lack of prejudice or self-actualization comes AFTER we feel love and esteem.
But how do we know that what we are experiencing is true belonging or love? If are not self-actualized, our ability to accurately perceive love and belonging is shadowed.
This leads to giving our personal power to someone else in exchange for a sense of belonging and love, respect. With this accomplished we move to a sense of esteem, but it is self-esteem built on the foundation of someone else's love.
I would suggest Maslow's pyramid should really have a caveat... it must be considered through the lens of self and we. The WE being HUMANITY. Am I physically safe? Are WE physically safe? What are the actions that ensure we are all safe physically and emotionally. Do I belong to myself and do I allow others to belong?
With a new year and the rituals which come with it, I found myself working away on a puzzle while Netflix documentaries played in the background. The first was about The Family, a fellowship of people who spread the word and love of Jesus. Interestingly, they work to spread this word through political opportunities, like the prayer breakfast where heads of states from around the world gather. The focus is love for Jesus. The concern is the intertwining of church and state. The goal really seeming to be power.
The next series was about a spiritual leader, philosopher, named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, later named Osho. His following led to the creation and eventual destruction of a entire town in Oregon. Those close to the leader fled the country with multiple warrants for arrest levied against them. The crimes included attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and immigration fraud. The goal of this community was to be powerful enough to run the county in which they lived. They were to some degree successful, having their own police force. In other words... power on a political, societal level.
Giving up our own belief, desire or needs even to belong is giving up freedom to chose. The freedom to choose is the only true freedom we have. In this New Year, I challenge you to consider your choices and the seed of your action. If I choose healthy food choices, what drives that choice? Is it a desire to live a long and fulfilling life so I can continue to serve others? Or is it the social media posts showing me the body I should have? If I choose to have another cup of coffee, is it to satiate a desire for caffeine or is the desire for wakefulness so I can complete this post. 😉
You may need to ask the question in many ways. What am I getting out of this choice? What will I get from this decision? What is driving me? Any time a should or a shouldn't crops up in your thinking, perhaps examine the inclination toward the choice you are making. It is a practice. It never ends. But you may over time, start to feel more free.
As I sat in the meditation hall this morning feeling the elusive juiciness of the repeating mantra, my senses became drawn to the sound of the door opening, people arriving. My mind wandered to the thought, "it must be almost 6 am when the prayers will start." The continuous influx of bodies to the space continued to pull my attention from meditation. Judgement started. That person just plopped their blanket down without any consideration for those of us in here already trying to meditate. And that person got set up and then went back outside the space to get another blanket, making more noise than is necessary. And on and on.
But I stopped and reflected on my choice to come into a collective space to practice. After all, I could meditate in my room and the whole point of this space was for us to practice together. The point of this space is the collection of our energy and here I was bringing resentment to the others for being their. I also recognized it is a choice to focus on the sounds around me with criticism or I could choose to focus on the fortune of being in a space with so many other folks seeking more peace in a chaotic world. I could be grateful for the supportive energy of their practice.
Why am I meditating? Because I want more peace and joy in my life and less suffering and I recognize the mind's primary focus is to keep me alive. Hence it often looks for the threats and things I should resist. It also likes pleasures and comforts, so it looks for those too. And when they are not present, it sees survival as a threat.
But from Malcolm Gladwell's book titled, "Outliers," we have learned to be a master or expert takes 10,000 hours. Actually... as a coach let me clarify. It's not just 10,000 hours. It is 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice as defined by Eriksson and Lehmann, is when we pay attention to how to improve our performance. I could sit and meditate, but if I let my mind just keep wandering, it is not deliberate practice. Deliberate practice involves attention to the movement of mind - what stimulates it, what strategies can bring it back, what is my attitude, what choice can I make to allow the mind to become more settled. Feeling threatened or negative is not going to help be find a settled mind. It will whip up the mind into a frenzy and I will probably blame anyone around me for that experience, rather than recognizing what changes I need to make.
"We're a nation hungry for more joy:
Because we are starving from a lack of gratitude."
~ Brene Brown
It doesn't matter where you go - the climbing gym, the fitness class, the pickleball court, to work or home. What are you paying attention to? The things you do not want, the things you resist or the things that are missing? Or do you pay attention to the fortune of being with like-minded folks? It is a choice. One will bring you more negativity. The other will bring you more joy.
It isn't easy. These moments of clarity are only available to me because I do sit and meditate and the times when my mind keeps spinning, I notice my body does too. I usually have too many projects on the go, too many meetings, and have packed it all into a tight schedule. But when I slow down. When I choose to stop and just be in the moment, clarity is available to me.
What causes me to move so quickly, to pack my schedule? I am chasing the peace, the joy. I am chasing a sense of feeling safe in a chaotic and jammed packed world. A world that continually throws advertisements at me. A world that keeps moving faster with more discontent, more desire and less sustainability. Remember - the beauty of the first few weeks, months of Covid when we all were forced to STOP. When we had to slow everything down. As a storm has swept past the shores of Nova Scotia this weekend, Nova Scotians with the power out and all external entertainment cancelled, they are forced to slow down. Many don't embrace it - the rally against it. Blame NS Power for not getting power back on soon enough. Blame the cell companies for spotty reflection. Remember my previous post where I tried to just not look at my phone for guidance on my trip down to this retreat? Yup... we create our own chaotic and unhappy lives.
Challenge.... try to be still. Try to just notice what disrupts the attempt at stillness. Then look more deeply at what you are really looking for? I was sitting in that meditation hall counting recitations, in an attempt for peace, yes. AND I was looking to be a good Yogi, a better person. What I really wanted was to be a part of something bigger than myself and yet, I sat there judging all those who make up that bigger than myself community.
Confronted with the six hour drive from Pittsburgh to the Himalayan Institute, there is nothing more frustrating than the road work, the two lane busy interstate with truckers who get in the passing lane and stay there even on the steep hills that make up the Pennsylvania terrain. I made it with no time to spare to jump on the call for a online course. The course ran until bedtime. This morning waking and finally able to slow down and absorb the essence of this place, recognition dawns.
Sitting in meditation in a group meditation space, there are people coming and going, shuffling of movement, all creating distraction and a similiar feeling of annoyance I had toward those truckers the day before. I contemplated leaving and meditating in my room. However, when I first awoke, I pondered, go to meditate now? There are fewer people, avoid the group? I intentionally chose to wait and enjoy the prayers and meditation with the group because I often choose isolation.
As I sat, pulled from the depth of meditation into a state of contemplation and reflection, I asked myself, what do I gain from avoiding groups? The answer, I don't have to feel this angst when things are not the way I think they should be. I don't experience the suffering of feeling frustrated with others.
In the Yoga Sutras, there is a practice...
Be happy for those who are happy.
Feel compassion for those who are suffering.
Cultivate cheerfulness for those who are virtuous.
Cultivate equanimity for those whose values (actions) oppose your own.
Contemplating these folks who make noise as they move into the meditation space, plopping their blanket down, shuffling the sand in the cushion and then preparing their meditation beads, apparently with no concern for the experience of others, HOW can I cultivate equanimity?
The words of Byron Katie come to mind... where am I having no concern for the experience of others? Ahhhh... such a great question. And a great reflection on how others were confused, perhaps annoyed by this woman seated in the tea room on her computer at a retreat space where they came to get away from the feel of the busy cafe. Perhaps my colleagues were envious or frustrated that I slipped away early from the clean up of the Summit. Perhaps folks felt frustrated by the speed at which I was driving along that highway.
Recognition of my own impact on others, softens the irritation toward others. That opens the door to equanimity. It also can dampen that negative feeling born from envy or desire. These models who have slim, fit and healthy young bodies, while I continue to age and decline in strength and slimness. Can I cultivate happiness for their happiness? Can I recognize that they too may judge themselves as harshly and unkindly as I am judging myself? We are suffering together if that is true.
The drive to Pittsburgh, I listened to David Goggins' book, Can't Hurt Me. On one hand I was impressed with his mental toughness, and on the other I was appalled by his blatant disregard for his physical wellbeing, his attitude toward women, and his colleagues, and his impact on others. Throughout the book he continues to talk about being at war with the mind. Absolutely agree that the mind is an incredible tool that is constantly driving us toward comfort and ease, safety. I drove fast because I did not want to show up late for the course. Being on time would protect me from being seen as unprofessional, unable to manage my time well. I have a false sense of wanting to always be seen as competent and professional. That desire for others to see me in a particular way limited my ability to be compassionate toward myself and others during the drive. And while I was focusing on one group seeing me in a certain way, I was ignoring the way others would see me in the anonymity of my vehicle. The result... war.
War happens when reconciliation is not possible. It occurs when two sides cannot and chose to no longer allow for the other side's opinion or experience. When my experience is more important than the experience of others here at a retreat centre, I have gone to war... at a retreat centre.
But we can choose compassion or equanimity, we can choose cheerfulness and being happy for others, especially when we choose to question where we have also done the human thing we are witnessing. Where have I behaved, acted like David Goggins? Arrogant, intensely toward others, not listened or acknowledged the pain and suffering. Well, I know a number of folks who could raise their hands and tell you all about those times.
At the very end of David Goggins' book, when he starts dying, he realizes the mistake of not paying attention to his body, of disregarding what his body was telling him. And in the confrontation of the end of life he also realizes his impact on others and how perhaps he could have done things better. He sees the shadow of his own lack of self acceptance.
As a coach, I have coached mental toughness, I value mental toughness. I also value preparation. I value critical thinking and awareness of where to do better. I also strongly value not treating myself or others like we are at war. I prefer to treat myself and others in a collaborative way and that requires active listening, critical review of my impact on others, and compassion. A willingness to be aware and make change.
That is how we end war.
I recently came across an idea in an Atlantic article about mastery versus achievement. It took my mind away with a multitude of thoughts. Yes! I wanted to scream, this is the difference that I want the world to understand. Back many moons ago as a newly crowned high school graduate, I embarked on a job for the summer which would involve teaching canoeing. As part of my training, I had to go to canoe school.
We arrived at this summer camp property with small cabins and one large building for meals, situated on Lake Mockingee. After settling into our cabins, we were apprised of the expectations. Each day we would be up on the water practicing skills before breakfast. We then had an hour for a meal, and morning practice. We came off the water for lunch and a "classroom" session involving discussions about equipment, weather, water movement and rescues. Then it was back onto the water to learn skills and practice. After four days of this schedule, we would move to the assessment period of two days. There were various stations and we only had three tries to get it right. Stations included the windy weather course, the dock turns, slalom, speed course, the portage and rescues.
We were a group of maybe close to twenty people and we had to take turns during the testing and of course some stations, like the windy weather course, were weather dependent. We had to complete these stations paddling solo in a canoe that fit the requirements for the course. My five foot 3 and a half frame weighing one hundred and fifteen pounds had to complete these stations in a seventeen foot aluminum canoe weighing seventy-five pounds. Popping the keel out of the water in that baby was certainly a challenge for me.
In those ten days on the water from dawn to dusk, I mastered a canoe. I developed the ability to maneuver the canoe regardless of water conditions and boat size by experiencing the feel of both the boat and the water and knowing my own capacity. It wasn't a matter of strength as much as a mastery of skill.
When I came to climbing many years later, I first learned to teach the basic skill of belaying and setting up top ropes outside at local cliffs. Any guide can tell you, each anchor system is different depending on the unique nature of the gear you have the features nature is offering you as potential anchor points. Like the windy weather course, there are some general principles about how to aim the canoe and stay within your corridor, but the wind is not consistent and one must learn how and when to adapt. In building anchors, again there are principles one can follow, but there is no one right way, there could be multiple and discerning the most appropriate system for the situation. It takes a deeper level of knowledge than a couple of practice runs at setting anchors.
Now let's talk about coaching climbers. Lots of folks are stepping into the role as a coach at their local gym. Their resume consisting of the hard ascents and maybe, just maybe, some experience working with young people. Just because you know how to climb hard does not mean you know how to coach.
Period. Just because you have skills as a climber, does not mean you know how to share those skills and adapt based on someone else's climbing ability, body size and physiology.
Each athlete arrives with unique physical strength, mobility and anthropometry. Trying to copy what someone else in a different body tries could be like using a hammer to screw two pieces of wood together. You maybe successful if you try hard enough, but it will take far more effort than just using a screwdriver.
A good coach can identify what may work for the person given their size, their strengths and weaknesses. A good coach can not only make the athlete work hard and train, the coach can put more tools in the athletes toolbox. What tools? There are many ways to move up a wall. You can face the wall and use front steps the whole way. You could turn sideways and use back steps. You could use a combination of these techniques. These are two techniques that many climbers already have. But most will have a preference. I am a back stepper. I will always look for that option and as a result, I tend to have better grip strength relative to my back and should strength. I tend to have pretty good flexibility in my low back and hamstrings, However, my turn out could use some work. A good, effective coach would give me opportunities to work on developing the areas of weakness and the ability to identify when I should use the front step over the back step. This is a simple easy example of two techniques in a vast array of techniques possible in climbing.
Most importantly, a good coach would figure out what motivates me and capitalize on it with activities that develop the skill AND keep me inspired.
The magic of good coaching is the coaches ability to see what those specific weaknesses are and offer guidance in a way that can be received and applied by the athlete. The magic in climbing is not the ascent, it is understanding and application of the right moves at the right time in the right way. Mastery in climbing is not just being strong enough or knowing a technique, it is know when to apply it and how to develop a nuanced application for a given situation. It is understanding how to maintain focus and concentration, not rushing or hesitating.
This idea - theory has been the root of executive coaching, human resources training and life coaching. The only way to make a person change, develop is to inspire the growth. When folks learn you just have to join a team to get a ribbon, there is no driver, no action based in inspiration. The result is a world were people just want to show up and get credit for showing up, not for the quality of the work. Today, I challenge you to apply yourself. I challenge you to do what is uncomfortable for the sake of doing better.
I read a recent post on Facebook by a local politician stating that someone had called and threatened his children if he didn't act on what the person wanted. This idea of my way is the only right and just way is interesting. Consider a recent earthquake that took the life of so many in Turkey and Syria. I am fairly sure this is not the way many wanted this month to go. And yet I can relate to this very arrogance of expecting things to go my way.
Yesterday, Valentine's Day, I not just once felt my victimhood at being a divorcee. I silently resented those with someone to post about on Facebook or instagram. I loved once. And that person stopped loving me. Definitely an example of something that did not go my way.
However, as I looked into the memories of that ending, something occurred to me. Man, I held tightly to holding that love together. I did things that were truly harmful to myself in my attempts to save the marriage. I was gripping so tightly to a marriage that really did not exist and in my efforts, I was not respecting myself the same way that someone would when threatening someone else's children.
Thanks to the Work of Byron Katie and a lot of Yoga study, I eventually found my way back to myself. Or did I? Upon further reflection, I recognized this same over gripping to my son, despite my promise not to do that to him. Oh, I made sacrifices, letting him go to boarding school at the tender age of 13 years, and allowing all the vacations and time with his dad. But when my son turned 18 years and I realized he was his own person, legally allowed to make decisions for himself, including the decision to visit or not, I went back into a similar despair, focusing on what the right move is to keep him choosing me. I studied more Yoga, I threw my life into chaos, I returned to gripping tightly to my history as a climber and a coach. I suffered.
Then my dad died, aunts passed away, menopause arrived, and we all went into lockdown with Covid. The universe was delivering an excellent opportunity for me to reflect on what I was gripping. I did not consider that though. I gripped tighter, fighting my grief with productivity. I cleared the yard of trees that may block the view, I painted the house exterior, I redid decks, I gardened, I replaced flooring, I painted inside. I replaced windows, I sanded countertops and treated them. I redecorated... and on and on. All of this movement was an effort to thumb my nose at the prospect of aging and the grief of not seeing my son for a year was drowned in wine.
Perhaps there is no God, or universe pulling the strings. Perhaps there is only us here doing the best we can. But I do know this... when I stop gripping so tightly to MY WAY, I feel more relaxed and calm. I struggle less. I have more energy for the next move, in the same way when I am climbing and I stop trying to do it the way everyone else does and just go with what the rock seems to want from me, I experience more flow, more joy and often more growth.
Now well into the second month of the year and past the point where many have left their New Year's resolutions behind, it seems to me an excellent time to ask, "What was the goal with that New Year's resolution?" I will bet the answer is, "to feel better about myself." I too had a New Years resolution to eat less snacky foods. I am successful some of the time, but my why, was also to feel better about myself. I had a carefully crafted critique of my enjoyment of a some chips, to the point of shaming and the chips and Netflix becoming a mode of escape from that b$tch in my head who just natters about how weak I am. Combine that shaming with the commentary on how old and I am and how I will never get back to my peak shape and that pretty much sums up the years of isolation.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I got this storyline about my need to be better than the version of myself I was from my parents, from society. You are supposed to get A's. You are supposed to do what you are told, when you are told. You are supposed to wash the dishes perfectly and not drop the stack on the floor. (Whoops!) You are supposed to be kind. You are supposed to be polite. You are supposed to temper your energy. More importantly, you are not supposed to be wildly creative and build bunkbeds. I got no points for my ingenuity on that one. You are not supposed to be curious and try climbing the cliffs while your parents dig clams.
It is no different now. Scroll your feed and see the ads about how Yoga will make you young again and the model is clearly in her twenties. Look at the images of the stars and how gorgeous they look when they have had hours to prepare, haven't had to step into a grocery store in the last twenty years, and scads of money for regular facials, massage and physio. I don't know about you, but that is not my story. I would rather be sweaty and dirty from a day outside. So why would I spend so much time with the story of not enough, chasing the perfect body, a face without lines and hair without grey?
But again, the idea of beauty is just another storyline which could give a solid argument to a choice. Or not.
The main point... in this moment... just this moment, I can make a choice. That is where my power is.
I can choose to put on my sneakers and get outside, or not. I can pay attention to the storyline about how cold it is, and futile since I am still aging. Or I can just go. I can pay attention to the shaming from my critical self about how weak I am being using my chest cough and cold temps as an excuse. Or I can just go, or not go.
Here's the punchline...
What we all seek in this goal setting and pursuit is to finally be happy with who we are, the body we are in and grade we climb. This list can go on and include the job we have, the house we live in, the sleep we get, etc. This happy with who we are and where we are is called contentment. Contentment is one of the niyamas in the eight limb path of Yoga. Contentment is not focused on what we have yet to achieve. Contentment is appreciation and gratitude where we are. It doesn't mean you cannot aspire to something, that is possible. That is called being inspired. Contentment means I appreciate where I am, who I am, AND I will make choices from a place of inspiration, not from expectation or despair.
On that note, I am inspired to get my dog out and off leash today, and perhaps to skate at the Oval, What do you appreciate about you, your world today? What inspires you? May you have inspired decisions as you move through February.
Writing, journalling, podcasting... it's all about sharing the journey.