Gratitude

by Andrea Chilcote

Today’s post consists of an exercise – if you dare. Want to feel more empowered and alive, regardless of the state in which you find yourself right now? Practice gratitude. I’ll be with you all the way.

I’m feeling grateful today, and I’m expressing it as prayer. Oh, not a prayer in the purist sense perhaps, but a prayer as I define it. It’s an earnest expression of a strong emotion, intended to connect to others in a positive way. How’s that definition? Here we go.

Today I am grateful for Arthur’s health. After celebrating a milestone birthday this year, he is preparing for many more. I could focus on fear of the future, but instead I focus on what’s true today. He is healthy and whole.

Who in your life is model of health and longevity? Who inspires you to care for your physical body even when you’re tired?

Today I am grateful for all of the clients who entrust me with work that is important to them. I am, right now, feeling a “flow” of work that is meaningful and important. I could grouse about the hours and the stress. Today I choose to be thankful for the abundance.

What is “flowing” forth in your life? What abundance is blessing you?

Today I am grateful for the love of my playful dogs. No matter what they need (or demand) when I’m too busy or too tired, fulfilling it creates a spark of energy.

What calls you to play? What distraction gives you the energy to persevere? Give thanks for that.

Today I am grateful for this opportunity for connection – connection with all of my cherished friends and colleagues, and with each one of you who is reading this message. If ever I feel alone, I can reach out to you.

Who are you thankful for today? Who gives you a lift when a lift makes all the difference?

Perhaps my list was not complete. It’s simply my list, this one day. Make your own. What are you grateful for today?

Passion

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared in February on The Spirited Woman, where Andrea is a weekly blogger. We’re happy to report the pup you’ll read about here is now healthy and happy, living the life he deserves. For more on his story, see Flipper’s story: From baby knees to little husky prince.

Husky RescueIf I had to identify the emotion I’ve been feeling for the last 24 hours or so, I would label it passion. Oh never mind that it’s Valentine’s Day as I write this post…that’s not the kind of passion I’m referring to. I’m passionate about a cause, a need that touches my heart.

It’s been said that we cannot think or act in love or in harm toward another without affecting, in some small way, all others including ourselves. This truth becomes more evident to me each and every day. We are all connected. What we think, say and do to members of our planet – people and animals, as well as our earth itself – has profound and far-reaching impact.

Consider this story. Right now there is a beautiful Siberian Husky pup being cared for by a Los Angeles area rescue group. He is a product of irresponsible breeding and was sold as a tiny pup to unsuspecting owners who were misled about his health. This precious angel was born without kneecaps in his back legs and needs very expensive surgery. With it, he can thrive. Without it, he will die. People from around the country are rallying to donate to his medical fund, and the angels from the rescue group are lovingly working with specialists to get him the best care.

Despite a full work schedule and many demands on my time, I am consumed by passion – compassion actually – for this sweet pup. And I know that many of you are equally consumed by passions of your own. Most all of us have some cause or mission that evokes a strong desire to contribute, make something better, or right a perceived wrong. We cannot help but be affected by circumstances that surround because we are in relationship to one another. We are connected.

I love words, and writing gives me an opportunity to study them. Today, my word “passion,” describes the drive to action I have felt, and the deeper feeling underneath is “compassion.”  I was surprised to learn that the Latin root of the word passion is “suffering.” Compassion’s root is “to suffer with.” Ah, the addition of the word “with”… connection.

My drive to help this one dog could easily be snuffed out if I allowed myself to become overwhelmed by the great need beyond his. I’m reminded of the well-known starfish story in which a young girl’s refusal to be discouraged by the limitations of her own small efforts inspired others to join in and help. This is how connection works. We inspire one another.

What is your passion at this very moment? You need only to step out your own world for a mere minute and you’ll be able to feel it. Make a choice to meet suffering with love, whether through a simple kind thought or an action. You’ll inspire the same in others even if it’s invisible to you. It’s how it works.

Choose to…

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. This summer, followers of this blog will enjoy bi-weekly archived posts that have appeared on The Spirited Woman but never before on this site. 

Last month in my post entitled Right Now, I talked about the critical importance of prioritizing what really matters and focusing on the task at hand. One’s health as well as success depends on it.

A reader emailed me with the following comment:

“Remembering to only focus on the one task at hand will certainly help me get all my tasks accomplished. And hopefully keep me out of the sick bay. Determining which task is the ‘task at hand’ is my biggest challenge.”

I can relate to his challenge and I bet you can too. It’s so easy to allow ourselves to be pulled in multiple directions at once and become distracted by the ones that are the loudest or most compelling.

The next morning I reflected on the question of how to determine the task at hand as I began my day. I decided to let my experience inform me hour by hour.

I knew the first three hours of the day would be easy, as I had an extended session scheduled with a client. It was work I love to do, and work that requires the kind of focus that forces one to block out distractions, compartmentalize other pressing to-do’s, and be fully present. Plus, I had made a commitment to do it.

After that meeting, I got to work on the other items I had promised myself or someone else that I would complete. Not everything on the list was as fulfilling as the work with my client, though each seemed as though they “had” to be done. I was reminded of a principle called Have-To versus Choose-To. It’s infinitely more empowering to choose than to be obligated.

Commitments drive our calendars. Most of us follow through, at least eventually, on what we say we’ll do. The nagging question though (the real question the reader asked) is: What drives our commitments?  What drives what we choose to do?

When we’re fully conscious and aware, some greater strategic picture of life – purpose, values, potential – drives our choices. When we’re not, it’s dangerously easy to become distracted and rationalize “busy” as productive.

In their new course “The 5 Choices,” time and productivity management experts at Franklin Covey say our attention is under attack. Their research shows that now more than ever we are reacting to distractions vs. choosing to spend our time on what’s important. In their extensive survey, people reported spending an average of 40% of their time on unimportant tasks.

I’ve written before of the need to allow inspired, creative thinking to drive our deepest desires before jumping to action. I believe there’s never been a better time to ask and answer the question, “What’s important?

After a day of observing myself, I was satisfied with the choices I made. But my project was skewed by the study itself. Awareness of the choices I made, coupled with focus on why I was making those choices was, for me, the success formula. I might be onto something…try it if you wish.

Take It Easy

by Andrea Chilcote

This week, I’m having an adverse reaction to things that are “hard,” and so I’m practicing ease. This encore post seems appropriate today. It appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where I’m a weekly blogger. This summer, followers of this blog will enjoy bi-weekly archived posts that have appeared on The Spirited Woman but never before on this site. 

I’m struck by how many of my friends and colleagues have been touched by my resolve to not look back. We all know it’s an obviously sensible ambition to remain present and move forward moment by moment – there’s nothing that can change the past – but so many of you have said “It’s hard.”

“Hard” is a concept, a familiar state of being we’ve conditioned our minds to believe. Oh, I get it … in fact, a dear friend commented on one of my recent posts saying,  “See how easy it is …” and I immediately wanted to reply: “That was not at all easy! In fact getting to that realization was very hard!”

But I realized that “hard” can be a mental concept focused on the presumed future vs. the moment (“It will be difficult to remain present when my husband’s children visit.”) or it can be literally true (“This jar is hard to open.”)

What we need are tools for escaping from the mental concept of “hard” when it bears down, eclipsing the beauty of right now.

So how do we make being present “easy?” Many before me have written of and taught tools and techniques. I offer you mine in simple form.

Breathe. Attention to the breath brings attention to the body. When we focus on (or obsess on) what happened before, we are literally out of our physical bodies and in our mental bodies. Practical tool: When you feel fear, anxiety, or guilt – take a breath, then another. Notice it. The result? Your attention will re-focus on now, if even for a second.

Empathize. This one works if you can’t get clear on how you yourself are feeling in this very moment. How is a significant other experiencing it right now? Caution – it’s against the rules to consider what he or she thought or felt moments or days before. This is about now.

Focus. I know this may be the hardest one…oops! There’s that word again. But really, it is the most liberating thing we can do. Stop right now and focus – ask yourself, “What is true now?” and really pay attention. I’m betting it’s not as bad as your mind might have conjured up. If it’s not, enjoy the break. If it is, then you just got a dose of reality to use to take remedial action. Now.

Do what you can (not what you can’t). A friend reminded me of this piece of wisdom she learned in a workshop many years ago. I had told her that while I know that not looking back is a practice we all can manage, I do not know how to advise those who have suffered tragic losses. Who am I to suggest that they leave the past behind, if the past contained love and life that is literally not here today? What I realized is this. When one practices presence in small ways (staying focused amidst life’s small irritations, for example), the “big” things become easier because of habit, not because we worked on them specifically. We never lose the memories but we care for ourselves by experiencing them in the context of this very moment.

Think about the ways in which you work to stay present in your daily lives. What do you do when “showing up” here and now is essential? If you have a practice for times like that, it can work at all times.

Closer to Fine

by Andrea Chilcote

An emerging theme this past week could be summed up in this sentence: “Show up and let yourself be seen and heard. There’s work to do.” So it seems fitting to share this post that appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where I’m a weekly blogger. 

For most of this year, I’ve been feeling like an Indigo Girl — closer to fine.

 And I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains

I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains

There’s more than one answer to these questions… and the less I seek my source for some definitive…

Closer I am to fine

Seriously, while I will seek to learn and thus grow until the day I die, my fifties (early fifties mind you), have freed me to admit I have gained some wisdom from the journey and am more or less comfortable with who I am.

And this is why I was stunned when I discovered Brene Brown. A research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, she has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her 2010 TEDx Houston talk on the power of vulnerability is one of the most watched talks on TED.com, with over 6 million views.

I am no more than a third of the way through Brown’s current book, New York Times bestseller, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Yet  a few key sound bites have haunted me in the week since I downloaded the book to my Kindle.

Damn vulnerability. Is it not enough that I bare my heart and soul here? Not quite, I realize as I type the words. Brown writes: “Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen.”

I’m not just “closer to fine.” I am fine, today. And tomorrow I have an opportunity to show up with even more courage and authenticity. Right now I am weary although joyful about the opportunity. Stay tuned for the stories.

That Ego Feeling

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. This summer, followers of this blog will enjoy bi-weekly archived posts that have appeared on The Spirited Woman but never before on this site. 

Earlier this week I was talking with a client about balancing the seemingly contradictory demands that create a significant amount of angst in a corporate leader’s life. In day-to-day practice, it’s really tough to make decisions for the good of the company when sometimes those decisions are not good for the business unit. It’s a challenge for executives to be involved and connected at all levels without usurping lower level managers’ autonomy. And, anyone who works in a for-profit business knows that at every turn, the delicate balance of delighting customers and maintaining profitability must be maintained.

We talked about how human ego plays into these decisions, and very quickly the conversation became philosophical. “What do you think ego is?” he asked me. “Is it ever a good thing?”

He cited Eckhart Tolle’s classic work The Power of Now, and we both agreed that Tolle might say there’s nothing good about ego. I told my client I saw ego as a separation from who we really are, and that “who we are” is not a unit but a part of a whole. In that way, no individual is ever separate from his or her corporate peer or competitors – we just think we are, and that’s the problem.

There’s more though. As humans living on the earth, we are each a “self,” connected to all things visible and invisible, but still separate. If this human experience is the ego, the only way to rid ourselves of it completely is to no longer be here in form and that’s certainly not the answer for me or my client.  But here’s the gem. The very moment we observe, rather than identify with, our egocentric “I-me-mine” thoughts and feelings, they dissipate. And our unique and grand selves can go about the work we signed up to do, making decisions that are sometimes imperfect but come from our best and highest self. From our hearts perhaps, not from our egos.

After that call, I came upon a post by a friend. He titled it “Hearts eye.”

Heart’s Eye
“Ego looks at things and people with the eyes in our head. Intuition looks them with the eye in our heart. Have your ego’s eyes gifted you with opportunities (most call problems) that caused you angst? Mine sure have. The eyes in our head see much less than what we give them credit for seeing. Spend time getting to know your heart’s eye, the source of intuition and inner knowledge – for it comes from your soul or Higher Self. Its guidance always is for your highest and best good for all concerned.” – Jackson Hanks 

For some time I’ve been writing that we must learn to lead with our hearts, and make decisions from a place of balance. Our heart provides the guidance we need when either choice seems flawed or contradictory.

The next time you get that ego feeling (you know, superiority, judgment or even the ugly ones like righteousness and victimhood) – stop, and as Tolle would advise, become aware. Look with your heart, and feel the shift. I’ll be practicing along with you.

“You got to look at things with the eye in your heart, not with the two eyes in your head.” –Lame Deer, Medicine Man of the Oglala people

Each Moment May Come

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. This summer, followers of this blog will enjoy bi-weekly archived posts that have appeared on The Spirited Woman but never before on this site. 

I think I may be on to something.

Last week I wrote of my commitment to remain present in the moment and look only ahead. I am officially finished looking back over my life and analyzing small things and large, because doing so usually involves some form of regret, guilt or fear of recreating what I had never intended in the first place. Oh, perhaps it’s harmless and can even be helpful to look back over times of great accomplishment. But let’s be honest. Past successes are not usually the things we spend time obsessing over, and there can be danger in wistfully reminiscing about good times long gone.

So back to my big Aha. This new commitment to diligently managing my thoughts has led to a re-emergence of a twenty or so year pursuit, my quest to learn where we go when we die.

My first memory of research into the matter was in 1991. I made a trip to the public library and came home with a load of books on everything from Hinduism and reincarnation, to accounts of Near Death Experiences. I was fascinated by Raymond Moody’s classic true stories of NDEs and still find them captivating, just having finished Mary C. Neal M.D.’s To Heaven and Back and Proof of Heaven,  Eben Alexander III M.D.’s  riveting account.  

While raised in a Christian tradition, it’s concept of heaven and hell never resonated with me. And, no one I read about who came back after near death spoke of hell. They spoke of only love and light.

During my early searching period, I saw a film that very closely depicted my belief system. “What Dreams May Come,” starring Robin Williams, was about as close as it gets to defining what I believed happens when we die. So one day several months ago, I rented the movie and watched it again.

Somehow, I had forgotten about the “hell” scene. Briefly, the main character Chris, played by Williams, died tragically. Following a deep depression brought on her husband’s and children’s’ accidental deaths (for which she blamed herself), his wife and soul mate Annie committed suicide. In the movie, Chris went to heaven and Annie to hell. Of course, Hollywood uses drama to sell movies, and in fact in the movie Annie got a “do over,” because the great love she shared with Chris prevailed. Still, I could not abide this portrayal. What was this hell to which she went and nearly remained?

I asked my friend to watch the 1998 movie and tell me what I had missed. She did, and caught a simple line that made all the difference. It helped me understand, in a powerful way, why looking back is the fuel of suffering, plain and simple.

“Good people end up in hell because they can’t forgive themselves.” Chris’ “tour guide” in heaven offered this piece of wisdom in an effort to explain that Annie’s profound feelings of guilt were what kept her stuck there.

Aha! Hell is where we go here on earth when we can’t forgive ourselves. I don’t know about you, but guilt and regret feel very hellish.

I love the fact that the movie ends with Chris and Annie being reborn into a new life together. What if we too could have a “do over?”

We can. Each and every moment.