A Worthwhile Journey – What Is My Life Trying to Teach Me?

Andrea Chilcote

Spiral stairway in the Alabama State Capitol. —Lissoy at En.Wikipedia Commons

by Andrea Chilcote

Many times I’ve shared Richard Bach‘s quote, “You teach best what you need to learn.” And while it’s been my experience – and a good one at that – there’s a little part of me that feels like an imposter. The reason? Because even though I’ve “learned” it, I’m still learning and probably will be for life.

Here’s a mundane example: Organizational skills don’t come naturally to me. So when, early in my career, I learned basic time management tools and tricks that made life and work much easier, I was excited to begin teaching these same skills. Make no mistake, I struggle to maintain the basic practices on a daily basis. Yet if the need arises, I can still help others implement those techniques.

Where is the fine line between having mastered something to the degree that one is qualified to teach it, and the humility to admit that personal growth is ongoing and never done? Therein lies the integrity of the matter.

In his article, “Am I Done With My Personal Work?” Raphael Cushnir tells a story of working with his teacher on an old feeling that had resurfaced. He writes, poignantly:

“None of this was new. It was a well-worn point of my personal journey, revisited anew at a deeper rung of my life spiral. It would have been easy to throw up my hands and walk away, to cry out, ‘This?! Again?! I thought I was done with it years ago!’ It would have been just as easy to see this recurrence as proof that I’m back where I started, no different or better off than when I first began to address my issues consciously.”

A number of my clients are struggling with something I have been working on most of my life. We’ll call it trying to “boil the ocean.” They are compelled to take on that which is difficult, to commit to more than is humanly possible, and they shun help even when it’s available before their very eyes.

I know a lot about this way of being. And I’ve transformed it in my own life, though it still surfaces, only as Cushnir says, “at a deeper rung of my life spiral.”

Over the years, I’ve learned I have physical, mental and emotional limits. I’ve learned that a “hair’s on fire,” stressed-out demeanor is unattractive and does little to foster confidence. And, I’ve grown comfortable asking for and accepting help in many areas of life. I’m qualified to help these people in part because I have true empathy for where they are now, and I’ve walked a path of change that’s before them, should they choose it. And I’m still learning right alongside them.

One of my teachers, Judy Goodman, says you can’t give people what you don’t have and you can’t take people where you haven’t been. And, she asks her students to answer this question: “What is my life trying to teach me?” – most certainly implying that the learning journey is life-long.

Can you let it go?

Andrea Chilcote

by Andrea Chilcote

I’ve been thinking about beliefs lately. How they form, how we let go of them. I know for sure that they often operate unconsciously, driving everything from our self-talk to simple choices and life decisions. Anyone with even an ounce of self-awareness knows that they “believe” (or at least have believed) some things that are irrational or untrue – often because of the thought patterns that were formed at a very young age and remain unearthed and unexamined.

I have beliefs I don’t even think I believe. For example, in good conscience I would tell you that at my very core I know that I am safe and secure, and will always be able to create and maintain a life I love. But every now and then, fear slips in and I become sure I will become one of the bag ladies Martha Beck talks about. There’s a complex biochemical activity unfolding in my brain’s amygdala and on some very basic level I’m just harkening back to the remnants of a belief system that I’ve spent my life learning to let go of. If, in one of those moments, you tried to offer me a logical, rational argument, I would nod my head and say I believe you. But some part of me would not even listen.

Why do some belief systems show up as impenetrable shells, biases that preclude even mere consideration, while others can be informed, enlightened and shaped upon examination?

Once I attended a legislative committee hearing on a state bill that I have a keen interest in opposing. Once again I saw how our beliefs color our ability and even desire to listen. I watched as compelling, intelligent arguments were made, and hoped they would, at a minimum, provoke dialogue. Yet those whose opening statements revealed opposite views didn’t even ask any questions. When it was time to vote, they parroted back their opening lines and remained true to their initial stand. It was as if no new information had even been introduced.

I wrote about the ways in which our listening gets hijacked by our beliefs and biases in my post, “Attention Please”  I suggested presence as a method for better listening. But there’s something that comes before presence. It’s motivation. I’m reminded of an admittedly blunt response I have been known to offer clients when they ask me how to transform some simple habit or behavior that, on the surface, looks easy to overcome. “Ya gotta wanta,” I say with a smile.

It is simple, but far from easy, to put aside one’s biases and beliefs. And I know that doing so improves the quality of our lives in so very many ways. But, – ya gotta wanta.

You Have to Ask

Andrea Chilcoteby Andrea Chilcote

I was standing on a ledge just wide enough to clear the length of my feet. It had those wrought iron bars you might find around a window box, and they stopped midpoint between my ankles and knees.

Perched many stories high with my back against the brick of the building, I cautiously looked down to the right, then to the left. There was only a thin strip of concrete on either side of my perch, and nothing to hold onto. No windows to escape into. I held my breath as I realized there was no way down.

Back to center, I straightened my head and thought hard. There was vague realization in the recesses of my consciousness: “This isn’t really happening. It’s just a dream.” Yet I couldn’t force my mind to wake.

“Pray!” The thought came to me clearly and just as I formed the words, “please help me,” my tiny platform began to descend. It was as if it had suddenly attached itself to a hydraulic lift and I was descending rapidly, feet firmly planted.

I hit the ground with a soft thud, exhaled and whispered “Thank you.” And then added: “A little slower next time, but really, thank you.”

Ask and you shall receive.

I can recite the verse, yet one difficult day (or year) can cause me to lose faith. And it seems that just about the time I begin to doubt, I get a powerful reminder. With my waking mind out of the way, I’m able to connect with the part of me that knows I’m always safe.

Several years ago I had a different but vivid dream that confirmed the same. I wrote about it in my post What Is Your Anchor? The lesson then and still today is to confront my fears, but not allow them to consume me. One of those simple messages, but not one that’s always easy to hear.

My belief is that the part of me that creates these dreams is the part I can and should trust. My waking mind is useful, but it sure can cloud the truth. In my dream state, I assessed a dangerous situation, saw that my human capability was of no use, and called upon the superpowers.

Let’s see if I can remember that lesson over the next few days. How about you?

Passion Revisited

Andrea Chilcote, Second Home Pet Resort, Husky Rescue

by Andrea Chilcote

UPDATE: Andrea is happy to announce that Emmalee did find her forever home over the weekend. We hope her story of passion revisited inspires you.

Two weeks ago, with the help of many animal welfare angels, I rescued a young female husky from the county shelter. She was picked up as a stray after a passer-by tried to strangle her with his belt. Undaunted that she was malnourished, had tick fever, ear infections and a mass nearly blocking her left ear canal, I made a commitment to her care and named her Emmalee.

The kind owners and staff at Second Home Pet Resort allowed me to board her there at a much reduced fee, as my home is full with my three dogs. Shortly after arriving, Emmalee had surgery to remove the mass. She did very well, and the mass was benign, likely a result of untreated ear infections. She is being treated for tick fever, is symptom free, and will recover fully. And, she is enthusiastically eating healthy food and gaining weight. She is returning to her husky self – active, curious and fun-loving. Now, we wait for her perfect forever home to surface. And act of faith in action.

Déjà vu. I am reminded of my feelings the last time I embarked on a journey like this one, and the words from my 2013 post seem fitting.

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.

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. The 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 her’s. 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.

Emmalee is a very special soul who will make a mark in some human’s life. Do you need the sweetness of a grateful friend and the antics of a husky personality? Our girl needs needs a forever home with a husky-savvy family. Can you help by sharing this message?

Rest By Any Other Name

Andrea Chilcoteby Andrea Chilcote

I’ve been busy. (“Ha ha,” you say. “Tell me something new.”)

Seriously, there is something new here. I have a lot going on, yes. But I also have this emerging core value I’ve been attending to. I haven’t found a just-right word for it yet, but self-regard comes close. It’s a familiar state of being, one I’ve honed for years now. And even though I genuinely feel such things as self-respect, compassion for my own shortcomings, and deservingness, my behavior doesn’t always align. I often “dis”-regard my own needs in light of an abundance of things to do and people to serve.

And so I get tired. Exhausted, sometimes.

Earlier this year, I decided something has to give. And the answer, I knew then and know still, is not to simply do less. It has more to do with the quality with which I carry myself through life than the length of my to-do list. It has little to do with the amount of hours I sleep and is more about what I do with the hours I’m awake. Regard for my own needs is paramount if I am going to truly contribute in this life.

In the last week, a friend (who knows of this new pursuit), has prefaced a number of statements with “If you’re not resting …” Each time I heard or read those words, I had a visceral reaction. I wanted to shout: “Of course I’m not resting, I’m busy.” Or, “I don’t need to rest – I’m energized.” At the same time I was thinking these thoughts, I was carefully managing my energy. Despite a packed work schedule, in the last three days I’ve made time for exercise, fun visits with friends, a great book, a good movie and a weekday lunch with Arthur.

After examining my reaction to my friend’s implication that I needed “rest,” I understood it. It’s the word, and what the word connotes to me.

Resting takes many forms of course. Some rest on the sofa while others rest on the dance floor. We can rest in motion, or rest … errr … at rest. Mental rest is different from physical rest. In my analysis of why the word itself produces such a reaction in me, I realized that I judge rest. In the crazy way I have it wired, some is deserved, some not. Some is for sissies, and some is to be savored like fine wine. Even the dictionary definition of rest seems polarized. Descriptions like “Death,” and  “To lie unfarmed,” sit beside “A place to stop and relax” and “Freedom from anxiety.”

How do you view rest? Is it an essential chore, or a delicious and deserved reward? How do you practice rest? Do you crash exhausted or plan the things that uniquely refresh you?

I’ve reframed my point of view on rest. Does yours need a reset too?

Intuition’s Subtle Nudge

Andrea Chilcote, Erik's Hope This is an everyday story that’s not “important” on the surface. But I’m sharing it for one very important reason: Life’s big lessons often come to me in very subtle ways. I bet the same is true for you.

The following true story took place one year ago. It’s about trusting (or not) my intuition. It’s about how my thoughts create my reality, and how the energy of negativity and annoyance beget more of the same.

———-

I was actually looking forward to my hotel stay on Monday night. It turns out that the hotel my client suggested was the same one in which I stayed three years ago with my two good friends and my precious pup Kairos, when we drove him across the country at seven weeks of age. When I think of that time and trip, my sweetest memory is snuggling with him that first night together, and getting up every two hours to ride the elevator downstairs to take him outside. Returning to that special place and remembering that special trip would be a small pleasure.

When I arrived in Dallas and retrieved my rental car, I asked Siri to route me to the Embassy Suites DFW airport. I could have looked up the address on the detailed itinerary Laura always provides – but I was unaware that there happened to be two of these hotels, one north of and one south of the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport, so I didn’t bother to check it. When Siri asked me to choose from a list of several, I quickly decided on the south location. Even though my choice was quick, I felt a strange incongruence, but the address looked right. In another century (the 1980’s), I worked for the company that owned this property and I visited it frequently – so the address probably struck a chord on some level. At the same time, I lingered a second or two extra on the second location listed, as it brought a memory too – a fleeting but sweet one. Why hadn’t I checked my itinerary?

My mistake was revealed when I tried to check in, and the clerk found no reservation. I briefly entertained leaving for the correct hotel, but the clerk grudgingly offered to change my reservation. The other hotel was 11 miles away and it was after 11 pm. I stayed put, though once again I felt a subtle yet clear “no.” His haughty attitude was contagious. But why didn’t I choose peace, even if it meant driving another 11 miles?

When I reached my room, it was obvious that this was not the hotel where Kairos, Suzanne, Barbara and I stayed. The decor was dark and dreary – reflective of the “other century” when it was in its heyday. More importantly, the AC was set on 65 – and was blowing – but hot. That should have been my third clue that I was in the wrong place, but now I was even more determined to settle in and get some sleep.

The front desk manager found me a cooler but still not completely comfortable room. I shared my displeasure with him, to which he just replied, “It’s been a long day.” I unpacked and went to bed.

I don’t recall the exact dream I had, but I kept hearing an annoying sound that I tried to quiet but could not. In the dream state, I must have thought I had remedied the problem but as these kinds of dreams go, I could not. Eventually it penetrated my consciousness sufficiently enough to fully wake me. At 3:30 am, I discovered the smoke detector chirping. You’ve heard it, the sound they make when the battery needs to be replaced. Were my subtle signals getting louder?

The unit was within reach. I dragged a chair below it, climbed up and removed the battery. It kept chirping. Hotel staff came and removed the unit.

After that, it felt as though I didn’t sleep at all until my 6 am alarm, but my recollection of odd travel-style dreams confirmed I had. (I dreamed a tedious script that included plans for shower order, timing of breakfast and walking of the dogs, one that was clearly a dream but closely enough related to my actual experience that I questioned the amount of rest I had obtained).

As if all of this was not enough, I had a disturbing encounter when I went downstairs for coffee just after waking. Recalling it now, it seems surreal after the night of interrupted sleep and odd dreams. At the coffee dispenser, another hotel guest made a jaw-dropping remark (to me) about a man at the breakfast bar who he presumed was Muslim. To my disappointment, he joined me on the elevator and unbelievably, despite my dismissal, he continued bantering about his fear of the “enemy.”

After battling heavy traffic to get to my morning destination, I decided that I would go to the trouble of moving to the originally intended hotel. There was nothing inherently bad about the one I left – but its mojo and mine were surely not aligned.

Andrea and Kairos ChilcoteI had to smile as I entered my room in the second hotel – I did recall that sweet memory of a fun trip and the joy of my new pup. And I slept comfortably, without waking even once.

———

While my minor travel inconveniences are unimportant in the larger scheme of things, how many subtle signals are we dismissing about the things that really matter? How many chain reactions are we igniting with our thoughts, thoughts that seem inconsequential but are far from that as they impact each next step we take?

The energy field in which we operate is objective. It does not judge the gravity of consequences. It just operates in a reliable manner. It supports our intentions – positive or negative – but we have to listen.

My friend Debbie says the inner voice gets louder and more persistent the more we allow it and give it power. I’m grateful for this subtle voice, and respectful of the awesome power of the energy my intentional thoughts create.

Stress Test

shutterstock_152705120

by Andrea Chilcote

 

The following is a recount of an event that took place over a year ago. It seems like an appropriate message as this week closes.

Every now and then, I get a simple stress test. I had one last night.

It was 1:45 a.m., late enough that I was finally in a dream state, yet sufficiently early enough to not be disturbed by thoughts of unfinished to-do’s or the bottle of water I finished before bed. Delicious, deep sleep.

Then suddenly – lights, pulsing beeps, and a repeated, recorded announcement: “Proceed to an exit. Leave the building now.”

I sat up in my hotel bed and looked around. No smoke, no smell. For a brief moment I considered ignoring the warning – a misguided, sleep-induced idea of course – and then I heard doors opening and closing in the hall. I would join the others who must be more aware of what was happening than me.

What to wear? What to take?

I located a sweater and pulled it on over my pajama top, more for decency than warmth. Next I found my room key (didn’t they always say to take your key in the event of a fire?) and my phone, and exited, joining many other guests on the parking lot. I was on the first floor, so my trip to a side door exit was a short one.

Understandably, no one spoke to one another. We all found separate places to stand or sit. I chose a corner curb, but not after envying many who had brought along their rental car keys and entered their cars, making a nap a possibility.

Why had I not brought my car keys? And my wallet? I briefly considered the hassle of having my wallet burned in the potential fire, a scenario that seemed unlikely given that there were no signs of anything amiss. It was a lovely evening – quiet and warm – and a catastrophe was not in the offing.

About the time the sirens came roaring in, I was becoming annoyed. Who or what caused this interruption of my sleep? As I often do when things outside my control create stress, I had a conversation with myself. “You’re only making it worse. It is what it is. You’ll surely get some sleep before the alarm goes off.” And perhaps the most significant advice I had for myself: “Look around you. No one else is getting agitated. Just chill.”

“Why,” I wondered, “do I still sweat the small stuff?”

Soon enough, an official fire department vehicle drove through the parking lot, telling us it was safe to return to our rooms. While I wanted to know what had happened, sleep was more compelling.

Back in bed, I struggled to relax, stressed over the fact that my own alarm was set to go off in just a few hours.

At about 3 a.m., once I had finally gone back to sleep, the event repeated itself. This time I dressed, and took my wallet and car key. I would have gone immediately to my car had I not been stopped mid-trip by other guests returning at the advice of the staff. The alarms were quieted. I went back to bed again.

I’m guessing I got 90 minutes of sleep after that, for a total of four or five hours. It was certainly not a crisis, and I knew I would be able to (and did) function just fine the next day.

Why do I let these irritating yet small things annoy me?

When I checked out of the hotel this morning, the front desk manager was apologizing profusely to the man in front of me. “No problem,” he said with a smile. “It happens.”

I relaxed and tried to model this man’s equanimity. While I probably fooled the manager, I still felt annoyed.

Many hours later, I’ve let it go – of course. What I haven’t (completely) let go of is the question of why I compound stress by worrying about that which is out of my control.

Do you ever waste precious time and energy thinking and feeling violated by unintentional inconveniences? I do, too often. I’m going to memorize and practice the other guest’s line: “No problem – it happens.” I’ll let you know how it goes.