Plans as Sand

Plans as Sandby Andrea Chilcote

In the summer months, we rise before 5 am to take the dogs on once-daily hikes before the unforgiving sun comes up, leaving them no choice but to retire indoors to our stone floors and air conditioning. It’s a treat for humans and canines alike, and usually it’s an urgent matter.

On some mornings, the weather is better than on others. If there have been no monsoon rains to add humidity, and if there is even a slight breeze, the pre-dawn is almost pleasant. If the air is laden with moisture from an overnight downpour, the heat is already oppressive at 5. On one such morning, Whisper, our ten-year-old Malamute, decided she wasn’t going.

WhisperMy hiking buddy Beth and I were shocked the first time Whisper stood glued to my husband Arthur’s leg, refusing to go with us and the other dogs. I was concerned that she was ill, but when I got out onto the trail I began to think she had the right idea. She chose to take it easy on a day the environment prescribed ease. The next day, a much more pleasant one, she enthusiastically joined us.

Each day since, Whisper has decided if she wanted a longer, more strenuous walk with us or if she would rather go to the barn for the morning feed, followed by a short and gentle walk with Arthur. She’s very clear, and she decides in the moment after checking the weather from an outdoor deck. One day last week I asked her, “Do you want to go to Spur Cross? (a nearby county park),” and was met with an excited “Woo woo woo.” The very next day her body language told me she was staying close to home, and she did.

Once again, Whisper has sage lessons for us.

I’ve always loved the saying, “Set your goals in stone and your plans in sand.” This summer, Whisper has been a role model for making routine and relatively inconsequential decisions in the moment, based on the circumstances that present themselves. If that sounds like obvious advice, consider this story. The other day, while walking up my driveway with Beth, I was puzzled as to why she had parked her car in a tucked-away space. As it turned out, she planned to do so the day prior, thinking that another friend was joining us. She didn’t want to block her in. While certainly a positive gesture, the problem was that her plan was no longer valid. The other friend’s “plans” had changed. Beth knew this, but still wedged her car in the inconvenient spot. As soon as the words left her mouth, she was reminded of Whisper’s lesson.

Do you ever waste the precious present moment planning things that are best determined in another, future, moment? Do you ever follow through on plans that are no longer justified?

Personally, Whisper’s behavior has reminded me of my goal for self-care. If my plan does not support my goal, perhaps I should change it. A long time ago, Beth offered me this advice: “If you do the right thing for you, it will probably be the right thing for others.” It’s tough for me in practice, but my dog makes it look easy.

Are you doing things out of an unfounded sense of obligation? What if you chose to hang out at the barn instead hiking up a mountain?

The last lesson involves giving another the freedom to change his or her mind. It was tempting to coax and cajole Whisper. After all, what dog would not want to hike? We refrained, honoring her wishes. I’m not sure we could have dragged her out of the house anyway, but we could have gotten ourselves all worked up trying. Isn’t that how it usually goes?

Do you honor the wishes of those you care about, or do you try to persuade them to follow the plan that seems right to you?

This next day, consider your and others’ plans as blowing sand. Where might they take shape?

This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. Enjoy it!

Making a Difference (2014)

Are you making a difference in this very moment?

by Andrea Chilcote

Andrea Chilcote, Making A Difference, This Very MomentMy colleague, author Randy Hain, suggested I do an exercise. He told me to write my clients’ names on a piece of paper (I added close friends), and circle them. Then, I was to write what each one cares most about next to their circled name. Randy predicted that I would see themes.

Did I ever.

Almost without exception, everyone I listed wants to make a difference in the lives of others. How they do it varies greatly. I work with leaders who, regardless their actual job, come to work each day because they’re making a difference in the lives of those they lead. Many, including those in senior executive positions, care most about the impact they are making on the lives of their children, members of their community or even the end-user of the product or service their organization produces. One, a CEO of a thriving non-profit, says that while she’s passionate about the work of her own organization, she does what she does every day to positively affect the non-profit sector overall, because of the enormous impact it has on the lives of those in her community.

There’s a reason why this commonality exists. Making a difference is a fundamental human drive.

Recently I learned of the death of a family friend. He was the owner of an independent grocery store in the small city  in which I grew up. His obituary said the city would have been a  different place without his compassion and the help he offered to his fellow citizens. He offered credit before it was the norm, and he helped many start small businesses. This man knew his purpose, and it was very different on the surface (selling bread and green beans) than in its depth (improving lives). He made a difference, though I’m not sure he would have known he was doing so at any given time. He just followed his heart.

And that is the point of my post today.

As you go about your full lives, it is easy to lose touch with your sense of purpose. It is easy to forget the impact of a small gesture, brief glance or word of encouragement. But even as you lose touch, the energy of it lives on. Every single positive thought or action affords many reactions. In this very moment, as you read this post, you are making a difference. Your – our – power and influence is humbling.

Let the awareness of your impact fuel your future actions. We all need one another.


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. Enjoy it!

Pray As If

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman at the start of Arizona’s monsoon season. It’s finally fall…and the lesson endures the seasons.

It’s that time of year in Arizona when we long for the monsoon to come and cool the temps by at least a few degrees. Early Saturday morning, toward the end of a lovely, meditative hike with my friend Beth and the three canines, I felt several drops of rain hit my arms and face. While scant raindrops might go unnoticed by most, we desert dwellers are on high alert, and treasure them even if only a few fall.index

“It’s raining,” I exclaimed. “Well, at least I felt raindrops.”

I looked up to the sky. There were some rogue clouds – indeed, one which was producing this sprinkling – but certainly no monsoon-style, cumulonimbus towers.

Then Beth said something remarkable. “It’s funny, I was just thinking about doing a rain dance.”

“You did one,” I replied.

I was reminded of a classic lesson I learned many years ago reading the book The Isaiah Effect. In it, author Gregg Braden relays the story of having been invited by a Native American friend, David, to share in an experience of what he thought was to be a prayer for rain during a major drought.

Gregg observed his friend’s short and silent ritual, after which David was ready to leave and get lunch. Puzzled and apparently expecting a longer and more participatory ceremony, he said he thought they had come to this place to pray for rain.

David answered.  “If we pray for rain, rain could never happen. Because the moment you pray for something to occur, you just acknowledged that it does not exist.”

He went on to explain.

“In my prayer, I began with the feeling of gratitude for all that is and all that has come to pass. I gave thanks for the desert wind, the heat, and the drought, for that is the way of it, until now. It is not good. It is not bad. It has been our medicine.

Then I chose a new medicine. I began to have the feeling of what rain feels like. I felt the feeling of rain upon my body. Standing in the stone circle, I imagined that I was in the plaza of our village, barefoot in the rain. I felt the feeling of wet earth oozing between my naked toes. I smelled the smell of rain on the straw-and-mud walls of our village after the storm. I felt what it feels like to walk through fields of corn growing up to my chest because the rains have been so plentiful.”

Like David’s, Beth’s rain dance in her mind and heart had been a prayer for rain, though perhaps less intentional. And so began that morning’s desert lesson. Be careful what you pray for – you just might get it.

It turns out that’s the title of a book by Larry Dossey MD. Dossey is known for his groundbreaking work exploring the role of prayer in healing. His research has led to what he calls the non-local mind and the merging of spirit and medicine. He says this book’s purpose is to help people gain the ability to reshape private thoughts for the benefit of mankind.

Back at home after the hike; the lesson was presented as another reminder that our thoughts and feelings pack a punch. They are, as Braden, Dossey (and I) have witnessed, our prayers.

Settling down to breakfast, I glanced at a post from the evening before. It was an account of an unfolding event in which a man’s three dogs were apparently stolen before his eyes. Even though it involved strangers, I had been shaken by it. I felt the man’s grief, as well as anger toward the person who, on the surface, appeared to be a perpetrator.

I tried to wipe it from my previously blissful psyche. But my sadness prevailed. Then, suddenly, it dawned on me that I was praying for rain. I was further endangering the situation by amplifying my own negative emotions. A calm came over me and I very simply and deliberately imagined – felt – a positive outcome. Even more importantly, I reframed my feelings toward the woman suspected of wrongdoing. Reminded of the wise saying, “Let God handle the details,” I did not wish her to have a change of heart and return what she had purportedly stolen. I simply raised her up in my heart, in a loving and non-judgmental way. In my prayer, I asked that she connect with her highest and best self.

One hour later, I saw a post confirming the outcome. The dogs had been returned and all was well.

I don’t claim to fully understand the quantum mechanics of prayer, and I don’t believe my practice was solely responsible for this welcome outcome. Yet I know what Dossey says is true. Our private thoughts do impact the collective.

Reframing emotions is not easy. I was able to reframe mine on this morning in good part because I just had walked in the rain that my friend’s mental dance had produced. This is the first lesson, spirited women, the one before the big prayer. Gather strength from the seemingly small or inconsequential miracles that you create with the resonance you put out through your thoughts and feelings. Your faith will build as you gain awareness of how very powerful you are.

“We must feel the feeling as if the prayer has already been answered.”

—Gregg Braden

The Mentoring Opportunity

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.

Two years ago I was asked to make a presentation on mentoring to a women’s business organization. The woman who asked viewed me as an informal mentor of hers, and apparently thought that qualified me as somewhat of an expert on the topic. I felt ill-equipped – mentoring had been an ongoing part of the give and take of my life and career, but I had never stopped to think about the profound impact it had on me.

When I took a look back over my life and asked myself how I gained the experience, skill, knowledge, and ability I have today, I realized that perhaps the most significant learning came from the advice, counsel, and sharing of experience by others – none other than “mentors,” both formal and informal. I would not be doing the work I am doing today if not for the contribution of mentors.

To prepare for that presentation, I conducted an informal survey of many of my colleagues. I received incredible stories of how mentors impacted lives – influenced career direction, helped them through low points or gave information needed to affect an important result. But I was most struck by two things.

  1. Several of the women I spoke with had received little or no mentoring. Probing, most of them said they were hesitant to ask. Some said that at least in the past, they had too much pride, or saw asking for help as a sign of weakness – they thought they should be able to handle everything. One stated it well: “Super women who are locked into do-it-yourself can’t even see that they need help. Others are super women because they know how to ask for help and involve other people.”
  2. Others who had indeed received valuable mentoring had never mentored others – because they felt they had little to offer!

One colleague I spoke with offered a less formal definition of mentoring as a “co-creative” relationship. She participates in ICAN’s Women’s Leadership Circles, patterned after Meg Wheatley’s model of shared inquiry and dialogue. Unlike traditional mentoring programs, these circles are based on peer-to-peer learning conversations. The belief is that when you speak, you are acting as mentor and when you listen you are a mentee.

Perhaps we should relax our definition of mentoring and take advantage of the incredible opportunity social media (to name just one venue) offers us to “speak and listen” – opportunities like Sharefest. At any moment we can choose people or messages that either bring us down or build us up. And it’s a choice.

A few years ago, Newsweek published an article listing qualities of successful women leaders. It said we don’t listen to other people who try to discourage us from reaching our goals, and it also said we don’t try to be the expert in everything. To me, that makes a great case for having positive mentors in our lives.

A mentor can have a transformational impact on your life. And when you contribute as a mentor to someone, the gift keeps on giving.


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. 

Every now and then, things just fall into place. It starts with some initial incident (large or seemingly insignificant), a sequence of events ensues, and before you know it I am looking back, saying “Thank heavens that worked out.” Or, more often lately, I just smile at what appears to be an everyday miracle.

Those of us (that’s me and some of you) who have lived life as if it was a challenge to be reckoned with, find “ease” a bit odd. And, the drivers in the recesses of our psyches that cause us to seek that which is difficult or even impossible scream for attention.

Ignore them. They know not the damage they might cause.

Yesterday I met with a friend who, like me, tends to be compelled to take on the most challenging endeavors. In part, it’s an effort to feel acknowledged for having accomplished enough. In this situation, my friend was presented with one of those everyday miracles as an option alongside another difficult choice. Should she choose the heavy yet attractive option, her very future lay in the balance. She could gamble and win, though the odds were against that. Or she could choose the more peaceful and balanced opportunity.

Looking at this with a sort of distanced perspective (as much as I can distance myself from something I relate to so well), I can see that following one’s heart is the prevailing principle. Those gnawing messages that cause us to pause and stop the refrain of over-analysis deserve attention.

Apparent miracles beget others – if we acknowledge them. I’m choosing ease, and I’ll let you know what happens next.

Give Your Mind a Vacation

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. 

“Your body hears everything your mind says,” a Facebook post advised. “Stay positive.”

I would add “stay present,” because the negative messages our minds concoct usually consist of habitual thoughts rooted in the past acting as dire projections onto the future, and they simply don’t exist in the present. Presence is awareness, and awareness can literally determine life or death.

Regular readers know I work very hard at staying present. I got another up-close illustration of just how important it is.

It’s June in Arizona. It’s very hot. Rather than forego daily hikes with my beloved friends and dogs, we hit the trail at 4:45 in the morning, in order to avoid the sun and minimize the likelihood of meeting venomous snakes. The early start affords me a sort of walking meditation before beginning my day. Except yesterday.

I hike attached to my Husky, Kairos, by a skijoring line. While he’s young and still in training, he’s an amazing partner and, most of the time, I feel more steady on my feet because he’s there for balance should I trip. When I’m present (the only safe state of being attached to a powerful dog traversing treacherous desert terrain), I feel as stable as an old oak tree.

Yesterday morning, I was climbing up out of a canyon on a steep, rocky path when Kairos, walking ahead of me, did an about-face and proceeded back down the hill. I was jerked around as he passed me, and was forced into an out-of-control downhill run as his speed increased, screaming as I went.

I looked ahead and saw my friend, Beth, stopped at the bottom of the hill. She had trailed behind to reply to a text. Relieved, I reached to catch her shoulder, slowing my forward momentum just enough to gain control of my footsteps and my dog. We found our brakes and I took a breath.

“My body was stable enough, but my mind was terrified.” These were the first words out of my mouth. The minute I spoke them, I knew the truth. While dangerous, my body had managed the run but in those few seconds, my mind had imagined the worst possible accident, another dire projection into the future. My body knew the truth – one foot in front of the other will save the day. The scenario, from the moment Kairos turned until I gained control, represented the very real danger of being consumed by my thoughts, as well as the miracle of regaining awareness of my surroundings.

You might be wondering why my dog turned and ran uncharacteristically. There was a snake at the top of that hill. Kairos is trained to warn me and avoid them. I’d rather he not do so at Husky speed down a hill (and we will be working on that). While he learns to control his impulses, I’ll be working to model his keen awareness. For now I’m thankful he led me to safety, even though it was a harrowing run.

Back in the neighborhood, I remarked how important and yet how hard it is to stay aware, even in the pre-dawn hours before the stresses of the day pile on. Beth added that so many things we do, like driving cars and crossing busy streets require full awareness. Even so, we split our attention by indulging in thoughts or actions unrelated to the moment at hand. Our guardian angels must be very busy, because most of the time we get away with it.

What are you missing by indulging your mind over your senses? Consider giving your mind a vacation and letting your body guide you.

“When we are present, our bodies are the clearest indicators of our inner wisdom.”

–Sheppard Lake

Stress Behavior

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. 

Want inside information (literally) about how to improve your day-to-day relationships with others? Know what pushes your buttons and (drum-roll please) – manage your reaction to them.

One of the instruments I use in my work as a coach is the Birkman AssessmentA brilliant part of this tool is a component called “stress behavior.” Simply, it’s the behavior we demonstrate when we experience the stress of not having our needs met – in other words, the stress of having our buttons pushed.

Relationships of all kinds provide the opportunity for well-meaning others to inadvertently trip our stress switch. We all have different, often invisible needs. Pity the person who misreads your needs (most often assuming yours are just like his or hers), acts with positive intent and is met with – you know it – stress behavior. 

Here’s an example. I love change. Variety makes me happy and the more balls I’m juggling, the better – if I initiated the change. One of the features of my particular personality is that I don’t like it when others impose change on me, especially without my input. Some of you just roll with this. Some of you welcome a few extra juggling balls to be thrown in from the outside. Not me. So when “my button gets pushed” in this manner, unchecked, my natural tendency is to resist. Then, if it’s inevitable I’ll often take extra steps to make the change, whatever it is, mine. I “change the change” so that it suits me. It’s actually one of the toughest challenges in my (happy) 25 year marriage.

Arthur likes to change things that affect me. I’ve gotten so I don’t come unglued when he moves a picture from one wall to another. But as self-aware and disciplined as I am about these things, this past week has held daily tests (from many people, not just poor Arthur). Managing my reaction to inevitable changes has been my theme this week. Even after I began this post this morning, I nearly snapped at a client for daring to make a sweeping change at the 11th hour. It turned out to be a humorous interaction, but still…

Can you name one need you have, that, when unmet, causes you to act a little crazy? You have two choices. Get that need met – if you can. If you can’t yet command the universe to deliver on your every whim, learn to take a breath, then take responsibility. It’s probably just you.