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?

The Difference Dilemma

Andrea Chilcote, Erik's HopeWe all know the value of different perspectives and different styles, whether we’re seeking counsel from a close friend or are in need of fresh approaches to problem-solving.

You’ve probably experienced the difficulty that different styles, preferences or personalities can cause, even in the most solid of relationships.

One of my trusted and valued colleagues has a very different thinking and communication style than mine. And, our differences are what I value most about her. I couldn’t (and wouldn’t want to) do the detailed, precise and consistent work she does. And my guess is that she wouldn’t want to live in my world of ambiguity and constant change. The quality that comes from our collaboration depends upon both of our unique strengths. Sounds like paradise, right?

The trouble with stylistic differences is that we all not only have distinct modes of behavior, but we also have unique and often unconscious needs for how others behave in relation to us. When these needs go unmet, or we experience inputs counter to our needs, we risk a phenomenon called “stress behavior.”

I wrote about stress behavior in my post last year, when my “buttons” were being pushed by changes imposed on me. (I love change, but I’ll initiate it myself, thank you very much). This week, my buttons got triggered by a different need, one that followed my inability to respond appropriately to the colleague mentioned here. It was the perfect recipe for an ongoing downward spiral, something that, according to the Urban Dictionary, starts out bad and just gets worse and worse.

My colleague, whom I’ll call Julia, was experiencing a frustrating situation, one that had been lingering too long. She needed my help. My natural reflex is to approach issues in a pragmatic, objective manner. When faced with a problem, I have a bias for action – action to solve the problem. Many people – some of you as well as Julia – have a need to be heard and understood before accepting help. If you’re more like me and that sounds foreign to you, just consider someone in your own life who has that need. Chances are, you’ve offered well meaning (and sound) advice, and yet have found that the other person only seemed to escalate her feelings. To you, perhaps, she seemed unable to detach from the problem long enough to find a logical solution.

In our situation, my unwillingness to acknowledge Julia’s reality only caused the situation to worsen. My stress behavior ignited her stress behavior, and very quickly we were speaking different languages. Hers was to convey detailed accounts of the problem (which I actually needed to understand) and mine was to blow through the details in an effort to make forward progress.

Fortunately, our mutual respect prevailed that day and we got back in sync quickly. But the lesson was loud and clear. The only path to effective collaboration of any kind is awareness and acknowledgment of one another’s needs. Those seemingly subtle needs that arise from personality or style have a loud voice under stress.

You don’t have to be an expert in human behavior to put this lesson into practice. You only have to be willing to stop, observe and respond. When you find yourself at an impasse, there’s a simple way to break the logjam. Listen … acknowledge … align. Then, state what you need. Don’t be surprised when you get it.


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

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!

Mirror Mirror (2014)

Andrea ChilcoteEven though I’ve written of this “mirror” concept many times, Brene Brown helped me finally “get” it.

by Andrea Chilcote

What if many of the things we hear, see and experience, outside of ourselves, are just reflections of our own inner state? In each of our lives there exist other people and situations acting as mirrors for the aspects of ourselves that we either dislike or admire. If you believe, as I do, that all living things are part of a mass consciousness, separate in personality and possessing free will but connected energetically ‒ spiritually in fact, then this “mirror” principle makes sense. And, as is the case with many of my life lessons, a dog is teaching me just how closely connected we all are.

WhisperThis past year, I have learned that I have a four-legged mirror living in our home, sharing my life. Her name is Whisper. She’s a Malamute ‒ my husband’s Malamute to be precise, and she’s been our companion for eight years. I can hear her comment now, if only she could read a blog: “Yes, it’s taken Andrea eight years to get the message. Pitiful humans!”

The truth is, I’ve always been aware that Whisper reflects my feelings and fears. Whisper shows her sweet and loving demeanor to every human she meets. Other dogs? Not so much. So when we hike in the desert and inevitably run into other dogs, she often takes an aggressive stance, testing my physical strength (a Malamute is a strong creature) and frustrating me as a supposed leader. It would be easy to write her off as impossibly dog-aggressive or rationalize her behavior as protective of me or her handler, but there’s more at play here. Whisper mirrors my feelings. If I can remain present, calm and objective, there is usually no trouble. If I feel the fear of a potential fight, or, as is more likely the case, judgment of people who can’t or won’t control their own dogs, Whisper acts out my emotions. Knowing this, the solution seems simple ‒ yet managing feelings is far from easy. Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan, advocates calling up a calm-assertive state of being, using an inside-out approach of managing one’s thoughts and feelings before taking outward action. I challenge you to try it now.

Imagine some person or group for whom you feel judgment ‒ from mild superiority to true disdain or contempt ‒ the degree does not matter. We all have these feelings at times. Okay, now that you’ve got it, try to release it. Stop feeling judgment, quickly. Tough, yes? For me, it can be very difficult and at the same time, a very worthwhile pursuit. If I can manage my thoughts and feelings, then I can manage my actions ‒ and this, in my opinion, is the key to the universe.

Go back to the judgmental state you just identified. What is this person or situation reflecting that is true for you? Do you feel a fear that was previously unrecognized? Is there some aspect of the other person’s behavior that triggers a memory of your own shortcomings, a mistake you made, a lesson you learned? Identify it, feel it, and ‒ here’s the magic ‒ it will be transformed.

Once a previously unconscious emotion is brought to the surface, your logical mind can make sense of it, and you can act appropriately. Take the feeling of fear, for example. If the fear represents a real threat, you can act on that. If the fear is based on history or a habit of thought, you can let it go. The truth will indeed set us free.

There’s a bonus to this process, given that we are all connected. When we transform our inner state, others respond in new ways. It makes for a more peaceful hike, as well as a better world.

Mirror Mirror

by Andrea Chilcote

What if many of the things we hear, see and experience, outside of ourselves, are just reflections of our own inner state? In each of our lives there exist other people and situations acting as mirrors for the aspects of ourselves that we either dislike or admire. If you believe, as I do, that all living things are part of a mass consciousness, separate in personality and possessing free will but connected energetically ‒ spiritually in fact, then this “mirror” principle makes sense. And, as is the case with many of my life lessons, a dog is teaching me just how closely connected we all are.

WhisperThis past year, I have learned that I have a four-legged mirror living in our home, sharing my life. Her name is Whisper. She’s a Malamute ‒ my husband’s Malamute to be precise, and she’s been our companion for eight years. I can hear her comment now, if only she could read a blog: “Yes, it’s taken Andrea eight years to get the message. Pitiful humans!”

The truth is, I’ve always been aware that Whisper reflects my feelings and fears. Whisper shows her sweet and loving demeanor to every human she meets. Other dogs? Not so much. So when we hike in the desert and inevitably run into other dogs, she often takes an aggressive stance, testing my physical strength (a Malamute is a strong creature) and frustrating me as a supposed leader. It would be easy to write her off as impossibly dog-aggressive or rationalize her behavior as protective of me or her handler, but there’s more at play here. Whisper mirrors my feelings. If I can remain present, calm and objective, there is usually no trouble. If I feel the fear of a potential fight, or, as is more likely the case, judgment of people who can’t or won’t control their own dogs, Whisper acts out my emotions. Knowing this, the solution seems simple ‒ yet managing feelings is far from easy. Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan, advocates calling up a calm-assertive state of being, using an inside-out approach of managing one’s thoughts and feelings before taking outward action. I challenge you to try it now.

Imagine some person or group for whom you feel judgment ‒ from mild superiority to true disdain or contempt ‒ the degree does not matter. We all have these feelings at times. Okay, now that you’ve got it, try to release it. Stop feeling judgment, quickly. Tough, yes? For me, it can be very difficult and at the same time, a very worthwhile pursuit. If I can manage my thoughts and feelings, then I can manage my actions ‒ and this, in my opinion, is the key to the universe.

Go back to the judgmental state you just identified. What is this person or situation reflecting that is true for you? Do you feel a fear that was previously unrecognized? Is there some aspect of the other person’s behavior that triggers a memory of your own shortcomings, a mistake you made, a lesson you learned? Identify it, feel it, and ‒ here’s the magic ‒ it will be transformed.

Once a previously unconscious emotion is brought to the surface, your logical mind can make sense of it, and you can act appropriately. Take the feeling of fear, for example. If the fear represents a real threat, you can act on that. If the fear is based on history or a habit of thought, you can let it go. The truth will indeed set us free.

There’s a bonus to this process, given that we are all connected. When we transform our inner state, others respond in new ways. It makes for a more peaceful hike, as well as a better world.