Category Archives: Connection

Super Seniors

Recently my folks were out for a visit.  They came via train with my sister Penny and her husband, Rob.  I believe this was Penny’s idea and I loved the idea of having everyone out to Montana.  I am not sure I would have been willing to board a train for an overnight sleep in coach seats, especially with my parents. I have heard it is not so bad, and they did arrive in excellent spirits. Still, I thought my sister was crazy. Apparently, I was wrong! I had quite a lot to learn about just what’s possible even when traveling as Super Seniors!

On the first day of the visit, while Penny and Rob relaxed at The Hay Moon Resort, my folks ventured out with CrisMarie and me to the top of Whitefish Mountain.  I went to purchase tickets for the gondola ride to the top, pulling out enough cash to cover tickets for two adults and two seniors.  The woman at the window took a look at my folks and asked if either were over 80.  They both qualified, my mom, Bernie, is 82 and my Dad, John is 90.

“Well, they are Super Seniors and they ride for free!”

My dad was thrilled.

He proudly shared this new honor with anyone willing to listen, including the chairlift people, who were more concerned about helping him safely on and off the lift than his Super Senior status. The gondola ride up was soon replaced with the chairlift ride down so my folks could enjoy the fresh air and swing their legs freely. As I spent the next few days with them, I found myself gaining a much greater appreciation for just what a great description Super Seniors is for these two adventuresome people.

The next day, we drove up to Logan’s Pass in Glacier National Park. I wasn’t to sure what we would be able to do up there. The trail options were a bit more demanding than I thought my folks could handle.  We opted to give the Hidden Lake trail a try.  This trail is only 1.5 miles, ascending 800 feet in elevation. It is covered mostly via a boardwalk, however, the boardwalk has no guardrail, and there is a significant incline, meaning there are steps that can be anywhere from the standard 6 inches to a foot and not always level. My folks assured me they would take care of themselves. Of course, I was worried anyway.

Penny, CrisMarie and I took off up the trail, with Rob, John and Bernie walking behind.  As the gap between us increased, we looked back and could see that we needed to reevaluate the plan.  My folks had gone a pretty fair distance from the Visitor Center, but the going was slow, and they realized it wasn’t going to be a trip that was in their best interests to continue.  Still, the scenery was amazing. So they wanted to find a rock to sit on and relax.  Apparently, they had come prepared with some books and a sketch pad (with only one pencil). We got them settled on some rocks, and off we went.  They assured us they’d wait for us to return and we’d help them on the way back.

We enjoyed the rest of the hike, seeing some goats and big horn sheep. We were heading back when we realized we’d been a bit longer then we had planned.  I took off at a jog to get back to let my folks know we were on our way.  As I got back to where I should have been able to see them, I could see they were gone. I started moving much faster.  I listened for sirens, looking further ahead for some assistance.  When I got back to the Visitor Center, I found my Super Senior folks shopping.  They had made their way back just fine.

I apologized for taking so long, asking how it had been. They laughed. They had had a grand time.  They showed me sketches they had done of each other and of the scenery.  When they had gotten tired, they simply asked someone for assistance getting off the rocks and back to the path.  Indeed, the stairs going back were a bit more challenging but they had simply taken one step at a time, supporting each other down. Bernie would go down one step supporting John. Then she’d take the next step.  Slowly, but very effectively, they worked their way back to the Visitor Center.

“We knew we’d be just fine if we helped each other and had no need to get anywhere fast.”  I sure wish I applied that wisdom to my life more often, but I guess that’s how they got to be Super Seniors!!

Apparently, all my worries were for nothing.  My Super Senior parents may look fragile and have to go slower than the average person, but they sure do know how to make the best of their time together.

I can only hope that if I make it to Super Senior Status I can live with as much creativity, purpose and adventure as they do!

Celebrating Life Haven Style

I am on my way to Oakland for our annual two days with my Table Group colleagues.  I enjoy these days; however, this time I am coming off an intense weekend of celebrating the birthdays of two of my mentors and the passing of a very dear friend.  It seems appropriate to write this blog as a make my way from Gabriola to Oakland via Vancouver and Seattle.  My eyes are tired from the tears that flowed today as many old and new friends gathered in the lodge and later in Phoenix to say goodbye to Dianne.  My heart is full from Saturday’s birthday celebration of Ben Wong (80) and Maria Gomori (90).  Ben is the man behind The Haven and pretty much the sole example about everything I have learned about being human.  Maria, (90), is a force of nature who’s life spans everything from wild escapes from death marches in Hungary to career changes that include being a high-level Hungarian political economist, to being a human psychologist in Winnipeg, and a world-traveling facilitator who still runs workshops from early morning to late evening.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make the birthday celebrations.  The dates were tricky, and I was already booked before and after.  However, when Dianne died and the news spread that there was going to be a ceremony for her on the weekend, I knew I had to come.

What was most amazing was the people who gathered.  Many were faces from much earlier in my life.  People who I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years, all returning because one of these three masters had so deeply touched or transformed their lives that they wanted to come and celebrate.

The birthdays were special because on the stage sat 170 years of experience.  Jock in his purposeful, strategic way had planned an interview of the pair.  He had a vision and with commitment and drama and took us with him. However, I believe in the end, the masters steered us off in other directions: Ben, with his wonderful wit and provocative wisdom, and Maria, with her own agenda to make sure this was really about Ben (and Jock) and just how they had saved her life so many times.  I am not sure if things went as Jock imagined, but I believe what he intended was delivered.  We all were captured by the stories and the deeper messages about the importance of freedom, integrity and in the end, human connection.

The evening was musical, poetic and spanned between the East and the West.  It was Haven at its finest.

Sunday bought a different flavor to the day. This was a gathering to celebrate not a birthday, but a passing, though this time not quite choreographed, planned and directed. But once we gathered and Dianne’s family joined her extended family of friends, those who agreed to guide the flow of feelings, demonstrated the grace of The Haven in yet another way. Much like a Come Alive, there was just enough structure and thought to bring the day to life.  The circle was powerful and a wonderful way for each of us to speak and let our loving of Dianne flow through songs, stories, tears, poems, laughter and hugs.  Dianne would have loved it!

I didn’t know how important it was for me personally until a young man commented at the tightness in my shoulders.  He noticed that my shoulders were slowly rising towards my ears and was willing to check out his story with me. He thought something was wrong.  I knew in that moment I was doing what I can do so well, shutting down the feelings and detaching from my heart.  His comments were very early in the day and left me with plenty of time to make a different choice.  I took a breath because I knew wanted to feel.

Now, sitting on the plane, my eyes are quite tired from the many tears I let flow. I am quite full from the weekend and not sure how I will be able to transition to tomorrow’s focus.  Right now though, I am full and grateful once again for The Haven, my friends, my family, and all that I learn when I am willing to show up, open my heart, breath and trust.

Good-bye My Friend!!

Today my good friend Dianne passed away. I got a call about her death just after finishing a yoga class. I cried, laughed, cried and laughed. I wondered about my response, judging myself for feeling such joy and laughter just after hearing she had died. But as I sat and started thinking about Dianne and our many moments together I knew that really the tears were just for me knowing I would miss my friend and the laughter was my joy that she was free at last.

Of course I am sad that Dianne is gone and I will miss her laughter and physical presence the next time I am at The Haven for a Come Alive or any other program. However, Dianne has been struggling in her physical body for a long time and today I had a moment when I thought for sure I could hear her laughing and playing somewhere out there; as light as a feather and without a care in the world.

For me, Dianne was such an interesting person. She in many ways was one of the most grounded, direct and straight-shooting people I have known. I could call her up and start telling her some saga in my life and she could quickly call me on all the many blocks and screens I might toss out there to avoid looking at my own stuff. She could do that with me and she could do that with pretty much anyone who showed up in a group, defended, resistant or overly self-involved. There she was this over-weight, quite unhealthy woman; who was brilliant with group process and making contact with those folks who most would have given up on. Even the last time I saw her and she wasn’t even able to get out of her chair, I found myself just loving talking with her. It was easy to connect.

Sure I was annoyed that she never took care of her own health and that she loved reading much more than walking. I was furious that she would eat cake and too much food yet I still loved Dianne. Her body was always a paradox for me. There she was doing just about everything she could to kill herself and yet her inner world, her spirit was something truly special, a gift for all who were willing to deal with the paradox and get to know Dianne in spite of the war- zone that represented her body.

Even as I write this I feel badly saying negative things about her body. However, that’s just it – she was such a paradox. I loved her deeply and over the years wrestled with how to stay connected even though I had judgments and didn’t like the way she took care of herself. Still I loved it when she was in a group with me either as a participant, an assistant or a leader. I loved working with her. She could be brilliant and many, many times she reminded me why I loved The Haven, the work and what really mattered. Dianne was the essence of the Velveteen Rabbit – she was worn and torn, the stuffing was coming out but she was REAL and she was LOVED!!

Today I imagine much like the story of The Velveteen Rabbit – Dianne is able to jump, leap and let her spirit soar!!

From Aunt Sarah’s To McDonald’s – From Biking To Triking!

Finally, I can share more about the big project I referred to in my last post.  In putting together an iMovie for my Dad’s 90th birthday celebration, I had the great idea of soliciting my cousin, who lives across the country, into create video footage of some of my Dad’s best friends and bike riding companions. And my cousin did an amazing job.  However, that did require quite a bit more effort on my part to get all the pieces together in time. Like me, I believe my cousin is a Myers-Briggs ‘P’ and footage was arriving even past the last minute!

The party was this past weekend and the video was a success.  Actually the entire weekend was fun. I would say the best part for me was getting up early Saturday morning to join my Dad on the McDonald’s breakfast ride. Since I was five (may be younger), I remember my Dad getting us out on our bikes to ride for breakfast, though back then it was Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House. Saturday’s ride was shorter but quite wonderful. It’s awesome that my Dad still rides and has been willing to shift from his racing bike to a fancy trike, allowing him to stay riding.  I also loved getting to meet the others who were all were over seventy and equally committed to riding and building connections through biking and food.  They track the riders, the walkers, the drivers and they make all folks who make it feel welcome.

There is very little I can eat at McDonald’s but everyone else enjoyed senior meals, coffee and tea.  I think I threw most of them a curve when I ordered an Americano. I have never had so many questions asked about a drink.  The bottom line—this was a drip coffee and/or tea crowd.

My father’s life covers much more than bike riding.  I discovered a lot putting the pieces together for the video.  It was a rich journey.  Hopefully he will be able to enjoy the video beyond the party. There was a lot of footage that did not make the movie but I know both my Mom and Dad will enjoy watching. 

We had a great weekend. Between biking for breakfast, throwing a party for seventy or so friends and finally gathering as a family to play games and eat pizza, I left grateful for the Clarke clan and look forward to the century celebration in another decade! Though this time, I will be counting on a call from the President (I have been told he/she calls all centurians) instead of making another movie.

Keep on triking Dad!!!

Getting To Clarity & Connection

I am spending the day in the house. I woke up this morning running a fever. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I am not one that likes to rest and recover, I tend to overdo.  But I really want to kick this cold/flu, or whatever it is, out of my system. So I am willing to spend a day inside. I hope CrisMarie will be willing to pick up some Rice Dream for me when she heads out. I don’t have much of an appetite but Ice (Rice) Dream sounds wonderful!

I have a book to read, papers to work on, my computer and a variety of beverages sitting on my bedside table. I am working on a newsletter article about Pat Lencioni’s book, Naked Consulting. Basically the book is all about being real and authentic—and that is why I love it. I don’t want to give away the newsletter by writing too much about the book, but I think it’s a great read. Of course the title is a bit provocative. We sent a copy to an HR friend and she said this book would be an HR nightmare. There’s no doubt Pat probably was hoping for that type of reaction. 

While the title may be potentially an HR nightmare, the subject matter really isn’t an HR issue.  HR departments have simply become the enforcers of programs, guidelines, and policies, set up to overcome longstanding prejudices and ignorance about the differences between people and power. I’ve never thought that laws and policy were a very effective solution for relational dynamics. Sometimes laws give a certain amount of comfort, defining for someone the parameters of certain types of behavior that are either bad or wrong. This can confirm a person’s opinion, but it doesn’t necessarily create a significant change in attitude. People might learn to say the right words but it is unlikely to really change their views and may even create more distance.

So what is the solution? I think the best way to create a shift in attitude and behavior is by learning to understand the impact certain behaviors have on others. Instead of counting on a policy to ensure that inappropriate language is not used in the workplace, I have to speak up whenever I see it happening.  Not just when it happens to me but, even more importantly, as an accountability measure when I see someone I work with saying or doing something to someone else that I find offensive. Not to make them wrong, but to be real and authentic and in the moment is when I believe real change can happen.

When I have done this—I have been surprised by the results. Often I have either learned something very valuable about the person I was speaking to, which in turn influenced my position. Or they were curious about my reaction and we had an dialogue that I would later discover had a positive impact on them.  Of course this does not ensure change or agreement, but when it comes to relationships, that is not really the most important outcome. The most important outcome is clarity and connection by way of authentic and real conversation.

Saluting A Comrade

In just a few days we’ll be back into the thick of our work.  We have client work that fills the next two weeks.  In some ways this is a good thing.  For CrisMarie it will give her something to focus on as she continues to integrate the information that her brother is gone.  For me it’ s a way to quit thinking so much about cancer.

Tom in many ways was more of a ‘brother in arms’ to me than a brother-in-law.  I never fought in a war, but over the years I have worked with many folks who did and they often spoke of the unique relationship they had with anyone else who served.  For me, there is something similar with the folks who cross my path while dealing with cancer.  It goes way back to my own fight and the people who were in the oncology department at the same time I was.  Really, the first comrade I remember was the other woman who was in the Life, Death & Transitions workshop with me along with 90 other folks who were health-care providers for cancer patients.  The workshop was run by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who was an expert in the field on death & dying.  I went because I was told I was dying and really had no clue how to do that at 24 and thought the workshop might help.  The other woman was fighting breast cancer and  had been for a while, much like a long term, multiple-tour veteran.  She  had a very strict routine and belief system.  I don’t think she liked me very much because I was not really ‘strong’.  I wasn’t doing everything by the book.  Of course, I did not know there was a book, but she had a very clear intent and was not going to give the cancer one ounce of  negative energy.  No tears, no anger.  I was a bit more undisciplined, and I sort wished she would cry because I could feel the pain she carried under the surface.  Still, I respected her choice – how she fought.

There have been many more folks since then.  I have sat and talked, cried, screamed and raged with many comrades.  I still am a bit undisciplined in my approach to cancer.  I am not one to believe it’s all about being positive or about fighting the good fight.  I think the cancer fight is quite unique.  There is a bond we share, but there isn’t a common play book that wins the war.

Even after twenty years, as I sat with Tom and he looked to me for some sort of answers, I knew I had none.  There is no right way to deal with cancer.  Just like there isn’t a right way to deal with living through a war.  It’s a bloody fight and many people die.

There are lots of lessons learned from studying veterans.  Though each war seems different, there are the common links.  I think it is like that with cancer.  There are different types of cancer, fast growing cell types, slow growing, very invasive and more contained types.  There are many ways of fighting a war – on the ground, in the air, on the water or even gorilla style.  Same with cancer – there’s chemo, radiation, surgery, transplants and also the alternative style which may be more like gorilla style – not as organized or as obvious.  There’s a mindset that is required to fight cancer.  People are uncomfortable talking about cancer – particularly about the obvious closeness of death.  Much like wars – we don’t like to talk about the ugly reality of a war zone.

But really, for me, one of the hardest parts is when a comrade dies.  My heart aches.  I feel survivor quilt. I question my recovery and I rage against the crazy cancer process.

My war was many, many years ago and yet when I am with another cancer comrade I am right back there in the fight.  That’s why I am glad I’ll soon be back at my other job.  I don’t like the pain of reliving the past.  Of course, I will do it all again if I believe it can help one comrade in their fight against cancer.  Much like we all wish for a world without wars, I wish for a world without cancer.  Oddly, I think war and cancer are way too much alike.  Wars are simply men and women fighting each other over different beliefs and stories that are so deeply ingrained and compartmentalized that the the human connection has been lost.  Cancer is just my cells fighting against each other having lost the connecting link – communication has broken down.

Today isn’t about solving the bigger communication issue.  Though that is the very reason I do the work I do.  No, today still about saluting a comrade.  Today is also about crying for all the lives lost to this dirty, rotten war called cancer.  Tomorrow will be the day to move on and get back to work doing my little part to help improve the way people communicate.   May be someday that will make a difference by helping stop a war on any one of the many fronts we keep fighting them.

My Current Thinking on Energy & Evolution

We are energy beings.  What does that mean?  Well for me it means we vibrate and are fluid by design.  Sometimes that is hard to remember because my body and mind can get quite rigid and tight.  However, I know when I take a deep breath I can feel that vibration. Because we are vibrating beings, we are deeply connected to everything around us.  This planet and universe is all just energy and we are connected to that pulsing, oscillating frequency.  Energy moves in and out of physical form, appearing and disappearing.  We have spend eons of time trying to understand and confirm how this all works. But I wonder is that really the purpose of being here?

I realize there are many people who believe there is a God somewhere that will some day or in some way tell us or show us the bigger plan.  Myself I can’t imagine some masculine or feminine being out there with answers or directing the show.  I can imagine energy, moving, pulsating, vibrating – bursting into form, disappearing and appearing again.  I can also imagine that there is some type of consciousness or purpose beyond any one individual’s grasp.  From that perspective,  it’s not hard to believe that when this universe appeared we,  as living beings,  were more fluid and illuminated.  To me this means we were ourselves moving in and out of physical and non-physical experiences. As time passed we became more dense and our physical form less fluid.  I can imagine that because in this one lifetime that has been what has happened.  When I was young, very young,  my body vibrated. Babies are much closer to that fluid, pulsating beings and likely more connected to ALL or Source.  Maybe not consciously but organically and naturally. Then we learn to conform and ‘fit in’ and that path tightens and solidifies not just our muscular system but our minds and our beliefs.  This does make it possible to live together easier; however, we tend to do the conforming a bit to intensely and at some point often quite early lose touch or bury our deeper connection to that universal, pulsing energy.  We forget we are one and tend to believe we are The One.

This lifetime experience I believe is holographic to the planet’s experience.  Our planet or universe as been about experimenting with physical and non-physical forces.  Much like my short lifespan experience, the planet started much more fluid and pulsating and over time has solidified.

This is relevant I think because our planet is shifting back.  Science is beginning to uncover and report ways of understanding some of this through quantum physics and string theory.  We are evolving or may be simply returning or remembering. The planet’s rotation is reported as speeding up.  So are we.

Indeed this might result in a crisis and extinction of humankind and all life on the planet.  But if I don’t panic and simply recognize that my energy is revving up I can still breath and become aware.  I don’t really believe I am going to explode or become extinct.  Instead I find when I breath and tap back into the vibration I hear more, see more and discover ways I am connected to everyone and everything.

The stories we each live by and cling to are exploding and falling away.  The harder I try to hold on the tighter and more constricted I feel.  However, when I let go instead of no-thing I have a felt sense and greater knowing of the energy that is moving, pulsing and vibrating all around me.  My mind expands as does my body and spirit. Of course it also contracts again.  I am again in motion, moving and remembering, experiencing moments of timeless, space-less consciousness.  I am we and we are one. I can not stay there and may be that is the purpose. I am simply a contracting and expanding piece of a much bigger whole. When I am open and connected to that greater consciousness I get it.  When I contract I simply need to remember and allow the natural experience of being in an ocean.  Consciousness is never lost though at times it might be only visible to another.  It’s not all about me – we are in this together and once we get that – well who knows what will be possible!!