All posts by Susan Clarke

Are you ready? – To Be Living Alive!

Back in the early 80’s, I arrived at The Haven for a Come Alive.  That five-day program changed my life – I did literally come alive I arrived with a belief that I had about three to six months to live due to an advanced cancer process.  So I had nothing to lose.  I discovered and witnessed something that ignited health, well-being and possibility inside of me.  There’s a story to tell but honestly it’s not the one I want to write now. (Though I did write an earlier blog on that.) No, I want to write about what happened after Come Alive.  Because Come Alive was like being shocked back into my body.  However, I don’t believe I learned much in those five days about how to sustain that aliveness.  Sure the tools were there but five days is five days.  I tasted life and there was something I discovered worth living for, but I didn’t really get how to live that day-to-day.

No, that came later to me.  Again another program at the Haven, this one Living Alive, also know as the Phase program.  This program is a twenty-five day intensive.  Yes, it can be taken in two parts.  However, I recommend the twenty-five days if at all possible.  This program takes the Come Alive and breaks it down.  Suddenly, I’m responsible for breathing every day, speaking up and checking in.  I have to do the working to relate and discover the richness in my follow travelers.  No one is pushing me.  I really get to see how I opt out or jump in.  I discover patterns that get in my way of creating the relationships I want, the life I want.  In twenty-five days I really cannot hide from myself.

Now, twenty-five plus years later, I lead the Living Alive Phase I. Over the years between interning, assisting and leading, I have taken this journey many, many times.  Yet, I don’t think I often market the program.  I do recommend it to folks but probably not as much as I could.  Why?  I don’t know.  That’s really why I wanted to write this blog.  I wanted to tell people about this amazing offering that truly is life-changing.

Living Alive Phase I – Participants’ Stories from The Haven on Vimeo.

I don’t know why The Living Alive program is not always filled.  There seems to be so many people who are dissatisfied with their life in some way – either work or relationship or health.  I hear and see many people looking outside of themselves for answers and frustrated by the results, yet continuing to spend lots of money asking someone for the ‘right answer’.

Living Alive isn’t about giving answers.  Basically, the premise is that you have the answers inside of you, and you just need to learn your path to access your wisdom.  In addition, in relationship to others, there is a tremendous amount that can be learned and discovered about yourself and the patterns and things you do that hinder or help you find that fulfillment.

Living Alive is journey of self-responsibility, choice and curiosity, not about the ‘right’ answer, but the process, the pain the joy in being fully alive even when it hurts.  That may not be for everyone.  But if you do want that, I say put you money into spending twenty-five days exploring the amazing possibilities that exist when relational health becomes the avenue to transformation.  Step in and invest in your own inner wisdom and finding the answers that fit for you.

Yes, this is a bit of a marketing pitch.  I am leading the next Living Alive Phase I starting April 17 (less than a month away!!) and I am excited about a great group of people who are interested in self-discovery and aliveness.

Are you? So I am putting my voice out there and calling those who are looking to sign up.  I would love to see you there!!

Susan Clarke is a long standing faculty member at The Haven.

Leap of Faith

My word for the year is a phrase, “Leap of Faith”.  I was going to simply stick with the plan, one word for the year.  At first I thought Leap – however, that did not quite fit.  Faith wasn’t quite right either.  Then I saw this picture that I bought earlier in 2012 while taking Sooke to the vet.  I love it.  There’s the elder duck leading the way out of the nest up in a tree and then the little ones, look out and then finally, leap.  Their wings seem so small and incapable of flight.  Yet, there they go!

It's time to fly!!
It’s time to fly!!

Sometimes I feel like those little ducks.  Yet, I am much closer, may be even older than the mother duck pushing the babes out of the nest.  If I reflect on my life as it is now, I do see both, and in many ways both are taking a Leap of Faith.  Sure, the more physical evidence of the leap is seen in the baby ducks.  However, that mom, likely has some inner angst about what is about to happen and must have tremendous faith to step out of the way.  I relate to both.

This year we plan to re-launch Thrive!.  This in many ways will be a Leap of Faith.  We intend to bring our whole selves to this new business.  This means we no longer want to have our lives compartmentalized.  In the past, we had our corporate presence and we had our various more personal pursuits.  The revitalized Thrive! will be designed to integrate both.  We plan to maintain our work with leaders, teams and organizations, and we also will include our strong belief that business is personal.  That the corporate world would greatly benefit from embracing a whole person/whole team approach.  In many ways this concept is really mother bird speaking.  We know this concept is a mature and vital path that works.  We have been embracing it ourselves for years and have built a powerful partnership that continues to ignite and sustain our health, wealth and relationship.

The baby duck part of the leap is simply being willing to step out fully as who we each are and who we are together.  Last year we started leading the Couples Alive Series couples programs up at The Haven.  The Haven Institute has always been like a safe nest where I can learn and develop.  So it was easy to step into leading together.  We didn’t question out value or wonder about being accepted.  We simply brought all we have learned through being together for over twelve years and assumed if we were open, real and curious we had lots to offer any couple – same sex or not.

Now we want to be more transparent in who we are out in the bigger world, to take the leap of faith and trust that we can fly. Sure, may be not everyone will like discovering we are not simply a business partnership.  However, I believe until now our biggest doubters have been ourselves.

Aside from the work transition and re-launching, I am also leaping into the world of writing.  I have been writing for years.  It has been my path for integrating and revealing to myself my inner world.  More recently I have stepped further out.  Through my blog and writing for 406 Magazine.  Yet I don’t think of myself as a writer.  I don’t fully commit to that path.  This year I am making the leap.  I have signed up for a kick-off workshop with writers I know will challenge and encourage me to go deeper and broader.

So my phrase, Leap of Faith, fits for me.  I am both mature and quite young at what I am jumping into.  I have a solid foundation that I can count on and I am ready for new ground and possibilities.

Though what intrigues me most is the space between the young ducks just launching themselves out of the tree and the older duck giving the push.  That space is where faith becomes something beyond leaping into the vast unknown or holding faith in that which is known for someone to step into.  The space is yet another aspect to leap of faith.  I believe it is that middle ground.  I must leap.  My wings are not young and new – my wings are scarred and older.  I have known the pain of crashing into the ground and failing to fly.  Yet I must still step from the tree and take the leap.  Knowing I have the heart and courage of being both young and old.

So I am thrilled to take the a leap of faith into 2013.

Susan Clarke is a long standing faculty member at The Haven Institute. She leads The Living Alive Phase I, with Carole Ames starting Feb 13 – Mar 10, 2013 and Come Alive April 7-12, 2013, and with CrisMarie Campbell: Come Alive Oct 13-18, 2013; and Couples Alive I – Foundation, Communication and Boundaries, April 15-19, 2013 and Couples Alive II – Edge, Igniting Passion & Aliveness April 19-23, 2013.


The Heart of the Holidays

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”  

I love the holidays! This year has already been especially rich.  We just returned from Maui.  You are probably thinking Maui is the most wonderful part of the holiday – but no!  Sure sunshine, warm water and the beach are great!  But the most wonderful part of our Maui trip was being there with our friends, Jim and Renee.  Earlier this year, Jim faced a life threatening illness, kidney failure.  More than on one occasion we thought we were going to lose him.  So when they kept talking about Maui for the holidays, I must admit I wasn’t counting on that happening.  Still, they maintained their commitment and at the last minute we just could not let the opportunity pass and jumped on a plane to meet them.  Jim was inspiring.  He couldn’t swim and had to go every other day for dialysis, but his light was bright and an awesome reminder of why I love this time of year!

The simple joys of being with friends!
The simple joys of being with friends!

Yes, I love Christmas. Though it isn’t really about the religious story of Christ for me.  Maybe it was a winter’s night when he was born.  Granted, I think the story of baby Jesus makes a great reason to come together and remember that our differences can so easily be overcome with heart, connection and good will.  Isn’t that really the essence of the baby Jesus story?  Mary needed a place, there wasn’t any rooms at the inn and some people found a spot and made it cozy.  I have no doubt that some warm-hearted strangers helped Mary and Joseph out that night.  Child birth isn’t all that easy.  So I picture folks helping and gathering.  Now, whether you believe in the rest of the story or not, that part of the story for me is is the heart of the holidays.

I believe I have always loved Christmas.  I love singing carols, and when I was young remember well our friend Ruth ‘Charlie’ Brown gathering everyone to go to nursing homes and through neighborhoods singing.  It was fun and she not only did that in December, but throughout the year would call and suggest a night of caroling, just to keep the spirit of the holidays alive.  One July we were out in winter wear, singing our hearts out.  People loved it! They laughed, they sang and once again whatever differences folks might have had were bridged.

There were some harder and lonely holiday times.  However, no matter how dark things seemed in my life, the holidays always bought lightness and joy.  For a few years I worked on Christmas.  I didn’t have family around, and I would sign up for the Christmas shift.  I worked in the hospital pharmacy. We would gift wrap the IV bags and go room to room singing carols of all sorts.  The people who had to be in the hospital seemed to love our hospital cart and we of course had a blast!  When I was struggling with my own health, I gift wrapped my own Chemo bags and played carols which I found way more uplifting than simply getting the standard chemo IV.

There were a couple years there when I doubted I was going to be around much longer and was very lonely.  One year on Christmas Eve, I walked down the street to a local church.  They invited me in like I been part of the family forever.  The music was awesome and when I got home, I just wasn’t so lonely.  That was the same year I would head out to the airport and simply watch people greet family and friends.  Back then there were not security areas and anyone could be at the gate as people stepped off the plane.  I was inspired and would sit with tears in my eyes.  I doubt anyone ever noticed how much their joy touched my life and gave me the heart to keep going.

So yes, I love the holidays. May be it is because this is the time of the darkest and longest nights.  It can seem lonely and hard.  Yet the simplest things, pictures with pineapples, candles, songs, jumping on a flight to Maui, having turkey sandwiches with friends –  connect us.  Sure, people still fight about saying Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays. We shop and get way too caught up in the commercial side of things.  However, every year there are stories just like the baby Jesus story or Jim’s bright light – of people reaching beyond their differences or rising above life’s challenges.  People get together, sing, laugh share and fill the darkest night with the brightest light!  That is why this is indeed the most wonderful time of the year!!



The Island of MisFit Toys & Finding Your Own Special Light!

Of course, almost everyone has heard of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. Rudolph became famous one snowy Christmas Eve night, when he fully discovered his own unique light! Was a night when normal was simply not good enough, and Rudolph’s nose shone ever so bright!

T’was Santa that called him from that land of misfit toys and made him a hero for all girls and boys.

Hero of MisFits!!

Love the story!

Many assume that the North Pole, Santa and flying reindeer are simply a fantasy designed to entertain children. However, I do believe in the Land of MisFit Toys  – of that I know for sure. There is at least one regional hub that sits in the north. The Haven they call it, down here, of course.

I know this place exist because I happen to be one of those misfit toys that found my way there. Growing up I was always a bit of a misfit. I was too loud, too intense, or always too something. I struggled in school, wasn’t able to spell or read or be cool! Use to get teased and called funny names. Indeed, found it hard to play all the games. Yes, I could relate to Rudolph. I managed. I found ways to fit it and just figured some day I would either find a way to be normal or just be ok being me. I found some interesting ways to explain my differences, and looking back think I was quite creative. Still, there was always this loneliness and sense of not fitting in.

Then one rainy northwest day, I found myself at The Haven. T’was Ben that came to say, “Susan with your odd and interesting way – won’t you come to The Haven and play?” Well, I never really “saved Christmas” or anything that awesome. But I did take my odd and interesting way up north to the island where misfit toys find their way. There I discovered that misfit was simply another word for unique and different. I also learned that it might just be easier to stop trying so hard to fit in or convince others I was okay. That a little acceptance and compassion on my part would go a very, very long way.

You see it’s not about changing me or the world. No, it’s really about seeing what’s already there.There’s really is no normal or best way to be. There simply is you and there simply is me. If we could just get that different is cool. It really doesn’t mean we get kicked out of school. I think if that was the message we shared, there be no real reason to bicker and scream. No, then we could simply enjoy being on the team.

So this holiday time I strongly suggest: Don’t fight to be normal or simply exist. Remember the true spirit of Rudolph and the land he came from – it’s not about presents and being just right. It’s more about finding your own special light and shining it bright!!

Resilience: It’s not what you do – but what you do next that counts

My Marco, Polo; adventures have been wonderful. I loved working with CrisMarie and leading the Living Alive Phase ( a 25 day program focused on helping people heighten their awareness of their physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual selves and to live more fully.

The group was awesome, as was the leader team. There is always so much learning and richness added to my life when I get to be a part of such a transformational process in other people’s lives. Plus, this time I was working all month with CrisMarie and that has been a dream of mine for a long time. So it was quite amazing.

One of the lessons that really stood out for me this month was a simple reminder of an old quote I love to live by: It isn’t what you do – but what you do next that counts. When I was in my Masters program in Family Systems Counseling almost 20 years ago, this was a quote given to us by one of the faculty members. I can’t remember the author or even the story shared at that point. But I do remember thinking that this really is important when it comes to resilience.

We all make mistakes. Say things that we see impact others differently than we expected. Act in a way that results in unintentional negative outcomes. It is so easy when that happens to feel guilty or quit because of the belief that everything has been ruined. However, resilience is that moment when I have fallen or made a significant mistake, but instead of focusing on what happened I shift to what happens next. I don’t hang out in self-hate, pity or feel guilty. (Unless, of course I do. You know, I’m not perfect. More material for another blog.)

Resilience is when I pick myself up and get right back in the game.

Maybe it’s because I played sports most of my life, and in sports it is pretty clear that extra time taken to dwell on any mistakes results in the score just getting worse. Or may be I simply wasn’t born with a perfectionist gene. I came into the world curious and determined to try things and made lots of mistakes.

When working with people in a human, real way, it’s pretty important to be able to be a good enough leader not a perfect one. Things happen. Plans get changed. People are dropping into themselves and at times are terrified, angry and resistant. Sometimes I am open and compassionate and have no issues holding the space. Other times I hate that my best laid agenda/plan gets blocked, or I am not so willing to take the anger coming my way. It’s in those moments when I am less than my ideal self, that I say things or act in a way I don’t like. Often the group dynamics get worse or more challenging. I try to tell myself, “It’s not what you just did, but what you do next that counts.”

There were more than a handful of rich learnings like that this past month for me. Thankfully, I did remember and spent much less time making a bad moment a lot worse! I think even some bad moments turned into miracles.  That’s the thing, you never know.  Sometimes the mistake is really the greatest opportunity. Best to stick around and stay open to all possibilities.

Leadership takes a lot of curiosity, courage and humbleness. Mostly though, it takes resilience. Taking action, seeing the results and being willing and able in the moment to self-correct as needed.

Now, back home I am aware that my travels and detours have resulted in some important projects and relationships being left unattended. I have no regrets or guilt. I just need to step back into this game and clean up any mess made in my absence. I am on it!

“Marco!” “Polo!”

As a Martha Beck coach-in-training I have been reading and working through her tips for Finding My North Star.  It sounds like an awesome idea, figuring my true purpose and setting my direction to arrive at that defined point in this lifetime – cool!

However, I have yet to really get the north star concept.  Instead my life is a bit more like the game Marco, Polo.  In case you never played this game it usually takes place in a pool or lake.  One person must close their eyes (or be blindfolded).  They call out “Marco” and all other players must respond, “Polo”.  The unsighted person calling out Marco must find the sighted Polo people.  Usually the Blindfolded person is diving in various directions with limited success as the sighted ‘Polo’ folks quickly move about to avoid getting caught.

As to how this applies to my own life, well I seem to have quite wild swings in my directional course.  One might think I am simply like the Marco blindfolded person, calling out and waiting for the next marker to call back, Polo.  Once I get a signal, off I go chasing to find the source.  Truthfully it is not a bad way to live.  I am  very present focused.  However, my north star seems more like the vast milky way, not a single star calling out and laying out a clear path.  I go every which way.  May be there is some course being mapped by a much higher source than myself. But just like it was playing the game long ago, I often feel like my life is more test of blind faith with random movements, than a path laid out by a clear guiding star.

Last month I had a fairly good idea of the months ahead.  I was planning on being at home, focusing on redefining our business and doing some solid ground work on our book.  But there was a very loud, Polo, so instead I am off to Canada again.  This time with CrisMarie for A Living Alive Phase program.  The exciting part is that we will be leading together.  The difficulty is that our plans to fully articulate the new ‘thrive! will likely go a bit background as we focus on the day-to-day demands of our group of follow travelers.

May be there is a path. It does seem as though we are getting a clear message that instead of simply focusing on corporate work we need to make plans to engage in working with couples and individuals in a personal mode as well. Again I am simply going on faith, listening for the universal equivalent of “polo” and calling out when I am feeling lost.



Off I go.

Spicing Up My Palette

I am out on an Artist Date.  For those of you who are not familar with Julia Cameron’s Artist Way the concept, Artist Date, may be misleading.  I don’t really consider myself an artist nor am I dating one.  No, an Artist Date is time spend with myself exploring and discovering what awakenings my creative inner spirit.

Today I have simply been walking down a couple blocks of Whitefish.  Stepping into the stores that I usually pass by and seeing what lies inside.  It’s been quite fun.  I am always surprised the things that I discover that I have likely passed by a hundred times and never noticed.

Today I got caught up in reading those funny signs, “Follow your dog and find the meaning of joy” – love that one.  Or another – 10 Reasons Men prefer a Gun to a Woman – You can trade a 44 in for a 22 – okay so not all of these little signs are appealing to me, reason 1 was enough on that one to move on!  !  Still I went throughout the store reading all could see.

Next I visited the Imagination Station, basically a children’s store.  Loved the color and variety of possible activities.  Couldn’t help but wonder, wouldn’t offices be far more appealing to work in with that kind of color and potential for play and some fun.

Next came a few classic Montana Galleries with paintings of open space, horses, bears and the Rockies.  Wow, I do live in a great location.

I finally arrived in my favorite coffee shop and simply had to sit down to write.  I admit I often resist taking an artist date.  But once I am out and about, I find my heart sings and I am quite drawn to write.

I do indeed think Julia Cameron’s recommendation that one regularly takes time for a Artist Date is a wonderful idea.  Even for those who may not consider themselves artist or don’t think they need any new inspiration.  Taking an Artist Date in your own hometown can simply be a great way to open your heart, spice up your life and who knows may be you will decide to paint, draw, write or sing.

Honestly, I do believe we are all artist creating our own life.  We can either spice it up on occasion with some new inspiration or just keep using the same old brush strokes.  It really is our choice.  Today I am glad I decided to spice it up a bit!!

Back to the Post!

Life is busy.  I have every intention of getting regular post up on my new site.  Instead I am writing articles for 406 Magazine (a Montana magazine for women) and articles for the return of our Thrive! newsletter!!  These are exciting things but also take me away from posting blogs.

It doesn’t help my writing that we also have been experiencing awesome weather here in Montana.  That means I want to be out of my bike or paddle boarding or simply sitting on the deck.  This also makes posting blogs more challenging.

Yet I am intent to get a post done today.  Now that the sun is not directly on the porch I can be outside AND blogging!! There is hope!

Those who have been followers, I want to ensure you that even though I have been sharing the challenges of my transitional period, I am doing very well.  Indeed I love my life in most moments.  I like challenges and can re-frame and find purpose in most things.  I am sharing this because I have had a few folks who were regular blog readers ask me if I was doing okay.  Honestly it never occurred to be that folks might worry.

Let me share a few updates:

Bailey  – I have crossed paths with my favorite boxer a few times now.  He seems very happy and SETTLED (not a word I would have used to describe him when he lived with us).  I have also enjoyed hearing many tales of his summer hiking, SWIMMING (another thing he never entertained with us) and just riding through town in the front seat of Rick’s jeep.  I have to say Rick and Bailey make a great team!

Work Transition – Of course we are still on a journey to re-creating ourselves.  However, I believe we are well on our way to some very exciting and inspiring times.  As I mentioned we are both writing for 406 Magazine both a personal piece and a business focused piece.  That is fun!  We are also re-launching our Thrive! newsletter so that will be coming soon.  We have found in this transition our sweet spot in the area of relational dynamics and healthy conflict.  It is a creative time where we are finding our own voice and bringing back pieces of our work that really fit who we are.  Sure we have our moments of tension, conflict and frustration.  However, I have always believed that is a good sign of forward growth and new possibility.

Friends and Community – I won’t say there aren’t still some moments of heart ache when I realize there are some close friends who are no longer in my life.  So there is still some sadness that gets stirred up.  However, with folks having moved on, I have also discovered new friends in some wild places.  We have found new connecting points in our community here, on Gabriola and at the various spots we travel virtually and literally.  I feel quite grateful and fortunate.

I think I have shared enough updates so those who may have been wondering can feel confident that transition, though at times uncomfortable, can also be a source of aliveness and possibility.

This isn’t the most exciting post but hopefully does provide an update and a renewed commitment to blogging!  Time for that bike ride!!



Sexy, Alive & Loving at The Edge

In the past month my life has been busy, alive and very engaging.  Through the month I have also been doing my best to stay open and loving in my life and partnership with CrisMarie.  Because we have each been doing things separately that stir up our creativity and call on us to ride waves and risk falling, our day-today living as included fighting, laughing and clinging.

As CrisMarie stepped more fully into Nina and the show was such a big success.  I had both the thrill and threat of hearing just how sexy people thought she was on stage.  I watched as she bought her aliveness to the part, to the team and to each show.  I sat with her when she cried on closing night.  I listened as she expressed her fears that she wouldn’t get another part like that.  I held back my own fears of being left behind for another starring role or some sexy guy and that was simply the first two weeks of August.

I didn’t even mention my riding of the waves as I headed off to Columbus and took the lead with in a room of Presidents.  Or dealt with my demons while writing pieces for my book, that may take 10 more years to write.  I have already mentioned the various stages of transition I have been traveling through this summer. So no need to say more.

Indeed it has been a journey.  As the show ended and we boarded a flight to Toronto for a major week of work with one of our clients, we were both wondering if we would be able to rise to the occasion.

We did.  The week went quite well.  Though we had been working separately as we came back together there was a grace and ease that made the week enjoyable.  It’s what we love.  Being co-creative and working together from our respective strengths.

We then traveled to the other side of Canada to Gabriola to lead Couples Alive II, The Edge.  How perfect was that!!  We had been living at that Edge for months.  Though I would not have thought of it that way.  As we went through the week, working with a group of couples, we drew upon our own lives to reveal humanness, realness and aliveness that comes when relationships are about both being together and being each ourselves.

Loving is a verb, it’s active and fluid.  Loving at the edge is like surfing or riding waves.  Sometimes our life does feel like we are on a bigger boat and the ride is quite stable.  Other times I imagine us on a small racing sail boat – much faster and far less stable.  And there are those times when we are on individual paddle boards – riding the waves separately while staying close and heading in the same direction.  I can even imagine times when one of us is sitting stable on a boat while the other is surfing some big wave.  That to me, is loving on the edge.  Being willing to ride the waves – together.  It isn’t always easy.  I do get a touch jealous when my sexy partner is alive in her life and I am not on that same wave.  Still I do enjoy watching and know it isn’t about her shutting down her sexy self.  No, it is about me being willing to step out myself and trust that we can both ride the waves.  Meeting and loving at our respective edges!!  Sexy, Alive and Loving!!