Category Archives: Connecting

Breathe, Feel the Cracks, and Let the Heart Open

Today as I read the news and the sad storyline out of Paris France, I just find myself wrestling with how stuck we are in a world of right and wrong.

It seems so easy to just say terrorism is just wrong. But I just can’t help but think those people deciding to bomb or fire into a crowd, somehow think they are right.

So much about the world these days is based in right or wrong. What does it really mean to take right action or wrong action? The underlying assumption is that there is a right or wrong action.

Well, I am here to say ‘right’ action is sometimes just all ‘wrong.’ Right-wrong is just getting old and way past its time. The idea of – do the right thing – is just a bit too narrow and a mental construct.

Yes, our minds are one of our greatest assets. You won’t hear me suggesting that we shouldn’t use our minds. However, I don’t think our minds are of much value without the wisdom of our most inspiring asset – our heart.15845528_m

Yes, I am speaking of that somewhat fragile, pumping organ sitting just left of center in our chest and much more spoken of in metaphor than in words or facts.

We are in awe of someone’s mental abilities, terrified by another’s mental illness, and doubtful of, or overly confident in, our own intellectual capabilities.

But we are moved and inspired by the human heart’s capacity.

Art, music, poetry and inspiration are the outpouring of the heart – not to be measured but to be tapped – an unlimited expression of spirit.

When we go for ‘right’ action – our breath restricts and we narrow and focus in on what is ‘right’

When we go for inspired action our breath deepens and there is a bridge. As a result, the mind is inspired by the heart.

What becomes possible isn’t a linear, right-wrong answer or solution. When breath bridges the distance from our minds to our hearts there is an opening into infinite possibilities.

We can’t explain, define it, or measure it – but we know, feel, and recognize it. We live and revel in those moments.

However, the courage it takes to live an inspired life is not easy. There is not a book or a ‘right’ way to get there. There is no there. Just breath, just a pumping heart, and a story that isn’t set, but flexes with the input of another, and notices and responses to the amazing world and all the diversity and possibility.

Today I reminded, I do not know what is right. I do not know what is wrong. I just know my heart has been cracked. I could focus and use my mind to figure out what action to take, or I can just breathe and feel the cracks, fears, and uncertainty. Let my heart inspire my actions, my stories, and my next steps.

Hearts will continue to be cracked, even broken, and with breath old stories will be inspired and possibly shifted and changed. Morphing into genius and new possibilities – inspired by the fragility and vastness of the heart!

Listen, breathe, and allow your stories to be inspired by your cracked and open heart. Only then will you, and we, find an inspired life and action worth taking – not for the outcome, but for the connection and untapped creative potential that can come when the mind and heart work together!

Today hearts are broken on all sides of old stories. Let the breath in, feel the cracks, keep your heart open, and soak your stories before taking your action.

Oops! I Missed The Relational Part!!

Image 2It’s hard to believe I posted my blog about the Living Alive Phase 1 and somehow forgot to mention the most critical relational part.  This past month I have been working with Toby Macklin.  This is the first time we have worked together leading a Phase and it has been quite enjoyable!

There have been a few near misses due to both of us being more big picture and less detailed oriented.  However, we did find a way to ensure that all bases (well most bases) were covered. It helped that we had a great team and even a few with strengths in the area of process and structure!

We are different and I am certain that there were moments when Toby may have wished for someone a bit less chatty.  Just tonight at dinner with Wayne Dodge (another Core Faculty leader who also leads the Living Alive Phase 1 with Toby at times), I had to laugh,  as they dove into a rich dialogue about the  Latin roots of a word. No, I have yet to have that type of word play with Toby and enjoyed seeing the two of them banter.  I imagined their evening reflections on the day to be  slightly different then ours have been.  Which of cause is the real essence of relational.  Finding our differences, our similarities and accepting and working with and through both.   I like that we often had slightly different perspectives on something and yet our styles seemed to be complimentary overall.

In the end I discovered what might be our true common link – we both have a love for Harry Potter books and films!  How perfect is that!

I am enjoying laughing, learning and leading with Toby.  He even does an amazing impersonation of CrisMarie that wish I had captured on video!






Home, Sweet Home

Home, sweet home.  I have been away since April 7.  Most of my time away was up at The Haven leading a Come Alive, followed by Couples Alive I & Couples Alive II.  It was a very full stretch.  Of course, I loved the work and the wonderful people I had the chance to meet and work with.  I am very fortunate that I get to do work I love.  We finished off the trip with a two day corporate client event down in Portland.

Couples Alive & On the Edge!
Here are just a few of the great couples having some fun!

There were many moments where I had some great ideas and/or experiences I wanted to share.  However, there wasn’t much free time so the imagined blog post were never completed. Now home, I have the time but not quite as inspired!

Currently, the biggest thing on my mind is my desire to create community and connections for myself here in Whitefish.  See, I found myself thinking about moving, and when I mentioned this to CrisMarie, she wisely pointed out that my solution might not really be solving my underlying dissatisfaction.  In the past six months I have been living on Gabriola Island BC more than I have been at home. Prior to that six month period there were some key changes in my connections here.  We finished our Masters program at Jwalan Muktika School for Illumination (JMSI) my term on the JMSI Board ended, my favorite hangout The Green Tea House closed, and we had a major break with some of our closest friends here in Whitefish.  Suddenly, Whitefish, though gorgeous and quite wonderful, seems more like a tourist stop than home.

After getting the first dose of wisdom from CrisMarie, she let that settle and delivered the second bit of input. Though she thought I thrived while engaged in a community, she didn’t think I was all that good at creating one.  Again, the feedback stung but had a lot of truth in it.  When I moved to Seattle, I did struggle to create the connections I wanted.  Mostly, I blamed that on traffic and too many choices.  Looking back more closely at my patterns, I noticed that I am great at jumping into groups and structures already in place, but may not be so great at building those connections myself.

So home again and this time without any long periods away for a while, I am hoping to break through and build the community I want here.  I know there are lots of possibilities. My first step is Whitefish Ladies Golf Night.  There are six of us who are game for being part of a team.  We play once a week on Tuesday evening.  I am not a great golfer, but the team agreed, this was for fun and connecting.  It’s okay if we lose or have big handicaps!

I would also like to start a monthly Body, Breath and Energy evening or Relational Health night in the Flathead Valley, bringing a bit of The Haven to Whitefish.  Of course, that will involve some marketing and may be more than I am up for.  Still, I would love to find some ways to do what I love right here at home.  Home, Sweet Home

I was happy to land back here in Montana.  Loved sleeping in my own bed and picking up Sooke, our most amazing dog.  Indeed, home is sweet. I just want to put a bit more effort into making it even better.  I’ll keep you posted along the way.







The Richness in Couples Alive!

We are preparing to lead the next Couples Alive I & II, April 15-19 and April 19-23.  These programs are part of the Couples Alive Series that is offered up at The Haven.  We love leading these programs!! One, because we get to work together and two, because we can deeply engage with people who share our passion for relating, loving and living with a partner, friend and lover on this human experience journey.

In preparation for the Couples Alive I:  Foundations – Communication & Boundaries, I received a call from someone who was considering the program.  They shared that as individuals and a couple, they were deeply skilled in psychology and relationship skills and were wondering if this Foundation program would be the best choice.  The easy answer was to simply say it was required.  (Which is true – but I am never fond of getting a ‘rule’ thrown back at me. So I wanted a better response.)

When we were designing this series as a three couple team, CrisMarie & I, were quick to volunteer to take all of the series as participants when each program, I, II and III was launched.  We wanted to fully emerge ourselves in the material both as a way to prepare for leading and also to test our theory that the models and material is powerful and useful for couples at all stages of relationship.

Indeed, when we took each of the programs, we had no problem using the tools and experiences offered to explore the landscape of our relationship.  Though I have close to 30 years of experience teaching the communication model, I always find rich new depth in applying it to my own world and relationship.  That one model alone is the best tool I know for peeling back the layers of my life and bridging the gap between my world view and that of another.  Besides there really isn’t ever an end or finish-line when it comes to intimacy.  I know I am always evolving, involving, shifting and sticking and there’s enough discovery there for a lifetime.  As a couple there’s infinite possibility.

I also reflected on the couples who had been with us in the Couples Alive I, Foundations that we have led.  Again, I was struck by the variety and diversity.  We have had newlyweds to couples married for over 40 plus years. We have had same-sex, heterosexual, monogamous and poly-amorous couples all in the same group.  We have had couples who were thinking of separating, who live a part and one couple, that was separated but wanted to try again.  Yes, there has been an amazing scope and range in the couples who have been in the Couples Alive I, Foundations program.

It works because we designed it so that the couple gets to work on their issues, whatever they may be. Concepts and models are introduced (or refreshed). Then the truly rich possibilities come through applying these ideas within the container of each unique couple. The models are simple, universal and deep. They can be utilized at any stage in the life-cycle of a couple: from romance to power-struggle through to co-creation, over and over again.

Add to that, the opportunity for couples to learn from and share with other couples and the possibilities are endless. One of the richest parts of the series is watching couples learn and grow through simply knowing they are not alone, the the couple journey is really not a formula. It’s alive, organic and riddled with highs, lows and status quos.  Sometimes, the best learning is simply that there isn’t really something wrong!

Yes, the Couples Alive I is called Foundations but it isn’t simply for those Couples just starting the journey. Foundations are worth exploring anytime.  Come and join us!!




Doggy Facebook

sooke“World’s most awesome stick – take a right at the tree near the skunk trail – left it there for you!” – Dusty

“Long time – no word – you doing okay? Leave a trace – miss the chase!” – Nico

“Don’t even think of taking my treasure – deer bone is MINE!!” – anon

I am fairly certain now that this is what totally slows Sooke, my wonder dog, down when we are heading into the woods for a run.  She has to check Doggy Facebook.  The first 50 feet of trail are just like 6PM on Facebook.  Every dog has left some sort of post with details of their canine experience. Usually, once past the initial trail head, she settles in for the jog.  However, like my friends, she is not able to stay off Facebook for long.  I imagine much like the sound of an incoming new Facebook post on my cell phone, Sooke gets a strong hit of a recent doggy post through her nose, and off she goes. First, she checks out the latest news and then finds any reported treasures.

Sooke, unlike me, seems to enjoy posting as much as she does following her friends.  I have no doubt her frequent stops have less to do with need to relieve herself and much more to do with passing on important information to the rest of the canine world that frequents our woods.

I have never really given it much thought until I began to compare her need for gathering information and passing on her own personal notes, to my own current interest and experiences on Facebook.  I realize that dogs have been facebook’ing much longer than their human counterparts.  It’s clear that animals, and especially dogs, thrive on incoming input from their buddies, posting seems to be their way of life.

Often CrisMarie is bugging me to get off Facebook to chat with her or fix dinner.  I am thinking it really is no different than when I am yelling for Sooke to catch up.

“I want to run – hurry up, Sooke!”

“I want to post – you’ll have to wait!” – screams Sooke!

Facebook has definitely taken over the world and it seems the woods as well!

It’s All About Acting Natural!!

Tomorrow I’ll be working with a group of company presidents with the intention of helping them align and develop a more collaborative work process. This is basically the focus of all the work I do. Yet this trip feels quite different. For one, CrisMarie, my usual partner is staying home. She is opening in a show this week called, Looking, a topic for a later post. This trip, I am going solo. Actually that is not true. I will be working with another of Table Group Principal Consultant. I am not alone.

However, for me this is very different. For one reason, I often rely on CrisMarie to take the lead in speaking. She is dynamic, efficient and very good at both presenting and getting material up on flip charts. My job is usually to come in with some stories and examples that are relevant and helpful in making sure the concepts and model lands well on the audience. However, this trip I am the lead. I have to do what I think she is brilliant at doing.

So I have been prepping. However, it wasn’t until I dropped in at the last minute to an awesome program, Act Natural, that I really got what I need to be focusing on. I was prepping to ‘be like CrisMarie’ or like Pat (Lencioni) the author of the books we are working to help teams implement. Yes, I was trying to get up to speed on just how CrisMarie does the models. Of course I was failing! I am not CrisMarie.

So last week in a moment panic, I turned to The Haven Institute program list and saw that Act Natural was happening. I love Jane Geesman and Sara Lucht. They are two of the funniest, most dynamic and talented women I know and I figured why not have a few laughs and possibly get some help in how to act more like me, not CrisMarie.

Of course I wasn’t really confident or expecting that the weekend was going to make this trip or presentation all that much better. But I did think may be I could get some tips and if nothing else enjoy a weekend not focusing on succeeding or failing in the upcoming event.

Well, now sitting on my flight to the client site. I believe I do have some great techniques that will help me tomorrow. Even more important, I am clear about my objective. Before I did think it was about doing what CrisMarie usually does well. Seriously though, that would have never worked. No – it is about connecting to this group of leaders and sharing some material I believe can transform they way they do their business. I do honestly believe that. I do know my material and I believe in it. I also know that my style may not be quite like CrisMarie’s. That’s okay.

I did of course do I number of things I think CrisMare does that makes her more effective. I practiced. I asked some friends to listen to me and did the talk while writing on the flipcharts. (a few times!) I also made up some notes. I was going to listen to Pat’s version of presenting but neither the webinar or the DVD seems to be working on my computer. May be that is just perfect. I am not Pat either!

So Act Natural, was fun and on a deeper level I really got in touch with how important it is to be clear about my objective, to connect to the emotional need I am trying to meet or communicate. If I have that down and I am willing to stay present, relax, be self-aware, trust my knowing of the material and remember the others in the room – I will be okay.

This isn’t about me having an awesome performance. No this is about me connecting and communicating a message to a room of folks who want to work well together. That is what I need to remember. They know their business and I do know a lot about how to help people work through their differences and messiness. That combination is quite powerful and as long as I keep that as my focus I think I will be fine.

Plus, if I falter. Well I am going to remember what Jane Geesman shared about Jack Lemon. Apparently the only parts he ever took were the one’s he was most afraid of doing. The scripts and the roles that seemed far from his comfort zone. He would take them and do what it took to be fully prepared and then show up! So tomorrow I will be like Jack. I took the part I am most afraid of and I prepared. Tomorrow I will fully commit to the show and my part. That is all I can do!!

I Remember. Come Alive, Rocks!

I just finally watched the new Come Alive video on The Haven website. I thought it was awesome. I wanted to find a way to share it with everyone who has ever asked me, “What is it you do at The Haven?”

Yes, I have taken the Come Alive journey many times. Twice as a participant and countless times as a leader during the last twenty two years.

I still remember my first Come Alive. I came with my sister, Penny. I thought I was dying. I had been given three months to live. My doctors were not too happy when I announced I was going across the country to take a five day program called Come Alive. They thought that was a waste. Of course, for me, I had nothing to loss. So I went.

I believe those five days turned my life around. I was so inspired by the leaders – their caring – their open, honest way of being with people. They were not trying to fix me or others, but simply listening, supporting and modeling vulnerability, curiosity and faith. I wanted what I was witnessing. I wanted that more than I wanted to cure cancer. I wanted to learn to relate with that level of authenticity and alive-ness even if it only lasted three months.

I was encouraged to breathe every day. Jock was often dropping by to offer acupuncture. His visits were short, frequent and just the right amount for me to gradually open up to what was happening. I witnessed people sharing a depth of feeling and vulnerability I had never seen before. Of course, I had moments where I totally doubted the process, even got angry about the fact that I was just getting this now with only a short time to live. The beauty of the program was that I traveled to so many places through listening to different stories than my own and never once thought I had to change or be different. I was simply invited to be me and to be curious about how I had gotten to where I was – not as a victim but as a response-able person. It was exciting to have people not feel sorry for me but instead hold me as able. They believed in me and with that invitation I came alive!

I didn’t really remember the models. But I did remember Jock’s tears, as far as I knew, no one had ever cried with me. Here was this doctor with big salty tears running down his cheek. This gave me the permission I needed to cry as well. We did this together, and I will never forget what that felt like. I remember the honesty and warmth of the group as each person revealed some aspect of their life that was raw and new to them. We each held an open space for whatever someone needed or wanted to explore.

Yes, I remember. That first five day program turned my life around, and I have never gone back to the lonely place I knew before arriving on Gabriola at The Haven. So I will gladly share this video and hope it goes viral. There is place, and it is worth visiting. Pass this on!!

Here’s the link to the new Come Alive video!!

Susan Clarke

Happy 92 BKNG JON !!

Over the weekend I was out on a bike ride and couldn’t help but think about my dad. I would say I am a biker because of his influence. April 29th 2012 is my dad’s 92nd birthday, and he is still biking. I won’t be there to celebrate with him in person, but I figured the next best treat would be to share with the world something that I love about him and find truly inspiring. If this article inspires you, send it on – to celebrate Biking John Clarke.


Likely, I am either sitting in an airport or somewhere in the sky between Montana and Baltimore. I am hoping you are celebrating your 92nd birthday either biking to McDonald’s for breakfast or taking an afternoon ride to the ice cream parlor.

Bkng Jon Holding Court!

I am not quite certain when your love of biking began. I do remember hearing stories of you and Uncle Corny (your older brother) taking some interesting trips. A ride from Richmond to Virginia Beach before highway 95 opened or the two of you biking on the sandy beaches in fat tire bikes from Virginia beach down to Nags Head, NC. I don’t know all the details of those trips but they sounded like fun.

I believe I took my first bike ride to Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House with you around the age of five or six. It was the family Saturday morning breakfast ride. As a family we regularly rode to places for breakfast or ice cream – two of your favorite motivators.

Biking is a passion of yours, and I have no doubt, a big part of why you are still ticking and riding well into your senior years. There are many who ride faster and some who have covered more miles, but few who have been as passionate promoting the benefits of biking as you.

Back in Richmond, Virginia you started many standing club rides that are still going long after you moved to the west coast. Your bike got you on the cover of Bike Magazine, riding your three speed wearing your suit to work at Ginter Park, elementary school. I think this also gave you a good story on the Bill Crosby Show. I even remember you making it into the Seattle Times newspaper after the earthquake. As I recall, you were thrilled and a bit relieved, to learn from a crowd outside of the capital in Olympia, that there had been an earth quake instead of your fear that you had just had another stroke while out riding.

You have many fans on both coast who tell stories of riding with you. My stories are mostly positive. Of course, there were a few times when we got lost, or I thought you took the longest route possible; but honestly, I am incredibly proud and inspired by your passion and commitment to biking.

We are very different types of riders. I prefer getting from point A to B as fast as possible, and you, I think enjoy the scenery. I also believe biking is social for you since you have friends all over the country who will tell a story of riding some where, usually for food or drink with you. I tend to go solo.

As bring this post to a close, I find myself wishing I was there in Olympia with you riding to celebrate your life! Instead, I am sending this out to all the folks I know. Letting them know what an inspiration you are to me. I hope you are riding for many more years!! Happy Birthday Dad!!

Note The Virginia Tags

Why Write a Book?

When I look back on the many lists I have made about things I want to do with my life, one thing has been a constant. I have wanted to write a book. What’s equally interesting about this constant is that I have really done very little to make that happen. Yes, I have taken writing classes, written tons of short pieces and started this blog. But nothing as committed to completing the goal as I have been to other things that would show up on my list, like a bike tour in Europe or moving to Montana, getting my Diploma in Counseling at The Haven or starting our own company, Thrive!. These I put on the list, saw them and did them. Some taking more discipline than others.

So I decided to hire a coach. CrisMarie had the name of someone who was known for coaching writers so I decided to set up a chat. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect but what I thought would be an easy call turned into something else entirely.

It isn’t that this writing coach said anything too harsh. She simply wanted to know why I wanted to write a book, and as I rattled off the many things that seemed like good reasons, she kept pointing out that my responses seemed to have more to do with what others wanted than what I wanted.

At one point on the call I started down the path of sharing that I wanted to write my story. The journey I had been on through cancer and through dealing with my history which was filled with stories that never could be confirmed as fiction or non-fiction. She was relentless in trying to re-focusing me on the question of “why write a book?” and “who is audience?”. I found myself and tears and quite fragmented by the end of the call.

So I wonder what is it about writing a book that remains untouched on my list of lifetime goals and causes such fragmentation with simple questions like why do you want to write? and who are you writing for?.

As I told the coach, there is some part of me that simply wants to say “I did it. I started and I finished.” I have a history of believing I am not very good at that. I tried making that I worthwhile reason for why on the call by sharing my childhood experience of having an unfinished box of craft projects that haunted me. The coach didn’t fall for that. She pointed out that that still wasn’t about my reason now for writing and would not likely carry me through the mess and hard work of completing a book.

She wanted to know why, if I enjoyed blogging, didn’t I do more and make that a path for my writing. I had shared that I loved blogging but was not as disciplined as I wanted to me. Again, I tried using the ADD, distraction excuse, but I was not going to get off that easy. So instead, I dug deeper and that is how I found myself talking about my history. Dealing with cancer and my memories from my childhood. The story came out quite scrambled in my opinion. At some point, I shared my fears of getting lost again in the past and the compelling possibility of wholeness I imagined might come from successfully accomplishing the task.

Indeed, I believe the chat did help me focus and find my reasons for wanting to write. I also think I understand why blogging fits my style more than writing a book. Blogging let’s me come up for air and step into my present. A book would be a path I imagine having to take alone. That terrifies me. What if I go back there and get lost?

It’s funny, my past is what makes me a great counselor and coach. In listening and being present with someone who is courageously stepping into their own mess, I am quite competent and able to hold a space for them. I am able to easily stay on solid ground with whatever comes up or gets thrown my way. I can use my own journey to keep the faith that even in the blackest moments there will be a path. I trust my ability without doubt to stay present for the traveler even when the traveler doubts themselves.

Yet I am terrified of my ability to hold that same faith and solidity for myself. I have equated the hard, long road of writing a book about my life as a path to holding that space for me, and I have been unwilling to commit as fully to that task as I have to other more relational goals.

Maybe that is okay. Maybe knowing why I want to write will ignite my will, and I will go forward. For now this blog is my first pass at taking a step.

May even become a way to take the journey without being so alone.

The coach did say she wasn’t really interested in simply being an accountability coach. She believed I could find other ways to create the structure I needed and a way to stay accountable. Maybe she was right.

To Attach Or To Differentiate

It seems there is a great debate happening out there between therapists in Couples Counseling about the importance of Attachment and Self-differentiation. Here’s a link to one summary.

I believe this debate is like trying to figure out which came first, the chicken or the egg. I have my favorite which speaks more to my own story rather than to any significant truth. I like self-differentiation; I like to think of myself a independent or at least autonomous. Maybe I came out of the womb that way.

When we were designing the Couples Alive series for The Haven with our colleagues, the idea of attachment surfaced in our discussions. I immediately felt my repulsion to the idea, resisting the possibility of someone dwelling on the first years of life as an explanation for any neurotic and irresponsible patterns I carried into adulthood. I felt quite righteous and opinionated about my fight for self-defining and resilience as the more important developmental tasks for aliveness and connection in relationships.

However, when one argues too strongly for a point of view, there is usually something under the surface that is driving the righteous position. So there is little doubt that is/was the case here.

Some would say I am not particularly curious and gracious when I have a strong opinion. However, I often do find myself—after the fight—thinking through the alternative position. With a bit of humility, I often come back to the table or at least arrive at another table having redefined my position, influenced by all that I had argued so strongly against.

It seems this is the case with Attachment vs. Differentiation. I still favor self-differentiation. However, having done some reading and mostly some soul-searching after direct feedback from my partner and friends, I now believe in the importance and prevalence of attachment in couples.

I hate to admit the more helpless aspects of my own personality. The truth is, when I look beneath the surface, I am quite a dependent person. I may look tough or present as though I am not bothered by people disliking me. Yet, I totally crumble if that disliking person is CrisMarie (my partner). If I am honest with myself though, it has been CrisMarie’s willingness to accept and love me in the face of my own self-hate that has illuminated a path to greater self-compassion. Does this mean she needs to always embrace some of my less-than-wonderful traits? No. It just means there are moments when I may ask her to simply remind me that she loves me and is okay with my over-attachment to her. Then we can get back to our self-defining, arguing and enjoyment of our differences. I am willing to offer her that same moment of suspended judgment, that precious space where we can go in our darkest moments, knowing someone is there.

I don’t often reveal those moments to the world, thus my strong position for self-differentiation. I may have survived and even thrived at times on my ability to fight back and stand strong in the face of opposition, making an “I” statement in the face of “we”. But I have learned equally as much about loving and thriving by asking to be held and saying, “I need you to simply accept me in this moment”.

In my view, there is no winner in the great debate between Attachment vs. Differentiation. Both have an important role to play in my aliveness, in my loving others, and in my most significant relationships.