The Inside of Grief
My dog, Gracie has quite a few jobs on our 10 acre parcel of land on Orcas Island. One, in particular, is to chase the rabbits away and keep them from eating all the flowers and plants around the property. Sometimes this also means that she digs into nests and pulls out little baby rabbits and kills them. This certainly keeps the bunny population down. And, it causes me incredible grief to see dead baby rabbits strewn across the yard. I’ve come to justify this as our – mine and Gracie’s contribution to the circle of life. I take the lifeless bunnies down the road to the field where eagles, owls, hawks and vultures can find them and have an easy meal. It’s just what happens when living in the country.
This past weekend, Gracie proudly brought home a one week old bunny that was barely alive. It was so helpless and innocent, my heart instantly wrenched in, as I took in its sweet presence, while at the same time feeling the agony that would erupt with the impending moment of its death; most likely within the next day or two. I didn’t need nor want to be emotionally pummeled by the presence of such a beast as this week old bunny; but there is was. God: Give me peace!
My three year old friend, Zoe, who was visiting for the weekend, of course was delighted by the presence of this tiny little creature. For Zoe’s sake, her mom found a box and some soft towels and made a little nest for the little guy. We assumed the bunny wouldn’t last more than a few hours.
I didn’t really want any part of this little bunny’s life, as I somehow knew that inevitably I’d be responsible for it when it died. As fate would have it, it didn’t die over the weekend, and Zoe, her mom and dad packed up their belongings and left for the ferry leaving the rabbit for me to deal with. They didn’t want to traumatize Zoe.
Having done a google search on how to care for a wild orphaned bunny, the information left me with a dilemma. The bunny had a very low chance of survival in captivity, especially with Gracie so close by. To place it back in the wild, where its mother could possibly find it (and so could Gracie) – well, what would the chances be for its survival, cold, alone with no nourishment. I had to choose. If only it had died!
I chose not to keep the bunny. Choosing not to keep the bunny meant that I had to take it up the hill to the rabbit warren and do something with it. My hope was that the nest would be easily visible, especially since Gracie had dug it out. No such luck. I could have wandered for hours and never come across anything that looked like a rabbit’s nest.
I began to cry. And then I sobbed; and while still holding the bunny carefully in my cupped hands, I wailed in anguish and despair. There was no hope. Well, let me put it another way; It would be silly to hope that this rabbit would be rescued by its mother or some other bighearted bunny. It would also be silly to hope that this little guy would survive on its own. I felt an enormous amount of guilt for bringing about the end of this innocent being’s life. I was beside myself with grief.
One aspect of living in a rural setting that I so appreciate, most of the time, is being much more connected with nature. It’s impossible to ignore my place in the food chain and the consequences of my choices. I get mice in the trailer and I have to choose to kill them with a trap, then feed them to the birds; poison them, which means they’ll suffer, die and then potentially get eaten by Gracie; or to ask them not to come into the trailer where they can find food and warm. I’ve tried them all!
I planted some beautiful hosta’s in my little garden. Well the slugs love hostas, so if I want hostas I have to poison the slugs. Though my friend Ron thinks I’m silly, I don’t think I want to kill slugs – the big Banana Slugs – like the one’s in California. I’d rather not grow hostas. There are plenty of other plants I can grow, which doesn’t require the killing of God’s earthly creatures.
And, now, the bunny. Generation after generation of people have had to kill animals they didn’t want to kill. I have no doubt that quite often, they too felt deep grief and guilt for having done what needed to be done.
But, I think this story goes deeper than that – though I’m not quite sure yet where this is leading. As I explore all the many facets of being human, I’ve found the bottom of the barrel in regard to the inside of grief. Sadness, anger, numbness, depression … how far down the rabbit hole are you willing to go (No pun intended)? Powerless, helpless, undeniably excruciating emotional and physical pain – deeper and deeper, raw and almost unbearable. Something presses on me to move forward through the ever darkening and unknowable depths of my human being.
I found myself in despair in the presence of hopelessness and in anguish in the presence of no hope – somehow, in my investigation there is a difference between these two that feel different. Despair happens when I’m holding onto hope when there is none. Anguish occurs in the presence of no hope. I realize, too, that hope does not exist within a state of enlightenment. That was interesting to experience for one fragment of a moment.
I’m wrung out. There’s nothing left of me. There’s nothing left of my arrogant righteousness. I’m completely humbled by an experience that happens in nature millions of times within one moment, every moment, all over the planet. Death happens.
My choices cannot always bring about a sense of “I did the right thing and boy, don’t I feel good about it.” I’ll never forget the rawness of that moment when I laid the little bunny down just inside a small opening in the Earth. Perhaps he’d find safety there, but my grief could not allow any imagining further than that. I had to let go of the idea that my hope would have any impact here, or that it would be a salve for my bruised sense of self – as if it would somehow give me a sense of control over the outcome and make me feel better. In that moment there was nothing.
I could have avoided this whole messy business by sneaking the box with rabbit in the car with Zoe and her mom and dad; or toughed it out by attempting to nurse the little guy into maturity. Avoiding what was mine to do – well, I’ve lived too much of my life that way.
The choices I’ve made throughout my life have led to a great deal of messiness, much of which has gone ungrieved. The simple presence of something like the innocence of a baby rabbit unleashed the deepest, most raw and despairing moments in my life. Urban dwellers along with rural dwellers cannot escape their humanity – those places where the ego-self is annihilated. Living with death of any kind, always obliterates pride, vanity, and leaves one humbled in one rapturous heap of humanity. It really can’t be any other way.
Who Do I know Myself to Be?
Let me first say that you are a rare individual, indeed, to read a piece on spiritualizing your humanity. Maybe you didn’t know that’s what this article is about. Now you do, and that makes you rare!
We think about ourselves as spiritual beings, yet more often than not we live our lives as if the opposite were true. Many of us say we believe in a Universal Source – Oneness, who is always loving and who always provides for us in every way possible. Yet we often act from fear-based ideas, beliefs and interpretations; the scarcity model. Though we say we know we are loved and provided for, we continually act as if we couldn’t trust a soul – seen or unseen.
My personal experience and my experience as a life and business coach tell me that we don’t really use our intelligence much in our everyday endeavors. If we did, we would construct a practice that fully engages our thinking, our reasoning and reasonability – not the ones we’ve cultivated as an egoic person, but from the spiritual principles we espouse, advocate and champion. We’d distinguish false assumptions and those beliefs we’ve immersed ourselves in, and we’d eradicate them from our database of plausible and valued truths. We would study – seriously study – the quality of experience we are having and carefully discern why it is the way it is, as opposed to the way we dream it to be.
Spiritual Intelligence is all inclusive of the intelligence we use to choose; to drive on the right side of the road; to put our underwear on in the right direction; to converse intelligently and professionally with potential clients, bosses and co-worker, family members, etc. We know how to be intelligent, but sometimes we choose to not use our intelligence. And, by choosing not to use our intelligence, our lives become unmanageable, chaotic and out of control.
We forget to be intelligent
Most of us just pay lip service to our spiritual principles, often living within our egoic minds, pontificating what we know in theory, but which we avoid in actual experience. So many of us take the spiritual bypass, which makes us think that just because we perceive ourselves to be spiritual we don’t have to actually immerse ourselves in the human experience. We don’t have to get messy out on the playing field in the game of life.
The process of ascending the ladder of spiritual growth demands full responsibility for one’s own spiritual development. There are no free rides. Each of us has to do our own work, diligently, with vigilance and total engagement in the process of exercising muscles of spiritual intelligence. We have to begin by clarifying what we want, and being dreadfully truthful about where we are in the process of bringing action to self-realizations.
In service to this process, I’ve developed on six week online course beginning September 18, called Cultivating Spiritual Intelligence: An Introduction. This six-week course provides a container of time and space within which to explore and experiment with your spiritual intelligence, in relation to what you’ve been taught and what you’ve come to believe is true. There will be plenty of opportunities to stretch your cognitive, emotional and somatic intelligence in service to cultivating spiritual intelligence.
This course will bring clarity and understanding about what you as spiritual being is doing in this human body. You are here, as we all are, to experience the exquisiteness of what cannot be experienced anywhere else in the Universe. And, as it becomes clearer to each us that we’ve chosen to be here and we’ve chosen based on a knowing of a much greater cosmic consciousness, then we are far more likely to actively participate in the grand adventure of life.
Yoda says “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” Wow! Think about what that would look like in the business world: Letting go of winning, power, promotions and bonuses; letting go of being right and other people being wrong; letting go of complaining, blaming and shaming; letting go of stress and worry and all of the underlying reasons for the stress and worry. What would you have left?
Christopher is a Senior Director for a corporation in Atlanta. He’s been with the company just over two years and is extremely loyal and committed to the company’s mission, to the degree that he had a physical and emotional breakdown after giving his all to the project that will inevitably make or break the company. Now, a couple of months later, he currently faces a similar dilemma – this time consciously, and this time he realizes it’s not just his body that’s on the line; it’s his soul that could be taken.
“What options do you have, Christopher?” I asked him after his complaining how things are exactly as they were those many months ago. Matter of factly, Christopher responds with “There are no options!” “Really?” I ask. “There are no options?” “Yes, there are no options,” He said: “except to revert to the old me that yelled and hollered to get people to do what they are supposed to do. That means setting myself up for another emotional and physical breakdown, and that’s not an option!”
“There are other options,” I countered. “Let’s look at them.” What I was attempting was to get Christopher to see that one of his options is to leave the company and go somewhere that may be more in line with maybe a more workable situation for him. He didn’t see leaving as an option, nor did he see letting go of everything he feared to lose as an option, either. Christopher’s perspective offered no option. He’s in a stalemate.
Yoda also said: “A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.” What does that mean in Christopher’s situation? By having the deepest commitment and the most serious mind, it’s easier to fully align with that which you are truly committed to. In Christopher’s case, is it the success of the company orhis own personal success and the maintaining of his reputation (He fears that if he leaves the company his reputation will be tarnished.) that’s at stake? One other thing he is committed to is keeping himself healthy – it’s not an option to sell himself to the devil again. Yet, through my eyes, it looks very much like this is happening. When someone as brilliant as Christopher has no options, he’s a dead duck. He’s given his soul away if he gives himself no options.
We’ve been trained to see the world a certain way, and it’s essential to our survival in many families, communities and business environment, so we think, to maintain that perspective, no matter what. Our minds can’t make sense of our reality if it no longer looks the way it’s supposed to. Much like Christopher, we are then faced with no options and no way to move forward, except to do what we’ve done in the past and we know that’s not going to work.
If we don’t want to lose what we are afraid of losing, our egoic self will bend and twist reality in such a way that we experience stuckness. We can feel lost in the midst of bright lights and lots of people. It’s not uncommon for people to experience mental and emotional exhaustion and breakdowns, inevitably losing more than they were bargaining for. Aren’t we a curious species?
The dilemma Christopher faces is because he has a great deal at stake. On the one hand he has his position, his credibility and all that he’s invested in this company. On the other hand his physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health is deteriorating. Attempting to hang on to what he’s got will most likely mean he’ll lose everything.
Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose
Where Christopher sees no option, I see he has no options too, but from a different perspective. Unless he opens himself up to the possibilities he currently doesn’t want to see, he will lose everything. My job as his coach is to gently guide him towards what now appears to be too frightening to accept. Inevitably, he will have to choose to shift his paradigm and experience a reality that he doesn’t yet believe exists.
Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose
For some this process is a walk in the park; yet for others it can be experienced as a shattering. There’s nothing wrong with a shattering. A shattering is the same as a paradigm shift, it’s just way more painful in every way, you, I’m sure, have imagined. And, generally, it takes a great deal more time to recover from.
What’s right in front of Christopher is right in front of each and every one of us: the opportunity to discover what’s worth losing and what’s not. It all goes away, sooner or later. In this moment, though, it’s just a matter of choosing to choose to choose to be accountable and responsible for the consequence of the choices we make. I hate that part as much as most people do. I want it all good and all easy. When it’s not, I don’t want to look at options I don’t want to take. I’ve learned though that my life isn’t worth living if fear is the only conductor on this train. I’m listening to Yoda and other spiritual teachers in order to create a life worth living. Christopher will make a similar choice, I have no doubt.
Not losing is a no-win game.
Every Choice-point Grows Leadership
Leaders aren’t made by titles, position, and prestige; they are made by the choices they make at points in their career, which in the moment seem to have nothing to do with becoming a leader. It has only to do with current situations throwing curve balls in their direction, requiring them to make choices that are in the highest good of the company and in their own highest good as well.
Let’s say that the company you work for is challenged on many fronts. They are not fulfilling agreements made, which initially enticed you to join the organization. You still believe in the product and service, but no longer trust the competence of the leaders to generate what’s required for success to be yours. Given the current state of the situation, you feel powerless to make a difference for yourself or the company.
You saw yourself rising in the ranks to a level of leadership where you’d make a difference in how this company functions and fulfills its mission. You looked forward to the responsibility that came with the title and position. You want to make a difference but in this moment you are asking yourself why work for a company that seems chaotic, disorganized and off course.
Though you’ve seen yourself on this trajectory towards leadership, currently you feel stuck, with no clue how to choose what’s next for you. You feel as though your future may have been stolen from you and now you are at the mercy of this company to make choices that will hopefully impact in only positive ways. Should you go or should you stay? What to do … what to do.
Too often we look at the situations we find ourselves in and feel disempowered, disappointed and perhaps depressed. We’ve put trust in the company we work for to make good choices, which will inevitably bring rewards to us personally and professionally. But what happens when they don’t seem to be making good choices – choices that lead to healthy development of the organization itself, its bottom line and its employees – you in particular?
Leadership development takes place in the present moment – now! The challenges you currently face are the very elements that are required for leadership capacities to be cultivated. And, the choices you are making now, regardless of your current level of power, have a huge influence on the company. It’s rather funny how we miss this point.
We think that the trajectory to leadership is one thing and when we arrive we will have what it takes to lead well. However, it doesn’t occur to us that we actually have to develop muscles of leadership somewhere along the way. Learning theories in trainings, books and MBA’s isn’t the same as having to actualize those theories in real business situations. Every good leader learns to walks their talk through countless moments of uncertainty. They’ve learned which muscles were required for each specific situation. They strengthened and stretched those muscles – and others they were yet conscious of, in order to be the leader they’ve become. Leadership is an evolutionary process. Every confronting situation builds a repertoire of skills. Over time, those skills look natural and intuitive, as those that individual always had what it takes.
Choice-making is the essential element of leadership. How you choose to be, given the circumstances of this current moment, are very telling. Being present to the dilemmas that face the company and face you – personally and professionally, is the point where great leaders are born. They are born, not by their companies or their promotions; they actually birth themselves through every choice-point they meet.
Every one of these choice points have to be met with a level of presence to one’s personal and professional investment in the organization with the company’s needs and requirements. These dilemmas can be very weighing. Great leaders intentionally cultivate their capacity to lead in situation they meet; distinguishing all the variables at play and discerning what’s in the best interest of the company at large, which includes themselves.
In the previous article The Personal is the Professional, we explored how every choice made by every employee is personal and professional. Some choices we face are good for us but not for the company. Sometimes the choices we make are good for the company and not for us. Some are not good for either the company or for us, and what good leaders are able to discern is how to choose so that the highest good for all is attained.
Every situation provides opportunities to grow leadership capacities. Attempting to bypass challenging or confronting relationships and situations means you are missing opportunities to cultivate the very skills required to be the leader you see yourself to be.
You might be expressing frustration right now because you think you don’t know how to cultivate what’s required to be in your current situation in anyway other than frustrated, powerless and incapable of change. I encourage you – and your organization to bring in a thinking partner – a coach or mentor to empower all of you to look at your situation differently; allowing you to see the choice-point you are currently engaged in and what’s required to choose most effectively as a leader for your own development and for your company as well.
Choices made from integrity and accountability will always be in the highest good of all involved. Every moment will provide opportunities to cultivate your leadership capacities. Be curious about yourself and notice opportunities to experiment with different ways of being. Today is the day to step into the leader you see yourself to be. Enjoy the exploration!
O is for Obligation
One evening as I was laying in bed, preparing for a restful night of slumber, a voice from inside my head said: “I want to live my own life?” I was shocked with this outburst as I am one of the most independent individuals I know; I live a thousand miles away from my husband, on a secluded island off the coast of Washington; I work independently and live happily in my very solitary existence. What more is required for me to live my own life?
I realized later, that though I live and work alone I carry many people to whom I feel obligated and responsible. They are in my memory as unresolved disappointments that have me burdened, exhausted and keep me from fully taking flight in the way that I imagine. They are the ones that continually remind me of all of those things I should have done but didn’t because, well, I took the road less traveled. What becomes clear is that until I resolve my relationship to my belief about obligations I’ll never truly be living my own life.
All of us carry a tremendous burden with all sorts of obligations and we don’t even know it. Or, we carry them thinking we are obligated to carry these obligations. I mean, where would we be if each of us let go of everything and every one who we no longer wanted to carry? Think of all of those opportunities to say or do what is in your highest truth but because of your sense of obligation you deny your truth for the sake of … what?
The foundation of the work that I do as a transformational coach is to ask these very questions to my clients, giving them an opportunity to figure out to whom and to what they are truly interested in being obligated.
I grew up within the Catholic Religion. I learned early on how to live in a state of obligation. There was a great deal of guilt and shame. Up until I was seventeen, when I left the Church, I was terrified I was doing it wrong – it didn’t matter what it was, I was obligated to do it right, even though I might not know what right was – and right according to whom?
All religious institution require obligations. It’s not just religious institutions but family, community, government, economic – all organizations require some form and level of obligation. How we respond to these obligations generates the quality of life we live, as well as the stress and dis-ease that is so prevalent in our culture.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine decided to visit Orcas for an undetermined about of time. She felt compelled to travel 26 hours from Omaha in order to be on the Island for – well, she didn’t know why – but she had to find out. She called to ask if she could land at my place for a few days and figure out what was next from here. I said sure, and looked forward to seeing her after many months apart.
A week later, I found myself struggling with the fact that part of me was ready for her move on to what was next on her adventure. However, what I was hearing was how she wanted to make the cabin a little more convenient for herself so she wouldn’t be such a bother. We were sliding into conversations that sounded like she’d be staying for the whole summer – maybe longer.
I love my friend but I love my solitude more. And, yet I questioned my desire for my sanctuary to be free of guests. Was that really what I wanted? A part of me felt obligated and responsible to take care of my dear friend, after all she’d come all this way, had no money left for rent, gas or food; she needed a place to stay. Shouldn’t I be willing to help her out – isn’t that was friends are for?
What was my obligation, really? I agreed to let her stay long enough to get her feet under her – that should have taken just a couple of days. And this is her adventure – her journey, and for me to feel obligated created resentment and a slow deterioration of our friendship. I could feel myself begin to withhold and withdraw. It was time to check in with myself and then with her.
My fears have kept me blind to my own truth, yet I was afraid what she might think or decide about me if I asked her to leave with empty pockets, gas tank and tummy. What kind of a friend would do that? I’ll tell you, it wasn’t easy but I told her that she needed to continue on with her quest, seeing what else was in store for her. Fortunately, she’s the kind of friend that understood completely and very quickly found a source of income and a new place to stay in a matter of days.
As a professional business person my work life needs to reflect this clarity of integrity too. Where do my obligations interfere with being the most effective at my jobs? Where do I take on obligations that really aren’t mine to begin with? When do I take responsibility for the consequence of other people’s choice-making? When does my own choice-making, based on other people’s problems, cause further challenges to my clients, work environment, and associates?
It takes a great deal of courage to ask yourself these questions, and even more courage to speak or act in alignment with your highest truth. In order to bring spirituality into business we have to ask these hard questions and to follow through. For when we act in our own highest good we are acting in everyone’s highest good.
Stepping onto the path of self-realization is a fascinating journey. It means being open to answers that may initially feel uncomfortable, yet in the long run allows for a greater level of wisdom to emerge, which allows for self-actualization to occur easily and effortlessly.
Obligations are obstacles to being in alignment with our highest truth. This is a very different way of thinking but one that will lead to the paradigm shift.