Searching for the Grail of Power

One of the most enduring aspects of the legend of King Arthur is the quest for the “Holy Grail.”  According to legend, the Holy Grail was the cup Jesus drank from at the last supper, and which was brought to Britain and hidden. 

Kept in a castle in a desolate wasteland it was guarded by the Fisher King, a man who suffered from a wound that would not heal.  The legend goes that if one could only gaze upon the cup, one’s life would become complete.

Many people have their own form of the “quest for the Grail.”  The Grail for them is a sense of power they believe they lost or had taken from them.  They believe that this power resides in some place outside of them; in another person, a job, an award, money, possessions, position, titles. 

For others their relationship to the Grail of power is like that of the “Fisher King.”  Power is possessed by something in their past that has left a wound that feels like it will never heal.  Continue reading

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Bowing to the Shark

Someone once said, “It’s not when my problems come one at a time that I have difficulty.  It’s when they travel in a pack that things get out of hand!”

Challenges test us.  There is no doubt about it. How we go about managing a crisis, however, and the meaning we give it often determines whether it feels like it’s alone or “traveling in a pack”.

Study after study suggests that it’s how we make meaning of what is happening to us that will govern how well we manage the impact of hard times.  People who are the most resilient, who manage stress the best, tend to view challenges as an unavoidable aspect of life, not a sign that the universe has it in for them.

It is the ability to make meaning, to influence how we think about or focus on a challenge, that can determine how successful we are in dealing with life’s adversities.  Often, if we are open to believing that we will grow and be strengthened by challenges, we are then able to see the wisdom that we have gained (about life, and perhaps about ourselves or others).

One of my favorite illustrations of this way of seeing the world is the Zen story of the pilgrim and the shark.  Once a devout pilgrim took a sea voyage to visit a famous temple, hoping to have one of the priests enlighten her as to the reasons for suffering in the world.

The ship was caught in a terrible storm, and all the crew and passengers except for the pilgrim were lost at sea.  After the storm passed, the pilgrim saw a distant island and began to swim to it, but tired and became convinced she would drown before she reached safety.

Wondering why she had been so harshly treated despite being so devout, she began to pray to be saved.  Suddenly the fin of a great white shark broke the water’s surface.

Terrified at the horrible prospect of being attacked by the shark, she began to swim furiously towards the island.  Several times she tired and became convinced she would drown, but each time the shark’s fin broke the water’s surface and she would once again swim determinedly for shore.

Eventually she reached the island and safety. Once on the shore, she turned to the ocean and intended to curse both the shark and her deity for treating her so maliciously.

But the pilgrim paused, and realized her prayer had been answered; she had been saved.  Reflecting further, she also realized that had it not been for the shark and the fear it caused in her, she would have drown long before she could have reached the island.

In that moment the pilgrim realized that but for the shark, a thing she had at that time deemed to be the worst thing that could possibly happen to her, she never would have survived.

Understanding this truth, the pilgrim bowed to the shark as it’s fin slowly headed back out to sea, thanking it for the gift of her life.

May we all have the wisdom to “bow to our sharks,” as they appear in our own lives.

Photo credit:  steve.garner3 via Flickr

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Holiday Harmony: 4 tips for Holding Boundaries and Setting Limits with Santa’s More Challenging Elves

Holidays are often times of both great joy and challenge.  What we are most often seeking is “harmony,” a balance between our wishes, needs, expectations and those of the people in our lives we celebrate with.  It can also be a complicated time, however, often filled with complicated issues and emotions.

In the best of times, things go smoothly and everyone feels that their emotional stockings were appropriately filled with the requested things from their list. Santa’s elves are all signing their carols from the same sheet of music, Santa laughs “Ho, ho, ho” and all is right with the world!

And then there are those times where the elves seem to be committed to pointy eared discord.  Scrooge, the Abominable Snowman, or a group of disgruntled elves are reeking holiday havoc.   We feel like we’re on the “island of misfit toys” and holiday anarchy reigns supreme!

What to do?  Well, as good fences make good neighbors, good boundaries and setting appropriate limits can also help make for less stressful holidays.  Here are some tips to help keep Santa’s sleigh flying straight!

(1)  Limits are my friends!

One of the greatest sources of holiday stress can be in believing that the holidays are about meeting everyone’s needs.  This can be even more stressful when other people are telling you that that’s your job!

Not so cries Hermie the elf, instead our job is to be “independent!”  Santa flies all over the world and delivers everyone’s gifts in a single night, but let’s remember that’s in his job description!

Start with figuring out what you would like your holiday to look like.  That’s not being selfish, rather it’s about giving you a frame of reference, a holiday magnetic North if you will.

By knowing what you want, it helps you make more informed choices about what feels okay, and what doesn’t.  You have an arbiter if you will; who helps you decide what is consistent with your wishes, where you have room for compromise, and maybe where you don’t.

The clearer you are on what you are trying to say “Yes” too, the easier it is to know and feel comfortable in saying “No” when that is the right answer.

(2)  The lessons of the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Future are alive and well!

In Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past.  The Ghost shows him how all the decisions he made, or failed to make, led him to the predicament he now faced, being lonely and alone.

The wonderful part of the story is that Scrooge discovers that he can change the arc of his life by the decisions he makes in the present moment.  The past does not dictate the future, a lesson Scrooge learns from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

We can learn the same lesson if we want to.  Holidays can be challenging because sometimes we see what hasn’t happened, who we haven’t connected with, how we weren’t the best people we could be, how in past holidays we weren’t happy with how things went.

Like Scrooge, try to learn from the past but live in the present to better change your future.  It’s never too late to be the person you want to be, or have the holiday you hoped for.

Think about what you want the joy of the holiday to mean to you, feel it, believe in yourself, and you’ll be amazed how the world around you changes as you do.

If you don’t want the holidays to look a certain way, don’t accept that it has to.  Say “Yes” when it aligns with your holiday expectations and say “No’ to those things or those people who are inconsistent with your aspirations.

And remember that “No!” is a complete sentence!

(3)  Focus on why and not what?

One of the biggest holiday traps is to get confused about activity as opposed to accomplishment.  We often get reflexive; we do what we do without a lot of thought or any consultation of our feelings.  We often ask “what” we are or should be doing; not a bad question in and of itself but it comes second to a more important question.

Why am I doing this?  In other words, is “what” I’m doing or thinking of doing in alignment with my holiday purpose.  If we do things that are tied to “why” we are celebrating the holiday in the first place, it’s amazing how clear we can get on “what” needs to happen.

Decisions about what you do, who you do it with, and how it is done often seem simpler if you keep your “why” for celebrating firmly in sight.

(4)  “Should” never belongs in the same sentence with the words “feel, want, or need!”

Santa focuses on giving us what we want while “bad elves,” on the other hand, see the holiday as exclusively about their wants and needs.

Be clear on a simple holiday truth, guilt is not a present for good girls and boys so if it’s offered, return it along with that funky sweater Uncle Waldo seems to give you every year.

You are allowed to want what you want, feel what you feel, and need what you need at all times, but especially in the holiday season.  Any time a situation, person, or memory makes you feel that you should feel, want, or need something you don’t choose for yourself, it’s time for you to check in with your holiday purpose.

Should is always about pressure and, sometimes, manipulation or coercion.  Simply put, how you feel is how you feel, and what you need or want is what you decide for yourself.  If others can’t or won’t except that, well, that’s about them and not you.

In the end, “should” is better replaced with “I’d like too” or “I’d love too!”  Remember, it’s called the season of joy for a reason; give yourself permission to be joyous!

So, I wish you peace, joy, and happiness now and in the coming year.

Oh, and tell Uncle Waldo I dig the sweater!

Photo Credit:  mary-thompson via Flickr

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Difficult People Make for Hard Times: 5 Keys to Managing the Stress of Challenging Relationships

We all have them; those people in our lives that seem to stress us out all the time.  Bosses, partners, spouses, family, co-workers, look around and you’ll find one.  They seem to be energy magnets; whatever energy we have is pulled into the “black hole” of our connection with them!

The stress can make it hard for us to remember that any relationship is a connection between 2 people.  As adults, we have a tremendous amount of say in what does or does not happen in any situation we are in, provided we remember that we can make choices.

So here are 5 keys to help you manage the stress of difficult relationships.

(1) Power perceived is power achieved!

As kids we had virtually no power over what happened in our world.  To navigate this reality, especially when bad things might or did happen, we learned strategies known as “defenses” or “coping mechanisms” to deal with the situation. 

These could be behaviors such as not saying what we want, how we feel, what we like or don’t like, making excuses for bad or inappropriate behavior, or denying that anything bad is happening.  These patterns of behavior tend to return when we are under stress in relationships.

In other words, we need to be aware that in stressful relationships even though we think the adult us is running the show, the kid and his old fears and way of surviving may be driving our perceptions and actions.

So, the first step is to claim your power.  As an adult, no one has power over you unless you give it too them.  You can think what you want, believe what you want, say what you want, and most likely do what you want as long as it’s legal, and no one has the power to change that!

Now I’m not advocating anarchy, hear me clearly, but I am suggesting we can give away our choice and power to people who remind us of people from our past.  Once that happens, it’s likely we’ll resort to our old defenses and get disempowered results.

But if we see people as they actually are (and not who they remind us of from our childhoods) we can summon all our adult experience to deal with the situation.  Saying to a parent “that’s inappropriate” may have had dire consequences as a kid, but it’s something we can and need to say when another adult is behaving in that manner.

(2)  Know your own “relationship story.”

Our nervous systems crave predictability because it helps us to feel safe. New and different relationships, even if positive, can feel frightening and dangerous.  As the old saying goes, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”  These predictable choices, however, are often made outside of our conscious awareness.

So we will tend to choose relationships that are familiar because they remind us of what we know both about ourselves and others.  As an adult, we are almost always choosing the relationships we have in our life, as opposed to them choosing us. 

To help yourself to bring it into your conscious awareness what you’ve been trained to choose, review your own story of who you are in relationships.  A simple way to do this is to ask yourself these 4 questions:

          Growing up, who was I supposed to be and who taught me that?

          How was that type of person supposed to behave in relationships?

          What would happen to that person if they didn’t behave that way?

          Am I still that person, or do I even want to be that person?

The more you know your patterns, and that you are choosing to repeat them, the more you are able to say “Thanks, but no thanks.  I’ve seen this movie.”

(3)  I am responsible for my own healing, and other people are responsible for theirs.

Relationships are about connection and connections have boundaries.  Stress arises in relationships because we are doing too much or too little and the imbalance is affecting us negatively.

So each of us is, at a minimum, required to care for ourselves and be the guardians of our own wellness.  If I’m trying to change someone else they aren’t the problem; I’m the problem. 

I have to look into why I need you to be different and what I’m going to have to deal with if you’re not. 

I need to discover why I fear your response if I tell you I don’t appreciate how you treat me. 

I need to know what gets in the way of my saying “No” when I want to. 

I need to discover why, when you attack me, blame me, ridicule me, judge me, or try to control me, I can’t simply give a name to what you are doing and ask you why you are doing it.

I need to know why it’s okay for you to tell me who I am, what I can be, how I feel, what I can and cannot do, and on what stone tablet that has been etched!

Sensing a theme here?

Simply put, the more you know what is okay or not okay for you, the better able you are to spend energy on relationships that empower you, and not the ones that suck the energy from you!  In any relationship, we need to focus on the thing we can most influence and change, US!

(4)  Don’t invite the vampire in!

One of the great aspects of the old vampire legends was their recognition of human agency in the problems that arise in our lives. 

Vampires, as we all know, will suck the life out of us given the chance.  One caveat, we are totally safe at home UNLESS, OF COURSE WE INVITE THE VAMPIRE IN!

The most stressful relationships are often with “emotional vampires.”  If you feel a relationship is pulling all your energy, that you are giving too much and your partner is giving too little, that imbalance may be a sign that you’ve invited the vampire in!

If so, distance, either physical or emotional, may be in order.  The time to decide what you will share or not share with a vampire, however, is best determined before they are knocking at your door. 

Do an emotional and energetic inventory of any stressful relationship you are in and if you feel the pull of imbalance, set limits, draw lines, and close the energetic door on the vampire before they get in your kitchen!

(5)  The line is drawn at abuse!!!

Abusive relationships aren’t about connection; they are about predator and prey!  No matter what you think, hope for or feel, an abuser needs to dealt with simply and quickly by GETTING THEM GONE!

Nothing justifies anyone engaging in physical, emotional, or psychological abuse ever.  If a person with these issues wants to change, they will go and get qualified professional help, but it’s not your job to love them to wellness.

The greatest drain of energy can often be found in those who try to save abusers.  Abusers only want to act out their pain or need to control on others, and unless they want to change, nothing can or will change them.

Enough said.

The road to a healthy relationship with others ultimately rests on our focusing on the most important relationship we will ever have, the one we have with ourselves. 

I invite you to explore that relationship and wish you all the best on that journey.


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“To Keep All Safe ‘til My Return”: The Importance of Mentoring

As told in Homer’s “Odyssey,” when the Ithacan King Odysseus was called upon to join the Greek armies in their battle with Troy, he was obligated to leave both his kingdom and his new born son, Telemachus.  He didn’t know when, or if, he would return.

To protect and guide his son, Odysseus asked a close friend and warrior companion to assume those obligations.  The charge he gave to this guardian was simple but profound; “I entrust my family to you and charge you to keep all safe until my return.”

The warrior’s name was “Mentor.” Continue reading

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Defending North Fork

One of the things we are compelled to confront daily is the ever evolving role of men in our culture.  As we try to come to grips with who we are and who we would like to be, we run into the expectations of others, and who they wish us to be, or in some cases, not be.

The men I work with are often confronting the questions that arise on this journey.

What does it mean to be a good man?

To be a good husband or partner?

How do I live my life as a man of courage and honor?

How do I model for my son, my daughter, and the sons and daughters of others what it is to be a man of grounded power and true strength?

As men come to grips with these questions, they often confront the paradox that is American culture.  Much of what our society emphasizes as a measure of masculine success Continue reading

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Leaning Forward: 4 Principles to Handling Adversity and Using it to Develop Inner Strength

Our nervous systems crave predictability and consistent responses from our environments. This is often why we look to bad habits, certain unhealthy foods, alcohol or sometimes even drugs to give our nervous system the relief that it seeks from dealing with the stress of change.

When we feel a level of stress that seems unmanageable, we will sometimes use substances to literally change our body’s chemistry, and give us the feelings of either “just enough” (speed up) or “not too much” (slow down) that we are so desperately seeking. 

People’s substance or habit of choice is usually about one or the other; either not feeling too much or being able to feel something that finally feels like it’s “enough.”  

Here is the problem.  The effect of the substance or habit always wears off with time.  More importantly, as we become used to the stimulus we rely upon (habituation); our body often needs more and more of whatever “it” is to get the same feeling. 

If we manage stress by working too much, we will probably need to work more and more to feel okay.  If our life feels out of control, and we eat the wrong things to get that feeling of control back, we will most likely need to eat more and more to get the same feeling again and again.

But there is  always one continuous obstacle to trying to get the same feeling day in and day out on a predictable basis: LIFE!  Continue reading

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Letting Go: Choosing Why to Forgive or When to Hang On

It often seems that it’s when we are the most hurt by the acts of others that “just moving on” feels almost impossible.  Part of us wants to “let go,” but a seemingly equal part just can’t.

The harm may have been caused years; maybe even decades ago, but it can still feel raw to the touch.  It may involve someone we loved and trusted; maybe even someone who is still in our life.

Do we forgive or not forgive? 

Do we let go or hang on? 

How do we know what to do?

Here are 5 things to consider as you confront this most challenging of human dilemmas.

(1)  Forgiveness is a process.

Forgiveness is the process of changing our attitude and emotions towards a wrongdoer.  It means, quite simply, someone has wronged us in a way that would seemingly justify us retaliating in some way against them, and we make the conscious choice not to do so.  Continue reading

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Creating Happiness: 4 Principles for Charting Your Course to a Happier Life.

The words we use say so much about how we view ourselves and our world.  For example, how many of us are always “searching” for happiness?  How many of us just “hope to find it” someday?

On the other hand, how many of us are experts at “making ourselves miserable?”  How often do we convict ourselves of the crime of being “our own worst enemy” when it comes to achieving those things that bring us joy?

Recent studies have shown that the truth about happiness lies somewhere in the middle; that we ultimately have to create happiness in our lives rather than simply find it.  Both the inside and the outside matter but, in the end, it’s what we believe about happiness that ultimately determines the level of joy and contentment we feel from day to day.

Happiness is as much a process and a set of beliefs inside of us, as it is “stuff” outside of us.

These are 4 principles that can help you in your journey to find the happiness that is all around you, and that lies within you as well.

(1)  When you have what you need, more of it won’t necessarily make you happier.

We all have certain basic needs for food, shelter and safety.  We have to meet these needs first before anything else that is meaningful can take place.  Once that happens, however, more stuff doesn’t necessarily mean more happiness.

Studies have shown that we humans don’t agree about the type of objective things that can be measured, like wealth, possessions, life expectancy, or social status, that will make us all happy. These things vary from person to person, culture to culture, and country to country. This is called the absence of an “objective measure for well being.”  Continue reading

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Book Review: “The Mission, the Men, and Me: Lessons from a Delta Force Commander,” by LTC (ret.) Peter Blaber

Life’s lessons can be learned in many different environments.  As a former member of the U.S. Army’s elite counter terrorism unit, known as the “Delta” force, LTC Peter Blaber learned these lessons where the margin for error was virtually non-existent, and the cost of failure was often deadly.

LTC Blaber’s book, The Mission, the Men, and Me:  Lessons from a Delta Force Commander, is a fascinating read and one I highly recommend to everyone.  Rather than a tale of simply what the life of a Delta operator is like, Blaber shares the wisdom he gained in meeting the challenges of operating in unconventional and often harsh environments. 

His hard won knowledge is helpful to all of us trying to meet life’s challenges effectively.  Some of the key points he shares are:

  1. It is the way we think, the way we make decisions, and the way we put those decisions into action that is of greatest importance.
  2. Before making any critical decision, make sure that you have context.
  3. Context is the reality of the situation around us.  Without context our minds have a tendency tot take short cuts and recognize patterns that aren’t really there.
  4. Context is about all the essential pieces or dots of information that put what we think we are seeing in its proper perspective.  Before you “connect the dots, you have to collect the dots.”
  5. Once we collect the dots, we need to allow our common sense, which is our understanding and knowledge of life’s conscious and unconscious patterns, to interpret what we are seeing.
  6. Every mistake is an opportunity to ensure we never make it again, especially if the future consequences can be dire.

LTC Blaber’s book provides a fascinating insight into the strategies that can be employed to help make sound decisions in pressure packed situations.  These strategies, however, can be applied in all sorts of situations, not just combat.

Hope you enjoy the read.

Photo credit:  Isafmedia via Flckr

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