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Options and Actions

January is more than half over, and in spite of my best efforts, I’m noticing that I haven’t fulfilled my New Year’s resolutions. I didn’t really mean to make resolutions. Those kinds of goals seem like a recipe for failure, but somehow when the new year rolled around, I had all these things I wanted to do and ways that I wanted to improve my life and my self. So, I set goals, and even clarified my vision for the coming year.

January racing byAnd now it’s getting toward the end of January, and I’ve been noticing some patterns. For example, when I get stressed out, I want to get everything organized and cleared out. I think that’s because I feel like I gain a sense of control, and when I’m stressed, I want to know that I can handle it.

I’ve also noticed that I like to keep my options open. Not such a bad thing, except when it keeps me from doing what I want to do. The problem is that in order to go somewhere or do something, you have to decide yes to this and no to that. Every time we make a decision to do something, we implicitly decide not to do something else. How’s that for narrowing your options?

Where is all this leading? I’m beginning to realize that not deciding, not finishing, and keeping my options open are sneaky ways of not doing what I’m here to do on this planet. I suppose there’s some underlying fear of not doing it right, not getting what I want, not pleasing other people or even myself. But what I also notice is that I’m surely not going to get it right, get what I want, or please anybody if I spend all my time opening up the options instead of choosing a place to start. I’ve also noticed that once I get started, the path gets clear and I can leave those unnecessary options in the dust.

Someone dear to me is dying, and she says she’s not ready to die. For a long time, I’ve thought that life is short, and I want to enjoy it to the fullest. Now I’m wondering if my friend and teacher, Paul Rubin, might be right when he says, “Life is long, and if it’s not, it doesn’t matter.”

What would be different about our options and our actions if we believed that “Life is long, and if it’s not, it doesn’t matter”?

The Coaching Experience: A Journey from Pain to Change

Guest
Blog Post

I never dreamed that coaching would change my life so dramatically. I was a skeptic who needed help making a decision, although I wasn’t aware of this need at the time.

I started seeing Gika about four years ago. I had been living in Oregon finishing up my master’s degree and planning to live there for the rest of my life when I hurt my back pretty badly. So badly that I found it difficult to walk because of the constant pain that shot through my lower left side, through my hip and down my leg. The fact that I lived rurally with just the basic amenities and that it was winter in the Pacific Northwest did not help the situation. I was cold and sore. I was a wreck physically, unable to grow food, which was my job at the time, or even to put on my own socks.

But I was also a wreck emotionally. I found myself crying more often than not. Scared that I would not be able to come out of this downspout, I decided to use the little money I had to travel back to Texas and spend an extended Christmas with my family. I resolved to get some sun and some more chiropractic attention and then return to Oregon at the end of January.

There was just one problem. I still felt stressed out and confused about my life and my plan. I didn’t know what to do; I should have wanted to go to Oregon. After all, I had friends there, and it’s beautiful. “People there have values that align with my own,” I told myself. Regardless of these reasons, I could not feel good about going back to Oregon, and I couldn’t say no to it either.

Then I got a phone call one day from a good friend who happens to be Gika’s daughter. She said that her mom, whom I only knew casually, was starting up a new coaching business, and she might be able to help me. I should try it. What could I lose? At the end of that first session, I decided to stay in Texas. I was jobless, penniless, and still in physical pain, but I felt total peace about my decision.

My experience in that coaching session—and every session I’ve had with Gika—is that she gets curious about me and about what’s going on with me. Out of that curiosity comes question after question. Through answering these questions, I am able to clarify my goals, my hopes and dreams, and my desires. For me, coaching is more relevant than counseling because we talk about the here and now. We might hit on a situation from the past, but we don’t dwell on it or over-analyze it. The old stuff is a stepping stone, a back-story, to what is happening right now in my life. Gika also gives me relevant and fun activities to do that help me continue my process when I’m not seeing her, like collage and journaling.

In the years since I moved back to Texas, I have clarified what I want and don’t want. I have regained my strength in every way. I have experienced forgiveness of myself and of the people closest to me. I have accepted my dark side and embraced my light. I have truly accepted help and relied on another human being for the first time in my life. And all of this has rippled out into every corner of my life. Gandhi said, “Change yourself, change the world,” and I have experienced this change through my coaching relationship with Gika. I am so grateful.

Gika says: Coaching Cynthia was sprinkled with surprise and delight. She arrived willing to work hard, to look directly at what she wanted to change, and ready to move forward. She’s an awesome example of how much this kind of work can change your life. Who knew it could be so much fun! Thanks, Cynthia.


Cynthia is a native Texan who has lived and traveled all over the U.S. She loves being in nature, and this love has led her to complete her master’s degree in environmental education. Cynthia currently works with a small conservancy.

Grief and Gratitude

I don’t like to think of myself as greedy, but it does occur to me that I want a lot. A whole lot. As in, maybe too much to ask for. I want a long, full, rich life. And I want all my friends and loved ones—including you—to have long, full, rich lives.

What I’ve noticed lately is that I’m afraid I’ll miss out. I recently lost a few people who were near and dear to me.

Empty chairsOne was 86 years old. He had a long, rich, full life and knew it. He seemed satisfied with his life, but he would have happily welcomed more. He was my father-in-law, and I can’t begin to express how much richer my life is because of his life and the way he lived it.

Another person I lost was half my father-in-law’s age and died suddenly. She lived a rich, full life, but it was much too short for me to get to know her as I would have liked. My life was richer and fuller because of my brief acquaintance with her.

I’ve also lost two of my brothers recently. They were younger than I, and they missed out on some things that I hold dear. It makes me sad to think that their lives might not have been as rich and full, and certainly not as long, as I would have liked. And, again, my life is richer for having been their sister.

Grieving is a curious experience. I find myself feeling sad and tired. And then I find myself wanting to reach out and go for the gusto—do the things I’ve always wanted to do, go the places I’ve always wanted to go, live life to the fullest. And there’s also the realization of what I don’t want. I don’t want to lose any more friends and loved ones.

I keep everything. I’m not a hoarder, but I don’t let go of stuff easily, and I feel especially determined to keep my friends and loved ones. The odd thing is that when I hold on too tightly—to people or to stuff—my life feels less full. When I enjoy the moment, enjoy the presence of others, even when I experience the sadness and grief and confusion, my life is richer, fuller, better. As far as how long a life ought to be, that’s a mystery. It can seem very long indeed, and yet, no matter how long, it’s the blink of an eye.

Thanksgiving is next week, and I’m thinking about gratitude. Gratitude for life in all its mystery and confusion and grief and grace. I’m so lucky. I wish you much to be grateful for and a very happy Thanksgiving celebration.

Have I told you lately…?

Telling storiesHave I told y’all lately that I love coaching? Well, I do. I love it. I get to listen to people’s stories—the stories they want to tell, the ones they’re afraid to tell, the ones they need to tell. Sometimes I share some of my stories. Sometimes I ask questions—okay, I always ask questions.

And in the process of telling stories, listening to stories, and asking and answering questions, new stories emerge and lives are changed. These stories are not fairy tales, where our heroes ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. These are real lives and real stories in which people move in new ways and in new directions. They live more happily, and the people around them get happier, too.

Thank you to all of you who help me to do what I love to do.

What’s Wrong With Being Right?

Not much, of course. Or maybe a lot. Hard to be absolutely certain, which is the point. What’s wrong with being right is that we can’t always know—in the big scheme of things—what’s really right. And if we’re too concerned with being right, we lose sight of just living our lives.

If I’m right, then usually it means that someone else is wrong. It might just be my job to show them that they’re wrong. Would that make me self-righteous? Would that be wrong?

And if I’m wrong, maybe I should feel guilty. And if I don’t want you to know that I’m wrong or have been wrong, then I’ll need to do some cover‑up. Not outright lies, just cover up my flaws. That surely wouldn’t be wrong. It’s just making things nicer for both of us. Right? Right.

Or maybe not. Maybe that approach keeps me from being my very best self, and keeps a barrier between us. You might want to hurt me or judge me if you knew I was wrong. And I might have to hurt you to defend myself.

What if we all reserved the right to be wrong? What if we acknowledged that we don’t always get it right? What if we could focus on doing good work, living life to the fullest, doing our best, without fear of being wrong? Wouldn’t that be a relief?

Maybe even when we were wrong, we’d be closer to getting it right.

What do you think? Am I right about this?

One for the Money, Two for the Show

Two birds high in tree

One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go‑o‑o‑o. It’s a counting game that reminds me of my dad. Not sure why it comes to mind now, except it somehow seems to fit some of our ideas about showing our work as artists.

  • One for the money. Who wouldn’t like to get some money from showing their work?
  • Two for the show. The Show? Who’s it for? What’s it for?
  • Three to get ready. Oh, my—the getting ready. So much easier said than done. What does it take to get ready to show your work?
  • And four to go-o-o-o. Go where? What’s next? Somehow, when my dad said the last bit, there was a sense of adventure. Something exciting was going to happen. Anticipation, curiosity, eagerness.

Members of my meetup group, The Well-fed Artist, have suggested a show, so in our second meeting on September 9, we’ll talk about showing our work. What is and isn’t important about doing that? Is the work complete without being shown? What’s the right setting for showing your work, or your work at this time?

You’re welcome to participate in the conversation! The Well-fed Artist meetups are free and open to the public, but we encourage you to join the Meetup group and RSVP for events. (Membership is free and entitles you to participate in the discussion forums, share messages with the community, and sign up for announcements about other Meetup groups in your areas of interest.)

Joining the Meetup group isn’t a requirement for attending our meetings. If you’d like to take part in a meeting but would prefer not to join the group, please call me or send e‑mail to let me know you’re coming.

And as always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below about this post or anything that’s on your mind.

Illumination in the Midst of Famine

Food in the midst of famine. Where does it come from? Who gets to have it? Who might be willing to share?

And where’s the famine? Here we are in the land of plenty. Seems like there’s more talk of obesity than famine. And yet, there’s also a pervasive sense of limited resources; certainly there are hungry people in our community, and plenty of doubt about the economy and the job situation.

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

I recently started a Meetup Group called The Well-fed Artist, and the theme for our first meeting is “Food in the Midst of Famine.” How’s that for putting it out there? In all my life up to this point, I’ve never known so many artists. None of them are literally starving—at least to my knowledge—but a lot of them are hungry. Hungry for success, for acknowledgement, for a way to do what they do and get paid for doing it, for money to pay the rent, for time and space and resources to make their art, for a sense of security, and for encouragement and inspiration.

In all my life up to this point, I don’t remember ever hearing such a consistent litany about the perils of our current economic situation. So why, at this point, should we talk about the well-fed artist? Shouldn’t we move on to more practical things, like jobs and politics and tightening our belts? Maybe; maybe not. In the midst of all the gloom and doom, it’s artists who tell it like it is, and also get really creative about new possibilities. It’s artists who help us see the world and ourselves in new light. It’s artists who help us tap into the stuff we know, but don’t know that we know. It’s artists who express the feelings we’re not quite ready to admit to. It’s artists who show us the best and the worst in us and in our world. It’s artists who remind us that “man can not live by bread alone.” Artists are necessary to our well being, and they should be well-fed. That’s why I think we should talk about the well-fed artist.

So, what does it mean to be a well-fed artist? As a starting point, I’d say that the well-fed artist has food on the table, clothing and shelter, and time and space and resources for making art. Easily said, not always so easily created. Thus, the meetup group. We’ll tell it like it is and like it could be. We’ll share ideas and information, food and nourishment. We’ll look at the complications and obstacles to being well-fed. Could it be that Tom Robbins was right when he said, “Difficulties illuminate existence, but they must be fresh and of high quality.”?*

Let the illumination begin.

*Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

A Simple Thank-you Will Do Quite Nicely

Menil Magnolias
Menil Magnolias
by Gika Rector

I paid for someone’s dinner the other night, and she thanked me kindly. I made a trip to help someone with a daunting chore. She thanked me for coming, even before we got started on the work. Nicely done, and what a difference it made. Being acknowledged for doing something helpful or nice adds to the quality of the exchange. Makes it a little more worthwhile.

These experiences put me in mind of another situation, in which I’ve been both acknowledged and rebuffed. The acknowledgements help me move forward; the other stuff makes me wonder if it’s worth it, which in turn means it takes that much more energy to do what I do there.

So here’s what I want to say about this: please thank others for what they do. And if you disagree with what they do, it’s okay to communicate that. Please, just include appreciation for the efforts they make, and do it with respect and courtesy. It’ll make the world a nicer place—at least your corner of the world, for a little while.

And please let me know what kind of experiences you’ve had with expressions of gratitude. What kind of results are you noticing? Oh—and thanks for reading.

Front-Porch Conversations

It was a couple of years ago when my friend and I sat on the porch and talked about “ashes to ashes and dust to dust.” He’s mostly retired, has a garden and a goldfish pond, and is very much engaged in relationships with family and friends. Somehow it was easy to talk about our lives, the brevity of them, and to be at peace with the idea that one day we would each be part of the earth in a different form.

Porch
Porch
by Gika Rector

Since that day on the porch, my oldest child got married, my younger brother died, and two of my favorite people on the planet are slowly dying.

I like the married couple, and I’m trying to be a good mother‑in‑law.

My brother’s life was shorter and tougher than anyone would want, but he seemed to have made peace with much of it, and was spending time doing what he loved to do. He died suddenly, apparently in his sleep.

The part about the people who are slowly dying is hard to sort out. They’ve lived rich, full lives, and are leaving the world a better place because of their presence. Certainly they’ve enriched my life in lots of ways. The slowness of their dying means that we’ve already lost much of who they were and how they interacted with the world. Their brains just don’t work the way they once did. Short term memory is gone, and odd fixations have emerged.

They mostly look the same, but every now and then I’m startled by how old they look, and wonder how strangers might see them. How could a stranger know the intelligence and passion and drive that once lived here? Could a stranger see the curiosity and dedication and learning? Probably not.

One of them is quite confused; the other depressed, perhaps even suicidal. How can this be? Hard to watch, and hard to understand. The one who is confused is trying hard to work it out. Trying hard to get organized, have important meetings, and prepare for a trip. The other is quite unhappy, resentful of the situation, struggling to find a way to make things different.

There are still moments of ease and clarity, warmth and good will. Intellectually, I can see that this is a time of withdrawal, winding down, and letting go. Emotionally, I’m wondering why it has to be so challenging and why I can’t “make it all better.”

My front-porch friend once said that we each choose our own way to die. I’ve puzzled over that concept for a really long time. Is it true? If so, what does it really mean? My best guess is that how we live is a part of how we die. Are we curious and present? Are we responsible? Do we look outside ourselves for someone or something to take the blame or to fix it? Are we response‑able? Do we resist the reality of our living and dying? Does that take us away from our purpose on the planet?

Do we have a purpose? I’ve heard and considered a number of answers to that last question. We’re here to love one another, or to learn to love one another. We’re co-creators. We’re here to be fully human.

I like that last one. We’re here to be fully human. Another meaty morsel from that same friend. And again, something to puzzle over for a long time. To be fully human means so many different things. To live, to breathe, to laugh, to love, to die—maybe slowly or maybe quickly. And perhaps the best way to be fully human is to experience the richness of it, the good, the bad, and the ugly. The fullness and the wonder. As sad as I am to watch dear ones wind down their lives, I’m equally grateful for the richness and grace that their lives have added to mine. I think they know that, and I hope it brings a little richness and grace to their current experience.

And for all of us, my favorite quote, from a stone somewhere in India: lift your heart, open to grace.

Feelin’ Stupid

I did something this evening that made me feel stupid. And then I did it again. Still stupid. Actually, I did it at least three times before I figured out how to correct the problem. Well, darn. I’m a smart woman. I really am. I made good grades in school. I figure things out pretty quickly. Most people who know me will tell you that I’m smart.

And yet I did something pretty stupid. Granted, it was related to household mechanics, which is not even remotely in my comfort zone. Granted, I was tired. Too tired to think through what I was doing, to be a bit more careful. Granted, “someone” should have explained the process a little better.

But there you go: I was tired, doing something outside my expertise, and neglected to get a full explanation, and I did something really stupid—three times.

I didn’t want to clean up, but it needed to be done, and so I did it.

Photo credit?

And then I cleaned up the mess. I was too tired for that too, but there was no getting around it. It had to be cleaned up, or the consequences would make me feel “even more stupider.”

And then I figured it out. I figured out where my mistakes were and what I needed to do to accomplish the task. I did it. I got it done.

Still feel stupid. Still wonder what possessed me. And I feel stronger. The cleanup was hard work, especially for a tired person. And I feel disciplined. I didn’t want to clean up, but it needed to be done, and so I did it.

Winding down afterward, I listened to a talk by Seth Godin. He mentioned telling an employee that in a full five years, the employee had never failed at anything. Sounds like a compliment, right? Nope. Seth told him if he didn’t start failing soon, he’d be fired. And he meant it. Failing, you see, means we’re stretching, trying stuff we don’t really know how to do. Taking risks. It’s where we have to go for exploration, creativity, innovation. And, once we get over wondering how much more stupider we can possibly be, it’s downright fun.

Have all the fun you can. And let me know if you’ve done something stupid lately, especially if it turned out to be fun.