How to Bear Witness to Tragedy

In the last few weeks, we have had the heartbreaking experience of repeatedly turning on our TVs to footage of slaughters—by the police, of the police, and most recently of revelers in France celebrating a national holiday. When we encounter our own personal tragedies, how do bear witness to them? How do we observe, acknowledge, and recover from the loss of our home to foreclosure or flood, to the loss of a precious loved one?

On July 6th, a black couple in Minnesota was pulled over by a white police officer for a routine traffic stop that ended with the police officer shooting and killing the driver, Philando Castile, in front of his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her 4-year-old daughter. Reynolds displayed amazing calm and presence-of-mind during what was probably the worst moments of her life. She live streamed her boyfriend dying in the car seat beside her, his body bleeding and convulsing, while the police officer—gun still drawn—screamed at the family as if it were his partner who lay dying beside him. During all this, Reynolds narrated a detailed account of what was occurring. Click HERE to learn more about this tragic event.

In the weeks since this horrifying incident, many commentators have noted Reynolds’s remarkable display of composure as she spoke into her phone, explaining the incidents of that evening. While I hope none of us ever have to bear witness to events as traumatic as what Reynolds experienced, her actions can serve as inspiration for how to respond when we come face-to-face with our own tragedy.

  1. When the tragic event occurs, select the one thing you can do in that moment to make the situation less terrible than it already is. If you can, do that one thing.
  2. Don’t ask anyone’s permission to do what you must to address the tragedy you have witnessed. Just do it.
  3. When and if you make it through completing the one thing you chose to do, allow yourself to completely fall apart and grieve as if the world has spun off its axis. Then a week later, a month later, a year later…take a deep breath and remind yourself that it has not.
  4. Next, find the main thing that makes you want to continue to live, and keep your focus there. (As the tragedy in Minnesota unfolded, Reynolds’s concerns shifted to her daughter.) Whenever you are inspired, add more things to the list of what you want to live for.
  5. Finally, make use of all the support friends and family have to offer. People are so often immobilized, even terrified, in the face of someone else’s grief. They want to help us but don’t know how. Just tell them what you need. In the words of Diamond Reynolds’s 4-year-old daughter, “It’s okay, Mommy. I’m right here with you.” So are your loved ones.
As we think about transformation at the next full moon, keep in mind the opportunity we have to transform our personal tragedies into a less tragic moment.

One Love,
Andrea

 

“Trust me…”

Issue 12:  April 2016

There are some people whom you would trust with just about anything….others, not so much. The folks whose decision-making skills you worry about the most could be anyone in your life: An employee (think shipment of 10 live mice to the office and not 10 mouse pads); a spouse (think get-rich-quick llama farm investment); or even a parent (think Mom running off to the Bahamas for a weekend with a fellow senior she met online—two weeks earlier)! All these situations leave us wondering, what in blazes were they thinking?

While you can probably regain your trust in your mom, you may not so easily recover from anything you perceive as a long series of faulty decisions.

The thing is that none of us ever fail ALL the time, but when you have been severely impacted by someone else’s failures, you sometimes begin to define the person by that shortcoming—even if it took place during the Jurassic Era. You  expect that they are going to fail again and again and again, and this manifests as mistrust. The result is that you are reluctant to value their insight—who wants ordering advice from the guy responsible for the live lab rat debacle?  Even worse, who wants any advice from him at all—even on where to place the new copy machine? Big mistakes tend to stain people, and getting the stain out can be tough.

Ironically, the thing most needed by those around us whom we don’t always trust to make the best decision is the thing we have the hardest time giving them: Our belief that they are capable of doing better. Even more valuable to them is our belief that they are in no uncertain terms going to do amazing things. This may all sound good on paper, but in real life it is a darned difficult thing to imagine that your friend, sister or beloved puppy being paper trained is really going to get their life together after umpteen mistakes.

Well, here is how you begin to change that belief:

  1. Recognize that no one ever fails all the time, and it is our own warped perspective that is making us see someone as a failure (it is also a convenient way to avert attention from our own failures).

  2. Identify and celebrate the areas in which that person does succeed. Our culture tends to focus on material success—luxury cars and beautiful bodies—what about gentleness and support?

  3. Imagine a future for this person that is beyond anything they have ever imagined for themselves. Really…Stop reading for 5 seconds and see them in a whole new and fabulous life …It should be such a spectacular realization of their biggest dreams that if they walked in on your vision of what they can become, they would not recognize themselves.

When the next full moon comes out and you focus on transitions, think about the changes the people closest to you are struggling to make, and believe that those changes are possible.

Best wishes!

Andrea

NEXT FULL MOON: April 22nd, 2016

 

“The Benefits of Contrast”

Over the last few weeks South Florida has been experiencing a little taste of winter.  I’ve woken up in the middle of the night to temperatures that made me pull the comforter over my head, and I’ve gone walking many evenings and had to turn back for a jacket.

While I don’t mind this change of season, I’ve noticed how the cool weather has made so many things a lot more meaningful, like a warm bed, a hot shower, or a steamy cup of tea. In the last few weeks these simple pleasures have quadrupled in value. In fact, some days while hustling in and out of Publix while the crisp winter breezes are swirling all around me (okay, I’m being too dramatic here, but you get what I mean),  I longingly dream about the hot cup of tea waiting for me at home or Heavens forbid the indulgence of a nice hot bath!

Then I got to thinking about adversity (and I am not sure how I made this leap) and the way that trouble in our lives functions a little like the cool weather we’ve been having: It allows us to savor the things that are going well in ways that we never would if everything was always perfect. Think about the difference in the delight of say a home in a safe neighborhood for someone moving there from a war zone versus someone moving there from up the street.  Big difference, right?

I am not suggesting that we need the experience of a war zone to appreciate a comfortable  home, but it seems like being clear about what the possibilities could have been can help to make the savoring of any experience that much sweeter.

At our next full moon as you think about transformation, spend a moment recognizing all the things in your life that might not have gone as well as they did, then settle into your next meal, your next paycheck, or your next nap in your comfy bed with particular pleasure and appreciation!

Best wishes!

Andrea

 

“Here’s What I think…”

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The other day I heard spiritual teacher Esther Hicks say that feeling compelled to offer advice that someone did not solicit from us is a sign of our own imbalance. While I certainly know that sticking our noses into other people’s business is bad manners, I never thought that doing this out of love and concern for people close to us was an indication of our own issues! Little by little Hicks’ point became clear, and I saw how inserting ourselves into a situation to offer advice when it was not explicitly or even implicitly requested is an indicator of our over-investment in shaping someone else’s behavior for our own satisfaction.

That is a problem! It’s a problem because if like most of us you have not yet figured out a way to get people to do exactly what you want, you have a lot of disappointment in store for you! We are in sure trouble if we say we will be happy when my boss is nice to me, or my boyfriend brings me roses every weekend, or my kid gets rid of that horrible tattoo. But what about all the time in between while we are waiting for these people in our lives to make their lives match our expectations? Perhaps it will be useful for us to pause for a moment the next time we feel a burning itch to tell someone exactly how they need to live their lives.

During that pause we might serve ourselves well to consider how we can make their choices mean less to us. It seems to me that no matter what great advice we have to offer or how much sincere love we have for the recipient of our unwanted advice, the person is going to do what they want to do and we have to prepare to live with those choices. Let’s try as best as possible to not hinge our happiness on someone else needing to behave a particular way.

– Coach Andrea

 

A Birthday Dare!

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Today is my birthday!

 

As the moon makes its transition to the state of being fully illuminated, I will move into another year with a fervent prayer for my own illumination about the paths I must follow. One thing that has become clearer to me as I’ve gotten older and that is so eloquently articulated in the famous Theodore Roosevelt “Man in the Arena” speech is the value of courage.

I came to know of this speech from writer and social work professor Brene Brown, whose scholarship highlights the crucial role of vulnerability in our search for joy. As I step into a new year, I wish for courage for myself and for you so that as we age and perhaps begin turning away from our dreams towards the safe shelter of settling, we find the will to hold our ground in the arena and “dare greatly” no matter our age.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Coach Andrea

 

What’s the payoff?

I’ve wanted to have a smaller body from the time I could say the word diet. While I weigh I good deal less than the most I’ve ever weighed, I’m still not the ideal body weight I imagine for myself.

I was recently chatting with my cousin about this, and wondering why I was still struggling with weight after all these years given that every other aspect of my life had evolved into something pretty spectacular. Why was I able to create a thriving career, a beautiful home, and a loving group of friends and family, but not the body I wanted?

My cousin then asked me the best question I’ve been asked in a decade: “What’s the payoff for not being the size you want to be?”

“Payoff?” I questioned. How could there be any payoff for…………and then it clicked.

I simply cannot imagine myself as one of those magnificent women who have it all, and when I do, I feel a giant rush of guilt. With all the pain and sorrow in the world, why should I get to have an even greater life than I already do?

I’ve been sitting with his recognition for the past few days, not quite sure how to move forward, but truly surprised at the guilt and shame I feel simply imagining the life I want.

What are the things missing in your life, and what is your payoff for not having the job, the partner, or the money that you want? Without these desires of your heart, to which groups do you get to belong? Who do you get to resent? What false belief about this world do you get to hold in your heart?

– Coach Andrea

 

Of Blue Moons and Other Great Things

Hello Friends,

The full moon we will experience on August 31st is technically a blue moon—the second full moon in a month. How fabulous is that? We get to celebrate the power of transformation that a full moon signifies and harness the hopeful energy of anticipation, not once but twice for the month—what good fortune!

Some of us lost our belief in good fortune back when we stopped believing in the tooth fairy. In fact, many of us don’t ever expect a sequence of wonderful things to happen to us. My experience has been that the more we expect things to go well, the more they do. But the challenge is finding the strength to hope our way through the belly bottom of a difficult situation.

This blue moonish kind of hope is what Althea Smith must have had while she sweated in the heat of a tropical sun, selling newspapers to earn a living and put her daughter Neveta through primary and high school, then later university. What in the world would make a newspaper vendor think that she could ever put her child through medical school? In turn Neveta not only studied hard, but helped her mother sell newspaper, even while she was in college, and guess what? A few years ago Neveta graduated from the University of the West Indies School of Medicine!

Althea and Neveta had to have believed in the delight of a blue moon—not just one good thing working out for them, but one after the other after the other.

During the blue moon that is around the corner, let’s take a moment to imagine the sequence of great things we’d love to experience but think is quite impossible—let’s just imagine.

Read more about Althea and Neveta’s story here:

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Observer-vendor-s-daughter-graduates-with-honours_12907471

– Coach Andrea

 

The Value of Vision

Issue 5: July 29th, 2015

              

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the most beautiful floral gardens I’ve ever seen—Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island in Canada!

At the turn of the 19th Century, the Butchart family established a limestone quarry in Vancouver to supply the family’s cement factory. Years later, when the limestone had been depleted, Jennie, the matriarch of the family, decided to turn the desolate quarry into a garden. A garden? By this time the quarry was simply a gigantic hole in the ground with nothing growing anywhere in the large slabs of rock that formed the abandoned site. Why would anyone imagine that such a location could become a garden?

Well Jennie did. She had tons of soil brought in to line the barren rocks, and she even did some of the work herself, hanging from a metal basket contraption that allowed her to plant flowers high off the ground in the crevices of the quarry walls.  One hundred years later, this garden is rated among the most spectacular in the world.  Shocks of flowers in all the colors in the rainbow explode in each corner of the garden. In fact, the entire place is so mesmerizingly gorgeous that your eyes begin to get drunk on the stunning scenery. How amazing a transformation is that?  (see photos)

There are many of us whose lives at one time or another look just about as bad as that quarry did one hundred years ago—we’ve depleted our personal resources like money, energy, and health, and we don’t feel as if we have enough fertile ground left in our lives to make it into the fabulous thing we’d always hoped for.  But here is where the value of vision comes in—it’s really the only thing standing between us and the lives we want. As you gaze at the next full moon, begin to imagine the amazing life you want, and keep your focus there. Don’t get caught up in the desolation of your reality. What if Jennie had looked at that quarry and only seen a gigantic hole in the ground?

– Coach Andrea

See image on right in black and white of the garden at the start of its transformation. 

Photo Credit: The Butchart Gardens Website  http://www.butchartgardens.com/gardens/story

This is the sunken garden, which grew out of a big hole in the rocks!

Photo Credit: The Butchart Gardens Website http://www.butchartgardens.com/gardens/photos-and-video

 

When to do nothing.

Over the past week or so I’ve been trying to manage a situation, but each day something new happens, and each day a new approach to managing things occurs to me. Eventually, I started to drive myself nuts, feeling nothing but confused and anxious. What exactly was I supposed to do? Then out of nowhere it occurred to me that maybe I should do nothing! Who knew what the Universe was going to send my way tomorrow in any case, and with the numerous moving parts involved, could I really anticipate everything and put a suitable solution into effect? Scary as it was, doing nothing felt like the solution, and it has been wonderful!

Everything is still not fully worked out, but just the peace of mind I got from no longer feeling like I had to handle every aspect of the issue has left me feeling way better than when I thought I was Superwoman and could fix it all. How many times have you felt as if something in your life is out of control, and your effort to fix things has just made them worse?

My husband tells me that when he was taking flying lessons, one of the things he learned was that if the aircraft went into a spin, one approach was for the pilot to simply let go of the yoke and let the aircraft right itself without any interference. Of course most of us would try to wrestle the yoke into submission–all the way until we hit the ground. And while we may have felt better knowing that we were doing something, what was that worth if in the end us and the aircraft ended up as a pile of debris?

This full moon, think about something in your life that you are madly trying to fix, and ask yourself if you could just step out of the way for a moment and leave the yoke to right itself.

Best wishes for finding boundless joy this full moon and during all those to come!

-Coach Andrea

 

Bringing Dignity to an Undignified Departure

Dear Andrea,

My friend’s husband has been seeing a woman he works with for quite some time now. He moved out of the marital home and got his own place about a year ago. The wife lives in the marital home which is located in a gated community, but the husband still uses his access in to the community and his key to the house to spontaneously visit the wife.

On the other hand, the wife keeps showing up at the girlfriend’s house when the husband does not answer her calls. And, he is usually there. She only approaches him when he gets to his car to let him know she knows what is going on. His girlfriend sometimes calls to “cuss” the wife every now and again, telling the wife, “Your ex- husband does not want you so leave him alone.”

The girlfriend, who has been unsuccessful with keeping  the husband from being involved with his family (there are 2 teenage children), has now filed a harassment suit against the wife.  What should the wife do?
1. Should she file for a divorce she cannot afford, or keep living in this immoral situation?
2. Should she change the locks and disable the husband’s community access?

She needs your advice.

Mikhaila

 

Dear Mikhaila,

What a distressing situation for your friend. First thing your friend needs to do is ask herself why she so desperately wants to get back a man who abandoned her without affording her the dignity of properly concluding the marriage. What does she believe about herself, God, and this world that makes her think that the best choice for her right now is to actively pursue her philandering husband? Yes, marriages collapse and people fall in love with other people, but there are dignified ways to deal with the disintegration of a union.  The husband’s apparent expectation that the wife should exist in this state of limbo and anguish is heartbreaking, and wife’s acceptance of this new role as “occasional” wife (which she clearly does not want to be) and her assumption of the role of occasional stalker is even more heartbreaking.  She needs to abandon both these roles as they degrade her and suck the marrow out of her soul (not to mention  that the stalker role has landed her in trouble with the law).

So to answer to your specific questions,

1. Should she file for a divorce she cannot afford, or keep living in this immoral situation?
2. Should she change the locks and disable the husband’s community access?

I say she should do whatever it takes to bring dignity and peace into her life. Filing for a divorce is a legal activity that will need to happen at some point, but it is not guaranteed to bring her peace, so her getting divorced is not my primary concern right now. At this moment, she needs to let go of the marriage and accept that it’s over. Completely over. She needs to be clear that she is the only one holding her happiness hostage by believing she can’t have it without her husband in her life, and this letting go process will set her happiness free.

First, she needs to fully acknowledge how much her husband has hurt her with the understanding that it is only a wounded heart that can wound others. His behavior may be monstrous, but he’s not a monster, just someone doing a bad job of figuring how to live his best life. She also needs to acknowledge the ways she has hurt him and contributed to the demise of the marriage—no marriage ever tumbles from solely the actions of one partner, even if the other partner’s only offense is denial.

Next, she has to forgive him and forgive herself then take every single object in her house that represents her union with her husband and get rid of it! Her ring, cards, photos, and even the special underwear she bought because he liked it all need to go.  She should carry out this ritual without malice, and allow herself to cry as much as she wants. In fact, while she packs everything in boxes for Goodwill, she should play music that reminds her of when they first met and allow herself to weep until there are no more tears left within a mile of her.

When she has done all this and prepared herself to flood her life with more joy than she has ever had, she will know how to proceed with calling locksmiths and lawyers. Not sure which should come first, but at that stage I don’t know if it will really matter—she’ll figure it out.

Good luck to her!

Andrea