The Best Wisdom I Ever Received

Best of the Best of the Best

In a recent workshop that was a bit of a fusion between twelve-step recovery, forgiveness practice, and spirituality, someone asked me what I thought was the “best of the best of the best” wisdom I had received in my journey. It produced a really interesting conversation with those in attendance, and caused me to continue to ponder the question. There is so much information that comes at us, from endless sources. It really can be quite difficult to discern.

As I’ve contemplated the issue, I finally arrived at what feels like the correct question. What wisdom or practices have made the biggest difference and why?

The first came to me from a book, The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy, which turns out to have been instrumental to Gandhi in his practice of non-violence, which in turn influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. However, Tolstoy’s thoughts were merely an entry point. I came to understand one thing I’d simply been unable to see. The twelve steps suggest that whenever we believe we have a problem, it’s not outside us, but with our inner relationship to the apparent problem.

The real problem is within us, so too is the solution. If you want to change anything externally, start within.

I was blown away that I had never truly understood. Nothing in the outside world is actually my problem. While I may need to take action to address or remedy something, all the important work is an inside job. That awareness has revolutionized my approach to life. I always look first to understand the source of my frustrations, anger, discontent and the like.

The second bit of wisdom emerges from the first. If it’s true that everything is an inside job, I can let you off the hook. There is no place for judgment or condemnation in my framework for living. And if that is true, then I likewise might as well surrender my opinions about life and my life as well. It turns out that most of my opinions are not just unhelpful, but irrelevant. No matter how I feel about something, it is unlikely to alter that thing in any way. People and life have their ways no matter what I may think of them.

Accepting life and people on the terms they offer is a magic elixir.

Once again, that does not mean I do not take action where it is warranted. Rather I can let go of my endless list of expectations and ideals, which allows me to deal with reality. Given that I now know I am often in denial or delusion, acting consistent with the way things really are is an amazing proposition.

Last, and perhaps most difficult has been the idea of one day at a time, or one moment at a time if you prefer. While there may be some value in surveying one’s past in order to gain better understanding, and value in planning simply for the sake of analyzing what we may intend to do, there is actually nothing other than the now. Even Albert Einstein said time is an illusion. But it took meditation practice to teach me just how distracted I can be as well as how sweet can be the moment in which we are hanging on the edge of the present.

Everything that matters is right here and right now.

All my troubles exist somewhere else.

When Eckhart Tolle uses the phrase for which he titled his book, The Power of Now, he is pointing us powerfully toward power. Someone once told me there is not God of yesterday or tomorrow. And yet, as any of us can attest, it is so very easy for our attentions to be elsewhere.

Seeing True™

We have been invited to the party of life as privileged guests. It is not about us, or even for us. Yet we are beneficiaries.

Seeing True™ in Action

Nothing of significant benefit comes to us without effort on our part. At a minimum we must practice in order to progress.

What efforts will you make today? Why or why not?



What Does it Mean to Be an Effective Leader?

Everyone fills the leader role at some point in their lives, and how we operate in that role is greatly impacted by the kind of spiritual work we've committed ourselves to. This video is from a presentation I gave to a room full of leaders in Toastmasters, but the leadership lessons are universal. 

When No Proper Word Will Do


The F-Bomb … and Other Heresies

My life is lived in conflicting spaces. On the one hand, I am a professional facilitator, consultant, speaker and coach with a full complement of approaches, language, and attire. On the other, as a social worker by heart and sometimes by practice, I am often in settings with people that are torn and troubled, which in all honesty often requires an entirely unprofessional touch. And in yet one more environment, the recovering world, I am constantly amid people who are just plain real, and who say it like it is without adornment and with a full command of every curse word ever created.

I am also a member in good standing of Toastmasters International where I hold a distinguished designation as one of only sixty-nine Accredited Speakers worldwide in more than thirty-five years. And in that esteemed organization, which strives to support people in learning to overcome their fears and develop skills for public speaking, there is a large premium placed on propriety. In short, the ethic is that we need to sound and look impeccable, above reproach.

I’ll never forget the day when my own inner wires got crossed and I F-bombed a professional audience. It got very quiet. I blushed and stammered for just a moment. Then I laughed and said simply, “Wrong audience.” They laughed with me. I learned later that a few were offended, but a much larger number appreciated that I was utterly human. For me it was proof of the humanity in me, as well as in my audience.

Recently my daughter, Natalie Gallagher, delivered a presentation proposing that the use of the F-bomb and other so called “blue words” is essential if we are to treat others authentically. She says sometimes there is no other word that will carry the message than one that is inherently risky. That in order to relate, or make an essential point, or shake a complacent listener, or compel action, we must be willing to step outside propriety, to expose ourselves. To push. Because in some cases, the ends really do justify the means.

Of course, the challenge is always in confronting our fears, isn’t it? Fear that we’ll offend someone, or lose their approval, or fall in the esteem of others. Or in some cases, we fear we will be punished for stepping outside the bounds.

Tom Peters, the much renowned leadership and organizational expert, said if we have not been fired from something as a result of pushing the limits, we are not being sufficiently accountable for ourselves, our lives, or our world. My friend Lydia Ashanin would quote her favorite bumper sticker, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” My own mentor, affectionately known as Master Samwise, began telling me years ago that if I could not overcome the need for the approval of others, I would be unable to fulfill my potential. Even Mahatma Gandhi acknowledged that his commitment to the truth would necessarily force him outside the bounds of conventionality. In my practice, I have seen that nothing of significance ever emerges within our comfort zones.

So there is strong indication that where our language and actions are concerned, sometimes it is necessary to push the limits and cross boundaries. In order to do so, we’ll need the courage of our convictions. We’ll also need to be willing and able to roll with what may come. Sometimes, the ends really do justify the means.

Seeing True™

In contemplating the power and effectiveness of forgiveness, it is clear we need to reawaken to it. While not one of us is likely to disagree with the idea of forgiving, many of us live with brokenness because we have been unwilling or unable to forgive others or ourselves.

Seeing True™ in Action

Let’s shake it up and see what happens!

Forgiveness is my second favorite F-word!

Where does that take you in your practice?

p.s. If you just can’t resist having your own provocative F-word tee shirt, click here.

The Fruits of Coaching


Why Aren't Feedback and Guidance Embraced?

Of all the interesting things in the world of consultation and coaching, the one that intrigues me the most is the resistance to receiving feedback. Almost everywhere I have provided such services, the norm is not only inadequate feedback, but great reluctance on the part of many to be provided with feedback.

Now, let’s think this through. If parents, relatives, neighbors, coaches, ministers, counselors, police, friends, and countless others had failed to give you feedback, you would not be functional as an adult in the world. Everything from someone teaching you to stay out of the street, to letting you know when your behavior was offensive, to guiding you toward the best possible realization of your potential has had an impact on who you are today.

And yet, we become adults and professionals who are often resistant to getting further feedback. How ridiculous! We should all be clamoring for guidance. It is a magic elixir for all of us, even if it is not done as effectively as we might like. Poorly conceived feedback is better than none. And effective feedback is best of all.

I often tell people I owe a great debt to my first employer, GE, who hired me right out of college, trained me extensively for nearly four years as a future leader, then provided me with steady, progressive positions to increase my portfolio of skills and experience until I left at the ten-year mark. Nearly weekly, and formally about once a quarter for those first four years, then twice a year thereafter, I was the beneficiary of an incredibly valuable array of feedback. It was never comfortable, even when it was delivered effectively, but they were more committed to my growth and development than they were to my comfort. And besides that, I am convinced nothing of notable value will be learned in our comfort zones.

Today, I am extremely aware that who I am is the product of a huge investment in me that spans six decades and continues to this day from my mentors and coaches, clients via evaluations of services and deliverables, and some of the groups to which I belong. I remain a work in progress. Thankfully and gratefully.

I had a chance to gain a different vantage on this in the past few weeks as I have met with several of the people for whom I have been a mentor, advisor and coach for as much as ten years. For whatever reason, each of these sessions resulted in feedback to me about what they have learned as a result of my investment in them. They thanked me for “being one of the best teachers in my life”, “willingness to talk me through things over and over again until I learn”, “helping me to get unstuck,” and so forth.

I am profoundly humbled. It is not easy to see and experience the good that comes from our work in the world. To deny it is just as dishonest as to overly indulge it.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude. The gift of my time and attention was nothing more than reciprocity, for it was the same gift that had been invested in me. And it is already clear to me each of these marvelous people is already paying it forward.

"All my life's a circle..." sang Harry Chapin. What a beautiful and elegant design.

Seeing True™

The product of investing ourselves in people, things, and the creation itself is love. We come to appreciate that in which we are invested. And that love and appreciation always comes back around because it is a reciprocating universe.

Seeing True™ in Action

Pema Chodron says we should lean into the sharp points. Feedback is inevitably sharp. It is also incredibly valuable.

What are you seeking out today that will make you feel uncomfortable, and through that discomfort cause you to learn and grow?

What Romantic Relationships Can Tell Us About Ourselves

Being Mercurial

It began with a strange but lucid dream. I was in the middle of a relationship that was unraveling, that slow, grinding and uncomfortable time when you really should be able to see the proverbial handwriting on the wall, but are too much in denial or delusion to understand. The dream seemed to be a very long one where I wandered through a library making comparisons between novels and short story collections, with the latter always falling short.

For once, I understood a dream. It was clearly a reference to relationships. I have a really marvelous collection of relationships that are akin to short stories with the occasional novella. And they really are lovely, except when compared to the cultural gold standard, the long-enduring marriage.

It was an epiphany to see I was making this invalid and unhelpful comparison, but the real traction came when I asked, “How can I not see such things about myself? I wonder who I really am? And I wonder what kinds of women or relationships actually suit me?”

So let me tell you the first truth I learned. Most of us never actually try to answer such questions as these. We accept the first or most available love relationship, get locked down in it, then proceed to find challenges and faults of all kinds. So we exit the unsatisfying relationship, and promptly find another, still without any exploration of who we are and what we desire. That’s not a criticism, simply an acknowledgment of how it seems to work for the vast majority. I guess many of us are simply lonely in some way or another.

Regardless, my epiphany launched me on a course of exploration. It sounds rather foolish as I type these words, but it was quite revealing. There are any number of things I simply did not know about myself and relationships. It turns out the most important thing for me is rich conversation, which matters more than most everything else. Then a love of the arts and beauty, and a sense of adventure. Plus, I discovered that I only do well if someone is reasonably self-sufficient. I don't want to be anyone’s solution to their own life or life problems.

It seemed so selfish at first until someone pointed out that it’s kind of like how we like our foods. If you like your steak cooked rare, why should you try to like it well done? If a vegetarian lifestyle works for you, trying to be a carnivore is just foolish. We are who we are. And it’s useful to know that. And far more effective when in the process of trying to find someone with whom to spend time, or invest your life.

That brings me to the greatest revelation. Somehow I came across a book, True Loves: Finding the Soul in Love Relationships, by a husband and wife team who are both Jungian psychologists, Alex and Naomi Quenk. They proposed that each of us has a love archetype, a kind of master imprint for how we experience and express love, that we are the way we are and the great mischief comes in trying to be something other than that.

It turns out that my archetype is “mercurial.” While I care deeply and am fiercely loyal, I become easily bored. I’m just not steady the way many people think one ought to be in relationship. I can commit, but wilt when overly confined. I need a steady stream of experiences that constantly renew my attention and my passions. Paraphrasing the Quenks, I am not fulfilled by relationship, but use relating and love as a way to express my fulfillment. It turns out I simply do not fit the standard, expected model for relationship.

Seeing True™

Seeing who we are at our core in relationship relieves countless stresses. We only need be true to these most fundamental identities. The mistake is in trying to be or do otherwise.

“I yam what I yam, and that’s all what I yam.” -Popeye

Seeing True™ in Action

Are you unfulfilled in love? It is extremely likely that discontent belies some kind of misfit between who you are, your understanding of who you are, and how you play it out in love. Until you understand the nature of what fits, it is nothing but a guessing game.

Are you willing enough to try something new? To explore the truth of you?