Dec 142013
Sedlec Ossuary, Kutna Hora, near Prague: Death was everywhere

This chandelier at Sedlec Ossuary contains at least one of every bone in the human body. Read on to find out more.

Soon after I first moved to Canada, I took a program in Satir family reconstruction with Maria Gomori, who was 87 at the time. I told her that I had a hard time imagining myself living  past my 60s at best, since my mother and father had died at 60 and 68 respectively. Maria listened to me for a while, and then said simply: “Well, you must stop that!”

So, since it was Maria, I did. I began deliberately to imagine being 70 and 80 … in fact, since it was Maria who gave me the idea, I practiced saying things like “When I’m 87, I’ll …”  These days, I do indeed think in those terms.

And, remembering days spent in Egypt, I hear myself saying Insh’allah, God willing.

Of course, there is another side to all this.

If I had been born in England in the 1830s instead of the 1960s, I would have been likely to live, on average, to around 38 years old. As it is, however, the fact that I was born in the second half of the 20th century means that my life expectancy has doubled, and my chances of getting to Maria’s age are not bad at all.

Indeed a middle-aged woman in the 1950s (like Maria) had a 10 per cent chance of living into her 90s.  That figure has now risen to almost 30 per cent. (I don’t have the figures for men.)

The fact that people now live decades longer than they did little more than a hundred years ago, says Roman Krznaric in a chapter called “Deathstyle” in his excellent book The Wonderbox, “may be the greatest social revolution in human history.”  It has, however, been accompanied, he points out, by a radical decline in the public presence of death. The rise of medicalized death in hospital, and the erosion of traditional funeral and mourning rituals, have made death largely invisible in modern society.

Krznaric compares this to the situation in medieval and Renaissance Europe. With high mortality rates meaning you were very likely to have siblings who had died in childhood, plague leading to piles of bodies in the streets, and a religious atmosphere obsessed with the fires of Hell, death was literally everywhere.

The artistic genre of memento mori (Latin for “remember you must die”) flourished. Examples are the danse macabre, showing people from popes to peasants dancing with rotting corpses; the Grim Reaper, a personification of death as a skeleton with scythe and cloak; and rings and brooches showing skulls and other symbols of death. I remember years ago visiting the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora near Prague, which contains the skeletons of between 40,000 and 70,000 people, many of whose bones have been used to decorate and furnish the chapel.

One result of the prevalence of death in the Middle Ages was, says Krznaric, that people had a heightened appreciation of the preciousness and fragility of life. An historian of attitudes towards death, Philippe Aries, wrote that “probably at no time has man so loved life as he did at the end of the Middle Ages.” Krznaric expands on this:

When you are constantly reminded that death can snatch you away in an instant, when you grow up playing amongst human thigh bones and seeing skeletons dance on the walls, you are likely to realize that life exists to be lived to the full, that every moment must be cherished as a gift, that you should make the most of the few years granted you. The very ubiquity of death propelled a whole age towards a state of radical aliveness.

Death does not seem so imminent as it once did. “We imagine living long into our distant eighties and nineties,” says Krznaric, and I take note. “As a result, our awareness of the rare value of existence has been diminished, and with it the ability to immerse ourselves in the present and suck all the marrow from life.”

And yet, it does seem possible to have both. I think of Maria, who is now 93, still going strong, teaching, travelling, learning, full of laughter. And other friends, both dead and alive, who in full knowledge of the imminence of their end, lived and are living to the full. I take inspiration and comfort from them.

Dec 102013
Linda Nicholls is leading Depression: Conscious Alternatives, January 14–19, 2014.

Linda Nicholls is leading Depression: Conscious Alternatives, January 14–19, 2014.

I am looking forward to assisting Linda Nicholls in Depression: Conscious Alternatives January 14–19 2014. This five-day program is for

  • People experiencing depression
  • People who have worked their way out of depression and want to focus on prevention
  • People who are concerned for someone they know who is depressed
  • Professionals (physicians, counsellors, etc.) working with people who are depressed

Many people first come to The Haven experiencing some form or level of depression. I count myself amongst them. Some have reached a crisis point. Some are using and benefiting from prescribed medication; for others the medication is less helpful or the side effects are hard to deal with. Others (and this was more my style, though I had a brief stint with Prozac) prefer to self medicate, in my case with alcohol, or find other diversions, each with their own consequences. Others are just struggling on, hating themselves, finding work and relationships ever more difficult, and life increasingly joyless.

Often, as I did, people find in a program like Come Alive or Living Alive Phase I, a key to rediscovering meaning and love in life. Honest communication and expression of feelings, self-responsibility, self-compassion, the development of empathy, breath and movement, mindfulness – all can make an enormous difference. Depression: Conscious Alternatives works with this material and more to help people take a personalized and in-depth look at how they understand, react – and can choicefully respond – to their individual experiences and patterns of unhappiness, self-hate, stuckness, and depression.

Andrew Solomon wrote in The Noonday Demon:

Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair. When it comes, it degrades one’s self and ultimately eclipses the capacity to give or receive affection. It is the aloneness within us made manifest, and it destroys not only connection to others, but also the ability to be peacefully alone with oneself. Love, though it is no prophylactic against depression, is what cushions the mind and protects it from itself. Medications and psychotherapy can renew that protection, making it easier to love and be loved, and that is why they work. In good spirits, some love themselves and some love others and some love work and some love God: any of these passions can furnish that vital sense of purpose that is the opposite of depression.”

For some, medication and psychotherapy (within the medical system, most often cognitive behavioral therapy) do indeed help restore the capacity to love and be loved. Others do not find these so helpful, or long for alternatives or additions that better fit with their personalities, aspirations, and often buried passions. And for everyone there is the ongoing challenge of creating in the longer term a life of meaning in the face of very real stresses and suffering. Frequently this can be aided by a focus on expression, energy and creativity as vital alternatives to depression.

Often the suppression and repression of thoughts, feelings, abilities and passions leads eventually to depression. The conscious choice to express – physically, cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually – will very frequently reverse this downwards spiral. In Depression: Conscious Alternatives we provide opportunities to explore a range of ways to do this, in an atmosphere of support and shared experience.

The program also offers opportunities to dig deeply into the roots of your personal, individual depression process. You will be invited to explore your beliefs around depression, which for many are highly restrictive, and  ways that you can interrupt familiar patterns and thoughtfully choose alternative paths.

People can expect to leave with practical tools to mobilize and support themselves in their daily lives. Participants have  reported that they accessed in the program previously untapped resources that helped them to put into action plans they had not until then found possible to implement. As a result, many  have experienced long-term benefits in every aspect of their lives.

You can read more about Linda Nicholls, a vastly experienced and much-loved faculty member at The Haven, on her website, where you will also find her contact details if you’d like to find out more about the program from her. Feel free to contact me too, leave any comments you have, and subscribe to this blog to receive future posts by email.

You can register for the program here, contact the Haven registrars on 1 800 222 9211 or send them an email.

Nov 152013
Kong Fu Zi (Confucius), 551-479 BC

Kong Fu Zi (Confucius), 551-479 BC

Sadly, we don’t have enough people signed up for Communication Fundamentals next week, so the next opportunity to take the program is now March 27–30 next year. Cathy and I hope you’ll join us then! In the meantime, I’ll console myself with the Zen-like words of Haven faculty member and haiku writer Ellery Littleton: “A cancelled program … is still a program.”

After publishing my last post (November 6), I received an email from Jock McKeen saying how much he liked it. I asked him what he liked about it (I have been making an effort recently to ask this when people compliment me. I find I often learn something this way, about the other person and about myself. Interesting discussions can ensue.) Here’s Jock’s reply:

“I like your opening to the deeper and more substantive aspects of “the model” … it’s the Kong Zi li / yi / ren business … you provide an opening to the levels of appropriateness and humanity that a stark rendering of the model tends to leave out.”

I happen to know what he’s talking about here, but only because this is a topic Jock and Ben wrote about in The Illuminated Heart, which I edited. It certainly wasn’t in my mind when I wrote my last post, but now that he mentions it, I agree with Jock that there is a connection.

Kong Zi (or Kong Fu Zi) is better known in the West as Confucius, and li, yi, and ren are distinct levels of concern in Confucian thought. The most superficial level, li (proper behaviour, ritual) involves the rules of social conduct; the middle level, yi, sometimes translated as appropriateness, involves a sensitive appreciation of one’s particular context and of other people; and ren (humanity, human-heartedness, virtue, goodness) involves, say Jock and Ben, “a felt sense of one’s heart connection with oneself, deep nature, and all other beings.”

In terms of communication, li would refer to the norms and rules of social interaction that we embark on learning as children. Philosopher Paul Grice’s maxims, for example, state what it is we need to learn if we are to obey what Grice called the cooperative principle.  These are assumptions listeners normally make about the way people talk. Specifically, the maxims are:

  • Maxim of Quality … Be truthful
  • Maxim of Quantity … Make your contribution as informative as it needs to be for present purposes, neither more nor less
  • Maxim of Relation … Be relevant
  • Maxim of Manner … Be clear

Here’s an example of just one of these, the Maxim of Relation. If you arrive at work and comment to a colleague, “Joe’s late,” the other person might say, “The traffic’s bad this morning.” Because you assume that your colleague is obeying the maxim of relation (be relevant), you will probably think that he or she is offering this observation about the traffic as a possible explanation for Joe’s lateness.

Denise Goldbeck and I recently taught these principles to a group of parents in China (and they are often included in Personal Parenting); an awareness that children might not have learned them yet  can be very helpful for adults wanting to communicate better with them. Had I known that we’re not just born knowing the Maxim of Quantity, for example, I might sometimes have been a little more patient with my own kids! If you want to find out more about the Gricean Maxims, this Wiki article is a good place to start.

Importantly, however, these rules are not just to be obeyed for their own sake; they exist in service of a deeper level of communication, parallel to Confucius’ yi. This is the level at which we develop an appreciation of context and of others. Jock and Ben wrote that “this level allows for listening to others and taking consideration of the world of the other … it involves a sensitive awareness of what a situation requires, doing what fits so that no one is disrespected or disregarded or forced to stray from his or her inner nature.”

Deeper still is the level of ren, human-heartedness, humanity, deep connection. I think this is what I experienced watching Ernie McNally as I described in the previous post … something that “seemed a lot like love.”

The Haven communication model does indeed offer this potential, that people can move beyond the necessary superficialities and subtle mechanics of social interaction, and beyond the “duelling monologues” of right and wrong, into experiences of resonance, inclusion, and empathy. At this level, we can be entirely ourselves – not “straying from our inner natures” – and experience deep connection with others.

As ever, I’d love to hear from you if you have any comments (there’s a button at the top of this article); and please do subscribe (top of the right column) to receive future posts by email.

Nov 062013

Communication leads to community … that is, to understanding, intimacy, and mutual valuing.” Rollo May

A lot has happened since my last post. Jane and I taught Dynamic Empathy for the first time in September; Denise Goldbeck and I led a program in China for parents; and I led Come Alive with Carole Ames twice, first in China, then at The Haven. Plus, Jane and I did Dynamic Empathy a second time, for a group of Mandarin-speakers at The Haven.

Cathy and Ernie McNally created Communication Fundamentals

Cathy and Ernie McNally created Communication Fundamentals. Cathy and I are teaching it November 22–25.

One way or another all of these programs have touched on the subject of communication. If you’ve done Come Alive you’ll have been introduced to the Haven Communication Model; in our empathy program we focus especially on listening with an open heart and mind; and for parents the topic of how to communicate with children, and how children communicate, is crucial. However, in a couple of weeks’ time (November 22–25) I am very happy to be leading a program entirely devoted to communication. Communication Fundamentals was created and taught for a number of years by Ernie and Cathy McNally. For some time now they have wanted to have others teach it too. Earlier this year Cathy Wilder and Jennifer Hilton had a very successful outing with it: and now I am delighted to be teaching it  with Cathy McNally.

Maybe 10  years ago, when I was a newish intern in Come Alive, I watched Ernie McNally working with a participant in the centre of the circle. All they did, apparently, was talk – there was no drama, no show – and yet  it was one of the most moving individual focus times I’d ever experienced. At the time, it seemed to me like magic. I remember thinking, I could probably learn to do bodywork and gestalt and the other things that make up Come Alive “individual work” … but this, I’m not so sure. Something else was going on, that I couldn’t quite name … but it seemed to me a lot like love, and brought a profound kind of healing.

Over the years since then I have learned  that I too, like Ernie, can be part of such experiences; and for me, they have been highlights of my own working with people in Haven programs. I think that such conversations are actually examples of the Haven Communication Model in action; they are embodiments of its spirit, perhaps an invitation to both partners to embody and open their own spirits, and to come into connection. I think that in such connection there is healing and liberation. (And indeed, this connection is at the heart of all kinds of work we do at The Haven, including bodywork and gestalt!)

This is one of the possibilities of healthy communication. Other times, there are different focuses and outcomes, that may not sound so lofty: clarity for one, sometimes clarity about disagreement; possibilities for informed choices, boundaries, actions; humour, pleasure, joy; and sometimes disturbance and challenge.

In Communication Fundamentals we explore the Haven Communication Model in depth, and blend in other perspectives too. If you’ve had some experience with the model and would like to find out how you can use it effectively and with greater ease in your day-to-day life, you’ll find this program invaluable. And if you are new to the model, but know that you would like to improve your communication with your partner, with friends, with family, or at work, click here to find out more about the program. As Rollo May put it, “Communication leads to community … that is, to understanding, intimacy, and mutual valuing.”

You can also download a brief outline of the model (along with several other Haven models) in our booklet, Ideas in Action.

Aug 282013

As we have been planning for Dynamic Empathy (September 8–11) Jane Olynyk and I have returned often to the idea of embodying empathy, and we have looked for ways of inviting program participants into a felt experience of empathy.

Some writers make a useful distinction between what they label perspective taking on the one hand and empathy on the other. In this view, perspective taking is the ability to imagine another person’s experience on three levels: spatial/perceptual (what the person senses or perceives); cognitive (what the person is thinking); and affective (what the person is feeling).

Importantly, imagining another person’s affect or feeling (the third level of perspective taking) is not the same thing as actually feeling another’s affect, and it is the latter that in this distinction counts as empathy (though empathy may include some of the former as well). There are of course times when understanding what another person is feeling, without actually feeling anything like it oneself, is perfectly appropriate. At other times, however, this feeling component will be crucial. In Dynamic Empathy, we want to practice cultivating such a feeling response to others.

One way of doing this, which I learned from Wayne Dodge as an intern at The Haven and have found very useful ever since, involves consciously adopting the body posture and movements of another person and noticing what feelings come up as you do. Martha Beck recommends a version of this, which she calls Reverse Engineering (the idea being that just as you might disassemble an engine to discover how it was originally put together, you can work back from the observable effects of an emotion to the emotion itself). Here’s how she describes it:

Think of someone you’d like to understand — your enigmatic boss, your distant mother, the romantic interest who may or may not return your affections. Remember a recent interaction you had with this person — especially one that left you baffled as to how they were really feeling. Now imitate, as closely as you can, the physical posture, facial expression, exact words, and vocal inflection they used during that encounter. Notice what emotions arise within you.

What you feel will probably be very close to whatever the other person was going through. For example, when I “reverse engineer” the behavior of people I experience as critical or aloof, I usually find myself flooded with feelings of shyness, shame, or fear. It’s a lesson that has saved me no end of worry and defensiveness.

Give it a go! I’d be interested to hear how you get on.

I hope you’ll  join us for Dynamic Empathy, September 8–11, to discover and practice more ways of embodying empathy.

Aug 272013

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?I love this quote from Thoreau. There really is something wondrous to me about our human capacity, however imperfect, to experience the world through another’s eyes. The ability to imagine another’s perspective, what they see and hear and so on, what they think, what they feel; and to share emotionally in what they are feeling. To me, this offers the possibility of expanding the limits of my otherwise small and isolated world, the promise of connection.

Empathy is often described as the ability to “walk a mile in another person’s shoes” – that is to imagine what it would be like for me to be in your situation. This is an important capacity, and one that we would do well to develop. But there is much more to empathy than this – including, crucially, my ability to have a sense of what it is like for you to be you in your situation. This seems to me an important distinction. As Alfie Kohn wrote in The Brighter Side of Human Nature, “It is the difference between asking what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes and what it is like to have that person’s feet.”

The distinction has consequences for how we act with others. The Golden Rule … “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and variants on that principle from very many different traditions … stems from (and draws on) the first of the pair, imagining what it would be like for me. If you attempt the second of the two, however, you might also heed George Bernard Shaw’s contrary admonition: “Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you. They may have different tastes.”

And while there is the promise of a kind of liberation and expansion in either of these, there is also a challenge, one that we frequently interpret as a threat. I see the world, and perhaps especially other people, a particular way, in order to have some sense of control; to this end, I make objects of people. To allow and take seriously the fact that others see the world very differently – that they are not only objects in my world, but subjects in their own – is a challenge to my own hard-won reality. It takes courage and a certain confidence in one’s own selfhood to open to this challenge.

And there are rewards to taking this challenge. Alan Alda wrote about one of them: “Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you. When I’m willing to let them change me, something happens between us that’s more interesting than a pair of dueling monologues.”

That something “more interesting than dueling monologues” is the subject of Dynamic Empathy, which Jane Olynyk and I are leading at The Haven in a couple of weeks time, September 8–11. We hope you’ll join us.

Aug 072013

Over the last few months I have been following events in Egypt. As you may know, I lived in Cairo for several years; I have a great deal of affection for the place and many people I met there. I have been variously inspired, appalled, saddened, baffled and intrigued at what I have read on the news and a number of websites. This morning I came across this photograph on Facebook (from Documenting the Egyptian Revolution). Compared to many photos I have seen lately – showing enormous rallies in Tahrir and other Cairo squares, or sometimes gruesome injuries and acts of violence – this one seemed to me rather ordinary, and I was interested in it for just that reason.

Egypt image

I look at this picture through my eyes, with my particular context. Your experience will likely be different. I wonder what you notice as you look. Do you have ideas about the people in it, what they are thinking, what they are feeling? Look at their expressions, their clothing, the room they are in. Can you imagine something about the lives of the people or the relationship between them? Can you imagine a story behind the photograph? Do you have feelings of your own as you look? Do you think your feelings are similar to theirs? What happens if you try adopting their facial expressions?

I can give you a little more information about the photo. Its caption is this: “Activist Hassan Mustafa with his mother after his release from custody.”

Look at the photograph again. Perhaps your thoughts and feelings have shifted. Perhaps, if it were possible, there are questions you’d like to ask the people about their experiences.*

When you consider questions such as these, you are exercising your capacity for perspective taking and empathy.

The word empathy has only been part of the English language for a hundred years or so, first used in 1909 by an American psychologist called Edward Titchener. It was a translation of a German word popularized a few decades earlier by Theodor Lipps to describe a mode of aesthetic appreciation; the word was Einfühlung, meaning “feeling into.” One could, for example, feel one’s way into a painting. Similarly, perhaps you have started to “feel your way” into that photograph, and potentially into the lives of Hassan Mustafa and his mother. We humans have a remarkable ability to make meaning of what we see (or perceive through our other senses), and to feel in association with our perceptions and interpretations. We are able to imagine what other people are thinking and feeling; and we can also share something of their emotional experience.

The word empathy has been used to mean many different things in the century since Titchener first coined it, but for me the notion of feeling one’s way, both cognitively and emotionally, into another person’s experience remains evocative and potent. You can notice and experiment with it in relation to people you see in photographs or on TV; and with the people you work and live with, and those who are closest to you.

Jane Olynyk and I have spent many hours this summer exploring what empathy can be and, using Ben Wong and Jock McKeen’s Dynamic Empathy Model as a focus, we are creating a program based on what we have discovered. We think the program will be extraordinarily useful to all sorts of people. Creating it has been a fascinating, inspiring and challenging experience for us; and so we are looking forward to offering participants in the program both inspiration and challenge! The first Dynamic Empathy is September 8–11. We hope to see you there.

* You can find out more about the background to this photo by googling “Hassan Mustafa activist Egypt”.

 Posted by at 11:05 pm
Jul 122013

For the best part of the last year I have been working with Jock McKeen and Bennet Wong on new editions of their two best-loved books. These books are now finished and available for sale from The Haven and on Amazon. Here are their covers, which feature beautiful artwork by Mary Sullivan Holdgrafer; and below the covers is the foreword I wrote for Joining, which actually discusses both books.

The two are now very much intended to be read alongside one another, and so if you buy the two together from The Haven, there’s a healthy discount!



My Foreword to Joining: The Relationship Garden

This book is a thoroughly revised edition of Jock McKeen and Bennet Wong’s The Relationship Garden, which was originally published in 1996. The new edition appears in 2013, the 30th anniversary year of The Haven, the centre which Jock and Ben founded, and 43 years after they embarked together on the relationship project that informs this book.

Also in 2013, their book The New Manual for Life is appearing in a brand new edition. It has been my privilege to work closely with Jock and Ben in revising these new books. In this process, it became very clear to us that the two books are intrinsically related to one another and should now appear as complementary volumes. Their new titles mark this fact: Being: A Manual for Life and Joining: The Relationship Garden. Together they outline the core of Ben and Jock’s work together, which underlies Haven programs such as Come Alive, Living Alive Phases I and II, and the Couples Alive series.

One of the biggest tasks we set ourselves for these new editions was organizational. Both the original books were packed with important and useful ideas, but we heard repeatedly from readers that sometimes they did not hang together well and in places were hard to follow. As we revisited the books, we had to agree. In part, this came about through historical circumstance. The books were based on notes that Ben and Jock were making as they taught, often responding to particular issues that came up in programs, and included a good deal of material that had originally been published elsewhere. Consequently, topics were sometimes not clearly ordered, there were repetitions, inconsistencies, and so on. We realized that this wasn’t only the case inside each book, but also across the two of them.

The new editions are much better organized. We have grouped the chapters differently, we have combined material in places, reduced it in places, filled it out in others. We’ve even moved some material from one book to the other, where we think it is more at home! The books also have new indexes so that it will be much easier to find what you’re looking for if you’re using them as reference books.

We have also paid close attention to the content, style and tone of the writing. Much of the material is substantially rewritten in order to clarify the ideas and to reflect the authors’ current thinking on important topics. For example, Jock and Ben have for a while now been saying that they wanted to do a better job of explaining in writing the concepts of power and strength. So in Being: A Manual for Life the chapters on this topic have been completely reworked. In Joining: The Relationship Garden, the chapters entitled Sexuality and The Family Garden have received a thorough makeover. But these are just examples – anyone who knows the original books will realize as they read the 2013 editions that there is scarcely a page where the text has not been substantially revised.

You will find in this book a thought from the Yi Jing that in many ways sums up the challenge and possibilities of relationship as Ben and Jock conceive and live it:

In order to find one’s place in the infinity of being, one must be able both to separate and to unite.

Oddly enough, that sentence also describes quite well the process we have been through with these two books. They stand together now, both separate and united.

 Posted by at 5:19 pm
Apr 252013


Many people come to programs at The Haven burdened by the past.

They find themselves unable to move forward with their lives because of things they have done, or that have been done to them. Sometimes these events took place many years previously, often when they were very young children. They range from horrible abuse and actions that people hate themselves for having taken, to relationships gone bad, abandonments, grief and everyday losses. Sometimes people find themselves effectively paralysed by grief or anger or a numbness created to avoid feelings attached to the past.

In Living Alive Phase I, there are opportunities to address these issues. People find ways to express thoughts and feelings they have held tightly within them. I know this for myself, and the relief of expressing things I thought I could never  reveal, and experiencing not rejection or ridicule but acceptance, honest responses, and connection. It has been a very meaningful privilege for me in turn to be with people as they speak of events that sometimes they have thought of every day for decades, that have directly affected their lives in often painful ways, and that they have never told a single soul before. Often this opening is the beginning of a transformation in people’s lives.

We cannot change or get rid of our pasts; what happened, happened. And yet it is possible to change our relationship with the past – that is, our perspective. In Living Alive Phase I, you may be challenged to identify ways in which, in the present, you make yourself a victim of the past, and to explore what other options there are. We do individual work (body work, gestalt, and other forms) as we do in Come Alive, and often these focus times are enormously effective in helping people loosen their ties to the past. In addition, however, Living Alive Phase I offers myriad other opportunities, over the course of 25 days, to reassess your past, and respond  to it creatively and compassionately in the present. And, as Theodore Zeldin suggests (in An Intimate History of Humanity), shifting one’s perspective on the past can open up possibilities for a new vision of the future.

 Posted by at 10:37 am
Apr 232013

I have it in mind to write a series of posts over the next couple of weeks, with a common theme, and a common intention.

Intention first. Starting June 4, Wayne Dodge and I, with a great team of interns, are leading The Haven’s 25-day Living Alive Phase I program. I would really like to see lots of people in the program. So my intention is to provide some encouragement for people to sign up!

  • If you haven’t done the program yet (or want to do it again), I hope these articles will stimulate you to do so.
  • If you are coming to the program, I hope you’ll spread the word and bring a friend.
  • If you’ve already done Living Alive Phase I, please tell you friends and family about it.
  • If you can’t make it in June, consider the next Phase I in October.
  • And if you’re any of the above, I hope you find in these posts some ideas worth thinking about!

And now the theme. A colleague of mine often asks the leadership team in his programs, “What are you doing this for? What do you think you are offering people?”

My own answers to these questions seem to revolve around the idea of perspective. 

My experience when I first came to The Haven was that my view of my life had become very narrow. Rather like this:


Now, a horse wearing blinders is apparently less likely to be distracted or frightened by things going on in its peripheral vision and can focus on the task at hand (running a race, pulling a cart). And there are advantages for people too in limiting one’s perspective in this way. There are some scary things lurking out there, and one can probably avoid some of them by just not looking.

However, in my attempt to avoid the scary things, I found I had limited my life quite drastically (and at the same time had found plenty to scare myself with on the inside of my blinders). It took the experience of Come Alive and Living Alive Phase I for me to start the process of looking outside the confines of my blinders. There were indeed some frightening thoughts, feelings, encounters out there; but the monsters were not quite as big as I had imagined them. And, I discovered, I had some courage and strength within me to engage with them. More than that, I began to realize that in trying to protect myself from these fears and anxieties, I was also banishing a whole range of other experiences, including joy, and challenge, and satisfaction.

Part of the difficulty with narrowing one’s perspective is that the issues that you are focusing on can become more and more problematic. So, back then as I looked at my drinking habit or my sense of self-worth or my relationships in the one way I knew how, I was stuck. I saw all three of those areas of my life as pretty much insoluble problems. In Come Alive, I realized there were many more possibilities than I had imagined; in Living Alive Phase I, I got a chance to really explore new ways of looking at myself, at the situations I was in, and how I related to the people I was with. That has made an enormous difference to me.

So, I think this is part of what Living Alive Phase I offers: a whole range of opportunities to expand your vision and shift your perspectives.

More very soon. I hope you’ll keep reading, and welcome your comments.

 Posted by at 10:58 pm
%d bloggers like this: