Eyes on the Prize!

Lately, I’ve been gobbling up Natalie Goldberg’s books on writing like they were peanut M&M’s. As it turns out, the books may well be a whole lot better for the world than the candy!

Here’s a favorite quote from the classic, Writing Down the Bones:

Afraid of being lost, she became lost.

If you’re like me, you may hear lots of tinkly little bells ringing inside just now. There are many ways to think about this.

One is that the human mind/consciousness does not “understand” negatives. Instead of hearing, to borrow from the quote, “Don’t get lost!” we hear only “get” and “lost”.

Or, to risk a bit of potty humor for an even clearer example, let me tell you about my new favorite TV commercial. A young dad is carrying his pre-school aged son rapidly toward the bathroom saying, “Don’t poop! Don’t poop! Don’t…Oh, no!”

They think they’re selling washing machines. We know the kid’s just hearing, “Poop! Poop!”

My Qigong friends would explain it a bit differently.

Where the attention goes, the energy flows.

Chopped is a good place to study this phenomenon. Contestant after contestant claiming, over and over again, with great passion, “I don’t want to lose!” when a more helpful perspective would be, “I want to win!”

If my old friend Steve Glenn were here, he’d encourage us to say to our anxious toddler, half way across your grandmother’s prized antique rug with a glass of milk, “Walk carefully. Keep your eyes where you want to be,” rather than the customary, “Don’t spill the milk!” unless, of course, we were longing to have that antique rug cleaned.

We’ve all done it. Where, we might wonder, are we doing it now? Where might we be lost?

I’ll bet you have some ideas!

Let’s use the resident herd of Newfoundlands for an example. They’re enthusiastic greeters, which is great, but I vastly prefer for them to keep all four feet on the floor while welcoming guests.

Every now and then, in a fit of delight, one of them might forget.

My job is to avoid the very tempting, “Don’t jump!” and rely instead on, “Sit!” which is a word they do know and it tells them, in a positive sense, what to do in the moment.

Far from just language games, “Sit!” has a much higher likelihood of ensuring the safety and comfort of the greet-ee.

(There is probably a truth-in-advertising law somewhere which obligates me to admit that some of us are still working on this, and few things are absolute!)

I have some thoughts about what to do with all this insight.

Instead of caving in to a fear of failure, consider adopting the notion that life is for learning.

Give up on perfect. As soon as possible. Just experiment, five or ten minutes at a time, with a different goal.

Celebrate progress. Possibly with your favorite music and a dance party!

Claim what you need. Or want. You’ll already be a step closer!

I know. This isn’t the way you learned most of this stuff. It’s not the way I learned it either. Until I started learning some new things.

The greatest part of all this is that you don’t have to have it all down pat before you can start helping others learn, too. Grandkids. Dogs. Partners. Possibly even politicians.

And the best way to teach is to do.

Eyes on the prize!

I can’t guarantee immediate gratification. (My magic wand isn’t rated for that!) And progress is often messy and indirect. But “…it beats,” as my old friend Puddleglum would say, in perhaps the best example of all, the old way, “all hollow.”

That’s a lot!

Thanks to Puddleglum for making a special appearance from deep in the magical land of Pinterest, just for us. (I really need to find out how this works!)


Do you believe?

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in the Portland, Oregon airport, on the way home from my most recent excursion down the Rabbit Hole. The woman next to me in the gate lounge was in a chatty mood.

She wanted to know where I was going and where I had been and why.

I skimmed over the geographic details quickly, longing to return to my book. She, apparently having no book to read, asked a lot more questions involving the why-word.

I explained that I had been in Portland attending a workshop on Transformational Coaching.

Suddenly, it became time for what-questions to which I responded that I help people make the changes they long for in their lives.

I was burrowing into my jacket pocket for a business card when she burst out laughing which, frankly, caught me a bit off guard.

“I don’t believe in change!” she announced emphatically.

About 30 years worth of practice kicked in and I replied, “Oh?”

Just as she launched into what I’m sure would have been 87 examples of why she didn’t believe in change, they announced early boarding for my flight. Praying that she would not wind up my seatmate, I wished her safe travels and headed for home, shaking my head.

I grew up not necessarily “believing” in change but being very, very sure that it happens. We moved around a lot. Family legend holds that, when my folks explained to my 3-year-old self that we were moving from Cleveland to Pittsburg, I had two questions.

Do they have corn on the cob?

Do they have Romper Room?

Assured that they did, I was ready to go.

The mountains were a surprise!

Of course, my disbelieving new aquaintance in Portland is not the first person I’ve met who claims not to believe in change. Believe me. I’ve spent more than a little time in the land of, We’ve always done it that way! and the neighboring land of, We’ve never done it that way before!

And, frankly, while I totally get the familiar-is-safe dynamic, I just don’t get not believing in change. Where is the hope in that?

It’s even harder for me to understand not believing on this particular weekend. As my neighbors paint red, white, and blue stars in the street, ready for the 4th of July parade, and my favorite artisanal butcher is wearing his Big Green Egg out with ribs and pulled pork, I find myself wondering what this is all about, if not change.

Much of what I know about change and American history, I learned from my eighth grade English teacher. Together, we read the play 1776, new then on Broadway. (Should you want a review of the origins of the left and the right and what’s changed and what hasn’t, complete with music, it’s a fabulous place to start!)

The bottom line, of course, is the story of an admitedly imperfect batch of farmers and lawyers and silversmiths and wives and mothers and statesmen who came together around things that desperately needed to be changed, despite their fear, and made a new world. Grandmothers, too, I’m sure.

It seems to me, as I go about inventing a gluten-free recipe for fried chicken and stocking up on CBD treats for the dogs, who don’t enjoy fireworks, that we need lots more people who believe in change. Who believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in an even bigger way than our founding mothers and fathers did.

Do you believe in change?

Surely now is the time.

Together, we have amazing power.









Three Tiny Words

The miracle is happening just in this moment! All three of the big, hairy beasties are busy blanketing the worn hardwood floors and snoring gently at my feet. The light in the garden is clear and sparkly. The weeds, after their morning encounter with absolutely organic, heavy-duty vinegar spray, are passing on to a place that will very shortly be known as compost. Peace reigns and it’s great!

Of course, it isn’t always that way. Especially since our latest Newfoundland rescue dog joined the family. We’ve all had lots of learning to do!

Luther arrived just four and a half months ago from a traumatic and developmentally limiting situation with, shall we say, a lot of baggage. Despite the love and care of some awesome foster parents in the couple of weeks before he joined us, when he went through yet another transition to our home he didn’t understand cuddles, or even petting. He didn’t understand treats. He didn’t understand house!

The thing that struck me most, though, was that he had only two options for communication.

The first was to absolutely melt into the floor and try to disappear in the face of anything he perceived as frightening. And everything was frightening at first.

Friends thought he was well-behaved. Actually, he was terrified and experiencing what psychiatrists might refer to as dissociative states.

I cried a lot in those first weeks. And believed, with every fiber of my being, that he would learn to feel safe, perhaps for the first time..

Luther’s second strategy for communication was to bark. Sharply. Loudly. Insistently.

He had no working vocabulary. No mellow Newfie sense of the word, “Wait.” No certainty that I would appear because I always did. And so he barked.

It reminded me of when Dave was new and I was still learning the different baby cries.

There were days when I wanted to run away from home. (Then and now.)

In time, the days decreased but the moments lingered. It seemed that as he melted less often into the floor, he barked all the more incessantly.

And, more often than I would like to admit, I barked back… usually when he was way ready to get out of his crate after meals and I was otherwise engaged.

“Wait just a #@%* minute!”

“Shut the %!*& up!”

Well, you get the point. Not my finest moments. And not at all effective.

Then, one day, I had a thought. Or, rather, one of those magical, mental connections when two things that are true in very distant corners of your brain suddenly discover each other.

Inspired mostly, I think, by the amazing author and teacher, SARK, who helps wannabe writers and real people deal with the voices of their inner critics,  I discovered a new plan.

The next time Luther barked in that particular demanding, nails on the chalkboard tone, I responded, “I hear you.”

Three tiny words.

The energy of our encounter totally shifted.

I felt better.

I could hear the difference in my tone.

And, since changing me was a whole lot more in my control than changing him, I persisted.

You want out of your crate after dinner and you want out immediately, despite the fact that I am, just this moment, in the bathroom.

“I hear you.”

You want to go out NOW, despite the fact that I am in my chair, buried under a laptop, a journal, 62 index cards, a phone and at least two pens.

“I hear you.”

It’s hard to describe the miracle of these three tiny words.

Admittedly, Luther still wants what he wants, when he wants it.

So do I.

We’re working hard, though, on this whole safe and heard thing.

Luther’s working on his communication skills. He’s gotten the hang of enthusiastic tail wagging.

Nudging my hand for a head rub is a new favorite.

And, if you look really closely at his recent portrait, he’s even mastered my Mom’s infamous one eyebrow up, “What are you thinking?” move.

Oh, there are still vocabulary issues.

We’re still working on the notion that “Come” means now and not when he’s in the mood.

“Stay” may take a good while longer.

Not ready for “Down” yet.

We’ve gotten really good at saving dog hair for our weaving auntie.

One of these days, perhaps, we’ll get the hang of face washing!

One of these days.

It’s a wonder, when you think about it, that any of us can communicate at all. I’m beginning to suspect that it really is all about energy and creating reality.

What we can do with three tiny words!




Begin Where You Are

I have an announcement to make. (Help me out here by imagining a bit of a drum roll, please.)

I just discovered that I can now sit cross-legged in my chair!

It’s really ok if you overcome the urge to call whichever news outlet you dislike least these days and just hang out here with me. I realize this is not, on the surface, an athletic feat likely to make the headlines. That works for me.

If you know, however, that I had knee surgery six times in nine years, it gets a little more interesting. If you also know that my back has had a few major unreliable spells through the years, one of which involved an ambulance, you might be starting to sense my excitement. And, if you know that I’ve been learning some new things about food and pain and mobility, you might begin to catch the underlying energy in this announcement.

It’s kind of ironic that I’m noticing this just now, after spending a week trying to suppress/repress/deny the tiniest hint of jealousy sparked by the yoga-on-the-floor crowd I encountered on my recent trip down the Rabbit Hole.

In fact, I spent a portion of my time there (Break time only, of course!) reflecting on the ancient wisdom I heard years ago that suggests that people who consciously lower themselves to the floor once each day, and get back up, will remain flexible throughout their lives.

This is news I quite wish I’d learned when I was my girls’ age and was totally comfortable sitting “Indian-style” on the floor, decades before the saga of the crappy knees began.

That, however, is water under the bridge.

I’ve comforted myself, in more recent years, with some similar wisdom I encountered in my Hypnosis/NLP training. The most flexible person in any system has the most power to get things done.

Try that one more time.

The most flexible person in any system has the most power to get things done.

Or, to put it another way, curiosity is the path out of stuck-ness.

This thought is really encouraging to me and doesn’t involve the floor.

Even better, it works!

Here’s a fun example.

Just in case you ever encounter anyone in your world who might be feeling stuck in an either-or kind of situation, get curious. Wonder with them/you what other options there might be. Keep wondering until a third real option materializes.

Suddenly the dynamics of making that decision are vastly different. No longer are we choosing between right and wrong or good and bad. Instead, we’re choosing the most helpful, appealing option in this moment.

It’s entirely possible that we will learn some new things, having made that choice.

It’s also possible that we’ll have more choices to make in the future. Along with a handy new way of framing those choices.

And, we’ll have a tremendously helpful new thought pattern to share with the kids we love. They learn fast. It has something to do with having less to unlearn first!

Just like learning to get down to the floor and back up every day, the earlier we start looking for flexible options, the better. It doesn’t feel nearly as scary later when we might really need to know.

Which is, when you think about it, getting some pretty big things done!

Today is a great time to start, or as I was reading in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones…Freeing the Writer Within, “Begin where you are.”

I’m beginning by celebrating sitting cross-legged!






What’s on your list?

It’s 5:54 am, EDT on the longest day of the year and I am awake.

Frankly, this has far more to do with things rolling around in my head than it does with an ambition to see the sun rise on the Solstice, in case you were wondering.

I am, nonetheless, here, watching and listening.

We began with what passes for full dark in an urban neighborhood with street lights.

The very first bird chimed in, excited to sing up the sun. A tweet and then about four trilling sort of notes. Again. And again.

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Perspective is everything!

I’ve been overwhelmed this week with flashbacks to Fathers’ Day (and Mothers’ Day) in the years I was serving a local church.

The major expectations.

The stories no one else knew.

The family that lost a son to AIDS.

The folks longing to be parents.

The families going through divorce.

The parents whose kids had huge physical and mental health challenges.

There just aren’t enough Hallmark cards in the world to make all the pain better on days when everything is supposed to be all warm and cozy.

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“There’s no place like home!”

I woke Monday morning faced with packing and a very long day of travel on the way home from the Rabbit Hole. Part of me wished that I had a pair of ruby slippers and could just click my heels three times and be home.

It turned out just as well that these powerful postmodern ruby slippers are still on their way from Fluevog’s magical shoe elves. It seems there was still more for me to learn on the bumpy flight from Portland.

There was considerable turbulence over Idaho and Utah. I was having trouble reading and decided to check out the movies. Once again, I found a movie with a message for me. A Dog’s Purpose.

Of course, I’d read the book by W. Bruce Cameron, but it had been a while. And I had tissues in my jacket pocket so I took a deep breath and pushed play.

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Sue Boardman, Certified Intentional Creativity®
Color of Woman Teacher & Coach