It is the longest night. It is the shortest,
darkest day. Time has to pause while the sun stills,
while the earth waits to draw her next breath, frozen
moment when we imagine nothing can help,
that we’ll be caught in this darkness forever:
and so we light candles, our fragile signals
of need — we carol together, we listen,
we hear fleeting through clouds a whir of white wing,
hear deep down under the hard black shell of soil,
in some burrow’s cozy corridor, the brown-
furred creature of our future turn in her sleep.
- Ann Silsbee
- What unshakeable commitments in your world are seemingly irreconcilable?
- What quality in you does each of the commitments require? How does this commitment further your development?
- What possibilities emerge when you are able to see navigating the system of competing commitments as a developmental opportunity?
Some of you know that my dear wife of 25 years, Walker, has developed a rare neurological condition, supposedly incurable (though we are not buying that story!) Her condition limits her energy, creativity, and capacity for life. And, it requires daily treatment, research, and communication with practitioners. This challenge has become a centerpiece of both of our lives.
My role as care-giver has taken more and more time and energy over the past few months, and I am not proud to admit that I struggle with resentment, anger and depression. I find myself living in a complex system of competing commitments.
Last night was a rough night. I woke up at 4AM to find Walker panicking and sobbing in bed, trying not to disturb me. I’ve always been good in emergencies, and in nightmare moments, I rise to the occasion. My commitment is clear, and I know what to do and how to be there.
However, more often, this doesn’t show up as an immediate crisis. Rather, it’s a long slog with a constant requirement for energy, attention, and money. The predominant story I weave in my mind is about a trajectory of diminishing energy, optimism, and possibility for both of us. In an environment characterized by constriction and limitation, my conditioned tendency is to rebel, as I always have. My attachments to the particular future I’ve seen for myself around travel, freedom, meaningful engagement, and contribution are threatened, and therefore intensify. The Ideal, as always, meets the Actual.
And, I can feel caught between my clear commitment to care for my beloved and best friend, and what feels like a survival instinct to care for myself.
The dual commitments of caring for her, and living the life I envision for myself, are not, of course, as mutually exclusive as my internal narrative makes them out to be. My story about the situation creates more suffering than the situation itself! However, navigating this system of competing commitments is a very challenging piece of work for me, and requires rigor, self-awareness, and letting go of attachments. In all of these, I am a babe in the woods. And I see that this is what is in front of me to do. This landscape provides my personal Curriculum. Through the way I respond and navigate it, I define who I will become.
The shape of this, while deeply personal to me, is also similar to what most of us face in some way. Caring for aging parents or toddlers, serving the organizations we work for, and a myriad of professional or community commitments seem to repeatedly trump self-care and personal desires.
It is a time of increasing complexity, in which the very commitments that we make in the world both shape who we are and shape the world itself. Learning to first see, and then to navigate, our own systems of competing commitments is at the very edge of our development as humans.
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For those of us involved in human development, it is important to recognize and honor the teachers and teachings that have shaped us. In so doing, we come to understand and honor the nature of the shaping itself.
In 57 years of living, I’ve had the good fortune to learn from gifted teachers in many domains. From each, something unique and of considerable value has been passed down, and has become part of who I am.
Recently, I taught my Presence-Based Coaching Course in Banff, Alberta. My father, Bob, spent several childhood summers there, hiking, climbing, and growing a lifelong love of mountains and wild places. He joined me in Banff in October, and we spent several days together after my retreat to visit places that he first visited 70 years ago!
Doug & Bob at Moraine Lake, Banff
(click photo to view slide show)
It was deeply moving for me to visit Moraine Lake with Bob, and to know that he and my grandparents stood on the same rock pile looking across the azure lake at the same rugged range. Watching the movement of emotion and memory play across his face, I had a strong, palpable sense of timelessness and connection to his history, and therefore to my own.
Bob has shaped who I am in many ways. He is the consummate teacher, and a keen observer. As a child, he opened the world to me. Intriguing me with unanswerable questions that piqued an insatiable curiosity about how the world works, he cultivated my sense of wonder and mystery. His physicist’s instincts for teasing apart the nature of reality show up directly in my own efforts to tease apart the nature of the coaching process, and my personal quest to understand how humans develop. His love of travel and mountains directly inspired my own global adventures and wilderness experiences, and gave me the sense that I could do anything. And, his gentleness and caring show up in my own way of being.
Recognizing my father in me is rich, and I’m deeply appreciative to name him front and center in my lineage of teachers and mentors. It was particularly meaningful, for me and for him, to have Bob join the Banff retreat on the last morning. We both could see how what he offered me has become integrated with what I learned from others, and now is expressed in ways that neither of us could ever have imagined.
It is for all of us to take what our teachers, coaches, mentors, and parents have taught us, and to integrate it into our own unique offer in the world. And, it is good to be grateful in the process of doing so.
- Who, in your lineage, has influenced you, and is now showing up through you?
- For whose presence in your lineage are you grateful?
- How might you express this gratitude to others in a way that honors lineage itself?
In the advanced coaching course I teach, we orient the coaching relationship within the context of a lifelong process of human development. We see coaching as a relationship that inexorably leads us into deeper and deeper relationship with ourselves, with others, and with the larger whole that surrounds us, supporting our very existence.
I am experiencing this evolution within myself. After many years of a relatively narrow focus on earning a living, my work has grown into a rich practice that includes teaching, coaching, and writing. For me, this is much deeper, more creative, and more satisfying. From the feedback I get, this work is making a great difference in the lives of many.
I had to pass through the previous stage to get to this one. And, I'm staying present as I listen to an emerging calling around contribution, and a commitment to extending this work to social change and environmental leaders. I, and my work, will not be the same in five years as it is now.
In short, my own experience of my developmental/evolutionary journey is, in microcosm, the journey that we are all on. When we pay attention to ourselves, when we are in a committed practice of self-cultivation and of waking up, there is an underlying directionality to our development. We touch into the impulse towards a larger and more inclusive circle of care. And, in the commitments that we embody and through every action that we take, an increasingly universal set of concerns is addressed.
Furthering this evolutionary process, CTI is organizing a fascinating Summit. This event will bring together a large group of people to engage around accelerating the development of our culture to a distinct new stage which recognizes the whole of the earth as a system within which we act interdependently. This is radically distinct from the culturally progressive stance, in which many of us reside, of creative engagement with the world in order to bring forward our own unique offer. I suggest that this emerging new stage is, in fact, critical in meeting the challenges in front of us.
I invite you to visit theto review the interesting "pathways" that are on the table for this event. Please have a look at my contribution (#19,) and shape the agenda by voting for the ones that are the most compelling to you. I hope to see you there.
And, of course, please forward this message to others who might be interested.
Meanwhile, ask yourself:
- What are you doing, daily, that wakes you up, over and over?
- What bold commitment are you considering that would change the game for you?
- And, how are you acting consistently (or not?) with what you most care about?