Man’s (and Woman’s) best friend

 

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What is it about dogs that makes them so absolutely wonderful??

Is it the unconditional love? All the ways that they think you are the best person in the world?

Is it how they look at you, with a smile in their eyes and an open and eager heart?

Is it because they are just so present and are experts at living in the moment?

I am over here in Brisbane (I live in Perth) and am staying with my gorgeous friend and her family who, since my last visit, have a new dog! I am pumped! Billy Dog is a Scmoodle (aka super cute) and has the most infectious and joyful energy.

Today is her birthday so I am writing this blog to celebrate her special day and to express my deep love for dogs and all they give us. I have always had dogs in my life and when I reflect over each and every one of them, they have all taught me so much.

Children who get the opportunity to grow up with dogs, I think, get a whole different perspective on life. Not only because they are able to practice those soft skills like responsibility, discipline and caring for another being. They also get exposed to unconditional love of the animal variety, playfulness, friendship, loyalty and often tolerance, acceptance and forgiveness as well. Dogs are so great at teaching those qualities without even knowing they are doing it.

Growing up, we had two Blue Heelers (also known as Australian Cattle Dogs) and one Jack Russell. The Blueys were called Rosebud and Violet and the Jack Russell was Daisy. Yep, we named them in accordance with a flower theme.

The Blueys were tough. I grew up on 20 acres next to government catchment land and the Girls were always out there looking for stuff to chase, bring down or hunt. There was many a morning when we found an animal or part there-of on the doorstep. They would be so proud for having brought a gift home, and they sure were confused when I would open the door to half a dead kangaroo and start yelling like a banshee!

Mum often sent us off into the valley to play for the day with a packed lunch and the dogs. She knew that we would be 100% safe because the dogs would know how to bring us home if we got lost and they would never let anyone hurt us due to their protective nature.

Rosebud and Violet taught me to be an adventurer, to be in the moment and to love unconditionally and loyally. They always forgave me when I didn’t pay them attention or forgot to feed them or just didn’t care about them because I was thinking about me. They were always about the love.

They would always be by my side if I was sick, they let me dress them up, and they were always ready to play with me if I wanted that.

Those dogs really did make my childhood so memorable. I have always seen pets as family members and I am so grateful that I had so many siblings over the years.

Dogs rock.

 

Empathy

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I love books and am always on the lookout for a new one.

This last couple of weeks, I have been reading a book called Empathy by Roman Krznaric, an English philosopher. It was recommended to me by a guy called Ben who I met on a tour in Langkawi last year. Ben and his new wife September were on their honeymoon and we were chatting over lunch about all sorts of different things.

Ben was telling me about his visit to the Empathy Museum in London and what a profound experience it had been. I was fascinated! At the Empathy Museum, the visitors are able to experience different peoples’ lives by literally standing in their shoes while reading their stories. The exhibition is called “A Mile In My Shoes”. The purpose is to help develop their ability to be empathetic. It is all about seeing the world from another person’s point of view and to feel their experience of the world – “feel“ being the key word here.

Thoughts and beliefs around empathy have certainly had some huge shifts over the last few decades. For a long time it was believed that humans were primarily self-centred, self-focused beings.

In the 17th century, English Philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote about how, if we were left ungoverned it would be a “warre of all against all”. In his book Leviathan he concludes that we are inherently self-seeking and violent creatures who need an authoritarian government to keep us in check. Wow!!

As we move through the centuries, Hobbes’ ideas were supported and built on by the likes of Adam Smith, Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud. This view of us being selfish and aggressive is all a bit depressing really!

Astonishingly enough though, Smith and Darwin couldn’t ignore the fact that we really are social animals and the theme of their work did start to shift over time to acknowledge that.

By the early 20th century, as psychology was becoming an established science, empathy started to get the attention it deserved. More and more research was conducted and the data was very conclusive: we do have an empathetic side, some of us more than others.

What I have been most enjoying about this book though, is the techniques that help us develop more empathy. From what I have read, when each person has a well-developed sense of empathy, the world has to, by default, become a better, kinder and more peaceful place. We simply wouldn’t harm each other, animals or the environment in the way we currently do if we had a deep sense of empathy. That being said, we are coming along in leaps and bounds.

So how do we develop our empathy? Well, the book is full of all sorts of different habits that we can develop to become more empathetic – six habits to be exact. There was one idea that so inspired me that I wanted to share it in a blog, it’s called “experiential empathy”.

Experiential empathy is where we literally take on the life and activities of someone else. One of the more famous examples of this was documented in a book called Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. He documented his experience of spending six weeks in the Southern American States as a black man in 1959. He dyed his skin using black pigment and then went out into the world to experience it from the point of view of an African American in a very racially prejudiced time.

It was tough to say the least!! Segregation was still alive and well. He was spoken to poorly, people continually looked over him or through him, he was yelled at for no apparent reason, and generally treated badly. This was something that was very unfamiliar to him – being a white male – and it made the experiment even more powerful and shocking.

This is an extreme example of experiential empathy and there are many other examples. Gunter Wallraff, a German investigative journalist, spent two years posing as an immigrant worker doing low paid jobs and experiencing the conditions that these workers were subject to. This experience lead him to write a book (which sold two million copies) and the profits went to legal aid for these workers. Two American born men, Tushnar Vashisht and Matthew Cherian, who were highly affluent and university educated, returned to their native India and lived off $2 a day for three weeks to experience what poverty felt like.

For many of us, to be a part of an experiment like this might be a bit too challenging but we can have our own, more simple experiential empathy experience. It is as easy as halving your weekly food shopping bill to see what it would be like for a family with less money than you.

It could mean doing a “God Swap”: if you are Christian, go to a mosque and sit with people who follow Islam. If you are Muslim, go to a Catholic church to see what it’s like to be Catholic for a day. If you are a rampant meat lover, be vegetarian for a week. If you never worry about money, go and sit on the street with a tin in front of you and see the world from the point of view of a homeless person. If you work Monday to Friday and your partner stays at home, take their role for a week and see what it’s like to walk in their shoes.

The purpose of doing this as I said earlier is to grow our empathetic side. Empathy CAN be learnt, yet like any learnt behaviour, there has to be practice.

The Gift of Receiving

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I am blessed to have some wildly generous people in my world and I consider myself a very generous spirit too.  I have always believed that sharing is caring and I have often evaluated people by whether they are predominantly givers or predominantly takers. I do believe it speaks of a person’s character.

Through my giving nature, I have certainly attracted takers in to my life.  One of my favourite sayings is “Givers need to know when to stop giving, because takers don’t know when to stop taking”.  This is certainly true!  Its the ying and the yang of life.

A challenge that givers come across is that often the line is blurry around when do they stop giving.  Because this is such  firm part of their identity, the realisation they are being used can often come a little late.

The other challenge that I have noticed both in myself and other givers is that when we identify with being a giver, we can struggle to receive.

This is a grave travesty!

About ten years ago, someone who I greatly admire called me on the fact that I was not very good at receiving, whether it be a compliment or an act of service.  I didn’t like this very much but because they are a mentor of mine I sat with the feedback I had one of the greatest epiphanies of my life.

I was stealing an opportunity of pleasure off someone else.

Every time I rejected a gift of generosity, kindness, something material or an act of service, I was denying the person who was giving the enjoyment of being the giver.

I was crushing their desire to feel that “giving” feeling, the same feeling that I thrive on and love to experience myself. When I looked at the situation from this new angle, I realised just how selfish I was being.

The conflict that came up in me was huge.  I mean how could I be a giver AND be selfish, it just didn’t make sense to me?  Humans will do more to remain congruent with their identity than anything else so here I was having an identity crisis.

As I moved forward with this new realisation, I noticed more and more how much pleasure other people got when they gave and the other person received.  I really hadn’t seen both sides of this picture so clearly before, I finally had a more holistic view. I watched the dance of giving and receiving like it was a beautiful ballet and more importantly, joined in.

Giving and receiving is equally important.

As I much as I still get more pleasure from giving than receiving, I appreciate the pleasure I allow someone else to experience when I receive from them.

So in my receiving I still get to be a giver, how special is that!

 

Life is a journey, not a destination…..

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Today I was chatting with two beautiful ladies I work with and the conversation turned to the topic of “life is a journey, not a destination”.  One of the ladies was sharing her experiences on achievement and how, once she achieves whatever her goal is, only then is she allowed to enjoy the fruits of her labour (or the fruits of her experience).  That belief really challenged me for several different reasons. Mostly, because the enjoyment of the process is all determined by the outcome.  Being in the now is not enough because the goal has not yet been realised. Don’t smell the roses, just keep on marching through, we are not there YET!

So what happens when the goal, for whatever reason, is not realised? Does that mean the process of going after the goal can no longer hold any joy or celebration?

I notice more and more that our world is obsessed with right and wrong and good and bad. I absolutely appreciate the power of contrast, yet so often we use it against ourselves. It is treated as a weapon to destroy our enjoyment in the NOW.  If there is “right”, well here must be “wrong”.

“If I don’t get the outcome I want, well this all has been a waste of time and energy”, “It was meant to go this way but it didn’t so I won’t celebrate the journey of getting to here even though I may have learnt a lot”

Why are we so focused on finishing the race when we are smack bang in the middle of it?

Life is in the learning and if we continually pass the learning by because we are so focussed on the outcome, well, it is a huge injustice to ourselves and our creator.  The danger of living a destination orientated life is that we only allow ourselves to celebrate our achievements once we have achieved them.  We are wrong until we have arrived at right.

“Until I am living in the beautiful house, I am not really a success”, “Until, I have $200,000 in the bank, I am not really secure.”

I got to call it, it’s total and utter bullshit!

Imagine how different life could be if you woke up, ate a great breakfast, kissed your partner and kids and then announced that you are a success.  I mean you are breathing, healthy, connected to others and have food on your table.  That automatically puts you in the top percentages of people on the planet. Imagine how different life could be if you royally stuffed up the business deal and because of that, learnt something that you never would have come across any other way and were able to turn that into a deal that is 10 times bigger than anything you could have previously imagined?  What if each day you focussed on the journey of your life with total appreciation,  that you are right where you should be?

When I think of people who go on these amazing treks over months at a time, they talk about the moments along the way so much more than the moment they finished the journey.  The moment of finishing is so, so sweet because of the preciousness of all those hours, days and weeks that have gone into getting them there.

The Now is where it’s at, enjoy the journey……

 

Don’t cheat yourself (or the world), you are Powerful!

 

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This last week I have had four conversations with people who truly believe that they have no power, that they are unable to effect change in their life or anyone else’s.  Collectively, the message was “I have no control over my life, I am powerless to do anything about it”, “I can’t change the world, I am just some small speck on the planet, there really is nothing I can do”, and  lastly “Well, the Earth is ruined anyway so what’s the point of me doing things any differently”.

This is such an ineffective story to have, plus its total BS!! Every single one of us is powerful.  The decision lies in whether or not we want to step into that power. Do I want to live from an empowered place where I trust that I can make a difference or do I want to live from a disempowered place where I believe I have no ability to influence myself or others?

I remember my Dad telling me a story when I was in my teenager years.  It is the story of the starfish on the beach.  There is a man walking along the beach and the beach is covered in starfish.  They have all been washed up on to the shore and now are going to die because they are out of the water.  The man, as he is walking along, is picking the starfish up and throwing them back into the ocean.  Another man is walking along the beach in the opposite direction and he says to the guy picking up the starfish, “Mate, don’t even bother throwing them back in, there are just to many of them to make a difference”.

The man who is picking up the starfish casually throws another one back into the ocean and turns to the other person and say “Well, it made a difference to that one”

I love this story because it illustrates so beautifully that making a difference doesn’t have to be saving the planet (or ourselves) in one foul swoop, its doing lots of little things that empower not only us but the world around us. For each and every starfish that got thrown back into the ocean, he made a difference. For each and every starfish, that man got to experience the pleasure of his own empowerment as he helped something outside of himself.

I get that we sometimes feel so small in the face of some of the challenges that we have on earth right now but remember, as a family, community, city, country  we become VERY powerful, especially as we banned together.  Imagine if all those people who have effected amazing change, had the same belief as those people I have spoken to this week.  India would still be controlled by the British, Apartheid would still be alive and well in South Africa, women would still not be voting and the hole in the Ozone layer would be ginormous by now.

So the question is, how do we as individuals express our power?  Well, we speak up, we have opinions, we have conversations, we say no or we say yes, we ask, we get curious and we continue to educate ourselves about what ever it is that we feel passionate about.

Every time we go to the shops and open our wallet we are telling industry what we like and don’t like.  Twenty five years ago there were no organic sections (in my memory) in the major supermarkets, if you were Vegan you were a freak and now there are cafes that only serve coffee with non diary milk, recycling was a novelty, animal testing was rife and and products didn’t have to be labelled to state whether it had occurred or not.  Recently, the Australian government conducted a survey on Animal testing with the view of changing the laws to match the will of the people.

So really, when you think about it, we have already come a long way.  I firmly believe that we have come a long way because of people like you, me and the four people I spoke to during the week (they just don’t realise it). We are creating the world we live in, whether we do it consciously or not, so lets do it consciously and be really POWERFUL.

Ducks in a Row

 

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Do you ever have those days where you wander around with a thousand things to do but don’t really seem to achieve much at all? This morning, I was doing that.  My ducks were not in a row, in fact I couldn’t even find my ducks and because of that I struggled to take any action.

I remember a great story that one of my coaching teachers Joe, shared with me years ago.  He is a runner and he had been at the park running that morning.

It was spring time and the mother ducks were surrounded by their ducklings.  He was running along the path beside the lake and up ahead he noticed that a mother duck with eight ducklings had turned away from the trees to head back into the lake.

Almost instantly, all her ducklings realised she was leaving and fell into line behind her.  The ducklings were waddling quickly to match her adult step. They followed her into the water to ensure they stayed close, no questions asked, no rebutting about wanting to stay in the trees, just total compliance. Mum takes action and the ducklings follow.

Imagine if mother duck said to all her babies, “Right, I want us all back in the lake so you guys need to get in a nice straight line and then we can get going”, how do you think that would go? Eight baby ducks with very short attention spans in a straight line, yeah, that would take some work.

The epiphany moment for Joe was the realisation that our ducks don’t have to actually be lined up for there to be action.  If Mother duck makes the move, if some form of action is taken, then the ducklings fall into line and start moving.

Its not about having our ducks in a row, its about taking action!

As we take action, any action, there is movement.  Once we have some movement, there is now possibility for momentum.  Once momentum starts we are getting stuff done (GSD, a favourite acronym of mine) and then the results/outcomes/goals are realised.

It is really so simple yet I often forget in pursuit of wanting to get it right or maybe that’s not wanting to get it wrong.  So my commitment to myself from here on in is take action, any action and the ducks will appear in a row behind me 🙂

 

 

The Power of Small things

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Yesterday I was at the dog park with my niece, Tessa.  We were taking Daisy for a walk.  Daisy is the cutest cavoodle in the world and I have the honour of looking after her for a couple of weeks while her parents are overseas.

It was the most wonderful outing.

Its autumn here in Perth and the sun is warm at this time of year yet without the harshness of the summer sun.  It is like sitting in front of a heater that is at the perfect temperature.  The sky was bright blue, there wasn’t a cloud to be seen and the air was fresh and clean.

The park is surrounded by big, tall white gums and gum trees and the wind that was blowing gently through them making them rustle happily.

Tess and I were throwing the ball for Daisy and geez, that is total joy on steroids for any ball loving dog!  She ran and chased, fetched and returned over and over again.  The most magnificent part of all the ball throwing for me was her smile, pure happiness and joy.  That dog did not think about anything else except where that ball was and how quickly she could get to it. She galloped, she tripped herself up and she ran with total abandon.  It truly was soul food for her and even more so for Tess and I who watched and enjoyed it so richly.

There is a small seating stand at the park and Tess, who sees herself as an aspiring actress, wanted us to use it as a prop and do some acting.  She went first, pretending to be a cheerleader for the Hawthorn Football Club (her favourite team in the WORLD).  I swiftly followed her up by pretending to be the Queen going past in a royal carriage and waving to her subjects. It felt weird at first but I could see how much fun Tess was having so I just let go and went with it.  It was really quite magical by the end and we had laughed A LOT!

I took my sneakers off as we continued around the park and we ran barefoot over the soft, green grass.  It is long and lush at the moment and it felt amazing on my feet.  After several more laps around the grass area we decided it was time to head home.  Daisy Dog was pooped and we had important matters to attend to, like making hot chocolate and working on the playlist for our next family holiday.

As I reflected on my day last night and I thought about all I was grateful for, I realised that the day had been full of small things. Small things of love, small things of joy, small things of happiness.

There is such an abundance of beauty in our day but often because those things are small, we miss them or we are moving too fast to even appreciate them.

Life really is about the small things.

Syria

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Last night I saw footage of something so deeply disturbing that I am unable to shake it from my thoughts.  I thought maybe if I wrote how I was feeling down, I might be able to make a little bit of peace with it as well as clearly saying to the world, I am NOT okay with this. It was the footage from the Syrian town, Khan Sheikhoun which experienced the devastating chemical attacks on Tuesday.

Watching those young children (and adults) convulse like they had been sprayed with a can of Mortein was nothing short of horrific.  I am truly astounded that on the planet, right now, we still so easily and effortlessly destroy peoples lives, homes, villages and countries.  What the fuck is going on with humanity?

I truly hope that this footage awakens something in all of us to stand up and have a voice that this is not acceptable.  This is not okay in the world we live in today.  All the associated parties are blaming each other and making up what appears to be lies about who is to blame and what should be done.

All I keep coming back to is how does this happen? The thought that a group of people have sat around and discussed chemical warfare as an option and then actually CHOOSE to do this to these people is mind blowing.  I am sure they themselves,  must have wives or husbands, children and elderly parents.  Clearly that does not help them to connect to what they are doing to these people! It does not invoke any sense of compassion or humanity.

It makes me think of the Buddhist monks, who live by the Five Precepts of Buddhist morality.  The first precept is to avoid killing or harming any living being.

When I think of the spectrum of life, at one end we have the Buddhist monks who kill nothing and the other end we have the people who decided to use chemical warfare on innocent people for pursuit of what ever it is that they wanted.  In the middle of that spectrum lives the rest of us.  When I think of it like a seesaw, I really hope that the Buddhist end of the seesaw starts to get more loaded up, that people feel inspired to condemn the violence that is happening in our world right now,  to have a voice and to demand that our governments step in and help these poor people.

I am deeply saddened by all that is going on in Syria and the other parts of the world where people (and animals) are being treated so horrifically.  We need to stand together.

 

Break that board, WOOP, WOOP!

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I have recently introduced a new practice into my coaching and I am loving it!!

Board breaking

Yep, just you, your hand and a big chunk of solid wood! How rockstar is that??

I have now completed about ten board breaks and it has been amazing to see how my clients step into this place of such profound power after they have broken the board.  They see themselves as capable of anything as they hold the broken wood in their hands, they see infinite possibility and most importantly they bask in that empowered feeling of accomplishment and often, shock that they nailed it so effortlessly.

Hmm, so effortlessly.  How come when we are supported, coached and have someone who TOTALLY believes in us can we kung fu through a piece of wood and own it like gangsta would.  It really highlights to me how much we buy into our own crap, our own limitations.

I don’t write this from the place of me having it all figure out, hell no!  I am just as susceptible to that self doubt and thinking small as the next person.  The difference is, I have created enough references in my life, board breaking, walking on hot coals, walking on broken glass, diving with sharks, speaking in front of 180 people and many other things which have allowed me to feel very scared and yet I did them. I created evidence that I am powerful (and they didn’t all work out prettily either!!)

I have collected all these memories and have filed them in, “When I need to be reminded that I am a ROCKSTAR”.  I use these moments in my memories to remind myself that I can do anything I want, I really am unstoppable if I get out of my own way.  I just have to focus on what supports me as opposed to what keeps me in self doubt.

It’s fascinating how once we start to lose our way or our confidence gets knocked, we decide to do less, play smaller, play safer.  We take less risks and we don’t put ourselves out there “just in case”.  Yet by doing this, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.  We just keep spiralling down to smallness collecting more and more evidence along the way.

So I want to challenge you, this week do one thing that stretches you. Do the one thing that you have really been wanting to do but have been putting off because you are focusing on your fear instead of your greatness.

Sign up for a course that you have been looking at but not committing to because it might be a bit tough, do that activity that you are a bit scared of doing but know will make your heart sing once completed or even just make the phone call that you have been putting off and get it done.  If you are truly stuck around this, you simply won’t do that thing, get yourself a champion, someone who backs you with such certainty that you will learn to back yourself in the same way.

A key part to this process, once you have completed the thing, is to CELEBRATE!!  Go wild, jump around and acknowledge yourself, you deserve it!  Then file that new bad boy memory in your own “ROCKSTAR” file and pull it out whenever you need it.

 

 

A Man in a Cave….

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There was once a man in a cave, he was in pain and felt alone. He felt that no one truly understood what he was going through, he felt overwhelmed by all that he had to face out there in the world. He questioned the decisions he had made in the past and felt very unsure about making any decisions for the future. Life hadn’t gone how he thought it would and sometimes the only place that he felt safe was back in his cave.

His cave, even though it was dark and sometimes lonely provided him with solace and the time, the space, the quiet, that he needed to think through all that was going on. He often felt guilty wanting to spend time in his cave because there were people who wanted him out in their world, pulling him back when it really wasn’t what he wanted or needed at that moment.

The thing about this man, was he was very wise, he was smart and intelligent and he knew what he needed to nourish himself in times of difficulty and sometimes that was time in his cave. He was brave to ask for it and even braver to just take it when he knew it was a must, something he had to do for himself.

Now his cave certainly provided him with safety and comfort and it definitely gave him the space he craved but in those times of being on his own, focusing on his problems, feeling his pain, he would often forget about the things outside his cave that bought him joy. In all the darkness, he could easily forget about the light, the sun rising, the warmth on his face, the trees moving in the wind and other simple pleasures that nourished him deeply just outside his cave.

At the door of this man’s cave sat a woman. This woman loved him very much. She wanted the best for him, she wanted him to see himself how she saw him. She was a very kind woman, full of love and gratitude and eventually patience. She realised that if she was to truly love this man in the way that he needed she would go on living her life yet every day return to the door of her beloved’s cave just in case today was the day he felt ready to come back to the world.

Each day, when this woman went to sleep, she said a prayer for the man in the cave. She prayed for him to find peace in his life, she prayed for him to feel the love of the people around him and she prayed that he would find the courage to do and be whoever he needed to be to be truly happy again.

Loving another in the way they wanted to be loved can sometimes be challenging.  Loving ourselves first, before we love another, is the path to true fulfilment, because as we sacrifice ourselves, we sacrifice the quality of the love we are able to give.