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Gates of Speech in the 21st Century

Social media has transformed our communities and our communication landscape. Now more than ever, we are connected with so many individuals all over the world. Communicating instantaneously. Sharing our thoughts as soon as they arise. Sometimes our words are kind and supportive, other times, we struggle to find the right words. And, at times, our interactions can be less than nice. How many of you have been on the receiving end of hate or anger filled speech? It has happened to me on occasion.
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Confidence: “It’s about being the little engine — I think I can”

“It isn’t about winning or being the best. It’s about being the little engine — I think I can”.

After reading The Confidence Code, by Katty Kat & Claire Shipman, I’ve come to realize even more how important it is to have a regular meditation practice and to include self-compassion in the mix more often. Read more

Until We Meet Again

Until We Meet Again…

Postponing an adventure while in the midst of the journey can be a decision fraught with uncertainty. Recently, a client and I arrived at the mutual conclusion that it wasn’t the right time for their organization to continue their journey. It was a difficult decision to make, but the organization is going through a major transition and the team members are struggling with the changes.

As a Sherpa, I sensed something was going on, but couldn’t put my finger on it. The “somethings” included:

  • Removing individuals from the journey
  • Lack of response via email and phone
  • Lack of knowledge within the organization regarding the activities of each other
  • Failure to complete practice to be done between treks
  • Cancelling scheduled meetings
Back in my controlling days, I would have been quite upset at this disruption of my life. And to be frank, I got a little angry when I didn’t receive a call or email cancelling a meeting.

But very soon I realized that that everyone in the organization was undergoing something very challenging and tough – the dreaded “R” word: Reorganization. My Sherpa-sense was tingling as I intuited that things might get challenging. So, I began to prepare myself mentally for the unknown that lay ahead.

As a Sherpa, my job is to help the journey continue, even when it is stalled. I reminded them to contact me to reschedule meetings when needed. I encouraged them to work on their internal issues before seeing me, so that they could better communicate with each other as well as with me. And above all, I tried to help them deal with the changes they were experiencing as we continued to build the database.

Yet with all my encouragement, accommodation and support, an overwhelming sense of dread permeated every conversation. So at the start of our last trek, I let them talk about their progress – and everyone reported that they were behind. Very, very behind. I even heard, “I’m so behind that I don’t even want to think about it. I haven’t done anything with this project.” That was my cue to gently guide them away from this journey for the time being and let them work out their internal changes.

So, while each expressed that they felt torn, and their collective belief that the database they were creating would relieve the pressure they were feeling, they also realized that they didn’t have the time or energy to devote to the journey. As we talked, we came to a collective understanding that although they are eager to learn and grow, it would be best to put the journey on hold for a few months.

At the end of our conversation, I sensed a collective sign of relief, like an out breath after you’ve been holding your breath for a while. It made my heart lighter. The journey hasn’t been cancelled, merely rescheduled.
Relaxing your grasp

Relaxing Our Grasp

I’ve been reading Pema Chödrön book, “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”. This short little book has really opened my eyes to so much, and I am very grateful that someone decided to turn Pema’s lectures into this wonderful and amazing book.

It’s not an easy read, nor it is full of rainbows and happy clouds. Life isn’t always full of rainbows and happy clouds; sometimes it really sucks. But, how we handle that “sucky-ness” — how we react “when things fall apart” is what this book is all about.

So, how can one use pain and sadness to cultivate a better life? It’s something of a mystery, but Pema writes about ‘grasping for the ground beneath you’. I remember learning about ‘grasping’ at the Buddhist Geek conference and from my favorite speaker, Martine Batchelor, who spoke of grasping too, and while reading this book, that word appeared again and again. Grasping.

Sitting with grasping I often see the ego — the ego is what helps us to grasp. Whether we’re grasping at a material object, a vision of the future, our relationships, or whatever, we grasp because we want circumstances to be in our favor. We want our lives to be a perfect present with a bow on top. But, hello — reality! — life isn’t that easy.

I do want to share a story from it; a story about Pema’s teacher and a course he created. I am not going to get into all the details, but the story reminded me of the hardware and software “cloud” we’re now living in and the resulting world of impermanence. Things are changing so quickly we barely catch our breath before something new is on the horizon. (I think that grasping plays a huge role in our stress levels related to the impermanent world we live in today.)

But, back to the story. So, Pema’s teacher had students learn and memorize a chant. After the students had learned it, he’d change it. He’d do the same things with rituals, which were very specific. Some students would learn quickly and help those students who didn’t learn as fast. Then when all had it memorized, the teacher would change it once again. He did this for YEARS. Not a few weeks or a few months, but for YEARS. And, what Pema wrote struck me: “After years of this sort of training, one begins to relax one’s grip. The idea of one right way sort of dissolves into the mist.” Wow, that’s very profound and powerful. The ideas of one right way… goes away. As, there is no right way. There is just a way.

As a Sherpa, I try to instill in my clients this sense of change and impermanence. That while this database is what you need today, tomorrow it might need to change. Heck, even during our treks you might need to change. And, that’s okay… there is nothing wrong with that. It’s the way of the world and as a Sherpa, it’s my job and responsibility to take that journey with you. On a groundless road to an unknown place. One that will be defined and redefined over time. With a road that is constantly changing.

I’m not saying this impermanence is easy or always fun. We won’t be hugging each other every day, but we will greet each other with respect, compassion and kindness. We will work together on the path we lay out together. We may yell, get frustrated and throw things at the computer, but, in the end, we will be better for this journey we have taken.


tech devices


April, my wonderful Mindfulness coach, suggested I read “Wisdom 2.0“. It’s funny, because while I was going in the marketing work with DVQ Studio, Emily, my other wisdom coach, suggested that I attend the Wisdom 2.0 conference. So, when I hear things more than once, I think that the universe is trying to tell me something.

I’m still in the midst of reading this short book (which is jam packed with great ideas and suggestions), but I wanted to share my thoughts with you on what I’ve read and learned thus far.

Fact: Technology is here to stay. For better or worse, the Internet, computers, cell phones, tablet computers, etc., are not going away. According to the author (and in my own opinion) that in itself isn’t the problem. The challenge is to be more mindful when interacting with it. (Who among us hasn’t lost track of time playing a game online, on the computer, or on a phone?)

Here are my technology-mindlessness confessions. One recent, and the other several years ago.

Remember The Sims (pre-online game)? I was a Sims junkie. I played for HOURS, getting my Sims to be happy and keeping them on track for their jobs (insert irony), etc. When I played, I was oblivious to everything else: my physical upkeep, my friends, and my family. Sims players know you can tell a Sims’ mood by the color of the gauge above their head. I began looking for color indicators above the heads of actual people! I began to fantasize that I could change my friends’ and family’s behavior with a mouse click, just like the Sims.

Somehow my brain had melded my real world and my virtual world—and that scared me. I thought of gaming tools when I had to find a real-world solution to a situation. It was remarkable—and also crazy.

Like a smoker who finally acknowledges cigarettes are an addiction, I knew I had a Sims problem. And I knew I couldn’t quit cold turkey. I had to wean myself off, so I began to play with in a very mindful way. My brain knew what it was going to do before I began to play. I would say out loud to David, “I am going to go play The Sims now. I’ll catch you for dinner in about an hour.” To which he would reply, “Ok, we’ll see!” Then, I would go play with a timer set for one hour.

Before my mindfulness, when I started to get too caught up in the game, I noticed my breath slowed down a lot … nearly stopping at times. My shoulders would hunch over and I’d almost meld with my computer.

After mindfulness, if I sensed the melding point was imminent, I’d look away from the computer and gaze at a picture or an object on my desk. Then I’d take a deep breath and resume the game.

Mindful play allowed me to hear the alarm. (Yes, it took multiple trials before I could actually hear the alarm and walk away.) Sometimes I’d leave for an hour and then come back to see what my Sims had done in my absence (there was an auto-play session), and I’d feel compelled to “fix” all the problems that came up for my Sims. But, one day, I found myself coming back less and less. Reality became more and more interesting. While I still wished people walked around with a gauge over their heads, I began to notice that it bugged me more that my Sims were so easy to manipulate. That knowing their moods from a gauge wasn’t nearly as fun as seeing the expression on a person’s face (although, when a Sim gets really upset, it shows on their face). Or hearing a sentence in English rather than Sim language (it was a strange language).

All this to say that while the game was fun; real life was really more fun and more compelling. And, I haven’t played Sims once in 2012.

My second story is much more recent. I’ve begun to take walks after I drop Zola off at school. It’s a way for me to connect with myself and, in a sense, reboot my morning.

The other day while walking, I was entirely attached to my cell phone. Sending text. Writing emails. Updating and reading Facebook. For about half my walk, I was entirely in my phone. Not aware of anything but the sidewalk underneath my phone. I noticed my pace began to get slower, my breath began to get faster, my body began to feel less and less attached to my head and my eyes felt funny (like they were attached to someone else). It’s like I wasn’t me at that moment. I stopped, looked away from the phone. I slowly placed it back into my pocket and began to mindfully walk.

I began with a slow pace, staring down at the ground that seemed to be moving. Then, I looked up to the beautiful blue sky, which also looked to be moving. You know how it feels when you’ve been on a long train or boat ride? Well, that’s how I felt—very disconnected to the world around me. Really, the same feeling I had with the Sims game, only it wasn’t about clicking people, it was about the environment that surrounded me.

After about 10 minutes, my brain adjusted and my body felt normal again. I picked up the pace and kept walking, focusing on each step, on each breath and on each moment as it happened, knowing that the messages on my phone would be waiting for me on the other side of this walk. I completed the walk with a clear and refreshed mind and when I got back to the car, I went to my phone and answered the messages waiting for me. On my terms. At my time.

Although both stories are about technology, it’s not the problem. The problem was how I interacted with the technology. Was I controlling it, or was it controlling me? We must remember, technology was developed and created to make our lives easier. We are its masters, it is the servant. When the servant becomes the master (cue the Depeche Mode song), we run into problems.

What do the Sims and my morning walk have to do with Database Sherpa and specifically, databases? Technology. Remember in the old days when we had to collect information or addresses and names in a hand written format? Technology has streamlined the process, but it can also cause stress, as we try to master the database.

At Database Sherpa, our goal is to put you in the driver’s seat. You are less stressful because you are the master; you drive the intention of the database and build it to be what it needs to be. Then walk away. No more and no less.

An effective database will not overtake your every waking moment (like the Sims or my cell phone). An effective database, just like our minds, should be fully present in this moment. And as its master, we remain separate, mindful of time spent with technology. On our terms.


Managing with Mindfulness

In late October I enrolled in a mindfulness program offered through the Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness  The exact name is “Mindful Based Stress Reduction”, but I prefer to simply call it “mindfulness program” because the it offers so much more than stress reduction — it’s a guide to listening to my authentic self and being in touch with me as we are guided through several mindful practices.Just like the assignments I give to my Database Sherpa clients, my classmates and I are assigned “practices.” (I know several people call them “homework” but I prefer “practices”). We practice various mindfulness techniques in our own environments so we can hone our skills. I’m halfway through the program and my mindfulness haven has become, of all places, my car, where I practice seated meditation. During my car practices, the voice of April Hadley (my instructor) begins to talk to me, and my body responds. There has been an unintended consequence to this: I’m a better driver. I drive slower. I’m more aware of my surroundings. I am quiet. No radio, instead the sounds of traffic and the wheels on the road.

And I’m not the only one following an ancient practice in a modern environment. Zola has been in the car with me, and we have meditated together while waiting for Daddy at the dentist. The sweet sound of my daughter taking deeps breaths in the back of the car while I relax in the front is bliss. She manages the intro and the three-minute meditation (about eight minutes). Pretty darn good if you ask me.While I’ve been going through this program, I realized that I’ve been attempting to embed these mindfulness principles into the work of Database Sherpa. Being present and aware of the current state of emotions and well-being of my clients is important, yet I was not giving my clients the tools necessary to handle stress long after I have departed. Although I build confidence, stress will occur regardless.

Then, an opportunity presented itself. A client asked me when we might discuss and act on some yoga techniques that were not in our original plans. (They were pretty sure that I was going to do it — they just wondered when it was going to happen.)At the time, she and her co-worker were working on their annual appeal campaign (and those in the nonprofit sector know the stress that can bring). So, I explained a technique called Lion’s Breath to them (thanks to a wonderful suggestion from my Sherpa partner, Veronica Beck), and sent them a YouTube video of various people doing Lion’s Breath. A few weeks passed before our next trek. When we connected, I asked them, how it made them feel.Only one had done it and it had relieved her stress. On the other hand, her co-worker had not, and had been suffering from headaches so bad that she had to take time off from work. We both recommended she try it — I know it’s one of my favorite stress-relieving practices. (And we all joked about practicing Lion’s Breath at their next staff meeting. It would be a hoot to watch!)

So, while I am embedding compassion, kindness, database development skills into Database Sherpa, I also need to provide my clients with coping skills. Providing them tools and techniques that they can use on their own to deal with the changes that will come with their new database system. Yet another refinement of the Sherpa process, for which I am grateful to my mindfulness teacher, April Hadley.