g a t h e r i n g s


In listening to someone’s history I am listening for the systemic events and dynamics that form the secret database for current problems. The process of out-picturing allows both facilitator and client to begin to visualize the undercurrents of the family and of the original community, and simultaneously, the ways in which the client may be caught in those undercurrents.

The systemic out-picturing process also reveals the sometimes-forgotten language of life force that carries our families and communities forward. My focus is trained both on the challenges and the gifts of the given system — including what is embodied by those who have been rejected, whether now or in generations past.

What is called “good” and what is called “bad” will exchange places many, many times over the life of a system, and over the lifetime of an individual. The opportunity to create, and benefit from this changing alchemy requires that we be in motion. What comes next doesn’t have to be defined by the past as long as our feet are moving. Information flows from what was — not destiny.

Being in motion has many meanings. It is physical, intellectual, spirit driven. It is small or big, inwardly directed, alert to the external; it is connecting, grateful, realistic, cumulative, celebratory. Being in motion is feeling, action, sequence; we know it by its results, for as we meet others along the way, our hearts are open to the best in them and, especially, in ourselves.

Optimism draws oxygen from the spaces between gift and challenge. As I stand with you, I am listening for breath.

Where Does It Hurt?

Happiness. We often support each other in the belief that there is a “secret sauce” or golden key or right practice to get us there. Sometimes, we are the ones trying to sell it. What is the “happiness” everyone is striving for? Is it carefree? or giddy? Is it a euphemism for love and companionship, money, security? Is it the stripping away of fear, anxiety, loneliness, depression? Is it an adding to or a taking away?

“I just want to be happy,” people say. I say it too. What do they mean? What do I mean?
The doctor asks, “Where does it hurt? On a scale of 1 to 10, how painful is it?” Others in the helping professions ask similar questions. What does your sadness, anger, fear feel like? Is it hot or cold, sharp or dull, slowly building or suddenly bursting? Where do you feel it in your body? Can you recall what brought it on most recently? Who accompanies it? How is this time similar to other times? How do you prepare? All interesting questions. They help us, perhaps, to stop spinning in our own alphabet soup — scrambled letters that sometimes become words. More helpful to me lately is asking other questions though. Maybe it will be helpful to you. When I can look up and report, “Oh, yes, I am happy” — what does that feel like? Where in my body is it? Is it warm or cool …?

Right now, I can look directly into your eyes to say, “I am happy.” It is a soft feeling that calms the fluttering that too often occupies my chest. It is warm in my head, and cool in my hands. It is an addition that makes more room for itself in this moment. I brought it on — or it arrived and I noticed. Those who love me and have loved me are here, whole and perfect now. On a scale of 1 to 10, there is no number.

I think it happens most reliably when I am writing. I feel most myself tapping away at these keys. I feel at home in this multilayered sphere of happy, whether giddy, carefree, or melancholy, always in good company.

Still, I know this happiness will not last. My demons are well-versed in the subject of me! They know how to siphon my optimism, my energy, my clarity. They rise up sometimes. It’s okay, though, my own “right practice” includes this knowledge, doesn’t pretend otherwise. So, I am not so surprised when the demons show up, not ambushed. And turns out they are little, in fact, though their shadows are cast huge against my walls.

Here’s what I am learning: As I can get to know my own happiness — its personality, texture, purpose, pace, color — I am better able to re-call the state even when it passes. I can look forward, at least peak out, to the border between what has become present to that place, happiness, I marked out deliberately on the map. I paid attention, didn't take it for granted, showed respect, felt gratitude. Yes, I recall the state, a warm, cool place where my chest rises and falls softly, where love is happy to see me. I recall that sometimes my fingers tap away at the keys and with each click a light comes on. I can report that the shadows are no longer present, but only if you ask, because I do not notice exactly when they slip away.

The Complexity of Simplicity

Are you thinking it may be time for change? The fact is that change may already be upon you. Sometimes we have invested so much in one path we’ve lost track of alternatives. There’s nothing in our peripheral vision. Sometimes focus becomes obsession along the way. The equation may have quietly shifted from “broad view plus creativity and hard work equals possibility” to “narrowing vision plus relentlessness and resentment equals diminishing returns.” Trouble is, we don’t always know when it happened, when the tide took us so very far from the shore. When I work with someone who has been trying to get a project off the ground for years and years, maybe decades, I am interested in the nature of these equations. The person usually wonders whether his or her lack of success is tied to a father or mother’s so-called failure or to the poverty or guilt of a community-of-origin. It is an interesting question always.

However, when we as facilitators see the question of success solely within the parameters of the project (the dream of the client), we may be missing something important in terms of both systemic work and personal coaching. In other words, “Is this project failing because …?” may be off-track. It is helpful to get to the feelings that surround this type of question. It is easy to see it as straightforward, but often “project” is a metaphor more than a plan. We can begin to explore potential connections with the client through our initial questions. Rather than talk about the project as an entity unto itself, looking with the client at something out there, we try to find its location within. “If this project cannot be completed as originally conceived, what will happen to you?” “You have been trying for so many years to make this successful, how much more time (money, effort, support) do you have?” “How will life be different if tomorrow this project is a success?” “How will you know that it is?” “Can you be a success if it is not?”

The person may be hoping that if hidden loyalties are revealed or secrets are uncovered, the project will suddenly take off. But this idea of revelation or uncovering is often just another way of blaming others on a certain level, of displacing the magnificence of taking responsibility and truly valuing one's own competence. Sometimes taking new action is required. Beginning is essential, but there are moments when ending is just as important. It makes room. Thus, the question of systemic influences as they pertain to one’s livelihood is more complicated than we may immediately understand. It may be that once the metaphor is discovered -- the meaning beyond current logic -- the client can be freed from the relentless pursuit of an illusory goal and a too-rigid definition of success.

And it is not my place nor my expertise to assume the objective value of an endeavor. Rather, I am listening for the quality of the pursuit. Who or what is in that periphery unseen? What is being lost to a narrow focus — important relationships? health? a kind and open heart?

Passion, on the other hand, usually is a gift unto itself. Imagine, I love to bake. Even though I can’t seem to get folks really interested in what I am creating, I am happy doing it. I am satisfied with my own artistry, and don’t risk the rent to do it, or feel bitter about other people’s “bad taste.” As a matter of fact, I have found an old folks home to bring cookies to on Friday afternoons. Everyone’s face lights up when they see me. It is my passion. The quality of pursuit isn’t contingent upon an external standard, and so I am free within that pursuit to continue, to succeed, my heart is not at risk.

I always think of Hellinger’s question: Does it lead to More? Answer that honestly and the beautiful bountiful comes into better view. It is the essential compass. But, sometimes, it clarity is so bright, we turn away rather than take action.