Three Books to Open Your Heart and Mind

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I credit my mother for instilling in me a love of reading very early in life, and consider myself extremely privileged to have grown up in a house full of exceptionally well-written books, and to have had access to a library. Throughout my childhood, Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and other feisty female protagonists took me on endless adventures through my own mind. In fact, I have no doubt that this early exposure, in large part, built my mind, creating countless pathways linking imagination with reason, building my vocabulary, and instilling the all important habit of curiosity. Thanks, Mom!

I feel immensely grateful, also, for the many, many brilliant human beings throughout time who decided it was important to put words down on paper, creating the many hundreds of books I have certainly devoured my way through in my life. Thank you, Writers, Publishers, and Distributors.

Needless to say, I still read constantly. This week, rather than sharing my own thoughts, I'd like to share three contemporary books of non-fiction that have recently held me in rapt attention on the couch, night after night. If you are looking for a comforting, inspiring companion during these turbulent times, you cannot do better than inviting one of these three authors into your home. Enjoy!

Teri Degler, The Divine Feminine Fire
This book weaves together accounts of the divine feminine as both spiritual experience and creative expression in the lives of female mystics across three traditions: Hinduism, Christianity, and Judaism. Degler links this historical research with stories of contemporary women in a way that makes clear the vital connection between the twin spiritual and creative impulses that many of us feel. Reading her work helped me to understand and integrate these impulses in myself and feel more grounded and confident in my life choices.

Lynn Mctaggart, The Power of 8
An expert in the science of spirituality, McTaggart details ten years of experiments in group intention, discovering that not only does collective focus have measurable results on its target, but that it also creates a "boomerang effect" that stimulates remarkable healing of all kinds in the lives of the intending group members. I find it so satisfying when science catches up to what we intuitively know is true, and this book does exactly that. If anyone wants to form a virtual intention group with me, please respond to this message!

Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell
Exploring the immediate aftermath of several recent natural disasters, Solnit offers us a vivid portrait of humanity's "default setting," which arises spontaneously when the established order collapses temporarily. Contrary to what many of us believe, this default setting is overwhelmingly altruistic, improvisational, and above all joyful, and points to a new vision of what society could become - one that is less authoritarian and fearful, more collaborative and local. Even as I donate money and call my representatives, I frequently feel helpless to address the overwhelming social conflicts we have here in the United States and around the world. This book helped strengthen and clarify my belief in what is possible socially and globally, even if it isn't manifesting yet, even if it may not come in my lifetime.

 

Recommending books and other resources is part of what I do through my empowerment coaching work. If you know someone who feels stuck or troubled by an ongoing struggle of any kind, please share this post with them, or encourage them to connect with me for a completely free, one-time consultation. Even in one session, subtle shifts can often be made, and you'll know by your own response whether coaching is a productive strategy for you.

Have you read a good book lately? Please share in the comments!

How to ask for help

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Like so many essential life skills, asking for help is something I remember learning very early in my childhood, but then forgetting as I became an adult. Tying shoes, doing homework, baking cookies - help with these tasks seemed to flow naturally, perhaps because it was about learning and skill acquisition, the domain of teachers and parents. But help can also take the form of acts that we’ll never be able to do for ourselves, like reaching the top shelf. Sure, I could drag over a chair and climb up, but my tall husband is usually happy to help retrieve a teapot or vase more quickly. Friends or partners helping each other in this way feels reciprocal and satisfying, at least when relationships are healthy. It actually strengthens our social bond.

But then there’s the kind of help that we don’t know we need, or that we’ve mistakenly learned that we shouldn’t need or are not allowed to have. This third type of help is what I’ve become interested in lately as part of my exploration of leading and following in professional spaces. Help with understanding, decision-making, or diplomacy. Help seeing the big picture or grasping the details. Help in the form of resources or expertise. If helping, or supporting, is a following action, as I believe it is, then is asking for that help a leading action?

Since I think of leading as an energy that prompts or solicits action from others, I think the answer is yes, but I admit that when I first considered the idea, it felt awkward in my mind. I don’t think I’m alone in holding a sneaky false belief that asking for help is a sign of weakness, but naming it as a leadership skill made my bias even more obvious.

Even though I have invested many years in the practice of both roles as complementary, I still feel the old stereotype of the all-powerful leader nag at my psyche from time to time. My unchallenged assumption, as I uncovered it, went something like this: “If leaders are powerful, they don’t ask for help, because only weaklings need help.” Ick.

And that was the moment I remembered the wise counsel of Brené Brown. What if asking for help is a sign of courage? As Brown proves over and over again in her groundbreaking research, vulnerability is the hallmark of courage. Asking for help makes us feel vulnerable, and although we’re tempted to associate that feeling with weakness, we are far better served by associating it with courage.

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The thing is, mutual help or support is one of the most effective ways to ensure health, happiness, and success. I believe we are designed by nature as interdependent creatures, built to sustain ourselves through an ongoing exchange of helpfulness. When the structure of our lives reflects this inherent connectedness, well-being increases.

Below are three suggestions for getting more comfortable with asking for help:

1. Normalize Interdependence

The myth of absolute individualism has convinced many of us that help is for babies or for the physically or intellectually incapacitated, or something you get only in life-threatening emergencies. Instead, what if it were normal to lend one another a hand? What if this exchange, whether taking the form of labor, money, expertise, physical affection, or simply attentive presence, was a free-flowing tide that lifted all boats, a continuous, multi-directional stream of pay-it-forward. Asking for help might then become less personal and more general. The sweet potatoes are passed down the table, and the salad is passed back in the opposite direction. Everyone eats.

This understanding is a big part of what allowed me to overcome perfectionism and start asking for help. And when I did, I started to see that believing that we should be able to succeed on our own is often the very thing that holds us back, both in our creative and professional ambitions and in our relationships. It’s normal to need each other, and it's normal to help each other.

2. Build Your Community

Even if you know what to ask, you may not know who to ask. The way many of us live and work can be shockingly isolating. Even surrounded by thousands of others in a city, it’s not uncommon to feel lonely. The remedy is to deliberately broaden your social network, not online, but in person (I've recently been experimenting with Bumble's BFF mode). It’s a lot easier to ask for help if you have a variety of people to choose from.

I learned how powerful a community can be while serving as executive director of an arts nonprofit in Washington, DC, many years ago. With the ambitious goal of building a performing company, social dance school, and tango orchestra, I quickly realized that I needed help. Fortunately, I happened to know lots of people. I started asking for tangible resources like equipment, housing, and rehearsal space, and for professional skills like accounting, writing, and photography. I also asked for labor, advice, and money. In retrospect, I almost feel embarrassed by how much I asked for, and deeply humbled by how much was given. The coordination of many, many gifts produced dozens of professional dance and live music performances and enabled the education of hundreds of social dancers.

3. Be Ok with No

If you’re going to ask, you have you be able to accept a "no" answer. For me, this was the hardest part for a long time. Imagining "no" as a personal rejection, I only asked people for help when I was fairly certain they would say yes. Although perhaps a good rule of thumb in general, this approach quickly became a way for me to avoid the things I needed help with the most, like marketing, and also prevented me from deepening my friendships and professional collaborations in the way that only the alchemy of giving and receiving can.

In order to be truly ok with a "no," I think you have to de-personalize it. You’re asking for something, but the answer is not an affirmation or a dismissal of your right to ask or a hint that you do or don’t deserve help in the first place, which is how many of us are tempted to interpret it. Rather, the no response is simply a reflection of a person’s capacity, choice, and  needs. The vast majority of people want to help if they can. A "no" is usually much more a reflection of one's individual situation and priorities, not an opinion about you in particular. Once I stopped fearing rejection or loss based on my requests for support, it became much easier to ask.

Where do you need help in your life right now? What will allow you to ask? A coaching relationship is among the most profound and practical forms of support I have personally experienced. To find out how empowerment techniques might benefit you, request a free consultation today.