Fluid Surrender

July 28, 2012

Johnny Mac ripping through the woods on a muddy day.

Arising early, on a warm sunny Monday morning.  I pull on bike shorts and a jersey.  Stopping long enough to brew a cup of tea, I head over to my meditation cushion.  I struggle to stay focused as I meditate.  I know where I am headed – mountain biking on Tiger Mountain.  The key to mountain biking is to be in a centered state of fluid surrender.  The quiet sitting helps me tune into myself before the thrill of the ride gets my adrenaline pulsing.

After my sit, I grab my tea, feed the kitties and I’m gone!  Headed for the ever-fun Preston Railroad Grade trail. Giddy with the feeling of a kid playing hooky I drive to the mountain.  At the trailhead I gear up and pedal through the rays of morning sun slanting through the dense canopy of trees. 

30 minutes of climbing brings me to the beginning of the downhill single-track.  This trail, more than any other I know, will reward a relaxed and confident state of riding and it will punish the rider who fights what the trail presents.  Paradox.  If I relax my hands on the bars, use the brakes sparingly, and keep my eyes down the trail, then flow, joy, and ease are mine.  If I tense up, ride the brakes, hold tight to the grips, and stare intently at each obstacle, then I am sure to experience a tight, fearful, and exhausting descent. 

Say what?  The harder I try, the slower I go = the scarier and more difficult the ride.  The more I relax, the faster I go = the more graceful and fluid the ride. 


Mattie Mo ripping down Preston Railroad Grade.

This takes us into the terrain of what the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentminhalyi called FLOW.  “Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.”  This state can occur when we successfully focus our attention on those areas that support performance AND in such a way that supports performance.  In that sense, we can also say that we are taking our focus away from information that distracts or undermines performance.


Fortunately, I believe we all know that place of being in the zone, on fire, wired in, or centered.  The question is how do we slip into this? 

Here are a few answers that come from mountain biking.  I’ll let you translate these into the environments and activities where you are going for it in your life.

1)    Get centered before you start.  Remind yourself why you are doing this.

2)    Assess your ability and willingness to take on a given trail before you start the ride.  If you decide to go for it, then go, and stop worrying about the risks.  If it doesn’t feel right, today isn’t your day, then don’t do it.  Do or ride something else.

3)    Look ahead to see the big picture of your line and commit to it.  Focus beyond the current obstacle or challenge.  Look where you want to go, not where you don’t want to go. 

4)    Relax.  Hold the handle bars and brakes loosely.  Breathe.  Over gripping and braking cause fatigue and don’t allow the bike to perform as it is designed.

5)    Drop your attention and picture that you are riding from your gut, not your head.  Soften the eyes.  Smile.  Laugh out loud and enjoy the ride!  Make “weeee” sounds as you ride.

None of these guarantee success, and there are consequences for failure whether mountain biking, interviewing for a job, or making that big presentation.  Yet I can say with confidence that the more we are in flow the less likely we will fall/fail. 

<shameless plug>  We teach these concepts, and more, through our Centered Leadership course and in our Leadership Practicum.   Consider joining us. 

Enjoy the sun!


Kirk-y ripping it up on the Porcupine Rim Trail, Moab, UT.


life, liberty, happiness

May 16, 2012

Hi folks.  I now publish my blog through our website: www.jempecenter.com/blog.  You can subscribe on this page and I’ll send you an email when I make new posts.  I posted a new blog today titled “life, liberty, happiness.”

Look to see posts more regularly in the future.  I will be posting 2-4x/month going forward. 

You may also enjoy seeing our gallery of photos from our recent safari to Tanzania.


Why not follow us / like us on Facebook at Jempe Center?


Enjoy — and keep on smiling!


Ginny H stops to smile while trekking in the Himalaya on our Leadership Journey to India.


Man Overboard!

May 19, 2011

“You can only ever become bored, when you no longer follow your heart.”  ~Mike Dooley

A series of ear-splitting bells split the afternoon air, followed by “Man overboard!  Drill, Drill, Drill!”  All around us the crew spring into action, shifting from whatever they were doing to pre-set roles, as gracefully as a professional dancer moving from a ballet to a Samba.  Over the next 15 minutes we witness the crew of the sailing schooner Adventuress hone their individual and collective skill to respond to emergencies.  I am moved – to tears – each time I witness the crew in action like this.  They are doing work they love, with people they respect, for the sake of things that matter deeply to them.  And I cannot help being moved, though I confess I hide behind my sunglasses and the viewfinder of my camera.

Hauling away to raise the sail.

Observing all of this, from the viewpoint of a group of civic and corporate leaders in training, we get a glimpse of something I believe we all seek: A Purpose Driven life.  In my experience, the heads and hearts of the crew are fully engaged in work they love.  Their commitment to each other, the boat, and their passengers, is one I am repeatedly inspired by.

For context, this drama unfolds aboard the floating national historic landmark – the schooner Adventuress.  This beautiful sailing ship measures over 100’ long, her rig reaches 110’ into the sky, and she carries roughly 5,500 square feet of canvas sails.  She is also nearing her 100th birthday.  It takes a crew of 12 – mostly volunteers – to sail her, and thousands of hours every winter to maintain and restore her.  Last winter alone she absorbed 5,000 volunteer hours plus roughly 10,000 paid hours by skilled shipwrights practicing their ancient craft.

The Adventuress is owned, operated, and is being lovingly restored, by the non-profit Sound Experience.  Their mission is to “educate, inspire and empower,” for the sake of a sustainable future for Puget Sound.  And the Adventuress is their platform for furthering this mission.  (www.soundexp.org)

Betsy climbs the rigging on the main mast.

Viewed through a different lens, the Adventuress is the physical manifestation of a massive pool of human energy – expressed in the form of Love, Passion, and Purpose.  Channeled into a wooden sailing vessel.  And formed into an organizational culture that fosters exceptional teamwork, models deep respect (for people, boat, and planet), and embodies purpose-driven work.  Their heart’s are in the game.  Fully.

Thank you Adventuress crew and staff.  You always dazzle and touch us!  Safe sailing!

This is our Leadership Journey, Pacific Northwest style.  To learn more check out a recent article in Seattle Business Magazine featuring this program.  (link here)

Reflection questions: If you followed your heart for the next 24 hours, what would you do differently?  Who would you be?  How would you treat those that grace your day?  What would you say YES to?  Who and what would you not take for granted?  What would you say that you haven’t been saying?  To others?  To yourself?

The combined Ascent and Adventuress Crew!

Expedition Behavior

January 16, 2011

We love our tea.  Each cup is an intricate and satisfying ritual that marks and fuels the chapters of our day.  After years of boiling teapots dry (and scrambling to the tune of a shrieking kettle) we now use electric kettles to heat the water.  Fill the kettle.  Hit the button.  It turns itself off after it boils.  Perfect.

Earlier today I walked up to the teapot and finding some hot water there I poured myself a cup of tea.  A few minutes later I hear Virginia call out, “Hey, I just heated that water and you didn’t leave me any!”

Doh! I am suddenly transported back to my days as an outdoor educator – leading month long wilderness expeditions.  My heart sinks as I realize I have just exhibited poor “EB” (“expedition behavior.”)

EB consists of those behaviors that make you a good tent mate – someone others will enjoy living, travelling, and camping in close quarters with for weeks and even months.  Good EB means you are fun to hang with, do your share of camp chores, and generally look out for the well being of your mates before your own personal desires.

I once led a month long mountaineering course with a young man named Rafael who was from Peru.  Rafael was fond of quoting his grandmother.  One of my favorites was “grandma’s definition of good EB.”  According to her definition, “Good EB is when there are 3 people in a tent group and each feels like they are doing 50% of the work” (I know – Grandma was pretty hip!)

The day-to-day interactions around the home and office aren’t that different from being on an expedition.  Are you cleaning up after yourself?  Are you taking the last donut?  Are you listening to others as much as you are blabbing about your view or experiences?  Would your co-workers or family members be psyched if they were randomly assigned to live with you in a tent for a week?

For my part, I called myself out on my poor EB and made a commitment to refill the teapot and hit the button.

What do you see you could do to be embody good EB with your tent mates?






In Gratitude

November 24, 2010

First dawn light creeps around the edges of our blackout curtain. Virginia mumbles….”I’m getting up…time to put the hummingbird feeders out.”

By the time I am up I see her tromping around the yard, bundled in her down jacket and carrying warm feeders out into the snow, her breath frosty from 16 degree temps. We warm by the wood stove with a hot cup of tea and watch a beautiful full moonset & pink sunrise.

Our plans for the day have devolved from “busyness work” into bringing the hummingbird feeders in every hour to thaw, taking pictures, stacking firewood, making Thanksgiving yummies and playing with our cats (including 2 new kitties in the family — Sprocket and Sammy).

And it hits me. Thanksgiving is tomorrow, but this day, right here, is already perfect. Slowing down I feel grateful. Feel it in my eyes. My chest. My toes.

I have so much to be thankful for.  Virginia.  Our cats (Sammy purring in Virginia’s lap as I write).  The snow, sent to slow us all down and make such days even possible.  Our clients, with their courage, curiosity, and commitment.  Home made Irish Cream and spinach artichoke surprise.  Dinner with family in a few short hours.  The miracle of hummingbirds with their feathers the size of pinheads.

Who and what are you thankful for?  How will you let them know?

Happy Thanksgiving!


Perfect Start to a new Journey

October 29, 2010

We are just back from launching our fall 2010 Pacific Northwest Leadership Journey.  We had amazing weather (sun, wind, rain, you name it!) and the perfect group of committed learners.  The journey began with 3 days and 2 nights aboard the historic Adventuress (100 year old, 100′ wooden sailing schooner).  Our journey was made possible, and a real blast, by the presence of the professional and compassionate crew who live and work on the boat.

Our Crew + Adventuress Crew



There were so many favorite moments, but a few I will cherish…

Sunrise, after our first anchorage, brought sun rays poking their way through the morning mist.








Jean, kicking back on the bowsprit, looking like she was having a day at the beach.








Members of our crew pulling hard to earn their meals and keep up with the members of Adventuress crew

The peace and connection I felt feeling the boat rise and fall on the swells, the sun warming my face, and the fresh air filling the sails (it took days to find my “land legs” again…kept feeling like the ground was rocking gently under my feet).








Valerie climbing 80′ up the mast, in spite of, and because of, her fear of heights (my foot looking like the next logical hand hold).









Our crew and Adventuress crew blending into one team to achieve a task, do it well, and to ensure the bigger outcome of a safe, fun, learning journey a reality (seen here furling the jib, while standing out on the bowsprit).

This was such a fantastic start to a 4 month leadership odyssey.   Thank you to everyone who helped us launch our journey with style, grace, power, and tons of laughter.  We salute you!


August 26, 2010

I have been blessed by a life full of adventure.  But what exactly is an adventure?

Dictinary.com says….

1. an exciting or very unusual experience.
2. participation in exciting undertakings or enterprises: the spirit of adventure.
3. a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome.
When I think of adventure, the key elements that come to mind are:
1) the outcome is unknown, and cannot be fully controlled.
2) my limits will be tested, and therefore I will better know what my real limits are and what are perceived limits.
3) I will get to know myself better.  mentally.  physically.  emotionally.
4) I will discover and know my true power and experience deep “aliveness.”
At this moment I am at the airport, about to depart on an Adventure.  A 6-day, 560 mile (20,000′ of elevation gain) bike ride across the Rocky Mountains (Missoula, MT to Lander, WY).  One of my buddies just arrived and I can just feel his aliveness and excitement.  He is almost glowing.  He was telling me a story about getting ready for our journey when he paused and said, “there was this moment where I just had to let go.  And then everything was fine.”
There you have it.  Wish us luck.
Do you have enough adventure in your life?  What would you have to risk or give up to step into something that scares and excites you?  What might you gain?
<<click on link below to download a map of our ride>>
Tour de Rockies map

Adjusting Expectations

July 23, 2010

This was to be my summer.  I had spent several years meticulously re-habbing several nagging injuries.  I had gained strength and set ambitious goals for climbing, biking and mountaineering.  Then one little moment changed that.  I was on a climb in Squamish when I pulled and twisted in an awkward movement.  At that moment my summer, and my plans, were changed.

The injury isn’t severe, but enough so that I was in bed for a week and now slowly nursing myself back to health.  At first I was really bummed.  What about all my goals?  I had worked so hard…blah, blah, blah.  I was feeling pretty sorry for myself and rather depressed.  Then it hit me.  The source of my suffering lay in my expectations.  If I had different expectations then I would have a different experience.

So, I have adjusted my expectations.  I have set more modest goals and I am choosing to see this as an opportunity to become more at home in my body, to learn to listen to the signs/symptoms of what it is telling me.  I am still disappointed by what I won’t be doing this summer, but the sting of those disappointments is greatly reduced.  And I am welcoming the opportunity to achieve some of my other goals…like learning to slow down and enjoy relaxing in the hammock and reading a good book!

This reminds me of a quote that I have on my wall….

This is the way to your inner most home:

Close your eyes

And surrender.

~ Jalalludin Rumi

Questions: What expectations (explicit or implicit) do you have that are creating suffering for you?  What/who is the source of those expectations?  Are those expectations serving you?  What do they produce?

What Drives YOU?

June 25, 2010




According to author Daniel Pink (in his book DRIVE: The surprising truth about what motivates us) these are the 3 factors that really drive people.  Pink’s perspective resonates with both my personal experience and my work with people.  Once we make enough money to meet our basic needs, it isn’t money that actually drives us.

Autonomy — The desire to be self directed.  We don’t want to be told what to do, we want to feel like the authors of our own lives.  We want to be challenged to bring our unique gifts to solving interesting problems.

Mastery — The urge to get better at stuff.  We get a sense of satisfaction from learning and getting good at things.

Purpose — The need to make a contribution.  At the end of the day we feel good about ourselves and our efforts if we feel like we made a real contribution to something.  Or someone.

Want to learn more?  Buy Daniel’s book or check out this really cool 11 min animated video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc (I guarantee you’ll find it worth 11 mins of your time.)

What motivates YOU?  Why do you work?  What leaves you most fulfilled at the end of the day?  How aligned is your life/work with what you care most about?

Look how much we have lost

May 18, 2010

We have just returned from leading a 10 day Leadership Journey to Ecuador (http://www.ascentinstitute.com/news/tlj.html).

Christina and John chatting in Puanchir's home (c)2010 Scott Stout

At one point during our journey we were sleeping under mosquito nets on the uneven dirt floor of the village shaman’s house, deep in the Amazonian rainforest.  In the morning, I was chatting with our Ecuadorian guide Christina when she said something that landed with a profound impact: “Look how little they have; look how much we have lost.”

Puanchir, Ishpingo village, Achuar Territory, Ecuador (c)2010 John M. McConnell

To put that statement in context: we are in the home of Puanchir, a man whose entire collection of belongings adds up to less than any one of us has brought with us for a two day visit.  He began his life as a warrior, fighting to protect his family from nearby marauding tribes.  He was present when the first missionaries arrived, bringing with them medicine, education, religion, and the radical change of moving from scattered home sites into small villages.  He went on to become the village healer, learning the traditional ways of using plants and ancient ceremonies to heal mind, body and spirit.  His village is on a dirt airstrip where light planes occasionally come and go, but he has never left the rainforest, nor seen the ocean, a town, or even a mountain.

Despite these drastic changes (all in one lifetime!) he remains fiercely committed to preserving the traditional ways, yet open to the knowledge and benefits of what the developed world offers.

Puanchir generously offered to share his home and to do a ceremonial healing for us, and he welcomed our support for his own physical ailments (he is in his 70’s but doesn’t know his exact age as there were no calendars during the first 1/2 of his life).  He has had essentially no “western” health care in his lifetime.

Puanchir does spend every single day with his family.  His life is sustainable and in harmony with his surroundings.  He works when he needs to and he naps/relaxes whenever he chooses.  He is so attuned to his body and the natural rhythms of life around him that he can sense animals and insects without seeing them.  He can hit a banana at 10 meters with the dart from a 10′ long blowgun.  He is committed to preserving the natural environment, not as an abstract idea but rather because he knows that a healthy environment is essential to a sustainable future. For everything and everyone.

He knows the legacy he is leaving for his family and village.  We witnessed him coaching the young men from the village with a balance of his fierce commitment to preserving the traditional knowledge and a patient and loving presence.  Most importantly, and despite the fact that at his age he lives with constant pain, the biggest gift that Puanchir gave us was his laughter.  We couldn’t help but join the giggling whenever he started to chuckle.  Some forms of human communication are universal and need no translation.

No one, least of all me, would suggest that we abandon our modern homes and move into thatched huts.  Yet I do long to experience and be much of what Puanchir has in his life.  Deep daily connection with family and community.  Knowing clearly his purpose in life.  Peace with who he is and who he isn’t.  Freedom from the damaging myth that we are independent — he knows we are all one.  Understanding that he already has enough.

***More posts re: our Journey to Ecuador coming soon.***

For more pictures of our journey visit: http://homepage.mac.com/jmac999/JourneyEcuador/index.html

Leadership Journey to Ecuador 2010, Ishpingo, Ecuador. (c)2010 Virginia Rhoads