Laughing While Falling

March 4, 2010

I just returned from my annual ski trip with some buddies.  We had a few days of skiing in beautiful Telluride, CO.

the boyz in Telluride

My objectives when skiing are generally to: Have fun and enjoy my friends.

When I take a closer look, however, I see that I am also trying to:

1) Look good, and…

2) Avoid falling down

When I do fall I tend to get frustrated.  I try to analyze what I did wrong, I make excuses to myself, or think “I should ski something easier so I don’t fall.”

JK having fun, falling or not!

This changed, at one point during our trip, when I took a minute to watch my friend and colleague Johnny K as he skis.  I noticed something really strange.  HE LAUGHS WHILE HE FALLS DOWN!  He is actually having fun in the midst of crashing!  Check him out in this picture…he hasn’t even finished crashing and he is looking up and laughing!  And then it struck me — this is consistent with how he lives his life.

Seeing him laugh while crashing — he really goes for it when he skis — opened up a whole new possibility for me.  First, I saw that if I wasn’t falling I wasn’t going for it.  Second, I saw that in trying to look good and not fall I was undermining my ability to ski at my best — trying NOT to do something makes me tense, tight and fearful.  Most importantly, skiing this way is less fun.

So, in the spirit of a good Johnny K head-over-heels crash, I ask you:

1) where are you taking yourself too seriously?

2) where are you trying to look good or not fail, at the expense of achieving your dreams, goals and aspirations?

3) what could you gain if you brought a focus of fun, laughter and learning to what you are doing?

Have fun…and go for it!

John M finally having fun in the midst of a wipeout.

Client Profile: Ginny Hutchinson/Better Because

February 12, 2010

In June 2008 we took a magical trek to the Himalaya in India in the form of a Leadership Journey to India.  This unique adventure is an integration of our leadership journey curriculum embedded in a 10 day trek to the base of Nanda Devi — the highest mountain in India (to see a video/slideshow of our journey visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjktxnz3rbA)

As a result of the journey, one of our participants (Ginny Hutchinson, on far left) decided to begin a transition from successful Chief Marketing Officer to starting a positive media company.  Within one year of her return from India she has started a company, published a book, and filmed the Dali Lama.  She is off and running!

Ginny has been an inspiration to me and many others with her enthusiasm and her positive attitude, not to mention her courage to leave the safety of the known and to plunge into her dream with fearless energy.

Her vision with Better Because is two-fold: Spreading joy to make the world a better place; Helping educate children in need throughout the world.

I want to salute Ginny and her business partner Cathy Haffner on their accomplishments, and to point you toward their book “Better Because of You.”  Many people find it to be an energizing read, a great gift, and good way to get grounded in a positive attitude.  Below Ginny says a little more about her book and how to find it.

Bravo Ginny and Cathy!


Better Because of You shares true-to-life stories, thought-provoking quotations, and life strategies that can help readers do small things each day to make a big difference in their lives.  This fun book is essential reading for anyone looking for simple insights on leading a happier life – and it makes a special gift for special people you value.

Available at: Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Better-Because-You-Cathy-Haffner/dp/0982519109/), Nordstrom Gift Department, University Book Store, or local book store everywhere …just ask.

Check it out:    www.BetterBecause.com <http://www.betterbecause.com/>

If you want to contact Ginny you can reach her at ginny@ginnyhutchinson.com or 206.696.3243.

Surrender to Destiny

February 11, 2010

Have you read the inspiring true story of Greg Mortenson’s journey from dirtbag mountaineer to builder of schools in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan? If you haven’t, I recommend that you give his books a read (first “Three Cups of Tea,” then read “Stones Into Schools”).

From my perspective, his story is one of being in the flow of his life, of paying attention to what emerges, and of following his heart and his instincts when opportunities presented themselves. Mind you, these “opportunities” came in form of unplanned, unwanted, and uncomfortable events.  Yet he surrenders, again and again, to what feels right, to the next thing he sees to do.  He often doesn’t know exactly where he is going, he just knows the next step.

It would be easy to say he simply let’s his destiny unfold, but I think it is more accurate to say he keeps being a fierce stand for the possibilities that his destiny has presented to him.  This process takes courage — as in the courage to know who we really are.  It takes conviction — as in being unstoppable in the face of circumstances.  It requires us to look beyond our own comfort and desires — as in true impact and deep fulfillment always come when serving others rather than our own personal preferences.

What is your destiny?  Why are you here?  What is the contribution you see that you are here to make?  How is that aligned with what you find most fulfilling?  If you surrender to the gifts you have, and the callings you feel, where will that lead you?  Are you willing to let go enough to allow this path to unfold?

December Updates from Ascent Institute

December 18, 2009

Hi folks.  If you haven’t received our newsletter with updates and current course offerings please visit:

http://ascentinstitute.com/news/ascent-news-2009-dec.html

To visit our new website:

http://ascentinstitute.com/

We would enjoy knowing what you think.  Send us your comments.

Wishing you a rejuvenating holiday season.

Big hugs from the Crew at Ascent

(ignore this code, it will list us with a blog search engine)

BKPA8ZZZ8MQY

Human DOING

December 10, 2009

[Post by John McConnell]

I have been going full tilt now for several months.  Really fully engaged in my work, my play, my family, my life.  It feels really good.

Yesterday I was scrambling to pull together the final details for our first newsletter, while packing for a trip to California, while attending to few client needs, while planning my holiday gift buying, while…. you get the picture.  Sound familiar?

On the one hand I love it.  I am so plugged in right now.  Generating, learning, sharing, doing, checking things off the list….  On the other hand, I think I lost the OFF switch.  As I boarded the plane I pulled out my laptop thinking “if I can just get one more thing done…”  And then I stopped.  And I FELT IT.  That state of being where I am no longer BEING, but rather stuck in the DOING mode.  I am a HUMAN DOING!

So what did I do?  I finished that one thing.  I kept pushing, even though some part of me was saying, “whoa, its time to slow down for bit.”  And I’m doing it right now.  Posting this blog as my last action before going into a 3-day training to continue my own personal and professional development.  I am choosing that.  Given what I am committed to right now it feels right to me.

That said, I know I am close to the point where I will lose the ability to CHOOSE.  I’ll be stuck in GO/GO/GO mode.  Historically I know that I’ll do that until something makes me stop.  Usually for me that involves getting hurt or sick.  So, I take a moment to breathe.  Stretch my shoulders.  Soften my eyes and brow.

Doing is so seductive.  Yet whatever I get done there will be another thing to do.  Fortunately, the training I am going into will help me slow down.  I am committed to slow down.  Do a Sudoku, take a nap, take a walk, take a bath.  Call my wife and tell her I love her.  It is time for me to bring my BEING self back to life.

How about you? Are you choosing your pace of doing or is it choosing you?  What are the unintended consequences your current pace?  How are you balancing the doing with the being?  What action or inaction might you do for a few minutes or a day to slow down, recharge, renew?  What little actions can you take in the midst of the doing?  My favorite on-the-fly techniques are: pause and take a deep breath; soften my eyes/brow; smile; think about something or someone I love; remind myself that I really do have all the time I need.

By the way, the project I was working so hard to push forward is our announcement of our new website and our latest offerings.  You can check it out here: http://www.ascentinstitute.com/news/ascent-news-2009-dec.html

We invite you to join us!

Astronauts

December 5, 2009

[Post by John Kanengieter]

“So this Russian Cosmonaut, and an Italian and American astronauts go into a bar…..”   Sounds like the start of a bad joke, right?

I’m writing this while on a flight home to Wyoming from Houston where I just spent 2 days in quarantine at NASA’s Johnson Space Center with an International Space Station crew.  I enjoy working with leadership teams in high-risk environments. The four of us engaged in an intensive team development and leadership session.  I laughed, commenting that living with them sounded much like the start of a bad bar joke as they were representing the afore mentioned countries.  It was a great experience and we all gained from working with each other on the dynamics of creating great teams.

One of the aspects we talked about was leadership practices while under stress. We discussed how they tend to react and communicate under stress and crisis.  I observed them as they prepared for an emergency crisis simulation that they would be put through by NASA later in the day.  I reminded them of the importance of calming oneself by slowing down and creating a stillness in the mind.

At the Ascent Institute, we work to teach this as a ‘leadership practice’.  It’s important to consistently practice this skill-whether you call it meditation, sitting, deep relaxation, etc- so that when your body and emotions hit the stress redline you can focus on what’s important and not react and be controlled by fear and aggression. Leaders especially need this focus and centeredness as they move through adversity.

…..

Now..…I mentioned I’m writing this on a plane.  Just an hour ago an alarm sounded and the pilot mentioned that we were diverting to another airport in Cheyenne in order to land as quickly as possible and get this checked out.  Apparently a sensor went off indicating that the door could open and lose pressure and that’s evidently not a good thing on a plane.  It didn’t help that two passengers near the front said they heard a bump just prior to the alarm.

While making the quick descent I noticed our small cabin went quiet and I started to see some white knuckles.  I felt my own breath quicken.  It was at this moment that I was reminded of the words that I spoke to my astronaut friends.  I shut my eyes, started focusing on my breathing and noticed my anxiousness literally flying out of my body.  We landed, smart guys fixed the light, and we’re now on our way.  By the time you read this I’ll have already been home in front of my fireplace, enjoying the stillness of the Wyoming winter.

Take a minute and create your own moment of stillness. Refocus on what you want to accomplish today. Be thankful for this wonderful life that you have.  Let whatever stresses you presently are feeling be put into perspective.  Try to do this on a daily basis and watch what happens!

Happy flights!

Johnny K

Johnny K back in his office in Lander, WY.

Reflections from the Rainforest

December 4, 2009

[Post by Virginia Rhoads]

I recently co-lead a journey deep into the Amazonian rainforest.  We immersed ourselves into this living, breathing corner of the planet and had the rare opportunity to interact with an indigenous tribe.  Here is an excerpt from a journal entry I made after my first encounter with the jungle and the Achuar tribe……

Stillness… deep stillness… inner quiet allows me to hear so many sounds, chirps, burps, creaks, shrieks, bellows, whirrs, flutters, mutters, snaps, cracks…. Leaves falling down and these are leaves the size of the top of a coffee table… always falling and falling yet there is no deep layer of rotten things… only growing and growing… so much growing… the vines from above and draping down all around me… and the earth below my feet reaches up to itself above my head…

The depth and the darkness of the Achuars’ eyes, and the light therein… always just a split second away from great laughter and mirth… such a presence… only the present to be in, observing, being, and such laughter… all us sacred… the Directions are already called and have been in our service and we in theirs since time before time and will be so long after we have departed… regardless of what has been and what is to come…

Nature has timed her downfalls perfectly… for all of us… for our initial entrance into the forest and the first tippy canoe ride up river… for the long afternoon of resting and yoga to the sounds of rain unlike any of us have ever seen or heard or been cleansed by… the cacophony of sounds and sights, and the uncanny birds who flaunt their calls and their wings and their flight for our joyful witnessing… all we are to do is to keep the channel open and keep breathing… in and out and in and out… to keep paving, without pavements, the way to begin to hold it all and at the same time feeling so full in our eyes and ears that we also are aware of how thirsty we all are for all of this to integrate into our bodies our skins our lungs…

The pre-dawn rituals… such a sacred space that begins all of their days at a time when most of us would still have called night, is their morning… good morning begins at 3am and well, why wouldn’t it… a fire that is every day sacred … and they are we and we are they… what you see, is you… what I see, is me…

The heartache in listening to Achuar being spoken and the call and response and the beauty and strength and power in the exchange… a dance of beingness… a dance of power and deep connection to the sacred that is the everyday…

Listening to the Call… opening myself up to hearing this Call, to being this Call without blame or shame or embarrassment or wishing or begrudging or anything other than just allowing it to build and flow and then to receive it and to keep expanding to hold it all and at the same time to rejoice and share and marvel at the opportunity right here right now… all there is to do is to be Life, to engage and listen and then step in and step into and keep breathing and embracing and speaking …

Virginia in Amazon rainforest.

Declaration in Action

November 2, 2009

Arriving at the rock climbing gym a few days ago I found myself wondering what role fear would play in my climbing on this night.  Fear is a relevant and necessary part of climbing for all climbers.  At times it takes center stage and limits my ability to climb at my best.  Other times I am able to center myself such that the fear is simply in the background helping me stay alert to risks, neither limiting my abilities nor my enjoyment of the experience.

As I walked into the gym on this particular evening a crystal clear thought popped into my head.  “Tonight, I will climb without fear.”  This simple commitment set the stage for my evening of climbing.  At the beginning of each climb I repeated this mantra in my mind.

From this commitment I noticed that I moved more gracefully, breathed more freely, and remained relaxed in the midst of the efforting.

At one particular junction I was faced with a move that felt a little dicey.  A fall from here would be a bit scary and the holds felt tentative and difficult.  Typically at a spot like this my attention would go to my fear (“this hold doesn’t feel too good…a fall from here could be bad…I could just stop and rest on the rope…”).  Instead, the commitment “I will climb without fear” rang in my mind and I returned my attention to making the move.  Absent the hesitation and “monkey mind” that happen when I focus on my fears I moved decisively upward, easily making the move.

After I lowered off the climb both my climbing partner and I noticed that I had climbed with unusual grace and power.  The big grin on my face said it.

A simple declaration.  A powerful result.

Question: What simple declaration will call forth your best self and focus your attention on what you are committed to?  This could be a larger commitment like “I am a commitment to being an extraordinary leader.”  It could be very concrete: “I am a commitment to doubling my gross income.”  Or it could be something simple like “I am a commitment to having fun and laughing today.”

Banks Lake DWS

Deep water soloing (climbing over water), Banks Lake, WA.

Never stop learning

August 11, 2009

Learning is life.  Aliveness.  We are either learning, growing, evolving….or contracting, decaying, withering.  I’m not talking about learning a new tidbit while watching TV.  I am talking about stepping into discomfort, doing something you aren’t (yet) good, developing some new perspective or capacity.  All for the pure joy of feeling alive and thriving.  Draw a picture, learn an instrument, walk in your back yard and pay attention to the birds that live there, pick up a few words of your neighbors primary language, research something interesting on the web, learn to juggle.  It doesn’t matter what it is so long as you are learning.

When I was a kid one of my idols was Ringo Starr of the Beatles.  I wanted to play drums like I wanted to breathe.  I just had to.  For my 8th birthday my parents bought me a real snare drum.  They hired a college kid to give me lessons.  And guess what?  I discovered I have no natural sense of rhythm (something my wife will attest to when we hit the dance floor to this day!)  Learning felt painful, I wasn’t going to be the next Ringo Starr.  So I quit.  As I quit many other things that didn’t come easily or naturally.  Learning can be hard, scary, embarrassing or just plain boring at times.

But here is the thing.  All the research into brain development says that learning is critical for our health, joy, vitality, and overall well being.  Not long ago it was thought that the brain stops developing once we reach adulthood.  Now we know that simply is not true.  Our brains and bodies, our hands and our feet, they are all just longing to develop new neural pathways.  The process of learning keeps us young and vital.  And in order to learn we must develop our commitment and ability to step into the discomfort of doing something we aren’t already good at.

Learning is life.  Aliveness.  Just do it.

Questions:  What have you always wanted to learn?  What skill, language, idea or arena of knowledge have you thought would be fun or interesting?  For the sake of what would you continue to learn and grow?  How would you assess your ability to step into discomfort for the sake of learning something new?

Less BRAKING, more TRUSTING

August 5, 2009

The Tour De France, the most grueling event in sports (2241 miles ridden over 3 weeks), completed last week with an exciting finish in Paris.  The British sprinter Mark Cavendish had won some sprint stages but had never won the final sprint into Paris.  He wanted it BAD!  As they riders approached the last corner before the final straightaway Cavendish was in a virtual tie with the other top sprinters.  Coming out of that turn, however, he launched into the lead and ended up winning by 20 yards — in a race where the victor usually wins by inches.

How did he do this?

Looking at the video it becomes clear.  Cavendish did not touch his brakes as he rounded that final corner while his competitors lightly touched their brakes to maintain a feeling of safety and to hedge their bets against crashing.  This reflects a commitment to win and a willingness to live with potentially negative consequences.  By not braking he ran a higher risk of crashing and losing, not to mention possible injury.

After watching this race I went mountain biking.  As I was riding, I noticed how often I was touching my brakes as I went into corners.  Occasionally this was a necessary check on my speed, but often this was merely a way to FEEL more comfortable.  So I began to experiment.  To my amazement I found that on about 75% of the corners I was braking unnecessarily.  Better yet, this resulted in greater speed, fluidity and JOY in the experience of riding!  Paradoxically, this did not make me more scared, it made me less scared.  Why?  Because less of my focus went into focusing on my fears.  Thoughts like: “oh boy, be careful here, you might be going to fast, look out for that obstacle…”  Instead, I placed my attention on trusting my body’s ability to set up for each corner with the appropriate speed.  As a general rule, we have more wisdom, knowledge, and capacity in our body than we tend to trust.

Questions: Where do you see that you are riding the brakes in your life?  Where are you playing it safe rather than playing to win?  What result do you stand for with such conviction that you would be willing to go for it rather than hedge your bets?  What would you be doing if you believed that you couldn’t fail and/or were willing to live with a few bruises?