Using the Flywheel to Attend to Ourselves & Others.

This is Us, circa summer 2008?

In 2008, I got up at the crack of dawn to have my 4 little ones ready to be at the polls at 7:00am and then off to start their days at school. They were 4, 6, 9, and 10. I wanted them to see the process, even though they wouldn’t understand it for years to come. And I knew we were electing our first Black president. It was important to me. 

Having said that, it occurred to me today, under the backdrop of the impeachment proceedings, that this president is the only president my younger two have really known and frankly, my older two, as well. Just at the time when they were coming into an awareness about government, leadership at the national level, or understanding what it means to live in a democracy, this administration took office. It has put some things about their perspective into context for me.  

Despite what you might think about, or how you might feel about, our current president, he is the identified leader of our country. But he is definitely not providing leadership. All too often, people in my practice are expressing a sense that they’ve lost their tether to anything they previously relied on for grounding. Young people are confused. Their parents are afraid. And others are just living in their “happy place,” immersed in work or Netflix or online cocktail hours. 

That loss of outer guidance has made some of us question our inner guidance, too. 

How do we support each other ~ especially those who look to us for direction ~ when it feels like we cannot depend on anything right now?

Here are a few places to start.

  1. Spend some time with your own thoughts and feelings. Check in with yourself. What is true for you? Without judgment or rationalization, get curious about your own response without changing it or even resisting it. Just notice it. 
  2. You don’t need to fix anything. Your job is not to change someone else’s response, but to be present to it. To witness someone who is struggling, with kindness and curiosity, is a gift to both of you.
  3. Check back in with yourself. Anything different? 
  4. Invite them back to talk again. Be an ear. But the only way you can be an ear, is to continue to practice being present to your own truth. Self-observing, so that you are aware of your own ongoing response, will allow you to listen to the other without the veil of your own emotions clouding what you hear. They don’t need you to hop on their bandwagon or even to dispute it or “correct” it. They need you to hear it. Acknowledge it. Be present to it. 

In Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about how doing one simple thing, over and over, can have monumental impact on a company. He calls the process a “flywheel.” We can apply that same strategy when we attend to ourselves and others.

You don’t need to prove your value as a friend, colleague, or parent. You simply have to show up, know what’s your stuff, and listen, without attachment, to theirs.

Repeat. Again, and again. 

This is Us, circa summer 2020

Showing up for yourself and others in this way will absolutely have impact; and when even just one person shows up for another with presence, like throwing a stone into a pond, the whole world starts to change.

How Do I Know Whether I Need a Life Coach or a Therapist?

My practice has seen an onslaught of beautiful seekers looking for something, many not knowing exactly what. They aren’t happy, and while they may engage in conjecture about the reasons, they just haven’t been able to get out of their own way and move towards a goal. And sometimes, the goal is to have less anxiety. It is a coach-y/therapy-y issue, but which one?

This crossroads presents a choice to the seeker:

“Who can help me?”

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1.   Do you need to see someone?

  • No one actually needs a coach. Coaching is not about treatment. Coaching is about co-creating a relationship that involves helping you to access your own, inner resources that will support the change you want. Coaches help you move from “perfect as you are,” to “always room to grow.”
  • Therapists are uniquely qualified to treat mood disorders, personality disorders, and help those who struggle to function in the world. Therapy involves healing. People need therapists. Some therapists with additional training will cross over to the role of coach, too.
  • Because of this distinction, health insurance does not cover coaching in the United States. It might cover therapy, depending on your plan and whether or not the therapist accepts your insurance. So if cost is a factor, you might look for a therapist with whom you can use your health insurance.

2.   Do you have symptoms, resulting from trauma, that you are looking to get relief from?

  • If you have experienced a traumatic event and are having symptoms like flashbacks, too much or too little sleep, loss of executive functioning, memory issues, or other symptoms, your best bet is to start with your primary care physician, followed by a therapist. The therapist might enlist the help of a coach to help with strategies related to daily functioning, but the treatment of the emotional component related to the trauma is best evaluated by a trauma-informed therapist. 
  • Caveat: Coaches can be trauma-informed but make sure the coach is able to share specifically what qualifies them to identify themselves this way. In fact, the competencies of a credentialed coach fit the model for trauma-informed work nicely, but it is not a given that all coaches are actually trauma-informed. If this is important for the work you need to do, please ask them specifically about this. Frankly, this is true if you hire a therapist, as well.

3.   Do you have a goal you want to achieve and just can’t get out of your own way to achieve it? 

  • This is a great time to enlist a coach. Coaches are excellent at seeing your own, unique genius and helping you to access your inner world in order to clear the path towards creating a life you want. They are deep listeners, accountability partners, and have your agenda as their primary focus. What you want is what they want for you. It is an incredibly powerful relationship. 
  • Things you might want to seek help with in this category include executive functioning, business goals, career issues, or parenting help. 

4.   When in doubt, ask. I receive inquiry calls all the time where we have a discussion about what the person is looking for and whether or not I feel like I can help them. I am really clear about the way I work, what I pay attention to, and what circumstances might have me refer to a colleague. Oh, and there’s that…I have colleagues. I refer out. I want you to get what you want in this one, beautiful whack at life you have. If you sense that the professional on the other end of the phone is working from a place of scarcity, that’s a warning sign. There are enough clients out there for all of us. You don’t owe that person anything, other than a yay or nay.

Which brings me to the final point….

5.  If this is something you are considering, go to your own, inner resources. Sit quietly. Imagine yourself working with this person. Consult the guide, Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Therapist or Life Coach. And then leap. This is not your forever family. You are hiring someone to provide a service and can operate fully in choice. To do otherwise, would be to not take that first step towards a better you.

You are the best person to choose your helping professional. 

Life Coaching and Therapy are two distinct helping professions with different codes of ethics and different competencies. Is there overlap? You betcha’. Are there times to choose one over the other? Yup. Do your homework. Ultimately, you are hiring a human being. The connection you find there is often as important, if not more important, than the framework they use. Take a leap. Make the call to the person you are most drawn to. And then bring this question to them. See what they say!

When you think, “That’s just the way I am,” know that it is not true.

I had a funny experience today as I coached with a team on Zoom. I share this with permission from that group.

We were discussing the possible return to the workplace and what they had learned about their time working from home.

C shared that she stocks up her fridge to give her an excuse to get out of the house and go to the grocery store. She leaves the house to buy food, for the sole purpose of giving it away. She just wants to be seen by people and she wants to do something for others who will then see her as valuable. Without this activity, she said she feels “bad.”

This is what she “needs” because she is “just that way.”

Her words made my ears perk up.

“Say more,” I said.

She went on to describe that in addition to the grocery store outings, she has worked like a dog lately, even with her toddler. She speaks to her supervisor almost daily and has been out and about, doing whatever parts of her job that she can. She stays active and solves problems as a way of dealing with quarantine and her unmet need for validation.

Competency is her Enneagram type’s way of dealing with life. And then there’s the going to the grocery store so that she can give away food.

Self-Deceit is what separates her Enneagram type from reality. If she can feed her ego by being a really fantastic worker and being of service to her friends and neighbors, then she can deny (for now) the feeling, conscious or not, that she is inadequate.

She was doing what her type does. She identifies with Enneagram type 3w2.

With that, T showed us his stocked pantry closet. Multiple boxes and canisters of many items. No fewer than 10 containers of instant coffee (not shown). He shared that he feels anxious if he doesn’t know he has what he “needs.” He, too, says that he is “just that way.”

Last March, the last meeting I had before I no longer consulted on-site in organizations, was with this man. He was telling me to take all of my money out of the bank; we needed to have cash on hand because we’d lose everything if “Coronavirus really took off.” He had a very clear plan, as if he’d been thinking about this forever. 

Because he had. 

He has been concerned about security and safety his whole life. He really wants to know what’s real, so he sugar-coats nothing. He assumes you want the same. He really wants others to meet him where he is; to respond to him with the same level of emotion that he is putting out there. This is his type’s way of dealing with difficulty. His emotional realness was really pushing my positive outlook’s buttons that day. 

He was very clear on what had to be done and was sharing his “facts” with everyone in the office; even those of us who didn’t want to hear it. 

Angst is what separates his Enneagram type from dealing with reality. If he can feel anxious about something happening in the future, he doesn’t actually have to deal with the present. 

He was doing what his type does. he identifies with Enneagram Type 6.

And then there is me. I am no fan of grocery shopping. But I want what I want when I want it. I want to be happy and I don’t want to feel the pain of not having what I think I need.  I want people around me to be happy, too. If they are happy, I am happy. 

One complaint can throw my whole mood off. My desire is not really altruistic; it is all about me. 

Because my type demands “happiness” as a way to feel safe, I can easily assume everyone else has an intolerance for anything less than “wicked happy,” too, right?

As I shopped in March, I told myself that I had to buy everything they want or need,  and with that, “We’ll all be GREAT!” 

Positive outlook is my type’s way of dealing with difficulty. 

All of my fridges and freezers were STOCKED. Before you go yelling at me, I already know. And don’t forget that I had 7 people quarantined with me. Yes, I am a walking COVID meme. 

Gluttony is what separates my Enneagram type (read: me) from reality. If I have enough love, food, furniture, or office supplies, I can deny the pandemic.

I do what my type does. I identify as an Enneagram Type 7w6. 

So all this time, I’ve had trouble describing why your Enneagram type and the tool of the Enneagram is helpful to have.

It isn’t about WHAT is happening.

It is about WHY it is happening.

In our coaching group today, we had lots of laughs, but we also unpacked how our Enneagram type predicts the issues that will come up for us and cause us to suffer. It also predicts the things that motivate us and bring us closer to Presence. As a spiritual tool, it give us something to pray about, to meditate on, and a North Star to set intentions around. 

More than anything, it identifies the lens that, when not present, exhausts us, upsets us, and keeps us afraid.

Once we see that, we can make choices about our next steps. Until we see that, we are walking around the world, unconscious, telling people

“That’s just the way I am.” 

Shining a Light on the Shadow of My Racism

White Exceptionalism.

There’s a new term for me. 

In Layla Saad’s book, Me and White Supremacy, she uses this term to refer to people who feel like they are finished with their self-examination of racism, have passed the test, and are good to go. As if once they are “woke” they don’t have to continue their awakening. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I feel like all the work I have been doing to dismantle areas of my personality, areas I didn’t even know were there, has prepared me to hear from BIPOC in a way I was unable to before.

How do I know?

Because I can’t unsee all the times that I have ignored BIPOC who tried to tell me that I am part of the problem. All the times I said, either to myself or out loud, “You don’t understand me…I’m different.” Or frankly, “You don’t understand racism.” The balls (or ovaries) on me.

I really thought I’d done the work and had conveniently surrounded myself with people who reinforced this belief on my behalf. People who called me to ask me for my thoughts or people who told me “I don’t mean you.” The ego loves to hear, “everyone else but you.” My ego certainly did. I still catch my ego in the act of loving that, despite knowing the truth.

I’ve had this awareness ~ like a big “aha” ~ that the reason I had been led to the Enneagram as a tool and accompanying spiritual work (literally, daily), over the last several years, was to wake me up for this.  Prior to that, I was blind to my own racism. Racism was a shadow that followed me 24/7 and while BIPOC could see it with clarity, my white friends were complicit with my ego; they either did not see it, or did not call me on it. 

{As an aside, the psycho-spiritual work I both participate in and teach to clients, required me to explore some really, really dark places in myself while people I have come to love, acted as my witnesses (which I think, now, is an essential part of this work); they held me accountable and continue to love me through it. I had to be willing to do that work, so that I can now do the work of dismantling my own racism, which, like the Enneagram work, will be a lifelong project for me.}

I must have known, at a subconscious level, that I was being prepared to look at my role in white supremacy because as I reflect, I see that over the last couple of years, I started following the social media accounts of more and more leaders in the BIPOC community. I had always taken an interest in racism and classism, but as an outsider, not as a participant. It was all academic. It was absolutely, as Layla Saad calls it, “white exceptionalism.” This was more of that.

And then Ahmaud Arbery was murdered. 

My heart broke. I felt responsible. Honestly, it was the weirdest thing. I spoke about it with my teacher and my group….it felt egotistical to feel responsible and yet I did. I think I was confused because I was holding on to being a “white savior,” while also holding “white exceptionalism,” along with a deep, subconscious, “inner knowing,” that I am, in fact, part of the problem. I was holding all of those parts of this without the clear awareness or language. These were all shadows and the light was approaching them.

After Ahmaud Arbery was murdered, something felt different. It was not academic. I felt it in my heart. It physically hurt. I felt broken. Where I used to treat racism as something I had to learn about but was apart from me, I actually felt like I had participated somehow. I was no longer an outsider to it.

Something opened up. Everything got clearer. What lived in my shadows was clear now. This is what they mean when they say the light shines through those cracks that made us feel broken. 

Like the work of thinning out my ego, thinning out my racism is not “either/or.” I used to think I was either racist or not. Now I know that I am both/and. The paradox of illuminating my own racism while also being an accomplice and ally to BIPOC is clear. 

Being a good ally is not about not being racist; being a good ally REQUIRES me to see my racism. Over and over again. I have to be willing to hold my racism and my anti-racism, my white supremacy and my ally-ship, my need to understand in my brain and feel in my heart all of the pain that comes with this, while not making it all about me. 

What I have learned is that I will always be part of the problem.

For what it is worth, I feel whole. I feel open ~ a bit broken open, but open, nonetheless. The parallels of looking at the darkest places of my personality and looking at the darkest places of my racism are uncanny. Until I wrote this, I didn’t actually see that they go hand in hand. I think that my own racism is a dark place in my personality. To yield to that means that I have to give up the illusion of “better than.” And as I give that up, I see yet another paradox. When I relinquish “better than,” I embrace, “BETTER OFF,” both individually, and collectively. 

Until my white exceptionalism came out of the shadows, I had no choice in it. Now that I see it, I do. Now that I know better, I’m committed to doing better.


How #JusticeforAhmaud Woke Me Up to Myself.

I think it was mid April when I first heard the story of Ahmaud.

I have been weepy for several days now…unable to place the reasons. It occurred to me yesterday, sitting in my stillness, what was going on. 

My outrage was meaningless.

I heard the story. I told my husband about it. I did nothing.

I am complicit in the perpetuation of racism for all sorts of reasons, but what strikes me is that this happened 8 weeks ago.  I don’t know exactly when I read about it, but it was not recent. It got filed along with the thousands of other things that I have filed away in my head about racial violence. Awareness without action isn’t enough. 

There have been other events since then that have enraged me; most notably, the impact of COVID on communities of color both in terms of access to care and enforcement of laws around social distancing and the wearing of masks. This also got filed away. Alas, knowledge, even rage, does not equal activism.

I actually had a thought last week that I was suffering burnout from reading about all the racial injustice in the world (I subscribe to a number of media outlets that track these events). 

Daily. This happens daily. 

Not only when white people hear about them. 

They. Happen. Daily.

This thought that I could suffer burnout from just knowing about these events is not surprising. It is what I feel. But to put my head in the sand or to shut off social media, for me, equated to abandoning people I love who cannot do the same.  Not only can’t my brothers and sisters of color “shut it off”, they actually have to heighten their awareness every single day. I can’t imagine wondering whether I’d get shot if I go out for a jog. Or wondering whether it was safe for my child to go to a prom or a school party. And yet, I know that people of color feel it when they come to my lovely, suburban neighborhood. They live in a state of trauma – a brain chemistry that is focused on staying alive – every day. So no, they cannot shut it off.

If I want to be in solidarity with people of color and learn from people of color, I have to listen to people of color and try to understand their experience, at whatever level my awareness allows for.

So I am here to say that I am exhausted but will never be as exhausted as a person of color. 

I can no longer claim to be an advocate for racial justice without taking action against racial injustice.

I am asking for guidance. I am putting out into the universe a need for direction on what action I can take. What is next for me? Please, call me into something. In the meantime, I will seek  opportunities on my own. I commit to this. 

I did nothing when I heard about Ahmaud Arbery. Thankfully, others did.

image taken from http://www.time.com

Turning Away from the Sun so that I Can Grow

Its that time of year again. Sunflower season. In the next few weeks, fields will be blanketed with these amazing flowers – myriad breeds, shades of yellows and oranges and browns, different heights – all pointing to the sun. I often think of August and September as a time when we start again. I imagine this is from so many years of going to school on a traditional academic calendar (in the northeast, at least!), with a new classroom, a new set of teachers, classmates, subject materials. I loved this time of year ~ unlike others, I found excitement in the newness and very little conscious fear. I remember that first fall out of graduate school. I felt lost; like something was missing. I remember the awareness that there was nothing new in my life, no new school, new college apartment, new books to buy, new subjects to eagerly jump into. I was depressed and at the same time, grateful to know where it came from.

I know my “sun”. I know that my life patterns are about the next new thing. I know that I feel a “hit” when I shift my attention towards something that is not what I’m doing right now. This has allowed for myriad experiences and exposure 

to so many concepts, topics, and types of people to come into my life. But what has it cost me? It has probably cost me some depth. Some awareness. Some awakening. If something gets boring or painful or difficult, I am easily swayed to something new {read: avoid pain at all costs}. In that newness, I cheat myself of the ability to really feel; to really experience; to really know myself outside of my defenses and my ego. My truth ~ who I am in my soul ~ never reveals itself if I don’t sit still and listen.

So this month, my attention is pointed to the sunflower. Sure, its the logo for my business, for all the reasons I cite on my website {shameless plug: www.christinagranahan.com}. Sunflowers need the sun for survival. But they also need their seed

and the dirt. Sunflowers, like me, shift and change when they hit the sun. I want to know who I am before I ever hit the sun; who I am at my core, my seed, my dirt, my soul: I want to find my own light, completely separate from the sun. I want more choice over how I view the world and how I react when I’m in it. I know that only by sitting still, turning inward, and just being in the moment without the noise of my thoughts and beliefs, can I do this work and have that choice.

Anyone want to come along and “grow” yourself with me?

Why the sunflower? While unique in color and size, all sunflowers share the desire to find the sun. Sunflowers will point their bold centers towards light – in fact, their vitality depends on it. Their potential for vibrance, growth, stature, and sustainability in a field of many, is completely dependent on their ability to poke through the dirt and move towards the sun. Like the sunflower, we all have the ability to find our own light. Our ability to stand confidently and with purpose among many, moving towards our unique genius, happens only when we find our light. Let me help you find your light.