Why do you do what you do?

I grew up around talk radio and still love it. One of my favorite radio personalities is Terry Gross, who hosts Fresh Air. What I find most fascinating about her show is not so much who she interviews, but the questions she asks. Like a skilled investigator, she shortcuts through the obvious in search of the most interesting, personal, and deepest truth. I have often paused just to marvel at her questions and in doing so, contemplate my own.

In my own line of work, learning to ask better questions has yielded considerable insights. A few years ago (well, more like 18), I too contemplated this question: “why do I do what I do?” and this came during one of the highest points in my corporate career. In an essay titled Enterprises of Meaning, (2013), I shared the following:

Vowing never to do anything of artificial importance again, I left corporate America in 1998.  Some called this departure “bold” and “inspiring”; most called it “stupid” and “misguided”. I was 4 months pregnant with my first daughter and decided to trade-in the security of a lovely salary and stellar benefits, for education and a more meaningful existence.  That Fall, my friend Julie and I enrolled in a graduate degree program at a nearby University – both of us fueled by a deep desire to not only learn more about the world around us, but about ourselves.  And we did. And we are still learning.

So here I sit, 18 years later, asking myself the same question; why do I do what I do?, and of course, the answer is both infinitely simple and complex.

The poet Mary Oliver, when asked about why she writes, stated that when a poem comes to her it is like an energy so powerful that she must stop everything else and simply write it down–or it will be gone.  It is something she cannot help but do. Many writers and artists know this feeling. Inspiration is not a “thought”; it is an energy that visits us, in order to manifest itself in physical form.

When inspiration comes knocking on your life door, you have a choice; follow it or ignore it. Either route is imbued with great peril and potential terror. Either path will yield data for the heart. However, only one path will be representative of your fullest, most authentic humanity, and result in personal peace and true wealth.

In the years since leaving corporate America, I have come across many others who have heeded the call to follow their soul’s call. Many of them are “here” with me, as we support, co-create, and grapple with duality! One thing we all share in common is the deep understanding that comes from “the fall”; the necessary softening, integration, and utilization of the ego, in the service of something greater than ourselves.

If you’re at a life cross-road…if you’re struggling or suffering…if you’re ready to ask yourself the deeper questions, there is support available. To this end, here are a few questions from our Soulful Inquiries™ to help get you started:

– What one thing can I do today to be more peaceful in my life?
– What level of consciousness do I wish to embody?
– Is my life in alignment with my soul?

If you want to climb a mountain

I came across this Zen saying the other day and it reminded me of someone, actually of several beautiful someones.

Popularized by Steven Covey, “begin with the end in mind”, is another way of expressing this sentiment and reminding us not to get so caught up in the details.

Social entrepreneurs are like mountain climbers who begin at the top. They are more concerned with the vision (the view from the top), than with the hows or the details of the climb. Why?

Because the hows are not static.
The hows are subject to constant assessment and revision.
The hows are the active and living part of the climb.

Whether you’re a social entrepreneur or not, what mountain do you wish to climb? What do you see from the top? What vision do you hold for your life and work? It’s perfectly prudent to begin your climb there.

Then, be open to the inevitable new vistas that are revealed, when your vision is enhanced, by fellow mountain climbers.

Where the Light Enters You

Profoundly changed I am, and yet, relatively the same I am, too. To the million and one things that conspired to bring me here today, I say “thank you.”

This famous quote by Rumi, a favorite of mine, has danced in my heart for several decades. It is paradoxical, of course, that a wound would be the method by which light and grace transmutes us. Perhaps it isn’t as much the pain, as it is the sheer force of love that cracks us finally open, to reveal the truth that has always been.

Cracked-open, like a flower in full bloom (or like a nut!), take your pick.  It is a journey, this life of ours. Each step on our path a validation of the application of will, of you choosing love and loyalty to your soul above all else.

To view life from a clear and new perspective has its advantages. It also enables the natural separation from forces that no longer serve your soul, which opens up the space, (infinite space!), to create a conscious day.

Cultivating Your Life Garden

A garden should make you feel you’ve entered privileged space – a place not just set apart but reverberant – and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry.  – Michael Pollan

I’m not sure if it’s the influence of my gardening friends, or my love of flowers, or my passion for nature and local farming, or the book I’ve been working on for more than a few years (People Are Like Flowers), but I am deeply drawn to the notion of seeing my life as a garden.

At times unkempt. At times over-run by toxic elements. At times filled with weeds. At times nearly dead. At times bursting with life.

The older we get, the better we are at discerning what nurtures and what destroys life in our garden.  As we gain wisdom, we realize, too, that what we decide to grow is entirely up to us.

In the Middle

The more one learns (collides), and understands (is humbled by) life, the more one fully sees the futility of taking a side.

By “a side”, I mean from the dualistic perspective; the primitive mentality of ego that forces us to believe that it is either “this way” or “that way”.

My own life journey has shown me that there is only one sane “side”, and that is the middle; being able to see everything from a non-dualistic perspective. This view requires a deeper understanding; one of integration and the willing transmutation of our aggressive and fearful drives.

Mastering our minds and taming our ego in favor of behaving from the integrity of our soul, requires commitment and practice.  This is the path to personal peace, and the only way to community and global understanding; one person at a time.

A stance of personal peace requires that we take full responsibility for ourselves, our work, and our freedom.  Peace is conscious creation and therefore, not a passive undertaking. Peace is active participation in your own life.

Love Changes Us

My oldest daughter, Serena, is majoring in biology. Because she herself contends with a chronic and often debilitating condition, cystic fibrosis, our conversations about health, and life, are always a mix of hard-science, sprinkled with the awareness of hard-knocks, and layered with both energy-based strategies, and our own hope-filled directives for living a better life.

But something hit me the other day (and perhaps it was re-reading Bruce Lipton and/or Joe Dispenza’s You are the Placebo), but it occurred to me (again), that love– the gentle, sweet and focused intention of it, changes things….and therefore, although I have no actual scientific proof, I sense it changes our actual biology.

Personally, I’m starting to see more and more how I feel when I come at things from fear, versus a space of love. I sense we all do, too.  So perhaps, this is a good day to practice this (Valentine’s Day)….and we could all start by being a little kinder, patient, and more loving to ourselves. 

My True Feelings | The Story Behind the Book

There are so many people and experiences that conspired to bring this little poem-story to life, including; my parents, my culture, my work in emotional intelligence, my long-time writing partner and Land of EmotionsTM collaborator, Crystal Pirri, my time with Cal King and my work on the NUF books, artificial intelligence pioneer, Marvin Minsky, my daughters, my students, my work with Kristie and our Essence GlossaryTM

But what really finally pushed me– the thing that helped me weave all these seeming disparate “pieces-parts” together, was an eagle siting.

I had never seen an eagle in the wild, but when it appeared to me, perched up on the highest possible branch on a dead tree, I was awestruck. For some strange reason, I knew (felt) it was no coincidence– that the timing of this eagle was designed to bring forth something true and deep within me…something that all of us intuitively know, yet seldom believe or act upon; the wisdom of our hearts.

It is my hope that through its simple rhymes and rhythm, you will be reminded of the magnificent intelligence of your own heart.  The book is designed for elementary school ages, but it is really a book for everyone! If you are an educator or are considering using the book for group work, visit the information page HERE.


This book/journal, which has been in the workings of my heart for some time, will soon be released.

My first full-fledged glimpse into the notion of “self-care” came by way of my daughters, and in particular, my daughter with cystic fibrosis.  Her recent hospitalization provided a new window into a reality neither she, nor anyone who loves her, can escape, but one that with loving intention, we can at least transmute.

Through the rigor and rhythms of her daily routines, I’ve had to adjust my own life and work, in order to uphold my own self-care (and what a noble and honorable gift this has been).

In my professional life, especially my work in community health, I’ve seen first-hand how daily rituals and a commitment to take care of ones mind, heart, body and spirit, is essential when dealing with chronic illness and conditions…which then always gets me thinking about the fact that all of us deal with a common condition: the condition of being human, and the common illnesses of mind, heart, body and spirit which sustain our fears, and deplete our creativity and ability to love.

My daughter always reminds me that “a long life” is not the same as “a good life” — that “fighting CF” is a bit of a misguided goal, and that actually living with it (or anything challenging in our lives), is the way to heal.

Gratitude, a contemplative practice, enables the process of reflection and integration; of acknowledging that even the “bad” has good, and of realizing that if it’s in your life, whatever ugly, miserable, deadly, threatening condition, it is there to help you awaken.

Intrusive Advising

I came across an article this week that caught my eye. In particular, the headline brought a tinge of pain to the pit of my stomach.

The term intrusive advising sounds and feels so heavy-handed, and in my opinion, a blatant example of how we actually injure (disempower) and insult people, all under the guise of “helping” them.

Intrusive is, well, intrusive.  Intrusiveness communicates the patriarchal sentiment: “I know better than you”, and is a form of institutional and inter-personal bullying.

My daughter, who is a college junior, brought up the point to me recently, when she received several unsolicited emails from her advisor.  She has a complicated medical condition and therefore experiences challenges from time to time.  She was taken aback when her advisor expressed his “deep concern” that she had received a C, rather than an A, on a biology course. He even suggested she change her major!

In his desire to ensure “academic retention and graduation rates”, he essentially insulted and infuriated my daughter– and unfortunately, she is now less likely to ever seek council from him.

As someone who has spent a great deal of time in the helping professions, it is clear how this happens and the mentality that enables it. I’ve been guilty of this myself, so have learned the hard way that over-helping is actually not helpful at all. It is intrusive at best, and abusive at worst.

I’ve also been on the receiving end of well-meaning individuals trying to “help me”, but who never stopped to ask my permission or consent. They honestly “thought” they were helping. And therein lies the flaw; the egoic “thinking” and mentality that we somehow know better about someone’s life, work, life ambitions, studies, art, relationships, fill-in-the-blank, than they themselves do.  Arrogant? Ignorant? Yes.

What can we do instead to support student success? For starters, I suggest abandoning the term (well, unless universities do in fact wish to be “intrusive”).

Language matters. Respect matters, too. If we want to help students and truly assist in facilitating the perilous journey of higher education, then we must approach it from this space. The terms partnership advising or collaborative advising express a professional inter-dependence, versus a one-sided and therefore pathological dynamic that requires an “intruder”.

One of the best and most coherent voices to ever express the importance of respecting those you wish to help, comes from Ernesto Sirolli, who in his 2012 TEDTalk inspired and implored to those who wish to help others to “shut up and listen!”

Which would you choose?

Grand Canyon, 2010

There is a perilous, jagged, and crooked path that affords the richest, deepest and most expansive views of this life and world.

There is a straight, safe, and secure path which enables the most basic understanding of the human condition.

Which would you choose?

If given a choice, no one in their right mind would likely pick the perilous path. Most of us are rather content with the straight, safe and secure. Often times, however, we are not given a choice about which path we must traverse. Especially when love is directing our course.

Parents of chronically ill children have been “places” most would rather not go. However, the love of our children will take us places most would rather avoid; from impassioned conversations about quality of life, to human rights, to comparative religion and philosophy, to death.

When my daughter said to me, “I would rather live 3 good years, than live another 20 like this”, it stopped me cold in my own tracks. What are we really trying to do? Should we “fight” or should we “yield”? These are questions that only a soul can answer.

More than once I’ve been told by very well meaning people: “You have such a hard life!”, “I can’t imagine how I would handle what you deal with on a daily basis!”. I politely nod, because clearly, they’ve not traversed the crooked, jagged path of life– or perhaps they are unaware they actually have and that there is suffering in every life. Cancer patients know this. Recovered addicts know this. Artists know this. People who contend with mental health issues know this, too.

Only those who are awake and aware, intimately know the grace and the depth of understanding that comes from the most expansive and heart-opening life hikes. No truer is the adage “there are no short-cuts to any place worth going,” than in matters related to quality of life and death. We either go “kicking-and-screaming”, or in faith and grace– but it’s okay to totally do both.