Reflections from the Lake

Sitting by a lake for three weeks will make you reflect on a lot of things. Like napping, for example. When not nodding off, however, or lost in contemplation of how the sun sparkles on the water . . . this has proved to be a place for me to put some things into perspective, such as our current political state and what is our responsibility as coaches and thought leaders in a polarized society.

Before I came up to the lake, I was invited to spend an evening hosted by the Better Angels organization, which is touring the country creating spaces for civil dialogue between people of opposing political views. I attended with one of my dearest friends, whose politics are quite different from mine. We have been having vigorous—and civil—conversations about why we believe as we do ever since the last election, and we were curious to see if this could happen among 18 strangers, given how very un-civil much of the debate seems to be in the media. I’m happy to say it is possible, and I give a lot of credit to Better Angels for the structure they used that made it a place where we could listen and learn from each other without fear of personal attacks.

It makes me feel hopeful—especially if I stop watching so much “news” and stop following friends on Facebook who feel the need to vent every day.

And being at the lake has given me a chance to connect with old friends across the political divide, talk about where we are, where we think the country is going . . . but mostly, to reassure ourselves that we are STILL who we have always been, no one has grown a second head or turned into a monster, and that we all still love the natural beauty we are surrounded with, good food, jokes, long walks, and commiserating about growing older.

So this is what I want to share from the lake. I know it is not very profound, so I’m not sure why I’m tearing up just writing these words. We have so much good here. We are so fortunate to be free to think as we do, say what we believe, teach our children as best we can. If there is anything I feel driven to do about our current state of polarization, it is to urge others to look beyond their differences, to ask questions, to stay curious, to be willing to be wrong, to admit we’re still figuring it out, to live in humility. How about you?

Living in the River and Loving It

This month two concepts keep rising to the surface, to the point that I cannot ignore them, so may as well write about them: transition and generosity. Or, if you will, the constant nature of change, and how we are called upon to live within it and keep our center.

I am aware as never before of the fluidity of time—how days and weeks seem to melt into each other, how seasons pass rapidly and just as I’m finally adjusted to crispness, it’s time to put away the sweaters and bring on the allergy medicine . . . or wait, flip-flops! Perhaps a visit from my 93 year old mother heightened my attention to time—we looked at old photographs of her childhood, and mine, and even while we laughed about how much has changed in the world during her nine decades, we both felt like our youth was just yesterday. I have a sense of not changing on the inside nearly as much as I have on the outside.

People talk about wisdom coming with age, and maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t, but what does seem true is an increasing ability—or need?—to stand outside of events, relationships, work and play, and view them with distance and curiosity. Impermanence is one of the central tenets of Buddhism, and in my recent meditation practice I have found this idea of annica present and resonant. (A Buddhist follower was once asked to sum up the teachings of his master and said simply, “Everything changes.”)

Three questions come up most often:

  • What am I holding on to?
  • What am I afraid of letting go?
  • How can I allow this change to be, without feeling it as a loss?

And this is where generosity comes in. Just as some of us attempt to follow the Buddhist practice of “non-judging awareness,” so we try to give of ourselves without expectations, or strings attached. This is hard, but it opens up such a different way of being in a changing world that you can, quite literally, feel your heart expand and your tension ease.

I know there are a mountain of words written on change, resilience, adaptation, etc. I can only speak to my personal experience, and hope that it is meaningful and helpful to my clients and my friends. This is what I am learning:

  • Generosity towards myself—a lessening of expectations, a forgiveness of unintended misdeeds, a wonder at “what’s next?”—brings lightness to my days even as things turn out in ways I don’t expect.
  • Generosity towards others turns disappointment into joy at the unexpected and surprising gifts that come from learning to accept reality and loving them just as they are.
  • Generosity towards the world allows me to say, “OK, this is what is happening now, I wonder what will happen next?”

This is not a call to or justification of passivity. We should and must speak up and work for the right as we see it. But knowing that we live in a constantly changing, impermanent world allows us to see ourselves as small actors in the river of time and history, and to take joy in both acceptance and curiosity. In this way, I believe we stay forever young, resilient, adapting all the time. We’re all in the river, so may we enjoy the ride!

COPIA on Retreat

January 2017 . . . COPIA is on retreat at the beach. We do this—the partners and our CFO—every year to refresh, rewind, and prep for the year ahead. This year, as we’re preparing to launch our new website, we are also mulling over the words we use to describe who we are. We’re figuring out what’s changed, what hasn’t, and how to describe ourselves. Two things keep coming up: a feeling that it is awfully hard to describe a business that is more than a business (an un-business?) and how integral the idea of “community” is to us. We’ll be writing more about this as we clarify things in our own minds. In the meantime, we’re polishing each other, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, like stones in a pouch. Ouch.

 We often find a movie to go to while we’re retreating, and this year we went to see “Hidden Figures.” It’s a beautiful film, full of history, love, and irony. That sense of community we are noticing is big here—without a strong community, none of the women who worked so courageously and tirelessly could have prevailed against the winds of prejudice and constraint. It wasn’t a lovey-dovey community, either—they definitely called each other on their shit. Polishing each other seems to be part of community. Hmm.

 Mission is another concept we struggle to talk about with clarity—our own and that of the clients we serve. In the movie, we all noticed how their mission—getting a man farther in space than the Russians had—drove everyone not only to work longer and harder, but to work WITH those they would never ordinarily even take seriously. Mission drives us, challenges us, expands us. It makes all that stone polishing worth the pain and effort.

More to come . . . we are committing this year to at least one blog per month. Enjoy and send us feedback!