Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Harry and the Peach Seed

Harry is my dear friend and “adopted brother” who is a master storyteller. He has many tales of his beloved “Nannar,” his mother’s mother, who doted on him as her only grandchild. I especially love his peach seed story and I use it often with clients when I’m illustrating a point. It goes something like this…

One day when he was about eight years old, Harry was visiting Nannar in her rural Virginia home. As usual, visits to Nannar included time in her kitchen and on this day they were enjoying the juicy goodness of a fresh summer peach. As the seed started to emerge through the plump peach Harry was eating, he got an idea.

“Can we plant this peach seed?” young Harry asked.

“Of course,” Nannar replied. “We’ll plant it in the back yard where we can watch it grow through the kitchen window.”

A great plan Harry thought, so off they went to plant the seed. A suitable spot was found and under Nannar’s watchful gaze, Harry dug a hole, deposited the seed, covered it with dirt and added water. “Now we wait,” Nannar said.

Just a few days later, Harry asked his grandmother if they could dig the seed up and see how it was doing.

“You don’t want to do that,” Nannar cautioned.

“But why not?” Harry countered. He was an inquisitive lad and as an only child, was used to getting his requests quickly met.

“You planted the seed and watered it,” Nannar said. “Now you must wait and let it grow. It’s started to sprout under the dirt and when it’s ready, the plant will poke through the ground and you’ll see it grow into a beautiful tree. We’ll eat peaches from that tree one day,” she said.

“But I want to check on it now and make sure,” a stubborn Harry replied.

“OK, but if you disturb the seed, it’ll stop growing,” the wise Nannar said. “You have to trust the seed is doing what it needs to even if you can’t see the progress.”

“I want to dig it up,” Harry said.

“OK,” replied Nannar. They went into the back yard and she supervised as a determined Harry carefully dug up the seed to discover it had indeed sprouted.

“Look! It’s growing!” Harry said.

“It was,” his grandmother countered. “Now it has stopped growing,” she said.

“I’ll just put it back and it’ll be fine,” Harry said.

“You can put it back in the ground, but it’s too late for this seed to grow,” Nannar said. “When you plant a seed, you must be patient, wait and trust the seed is doing what it needs to even if you can’t see it.”

“It’ll be fine,” Harry said as he replanted the delicate sprout. “We’ll have a peach tree soon!”

For weeks afterwards, Harry would visit Nannar and run to the back yard to check on the progress of his peach tree. He’d water the spot if it looked dry.

Nannar would observe this ritual with a smile and say, “You have to trust the process Harry. You can’t dig up the seed and expect to grow a tree.”

Of course Nannar was right, and the seed never grew.

Harry told me that for years later, he would be sitting with his grandmother in the kitchen and she’d motion out the window into the back yard and say, “That’s where your tree would have been if you’d given the seed time to grow. That tree could have produced thousands of peaches by now and hundreds of new trees could have come from that single seed. When you plant something, Harry, you have to nurture it, be patient and trust in the natural process.”

WOW. Using a simple example from nature, Nannar beautifully explained a powerful life lesson. I love this story.

I’ve often wondered how many times in my own life I’ve planted a “seed” only to have been impatient with the process and “dug it up” before it had time to grow properly? I’ve done that with relationships, jobs and countless projects over my lifetime. Wish I’d had Nannar to advise me. But thanks to Harry, I do have her wisdom.

What “seed” have you planted lately? Do you know how to nurture it while you practice patience and trust it will grow?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

That Dream You’ve Had for Years….is 2015 the Time to Do it?

What have you been talking about doing for years? What is that activity, event or action you’ve been dreaming about? Want to run a marathon? Write a book? Take a class? The start of a New Year is a great time to re-evaluate your goals and make plans to accomplish them. But how do you know if this is your dream or someone else’s dream for you? I get that question a lot in my coaching practice. Get out a journal and I’ll explain how you can use your own Divine Guidance to get the answers you need. Let’s start…

Shut your eyes, take a deep breath and imagine your dream is now a reality. Take another deep breath. Eyes still closed, concentrate on any feelings that come up. Do you feel excited? Proud? Scared? Or maybe depressed? Take a few minutes to explore this. Use your journal to jot down any feelings that emerge. Spend time really imagining how accomplishing this dream will make you feel, then ask yourself this question: does the thought of this make me happy? Ok, that’s your first clue.

Now try the reverse. Shut your eyes, take a breath and imagine that you are lying on your death bed at the end of a long life and you never realized this dream. Really feel into this. What comes up? Are you sad? Remorseful? Do you feel relief? Or is there no emotion at all around it? Note those feelings in your journal as well. That’s your second clue!

Now for the final test. Shut your eyes, take a couple deep breaths and imagine directing your consciousness to your heart. Some people like to place their hands on their heart for this part. Breathe into your heart space and ask yourself, “Is pursuing this dream for my highest and best good now?” Trust whatever answer first comes to you. Write it down.

Review your notes then relax and shut your eyes again. Breathe deep and ask for guidance. What was the first thought you had? Trust it. It’s Ok to feel this dream is no longer relevant to you. If that’s how you feel, let it go without guilt. You may feel this is the perfect time to proceed. Then get going! Take inspired action to move you forward. Baby steps toward your dream are fine, as long as you’re going forward. And remember sometimes you have to let go to move forward.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Nothing Is As It Appears

Have you ever heard the phrase “nothing is as it appears?” It reminds us that we only “see” through our own mental filters. We bring our opinions, learning and past experiences to everything we see, hear and think which colors our perspective.

When we were kids, my family traveled from our Virginia home to visit relatives in the mid-west. I remember we stopped in Michigan one year and my dad decided to treat us to a “nice” dinner. After a recommendation from the hotel staff, we were off. Dad negotiated the station wagon up and down the crowded city streets until we came to what appeared to be a run-down warehouse. A single metal door marked with the name of the restaurant was visible under a lone street light. The building had no windows, no decoration, no curb appeal. It was scary.

“This can’t be it,” my mom said. “It’s the right address,” Dad countered. “The guy said it looked rough, but for us to go in anyway.”

We entered through the stark doorway, through a small hall and into a dazzling dining room sparkling with beautiful tables, giant floral displays, elegant chandeliers and smartly dressed staff. “WOW,” I remember thinking. This wasn’t the Waldorf Astoria, but the restaurant was completely different than it appeared from the outside. This episode helped me understand the adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Great advice for us all, don’t you think?

I got an even deeper understanding of this principle just this past weekend. My husband’s oldest sister, Joann, passed away on New Year’s Eve after a short but aggressive bout with cancer. In the ten years since Joe and I’ve been married, I’d only spent time with Joann twice, and spoken to her on the phone a few times more. She lived eight hours south and we’d both been dealing with sick family members for several years. We were going to visit soon. They were coming up to see us soon. It never happened. And now we were heading to Charleston, South Carolina to put Joann to rest and be with her grieving husband, children and grandchildren.

Based on the time I’d spent with Joann and the stories I’d heard from Joe and other family still in Virginia, I was confident I knew all about her. I was wrong. As many of us do, I’d forgotten she’d continued to grow and change over the years as I had. It hadn’t occurred to me she was more than the wife, mother and school teacher I had spent time with. My memories of Joann held her tight in a specific box in my mind, complete with a few descriptive phrases I remembered when I thought of her. My little box proved woefully inadequate to describe the woman she was in this life. Where had I gone wrong?

I had neglected to see the beautiful Divine spirit that she truly was. I felt this spirit embrace us all as we gathered at the funeral home on Sunday to bid farewell. I saw it in the stunning portrait of Joann that had been painted only days before by her brother-in-law. Her spirit was there in the fragrance of the vibrant flowers as their scent wafted through the room. It was her spirit that shined through the eyes of her beautiful grandchildren, when I saw them laugh and cry.

As I sat through the service, I heard the pain in her son’s eulogy and I knew his great pain came from the great love he had for his mother. Her spirit was there again in the striking poem read by her adult granddaughter and the tearful words of her ten year old grandson. I began to understand the woman she was when, after the service, I saw two young men come to pay their respects to the family.

These two had been best friends since sixth grade when they were in Joann’s Language Arts class. She had truly inspired them and since that time, they had gotten “A’s” in every English class they took. They were now college seniors. Amazing. Two young men – at the end of a holiday weekend – took the time to let her family know how Joann had changed their lives all those years ago.

Back at the house, her husband David reminded me that he and Joann had gone back to college in their late 40’s to get teaching degrees. Joann had been a high school drop out as a kid. In her 20’s she was a mom to five children, then added several step children. Many years later, she got her GED and graduated from college when many people would think it was too late to reinvent themselves. But Joann did.

David also told me Joann had first worked as a teacher in a very poor, rural area of South Carolina where many children were raised by their grandparents. Many of the adults in the area were illiterate. At the first parent-teacher night that first year, Joann was shocked when only two parents in the entire school showed up. So she concocted a plan. She and David went to local grocery stores and got donations, then purchased supplies for a cookout and, on their own, threw a party at school inviting the kids, parents and grandparents. David smiled as he remembered nearly 150 people showed up for the cookout.

“Joann knew the adults were intimidated by the school, but she also knew everyone shows up for free food!” he remembered as his eyes sparkled with the memory. Brilliant. She figured out a way to meet the families and got them involved in school life.

Incredible. And I never knew. I never knew the spirit of this woman who was determined to help children in need and found a way to do just that.

Was Joann a saint? Not at all, as was apparent from the hilarious stories told around the table after the service. I bet you’re not either. I know I’m not.

I am thankful to have been a part of the family gathering to celebrate the life of this special lady. And I’m grateful to be reminded that nothing, and no one, is as they appear from our limited thinking.