Tag Archives: pain

Van of forgiveness

We break out the board.

Two $500’s. Two $100’s. Two $50’s. Six $20’s. Five $10’s. Five $5’s. And five $1’s.

Take a few spins around the board. Then… what’s this? Hidden money appears magically from beneath a certain corner of the board. “I was just saving it.”

Tension mounting. Temperatures rising. Just a game? In and of itself, yes… But moreover, a game that serves as a doorway into Pandora’s Box of stuffed emotions. Anger. Fear. Frustration. Pain. Sadness. Grief.

Why these changes? Why a different world? Ask at your own peril.

Soon, board pieces will fly. The little hat will be lost forever, and the statue of the guy on the horse will end up beneath the refrigerator. The game will be rendered ‘off limits’ for one week, relegated to the top shelf of the parental closet.

But what of the broken hearts? (The broken hearts, they sing… the broken hearts, they sing.) Innocent children pulled the game out. They are not to blame.

And it was innocent children who pulled the game out forty years ago. Lost, confused, surrounded by parents who drank. Parents who shot out the street lights with handguns, laughing all the way to the front door. Parents who disappeared. Parents who died with the engine running and the garage door closed.

Innocent children sent overseas to live with a sister. Scarred for life, at the hands of a brother-in-law.

Innocent children who found one another and did the best they could in a frightening world.

Innocent children who pulled out the game EIGHTY years ago. Doubled over with pain, gripping one’s stomach… flying into the night. Coming to a very abrupt stop.

Innocent children. Looking back across the generations, nothing but innocent children, as far as the eye can see. Aching for love, acceptance, compassion.

My brother stands up. Turning around, he spreads his arms wide. Generations of innocent children straighten up in their folding chairs, leaning forward to hear.

My brother clears his throat and speaks: “Only one remedy: Love.” he says.

“Love fills the tank of my van of forgiveness.”

He walks around the van, kicking the tires of understanding. Carefully washing the windshield of hope.

“This van doesn’t stop til the end of the line,” he says. “Hop in. There’s room for all of us.”

And as I turn from the pots and pans to look out the back door, scouring pad in hand, I see my brother, Johnny Boy, escorting a crowd of souls; helping them as they file, one by one, into his van.

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Angry Subaru Man VS Road Bike Guy

Wow. So I’m riding my bicycle on E. 3rd Avenue (near E. 31st Street) at about 5pm on Tuesday, April 12. I see a fellow cyclist riding toward me on a road bike, in full gear.

A guy in a Subaru passes him, then slams on his brakes and comes to a stop right there, in the middle of the street. His tires even kind of squealed a little. Like in the movies.

The door flies open. The driver jumps out, runs up to Road Bike Guy and begins screaming. Cursing. Getting right in his face. Yelling obscenities that you can’t print here. For about five minutes. Seriously ranting about how the cyclist had cut the guy off. I’m pretty sure I saw spit flying.

I was so shocked I simply stopped my bike, got off, and just stood there watching. I wanted to make sure Angry Subaru Guy knew there were witnesses.

Road Bike Guy, to his credit, kept his cool.

After about three minutes of yelling, cursing, and claiming ‘champion cyclist’ status (“I’m a cyclist, too!”), Angry Subaru Man turned and started to get back in his car.

Road Bike Guy asked, in a respectful tone, if Angry Subaru Man had seen the stop sign. Angry Subaru Man gets BACK out of his car, goes BACK up to Road Bike Guy, and starts yelling again.

Meanwhile, no fewer than 7 cars are stopped in traffic. I counted.

Road Bike Guy, thanks for keeping your cool.

Angry Subaru Man, if you really ARE a cyclist, couldn’t you think of a better way to address the issue with Road Bike Guy? Do you think that R.B.G. somehow agrees with you now?

Were you worked up about something else? Lose your job? Going through a divorce? Times truly are tough right now. We’re all hurting, in one way or another. We live in community. We’ve got to cut each other some slack from time to time.

I’m pretty sure that any children who were in the 7 vehicles you stopped were watching you, learning one (less than ideal) way to deal with conflict. You were teaching by example, intentionally or not.

Thanks for the reminder that I’m teaching by example, as well. Next time I’m in my car and frustrated with a cyclist, or on my bike and frustrated with the driver of a vehicle, I’ll think of you.

Tim Birchard,
Durango

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Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with pet owners

“Oh, it’s okay… she won’t bite.”

As I open the car door and turn to step out of the car, I look up to see two dogs fast approaching. I raise my right foot and hold it in the air. The dog stops suddenly and takes a step back. The owner quickly takes hold of the dog’s collar and then, holding the dog’s collar, slowly brings the dog’s nose closer to my leg.

“She just wants to sniff you.”

I look at my fellow human being and wonder: Do I have any say in the matter?

Why is it that so many dog owners are happy to tell me that their dog is perfectly safe, and that I should have no concerns about letting this animal put its jaws and teeth right next to my leg to satisfy its curiosity? What happens if the dog smells something it doesn’t like and responds by biting me? Isn’t it then a little too late, now that I have to pay for a hospital visit and rabies shots, to run up, regain control of their dog, and apologize?

(I’m reminded of my routine bicycle ride to work last week, when I found myself face-to-face with an angry dog, up on its hind legs, teeth bared, straining against the leash as its owner struggled to keep it from lunging at my body as I rode by. Zen told me to keep riding, since the only thing that had been disturbed was my thought process. Still I find myself turning over and over in my mind the various other possible outcomes. So much for my Zen training.)

And setting aside safety issues and the potential unpredictability of mammals lower on the food chain, what if I simply PREFER not to have dogs rubbing their noses and fur against my body?

Whose needs come first: a dog’s, or a human’s?

It’s my responsibility to set and maintain healthy boundaries around my own body. It’s also my responsibility to make sure that my body doesn’t collide with anyone else’s body; by extension, it’s my responsibility to make sure that my dog doesn’t violate the personal boundaries around other peoples’ bodies.

So why is it that when a dog owner refuses to respect my personal boundaries and I’m put in the position to maintain them myself, she or he becomes so defensive and protective of their dog?

I’m sitting in the park minding my own business. A dog runs up and starts trying to sniff my body. I make adjustments to prevent the dog from doing so.

And suddenly, I’m the jerk?

In this case, I happened to be helping a dear friend with a project that involved being on the dog owner’s property. So I kept my mouth shut. More or less. But the more this pattern wore on through the day, the more unhappy I felt. Now that I’ve had some time to tease apart the issues at hand, I feel better prepared to articulate my concerns. I’m realizing that setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with people can mean making requests regarding how they control their pets. Now I understand that I need to be ready to make the following requests:

“I understand that you love your dog, and I respect that. I need to know what action you’re going to take to keep your dog at least three feet away from my body. If your dog gets closer to my body than that, I need to know what action you’re comfortable with me taking; do you prefer I move my leg quickly and make a sharp sound? Do you prefer I shake my gloves in your dog’s face? Because if you don’t care enough to control your dog and respect my personal boundaries, I certainly plan to maintain them for myself.”

“If you don’t like any of those choices, dog lover, then I leave it to you to maintain control of your dog.”

If that doesn’t work, then I make the choice to remove myself from the situation, whether other people experience emotional discomfort or not.

At the end of the day, this isn’t a ‘dog’ issue, or a ‘pet’ issue at all.

It’s a matter of respecting another human being’s freedom to choose whether to get close to animals or not. It’s a matter of recognizing that just because I love dogs doesn’t mean that everyone loves dogs. When I let my dog walk up and sniff you, I’m disregarding your freedom to choose that outcome. And when you protect your own freedom to choose by preventing the dog from getting close enough to sniff your body and I respond by chastising you, I’m demonstrating a total lack of awareness that your happiness may not include dog slobber on your clothing and body.

What do you think, fellow human being? Where’s the line?



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Leadership circle

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Leadership journey (part 2: Legacy Statement)

Draft #3

How do you wish to be remembered as a leader by those inside and outside your organization, and by those with whom you might work in the future?

When asked this question (how do you want to be remembered?), Frank Zappa replied, “I don’t. It’s not important.”

In the spirit of Frank, I say it’s perfectly fine that “Tim” will be forgotten. What’s important is for love, curiosity, and music to be remembered and lived deeply.

The pebble hits the water and disappears, while the ripples roll outward endlessly. These are the ripples I hope to help send rolling across the pond:

  • DESIRE TO GROW. I nurture and celebrate my need to see more, and more, and more of the Big Truth.
  • FAIRNESS. I set aside my preconceived notions, shut my mouth, and listen carefully.
  • HONESTY. I acknowledge, straight up, the ways that I bring beauty and light into the world. And the ways that I don’t.
  • OPENNESS. I open my heart. Again. And again.
  • TRANSPARENCY. I openly display my motives, my gifts, my weaknesses, my truths.
  • ACCOUNTABILITY. I refuse to dodge reality. I press my face against its glass, not worrying about smudges. I also call upon friends, colleagues, and fellow human beings to come face-to-face with whatever is actually going on in any given situation.
  • SELFLESSNESS. I nurture the supreme joy of witnessing another person’s growth, realization, and transformation. I’m not trying to get anything from you. Rather, my joy comes from witnessing your reconnection with yourself. There’s nothing juicier than helping someone dream something into existence!

What have you learned in your work (and life) that you would most like to pass on—for example, lessons, what to do, how to approach challenges, outlook on life, and so on?

That in love, leadership, and life, The Jazz Ethic rules supreme: everything we need is already in the room. The tools available are perfect. The experience is truly unpredictable. The room available is perfect. The lighting is perfect. Let’s get to work.

Is there emotional discomfort? Then that’s what is present. Let’s take a look.

Is there joy? Then that’s what is present. Let’s take a look.

That people are more important than paperwork. (Even if the paperwork makes it possible to serve people.)

That it is WORTH IT to spend your life pursuing your passion and your artistic voice. If I write twenty books or record twenty albums only to find that no one cares for my art, I’ve lived a successful life through the pursuit of my own expression!

How will you convey this learning?

I’ll take a fearless attitude to entering new and unfamiliar opportunities. If The Jazz Ethic truly does rule the universe, then whatever I need is waiting for my arrival. If I’ve done my homework and show up as prepared as I know how to be, then I’m bound to learn something.

I’ll set aside the paperwork for the upcoming audit and invite the unexpected visitor back into my office. I’ll ask his name. I’ll find out how (not ‘if’) I can help him. And I’ll do my best to be helpful, remembering that ‘being nice’ and ‘being helpful’ are not necessarily the same thing.

And I’ll keep looking for ways to share my artistic expression with people, in the hopes that even if they don’t like my particular flavor of expression, maybe it will ignite them into exploring their own inner world of artistic creativity. Maybe it’ll inspire one person to express herself through art. Again… a life worth living.

What remains to be accomplished? Why is that important in building or completing your legacy?

More honesty. More stepping into discomfort. More humility. More calling ‘time out’ when my own need to complete paperwork prevents me from sitting down with a person who is looking for help. More accountability to myself and to my colleagues, as I move from sharing 20% of my talents, skills, and gifts toward sharing 100% of them.

These are critical to the development of my legacy because I’m not there yet.

Aside from more time, what will help or impede you in completing what remains to be accomplished?

Fear. (Instead, I choose LOVE.)

Doubt. (Instead, I choose CONFIDENCE.)

Uncertainty. (Instead, I choose FAITH.)

Lethargy. (Instead, I choose DYNAMIC LIFE.)

Acceptance of the status quo. (Instead, I choose SEARCHING FOR BETTER WAYS.)

Comfort. (Instead, I choose GROWTH.)

Laziness. (Instead, I choose PASSION.)

Ego. (Instead, I choose HUMILITY.)

How might completing this exercise affect what you will do on a day-to-day basis, in the next week, and in the next few months?

It’s already helping me to see more of my blind spots. Only when I see my blind spots can I address them. When I have friends and colleagues who love and trust me enough to help me come face-to-face with these blind spots, my life is a joyous journey filled with growth and transformation. When I’m able to take comfort in the discomfort, I’m a winner in the present moment. Again. And again.

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Leadership journey (part 1)

I remember the first time in my adult life I tried to get into ‘leadership’. It was back in the 90’s. I read a bunch of books that told me I should budget my time. I should be consistent, motivated, excited, energized, and ready to go above and beyond. They basically told me what I should DO and how I should BE if I wanted to be a good leader.

So I tried. Tucked my shirt in. Kept my hair cut short. Said ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’. Tried to speak up and ‘do the leadership thing’. Trouble was, I was trying to be someone I was not. And it showed. I never got the sense that people were ready to follow me anywhere.

I also began to notice that the more books I read on leadership, the more books were published. There was no way to keep up with all of the so-called ‘authorities’ on leadership. Furthermore, the books I did read often gave advice that conflicted directly with other books I’d read. “Act like you’re not afraid of anything so people will have confidence in you.” “Show your weaknesses and share your feelings so people will see you as human and have confidence in you.”

Ugh. What a mess.

I walked away from it all. I just wanted to be able to be myself. Wanted to strive for improvement, sure… but not to put on some phony act. If that’s what it took to be a leader, then they could keep it. I wasn’t interested.

At this point, I had some serious internal conflict. On one hand, I looked up to powerful leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, and a host of others. I could SEE with my own two eyes that leadership was real, dynamic, and powerful. That good leadership could change the world.

Yet on the other hand, my personal life experiences told me that leadership meant being fake, inauthentic, and phony; that in order to get people to follow me (and why would I want that sort of head trip anyway?!) I’d have to pretend to be someone I’m not. I’d have to pretend to be strong, confident, and comfortable in my own skin. Because at this point in the game, I wasn’t.

The next 10-15 years were filled with personal growth. And when I say, “filled with personal growth”, I don’t mean to suggest a pleasant afternoon stroll during which I gently stumbled upon the answer to life. No. I’m stubborn, and I often have to learn things the hard way. It felt more like crawling through rusty barbed wire and broken glass.

I skinned my knees badly. And often. Went through years of pretty savage discomfort as I learned to stand on my own two feet in my mid-30’s. About fifteen years behind schedule. But better late than never.

Started really looking closely at the concept of healthy boundaries. Began to realize that the only truly ‘clean’ relationships were those that I could approach without wanting anything from the other person. And I’d spent all my life trying to get something from the other person… love, admiration, food, money, safety, sex, security, a sense of self-esteem… you name it.

Naturally, the things I was searching for could only be found within me. It took me some years of counseling, meeting with groups of people in rooms, and experiencing some personal transformation through intense personal work (check out “Energetic Awakenings” by Scott Beebe and “I Am That” by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj) before I finally started to see some light, joy, and happiness in my life. At the heart of it all was the experience of sitting at the foot of the bed with my guitar, playing for a loved one as she died of brain cancer.

Finally I reached a point where I sense the presence of a force larger than me. And it’s not another person. I may have little time and patience for organized religion. But that feels very different from sensing something bigger than myself. Whether we call it ‘nature’, or ‘spirit’, or whatever… I know I’m part of it.

So how does this tie into leadership for me?

I was accepted into Leadership La Plata last fall, and over the past 7 months it feels like I’ve grown 7 years. As I dive more and more deeply into the concept of authentic leadership (using the concept of the Johari window as an illustrative tool), I’m learning that the intra-personal work I’ve been doing for 20 years — that is, learning about my limitations, my blind spots, the ways in which I’m selfish, arrogant, and insensitive as well as insightful, caring, and charismatic — is exactly the foundation upon which a good leader can stand.

But there’s more. There’s also a willingness to take responsibility. And that is a feeling that, in the past, I tried to dodge and deflect. It turns out that, for years, I’ve been giving about 20% of what I can give. More specifically, I’ve only been willing to reveal 20% of my gifts and talents to the world, because I was so afraid of getting ‘burned’; of not having what I need in life.

Now I see that my life is like the ultimate jazz trio… everything we need to make great music is right here in the room.

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What does compassion look like?

Friends,

If you know someone in southwest Colorado (or anywhere) who is considering getting a GED, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.

And if you or someone you know has problems and thinks there is no way out except suicide, get help. TALK to someone. In the U.S., call 9-1-1.

I’m happy to help if I can. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I can try to put you in touch with the appropriate community resources.

Here’s the catch: In order for any of us to get help, we’ve got to WANT to grow. We’ve got to WANT to make progress. If I make a call and then ignore the help that is offered and say, “Oh, well, they were no help at ALL!”, then I’m just copping out. Refusing to take responsibility for my own growth.

Tonbo (Dragonfly). Japanese calligraphy. Sumi ink on parchment. By Beth Wheeler.

I’ll be the first to say that growth can feel extremely uncomfortable. Like crawling through rusty barbed-wire and broken glass, on a good day. And there are sacrifices involved… once you grow and gain increased awareness, there’s no going back. You can never regain the ignorance that you once had. These are small prices to pay for the freedom, joy, and sense of power and self-worth that is available.

But no one can do it for me.

True compassion puts me in touch with this process and leads toward self-realization, inner-power and a true sense of self-worth. I think that’s why true compassion can take so many shapes. Someone getting in my face may appear to be unkind and uncaring. But if that person helps me to come face-to-face with my own avoidance techniques, my own pretzel logic, my own b.s., then it can help me move forward and grow.

If someone believes compassion simply means “being nice”, then they may lie to my face with a smile in order to prevent hurting my feelings. And to prevent experiencing the internal discomfort of taking that risk. Lie to me, tell me everything is fine… shield me from the truth… how can THAT be compassion?

I’m going to define compassion as ‘that which helps us, in any given moment, identify what’s needed to grow into fully-integrated adults’.

I guess we need another definition… I’ll define fully-integrated adult as “someone who clearly understands cause and effect and lives accordingly.”

What do you think, Gentle Reader? How do you define compassion? How do issues of compassion relate to your artistic process?

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