Author Archive for bstrean – Page 2

ALIVEness – The Challenge/The Path

Monday, November 16th, 2015

You may have heard the story about the General who sent long letters from the front because he “didn’t have time to make them shorter.” It’s been somewhat like that for me and my rationalization for quiet times in blog-ville. I’ve been doing a lot of musing about aliveness and exhilaration and my writing energy has largely been directed toward a book on this topic. Here is my current take on the challenge and a brief presentation of factors for flourishing and thriving. jump1

In a time of abundance, people are walking around tired, unfit, and distracted. We are disconnected from ourselves, each other, and our planet. It would be great if our problems could be solved with a one-dimensional approach. The challenge is more significant and the solution is more multi-faceted. As a result of not feeling our sensations and emotions and not accessing the wisdom of the body, we are compromising our nutrition, hydration, sleep, and physical activity and we are facing unprecedented levels of self-inflicted disease, diminished performance, and discontent. As we are not connecting with and empathizing with others, conflict quickly turns to aggression and violence. Our lack of relationship with nature allows us to soil and rape the planet.

Many approaches address only one element of the difficulties we face. Whether it is mindfulness, diet, communication, or a wilderness expedition, no matter how effective the intervention, it is like providing one leg of a four-legged stool – the foundation and sustainability are lacking. The approach I’m advocating in my book (working title: Exhilarated) provides the rationale and practical methods to re-connect to self, others, and the planet.

Perhaps you think taking care of your health and well being is selfish. Exhilarated will show how investing in the five core areas of ALIVEness bring you toward happiness, health, and fulfillment, and may be the greatest social contribution you make.

The notion that we are all connected goes beyond a new age platitude; it is a scientific reality. At a more basic level, it is self-evident that if you are tired, uninspired, and unwell then you are less pleasant to be around and you probably bring others down ­– and if you are energized, upbeat, and vibrant, you have a positive influence on the people you meet. At a deeper level, we can imagine that each person is like a cell in a body; we are collaborating toward collective health or we are heading off in our own direction, like a cancer.

Being exhilarated not only feels great for you, but it is a gift to the world.

Exhilarated will enhance your

Attention & Energy

Loving Relationships

Inspired Purpose & Passion

Ventures into Nature and

Enjoyment … so you will become more fully ALIVE

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  –Howard Thurman

I would love to hear your questions, comments, and ideas of what you would like to see in Exhilarated.

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Meditation: Vanilla and Chocolate – Choose Both

Monday, July 20th, 2015

There are many things that get forced into (often false) dichotomies. Sometimes the value of both sides are diminished and the worth of the larger category gets lost. Yes, I’ve even heard arguments about the “real” or “right” way to meditate.

I punctuated the mid-point of “The Year of Mindfulness” by attending a three-day meditation retreat with Steve Armstrong. This experience deepened my practice and gave me greater understanding of the value of vipassana (insight) meditation. Much could be said about the mental factors associated with meditation, yet one particularly useful distinction is wisdom. As Sayadaw U Tejaniya  wrote “awareness alone is not enough.” This practice cultivates greater ability to live skillfully with greater joy. GreatMindfulness

Most of my meditation history has been more about calming the mind (samatha meditation). In many Buddhist traditions, samatha is done as a precursor to vipassana meditation. I found myself really privileging the latter, but the whole game involves a calm mind that leads to penetrating insights into the nature of reality, which ultimately results in wisdom that reduces suffering and may bring about enlightenment.

A couple weeks into my new bandwagon of vipassana, I discovered that Deepak Chopra was leading a global meditation that would be followed shortly by a free, 21-day meditation experience, “Manifesting Grace through Gratitude” that started July 13.   Since then, I have been doing vipassana meditation each morning and joining Deepak for a guided session (using a mantra, in the samatha tradition) in the afternoon. I must say that there is value to having both forms of meditation in your tool belt.

I’m increasingly convinced that you meditate is more important than your flavour preference. In our world that frequently seems to give badges for busy-ness, taking time to quiet the mind provides wonderful benefits. Some thoughts on the matter: “Nothing is so like God as silence” (Meister Eckhart); “Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation” (Father Thomas Keating); “The seeker’s silence is the loudest form of prayer” (Swami Vivekananda, from the Hindu tradition); and from Zen Buddhism the aphorism “He who speaks does not know, and he who knows does not speak.” Larry Dossey who shared these quotations in “One Mind,” observed “But silence means more than simply being mute; a stone can do that. Silence means that a place has been created where a higher form of knowing can enter.”

I’m very much enjoying the increased ease and peace I’m finding as a result of taking time for silence. There are many wonderful resources for exploring meditation. I hope you will play and share your adventures.

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Holding Two Glasses

Monday, June 15th, 2015

I had just finished a deeply satisfying and very well received full-day workshop, which I presented with InspireCorps, followed by dinner with a new coaching client. I returned to my hotel room full of enthusiasm and energy from my adventures to phone home. The day’s report included a tale of my son’s unfortunate altercation that ended in injury. The air quickly departed my much-inflated balloon before I got to share my story with pride. This led me to thinking about how one might hold both exhilaration and sadness/upset/concern at the same time rather than simply have the latter dominate the former.full_glass_empty_glass

To play with the hackneyed metaphor, when one glass is full and another empty, what do you have? I tend to fluctuate between the optimist’s and the realist’s view (you could use a smaller glass). Yet I often find “bad news” to cast a nearly impenetrable shadow on the good. As I was contemplating the topic of this blog, I received horrific news about a friend’s child being hit by a car and killed. My connection to that profoundly deep pain permeates the good moments.

I do believe that there are evolutionary reasons why our minds are drawn to solve problems and we need strategies to savor our joys and direct ourselves toward positivity. As I have yet to find resolution for ambivalence on steroids, perhaps the best answer is with the poet, Kahlil Gibran, who gives us potent both/ands in his book “Tears and Laughter” and his poem “On Joy and Sorrow.”

“I would not exchange the laughter of my heart for the fortunes of the multitudes; nor would I be content with converting my tears, invited by my agonized self, into calm.  It is my fervent hope that my whole life on this earth will ever be tears and laughter.  Tears that purify my heart and reveal to me the secret of life and its mystery, Laughter that brings me closer to my fellow men; Tears with which I join the broken-hearted, Laugher that symbolizes joy over my very existence.”

On Joy and Sorrow – Kahlil Gibran
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

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Many of my friends and colleagues in the world of coaching, speaking, and leadership development are very good at what they do. The services they provide make a difference for individuals and organizations. Many of them are less skillful as entrepreneurs and business people. I want to be gentle in both how I might pat myself on the back and also tar myself with the same brush. Like many others, VideoShotI love what I do and I tend to get great feedback from audiences and clients. Extolling one’s own virtues is a questionable undertaking in many contexts, particularly in genteel Canadian society. I frequently hear folks say that they don’t want “to sell” themselves.

One of the most refreshing perspectives I heard offered in this “marketing” domain is “How can you help the people who are already looking for you to find you?” I believe my first reply was an erudite, “huh?” The notion presented was that there are people out there who are hungry for what you provide and it is kind and helpful to ease their path to locating you and benefiting from what you offer. That’s lovely compared to trying to navigate the construction of social media pitches to present your latest wares.

I continue to wrestle with finding the best methods to share my offers so these prospective clients and I connect with each other. My latest effort was the creation of a video. You can click on the picture or this link to check it out. If people you know may be already looking for me, can you please help them find me? Be exhilarated.

Exhilarated Performance Video

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Frosting, Gravy, and Fear

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Perspective is one of the most powerful concepts. Recognizing that we always see things from a point of view creates the opportunity to distinguish a particular way in which we are experiencing something. It opens the possibility of seeing another way and another way and another way. Coupled with the understanding that how we show up in life and how we perform depends on how situations occur to us, we have an incredible key to greater joy and more wonderful results.

During recent weeks, I’ve considered how most of our “first world problems” are really about the frosting in life. FrostingWe already have the cake. This has been strictly a metaphor until yesterday when I debated whether to buy a can of frosting or to make it from scratch. I decided frosting matters and I made a decadent chocolate covering for my cake. Yet recognizing that our foundation is solid and we are not going hungry can allow some relaxation and may soften our outlook as we address our challenges.

If we already have lives that essentially blessed and full of luxuries – of both material goods and the time for contemplation, does that not take a lot of the stress out of what we confront? What if most of what we agonize about could be shifted to considering that “it’s all gravy”?

If this is all sounding so far, so good as it does to me, then what takes us away? I found some great answers in an unexpected place. I was watching a video of a commencement address by the unlikely character, Jim Carrey. Certainly there was some of what you would expect in the way of silliness and laughter. There were also profound ideas with the conclusion, “Choose love and don’t ever let fear turn you against your playful heart.”

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Mindfulness and Playfulness

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

The “year of mindfulness” has so far brought all of the following mindfulness activities: the continuing development of a community of practice on campus, a growing school-based research project, a few presentations, and a student wellness grant about to be submitted. There is really something to be said for this notion of choosing a focus for the year.

2015 is also showing itself to be a year of playfulness, highlighted by teaching a wonderful undergraduate class about play. It has been a delight to be back in the classroom (and doing things like walking into the river valley to explore what nature has to teach us about play) with some great students who are willing to play.

The relationship between mindfulness and playfulness may not be obvious. Perhaps because of these two worlds I’m dancing between, I’m seeing lots of connections. Candace Pert, the brilliant neuroscientist (who discovered the opiate receptor) suggested that three great ways to relieve stress are meditation, honesty, and play. Meditation (mindfulness) “calms the entire organism by slowing the obsessive thinking to which most of us are addicted. Honesty brings us back to center – the ground of personal integrity that, when violated, leaves us anxious and filled with self-doubt. And play is nature’s own stress reducer. It is virtually impossible to hold stress and playfulness in the same bodymind at the same moment.”

There are times when mindfulness and yoga can get serious and sanctimonious, so bringing play and a spirit of enjoyment can enliven your mindfulness practices and probably motivate and help sustain them as well. I’ve been playing with a variety of meditation and mindfulness practices since 1986 (often feeling more like wrestling than playing) and have appreciated the lightness brought to practices by some of the teachers I’ve been following recently. Many methods use the idea of focusing on the breath and dealing with distractions by returning to the breath. It is easy for the inner critic to judge the drift to thinking. We can inadvertently practice harshness. It is refreshing to think about peacefully returning to enjoying the breath. I invite you to play with finding more fun and play in your mindfulness practices.

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The year of Mindfulness: Curiosity before …

Monday, December 29th, 2014

If you’ve been following my blog for the past couple of years, you may recall the idea of having a focus for the coming year. If not, you can see the story here. Last year was about transformation, which is 14 letters and perfect for 2014. I was thinking for 2015 to have a theme of curiosity and I’ve been pondering the phrase “curiosity before judgment.” I’m also excited about several projects in the New Year related to mindfulness – both in Edmonton schools and the new community of practice we are creating on the University of Alberta campus. Lo and behold a 20-letter phrase “The year of mindfulness.” Followed by 15 letters of “curiosity before.” Perhaps a bit of a stretch to fit, but I like the ideas.mindfulness

Curiosity (before judgment) fits nicely with “play,” which is the topic of a class that I’ll be teaching starting next week. I am extremely psyched for it!

One year ago, I raised the question of what would be possible by embracing “I don’t know” and losing interest in “I’m right.” That transformation is incomplete and curiosity may be a valuable mood shift. I wonder what it will bring in 2015.

What is calling to you most right now? What could be your focus and touchstone for 2015? What might you embody more and more for the next trip around the sun that would make the biggest difference for you?

All the very best to you and your loved ones for a joyous and exhilarated 2015.

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Institute-Shun-Allies

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Institute = The Integrative Health Institute (IHI) at the University of Alberta, which formed this fall under the graceful and collaborative leadership of Dr. Sunita Vohra. I was fortunate to be involved in the proposal of the IHI and even more fortunate to be named Education Director. The past couple months have been a flurry of activity, including the creation of our website: a high-speed process with wonderful assistance from the University Digital Strategy team (see uab.ca/ihi).  We now have over 100 Scholars, faculty members representing the full range of disciplines.  As I was involved with preparing bios and doing much of the chimp work for the website, I got to see just how impressive this group is. I’m excited to be coordinating and facilitating educational projects including research on mindfulness in schools and the start of a Community of Practice on mindfulness in teaching and learning on campus.

Shun = well, I haven’t really been shunned, but it worked with the word play for the title. I have, however, come to the end of my secondment at the Faculty of Extension that will open space for me to spend the majority of my time with the IHI and also return me to one of the places of my greatest joy and contribution — undergraduate classes in Physical Education and Recreation.

Allies = the people with whom I have incredible opportunities for collaboration. It is so cool to be working with extraordinary people in building a new Institute and engaging in research and service projects. I’m very excited to have likeminded folks with whom I can pursue some intriguing work that will enhance learning environments and well-being in schools and on campus.

Please share your thoughts and questions about the IHI and the new directions.

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St. John

Monday, November 17th, 2014

In the recent film, St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray as Vincent, his young neighbor, Oliver, has a school assignment to write about a real-life saint. (Spoiler alert: if you haven’t figured out his choice based on the title…). Vincent is described as a “misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic war veteran,” but Oliver sees kindness, generosity, and goodness beneath the crass exterior.

IMG_0538IMG_0531Last week I visited my mom and I would like to share with you my real-life saint. Sorry mom, not you. If you’ve had the experience of having one or both of your parents find a new partner (after death or divorce), you will probably agree it is not inherently easy. It has been very smooth for me to embrace my mom’s partner, John, because the man is a saint.

This is not a phrase I use easily – I even reserve mensch for the truly decent, kind, warm, real human beings of the world. John is mensch-on-steroids. He is 97 years old (my mom is 85 and I call him a “cradle-robber”) and his depleted hearing may serve as an advantage, but his ability to let all sorts of comments roll off his back is something to behold.

John is extremely loving and has taught me much about how to be a good person and a caring husband. I have a long way to go to embody his lessons and to realize a near conflict-free relationship. John listens. He doesn’t interrupt. He prioritizes the relationship. He lets go of being right. He declines the power struggle.

I told John that he is a role model. In saintly fashion, he was highly grateful for the compliment and bestowed generous words on me.

Who is your real-life saint? What can you learn from this person? How can you be more like him/her?

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“I’m Full of Shift”

Monday, October 27th, 2014

There’s snow on the ground in Edmonton. It was dark out for over an hour after I woke up this morning. The change of seasons is one of many transitions I’ve been facing in recent weeks.

As a guy whose tag line is “Feel Great. Work Great. Be Great,” and as one in the business of promoting aliveness and exhilaration, it’s been difficult to admit (even to myself) that I had frequently been feeling down. I took a brief visit to diagnostic criteria for depression, noting 14 different flavours, and enjoying phrases like “at least five of the nine symptoms below for the same two weeks or more, for most of the time almost every day, and this is a change from his/her prior level of functioning.” As I shared what I had been thinking and feeling with a trusted friend/colleague, she suggested that if I were depressed it was mild and that I was going through a lot of big changes. So my spontaneous and preferred diagnosis is that I’m full of shift.

For the past couple of months, I’ve changed my meditation to a mindfulness (vipassana) practice. Instead of working with a mantra or simply staying focused on the breath, the “two wings of presence” are recognizing bflower(thoughts, feelings, sensations) and acceptance or openheartedness (sometimes described as “bowing” to the experience). I believe this is ultimately a rich and beneficial change, but one that has put me in touch with the perturbations at a deeper level.

In the MOOC I’m taking on the Science of Happiness, this week one of the topics is self-compassion. I’ve noticed I tend to suck at that (and, therefore illustrating my point). Perhaps the next big challenge is to be kinder to myself amidst the vicissitudes. If you are not feeling your best, maybe you, too, are just full of shift. You may also find value in a lovingkindness meditation (guided examples here and here).

“In any moment, no matter how lost we feel, we can take refuge in presence and love. We need only pause, breathe, and open to the experience of aliveness within us. In that wakeful openness, we come home to the peace and freedom of our own natural awareness.” (Tara Brach)

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