One Word at a Time

Along with my fellow teacher, Terri, we had little idea about what energy was about to be unleashed. The number of participants was three times what was expected, vocal, well spoken and engaged in our teaching process. Keeping them all on one subject at a time was the only difficulty.

The class was held at the Park Hill Library in Denver and was our first outing with “Help Me Understand”, working through how to dialogue with each other about volatile or difficult topics without overt animosity. How to listen deeply, what words to speak encouraging us to get us to the next level of sharing, and what our individual culture has us do without thinking are major topics of the venture.

Terri and I have, what I think, are good stories to express situations of human dialogue that either fail miserably, or chug along without too many hurt feelings to go on with the relationship. Because one word can be a trigger to fear and anger and a break of property or heads, the need to be aware of your language in difficult situations or times is VERY Important…as is your tone of voice.

One of the books I have read over and over is Deborah Tannen’s “That’s Not What I Meant”. Her examples are the best…The first time I read it I saw why several of my relationships had floundered or failed. She also talks about the conversation pauses we all use, like “sorry”, to smooth things but it is not a true apology. (The first time I heard some one say “MY BAD” thinking that was enough of an apology, I almost fainted.) ok, that was a bit of an exaggeration.

Training your brain to take a breath or three before you swim into deep water is a free and easy technique to practice. Practice becomes habit.

Our audience said that they were a bit tired of just talking their “truth” to the few people who agreed with them. They could see that it narrows your world view and that is never a step forward in your life. So, get out there and join a conversation–and watch the words that are falling out of your mouth into the collective culture. Kindness and respect for other opinions are always essential, but especially in times of upheaval.

Speak with love,






Asking Questions?

One of the paperback books that moves with me from room to room in my townhouse is The 7 Powers of Questions by Dorothy Leeds. It is the second copy or maybe the third; the first one destroyed in a coffee cup spill years ago and the second loaned and not returned. This copy is full of sticky notes, scrapes of paper, several colors of highlighters and something that reminds me of the strength of the right question on every page.

My reasoning is: if extraordinary elders use the last part of living to become introspective and learn to frame wisdom stories from their experiences, the right questions need to be asked and answered. Giving a “think” to what open-ended questions you would ask a friend in your age group would give you a start on the questions to ask yourself. “What were some major life lessons that led you to be the person you are now?” Big complex question, lots of possible answers that may give you a clue to a person’s value system or trauma history. Please do not ask me that question if you want a quick answer.

The other quick reference the book can offer is a chapter titled “the 50 smartest questions.” When mediation was on my career plate, this was a great chapter to review before going into a session with hostile participants. These hostile -to- mediation type- people had the most difficult time engaging in that other important practice–LISTENING. There are also constant teachings about that subject in the book.

A major reason this book is following me from room to room is the workshop/class/seminar that my friend Terri and I are writing with a working title of Civil Conversation. ( THIS IS THE THIRD WORKING TITLE). First working title was “how not to call some one a —-head”. This has become such a huge work in process that if we ever get to teach it we should get news coverage. I am reading books and articles about human nature, implicit bias, and perceptions of social class. Based on all of that, I am thinking we are a doomed  species since we cannot seem to have a conversation about the big important stuff without  becoming defensive or angry and turning off that all-important listening button.

But, in addition to that book, one came into my hand at the Green Valley Ranch branch of the Denver Public Library. In looking over the space where my class will be held in May, my elder squinty eyes spied books to tell you about. How Then Shall We Live by Wayne Muller.

The questions: Who Am I?, What do I love?, How shall I live knowing I will Die?, and my all time altruistic favorite,  WHAT IS MY GIFT TO THE FAMILY OF THE EARTH? Is that an awesome question or what? Really makes the people who can’t have a civil conversation seem a bit small.

At the monthly meeting of the Death Café today, I thought about bringing up that question, but it can wait. There were other people with more pressing questions, but if you are diagnosed with a fatal something or other, that last one would be on your list.

Speaking of the Café, they will have a session next Sunday, the 26th at 3:30 pm at the Tattered Cover on Colfax in Denver to help people fill out some of the planning ahead paperwork around medical care when death is close. The Five Wishes and the Colorado MOST forms will be discussed by Nancy and the other facilitator. If I had a wish for you all, it would be that you attended even one of the sessions to see the sense of community a group of strangers can make in the right atmosphere.

May you answer the questions that need an answer and ask the ones held deep in your heart,








Fearlessness vs. Comfort

Pain. Pain to heal. Pain to get to the other side of an issue. Physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual or just a pain in the buns, they range from fierce to annoying. The pain can be short-term or linger for what seems like forever.

First learning about the concept of the Comfort Zone in a language class, the teacher said that the best speakers would be fearless in trying the language in new settings, and would need to move out of the comfort zone of the class. Since then the picture of a bull’s-eye comes to mind when my gut tells me to get out of the center and move to the far edge. Now, even knowing that for about a zillion years, being fearful in some form, or for some lesser emotion, is still a heard in my ear and felt in my body.

Since all of us humans are fairly alike, my assumption is that, unless you are a practicing Buddhist monk or nun, you feel it too. What I have learned, is that visualizing that bulls’ eye helps. The yellow has lots of room in which to wiggle around and still be ok–the get to the edge and move slightly into red, and so forth. Imagine a child jumping off a diving board for the first time and then at the end of the summer when they are flipping like crazy people. All the chemicals from the brain warning us of danger and the physical reactions to that danger are the same ones that make us crazy with anger and fear and strike first or run.

There are lots of fearful and angry people in the world. And there are lots of people who love to blame anything or anyone who makes them feel pain…the pain of loss or unfulfilled dreams or lack of self-worth or shame or embarrassment for the way their life has gone so far. To become an extraordinary elder moving from the things you know to some activities or people or places you are not immediately comfortable with is a goal to set for yourself. Ask around about new places to do a daily walk. One year I went to eight parks in Denver where I had never been. I also found three new places for ice cream around the parks. If you are concerned for health and safety, tell someone where you will be and check in when you get home.

When did you last make a new acquaintance?  When did you last shop at a different store for groceries? Do you always go to the same type of movies? These are all basically low pain activities to get you comfortable with spreading your wings and moving to a different color on the eye. You can always run (well, walk) back to the center of the yellow. But, if you are out on the blue ring for long enough–it becomes your new yellow and you start your push to fearlessness again. It takes practice and you are not too old to learn this trick.

If you have children in your life you can watch them and see clearly how they push out and fall back and start over and over again to gain power over the pain of the unknown. We also see the children who have a high need for safety and moral support before they can flap those fearless wings. There is pain in doing and there is pain in not doing.

Some of those choices are yours.


Enjoy the summer–we could be having snow in Denver in 5 weeks.