Archives for May 2015

Blueprint for Resilience

jack-sparrow-pirates-of-the-caribbean2Humans, as well as animals, are born with a blueprint for resilience. We are born with a predisposition to survive in order to keep the species thriving. Part of the program is to enable an organism to fight, flee or freeze, depending on the type and frequency of challenges and threats in its life. During the formative years, we become skilled at responding to certain types of threats. When humans and animals are repeatedly exposed to the same kinds of threats, their survival response becomes habituated. When not exposed to a lot of threats and challenges, survival responses are less predictable and automatic. Any threat can be perceived as life-threatening, when it fact, it may not be. For instance, being put on the spot, sensing a change in a relationship or a loud noise in the middle of the night may actually be life-threatening for a very few, but simply feel momentarily life-threatening for others.

The two primary types of survival “software” are: hyperarousal and hypoarousal, both are assets for different types of threats. The “hyperarousal” style prepares the body to TAKE ACTION. Fight responses move us toward the threat and flee (flight) move us away from the threat. The “hypoaroused” response prepares the organism to surrender, hide or even to die without extreme pain. Some theorists believe that there may be a genetic predisposition to the styles, as well as an environmental influence.

The survival style engages all aspects of the body. Heart rate, blood pressure, speed and placement of respiration, size of pupils, and the parts of the brain activated which impacts how we process information, the timing and type of hormones released, how the blood pools in the body all depends on our type of survival “software.” Each style has assets which serve to assist us and liabilities which can have negative consequences.


During a hyperaroused (fight or flee/flight) survival response, the body is preparing for movement, so heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increases and the breathing becomes high in chest, rapid and shallow (instead of diaphragmatic breathing or “yoga breathing”). Stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, flood the body to enable the engine to move. During a this type of response, the eyes focus in, narrowing, usually causing the eyebrows to furrow (unless Botoxed!) and making others possibly perceive them as hostile, irritated, impatient or disrespectful. Although a fight response is the expression of taking action by moving toward the threat, it typically does not result in verbal or physical aggression. An emotionally healthy person with this habituated response may become directive and take charge (like the photo of Margaret Thatcher to the right) when a challenge or threat looms, which can be an asset in situations which require immediate action, but a liability when more subtlety or restraint is needed. Because an activated fight response usually moves an individual into an “efficient communication style,” statements may be short, to the point, with a clipped, pressured tone and higher volume and hand gestures may be choppy and emphatic, but not usually menacing. The fight response individual gives off an alpha-like energy, much like the dominant animal in a pack. “Efficient communication” is the antithesis of “relational communication” and this is one of the primary liabilities of fight style individuals. Sometimes a “fight” response person may get a focusing facial expression (think Snoopy when he is in the tree pretending to be a vulture). The facial expression in conjunction with the louder volume and efficient communication may appear to be angry when it may have nothing to do with that emotion. In fact, a fight response can activate another’s survival style. Let the games begin!

The flee response is also a hyperaroused response with similar physiology as the fight response, but with a much simpler goal – to be removed from the threat at hand. The asset is decreased exposure to intensity and the liability can be removing themselves prematurely from situations that may be worked through. The flee style is often very animated physically, sometimes giving off the impression of being nervous or flighty, which may not be true.

The single hypoarousal response is seen, initially, as outward inactivity. In particularly intense situations, the organism may “fold” or “collapse.” The inactive response can give time to stop – look – listen and assess without being noticed.

A person with a fold response typically becomes very quiet, very still while as their heart rate and respiration slows. They may hold their breath (on the exhale) for long periods of time, causing flat affect and muscle flaccidity. Because of the inability to project their voice without the breath support, their vocal tone often changes as well, particularly common with women. In intense situations the voice may get breathy, soft, higher pitched or strained. Men often yawn (the photo above is of Tony Blair – who may or may not have a preference for hypoarousal) repeatedly when the response is activated and females may be more likely to sigh a lot under these circumstances. When the person becomes less animated and less vocal during conversation, their body stills and they often automatically protect their core (abdominal) area, such as their legs coming up in a casual fetal positive, hugging their legs, placing a pillow or blanket in front of them. The bodily responses which helped the hyperaroused responders respond to the threat, temporarily disables the fold responder. The release of stress hormones are delayed up to 24 hours and the respiration and heart responses are inverted.


A “freeze” response is a combination of hyperarousal and hypoarousal. Internally the body may be revving, much like the hyperaroused fight/flee but outwardly it may look like fold. They, often, hold their breaths – more often on the inhale which often creates muscle rigidity and tightness. The assets for a slight freeze or fold response is being less likely to interrupt others, they may come across as more of a “team player,” less likely to activate overt conflict, and may be perceived as cautious and thoughtful, which may or may not be accurate. There may be the desire to verbally or physically response or react, but may become “stuck” in acting on the desire. The liabilities can be, difficulty being assertive (particularly in the situations when they most need them), may not take a stand and may not outwardly show their abilities and strengths as easily during high-stress or fast paced situations. These behaviors will be seen in all types of situations, from early childhood, school and work settings and in relationships. In cases where these individuals have experienced a great deal of life trauma, they are more vulnerable to being re-traumatized because of the freeze/fold response.

Most individuals have preferential styles when under great stress, ill health, chronic pain, grief or in a chaotic environment. It is essential to recognize the resilience assets of these styles, yet not use them to put people in a box. Understanding the body styles, as we might the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), can help family and work systems understand and work together more effectively. With training, therapy and/or education, people can learn to modify their style when it is no longer serving them. So, embrace your resilience blueprint and go forth and thrive.

Superb additional resources are any books and articles by:

• Bruce D. Perry, M.D.

• Pat Ogden, Ph.D.

• Peter Levine, Ph.D.

Bravery Is In the Eye of the Beholder

Bear penguins and cymbals croppedThis morning I was felt inspired. I read a blog post by the wise young soul Hannah Brencher who wrote about the anatomy of brave.

You don’t actually get to stand beside someone and tell them whether or not they’ve reached a level of bravery. You don’t actually get to determine what does or does not make a person brave, or lovely, or worthy, or good. That’s not your right. That’s not your calling.
Here is the truth about bravery. Here is her essence– she can’t defined by a measuring cup or a yardstick or a square foot. Bravery isn’t the kind of thing you measure; it is the kind of thing you activate. It’s pretty obvious to everyone– we walked into a life that isn’t always kind or bearable or comfortable or good and it takes a real chunk of bravery to just get through a day sometimes.

Bravery– if you ask me– is the day my best friend told me that she was getting sober and I watched her hands tremble over the hurdles of what would come next. Bravery– if you ask me– is watching a dear friend of mine raise four beautiful children with all the grit she’s got, and showing up for those children even when she is tired & broken & worn. That, my friends, is titanical bravery to me. Bravery– if you ask me– is the day he was diagnosed with cancer and the only response on his lips was this, “I will fight this thing. I will be relentless and I will fight this thing.” Bravery– if you ask me– is just her showing up at my door, the one with the big red handle, and speaking the truth out loud, “I want more. I have been afraid to say it for a really long while but I want more for this life of mine.”

So no, you don’t get to stand here and tell someone that a hurdle that has taken them years to finally get over is something they should have learned to limbo under several yesterdays ago.

Hannah’s words about bravery were reminders that bravery is in the eye of the beholder.
Bravery is an experience from within for none of us can externally judge the level of bravery of another because we rarely have a clue of the work of the internal antagonists which the saboteurs which live within creating resistance, paralyzing fear and excuses.
Bravery does not necessitate the absence of fear.
(Author Unknown)

It’s safe to say we have all experienced darkness in our lives. Darkness comes in many forms – physically, emotionally and spiritually. There are so many quotes and works of art based on the interplay of lightness and darkness. Day and night are parts of the Laws of Nature. Darkness is something we are often scared of and lightness is often connected to hope. Why is that?

We usually have a different view of the world at night? Fear, panic and dread seem more intense at night. When the light of morning comes, sometimes life can feel manageable again.

In the FIVE STAR book by Barbara Brown Taylor Learning to Walk in the Dark, Taylor speaks of how we – as a society – are conditioned to be afraid of the dark. Even in spiritual traditions, such as Christianity (which she is an Episcopal Priest), darkness is often perceived as the absence of faith. She spoke of a man who was terribly afraid of the literal dark. She shares:

The darkness never stopped terrifying him. Every single night it took all the courage he had [to do his nightly chores]. But while his fear of the dark may have been baseless, the bravery it drew out of him stayed with him for the rest of his life. “Courage,” he writes now, “which is no more than the management of fear must be practiced. For this, children need widespread, easily obtained, cheap, renewable source of something scary but not actually dangerous.” Darkness, he says, fits that bill. Most parents would give their darkness challenged child another chore or offer to go with him. How do we develop the courage to walk in the dark if we are never asked to practice?”

And by John Patrick Shanley:
“I am not a courageous person by nature. I have simply discovered that, at certain key moments in this life, you must find courage in yourself, in order to move forward and live. It is like a muscle and it must be exercised, first a little, and then more and more. All the really exciting things possible during the course of a lifetime require a little more courage than we currently have. A deep breath and a leap.”
• What helps you find your sense of brave?

• When have you stepped out in true bravery (remember, it is when you faced what was scary to you, not someone else)?

• If you had not stepped out during those times, who would you be now?

• What would you have lost if you had not found the courage?

• What did you risk when you found your moment to be brave?

• How do you ask the darkness to teach you what you need to now? (from Barbara Brown Taylor)
Finding our sense of “brave” can be continuing to show up even when we worry that our current life events will never change. Of course thing can’t NOT change, because change is inevitable.

Random Acts

reachhing out
1. prepare a meal for a homeless person, give packs of cheese & crackers or a meal card at a fast food restaurant
2. smile :) at someone
3. call your mother to tell her you love her
4. write a handwritten note to someone thanking them for something unexpected
5. knit a beanie or blanket for a homeless person
6. put change in the washer/dryer for the next person
7. fill an expired or about to expire parking meter
8. leave some extra money in the vending machine
9. buy a little extra grocery for the local food bank
10. plant a tree
11. send your favorite grade school teacher flowers
12. write a thank you letter to your parents or someone who made you feel loved
13. pay the toll for the person behind you
14. tape a nice saying or thought to a bus window
15. instead of just thinking it, compliment someone
16. give a someone a flower you picked to a stranger
17. ask someone “how are you?” mean it and listen
18. make some baked goods for your neighbor(s) or a co-worker
19. hug your loved ones for no particular reason
20. make a special meal for your partner or housemate
21. call someone you haven’t talked to in a while and don’t talk about your life, but find out about theirs
22. give someone a flower …or a dozen
23. offer someone else your seat on the bus/train
24. visit a senior center or nursing home
25. say “thank you” for the otherwise routine, mundane
26. use lipstick to draw a heart on the mirror of someone you love
27. donate one of your favorite possessions
28. give someone a fruit basket
29. collect clothes to take to a local shelter
30. stop to have a conversation with a homeless person
31. give an inspiring book to a struggling friend
32. leave your favorite book in a public place with a note
33. donate books to your local library
34. visit an animal shelter just to help out
35. volunteer at a soup kitchen
36. build a home with Habitat for Humanity
37. mentor local youth
38. pay for the person behind you at the drive-thru
39. buy dessert for someone eating out alone
40. pick up the tab for a random table at a restaurant
41. put $10 on a random gas pump
42. buy flowers for the cashier at the grocery store
43. visit an orphanage with some goodies
44. prepare a “to-go” breakfast for the morning mailman or UPS or FedEx delivery person
45. mail a friend some cupcakes
46. send anonymous flowers to your office receptionist
47. buy an extra umbrella on a rainy day and give it away
48. give your waiter or waitress a huge tip
49. tape an anonymous joke to your boss’ monitor (that s/he would like!)
50. send a nice card to a family member, just because
51. don’t lose any opportunity to say: I love you
52. leave a funny or kind note in an unexpected place
53. invite a friend over for dinner with your family
54. read to a child
55. rake someone else’s yard
56. be a courteous driver
57. hold the elevator
58. visit a locally owned store and thank them for their impact on the community
59. recycle
60. offer to carry something for someone
61. set up a free lemonade stand on a hot day
62. take some soup or hot chocolate to a homeless person
63. leave a collection of positive news clippings in a waiting room
64. practice patience
65. refrain from gossiping; speak well of others
66. act as if the glass were half full
67. offer to repair little things for someone who doesn’t have the ability to do so
68. let someone get ahead of you in line
69. listen intently
70. prepare a nutritious sack lunch for a homeless person
71. babysit for a single parent
72. wave a “honk if you like to smile” poster at a street intersection
73. be bold in your appreciation of life around you
74. create an inspired piece of art and gift it to someone
75. give a lottery ticket to a stranger
76. compliment a stranger sincerely
77. run an errand for someone
78. give something awesome away on craigslist
79. leave some extra stamps at the post office
80. send a friend an old photo and recall that time
81. send a random person in the phone book a small gift
82. send a family member a small gift anonymously
83. donate an hour of your professional services
84. invite someone who is alone over for dinner
85. leave chocolate for your co-worker
86. spend time with the elderly
87. pay on someone’s electric bill this month
88. write a letter of appreciation
89. introduce yourself to someone you always see around
90. anonymously send a friend in need some cash
91. take a neighbor a pizza
92. tape some change to a payphone
93. put up anonymous, lovely post-it notes for strangers to find
94. donate blood
95. cook dinner for a busy parent
96. give a little one a lollipop
97. make time for someone you know needs someone who cares
98. speak gently
99. laugh heartily
100. Stop everything and give a hand…

(inspired from

From Homeless Street Performer to Business Owner

Guy Laliberte once seemed to be an unlikely success by traditional standards. In 1977, the then eighteen year old Canadian, hitchhiked across Europe making enough money to live by being a street performer. While sleeping on park benches and very low on cash, the very young adult was actually in training to becoming a billionaire and the CEO of an entertainment phenomenon that has packed in tens of millions of people to his shows.

From bench sleeping street performer to fire-eater, accordion playing and stilt walking, Laliberte combined forces with other street performers. At first he had no grand schemes, he was just out for “an adventure” and that adventure was supposed to end with returning to school and having a “regular life.” What he didn’t expect was the adventure became his life.

He returned to Canada in 1984, after learning a great deal about entertaining people and was asked to perform for Quebec’s 450th Anniversary Celebration. The rest is history. But, before history was made, there were many challenges on his road of trials. He signed $1.5 million in contracts, although he did not yet have the financial backing.

The first year, his show was a success in interest, but his newly found company was badly in debt. “He went for broke and took a huge gamble by booking an act for the opening of a Los Angeles art festival.” “I bet everything on that one night,” he recalled. If we failed, there was no cash for gas to come home.” (Wikipedia)

Now in 2010, Guy Laliberte is not only the CEO and Founder of the Internationally acclaimed Cirque de Soleil, he is also a philanthropist. ONE DROP Foundation was created three years ago to raise awareness on world-wide poverty and the essential needs of sustainable access to safe water. He has also won Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year at three levels – local, national and international and many other highly acclaimed awards praising his dedication to the arts, as well as issues that impact people around the world.

From homeless street performer to a man who is impacting the lives of others globally, not a bad journey, huh?



Team Building Isn’t For Everyone


Team building … It’s not for everyone

Team building experiences are savored by some; dreaded by others. Attempting a challenge, big or small, can be exhilarating, satisfying and scary, all at once. This spread of reactions is what keeps it interesting, each group unique.
Team building isn’t a silver bullet.

Team building IS about possibilities, identifying individual character, developing collective strengths, learning something new (about self and others) and stretching boundaries. It’s a great way to put the over-thinking, over-processing and over-analyzing on hold for a while and enjoy the rewards of decisiveness, courage, collaboration and tenacity.

One team building exercise that stands out as a stellar example of possibilities was with a group of HRD professionals. One of the young men on this team, Dean, had never walked. Between crutches and an electric scooter he kept up with the most mobile person in any crowd. Since the day was to be spent climbing an Alpine Tower we’d found alternate roles for Dean and a few others who were squeamish about heights. They would belay, help develop strategies and, of course, cheer on their climbing team mates. What we didn’t anticipate was that this extraordinary young man was the most daring one in the crowd. After the group completed their challenges successfully, the question was asked, “Did anyone NOT attempt something they wanted to?” Dean spoke up. He explained that most kids climb trees but he never had. In fact, he’d never been off the ground without an elevator. He wanted to climb. The group rallied and quickly came up with a plan. Dean was strapped into the harness and belay lines. As two guys each planted a shoulder under him to support his body weight, a half dozen others moved in behind to support and push them up the tower, straining upwards one step at a time. Surrounded by applause and cheering, Dean reached the platform and pulled himself into a seated position. As he surveyed the landscape and the team who’d been part of the 25 minute ascent there were a lot of high-fives and hugs; not a dry eye in the crowd.

So what does “team” look like in your world? How connected and engaged are your team members? Are they equally committed to the goal regardless of roles? Are you and your team good candidates for team building?

Who ISN’T a good candidate for a team building experience? The person who:

• Rejects challenge; is committed to status quo
• Stifles collaboration
• Is convinced the team is made up of idiots, capable of little

Who IS a good candidate for team building? The person who:

• Believes NOW is the best time to learn
• Contributes their talents to the greater good; helps others develop their capacity
• Trusts in self and others to make good decisions and offer valuable insights

Anyone lucky enough to be part of a successful team building event will experience a balance of challenge, competition and fun. The BUSINESS of play leaves a team and its players energized, sometimes transformed and always equipped with a new understanding of possibilities and potential. Take a chance. Tap into that inner hero. Get in on a team building session and see what’s been missing.
What I hear, I forget.
What I see, I remember.
What I do, I understand. (Confucious)

Guest writer – Celeste Raines has facilitated learning and team building and experiential learning in organizations throughout the US.

Crossing the Finish Line

Robert at the marathonA little over five years ago, then 37 year old Robert Fitts suffered a massive stroke. His world change irrevocably and in ways which no one could predict and yet there have been constants: faith, family and friends. For five years, Robert has worked diligently through physical and occupational therapies, with doctors, family and friends, to continue to recognize his challenges, meet them, and try to overcome them. His paralysis on the left side of his body, from head to toe makes it challenging to walk and he insists on doing so even as he uses a four pronged cane to go one step at a time. The impact of the stroke on areas of his brain make focusing and impulse control daily challenges which he and those around him work to improve. He has been blessed with the support of those around him in everything that he does and his own faith is unwavering.

And then in January of this year, he was blessed with the support of a new friend who made a decision that would have ramifications through the months since then. Kelly Boyle, a friend of his sister Alicia’s, from graduate school, had met Robert a couple of years ago . She was deeply impressed and humbled by the faith and tenacity which Robert demonstrates in his everyday life and by the challenges inherent in daily activities for stroke heroes. In January, Kelly made a decision to support Robert, his family and many others who have been impacted by stroke, participating through the American Stroke Association on the Boston Train to End Stroke team and completing a half marathon in Kona, Hawaii in June. Kelly was not a runner, had never done anything like this before and made a bet on Robert and all those other stroke heroes. In turn, Robert made a bet on Kelly and her determination to finish a half marathon for the first time, deciding that while he could not complete the entire half marathon at this time, he coukld prepare himself to walk across the finish line.

Together, they each trained for their respective goals, and worked with their families to send out fundraising letters in the hopes of raising $4,900. Together, and with the overwhelming support of friends and family from across the United States and around the world, they raised about $13,000. The notes of support and checks came in from those impacted by stroke and those who haven’t been, from those in Kelly’s home towns of Pittsfield and Boston, Massachusetts and in Robert’s home town of Spring Hill, Tennessee. Friendships were renewed from Robert’s upbringing overseas in Libya, England and Scotland; his best friend from England over thirty years ago was made aware of his efforts and picked up the phone to call; friends of his sister, Alicia’s, fifth grade class in England connected to make contributions. Many from their high school days in Scotland generously got on line or put a stamp on an envelope to make a difference. And even in these hard times, the support came in, $5 and $10 checks, sometimes with a note to Kelly explaining how the contributor knew Robert and his family and offering words of support for her.. It was and is humbling to realize the time and resources that people gave so freely when many have so little to give. It did and does make a difference, just the effort, let alone the monetary gifts.

And then came the day, June 28, in Kona, Hawaii, when Kelly finished her half marathon for Robert and herself, and when Robert chose to walk some two hundred feet to cross the finish line for Kelly and himself. For so much as the dynamic duo had done to raise funds for the American Stroke Association, for all that the rest of Kelly’s team from Boston, Massachusetts, had done to raise over $100,000 to prevent stroke, crossing that finish line together was all that and more. To impromptu cheers from the spectators, “We are, we are so proud of you” over and over and loudly, to the race announcer’s saying over those cheers, “You, Robert Fitts, you are the reason that we do these races. You are the man!”, amidst tears and with a smile on both of their faces, Kelly crossed that line for the second time that day, and Robert, for the first, together each step of the way. At the end of the finish line were Kelly’s teammates, all cheering the two of them on, full of laughter and tears, and a recognition of what they each had done together for all those who have faced the effects of stroke in their lives and chosen to face the challenge head on, or feet first in this case.

The race, as these events often are, was about far more than the fundraising, and has a far greater impact than just stroke heroes and thier families. It is an acknowledgement of the immense power of support and things one can do, whatever our challenges, with support and sheer tenacity and faith. It is a reminder that our individual actions impact each and all of us in ways we cannot know when we take them and of the hope that we can give one another in the process. Robert is now planning to finish the 5K in the Music City Marathon in Nashville, Tennessee in April, 2010 and to work with his peers who have had strokes to help one another see the possibilities. Kelly is still recuperating from the marathon and the week!

Robert is the son of Alice and Bill Fitts of Spring Hill, Tennessee and currently resides with them on their farm. He is a graduate of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma and up until his stroke, was an Investment Representative with Edward Jones. He is the father of twin boys, Brooks and Andrews.

The story above was written in 2009. Robert Fitts crossed another finish line three years ago, May 2012.  Robert’s journey with massive brain injury ended quietly with his family by his side.  The lessons for this writer, watching Robert’s family with their mutual process of the stroke and of his death has been inspiring.  Without any intention to be anything than who they are, the family continues to reach out to others in need and anytime I speak with them, I come away with life lessons on giving love, being selfless, facing challenges with courage and the gentleness and kindness of the space they hold when others are hurting. Robert’s life and his death have brought unexpected gifts to their life.  The Heroic Journal recently interviewed one of the twins, Brooks Fitts.  Please watch for his story soon.