What is your Obi-Wanism?

500x_luke_lightsaber_trainingWe’ve all seen a movie or read a book that shows us the universal story of challenge and the many fears and self-doubts they bring.  Those same stories probably show the primary characters facing their fears, transcending their doubts and taking the actions which enable them to become stronger and more resilient.  The life tests can be numerous with their overt difficulties, yet many more remain unseen…at first. Subtle but powerful challenges which live within us will feed off our most chronic fears causing them to grow even bigger or instead, the fears can feast on the small quiet voices within that whispers “you’ve got this.” This process is called THE HEROIC JOURNEY and is repeated hundreds of times during our life span.

The heroic framework is universal and has been revealed throughout history, nature and every spiritual traditional around the globe.  In nature, there can be devastation and destruction from hurricanes, fires and floods, yet new growth and beauty can emerge in the damage. Throughout history, there are a multitude of examples of cultural struggle yet most eventually make it through.  In reflection, we witness this labyrinthine process of life, endings and new beginnings, learning and growth, despair and hope and finally the development of maturity, discernment and wisdom.

It’s not always clear what the real issues are in the struggles we all face. The issues are typically more about the process of the Self in the struggle.  An example comes to mind: when my granddaughter was trying to learn to crawl, she would face plant, flap her hands and feet in utter frustration and primal struggle.  Afterward she would wail a moment, and tried again. I witnessed this pattern a dozen times one afternoon. If this Yaya of hers could have understood her internal process, I would have probably heard, “I can’t do this,” “I’m scared,” or “This isn’t fair!”  Now two years later, I see the little beautiful ball of energy doing obstacle courses in tumbling class. I savor the witnessing the process of her moving from incompetence to competence, indicating resilience being developed.

Within the heroic framework are mentors, allies and the not-yet heroes (or protagonists). Star Wars fans remember the mentor Obi Wan Kenobi.  His initiate (hero in training) was Luke Skywalker.  Early in their relationship, Obi Wan teaches Luke skills to be who he already was – a Jedi. Luke was a Jedi by heritage, but had yet to learn the skills and beliefs to back that up.  Luke was schooled in the lessons of learning to trust his intuition, to envision what he needed and the ability to not be distracted by unimportant minutiae and to focus on what was most important. To hold these lessons, Luke was given an “Obi-Wanism.”  An Obi-Wanism is a simple, succinct piece of wisdom which symbolizes the collection of important information needed to get through the challenges of life.  The memorable messages given to Luke can be identified by millions of people around the world: “May the Force Be with You.” Later, when his mentor was no longer physically present, Luke lost his focus and short phrase “Use the force, Luke” popped into his mind and reminded him that he was a Jedi with all the skills and wisdom which goes with that. With practice, our Obi-Wanisms get integrated into our core.

What are your Obi-Wanisms?  If you are part of a 12-step group, phrases such as “Let go and Let God” or “Easy does it” might be meaningful for you.  If you have a religious tradition you practice, then phrases from a spiritual text might be your go-to. If you have served time in the military, then you may have another.  The most resilient among us have a multitude of these succinct nuggets of wisdom which become integrated over time. Most of our Obi-Wanisms are first spoken by our mentors or teachers, although not as succinct and marketable as the one first heard in Star Wars. When you think of your favorite movies or stories, what is the integral message imbedded in it? Examples of some of the Obi-Wanisms I was taught from various mentors and teachers:

There will be times you will be afraid, have doubts, will be unsure of your next step or want to give  up and you will get through.

No one needs a doormat except people with dirty feet

God is with me and all is well

The suicidal moment lasts only seven minutes (this is a lie, but that lie kept me alive one day in 1984)

Pay attention, everything in life can teach you something.


Among those traveling with you on your life path are the allies we find along the way.  Allies walk beside us and provide shared support, laughter and lessons.  People may share multiple roles in our lives, sometimes all three at different times, making relationships complicated and confusing.

Ironically, the most pivotal roles of any “heroic” story is call the Threshold Guardian or the “antagonist.” The protagonist (the not-yet-a-hero person) must have an antagonist element to their life story.  The antagonist can be a person, a fictional character, a chronic issue, behavior or belief and it is usually going to provide some of our most powerful lessons in life.  This thorn-in-the-side element can inadvertently be our greatest teacher, without even trying.  All of us will be antagonists to others at some point, whether you are a parent setting appropriate and healthy boundaries with your child or as a coach or manager getting people back on course after mistakes have been made. You may be a mentor/sometimes antagonist combination If you are trying to guide people in a healthy way. An example we commonly see in movies is the stereotypical drill instructor.  A pain-in-the-neck person who rides the new recruits, yelling, directing and training them the skills which will hopefully keep them alive in combat.

The “gift” of the antagonist element is to first tick us off, wake us up and to be a call to action.  Remember, the antagonist element may not be a human being, but a situation or a negative belief we have. That energy inadvertently calls on us to find our best self.  Antagonists have no authentic power except that which we give them and we are solely responsible for transcending the antagonist pull.

We are each Luke Skywalker.  What are the Obi-Wanisms which remind you who you really are under the fears or bravado? As a leader, advocate, or teacher what Obi-Wanisms to you give to others to help them be authentic, find their own purpose and strength? Who are the allies which share your struggles and celebrate your successes? Who or what are the antagonist elements in your own story? What is it you need to remember to transcend the challenge before you? When the dynamics of life play out – personally or professionally – they are variations of this heroic framework. Remember who you are. What is the script you are living this year?




Applying the Heroic Journey to Healing From Sexual Trauma

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The heroic journey was made famous by mythologist Joseph Campbell and even won Emmy Award for his series on PBS about the topic, but the heroic framework has been around since humankind. Found in every culture around our planet and in every spiritual tradition, the framework is timeless and universal and shows us that individuals, families, couples, communities, organizations and nations experience many examples of the heroic framework when we face challenge, rites of passage, loss and even trauma.

The framework is familiar to everyone – except we sometimes don’t know we know it, for it is used as entertainment. All of full-length animated movies for children by Disney and Pixar are built on the heroic framework and so are nearly every movie nominated for Oscars, Golden Globes and SAG Awards. Also found in great literature for centuries, these all teach that the budding hero or heroine faces great challenge…the antagonist element of life. The antagonist is the element of life that threatens to stop, delay or sabotage us from reaching our goal or healing. In great stories, it is often portrayed by the bad guy, bad gal or a monster of sorts. The initiate (budding hero) must find a way to transcend the challenge. Many traumatic situations in life become the antagonist: abuse, trauma, profound loss,PTSD, a terminal or chronic illness or addiction – to name but a few.

The lessons embedded in the stories which capture the masses have the secrets of transformation and resilience. If we study the stories, rather than simply using them as mind-numbing entertainment they become a map of resilience or post traumatic growth. Once the “map” is learned, it gets reinforced anytime a person watches a blockbuster movie, read great literature or study the great writings of their spiritual tradition – if they have one.

What people can learn from studying the heroic framework is:

 Each challenge a person faces can have great meaning in their life if it is successfully traveled
 Some journeys will have solo times and also times where we have to learn (again) to trust others
 Each journey will utilize strengths which helped us to survive previous challenges, but does also require some on-the-job training which will require new skills
 The deeper journeys of trauma and/or profound loss will take us to “trench time” or what has been called “Dark night of the Soul,” “Night sea journey,” “Desert time,” “The dry well,” “The Abyss,” “The basement of the soul,” or even “Belly of the whale time.” Trench time requires us to release something to transform: maybe a belief system, a relationship, an old behavior which no longer serves us, or a no longer valid way to see ourselves.
 The framework teaches us to discern when to be tenacious and tough and also when to let go.
 The heroic framework also teaches ownership of our life and that when we face our greatest fears and negative voices within, we can transform.
 Each challenge, when identified, grieved and transformed can reveal the strengths within us to grow from struggle and pain.
 The framework also teaches every element found in all evidence-based treatment, as well as everything common with resilient people and systems of people and Post Traumatic Growth.

Learning about resilience through the heroic framework is also memorable and easily meshes with their favorite stories and movies, if we teach new ways to see that story.Storytellers for centuries have taught through story. What has been missing in our more recent culture is someone connecting the dots between the stories and the lessons and how they will teach them lessons all through the developmental stages of life.
Become like one of the ancient storytellers. Learn how communities and individuals for centuries found ways to make it through painful life experiences. Help them learn the lessons, like what Wayne Muller teaches in his quote below:

Within the sorrow is grace

When we come close to the things that break us down

We also find that which breaks us open

And in that breaking open we uncover our true nature

Susan Gabriel: One Writer’s Heroic Journey


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Susan Gabriel is an award-winning author of a seven novels and a Kirkus Best Book Award 2012. In the month of August, The Heroic Journal takes a look at her personal heroic journey and a bit about the characters which keep us riveted to the stories.

As one of my  favorite authors, Gabriel’s books capture the attention of the reader from the first page. Whether the story is of someone going through powerful rites of passage to see the impact our decisions have on the lives of others, or finding our way in life when the challenges have been painful, these novels not only entertain, but also inspire and teach us about our own journeys as well.

Join The Heroic Journal in welcoming Susan Gabriel’s featuring her own story of what inspires her, how she found her way from being a psychotherapist to highly acclaimed author:



Missy Bradley-Ball: You have been a musician, a psychotherapist and an award winning writer of many books I have not wanted to end. If you were describing yourself as you would one of your characters, just who is Susan Gabriel?


Susan Gabriel: I consider myself a resilient person with a deep and rich inner life. A person who tries to follow my creative process and then give something back to others. When I was young, life had some rough elements, and music saved me. Playing music (as a flutist) gave me something to feel passionate about and to spend my time developing. Music sustained me through quite a few years. I even majored in music when I first went to college.


Then after having two daughters, I became more and more passionate about women’s issues. I created a nonprofit Women’s Center in Charleston, SC, where I was the executive director and head counselor, before transitioning into a private practice, where I continued to counsel women and lead support groups.


Twenty years ago my passion shifted to writing stories, mostly novels, about people who go through rough times, yet are resilient and courageous as they solve their conflicts.


So I guess you could say I am someone who tries to follow wherever my creative energy leads. I am always in the process of carving out time to be creative in the midst of a very busy life, even in the early years while raising my daughters as a single mom. I can’t say my life has been that easy, but without an ongoing creative discipline and the pursuit of an inner life, I’m not sure where I’d be. Being creative, at this point, seems as necessary to me as breathing.



Missy: When and how did you begin to get the call as a writer? Can you take us through your process of owning the writer self?


Susan: I was sitting in my office between therapy clients and the thought went through my mind: you know, I could die doing this, and there would be a lot of people at my funeral, I might even be beloved, but I would have never done what I most needed to do, which is to write.


That ‘calling’ turned my life totally upside down. I knew that if I continued to be a therapist that that was how that particular storyline would play out. I also knew that there was another story waiting for me that I needed to live. So I began the long and absolutely terrifying process of living into a new story. I moved from Charleston (where I had a good therapy practice) to Asheville, NC (where I was totally unknown) and began to write. There was some overlap. I still saw clients for a while, but then I started doing different odd jobs, whatever I could find that would allow me to write in the mornings. I was a cookie cutter for designer dog biscuits. I worked at Lowe’s for a while. I was a first grade reading tutor. A typist, etc. I downsized my life. I put my daughters first, but I wrote while they were in school. It was like that saying where you jump off a cliff and build wings on the way down.


Believe me, I asked myself plenty of times: what were you thinking?!? I was so naive, and I had no idea what I was doing. But for me, it was the only way to do it.



Missy: When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a librarian, teacher and spy and now I am a psychotherapist/clinical educator with a great library. What were your adult dreams as a little girl?


Susan: I was very athletic and played a lot of golf with my father, so I wanted to be a professional golfer. My family didn’t have a lot of books when I was growing up, and sitting around reading was tantamount to being lazy. My parents were both incredibly hard-working, regular folks who were raised in a small mountain community like the fictitious Katy’s Ridge in my novel, The Secret Sense of Wildflower. They left the country and moved to the big city of Knoxville to have a better life.


All that to say, I never would have dreamed that I would one day have written 7 novels (even more, if you count the ones not yet published). Or that I would make my living as a writer and have a house full of books. All that came to me later in life. I had always written letters that people loved and had impressed my college professors with my case-studies (very close to developing characters in novels), but I didn’t actually start writing novels until I was 38 years old.


When I was growing up, however, my mother had a set of oil paints, paint brushes, charcoal pencils and sketch pads in a drawer in the kitchen. Artist supplies that as far as I could tell were rarely used. I was absolutely fascinated with this drawer. I would study everything in it like it was a treasure trove. I think my mother would have been artistically creative if her life hadn’t been filled with working full-time, raising a family and keeping my father happy. But somehow this transferred to me as a spark. From her, I think I inherited this possibility or dream of having a creative life. In some ways, I am doing now what my mother never allowed herself to do because it would have been too ‘lazy’ and just too beyond the scope of her upbringing. Though we had a very difficult relationship, I am living the dream for both of us.



Missy: How do you find your own clearing when life is challenging?


Susan: I go out in nature. I take a walk by the river in Pisgah National Forest, which is in the mountains of North Carolina and ten minutes from my home. Whenever I feel lonely all I have to do is go take a walk by the river, and I don’t feel lonely anymore. It works like magic for me. It gets me out of myself and into a bigger world where we’re all connected. Nature is my cure for everything. Sometimes I sit and write while I’m by the river, and this is very clearing, too. If I can’t get out there, or if it’s too cold, then I sit at home and look out my window and watch the birds around the feeders and do some deep breathing and try to settle into my body. 


If that doesn’t work, I fantasize about driving to the grocery store and getting donuts, LOTS of donuts, which is the LAST thing I need to do. 



Missy: When you are writing a book, do you know the whole arc of the story before you begin?


Susan:  I am what out there in the writing world is called an “intuitive writer.” When I write a novel, I don’t use an outline, and I don’t always know where the story is going. My intuition guides me. Some might call it a muse, but I think of it more as a creative part of me. This is one of the most fun parts of my creative process. I start to write and then wait to see what will be revealed.


So with a first draft, I just let myself go with whatever shows up, and I make a pact with myself not to judge or analyze it. Anne Lamott calls this writing a “shitty first draft.” In later drafts I clean it up, move some things around if a scene would be more effective somewhere else. I think of a first draft of a story as the bones, then I flesh out the story. I add sensory details, things that will help the reader really be there in the scene with me. 


To expand, in my imagination, I’ll have characters show up and the scenes will start to play out in my mind. Then it’s my job to write it down. Sometimes I’ll know I want to write something funny next, so I’ll kind of have that in mind, but mostly it starts with a character or characters that I want to develop and explore. Or a conflict that I want the character to resolve. Even while I’m following my intuition, I also have a part of me that will know when I need to develop more tension in a particular scene, so I’m following that direction, too. That’s the part of me that has studied the craft of writing for years and knows what it takes to create a good story that will keep the reader turning the pages. The greatest compliment I get about my novels is that people can’t put them down and they stayed up all night to finish them. That’s when I know I did my job as a storyteller, and that’s what I always hope for when I read other people’s novels. I read a lot of novels myself.   


Missy: In the heroic journey we find that there is always an antagonist energy….something that threatens to stop, delay or sabotage the journey. What are some examples of that energy in your own life process and how did/do you transcend them?


Susan:  Having to make money always threatened to derail me, like it does a lot of people who want to be creative. Artists and writers aren’t really supported in our culture, so many of us have to do a lot of different things to keep everything afloat, in addition to our art. Then there’s the whole concept of time. Where to find the time. Where to find the energy. My antagonist tends to be the part of the patriarchal culture in others and in me that thinks that being creative is a secondary thing. Something we get around to when everything else is finished. But the world is upside down! Everybody I know who finds the time to be creative feels more fulfilled afterward. They feel like better people. They feel more whole. Instead, our lives are so hectic that we settle for crumbs when there is a feast just waiting to be eaten in the next room.


How I transcend these very real issues is that I put my creativity first, even if in the beginning it was for only a few minutes a day. In more recent years I’ve taught writing classes and done freelance editing, in addition to writing. But now that I’ve written several books and gotten some recognition, readers are finding and reading my books more and more. This has resulted in the luxury of focusing exclusively on my writing. A feat that only took me twenty years of writing to accomplish! I am also incredibly fortunate to have a very supportive mate. Our mates (and family members) can sometimes sabotage our journeys faster than anybody, but I’ve been lucky in this regard.


I think any creative pursuit becomes on some level a heroic journey. Once you set off to do whatever creative thing you want to do, the journey very quickly becomes a pursuit of something we hope to be noble while in the midst of great obstacles. Knowing this, and knowing yourself, can help smooth the passage to a more creative life. I often say that I am the talent and the handler all rolled into one. If I didn’t know how to manage my emotional life–my fears, my doubts, my ability to procrastinate and waste a lot of time–I would never write a thing. I’ve spent years learning how to get myself out of the way so I can write what I hope will be something entertaining, as well as meaningful.



Missy: How has writing novels helped you in your own life journey?


Susan: These are all such great questions! I think in many ways the characters I create in my novels are like family. They are people I like to hang around with (except for maybe Iris and Edward in my latest novel, Temple Secrets!). After I release a book and the story is out in the world, I miss the characters because I end up spending years writing a book.


Like I said before, as a girl it never occurred to me that I would become a novelist. Yet now, as I look back on my journey so far, it makes total sense. I’ve been working on and trying to understand my own story for years. In a way, I’ve been developing my own character. So now I create characters and stories that I think will not only entertain readers, but will also help people maybe find their way. Perhaps that’s the counselor in me that is still trying to help out.


A lot of my characters are lost in some way and then find themselves. Sometimes they find themselves transformed. In a way, my mission is to give readers not only a good story but a map for how to live a resilient and courageous life. Maybe I write novels to remind me how to do it, too. I’m always trying to follow the breadcrumbs out of the forest of our modern-day distractions, and I leave breadcrumbs for my readers, too. But then at the end of the story, I make sure that there’s some kind of feast. I want to leave a reader with hope that things will get better, that all is well (at least for now), and that we are not alone.


To find out more about Susan Gabriel, go to Susan Gabriel


The Gift of the Story: Learning Resilience Through Movies and Books

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In the United States alone, the publishing industry sells over $29.5 billion books yearly. The motion picture industry has grossed over a half-a-trillion dollars in U.S. history alone and these numbers don’t tell the whole story financially, nor does it explain the reason for the popularity of a good story. Stories are not simply entertainment. Stories provide us much more than a way to pass time, the ability to zone out or to get an adrenaline rush. Stories are natural mentors and guides. In order for the message to be useful, the story must be studied, not just experienced.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

The combat vet stood on the stage, extremely drunk as he was trying to make a sale. He had been reeling ever since that horrific battle. His commander made showed he was not the leader the now vet thought he was. What hurt most is he violated his own code of honor and could never forgive himself for that…or so he thought. There came an unexpected group of people – those he once thought were his enemies – helped him to heal. One was a warrior himself, he found self-forgiveness and could be honorable as well. The vet learned to be present and to silence the frantic voice within. He found peace again. He found new sense of purpose. Is this a case study? No. It is from the movie The Last Samurai.

What about a family who was hit with tragedy and the loss of many family members? The father developed PTSD, yet a new crisis actually lead him to his own healing. He met someone who taught him how to face his fears directly, to change the ways he thought, to commit to the journey of healing and to be transformed, even in the midst of new crisis. The father and his only living child found a way to survive and to discover new and positive life, in the midst of loss. Another movie…this time an animated children’s blockbuster movie Finding Nemo.

What about a family who was hit with tragedy and the loss of many family members? The father developed PTSD, yet a new crisis actually lead him to his own healing. He met someone who taught him how to face his fears directly, to change the ways he thought, to commit to the journey of healing and to be transformed, even in the midst of new crisis. The father and his only living child found a way to survive and to discover new and positive life, in the midst of loss. Another movie…this time an animated children’s blockbuster movie Finding Nemo.
All full-length children’s movies and the majority of blockbuster movies, as well as those nominated for Golden Globes, SAG award and Oscars are built on the heroic journey framework. In fact, throughout history we have found this same framework playing out in the sacred texts of all religious traditions as well as the primary cultural stories around the world.

Movies and stories are the way to help us learn resilience, but not without guidance. As a society, we are inundated with stories even now, but it can be used as mind-numbing entertainment and not the valuable resource it can be. Throughout history, leaders of communities and families have used stories to teach skills, life lessons and eventually, self-awareness. As individuals learn the most common aspects of making it through life challenges – even trauma – a story about resilience acts as a “pacer” or even mirror for their own story and giving hope as a result.

Another example, the recent award nominated movie “Wild” is a true story about Cheryl Strayed and played beautifully by Reese Witherspoon. As Strayed (Witherspoon) faced a deep and painful loss, she became unable to pull out of her self-destructive spiral. Serendipitously she starts off on a 1,100 mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail. Never a serious hiker, her decision appears dangerous and reckless. As she faces the trials, challenges, doubts and fears, they provide a perfect metaphor of her emotional journey. The scenery of the movie provides the external equivalent of her emotional winter, the desert time, the wilderness wanderings as well as the time she times she wants to quit her journey. The emotional exhaustion turns into finding the strength to keep going, one small step at a time when every step is an act of great courage.
When you think about your own favorite stories in the form of books or movies, what comes to mind? As you consider that story, let’s look at a few questions that might show the depth that story brought you.

As you that story, if you were to explain the story to another person using only five sentences and no more, how would you describe it?

Was there a particular character that captured your attention in that story?

What was it about that character that captured your attention?

What were the strengths of that character? Areas of weakness?

How did that character change over the course of the story? What lessons did they learn?

Was there a favorite scene in the story? Describe it in as much detail as you can recall.

What challenge did that character face?

Who/what helped them to meet that challenge? (i.e. a belief, a person, medication, group support, etc.)

Was there anything which threatened to stop/delay or sabotage that character’s progress on their journey? Did that provide anything useful to your character – eventually? How?

How did they transcend that challenge or come to a place of acceptance? Or did they?

Was any other character transformed or changed by what your character did or did not do?

In your own life, do you resonate with anything with the story you chose?

In what way do you relate?

The questions can be limitless, depending on the ability of observation. With younger children, obviously the questions would be adapted for their ability…but having children really experience the story fully, begins to provide a resilient framework, because a story which shows ineffective choices can still teach.

If you would like to join The Omnibus Center in a movie discussion experience, all you need is a computer, a webcam and the desire to discuss. Check out www.theomnibuscenter.org and go to the Pay It Forward Series and see which movie we will be discussing and when. Registration is required…no payment necessary. Learn how to use stories to help people see the resilience and lessons in stories. One hundred percent of all children’s full-length animated movies and 95% or more of the award nominated movies are based on the heroic framework.

Doorway of Life


Today you probably walked through many doors…whether it was on the way to take a shower, leaving the house, stepping into your vehicle, or entering your place of work or school (or more).
For a moment, imagine a door…or an entrance way. You have one below if you need your creativity jogged today. Now, from your imagination, journal or ponder these questions:
1. Describe the door or entry way from your imagination. What materials make up your door? i.e. wood, glass, steel, etc.? What color is it? Does it have any type of special design? If so, what is it? Does it have a knob or latch? Is it locked? If so, who has the key? Where is the knob or latch located on your door? Is there any other hardware on the door, if so, what is it? Is there any design or words on the hardware, if so what is it? What does the door open into or out of? Draw your door or entry way.
2. Which side of the door are you on? If it is locked, do YOU have the key or combination?
3. If you do not have the ability to open it yet, do you wish to venture onto the other side of this door? What emotions or thoughts come up as you imagine being on the other side of the door? Who would you allow through your door (be specific)? Why them?
4. If you do have the key or combination, open the door and step through when you are ready. What is on the other side? Describe in great detail.
5. Is there a transition (or preparing to make a transition or decision) that you are currently making in your life? Is there anything you can take from this exercise above that is useful? Which part of the exercise above are you currently in with your transition?
Before you close this exercise, here is an affirmative writing:

I allow myself to transition into and out of different aspects of my life, knowing that the timing and speed of the transition happens in perfect timing for my soul. When I am ready, I will open that part of me and my new life. I integrate the lessons from the other side of the door, knowing that those times and experiences were essential to who I am today. I learn from what some call my “mistakes” because if I learn from them, they were never mistakes, but another way to learn and to be aware of the life that is calling me. The discomfort I experience from growing is a Universal Human Experience…and all those who live a conscious and meaningful life have gone through this growth pain. I consciously know that I join all the generations of wise souls that have gone before me. They have helped to pave my way as I will help pave the way of others. I can be grateful for lessons.

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 loveistheword.org)

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.