In my office hangs a picture of a wolf. When I was a tween, my mother won first place at the Orange County Fair for this picture. She shot it at a small zoo in Big Bear on a family vacation. It reminds me to be a compassionate teacher.
Wolf packs have a natural hierarchy with an alpha male and female leaders, who are also often parents to the rest of the pack. Each pack member plays an important role within the pack, and if one member becomes injured or dies, it greatly impacts the survival of the pack as a whole. They’re strategic hunters and fierce protectors of each other.
Yet, the alphas are playful and extremely patient teachers. Watching adult wolves play with pups, one would liken them to any domesticated dog. They recognize that to lead, teach and inspire requires a light touch. I try to take the same approach with my coaching.
When we’re compassionate, we see all as one, equals on different parts of the same journey toward peace, joy and freedom. From this perspective, we can understand others from deep within ourselves and as a result, our actions and words come out of love. And we are inspired to be playful in our interactions.
It’s not always that easy to approach every one we come in contact with, with compassion. I, too, can be judgmental when my ego feels wronged or self-righteous. When I see myself as separate from the other, when I don’t have a common connection to link me to empathy and compassion, I drive a wedge between us. That wedge is burdensome and takes away from my work and purpose.
What helps bridge that gap is to become an alpha wolf. Even if I can’t immediately see myself in the other, I know that most often the actions that I perceive as wronging me are merely a misstep by a young pup that is still learning. If they’re caught up their own mind’s fear-chatter, they don’t know what they don’t know yet. And THAT stage of life I remember. That lights my compassion fire.
From that heart-space, I find patience and am inspired to playfully engage them as an alpha wolf, who is ready to lead by example and help them find their place in the pack. Because each of us has a role to play, and each of us is critically important. We wouldn’t be here otherwise.
When you find yourself judging or feeling separate from someone who triggers you, I invite you to also become an alpha wolf. Ask yourself, “How would I engage with this person if they were my child?” My hunch is your word choice and actions would dramatically change. Try coming from that place’s perspective and watch what happens.
Over the past week, there have been a surprising amount of news stories on animals, which were once thought to be extinct, now showing up. I can understand going into hiding to survive. So why are they now re-exposing themselves? What does it mean?
Last Wednesday, The New York Times reported that for the first time in nearly 100 years, there is “confirm[ed] existence of a black leopard in Africa, and the first in Kenya.” Yesterday, the BBC reported on a “sighting of the Tengmalm’s owl believed to have been the first of the breed in Shetland in over a century.” Today, Gizmodo reported that Wallace’s Bee, “the world’s biggest bee, once thought extinct, has been found alive” in native Indonesia after four decades of absence. Also on February 21, USA Today published that a Fernandina Giant Tortoise, “believed to be extinct for a century, was found on Santa Cruz Island.”
I don’t know about you, but this feels like an inordinate amount of animals in a short period of time reappearing as if it were a sign of something big to come. What could that be?
Our ecosystem is at a critical time right now and requires a united effort from around the world to save it. Have these animals come to help remind us of what might happen if we don’t act quickly, or are they here to join in the effort to save the planet? One could only wonder if a mammal, bird, insect and reptile — a representative cross section across nature — are the ones to lead the way.
I’m a firm believer in the reciprocal healing relationship with nature. If we heal nature, nature heals us. And we (the collective we as a human species) both are in need of some deep healing. My hunch is that this Black Leopard, Tengmalm’s Owl, Wallace’s Bee, and Fernandina Giant Tortoise are our guides to do so.
This also brings me hope. We’re like these animals, none of us are past saving. Each of us has a chance to rise again no matter how dire the circumstances may look to be.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts on it. Why do you think they’ve reappeared?
On my way out for a morning walk, I noticed a Planthopper (or “torpedo bug”) on my front door. At only a quarter-inch in size, these little leaf-like insects can jump two-feet –a distance of 96 times it’s own length!
Yet it spends most of its time blending into its surroundings, holding perfectly still, pretending to be a leaf.
How many of us do that? Hide our natural talents, personality and characteristics to camouflage with everyone else.
I did for years. I still do sometimes. Quick, act normal. Don’t let them find out you’re different!
I remember Opposite Day, a themed dress-up day, in grade school.
I decided to wear my sweatshirt as pants, and my pants as a shirt. (I was nine-years-old and making it up as I went along.)
Oh, how my peers mocked me. You did it wrong, dummy! That’s not what they meant, ditzy! You’re so weird!
I dammed up my tears as my chest felt like it was folding back into itself.
Before lunch, I swapped my clothes back to customary and sank lower in my chair. I no longer raised my hand to participate; I wanted to dissolve into the floor and disappear forever.
As an adult, I rarely spoke up in large groups unless asked a direct question. In those instances my stomach would drop to my toes and sweat would pour from my armpits and down my back. I became fidgety with nervous energy. I also found it difficult to formulate words and speak complete sentences, especially in the company of people who intimidated me.
I learned to fade into the background at work with my monotone suits, simple makeup with no lipstick, and preppy hairstyle. I sought out working in the shadow of corporate stars as an excuse to hide. Always playing an agreeable, supporting role yet yearning to be more.
My hunch is I’m not alone. That you, too, feel the need to blend in unseen and unheard.
The last few years, though, I’ve been coming out. This change became more outwardly apparent when I bleached and died a section of my brown hair purple.
These days, I speak my mind without considering what others might think or say. I vulnerably put my authenticity in the spotlight of my blog and dare to call myself the Elation Explorer.
I have cut off unhealthy relationships without regard to others’ judgments of my character. I have stopped apologizing for being different because we all are different. That’s the wonderfully beautiful part!
What if we all claim our diversity, and celebrate each other’s core being and natural gifts?
We can do this by making one small change toward opening up our true colors. We can take one step out of that blending bush. And then another small step, and another.
When we can stand confidently in our uniqueness, we become this mighty Planthopper – leaping remarkable lengths from the green bush to stand out in bold contrast against a white door.
I was recently at the San Diego Zoo, a favorite family outing from my childhood. Observing the vast array of differences between each animal and celebrating their uniqueness always seems to put my heart at ease. Each created for a specific purpose to play an integral role in the ecosystem.
At one point, we were visiting the polar bear exhibit, where we read a plaque that told us there were three white giants sharing this enclosure together. Except I only saw one out playing as he dove into the water.
So we walked into the cave to get a fuller view of the space. There we could see both above and below water through the thick glass wall, and I was delighted to see two of the bears.
“There’s another one,” I remarked to my husband who smiled in agreement.
One was situated to the left up against the rocks at the glass, where I could see his bottom half submerged under water. The other bear was farther back in the pond happily eating a melon that was floating on the surface.
Then, I walked up to the glass and couldn’t find the head to the first bear, but when I popped up above the water line I only saw the second bear in the back, eating his melon. I bobbed up and down a couple times in confusion.
Then I saw the first bear start to climb up out of the water as the second bear was also pulling himself out onto his rock. It was when they merged into one above water that I realized I was observing an optical illusion.
How often in life are we absolutely certain of what we witness that we stubbornly hold to that perspective as absolute truth?
If you would have asked me when we first entered the observation cave how many bears there were, I would have emphatically told you that there were two polar bears in the water.
So much in life is an illusion built from our mind’s quick judgment. What we see is not always what is. When we permit ourselves to expand and consider alternatives, we are often surprised to learn that our first impression is inaccurate.
If I may impart any advice for avoiding this mistake, it is to loosen your grip (especially if it’s tight) on what you believe is truth. There is no one absolute truth; there’s merely what our ego and mind piece together and serve up to us as truth.
If we allow ourselves to consider there can be many ways to see something, we can release judgment. Through releasing judgment we find harmony.
Nature is rich with metaphors to solve many of our problems. When you let your subconscious play and your body absorb through your senses, wisdom often floats to the surface. Here are a few lessons from traveling around South America that I invite you to glean insights on applying to your own life.
1) Sometimes you need to go slow to go fast.
Cargo and cruise ships that want to bypass the 7,822 mile trip around South America utilize the Panama Canal. Not only does it save time, but it saves on resources. If you fly into Panama’s Tocumen airport, you can see hundreds of ships waiting their turn. When it’s time to go through the channel, there are a lot of moving parts involved.
Powerful trains surround the ship on each side (two in front, two in back) to guide it safely through the lock system. These trains keep the ship from bumping into the canal walls and damaging anything. The ship waits in each lock for the water to rise (or fall, depending on direction traveling) until it can move to the next lock, and the next. It takes time to release water from one space to another through powerful pumps. From merely the Miraflores Locks (there are three: Miraflores, Pedro Miguel, and Gatun), the process to move one cargo ship through took about an hour.
Spiritually speaking, on our journey toward a more mindful living and presence (higher state), there is a process of releasing beliefs that no longer serve you. Along the way, there are guides to help you that come in the form of coaches and other holistic healers. They tug you along and hold you in a safe space. Grounding in meditation (going slowly) expedites the overall release process during thought work. Depending on how much (emotional) weight you’re carrying, it may require more space and time to pass through to the next level.
You could go all the way around to reach the other side without any help, but it sure saves time and emotional energy to tap into the many spiritual resources out there that can provide a safe space for you to go slow, to go fast.
Where else do you go slow to go fast in your life?
2) There’s enough for everyone to live abundantly, let’s support each other rather than compete.
Patagonia is home to some of the strongest and most resilient creatures and plants. One of these plants is the Lenga tree, whose leaves and branches enable it to live in some of the world’s harshest conditions. Even so, for every one-hundred Lenga trees that are planted, only one survives.
In Las Torres del Paine National Park in 2011, a camper started a wildfire that ravaged much of the park. The region’s notoriously strong winds escalated a small quick action to devastation before anyone even realized what was happening. The scars on the land are still prominent these seven years later. It is estimated that it will take over 100 years to replenish the foliage that was lost during that single fire.
A tour guide explained an interesting and recent change in reforestation philosophy. In generations past, ecologists believed each plant fought for resources such as light, water, dirt and space. Therefore, during reforestation they planted with the goal of each tree or bush having uninhibited access to such resources.
After more research and desperate to find a better solution, they started to plant Lenga trees in close clusters and introduced a specific species of mushroom to the dirt around the bases of each. With this simple change in perspective about resources and the interrelationship of plants, they were able to substantially increase this tree’s chance of survival.
One of the many, many reasons I love being a Martha Beck Life Coach is that we belong to a community of support. This community of coaches share tips, offer guidance, give free workshops and classes, and even refer clients out that would be a better fit for another niche. We don’t look at each other as competition for clients, we look at each other as fellow tribe members who are stronger together. At our foundation are the tools (like the mushrooms) that help us help each other. In doing so, we also grow.
How can you find a community to lean on and offer your mutual support?
3) Beneath the surface, you are immense and powerful.
One of the biggest attractions for visiting Patagonia are the big, beautiful, blue glaciers. These magnificent forms are awe-inspiring to behold. Throughout the year and with each season, the glaciers grow and subside, ebb and flow almost like an extended ocean tide. Rainfalls and ice-melts flow downhill to refreeze and reform the glacier outward.
In Summer months, icebergs break off from the glacier in a thunderous collapse that echo off the surrounding granite mountains. Many float out and are themselves destinations for boats of tourists to drive around and admire.
While at the surface an iceberg may look the size of a building, it’s not until the tour guide announces that it’s three miles wide underneath the surface of the water that you can truly appreciate the magnitude of it. It’s then that it hits you, “The Titanic didn’t stand a chance.”
Each and every one of us is an iceberg. The form that one sees on the surface can’t possibly define or limit what we are capable of when we dive into, and use, our unique gifts. You are a beautiful, immensely strong force. Dare to go below the surface and behold the bright, blue light that is waiting to be tapped into. Own your WOW!
What WOW do you have hidden away? How can you bring it out to play?
4) Ever-changing weather means dress in layers.
The weather in Patagonia is as promised: unpredictable, harsh and constantly changing. Unlike the weather in California, where you can reasonably predict one day to the next, or one minute to the next simply by looking up at the sky, it’s a wholly different, wild world in Southern Chile. Even the local eco-tourists can’t make any promises for the weather for any given day. So they simply and wisely suggest to wear layers and remove or add as needed.
Within a nine-hour span you can experience heavy rain, sunny blue skies with a few wispy clouds and brisk yet calm air, high winds that blow you around (and down), and snow flurries. The wind comes and goes without notice or warning. It may bring with it rain clouds, or wipe them away in a single blow.
Like life, the only constant is that it’s constantly changing. It’s a much more enjoyable journey if you accept and embrace that there’s no way to stop it or predict it. Then all you simply need to do is address each circumstance as it comes. Ask yourself, “What does this situation call for? What can I do to better my circumstances, if anything, until the storm passes?”
If you’re cold, what will warm you? If you’re feeling the heat, what can you remove? Think symbolically and your answers may surprise you.
5) Even if you think you have nothing to offer others, you do simply by being you.
What could you offer to a butterfly that they need to live? Think about it. You have five guesses. I’ll wait.
Here’s a hint. It’s something you do naturally, without any thought or effort behind it. Especially if it’s hot and humid outside.
If you guessed sweat, I have a hunch you have had some interactions with butterflies before.
Iguazu Falls, on the border of Argentina and Brazil, is ranked No. 9 on the Top Wonders of the World for good reason. Aside from inspiring admiration and wonder at its beauty and sheer volume of flowing water, it’s home to more than 600 species of butterfly. Prepare to be amazed at seeing thousands of brightly colored butterflies of varying sizes flying about, filling the sky and rainforest. And they all want what you have: sweat.
Gathering of butterflies
The “Lucky 88” Butterfly
In addition to sweat, butterflies enjoy nectar from flowers.
Butterfly licking sweat from my arm.
Another butterfly licking sweat from my arm with his long, yellow tongue.
The mixture of salt and water give them exactly the sustenance they need. They’ll land on you (and everyone else meandering through Iguazu National Park) for a long drink with their even longer tongues. It’s hours of mesmerizing entertainment watching these gentle insects tickle your skin.
So the next time you think you have nothing to offer someone, remember the butterflies. Someone out there wants what you offer, it’s simply a matter of having the opportunity to share your gifts with those who truly need it.
Please share your own life lessons from your travels in the comments below!