Sunday, March 28, 2010

How to Guide Your Life with Confluence

Confluence: a coming or flowing together, meeting, or gathering at one point - or the flowing together of two or more streams. Isn't that a great word? With the rising swell of Spring, many rivers are literally surging with confluences. And, as the outer world often mirrors the inner process, "confluence" represents a coming together of random moments in your life that are startlingly familiar. It is the mystery that surrounds those funny 'coincidences' that bring your life an awakening, or nudge you in a new direction.

If you hear someone's name mentioned by a friend, see their name in the paper, and then run into them - that is confluence. If you decide you are going to start a new business, bump into someone who can design your business cards, and find a customer within the first week, you guessed it- confluence. These are not random events, but, according to Beverly Sastri, life coach and founder of "Live Like You Mean It", confluence is a cosmic nudge from the Universe offering profound insights - if we are willing to notice them.

Beverly Sastri is a master at seeking out the confluences of life. Like a super sleuth, she helps her clients by listening carefully, and stringing together seemingly insignificant events like puzzle pieces. According to Sastri:

Confluence is more than mere coincidence; it represents a universal gift, providing us with insight to our own intuitive ecosystems. Confluence is the resonating message you see on the billboard, the name that links you to a successful relationship, and the thought that comes to you out of nowhere.

A confluence takes the form of guidance, opportunities and lessons. Maybe it is a chance encounter at a party, or something you see on TV that bores into the core of your being, or a casual interaction with a stranger that leaves an indelible mark. When we race through our lives, those little confluences can be missed, and the lessons offered passed by. Sastri stresses:

Get interactive with your life and look for the metaphors - like Spring - with the new growth and confluence of rivers. There is truth in that! The reason we talk about cleaning and rebirth in the Spring is not just literary license. That is us at a core level, relating to the different ways life is a reflection of everything else."

I have to admit, I am fundamentally suspicious of anyone who calls themselves a "life coach." Coming out of the old school world of management consultants or professional training and development, the surge of the coaching profession seemed like a free-for-all for anyone to take a week long course and suddenly be qualified to give others advice. I have seen plenty of coaches who run on ego alone, and significantly misguide their clients.

However, Sastri's MBA from Cornell, and her years in working with Fortune 500 companies, coupled with her very "Zen" approach to life stood out from the crowd. I agreed to participate in a 12 session experience and find out what a qualified coach can do with a highly opinionated, skeptical chick like me.

Ahem. I think I am addicted. One of the gifts I learned is the simple act of stopping my 'Orient Express' pace, and observing the flow of life from one week to the next. It is amazing how much happens, and how many little gifts of "confluence" are so easily overlooked. Sastri slows down the raging streams, and calls attention to the little river stones that have washed to shore.

One of the tips to recognize a confluence in your life is the "power of three." If anything comes to you three times - that is a sure sign to pay careful attention. Sastri calls them "door openers," and suggests always following an experience that feels like an open door, instead of beating our hands bloody on the closed ones.

The natural energy of Spring is beckoning, and the creative drive kicks into high gear. Many of us come out of hibernation with pent up energy to start gardening, clearing out closets, painting, writing, or even changing our appearance with a hair cut or new clothes. Use it, and the power of confluence, to set a new goal for anything from weight loss, career change, new hobby, shedding unhealthy relationships, or just being more mindful and gentle with yourself, as the sun melts away the rigidity of winter. Soon the summer laziness will set in, so do it now!

I love watching my crocus, tulips and daffodils poke their heads out of the ground this time of year - and wonder what it would be like to dialogue about a Spring flower's process of starting to sprout out of the half thawed ground. It is a great mirror of our human process of change and growth. I bet it could be described as painful; "ouch, popping that fresh green shoot out of this hard bulb hurts!" Followed by fear of the unknown; "hey, it's dark down here! Which way is up?" Followed by increasing confidence and drive; "Oooh, man, this dirt is hard, but I'm on a roll and can't stop now!"

Maybe the little shoot even gives up for a time during a sudden Spring snow squall. But, eventually - a confluence of events happens: a magical warm day comes along where the Earth softens up, the birds start singing their songs, and that tender green shoot triumphantly pops out of the Earth. After that, true growth begins with a fury. The shoots seem to double in size every day, and in no time, blazes of color are everywhere.

Confluence is like that. Life is like that. Have you experienced "confluence" in your life? In what ways? Love to hear your comments below, and Let's spend the week being a super sleuth of our lives and noticing the inner details. Thanks to Beverly Sastri, who is offering an upcoming teleseminar for those interested to learn more.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

International Women's Day -- Celebrating Reinvention And Survival

In my previous post, I wrote about our traditional social life, vs. the expanding world of social networking. I promised two follow up stories about each, but Monday is International Women's Day. I couldn't resist. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, IWD is a national holiday. I decided to roll both stories together - tied with a big bow to celebrate our ways as women.

As most men can attest, women are changelings. We love to change our hairstyle, our nail color and our fashions with the turning of the seasons. We do spontaneous things - like grab and hug each other in the grocery store. We love to laugh with Julia Robert's style whoops. We love to talk, and talk - and talk. When someone we love gets a "boo boo" of the physical or emotional kind, we are always there - usually with food.

Women are experts at surviving - picking up the pieces, throwing on some lipstick and getting back out there, in our careers, personal lives or physical health. Erica Tannen is one of those changeling women everyone wishes would be their best friend. Fabulous, loud, funny, and savvy, Tannen has been in the fashion retail world for over 30 years. She knew what women wanted, and how to deliver.

After having a daughter and moving into a tiny town in "the country" she let go of her bustling career, and reinvented herself as a full time mother.
"I loved it - for the first year or so," Erica laughed. "And then I was soooo bored! I had no idea what to do after I cleaned the house and went to yoga class! I didn't want to go to lunch, and realize I have zero skills as a housewife."

Tannen realized she had been spending a lot of time sending emails to girlfriends about her favorite new restaurant, a cool skirt at a local shop, or great scone at a bakery - and had an idea. "I decided my skills as a buyer could translate into skills as an editor, to find the nice things in life women like to buy and put it out as a weekly eblast."

The "E-list: an Excruciatingly Opinionated Guide to the CT Shoreline" was born, and quickly became a local sensation for women. Bound by our shared obsession with email and shopping, women eagerly waited for her weekly smorgasbord to hit the Inbox featuring the cutest sandals down the street, favorite fish entree, or cool art exhibit. Local ads made it self-supporting.

Tannen now has over 4,500 'friends,' yet they were invisible tendrils in cyber land. Social networking was exciting, yet vacuous.
Tannen reflected, "I have created a wonderful life for myself out here, but I spend so much time on screen, I forgot the daily interactions with women are what keeps me going."

Tannen's latest reinvention to balance what women really want, came this winter by converting an abandoned showroom into an "Insane Inside-Sidewalk Sale." Local merchants brought sale items, and over 900 women showed up to shop, giggle, show-off something new - not to mention celebrate the simplicity of gathering together. Eblasts are ok, but parties are better!

I am convinced women must have regular social interactions to feel healthy and alive. After investigating the impact of social networking, Facebook reminds me of shopping at the mall; fun, mindless, and satisfying in some weird sort of way. Browsing the various stores is similar to 're-connecting' online. Maybe you take the time to stop in a store and actually try a few things on, and maybe you check out someone's profile and leave a message - but the point of "going to the mall" or hanging out of Facebook is mostly to merge in to the mindless mass of humanity for awhile.

Larissa Lytwyn a 28-year-old freelance writer, agrees.
"Facebook is a great way to stay in touch, but it is not a substitute for real life, and remembering what really matters."
Lytwyn felt many women her age are not investing enough time in physical connections. Recognizing she was getting too obsessed with Facebook, so she took a month off to go out to dinner and movies with friends instead. "I was amazed at how much time I had," she laughed.

You know when women's gift for connecting and "being there" really kicks in? When the shit hits the fan. As a final nod to International Women's Day, here's a tribute to the true survivors: those who looked the face of cancer in the eye, and are still here to talk about it. Beth and Leslie are two breast cancer survivors, and fast friends - who scoff at Facebook and emails as a way to "stay in touch."

"I need the touch of your hand, and the white's of your eyes," smiles Leslie faintly.

Both women knew each other through their children, and were "friendly" in that general sort of way - until both fell to the terror of breast cancer, one after the other. They found a deep intimacy of discussing the gore of drains, knowing that Carnation Instant Breakfast is all you can eat, silk scarves feel best after the hair falls out, and coolers of food placed at the front door spares having to force a gracious chat.

"No one truly understands what it is like, unless you go through it yourself," muses Beth. "Being a survivor does not end after your hair grows back, and the women who have been through it bond together forever."

I ran into both women at the grocery store one day - pushing a cart together, sporting freshly grown hair styles and gigging about a new clinical trial they are in that involves going to a gym three times a week. Of course I hugged them, laughed uproariously with them and drove home touched in the deepest place inside. I love being a woman, love my friends, and am so grateful they are still here.

In honor of International Women's Day, take a break from Facebook and get out there to hug and giggle with the women who mean the most to you. Tell me a story about a special woman in your life in the comments below.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Balancing Social Networking with a Social Life

What's the definition of a friend these days? Who do you consider to be your 'friends?" Are they the people you work with, grew up with, see around town, work out at the gym, and meet for lunch -- or are they the folks you chat with on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn?

Our traditional social lives, coupled with modern social networking, is the new standard -- and it's here to stay. How do we balance the expanding possibilities for social connections in a way that is healthy and nourishing, instead of draining and overwhelming? Most modern adults are connected to hundreds of people each month from varied interactions, and the average Facebook user has nearly 150 friends. Astounding, isn't it?

I treasure having a solid community of friends I see in my daily life, as a true lifeline of grounding and support. I have also found the friends I connect with via blogging, emails and social networking fill another wonderful place of social fulfillment never imagined a decade ago. The rise of the internet has become a "living symbol" of global connection, as Llewelyn Vaughn-Lee wrote.

I have come to believe that the Internet and other modes of global communication are not just tools to help us communicate and access information, but also have a symbolic function. They are dynamic images of a global interconnectedness and oneness that belong to life. As symbols they convey a deeper meaning and purpose than their surface function. But in order to access this dimension we have to have the appropriate attitude of receptivity.

I see our traditional relations (the inner) and our networked relations (the outer) to be a new "Tree of Life." Think of a large living tree as a symbol of yourself and your modern, multi-layered social life. The trunk of the tree is you -- maybe you are a slim and lovely Aspen, a strong and sturdy Maple, or a gently bending Willow. What variety describes you best? The ground below you is your home and your community. Is your soil well nourished and watered, or is it dry and cracked? Are you planted in a welcoming place, or are you struggling to survive?

Imagine the roots underneath to be the friends and family you consider near and dear to your heart -- those whom you rely on to get through daily life, or can't wait to see on vacations and holidays. The branches that soar above you are the people you touch more peripherally through social networking, collegial relations and so on. There are endless opportunities to extend new shoots into the sun and find interesting or like-minded people to connect.

Many of the 40 plus crowd have had a slower, more mixed feeling about extending any branches at all. Change does not come as easy to us old Redwoods, who prefer to keep those roots nourished -- and let the branches remain dormant, as in winter time. Many of the younger crowd has begun utilizing the power of global sites to develop vast numbers of friends that boggle the imagination. Their branches have blossomed so far and wide as to create a canopy of leaves, rich with the excitement of new growth.

One cannot fully survive without the other. While many lament the superficiality of social networking, it is a part of the culture, and once resistance is lowered, the possibilities of enhancing your life are very real. For others, the enchantment of new growth can overtake the commitment to maintaining the foundation. All tweets on new branches, and no contact with the ground makes for a very unbalanced life!

In the next two blogs, I will explore both ends of this new "Tree of Life." Next week we will celebrate "tried and true" rooted friendships, and in the following I will highlight those who have had success in social networking relations.

If you were to draw a picture of your tree, what would it look like? How healthy is the trunk (you)? What do your roots or inner relations look like; are they healthy and interconnected or thin, meager and craving some organic fertilizer? How about your branches of outer relations. Do you have any? What do they look like? Are you unfolding new leaves in the sun and perhaps bearing the fruit of new possiblilities?

If your tree is all roots and no branches, it is time to let your fingers do the walking and upgrade your social software. Reach out to others by leaving comments on blogs that you like, set up a Facebook page and watch old friends find you, or join a cause that allows you to connect to others of like mind. The rewards are fairly instant, and fun!

Extending new branches and leaves exclusively can ultimately backfire as well. Imagine a tree with all branches and no roots. What do we have? A tumbleweed comes to my mind -- out of balance and drifting in the wind. Social networking can quickly become an obsession. Remembering and tending your roots is the quickest way to come back to balance.

Untold studies show our deepest feelings of happiness and contentment are linked to the people we have in our life. Let's celebrate them all. Write at least one note today to someone in your inner root system, and to one person in your outer branches, to extend your gratitude for their presence in your life.

And, let's hear it! What does your tree look like? How do you balance your inner and outer social lives? Love to hear your comments, and we can continue on Facebook as well. I am looking for homegrown friend stories for next week, and social success stories for the week after. Thanks!