Monthly Archives: May 2014

Finding Our Tribes

by Kim Childs, CPPC

Last mindexonth as I watched my students in The Artist’s Way bonding with each other, I grew aware of some jealousy bubbling up in me. It made me realize that, since becoming a workshop facilitator, I’d spent more time creating support circles than cultivating my own. In the last year, I’d also let my social life get a bit too “virtual” as I single-mindedly focused on becoming a certified coach and building a new business.

While my online connections are wonderful, they don’t take the place of real people in my space, and they aren’t necessarily the people I call when I really need to talk. I know what that support looks like, because I’ve had it.

In the summer of 1997, I hit bottom in my personal and professional life, and depression was setting in. In the midst of that funk, I spotted a pink flier announcing a workshop on The Artist’s Way in my town. There was one spot left in the group, and I grabbed it.

Soon I was meeting weekly with a handful of kindred spirits who wanted what I did—a more authentic life and a way to express our passions. We entrusted each other with our once secret desires to sing, write poetry, pen novels, and paint. We helped each other through dark and doubtful moments, we celebrated each other’s progress and triumphs, and we stayed connected after the course was over.

And, as often happens on the road to recovery, I also discovered parts of me that needing healing.

I found a therapist who steered me to Al-Anon, a 12-step program for those affected by addiction in others. That’s where I was astonished to hear many versions of my own life story from men and women who had walked a similarly painful path of trying to cope in relationships with alcoholics and drug addicts. My circle of support now included Al-Anon members who shared secrets, supportive phone calls and Saturday mornings with me.

As my healing and recovery journey continued, I quit my radio career and headed to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, where I planned to volunteer all summer. In fact, I stayed for two years because I found yet another tribe there—people who were committed to growing themselves as spiritual warriors. My fellow yogis and yoginis were of different ages, races and backgrounds, but those differences melted as we chanted and danced ecstatically, held rituals, shared deep truths, drummed around the fire and practiced yoga on and off our mats.

It was a magical time.

When I left Kripalu and moved to the Boston area, I began leading others in transformational workshops. For 12 years, I’ve watched my students open up to each other in the safe space that we co-create. While they often enter the class feeling stuck and “terminally unique” with their neuroses and fears, they soon relax into the awareness that they are not alone, and that they can be authentic and connected—a powerful combination. When the workshop is over, many of them continue to meet, sharing support and inspiration for the journey ahead.

Now here I am, wanting the same thing for myself again.

My years of moving around to follow my bliss left me with lots of dear friends in faraway places. Many of my local pals have moved away in recent years, while others can be hard to pin down, and so Facebook is where we catch up. I have 600 friends on Facebook and, while they provide a warm and necessary sense of community at times, I’m more deeply nourished by face-to-face contact and rich conversation.

Psychiatrist Ned Hallowell noted in a recent interview that, while we’re all super connected electronically these days, we’re rather disconnected interpersonally. “People don’t have that sense of affiliation, of belonging, of company, of people to turn to at hand,” says Hallowell. “There’s an awful lot of unacknowledged loneliness out there—people surrounded by people, but not really connected.”

I hear this from friends and coaching clients, too, and it’s got me wondering: How can we do a better job of connecting with our flesh and blood tribes in this digital age? Positive Psychologists stress that strong social ties and relationships are crucial to our mental and physical well-being, but we’re often too busy typing, texting, surfing and posting to make a call or plan a visit.

It takes effort to maintain real relationships amid busy lives, but I know from experience that the fruits of those efforts are sweet, indeed. The other day I received an invitation to join a local women’s spirituality circle and I replied with a resounding “Yes!” I’m also creating a peer support group with fellow coaches in my area, and making plans to attend more gatherings this summer and spend time with people I love.

In my husband’s native Wolof language, there’s an odd phrase that sounds like, “Neet, neet-tay garabum.” When I asked him to translate, he told me, “People heal people.”

Yes, especially the kind you can reach out and touch.

Kim Childs is a Certified Positive Psychology Life and Career Coach. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation.

The Good News About Bad News

by Kim Childs, CPPC

Heard the one about the Chinese farmer? According to the Taoist story, he had a hotaorse that ran away, prompting his neighbors to remark, “Oh, that’s bad news.”

“Good news, bad news, who can say?” the farmer replied. Soon after, his horse returned with a second horse, which many labeled a stroke of luck. The farmer again withheld judgment and gave the second horse to his son—who broke his leg when the animal threw him off.

“That’s bad news,” clucked sympathetic neighbors.

“Good news, bad news, who can say?” the farmer replied.

Days later, the emperor’s soldiers entered the village to round up able-bodied young men for war. The farmer’s injured son was spared, and the neighbors congratulated his father upon hearing the “good” news.

You can guess what the farmer said, right?

Well, I’m beginning to understand the wisdom of his philosophy, at least when it comes to adversity. I’ve learned that so-called bad news can sometimes lead to good.

Things like being turned down for a job or losing one, getting dumped by a lover or left by a spouse, or experiencing a life-threatening illness or injury can sometimes lead us to more good than we ever would have imagined or engineered for ourselves. Asking “What next?” or “What can I learn from this?” in the wake of upsetting events has served me better than asking “Why me?”

Poet Mark Nepo, author of The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have, credits two bouts with cancer for setting him on the path to a more vibrant and meaningful life. He went on to write and speak about the need to be fully awake in life, no matter what comes. “Whatever opens us is not as important as what it opens,” Nepo told an interviewer last year.

It’s worth noting that, if you spell his last name backwards, you get the word “open.”

Five years ago, a rear-end collision resulted in injuries that required me to take a break from yoga teaching. Similarly, a panic attack in 1997 hastened my departure from radio news reporting—at a time when I had already stopped enjoying the work. In each case, I hadn’t allowed myself to acknowledge how badly I needed to change gears until the change was thrust upon me.

During these events, I was too shaken to envision the positive outcomes that would follow. Both incidents introduced me to some talented healers, the accident led to a financial bonus, and the panic attack sent me on a transformational journey that led me to my true calling as a coach, teacher, and writer.

I know from these and other personal experiences that the things we may label terrible can sometimes bear hidden gifts. They may force us to grow our courage and commitment, build resilience and call upon strengths that we never knew we had. They often humble us enough to admit our vulnerability, ask for help, and accept it. Other times, they catapult us out of our comfort zone and prompt us to make sorely needed changes that, left up to us, might never have happened.

In the words of Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, my teacher in Kripalu’s Certificate in Positive Psychology program, “While things don’t always happen for the best, some people are able to make the best of what happens.”

I’m not saying there’s no room for tears or tantrums when things don’t go as we’d like them to. I’ve had my share of those, and consider them healthy and human reactions to disappointment and loss. But once the anger has cooled and the sadness begins to lift, I find it more helpful to work with reality than to waste time and energy lamenting, blaming, and wallowing.

Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, says that we have a “psychological immune system” that helps us to synthesize happiness even when we don’t get what we want. He reports that our brains can assist us in finding the ultimate good in whatever happens, and that synthetic happiness is as real as the kind that comes when things go our way. Gilbert’s own story is illustrative: When he was unable to take a particular creative writing class in college, he ended up finding his passion in the study of psychology. Today he’s a famous Harvard professor and speaker…and a writer.

I stumbled upon Gilbert’s work while heading home from a trip to see my parents last summer. I encountered a horrendous traffic backup on the only road out of town and, rather than sit and stew, I turned the car around, went back to my parents’ house, ate some ice cream, and read a good book. When I got back in the car a few hours later, there was Dan Gilbert on the radio, discussing the good news about bad news.

I call that a happy accident.

Kim Childs is a Certified Positive Psychology Life and Career Coach. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation.

(This post was written for Thrive, the blog of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and also appears here.)