Feature Article: Jump into the Deep End
"Whether you think you can or you can’t,
“I did it! I jumped into the deep end and I didn’t drown! I actually bobbed right up and began to tread water!” Chris
leapt out of his seat and pumped his fist as he shared this accomplishment. Chris is forty-two years old, you see, and
has been terrified of water his whole life. What gave him the courage to confront his life-long fear?
It wasn’t just fear of water that was the problem. Chris was allowing fear and anxiety to take over his life. He had become
reluctant to make any important decisions. Burdened by financial responsibilities, he felt stuck in a job he had outgrown. Over time, he lost confidence because his skills
were not being utilized fully at work. His dream of becoming a writer was growing dimmer by the day.
Finally his discomfort was intolerable. “It’s now or never. I’ve got to do something dramatic to restore my self-confidence
and get my life back on track.” With great trepidation, he hired a leadership and life coach (me) and a swimming
instructor! What has transpired in just a matter of weeks is pretty phenomenal.
Intuitively, Chris knew to begin in the physical domain…to let his body teach him how to move through his fear. He set his
intention on learning to swim. Getting in the water that first day was just as scary as he had imagined. At our first
meeting, he told me how he had learned to tread water and wondered if he could “tread water” at work for a while as he
created a vision and a plan for his life. Two weeks later, he reported that he’d let go of the side of the pool and ventured
into the deep end with his instructor. Then he taught himself the backstroke and went from one end of the pool to the other.
“Fear hits me sometimes when I gulp some water or start to flounder but I fight through the panic and keep going.”
As all of this was going on, a dramatic shift in perspective was occurring on the job. “Treading water at work last week
was a breeze, too. I leaned back, let go of the wall, started kicking my legs, and bobbed around all week. I even took on
an extra assignment just to help out a colleague. I’m making progress in the pool and continue to see the connections between the pool and my life.”
A Revolutionary War buff, Chris says that tackling his biggest fear…by letting go of the wall, treading water, then jumping
into the deep end, he’s made his own “Declaration of Independence.” In a matter of weeks, he has a different story
about who he is and how is wants to be in the world. He has moved away from the stance of being the victim of
circumstances beyond his control to that of creator of his preferred future.
I challenged Chris to develop a vision free of fear, not holding back. Chris’s vision for www.orionsattic.com sprang to life.
Take a look for yourself! After our coaching session last week, Chris sent me one of his favorite quotes:
“If one advances confidently in the direction of
his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
Henry David Thoreau
Leadership Lessons: The Anatomy of Change
Chris’s story is rich with leadership lessons to examine. One of the most compelling to me is how the wisdom of the body
led his breakthrough experience. “By working through our body, it is possible to creatively guide ourselves through
transitions, through learning situations, and through tough times of learning and anxiety,” declares Richard Strozzi Heckler, in his groundbreaking book, Anatomy of Change.
Chris’s bodily wisdom has enabled him to re-discover himself, to reconnect with what matters most to him, and to
reset his compass. He has begun to envision the life he wants to create for himself and to develop a plan to
move forward. Strozzi might describe what transpired by explaining that Chris contacted the physical setting
of his conditioned tendencies. This bodily way of working through obstacles is about letting go of the old so
the new can take form. “Living in our body, we realize that we have a choice about how to relate to any given situation.”
In the swimming pool, Chris could actually feel his body differently and re-in-habit his body more fully. He
learned to trust himself and to take risks, to move through fear. Suzanne Scurlock-Durana, in her how-to manual for embodiment, Full Body Presence: Learning to Listen to the Body’s Wisdom, speaks to how
there are parts of the body that innately provide us with more of a sense of steadiness in times of anxiety. By
teaching Chris to feel deeper into his body than the anxiety ridden parts he was used to identifying with, and
allowing those parts to hold his anxiety and move beyond it by feeling for instance, the steadiness of his
bones, gives him the capacity to move through anxiety rather than being paralyzed by it.
“By my actions…teach my mind.”
TIPS, TOOLS AND PRACTICES: Grounding and Filling
Here is a quick skill builder, a snap shot of what Scurlock-Durana provides in the audio that accompanies Full Body Presence.
Step One: Establish a connection with your inner landscape – it is the navigational system that will guide you
in this process. To do so, you need to do what I call “slowing down time” by giving your full attention to the
process – drop whatever you are doing and find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably with your feet on
the floor. Allow your eyes to close so you can begin to pay attention inwardly.
Step Two: Invite your curiosity – your openness to discovery – to lead you. Start paying attention to normal
bodily processes, such as your inhalation and exhalation – how your ribs and chest are expanding and
contracting - how your belly feels rising and falling – the temperature of the air as it hits your nostrils…being
curious about what is going on in this present moment in your breathing. Let any intrusive thoughts that want
to drag you off to somewhere else – simply float away. Kindly but firmly keep ‘showing them the door’ as they appear.
Step Three: Let your curiosity lead you downward inside your body until you notice how the bottoms of your
feet feel making contact with the ground beneath you. This might be the sensation of the inside of your shoes
cradling your feet. Be curious about this contact. Does it feel cool or warm? Is it rough or smooth? Can you
feel your heels as keenly as you can feel your toes and the balls of your feet? Simply notice. There are no
right or wrong answers here. Notice how your body is feeling right now in this moment – temperature, texture, color, density – with little or no interpretation.
Step Four: Establish a life enhancing connection with your environment. Allow yourself to imagine what the
earth under you feels like. We are all connected through the earth’s gravitational field – so feel it. Set an
intention to travel down into the earth as though you were putting down roots of awareness. Go as far as you
are comfortable. If that means you have tiny roots right on the surface, that’s fine. If you have a taproot the size
of a redwood headed for the core of the earth, that’s fine too.
Step Five: Allow yourself to receive from the earth’s field whatever sensations would feel most nourishing and nurturing to you in this moment. Don’t go on autopilot. This is not a mental process. You are not willing yourself to receive. You simply open to receiving, and then ask yourself, “What sensation would feel most
nourishing to my feet right now?” Then simply notice whatever feeling /sensation /texture /color/ temperature
shows up in your feet. Allow yourself to soak it in as fully as you can right now. Go at a pace that works for
you. Ask the same question throughout the rest of your body, taking your time – your ankles and calves, your
knees, your thighs, your pelvis, your belly, your spine, your mid-section, your chest and shoulders, arms and
hands, your neck and head, moving out the crown and showering down around you.
Step Six: Once the container of your being is full of nourishing sensation, you are now in the river of life – it is
flowing through you consciously and you have entered the present moment of sensation awareness. Congratulations. This is a simple, yet profound experience.
Learn more about Suzanne Scurlock-Durana’s Full Body Presence workshops.
© 2011 Bette George & Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Conversations on Leadership and Life is an e-newsletter written by Bette George of Bette George &
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help you begin to create the change you want to see in yourself, your workplace, your community.
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