Can I Change?

In this blog post, I answer a question about the ability to change.

Here’s the question I received:

Can I change?

And my response:

Sooner or later almost all my clients ask this question.

“Can I change?”

They ask it of themselves, they ask it rhetorically, sometimes they ask it of me.

My answer:

Yes, you can, and no, you can’t.

I don’t think my love of language is ever going to go away, but how I relate to it and incorporate it in my life has changed (from studying to be a speech-language pathologist to freelance editing work).

My Enneagram Type 5 tendencies mean that I’ll always carry with me my basic desire to be capable, competent, and knowledgeable, but my personal growth means that I’m no longer striving to be the most competent, mind-blowing person on the planet — instead I strive to use my competence and knowledge in the service of others.

I believe I will always need to be cared for, nourished, and loved, yet I no longer believe that all of these needs have to be filled all the time, or always by just one other person.

What I know about change is that it starts with awareness.

In my experience, before changing:

I had to become aware of my habits, patterns, and tendencies.

For example, aware that I try to become an expert on a subject before I act or share my knowledge.

I had to become aware of what those tendencies were about.

What is my snobby need for expertise about? What am I protecting? What’s the fear behind it? What do I get out of it? Is it healthy? Is it bringing me satisfaction? How does it affect the people around me?

I had to become aware of the triggers that send me scurrying into my tendencies.

For example, if I feel insecure or challenged, I retreat and isolate myself in the books, the learning, the classes, the expertise, and I don’t come out again until I’m certain. If I feel that my life or work is overwhelming, I spiral quickly into “It’s because I’m not smart enough / competent enough / knowledgeable enough.”

I had to learn to accept my tendencies.

“What we resist, persists” (a quote often attributed to Carl Jung). As long as I was resisting my tendencies, fighting against them, beating myself up for them, I didn’t change. When I started to accept them, then things shifted.

I had to become aware of that space between stimulus and response, a space in which I can choose how I will act.

If I feel overwhelmed, might I consider that it’s not about what I know / don’t know? Maybe it’s even because I know too much? Maybe it’s because I’ve been isolating myself in acquiring knowledge instead of interacting with people?

I had to experiment with new ways of being.

I had to try not being an expert. Try being dumb. Try half-assing things. Try saying, “I don’t know.”

Tools along the journey

Hopeful Skeptic, you will seek out and find the tools that work for you. Here are some of the tools that I’ve found helpful as I worked toward change.

Working with a therapist. I worked with a graduate of the Transpersonal Therapy Centre (where I am currently completing my own training as a therapist) for three years. Through her mirroring, articulation, and questions, I started to recognize my tendencies. Through her support and acceptance, I learned to accept myself. Through role-playing and rehearsal, I learned to choose new responses.

Working with a coach. I worked with a CTI-trained coach (CTI is the coaching school where I did my coach training too). Coaching work was particularly useful for me to recognize the situations in which I felt like I did not have a choice, and then to find that I could choose. It opened the doors on what I thought was possible.

Yoga (or any similar practice). In yoga, I learned to be patient with my abilities and my inabilities. I learned to accept what I could do and what I couldn’t do. I learned to calm my mind and attend to my body. I learned the limitations of staying in my head.

Meditation. I’m a beginning meditator. I find it useful in increasing my ability to notice what is happening and my automatic reactions, to expand the space between stimulus and response, and to notice what else I might choose, how else I might react.

You can change.

You can change. And you can’t. But mostly you can. And I invite you to ask for help along the way.



In Search of a Better Way

So I got a little down about the world last week.

I was reading bleak articles on the left, despairing that a bunch of countries have decided again that firing missiles makes things better, watching the Canadian government make excuses for inexcusable actions, and trying not to think about nuclear reactors.

Thinking a change of scenery and some spring air might do me good, I went for a walk and ended up at a coffeeshop reading the local weekly. I hadn’t taken a look at the magazine in years, and it made me discouraged to look at the event calendar and see the same organizations hosting the same events, the same teach-ins, the same calls to action, and it seemed to me on that day that I don’t think society has made a lot of progress recently. I could be optimistic that all those groups are still active, or discouraged at the lack of change. More discouraged at the disturbing images that pass for American Apparel ads in the same magazine. More discouraged at the articles calling for environmental lifestyles next to articles designed to increase our consumption of crap. More discouraged that pharmaceutical companies are still advertising for human guinea pigs to take drugs for money.

We’re not getting this right, I think. Can’t we do better? As humans, can’t we do better?

I’m exhausted by the religious answer, which divides everything into good and bad categories and promises me an apocalypse.

I’m exhausted by the anti-capitalist / radical left answers, which are filled with anger.

I’m exhausted by all sides of the political spectrum treating dissenters with contempt.

I’m exhausted by the self-help industry, and the less-scrupulous folks in my own profession who make money off people’s pain and desperation.

There must be a better way, I think.

At times like this, I remind myself of The Presencing Institute and Theory U, “a set of principles and practices for collectively creating the future that wants to emerge (following the movements of co-initiating, co-sensing, co-inspiring, co-creating, and co-evolving).” That’s working towards a better way.

I remind myself of all the people who, along with me, are alumni of the three year Transpersonal Therapy training program, an experiential and non-sectarian program “designed to facilitate healing and spiritual growth.” That’s working towards a better way.

I remind myself that 400 leaders in Co-Active coaching (the style of coaching I’m trained in) recently gathered at the first Co-Active Summit and emerged from the Summit with a collective promise:

We believe the human community is at the critical time to change the dream of the world, a dream we have created together, a dream that leads to the destruction of the planet through overconsumption, the wasting of our human environment through social injustice, and the loss of spiritual fulfillment through disconnection and fear.

We believe that by uniting together, we can make the critical difference. We are committing ourselves to changing the dream to one that envisions a sustainable environment, spiritual fulfillment, and social justice for all people and beings. We hold that by taking this stand, our decision can provide the tipping point that the world needs now.

Each in our own way, we will help change the dream: in our selves, in our families, with our children, in front of our friends, inspiring our communities. Because we are leaders, we are coaches, we are human activists. Our weapon is love.

We have less than four years to take decisive action. To change our own life, to change our world, to change our collective dream, to alter the Earth’s destiny.  For the sake of our humanness, for the sake of our grandchildren’s grandchildren. In the words of Henry Kimsey-House, we must act from the paradox of Love AND Power, Feminine AND Masculine energies, Co AND Active. We can’t pick sides any more, coming from one OR the other. We must act from both.

That’s working towards a better way.

In Search of a Better Way

I want to have conversations about a better way.

I want to hear from you–readers who comment, subscribers who email, twitter people, facebookers–about what you remind yourself of when you’re in search of a better way.

I want to work with coaching and therapy clients who are in search of a better way.

I want us to create better ways together.

Animus, Shadow, and Other Jungian Archetypes

Last week I came face to face with my animusshadow, and wise old woman thanks to one of my colleagues at the Transpersonal Therapy Centre, who led our class through a series of art exercises inspired by Jungian psychology.

My animus emerged as a guttural caveman, eager to go out and spear a boar and then come grunting home to the cave.

My shadow image–an evil, silent, laughing clown–still makes me screw up my mouth in discomfort.

And my wise old woman glowed with calm, presence, and beauty, sending the blessing “Peace Be Upon You”  to all she met.

What to make of all this, and what part might be useful for you, dear internet surfer?


As I understand Jung, I need to understand and incorporate my animus (my inner masculine side). I’ll need to do some work to find out where I see this fierce, inarticulate provider/caveman come out, and understand how I can draw on that as a positive energy.

For you:

If you are a woman, what traditionally masculine qualities do you notice inside you?

If you are a man, what traditionally feminine qualities can you find in yourself?

For both, what about those qualities could be of service to you at this point in your life?


I need to examine my shadow to find the hidden parts of myself that I disown. As I learn to accept these uncomfortable parts of myself, the shadow will lose its power over me and I’ll even be able to find the gift that (Jung says) resides in the shadow. Perhaps this means owning up to an evil silent part of me that laughs at others, although right now I can’t fathom the gift in that particular shadow.

For you:

Here’s a question that might point you toward your shadow -> imagine the most annoying person at a cocktail party, the person you are going out of your way to avoid, the person you most definitely do not want to talk to. Got a person in mind? Write down five adjectives about that person.

Now, ask yourself, “How is it true that I am [adjective]? What would be helpful about being [adjective]?”

Ask these questions separately for each of the five adjectives that you came up with.

Wise old man/woman

The Wise Old Woman is the image of Self that I am moving toward. Sometimes this peaceful, blissful, blessing-generous being seems very distant to me; other times I can sense her, right here, just beyond the veil, waiting for me to step into her comfortable–yet stylish–shoes.

For you:

To get in touch with your inner wise old man/woman, here are a few starter questions:

Who and what are you when you are at your best?

Where in your body can you feel/sense your ‘wise voice’, your ‘inner wisdom’?

What do you need to raise the volume on that voice?

Finally, one tool I’ve found helpful for getting in touch with my own personal wise woman is the Future Self journey I learned at The Coaches Training Institute. If you’ve never experienced the Future Self journey, drop me a line to book an appointment, and we’ll travel there together.

A Transformative Program in Toronto, With Room For You

Last week I went to the first class of my third year at the Transpersonal Therapy Centre in downtown Toronto. As I sat in the room, which holds two years of memories and learning for me, I wished that more people in my life could experience the transformative growth that happens in this program. When I learned that space is still available for students to join the first year class, I decided to post about my experience in the hopes that someone who will read this will decide the program is for him or her.

I chose the program after working for two years in one-on-one therapy with a program graduate. I’ll never forget my first session with her: in contrast to psychologists and psychiatrists who sat me down, took a family history, and suggested it was all about my father, this therapist asked, “How do you feel?” and I said, “Sad.” And she asked, genuinely, “What does the sadness do for you?”

From there on, I knew this would be a different sort of therapy. I was not going to be judged or analyzed. I was going to sit across from someone whose heart was fully open to witness me, to acknowledge and accept my feelings, and to assist me in experiencing them rather than fighting them. And the more I was able to experience and accept within that space, the more things changed and shifted toward my emotional health.

I was in awe of her work, and started to want to use some of her tools with friends or family who were suffering. Yet I knew I didn’t have the personal resources to be a therapist, and I also knew that while my ability to be a functioning, mature, capable adult on my own was growing, I still had much room to grow when it came to relating to people around me. I struggled to make true contact with the people around me – I shied away from meeting someone from my own honest and authentic place, and relating to them in the here and now. And as I learned from Gestalt, growth happens at the boundaries, in contact, and in relationship.

So I went to the Transpersonal Therapy Centre, where everything happens in relation to other people. Week after week, I sat with my peers, and was challenged to share myself honestly and to see them honestly. I was challenged to communicate directly, to be aware of my unconscious reactions, to be aware of my projections, to identify and act on my own needs, and to take responsibility for my own growth. Week after week, ten other people offered witness to me, and I witnessed them.

And things changed.

I cannot predict how you might transform if you were to undertake this program, but I can share how it has changed me.

I’ve learned that the world doesn’t fall apart and I will not be abandoned if I honestly and directly express my needs. I’ve learned that I can hear another person’s pain and struggle, and even hear about the painful things they see in me, and I still can witness this person with love and compassion instead of judgment or flight. I have a better awareness of the (unhelpful) patterns I have clung to unconsciously, and with that awareness comes an ability to choose something different.

I have expanded my ability to be with myself – fully present and conscious, not running or hiding from the less pleasant parts of myself, and not running or hiding from my gifts or strengths either.

I have expanded my ability to be with others – to sit with someone who is in pain and to be present with them instead of mentally running away into my own pain. To sit with someone who is celebrating and to truly celebrate with them instead of becoming defensive or compulsively making a mental list of my own accomplishments.

I am slowly learning – and I imagine this is a never-ending curriculum – to embrace life rather than fight it.

As Pema Chodron says –

When you wake up in the morning and out of nowhere comes the heartache of alienation and loneliness, could you use that as a golden opportunity? Rather than persecuting yourself or feeling that something terribly wrong is happening, right there in the moment of sadness and longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart?

Through the Transpersonal Therapy Centre, I’ve learned to touch the limitless space of the human heart. Not always. Not without aiming for it and missing. Not flawlessly. I have far to go before I can habitually hang out in that limitless space, instead of just glimpsing and touching it now and then. But I am on my way.

If there is something in this post that speaks to you, and you are in the Toronto area and would like to know more about the Transpersonal Therapy Centre program, I’d be happy to answer any questions you have. Enrollment for the first year class is open for just a few more days.