My hope is that this Blog will inspire a conversation about things that support us as we encounter difficulty and loss on our journey through life.

In the groups that I have led over the years we experience the gift of connection to others who are finding their way through painful situations that they never expected to face in themselves or in those who they love.

trippingAs I think of recovery, the image that comes to mind is the experience of unexpectedly being tripped up by some circumstance in life. Next we move around searching for a way to regain our footing and continue down the road.

Many things can cause us to lose our footing. The most difficult things can be those experiences that remind us of some difficult or painful experience in the past.

Do you want to be healed?

I love the story in the Bible, in John 5, of the man who lay helplessly by the pool of Bethesda. The story goes that angels came and stirred the water, and whoever got into the pool first received miraculous healing. People flocked from near and far for a chance to be healed.

There was a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years and couldn’t make it to the pool fast enough. “When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

What an insensitive question, Jesus! What do you think, certainly this man wants to be healed!

Can we stop and consider for a moment that we are to a great extent the authors of our own experience in life. We tend to repeat patterns of perception and behavior over and over without really realizing that there are other options open to us.

You know the old story of the woman who was asked why she always cut off the end of the ham before she put it in a pot. She answered that she really did not know why but her mother had taught her to cook a ham in that way. When she asked her mother and finally her grandmother the grandmother said that the pan that she had was not big enough for the whole ham. Often practices that start for very practical reasons continue far beyond their reason for being.

How often do we continue to follow the same patterns of behavior without having any particular reason for doing things in the way that we are doing them? It is my contention that the man at the pool of Bethesda knew how to sit on his mat at the edge of the pool but to do something different was somehow a larger challenge than he was willing to accept.

We can complain that life is not going the way we want it to go. If we want change we must be willing to experiment with doing things differently. I had a friend who decided he wanted to quit smoking. He threw away a whole carton of cigarettes. That is the spirit of willing.

There is a book on addiction that I have not read but the title says it all. The title of the book is “I will quit tomorrow”. Tomorrow never really comes. Change only happens in the present. The present is the only thing that is real. New life happens the way it did for the disciples of Jesus. They dropped their nets and followed Him. This is the structure of New Life. It happens NOW.


Bread and Fish

The feeding of 4,000 with just a little bread and a few fish

loaves and fishThe story of bread and fish, which appears only in Mark and Matthew, is also known as the miracle of the seven loaves and fishes, as the Gospel of Matthew refers to seven loaves and a few small fish used by Jesus to feed a multitude.

According to the Gospels, a large crowd had gathered and was following Jesus. Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”

His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed  such a crowd?”

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”

Jesus told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.

We have all heard this remarkable story of simple bread and fish. It seems to be a story that describes supernatural powers that Jesus had to out rank the natural order of things. Jesus seems to be like Super Man who could leap tall buildings in a single bound. He seems not to be confined to the limitations that you and I face every day. Here is a child, a little boy, who may have packed a lunch for himself and possibly a friend. His lunch of bread and fish was clearly “not enough” to feed the crowd gathered to hear Jesus.

Can you and I bring to mind the many times in our lives when we clearly have not “had enough”. It seems to me that the miracle of the story is that somehow the little boy showed up with what he had. Fear, defensiveness, shame and doubt can so easily block us from “showing up”. We are often convinced that what we have to bring to the party is not enough. We may suffer from low self esteem. We may hear voices from the past that accuse and judge us. These voices can direct our paths and determine our behavior in situation after situation.

This magnificent story invites us to bring what we have. Bring our bits of bread and fish. Even if the bread that we carry is stale and dry, we are challenged to bring it. Bring ourselves, open our hearts and our lives to “love God, neighbor and self”. This is what transformation and New Life are all about. If we think we are not enough and can make no difference in situations that we face in life that thought becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. In life, love is the answer to every challenge. I believe that we are invited to deal with ourselves and each other with care and compassion.

The Stories of the Bible and What They Might Mean for You

Adam and Eve
Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

I have come to think of the Bible as a book that is the carrier of truth. The stories of the Bible contain truth about us humans and life that can only be expressed through the power of stories. These stories of the Bible open up to us what is true about life and the human condition. I see these stories as more true than true. That is to say as we engage with the stories we are given eyes to see and ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to us.

Over the next several weeks, I will share some of what the stories are saying to me at this point in my life while I invite you to wonder what the stories are saying to you.

For some time in my life it seemed that the only possible way to hear these stories was accepting them as literal accounts of what happened during the Biblical Period and especially during the life of Jesus.

As I have grown old looking at these remarkable stories in this way reduced them to acts of magic. These days the magic does not reach deep enough to satisfy my heart, soul and spirit. These stories are miracles that can only be seen and understood through new spirit filled eyes. I have fallen in love with so many of these stories as I experience their truth every day in my life.

The Bible starts with that wonderful image of a man and woman in community with each other being “naked and unashamed”. What a striking picture of presence with the self and other. We all know how shame sends us into hiding and isolates us from the core of who we are as well as from each other and God. The words of Jesus echo through our very being when He calls us to simply love one another, as Jesus identifies the greatest commandment to “Love God and neighbor as self”.

Shame cuts us off from love and acceptance of ourselves, others and God. It seems that we tend to believe the way to correct bad behavior is to cast shame, judgement and guilt on ourselves and others when we fail to live up to expectations.

This Bible story of a man and woman experiencing connection by being naked or open honest and exposed and unashamed or accepting and welcoming presents the opposite of correction by shame and judgement. This is ongoing correction by love and acceptance.
We profess to believe in the transformative power of the love and acceptance of God in Christ but we more often than not rely on shame, guilt and judgement as tools of change. These tools tend to produce defensiveness through withdrawal, aggression and debilitation (fight, flight, freeze) rather than transformation.

In my next several blog posts, I will seek to engage with some of the Biblical Stories in an attempt to discover ways that these stories invite and welcome us into New Life. I hope you will sign up and read along.

Chambered Nautilus

Chambered_Nautilus_ShellAn image that has provided rich insights to me is the image of the chambered nautilus. I realize that I draw on concrete images to provide a model to represent abstract and dynamic processes.

The chambered nautilus provinces such an image. As I look at this amazing creature I see an organism that carries its present and history on its back. Each of the chambers in the shell on its back are chambers in which the little fellow once lived. Each of these chambers contain varying amounts of gas that provide support and buoyancy to the natulilus as it wanders the sea floor. I think of these chambers as places that at one time were large enough to provide shelter, home and protection to the nautilus but now the nautilus lives in a much larger chamber. I imagine that each chamber remains important to the natilus throughout life as a source of remembrances of important life lessons learned in the various stages of life. The space that was completely sufficient at one stage of life becomes too small, limiting and cramped for the next stage. Life is always moving forward to ever expanding spaces. JD Phillips wrote a book with the title Your God is too Small. God and the life that God has created is always larger than we can comprehend. New Life is a continual process of moving into larger and more inclusive spaces of ourselves, each other and the creation itself. Someone has said that organizations are either growing or dying. This is true of individuals as well. Ideally as we move through transitions in life we are constantly transforming. As we transform we are able to appreciate more and more of life. This transformation “makes space” for more of ourselves and others. It has been my experience that isolation, fear, secretive living, defensiveness and the like stunt transformation and  keep us stuck in the smaller chambers of life. In a sense we need to be open to grow beyond ourselves to become ourselves.


Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP as it is called, is a field of therapy and ways of change that emerged from the work of Milton Erickson, Fritz Perls and Virginia Satir. It is a discerning approach that pays close attention to the possibilities for change in others through modeling behavior as well as through defining in sensory terms desired outcomes in life. This perspective highlights the ways in which our beliefs and presuppositions in life affect the results that we achieve. NLP suggests a number of proposals that, if adopted, can lead to desirable results and empower people to achieve higher levels of self-actualization.

These principles are not claimed to be universally true. You do not have to believe that they are true. These presuppositions are presupposed to be true and acted on as if they are true. A person who practices them discovers that they are true by the results that occur. If the results are desirable, they continue to act as if they are true. They form a set of ethical principles for life which I will set forth.

  1. People respond to their experience, not to reality itself. Our senses, beliefs and past experiences give us a map of the world from which we operate. A map can never be exactly accurate, but some maps are better than others for finding one’s way. When maps are faulty and do not show the dangers, travelers are liable to run aground. NLP is the art of changing these maps, to give greater freedom of action.
  2. Having a choice is better than not having a choice. The more choices one has, the freer that person is and the greater influence he or she has.
  3. People make the best choice they can at the time according to their map of the world. Give them a better map and they will make a better choice.
  4. People work perfectly. No one is wrong or broken. They are carrying out their strategies perfectly, but the strategies may be poorly designed and ineffective. If we consciously discover our strategies, we can change them to plans of action more useful and desirable.
  5. All actions have a purpose. Actions are not random; each action is always trying to achieve something, although the actor may not be aware of what that is.
  6. Every behavior has a positive intention. All our actions have at least one purpose – to achieve something that we value and that will benefit us. NLP separates the intention or purpose behind an action from the action itself. People are not their behavior. When offered a better choice of behavior to achieve their intention, they will take it.
  7. The unconscious mind balances the conscious mind; it is not malicious. The unconscious is everything that is not in consciousness at the present moment. It contains all the resources we need to live in balance.
  8. The meaning of the communication is not simply what is intended, but also the response you get. There are no failures in communication, only feedback. If you are not getting the result you want, change what you are doing. Take responsibility for the communication.
  9. We already have all the resources we need, or if we lack resources we can create them. There are no unresourceful people, only unresourceful states of mind.
  10. Mind and body form a system. They are different expressions of the one person. When we think differently, our bodies change. When we act differently, we change our thoughts and feelings.
  11. We process all information through our senses. Developing our senses so that they become more acute gives us better information and helps us think more clearly.
  12. Modeling successful performance leads to excellence. If one person can do something helpful, it is possible to teach it to others by example.
  13. If you want to understand, act – because the learning is in the doing.

These presuppositions have led to the creation of a number of powerful strategies for change. An example is the New Behavior Generator. To illustrate, a husband and wife enjoyed bicycle riding. Each time they came to a steep hill, the husband was able to remain seated on his bike and peddle all the way up the hill, but his wife could only make it half way before she got off and walked her bike to the top. One day she asked her husband how he was able to make it to the top while seated; he explained that he put his head down and focused on his feet pushing the peddles around and around. While doing this he imagined the muscles in his legs, arms and stomach getting stronger and stronger. He pushed through the stress as he noticed the helpful exercise in his muscles. He visualized and felt the benefits to his entire body as he pumped up the hill.

As she listened to this story, she understood immediately that her strategy was entirely different. Wishing to be able to ride all the way to the top, she focused her eyes on the top of the hill. She said over and over to herself, “I think I can, I think I can.” The very next time they went on a ride she copied her husband’s strategy and was able to make it all the way to the top of the hill on her bike.

Another example of the power of this approach has been my losing sixty pounds without feeling like I am on a diet. The strategy that I have used has been to first clearly state my desired outcome in terms of what NLP calls a Well-Defined Outcome. The well-defined outcome starts with the question “What do you want?” If you want something, and you are clear about it, and committed to achieving it, the odds are that you will be successful in the end.

Of all the NLP strategies first is a well-defined outcome. The criteria are:

  1. It must be stated positively, that is, state what you want and what you do not want.
  2. It must be something that you can initiate and accomplish.
  3. You must be specific about the when, where and who.
  4. You must break it down into small steps.
  5. It must be stated in sensory terms, that is, what will you see, hear, feel when it is accomplished, or how will you know when it is accomplished.
  6. Do an ecology check using these two questions: Is there any reason that I may not want this outcome? Is the outcome congruent with my values?

The best way to learn NLP is to explore and practice the many strategies for change experienced in a group. In this approach you “do” to learn. You can read volumes about how to play tennis, but you do not begin to learn until you get on the court with racket and ball.

Anyone can learn anything by modeling. This particular insight has been very helpful to me personally. I realized that I could observe others who were able to do something that I wanted to do and simply copy their behavior and their thought processes as they successfully accomplished their tasks. As I mentioned earlier, one of my recent accomplishments has been losing sixty pounds. This weight loss came about by focusing on the fact that I wanted to get healthy. I wanted to make it to the top of the hill. I did not begin with wanting to lose weight; I wanted to get healthy.

My daughter runs triathlons. She is very healthy and I recognized that I could do much of what she does. Neuro-Linguistic Programming stresses that we state what we want rather than what we don’t want. For years I conversed with myself, “I don’t want to be fat.” Changing the language to “I want to be healthy” has made the difference.

I use this approach with clients to help them focus on why they are coming for therapy. I help them state their therapeutic goals in positive and achievable language. Once people state an outcome positively, in sensory form (meaning what will you notice when you have achieved your goal), they are more likely to attain their goal. Reframing is a powerful intervention. For example, a woman came to me upset because she was always yelling at her husband. She stated that just about anything he said caused her to be angry. She explained that she did not want to continue yelling and losing her temper. I suggested to her a positive way to frame her desire as adopting the goal of understanding what triggered the anger in her. I suggested that she might adopt the goal of understanding the buttons that got pushed which brought forth her rage. I asked if her anger might be fueled by an experience that had been hidden from her. This helped her identify the experiences that lay behind her rage.

Exploring One’s Inner Child

In preparation to become a therapist and counselor, I became aware of a leader in the field of the inner child, John Bradshaw. I once watched a video in which he was teaching people how to work with their inner child. The large audience had gathered to learn from him about lingering childhood hurts and hopes. He invited the audience to get relaxed, to close their eyes and to take several deep breaths. In this relaxed state he invited them to return to that childhood era of their lives and to picture the little child who was still living within them. He then encouraged the participants to look into the eyes of that little child, to put their arms around that child and hold him or her close. He instructed them to make promises to that child. He suggested that they promise the child that they would always be its advocate and that they would never abandon him or her. As the camera panned the audience, I noticed tears flowing from the eyes of many of the participants. Others were leaning back in their chairs expressing sighs of relief. It was evident that this intervention was both powerful and meaningful to those who were encountering their inner child.

Working with the inner child has been useful in working with people who have struggled with old patterns that control their lives. I remember a supervisor, Gloria White, who guided me as I prepared for licensure as a mental health professional. Gloria often asked me, “How does little Robby feel about this or that?” She taught me the importance of being little Robby’s advocate.

Through the years I have worked with numerous people whose wounded child feared abandonment. I have worked with others whose inner child was terribly afraid of criticism, abuse and punishment. Therapeutically, it is crucial for the adult part of the self to make promises to the child within the self. The adult self makes promises to never abandon the child, to always be the child’s advocate.

I sometimes encourage clients to picture themselves as a strong adult holding the hand of their vulnerable little inner child. I ask them to visualize themselves crossing a very busy street where brakes squeal and horns blow; I encourage them to hold the child’s hand as they wade through the traffic. Life is often filled with clutter and confusion and dangerous moments when the child within needs a secure hand in order to cope. Often, little children have not learned to deal effectively with these experiences, and they need confidence and reassurance of the adult that lives beside them.

This inner child is the seat of our feelings. Too often when we are fearful, we are filled with anxiety that controls our functioning. This fear easily leads to self-defeating and destructive patterns of behavior. The process of advocating for, holding and protecting the vulnerable little child can help us to be more rational and healthy in our thinking. Encouraging the child within enables us to engage in life in a more productive and redemptive manner.

The Enneagram

The Enneagram is a rich and helpful study of human personality. It combines spiritual and psychological insights that describe both the strengths and challenges of different personality types. I can recommend it as a worthwhile study for anyone seeking growth and personal development.

The system describes nine personality styles along with the strengths and challenges of each. The styles are based on the dominance of different centers of influence and temperament that shape personality. The centers of influence are the head, heart and gut, or thinking, feeling and doing. The temperaments are assertive, withdrawn and compliant styles. Given these centers of influence and temperaments there are three head styles, three heart styles and three gut styles. To learn more about this powerful tool visit the Rios and Hudson web site. (http://www.enneagraminstitute.com)

Developing Capable People

Developing Capable People is a program designed by Stephen Glenn and Jane Nelson. Stephen Glenn was a brilliant and inventive man who was in recovery from alcohol; he learned much from the Twelve Step Program and focused it on people-making. He aimed to help parents become conscious of what they were seeking to nurture in their children. Too often parents, both consciously and unconsciously, shape their children to be conformable with the cultural and the family values. This approach requires more and more control over the children in order to instill conformity in them. It is desirable that children grow up to take responsibility for themselves and their choices rather than conforming or rebelling against established norms.

Stephen Glenn identified what he called “the significant seven,” the core of which consisted of three attitudes and four skill sets that effective parents need to develop capable children. The attitudes that parents need to help their children develop are: 1) the attitude that I am significant, 2) the attitude that I am capable and 3) the attitude that I have influence in my life.

The four skill sets are what Glenn calls intra-psychic skills: skills in dealing with self-control and self-awareness; skills in relating to others, e.g., empathy and communication; systemic skills which enables them to deal with the family system, the neighborhood system, the school system and the government. The final skill set puts together all the behavioral skills, the skills required to make good judgments to become capable and well adapted people.

The other base of Glenn’s training concerns Builders and Barriers in relationships. These Builders and Barriers are actions and words that create respect and enhance capabilities for human interaction or barriers that block this achievement. Here is how these contrasting actions line up:


Glenn designed this program to be conducted two hours a week for ten weeks. In weekly class sessions the concepts are presented; following class, parents are divided into groups to practice the exercises to help internalize the ideas. The presentation of material and the group experience enable the parents to gain skills and deeper insights into how the system works.

Through the years I found myself using this rich perspective in individual and family therapy. Often parents need to understand more clearly what to emphasize in order to empower their children. As they continue in the program, they begin to say that they are on a journey to developing capable people. In the training the parents are changed so that they can, perhaps, rear their children to become capable adults. Couples often report that the training in developing capable people has changed their relationship not only with their children but also with each other and has increased their effectiveness in their vocation.

These insights have certainly helped me deal with my issues. In times of struggle and anxiety with my son I have seen how my anxiety makes me want to control the situation. My anxiety pushes me to make demands on him. Subscribing to this perspective has enabled me to treat him with respect, to interact with him through checking out what I think he is saying and exploring with him, rather than directing him. This approach has a better outcome than efforts to direct or control because once a child is out of diapers, we parents are never in complete control again, if we ever were. I have to keep my respect for him even when his choices are painful to both of us. Living by the insights of this program helps people who are seeking to have integrity in their relationships.

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry was developed at Case Western Reserve University in 1980 by a doctoral student, David Cooperrider, and his thesis advisor, Suresh Srivastva. Fundamentally, Appreciative Inquiry is about the co-evolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. It suggests that we not only experience reality, we actually create it in our conversations and interactions with others. Appreciative Inquiry is a positive, strength-based approach to making changes in organizations. It includes co-creating inspiring images of what we want, and then building on positive ideas to make them happen. It means becoming more aware of our internal and external dialogues and intentionally shifting them to focus on what we want. It unleashes the positive potential within people and organizations through attention to the positive core. It suggests we build on our strengths, successes, and best practices to achieve our greatest hopes and dreams. Appreciative Inquiry is all this and more.

Appreciative Inquiry is about asking questions that focus attention on strengths and possibilities. The questions we ask ourselves and each other set the stage for and empower positive change. The What, How, When and Where questions go something like this:

What? Tell me about an experience when you felt particularly positive and empowered in your life or in work or relationships.

How? How did what you and others were doing strengthen the experience?

Where and When? Where and when have you seen the approach used in this experience used before?

Generally, the who, what, where, when, why, and how questions open up the conversation best. “Tell me about a time when . . .” is good for getting stories started. “Give me an example . . .” gets into important contextual details. “How did you feel when . . . ?” helps to expose the storyteller’s core values. Avoid either-or questions or any questions that begin with the words do or does, will, can, should, or is, which normally lead to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or very brief responses.

The questioning in Appreciative Inquiry begins with a suggestion like this: “Tell me a story about a time when you felt most effective, most passionate, when you felt the best about your work and the work of your organization.” After this question is fully answered, the group is then invited to tell exactly what the employees and the organization were doing so effectively that it made a difference in the workers and in the world. This search in Appreciative Inquiry is an effort to find those values held by the majority of the group. This focus identifies what we want to do rather than search the tasks that we hate to do.

Leaders have discovered through this model that we can do more than prop up the organization; we can actually heal its problems with vision and efficiency of operation. If we focus on those things that we do well, that we feel passionate about, then the employees and the organization can more easily rise to a level of excellence. Uncovering positive attitudes and feelings increases the base of appreciation, which is the goal.

Appreciative Inquiry has had a fundamental affect both on my personal life and my counseling. Older models of therapy focused on pathology, an effort to fix what was wrong. Appreciative Inquiry concentrates on what is right, both in me and in the people that I serve.

A biblical story powerfully illustrates this approach. The story springs from the life of Jesus when a hungry crowd needed food, and a child brought five loaves and two fishes to the Master. Rather than looking at the deficiencies in what he had, the boy gave it all to Jesus and that was enough. In fact, it was more than enough. This story inspires me to value what I have and what others have. I encourage people to bring to life what they have rather than fretting over what they don’t have. Very often I encounter people who make the assumption that “life will be good when . . . . when I make more money, when I get a different job, when I get the car I want.” These illusions block our being present to this moment; looking for our life in the future is a form of avoidance. Healthy people look open-eyed at the present and make decisions based on what is.