The “E” in SHINE

Feb 16
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in SHINE

The “E” in SHINE

Expect life to support you.

Einstein said, “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”

“Miracle” is a strong word. Many years ago, it was a word I understood to mean that God magically intervened in human affairs in a supernatural way, sometimes even defying the laws of science. I’ve actually avoided the word since leaving strict dogma behind because I haven’t really known what to do with it in recent years. But lately I’ve been encountering an idea among evolutionary thinkers that has challenged me to ask whether or not I might be able to expect Life to organize around my success—perhaps not in ways that defy the laws of nature, but by small synchronicities, meaningful coincidences that might give me the sense that the universe is a friendly place.

I was already gnawing on this idea when we went to Chile. Absent of the familiarity of home, I had the perfect opportunity to attend to how Life might show up if I showed up as my best self into a fresh situation. I gave myself the task of watching for “gifts” from the universe, anything that I might justifiably feel grateful for.

The first evidence that Life liked me arrived as soon as we met Bill’s colleagues and students at the university where he would be working for three months. Though I would only be serving as a volunteer in his classroom, the whole English department embraced us both as if they’d always known us. For me—someone who thrives on contact with other human beings—having a ready-made, welcoming community was like heaven.

The next gift was coffee. Laugh if you must, but besides dogs, running, books, wine, and human conversation, good coffee is high on my list of things that make life worth living. I’ve been drinking coffee since I was fourteen years old and graduated many years ago from over-burnt, bottomless cups of Denny’s brew to freshly ground, shade grown, fair trade, gourmet beans. Coffee gives me a sense of well-being and makes me feel happy. Going back to instant coffee (which we drank for a few weeks at the beginning of our time in Concepcion) just didn’t seem like a soul-sustaining option. By word of mouth, we found what I think is the one and only coffee roaster (tostaduria) in the city—only a few blocks from our house. The coffee beans were perfect. And the business owner spoke English!

A week after finding the tostaduria, just when I was getting homesick for a long, meandering conversation with friends, we flew up to Santiago for a Fulbright meeting and discovered there was another US citizen who was at U de C on a Fulbright grant. Scott was in the geology department on another side of campus, so it was no wonder we hadn’t met in spite of being so near one another. He told us that his wife was a runner and she might like to meet me. To be honest, I would have made friends with Tania if she’d been a card-carrying, polygamist-libertarian who packed a pistol in her purse—I was longing that much for a native English-speaking friend. But to my delight, Tania turned out to be a soul sister. She was a bright, funny, wine-drinking, f-bomb-throwing runner! We met for coffee on a rainy day dressed in almost identical rain jackets and never stopped talking after that first moment. I knew I’d found a life-long friend.

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Now, all of these things might have happened whether or not I decided they “meant” anything in particular. But I am beginning to believe that it serves me (and you) better to EXPECT Life to give meaningful gifts often and without reservation. Like many people I know, I have at times gotten into the mental habit of thinking Life is small and stingy. When we think that resources (be they money or friendship) are scarce and that they are already being used up by other people, we hold our breath and wait to be disappointed. That’s no way to live!

Instead of expecting Life to hold back on you, what if you expected Life to really support you and bring you meaningful gifts? How would you position yourself differently in your relationships? At work? When you’re asking for help from someone?

Opening up to the possibility that Life will show up for you in a positive, generous way is easier said than done if you’ve faced serious disappointments or trauma. In my 7-week SHINE course, we’ll be talking about how to interpret deep, painful disappointments in new ways as well as how to cultivate the expectation that Life is generous and friendly.

Here are details about how to join in.

SHINE program details:
When: Seven Thursdays, beginning February 26. 4:00-5:30pm PST (with an additional 30 minutes afterwards for discussion applicable especially for writers).
Where: On the phone. Conference call-in numbers provided to participants.
What: Lecture, opportunities to be coached, homework assignments, bonus writing assignments.
Cost: $99

Other opportunities for us to connect:

  1. Therapy and Coaching: I am now seeing clients in Woodinville on Mondays and in Seattle on Tuesdays. Email me with questions and for fees. clostman@live.com.
  2. Writers: I’ll be teaching a course on platform building through Western Washington Extended Education: Publishing and Marketing: Strategies for Writers and Authors. Check it out.

The “N” in Shine

Feb 7
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Reflections, SHINE

The “N” in SHINE

Nurture your deep self.Years ago when I went through my divorce, I started a practice of visualizing myself walking through a big field to a water well that sat on a knoll in the middle of a grassy expanse. In my imagination, I would sit down next to the well and wait. A woman I recognized as the healthiest, strongest, wisest part of myself would come out of the well, sit down next to me, and we would talk. I could ask her questions about my life, and she always knew the answers.I started this practice because at that point I’d spent three decades worrying about not being good enough, smart enough, or strong enough to navigate the twists and turns of life. I’d been immersed for years in a dogma that located wisdom and truth outside of me and, as a result, I’d put a very anxious Inner Critic—one that was always trying to please other people (and God)—in charge of many of the decisions I’d made throughout the course of my life. The Sitting by the Well visualization let me get in touch with the fact that I really WAS up to the task of navigating through my own life. In Second Wind I wrote about how I learned to make friends with my deep Inner Wisdom and how to put my Inner Critic in her place.Over the years, I’ve let the Sitting by the Well visualization go by the wayside. I think the reason for this is that I got caught up in more mundane aspects of life—busyness, socializing, volunteering, promoting books. But while I was away from home in Chile, I had a lot of time to myself, so I started the practice back up. I took runs around the campus of the Universidad de Concepcion, stopping on a set of stairs that led down to a beautiful fountain.

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There I often sat, closed my eyes, and did the Sitting by the Well visualization. I was surprised by how much I’d missed it—how generative it felt to really listen again to my Deep Self, to the wise part of me who knows what I need, what direction I should take in life, and what makes me feel happy and purposeful.Of course, the Inner Critic is always on hand. During those quiet moments of sitting by the fountain, my deep listening was often interrupted by thoughts of self-doubt, fear, and old childhood baggage. But the Deep Self knows how to manage all of those negative thoughts because the Deep Self has healthy boundaries and, also, compassion for the hurts that inform ugly thoughts of self-recrimination.During my years as a psychotherapist, in spite of the fact that I abandoned my own practice for months and years at a time, I often walked clients through visualizations to help them connect with their Deep Selves. And I watched my clients break free of years of being driven by negative inner voices. Now that I have renewed my own commitment to nurture my relationship with the Deep Self, I want to encourage this practice for everyone I know.Most of us don’t even realize that we carry around inside of us a set of false beliefs that runs our lives. “I’m not good enough.” “I don’t matter.” “I am invisible.” When these are the voices we hear in our heads, we won’t be SHINING. We’ll be dimming down, living less than our potential. Abraham Maslow said: “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.”

You can spend a lot of years in therapy figuring out where the mean messages in your head come from without ever pausing to listen to the Deep Self who knows how to counteract those messages and ultimately holds the wisdom you need to thrive.

In my upcoming 7-week SHINE program, I will be introducing you to your Deep Self (if you haven’t met already), helping you develop a visualization or listening practice that fits just right for you, and teaching you how to begin to act on what you hear. I’m excited about this because I believe that we, especially as people who have our basic needs met in spades, have the right and the responsibility to live into our highest potentials! In order to do that, we have to listen.

Here are details about how to join in.

SHINE program details:
When: Seven Thursdays, beginning February 25. 4:00-5:30pm PST (with an additional 30 minutes afterwards for discussion applicable especially for writers).
Where: On the phone. Conference call-in numbers provided to participants.
What: Lecture, opportunities to be coached, homework assignments, bonus writing assignments.
Cost: $99

The “I” in SHINE

Feb 4
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Advice, Reflections, SHINE

The “I” in SHINE

Invest in your relationships wisely.

Investment

Because I grew up in a home with dysfunction and chaos (who didn’t?), I learned early in life that I had to cast a wide net for healthy relationships. My four grandparents were the loves of my life, and I had many teachers and neighbors who took me under their wings and taught me what it meant to feel loved and cherished. Over the years, I’ve intentionally cultivated friendships with people who could show up for me during both good and hard times, people who would let me cry on their shoulders as well as call me to the carpet if I was out of line.

A few years ago, I developed for my clients a four-quadrant model (which I will go over in my 7-week SHINE program) of different kinds of relationships that they were likely to recognize when they were working toward their goals. I’ve taught this model at workshops and in private sessions over the years.

All this is to say that I’m not new to thinking about how to invest wisely in relationships.

But while I was away from my home and all of my day-in/day-out relationships, I had the chance to do something I’d never done before. I started from scratch. Because I didn’t know a soul when I arrived in Concepcion, I had to build friendships from ground zero. And this gave me a chance to observe how I did it—and how others do it, too. Below is just a summary of what I observed and an outline of what we will talk about in depth in the SHINE program:

  1. To build a friendship with someone, you have to BE the kind of friend you would want to have. The number one thing you need to have in place in order to have good relationships with other people is solid self-esteem. You have to know you are someone you yourself can trust. Sounds simple, right? But this is easier said than done. Most of us struggle to believe we are worth the effort we want others to put out toward us.
  2. To cultivate and deepen a relationship, you must choose to commit to time with people before you know if they are likely to turn into life-long friends. In other words, you have to take a leap of faith and be willing to adjust your commitment level as you get to know someone and what they are bringing to the table.
  3. You have to find a balance between being vulnerable and over-sharing. Every level of friendship requires both letting go of defenses in order to build connection and holding back so you don’t give away too much too soon. Figuring out what this right balance is with each person you know is an art.
  4. You have to be willing to fall in love even though you know your heart might get broken. I knew right from the first day in Chile that if I really put my heart and soul into building friendships, I would be crushed when I had to say goodbye. But, “’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” as Alfred Lord Tennyson said. Satisfying relationships require that we put ourselves in the way of heartbreak. This means we’ve got to be brave.Now, to be fair, I didn’t learn all of this in Chile. In addition to my own life-long quest to build healthy relationships, I’ve also been working as a therapist for fifteen years with people who often bring their loneliness into the consulting room. What I did learn in my travels is that when you know how to do relationship, you take that skill with you everywhere you go.In the 7-week SHINE program, we’ll be talking about my four-quadrant categories of relationships as well as discussing how to cultivate the four friendship stances listed above (to review: be the kind of friend you want to have, take calculated leaps of faith, find balance in your “friendship offerings,” and open your heart to others). Here are details about how to join in.

    SHINE program details:
    When: Seven Thursdays, beginning February 25. 4:00-5:30pm PST (with an additional 30 minutes afterwards for discussion applicable especially for writers).
    Where: On the phone. Conference call-in numbers provided to participants.
    What: Lecture, opportunities to be coached, homework assignments, bonus writing assignments.
    Cost: $99

The “H” in SHINE

Jan 30
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Conversations, Current Events, SHINE

Before I get to the “H” in SHINE, I want to tell you about a new development in my life:

I’m re-opening my practice in the greater Seattle area! After several years of focusing on my writing and on virtual coaching, I’ve decided to re-open my therapy doors. On Mondays I’ll be working out of the Eastside Psychological Associates’ office in Woodinville and on Tuesdays I’ll be seeing clients near Greenlake in Seattle—both coaching and therapy clients at that location. (For those of you wondering, I’m not moving out of B’ham, just spending Monday nights down south so I can put a couple of days in.)
 
Obviously, I’ll be taking new clients and will be delighted to have referrals, so feel free to forward my email on to anyone who might be interested. clostman@live.com

 

Now for the “H” in SHINE

Hold your life gently. What does this mean?

HandsThe opposite of holding something gently is to hold it tightly. When you hold something white-knuckled and squeezing for all your worth, you’re attached to it, clinging to it, needing it, wanting it. I don’t know about you, but I hold plenty of things in my life quite tightly. Especially, I think, we are prone to hold definitions of ourselves very close to us. Most of us, after all, want to BE who we think we are; we want others to think we are who we say we are. And we spend a lot of time trying to prove we are who we wish we were. Whew! What a lot of work.

My narrative about myself was challenged during my 5-month trip to South America. In order to go to Chile, I had to put my life at home on hold. Most of the pieces to the puzzle that is me needed to be taken apart and placed in storage, so to speak. Our two sweet little dogs went to live with my friend and neighbor, Julie. Our home went to Hilda, who also took care of the cat. The responsibilities I carry for the Red Wheelbarrow Writers were sloughed off to several dear friends who were willing to each take on roles I had been filling (and who did a better job with them than I ever did—thank you, amigos). And most of my clients, friendships, and writing routines were all put on hold, too. Just to get to Concepcion, I had to strip down my world to me, myself, and I—and a suitcase full of clothes that I knew I would hate by the time I’d worn and re-worn them for five months.

I undertook my strip-down happily and willingly, but I didn’t anticipate how leaving behind the trappings of my life would impact me. Once I was on foreign ground, I felt a little out of control, to be honest. While we were in Chile, every time I thought of my dogs, I could do no more than to send a prayer out to the universe that they were okay. Or when I thought of my elderly grandparents, again, I had to consciously offer them to Life to take care of; I could not drive them to doctor appointments or take them out to breakfast (things I do when at home that delude me into thinking I have some influence over their well-being). My loss of control of my life back home was at once terrifying and freeing. Terrifying because I began to realize that my long-held sense of jurisdiction over details was—had always been—an illusion. And freeing because I discovered my sense of identity was not tied to all of the things I thought of as “ME.” In Chile I was not acting as writer or coordinator for other writers, doggie mom, best friend who is always there to talk you through something, therapist, grand-daughter, homeowner. I was just this woman no one knew at first—someone who could be anyone.

It’s rare that most people get the opportunity to open possibilities of identity the way that I did, or at least it is rare that we consider holding our sense of identity with open palms. The narrative of who you are has been, as is true for me and for everyone else in the world, a carefully designed structure, built on the foundation of your history, your activities, and your relationships. But WHAT IF you are more/other/beyond what you know yourself to be.

What if you left your life behind and started brand new as someone else?

I’m not suggesting that you do this!! I mean, even a zillion miles away from home, you carry definitions and attachments with you to a huge degree. I, for example, still Skyped with my friend to check on my dogs, called my grandparents regularly, and called Hilda to look in on the house and the cat. I still knew that I was a writer, a runner, a friend, a wine- and pet-lover. But I also felt I might be more than those things.

Holding our self-definitions very gently, without grasping after what we don’t have control over, can give a person a sense of possibility, a chance to imagine what ELSE we are. What else might you be if you loosened your grip on how you think of yourself? What roles do you have in your life that most define you? And even if you love those roles, what might be freed up in you if you didn’t fill them for a time?

You don’t have to travel around the world to open your mind to new possibilities in your life. In my upcoming SHINE program, I will be sharing some of the discoveries I made about how to dream big. Most people I’ve worked with—therapy clients and writers alike—have a feeling they are not living into their greatest potential. Holding your life—and the self-definitions life has given you over the years—gently can revolutionize the possibilities you see for yourself.

In the 7-week SHINE program I will be talking about how how you see yourself is directly linked to the choices you make in life. We will do a powerful visualization that will help you press through limitations that have held you in place or made you feel stuck. 

SHINE program details:
When: Seven Thursdays, beginning February 25. 4:00-5:30pm PST (with an additional 30 minutes afterwards for discussion applicable especially for writers).
Where: On the phone. Conference call-in numbers provided to participants.
What: Lecture, opportunities to be coached, homework assignments, bonus writing assignments.
Cost: $99 — To sign up, click here.

The “S” in SHINE

Jan 13
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Conversations, Reflections
Sorry for being MIA here on 7marathons7continents, friends. As I got home from Chile, I hit the ground running with work. I do plan to post some additional reflections on re-entry and adjustment, but in the meantime, here is a re-print of my latest newsletter with some thoughts about what I learned while I was away from home and details of what I’m up to.
Before I let you read on, let me just say that Bill and I both appreciate all of you who read along as I posted during our five months away. Thanks to all of you who have written notes or Facebook posts or come up to us in the community to say welcome home. And to my friends in Conce… know that I miss you. You’re forever in my heart. xo
Newsletter:
As I promised in my last newsletter, I’m reflecting on some of the lessons I learned while I was away from home in Concepcion, Chile, for the past five months. I summarized these lessons with the acronym “SHINE.”

See the world through the eyes of a foreigner.
Hold your experience gently.
Invest wisely in relationships.
Nurture your core self.
Expect Life to support you.

In the next weeks, I’ll be writing an introduction to each of these ideas and then, at the end of February, I will be starting a 7-week group coaching session for anyone who would like to go deeper with me into the practices I’ve been developing based on these principles (see details about the group below). Let’s get started:

The “S” in SHINE

See the world through the eyes of a foreigner.

The Buddhists call this “beginner’s mind.”

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice.

Most of the time in this life, I (and I daresay I’m not the only one) walk about knowing—or believing I know—what I’m doing. I mean, I get up in the mornings and make my coffee the same way every day. I can do (and have done) it with my eyes closed. And from my morning coffee forward there are many tasks I complete that I can put on autopilot. Driving my car, for example, is like breathing: shift into first gear, let up on the clutch, push down on the gas. And then I’m in motion.
Furthermore, I grew up as the oldest sister with three younger brothers, a sibling position that gave me something of an expert complex early in life. Then I became a teacher, a therapist, a writer, and a coach. All of these roles have led me to feel I’m responsible for knowing what I’m talking about—or at least for putting on a good show AS IF I know what I’m talking about.
So it isn’t surprising that although I’ve been reading about Buddhist ideas for years and have appreciated many of the concepts and incorporated them into my life, the principle of “beginners mind” has always been a little bit elusive to me. I’ve struggled with how to bring an open curiosity and wonder to my daily life.
This last episode of travel cured that for me. When you go to a foreign land, you can’t expect anything to be as you knew it back home. Whether you like or not, everything is new. Toilets flush differently, the rules of traffic are different, time and timeliness function differently, and people don’t relate to each other using the same paradigms you rely on.
Here’s a concrete example (pun intended): The first morning I walked out my door in Concepcion, the rain was coming down hard. Even though rain irritates me, it is also oddly comforting. As someone who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, rain is familiar, centering even. “Just like home,” I said to my husband Bill that first day.
But as we walked the two blocks from our new apartment to the university where Bill would be working on his Fulbright duties, I saw that I was wrong. Walking in rainy Concepcion was not like taking a walk in our hometown.
The streets of Concepcion are flanked by sidewalks just as most city streets are around the world, but the sidewalks we treaded on at that moment buckled in places, crumbled in others, left off existing altogether here and there. Concepcion was the epicenter of one of South America’s largest earthquakes only a few years ago, after all. Though much has been rebuilt and reconstructed, the evidence of the big “terremoto” is still visible if you but look down.
Right away I could see that walking around town was going to require the concentration of trail running if I didn’t want to fall and break my nose.
Here is another example, more to the point: Because I possess a very limited vocabulary in Spanish, leaving our little apartment was at first anxiety provoking. What if the concierge, Julio, asked me something I didn’t understand? I had some shame about not being able to speak Spanish, so I worried about what Julio thought of me. How would I manage to communicate enough so that he would let me go on my way and stop requiring me to stand there looking like an uneducated, insensitive foreigner?
But in fact, my relationship with Julio is what helped me truly catch on to the concept of beginner’s mind. I pushed through my shame, and day after day, Julio and I stood at the gate and literally made up a means of communicating with one another. He is a kind, patient man who was willing to spend as long as it took to help me catch his meaning. We often started with charades and graduated to drawings. If all else failed, I ran inside to google how to say something in Spanish, wrote it down, and went back outside to read my scribbles to Julio. We sometimes laughed at our misunderstandings and at my mispronunciation.
I was a beginner. But Julio did not approach our conversations like an expert waiting for me to get up to speed; he attended to my imperfect and garbled language as if my way of communicating was every bit as legitimate as his was. Being on the other side of his patience taught me how to be a beginner with a sense of humor and a dose of nonjudgment. I began to feel free to make mistakes and experiment with new words because of Julio’s attitude.

To see the world through the eyes of a foreigner, or a beginner, we have to remember that we really aren’t experts at living—we are experimenters. We aren’t expected to know what we don’t know, to understand what we don’t understand, or to have an edge on anyone else. And this is oddly both disconcerting and freeing.
I want to continue to practice seeing the world through new eyes now that I’m home. I want to bring the same curiosity and openness to my life and relationships that I exercised when trying to figure out how to say, “Can I buy a token for the dryer?” And I’d like to invite you to join me in this practice.
I made a decision during my first month in Chile to suspend judgment; it was the only way to stay sane in a place so different from home. Even when frustrated by confusion over an interaction or a different way of doing something, I began to tell myself, “Don’t decide what anything means. Just let it be what it is.”
We are meaning-making creatures, all of us. When something happens, we try to toggle it into some place in our schemas that helps us to make sense of it. We do it all day every day. Someone pulls into the parking space we planned to pull into and we decide he is a “jerk.” Someone lights a cigarette on the trail we run on every morning and we decide she is insensitive. But when you are a foreigner in a foreign land where you don’t make the rules, you have to suspend this meaning-making.
Staying open frees us up from misery because we aren’t clinging to how things ought to be, to how they do or don’t fit into our expectations. We simply notice what actually IS.

I encourage you to embrace a “foreigner’s mind” this week. What kind of space might open up in your mind and heart if everything you looked at was new to you? If you didn’t try to quickly categorize events and people into your familiar internal filing system?

In the 7-week SHINE program I will be talking about howpeace of mind is directly linked to the practice ofbeginner’s mind. We will do two powerful exercises that will shift the pressure we feel to be experts in so many areas of life (challenging perfectionism and shame), and we’ll create a statement of intention to move us toward an experience of real joy (even without knowing what the future holds).

SHINE program details:
When: Seven Thursdays, beginning February 25. 4:00-5:30pm PST (with an additional 30 minutes afterwards for discussion applicable especially for writers).
Where: On the phone. Conference call-in numbers provided to participants.
What: Lecture, opportunities to be coached, homework assignments, bonus writing assignments.
Cost: $99

To sign up go here.