Archive for the ‘Book Review’ category

Healing, Loss, and Reconnection – a Brief Review of 3 Books That Have Led Me to Greater Equanimity

June 15, 2021

As I try to close the chapter on the months of immediate recovery from back surgery, I’ve been mixing reading and listening to podcasts, cooking and eating well, creating connections with others and exercise. I intentionally create a healthy balance in my days as much as possible.  In the co-working group I now belong to in Herndon (Rowan Tree), I meet weekly to connect with women entrepreneurs and walk with them as we talk. On my daily walks alone, I often listen to great podcasts, often binging one whole series in a week or two.  In an online book club meetup that occurs online once per month, I combine connecting with others and my love for books on facilitation, coaching and healing.  As we are meeting tomorrow to discuss what we’ve each been reading, I decided to create a blog post on 3 books I’ve recently read.

I don’t doubt that you may find one or more of the books I write about below useful to read or share with a loved one or friend.  While I picked each one because it had resonance for my personal situation, I have found that the more I talk about the vulnerabilities I have faced, the more I find people open up about theirs.  I have found I am (we are) not at all alone.

How To Be Sick – A Buddhist Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers, by Toni Bernhard.

This book is a fascinating story recounting the more than 20 year journey the author took while attempting to recover from a chronic illness. While still at the time a successful law professor, she had acquired an unnamed immune dysfunction from a virus while traveling to Paris with her husband. The effects of that bout of illness never went away making social interaction, daily living, and even phone calls very difficult if not impossible to muster energy for. So what did she do? She bravely set about doubling down on her Buddhist practices that she had been already studying for many years – so that she could learn to accept profoundly her life as it had changed and find joy through the experiences of others. She gently introduces these into each chapter as her story unfolds. She shares both the difficulties and successes she encounters and how the specific practices she developed aided her through her long confinement. I found this very inspiring for my own recovery.

One of my favorite practices from this book is called Tonglen.  This practice is described in Chapter 11, Tonglen: Spinning Straw Into Gold. What a beautiful metaphor! When you practice Tonglen, as you breathe in and out to calm yourself or manage your pain, you’ll breathe in the suffering of all those who share the same symptoms you are experiencing, and breathe out with whatever compassion, sincerity, kindness  you have to give.  How lovely to think of your body as the cleanser or all the communal suffering. In the past I have thought only about breathing in the good air, and getting rid of all the stress through the out breath. This practice of Tonglen gives me the sense of having additional agency for healing not just myself but others as well.

Ambiguous Loss – Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief, by Pauline Boss.

When I picked this book off of the New Books shelf of the public library, I discovered a name for the types of losses I have been experiencing this year. These are the losses one feels when something or someone, or part of someone goes missing either physically or psychologically. There is much uncertainty surrounding the loss – as it is in some ways a loss without a certain demarcation or without a known future.   There are often no accepted rituals to accept, acknowledge or mark the change. Ambiguous loss is what happens when there is uncertainty about how to act, what to do because all the norms have changed.  This can be through divorce, adoption, addiction, mental illness, immigration, Alzheimer’s or in the case of war or kidnappings, people who simply disappear. These liminal spaces are where the rules of the relationship get re-written by each person experiencing it silently, alone. These states can last for years or decades.  The more one connects and talks about the shift, the better off one will be.

This gem of a book is a primer and an exploration of the emotional fluctuations between hope and hopelessness, uncertainty and changing relationships.  It  provides some practices and rituals that people such as therapists and coaches have used to help people talk about such loss and change.  You may have thought that I read this to deal with my own illness – after all, I have permanently lost the ability to flex in 3 lumbar joints as a result of surgery.  My situation is invisible, the outcome is still unknown – it feels very much like I’ve lost part of my physical abilities despite the hope it gives me for better nerve health down the road.  I also read this book because I wanted to understand the emotions and the situation I’ve had with my daughter during the past year – one in which I had not had a name such as ‘ambiguous loss’ to help me process the rollercoaster I was on. This is a perfect segue into the last book on my list for this post, which is ‘Reconnecting with your Estranged Adult Child’…

Reconnecting with your Estranged Adult Child – Practical Tips and Tools to Heal Your Relationship – by Tina Gilbertson

I’ve experienced an estrangement of sorts with my daughter who has held me at arms length for almost 8 months, – and even asked me to not text her or contact her for any reason.  While I had the new ‘Ambiguous Loss’ model to absorb from the prior book, I didn’t know there was a name for this specific estrangement phenomenon called ‘no contact’. I had come to learn as much after joining a support group for parents estranged from their adult children.

I occasionally try my luck by searching for Facebook support groups when I need to understand perspectives I know nothing about. Through a Facebook support group I found, I learned the term ‘No Contact’ – which is all the rage now to help people ‘create boundaries’ and to get rid of ‘toxic relationships’. While I was shocked to learn about the ubiquity of this practice, which separates rather than heals relationships, I was glad to find that a link to this very helpful book.  I soon left that Facebook group because I found that the sentiments and drama expressed by the parents was often very polarizing and full of contempt for the adult child. I didn’t want to be around that sort of negative energy on my learning journey. 

The chapters include topics on unmet needs, independence, parenting (and re-parenting) and ‘filling your bucket’ – which means to me becoming really grounded in your life without your child, and honoring the child’s wishes.  The latter chapters have specific tips for when and how to communicate in the many special circumstances which may (or may not) pertain to your situation.  I marked this book up in orange in many places as there was so much to learn.  I came to shift my perspective that I had thought was absolutely an undeniably truth: that I had provided my child with a grounded, secure childhood with everything that she needed to thrive, meaning that in my mind her insecurities have had nothing to do with me.  Because of this book,  I now can see that I may have unknowingly contributed to her insecurities and that she needs space to grow outside of a connection with me for now. I can now see that my own growth and development will have a direct bearing on how she chooses to be part of my life.  While this whole period of estrangement and distance was a complete shock to me, I am now able to feel whole again, having understood that I am not alone, that many family rifts happen all the time, and that with patience and resolve, I can do my part to heal the relationship when she returns.

What I’ve Learned Through My Multi-Layered Healing Journey and From These Books

The theme running throughout all of these books (and me!) is a combination self-compassion, a general acceptance of courageous suffering through change, finding one’s strengths, practicing as much as possible, and creating a circle of support. 

The strength I acknowledge to myself now as vital and offer to you to explore is that of accepting the paradoxes and ambiguities that exist in the world. This means I can hold seemingly polar opposites at the same time.  For example, I can hold uncertainty about the future with my longing for certainty. I can accept less than perfect health and suffering at the same time as I practice healing and finding joy. I can invite the estrangement with a loved one from a place of sadness and curiosity while acknowledging my need for connection as part of the same reality.  These books gave me a new-found sense of equanimity – a way to stop the struggling.

What do you do to gain support for your growth and healing journeys? 

Reading and Listening to….

December 15, 2019

I’ve decided to just post what’s on my mind from time to time – from links to podcasts or references to books I am reading. Here are some of my  November/December explorations.

How Words Kill, You Are Not Human, Simon Lancaster.  I had an exchange with someone on twitter who argued that Words Don’t Kill. Literally he is correct.  You’ll have to read the book to make your own judgements as to whether words influence what happens as a result.  I liked this book a lot, even though it confirmed things I already knew and believed from consuming George Lakoff’s blogs, videos, and books.

The Clown, from Heart to Heart, Ton Kurstjens – this one I bought from Amazon’s UK website as it wasn’t available to me in the US. Recommended by Marian Way after I went on a Clowning training in England, I am TRULY enjoying this lovely read. Learning to clown is a path of personal development that I enjoy. There are several follow-on courses in 2020 that I’m looking at.

Why is That so Funny?
John Wrigglers – A book about human interaction as it occurs for actors, improv artists and clowns – and why their interactions might be seen as funny.  Fascinating read. I experienced some of the exercises in the book in my introductory clowning class at Emerson College in September, 2019.

What You Do Is Who You Are, Ben Horowitz – I subscribed to audible again but really didn’t like the narration of this book. It has a powerful message though about culture change. Leaders must have strong ethics and show congruence between beliefs, words and action. It dives into a handful of historical situations to bolster these views.  It seems compelling.

Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, Russell A. Barkley  – a public library audio book, this one my daughter recommended so I could be more empathic and understanding of her ADHD symptoms and need for treatment. Not sure on this one, as I’ve only just started.

Deep Medicine, Eric Topol – listening to this one – it’s a fascinating recent book that explores the intersection of AI and medical reforms that would enable doctors to be less ‘burnt out’ and more attentive/empathic with their patients. It seems accessible by and useful for a healthcare  consumer who is interested in self-advocacy within the current (broken system). Putting the ‘care’ back into health care w/ Artificial Intelligence to help gain better outcomes is the overarching gist.  However, counter examples to relying on AI are given, which gives this book more credibility. The author is both a doctor and a patient with his own story.

Earthing, Oben, Sinatra, and Zucker – After an amazing clean coaching session with Marian Way on her last visit to DC, she pointed me to this book. I had no idea there something called earthing, something I might experiment with, along side other alternative treatments for a chronic health issue.

Landscapes of the Heart, Juliet Grayson – What does it take to heal a broken relationship – can a really good therapist reach both parties?  I heard about this book via social media networks as Juliet has also been exposed to the Clean community and training of David Grove. She has created her own unique practice for couples’ counseling.  Excellent resource for those wanting to heal their relationship and don’t know what couples therapy done well might look like.

I’ve enjoyed listening to episodes from all of these podcasts.

The Muckrake Podcast

“Political analysts Jared Yates Sexton and Nick Hauselman tackle the news of the day but go beyond the stale and tired narratives to provide historical context and alternative perspectives.”

Unprecedented tells the raw and emotional stories of ordinary people who, as they pursued justice all the way to the Supreme Court, defined the limits of our First Amendment rights.”

Team Coaching Zone
All kinds of episodes about Team Coaching. I have only listened to a smattering, but have really liked recent episodes 102, 106, and 108.

Book Review – From Contempt To Curiosity

April 6, 2014

Caitlin Walker has written a brilliant book recounting her own 15 year journey with Clean Language as applied to groups – a compilation of stories illustrating the models that she developed along the way which she now groups together and calls Systemic Modelling. This work builds on the work of others as well – the originator of Clean Language, David Grove, and his original modellers, Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, with whom Caitlin trained and learned. She acknowledges these and many others who assisted her in her consulting practice, Training Attention, along the way. There is a nifty appendix of the major influencing works at the back. (more…)

Learning and Working at my Best

April 10, 2013
2013-04-10 20.23.16

Many years ago, I had a fantastically colorful dream. In this dream I had a space of my own that was both a bedroom and a library. Bookshelves stretched into every corner and nook of the room. The room contained all kinds of reading spaces and was rich both in its feeling of safety and its practical conveniences, such as microwave, refrigerator, and bed. The colors of the book bindings  matched even more spectacularly the quilts my Mom had made and all the colorful decorations in the room. I could have stayed in that room reading for days or weeks – without an unmet need – or so the dream went. Then….


The Fifth Discipline

June 26, 2012

The Fifth Discipline –  a comparison to 3 other books that address improving teamwork and communication

Here’s a compare/contrast of the following books:‘The Fifth Discipline’, ‘Discussing the Undiscussable’, ‘Creating Time’, ‘More Time to Think’. I align and compare the last three books/frameworks across four dimensions taken from ‘The Fifth Discipline’. The four dimensions are –

  • Personal Mastery
  • Team Learning,
  • Mental Models
  • Shared Vision

The Fifth Discipline contains the most comprehensive view of what it takes for an organization to become a learning organization. The other books provide detailed frameworks for improved communication in different and perhaps complementary ways. I am in search of methods that address organizational and team dysfunctions and promote learning. I seek to bring this knowledge to bear in my future work.  The dysfunctions described in the Fifth Discipline are:

  • I Am My Position – and I have little responsibility for overall results
  • The Enemy is Out There – and there is not much I can do about it [cousin to ‘I am my Position’]
  • Proactiveness – it provides an illusion of solving the ‘reactivness’ problem prevalent in orgs.
  • Fixation on Events – these are a distraction from seeing long term patterns of change
  • Parable of the Boiled Frog – Maladaptation to gradually building threats, we don’t see them.
  • Delusion of Learning – We learn best by experience, but never experience the consequences of our decisions (due to time lag effect of those decisions)
  • Myth of Management Team – most managers find ‘collective inquiry’ threatening. When was the last time someone was promoted or rewarded for raising difficult questions about policies rathan than solving urgent problems.


I Listen, You Think and Resolve

April 8, 2012

Building on my last post about the power of being present’ in conversation, I am setting a new goal: to become a really good listener. This will take me a bit out of my comfort zone.  Heck, it would take most people far away from their analytical, interactive, interrupting conversational styles. As described by Nancy Kline in her book, ‘More Time to Think’, attentive listening allows the ‘listenee’ the thinking room to talk through and solve dilemmas and mental blocks largely independently.

Most people don’t give the act of listening much notice. I didn’t until I started reading about Clean Language questions developed by David Grove. The Clean Language questions made me realize how much of ‘ourselves’, our values, our opinions and solutions we inject into every conversation. The power of not injecting our responses and substituting instead Clean Questions along with selected words used by the person you are listening to – is magical. It allows the other person to blossom and open up in ways they couldn’t have imagined.

The book More Time to Think takes a slightly different angle suggesting that most people are not doing their best thinking – because they are not given the space, encouragement or safety to finish talking through what they are thinking. By introducing Listening Environment and Listening Sessions, special guiding questions and the use of several other techniques–most requiring the listener to keep his/her mouth closed, but not allowing them to lose attentive focus– the thinking person will find and fix their own problems and/or enable new creative solutions to form.

As with Clean Language – the coach (listener) is not viewed as indispensable to the coachee (thinker)– because the coachee (thinker) finds his/her own solution. This is great stuff!  Simple, but powerful. Indeed, some of this may simply be used in natural conversation, once you have mastered the general techniques.

How do you give your loved ones, and your co-workers sustained attention when they speak to you? Please feel free to add your comments.

And if you would like additional information on Clean Language, please visit Judy Rees’ new site: It is free with registration and teaches much of what is in her book through short video clips and other material.

Being Present: Extending Your Capacity for More Effective Communication

March 6, 2012

I once had a doctor that amazed me every time I visited her. When she entered the room, she was fully present and ready for me. She would welcome me warmly and ask about my family life. This opened up a conversational space between us that allowed a bond of trust and closeness that made me feel comfortable. In doing so, she was thinking of my person, physical and social in an integrated fashion.

Contrast this with a typical doctor’s office visit now in which the doctor enters the room, shakes your hand and says: What symptoms are you having today? or What can I do for you today? Directed questions right off the bat make me feel a little uneasy and do not allow for that feeling of mutual respect. The second doctor chose a question to elicit just the response needed to identify the supposed one problem that I came in for.

What do you prefer, an open ended question that is inviting to the larger picture or a closed-ended question that demands a specific answer? Think about the knowledge work you do or the issues you need to resolve with people: do you stop first to reflect on the larger picture of the work you are doing and the person you are interacting with before delving deeper?

No matter which knowledge industry you are in, creating interactions that are as deep, broad and open as they can possibly be is not easy. It is my belief that individual developmental coaching can help people to change their approaches to problem solving and thereby improve results in their own careers and in those they serve.  Let me tell you another short story – again in the medical field.

Recently, I had asymptomatic diagnosis of a 3.5 cm gallstone after an ultrasound. Two doctors, a general practitioner and a gastrointestinal specialist told me in no uncertain terms that I must go to the surgeon and have my gallbladder removed.  When I went to the surgeon, he told me that he would not touch me with a knife as I had no symptoms.  He was thinking about the bigger picture, where as the two others were not.

Think about how easy it is to put your trust in a specialist in a field you are not familiar with. Do you instinctively trust their opinion, diagnosis, problem-solutioning approach?  How would you know that they are considering the full picture? What assumptions do you think they are holding tight? And how can you stay in a conversation to probe their assumptions when all non verbal queues indicate they have to move on to their next patient? From the point of view of being a patient (or being a member of a software team being assessed on your performance), how do you ‘hold presence’ to ensure your views, issues, and questions are heard?

This week I have been reading Presence-Based Coaching: Cultivating Self-Generative Leaders Through Mind, Body, and Heart. If you want to cultivate a more effective mode of communicating, you can benefit from the practices of ‘being present’ as described in this book.  An excellent coach will help you to cultivate the skill of ‘being present’ when you engage with your client and teams.

I wondered as I read this book whether the wonderful doctor who habitually invited me into a conversation about the larger ‘picture of me’ had had a good coach to help her relate to her patients. I also wondered whether she would have taken the time to make a better evaluation of my gallstone issue before sending me off to the surgeon.  Most knowledge workers, who have vast quantities of information and expedient seemingly viable solutions close at hand, would benefit from slowing down, testing their assumptions, asking open ended questions and establishing trust before attempting to solve the problems ahead of them.

As usual, I welcome your thoughts and stories!