Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

When I lived in the Netherlands, I loved to go on bird excursions. Every Thursday in April I would get up at 5:00, leave at 5:45, and bike to the dunes in The Hague. I would gather with 15 or so other bird watchers and then go off on a bird watching expedition.

Image courtesy to“Shush… I hear a nightingale.” Everyone freezes in their movement, attentively listening to what might be a nightingale. Or a lark, a robin, a tomtit. Whispering. Quiet. We don’t want to disturb the birds and spoil our fun. We are always equally excited, however mundane or unique the bird. Every bird seems a treat from heaven. And even if we see none, we enjoy the elevated anticipation.

Not once did I have the inclination to mediate between birds quarreling over their domain. Not once did I feel the urge to interfere on behalf of the bird that didn’t attract a mate. Not once did I step in to portion out the food more fairly.

I just watched, carefully observing their behavior, their colors, their sounds. I just had this sincere longing to get to know them.

This Monday during an empathy session I realize how differently I treat my own thoughts and feelings. I judge, evaluate, criticize them constantly, and most of all I want to change them. Into more acceptable thoughts and feelings. I talked about how my back pain had kept me up at night. I interrupted myself, saying I was babbling. I didn’t even notice the judgment in that word. My empathy buddy did. With a shock I see how harsh I can be about myself, thinking my thoughts and feelings are not good enough, thinking I am not good enough.

And all of a sudden I imagine how open, relaxed, compassionate, free flowing my life would be if I watch my own thoughts and feelings with the same openhearted curiosity as when I watch birds. “Oh, here is a flock of grackles. They are loud and chase the other birds away. Fascinating.” “Ah, there is a Caroline wren, her little tail pops up as she sits. So cute.” “Wow, there is a cardinal, I wonder where his mate is.” Accepting whatever comes along, or doesn’t come along.

All these thoughts and feelings flying in and out of my head. On a rainy day, a sunny day, through wind and hail. What a delightful image. I am happy to welcome and observe them.


Want help to practice observing your thoughts and feelings with acceptance? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be honored to help.

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