Coaching for Nonprofit Leaders

Based in Austin – Specialized in Compassion, Empathy, Mindfulness

 23 Years Nonprofit Experience

 Certified Coach

Credentialed Mediator

 Masters Political Science

Empathy struggle

I struggle listening to her.

Doesn’t she see you don’t get more harmony and collaboration by putting your child in time out? Or that slapping him in a “pedagogically way” doesn’t bring more understanding? Let alone peace?

She should do the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet by Byron Katie. So she can learn how to accept him as he is, instead of wanting to change him. If she connects to her own triggers that come up in this relationship, she can take responsibility for her own feelings and needs, instead of blaming her child for them.

Image courtesy flickr.comI get more and more anxious and frustrated and find it more and more difficult to listen to her. If only she would see the world from my perspective…

Wait a minute…

I want her to accept people around her as they are and accept responsibility for her own triggers? I want her to stop blaming others and wanting to change them?…

Didn’t I just try to change her myself?

What if I do the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet? What if I accept her as she is? What if I work on my own triggers as they come up, instead of wanting her to be different?

I pause. I take a deep breath. I express myself. “I got triggered as I listened to you. I need three minutes to listen to myself, so I understand what’s going on for me. I want you to have the empathy you need, and I am not sure if I am a source of support for you in this moment.”

She stops and gives me space.

I realize I might not be up to listening to her strategies. And I might be up to respectfully understand the feelings and needs behind those strategies.

After a few minutes I ask her: “Tell me about your frustration.” She starts crying. She tells me about all those times she felt overwhelmed, lost, and scared. All the times her sense of support, understanding, acceptance, love, contribution were unmet. As early as a young child.

I listen. I get her. I totally get her. I get her pain and suffering and my heart softens.

Empathy isn’t difficult at all. As long as I focus on our shared human experience of feelings and needs. I might struggle at the level of strategies. If I do, I can always focus back on those precious feelings and beautiful needs. I bet you can too and find the connection, closeness, and understanding you want, when you focus on feelings and needs.

You want to learn to empathize with yourself if you are triggered when you empathize? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a free discovery session to see how I can help.

Stand your feelings

How often did I tell myself to stand my feelings? How often did I proclaim that this is the indispensable first step to connect to the needs underneath those feelings and recognize them as precious and beautiful? How often did I tell people that standing your feelings is crucial to find strategies that are truly supporting all needs, yours and those of others?

I don’t know. Maybe a couple of 100 times?

And now that I am in this rage of anxiety and fear, I hate the idea of standing my feelings. I hate my racing anxiety, my accelerating heartbeat, my running away urge. I want to find the culprit (and guess what, I already found her) and get rid of her (yep, the whole strategy is laid out in my head). I want to make sure that nothing triggers my anxiety, and if there are, that they are minor triggers, like the fear of a cockroach.

And yet.

3. Stand your feelingsI do want to practice what I preach. I take a deep breath and return to this simple tool of mindful breathing. Which, by the way, sucks. It is no fun to focus on my breath, when a boa constrictor is wrapped around my chest. Just so you know.

I focus on my second breath. No fun either. I’ll stop saying that I hate standing my feelings, but I can’t think of another way of saying how much I dislike it.

I focus on my third breath. BANG. Rudimentary, old fear. If I don’t stand up, the Nazis will come and take away those that I care about. I have to speak up. I have no choice. I have to save those that will be excluded.

I continue focusing on my breath, hand on my belly. The first panic attack dissipates. I am a bit more aware that I am here and now. That she is a human being, not a Nazi. That she is doing her best to serve the greater good, within whatever limitations she is facing.

The fear is still present. More tender now. More caring. More longing to connect, understand, be heard. The fear is willing to speak up for the needs unmet (safety, inclusion, transparency, dialog, fairness), and give me space to act in alignment with my aspirations, values and dreams.

Standing your feelings is not a command. It is not a trick to get rid of them. It is an invitation to listen, deeply listen, to what is true for you and make choices that are grounded in your values.

You want to learn to stand your feelings? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a free discovery session to see how I can help.

My fear, my child

She hears a soft crying. She can hardly hear it with Anger yelling in her ears. He is trashing the place down. She probably should pay attention to him, but something is drawing her to this crying. She can’t quite determine where it’s coming from, somewhere in the corner over there.

Image courtesy Flickr.comAs she walks over, she sees there is a door she has never noticed before. She feels her heart pounding as she turns the knob. The crying gets louder. Not that much, just a bit. It is dark inside, pitch dark. Coming from the brightly lit room, her eyes need to adjust. As she gets used to the dark, she sees a child. Maybe eight years old. Exhausted. Almost starved to death. She probably hasn’t been bathed for years. She can smell the urine and feces she has been drenched in.

The child turns her face to her. Startled, she recognizes this is her child. This is Fear whom she locked away years ago, hoping she would never see her again, hoping she would never feel afraid again.

As she looks at her child, a wave of compassion, love and care well up in her. A kindness for the child, a grief for the harm she contributed to. She strokes Fear’s hair. She sits with her for a long time. Finally she gets up to bring her some food, some water. As she walks to the fountain, she notices Anger sits in the corner, reading a book on compassionate communication. He looks quite satisfied and content.

She understands how Anger tried to cover up Fear, so she would not feel the anguish of being afraid. She has some appreciation for his efforts to empower her to overcome her fear and stand up for herself, even though they were somewhat unskillful. And she is grateful for having found Fear. For getting a second chance to connect with her child, and understand her. Collaborating to find ways to support her. Listening to how Anger can trust that she works on getting her needs for respect, safety, inclusion, and kindness met.

You want to learn to connect to your own anger and fear? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a free discovery session to see how I can help.

Meet my Jealousy

My jealousy is really ugly. Not a bit ugly, like unpleasant to look at, but really disgustingly ugly. It is dangerous too. It is covered in a contagious chemical that you can’t smell, taste, feel, see nor touch. It contaminates anyone that comes close to it by making small, insidious remarks about anyone it is jealous of. And sure enough, those around it start to look a little less positive on that person.

I need to protect others from it. I need to hide it and make sure it doesn’t see the light of day. It is too dangerous to even talk about.

True, I have more unpleasant feelings. Like anger, rage, sadness, loneliness, shame. But they all try to support a beautiful, precious, human need. Not always so skillful, and still: a beautiful, precious need. My anger and rage help me to take a stand for myself, to make sure I get respect. My sadness helps me to grief and to make positive changes in my life. Loneliness wants me to find connection, community, closeness. Shame, my dear friend shame, longs for acceptance, love, belonging. And Jealousy? Jealousy just wants to destroy, slash out, get rid of those people who get the resources I want, who get the care and appreciation I long for. The people who matter to my loved ones.

Wait a minute?

My jealousy actually tries to support a precious need? My need for care? For appreciation? To matter?


I could actually work with my jealousy, instead of against it? I could listen to it? I could try to understand the pain behind the jealousy? Maybe, baby, I could even ask it to help me formulate a request to relieve some of my suffering and meet my needs?

“Those with a coaching philosophy accept the expression of all feelings – including anger, sadness, and fear. In emotional situations, these family members often help one another solve problems and cope with difficult feelings.” (Gottman, J, The Relationship Cure, 2001, p. 145)

What if I take an emotion-coaching strategy with my Jealousy and empathize with it? Wouldn’t that change the whole situation?

You want to learn to coach your own unpleasant feelings? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a free discovery session to see how I can help.

Something is wrong with mindfulness

I am absolutely sure. It is idiotic to sit on a meditation cushion, bring my awareness to my breath, while I should do something to stop IS from abducting Yezidi women and selling them as sex slaves or using them as cannon flesh. Or at least spend my meditation time to increase my income. Or if not that, to clean the house.

Sitting on a cushion doesn’t help anyway. I still have moments of overwhelming doubt, fear, loneliness, jealousy, anger, even rage. I yell and lose my temper maybe even more than before.

How mindful is that?

I pause.

I breathe in. All the self-doubt and self-criticism. I breathe out. Love, light, and relief. “May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.”

I think of all the other men and women who doubt whether their path makes sense. If they’re making a difference. I breathe in all their self-doubt and self-criticism. I breathe out to them love, light, and relief.

I feel calmer now.

Mindfulness is not about achieving a goal. Mindfulness is not about changing what you feel, what you think. Mindfulness is about being present with all that arises within you. Mindfulness is strengthening the compassion muscle, and accepting your experience with a little bit more acceptance each time you breathe in. Mindfulness is the willingness to engage all aspects of yourself, even those you don’t like. Mindfulness is the practice to open up to yourself more fully, and by doing so to embrace life more fully.

And as any practice, there are setbacks, plateaus, disillusions, frustrations. That’s fine. Because, as with any practice, the practice itself is the goal and the goal is to practice. No achieving, no changing. Just practicing. And no one can fail at that.

Maybe mindfulness isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Do you want help to practice mindfulness? Contact me 512-589-0482 for a free discovery session to see if and how I can help you.

Painful behavior is a tragic expression of unmet needs

We celebrated Father’s Day at our Sangha last Sunday. We received a heart upon entrance. A red one if our father had passed away. A white one if he was still alive. I got a white one. When we started our mindful walking, we were asked to pause at the altar, wait for the mindfulness bell to ring, and put our heart on the altar, while saying the name of our father aloud.

Papa Four Days Marches, 2011

I felt so touched, that my tears needed almost a minute, before I felt calm enough to pronounce my dad’s name loud and clear.

It was a sudden awakening to the deep appreciation, gratitude, and love I feel for my father.

I am well aware how lucky I am with my dad. He is 81, in vibrant health, he has a keen interest in people, he easily walks long distances, sometimes 25 miles a day, he loves to learn new things and skills, he offers compassion and support to those in less fortunate circumstances, he laughs, listens, and shares his insights.

Not all of us are that lucky. Some of us had dads who drank too much. Some of us had dads who lost interest in connection and life. Some of us had dads who needed more support than they could give.

If your dad was like that, it might be hard to celebrate Father’s Day. You might have sadness, grief, sorrow, anger that your dad didn’t show up in a way that worked for you.

It might help you if you see all behavior as an attempt to meet beautiful, universal, human needs and painful behavior as a tragic expression of unmet needs. To see the little boy in the adult. A child who needed as much acceptance, love, belonging, understanding, and support as you do and who might have received as little as you did. Your dad probably just tried to support his needs, and maybe even yours, in circumstances that were not his choosing. That doesn’t make him a shitty person, it makes him a human being with painful behavior.

When you see behavior as a tragic expression of unmet needs, you might be able to hold your own unmet needs with care, and his behavior with more compassion. And if you receive enough empathy and compassion for your pain, you might even open up to some appreciation for something he did for you, however small.

You want help to practice seeing painful behavior as a tragic expression of unmet needs? CONTACT ME 512-589-0482 for a free discovery session to see if I can help you.