Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

This very moment is the perfect teacher

My ex-husband, Rob van Gils, passed away November 16, 2017. His cremation was Thursday November 23.

My visit to the Netherlands for his cremation service was much harder than I anticipated. Rob and I had succeeded in having –what our mediator described as– “the most peaceful, loving, and harmonious divorce.” We had also figured out how to have a caring friendship beyond divorce. While we had moved on, four of his best friends still harbored pain and anger about my decision to leave him nine years ago for my second husband.

The cremation service becomes not only a moment of intense grief and mourning over the loss of my first love, it becomes a startling confrontation with unresolved issues of loss and perceived betrayal in our former circle of friends.

One friend turns away as I approach him. Another can barely say ‘thank you’ when I share my condolences. A third lets me wait for two minutes, before he interrupts his conversation, then looks at me with a face that seems to convey his wish I had died instead of Rob, and says with emphasis, “You better leave. I don’t want you here.”

I leave the service quickly, too overwhelmed with confusion, pain and grief.

That night I read Pema Chödrön’s “When Things Fall Apart”:

“Generally speaking, we regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors –people who have a certain hunger to know what is true– feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.

As enemy images of Rob’s friends race through my head, fretting how they should have behaved, how badly I am treated, how not deserving of their wrath I am, I notice I soften. I am open to using this experience as a wake-up call to lean into where I’m stuck. To let it all be, the pain and sorrow, the hatred and shame. I am willing to allow myself to be penetrated by my feelings –to be changed by them. Slowly I relax into my human condition, and experience the vulnerability of being alive.

That evening, I do not reach enlightenment. I do stop myself from becoming frozen in my judging of how life “should” be. Instead, I accept what is: the pain and the hurt triggered by people needing understanding and compassion.

I take another step on the path of the spiritual warrior, facing adversity with dignity and compassion.

How does this land for you? Let me know, I would love to hear from you.

Self-compassion, day 11: Love, light and life

CandleAt the Christmas eve celebration with Unity Center Austin we lit a candle for each apostle, and recited a meditation to reinforce their qualities in us. The last candle was for Judas.

I cry. I feel so moved that we include the one person whom we consistently have excluded throughout history. I feel so touched that we honor him, that we acknowledge him as a source of inspiration.

I once read an article about Jesus and Judas. New research showed a different perspective on Judas, “the traitor”. It described how Jesus and Judas talked about the kingdom of God. That it is the kingdom of thís present moment. Of being fully alive with whatever is. Of being fully present with our suffering, feeling it, saying “yes” to it. That it is the kingdom of our vision, our dreams, our soul’s calling. Of holding on to what is true for us, what we envision for the world, even if all circumstances might indicate it is impossible. It is the kingdom of asking for what we need, and knowing we’ll receive it.

Jesus and Judas discuss how reluctant people are to enter this kingdom. How hard it is to give up on the habitual patterns of fear, of holding back, of not trusting we can reach for the stars. For all the miracles in the world, people are still blind to the truth that embracing the present moment and holding on to our dreams transforms suffering into light, life and love.

Something more radical needs to happen. They come up with a plan that will lead to Jesus’ crucifixion, so he can resurrect after three days. That should be powerful enough to open people’s eyes. Judas is willing to be the one who betrays Jesus. He shares Jesus’ vision of transforming suffering. So deeply that he is willing to be rejected, excluded and ostracized in pursuit of this dream. Jesus trusts Judas enough to know that Judas will stick to the plan, and not back off when the going gets tough.

We all know the rest of the story. We repeated it for 2000 years. Last night we celebrated his existence and his contribution to our well-being. We included him in our acknowledgment and affirmation of love, life and light. I felt touched and honored to have been there.

I wish you a merry Christmas, may your dreams come true.


If you want my help to deepen your self-compassion, healing and integration, contact me for a complimentary, discovery session.

Live first, worry later


Netherlands (Photo credit: didkovskaya)

I am tired. I am so tired, my eyes don’t focus. I see everything blurry and double. My body is losing control , I start bumping into things. When I am at home, I force myself to work. List my workshop, write a blog, do the dishes.

My husband comes home. Happy to see me. I slash out. Out of the blue. My words blurt out my mouth like a tsunami of anger, discontent, resentment, blame. He empathizes, he guesses my needs, he asks how he can support me. It is of no avail. Empathy doesn’t help when you need sleep.

Why didn’t I go to bed as soon as I came home? Why didn’t I postpone my chores till the next day? Why didn’t I take care of myself? The question puzzles me.

I see this pattern of forcing myself to finish my plans, and train myself in endurance, perseverance, discipline. To be prepared for worst case scenarios. To survive war, hunger, torture.

Dying in the Netherlands
Last October I told my friend I was moving back to the Netherlands. She was surprised. Why? I told her I wanted to die among my family and friends, and be buried in Dutch soil. She laughed wholeheartedly. I was surprised. I didn’t get her. What was so funny about that? “Elly, you have at least 40 years between now and your death! And you’re giving up the life you love just in case? Why don’t you live first? And worry about death later?”

Go with the flow
Live first, worry later? Hum… That’s a radical reversal of my habitual thinking patterns. I like it. Hum. Yummy. Go with the flow. Enjoy my breath, the birds, my friends. Do what brings me joy and energy. Give life my all. Trust that that’s enough. That I am enough. That I do enough. That I have enough. Right here, right now.


I am not making enough money. I struggle paying the bills. I panic. What if I never create enough income? What if I end up on the street and die?

I try to reassure myself. “Well, well, calm down. It’s not that bad. You’ll earn enough to survive. You have friends and family who are willing to help.” My mind doesn’t listen AT ALL. “I don’t want to die! I don’t want to live in ever increasing poverty. I don’t want to end up homeless!” “Hush, hush. This is just temporarily. You have SO MANY skills. Of course, you’ll make enough money.” “Yes, but that’s not the point, that’s…”

Then, I remember Pema Chödron. Something I read today. About tonglen. Breathing in the dark, heavy, hot stuff. Breathing out the white, light, cool stuff. Just that. Breathing in all the pain and suffering. Of myself. Of everyone who is in the same boat as I. Everyone who panics, who feels shame, who is overwhelmed by fear. Everyone who wants support, hope, safety. Breathing out lightness, relief, reassurance and hope. She writes about removing the object. Bringing down your experience to the visceral feeling, without thinking about the object. Breathing in the panic, fear, shame. Allowing this pain to penetrate me, to open me up to the suffering of us humans. Breathing out lightness, support, understanding. Nothing else.

It doesn’t work. I breathe in hot, dark, heavy. I don’t breathe out white, light, cool. I am stuck. I am not relaxing in this panic. I am consumed by it. I am crushed by it’s impact. I feel how strong it is. How blinding. I don’t see any ray of hope. I don’t trust there is a way out, there is just fear. I can’t enjoy the warmth of my house, the protection from the pouring rain. I only see myself out on the street, in the same cold, pouring rain, begging disinterested car drivers for money. There is nothing but my panic, and these horrible images.

And yet. There is some shifting, some movement within me. An opening of compassion. Some empathy. Some softening. I understand how scared I am. How terrified that I won’t make it. How horrified that I won’t have support. How overwhelmed by shame to even ask for support. How lonely to face my struggles and demons alone. I totally get how terrifying this situation is for me. I calm down. Nothing has changed. And something did. A splinter of compassion is growing next to my panic. Underneath the fear, the panic, I touch a seed of solidity. A solidity without words. Like a willow in the wind. It’s top sways wildly in the storm, it’s trunk moves flexibly with the storm. The roots are solidly grounded in the earth. I am solidly grounded in the earth.

Day 5 Rejection Therapy

Day 5 of my Rejection Therapy: rejection is all well and fine when it in an area or relationship I don’t really care about. But when I experience it in a relationship I deeply care about it is SO painful. This night I had such a sense of exclusion, not-belonging, not mattering. My throat tightened, my heart pounded like crazy, my stomach contracted. I was completely overwhelmed with all the feelings that rejection brings about. I couldn’t talk, I was numbed, and completely lost as how to create connection.

I went to my room and listened to a CD from Heartwork ( With all my strength I chose to just experience my feelings, to breathe into them, and allow the pain to unfold. I chose to not think about the situation, not think about the future, not think my habitual angry thoughts. Just be. Then a miracle happened. As I was lying there, I noticed my upset evaporate. I noticed some peace, a realization: this is just my current experience, this is not ME. And in that opening up, I got up, offered tea and support, and felt an enormous relief.

There is so much more to us than our feelings, sensations, thoughts. Thank God, we can always make choices based on our values. “The only way out is through” Dale Goldstein.