Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

You can’t wipe a butt on Zoom

Some things you just can’t do on Zoom. Like holding your friends’ hands while saying grace for food. Tucking your baby in at night and singing him a lullaby. Taking out the trash for your elderly neighbor.

So when my dad gets hospitalized in June, I fly out to support him and my mom. Calling him on the phone won’t get his hair brushed. Seeing my mom on Zoom won’t get her to the hospital. Empathy won’t help with cooking dinner. I need to be there in person.

Zoom is great, but not for everything.

The same is true for email. Wonderful if you want to appreciate what your colleague did. Use it to inform others of your upcoming travel plans. Very practical for sending your team the agenda of the meeting.

But don’t use it to express frustration or resolve conflict. Then the ‘enter’ button is your enemy. With just one click on a button, you risk ruining a relationship that probably already is challenging.

“Message sent, is not always message received” is true for any communication. But even more so with email. You cannot check the facial reactions as you talk, you don’t see the shift in body posture as you deliver your message, and you can’t notice the change in breathing as you share your frustration.

So it is very hard to know that your message is received the way you intended, not even if you ask them to email back a summary of your key points. How do you know they didn’t just copy and paste your text, let alone have true empathy for the underlying issue?

But resolving conflict by phone isn’t necessarily a good alternative either. Even though it has the immediacy of the interaction and the nonverbal cues of your voice, you don’t know if their silence means that they are reflecting on what you said or have put the phone down to do something else.

The best way to resolve conflict is to meet in person. Especially if you use Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Beginning Anew.” It is a sequence of sharing appreciation, regret, and then requests. The focus is on improving the relationship by nurturing honesty and empathy so that your requests are true requests, not camouflaged demands.

With practice, this process becomes second nature. But you do need to know that you are practicing the right way. That’s where coaching with a mindfulness coach comes in.

Since 2011, I have practiced with Thich Nhat Hanh’s community and taught many of my clients how to use this process. If you want to see if working with me would help you too, you can schedule a free discovery session with me.

It could help you wipe off the yuck of even the most contaminated relationships!

Use this link to schedule your free session.

The ridiculous imposter

Thich Nhat Hanh, my favorite Buddhist teacher, established the Order of Interbeing in the mid-sixties.

It is a community of monastics and laypeople who commit their lives to supporting the mindfulness community and the teachings of non-attachment from views, interbeing, happiness, and impermanence. They vow to relieve all suffering: within themselves and others.

To join the Order of Interbeing, members commit themselves to live their lives following the 14 Mindfulness Trainings. These include abstaining from alcohol, not speaking when angry, resolving conflict however small, and conscious consumption of media.

I have always wanted to be a member of the Order of Interbeing, but many of these commitments seemed too big of a hurdle for me. It’s a combination of fear of failure and laziness, not wanting to give up habits that have brought me so much comfort.

It was a typical example of my Inner Saboteur, the Judge, preventing me from living the life that has true meaning to me.

But last Sunday, I finally read my letter to my mindfulness community, asking them to accept me as an aspirant in the Order of Interbeing. I feel proud and happy to share it with you:

“Dear respected Thich Nhat Hanh, beloved Thay, Sangha, and friends,

Nine years ago I wrote my first application letter to be accepted as an aspirant in the Order of Interbeing.

At least seven followed. Four years ago, I even submitted a whole application package to Terry Cortes, our beloved Dharma teacher.

Until now, I have not followed through, because my perfectionism did not deem my efforts good enough. That was enough fodder for my inner critic to also deem myself not good enough. It didn’t think I was good enough, to begin with, and the thought that I could be an aspirant and bring forth Thay’s work was outright ridiculous.

Which Sangha would be so blind that they could not see through my smiles, hugs, and cheerful disposition and see my dark, ugly sides of jealousy, competition, judgment, yelling, anger, and blame?

And even if that Sangha was wise enough and did see positive qualities in me, how on earth could I possibly make any meaningful contribution to a community that is so precious and sacred to me?

Now, thanks to Thay’s teachings and my mindfulness community, I believe I can.

When I heard Terry speak at our retreat about listening to ourselves, I knew that my self-criticism was just an inheritance handed to me by the struggles of my ancestors. And like any inheritance, I can choose what to do with it. I don’t have to schlep it around and carry it on my back wherever I go.

I can take the contents and hold them close to my heart, and mindfully feel whether I want to keep them, recycle them, or donate them to Goodwill for someone else to use. Perhaps my mud can nourish someone else’s lotus.

Today, I ask you to accept me as an aspirant to support our Sangha. I bring my not-so-good traits, my flakiness, and my propensity to stress.

And I bring a deep, sincere love for Thay and endless gratitude for our Sangha. I can literally say that I owe my life to his teachings and community.

I love you all so much and promise that I will do what I can to help carry the raft to the other shore and bring as many beings with us.

May the fruit of my aspirancy benefit all beings.”

You too might have aspirations that you keep pushing to the back burner because your Inner Saboteur is busy running your life.

Or you don’t have clarity about what your deepest goals and aspirations are and you wished you knew what your North Star value is.

And maybe you just want some support to take the first step on your journey toward manifesting your vision.

P.S. In honor of my favorite Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, I invite you to donate to the TNH Foundation to support his teachings.

Cancelling my mindfulness subscription

Thich Nhat Hanh has been my spiritual teacher from the moment I saw him in 2008 at his mindfulness retreat in Nottingham, England.

I had bowed out of the program to spend some quiet time by myself. I wandered around the estate when he passed me by while he led the Sangha in mindful walking. His loving energy, radiant smile, and calm presence touched my self-criticism, shame, and low self-worth. They melted away in his presence.

When I came home, I immediately signed up for his online monthly newsletter “The Raft”. And when I started my own business in 2016, I signed up again with my business email to ensure that I wouldn’t miss any of them.

Now I get the same newsletter on two different email accounts. I faithfully open both of them, knowing any email provider will mark your emails as spam if the open rate is below a certain percentage.

It’s a useless action that’s a bit of a hassle for me, but I can’t get myself to unsubscribe from the one sent to my personal email. I don’t want to hurt the feelings of the editors and I am afraid that they would feel sad to see that they lost a reader, wondering what they have done wrong.

Last month, I finally unsubscribe as part of my mental decluttering process. I realize that staying on their email list twice was not a choice from my heart but my people-pleasing habit.

According to Shirzad Chamine, the People Pleaser is one of nine inner saboteurs. It’s the one that tries to keep others happy at all costs and uses love and care as a strategy for acceptance and emotional safety.

Other saboteurs are the Avoider, Stickler, Victim, Controller, Achiever, and the Restless, Hyper-vigilant, and Hyper-rational one. You will find a link to the test at the bottom of this email to see which inner saboteurs are strongest in you. I scored 9.4 for people-pleasing.

There is nothing wrong with inner saboteurs. They are the remnants of patterns we developed in childhood to adjust to and survive our environment when we were younger and more vulnerable.

But as we grow up and become more resourceful, we can see that the messages we heard as a child were not so much about us, but reflections of the unmet needs of those around us.

But seeing them for their function doesn’t necessarily help us realize that they are just an old habit that’s no longer useful. Because they have been with us for such a long time, liberating ourselves from their grip can be a challenge.

In my free webinar “Befriend Your Saboteur”, you will learn three steps to let your values and aspirations guide your actions instead of letting your inner saboteurs run the show. Tuesday, June 7 from 8:00-9:00 am CST.

You can sign up here.

P.S. In honor of my favorite Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, I invite you to donate to the TNH Foundation to support his teachings.

P.P.S. This is the link to the Saboteurs Test.

Scratching, unwholesome seeds, and mindfulness

It is 5:00 am at the second day of our Mindfulness Retreat. I wake up in the dark with a terrible itch on my left foot. I guess that it is probably fire ant bites from walking in the woods. The itch is overwhelming, it drives me crazy. I start scratching as hard as I can, until I feel it starts to bleed. The itching just gets worse.

After 10 minutes, I finally pause my scratching and attempt to practice “accepting what is”. I breath in and breath out of the terrible itch, and try to have an openhearted curiosity about what it is like to have a big itch. I do my very best to accept the experience, rather than to change it.

I have to say, I am not completely up for the challenge. I fail several times at holding back my scratching. Half of my brain would like to apply a sander to get rid of the itch. The other half gradually surrenders and succeeds at breathing in and out of the big itch.

Eventually I fall back asleep.

The next morning I wake up with less itch and a little more understanding about what I believe Thich Nhat Hanh means by wholesome and unwholesome seeds in our consciousness.

“Whether we have happiness or not depends on the seeds in our consciousness. If our seeds of compassion, understanding, and love are strong, those qualities will be able to manifest in us. If the seeds of anger, hostility and sadness in us are strong, then we will experience much suffering.” Thich Nhat Hanh

At the surface it might seem that Thich Nhat Hanh is making a distinction between good and bad, right and wrong, an instruction to only water the ‘good’ seeds. A moral dichotomy.

After my itchy experience, I see this differently. He is instead simply inviting us to be present with whatever is: to make our choice based on our most mindful vision for ourselves and others. If I want to keep my foot happy, I better stop scratching, even if the scratching feels good in the moment.

By extension, I imagine that if I want more happiness, peace, and love in my life, I might do better if I water the seeds of happiness, peace, love, understanding, and compassion in myself. If I want more conflict, suffering, or stress I might focus on watering the seeds of anger, fear, deficit.

When we are in choice about which seeds we water, we can be in choice of how we experience our lives. This is a practice with no right or wrong, just trying, and failing. Then trying again. Failing. Sometimes doing things that are not so wholesome, but feel good in the moment. We try to be curious and we try again. We continue until we are practiced enough to transform unwholesome habits into more wholesome ones.

Which seeds do you nurture within yourself? Let me know, I would love to read from you.

Walking mindfully, walking peacefully

Walking Mindfully, Walking Happily

It’s March 2017, SXSW week in Austin. A week bustling with thousands of participants trying to get to their coffee, their meetups, their conferences, screenings, and social gatherings in time.

It’s also the week of the premiere of “Walk With Me“, a documentary about monastic life in the mindful communities founded by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Seven monastics flew in from France and Deer Park, California to support the movie. In the middle of the chaos of the Austin Convention Center, they led an hour of mindful walking. An action to nurture a sense of peace, presence and love to the event.

I joined once. I was excited to walk with the monastics in a setting so different from our usual private Sunday Sangha.

When I returned a second time, it was because I was so moved by the first experience.

I feel so touched to see random people ask if they can join our walk. I see them invite friends to walk with them, happy to talk about what mindfulness means to them. I feel delighted to see dozens of new smiling faces carefully take a step, then another, focusing on their breath, feeling their feet touch the Earth. We walk as a river, balancing our individual footsteps with the pace of the community.

“Happiness is here and now

I have dropped my worries

Nowhere to go, nothing to do

No longer in a hurry.


Happiness is here and now

I have dropped my worries

Somewhere to go, something to do

But I don’t need to hurry.”

-Thich Nhat Hanh

I am moved by how inspiring we can be when we offer our suggestions with Santa Claus energy: “Hohoho, wouldn’t life be more wonderful if you joined me for mindful walking?”

​​If we share what is important to us with an openness to hear a ‘no, I believe we are more likely to get a ‘yes’. Without the force of demand energy, our childlike excitement to share what we imagine is helpful to others becomes contagious.

What can you offer with Santa Claus energy? Which gift can you contribute to the buffet of life-enriching choices?

Let me know. I’m curious to read your special offering.