Category Archives: Workshops

The Four Seasons of Tough Times

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun… Ecclesiastes 3:1

The belief that every challenge has four distinct stages has occupied a ridiculous amount of my attention over the past dozen years. This is because I am convinced it is one of the most helpful truths for navigating difficult circumstances. Yet, when I seek to explain (stage 1) how tough times begin, (stage 2) what the middle of the journey looks like, (stage 3) how to adapt and (step 4) how to get to the end…I feel like I get too many blank stares. I want to exclaim, “Trust me! This is important, it will save you,” but instead I wonder if I’m making as much impact as the ill-kempt man wearing the sandwich board on the street corner pronouncing the end of the world. Both passionate and neither of us getting our message across.

So, to not lose you, my fair readers, as I try to pass along this jewel, I’d like to propose the following analogy to describe the four-phased journey concept and its importance:

Just in the northern climes of North America, tough times can be seen as moving through four distinct seasons. During difficult circumstances, we start in the autumn. Things begin to “fall” apart — leaves break away from the trees, plants freeze and die and what we had counted on to feed us all summer ends. In tough times terms, the trees we had been going to for fruit could be a marriage, a friendship or good health — we watch them crumble and hope that we can find a way to make it last — but if it’s time is up, no amount of vigilance will stave off the end.

So, then comes winter, or the messy middle of tough times. It seems impossible that something will grow again during this season. It’s dark, inhospitable and can be really depressing.

If can wait out winter, spring comes again with a promise of new beginnings. There is more light and optimism. Time to till the soil, decide what to plant and ready for the growing season. And, if we are courageous enough, we will plant seeds and do the work to create a new garden (i.e. work to create a new relationship, job, or home). We must care for the new seedlings, get rid of the weeds to get back to a stable place once more.

Earlier this month, after presenting a keynote lecture on thriving through tough times, a soft-spoken grandmother approached me. “When you talked about approaching tough times like an old Montana rancher, I got it,” she said. After raising children and crops in New Mexico and northern Canada, she told me that recognizing the stages of each difficulty had saved her. “When the kids were young I copied and pasted a passage from Ecclesiastes on my cupboard to keep me sane through the years,” she added and began to recite, To everything there is a season, time for every purpose under the sun. A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted…”

During bad circumstances, it really helps to remember that there is a time for sowing and a time for reaping. For each set of tough times there is a minimum suffering period. With a death of a grandparent, it might be a year for example. But, not acting appropriately during each tough times “season,” you can maximize your imprisonment in difficult circumstances.

In the winter, or the messy, chaotic middle phase, trying to plant new seeds wastes your resources. Ask any rancher. Winter is when you rest. You sharpen your tools and nurture your stock. You want to slow down, take care of yourself and your home. You can’t plow the fields and trying would be silly. Rushing around is a foolish, and in the depths of January, can be a dangerous activity.

The advice for the winter of difficult conditions is the same. When something has ended, be it a job or a relationship, trying to quickly create something new is counterproductive. We need to recover. We need to take stock in where we stand. Rushing around and using up our resources is foolish and can be dangerous as we exhaust what collateral or energy we have in a harsh, dark climate.

There is a time to rest and there will be a time to risk. During a challenge’s spring and summer, we will need to be rested and ready to act. Where after a loss, we must be brave enough to wait through the winter, we must also be bold enough when the time comes to choose to try again.

Each season presents unique tests. Not acting seasonally appropriate circumvents the process. Rushing around and trying to plant in winter means that we won’t have any reserves to take advantage of spring. Not getting to work in the spring will also have us missing or not taking advantage of prime growing season.

Meanwhile, we live in a culture focused only on action. It believes that when things are not going our way we need to think positive, roll up our sleeves and get to work. Yet, this is not global wisdom. For example, like Ecclesiastes, Taoism is based on discerning in which season we reside and acting accordingly. It is said that by going with the natural flow of each challenge, Taoist masters exert minimal energy and are able to live well past a hundred years old. There is a time to wait and a time to move. Knowing the difference allows us to flow effortlessly through each major change back to stability.

So, when tough times hit, notice:

1) Are structures or relationships ending (1st stage of disruption or “autumn”)

2) Are you in dark times, dealing with loss and no new solutions in sight (chaos or winter)

3) Can you see new possibilities, is it “time” to get moving again (adaptation or spring)

4) Are you called to try new things, be bold, act (stability or summer)

Then ask, what would a wise Minnesotan or Montanan farmer do? For every thing there is a season…

Announcing a one day workshop in Tacoma, WA

For those in the Pacific Northwest, I will be providing a one day “Thriving Through Tough Times” workshop in Tacoma, Washington on May 30, 2009. It will be a fun and highly interactive day of exploring techniques to overcome our toughest challenges.

We will meet at the Center for Spiritual Living on 206 N. J Street. Cost: $25.00. Please contact Frances Lorenz, (253) 383-3151, lorenzmf@aol.com, to register. Hope to see you there!  

 

 

Repeat after me

Become a student of change. It is the only thing that will remain constant –Anthony J. D’Angelo

Eighteen women gathered last weekend for a  “Thriving through Tough Times” workshop I offered in Bozeman. Not the lightest topic, yet one that elicited lots of shared laughter from the group. Ranging in age from twenty-nine to timeless grandmas, everyone had valuable advice to contribute. When we spoke about first finding ourselves in difficult circumstances, one of group elders wryly added, “When times get tough I tell myself, ‘Things might get better (long pause)…or they might not.’”

The grounded optimism of these words summed up a workshop theme. Many of these women had overcome some very tough times. They explained how they had gathered fantastic opportunity and learning from their experiences, modeling how life can indeed improve through adversity. Yet they were realistic, when you lose a child, or your best friend at midlife, things might not get better.

The journey through personal challenges in the Buddhist tradition is sometimes referred to as a “little death.” Our current job/marriage/situation ends or “dies”, we enter into a dark time of transition, and if things get better…or not, a new career/relationship/life emerges. These little deaths are seen as valuable practice to prepare us for the big one at our physical end.

Around the world, we are counseled to be calm and focused on the path ahead whether meeting a little or big ending. Many cultures strive for a “good death,” or one that is conscious and peaceful, since they believe this will supports us getting to the best next destination possible.

Repeating phrases like Theresa of Avila’s, “All is well and all will be will,” is very common global technique to foster a good death and rebirth. We might chant prayers over and over to comfort the dying, reminding them of the life yet to come. For example, in the Catholic tradition, the prayer “Hail Mary…pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death” is repeated, while Hindus sing devotional prayers and chant Vedic mantras throughout the process.

When we face little deaths, repeating favorite sayings can both calm and ready us for the adventure ahead. Another workshop participant offered her father’s favorite motto, “Everything happens for a reason.” Explaining how these words provide her solace and courage she said,  “By repeating this phrase I accept my circumstances and I figure I better start looking for that reason.”

Mantras are like a verbal opening bow to the opponent, “Tough Times.”  When this adversary appears I like to say,

  •  “Good teacher” – Borrowing the martial arts belief that our opponents are our best instructors. This reminds me that I can learn something and become wiser (a big personal selling point!).
  • “Opportunity, lots of opportunity” – That’s my version of “Things might get better…”
  • “I get to be here” – Recalling that this might be my only opportunity — in this body anyway — to have this experience.

In the above phrases, notice I invoke attitudes of learning, hope and gratitude. Interestingly, all three of these responses are processed in our neo-cortex or the two hemispheres residing on the top of our heads. This is the portion of our brains best equipped for complex problem solving. When the neo-cortex is engaged we have access to our creativity and can consider future implications of our actions.  We play best when this brain region is in charge. I am thus suspicious that the most effective mantras engage this highest cerebral region.

So, what might be your calming phrases or sayings?

 

 

Workshop Announcements

In January and February I will be providing two public workshops entitled “Thriving Through Tough Times” in Bozeman, Montana. During these fun (I hope!) and highly interactive workshops we will explore how to welcome life’s ups and downs. Together we will uncover our default styles under stress, learn cross-cultural techniques to stay centered and practice how to play well in our personal and professional lives regardless of what comes our way!

Pilot Workshop — January 23 from 7 to 9pm and January 24 from 9:30 am to 4 pm at Pilgrim Congregational Church on South 3rd Ave. Cost — $20 to cover lunch, refreshments and a donation to Pilgrim. Please contact Mary Wagner at  mail@uccbozeman.org or call 406.587.3690. Limit 24 participants.

On February 28th from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm this workshop will be provided as a fundraiser for Girls for a Change — a teen girls empowerment program. In conjunction with the GFAC conference, “Thriving Through Tough Times” will be offered to adult participants at Montana State University. All attendees will receive copies of Deidre’s books, The Way of Conflict and Worst Enemy, Best Teacher and lunch.  Cost: $150.00. Please contact Deborah Neuman, dneuman@allthrive.org, 406-587-3840 to register. Limit 30.