Monthly Archives: February 2014

Protagonist parting words: turning into a toad

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A few days ago, I woke up and physically could not speak. My voice was replaced with a raspy rough whisper that sounded kinda like a croaking toad. I struggled, not with sneezing, congestion or other symptoms but only with the loss of my ability to talk.

This silent affliction reminded me that I physically have not been expressing or communicating much of what I really wanted to say this month. Most of my time was spent listening, absorbing and creating spaces for others to play, dream, pontificate, and emote. My ego tamed for only a short few weeks and my literal voice had nearly disappeared! What is that about? I am taking this physical ailment as a sign that I need to get back to the keyboard, back to the work of writing and translating my experiences in my shared writing not speaking.

For almost 8 months now I have been inside my head wandering through this personal growth experiment. The writing process, throughout has come relatively easily for me. Writing this February though was almost arduous. Every time I sat down to write I wanted to go back to the actual experiment of “being” rather than spending any time trying to define what the process felt like. Writing took me into the thinking and away from the sensing that I was getting so comfortable with.

My lack of focus on writing might also have something to do with the fact that I have been indulging in my beautiful surroundings. I’ve been allowing myself to be swept away by the sound of the wind and the water up here on the hilltop island hideaway.

Or possibly it is because I took this month’s mission too seriously. Diving deeply into the spaces and places of another makes it hard to resurface into my own reality, place and timeframe. Transforming into another being, breathing their air, walking their path and feeling their emotions is an intense experience. Like Max said it’s hard to hold on to yourself when you finally have let go fully. And like Max, I also have felt such warm and positive feelings for others during this process that I almost did not want to return to feeling completely separate and independent. I didn’t want to lose the oneness, warmth and understanding that came along with “being” another.

So my lesson learned this month is that we all breathe and absorb the same air and water above and below. We just create our own paths and react to the external environments differently when we are separate from one another. We compare, contrast, question, and challenge the differences in another way of thinking feeling and doing things. When we spend the time to try to understand or embrace the similarities we can move together at a similar pace. Most of us only attempt to do this with a romantic partner or a family member. It is not easy, so we often fail and fall back to our singular separate ways – breathing the way we understand, walking at the pace we are used to and making our own voices heard over others.

But while I am in this voiceless toad like state still, maybe I can learn something by tuning in to “being” an amphibian. Amphibians actually undergo the metamorphosis of becoming a different creature in their lifetime changing from the young larva water-breathing tadpole to an adult air-breathing toad must be quite an overwhelming process? But just think how amazing that transformation would feel losing your gills for lungs. Could we humans handle such change? Could opening up to such change and a whole other way of life benefit us? Or are we all still scared of the risk and the outcome of being turned into a toad? When I was a little girl, I believed that some toads were princes. We only needed to take the risk and kiss them to help the transformation. After this month, I am once again a believer and am willing to chance it and test out the transformation process. Anyone with me?

2/27/14

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

time…to give and take

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“Time is our most precious treasure because it is limited. We can produce more wealth, but we cannot produce more time. When we give someone our time, we actually give a portion of our life that we will never take back. Our time is our life…..”
– Alexander the Great

This month, I have spent my time practicing the act of feeling more and thinking less. I have been observing others, absorbing and embracing their viewpoints, feelings, comfort levels, communication, and engagement patterns.

During this time I have learned to float on the surface of my own reality, becoming translucent and almost invisible while sinking into the skin of another. It has been a lot more difficult than I anticipated. Taming my own voice, questions and ambitions takes concentration. Its felt like a new form of meditation.  (One in which you can’t close your eyes in a dark room keeping out external distractions) It like learning how to meditate with others.  But isn’t that what being in relationships is all about?

To focus my efforts in this process, my wild cards Aliza and Lee asked me to specifically hone in on a singular trait from the individuals I have been engaging with. Is there one thing that is standing out about these people? Is there one thing that they have that I would like to embrace myself? What a difficult task to sift through and choose only one trait from the complicated and intricate personalities that I have had the pleasure of perceiving through this experiment.

The people who I have spent time with (whether they have been the few friends from Maryland that I’m living with or the new islanders I’m meeting for the first time) have been such gifts. The have taught me new ways of breathing, living, eating, moving etc.  Instead of choosing individual traits from each person that I would love to embody, I chose a shared trait that almost everyone I have interacted with has possessed. Generosity.

Generosity is defined as the habit of giving without expecting anything in return. It can involve offering time, assets or talents to another in need. Everyone I have spent time with here has possessed this trait in some form.  Each individual holds this great desire to give and share their knowledge and expertise. Whether it is about island history and culture or music, cooking, and gardening. In my time listening, watching, and observing my fellow island mates – I have been given stories, treasures, creative inspiration, intellect, laughter, food, and physical adventure. Each person has shared openly and I am finding that people are most happy when they are offered the place and space to do so.

It’s as if the act of sharing itself is the most important act that can be performed in our lifetimes. We utilize it as a way of passing on a how we understand or experience the world and in turn, sharing helps validate our own existence, learning process, success, or struggle.

Aliza and Lee in their wildcard post asked me to consider how I would adopt my chosen trait into my own personality. How could I adopt generosity? How could I put myself forth and give? Could I or share or teach my own experience? Looking back at my chapter writer’s initial requests, I realized that Max also asked of me to consider what I could do to for the people I am engaging with. He asked me to give back. In an effort to honor both requests, I spent this past week thinking directly about this task. How could I become more generous? I have struggled with this for years.

What are the skills and knowledge that I can share in return? Do I have something I can give, swap or trade for all the hospitality and generosity I receive?  I have never been good at buying gifts for people. I never felt like a purchased object fit my affection or intention in wanting to share or give to another. I always resorted to making objects, cards or experiences for people instead. In my professional life I have spent my time creating spaces for others to share their music, art, words, stories, and ideas by organizing workshops, teaching creative expression and convening dialogue events. The more I think about it, it really seems to be the best way that I am able to give back. Why not continue to create those spaces and places but on a more personal level?

I’ve decided to focus on doing this with others and it is quite simple really. I find that I can at all times give my good intentions and time to another person if I choose to. This is easily overlooked when entering a new relationship or coming to a new place. We often look at the new experience and ask “What can be gained?” from this place or person, not “What can we learn or give?”.

Can we spend more time learning from and giving to others, while at the same time realizing that receiving what they have to offer is an essential part of a shared connection?

Everyone desires, wants, and needs, different things that we can never fulfill or give entirely. The one thing that is always desired though is that space and time to share themselves. This can be given by anyone at anytime effortlessly.  Even if I do not agree or fully understand, I can make an effort to try to. I can set the intention of allowing another to teach me and then learn how to receive what the other is wanting me to see, feel, or experience.

Offering another the time to be themselves and share what it is that they want to give helps to validate their experience.  It creates a space in which they are accepted fully with support and without judgment. Isn’t that the ultimate form of generosity? I thank Max, Aliza, and Lee for helping me to recognize and strive for that this month.

2/25/14

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

writer reflection: February

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Beth!
Hello, hello.  You’ve heard from me in private, but let me speak up out here, so all can know how floored I am with your progress and discovery in this month!
I wrote to you this morning about reading your accounts of the water – I said I had found my own self short of breath.
I wrote:
Isn’t that what it’s like, though?  Learning another person IS like not breathing – not breathing the usual breath of our own personality.  I never thought of it that way but wow, and yeah, you’re right.
Well, Beth, what can we do?  How can we hold onto ourselves and do this, or how can we learn to know we’ll stay alive even if we change our way breathing for a while?
I’ve been trying to put into play the exercise I set you, and I can’t say I’m going nearly as far!  But for anybody’s information, I’ve been having two reactions when I try to “Be” the person I’m with – one is that I just get really quiet and resist nothing that they are saying or want to do, and the other is that I feel very warmly for them and just want to give them a hug.  Both experiences have been pleasant.
That’s all from me.  Take care folks!

February Wild Cards

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Hi Beth!

Here is my wild card for the Interpersonal Relationships theme for this month:

You are already focusing on “becoming” the person with whom you are engaging. The wild card for this month is to focus on a specific character trait held by the person you are engaging with. Name at least three traits (they can be from the same person or from different people). Think about the following questions per trait:
– Name the specific trait that jumps out at you
– Is this a trait that reflects your own character? Or is it a trait you wish you had?
– What is meaningful to you about this trait?
– If it is a trait you wish you had, what actions will you take to foster this trait for yourself?
– If it is a trait you already have, how does this trait affect your interactions with the world around you, including your relationships?
Write at least one blog post naming these character traits and discussing the questions above.
I hope you find this wild card helpful on the Journey of Beth Barbush!
Love,
aliza

becoming invisible…breathing under water

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snorkel portrait by: Grace Lichtner

The more I test out the waters of this month’s mission, the more I realize that I am still just skimming the surface. There is so much to learn under each layer of this task. I am taking my time though allowing myself to sink in, trying on new skins and breathing in unfamiliar patterns. I am finding it both uncomfortable yet sometimes surprisingly helpful and illuminating.

I have been practicing the suspension of my own beliefs and understanding of the world. I’m letting go of what I know to be true for a moment and learning about other people’s truths, hopes, fears and dreams. Experiencing these vantage points, or perspectives has proved to be a worthwhile adventure.

It’s hard to explain the exact different ideas and revelations that I am having with this experience without talking about the specific people who I am spending time with and interacting with. However I feel that its important to refrain from revealing any personal information about anyone else other than myself on this blog, so I will try to describe in a physical sense what it feels like to practice diving into to someone else’s territory.

As I said before, I am taking things slow this month, not rushing over or passing by what lessons may be learned from trying out this simple exercise. The best way I can describe my process is by comparing it to my recent snorkeling expeditions.

Before coming to St. Croix, I was not very confidant with my swimming abilities in the ocean. Being surrounded by unpredictable currents and a plethora of foreign creatures in the sea can be anxiety inducing. Even here in the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean, the wide open blue under the sea can be a welcoming or frightening place, depending on how you look at it. What is that moving over there? Is that beautiful creature a barracuda or box-fish, a sand dollar or a sting ray? Looking down over the conch shells, spikey sea urchins and massive brain coral makes me feel like I am flying over rugged surreal landscapes. In a place without maps, I use the coral reefs and the sea fans as navigational clues to chart my path below. I watch the fish swim in schools; they make me think of flocks of birds flying in formations in the sky. I often forget if I am looking down or up in this underwater world.

But I am becoming more comfortable! Each day, I’m less anxious tipping my head under and venturing in letting the colors calm me. It is certainly a different world under there but the more often I visit the more similarities to my world I find, than differences. I am starting to understand what the creatures around me are, what they do, how they move, what they eat. Instead of fearing them, I am respecting them and am impressed and intrigued.

Knowledge was not the only adjustment I had to make though, I also had to make some physical changes – the first being my breathing. In order to fluidly adapt to this new environment, I had to stop breathing in the way that I knew how to.

Every day I wake up and start to breathe and I don’t think about it. But wearing a snorkel mask changes a few things. You no longer can breathe in or out of your nose. It doesn’t take long to train yourself to breathe in this new way – but I must admit it does take time for it to feel comfortable or normal. I recommend walking around one day wearing a snorkel mask for a few hours and see what it does for you. Besides making people think you’re a bit nuts, it might help you focus on your breathing.

I also noticed pretty quickly that in the water, I had to change my pace and depth of my breath. I needed to balance my swimming speed, allow myself to float and slow my breath down. Gasping for air only left me with a mouthful of saltwater. And kicking furiously only scared the fish away. I needed to become more relaxed, fluid and calm, if I was going to properly experience this new environment. I needed to use my spy training skills stop thinking and start sensing! This is what helps me become invisible allowing me to float effortlessly and unseen taking in all my surroundings but not rippling the water with my own fears and intentions.  After all – I am only an invited guest in these waters. In a place as pristine as this, I don’t even want to leave footprints.

The snorkel expeditions have allowed me to, stay connected with my comfort zone, (the air-breathing world above) while at the same time inviting me to experience the water-breathing world below.

Now the only question left now is when will I be ready to stop skimming the surface? What preparations are needed to be ready to dive in fully. I don’t think any actual scuba lessons are in my immediate February future but if there ever was a place and time that I would be welcomed and comforted in the underwater and unknown territories it would be here in these beautiful virgin islands. I am finding St. Croix to be the perfect place to open the mind and heart to new ways of thinking, breathing, and believing. I am sure the next few weeks will help prepare me for my big dive.

Sending lots of love to all my readers and to the island of St. Croix on this Valentines Day!

love stx

2/14/14

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

thinking vs sensing

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It’s been a week now into my new mission. While trying to translate the clues on how this chapter would roll out and follow where it might lead, I fell into some secret spy-training sessions. My trainer Grace has helped guide my path in the quest to uncover some of the mysteries that live somewhere deeply hidden within our interpersonal relationships.

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this is the training book Grace uses

During the month of February many of us take the time to stop and think about the ones that we love, hold dear, and care for. We show our love and project our thoughts and feelings through plans, gifts, or words. But do we often show our love by taking the time to really understand or feel who that one we love is? Do we accept openly and unconditionally what they would like to receive and would like to offer us? Do we know how to truly listen?

What if we could hear, see or feel in ways that are outside of what we know? Would we realize that it is quite similar or much different from what we understand about ourselves? Be the person you are engaging with is the mission of this month. Have you tried it? Can this strengthen or create unique connections in our relationships?

Grace’s spy training sessions have given me some tools that sharpening my awareness and sensitivity, a first step in learning how to truly listen. I obviously can’t tell you everything that we do in our secret sessions but I will share some of the things we’ve been working on thus far.

1. Imagination/Visualization

2. Observation/Memorization

3. Intuition/Mind Reading

Imagination/Visualization : In this physical landscape of imaginary places, I am finding it easier to access my ability to let go of what “I think I know” to be true and I am becoming more open to seeing and feeling what may actually be true in this new place and time.

Imagine you are listening to yourself talking when someone else speaks to you. Is it possible to conjure a new set of thoughts values and viewpoints for a moment? Could I imagine that I am living in someone else’s skin, another body, working from a different set of circumstances? If so would I start to think like they do, feel like they do?

This visualization helps me to step outside of myself, allowing me to empathize and sympathize. It allows me let go of my own assumptions and prohibits me from projecting my own feelings about that person or the situation. Learning to listen as if I am the person speaking is a step toward becoming more open and accepting to what is being said whether I agree or fully understand it.

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Spy Training Practice: Creating secret forts with invisible force fields using only the natural objects found in the garden

Observation/Memorization: Looking and memorizing through observation is another form of listening. A person’s facial and body movements hold so much information to decode. Are they nervous, relaxed, excited, calm, or curious? I find the answers in their foreheads, their eyebrows, their shoulder blades and hands. I observe and try to remember what it feels like to be crunching my shoulders or tilting my head or cracking a smile. I observe and remember their motions and emotions under certain circumstances or with certain people. Can I recreate a similar situation in my next interaction with them?

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Spy Training Practice: Hunting hermit crabs and keeping them in captivity. Observing their climbing and nesting tendencies. Memorizing flying patterns of hummingbirds.

Intuition/Mind reading: Sometimes to do the best listening, I tune out all the sounds and clues that are right in front of me and tune into what is happening around me that is not always clear. Turning on my peripheral vision, I can get a feel for the outside environment. Is it cold, are there bright lights, is it loud, are there a lot of other people? How is the wing blowing? What in the environment could affect the interaction with the person you are with? These observation skills come quickly and naturally after a while. Through these exercises, I am defining and honing my intuition. Being omniscient of all that is going on externally creates a sharper sense and clearer picture of what is going on internally. Without verbally asking or intentionally trying, this observation practice becomes involuntary and I naturally start to know or absorb certain information before asking or being told.

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Spy Training Practice: Dodging golden orb spider webs in the backyard using peripheral vision and web sensing skills. Where would you live if you were a Golden Orb spider?

Practicing these new skills, pushes me beyond thinking and requires full on sensing. I must thank Grace. One week in and I am equipped and energized to dive into new engagements, interactions, and conversations.  The quicker I dive in and sense that natural flow the quicker I feel connected. Now’s the time to put the training to the test.  Time to come off this hill.

2/8/14

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

out of my shell and into another

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It’s been a solid seven months of intense introspective work living out the chapters, that my friends have so beautifully written. Focusing on my environment and new surroundings last month was a great first step in pulling me out of my head and back into the physical world. I spent a heck of a lot of time hanging out with rocks, sea shells, ocean waves and hermit crabs last month (which in my opinion is NOT a bad thing) but I am thankful for the “interpersonal relationship” change of theme this month and Max’s suggestion of focusing on being with others and engaging with people in this eighth chapter. This truly is my comfort zone and I welcome the opportunity to dive back in to play with both the people as well as the fish swimming around this beautiful island.

In the few years that I have known Max, I have found that our relationship has helped to ground me wherever I am. He surfaces my own knowledge and skills and then pushes me to learn something new by exploring and observing my environment from different perspectives. He is an incredible wanderer, thinker and connoisseur of the world and the stories it has to offer. Just listening to him share his experiences sometimes feels like he is reflecting back to me my own past adventures, struggles or encounters.

This month he has asked me to explore what it feels like to “be the people” that I am engaging with. This is a whole other level of learning new perspectives. Could I, like a hermit crab changing its home, crawl out of my shell for a moment and move into another? And if I did, what would it feel like? What would it be like?

Be the person that I am engaging with. Woah…. How the heck am I going to actually do this? Will I attempt to take on others feelings? Will I do what they are doing? See what they are seeing? Think what they are thinking? Do I need to learn magic? Do I need to brush up on my psychology reading? Take an acting class maybe? I am definitely going to need a set of tools. Max said this was going to be simple and here I go making it complicated.

I was lost in my own head again dizzying myself with question, when out of the corner of my eye,  I spotted a small mysterious note tucked under a book on my bed.

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The message invited me to a private meeting held in a secret place in our gardens. It was signed “from your leader, trainer and friend”. Once again my island adventure partner and housemate Grace was at my side – pulling me out of my head and back into the present jungle that awaited each morning in the back yard.

As I may have noted before, Grace is nearly ten very intuitive, extremely bright and astute in her observation skills. She has taught me so much already in our 4 weeks living here. I was excited to find out what I could potentially learn today and dashed out the door with my camera, pencil, and notebook in hand.

I arrived making sure no one had followed. Secret meeting places need to stay secret ya know. I arrived and found her waiting for me with a small black book in hand and a mischievous look in her eye. “Whats on the agenda?” I asked. “Spy training” she replied.

I was immediately intrigued, crawled in between the sticks and branches sat down and started taking notes. Secret spy training? Of course! This was exactly what would provide me the needed skills to accomplish Max’s mission.

2/4/14

Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.