Growth Stories

Are You Stuck? Find Your Blind Spots 640 426 Thayer Fox

Are You Stuck? Find Your Blind Spots

Are you self-aware? Can you speak about your strengths and weaknesses with ease? I know the danger of this position firsthand; self-knowledge seems useful initially but ends up creating a surplus of certainty. Certainty is the cement in which we get stuck. Our known weaknesses don’t take us down, it’s our blind spots. If you don’t believe that you have any, then you have just located your first one.

I learned about blind spots at The Landmark Forum a few years ago. The Forum leader drew a Venn diagram on a whiteboard in front of the room. Inside the first circle on the left, he wrote: What I Know I Know. He then told us to write down an example of something we know we know so I wrote addiction and nutrition. In the circle at the end, he wrote: What I Know I Don’t Know. Most of us borrowed his example, to fly a plane, to complete the exercise. He finished the diagram by writing What I Don’t Know I Don’t Know aka Blind Spots in the middle circle.

The forum leader told us that the majority of what stopped us in life was housed here. A blind spot is a hidden area that you can’t see about yourself which can cause minor and severe accidents as you change lanes in life. Although blind spots are unconscious, we often go to great lengths to keep them concealed.

The irony of blind spots is that they are glaring to many of your friends and colleagues, like a strand of spinach wedged in between your two front teeth. Uncovering blind spots is the secret to becoming unstuck in any area. The inspiration that becomes available in the breakthrough moment when you come face to face with a blind spot is electric. It provides energy to take massive action and action will always move you forward.

A powerful way to uncover blind spots is to interview your friends and family. I did this exercise in my 3rd Landmark course, Self-Expression and Leadership Program, four years ago. The feedback was invaluable. I chose three conscious friends and asked how I occurred to them. Trusting they would speak out of love, I listened carefully, not liking everything I heard. One friend said that many people saw me as a combination of “aloof, hard to get close to, intense and confrontational.” Another friend asked me who else I planned to interview “nobody’s going to tell you the truth.” When I asked her why they wouldn’t, she responded, “because you scare people.” Ouch.

These conversations changed me. The disconnect between who I wanted to be and how I occurred to people was face up on the table now. My deepest desire was to connect with people in a meaningful way, but my delivery and mannerisms were sabotaging this possibility. When I couldn’t find an access point with someone or felt awkward in a situation, I became aloof, the cool girl act from my teen years. Of course, not everyone is available to connect deeply, so I also had to address why I kept going to the hardware store for oranges, which has always been one of my favorite Al-Anon sayings.

Here are three tips on how to locate blind spots:

  1. When you complain about being powerless in a re-occurring situation. Being a victim. “She makes me feel X all the time.”
  2. When you make excuses about people or situations that keep you from looking at your part. “He acts the way he does because he had a rough childhood.”
  3. When you believe that an external event is causing a problem instead of taking a closer look at your behavior. “Everyone was gossiping at the dinner.”

I had an old boss who constantly complained about everyone being an asshole: the garage attendant, the barista, and most of our clients. He believed wholeheartedly in his interpretation, and the stories he would relay were convincing. I fall into this rut too and the words of a wise friend always pull me out, “You see one or two assholes in a day, maybe it’s them. If you see more than three, consider that you are the asshole.”

It takes guts to locate a blind spot, but the breakthrough awaiting is worth the initial discomfort.

Judgment or Reality? 640 432 Thayer Fox

Judgment or Reality?

How many times have you made a decision based on an abrupt judgment? Do you feel confident that the way you see things is reality? Do you explain some of your judgments as instinct?

I’ve been off lately, barely able to sit through my two daily meditations because of the creepy crawly energy under my skin. The voice in my head has been relentlessly antagonistic. I could chart and study the chain of minor events that lead me here, but that would be a waste of time.

Looking for relief, I walked into a midday AA meeting in my neighborhood. Finding a seat in the first row, I adjusted the angle of my chair repeatedly, so I wasn’t too close to my neighbors in any direction. That’s the nature of the mood I can’t shake. Finally seated, I stared at my phone pretending to read something so no one would engage me in the usual friendly AA fashion.

Looking up at the clock, I cased the room, every person looked crazier than the next. Why did I think this was a good idea? How the hell could these people help me when they were all tearing at the seams?

No one sat in the leather speaker chair yet; there was still hope. I prayed a wise female version of Gandalf would plop down and say something astonishing.

A few minutes before the start time, a robust, dark-haired man took the seat. His sweaty face looked familiar. Then it hit me how I knew him. Struggling for over a year now, he could barely pull together ninety days of sober time before going on a bender. Thoroughly agitated, my instinct told me to bolt; no way this messy man had any sage advice to pass on.

Before I could gather my stuff, he introduced himself and began speaking. Debating whether I dashed for the door now or waited until he finished, I realized as I put a water bottle into my backpack, that the dark-haired man was staring only at me. Before I had time to be uncomfortable, he paused and pointed at me, “I know you” he said loudly.

This is totally off script, a speaker never addresses anyone in the audience during the twenty-minute opening talk. Without responding, I tilted my head giving him a quizzical look. He continued anyway, “I was counting days when I heard you speak at the 79th street workshop, you know that big Sunday 11th step meeting?” I nodded, I had spoken there recently. The speaker smiled, “That was the best qualification I’ve ever heard. I wanted to drink badly but stayed sober so I can sound like you one day.”

Sound like me? The judgmental shrew about to walk out as you bare your soul? I looked down, unworthy of his generous words. Today, I was not the woman who gave that talk. My eyes filled up as my heart opened. Putting my hands together, I bowed my head in a Namaste to show appreciation.

Gratitude surged through me, replacing all irritability. One sentence out of a stranger’s mouth smashed the self-centered glasses I had been wearing for days. Humbled, for the rest of the meeting I listened like my life depended on it.

My judgment almost kept me from being able to experience that mystical moment. I wonder how many beautiful minutes, hours, days, years have been stolen by snapshot opinions masquerading as instinct. God/ a higher intelligence/ destiny connects with us through other people. The most important job I have every day is to make myself available.


Is Compromise Creating Expectations in Your Relationship? 640 366 Thayer Fox

Is Compromise Creating Expectations in Your Relationship?

How much do you compromise in your relationship? What expectations do you have for your partner? Do you communicate them clearly? Have you ever considered that compromise is creating expectations in your relationship?

Smiling, my husband says that my idea of a great date night is couples therapy and a shrimp tempura roll. He is not far off. Maybe throw in a workshop, attended separately for optimal discomfort and growth. During our thirteen years as a couple, the best marriage advice that we received is to stop compromising.

Many people still believe that something needs to be wrong to seek out the support of a therapist or coach. I see it like going to the gym, if you don’t work that muscle regularly, atrophy is guaranteed. By the time most people enter some form of work together, it’s too late, neural pathways are Grand Canyon deep. The disparity between the amount of work we put into other areas of our life and our primary relationship is illogical.

Around six years ago, sleep deprived navigating the world of young children, we started playing a relentless tit for tat game of ping pong. Anyone in a relationship knows how this plays out- I did this for you, even though I didn’t want to do it, so now I have an expectation that you owe me in return. Meanwhile, this dialogue is taking place in our heads and what’s communicated in agitated tones is entirely different. The majority of conflicts take place in the gaps of communication that open up endlessly between the most well-intentioned people.

After a particularly heated argument, I suggested we go see my old psychologist Chris Ford. During my twenty years of Woody Allen Manhattan shrink trialing, she was the only one who made a difference. My husband was resistant at first, and in a rare moment of quiet, I asked him from the bottom of my heart. Little did I know that the way I enrolled him to see Chris initially, was the recipe for future harmony between us.

We started meeting in Tribeca every Wednesday evening at Chris’s office. She immediately picked up on our ping-pong game and asked us to list all the things we did for each other that we didn’t want to be doing. Revealing minefields of resentment, the length of our lists scared us. Chris calmly explained that our expectations had worn out our goodwill towards each other and from here on out, they must be communicated clearly and agreed upon by both parties. It was a set-up to make assumptions in our heads and then feel disappointed every time they didn’t manifest in reality.

Chris said that compromise is a slow death for a relationship. She suggested that we try asking each other, as if we were asking a close friend for a favor, from the bottom of our hearts. If we couldn’t muster a degree of authentic emotion around a request, it’s probably not that important. The lesson of The Boy Who Cried Wolf also applies to this system- you can’t make soap opera requests every week; thinking it through carefully before speaking is a crucial factor in building trust and listening with your partner.

You must also be prepared for your partner to say no, that’s still an option available to them if they can’t muster a pure yes to your request. If you can’t shake a loving no, that means you are back in the world of expectation.

With these guidelines in place, our dynamic started shifting immediately, although, it took years to uproot all our buried expectations. We started practicing after our therapy sessions at the sushi restaurant around the corner. Now when my husband asks me for something, I listen carefully. In this way, he makes around five or so requests a year. I usually say yes because I know how sparingly he uses this tool and how much he respects my individual needs.

In this world we live in where everyone is expected to be a team player, I never fathomed that giving up compromise would make our love flourish.



How to Become the Source of Your Own Inspiration 640 426 Thayer Fox

How to Become the Source of Your Own Inspiration

What are you doing in your life that inspires you? Are you hesitating at that question because it feels arrogant to claim yourself as a source of inspiration? Do you use some version of the I am not good enough tape as an excuse? That thinking paralyzed me for a long time.

It’s easier than ever to stay plugged into inspiration, thanks to the surplus of podcasts, books and social media accounts offering it at low or no cost. With such easy access, we no longer need to trek into the jungle and hunt ourselves. Why get dirty and risk a snake bite if you can hang out on a boulder and receive an airdrop? It’s all harmless until ten years roll by and we are still discussing the latest Tim Ferriss podcast over a green juice after hot yoga. Consistently absorbing meaningful material can create a false sense that we are leading inspiring lives as we shop for face cream. Information only becomes useful when it moves us into action.

In 2013, after a year of drastic growth from my participation in  The Evolutionary Collective, Landmark and working with Jeff Carreira, I felt alive in a way that I had never experienced. I loved feeling inspired. Experiencing ah-ha moments flooded me with energy and sharing these moments with others lit me up. Craving more, I spoke to a friend I had made in the EC about other workshops that I could enroll in.

On my weekly call with Jeff, I ran through some ideas for my next step. Jeff listened patiently as I rambled on about finding more inspiration. When I was done, he said, “What if you became the source of your own inspiration?” I didn’t know how to respond to this, it was a radical concept. Jeff continued, “Breakthroughs only last when you create new habits to support the possibility that becomes available at that moment. You must step through the doorway that temporarily opens and take massive action.”

That hit me hard. I loved talking about the internal work I was doing, but nothing in my daily life reflected my growth. There were no measurable results and more importantly, what good was all this growth if I didn’t use it in the world?

Jeff continued, “Maybe it’s time to integrate the work you have been doing before signing up for more. Let’s create something together in your life that will excite you regularly.” Out of this conversation, Change Your Story, Create Your Life was born.

CYSas we referred to it, began as an idea on a phone call at 9:30pm. The morning after, I approached Sheltering Arms, a charity that I had been volunteering at, and asked if they had a mentorship program. They did not but mentioned the juvenile justice homes they ran in the Bronx. A week later after a lunch meeting, they agreed that I could visit one of their female, teenage homes with a few friends. Over the moon, I emailed a hundred women, and ten came for coffee in my living room. Out of that ten, four wanted to throw the event at the Bronx home with me.

The first visit changed our lives. After an hour of art projects and snacks, we were in love with the bright, bold young women who lived there. We promised to come back as they hugged us tightly.

The Sheltering Arms administration didn’t anticipate our ongoing interest, but after a firm annual commitment, training and fingerprinting we were approved for regular visits. We quickly realized that art projects and snacks were fun, but wouldn’t make a long-term difference in the girl’s lives. Shaping a simple program based on concepts that I learned in my workshops, we arrived every Tuesday night excited to share the best part of ourselves. Something more powerful than my personality flowed through me when I delivered the weekly lesson to the girls. The next morning, I couldn’t imagine being the woman the night before- she became my inspiration.

CYS ended after two years because three of my friends relocated and the leadership of the home changed. Other volunteers could have been found and trained, but I was clear that the magic was due to the organic energy of our group. I am still in touch with many of the girls we worked with, and they vividly recall our visits as a highlight in their lives; I know it will always be one in mine.

CYS was the first time I acknowledged myself as being a source of inspiration. After that time, I have never blamed my surroundings again for lacking stimulation. I also began noticing other areas of my life where I was already shining my light- my family and AA service work.

You are probably doing something inspiring already, and don’t even realize it. Rarely do we give ourselves proper credit. We are all masterpieces, and it’s a tragedy not to share what life has been preparing us to do since the day we were born. Getting started requires accepting that we will never feel ready.

What are you doing today to be the source of your inspiration?


Are You Revealing or Hiding? 640 426 Thayer Fox

Are You Revealing or Hiding?

What if when we met someone new, instead of sharing external details about our lives, we revealed a few stories from our past that shaped us. What if we spoke about what made us feel excited and what we would like to accomplish? What if the creation of relationships was more intentional and transparent? What kinds of extraordinary bonds could be created using this formula?

After watching Diane Keogh’s Ted Talk, I did exactly what I just described and made a lifetime friend.

At first, I felt the concept in the speech was obvious. After years spent exposing my core in the rooms of AA and listening to others do the same, I experienced firsthand the healing power of personal narrative. Once I realized that my secrets weren’t unique and the ugliest parts of my story were useful to others, I began to boldly inhabit my history in church basements all over Manhattan.

This transformation was compartmentalized, and socially, I still defaulted to the weather, vacations and other safe conversation topics which left me unfulfilled when I walked away from an exchange. These rote dialogues didn’t reflect who I was or who I wanted to be, but I didn’t know how to create an opening for more to exist. Interactions began to feel like a waste of time after I became aware that the paths I kept taking would never lead to the complete connection that I craved.

As Diane mentions, in every conversation, people are either trying to hide or reveal their pasts. The longer I sat with this thought, I saw the disparity between my AA world and daily life. Blaming my zip code and others perceived limitations in the area I chose to hide in provided me with the excuse I needed to avoid taking responsibility. At that moment, I made a decision to merge my two worlds.

At this time, my son started at an Upper East Side preschool. I signed up for the role of class mother, which was a shared position with another woman named Alison. We first met briefly in September 2013 at a class welcome meeting at the school. 5’10”, thin, blond with an easy laugh, the only thing that differentiated her from the general Upper East Side population was her Canadian accent. Aside from sharing the class mother role, she also had twin boys, so at the least, we would be playdate buddies.

After drop off, a few weeks later, Alison came up behind me and asked if I wanted to walk home together since we lived a block apart. I decided to follow through with my new vow and bravely attempt a different version of the get to know you exchange. At the least, it would calibrate our dynamic so future interactions would be straightforward. Alison kicked off the conversation with the perfect question, “You mentioned that you grew up in New York? What was that like?”

For the next 6 blocks, I gave her a synopsis of my life; highlighting painful and joyful moments equally, leaving nothing out. I didn’t dial my energy back or soften my tone in a concerted effort to be less intense, a criticism I have been given much of my life. I felt clear and calm as I spoke. Midway through I noticed something remarkable in Alison’s listening. I didn’t know then that she is a trained mediator. My post: The Power of Listening explains this distinction.

As we approached Alison’s block, I explained what kind of friendship I was interested in creating during this phase of my life: something real and growth-oriented where we could both say it all. Unfazed, Alison smiled and looked me directly in the eye, “that’s an amazing story, and I am interested in having that kind of friendship with you. Do you want to grab a coffee or walk in the park soon?”

I walked away with tears in my eyes- boy was I wrong about Canadian Barbie. Alison and I still laugh about my misconception. She is rare soul, and still one of my closest friends even though she lives in London now.

Since that time, I have taken risks with people that did not yield the same results, but they saved me time and energy in the long run. Living like this no longer allows me to complain about people’s capacity. Once I reveal myself, my part is done. I can walk away knowing that I gave the interaction my all, no matter the results.

Today, are you revealing or hiding your core? If so why? What do people need to know about you to truly know you?

Love Like Your Life Depends on It 640 391 Thayer Fox

Love Like Your Life Depends on It

Four people I love have lost people they love over the past two weeks.

Death is a difficult subject to talk or write about; words feel flimsy. I don’t associate death with inspiration, but after attending two funerals and spending time with the grieving, I am experiencing death to be the most majestic window we have to behold the true nature of our remarkable love for each other.

It’s an honor to spend time with anyone who is mourning. Bearing witness to grief is sacred; there is something holy about the ones left behind. Temples of absolute love, they rise around the memory of the deceased. We supporters enter carefully, carrying words and gestures to leave at their altars.

All the people who have died this past week are over 70 and have been sick for a while. They all lived “a full life”, but it’s never long enough for their loved ones.  Long life, short life, tragic life, great life- I have noticed throughout the years that the circumstances don’t make a difference. The words we use to ease heartache don’t hasten or lessen mourning. There are no shortcuts or action steps we can take. When a loved one dies, we are left with a surplus of emotion that only time can absorb.

Surrounded by grief, I have been asking myself mighty questions- Am I loving with all my heart? Do people I love know how much I love them? What more can I share before my time comes? What holds me back from living each day more fully?

Inside these massive inquiries, I am compelled to recalibrate my commitment to love. My family and friends appear more precious, I want to hold our hugs for a little bit longer. I am awed by the uniqueness and beauty in all of them. I am allowing “I love you” to flow more freely from my mouth, observing how self-conscious and vulnerable I feel with the delivery of those three words. Are those uncomfortable feelings the reason for my withholding? Or is it about the receiver’s response? Will my expression be too much for them? Whatever the reason I am getting over it today.

During this period of mourning, I realize that the tragedy is not just death, it’s the daily forgetting or withholding of our love that haunts us. Our boundless capacity to love each other is the best part of our humanity.


Go, love, love like your life depends on it.





How to Make Everyday Extraordinary
How to Make Everyday Extraordinary 640 425 Thayer Fox

How to Make Everyday Extraordinary

Ordinary days are waiting to become extraordinary.

What if you give an ordinary day the opportunity to be more? What if you believed that the difference between ordinary and extraordinary was only a shift in perspective? And you have the power to make that shift? If you are having a “fine” day, nothing scintillating on the schedule, don’t write it off just yet. We believe that extraordinary enters wrapped in boas, followed by violinists. You will continue to miss the faint knocking if you don’t adjust your thinking. My most extraordinary days always catch me off guard.

This story is an example of everyday extraordinary that I almost missed.

The day started at 2 am with my daughter waking me up to tell me that her bedroom was too cold. A 25-degree night in January, mine was freezing as well. My light wouldn’t turn on as I got up to investigate and after trying a few other outlets, I realized the heat and electricity was off all over the apartment. Too tired to deal, we all went back to bed. Hopefully, this would resolve itself by 6:30 am. It did not.

After a cold, dark breakfast, I walked the kids down the emergency light wrapped service stairs. At the bottom, our doorman told us that the entire building had no power. Con Ed had been on our street since midnight, and due to explosions, they still couldn’t get into the manhole. I saw a crew of Con Ed workers huddled near a smoking pit across the street from our canopy when I exited to walk my son to school.

After drop off, my thoughts turned to my son’s fish. He has two tanks containing nine tropical fish, and it hit me that the heater had been off all night. The big tank was too heavy to move, so I wrapped it in blankets. Our beloved Betta fish Jek lived alone in a bowl that was easily transportable, so I brought him over to the super at a neighboring building for the day. At least I saved a life.

My agitation ballooned as I headed home thinking about all the items on my to-do list that required electricity. One of the Con Ed workmen was talking on his cell phone near my canopy, so I lingered until he hung up.

“Hi, I live here- wondering what’s going on with the power? How long will it be out for?” I asked in my best trying to sound calm voice.

“I’ll have a better idea once the explosions stop. It’s not safe to go down yet. I just got here at 6. This is nothing compared to the job I was at last night- near Chelsea Piers- snow melting mixed with salt from the plows is causing explosions all over. I got home at midnight, and they called me at 5 am to come in and take over this job.” The rosy-cheeked Con Ed man responded. I did the math on his sleep the night before and wondered how he sounded so relaxed after getting less than five hours. Exploding hole aside, insufficient sleep is enough to nose dive my day. There was something unusual about this clear-eyed man.

“My name is Thayer, What’s your name?” I asked.

“My name is Tom, nice to meet you, Thayer. God, I feel bad for all of you without light and heat. What a hassle. Once I can get in there, I promise we’ll get it back up as soon as we can.” Tom smiled.

Our conversation was interrupted by a doctor with an office in my lobby;” Excuse me, what is going on here? What in the world am I supposed to tell my patients?” she asked Tom tensely.

Tom responded with genuine concern, “I’m so sorry about this, it must be hard for business. Once I get into that hole, I’ll be able to give you a better sense of timing. Why don’t you give me your number and I’ll call you as soon as I know?”

Disarmed by his compassion, the doctor gave Tom her number and walked away.

“Wow Tom, you’re a pro,” I said.

“Nah, she just wants to make a buck, it’s no big deal,” said Tom. “I got a great life; this is all gravy.”

The use of the word gravy clarified the source of Tom’s unique energy.

“Tom, are you a friend of Bill’s?” That’s what sober people say to feel out other sober people instead of flat-out asking them. Bill Wilson founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935.

My question was met with another enormous smile, “Why yes I am. How long have you been in the program?” Tom asked.

“I celebrated 14 years two weeks ago.” I smiled back.

Standing on the frozen sidewalk, smiling at each other, my frustration was replaced by love. Love for Tom, love for sobriety and gratitude for all human beings who were doing their best that day.

“Can I give you a hug Thayer?” Tom asked. Usually, this corny request would make me cringe, but that judgment didn’t even cross my mind. I nodded, and Tom grabbed me in a bear hug, picking me up off my feet. I wish I had a photo of that moment, the smoking pit behind us and all Tom’s co-workers looking over.

We all go through up cycles and down cycles; periods of high energy, productivity and positivity followed by fatigue, doubt, and procrastination. We are not robots. I feel disappointed when I crash out of an up cycle, wonder what I did wrong, and how I can extend it next time. Trying to force my way back into the state with a “fake it till you make it mentality” is a start, but the pursuit of it as a goal takes on desperation, which denies me access every time. I am learning that the pathway to consistent re-entry is through my heart. Connecting with people who inhabit vulnerability and gratitude opens something inside me that I can’t activate alone.

Tom’s attitude not only shifted my day; it left an imprint on my soul.



The Gift of Consciousness 640 426 Thayer Fox

The Gift of Consciousness

My favorite commencement speech is called “This is Water” by David Foster Wallace. It offers us the gift of consciousness.

David’s message is enormous. It’s spectacular and shattering, and we rarely dare to speak it.

When you listen, you realize how subtle the line is between a lifetime of misery and a lifetime of wonder. We tend to think that those two worlds are far apart, but David makes it clear that they exist side by side in our minds.

Most people don’t realize they can choose what kind of life they get to experience. For thirty years I didn’t either, so I am not implying that this is an obvious choice.

Here’s what I learned from the pain of feeling trapped in a life shaped by unconscious decisions- we must be vigilant about the thoughts we choose to focus on because they become our reality. God or whatever name you feel comfortable with is the sacred force inside all of us that longs to rise and expand. When we live in the flow of that power, wonder becomes abundant.

Every morning when I turn my face into the light, I acknowledge and honor the darkness a few inches away before turning my back to it. Growth comes from being with all of it. We don’t get to experience the full heart moments without also experiencing the ones that crush our faith in humanity. We do get to wake up and start again every morning with a new intention no matter what happened the day before. Healing is not about completion; it’s a commitment to our rising.

David Foster Wallace is no longer with us, but he left us his consciousness in this beautiful commencement speech.

Today, I honor it, and I hope you do too.


Practice Takes Practice 640 426 Thayer Fox

Practice Takes Practice

Do you ever hear or read something that echoes in your head for hours afterward? Like it’s meant to find a home in you and is canvasing your internal landscape for a plot to settle? What if you choose to believe that everything that shows up in front of you today is meant for your growth? And the continuing cultivation of practice is your only goal?

“If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

Don’t start making that mean anything yet.

That seemingly disturbing sentence is called a koan. I heard it during a sermon at Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan.

Tim Ferriss references koans regularly in his podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, so I had a vague idea what they were when I heard this one. A koan is a riddle or a puzzle that Zen Buddhists use during meditation and in daily life to help them sink deeper into truths about the world and themselves. There are said to be 1,700 koans in all. Zen masters used them regularly to test a student’s progress. This particular koan is by Zen Master Linji.ōan

Even though Reverend Cho at Redeemer explained the koan well, I walked away anxious to do my own research. The road reference was transparent; the journey of our lives is often referred to as a path or road in literature and poetry. After more investigation later that afternoon, I developed a cognitive understanding of the main two interpretations of The Buddha reference. The Buddha in that koan is anyone whom you believe contains greater wisdom and spirituality than you do. It can be a teacher, a mentor, a spiritual leader, a partner, a friend- anyone who you don’t measure up to in the game of compare and despair. The Buddha can also be inside you. It’s your relationship with the concept of your spiritual growth and enlightenment.

And this is the part I love- whatever interpretation of the Buddha currently applies to your life, kill it immediately. There is no such thing as achieving enlightenment. It’s ungraspable, the second you point to it, poof it’s gone. The Zen masters believed only in practice. Practice has many meanings and includes meditation, studying texts, doing chores, following moral guidelines and trying to embody spiritual ideals. There is no destination. No happiness to obtain, no person who will ever make you whole and complete. No one is more enlightened than you are. Once you kill the Buddha, quietly return to your work.

Koans were not developed to be understood and then discarded. Students would sit with koans for months and sometimes years. The longer they sat with one, the more they realized about the nature of Zen and themselves.

I don’t attend church regularly, nor am I instinctively drawn to Zen masters. I am however a believer in paying close attention to what the universe leaves at my doorstep. Steeped in an internal conversation lately about whether I am “good enough,” this koan is what I need.

For years I “worked” on myself believing that there would one day be a conclusion. Once I was sufficiently transformed, I would be ready to get started with whatever I settled on as my vehicle of contribution in the world. The voice in my head said that although I had grown immeasurably, there was still a lot of work to be done. It was never enough, and my development was always lacking some essential aspect.

Although I don’t believe in goals anymore, I continue to take my spiritual temperature, measuring myself against the phantom fully evolved Thayer. The woman in this comparison is the Buddha I must kill. Killing her once doesn’t work, I must do it as a practice. Anytime I attach myself to results instead of questions she returns.

This experience prompted me to order a book on koans, and after a little research I settled on:

“Bring me the Rhinoceros and Other Zen Koans That Will Save your Life” by John Tarrant. It’s simple and powerful. Every chapter reveals a koan with the story of its origin, meaning, and ways to work with it.

Trying to control your mind is a no win battle, but letting go of thoughts by focusing on ideas and questions that will support your growth is a technique that works.

Practice takes practice.





How Complaints Reveal Core Values 1024 668 Thayer Fox

How Complaints Reveal Core Values

Can you think of someone who complains chronically? Most of us can. Being around that person probably takes a toll on your energy. If you don’t know a complainer, you’re probably a complainer too. Instead of complaining about that person in your head or to other people, here are some suggestions on how to reframe the way you see them and ultimately interact with them.

I break complainers into three categories:

  1. Habitual complainers- they are the most draining. They don’t realize that they are complaining and are not seeking a solution. Habitual complainers feel powerless in areas of their lives; complaints are an expression of their victimhood and a way to release circular energy.
  2. Social complainers- people who complain to connect with others. They can be funny and use complaining as a vehicle for humor. Think Seinfeld. Amusing complaints are gossip dressed up as a concern with magnetic negative bonding power. Complain to someone about an issue at your child’s school and instant bond when they agree with you. Exaggeration is a technique that social complainers use to engage their audience.
  3. Coachable complainers- the last category I have come across are coachable complainers. You can sense that they are uncomfortable in the limbo of a complaint but cannot see a clear pathway ahead. They want to move into action, and their complaint is, in fact, a question.

I am an expert in the area of complaints because I am a recovering complainer who has transited all three categories in my forty-four-year history. Choosing not to complain is a work in progress, and I occasionally relapse when I am tired.

My complaining has evolved over the years, getting craftier as I grow.

It began as a child when I was powerless over situations that occurred in my household. Years after I stopped being a victim, my mentality would not relinquish the role. In my 20s I felt like a pinball, and my complaints were an expression of my immature psychology. Craving attention and love, I would suck the life out of anyone who would listen to me. I had a boyfriend use that exact phrase as he broke up with me. When I got sober in my 30s and learned how to take action, my complaining improved but my new pattern was to notice everything that was flawed in a situation or person. The more work I did on myself, the more harshly I critiqued others who were not living an examined life. These assessments manifested as complaints. My mentality embodied the saying,” When you point one finger, three fingers are pointing back at you.” I couldn’t stand people who reminded me of the way I used to be. It became necessary to take a closer look at my position when I couldn’t sustain prolonged periods of inner peace.

Around the same time, I started doing intense work within the EC and Landmark Education. I had a crucial breakthrough around my complaining after a conversation with a woman who I befriended in the EC. She told me flat out that I complained a lot. Typically, this type of comment would spark my temper, but her delivery was almost complimentary, so it threw me off. My friend went on to say that she listened carefully to my complaints to understand what I cared about. From my complaints, she extracted my core values of integrity, authenticity, and growth. She noticed that any person or environment that didn’t reflect these qualities caused a complaint to bubble up inside me. She went on to say that there was only one thing to do with a complaint; address it directly with the person or institution who could do something about it.

Blown away by this exchange, I started becoming more conscious of my complaining. The conversation also started shaping the way I listened to other’s complaints. When you turn a complaint inside out, it always exposes someone’s core values and reflecting those back to a person gives their battery a charge.

How to deal with people in each category who you know and love requires a different touch.

If someone is a habitual complainer, more in-depth work to resolve whatever caused them to feel like a victim may be necessary. Shame, a dominating quality of victimhood, is quicksand. You can’t get out of quicksand on your own; you need someone to pull you out with a rope. A habitual complainer may need to venture back into their history before baby steps forward become a consideration. I love this video by Mel Robbins about how to handle draining relationships:

The social complainer probably isn’t interested in a solution if they receive positive feedback for their complaints. I have a few social complainer friends who are amusing for short periods of time. The amount of time I spend with them is crucial. If I am not careful, I can get sucked into their mindset quickly. Humor is seductive, making you feel connected while masking the content. From time to time, I will ask if the issue in their monologue seriously bothers them to create an opening for a more meaningful conversation. People become ready to grow on their own time, so never count anyone out.

The category of complaining that you can affect the most change in is the third one, the coachable complainer. Right-sized suggestions are critical in this scenario, otherwise known as the “Goldilocks Principle.” The principle is based on the part of the children’s story when Goldilocks samples the three bowls of porridge, and one is too hot, the other too cold and one is just right. For people to advance, advice has to fall between specific margins. Anything too extreme can be overwhelming and cause instant paralysis, anything too small enables their current condition. Here is a detailed explanation of the Goldilocks Principle:

This weekend I experienced my daughter being in a complaint. Instead of pulling her aside right away, I got triggered by her whining and responded in a snippy voice, threatening to take away her iPad which only made her complain more. Pulling the car off the highway to deal with a complaint immediately is imperative. As our interaction rapidly deteriorated, I realized what I was doing and asked her to speak alone. Her core value is connection, and conflict gives her no access to what she craves most. I reminded her of an outing we took the week before and how much fun we had together. She softened and agreed. We spoke about how she could make a request instead of complaining. There is more workability in a request than a complaint. She got it, and we snuggled before bedtime, no residue between us.

This week I am observing my complaints. What complaints do you have that you are willing to address?