fully alive

Why Paying Attention to Your Strengths is a Profoundly Spiritual Process

I do a lot of coaching with individuals, groups, businesses, teams, churches around the issue of strengths (utilizing the results they get from taking the online StrengthsFinder).  What are your top strengths?  How are you using them?  What are the shadow sides of each of your strengths and how can you manage those shadow sides?  How can you use your strengths more intentionally, consciously, and competently? How Strengths Work Increases Well-being

I love doing this strengths work with people because I've seen that when people tap into their strengths more deeply and consciously, their ability to live a more productive and fulfilling life at work, in relationships, and even in spirituality radically increases.  In fact, research shows that people who more often than not lead with their strengths are six times more meaningfully engaged in their life circumstances and they experience a three times higher sense of overall well being in life.

Who wouldn't want those kind of odds?

I'm noticing more and more that when people begin this exploration, increasing their understanding of how they're wired and what their innate talents are, they are in fact coming face to face with who they really are and who they are truly designed to be.  And that is a profoundly spiritual experience.

Why Strengths Work Is Spiritual

One of the descriptions of spirituality I appreciate is this:  "The intentional journey of becoming more whole, more fully alive, and more deeply human which results in authentic and meaningful connections with self, others, and the transcendent.”

The more in-tune we are with who we are, the more in alignment we are with how we are each designed and wired, the deeper and more authentic and meaningful our connections are to others and even to God.

One of the early Church fathers, Irenaeus, wrote,

"The glory of God is man fully alive."

Think about that for a minute.  God's glory is heightened and made more evident when people are living fully alive.  God's glory is shown, not when we constrict our lives or other people's live, not when we narrow our lives down, but rather when we expand our lives, when we increase our aliveness, when we alignment our lives to who we were made to be and to learn to live that way with more abandon and confidence and courage.

And that's exactly what happens when people tap into their strengths more consciously and competently.  They become more uniquely fully alive---they become more of their true selves, as God designed them.  Living out our strengths is one of the most significant ways we uniquely manifest the image of God in each one of us.

God is definitely not into the "cookie-cutter" approach to life.  All you have to do to see that is to open your eyes and behold---to pay attention and to notice---the profound and immense and rich diversity that exists in this world.

Some Strategic Strengths Questions I Use With Clients

I have the sacred privilege as a strengths coach to be a front-row witness to this wonderful diversity with every person and group I do this work with.  I always am in awe of how beautiful and unique every person is.  And that individual beauty I see only grows and deepens as people come to embrace their unique strengths profile and learn to live it more consciously and effectively day after day.

So here are some of the questions I assist people in exploring and processing about their strengths:

  • How have you seen yourself using each of your top strengths?  Give specific examples.  Describe how you felt when you were engaged in that activity/behavior.
  • What have you noticed is the shadow side of each strength?  What is your specific negative tendency with each strength at times?  For example, if your strength is Empathy, do you ever find yourself getting too emotionally involved in people?  Do you take on their feelings so deeply that you can't seem to let them go, to separate yourself from their feelings, so you can begin to feel exhausted, burned out.  Their negative or painful feelings you start to take on yourself?  Give specific examples of how you have manifested the shadow side of your strengths.
  • How have you noticed your strengths playing out in your relationships?  Give some specific examples.  For instance, if you have Adaptability, do you tend to wait until the last minute to plan an activity with your significant other?  Do you prefer not to structure or plan something but to let it come to you or simply go with the flow?  How does your strength(s) impact your significant relationship?
  • What is the strengths profile of your significant relationship?  How do your top five individual strengths react together as a couple?  Where are you both strong?  How does that reveal itself in how your relationship shows up in the world?  What do people experience in the presence of your relational strengths profile?
  • Develop some specific, tangible goals for how you can increase the use of each one of your top strengths in the major life areas:  work, relationships, spirituality.
  • What are deficiencies in your strengths profile that you need to consider bringing other people with complementary strengths into your life?  How can you partner or collaborate with people who bring strengths you don't have so you can be more productive and effective?

I typically go on a 12 session, 3 month journey with the people who want to really dig deep into putting their strengths to work in their lives.  And I can tell you, it's a hugely rewarding, satisfying, transforming experience.  They all tell me how life changing it is.  And the more I do it, the more life changing it is for me, as well.

How Strengths Work Impacts Organizations and Congregations

I also do strengths work with congregations and other organizations.  Once people begin to understand the role their strengths can play in their personal lives, this new awareness carries over into their actions within the organizational mission.  When we take a look at which of everyone's top strengths are most represented---based upon everyone's test results---that corporate strengths profile delivers some astounding and powerful implications for how the whole group is designed to be at their strongest in the way they serve their constituents and communities.  Effective mission and productive service grow exponentially.  And people who serve in those groups experience a much higher level of engagement and fulfillment than ever before.

The Final Question is About Sacred StewardshipBoundless-Strength-Unlimited-Joy-768x1024

So in the end of life---whatever your view about how that happens in terms of divine accountability for your life---what's true is this:

God will not ask you why you weren't more like someone else.  God's only question to you will be, What did you do with what you were given?  Did you steward your Self as deeply, passionately, and faithfully as you could?  Were you your own true Self?

This is one of the reasons I think strengths work is so spiritually significant---and why I believe in knowing my strengths and using them as courageously and actively as I can.  It's about being the only Me that really counts in the end; and the only Me that truly brings me fulfillment, purpose, and joy.

Want to Know More?

Would you like to know more about this process?   Feel free to email me:  greg@flyagaincoaching.com.  I'd be happy to give you more perspective.  Would you like to engage in strengths coaching with me?  Feel free to contact me:  greg@flyagaincoaching.com.

A Secret Ingredient for Spiritual Success

I read last week a fascinating New York Times article titled "Secret Ingredient for Success."  The authors interviewed highly successful people about what made them successful and discovered one common element.  The discovery was surprising--somewhat even counter-intuitive.  Beyond their natural talent and skill, their personalities, their strengths, their passionMagnifying Lens and vision, how hard they worked, their success came from this quality:  intentional, regular, rigorous self reflection.  Self assessment.  Self evaluation. It's called double loop learning.

"In this mode we question every aspect of our approach, including our methodology, biases and deeply held assumptions. This more psychologically nuanced self-examination requires that we honestly challenge our beliefs and summon the courage to act on that information, which may lead to fresh ways of thinking about our lives and our goals."  (Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield)

It got me thinking about the way so many people go through life.  We just kind of float along, going with the flow, never really reflecting or thinking about life, trying to avoid obstacles as much as possible, taking the easy path as often as we can, the path of least resistance.

And even with our spirituality.  We tend to rarely think about it.  We just do whatever it is we've always done, never really evaluating or reflecting about it, whether or not we're learning anything new, or whether or not it's actually changing us into better people.  We just slide by spiritually.

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates once said, "The unexamined life is not worth living."

I was especially reminded of the power of this value of self reflection last weekend.  I conducted the first of three weekend retreats called "Ignite the Fire of Your Spiritual Life."  Our small group spend a total of 10 hours doing rigorous self-assessment and evaluation.  The purpose of this process was to give each person an opportunity to take stock of their spiritual life to determine what is working effectively and meaningfully and what isn't.

And we engaged within community--not just doing personal reflection but also sharing some of our reflections with each other.  The process of hearing and listening and being heard and listened to is extremely powerful.  When people are willing to hold the space for us as we do our work in a way that's safe and affirming and accepting, we are empowered to grow and transform in beautiful ways.

One of the participants texted me the next day and said, "Thank you for a breakthrough life-changing retreat--my spiritual life is already better ... Can't wait to see what more there is to come and I know it will be very good."

That's the impact of healthy and effective self reflection.  It comes from being willing to be intentional.  To pay attention to your life, your spirituality.  To do it honestly, authentically, transparently, participatively.

Most wisdom traditions agree on the process for enlightenment and spiritual wholeness.  Confucianism describes it as becoming fully awake, waking up to life, seeing life clearly.  According to the Li Chi, the classic Confucian guide to becoming spiritually developed,

"there must be a turning point in life when the maturing individual recognizes that simply being a human is not sufficient to becoming fully human."

Spiritual maturity is not an automatic occurrence.  We can't slide into spirituality.

Jesus called that conscious turning point in one's life repentance.  "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  It begins with awareness, waking up to our need.  It continues with desire, seeing something better--something more--that we want.  It involves an intentional turning around to chart a new path to receive that Life.  "Wake up so you can experience the depths of God's kingdom that is right in front of you, indeed, right inside of you," said Jesus.

LampOne of the poignant stories Jesus told was of the ten bridesmaids waiting through the midnight hours for the appearance of the groom.  All of them had lamps.  Five of them had enough oil for the lamps to keep burning through the night.  So that when the groom finally showed up, they were awake to be swept up into the wedding party and join the festivities.  The other five missed out.  No light.  Sleepy.

Light.  Wakefulness.  Clarity.  Awareness.

Some of the markers Dr. David Benner, in his book Soulful Spirituality, describes as identifying a mature spirituality include

"being grounded in reality and alive to the present moment, a personal philosophy that makes life meaningful, the capacity for forgiveness and letting go, inner freedom of choice and response, the capacity for reflection on experience."  (p. 35)

These qualities don't just suddenly show up in our lives.  They're developed.  We awaken to them through reflection, intention, attention.  Like the five wise bridesmaids, we stock up on enough oil, we trim our lamps, light them, and use them to become fully awake to what's happening inside us and around us.  We repent.

I'm planning two more spiritual retreat cycles this Winter/Spring; one in San Francisco again (April 5-6), and another in Walla Walla, Washington (March 22-23).  Here's the link for the details:  "Ignite the Fire of Your Spiritual Life."  If you want a powerful opportunity to engage in awakening your spiritual life in new and transformational ways, I invite you to check out these events.  It could be a turning point for you.

The two authors of the above New York Times article interviewed tennis great Martina Navratilova to find out the secret of her ultimate success:

"[She] told us that after a galling loss to Chris Evert in 1981, she questioned her assumption that she could get by on talent and instinct alone. She began a long exploration of every aspect of her game. She adopted a rigorous cross-training practice (common today but essentially unheard of at the time), revamped her diet and her mental and tactical game and ultimately transformed herself into the most successful women’s tennis player of her era.  What we learned from conversation with high achievers is that challenging our assumptions, objectives, at times even our goals, may sometimes push us further than we thought possible."

I wonder why so many of us fail to engage in this kind of rigorous self reflection and self evaluation in such a vital area of life, our spirituality?  Maybe it's because we simply don't know how to go about doing that.  Maybe we're afraid of failing or not achieving anything different than what we already have.  Maybe we just don't think about it--we're simply too busy or distracted by the rest of life.  Or maybe it's just not that important or appealing to us.

But maybe it is time to shine the light.  Time for the secret ingredient.  Time to awaken.  Fully alive instead of sleepwalking.  The best way to success and joy!

Spiritual Trapeze Artists: The Journey of Becoming

I remember when my kids were small taking them to a Ringling Bros. circus.  It was so much fun watching them be awed by all the commotion--roaring tigers, trumpeting elephants, fancy-suited bareback riders, brightly colored shouting clowns, comedic acrobats, ball and plate jugglers, jaw-dropping sword and fire swallowers.  And then the most dramatic of all--even I was looking forward to this act--the high-flying trapeze artists!Trapeze Artists There was always that moment (the one everyone goes to the circus for)--that moment of uncertainty and fear--when you could hear the collective breath being sucked in as the trapeze artist made one final swing and then let go of the bar.  We watched almost breathlessly as that woman soared through the air, wondering whether or not she would make it to the other bar at precisely the right time or whether she would fall precipitously to the net below.  What a collective sigh of relief that erupted into deafening applause when, sailing through that no-man's land of midair, she grabbed a hold of the opposite bar, swinging brilliantly and majestically up to the platform in the sky on the other side of the huge tent.

My kids were truly in awe.  I loved watching the expression of relief and delight on their faces.  I had the same look on mine.

Spirituality is a Journey of Becoming

Spirituality is essentially the journey of becoming.  In Christian terms we might speak of this as becoming our true self in God, becoming like Jesus, or merging and aligning our selves with the divine image in us.  In other spiritual traditions this concept is often presented in terms of becoming enlightened, awakening to what's true and highest, or becoming one with all that is.  In psychological language it is framed as becoming increasingly integrated, becoming free, or becoming all we can be, more whole and true to who we really are, more fully human and alive.

Early church father St. Irenaeus once wrote, "Man fully alive is the glory of God."

So the spiritual journey is about the process of becoming more fully human, more alive, more whole.  The two words "journey" and "becoming" signify two central elements of spirituality.  Both terms denote movement, dynamic process, stages of development.

And the reality is that the fulfillment of our God-given humanity doesn't happen automatically.  If it did, then the older people became, the more years they lived, the more fully developed and mature and whole they would be.  But we all know that isn't a given.  The becoming of spirituality is necessarily an intentional path.  It takes work, attention, practice, and persistence.

Spiritual Trapeze Artists

And this is where the trapeze metaphor comes in.  As in life, also in spirituality, every path has transition points.  So spirituality is a journey of learning the art of navigating transitions:  how and what to let go of, how to steer through the no man's zone of uncertainty before the new unfolds, and grabbing a hold of the new.  If we can't master these stages of transitions, our becoming is stunted.

That's exactly what happens when any one of the stages of metamorphosis for the butterfly is interrupted or messed with.  The egg becomes a larvae (a caterpillar which molts its skin 5-6 times) which becomes a pupa (during which it completely disintegrates in order to form a whole new body) which finally emerges in a rather violent and painful-looking process to become a beautiful adult butterfly with wings.  Tamper with any one of those transitions of becoming and the butterfly ultimately dies.

Developing healthy and effective spiritual lives are dependent upon our ability to navigate well the many transitions along the path of life.  Unfortunately, many people are living stunted spiritual lives because they get stuck in one of the stages of transition--locked up, paralyzed.

The Danger of Stunted Spirituality

I have conversations often with people who are experiencing this spiritual stalemate.

Some have allowed themselves to see this stuck place as their new normal.  They simply live with it, even though they're feeling unhappy, unfulfilled, and a bit stale (when they're willing to look inside and admit what they're feeling).

Others are paralyzed by fear--fear of the unknown they see coming if they should let go of the bar and fly through the "neutral zone"; fear of conflict with others should they keep moving ahead spiritually which might lead to rejection or ridicule or other negative judgments by people; fear of disequilibrium, losing their balance and sense of normal; fear of giving up control over every aspect of their lives; fear of sliding backwards, losing ground, and feeling like a spiritual failure.  The list of fears I hear from people goes on and on.

But the truth is, the egg-larva-pupa never become the soaring butterfly without going through each stage successfully and willingly.

We have to face our fears.  We have to confront our sense of inadequacies.  We have to look our weaknesses squarely in the face.  We have to be willing to let go of that which is no longer serving us.  We have to face uncertainty and manage a sense of insecurity at times.  We have to dream of the new, envisioning what could be and who we could become more of, who we truly are.  And we have to chart a path for this becoming.  We have to want to be more fully alive.

"Igniting the Fire of Your Spiritual Life"

These are some of the reasons why I am having my cycle of three retreats called "Igniting the Fire of Your Spiritual Life."  Each retreat is centered on each of the three stages of spiritual transitions:  letting go (Winter), uncertainty and planting seeds (Spring), and harvesting and undergirding the new (Fall).  Participants will be guided through each of these stages in ways that honor who each person is and what it means to each one to become more fully human and alive.

And since this process of spiritual transition is challenging and sometimes difficult and anxious and uncertain, we're going on this journey in community with others who are hungering for a transformational spirituality, too.  We are not alone!  And we can reap the rewards of joy and greater contentment and empowerment with others.

I invite you to participate in this round which begins January 25-26.  There are four spots left.  Here is the link to more information and registration:  "Igniting the Fire of Your Spiritual Life."

I Dare You to Trapeze!

Trapeze artist 2My wife and I were walking on the Santa Monica Pier a few years ago when we came across a place where people were being given lessons on trapezing.  We stopped and watched.  A woman was doing a courageous job of trying to go from one swing to the other.  Bless her heart!  She encountered one fall after another.  I was glad there was a huge net below to catch her every time she fell.  But to her credit, and to our admiration, she kept trying.  Her instructor kept guiding her, giving suggestions, helping her.  And she kept trying.  I wasn't sure how long we wanted to stay.  But just about when we turned to leave, she swung way out on the right trajectory, let go of the bar, sailed through the air, and caught the next bar.  Grabbing tightly, she swung herself up to the next platform, beaming from ear to ear.  She had a look of extreme delight, satisfaction, and pure joy!  She made it ... and made it well!

That's what I wish for you and me on our spiritual journeys of becoming more human and fully alive.  Navigating our transitions will bring us the same exhilaration and satisfaction, too!  We just need to hang in there and keep going for it.  The egg-larva-pupa will become a butterfly.  You and I will become more deeply and fully ourselves in God's image.  So why not!