CHAPTER 43 – Medical Judgment

Dan in the Doctor’s Office

Swimming through fluorescent illuminated water, the angel fish, guppies, and other fish Dan couldn’t identify, seemed serene enough.  And why not, thought Dan.  Dr. Stern made sure their meals were delivered, their tank cleaned, their water temperature regulated, and they had no predators.  No moray eels named Bob lurking in dark holes, ready to tear into their flesh. 

He would deal with Bob later.  Time now to relax, read a magazine, maybe People en Espanol.  Jesus, relentless media trash.  He reached for his Blackberry, but his hand returned without it.  No, not emails. Why was he so nervous?  He never liked doctors.  And this doctor scared him.  Dan had Googled metabolic syndrome and read about the complications of diabetes – the loss of sight, loss of limbs, heart attacks – and these images lingered now.  This line of thought was unproductive.  Better to relax.

He sat back in the chair and scanned his body.  His attention settled on his ribcage; it was frozen in place, and he was barely breathing.  He sensed the quality of energy locked in his ribs.  It was fear.  Fear of dying.  He could hear Michele’s voice from the mp3 she had sent him.  “Never mind what it’s about, just experience it as a constellation of sensations.”  He did.  “Now, let a sense of ease enter your body and breathing, as you smile into and dissolve any physical tension.”  He did.  “Now let yourself rest in the vast space – both inside you and outside.”  He felt his breath begin to take up more space in his ribs and back.  His chest and belly softened.  The website photos of gangrenous toes and amputees appeared and dissolved.  He opened his eyes and with a soft focus, took in more of the waiting room.  The magazines on the tables, the fish tank, the paintings on the walls, the other patients, and the receptionists were simply there, without comment or association from Dan’s mind.

“Mr. Shaeffer?”


“Will you come with me, please?”

The nurse was businesslike as she recorded his blood pressure and weight.  She led Dan down a hall to an exam room where he waited for the doctor.  Mercifully, she didn’t require him to disrobe and wrap himself in a blue paper gown.

Doctor Stern breezed through the door with Dan’s chart in hand. He shook Dan’s hand with a firm grip, just a millimeter short of crushing.  This guy’s fit, thought Dan.  Dr. Stern sat in a chair opposite him, looked squarely into his eyes, and asked how he’d been since his last appointment.

“No symptoms.  I’ve been exercising and for the most part, eating well.  What does the blood work show?”

“First, I’m glad to see that you’ve lost eight pounds.  That’s excellent for ten weeks.  Your blood pressure is down too, 132 over 80.  That’s very good.  And your blood work has moved in the right direction, as well.  Your triglycerides are 145, and your HDL, that’s the one that’s supposed to be high, is high enough at 45.  This is very good news.  What have you been doing?”

“I’ve been working out on an elliptical machine, cutting out the junk food and the beer.  I’m meditating and trying to work shorter, smarter hours.”  As he spoke, he wondered how much the doctor was listening.  As a test, he could have slipped into his report “eating muskrat halves in heavy syrup,” just to see if the doctor’s expression changed, but there seemed little fun to be had here.

“Well, whatever you’re doing, keep it up.  How do you feel?”

“I feel like I’m getting my life back.”

“Dan, you keep moving the numbers in this direction and you’ll live to a ripe old age.  Any questions or concerns?”

“No, Doctor.”

“Great.  I’d like to see you again in six months.  I’ll leave a form for your blood work at the front desk.  Get your blood drawn two weeks before your next appointment.”

The doctor rose, shook Dan’s hand, gathered the file, pivoted left, and vanished through the now closing door.

As he left the medical building, Dan, with apparently a lot more miles left in him, felt the sun warm his face.  Standing by his car, he paused for a few breaths and caught a trace of the sea on the breeze from the bay.

Click here to read Chapter 44.

Have you made life-style changes that have turned around a difficult medical condition? Have you coached people through life-style changes. Please comment.

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CHAPTER 19 – Building Team Trust

The next day Dan and Michele sat side by side in the Thoreau room for their 8:00AM meeting. Dan drank coffee, and Michele sipped her Grandfather’s tea from a travel mug. On the table before them, lay the report.

Pointing to it, Michele said, “How does it seem to you today?”

“A little more reasonable. I can see where they get their opinions.”

“What are they telling you?” she said.

“My staff respects my knowledge, but they feel oppressed by me and the project. They think I work them too hard. One person used the words ‘slave driver.’ Two of my non-technical superiors are very concerned about the viability of the project, and a third feels out of the loop. Someone else said I was condescending and opaque. They also doubt that I understand how the project affects their business. And my peers don’t think I listen to them either. They think my teams don’t cooperate with theirs.”

“And what do you think?” said Michele.

“It still bothers me to read it, but I also think if I were in their shoes, I might feel the same way. Anyway, whether their opinions are justified or not, they feel the way they feel. I can’t really argue with that, can I?”

“No, it’s never worth arguing with them; better to just move things forward. But first, remember, you’re now at absolutely the most difficult point in this process. You’re sitting with some hard feedback. You still have many of your old emotional reactions to people and situations, and it’s still too early to form a complete vision of where you want to take your organization. Plus, you have little proof that anything I have to teach you will work.”

“Hey Michele, don’t hold back. Tell me the bad news.”

“This is the lowest point. It gets better from here.”

“How will that happen?”

“While you’re waiting for your vision to take shape, you build your capacity to inspire trust and lead your stakeholders forward. You build that trust through listening, partnering, and delivering what you promise. Your work with the ALIVE skills will give you the resilience, clarity, and courage to earn trust quickly. Even though there are no visible signs yet, we’ve already set the process of change in motion by interviewing people. As you begin to act differently, they’ll notice.

“Hey, that all sounds good, but I need practical next steps. I’m at a loss here. What am I supposed to do?”

“This report is the starting point for building trust. First, you meet with your stakeholders and acknowledge the messages they sent through the interviews. You thank them for the time and thought they put into the feedback. You share the main themes that emerged, and you let them know that you want to create, along with them, a collaborative working environment that will be productive and rewarding for everyone. Later, you may want to hold an offsite meeting for your entire team, but first you meet one on one with everyone who gave you feedback. You ask if they would be willing to tell you what it’s like from their side of the working relationship; and you listen. You don’t defend, debate, or rebut. You simply listen to what they say, without taking it personally.”

“Sounds like I’m going to hear a lot more complaints,” he said.

“You will, but I promise the conversations won’t be that painful – not if you have a clear idea of what you want to create in these meetings. But you’re the one who has to have them, and if you don’t want to have them, it will show. Remember, you’re not the only one who has faced the problem of building and rebuilding trust. Stephen M. R. Covey devoted an entire book to the subject called: The Speed of Trust. It would be an excellent resource for you right now.

“The most fundamental question is about your intent: Do you want to build an organization where people can exchange information and learn without fear? Do you want to build trust?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, OK,” he said. “I’ll be a good leader, Coach, honest I will.”

“I like your approach – kicking and screaming your way into mature leadership.”

“Hey,” Dan smiled. “We need to utilize my strengths.”

“Indeed we do. By the way, did you have a chance to try what I showed you yesterday about smiling with the breath and moving the joints?”

“I did some last night at bedtime. I slept better, and I woke up this morning with more energy. And I practiced it this morning in the car on the way to work, during a conference call. C As I listened to the latest litany of problems, I was less frustrated.”

“Good. Soon, I’ll explain how you can apply what you’ve learned in other practical ways,” she said.

“Can I use it to lose weight?” he said.

“As a matter of fact, you can.”

“Did your grandfather teach you all of this?”

“Not all of it, but I guarantee he would have a lot to say on the subject of listening without taking things personally. It’s an essential theme for him. “Why?”

“Because listening is one of the central elements of tai chi. I can’t really explain it. You’d have to see it to understand it.”

“I’d like to see that,” he said. “Is it possible?”

“You mean see my grandfather?

“Yeah. You sound surprised.”

“I am. Grandfather is an acquired taste. I’ve never taken a client to meet him before, but if you want to see him, he teaches a class every Saturday morning in Golden Gate Park – Master Wu’s tai chi class, as his students call it. Do you want to go?”

“Would you meet me there?” asked Dan.

“Sure, but I thought you worked weekends,” she said.

“I’ve been trying to cut my hours. How about this Saturday?”

“OK,” said Michele. “You’d probably enjoy it, but be warned. Though an encounter with my grandfather is always valuable, he is unpredictable. You’re sure you want to go?”


“We can meet at 8:30. I’ll e-mail you directions. Now, let’s dig into the report.”

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CHAPTER 17 – Executive 360 Debrief Tip: Lighten Up, Dude

The breakfast offerings in the company cafeteria included oily home fries and eggs any way you want them, if you were prepared to wait. Dan relished the ample supply of free Starbuck’s coffee, and he could always find an isolated corner there for a 7:30 AM meeting.

Michele, in her black pant suit, dark plum silk shirt, and jade pendant suspended on a fine gold chain, looked somewhat out of place. Yet, the longer he sat in her presence the more she seemed to carry her own sense of place, her own comfort. Across from one another on two plastic chairs at a Formica table, her straight posture, smile, and clear eyes drew his attention to just how weary he was.

Last night, before going to bed, he had glanced at Michele’s interview report in preparation for this meeting. He expected a mixture of appreciative comments and some of the normal griping. But each successive section – peers, direct reports, and superiors – hit him like a one, two, three punch. It was 2:00 AM before he attempted sleep.

By 3:00 AM, his imagined conversations in which he set people straight had run all possible permutations of phrasing, and then began to repeat on their own, in shuffle mode. They had no idea, none of them did, what it took to keep this project together. He thought of his networks outside the company and wondered how long it would take to line up another job. Then he thought, No, I need to finish this project well and professionally.

Eyes open in the darkness, and tired of his own thoughts, he recalled what Michele had taught him. He imagined the rhythm of her voice instructing him how to breathe. Gradually, he slowed his breath down, moved his entire torso with each inhale, and let go on each exhale. Then, it was morning.

Now, over breakfast in the cafeteria, Michele asked him, “How did the report strike you?”

The laugh that emerged from Dan surprised him. “How did it strike me?” he said. Why, he thought, why is this so funny? As the laugh continued, recruiting more of his body, it carried on with a life of its own and the fact that he was laughing seemed funny all by itself.

Looking down through a blur of tears at the twenty page report, his emphatic scribbles, highlighted sections and exclamation points, he closed his eyes and laughed all the more. Still laughing, he felt he was crying, too. He realized that Michele had asked him a question.

“Fine,” he managed to answer, and that brought a new wave which rolled on until his laugh gradually, gently set him down in front of Michele in the cafeteria. “Fine. It struck me just fine, thank you.”

They sat in silence amid the distant voices and clatter of plates and trays.

“Apparently, I needed that,” said Dan.

“Yes,” said Michele, who had quietly laughed along with him, “We all need a good belly laugh now and again.”

Dan looked around and was glad to see they were alone in their corner of the cafeteria. He pointed to the report. “What do you think of this? And don’t tell me it’s more important what I think of it.”

“It’s important what each of us thinks, because together we can understand what it’s telling us about how to make you a more effective leader. And the short answer to your question is: I’ve seen worse.”

“And you’ve seen better,” he said.

“Dan, you’re talking to someone who believes in the compost theory of leadership development. This is the stuff that makes you grow. If the report were too awful I would tell you. But it’s not. I took you on because I trust your intelligence and your capacity to learn. There’s nothing in here that isn’t 100% workable. It’s actually perfect.”

“Remember,” she said, “these interviews are a snapshot in time. Because of the way we’ll work, people’s perceptions could change dramatically in six months. May I tell you how I read this?”

“By all means,” he said.

“Here’s what I see. You are a highly intelligent and capable man. No one disputes this, not even your detractors. No one questions your dedication; nor does anyone think this project is a piece of cake. People enjoy your humor, except when it’s leveled at them, and they want you to succeed. There are also some hard feelings and mistrust. Do you agree with me so far?”

“Yes, I do,” he said picking up the report. “But what do I do with this information?”

“What’s your instinct? What do you want to do?”

He dropped the report back on the table.

“Besides putting plastic explosives underneath certain people’s houses?”

“Yes, besides that.”

“I don’t know. Talk to them, maybe,” he said.

“Yes, you need to talk to them. They’ve taken the time to be interviewed, express their opinions, and share their observations. What do you think they want in return?”

“Well, they don’t want business as usual. They want to see that I’ve listened to them.”

“Exactly, they want to see a change. And it’s up to you to decide what changes you want to make. I’ll teach you how to have productive conversations with the people who were interviewed. I’d also like to add the third ALIVE skill. It’s easy to learn and it will dramatically improve how the conversations go with your stakeholders. Are you interested in learning it now?”

“Barely,” said Dan.

“Out of 100 percent, how much of you is interested?”

“About 3%,” said Dan.

“If only 3% of you is interested, what’s the remaining 97% interested in?”

“Not much. Actually, that’s not true. But I have these moments when I feel like the project, the people, the politics – it’s overwhelming.”

“Would you like to try an experiment with how you’re feeling right now?”

“Yeah, sure,” replied Dan in a flat voice.

“All right, from the work we’ve done, you know what your body feels like when it’s breathing freely. Use your breath now to sense where your body feels tense or deadened.”

Dan shifted in his seat and noticed the small movement of his chest in response to his inhale.

“What do you notice?” asked Michele. “And where in your body do you feel it?””

“My chest feels tight. I’m hardly breathing.”

“It’s good that you’re aware of that. Now, I’m to give you some instructions. Don’t worry about making logical sense of them. Take the tightness in your chest and link it to your face, so that your face expresses any emotion that may be associated with the sensations in your chest. Just relax, and let your face respond. And feel how your body wants to move.”

Dan’s head moved slightly downward. He closed his eyes and his lips tightened.

“Are you OK with this?” asked Michele.

Dan nodded, eyes still closed.

“Now,” said Michele, “reading your face from the inside, tell me, what is that emotion?”

“It’s as though I’m saying, ‘Too bad. I wish it wasn’t this way.’ It feels like regret.”

“OK, stay with it for a few moments while I tell you about emotions. Emotions come and go. They have their onset, their fullest expression, and then they dissolve. When they fully dissolve, the tension in the body that’s associated with them goes, too. To completely let them go, this next instruction is important: Never mind what these sensations are about. For the moment, just focus on the sensations themselves. Can you do that?”


“Simply get to know them, just as they are, without having to change them. Observe precisely how your body holds this constellation of sensations.”

“Yeah, I can feel it,” said Dan, his eyes still closed.

“Perfect,” said Michele, “Can you comfortably experience the sensations just as they are?”

Dan paused for awhile and then nodded.

“Now, can you also let them soften? Let them complete themselves and dissolve, so that you’re at rest. And while that’s happening, simply observe how your body returns to relaxation and ease, moment by moment. Take all the time you need to resolve these sensations.”

After awhile, Dan’s posture straightened and his face relaxed.

“What’s it like now, Dan, to take a breath?”

“Easier, more free in my upper chest, but now the tightness has moved lower down.”

They worked with this new sensation in a similar way. Reading his face from the inside, he felt the tightness was an expression of anger. Through observing and breathing, he dissolved these sensations, as well.

“Dan,” said Michele. “Rather than explain to you how and why this works, I’d like to show you one more skill. Reading your own expression offers you insight. It’s the “I” in ALIVE, and there’s more to learn about it, but let’s move on to how you can use your facial expression to change your mood and give you more energy. We’re getting to the fourth skill, the “L” in ALIVE, which stands for ‘Love.’”

“This is easy. Think of something or someone that brings a smile to your face. It could be a pet, a place in nature, a person – just call to mind that experience and let your enjoyment show up on your face as a smile. Allow the joy to be so deep that you feel it in your eyes. It doesn’t have to be a big expression but it needs to involve your eyes. An authentic smile radiates from the outer corners of the eyes. It can’t be faked. Got something in mind?”

An image of Maggie, giggling, with her face buried in a pile of stuffed animals on her bed, burst into his mind.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Yes, I can see that you do. Now, take that feeling of the smile in the eyes and let it deepen.”

Dan’s expression broadened.

“Nicely done. Feel how the smile fills your whole face. Now feel its qualities. Is it buoyant? Peaceful? Fun-loving? Wise? Joyous? There are many facets to happiness…yes? Let it deepen into kindness…wisdom…love…appreciation. Relax your facial expression and you will still feel the energy of the smile at the outer corner of your eyes.”

Dan nodded.

“Now, let’s get the rest of your body involved. Take that feeling, the energy of the smile, and move it to your belly. Smile into your belly as though it is a vast storehouse that holds immense happiness. And just as before, yield to the breath on the inhale. On the exhale, relax into being still and alive.

“Breathe and smile, so that you yield happily to the breath. Now let the breath expand to include more of the torso. Fill the entire torso with the energy of a smile on the inhale. On the exhale, settle your attention peacefully into your belly…Good, keep going.”

After a few minutes Michele asked, “How are you doing?”

“Fine,” said Dan, very still as he exhaled.

“Linking the smile with the breath allows you to feel joy and love with your whole body-mind. Take a breath now, and feel joy for the full duration of an inhale…and an exhale… If you want to feel even more vitality, let your joints subtly open on the inhale, and relax on the exhale.”

After a few more minutes she told him, “Let your attention rest in the belly, and let your eyes open of their own accord.”

Dan opened his eyes.

“How do you feel?” asked Michele.

“Relaxed…and happy.”

“Yeah, you look happy and relaxed. Do you remember how you felt when we started this process?” she asked.

“I was in a bad mood.”

“Right. You worked with anger and regret. Connecting with those feelings and letting them go made it much easier for you to feel joyful. Notice how dramatically different you feel? Do you feel more resourceful, now?”

“I do,” he said.

“Like you could look those reports in the face?”

“At this moment they don’t seem like much of a problem.”

“They aren’t a problem. They simply require your resourceful attention. Can you meet tomorrow, so we can dig into them?”

“How’s 8:00 AM in the Thoreau Room?” Dan said.

“8:00 AM it is,” said Michele.


Do you have a reliable way of shifting your mood? How have you applied it? Please tell us your story in the comment section.

Click here to read Chapter 18. 


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Tara Brach: The Monkey Mind

Dragons-at-work-Tara-Brach-Chapter 16 interview

Tara Brach

Tara Brach is a leading western teacher of Buddhist meditation, emotional healing and spiritual awakening. She has practiced and taught meditation for over 35 years, with an emphasis on vipassana (mindfulness or insight) meditation. Tara is the senior teacher and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington. A clinical psychologist, Tara is the author of Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha and the upcoming book, True Refuge-Three Gateways to a Fearless Heart (Bantam, 2012).

Tara is nationally known for her skill in weaving western psychological wisdom with a range of meditative practices. Her approach emphasizes compassion for oneself and others, mindful presence and the direct realization and embodiment of natural awareness.

SJ: We’re looking at Chapter 16 which opens with Michele returning home from work to find her Taoist Grandfather watching The Sopranos on TV. Their conversation moves from the Sopranos to how to trap a monkey: Simply place a peanut in the hole of a tree. The monkey will reach into the tree to seize the peanut, but holding onto it, his hand is now too big to remove from the hole. Refusing to release the prize, he is trapped.

Tara, what drew your attention as you read this chapter?

TB: I was immediately captivated that Grandfather watched The Sopranos on TV because I really enjoyed The Sopranos myself, and it’s a juicy parallel to Dragons at Work. Tony Soprano was absolutely addicted to anger and to control. It’s his modus operandi to get what he wants in the world: through violence, lashing out and trying to control other people’s lives. In a less criminal and more corporate context, that’s what’s going on for Dan. He’s trying to manage his project by controlling, grasping and lashing out.

SJ: Yes. Dan is caught, trapped by his own limitations and behavior. What else are you drawn to?

TB: Well, clearly this is creating suffering for Dan. We know that he’s had a health scare, but it’s also creating suffering for the people who work for him, for his family and for himself. His life has gotten really small. Dan, like the rest of us, is trying, in some way, to be happy or find gratification or feel better in his life, but his strategy to control people isn’t working. And neither is his the way he’s running his project.

For me, one of the high points is when Michele gives Dan a taste of how to relax. If he can learn how to relax, he might be able to break the pattern by interrupting it. The word interrupt is a really important word. Every one of us gets caught in a chain of reaction that causes trouble for us. We have it with our thoughts, our feelings and our behavior. And if we learn to pause in the midst of it, if we can interrupt it, then we have a possibility of contacting inner resources and we can change the reaction.

In my work with people, I call this the “sacred art of pausing.” If we can stop in the midst of the reaction, if we can pause even for a short amount of time (and there can be different signals to stop) then it’s possible to interrupt and make a change.

I have a favorite line from Viktor Frankl. He said, “Between the stimulus and the response is space, and in that space is our power and our freedom.”

SJ: That’s wonderful.

TB: Yes. I remember hearing it at one of my meditation classes. We have a lot of people involved with 12-Step programs. One of them has sponsored so many people that he’s practically famous as an AA sponsor. He told me that he’d first heard me talk about the pause a few years earlier and then said, “Learning to pause for five seconds is as helpful as a year of meetings.”

SJ: Earlier you mentioned the ability to recognize when you need to pause; that there are signs that you’re going off track. What do you see with Dan?

TB: Michele is drawing Dan’s attention to certain flags that will help him recognize he’s in trouble. He’s in a chain of reactivity and there’s so much confusion. He needs a simple way to bring himself back to a resourceful state. I use a process with the acronym RAIN.

First, you Recognize. You simply recognize Okay, this is what’s going on. That pause allows whatever you’re feeling to be there. You’re just stopping. You’re not trying to change anything because the space you need is not there. If you immediately try to change things without pausing and allowing, you bring the same energy to what’s next. So, it’s recognize and allow.

And then you need time to investigate what’s happening. That’s the “I” of RAIN. And I’ll add that one has to investigate with kindness, because if there’s not some quality of gentleness, you again won’t be able to really see what’s going on. My sense is that’s the process Dan is going into.

When you pause, recognize, allow and investigate with kindness, that brings you to “N”, which is non-identification. That’s what I love so much about Grandfather – he actually names it. He notes that you’re moving away from being identified with all the cravings and the wants – I want this, and I need it that way, and you have to do it my way. If you’re not identified with all the wanting, you’re freer to come from a larger sense of your being.

SJ: In my experience, the more I enter that space, the more familiar it becomes and the easier to access. And that affects my sense of identity, as well.

TB: That’s exactly it. For me identity is the best word. You become more familiar with that space where you’re just present and aware and relating to what’s going on. It gives us more of a sense of our real being – that we’re much more than that self that was lashing out or hanging on.

I sometimes share a story that really touched me about a man in the Army who had a really bad temper.

A soldier was sent to a mindfulness-based course for anger management. In the mindfulness training he learned to notice the flags that let him know when he’s about to go off. And how to recognize the feeling and then allow whatever it is it to be there. Just pause, find that space, investigate, and so on.

One day he was off duty. He went to the supermarket, piled up a whole cart of stuff, and got into the check- out line. In front of him was a woman with just one item, and she had a child in her arms and she’s taking her time. She and the clerk are oohing and aahing over the child, and this guy’s temper flared. He’s thinking I’m a busy guy. I’ve got things to do. This woman has only one item, and she and the clerk are just oohing and aahing over this little baby. He started feeling really angry.

And then he recognized the flag and he remembered his training. He paused, and he went inside and began RAIN. He began to notice what was going on, recognizing that underneath was that familiar anger, that agitation. I’m not going to get where I need to go and get everything done. He felt his breath. He calmed down.

When he opened his eyes, he noticed the child was kind of cute. When it was finally his turn, and the woman and her child had left, he said to the clerk, “That child was really cute.” The clerk beamed and said, “Oh, that’s my child. My husband was killed in Iraq last year. My mom brings the baby every day so I have a little chance to be with him.” He realized how much he was missing what was happening for other people, and for himself, when he was lost in that chain reaction of anger. The story perfectly illustrates the power of pausing and deepening our attention and coming home to a truer sense of who we are.

SJ: How did your own meditative practice affect your ability to pause and connect with others?

TB: In this chapter Grandfather talks about the monkey trapped by refusing to let go of a peanut. In my own life, the peanut I was grasping was this need to prove myself worthy. I was racing around busily trying to convince everybody I was worthy and not finding, in that pause, that Hey, here we are together. The love is here.

In Chinese script, the word for “busy” is similar to the word for “heart killing.” I realized that in trying so hard to prove I was okay I was armoring over my heart. I now call that the “trance of unworthiness.” I’m not alone in this – so many people feel inadequate, and they spend so much time trying to prove themselves.

My process was sensing the flags of feeling the “not okayness,” or that something was wrong with me, or something was missing, and then letting that be a reminder to pause. Then I would use the mindfulness practice to just recognize and allow the feeling of “not good enough” however it arose, feeling the fear of failure, or whatever it was.

In this way, I deepened my connection with those feelings. I learned I could just be with the feelings in my body until I could hold those feelings compassionately. First I developed a sense of being present with the feelings. As I practiced more, that presence became very compassionate.

That way of attending became more familiar to me as a way of being – more real than the self that was trying to prove herself. And that is the end of RAIN. I was no longer identified with that unworthy self. I was resting more in a kind of presence. I went through thousands and thousands and thousands of rounds of that, of in some way catching the flags of “not okay” trying to prove whatever it was and pausing.

SJ: You write so eloquently about that in your books. What I love about your teaching is how you use your own experiences as examples. You’re willing to reveal yourself. Some teachers seem inaccessible because they seldom share anything about their own process of growth.

TB: Well, mine were so in my face, I couldn’t avoid them. I learned, and continue to learn from my own foibles. But I love this Lao Tzu piece you chose, Stephen. I find in the moments when we’re not so lost in the trance of “what do I need to do to be more successful?” or fear of failure… in those moments it becomes crystal clear that we’re in it together. We’re in this boat, and if there’s a leak on your side it’s the same boat so it’s my leaky boat, too. The less I’m focused on what’s wrong with me the clearer I am that we’re all connected. Then it becomes much more natural to spontaneously want to take care of us, not me.

I love this line: “one who recognizes all men to be members of his own body.” The world lives in our heart. There’s not really anything outside. It’s all part of us. So, for me, meditation has been very powerful in waking up that understanding.

SJ: Can you say a few words about your new book and how it’s a continuation or an elaboration of your first book, Radical Acceptance?

TB: Radical Acceptance primarily addresses what to me is one of the most pervasive kinds of suffering: that we’re often at war with ourselves. In my twenties it became clear to me that I wasn’t my own best friend. I was at war with myself a lot. Radical Acceptance is the inquiry of how do we befriend ourselves? How do we forgive ourselves and really embrace this life beyond our own small concerns?

Over the last few decades, along with almost everybody I know, I have faced huge changes. This body got older. I encountered sickness. I encountered the loss of beloved people. I’ve watched myself and other people lose our memories and deal with various major life losses.

The inquiry of my new book, True Refuge, is how, in the face of the greatest losses, we find a sense of peace and freedom and real happiness. That was my compelling inquiry when my health took a major nosedive. I lost a lot of my capacity to walk up hills and on sand and I couldn’t swim. I was very attached to being outside and moving easily, and I felt a huge amount of grief around that loss. I remember one particular day where that question arose. No matter how much loss there is, how do I find a sense of peace and happiness, no matter what?

That’s the inquiry of the book, and I use my own story and what I’ve discovered about true refuge. And I like the word “refuge,” because so often we take what we might call false refuge. We try to take care of ourselves in ways that in the short term might give us temporary relief, but don’t really give us a deep sense of peace. And so True Refuge looks at how we come home to the love and the awareness that can hold our lives.

SJ: Thank you, Tara. As always, it’s a pleasure to speak with you, and I look forward to reading your new book.

To find out more about Tara’s work, teaching, books, and CDs click here.

When have you been able to successfully pause and expand your compassionate awareness? Has this self-reflection helped you in your professional life? Tell us the story in the comment section.

Yielding to the Breath With Your Whole Body

Check your breathing in this moment. As you inhale or exhale what parts of your torso move with the breath, and what parts remains still? Does it feel like your muscles, and ribs yield to an incoming breath, or resist it? When you exhale do you relax? How long does it take to complete a full breath?

If you’re practiced in breathing you’ll be able to take a breath that almost instantly calms, refocuses, and energizes you. While it’s true that even unpracticed people can interrupt angry states by simply taking a breath, breathing practice develops a more profound capacity to shift states and attention.

From meditative arts to martial arts, singing, and athletic performance – breathing enhances performance. Looking at the sheer variety of techniques these arts employ you might wonder if there’s any “right way” to breathe?

For nearly half a century I’ve practiced techniques from a wide variety of disciplines, and I now prefer to teach the gentle Taoist methods that produce profound responses quickly.

We dwell in the realm between sky and earth. In the Chinese internal energy arts you’ll find practices designed to deepen our awareness or our human condition called the Marriage of Heaven and Earth. Their purpose is to draw in and integrate the sublime qualities above and below us.

Imagine that, like a tree, your roots extend deeply into the earth while your leaves draw in the heavenly energy of our star, the Sun. And imagine as you inhale, your rib cage and torso make more and more room for the sky inside your belly and chest. You do this by becoming soft and yielding to the breath, so there is no place in you that cannot accommodate and melt to an inspiration of breath.

On your exhale, continue to relax. Become still and alert, so the next breath enters an even more receptive body. If you stay in the moment each incoming breath will feel new and fresh with each inhale. You feel innocent.

If you learn how to integrate not only your torso but your limbs, hands, and feet into your breath you’ll breathe with your whole body.

The A.L.I.V.E. system that Michele teaches Dan will get you started on whole body breathing. In an upcoming post my friend and colleague Anat Baniel will also teach you how to make your body responsive to a complete breath.

Here are some audio instructions that will help you yield to the breath:

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Please share your experiences with the breathing audio in the comments section.

CHAPTER 14 – Work Place Stress: Can You Breathe in This Joint?

Dragons At Work Work Place StressDan’s wardrobe reflected his preference for simplicity and comfort. He could reach into his closet in the dark and pull out a shirt and chinos which almost always matched. He often chose his clothes this way to keep the closet light from waking Janice. Today’s blind selection paired a light blue polo shirt with khakis. His brown Italian loafers could be mistaken as a nod to style, but for Dan, they were simply the most comfortable shoes he owned. When they inevitably wore out, Janice replaced them with an identical pair purchased through an online discount retailer. In Silicon Valley, where pricy wristwatches conveyed wealth or taste, Dan’s $19.00 Casio made a different kind of statement. It answered the question: “What time is it?”

10:00 a.m. on Monday. As Michele and Dan settled into their swivel chairs in the Thoreau room, Dan asked, “What do we do today, Coach?”

“We’ll explore the use of feedback in our coaching. Without third party observations, you and I would only be guessing which changes in your leadership style may matter most to the people around you. So the next step is for me to interview your boss, your peers, and your direct reports.”

“Sounds scary,” he said.

“Compared to what?”

“Blissful ignorance,” he said.

“Ah, yes, the choice many of us prefer.”

“Explain how this works,” he said.

“You and I decide whose feedback would be useful,” said Michele. “We generate a list of about a dozen people who have worked with you closely. Then, I interview them, compile the data, and together we work with the report I generate.”

Dan took a deep breath and let it out with an audible sigh.

“What are your reservations?”

“You’re in for an earful from them, Michele. I hope they talk about my results, not just my shortcomings in the niceties of management.”

“You may be surprised at what we’ll get,” said Michele. “Whatever comes back, will be helpful. If you genuinely respond to people’s concerns, it can have a tremendous positive effect. This is not charm school. The interviews can reveal where precise changes will yield more effective leadership.”

“I think I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Dan.

“Spoken like a true empiricist,” said Michele. “The interviews also encourage people to be invested in your change process and more willing to participate in it. Often people are oblivious to changes in their coworkers. The interview process will sensitize your peers, direct reports, and superiors to the positive changes you make. Rather than avoid difficult people, include everyone who can make a difference for you.”

They compiled a list of thirteen key players: Dan’s boss, three senior executives, four peers, and five direct reports.

“If we have any luck with scheduling, I’ll have the report written in two weeks, three at the outside,” she said. “Meanwhile, there are other things we can work on, including stress reduction. By the way, did you like the breathing and ease of movement practices I showed you the other day?”

“I felt relaxed as you walked me through it, and I was able to recapture some of the feeling listening to the recording you made for me.”

“Excellent! You tried it on your own,” she said.

“I listened to the breathing instructions on my way home after our last session. By the time I got home I actually felt less stressed. I even listened to your recording in bed, and I think it helped me get to sleep. Then I just forgot about it. I haven’t done it since.”

“You don’t need to practice a lot. Still, if that little bit I showed you had an effect, it’s a good sign. We may move toward your health goals more quickly than I thought. Are you ready to learn your next skill?”

“I am ready,” he said.

“Let’s start with what you’ve learned so far. Show me your breathing.”

With his hands on his thighs, Dan began breathing into his belly. He coordinated the movement of his torso and the joints of his hands with the rhythm of his breath.

“Nicely done! Now, we’ll add the shoulders, elbows and wrists into the mix so every part of your body from the belly up will move with the breath. Breathing that way will increase your vitality significantly. This completes the first two skills of A-L-I-V-E – the “V” stands for vitality, and the “E” for ease. The next skills will change your experience exponentially. For now, let’s stay with the breathing.”

Michele demonstrated how to involve the upper torso, shoulders, arms, and wrists. By the end of the lesson Dan could move his body in synchrony with full, relaxed inhales and exhales.

She encouraged him to continue to relax and focus on his movement. “Let the breath move you,” she urged.

When they stopped, Dan reported he felt energized and relaxed.

“Good,” she said. “Most people only use the opening and closing of the joints at the start of each session to integrate their whole body into their breathing practice. But you can use it anytime to revitalize you. You’re picking this up very quickly. Were you an athlete?”

“I swam in high school and the first two years of college. Then I got too busy.”

“Maybe that’s where you developed a good sense of your body and how to breathe,” Michele said. “I think it’s helping you now. It’s best to practice with concentration in short sessions. The trick is not to turn this into an obligation. Let it be easy and enjoyable – something you can play with. Try it before and during meetings when you want your head clear.”

“Lucky me. Today I’m booked solid with opportunities to practice.”

Of the people in your network, whose feedback would you be most reluctant to hear? Do you avoid asking them for feedback? Me too! Give me a break. We’re all human. Leave comments.


Click here to read Chapter 15.


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CHAPTER 11 – Workplace Vending Machine Destroys Exec’s Diet

Dragons At Work Chapter 11 Workplace Vending Machine Destroys Exec’s DietAfter Michele left, Dan headed for the water dispenser, next to the snack vending machine. Walking past it, he scanned its offerings and turned back to face them head on. Ever since his nutritionist handed him a list of what he could and could not eat, a blazing poster size image of this machine was branded in his memory – its peanut butter crackers, M&Ms, Twizzlers, trail mix, Clark Bars, Reese’s Pieces, Lay’s Potato Chips, Fritos, and Snickers.

The moment he read his nutrition plan, even though he had just eaten, he felt hungry and deprived. Now, in the second week of his diet, he had gained three pounds. He’d calculated that if he continued at that rate, he would weigh 300 pounds in a year. That math eluded him now as he fumbled for change.

Click here to read Chapter 12.


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Stephen Comments On The Relaxed Coach – The Relaxed Client

Dragons-At-Work-Author-Stephen-JosephsChapter 7 covers a lot of territory. Michele and Dan design their coaching relationship, select the important goals, and begin working to improve Dan’s health and vitality.

Michele and Dan agree that 1) the goals of coaching will be his goals, 2) Dan will be open to try new things if they seem promising, 3) he will speak up if he doesn’t like how the coaching is going.

Guided by a series of questions from Michele, Dan chooses to take advantage of Michele’s expertise in Qigong.

It may seem odd to some readers that Michele begins working with Dan’s body so early in the coaching relationship. For that matter, it may seem strange that she includes any attention to Dan’s physical experience at all. Many approach leadership as if it were an entirely cerebral activity, but as a martial arts master, Michele is aware of what a superbly functioning mind-body contributes to excellent performance. She is experienced enough to be surefooted in guiding Dan’s learning process.

She gives Dan a quick and compelling experience of relaxation that he can use at work. He’s interested in pursuing that skill, perhaps because his fear of dying has opened him to trying new things. There is nothing more bracing than an encounter with death. In his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, Steve Jobs said,

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” [Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]

For those of you who are drawn to experience some of what Dan learns, I have provided an audio that guides you through a brief exercise in breathing and attention. I use this in the morning to smooth out and gather my energy and set my intention for the day. It’s best done lying on your back in bed.

Listen to audio: Introduction to Energizing the Lower Center

Listen to audio: Practice Energizing the Lower Center

For coaches who are drawn to use this A-L-I-V-E system in your work, I suggest you begin learning it by yourself. When you are experienced and confident enough, you’ll find it easy to incorporate it into your coaching. I will keep adding A-L-I-V-E instructions to the Dragons at Work website, so you can learn it along with Dan.

In his interview on this chapter, Bill Ryan gives us background on the method of opening and closing the joints that Michele uses. It comes from an ancient Chinese system of healing and martial arts that I began studying with Bill and his teacher, Bruce Frantzis, in 1992. Bruce’s system is vast, and I realized I needed private instruction to guide me. Bill did a great job of filling in the details. If you’re interested in private Skype sessions with him, I recommend you give it a try. Bruce Frantzis’s recent DVD home study courses are excellent, and I recommend them, as well.

Questions for Reflection:

Which brings more to you, you or your renown?
Which brings more to you, you or what you own?
And which would cost you more if it were gone?

Lao Tzu Witter Bynner translation


For Executives: When you coach direct reports to develop them…

  1. Remember that you are their boss as well as someone who occasionally coaches them. Because of these overlapping roles, it is important that you are clear about the boundaries and scope of what’s included in coaching.
  2. Get agreements about the purpose and focus of the coaching.
  3. Agree on how you will both know when progress is achieved.
  4. Collaboratively define how you can both address and get the coaching back on track, if it deviates from what you’ve agreed to.

For Human Resource Executives: When you coach employees at any level of the organization…

  1. Same as above. Considering the many ways you support your organization, your overlapping role relationships can be quite complex. Clarity of boundaries, purpose, and process are essential.
  2. The clearer you are on the point above, the safer your employee/client will feel and the more successful your coaching will be.

For Coaches: In your coaching…

  1. Are there areas that may be specialties of yours or even natural gifts?
  2. Are you comfortable about offering these to clients where appropriate?
  3. Would you like these areas to be part of your brand (what you are known for)?
  4. If so, have you designed your marketing materials and interview processes to let clients know how you may uniquely serve their needs?

In the next week’s chapters Michele observes Dan at a meeting with his team. He gets irritated at a direct report and a pall falls over the meeting. We’ll see how Michele debriefs the meeting and coaches Dan.

Stay tuned.

PS – We’ll cover the 7 Powers Profile as the story unfolds.

CHAPTER 8 – Checking In



Dan called Janice on his way home. He told her about his coaching session with Michele and that she thought that working on his breathing might lower his blood pressure. Janice had read something about that and thought it was worth a try. She wanted to know about Michele – what did she look like, how old was she, and how did she dress? Dan described Michele in the plainest, least enthusiastic way possible. No point in disturbing Janice with descriptions of Michele’s attractiveness.

That night, in his home office, Dan logged into the “7 Powers Profile,” took the assessment, and read his report. It seemed like there were a lot of areas to improve, maybe too many. But he was too tired to worry about it. He needed sleep.

Click here to read Chapter 9.


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CHAPTER 6 – Dan’s Choice

Dragons At Work Chapter 6 - Dans ChoiceBetween brief bouts of exhausted sleep, Dan contemplated hiring a coach.

Could he afford the time? He was over scheduled as it was. He imagined Janice and Maggie visiting him in the hospital, worried and trying not to let it show. In the darkness of their bedroom, Janice sleeping soundly beside him, he ran future scenarios.

By the time he abandoned the idea of sleep and began his day, he decided to hire Michele.

Click here to read Chapter 7.

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