Conflict resolution and perfect pedicures

Perfect pedicureAt the STC Canada West Coast chapter’s March program meeting, Takuro Ishikawa gave a Pecha Kucha presentation on conflict resolution. Although most of us enjoy watching others engage in conflict (novels and movies wouldn’t hold our interest unless there was some kind of conflict that the characters struggled with, whether inner or outer), we usually shy away from situations involving conflict and ourselves.

I have observed this tendency in myself, though the people in my life might find it hard to believe! And one area where I have tended to avoid conflict is when I go to get a pedicure at the salon, or when I’m getting a massage. Experiences that I have designated as pleasurable! I don’t want to deal with conflict or argument when I am supposed to be enjoying myself. This means it’s hard to tell the masseuse or pedicurist when she does something that hurts me. She’s supposed to be an expert, perfectly attuned to me and my needs, wants, and bodily sensations: she’s supposed to be good mom!

Heel injuryOf course this rarely happens, and there’s almost always something that occurs during a session that hurts or is at the very least uncomfortable. I left my most recent pedicure session with two injuries on my feet because the pedicurist was too rough and I didn’t tell her. She scraped my heel raw, scrubbing at an area where people usually have callouses. I didn’t actually have a callous there, so she was scrubbing my tender skin. By the time she hit a nerve it was too late, the damage was done. So why bother telling her? It would only cause tension. Then she dug at the corner of my big toe nail with a sharp object. It is still hurting two days later. But again, too late to tell her after she’s already hurt me.

So what is the result? Pain, and frustration. I wanted a pleasurable experience, and came away with injuries. Perhaps the pedicurist wasn’t present and playing close enough attention to what she was doing. I’d certainly like to place all the blame on her! But I also had a responsibility to let her know how her actions affected me, and I didn’t do it. I didn’t want the conflict!

In addition, every time I go to the salon, any salon, the pedicurist doesn’t cutNote injury on the right side of the big toe nail my toenails short enough! EVERY TIME. They have been trained to do it a certain way, to a certain length. As a runner, I like to keep my nails very short. I explain this, but they think they know better than me. They argue about it. It will give me ingrown toenails if I cut them that short. NOT. It will cause callouses on the end of my toes without the nails to protect them. NOT. I have been doing it this way my whole life, and I know what I want! Basically, it is more difficult to do the pedicure if the nails are short. It is harder to file them, and it is harder to get the polish on without getting it on the skin as well. I wonder if this has anything to do with their reluctance to do what I ask. But it means every time I go, I have to have a discussion about it. And usually I have to ask them to cut them shorter, redoing their work. Or, I can avoid the conflict and leave without getting what I want. Which is what I sometimes do.

This last time, I cut my toenails before I went, so the pedicurist would just have to deal with what was there. This led to a 5-minute lecture on what was wrong with my nails being too short. Jesus christ, they’re my fucking toe nails!

This morning I called the salon owner to deal with the conflict once and for all. I told him about the injuries I sustained during my pedicure, and about the fact that every time I go I get an argument about doing what I ask with regards to toe nail length. He thanked me numerous times for giving him the feedback, said he would speak to his employees about doing what the “guest” asks for, and said next time I go I will get a free pedicure. This whole conversation took about 4 minutes, and was actually very pleasant.

Donald has his own way of dealing with conflictI think the reason I go to the salon is because I enjoy the interactions with the owner! And maybe I’m repeating some kind of pattern of frustration where I keep hoping to have a “good mom” experience but don’t get it. I wonder what will happen next time! If it wasn’t for the offer of the free pedicure, I probably would just stay at home, enjoy my own company, and do it myself. Another way to avoid conflict!

In case any of you are interested in learning some new conflict resolution skills, Takuro will be giving a workshop for the STC in the fall. Keep an eye on the STC site for details.

Springing into the light

Vancouver sunriseFriday was the first day of spring: the tipping point when day and night are equal, and now the days are getting longer. More light brings warmth to the earth, helping new life to grow.

I went up into the mountains to check out the snow on my favourite running trail, and found that the trail is almost entirely clear! Even better, I started my run at 6:42 PM, and when I finished it was still light out. Ah, the relief of passing through another winter. We survived the long dark nights, and the trials of the cold time. The reward is longer days, the golden light of spring, and the beauty of spring flowers and budding trees.

Eagle is associated with the direction of the east, which is the direction of New Beginnings: His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Barack Obamathe spring time. Eagle symbolizes seeing with a new perspective. The eagle is known to fly the highest of the birds, and has symbolic significance in many cultures throughout history. It is hard to see in the dark, so the turning of the wheel into the light of spring brings an increase of vision, a wider perspective, and an opening into perceiving what is going on in the outer world outside the home. It is a time of transformation and new beginnings.

The element associated with spring is fire—the fire of the sun rise at dawn. The fire that burns away what is no longer needed, making room for new life, new growth, new expression. Meditate on this. What are you ready to burn away in your life? What new form wants to be born into the light? How will you bring your gifts into the world this year?

Safety and the vision fast

Next vision fast: July 5 – 11, 2009 at Monkey Valley

This week I had the great Wyoming fast, 2005pleasure of giving a presentation on the vision fast to the Vancouver chapter of the Society for Technical Communication. Our March STC program was a Pecha Kucha event, in which speakers each discuss 20 slides for 20 seconds, making the presentations a short and informative 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

People are curious about the vision fast or vision quest, and intrigued by the idea of it. One of the things that deters people from trying it is fear of being alone in the wilderness, and particularly fear of wild animals. This is something I too had to face, and have since come to terms with, both as a participant and as a guide. I have had encounters with bears in the wilderness, and even saw a cougar in the distance once. As I have discussed elsewhere in this blog, I have come to realize that it is a rare privilege to encounter a magnificent wild animal like a cougar or a bear.

But, more importantly for the faster who has concerns about such encounters, these animals are very aware of humans and will avoid them if at all possible. The danger of attack from a wild animal is miniscule. My co-guide, Kim Ashley, and I thoroughly prepare fasters at Monkey Valley so that they know how to behave if an encounter happens. With some common sense and a little bit of advice it is easy to make sure an encounter with a wild animal is a blessing and not a danger. As guides, it is very important for us to make sure that each faster returns safely to her or his people. We are confident in our ability to teach you what you need to know to do that.

Vision fast Colorado 2006Another question people have about the vision fast is about the “no shelter” prohibition. The modern-day fast is adapted for city folks in a northern climate, and, again, making sure the faster returns safely is of primary importance. So the vision fast as taught by the School of Lost Borders and at Monkey Valley provides for temporary shelter in the form of a tarp, or even a tent if the faster feels this would be necessary. We teach tarp craft before the fasters go out, so that you learn how to put up a tarp that will keep out all the elements. Believe me, I have huddled under a tarp in the most frightening of storms and managed to stay warm and dry!

We also use a buddy system, in which each Women\'s Fast in California, 2008person leaves a sign at a buddy pile once a day, so that we know everyone is safe. If something should happen, help will be on the way in less than 24 hours. Much of the time in the first two days of preparation before the fast is spent in teaching fasters what they need to know to stay safe on their fasts, and during this time we teach the buddy system as well. We also provide materials to help you prepare when you register to do a fast at Monkey Valley. If you would like to read more about the vision fast and surviving alone for three days and three nights in the wilderness, I recommend The Trail to the Sacred Mountain—A Vision Fast Handbook for Adults. This is required reading before doing a fast at Monkey Valley.

I hope these photos of groups of people who have survived their fasts will inspire you to try it yourself! The Programs page has more information about the upcoming fasts at Monkey Valley. Check it out.

The white air of winter

Harbour on a sunny dayWinter is coming to an end. We’ve already begun Daylight Savings. The first day of spring is March 20. But there’s still a stinging bite of cold in the air in Vancouver, and we had snow a few days ago, which is still clinging to my back deck. At my sister’s place in Horsefly they still have five feet of snow on the ground!

So let’s celebrate some of the qualities of winter before it slips away. The colour for the winter (north) part of the wheel is white. And the element is air. Both of these make sense in northern climates, where a winter storm can turn the whole world into a mass of white, with no discernible difference between sky and land. It was like this at my new home overlooking the Burrard Inlet during the snow storm a few days ago. The entire inlet was filled with white clouds, totally blocking out the mountains across the way, and even the water of the harbour. Fat white flakes drifted lazily through the air, against the background of white. So it is easy to see the literal meaning of the white and air qualities associated with the north.

But there are deeper meanings to these qualities. In the Sufi teaching of the lataif, which are subtle centres in the body, the white aspect is located in the solar plexus, and is associated with will. Will can take on many flavours, but the essence of it is support. This can feel like the solid support of a snow-capped mountain, or the soft fluffy support of white clouds. When a person is in touch with this aspect of their being, it feels like there is no strain or effort required to sit up straight or stand tall. There is an ease to one’s experience of oneself and events. Connecting to will in a deeper way, one moves from the personal will to a sense of universal will, which can feel like a vast slow movement of air, space, water, or even of being on a vast spaceship travelling through the sky. The association with air is evident at the deepest experience of universal will, and in the more superficial experience of being supported by soft clouds, as if this substance of support is in the air all around one.

Boat on snowy dayI recently moved to a new home that is surrounded by space, with open expanses in all directions, and with a fairly large body of water below. Being in this beautiful place, so close to nature, with seagulls and bald-headed eagles soaring outside my window, I have been feeling a sense of being part of the vast movement of universal will. It has carried me here to this new home. Its movements feel mysterious and purposeful. While the turning of the earth and the wheel feel circular, the movement of the universal will (wheel?) feels bigger to me, bigger than a planet. And the movement seems to be in a straight line, though maybe it is just so vast that there is no discernable turning to it.

The support of universal will manifests as a sense that this vast force is causing all manifestation to occur, so I don’t actually need to do anything but go along for the ride. It is quite a switch from feeling that I have to make everything happen! One small way I have let this affect me is to not “try” to create a parking space by asking the parking gods to have one ready for me at such-and-such location. Instead, I am just trusting that I will find a good spot. This seems like a very small thing, and I guess it is a small shift in my life. But I feel the difference. Instead of trying, and making an effort, I am saving that little bit of energy by trusting in the universe. And this brings a feeling of relaxation into my experience of parking.

The universal will has carried you through the events and passages of your life too, and here to this web site. Since you are here, maybe there’s a reason! I invite you to explore the energy of the north by going to an open place outside that is exposed to the wind. Let the wind blow over you and through you. Let it empty you. Revel in the cold and emptiness. This is a gift of the north.