Category Archives: Nature

What happens when monarch caterpillars stop eating?

As soon as a monarch caterpillar is born its primary job is to eat. It eats and sleeps, eats and sleeps. Along the way it molts (sheds its skin) five times. It eats so much it even eats its shed skin. It gains 2700 times its original weight. We’re a consumer society. It was the solution that businesses came up with after World War II to keep themselves in business, and the government did its best to help out, hoping to avoid another Great Depression. It worked. Today, we consume more than we ever have: obesity, consumer goods purchases, energy consumption, waste generation, entertainment consumption are all at the highest levels they’ve ever been since we first showed up on the planet. When we consume we feed a hunger – literal or metaphorical. Now that we have enough food to eat (if you’re reading this, that is), this hunger is usually emotional. Back to the butterfly – once it has eaten enough, it forms a chrysalis. 9-14 days later it turns into a butterfly and takes to the air. It no longer needs to eat enough to gain 2700 times its weight. In fact that it would be a pretty bad idea. They need to travel light to make it to Mexico. They start leaving in September. That’s what monarchs do. What do we do when we stop eating? When we’re done consuming and trying to fill a hole there’s a period of waiting and unknown that can be quite unsettling. It’s the visit to the underworld in the Hero’s Journey. We can refuse the call and go back to eating, consuming, preparing. Or we can enter our personal chrysalises and “wait without hope” as T.S. Eliot wrote. If we’re brave enough, we’ll find that, “the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.” Because after we’ve stopped blindly eating like the caterpillar, and we’ve waited in the darkness like the chrysalis, guess what comes next?   “I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” -T.S. Eliot

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Lost? Walk next to the river

I got lost in the woods last week. Four tornados had gone through the Hudson Valley a few weeks earlier and downed hemlocks and pines repeatedly obscured the trail I was hiking on. I wandered for a while, trying to get my bearing. The sky was overcast, the leaves where in place obscuring any distant views, the trail had been winding in a way that had made me lose my sense of direction. And I forgot to bring my compass. So I wandered, bushwhacking in the general direction I thought was where I began. I passed through a beautiful bank of skunk cabbage until I came to a river. I followed the river downstream, keeping to it where I could. I knew ‘down’ was the general direction I wanted to go and the stream helped me chart a fairly straight course. In the distance I saw a farm’s rail fencing. Civilization! I crossed through an old pasture and found a road. Right or left? I chose left and walked the mile back to the car. Daily life is not easy. We’re all a bundle of emotions, many of them unpleasant. We can panic, get scared, get angry, feel lonely, hopeless. And when the emotions get tough…we try to get away. It’s part of the human predicament. We seem wired to try to squirm away from the ‘bad’ and cling to the ‘good’. And when we can’t do either we get hijacked and lost in a swirl of intense emotion. We jump into the river of rage and get swept away by the amygdalain the brain. That’s what the Buddhists call ‘suffering’. The middle way will see us through. It’ll help us find our way. We walk next to the river, observing what we’re feeling that’s so scary. We walk next to the raging river that others are in. We don’t ignore the river. And we don’t jump in. Or we try jumping in, then walking along side, again and again, in and out of the water. Like the Mr. Potato Head story, if we want to be the change in the world, we begin – with kindness – where we and other people are at right here and right now, in moments of vulnerability, what Yeats called, “The rag and bone shop of the heart.” [Thanks to Tim Olmsted for the river analogy]

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Sudden, Explosive Growth

Every day we can easily see the difference. It’s that obvious. The first day of May, then a day, a week later. Look around at any plant or any tree and we see big changes have happened. Plants poke out of the ground where bare earth was. Flowers open. Trees unfold citrine leaves. This looks like sudden, explosive growth. It looks miraculous – and it is! Everything grows more in the spring and summer, not just plants. Research shows that kids grow more quickly as well. Think also of the ‘spring’ of a human life. In their first year children triple their body weight and sprout up 10 inches. The words “sudden, explosive growth” resound in the dreams of company leaders, Wall Street analysts, entrepreneurs, and anyone with high career trajectory hopes. We may all harbor the secret dream this month promises. Perhaps anything is possible. But do we really want the dream to become real? Imagine humans continuing to triple their body weight or grow 10 inches each year they’re alive – not a pretty sight. And we have a word for continuously explosive growth and production. When our cells do it we call it cancer. Now let’s look below the surface. Do we also want the long winter of perceived dormancy? The autumn of perceived decline and death? It’s the courageous few that say yes to apparent stagnation of the work, to what look like dead ends, to lack of enthusiasm, progress or motion. Yet that’s what’s required for the growth of our dreams. Persistent commitment to the work we were born to do. Long periods of nothing visible, and then the excitement of unexpected growth. And that growth slowing again… and the wheel turns again. As coaches, veteran players and analysts often advise during seven-game NBA playoff series, it’s our task to not get too high from success, and not get too down from failure. Just calmly persist, and persist again. Stay in the game and keep showing up to the change we want to make. And how about when we are rewarded with beautiful (and fleeting) growth? Open up our hearts and eyes to be flooded with appreciation, just like every plant this month invites us to.

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Owls, Caves, Curiosity and Delight

The trail is two miles in, starting from the ocean. It’s a mix of limestone and old coral reef under foot with dense, dry coastal forest crowding in. It’s our first day exploring Parque Nacional Del Este in the Dominican Republic. We reach the hole in the ground that marks Cueva Del Puente (cave of the bridge). We’re the only people we’ve seen so far in the park and it’s just us and the darkness in the cave. It’s bigger than either of us think it was going to be, and rooms open up into larger rooms until we hit the end of the line – a large room with enormous trees growing up from the cave floor and down from the forest floor above, bright sunlight and birdsong mixing with the cool, quiet cave. We see a movement come from a dark corner and then an ashy-faced owl lands on one of the tree branches in the cave. For the next 20 minutes we sit watching each other, its curiosity and our delight meeting each other, moving me deeply. Curiosity, delight. No curiosity, no delight. Who doesn’t want delight? And who doesn’t love curiosity? Delight + curiosity = play. Our old lizard brain, the amygdala, doesn’t want curiosity. It wants certainty. Certainty allows for decisive action. When faced with immediate physical threats, it helps to not be too curious and take action instead. Does the saber-tooth tiger want to be friends or eat me? The problem is that the amygdala can’t discern between literal and emotional threats. So, that nasty email you just received triggers your amygdala the same way a car heading straight at you in an intersection triggers it. Both move you away from curiosity and into certainty. Certainty is where modern political discourse lives, where comments on online articles live – delight-free wastelands. But if we want to connect, to be thrilled and delighted, curiosity is the path. If we want to connect to our work, to our co-workers, to our loved ones, if we want to experience delight, first we calm the amygdala – pause, breath, appreciate something – and allow for the unknown.

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Quix Tip: Grow What’s Essential

1. Notice how nature around you is orienting toward what is most essential. 2. Let the mind come up with a laundry list of To Do items that are important for your life success. 3. Tuck those cares and worries away for another day and re-orient toward your true essence. 4. Look for the seed in you that is most you, waiting in darkness. 5. Gently tend this essential seed of you at your best for 40 days. 6. Patiently watch what grows and will spread its branches against a future sky.

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Two Minutes of Nature (guest post by Laura Herbert)

Two Minutes of Nature by Laura Herbert The work day is over, and I just looked up from my computer and found myself strangely startled by how beautiful it is out. It’s amazing how detached I can feel from nature while I’m “plugged in”, clicking away at my computer keyboard. But all it takes is two minutes of observation to bring me back to feeling more centered and connected with reality. Here’s what I just noticed: The magical, golden evening sunlight streaming through the trees A Daddy Long Legs striding confidently across the patio An inch worm slowly making its way across a stone wall A bumble bee hovering over the miniature forest of creeping thyme The first red tinges of autumn on the maples, glowing fiercely in the sun The warm golds and auburns of the garden mums The soft greens of the ferns The sweet song of evening crickets and one very vocal chipmunk I especially love observing the small, the overlooked, and what some would consider to be the “commonplace.” They are all miracles of nature, after all. What can you observe in two minutes? The deeper we look into nature, the more we recognize that it is full of life, and the more profoundly we know that all life is a secret and that we are united with all life that is in nature. – Albert Schweitzer

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Persist Like a Phoebe In Her Nest

Every year a phoebe builds a nest somewhere on our house. This year she built it on the crook of a gutter drainpipe above the walkway to the house, a highly trafficked area. If I’m out on the patio or on the back deck, I can look over and see her sitting on the eggs in her nest. She built it herself – that’s what phoebes do. The male accompanied her, but it took her close to two weeks to build it out of mud, leaves, moss and hair. Now she’s sitting on the eggs. They incubate for about two weeks. Then the hatchlings will be born – helpless and eyes closed – and she’ll care for them for another 2-3 weeks. I’ve been appreciating her consistency of commitment. There have been some severe temperature fluctuations the last few weeks. And some intense weather – driving rain, high winds, abnormally hot days, followed by 40-degree nights. Through all of it she continues her commitment to her eggs, never acting upset or concerned. If I can’t sleep at night, it helps knowing that she is out there, continuing her faithfulness. As I type these words, I can see her. We all have passions we commit ourselves to. It could be work related, or it might be your family, or gardening, or writing, or playing music, or being in nature. And we all can use inspiration to continue that commitment. If this phoebe is helpful, use it. Or look for another inspiration – a reason why you’re committing again and again to something that you care about where the outcome is unknown. Inspiration helps. And so does appreciation. Appreciation is the antidote to worry. Perhaps you can pause right now and appreciate yourself for continuing to persist, to do the difficult work of being alive and awake on the earth. Here’s to your commitment to your passion you’re incubating this lovely month!

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Quix Tip: Giving – The River That Flows Both Ways

1. Pick one act of giving you can do for someone today, something that you can freely give. Not an object, but an action – the gift of your time, compassion, connection, empathy. 2. What can you give with your whole heart, without caring about how it’s received? What can you give without needing to monitor whether it will be reciprocated by that specific person? In fact, an even more useful challenge might be to give in a situation where you are certain the giving won’t be reciprocated. 3. Then, see how that giving might be flowing back to you in a small way that you may not have noticed. Perhaps the act of giving has softened your breath for a moment, or relaxed you enough to see something poignant in the way a stranger looks as you get your morning coffee. These small gifts, strung together comprise a well-lived life.   Explore this idea more fully in Quixote Consulting’s charity team building and team development activities:  Teddy Bears to the Rescue – Teams build bears for children in need. Charity Roller Coaster –Design and build the world’s most exciting roller coaster and help kids learn about science. Military Salute – Teams build care packages to be given to soldiers stationed overseas.

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Leading Change: A New World Baked Fresh Every Day

On my early evening walk I came across the mountain laurel, pink-budded and ready to bloom. Beauty! And in the warm late sunlight I heard crickets for the first time this year. Noticing is like that – it’s easier when something’s new and fresh to your awareness. And every day brings something new. I once started – yet to be finished – a song called New World Baked Fresh Every Day. And it’s true! Every day we’re alive is baked fresh, whether we notice it or not. And change is like that. It’s always happening. We, myself included, can regard looming change with a mix of suspicion, reluctance, anxiety, and whatever other emotion the word ‘looming’ inspires. The unknown by definition can be pretty scary. But, the unknown by definition is also an adventure, a daily hero’s journey. This is the quest – a journey for something larger and better to benefit ourselves and everyone we touch and the greater world. To do that kind of work requires a great deal of change – both internal and external. This is the kind of work I explore in our change training sessions like Change Quest, 40 Days to Change For Good, and How to Lead Change. Spring into summer is a perfect time in nature and in life to encourage us to see how beautiful and welcoming change can be. Here’s to you connecting with all deep, benevolent forces all around you and them fueling your quest for fresh changes to bring what your heart truly desires.   Explore this idea more fully in Quixote Consulting’s team building and team development activities: Change Quest – Time for you and your team to evolve quickly, whether you’re driving the change or the rest of the world is. 40 Days to Change For Good – Don’t just manage change, lead it. Create a successful forty-day blueprint to lead a change that lasts. How to Lead Change – Learn how to be an effective change leader and lead positive change that lasts.

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On the Road At Home

I recently returned from a lovely camping trip in the Guadalupe National Mountains National Park in west Texas. This little-used park is simply stunning. It’s the northernmost tip of the Chihuahuan Desert, where the desert ends and skies up into mountain peaks. The hiking was fabulous, and nature worked its wonderful magic tricks on me as usual. I’m sure I’ll be writing about it in my blog. But in this moment I’d like to draw your attention to the other people I met also camping. All came from different walks of life, different locations in North America and were in different stages of their life journey. However everyone shared something refreshing qualities. They had very little with them. They were on fairly open-ended journeys. They had a plan but weren’t tied to it. They met my gaze. They had easy smiles. They were curious…about me, about life. They were happy to talk about their life on the road and share stories. And they were in no way oppressed by time. None were itching to stop talking with me in order to do something pressing. I had the feeling – usually confirmed – that I would need to be the one to end the conversation. I came away from the conversation energized, a little happier and a little more excited about life. This is a strange and wonderful breed of humanity, right? Actually, that’s you. And that’s me…at our best, whether on the road or at home. If your experience of the people around you today is nothing like the above paragraph, you have an opportunity to be the change you’d love to see. You can be “on the road at home”. If today’s life feels a little too tight, take a purpose pause. And feel that lovely spring energy traveling through you, easing and opening anything constricted for you. Happy travels…on the road and at home!   Explore this idea more fully in Quixote Consulting’s team building and team development activities:  Emotional Intelligence Works – EQ is twice as important in contributing to excellence as IQ and expertise combined. Learn how to effectively manage your emotions and those around you for sustained success.

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