Relating to “Relationship”

Dad and MeThis past weekend I went to a 2-day intensive course on coaching people in relationships and my first words are “Wow!”  Now, it is certainly the case that every coaching and leadership course that I have taken from The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) or related group elicited the “Wow!” response from me. But I think this one was a different type of “Wow!”  The course was held by ORSC, an offshoot of CTI so there is some overlap in the style of training.  Lots of experiential learning, lots of immediate connection and closeness to the others in the course and lots of emotion and introspection!  But what I hadn’t really thought about so much before going to the class was that relationship is most of what life is about.  We are in relationship to our parents, children, spouse, friends, and any and all business colleagues.  And guess what, we are even in relationship to ourselves and—this might seem to be pushing it—we are in relationship with things like money, food or you name it.  So the “wow!” factor is that this course applies to all of my life and everyone’s life.

I signed up for the class because as I have been working with couples designing their wedding ceremonies, it became obvious to me that I had a wonderful opportunity to coach them about their relationship.  For over a decade I have been coaching individuals in business and life coaching.  Being a celebrant is in so many ways just an extension of my coaching work.  I already ask the couples to explore their relationship so that I can capture their connection in the written words of the ceremony.  How fortunate that I get to work with couples when they are just beginning their married life together.  My hope is that I’ll get them thinking about their relationship in a way that leads to them creating a more fulfilling life together.

My FamilyWe take for granted so much in relationship and I find that rarely in life do we step back and actually discuss the relationship.  Sure we talk all the time with whoever we are in relationship with.  Yet for most people it is a rarity that they set aside time to talk “about their relationship”.  Some couples do that naturally but most often the only ones who take a step back and look at the big picture are those who are having troubles in the relationship and seek council.  I suppose it is not a startling concept to consider talking about the relationship before there is great conflict.  Perhaps what is startling is how few couples (and I use the term couples to refer to ANY relationship) do that.

So I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that everyone have a look at the relationships they have.  Make time to have conversations with whoever you are in relationship and you will be greatly rewarded with understanding and connection (and love depending on the affiliation).  If you are having big conflict, consider having a coach or therapist facilitate.  I certainly plan to have those conversations now that I have some relationship coaching training under my belt.  At the very least, I plan to have a heartfelt conversation with myself about what I want and need in my relationship with life.

XOXO Rachel


Tales of the City—Tales of Community

Kidd Hall community 1984While I was in College at UC Berkeley in the early 80s, we read the San Francisco Chronicle in our cooperative house in North Berkeley. My friend at the time (now my sweet husband) Andy read the column, Tales of the City, a fictionalized serial by Armistead Maupin without fail. I read it from time to time but I really got into it when in 1993 the TV mini-series of the same name appeared. Andy and I were married by then and living in New York City. I was glued to the show and could hardly wait for each installment. I was bereft when it was over if I can use such a strong word to describe the relationship I felt for the characters in the program. Even thinking about it I get a strange almost queasy feeling in my stomach and as I try to uncover why, I think the key is “loss” and probably as in “loss of community”. I have had the same unsettled feeling in my gut several—only several—other times.

One of the most remarkable memories of that feeling was when I was in jury duty in Manhattan in the early 90s.  Like clockwork (before the NY Jury Reform of 1996 jury duty was indeed clockwork every two years because the jury pool was so small due to a long list of exempt professionals) I would receive my notice to show up for jury duty at the courthouse in lower Manhattan. Going to jury duty turned out to be an amazing experience for me in a number of ways. Fairly new to living in New York City at the time, it was a wonderful opportunity to get to know a different part of the city from where I worked (Midtown) and lived (Upper West Side). Lunchtime, I used every second possible to explore neighboring Chinatown and Little Italy. Food was a big draw and I had wonderful soups and noodles and cannoli and yummy ice cream in flavors that were new to me at the time like red bean and green tea.

Medicine Wheels community in Sebastopol, CABut what jury duty in New York City really left me with was an astonishing group experience. Because I was so interested in the jury process and also such a “goodie two shoes” that I would never have even considered trying to say something during “voire dire” to be excused, I was always selected for a case (and I still am to this day). One such case was a drug possession and sales trial. As the juror was selected, I didn’t really take too much in about each potential juror. But when we were then whisked away to the jury room to prepare to hear the testimony, I began an intense and speedy induction into a community of jurors.

As we went around the table and formally introduced ourselves, the interesting and creative people in the group amazed me. We had an opera singer, a professor, a music producer, and a number of business people from different disciplines including myself—to name a few. I felt an instant rapport with almost everyone and we had what turned out to be a week-long intense relationship. We went to lunch together, we talked of life (but not the case until deliberation) and we became so close that when I said goodbye, I felt such a painful loss I had rarely felt before and infrequently since. I am pretty certain that feeling was a visceral emotion of loss of connection. As awful as it can be, I think it is also wonderful because it means that I was so closely connected to a group of individuals that its loss was almost overwhelming.

Community of family circa 1960sIn today’s New York Times Book Review I receive word that Armistead Maupin’s concluding series of books comes to a close with his final novel, The Days of Anna Madrigal. Though I have never read the book series (perhaps it is time) just reading the review brought all these thoughts of community and connection flooding to me. It brought back memories of the amazing community of dear friends I lived with at Kidd Hall at Berkeley.  And it reminds me that it is time to foster and create more community in my life, even if the ache of loss is a possibility.

XOXO Rachel

Up on ropes

Free falling and improv up on high

RedwoodsI am not by any stretch of the imagination someone you might call a thrill seeker, yet to me there is nothing as wonderful as the sense of falling from the sky or being up on high.  The trick to enjoying a fall of course is to have trust.  My experience with free falling began when I decided to take an almost yearlong leadership course.  At a week retreat in Northern California with the same group each month, we got to know each other very well and learned to trust one another with our hearts and—our bodies.  The first physical and mental test that may have been the hardest for some but was actually the easiest for me was the aptly termed “trust fall”.

Medicine WheelsIn our version of the trust fall, you stood up on a high boulder facing away from the trusted group whose arms were joined to create a net to catch you.  Then in an instant, you’d just lie backwards and let yourself fall into their arms.  I remember that they caught me and kept me off the group in their arms—it felt like a huge warm hug—and slowly cradled and rocked me for a minute or so.  It was the quintessential feeling of safety and love to be embraced that way.  I am not sure why I felt so sure that they would catch me—I was one of the heavier persons there, but I just knew they would and they certainly did.  In my experience as you begin the leap into a free fall there is an instant of buzzing of adrenalin.  But that is so quickly replaced with calmness that the experience is almost addictive.  I imagine that is why people who go skydiving continue to do so regularly.

Tent RocksThe falling sensation that I most frequently recall from my time at the retreats was actually a jump from up high or maybe you would call it a tree-falling instead of a free-falling.  On another visit to Sebastopol, California for the continuing leadership retreat we climbed redwood trees.  I was connected to safety by way of a belay rope that was attached to two of my colleagues—again trust is required.  After scaling up a very tall redwood tree, I next walked across a tightrope to another redwood tree.  Awaiting me on the other side was one of our trainers perched like a bird.  He hugged me for support (emotional and physical) as he attached me to a rope with a knot on the end that acted like a seat of a swing.  With a push off to release from the tree where I was sitting (my own push, not his) I quickly was propelled into a pendulum swing—back and forth, back and forth.  The air swooshed past my ears in the loudest and most otherworldly air sound I have ever heard before.  I can conjure that sound if I concentrate very hard and I am fortunate to have felt/heard that sound a number of times since.  One time was when Andy and I hiked up Tent Rocks National Monument near Santa Fe, New Mexico.  When we reached the top, we were alone and on a precipice that was very quiet and peaceful, except for a few birds squawking and the wind humming in the breeze.  It was that sound again—a sound so calming and on the edge of that frightening sense of isolation—the sound I had first heard on my free-fall in the redwoods of Sebastopol, California.

Our labyrinthI am so grateful to my leadership group—called Medicine Wheels—and our co-leaders Elaine and Patrick for so many things, not the least was their kindness and love and support.   It was with this group that I had so many firsts including my initiation into free falling and labyrinths (see Revealing the labyrinth on our land).  I am forever grateful to Tam for her giving me a quick tip that turned out to be a turning point in my tree climbing experience.  She noticed that I was having difficulty climbing up the tree because I was using my arms and not my legs.  With the new piece of information in mind I immediately flew up the tree using my strong thigh muscles with such ease it felt magical.  Those days of tree climbing and free falling were packed with magical moments  (Speaking of magical moments, see my Wondrance Wedding Wednesday’s blog about how to have magical moments every day).

Perhaps the most magical experience up high at the leadership retreat had to do with improv.  Besides begin introduced to sky-walking, the leadership retreat was also my initiation to improv and boy did I take to that in an instant.  I love to make things up while I am speaking and that sums up what improv is to me.  My experience with improvisation up to that point had nothing to do with improv as most people think of it on a theatrical stage.  I improv all the time because I have taught for so may years and given so many presentations where I have to think very quickly on my feet and improvise my words.  At the retreat we learned some techniques and played some traditional improvisational games for a day intensive with some talented improv instructors.

Up on ropesThen we went into the air to perform—yes, we performed improv on a tightrope up again in the redwood trees.  This was probably the second or third time over several months when I had made the climb into the sky so I was very adept at climbing as if I was just walking up the side of the tree.  This time I was up there with a colleague and we were given a topic to co-create a 10-minute talk off the cuff.  It was improv up high.  As we walked across the tightrope—side by side to face our audience on the ground rather than facing the trees or each other’s backside—we gave our presentation.  The words flowed like water as we danced together across the thin wire.

My take-away from all of this is that—besides loving to talk in front of a group of people—I am in my element when I am up high in the sky.  It can be free-falling with a whoosh in my ears or it can be the sound of my own voice as I soar high above the earth, it can be taking in the view and sounds high up after climbing a mountain trail or it can be cloud hopping in my mind (see Cloud hopping).   Give me some air up high and I am free!

Americana Diner

Jersey diners and conversation

Saddle Brook DinerWhat is it about Jersey diners that make them such perfect spots to meet up with friends and family?  Yesterday, Andy and I caught up with my parents at Saddle Brook Diner in Saddle Brook, NJ.  Now, neither my parents nor we live near Saddle Brook, but it is about an hour drive for both of us.  Jersey diners, well diners in any state, are happy places to get together, eat and chat.

Red Line DinerWe frequent Red Line Diner in Fishkill, NY, that opened about a year ago.  I find that it is always a bubbly place with lots of positive energy due to the good food, friendly staff, but mostly because of the people who dine there.  I have noticed that many people who dine there show up in small groups but meet up with others.  I love watching as the first group of people are seated and then the rounds of hugs and kisses that begin when the rest of their party arrive.  Often there are parents meeting with their children and their grandchildren.  I can tell that in many cases they have not seen each other for a while.

For the last year, there have many been times when I unexpectedly begin to cry thinking how I want to meet my family here; but alas no one lives near.  I would love to casually get together with Andy’s sisters and their families, or his brother or Mom, but they are in California.  I fantasize that I could meet up with my brother and his wife and son, but they are in the DC area.

Americana DinerThen an idea popped into my head about a month ago when I realized that I wanted to see my parents more regularly but the 2+ hour drive each way made it a bit long for a day-visit.  We did try the day-trip idea on my dad’s birthday on April 3.  Andy and I shared the driving and we celebrated Dad’s birthday at the Americana Diner in Hightstown, NJ.  After a wonderful late morning breakfast, we went back to my parent’s house and spent a few hours talking and looking at very early works of my dad’s.  It was a wonderful day – and we were pretty tired from the activity and driving 4 hours.

Park West DinerMy idea to solve this problem was to find a Jersey diner that was halfway between my parents and us.  That would make the drive do-able for both of us and give us a chance to see each other with ease.  Plus we get the added enjoyment of trying out any number of good Jersey diners.  We began with a visit to Park West Diner in Little Falls, NJ.  Because this was our first test of the idea, our excuse (as if we needed one) was that we had to make some returns to Ikea (and we actually did have some items to return).  We had such a wonderful time with my parents, and they looked so happy to see us that we determined that this would become a regular outing.

Jersey Girls Diana and RachelMy mom has decided she will try a mushroom omelet at each diner for comparison.  My dad always has “two over light”.  Andy and I are more variable, but usually French fries are involved.  I am putting together a list of mid-point Jersey diners and the fun and food comparisons will continue.  This Jersey girl is very happy to set foot in Jersey regularly and at diners to boot!  Of course the best part is seeing my dad and my favorite Jersey girl, Mom.


Creating intimacy through sharing

Courageous ConversationsSandy Weiner of invited me to her blog talk radio show, Courageous Conversations.  We discussed my career path and what I have learned about creating intimacy in all types of relationships while working with engaged couples and as an executive in the corporate world.  To listen to the interview, click here.

Unlocking creativity through connections

Inspiration in shadowsI have been on what feels like a whirlwind tour the past few weeks that all started with one introduction.  I work with a wonderful coach Melanie DewBerry-Jones ( who introduced me to the dating coach Sandy Weiner (  Melanie had been a guest on Sandy’s radio show and she thought that Sandy might be interested in me as a future guest.

I spoke with Sandy and in addition to discussing being on her radio show in a few months, she suggested that I speak with another woman, Jane Pollak ( because Jane was just about to start a community for women entrepreneurs.  Sandy and Jane are both based in Connecticut and I am not far from them in New York.  Although location really doesn’t matter these days because so much of communication and connection is virtual, I liked the sense that they were physically nearby.  Many in my community of coaches are in California.

I had a short 15-minute conversation with Jane and immediately had an “aha” moment that set my creativity on fire.  I signed up for her “Soul Proprietor” community and the same day synchronistically received an unrelated email about an entrepreneur speaker series (  Since that first introduction to Sandy just three weeks ago, almost by magic, my creativity is in motion.

Creativity boardEmotionally I have re-arranged the space in my head and physically I have changed my surroundings to let my imagination loose.  Andy and I moved my office desk and other furniture to support my new energy needs.  I got a beautiful memo board and file holder that are magnetic and allow me to keep images and items of inspiration and color available for each moment.  I have been listening to speakers about energy work, abundance, tapping into authenticity, creating websites, meditation and my mind is overflowing with ideas that I will bring to my own business as a Wedding Officiant and Life-Cycle Celebrant.  All it took was one soulful connection to let my resourcefulness run wild.  Who will show up in your life to rev your juices?

The look of love

My favorite photos are of people gazing at other people with the look of love.  The look of love is in their eyes.  There is such a joyful feeling conveyed in their eyes and a sense that they know something that no one else in the world knows about their loved one.  I enjoy looking through photos that I have collected over the years of friends and family members and I find myself grinning from ear to ear whenever I see a photo with the look of love.  I have noticed that there are some strong similarities between photos.  One of the most striking similarities is between a photo of my brother, newly wed and lovingly looking at his wife and one of my dad looking at my mom when they were also newly wed.  My brother and my dad have that same look of awe and pure happiness that they each have this beautiful and brilliant woman in their life.

When I was in grad school at UC Santa Cruz, I had a photo of Andy and me that I kept pinned up on the board in my cubicle at the office.  The loving look that Andy had for me and I for him caused no end of teasing from my grad school colleagues.  One day I came in to my office to find a comic strip tacked up next to our picture.  In it Matt Groening’s characters Binky and Sheba are embracing each other exactly like Andy and I are posed and the caption reads, “Disgusting isn’t it?”  Whoever put the comic there was just envious of our deep love no doubt.  And I understand how to those outside the bubble of love the gawking might appear impenetrable and stupid as the word gawking implies.  But to me there will never be too many photographs of couples staring at each other with the look of love.

The look of love is not, however, confined to romantic couples.  Some of my favorite photos are of my mom or dad with my brother or me.  The look from parent to child conveys not only love but also a sense of pride and adoration.  The look is prevalent on baby’s faces when their parents gaze at them in their earliest days of life.  This look of love is not particularly surprising because from a biological necessity it serves a baby to attach to their caregiver.  It makes it seem so clinical, but to me, the more I gather evidence that our mind and brain – physiology and psychology – are closely mapped (see also Mind and brain: connection not only “feels” good, it is good for you), the more I feel that I understand the human experience and understand why I have such a physical reaction to the look of love.  How could I, or anyone, not have such a reaction?

The art of having presence

You know that wonderful flowing feeling you get when you connect with someone so strongly and you feel that you can complete his or her sentences?  This connection is both real at the biological and emotional level (see discussion in Mind and brain: connection not only “feels” good, it is good for you).  A result of being present in that moment and focused on the other person and yourself simultaneously, the feeling can in a moment lead to romantic as well as non-romantic love.  That spark of connection feels so powerful and I suspect that is in part because of how it validates your own true being.  Many theorists speak of the “Self” as really non-existent in an individual – rather, they posit it exists only in connection with others.  It rings true to me that we learn of ourselves through interactions with others.

To be present to others, we first must get ourselves grounded in our own self-awareness.  Having presence stems from a deep, sense of self-confidence and boldness within in any given moment.  It is mindfulness.  The art of having presence can take place not only in one-on-one conversations, but when speaking to any size group of people.  The key is to tap into your presence before you start your presentation.

Some people think that you have the presence skill or not.  I know that it is trainable and I believe it is critical to tap into that magical and resonant place in order to positively change the way people interact with others, in work, in politics, in any relationship.  But for most of us, the times we are in that moment of high and feeling humanly bold and brilliant, only happens occasionally, and we can’t seem to get into that state without a conscious effort.  How can you bring out that state?

Music is one key component for me to get myself connected to my own personal power.  I have certain songs that I turn to over and over that automatically make my body move.  Perhaps for others, it isn’t music but poetry, or certain thoughts or food, or maybe cooking or gardening.  Whatever form it takes, the goal is to get grounded in your own confidence and as self-aware of your inner thoughts as possible.  When my body moves, I relax and I am more easily able to prevent negative thoughts from interfering with my confidence.  It is easy to be convinced by those negative thoughts that you do not have the right to be bold and present.  But we all have the right to be true to that inner strength.  I will be as bold as to say that we have a responsibility to show our compelling presence.  In the art of being present to others, you get to share your own magnificence while seeing and really understanding the other person.  Only with all of us tapping into our own presence will we shift the balance of the world into a more peaceful state.  How do you tap into your own brilliance?

The high of presenting

There is a high that I get when I am in my element in front of a group of people doing a presentation.  The sensation is a sign that I am at my core in my most powerful state of presence, and fully revealing all that is unique to me.  I probably have not sought out these opportunities as much as would be beneficial to me, and that is probably due to the incredible demands of energy and resource the process requires.  Yet I am reminded each time when I am in front of the room that engaging with others is my oxygen.

I love the feeling when I have something to share with others and they understand what I am saying and are in some way impacted by my words.  Thus I have been successful in my act of speech.  It is an awesome experience for me, probably varied in the intensity of the experience for the other person, but at its core, it is just the simple act of communicating.  I am drawn to the psychology of language and communication because of what appears as a rather mundane and automatic cognitive process on the surface is really much more.  One person speaks, the other receives the information, processes the information and gets meaning all in an instant.  An amazing and powerful act of sharing between two (or more) people has occurred.

The “aha” of comprehension and connecting in a group setting has another element that adds to the depth of my experience.  At some energetic level, the act of speech becomes much more than sharing of words.  Standing in front of a number of people, I feel as if my arms are wrapping around the entire room in a warm embrace, so that I am not just imparting words, I am sharing my whole being and almost physically linking.  I am exchanging and baring my inner passion, my beauty, my peace, my love and in return I receive a high.  The high is a sign that I am present and alive and humbled by human connection.

Mind and brain: connection not only “feels” good, it is good for you

The relationship between the mind and brain is front and center for me these past few months.  Is seems, that wherever I turn, I encounter a lecture, a reading, or a discussion in some form about this.  Most recently, I was at a coaching conference in Boston where one of the goals was to provide concrete evidence on the impact of coaching.  Study after study showed how when people are connected in psyche, they are also connected physiologically.  For instance when therapists are empathetic with their patients and they report that they are feeling emotionally in synch with one another, their MRIs show similar patterns and their galvanic skin measures match.  Communication and connection occur at both the biological and emotional level.  Another study showed that a good bedside manner by doctors has positive impact on medical outcomes.  Yes, our experience of consciousness is not just epiphenomenal to our biological existence; they are linked.

The physiological power of connection also holds true for people and their pets.   Another researcher revealed data that when pet owners are petting their furry friends, then separated, then reunited, their body responses such as heart rate are matched, then disparate, then matched again.  What this says to me is that we humans need and want connection to others (of the animal and people kind).  It’s not just that it feels good on an emotional level; it is good on a biological level too.  I feel validated that labeling Psychology as “soft science” is not accurate – mind and brain really are connected.  And I am reminded over and over again why I can’t help my strong reactions to data – I was born a researcher (see Researching like a pac-man).  I am fascinated with studies that show why connection with others is so powerful.  Simply put, connection is good for our mind and brain.