The Moment My Taste Buds Came Alive

Rachel's school photos minus the year at Erehwon!I have always enjoyed food—and food is certainly a topic that fits into many of my memories of childhood. I indeed baked a lot as a little girl (see Ode to Baking Chocolate Chip Cookies) and I cooked many of our family’s meals. But I don’t think as a kid that I would have ever called myself a foodie (though the trendy term foodie probably didn’t exist then—maybe gourmand in that era?). Whatever you call it, I did not become one with food until I became an adult. Nonetheless, there are several events from my childhood that foretold that I would become a foodie. One in particular stands out as the moment my taste buds came alive.

Poems written at Erehwon when 10-years oldThe year was 1971 and I was 10 years old. This year was an important one for so many more reasons than my awakening to food. This was the year of many firsts: first learning some French, first reading and writing poems (see the photos of the index cards of my poems), first learning how to give back massages (I am still pretty good at that for a non-trained masseuse if I don’t say so myself), first really kissing a boy, and first riding a motorized mini-bike to name a few. This all transpired because it was the year that I went to a private “Free School” called Erehwon. Erehwon (nowhere spelled backwards) was located in a house in Princeton Junction, NJ where 50 or so children of all ages attended. The school was based on the famous Summerhill School in England,  an alternative open school where much of the learning was (and still is) experiential rather than entirely textbook trained.

Me with friends at ErehwonAlthough there was some learning of traditional materials, for me the year was a year of learning about relationships and social rules and broadening of my mind culturally. I would have remained at Erehwon for more than just one year but financially the school couldn’t make it. I wonder how I would have fared academically if I had been schooled that way until high school. When I went back to my grammar school after one year and having only missed the traditional 5th grade, it was as if I had never left and I continued to excel.

More PoemsThe day in 1971 that remains vivid to me after all these years is our trip to BAM—Brooklyn Academy of Music. Well, to be honest, it isn’t really about the show at BAM. I can’t even remember what we watched (though I think it was dance). What I remember is the drive there. We were spread across a couple of station wagons and I got to sit all the way in the back—those days many station wagons had a row of seats facing backwards. From my perch, I waved to my friends in the other car of our caravan and tried to get strangers to wave back at me as well. And most of all I remember our pre-theatre meal in lower Manhattan at an Indian restaurant. Yes, BAM is in Brooklyn, but we took a detour via the Staten Island Ferry into Manhattan for dinner before going over the Brooklyn Bridge to see the show.

Erehwon LogoI had never had Indian food before and I can almost conjure the experience of my first whiff of the aromatic surroundings in that restaurant. I remember the miraculous moment that I ate a piece of lamb in a creamy orange sauce (I am guessing now that I know Indian food that it was probably Lamb Korma). It was amazing! I didn’t know food could be so rich in depth in flavor and color and aroma. I was in a trance and that probably explains why the rest of the evening is barely observable in my memory. From that day on, I have been trying to recreate the experience of my taste buds dancing and singing and coming alive! I’ve had a lot of success finding divine eating moments in my life since then and I remember many of them. But none are as profound as the moment my taste buds came alive when I was just a sweet young girl coming alive to all the wonders of the world during 1971.

XOXO Rachel


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

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!

Cloud hopping

Clouds to skip over the Hudson Valley RiverToday is a perfect day for cloud hopping.  What, you ask, is that?  Well, I have a particular proclivity to daydream in the clouds.  I like to look up on a day when there are puffs of cotton ball clouds that dot the blue sky.  I imagine myself leaping from cloud to cloud, landing in a soft and springy embrace in the next cloud.  I might bound from a low cloud and vault up to a higher one, or take a long lead and jump a great distance between clouds that are far apart.  Mostly I hurdle like a dancer leaps, one leg stretched out in front of the other; a jeté.  Rarely do I jump with two feet together.  Sometimes I soar from cloud to cloud in one long stretch as if I were playing checkers and jumping over 10 pieces in one successive move.

California wine country-style cloud hoppingMy favorite days for cloud tripping are breezy days when the clouds are moving with a moderate to brisk pace so that I can vary which cloud I go to next based on what is floating nearest.  A few weeks ago, Andy and I were working in the garden on such a day and it took a great deal of restraint for me to focus on the gardening task at hand and not go cloud hopping.  I did manage to squeeze some jumps in when I took a break to lie down on the grass and stretch my back (the gardening work was intense!).

Flying is something that I have been doing since I was a little girl.  My first early experience was at night in my dreams.  Probably due to watching Bedknobs and Broomsticks, I began my treks in the sky on my four-post bed as a child.  In the movie, the children go on adventures on a magical brass bed with their caretaker (who is a witch).  I went on my own adventures as I flew my bed way above my New Jersey hometown.  Mainly I would just watch the goings on from above.  I still love to go up high into the sky and watch the world and I have had those floating dreams many, many times over the years beyond childhood.

Driving along a New Mexico highway - Cloud hopping along the wayAnother media impact on my (you might say unusual, I say wonderful) flight behavior was the TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  As a little girl, I have a very distinct memory, one that seemed real even when I was old enough to know it wasn’t, of looking out my bedroom window into the sky and seeing Santa and his sled with Rudolph at the front.  I determined when I was a bit older that the angle of Santa’s flight that I saw was exactly what occurs in the very last frames of the animated special.  My lifelong fascination with the sky and memories of my night flight adventures are very dear to me.

Day skipping in the clouds, conducted while awake, is very calming to me and something I am happy to do anytime.  It’s a form of daydreaming so not surprisingly, the clouds can be very distracting, even as I sit here and write.  My desk is in front of a large window and I have a great view above our tree line of a piece of neighboring mountain and best of all, the sky.  I might be in the middle of a sentence when a cloud catches my eye and I decide to go on an adventure in my mind – and in the heavens.

Cloud hopping on a Hawaiian sunsetBut cloud hopping is also very useful and productive.  Because of the meditative quality of the experience, I often solve problems or just become more relaxed when I am way up there.  If something is upsetting me and I am lucky to have the right conditions in the sky, I do a little bouncing from puff to puff and whatever was bothering me becomes less important.  Or I suddenly have clarity and make a decision that is authentic, based on my gut knowledge of what is best for me.  Like the time just a few years ago when I was on a bus in Florida and the sky was particularly splendid in deep blues and puffy pristine clouds.  I realized during that 15-minute bus ride between the media conference and the hotel that I was done with my corporate gig.  I immediately began my serious plans to leave.  The clouds served me so well that day because now I am happy as a child, floating above the sky and doing my own creative work.

What's at the rainbow's end?

The perfection of human variation

What's at the rainbow's end?I am always searching for a way to classify who I am.  If there is a category to put myself into, I have attempted to do so.  Over the years, in part because I am a psychologist but mostly because I am a person who is constantly doing self-searching, I have taken countless quizzes and assessments about my personality.  In the journey to make sense of who I am, I have discovered that I am sensitive, I am bold, I am beauty, I am a visionary, I am a perfectionist… and I am both an introvert and an extrovert.   I find this duality most perplexing – how is it that I am either an introvert or extrovert depending on the assessment?  Can I be both or am I really one or the other and there is a problem with the measurement?

Alone and yet on top of the world! Haleakala VolcanoAccording to the Quiet quiz by Susan Cain, I am an introvert.  However, she includes a description of an ambivert as someone who is able to tap into either pole as needed.  If you answer half of the questions as an introvert and half as an extrovert, she explains, you are counted as an ambivert.  Being the perfectionist I am (according to many assessments), I could not help but count how many questions in her quiz I answered as an introvert and an extrovert.  The number was the same!  I suspect that there must be some questions that when answered a certain way, swing the scale in one direction.  Given the variation I have seen across other assessments of my style, I am clearly hovering between introversion and extroversion.   I behave differently depending on the situational context.

So does the introvert-extrovert scale help me understand myself?  Well, yes and no.  One thing that it really does help me with is with how I treat myself when I make a decision.  For instance, I tend to give myself a hard time for not wanting to go out and socialize.  Apparently, that is not uncommon in introverts because society generally has a bias towards extroversion.  In other words, we are made to feel wrong if we choose not to socialize or prefer a few one-on-one interactions.

Maui labyrinth for introspectionWhat I also find puzzling is that I want to come out on the scale as an introvert!  Why would that be the case given the cultural bias towards extroversion?  Well, for one thing, great thinkers and scholars are frequently introverts and I want to believe that I could be in their category.  Shouldn’t I be happy that I can be so flexible?  Instead I am a bit uncomfortable that I do not fit neatly into one category.  Oh, it’s that perfectionist characteristic again telling me I am not quite normal if I don’t fit in.  But as I think about this some more, I realize that I don’t really want to fit too neatly into anything.  I am a complex individual as is everyone.

I do believe that we have certain traits or characteristics that seem pretty fixed, but I am coming to the opinion that no one can be truly classified into any category.  That’s the wonder of our human capacity.  We are an amalgamation of genetics and life experience and there are no two people who share that down to the exact details.

Hibiscus smileTake assessments as a tool to help appreciate who you are.   Used wisely, they can reveal some aspects of yourself and provide reassurance that you are not alone.  But don’t treat them as a judge of who you are.  And don’t look to them to explain how you will react in any given future situation.  For we are as imperfect as the tools are.  And that is just perfectly human.

Girl Power

I walked through Astor Place a few days ago and couldn’t help but notice the new and very imposing glass exterior building, 51 Astor place.  The neo modern structure was designed by architect Fumihiko Maki and has been receiving mixed reviews from the locals.  Although the prior building wasn’t particularly compelling architecturally speaking, if nothing else many people bemoan the loss of trees due to the larger footprint of the replacing structure.  I was reminded of a wonderful experience I had in the old building when Girls Prep, a charter New York City school, used to live there.  About a year and a half ago, I received an email from my then-employer to ask if I was interested in speaking at career week in the school just across the street from our office.  How could I pass up the opportunity to be bold, show the power of presence and encourage girls to find their own presence?

The whirlwind began.  Two days later, I was standing in front of 40 eleven-year-old girls in sixth grade.  The girls were a buzzing and beautiful bunch of multi-racial gems, sitting – well, fidgeting is more apt – in their classroom seats.  I was encouraged in advance to be prepared to engage the girls so with some quick work at the computer I put together my thoughts and planned my approach.  I am so glad that I did have a strong strategy.  Having been a professor and a presenter throughout my career, I can report that I have never worked so hard before in my life as I did while standing in front of that room.

With improv as my friend, I gave a passionate twenty-minute performance, thinking so quick on my feet that I felt that I was watching the event unfold without my conscious involvement.  The girls were quick to get excited and although they required some group-clapping to be corralled, they were thinking and listening and speaking and showing their brilliance to me.  The topic was career so I was lucky to speak about the connective thread of my life work, psychology in all its forms from professor to life coach to survey research executive.  This girl’s power was energized by their girl power.

And the powerful connection also took place with a bystander.  The principal took me to the room and introduced me to the class and I noticed a woman standing silently at the side of the room.  In the fast pace of the events that unfolded, she and I did not immediately connect.  After my session, she quietly approached me and then she unexpectedly exploded into an expressive flow about how she loves psychology.  She was unstoppable in her outpouring of interest and enthusiasm.  In that moment she showed her own brilliance and powerful girl presence.  As it turns out, she was the teacher of the class, their Spanish instructor, who had carved out time from her regular schedule to have me speak.  I was at once grateful and in awe of all these amazing girls of all ages, including myself.

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?


My friend Emme asked me to create a video blog about my transition from corporate America to Celebrant and Coach. Take a look in her weekly gutsy-friday-females series.

My mind needs to travel

When I am learning something new I am very engaged and fascinated with the topic.  When whatever I have learned becomes rote, however, I lose my passion.  Is this what happens when processes become automatic?  We can go through the actions without really thinking, without any passion?  I imagine there are many people who are this way, restless as I always describe myself.  Restless to get stimulated by something new and different that forces me to learn and grow.  What if my passion is not one thing, but really my passion is everything? Am I destined to be such a generalist that I know nothing really about everything?  Or do I pick a few things and see how deep I get before I move on to the next thing?  After the fact I seem to always find a connective link between the areas that I choose to dive into.  I may float from area to area but there is a common theme of relationships and communication, language and human behavior.  As a friend said to me, I have a book inside me.  I just have not yet figured out the all-encompassing topic.

I suspect some people who are always traveling share some of this impatient nature.  They move around all the time because they are craving and physically searching for something that they cannot articulate.  I do not have the need to travel to get the stimulation.  Quite the opposite, I need the stability, peace, serenity and love that my home base and family provide.  My mind, however, needs to travel.  My passion is that journey.