Meditations on Grief: Telltale Tears

Tears of grief. Tears of joy. Chemically, they are identical.

And yet, there are essentially three different types: basal, lubricating, protecting and hydrating the cornea; reflex, responding to dust, irritants and allergens, and psychic, triggered by our strongest strong emotions. They are designed to wash away profound sorrow, as well as overwhelming joy. I think this mystical dual chemistry of tears illuminates the journey of grief.

Just as I was sitting down to write a journal entry, Linda, one of my oldest and dearest friends (in length of time, not chronology), texted me a fascinating article about tears in the Smithsonian Magazine — and a wish for me more tears of joy today. Turns out, they are the exact same thing. Since I embrace synchronicity, I clicked.

The microscopic images of all three types of tears peppered the article – depicting an entire lifetime, a complex universe in a single droplet of liquid. Oh, the stories they tell. As the article suggests, all the images look like “aerial views of emotional terrain.” Distant, elegant and provocative. That is so Elliot. Immediately, a rush of memory saturates my heart and then trickles down my cheeks. He adored World War I aircraft from day one – mastering the Red Baron computer game as a toddler and scrutinizing ceiling fans as if they were propellers as an infant.

I suspect Elliot was always meant to fly.

These maps are so dense, intricate and difficult to decipher. They all are a tangle of jagged paths, circuitous routes, and sharp corners . . . ins and outs, dead ends and drop-offs. Ah, this is the true journey of grief, and perhaps, maybe, of joy? That is why everything — even the so-called “happy” memories are as cloyingly bitter as they are sharply sweet — piercing my heart as they sometimes bring fleeting wisps of comfort to my weary soul. They are inextricably intertwined, like a strand of DNA. Is that the new definition of moving through grief — moving with grief? Finding a way to experience both love and excruciating pain at the very same time – as one? Still not so sure about the joy part.

No matter what, this is a brave new world, uncharted terrain and an unknown land. How can I possibly know what it would take to feel safe to live with this pain – when I barely know what I want for lunch? And then I question that decision. I think it’s about being being fully present and mindful. It requires relentless self-compassion and intentional awareness — moment to moment, second to second . . . and heartbeat to heartbeat.

It’s the only way.

Present Imperfect: 5 Intentions for 2018

Instead of resolutions, I am focusing on intentions this year. I like this nuance, because it conveys a sense of positive expectation and possibility, as opposed “revision”― or eliminating unsavory behavior, condition or circumstance. In fact, we have little control over conditions or circumstances ― such as the stealth leak I discovered in the wall of my home on Dec. 28, 2017. What I do have control over is how I think about this event and how I choose to respond to its unfolding impact.

Intention.

I learned about the power of intention from the late, remarkable Wayne Dyer. The concept has served as a strong springboard for my journey to my authentic self. However, today’s guru is Pema Chodron, the revered Buddhist teacher, author, nun and mother. She is a purveyor of peace in these turbulent times ― a soothing salve for troubled spirits.

This week, I bought her calendar to hang over my desk ― a constant visualization to support my path to presence and focus. January’s quote is profound:

“The more you practice not escaping into the fantasy world of your thoughts and instead practicing the felt sense of groundlessness, the more accustomed you’ll become to experiencing emotions as simply sensations ― free of concept, free of story line, free of fixed ideas of bad and good.”

I love this way of looking at emotions ― actively embracing and experiencing them in a healthy way as part of my ongoing practice to master my own thoughts and eliminate limiting beliefs. My work is to notice what I am feeling. For most of my life, I have avoided my emotions and masked them with doing ― rather than feeling. This year is different. I intend to:

  1. Become a student of my own emotions. Honor and value them ― learn from and use them as essential data to become more energetically aligned. As Esther Hicks suggests, I seek to dissolve the “wobble” between my intentions and what I unconsciously believe about myself.
  2. Consistently connect to my inner divine power to discover the Love and Light in every moment ― accessing the ability to lift, support and propel my greatest possibility. Daily meditation is a key component of this one.
  3. Use my gifts as a writer, coach, actor and producer to express authentically and create work that shifts hearts, feeds minds and awakens souls.
  4. Mindfully use more words in my daily communication that accurately describe my feelings. And, find enormous value in this exercise as a writer. Emotional neglect therapist Dr Jonice Webb recommends, “Using words like dismayed, despondent, incensed, blissful, elated, morose, bland, raw, depleted, wary, strained, deflated, perky, free, quiet, devoted or feisty adds dimension and realness to your life.” What simple and astonishing truth.
  5. Notice at least one moment of joy in every day. This is another dimension of cultivating gratitude, I think. Seeing and feeling joy trains my unconscious mind to create more if it. The more you notice, the more you have.

I definitely find joy in viewing my son Ian’s incredible talent in this drawing. And what a wonderful metaphor ― the gentle warrior. Here’s to an abundant, joyful, peaceful and expansive 2018.

Dissolving Chaos

“It is when we lose control that we repress the emotions, not when we are in control.” 
don Miguel Ruiz

Communication is messy.

And contributing to the chaos is the proliferation of platforms, tools and media choices. We have so many ways to express ourselves, but we still can’t seem to connect productively.  Perhaps it’s because the cluttered landscape distorts, dilutes and deflects our messages ― as opposed to streamlining, synthesizing and simplifying them.

Another complicating reality is our basic humanness. In the words of Dale Carnegie, “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”  That terrain can be very tricky to navigate.

Ultimately, the spontaneous combustion of these factors requires a new way to approach each other and communication. That’s why I find the 4 Agreements are so useful ― even essential to my sanity.

Let’s review. The two we have already considered are ― “Be impeccable with your word” and “Don’t take anything personally.”  Both are powerhouses. Thread those needles, and you will be well on your way to peace and oneness, but the other two definitely complete your foundation.

enough time for social media Agreement 3:  Don’t make assumptions. 

We are human beings with distinctive experiences and perspectives, so we are veritable assumption machines ― generating them about everything all the time. These are the stories we tell ourselves in our heads. The difficulties emerge when we start believing these stories as truth ― operating on autopilot. It can become unconscious mayhem.

We see what we have been programmed to see ― products of our families of origin, epigenetic trauma and our own unresolved wounds.  My lens is unique ― as is yours. Unfortunately, these unconscious and conscious assumptions rattling around in our heads impede authentic dialogue.  Often, they fuel a dysfunctional cycle that leads to defensiveness, blame and mortal combat.  So much of our pain and suffering stems from this process, and it’s hard not to draw a parallel to our current national polarity and tension.  But if we communicate with clarity and mindfulness, maybe we can avoid or work through these misunderstandings. This one agreement could completely transform your life.

Yet, we all need to find the courage to ask questions and express ourselves ― without shame or fear of reprisal. This one really resonates with me. As a recovering over-functioner, I have lived most of my life making up stories about situations and then reacting to them.  Grateful for the amazing help I have received along the way, I am now working on acknowledging the needs of my frightened inner child ― realizing that relief and peace are not “out there” somewhere, but inside.  My work now is to consciously develop healthier boundaries ― and rewire the damaging habit of taking responsibility for the unpleasant behaviors of those around me.

ACTION ITEM:  Begin to notice your assumptions. Perhaps, even write them down for a day ― someone who cuts you off in traffic, a board member in your Homeowner’s Association who behaves defensively, or a colleague at work who is still supporting Trump. Oy!  Then, take a look at your thoughts about these encounters ― and remind yourself that you do not have all the data.  Go through the list and feel yourself let go of the absolutes ― as you allow yourself to embrace your real power.

Agreement 4:  Always do your best. 

This one sounds like kindergarten, but then, doesn’t that make sense?  This is really more of a stance than a directive.  The specifics may vary from moment to moment or day to day.  In any circumstance, simply know that you are doing your best, and you will avoid that feisty inner critic and any potential regret.

I like this agreement, because it reminds me of what a gift imperfection can be. (I love Brené Brown and her teachings on this.)  We do not need to be perfect.  We just need to do our best ― and that’s enough. I am enough. It’s about holding an intention to be the good we seek in the world but also being gentle with ourselves and others in the process.

ACTION ITEM: Begin bynoticing what you are noticing,” as Mary Morrissey says. It all starts with awareness, and noticing when that insidious inner voice says things like, “you should,” “you can’t,” or “you’re supposed to.” Make the choice to be at peace with knowing you are doing your best in this moment.

And, breathe. Always a good choice.

Self-Actualization 101: Unravelling “The Four Agreements”

Humans hardly know what they want, how they want it, or when they want it.” 
― don Miguel Ruiz

I admit it. I am a personal development nerd. Perhaps, it’s because I am still searching for the best version of myself and my life ― as well as a way to heal from the experiences that have (gratefully) led me to this moment in time. But, with each new nuance of enlightenment comes another level of responsibility.

Lately, I have been thinking about the “The Four Agreements.” If you have not read don Miguel Ruiz’s multi-layered, yet elegantly simple work of modern philosophy, I urge you to grab your copy immediately. It’s more than “a great deal” on Amazon Prime Day. It will utterly transform the way you see your life ― and live it. This platform gives you a fresher, healthier way to engage in relationships, activities and even difficult encounters. It’s another installment in my continuing #InsideJob series.

The real challenge is practicing them in a disciplined away ― basting your brain in profound yet practical consciousness until it becomes second nature.  Perhaps, that’s why all Four Agreements are so appealing. In a way, they are a practical guide to peace. I am just going to take each one, summarize it and then, briefly provide an action item. Pretty sensible, right? Try them out, and let me know what happens. (We’ll start with the first two in this post.)

Agreement 1: Be impeccable with your word. 

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using your word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

I think this means consciously aligning your words with your truth and heart. Your words are your power to create ― and they are an extension of your divine energy.  Choose them carefully, because they can manifest your reality before you know it. They can also deplete, diminish, discount and sabotage. So, be mindful in every moment ― “one mindfully in the moment,” as we say in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Yet, this is easier said than done ― especially when you consider Dr. Joe Dispenza’s observation in “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself”:

Even when we engage our conscious minds, they comprise only about 5% of who we are. The     other 95% is a composition of our subconscious minds ― our habits and behaviors that have been deeply programmed on our mental hard drives throughout our lives.

In other words, it takes work. We may all need to spend some quality time in #BrainBootcamp, but the glorious payoff is the confidence to take full responsibility for your actions. Release any element of judgment or blame by speaking from this authentic place of kindness, love and truth. Wow, wouldn’t that make a difference in our divided world?

ACTION ITEM: Pay attention to the actual words you use today ― and those other people say to you. They are potent messengers. For instance, what is your default when you respond to a compliment? What words do you say? Do you express a desire by planting yourself firmly and saying, “I need . . .”  How does that feel?  How comfortable do you feel asking a question in a meeting or open forum? Become aware of your own inner dialogue (or that pesky inner  critic) ― how you speak to yourself. I know I find myself saying things like, “Goofball, why did you do that?”  That’s not helpful. Rewiring, Will Robinson! Write them down, and then consider how you can turn them around to produce a more positive result.

Agreement 2: Don’t take anything personally. 

This one is the game changer for me, but then, as an over-functioner from way back, I tend to be far too focused on what other people are doing, saying or thinking.  It’s all about understanding how to set healthy boundaries.  But, here’s the deal ― nothing other people do is because of you. Period. What someone says and does is simply a projection of his or her own reality. Ruiz says, “All people live in their own dream, in their own mind.” It’s not your version of the world. What’s worse, taking things personally makes you ripe for abuse and pain. When you are impervious to the opinions and actions of others, you take back your power, escape needless suffering and find peace on your own terms. Love that.

ACTION ITEM: Make a list of people who seem to “push your buttons.” Notice where you end and where the other person begins in any given conversation. You do not need to take another person’s bad behavior personally. You may notice an emotional impact, but you are free to choose whether to continue engaging or not. Knowing it is not about you is incredibly freeing.

The trauma other folks express goes far deeper than the current interaction with you. However, even though the behavior is not about you, your reaction to it may have something to teach you about you. What is it triggering? What wounds are you activating in you subconsciously? Ruiz says, “You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you.”  What a productive way to contextualize difficult folks in your life.

The first two are magic. Love them so much.  Next post will look at the other two. Can’t wait! Stay tuned. 

Healing Trumps Trauma

“Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” ― Pema Chodron

Appalled. I guess that word describes my current state. I keep trying to come to terms with the abhorrent behavior of our 45th president. Though I work daily to find a place of personal peace, the fear still creeps in. I know all is in “Divine Order,” but I am struggling to discern what kind of order that might be.  What could be the silver lining here? What is the gift in this, as great spiritual teachers might ask?

Well, I have a theory, and I guess I’ll go with it, because it’s really the only way I can contextualize the escalating chaos. I had a light-bulb moment when I saw Jeffrey Lord, a conservative pundit on CNN, attempting to defend 45’s alarming “Morning Joe” Twitter rant. Lord resolutely proclaimed, “You can’t call the president crazy.” Wow!  I had to put down my phone. That one sentence summed it up.

  1. Why can’t you?

There’s something distressingly potent in Lord’s protest. Why can’t you question a disturbing, unhealthy pattern of behavior that could endanger the lives of others ― in the leader of the free world? Lord’s claim shines a light on a pervasive mentality that strengthens the stigma of mental illness in the U.S.  Admittedly, this is not easy terrain to navigate, but mental illness is not a weakness. It is not an insult or a bad choice. It’s a disease ― a disease of the brain.  If you have a stroke, like President Eisenhower suffered in 1957, someone hopefully says, “Hey, something is not right with you. Are you OK? Let’s get some medical attention.” But with mental health issues, it’s much murkier. There is so much shame and embarrassment involved; we don’t speak up. We don’t get involved. The condition may not be as immediately life-threatening as a stroke, but it can certainly result in tragic consequences ― especially if you are president of the United States.

  1. “Crazy” perpetuates stigma.

On another level, I was shocked Lord said “crazy.” It seems to be the media catchall for all aberrant or irrational behavior, and its derogatory connotation helps propagate stigma and patient isolation, too. We are so uncomfortable talking about diseases of the brain that our default is “crazy” or now ― “cra-cra.” This language leaves no room for dignity, recovery or healing. And the shame prevents many from pursuing treatment (if their insurance will even cover it, that is) ― whether they are diagnosed or silently contemplating suicide. In a world where “the overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics . . . and the suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, jumped by 63 percent over the same period,”  we cannot continue to humiliate or ignore those who exhibit signs of mental illness.

  1. An inside job.

And finally, there is the reality to face that if we elected a man suffering from mental illness, he is our mirror. It is time to take responsibility for healing our own inner wounds. It’s time to choose authenticity, conscious communication, mindfulness and healthy boundaries.   

But Trump’s coterie of codependent enablers (flying monkeys) is not helping matters. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump’s tweets, saying he “fights fire with fire.” And Homeland Security Advisor Thomas Bossert minimized the threat of violence associated with the president’s hostile CNN-assault tweet ― actually saying he was “proud of the president” for creating a social media platform that connects with the people.

The 25th amendment offers some guidelines, but the act of defining “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” instantly becomes political and complicated in the realm of behavior.  In addition, the psychiatric profession is still hamstrung by the 1973 Goldwater Rule ― enacted after Sen. Barry Goldwater, the GOP nominee in the 1964 election, was declared psychologically unfit for the presidency by psychiatrists surveyed in Fact magazine.  Goldwater won a defamation suit against Fact, and the resulting rule still prevents psychiatrists from voicing a caveat publicly without conducting an examination. Unfortunately, this further perpetuates stigma, as well― muffling open discussion of mental illness concerns under a cloak of disgrace.  There is probably a middle ground we can explore somehow.

So perhaps, from a quantum perspective, Trump is here to open our eyes (that have been “wide shut”). Maybe it’s time to end the silence, as the National Alliance on Mental Illness  (NAMI) is trying to do in our schools nationwide ― freeing our voices to tackle taboos that keep mental illness under the radar and under-treated. We are only as sick as our secrets, as they say, and questioning the mental health of the president in a constructive, supportive way might help lift the veil.

I am not sure of the answer, but at least we can start asking the questions about the very real behavioral concerns of this unconsciously virulent and externally triggered man leading our nation. It’s about his health ― and ours.

_____________
From NAMI: If there is NOT AN IMMEDIATE THREAT OF DANGER but someone is acting irrationally due to his/her mental state, contact your local mobile crisis team. In the Dallas area, individuals may contact ADAPT Mobile Crisis at 1 (866) 260-8000.  If someone is acting irrationally due to their mental state and there IS AN IMMEDIATE THREAT OF DANGER to themselves or someone else, call 911. 

A Story Works.

Story.StoryWorks _logo

It’s potent and personal prose. Tales of tribulation, trial and triumph.

Story composes and captivates us ―  engages and incites us.

Our stories help us communicate more effectively ― adding color, authenticity and heart to our transactions and texture to our lives.

But, what is your story?  

Are you telling . . . or showing?

Is it a report or an experience? Detached or intimate?

Intellectual or visceral?

It’s all in your mind.

The brain is a complex and intricate operating system that calculates, synthesizes and mystifies.  Though we may believe we are making logical, data-based decisions, neuroscientists are recognizing that emotions are truly the catalysts.  In fact, they drive most of our behavior.

Emotions bypass the maze of embedded neural patterns to generate the feelings that guide our actions, choices and behaviors.  In a sense, emotions are the biological lubricant for all our decisions.

Logic is the final step in the process ― delivering the conscious rationalization needed to justify an unconscious impulse.  That’s where mindfulness can play a key role.

Researchers confirm that more than 90% of our behavior is generated outside of consciousness. So, that means we act based on feelings of trust, confidence and connection ― while we actively seek the data necessary to support those feelings.

The challenge is to recognize this and leverage it ― with the power and purpose of story.

As your plot thickens, join me to learn more . . .

 

Remembering Mary

marytylermoore_creditpbsI think I always wanted to be Mary Tyler Moore . . . throwing my fuzzy, striped wool cap up in the air in the middle of that cold, potential-filled Minneapolis intersection at Nicollet Mall.

That was really my life plan ― unconsciously maybe. I yearned to be a sassy, single career woman on my own, working for my own version of Mr. Grant at a TV station ― and living in a cozy, split-level, efficiency apartment in the land of 10,000 lakes. I actually painted my room yellow and made my own curtains out of sunny yellow-checked bed sheets I bought at Sanger Harris when I was 13. Eventually, I even chose an internship at the Minneapple’s Guthrie Theatre ― ostensibly as part of my graduate arts administration program, but it was probably more about my pursuit of my Mary myth. Unfortunately, my Cold War-era company apartment on Loring Park had more cinder blocks and roaches than Victorian panache, but I did love the Twin Cities.

It’s amazing how seventies television molded me. It taught me that if I had yellow shag carpeting, a really skinny chest of drawers, a self-effacing smile ― and a neurotic, wise-cracking neighbor, things might work out after all. And I tried to work that out for a long time. Mary was my aspiration and, at times, my fragile identity.

I did enjoy countless hours of quality time with my CBS gang. I remember Archie Bunker, Mary Richards, Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett typically occupying my Saturday nights as a pre-teen ― in front of that enormous, fake-wood RCA console in the corner of the living room. I often curled up on my parents’ sea foam green sectional― with a whole box of Reese’s mini-peanut butter cups, a package of Oreo cookies and an ice-cold Tab. Ah, those were the days.

So now, look at me ― I am that single gal, but alas, I’m on the other side of divorce with two sons who are practically adults. I’m back in Dallas, and I finally sold off that skinny, yellow lingerie chest in a garage sale for $15. Admittedly, I had been lugging it around for years and years. I finally emptied the drawers, but I think there was still some junk inside.

Thank you, Mary, for being there all those years. Thank you for serving as role model for me and so many young women who ultimately found strength in themselves. Love is all around, no need to waste it. Will miss you.                                                                                             Photo Credit: PBS.org

 

The Rest of the Story

scrabble-wordsWhen I speak to groups or clients ― I like to describe myself as a translator of sorts.  I interpret a need or message for a specific audience. I help make that high-voltage connection that triggers the response or behavior desired.

In our first installment, we covered components one and two of the high-octane story or appeal:

  • The Pain
  • The Problem

And to review ― we structure the story intentionally to address all key information receptors/processors in the brain ― the emotional, logical and habitual brain circuitry. After all, we learned from Dr. Joe Dispenza in Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself that “our conscious minds comprise only about 5% of who we are. The other 95% is a composition of our subconscious minds ― our habits and behaviors that have been deeply programmed on our mental hard drives throughout our lives.”

Next, let’s tackle the elephant in the room. The Solution.

I always start with the questions. How are you changing or improving lives like the one featured in the appeal? How are you delivering differentiated value? How are you uniquely positioned to effectively deliver this solution and make a measurable impact? What will happen if you don’t act?

Begin with the specific and broaden to a vision of scalability that can happen only with the donor’s involvement. It’s not “we.” It’s “us.” Involve the donor or customer in the solution. As an example, here’s a story about an organization* that provides medications to isolated, under-served communities worldwide:

“Our mission of providing essential medicines to those in the remotest locations around the world is very personal to me,” says Sam Doe, president and CEO of [Organization Name]. “Born in Thailand, I contracted polio as a child and lived in an orphanage until I was adopted by a family from the U.S. at age eleven.” 

Now, Sam wakes up each morning in America and pulls on his full-length leg braces — a daily reminder that he did not receive the polio vaccine as a boy. “On the bright side,” Sam teases, “since my shoes are attached to the braces, I never have to look for them.”

Last year alone, [Organization Name] delivered enough medicines and supplies to treat more than 25 million girls and boys in desperate need around the world. More important to Doe, each treatment represents one face, one child and one life — one more son, daughter, sister or brother who is receiving healing, health and hope.

With your help, suffering cannot prevail.

[*Where appropriate, I have changed names to protect client confidentiality.]

So, we have set the stage with the possible. We’ve created the case. What’s next? Now, it’s time for the climax of our story.  As Samuel Goldwyn said, “We want a story that starts out with an earthquake and works its way up to a climax.”

OLG_visionThe Ask

This is Fundraising or Sales 101. The whole letter or email is moving toward this pinnacle ― building on the “Why you, why now, why here?”  And this is often the place we falter in writing these critical communications. We forget to ask ― and do so directly.  We paint the picture and talk about what we do ― but this is where we drive it home.

Web/Digital Example from the University of Dallas:

JOIN US ON OUR LADY’S JOURNEY

The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a special space on the University of Dallas campus devoted to our Blessed Mother Mary. Conceived as a sanctuary for students, alumni, faculty, staff and the community, it serves as place to meditate, worship, reflect, breathe and be — amid the chaos and commotion of Dallas/Fort Worth, the fourth largest metropolitan area in the nation. 

Situated atop one of the highest observation points in the Metroplex, the Shrine also incorporates the ancient, treasured stone of Tepeyac ― positioning UD among the globe’s most significant sacred locations for the Catholic community. Inspired by Our Lady of Guadalupe’s story as patroness of the Americas, we look forward to finishing the permanent grotto, fulfilling the vision of the Class of 1997 ―and completing the campus’ miraculous spiritual destination.

SHARE THE STORY OF THE SHRINE AND UD <links>

  • Explore a Shrine and Synchronicity: Our Lady of Guadalupe and the University of Dallas
  • Experience the Creation of a Shrine: The Art of Faith: 
  • Marvel at the Miracles of the Madonna: The Science of Faith: 

Support the Shrine and Learn More<Link to info signup and giving.>

There will always be a place to pause— and a candle to light . . .


Only one final installment remains in the story of the story. Take a deep breath and stay tuned.

If you’d like to learn more, sign up on my website. I would be honored to review one of your appeals, as well.  It’s all about maximizing your appeal. It all starts with the story one.

Inspiring Response: 5 Ways Story Can Turbo-Charge Your Message

writeheart“Story is the DNA of all meaning.”  – Annette Simmons

Do your appeals have undeniable power? Do you enthrall, captivate, motivate ― and drive response?

With only weeks remaining in 2016, the cavalcade of carefully crafted requests will soon commence. For most of us, they will arrive from all points, directions and media ― email, snail mail, APPs, Facebook, texts and tweets. What will grab us? And more important, what will snag the  imaginations of our prospects? What will be deleted? Filed? Ignored? Dismissed? Or worse . . . unnoticed?

Some will be cloaked in gratitude. Others will lament the ubiquitous budget gap or unexpected organizational need. Still others are likely to promote a seductive donor challenge, captivating contest, new initiative, capital effort or recognition group.

But they should all have one thing in common ― a compelling story.

What’s the hook? And I’m not talking about a cheesy advertising gimmick or giveaway.  The power to resonate comes from the human, emotional connection.

Big, looming, seemingly logical organizational problems ― like deficits, shortfalls and even unmet needs are just that. The organization’s problems. As communicators, we must focus on the donor’s or prospect’s needs ― they are often triggered at an imperceptible, emotional and even subconscious level.

Though Marshall McLuhan might argue, the message is just as salient as the medium in this case ― especially given the media miasma engulfing us at every turn.  As I wrote in a prior post, I feel effective messaging must address the entire brain ― engaging the emotional, logical and habitual brain circuits.

Behavioral economist George Lowenstein confirms “our subconscious explains our consumer behavior better than our conscious.  Ninety percent of all purchasing decisions are not made consciously.”

Working as a writer, communicator and crafter of hundreds (maybe thousands) of appeals and calls to action throughout my career to to date, I have identified a few key elements that are absolutely essential.  [Where appropriate, I have changed names to protect client confidentiality

The Pain

This is probably the most important concept. And it’s personal.  What is the emotional state ― or discomfort your message can resolve for the prospect or donor?  According to brain theory, everything begins with an emotional nudge, which connects to the cerebral cortex or executive function of making a decision.  And the most important thing about framing a powerful request or appeal is articulating the pain in an intimate, relatable, visceral way. Compare these two.

        “I was deployed in Saudi Arabia on 9/11 . . . And I can still hear the screams . . .”             

         Corporal John Ray’s* battle-weary voice cracks and catches in his throat.

        “We were in combat overnight . . . and we weren’t prepared,” says the slight, sandy-haired U.S. Army veteran ― as he slowly brushes a single droplet of sweat from his brow. 

       “The nightmares never stop, but I just wish I had enough to eat . . . “

                                                                       (versus)

       “Veteran hunger is a growing problem in America . . . And their struggle is significant.”

The top copy is weaving a human story that’s drawing the reader into a specifically defined conflict ― not a daunting global cause that is difficult to quantify ― or feel. More to the point, one tells and one shows.

The  Problem

The next step is the core challenge or problem.  How does this pain manifest, and how does your organization or operation contextualize the issue you are addressing? Get granular. Explain why is your mission is significant, and why should we care? Again, it’s important to construct a very personal, human narrative. Here’s an excerpt form a letter:

It was January 2007. I was on a mission trip that rattled me to my very marrow ― and ultimately changed my life forever. We brought more than 285,000 nutritious meals for hungry, struggling children who were barely surviving in the war-torn squalor.

Shockingly, the meals ran out too soon. There were just too many suffering, vulnerable girls and boys like Maribel  . . . in such dire need.

 We simply did not have enough to go around . . . All  I could do was stand there and weep. So, I had to do  something. 

Are you hooked?  And better yet . . . are you wondering about the next three components? Well, you’ll have to stay tuned for these and other stories. It’s a real cliffhanger . . .

In addition to the five pillars of a great appeal, there are  many other components of your content concoction. Of course, we must artfully integrate urgency, all calls to action, testimonials/success stories, various digital platforms, and customer relationship management (CRM) interfaces. But start with this formula. Start with the IMPACT ― and you will definitely turbo-charge your results.

If you’d like to learn more, sign up below. Tell me about your project. Also, watch for the next installment.  Maximize your appeal. It all starts with the story of one. 

The Art and the Science of Infinite Possibilities

“I look at you all, see the love there that’s sleeping . . .”

— George Harrison

guitarI was taking my morning walk in the crisp Texas air on Sunday and listening to the “random shuffle” on my smart phone. As indicated with crystal clarity here, there are no accidents ― a pattern to the randomness usually emerges. And George’s message in “My Guitar Gently Weeps” impacted me on a profound, new level. Admittedly, we all have our favorite Beatles’ songs, and this is definitely in my top five.

“I look at you all, see the love there that’s sleeping 
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at the floor and I see it need sweeping
Still my guitar gently weeps.”

In sync with this moment, I was attending a dazzling event over the weekend called #DreambuildersLIVE, and I thank Unity Church Dallas for offering special access to the experience.  This was the Mary Morrissey show, and she is certainly a magnetic maestro of meaning ― orchestrating mesmerizing messages in “a container” of multimedia magic.

One of her fundamental life-coaching principles is “notice what you are noticing.” This reinforces and supports my current journey ― as I find it requires vigilant practice. I think of it as “uber awareness” or “turbo mindfulness.”  And it’s essential, because our dreams all start in our own hearts and minds ― an inside job. Deftly unfolding this concept, Mary polished many glistening enlightenment nuggets in her approachable, warm style. “You can’t get TO your dream ― you must come FROM it,” says Mary. Letting that idea seep into every molecule is potemt as I envision and feel my future joy in the now ― the present moment. Be the change. Live the dream. (Need more practice.)

In this iconic song, George is definitely noticing what he is noticing. And though that darn floor is filthy and his guitar is gloomy, he chooses to see the “love there that’s sleeping.” I have read he wrote the song at his mother’s house in Warrington, England as he contemplated “I Ching, The Book of Changes.” It’s regarded one of the most important texts of Chinese wisdom and philosophy ever scribed, and it was a foundational source for Confucius and others.

I believe one of the notions George is referencing is the ethereal mystery of relationships and the interconnectedness of all things and beings in the universe.  Our oneness with all ― and one for all time. Just beginning to embrace these ideas based on ancient philosophies, twenty-first century science is now studying the hidden, untapped power of the brain and its relationship to the quantum field. In fact, “Make it MATTER” is another great Mary-ism ― linking meaning with quantum change and infinite possibilities.

Yes, Mary is vibrating at a higher frequency ― and creating a surge in the process. You could feel it in the room of more than 750 people from across the globe gathered here in Texas for a nexus of relationship and intention to generate something wonderful and good.  So refreshing as we notice . . . our “political floor may need some sweeping.” But . . .

“With every mistake we must surely be learning.”