David Sibbet | Lessons from the High Sierras—Taking Stock of 2013
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Lessons from the High Sierras—Taking Stock of 2013

Bishop-OwensRiver&Range - Lessons from the High Sierras—Taking Stock of 2013I always spend time in the dark of the year thinking through what is lying deep in the soil of my life that will spring forth in the next cycle of the sun. This year I’ve drawn deeply from the lessons I learned as a boy growing up on the East Side of the Sierras in Bishop.

This is a picture of where I grew up, a bit out of town to the north near the Owens River, close to the mesa where I went on my first vision quest in 1986. I know in the very fiber of my being that valleys and mountains are not separate, but completely interdependent ideas. And so are grief and love, freedom and constraint, hope and depression, life and death. This has been the deep lesson of 2013. I’d like to share some of these reflections for those of you who are following my journey.


Succeeding & Letting Go

I found out this morning that Visual Leaders, the full color book that came out from Wiley & Sons in January, is being considered as one of the best business books on leadership this year by 800CEOBlog. Along with Visual Meetings getting its 16th translation deal and Visual Teams steady success largely due to interest in the Team Performance System, and getting the Organization Development Network’s lifetime achievement award it’s been a great year professionally. It happened, as earlier posts about my dear love Susan’s passing explain, in the context of me completely letting go of a strong work focus to support her, and giving up anything that even remotely looked like “trying.” The Grove team stepped up. I found out it’s possible to have the deepest possible feelings, and a real loss of grounding, and the river of life keeps flowing. How beautiful a lesson is that!!!

Grief & Love

As long as I’m writing about Susan I can share that losing a true life partner (48 years together) is an emotional El Capitan ( to assert a climbing metaphor–it’s the steepest climb at Yosemite). I have never experienced such depth of feeling and loss. But these feelings would not be possible if our love hadn’t been just as deep and wide, and I have and had a choice to drown in the emotion, or let myself feel the gratitude and love that is at its source. I’ve chosen the latter, and my relationships are transforming as I discover that the love I learned to share with Susan can be shared with others. The growing closeness I am experiencing with my children and grandchildren is a true gift. I’m finding that even clients respond to openness and love. Imagine that!

Fast & Slow

Last year as Susan’s cancer became more severe and she needed help standing, sitting, or moving anywhere I had to learn a completely new way of moving, and it was VERY slow. I”m a pretty energetic person, and this was a real challenge. But slowing so much alllowed my feelings to flow much more quickly. Instead of overriding my emotions with busyness I was having my emotions. I also found that taking time for renewal, which as a caretaker is mandatory, led to much more efficient action when I needed to work and do business. I always remember my mentor Michael Doyle (co-founder of Interaction Associates) saying you have to “go slow to go fast.” How true of life in general.  I’ve also learned from my colleague Gisela Wendling, a student of transformational processes, that for people to truly change it has to happen at the feeling level, and this requires going slow. Laurie Durnell, Director of Grove Consulting, and I met the other day to look at how Grove trainings are going to expand next year, and reminded me of something I’d said years ago and forgotten–following a vision quest experience I believe. I came in and exclaimed, “I found out this week that I can’t hurry up slowing down!” So 2013 was a reclaiming of this wisdom.

Complexity & Simplicity

There was and is no way that my mind, as flexible and practiced as it is, can comprehend or symbolize a year like 2013 ( I’m writing as someone who started my 177 journal last week). I’d been several months into adjusting to Susan’s being gone when my dear counselor, vision quest guide, and meditation teacher Chayim Barton died in a tragic bicycle accident on a foggy Aptos day. Somewhere in the mists he ended up running head-on into a pickup truck and never recovered. He was 58 and in the peak of health. If I thought I understood grief and loss this surprise took by well out into a sea that seemed to have no shores. I began to describe this time as being Pi on the boat in the Pacific. But I found out what works. Just breathing and living. Gardening. Learning to cook. Calling the kids. Checking in at work. Letting life find its way. Just noticing. Just watching myself without judgment. Just being in the present. Breathing. Not making decisions. My father loved to quote Jesus saying that if we want to know the kingdom of heaven we need to become as a child. But how does a grown, successful, alpha male man become as a child? Well getting gobsmacked by life helps! I am radically back to beginners mind. I’m practicing acceptance. I’m actually experiencing joy AND grief.

I could continue with this. On my jog this morning up to Strawberry Hill in the middle of Golden Gate Park I experienced my own urban version of peaks and valleys. The challenge of running up without stopping was linked to the exhilaration of going back down when I made it. As I headed back through the flats a man threw a ball to his golden retriever out in the still damp grass. A leaf blew across the sidewalk. I felt connected to both, like these were just facets of a me that has experienced a true death, and a true release—a freeing from what I know, to look at life just as it is.

What do I want for the holidays, a friend asked? I’ve feel like I’ve already received my gifts for the year.

2 Comments
  • Susan Berry
    December 17, 2013

    Hello David,
    Once upon a time you wrote about the value of transparency in facilitation work. You urged facilitators to let a group’s ideas take shape on a chart in their own words, without additional interpretation.
    This is a high standard to keep. Often, while facilitating, there is the temptation to add a ‘better’ word or rush to the next phase of the work. The urge to push experience rather than wait, and listen, and feel for what is there. Yet I know that the transparency of what is recorded enables people to share ideas openly, and come to their own clarity and conclusions.
    Reading your retrospective of 2013, I am struck by its clarity and transparency. The contrasting experiences of your professional achievement, Susan’s death, your grief, healing and community are offered without additional interpretation. I am able, through reading what you have recorded, to see more clearly what is of value in life and to come to my own conclusions about what, in this moment, is dear.
    For many years, your facilitation tools, methods, and model have inspired me. Now the life experience you embody and report provides another kind of mentorship. Thank you for the clarity of vision you have gained from this past year, and for passing on this gift.
    With deep appreciation,
    Susan Berry

  • Femmie Sibbet
    December 12, 2013

    Hi David,
    This is so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this with friends and family.
    You and your family have been in my thoughts and prayers for months… I simply didn’t know what to say about Susan passing, except that I am so very sorry.
    You mention experiencing joy AND grief, together. That to me, is “unsurpassable peace” that I have also experienced through great loss. It is a supernatural experience. This is the gift we receive from God when we take time to “slow down” and simply “be thankful”, like you wrote so beautifully. I strive for that more and more as I get older and encounter more valleys along with the mountains.
    You really have received gifts through this most difficult year, David, and I believe in my heart you will continue to.
    Thank you so much for expressing these words of love, kindness, and hope. You are giving others strength, even when you may feel weak. Our love extends out to you and the family.
    Love, your cousin Femmie

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