Episode #21: How and Why to Embrace Chaos in the COVID-19 Era with Christine Owenell
Caneel: This is Caneel Joyce, welcome to Allowed. Thank you so much for returning today. If you’re a new listener, thank you for joining us. Today I’m here with a friend and a colleague, Christine Owenell, and honestly, I can’t believe I made it here.
I was literally fighting a wild beast. My puppy is like growing so fast. He’s becoming so strong and while I was walking him before I left for this, he snapped his leash because he’s so pent up with energy.
He’s used to going into work with Roy every day where there are tons of dogs and running around and walking all day and he’s stuck in the house and we’re basically trying to ignore him while we do homeschooling.
Well, Christine, Here we are today on day six of homeschooling for I think for many of us. We are recording this episode on Friday, March 20th and I know that a lot of the Bay areas are actually on shelter in place warnings. We don’t know what the future holds.
So each of the episodes of Allowed that we are recording during this time of crisis is here to give you further permission to milk this experience for all that it has got for you. To approach it as a leader. To approach it as a learner. To approach it as a lover.
Today on the show we have the beautiful Christine Owenell who I fell in love with the moment I met her. She feels like a person that I’ve always been meant to meet and be with. I was so lucky when she came into my life.
We met through Evolution and she’s here today to talk to us about the alchemy of chaos, which is something that we’re all getting to experience now. COVID-19 is really presenting us with a lot of opportunities to learn about leadership and is a more kind of extreme learning situation than we may have had the opportunity to go through before.
So without further ado, I want to introduce Christine Owenell.
Christine is a partner in Evolution and the founder of the Owenell Global Consultancy. Christine is an executive coach, a teamwork facilitator, a purpose economist, a cosmic mystic, and a mother. Christine’s work supports positive behavioral change through experimental strategies and elevating self-awareness.
Her clients include Slack, Vanderbilt, Ticketmaster, Radiology Partners, Northwestern Mutual, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, and many, many more. And she also specializes in wealth consciousness and coaches, high net worth individuals.
Now, how did she get connected with them? In her early career, she was in academia as a Clinton Scholar and then began doing research in hostage negotiation and counter intelligence which led her to living on four different continents and becoming the senior vice president of a $1 billion investment firm.
Through all of this, she was tracking a fascination she has with the psychology of the human condition and how elements of our mindset impact our magnetism and our own personal impact. So I’m really excited to have this brilliant, worldly mind on the show today. And for those who don’t know, we also have a video posted for you at caneel.com/podcast. Christine, thank you so much for being here on the Allowed podcast today.
Christine: Thank you so much Caneel. I also fell in love with you from day one. So happy to be here.
Caneel: I love your glowing beautiful face. So Christine, what’s going on in your world today? Want to check in?
Christine: Yes, let’s do a check in.
I am checking in today with a sense of calm and it’s almost a feeling of exhilaration and I keep second guessing myself. Ever since this started to pick up speed, this has kind of been my baseline general mood and I had this voice in my head saying, “you clearly aren’t in touch, Christine. If you can feel invigorated and in living in this possibility mindset, and feel strong and grounded, you’re not paying attention.”
But I think that today I’m gonna check-in and own how I feel, even with the work from home. This is day seven of level five isolation. No one in and no one out of our house. We’ve gotten all of our groceries delivered. We’ve been ordering packages for things that we need. And we have two young kids.
We have a one year old and a three year old. So it’s been a huge renegotiation of just the way that we live our day to day life. And at this point we’re finding a really surprising and unexpected cadence of what feels very peaceful.
And so, I’m checking in, present to the reality that I’m currently in, despite the chaotic nature of panic and death and suffering and destruction and companies shutting down and all of it. And I think it’s possible to hold both.
So that’s still the question I’m asking myself. “What does it look like for me to hold both of those things? Staying grounded in the reality of the real suffering that’s happening, and also stay grounded in the reality of possibility that I feel in every bone in my body.”
Caneel: Welcome Christine.
So I’m checking in, it’s day six of homeschool and It’s day three of no shower. It’s just not essential for me right now. I think that tonight it will be, but I’ve definitely felt very called forth by this. I’ve also felt like disaster readiness is in my DNA.
I found myself thrilled by the opportunity to homeschool my kids, which I remember a year ago sharing with my coaching group, a group where I’m a recipient of the coaching, sharing with them that one of my goals for having a big 2020 was to have enough patience and resilience that I could homeschool my own kids.
I remember a lot of the guys who know me really well were saying, “I’m just asking myself if that’s realistic. Caneel. I think you might be really over extended because of the number of things on this list.” But I also felt like, “no, this truly is my goal.” I would like to have the patience that I could slow down the pace of our life. And so while my emotions have been up and down, I’ve also just felt all of the creativity of this moment.
I’ve really been falling into this role that I’m in as a woman in my house and a woman in society and in my kids’ life and the difference of what it is that I’m being asked to do now versus what my husband’s being asked to do.
We’re really working through a lot of resistance.
I’m trying to find peace around that and feeling very powerful as a mom. My kids, even though I can tell they’re adjusting and there are some challenges to it, they are still saying how happy they are to get to have me as their teacher.
You wouldn’t know sometimes from the looks on their faces, but it’s really nice to hear those words every now and then. So I’m feeling like, in general, this era is asking all of us to grapple with reality and responsibility and opportunity.
So yeah, chaos. It’s here. Let’s dig in.
You shared with me before this call that this new idea came to you in the COVID-19 era about the alchemy of chaos and you’ve actually got a program that you’ve designed already.
Christine: Yes. It’s just flowing through me. I feel like I’m just stuck into this inspiration flow and when I think I’m out, I’m not and it just keeps going. So yeah, there’s a group program, it’s a group coaching program that has come through for me in the last 48 hours.
Caneel: I really want to hear about the program but first, let’s hear about the bedrock of it which is this idea that came to you, the “alchemy of chaos.” What does that mean to you?
Christine: I love the word alchemy. The word alchemy means a seemingly magical process of transformation and it also can mean a process of creation. Transformation and creation is something that we talk about a lot in what we do.
The chemical reality that we have on our hands, and why I love the word alchemy so much, is it’s this notion of taking what is in our hands that might feel like coal and alchemizing it to gold. Taking the poison and alchemizing it into elixir. Taking a virus and alchemizing it into global health, whatever that looks like.
Taking all of the challenges that are being presented to leaders in any capacity right now and on various levels and this immense shared global challenge of leadership and alchemizing it into perhaps rewriting the playbook of the way that we have led from the past up until now.
And I think that it’s important to talk about the word chaos with that and almost like put chaos on a pedestal. Instead of looking at it as this awful thing, if we can shift the frame and the lens on to the opportunity that this chaos truly does present.
It’s that first step of turning to face what is, right now, global chaos within a pandemic.
Caneel: It is a beautiful title. When I think of the idea of holding the coal and alchemizing it into gold, this is a lot of how I think about working with shadow. And we had on the podcast in episode 2, Luke Entrup, talking about shadow and the idea that within us there are these unclaimed parts – the parts of ourselves that we deny, we reject, we disown.
We essentially claim “that’s not me. That’s out there. That’s you. That’s them. That’s doesn’t even exist.” And a lot of the work that we do in our coaching is we help people to excavate that shadow and raise it up and look at it and say, “look at the jewels that are here. Look at these gifts that you have.”
You were taught at some point that they were not allowed and that they were not here to serve you. When we have that negative point of view about parts of ourselves, those pieces of ourselves become reactive. They become out of control. They work against us. They work against what’s of service because we’re in denial of them.
But when we hold them up and we look at them, that’s when we can find the gift in each of them. So, when I’m hearing you talk about alchemizing, I’m hearing about finding the gift in the thing without denying the reality of the thing. Transforming it.
I also can imagine that many of our listeners, depending on what’s happening in that day, have a lot of resistance to this idea that we can take something as traumatizing and challenging and unfair as COVID-19 and turn it into something positive.
This might feel really insensitive almost.
And I’m wondering, how do we hold both of these ideas that there is suffering happening, and it’s maybe even happening to us, and yet there’s something good here, without feeling like we’re kind of out of allegiance or like in denial?
Christine: I want to name first that what you just said is a lot of where my self doubt has come from in the past week. My internal voice says “you’re out of touch. You aren’t aware of what’s really going on.”
But I think that it’s my expanded awareness of what is going on and being in flow with it instead of resisting it that actually is allowing this opening to happen.
2019 was one of the most devastating years, personally, that I’ve ever faced. And my normal Christine in 2018 would have come in and rainbow washed everything. This is something I had beee doing for most of my life.
I’ve always been like “stick with positive thinking. We can do this. That’s not as bad as you say.”
I was completely missing the point and I think devaluing the value of recognizing the suffering in ourselves and others.
What 2019 gave me, it didn’t feel like a gift at the time, was the capacity to sit in the sludge of the suffering, personal and collective.
It was only after I opened myself up to what was happening, as opposed to prematurely trying to fit it into something positive, and believe me, I tried to get out of this a million different ways. But when I was forced to sit in this suffering that’s when everything just opened up.
It feels like that was a training ground for me for this moment. I feel the suffering. I fully acknowledge it. I read about it. I’m not oblivious and I’m not trying to rainbow wash the reality of the situation.
I think that it’s my deep acknowledgment of the reality of the situation that’s allowing me to have the energy that I do and to have a conversation about what it can mean for us, both personally and collectively.
Caneel: Absolutely. What I’m hearing is 2019 presented you with all these challenges. We talk on the show a lot about the change formula and in order to change, we need to have either enough vision or enough discomfort, plus enough support, to be able to overcome our natural state, which is resisting change.
I heard you say that word “forced.” You were forced to acknowledge that there is suffering in order to have this opening. And This opening actually sounds like it was integration for you.
You’re integrating the shadowy parts of the optimistic energetic type seven enneagram, who wants to rainbow wash things prematurely, and combining it with the maturity of the evolved piece that can say “there is actually an opportunity to use that for good so long as I am not in denial of reality.”
Christine: Yes, beautifully said. There’s an opportunity to use this for good SO LONG AS we’re not in denial of reality. That is the key because none of the other things are going to land if that reality piece isn’t there.
Caneel: The role of the conscious leader, which is something we need to ask every person to do, not just our CEOs, is threefold.
One, is to face reality.
Then two is to hold multiple realities, infinite realities. There are so many different and true experiences of the same exact phenomenon happening right now.
Then three is to create reality.
So I think that’s what your alchemy is about.
Christine: Absolutely. What you said about facing reality and embracing reality that there is, right now, this opportunity that we have that’s unavoidable. We’re having to do that in the world.
Our ability to do that with ourselves and have that understanding of ourselves facing the reality of ourselves, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that there are countrywide orders from the government to go home, be with your family, be still, rest, and be with what is. There’s nothing out there in the world for you right now and maybe there never was.
So it’s like as we are coming home literally, we are coming home metaphorically. From that place of being within the reality of what is inwardly, and and our family zone, it is then that we’ll be able to powerfully create that reality in our companies, in society, and in the world at large. There are so many mirrors.
Caneel: Starting in the home is an interesting way to look at this or even starting in the self.
I’m just wondering, how are you doing this for yourself right now? How are you alchemizing chaos in your home? Can we start there?
Christine: Well, I first had to alchemize it in myself, and when I start to feel this moment.
I also would like to note that I was one of the people at the beginning of this thing that has changed my mind 50 million times as information comes in, but I was in denial at the beginning. So I was like, “Oh, it’s fine.” And it was not fine.
It was only after I was able to open to the dissonance of my own behaviors, my own actions, my own assumptions, that then that chaos feeling came within myself.
The way that I faced that was I, first of all, forgave the parts of me that I was judging.
Then, I had a writing practice where it’s just a stream of consciousness and I just write what feels true and name as much of it as possible.
I named as many of the voices as I could that were unhelpful. I love that phrase, name it to tame it.
Once we can name it, we can work with it. So before naming it, it feels like this nebulous black swirly cloud that feels like chaos.
I have created a practice of understanding myself in the context of who I am through writing, through naming, through thinking, and through being still.
Then it was like the house became calm as soon as I did that. my mindset had a direct influence on my home. It was my way of being that was creating this feeling of craziness.
The second I settled that in myself, my children, who are instant mirrors for anything that’s happening with me, they were good, and my husband and I have now just settled into this pattern of supporting each other and being there for each other and trading off.
It’s just been this really incredible experience of the possibility. We keep calling it “Team Family.” We’re just “Team Family” existing in our home for however long. It doesn’t feel chaotic in our home.
Caneel: Wow. I want to talk about naming. This is a thing I feel like is a little bit of “coach speak” and we use it often.
I want to break it down for our listeners.
So imagine that we’ve got a listener who is doing the dishes, walking their dog, or up in the middle of the night listening to the show. I wonder Christine, could you give them a one to two minute kind of live coaching experience to help them understand what this writing process of naming things feels like to you?
Christine: I would ask that person to write down 10 things that feel the most true. Just the first things that come out of your brain, whether it’s an assertion about something, or a question, or an “I am” statement, just to get in that flow of being able to name things.
That’s a version of naming. Just naming what’s true at this moment.
Then, I would look at that list and read it over and see whichever item creates a reaction or a charge. What that can feel like is maybe your stomach turning over, or you feel like a heat wave, or a chill bump wave, or even just the slightest subtle reaction of any kind.
Then, I would take that and be in inquiry about it. I love to do this, especially when something feels really heavy – because it might be a lot of heaviness that people are feeling right now, especially with uncertainty and doubt and future tripping and all of that.
The heavier it is, the more helpful curiosity and playfulness will be.
So pulling out that one thing that you’re going to be in inquiry around, and then there are questions that can be asked about that. Where is this coming from? What is it? What am I making this mean? What about this is true? Whatever the answer to that is, where do I feel that in my body?
Then wherever that is drop in and ask what does it feel like?
It’s amazing how quickly we can reduce the tension that we feel towards ourselves, towards situations, towards another person, just by going through this process of being with it in curiosity.
I love when you use the word integration because I think that integration is the key. It’s not being in resistance of something that feels uncomfortable, whether that’s on a micro scale or a macro scale. It’s the ability to involve it in ourselves and to make it part of us instead of trying to get over it or move through it, or even to see it as an obstacle that we walk around and leave in our past.
What if every obstacle that we faced was actually this gift and we’re being invited to make it part of ourselves and therefore become bigger and stronger and not leave it behind? That could be a valuable sapphire in the road that looks like a giant boulder. Take it with you. Put it in your bag.
Caneel: Sometimes when I guide leaders through this, I might throw out a bunch of prompts like you just did, and sometimes I get the question, “what do I do now?” “Am I doing it right?”
I just want to give all of you listeners total freedom.
Christine named this exercise free writing for a reason and there’s truly no right or wrong place to go with this.
I know that Christine and I are both huge fans of The Artist’s Way. Which, if there’s ever been a time to do The Artist’s Way, it is right now. People pick it up. The book is written by Julia Cameron. It is one of the best experiences and books that I’ve ever come across. It’s completely life changing and also so simple.
In the book Julia advocates for you to make free writing one of your basic practices every morning. Do it first thing when you wake up, when you’re still groggy, before you do anything else, you free write three pages and I love doing this.
Just name 10 things that are true and from there, the number of questions we can ask about those things is infinite. But the point is that you take it where it leads you.
Being in inquiry is this practice of actually sitting in the question and being the question rather than needing to answer the question. There is no answer. When you get busy trying to find answers or solve it, you leave presence.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t answers. It doesn’t mean there aren’t questions that are important to answer. But when we have an unanswerable question on our hands, facing the reality of that means being inside the question instead of making the question go away.
Certainly resisting what’s happening is going to increase your suffering – including resisting your own resistance.
I noticed last night I was beginning to panic myself. I was feeling anxious. I felt my body getting anxious and then I said to myself, being anxious isn’t going to help. Then I got anxious about being anxious. Right? I was meta-anxious and as soon as I said, okay, I’m anxious right now, what does an anxious person do to calm down?
Maybe they distract themselves.
Then I asked Is that really the conscious thing to do?
And I’m like, well yeah, because the reality is I’m anxious right now which isn’t serving me.
So I decided to read some comedy and I began reading.
After a while, I emerged and I was ready to be with my family and give them lots of love and have patience and all of the things that were really the things I was scared I was going to lose to begin with by being anxious.
So Christine, let’s speak to our leaders in the audience. There are lots of forms of chaos happening in our organizations.
People are being laid off, which is a very difficult thing to do for a leader at this time. We’re seeing massive changes to the way that we have to operate as businesses on a day by day basis. Things are changing and every individual has a lot of new demands put on them and so much uncertainty.
Janet Logothetti was on the show a couple of days ago and was talking about this being a VUCA time, which means volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous.
So how do we actually do this as leaders? How do we help our organizations alchemize chaos?
Christine: This is a really big question and a really important one. I also think that it’s a question that doesn’t have one answer. It doesn’t even have 100 right answers. This is one of those questions where there might be a thousand right answers depending on the circumstance.
There are so many specific circumstances that require being in presence.
If I were to give one piece of invitation for leaders right now, it’s that every possibility is found right now. So, if you’re resisting what is, you can’t access what is possible, which is then the key to the next step in leadership.
Being aware of the reality, being aware of infinite realities, and creating a new reality. Even though it’s so hard and I’d know that this is going to be very unconventional advice, I would ask leaders to consider not over strategizing and not trying to plan too far in the future because right now, none of us know what the future will bring or what will change, even tomorrow.
There is no playbook for this for any of us.
No one knows what to do right now and trying to be a leader pretending like you do is going to keep you out of presence.
If you’re out of presence you won’t be able to access what the next right step is.
I think that that’s the mantra for everyone right now, “what is the next right step?” Whether it’s the death of a loved one, whether it’s reckoning with the existence of these issues that are arising from the fold of this that that no one knows how to handle. It’s the people that are getting laid off. The companies that are shutting their doors. Yes, this is happening and what is here for me now?
Maybe it’s even in this conversation that I’m having with someone that I’m having to lay off and it’s the most unimaginably horrible circumstance because they have six kids at home and a partner that doesn’t work. What do you say?
There’s nothing to say.
There’s nothing to do other than be with each other.
I’m trying to like, not critique myself as I talk because I know that there are so many layers of circumstances that people are dealing with right now.
I think that I still am going with just my intuitive center right now and inviting anyone to say “yes, and what is here for me right now?”
Caneel: It’s such an important question.
There is something here for me right now. There’s something here for us right now. It’s operating for us. It’s operating for me. What is it?
And instantly, especially in a time where you’re feeling challenged, the only way to answer that question is to get super curious.
So I have a client who works in one of our nation’s largest meal servers. That’s what she’s in charge of. She’s suddenly been told that they’re not going to be serving food anymore. What do you do?
What does it look like inside of an organization?
It looks like a lot of people scrambling to find something to be right about and something to be in control of.
There’s such a difference between being right about something that’s just a story versus being connected to the reality of what is true right now.
I keep trying to remind myself that in a year when my kids look back on this time, regardless of their standing academically, I want them to remember how much stronger our relationship became, how much they learned about themselves, how much they grew.
I don’t want them to remember me being really attached to a preconceived notion, which by the way, it was handed down to me by another person looking for a right answer because the school districts are really trying hard right now to give people a sense of control. But me holding onto that schedule so rigidly, which is what I notice I start edging towards as I become more stressed, it’s like I have to ask myself what is my purpose here? What is here for me now?
I’m here to help them see their own gifts in this, help them find their own strength, and help us have stronger relationships.
So to me, a lot of the, “what is true” involves what my highest purpose is right now. That’s a truth I can hold on to.
I think it important to give ourselves the grace and acknowledgement to allow different things to be true every day and to allow ourselves to change our minds and not stick to some other notion of what was true yesterday.
The world is shifting around us at a rapid pace. So, I find that people who are bent on proving their rightness, it usually comes from a place of insecurity, like trying to hold their rightness as a semblance of stability within chaos.
And it doesn’t help anyone.
I want to tell you a quick story about what happened to my daughter this morning who is four. It was so cute. So, she came downstairs to the kitchen and she said, “I want to make a button and I want to put handles on everything all over the house.”
And I said, “Oh, what, what would that do for us?”
And she said, “and then when you’re scared you can hold onto the handle and it helps you be loving instead of scared.”
Caneel: I’m like, thank you for telling me what you need and what I need.
Christine: Kids are incredible.
Caneel: They are so incredible. She literally said that “be loving and not scared.”
Christine: I want to share one story from last night about my son who is three.
I was putting him to bed, we were reading a book and he has learned to memorize pages. And we’re reading this kid’s book and we got to the end and he was doing all of his memorized pages and then, instead of reading the last page, which was just “the end,” which he always knows to read.
He said, “if you love yourself, it doesn’t matter.”
I was like, “what did you just say?!” Because that is something I had been going through yesterday in my head. How do they know?
Caneel: They know.
Thank you, Christine. I’m really looking forward to having you back on the show and it was so great to be with you here today.
Christine: What a fantastic conversation. Thank you for all of your questions and thank you for your brilliant mind and your soul. It’s been an honor to be here.
Caneel: Since we’re talking about it, I want to tell one more kid’s story.
So yesterday, my kids were talking about scary things. I guess they were running away from our dog and Soren said, “pretend he’s a monster.”
So then they’re talking about ghosts and zombies. Arrow asks Soren, “what’s a zombie?” And Soren says, “Zombies and ghosts are opposite of each other. So a zombie has a body, a ghost doesn’t have a body. A ghost is just a soul. The zombie doesn’t have a soul. It only has a purpose.”
Which I thought was a fascinating way to see it. It only has a purpose.
And I said, “yeah, but they’re also similar because a zombie is not alive and neither is a ghost.”
And he said, “actually, mom, a ghost has a soul and we have a soul, and our soul is actually the only part of us that’s alive.”
Christine: Kids are amazing. Wow. I’m going to write that down.
Caneel: A zombie doesn’t have a soul, it only has a purpose.
And this relates to our society which can be so bent on, “what’s your purpose?” And that is zombie companies right now that don’t have souls and they just have a purpose of increasing their value year over year.
That’s a purpose. That’s not a soul.
All right girl, I’ll see you next time. Thank you for being here.
Christine: I’ll talk to you soon.
Caneel: Listeners, thank you for being here today. I really appreciate you showing up.
I really would love to hear how you are doing wherever you are. Please come to join the Allowed Facebook community.
I hope you are all at ease.
I hope that you are all healing and we’ll see you next week.