Choose Your Label

title_pageThe second recognition in The Seer is that your language matters. It is a curiosity to me that of the nine recognitions in the book, this recognition is the one that causes the most conversation and generates the most questions. My latest theory is the notion that the moment we tack a word onto an experience we are defining the experience; we are making a choice. Owning that we have the power to define our experiences through the way we think and talk about them means taking responsibility for our lives. Ownership of your happiness and power and thought might seem overwhelming or, as someone once said to me, “That’s pie in the sky!”

As the storyteller of your life, the language you use to tell your story matters. Try this exercise for a single day: express gratitude for everything – even if you don’t feel gratitude. Tell yourself in the middle of the traffic jam that you are grateful for the jam. And, if you are really bold and brave, take the next step and assign a reason for your gratitude: the traffic is slowing you down so you can breathe a bit amidst an otherwise hectic day. Express gratitude for everything: the meeting you will attend, waiting in the doctors office, the dishes you wash. By the end of the day, if you have been diligent in telling the story of gratitude, you might just feel it. You will certainly have no more doubt that you live life labeling your experiences. It is only a short hop from knowing you have the power to label your life to choosing the label.

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What’s The Story

This is a very old watercolor that I called The Inner Monologue

This is a very old watercolor that I called The Inner Monologue

All the ladies were talking about how their bodies have changed with age. My body has changed, too! You’d never know it now but I used to be less than two feet tall with really pudgy knees. Kerri punched me when I offered my perspective on my body change. Apparently there is a statute of limitation for how far back in time you can go on the my-body-has-changed conversation.

When I was studying acting we were taught to write backstories for our characters. The play script was filled with clues but we learned that a character is not 3 dimensional until it has an articulated history. This was always problematic for me. I had no problem creating a backstory – that was easy – and I could justify my imagined story happenings in the script – but I couldn’t see how my imagined story led to more specific actions in the performance. If anything, the backstory got in my way. Like all young actors I got lost in the backstory, trying to “tell” it rather than pursue my clear action. Acting, like life, is about the pursuit of desire. My backstory muddied my ability to act. Acting is an art form of the present moment.

When I was teaching acting I came across the same problem. The young actors would spend hours telling me the details of their backstory which only served to diffuse their present action. They’d try to perform their history instead of pursue their current target.

The backstory was interesting but functionally useless in the present moment.

I’m finding the same challenge off the stage as I found on it. In one form or another I’ve coached a lot of people. I hear a lot of backstories. Our backstories are interesting. They do what they are meant to do: they give us identity. We spend hours and hours telling each other about our past adventures and abuses. People are storytellers, telling the story of their lives all day, everyday. Most of the storytelling concerns the past. What we did or did not do, what was done to us or justifying what we did to others. Most backstories are about limitation. Most backstories have a root in fear that show up as “reasons why I can’t” stories. Do you remember the famous Richard Bach quote? Argue for your limitations and sure enough they are yours. As interesting and informing as it is, very little of the backstory is functionally useful in the present moment. I don’t want the person I was a decade ago defining the choices I make today.

It’s become something of a mantra for me, something I find myself writing or saying a lot: The actions we need to take are usually very simple. The story we wrap around them make them difficult. What’s the story?

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This painting is called Icarus.

This painting is called Icarus.

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Love The Game

Dog-Dog-Dog in the joy of the pursuit

Dog-Dog-Dog in the joy of the pursuit

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog likes to chase bumblebees. He snaps at them in an attempt to catch them. He never catches them but that does not deter his endless attempts or the glee of his pursuit. He loves the chase. He loves it.

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog also loves to be chased. He only requires something to carry, something to claim that makes the chase necessary. Any stick will do. I walk to the center of the yard, pick up the most available stick, he takes it from my hand and races away. My job is to give chase (as I pursue the Dog-Dog, I say again and again, “Give me my stick!” as if the stick was mine. Such is the power and grace of the human imagination!) Wild-eyed and joyful, he races around the yard at Mach speed, a bumblebee to my snapping dog. I never catch him but that does not deter the glee of my pursuit.

Dog-Dog is teaching me the secret to a joyful life. It is simple: love the chase. It is the glee of the pursuit. As James Carse wrote in Finite and Infinite Games, the point of the game is not to win but to continue the play. The point is to become a better and better player. In an infinite game, winning is not an outcome, it is a way of being. The point is to love playing.

I am grateful that Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog leaps for bees that are nearly impossible to catch. I am grateful that Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog runs from me even though he knows I will never catch him. When I am too tired to continue the chase, he drops the stick and circles back to where I stand huffing and puffing, ready to give him a few pets. His entire body wags with delight. His eyes shine with the thrill of the game and I laugh at his unbridled enthusiasm. He teaches me without using a single word. When I’ve caught my breath, I’ve learned to say, “Hey! Where’s my stick!” Picking any twig from the ground, he snatches it from my hand and we are off and running.

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Tap Your Wellspring

photoThe winning phrase of the week is “Wellspring of jubilation.” It came as a wish, “May you always drink from the wellspring of jubilation.” What a great image!

A wellspring is no ordinary spring. It is a source, a beginning point. The phrase made me ask more than a few good questions. For instance, how would I live my life if I was sourced from a wellspring of jubilation? Or, a more useful question: what is my wellspring? Where do I draw inspiration?

Last night on our back deck we held ukulele band practice. We are rank beginners but we played our notes with gusto whether they were right or wrong. We laughed. We sang so loud that a neighbor down the street got on her bike to seek the source of the music. What is the source of the music?

Jay brought a travel guitar to the ukulele practice to lend to Helen. Helen is petite and wants to play the guitar but is having a hard time finding one small enough for her hands. After the ukulele practice, Kerri held the guitar and played a few chords for Helen and the chords morphed into an old John Denver song. All the women began to sing. The sun was setting, the women were softly singing, and Helen’s face was beaming. She’d found a guitar that she could play. The moment was pure and stopped me in my tracks. It is a gorgeous moment when desire meets potential and possibility is born. This moment was a drink from the wellspring of jubilation. It filled me.

Jubilation is rejoicing. It is celebration and sometimes celebration is quiet. Sometimes rejoicing is a song whispered with friends as the light of day passes from pastel to gray. As I listened to their song, as I watched the faces of the singers, I decided that the wellspring of jubilation is everywhere. I am capable of being in my wellspring all the time. It is not location specific. The source of all things that inspire me is not a place: it is an orientation to my life. It is the simple act of paying attention; seeing the moment, participating in the ordinary that is extraordinary and knowing beyond doubt that the extraordinary is everywhere.

The extraordinary is happening all of the time. The question is not, “Where is it?” The question is, “Can you see it?”

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Speak Your Truth

old photo of an old watercolor. I did this painting sometime in the 1980's

old photo of an old watercolor. I did this painting sometime in the 1980’s

Words hook me and lately I’ve been paying attention to the difference in the phrases:

  • Speak the truth, and
  • Speak your truth

One word makes a world of difference! Literally, an entire world of differentiation is made in one little word. “The” truth or “your” truth?

Outside of every courthouse in America is Lady Truth wearing a blindfold and holding a tipping scale. The idea is that truth is objective and fact based. Truth, so the symbol implies, is blind to any personal consideration and justice is equal to all who enter the marble courthouse. It’s a concept that was firmly ensconced in the age of reason with roots running back to the Greeks: truth is something neutral, measurable, concrete, fixed, and external. In such a construct, inner truth is suspect because it is subjective and, at best, fluid.

I’ve sat on a few juries and was reinforced in the notion that the lawyer who told the better story always wins. Truth in the courthouse was as malleable as truth outside the courthouse. The point of the whole exercise, a prosecution and a defense telling opposing stories to a captive group of citizens, is an exercise in subjectivity. Whose version of truth do the captive citizens embrace? Truth, in the courthouse, is an agreement.

Also, there are a myriad of forces at play in the epicenter of the symbol and few are fixed, blind, or measurable. For instance, a public defender with a mountain of cases does not stand a good chance against a modestly prepared prosecution. The story is already tipped when the circumstance of the play is “someone stands accused….” If truth were fixed and measurable, millions of Americans would not be glued to their televisions each night watching Law & Order. Truth makes for good drama because it is a matter of perception. Truth is perception.

We live in the age of news as entertainment (I’d make an argument that we’ve digressed into the age of news as marketing ideology – but that is a post for another day). For instance, listen to the news as told by MSNBC and then flip your dial to FOX NEWS and you’ll see what I mean. Then, for grins, listen to the same series of stories as reported by the BBC. We regularly apply two words when debating our news-of-the-day that make me shake my head with despair: slant and spin. Truth is what we want to believe – or, more to the point, what others want us to believe.

And therein lies the hook. Because we hold dear the notion that truth is neutral, external, and objective, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we are willing to abdicate personal truth. We blunt the inner guides for what we are told to think, feel, and believe. We become passive. If truth is fixed and external then the inner voice is all but meaningless. Self-doubt is the blossom. The symbol of blindfolded Truth is accurate but it is a different kind of blindness. Seeing is as much internal as external. Experiences are interpreted; there will always be conflicting points of view. That means there will be multiple truths. Always. Isn’t that the definition of subjective?

The only real measure that matters is inner truth. At the end of the day, in the dark of your private space, there is no one other than yourself to ask (and answer) the question, “Did I speak truth or did I spin things.” Words matter. Words create. Truth is the name we give things.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

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Eve, by David Robinson

Eve, by David Robinson

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See It. Feel It.

I call this painting "Sleepers"

I call this painting “Sleepers”

Tom spoke of small actions, the gift of peanut butter to a food kitchen for the poor. He asked, “Will it change the world?” and answered his own question, “I don’t know. In some small way, bringing a bit of hope to anther person, or providing food for a day, maybe it will.” Tom has been meditating on the many ways we enact love but perhaps do not see. He has been wondering if small acts of generosity serve as small acts love. Are not these small acts of generosity capable of changing the world.

For the past year, since moving from Seattle and leaving my work with entrepreneurs, I’ve been pondering this impulse toward change and the ubiquitous desire to change the world. I learned last year that, in business start-ups, the intention to change people is the great sign of folly. Changing people is impossible. If the central intention of the new business is to change people, don’t invest. It’s good rule of thumb.

People pray for a world without violence, a world free of disease and poverty. People read the paper and wonder what has become of the world. Someone recently said to me, “It’s overwhelming. What can I do?”

Tom’s meditation has brought him to this: it is not the doing that ultimately matters. It is quality of the being that matters. If your doing changes your being, you have changed the world. If some small act of generosity or compassion opens you, it changes the world. In the year prior to my move, I walked across the city of Seattle twice each day. I made it a game to count the small acts of kindness I saw each day during my crossing. There were always too many to count. People opening doors for others, making space in line, helping someone who dropped their packages, blocking traffic for an elderly person to cross the street. My walks were steeped in otherwise small invisible generosities.

The mistake we make when desiring change in the world is to think of change as a bottom line, change as an outcome or end result. Change as a forced march or dose of castor oil. Changing the world is not an arrival platform. It is within every act of kindness. It is every generous thought. It is fluid, on going, never ending.

One thing I learned from my walk with entrepreneurs is that every single start-up came about because someone saw a way to make life easier for others. What makes an idea good is how effectively it helps others. And so, in pursuing their idea, in every small action, they change themselves. They play in the field of possibilities. In changing themselves, they cannot help but change the world.

Will a donation of a jar of peanut butter to a food bank change the world? Perhaps. If it feels good. If it changes you. Small acts do not exist in isolation. To change the world you need only change yourself. People do not exist in isolation. The river flows. Each act impacts others in small ways and large.

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Use Your Key

Photo by londonstreetart2

Photo by londonstreetart2

The other day I received an email from a long lost cousin. She spent some time on my website watching old interviews and contemplating my assertion that through our inner monologue we story ourselves. The idea was disturbing to her. How could she be the teller of her story and yet feel so powerless? So many things have happened to her! How could she possibly be responsible for the twists and turns of her life? She asked, “How exactly is one to find empowerment when the door is locked and the key wasn’t left under the mat….”

I’ve been slow in responding to her questions because my impulse to respond was so immediate. I wrote and then deleted, “If you do not have the key, who does?”

Her metaphor is perfect. There is door to life and it is locked. Someone else has the key.

And, to make matters more cruel, there is a mat, a tease, a place where the key should be. The mat is a constant reminder of the absence of the key. Her metaphor gives structure to a very specific story, does it not? It defines the actions of her life, the role in which she has cast herself. In such a story frame there is no access to life, there is no possibility of personal power.

I wonder what she might see if she held a different metaphor? I wonder what she might see if she recognized that she is the keeper of the metaphor and in that way the giver of meaning to her life and not the seeker of meaning? I wonder what she might experience if she saw herself as a locksmith or an opener of doors? I wonder what she might experience if she recognized that life is available on both sides of the door? Life knows no doors. Life needs no key.

Her confusion is also perfect. She has mistaken her circumstance for her story. None of us has control over our circumstances. Cancers come. Hurricanes happen. Empowerment comes when we recognize that we have infinite control over who we are within our circumstance. Empowerment is not given, it is chosen.

The Buddhists recommend joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. No one sails through life without difficulty and hardship. The difficulty and hardship are the very things that bring growth and illumination. Participate joyfully. Or, participate painfully. The sorrows of the world will always be there; how we participate is the story we choose to tell. If there is a key to life, if a key is necessary in your story, in her story, it is simply this choice.

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