Choose Your Path

another detail of And Now

a detail of my painting And Now

Months ago Steve told me that he’d read my book. “I liked it,” he said, “But the only thing I don’t get is the first chapter. What do you mean when you say that we don’t have problems, we have patterns?” Since we were in the middle of a rehearsal we didn’t have the chance to discuss it. I forgot about that conversation until yesterday. I was digging through some old notes and found my original note, the first time I told a group that they didn’t have a problem, they had a pattern. I was facilitating a very dysfunctional group and having a great time untying their collective dedication to misery. Afterwards, I wrote extensive notes because the day’s conversation spun my dials. In rereading these notes I find them more relevant today than ever. Here’s what I recorded:

On the road to power the path splits: one path leads to power-with-others. The other road leads to power-over-others. The fork in the road is determined by where you seek your worth. It is, when all else is stripped away, a matter of focus placement. Where do you seek your worth?

            1) If you seek your worth from others, you will take the path to power-over others.

          2) If you seek your worth within yourself, you will take the fork that leads to power creation with others.

If you seek to glean your worth from others you are essentially trying to control the uncontrollable (what other people think, feel, see,…is out of your control). Control is a fear path and requires protection, shielding, etc..

When people stop trying to control what they cannot control, when they place their energy and focus not on what others think of them but on what they think of themselves, they open. They become safe in the world primarily because their safety is not located in what others think (it is located in themselves).

To pay attention to the self brought from the group an assumption that they would become self-absorbed; they would ignore or disconnect from others. I asked them to imagine this: make the basic assumption that they were loved, that they were already worthy beyond measure. A healthy self-worth does not require self-absorption but its opposite. Respect for others is not possible in the absence of self-respect. Given the imagined assumption of self worth, what might be possible? It all depends upon where they place their focus (where they aimed their focus). Focus placement is a learned pattern.

I have always been interested in comparative religions and have often been confounded by the split that runs through the three primary western faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – all people of the book sharing a common root). To stir my pot Linda and Bill loaned me a book that speaks to the split in the Christian tradition entitled If Grace Is True by Philip Gulley. The essence of its message: what you see (and therefore, what you believe) depends upon where you place your focus. You can focus on the god of righteousness and retribution or you can focus on the god of grace. If your focus is on righteousness and retribution, you will necessarily believe in a chosen people, an us-and-them paradigm, and fear will be your driver (power-over). This god will send hurricanes to punish. If, however, you focus on the god of grace, then there can be no divisions. Grace is for everyone. This god does not send disasters nor takes sides with who wins wars because division is made-up by humans seeking power. Grace creates power-with.

Our nation, at this moment, is in a heated debate about where to place its focus. Standing at the fork it is embroiled in a dispute about which path to take. The danger on the path of power-over is that it invariably and inevitably eats itself. Fear is a potent driver for a little while. Pushing others down to elevate your self might feel good for a time but will always blow back on itself. Diminishing others is a lousy path to (dare I say it?) true power.

For a short time in the 80’s I did work at a school in Los Angeles that served children in gangs. We played a lot. We laughed as a way of loosening the grips of fear-seeing. The epicenter of our work together always came down to this truth: any idiot with a trigger finger can take a life. It is easy to push others down. It takes a heart and a mind (and a community) to give life. The real work of courage is to lift others up; that is what using your gifts in service to the world is all about. And, in the end of the day, the only difference is which path you choose, where you decide to place your focus, and which pattern you decide to reinforce.

 

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WATERSHED on iTunes:  Kerri Sherwood track 10 on AS IT IS

watershed: an event or period making a turning point in a course of action or state of affairs.

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Look The Other Way

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I am working on a project that requires me to read through a passel of old emails. I find myself cringing every time I read my former email address. It was the name of my business. It made sense to me at the time I used it. Now it seems like a little chunk of hubris. david@trulypowerful.com. Yikes.

I came to the name honestly enough. One day while facilitating a workshop with a group in Chicago, we bumbled into a conversation about power. I was surprised to learn that I had a lot to say about power, both personal and communal power. My contention was that people most often confuse control with power. They feel powerful when they feel in control and, in fact, true power is the opposite of controlling. The investment of someone who is truly powerful is to empower, not to control. Think about the best teachers, managers, leaders, or friends that you know. Their commitment to you is to help you grow and learn, to become the most powerful person you can be. Unless you are trying to control them, your commitment is the same: to empower them. The same ideal is at the epicenter of any good relationship, work or otherwise.

Discerning between control and power – not always an easy task – was the guide star of my budding business. The study of power over others (controlling) versus true power (power created with others) – that’s how I arrived at the moniker Truly Powerful. I believed that, with awareness, change usually soon followed.

There is a growing list of words that once had potency for me but these words have been so overused, over-applied, or misused that they are now fairly meaningless: paradigm, paradigm shift, story, transformation, purposeful, presence…power, personal power. A few years ago my move from Seattle to Kenosha prompted a life inventory, a deep gander at my motives and motivations. Being a lover of words and believer in the power of words, I paid careful attention to the words I used to define my self and my work. They seemed a façade, a skin that needed shedding. I have called myself life-coach, facilitator, teacher, director-of-plays, performer, artist, and, no matter the word I applied, I felt I had no business assuming I knew or understood any other person’s route to power, personal or otherwise.

In workshops I often used to say, “You are not broken, nothing needs to be fixed,” and I wondered who I would be – and what I would call myself – if I actually believed that about myself and others. Nothing is broken. Nothing needs fixing. A remarkable thing happens when we assume wholeness instead of brokenness. Like a time-lapse camera focused on a busy urban street, the coordination and synchronization of individual movement becomes apparent. We are much more connected than we realize. Look for wholeness and you will see wholeness. Look for connectedness instead of individualization and all the power, fulfillment, purpose and transformation you desire will become available to you.

I also used to say (and still do), “No one creates alone.” No one walks this path alone. No one is powerful by themselves. Power and fulfillment are group sports. Whether we experience it or not, whether we see it or not, truly powerful is a given.

The second in my Held In Grace series: Surrender Now

The second in my Held In Grace series: Surrender Now. The original is available at zatista.com

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Find The Way Home

holdtheworldinpeace-lowerfontcopy-jpeg“Our search for truth must be wide open, even when it takes us in directions we preferred not to go. This is the difference between propaganda and truth. Propaganda has a certain end in mind, and so it marshals and manipulates the ‘facts’ to support its conclusion. Truth weighs evidence, seeks proof, is appropriately skeptical of authoritarian claims, welcomes questions, and doesn’t fear dissent.” Philip Gulley, The Quaker Way of Living*

Kerri and I often read books aloud to each other. On cold winter days we sit beneath a blanket, Dog-Dog at our feet, BabyCat snoring by our side, sip coffee, and read. We like to discuss and compare perceptions, ask questions, and re-read passages for clarity or the simple poetry of the language. Sometimes we savor a book, moving through it slowly. Sometimes we devour a book and go back to reread especially potent sections.

Propaganda resists close inspection and must continually be defended. Truth welcomes doubt and skepticism; indeed it is best served by questions, suggestions, and corrections.”

I am guilty of burying my head in the sand. My move to Wisconsin came with an intentional unplugging from the news. I was tired of pundits shouting each other down. I was weary and wary of conversations with family and friends that seemed to be territory-guarding regurgitations of our news-channel-of-choice. I was using the language given to me by my news sources and rolled my eyes at the predictable language leveled by the “other” side. One day as I raged at family members to pay attention to how they were being manipulated by their news source, I thought that it was probably a good idea for me to do the same. At the time, unplugging, stepping out of the toxic stream, seemed the only option to clear my mind.

The search for truth begins within the seeker, for if we are not honest with and about ourselves, we will find it impossible to be honest with and about others.”

On a recent trip to Indiana, Bill and Linda suggested a book for us, The Quaker Way Of Living by Philip Gulley. They read it with their church group and found it compelling, especially given our corrosive political climate and collapse of civil discourse. We bought it when we returned home and a few days ago started reading it together. We couldn’t put it down. It asks some powerful questions. It doesn’t pretend to have answers [that, I’ve learned, would be the antithesis of the Quaker Way] but it does speak directly to the quandaries of personal and communal integrity in a climate of self-righteousness, blame, and distrust. It is hopeful and funny and places the onus of creating a better world squarely on the shoulders of each and every one of us. It reminded me that burying my head in the sand is not very useful while also affirming that their are options beyond planting a flag in the sand.

“To say a person has integrity means several things. Most commonly, we mean the person is honest, that his or her word can be trusted…. But there is another level of meaning that has to do with the integration of our values and lifestyle. In that sense, to say we have integrity is to say the separate parts of our lives combine to form a unified whole. What we believe is consistent with how we live. Our beliefs influence the work we choose, the way we use our time and spend our money, the relationships we form and the goals to which we aspire. This integration is critical for inward peace.”

While reading, I’ve been thinking a lot about a conversation I had a few years ago with Jim Marsh, one of the people I most admire in this world precisely because he walks his talk. He told me of an issue in his community that had deeply concerned him and that he’d been grousing about for long time. One day he’d had enough and to move forward he recognized that he had three options: First, to stop complaining (he said, “to just shut up.”). Second, to move away. Leave. Get away from the source of his irritation. That didn’t seem like a healthy option. The third was to strap on his boots and do something about it. To act instead of complain. But, (and here’s the reason why I adore him) not to act against, but to work to create what he wanted. His responsibility was not to fight or resist. It was to create.

“We preserve our integrity and wholeness when we are aware of what threatens it and then choose to act deliberately and prudently when tempted. When we fail to do this, we disintegrate, creating a chasm between who we are and who we wish to be.”

I practice tai chi and had the good fortune to have, for a few years, a master teacher, Saul, whose teaching transcended the specifics of tai chi. He was teaching me how better to live. One day, while I was in a fit of resistance, he quietly showed me the power of looking beyond my “opponent” and placing my focus, instead, in the field of possibility. I understood (intellectually) that the opponent was always of my own making and my dedication to having an opponent (inside or out) would always pull me off balance. In other words, as long as I invested in resistance I would always pull myself off balance.

“Integrity isn’t conditional…There is a seamless nature to integrity that transcends situations and relationships. Integrity does not present one face in public and another in private. It delights in transparency, having nothing to hide.”

Now, with my head freshly out of the sand, I understand Saul’s teaching beyond my thinking (I’ve had a lot of time to meditate on things with my head in the sand) and, taking my cue from Jim, I recognize that I have three options but only option-number-three holds the promise of integrity. The best news: no one creates alone…

*all quotes in this post are from the chapter on Integrity from The Quaker Way of Living by Philip Gulley

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THE WAY HOME on itunes – Kerri Sherwood-Track 13 on THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

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Live Your Metaphor

2mayyoubepeace-jpegA view from 30,000 feet (a meditation on metaphor):

Joe used to say that the universe tends toward wholeness. “Tends” is a precarious word of movement, like a tree that leans. Still, to me, Joe’s sentiment – his metaphor – is hopeful. He might have said that the universe tends toward confusion.

Chris and Janelle are starting a new theatre company, The Seadog Theatre Company. They are dedicating their work to exploring stories of alienation and reconciliation. Both alienation and reconciliation are words of movement. The first, alienation, is a movement away from wholeness (toward confusion?). The second, reconciliation, is a movement toward wholeness. Push away. Reach across.

Chris and I agree that all stories, from the deepest mythology to the most whimsical lampoon, are explorations of alienation and reconciliation. It is the human journey, it is humanity’s journey. It is the human experience. Journey is a word of movement, from here to there.

The Big Bang is science’s great narrative of alienation and reconciliation. Out of nothingness (formlessness) in a violent explosion of energy, all forms took shape. Stars, meteors, planets, atoms and oceans and daisies and Dog-Dog. Energy expressed in form. And then, so the narrative goes, form returns to energy. Like the tides going out the energy of the explosion will eventually turn, exhausted, and fall back toward the center in the Big Merge.

The eye blinks open, a universe comes into being. The eye blinks closed, a universe disappears. The tide comes in. The tide rolls out. It’s a cycle of movement. Metaphor.

“Your words are alienation and reconciliation,” I wrote to Chris, “mine are separation and unity. Same thing, yes?”

I’ve never been comfortable with religions because they often claim their metaphors as fact – and that freezes movement. For instance, Adam and Eve were Big-Banged out of the Garden of Eden for eating an apple from the tree of knowledge. One bite of the apple blew their minds open to differences. Separation. It is the experience of birth into this whacky world of duality and confusion. And just like all the stars and planets and oceans and daisies of the field hurtling through space and time, it is a story meant to help us seek wholeness as we stride though this field of opposites.

The universe may tend but we can intend. We can create. We can choose. We can point our ships toward alienation, we can cleave our world into us-and-them, run in fear and separation. Or, we can make conscious our stories (as Chris and Janelle intend in their theatre), we can walk the middle path (a potent metaphor), and recognize that the separation is at best temporary and arbitrary. Like the stars and planets and oceans and daisies, we will also exhaust the force of our explosion into form and fall back into the Big Merge.

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Peace.

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PEACE on iTunes:  kerri sherwood – track 5 on AS IT IS

 

 

 

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Use Joy Language

joy-croppedTripper Dog-Dog-Dog has moved through several names in his 3 years on earth. He has a cornucopia of names. For a while I dropped the “Tripper” part of his name and simply called him Dog-Dog. Now, much as a mother might use their child’s middle name, we only call him Tripper when he’s in trouble.

Lately I call him Dog-a-Dog (or doggadogga). He answers to Wag-A-Wag. He is an Australian Shepherd and has a bobbed tail that never stops wagging. He is a happy, happy boy. When I let him out in the morning I call him Fuss Bucket. When he comes back in I call him Poop Sack (for obvious reasons) or Bark Monster or Fur Ball. He sheds like a champion. When he circles through the rooms of our house looking for a safe place to deposit his bone, I (cleverly) call him Bone.

All the variations and derivatives are terms of endearment. Dog-Dog knows and responds in kind. Love is like that. Once, sitting on a train, I watched a grandfather lovingly toss his toddler grandson in the air saying, “You’re just Rubbish! That’s what you are! Rubbish!” The boy squealed with delight. The grandfather chuckled with pleasure and repeated the toss, “You’re just Rubbish!”

Language is a beautiful paradox. It is reductive even as it points to the unfathomable universe and the infinity of love. It is referential; we sometimes forget that the word “tree” is not the tree itself. It is merely an invented-phonetic-pointer toward something too complex to comprehend.

Language is powerful beyond comprehension. We use it to narrate our worlds, both inner and outer. The words we choose create the world we see. The words we choose define the world we inhabit. In my consulting/coaching days I used to love playing with exercises that revealed how easily we come to the language of gossip and blame. It requires almost no effort. Like sugar, hate-speak is addictive. It is the mark of a lazy mind.

The language of love takes some intention and consciousness. It demands conscious effort. It requires paying attention. It requires focusing the energy of the mind and, like any focus (or muscle) it demands exercise to be healthy. And, when exercised, it becomes easy. With great love, the word “Rubbish” can generate squeals of pleasure. The name “Fuss Bucket” will engender a full body joy-wag. And, a full body joy-wag will bring the love full circle. Love is like that. Joy is like that.

In his many books, Martin Prechtel writes beautifully about the power and necessity of speaking beautifully. Speaking beautifully creates a beautiful thinker and a beautiful thinker creates – narrates – a beautiful story, a beautiful world.

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See Your Angels

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One of my favorite rituals is the reading-of-the-calendar on the last day of the year. It is no ordinary peruse through an ordinary calendar. Kerri, every day, writes in her calendar the events, the important calls, the amazing sightings, the simple and the profound moments. The day we first spotted the owl, the ice circles in the harbor, the generosity of the clerk at the store; they find a spot in the calendar. The tough stuff is in there, too. It is a habit she picked up from her mother. Calendar-as-diary. With a hot cup of coffee and nothing but time, we read through and talk about the days of our life.

It is probably not surprising that our most common exclamation is, “I’d forgotten about that!” I’m always amazed at how many of the years happenings are lost in the stream of time. The review not only helps me remember but also refreshes my appreciation for all that we navigated, discovered, survived and created in a mere 365 days.

At our gathering that night I laughed when Mary Kay told us that she dislikes New Year’s Eve because it always makes her feel as if she hasn’t done enough. I recognized Mary Kay’s disdain because earlier in the day I’d levied the same judgment against myself. The ritual reading of the calendar put my self-judgment to rest. After reviewing all that we’d done in a year, Kerri looked at me (tired of hearing my endless self-criticism) and asked, “Now, doesn’t that give you a greater respect for what we’ve done?” Yes. It did.

Although we didn’t say it this way, we told Mary Kay and Russ, Linda and Jim, John and Michele that they had made it into the calendar. This year was tough for us and when I was ill, when things were going badly, they brought us food, they offered to carry some of our load, they showed up to shovel our walks. So, rather than thinking of the year as bad, in our ritual we read about year of generosities extended to us.

Mary Kay said, “But that was nothing.” Kerri responded, “That was everything! It changed our world.” We were reminded in our ritual that the world is changed for the better everyday, not by the grand gesture, but by the small things, the passing kindnesses. From the point of view of the doer, they are often too tiny to remember. From the standpoint of the receiver, they are monumental. Opening a door can change someone’s day. And who knows how far a kindness-ripple will travel?

From the archive: 'Angels At The Well.'

From the archive: ‘Angels At The Well.’ This painting is available at zatista.com

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Do Anything Else

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It occurs to me now that all along I’ve been asking irrelevant questions. Or, perhaps framing my questions too narrowly. For instance, years ago I went to graduate school to study systems because I wanted to follow a question that reached deep into my life and identity as an artist: can a mythology be rekindled once it has died? Art, after all, is one of the primary life-keepers of a culture’s story and the beating heart of the story is its mythology. And, according to all indicators, our mythology is mostly dead [as Joseph Campbell said, for evidence of our mythological demise, all you need to do is look at the news]. So, the younger version of myself wanted to understand the purpose of my life as an artist if, indeed, I was in service to a dead mythology. Heady questions, yes? Relevant questions?

In the early 1990’s I was invited to a photographer’s studio to see the “newest thing” in photography. The photographer had a new “program” called Photoshop. Before my eyes he “photoshopped” me into a picture, a place I’d never before visited. Today, all of this seems commonplace. Now, any 5 year old can manipulate an image but at the time a photograph stood for proof that something had actually happened. A photograph could not lie. It was evidence of truth. That day, standing in the photographer’s studio, I realized that the old reliable anchors for truth no longer existed. What was our anchor?

The truly significant events in our lives rarely come in with a roar.

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about fake news – as if this was a new phenomenon. It brings to my mind a terrific book written in 1985 by Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death. Here’s bit from the first page:

“Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education, and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.”

I suppose fake news refers to something wholly concocted but I’d argue that when news agencies pander and promote themselves to conservative or liberal viewpoints, when ratings drive content, it’s all fake news. News with an agenda is…not news. It is, however, dangerous to a democracy and no longer free (as in free press, a cornerstone of our democracy). Historically, newspapers have always had a point of view but there was some attention paid to what was printed as news. Opinion was confined to an editorial page. When the line between true and concocted is blurred, when a populace cannot discern between entertainment and substance, it no longer has the capacity to make sound (read, “informed”) judgments. Worse, it is gullible, gossip-eaten and infinitely manipulate-able. It is, as Neil Postman wrote, entertaining itself to death.

I recently wrote about the absence of recognizable communal anchors (mythology) and the dangers of a community with nothing but the soft soil of belief and opinion as its driver. Is planting a personal-truth flag and defending its territory all that is left to us?

What else can we do? Now, there’s a relevant, open-ended question! Roger once told me that he would never be able to understand suicide. He said something like, “In that moment, rather than take your own life, why not do anything else? Why not make any other choice?” Another relevant question!

What else can we do? In the face of our own entertainment-driven suicide, why not do anything else? Turn off the blather, go outside, meet your neighbor, tell stories of your children or your ancestors. If common ground can’t be found it can certainly be created. Inhabit something bigger than opinion. It’s less entertaining but certainly more useful. Great art – no matter the form- lives in those bigger fields.

 

MAKE ME AN INSTRUMENT OF PEACE – GIFTS

to kickstart your peace, listen to this:

for PEACE on iTunes, go here (track 5 on the album AS IT IS)

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