Truly Powerful People (173)

Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

I spent the last week on the ranch of my great teacher, mentor and friend, Tom. He is very old now, a fragile little bird. Several weeks ago he was taking his daily walk and fell and broke his hip. His hip is on the mend but his mind has escaped the game and the world that he now creates has a new and restricted access code. He can see out (sometimes) but no one can see in. I love him and held his hand and adjusted to this new phase of our relationship as he told me stories that I already know but was delighted to hear as if for the first time.

Several years ago when my grandfather passed away, my father said, “Well, I’m on the front line, now.” Life looks different from the front line. Your priorities shift. Your investments become clear. You are less in a hurry to get through your days. The people in your life become more important than the status you might acquire or the stuff you might attain.

Martin Prechtel writes beautifully of the initiation of the boys into manhood in his Mayan community of Santiago Atitlan. Through his writing I understood for the first time that the initiation is meant to confront the young men with the reality of their own death; people cannot truly serve their community until they realize that they are mortal. Service to something bigger makes sense and becomes a priority when “something bigger” extends beyond your lifetime. What is it to work on the cathedral all of your days and know that you will never worship there?

Common story, community, only makes sense (or is accessible) when you are in service to the seventh generation, when it is more important to build it beautifully than to see the finished form. This, I think, is where we are off the rails. Our immediacy is our Achilles heel and makes our politics ugly, our communities fractured and our debates/concerns inane. Would we pay our teachers better than our athletes if we were looking farther down the road?

I am not yet on the front line but I can see it from here. Would that I’d had these eyes when I was 20! What might you see, what choices might you make, if you understood that you are always on the front of the ancestral line?

Truly Powerful People (172)

Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

All of us walk a path defined by our assumptions. We see what we expect to see, we see what we believe and when we believe we are not creative or not good enough, that is what we reinforce. That is what we create.

Assumptions are tricky because they are hard to see – they are the rules for the game you play. “That’s just the way things are!” is a statement steeped in assumptions. I once had dinner with a man that lashed out, saying. “That’s just who I am and I’m never going to change!” Now, that’s the statement of a man married to his assumptions! Assumptions can be scary to challenge especially if you need to be right (oily shame thrives in the dark space between right and wrong).

Growth happens when you can see and step beyond your assumptions.

Leaving the path of your assumption set is sometimes called divergence. It is sometimes called insight. It is necessary for this thing we call innovation. Divergence, insight, revelation, inspiration, ah-ha, transformation… is nothing more than seeing and then challenging assumptions. Maybe you are good enough! Maybe you won’t die if you show up and give voice to your thoughts! Maybe no one is trying to put you down. Maybe experience comes before trust.
In the same way, creativity is nothing more than your capacity to step into uncertainty. Try it. Do something without regard to the outcome. Stepping into uncertainty requires releasing control – as does challenging your assumptions. What are you trying to control? Needing “to know” before taking a step is highly over rated – as is being right all of the time – and guaranteed to keep you on a very narrow path. What assumptions are you ready to let go?

Truly Powerful People (171)

Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

A few years ago Charlie was listening to the radio during his commute home. He heard a news report that the Supreme Court had just removed financial and reporting restrictions on political advertising.
When he got home he went straight to his television, unplugged the converter box (he had an old analog set and needed the box to read a digital signal), and took the box to the garage. In the garage, he took his hammer from the wall and smashed the converter box into bits.

He laughs when he tells this story (and his wife laughs, too – now). Charlie is a father. He said that day in the car he realized what kind of bile was about to pour into his house through the television and that if the Supreme Court was no longer interested in protecting him and his family from vicious untruth that he must do it. He said, “It was an election year. Do you know what kind of trash that ruling unleashed? I didn’t want that to be part of my home.” He told me that it was his responsibility to select what he let into his and his family’s consciousness.

Imagine what might happen if we took responsibility for what we let into our consciousness! What if, like Charlie, we took responsibility for keeping our space (inner and outer space) clean of propaganda, violent accusation, and baseless judgment? Who might we become if we smashed the converter box (literal and metaphoric) and refused to give misinformation any space in our lives?

Truly Powerful People (170)

Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

There are 3 foundation principles for all forms of the work that I do as The Circle Project with Patti Digh and in my own work as a coach and artist. I reviewed them again this morning in preparation for our September classes:

1) What you think is what you create. The story you tell yourself about yourself is a creative act – it is not happening to you. What you think is what you see is what you create. We talk a lot in the classes and in coaching relationships about where you choose to place your focus: what you choose to see. A great skill for an artist to develop is the capacity to see beyond what they think. There is more color and possibility in the world than your intellect will allow.

2) You are always in choice. Building upon the first principle is the understanding that you are always in choice. You may or may not have any control over the circumstances in your life but you have ultimate control over how you are within your circumstance. One of my favorite practices is to control your control-ables and let the rest go. Most people try to control what they can’t control (for instance, what other people think) and refuse to control what they CAN control (like what they think).

3) You are not broken; nothing needs to be fixed. It is an unfortunate tendency in our self-help world to treat all behavior as pathology, as if something in you is missing or broken. If you work from the basic assumption that you are broken you will forever seek answers that are outside of you. Assume that you are whole; believe that you are the source of your answers. Assume wholeness and your work will be about learning and expansion. Assume wholeness and you will of necessity have to take full responsibility for your choices.

What you think is what you create. You are always in choice. You are not broken. Can you imagine it?

Truly Powerful People (169)

Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Straying beyond the boundaries of your assumptions is called divergence. We see what we expect to see; we see what we believe, so it is more difficult than you might imagine to truly diverge, to truly see things beyond what you expect to see. That is why problem solving in complex situations (anything to do with people is complex) is so problematic: with the problem solvers comes the assumption set that created the problem in the first place. Most solutions to problems will only serve to complicate the problem.

When working with people wrestling with their creativity, it is inevitably the assumption (belief) that they are not creative that needs challenging. It is not the skills. It is not the eyes or the hands. It is the foot on the brakes, the hands around the throat of their creative impulse.

Divergence is nothing more than challenging your assumptions. Creativity is nothing more than honoring your capacity to step into uncertainty – to see what is there and play with what you find. Stepping into uncertainty requires releasing control (taking your foot off the brake, taking your hands off of your throat, not listening to Mr. So-n-So who told you 20 years ago that you couldn’t sing/draw/dance).

Make a mess. Take a step. Fall down. Throw it away and start over. Be wrong and celebrate the dropped balls. What could be more miserable than to be human (the greatest storytelling creature in the history of the planet and maybe the universe) and believe that you are not creative?

Truly Powerful People (168)

Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Self-made prisons are thought constructions. There is a term for self-imposed limitations: Premature Cognitive Commitment. It goes like this: place a big chain around the leg of a baby elephant and fasten the other end of the chain to a big tree. The baby elephant will eventually stop pulling on the chain; it has learned its limits. As it grows, all the elephant handler need do is replace the chain with ever-weaker bits of rope tied to smaller and smaller trees. Eventually, all that is needed to contain the elephant is a piece of twine and a small stick pushed into the ground. Despite the reality of the twine and the twig, the elephant will not test the boundary; it has learned and internalized a limitation.

The belief that you are not creative is a premature cognitive commitment. The intellect will tell you to stop pulling on the chain because the data has shown that it does no good to pull; you are not going to make a living as musician/dancer/painter/writer so you must not be creative. Stop pulling. You’ve learned that you have to know “how” to do something before you attempt to do it; you have to know the place of arrival before you take a step. Stop pulling.

Intuition does not think its way into limitation; it feels its way into freedom. Intuition likes to wander over the next hill to see what is there – even if it went there yesterday. Intuition will never stop pulling because it will see the chain as an opportunity for play. Intuition engages with what is there, not what intellect thinks is there. In a healthy creative process, when your focus is truly on the process, the intellect is in service to intuition. Focusing an impulse is a radically different action than controlling an impulse. Intellect wants to control, intuition wants to create. Can you distinguish between focus and control? Can you feel your way beyond the boundary?

Truly Powerful People (167)

Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

I met with Natalie to help her with ideas about a non-profit organization, artful international, that she formed with her husband. Both Natalie and her husband, Chris, dreamed of different careers; he studied to be a filmmaker, she studied to be a teacher. Both now work in financial services.

Because they wanted their lives to be dedicated to something other than making money they formed artful international to work with artists, inspire art, and raises money for causes in which they believe. They are currently raising money to send artists to Africa to work with children displaced by war or AIDS (another kind of war). The artists work with the kids to help them express in paint, music, dance,…, what they cannot say or that they want to say but have no one to listen.

Natalie is the little engine that could; many people dream of doing something heart-full, she and Chris simply acted on their impulse. No limits. Artful International is relatively new in this world and already is has fans across the west coast and will soon be connecting artists to transformational work all across the globe.

Truly Powerful People (166)

Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

I’m having a Buddhist moment. Sometimes I think I have lived my entire life in a state of resistance: resistance to where I am (I should be better, faster, stronger, more successful, less busy, taller, fatter, thinner, tanner, straighter teeth,….).

If I am not in resistance, I am grasping for something (the next play, the next painting, the next project, the next pay check, more meaning, clearer vision, a simpler life, presence, one more dark beer, peanut M&M’s,….).

Who am I if I am not pushing back or chasing after? What’s the point if I am not resisting or grasping? What if there are no dragons to slay and no gold to accumulate? These questions are so simple and yet if I really stop and think about them the whole castle begins to fall. I know enough by now (I hope) to understand that happiness ensues: it is not something you chase. Rather, it is something that follows and it has a better chance of catching me when I stop chasing stuff and cease pushing my present moment away.

Maybe, the point is to let the castle fall, to see who I am if I am not fortified behind a stone wall or so busy looking ahead that I can’t see what is right in front of me.

I have this sense that my happiness is trying really hard to catch me. You?

Truly Powerful People (165)

Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

[continued from 164]

There’s more to be said about the experience of being “in” the play or “out” of the play, being “in” life or “out” of life. It is more than just where you place your focus. Something happens, something distinct, important and tangible when your focus shifts from an internal to an external placement. A space of inclusion is created.

I understood early on that actors who were pretending, actors who were concerned about how they looked or were trying to determine what the audience saw, were actually blocking the audience from entering the story. If an actor’s focus was internal, they literally shut the audience out of the play; the audience could view but were blocked from participating. Transformation is a participation sport.

Like all forms of art, the theatre, in its essence, is about a coming-together, a group of people stepping into a shared experience. This space of coming together, this space of inclusion, is a step toward unity – this is a great definition for a sacred space; sacred space is a place of joining, a place where we transcend our little selves and we experience ourselves as something bigger. Sacred space is created – by us – when we place our focus outside of our selves. This joining is what art is all about. It is what life is all about.

I suspect that art, to truly serve its function, was never intended to be separate from day to day living. We are, after all, actors in our own play. And to be useful, to be transformational, living (presence) begins with learning to place your focus outside of yourself – in service to the creation of a space of joining.

Truly Powerful People (164)

Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Jim Edmondson is one of America’s great theatre directors and for a few years at the beginning of my career I was fortunate to assist him several times and was able to call him friend. He told me once that the best actors are only “in” the play about 40% of the time. I was amazed because I thought the best of the best were capable of a higher percentage. I learned that what he told me was true; it is herculean to be present in a performance 40% of the time!

So much of what he taught me has carried over into this broader study of life. Think about it: how present are you “in” your life? Do you ever hit 40%? Will you ever be present 40% of your allotted time on this earth? It’s a tough one to crack because trying to be present guarantees that you are “out” of your play (because you are watching yourself). It is herculean to allow yourself to be “in” life, even if you know what your play is.

I like the terms “in” or “out” of the play, meaning to be present or not. It is a trick of language when “in” the play means your focus is out side of your self. You are “in” your life when your focus is on something other than your self, forget about your self and flow is yours! “Out” of the play means you are concerned about how you look or how others perceive you. It’s hard to be in the flow when your awareness is dancing with the inner critics.
Jim taught me a trick for when I would fall out of the play (life). Place your focus to something small, your thumbnail or a flower or a scent on the air – and once you have it, once your attention is “out there,” open it to include the people in the play with you. In the end, the play is not about you or me, it is about the space between us; flow is about the relationship we create together.