Truly Powerful People (203)

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

Here is a common and necessary step that I see when someone moves into their power: They place their needs higher on the priority list – higher than all other needs. They cease serving the needs of others at the expense of their happiness.

This does not mean they stop serving others! In fact, it means that they are capable for the first time in their lives of truly serving others. It is an equation of sorts: when you stop making other people your priority you stop seeking your happiness from their reactions and responses. Your investment shifts. You give for the sake of giving, because it is what you decide to do and not what you need to do to feel useful or valid or worthwhile; your worth is not located in the responses of others. Your worth is no longer a question so you do not need to seek it in the eyes of others.

It is the distinction between service and enabling. It is the step that makes someone truly powerful because they exit the power games. They no longer need to play – to diminish others, triumph over, defeat, negate,…. They offer their best because it is their best offer. The rest is out of their control and none of their concern.

Truly Powerful People (202)

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 am 18 years old and all I’ve ever wanted to be is an artist, a painter. I am in my first year of college and I am dismayed to discover that my art classes bore me. I can barely sit still. I don’t know why, this makes no sense to me, I feel as if I am suffocating every time I go to class. And, I can’t stay away from the theatre. I’m there everyday. I take the class available to a non-major. I audition and play minor roles in plays.

The next year I jump to a new school and a new degree. I am studying acting and know deep down that I will never be an actor – there is something more beyond this study but I can’t see it (yet) and I expend massive amounts of energy and anxiety – again – wondering what I am doing and hiding the feeling that I am pursuing something without knowing what it is. It is an imperative yet makes no sense; I’m chasing a phantom and feel like I am lying to my teachers because I’m still under the illusion that most people know what they want and have a clear sight on what it is (so, I feel like I am lacking somehow).

In the next several years I direct plays, I consult with schools, I paint paintings, I coach and for a while these feel like different actions – energy in opposition. I tell myself that when I am in rehearsal I’m not painting so I’m not growing. And, if I am painting, I am not growing as a director. I am at war within myself and neither side can win.

The surrender comes when I recognize that painting and directing and consulting are forms; and beneath the form there is an intention. Alan calls this a soul mission – when you recognize that what is yours-to-do can take many shapes. I am a particularly adept chameleon; mine-to-do is to open stories for people, to illuminate paths to self-knowledge (it is what an artist does).

Ana-the-wise busted my chops the other day when I was whining that I didn’t know what form I wanted my work to take. I said, “What do I want to create for myself?” She said, “You will always be confused until you ask a different question. It is not what you want to create for yourself, the question is what do you want to bring to this world.”

Amen. And bring it!

Truly Powerful People (201)

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 just read a friend’s dissertation. He is an educator and his work is a model of leadership development for administrators. It is an elegant model, well researched and written and yet there was something troubling about it. The assumptions defining an administrator’s role are about “minding the outcomes of student achievement.” Achievement is the goal.

There is nothing wrong with achievement – everyone wants to achieve something in life – but the real question in public education is “achievement of what?” What are we trying to achieve? And, why? We’re learning that test scores are not great indicators or predictors of success yet “achievement” has become synonymous with “test scores.” Really? Our intention is better test scores? Our best intention for our children is preparation for a job in the marketplace?

This is from Neil Postman’s book The End Of Education: “Thomas Jefferson…knew what schools were for – to ensure that citizens would know when and how to protect their liberty. This is a man who produced an essay that could have cost him his life, and that included the words: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal: that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ It would not have come easily to the mind of such a man, as it does with political leaders today, that the young should be taught to read exclusively for the purpose of increasing their economic productivity.”

Has the bar for public education always been this low? I suspect it has and that’s the challenge. “Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic,” the mantra of a bygone era, rings hollow in an age screaming for complex thinkers. Reducing all learning to a mechanical skill is a notion from an industrial age. If the role of the principal is the equivalent of the manager, the superintendent as CEO of achievement, then imagine what the role of the student must be: chassis on the assembly line; sit still and listen. No wonder 25% of our kids drop out of school before graduating!

What would be the administrator’s role if the intention was to ensure that citizens would know when and how to protect their liberty? What would the administrator’s role be if the intention was to ignite ferocious inquiry? What if we wanted more than another generation of consumers and decided we wanted to support the development of children hungry, capable and unafraid to bring their best to the community and the world?

Truly Powerful People (200)

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 Duncan sent me an article about Nature Deficit Disorder – children who are deprived of nature. I rolled my eyes. I don’t have kids and I grew up running through the mountains, playing in the streams, riding my bike off of cliffs, throwing mud, looking at stars and sneezing in the spring (I had terrible allergies). I was wary about the article because it seems to me we have a cultural predisposition to see pathology everywhere. “Where are the parents,” I thought. “Go outside and play!”

And then…. I’m now convinced that we are so used to the reproduction that we rarely recognize the authentic. Our environments are constructed, our realities artificial. I’m now collecting phrases overheard in public spaces, things like “Those stars look just like the ones in the planetarium!” Or, “Those frogs sound just like a soundtrack!” I delight in the term “reality TV;” do an experiment: point a camera at someone and note the face they put on (note how you change when a lens is focused on you). The island is constructed, the race is scripted; there is a cameraman behind that camera so that intensely private moment you think you are watching is…a performance.

It is less a disorder than how we construct order. Distraction. Comfort. Disconnection from nature (unless used as a playground) is an intention. These are our priorities. Nature is messy and there are bugs. It is not an accident that the soundtrack is more recognizable than the frogs. And the frogs – the real ones – are disappearing (a phenomena known as “mystery declines”). From what I understand, a frog’s skin is porous and absorbs water so it is especially susceptible to pollutants in the environment (hmmmmm). Some researchers say that disappearing frog populations are an early warning signal of ecosystems in trouble.

Isn’t this yet another case of label-libel (the label absolves us from further thought). Place side-by-side the terms, “Nature Deficit Disorder,” “mystery declines,” and “Ecosystems in trouble” and ask yourself, is this really a mystery? Are these labels particularly sanitary and devoid of personal relevance?

Perhaps an early warning signal that we are in trouble is that the stars look just like the ones in the planetarium. The next time you wonder what life is all about, go outside, find someplace that you consider to be nature and sit for a spell. Take your shoes off. Get dirty. Feel the rain. Swat the fly. Imagine that you are a participant, part of it all.

Truly Powerful People (199)

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 found a slip of paper tucked in an old journal. It carries a message to myself, a vow that I made on a weekend retreat several years ago. This is what I wrote: I will leave starving behind and orient my life according to the feast.

I used to create starvation because I used to fear starvation. I used to feel as if the world was too big and that I had no capacity or skill to negotiate it. My way of controlling – of fending off the starvation was to retreat from the world, to hide as if the hounds of my fear would not find me in my retreat.

One day, the day I wrote this note to myself, I realized that I was starving myself – it was not “the world” that was starving me or my size relative to my desires – it was my fear that kept me from the table and the table was rich with taste and texture. The hounds of my fear created my retreat. I’d never literally starved (which was my fear) but I had never fully fed myself, never allowed myself to feast at the table of life because I was clinging to the shadows. The realization of my starvation-creation took my breath away.

Fear was my focus so fear was my creation. Starvation was my focus so starvation was my foundation. I’m grateful I found this note! It has been a long time since my emaciated soul stepped up to the table and took a seat. The feast is now my focus and yet everyday I see people just like me, starving, trying to control the things they cannot control, creating the things they fear the most.

I long ago learned I cannot open anyone’s eyes to the abundance of this life, but I can make room and keep an open seat at table.

Truly Powerful People (198)

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

Occasionally I have days when there is no gas in my tank, no thought in my head, no impulse to do anything. I call them “filing days” or “no power tools” days. I used to resist them. I used to push through them and force some kind of movement (and sometimes nearly cut off my fingers, thus the “no power tools”). I always paid a price.

Today I am empty. I am more empty than I can possibly describe. It is passages through emptiness that taught me – or required me – to distinguish between the energy (the feeling) and the story that I tell myself about it. Working with the energy is useful. Investing in the story is not. Emptiness provides an opportunity to sense – to stop all action and pay attention to what I feel.

The story was (and is) always a story of resistance. I am as puritan as the next guy in my orientation to the world but I have slowly recognized the power of non-resistance, the necessity of non-pursuit. Rejuvenation is sometimes only found in stillness, in non-action. My inner-puritan wants toil and hard pews, it warns me that rest is for the wicked and I smile (a particularly wicked smile) as I sit in the sun with my book. It yammers for a spell and quiets after a while, it has learned that I’m no longer invested in inner persecution.

Productivity will sooner return if I honor the emptiness of this day. And feel the sun on my face.

Truly Powerful People (197)

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

My topic has been power, not the kind that people exercise over each other, but the kind people cultivate within themselves and others. “Power with….”

Most of my life my arena has been the arts and I believe the arts are meant to be a dynamic force in community. The arts, when functioning, are the force of identity and identity change. The arts are a great training ground for sorting out power.

In rehearsals and fine art collaborations, I have seen over and over again what happens when people stop wrestling with others for status and position. They stop waging war outside themselves and so, stop waging war inside themselves. People blossom when they stop eating each other for lunch. People excel when they align, focus on something bigger than their individual agendas and offer their best game. All of the energy of combat is rededicated to creation. All the energy of tearing others down is repurposed to calling forward the finest in everyone. Instead of diminishment and negation there is generative action and support. Everyone is necessary. Everyone matters. The competition moves from between people (externally driven) to within each individual (internally driven) – mastery becomes the focus.

Pie-in-the-sky? I suppose that depends on your point of view: are you in this life to bring your best to it or are you here to see what you can get out of it? Bring your best – even for a day – give what you have without inhibition and notice what happens to the people around you. I believe you will find that when you become truly powerful you invoke true power in others. Don’t take my word for it. Try it.

Truly Powerful People (196)

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

Terry taught me to scuba dive in the ocean around Bali. I signed up for a class and was the only student and he taught the class anyway. It took me a few days to realize that Terry was teaching me more than how to dive. He was teaching me about how to be alive. Like all great teachers, the subject matter was not important: the content was the method.

Scuba diving is about buoyancy. The mastery of neutral buoyancy was his first lesson and was the center; all other lessons could be traced back to this simple focus: get neutral. Find that sweet spot of neutrality and release all struggle, let go of all resistance. When you are neutral, you are present. Your breathing slows, relaxes. You expend very little energy; you surrender. You see.

The surrender Terry taught was not the western version: the giving up, waving a white flag, a movement to weakness. He taught the eastern version: giving over to something greater (the power of the ocean), a joining, a movement to power.

I’m still incorporating his lesson ten years later. Get neutral. Surrender. Participate in the power.

Truly Powerful People (195)

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

The sunrise today was glorious. The sky exploded with pink, purple, blue and orange. It took my breath away and it brought my mind to creation stories and mythologies. When nature moves me to awe I often go right for the story!

Someone once said that a mythology is someone else’s religion. If it is not yours you read it as story, if it is yours you still read it as story but you invest the story with power, you look to it for guidance, you consider it to be a source. Even if you think you are an atheist, even if you have no investment in the metaphoric or literal interpretation of any story, it would still be worthy to recognize that mythologies matter. They are more than dusty tomes sitting on library shelves, stories from another time and place. They are living things and impact how you perceive and construct your world.

Consider this: if you live within a culture that worships the controlling, angry god, your mythology – whether you embrace it our not – is based upon the notion that nature is corrupt, particularly your nature. Nature (your nature) is to be controlled and transcended; thus the emphasis on reason and the denunciation of body, emotion, intuition, the feminine,… and all other aspects of your self that smack of nature. Compartmentalization is a notion that only has traction in a people needing to divide the head from the heart. Mythology gives context to your perception and provides your orientation to the world. Seeing the world as a resource to be used, a possession to be claimed, moving through life looking for what you can get out of it, trying to distinguish yourself as separate from the rest (while dressing to fit in) are all expressions of this basic story – this mythology.

In this mythology I can appreciate the sunrise, I can feel awe, but I can never truly believe that I participate in the sun’s reappearance.
There are other mythologies and therefore other orientations and some are stories of participation. I often wonder, when nature shocks me into silence with its beauty, what it might feel like to be part of the beauty instead of a witness to it.

Truly Powerful People (194)

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

This one comes from Diane and our conversation about sugar. I’m not sure how we got from food addiction to playing the Victim but here it is none-the-less.

The role of Victim is like an addiction to sugar. If you eat a lot of sugar your body craves it; you need it. The same can be said of The Victim. It is an addiction. The notion that things happen to you, that you are buffeted by the winds of time and the tides of circumstance affords a remarkable abdication of responsibility for the world you inhabit and relieves your from all recognition of participation. Life happens to you. “It’s not my fault,” is easy and comfortable. Above all, it is safe (saying, “this is mine to do” is dangerous. You might be seen. You might feel powerful).

The verb at the center of The Victim is “to blame.” Spend ten minutes in any coffee house, bus stop, lunchroom, etc. and listen to the stories people tell. You will mostly hear stories of blame. Once in a blame cycle, like sugar, you need to keep eating it to fill the craving. Once in the cycle you will feed off the blame stories of others – everyone will share their candy with you because it validates your craving and gives you a tribe.

And, if you break the addiction, clean your body of the need, a small amount of sugar becomes too much – it no longer tastes as good as you remember. The same applies to The Victim role. Once you break the addiction, it no longer feels safe (because it is ultimately powerless). You just can’t stomach it, anymore. Everyone will want to share their blame-candy with you and you just won’t be able to stomach it. You will have to walk away because instead of blaming you are choosing.

Recognizing that you are in choice every moment of your life is a powerful addiction treatment program.