Truly Powerful People (264)

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’s my favorite phrase from class today (it didn’t come out of my mouth but I wish it had). It is a thought from the amazing Alan Seale:

“No one owns power. Power is energy; it is everywhere. It is everything. How you relate to it determines whether it serves you and others or whether it gets in the way and depletes you and everyone else. Using power as power-over-others is an immature form. The mature form of power is power-to-be.”

The phrase that I most appreciate, the part that is most important to pay attention to, is “How you relate to it.” In listening to the class participants today I realized how much trash we have around this word, “power.” Most of us have had it wielded over us or we have used it over others. We resist it. To imagine amplifying power WITH others is…unimaginable. Yet, it is just as possible as using power to control.

We think power is something we have or do not have – it is our experience. The growth comes when we learn how to relate to power in a different way because we learn to relate to ourselves in a different way. Power is energy and it is everywhere.

Truly Powerful People (263)

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 learned a long time ago that I do my best thinking with a big drawing pad in front of me. My doodles become maps. What initially looks like and awful mess of scribbles emerges as a circular form of coherence.

For the past few hours I’ve been mapping the class I will teach in January: Bring Power to Life. Sometimes the maps come easily! All the scribbles fit on the first pass. If I were Joe looking at these scribbles, I’d use the word “elegant.” This map, this thought-path, is elegant (get ready Joe!). It looks like a well-constructed play – clear actions feed a spine that scribes an arc of inevitable transformation.

The spine of the six weeks course is “to create power-with-others” which I maintain is our natural impulse; needing power-over-others is only necessary once you’ve given your power away (you have no need to take power from others when you ARE the source of your power). I suppose the subtitle would be: Return AS the source of your power.

The course is constructed around six relationships; each relationship requires a movement that is easily described by a shorthand phrase and made tangible in a single action. So, for instance, the first relationship is with Control; the shorthand is Stop Enabling and Start Empowering; the action is to draw a line between what you can control and what you can’t control. Drawing the line (boundary) changes your relationship with control and creates movement toward empowerment. Empowerment activates Choice, which is the second relationship we’ll engage in the course; the shorthand for Choice is Stop Blaming and Start Choosing; the action is to draw another line making a distinction between “things happen to me” and “I make things happen.” This new boundary creates movement toward Choice and Choice activates Intention, which is the third relationship to explore. The remaining relationships are Motivation, Seeing, and Ownership.

The relationships are linear in the individual pieces but together create a cycle: Ownership is Control transformed. Empowerment, creating power-with-others, is not a mystery; the path is well worn and available when you decide to walk it.

Truly Powerful People (262)

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 261]

You’ve been teaching me about the art of filmmaking and recently you told me that all movies are about pain; when the pain is relieved the movie is over. I have a similar definition for stories (regardless of the medium): a story begins when the main character is knocked off balance and ends when balance is restored.

Everyone is starring in their own movie. Everyone is telling their own story.

My years of leaping were years of resisting what I didn’t want and grasping for what I believed I didn’t have. The dance of resisting and grasping is a dance of pain that leaves you dizzy and off balance. It is a box dance with people pretending to follow but deeply invested in manipulating the lead – or the opposite: pretending to lead by manipulating the followers. I have been guilty of both and learned that either way it is dance of seeking wholeness in the responses of others.

T ran a small company. He was constantly frustrated and couldn’t understand why no one would take even the smallest action without first coming to him. He wanted people to take responsibility for their work! One day he saw to his chagrin that everyone came to him because, if they didn’t, he’d find fault with something and make them do the work again according to how he thought it should be done. He told me, “I was blind to what I was doing. I was telling people I wanted them to be responsible and then punishing them for making choices. I was the problem.” He thought for a moment and added, “I was really trying to control them. I hated it when I realized that putting down my employees made me feel powerful. They were fine; I was upside-down.”

J said it best when she told me, “I have been seeking liberation from others, from my boss, from my work, from systems and from society – I was looking for permission when what I really wanted was liberation from myself! Liberation is something I give myself! No one has my liberation! No one has the key to my chains. I have it! No one else knows who I am or what I want so why am I seeking approval from others so I can be who I am?”

These are tales of pain or disequilibrium. And the threshold to a better story happened for both J and T when they realized that they were seeking their power from other people. Both are deeply interested in service. Both are learning that they are incapable of service as long as they are drinking power from others; true service comes with true power and true power is in what you bring to a relationship, not what you get from it.

[there may be more…]

Truly Powerful People (261)

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

Dear Horatio,

I want to respond to your question and it will take a few posts. First, to let everyone into the conversation: you asked me to give examples or anecdotes of the relationship between control and power and how to break the cycle. You told me that you recognized how this dynamic works in your life but that it is also an abstraction. I responded, telling you that my fascination with this topic (power) comes from the ubiquitous paradox within your question: how can you know how this works in your life but also experience it as an abstraction? That experience is true for almost everyone; when you are in it, you know it in your bones and it is almost impossible to wrap your fingers around it. So, to begin:

I know that it sounds too simplistic but the picture changes when people recognize that 1) They have choice in where they place their focus and 2) They have choice in how they interpret their experiences. These are among the most powerful and transformational recognitions that people can have. It’s easy to say and hard to do when you are convinced that what you see is truth.

Seeing is never passive, no one is ever an objective observer – despite what the past 300 years of science has asked us to believe – it’s now telling us something different. Recently I read Brain Rules by John Medina and in the chapter on seeing he describes what happens in your brain – literally – when you see something. It is akin to an image dispersal and reassembly process. The glue of the reassembly is past experiences: we make meaning of our seeing based on where we’ve been and what we believe about our past. If your life story is one of fear you will most likely see fearful things everywhere. If your life story is filled with adventure you will see opportunities for adventure.

Because seeing is not passive – because you are telling yourself the story of yourself at every moment of your life – you have the capacity to change your story. To see is to interpret and we interpret according to patterns of our lives and how we group things: “this is like that.” You first have to become aware and then detaching from patterns is possible.

For many years fear was my focus so fear was my creation. Living in fear is the equivalent of living full time in resistance and so my story was a story of resistance of the future. I am a dedicated edge leaper so leaping was my first idea about how to get out of fear. If I just kept leaping, if I just kept seeking I was certain I’d find “it.” And then I lost all that I held dear and this is what I saw (finally): It is not in the leaping (the action); it is in the seeing (the story I tell). The shift was immediate. I was a dedicated vampire and suddenly I was practicing something I’d been preaching for years: I was creating power-with. And I know you know what I mean.

[to be continued]

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’s another snippet from the workbook (you know, the workbook that is trying to tell me that it aspires to be more; it knows in its heart that it is a book-book. For the first time in my life I am trying to write less instead of searching for more to say. This problem would have come in handy all those years in school. Alas, all my efforts at containment are futile):

When people believe they need to control what other people see, think or feel they are creating stories of power-over-others or fear-stories of others having power over them. People play power-over-others stories (or the reverse) when they’ve lost their true power; they put it down somewhere. They can’t remember where or when. They are afraid others can see that they’ve lost it. They’re afraid others will see the hole in their being. When people are no longer the source of their own power the only option left to them is to drink power from others.

It is a fantasy story born of the fear of being seen; no one wants other people seeing behind their mask. No one wants others to see that they are missing a piece of themselves. In the midst of so much fear, attempting to control what others see is an imperative. So much potential shame! So much danger of being seen as lacking! So much emptiness groping for the feeling of fulfillment!

How can so many people be trapped in the same tiger pit and yet believe that they are in it alone? It is a form of hell: a community of people so enrapt in their individual stories of need that they can’t really see the other members as allies. No one realizes that everyone is in the same trap. Everyone is hiding so no one can see. This kind of Separation is one of the side effects of Control. People trade their true power for control fantasies every single day.

It’s a paradox: what’s really happening in the control story is that people are giving their power away. In trying to control other people’s perceptions they’re actually giving away the only thing that they can control: what they think, feel and see and believe about them. They are dancing according to what others might think, they are changing themselves based on what others might see, and stifling their growth based on what others might feel or think. It is to practice the art of giving themselves away.

Are you playing an inner story of diminishment? Are you reinforcing in yourself the notion that someone else has your power? Are you trying to get your power based on others responses to you? Are you drinking your power from others or letting them drink their power from you?

You might not yet see it but it’s a waste of your energy, a drain on your creative potential. It requires you to manipulate others instead of dedicating your energy to the creation of what you want. Your thirst for power from others is, in truth, a series of actions dedicated to reinforce your powerlessness. It is a vicious cycle.

All you need to break the cycle is a boundary.

Truly Powerful People (259)

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

Last night I wrote this for the workbook for the class, Bring Power to Life, that I am offering in January. It is impossible for me to make an outline and then write a workbook, I have to do it in reverse: write and then organize the thoughts by creating the outline. I’m writing the first week of the class and it is already outgrown the workbook; too many thoughts spilling over the edges of my intention. Here’s a snippet:

When the actor in training stops trying to determine what the audience sees (power-from-others) and instead places his or her focus on their intention, they become powerful (power-with-others). Trying to control what an audience sees is an attempt to hide from what the audience might see.

It is paradox that most young actors, like most people, want to be seen but are afraid of what others might see if they were actually seen. It is a split intention: they want to be seen and at the same time fear being seen so they attempt to control the wrong thing. Fear will always have you believe that you have the capacity to control what others see which, in truth, is an action of masking, editing, or diminishing yourself. To control is to hide. As the young artist learns, trying to control the feelings and perceptions of others is in essence pouring their creative energy into a black hole. It is a winless game guaranteed to make them feel less safe in the world. It is a rule that holds on or off the stage.

Once they learn to control the controllable, instead of hiding, they participate. Instead of investing in power-over they place their focus in the play and begin creating power-with. They become clear and simple. They become available and present. The power comes when they learn to draw a line between what they can control and what they cannot. The power comes because they invest in relationship creation instead of relationship manipulation. They learn that they are only as powerful as the relationships they create. They are truly powerful when they are powerful-with-others. This is true on or off the stage.

Truly Powerful People (258)

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

Recently, a woman in class used this glorious phrase: she said, “This week I’ve learned to linger. I’ve learned not to move too fast to the next thing.”

On this day of Thanksgiving, I am particularly grateful for all the people that I’ve met in Hastings, Nebraska who, among their many gifts to me, have helped me learn to linger.

Lingering looks a lot like tossing Runza fries to ducks. Lingering is spontaneously making sack puppets that drink beer through eye glasses-shaped straws. Lingering is playing hide-n-seek in high school halls with my twin. Lingering is a big red chair in the Blue Moon with a mocha and my favorite insatiable curious mind asking really good questions. Lingering is not going back to the hotel too soon, u-turns, mischief, and a really good soundtrack. Lingering is breaking boards in the back yard after drinking Fireflies and eating pizza. Lingering is a stroll through Prairie Loft, and gardens, and secret passages in barns.

Lingering is this capacity for love that I have learned that is as big as the Nebraska sky.

Truly Powerful People (257)

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 sat with Stephen and his mother in my office. They came in once a week so I could review Stephen’s schoolwork and together we’d set goals and identify assignments for the next week. Stephen had Asperger’s, a form of autism. I’d worked with him for many years. He’d been in several of my plays and recently I’d taken a job in an independent learning center so I was his teacher overseeing his studies. He was a senior and the last time we met he wanted to talk about what he might pursue after high school. He told his mom and me that he wanted to be a disc jockey! He loved music and his enthusiasm was palpable so we set him up with an internship at the local radio station.

Now, as we sat in my office, Stephen was upset. He’d been surprised that the duties of his internship were something other than hosting his own radio show. He thought he was going to go to the station and launch The Stephen Show and was surprised when he was only able to assist the people in the station to produce a radio show. His mother tried to explain that no one hosted a show on day one. I listened as she explained again to him the need to learn the equipment, the roles and responsibilities of all the people involved, of how to record and edit.

Stephen listened patiently and then said, ‘I know all that. I just want to jump to the end.” We laughed heartily.

I think of that conversation often when I work with people – that would be most of us – who just want to jump to the end without moving through the beginning and middle; we want to be “there” at the expense of missing “here.” To be in such a hurry to achieve the goal and never fully comprehend that this goal is not an end but the beginning of the new goal. The riches are here, no matter where you are in the arc toward your idea of fulfillment. “There” will someday come and I’ll wager you, like all the wise old souls I am privileged to know, will reminisce about the times that you missed speeding to get somewhere that didn’t exist.

Truly Powerful People (256)

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

It is 1984 and I have moved to Louisville, Kentucky to support my girlfriend, Linda. She has been accepted into the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville’s intern program, an elite intense year of actor training, all day, everyday, seven days a week.

We’ve been in Louisville for several weeks and our money supply is running dry. I apply for jobs all day, everyday and I am either too educated or not educated enough, too skilled or not skilled enough. I’m doing temp work, unloading semi-trucks filled with mattresses, digging holes, raking leaves, painting houses and still we are falling behind. We have very little furniture. In fact, the stuff we call furniture was never meant to be furniture: cinder blocks and saw horses. We are now rationing our Ramen noodles.

One night Linda snaps. She is angry and tired and frustrated. I come home from a day of waiting in lines and being summarily excused from potential jobs. I pick up the landlord’s newspaper as I come up the walk, look up and Linda is waiting for me, arms crossed. She unloads her exhaustion on me and I am too young to realize her anger is not meant for me so I take the bullet and return her anger with some frustration of my own. I fling my arms up in protest, the newspaper slips from my grip and like a pop fly at home base, it soars straight up above my head and down again, retracing it’s path, bounces once off my head with a supplemental bounce off my shoulder before I reflexively catch it.

She is a master of comic timing and waits just long enough for me to recognize that I’ve just clobbered myself with a newspaper before she bursts into gales of laughter. I try to continue my protest but cannot through the storm of her glee. My black mood cracks and I chuckle too, claiming that I meant to do it. I assure Linda, now overcome with her laughter, that I am an excellent shot and although I may not be qualified to do many things in Louisville, Kentucky, I am very qualified to humiliate myself publically.

The newspaper helped open our eyes. Her fear and exhaustion was hers. My fear and anger was mine. As is always the case, the bullets we shot at each other had nothing to do with the other person. It would be years of public humiliations before I’d learn the lesson: it is never personal; my stuff is mine to navigate, theirs is theirs to navigate, no matter how angry or ugly I have the choice to take the bullet into my body or let it pass me by. More importantly, navigating my stuff means to speak my truth, to say what I need before I start with the bullets.

Truly Powerful People (255)

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

John is very present with me today. I haven’t seen or talked with him in years yet I feel as if he is sitting in the room with me. It’s odd. John is one of my heroes. I met him when he was 15 years old and he already knew the direction of his life path. He was going to direct plays and movies. He was fearless and capable of moving through obstacles with ease because he did not treat obstacles as reasons to stop; for John an obstacle is spice, a reason to engage.

John is dyslexic and as a young boy he was treated as if he were somehow deficient; he was placed in the “slow learner” classes and felt as if he were dying. One day he refused to go back to school until he was placed in the mainstream (whatever that means) and allowed to succeed or fail based on his work and merit. I’ve never known a harder working person.

When John was in his early 20’s he played Hamlet for me. I will always remember him, hours after rehearsal, sitting at a desk in a dark room illuminated only by a desk lamp, working with his script. For hours after the other actors had gone home, John was working his words. Years later, if I needed to know the worth of a script, I’d ask John; like Beowulf’s bees he’d transformed his nemesis dyslexia into his ally; he could see the structure of a script like no one I’ve ever known. He could see beyond the words.

The capacity to turn an obstacle into an ally is a skill all of us possess but few of us exercise. John has been a great teacher for me and I’m delighted that today he’s dropped in for a visit.