Truly Powerful People (356)

356.
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 watched Werner Herzog’s film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about the incredible paintings found in the Chauvet caves in southern France. Over 30,000 years ago, for reasons about which we can only speculate, people painted images of horses, bears, lions, and rhinoceros; they left hand prints and other markings. These are the oldest known images created by humankind. They are shocking in precision, shape, and delicacy of line. They are contemporary – in some of the shots as the camera panned across the images, I could swear that Picasso had spent some time in the cave working out his chiaroscuro. Many of the images overlap and carbon dating tells us that there was 5,000 years between the earlier and later images yet they live as one cohesive intention as if drawn by a single hand.

In the film, Herzog made a statement that seems especially appropriate to ponder on this day. He said, “These people did not live in history.” They did not have clocks or calendars. They did not take classes in the history of the ice age or tribal war in the year 37,000b.c.e; they would never think to distinguish between before and after the contemporary era; the concept of an era would be meaningless, the word “contemporary” would be lost on them. They did not locate themselves in their lives in the same way we do.

It is a leap year and we think we have an extra day. I’ve read the same question in multiple places over the past few days, “What will you do with your extra day?” Having just seen the film I ask myself, “Isn’t every day of life an extra day?” If I lived “out of history” would I note this day as somehow special? I hope so, but not because I consider it a bonus gift in the cereal box of my life. This leap year notion is made possible by how we count, a small hiccup necessary to keep our numbers in line with the cycles of the moon. If I count this day as special, how do I count the other 365 days? Ordinary? I guess a better question is, “What am I counting?”

What if, like today, you went out tomorrow and did something special to mark the extra day of life that you have. And the next day, too. And the next. What if you woke up every morning and asked yourself, “What will I do with my extra day?”

Truly Powerful People (355)

355.
Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Peter Block wrote a book I often revisit called, The Answer To How Is Yes. It is written for a business audience but like all wisdom it applies to life beyond the glass tower. One of the premises of the book is that we get stuck in asking, “How?” We leap beyond asking “why” and too soon begin searching for how to achieve “it.” Both actions are essentially an abdication of personal responsibility. Point #1: If you do not know why you should not be asking how. Point #2: Look to yourself for your answers; clarify your “why,” and “how” will become apparent and personal.

In my latest revisit of the book I realized that in many ways it is a meditation on paths. To me, stories are pathways scribed during a process of transformation. It’s a paradox because the story serves both as a guide that points the way along a well-worn route, and it affirms that your path is unique, never before trod. You create your distinctive path in the choices you make as you go. Your path is your story creation and the age-old stories provide instruction in path creation.

I went back to Peter Block’s book because I recently did a peer coaching with a woman from one of my classes. She guided me through an imagination exercise and I found myself on a path. I took great comfort in how well traveled it was – you might say the legion of ancestors that came before me wore a fine trail for me to follow. On the path I thought the relevant question was, “How do I intend to walk it?” I could race through and not see it, fight my way, fear the tigers that might be lurking behind the trees…, or I could walk slowly and enjoy it. And then the real question came to me: “Why this path?” There were other choices available to me. I could have taken a safer path. I could have chosen a path of security or one that was less steep. This path was not a default though I often try to convince myself that this path is happening to me, but it is not. I chose it.

Why this path?

Truly Powerful People (353)

353.
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 tagline to this blog is something that I think about a lot: it’s not in what you get from life, it’s in what you bring to it. To me, this tagline is more than a clever phrase or nice sentiment. It’s more than a philosophical guide-star. The more that I think about it and do the work that is mine to do in the world, the more I realize that it’s an imperative of our time. It’s also an opportunity. Here’s my thought trail:

Something extraordinary is happening in my lifetime; it is something that has never happened before in the history of humanity. It lives under the broad category of The Pace of Change but this one we rarely talk about or factor into our news of the day even though it impacts every nuance of contemporary life. The first time I heard about it I was sitting in a classroom in elementary school though it meant almost nothing to me at the time. The second time I heard it I was in college and I leaned into it because I knew it was far more important than I could grasp as the time. Now, I’m living in the time that my teachers told me was coming; it’s not an abstraction, no need to think about it, I see it all around me every day.

It is this simple fact: it took many thousands of years for the population of human beings to double. The next doubling only took a few thousand years. The next doubling took a few hundred years. Never before now has the population of human beings doubled in the span of a single lifetime. And, in my lifetime, assuming I will live to a ripe old age, the population will triple. There were 3 billion people on the planet when I was born. In the space of 80 years, a mere blink of the eye, and there will be 9 billion people.

“What’s the big deal?” you might ask. Simply this: our systems and economic ideals – our way of thinking about the world – are rooted and structured in colonial intentions: it’s all about commanding and controlling the resources. It’s all in what we get. Manifest Destiny was a nice idea for the folks playing on the chosen team but was a horror story for the rest of the world’s people. It continues to be a horror story though now we have television and the internet so we can look at it if we choose to look. It might be new news but we citizens of the United States of America consume far more than we produce. We were the only nation on earth to occupy that special category until the late 1970’s. Now, each year, more nations join us in our model of consumption. It is an old and increasingly untenable idea to be in the world according to what we can get. It’s a global economy. That is more than a nice phrase; it is a functional reality and economies, local and global (no separation) run on the movement and flow of resources.

We are quite capable of going to war for oil or water or spice (salt was all the rage before the age of oil) but I suspect we’ve outgrown the good guys-n-bad guys storyline. The chosen people story is another variation of the good guys-n-bad guys story; it’s a useful story to mask a resource war but in a truly global economy it seems a bit out dated. We can do better. The earth’s belly is pregnant with people so obviously interconnected that it requires gargantuan hubris not see that we are, in fact, in this together. Transcending the tribal thing and the colonial thing is, in my mind, the real challenge of our times.

Life lived according to what we get prospers a few in the short term and wreaks havoc on everyone in the long term. It is an operating principle that worked really well for a few people when the population afforded lots of space and we communicated with smoke signals and pigeons. Today, it still works well for a shrinking few but since there are more and more of us… well, you get the picture.

The opportunity is not to continue cycling through models of dominance. The opportunity is to grow and reorient to the world in which we live now. We live in an extraordinary time because the opportunity for real change is present. We can continue to live according to what we get or we can pull our heads out of the sands of the past and take a look at what me might actually bring to the feast.

Truly Powerful People (352)

352.
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 brilliant bit of noodling from the more than brilliant Megan. Note how many thought-tributaries come together to feed this deep river:

I am reading this book called “Where Good Ideas Come From” by Steven Johnson and he writes about the “adjacent possible”. From what I understand, this refers to the possibilities that exist as a result of a known combination. So, for instance, before there was life on earth, there were elements floating around. When two elements bumped into each other it opened up a new realm of possibility. Another example is a house. You walk into a room and there are doorways (possibilities) of other rooms that now exist because you are in this room… possibilities you wouldn’t have known without first getting into that room.

So feelings come first. I think that we don’t just go to feelings and then to logic, I think we go from feeling to logic. I think that different feelings unlock different possibilities of logic. Anger will result in a different set of possible logics than will happiness.

When we have a traumatic experience, a surge on our feelings, we respond by denying, covering, avoiding, manipulating. When the feelings get really skewed, the possible logic gets skewed as well. The more we demonize our feelings, the more we alter the possibilities of logic. In the house example, we are burning rooms.

Resiliency allows us to weather feeling surges without damage. It allows us to keep both our feelings and logic in tact. We gain resiliency from the “witness”… our capacity to observe our feelings without moving to alter them.

It isn’t our feelings that are the problem, it’s the actions we take to avoid, control, or deny them that do the damage. The feelings don’t burn down the room, we do by trying to get rid of the feelings.

That’s what Megan would think were she to think about it.

Truly Powerful People (351)

351.
Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

When Catherine uses the word linger, it is as if she is weaving a spell or a child savoring a rich piece of chocolate. “Don’t you just want to linger in it?” she asked as she giggled and clapped her hands. Regardless of what you are doing, regardless of what you intend, you can’t help yourself, you linger. I was sipping coffee and I found that the sip did not just pass through – I tasted all of it. Every rich nuance came alive in my mouth and send ripples to the ends of my body. And, she wasn’t even talking about the coffee!

She looks at you with eyes that see today as the first and only day, everyday a birthday. Linger in it. We were talking about nature and she used the word again, “linger.” Stop and look around. Feel. Fall into this delicious bite of life. Linger in this moment rather than just passing through. Linger in the smell, the sound, the sensation. Linger in the ferocity. Linger in the thought and in the heart. Linger when the heart breaks, taste every bit of this yummy bite of life. The sweet and the savory.

Catherine told me a story of a woman executive at a retreat who spoke of her yearning to be in a place where people have time to finish a sentence, have time to finish a thought, to see each other and relate to each other; to have time to experience the fullness of alive. We have the time. The question is, “how do we live it?” Life as an email has its drawbacks. Life lived according to the clock, the list and the bottom line is survival but is it living? If you have doubts about the meaning of your life, linger for a while. Like a frightened animal life will come to you if you sit still.

Truly Powerful People (350)

350.
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 image is explicit. It is burned into my memory and is immediate, accessible, as if I had lived it earlier today and not over 30 years ago. It was the day I understood silence, the day I brushed against the mystery and glimpsed something bigger to life. It is not profound, an everyday moment, that changed how I understand life and my relationship to it.

It was autumn and I was 14 years old, walking through a Colorado forest, following far behind a group of boys. We were hiking toward a clearing that would become our campsite. I often lagged behind because I liked to hear the sounds of the forest. I liked the quiet that was generally lost beneath the banter of the boys. They were used to my detachment so no one expected me to be present or even within sight. They knew I’d come along eventually. I liked my aloofness because it granted me invisibility.

I felt the temperature dropping and soon the first gentle flakes of snow feathered from the sky. As often happens early in a snowstorm, it feels as if the belly of the clouds descend and like a blanket muffles all remaining sound; nature stopped and listened to the arrival of the snow. The breezes paused just as I emerged from the trees into a meadow and the stillness took my breath and me away. I stopped as nature had stopped to witness the snow’s appearance. Nothing moved within me or outside of me except the silent quiver of the falling snow. There was no separation.

In that instant I recognized how temporary and precious was my life; I was nothing more than a passing moment. My eyes would be open for a mere blink of time. I was standing in the silence from which I’d come and would return to this same silence; instead of being terrifying, it was magical. I was infinite as I was finite. And then the winds returned, the snows swirled and I was once again distinct, separate, a boy standing in the woods.

Truly Powerful People (349)

349.
Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Tayna and I were talking about trust. Not just any brand of trust but the kind that becomes necessary when that still small voice inside prompts you to leave the nest, to step to the edge of your comfort zone and jump. It’s the voice that comes at the start of a new chapter in your story. It is the voice that knocks you off balance.

We’ve all been there. We all have that voice. We generally avoid the voice, deny it, question it, shout it down, talk over it, and debate it to a draw even as we sit in the nest knowing that the jump is inevitable. Deep down we know the caterpillar time is over and something unimaginable beckons. We don’t know what it is. We DO know that the nest is comfortable and the voice is asking the impossible. Who in their right mind would jump?

That is precisely the point. If you listened to your right mind all the time you’d stay in the nest forever. The intellect is great at explaining “why” but has no facility for asking “why not.” Growth never makes sense. Ask Frodo. Better yet, ask Bilbo. At the end of life he, like the rest of us, talks about the jumps, the senseless choices that at the time looked like “risk.” At the end of the day we come to realize that the risk was never in the jumping, but in the vital life missed by ignoring the voice’s call.

The voice comes when you are on the right path. The outward actions might seem terrifying, destructive, counter productive, and downright stupid. And, it’s the right path. Learning to trust that intuitive voice – stepping to edge of the nest and looking over BECAUSE it makes no sense – is what makes us human. That’s where the growth happens. We come alive when we entertain the “What if…?”

In a fit of metaphor Tayna chortled, “I mean, think about it: the ugly bulb I planted in the ground doesn’t know what it’s doing, it just does it. It trusts and reaches for something absolutely unknowable and this amazing flower emerges.” It’s not difficult to imagine being the ugly bulb. In this metaphor, reaching for the unknowable is simply what we do and I think that is apt. We must reach for the unknowable just as we must wrap a story of destruction around the impulse to reach. Safety is a big deal for us ugly bulbs. The story of destruction is good for piquing curiosity and curiosity trumps safety almost every time. Also, the flower remembers the story of ugly-bulb-doubt, in fact, the flower is made possible and all the more sweet by the doubt that propelled it forward. That’s how we ugly bulbs learn to trust that nagging still-small-voice: we take the scary step certain that we will not survive, have an adventure, and come out better for it.