Truly Powerful People (345)

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 woman was very old. Like an old tree her spine was weathered and bent so she was incapable of looking ahead. Instead, she stared into the ground, occasionally flicking her eyes up to see what lay ahead. She stood with the help of her cane and waited; the task before her was daunting. It was a task that most of us probably take for granted but for her it was herculean. Or so it seemed to me. She needed to cross the road to get to the other side. Between her and the other side was 8 lanes of traffic and a river of impatient drivers.

The light turned red, the walk signal illuminated and began its counts down: 18, 17, 16, 15,… and the old woman stepped onto the asphalt. Her gait was halting. Her steps unsteady, more of a shuffle than a walk. 10, 9, 8, 7,… and she’d barely crossed a single lane and the drivers were already edging forward, impatient to get on their way, many of them unaware of the small bent woman in brown and green crossing the road.

I was in one of the cars stopped at the light. The thoroughfares in Tucson are wide avenues with broad left-turn lanes; I am young and fit and sometimes have to race to get across in a single light. I felt the low panic of impending disaster. She wasn’t going to make it.

Ellen DeGeneres has issued to her audience a dance dare; she’s asked people to record themselves secretly dancing behind other people; the videos are hysterical, people dancing wildly behind unsuspecting shoppers in the grocery store, workers at the bus stop, analysts in the cubicle. Like one of Ellen’s dance dare tribe, a jogger ran up behind the old woman and began hopping wildly so all lanes of traffic might see! The old woman tottered forward, unsuspecting, with the secret jogger gesturing wildly to the now captive audience of drivers. The light changed and no one moved. The secret jogger skipped back and forth behind the old woman, arms pumping and waving, a crossing guard gone funky chicken.

The old woman stepped safely onto the sidewalk on the other side of the road; the jogger continued her jog as if nothing unusual had happened in the middle of the road. We drivers edged forward, released from the spell of generosity spun by the secret dancing jogger and continued on our way.

Truly Powerful People (344)

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

Lora tells me that her mother used to stop what she was doing and go outside to watch the sun disappear beneath the horizon. Every evening of her adult life, for a few moments, she would step outside, feel the last rays of the days’ sun on her face and watch until the last hint of light dipped beneath the horizon. In my imagination she stepped out of her “to-do list” and for a few moments stood as a silent witness, present in the world.

These rituals of appearance and disappearance are much on my mind. There are cultures that face east in the dark predawn hours and sing so that the sun will rise. It took me years to understand that their song was not so much about invoking the sun to rise (a result) as much as it was about reaffirming their connection to the cycles of life (a relationship).

While going through college I drove a bread truck to support myself. My route took me east so I drove into the sunrise every morning. After several weeks of watching the sunrise something changed in me. I no longer watched sunrise as an event or a marker of time. The sun rising had little to do with time. It had everything to do with renewal and affirmation. It was a new day full of possibility. It was the return of an old friend. The sun invoked a song in me – presence was an imperative. I recognized the reappearance of the sun was something I would only experience a limited number of times, each opportunity a rare and precious moment.

Truly Powerful People (343)

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. Every choice I made, every experience I interpreted was understood according to the lens of fear. The fear was both literal – I would not have enough food (a lack story) – and metaphoric, that I was not enough: not powerful enough, smart enough, funny enough. I used to feel as if the world was too big and that I had no capacity or skill to negotiate it; I used to feel that the world was swallowing me!

My way of attempting to control the uncontrollable – of fending off the feeling of starvation – was to retreat from the world, to hide as if the hounds of my fear would not find me in my retreat. I was a Hungry Ghost: no matter how much I had or how varied and wealthy the experiences of my life, I was incapable of feeling satisfaction. I was incapable of experiencing the fullness of my life. I was starving to death. Starvation was my focus so starvation was my creation.

On the day I wrote the note to myself, I realized that I was starving myself – it was not “the world” that was starving me or my capacities relative to my desires – it was my fear that kept me from the table. 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 experience. Because I was seeing the world through a lens of starvation, everything looked barren and dangerous. When the world looks barren, the choices you make are different than the choices you make when the world looks abundant. The world did not change; what changed was my seeing. What changed was where I placed my focus.

Truly Powerful People (342)

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 heard this great phrase today: chain of conflict. Like constructing of a good play, track your conflict backwards in time and you can see the story that you tell and tell and tell. It’s mechanical. Keep going back through the chain of triggers and heaps, the chain of choices and story and eventually you will come to a beginning event, a first domino. When did you initially decide that you needed to be perfect? When did you first locate your worth in the perception of others? When did you first decide that you could or could not do something, that you were capable of giving voice to your thoughts or not. Follow the chain and see the story.

There are mini-chains, too. How often has someone’s bad day become your bad day; how did you pass it along? Have you ever carried the anger of a traffic jam hours beyond the jam? Has the smile of a person passing you on the street changed your dark day into something bright? There are chains of conflict and there are chains of peace.

Like a rock tossed in a pond you can start a ripple of conflict or a ripple of pleasure. In fact, you start ripples all the time and you forward ripples all the time whether you know it or not. The trick is to know it, to intend the ripple.

You can also break a life long chain of conflict. The action is the same as stopping dominoes: know it, make a gap and stop the momentum. Break the link. Make a different choice.

Truly Powerful People (341)

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

Yesterday’s thoughts of Jero Manchu brought remembrance of Jakorda Rai. Like Jero, he was a balian, a very powerful man in his community, a healer. He is one of the most significant influences in my life and I barely knew him. When community members came to Jakorda’s compound, they were seeking physical healing or spiritual advice. He sat behind his patient and “read” their energy. Then, with a pointy stick, he would lightly touch points between their toes. Inevitably, one of the points would be as fire, the patient would jump in pain, Jakorda would cry out; he also felt the pain. The points corresponded to specific organs and meridians – a sophisticated reflexology.

I first witnessed his work with a student group. I was not one of his patients but he approached me after the session and invited me to come back without the group. When I returned a few days later I was relieved when his pointy stick found no fire points on my foot. He sat behind me, read my energy and told me something that froze my blood. He said through a translator, “You have no physical ailments. Your challenge is that you have closed your story. You are not living.” He touched my right shoulder and said, “You need to open your story.” I knew exactly what he meant. He knew I knew. He invited me to visit again. My return visit is a story for another post; I’m certain that the events of the follow up visit started the process of opening my story.

In the decade since I last saw him, I’ve realized that my work in the world has become to help people open their stories. There is some truth to the adage that we teach what we most need to learn. Opening stories with other people opens my story. And, as I open my story, I’m learning that I need my story less and less: a paradox. Open story, open hands, release story.

As I was leaving Jakorda Rai the last time he invited me to dine with him. I thought he meant for me to return and join him for a meal. He smiled and knew I’d get his meaning someday. Now, I understand. My story is open and my work is an extension of his work. We dine together everyday.

Truly Powerful People (340)

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

Several years ago in a crude temple constructed in her house compound, Jero Manchu delivered a message to me from the Bali gods. A few months earlier I’d written a letter to myself about what I was seeking in the world. It was a kind of confessional, a paper priest receiving my self-accusations along with my dreams for the future. I sealed it in an envelope and put it in a place where no one would find it. Knowing that I was going to Bali I was worried that, if I died in a fiery plane crash, my family or friends would find my paper priest. Even though I’d be dead I didn’t want them to find it – embarrassment would reach me even in my grave.

I went to see Jeo on a lark. She was a curiosity to me, a cultural fascination. Jero was a balian (healer) and she worked through trance. Jero Manchu slipped into her trance, opened her eyes, looked at me for a long moment, and then told me what I’d written to myself. There was no way for her to know but she knew. Through a translator she told me almost word for word what I’d written. She knew what I was seeking and I felt naked sitting before her. I was gob-smacked and writhed in my chair. She told me that the Bali gods required an offering from me. The Bali Gods told me to go to the ocean and at sunrise wanted me to give them something. My offer could be anything as long as it wasn’t red. Apparently, red is an offensive color to the Bali gods.

A few days later I drove to the coast on a dive trip. Just before sunrise I went to the beach, lit 3 sticks of incense as I was instructed, and placed my offer in a place where the incoming tides could reach it. Jero had told me to sit quietly and watch the sun rise. I was to do nothing. After sunrise I was to leave and return later when the tide was again low. If my offer was gone, the Bali gods had accepted it and would then support me in my growth.

Later that day, after the dive, I returned to the spot and my offering was gone. I do not understand it. I’m not even sure of the questions I have – other than how she knew – and even that seems inconsequential. She knew my deepest desire. She knew my most vulnerable thoughts. She sent me to the beach to do something that also made no sense to me. Yet, I would have been devastated had my offer still been on the beach after my return- and that makes no sense, either. “The Bali gods are helping you,” she said.

As Doug used to say to me, “Your problem is that you want things to make sense.” He was right. I wanted that. I’m not so sure that matters to me much anymore. Stories are not supposed to make sense, they are supposed to transform. Belief necessitates transcending sense-making; belief and faith dance in the realm of the heart. Standing on that beach, having had someone see my deepest secrets, and knowing that my offer went the way of the tides, I was filled with a sense of peace and hope. It made me laugh to think that the first lesson of the Bali gods was that peace was available if I to stopped trying to make sense of it all.

Truly Powerful People (339)

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 is an oasis in Seattle, a sanctuary for the soul. It is called Eco-Spa. On the surface it’s where I go to get my haircut. Look deeper and it’s the place where people are people, where there is always enough time, the impulse to rush is somehow blocked from entry.

When I was a kid a haircut was done in the backyard. It was akin to a sheep shearing. It was over in minutes and I always left the chair a bit stunned and feeling exposed. Later, haircuts happened in storefronts marked by barber poles. Old guys in white smocks snipped and clipped to the sound of locals playing chess and talking politics. This was a guys place, personal and impersonal all at the same time. The air was heavy with tonic and clipper oil, the combs were plastic and a stipple pen was always at hand for those little accidental ear snips. It was functional, nice, but not nirvana.

The women that opened Eco-Spa wanted to create a place where people are pampered, a place for rejuvenation. They like to help people feel good. They’ve placed the “why” of their business at the center; the “what” comes second. It is intentionally sensual and beautiful. I go there to recharge my battery. What a change from my sheep shearing days! Rachel cuts my hair: she listens like a bartender, intuits like a mystic, massages my head and neck like a pro and knows how to quiet my ranting with hot towels on my face. I confess to whipping up a rant just to receive the towel.

I want to buy the entire IRS a trip to the Eco-Spa. All the rule makers and bureaucracy enforcers need someone to love on them and learn what it is to actually serve another person. They live in the world of the senselessness and sheep shearing – imagine what a good massage and a hot towel treatment could do for their worldview.

The best part is that I’m learning how to carry the Eco-Spa beyond the Eco-Spa. I’m learning that the Eco-Spa is more than a place, it is an intention. I can carry the sense-full, the simple kindness, and the eyes to see beauty wherever I go – and the Eco–Spa is there waiting for me when I forget and need to remember what is important – or get my hair cut.

Truly Powerful People (338)

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

Bear and I were talking recently about our admiration for the Bread and Puppet Theatre. I’ve actually seen very little of their work in my life but it is their philosophy that has me applauding. Go to their site and read their Cheap Art Philosophy. Anyone can participate. You don’t need a lot of money, production values, or the expensive paintbrush. The art is in you. Use what’s in the room. It’s not about the technology. It’s about you and your relationship to your world. “Art is food…” says the good people at Bread and Puppet Theatre. Art is not technology; art might use technology. It is all too easy for us to confuse the two in our gadget heavy times. The art comes from within you; the technology is a tool.

Eric Weiner recently wrote a book called Man Seeks God. He chronicles his pursuit of the divine. He visited many faith traditions, from Sufism to Buddhism, Wicca to Shamanism to the Tao. He spent several days in a Franciscan friary; the brothers operated a homeless shelter in New York City. After a few days in the friary, a place with no electric gadgets, no television, cell phones, computers, he took a break from austerity and caught the train into Manhattan. He writes, “Everyone is twitchy,…, their minds are elsewhere. No doubt these hipsters…would think the friars hopelessly out of touch with the ‘real world.’ Yet I wonder: Who are the ones out of touch? The friars, unlike the denizens of Soho, are fully present. They know how to linger. They know how to look someone in the eye without silently calculating their social score.”

This is not a rant against technology. I am as in love with my computer and smartphone as the next person. Easy is good. Instant communication is like a time-sponge. The sword has two edges. At moments like this Lora quotes Sophocles to me: “Nothing vast enters the world of mortals without a curse.” The technological pace of change in our lives is vast. As Marshall McLuhan said, technology doesn’t just impact us, it changes us. Eric Weiner’s question is a great one: what does it mean to be in touch?

There is not a single answer to his question but it does make me cheer for the Bread and Puppet folks and the impulse that drives them. It seems the skill necessary in our times is the ability to discern between substance and glitter, news and opinion, art and propaganda.

Truly Powerful People (337)

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, Will was at a dinner party and told the gathering about an amazing study he’d just read. Apparently, the conscious decision (the thought) to move actually follows an action that the brain has already initiated. In other words, when you think, “I want to lift that flower pot,” you’re brain fired the muscles before the thought was launched. Thought follows action, not the other way around. I will find this research for another post on another day but let’s suppose for a moment that it is the latest brain science. This discovery is on the magnitude of the discovery that the sun does not, in fact, rotate around the earth but the other way around.

What do you think the other dinner guests did? Will said that there were several moments of silence and then they changed the subject. It was as if he’d never spoken. I imagine Copernicus sitting around the table with some friends, having just completed his nightly sky gazing, bouncing up and down with enthusiasm, and whispering to them what he’d just discovered (he had to whisper as the punishment for heresy was painful). They looked at their pal Copernicus for a long moment and then pretended that he hadn’t spoken. “Pass the wine!” calls Vincenzo. “Any more stew?” asks Ghilberti.

When we do not understand it, we ignore it and move on. I’ve seen that look on the faces of many school board members when I’ve said, “Teaching is about relationship” or “Art can save children’s lives.” Stunned silence. “On to other business!” chimes the board president. All breathe a sigh of relief as if one of their pistols accidently fired and no one was hurt.

The hand with the gavel is supposed to keep the conversation safely within the norms and will pound the table if the conversation strays beyond the bounds. There is an inner judge with the same job. The question that Will has introduced is this: does the inner judge pound the gavel because movement has begun or does the judge pound the gavel mightily and movement is the response.

Truly Powerful People (336)

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 talk in class today was of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: you can only know the location or the velocity/speed of a particle, but not both. It’s either the location (fixed place) or the velocity (fluid movement).

I have always appreciated the language of this principle. It gives me hope for a world that acknowledges uncertainty with a principle. And, to add paradox to the paradox, I appreciate that the principle of uncertainty is actually an either/or statement! Isn’t this a great description of human consciousness? If I were a Martian and had to describe the human mind, I’d say, “Oh, that’s easy: it’s so complex as to be uncertain but it always reduces itself to black or white thinking.” Heisenberg knew what he was doing! My Martian self would conclude, “Those humans feel better when they have the illusion of certainty. They like to be right! They like to be chosen. They do not like not knowing.”

It shows up in other ways, too. When we judge ourselves or other people we are locating ourselves. Once you brand yourself with a label like Not Good Enough, you’ve defined your location. Once you’ve branded someone else with a label, you’ve fixed them in your mind and the label inhibits any movement or growth. Armed with your measuring stick and score card you will find that movement to another location is impossible until you decide to let go of your current location and step into the relationship (movement). Listen to the political debates and you’ll hear hard fast statements of unwavering belief. There’s lot’s of flag-planting and territory claiming: location, location, location. Once those feet are planted and beliefs are fixed, movement is nearly impossible. Just ask Congress.

Location is not better than movement, movement is not better than location, both are necessary and, in truth, the movement never stops (it is part of that birth to death thing). What stops is our capacity to grow and engage with the world in a meaningful way when we fix our location for too long. That’s why all good stories start with the main character getting knocked off balance, getting kicked out of comfort and spiraling into the adventure.