Truly Powerful People (387)

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

We hold our workshops in Hastings on the top floor of the police department – a building that used to be a school so on the third floor it sports a small multi-use room with a stage – it is perfect for the experiences and messes that we create. This morning, dense with fog, we sent the teachers out of the building looking for edges.

Fifteen minutes later they proclaimed, “There are edges everywhere!” We live in a world that knows itself by the lines that it draws and the rules that it makes. They translated their edge discoveries into art installations and then taught us what they learned about edges.

First, we learned that it’s at the edges where the real learning happens. Edges are uncomfortable. Edges are to be played with, feared, challenged, leapt over and run from. Edges are where differences come together. Edges are necessary and not necessary. Judgments are edges. Edges are useful in making distinction and it is through our edges that we come to know ourselves. Edges can be sharp, broken, smooth, clean, rough, precise, unknown, limits, boundaries and horizons. Playpens are defined by there edges and so are prisons. Stories have edges just as pictures have frames. There are edges to perception. Doubt is an edge just as choice designates an edge. Opportunities are found on edges. Your edge is different than my edge. We seek our edges and redefine them. Yesterday’s edges look small and today’s edges look intimidating.

That’s just a snapshot of what they found. Who knew there was so much to be found on an edge! What do you find on your edges?

Truly Powerful People (386)

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

David asked me to think about color and my relationship to color. Later this summer we will have a chat and I can’t wait. Since he sent me the note with his questions (on brilliant yellow paper, I might add. A shade of yellow that tends to the reds and not the greens so it is warm and inviting), I’ve had several surprising encounters to help me prepare for my color conversation.

For instance, today as I work with the incredible educators in Hastings, NE a teacher told the group about her kid’s belief that color did not exist before the 1970’s; camera’s caught the miracle of color coming into being. Television programs caught it, too! I imagine the kids asking, “What was the world like before color?”

My dear friend Judy has an app on her phone that allows her to mix and create color. She tells me it is mesmerizing and can play with the app for hours. When she greeted me instead of saying, “Hello, she announced, “I’ve created the most extraordinary color.” It is not mystery what Judy’s relationship is to color!

Silvia took me be the hand and said, “You have to see my new basement color!” She skipped down the steps, flipped on the lights, and told me the story of her accent wall, an amazing shade of blue, warm and relaxing. And, it went perfectly with the couch. “I really love it!” she said.

Driving to see the Sand Hill cranes, Megan pointed to the magenta sun slowly setting through the purple gray clouds. “Look!” she exclaimed. I caught my breath. It was a color I rarely see and was growing more saturated by the second. She took several photos to capture the colors melting together in the sky.

My first revelation for David: I am seeing color through the eyes of others and I am astounded at what I see. When am I not having a relationship with color?

Truly Powerful People (385)

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 stood by a river as the last light of the sun transitioned from orange to purple to silver to grey to Prussian blue. Over the low murmur of the water the cranes called in the night. I was instantly quiet inside and realized that I am not enough in nature. My mind and life are full of fuzzy abstractions that dissipate on the banks; I am small here, insignificant and fleeting, a perspective necessary to the development of soul. I do not know how long we stood there, as time by the river is not counted so much as experienced.

Jim Edmondson once told me that people go to the seashore to touch the infinite. I think people attend the river to feel the finite, life both in cyclical and linear motion. If I lived here would I count my years by the return of the cranes? I hope so, though the sun and moon play chase around me and I pass months without participating. Once, I worked with kids in Los Angeles that had no experience of stars. I wondered what might change in their lives if only they travelled beyond the lights of the city. I wonder now why I choose to live within them.

Martin Prechtel writes about his village: people who more than participated in the dance, they attended to it. Their actions, their language, their thought mattered as they told their story again and again to recreate Time. They had eyes to see a world that was living (because they were living) and not just a resource to be consumed. They stood by the river all the time, or, as Joseph Campbell might say, they were in their church all the time. When was the last time that you knew without question that your thoughts and actions had impact in the regeneration of life? When was the last time you knew without question that you are fleeting, and it was your turn to keep the story alive?

Truly Powerful People (384)

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 a bit of a story. It’s the tease; the promise:

It was a special day. The King was to dine with their master that night. That’s why the cook let the young wife go without nicking her face with the cleaver. All must be beautiful in the eyes of the king. As she polished the finest china and silver, the young wife knew she had to find a way out of this hell. The cook was going to kill her.

The king was a renowned dandy and was given to fashion and high style. His closets were vast and full. He was known to change his clothes several times each day. He kept his designers and tailors busy and hated to be behind the trends. As far as he was concerned, one of his primary duties as king was to set the fashion standards. Had there been photographers in his day he’d have legislated that only his photograph could grace the cover of the gentleman’s fashion quarterly magazine.

As she placed the silver in it’s box, the young wife had an idea. She knew that the King’s visit was her chance to get out. She also knew that the King could have her executed for doing what she was planning to do….

Johan Lehrer writes that creativity begins with a problem; flashes of insight are born of frustration. Hitting the wall is necessary for us to move beyond our analytical mind and into the intuitive mind. The heroine or hero of a story must come against the wall as a prerequisite for the risk, the incentive to step into the void that will inevitably lead to their transformation. The promise of the story is nothing without the obstruction. The same is true in our lives – that’s why stories are, in the words of Reynolds Price, “…second in necessity after love and before nourishment and shelter.”

Stories are helpful because they beg you to consider where in our lives you we trying to eliminate our obstacle; when do we give up too soon. Where do we withhold our voice and not speak our truth? Meeting the obstacle is where the opportunity is available. Insight lives just on the other side of the wall. Choosing safety at the expense of growth or ceasing to try because we are frustrated short circuits our capacity for vision. It inhibits transformation. It is a decision to sit in the dark. What do you know in your gut that you need to do but are resisting? What cook has backed you against the wall and threatened you with her cleaver? What do you imagine the young wife is about to do? How might you problem be the door into the promise of your story?

Truly Powerful People (383)

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 call them universal dope slaps. I do not mean a dope slap that applies equally to everyone. I’m talking about a dope slap delivered by the universe – a specific slap for a specific action. Sometimes they are gentle. Sometimes they are abrupt. I had two this week from opposite ends of the dope slap spectrum. In fact, I’ve had two in the past two days.

I’ve gone months without a single slap and suddenly two in a row. And, the gas-door-mystery-problem continues; something is up! Yesterday I took an early morning walk. Sometimes when I walk I fall into deep thought and I lose all track of place, space, and time. It is my version of Alice down the rabbit hole. I am like a little kid following all the shiny objects in my mind. When I came back to this world, I was on the walkway at Alki beach. There are wonderful barnacle encrusted concrete stairs that lead down to the beach. At high tide the lower steps are underwater. The birds are migrating and what brought me back was a noisy flock of black and white ducks, an entire squadron coming in for a landing just beyond the steps. I ran down to the lowest step and looked over the concrete wall to get a better glimpse just as a rogue wave hit the seawall. The wall of water that washed over me was prodigious. It filled my coffee cup to the brim. Water dripped from the tip of my nose. “Wake up!” said the universe as the duck squadron cluck-chuckled at my drenching.

This morning as I walked I was once again chasing shiny mind matter. This time I was deep, way beyond the Queen of Hearts, into unexplored Wonder-territory. It was the flutter of wings that brought me back. Gentle and quiet, I was being accompanied by the neighborhood pack of pigeons. They fluttered around me, forming a circle, and as I moved to the circle’s edge, they would lift off, and flutter into a new circle formation around me. I’m certain they thought I had snacks. They were with me for several hundred feet. I was enjoying our walk, fully engrossed in the pleasure of wings cleaning the space around me, eyes up, which is how I missed to the obvious trip-able branch stretching across my path. Charlie Chaplin would have appreciated my prat-fall; it was glorious, keystone cop-ish. “Wake up!” chuckled the universe as the pigeons chortled and took to the sky.
“I’m awake!” I announced to no one in particular. “So am I!” said the old woman sitting on the bench behind me. A double-dope-slap!

Truly Powerful People (382)

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 little door to the gas tank is stuck shut. I am at the gas station and I can’t get the little door open. As life metaphors go, this one leaves me dubious. Dado, my mailman, pulls into the station and jumps out of his mail truck with his usual life-giving greeting. We embrace and he asks why I was tugging on my car. I tell him my problem but leave out the part about its possible metaphoric implications. I know how hard he would laugh and then I’d laugh and we’d be at the gas station all morning. I’m especially pleased that he pulled in when he did as I was starting to doubt my sanity – the kind of doubt that comes when you loose your car keys and look in the drawer and check your coat pockets for the eighth time.

Dado gives it a tug. There is no lever on the inside of the car; the gas cap door is old school and opens when you pull on it. At least it is supposed to. We both give it another tug. Now the laughter begins. We are giddy with the absurdity of the situation. Lacking any option I do what guys always do: I pull out the manual from the glove box and pretend that I know what I’m doing. Dado and I laugh harder as I thumb through the manual looking for the section that tells you what to do when you don’t know what to do.

I call the dealership and a nice man named Elliot tells me he’s never heard of anything like this before and asks if I can drive to the shop. I can’t. I have no gas. Now I am certain it is a life metaphor. Elliot tells me that there is nothing to be done but pry it open or tear it off. Dado looks concerned as I report the options; he is not a violent man. I am concerned at the options because now I am certain this is a life metaphor. Where is my gas door, metaphorically? What does it mean to pry it open or tear it off? How far can I go with limited fuel and no access to the tank? Questions I leave unanswered as I abandon Dado and drive for home; I have no tools in the car.

As I drive away from the station the other life metaphor, the one I almost missed, occurs to me: in my moment of stuckness, the most joyful man I know showed up. Dado would have delayed his mail route and spent all day with me, laughing and pondering ways to break in to my gas tank. As life metaphors go, this one leaves me delighted.

Truly Powerful People (381)

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 see him coming as I pull up to the crosswalk. He doesn’t look well. He is a tall man, thin, maybe 70 years old. I know he is going to cross the street so I stop well in front of the walkway. He looks tortured. He is in pain and I wonder what ails him. I think of Parcival sitting on the couch with the Fisher King, wanting to ask, “What ails you?” but social convention keeps his question unasked. I honor my urban social convention and keep my window rolled up. His clothes are curious, an odd assembly of worn blue jeans, high top sneakers, a rumpled misbuttoned shirt covered by a black pin striped suit jacket. He has a pink baseball cap tipped slightly to the back of his head.

As he continues across the street I am taken aback by the writing on the back of his jacket. In white paint, big bold lettering he has written: Rapture by Death in Progress.
“Easter must be nigh,” I think to myself. And, then, “What does that mean, really? Rapture by Death in Progress?” Several years ago I lived on the central coast of California and one chilly Easter Sunday as I walked on Pismo Beach I saw a man, dressed in a loincloth and a turban, crawling across the beach. Dragging behind from a length of rough rope he’d fastened around his waist was a large cross. He was in agony. He had a similar sign strapped across his shoulders though I can’t recall the exact wording. Something about his suffering setting him free. I learned that this crawling man tortures himself in the same manner every Easter.

Rapture (noun): 1. Overwhelming happiness. 2. Mystical transportation. Since there is no apparent happiness, overwhelming or otherwise I have to assume that both men’s desire is for mystical transformation. I wonder if the death that is in progress is intentional and imminent or the type that awaits us all. Either way I have no doubt that death, by definition is transformative; on the list of mysteries it holds the number one position so it is almost certainly mystical, too.

Suffering or exhaustion is common in the ritual practices of mystic transportation in many traditions. There are many routes available to go beyond the threshold where your rational mind is willing to go. I understand the desire to see what is on the other side of that portal. Yet, I know enough to know that the initiate or priestess has to be ready for the experience, mature. The vision is certainly personal but the point of a mystical experience is to benefit the community. If they are going across the boundary for personal gain alone, or to demonstrate their capacity, they are dangers to themselves and the community. The impulse to put a sign on your back announcing your pain is a warning that you are not ready. The journey is self-abuse for self-aggrandizement and should not be taken.

I pulled through the intersection and down the road I passed a man at a bus stop, plugged into his earphones and dancing ecstatically. “Ah,” I thought, “Rapture by Life in Progress.” I knew what it was even without a sign.

Truly Powerful People (380)

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

Ana-the-Wise and I talked of being neutral. She tells me that love is neutral. When I think of being neutral I think of scuba diving. The first and last lesson in diving is how to be neutrally buoyant. When you are neutrally buoyant, there is no resistance, you quite literally hover, neither sinking nor rising; movement in balance with the element, as the element. Your breathing slows, your awareness opens, you are present within the ocean of your life.

Both Ana and I are soon walking into potentially charged situations and that is why we were talking of neutrality. We spoke of not investing in the story or the circumstance; we talked of not investing in the fear or the angst. Being neutral is a practice. In Tai Chi, the master often asks, “How are your feet placed on the floor?” If your feet are properly on the floor, all the other relationships take care of themselves. Proper placement of your feet brings neutrality, balance, and alignment.

It is not detachment as much as non-attachment. There’s a big difference! Ana said, “When I think I need to change someone or make them see my way or help them see their opportunities, then I get hooked.” To be hooked is to attach to the story, to invest in being right. It’s a tiger trap that all of us step into: every right needs a wrong or else it has no way of knowing who/what it is. Can you define yourself from what you are as opposed to finding definition from what you are not? Can you define yourself from what you are instead of from what you assume others want? Detachment is to push away, to stop the flow. Non-attachment is to be in the flow without damming the river.

I’ve decided that presence is a quality of relationship – as flow is a quality of movement. We become fully present when we are neutrally buoyant in the world and not grasping or resisting, pushing or chasing. It’s a paradox: when you are present, separations drop away so to what are you in relationship? I imagine Ana would smile and say, “Exactly. That is love.”

Truly Powerful People (379)

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

Andrew Stanton said, “Every story begins with a promise.” The promise is that this story will lead someplace that is worth our time if we engage with it. The word “engage” is not an accident. We, the listeners, don’t want to be told the story; we want to be involved. We want to be engaged, challenged, tricked, led, dumped, and surprised. We want to see ourselves in it; all stories are our stories when well told.

Every life begins with a promise. Every school year, every relationship, every day begins with the same promise: this will lead someplace that is worth our time if we engage with it. We don’t want to be told about the day or the relationship or our life story; we want to engage in it. We want to be challenged, tricked, led, dumped and surprised. We want to solve the problems and explore the unknown.

We do not like to be bored. So, it is a constant surprise to me when people (and organizations) believe that they must know before they act. The must have a plan and follow the plan and live the plan and be careful not to waiver from the plan and test the plan and gather data about the plan and then wonder where is the meaning of their lives. As Simon Sinek said, “Martin Luther King did not say, ‘I have a plan.’ He said, ‘I have a dream.’” To step into a dream is to step into the unknown. Following dreams makes for good life stories. The plan should serve the dream and not the other way around.

The promise of good education should be the same: this story will lead someplace that is worth our time if we engage with it. Andrew Stanton also said, “A good story is inevitable not predictable.” What a great rule of thumb! Good education should be inevitable and not predictable. We don’t want to be told about history or science or language, we want to engage, explore, challenge, question, discover, baffle, destruct, construct so that we are never asking, “Why are we doing this?” The plan should serve the dream and not the other way around.

Truly Powerful People (378)

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

Ideas cycle in and cycle out. I might chew on something for months, an idea might be central to my mind-noodling and then, one day, with little or no notice, it rotates out and a new concept occupies the inner locus. Thus, I feel as if I move deeper and deeper into not-knowing. I imagine myself surrounded by a rabble of idea butterflies; some lite on my head and others flutter about me so that I am looking everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Lovely chaos.

The concept of “locating” has again settled on my head. How we locate ourselves physically in space, how we locate in our lives through the roles we play, the actions we choose, the story we tell: all of these are processes of locating. It is powerful when we recognize how we tell a story as a means of locating ourselves and we simultaneously locate ourselves within the story. When I ask, “What is the story you tell yourself about yourself,” I’m really asking two questions.

Recently in a class I led an imagination experience. I asked the group to remember a challenge from their past, a challenge that is already resolved. They re-membered what they felt when they were in the middle of the challenge; they re-located themselves in the past and gathered all the information available to them. Then, they relocated in the present. What once seemed a big deal or insurmountable challenge was now easy: no big deal. So, I asked them to identify a current challenge, to locate themselves within it, gather thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. And then, they imagined a time in the future after the challenged was resolved. After they gathered thoughts, feelings, and beliefs they relocated to the present. Here’s what they realized: the current challenge was only a big deal because they made it so. Separate from the story, the necessary actions are not difficult. The challenge is in wanting to be beyond the challenge. The difficulty is in resisting the present. It’s the story of pushing and forcing and resisting and grasping that makes the tribulation.

How do you locate yourself in your life?