Truly Powerful People (417)

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 called Tom this morning. I rang his phone at the ranch and he answered but before responding to my, “Hi Tom!” he passed the phone to Marcia. I heard her explain to Tom who I was. “Oh, for heaven’s sake!” he exclaimed as she gave the phone back to him. “Hello!” he chimed.

“Tom, how are things at the ranch?” I asked. “Oh, I haven’t been at the ranch in months,” he said. I know enough about Alzheimer’s to go with the flow. No resistance. “Where are you now?” I asked. There was a long pause and then he said, “Well, I don’t know. I’ll have to ask.” He dropped the phone and went in search of Marcia. Far away I heard him ask, “Where am I?”

The last time I talked with Tom he knew where he was. He knew who I was. And so, we enter a new phase in our relationship. As I held the phone and waited for Marcia to come back to the phone I was suddenly thrust back in time, 6 years ago, late one night when I was visiting, Tom looked at me and said, “I need your help. I need your help with a story.” For the next three years, every few months, I flew to California and spent long weekends with him, sometimes recording, sometimes scribbling furiously, capturing as much as I could of his family origin story. Tom passed to me the seed. He is the rememberer of his clan and there was no one to pass the stories to. As I waited for Marcia I wondered if he knew this day was coming. He knew, as he put it, “I am on the glide path of my life now and don’t know what to do with the story.” I wondered why he chose me, was it a coincidence, spontaneous or was it planned. Either way, I was grateful that he did. I am grateful that I keep his stories burning.

Today, his story became mine and I will create an origin house to hold it. And I am compelled to find the connective tissue to my origin story so that I might wrap the fibers of Tom’s story into mine. Marcia came back to the phone, lifted the receiver and said, “Well, you know what DeMarcus used to say (her father), ‘Pay attention to the coincidences – they just might be small miracles.”

Truly Powerful People (416)

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

Sylvia and I talked this afternoon about a project and our conversation sparked a return to an old topic: place your focus on creating a great process and the product will take care of itself. You’d be amazed at how many organizations hire consultants to pull employees out of their working environment, give workshops about team building and expect the employees to return to their work and magically be a better team. Sylvia has a magic wand and we had a good laugh imagining the corporate change fairy dinging people on the head for instant “team-ness.” Team is not an outcome; it is a day-to-day process. Team is a relationship and relationship is not an outcome, it is a process that happens in the little choices we make together each day. The same is true of happiness. Or living with purpose. Or peace.

Here is a list of some of the other relationships that we’ve mistaken for outcomes: business, education, leadership, management, administration, governance, marriage, friendship, art, worship, nation, and community. These grand words are forms of relationship and are not achievable: they are created and recreated every day in the little practices that we practice together. They are the stories we tell and live each day through the actions we take, the agreements we live with each other.

We know how to make the trains run on time and we know how to produce stuff but seem utterly inept at being together in a generative, life-giving way. Our focus is glued on the outcome while things like meaning, happiness, and higher purpose are found in the relationships we create in the process of making stuff.

It seems so simple and that is probably why it is so difficult to see and embrace. So we seek for an answer. We hire consultants or watch the news or buy self-help books– seeking something or someone that will provide the answer. It is not until we surrender the need for an answer that we can fully taste the life that we are living now. Turn off the television, put down your book. Look at who might be in the room with you or in the next cubicle. What are you practicing together?

If we want to create something else, we need practice something else. And that implies a certain amount of responsibility and a new understanding of power created with others. Be your own magic wand and see what amazing relationships you are capable of creating.

Truly Powerful People (415)

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 spent the afternoon with Paul Gauguin. He looks good for a guy that died well over a hundred years ago. Imagine leaving that lucrative career as a stockbroker and dedicating your life to painting! An especially ridiculous leap when you consider the man didn’t touch a brush until he was a responsible adult with a family and a mortgage. Imagine looking at your life and finding it meaningless and then imagine doing something about it. “People must of thought that you were nuts!” I said. He arched his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders, and spit a fleck of tobacco on the museum floor.

In the exhibition program I read, “…the key feature in his personal mythology is the constant yearning for an exotic paradise.” I looked at Paul. He rolled his eyes. “That’s what I thought,” I said. Imagine looking at your culture, your society and thinking, “We are off the rails.” Imagine knowing in your guts that somewhere on the planet people must still see through sacred eyes and then imagine doing something about it. Imagine wanting more from life or, better yet, imagine life wanting more from you and then imagine showing up with everything you’ve got!

He’d rolled a cigarette and looked to me for a light. I’m not a smoker so I couldn’t help him but I did indicate that there was no smoking in the museum. He didn’t say it but I could see disgust in his eyes at my need to follow the rules. “They’re trying to protect your paintings!” I said in my defense. He lit his cigarette and looked around a bit. I followed. “What does Gauguin think about his own work?” I wondered. He took a bit of charcoal from his pocket intending to correct something in one of his later works. “Paul!” I hissed with some indignation. He smiled and winked at me as if to say, “Gotcha!”

We stood together and looked at the last painting in the exhibit. It was shaky though the color was confident. He painted it not long before he died. He sighed. “You never got there, did you?” I asked. Through narrowed eyes he looked at me as if to say, “You know better.” “It’s the wrong question, I know,” I said. “But my god, look how hard you tried!”

Truly Powerful People (414)

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 studio is in an old Immigration and Naturalization Service building. The building was designed basically as a large detention and government office center. Two floors were built with dormitories for men and women; there was a section with bleak jails cells. The top floor, for reasons I cannot fathom, was the regional assay office. Someone thought it was a good idea to weigh, trade, melt and store gold in the same building where human lives were weighed, traded, and melted. My studio was originally the smelter room where the gold was melted down. Now, in a surprisingly careful transformation, there are nearly 100 artists occupying the space writing a next chapter for the building. The Wing Luke museum is working with the contractors to preserve and honor the first chapter. It is a building of stories, a threshold.

The artists in the building, myself included, are writing a next chapter in our lives. We moved in because we transform things. Clay, salt, sand, found objects, steel, sound, paper, wood, ideas, perspectives, beliefs, images, and stories are daily being reassigned, rearranged, rewritten, rethought, re-purposed and resurrected. As we perform our alchemy within and without, the building slowly sighs and releases its prisoners.

Artists are constantly looking for the way in, for a way to bring their best offer to a culture that doesn’t really know what to do with them. Artist’s change and challenge things. They value what cannot be contained. Artists are lousy at the commodity game. Artist’s trade in expansion of thinking and are disoriented by reduction of life to dollars and cents. Artists are wily and entrepreneurial and do what they do for reasons beyond explanation. The Muses burn hot even if we’ve forgotten their names.

In the lobby of the building someone taped to the wall a movie poster. I appreciate it every time I pass through the lobby because I know it is an accidental commentary and beautifully appropriate to the circumstance. The image is of a man in a toga carrying a sword sprinting to the end of a pier; the poster is dominated by a quote from Joseph Campbell: “We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

Truly Powerful People (413)

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

During a recent Transformational Presence Leadership call I referenced a story concept that is important for doing the work of transformation: embrace the wolf. In the story of Red Riding Hood, the wolf is the character that drives the story forward. Without the wolf there is no story, no action, no catalyst, or creative tension. Without the wolf there is no transformation.

What is true in the story of Red Riding Hood is also true in our lives. The wolf drives the story forward yet we dedicate much of our time and energy attempting to eliminate the wolf from our story. If we are not trying to eliminate the wolf we at least try to neutralize it, avoid it, or pretend that it is not there. In protecting ourselves against the wolf we inhibit our growth and stall our capacity for change.

Wolves bring discomfort and disequilibrium. Wolves bring conflict and doubt. No one willingly seeks discomfort yet if the wolf is the catalyst then we must learn to walk toward the discomfort and utilize the creative tension. The common mistake we make in our lives and businesses is to believe that discomfort indicates that something is wrong, that we’ve lost control. That may be the case sometimes but more often discomfort signals that something is right; there’s movement into the unknown!

Investments in keeping our experiences safely cotained within The Comfort Zone, in balance, stasis, equilibrium of process at all times, is a recipe for stagnation. Wanting to be in the Comfort Zone all the time is the equivalent of Red Riding Hood never setting out on her journey to Grandma’s house. It is like trying to stop the seasons because you want to live in summer all of the time.

The comfort zone serves a purpose: there are seasons for balance, maintenance, and stability. There are also seasons for movement, growth and change. And, because we are deeply invested in maintaining control and staying in our comfort zone we need to be kicked out of the nest, we need to be knocked off balance, and compelled to leave the safety of the comfort zone in order to grow. That’s the role of the wolf in our story.

Truly Powerful People (412)

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

Bobby is a sports massage therapist. Most doorframes are not made to accommodate a man of his size. He is strong. He is big. He has been known to the block the sun when passing by, sending confused patients in the rehab center scrambling outside to see the eclipse. Bobby could spin me like on his finger like a juggler spins a plate.

The first time I saw him (in silhouette, of course, he stood between me and the sun) I thought, “This is going to hurt.” He said, as if reading my thoughts, “Don’t worry. I’m a shoulder guy. I promise not to hurt you. Much.” He grinned as I followed him back to massage room, the room so far removed from the rest of the center that screams cannot be heard. My first sports massage performed by my first giant. It was a day of firsts!

Bobby is helping me recover the use of my shoulders. He knows the exact spot to press in a muscle set to release traumatized muscles. He is the largest magician I have ever known. There are handstands in my future. I might even pitch a baseball or reclaim my yoga master superhero status (I demoted myself to yoga bystander when I lost my downward dog). While Bobby had my arm going places it had not gone in 4 years, he fell prey to what I now call, “that thing about me.” Roger used to call it my geek magnet. I am like a roving bartender; people spontaneously tell me their troubles or their life stories – even if they don’t want to – and although Bobby is a Sumo to my twig, he began telling me why he couldn’t be an engineer. I asked no questions. He just started, “Ah, that’s the one. Did you feel it let go? I always wanted to be an engineer,” he said. It was the math. Specifically, it was algebra. He could get the correct answers; he just couldn’t show this work. He told me he barely passed algebra class, squeaking by with a “D” so the course of his life was altered forever. “I had the answers!” he repeated, “but I really started to doubt myself. How could I know the answers but have no idea how to get there?”

I laughed (through my grimace) and said, “You’re lucky! Most people spend their lives looking for the answers AND have no idea how to get there. Imagine their doubt!” He said, “Hold on, I think this next one is going to hurt.”

Truly Powerful People (411)

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

At the beginning of her one-woman show Amy sings an invocation from Homer. It is a song to the muses. She tells us that we cannot understand poetry in the same way that the Greek’s understood it. The poem, she reminds us, was calling forth the gods. The poem was literally re-creating the world through the telling. The story was living tissue that connected the community to its root, it’s ancestry, its descendants, its identity. The people present with the poet were the burning point, a link in a chain that stretched back beyond memory. Listening was recreating. Listening was embodying. The poets were the rememberers; they were the vessels that held the communal story and to tell it was sacred rejuvenation.

Amy’s play is beautiful in that it begins with a question many of us ask, “Who am I?” This is a question about meaning: how do I give context and meaning to this world and where do I fit into it? Her search takes her through memory and emergence and leads inevitably to the present moment. Past. Future. Present. She winds a path through great thinkers, re-members her intuition, and at last steps toward confusion and words of body and fire, words like ‘ecstasy?’ “Where are my ecstasies?” she asks. Not just one ecstasy, many. The Greeks were not Puritans.

Her question directs her to the sea. In a dream she stands in the surf, looks out and witnesses the old gods, the Titans, rising from the water and coming toward her. And then it hits her. “Now I understand,” she gasps. “We call the gods. They don’t call us.” The Titans arise because she needs them in her “forward moving feast of the self.” We call them with our infinite capacity to create, with the exercise and expansion of our creative spirits, with our appreciation of the beauty and debt to the natural world that sustains us. For a moment, a brief moment, Amy was the priestess/poet singing her song of invocation, her song reaching back to the Greeks and beyond, her song stretching forward to another woman in the distant future who realizes that the Titans are waiting for her call.

Truly Powerful People (410)

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 and Andre led us in a workshop about innovation and the brain. Andrew (the right brain artist) led us through a variety of improvisation exercises helping us identify different ways of knowing and responding. Andre (the left brain professor) would step in at intervals and explain what was happening in our brains. The upshot: take the pressure off and follow your gut (it’s your brain talking).

I liked the idea that the different hemispheres of my brain might be two different personalities and appreciated even more that they might be named Andrew and Andre. In my brain, Andrew and Andre are circus performers. They work well together because they are vastly different; they illuminate each other because they see the world from different perspectives. The real Andrew is quite tall while Andre is much shorter so, of course, my circus performer right brain is the tall clown while the circus performer left brain fits easily into the tiniest clown car. Clown Andrew is happy; clown Andre is much more serious (they are eastern European clowns, not the white face Ringling Brother types). Clown Andrew is innocent and playful and adventurous and has no notion of failure. Clown Andre is prone to stepping into obvious holes so consumed is he with thought. He looks as if his girlfriend just left him or as if he is always on the edge of a migraine headache. Clown Andrew’s clothes are too small. Clown Andre’s are way too big. There. No need to dissect my brain, I’ve already done it for you!

Andre (the real one) told us that the prefrontal cortex of the brain was like a stage; sometimes it gets blocked and needs to be cleared or reset. He taught us an exercise for clearing the stage: set a timer for 5 minutes and during that time do something else, something physical: do the dishes, run up and down the stairs, clean the windows, take a nice walk and think about anything other than what you were trying to do before the reset. When the timer goes off, catch the first thought that comes to mind. He said, “Often it will be a very good one.”

“This is not a new technique,” he said. “Thomas Edison used to sit in a chair and hold a large ball bearing in each hand. With his arms dangling by his sides, he’d have placed a metal plate or bucket on the floor beneath each hand. He’d close his eyes and relax, allowing his mind to drift. Soon he’d be on the edge of sleep and one of the ball bearings would slip from his hand and clang in to the dish, waking him. The first idea that popped into his mind would be the path of his pursuit.”

The brain science is catching up with classrooms and cubicles. High performance is produced in states of relaxation, strong offers are intuitive as much or more than they are intellectual: remove failure from the equation and excellence is possible. Intuition is finding a way back onto the mountaintop with Intellect and isn’t it poetic that brain science is the path that she is taking?

Truly Powerful People (409)

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 used to have a guitar named Magnolia. Linda gave her to me a birthday gift and she was immediately one of my treasures. Magnolia was used when I got her, warm and full of story. She felt good to hold and I loved to strum her and imagine that I knew how to play. I imagined who I would be if I could play her. I carried her with me for years. I learned a few chords. I practiced sometimes, learned to stumble through a song or two, and then she’d go back in the case for several months when I went into rehearsal or flew away on a job.

Shortly after I moved to Seattle I knew I had to cut ties with the past and make a fresh start. I knew that Magnolia was never going to get proper attention from me, that I wanted to learn to play but I had on my list other things that always took precedence. I had to choose and my choice was usually the studio to paint or the next play. I knew she’d be happier with a real musician. So, I found a real musician and gave Magnolia to her. She was thrilled (and so was the musician).

I realized that letting go of Magnolia was about letting go of a life that I would never live: an ideal. I had too many other lives calling me (note: I could never bind myself to the mast like Odysseus – when the Sirens call I follow. Were I a Greek I’d have been turned into a goat or a sheep a long time ago. Cyclops would have eaten me for brunch). Magnolia was a Siren from another time, a love long lost, a heartbreak that I carried in a guitar case. And, although I grieved giving her away (seriously – I had to eat alone that night for brooding and hiding my misty eyes) I was almost immediately lighter in spirit. I’d made a choice. She helped me see how many stories and I held with white knuckles and continued to follow halfheartedly. After Magnolia I let go of the weight of so many stories I’d carried like a bag of boulders for so long. Stories can be heavy when filled with false expectation or excessive judgment. Stories, once liberated, will also let go and set you free.

Truly Powerful People (408)

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

On this day the thought-well is dry. My fingers have rested on the keyboard for several minutes and not a single brain impulse made it to my fingertips. I’ve been staring into space. Earlier, as an experiment, I visited the White Noise site to hear if the white noise they manufacture is anything like the fuzz I hear in my head. There are several selections of white noise with the option to have your white noise pulse. The noise in my head has less options – no pulse – but I’m delighted to report that the non-pulsing brown noise is the closest to my natural thought-less-ness.

Tom told me a story about his great-aunt Bunty. Bunty lived her life on the family ranch and always believed she would die if when the well went dry. As Bunty neared her 9th decade on the planet she called Tom to come check her well. He found it was nearly dry. Knowing that Bunty thought she’d expire with the well he explained his dilemma to the old farmer across the road. They conspired and ran a hose across the street and fed it into Bunty’s well. She never knew and out-lived her well.

I love stories like that. In the age of a 24-hour news cycle that must focus on and manufacture conflict to keep the rating aloft we are apt to believe that people are dangerous and unkind. That has never been my experience. I am surrounded by generous people. Each day I watch extend to their fellow human beings acts of kindness, known and unknown, seen and unseen. Last night I heard EO Wilson speak about his next book and this giant of the 20th and 21st centuries began his remarks with a sincere, “Thank you for extending to me the courtesy of listening to my thoughts.”

It warms my heart to know that even now some of you are across the street conspiring with an old farmer to run a thought-hose to my dry well. No need to tell me, I am grateful for you already.