Truly Powerful People (448)

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 inner sociologist is doing a study of recent perplexing experiences. He’s noticed a disturbing trend lately and thought it pertinent to look deeper into the superficial data. Recently, after my infamous bike explosion, I took my bike in for a repair. The good folks at the shop lost my bike. They lost it for weeks. They wouldn’t confess that they lost my bike but they did acknowledge that they didn’t know where it was – a very fine distinction. It was not lost but “location unknown” for a very long time. Finally, when all hope was lost, they found it and fixed it in less than 20 minutes. They told me it was there all the time.

Once is not a trend but my inner sociologist roused himself from a nap when I took my computer into the store for a repair – and the good folks at the computer shop lost my computer. They wouldn’t say the word “lost” though they did acknowledge that they didn’t know where it was. For weeks, just like my bike, it was not lost but “location unknown.” Haven given up hope of ever finding it we were negotiating a replacement when suddenly my computer resurfaced. And, it was fixed. I was left wondering if my worldly possessions actually work for the CIA. In my mind there was no other possible explanation. My sociologist told me to stop being extravagant.

Two mysterious disappearances do not a trend make. However a third incident brought my inner sociologist to his feet (he’s taller than I am so he stooped). He rubbed his eyes and put on his glasses. Now he meant business! I’d submitted to my web developer changes for my website store. Usually changes are made in 24-hours so after 48 hours I called. They couldn’t find my submission. It wasn’t lost but it was certainly “location unknown!” They could see in the ethers of the internet that I’d made the request but all contents were absent. (“See, CIA!”I cried but the tall guy with the glasses only rolled his eyes). I resubmitted my changes and the 2nd request went missing, too. 10 days and 5 phone calls later, when all hope was lost, my changes suddenly appeared.

Perplexed and unable to make sense of the data – yet unwilling to concede to my CIA suspicions – my inner sociologist sat me down for a consult. He made some very sensible recommendations. He said (and I quote), “The next time you are feeling utterly lost remember that you are not lost but merely “location unknown.” Since you are not really lost, looking for a direction will be futile. As soon as you give up hope of finding yourself you will reappear as if by magic and all the changes you desire will have been made.” Satisfied with his conclusion he patted me on the back, took off his glasses, and returned to the couch for a nap.

Truly Powerful People (447)

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 turns out that my new friend, the professor of Chinese history, is an historian whose reach far eclipses the annals of China. He can pull from is inner archive a complete history of the most obscure topic. He is a gifted storyteller so his history is more adventure than lesson, more tale than fact. I delight in the stories that bubble from the depths of his history pool. Had I met him when I was younger I might have taken another path.

On our drive to Olympia early this morning I learned that my coffee addiction is thanks to an Ethiopian goat herder of the 9th century. Apparently, according to legend, the goat herder noticed that his goats grew hyperactive – some accounts say the goats jumped – every time they ate the red berries (coffee beans) from a certain plant. The goat herder ate the berries and they made him want to jump, too. He picked the berries, took them to a cleric who deemed them evil and threw them in the fire. Ahhhh. The smell of roasted coffee beans filled the air. The smell was so tempting that the goat herder rescued the beans, ground them, and added hot water! Viola! 12 centuries later I am a coffee addict living in a city with a Starbucks on every corner. My life is richer for the keen eye and happy accident of a long gone goat herder whose heart beat faster when he dared sample a mystery bean. If my family had a coat-of-arms our sigil would be a jumping goat.

In the late 1980’s one of my favorite documentary series was James Burke’s Connections. In each episode he’d trace the ripples of a single innovation through time, how the stirrup started a chain of events that eventually led to the microwave oven (I made that up but you get the point). Jean Houston wrote that we are the burning point of the ancestral ship; we are the living spark of a torch that goes back before recorded time. When I am with my friend the history professor I am reminded how intimately connected I am to ripples in all directions that I can’t even comprehend. I am located in web of meaningful connections. I am a goat herder whose happy accident of a life might send a ripple 12 centuries into the future that could bring joy to the heart of someone I will never know. And, what I love most about that thought is there may be a 33rd century historian who might one day say, “You know where that comes from don’t you?”

Truly Powerful People (446)

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 I was in college my dear friend Roger gave me a copy of Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse. It is an amazing story; a study of what some cultures call the red road and the black road. He said, “This is us. I am Narcissus and you are Goldmund.”

Narcissus is a priest, a teacher, seeking god within the confines of his mind and the institution. His road is prescribed, straight, protected. It has lots of rules. It is well known. This is the black road. It is the road that society recognizes. It is the road that society expects. It is the road of fulfilling expectations.

Goldmund comes to monastery. He is Narcissus’ student; he is restless, a wanderer seeking something indescribable, something that cannot be found in the institution. He seeks with his heart. He leaves the safety of the monastery and has many unpredictable experiences. His life is messy, chaotic, rich and dangerous. His road is twisty, improvisational and unknown. It is natural. It is his road. No one will ever walk this path because it is unique to the walker. This is the red road. This is the road of fulfilling heart’s desire.

The red road is hard. It breaks you down. It opens your eyes and heart to the eternal beyond the temporal. There is no safety on this road; the first thing lost is the illusion of control. The first thing gained is the paradox. This road brings your focus to the present moment.

The black road is hard. It breaks you down. It protects you from too much experience. It keeps your eyes from looking at the ground and heart from seeking the sensual. It is dedicated to safety and the predictable. The first thing lost is the natural impulse, the wild heart of desire. This road separates head from you body. It demands that you keep your focus in the abstractions. It will take you to the big office at the top of the building.

Two roads. Neither is better or worse as both lead to the same place. Roger was right. His road has been within the institution and mine has been undefined. He is at the top of a career and I am wandering a road looking for my next meal. He cannot imagine the life I have chosen and I would have died within the confines of his choices. There are dragons lurking in the weeds of both roads; there are losses and gains either way. I am learning the necessity of rules; he is learning the call of his wild heart. We both die a little bit each day; we both learn a little more. He brings me the wisdom of the anchor; I bring him the wisdom of the wind. I could not ask for a better advisor, counterpart, or friend.

Truly Powerful People (445)

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’m given to idealism; I know this is true. And, although I’ve harbored serious attempts to cure myself of my idealism, in the end I always come to this thought, “I do not wish to see the world through the eyes of “realistic.” There are too many dashed dreams in this world. There is too much lost hope. Too many people sit in front of the television and think, “There is nothing I can do.” I’ve tried that, too and it works if you can give up any desire for deeper meaning in your life. Numb is numb through and through.

Once, a client wanted to change the culture of his organization. He sought complicated interventions to cure the pathology of his business. He’d fostered a culture of negation; “Yes, but…,” was the standard reply to any request. All he need do was change one word: “Yes, and….” Building a culture on acceptance instead of negation was, to him, pie in the sky. “It can’t be that easy,” he said. He entertained it when I pulled my systems lingo from my pocket: “Complex systems are not changed through complexity. They are changed through local simplicities.” He entertained it just long enough to realize that he’d have to relinquish control and instead empower his employees. “Yes, and,” is surprisingly powerful. Change one word and the world can change. He wrote it off as too idealistic. Negation is negation through and through.

If you want to weep about the abuse of power (control wears a mask and we call it power) read Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States. There is a nasty little theme lurking beneath the economics of the past 150 years of our history: the sale of weapons drives the health of the economy. War is not only profitable, it is necessary to float the boat and to unite an otherwise economically divided nation; we are not the first generation to recognize that 99% are pieces of a larger game; the 1% play a different game governed by different rules. It’s a national theme, a defining characteristic that when married to another defining characteristic – the easy distraction of the 99% – guarantees that future generations of the 99.9% will awake for a moment and say, “Hey! What about democracy and the ideals chiseled into the walls of our monuments! No fair!” Eisenhower warned us and that was a long time ago.

I am not so idealistic as to think that something other than a profit motive will drive our national action plan. I am, however, willing to entertain the pie in the sky notion that peace can easily be more profitable than war. What if we actually set aside our imperialist shadow side and walked our talk? War as we practice it is akin to digging a hole and filling it in again so we can dig a hole – all to wildly support the makers of shovels. I’m not kidding when I assert that the potency of life is found in what you bring to it, not in what you get from it. What do we bring? Numb is numb and negation is negation. Imagining the impossible (idealism) is at the heart of every innovation. Imagine what might be possible if we woke up!

Truly Powerful People (444)

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

Megan-the-brilliant, she that is far too wise for one so young (but does not yet know it – so kindly don’t tell her) takes me to task on the details of my posts. She asks for clarification, challenges me on the fine points of my rambling, and knits her brow with such ferocity of thought that it would knock the “P” off of most PhD’s. I count myself fortunate to have eschewed higher education, stopping with an M.A.; her thought ferocity has obliterated the “A” so I am left with a vapid “mmmmmmmm,” in response to many of her questions. “What does that mean?” she exclaims. I bite my lip – a stall tactic to give my synapsis a fair chance to fire. I wish my brain was better organized; clutter slows me down.

Recently I wrote something about discomfort being necessary for movement. Discomfort is a story starter. I can’t think of a single story worth telling that is about comfort. Comedy is not comedy without some serious discomfort. Tragedy is uncomfortable by definition. The Buddha tells us that the key to a good life is to participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world; sorrow is the premise of the story. Stories of illumination, adventure, mystery, love, historical, pastoral, historical-pastoral, hysterical-historical-pastoral are not known for comfort.

Megan-the-brilliant cautioned me that I was too general in my assertion. She knit her brow (there goes my “A”) and asked me to distinguish between movement to get out of the discomfort vs. using the discomfort to move the story forward. They are two entirely different intentions. Mmmmmmmmmmm. Actually, a synapse fired. It was close at hand. In fact, it was so close it is the name of this blog: The Direction of Intention. Moving to get out of the discomfort is to push against what you don’t want – a negative direction of intention. Movement fueled by discomfort that propels you toward what you want – is a positive direction of intention. She’s right!

It seems we have a choice in what we do with our discomfort and perhaps that is the point of every life story. Joyful participation, denial and frustration, pushing against the cage, giving up or finding a way to pick the lock are choices. They are directions of intention. We can choose to hate what we don’t understand and plant our heads in the sand or walk toward what we don’t know – and learn.

Even with the loss of my “A” I can see that Megan-the-brilliant is aptly named. Don’t tell her. Mmmmmmmmmmmmum’s the word.

Truly Powerful People (443)

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

Brain science tells us that memory is not the recall of an event; memory is the configuration or reconfiguration of sense elements. It is a story, perhaps familiar, but a story that we assemble according to the meaning we assign to the assembly. That’s why, over time, we reassign meaning to our memories. Old wounds become current strengths.

Because we like to believe that memory is fact, an actual event that happened just as we re-member it, we are also given to the notion that a memory is a fixed point in time. Lately I’ve been thinking about single points in time – particularly times that I was afraid or steeped in a story of betrayal or injustice. I stand in that point and for the fun of it, I take one step backwards in time. And then a step forwards. And, for a real kick, I take a step to the left or to the right. Here’s what I’ve learned: the initial point, the fear or injustice, makes no sense. From the initial single fixed point of view, the fear seemed meaningful. From any other angle, there is no sense to be made. Move past any moment and the story changes, the investment falls apart.

Deep in the woods at night when I was a boy, my brothers, father and I spent half the night stoking a large fire because a very large creature was circling our campsite. Trees rustling, branches snapping; we were terrified. Take one step forward in time. The large creature circling our camp…moo-ed. It was a wayward cow, a bovine escapee from a nearby ranch. We laughed at our assumption and told ourselves it was better to be safe than sorry.

Our fear made sense from a single point. Take a step forward and it is now a great family story. Mahatma Gandhi tells us that fear has its uses and I think that must be true. It can be fuel for action. It is certainly an opportunity for transformation when we are capable of taking a step to the left or the right. Mark Twain wrote, “Do the thing you fear the most and the death of fear is certain.” Now, when I am particularly dark or afraid, I think, “Why wait until later! Step left. Step right. What do you see now?”

Truly Powerful People (442)

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

Over dinner one night Skip asked his friend, the concert pianist, what is the difference between a good and great pianist. Her answer was powerful. She told him the greatness was in the power of visualization. She travels to the composer’s country, she walks the paths they walked, she visits the gardens that inspired their compositions. In performance, she is not reproducing notes; she is walking in the garden. She is taking her audience on a walk through the garden.

A few months ago I had a powerful realization. I was working with teachers attempting to change their system and truly teach (as opposed to prepare for tests). They are working to transcend classrooms of control and compliance and instead create classrooms of self-regulation and self-direction. In short, they are supporting their students to be powerful. They are courageous and magnificent – yet, in the absence of an image for self-directed classrooms, they default to the old existing control image. We act out of our image. I finally saw their challenge. They need a new image. They have the yearning and they understand the process. They need to know what the garden looks like. They need to move toward a new image instead of away from an old habit.

Many years ago I worked for a theatre company. During an outreach program to the local schools I had an experience that jolted me to the core and opened my eyes to the power of the imagination. In a single day we visited two schools, one for the wealthy suburban kids and one for the poor migrant children. In each school we did a story exercise. The young children in the wealthy school imagined themselves to be princesses and princes, fighting dragons, and flying over mountains. The children in the poorer school imagined themselves as adults worried about the rent; instead of flying as birds they fled from landlords and immigration. That afternoon I sat on the curb and cried.

Note to the world: our greatness lives in our power to visualize. We go to the places we imagine. If you want to change the world, help a child fly over mountains. You’ll find that you have to remember how to fly, too. Even Einstein knew the math came second.

Truly Powerful People (441)

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

Today the world has me shaking. It’s cold in Seattle but these shivers have nothing to do with temperature. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed by the beauty and immensity of living and feeling that I quake: too much energy through too small a wire.

I was walking and thinking about the people I love and those that love me (it’s a great practice – give it a try) when an eagle flew 3 feet above my head pursued by a murder of crows. The eagle seemed to be playing with them, a game of chase and for some reason I was included in the game! It was as if the eagle used me as a post or tree; a spot to circle around, change directions and confuse the crows. The eagle looped back to me several times, each time changing directions just above me. The frustrated crows slamming on the breaks, skidding through too-fast-direction changes, swerving chaos trying not to knock each other out of the sky. I have an antagonistic relationship with the crows so I appreciated the eagle’s game more than I ought: I imagined the crows as Keystone Cops chasing an eagle-Charlie Chaplin and roared with laughter.

I stood still to better play my part (plus, I was enrapt by the antics). Paradox alert: In my stillness the entire universe came into focus, which means everything lost its distinction. Clarity is indistinct. I was no longer a watcher or a participant. The eagles and the crows and the Sound moved as if in sync; it was a ballet; a dance of giving and receiving. It was one motion -or better – one being in motion. I was so stunned and overwhelmed that my body, my little piece of the infinite universe, started shaking.

I sat down and this thought slammed to the front of the line: Perhaps it is not too much energy through too small a wire. Perhaps the shaking has nothing to do with capacity. Perhaps it is an invitation to love and play: too much desire for life and too little practice embracing it. Perhaps the shaking is my little piece of the infinite universe opening to the dance.

Truly Powerful People (440)

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

Some days I have to look for the theme. Some days the theme grabs me by the shoulders (I rarely wear lapels) and shakes me, shouting, “Listen up!” Today I am getting a good shaking. The theme is pace.

In response to a recent post, Judy-whom-I-revere wrote: “I wonder too, for as I re-enter this working world I am stunned (like a fish in a stream) by the pace of the world. Then I think of the sense of time in other cultures where we’re not on a conveyor belt moving forward ever faster, rather in a row boat facing the past and anchoring in what has come before, as we back into the future, getting closer to what ‘wazee kukumbuka’ — ‘the elders remember.’”

Isn’t it an amazing image? Read it as lines of poetry:
Rowing into the future,
Facing the past,
Anchoring in what has come before,
Moving every closer to “what the elders remember.”

This is circular time; story time in which we are additions to a story that reaches forward because it reaches back.

And while I was pondering Judy’s email I had a brilliant conversation with Skip about success in business and pace. He is an amazing business entrepreneur and visionary and so many of the questions of business success deal with how to get pace into the system. He described a loop outlined in John Boyd’s book, Winning In Fast Time: observe, orient, decide, act. The premise is that whoever does the loop the best (fastest) wins.

If you didn’t know the premise, the loop would also read as a simple bit of wisdom or a poem:

This might read as linear time if we didn’t know that action leads to observation. It’s a loop. It might help to know that John Boyd was a fighter pilot and what he is attempting to describe is the same process that a musician learning an instrument might describe: how do I put the notes in my body in such a way that it moves beyond my thinking? He is attempting to describe presence through the lens of intentional action. The stakes are slightly higher for a fighter pilot than a cellist but the point is the same.

Neither “poem” speaks explicitly about pace. In fact, I might observe and orient to the past, deciding to anchor in what has come before, choosing my actions as movement that brings me ever closer to “what the elders remember.”

Here’s the difference that I see. Judy’s poem is embodied; it is anchored into nature, ancestry, and tradition. John’s loop is not. John’s loop has no anchor other than action. We are only there in the abstract. The point is pace. Perhaps the reality of our world is pace: action anchored, not in tradition, but in change.

It is the ultimate split intention: business (people driving business) is trying to find ways to get pace INTO the system. The people working within the system are trying to find ways to slow the pace or at least manage it. Or, at the very least, survive it. One foot on the gas; one foot on the brakes.

Truly Powerful People (439)

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

Debra decided to be miserable. There was water damage in her apartment and the when the landlord identified the source he found the extent of the damage was much worse than he expected. The repair was nothing short of reconstruction. The work was scheduled to take 45 days. She told me, “I’m going to hate every moment of it. If I can’t control my space I go nuts. I’ll just hate it.” Assigning two “hates” to a single circumstance left no room for doubt: Debra was going to be miserable. Fifteen days into the repair I passed her in the hall and asked how the repair was coming along. Her answer, “I hate it. I hate every moment of it.” I was not surprised. She’d carried the two “hates” into her life just as she’d planned.

Ellen decided that there was nothing she could do. Like many educators she told me she “loathed” the standardization and testing madness that continue to drive the public schools into the dirt. She told me that her children were suffering, the teacher’s were suffering, and the community was suffering. And then she said, “There’s nothing I can do so I just go with it. What else can we do?” “Loathe” is a powerful word. So is “helpless.” Apparently, “helpless” is more powerful than “loathe.”

What is it to loathe and still choose to participate? What is it to decide that you are helpless? What is it to decide to “hate” your experience before you actually have it?

Once, while sitting in the passenger seat of a car spinning out of control on a freeway, time slowed and I closed my eyes because I’d decided that what ever was about to happen was surely going to hurt. I heard the tires squealing and the beating of my heart. And then, nothing; stillness. There was no crunching of metal, no breaking glass or screams of pain. I opened my eyes and saw my brother gripping the steering wheel. We were facing the wrong way and all the cars around us had stopped. We didn’t hit the concrete barriers, other cars, rails, or plunge into the river. We were still. My brother, with his eyes wide open said, “Do want to get a drink?” and then, “Welcome to Kansas City.”

We decided that we were fortunate. We decided that, although losing control of a car on an icy freeway bridge was thrilling, it was only necessary to do it once. We decided that there was a lot we would do differently if circumstance ever presented us with another icy bridge.