Reach For The Bully

570. 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 a theme emerging this week in my conversations with clients and friends: bullies. Bosses that bully, kids that bully, spouses that bully and the culture of distrust that naturally evolves when there is a bully in the crowd.

Here’s a secret to keep in mind if you find a bully snorting in your path: bullies are actually the weakest people in the herd; they need to get their power from other people because they have yet to experience what it is to actually BE powerful. In other words they get power from others because they do not yet know how to bring it; they do not know that they are powerful. Diminishing others is the only way a bully knows to elevate their esteem. It is the drowning man strategy: push the others under so you can keep your head above the water. Bullies, by definition, are drowning.

Drowning people do not think clearly. They are in survival mode. They will do anything; they will sacrifice anything to keep their head above the water. Engaging in a power struggle with the bully only serves to feed the bully. People cowering are like delicious gulps of air to someone who has mistaken control for power – and this is the tragedy of the bully: they’ve mistaken control for power. And once this mistake is made, the road to true power feels like the choice to drown. True power is only available when we stop pushing others under. True power is created with others; no one is powerful alone.

Bullies fear their powerlessness – it is the truth they hide – the motor that drives their need to prove their might again and again every day. If you were drowning, what would you need to feel safe? What would you need to stop pushing others down to lift yourself up?

Burn Your Trash

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

Tom’s grandpa, also named Tom – Pa Tom, owned a small country store in the little train stop town of Herald, California. Every Sunday morning when Tom was a boy he would make the trip to Herald and help Pa Tom burn the week’s trash. It was a great event each week, terrific fun for a small boy to burn stuff with his grandpa. When the fire was just right, not too hot, they’d whittle sticks and roast hot dogs for lunch.

Years later Tom and I rode through the countryside in his truck. He was telling me the family history and showing me the places where the stories happened. He showed me where Thomas Lewins was buried; the man who brought his family west in a covered wagon. The journey took seven years. He showed me where Frankie was buried; one of the many lost boys in the story: Frankie, for some reason, was buried in a cemetery away from the rest of the family. His aunts suffered greatly knowing that Frankie was resting all alone. He showed me the Herald store – it’s still there though now is more of a convenience mart than a country outpost.

As we drove he shared his concerns for what he would do with the ranch and this history of his family. There was no one to pass them on to; the city was fast encroaching on his land. I think he knew even then that his time was short; he could feel the dementia descending. He didn’t want to leave a mess.

He stared straight ahead when he told me that he learned a lot about life during those Sunday morning trash burnings. Chief among the lessons that Pa Tom taught him was to take responsibility for his trash; it was wrong to leave a mess for other people to clean. I knew what he was telling me so I said, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Tom nodded and looked away.

Pa Tom’s lesson was a credo and something we should all embrace: your trash is yours. Do not leave it for others to clean up. However, there is one very important caveat: make sure you know what is trash and what is treasure. Each of us spends our lives wrangling with our metaphoric trash bag – this wrangling provides the spine and substance of our story. And our story is our treasure. Deal with the trash; please do not discard the treasure.

Invest In Your Feet

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

If you don’t count the time I sobbed in a restaurant with Linda Margules, my first public meltdown happened in a shoe store. Shoes have always been problematic for me; I’d rather not wear them at all. I feel as though I am suffocating when I wear shoes. Seriously. I’ve learned to wear clogs and boots sometimes work, too. The key is removability. If I can kick them off in a moment or less, I can wear them. I was always in trouble as a kid because I wore holes in my socks almost immediately.

My meltdown happened at the dawn of my work in corporate America. My friends and loved ones felt that I should, at long last, own some “grown up” clothes. Lora took me shopping and she and Smokey Sally helped me find a few suits. I even bought a tie (confession: I wore the tie once because I felt I had to since I bought it but once it was no longer around my neck I conveniently lost it. Ties are like shoes…). And, since I now had suits, I needed a pair of lace-up shoes.

I knew I was in trouble the moment I entered the store. The place was stuffy and smelled of leather and polish. I couldn’t breathe. The panic was almost immediate though I was able to suppress it until I went down an aisle. I was surrounded by lace up shoes. Lora was talking to me, showing me shoes that she liked but I could no longer understand verbal communication; it was as if her sound track was too slow for the words to take shape. My temples started pounding and I couldn’t make decisions. I kept looking at shoes and all I could see were torture devices, tight prisons, concrete. I know my eyes were darting about, looking for escape because I could see the concern descend on Lora’s face. I think she was asking me what was wrong. I fled. I don’t know if I knocked over other customers or leaped over stacks of shoes; I have no memory of my exit. The next thing I knew I was standing in the street, hyperventilating.

Apparently my identity is invested in my feet. The best advice anyone ever gave me came from a financial advisor. I showed up to work with his team and I was wearing one of my new suits (and clogs). As we left the building at the end of the day he made an observation. He said, “Your clothes can’t mask who you are. You are an artist. You are an unmade bed. That’s why we wanted you. Why don’t you drop the suit and show up as you really are, not as you think we want you to be.” Great advice. I sighed a huge sigh of relief. No shoes necessary.

Do You See It?

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

One morning last May, Megan-the-brilliant picked me up at my hotel and said, “Before coffee, I have to show you something.” She was excited and I could tell this was a vulnerable offer, she was opening to me and I adored her courage. We drove into the country to an undulating stretch of road and Megan squealed, “Do you see it? Do you see it?” I did. The shadows of electrical lines cast by the early morning sun made a vibrant pattern on the blacktop: the road looked like a heart monitor tape. She giggled as we descended into the strip, riding through the record of a giant’s beating heart. It was glorious and subtle. She turned up the music and rolled down the windows so we would have the full sensual experience of that moment in time. She made a memory. Ten thousand people have driven that stretch of road and few if any saw the shadows. And, because she took a chance to show me, in that moment just before I die, in my moment of my personal life review, I will feel the wind, hear the music and her giggle, as we roared through the shadows like kids through a sprinkler. We were alive.

Megan-the-Brilliant teaches me that it doesn’t take much. Keep your eyes open. Revel in the small discoveries because, if you engage with the moment, there are no small discoveries. Make your memories. You don’t need to travel to France to do it – and, frankly, the grace you give yourself during travel is to open your eyes and see. You drop the idea that you know what’s there and actually look. The same capacity is available each moment of every day of your life. Nothing is ordinary if you decide to see beyond your boredom (your boredom does not exist outside of you).

If I could give the world a gift on this day it would be for Megan-the-Brilliant to pick you up at your hotel. Before coffee she will take you for a treat. Open your eyes as you may miss it. You’ll know it is there when she rolls down the window, turns up the music and asks, “Do you see it?”

See For Yourself

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

Someone told me today that I see the world in a different way than any other person they’ve ever met. It was a compliment and I took it that way. And, I couldn’t help think that this is true of every person. No one sees as I see. I cannot see what anyone else sees. They have never been behind my eyes and I will never be behind theirs. Our patterns and beliefs and experiences and expectations have more to do with what we see than anything in our sight line.

A few days ago I passed a man sitting shirtless in the dirt. He was tossing handfuls of dirt into the air and with eyes closed he would look up so the falling dirt would cover his face. Then he ground the dirt into his face. I thought he must be homeless, out of his mind; I worried for him until another man stepped from a doorway and said, “I think that’s enough. You look great now so let’s get the shot.” It brought to mind the day Megan, Jill and I rubbed mud into our hair and on our faces because we were going into a kindergarten classroom with a story of high adventure to tell. Mud made us credible. Many people saw us rolling in the mud and must have thought we were nuts or at least dangerous.

I am consciously changing the way I see. I’ve lived too many of my precious years on this earth with eyes focused only on the negative. I found my worth in pushing back. Once, my friend Roger told me that my darkness could “suck the air out of a room.” He was right. My darkness was sucking the air out of me. And the light, too. I count myself fortunate that I was conscious that my seeing was my choice; my story was my creation. If there was no light in my life then I was to blame.

This earth is extraordinary and the vast majority of people on it at present are well intentioned, deeply caring, and just as clueless as I am. The one thing I know for certain is that I will never know what they see, but I do know that their hopes and dreams and ideas are just as potent, just as real, and just as valid as are mine.

Sit With The Tsunami

565. 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 have lately been craving coffee. Dark and sweet, I find myself staring out the window dreaming of my next cup. This is a phase. Coffee for me is like comfort food. When great change is in the wind, when I am feeling off center or the tsunami coming, I crave coffee.

It is possible to drink too much. Once, while in college, a doctor looked at my finger nails and told me I was close to poisoning myself with caffeine. I wondered why my jaws were always so tight, why I couldn’t sleep at night, and why people thought I was intense. Hours at the drafting table with endless pots of comfort brewing did a number on me. I was always off center when I was younger so I lived on comfort food. It was a great day when I learned that center was something I create, not something I drink.

Now days, when the craving comes, I know enough to brew an especially dark pot, make a cup good and sweet, and take my chair to the beach, and welcome the tsunami. I need do nothing else but welcome what is coming. No running around, no panic story, no avoidance techniques and especially no escape fantasies. Sit, sip and welcome the new. Comfort food is supposed to bring comfort, not evasion.

I read somewhere that when faced with discomfort we will distract ourselves, we will clean the dishes, vacuum the house rather than face our dilemma head on. I’m learning that these distractions are an early phase of the coming storm, necessary preparation, creating readiness, so that when the coffee craving comes, there is nothing left to do, nothing left to clean, but sit in a nice chair, sip the sweet dark brew and enjoy the transformation.

Step Toward Your Dream

564. 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 opportunity comes when the artist is ready. Horatio made a single pitch to fund his next film and the money came roaring in. “Oh God!” he wrote. “Green light! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear….” Tamara will perform her first public gig. She is an extraordinary musician, prolific, and as she stepped toward her dream, the pesky dream stepped toward her. “Oh!” she wrote, “I know I can do it, but….”

Step toward your dreams and your dreams will step toward you. And when you touch, for the first time, the thrill of contact, like meeting your true love, will always evoke trepidation and doubt. You will shake and say to your self, “I can’t believe it.”

Once, just after I signed a lease for a studio, a friend said, “Uh-oh, now you have to show up!” My great directing mentor, Jim, surprised me when he confessed that before every new rehearsal process, prior to the first read through, he would get sick to his stomach. He told me each time he was certain that he had nothing offer, that he had no idea how to direct a play. Jim directed hundreds of plays and each time was certain he knew nothing.

What impresses me most about artists and seekers of dreams is that they feel this fear and do not turn and run. They feel it and keep walking. Their dream opens its arms and despite their certainty that they will be a disappointing lover, they step into the embrace and offer the world their gifts. We fling around the word “transformation” like we used to toss about the word “paradigm;” it has come to mean something generic. Mark, and Tamara and transforming; they are feeling it, the dream, the step, the doubt, the embrace. Consequently, neither they, nor their dream, will ever be the same.

Where Is Your Fire?

563. 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 was awake very early, way before sunrise. I sat on my balcony and watched the sky progress from ultramarine through several shades of purple before resting in turquoise. The clouds were fiery balls of cotton. The fires burning on the eastern slope are facilitating extraordinary colors in the sky. The sun rose magenta. Through the smoky filter I could look at it directly for almost an hour. Sun and I had a staring contest. I lost.

This will go in the books as the summer of fire. I was in Colorado when fires burned across the entire state. Now, there are fires everywhere in Washington State. In May, Alan asked me a question that would give rise to the summer’s theme: he asked, “Where is your fire? Where is your rage?” I am too nice, apparently. Later, while in Colorado, I reminded him of his question and he said, “You are taking this a bit too far, don’t you think?” So, my meditation these many months has been on fire. Where is my fire.

All of the elements are transformational; they work at different speeds. Nothing beats erosion for leveling a mountain. Have you seen what wind and rain created in Bryce, Zion, and the Grande Canyons? If you do not understand the word “sacred,” go to Bryce, get out of your car – in fact, get far away from your car – be quiet, and after a few moments you will understand. The world is in constant motion.

Once, a few years ago, I stood on the lava fields, newly cooled, and watched the bright orange lava pour into the ocean, steam hissing a welcome. Lora said, “This is an island being born.” Later, as the sun set, a storm thundered down the mountain like an invading horde; I was drenched in an instant, laughing as we ran to the car, pummeled by rain. I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with the power I felt all around me: the lava, the ocean, and the rain.

And then there is the earth. While living in Los Angeles I rode through a few earthquakes but none so impressive as the Northridge quake. It came in the wee hours of the morning and is the only time I’ve awakened in mid-flight. My dog was flying next to me and I will never forget the look on his face. I can only imagine the look that he saw on mine. I thought I might be dreaming until I hit the wall. It is awesome to consider the transformational power of the quaking earth. In addition to the destruction it opened symmetrical paths of beauty. Neighbors talked. People helped other people. The city rebuilt itself in record time.

I thought about all of these experiences as I stared at the sun, magenta through the smoke and haze and asked, as I have asked every morning this summer, “Where is my fire? Where is my rage?” The sun stared back, silent, grinning a knowing grin, like a good teacher, refusing to offer an easy answer.

Follow Your Gut

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

Scott and I ate lunch on the patio of Revel, a restaurant that is not to be missed if you are ever in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. It was an unbelievably beautiful autumn afternoon so we sat in the sun, ate dumplings in a decadent sauce, duck noodles, drank coffee and celebrated Scott’s birthday with root beer tapioca topped with vanilla ice cream and cola pop rocks. Oh. My. God.

Our conversation ranged across a wide geography but kept returning to intuition. We are prejudiced to favor the rational mind, though, as Alan might say, the rational mind is nested with in the intuitive. The rational mind likes to think it runs the show (thus our dedication to testing and measurement) but it all falls apart if we include the full canon of human experience, things like love, desire, dreams, and impulse. It is not reason that propels an athlete to spend hours and hours of their lives training for a competition. Einstein’s dream-life opened his rational mind to relativity. How many times have you said to yourself, “I just knew….”

Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “Don’t try to comprehend with your mind. Your minds are very limited. Use your intuition.” To use your intuition, you must look inward. You must trust what you find there. Much of the western mythos is built upon the notion that nature is corrupt which can only mean that your nature is corrupt. This sad notion serves as an organizing principle that would have you believe that your inner voice – your intuition – is not to be trusted. It cuts you off from your self and your greatest guide: your inner wisdom (also known as your intuition). Einstein said it best:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. We will not solve the problems of the world from the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. More than anything else, this new century demands new thinking: We must change our materially based analyses of the world around us to include broader, more multidimensional perspectives.”

It’s not a bad idea to listen to your gut and your heart in addition to your head. Your head will tell you anything (and does), your gut is incapable of lying – it doesn’t have the vocabulary. My gut told me Revel was the place to meet Scott. Root beer tapioca topped with vanilla ice cream and pop rocks…I just knew; somehow I knew.

Once Upon A Time

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

For the past several days I have watched Lora pull out old photo albums, unpack boxes and old suitcases searching for photographs of her mother, Margaret. She is assembling a slide show for Margaret’s memorial celebration. Her intention was simple: to gather photographs documenting Margaret’s life but as she looked for images she found something far richer.

Photographs tell a story. There are photos of the infant Margaret, the little girl with grandparents, a rowdy teenager on a motorcycle, giving a friend a boost up a tree. There is the moment, as a young woman that she held a string of fish and laughed at her father’s antics, and the shot taken in a club of a gorgeous sophisticated lady surrounded by soldiers on leave from the war. Then, there was a photo arm and arm with the one soldier, a pilot, wedding photo’s, a happy couple in a home of their own, a new mom and her baby. The frozen moments continued through surprise parties, Christmas days, a second marriage, becoming a grandmother, cruises with her daughter, widowhood and the years of Alzheimer’s, becoming a fragile little bird.

Lora’s search for photos became a family history treasure hunt. Puzzle pieces fell into place. Love letters gave a two dimensional memory its third dimension. Curious stories resolved and the veil lifted from mysterious characters. Not only has Lora documented her mother’s life, she has enriched her own life, she located herself in a narrative with more color and passion and dreaming than she realized. In weaving Margaret into the fabric of ancestry she has woven herself into a greater connection to the story line. She belongs.

Today as I walked I was aware of the many, many photographs I saw people take. I live near a beach so the opportunities are plentiful. We live in an age where the photograph is easy to take, easy to erase, easy to store, easy to forget, easy to lose as the technology evolves. As I watched people pose for their moment I couldn’t help but imagine each photograph, someday, marking the arc of the long body, how this photo might tell the story of this particular life once this particular life story has been told – and who might find a deeper experience of belonging when they dig through old files and discover this special moment once upon a time when their loved one posed for a camera on a beautiful day at the beach.