Be Like Charlie Brown

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

Sometimes I worry myself. Last week I was flying through O’Hare airport. I had a fairly long lay over (and isn’t THAT an interesting term!). I was tired. It was dark outside; in airports during the winter 6:00pm and midnight feel like the same thing, just as in old age homes prunes and iced tea taste the same. It’s odd. So, it was midnight or something. My eyes were fried so I couldn’t read. Besides, I was the kind of tired that, if I lay down during my lay over, I’d wake up and my flight would have left me behind. So I was walking and looking at stuff.

Here’s the part that worries me: I saw a sandwich. I wasn’t hungry but I knew my flight was approximately 5 hours long and I could imagine myself getting hungry before the plane landed. And what if the plane never landed? I should have a sandwich. Here’s more of the part that worries me: at the Airport Fresh food stand, where nothing is really fresh, where I saw the sandwich, the sandwich I saw, the sandwich I chose was sitting all alone. There were others further down the shelf, but this one, this lonely little sandwich, sat all alone. It was too small to compete. The other sandwiches were muscly things wrapped tightly in plastic; they were bursting to get out of their wrappers. My sandwich was the runt of the litter, sliced chicken breast with red bell pepper. It was destined to be an engineer. And since no one was talking to it, since it had been abandoned by the in-crowd, I bought it.

As I walked away from Airport Fresh, I had a realization: I am Charlie Brown! My ghost costume has too many holes! On this day of All Hallows Eve I will get rocks instead of candy in my plastic pumpkin head trick-or-treat candy bucket because I projected a story (my story?) on a lonely sub-standard sandwich that a host of other discerning travelers were wise enough to leave behind. I chose the Christmas tree with few branches and no needles because I thought it needed a home. Or, an alternate narrative: mainstream sandwiches bore me and I am much more interested in the deviants in society. More projection perhaps but one with a healthier turn: I chose that narrative.

After all of that, I will not tell you what horrors I suffered when I actually got hungry on my flight. That sandwich pleaded with me for a long time and I had to explain that it had a purpose to fulfill. And, as difficult as the path might seem now, it would thank me later. It went quietly. So I think – all in all – it was a very worrisome affair. Spooky even. Ghoulish when you consider what happened to that poor lonely sandwich.

Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

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

Don Miguel Ruiz’s 4th Agreement is: Be impeccable to your word. Say what you mean and mean what you say. What was most striking to me, most curious, the first time I read The Four Agreements, was the connection Don Miguel Ruiz makes between being impeccable to your word and self-love; he writes that being impeccable to your word is the most self-loving thing you can do.

I think and write often about the power of language. What we think is what we create. The labels we assign to people and experiences are more potent than we know. Our language is not passive. And, it is another step beyond the notion of language as powerful to language as self-love. How can being impeccable to your word be the most self-loving thing that you can do?

For some reason, this question was on my mind during my late night flight from Chicago to Seattle. I was too tired to read. The flight was not full so I had plenty of space, empty seats all around me. I let my mind roll around language and self-love. When you love yourself you have no need to hide, to manipulate, to justify, to deflect, or judge or diminish. You have no need to change the thinking of another person. That is not yours to do. You no longer have any need to control what others might or might not see, might or might not think. What they perceive is none of your business. Your business is to attend to what you perceive. And, what if your perception was rooted in the absolute love of self? What would you perceive? What would you say? What would you no longer need to say?

See The Orca

599. 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 orca came to the end of my street today. Two pods! Or, at least that is what the excited onlookers claimed. There is an organization that follows the movements of the whales and they’d arrived with a sack of binoculars. People generously shared the binoculars and took great delight in pointing to others the location of the whales; the customary tides of not-talking-to-strangers were momentarily reversed: the crowd beckoned to passers-by. Unsuspecting dog walkers were surrounded by excited orca watchers; “You’ve got to see this!” they exclaimed.

As I stood there looking at the people look at the whales, I couldn’t help but wonder if the orca knew what they do to us. Do they know that a simple swim-by jolts us into simple presence; we not only see them but we are suddenly capable of seeing each other. I imagined the orca woke up this morning, stretched, had some coffee and discussed which human pod needed an intervention. It was our good fortune that today they chose the pods in and around Elliot Bay.

Last night at a dinner party we talked about how difficult it is for Americans to discuss complex topics. A professor of law told us that his conservative students never share their opinions for fear of being ridiculed. He said they are hooted out of class if they share an unpopular belief. We claim territory too soon. We fight. We choose sides and argue for our point of view, skipping over the part where we listen to each other, the part where we offer each other the grace of difference.

The orca must have heard our conversation last night. They must be listening to our political non-conversation. I hope they are scheming about how to reach the inland human pods. It is a joy to see what a little orca intervention can do.

Choose Your Practice

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

In preparation for our class I was reading Alan’s book, Create A World That Works, and read a passage that I’ve read at least five times but never before registered. This time, it was the passage that stood out, the passage that stood up and said, “Hey!” The chapter is about stillness and the passage that hollered is a kind of equation that goes something like this: the more inner chatter you experience, the more you will try to control your outside world. Or, flip it over: quiet your mind and you will quiet your need to control things that you can’t control.

The inner world and the outer world are not separate affairs. One of the Hermetic Laws is, “As within, so without” and I understood the concept in story terms: quiet the racket inside and you will not live a life of racket on the outside. Yet, I hadn’t understood it in terms of the impulse to control. It makes sense to me: a life full of racket is a life full of the frustrated attempt to control things that you can’t control – which feeds the internal racket. It is a feedback loop.

I worked with a group this week and we played with the concept of “controlling what you can control and letting the rest go” – as it applies to personal and organizational health. A healthy person, a healthy organization is not invested in things beyond their control. They focus their energy and action where it is most effective. They are not invested in what other people think or see or feel; those things are beyond their control. They are invested in and responsible for what they think or see or feel. Their worth is in their own hands and not in the hands of others. Inner chatter, what you think, is a controllable. Every meditation and self-help book on the planet has clues about how to quiet the inner chatter. Add this to the pile: let go of what you can’t control, care more for what you think than you care about what others think. Chatter is a pattern and so it quiet; it is simply a matter of the practice you choose.

Be A Mystery

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

Sitting on the pier watching the sun come up, the temperature already 85 degrees, I had an epiphany. I realized that I have spent much of my life trying “to figure it out,” which, in essence, is an attempt to figure out myself. Watching the sky erupt into orange and fiery red, I thought, “What if I am mystery? What if I was meant to be a mystery? What if all of this “figuring out” was really an attempt to control or contain the uncontrollable? How would I be in the world if I stopped trying to figure it out and instead reveled in the mystery? I think I’d play more than I do currently. I’d run in circles and roll down hills. I’d be less concerned about things making sense.

I know this. I give meaning to the world I inhabit. The meaning is not “in” the world; it is “in” me. The perpetual search for meaning stopped when I ceased to seek meaning as something separate from myself. This shift of perspective is a quality of empowerment: we become power-full when we own our choices and the epicenter of choice is where we decide to place our focus. In other words, what do you choose to see and how do you choose to interpret (story) your experiences.

Even knowing this, it came as a surprise when I recognized the need to surrender my control and containment imperative: figuring it out is a fool’s errand. We can discover how to split an atom but we will never discover what it means. It means nothing without our participation, how we use it, what we intend. With that sunrise, the world regained its scope and infinite variety. My assumptions dribbled away with the dawn. The truth is that I don’t know. I don’t really know anything. It is too vast for me to know. The best I can do is close my eyes and feel the sun on my face. I can smell the salt sea air, I can listen to the waves and the birds and the distant voices. I can make a story of it all. Ask me what it means and I will ask you what it means to you. Ask me what it means to me and I just might tell you, “Nobody knows! It’s a mystery.”

Fly Back Together

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

Lately, I have this image of myself that makes me laugh. I see it in sleep, sometimes while daydreaming, and today I found myself doodling it. It is as surprising as it is welcome. It is one of those images that I did not manufacture; rather it came to me. I see it so often now that I re-run it, enjoy it; I am playing with it.

It is as if I am seeing a film running in reverse, like a jalopy losing pieces all over the road, when seen in reverse, the pieces fly back together. That is the image. I am standing very still in a meadow and all of my pieces are flying back together. I did not realize I’d lost so much along the way!

I giggle when I see this image. Rather, this image is visceral and it tickles – all of those pieces coming together delight me and literally tickle me.

Because inquiring minds want to know and I have one of those inquiring minds, I’ve tried to identify the pieces; I want to know what I dropped on the highway of life. Yet, the moment I pay attention to the individual pieces I lose the image. The tickling stops, the image dissipates. Apparently I am not meant to focus on the fragments; it is the whole that matters.

In class today we talked about the verb “to heal.” It has roots in an old English word, hælen, which meant, “to make whole.” To heal is to make whole. As I close my eyes and see myself standing in the meadow, all of my pieces flying back together, I giggle, arms extended and say to myself, “Welcome home.”

Find Your Pivot Point

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

[Continued from 594]

It is a full decade since I learned to dive with Terry. Until last week it had been 6 years since my last dive. Although I live on the Puget Sound, near one of the world’s great dive spots, the water is cold and I am skinny; I hate to shiver and all I need do is look at the divers preparing to enter the frigid waters outside my door and I start looking for a blanket.

A few weeks ago I flew to Belize for a dive vacation. Apparently I was ready for my second master and the next level of the lesson. And, lucky me, since it was time for the second master, I actually had two masters show up: the first was the dive master, named Luckie (note: I am considering a name change; how cool is it to be a dive master AND to be named Luckie). Luckie, above the water, is a trickster and filled with laughter; beneath the surface he is easy, clear, and neutral. He radiates trust. I would follow him anywhere. Luckie dives without any weight. Most divers need a small amount of weight to take them down and to assist with neutral buoyancy. This is too big of a metaphor for this small post but just consider the implications: how much weight do you need to carry to become neutral? Luckie needs none. He is neutral all the time and like Terry, that does not render him without personality, it does the exact opposite: Luckie is a riot of laughter and joy. He is a magnet for life. He is hungry to know and engage and experience. He is the embodiment of what it is to be neutral and efficient. Luckie has fire and he burns clean.

The second master is Luckie’s boss, Declan (okay, another cool name. Apparently you can only live in Belize if your have a cool name). He came with us on our second day of diving. The first time I saw Declan in the water I almost cried; I have never before seen a human being that easy and present. He was so…beautiful…in the water that I was stunned: the absence of struggle. I had to swim behind him. I wanted to know what he knows, I wanted to mimic what he did. And, remember, I know Terry. I was amazed and inspired by Luckie. Declan in the water becomes the water; he is not easy in it, he is it. He teaches a class in mastering your buoyancy and I will go back to Belize to take the class. Like Terry or Luckie, diving with Declan is not about diving; it is about how to be in the world; it is how to be the world.

I told him that I wanted to take his class and he said, “Oh, it’s easy! It’s not the same for any two people. It’s all about the right amount of weight and recognizing that balance comes from your hips. Find your pivot point, it’s in your center and feel your way into it and then practice. There’s no other way.”

So, crib notes from Belize: you can’t think your way into it. Neutral knows how to laugh. I now know what the absence of struggle looks like. Embodiment. Perfect balance. Practice, practice, practice. There’s no other way.

Buy Terry A Beer

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

Scuba diving is rife with life lessons. I learned to dive in Bali from an American ex-pat named Terry, a former surfer, drug runner, and underwater welder turned Buddhist. And, since I was the only person in the class, I had my own private life lesson delivered through the metaphor of diving. As Joyce would say, Terry was an old soul; he was comfortable anywhere in the world, above or below the water, in the west or the east; he’s one of the few people I’ve known who was truly at home in the world. I had to buy Terry a beer for every gaff I made on the way to ease in the water and I will go on record saying that there is not enough beer in the world to pay Terry what I owe him.

The primary skill for a diver to learn is neutral buoyancy. Regardless of depth, a diver wants to hover in the water, not sink or rise (unless he or she intends to change depth). Terry used to say, “Get neutral. Use the least amount of energy necessary. The skill is presence.” Re-reading that last sentence makes Terry sound old and wise and he was young and energetic, filled with crazy mischief and daring, so please insert your best brazen Hawaiian surfer gone rogue dialect into the previous sentence; my Yoda liked reggae and once said to me, “Let’s spin the ptomaine wheel!” as he strode into a smoky roadside eatery.

Neutral buoyancy is balance; it is the physical experience of perfect balance though you can’t achieve it without balancing your breathing as well, which balances your mind. When you become neutral, your breathing slows, you become efficient – and not the American puritan notion of efficient – as that implies work, sweat, hard pews and squeezing life out in a cubicle. This type of efficiency is the form that comes when you are most alive which means your mind is most quiet; there is no need to achieve or change or grow or do anything. Breathe, rest in balance, witness. No impulse to resist the present moment or to be elsewhere. In fact, when you relax into it, the colors suddenly heighten; there are amazing fish and creatures moving all around, and you can’t believe the shapes or the vibrancy of the world in which you find yourself. It is magic and you are magic (not separate from “it”). And, best of all, after a while it occurs to you that you don’t need to be underwater to practice being neutrally buoyant. It is a skill you can practice anytime, anywhere.

How much beer would you buy Terry to learn neutral buoyancy?

[to be continued]

Embrace Your Silly

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

Racing passed me on the apartment stairs was little Jaden and his grandma, Espy. Jaden was wearing big tiger slippers; they gave him cartoon feet. Espy whispered, “The monster is coming! I hear him!” Jaden squealed. I said, “I won’t tell the monster that I saw you!” Jaden laughed as he and Espy disappeared through the hall door. Two floors below I heard Pete, using his best monster voice, rumble, “Where are they! I’m hungry!”
Pete is Jaden’s grandpa, Espy’s husband. I waited on the landing for Pete-the-monster to discover David-his-neighbor. It was a sneak attack.

He came around the corner in full monster mode. Roaring, “I’ll find you! I can smell where you are!” he saw me and said, “Oh, hi David.” Another adult might have been embarrassed or shifted out of play mode. Not Pete. He was carrying a large sack of groceries and, like Jaden, he was wearing an enormous pair of slippers, he had cartoon bear feet. “Do you like my shoes?” he smiled, showing off his larger-than-life fuzzy feet. “We just went to the store.” He roared once more to keep the game going while buying us some time to talk.

“I’m being a monster!” he smiled, showing me how he could walk like a bear with his cartoon feet. “We were just in the grocery store and people are so serious!” he exclaimed. “At first I was thinking about being embarrassed to wear these slippers and then I was happy I put them on. They are silly and they made people smile! People need to be more silly! That’s what I’ve decided. It keeps us young,” he declared. As an after thought he added, “Espy had to drive though, monsters feet are too big and they can’t feel the pedals.” Roaring and stomping he said, “Let’s have dinner next week,” and continued up the stairs. I heard Jaden squeal and Espy whisper, “Hide!”

Yoda lives next door and he wears slippers. There is magic everywhere, even in the stairway.

Don’t Hit The Hole

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

This has been a week with a theme: limitations. All week, clients, friends, people on the street, have wanted to talk about their limits. Actually, they have wanted to talk about transcending their limits. And, although they think they have been talking about freeing themselves, their focus has been on the limit and not on the freeing (“Pay attention!” I say to myself. When conversations come in clusters there is a boat I need to catch and am about to miss).

The question comes in this form: How do I get beyond my limit? Or, how do I stop limiting myself? This is a very specific question that can only serve to reinforce the limit: it is a “how” question with the focus on a limit. The verb or action is rooted in wrangling with a limit. Wrangling with a limit will only make it stronger.

Recently, at a wedding reception, I met a woman who was recovering from a motorcycle accident. She said, “I know better! You go where your place your focus. I saw a pothole and thought, ‘Don’t hit the hole!’ and went right in it.”’

How you ask the question determines the possibilities you see or don’t see. How you ask the question determines the actions you take or don’t take; like the motorcycle woman told me, you go where you place your focus.

How would the action change if the questions were asked in this form: “How do I create more freedom of movement?” Or, “How do I fulfill my potential?” Place the focus of the question on the freedom or on the fulfillment and an entirely different field of action becomes available. Instead of wrangling, why not create?

We go where we place our focus. Pay attention to your language and you will see where you have chosen to go. Sometimes the only thing necessary for a breakthrough is to ask your question another way.