Let It Flow

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

Skip and I are talking a lot about the motion of ideas and movement of information. Ideas are not fixed. In fact, collapse an idea into form too soon and it dies. Valuation in a market is a dynamic movement. It is not a fixed in time. It is motion driven by a variety of forces. Hanging out with financial folk, I learned that money grows when it moves. Impede the flow, park the money and the growth is stunted.

The same principles apply to relationship. A healthy relationship is distinct in the flow of communication and transparency of feeling. Hide, block, edit, withhold and the relationship suffers. What is the quality of movement in your life?

Many years ago I trained to be a massage therapist and I learned that health in the body’s systems is the result of unimpeded flow: anywhere there is blockage there is disease. Health is movement.

When I began doing organizational work I learned the same lesson: a healthy corporate body is the result of unimpeded flow of communication; where there is blockage there is dis-ease. Power games often take the form of communication disruption. Withholding information is a control game and weakens the organizational body.

When I began working with artists I learned the lesson again: dynamic art in all its forms is the unimpeded flow of expression; where there is blockage there is dis-ease. Kink the garden hose and pressure builds. Block the artery and heart will seize. Stilt the communication and dysfunction and power games erupt.

Inhibit your expression and you become just like the garden hose: pressure builds and the inner life jams.

Vitality in body, mind or spirit is nothing more than unimpeded flow.

Take Advantage Of The Easy

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

Images from the past few days:

In the early morning light a young couple dance in the swirling pink blossoms raining from the trees.

A father sits at the base of a slide so his daughter sitting at the top will let go and slide.

A woman is trying to catch a train. She will miss it because she can’t carry her luggage down the escalator. Strangers intervene to help. They carry her luggage. They communicate with the conductor. She catches her train.

The mountain emerged from the mist and stopped commuters cold in their tracks. One muttered, “I’ll never get used to that.” Another muttered, “Me, too.”

A man enters a coffee house and the barista knows what he wants before he orders. The man does not take it for granted. He tells the barista, “No one takes the time to pay attention to me. Thank you.” The barista’s eyes tear up.

Carol told me that kindness is easy. It is easy to be kind. It is easy to transform the day of another. It is easy to offer your small gift to this big world. It is easy to enjoy the moment. It is easy to see the wonder. It’s easy if you pay attention. It’s easy if you open yourself to see it. The opportunities are all around us. It’s easy and it matters.

Begin With A Charge

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

Given my post yesterday I laughed out loud this morning when Saul-The-Chi-Lantern started talking about the cult of exhaustion that is sweeping the nation. He said, “Have you noticed how many people start their morning by saying, ‘I’m exhausted?’ Why would someone choose to start their day exhausted?”

Now, isn’t that a world-class question? The choice of exhaustion comes to those who believe they have no choice. After Megan hammered my thick noggin yesterday, I’ve been looking at my choices.

Saul led us through a section of the form before picking up the thought. “People talk of tai chi as some kind of cult but given the choice of starting your day with a vital charge or starting your day exhausted, why wouldn’t you choose to begin each day with a vital charge?” He laughed and continued, “I want to get things done when I get up in the morning. A vital charge is useful. I guess I belong to the cult of people who desire to feel good.”

A month ago I was in Holland with an international group of coaches. They were talking about their health care and the number of weeks of paid vacation they get every year. One of the participants asked me why Americans were dedicated to working so hard. Essentially her question was about why we are so dedicated to exhausting ourselves. Balance is not high on our priority list. Scratch the paint and look beneath her question and find a deeper inquiry: she wanted to know how I explained the gap between our identity as free people and our national dedication to servitude. We work for health care. We work more hours by far with less time off. We seem okay with the every increasing gap between the haves and have-nots. Sequestration is the best we can do because the other options would require us to take a look at the gap and its drivers. I had no answer. Denial didn’t seem satisfactory. I didn’t want to say, “We think we have no choice.”

And then I flew home and promptly exhausted myself. The universe has never been subtle with me when I need to pay attention to something. Saul’s question followed Megan’s admonition. Stillness, listening, and choice.

Saul returned to the practice saying, “Exhaustion makes no sense to me especially if I can avoid it.”

Eat For Stillness

779. 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 am exhausted today. I spurned all work and cleaned the studio. I prepared canvases. I stayed away from sharp objects and power tools. I made sure not to cross the street until I looked three times. During days of exhaustion, personal safety is the best I can do.

During my cleaning frenzy I cleared space in the studio. I made space. I created space. I needed space and that meant that things had to go. I made a rule that if I hadn’t touched the book or the tool for a year, I had to get rid of it. I got rid of a lot of stuff! Had you walked by my studio today and mentioned that you liked a painting, it would have gone home with you. I’d have given you two paintings because the spaciousness – the feeling of space – was energizing in my exhaustion.

This evening, Megan shook her finger at me for not taking good care of myself. Yesterday I forgot to eat. It happens when I get focused and busy. It won’t surprise you to learn that lack of food and exhaustion are connected. Making space and eating are both great remedies for my low energy. Megan read to me a passage from a book. The passage was about listening. According to the book listening is about stillness. Inner chatter disrupts listening. Her message was about taking care of myself inside and out. I am not listening to what I need. I am not listening to what my body is telling me. She was prompting me to return to my practice of stillness with a reminder that stillness inside is impossible if I am not caring for myself outside, not eating well, not resting appropriately.

Now that I’ve created spaciousness I intend to regain my stillness. To that end, I’m going in search of some very big, very hot, very yummy food.

If Not Now, When?

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Megan-The-Brilliant sent me a text this morning. She is attending a state teachers conference. Her text said: I’m in a conference where the keynote lecture is on the importance of creativity. Novel, huh? How many times will we say this before we do something about it?

It’s a great question: How many times will we say this before we do something about it? It’s a question that generations of educators have been asking. Literally. Generations. How many times will we say this before we do something about it? Later in a phone conversations she said, “If I hear another person state the obvious I’m going to puke.” She also said, “I’ve had it.”

I’ve heard that a lot lately. The amazing educators, the fire starters, are taking their fire elsewhere. When survival is the best a teacher can do, when thriving is out of reach and dowsing fire is the aim of the system, the choice is to be dowsed or to go make creative fire where fire is welcomed. Think of this: teachers can leave in disgust but students have no choice but to be dowsed. And make no mistake, their fire is being dowsed. And, as levels of absurdity stack upon levels of absurdity, listen to the overriding complaint of businesses about new hires: where’s the self-direction? Where’s the critical thinking and capacity to innovate? Why aren’t we preparing our students for the world of work? Answer: Because we are dowsing their fire with buckets of wet tests to feed metrics that tell us nothing usable. We are patterning them to complacency.

Fire is dangerous to test makers. Educational fire is anathema when answer regurgitation is the goal.

The disjoint between what we know and what we do is vast. It is a farce. If you doubt what I’m asserting, think how ludicrous (sad) it is for a keynote speaker in the 21st century to address educators on the importance of creativity. The speech is only necessary in an arena that has stripped creativity from the system.

After the call with Megan I remembered my recent conversation with Robert. His son is just starting school and he was appalled by what his son’s teachers are being forced to do. He said, “There’s no room for creativity. I’m not talking about art or music – I’m talking about any form of creativity. It’s a wasteland.”

Face The Sun

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It was gorgeous in Seattle today. It was the kind of day that people escape from work, play hooky, take extra long lunch hours, or leave early so they can get into the sun. I made up a reason to walk across the city to an art store. I needed some more paper and Mod Podge. I’m certain there is a closer art store but I convinced myself that they wouldn’t have the kind of paper I needed or would charge me too much for Mod Podge. I justified walking in the sun for an hour. My strategy was successful. I pretended I was exhausted so I could walk slower. That worked, too.

On the way I saw people napping in the sun. All of the city’s benches were occupied by people dedicated to sitting still. All the faces were tilted to the sun. Like me, people walked slower so they might prolong their time outside. It was as if the entire city went Zen (with the exception of the drivers who were desperate to get somewhere so they could park and get out of their cars).

The great paradox in this day of lollygagging is that I was more productive today than any other day this month. A little sun greased the wheels of my brain and the ideas flowed. I was inking cartoons and talking on the phone and before I knew it I’d inked everything that was drawn and nearly completed my full list of calls. Skip sent an email proclaiming that he, too, was having an extraordinarily productive day. A little sun can work magic to a vitamin D starved populace.

Even though we live in boxes that shelter us from the elements and sleep according to electric light and not the rising and setting of the sun, we are still intimately connected to the pull of nature. This morning as I descended Queen Anne hill, the vibrant force of spring – birds in chorus, buds bursting open, a full palette of colorful flowers – stopped me in my tracks. It lifted me from a rain soaked stupor and I spontaneously stretched my arms and yawned myself awake. A woman passed me on the stairs and said, “It’s electric, isn’t it.”

Allow Your Inner Odd To Shine

776. 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 was a day that awoke my inner sociologist. It was a Salvador Dali day filled with the surreal and the surprising. It began with a voice calling me from a deep sleep. The voice was saying, “Food! Food!” It was an imperative so I swam to the surface of my consciousness and I found Fuji the cat sitting on me, staring at me, meowing the word, “Food.” I’m not kidding. I blinked my eyes once or twice to make sure that I was awake. Fuji was saying “food” or at least a sound that was identical to the word “food.” I sat up and looked around the room for leprechauns or perhaps the Mad Hatter. When I knew I was safe I crawled out of bed and fed Fuji.

Later, as I walked to the ferry, I passed a group of elders. From a distance I thought they were teenagers because they were plugged into their iPods. They were chatting and poking each other on the shoulder and doing a mini boogie down the road. They were school kids in the bodies of grandparents. Again, I rubbed my eyes to make sure I was awake. I was but was by then I was suspicious of what might be waiting around the next corner.

What was around the next corner was a woman standing in an open plaza doing a monologue. She wasn’t preaching. She wasn’t standing on a box recruiting an audience. She was not on the phone. She did not appear to be crazy. Her bag was on the ground in front of her and she was having a fight with someone invisible to the rest of us. She paused in mid sentence, bowed, picked up her bag, and walked away as if she was on her way to the office and nothing unusual had happened.

After my meeting, now on the Seattle side of the Sound, I was walking back to my studio when I heard a lovely female voice singing a Beatles song. Across Pioneer Square stood a woman with a microphone. Next to her was a man playing an electric guitar. She sang with all her might. No one paid any attention. People walked by as if no one saw her and suddenly I wondered if I was the only person on the Square that saw her! Maybe I was like the monologue woman! Maybe people were passing me wondering what I was staring at! I held my ground for another moment and then faded into the crowd.

I have a sneaking suspicion that everyday is surreal, that these marvels are always present just around the next corner but we’ve grown numb to them or are afraid to engage with them because they might be dangerous or require some responsibility on our part. We imagine that it’s better to pretend that the oddity doesn’t exist and so we just keep walking. We fade into the crowd lest we stand out.

As I faded into the crowd I liked the idea that I was someone else’s oddity. What is odd for you is not for me and vice versa. The riches of my day were not in the norms, not in the moments that met my expectation. The riches were in the surprises and the surreal. Imagine how rich we would be if all of us agreed to allow our inner odd to shine! My inner sociologist is appalled by the idea but I think it has real merit.

Tap Into It

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What is the original “why?” What is your reason for doing what you do? During a break in the Design for Demand class I eavesdropped on a conversation between Skip and one of his students. The student asked, “Isn’t making money the reason “why.” It can be a reason. It’s not the reason.

Before the break the students were doing business pitches followed by a discussion about their reasons for creating the business. Skip showed them Simon Sinek’s terrific TED talk explaining what distinguishes a great business from a mediocre business. In the talk Simon explains his golden target with the reason “why” occupying the center. A great business operates from why. How and what occupy the middle and outer rings of the target. Mediocre businesses confuse their what and how with why. This might seem obvious but it’s not.

In another class, I recognized that the MBA students think the single reason they are getting a degree is to get a better job. They’ve confused their why with the what. Getting a better job can be a reason. It’s not the reason. K-12 education believes that the purpose of education is to raise test scores. They’ve confused why with how – and it is debatable whether raising test scores is a viable how. In our lives we have an abundance of “how and “what” reinforcement. It is no wonder we sometimes misplace our why.

In the modern age, people without a clear understanding of their “why” will generally buy something to fill the void. It is a temporary hit but delays the recognition that there is nothing substantial driving their life. Or, they’ll numb themselves, distract themselves or sabotage themselves. Either way, the “why” gets lost in the “what.”

Everyone has a why. Sometimes you have to wipe off a layer of dust or muster enough courage to look beyond the purchases. It is there. It’s waiting to be sourced. If your current answer to the question, “What’s the point?” is to raise your test score or to get a better job, stop and ask yourself, “What else is true?” Look beneath the superficial and you will find a spring that will rejuvenate you and keep you nourished for the arc of your life. Tap into it.

Hear The Harp

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A man played the harp on the ferry crossing today. He sat with his small harp on one of the long benches that run along the windows. He started playing and a crowd joined him on the bench. Some gathered on the neighboring benches. The usually noisy ferry quieted. People stared out the window, transported. Occasionally he paused and answered a question or two. We learned that the type of harp he played was in existence a thousand years ago. On this rainy day I imagined someone long ago playing a harp, ancestor to this man’s harp, the music weaving a spell while Avalon disappeared into the mists.

A boys’ baseball team stormed into the area and fell silent almost immediately. It was as if the music infused the air with a potion. Some of the boys sat. Others retreated to the other end of the ferry. I rested my head against the window and stared into the rainy Sound, grays and greens rushing by, the motion of the boat rocking us. The Sound has been here much longer than this type of harp but it took the harp for me to take notice. In the United States of America it is easy to forget that we tread on ancient ground. Our constructions are too new. We build things not to last. When everything is a resource time only runs into the future. For a moment I glimpsed the eternity in the ancient waters we crossed.

It is April. It is unseasonably cold and wet and gray. The harpist played a tune he had composed but it sounded medieval, something from the fairy folk. It was trance music. It was deep forest music. I was suddenly no longer in the 21st century but some other place, some other time, and this harpist was either calling me from the mists or wooing me into them. Or both. The metaphors were stacking, the passage of life a short ferry ride, living and dying and traditions and magic and music that binds us in the hearing.

Later, in my studio, I was listening to the radio and the interviewer asked this question: “Why should the government give money to something that can’t be measured?” It is a sure sign that we are lost when we come to believe that the most valuable things in this life are those things that can be measured. Metric madness is everywhere I look. There is no metric that can measure the true value of art just as there is no metric that can measure learning. Relationship cannot be measured. It can only be experienced. True value cannot be codified. How much does your life cost? What is the value of your limited time here? The insurance companies have an actuary table that reduce you to dollars and sense if it is a measurement that you need. We are lost. In that moment I wished that my harpist could play and call us forward from of the mist.

Occupy Your Center

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Robert is a gifted actor, director and teacher. We had a long conversation yesterday about actors and acting. He said that the art of acting is unusual because young actors in training don’t always recognize the necessity of technique. So, for instance, an opera singer would never expect to advance in his or her career unless they had rooted their voice in solid technique. A pianist would not expect to become a concert level musician without a solid technique. As Robert said, “Many young actors believe that if they feel it, if they connect the dots from feeling to feeling then they are acting. “Anyone can emote and call him or her self an actor,” he said, “but acting requires just as solid a technique as any other art form. It’s just not as expected or understood.” Robert recently told a young actor, “It does the audience no good if you feel it but they aren’t invited to participate.” Technique facilitates participation because it frees the artist to be present. The point of any art form is to share, to include, to transport. Artistry is never about the artist. It is always about the relationship.

Today in tai chi Saul-The-Chi-Lantern paired the beginners (me) with the more advanced students. We were doing a simple push hands exercise that I recognized as the technique beneath the practice. I had a revelation that shocked me to the core and inspired me to teach it to every artist that I know. In push hands, the idea is to empty of all resistance, to drop deeply into your center and use your partners force to knock them off center. As the advanced students told me, “The point of the exercise is to fail. Failing is the only way to find your center and empty yourself of opposition.” My revelation was this: opposition (resistance) is the act of giving another person responsibility for your balance. Literally, you invest your balance in their center. It is visceral. My partners easily tossed me off balance because I easily gave away my center every time I resisted them. When I (occasionally) found my center and emptied myself of resistance, I entered a balanced fluid center that shocked me in its potency.

I left tai chi today and went to see a student production of a Shakespeare play. The rivers of my conversation with Robert and my tai chi revelation met as I watched the young actors push and force and resist and reach for feelings. They did not know to include me. Their play was about them, not the story or the opportunity for relationship with me, the audience. Yet, the paradox, the moment of truth came after the play when I listened to their investment in what the audience thought of their work. They gave me their center because they shut me out of their play. Had I cared I could have easily tossed them off balance. As I left the theatre I thought, “Someone needs to teach them how to fail.” In that direction technique is found. In that direction is learning.

I wished the young actors had access to Robert or the advanced students in my tai chi class. If I keep at it in fifteen years or so I might have the capacity to keep my center. The young actors need to pretend that they can do it all now. They are oriented to the test (performing the words with feeling) and not the mastery.

Even though I know the 37 moves that constitute the tai chi form, I am only now capable of beginning. At this age, I am finally capable of understanding the relevance and necessity for solid technique.