Consider Laughing

861. 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 every FL!P cartoon I also write a short bit of commentary that will someday blossom into a blog post. I pass the commentary to Skip and magician that he is, he jumps into an incredibly complex process to enter the strip and commentary into the FL!P site for publication. I give him the commentary on a separate document and identify for him which strip goes with which comment by the last line in the strip. Tonight I was preparing the next batch of commentary and saw the list of last lines as a kind of poem or theme map. Here’s an example of 6 last lines in sequence:

Are the edges cutting you?
They forget to use their precious time creating relationships.
Now, no one has enough time and everyone is looking for money.
I think it’s been a while since you made contact with humans.
Wouldn’t it be easier to ask people what they want?
Shoot me an email and I’ll get back to you.

I laughed when I saw it. I’ve known for a while that I am producing micro series of cartoons based on themes that interest me in the moment but I had no idea how clear the themes actually were.

I learned in school that humor is all about other people’s pain. We laugh at the guy slipping on the banana. A pie in the face is funny as long as it happens to someone else. Beneath the mask of humor lives the mask of tragedy. The reverse is also true. Tricksters are in the world to help us not take our selves or our gods too seriously. Every bloody king needs a court jester. Beneath the tragedy runs a river of humor. You’ve heard the phrase, “I laughed, and otherwise I’d have cried.” The mask of humor and the mask of tragedy work together like the vine and the soil. They provide nutrient for each other. They also provide relief from the other. That’s how polarities work. They are dynamic.

Skip and I started FL!P because there are conversations in the world of entrepreneurs that people aren’t having because they are taking themselves too seriously. We thought that if we poked some fun at the whole affair we’d be able to surface some of the deeper conversations. Humor creates movement. Humor creates chaos and chaos moves toward order. I’m of the opinion that most of our world could use a bit of the trickster. Our national jammies are wound too tight and could use some counterclockwise rotation. The issues won’t go away. The tragedy will wait for the laughter to stop. I think it’s time we made some contact with humans.

Meet The Opponent

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

On the white board Skip wrote, “The enemies.” We were planning our business and as we moved deeper into specific details, the forces of opposition became apparent. Skip listed them as “enemies” rather than “obstacles” because forces that rise against clear intention are not passive. A boulder in the road is an obstacle. A tide of opposition is an opponent and the strategy for meeting an opponent is different than that of meeting an obstacle. Both strategies begin with respect and then the paths diverge.

Innovation will always bring a tide of opposition. Several times in my life I have seen “the system” crush the very innovation that it purports to seek. It smashes the innovators that work to improve the lives of all involved. Their innovation would necessitate change and the fear that change inspires in a system is lethal to change makers and the advances that they bring. Tom used to say, “You will know the worth of your work by the size of the tide that rises against you.”

On the list of enemies Skip wrote “The Four Overcomings.” This is a reference to one of Carlos Casteneda’s books. The Four Overcomings are 1) The Fear of Learning, 2) The Fear of Clarity, 3) The Fear of Power, and 4) The Fear of Old Age. In the book, Don Juan tells us that very few people move beyond the first fear. A true learner must open to change. A true learner must embrace the unknown and become practiced at stepping into it. One in ten will face this fear and overcome their need to know. The majority will seek safety and grasp firmly to what they know.

Learning brings clarity. Of the people that move beyond the first overcoming, only a very small percentage will face their fear of clarity. As Skip explained, those who become clear are dangerous to the status quo and are ostracized or worse. It takes courage to speak truth in a society dedicated to maintaining the safety at all cost. Most will hide their clarity. They will pretend ignorance. A very few will embrace their clarity and give voice to what they’ve learned.

If one is able to face the fear of learning, move beyond the fear of clarity, they become potent. They become powerful. And the powerful must embrace their power. They must not deny their power and in fact must willingly use their power. Fear of being power defeats almost all people. As Marianne Williamson famously wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” All people are powerful beyond measure but would rather measure than be powerful.

The fourth and final overcoming is old age. Skip smiled and said, “By the time you get beyond Overcomings 1 – 3 you will be old. And no one overcomes number four.

Learning, clarity, power, and old age are forces. They are not obstacles. They are not passive. They are opponents and to overcome them one must begin with respect – not for the opponent but for one’s self. And then you must ride out to meet them on the field of your life.

Listen To The Dragonfly

859. 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 is a note to the blue dragonfly that marked the path today. I am given to seeing metaphor and symbol in almost everything. Serendipity and synchronicity hold hands everyday in my life. Karma meets coincidence. All year I’ve told people, “There have been helping hands all along this path.” There have been harbingers and guardians. To me, a few of my friends look a lot like angels.

Dragonflies have been present throughout this time of wandering, too. One year ago I came to a leaping point in my life that was marked by a dragonfly. It was singly dedicated to staying by my side. I have come to think of that particular dragonfly as a threshold guardian. I was ready for the passage so it accompanied me as I stepped through the water (the deep memory) and into unknown lands. I literally passed through a watercourse with the dragonfly as my constant companion. He left when I made it to the far shore and leapt.

A week ago, I was visited by an orange and crimson dragonfly. I’d just emerged from the faery ring when it came calling. This was a visitor of another sort. It felt like reassurance. If it could have spoken it might have said, “Did you feel that? The faery ring signals a change. The cycle is shifting with this new moon: the centrifugal will become centripetal. The hard growth is nearly done. The fruit of your labor will ripen now. All is spiraling back to the center.” This dragonfly was a harbinger of the return. “You are almost home,” it whispered with its wings.

Today the dragonfly was blue. This, I believe, was Hermes. He is the messenger of the gods, walking freely between the world of mortals and the divine. He is also the protector of travelers and I think he came today to give comfort, protection and to deliver a message. The message read something like this: despite what you think, you do not walk this path alone. I am with you.

And so to the blue dragonfly, thank you. The message was clear. Keep stepping into the unknown. I know that there is no other direction. I know that my intellect and reason are of no use on this path. There is no sense to be made. Intuition is all.

Embrace Your Discipline

858. 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 occurs to me that during this phase of my life I am learning discipline. Not that I’ve ever been undisciplined but a short gander at my current daily activity looks like a masters class in self-direction. I laughed out loud when a few minutes ago I looked up “discipline” in the thesaurus and the word “punishment” topped the list. The other choices are regulation, self-control, and subject (as in field or specialty). I generally resist rules, am not in to punishment, and am a generalist to such a degree that I have no field or specialty. So, discipline must be necessary to help me come to some semblance of balance before I’m too old to balance. All will be lost the day I wear pants with elastic waistbands and Velcro shoes but until then some balance may be possible.

Two years ago I decided to write posts every day. I decided to take on a daily writing commitment because the need for fodder opened my eyes. I had to pay attention to all the colors of life swirling around me if I was going to have something to write about. Little gestures of kindness became visible. The world is much more vibrant than I understood before I began paying attention. I’ve always been a painter so I’ve practiced “seeing” all of my life but a new kind of sight opened when I decided to write. Also, I’ve never considered myself a writer so my sub-intention for writing each day was to learn to write. Double discipline: open my eyes to see and become a better writer.

Two months ago I committed to publishing a daily cartoon strip for an audience entrepreneurs. Although the strip is crude (by design), each panel takes a few hours to complete and in just a few months I’ve drawn over 120 panels. Today, like most days, I spent the afternoon drawing and inking cartoons. I’m trying to get two months ahead because the strip publishes everyday, seven days a week. It is not lost on me that since beginning the cartoon I find that I am listening with a new set of ears. I’m becoming a world-class eavesdropper. Everything is fair game for cartoon material and everything – especially the most serious conversations – sound like a cartoon. People have no idea that they are riotously funny. In cartooning I’ve already learned that few things in this life warrant the weight that we give to it. Our addiction to drama and blaming is a comedy gold mine. I am my own best source for a good yuck. The discipline is to listen and laugh.

Walking home from tai chi this morning made me realize that I also have a daily tai chi practice. I began my study almost 2 years ago and I love it. I start each day with my practice and I am changing in some fundamental ways because of it. The discipline is to root over what Saul calls “the bubbling spring.” Connect to the chi and empty of all forms of pushing. The discipline is to empty and listen.

Listen. Empty. Laugh. See. Balance. Punishment is nowhere in sight. Alan says that the root word of discipline is disciple –and today I take great delight in my chosen path of discipleship.

See The Color

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

Occasionally, for reasons I can’t explain, I become fixated on the words people use to describe their experiences. Language is powerful and we are rarely aware that in using specific language to describe particular experiences we are, in fact, defining ourselves.

Today I was struck by the predominance of phrase polarity I heard in my conversations and travels. People were “effective” or “ineffective.” Experiences were “good” or “bad.” We “liked” or “didn’t like” an idea. I heard, “Are you in or out?” A frustrated pedestrian shouted at a young woman who’d stopped to adjust her ear buds, “Walk or Don’t Walk!”
This or that. Up or Down. Black or white. More or less. Main Street or Wall Street.

It is comfortable to pretend that things are simple and easily defined. It is probably efficient to pretend that there are only two available options. We are, after all, a society of laws and in a legal preset there must always exist a clear line though we learn again and again that the line is never clear. Who honestly believes that Justice is blind? Context complicates even the smallest decision.

Dogma is not spirituality. Data is not knowledge and is miles from approaching wisdom. Wisdom is complex. Data sorts to the simple. There are an infinite number of points between those two poles. The question remains: how is your language defining you. Do you define yourself as data with two points or do you allow for more complexity? Listen to how you story yourself and your world.

The challenge with phrase polarity is that the points are often pitted against each other. It’s as if data and wisdom are two distinct paths so you can have one or the other but not both. The phrase “effective or ineffective” recognizes no middle ground. It eliminates any common ground. The same holds true if you define yourself as either good or bad. Do you have worth or are you worthless? Are you identified with a red state or a blue state? Can business have heart? Can data support wisdom? Can wisdom translate data?

Isn’t life sweet with only two choices! In such a paradigm it is easy to be the good guy and so by default the “others” are bad. In such a paradigm, when rushing to your very important meeting, all the “others” are in your way. My way or the highway is a bleak and immature paradigm.

The important questions do not live at the poles but are in constant movement in search of a balance point. Balance is available in the center and the center moves all of the time. Do you love your children? Do you want to make a better world? Do you want your life to have meaning? Is it possible that people in the other color states also want the same things?

Coloring outside of the lines requires crossing lines. It requires a desire to work with color, lots and lots of color, which opens the capacity to see a multitude of options. Everyday I work with people searching for the greater meaning in their lives. The first thing they come to realize is that they have choices. Not one or two but many, many choices. They have a full palette of choices. And they can only see the multitude of choices when they stop telling themselves that the world is black or white. They can only see the rainbow of possibilities when they get off the pole of rightness or wrongness and step toward the middle. Living a rich and varied story begins when you start telling a rich and varied story. Language is the building block of story. It matters.


856. 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 think the most amazing piece of art I create is the studio floor. While working on paintings my brushes dribble and spatter, charcoal is ground underfoot into a fine dust and swirled into the gesso drizzle. I rarely look down at the unintentional artwork that emerges under my feet but when I do I am awestruck. It is lively, spontaneous, child like, and free. My underfoot artwork is not labored, over-thought, or heavy with a too serious intention. It is emergent, ongoing and completely without limitation.

My underfoot artwork is vital because I am not in the way.

A few nights ago I confessed that the muse possessed me and I stapled a new canvas to the wall. In a fury of gesso madness, I coated the canvas so that it might stretch and ready itself to reveal its secrets. Today I put on a second coat of gesso and also managed to cover myself with more gesso than actually made it onto the canvas. This has always been true of me: it is nearly impossible for me to put paint on anything without getting equal amounts on myself. Roger used to say that I only needed to walk within ten feet of a can of paint in order to wear half of it. Too true! During the process of painting I am never aware of my personal transformation into canvas. It is only after the fact that I discover the spatter pattern on my shirt and pants and shoes. And, today, while following the spatter trail to my feet (no shoes where involved today), my eyes went to the floor! It was glorious.

Picasso famously said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” When we grow up we put down our big brushes, our spontaneity, our spirit of play and pick up our little inner critic, a need to impress others with our little brilliance, and the notion that “artist” is something you do. Adults forget that artistry is essentially curiosity in relationship with a moment. “Artist” is not a role, it is a way of being. What happens when you smear the paint simple to feel the smear, tear the paper for the sound, use vibrant orange to paint the broccoli tree against a purple streak that might be an indication of sky – or deep joy made manifest with the swipe of a brush. Every child knows that joy is purple today and another color tomorrow.

My underfoot artwork, now showing on the studio floor gallery, is the work of the inner child, the real artist. All of the critics say his work is vibrant, free, and alive. The artist is not concerned with the critics’ interpretation because he was distracted by the sun, left his brush unattended on the table, and went outside to swing. All the world is his studio and swinging is, after all, real work of the serious artist.

Look For The Crossroads

855. 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 having an ongoing email conversation with Rafael. We are discussing educational change but more specifically asking how to change a culture of exclusion. I won’t go on a rant so let it suffice to say that the idea that we have equal access is just that: a nice idea but is nowhere apparent in the national fabric or the lived narrative of our nation. Our tax codes are created to keep the poorest poor and the wealthiest wealthy. Revolutionizing education is to revolutionize the economy and that is why it has become such a wicked problem. The forces in play do not favor the many. The voices in power represent the few.

I’ve spent a great deal of my life pushing against the public school system. And despite my capacity to fling around phrases like, “You can’t solve a problem at the level of the problem,” I’m only now seeing beyond the level of the problem. Inequity is institutionalized and deeply embedded in the national narrative so it is a fool’s errand to push on the institutions. As Buckminster Fuller advises, move toward what you want to create. This requires a new narrative. It requires to look at something other than what currently exists.

We go where we look. Where are we looking? We can hit division every time if we insist on seeing division. What’s good for business is not always what’s good for community and I often think that business wins the contest every time because we have a fleeting sense of community. We define our national health by the stock exchange. We are up or we are down. When I listen to the news or read the papers I am filled with the narrative of division. It is Us and Them on every page. This is not a new narrative. It is as old as our nation. Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness refers to land ownership and at the time those words were penned those privileges were extended to a few white males with resources and no others. A system does what a system was designed to do.

A new narrative would be one of unity. A new narrative is one of inclusion. A new narrative would consider the health of the system – in fact it would demand a healthy system and that is impossible to realize if any segment of the system is impoverished. A healthy plant cannot grow in exhausted soil. This is not an abstraction. Grow a garden in polluted soil and tell me what you discover.

It feels as if we are standing at the crossroads of “Every man for himself,” and “I am my brother’s keeper.” Both of these phrases are philosophies of an economy. The great thing about a crossroads is that the roads cross. They come together and are neither this nor that. They are a meeting ground and places of commerce accessible to all. Meeting grounds are also the place where new narratives are created. They are places of possibility. We know that our political climate is averse to seeing crossroads. We do not have to go where they are looking. We are capable of telling a different story if we are courageous enough to look where the roads cross and decide to stand in the place of an economy that includes instead of an economy that excludes.

Answer The Call

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

Tonight, for the first time this year, for the first time since I started my wandering, I stretched a new canvas. Actually, to be more specific, I stapled it on the wall. I don’t know what possessed me. It was after midnight and I was closing up shop and suddenly I found myself unfurling a large piece of canvas, covering the wall and the surrounding furniture with plastic, and stretching and stapling the canvas to the wall. It’s a big piece!

Preparing a new canvas is a ritual. It is a commitment to the unknown. It is a dance with the gods of possibility. Preparing the canvas is calling the muses. It is to walk to the leaping off place and call into the void, “I am ready for you,” and to expect an answer. It is an act of surrender, an invitation to battle, a flirtation with a lover, a cry of anticipation, a step into silence. Preparing the canvas is to step through the threshold.

The first coat of gesso tightens the fibers and pulls the canvas tight. I relish this process because it is messy and furious and fast and that was especially true tonight. I was splashing gesso and water onto the newly stretched canvas as if I had no control. I needed to do it. I needed to call into that void. I needed to issue a challenge, “I’m here. Take me.” It had been a long, long time since the last ritual passage.

I recognize this frenzy. In the past it has come when the doors that have been locked tight for months suddenly open and the universe like the light of a full moon pours in. The frenzy is a kind of madness, a response to the moonlight and there are few satisfactions greater than dropping the brush into a bucket after the madness passes and asking myself, “What’s this?”

It is potential. It is the universe standing on the edge of the leaping place calling to me and saying, “I’m ready for you.” And this journey, like all great journeys into art, begins with a smile of recognition and a leap into the unknown.

Learn Through Osmosis

853. 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 reasons I cannot identify, the word “osmosis” became the word of the day. I heard it everywhere I went. I can’t remember the last time I heard the word osmosis but today it was everywhere, lurking on the lips of even the most casual passerby.

It began with the woman sitting at the front desk of print services place. I was taking the next 30 cartoons in to be scanned, opened the door to the shop and heard her say, “It’s like I was supposed learn it through osmosis or something!” I asked the obvious question, “What were you supposed to learn?” I was consciously intruding on a conversation with someone I’d never met and she winked and said, “Wouldn’t you like to know!” I double pumped my eyebrows and she laughed and told me I was bad and asked how she could help me. When people open a mischief door like that I usually jump through but we were already on the innuendo edge so I let it go. I guess I’ll have to learn through osmosis what she was supposed to learn through osmosis because she wouldn’t tell me.

Next, osmosis came to me in the Salvation Army store. I went in looking for a small refrigerator and heard a shopper say, “I guess I’ll just have to osmos the price.” There is no verb form of osmosis so I especially appreciated the new word creation. I use the word “story” as a verb and it drives Horatio nuts. I will add “osmos” to my collection of verbs-not-verbs just to see if I get a ticket from the word police.

Later I was with Pete at Starbucks and we were talking about art and the trouble we’ve caused the women in our lives. I’m not sure why those two topics collided but we seemed to weave in to trouble and out to art and back again. A guy standing in line was in a heated conversation and exclaimed, “Doesn’t he know that I learn everything by osmosis!” Clearly, he was being sarcastic but I began to wonder why this word was following me. I’m given to seeing life as a series of metaphors and serendipities so when a word keeps popping up I think I’m supposed to pay attention. What do I need to osmos (see, I’m practicing!).

Pete saw the look on my face and asked if I was okay. I replied, “I have a lot to learn, apparently.” He thought I was talking about the trouble we’ve caused our women and said, “Don’t we all!”

Feel The Music

852. 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 stood with my face to the sun on the patio outside of the training room. Barney came up to me and asked, “Why did you choose to stand here?” It felt good. There was sun and quiet. He called my attention to the tree behind me. It was ancient and I was standing just on the boundary – at the circumference of the tree’s limbs. He said, “This is about right, the perfect spot. This is how you address something sacred – never face to it but open the chakras in your back and feel it. You are feeling it.” And I was…and I could.

I wasn’t doing it consciously. The grand old tree was humming and I was drinking it in. It felt like a good back massage. I stood in that spot because it felt good. A few times in my life I have performed – telling a story with a symphony – and stood facing the audience with my back to the orchestra. The sound from the symphony vibrated my bones. It warmed me. It was a musical massage. Standing with my back to the tree was similar. The vibration was as potent but not as explosive as the symphony. It was even, deep base. It quieted my mind.

Over the next few days Barney called my attention to how I orient myself to and feel power places. This is not a trick or magic or voodoo. It is not a special skill. Anyone can feel the music of the world. It requires standing still. It requires paying attention – not with your mind but with your body. It requires openness to joining rather than the dedicated separation that we practice in our very busy urban world. It requires being in life rather than moving through it.

Stand in the river. Close your eyes. Stop listening to the “hurry up” story running through your mind. Beyond the story you just might feel the exchange, the dance of giving and receiving. As Barney said, ”Nature balances. It is all a matter of polarities and you have to know what poles you are working with.” Balance is not a state of achievement but a constant dance of giving and receiving. It is movement, pulse and vibration. It is the tide.