See Her Hands

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

Alan issued me a challenge today. He asked me, for a few weeks, to write about something other than the events of my day. Perhaps to write about ideas or dreams or imaginings or something that happened in the past. His challenge to me is about moving beyond the role of witness – a role I play well – and to actually inhabit the moments of my life. He asked me to intentionally be a participant more than an observer. It’s a great idea and a worthy challenge. And, I will start tomorrow. Today I have to write about Kerri’s hands.

Kerri is a musician, a composer with many albums to her credit. When she plays the piano she drops into a deep root, she grounds into her music, and a river of sound flows from her. Life flows through her. So much life flows through her that she cannot sit at the piano. She stands and life flows through her hands as sound and vibration and heart. It is her music.

The first time I met her I asked her to play something for me. I stood at the side of the piano and I watched her reach into the earth. I watched life pour through her hands. They knew just what to do. When she grounded and gave herself over to the music, her hands merged with the keys and I wasn’t sure if the hands were playing the keys or the keys were moving her fingers.

This morning while I was talking with Alan she began to play a new composition. I left the call and stood by the piano. The lid to the piano was open so I could see her hands and the hammers touch the strings as she touched the keys. I know this sounds obvious but the piano is an extension of her hands. The piano is a channel for her soul.

Later we stood on the front stoop as a storm blew through. The thunder rolled and rolled without ceasing. It was magic, something I’ve never heard before. The same power I saw in her hands I also saw in voice of the sky. I took her hand and felt the life, the thunder and the power. I felt the music. It was breathtaking.

Play The Ukulele

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

Last night I was at Ukulele practice in a garden on the shores of Lake Michigan. I am a rank beginner and learning to play the Ukulele with 47 other people. We were laughing our way through Over The Rainbow. I was playing air Ukulele pretending that I was expert at my chord progressions, when a sphinx butterfly circled us, flew into the garden right next to me, and began drinking from the flowers. It was close enough to touch. I’d never seen anything like it before. I was so captivated by the butterfly that I forgot to pretend that I was strumming.

A sphinx butterfly looks like an exotic hummingbird. It is shaped like a hummingbird, its wings beat like a hummingbird, it hovers like a hummingbird, and yet it is not a hummingbird. My section of the ukulele band completely dropped their chord progressions and joined me in gaping at the butterfly. We entered an intense debate about whether it was a hummingbird or indeed a sphinx butterfly. The people seated to the left of the garden voted for hummingbird. Those of us on the right were solidly in the butterfly camp. I had no idea so I went with those seated around me. Each camp had solid justifications and good reasons for their point of view. The butterfly paid us no attention. It was not concerned about our debate or our need to identify its species. It continued feeding regardless of the label we attached to it.

I can’t help it. In moments like this I step into the role of witness. I watched people enrapt by a butterfly. I watched their loving debate, their laughter, their awe. I watched this group of amazing people hold their treasured ukuleles of many colors – green, purple, midnight blue, orange, red, pink and sky blue, white and black – watching a butterfly of many colors – pink, orange, purple, salmon, white, blue and black – and I was in awe of their awe. They did not see how beautiful they were as they admired the beauty of the butterfly.

This is the role of the human being isn’t it? To see the beauty of the world. To appreciate and give a name to the awesome and unimaginable. To engage with the beauty and then to join in a simple way with the creation of beauty: this group who gathers each Wednesday night to play their ukulele’s together and laugh and drink wine and gape in utter amazement at a butterfly.

Stand In The Chaos

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

Here’s the last one from the archives. I’ll be back live tomorrow. This was post 282:

This is my favorite revelation of the week. It comes from a friend who has for the past several years been doing big work on herself. Like all big shifts of perception it sounds so simple but is hard to embody. I’m beginning to understand that most revelations do not come with fireworks and a brass band; they are subtle. They are simple because they’ve been there all along and we just did not see them. They slip in with little fanfare, like removing your sunglasses.

This is how she said it: I’ve learned to be in the chaos without buying into the chaos. See, no fanfare. And, if you are truly underwhelmed, ask yourself when was the last time you resisted, defended, justified, needed to be right, fought for others to see what you see, needed approval, bought into the notion of perfection, or any of a thousand other ways you buy into the chaos. Are you anxious, afraid, motivated by what you fear or do not want, in survival mode, or certain that the universe is throwing obstacles in your way? Chaos, chaos, chaos.

Can you imagine what it might mean in your life to be able to stand solidly in the chaos without needing to control it, contain it, or deny it? Can you be present without needing to manipulate or force anything or anyone yet say without inhibition exactly what you need (it’s not the need that matters, it is how you fill it that defines you).

Reread the first part of her statement: I’ve learned to be. Her focus shifted. The earth did not shake, the clouds did not part, no ascension or angels or twenty-one gun salute. Her focus shifted, she realized choices are creative acts and instead of being caught in the whirlpool, it swirls around her.

What could you buy if you stopped investing in chaos?

Dance With “What If…?”

886. 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 on the road today and a new posts is impossible. So a repost. This was #555:

David just started his new job. He is now a professor of acting and directing at a university. He just finished his first week of classes after moving to a new city a few short weeks ago; he’ s the new member of an old faculty; everything is strange. He has no comfortable patterns yet, the grocery store is unknown, the walk to and from work is more a discovery than a ritual. Creating a new life is never easy precisely because of the unknowns. And, what I love about David is that he is the consummate teacher, a gifted artist that uses his experiences as fodder for class; he studies his life just and uses what he finds as material for his work.

Our conversation was about his students, about how dreadfully reinforced they are in the notion that they have “to know” before they commit to an action. He laughed and told me, “I was the same way! I had to work through this debilitating idea that I needed to know what I was doing before I made a choice. Consequently, I had a hard time making choices!”

I’ve yet to meet a dynamic, potent artist or businessperson who really knows what they are doing. Artists become potent when they stop thinking that they need to know. What they need do is try, experiment, offer, wreck, scribble, tear, sculpt; play. They need to make a strong choice and follow it. They dance in the fields of “what if…?” By the way, this is also known as good scientific method: state a hypothesis and test it.

As David and I discussed, needing to “know what you are doing” is a certain sign of feeling like a fraud. All of us have at one time or another ducked behind a mask of certainty to hide our belief that we were inauthentic – and we felt inauthentic because we invested in the tragic notion that we needed to know before we acted. Putting down your need to know is a passage ritual, it is the threshold to vitality and self-actualization.

Life is never found in the knowing. It is always found in the questioning. It is made vital by the freedom to experience without masking or hiding behind the castle wall of knowing. The sweet secret to bold artistry is the same sweet secret to vital living; whisper it to yourself as it seems to be a dirty little secret: nobody knows what they are doing regardless of what they pretend.

Glow With Sun Fire

885. 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 on the road for the next two days and new posts are impossible. So a repost. This was #554:

Sometimes in the early morning, before the sun rises over the ridge, the osprey will soar high, higher than the ridge, catching the sun light before we land dwellers can see it, and burst into orange fire. The markings of an osprey look Egyptian to me, a pharaoh’s bird, so when they catch fire with the sun, not only am I dumbstruck with their beauty but feel as though I am witness to the appearance of a god or goddess, Thoth maybe, or Isis. And then the osprey dips beneath the ridgeline and the glow extinguishes; they are once again gorgeous in their mortality, mere birds of prey. But, I caught a glimpse into their true identity, their godhood.

I feel that way about people everyday. We walk on this earth beneath the ridgeline, beautiful in our mortality and every so often we rise above ourselves, we show up even for a moment, and the fire reveals itself.

During intake sessions for new coaching clients I like to ask, “What is yours to do? What is the thing that drives you?” I’ve been asking this question for years, it has become an experiment of sorts. You might be surprised to know that 100% of the time my clients respond, “I want to help people.” The form of helping varies but the impulse to serve others is universal. People seek my services because they feel they have not fulfilled their potential and fulfilling their potential always means helping other people.

It’s a paradox unique to a society that celebrates individual achievement over communal health and wellbeing: we place our focus on personal achievement and feel vacant, unfulfilled if our work has no impact on others. We focus on the gold medals and miss the moments that truly matter. Artists who paint but do not show their work soon stop painting; there is no point without the other.

Dado delivers my mail everyday. Ron fixes things in my apartment when they break. What would I do without them? The good folks at Alki Auto fix my flat tires and don’t charge me. Jen checks me out of the Metropolitan Market; she knows my name and always asks where I’ve recently travelled. Someone I don’t even know stocks the shelves at the grocery store, someone I will never meet grew, nurtured and tended the peach that I just ate: it was so flavorful that it made me moan.

The osprey does not know when it flies above the ridgeline; it does not know it is glowing with sun fire. Perhaps we would recognize the godhood in each other and ourselves if we sought our fulfillment, not in an abstract outcome like “potential” and instead took stock of the little generosities and service that we offer each other every single day.

Live The Metaphor

884. 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’s 3am and I am wide awake.

I have been goading Horatio for years to write a screenplay called 3am Man. It’s about a man who can’t sleep. He is troubled about the events of his life and his insomnia drives him to the streets and he makes a pass through the culture of the night. After months of walking through the underbelly of the world he finds peace and sleep. I think the story is Greek in scope. It’s Orpheus descending into the underworld. He’s torn to bits and resurrected (put back together again). It is Osiris, the same story from an earlier mythology. It’s a universal cycle of life.

Mythologies are not dusty old stories. They are metaphors of our personal stories, the stories of our lives. If you know how to read them they can be enormously helpful during times of being lost or alone. They can help orient you when life is spinning you around. In this lifetime we will all be torn to bits and put back together again, more aware, and usually with a new assignment. This is the story of the year past for me. I’m like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. I lost my stuffing. Now, having been torn to bits and in the process of reassembly, I can help Horatio write his screenplay because I understand.

I used to work at this time of night. I found it peaceful to paint while the world slept. It’s almost as if the frenetic psychic energy of the daylight hours scrambled me. I found peace, clarity and an open channel in the quiet. Tonight, in this quiet, I am sitting in a house that is being pulled apart, the possessions of a lifetime pulled apart, put into boxes and divided among relatives. If I understand my mythology correctly, even this process of a life torn to bits will ultimately lead to reassembly somewhere down the road. New life will come of it. Energy will take another form.

Seek The Small Moments

883. 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 one wall of the room where I am staying are dozens of photographs that stretch back 5 or more generations. There are so many photographs of couples posing on their wedding day. Those same couples are in photos taken many years later – they are parents standing with their children who are posing for their wedding photograph. I look at the wall and I see people who had hopes and dreams, people who worked and triumphed and fell. I see the stuff of life: relationship. As I looked at each photograph, scrutinized the faces of lives gone by, to wonder what these people did for a living. I asked questions about the faces and names and heard many stories of these lives-gone-by. Not once did I hear about work or a job. I heard about relationship. I heard stories of foibles and forgiveness. I heard about dreams gone awry and dreams fulfilled. I heard about personal triumph and happiness that came late in life. I heard lots of stories about love lost and found. I heard many stories of small moments.

Skip and I are working on software that will help sustain and maintain family story. All summer I’ve been asking questions of families about what would be useful to capture. What would help, not only to archive but to make a dynamic personal and family story? Beyond a photo album or a genealogy of static dates, what would you like to know of your ancestors? What would you like your children’s children to know about you beyond your birth and death dates?

In this past week I lost Tom and with him a lifetime of wisdom and story. I have some of it. In this past month I attended a family gathering celebrating my father’s 80th birthday; we spent 5 days telling stories and sharing pictures, 5 days passing the stories to the next generation. This week I am helping pack Beaky’s home. She is 92 and in a rehabilitation facility. She’ll never return to her home and her children and grandchildren are sorting through her possessions but more importantly they are telling stories of her life. Each pot and pan carries a memory and is an opportunity for, “Do your remember when…?” It’s the small stuff, the little things that make a life full and the meaning is carried through the relationships we mostly take for granted.

Have Faith

882. 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 the past two days I’ve journeyed from Indianapolis to Tampa. With the exception of Kentucky I’ve traveled a corridor of this country that I had not before seen.

In Tennessee there was a rainstorm so intense that every car on the freeway pulled over. It was impossible to see. The storm came and left within fifteen minutes and when it was gone I thought I’d dreamed it. I saw a sunset in Georgia that included colors I’d never before seen. I gasped. Literally. I have no way of describing the shades of pink, purple and orange that melted through the sky. If I made up names for paint colors they’d be something like lavender explosion, sensational salmon pink (I’m laughing in disgust, too), and crisp aspen orange.

There’s nothing like a long road trip to pull you out of the everyday numbness and re-excite presence. If you put away your gadgets and look out the window you’ll see an endless number of adventures beckoning. Every little side road is a temptation. Every roadside attraction or vegetable stand begs you to stop and have a conversation. Every community is an opportunity to explore or merely linger. Although there are Cracker Barrel restaurants everywhere in this part of the country – and I religiously avoid the mass-produced – I’d never been in one so we stopped, ran inside, and played with every toy. We laughed at the candy I’d not seen since I was a kid (there was a huge box of double bubble bubble gum!). We ate BLT’s and chatted with the women stocking the shelves. There was no hurry to get going. There was no place else to be.

I read a phrase recently in Brida, a novel by Paulo Coehlo, that every moment of our lives is an act of faith. We never know what the next moment will bring – even though we like to believe that we do. Even though we convince ourselves that we’ve done this before and that we are bored, in truth, we never know what the next moment holds and we step into it anyway. I think road trips bring us closer to that truth. Each step every day is a step into the unknown. Every day is packed full of the new when we stop pretending that we’ve been here before. I’ve never lived this day. I will never have this day again. I have no idea what it will bring. I will step into it anyway.

Share The Quilt

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

Linda led me around her house and told me stories of her quilts. She has a large atrium with dozens of quilts draped over the balcony. There are quilts on every bed in the house. “This one my grandmother made for me on my 5th birthday,” she said. “Grandma died shortly after that so I never really knew her. That’s why I cherish this quilt.”

She explained to me that many people are shocked to see her family quilts in use or displayed. “They tell me that they’ll get ruined or the colors will fade.” She paused for a moment and added, “But I think these were made to be used and seen, not to be tucked away in some closet. Life is meant to be lived, not preserved.”

This has been one of the lessons of this past year: Life is meant to be lived, not preserved or maintained or suffered or controlled or endured. It sounds like a cliché. You will find the phrase on greeting cards everywhere. But ask yourself, “Why do we have to remind ourselves that life is meant to be lived?”

I’m learning that living life fully is impossible if you have cut yourself off from your root. Living life fully requires a deep and solid root system that supports your arms as they reach to the sky and drink in the sun. Linda is surrounded by her legacy. She cannot tell me about the quilts without telling me of the people who made them and the moment she received them. Her roots are alive and well. She lives fully. You can tell by the sparkle in her eyes.

“The one on the bed where you are sleeping was made by mother. She loved to quilt and so do I,” Linda smiled. “Here’s the thing,” she said, “quilting takes time and attention, something most people don’t have enough of these days.”

See The Hope

880. 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 deep in the woods in Indiana. It is night and the crickets and frogs are thunderous, pulsing. There are no city lights blotting out the stars so the night sky is vibrant and shimmering. Coyotes howl in the distance.

Bill and I have been talking all evening about hope. His focus is on health care and the movements that are circumventing the established systems. I have been talking about education and the power of access via the web to level the playing field for all people.

We sat on the porch until we were cold and then moved our conversation inside. We talked about how we are living in the greatest period of change in the history of humanity. We are living in the age when the line has blurred between science fiction and ordinary existence. In times of great change the old established systems grab on for dear life. They try to strangle the new. That is how systems change. The old fears the new. The old cannot recognize the power and potency of the new. The caterpillar can never truly see or understand the butterfly. And, since we are seeing so many white knuckles on the establishment, there is reason to celebrate. The butterfly is coming.