Be A Ray

[continued from Step Into The Dot]

Our shorthand, “step into the dot,” has a companion phrase: be a ray. It comes from Kerri’s son, Craig. A few years ago, when Kerri was in a particularly dark period, Craig told her that she needed to get out of her yuck cycle. He told her that, instead of spinning in her eddy, she needed to be a ray. She needed to choose to shine.

Choosing to shine begins with stepping into the dot. Remember that “to step into the dot” is to step into the present. It is to move forward in life with all the lessons but leaving the self-imposed limitations behind. The reason to step into the dot is that an opportunity becomes available from the dot that is available nowhere else. The opportunity is to shine.

A few weeks ago we got a puppy (it is more true to say that the puppy got us). It’s been a very long time since I had a dog and I forgot how much a dog wants to please. Our dog, Tripper, (a multi-faceted name: 1) from “road trip,” 2) he’s an Australian shepherd and is very good at tripping me and, 3) he is a trip as in acid trip. Zounds.) wants to belong. He wants to know how he fits into the pack. He wants to understand his world, know the rules of the pack, and he thrives on attention and positive strokes. In this way people are not so different from puppies: they want to belong. They want to know how they fit into the pack. For people, fitting in to the pack has a lot to do with the gifts they bring. People ask, “What’s my purpose?” People want a life driven by their unique purpose. When they fulfill their purpose, people thrive.

The great thing about “purpose” is that it is impossible to fulfill a purpose in a vacuum. It is impossible to fulfill a purpose without the participation of other people. Givers need receivers. Purpose is never fulfilled without impacting the lives of others. We cannot fulfill ourselves without fulfilling others. To serve others is to serve your self and vice versa. It’s a feedback loop. When we finally see beyond our personal story fog, it’s possible to see that the whole gig, all of life, is a service opportunity.

That’s what you can see from the dot. Connectivity. You see the interrelationship of gift giving and receiving. You see that every moment is an opportunity to bring your best game, to fulfill your gift. When you step into the dot, when you step out of the story fog and into the present, everything looks like an opportunity to shine. Thanks to Craig, Kerri and I have a shorthand phrase for seizing opportunity to shine. We say, “Be A Ray.”

How Do You Know?

What’s the difference between pursuing a dream and chasing an illusion? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself lately. This past year too many people have told me that I’m chasing illusions and my question is always the same: how do you know the difference between a dream and an illusion?

The problem with dreams is that most people let go of them. When I was in high school an English teacher screamed at me. My dreams frustrated her. She insisted that my dreams where too big and too varied and I’d have to “pick one and learn to compromise.” Even then I knew that she was shouting at herself. Dreams do not die easily.

You can spot a dream strangler a mile away. They will tell you that your dream is not practical. In fact, that is true. No dream is practical and that is precisely the point. Dreams lead into the Netherlands of the unknown. Going into the unknown has never been practical. It is practical to stay at home and watch television. Safety is practical. Living a vibrant life has nothing to do with practicality. There is no accounting that can predict the bottom line of a dream.

When does a dream become an illusion? What is the distinction between pursuing a dream and chasing an illusion? When do you give up hope that your dream is viable? At what point do you set down the dream and say to yourself, “I guess I will do something else.” What else would you do?

I want to do good work in the world. Like every person I’ve ever met, I bring specific gifts to the party. Like every person I’ve ever met, bringing all of my gifts to the party is my dream. Unlike most people I know, my gifts do not easily fit into a single box. Or, perhaps it is more true to say that I am not good at fitting my gifts into a single box. I’ve been a tenured teacher, an artistic director, a corporate consultant, an executive and life coach, and actor and director. I’m an illustrator and author. I’ve worked with many schools and universities – I started a school within a school. Lately I’ve been watching entrepreneurs and accelerator partners trip all over themselves so lost are they in needing to know what they are doing. I wrote a book last winter that I thought would help – and I drew half a years worth of a comic strip. Humor is a great way to say what cannot be said otherwise. I’m a painter. None of those forms are the dream. They were attempts to bring my gift to the party.

This is my gift: I help people see clearly and step into their field of possibility. I help people see what they cannot see. And, like most people, I do for others what I most need to learn.

Here’s my latest theory on the dream/illusion border: Joseph Campbell once said that no one lives the life that he or she intended. We step into life with an idea of what we want to do or become and then something else happens. If you hang onto the dream, what happens is that the dream reveals itself in a surprising form. If you let go of the dream, you have nothing left to chase but illusions of fulfillment.

This dream/illusion question is no small affair…

Step Into The Dot

Kerri and I have a shorthand phrase for moving forward in life, carrying the lessons while leaving the yuck-story behind. We way, “Step into the dot.” Identity is a funny thing. People tote all of their past experiences with them, which means they tote their interpretations and patterns, too. “I can” or “I can’t” are statements of carrying past experiences forward into the future.

I used to guide an exercise called The Dream Police. The idea is that in five minutes your memory will be erased. On a piece of paper, capture the important stuff that you need to know about yourself. People most often write about their children or moments of epiphany. Some write names and phone numbers of loved ones with the idea that they will be able to make a call and re-learn who they are. We orient according to the past. In all the years I’ve led the exercise, only one person has written her dream life. She wrote about her triumphs and successes. She made it all up. In debriefing she said, “If my memory is going to be erased I get the chance to be anything I want to be. Why not tell myself that I am living a full and vibrant life. Why not be who I want to be instead of who I am.”

Too often we define our lives according to the yuck. We carry forward the reason “why I can’t” instead of standing in the field of possibility that is present in each moment. We can’t see the field of possibility through the lens of the past.

In his book, Aleph, Paulo Coehlo writes about a choice every person has the capacity to make: we can choose to orient our lives according to the past, according to what has been. Or, we can choose to orient our lives according to our soul. The past has little relevance when we orient according to our soul. The soul knows no past. It is like a puppy that is ready to play. The soul is in the present moment playing with possibility. Another word for “playing with possibility” is “creating.”

The opportunity is to orient to the present, not what has been. There is great power available when the past does not dictate the future. Rather, the present is ever-present, always new, always unknown, always learning itself. In the present moment, nothing is “known.” And, what specifically is unknown is…you. To orient to your soul is to step into the dot.

[to be continued]

For a humorous look at the wonderful world of innovation and new ventures, check out my new comic strip Fl!p and the gang at Fl!p Comics.

Meditate

A few weeks ago Jen asked me questions about meditation. She asked about how to meditate. I was surprised by my response because I was certain that I had no idea. I told her that it was all about connecting to the present. It begins and ends with the breath as the conduit to the present.

Jen’s question reminded me of a Transformational Presence Coaching class that Alan and I led a few years ago. Alan began the class with a meditation and afterward someone in the class commented that the meditation “took them away.” They said that they had a difficult time coming back into the moment because they went so far away. Alan’s reflection was beautiful and profound for me as he reminded the class that the point of a meditation is to bring you in to present, not take you away from it. The point is to become more present and not to escape from the present moment.

I’ve since come to believe that everything is a meditation. How I do the dishes is a meditation. How I treat the barista is a meditation. How I think about myself in the world is a meditation. What I believe is possible and not possible is a meditation. How I create my relationships is a meditation.

Recently on a frosty morning I was walking the dog and marveling at the sunrise. For some reason I became conscious of my internal monologue narrating the moment. My next thought was, “Everything is energy and that is particularly true of my thoughts. My thoughts are how energy moves into form.” Thought is how energy moves into form. The thought was overwhelming because I knew it was true. It is an old saw but no less applicable: what I think is what I create.

This summer I made it a point of walking across the city of Seattle every morning and again at night. It took me about an hour each way. I made it a game to notice acts of kindness. You’d be amazed at how many generosities you see if you only pay attention. The amount of kindness far outstrips the impatience and aggression that we assume permeate our daily lives. The kindness is there but we simply choose to not see it. We believe the world is violent and so it is. Seeing is a form of meditation. Where you place your focus is a form of meditation. How you interpret your experiences is a form of meditation. Living in choice is a meditation.

If Jen were to ask her question of me today I would tell that meditation is not a separate thing that you do; it is what you do. The trick is to recognize that you are doing it.

For a humorous look at the wonderful world of innovation and new ventures, check out my new comic strip Fl!p and the gang at Fl!p Comics.

Breathe At The Edge

Alan and I talked today of edges. We agreed that this was the year of finding and moving beyond our personal edges. Moving beyond personal edges was a theme that emerged in the summit we facilitated last spring in Holland. At the time it was a concept to explore and little did we know that it was foreshadowing what was to come. We laughed at our edge stories.

I have never been so alive. That is the way with edges. That is the gift of being tossed out of your complacency. The disorientation and discomfort that comes with an edge snaps you awake. If you resist it, the awake-ness feels a lot like suffering. If you embrace it, look into the field of possibility – which requires relinquishing control – the awake-ness found at the edge is breathtakingly beautiful.

Lora once had a teacher, a Buddhist that told her he’d rather be alive than comfortable. Judy once told me that she keeps herself close to the edge so that she doesn’t sleep through this gorgeous life (my words). As difficult as this year on the edge has been, I have no desire to return to the sleep walk. There is too much to feel, see, taste, touch, smell, lose, find, discover, trip over, mess up and experience simply. There are too many stories to hear and tell. There are too many colors to gasp at as the leaves explode into color and the cold crisp air blows off the lake and makes my fingers sting.

For a humorous look at the wonderful world of innovation and new ventures, check out my new comic strip Fl!p and the gang at Fl!p Comics.

Know Your Cue

[continued from Create Flow]

In my post, Step Onto The Field, I inflected two words against each other. I set the word “protected” in opposition to the word, “inclusive.” I wrote:

Showing up is being present with others. It is inclusive (as opposed to protected).

Skip reflected that, “Protected doesn’t feel opposite to inclusive. Yet it is part of what is opposite. Something is missing here.”

Keeping in mind that the post addressed how entrepreneurs’ pitches are similar to actors’ auditions (though this is not what he meant) Skip is exactly correct. When an entrepreneur or actor enters their arena protected, something very important goes missing and what goes missing is any hope of meaningful connection.

When an actor protects him or herself from the audience, they create separation. Hear it: they create separation. They exclude the audience not only from their performance, but more importantly, they bar the audience from meaningful access to the play. They block the audience from participating. And, since stories are pathways for transformation, by blocking the audience from entry to the play, they prohibit all possible transformation.

Over the past year I’ve watched dozens of entrepreneurs pitch to investors and because they show up in a metaphoric suit of armor, they too create separation. They effectively exclude the investor from their story.

In fairness, an entrepreneur’s task can be more difficult than an actor’s task because often investors also show up in suits of armor; investors demand a higher status position than the entrepreneur (whether it is deserved or not). There is armor all around! No one gets to play in this scenario because both are actively creating separation.

Many years ago with Judy I attended a workshop given by O. Fred. Donaldson. His life’s work has been about play (the noncompetitive variety). More specifically, he’s studied how people and animals “cue” each other for play. The cues are universal. His workshop was fascinating because he demonstrated how play is evoked through non-resistance. Resistance reinforces separation. Non-resistance is and invitation. It is like Aikido: with nothing to push against, resistance has no power. It falls away and in the absence of resistance connectivity is possible. Play is possible.

I know this is a gross oversimplification but people are pack animals; belonging is what we desire. In other words, we tend toward each other. We seek to fit. We desire to play. The only way to remove the armor of another person is to remove the armor from our selves. Armor begets armor. Vulnerability begets vulnerability. Armor is a cue to close. Showing up open and available is a cue to open.

For a humorous look at the wonderful world of innovation and new ventures, check out my new comic strip Fl!p and the gang at Fl!p Comics.

Create Flow

[Continued from Begin With Yourself]

Continuing with Skip’s reflections from last week’s post about bringing your unedited best to the world, Step Onto The Field, his next question came from this section of my post:

Showing up is not passive and has nothing to do with information delivery. Showing up means to share the quest, to bring others along on the pursuit of a dream. Showing up is being present with others.

Skip reminded me that over the past year we’ve talked much about “presence” and reflected that my statement was similar to ideas found in Paulo Coehlo’s, The Pilgrimage, and other stories from the Camino. In other words, “Showing up is being present,” is the same as inviting others on the journey with you. In reference to entrepreneurs he wrote, “…this is not about presenting (one way), but more about inviting….” What a fantastic reflection!

He is exploring presence as a matter of the direction or flow of energy. Presence is circular and ripples out. It is inclusive. In other words, “to be present” is two-way communication. It is relationship. When one is present, one joins. One connects. Separations disappear. I used to do an exercise in workshops with young actors to show them that the honest pursuit of an intention was the very thing that facilitated an audience’s capacity to join the story journey. The exercise is basically a game and the more honest the game is played the more magnetic the action is to the “observers” of the game. In fact, the “observers” are like sports fans, cheering and contorting and embodying the action on the field. In contrast, pretending to pursue the action of the game blocked the audience/observers from entering the story. Pretending dams the flow. It is an equation: honest pursuit = energy exchange. Honest pursuit creates flow.

Pretending is one-way communication. It is broadcasting. The energy is directed outward, broadcasting to the audience. There is no expectation of dialogue and no capacity for participation. Broadcasting is protected. Experts are broadcasters in that they present what they know and are not necessarily interested in other points of view.

For actors and entrepreneurs, the idea is to create flow. It is to include, not to broadcast. It is to create an energy exchange and provide entry into the story. It is to open to possibility so that possibility can open for them.

[to be continued]

For a humorous look at the wonderful world of innovation and new ventures, check out my new comic strip Fl!p and the gang at Fl!p Comics.

Begin With Yourself

[continued from Don’t Give It Away]

I was going to move on to Skip’s next question but found myself meditating on yesterday’s question: What does it mean to give your power away? I wrote about HOW people give away their power but didn’t really address the question: What does it mean to give away your power? I thought about the question all night and this morning I went back to the beginning. I revisited the first 5 posts I wrote in this “truly powerful people” series. This the beginning of the very first post written 3 years ago:

Truly powerful people are dedicated to inspiring true power in others.

It goes like this: empowered people empower others.

When I wrote those words I understood – as I still understand – personal power as an aspect of relationship, something created between people. The phrase, “…give away your power” implies that power is something possessed. You have it or you don’t. If it can be given away then it can be acquired. It cannot. Power is like artistry. It is generated from a way of being. Were I to write those words today I would add this:

Empowered people empower others and thereby empower themselves.

It is a circle, a feedback loop.

So, I need to clarify my statement: giving away power is actually not possible because power is not a possession. Power is an energy that can be magnified or weakened. It is possible to drain power from a relationship, to reduce it, to shrink it, to deny it, to fear it, or to diminish it. And since power is magnified or diminished in the space between people, when “giving away power,” all are diminished.

Each of us has a relationship with our self. If you doubt me simply listen to the conversations inside your head. Who are you talking to? Who is talking? Who is listening? For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say that no one….is one. No one is unified. Singular. We are split into different roles (this split is what it means to be driven out of the Garden of Eden – it’s a metaphor of becoming separated from your self), and one of those roles really likes to judge. Listen to the phrases you say to yourself: “I’m good enough/not good enough.” We like ourselves. We dislike ourselves. Who does the liking? Who does the disliking? The point is that you are in a relationship with yourself.

The process of empowering the self is the same process as empowering others. Empowerment begins when we cease attempting to get power from others and create it within ourselves. Sometimes seeking power from others looks like seeking approval, sometimes that looks like seeking attention, often it looks like trying to control. It sounds odd, doesn’t it? Why would you need to seek attention from your self? How often have you said the phrase, “I didn’t listen to myself?” How often have you invested in your self-doubts? When you withhold your voice, you are controlling your self. When you attach to the notion that you should be more like others, you are negating your self. All of these are examples of “giving away your power.” And, to be more accurate, it is impossible to give away your power but it is infinitely possible to give away OUR power. We are all in this together.

[…to be continued]

For a humorous look at the wonderful world of innovation and new ventures, check out my new comic strip Fl!p and the gang at Fl!p Comics.

Don’t Give It Away

[Continued from Paddle Two Rivers]

Following his questions about 1) variability in actor performances/entrepreneur pitches and 2) the fragmenting nature of poor leadership on a team, Skip’s next question referred to this phrase from my post, Step Onto The Field:

Entrepreneurs, like actors, are more likely to meet success when they cease giving away their power and show up as they are.

He asked a question that lives at the center of much of the work I do with artists and clients: What does it mean to give away your power? He wrote, “… it’s like each sentence in this piece [this post] needs a story.”

I laughed because the flipside of this particular question is the reason I started writing in the first place. Three years ago I was working with a corporate team and they asked, “What does it mean to be powerful?” The notion that we explored that day is that power is something that you create with others. No one is powerful by them self. Great teams empower each member. Great leaders empower their community. Individuals become powerful when they offer their gift in service to their world. They empower. Power is created between people.Power is an aspect of relationship. Power is something you bring to a relationship, not something you get from it.

The word power is tricky because we most often associate it with power-over. The idea of having “power over others” is a misnomer because power over others is not really power. It is control. It diminishes. It takes from. These two concepts, 1) power is created with others (and therefore, expansive) and, 2) control diminishes, is what is necessary to explore Skip’s question. How do people give away their power?

If you are telling yourself a story of “I can’t…,” you are controlling/diminishing your potential. You’ve given away your power.

When you think someone else is responsible for your happiness, you’ve given away your power. You are seeking something from another person that you can only find in yourself. You are looking for what you can get. What would life look like if you believed the responsibility for creating your happiness what yours? Happiness follows. It is something you bring.

If you are invested in comparisons with others, you’ve given away your power. In a comparison the other person will always be the standard – and you can’t be them. Power returns when you bring yourself to the game without squeezing yourself into someone else’s identity. Power returns when you are the standard for your self.

If you bite the apple of perfection, you’ve given away your power. Perfection is subjective. Whose standard of perfection are you trying to meet? Most perfectionists will claim that they are the keepers of their own standard but betray themselves when someone criticizes their work. They are invested in the accolades of others. Generally, notions of perfection are really strategies of control. The rule of power-over works the same within an individual as it does within a country or an organization. Wielding the sword of perfection over yourself can only happen if you are already divided.

Another control strategy is to tell your self a false story, like: “I’m not an artist until my paintings sell.” False. Artists make art. The selling of art does not legitimize the artist. Selling is something else entirely. According to this silly scenario, poor Vincent Van Gogh was never an artist in his lifetime. False stories are great tools for justifying the relinquishing of power.

There are many variations on the theme – all apply equally to entrepreneurs, artists, plumbers, CEO’s, and tooth fairies. The general rule is this: you give away your power when you diminish yourself (I can’t), assign responsibility for your feeling to others (I have to, I should do), float through life looking for what life owes you (I’m entitled), or otherwise try and control your potential (how will I look if…). If you’ve eaten from any of the above orchards – and we all have – tell me the story and I will forward it to Skip. He’s correct: each sentence in this blog thread deserves a story.

[to be continued]

For a humorous look at the wonderful world of innovation and new ventures, check out my new comic strip Fl!p and the gang at Fl!p Comics.

Paddle Two Rivers

[continued from yesterday’s post – October 16, 2013 – of no title]

After reading my post about the similarity in actor auditions and entrepreneur pitches, Step Onto The Field, Skip sent me several questions and reflections. One of my favorite questions from his batch concerned this section of the post:

An exciting viable idea in the hands of a pretender is a useless thing – just as brilliant plays are routinely slaughtered in the hands of fakers.

Skip asked me to clarify this statement relative to two rivers of thought we’d previously paddled. The first river was the notion that a brilliant play is different in every production despite the sameness of the script. How can a single script be interpreted in such vastly different ways? Is it the actor-as-pretender that makes the play useless? Or, is it the second river of leadership, the direction that can dull the brilliant? Skip reminded me of a phrase I like to use: save-your-ass-theatre. It’s a phenomenon that happens when the leadership is weak so all the actors (members of a team) resort to saving their own ass instead of bringing their best game for the team.

Plays are a literary form performed in an arena called a “stage.” A play is like the playbook of a football team. It maps the ideal action but must be executed by the players in an ever-changing context. Actors that pretend to execute the action will kill a play just as fast an NFL player that pretends to play. The pretending eliminates the need to watch. The absence of anything real is as boring and lethal as what is now happening in the public schools. Separating content and method (the equivalent of pretending to learn instead of engaging the unknown) is mind numbing.

Entrepreneurs are great a numbing investors minds because they have confused reading the playbook with executing the play.

The written play is poetry, often a piece of art by itself. It transforms when activated and the variables of activation are endless. Different actors, different cultures, different audiences, different budgets, different stages, different eras, different points of view,…; no play is ever performed the exact same way night to night because the audience is different night to night. Plays are different decade to decade and society to society. It is like the Buddhist concept that you can never step into the same river twice.

Entrepreneurs often confuse their big idea with the presentation of their big idea. The two are as different as a play as literary poetry and as a produced piece of theatre.

As I wrote above, save-your-ass-theatre happens when leadership is weak. The hallmark of weak leadership is the investment in being expert. Great leaders don’t orient according to what they “know.” They orient toward what they don’t know. They can never be expert because they are not trumpeting their past experiences but are engaging with the mysteries of the moment. Great directors of plays, like great leaders in organizations, facilitate the gifts of their team toward a common intention. Great leaders serve the story, the intention, the ideal, the creation, the business – something bigger than themselves. That’s why experts make lousy leaders: experts by definition serve only themselves. Experts, by definition, need others to be beneath them.

Skip and I have watched accelerator cohorts sadly devolve into isolated islands lost in pitch mania. The partners in the accelerators (experts all) look high and low for an explanation for the lack of clarity but rarely have the capacity to look at their leadership. Cohort members know, like actors know, that there will be an opening night, a moment when they will step in front of an audience and need to be seen. If they have had strong guidance, they will show up as members of a powerful team in service to a big idea, ready to step into the great unknown (also known as potential). If they have had experts all along, they will have become pretenders just like their leaders, invested in looking good and eager to tell you what they already know.

[..to be continued]

For a humorous look at the wonderful world of innovation and new ventures, check out my new comic strip Fl!p and the gang at Fl!p Comics.