an illustration from a book I never published: A Dragon's Tale

an illustration from a book I never published: A Dragon’s Tale

I’m breaking my book down into component actions almost as if I was dissecting a play script. It’s an interesting exercise because I’m experiencing a measure of creator’s blowback: I’m having the distinct impression that someone else wrote this book knowing that I’d read it someday. The author formerly known as “me” knew that I’d need to know what it contains. It is often true that we teach what we most need to know.

I started my component part breakdown because I’ll soon be throwing people into an exploration of the book’s 9 Recognitions. I wanted to chart the actions of the story and the learning embedded within the narrative. I say, “throw people into an exploration,” because I eschew the word “teaching.” My life has taught me that good teaching is about creating a container for exploration. Good teaching involves no teaching. Good teaching is watching and waiting for the right moment to ask a single simple question: what did you discover? The response will always be personal and relevant to the learner. No amount of control or planning can match the power of relevant personal discovery.

A side note: good teaching and a good life share a common center: the capacity to stand solidly in the constancy of discovery.

The primary thought-river that carries the raft of my book is “to have the experience first and make meaning second.” Making meaning second is what we do even when we think we know where we are going. Life is mundane only when “mundane” is the meaning we assign to it. Life goes bland and gray when we make meaning prior to having experiences.

The word “presence” is shorthand for having experiences before assigning meaning to the experience. If you strive to be more present simply cease thinking that you know what’s coming. You don’t.

And so, this is what my component part breakdown/book blowback looks like:

“Throw them into an exploration.” This is a remarkably different action than, “teach them.” (Another Recognition from my book: the language we use to assign meaning matters more than we know).

“Ask a single simple question” This is also a remarkably different action than, “teach them.” Live in the question and not the need for an answer.

When I was an aspiring actor deep in my acting school studies I learned that the verbs that I choose matter. The actions that I assign to my pursuit can ignite me up or block my path. The same is true on my discovery path: when I am making meaning, use really good verbs. There’s no need to minimize the sizzle of this extraordinary life.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Or, go here for hard copies (Amazon)

Dream It!

a blast from the past. A self portrait of yearning from long ago.

a blast from the past. A self portrait of yearning from long ago.

[continued from Step Into The Dot]

Standing with both feet in your life means you get rid of Plan B – or at least to put Plan A and Plan B in the right sequence. It has been a source of wonder for me why people (including myself at times) pour their energy into the back-up plan before they jump head first into their dream. Dreams rarely seem practical. Plan B always seems practical. In fact, that is the role of Plan B: lower the bar so it is easily cleared.

I’ve mentioned before how often in coaching relationships I hear the story of people diligently building their art studio but never entering it. Or, if they allow themselves to enter the creative space, they sit, frozen, unable to pick up the brush or the camera. It is dangerous to entertain the freedom that comes with dreaming. It’s as if we allow ourselves to pull back the covers, peek at the dream, to get close enough to feel the heat of it, but not close enough to ignite it into possibility. It is a special kind of pain to delay a dream. It satisfies the desire to want it but not pursue it. It affords the soothing notion of, “ I tried,” or the devastating notion of, “It wasn’t realistic.”

Kerri and I are bringing our work together in a new form: Be A Ray!

Kerri and I are bringing our work together in a new form: Be A Ray!

This is why Kerri and I are combining our performance, teaching and storytelling gifts in a palate of offers we’re calling Be A Ray! Dreams deferred cause energetic eddies; they make people swirl, putting time and energy into actions that feel good (like building a studio) but do not move the intention forward. To stop the spin is to see the pattern of deferment. It is to see the story beneath a lifetime of actions that lead everywhere but in the direction of the dream. In our vernacular, to “Ray Up!” is to stop the spin, to look squarely at the dream, and to seize the second chances. It is to claim the dream and pursue it.

Dreams need not be realized. They only need to be pursued. In fact, a proper dream pursuit is never realized just as an artist is never finished. Like every good art process, the dream changes with the pursuit. It grows and morphs until the pursuer and the dream unite. There is never an outcome, only a joining, a blending of dream and dreamer. And, this blending is the reason most people go with Plan B. Dreams can’t be controlled and neither can dreamers once unleashed. In other words, the first step in Raying Up! is to relinquish control. Pick up the brush and throw paint; let go of outcome and live in vital process. Let go of what anyone else thinks of your dream and dream it.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Go here for hard copies.

Step Into The Dot

Kerri and I are bringing our work together in a new form: Be A Ray! More on this tomorrow

Kerri and I are bringing our work together in a new form: Be A Ray! More on this tomorrow

Raquel and I had an extraordinary conversation yesterday. We always have extraordinary conversations that serve to shake loose the penny in my mind that needs to drop. Yesterday’s penny was about the question of a universe by design versus a universe of utter chaos.

So much of this past year seems by design. There have been too many serendipities, too many perfect circumstances, too many uncanny seeming coincidences. Last year I told her I was in a fast moving river racing toward my destiny. I could feel it. I can feel it. Raquel asked if perhaps that has always been true and that I was simply seeing it now.

My response to her question surprised me. I told her that all of my life I’ve had one foot in each universe. When the tides seemed against me or things were uncomfortable, then I was convinced that I was a bobber in a chaotic ocean. When I had one of the mystic/profound experiences that have become the hallmark of my life, when the tides seemed to go my way, I found it convenient to believe in a universe of a perfect design. I told Raquel that this year I’ve finally understood that I can’t have it both ways. I am either a bobber in a vast ocean or I’m here by design. Or, more to the point, I understand that the chaos I experience is my response to the design. Both feet are in one idea. The universe-by-design (a universe of participation and co-creation) must be true in the uncomfortable moments as well as the profound. It has to be true in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. There is only one tide. It is a game to pretend otherwise.

In the past few years, the theme of my growth has been to finally see where I have been living with one foot in and one foot out – and to at last put both feet in. If you are driving to work waiting for retirement, you are one foot in. If you have a backdoor plan in your relationship, you are one foot in. If you are seeking proof of your faith, you are one foot in. You’d be amazed at what becomes visible, what you see, when you cease dividing your intention, splitting your presence, and stand with both feet in. Kerri and I call this, “stepping into the dot.”

[to be continued]

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Or, go here for hard copies

Shift The Frame

another of my illustrations for Lucy & The Waterfox

another of my illustrations for Lucy & The Waterfox

I’ve been sitting in my fair share of waiting rooms, coffee houses, and gathering spaces lately and so I’ve been eavesdropping on conversations. Who knew there were so many problems in the world! Based on my public space sample you’d think that things were dire. The news of the day concurs with the casual coffee shop discourse. Problems abound. Wars rage, resources dwindle, political leaders squabble, corporations pillage, siblings rival, and people cut each other off in traffic! As my friend Albert used to say, “Good heavens! Just drop the bomb, already!” With so much devoted suffering, so much impending doom, ill intent and disaster anticipation, it’s a wonder we can sleep or step out of our houses in the morning.

Why is this the story we tell? We talk about life as if it was happening to us, as if we play no role in making things happen. I used to make it my practice to count the acts of kindness I saw each day and compare them with my count of acts of cruelty. There was never a day when the cruelty outpaced the kindness. For every example of road rage there were 20 instances of road generosity. In fact, in my count, the acts of kindness so far outstripped the cruelty that it became ridiculous to keep the count. We are far more kind than cruel, far more capable than inept, far more connected than detached, yet our narrative reverses the order. We tell a story of separation, of dog-eat-dog, of the inability to cooperate.

Many years ago the good folks at Disney conducted a study and found that when people had a bad experience at Disneyland they’d tell on average 18 other people. If they had a positive experience at the park they’d tell 3 people. That’s a significant imbalance. We seem reticent to share our joys and adept at sharing our fears.

It’s as if we are addicted to conflict and, well, we are. We delight in defining ourselves by our problems. It’s a pattern. More, it’s a story imperative. We are, after all, storytelling beings. We never cease storying ourselves through our inner monologues and outer dialogues. We justify. We defend. We interpret. In general, stories – lived and scripted – are driven by conflict; conflict moves the story forward. Stories are made meaningful by overcoming the forces of opposition. Our lives are made meaningful by the metaphoric mountains we climb. We mistakenly define a good life as the absence of conflict. Conflict is necessary; it is our relationship to conflict that keeps us hooked on the drama like so much sugar.

There is a significant threshold, a passage into health and power that happens in a life when the narrative changes from, “things happen to me,” to a story of, “I make things happen.” Conflict is present in both story frames. In the frame of, “things happen to me,” conflict is an oppositional wind. In the frame of, “I make things happen,” conflict is fuel, we no longer are at the mercy of the forces but in alignment with them. The metaphoric wind is at our back moving us forward.

When we make this story frame shift, we no longer need the drama; we no longer seek to fix things. We see a different set of options. Literally, we see a different set of possibilities. We create and live from a different pattern. We see choices instead of victimization. We see active participation, conflict as challenge, engagement, and opportunity.

The, “I make things happen story,” necessitates responsibility: wars can’t just happen, resources can’t just dwindle, political leaders just can’t squabble, corporations can’t just pillage. We would tell a story of “we,” and take the step into maturity that the story of, “things happen to me,” obscures.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You

Or, go here for hard copies (Amazon)

Welcome Her

from my children's book, Lucy & The Waterfox

from my children’s book, Lucy & The Waterfox

The spring brought with it the birth of Annie Evelyn Domig. Her proud papa, poet, philosopher, and world-class actor, Chris Domig and zen warrior wife, Janelle, made me cry with the announcement of their daughter’s birth (both for the beauty of their words but also the sheer celebration of walking this life with people I love). Here’s a snippet:

Now I see that peace between nations will
only come to us as child, (then as now)
the weight of time witnessing her first cry,
(unsure where to turn, but willing to learn)
intuiting her way towards a mother’s heart,
followed by sleep reconciliatory and kind.

The sound of her name, forty long weeks,
tuned words to song, tossing variations
on a theme to each other, playing by ear,
(not forgetting the Austrian Aussprache).

The book says Annie means Prayer,
and Evelyn is one who brings Life
together she mends our broken circle.

Each day of life, a new hope. Each day lived as a prayer. Every child should enter this long walk with such a blessing (I suspect that they do but it is rarely voiced so beautifully).

Judy (she-whom-I-revere) gave me an image. It was meant for me but I see and feel it all around me. She wrote that I was like a bulb buried in the earth, gathering energy, ready to break from my confines and stretch my new growth, cracking through the earth’s crust and reaching toward the sun. Isn’t that a great image of birth (or rebirth)!

Yesterday, as I lived my greatest experience of vulnerability to date, I thought about Annie and the circle breaking and mending, breaking and mending; this life is both sturdy and fragile. Every rich life has an equal share of both breaking and mending. We are not meant to be static. Life is dynamic and vital and vitality requires breaking through to reach for the sun. How lovely that this year the return, the mending, the new green shoots pressing against the thawing earth, is signaled on the day of equinox (equal night) by the welcome arrival of dear Annie.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Go here for hard copies

Get To Maybe

from the Yoga series by David Robinson

from the Yoga series by David Robinson

A few days ago a I had one of those rare mornings when the revelation door opened and a whole beautiful box of thought toys spilled out and hit me on the head. My favorite came when the “3 kinds of problems” model from a terrific book, GettingTo Maybe, crossed wires with one of my favorite concepts to teach: control your controllables and let the rest go. It goes like this:

The authors of Getting To Maybe define three kinds of problems to illustrate that, at the core of most organizational (and relationship) dysfunction, is a confusion of problem type. In brief, the three kinds of problems are:

1)    A simple problem (baking a cake. If you have a recipe and ingredients, you can get to cake almost every time).

2)    A complicated problem (a moon shot. It require much more expertise, higher math, technology, and tons of money but with the all of the above, landing a human being on the moon is solvable).

3)    A  complex problem (raising a child. No amount of math or “how to” books will help because there isn’t a prescription. The only useful action is to engage. Another word for complex problem is “relationship”).

People and the institutions that they (we) create don’t like the mess of complexity so they (we) pretend that their (our) complex problems are merely complicated. We are great creators of rules and laws and pretend that our rules and laws are unassailable and apply equally to all people in all situations (which is to ignore our complexity and pretend that people are merely complicated).

So far, so good.

When “the control your controllables” wire crossed the Getting To Maybe model, I realized that simple and complicated problems are really about variable control. They are about knowing HOW before you start. They deal with the knowable. Success is determined by the control of the process. In the paradigm of simple and complicated problems, each step is a prescription. It is life as craft assembly or paint by numbers. Needing to know HOW is essentially a desire to control the experience. It’s why we deny the complexity of our lives and pretend that we can know…

Complex problems (relationships. life) are another animal altogether. Success is based on quality of engagement; the variables can never be fully known or fully controlled. In a complexity, we have the experience first and make meaning second. We are present with what is right in front of us, not what we want in front of us. Complexity cannot be controlled. In the complexity paradigm, HOW is something that can only be known after the fact. It is life as art or a path of discovery. Awe is found on this path. So is wonder. It is to accept that we are more mystery than map.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Go here for hard copies (Amazon)

Honor The Split

after hurricane Katrina I was invited to write an illustrate a children's book. There is only one copy: the original went to a child displaced by the storm. This is the first plate. The book is called 'Peri Winkle Rabbit Was Lost.'

After hurricane Katrina I was invited to write and illustrate a children’s book. There is only one copy: the original went to a child displaced by the storm. This is the first plate. The book is called ‘Peri Winkle Rabbit Was Lost.’

Another of the revelations that tumbled through my mind yesterday concerned “splits.” I’ve written often about split intentions, a concept that the fabulous Viv McWaters encapsulated for me when she offered the Chinese proverb: Chase two rabbits and both will get away. Much of my organizational, educational and creative coaching life has been in service to clients who come to me when they have split their intention and are watching both their rabbits escape. I helped them unify their intention and, therefore, clarify their pursuit.

The dark side of the moon that I rarely talk about (and that came clear to me yesterday) is the necessity of a split intention at certain points in a process that make growth possible. The best example is the split that happens within a caterpillar’s body once it cocoons. The encoding for “butterfly” activates, the caterpillar’s body reads it as a cancer, and a battle ensues. A split occurs: to remain a caterpillar or to become a butterfly. Old systems do not easily let go so the caterpillar’s body fights and nearly defeats the inner butterfly intention. However, the resistance makes the butterfly code grow stronger and it fights back. This back-and-forth inner debate progresses until finally the caterpillar’s body collapses into mush (in story cycles, this “mush phase” is the step into the unknown). The mush slowly takes on a new shape and a new identity emerges. The final necessary battle is the newly formed butterfly’s struggle to exit the cocoon. Help a butterfly out of the cocoon and you will kill it; the final struggle is necessary for the wings to grow strong.

This necessary split plays out in humans, too. All change (all stories) begin when the main character (you) are knocked off balance by an event or an inner imperative. This is the moment of a necessary split intention: do I stay or do I go. After being knocked off balance we do the same thing that the caterpillar’s body does: we run to safety and grab onto what we know. We fight off the necessity of change, denying the imperative, grasping for the feeling of security we no longer possess. This is a necessary phase! This debate, running to the safety of home and hiding – and then walking to the edge of our known world and staring at the horizon – and running back home again, creates heat. It gets energy moving. This back and forth, this inner split intention is necessary. It makes the imperative grow impossible to ignore. It is the process necessary for the main character (you) to understand that what was once secure is now suffocating. The discomfort of the unknown becomes more attractive than the safety of the known because of this inner split, this tug-of-war. When, like the caterpillars body, everything goes to mush and there is no way to go back, the only way forward is to step into the present moment without form or identity. Letting go of the known, stepping into the unknown, is the beginning of reunifying the split. Stepping into the unknown is a commitment to a single rabbit to chase.

The split creates the heat necessary for change. At the right moment in every life story, just as in the caterpillar’s transformation, a split intention is essential. To rush through this phase is just as devastating as trying to help the butterfly out of the cocoon. Trying to eliminate the discomfort too soon is a sure way to stay split and ultimately kill the transformation.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Or, go here for hard copies (Amazon)

Open To Belief

another from the Yoga series by David Robinson

another from the Yoga series by David Robinson

I’m having one of those days ripe with revelations and have been scrambling to capture the insight ripples before they rush down my thought river, around the bend, and out of mind.

One of the ripples has to do with the “As if….” The “As if…” is a tool for actors, self-growth seekers, and human beings in general. For an actor, to act “As if…” opens the door to belief in a character. For the seeker of self-growth, to act “As if…” opens the door to belief in his or her capacities, as if they were a character in the play of their own lives. The “As if” serves as a bridge into a possible future when belief is hard to come by.

When I was younger, a favorite “As if” mantra imparted to me by adults was, “To dress for the job I wanted, not the job I was applying for.” In other words, dress as if I already had the job I wanted. In my case it was lousy advice because donning pants and shirts spattered with paint was not the ladder climbing attire they wanted me to embrace. For me, the elders needed a different premise beneath their “As if” advice. There was no ladder in my paradigm. Dressing for any job felt like self-betrayal on my way to soul death. Of course, years later, having lost my mind, I actually put on a suit and lace-up shoes to coach my first executive client.  He laughed heartily as I writhed in my new suit. He advised me to show up as I am, not as what I thought he wanted me to be. Great advice! His quote, “You are an unmade bed and need to own it. It’s why I hired you – because you are different.” As if!

I’ve understood for years that people perform themselves. “As if” can be a kick-starter for a belief-filled performance. It is an illusion-seed that, when watered and tended, grows into the identity you wish to inhabit. In other words, perform the person you want to become and not the one you currently believe yourself to be. Invoke “As if…” and sooner or later you may start to believe in your performance. Sooner or later you may become who you imagine yourself to be.  The roles we play are not fixed identities and much more fluid than we pretend! Becoming who you imagine yourself to be is called growth and requires a wee bit of acting.

One of my favorite lessons from the theatre is that character (the role you play, like Hamlet or Juliet) is not something you pretend, it is found in how you do what you do. Characters in plays want something; how they go about getting what they want reveals who they are. So, when building a character, swim upstream.  The character will reveal itself through you (the actor) if you identify and take action: craft how he or she does what they do. Young actors have to transcend the notion that acting is pretending. It is not. Action and pretense are two different things. A musician does not pretend to play music and an actor does not pretend to play a character. An actor pursues intentions. An actor acts (thus, the moniker). Actions are the notes an actor plays. Hamlet is the consummate student. He seeks truth. He tests hypotheses. How he goes about seeking and testing determines what we see as a character.

The same might be said of you and me. A human being pursues intentions. We take actions everyday and so, perform ourselves. How we go about our pursuit reveals what we believe. When we have little belief and big, big fear, we have the option of acting “As if…” It’s a loop. “As if…” leads to belief and belief leads to “As if…” Life off the stage is just like life on the stage: it is a cycle of belief and dis-belief. “As if…” is an ongoing growth process. Imagination knows no outcome.

In a recent workshop, after remembering a favorite childhood game, a man in the workshop said, “My imagination opened me to my belief.” Yes. That’s it exactly!

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Go here for hard copies (Amazon)

Spin A Web

from the Yoga series by David Robinson

from the Yoga series by David Robinson

Quinn’s study smelled of cigarettes and books. There was always a red felt tip pen and a yellow pad for note taking or for his latest composition. Quinn didn’t type and I doubt that he ever touched a computer. He had to feel the pen move across the paper. He was a sports writer though, in truth, he was more a poet philosopher. For Quinn, sports were a path to illumination. He filled his articles with haiku, analogies to chaos theory, Michael Murphy, and George Leonard.

One day while sitting in his study, talking about athletic achievement and success, he said, “You have to cultivate your serendipity.” What a terrific phrase! Serendipity is one of those paradoxical words that imply both coincidence and destiny. So, according to Quinn’s coupling of “cultivate” with “serendipity,” we must either promote coincidences or encourage destiny. Or both.

I responded, “So, in other words, the harder you work, the luckier you get.”

“It’s more than that,” he said. “It’s much more than that. Of course you have to do your work. But you also have to share your work. You have to show up, be visible, ask lots of questions, and seek the masters in your field. You have to show what you don’t know. In fact, you have to operate from what you don’t know. There’s always a better way to make a shot or shoot a basket. To cultivate your serendipity is to never stop learning, never stop improving, never assume that you’ve got it.” He paused and then said, “What you don’t know can be an obstacle or it can be connective tissue.”

Quinn watched me take it in. I knew we were talking about more than athletic achievement. He was trying to help me. At the time, I was an accomplished introvert and was wrestling mightily with sharing my work. I had no problem painting the paintings but telling galleries about my work seemed an utter impossibility. Sharing meant I would have to talk to people. It meant I’d have to say, “This is my work and it is good work.” It meant claiming my gift beyond the thoughts and opinions of others. Quinn was teeming with blarney and always seemed at ease in a crowd though I knew even then that we shared a similar demon. He doubted his gift. He recognized my struggle because it was his struggle.

After a moment he lit a cigarette, blew the smoke and continued, “It’s like spinning a web – and the silk, the connectivity, is spun from seeking what you have yet to learn. The more you share your gift, the more you ask others what they see, the more people know about your gift, the higher the odds that a path to success will open. You have to spin the web.” I nodded my head, taking it in. I remember being daunted by what he was telling me. He leaned back in his chair, his eyes filled with mirth, and said, “Success is really about letting yourself learn; always learn.”

I nodded and stared at the floor. He took a drag on his cigarette and as he blew the smoke he added, “No one does this alone.”

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Go here for hard copies

Feed The Spark

Marcia, DeMarcus, and me many moons ago.

Marcia, DeMarcus, and me many moons ago.

If I’d shared a context-less photo of Lake Michigan yesterday you’d swear I was standing on a beach in the Bahamas. The water was vibrant turquoise. It was intense and stopped me in my tracks more than once. It was a 180° turnabout from earlier this week when the lake was frozen over and looked like a sea of broken glass. Things change so fast. These extraordinary moments pass so quickly.

I talked with Marcia this morning. Today is her 85th birthday and she told me that she’s working on becoming present. “I’m not very good at it,” she said, “though I think my life would be so much better if I didn’t project myself into a made-up future and worry about the well going dry.” We laughed heartily.

Marcia was a great actress in her day. And when she stepped off the stage she became an exquisite costume designer. Her father, DeMarcus, was a pioneer in the theatre and a great painter and I am the lucky to carry forward their tradition of artistry. I know my lineage! It seems like yesterday that Marcia was designing a play that I was directing; she pulled me aside and said, “DeMarcus wants you to have these.” She handed me a painter’s box with his brushes and paint. That was over 25 years ago. If my house was on fire and I could only save one possession I’d take that box. It contains some of her renderings and some of his notebooks. It is sacred to me.

I dedicated my book to Marcia and her husband, Tom. Tom was my mentor and he passed away in August. Marcia said, “I’m reinventing myself now that Tom is gone.” I asked what she was discovering in her reinvention. “The creative spark never goes away!” she chirped. “I need a good project!” She told me that the final years with Tom were like cocooning because all of her energy went to caring for Tom in his dementia and failing health. “It was hellish!” she whispered, “I wasn’t doing any of the things that keep me fed. I’m ready to create again!”

Before hanging up I asked what she was going to do on her birthday. She chortled and said, “I have an excellent day planned for myself. I’m going to put new carpet in the studio and then I’m going to put my hands in the soil and feel the earth! I’ve no time to lose so you can be certain that I’m going to feed the spark.”

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Get hard copies here.