Trespass And Forgive

from my Yoga series of paintings.

from my Yoga series of paintings.

I’m back in the choir loft staring at the stained glass window. We’re having a conversation about the word ‘trespass;” it has lately been central to my meditation.

When I was a kid my cousin, Randal, and I used to trespass a lot. There was an old abandoned house built on a hillside. It had a big fence around it to keep us out. It also had the best tree swing in the world so it was worth the breach. Using the back porch as a launch pad, we could swing out over the hillside and let go, falling into a pile of mattresses and foam rubber stacked by all the trespassers. Many times we ran or hid when the police came to shoo us away, always returning when the coast was clear for another swing. It was thrilling.

I’ve trespassed a lot this past year, not into abandoned properties but into places within myself that I had erected fences, places I was not supposed to go. That is the necessity of growth. Transformation always requires a trespass. In stories it is the equivalent of leaving home and going where you are never supposed to go, the place where the monsters live, the place where the entire society (your psyche) tells you never to go. And, so, it becomes the one place that you must go to grow. It is usually ugly and messy and filled with betrayal – and that is the point: all the order dissolves into chaos so that a new order might emerge.

And, in the trespassing within, we trespass against others, especially against people we cherish. They are part of the old order. When the internal order dissolves, the outer order dissolves, too. That is also ugly and messy and filled with betrayal. There is loss of friendship. Love is tested.

My stained glass window tells me that forgiveness – of self and other – is a necessary step on the path to the new order. Trespass is a wrecking ball. Trespass is thrilling. The cops in the head (to borrow a phrase from Augusto Boal) will drive by to run you off or make you hide. The cops in the head will tell you that you are not safe or that you are doing damage that cannot be repaired. Fear wears a badge of authority. Fear wags a finger and calls you traitor, liar, or coward.

Trespass makes all things true and nothing true; that is the point of chaos. All location points disappear. My stained glass window tells me that forgiveness is new location point. It is an anchor. It is a sign that the new order, the butterfly, is emerging from the mush of chaos. Just as trespass is an essential movement away from the known, forgiveness is essential to return home. And, in story terms as in life, when you come home, finally and at last, after all of the trials and all of the betrayals, after all the mess and ugliness, you are new, so home is new, too. When you trespass, leave, and return, you find that there are no more fences and no more badges keeping you out. You find that the swing is available anytime. Love is reformed and everything becomes possible.

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.


See The Force

from my children's book, Peri Winkle Rabbit Was Lost

from my children’s book, Peri Winkle Rabbit Was Lost

Bill is a board member for non-profit education organization and is forming a case for changing the curriculum. He’s asked me to help him shape his argument. The students going to the organization’s classes did not fare well in the public schools. As Bill wrote, most of the students are interested in the arts and there are no arts available. He wrote that the curriculum is mostly “traditional.”

Many years ago, my mentor, Tom, told me that the alternative schools were filled with artists, so Bill’s observation is not surprising. Anyone familiar with Howard Gardner’s work will recognize the notion that people learn in different ways. Desks are torture chambers to kids who need to move or manipulate things in order to process information. I was one of those kids and I can tell you that the word “torture” is not an overstatement. Even today, sitting is unproductive time for me. I do my best thinking while I walk or while painting. Staring out a window is also highly productive: after all, the imagination is a fancy dancer.

Bill is making the same wrong assumption made by all people interested in educational reform when they first wade into the swamps of change: he’s focusing on the teaching and the teachers. If only the teachers could see the value of working experientially, engaging the students in a real pursuit instead of an abstraction, all things would be better. On the surface, that might be true. What he’s not considering are the forces in place that require teachers to default to rote exercises, compartmentalization, and standardization. In his case (and all cases), the teachers are not being reinforced (paid) to engage the students on a learning journey; they are being reinforced to raise test scores. The change he seeks is not in the teachers or the teaching. He must address the forces of compliance that teachers, just like their students, must obey. He must address the systemic assumptions that define the expectations.

This is the same conundrum that organizations face when they desire their employees to work in teams but are structured to reward individual achievement. The desire for team is in direct conflict with the systemic foundations.

As Arnie recently reminded me, 1) our system of education was not created by educators, so 2) the aim was never to educate but to standardize. These two aspects, the structure and the intention, are powerful forces to change. They now define our assumptions of what education should be. Systems are living things, and, as I learned in school, will fight to the death just like all other living things.

Bill has his work cut out for him. Changing the focus of the teachers is the easy part and can only happen when the focus of the system supports the deep human desire to learn.

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.

Take The Time

photoLife is so fragile. It hinges on subtleties, kindness and happenstance.

When the bird hit the window it sounded like a gunshot. It was early morning, the sun was just above the horizon and I was outside with Tripper-Dog-Dog-Dog. The sound startled me but Tripper was across the yard to the bird in heartbeat. I screamed, “Stop!” The Dog-Dog stopped even though his mouth was open and the bird was in it. Trip backed away and I took him into the house. He’s a good dog.

The bird, a finch, was stunned. It sat on the porch, its heart racing. Kerri came out of the house and sat with the bird. She started talking to it, placed her hand on the ground in front of it, and the bird stepped onto her fingers. She carried it to the sunny side of the deck and they sat together. The finch closed its eyes. Kerri continued talking to it, whispering that it would be all right and if it wasn’t, not to be afraid. After several moments, the finch opened its eyes, sat up, and shook itself back to life. And then it flew away. Kerri began to cry.

The sun was warm and the air was cold. It was a new day. We sat in the sun and drank coffee. We worked on Back To Center. This evening, Kerri led the Taize service and told the gathering about the finch. She talked about the feeling of connection and the fragility of our lives. Later, I asked her what the experience with the bird was about for her. She told me that, in the scope of all things, we are all just little birds. Gaze into the night sky and consider your place and you’ll know what she means. Then, she added, “You have to take the time to be kind. It’s as much a gift for you as for the receiver. It’s a gift both ways.”

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.

Hide The Horse

from my archives. This one is called 'Angels At The Well.'

from my archives. This one is called ‘Angels At The Well.’

I first learned this story prompt from Rick Stone at The Storywork Institute: I come from a people who (fill in the blank), and from them I learned (fill in the blank).

Rick’s story prompt was with me when I awoke this morning because I’ve lately been thinking about my grandma Sue. Kerri and I just started rehearsals on our Back To Center concert series and for some reason Grandma Sue has been present when we rehearse. She passed away several years ago and I adored her. She was small in body but big in spirit. Over the weekend my mother said of her mother, “She took everything in stride and adapted to whatever came her way.” Grandma Sue did not resist her lot in life, she made the most of it. She had fun. She created fun.

I’ve been rolling over and over in my mind a specific story about her that happened before my time on this planet. The shorthand goes like this: the glue factory was coming for an old horse that lived in the pasture next to her house. She knew the truck was coming so she hid the horse in her kitchen.

I grew up playing in her house. I know her kitchen. What makes the story miraculous to me is that 1) her kitchen was teeny and 2) you had to climb some stairs to get from the back door into her kitchen. This tiny woman managed to get an old horse through her back door, make a right hand turn, and climb some very narrow stairs. And then she “hid” it from the owner and the glue factory search team.

I do not doubt the truth of this story for a moment and if you knew my Grandma Sue you would not doubt it either. She was a champion for the underdog, a lover of the small moment, a believer in the extraordinary in the ordinary. She lived from her heart and not her need to make sense. What do you do if the sweet old horse next door is in imminent danger? Anything you can.

This morning, as I awoke, I was again thinking of my Grandma Sue and Rick Stone’s prompt came to me. I smiled because I come from a people who act on what they believe- against all odds. And from them I learned moxie and perseverance.

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.

Take Note

from The  Yoga series.

from The Yoga series.

Things I love about life and the past 24 hours:

We ended our vigil and buried Kermit (our pond frog didn’t survive the winter. We hoped for hibernation but he was doing something other than sleeping). He didn’t make it so we took great pains to find the right spot to bury him. As we put him in his pond side grave, Kerri said, “We have to sing something.” So, we sang Kermit a farewell song. The neighbor stopped raking and held silence during the song.

I lost my voice on Palm Sunday so joked that, instead of singing, I wanted to do interpretive dance with the palm fronds. Suzi told me not to laugh because she once participated in a Liturgical Dance Team.

The owl.

Kerri misread a quote and instead of reading “life extends” she read “Life Ecstatic!” It’s become our mantra for the week.

Mike the Moose ate a stone. Pastor Tom said Mike would leave the stone behind one way or another.

The sun.

I learned that I could successfully eat skinny pop popcorn while reclining in a hammock.

Judy and I were talking about mistakes. She told me that if you weren’t making mistakes, you weren’t alive. On the same morning, Mary wrote and reminded me of a comment I made on our recent group call. I said: “Being ‘lost’ is an experience of living!” In other words, get lost. Appreciate the unique human experience of not knowing where you are.

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.

Join A Group!

title_page“This book invites conversation,” Mary said. “I’m enjoying that others feel the same way and want to talk about it.”

I was enjoying it, too because it was my book, The Seer, that they were meeting to discuss. It was the first time since publishing The Seer that I’d participated in a conversation about it. There have been other group conversations and I’ve received some very useful emails and insightful notes, but this was the first time that I was able to attend. Since I’ve been approached to coach people using The Seer process, I was delighted with the opportunity to hear their discussion. It was the first of several calls with a people from many countries who are working their way through the 9 Recognitions (the chapters are a progressive series of recognitions).

During the call I thought about my very first art exhibit. I was young, shy and unknown so I was able to follow people through the gallery and listen to what they saw in my paintings. It was a revelation. There were as many different interpretations of my paintings as there were people in the gallery. Each person interpreted the paintings through their unique lens; they did not see what I painted, they made sense of the image through their life-narrative. They recreated the images. I loved it. It was a lesson in the power of art, seeing and was a seed for my fascination in communal narrative: where do our stories become transcendent and singular? Where does identity become cultural?

During the call I listened to what was important about the First Recognition to each caller. They had unique experiences with the concept. The First Recognition sounds simple but is capable of reorienting what you see if you take it seriously. It goes like this: you don’t have a problem, you have a pattern. “Problem-seeing” is a lens and defines a path of available actions. It defines a worldview is rooted in the notion of separation. “Pattern-seeing” is also a lens and defines a path of available action. It, too, defines a worldview but the rooting is in connectivity. The callers discussed their experiences of shifting their seeing from problem to pattern.

Mostly, I appreciated Mary’s comment because she echoed two concepts layered into the book: 1) No one creates alone. Creating, whether it is a painting or a life story, is a team sport. We need each other to make sense of this life. 2) Working with my book is like riding a bike or throwing a pot: you can’t make the shift unless you do it. To read it alone is useful and perhaps illuminating, but the real worth becomes available when you step into the actions, when you get on the metaphoric bike and fall down a few times. And, looping back to the first point, it is easier to fall with others stumbling along with you. Creating is a team sport because life is a team sport. This group inspired me and how lovely for the potency of the First Recognition to come back at me through the eyes of my readers.

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

Go here for hard copies.

Be Chosen

photo-3A few months ago Kerri and I went to look at guitars. The salesman reiterated what she’d already told me: you’ll know it when you see it. It’s personal and not rational. It will choose you. I played several guitars that day and a few more since and have yet to be chosen.

So it was with great wonderment and mirth that yesterday I watched Kerri be chosen. One of the first things I learned about her was that she has a deep river yearning to play the cello. We’ve often talked about it as something that may happen in the distant future, almost as if it was a fantasy or out of reach. In our travels we’ve seen a few cellos for sale that have served to pluck her yearning but nothing more.

Yesterday we went into the local music store to pick up a loaner trumpet for an Easter service. To the left of the register was a cello. It was as if the store and everyone in it disappeared. Dale was unpacking the trumpet to show her when she caught sight of the cello. It was like the sun and she was pulled into its orbit. Dale was in mid sentence when she walked away, touched the cello as if it was her long lost child, and caught her breath. Dale said, “Kerri? Kerri? Do you want to see this?” She was gone, beyond the land of Easter trumpets and caring for the day-to-day. We watched her pluck the strings, listen to tones, and whisper things like, “Ohhhh” and “Ahhhh.”

Dale raised his eyebrows and looked at me. I said, “Wow.”

He closed the trumpet case saying, “This can wait.” We both knew what was happening.

When she returned to earth and the land of Easter trumpets, Kerri peppered Dale with questions about the make of the cello, how it compared to other cellos, what he thought about this particular cello, and if he thought she was crazy to want to play the cello. He kept a remarkably straight face and answered all of her questions. She left the store to think about it but called and asked them not to sell it for 24 hours.

Many years ago I met Arnie for dinner. He’d just been asked to apply for a superintendent’s position and I spent the dinner listening to him tell me all the reasons why he shouldn’t throw his hat into the ring. “It’s a thankless job!” he insisted. “Why would I put myself into such a miserable position!” he thumped the table indignant with himself for even considering the option. We both knew he would do it. We both knew it was his destiny. We both knew he would be offered the job. When he’d exhausted his resistance we laughed and acknowledged what we both knew. He got the job and transformed the district. In transforming the district, he transformed himself.

When Kerri left the music store I felt as if I was having dinner with Arnie all over again. She told me all of the reasons why she shouldn’t get it. She listed the thousand and one reasons why it made no sense. She told me all of the things that she could do with the time and money that it would take to own and learn the cello. And when she’d exhausted her resistance, we laughed and acknowledged what we both knew. She had been chosen. This was her cello and it would give her life and light her creative fire.

Later, after bringing the cello home, we talked about how the important moments in life rarely make sense. Sense making is the province of the known; sense making is backward looking. The transformational moments are transformative precisely because they make no sense, precisely because they require a step away from what is known. From the point of view of sense, transformation seems ludicrous.

This is why art never makes sense. To be vital it is not supposed to make sense. Art is meant to pull you into the unknown where a cello can call your name.

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.

Run With It

The criminal with the evidence. Tripper with Kleenex.

The criminal with the evidence. Tripper with plundered Kleenex.

Tennessee Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog is a fantastic pick pocket. I’m certain he is kin with the Artful Dodger and the other sticky-finger street boys who lift wallets and jewelry without detection. Dog-Dog’s preferred target is Kleenex. With his snout he can reach into the deepest pocket and disappear into a crowd, Kleenex in mouth, and his poor victim is none the wiser. Lately I have had a nasty cold so my pockets are prime targets for his crimes. More than once I’ve reached into my pocket, alarmed by the rising tide of an inevitable sneeze, and found that my pocket has been picked. “Dog-Dog!!” I scream (and then sneeze). He always appears with tiny bits of evidence in his whiskers.

I first noticed his pilfering when he was still more puppy than dog. He was adept at undetected napkin snatching. I knew it was a crime scene when dinner guests started looking on the floor for missing napkins and came up empty. Although publically I’d hang my head and make Tripper confess his misdeed and return his plunder, secretly I was impressed by his stealth and wondered if he would grow up to become a Ninja.

Tripper Dog-Dog does not suffer guilt. He does not question his choices. He rarely debates whether he should or should not do something. He does not mask his confusion or blunt his awe. He races across the yard in full celebration of his speed and how good it feels to run. He does not run to win, he runs to run. Were I still working with actors I’d have them study the pure intentionality of their pets. I’d have them study what undiluted commitment to action really looks like.

One of my favorite themes running through the books of Paulo Coehlo is to find your enthusiasm and follow it; there lives your treasure. Joseph Campbell famously said, “Follow your bliss.” One of the post-it notes on our Be A Ray plan wall reads: Dream big dreams. The sub note adds: Run At It. The other day we heard a man say, “At least when I die, I’ll know I took my shot and gave it my all.” I sat up and wrote his thought as two questions: What is your shot? What would it look like to give it your all?

And then, finding my pocket empty of Kleenex, I added a third question: If “it” was a Kleenex and I was Tripper, what would I do? I’d take “it” with great enthusiasm, no apology, and without doubt or question. And then I’d run with “it” just because I liked the way it feels.

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.

Speak Out Of Turn

From my book, Lucy & The Waterfox. The waterfox is shunned for deviating from the norm.

From my book, Lucy & The Waterfox. The waterfox is shunned for deviating from the norm.

I’m not supposed to be writing about the system of education in America. It is a topic that I made off limits for myself because I was ranting too much. I finally allowed myself to admit what I’ve known for years but refused to accept. Our system of education is not broken and never has been; it was designed to create maximum docility and is succeeding magnificently. I decided to open the off-limits file because I just posted a question concerning education inspired by my friend and retired superintendent, Arnie Glassberg, and then this morning the same news story featuring the resignation letter of a teacher came across my screen three times. It is tragic to read and resonated with me: after a career playing in the fields of innovation and change in education, I now have a hard time driving by a public school without shuddering.

For grins I googled “origins of education in America (it was the subject of Arnie’s comment to me),” and came up with more than a few options but was struck by how many of the links topping the list concerned the reprehensible origins and intentions behind this thing we continue to call school. Several were articles, speeches, and youtube clips of John Taylor Gatto, a former New York state Teacher of the Year and most well known for his book, Dumbing Us Down. Here’s a bit from a speech he gave several years ago to a home schooling conference in Vermont:

The secret of American schooling is that it doesn’t teach the way children learn — nor is it supposed to. Schools were conceived to serve the economy and the social order rather than kids and families — that is why it is compulsory. As a consequence, the school cannot help anybody grow up, because its prime directive is to retard maturity. It does that by teaching that everything is difficult, that other people run our lives, that our neighbors are untrustworthy even dangerous. School is the first impression children get of society. Because first impressions are often the decisive ones, school imprints kids with fear, suspicion of one another, and certain addictions for life. It ambushes natural intuition, faith, and love of adventure, wiping these out in favor of a gospel of rational procedure and rational management.

Compare this quote (or read the text of his speech) with the teacher’s resignation letter making the news today. I’ve read a similar letter each spring for the past several years; a teacher – probably a great teacher – can no longer participate in the creation of docility in children and in themselves. They admit what they’ve known for years: the intention of they system they serve is the opposite of what it purports: they can no longer wipe out their natural intuition with the gospel of rational procedure (standardized tests).

John Taylor Gatto’s quote reminded me of the first few pages of one of my favorite books, Teaching As A Subversive Activity, by Neil Postman. It was published in 1969. Here’s a snippet from page 2:

In our society, as in others, we find that there are influential men at the head of important institutions who cannot afford to be found wrong, who find change inconvenient, perhaps intolerable, and who have financial or political interests they must conserve at any cost. Such men are, therefore, threatened in many respects by the theory of the democratic process and the concept of an ever-renewing society…Such men as these would prefer that the schools do little or nothing to encourage youth to question, doubt, or challenge and part of the society in which they live, especially those parts that are most vulnerable.

Retarding maturity has long term consequences: a population that is 1) incapable of the necessary self-awareness that comes with maturity cannot recognize how far it has drifted from it’s center and, 2) even if it did see the tower tipping, it is incapable of meaningful action as the conjoined twins of passivity (born of fear of speaking up) and divisiveness (do you really think the red state/blue state nonsense has no origin or implication?) have been so thoroughly thrummed into the national anthem.

To loop back a few posts to Master Marsh’s quote that keeps on giving: I’ve come to believe this is less about can and can’t than about the challenge of doing. And not doing is always easier.

Complaining is no substitute for doing. Neither is ranting, which is why education is off limits for me. I do not know what to do and have no belief that a butterfly will come from a system directed by a few small minds so hell-bent on remaining a caterpillar.

The only thing I can think to do is echo a sentiment offered by John Taylor Gatto in this short clip: the system is great at hammering the individual deviant but is incapable of handling a mass of deviants. To the teacher who resigned in frustration and all those who have, will, want to, or do not yet know they can, join hands. Become a mass and deviate. Do the thing that you’ve been so trained not to do: speak out of turn. Stop raising your hand and join hands. The kids can’t resign and they need you to, as Neil Postman writes, become a “shockproof crap detector.”

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.

Ask Why?

Courageous teachers

Courageous teachers

This is the week of comments sparking questions. From yesterday’s post, SAY, “I CAN,” my dear friend Arnie, and life-long educator, offered the following thought:

Remember dear friend, that public schools in the US were built not by educators but by the business/industrial community. They were structured as they are for two purposes: one was to train children to work in factories (this model came about during the Industrial Revolution). The other was to keep children out of the workforce until they were 16 so they wouldn’t take jobs from the adults (thus compulsory education). It makes lots of sense that the model has lasted so long. It feeds into the natural human need to control. Teachers generally come into the system out of the safety and security of their homes and then college. They are steeped in the “control” model and it certainly makes them feel more secure – so the system keeps on chugging.

It is only in those places where there are a few (both in the management and teaching ranks) people who believe in the substance of your “Say ‘I Can.’” posting that a different model can emerge – one that is student-driven (as opposed to the phony student-centered model).

Arnie is now retired. He was a visionary superintendent, one of the few I’ve met in my walk through education who challenged the chugging system and attempted to midwife a new model. Early in my career Arnie and I were crushed together under the wheels of the chugging system. We both emerged from the tire tracks with greater wisdom. He dusted himself off and gave it another go, and another, and another.

His comment created a feedback loop through yesterday’s post and gave rise to a question that has been with me my entire career. Here’s the loop: throughout my entire pass through the world of education I’ve heard, read, and experienced a variation of this thought: if we practiced medicine like we practice education we’d still be using leeches. In other words, we no longer use children to man our factories yet we still use and support the system created for that purpose. Beginning with the great Neil Postman’s book, Teaching As A Subversive Activity, written in the 1960’s, there has been a mountain of data, investigation, brain science, intuition and common sense…we know how to create great education. Here’s the question: Given what we know, why do we not do it?

I’ve worked with countless educators, primarily around systems change. Mostly, I’ve led them into slaughter – the same slaughter that Arnie and I experienced when we tried to create a system of learning that might replace the system of factory fodder. The slaughter is worth it because we emerge wiser, more experienced, sometimes disheartened, but mostly filled with the question that I just asked: why do we not do what we know to do? Why do we continue to support what we know to be destructive for our children?

In this light, Jim’s quote from yesterday is profound, “ I’ve come to believe this is less about can and can’t than about the challenge of doing. And not doing is always easier.”

The first recognition from my book, The Seer, is this: you don’t have a problem, you have a pattern. This example from the lost world of education is perfect. Problems confuse us with the notion that we can solve for it. We can’t. Patterns, on the other hand, can be broken. We have a pattern of seeing our children as fodder for factories in the age of the internet. This is not about whether we can or can’t do anything about our education system, it is about whether we will do it or not do it. And, as Jim wrote, “not doing is always easier.”

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

Or, go here for hard copies.