Serve

A painting from my archives. This one  sold in 2007.

A painting from my archives. This one was 4′ x 4′ and sold in 2007.

Jim asked a world-class question: When did customer service become a firewall against serving customers? If you’ve had to call about a mistake on a bill or to try to get some support from your insurance provider you’ll appreciate his question. How many buttons do you have to push to get to a person? How many levels of supervisor do you need to ascend to get to the person who has the authority to serve you?

What does it meant to serve?

Quinn once told me that the world was ruined with the advent of the salad bar. He was far sighted (and funny) and recognized that it might at first be attractive to build a salad your own way but the trade-off, the loss, would be much greater than the free-will-illusion that the salad bar provided. Service would become equated with efficiency; it would become a cost saving strategy. Quinn suggested that the “salad bar concept” would forever redefine the essential relationship of the business; it would reduce the word “customer” to something consumable for the business. In other words, it would no longer matter whether or not a customer was happy because there would always be someone else to sidle up to the salad bar. In a salad bar world, the word “service” would forever be subject to a strange ongoing cost/benefit analysis. The society would shift the emphasis from service to others to service to self. Do you remember, after the introduction of the ATM, having to pay a fee to your bank if you needed to talk to a teller? Serve yourself. Save time. Do you remember when the airlines started charging travelers for bringing luggage? Or recall the introduction of extra fees for extra legroom? It may seem as if we have product choice but Quinn would tell us that we are forever standing at a salad bar.

What does it mean to serve others?

Martin Prechtel writes that transcending self-interest to put your life in service to the greater communal interest is called maturity. In order for the community to thrive, to grow and renew, the members must be oriented toward serving something greater than their own individual need. Without this necessity of service the society descends to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy.

What does it mean to serve something greater than you own self-interest?

I’m preparing to go over seas and do a workshop on “team,” so I’m asking many questions of people who are trying to facilitate teams in organizations. “What’s the greatest challenge you face?” I ask. The response is universal: trying to get employees invested in something other than their own personal gain. In my mind I can hear Quinn laughing; he’d call this  salad-bar-blowback. When customers become consumable, employees also become consumable. The essential relationship in business, the one it has with its customers, is merely a reflection of the relationship it has within itself. Vested action is not something that can be manufactured. One must care in order to be invested. Vested action is the blossom of service to others.

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Walk As One

From my archives. I call this painting, "Alki."

From my archives. I call this painting, “Alki.”

Alan and I talked today. We are planning our upcoming Summit in Holland in June. Our conversations are always as wide-ranging as they are deep dives into sense making and soul. There seems to be no horizon that we won’t step towards, no secret passage that we won’t explore. This has been true since the moment we met. We’ve always been verdant collaborators. We joked that someday clients will hire us just to listen to how our minds spark each other. And, given our conversation today, we’d be worth every penny. We are both in the business of facilitating perceptual shifts and transformation so we do it for each other. Our planning sessions are a festival of insight upon insight, shift within shift. Together, we are innovation squared.

Recently, I shared a short TED talk by neurologist V.S. Ramachandran about mirror neurons and how deeply and concretely we are connected despite our belief/experience that we are separate. It came up again for me because during our call Alan and I discussed the waves of far-reaching impact that any simple action or word generates. Paul Barnes used to say to young actors, “Never underestimate the power you have to influence another person’s life.” Most of us are unaware of the impact that we have on lives that we never directly touch. For instance, I have had great teachers in my life and I carry their work forward in every word I write and every group I facilitate. My teachers will never know the many lives they touched and continue to touch. And, neither will I. And, neither will you. The best we can do is know that our actions matter, our thoughts matter, our intentions matter. We are more powerful than we understand.

No one lives in a vacuum. No one creates without influences. No one has a purely original thought. In fact, if you grasp what V.S. Ramachandran is addressing, no one thinks or feels independently of others. We are not as isolated or as separate as we believe ourselves to be. We have to work at separation. We are, each of us, continually co-creating (to use Alan’s term) our world in every moment of every day. What might you see if you stopped and pondered the implications of co-creation, if you took a moment and considered that you are not merely a bobber in an ocean but, in fact, are the ocean? How might you read the news of the day or address your dreams if you understood that you were a participant, a dynamic part, a burning point for the ancestors, a sender of ripples through space and time, and not simply walking this path all alone?

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

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Tell The Story

"...and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes..." e.e. cummings

“…and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes…” e.e. cummings

Three hundred and sixty six days ago I met Kerri. What I thought was going to be a casual meeting, the beginning of a new friendship, was much more than I anticipated though I didn’t really understand the scope and depth of our relationship until three hundred and sixty five days ago. On that day, exactly one year ago, I went with her to experience a Taize service. Taize is a meditation service and she was guiding the music. I sat with her during the Taize and, in a single moment, on a specific word of the Lord’s Prayer, we had an experience so potent, so mystical that a year later I still am unable to explain or comprehend it. Our lives changed in an instant. The moment was so powerful that we sat in the church for hours after the service. We couldn’t move. We couldn’t leave that space.

Yesterday, we both cleared our calendars and spent the day telling the story of our year. Our telling was not for reminiscence. It was not like a new year’s review of things past. It was not a measure of how far we’d come. It was elemental. It was the kind of telling that communities used to tell when they renewed themselves. It was the kind of telling people used to do to define themselves. It was story as a sacramental act. We visited the fire and the transformation, the earth and the necessity of rooting, the water and the miracle of flow, and the wind of inspiration and ancestry. We generated by regeneration.

So, I offer this as an exercise: give yourself a gift, take some time, and tell the story of everything you experienced on this earth, in this life, over the past three hundred and sixty five days. Visit the awe, the disappointment, the hurt, the joy, the boredom, the loss, the discovery, the exhaustion, the wonder, and anything else that affirms your life as unique and gorgeous. No one else walked the path you walked. No one else can or will walk the path you walk. See it. You’ll be amazed.

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

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Intend And Forget

I have many titles for this painting and have used it a few times for posts. It is ultimately about intention and inner guidance.

I have many titles for this painting and have used it more than a few times for posts. It popped up for me again today. It is ultimately about intention and inner guidance.

I just finished writing this post and realized that, in many ways, this is the continuation of yesterday’s thought: clear the mental static and the channel to full expression opens. So, here is part two of my meditation on inner static:

John and I were having a conversation about the passage of time. He told me that he’d recently found some old lists that he’d written of life goals and intentions. The interesting thing about discovering the lists was 1) that he’d forgotten writing them and, 2) that he’d achieved most of what he’d written. He said, “The form of what I created was different than what I’d originally imagined but I was surprised to see that I’d actually created what I intended.” It was as if he had to write the intention in order to activate it. Forgetting the intention was necessary to give it space to manifest and grow. Write and forget.

When I was first training as an actor, late in every rehearsal process, my teachers consistently advised that we let go of everything we’d rehearsed and just show up. “You’ve done your work,” they’d say. “Now, let it go and trust.” Many years later when I was directing plays and teaching actors I gave the same advice. “Let go and trust. You’ve done your work. All that remains is to be present.” From the teacher/director seat, the moment of letting go is palpable; you can literally see and feel the phase in the process when an actor needs to let go of their work to come alive. They need to get out of their own way. They need to get out of their head and give all of their focus to the relationships on the stage. The work moves from the head to the body. It is this last step that transforms their study to a living pursuit. Forgetting the work creates spaciousness and allows the art to happen. Art is always about relationship and great art happens when the relationship is clear and expansive enough for all comers.

One of the most profound lessons I gained from my time in Bali concerned this dynamic connection between setting an intention and letting it go. While I was on the island my internal monologue disappeared; one day I realized that I was completely quiet. Thought was a choice and not a plague or chattering background noise. Silence was simple when no story was necessary, when no interpretation was needed. In the middle of that silence I could set an intention (“This is what I want to do/find today”) and then forget it. Before the day was over I would have found what I intended. The steps came to me; I did not have to seek the steps. Sometimes the intention was simple and sometimes seemed complex but that didn’t matter. If I clearly stated what I wanted and returned to silence the necessary coincidence always found me. I felt as if I could see the pieces on the game board moving on my behalf. There was no internal noise to compromise my intention so there was no external discord confusing my choices. I was conscious of my connection.

Alan calls this co-creating. Work with the energy and cease trying to force things to happen. John told me of his lists and I wondered how many people have had the same experience. We make lists, we try to make the list happen, life gets in the way and we forget. And, in the moment of forgetting, we relax our grip on how we think things need to happen. We forget the form and inadvertently open to possibility. In the forgetting we create the steps necessary for fulfillment: spaciousness, trust, and quiet participation.

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Clear The Static

'John's Secret' by David Robinson

‘John’s Secret’ by David Robinson. I’ve used this image before but this painting came to mind while writing so I’m using it again.

So many of my conversations with the stained glass window have to do with returns. For instance, the first conversation was about the return to silence. Over the year, we’ve had lengthy chats about the return to the sacred, a return to light, gratitude, alignment, unity, presence and love. Today our conversation was about the return to voice.

When people talk about voice they generally associate the verb “to give.” Give voice to your thoughts. Give voice to your ideas. Giving voice implies that you have something inside that is unexpressed. It implies that your inner editor has run amok and has a choke hold on your communication. Release the grip and give rein to your voice.

Free expression is all well and good but giving voice also comes with a caveat. Someone I once knew told a great story of a woman who grew tired of hearing her associates complain about not having a voice. This woman, in a fit of frustration, asked, “If you had a voice, what would you say?” It is a potent caveat: it is not enough to have a voice. In addition to the capacity to give voice you also need something meaningful to say. The 24-hour news cycle is rife with great examples of voice sans content.

My conversation with the window had nothing to do with giving voice to the unexpressed or to the necessity of useful content. The window surprised me. The window reminded me of a favorite quote by Vincent Van Gogh: If you hear a voice within you say, “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. Oddly, my discussion with the window about the return to voice had to do more with with silence than with sound. It had to do with the quieting the static. In other words, full expression is available when the inner radio station is properly tuned. Clear the noise and the channel opens. Clear the noise and act: paint the paintings, write the next book, create the Be-A-Ray performances, give life to my play, The Lost Boy. The return to voice is a path that leads through quiet. It is a paradox and to my great delight it is a paradox that loops back to my very first conversation with the window. Silence and voice, voice and silence: they are dynamic and intimately connected.

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Step Into The Pool

From my children’s book, “Lucy & The Waterfox.” This is what Lucy looks like when she gives up her dream.

Do you remember this phrase from Richard Bach: Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they are yours. I am a notorious eavesdropper and today, listening to the conversations, I think all of life is one long argument for limitations.

The wicked thing about arguing for limitations (I think to myself while eavesdropping) is that we rarely recognize that we are doing it. For instance, blaming others for our misery is actually an argument for limitation. Blaming is an abdication of responsibility, an investment in the notion that, “I can do nothing about that which bothers me.” Blame is an assignment of potency to everyone but your self.

I think all things worth knowing are paradoxical. Arguments for limitation are double-edged because they often also mark the boundary between safe and not safe. An argument for a limitation often looks on the surface to be a defense of the perimeter or an argument for safety. The fulfillment of a dream usually requires a step or two beyond the perimeter and who hasn’t dipped their toe into the pool of their big dream only to pull it back and refuse to wade into it. The shore is safe and known. Stepping into the dream pool never feels safe because the depth of the water is always unknown – and no one ever knows how to swim in the dream pool until they jump in. Staying safely ensconced in Plan B is a great disguised argument for limitation. It is a disguise that will always make sense; self-imposed limitations always make rational sense.

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Make Nonsense

from the Flub cartoon series. Do you catch the joke.

from the Flub cartoon series. Do you catch the joke?

Life just gets weirder and weirder. That’s part of what I love about it. Many years ago when I was full to the top with frustration, Doug told me that my real problem was that I wanted life to make sense – and it doesn’t. Truer words were never spoken! Stop trying to make sense of things and most of life’s frustrations dissipate. Any good innovator or creative type will tell you that what they do is completely unreasonable. Buddhists call this state on nonsense beginner’s mind.

Sense making is often referred to as Reason. Parents are occasionally overheard in grocery stores pleading with their screaming child, “Be reasonable!” Couples married for years make the same appeal when they are not getting what they want from their spouse.

In some circles, sense making is known as Rational Thought. Useful words and necessary when getting onto an airplane (without Rational Thought, you’d necessarily confront the senseless act of getting into an aluminum tube and hurtling through space at 37,000 feet)!

If you are lucky, the more you live, the more you realize that meaning is all made up. What is reasonable to you may be unreasonable to me. What makes sense to me might not make sense to you. What is true for you may be untrue for me. The idea that there is a single overriding truth is the source of much frustration in the world and has created horrors throughout recorded time. The notion of a single truth makes seekers of us all as if we might find truth sitting in a cafe sipping wine. The notion locates truth outside of us and renders personal truth subject to someone else’s definition.

All seekers inevitably come to this question: “What is truth?” Asking the question usually brings the external-truth pursuit to an end. I’ve learned that no matter how diligently I’ve sought truth or ‘the answer’ in the eyes of others, I am only capable of finding what I seek by looking inside myself. Like all seekers, I find truth within. I find truth when I listen within to the still-small-voice. All the trouble I’ve ever created for myself came when I stopped listening to that voice.

Quinn told me years ago that, “Nothing makes sense.” He smiled. He was a master of double meanings. Where he less given to fun he might have said that people are story makers and given to make sense out of nothing. It’s a magic trick. The problem, as Doug pointed out to me years later, comes when we think the sense exists before we arrive.

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.