Return To Your Self

DSC_1914

The 2014 Transformational Presence Global Summit in Vught, Holland

While in Holland I led a group through a segment of an exercise called The Dream Police. I created the exercise years ago with John Langs and Lisa Paulson – two master teachers and performing artists – while doing some work with young actors at PCPA Theatrefest. The original exercise is deeply rooted in ritual and communal transformation. The group in Holland was engaged in a more personal exploration so I only led them through the first part of the exercise.

It is surprisingly potent and I’ve learned to use it carefully. The first part of the exercise sounds simple but can be explosive: Write for 5 minutes as if, in 5 minutes, your memory will be wiped clean. All that you will know of your life, of your values, your relationships, your dreams, your identity… will be what you capture in those few moments of writing. After the writing, in a ritual act, the scribbles on the paper are left behind. Most often, people destroy the paper. They shred it. The writing is lost. The question becomes, “Who are you without your story?” It is intended to disorient so the participants might reorient to the essentials of their lives; it is a great exercise for cleaning the gunk. It can be freeing. It can be terrifying. It is always illuminating.

The reorientation process is impossible to do alone. Reorientation is communal. Until Holland I’d never left a group midway, I’d never let the exercise stop in the middle of the disorientation and had always before made sure the reorientation process was at least initiated. IN Holland, the exercise was interrupted. The disoriented community fragmented. Some left the exercise feeling liberated. Others were angry. Some were confused or frightened. All left by themselves. Disorientation makes lonely introverts of us all. Disorientation is an individual sport.

The ritual of coming back to yourself is always a ritual of returning to the community. Clarity is a boon that requires sharing with others. To come back to yourself is to come back to relationship. No one walks this earth alone. No one is capable of saying “This is me,” without the presence and assistance of others. The process can be volcanic. It can be quiet and intense. It always requires another question: “Will you tell me what you see?”

24 hours later we completed the exercise. The individuals returned. They gathered, reoriented and a new form of the community was born. I knew all was well when the newly reformed community asked, “What do we do now?” and the only available answer was, “We don’t know – but let’s find out together.”

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.

Ponder The Pieces

Kerri's head exploding.

Kerri’s head exploding.

My beautiful Kerri’s head just exploded. I am currently surrounded by exploded head-bits and a dog-dog running loops around the house from the thrill of experiencing his first head explosion. Baby cat had the good sense to hide. There’s nothing for me to do but drink wine and write this post. And drink more wine.

Heads explode when the world ceases making sense. Beaky, Kerri’s mom, 93 years old, is no longer capable of crossing the room with her walker. Mobility is a problem and the source of Beaky’s despair. For months Kerri has been working to get Beaky an electronic wheelchair. Her doctor prescribed it. A physical therapist diagnosed it. A bevy of nurses recommended it. A mountain of paperwork was filled out and filed for it. Medicare did the expected and requisite thrice denial before begrudgingly approving a lesser model (apparently, Beaky looks like a reckless driver and can’t be trusted with too much speed). At long last, after hours of phone calls, pleading, cajoling and begging, the chair was ordered and scheduled for delivery. And then there was Jose. The man who measures aging bottoms to make sure the chair is a perfect fit decided that, while measuring Beaky, she was not yet ready, at 93 years of age, to have an electronic wheelchair. His reason: Beaky is too mobile.

Kerri playing for her mom and the other ladies.

Kerri playing for her mom and the other ladies.

I wish I had filmed Kerri’s head explosion. I’d send it to Jose, the man with the measuring tape and the power to explode heads. As I watched the pieces of her mind drift back toward the earth I couldn’t help but remember the statistic – relative to the rest of the developed world – of how much Americans pay for their health care and how little they actually receive. Our costs are astronomical. Jose just showed me why. I wondered how many man/woman hours of work that Jose just annihilated. As Kerri said to the electric wheel chair supply company representative, every day of Beaky’s life is an extra inning or like a dog year. It is a gift. To tell this woman that it will only be a few more months before she will be approved is cruel. It need not make sense. It is merely cruel.

On another related note, today was Josh’s first day of work as a nurse in an emergency room. He wrote that he had a very good first day. The highlight was extracting a penny from a young boy’s nose. Apparently, the boy tried unsuccessfully to swallow the penny and coughed it up and into his nose. A hole in one! What are the odds of such a perfect shot? If I ever have a penny up my nose I want Josh to do the extraction. He cares for people. He is kind. Mostly, I want Jose, the man with the tape measure, to meet Josh, the man who helped a kid with a penny problem, so that Josh can explain to Jose how to recognize a person in need and what it means to serve. Service often requires dropping the tape measure and looking at the person being measured.

I suppose this is yet another tribute to Doug whose wisdom is worth repeating: “Your problem,” he said to me, “is that you want it all to make sense.” The path to happiness, according to Doug, is to cease the expectation of sense. No mother can make sense of a penny lodged up the nose of her son and Kerri will never be able to make sense of the man with the tape measure. It was her attempt at sense making that caused her head to detonate. I’ll keep that bit of information to myself until all the pieces find their way back to earth. In the meantime, let’s have more wine!

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 a hard copy and Kindle.

 

Pick Up Your Ordinary

From Kerri and my travels: a photo essay about what our feet have seen

From Kerri and my travels: a photo essay about what our feet have seen

I continue to process all of the amazing events and experiences from the past few weeks working abroad. They have jiggled loose an old thought-bubble and I’ve been pondering it since it bobbed to the surface.

The old thought-bubble is a tenet that comes from improvisational theatre: put down your clever and pick up your ordinary. I’ve used this tenet in any number of facilitations and coaching relationships. The basic idea is this: any attempt at being clever actually diminishes personal power and inhibits the capacity to be present. Trying to be clever focuses the eye inside and robs a performer or presenter of the only thing that really matters: relationship in the moment.

Dig a bit deeper and the real wealth of the tenet shows itself. We rarely recognize our true gift because we think everyone possesses it. We miss our unique gift because we think it’s ordinary. We mistake our gift for something common and therefore not of great value. In truth, what we brand as ordinary (how we see the world) is our most unique, most potent and powerful gift. So, to put down your clever and pick up your ordinary is to value your unique point of view. It is to honor yourself and how you see the world and also affords you the capacity to be seen as you are, not as you think you need to be seen. To pick up your ordinary is to become accessible.

Trying to be clever is actually an attempt at trying to be something we are not – or someone we are not. It is to hide, put on a mask, or pretend.

Ordinary reveals; clever obscures. Ordinary facilitates flow. Clever needs to control. Attempts at being clever are manufactured moments. Experts need to be clever, they need to whip up a straw man and call it substance. Clever is always an ego need – in fact, clever is nothing more than a plea for approval. It is a thirst for adulation. Clever needs center stage. Ordinary shares the stage. Clever needs to claim territory. Ordinary expands horizons. Ordinary is accessible. Clever is protected, aloof, and closed.

All of this is old news. It was in the old thought-bubble. Just behind it came a few new little trailer bubbles. Clever is oriented on what it gets (adoration, attention, acclamation). Ordinary is oriented according to what it brings: a unique point of view in service to a relationship. Ordinary is a form of potlatch: give what you have; give away your wealth as the road to increase. Clever comes from a universe of lack. Ordinary comes from an abundant life. It is a paradox. Unique is found in the ordinary. New vision comes when we cease trying to say something new and simply offer our unique, one-of-a-kind perspective. The beauty is in what we see.

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

Or, go here for hard copies and Kindle.

What Do You Value?

One of the windows by Max Ingrand at Saint Pierre de Montmarte

One of the windows by Max Ingrand at Saint Pierre de Montmarte

What has value? What has merit?

Or, here’s a better question: What is value? What is merit?

During our travels I looked at a lot of art and architecture from across the centuries and across many different cultures. There is a very old church, Saint Pierre of Montmarte, one of the oldest in Paris, seated adjacent to Sacre Coeur high on the hill overlooking the city. This ancient church has been outfitted with stained glass windows, designed by Max Ingrand, that I can only describe as cubist. The collision of ancient church and modern window is breathtaking and perfect. The windows were so beautiful (to me) that they brought tears to my eyes. It was hard for me to leave the church as I was so taken by the windows yet I was also aware of the number of people moving through that were not impacted at all. Later, I entered Sacre Coeur and felt nothing. To me, it was impressive, impersonal, and left me cold – yet I watched others catch their breath with its scope and grandeur. They were moved to tears.

Is value purely personal and subjective?

I remember listening to a recorded lecture by Joseph Campbell. He said that you could tell what a society valued by the buildings constructed in the city center. For centuries, churches occupied the village center. Financial institutions occupy our village/value center. Is value an agreement? Is it a focal point of worship? Take a gander at the titles in the local bookstore and you will find that money, morality, spirituality, and success are odd bedfellows. Is a good life richly lived demarcated by the size of a bank account? Tourists in the distant future will visit the holy sites occupying our village center and read placards about what we valued.

Near Sacre Coeur is the cemetery at Montmartre. We descended the hill to the cemetery and walked the paths through the monuments and graves. They fascinate me. They are essences, value statements distilled to a thick concentrate of marble and stone. There are angels and gargoyles, draped figures in repose and riders of the apocalypse. There are statements: loving father, devoted mother. There are roles: composer, writer, soldier, painter, baker, philosopher, politician. The famous are interred next to the ordinary. In a cemetery, all lives are even. Standing amidst the graves I see lives lived, dreams dreamed and realized or unrealized, and I wonder what each person valued during their allotment of days, and what they valued on the very last day.

Value is relative and passing? An extraordinary moment, when conscious, is valuable.

This is from Rumi: Spirit is so mixed with the visible world that giver, gift, and beneficiary are one thing. You are the grace raining down; the grace is you.

Value is grace? You? What surrounds you?

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

Embrace The Bubble

A bit of the Eiffel Tower

A bit of the Eiffel Tower

I am nearly through the throes of jet lag and my inner anthropologist has an observation or two about the altered state that occurs when one wakes up in Paris and goes to sleep in Kenosha.

When 36 hours pass in a 24-hour daylight cycle, the human body (my human body) experiences shock and awe. A soul cannot travel nearly as fast as a body in a modern airplane; that’s why they call it jet lag. The jet does not lag. The soul doddles as a good soul should while the body flings through space in a pressurized aluminum tube. The soul lags (note: my inner anthropologist is a scientist and is dubious about using the word “soul.” He wants you to know that “soul” is my translation of his term, “consciousness”).

Jet lag is like being inside a bubble. There are great benefits to being inside the bubble. For instance, the world is wonderfully distorted. Nothing is normal when sifted through a soapy haze. The bubble is the overlap of dream space and the everyday. From inside the bubble, people move too fast. Or, they move too slowly. The words people speak are garbled and generally bounce off the bubble. Checking out of a grocery store is like a scene in a sci-fi movie. Sense-making is impossible but the surrender to no-sense is sweet and oddly comforting. To release the necessity to understand, the need to recognize, rationalize, explain, or connect even the simplest of thought-dots is liberating. In the bubble, a sigh is the only appropriate response.

From the bubble, there is nothing to be done but to watch the time river roll. Jet lag bubble consciousness makes things somehow more simplistic; complexity is not possible from a jet lag haze. Inside the bubble, life routines that were unconscious prior to traveling are startling and new; they are like gestures from a previous incarnation. For example, this morning, doing the dishes, my hands knew what to do yet I was fascinated with the odd process. I was both doer and witness. Doing the dishes was known and new all in the same instant. The bubble, so my inner anthropologist claims, is a paradox: it dulls the thinking but sharpens the simple moments. It opens the senses. Prior to doing the dishes, watching the sunrise through the fog, I listened with fascination to the wind shake the dew through the high leaves in the trees. It was gorgeous; nature’s rainstick.

Within the bubble, sleep is a constant tug like an undertow. It pulls time into slow motion. It creates a liminal space, a not-here-and-not-there space. It creates a “now” space with a single simple imperative: stay awake for a few more hours.

Stay awake. I like the metaphor: to stay awake amidst the pull to dullness; ultimately it is the gift of the bubble. It is a reminder not to sleepwalk through life, to stay alert to the simple moments. Stay awake or your life becomes like a television running an endless cycle of sitcoms. Dullness is a choice. My inner anthropologist just rolled his eyes. It’s more extravagance on my part; apparently “choice,” like “soul” is not an appropriate scientific term.

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.

Story Your Life

title_pageI’ve received a few questions this week about life stories and rather than blather…here’s another snippet from my book, The Seer:

Stories often deal with the collision that arises when learned patterns blind us to our natural impulses. Living according to what we “should do” or “should think” inevitably collides with what we desire to do and this provides a hot crucible for growth. When Virgil asked me to practice “not knowing” he was poking a hole in my story of “should do” so that I might once again hear what I intuitively knew to be true. Stories show us how to get out of our own way. As Virgil recently wrote:

Virgil: You are at one time the source of your yearning and your greatest obstacle. What you think that you should do IS the obstacle to your desire.

In my latest chat with Virgil I told him of my revelations about ‘not knowing what I DO know,’ about my memory of my client, and how I convinced her that she didn’t need me and could do the work by herself. I wrote:

Me: At the time I really needed the money. I needed the business! And I spent that morning convincing a potential client that she didn’t need me. It’s the story of my life!

He responded:

Virgil: Oh, you are dangerously close to the third recognition.

I decided I needed to stop being careful with how I said things to Virgil. I’d just learned that my language mattered so I might as well write what I was thinking:

Me: Well, maybe you should tell me before I trip over something and hurt myself. You must have an answer or two in there somewhere…

Virgil: I’m woefully low on answers but I do have a question for you: What did you mean when you wrote: It’s the story of my life?

Me: I don’t know. It was just a phrase, an attempt at humor.

Virgil: What if it’s not just a phrase?

Me: You mean that convincing people that they don’t need my services is the story of my life? That is why my business crashed?

Virgil: No. I’m not inferring, interpreting or implying anything. You used this phrase: It is the story of my life. I’m asking you to consider that this is more than a flippant phrase. Are you aware of the story of your life?

I was getting angry again. And I was beginning to recognize that my anger was a pattern that flared when I felt lost. I get angry when I am driving and miss my turn or can’t find where I’m going. I wanted a map. I wanted Virgil to be my personal GPS and tell me where to go. Where were we going with this? Sometimes I can’t help my sarcasm:

Me: You mean I only get one story?

Virgil: Your story is not something you get. Remember, your language matters. Choose your words more carefully and you might see the third recognition before you trip over it. Connect the dots. Tripping over it will not hurt you. It’s the choice to be blind that causes your pain.

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.

 

Locate Your Self

title_pageHere’s a short excerpt from my book, The Seer, dealing with the dance between investments, limitations, and the roles we play in life. This conversation is a kind of coaching session and is happening via online chat:

Me:…All week I’ve asked myself, “why?” Why the dramatic shift in experience from role to role? I’m a bit shocked to realize that I play many, many roles each day. In each role I want something and what I want is different depending upon the people I am with. I realized that my roles are not about me in isolation – and what do I mean by that? I mean that I define my role by how I define the relationship I am in at the moment. For instance, in my workshop, I assumed the role of “guide” and I wanted to lead the young people to some new insights that might help them create their businesses. In my conversation with my parents, in the role of “son,” I wanted them to be pleased with my work. I wanted to share and I wanted their approval. So, my role is defined by relationship and in each different relationship I tell a specific story based on what I want or need. I’ve “cast” myself in these little mini-stories. Or to use your term, “role” is the way I “locate” myself in the story.

Virgil: And how does this knowledge help you with your questions about business?

Me: The first thing that occurs to me is that I have the capacity to locate myself in a different way if I don’t like the role I’m playing. I can change how I locate myself. Also, there is a dance with the words “limitation” and “investment.” I took notes all week and realized that I was using the verb “to invest” over and over again to describe my experience of different roles. So, for instance, during my dinner with my friend Bruce I invested in helping him. I wanted Bruce to know that I cared about his challenges. Then, I watched Bruce invest in being the wine expert. It was his way of caring for me and demonstrating his expertise. I began to see my investments as keys to discerning my limitations. In some roles I’ve invested in the idea that I can’t do something or that I’m not good at something. In some roles I diminish myself; my limitations are investments in being small.

Virgil: Just a caution: as you explore further the dance between investment and limitation, remember to practice suspending your judgment. Remember: you are having experiences first so you can see how you make meaning and begin to choose how you make meaning.

Me: Thank you. It’s a good reminder. I was beating myself up every time I     realized I was investing in being small.

Virgil: We tell ourselves stories. We locate ourselves within the stories. In fact, that is the next recognition: you locate yourself within your story. We do it physically (like your description of choosing the table in the restaurant); we do it through the roles we assume – specifically our assumptions of how we need to play our roles, what is ours to do, etc. Locating is simply a way of establishing comfort. We sort to the known. If you judge how you locate yourself, you miss the opportunity to change how you locate yourself.

Me: Right. Judgment blinds me to the choices I am making.

Virgil: Judgment is always a version of the “things are happening to me” story. In fact, judgment is a way of locating: it is the warning signal when we step too close to discomfort. When I judge myself and say, “I’m an idiot,” I’m actually locating myself, pulling myself back into my comfort zone. When I judge others, “They are idiots,” I’m locating myself in a higher status position. The action of diminishing “them” elevates me back into a comfortable status position. Thus, suspending your judgments removes the easy step back to comfort and allows you to stand in “not knowing” and see what is there beyond what you think is there.

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

Or, go here for hard copies.