Enter The Castle

[continued from Tell A Good Story]

Shuttering the business, closing down my coaching practice, ending all corporate work, cleaning out the metaphoric closet – created quite a void. Standing solidly in a void of my own making I found myself once again enrapt with the Parcival tale. I’ve told this story dozens of times to audiences of all sizes, in performance and in facilitation. I wove it through The Seer as the main character’s stalking story (the story that follows you throughout your life and only opens when you are ready for it). It continues to open for me, a flower with many petal layers.


The Parcival story is woven throughout The Seer

It’s a grail quest story. Because every human being is in search of his or her personal grail (their true selves), once the metaphors are understood, it is a very useful story for navigating life. At one point in the story, after years of trying to prove himself worthy and save the world from becoming a wasteland – something that he is personally responsible for causing – believing himself to be invincible, he is defeated. A “nature warrior” knocks him off his warhorse and his magic sword shatters into a thousand pieces. Parcival strips off his armor (his role) and weeps. He lets go. He shutters his business. Despite his best efforts, despite fighting every dragon and ogre, despite defeating every dark knight, the wasteland still happened.

As is true in life, in the moment of greatest defeat, the second master appears and for Parcival it is a hermit. Parcival follows the hermit back to his cave and retreats from the world. He waits impatiently for the hermit to teach him, becomes frustrated, and finally resigned to the absence of any useful lesson, all the while, each day, chopping wood for the fire, carrying water to the cave. Over time he forgets that he was ever a knight. He forgets that he felt broken. He forgets his quest. He becomes present to the moment and is no longer invested in a role or purpose. He chops wood. He carries water. He feels the sun on his face. He appreciates his moment.

And, as is true in life, that is the moment that the grail castle appears for the second time. To re-enter the grail castle, to become the grail king (or queen), we must see ourselves as we are, beyond the role we use for armor, beyond the mission we use for meaning making, beyond the things we think we need to say, or do, or be. We have to recognize that we are enough, just as we are created, sacred and beautiful and complete. We are not broken. Nothing needs to be fixed or changed or achieved. Parcival, enters the grail castle (life) in this consciousness, speaks his truth, and the wasteland, in a single moment, disappears.

[to be continued]

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Tell A Good Story

The Storyteller emerges from the forest. Lucy & The Waterfox

The Storyteller emerges from the forest. Lucy & The Waterfox

Over the years I’ve tried countless marginally successful ways to define for others what I do. It would seem obvious: I am a painter. I am a writer. Oh, and a theatre artist. And a consultant. And I’ve maintained a coaching practice. I’ve worked in education, the corporate world, with non-profits, and with entrepreneurs. So, in conclusion, I do too many things.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I do one thing. I deal in story.

I speak the language of story and that is confusing in any arena. What does it mean? Such a simple word, story, and yet it can mean so many different things. For instance, a truism in effective, transformational coaching is that the story doesn’t matter. By story, coaches mean the circumstance; in transformation, in the fulfillment of potential, the details of what happened – the story – are not useful. The circumstance story usually equates to blaming or endless attempts at self-fixing. The circumstance story gets in the way of growth. It is an anchor in the sea of dysfunction.

I don’t work with circumstance stories.

By story, I mean inner monologue, the-story-you-tell-yourself-about-yourself. By story, I mean the language that we use within ourselves to articulate belief. I work with the orientation story, the personal and communal mythology. Rather than get in the way, the orientation story defines the way. It defines what we see. It defines our relationship with time, with nature, with god, with community: it is the lens through which we make meaning. I help people change their lenses. Try explaining that to a CEO!

Last year, when Skip and I shuttered our business, I also shuttered my coaching practice. I ended my corporate work. Much of it came to feel like wearing an ill-fitting shirt –or a host of ill-fitting shirts – so I decided to clean out the closet. I wanted to drop all the definitions, the old forms, to make space for the new.

Last week I decided it was time to peek into the empty closet. And, as serendipity would dictate, I happened to be reading Frank Delaney’s engaging book, The Last Storyteller. On page 99 of this fictional tale, this is what I read:

“…every legend and all mythologies exist to teach us how to run our days. In kind fashion. A loving way. But there’s no story, no matter how ancient, as important as one’s own. So if we’re to live good lives, we have to tell our own story. In a good way. A way that’s decent to ourselves.”

I threw my head back and laughed. There is no story as important as one’s own. To live a good life we have to tell our own story in a good way. And then, there was this:

“…I don’t give anybody advice. All I do is release the good thinking that’s already inside of you. You’re the one who acts on your own advice, and I have the pleasure of helping you reach those thoughts about yourself. So it’s not me helping you. It’s you helping you.”

Ask me today what I do and I will say, I write. I paint. Ask me for more detail and I’ll open the book to page 99.

[to be continued]

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

All digital forms of The Seer can be found here

Feel The Day

My favorite face of exuberance.

My favorite face of exuberance.

And so, the sun! These crisp, bright fall days bring pause. They make us slow down and pay attention to the small things, the sensual things: the smell of coffee, the sweet taste of butter on warm toast, the gentle music of the leaves, the blue sky vibrant through the luminous yellow leaves.

These are the days of easy appreciation; gratitude stands close-by. With senses heightened and deep inner quiet rising to the surface comes the simple acknowledgment that this day will never come again. It is precious, like all days, but on these days-of-the-senses, when reason, explaining, and justification take a break, the obvious becomes apparent. Every moment of life is this rich, precious. Wisdom comes through the senses, when tight reason takes a break. This life is passing. This life is bigger than any one of us. It is as vast as a human heart.

Turning my face to the autumn sun, I close my eyes and with great relish listen to the exuberant life celebration of Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog, barking because he can, digging holes to bury treasure, racing around the yard for no other reason than it feels really good.

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Be The Detail

I took photo and used this image in The Seer.

I took photo and used this image in The Seer.

When I shared the early chapters of The Seer with friends, their feedback was universal: I was trying to say too much. They asked me to break it down into smaller bites. At first I resisted because I couldn’t see the path to smaller bites! In time I was able to step back and see what they were telling me. All of the necessary connective tissue was in my mind; I was filling in the thought-gaps. My wise-eyed readers had no access to my mental filler and saw a story riddled with gaps.

It was a valuable lesson for me. What I see is never what others see. Even when we share an experience, it is false to suppose that we had the same experience. We share. That is a much different thing than assuming sameness. When I think I am being clear, when I think that my point of view is right, I remember the gaps. I am projecting content and context filler onto every experience and so are all the other people in the room.

Perception is at best a moving target. This simple principle is what makes art so necessary and science so exciting. Newton thought he was dealing in absolutes. He was describing a universe based on uncontestable fixed principles. And then came Einstein. We see from and through a context that we like to call “truth” but, it is at best relative. Is it a particle or a wave? Well, it depends…

I used to facilitate an exercise called Mask Mingle. It is a powerful way to open eyes and hearts to the grace that we grant ourselves but rarely grant to others: specificity of story. We cannot walk through our days without carrying the specificity of our experiences and the rolling, roiling interpretations and re-interpretations of those experiences that we call ‘memory.’ No one can see what we’ve done and where we’ve been. No one sees the joy, the hurt, the dreams, the losses, the fears, the perseverance. They cannot see the detail. The best they can do is interpret us through their lens. We will always be a generality in the eyes of others.

I find that central to much of what I write about and coach about is the surrender of what other people might think. It is a fallacy to think that you can determine what others think of you. You will never see through their eyes. You will never know their lens. It is a powerful moment when an artist (or anyone) realizes that they have no control over the perception of others. The best they can do is offer their gift from their unique, unknowable, rich, point of view. That moment is called artistic freedom.

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Order Chaos

One panel of a triptych I did for a performance with The Portland Chamber Orchestra. This is, "Prometheus: Resurrection"

One panel of a triptych I did for a performance with The Portland Chamber Orchestra. This is, “Prometheus: Resurrection”

There is order. There is chaos. They are as intimately related as magnetic poles, the pull and push of action. Chaos is pulled into order and order is pulled into chaos, forms are thrown up and pulled down again. Life spins on this axis.

Today during my walk I made certain to step on the leaves. With the assistance of the wind, the trees are releasing leaves in great flurries of color. Orange and yellow and red swirl to the ground and then swirl on the ground, too. The movement is an invitation to step boldly on the carpet of color. I love the sound that it makes, the swirling and the crunching. What was out of reach a few short moments ago is now underfoot. Life is like that.

The wind off the lake was bitter so we turned down a side street and sought protection amidst the houses. It is rare that we don’t, as a Buddhist might say, “Eat the cold,” but today we desired presence to be warm. We scurried home, shuffling our feet through the leaves, and sipped hot apple cider, fingers wrapped around the mug to absorb the heat.

I read recently that the path to realizing our divinity is to accept our human-ness. Trying to be better than we are blinds us to how beautiful we really are. It’s a paradox. Apparently, divinity is not found in perfection but in the messiness of everyday. It is not a fixed state, but moves between the poles, sometimes wearing the mask of order, sometimes arriving in the face of chaos.

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See Why

Once again, H wrote me with some good advice concerning my limping kickstarter campaign. I opened his email while taking a break from research I was doing on grants for artists. His email collided with something I’d just read (and applauded) on the Surdna Foundation grant site. Here’s his email:

Something dawned on me today when I checked your KS page. Two things, actually.

The first, you actually could make your goal. $7k days are not that uncommon on KS.

The second is that you can’t seem to stop yourself from teaching, and I think you need to for this work, just as you should in order to write and direct the play. All the “truths” and lessons of story and of art should be axed. Because they are true and obvious when we see them in action. But the statement of those truths and lessons distract and dilute that action. 

Tell why you love Tom’s legacy and The Lost Boy, why it is essential to your life’s work, and why your life’s work matters, why it has to be done… 

You have time for one more ask…..

And, here’s the bit of text that I applauded from the Surdna site:

“Art is fundamental to our collective understanding of who we are, what we believe, and how we relate to each other and our surroundings. Artists and their coconspirators weave the cultural fabric necessary for a sustainable, vibrant society.”

In 1998 I applied for and was accepted into master’s programs in both painting and theatre (directing). It was confusing for me at the time because both acceptances felt miserable, like walking into a cage. In my desire to go back to school, I wasn’t looking for technique or an answer to “how-to.” I needed to take a deep dive into “why?” So, instead of the obvious route, I jumped into a degree in organizational systems because I could bend it to my real pursuit: art as central to the identity function of a culture: art (specifically ‘story’) AS the system. As the folks as Surdna wrote: artists weave the fabric necessary for a sustainable, vibrant society. The story inside you, the story-you-tell-yourself-about-yourself, is inseparable from the story happening outside of you, the story-the-community-tells-itself-about-itself. When a society has a living, breathing mythology, they live from a single, shared story. As Joseph Campbell famously said, “Our mythology is dead.”

We orient and make meaning according to a shared narrative. So, if there is something that bugs you about the world it is most likely a reflection of something within you. If you want to change the world, you must start with your self. How do we begin to tell a different story when we imagine that our story is separate from all other stories? How do we make a better world when the story of the individual supersedes the story of the community?

Working with the shared narrative, dancing with the inner and outer story in all of its power and potential is my life’s work. Tom is one of the few people I’ve ever known who understood this dance. He is responsible for igniting the fire in a legion of artists, for guiding a multitude of lost boys onto a power path. He opened my eyes to a deeper path through the arts and life. He taught me that the Greeks believed that the telling of the epic stories was necessary for the health and wellbeing of a community. He taught me that we’ve forgotten what the Greeks knew. The story of The Lost Boy is Greek and has the power to help us remember. Tom believed in a better world and that a better world happens naturally when we tell a better story. That is why this play needs to be done.


Go here to help me make possible a $7k day:

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Explore The Human


my latest work-in-progress. No name yet, approximately 5ft x 9ft.

Standing on the stair to her studio, Pam said, “I’m not sure where my work is going. I’ve pulled out all of the old paintings so I can see where I’ve been, what I’ve been doing, and maybe that will help me live into what’s next.” Like me, Pam has been a painter most of her life. She’s been through this transition many times before and recognizes the necessity of fallow artistic fields. Rather than push or panic, she’s matured as an artist and knows enough to value the emptiness.

With maturity comes faith. The muse never leaves. She rests. Artistic cycles are no different than seasons. Like a farmer living through the winter months on the harvest of the fall, Pam will spend hours sitting with her old work, thinking nothing, drinking in the nutrient of her artistic yield, allowing her inspiration fields to recharge and rejuvenate. She will allow herself to go empty, creating ample space for the new work when the muse reawakens. And then, one day, she will pick up a brush and be surprised by what comes through her.

Hans said, “An artist matures when he or she ceases working from their pain and begins exploring the human condition.” Working from the wound is necessary as adolescence is necessary. Most artists in our western tradition begin in rebellion, pushing against, making statements. We celebrate the outsider, the margin-sitter and so the wound can be difficult to escape: artistic pain becomes a role, an expectation. In practice it is akin to a developmental stall. The only place to go when pain is the norm is into the intellect: to produce, to make statements. Pain isolates and ultimately, an isolated artist is ineffective. Artistry, like all things vital, must occupy a shared space. It is communal or it is impotent.

Potency comes when the eyes turn out, when the question of “we” becomes more vital and interesting than the question of “I.” Artists mature when they reorient, when instead of the art expressing their pain, they serve the art and, make no mistake, art is another word for “human condition.” Art is bubbling life in all its forms: visual, kinesthetic, aural. As Hans said, “I want to fall deeper and deeper into the music. I want to find the edges and follow where it takes me, give myself over to it.”

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

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Tend The Root

The moon over Benziger Winery

The moon over Benziger Winery

I am not and have never been a landscape painter. I paint the figure. Yet, my current sketchbook is filled with fanciful landscapes, sketches from places I have been and places in my mind. Great scribbles, cross hatches, and curly cues carve rolling hills and midnight skies. I started drawing these landscapes just before I stepped off the reservation and went on my walk-about. They are meditations.

When I was very young, over and over again, I drew a cabin in the woods. There was a tree in the foreground and beyond, across a meadow, stood a rough cabin. It was as if I knew the place and I was drawing it to remember. I must have drawn it hundreds of times, the leaves on the trees, the door and windows calling for a visit. The quiet. Even today, forty years later, I can feel the quiet when I remember drawing my cabin.

Doodles and Dwight notes

Doodles and Dwight notes

The other night while on the phone with my long lost friend, Dwight, I needed to write a note – he was sparking such great insights – and all I had within reach was my sketchbook. I wrote the notes and also started to doodle as we talked. My doodles went the way of the landscape. Shapes and swirls and squiggles. Drawing is also a form of note-taking.

Dwight talked about going through the crush and coming out the other side as something – someone – wholly new, simpler. The crush refers to the process of grapes becoming wine. Life can crush us. Life does crush us. We change form, grapes to wine, children to adults to ancestors.

I told Dwight of the gift Skip gave me: lessons in wine and a few days with Barney who walked me though a vineyard and taught me about the roots and the vine. Trying to rush the grape with fertilizers and pesticides will perhaps provide short-term gain but will kill the vine in the long term. It makes the vine weak and incapable of drinking the nutrient. Health, true health, requires respect for the root and an understanding of the natural pace of things. This simple respect for the root, care and attention to the whole plant, the seen and unseen, and not a blind focus on production or the test score or the bank account, creates health. It is a meditation.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

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Live Your Sequence

Michelangelo's 'Awakening Slave.' photo from academia.org

Michelangelo’s ‘Awakening Slave.’ photo from academia.org

Metaphors abound and are all around us. Since all language is referential, all language is metaphor. Every experience we relate, every story we tell, every thought we think, is metaphoric. It is a pointer to something experienced, sensed, felt.

Just as letters are sequenced to make words, metaphor is sequenced to create story. It is in the naming and the stacking of metaphor that we make meaning of our lives.

Today, hanging out in the choir loft as Kerri played a service, I heard these metaphors that, linked together like cars on a train, make a universal story; if you are human you’ll live this sequence: Slavery. Wilderness. Promised Land. This is both the ancient story of a people and it is a story common to the human experience. The first, the ancient story is biblical. It’s big! It is the scaled up version of the personal, more human scale variation.

We hold ourselves captive. I’ve yet to meet anyone, myself included, that doesn’t place limits on their capabilities. Michelangelo sculpted a brilliant series of human figures trying to escape the marble from which they were created. Figures struggling to emerge, he called them the Prisoners. I think of the Prisoners every time someone tells me that “they can’t.”

Once we take the scary step out of captivity, once we say, “I can,” a necessary lost-ness ensues. “I can’t” is an orientation. Leaving it behind is akin to leaving the known world and striking out into the wilderness in search of a new orientation. “I can” requires a host of new experiences, a new trail blazed to the point of normalcy. Orienting to possibility is more than a choice; it is a practice.

The Promised Land is a place of mastery. It comes when we forget, for just a while, that we are on a journey. It comes when the painter forgets that they once did not know what happens when red meets green. It comes when the sculptor no longer needs to impress but can play with the stone and delight when the stone plays in return. It is comfortable and safe and known.

And, every Promised Land comes with a gift: one day it will become a prison, a place of captivity. And the cycle will begin anew. The struggle of “I can’t,” the scary step into the wilderness, and the arrival “home” with mastery, deeper knowledge, and new eyes.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

“As both an artist and an entrepreneur, who adores the works of The Artist’s Way, I am liking where this book is taking me.” Tom Ellis


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Go here to support the kickstarter of my play, The Lost Boy


from my children's book, Play 2 Play

from my children’s book, Play 2 Play

About the river, Jim said something like this: I had to stop complaining, leave town, or do something about it.

Jim chose to do something about it. He got busy. Now, he’s dedicating time each week to clean and care for a stretch of the river. He’s working to make people aware of the rich life that the river supports. He’s drawing the plant life. He’s made and delivers an incredible Powerpoint presentation.

Jim came to an awareness threshold: complaining is not doing – but unlike most people, he crossed the threshold and changed. The first necessity in any change process is to change yourself. Complaining is a first step but it is where most people stop. Complaining feels good because it provides the illusion of action. Complaining can become fuel if it is followed with a step toward action.

I’ve worked with scores of people who wanted to write books or paint paintings and most came to me with a complaint: lack of time, no quiet space, or some other circumstance that blocked their happiness. When we removed complaining as an option, they created time or quiet space. They wrote. They painted. It was not magic. It was practical. Complaining requires dedicated energy. It also takes time and more than a little thought-space. Painting, writing, or cleaning the river also requires dedicated energy. The question is about where the energy is dedicated.

Ultimately, as Jim described it, the move from complaining to doing changed how he was in the world. He changed so his world could change. He stepped from helpless witness to active participant.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

DSC_1196 copyGo here to support my kickstarter campaign for my play, The Lost Boy