Flow With Your Constraints

a rough draft from my soon to be released children's book, Play to Play

a rough draft from my soon to be released children’s book, Play to Play

Margie said, “You two need to learn how to be cool and calm.” We repeated her words as if in a trance, “Cool and calm,” I muttered. “Cool and calm,” Kerri said and then looked at me and asked, “Can we do that?” I shook my head. We smiled. The previous day we jumped out of bed at 1:30am and drove 4 hours to Indianapolis to help Craig move out of his apartment. We made it back home by 10pm.Tomorrow we drive to Colorado and then on to Columbia, Missouri. Next week we drive to Minneapolis and on to Colorado again. “You have to learn to sit still!” Margie chirped.

Many years ago Makaela told me that I was like a feral cat. “There’s a part of you that flees from any form of containment,” she said. I was at first surprised by her comment. From the inside, my life seems ordinary. I go to the grocery store. I pay bills. Makaela has a Cheshire Cat grin and it flashed across her face. In truth, I can’t wear lace-up shoes. Neckties are deadly to me. I am brilliant at starting things: programs, theatres, companies,.., just don’t ask me to maintain them once started. Neckties, cubicles, and commutes suffocate me. “See? Feral,” she said.

Cool and calm? Feral?

Neckties and lace up shoes restrict movement. To me, they are improper constraints. Improper constraints are akin to knots in a muscle: they impede flow. Toxins collect around the knots. Disease in a body is the result of an improper constraint. An improper constraint can be literal, a knot in a muscle, or a thought pattern, like the expectation of being perfect. “Perfect” is a mental knot. It stops flow. It stresses unnecessarily. It blocks the movement of free self-expression and engenders judgment. It becomes toxic to the system. Gossip is an improper constraint.

The flip side an improper constraint is a proper constraint. Proper constraints facilitate movement in a direction. They focus energy. Proper constraints define clear and open channels of movement. In a healthy body, air and blood and lymph move unimpeded through channels of proper constraint. Proper constraint is necessary to feed the body. Proper constraint is necessary for vital artistic expression. Healthy communication works just like a healthy body. A choice is a proper constraint. Proper constraint frees the movement of self-expression and engenders connectivity. It clears toxins from a system.

“Wait a minute,” Kerri said as Margie retreated down the stairs, “I think we’re always cool and calm.” I agreed. Our proper constraints look a bit different than most peoples. More than once Craig has looked as us and said, “You two are not normal.” Too true. What is normal, after all? A proper constraint for me is improper for others and vice versa. Kerri and I know for ourselves what engenders flow and what interrupts it. Jay Griffiths wrote that a society has to be tame to need the concept of wild. If there is no break in the natural world, if there isn’t a need for dams and fences, there is no need to distinguish between wild and tame. I am not feral after all. Kerri and I work at having no internal dams or unnatural fences. Our business is to create our own version of flow. Isn’t that what everyone wants?

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Let It Flow

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Skip and I are talking a lot about the motion of ideas and movement of information. Ideas are not fixed. In fact, collapse an idea into form too soon and it dies. Valuation in a market is a dynamic movement. It is not a fixed in time. It is motion driven by a variety of forces. Hanging out with financial folk, I learned that money grows when it moves. Impede the flow, park the money and the growth is stunted.

The same principles apply to relationship. A healthy relationship is distinct in the flow of communication and transparency of feeling. Hide, block, edit, withhold and the relationship suffers. What is the quality of movement in your life?

Many years ago I trained to be a massage therapist and I learned that health in the body’s systems is the result of unimpeded flow: anywhere there is blockage there is disease. Health is movement.

When I began doing organizational work I learned the same lesson: a healthy corporate body is the result of unimpeded flow of communication; where there is blockage there is dis-ease. Power games often take the form of communication disruption. Withholding information is a control game and weakens the organizational body.

When I began working with artists I learned the lesson again: dynamic art in all its forms is the unimpeded flow of expression; where there is blockage there is dis-ease. Kink the garden hose and pressure builds. Block the artery and heart will seize. Stilt the communication and dysfunction and power games erupt.

Inhibit your expression and you become just like the garden hose: pressure builds and the inner life jams.

Vitality in body, mind or spirit is nothing more than unimpeded flow.

Be The Source

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While preparing a new curriculum this morning, I reviewed work from the past and came across this phrase, something I wrote 4 years ago: In our language usage we often say, “_______ gives me joy.” So, for instance, “Painting gives me joy.” This phrasing leads us to believe that the joy is in the painting and you are the recipient of the joy. It leads us to believe that these “things” like joy, happiness, and contentment are external gems, separate from us, something we must seek to find.

Joy, happiness, and contentment are not things, not nouns. The painting does not give you joy, you bring the joy to the experience of painting. The capacity for joy is in you and ignites within you when you put yourself into a generative relationship. As I too often quote Viktor Frankel, “Happiness ensues.” Happiness and joy are not something you seek (separate from you), they are qualities that follow (originating from within you); joy is movement; a feeling is a verb. You are the source not the recipient.

I realize that I am writing a lot lately about the power of language to shape our perception. At present I am in a coffee shop and I just heard the barista tell her coworker that this upcoming year she will learn to say “no.” The couple at the table next to me are having an intense conversation and I just heard, “That’s just the way I am!” followed by, “Why can’t you be happy?” These are stories and the language is not incidental. It matters if you define yourself as separate from you joy. It matters if you believe that you are separate from your creativity or that you must do something to “deserve” happiness. If you define yourself as separate you will live separate from your powers of happiness, joy and contentment. You will think you need to seek them from others. You will define yourself as fundamentally powerless because you will orient yourself toward what you get from experiences instead of recognizing your infinite capacity to bring power to your life, to be power and vibrantly alive. Be the source of dynamic movement instead of a chaser of nouns. It matters.

Value Your Growth

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When we were 12 years old my cousin Randal and I ran away from home. We’d had it with the parental suppression and too many rules! We wanted adventure and revolution. One morning in a fit of discontent we took a can opener and 6 dollars and started walking. We didn’t know where we were walking. We’d not identified a direction or made a plan. Along the way we stopped at a 7-Eleven and bought some candy and Coke to fuel our discontent. We walked from Arvada to Golden, approximately twenty miles before we got tired and called home for a ride. Dinner and a soft bed suddenly seemed more important than freedom and adventure. I have always felt fortunate that our very angry mothers were willing to come fetch us from our adventure. Our walkabout revealed the benefits that come with rules; it also made apparent to me how comfort is often the roadblock to rebellion. My only regret was that we never got to use our can opener.

Discontent fuels movement. I remember thinking as we walked that we were walking for the sake of walking. We were walking because we needed to do something, but the something we chose to do was not action – it was reaction. We were not walking toward anything; we were walking away from our problems. We didn’t know what else to do. It seemed important and necessary when we started and confusing and ridiculous by the time we stopped. We’d defined our actions according to what we didn’t want, not according to the creation of what we imagined. Discontent fuels movement but does not give it direction.

When we got to our respective homes that night, the people that loved us yelled at us, grounded us, fed us really good food, hugged us, made sure we were clean and without injury and tucked us in. It was a full spectrum of loving acts! I slept really well that night. The next day I awoke a different person. I knew that running away wasn’t immediately useful and yet, it created movement within me. It was assertive. It helped me run into more than a few boundaries. It initiated conversations that I needed to have. It helped me recognize that love has many faces and that this business of being a human is messy. It helped me distinguish between action and action with purpose. It helped me recognize that Coke and candy are not good fuel for walking long distances. And, it helped me recognize that if I wanted to make significant change in my life or in the world, I needed to value my growth over my comfort. In fact, growth is always through a path of discomfort.

Lora once told me a story of a Buddhist teacher who took cold showers everyday. I shivered and replied that I couldn’t do it. I like hot showers too much. She smiled and said, “That’s exactly what I told him and you know what he said? ‘I’d rather be fully alive than comfortable.”

Join The Dance

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This is a love letter to movement. If you take the time, if you move slow enough, you begin to see and feel and sense the swirling of air, the dance of grass, flicker of light through leaves, the beat of your heart, the tide of the Sound, the woman walking her dog, the heron’s eyes looking for movement beneath the water’s surface.

Is there anything that is not in motion? The earth is turning on an axis as it rotates around the sun, not to mention the satellite moon tracing its orbit. They tell us that the universe is expanding until, someday in a distant future, it will contract. My hand opens and closes a thousand times each day. This afternoon I walked through a forest and saw pollens wafting in the beams of light streaming through the canopy; bees bobbed on ferns triggering an explosion of particles that caught an air current and whirled. Leaves, somehow knowing that the earth is turning, trade their viridian coats for ochre, scarlet, and brilliant yellow before releasing their branches for another kind of motion.

Sound is motion and I know that seems like an anemic revelation though I challenge you to go out into the world and feel the waves hit you. A few times in my life I have performed a story standing in front of an orchestra and I felt the tsunami of sound crash into and through me. The drums hit my belly and the violins pierced my heart. I told the conductor that his orchestra gave me the best massage I’ve ever had. “Moved to tears” is an incredibly apt expression.

I recognize that thought, too, is motion. I cannot lift a glass and take a drink without first instructing myself to do so. I suppose the thought is literally a squirt of chemicals moving through my brain that sets off a series of electrical impulses the cause my muscles to move, my fingers wrap around the glass. And, as a lover of paradox, I delight in the realization that to slow my mind I must first slow my body, to experience the miracle of motion in and around me, I must intend with my thought to slow my breath, to slow my gait, so that I might slow my thought. Only then am I capable of moving in the moment, not through it (both are forms of motion) and experiencing myself as a full participant in the dance.