Study Your Practice

During his recent visit, Skip wanted to see my latest paintings so we went down to the studio. He is a great studier of people and processes and while flipping through my work he asked if I’d ever taken process shots or filmed my process of painting. Occasionally I take photographs of a painting in process – not to record the stages of development but so I can see what’s there. I’ve learned that a photograph can sometimes help me see what I’ve grown blind to seeing. I agreed to take and share some process shots. Yesterday, I started a new piece and here is the day’s progress:

#1

#1

 

#2

#2

This is the next in my “Yoga series” of paintings. A “yoga” is a practice and I started this series because I was curious about my practices: I was meditating on this question:what is the difference between what I actually do and what I think I do? For most of us the gap is vast between those two points. This series is my ongoing meditation/inquiry into the gap.

#3

#3

A study of your practices will surprise you. What you do and think each day is a practice – it is your yoga; your actions and thoughts constitute the rituals of your life. So, for instance, when I was younger (lots younger) I believed my paintings were “not good enough.” Each day I’d approach the easel and practice “not good enough.” It’s amazing the transformation that becomes possible when you simply change your practice. Practice dropping the judge from your menu. Why not?

Last night I had a conversation with someone who asked, “Why don’t people care?” I suggested that people do care but you have to practice seeing it. It’s all around us if we refocus our eyes. And, in cultivating the practice of seeing the acts of kindness and caring, we become kind and caring (because that is the object of our focus).

photo-5

#4

My yoga series has brought me to this (so far): The world does not need changing; we need, as Doug used to say, to close the gap between what we think we do and what we actually practice doing.

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.

 

Shift The Frame

another of my illustrations for Lucy & The Waterfox

another of my illustrations for Lucy & The Waterfox

I’ve been sitting in my fair share of waiting rooms, coffee houses, and gathering spaces lately and so I’ve been eavesdropping on conversations. Who knew there were so many problems in the world! Based on my public space sample you’d think that things were dire. The news of the day concurs with the casual coffee shop discourse. Problems abound. Wars rage, resources dwindle, political leaders squabble, corporations pillage, siblings rival, and people cut each other off in traffic! As my friend Albert used to say, “Good heavens! Just drop the bomb, already!” With so much devoted suffering, so much impending doom, ill intent and disaster anticipation, it’s a wonder we can sleep or step out of our houses in the morning.

Why is this the story we tell? We talk about life as if it was happening to us, as if we play no role in making things happen. I used to make it my practice to count the acts of kindness I saw each day and compare them with my count of acts of cruelty. There was never a day when the cruelty outpaced the kindness. For every example of road rage there were 20 instances of road generosity. In fact, in my count, the acts of kindness so far outstripped the cruelty that it became ridiculous to keep the count. We are far more kind than cruel, far more capable than inept, far more connected than detached, yet our narrative reverses the order. We tell a story of separation, of dog-eat-dog, of the inability to cooperate.

Many years ago the good folks at Disney conducted a study and found that when people had a bad experience at Disneyland they’d tell on average 18 other people. If they had a positive experience at the park they’d tell 3 people. That’s a significant imbalance. We seem reticent to share our joys and adept at sharing our fears.

It’s as if we are addicted to conflict and, well, we are. We delight in defining ourselves by our problems. It’s a pattern. More, it’s a story imperative. We are, after all, storytelling beings. We never cease storying ourselves through our inner monologues and outer dialogues. We justify. We defend. We interpret. In general, stories – lived and scripted – are driven by conflict; conflict moves the story forward. Stories are made meaningful by overcoming the forces of opposition. Our lives are made meaningful by the metaphoric mountains we climb. We mistakenly define a good life as the absence of conflict. Conflict is necessary; it is our relationship to conflict that keeps us hooked on the drama like so much sugar.

There is a significant threshold, a passage into health and power that happens in a life when the narrative changes from, “things happen to me,” to a story of, “I make things happen.” Conflict is present in both story frames. In the frame of, “things happen to me,” conflict is an oppositional wind. In the frame of, “I make things happen,” conflict is fuel, we no longer are at the mercy of the forces but in alignment with them. The metaphoric wind is at our back moving us forward.

When we make this story frame shift, we no longer need the drama; we no longer seek to fix things. We see a different set of options. Literally, we see a different set of possibilities. We create and live from a different pattern. We see choices instead of victimization. We see active participation, conflict as challenge, engagement, and opportunity.

The, “I make things happen story,” necessitates responsibility: wars can’t just happen, resources can’t just dwindle, political leaders just can’t squabble, corporations can’t just pillage. We would tell a story of “we,” and take the step into maturity that the story of, “things happen to me,” obscures.

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 (Amazon)

What Circle Are You On?

755.Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

There are lots of Venn diagrams showing up in my life. Today, Beth offered another that applies to education. The three circles of her diagram are Pattern, Metaphor, and Questions. Master these circles and you are a critical thinker. She brought to mind those other circles from my past, The Vicious and Virtuous Circles (I am now thinking of them as a Venn diagram – more on that in another post). I dug around and found these notes that I wrote almost seven years ago. Think about the notes as they might relate to education reform (or life change):

A Vicious Cycle has the following characteristics:
• There are winners and losers (a finite game)
• The direction of movement is “away from” something (a negative action)
• The actions are reactions.
• It is reductionary in every way (“tames” or over simplifies problems, reduces others, reduces self)
• Circumstance/Fear driven

The Virtuous Cycle has the following characteristics:
• The game is played for mastery (an infinite game)
• The direction of movement is “toward” something (a positive action)
• The actions are generative or creative.
• It is expansive in every way (allows for complex problems and identities)
• Values/Love driven

Both the Vicious and the Virtuous cycles are patterns. Just as water always follows the structure of the land, behavior always follows the underlying structural pattern. In other words, the pattern represents a way of being. The Vicious Cycle is a default pattern, an unconscious way of being. The Virtuous is an intentional pattern, a conscious and therefore, a creative way of being. The goal is to replace the default pattern with the intentional pattern.

To move from the Vicious to the Virtuous cycle, you first have to Identify & Clarify:
Identify your Vicious Cycle. Name it.

After you identify your Vicious Cycle, answer these questions:
Why move off the circle? What do you gain by staying in your default mode? In other words, what does the Vicious circle buy you (you only stay in dysfunction if you are getting something from it)?

Identify/Clarify your Intention
What do you want?
Identify/Clarify your Circumstance
What’s in the way? Name your obstacles.
Identify/Clarify your Values
What drives you? Name your yearning.

The required Movement/Action is to build a new pattern. Since the Vicious and Virtuous Cycles are patterns (structure of the land). Talk about the competencies in terms of building a new pattern. These are:

Pattern to catch your 1st thought, and then work on your second.
How: witness your thoughts; challenge your assumptions.
Pattern to suspend judgments
How: put down your need to be right, assume that you “don’t know”
Pattern to grant specificity.
How: Look beyond the superficial, own your fear,
Pattern to slow down
How: Breath, Be seen
Pattern to say yes and….
How: open your fist; entertain other perspectives
Pattern to step toward….
How: own your edges; make them horizons

Initially, the competencies may look too simplistic, however changing the behavioral structure of a human being begins with changing the patterning; also, systems never change through complexities, rather, they change through leveraging the local simplicity. It’s the pattern that reveals the local simplicity….

Thank you, Beth. Pattern. Metaphor. Question. What we do is really a matter of the direction of intention.

Lost & Found

711. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

…a long day of writing on the book. Since I have not another thought in my head, here’s another excerpt:

It is probably poor form to start a story in the middle, in a moment of high crisis. When a story stalks you through your lifetime you inevitably learn some things about stories; you unwittingly stalk them, too. One of the first things I learned was that the word “beginning” is arbitrary. An end is always a beginning. A beginning is always an end. What we call a beginning or the middle or an end is really a simple matter of our point of view. It depends on what we see.

Another valuable thing I learned about stories is that they unfold according to established patterns. Beginning, middle, and end is a simple pattern. Within this simple pattern is a more complex pattern structure. For instance, in order to grow, the main character has to leave behind everything they know and go on a journey. That journey can be literal or an inner, metaphoric journey. To leave behind what you know is part of the pattern that leads to trials, confrontations, and catharsis. It’s a pattern and since each of us is the protagonist in our own story, the pattern is alive and at work in our lives. The trick is to become aware of where you are in the story cycle. What part of the pattern are you currently living?

Stories never begin with being found. We hear a call. We pursue it blindly and discover that we are lost in the woods. Stories begin when someone, the main character, you, gets lost or is knocked off balance. In this sense, being lost is always a step toward being found.

Step Toward The Pond

674. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

This is one of those days when I don’t have a thought in my head. It’s cold out and I have been writing all day. My thoughts generally float around at about 30,000 feet so to bring them down to ground level is often difficult for me. My inner archeologist complains about the altitude; he likes to brush dust off of small things and look at them with a magnifying glass. He gives me that look of disdain and I tell him I can’t help it. In truth, I would have done well in life as a hot air balloon. I could have carried Oz to far away lands and back again with no problem.

Recently in a class, after the opening meditation, one of the participants acknowledged that she’d come a long way in managing her out-of-control thinking. She said, ”I’m learning to manage my thought addiction. Sometimes I’m surprised at how quiet my mind can be.” I loved her phrase: thought addiction. I believe thought addiction is the road we take when we define our lives according to our problems. When we start to recognize the patterns of our thinking, then we can kick the habit and let go the addiction. Our personal stories reveal themselves through the patterns of our thought – not only the content of our thinking but the pace: is your thought a runaway freight train or a still pond or something in between. Most of us run between the poles of freight train and still pond; orienting according to the problems will bring on the freight train. Pay attention to the patterns and you’ll begin to move toward the pond.

I learned years ago that, as a hot air balloon, the only prayer I had for developing a still pond was to learn to ground myself. I needed a root. My route toward the still pond began when recognized I was free floating without a tether. Now that I have a good root my clue that I’ve let go of the tether is the return of the freight train. And, without fail, the train comes screaming down the rails of a problem that I think I have. Once I remember that I don’t have any problems, I have patterns, then it’s an easy reach to the root and a only a few short paces to the still pond.

Think “I Can!”

657. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

I am in the last few days of living in the apartment I have occupied for nearly a decade. And, because I see the move coming, I am aware of my patterns and rituals, the unconscious actions that have come to define my normal, my everyday. For instance, while unloading the dishwasher this afternoon, I was amused by my automatic movement, spoons, forks and knives into the drawer, pivot, dishes up above, cups one at a time to the hooks above the counter, straighten the rug. I have repeated these actions so many times that they are worn into me, paths through the woods of my life. I appreciate them today because I will soon be without them; I will soon be awkward in the creation of new patterns and intentional in creating new rituals of definition.

I realize that thoughts are like these rituals. Thoughts are patterns that define us. If you think, “I can,” then you certainly will. If you think, “I can’t” then you will wear that pattern, too. I see my impending step out of my patterns as an opportunity to create new patterns, especially new thought patterns. There are rituals of thinking that I am ready to release. A new friend recently told me of her solstice ritual: friends meet around a bonfire and write on slips of paper what they are ready to let go. Then, they commit the slips to the fire. My move is like a bonfire. My patterns are now written on a slip of paper and in a few days I will commit them to the fire on not-knowing. I will then be free to create new patterns of thinking, new rituals of belief.

It is the time of year for resolutions and, like most well intended resolutions they fall prey to the groove of old patterns. Everything begins with a thought; repetitive thought is a pattern, investment in the pattern is a ritual that defines the life you choose to live. If you are not living the life that you desire, if your patterns are thought-prisons or somehow keeping you small, join me in creating new rituals of definition. You need not leave your apartment or your mate; you need not lock the door and walk away from your life. You need only, one day at a time, one step at a time, create a new pattern. My bonfire friend is now saying to herself, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,….” And, one small step at a time, one small thought at a time, she will. And, so will I.