Embrace The Bump

photoArt stores are dangerous places. We entered the store with a short list: vine charcoal and titanium white paint. We left with a suspiciously large bag – Kerri found the pen and pencil aisle and got “that look” in her eyes. I found her sitting amidst a vast circle of pen possibilities making marks on a pad of paper. “Ooooooooooo,” she cooed, feeling the latest pen for weight and suitability for her hand. “I looooooove this one,” she said to herself. Her pile of “I love this one” selections was formidable. Art stores are like opium dens.

20 (aka John) was with us. He regularly incites us to riot and misbehavior. He was little help extracting Kerri from her pen-nest. 20 impacts us like a snout-full of laughing gas. He has a way of making the darkest day bright. 20 is, in fact, a bringer of light; he has developed this capacity because, like all bringers of light, he knows well the other side. One day in early summer, we sat on the deck drinking coffee and made our belly buttons talk, giving voice to the things we think but cannot say in polite society. We laughed so hard that I had to run inside the house; I couldn’t breathe. Twenty’s belly button had a lot to say.

After escaping the art store, Kerri hefted her bag of supplies to the car while 20 and I waited on the corner. That’s when we saw the sign. It was something Sartre might have provided had he been a traffic engineer. It was existential. 20 and I jumped at the chance to make a selfie with the sign-philosophical. It simply read, BUMP.

photo-1As we snapped our selfies, laughing all the way, I couldn’t help but recognize that life – a good life – is riddled with bumps. In my consulting days I used to work with people to embrace the bumps rather than try to remove them. There is a pervasive notion that smooth sailing makes a good life. A bump-free life is a recipe for disaster. All of life’s lessons are found within the bumps. A life without bumps is a life without challenges is a life that is boring. And, in truth, people create bumps if they don’t already exist. They’re called a hobby or gossip or a complaint or drama. In story language, bumps (called ‘conflict’) drive the story; without bumps there is no movement. Yearning is a bump. So is desire. Unrequited love is a bump. Loss is a bump. Wondering what is beyond the horizon is a great bump.

20 is a great teacher of how to address bumps: Laugh. Make a selfie. Alter the word to something even more outrageously appropriate. Look for the next opportunity. Let your belly button talk.


Speak Your Truth

old photo of an old watercolor. I did this painting sometime in the 1980's

old photo of an old watercolor. I did this painting sometime in the 1980’s

Words hook me and lately I’ve been paying attention to the difference in the phrases:

  • Speak the truth, and
  • Speak your truth

One word makes a world of difference! Literally, an entire world of differentiation is made in one little word. “The” truth or “your” truth?

Outside of every courthouse in America is Lady Truth wearing a blindfold and holding a tipping scale. The idea is that truth is objective and fact based. Truth, so the symbol implies, is blind to any personal consideration and justice is equal to all who enter the marble courthouse. It’s a concept that was firmly ensconced in the age of reason with roots running back to the Greeks: truth is something neutral, measurable, concrete, fixed, and external. In such a construct, inner truth is suspect because it is subjective and, at best, fluid.

I’ve sat on a few juries and was reinforced in the notion that the lawyer who told the better story always wins. Truth in the courthouse was as malleable as truth outside the courthouse. The point of the whole exercise, a prosecution and a defense telling opposing stories to a captive group of citizens, is an exercise in subjectivity. Whose version of truth do the captive citizens embrace? Truth, in the courthouse, is an agreement.

Also, there are a myriad of forces at play in the epicenter of the symbol and few are fixed, blind, or measurable. For instance, a public defender with a mountain of cases does not stand a good chance against a modestly prepared prosecution. The story is already tipped when the circumstance of the play is “someone stands accused….” If truth were fixed and measurable, millions of Americans would not be glued to their televisions each night watching Law & Order. Truth makes for good drama because it is a matter of perception. Truth is perception.

We live in the age of news as entertainment (I’d make an argument that we’ve digressed into the age of news as marketing ideology – but that is a post for another day). For instance, listen to the news as told by MSNBC and then flip your dial to FOX NEWS and you’ll see what I mean. Then, for grins, listen to the same series of stories as reported by the BBC. We regularly apply two words when debating our news-of-the-day that make me shake my head with despair: slant and spin. Truth is what we want to believe – or, more to the point, what others want us to believe.

And therein lies the hook. Because we hold dear the notion that truth is neutral, external, and objective, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we are willing to abdicate personal truth. We blunt the inner guides for what we are told to think, feel, and believe. We become passive. If truth is fixed and external then the inner voice is all but meaningless. Self-doubt is the blossom. The symbol of blindfolded Truth is accurate but it is a different kind of blindness. Seeing is as much internal as external. Experiences are interpreted; there will always be conflicting points of view. That means there will be multiple truths. Always. Isn’t that the definition of subjective?

The only real measure that matters is inner truth. At the end of the day, in the dark of your private space, there is no one other than yourself to ask (and answer) the question, “Did I speak truth or did I spin things.” Words matter. Words create. Truth is the name we give things.

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Eve, by David Robinson

Eve, by David Robinson

Revisit And Revise

Pidgeon Pier (Alan and David on the Sound) by David Robinson

I used this painting as the cover image for The Ground Truth. I call this painting Pigeon Pier.

With the success of my book, The Seer, I’ve been revisiting some previous manuscripts and ebooks. I have a lot of them, mostly unpublished and unseen. One of my favorites, and one that I am considering revising and releasing, is called the Ground Truth. The ground truth is a military term and denotes the difference between the truth as seen by the generals in the war room (an abstraction) and those actually doing the fighting on the ground (actuality). I gave the book the subtitle: Six Dynamic Relationships That Will Change Your Life. Marketing claims are usually brazen. The book is really about how to orient to personal truth.

As I’ve been revisiting the book, I’ve also been revisiting several of the concepts in it. One concept that has been much on my mind lately is the Hero and the Anti Hero. Here’s an excerpt from The Ground Truth defining the concept:

In a small notebook with a red cover I found a drawing. The image is horizontal on the page. On the far left I wrote the word “Hero” and scribbled a circle around it. On the far right I wrote, “Anti-Hero” and also scribbled a circle around it. The circle with the Hero and the other with the Anti-Hero are connected with a line. The drawing looks like a cartoon barbell. I must have been explaining this to someone; I can tell by how emphatically I scribbled the circles.

The Hero and The Anti Hero was a revelation that Harald shared with me a few years ago. Harald’s first language is German so he used the term Anti-Hero instead of villain or devil or “big dog yapping in my brain.” I like Anti-Hero because it is actually more appropriate than any term I might have used.

He told me that he’d spent much of his life trying to rid himself of his inner Anti-Hero. It had consumed much of his life, this powerful inner voice of self-criticism and judgment. It plagued him and the more he resisted the Anti-Hero the stronger it became. One day, exhausted by his inner turmoil he had an epiphany. He realized that the way to rid himself of this Anti-Hero was to stop expecting to be a Hero. In fact, his expectation of being a savior, being perfect, being everything to everybody was the very thing that fueled the Anti-Hero. Letting go of the Hero dissipated the power of the Anti-Hero and what was left was…human. Beautiful, flawed, funny and messy, Harald was a human no longer at war with himself.

Internal warfare causes split intentions, split intentions create internal warfare. It’s a feedback loop. As Harald discovered, trying to be the Hero in the eyes of everyone else split him into two pieces: the unreal expectation (Hero) and an ever-vigilant judge (Anti-Hero). Harald was attempting to control what he could not control: the expectations and responses of other people. His happiness was contingent upon the responses of others so he was constantly measuring his worth against others responses: The actor (Hero) and the measurer (Anti-Hero). The internal warfare was inevitable.

In the next few days I’ll write more on The Hero and the Anti Hero, and what a few years and new eyes have brought.

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Choose Your Path

A watercolor I call, "House On Fire." It's an unusual piece for me...

A watercolor I call, “House On Fire.” It’s an unusual piece for me…

I am still unpacking from my move. My sketchbooks and journals have been bound in plastic wrap since I hauled them across the country and then brought them into the house from the Budget truck in October. I cut the wrap this morning because I was looking for a sketch to give as a gift and during my hunt I found an old work journal. It was a gold mine!

I’m preparing to facilitate a workshop on The Art of Team and the notes I found were from a team I worked with a few years ago. This organization had a history of abusive leadership. There was a serious lack of trust within the group. It was a classic case of “everyone else is to blame and nothing is my fault.” Everything was territory that needed to be guarded and protected, especially personal value. Their individual worth as human beings was always in question.

Here are notes from our world-class conversation. This is what the team discovered as it waded into the swamp of its dysfunction:

The path of power splits, there is a fork in the road of power:

One path leads to the creation of power with others.

The other path leads to power over others; a path of taking from others.

The fork is defined by where each individual seeks their worth:

Seeking your worth based on others responses will take you down the path of needing power over others.

Finding your worth within yourself will open your way to creating power with others.

Here’s the point: it is impossible to change the group dynamic and create a cohesive team until you change yourself. Every dysfunction in a team can be traced back to this root.

In this sense, people never have problems, they have patterns (This is the first recognition from my book, The Seer):

Seeking your worth from others is a pattern.

Finding your worth within yourself is a pattern.

Seeking your worth from others patterns you to orient according to what you get from others.

Finding your worth within yourself patterns you to orient according to what you bring to others.

If you desire a functional team, cease seeking to solve your problem (seeking your worth in others eyes) and begin establishing a new pattern (find your worth within yourself).

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Take The One Action

a work in progress. I'll call it "Salutation"

a work in progress. I’ll call it “Salutation”

It is true that, at the end of the day, we are our own best obstacle. Nothing is better at blocking meaningful action toward a dream than our personal story of doubt and fear. It comes in many forms, like, “Who am I to think that…,” or “If I only had some time I’d…,” or “If I only knew how to start, I’d….”

Lately, I’m fascinated with a specific form of the best-personal-obstacle canon: why do we take any action EXCEPT the one action that matters. For instance, I hear often statements like this: “I want to be a writer, but….” Anything following the statement of desire is a self-generated obstacle. There’s not enough time. No one will like what I write. Fill in the blank. The single action that matters is to write. Sit down and write. That is how one becomes a writer. And, if the writing happens everyday, one will become a better and better writer. Anything else is a well-placed, self-generated obstacle.

The question is, “Why do we need our obstacles?” What does placing a boulder in the road do for us? There is an obvious answer: it keeps us from the scary prospect of fulfilling our dreams. Fulfilling a dream requires showing up and expressing a personal truth. Personal truth is, well, personal, and will always meet resistance because there are billions of personal truths walking around out there.

The refusal to take the single-action-that-matters applies to the everyday. How many times have you swam in a pool of overwhelm rather than pick up the phone and make the call that you know you need to make? Once, when I ran a theatre company, I knew I needed to fire an employee but I didn’t want to do it. She was a nice person. She wasn’t doing her job. We had countless meetings discussing why she wasn’t taking the one single action that mattered (doing her job). And, so, I didn’t take the one single action that mattered (letting her go). When I finally mustered the courage to fire her, she thanked me. She wanted to do something else with her life but didn’t have the courage. When I fired her, I pushed her out of the nest. I became the circumstance that pushed her into the one action that mattered.

I think that’s the point of not taking the one action that will actually matter. We allow circumstance to decide for us. We delay until the bill collector comes or until the boss fires us or until we are sitting in a rocking chair telling the story of why we never had time to write. If only….

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