Give As Love

The stack of paintings sitting in my basement waiting for me to show them.

The stack of paintings sitting in my basement waiting for me to show them.

Sitting in the choir loft this morning I was at first disappointed that the stained glass window was silent. I was so full of questions – and have lately been so full of questions – and have come to look forward to hanging out in the loft, conversing with the window, while Kerri plays a service.

When I bring my questions the window always has something to say. The window offers a better set of questions or a startling reflection or a slap of insight. The window’s responses always come in the form of a message of return (return to heart, return to forgiveness, etc.). If I get quiet and ask my question, out of the peace, a conversation always ensues. Today, from my quiet, I asked my question about artistry, about my artistry, and I was met with an unusual silence. I wrinkled my brow. I wondered if my conversation with the window had come to an end or if perhaps my question was out of the scope of topics for a stained glass window.

There was a visiting pastor, an elder who’d been preaching for over 50 years. I sat up and paid attention when he began his sermon this way:

“Artists have a special gift. They help others see in a new way….”

His message was about love. Love, he told us, takes many forms and the form that love takes depends upon the unique gifts of the lover: a symphony is a gift of love, a painting is a gift of love. A plumber fixing a broken water main late into the evening is a gift of love. “What is your gift? he asked. Do you recognize it as love?

A few years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I visited a tarot woman at a bookstore in Denver. During our session she asked me a question that felt like a cold slap in the face. “You know god’s voice,” she said. “Why do you not use it?” I mumbled a lame excuse that dribbled into silence. “Why do you not use it?” she asked again.

Sitting across the table from the tarot woman, I knew without doubt that I have, my whole life, been a great servant to other people’s artistry but a lousy servant to my own. In my life I’ve been the midwife to many people’s gifts while mine have remained mostly unrealized.

The window whispered, “A painting is a gift of love. So is a play. So is a book. These are your forms of love. Your gift is a gift of love. Love is god’s voice and you know god’s voice.”

“I do know it,” I said, timid to admit it. “Don’t we all?” I asked the window.

“Access is open to all. Few actually listen,” the window replied. “Few know how to listen. Most fear their gift and plug their ears.”

To offer my gift without inhibition is how I best express love to the world? That was old and new for me at the same time. I asked the window, “How many artists need to hear that message? How many people need to hear that message?”

“You are deflecting. You deflect your gift by serving other people’s purposes before your own. These questions you ask are the wrong questions,” said the window. “Yes, of course, all people need to hear the message. But, is it your purpose to deliver the message or is it your purpose to fulfill your gift? Helping others hear their message is not yours to do. Yours is to fulfill your gift and, in that way, help others to see their gift in a new way. You need do nothing but give your gift. They will see or not without your intervention. Love by giving your gift. It is simple. Give your gift, give your love, without reservation or doubt.”

“Love can be how you listen to a friend in need,” the pastor said. Love is not about the rules or the restrictions. Even when you try to alienate love, it will always find its way back to you. It will find its way back through you.

“You know god’s voice,” the window continued. “And you know it. Return to the truth; return to your truth. The question, ‘Why do you not use it,’ no longer matters. It, too, is a deflection. Asking ‘why’ merely delays the giving. Use it. Give it. Give as love.”

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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.

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Step Into The Pool

From my children’s book, “Lucy & The Waterfox.” This is what Lucy looks like when she gives up her dream.

Do you remember this phrase from Richard Bach: Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they are yours. I am a notorious eavesdropper and today, listening to the conversations, I think all of life is one long argument for limitations.

The wicked thing about arguing for limitations (I think to myself while eavesdropping) is that we rarely recognize that we are doing it. For instance, blaming others for our misery is actually an argument for limitation. Blaming is an abdication of responsibility, an investment in the notion that, “I can do nothing about that which bothers me.” Blame is an assignment of potency to everyone but your self.

I think all things worth knowing are paradoxical. Arguments for limitation are double-edged because they often also mark the boundary between safe and not safe. An argument for a limitation often looks on the surface to be a defense of the perimeter or an argument for safety. The fulfillment of a dream usually requires a step or two beyond the perimeter and who hasn’t dipped their toe into the pool of their big dream only to pull it back and refuse to wade into it. The shore is safe and known. Stepping into the dream pool never feels safe because the depth of the water is always unknown – and no one ever knows how to swim in the dream pool until they jump in. Staying safely ensconced in Plan B is a great disguised argument for limitation. It is a disguise that will always make sense; self-imposed limitations always make rational sense.

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Stand Rooted

I awoke this morning with this phrase hanging in my dream space: you can’t control your circumstance but you have infinite control over who you are within your circumstance. It is a well-worn phrase for me, like an old sweater, relevant to much of the teaching, coaching and facilitation I’ve done. It is useful to remember when the hurricane hits or the job disappears or life seems to be a festival of obstacles. The ability to discern between circumstance and personal center is of great value. It is a skill that lives atop of Maslow’s hierarchy.

A work in progress: K.Dot & D.Dot See An Owl

A work in progress: K.Dot & D.Dot See An Owl

We have these words in our canon of health: centered, grounded, rooted, conscious, present…. They are all terrific metaphors, earthy with eyes wide open. Flip them over and you get a good sense of what happens when you confuse your self with your circumstance: off center, uprooted, ungrounded, unconscious, not here; up in the air with eyes squeezed shut.

There is a Buddhist phrase that I appreciate: joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. It is necessary to know the difference between self and circumstance to really grasp the meaning of this phrase. Life is going to bring you trials, tribulations, and lessons. You can never know what is just around the corner. As Kerri often reminds me, it is what you don’t know that makes you grow. So, when the storm comes, participate. Stand in it. Love life in all of its forms and textures.

So many times when working with business clients I’ve had to say, “Don’t eliminate the wolf from your story.” In the story of Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf moves the story forward. In fact, without the wolf, there is no story. In business as in life we attempt to protect ourselves from the wolf. We resist the very thing that can bring growth and renewal. Circumstance is often the wolf. The storm comes. The relationship suffocates. The wolf always creates movement where the energy is stuck. It is uncomfortable. It hurts. It is scary. Yes. So, participate. Engage. Be-with-it. Within the circumstance, within the storm, learn to stand rooted, centered: earthy with eyes wide open.

The circumstance will pass and you will remain. You will know more. You will have grown. This simple understanding, that you are separate from your circumstance, allows for the joyful part of participation. Joy lives at the choice point. The world is and always will have plenty of sorrows to help you grow. Things happen. The question is, “How do you choose to participate?”

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Honor The Split

after hurricane Katrina I was invited to write an illustrate a children's book. There is only one copy: the original went to a child displaced by the storm. This is the first plate. The book is called 'Peri Winkle Rabbit Was Lost.'

After hurricane Katrina I was invited to write and illustrate a children’s book. There is only one copy: the original went to a child displaced by the storm. This is the first plate. The book is called ‘Peri Winkle Rabbit Was Lost.’

Another of the revelations that tumbled through my mind yesterday concerned “splits.” I’ve written often about split intentions, a concept that the fabulous Viv McWaters encapsulated for me when she offered the Chinese proverb: Chase two rabbits and both will get away. Much of my organizational, educational and creative coaching life has been in service to clients who come to me when they have split their intention and are watching both their rabbits escape. I helped them unify their intention and, therefore, clarify their pursuit.

The dark side of the moon that I rarely talk about (and that came clear to me yesterday) is the necessity of a split intention at certain points in a process that make growth possible. The best example is the split that happens within a caterpillar’s body once it cocoons. The encoding for “butterfly” activates, the caterpillar’s body reads it as a cancer, and a battle ensues. A split occurs: to remain a caterpillar or to become a butterfly. Old systems do not easily let go so the caterpillar’s body fights and nearly defeats the inner butterfly intention. However, the resistance makes the butterfly code grow stronger and it fights back. This back-and-forth inner debate progresses until finally the caterpillar’s body collapses into mush (in story cycles, this “mush phase” is the step into the unknown). The mush slowly takes on a new shape and a new identity emerges. The final necessary battle is the newly formed butterfly’s struggle to exit the cocoon. Help a butterfly out of the cocoon and you will kill it; the final struggle is necessary for the wings to grow strong.

This necessary split plays out in humans, too. All change (all stories) begin when the main character (you) are knocked off balance by an event or an inner imperative. This is the moment of a necessary split intention: do I stay or do I go. After being knocked off balance we do the same thing that the caterpillar’s body does: we run to safety and grab onto what we know. We fight off the necessity of change, denying the imperative, grasping for the feeling of security we no longer possess. This is a necessary phase! This debate, running to the safety of home and hiding – and then walking to the edge of our known world and staring at the horizon – and running back home again, creates heat. It gets energy moving. This back and forth, this inner split intention is necessary. It makes the imperative grow impossible to ignore. It is the process necessary for the main character (you) to understand that what was once secure is now suffocating. The discomfort of the unknown becomes more attractive than the safety of the known because of this inner split, this tug-of-war. When, like the caterpillars body, everything goes to mush and there is no way to go back, the only way forward is to step into the present moment without form or identity. Letting go of the known, stepping into the unknown, is the beginning of reunifying the split. Stepping into the unknown is a commitment to a single rabbit to chase.

The split creates the heat necessary for change. At the right moment in every life story, just as in the caterpillar’s transformation, a split intention is essential. To rush through this phase is just as devastating as trying to help the butterfly out of the cocoon. Trying to eliminate the discomfort too soon is a sure way to stay split and ultimately kill the transformation.

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Look Beyond The Box

one of my paintings (untitled) from the Yoga series

one of my paintings (untitled) from the Yoga series

[continued from SEE THE BOX]

Craig’s question is bigger than a single post can accommodate. He’s both reflecting and asking several questions about the boxes people construct around themselves, about building personal “stages” and what becomes visible to us when we open ourselves to life without editor or inhibition. He’s asking deep river questions about the assumptions we make when we look at others through the lens of our own experience. He asked about what I see from my stage and when did I know to create my stage. And, here’s the kicker question, “When was the last time you stepped up and saw something you didn’t know was there?”

I want to start with the last question first because I believe it colors all of the other questions. At this point in my life, there isn’t a day that passes that I don’t see something surprising or new. I know that sounds like a superficial dodge until you consider that it wasn’t always the case. Like everyone else, I was schooled in a long series of mistaken notions: 1) that people need to know where they are going before they go there, 2) people need to know what they are doing before they do it, 3) knowing is something that happens in the head, and 4) that truth is singular and knowable; believers in right/wrong paradigms are especially fond of this point.

It took a few years (okay, decades) to realize that “knowing” is a process and not an arrival platform and, therefore, no body knows. People build boxes around themselves because they think they must know what is unknowable. People build boxes around themselves because they think they must look a certain way or think what others want them to think. People build boxes around themselves in an attempt to control what they can never control. No one really knows where they are going (well, everyone knows where they are going but dying is an existential question – a topic for another post). No one knows what tomorrow will bring. As Marshall McLuhan wrote, people step into the future with their eyes in the rearview mirror. We make sense of today through yesterday’s eyes so we can only “know” what happened, not what will happen. The day before September 11, 2001 people walked into airports to greet their friends and relatives at the gate. And then, the very next day, like millions of people, I sat in front of a television and watched a plane fly into the World Trade Center. That day I understood that what I thought I knew was basically useless.

Each of us has, at one time or another, had a personal September 11th. People learn. They grow. They have experiences and then make meaning of their experiences. People change. Life is a moving target. At one point in my life I started my own school within a school. It was experiential and filled with filmmaking and theatre and performance art. At the beginning of that era of my life I thought I would run that school until I the day I died. Three years later, I was done with my exploration in education and I surrendered my cushy tenured position and ran for the air of uncertainty. People story themselves according to inner imperatives through lenses of past experiences. The idea that we are primarily rational and reasonable is…not rational or reasonable.

At some point, when you cease thinking you know stuff, your eyes open. You see beyond what you think. Everything is surprising beyond the dull-wit of thinking. Thinking (a language-based activity) will always be an abstraction. Put a word on something and you delude yourself into thinking that you “know” what it is. This is especially heinous when applied to other people. People build boxes around themselves because of the words placed on them or the words they place on themselves.

Mostly, people build stages for the exact same reason. Saying, “I’m not going to be influenced by others; I’m going to act independent of others” is also a delusion constructed from notions of “knowing” or trying to determine how others will see you. Most stages are constructed from the desire to control. Sometimes the biggest box looks like a stage.

When you no longer need to know anything, you see surprising things everywhere you look.

[to be continued]

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See The Box

‘The Box’ by Kerri Sherwood from her album Blueprint for My Soul Craig sent me a link and a challenge. The link was to his recent blog post, Break Down The Box. It’s about how people build boxes around themselves. “Instead of building a box that may later require extra work to remove,” he writes, “I suggest building a stage.” What a great image! His challenge to me was to apply it to my writing. He texted, “It’s relevant to your general topics.”

My question back to Craig was about the word “apply.” Is he challenging me to write about boxes and stages? Is he challenging me to build a stage and stand on it? Both? His challenge came on a day that I said aloud to myself and the universe, “I’m feeling boxed!” His timing was impeccable.

Self Cut outWe’ve not finished our correspondence so I don’t yet know what he means by applying it to my writing. To stall I will write what I know about boxes:

1) Everyone has one. Don Miguel Ruiz writes that we come into this earth as free, uninhibited spirits and then the adults around us begin impressing rules and random philosophy upon us. They teach us constraint and we comply. We are a pack animal, after all, and must operate within the greater needs of the community. That’s why there are traffic lights and a proper fork to use when eating a salad. Our greatest need is to belong; The GAP, Old Navy, or Abercrombie & Fitch could not exist otherwise. The need to belong is the driver behind box building. It’s a paradox. Somewhere amidst all of the compliance we begin to assume that we are no good or start making comparisons to others or create standards of perfection that are impossible to inhabit. So, we build a box called, “should be”. The paradox is that, in order to belong, our action is to hide.

2) Growth comes from constraints. No box is built without the need to deconstruct it. That is the opportunity of the box. Joseph Campbell would call box deconstruction The Heroes Journey. In the great mythologies of the world there is a tension between The Right Hand path (what society expects you to do) and The Left Hand path (following your bliss). Both are necessary and, in the end, we all must find the middle way between the two paths. The middle way is known in mythological terms as The Holy Grail. Bliss always needs the participation of others. We are pack animals and need the pack to know where we fit.

3) Constraint is necessary for creative fulfillment. School boards around the nation have the misguided notion that art is the absence of rule and/or discipline. It must be a requirement of school board participation to attend the symphony without recognizing that the musicians on stage have given their lives to discipline and constraint. It might come as a surprise to most people but artists outstrip the military in rule adherence and rigid discipline. The disconcerting aspect for the school board is that the rules and discipline of the artist are self-imposed. They are inner imperatives. Artists do not need a drill sergeant. They need constraints to push against, boundaries to overcome, rules to challenge, and patterns to disrupt. Watch a kid on a skateboard try to learn a new skill (oh, yes – they are artists, too). They might break their arm in the process but the break will just fuel the need to improve.

4) No one sees clearly their box. To return to a Don Miguel Ruiz-ism, we are the stars of our own movie and can never know the movie of another person (and they can never know our movie). The paradox is, of course, as the star of your movie you never get to see your life from any meaningful perspective until lots of time affords you some distance. Even then, you’ll interpret your movie through the lens of having lived it. If you have an inner monologue, you are center stage of your movie and your movie is your box.  Here’s the beautiful thing about movies/boxes: they all come with flaws and the flaws are almost always the location of the opportunities. As I recently learned, the Amish intentionally place a small flaw in every quilt because they believe that the flaw is what lets the spirit in. The same might be said of boxes.

I’ve been privileged in my life to work with and direct a bevy of actors and most had to learn to stand on a stage. In fact, the stage frightens most of the really good ones. They understand the power of being seen, the responsibility that comes with visibility. It is simply this: be present without the need to control the thoughts or emotions of another. Be present with them. Offer them a story without the self-protection of trying to control what they see. All stories are maps out of boxes. Or, more to the point, stories are maps out of one layer of box to a lesser layer of box. So:

5) Boxes are like onions. A stage is merely a layer.

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

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