Let Yourself Go

I have no idea how, but I'm making a mess of sound and will one day play the ukulele.

I have no idea how, but I’m making a mess of sound and will one day play the ukulele. Kerri says that I already am…

My meditation on the word “how” continues.

At our recent Summit in Holland, Alan and I asked the question, “What would you do if you didn’t have to know how?” It is a great question. The short answer is this: you’d figure it out. You’d try things. And if your first attempts led nowhere you’d try something else.

In this musing I have often written that “how” is something that is known at the end of the journey. We can’t answer “how” with any honesty until the story is played. Today I recognize that there are two distinctly different “hows:” 1) the explanation, “This is how I did it. This is how you do it. This is the “how” that presumes a path or a prescription. When dealing with this version of “how” I ask groups or clients to consider their life story and tell me how they got to this day in this place doing this job, etc.. The answer is mostly, “A clear path with a lot of happy accidents,” or something like, “I have no idea. I didn’t try.” Yes. Ask me how to paint a painting and I will tell you that I have no idea. I’ve painted a thousand of them and I can teach color theory or composition but I cannot tell you how to open to the muse, how to become a channel for something greater to come through. To paint a painting, to act in the play, to write the book, there is something akin to letting go. There is a divine surrender. So, how did you get to this place in your life? Divine surrender. Happy accident. Unstoppable forces.

If the first form of “how” is an explanation, the second is akin to giving permission. I have worked with a legion of blocked artists who set up studios, buy musical instruments, sign up for improv class,…, and then sit in their studio, stare at their musical instrument, and forget to go to class. When they call me, they tell me their story and always finish the telling with, “I don’t know how….” For my fee, I could say a single, simple word: start. Instead, what we usually do in our work together is find their internal permission. When they realize that their block has nothing to do with “how” and everything to do with the fear of being judged (“how” is an internal braking system meant to prevent starting), when they are ready to, as Saul would say, “Orient to their own concern,” they allow that their opinion of their work trumps all others, they give themselves permission. They start. They play.

Recently, a brilliant woman, an attendee of the Summit, a maker of incredible mandalas, sent me an email with a photo of the start of a painting. She asked for my advice. I wrote: make a mess. Paint on top of the mess. Then repeat. Today in my inbox I received her beautiful mess with a note that their would be more messes to follow. She started. She picked up a brush. She splashed some paint. She splashed some more paint in response to her first splashes. That is how art is made. That is how light bulbs were invented.

This morning I laughed when I realized the double definition of the phrase, “Let yourself go.” In common parlance, it is used as a negative, when people give up, when they stop trying to maintain their health or their appearance, “He really let himself go.” The second possible meaning is to start. To go. The next time someone is sitting in their studio and asks me the question “how,” I will respond like this: let yourself go.

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Unlearn And Step

Helping Hands.

Helping Hands.

I revisited an old journal this morning. I’ve been thinking much about power these past few days and I have a mountain of writing about power. This blog began as an exploration of personal power, the creation of power (power-with), confusing control with power (power-over), grasping power (fulfilling potential) or vampiring (drinking power from others).

Lately, I’ve been thinking that the question “how?” is a form of learned powerlessness. Most people (adults) are reticent to do something until they know how to do it. That’s backwards; no one knows how to do anything until they actually do it. Doing is a prerequisite of knowing how. As a coach I often hear the fear beneath the phrase, “But, I don’t know how…” Needing to know “how” stops all motion.

Children do not have this problem. The firewall-from-life called “how” is learned. Or, more accurately, it is installed. For instance, the other day when Craig and I walked passed the batting cages, he said, “Those things make me shudder. I totally, I have PTSD from those.” He was joking in the way that means, “I’m not joking.”  Shame is a lousy teacher. So is bullying. The message: there is a right way to do it and you better know the right way before you swing. Or else. Shame is a powerful action inhibitor. It is the tool of the powerless teacher. It develops in the student the necessity of knowing “how” prior to taking action. No one willingly steps toward shame or a bully.

The question, “How?” often functions as a form of premature cognitive commitment. It is how elephants are held captive by the weakest of strings. As infants, a strong chain is attached to one of the elephant’s legs and the other end of the chain is secured to a strong tree or stake in the ground. The young elephants pull and pull until they learn that pulling does no good. They stop testing the chain. They make a premature cognitive commitment to their restraint. They will never pull again. A simple string is all that is required to contain the elephant once it believes it has no power. The question, “How?” works just like the elephant’s premature cognitive commitment. Needing to know “how” before taking the step is a commitment to non-action. It is a belief in powerlessness.

On the other hand, to step without needing to know “how” is the equivalent of pulling on the chain. Pull, and see what happens. Transcending “how” is an act of power reclamation. The ability to step without knowing how is central to all vital artistic and, as it turns out, scientific, processes. Discovery precedes the necessity of “How?”

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Embrace The Mess

circa 2011

circa 2011

I did not intend for this post to be a continuation of yesterday’s but when Amy climbed the stairs into the choir loft and said, “I don’t do change very well,” I laughed. It was word-for-word the same phrase that Kerri had just spoken.

For some reason, we’ve come to expect change to be comfortable and breezy. We expect ourselves to be paragons of reason in the face of imbalance. I find this ridiculous expectation of centered-off-centeredness to be suspiciously corporate. Apparently all change needs management and if it is not managed smoothly and without feeling or emotion then it is not well done.

Emotion is messy. Change is hard. The seed cracks before the tender shoot finds its way to the sun. The seed needs to crack in order for the new form to emerge. Hearts are broken, like seeds, to allow new forms to emerge. Even the “right” relationship is dynamic, messy, surprising, joyful, disappointing, filled with fear, the heights of elation, tenderness, quiet, and at the core is this volatile thing called love. Love burns hot during transformation; love is snuffed when excessively managed. Love is transformative when not unduly controlled.

Everyone does change well because change is the nature of our existence. Energy is always in motion. If humans are expert at anything it is change. We do change well because we can’t avoid it. What we do not do well is afford ourselves the grace of feeling the grief, the insecurity, the frustration, the anger, the joy, the exhilaration, and the dizziness that comes with change. We limit our emotional color palate when we confuse change with control. We do not allow ourselves the mess, the unpredictability, and the loss of balance that necessarily comes with this rolling vibrant transformation called life.

Amy would have been more accurate had she said, “I don’t do control very well.” I didn’t tell her the secret: no one who experiences the fullness of life does control well. In the face of her messy, volatile, change process, she wouldn’t have appreciated my counterpoint. When someone is standing in the middle of the muck it is cold comfort to tell them that they are in the right spot. So, I simply laughed, nodded my head, and said, ‘I know….”

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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?”

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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