Choose Your Path

another detail of And Now

a detail of my painting And Now

Months ago Steve told me that he’d read my book. “I liked it,” he said, “But the only thing I don’t get is the first chapter. What do you mean when you say that we don’t have problems, we have patterns?” Since we were in the middle of a rehearsal we didn’t have the chance to discuss it. I forgot about that conversation until yesterday. I was digging through some old notes and found my original note, the first time I told a group that they didn’t have a problem, they had a pattern. I was facilitating a very dysfunctional group and having a great time untying their collective dedication to misery. Afterwards, I wrote extensive notes because the day’s conversation spun my dials. In rereading these notes I find them more relevant today than ever. Here’s what I recorded:

On the road to power the path splits: one path leads to power-with-others. The other road leads to power-over-others. The fork in the road is determined by where you seek your worth. It is, when all else is stripped away, a matter of focus placement. Where do you seek your worth?

            1) If you seek your worth from others, you will take the path to power-over others.

          2) If you seek your worth within yourself, you will take the fork that leads to power creation with others.

If you seek to glean your worth from others you are essentially trying to control the uncontrollable (what other people think, feel, see,…is out of your control). Control is a fear path and requires protection, shielding, etc..

When people stop trying to control what they cannot control, when they place their energy and focus not on what others think of them but on what they think of themselves, they open. They become safe in the world primarily because their safety is not located in what others think (it is located in themselves).

To pay attention to the self brought from the group an assumption that they would become self-absorbed; they would ignore or disconnect from others. I asked them to imagine this: make the basic assumption that they were loved, that they were already worthy beyond measure. A healthy self-worth does not require self-absorption but its opposite. Respect for others is not possible in the absence of self-respect. Given the imagined assumption of self worth, what might be possible? It all depends upon where they place their focus (where they aimed their focus). Focus placement is a learned pattern.

I have always been interested in comparative religions and have often been confounded by the split that runs through the three primary western faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – all people of the book sharing a common root). To stir my pot Linda and Bill loaned me a book that speaks to the split in the Christian tradition entitled If Grace Is True by Philip Gulley. The essence of its message: what you see (and therefore, what you believe) depends upon where you place your focus. You can focus on the god of righteousness and retribution or you can focus on the god of grace. If your focus is on righteousness and retribution, you will necessarily believe in a chosen people, an us-and-them paradigm, and fear will be your driver (power-over). This god will send hurricanes to punish. If, however, you focus on the god of grace, then there can be no divisions. Grace is for everyone. This god does not send disasters nor takes sides with who wins wars because division is made-up by humans seeking power. Grace creates power-with.

Our nation, at this moment, is in a heated debate about where to place its focus. Standing at the fork it is embroiled in a dispute about which path to take. The danger on the path of power-over is that it invariably and inevitably eats itself. Fear is a potent driver for a little while. Pushing others down to elevate your self might feel good for a time but will always blow back on itself. Diminishing others is a lousy path to (dare I say it?) true power.

For a short time in the 80’s I did work at a school in Los Angeles that served children in gangs. We played a lot. We laughed as a way of loosening the grips of fear-seeing. The epicenter of our work together always came down to this truth: any idiot with a trigger finger can take a life. It is easy to push others down. It takes a heart and a mind (and a community) to give life. The real work of courage is to lift others up; that is what using your gifts in service to the world is all about. And, in the end of the day, the only difference is which path you choose, where you decide to place your focus, and which pattern you decide to reinforce.

 

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WATERSHED on iTunes:  Kerri Sherwood track 10 on AS IT IS

watershed: an event or period making a turning point in a course of action or state of affairs.

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Reverse The Direction Of The Pull

TODAY’S FEATURED IDEA FOR HUMANS

Reverse The Direction

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Doubt

Pidgeon Pier - acrylic on canvas

Pigeon Pier – acrylic on canvas

It’s been months since I had a good chat with the stained glass window. I hadn’t realized that the conversations had stopped. The summer was a blur of unplanned travel and I suspect during the chaos of coming and going that I simply stopped asking questions.

This morning we awoke to snow, the first of the season. Snow arrives silently and inspires inner silence. Steeped in the snow’s quiet I heard the window’s greeting. “Ah, Welcome back.” And so began our conversation about doubt.

Doubt is a double-edged sword, it has two distinct faces. The first face, unlike the snow, is noisy. Doubt does not arrive in silence. It demands to be heard. In the middle of my conversation with the window I heard P-Tom say, “Fear makes us doubt our belief and believe our doubts.” This face of doubt is a crazy maker. It makes muddy the inner waters. It makes all fears come true.

There is another face of doubt, not born of fear but arising from love. The 5th Agreement of Don Miguel Ruiz is this: doubt everything that you think. To doubt what you think makes little sense without the preceding agreements, the most powerful (to me) is this – Be impeccable to your word: speak your truth and nothing else; do not blame or accuse or make others responsible for your pain (your thoughts and actions); own your thoughts; own your actions. Or, better said, love yourself enough to express your love and nothing else. Don Miguel writes that impeccability to your word requires self-love. In this context, this other face of doubt is a step forward. Coming from love, to doubt what you think is akin to cleaning up the dirty dishes. It is to not take anything too seriously. Thought is nothing more than storytelling and to doubt the story births detachment from investment in the story. Detaching from the story-investment brings quiet, like the snow.

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Leave The Wasteland Behind

[continued from Enter The Castle]

In her book, Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach tells the story of a daughter holding vigil at her mother’s deathbed. The mother regained consciousness before dying and said, “You know, all my life I thought something was wrong with me.” And then she shook her head as if to say, “What a waste.”

title_page

The full Parcival tale is woven through The Seer.

The metaphor of the moment is the Holy Grail and, more specifically, the search for it. The search for the Grail is a metaphor for a search for the self – not the roles that we think we play, the purposes that we think we serve, and not the jobs that we do. Grail seekers deal with their ‘being’ and not their ‘doing.’ When the roles are dropped, the purposes stripped away, when the jobs are left behind – beyond all the masks and definitions and importance and interpretations, labels, judgments, and pursuits of perfection, the Grail castle awaits us all. It’s a paradox: the Grail castle is found in the ordinary, the everyday.

We rarely come to the castle because of our wholehearted attachment to The Wasteland (the other great metaphor in the Parcival tale).

Parcival goes on his quest to find the Grail castle because as a young knight, purely by accident, he bumbled into it. He was invited in. He was given the opportunity to speak his truth and at the crucial moment, he denied himself. Instead of truth he spoke what he thought was socially acceptable. He did what he thought he was supposed to do and not what he wanted to do. He played his role and was polite. And his punishment for denying himself was banishment from the castle. And, worse, the whole kingdom fell into famine and he was to blame. He was personally responsible for The Wasteland. So he went on a quest to find the castle and redeem himself.

He believed himself broken and in need of fixing. The harder he tried to prove his worth and regain his wholeness, the worse the Wasteland became. In today’s world he would have purchased a shelf of self-help books. He would have attended seminars and exercised his positive thinking. He would have clarified his purpose and conquered his fear on a ropes course. He might have earned his PhD, bought a BMW, been named ‘Best-in-Show,’ and lined his wall with trophies.

The important point is this: Parcival had no idea why he failed as a young knight. He did what he was taught to do and found himself in The Wasteland. So he began a quest to fix what was broken (he identified himself as broken). He was fighting a battle to redeem himself but had no idea what he was attempting to redeem. He could only regain access to the castle by ceasing to think that he was broken. It was only when he stopped looking for perfection that he experienced himself as perfect just as he was. As the hermit said to Parcival the moment the castle reappeared, “Boy, it’s been there all along.”

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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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Love Yourself Better

this one is from the archives. I painted this 10 years ago.

this one is from the archives. I painted this 10 years ago.

He said, “The current goal is to love myself better.” And then he added, “Not so much a goal but something that needs teaching from our own mind.” His statement begs a great question, an ages old question: Can the mind teach itself? Really, the question is can the mind see itself clearly enough to teach itself?  Or, the question within the question: Can the mind teach itself to love itself? I scribbled the questions in my notebook and beneath them I wrote, “Is love teachable? Is love reachable through the mind, especially self-love?

We’d been chatting for a while and had covered a lot of territory, from Monte Blanc pens to typewriters to soap use around the world, clean water, the difference between good and bad scotch, the shapes of the 50 states and how they might influence personal identity and we’d somehow wandered into the epicenter: self-love.

His statement nailed the universal dilemma perfectly. It was a declaration of separation. The self watching and wanting more for the self. The separation is in the language: to love myself better. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t made this statement. Which part of the self will better love the other part of the self? Which part of the mind will teach the other to love?

It is where myth meets the everyday. Every human being who has walked the earth has wrangled with separation and the yearning for self-love (re-connection to self, unity). The human journey is a walk from separation (birth, if you want to take it literally) to reunification (death). The story lives in mythologies the world round. If we were still willing to read our mythologies (religions) metaphorically, we’d see it. For instance, being expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating from the tree of knowledge is the story the ancients told of the experience of separation. The inevitable bite of apple from the tree of knowledge brought duality consciousness: male/female, us/them, mine/yours, haves/have-nots, me/you. Separation. The rest of the story, not often told, is how, through out the rest of our lives, we seek the Garden where there lives a second tree: the tree of everlasting life (unity). We journey from knowledge (separation) to everlasting life (reconnection). The death need not be literal. To die to the self is necessary to experience the SELF.

Here’s the great paradox: loving another person is an act of self-love. The path to self-love is found when we serve something bigger than our selves. Think about it: the movement is always from separation to joining, from isolation to connectivity. The obvious question is, “Connectivity to what?”

Self-love is not found when the mind teaches the mind but when the mind gets out of the way of the heart. The love is always there. Love is never missing. Self-love reveals itself when the definition of self grows beyond our own skin. According to our latest neurological science, we experience ourselves as separate because we dull ourselves to our fundamental connectedness to others. In other words, we cultivate a story of isolation and then set about the real work of our lives: to see beyond what we think.

And then he said, “You know what else I just realized?”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I just landed myself in a blog post.”

Yep.

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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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.

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