Make It So

Pasta. Meat sauce. Warm Bread. Wine.

Pasta. Arugula salad. Wine.

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog knows the world through his nose. He sniffs everything. It is not uncommon after we finish a meal to come face-to-muzzle with a scent-curious Dog-Dog. Lately, as the objects of his sniffer, we’re given to staring into his amber eyes and offering the menu, saying something like, “Pasta. Arugula salad. Red wine,” or “English muffin. Peanut butter with black cherry jam. Banana. Coffee.” Satisfied with our description, he moves on to the next smell-enticing investigation.

I delight in our Dog-Dog food reports. They’ve become commonplace and matter of fact; “Chocolate chip cookie. Espresso.” Our reports never contain qualifiers, so, for instance, we never say, “A great chocolate chip cookie. Delicious espresso.” We provide the minimum, the noun.

Our Dog-Dog reports have rekindled an age-old fascination of mine: the power of words, specifically, the enormous power of the labels we attach to our experiences.

Language is a sword that cuts both ways. It can liberate and it can imprison. The difference is in how it is used. Language is the primary tool we use to make meaning. Big magic happens the day a person realizes that meaning is not something that is found, rather, it is something that is given and it is given the moment we apply a word-label to an experience. Nothing is good/bad, hard/easy until our label makes it so.

Applying a label to an experience is an act of creation. It is not passive. Take note of the word-judgments you apply to yourself or to others. For a week make a game of flipping them over and applying the label “beautiful” to where you usually apply a judgment. So, for instance, instead of, “I am fat,” why not say to your self, “I am beautiful.” Both are labels. One imprisons while the other liberates. The difference is a single word.

The label determines the possibilities we see (or don’t see). In a past life I used to facilitate organizational change and I came understand that my role was to help my clients ask better questions (use different language). They always came to the table with a “how” question: how do we change without feeling any discomfort? Response: what might you see if you stopped pre-labeling what you might feel as “discomfort?”

The mantra: have the experience first, make meaning second. And then, recognize the great capacity and opportunity you have to make meaning. Why not make a better meaning? Why not take a step and let it be a step merely?

Try this: do the Dog-Dog and, for one week, eliminate the qualifiers so that nothing is good or bad or right or wrong. It just is because you choose to make it so.

Move Your Words

My friend, Mark, made this Wordle of my blog

My friend, Mark, made this Wordle of my blog

I am working with words again today but in another aspect entirely. Now that The Lost Boy has the minimum funding necessary for a production I am working on the play in earnest. Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog cocks his head and wrinkles his brow in wonderment as I talk to myself or dance the words. Sometimes he confuses my work method as an invitation to play and he leaps, catching the cuff of my shirt and pulls me to the ground. “Not now!” I cry out as Dog-Dog stretches my sleeve so that it might fit a giant (a side note: Dog-Dog has altered all of my shirts – he regularly mistakes my work for play. If I do not roll them, my shirt sleeves look as if I am small child wearing an adult extra-large).

I am a kinesthetic learner and realized years ago that working on a script was easier and more productive if I moved or danced the words as I worked with them. To borrow a phrase from a lost friend, my years at school were “fresh hell” because sitting in a desk was painful, it hampered my learning. If I want to have an insight or gain an understanding of something, the best thing for me to do is take a walk. If I move it, I can break down a script in no time. I can memorize anything if I can physicalize the intentions. For me, language, word use, and sense-making are a physical affair.

It is a physical affair for everyone. Try to speak without breathing (an impossibility); breath is movement. Speech is physical. For a real laugh, try to communicate without gesturing. Limit your movements and you will inhibit your capacity to communicate. For more fun, Google the latest statistic about how much of our communication is really non-verbal (we primarily read body language; listening to what is being said is a distant second). The deep mastery of a storyteller is found, not in the words, but the punctuation of a moment: the turn of the head, the intake of breath, the smallest of gesture, the connection made through the eyes; the fire of imagination is fanned when the storyteller, no matter how subtle, dances the story.

Last night I was reminded again of the power of language – the real kinesthetic of it. Betsi is disturbed by the violence and darkness she sees in the world and asked, “How do we push back on it.” I challenged her verb. When we choose our language we also choose a “metaphor path”. Language choices come with images and images are not passive. They define what we see. They define the available options. They are a root for movement. To push back is a verb of resistance. It is counter force, a choice of aggression. “Why push against what you don’t want?” I asked. “Why not put your energy, effort, and imagination into creating what you actually want?”

To push. To create. Which verb will move you?

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Follow The Thread

My work in progress.

My work in progress.

I spent the morning in the studio fanning the flame of a painting I started weeks ago. It’s hard for me to leave a painting once I start it. Once started, there is a thread that I must follow through the maze of developing imagery that will eventually bring me to completion. If I drop the thread, I lose my way. When I find myself thinking too much I know I’ve lost the thread and it is best to do nothing. It is best to sit in the maze and be lost. Moving from the intellect alone will always create mud or worse, it will kill the painting. The thread, to be useful, is intuitive, a guide of feeling. I’ve learned that sitting still is a necessary and useful skill.

To return to the painting requires finding a wholly new thread. It requires sitting with the existing image until the new thread appears. Sometimes the new thread presents itself when I stare at the painting. Sometimes the new thread jumps me in an alley or while having coffee with a friend. That’s what happened with this painting.

The new thread mugged me. I was miles from the studio and heard someone recite a portion of The Prayer of Saint Francis; the painting was suddenly smacking my inner eye. I knew exactly what I needed to do. It felt right. It felt vital. It would not leave me alone – and that’s how I know I’ve found the thread again. The prayer wanted to be in the painting. This thread would not lead to the same outcome. This thread would lead to a completely different painting.

More and more, words are showing up in my paintings. As I walk deeper into specific symbolism, I’m discovering the word as image. Using words as design elements, shaping a word as I shape a drawing, letters as visual symbol (they are symbols referential to sound). These words that do so much to shape our perception and either put locks on our experiences or set us free – they are calling to me as pure visual forms. Letters are simple lines and shapes sequenced and given meaning as words. Just so, words are lovely shapes sequenced and given meaning as sentences. The meaning is not carried in the words (the symbols) but in the reader. The shapes are visual statements before they are infused with symbolic meaning. Open a book written in a language that you do not read and you’ll see what I mean. You can’t make meaning of the symbols but you can appreciate the visual – in fact, once your brain ceases attempting to assign meaning to the symbols you can actually see the pure form (this is a good rule of thumb for cultivating presence, too).

Here’s the prayer in its symbol form for you to interpret and an image of how it currently exists in the painting:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

A detail of the prayer.

A detail of the prayer.

O’ Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

 

 

 

 

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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

It Matters

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From the department of subtlety in language comes a submission from Skip. During lunch today (His email said, “Meet me for a black and tan. We’ll call it late lunch or early dinner.”) During “lunch” he told me about a speaker who made the distinction between a student and a learner – to make the point that our systems of education (higher and lower) are not about learning. To be a student and to be a learner are not the same thing at all.

The distinction is in the assumptions beneath the words. The word “student” implies the need for teachers, curricula, etc. The deeper implication is in the necessary action: it is ‘other-directed.” The word learner, on the other hand, requires no teacher, no agenda, nor a curriculum. The necessary action is self-directed. The action can be facilitated, it can be mentored, it can be shared, but the imperative is within.

Why, you ask, does this matter? Isn’t this just splitting hairs?

Last year Skip and I met at a conference for educators on reinventing learning but in Skip’s words, it was not about learning at all. It was about reinventing teaching. The organizers were educators so their assumption set necessitated students and teachers in an expert driven relationship. The teachers know. The students receive the knowing. No learning required. There were incredible conversations that day and few had to do with learning.

Learning is a pursuit. It is a discovery path. There is nothing passively receptive about learning (note: the moment you separate content from method you end all learning and enter the realm of student/teacher).

It matters. The way we ask the question determines the possibilities we see or don’t see. None of our current questions in the field of education have much to do with learning. I walk in many worlds and in the business realm I regularly hear these phrases: “Why don’t my employees take any initiative?” “They expect to be rewarded for everything?” “It’s impossible to critique anything because they take it so personally.” “Everything needs to be an ‘atta-boy!” “They might do just what you ask but never go beyond the prescription.” Frustration abounds.

Well. We get what we create. Students look for permission, color inside the lines, need approval and fixate on their grade. Learners embrace challenges, step across lines, and know intrinsically whether or not their work is good. It matters.

Move Beyond Belief

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Judy (She-Whom-I Revere) liked my post about geese and sent this addition to me: the collective pronouns for geese are: ‘blizzard’, ‘chevron’, ‘knot’, ‘plump’ and ‘string’ of geese. I agree with Judy, I think I like ‘blizzard’ the best. Someday in idle party chat I would like to say, “Recently, I was caught in a blizzard of geese!” I would have been confused by the pronoun ‘blizzard’ as it applies to geese had I not seen them en masse the other day. My experience opened my eyes to wonder.

Words have the capacity to both imprison us and to set us free. Words are used in an attempt to describe the indescribable as the poems of Rumi attempt to do, or they can box us in, cage us in a dedication of limitation. Daily in my coaching practice I hear some variation of “I can’t.”

Can and Can’t are two very powerful words because both have deep roots in imagination. One reaches while the other rejects. One steps toward the unknown while the other resists movement. Take a look around your home or your city. Everything you see or touch, turn-on or plug-in began with an imagining and an action all wrapped in the big arms of “I can….” The important thing to note about both Can and Can’t is that they have a counterintuitive association with belief. Can’t is firmly vested in it’s belief. Can’t leads with belief. The lack of belief in possibility is a firm belief in impossibility. Can has no need for belief. Can moves without belief. Can leads with exploration and discovery; belief, for Can, comes second, after the doing is done.

The same rule applies to almost all powerful words: those that imprison us are planted firmly in belief; they are arguments for limitation. Those words that liberate our imaginations are vested in possibility and exploration; for words like “can,” “imagine,” and “discovery,” belief is not necessary. Belief follows; belief comes second after experience and wonder.

It’s About Seeing

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

The book is starting to take over. I’ve been working on it for a week or so with lots of bumps and uphill pushing. Today it announced where it wanted to go and required that I type a short prologue that I thought was post worthy:

This is a book about seeing.

Not many people see. Most people merely look. Just as most people hear but they do not listen, most people look but they do not see.

And, although this might not make sense yet, seeing has more to do with stories than it does with eyes. It works like this:

Everyone can see as a child. And then something happens. Children learn to name things with words. Then, they learn to spell the words they use to name things. Soon, they grow up and have a hard time seeing beyond their words.

It is a funny paradox about words: they can imprison your mind; they can also set you free. It all depends up how the words are used.

Artist’s and entrepreneurs share this trait: in order to master their craft they must learn to see again. And, in order to see, they must once again understand the power of their words.