Coming out of the Closet on this Glorious Day

•April 3, 2015 • 7 Comments

Really? I have to “come out of the closet” again? Well, yes, I do…. fortunately I do have some practice in this area.

First I just want to say…. GRATEFUL! It is 50-degrees outside and most of the snow has now melted from my ground — I can see the tips of Spring bulbs coming up in my garden (about a month late……). Most importantly for today — Mario and I just had a WONDEREFUL walk around Fellsmere Pond near my house…. I often think of it as a meditation — a practice in striving to be really present and aware during the whole walk. This morning we just had so much fun. I notice the duck families scurrying around on the water — they made me happy and reminded me of the farm where i grew up. Today I had Mario backing up tree-trunks with his hind legs which is great practice for body-awareness and has the added advantage of making passers-by smile and laugh….. and the highlight was that FINALLY on the way back the ball-field was at last free from snow and dry enough to have a rigorous round of “Chase the Tennis Ball” — (I stand still and throw… Mario runs, chases and retrieves) — which is the MOST FUN GAME EVER.

And so, at one point I just hugged Mario and shed a few tears of sheer joy and noticed how amazingly fu#*($gly grateful I am for THIS DAY. It reminded me of the work of Brother David Steindl-Rast on gratefulness and the video…. which I have watched at least 500 times, titled A GOOD DAY. Please check it out here…..

http://www.gratefulness.org/

(just scroll down and you will find the video)…

I want to share some important information with you, my reader my friend perhaps my family member or my loved-one. I have thought long and hard about this….. should I? Why? What is my motivation here? Is this coming from and about my Ego? Who is served?   Am I looking for attention?    Sometimes I just loathe facebook and similar things, and yet it is how I am connected to you….

Well, I just don’t know the answers to these questions — what I know is that it is time to come out of this particular closet because I can feel that I am now not being fully honest and authentic…. I am hiding. I am a stand for honesty and authenticity and being real. I am a stand for allowing vulnerability as part of that… and am so very reluctantly but truly a stand for allowing others to hold me… that is most challenging of all.

I have shared my process of undergoing double-bypass surgery in January — and I have just passed the 12-week mark since that procedure… (Halle-freakin`- luya….. it has been a rough ride). So, my coronary condition is greatly improved from where it was prior to the surgery.

This (the coronary arteries) needed to be handled before I could tackle and navigate a more serious health issue that I am facing.

OK, this is the hard part. So, here are the facts and then my perspective on it.

Last October I was diagnosed with a lung condition called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis or IPF. This is a progressive lung disease of unknown cause in which the capacity to breathe and to transfer oxygen into the bloodstream diminishes over time. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this condition, nor any treatment which improves or reverses its progression. The one possible treatment in some cases is a lung transplant. There is also one medication which was newly approved by the FDA last year which may slow down the progression of the disease somewhat. (For those of you who have done the Leadership Program, it may make you chuckle to know that as I write this, in my head, I want to now write…. “These are the facts of the situation and will not change….. You now will have one minute to speak to your ship-mates…..” Hmm….. I notice that I give this hard information and then move into making a joke…. so, I pause a moment, to let it sink in that I have just come out of the closet to you, and to know that you are now sitting with this information.

That’s the thing about Coming Out — as soon as you do, you put the other in a sort of Closet of their own. It has an impact. I remember 35 years ago when I told my Father that I was gay, and then realized that I had put him in the closet — he needed time to adjust and understand and grapple and be angry and mourn.

So, I realize that for some who read this, it has a big impact. As I write this, and I think of you reading this and reacting to this — I feel you, and I feel your love and concern.   I am so sorry to be giving you this information.

I don’t want to go into the details of the disease here — you can google it and get the synopsis. Transplant option aside, it is a terminal condition that will progress at some rate of speed in the years ahead.   I have begun taking the new medication, and am working with my Pulmonologist to prepare a case for a lung transplant (it is a long shot but not out of the question).

For now, my functioning is somewhat diminished but I am able to do the things that I love the most. I am able to do my work — in fact I am finding a new degree of “full permission” amidst my Leadership groups (so, watch out….) that I have never experienced before. I am cutting back on the amount of work and travel that I am doing – but I do want for everyone to know that I am not and have not retired!

My most joyful practice is being outside doing just about anything with Mario. This has created a profound sense of gratitude for the most simple moments of everyday.   My walks are shorter and inclines are tough to do, but I can still do them…  (I use a fitbit and walk about 11,000 paces each day with Mario).

My most cherished blessing is my time with my husband John. This has presented us with the most challenging times we have every faced — and most difficult conversations we have ever had. We are sharing a very deep sorrow together and separately that we never anticipated we would be experiencing. And, we dive into a depth of intimacy and tender closeness now that I never knew was possible. I am so very blessed to have him sharing my life.   We are also seizing the moments that we have NOW — our most fun project at the moment is wildly decorating the little condo that we purchased in Rockport to enjoy this summer….

I go up and down…. it is easy as I write this to sound like I am navigating this so well and so thoughtfully — as I write this I am in a reflective space, and I imagine you my friend here with me. What you don’t see is the moment that I feel exhausted and hugely cranky and I snap at an innocent store clerk who did absolutely nothing wrong. I have not (yet) written about how I fall into a feeling sorry for myself and feeling angry at the world place. These moments are every bit as true as the moments of being in touch with my gratitude.

For this, I must do an added salute to John — I know he is proud of me and in some moments I inspire him — but he also more than anyone else experiences the brunt of my most foul and nasty moments. He is a hero.

And so, my friends, there you have it —- I am breathing a bit freer having come out of this closet — and with that know that I perhaps have now placed a burden onto you that you did not have. It matters to me that I be able to be honest with you. If my life has been committed to one thing always, it has been learning and growth and being conscious. And so with this, too, I aspire to learn and to grow and to be conscious.

In our Leadership Program we talk a lot about the idea of “recovery” — of being about to become quickly aware when we have lost ourselves or our connection and to RECOVER. And so, I want to learn about a whole new sort of recovery. I think that in the difficult moments when I feel that I am suffering, I have lost touch with WHO I MOST TRULY AM. Those moments of suffering are moments of confusion when I think that I am my body or my disease, or my professional role or my physical ability or  any of the many other things I think about my identity….. and none of those are who I truly am. Recovery is about returning and recovering back to the very essential nature of WHO I AM and WHO YOU ARE. If I can become just a little bit better at that sort of recovery I will be a very satisfied and grateful man.

I am wondering if there is an “ask” here of some sort….  hmmm….  well, I ask that you not shy away from this or from me even if it makes you uncomfortable.    I have noticed that for some friends and family it is difficult to be with such difficult information, and some have virtually disappeared from my life.    I ask that you hold me as whole and unbroken, which is the case…. and not hold me as a victim.    What is happening to me is not exceptional — it is part of being human.  It is far worse than many experience, and far more easy that many others experience.  I need to be able to both acknowledge that this REALLY SUCKS and also how profoundly grateful and lucky I am at the exact same time.   Now, there is a paradox.

With love,

Art

Pink Powderpuff Powerlifting — Hurray for INCREMENTAL growth!

•February 10, 2015 • 1 Comment

For years I have espoused the virtues of TRANSFORMATIVE growth and CREATIVE change…. in my clients, in leaders, in teams, in organizational systems…. They type of growth that comes along with unfolding new ways of seeing ourselves and the world, and the process of becoming aware of the limitations of old perspectives and beliefs. The magic of being able to create powerfully from an internal sense of passion and vision rather than fear-based reacting and problem-solving. And, I have dutifully paid lip-service to the importance and benefits of “incremental” learning and change — the step-by-step improvements and growth that happens as we practice a skill or try a slightly new approach. While not-so-secretly valuing “creative transformation” I have made sure to present the value of reacting quickly to resolve urgent problems.

Today as I walked my 7,500 steps around the indoor track of my local YMCA, clutching my 2-pound pink dumbells…. I thought about how ESSENTIAL is this period of VERY INCREMENTAL change for me and my recovery. I pondered this idea of transformative change versus incremental growth — of creative change as opposed to reactive problem solving.   All the while listening and bopping along to Meghan Trainer’s “All About That Bass…”

The experience of bypass surgery is a bit like playing one of those board games as a child when you land on the square that says “TAKE A THOUSAND STEPS BACKWARD AND BEGIN AGAIN….” Remember that feeling that you have been plunked back at the very beginning and must start all over again?

GRRRR!  Powerlifting my powderpull dumbell and REACTING!

GRRRR! Powerlifting my powderpuff dumbell and REACTING!

In so many ways I feel that I am starting all over again….  and must build back up one very incremental step at a time.

At 5-weeks after surgery, I am just now at the point where I can begin cardio rehabilitation. I have very little stamina, and the simplest of tasks exhausts me. My very big step forward this week was to begin holding 2-pound dumbells and doing very simple arm exercises with them as I walk. My aspiration is that each day…. very very very slowly….. I will be able to make very small improvements and changes to what I am able to physically do — slightly increase my pace…. do just a few more arm raises than the last time…. be slightly less winded when I climb the stairs. I need to repeat the same exercise again and again and again to notice a very slight improvement.   It has always been far easier for me to jump out of an airplane than it is to prepare for a marathon…

And I wondered as I moved around the track…. “Am I in a creative or reactive mode here?”   I am proud to say that I am REACTING  and PROBLEM-SOLVING.   I have an intense internal conflict that makes me ANGRY, DISHEARTENED, sometimes feeling DESPAIR, and way-too-often very GRUMPY.   I do not like it and it needs to change…. it has me REACTING and PROBLEM-SOLVING.   In general, I am not “creating” and my action is not inspired by my high dream of possibility….  I am focused on SURVIVAL.   And, at times a catch a glimpse of the vision that I have for the life I long to live and I have not lost tough with my passion and love for life…  they remain.  But, I am growing a new-found and genuine appreciation for how essential it is to take BABY STEPS toward our growth — to try SLIGHTLY new things…. to make SMALL ADJUSTMENTS…. to build a new muscle one step at a time.

I believe that TRANSFORMATIVE LEARNING and INCREMENTAL GROWTH are like distinct instruments in a co-creative symphony and both have their part to play.    Up until now, I have not been valuing all the parts of the orchestra.    I know that as a leader and educator, this insight will change me — it will have me not ONLY strive to catalyze radical change, but also to pay careful attention to the ways in which steady and continuous improvement happens.

Now, back to the track.

Cosmic Meaninglessness and the Chance to Choose

•February 1, 2015 • 7 Comments

You may have seen pictures recently of me clutching this red-heart pillow….  and wondered what the heck it is….  well, when you have heart surgery you are given a heart pillow (or teddybear, or whatever….) to hold tightly to your chest when you need to do anything that impacts your breastbone, like breath or laugh or cough or God-forbid sneeze.   So, if you see someone walking slowly around your local mall or grocery store clutching a heart-shaped pillow, know that they have just had some sort of open heart surgery and are doing the very best they can!

My and my constant companion heart-pillow after surgery.

My and my constant companion heart-pillow after surgery.

On January 7 I had open-heart surgery.  The surgical team took an artery from my right leg and a vein from my left forearm and grafted them onto two of my coronary arteries which, although previously “stented,” had become blocked again.   After a few days in intensive care and a few more days in the hospital, I came home on Sunday January 11th…  Today it is 3 weeks later…. Sunday February 1…    I have made it through the most difficult part of the recovery process, and have about 5 more weeks until being fully back “in the swing” of my life and work.    It has been a rollercoaster of intensity and I have had moments of utter despair, triumph, excruciating pain, surrender, gratitude, fear…. experiences all over the map.

It seems like there should be some WISDOM and MEANING that comes from all of this, doesn’t it?    If you are like me, when really bad things happen, you somehow can get through it all more easily if you know that it is happening for some worthwhile reason.

We like to believe that the forces of the universe deliver circumstances to our doorstep when we are ready to handle them…  that life is a series of events that come to us so that we can learn from them and grow.   We hold on to the notion that there is some sense to be made of the sometimes confusing way that life unfolds around us — that it INHERENTLY holds some truth and meaning.   Particularly when events cause us to suffer, we take some solace in the notion that there is some reason or logic or meaning in why things are as they are.   I have watched myself in this same inner struggle, striving to have my suffering be mitigated by the meaning and deeper truth of what was happening, if I could only see it.    What I discover, however, as bleak as it may sound, is that the events of our lives are inherently MEANINGLESS —  there is no inherent sense to be made of the tests and challenges that we must navigate on our journey.  It seems a bit blasphemous to say that….  somehow we are supposed to think that life inherently has meaning and purpose.   But, this conclusion is not just bleak and hopeless — it is actually a liberating paradox.

One of the experiences that is commonly reported by people who have had open-heart surgery is emotional upheaval in the weeks following surgery.  In particular, deep dips into despair or depression, and moments of uncontrollable tears happen regularly.   Being a ten-year veteran of heart disease and the proud vessel for 12 coronary stents that were implanted a decade ago – I had some understanding of the possible depression that might follow surgery.   I’m glad to say that I have not yet experienced bouts of depression this time around.   However…. during the first two weeks at home I have experienced wild emotional swings and periods of uncontrollable tears that seemingly well up from nowhere in any moment.   This happens in any setting and just happens….  my care-takers, bless their hearts, can attest to this having been with me in all sorts of setting when it has happened.

During my first week at home my husband John took me out to our local Whole Foods Market so that I could do my 10-minute “walk.”   Somewhere in my slow trek down the snack food aisle I suddenly was overcome by deep despair, and a sense that God had forsaken me….  that I was being rendered helpless and left defeated by a very cruel and unfair universe.   Poor John watched as I turned, sobbing and gasping for air, into the bags of whole-grain organic tortilla chips.   I felt angry and defeated — I thought “OK, God… you have brought me to my knees…. I surrender…..”   I wanted to know  WHY?????   Through my tears, I wanted to shout out to God that I was willing to be brought to my knees as long as there was some MEANINGFUL PURPOSE in it!   If I knew that I could learn something useful or gain some shred of wisdom, then I could more readily accept being brought to my knees.

Bargaining with God…  it feels familiar to me.  I want for this human life to be somehow “fair” and to “make sense” — for there to be some inherent karmic law that balances everything out at the end of the metaphorical day.   And, what I realized in that moment is that these notions are all a sort of wishful thinking that we construct so that we can more easily navigate the suffering of life.    There is no inherent meaning, and “fairness” does not factor into how life unfolds.   There is no purposeful lesson to be learned.  It just is.

The very strange thing is that as I realized all of this,  I first felt such a dark and hopeless sense of gloom —  and then I started to giggle.  Yes, I started to laugh.  Part of me was noticing how intensely melodramatic I was being.  A voice in my head was saying…. “Well, duh… Art…. you already know this….  you have a blank canvass here of circumstances and experiences and it is your opportunity to create meaning from it… you get to make it up….  It means NOTHING, which means you get to decide what it means for yourself.”    Because, you see….  we have the agency and wisdom and creativity to construct the world we experience and live through in every moment.    Life does not dictate meaning to us… it does not come with pre-packaged meaning…. rather, we construct the meaning of life in every moment.   One one had that can seem devoid of any hope but at the same time is incredibly liberating.

And so, then…. what does it mean?  What meaning am I constructing from the events of my life at the moment?

  • I am courageous and can navigate pain.   People do not generally like to expose their vulnerability or disclose how difficult their struggles might be — including the reality of what it is like immediately following open-heart surgery.   This has been the most difficult and physically painful process I have ever navigated and it rendered me HELPLESS following surgery.  I learned that I can surrender to the difficult things…. I can accept being a very wounded animal and can gracefully allow others to care for me and hold me up.   I can accept and move willingly into the pain and suffering that must happen and I can navigate it and construct meaning from it.
  • I am not the circumstances nor roles nor well-though out plans of my life.   When I learned that I needed to urgently undergo bypass surgery, one of my reactions was “But wait…. this can’t be happening now because I have PLANS.  I have work projects scheduled and groups to lead and this just isn’t a convenient time!”   It is quite a jolt to, within one week, need to cancel EVERYTHING on my schedule for several months ahead.   I was confronted by huge discomfort that — without all those work projects — I would somehow cease to be.  Without the roles that I play, who would I be? I was struck by how much I have defined my identity by my professional activity and role.  It forces me to dig deeper to a more essential sense of who I am and what matters in life.
  • I am not invincible, and neither are you.  I like to pretend that I am some sort of invincible super-hero who does not need help, who is strong and independent… who always helps others but is not vulnerable himself.  This experience reminds me in a new way of how human we all are, and of the power that comes from a willingness to be vulnerable and to yield.   Many want to help and support and provide care in times like these, and this experience provides repeated constant practice in allowing others to give — in accepting love and support with grace and with gratitude.   I have been very blessed to have a core group of friends around me that have loved me and cared for me during these weeks… I have had acupuncture treatments and massages and meals and visits and errands and hands to hold, and am deeply grateful.
  • And, this is practice as well in having compassion and understanding that everyone is different and has a different way of responding in situations.  For some, it is immensely uncomfortable to “be with” the suffering of a seriously ill or injured loved one.   Some of my closest friends and family have needed to take a step back during this difficult period… to distance themselves from it in some way.   I notice how quick I am to judge when others who are friends or family seem to be unable to reach out or be present with what is happening.   It is all too easy to take offense or interpret their reactions personally, rather than to have compassion and recognize that they are doing the very best that they can.

This has been a time to take stock of life with my husband John — to ask ourselves what really matters and to assess how we most want to live our lives in the years ahead.   I made a decision to travel less and take more time at home, which means transitioning out of the business that I have helped to create in Colombia South America.  It prompted a somewhat impulsive saying YES to purchasing a vacation condo in Rockport on the North Shore of Massachusetts as a get-away place for me and John and Mario.

More to come.  This is just week 3 of an 8-week recovery period.   My intent is to keep navigating this process consciously… to not expect there to be logic or meaning or justice in the circumstances but to use every moment as an opportunity to CHOOSE the meaning that I construct from the ongoing unfolding of life.

Momentary Smiles

•July 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment

We walk along Fellsmere Pond and I spot an elderly man sitting on the bench.  His head is down and I make up that he is perhaps lonely.   Mario Antonio Doodle walks by my side, sniffing all that he can along the side of the pond… not yet aware of the man on the bench.   As we approach, the man looks up and I see his face light up as he spots Mario — ahh…. he is a dog-lover.  And, Mario notices too — he senses a friendly being and wants to say hi.   We approach and Mario sits in front of the man… stretching his nose out to sniff, wanting to lick his hand, and bowing his head for a scratch.   As the man scratches Mario’s neck, he comes alive in that moment and smiles broadly, his eyes twinkling.  “Oh, what a good dog,” he says.

This happens a lot along Fellsmere Pond…  now there are various people who call out “Mario!” when they see him coming around the bend.    As much as I try to prod Mario into becoming an ace frisbee dog and agility champ – his true gift is simply eliciting smiles and creating moments of joy in people’s lives.  

And so, I made it official…. took a class and exam to get him certified as a Therapy Dog.  No rigorous obedience or tricks required, simply a loving stable friendly presence.   

 

I had some doubts today as I sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic making our way to visit four of Mario’s new “clients” at Marina Bay.  Each an elderly patient in a hospice setting, each approaching the end of life.   I suspected that the bigger challenge would be with me, not with Mario.   I felt unsure of how to be and what to say.

I learned that my role in this is secondary — I am the handler and facilitator.  I can help to set the stage and manage the interactions — but my biggest job is to be unobtrusive and stay out of the way.   What if the patients feel uncomfortable?   What if I don’t know what to say?   I noticed pretty quickly that Mario did not seem to have any of these apprehensions on his mind — he just showed up being himself.

We’re back home now after visiting with four patients.  I find myself with tears welling up, which I cannot entirely explain.   We spent perhaps a total of 45 minutes actually visiting with patients.  Of those 45 minutes, the patients probably spent 30 of them lost in their own world, unresponsive.  It is the other 15 minutes that moves me deeply.  For each patient, there was a moment of coming alive… of coming present…. of having a brief encounter with this pooch named Mario.   A minute of remembering and telling me about that dog that they had.   A momentary smile lighting up their face. 

I am grateful for the gift that they each gave to me today — the gift of remembering who we are, just for an instant.  And of reminding me once again that this moment is the only moment that we have.

Who Will Catch Me?

•September 12, 2012 • 1 Comment

Funny how sometimes the biggest learnings come from unforeseen places.  I have decided, finally, to hang up my tights and bring an end to my Flying Trapeze career, much to the relief of my heart and sore shoulders.   You see, throughout the seven months of Trapeze classes, a tiny soft voice kept nudging me in various moments…. “uh, excuse me…. are you sure this activity will be good for you?  You, um, have heart disease, remember?”   As is often the case in life, I tend to push that voice to the side until it screams more loudly for recognition…“OK, bud….  how about if I rip some of the tendons in your shoulders…. will that get your attention?”    On a deeper level, the process had me grapple more directly with my tendency toward reckless stimulation at the expense of taking better care of myself.  It raised the question — on the Trapeze and in Life — Who Will Catch Me?   I will come back to this theme, but first want to share what I have learned about the RELEASE part of the Flying Trapeze.

One way or another when doing the Flying Trapeze, there comes a moment when you must release the bar…. either to fly into the air, to reach for the catcher, or simply to let go and drop into the net.   Hmmm…. sounds a bit like life.  One way or another when living a life there comes a moment when each one of us dies… a moment when our physical life ends and somehow we let go and release.

In my brief career as a Flyer, I have experienced many swings where I have mostly just clung to the bar, chalky palms gripping as tightly as they can all the while saying to myself “just hang on, it will be over soon…”  During these swings,   my main focus is to hang on tightly to the one thing that I think is secure – namely, the bar.   And then…. yes, every single time…. comes a moment when I have arrived at the end of the swing and there I am still clinging to the bar… either to linger a bit longer or not…. but ultimately with just one option and direction to go.   On some other swings, I allowed myself to actually BE in the swing – to immerse in it, to feel it, to experience it. These swings, some with tricks and some just for practice, were exhilarating and alive and truly wondrous with a savoring of each brief moment in the air.  But…  I notice that either way I have chosen to do it, the swing still ends up in the same place — with the need to let go.

I relish the experience of freedom.   I feel grateful to experience a sense of freedom often in my life — they are the moments when I am connected to everything and to nothing all at the same time.   It happens in the quiet moments in the early morning when I sit outside in my garden and something catches my eye.   It happens when I connect deeply with another and feel the intimate human thread that connects us all… every single one of us.   It happens in transcendent moments when I gaze out to the sea… when I gain the biggest picture possible.   I notice that “free” does not mean the same thing as “happy” — it comes in moments of grief as well, particularly when people who I love have died and I feel their spirit around and within me.

I am aware, too, of the vast amount of time I spend in a state that is far from the experience of freedom — when I feel trapped in some sort of spiral that is hard to escape.  As I think of those times, it seems that fear is most common element — fear of losing something…. my family, my financial security, my health, my reputation, my status or power.   As I reflect on myself in that state, I see that out of that fear I cling tightly to the identities that I have created to define me to the world around me — like ivory castle towers that now must be maintained and defended against some unknown threat.   If I just cling tightly enough I will somehow survive until the end…

I have been lucky to have found several soulmates in this life.  One of them and the first, Cydney, taught me very valuable lessons about living and dying before she lost her battle with breast cancer twelve years ago.   Death was an ally that woke her up in the final years of her life, that prompted her to knock down the ivory towers of her identity to live her life fully before leaving.   I read this poem at her funeral, and it is always close to my heart:

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.

I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible;
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.

In the “here and now” objective world we live in, I am many things and wear many hats, each bringing  aspects that construct my identity.  Some aspects have well honed skills and others – by design – do not… some hats I relish wearing and others frustrate me.   In some moments these parts of me are happy, satisfied or proud — and in others are terrified or sad or lonely.    I am a husband, a brother, a man, a neighbor, a consultant, a coach, an uncle, a friend, a competitor, a student, a teacher, a citizen… lots of identities that overlap in various ways… each with its own set of expectations and hopes and fears.  These “real” aspects of me are sometimes content and sometimes not – but rarely experience what I would call freedom.  When it seems to me that “I am” these things – that they represent who I am – a potential suddenly also exists that I might somehow lose them… that they could be lost or stolen or discarded.  And then, of course, if that were to happen, who would I then be?   This illusion creates a frightened clamoring and clinging and striving to hang on… to build the ivory tower walls higher or make them more impenetrable.  For this reason the shaman Don Juan counsels his student Castaneda that he must “lose his personal history.”   This clinging to identity feels much like clinging to the Trapeze bar high above the net.

On another level, a more dreamland and fantastic level — I am an adventurer, a romantic, a lover, a wizard, a dare-devil and risk-taker, a dog-whisperer, a dancer, an activist and an alchemist.  These are aspects of who I imagine and dream myself to be, and they bring a zest and meaning and color to life.  As I notice these dreamy parts, I notice too what seems to be missing from this list… where is the self-nurturer and caretaker and steward?  Somewhere along the way, that part got marginalized and cast aside.   These parts reach toward freedom… they stretch me and grow me… they bring a rich texture to life that transforms in from a series of events into an unfolding mythic story.  While I approach the doorway to freedom in these dreamlike states, these figures do not quite carry me the whole way through.

Then, there is another level even deeper than dreams of sentient essence and transcendent experience.  This is an ineffable state and the moment that I describe it with any words it becomes diminished from what it is… I can only point to it.   I know that it is state that I have always known.  My earliest memories of it come from when I would walk down to the beach as a young boy late at night and find an empty Lifeguard Chair.  I would climb up to the seat, way above the deserted beach, and gaze out over the sea to simply look at the moon and its reflection on the water.

Soon my fixed identities and even dreamlike figures would disappear and I someone knew that everything made sense and that I was a part of it all… as though part of me was the moon reflecting on itself in the water.   That was a space of freedom.

I have written before of my fascination with flying and love for figure skating on ice or springboard diving… early precursors to the Flying Trapeze.  Sometimes I dream of those moments and have the experience of disappearing into the movement and the music… of somehow becoming it.  In those moments too, I know freedom.

And so, this brings me back to the question:  Who Catches Me?

My ally Death helps me to answer this question, because he keeps me vigilant and conscious that this life is fleeting and precious.  Death will come as it does to all it its time, but it is not here quite yet.  He has introduced me to a new idea of The Catcher… the one who cares for me, nurtures me, sustains me.   In the “here and now” level of things, it is the part of me that is aware enough to recognize choices I make every day of how I  eat and move and sleep and work and relax.. who has attention on what actions serve me and the parts I want to grow, and what actions do not.  He is learning to pay closer attention to the subtle signals poking me for attention.   On another level, the more dreamlike one, there is a new archetype present that I do not know very well… the benevolent, compassionate, and nurturing one who values this life I have…. who knows that I deserve to be here and that life is worth living… who knows that regardless of what may go on around me, that I myself am trustworthy.  I plan to spend more time getting to know this one.

And, beneath all of that…. when I realize that ultimately there is not really anyone here to catch me (or any of us) in the end and I ask myself, well then Who Catches Me?   I think of what indigenous tribes refer to as the Sacred Hoop of Life  that contains us all — the place that I know well from my time atop the Life Guard Chair as a young boy.   In the Sacred Hoop of Life I am and we are all held.  I have always been shy about acknowledging the spiritual essence of who I am and how I experience life, and yet I know it to be the most rich source of freedom available.  And that is the essence of it, of freedom, and it is here around us and in us in every moment… It is freedom here and now in life, not an imagined freedom that may or may not come in death.   I plan to spend more time knowing this place, too.

Surrender Presence & Intention… and my friend FAILURE

•June 22, 2012 • 3 Comments

What does it mean to SURRENDER oneself completely?   Falling in love with my husband.   Being swept down the river rapids in a raft.   Body-surfing the crest of a wave.   Facilitating a hot group dynamic when I am “on.”   All of these have a quality of surrender for me — of letting myself go into and embrace a greater force that PULLS me.   It is a force that is greater than I am — the force of love, of rushing water, of a group process and the human spirit that wants to express itself.    On the Flying Trapeze I have progressed to being an “advanced beginner,” which means that I am now working on taking off from the platform on my own,  building my SWING, and learning some basic “back-end” tricks.   It may not appear to be as fancy as a trapeze catch trick, but the SWING is an amazing and magical thing — and the most challenging and disorienting thing I have yet experienced.  It is, well, a wild rush.   It is teaching me to recognize my ways of responding when I step or leap or dive into a force that is greater than I am.

In these situations in LIFE or on the TRAPEZE….

…. Sometimes I close my eyes, grit my teeth, pretend it is not happening, and I shut-down until it is all over.   My body tightens, I go into survival mode, and I tell myself to hang on until it is over.    Hmm…. sounds like what sometimes happens to me in a difficult conversation with someone I care about,  or say, when I am confronted in a challenging way by a group I am leading.  The first few times that I tried the Trapeze Swing this is what I did —- held on tight and shut down until I heard someone yell “let go!”    This is what I would call RESISTING THE FORCE.

….Other times I surrender to the force and get completely lost and disoriented… it sweeps me away.    Hmmm….. sounds like when I find myself on an emotional ride and become completely confused and uncentered, or when I work with a group and get bounced around so much that I become completely ineffective.   On the Trapeze, my Swing attempts after the first few were like this.   I would leap from the platform, surrender to the momentum of the swing and a rush of dizzying disorientation would overwhelm me.   Each time the Trapeze would reach its top height and begin to fall again in the other direction, my stomach would swoop up to my throat and the “Whoooaaaaaaaaa!” of vertigo would take over.   In this state which I call SWEPT AWAY I am lost and at the mercy of whatever the force is that has me… be it love, anger, rushing water, or the swoop of the Trapeze.

…. I am just beginning to now get a glimpse of the magic of the swing and what is possible, and the incredible power that can come when SURRENDER, PRESENCE, and INTENTION occur simultaneously….  when I am aware of the force and of myself at the same time that I embrace it, surrender to it, and allow it to carry me.    When that happens, I become one with the force… I can create from and with it…. I can impact it as it is impacting me.    So I think of my relationships — the people who are dearest to me — and moments that we enter into a conflict or difficulty.  In the best moments, I surrender to it and embrace it — and move forward towards it with presence and a conscious intent to deepen the relationship.  Or, I think of a tense group dynamic that I am facilitating and moments when I am able to move right into the energy that is happening while at the same time noticing what is happening and holding one level of awareness on my role or intent to have some sort of impact.   In these scenarios if I can surrender to what is happening it  becomes a force that I am able to create from.   On the Trapeze, I am beginning to see that the SWING is all about this force and my ability to become one with it, rather than being about my strength or ability to “force” it to happen the right way.

I am very much a beginner at this SWING, and suspect that I have merely scratched the surface.   This feels like a really worthwhile muscle to build, and I wonder in my life…. if I were able to more fully SURRENDER with PRESENCE and INTENTION to the situations around me, what might become possible.

FAILURE.  Often as a leader of teams and groups I can inspire others about how wonderful it is to learn from failure, and how wonderful it is to risk failure… some reading this have heard me say that.  OK, guess what.  I think failure sucks.   True Confession:  The reason that I usually have succeeded with many things in life is because I have made sure that I quit before I failed.  Uggh.   I hate failure and most things related to it… I hate being afraid of it…. I hate being viewed as it….. and I have always worked pretty hard to avoid it.    And, OK, yes….. boy it sure is a good teacher.

On the Flying Trapeze I am experiencing lots of failure — and rather than avoid it I want to share it right up front (see my Blooper video below).    A few weeks ago I had what felt like a disastrous Trapeze class…. I just could not get it together, and just about every time I leapt from the platform something went wrong.   Finally, I told the instructors that I had had it and was leaving… it just wasn’t my day.   As I was leaving, I slowly became aware of how I was feeling and of the thoughts racing through my head.   I felt angry and frightened and very discouraged — the Trapeze is getting a bit more difficult and I am afraid of hurting myself.   I felt very angry with myself for failing.  And I said to myself “I cannot do this…. it is too hard for me…. I am too old, too fat, too weak, too inflexible…. if I keep doing it I will look like an idiot…. I might get hurt…. I need to quit now….”

I stopped in my tracks because I realized that often in my life I have found myself in that very same state — and on various important occasions I have surrendered (been swept away) by that state and have quit.   It took me right back to the moment in 10th grade when I quit the High School Diving Team because I was too afraid of getting hurt or failing on the more difficult dives…. I knew that if I continued I would have lots of painful failure and I wanted to avoid it, so I walked away.   Professionally I have declined complex opportunities when I have been too frightened of failure, or too discouraged when things have not gone my way.   Personally there have been too many occasions when my fear of failing or being hurt in a relationship has compelled me to walk away, or consider doing so.

And so, I chose to sink more deeply into that experience of failure…. down down and down more to explore what I might find at the bottom.    It is, for me, a dark abyss, like being at the bottom of a very deep well.   And there at the bottom is a very frightened little person, surrounded by the menacing dangers of life that loom large and threaten to destroy.   It feels very primal to me… the terror of being obliterated, and the raging force of destruction — perhaps forces that are fundamentally embedded into the human DNA and emerge in me in my own particular way.   As I explore these energies more I find that they transform, one into a sense of open vulnerability, sensitivity, fragility, and innocence; the other into a ferocity, passion, and white-hot WILL TO LIVE.  Ahhh… transformed, these are energies that I can make good use of when I find myself in my own moments of wanting to give up and abandon my quests.  Actually, it seems like what I am learning in the Swing of the Trapeze — there is a surrender involved to the discomfort and pain of failing — there is an energy to it.   My intent is to bring more presence into that experience, and allow it to bring forth the creative force of intention.

Please do feel free to chuckle as you watch this one…you will not be the first to do so ; )

I did “climb back up the ladder” and returned for two classes last week — very determined to improve the “Back-End Straddle Whip” that I had so much difficulty with before.   I found myself laughing and enjoying the failures more, and made some improvements with the trick…. I am filled with excitement about continuing this journey — on one level it is simply fun.  On another level it is serving as a great structure to strengthen my resolve to work out, eat well, do yoga.  And more than that it is working for me in a profound way to explore what makes me tick, and what makes me more free — and that is my quest.   If you have reactions to my musings, please leave them with a comment — I appreciate it greatly.

Suffering on the Platform of Life? The Warrior Says “No More!”

•May 12, 2012 • 1 Comment

The 30 seconds or so up on the platform BEFORE getting ready for the swing are intense, chaotic moments of panic, anticipation, doubt, and indecision.  In spite of that seemingly calm demeanor, there is a swirl of things going on in my head and my body….  the stream of consciousness goes something like:   Oh my God… I don’t have to do this… my heart is fluttering…. I can find a good excuse to back out…. no,  follow what you want…. but you don’t have to… you have heart disease you shouldn’t do this…. go for it!   

These are the moments before choosing, and as I wait for my turn I am most aware of all of the reasons that I do not want to do it, and all of the ways that it would be completely reasonable to turn around and climb back down to the safety of the ground.   And yet, I stay — I know that in just a few seconds I will step out to the edge of the platform, will lean out and grab the trapeze, and squarely face the opportunity in front of me.   I have been reading books by Carlos Castaneda recently and in his journey with Don Juan he learns to distinguish between the Hunter and the Warrior.   In these moments up on the platform, the HUNTER in me is active…. the part that notices with acute perception what is happening on the platform, in my mind, in my arms and legs and toes, and in my heart.   Just as the hunter in the forest listens and feels the most subtle shifts in the wind or sounds around him, the hunter within me strives to notice what is happening… my breath and beating heart, my doubts and urges to flee, and the undercurrent of fervent desire for something.   The hunter notices all of these signals, and with awareness selects the ones to pay attention to and to follow… the hunter points the way.   If the Hunter is awake, then the choice that I make is made consciously.

My turn comes, and I step up, inching my toes to the edge, holding a safety bar on the platform, and stretching my whole body out over the platform to grasp the waiting trapeze.  I look out and down and all around — this is it, it is right in front of me.   In just a few seconds I know I will here the call of the “Ready!  Hup!”   “Breathe,” I tell myself.   “Notice that you WANT something here…. the rush of leaping and moving into this experience…  you want to give yourself to this, to seize it…”   At this point, I have made the choice to move directly into this experience.  I still notice the parts of me that are afraid and that doubt.  My heart beats fast, and I remind myself to breathe.  I notice that I am committed to leaping.   “Feel your toes…. raise the trapeze bar UP…. breathe again” I say inside.   I hear the “Ready!” and bend both my knees.   Then I hear “Hup” and I jump up and out.   “Yes!   You are moving IN….”   This is a thrilling moment of the entering into the experience.  It is a bit like the second that a rollercoaster car reaches that split moment just over the top of the hill when it begins to move DOWN…. it is going, it is on its track… it builds a momentum of its own and it is not coming back.  It is the Warrior in me that has chosen to leap, that chooses with intention  to “enter into” the experience, to step over the line beyond the point of no return,   There is a paradoxical surrendering to the experience while simultaneously acting from will and intention.   An unpredictable whoosh of experience occurs that I am both “in” and that I am “present to.”    The Warrior has the capacity to act with both agency and surrender, moving fully into and through the experience while observing it at the same time.   It is not comfortable.  It is, however, very ALIVE.

There are many important moments in life when I find myself at a crossroads of choice.  In front of me, something that I want, that excites me, perhaps that I am frightened by but I know is needed, that has about it the urgent quality of something important being at stake.  Something that the most fundamental and real part of me knows to be the true path.   At that crossroad is also doubt, reluctance, and when something really matters fear and even terror.   This part wants to shrink back… wants to seek comfort of the familiar… wants the security of avoiding possibly painful moments of physical or emotional hurt.   Very often, I choose to remain on the platform, to shrink back and stay safe… and I realize that in that place I suffer.   I have spent a lot of time in this mode…. on the platform of life, suffering.   In this mode, I tell myself that there is some later moment in life when I can take the risky step.  The thing is, there is no such thing as later because all we have is right now — this moment — to choose to live or choose to die.

Recently I have noticed in a profound way the difference between remaining on the platform suffering, and choosing to enter into the difficult and scary place in my personal and professional relationships.   When I feel afraid, I tend to worry A LOT what other people will think and how they will react.  The prospect of making others angry or saying something that might prompt someone to reject me can be terrifying for me.  It is the neurotic tendency described by Karen Horney as “complying.”  When I have had difficulty in relationships, my tendency has often been to avoid confrontation… to shy away from being direct and honest when I have something difficult to say.  In the framework of Process-Oriented Psychology, it is a tremendous edge for me.  As a result, I have spent lots of time on the platform suffering… in some cases I have stayed on that platform fretting back and forth for years with certain people who are close to me.    A recent experience stands out for me with a friend and colleague who is someone that I highly respect and deeply love — and yet I have been suffering in this relationship for way too long.   In a recent interaction, I suddenly realized that I was “on the platform” and the hunter became active.  He noticed my fear, my sweaty palms, and the butterflies in my stomach.  He noticed, too, a longing for agency and self-authority.  He noticed the impulses of the child inside afraid of rejection, and he noticed love for this person and a desire for something more real and true.   I am not sure if it was a Warrior-energy or not, but I made the choice to follow what felt true, stepped to the edge, and spoke directly and honestly about the things that disturbed me in our way of interacting.  It was tremendously uncomfortable, and also tremendously alive.   On the other side of that experience, I realize that my compassion for this friend has deepened — I have more space, and more love.   We may or may not be able to reconstruct a new relationship, but I know that whatever we have will be cleaner and more authentic.   And, I have discovered a new capacity within myself… still a bit wobbly… but growing, to follow the signals of my heart with greater courage and authenticity.

Hope for the Guest

Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think…and think…while you are alive.
What you call “salvation” belongs to the time
before death.
 
If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive,
do you think ghosts will do it after?
 
The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten…
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the
City of Death.
If you make love with the divine now, in the next
life you will have the face of satisfied desire.
 
So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is,
Believe in the Great Sound!
 
Kabir says this:  When the Guest is being searched for
it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that
does all the work.
Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.
  (Kabir, translation by Bly)

So, what happened back on that trapeze?   In this class I was learning a new trick called a SET HOCKS OFF.   There is a real thrill in doing a trick and at the end reaching out for the catcher and making the catch.   Here is my Set Hocks Off!   Please add your comments to this post — it is very gratifying to see what reactions feelings or thoughts get prompted in others.

Reaching for Freedom

•January 11, 2012 • 5 Comments

My first catch on the Flying Trapeze... reaching for freedom

Today was a bucket list day.    For many years I have harbored a not-so-hidden secret desire to fly on the high trapeze.   Knowing it was not-so-hidden, my husband John gave me a gift certificate to the New York Trapeze school for Christmas…  and gulp, the not-so-hidden desire was plucked right into the realm of reality.    I knew that it was important to do this — and to do it now.  Not just because I have been intrigued to do it for a long time, and not just for the rush that I knew would come from it.  Some other yearning has been gnawing away at me wanting, but not quite able, to come into clearer view…   So, over the past few weeks I have been pondering what this flying thing is really all about.

Why now?   Well, this has been a time of struggle for me, these last six months or so.   It is hard to say it, so I want to lay it right on the table… I have been sad and isolated and feeling lost… grappling and battling with something illusive but deep inside.   I am getting older, and frankly not liking it very much.   I have lost my dear companions Revel and Puck.   I have lost my father and very recently my brother.  Life has seemed, well, hard.  In times when I get stuck in an almost despair-like sense of struggle and futility, I grapple between taking good care of myself and not treating myself well.  I notice that I am drawn to indulgences that are damaging to my heart and body and probably spirit, too.   This is not good for anyone, and especially for someone with heart disease.

All the while, the wiser observer inside watches…. “do you see yourself doing that?   Why is it that for someone who stands for life and realizing dreams and possibilities….  you are actually engaged in hurting yourself…. hmm.. why is that?”   The observer is often present — I notice that he doesn’t seem to intervene much… but rarely does he allow me the pleasure of indulging myself unconsciously.  That would be the downside of doing too much self-development.

Could it be that I don’t want to live?

Now, that is a strong question to pose.  It is an uncomfortable question to pose.  It is not palatable or even acceptable to say such a thing — especially if you are a ”be all you can be“ champion for human development.

It was confronting some months ago when I summoned more courage to ask myself this question more directly…. do I want to live or do I want to die?   The answer to that question was uncomfortably clear.  I want to live.  And, I want to die.  Wow….part of me wants to die…. wants to exit this life.   I notice that it is very hard to admit that truth.   I define myself as a champion for living… it is central to my work… it is how I usually strive to show up for others…. it is a process that is primary for me.   Wanting to die, however, is not — it is a part that feels dark, and shameful, and unacceptable…. not at all part of who I am.   Well, time to take a further look.

As I got more curious about that part, and summoned a bit more courage and a bit less pride… I needed to take a dive beneath the surface on my own well of grief.

(“Well of Grief”, David Whyte from ”Many Rivers Crossing“)

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief

turning down to its black water
to the place that we can not breathe

will never know
the source from which we drink
the secret water cold and clear

nor find in the darkness
the small gold coins
thrown by those who wished for something else

And, in this exploration, sinking beneath the pressures of life’s entanglements, the black grief of loss of those I have loved, rage at the unfairness of so much around me, I let myself imagine how it might be to just let go… to let go and die.   Ahhh…. breath.   Breathing free…. In that death I discovered an ultimate sense of freedom.  That freedom that has no limits, where one becomes all, where there is no me and you or even an us.   I imagine death to be a returning back into whatever free and universal spirit is… boundless, timeless, just being.  To me, it is bliss.  It is like lying in the grass and becoming the sun and the trees and the sky.  It is the moment sitting on the lifeguard chair on the beach at night when I become the moon and the rippled water.   This is what I am after.

Varrooommm…. back to life, here and now.  What an insight — my deep desire is not for death, per se, but rather it is for freedom.   I have longed for a greater sense of freedom all my life.  Gratefully, I have many moments and periods of life when I experience freedom, and certainly growth over the years has brought me more degrees of freedom.  And yet, in recent times, that freedom has been illusive and the more prevalent experience has been suffering.

From the Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield:

Pain is physical, suffering is mental.  Suffering is due entirely to clinging or resisting.  It is a sign of our unwillingness to move, to flow with life. Although all life has pain, a wise life is free of suffering. A wise person is friendly with the inevitable and does not suffer. Pain they know but it does not break them. If they can, they do what is possible to restore balance.  If not, they let things take their course.  –Nisargadatta

What does all of this have to do with the Flying Trapeze and my fervent desire to join Cirque du Soleil?

After mentioning my upcoming trapeze lesson and nervous excitement to a dear teacher recently, she asked me to tell her about my earliest childhood dreams.   That was easy…  as a kid, I dreamt of many things but the one single-most common, vivid, and visceral dream was always, always, of flying.  There was a period of time when on some level I was convinced that I knew how to fly….not just knew about flying, or imagined vividly what it must be like — no, I KNEW how it felt to fly.   I remember clearly the effort it took to take off into flight… the subtle maneuvering that was necessary with the wind and pressure of the air on my skin… the more uncertain it felt if I flew at a too-high height…. the feeling of looking down on our house and farm, and of being able to steer my direction while in flight.   And at the heart of those dreams was a sense of being free and unencumbered.

As I thought about it, memories came back of the many ways that this theme has always been present.

  • I recalled the summer of 1968 when I was about 9 years old… and the giant oak tree at the end of the lane.   I had bugged my Dad to create a trapeze for me in that specific tree, and finally he agreed to do it.   This was not a swing like one you could sit on…. I wanted a TRAPEZE.   I spent hours practicing my swinging, hanging from my knees, then dropping dramatically to swing from my ankles… and launching into a somersault dismount.
  • After joining the swimming team a year or two later, I immediately knew that I was not supposed to be swimming, but rather diving…  and that became the next pursuit.   What I loved about springboard diving was the sense of flying through the air, either with outstretched arms like wings or curled into a spinning ball… but flying.
  • Sheepish though I may feel to reveal it… there was also the time that I jumped from the roof of our house, much to the horror of my Mother who was doing dishes below, as Mary Poppins… with full get-up of dress, shoes, carpet-bag, and umbrella with a carefully crafted parrot-handle.   I reached that umbrella up to the sky, leaned out, and flung myself from the roof of the house.  Although I mainly got very skinned knees, I suspect I may have been leaping once again for freedom.
  • To this day, my single-most visceral reference point for the feeling of freedom is figure skating on ice, which became my next pursuit as a teenager and young adult.   The most full spiritual expression of freedom that I know is that moment, gliding fast over clean ice in a darkened arena — the light reflecting off the ice… and of leaping from the ice in a long spinning jump…. or just reaching out and and feeling the air rush by me.

As I had this conversation and shared these memories with my teacher, the connection which seems so obvious came into deeper clarity for me.   I have often said that my purpose in life is to create more freedom — for myself and for others.  But as many times as I have said that, in a workshop or to students of mine — it has always felt a bit, well, cerebral.  A bit too rational.  A bit too-well-worded.   What I realized is that my desire for freedom, my own and yours, has always been at the center of my being.  I have strived to find freedom from the inside-out… with my body…. always,  in some way or another.

Realizing this, my Flying Trapeze lesson became much more meaningful.  As I drove today to the New York Trapeze School, I thought about what really this meant for me.   I thought about the suffering that I have been entangled in, and my desire to be free of it.  I thought about how meaning in life, and a sense of being free, is not dependent on the absence of pain, or loss, or strife.  Those are all a part of life.   The quest is for greater degrees of meaning and freedom in the midst of all that life offer to us, good or bad,  each and every day…. in fact in every moment.   I am not solid yet in my capacity to be in that experience much of the time, but I am becoming more clear that it is the quest that I am on — to build or reveal or discover or uncover that capacity.

Well, let’s just say that they don’t waste much time at the Trapeze School.   It is pretty much, ”OK, everyone ready?  Let’s go….“   At various moments, I noticed my fear and my trembling and my doubt… my concern that my arms would not have enough strength, or that I would fall the wrong way.  And in each of those moments I remembered why I was doing this.  I thought of the phrase ”reach out for freedom….“ and I connected with the yearning in my heart for that freedom.   I need to remember those moments, because I know that I am always choosing which way to lean…. toward freedom, or toward suffering.  I am always choosing which voice to listen to… the one who says things like ”you can’t…. you shouldn’t… there is no use….“ or the one who says “just do it…. lean in…. trust yourself…. trust others…. follow your desire….”

And so I flew….  from the bar… from my knees… and ultimately letting go of the bar and catching hold of the catcher and flying.   I left giddy with excitement and a great sense of YES.  More importantly, it gave me a boost to get unstuck and actually write this — I feel a greater sense of purpose and direction.  A new quest is emerging in me around this theme of freedom, and of what it means to be free and choose to live at the same time.

Buy Your Ticket to Bombay Today¡

•January 23, 2010 • 4 Comments


My dear colleague Dr. Okokon Udo and I have been thinking lately about what it is that pulls us forward in big steps toward the vision that we have for what we want to create in our lives. There are many things, we thing… but an important one is being willing to “buy your ticket to Bombay.” And so, that ‘s the topic of this installment of our collaborative writing effort.

We just bought another pair of tickets to Bombay for ourselves! We have set a series of events in motion that will pull us forward toward a joint vision we have, especially in the moments when we forget, when we don’t know how, and when we’re convinced it is impossible. That’s the point of buying tickets to Bombay.

W.H. Murray was a Scottish mountain climber, and a human being who knew a lot about creating something extraordinary from any circumstances. During World War II, he spent three years in prisoner-of-war camps in Germany, Italy, and Czechoslovakia. While imprisoned and using whatever scraps of paper he could find, he wrote the first draft of his book, Mountaineering in Scotland. After it was discovered and destroyed by the Gestapo, he responded by starting again in spite of being near starvation.

Most famously, in 1951 he climbed Mount Everest. Imagine the world in 1951, and the prospect of climbing Mount Everest! The path was not yet known, there was no such thing as Gore-Tex, and certainly no cell phone. It was a venture that seemed impossible, but that was part of a clear vision and dream. His famous quote is often missing what has become, to us, the most important starting line. Here is the quote in its entirety:

… but when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money— booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

True confessions. we’re often lazy.

We get scared and get convinced that we shouldn’t take risks.

Probably most significantly, we get anxious about our security and, well, comfort. We have learned that left purely to our own devices, we would often prefer to stay warm and cozy on the couch rather than venturing out into the snow storm. But, in our heart of hearts…. in that part of us that is most alive, vibrant, and connected… the truth is that we LIKE snow storms.
Our sense of what is potentially possible for us and the life that we want to live… the impact that we want to have… the fun, the adventure, the love, the intimacy, the challenge… has always been bigger than our current reality. For many years the dreams that we held inside and would barely dare to speak, too often remained just that — dreams. Too often, after not mustering the courage or chutzpah to take risks, our security and comfort, over time the dream would dim and fade, eventually dulling itself into a subtle regret.

Ugh. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Somewhere along the way, we learned about “booking our passage to Bombay.” One of those times for me was about 7 years ago when my good friend from Colombia, Sonia, said to me: “I want you to come teach a coaching course with me in Colombia….“ At the time, it seemed very far out of my comfort zone. I said to myself, “isn’t that where people were being
kidnapped? Shouldn’t I focus on clients in my own backyard?”
And yet, listening more deeply, I could hear the rumblings of desire – a longing to stretch himself, to go beyond what he thought he could do, and a gut-level sense of YES, this is right. And so, before planning the course, before knowing who would be there, before knowing whether or not I could afford it, before the doubts became too rigidly fixed in his head…. I called American Airlines and booked my ticket to
Bogotá.

As Murray says, in that moment providence moved too. In that instant my entire frame of reference shifted out of the space of doubt and fear within the context of I CANNOT DO THIS, to eager nervous excitement in the context of OH MY GOD IM GOING TO DO THIS.

For Okokon, it was almost eight years ago, when he finally decided to quit his secure executive non-profit job in search of a yet undefined call to finally commit to what his late father referred to as being an engineer of souls. At the time the pay and benefits were excellent, he was the primary breadwinner of his family at time when his wife had just completed graduate school and was without a job. The risks were extremely high at the same time that the conviction was strong. So he did what he normally would not do. With everything at stake including three young children to raise, acting on his coach’s searching question – “what are you afraid of?”, bought his ticket to an uncertain future as a coach, public speaker and consultant.

Today, I bought another ticket to Bombay. At 4:00 today (January 20), I dropped my application in the mailbox for admission to the Process Work Institute graduate program in Conflict Facilitation and Organizational Change. Okokon is also “buying this ticket to Bombay” —  his application is in process will follow in the mail soon….  (Hmmm…. Another lesson about how to pull ourselves forward toward an unreasonable vision is probably to align yourself with powerful allies — more on that in another blog!).

There are soooo many reasons for us to NOT do this.

  • We cannot afford it, and we don’t have the time.
  • We both have way too many academic credentials and do not need or want another one.
  • We promised our spouses that we would never go back to school.
  • We already know a bit about facilitating conflict. We could go on.

Those are all real. And yet…. if we listen more deeply, we can hear other rumblings. There is something I and my partner Sonia aspire to. We want to go directly to the most wounded segments of Colombian society — the parts that have been brutalized by the civil war, those who have wielded the weapons of violence, and those that have been victims.

Okokon on his part will be a cheerleading partner on my Colombia quest while responding to the call to lean into the ever present religious and ethnic conflicts in Nigeria and the divisive challenges and conflicts in Turkey. It feels scary even as he thinks about it but this is not a matter of whether he will but how soon he can get going. He first experienced the brutality humans unleashed on each other during a thirty month civil war and again during several brutal religious conflicts that claimed thousands of innocent lives. The goal is to get to the systemic causes of conflicts in the first place and help the different sides explore and find other ways. And, he can count on me as his cheerleading partner in Nigeria.

In all of these efforts, we want to find ways to create reconciliation where it seems impossible and bring forward the essential part of humanity however far beneath the surface it has been buried. From where we now stand, those feel like incredibly audacious and ridiculously uncomfortable thing to aspire to – it is way outside our comfort zones. We know, too, that left completely to our own devices, we most likely will shy away from taking bold action to make those dreams real.

We also know that if we put ourselves in the Process Work Institute program (which requires solid fieldwork) it will give us a structure that will absolutely make this work real, however much kicking and squirming we might do along the way. There is something powerful about listening deeply to our heart’s most unreasonable and audacious desire. To hear those rumblings and then ask ourselves: “What could I do that would pull me forward on this journey even when I want to back-out?” And then, on faith, buy your ticket to Bombay.

We know that when we “buy our ticket to Bombay” and it stems from that place of desire, it is an act of creation – and it feels so different from reacting to life’s circumstances. It feels to us like the distinction that Robert Fritz makes between creativity and problem-solving. He says: “There is a profound difference between problem solving and creating. Problem solving is taking action to have something go away – the problem. Creating is taking action to have something come into being – the creation. Most of us have been raised in a tradition of problem solving and have had little real exposure to the creative process.”   (Fritz, Robert 1989. The Path of Least Resistance, page 31).

There is a passage from the KJV translation of the New Testament which states that “faith is the evidence of things not seen” (Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 1). It is akin to Senge’s notion of “presencing” — of feeling into the future that is unfolding and giving it room to come into being. We want to become ever-more able to listen to the heartbeat of what our soul longs for — for the future that is eager and ripe to unfold if we will only allow it to do so.

And so, we ask YOU:

  • What are the rumblings in your soul that you can barely hear, that have you almost lose your breath if you dare to listen to them?
  • What would be YOUR ticket to Bombay? What would be the bold action that puts both of your feet solidly on the boat in a way that makes it much more difficult to turn back?
  • What do you know about audacious goals, and going after them?

With love and gratitude —- Art and Okokon

The Important Thing About Crossing the Finish Line

•July 23, 2009 • 7 Comments

What does it mean to “win?”

My teammate Denise promised that if I don’t redefine what winning means to me, she will slap me…. so, I’d better devote this last Blog entry to that very topic.

I enjoy winning and always have. I like to do things in which I have a good chance of shining and being successful. Truth is, I rather like the spotlight… and the accolades that come from performance. Often in life, I have avoided doing things… or have quit sports, hobbies, endeavors or professional pursuits when the competition became too intense or I thought I might not win. Generally, winning has meant finishing first, diving highest, performing the best jump on the ice, or making the most clever presentation — I love to shine bright. Actually, what I really like is to shine the brightest.

In the triathlon on Sunday….. after the open water ocean swim and the bike ride along the beaches of Falmouth…. I came to the final part which was a 3 mile run up and back a bike path along the water. Throughout the preparation for this event I have assumed and even joked that I would be somewhere bringing up the rear of the pack finishing the event — and that my intention was to take it as slowly as needed just to finish. That sounded like a good thing to say, and I didn’t really think I would be at the very rear. My assumption was that as a 50 year old, even with heart disease, I would go at a slow pace and that maybe I would finish in the last 10 or 20% of the group. Surely many of the people in their 60’s and 70’s would finish behind me. That would be respectable.

As I progressed, slowly, on the running part of the race, it began to dawn on me that there didn’t seem to be many people running behind me on the trail. I began to wonder “How many people are left behind me??”

As Denise joined me (sacrificing her own finish and doing most of the running part TWICE so she could join me) it hit me that, perhaps, I was actually one of the last people of the entire 650 or so people in the competition. It was at first really hard to let that sink in — I thought that it must be wrong.

After I made the turn at the half-way point and began to head back for the final mile, it became clear to me that I was not one of the last racers…. I was actually THE last racer. I was the person that was going to be the one coming in at the very end.

Initially, my heart absolutely sank with embarrassment and shame.

It was right about then that Denise said she was going to start slapping me, and I don’t think she was kidding. And then… one by one…. my team mates began to appear, having run out to join me and to finish the race with me…. John, Lina, Kerry, Chris, Vincent, Mary, Erica…. they began to run with me…. we laughed that I was like the President with his posse of secret service, because if I paused… they paused, and when I sped up… they sped up….

My Winning Team:  Denise, Chris, John, Lina, Art, Kerry, Erica

My Winning Team: Denise, Chris, John, Lina, Art, Kerry, Erica

I could feel their tremendous joy in their own accomplishment, and even greater joy in cheering me on and sharing this last leg of the race with me. I know they knew that mixed with my laughter and exhilaration was sadness and embarrassment.

John's Brother Vincent

John's Brother Vincent

And then as the finish line came into view…. I heard the SHOUTS of my dear friend Sherman and his wife Leia. As anyone from his Co-Active Leadership community knows, there is no voice of heart-felt support quite like that of Sherman. And I realized what it meant to him to have traveled across the entire United States just to be here for THIS moment — this one moment of cheering ME on as I reached the finish line. I felt as humbled to my knees as I have ever felt in my life.

Oooohhhhh…… this isn’t about me. This was about THEM…. about bringing people together in a way that has the human spirit shine. About joining together in common pursuit of goals that seem out of reach, and supporting each other and cheering each other on, and celebrating each other’s success.

The true prize in this journey — the real WIN — was in the team that got created, the sharing of both the struggles and the victory — and in allowing others to give of themselves in big and heartfelt ways. The incredible satisfaction of witnessing that, and knowing that I had contributed to making it happen, far far far surpassed whatever satisfaction might have come from crossing the finish line with a faster “more respectable” time. That is how I define my victory in this event.

I remind myself why I started this Quest in the first place, six months ago…. I needed a structure to keep me accountable to getting into better physical shape. I wanted to lost some weight. Mainly, I wanted to see what I could learn from my heart disease, and what I could learn about shifting my lifestyle to a more healthy one.

Art and his sister Mary

Art and his sister Mary

Well…. I didn’t lose the weight I wanted (that will be my next venture) although I did get my fitness on track and have gotten into much better shape (…. and discovered the fun of boxing…).

But more importantly, I have learned these things:

…. Triathlons (and many journeys in life) are accomplished by taking them one milestone (and, literally, one step) at a time. The important thing is to begin it — to declare it and proclaim it, and to say “Yes, you can support me…. please do…”
— Often, when the journey feels hard and uncomfortable, it is possible to slow down a bit, and keep going.
…. The journey is much more pleasant when I shift my focus away from my worry and doubt, and place it on the people around me, on the sun on my face, and the world around me.
…. Although I’m no longer sure that comfort is over-rated…. this I know absolutely: what matters is being FULLY ALIVE… and the way to do that is to say YES and put myself in the game in the first place.
…. The real essence of winning in life has nothing to do with how well I do, how I measure up compared to others, or how many points I have at the end. It does have everything to do with who I am surrounded by as I cross the finish line…. it is about the connection, joy, and human spirit that I can allow, nudge, coax, inspire in others — and, for that I will gladly have myself finish last every time.

If you are curious about the actual results, here they are: I placed 591 of the 592 people who actually finished the triathlon — I was the 1st runner-up to last, and completed the race in 1 hour 54 minutes and 39 seconds.

I want to give my heartfelt thanks to every member of the “Comfort Is Over-Rated Team” that have given me so much on this Quest — to the cheerleading squad with a very special thank you to Sherman and Leia, John’s family, and Trish and Camille. And my team of racers that joined me on this Quest: to John’s brother Vincent, to my sister Mary, to my Leadership buddies Lina, Kerry, Erica and Chris, and Denise. Finally, I don’t have adequate words to convey my gratitude to John. All I can say is that all of this is fundamentally driven by a fervent desire to LIVE, and to share that life with you always.

Love,

Art