Poem for a Sunday Morning

from “Vacillation”
{W.B. Yeats}

My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.

While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.


On Monday, I will celebrate my 50th birthday. Months ago, well before the advent and repercussions of Covid-19, I decided that there were two ways I wanted to mark the occasion. The first, a long and challenging hike and the second, the recitation of this brief poem for a gathering of close friends and family.

The long and challenging hike is for the expression of my physical well-being, to feel and rightly use the body that has faithfully brought me this far and, with good care, will keep me moving and reaching for years to come. I enter my sixth decade with a deep commitment to being outside, to the exploration of trails and mountains and forests and valleys. I am drawn to these places because of their elemental beauty, of course, but even more so because of their gifts of perspective and humility, something I seem increasingly open to receiving!

The recitation of this poem is an opening through which to express my emotional well-being, that reservoir of love and service that has been poured out in my favor by the people who have refused to allow my failings to interrupt the flow. I know what the poet felt because I feel it too; the blaze of gratitude, the shock of unearned grace, the deep happiness of being wholly loved.

I also hear the call to action (“…and could bless”) as an affirmation of the responsibility of a mature person to be of service. While my personal planting will continue – learning, growing, expanding and connecting – it is companioned I now see by an even more robust season of harvest and distribution. Learning becomes teaching. Growing becomes the provision of shade. Expansion becomes an invitation to share abundance. Connection becomes the catalyst for capacity, because there is no such thing as a finite amount of love.

With rain in the forecast the next few days, I took advantage of the favorable spring weather and enjoyed that long, challenging hike first thing this morning. Once at the top of Mt. Woodson, across a broad, flat boulder, I went ahead and recited the poem, too (video below).

It’s important to share it now, knowing it will be some time before that gathering of family and friends, but in a broader sense, too. It’s important to share it now because in this threshold moment we are all experiencing, if only for “twenty minutes more or less” we are compelled to remember whom we are to one another and to amplify it accordingly.


50 Ideas Worth Fighting For

I am happy to share the complete list of my “50 Ideas Fighting For,” that concluded today. I trust that these perspectives will be a valuable resource for you – a spark to inquiry and to conversation – and that you will pass them along to others who might benefit. I am thankful for your readership and very much look forward to remaining connected with you through this format and others as we work together to navigate this extraordinary and very challenging shared experience. 

With deepest gratitude,
David


50 Ideas Worth Fighting For

#1 – Read poetry

#2 – Change starts from within

#3 – Know Your Values

#4 – Know Your Strengths

#5 – Be courageous enough to name your aspirations

#6 – You Are Creative

#7 – Get Moving

#8 – Take a Break

#9 – You Don’t Fit in a Box

#10 – Development is a Verb

#11 – There is no “there”

#12 – Never Be Afraid to Reinvent Yourself

#13 – “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer

#14 – Tell the truth as fast as you can

#15 – You are the one you’ve been waiting for

#16 – You’ve got it better than you think

#17 – Root for other people’s success

#18 – Build Capability Before You Need It

#19 – Assume They Didn’t Understand You the First Time

#20 – It’s Ok to be “Good Enough”

#21 – Simplify

#22 – Time Alone

#23 – Get Closer

#24 – Empathy

#25 – Take Responsibility for Your Learning

#26 – Show Up

#27 – Mature Idealism

#28 – Leap

#29 – Little Things are Big Things

#30 – You Can Adjust your Default Setting

#31 – Satisfaction ≠ Engagement

#32 – What Power Is For

#33 – Originality

#34 – The Next Smallest Thing

#35 – Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

#36 – Look to Nature

#37 – Eat What You Want (It’s your birthday)

#38 – Competence

#39 – The Real Conversation

#40 – Explain About the Thread

#41 – Be Change Ready

#42 – Common Sense

#43 – Compassion

#44 – The Greater Good

#45 – Integrity

#46 – A Living System is a Learning System

#47 – Readiness

#48 – Letting Go

#49 – Vote

#50 – Forgiveness



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#50 – Forgiveness

The Prodigal’s Mother Speaks to God
{Allison Funk)

the straps of his sandals broken,
his robe stained with wine,

it was not as easy to forgive.

By then his father
was long gone himself,

leaving me with my other son, the sullen one
whose anger is the instrument he tunes
from good morning on.

I know.

There’s no room for a man
in the womb.

But when I saw my youngest coming from far off,
so small he seemed, a kid
unsteady on its legs.

She-goat
what will you do? I thought,
remembering when he learned to walk.

Shape shifter! It’s like looking through water—
the heat bends, it blurs everything: brush, precipice.

A shambles between us.


I am so grateful that #50 landed on a Sunday morning. I am so grateful to close this chapter of my writing with another poem, poetry having become such a profound consolation to me these last many years. I am so grateful to have fallen into the grace of this poem, one that encouraged and allowed me to conclude these “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For” with “forgiveness.”

Could there be an act both more vulnerable and more generous than that of forgiveness? Could there be a time – not in my lifetime – when forgiveness is both more necessary and more challenging? Could there be – might there be – a swelling of vulnerability and compassion that leads to more forgiveness as a result of this extraordinary, frightening time?

We are all connected which means that we, by the very definition of connection, are vulnerable to one another. We go to great lengths pretending that we are not but that is just not so. 

We will continue to trample on one another’s vulnerability, that is the human way. Which means we must continue to rely on forgiveness to restore ourselves into the loving embrace of those on whom we so rightly depend. 

We can begin by forgiving ourselves for whatever ways we feel we have failed, for whatever ways we feel ashamed, for whatever ways we have hurt another. In doing so, we can wrestle with the hard, hard truth that as we travel that inner journey of self-forgiveness we are building the capacity to forgive others and to help them return it. 

Forgiveness is imperfect, always incomplete and always ongoing. It is also the greatest gift we can give or receive.

Please forgive. That is all I ask of you.



To hear the brief and beautiful meditation on this poem that inspired me to share it with you, please visit Poetry Unbound.

 


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#46 – A Living System is a Learning System

“In biology, living and learning are synonyms, indistinguishable processes that keep life growing and moving forward. A living system is a learning system.”

 – Margaret Wheatley, “Who Do We Choose to Be?”


Living and learning are inextricably linked. You can’t live if you can’t learn. You can’t grow, you can’t fulfill, you can’t become, you can’t materialize, you can’t evolve. You can’t be.

What is so challenging and so frustrating about this interconnection is that we need to be reminded that it’s true. Not at the biological level, of course, but at the rational, executive-mindset level of being. We get stuck, entranced, entrenched, enchanted, enamored, beguiled, bewitched, completely consumed by what we’ve done before. And so we do it again. Even though it doesn’t work. Even though we know better. Learning something new simply overwhelms our distracted, safety seeking selves.

This week, in the midst of these extraordinary circumstances, we find ourselves forced out of our denial of the living/learning connection and into new ways of working, relating and providing. It is a strange and discomfiting reality, one that has so much to teach us if only we will allow it to do so.

Many have said, including myself, “How frustrating!”

But another response is also available to us. In the words of Ben Zander we could say instead, “How fascinating!” Instead of leaning away from learning, this response leans toward it. It leans toward and into an opening to curiosity, the deepening of empathy, the commitment to new forms of connection and compassion.

This time has so much to teach us. We will know we are learning when we replace our yearning to “get back to normal” with a yearning to carry forward the hard-won lessons of our shared experience.

“When thinking falters, a living system is at risk. If it continues unchecked, the organism dies. Think about it. Now you know what to do.”

 – Margaret Wheatley, “Who Do We Choose to Be?”


This is #46 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another piece you might find valuable today.

PS: If you are reading this on Facebook, I would like to invite you to go to my website to sign-up for direct delivery of my blog posts. I will be de-activating my FB account at the end of the month. Thank you!


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#45 – Integrity

“The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more one fully enters into the communion of all creatures.”
{Wendell Berry}


When my daughter was in elementary school one of her classrooms had the following sign over the door:

THE DOOR OF INTEGRITY:
I am responsible for everything I think, say, do and feel.

In my memory of it I cannot help but recall Viktor Frankl’s challenge to us when he writes, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

And, I would add, in our response lies our integrity, the evidence of our more or less cohesive self.

How incredible that we get to choose! That we, alone among creatures, have the opportunity to reflect on our impulses and find even more effective ways to interact with the world. Wendell Berry reminds us that this effort is never for its own sake but that the deepening of personal understanding is at once the strengthening of connection with everyone and everything around us.

In these days of uncertainty, anxiety, simplicity and grounding may you access your deepest possible expression of integrity. And, however difficult it may be to swallow in the moment, may the aftertaste of personal responsibility be a savory accompaniment to the freedom you will have so rightly earned.

The best thing about the “Door of Integrity” is that however small it may seem, there is just enough room for all of us to squeeze through.

I look forward to greeting you on the other side.


This is #45 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s a piece on organizational culture you might mind valuable today.

PS: If you are reading this on Facebook, I would like to invite you to go to my website to sign-up for direct delivery of my blog posts. I will be de-activating my FB account at the end of the month. Thank you!


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#43 – Compassion

Pandemic

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20
http://www.lynnungar.com/poems/pandemic/


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#40 – Explain About the Thread

“The Way It Is”

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

– William Stafford –


I was captivated this week by an episode of the podcast, This American Life. Specifically, this segment featuring the magicians Penn and Teller describing their process for developing a new trick. Teller, the conspicuously silent partner, has fallen in love with the idea of recreating a classic floating ball and hoop routine. Penn is less enthusiastic, as in not at all. As Teller works and works to make the trick worthy of their show by the standard they have agreed to over 40 years of collaboration he falls short time and again.

A breakthrough comes when they agree that the way to make the trick compelling to both themselves and their audience is to let the audience in on it from the very beginning. The trick begins with Penn’s announcement: “The next trick is done with just a piece of thread.”  And off goes Teller, beautifully and brilliantly manipulating a ball with nothing more than a piece of thread.

What Penn and Teller understood and acted upon – after years of work on one specific illusion – is what William Stafford implores us to do in the poem above: “You have to explain about the thread.” 

I am often in a position to do exactly that. In the classroom or at a speaking engagement I am frequently asked about my own thread. Why do I do what I do? How did I get started? What are the steps I took from there to here?

I always respond in the same way, that I knew exactly what I was supposed to do with my life when I was 17 years old. A bright red thread emerged through my experiences in musical performance and student leadership. I was intuitively aware that the abilities developed and practiced in those early settings were the strengths I would call on throughout my adult life. I held onto my thread through the first few years of college but lost it completely once I had to marry my intuitive sense of it to the harshly practical world of “knowing what you want to do with your life.” I didn’t know how to manifest my nascent understanding of my thread into a next step. And I was too afraid to explain about the thread. I wasn’t willing to say, “This is my thread. I don’t know much about it but I do know a few important things, not least of which is that it’s mine. Will you please help me figure out where it leads?”

Instead, I let it slip away. As it turns out, it did not let go of me. We played peekaboo on occasion, a flirtation here and there, but it took over 10 years and an extraordinary confluence (aka, the thread working hard behind the scenes) of people and events to land me in front of a classroom of aspirational leaders. The specifics of that first class are hazy because my memory is dominated by the aliveness I felt at having my hands on the thread once again.

A few years ago my thread led me to the college classroom and the opportunity to teach and mentor undergraduate students. The thread has a solid sense of humor. It says, “You struggled to claim me as your own. Others struggle, too. Here is your chance to help a few people struggle a little less, to find the thread a little earlier, and to gain the confidence and declare their commitment to hang on.”

There is no “magic.” There is finding your thread and there is holding onto your thread because “while you hold it you can’t get lost.” There is demonstrating to all who cannot see it that what looks like magic is just your commitment to trust where it will lead. Sometimes, like Teller performing for a full house, we hang on with artistry and elegance. Sometimes, like Teller in the early days of practice, we hang on in spite of our fumbling because our curiosity compels us to learn where it wants to go.  And sometimes we don’t hang on at all. But it is there, waiting to dispel the illusion that we can find our way without it.

What is your thread? Where is it leading?
Who have you explained it to? Who have you asked for help?
What makes it hard to hang on?
Is there someone whose thread confuses you?
Will you listen to them explain about the thread?

For further reading, here’s another reflection on “The Way It Is” by Parker Palmer.


This is #40 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” You’re one click away from reading another!

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#39 – The Real Conversation

Open. Authentic. Honest. Vulnerable. Expressive. Sometimes painful, always a catalyst for new learning.

The real conversation is the one below the surface of the one that is familiar and comfortable.

It is the one hinted at but only entered into when two people agree to ask the un-askable questions give the un-giveable answers.

I am a deeply privileged human being in so many ways. One of those for which I am most thankful is that the “real conversation” is explicitly stated in my job description.

It is an expectation of my professional interactions that I have – and help others to have – real conversations because they are the ones that lead to lasting change. And the degree to which people trust me to do so, the ways in which they willingly, if often tenderly and cautiously, enter into territory that has been perceived as off limits, is humbling beyond measure.

It helps me to appreciate how deep our shared need is for more authentic connection. It also makes me optimistic that the more we work together to meet that need the more likely we are to meet other needs as well.

This is #39 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Care for one more?


PS: If you are reading this on Facebook, I would like to invite you to go to my website to sign-up for direct delivery of my blog posts. I will be de-activating my FB account at the end of the month. Thank you!


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#38 – Competence

It’s worth fighting for more competent leaders.

You don’t tolerate incompetence from your doctor or your accountant but do you feel the same about your leaders?

Maybe you think that effective leadership is that much harder to measure than the successful treatment of an illness or the filing of a tax return. I don’t buy that rationale because as subjective as “good” leadership can be, it is still the sum of the responses to two important questions: “Did we accomplish our goal?” (Are we better off?) and “Did we accomplish our goal in a way that we feel great about?” (Are we engaged and ready for more?)

The responses to both of those questions are both measurable and actionable if we are willing to do the work.

In spite of clear evidence of competence to the contrary, human beings sometimes act irrationally and overturn the apple cart just because we can. It feels good to “throw the bums out” and start over, regardless of the lack of qualifications or experience of those who take their place. We change things up for the sake of change, maybe to feel heard or to be seen, but not always because it makes good sense to do so.

As a country we did that in 2016. Just one example of a negative result of that particular preference for incompetence is that 1,600 scientists left government service in the first two years of the current administration. Incompetence then has both short and long-term consequences. Imagine the devastation to the ranks of our most competent government workers – and how that will impact research, policy design and decision making in the face of climate change and the current and next versions of Covid-19 – if four years turns into eight.

Incompetence is an insult to competence. We demand better in the arenas of life that most directly impact us (health and taxes!) but hit the snooze button when it’s someone else’s problem. It’s time to wake up and realize that those distinctions are false, that we are all connected and that we all pay the price for incompetent leadership.

Say it with me now: “Just Ok is not Ok.”

This is #38 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” This one’s another favorite of mine.


PS: If you are reading this on Facebook, I would like to invite you to go to my website to sign-up for direct delivery of my blog posts. I will be de-activating my FB account at the end of the month. Thank you!


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#36 – Look to Nature

Lines Written in Early Spring
{William Wordsworth}

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:—
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?


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