Poem for a Sunday Morning


Little by little, wean yourself.
This is the gist of what I have to say.
From an embryo, whose nourishment comes in the blood,
move to an infant drinking milk,
to a child on solid food,
to a searcher after wisdom,
to a hunter of more invisible game.

Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo.
You might say, “The world outside is vast and intricate.
There are wheatfields and mountain passes,
and orchards in bloom.

At night there are millions of galaxies, and in sunlight
the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.”

You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped up
in the dark with eyes closed.

Listen to the answer.

There is no “other world.”
I only know what I’ve experienced.
You must be hallucinating.”

― Rumi, The Essential Rumi

sunset field of grain

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

One Minute

One minute is longer than you think.

In class today, my colleague and I had our students give one minute presentations. We put a selection of topics in a bag, had them each blindly draw one out and after a few moments of reflection, speak about that subject for one minute.

They talked about money, achievement, finals week, 5 years from now…, gratitude, confidence, networking, an embarrassing moment, etc.

What I learned is that in one minute it is entirely possible to effectively communicate an idea with the support of an example or a story.

As a concept I imagine this rings true, nothing earth shattering here. But as a practice, I encourage you to try it. See if, like many of my students, you can smoothly articulate an initial reaction to a subject and then support it with an example from your personal experience.

We wanted our students to feel both the pressure and the potential that comes with brief opportunities to be heard. It became obvious to me that developing this ability will make them not only effective networkers but excellent dinner guests, colleagues and leaders, too.

Happy (just not enough)

Walt Disney created and invited us to the “happiest place on earth.” Do you think he believed that the place itself – the castle and the rides and the well-manicured grounds – was the source of that happiness? Or do you think that he delighted in providing a backdrop, a scene onto which we could project our own visions of happiness with and around the people we love, the relationships that are the real source of our happiness?

Whatever Disney has become, I like the romantic idea that Walt attempted to live into the latter question, that he was simply creating a new environment, one never before imagined, within which we could stimulate and reenforce the best of ourselves and the best of those we love. That he could build an empire on that premise might have, but probably didn’t surprise him.

Walking down Main Street this morning, I carried a sense of opportunity that Walt and Mickey’s playground could and would provide that very stimulus for me and my family. That walk remains magical to me, a few moments of suspended reality and appreciation for an extraordinary vision superbly brought to life.

As the day advanced and the spring break crowd grew larger, I appreciated something else that Walt in all his genius could not possibly have imagined: that it wouldn’t be enough for us; that no matter how creative and fanciful, how daring and surprising, this island of fantasy and adventure could never stand up to the onslaught of the mobile device.

The happiest place on earth is real. The catch is that it only exists when and where we allow it to. And it seems, more and more, that we are not willing to do that. With every glance at the phone we are reminded of what and where and with whom we are not, rather than what and where and with whom we are. That kind of dissociation from the present moment, even at a place as remarkable as Disneyland, makes Disneyland less than remarkable.

Because it’s not about the place. It is always and only about the people. And when the people are present, curious and engaged with one another and their surroundings, that place – any place – feels magical. And when they are not, there is no amount of window dressing that can do a thing about it.

No one has taken the magic from us, we’ve done that to ourselves. And we alone will have to decide if we’re willing to take it back.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

The Hardest Thing

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”

Sharing difficult feedback. Public speaking. Expressing empathy. Learning to play a musical instrument. Becoming fluent in a foreign language.

These are all “hard” things. And I have to put “hard” in quotes because right now you might be saying to yourself, “I don’t think ___________ is that hard?”

Maybe you play an instrument really well or love giving talks or have developed solid skills for giving tough feedback. You probably don’t see those things as hard anymore. You appreciate the work it took to get to your current level of confidence but “hard” no longer means what it once did.

My guess is that before you became competent you told yourself a story about just how hard it would be to get there. And that story – your imagination – depending on how richly it was detailed and how expertly it was crafted, stood in the way of your getting started.

I’m a beginner at the piano. I have not yet had a lesson (that’s coming soon) so I am using my daughter’s early lesson books for exercises to train my fingers and some “easy” songs to aid my learning. I have been at it for one month. In that short time my attitude has shifted from a lifelong belief that “piano is hard” (and therefore not for me) to a present sense of very pleasing satisfaction that I can already do things that I never imagined being able to do.

Until I decided to sit down at the piano for 15 minutes a day, I was living under the shadow of “hard” as an imaginative device to prevent me from starting. I now experience “hard” as an aspirational device to feed my curiosity and help me add one small brick at a time.

The piano is, of course, an objectively hard instrument to master, and mastery is the domain of a very few. But mastery isn’t my goal. Learning to play some songs I love is my goal. Connecting with my kids through music is my goal. Filling the house with Christmas carols is my goal. After six weeks of daily practice, those things no longer seem hard. They seem possible, exciting and a lot of fun.

What changed? I suppose I got old enough and just a little bit wise enough to realize it was time to stop suffering in my imagination and time to start succeeding in my reality.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Reactive or Urgent?

If the company warehouse is on fire you need to react quickly to save what you can and get to safety.

When you go to rebuild you must do so with urgency. Your sales team has made promises that your customers expect them to keep.

Reactive is thoughtless and immediate. And sometimes necessary.

Urgent is thoughtful and persistent. And always necessary.

When you confuse them, you confuse the team. And when you confuse the team they quickly learn to default to reactive.

Push the lever, get a treat.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

That Time, Again

I’m a little over a month into this very specific morning ritual:

1. Wake up! (No email. Very important!)

2. Light a candle as a focal point for my experience.

3. Ten minutes of what I will loosely call “movement” – a series of Qigong exercises to wake up my body and brain.

4. Five minutes to read a daily meditation passage. (This is found on my phone – in my email inbox – so the potential for distraction is massive. Most days, I do OK but the overnight headlines, text messages or “alerts” can be tough to get by.)

5. Ten minutes of breathing meditation to reflect on the passage I just read.

6. Blow out the candle.

7. Pet the dog who has inevitably come over to hang out with me.

8. Pour first cup of coffee.

9. Sit down to write my daily blog post. Usually beginning with a review of photos to stimulate my thinking.

10. Pour second cup of coffee.

11. Pray for inspiration now that time is running short.

I am gratified to report that this routine has become exactly that, a routine. At home or on the road it is something I can replicate. It is reliable and meaningful, mainly I think because it works. It helps me start my day with the kind of intention and focus I want to have throughout the entire day. And when I am inevitably thrown off course during the day – either because my thinking gets polluted or my energy flags – I can call back to the memory of the immediate past and find consolation there for what I have already accomplished. I will readily admit, I have fallen back on that consolation many times.

What I began to notice this week, however, is what I call the “Groundhog Day” effect. Every morning, the same. It’s a little weird to wake up each day at precisely the same time knowing that I am about to do precisely the same thing in precisely the same way. Of course, the meditation I read is different each time and what I end up writing is different each time but the process itself, the same. Just like in the movie it feels both strange and unsettling and, in moments of revelation, deeply comforting. At its essence it means that I am here, again, with another chance to get it right.

Yes, that’s evaluative. Please don’t hear it as self-critical. There is a significant difference between the two. I am proud of myself for developing and sticking to this ritual. Because I am beginning to feel the very real benefits of doing so I am hungry to keep making more of it, to keep improving my attention so that I can create even more space in both my head and my heart for the opportunities, both human and otherwise, I will encounter throughout the day.

One last thought, and it is directly connected to item number one above. This all started in a decision I made last fall not to check my phone – email, texts, news, etc. – until I had started my day in a more “thoughtful” way. Since I use my phone as my alarm clock it was so seductive – once that device was in my hand – to lie there, half-awake scrolling through the overnight ephemera. Honestly, searching for some validating note of opportunity on which I could hang the purpose of my day. Tired of this habit I began to build a new one, creating a sequence of events that could ultimately provide a new, more powerful source of purpose.

Like everything else worthwhile in life, it started small – grounded in a simple and clear intention – and slowly became something I could build from and rely on. As I see it, as long as the “wake up” part keeps happening I have a responsibility to do my best with it. Right now, this is an essential part of bringing my “best” to life.

Tomorrow, again.