A Few Steps More

Just a few steps after I wanted to give up, to turn around and head back down the hill, the trail flattened out, an unexpected stretch of grace and ease that allowed me to keep going.

I really wanted to give up and if not for this change in the landscape, that’s exactly what I would have done. But, right on cue, there it was, the breather I needed to support my flagging confidence.

I kept walking, in no way because of some special resolve, but because the circumstances allowed me to do so. This was a gift, plain and simple.

The lesson is not to grind it out at all cost. The lesson is to appreciate that sometimes, with a few extra steps, we may be lucky enough to discover that the world has turned just slightly in our favor.


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Dear Darkening Ground
{Rainer Maria Rilke}

Dear darkening ground,
you’ve  endured so patiently the walls we’ve built,
perhaps you’ll give the cities one more hour

and grant the churches and cloisters two.
And those that labor-maybe you’ll let their work
grip them another five hours – or seven

before you become forest again, and
widening wilderness
in that hour of inconceivable terror
when you take back your name
from all things.

Just give me a little more time!
I want to love the things
as no one has thought to love them,
until they’re real and ripe and worthy of you.

I want only seven days – seven
on which  no one has ever written himself –
seven pages of solitude.

There will be a book that includes these pages,
and she who takes it in her hands
will sit staring at it for a long time,

until she feels that she is being held
and you are writing.


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Do you dare?

It was above the timber line. The steady march of the forest had stopped as if some invisible barrier had been erected beyond which no trees dared move in a single file. Beyond was barrenness, sheer rocks, snow patches and strong untrammeled winds. Here and there were short tufts of evergreen bushes that had somehow managed to survive despite the severe pressures under which they had to live. They were not lush, they lacked the kind of grace of the vegetation below the timber line, but they were alive and hardy. Upon close investigation, however, it was found that these were not ordinary shrubs. The formation of the needles, etc., was identical with that of the trees further down; as a matter of fact, they looked like branches of the other trees. When one actually examined them, the astounding revelation was that they were branches. For, hugging the ground, following the shape of the terrain, were trees that could not grow upright, following the pattern of their kind. Instead, they were growing as vines grow along the ground, and what seemed to be patches of stunted shrubs were rows of branches of growing, developing trees. What must have been the torturous frustration and the stubborn battle that had finally resulted in this strange phenomenon! It is as if the tree had said, “I am destined to reach for the skies and embrace in my arms the wind, the rain, the snow and the sun, singing my song of joy to all the heavens. But this I cannot do. I have taken root beyond the timber line, and yet I do not want to die; I must not die. I shall make a careful survey of my situation and work out a method, a way of life, that will yield growth and development for me despite the contradictions under which I must eke out my days. In the end I may not look like the other trees, I may not be what all that is within me cries out to be. But I will not give up. I will use to the full every resource in me and about me to answer life with life. In so doing I shall affirm that this is the kind of universe that sustains, upon demand, the life that is in it.”

I wonder if I dare to act even as the tree acts. I wonder! I wonder! Do you?

Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press: 1999), 123-124.


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It’s in Your Pocket

In a recent talk, Tara Brach shared the following story:

“A master thief waited his whole life to acquire the most valuable diamond in the world. When he heard it had been purchased, he spent three days trying to steal the rare jewel. He failed.

Finally, the thief walked right up to the owner and asked, “How did you hide this precious jewel from me?”

To which the owner replied, ‘I placed it where I knew you would never look—in your own pocket.'”

That thing you’ve been looking for, that you’d be willing to steal, that thing you have convinced yourself is too far out of reach, have you checked your own pocket?

Chances are, it’s already there.


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What Will Be?

It is worth remembering that between takeoff and landing there is a period during which you are aloft, held up by unseen forces – the miracle of air flowing over a wing.

This is the gift of in-between time. Just as the excitement and stress of preparation recedes and just before the anticipation of arrival enters in, there is a space, sometimes brief and sometimes generous, called flying.

You are not meant to take it for granted. You are meant to marvel at your suspension over the earth, granted for a time the gift of neither here nor there.

No longer leaving and not yet arriving. This is the time for a long look around. Not to solve, not to know, but to wonder, what will be?


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Too Many Trails

I watched a hiking documentary the other day. It’s called, “Figure It Out On the Hayduke Trail.” That led to my watching another hiking documentary, this one called “Mile, Mile and a Half.” It’s about a film-making team’s trek down the John Muir Trail. (Both are available on Amazon Prime if you are so inclined.)

But this isn’t a movie review. It’s simply an opportunity to state the realization that I had in watching these adventures unfold in two dimensions: I want, no, I need to be out there, too.

So I asked a loaded question of a small group I was working with today. I asked them, as a way to kick off our conversation, what would they be doing if they weren’t doing “this”? And by “this” I mean, “this job,” “this career,” “this pattern or path of the life they find themselves in.”

My answer: I’d be outside, on the trail, among the trees. I turn fifty years old this year and I plan to spend a whole bunch more time on the trail than I have so far. I’m a little late getting started on this aspiration and there are too many trails to walk. But I’m not too late and I don’t need to walk them all.

I just need to walk the next one. And then the one after that.

I read somewhere that’s how you get to where you want to be. That it’s how you build a life.


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Pacific Crest Trail near Mt. Eddy (California)

Who Am I Being?

“I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
– Rumi


Ben Zander, orchestra conductor and co-author of “The Art of Possibility,” had an epiphany about why his players weren’t producing the sound he wanted. Instead of berating them for a lack of preparation, professionalism or skill, he decided instead to look at himself.

“What are they doing wrong?” or “Why can’t they get it right?” became, “Who am I being that my players are not playing the way I would like them to?”

He began a practice of placing a blank sheet of paper on each player’s music stand, on which they were invited to give him any and all feedback they wanted to share. And because he was willing to change himself, to change the relationship between a conductor and his orchestra, they did exactly that.

Every time – every single time – I have applied this same approach to my own circumstances I have found myself not only happier but more effective, too. When I stop trying to change my clients and instead change my approach to our interactions; when I stop trying to change my children and instead change the quality of my listening; when I stop feeling frustrated with other’s negativity or cynicism or disconnection and instead become more positive, optimistic and connected, this is when good things start to happen.

And to those who suggest that this is an unfair division of labor, that changing oneself is an unsustainable approach unless others are willing to do the same, I can only say that leader always go first. As a result of doing so, one of two things tends to happen: others positively respond to the leader’s personal changes and begin to change themselves (like Mr. Zander’s musicians learning to give him feedback) or they reveal their intransigence, helping the leader better understand which relationships and opportunities to invest in and which to leave behind.


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Ordinary Time

I’ve always found these late January days to be tough on my energy and motivation. The holidays are a faint echo and the exuberance of the new year has given way to the disjointedness of human plans put in motion amidst a natural world that paces itself to a slower, hidden metronome.

I feel myself attracted to that more thoughtful tempo, one of deepening and reflecting, even as the human landscape teems with economic, strategic and achievement-focused energy.

I am contemplating how to be faithful to both the work I am committed and expected to deliver and the innermost signals I notice, the ones urging me to replace “just do it” with “just observe” and “just consider,” just a little longer.

Knowing that I cannot dictate the demands or the pace at which they come, I wonder how I might bring that internal desire to the foreground as I meet the expectations before me.

How might I honor both the appeal to act and the call to be still?

How do I hold this tension lightly enough that it will inform new awareness rather than strengthen my resistance?

What is trying to emerge in the space between action and reflection?


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

THE FOURTH SIGN OF THE ZODIAC (PART 3)

I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.

So why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.

And to write music or poems about.

Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.

You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
Or not.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be as urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.


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