The only place where things are real

I hope you will set aside 20 minutes and take in what is a perfect introduction to David Whyte‘s work. A poet and philosopher, and a longtime consultant to leading organizations, he begins by talking about the “conversational nature of reality.” It’s a phrase that may seem esoteric but the meaning of which is fundamental to your experience as a parent, a partner, an employee, a leader, a friend and any other present or future role you can imagine.

Early in the talk he says, “The conversational nature of reality is the fact that whatever you desire of the world — whatever you desire of your partner in a marriage or a love relationship, whatever you desire of your children, whatever you desire of the people who work for you or with you, or your world — will not happen exactly as you would like it to happen.

But equally, whatever the world desires of us — whatever our partner, our child, our colleague, our industry, our future demands of us, will also not happen. And what actually happens is this frontier between what you think is you and what you think is not you. And this frontier of actual meeting between what we call a self and what we call the world is the only place, actually, where things are real.”

I hear this as an invitation to a third way…one that is about engagement with the unknown rather than the seduction and false security of yes/no, this or that thinking and acting. This requires the capacity to sit in complexity…messiness…precisely when we – when I – want my work and relationships to unfold in neat and tidy, measurable and manageable pieces.

The poems he recites are from a collection called “Pilgrim.” And the work that first made me a fan is called “The Heart Aroused.”

One Good Word

breadLoaves and Fishes

This is not
the age of information

This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.

This is the time of loaves
and fishes.

People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

From “The House of Belonging”: poems by David Whyte

My son’s high school football team started “two-a-days” in early August. That means intense conditioning in the morning and skill practices in the afternoon. That much time on the field goes a long way to building team chemistry, an “x” factor that can make a big difference during the season. In an effort to enhance that chemistry further the head coach decided to implement an intra-squad competition.

He divided the team into four groups of about 10 players and had them square off in daily team building competitions – relay races, for example – the result of which determined who got to sit out the next morning’s conditioning practice.

One afternoon, in the first week of competition, my son came home from practice and I asked him how it went. He started to describe the game they had played and how his squad had performed when he stopped short to talk about one specific teammate.

He said, “I am so inspired by this kid. He’s worked so hard to earn his place on our team and I’m just really impressed with what he’s accomplished.”

This took me by complete surprise. Not because of what he said but that he said it at all! I would generously describe it as an anomaly for my son to express this kind of affection and admiration so openly. He has a big heart but it doesn’t frequently find it’s way to his mouth in this way.

His being inspired, inspired me too, so I said, “Wow. Good for him. Have you told him that you feel this way?”

“No. But maybe I will at the end of the season.”

I said, “Hold on. Your coach has implemented these games precisely to bring you all closer together and doing so has allowed you to see a teammate in a new way, a way that has really caught your attention. Don’t you think it makes more sense to let him know now when it can bring you together even more?”

A typical dad comment. I know this because of the look I got and the response that followed.

“I guess.”

“So, are you going to do it.”

“I don’t know.”

The next day, I asked him if he said anything. He hadn’t. And I don’t think he ever did.

And I get it. I imagine that my son feels that by doing so he would risk a level of vulnerability that he’s just not ready for. A leap he’s not yet willing to make. While I wish he had, of course, it may ultimately be just as important for him to have been invited to do so, to consider it as a powerful tool for connection and team building rather than as a weird thing his dad suggested.

Maybe just the invitation and whatever he imagined about it served as a practice run for future expressions of intimacy. Maybe it has lodged in there somewhere as a kernel of possibility and will emerge at the end of the season, or at the arrival of the next opportunity to reach out. I really do hope so.

Each of us has an opportunity to reconcile ourselves to the discomfort of our vulnerability, to cross the divide that prevents us from noticing and sharing what inspires us, what we appreciate, what we truly value in those around us.

I am urgent about this for the simple reason that “good words” are being suffocated by negativity and hostility in so many quarters. An eye for an eye eventually leaves us blind and I would rather see the good around me and summon the courage to say so. For now, I will take my own advice, projecting my urgency not at my son but at the targets of my admiration of whom he is certainly one!

What’s your opportunity to share a good word? What are you waiting for?

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.

Room to Run

Rita at Dog Beach/Del Mar - March 7, 2015

Rita at Dog Beach/Del Mar – March 7, 2015

“Always this energy smolders inside, when it remains unlit the body fills with dense smoke.” – from “Out On the Ocean” by David Whyte

You have more freedom than you think you do. This is the strange dilemma we face in a society of wide-open access to information, of infinite do-it-yourself possibilities. We have all the freedom we need except for where we need it most: behind our eyes and between our ears.

I heard a piece on the radio yesterday about the power of exposure as a way to open up the imagination to what is possible. If I see bigger I might live bigger. If I see freedom I might pursue freedom. If I see wealth, opportunity, advancement – a concrete example of another way forward – I might reason that it can exist for me also and then take action to achieve it.

Any opening to another way, however slender it might be, is enough to get some people to leap. Others, not so much. Most of us remain bound by our perceptions, locked in a mindset that makes sense to us, well-shaped by years of effort. This is what I know so this is what I am. All the while, smoldering inside is a tiny fire of possibility that is screaming for oxygen. Remaining unlit it streams toxic smoke into our bodies, directly to our hearts.

It may be that you don’t think you’re worthy of your freedom.

You may believe that how you use your freedom won’t pass the test of others’ care and concern.

Or, very likely, the room you want – the freedom you crave – belongs to a group of “insiders,” smart and special people who have what it takes and “earned” their keys to a door you’re still fumbling to find.

There’s never been a time like this. What are you going to do about that?

Rita doesn’t get off the leash too often. When she does, she makes the most of it.

IMG_2142

Working Together

Sunset over the Pacific - June 20, 2014

Sunset over the Pacific – June 20, 2014

Offered with respect and admiration for my son who, at 14 years old, worked his first day as a tax-paying employee yesterday. Motivated by the chance to put some cash in his pocket and the free jump time benefit of working for a new trampoline “park” he’ll be spending five summer afternoons each week twirling signs to draw attraction to his employer’s new venue.

As he officially begins his working life I pray that he always finds joy in his work; that he is nurtured, engaged and challenged by thoughtful peers and leaders; that he recognizes and embraces opportunities to  work with others to create something larger and more meaningful than anyone can do alone; and that his energy, creativity and initiative will be richly rewarded and inspire others to make an equally significant contribution to a world so desperately in need of it.

Most of all, I pray for the awareness that meaning and possibility will continue to stretch out before him as long as he is willing to move toward new edges and experience the powerful forces ready to meet his courageous steps toward the unknown.

Working Together

We shape our self to fit this world

and by the world are shaped again.

The visible and the invisible

working together in common cause,

to produce the miraculous.

I am thinking of the way the intangible air

traveled at speed round a shaped wing

easily holds our weight.

So may we, in this life trust

to those elements we have yet to see

or imagine, and look for the true

shape of our own self, by forming it well

to the great intangibles about us.

David Whyte

Sunset over the Pacific - June 20, 2014

Sunset over the Pacific – June 20, 2014

In memory of my stepfather and my son’s namesake, Duncan McKellar, who would have been 90 years old today.

Plenty is More Than Enough

It’s true. You can look it up.

When “there’s enough for everyone” that means there’s just the right amount. It means that everyone will get what they need. That’s a good thing. Just don’t expect any leftovers.

When “there’s plenty to go around” that means there’s more than we need. It means that everyone will be taken care of and we will still have more to share. For the unexpected guest. For tomorrow’s lunch. For someone in greater need.

It means, in the end, that we have options. Possibilities. And, the power to do more.

Enough is an ending. Plenty is a beginning.

My friend Jeff Shuck, driven by his idealism, passion and expertise, recently transitioned from “enough” to “plenty.” With a vision to “create more from many by helping non-profits harness the potential of peer-to-peer fundraising” he started a new company, Plenty Consulting. The next time you decide to act in support of something you believe in, leading your friends to donate to an important cause, it’s quite likely that Jeff’s company has influenced the process.

Jeff and his team operate from a mindset of “plenty.” There is more than enough. And, the job of leadership is to creatively explore all of the ways to bring it to fruition, to share it around and to amaze ourselves with the bounty we have created.

In that spirit I am inspired to ask you, looking toward the possibility of a New Year, in what ways will you be “enough” and it what ways will you be “plenty”? As family member, volunteer, colleague, team leader, parent, friend?

So much awaits. So much abounds. So much pulses inside of us. Let’s use each other in the best possible way to set it free.

“Remember, I was here, and you were here, and together we made a world.”

from “The Poet as Husband” by David Whyte

Beware the Junkie People

“Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” David Whyte

The time suckers, the energy sappers, the naysayers, the critics, the negative Nellies, the meanies, the passive aggressive, the outright aggressive, the laugh-less, the loveless, the bullies, the glass half empty, the boundaryless, the false, the fake, the two-faced, the promise makers, the promise breakers, the thoughtless, the overbearing, the unprincipled, the arrogant, the narcissistic, the manipulative, the holier-than-thou, the abusive, the dreamless, the unimaginative, the uncaring, the victims, the haters.

It is not your job to fix them. They don’t deserve your time.

Kid President is not one of them. He does deserve your time.

Check this out. And pass it on.

with appreciation to Marlene for permission to use her new phrase as a blog post title…

So close and yet so far

In a wonderful audio recording called “The Intelligent Organization” poet and author David Whyte says this:

“The very things that organizations are demanding from their people – which have to do with more participation, more adaptability and more vitality – are exactly the things that human beings have wanted for themselves since the beginning of time.”

How is it that an organization (by which, of course I mean the LEADERSHIP of an organization who have a vision to create something worthwhile and meaningful and financially viable and who happen to be PEOPLE, first and foremost) and its employees (by which of course I mean those hired on to make the worthwhile, meaningful and financially viable thing actually happen and who, by way of reminder, also happen to be PEOPLE; and, as such are typically hoping to contribute to something meaningful and worthy of their best efforts) can want the same things – so intensely and for so long – and yet fail so utterly and so often at actually achieving them in a mutually beneficial way?

Could it be that I’m giving leaders too much credit for aspirations of “worthwhile” and “meaningful” visions? That they don’t really want to build something of lasting value?

Could it be that I’m giving followers too much credit for aspirations of “meaning” and “contribution? That they don’t really want to use their strengths in support of a compelling cause?

I really don’t think so.

Yet here we are – leaders and followers alike…HUMAN BEINGS, first and foremost – wanting the same things (more participation, adaptability, vitality, creativity, innovation, engagement, etc.) and struggling like crazy to satisfy the need.

We’re living in a new world and we’re still subservient to the constructs of the old.

Enough already.

Labor Day

“Work isn’t to make money. You work to justify life”
 
When I was 17 years old I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I just didn’t know that it was possible to apply what came naturally to me to a formal educational and professional pursuit. And so began a 14 year journey to find what it was I was supposed to do, who I was supposed to become and how my part would matter. When I finally landed on my vocation I was shocked to find that I had known the answer so many years before; that the answer had always been in me, just waiting to be unlocked and reintroduced to the world in a new and more profound way.
 Of course, had I not wandered in the desert, searching in vain for the perfect fit; had I not been tested and molded by so many “roads to nowhere” I never would have found the road to somewhere. It was because of the work that was not my work that I was able to find the work that is.
 James Michener wrote, and I’m paraphrasing heavily, that until we find our “thing” everything else we do along the way is creative. It’s all part of the process of learning who and what we are and how we are meant to use it in and for the world. Another sage, David Whyte, is fond of reciting the following quote, attributed to Joseph Campbell:
 “If the path ahead of you is clear, you are on someone else’s path.”
 In other words, your path – the work of your life – is the one with all the obstacles. You have to fight for it, up and over, through and around; clawing, scraping, racing, pushing, pulling. This is how you know it is yours. And, in my experience, while all of that is happening you are deeply gratified by knowing that this fight is your fight, this labor is your labor, the work meant for you and you alone.
 And what a joy it is to find that work. Truly, it is an exceptional thing to realize that this is my offering, my contribution. And with it comes a deep and significant responsibility to fully explore, fully realize and fully practice that which I am meant to do.
I am grateful on Labor Day to have found my work. More than that, I am grateful to have the permission, support, trust and expectation to fully express it.
“Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.”
© 2010 David Berry