Here to there. There to here.

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“We’re constantly saying as human beings,
‘Over there is slightly more important than here, where I’m standing.'”
– David Whyte

“Real change is best understood by staying in one place.”
– Andy Goldsworthy

I am pulled to exploration and adventure, the discovery of elsewhere as a tonic for here.

I am pulled home again, for the reassurance of the known and the rediscovery of here as a tonic for there. (And the trustworthiness of my own bed!)

Each day this push and pull.

Each day a journey into the labyrinth – into the center of my experience – that foreign land of familiar monsters where I left them and the prospect of new ones around the bend.

Each day a journey out again, the retracing of steps, slightly more knowing than before, slightly less defensive, better equipped for the “here” that awaits.

Here to there. There to here.

Always coming back. Always coming home.

{Hat tip to Molly Davis}


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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

 

 

A Child Again

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“Getting Out of Our Heads” – David Berry, 2011

…See with every turning day,
how each season makes a child
of you again…

– from Coleman’s Bed by David Whyte

“What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven.”  

from Eleven by Sandra Cisneros

I asked my students, third and fourth year undergraduates, if they considered themselves creative. They do not.

I disagreed.

I said, “It’s impossible to be alive and not be creative. Living is the purest act of creativity there is.”

They stared back at me.

I said, “Living equals learning. Learning equals creativity. Therefore, you are creative.”

Some nods. A lot of blank faces.

They don’t see themselves as creative. Few mature people do. At around 7 or 8 years old our spontaneous creativity dries up and we learn to devote more time to comparison than to creation.

And, the great news? The great news for every enterprise that needs to evolve, shift, change and grow to survive and to thrive? (That is, all of them.)

The great news is that the 7 and 8-year-old version of every single person you meet is still there, right there inside of them.

And your job…my job…as teacher, leader, parent, supervisor…is to help them reconnect to that kid and activate his or her inherent creative genius.

They will fight you. Maybe even vigorously. Because that pure creative expression is a scary kind of power. It’s chaos unleashed. But only for a little while. Only until you learn how to work with it again. And then, like all good positive disciplines it becomes an extraordinary, reliable source of opportunity and possibility.

Become a child again this weekend. Go get dirty. Go build something, paint something, construct something, play something, learn something. Forget “good enough.”

Your creativity is an alarm clock with no snooze button and it’s going off right now.

Wake up!


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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

More Human Than Otherwise

“We are all much more simply human than otherwise.”
– Harry Stack Sullivan –

Human beings deserve a human experience in the workplace. That is possible…that actually happens…when leaders decide to be more human themselves; when they decide to make what is common between us the foundation of their leadership.

In the face of complexity and change – the relentless pressure of change – this can be very difficult to do even for the most well-intentioned leader. The questions before them – before us – are daunting and powerful:

  • How do we eradicate fear and replace it with love?
  • How do we shift from the exhaustion of change to the inspiration of possibility?
  • How do we release anxiety and capture imagination?
  • How do we free ourselves from our well-worn ruts and unleash creative energy?
  • How do we replace tension and struggle with ease and pleasure?

To work with these questions sincerely and authentically, wholehearted leaders do three things:

1. Start within: an intentional inquiry and continuous dialogue about who they are, where they shine, how they struggle and what they most want from their work and their life.

2. Strengthen relationships: a dedication to the truth that only through reliance, trust and vulnerability are we able to create the future we desire.

3. Commit to a lifetime of learning: a commitment to the raw humility that the only answer that makes any sense in the face of complexity and change is to just keep learning.


I created RULE13 Learning to support leaders who make the commitment to live the hard questions; to stand with those leaders as they strive to be more courageous, more resourceful and more generous in the face of complexity and change.

“There is no organization large enough for even one human soul.”
– David Whyte –


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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

Do the Work

“If we do not transform our pain we will most certainly transmit it.”

Richard Rohr


There’s a line from the poem “Out on the Ocean” by David Whyte that conveys Rohr’s meaning with visceral urgency:

“Always this energy smoulders inside, when it remains unlit the body fills with dense smoke.”

That unlit energy is the potential and possibility within each of us to transform ourselves from who we are to who we want to be.

If it is not activated it turns into acrid smoke that at first only chokes us, but in time finds its way to others in the form of resentment, jealousy, harshness, impatience and intolerance.

It can be grueling to bear our own pain, the wounded, unrealized or unfinished parts of ourselves. So we either keep allowing it to spill over onto loved ones and colleagues or we decide to do the work to transform it from an anchor to a sail.


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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

Your attention, please

Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.” – from “Everything is waiting for you” by David Whyte


Perhaps the idea of cultivating and expressing love in the workplace doesn’t sit well with you. It is a freighted word, full of complex associations. Many would suggest it has no place in any conversation about colleagues, teams, camaraderie and esprit de corps.

I can appreciate that. And I’d like to suggest that all of that love “baggage” prevents us from remembering what is most fundamental to its genuine expression.

For that, I offer this brief, gentle reminder from the film Lady Bird:

Sister Sarah Joan: You clearly love Sacramento.

Lady Bird: I do?

Sister Sarah Joan: You write about Sacramento so affectionately and with such care.

Lady Bird: I was just describing it.

Sister Sarah Joan: Well it comes across as love.

Lady Bird : Sure, I guess I pay attention.

Sister Sarah Joan: Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?


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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

The Stream Becomes a River

When I wrote about love a few weeks ago I wrote from a place of inspiration. I witnessed love in an unexpected time and place and expressed my hope that the expansiveness of love could be normalized within the more sterile landscapes of organizational life.

Today as I write about love, I write from a much different place. It’s mired rather than inspired in feelings of loss; loss of control, loss of solutions, loss of the familiar.

Some of that loss is about my son’s impending departure for college and wondering if I’ve done enough, been a good enough father.

Some of that loss is connected to a current family crisis that has resurfaced old hurts, bringing a sense of childlike helplessness.

Poet David Whyte says it is a delusion to believe that we can “take a sincere path in life without having our hearts broken.” That is, anything we wholeheartedly devote ourselves to – marriage, career, children – will undoubtedly, inevitably pull us apart at the seams.

It takes resilience to stitch those seams of sincerity back together, and resilience like that only comes from a more expansive heart.

Each of us is moving along a continuum of pulling apart and stitching together. For some it’s conscious and deliberate work. For others, it’s beyond awareness but present in corrupting behaviors. Some are inspired, others are mired. This is in the marketplace, in our homes and in our workplaces where we spend so much precious time and energy.

Which is why we must – especially as leaders – cultivate a presence that not only accepts this truth but also helps us learn how to work with it.

We can do this – I can do this – if I remain open to experience instead of turning away; if I remain open to learning from the wisdom of others instead of struggling alone.

Here is one example of that wisdom:

“If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.”

 – Thich Nhat Hanh –

I know that the feelings of loss that come with change are temporary. I know that the seams can be stitched back together. What I must learn, and what I remain hopeful we all will learn, is that the garment itself can not be repaired to what it was. That in fact, with time and faith, it will be even more beautiful than before.

Though I feel like a stream, I seek to become a river. And streams become rivers as long as they continue to flow.


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. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

Liminal Space

“…wherever you are is called Here, and you must treat it as a powerful stranger.”     – from Lost by David Whyte


It’s an in-between space. A threshold.

While liminality often comes with a sense of urgency toward the new, a rush forward to escape the anxiety and awkwardness of no man’s land, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The opportunity of a liminal space is to occupy it as expansively as you can. If you are no longer back there and not yet over there you are still somewhere, a place called here.

During a time of intense creation, when our work was still forming and it’s impact as yet unknown, a few of us once said, “Someday we’re going to look back on this as the good old days.”

We were prematurely nostalgic for our experience precisely because we were in the midst of becoming rather than arriving, of curiosity rather than completion.

As long as there is some mystery, the unknown retains its hold on us. In doing so, it fires our imagination with all sorts of possibilities. A liminal space is a “not knowing” space, a reminder that we are always becoming.

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.

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There’s a line in a David Whyte poem I come back to again and again: “anything or anyone that doesn’t bring you alive is too small for you.”

It’s worth considering what you’re hanging onto that no longer serves you. That habit, that mindset, that behavior, that relationship…it’s familiar and understood. It’s comfortable.

If you let it go, what will you be left with? What will take its place? The great adventure is to let it go and find out. The great terror is to let it go and find out.

I’m reminded of the understory of a forest. If it doesn’t burn periodically nothing new has the space and light to grow.

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 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.