How Should I Not Be Glad?

I sat to write the other day and the words came effortlessly, as if I were simply transcribing something already written. As I brought the piece to completion I overheard myself utter the words “the poems flow from the hand unbidden,” a line from the Derek Mahon poem, Everything is Going to be All Right.

Hearing myself speak these words made me smile. I happily recognized that the poem had sunk in, after many readings and “listenings,” most courtesy of David Whyte who references this work of Mahon’s in many of his talks.

I felt a strange sort of kinship with the author, his work helping me to connect with the feelings generated by my own work; a quiet mind and a more open heart.

Even more, I was confronted by my own commitment to welcome all that comes to me; to reconcile myself to his opening question: How should I not be glad?

Everything is Going to be All Right

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

Derek Mahon, from Selected Poems


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 Week of Thanks: Day 5

fullsizeoutput_1a86I am thankful to walk among giants.

I am thankful for my teachers.

Only a cursory mental review yields too many to name, too many to count, even. The guides, mentors, instructors, influencers who have shaped my life, both head and heart.

Each made a mark at a key moment in my development that was some combination of generous, challenging, loving, corrective and insightful. Each made me stop and reconsider, often with deep resistance, but ultimately with appreciation.

Jim Shepard, my high school choral director, shaped my raw talent into something that I could offer as a soloist and, more importantly, as part of an ensemble. His kind encouragement prepared me for a very different kind of teacher, Paul Salamunovich, for whom I sang in college and of whom, at least in the early going, I was deeply afraid. Paul was demanding in a way I had not experienced it. He was also exceedingly generous because he lived in service of making the most beautiful music possible.

These early experiences as a team member were essential for someone whose learned inclination is to go it alone. They showed me what was possible when preparation, listening, attention, awareness, feedback and practice were fully lived. They gave me the tangible, concrete evidence I needed that any group of people, wholly committed to both the journey and the destination, can create something of soaring significance and meaning.

This learning in my teens and early twenties, was the ignition point for what would become my vocation. Jim and Paul co-planted the seeds that would bloom into not only a desire but a need to see the disciplines of choral music lived out in leadership and organizational life. I couldn’t have told you that then and I barely appreciate now how true a statement it is!

This is why the work of David Whyte found such fertile ground in me. I was prepared, having been shaped by music, to receive his application of poetry and philosophy to the corporate landscape in his book, The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. It so arrested me that I remember reading it and having my ‘Eureka!’ moment. “This is it,” I said to myself with the turn of every page. Like borrowing a warm winter coat when all you’ve got is a wind breaker, I took his teaching and made it my own. When I finally had the chance to meet him a few years later, I approached with caution as if trying not to break a spell. I handed over my copy of his book for him to sign and as I did, expressed as best I could just how much it had and was continuing to shape my work. It was a ‘coming full circle’ moment and his graciousness and appreciation lifted me even higher.

In the everyday work of inexpertly applying David’s ideas to my particular organizational experience, I was shaped by the guiding hands of a quartet of ‘advisors’ on whose intellectual and emotional generosity I feasted. Blake McHenry, Cal Harrah, Marlene Laping and Gary Heil kindly and earnestly pushed, pulled, cajoled, enlivened, and exasperated me. I can only imagine their own exasperation at once again encountering the face of my ignorance, struggling to catch-on and keep up. But they never showed it and were steadfastly kind and supportive. Whatever we accomplished in those years is directly attributed to the guiding hands of their influence.

All of this provided me with enough equity, eventually…slowly, to move on to the new experience of starting my own business. And is it continues to grow, taking on dimensions I did not imagine it could, I look back at just this short list of teachers – there are so many more – and offer my deepest appreciation for taking me by the hand and leading me to the deeper water.

I am thankful to stand among giants.

I am thankful for my teachers.


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.

 

 

 

Questions

At any given point in our lives, each of us has a question that, in the words of the poet David Whyte, “has no right to go away.”

These are questions that beckon us to consider who we have been, who we are and who we want to be.

This kind of question is less a problem to be solved than an ally on whom to rely in the midst of transition. It is a marker for our discernment, be that active or passive. It patiently works in and through us as we stand on the threshold between this version of our experience and the one that is taking shape before us.

Neither easy nor simple, these questions shape us by simply being present and by us being present to them.

Some I have heard recently:

Who am I now that this change has taken place?
What’s next for me now that I have reached this milestone?
What I am prepared to learn, eager to learn?
How can I use my gifts in new ways?
How do I stay attentive to the more challenging disciplines of my life?
How do I open myself to the risk and joy of greater vulnerability?
How do I let go of what no longer serves me? What will take its place?
What is ‘enough’?

These questions are like an unexpected knock at the door. At first they startle us but then we realize that we knew they were coming and that all we need to do right now is open the door and let them in.

Properly welcomed, they will take care of the rest.


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.

Take the path of vulnerability

I hand out an assignment to my class. There are a list of options from which to choose, one of which is “Emotional Intelligence.” Perusing the list a student raises his hand and asks, “Will you please tell me what ‘Emotional Intelligence” is?

An act of vulnerability in service of learning.

A friend says to me, “I would like to get to know you better.”

An act of vulnerability in service of relationship.

A leader asks his team, “How can I be better for you?”

An act of vulnerability in service of…service.

Small acts that point to an essential truth: there is nothing we care about that won’t require us to make ourselves vulnerable. If we don’t care, we don’t bother.

The link below will take you to a 12 minute clip (which inspired this post) of one of my favorite teachers, David Whyte, speaking to the truth of vulnerability as the access point to real conversation.

David Whyte — Poetry from the On Being Gathering (Closing Words) https://onbeing.org/programs/david-whyte-poetry-from-the-on-being-gathering-closing-words-oct2018


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.

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.