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.


green grass

Photo by Irina Iriser on Pexels.com

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.


fullsizeoutput_20a5

You do not have to be good

In memory of poet Mary Oliver, who died one year ago today, I offer a reflection I wrote in 2016 on her poem, “Wild Geese.” 

flying_canada_geese

I tacked this poem onto my bulletin board a few days ago. It’s been staring at me ever since, trying to help me understand, to see in a new way. This seems like a good day to explicate it as best I can.

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

In my reading of the poem it has three acts: permission, perspective, and invitation.

Permission

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

There are a couple of lines in this poem that stop me in my tracks, starting with the very first. If all I could have is that first line I’d be more than satisfied. I needed to hear it a long time ago. I wish I had known and believed it long before now. It’s a mantra, a meditation. It’s also the beginning of permission to simply let go of all of the “shoulds” and comparisons and the pervasive perfectionism  that prevents creative expression.

The permission in these opening lines simply says, “It’s ok to get off of your knees, once and for all, to let go of shame and guilt and ‘not enough’ and walk on timid but strengthening legs to that which is calling you forward.” It reminds me of the heart-wrenching scene in “Good Will Hunting” when Sean (Robin Williams) says to Will, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”

And just as that permission begins to settle in, I hear the poet’s invitation to unburden myself of my despair AND to be present to the despair of another. My pain is no greater than yours. Yours is no greater than mine. We are all hurting. And we must all get up and continue walking. And we must help each other do it. It’s the only way.

Perspective

Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

The world goes on. I am small. It is vast. I am important, but not nearly so much as I think. I want to be special, to be heard and understood as I’m sure I never will be. Won’t you give me more time? More attention? More care and concern? Why have you moved on? Why must we change the conversation?

Eventually, as my voice gets smaller, drowned by the gorgeous volume of a world in motion, I have to reconcile myself to the hard truth – hard, hard truth – that it doesn’t exist just for me. It is not a backdrop, an elaborate setting for my experience. It simply exists. As do I. And by existing as it does, it reminds me to keep returning to myself to learn what I must learn. And to never stop because there is no end to that discovery.

Invitation

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

If only I am willing to refuse my loneliness – that subtle device by which I convince myself that no one else will quite understand – it is all there for the taking. Gifts too beautiful to take in at a glance. I am here. You are here. The world is here, made to be free in.

On stronger legs now I stride into the world, persistent in my self-reflection, consistent in my regard for you, ready to learn all I must if I am to live into the possibility I can see just above the horizon.

That faraway place, always right here.


Poem for a Sunday Morning

WEAN YOURSELF

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

The Lightest Touch

The Lightest Touch
{David Whyte}

Good poetry begins with
the lightest touch,
a breeze arriving from nowhere,
a whispered healing arrival,
a word in your ear,
a settling into things,
then like a hand in the dark
it arrests your whole body,
steeling you for revelation.

In the silence that follows
a great line
you can feel Lazarus
deep inside
even the laziest, most deathly afraid
part of you,
lift up his hands and walk toward the light.

I have never felt stronger about my belief that the role of leaders is to create environments in which the fullest, messiest and most productive qualities of the human experience can be safely expressed and harnessed for the good of the organization. To do so takes courage and vulnerability and fortitude and I have dedicated my professional efforts to fulfilling that vision.

While my sense of purpose remains clear, the quality of my intensity in bringing it to fruition is changing. That intensity no longer takes the form of impassioned, even heroic efforts at conversion (“If only they would just listen to me, they would understand!!”).

I am discovering, as all great influencers (and poets) know, and perhaps as a byproduct of age, maturity and experience, that I can trust the power of a nudge, a word, a moment, a pause to bring my vision to life. I can trust, most of all, that consistency, far more than unbridled passion – a daily regular presence, a living each day as if it that future state is already here – is how the entrance to the cave is finally freed of its stone.


grayscale photo of feather

Photo by Aman Bhatnagar on Pexels.com

Life is always there

Sometimes it is small and just barely there. Sometimes it grows out of nothing into something. Sometimes it’s in the middle of the path. Sometimes we notice it and sometimes we don’t.

Life is always there, it is always happening. It is among the greatest disciplines we can practice, that of expecting to encounter life at every turn and to be fully available to it when we do.

This is the life that is always emerging in and from yourself. This is the life that is emerging in and from everyone you meet. This is the life that is actually teeming, breathing, vibrating around you right now.

To be there for it is to honor it. To notice can mean everything.


fullsizeoutput_2096

Photo credit: Davis Berry – Cammasia Preserve, Oregon

All the Other Selves

I really like this quote:

“The original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out all the other selves, which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather”

 Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets

I like the way that it makes me uncomfortably aware of my internal conflict. On one hand I feel the shame of knowing that he’s right. I peruse the catalog of all of the other selves I have lived and it’s got more pages than I can count!

On the other hand, I read it with feelings of thankfulness and even a sense of freedom. I consider the work I have done to both recognize and reattach to my original shimmering self and I am proud of how it has allowed me to discard a bunch of old coats and hats!

My thankfulness comes from the appreciation I feel for the many kind and patient people who have both insisted on and supported the reemergence of my original self. These are the people who remain in this conversation with me, unwilling to put me in the box marked “Done” and unwilling to allow me to do so either.

I continue to clean out my closet and I continue to discover old coats and hats, fewer than before but still some remain.

Packing them away for good is the work of a life.


close up of row

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Living a Redwood Life

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy
is in the eyes of others only
a green thing which stands in the way…
As a man is, so he sees.”

{William Blake}


Last year at this time, with the semester drawing to a close, I decided to share with my students some images from a recent trip to the Humboldt Redwood State Park here in California.

I wanted to share my childlike enthusiasm for these magnificent trees. I wanted to inspire them to seek out wonder and awe in their lives.  I wanted them to remember that in the field of “management” (which is what the course tells us we are studying) we do well to remember that organizational life is first and always a human endeavor.

I wanted them to believe my admonition that a profound sense of awe and wonder – an appreciation for the spectacular miracle that is any living and learning system – is essential if we are to appropriately honor the very real human beings present in our workplaces, responsive to our decisions, trusting of our intentions.

I then took it a step further. I encouraged, even challenged them to choose to be redwoods in their own communities. I suggested that such a choice comes with great risk because a redwood outside of a redwood forest would be seen as a peculiar, if fascinating anomaly. I then suggested that living a “redwood life,” conspicuous though it might be, might just inspire others to do the same, and that we might just create an entire forest of people fulfilling their potential for growth and impact. In fact, it would be the only way for them to survive.

Redwoods are shallow rooted, a shocking realization given their massive size. Instead of deep roots to support them they use their upper limbs to make contact with their neighbors and together form a dense network of mutual well-being.

Stand tall, reach out, help one another. Live a life of wonder and awe at the gifts of living and learning.


fullsizeoutput_1a86

Redwood Homily

I wrote this piece a few days before Thanksgiving last year during a visit to Humboldt Redwood State Park. It’s an extraordinary place…humbling, grounding and pure.


Modern pilgrims wander through an ancient cathedral.

They bear witness to the crescendo of a timeless symphony that began with a single note of fertile earth.

Modern faith fails to note that these pillars haven’t always splintered the sun.

It must learn this one thing: that every living thing is called to find its tallest point, and then to reach further still.

It’s what we are made for.


IMG_5968

Humboldt Redwood State Park – November 19, 2018


 

A Development Exercise for Your Weekend Enjoyment

Respond to this statement five times: “I am the kind of leader who…”

Then, respond to this statement three times: “Right now, my team is…”

Finally, respond to this statement just once: “The most important thing I can learn next is…”

Once you’ve completed your responses, decide which item about your team is most important to address right now and which item from your leadership attributes should be employed to address it.

For example, if I decide that “Right now, my team is struggling in their transition to a new process” is what needs to be focused on and I also have written down that “I am the kind of leader who invests a lot of time and energy coaching my team” I have just identified the beginnings of my approach to addressing this need.

Ideally, once you have your responses in place you will talk them over with someone. This helps you flesh out your thinking and test drive the “why” of your ideas.

(Optionally, you can replace “leader” with father, mother, friend, colleague or any other role of importance to you right now.)

I hope this is helpful. Please let me know what you think.


photo of woman jumping on box

Photo by Li Sun on Pexels.com