Follow the Breadcrumbs

Every time you speak and in every way that you act, you are telling us who you are, what you care about, how you are made. Consciously or not, you are always dropping a trail of breadcrumbs for yourself and others to follow that will lead to a deeper understanding of you.

I didn’t realize until just this week that for months now I have been using words and actions in a wide variety of ways to express my desire for more physical, literally hands-on expression. Planting, cooking, constructing, washing, assembling, painting and a yearning for the physical challenge of playing an instrument have all been clues to this mounting somatic desire.

A sharply focused lens on my words and actions these last six months would have made this obvious but I needed time to realize that there is a larger question emerging about how I will satisfy a need my body already understands but about which my mind is just becoming aware. Those breadcrumbs I’ve been dropping allowed me to follow the path back to myself.

This is worth discovering for yourself. A way to do so that is both revealing and connective is to find a trusted partner or small group and ask each person to respond to a provocative question: “Tell us a story about when you were at your best?” or “Describe an experience that challenged you and how you responded to it?” or “What’s something about you that is true today that you never imagined would be true?”

Once the question is answered, you might follow-up with, “And how is that relevant for you today?” or another inquiry that brings the insight forward.

The listener’s job in this conversation is to spot the breadcrumbs that emerge in the response and then feed them back to the speaker, asking what they make of having left this particular trail.

The breadcrumbs aren’t an answer in themselves, but they are a pathway into a larger conversation full of “questions that have no right to go away.”


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.

[Author’s Note: “…questions that have no right to go away.” is the final line of the poem, Sometimes by David Whyte.]

Sunday, in Silence

A cup of coffee.

A long walk on a warm morning with an excited pup.

Breakfast, the dishes.

Patio clean-up, getting ready for winter in the middle of our October summer.

A trip to the grocery store. It’s easy to be quiet there until you get to the register. Then, a friendly cashier is confused about why I don’t respond to her “hello.” So I smile, point to my throat and mouth, “I’m sorry” and she says “hello” again. I look down at the pin pad and encourage it to tell me to “remove my card.”

Feed the puppy.

Chop vegetables. Toss in olive oil, salt and pepper for roasting.

I’m on dinner. The girls are out for a couple of hours.

Start the coals for the trout.

Wait. Quietly.

Respond to timers.

Welcome them home.

Eat.

Listen as my daughters describe their afternoon and then remember that I haven’t written a blog post for Monday.

Excuse myself to do so and realize upon leaving the table that I have long correlated silence and slowness. It’s just not so. Certainly not today.

A day like this is a wrinkle in the fitted sheet of normal life. I want to pull the corner tight but realize it just won’t come.

Silence isn’t slowness. Silence is space for listening.

I speak again on Monday. I hope I remember.


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 Sound of Wholeness

Deep in the Quiet Wood

Are you bowed down in heart?
Do you but hear the clashing discords and the din of life?
Then come away, come to the peaceful wood,
Here bathe your soul in silence. Listen! Now,
From out the palpitating solitude
Do you not catch, yet faint, elusive strains?
They are above, around, within you, everywhere.
Silently listen! Clear, and still more clear, they come.
They bubble up in rippling notes, and swell in singing tones.
Now let your soul run the whole gamut of the wondrous scale
Until, responsive to the tonic chord,
It touches the diapason of God’s grand cathedral organ,
Filling earth for you with heavenly peace
And holy harmonies.

– James Weldon Johnson


Some years ago I developed a vocal cord condition that required one week of immediate and sustained silence. It wasn’t a disaster, but it did not go well. I worked at an office then, full of understanding colleagues who would be forgiven for finding it strange to have my otherwise loquacious self silently stalking the halls. I retreated to my office and eventually just stayed home.

It wasn’t much better with the kids – much younger then – who slowly retreated from me as if from a silent stranger. And not because of their disinterest but because I failed to cover that awkward ground between us with creative ways to interact. One need not speak to thrash one’s children at “Old Maid”!

Today I am having surgery on my vocal cords for an unrelated matter and, though it is minor and a quick recovery is expected, I will again be under “forced” silence, at least for a few days.

I feel good and mostly relaxed about the coming respite from speech. I have lots of papers to grade and other work to fill my days. There’s plenty of fence to paint (still!) and other “to-dos” for which speaking is unnecessary.

But, like the invitation in the poem above, I don’t just want to take in “the din of life” because I am “bowed down in heart” by my lack of speech. I want to listen.

And in listening I want to discover if I have learned from prior experience to reach for connection by other means. Perhaps I will text questions to my daughters and simply take in their responses. Perhaps I will just do as I’m told…I mean asked…when requested to chop or clean or be of help. Perhaps I will sit outside and hear the fall-ness of fall, just as it is, in this place I call my home.

There are many sounds on the path to wholeness. I wonder if I will hear them?


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 Importance of Local

When I focus too much of my attention on global, national and even regional issues I am left feeling negative, overwhelmed and sometimes even heartbroken.

When I focus more of attention on my local community, especially those sub-communities of which I am a part – family, church, workplace, client organizations – I feel challenged, energized, connected and yes, sometimes heartbroken.

I consider it my responsibility to be an informed global, national and regional citizen. I consider it a privilege to be a participant within the vibrant context just beyond my front door.

The difference is intimacy, physical connection and the natural give and take of creating and sustaining viable communities. We can and must continue to pay attention to the big picture but nothing changes, nothing at all, until we practice locally.

At a recent dinner with friends we followed the routine pattern of loose and light introductory conversation. And then, with the comfort of a good meal and the support of our earned trust, we found another level.  We explored race and gender and education. We did so inexpertly and we solved nothing, changed no minds, won no victories. What we did accomplish, at least as I see it, was to remind ourselves that we share the same concerns, that we need a place to express them, and that it is a powerful gift to provide and receive that from one another.

In that spirit, here’s an organization you should know about: The People’s Supper. They have models and tools to help us come together around the table to connect more openly, to listen and to learn.

Their focus is local, the only place we can start to change.


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.