Poem for a Sunday Morning

Fluent

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

— John O’Donohue


There’s a moment early in the film, “The Way” in which Tom Avery (Martin Sheen) is driving his son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez) to the airport. Daniel is setting off to see the world after dropping out of grad school and Tom is having none of it. Daniel suggests that his dad join him in the adventure but Tom can only offer a lecture in return:

“My life here might not seem like much to you, but it’s the life I choose.”

Daniel replies, “You don’t choose a life, dad. You live one.”

Daniel’s longing to be surprised by the unfolding of his life is perfectly and painfully contradicted by his dad’s singular vision for how that life should unfold.

Tom has forgotten what it feels like to flow like a river and Daniel is fighting hard against his own potential for the same forgetting. The life he pursues, the living he chooses, becomes the source of his father’s redemption.

None of us has wandered too far from the river. The trail back is well-marked and there is still plenty of daylight.


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 Mother of All Fears

Below the surface of every negatively adaptive behavior there is a fear driving the action.

I took a job earlier in my career that I was incredibly excited to get but about which I was deeply anxious because I didn’t feel qualified. The first couple of weeks on the job, I got my hands into many different pots, trying to be as “helpful” and to “add as much value” as possible to defend against the inevitable discovery of my fraudulence.

By not staying in my lane I started frustrating the very people who just days earlier welcomed me with open arms. Little did they know I would try to run the place! Once I was redirected to my area of influence with a sharp dose of feedback I had the chance to consider what was motivating my behavior.

Below the surface, further down than just my fear of being “found out” was a much more painful feeling of having abandoned my family and a potent fear of the repercussions that would follow. I had worked from home for many years at this point, with all of the benefits of flexible scheduling that provides, and the abrupt change to a traditional 9-to-5 office environment 10 days after the birth of our third child left me reeling.

I assumed, wrongly of course, that I had to prove to my family that my decision was the right one and the only way to do so was to make a big impact as quickly as possible. It was an understandable if unfortunate adaptation to my circumstances and one that has been instructive to my personal awareness and the manner in which many people cope with the unseen force of an unnamed fear.

In the Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf, the protagonist comes to the aid of the King of the Danes who has been under attack by a monster called Grendel. Once Beowulf slays Grendel he discovers that his work has only just begun as he now must contend with the unnamed creature known as Grendel’s mother. To do so, he goes into the lake to her underwater cave and engages her in a fierce battle which he finally though barely wins.

If I had stopped my reflection about my negative behaviors on the job at the first or “Grendel level” – the fear of being found out – I would have been left with something useful but insufficient. Not until I confronted my primary fear at the “Grendel’s mother” level could I follow the bubbles back to the surface, stand on the shoreline and imagine a new way forward.


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.

 

Poem for a Sunday Morning

I chose this poem because it reminds me of singing in my college choir. Our director always challenged us to stay energized in the rests, in the silences that occur between every phrase of music. Each of those moments was an opportunity to be present – for just a beat or maybe for many measures – and in that presence to anticipate what was coming next. It was an active participation, even in the silence. It made us better listeners and, as better listeners, even better singers.

He trained us to sing into the silence, to be active in our rest, to create anticipation – even possibility – out of nothing.


Extremes Are Easy

Two buckets were easier carried than one.
I grew up in between.
– Seamus Heaney, “Terminus”

Where one finishes,
the other begins.

Extremes are easy. Only
the middle is a puzzle. Midsummer –
the middle way,
shades of gray,
no absolutes,
only choices.

There,
in-between two notes,
in the pause,
in the silent space between two waves,
in the breath between breaths,
everything is possible.

{W. Craig Gilliam, Where Wild Things 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.

Poem for a Sunday Morning

The fine people at the Apple Corporation decided to include in a recent software update a feature for tracking my screen time.

Each week I receive a notification that tells me the average amount of time I am on my phone each day and the percentage increase or decrease from the previous week.

I did not request this feature but I also haven’t gotten around to disabling it. The times it reports a decrease in my screen time give me a shot of satisfaction and I’m motivated to turn that into a trend.

This week’s poem, by Wendell Berry, underscores just how important that is, not just for an artistic or creative life, but for a fully realized human life.


HOW TO BE A POET
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

{Wendell Berry}

[HT to Brainpickings]


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.

Poem for a Sunday Morning

I didn’t paint the fence today.
The rain ruined my plans.

A pile of exams instead;
Rake-less man among fallen leaves.

From my window, dark skies
Give way to a ribbon of blue.

I may paint the fence tomorrow,
Or I may invoke the Sabbath.

Some decisions are best made in the light of morning.


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.

Cages or Keys?

The small man
Builds cages for everyone
He
Knows.
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the
Beautiful
Rowdy
Prisoners.

~ Hafiz


Not a bad question at the end of the day: did I build more cages or drop more keys? The “Cage to Key” ratio may end up as one of the best gauges of true leadership impact.

The “small” leader needs to control because he feels out of control. He is small because he does not trust himself which means he cannot trust others. He is small because change frightens him, imagination freezes him, possibility unnerves him. He is small because what he cannot imagine for himself he must disallow for others.

He is a blight on the human spirit.

The “sage” is a towering figure not because of stature but because of presence. His equanimity comes from learning to see control as an easy, costly fantasy. He trusts himself because he knows himself; he has done the work. And by doing the work he has developed the capacity to accept the unfinished in others. He is unfinished as well.

Change is welcomed by the sage, because it is inevitable. Imagination is his well-spring of possibility, energizing both mind and heart. He knows that he is a catalyst for the emergence of these qualities in others.

Their rowdiness does not unsettle him, it’s what makes them beautiful. And he takes seriously the responsibility to unlock it because otherwise it will die.

The sage is the very best of what we can be.


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.

Consolation

I keep a book by the bedside called “The Way It Is: New and Collected Poems” by William Stafford.

I pick it up when I want to feel more grounded. I pick it up when I need the consolation of plainspoken sensibility.

More often than not that consolation comes from a return visit to this simple meditation on the progression of the day. Like a thread tied to a fingertip it tugs me into the recognition that every day is an entire life. I need not wonder or worry about then and there because here and now holds everything.

The Light By The Barn

The light by the barn that shines all night

pales at dawn when a little breeze comes.

A little breeze comes breathing the fields

from their sleep and waking the slow windmill.

The slow windmill sings the long day

about anguish and loss to the chickens at work.

The little breeze follows the slow windmill

and the chickens at work till the sun goes down—

Then the light by the barn again.


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.