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.

One Beam of Light

I think it’s extraordinary that even the smallest light can illuminate the darkest space. Consider that for a moment: no matter how dark it is, if you have one ray, one beam of light, you can see. And once you can see, you can act. And once you can act you are steps away from being out of the confines of darkness and into the freedom of light.

What is your one beam of light?

Is it a friendship, a poem, a word?

Is it a quote, your marriage, a lifelong friend?

Is it a story of redemption, a moment of truth, an episode of daring?

Is it a work of art, a song, a chance encounter?

Is it your child, a value, a strength?

Is it your work? Is it your faith?

One beam of light transforms the darkness. Every time.


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.

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.

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.

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.

Freedom to Choose

Freedom

– William Stafford, from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems

I have to choose my freedom. It is not given to me by role or position. It is not taken from me by oppression or circumstance. My freedom is exercised in the present moment when I choose how to respond to what’s happening rather than to let’s what’s happening make the choice for me.

I am reminded of a quote of unknown origin: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

I imagine what would be different if I learned to take the pause in that space…to consider the options before me and to then make the most positive, constructive choice possible. I imagine that because so many days…so many times per day…I cannot see the space and so I cannot make the choice. I just react.

I am called – as all leaders, all parents, all spouses, all colleagues – are called, to dedicate and rededicate myself to personal responsibility; the responsibility to remember that my freedom is a choice.


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.