Surprise and Beauty

I love it when simple exercises have significant impact. You know, the kind that seem almost silly because they are so simple. That seem like a distraction from the “real work.” Silly they aren’t, so often. And often, they are just the right kind of real.

Last week I got to do one of those with my friends at Soultime, while on Bowen Island. Dave Waugh was the one that offered it, a twenty minute bare foot walk in the forest. I don’t want to over describe my experience with too much rational thinking brain to flesh out the “why.” For me it was enough to encounter the world through different senses, and to disrupt the normal goto habits.

Off the twelve of us went. In silence. And with invitation to pay attention. Some carried a question. For me, it was just an intent that I realize is a super important operating system for me. Mostly looking down at the ground and taking slow, short steps (that was the invitation) I decided that I wanted to pay attention to what surprised me and to what felt beautiful.

First thing that caught my attention (because this is less about strategizing an outcome) was a simple piece of a branch that was about the size and length of my index finger. It had been splintered in roughly half. Dried bark on the outside. A couple of oval layers of tan and brown on the inside. The surprise and beauty that I immediately wondered about was about the story of this little branch. Was it broken from chopping wood. Was it splintered from falling off of a tree? Was it carried and dropped by a bird? It was intriguing to me that there was story to this little branch, as there is story to pretty much everything. The story has always been the interesting part of the encounter.

I walked further. Slow steps. Again mostly looking down. It was a sunny day which made all of this very easy. I was loving the silence. I was loving the simplicity as I began to feel the ground with my feet. As if they were my hands. The soft green moss. Even the crunchy dried branches part — it was good to feel what I normally wouldn’t when wearing shoes. I loved walking on a fallen log. Different textures. Different feels. More surprise and more beauty — I suppose these are always there if we are willing to give them attention.

As I continued to walk, still mostly looking down, I decided to look up through the trees. Again, simple as it sounds, the contrast of experience from such deliberate looking down, well that was delicious. The blue sky through the tree tops. The suddenly extended range beyond 6 feet to the height of the trees and the infinity of the sky. I loved it. And then, a gust of wind rushed through the trees.

Look down. Look up. Listen. That’s what I came up with.

And then the bell rang to signal return for the twelve of us to the yurt to share what we noticed.

Look for surprise and beauty. Look down. Look up. Listen.

It was just a simple exercise. Oh ya, a simple exercise that woke something up in me. Thanks Dave. Thanks Soultime.


My last eight days have been filled with good teaching and community. First The Circle Way Practicum. Then immediately following, Soultime, a men’s weekend retreat. Both times were rich with story telling, with tenderness, and with the learning that only comes from having ample time together. I love the non-linearity of learning that arises in these two environments. It is the sensation of not just living, but being lived. If it were meditation, rather than breathing, it would be the sensation of being breathed. If it were writing, rather than me writing words it would be the sensations of words writing me. To discover, even glimpse what is beneath the surface of perceived reality — that’s gold. To do that in community — that’s priceless.

This morning, I’m peeking my head up at the home of Chris Corrigan and Caitlin Frost. Chris and I just had coffee at his kitchen table. Shared a bit of breakfast together. Caught up. This kind of friendship is also priceless. It’s a gift.

And with that, I’m loving Chris’ words from an earlier blogpost on Artistry. What I learn in deep experience together of the ilk of the last eight days, is that I crave the artistry of practice and living. The dutiful mechanics of practice and living have their place. As in, really important place. But, the impulse of artistry — well that touches the being breathed, being written, being communed part, doesn’t it.

Enjoy Chris’ words. I did. And the coffee. And the breakfast. And the friendship.

The 14 steps of the artists journey to mastery (based on the last 30 years of my experience)

1. Cultivate the desire to create beauty
2. Discover a medium for doing so
3. Seek the teachers who can teach you how to use the tools of your medium faithfully
4. Use the tools faithfully to make simple things.
5. Ask why things work and why they don’t
6. With that knowledge, modify your tools to do what needs to be done beyond simplicity.
7. Discover the limitations of your tools.
8. Become a tool maker
9. Take on apprentices and teach them to use the tools faithfully to make simple things
10. Take on apprentices and help them reflect on why they are succeeding and failing.
11. I don’t know…I haven’t got there yet
12. Unimaginable to me, but I see it.
13. Wow.

14. The unrealized ideal master that I aspire to become, should I be given more than one lifetime to do so.

Along the way, be aware of the following:
* self-doubt
* errors at different scales
* mistakes and regret
* joy and surprise
* the desire of others to learn from you
* the feeling that you have nothing to offer them
* times of steep learning and times of long periods of integration
* waxing and waning of inspiration
* Rule 6a applies at all times.

Building Cathedrals

A friend that I’m working with shared this story recently, one that I’ve heard before, but was glad to hear again.

A man came upon a construction site where three people were working.  He asked the first, “What are you doing?” and the person replied: “I am laying bricks.” He asked the second, “What are you doing?” and the person replied: “I am building a wall.” As he approached the third, he heard the person humming a tune while working, and asked, “What are you doing?” The person stood, looked up at the sky, and smiled, “I am building a cathedral!”
With most of the people that I’m working with in participative leadership, I’m encouraging seeing a range of scale. From planning meetings to invoking movements. From trying a training once to apprenticing for three years. From dabbling in an experience to recreating a culture. From laying bricks to building cathedrals.
My last three weeks have included significant gatherings at which I’ve been glad to see and feel this range. I can feel myself stuffed with good learnings that will continue to unpack over the next days, weeks, months, or even years. That will perhaps build to cathedrals themselves.
There was the board meeting and retreat for The Circle Way. Because of the quality of people in this group, being together for four days was like advanced circle experience. In meeting each other. In exploring and committing to new initiatives. In decision making. In getting beneath the surface. I could feel a unique excitement as this group of people helped to repurpose a possibility through The Circle Way as a non-profit organization, working with young people, people of color, and people embedding circle in their work and community environments.
There was the men’s retreat, Soultime. I’ve been able to be a participant at this gathering many times now. It is a unique mix of men, 40 – 70 in age, each thoughtful in their own way. Together, this group reclaims some missing initiatory experience to help grow ourselves differently. That sounds fancy to say it that way. Men welcomed to show up with listening, and dreaming, and wondering, and vulnerability, and song, and shared work (literally chopping wood this time) — that is cathedral building.
There was The Circle Way Practicum in Tofino, British Columbia that I taught with Amanda Fenton, Kelly Foxcroft Poirier and Dawn Foxcroft. This is people learning skills to help offer and host important containers for difficult and important conversations, including those on reconciliation. This is people in depth of story and depth of questions. This is people committed to offering what they can in their respective communities. It’s so much more than rearranging the chairs. So much more than laying bricks.
It may not be that the work that any of us are in, is always about cathedrals — even cathedrals, after all, get built by many steps of laying bricks and tending to very non-sexy jobs that are in front of us. But there are some days, when generating the energy of cathedral-building is the only thing that matters. May all of us be so lucky as to find friends and colleagues and surprise strangers with whom we can do this. May all of us be so clear, that we know to lean in to each other with deliberate supportive forms that bring out the whistling in us.

Goodbye Son

A poem I wrote earlier this year, from a tender moment of saying goodbye.

“Goodbye Son.”
That’s what I said to him,
holding back my tears,
when he went south to begin college.

He left with one of my old frying pans
and a wooden spatula I’d been given recently.
And a new crockpot I bought for him,
like one that my grandparents gave to me
when I moved away.

I wished I could have given him more.

“I’m proud of you.
You have a good heart.
A good mind.
Do some good.”

We hugged.
Two softened men.
He held it a little extra,
which was tender to me,
and which was what I wanted to do.

“I wish for him everything
that I would wish for myself.”
That’s what I said to the stars
as he drove away that night.

“Good friends.
Good teachers.
Opening up in his soul.
People who love him.
People who can see him
and know immediately
how absolutely stunning he is
just as he is.”