Still and Quiet

I’ve been with great people the last ten days. In very powerful connection and learning. In a way that has been very life-giving, affirming, satisfying, and generative. I feel like my brain and heart have been finely enhanced to be able to see and feel more. It’s an open and awed feeling, a bit, perhaps,  like realizing the library just doubled in size (and I have easy ability to read and access all of the extra).

I continue to learn that that’s what deliberate circle practice and circled way of being does. It enhances and amplifies us. I’m glad for that.

Today, however, points me to another fulfillment that also is quite affirming, satisfying, and generative. Today points me to a more introverted and quiet space. Or, to more internal, rather than the external. I continue to learn that there is great power and necessity to return to the still and quiet.

This morning, I wrote these words:

Still and Quiet

Though I appreciate
a certain high
that comes from juggling much,
or being efficient,
or accomplishment,
with many people,

I also need,
in well-placed moments,
and stretches,
to be with self,
still and quiet.

To Improvise

I am grateful for Patricia Ryan Madson’s book, Improv Wisdom. One, for it’s clever, snappy chapter titles that are the best and most needed kind of pithy. By pithy, here, I mean deep and useful values and practices. I’m grateful for the focus on innovation and the reality of making it up as we go. I think I’ve lived most of my life feeling that I must plan it, which is mostly a good thing, except for all the inherent fear parts of course, rather than, well, living it — which seems to just grow more aliveness.

This passage below from Improv Wisdom is an easy one to use with groups to set up an important conversation on improvising. Even better when also inviting some somatic experience — our bodies know things our minds can’t.

Long before there was planning, there was improvising. For millennia humans functioned naturally only by thinking on their feet, problem-solving in the here and now. I wake up. I look around carefully. I hunt for food. I share it with my fellow primates. We find a warm, dry place to sleep. We have a few laughs….

Leapfrogging thousands of years into the present, we find ourselves nearly strangled by the planning instinct. For some of us it is our life. We plan when we should execute. We make lists, worry, or theorize (often endlessly) when we ought to be responding. We choose safety above all else. We seem to have lost the knack of looking at the day with fresh eyes or doing anything out of our comfort zone.

With the value of being with life itself, the questions for the group encounter are easy — so as to animate the quality of improvising together.

  • Ah, what’s a story of a time when you had to think on your feet? What was that like for you?
  • What do you worry about that you would like not to worry about? Share a story.
  • What’s an example in your life (or work) of when you saw with fresh eyes? What was that like for you?

And for other questions (that help a group encounter itself), well, you can improvise.

Being Circly (In a Car)

Meet Bessie. That’s her above (I’ve always thought of her as feminine). Beauty, right. She’s a 1999 Honda Accord, now with 231,ooo miles on her, all of them with me and family. I’m seriously grateful for a car that lasts (and knocking on wood now). My favorite line with my kids (who are a wee bit more oriented to replacing this car) is, “She comes from another century (and for that matter, “another millennium,” spoken with pride).” That, and, “Be good to Bessie and she will be good to you.”

I like road trips. I’ve been able to take many in my time. And many in Bessie. Pack the sandwiches. Some fruit. Snacks. Sunflower seeds. Water. Some Dr. Pepper. Ready go. It all reminds me of summer camping with my Grandparents when I was a young boy in Canada.

I like road trips for the open road, even when I’m solo. Lots of time to think out loud and be taken by landscapes. I like road trips with people. The car is a great container for some slow wandering together.

My most recent road trip was returning from California to Utah on Monday, two days ago. It was a full drive that turned out to be 12 hours, including one stop for food, traffic congestion, and a few snowy patches.

This most recent trip was with my sons, Isaac and Elijah. Isaac is 21. I love the way that he is growing further in his adult life. I see it in the way he creates shared space in the car. He asks about what to do — listen to a podcast, watch a movie (me listening), or just resting (him, not me as driver). He shares the driving also. Elijah is 13. He’s rather device-centered. Though it frustrates me to lose him too quickly to his downloaded programs on his phone, I would have totally done the same thing when I was his age if I had the technology.

I like to get circly with my sons on road trips. It’s not super serious. There are no bells. There is no visible center. There is not spoken out loud version of host or guardian. There is no reminder of agreements. It isn’t the place for it. But, I want to affirm that it is plenty circly. I love it. It’s a moment that I most look forward to.

It sounds a bit like this, as we drive:

“So, let’s each name three thing that we most appreciated about being in California with Gma and Gpa this time.” Sometimes  I start. Usually, I wait for them. There is the slightest guiding that feels important — I make sure (and so do my sons) that we each speak. It sounds like, “How about you Elijah — what were your favorites.”

That’s the easy round. I want a bit more. And, truth be told, every bit of the circle components wheel are in play in my mind. I’m not really thinking about the specifics. There is definite circle intention going on.

“So, do you notice anything different in Gma and Gpa this time?” This question requires just a bit more thinking and noticing. I suppose that is mostly the point for me — I’m rather curious about what they are noticing (and in my inner world, reflecting a bit on what their noticing reveals — that sounds way more psychological than it sounds).

Again, without bells, center, etc., all of that is in play for me. It sounds different, as it should for this environment. “Hmm…, that’s interesting,” I’ll say. I’ll then speak honestly some of what I noticed. Into a center that I see, but haven’t named.

All of this lasts maybe 15 miles worth of driving. Sometimes 30. Not much in the 700 miles total from that day. Yet, it’s a super significant point of the trip for me. I want the shared attentiveness together. I want the shared thoughtful speaking together. As a Dad. And as a human interested in noticing things together.

Amanda Fenton and I just completed yesterday hosting another round of online classes for The Circle Way. Delightful people and participants. In the end, I often feel that in the space of four 2-hour Zoom based calls, we’ve created some noticeable connection. I often feel like what I most want for people is to “grok” more of circle and being circly. Yes to the formal teaching environments and culture building that is circle-based. Yes to the deliberateness of developing shared language and practice. That all really matters and I’m glad to be involved in a few places doing that.

But I’ve got to say, I love the moments of just simple being circly. It’s a bit sneaky, I suppose. But, let’s call it what it also is — it’s natural to listen to each others perspectives. It’s natural to learn from each other. With my sons, I don’t think of it as hiding anything. There is definitely no malice in being circly. I do think of the circly that I do with them as being a wise translator, and a wise bridge-builder, to bring them and us into a momentary circly space with one another. The experience (the circle) then does the rest. I’m guessing that these little reflective moments will come back to them later in life. I hope that they to grow instincts and practice to be circly.

Sometimes all you have is a question, “So…, what did you notice this time?” that gets us rounding. Sometimes, all you have is a car and few sandwiches. And I think all of the time, as it is with Bessie, “you be good to circle and circle will be good to you.”

Being circly.

There Is A Field

It was the 13th century Persian poet, Jellaludin Rumi, that wrote so beautifully of fields. Of expanded minds. Of oneness. Of the less visible that is “field” that is often beyond words.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.”

Yesterday I returned from the field above, at the Aldermarsh Retreat Center. Out beyond Maxwelton Road in the Maxwelton Valley, in traditional lands of the Snohomish, Suquamish, Swinomish, and the Lower Skagit, over the wood-chip paths, through the marsh of Alder, there is a field, in which Marsh House exists. I love this little gathering spot. Bunnies hop out there. Coyotes howl at night. There is room to amble. There is space to be held. And this little building holds us in circles. On chairs. On cushions. On back-jacks. With a candle in the middle and some questions to guide us.

It’s been 20 years now that I’ve been going to Aldermarsh both to convene groups and participate. It’s the retreat center in which, looking back, I’ve done so much of my life learning from my mid 30s to mid 50s. And that learning was refreshed a bunch this last week for The Circle Way Practicum.

There is a point at which we are no longer circling, we are no longer doing the circling. But rather, we are being circled, we are participating in something much larger and energized by a deliberate and sustained encounter with one another. It does feel like the space beyond right-doing and wrong-doing.

I’m grateful.