Expand The Circumference of Aliveness

The last couple of weeks, I’ve continued to listen to a fair amount of Francis Weller. The overarching topic is “The Alchemy of Initiation.” The topic of the section I listened to most recently is “Facing the Predator.”

In the recording I have, usually included are some questions asked by the audience / participants. I find Weller’s stuff to be pretty deep. He’s a psychotherapist and thus is oriented to much of the inner journey. I like that. And I like the way the he connects the relevance of the inner journey to the outer world of day to day living.

One of the participants asked, “What is the outcome of facing the predator?” Weller has some one line responses that I’m appreciating. He’s done, or is doing, his work. In his context Weller is talking about the predator as confronting death, or less dramatically, the myriad of voices that tell us we are less. Weller’s response — “To expand the circumference of your aliveness.”

Circumference is the measure of the outside of a circle. It measures the rim. It measures capacity. And Weller’s point, I feel, is that it is only in the ironic encounter with what encourages small that we find large. It is only in the encounter with death that we find more animated life.

Ahh…, that’s worth resting on for a bit.

In my life, there was an obvious encounter with death, perhaps too early in life. It was my father taking his life. I was 14. It makes me sad to say that, but I’ve had a few years to make a lot of sense of what was known and what I imagine was less known about my dad. Complex lives.

In my life, more recently, there is the encounter with the end of a significant relationship. It doesn’t end the way either of us thought it would. It doesn’t end the way either of us intended. The death here, is the death of a particular dream. It is the death of an embossed identity.

Back to Weller, I hope for any of us that we are able to experience the expanded circumference of aliveness. To be clear, I don’t think it wise to rush to the end, bypassing the predator. Many of us do that. The soul’s work is often daring to dwell in the descent rather than prematurely latching on to an ascent.

I’m glad for friends that can witness the encounters that phase change us from one state to another. Or the friends who are smart enough to take off the wrist watch, throw away the current construction of time, and know that soul’s work, soul’s cooking, abides by a different concept of time. It’s less of “everything squeezed in and capped at 50 minutes.” It’s more “done when it’s done.”

Back to Weller — expanding the circumference of aliveness. I love the life force in this. I love the connection to three values that I’m often speaking in the groups with which I work. Kindness. Consciousness. Flow with life itself. Often, when I’m with groups, I’m offering such verbiage, such narrative, as a suggestion to what we might just really be up to. It’s daring to go inner, even with groups taking on herculean and complex tasks, so that there are expanded choices of aliveness connected to task.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for adding your reflections to the encounters that expand aliveness.


Locked and Blocked — Um…, Time For Self Care

Where I’d planned on being today is in Portland, Oregon. I was to be working with Kevin Hiebert, Sara Rosenau, and Jessica Riehl preparing for an Art of Hosting that starts tomorrow. I was to be thick in the questions, adding to our anticipated field. It matters that people come together. Over 50 in this case. To learn. To be in practice together. To be in connection together.

And then, a few medical urgencies surfaced over the last five days. Number one, my neck locked into position atop my head with virtually zero rotation left / right and up / down. What! Wait! A lot of pain. No, it’s not from any particular incident or injury. Just real. Can’t drive real. Can’t see to the sides real. Stinging shoots of pain whenever I moved my head. Locked.

And then, well, actually before that, a number two urgency. A kidney stone moving and creating a lot of pain. I remember that kind of pain from 10 years ago when I had a kidney stone. Lot’s of lower back pain. It’s got “Oh Oh” written all over it. Blocked.

I’m the kind of human that comes from other humans that generally tough it out and play through it. I wrestled a lot with this decision to just go to Portland and make the most of it, or to give myself permission for self care. I’m glad for my team and friends that encouraged the latter, self care. And, well, toughing it out was a rather slim option with this severity. Getting my body in the room isn’t enough for this kind of work. It takes much more heart and soul.

So…, I got the X-rays that show an odd curve in the top of my spine. Got the meds to help with muscle relaxing, pain relief, and removing the swelling. Got the meds to help with kidney stone. Got the appointment with the physical therapist for this morning. I’m glad that such things are available.

So…, longer story that is unfolding made short, I’m in Utah. Glad for these roses in full bloom in my back yard. I’m in self care, which I know is what many of us are learning. Hosting self. Still not through my grumbles, but there are some things you can’t argue with. Body is one of them.

I participated in a call with the team yesterday. To hear and see the design for the coming days. It looks delicious. It includes questions about uncertainty (when have you experienced…), which I find so valuable. Being able to be in your own uncertainty is one of the key potencies for people to learn these days. I got to hear some overarching themes that I loved. One, awaken to presence. Two, attune too emergence. Three, lean into experiments. That’s good stuff.

I’ll be cheering from the roses on this one for those gathered in Portland, “The City of Roses.” A bit sad. Actually a lot sad. But also grateful for colleagues and friends that rally around principle and friendship.




On Initiation — Yikes

“Initiation” is a rather powerful word, isn’t it. I’m not totally sure what it means, but it feels very important. I’ve been thinking about initiations — about belonging and community and maturation — for the better part of the last ten years. I’ve found a few points of clarity. I’ve also found some thicker soup to stir.

Francis Weller, a psychotherapist, writer, and soul activist, is really informing a lot of my learning lately about initiation. “The Wild Edge of Sorrow” is one of those sources. So is “The Alchemy of Initiation.”

I love the notion that there is more soul work to do in this life. It’s not just 70-80 years on the path of material consumption and transactionalism. I often find myself speaking of the soul work as “finding the trouble that we are meant to find.” The trouble we are meant to find isn’t just a path of escalating successes. The trouble we are meant to find, I would suggest, also includes some heartaches, some loss, some illness, some things that just didn’t work.

This search into soul — yikes — it’s involved. It grows us. It can grow us, particularly when we are supported by others who have done, or are in their soul work. It can grow us if we make it through. However, I don’t think “making it” is guaranteed. Yikes again.

The conversation I’ve most been in about initiation lately is “initiated to what?” I’m a bit puzzled by this question. I suppose because a part of me wants a more clean reply. But when I go to the guts of it, I think that a very important aspect of initiation is into an improved capacity to be in uncertainty and unknowns. Yikes again. I almost don’t like writing that sentence. Learn to unlearn. Learn to not know. Learn to strip further the layers of certainty. I can find my own resistance flare as I listen to my words.

Yet, I’ve learned, that resistance doesn’t imply wrong. And when it comes to baseline skills, energetic clarity, ability to encounter self and other — fundamental to it all is being willing to release the convenience and psychological dependence on certainty.

Many of us have choices to avoid or deny the depth of soul stirring within us. And, let’s face it, so much of contemporary society is structured to help us do just that — avoid and deny. I continue to learn that the initiatory language really is fruitful in making sense of and leaning into the needed troubles of our times — individually and collectively.

Stage 1: A departure from the norms of what we reside in, known or not. Often departures are brought about by gut-punching reality. Stage one is a severance from the familiar. Easier to write than to do.

Stage 2: An ordeal encountered that is significant enough to alter one’s identity. Illness can do this. Relationships ending can do this. Death can do this. Loss of jobs can do this. It’s an ordeal that changes the game.

Stage 3: A return as changed being, witnessed by elders or those who also have been in their soul work. The return with an initiation that sticks, is to know that you can’t go back to what you were before. And you come back with wisdom earned (including the wisdom of not needing to know).

There’s so much more. The idea that the initiatory experience isn’t for the individual, but rather for the community. That’s gold — thanks again Francil Weller.

I think a lot of us are trying to make sense of the times. A lot of us are recognizing the impact of adolescence run amuck, whether in young teenagers or in older adults, whether in others or within ourselves.

I’ll stay with my yikes — or as some friends have told me, “this isn’t for sissies.” I’m grateful for friends, youngers and olders in their soul work. Just to see them and to be seen by them, in these troubles of these times.


Powerful Questions

It’s the day that my friend and colleague Quanita and I will be beginning to host a weekend retreat. It’s QT. It runs Friday – Sunday. This time there will be eleven of us. From Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Cincinnati. And me from Lindon, Utah. This time, we are seven men and four women. It’s deliberate curious wander together which has a way of resetting the internal compass for most. It’s a gathering that I love and that has become even more deeply enriching each time.

I’m thinking a bit, on the day that QT begins, about some of the questions and topics that I’m bringing to the retreat. That I want to learn about. That I want to hear and share stories about. Wisdom. Connection. Funny. The relationship of inner to outer. The relationship of now to the long arc. Dreams. Ritual. Superpowers. There’s a big list. I know that we might get to two or three. But I’m not worried. It isn’t scarcity of time. I know that these are all connected. And, I continue to learn that it’s the energy, the vibration of the stories shared, the entanglement of our curious wander, that really moves and changes us.

I’ve decided to change some of my topics into questions, writing them on post-it notes. I know that what moves an interesting topic to a kind of communal engagement is a question. And I love feeling the questions come through me. I’m just playing so that I can share them with Quanita to see how they align with her interests and sense of the group coming. Hmm…

On wisdom — What is some of the essential wisdom you are discovering these days?
On connection — What is some of where you are feeling critical connection these days?
On funny — What is some of what is funny to you these days?
On inner / outer — How’s that inner / outer thing going for you? What’s your inner showing you about your outer? What’s your outer showing you about your inner?
On superpowers — What is one of your superpowers? Tell a story.

These are a sample, but after Quanita made a few observations and appreciations about these kinds of questions, I realized that there is a pattern to them that helps them be useful for engagement.

  1. Ask for some, not all (“…what is some of…”) — This presumes that none of us can say all of it. We can try. We can be rather clever. Or articulate. Or just brilliant. But “some of” is an invitation to freedom of choice. It’s also an orientation that acknowledges it’s not possible to get all of it. Language and words are great tools. And needed. The kicker here is to welcome the spirit of wholeness (it’s all connected) yet the freedom or partial and incomplete (yet complete enough).
  2. Ask for feeling, not just data — This presumes that most (or, er…, um…, all) of experience is subjective and not objective. Sure it’s true that we humans make lists and are rather impressive in our quantitative and qualitative sharing. I tend to be one that wants to reclaim the subjective, the sense-making that is filtered through the rather complex beings that we are with “no two exactly the same.” “What’s your feeling…” returns us to the validity of wonder.
  3. Ask for these days, not all of time — This presumes the value of just noticing what is alive and apparent now. Or recently. It doesn’t ask for a comprehensive summary of all time. It doesn’t ask of a literature review of all possible responses. It just asks for some of what is current, trusting that what is alive now might have more relevance in a continued emergence kind of way.

I love asking these kind of questions. I love being in these kind of questions. I suppose because it moves me / us into a kind of real time sensing together. It gives us chance to grow in the sun together if I stay with a living systems reference. And, just for fun, more mechanically, it gives us chance to calibrate a bit together.

I’m a student of questions. I’ve had good teachers that have themselves been oriented to being students of questions. There is an essence in the question that creates a doorway to shared meaning making, sensing, witnessing. What a delicious taste of it I got with this lovely group of people in weekend retreat. Enriched.