This Place

I did something on a whim this morning. Didn’t follow the routine, good as it generally is — journal, meditate / breath, blog, exercise, shower, breakfast snack, start Pandora station Classical for Study, work.

I went for a walk. Down Lakeview Road (once upon a time before development the lake was a bit more viewable). Past the horse pastures in which each year a couple of new ones come along. To Pheasant Brook Park. The moon was still up and near full. The mountains were purplish in their wakened morning hue.

I brought my journal with me. In the park, I sat on a bench to breath, casually. A bit more deeply, as the mountains and something about being outside in the early morning, does in fact, inspire. And on that bench, I wrote two of last night’s dreams that I could catch.

My friend Ann Pelo reminds me in her book, The Goodness of Rain: Developing an Ecological Identity in Young Children, that it is important to walk the land. That’s Chapter 2, though it isn’t numbered. Ann is smart enough to challenge linearity. And, it’s in that chapter that Ann quotes Gary Snyder, American Pulitzer Winning Poet, Environmental Activist —

“Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul.”

My walking today was meditation. A different kind. Needed. Not sitting on my chair. Not with candle. My stillness was in movement. My light was the fading full moon and rising sun over Utah’s Wasatch Mountains.

I think I need some shake up. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Even from good habits that have become a bit stale and rigid. Practice is one thing, and the discipline it takes to establish practice as more that “a few times and then forget about it.” To get back to another kind of source. It’s likely “out there.” It’s likely also “in here.” My best teachers have always pointed me back to self and to simplicity.

I’m guessing that many of my posts in the next 30 days will simply be about place. Noticings of what is in front of me (isn’t this core for so many of us as needed skill and as hungered-for experience), with perhaps a bit of reflection, or perhaps, simply images.

This place.


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.

From the Ordinary, Extraordinary

Stuart McLean is a Canadian story teller and humorist. He is known for his books, his performances, and his CBC Radio program, The Vinyl Cafe.  When people talk about his genius, I hear him described as a good listener, as making magic and the extraordinary out of the ordinary. I hear him described as being habitually curious about human life. He loves laughter and he loves silence. I don’t know Stuart McLean, but it’s super easy for me to fall in love with those qualities. A couple of weeks ago, Stuart McLean was heard to say, “What can I say. Things don’t always go as planned.” Stuart McLean died yesterday. The cause was complications due to skin cancer, which he was diagnosed with about a year ago. His life is being celebrated. His death is being mourned.

I admire the courage it takes to give full attention to the ordinary. It’s massively satisfying and delightful to me to see in the ordinary what is extraordinary. It feels wise, right. Perceptive. Insightful. There is clearly skill in being able to see the extraordinary. But the perceptual shift that matters to me personally, and so often in my work, is that there is extraordinary if we are simply willing to be curious about it. It can be grown, I think. But it is already there. In the staff meeting. In the people at the staff meeting. In the people trying to make sense of the plans of the staff meeting. In the vast and varied life experience of the people trying to make sense of the plans of the staff meeting.

We human beings in our collective adventures must of course share important information and data together. It’s part of collaborating. And we human beings must use that data to create plans and strategies and accountabilities. That’s good too. But let’s be clear, learning to collaborate is a life-long process. And further, learning to collaborate is enhanced deeply by our ability to welcome the time for story of the ordinary. I’ve lost track of which of my friends first said it — Margaret Wheatley or Christina Baldwin — “the shortest distance between two people is a story.” And those stories, those simple ordinary stories, are what I’m often trying to evoke in people that I work with so as to create good listening and good connection. I’ve started surprising people with questions that are off topic — “What were you good at as a kid — share a story.” It’s awesome to watch people light up when given permission to be in the ordinary, that turns out to be not so ordinary.

Thanks Stuart McLean. For a life of story. And for good listening. And for curious habits that I continue to try to grow and practice in myself and with the people I care about.


Clear Leadership


I had a dream a couple of days ago. In it, I was working with a small group of other people. We were trying to name the event that we were creating. In the dream it was a few days later that it was coming to us. It had to arrive for us, rather than being forced on the spot. “Clear Leadership” is what I shared with the group in my dream. “Yes, Clear Leadership.”

From night time dreams to the waking dream that is day to day life, I find myself thinking a lot about leadership. In myself. In others. In people that I work with that come from many walks of life — ministers, educators, health and wellness professionals, corporate managers, and a whole host of people that are just trying to improve the kind of humans they are. As individuals. As groups, teams, and communities.

In my dream, “clear” had a connotation of depth and simplicity. It wasn’t more management and control of people and circumstance, though that can be important. It was clear story. It was clear commitment to human beings evolving a sense of who we are together and why we do what we do together. It’s one thing to produce widgets. Great. Thank you. It’s another thing (and to be fair, even part of producing widgets) to open ourselves to a broader purpose of being human together and in continuous wonder.

You know, I was in a workshop this weekend, in which one of the fundamental premises was that there is nothing to fix in self or other. Improve, yes. Evolve, yes. Grow, yes. Let go of, yes. Lament, yes. Human learning has full range, doesn’t it. But fundamentally, these are all perfectly normal things. In a Buddhist way, as Pema Chodron shares, “This very moment is the perfect teacher.”

Clear leadership, to me, when it comes to evolving souls, is very much about waking up (and perhaps removing distractions, habits that numb us, or even comforts) to a different story. The story isn’t “more, more, more.” It has a quality of “less is more.” It’s not blame (or concession) for all that is “out there.” It has attention to the intimately nuanced layers of what is “in here” and how the “in here” is in fact shaping so much of the “out there.”

“Clear leadership.” Hmmm… Clarity of soul. Clarity of purpose. Clarity of essence, that perhaps can only be found together and in the company of others that amplify energy, spirit, and memory of what we already know, deeply, and simply.

Here’s to more dreams, and clarity, in all of us.