One Purpose, Two Practices, Loads of Change

I love the way that California Poppies grow this time of year where I live. They are hearty. They open to the sun in the morning and curl to closure as the sun sets. They are bold in color. Yet so soft to the touch. California Poppies are themselves a story, of course.

A few years ago I was in a conversation with a new friend and colleague. It was an exploring conversation with some room to wander. It was the kind of conversation I like, when there is an inherent knowing and welcome of divergence. This was not a conversation to merely transmit a few convenient certainties.

My new friend and colleague offered some of his learning that helps to create practice, and operationalizes, “being in difference together.” He said that what works for him is a question — “Can you find yourself in the story of another?” It’s a question that has really stayed with me. I suppose, because “finding” ourselves in a story, or an experience, or a long journey, of another is really about developing some compassion, understanding, and empathy.

I have learned that there are two the key skills I rely on to be able to find myself in another’s story.

First, the ability to associate. To juxtapose. This is an underestimated super power in contemporary complex culture. Young toddler kids are naturals at associating in rather unbounded ways. Tell them about a cat and one sentence later they are sharing, “I have a cat…I’ve seen mice before…I was outside once…I like playgrounds too…There is a playground at my school…I like my teacher….” It’s fun to watch how quickly it moves, isn’t it. The kind of associating I’m talking about here, evolved, is an ability to find shared common ground in very different circumstance. If the toddler had it, the sentence might sound more like, “There are creatures that I love also. For me it isn’t a cat, but rather a goldfish.”

The second key thing about finding ourselves in another’s story is about recognizing and embracing a “partiality.” We humans, it turns out, our rather complex creatures ourselves. I would suggest that we are rather complex amalgams. Just as our genetic makeup is an amalgam of proteins, bacteria, water, fats, etc. Our emotional makeup is an amalgam of multiple states that include calm, peaceful, angry, hot mess, despairing, overjoyed, etc. We do well to recognize that each of us is all of that. I may not be a hot mess all of the time, but I can find the ways that I am some of the time. I may not have rage on the whole, but I can find the ways that I feel rage in minute moments or certain circumstance. Partiality points to aspects of the whole. And not reductive marketing pitches that reduce us to fragmented qualities.

Finding myself in the story of another doesn’t mean I’m just like them. It does mean I can however find similarity even in vastly different circumstance. Back to our toddler, “…yes, I’m not really a cat lover, but I remember there was this kitten when I was a young boy that I loved completely…”

So, let’s say that these two abilities, associating and noticing partiality are important. Now here’s a next layer. Can you find yourself in your own story?


Yes, I would suggest that none of us fully know our own stories, be they what has occurred on the outer, or even more unknowingly, what has occurred on the inner. I would suggest that these two super powers for finding ourselves in another’s story apply to finding ourselves in our own story. The freedom too associate — to connect seemingly unconnected things into a larger whole, this is very complex work, yet starts from a very simple premise that “it is all connected.” Even, the very minute amounts. I’m not generally an angry person, but I can find anger in me.

You can feel the integrative intent in this, right.

If any of us, individually and in community were to further practice finding ourselves in another’s story, and finding ourselves further in our own stories, with honesty and vulnerability, phew, I can feel the way that such simple practices evolve who we are as a human community trying to add some harmony to the times we live in. And develop a beauty that people can’t not notice, like with California Poppies.



September has always marked a significant moment for me in the calendar of changes. It’s close in impact to a new year change. The why of September’s impact, like it is for many, is having grown up in a school system in which the new grade started in September. Yup, end of summer, and back to school. My mom made it a tradition to take a picture of my sister and I on the first day of school. Before we would walk to Braemar Elementary. In the picture, often holding up the number of fingers to indicate what grade we were now entering.

I remember as a kid, and into my teen and young adult years, liking the transition. Sure, I also remember a fair amount of sadness that summer was over. Because summer was the time when we got to go on holiday with parents, with grandparents. Summer was being with cousins. And summer, where I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, was also, somewhat jokingly, three weeks long. I was the kind of kid / teen / young adult that appreciated the shift. I was glad for the school year to end. But I was also glad for a new one to begin. New friends. New subjects. New teachers. I liked it when summer started — there is undeniable “schools out” fever. I liked the shift to a summer job. And then, in late August and early September, I like the shift from that summer job back to classmates and a part-time job.

Well, September doesn’t actually sneak up on anything, but it does feel like a rather abrupt turn. “How did it get to be September already?” The brain will catch up.

This morning I find myself reflecting on that old narrative of change from summer to September. Because that shift also included some regrets — did I do enough in the summer? Because now it’s time to get back to work. Did I do enough of what people are supposed to do in the summer, before getting back to work (no, I don’t know what that means — I just remember feeling it)? It’s a bit of a weird story line, isn’t it. It’s got a fair amount of trying to assure or assuage some fear of “not enough.” Oh dear, now there’s and old and pervasive story line from my life, and I know, for many of us.

With adult life, often comes the ability to change the way we think about change. Or to re-narrate, and sometimes release, the old stories of what was supposed to be. If we are lucky, we find ourselves into more conscious choice of what a season of life meant. Or what it meant in memory that is now available as another choice.

Well, those are a few thoughts on a Monday, Labor Day, where I live, the start of the first “work week” of September, 2019. With little pangs of sadness that summer is shifting, but with grown desire to be in a joy of what is more permanent, and a joy in what shifts. And with appreciation for the simple, far-less-calendared reality of things like these Black-Eyed Susans growing in my front yard, that have been astonishingly plentiful this year.


A Story and Three Questions

Toke Moeller has been a friend and colleague now for 20+ years. We’ve co-hosted trainings together in North America, Europe, and Africa. We’ve walked rain forest together in Zimbabwe that left all of us massively soaked. We’ve conjured questions together that insist on the human heart being present. We’ve grown — the way that friends and colleagues do — in interesting configuration. An ongoing appreciation that I have in all of this with Toke has been his combo of wise sage / young boy (in the body of a now 70s ish human). I keep learning about how to trust all of that within me.

Toke offered a snippet of story a few months back, some of his relating to his commitment to the Tao.

I confess
that there is
nothing to teach:
no religion, no science
no information which
will lead your mind back to the Tao.

Today I speak in this fashion,
tomorrow in another, but
always the Integral Way
is beyond words and
beyond mind.

Simply be aware
of the oneness
of things.

Now I love these words that point to the simple. They point to a keenness of awareness and presence. They point to a story behind a story behind a story. I would suggest such attentiveness to layered story gives us much broader set of choices for how we be in the first layer stories that so many of us live in — jobs, tasks, teams, accountabilities.

Now I’m the kind of human, and professional, that tends to think in questions. When I hear / read / see a passage like Toke’s above, I can almost immediately see a few questions to engage a group. To create further connection and learning. I see these questions in a way that is akin to Ron Heifetz, Harvard Scholar known often for his work on “adaptive leadership,” who shares — “One can lead with no more than a question.”

My three questions to go with Toke’s Tao:

  1. What is the bigger story (for you, this team, this community, this family)?
  2. What have we forgotten about that bigger story?
  3. What is important now to do / be to reclaim this story?

There is a ton of leadership available in a story and three questions. I’m glad for that. And 20+ year friendships / colleagueships that grow in interesting and surprising configuration.

Finding Our Way Toward Conversation

I’ve been sitting by quite a few fires lately. There’s something enchanting to me about fire. Mesmerizing. It’s not really a pyro fascination. Just takes me into a very thoughtful state. Feels…, connecting. The picture above is from a fire a few nights ago that went late into the night. Embers and coals in the back yard chiminea that I have, just right to help with the evening chill.

Last night I sat by a fire earlier in the evening. It was light enough to read. The book in hand was one I’ve read before, yet kept on my shelf. Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert, by a Utah writer and activist, Terry Tempest Williams. Her opening paragraphs from this 2001 book captured me again (just as they had before, which I remembered from my scribbled notes in the margin).

Home Work


It is a simple equation: place + people = politics. In the American West, the simplicity becomes complicated very quickly as abstractions of philosophy and rhetoric turn into ground scrimmages — whether it’s over cows grazing on public lands, water rights, nuclear waste dumps in the desert, the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, or the designation of wilderness. This territory is not neutral. The redrock desert and canyon country of southern Utah provokes powerful divisive opinions.


How are we to find our way toward conversation?


For me, the answer has always been through story. Story bypasses rhetoric and pierces the heart. Story offers a wash of images and emotion that returns us to our highest and deepest selves, where we can remember what it means to be human, living in place with our neighbors.

Ah…, “How are we to find our way toward conversation?” This gets to the heart of it, doesn’t it. How are we to remain in a kind of connection, even when feelings are hurt and identities are wounded? How are we to continue to turn to one another, rather than away? How are we to find our way?

Your conflicts might be different than mine or than that which Terry Tempest Williams names. The issues and passions may vary. Yet, I’m guessing, that there is common need to find our way to conversation. Story, even smatterings of story, open the doors. With self. With other. To know more of the inner. To know more of the outer.

I’m grateful for people like Terry Tempest Williams, for these thoughtful words, and for the ability to find the simple premise or practice — like finding our way to conversation.

I’m also grateful for fire. In a back yard. On a Sunday evening. Where I live. Slow burning into the night.