Archive for August, 2008|Monthly archive page

Let it be

We are generally taught that ambition is a positive thing, and that we should work hard to overcome all obstacles to our dreams.  Indeed, determination and persistence prove to be awesome allies as we stumble through life; those who are not deterred by petty interruptions or objections are often those who come out on top.

On the other hand, we can take the go-gettum attitude too seriously, and wind up on the blind side.  This is not because ambition fails, but because it can hide from us the holistic truth.  Consider, therefore, the benefit of another practice, one especially fostered by the teachings of the Alexander Technique.  So often our energy is pushing forward, reaching not only mentally but physically toward our objective.  Do you recognize that forward press in yourself?  Do you catch yourself straining to see, or hear, or get there?  Are your shoulders tensed in anticipation, do you peer intently ahead, is your forehead often the leading part of your body and movement?

If (like me!) you realize your interface with the world is characterized by this grasping, consider the opposite approach.  If you know that to everything there is a season; if you trust that you are loved and lovable; if you are willing to discover life as much as to shape it, then try relaxing back into yourself and allowing the world to come to you.  Instead of straining to get, take a deep breath, put ambition aside, and experience the calm of centered being that does not grasp but easily receives.  In this place, you can use your senses to full effect; you can not only listen, but hear; not only see, but perceive.  You are the center of your world, so isn’t it best to act the part? 

Especially when stumped or struggling, try this subtle physical and mental shift.  Pull your consciousness back in to yourself, cease the forward push, and in quiet self-possession, let life in.  The practice restores health and vitality, stimulates creativity and compassion, and – most importantly – balances ambition with proper, even nourishing humility.

Simple solutions

I love brilliant solutions that return us to our common humanity in the most accessible of ways.

Are you familiar with the delicious novels of Lee Smith?  One of her most recent, The Last Girls, despite its romance, sassyness, and pure fun also contains one of the most profound teachings I know.  More proof that enlightenment can be found anywhere!  A lesser character in the story, who is not particularly heroically depicted, is described as having learned a trick of immeasurable power in relationships – and it translates as well to many aspects of business.

Rather than arguing, rather than sticking to his guns and defending his position at all costs, this character has learned that the most appropriate, useful, peace-keeping response to those who present opposing or otherwise startling viewpoints is simply, “You may be right about that.”

This is a divine piece of wisdom, people.  Sometimes you want to debate, but more often you just want to get on with life and not become ensnared in contradictions.  But we’re commonly diverted from our goals by the interventions of others, and feel we have to defend ourselves, explain and justify.

And our customers and critics in business, who delight in telling us how we’re doing it all wrong, how our prices are too high or our services inadequate, can be brought back to our side through this one easy response.  (When working in retail years ago, it would amaze me how some customers seemed to be taking out personal frustrations on a humble clerk, just because they could.)  Instead of being defensive, consider the benefit of simply responding, “You may be right about that.”  While preserving your pride and the possibility that the other may actually be wrong about that, by making this statement you even up the balance between you and the other party;  you restore parity; you not only deflate the other’s aggression, but you also open yourself safely to the possibility that indeed the other’s viewpoint is worth contemplating.

Thank you, Lee Smith.  Such a simple, yet drastically innovative solution!

Playing with the edge

Consider the infinite diversity of our world.  Consider the vastness of the universe.  Consider how your love is so deep as to consume your entire consciousness and yet the one you love is never entirely knowable to you.

Years ago, a yoga teacher encouraged us to ‘play with the edge.’   If you’ve ever done yoga, you know the experience of moving into the pose, moving as far as you can to the edge of your capability, and hanging there.  It’s that place where you can, with patience, pry open the door to personal progress.  Do not shrink from that edge; rather, learn to go there gently and confidently and remain there in calm strength.

To progress, to learn, to evolve into our ideals, we do best to become comfortable with living on the edge this way.   If ignorance is not knowing what you don’t know, enlightenment is opening to the universe beyond your personal edges, allowing the probability that what you don’t know is infinitely larger than what you do know.  Once past selfishness and fear, you find that the vastness of the unknown becomes the very nourishment of your days.  Staying within your native ‘comfort zone’ no longer satisfies.

While these thoughts pertain to personal life, they apply just as well to the business world.  In your work, do you cling to the known, the predictable, the accustomed?  Whether boss or employee, do you catch yourself striving to establish once and for all your systems and methods?  Do you tend to ignore issues that are distasteful or threatening to you?  Do you wait until conditions force you to buckle before you speak up or take action?

Consider how learning to hang at the edge, to abide not in the center of your known world but at its fringes, will spin a life more enlightening and rewarding than you can even imagine.

Writing practice

Writing, of course, is a creative activity that’s easily accessible for daily practice.  Blogging, for instance.  Rather marvelous that in our fast-moving, materialistic times the technology has also brought us this method for slowing down and exploring the mysteries of life.  To take on the challenge of blogging is to commit to sustained dialogue with experience.  Being constantly on the alert for realities to share with readers is only the beginning; you are also constantly involved with your own reactions, your ability to express, and your willingness to plumb the depths of your subject beyond the obvious.

The benefits of keeping a journal are well known.  Such everyday reflection on experience provides a healthy distancing from the subject, which helps to put things in appropriate perspective. 

There are many ways to carry on a writing practice, from scribbled notes of thoughts and impressions as you go through your day, to the more formal disciplines of journaling and blogging.  Whatever form it takes, your writing must be a very regular practice to be useful as a creativity tool.  The ‘other’ represented by your notebook or text editor demands your deep devotion.  You have to practice enough to go beyond superficialities.  You must proceed to the very edge of your capacities and be willing to jump off the cliff.  Only then will your creativity come alive.

So it’s through the commitment to your creative practice that you reap benefits.  It’s no good to practice just on Thursdays, just when it’s convenient, just when you feel like it.  Sporadic creativity can be fun, but it’s a mere hors d’oeuvre, and will not energize.  You have to eat the whole meal to be truly nourished and satisfied. 

As usual, these thoughts are addressed to your personal self, but they are also addressed to your business.  The occasional show of creative endeavor is better than nothing.  But if your organization commits to creativity as a daily discipline, exponential progress is not only possible, but likely.

Madonna and child

A year ago, I took this picture in Costa Rica. I’d been observing this duo as they made their way daily into town from the twisting jungle. “Puedo saccar una photo de usted, por favor?”

I still utterly adore the beauty of this pair – wisdom and innocence, the hag and the child, a relationship of symbiotic trust and unconditional love. Especially, I revere the quiet and unapologetic sense that these two are completely ‘unspotted from the world.’

Weekends are for removing the world’s spots. Enjoy!

Consumer responsibility

The answer to Seth Godin’s query yesterday – “Are consumers responsible for the behavior of marketers?” – is obviously yes. Consumers are responsible for the behavior of marketers, big business, celebrities, and governments too. Godin claims that the internet facilitates the broadcasting of opinion, and thus allows the consumer to fight offensive marketing or, even more importantly, to support those companies and practices that serve well and admirably. But really, it has always been our right and capability as individual consumers to make choices and perform actions to support our decisions. We don’t have to answer the telephone, make the purchase, vote for the candidate. Obnoxious marketing, cheap goods and services, and ineffective governments directly result from our individual willingness to support them.

We forget that there is always an alternative, and that we are not slaves to anything. It’s laziness, certainly, and a leftover from the oppression of industrialism; it’s a feeling of helplessness that provides a handy way of avoiding responsibility.

But indeed, we consumers now possess a megaphone loud enough to make an impression. The internet gives each of us equally a podium for our opinions. The liberation isn’t happening only in cyberspace, though. I saw a summer camp school bus yesterday with the command spread across its broad side: Be the change you want to see in the world. A familiar phrase; indeed, our motto as we forge a global society.

Beauty still reigns

Allow me a word about Beauty today. Last post about Truth, this one about Beauty … I’m easy to peg. But honestly, these ultimates play with my gray matter daily, and if you’re awake in the world today, you’ll sooner or later come to contemplate our societal relationship with ideals. Though derided as lofty, even snooty, we’re all essentially concerned with what is Truth and we’re all in love with what is Beautiful.

But the cheapening of beauty, the compromises we tolerate with increasing blindness, is not to be tolerated without a whimper. I’m referring in this instance to the miserable degradation to which we are subjected by the existence of television pharmaceutical commercials.

Could you have guessed that this is my target? You know, you have experienced it. Expensive, warm-fuzzy photography about people achieving health and happiness while the audio furiously clips on about possible side effects, fainting and nausea, four hour erections, headaches, body aches, blood in your friggin’ stool, and all manner of human suffering. Greed and chemical dependency meet The Law and paranoia. The result, now regularly polluting the airwaves, is Ugliness in the extreme to which we’re subjected every time we seek a little entertainment on the tube.

Creativity is in many ways a synthesis of opposites, but it’s a process not guaranteed to be successful. Just throwing things together does not constitute a creative solution; to the contrary, this method can be nothing more than destructive because it does not measure the creative action against the ideals of Truth and Beauty. Most of us don’t need these medications so ubiquitously offered, and those who do are not informed or uplifted by the exercises in contadiction and insult that these commercials present.

I rarely watch television and if these offensively stupid trends in advertising continue, surely that medium will lose all its audience. Commercialism, admittedly, has had little to do with Beauty in the past 50 years or so; but insulting the emotional logic of the consumer, and shoving patently Ugly solutions down our throats is a self-defeating compromise. The sponsors of such messages arrogantly think we don’t notice the assault. Please join me in ensuring that they realize we see through their assinine faux-creativity.

Living creatively

What does it mean to practice creativity every day? We’re not all professional artists, we’re mostly very busy people with our time co-opted by making the sale, making the grade, making the plane or the connection. We may be vaguely amused by the plethora of self-help suggestions available everywhere, but we’re really too seriously adult to dabble in such distractions. Isn’t it telling, though, that we’re involved in all this ‘making.’

Living creatively is about how we approach all our makings. Do we live in a world of requirements or one of opportunities? Are we motivated by material gain or by the promise of peace? Do we progress through narrowing self-absorption or through widening compassion?

Dune Rudhyar said it decades ago: “To create is only to reveal what essentially is.” This essence is what we seek. Creativity is not so much manifesting something new as revealing something heretofore hidden. And living creatively is living in that ongoing investigation into ‘what essentially is,’ a profound and unwavering devotion to truth.

Contrasting worlds

I had an hour to waste in town yesterday, so visited the library which is always foolhardy since I have very little time to read. Nonetheless, I signed out a book – Pico Iyer’s recent biography of the Dalai Lama. And, in a lazy mood last night, I sat down with the volume and soon was captivated. So this Friday’s thought for the weekend relates to His Holiness and the heroic role he plays in our world. If not for my general disgust with the current regime, I would have posted the photo of him with George Bush, to show the excruciating contrast in these two world powers. Contrast is the Dalai Lama’s daily gruel; of all sentient beings alive today, perhaps he knows best the terror and salvation that dwell simultaneously at the heart of contradictory realities.

Consider the existence of contrast in your own life, in your own business. Consider the extremes of possibility and your courage in making choices. Consider that every single thing you do aligns with one end or the other of the contrast spectrum, either protecting what you already have or breaking out of the known in order to grow. Consider, especially, how awareness of contrast will not make you a happier person, but it will make you wise and – over time – allow you to find peace with your place on the continuum.