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Creativity

The Garden of Interdependence

By Creativity, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

One of life’s many paradoxes is that we are each sovereign, unique beings while also being community-oriented animals. This paradox causes us to get twisted up in what we can only generate for ourselves and what we can only receive from others.

People more individualistically wired tend to play the part of the “lone wolf” or the “solitary woman/man”. Their ability to be alone with themselves can create a false sense of not needing anything from anyone. This can lead to isolation and walling off of the heart.

People more wired to be pleasers tend to play the part of the “helper” or “martyr”. Their ability to serve others can create a false sense that their identity and value are external of themselves. This can lead to codependency or being taken advantage of.

The metaphor of a community garden fits here. Each participant is expected to grow and care for their own crops while at the same time giving and receiving with each other the fruits and vegetables of their respective and collective labor.

In the spirit of “I might be wrong”, here are two sets of 5 traits or elements — one set of things we can only generate for ourselves and another set of things we can only receive from others.

Self-Generating

  • Worthiness — Others can remind you of your worth but you won’t really comprehend it until you see it for yourself. This is the first work of a spiritual practice. This is the pearl of great price and the treasure hid in the field that Jesus spoke of.
  • Courage — This is a non-transferable trait. No one can give you courage. At best, they can give you encouragement. Courage is not a feeling. It is an action. It is not thinking. It is doing.
  • Confidence — Similar to courage, confidence can’t be instilled in you by someone else. At best they can hold up a mirror and tell you the truth. Ultimately, you have to do the inner work of finding and accepting your gifts and the outer work of building skills and competencies.
  • Creativity — This one requires a bit of nuance. Creating something often comes from being in union with someone else (creating a relationship, creating humans, creating art are all joint-ventures between yourself and another being. But the energy of creating something is self-generated. That is creativity. While you certainly can and should be inspired by someone else’s creativity you must generate creativity for yourself.
  • Wisdom — Wisdom is received through revelation, not installation. At best, someone wise can point you in the right direction but they can’t give you wisdom. Further, there are depths of wisdom that can only be reached through time and struggle — both of which require us to be alone at points in the journey.

Receiving from Others

  • Affirmation — This is to be seen and appreciated by others. It is a gift that one human can give another. Neurologically, affirmation triggers oxytocin production. Which helps solidify the bonds made in the other areas below.
  • Intimacy — Certainly, self-intimacy with our own bodies, emotions, minds is important. But connecting with someone who is connected to themselves is an essential part of the human experience. Intimacy is experienced in many forms: platonic friendships, familial relationships, romantic partners, soul mates.
  • Perspective — No one can see the back of their own head. This is why we need people in our lives to offer different perspectives. And this is why it is important to seek relationships with people who’ve had different experiences and have different views than you.
  • Trust — Trust is the currency of conscious relationships. Without the giving and receiving of trust, we become either paranoid or fragile or hardened and nihilistic. Trust makes room for grace, forgiveness, repentance as well as risk, adventure and experiences.
  • Learning — Being “self-taught” is mostly an inaccurate phrase. While we all have the ability to be autodidactic, the transfer of knowledge still comes from an outside source. Whether it’s formal education, reading books, watching how-to videos, receiving mentoring, someone else generated that knowledge so that you can consume it.

Interestingly, the things that we can only generate for ourselves become sources of suffering when we seek them from others. And the reverse is true as well. When we try to generate what we can only receive from someone else, it can create mental anguish and a sense of disconnectedness.

Let’s look at these traits when framed through the spectrum of healthy to unhealthy:

  • Lack of worthiness leads to the hero/victim/villain cycle.
  • Lack of courage leads to being manipulated, used and a collapsing of boundaries and identity.
  • Lack of confidence leads to living life in a perpetually defensive posture (which is brutally hard on the nervous system).
  • Lack of creativity leads to the dullness of the senses; the numbing of life through external stimuli and distraction.
  • Lack of wisdom leads to low consciousness which leads to stunted emotional and spiritual growth.
  • Lack of affirmation leads to chronic insecurity which becomes self-absorption and narcissism.
  • Lack of intimacy leads to physical, emotional and spiritual atrophy.
  • Lack of perspective leads to dogma, narrowness, tribalism.
  • Lack of trust leads to paranoia and risk-aversion.
  • Lack of learning leads to ignorance which invites tyranny.

I want to wrap this essay with a spirit of possibility and optimism …

I fully believe that every human is capable of self-generating these traits and many other positive ones. And I fully believe that every human is capable of giving and receiving that which we need from each other. All of this is fullness of being — the union between the divine and primal within ourselves and with each other. The result of which is a life of joy, meaning and abundance.

And Then …

By Creativity, Entrepreneurism, Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Photo credit: Me. Bear tracks on the trail in Alaska.

Like many words in the too-much-information age, we often reduce the meaning and power of words. Adventure is one such word. “Adventure” too often means a planned experience. Activities marketed as “adventurous” have agendas, itineraries, safety rules, insurance waivers, name tags. Of course, there are gradients of danger and risk that require these things. And there many experiences that could cause injury or death from poor preparation and planning and brash behavior. But most of the things that we’re calling adventurous are really just scheduled activities that provide a temporary jolt; a respite from boredom.

So what is an actual adventure?

I think an adventure is any experience where you can say “And then …” and have no idea or clue of what’s next.

There is a myriad of options to find these kinds of experiences in the world. The kinds of things that end up on bucket lists. And I want to do many of them! But most of the “and then …” adventures are right in front of us or within us.

Art is like this. You can have all the supplies and knowledge, but every artist knows that what actually becomes art is an enormous mystery. This is why most great art is made in experimentation, failure, iteration. Each piece of output is a blend of the mystical and the material. A real-time example: when I started this essay, I had no idea what would come out. And here it is!

Soulful connections are like this. You can have your preferences and interests and plans. Then someone can enter your life and completely change your trajectory or transform your perspective. Or you can feel a soul connection with someone and begin to craft some assumptions about it or plans for it — only to discover that the “and then …” is that they are experiencing the connection in a different way than you. I am certain most heartache comes from the creating of expectations that disintegrate on impact with mystery and timing.

Entrepreneurism is like this. Too often we use data and systems and plans to remove all the mystery from business. We are told that the unknown is a threat. Yet almost every great invention or lasting business was born in failure or struggle. I’ve been calling this ability to live in the known and unknown at the same time “mystical leadership”. I will be sharing much more on this idea in the next few weeks but here is a summation:

Mystical leadership is a philosophy that holds logic and faith as equally essential traits of a leader. It recognizes humility, compassion, moderation, intuition and wisdom as necessary leadership qualities. Mystical leadership embraces all the dichotomies and paradoxes of being a human — the divide between ego and soul. It acknowledges and accepts the natural volatility and uncertainty of life and leaves room for mystery and possibility.

Inner work is certainly like this. Someone that I was mentoring earlier this year expressed that he was terrified to do inner work because “of what I might find in there.” Here’s the irony … if we don’t do the inner work, life will appear only as fate or luck. When we go on the grand adventure of exploring our inner world, we find the parts of ourselves (the soul) that loves the mystery, that relishes the void. Inner work involves going on an expedition to find your soul and discover its pricelessness. Inner work involves understanding your mind and beginning to master it. Both of these are adventures unto themselves, but nothing may be more dangerous and riskier than going into the heart.

Here’s why: the heart feels what it feels and wants what it wants. And the mind (the keeper of order) has no control over that. When we begin to expand your heart, to operate from your heart center, you begin to see just how much we don’t have control over. That much of what we think is real and solid is, in fact, an illusion created by the mind to make us feel comforted and comfortable. Heart work strips everything down to what it is. It eliminates both wishful thinking and wishful feeling.

I believe it requires a certain level of mysticism to navigate life in a way that produces meaning and joy and growth. A mystic is someone that is in touch with Reality (the spiritual realm) and reality (the material realm) and knows how to create moderation and harmony between those two realms. This balance lets each part do the thing it was designed to do. The body is designed for sensation. The soul is designed to experience. The heart is designed to feel everything. The mind is designed to think and plan. When these four elements are working in equanimity, then mystery arrives as lessons and opportunities. “And then …” shifts from the mundanity of tasks to the magic of the ever-unfolding present moment.

Sitting in Reality

By Creativity, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Photo credit: The Times UK

There is such great comfort when your life reflects the story your mind is telling. Even if this is a comfortable illusion, the harmony between the story and the perceived reality is a type of peace of mind. It is the root of the old adage “ignorance is bliss.”

But oh the anguish when Reality arrives as truth — a truth markedly different from the story our mind has been telling. There is an intensity to the arrival of Reality. This is why most mystics call it “waking up”. It’s jarring. A cold ice bath, a bright light, a shaking. How tempting it is to tighten the blankets and drift back into the dream.

The mind will treat this abrupt change as a threat. It will become obsessed with returning to the illusion of harmony. It will fixate on creating a different condition than present reality. Why? Because the mind is wired to keep us alive. It does not know to process things like a spiritual awakening, a tragedy or even what it means to truly love. The mind is a perfectly designed survival multi-tool made up of problem-solving, righting wrongs, telling stories and pursuing goals. All of these are not inherently bad or wrong. However, to accomplish any of these, the mind will attempt to close the heart. Again, I don’t judge this. It makes sense. It sees current conditions as a threat to survival so it is just doing its job.

I’m reminded again and again how essential it is to return to my center in these times. Combined with faith and heart-mindedness, being centered grounds me in the present experience. Faith reminds me that everything is at should be (even if I don’t like it) and heart-mindedness reminds me that thinking is a survival instinct — and there’s no survival required in matters of soul and love.

As I wrote about in last week’s essay, at the center of ourselves is where we find unconditional love. It is being fully in our centers and in the present experience where we begin to truly understand the ever-prevailing power of love — and what it means to live and love from a pure heart. From this place of pureness of heart, we can look at an awakening, a heart-break, a situation, a crisis and operate from a brightly different perspective.

We can see that love and reality are meant to co-exist and co-create.

We can see our own core selves and the core selves of others.

We can see true injustice in the world — rather than our own perceived slights and rejections.

We can see that the present moment truly does contain everything we need.

We can see that when the mind controls, the heart closes.

My point to all of this is that being in the experience of any intense thing puts the mind and the soul in conflict with each other. When the mind is in control, the soul is often just a whisper that we shush or ignore. I did this for many years related to avoiding pain, denying that I needed healing, accepting what I truly believe and much more. In these past few months of massive life changes, I’ve found myself on an almost daily basis trying to mediate the power struggle between mind and soul, as well as mind and heart. I recognize that I arrived at this point of life by primarily thinking. I trusted my intellect. I trusted my intelligence. And for many years, I was skeptical of my heart and my soul. Now, the reverse is true. I trust my soul. I trust my heart. I am grateful for my mind, but it is a mostly useless tool in matters of consciousness. It is when I begin to listen to my mind that I begin to doubt; I begin to drift my center. I go back to trying to mix thinking with a pure heart — only to find again and again that a pure heart is one devoid of thinking.

As this Season of Waiting continues, I continue to learn. I have realized that my role in all of this is to be somewhat of the Wim Hof of spiritual experiences. To sit in the frigid waters of the deepest feelings and learn how to not let the mind take over — then share those learnings with you. Some recent learnings include a fresh understanding that:

  • Feelings are not problems to solve (unless you are in an actual crisis situation, then you can do what Emily says and “feel it later.”). Just be in the feeling. Don’t think about the feeling. Feel the feeling.
  • Other people’s choices are not wrongs to right (unless their choices are truly harmful to themselves, you or others). Let people be. Love and freedom are inextricably linked.
  • Goals are good — until they become attachments, expectations, obsessions. This comes down to context and intention. I am fully certain that heart-based goals/desires are always met eventually — even if they arrive in a form you didn’t necessarily ask for.
  • The true story of Reality is simply the soul co-creating the story with the Divine — not your mind. Participate in the co-creation of the true story through contemplation, acceptance, curiosity, imagination, honesty.

To repurpose an overused adage, if you can’t handle the ice bath, get out of the awakening. But if you do that, you miss all of its lessons. You miss the opportunity to evolve. You slip back into the warm bath of illusion. Yeah, it’s cold in the ice bath but it is Reality. And Reality is where love is the strongest.f

Finding the Center

By Creativity, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Life is an endless spectrum of dichotomies and paradoxes. The mind can’t handle all the variants. It likes absolutes. So it is wired to be binary and dualistic; to see issues or people as polarities then choose a side. The side we choose often becomes our identity; which informs our beliefs and behaviors. The more strident we are about our “side” the more resistant we are to staying open. This is why I’ve said that idealogy is a low form of consciousness.

Seeing the world through a dualistic lens creates a false reality. This is something all the spiritual masters and mystics throughout time have warned about. They encouraged being grounded in Reality (capital R intended) as an antidote to binary illusions. They encouraged seeing life as spherical rather than linear; allegorical rather than literal. They encouraged connectedness and oneness; of seeing humanity as a mirror of ourselves.

So where is this Reality they speak of?

It’s in the center.

It is in the tension between the paradoxes. It is in the moderated note between two sounds. It is the yin and yang in the dichotomies. It is in the center where we find both equanimity and equilibrium — that elusive balance that so many of us are seeking.

So where is this center?

The first center to find is in yourself. There are many different terms for this center, but I most like Thomas Moore’s term of “Original Self”. This is the original You; the You before life made you a constructed you. Returning to this Original Self is the great inner journey that one must take in order to find Reality. I like to envision this center of the Original Self as a comfortable chair on a high mountain. We fight and sweat and cry and bleed and walk and crawl and climb until we get there. We clamber into the chair and become witness to everything. We see Reality clearly. We are in it. We are experiencing, not enduring. We are receiving, not grasping. We are responding, not reacting.

How do you know if you’ve found your center? In Jungian terms, the traits of the core self are often called the 8 C’s:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Creativity
  3. Confidence
  4. Calm
  5. Compassionate
  6. Courageous
  7. Clarity
  8. Connectedness

If you are operating from these, you have found the center of You. You are living a true story; you are connected to Reality.

Another center to find is one I’ve written about previously: the center of the heart. This appears to be a separate but adjacent center from our Original Self. In my burgeoning experience, the center of the heart is where we find Eternal Love. I don’t mean this in a religious context. I mean that the center of our heart contains the present moment and that there is Love in every present moment if we look for it. This reminds me that no past memory or future projection is better than this present moment. No matter what our ego says about that. When you find this center you will see that Love is rooted in Reality.

From this center, you can truly love without attachment and projection — two things I’ve struggled with mightily over the years. From this center, Love is synonymous with Freedom. Anthony de Mello writes in “The Way to Love”: “I leave you free to be yourself: to think your thoughts, indulge your tastes, follow your inclinations, behave in ways that you decide are to your liking.”

The final center to consider seeking is the center of any idea or concept. When something is presented to you as binary, see if you can discern a third way in the middle. This doesn’t mean moral relativism or that everything is non-binary. I posit that ideas tend to be presented as a polarity and that by examining an idea with curiosity and skepticism, we can most often find a third way. This is the spirit at the center of community, collaboration and conscious partnership. This third way becomes a foundation rooted in Reality. It protects us from being gaslit by narcissists, manipulated by propaganda and from believing our own bullshit. It is also in this spirit that my buddy Juan and I are trying to unpack in our new podcast “I Might Be Wrong”. Here is a link to Spotify. It’s also on iTunes and Anchor.

The center of our being, the center of our hearts, the center of ideas are not fixed points. The ebb and flow of life will cause us to drift away at times. Returning to center is almost a daily effort. And when we return, we carry with us the wisdom of new experiences, failures, learnings.

Returning to the center is not easy. It will cause grief, death, loss, letting go. Your ego will fight you every step of the way. But I believe it is in this constant returning to center that we find a joyful, purposeful life. I believe it is where possibility lives. And healing. And meaning. And connection. And ultimately it is where we are in union with Reality.

5 Things I’ve Learned About Writing

By CreativityNo Comments

The Door Makers

By Creativity, Entrepreneurism, Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

David North’s “Door to the Imagination”. Photo credit: David North

“When opportunity knocks, answer the door.” We’ve all heard this, right? Yes, it’s true. Sometimes through your own efforts and a lot of serendipity, opportunity does knock.

Some people miss it because they don’t hear the knock.

Some people miss it because they are too afraid to answer.

And a lot of people miss it because … well, I like how Herbert Prochnow says it: “The trouble with opportunity is that it always comes disguised as hard work.”

But there is another level far beyond answering the knock at the door.

It is the impossibly hard and very risky act of creating a door where one doesn’t exist. Answering opportunity’s knock is a matter of paying attention, perseverance and knowing how to grind. Creating an opportunity door requires all of those plus alchemy, audacity and a touch of madness.

Artists are creators of opportunity doors. Using existing materials, they create a portal to a place that didn’t exist before. To experience something truly artful feels spiritual, magical – because it is. More than anyone, artists seemed to be wired to create doors. This is why they often feel miscast and misunderstood in society. Many artists deal with depression, anxiety, isolation. Which turns out are some of the key materials of door making.

For entrepreneurs, crafting opportunity doors is the work of innovation. Using existing resources, they tap into an unspoken need and create a third way that didn’t exist before. In our work at Root + River, we refer to this as category design. When working with individuals, we help craft a “category of one” – the door to an idea that didn’t exist before. When working with brands, we help create a category for them to own – a big idea that transcends current offerings. In both cases, knowing your category gives your door making efforts a place to start and a point at which to focus on.

Crafting opportunity doors does take raw ability. It also takes the work of discovering or embracing those raw abilities. If you don’t accept your own gifts and talents, it’s virtually impossible to become a door maker. And you do need to do the hard work of turning your ability into expertise and competency. And, of course, it takes courage to be a door maker.

But you can’t stop there. This is why it takes an exceptional human to become a master craftsman of opportunity doors.

I have been privileged to know a number of sensei-level door makers in my life. They have these four common traits:

  • They see the opportunity within the problem. There are lots of problem-solving experts. But the door maker is not motivated to just solve the problem. She wants to use the problem to create a door that didn’t exist before. This is what Sara Blakely did.
  • They have a robust creative practice. They understand that door making requires a ton of creative energy and creative discipline. So they place a premium on spending their time developing and nurturing creative habits. They know a consistent, robust creative practice will always produce the fruit of new ideas, new ways of thinking.
  • They have faith. For some door makers, faith can be directly related to religious or spiritual beliefs. But I’m more referring to the kind of faith that it takes to step into the void, to operate in the unknown. The kind of faith that embraces mystery’s role in creation. This is the kind of faith that encourages you to embrace your higher imaginations and doubt your lower impulses. This kind of faith only comes from within. It can’t be given, sold, borrowed.
  • They are action-oriented. When door makers have a spark of inspiration, they take immediate action. Maybe they sketch something out. Maybe they do a little research. Maybe they make a prototype. Whatever the response, they don’t just sit and think about ideas. They do something with them. When they are stuck and don’t know what to do, they just create.

Every door maker I know or studied has these four traits. But they also all have a fifth trait that is expressly and specifically unique to them. Maybe it’s calmness under pressure. Maybe it’s being great at promotion. Maybe it’s financial acumen. Maybe it’s strategic thinking. Maybe it’s charisma. I’m not entirely sure what to call this fifth trait, but I’m quite certain it is the healthy incorporation of the ego into the door making process.

Who are door makers you’ve known? What traits did she or he have that I didn’t mention?

The Lost Art of Gleaning

By Creativity, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Painting by François Millet

Gleaning is another one of those words we don’t use much any more. In contemporary times, it’s most often used in relation to bits of data or information. But its history goes back thousands of years.

My views about the term “gleaning” have had connotations related to poverty or lack. This bias comes from both direct observations and from biblical stories.

In the last 8 years we lived in Idaho, Lynna was the office manager for a large farm operation — primarily potatoes. Fall was harvest time. The owner, Doug, is a generous and kind man who allowed people to pick up the potatoes that the picker machine missed. Word of his generosity was widely known so I remember seeing vehicles, many battered and old, lining up around the edges of the potato fields.

My second influence related to gleaning goes back to the story from Jewish history of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 2 in the Old Testament if you are curious to read the whole story.) This story was often either referenced as an example of humility (true). Or a story about unworthiness — a common false teaching in Christian fundamentalism.

Why am I writing about such an obscure word? This morning, the word gleaning was on my heart. I don’t know why. But I do know that when some idea or word appears out of seemingly nowhere, I should heed it.

Some thoughts that came to me …

Gleaning is definitely about humility, but not necessarily about poverty or lack.

Gleaning is about thinking big but doing small things.

Gleaning is about getting low to the ground to discover what’s already there.

Gleaning is about not wasting what has already been provided.

Gleaning is about going back over an area to see what was missed.

Gleaning requires patience, focus and dedication. The same things art requires.

Gleaning requires essentialism. You can’t glean while also lugging around sacks of ideas, thoughts and worries.

Gleaning can be done with all five physical senses — as well as the 6th sense of intuition/awareness.

Gleaning creates presence and gratitude.

If your soul whispers to you “You missed something,” consider going back to an area. It could be an area of knowledge, a relationship, inner work. Any place you passed through is a field for gleaning. Get low to the ground. See what’s already there. The missing thing(s) will be small but very important — like a diamond or a potato for a hungry person.