Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Integrity

My mind had been running away with me. I had imagined the possibility of such catastrophic proportions that I had managed to scare myself out of hope. That changed today with a simple one-hour conversation.

Last week, I made a commitment to have this conversation, essentially because it was a matter of integrity. I work at a protestant church, and I have for several years. I understand the beliefs of the people there, and I have consistently encouraged the development of their faith during my time there. In fact, one of the stands I have been taking for a long time is to encourage spiritual growth in others, even if their beliefs differ from mine.

Which is actually why my integrity has been in question for me. I don't believe all of the same things about God that the church where I work teaches. In some ways, my beliefs are very clearly aligned with the example of Jesus' life, but in some ways, my beliefs are rather different from mainline Christianity. I haven't actually shared that with anyone where I work, and fear has even led me to claim things that aren't true about my beliefs.

I had an incredible conversation today with the senior pastor, in which I told him my beliefs and commitments. I literally had no idea what he would say. In many ways, this very conversation was a step of faith. His response was that my beliefs sounded very Christ-like to him, and that the semantics of the church don't mean the same things to everyone. He acknowledged how the church benefits from my presence and my support of people's spiritual growth, and he basically told me to just be my authentic self.

I was blown away by the graciousness, acceptance, and connectedness of his response. What I had feared would happen was the farthest thing from the reality I experienced today, and I am grateful not only that I was willing to take a step into the unknown but that I was so incredibly rewarded for claiming my integrity. I'm seeing that my fear was the only thing keeping me from having it to begin with.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Warrior's Bus

I just spent a tremendous week at Way of a (Spiritual) Warrior, a deepening of the tools I learned at the More To Life weekend in Houston last November. While much of the week's actual material is covered under a confidentiality clause, and it would be lacking in integrity to reveal what other people shared about their lives and discoveries, my breakthroughs alone could give me material to write on for weeks.

My first challenge turned out to be bigger than I expected. When I arrived at the airport, I had a few hours before the charter bus to the conference center was set to depart. I had a leisurely lunch, enjoyed people watching, and eventually made my way to the place where the bus would be waiting. I had printed out the instructions, which included the location to meet the bus, the name of the bus company, and a detailed description of how the bus would look. I was calm, confident, and eager to meet my fellow warriors.

Imagine my surprise when the location described on my printed page didn't actually exist. I went to the closest place I could find, and noticed that some construction was going on, so I followed some other people around to rows of buses for hotels and rental car agencies. That didn't seem like the right place, so I went back and started asking airport personnel. I learned about a new likely location for the charter bus, set off in that direction, and I was fine. A little frustrated, but willing to let it go.

Until I was unable to locate the bus at the new spot. Then, my frustration returned with a vengeance. I asked no less than six people with official looking uniforms and name badges and received the same three potential places, and at none of those places was there a bus that looked like the description I had. At one point I looked at my cell phone for the time and realized that the bus had been scheduled to depart 15 minutes ago. I thought: There's very little chance it's even still here for me to find. I decided to rent a car and drive there myself, even though this was an expense for which I really hadn't planned.

I was angry, frustrated, driven, and tense. I was believing that I should have been able to find the bus, that the directions were wrong, that the person who had written them was incompetent, and that I would have done a better job. I was believing not only that they were stupid, but that I was stupid and incompetent as well. I felt very disconnected from the enthusiasm I had been feeling less than an hour prior to that moment. I tried to hide all of that from the car rental agent. After all, it wasn't her fault. I told her what I needed, and she asked if I had my return flight information, documentation she needed to rent a car to me. I hadn't printed that out, so she suggested I go to the airline desk and get a copy of that.

Although I was polite to her, I was seething on the inside. One more obstacle in my path, I thought. And then I received a call on my cell phone. Another passenger from the bus had made a sign and was waiting for me by the information desk. They hadn't left. I found her and, still angry and frustrated, I followed her to the location of the bus, which I had passed at least twice. The bus didn't look anything like the description, there was no company name painted on the side, and there was no sign or indication that it was going where I wanted to go. But the driver had been there with the door open both times I walked past.

I held on to my anger, frustration, and judgment about the bus for at least a day, disengaging and remaining less than fully connected as the week began. But eventually I came to terms with the truth. The bus wasn't where I expected it to be. The bus didn't look like what I expected. I had inaccurate information. I was worth enough to them that they not only waited for me, but even sought me out. My anger and drivenness had focused my perception to such an impractical point that I was unwilling to explore possibilities outside my expectations. I could have asked the driver where he was going either of the times I had passed the bus, but I was convinced that it would have been a waste of time.

I don't know what would have happened if I had remained calm, open to alternatives, and connected with what was around me. It's possible that it would have played out in exactly the same way. But I know that I am more the person I want to be when I don't give my frustration and anger and drivenness the upper hand.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Are You Excited?

In a couple of days, I'm heading off to a one-week residential course entitled Way of a (Spiritual) Warrior. This experience involves a deepening of the tools that I learned in the More To Life weekend last November. In basic terms, it is personal development, leadership training, and creativity ignition over the span of a week. I am hopeful that I will return with greater clarity of focus, improved communication, and purposeful energy.


As I have contributed my time and energy to More To Life events over the past several months, I have gotten to know several people who have experience Way of a (Spiritual) Warrior, and they often ask the question: "Are you excited?" My reaction is "Should I be excited?" I get from the question that they received a big gift from their experience, but if I answer honestly, I wouldn't label what I am feeling "excitement." I don't really know what to expect from the week, truth be told. I don't know what the other people will be like, I don't know what the actual training will involve, and I don't know what things are really going to push me toward new awakenings. The only known things about which I could get excited is the opportunity for a week away and the difference I see in other people.

The week away is actually the source of a little frustration for me, and I recognize that I have been thinking about all of the things I could accomplish with that time were I to just stay here and work on music. And yet, I have a strong belief that taking this week away will allow me to work smarter toward the things that matter most to me. So that frustration gets a little nod of acknowledgment from me and I move on. I'm open to what the week has to offer me, and I am willing to engage the experience fully. The possibility of having more tools in my toolkit to keep me on track with my deepest intentions is very attractive to me, but there is something else limiting my excitement.

It has to do with those people who are asking me if I am excited about going, and others I know who have experienced this course. I realize now that I am holding a bit of judgment against them. I think of some of them, "Well, you haven't exactly rocketed to new levels of purpose and awareness since taking this course." It's a harsh thing to think about people, especially people I care about and value deeply. They are, after all, human beings with all of the garbage and baggage that comes with the territory. One week away might offer tools to deal with the garbage and the baggage, but it won't eliminate it. That is for each of us to do in our own lives. And the pile keeps getting higher every day we live. People could have any number of reasons for not putting their tools to work.

Then it hits me. If I choose to do so, I can allow the shared experience to be another tool. In about week, I will have something (else) in common with others who have taken this course. And it is possible that I can serve some part in re-igniting their powerful visions and catalyzing their deep passions. Just as I am learning that others are willing to partner with me in bringing my vision into reality, I can potentially partner with some of these individuals more effectively by drawing upon a common experience. In fact, that potential directly feeds into my growing vision for my own life. That is worth getting a little bit excited. OK, ask me again.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Composing the Music I Want To

I can be highly critical of my own artistic endeavors. I think this comes with the territory, and to a certain extent I think it plays a necessary role in achieving true satisfaction with the end result. When I was in grad school, I found myself adopting an interesting measuring stick to critique my compositions. It wasn't about the sound of a piece so much as how intelligently written it was, how sophisticated its construction, or how innovative its techniques.

I still like some of those pieces a great deal, but the truth of the matter is that most listeners won't be evaluating how marvelously intelligent I am to have written that piece of music. And they probably aren't going to spend a great deal of time considering how intricately woven all of its musical elements are. Most of them are honestly listening more than anything else for whether or not they like it. Does it hold their attention? Does it please them on some level? Do they remember anything about it once the last note has been played?

I find myself in an interesting process now of conceptualizing music for potential use in television and film productions. Although the time I allow in my life for composing is at this point a fraction of what I would like to spend, when I do have the time, there are a few ideas already taking on flesh in my mind. I'm not worried so much about how intelligently written, sophisticated, or innovative they will seem; on some level, I am just assuming that they will be all of those things because of who I am. My primary goal, though, is to create effective and evocative music. It's something that requires much less intellectual critique and allows for much more rampant creativity. And it's actually quite a bit of fun.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Frisbee Golf Lessons

I played Frisbee golf with a friend of mine the other day. He's been doing this pretty regularly for several weeks now, and I have gone with him maybe three times. As we played, he made suggestions about my technique, offering insight from his recent experience and sharing ideas he had picked up from other players. Specifically, he was working on a three-step approach before releasing the disc, building momentum while maintaining stability, and he wanted me to give it a try.

My throws were pretty inaccurate, some of them wildly off target. My concentration was on what my feet were doing, and my kinetic energy was concentrated in my legs. To be successful at this game, I needed to be focusing the energy up, through my arm, and out into a round piece of plastic. At one point, I decided not to worry about the technique and the legwork and just to throw the thing. My setup was too fast for me to analyze in the moment, but it had an open flow of energy. The disc sailed fairly straight, more or less in the direction I wanted, and it covered an impressive distance. My friend's response was, "I'm just going to stop telling you how to do this," and we had a good laugh.

But I've been thinking about this incident for a couple of days now. The best way for me to sum up the experience is that I was concentrating so much on doing something "properly" that I was limiting my ability to do it well. When I free up my mental and physical energy to act with a little less restraint, I may have a better chance of success. I also think part of the equation was that I had been working on various techniques with this particular set of skills before I cut loose; my muscles and my mind had a chance to become familiar with the results I wanted. It's just that the steps in isolation (and a bit under a microscope) weren't yielding the complete result.

So, my question has become, where else do I do this in my life? Where else do I restrict my abilities by concentrating on doing something "properly?" Preparation is helpful, but at a certain point I am as prepared as I can be. In what areas am I ready to cut loose a bit, stop preparing and over-analyzing, and just see what I can do?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Attachment

Earlier this week, I submitted a report to a committee where I work. The bulk of the report was intended to outline some of my concerns with a particular project I'm overseeing. I was not at the meeting where this report was passed around and read, so I was expecting some phone calls or emails the next day. I anticipated that people on the committee would want to discuss things further, or express their anger or frustration, or offer suggestions that I haven't yet considered.

I got nothing. No phone calls, no emails, no rocks through the window, and no lavish gifts of appreciation. I was frustrated by the lack of response. Even a little angry. But that triggered a fear in me. What if I had really stepped out of line with this report? I had worded it carefully, and I had three individuals whose opinions I trust read over it before I submitted it. But what if something was easily misconstrued? What if my tone came across differently than I intended? Suddenly I was calling into question the whole of my ability to communicate through the written word, and I went back to a familiar reaction of "I should have just kept my mouth shut."

When I dug a little underneath it, I realized that I was not just submitting a report for the sake of dispersing information. I was somewhat insistent about the result of that communication. And my attachment to the result literally drove me crazy when reality didn't line up with my expectations. I was even willing to doubt myself rather quickly with no information whatsoever on which to base that doubt. Apart from all of the things I believed "should" happen, there were a lot of things I just didn't know. I have no idea what the members of the committee were (or are) thinking, and I don't really know what they plan to do as a group or as individuals.

There have been plenty of times when I was afraid of what I didn't know. How refreshing to recognize the freedom in not needing to know what I simply can't. When I can concentrate on what I actually do know, my decisions and my beliefs become so much clearer.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Wishin' and Hopin'

I have wished for many things at different points in my life. I have wished for jobs, to win the lottery, to get someplace on time, to have favorable weather, to remember a piece of music well for a performance, for other people to keep their word. As I consider my current and evolving vision for my life, I see a stark contrast between my wishes and my vision.

Most of the things I wish for are completely out of my control. Sure, I can create an impeccable resume and do well in an interview, but there are elements of applying for a job that I just can't control. I can prepare a piece of music to the best of my ability and still have a memory slip when something unexpected happens in my environment, like bright stage lights in my eyes or hearing an audience member have a coughing fit. Winning the lottery, how heavy traffic is, or what kind of weather I'll experience are even more out of my hands. The best I can hope for is to prepare well.

Vision works a little differently. It isn't just hoping for something to happen the way I want, or even having a conscious willingness to be successful in my goals. To have an intentional, purposeful vision means to be committed to taking the steps necessary to bring a result into reality. It means developing a keen awareness of what I can control and embracing a certain responsibility to myself to do what I can to the best of my ability to achieve what I want in life. And this means getting very specific about what I want and what I can do to make it happen.

Having a vision is a position of power in my life. Making wishes often just articulates the areas in which I am powerless. When I recognize the things in my life I can control and I focus my energy on a vision that is full of meaning and passion for me, I find that I don't do nearly as much wishing.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Jumping With No Guarantees

From time to time, I play computer games in which I can save my progress at a particular point and attempt a challenge without any consequences for failure. If something goes wrong, or if I am unsatisfied with my attempt, I can just try again from the point at which I saved my progress. I can do this as much as a like until I overcome the challenge to my satisfaction.

I often think that it would be wonderful to be able to save my progress in real life. Then I can try something out, see what happens, and decide if that's really the course of action I want to take. Taking a step forward seems so much easier when I think I know exactly what will happen. When I don't have any guarantee of success, I have a little more hesitation. Is my forward momentum actually going to carry me in the direction I want? Have I prepared for every possible pitfall? Should I just wait until I have it all figured out?

That's quite a temptation. If I wait until I have it all figured out before I take action, I will always be poised to leap forward and I'll never actually have to take the risk. Of course, the down side is that I will never achieve what I really want either. The truth is that I will never have an absolute guarantee of success. There's not a way to hit "Save" in my life and go back to the beginning of the day if I don't like the way things turn out.

If I want to create a life that expresses the most authentic me possible, a life that is defined by my passions, a life that opens space for transformation in myself and others around me, part of that life involves trusting myself and others. I can prepare to the best of my ability, and I can craft well-designed plans to carry me forward, but my journey will eventually take me to a places where I have to jump without knowing exactly where I will land. The more I think about that, the more it seems like that's one of the most incredible parts of the adventure.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

My Grandfather

There is a balance in learning to appreciate and value my own vision for my life, while listening to and partnering with others in their own paths. My goal is to maintain my focus, and still discover the value in opportunities I don't expect. I learned an important piece of this from my grandfather, even though it wasn't a lesson he was trying to teach me.

I always looked to my grandfather as the epitome of serenity, and although I have learned some things about his life and decisions that cloud that image of him, my appreciation for him has not diminished in the least. What I learned, though, is that all of his major life decisions were made for him by other people. Not that he was forced to do things against his will, but rather that he didn't manifest a strong will one way or the other. His jobs early in life, his religion, his career, his wife, and even where he lived were determined by other individuals. When he finally became unable to care for himself late in life, after my grandmother had already passed away, he was so unaccustomed to making any important decisions for himself that he wept when there was no clear direction. Relatives and others close to him were not in agreement about what he should do and where he should go, and for the first time I saw him distraught. I believe he was led into a situation that only sped the decline of his health because he simply listened to the strongest voice.

What I had mistaken for mere serenity in my grandfather had actually been in some ways a lack of vision. I don't know what he would have dreamed for his life. In fact, I don't honestly know if it would have been all that different. But the way he arrived at the decisions he made is where I want my practice to distinctly diverge from his. I respect, love, and honor him like no other person, but I want to give the powerful and transformative vision I have for my own life every possible chance to manifest itself.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Whose Vision?

I am one of those people who has a clear idea in mind of what I want from life. I don't always know exactly how to get there, and I don't always do the things I believe will get me closer to my vision. Over the past few months, several lights have gone off for me as I observe my behavior and notice the things I do that sabotage my own efforts.

One of those has been the realization that I have a bit of fear regarding success. I don't want to be driven to achieve things; I don't want to be spending all of my time working toward something and not enjoying the result. But when I take a look at the true vision I have for my life, I can see clearly that the drive to accomplish things is actually a distraction from what would really mean success for me. I lose focus on what is vitally important to me at the core of my being, because it's easier to work toward concrete, short-term, easily-defined goals. That these goals often do nothing to propel me forward can escape my notice when I am bouncing from one task to the next.

So where to all of these goals come from if they don't serve my vision for my life? Other people. Sure, my mind can come up with distractions and busywork to keep me treading water so I don't have to confront an irrational fear of getting what I really want, but it doesn't usually have to exert itself. Other people's vision for what I should be doing, for what they need, or for what life should be like can distract me from being aware of how my own vision quest is progressing.

And I want to be a part of other people's vision for lots of reasons: I want to make a difference. I believe in what they want for the world. I want to validate their ideas. I want them to be happy. I want to be valued. But the bottom line is, I often allow what I want most for my life to take a back seat in order to spend my time and energy on someone else's vision. Whether the other person's vision has merit or creates something good in the world is irrelevant at a certain point.

There can be something profoundly healthy about asking "What's in it for me?" In the past, I have thought of that as a selfish question. When people wanted to know what they would get out of something, I have often judged them. Now I am learning that there is nothing selfish in asking how my deepest, most heartfelt intentions will be satisfied by a certain decision or course of action. And when I look at it honestly, there is certainly no reason to fear following that vision.

Photo by Fishtail@Taipei

Monday, June 1, 2009

Being


There is a philosophical conversation about Doing and Being that has been parodied by popular culture, but I never really thought about it much aside from laughing at somebody's T-shirt. As a person who is often accomplishing things, working toward goals, measuring progress, staying focused, and yes, getting driven at times, there has never really been a reason to consider whether doing or being was of primary importance.

Now as a result of several recent conversations, I find myself in the midst of a rather powerful realization. I have been getting several messages that I am appreciated for who I am, for the attitude I bring into an environment, for my "energy." And although I am tempted to define this as my purposefulness or a drive to get things done, I realize that what is meant by this word is actually closer to "spirit." I am appreciated for my spirit. Huh.

I don't think for a moment that people don't appreciate the things that I do to make a positive contribution. I hear that message, too. But this whole idea that who I am is valuable in and of itself, apart from any achievement... that just having my natural attitude and being in my natural spirit has an impact... that's something that I just haven't listened to before. I get it, and it makes complete sense to me. But I'm not used to it.

Some wise person once said that 90% of life is just showing up, and I am recognizing that I can have an impact when I am willing to show up with my full self. I will still accomplish things, because I have passions that propel me and energize me. I know I'm not defined by what I have achieved, but I guess knowing something and living it are sometimes two different things. So, now I that am really getting the message, I am happy to be. And I am grateful that in that simple willingness I can make a difference.