Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Year in Review

Earlier this week, when I inquired about purchasing some lily essential oil (for a little "aromachology" exercise), the gentleman behind the counter said, "You won't find that here or anywhere else for that matter... genuine lily essential oil is highly poisonous and is absorbed easily through the skin.  You may want some lily fragrance oil instead."  Immediately, I felt very ashamed for not having had that knowledge, and I remember being in classroom situations in which I was expected to arrive with built-in knowledge rather than actually learn.  I quickly realized, however, that the only way to learn something is to admit that you don't already know it.  As someone who values learning, it is something of a gift to realize that there will always be something I don't know.  The humility to admit that I don't know something opens the door for me to keep learning.

That little lesson got me looking back at what I have learned over the past year, and so I share with you now just a few of the things that have stuck with me from my journey of the last several months.  I'll go ahead and start with: It's alright to admit I don't know something.  It bears repeating, for my own sake at least.

Another big one from 2010 is: Money isn't everything.  So many of the paths I have started down over the past year have ultimately been about finances.  I wanted to be a responsible person, I wanted to monetize my passions, I sought guidance from a variety of sources, and ultimately I have come to realize that, for me, it doesn't work for me to focus on a dollar figure.  The things that matter most to me are not things I can purchase, and when I become focused on the financial equation, it's easy to lose focus on the things that matter most to me.  I have learned a lot about money this year, and I have crossed some thresholds in how I think about money.  I know now that it isn't something that I want to pursue.  Money is merely a byproduct.

There are a lot of voices chattering about money, though.  And they chatter about success and freedom and all sorts of other topics.  Testing what people say and observing the results in their own lives is a great way to confirm who to trust.  Sometimes I really want to trust what someone is saying, and sometimes there is something within me that just cringes at a particular idea or individual.  Without any actual data, I'm just going on my own intuition, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but data helps cement my trust of a concept.  The challenge is that sometimes the data goes against someone or something I had really wanted to trust.  As difficult as it may be to admit it, if a hypothesis doesn't hold true in the laboratory of my life, honesty with myself is still the best policy.

I've also come to realize that: Fiefdoms aren't worth the battle.  In different roles, in different organizations, I have encountered people who operate as if they are running their own little kingdom.  While I may have something of value to add to the organization, and while I may get something out of my participation, when it comes down to it, it's a poor use of my energy to challenge someone behaving like a local lord.  It's easy for a person rooted in their beliefs and their pockets of power to develop a closed mind.

This has come up for me in part because I have begun to really understand for the first time that: It's good to play out loud.  As a pianist, I have constantly found myself in places where I am asked to back off on the volume.  Sometimes, as a thinker I have met with similar resistance.  Recently, I have had a few opportunities where I was urged to play out louder as a musician, and it has been a lot of fun.  There is a tremendous amount of freedom when I know I can play loud, and it is immensely satisfying to know that people genuinely want to hear what I have to offer.

Which is why: It's important to find a place where loud is accepted.  After hearing for so long that I need to be a bit softer, it sometimes bleeds into my own personal evaluation of myself.  In my own life at least, I want to encourage my own peak volume.  But there are other places, too, where people want to hear me, as a musician, as a composer, as a thinker.  Finding those places is more satisfying in the long run than screaming in a library.  Especially since, most of all, I believe that what I have to offer has value, and I would prefer to find ways for that value to be what people notice first.

So, that brings me to two last big ones that I have known for a long time, but have only started to really believe.  Focusing on what's most important to me is the best way to live a meaningful life.  Of course, it can be a challenge to know what's really most important, but for me it includes having creative outlets, making music, the connections that I have with other creative people.  It's important for me to respect and tolerate other people's spiritual expression, even as I seek an ideal way to define and live out my own spirituality. 

Lastly, as much as I want to be understood, admired, and respected, as much as I want to be able to use my strengths and capabilities in service to others, my first priority is to live in a way that makes sense to me.  To live in a way that I understand and admire and respect.  To make choices that magnify my strengths and capabilities.  I don't have to justify my life or choices to anyone, but I want to be act with integrity in accordance with who I am at my core.  When I choose things that don't really make sense to me, why would I expect to be understood, admired, or respected by anyone else?  Harmony within hopefully paves the way for harmony without.

It has been a very fruitful and satisfying year, all things considered.  If you stick around on the journey, we'll see how many of these lessons I keep learning further up the spiral...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Unseen Influence

Seeker's Journey will most likely resume its course at some point, but I want to share with you some of the big pieces that are falling into place in this time of transition (more on that in a moment).

Having never been to Fort Worth, I was delighted to find that people there were very connecting and warm.  In a conversation with someone on the Texas Christian University campus, I remarked on this and related my experience in a grocery store that morning.  I had popped in on that Tuesday morning to grab some juice, and half a dozen other shoppers greeted me over the course of that visit, some with a purposeful nod and smile and others with a verbal Hello or Good morning.  One person even complimented my tie.  This sort of thing has never happened to me in Houston, and I took it to mean something about me and something about the people of Fort Worth.

The person with whom I was speaking remarked, "The purple in your tie may have had something to do with it."

I glanced down and glibly commented, "Well, I do have some ties that tend to make me stand out in a crowd."

With a patient smile, the individual explained, "Well, purple is the school color.  You see a lot of it around TCU.  It's kind of a sacred color around here."

Of course, I laughed a bit at my own assumptions.  I don't doubt that Fort Worth residents are warm and friendly, and expect to find that they are so even when I am not clad in a sacred color.  But there was something at work of which I was not aware during my little grocery store stroll.  Although I knew purple was associated with TCU, I hadn't intentionally picked that tie because of its color.  Somewhere in the back of my subconscious I may have thought it was a splendid idea, but I certainly wasn't thinking of that connection even when someone directly complimented my tie. 

That experience has me thinking about other unseen influences.  Not fairies or guardian angels or ghosts, but the conscious and unconscious systems at work within ourselves or within other people (or groups of people) to which we are blind.  We operate on a great deal of assumption most of the time.  If we always assume the best about people, someone may take advantage of us at some point.  But if we assume the worst about people, we will likely see adversaries where there are none. 

Certainly other consequences abound from those extremes as well, but at the end of the day we must operate on some amount of assumption.  We can never actually know every single factor that will impact a result.  The secret as far as I am concerned is to maintain a willingness to evaluate and shift course when new information arises.  Which leads me to why I am suddenly moving to Fort Worth when I wasn't even considering doing so a month ago.

My wife, Joy, has accepted a job with Fort Worth Opera, doing something that she does well, connected to an art form she loves.  The whole process happened rather quickly, and I am proud of her for paying more attention to her hopes than her fears at the end of the day.  What it means for me is relocation to a place where I have no clear and definite plan, but there is some exciting freedom in that.  It will mean a rethinking of our finances, a retooling of how I spend my time and energy, and a chance to keep focusing on the things that matter most to me.  From what I can see right now, it appears that there will be immediate opportunities for me to be involved in the musical goings-on in Fort Worth, which can lead to new collaborations as a pianist and composer.  In a way, I've been preparing for this move for the past year.

Neither of us would have predicted a year ago (or even six weeks ago) that we would be relocating for Joy to take a position working once more in the opera field.  We had our perceptions of where various paths were leading, but we couldn't see everything influencing the direction of those paths.  The paths I have gone down over the past year have all taught me something valuable, even when I didn't stay on a path for very long.  I learned things I would never have truly learned otherwise, and some of those lessons have helped to define me.  Or, at least, they have helped me see the value in being honest about who I truly am.  I'll say more on this aspect of the journey next week.

What I want to clearly acknowledge right now is the importance of accepting that I do not see everything that goes on in other people's minds, and that I cannot know beyond a shadow of a doubt where a particular path will lead.  At a certain point, I have to decide whether or not to step forward on a path, with only partial knowledge of what may lie ahead.  But I can keep making that decision at every point along the way, taking in new information to guide my expectations and recognizing what I can do to contribute to the outcome I want.  If I want people to be friendly to me in a Forth Worth grocery store, I know now that wearing a purple tie will go a long way toward getting that outcome.  It might also work for me to walk into a place with a friendly greeting ready for the people I find there. 

Since we can never forecast every unseen influence, I think life becomes a bit of a game in which we win by doing our very best as consistently as we can.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Seeker's Journey: The Fourth Map

As they sat and rested, Seeker said to the Smiling Man, "I understand that you are quite content to journey with no destination in mind, but I want to choose a destination for myself."

The Smiling Man asked, "Well, did you have something specific in mind?"

"Actually, I think the destination that matters most to me is True Happiness."

The Smiling Man laughed heartily.  "My friend, I frequent that locale daily."

"But you simply wander where your Arrow Map points and make the most of whatever you find there."

"Fair enough," the Smiling Man nodded.  "But it seems that True Happiness is a destination one may easily reach if one is willing to do so.  Does it seem strange to be in two places at once?  It is more common than you may think."

Seeker pondered this and eventually replied, "Yes, I believe I see your point.  True Happiness is not a destination I need to seek.  If I am honest with myself, I know how to get there when I want to.  But still, I believe I would like to determine a focal point for my journey, even if I spend time in True Happiness as well."

The Smiling Man once more asked, "Did you have something specific in mind?"

As Seeker looked around at the mountains and their splendor, he realized that what mattered most to him was having a direction, a purpose that he valued.  He didn't necessarily want to determine a destination where he would live out the rest of his days, but he wanted someplace to serve as a target.  Once he arrived, he could decide on a new destination if he desired.  It perhaps wasn't all that different from the way the Smiling Man journeyed, except that it held a bit more intentionality.  Seeker knew for perhaps the first time how important that intentionality was to him.

His eyes settled on a distant ridge.  Its contour was striking, and its rock formations seemed fascinating at least from this distance.  Seeker imagined that the view from that ridge would really be something worth seeing, and he was confident that he could also arrive in True Happiness as often and for as long as he wished.  So he indicated the ridge and said with some determination, "There.  That's the destination I have in mind."

The Smiling Man said, "Hmmm, that seems like a bit of a trek, but probably well worth it.  I don't believe I'll be pointing myself in that direction, but you can most likely find your way there on your own."  And then his eyes lit up as inspiration struck, "What you need is a map!"

With a bit of resigned amusement, Seeker stated, "I have maps enough as it is."  Once more, he withdrew his Map of Known Routes, the Map of Destinations, and the Arrow Map.  He looked at the ridge at back at the maps in a half-hearted attempt to find a recognizable connection.

"Oh, no, no, no," quipped the Smiling Man.  "That's far too much information.  You would never choose some of those routes and you have no interest in most of those destinations.  You need a map that is more useful and a bit less exhaustive."

"But exhaustive is useful," argued Seeker.  "Until recently, I often checked my Map of Known Routes to insure that I hadn't strayed onto a dangerous or slippery path.  And as recently as today I consulted the Map of Destinations to eliminate all of the places I don't care to go in order to clarify the choices a bit.  Surely you don't suggest I reach that distant ridge by using only the Arrow Map."

"That may actually work.  But I was thinking more of having a map that indicated what you actually want in way of routes and destinations, instead of confusing the matter by looking at every possibility every time you want to go somewhere.  If your map shows you where you want to go and how you want to get there, isn't that enough?"

"What if I'm wrong?  What if I wind up on the wrong path, one that doesn't actually lead where I want to go?  What if a path doesn't go where I expect it to?"

"Then you make adjustments as necessary.  It's not actually all that difficult."

Seeker was still a bit skeptical.  "Why should I trust cartographic advice from a man who exclusively follows an arrow that points him in whichever direction he wishes to go in any given moment?  I mean, it is a fine way to appreciate the journey, but I seriously doubt your method is a reliable way to travel with purpose."

The man's smile didn't fade as he turned his Arrow Map over and showed Seeker the other side.  It was a simple affair, but it had some important destinations and reliable routes to them.  "I know how to get to the places that really matter to me when I want to."

Suddenly, Seeker found his opinion of this traveling companion sharply adjusted.  He spent the next few hours learning from the Smiling Man how to create a map with only valuable information on the back of his own Arrow Map.  The Smiling Man wouldn't tell him if it was accurate, and he didn't express any approval or disapproval of what Seeker thought was valuable information.  When it seemed complete enough for Seeker to resume his journey, the Smiling Man slowly nodded with satisfaction.

"I wish you the most enjoyable travels, Seeker.  You will encounter others along the way who can help you correct and clarify your map as you go, but don't blindly trust anyone who tells you that you've got something wrong.  Test it and see for yourself, and you'll always know you're on the right track."

Seeker thanked the Smiling Man, and he folded his old maps and kept them tucked away, just in case.  He felt very happy with his new map, however, and he set off for the distant ridge with a spring in his step.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Seeker's Journey: Four Travelers

As Seeker traveled on his unmarked trail, he occasionally met fellow travelers who had chosen an uncharted route.  Seeker's journey led him up into mountains, and his conversations with others helped him tremendously when the actual path was difficult to discern.  At times, it seemed that there was no real path at all, just a general heading, or a landmark on which he could fix his gaze.  Other travelers would tell Seeker about places to find clean water, magnificent overlooks, quiet thickets.  A few people Seeker met claimed to have been everywhere in these mountains, but few of them seemed earnest in such claims. 

One man was eager to compare maps with Seeker.  Unlike Seeker, he had struck out on his journey with a specific destination in mind: Unconditional Human Love.  Seeker had met other travelers like him, who could not find a way to take well-known routes and arrive at Inner Peace, or Renewing Solitude, or The Most Inspiring View, or any number of other destinations.  And so, they had taken an unmarked trail in the hopes of finding their own personal El Dorado.  Seeker had not found any of those destinations, but the conversation was pleasant enough.

Seeker asked the man about other nearby destinations before they parted ways.  The most valuable information often came from people who began answers to his queries with, "I don't know, but..."  This man's response especially stuck with Seeker.  "I don't know what's near here, but you'll be more likely to find it if you're looking for it."  Seeker thanked him and they went off on their respective journeys.

Another pair of travelers was headed back to clearly-mapped roadways.  One seemed rather disappointed with her journey off the beaten trail, but the other seemed quite satisfied and ready to resume a previous agenda.  As Seeker talked with them, he discovered that the two women had come from the same destination, and his concept of "desirable destinations" began to shift.  The same end point had left one woman feeling frustrated and empty, while her companion was full of vigor and purpose. 

Comparing maps with each other, the travelers confirmed that they were headed back toward "accepted" routes, and Seeker began to reassess his sense of which destinations on his map were truly desirable.  Then, Seeker was startled to learn that the two women did not even know if they were carrying a third map like his, with only an arrow upon it.  They seemed puzzled by it, and left unconvinced of its usefulness.  Seeker pondered how they had made it along any uncharted trail without such a map, but he shrugged and bade them a good journey.

The more Seeker conversed with fellow travelers, the more he became convinced that no destination was inherently desirable.  Many people who had wandered from well-traveled paths seemed to have a different sense of where they most wanted to go.  They still relied on their map of destinations, but they didn't concern themselves with which sites the mapmakers indicated as more or less desirable.  This got Seeker thinking about what adjustments he could make to his own map, which destinations he would label most desirable if he had made his map.   

As he was still pondering this, Seeker came across another man who seemed so light and carefree that Seeker's face immediately smiled upon seeing him.  When he asked the man about nearby destinations, the man seemed exuberant at the wonders that were nearby, but he could give Seeker no real indication of how to reach them.  So, Seeker suggested they compare maps.  

"A splendid idea!" replied the stranger as he withdrew a single well-worn map.  It was nearly identical to Seeker's map with the arrow and nothing else.  Seeker laughed a bit and looked at the man expectantly.

"What about your other maps?" Seeker prompted.

"This is the only map I use!  Each day I come across new and glorious reasons to appreciate this journey.  I'm not exactly sure where I've been, and I don't know where I'm going, but I know that there will be something to see when I get there."

After an incredulous moment, Seeker mused, "It is as if you are your own destination."

The smiling man looked at his arrow-map, and Seeker looked at his own.  As it happened, when they oriented their maps a bit, they pointed in the same direction.  So Seeker traveled with the man for a bit, hanging on to his other maps and considering what destination he may actually find desirable.  In the meantime, he became more accustomed to using a map to which he had paid very little attention before setting off on the mysterious path.  Although it was true that there was always a new and glorious reason to appreciate the journey, Seeker was convinced that there was a way to combine a meaningful journey with a meaningful destination.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Seeker's Journey: The Village

Seeker greeted the next morning with great excitement and faith, reassured by the messages of those who had traveled the unmarked path he had discovered and confident that it led to a wondrous destination.  Fear and doubt were still present as he traveled, but they were quiet and unobtrusive.  Before long, Seeker came upon a village and was overjoyed to see its activity.

In the village, there seemed to be many small gaggles of people, and in most of the clusters, many people stood enraptured by a nuclear figure, a speaker of some kind or a person engaged in some intriguing activity.  Some of the people looked as though they had been listening for quite some time, and yet they were captivated by what they heard.  Before long, Seeker realized that this place was like many on his map of destinations, and he quickly unfolded and consulted the map.  He had been to some similar destinations, and there were many more indicated as possibilities: MBA, Community College, Law School, State University, Medical School, and on and on.  Some of those destinations were very specific with regard to quality and location, and some were more general, but they were all sites of learning.

Sites of learning had been a distinct pleasure for Seeker, for he loved to gain new knowledge, and so he began to take in what the village had to offer.  One group was listening to a speaker convey the secrets of finding hidden treasures in the nearby mountains.  It was an interesting topic, but Seeker had obviously missed some essential information at the beginning of the discussion, so he wandered a bit and observed some of the other goings-on.  He saw one individual sitting on the ground, grabbing handfuls of mud and slowly smearing it on his face.  An onlooker whispered, “How profound!” 

Although it increasingly became a challenge, Seeker tried to keep an open mind and benefit from the wisdom of the enlightened people in this village.  One woman claimed to have incontrovertible proof of the existence of extraterrestrial visitors as she held up what was quite obviously an empty pie tin.  Several people claimed to have been contacted by spiritual beings bearing messages of truth, but none of them seemed to have received the same messages.   Some people were unable to share their complete knowledge adequately to the gathered crowd, but had written their secrets down in volumes which were available for purchase.  Little by little, Seeker’s bright, wide-eyed smile began to ebb as he became more and more skeptical of the knowledge to be gained in this site of learning.

A bit disheartened and frustrated, Seeker trudged back to the outskirts of the village.  He was comforted when he saw that his uncharted path continued on past the village.  This, at least, was not the end of the road.  There could be something better ahead, something that had more substance, more truth.  Just then, Seeker heard an unexpected voice near the path ask, “Disappointed?”

He looked to see a large, free-standing window overlooking the path and seemingly connected to nothing.  As he approached, he responded, “Quite disappointed, actually.  I had hoped to learn something.”
“Didn’t you?” queried the reflection in the glass.

Seeker pondered the question, and was about to respond when the reflection asked, “Wasn’t the hammock and the fire a nice surprise?”

“Yes.  Yes it was.”  Seeker’s face lit up a bit and his shoulders relaxed.  The reflection smiled back, and Seeker was filled with a sense of comfort and peace.  He decided that he was finished with the village, and he continued down the path.  He didn’t consult his map of destinations, but he wondered what such a place as that village might be called.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Seeker's Journey: An Emerging Fear

Seeker started off down the uncharted road brimming with anticipation and excited to be on such an unexpected adventure.  Beautiful and captivating sights and sounds were all about for one willing to notice, the simple gifts of nature.  Here a cluster of flowers occupies a hummingbird, there a trio of squirrels chase one another across the surface of an ancient-looking oak.  Beyond them in the distance was a backdrop of immense, rugged mountain contours, constant sentinels since before any person crested their ridges.  Seeker was surrounded by wonder.

But as Seeker traveled, fascination with the wondrous surroundings gave way to other thoughts.  This path was not on his map of known routes to anywhere.  Perhaps it didn't actually lead to any destination at all.  That was unlikely, since evidence suggested that the road at least passed through Serenity-in-Solitude, and Natural Wonder, but perhaps the path eventually led to someplace less pleasant.  A destination that Seeker never intended or desired.  Or perhaps the path was dangerous.  It was pleasant enough now, but who knew what unseen risks and perils might lurk ahead?  Seeker confessed aloud, I honestly have no idea where this will lead.

Turning around was always a possibility.  It wasn't too late.  The path had not forked, and there was no chance of getting lost on the way back to familiar territory.  And yet, his feet still carried him forward.  Something appealing about this unpaved road still piqued Seeker's curiosity, and so he continued on with fearful conjectures competing for his attention with the pleasures of the journey.

Even as he wrestled with his fears, the path continued to immerse him in new details of wonder.  Kaleidoscopic patterns of light as the sun filtered through leaves swaying in the wind's gentle breathing.  A colony of caterpillars in various stages of encasing themselves for transformation.  The discarded skin of a local snake, curled like a brittle stocking.  Each small wonder confirmed that the trip had been worthwhile, at least for that moment.

But as night began to fall, the fears began to win.  What had seemed like a path worth exploring now seemed like a mistake.  What if there is never anyone else along this journey?  You might be alone forever.  What if there was no meaningful work at the end of this trail?  Everything would be a struggle.  You will have to find the way to a desirable destination from a completely unknown location.  You acted too rashly and now you will have to pay the consequences.  You will be isolated and alone and unprepared in an unknown place.  Are you satisfied with entertaining your curiosity now?  All the hummingbirds and cocoons and snake scales in the world can't bring you safety and comfort.

Seeker's frustrating diatribe against himself ceased suddenly when he came across an unexpected sight.  Off to the side of the path, there was a campfire.  A hammock was strung between two sturdy old trees.  At the base of one of the trees was a trunk with a small engraved sign on top: Rest well, and be sure to share about your journey.  Seeker looked around, but there wasn't another soul in sight.  He called out, but the crackling of the fire was the only response.  So he opened the trunk and pulled it a little closer to the firelight.

In the trunk was a small basket of fresh fruit and bread, and an expensive-looking pen on top of some kind of scrapbook.  Seeker gingerly took the book and opened its pages to find that many different hands had written upon its pages.  Others before him had written about the unexpected path, the natural beauty they encountered, the fear that had gripped them all at some point.  Some people had sketched animals or plants they had seen along the way.  A few had written poems or songs about their experience.  None of them seemed to know where the path actually led, but Seeker found their writings comforting and encouraging.  He was not alone in this journey.

Then, Seeker came to a blank page.  He looked at it for a moment, slowly biting into a piece of fruit as he considered all that he had experienced in a short time.  With profound trust, he took the ornate pen and began to write by the flickering of the campfire.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Seeker's Journey: The Unexpected Path

A cloud of dust enveloped the car as Seeker pulled off to the side of the road.  Something had piqued his interest, and being the curious sort, he stopped to check it out.  Leading off away from the road was an unpaved trail, a route Seeker had never noticed before.  As the dust settled, Seeker emerged from his car with three maps in his hand, and he studied them.

One map held only destinations.  Seeker had been to some of them, and he had been told that many others were "must see" locations.  The most desirable destinations had names like Happy Marriage, Financial Security, Meaningful Work, and Healthy Children.  Other destinations were on the map, too.  Dead-End Job, Credit Card Debt, Hopeless Addiction . . . places that one may pass through or get stuck in, but not places that people were clamoring to find.  Sometimes it was hard to tell which was which just by a name on the map, but once a person spent time in a place, its character became more apparent.

It had been easier for Seeker to find his way to some desirable locations because of a second map he possessed.  Although the second map had no destinations marked, it conveyed the routes that one might take.  The map indicated which routes were easy, which were challenging, and which were somewhere in between.  It revealed which paths were well-traveled and which would make for lonely journeys.  Some roads had special requirements, like training in a specific skill or approval of a particular person, and some were patently unsafe.  When Seeker remembered to compare the two maps, he had been able to discern manageable routes to some of the destinations he had been encouraged to find.

This unknown trail leading off the well-traveled road was something of a conundrum.  Here was a clear route that someone had surely traveled before, and yet there was no indication of it on his map.  Since Seeker had never come across an obvious road that didn't appear on the map, he initially doubted that he even saw the odd road at all.  When his eyes remained convinced that the unpaved trail was indeed a reality, he began to doubt his ability to read the map.  But after a moment of getting his bearings, he surmised that this curious trail had somehow escaped being transcribed upon the map he possessed.  He wondered where it led.

It was obvious that his destination map could not shed any light on the trail, and his map of routes was of no use here.  So, Seeker opened the third map he had, a cartographic wonder that someone special had given him long ago.  He had never needed it before, since the other two maps had served him in every other circumstance.  As Seeker unfolded the page, he secretly hoped that it would give him a good reason to explore that mysterious trail.  The third map was unlike the other two in its simplicity.  It was comprised of a single symbol, an arrow pointing in one specific direction.  When Seeker oriented the page toward the unpaved road, it became clear that the arrow pointed directly down the intriguing trail.

With a burst of exuberance, Seeker grabbed a few necessities and locked his car.  He so wanted to find out where the new path led.  A sense of wonder and excitement enfolded him as he set off in an unknown direction, imagining where it might lead.

To be continued...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In Sync with Me

Jung's concept of synchronicity is a featured concept in Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, which I have been working through with a few friends over the past several weeks.  Essentially, synchronicity is "the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner."  In other words, seemingly connected events that don't have a high probability of happening concurrently.  While I am much more prone to labeling such things as coincidences unless they are uncannily pertinent to what I'm doing personally, I have been trying to notice when events seem to be lining up in a significant way.  Perhaps this willingness and intentionality on my part has contributed to a feeling of being "in sync" with my life.

Most theories of personal growth and development postulate an even number of phases, cycling through focusing inward and focusing on something external.  The first phase is usually something akin to survival, concentrating all of one's energy toward getting the basic necessities.  A second phase (if one is able to trust that survival will happen) is often adopting an external set of rules or goals, whether they originate from a church, a political organization, or some other institution with established beliefs.  The next phase would be integrating the meaningful beliefs from outside oneself into a period of defining personal identity.  And once deeper self-actualization has taken place, the following phase would address how to engage with the broader society, or at least some portion of it.  I can see this pattern at work when I look backward at my journey, but I have often been wrestling with whatever phase I've been in.

When I was clearly (looking back) in phases of clarifying personal values, I was also often struggling to engage more purposefully with a larger group.  And sometimes when I have accepted a prominent role within a larger group, I have found myself confronted with challenges about what beliefs are most meaningful to me personally.  While the internal and external work can be in balance, I have frequently tried to force myself to focus in a particular direction when I wasn't actually in the "right" phase to do so.  I have wanted to guard against being focused too narrowly and missing some important piece of personal doctrine.  Certain beliefs about what life "ought" to be about have served better at some junctures than others.  To put it another way, I haven't always been willing to let myself grow because I was afraid of what beliefs I might grow out of.

Everyone has a doctrinea system of beliefs they live by.  Some piece of a person's doctrine may be incorporated from external sources, and some may come from an internal sense of what's important or how things should be.  But at some point, the beliefs have to become personal if they are going to have deep value.  Living by a doctrine that someone else created for you doesn't reflect integrity.  That's just a sort of irresponsible obedience.  Integrity comes from taking a personal stand for one's own life, claiming a personal set of beliefs not to judge right and wrong in others but to identify what has true personal value.

At some points in my life, the beliefs that primarily informed my decisions were actually different from what I thought I should believe.  I was in conflict with my own doctrine, but I didn't realize it at the time.  Now, I have been taking time to really think about what beliefs are really potent for me.  I have been giving myself permission to be honest about what's most important to me, without worrying about what might get left behind if I focus in a direction that has personal importance.  Trusting myself, with some confidence in what I have been recognizing as valuable for me, I find a strange appropriate-ness in the opportunities I am creating and discovering.

While I may have told myself so in the past as a reassurance or believed it intellectually, I feel in a very deep way that I am in exactly the right place at exactly the right moment in my life.  It's not synchronicity, but I believe that noticing the "rightness" of my experience comes from being conscious of my personal doctrine and aware of how I am able to engage life in a meaningful way.  And when I know that what I believe makes sense, fear has a lot less of a foothold.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


 In some pieces of music (specifically those with a sonata-allegro structure), the themes from the beginning return later on after a time of "development".  This return is called the recapitulation, and it marks a very dramatic moment in the music.  It's similar to hearing a jazz piece in which the soloist introduces the melody, and then improvises for a while, going as far afield as he dares from that original tune.  When he returns to the melody again, it is a striking moment that (hopefully) ties all of his improvisatory development back to the foundation of the piece.  The same thing can happen in Indian ragas, and in fact many other musical styles.  The moment of return to the familiar is poignant.

But the music is never quite the same the second time around.  Even if it held the exact same notes, we would still hear the recapitulation differently than the first iteration of those themes.  The development that leads up to the moment of return fills our ears with many different possibilities, regardless of the style.  The music at that moment of return could be identical to what we heard before, but we are different.  We may be excited or satisfied when the music gets back to that familiar melody, even though we hear it through a filter of information we didn't have before. 

The development helps us to appreciate the original melodies more fully by wandering away from the full blown themes of a piece and using bits and pieces of those ideas for musical meandering.  The development can be exciting, but almost always has an unstable feeling.  To our ears, it's restless, in motion.  The return to the integrity of the initial themes of a piece feel like a destination after all of the development's instability.  The recapitulation seems stable.  Emotionally, it's a clear sense of arrival.

Life does that, too.  As I have been looking at applying for a college teaching position after a few years of development, I have a comfortable sense of familiarity, and yet I am different from the person I was the last time I lived this theme.  My path has certainly held direction and purpose, but there honestly has been some instability in pushing against my own perceived limitations.  Covering new ground is exciting, but it can also be frighteningly uncertain.  Returning to the idea of teaching music at a university not only has familiarity, though.  I have greater clarity about that theme because of the time in between.

Having taken the time to discern what has greatest value in my life, I can approach the familiar decision differently than I did in the final months of my doctorate degree.  I know now how much I love being in the classroom and teaching performers the keys to getting beyond the notes and creating engaging music.  I'm aware of how valuable it is to me to nurture my own creativity, and I have a greater appreciation for organizational dynamics.  Essentially, I guess I'm more mature than I was the first time I started applying for teaching positions, although I wasn't altogether immature before.  I've been through a development section, and sending out letters of application and a revised Curriculum Vitae feels like a recapitulation--an arrival point at someplace familiar I can now see in a new way.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

How Selfish

When the flight attendants do the bit about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping those around you, it has always been clear why they would need to tell me that so directly.  It's natural for me to put aside my own wants or needs for other people.  So if a situation demands that I take care of myself first, it seems like the exception.  I'm realizing how much more that could represent the norm, how satisfying it can be to focus my attention on my own personal vision.

In the past, I've written about my fear that, underneath it all, I'm a selfish person.  This fear has been with me for awhile, but over the last couple of years, I have focused more purposefully on ridding myself of it.  The problem has been that so much of what I am truly passionate about was taking a backseat to other noble endeavors, and to concentrate more fully on my own dreams and personal vision seemed selfish.  It's hard to get rid of a belief when one is regularly creating new evidence for it.  At the same time, I frequently allow my own goals to be less important than the goals of others, probably because I don't want to appear selfish to myself or anybody else.   

Not being selfish has been the underlying cause of many issues for me.  Most of the situations that I found dissatisfying as an adult have resulted from me working to improve the processes or culture of a place when my ideas were not universally valued.  Instead of focusing my efforts on what mattered most to me, I sublimated what I saw as selfish goals for the sake of a greater good.  I turned my creative abilities and strategic skill toward external organizations rather than using them for my own selfish endeavors, and in so doing, I created a no-win situation for myself.

Now, I believe that there is a difference between being selfish and being self-absorbed.  I believe that one can be both selfish and compassionate.  In fact, I believe that one must be selfish in order to see a personal vision through to fruition.  Creating a life with deep personal meaning often requires guarding time against distractions and choosing relationships that are supportive over those that are toxic.  One may call it self-awareness to soften the blow, but it has certainly felt like selfishness to me.  The truth is, there has never been anything wrong with being selfish, aside from my own personal judgment against myself.

The big lie was not that I am a selfish person.  The big lie is that it is wrong to be selfish.  If I focus on the things I most want in my life, I'll still be creating something that has a broader impact, but it won't be at the expense of my own satisfaction.  Giving myself permission to be selfish without imposing anything on anyone else is one of the most freeing things I have ever done.  I am still interested in being of service to other people, and I know that I will be.  But it makes sense to secure my own oxygen mask and breathe for myself before I help the people around me.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Truth About Rejection

My wife picks over bananas each week in the supermarket, carefully selecting a couple that were still green, a couple that were solid bright yellow, and two with peels that are being overtaken with brown spots.  She knows that the bananas will ripen over the week, and she knows from experience what degree of ripeness she prefers.  So with her, bananas have an equal chance of being selected no matter what their degree of ripeness.  Entire piles of bananas still get rejected by her each week, but only because we can't possibly eat every banana in the store.  She doesn't think much about the feelings of the bananas that get left behind (or the ones she buys).

A friend recently purchased a new truck.  It looks a lot like his old truck, except that it's a little bit bigger and it has fewer miles on it.  Before he got to the dealership, he had already rejected many possibilities of cars, minivans, and SUVs.  He had some very good reasons for wanting a truck, and he wasn't concerned about how all those cars would feel when he didn't even give them a glance.  Somebody else will likely prefer a car over a truck and the cars will get their chance.

We make selections every day about things, which means we choose some ideas and reject others.  We absolutely have to reject some ideas, otherwise we would be paralyzed by the number of choices we have.  When it comes to food or cars or other purchased goods, it's easy for us to narrow down our options based on what we want.  When people get involved, rejection becomes a much more loaded issue.  People actually have feelings that we intrinsically care about, and we know from personal experience how many decisions we make every day out of fear of rejection.

Why do we hold acceptance in such high esteem?  Do we really believe that any person can be accepted by everyone?  Or do we care more about what it says about us when someone rejects us?  Something must be wrong with us if we get rejected, right?

But, wait a minute.  Nothing was really wrong with all of the bananas left for other shoppers at the grocery store; it was a simple matter of knowing how many we can eat in a week.  And nothing was really wrong with all of the vehicles my friend passed by to get to the truck he wanted; they just weren't what he wanted.  When we face rejection ourselves, it's really about someone else expressing a preference.  On the one hand, we would like to be "preferred" for a relationship or a job.  On the other hand, we wouldn't necessarily enjoy just any relationship or job.  We have our preferences, too.

I want the music I write to have broad appeal, but everybody isn't going to like it.  The key is for me to find the people that prefer what I compose and focus on partnership with those people.  It doesn't mean that I have been rejected as a human being just because my music wasn't chosen for a particular project, and it also doesn't mean I need to change what I am writing into something universally appealing.

The same is true as I continue to build my coaching practice.  If I try to be all things to all people, I will fall short.  I have areas of strength, and there are honestly some people I would prefer to work with.  By defining a niche, I focus my energy and my attention.  Choosing to focus on a certain group of people means setting myself up for rejection by people who are not part of that group.  When that happens, it will be an indication to me that I have defined a niche well, and hopefully the people who are a part of that focal group will be able to see that as an advantage for them.

Whether it's with the music I compose, the people I choose to coach, or the relationships I nurture, the key is to be honest about what I want in my life.  Some would call this authenticity.  When I am being true to myself, there are some people who love being a part of what I am creating, and there are many others who ... well, reject me.  That's alright.  It means that I have defined myself more clearly for anyone who sees me.  And when I'm being honest about who I am, and when I'm not afraid of rejection, being seen becomes a much easier thing to do.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Feeling the Rhythm

When expressed in their most simplistic iterations, astrological and biorhythm forecasts just seem silly to me.  Can it be that everyone born on the same day will really experience more or less the same life, with ups and downs coinciding in a lifetime of synchronicity?  The idea is hard for me to digest.  So I don't.  I typically think of it as a bit of fun and leave it at that. 

Someone was recently explaining a more in-depth astrological approach to me, and I began to see how the fortune-cookie blurbs in the morning paper don't do the practice justice.  When a full blown astrological reading is done, there is a lot more specific information taken into consideration than I ever realized.  Shortly after this conversation, I was reading about biorhythms. Once again, I learned that some people get much more involved than drawing a few simple sine waves and matching them up with dates. I still don't know that I believe one can make accurate predictions about another person's life, even with an elaborate system of forecasting. But it did get me thinking.

I create plans days, sometimes weeks, in advance. I know what I expect to be working on way ahead of time, even though I don't know how I'm going to feel or what other things may crop up. It's a flexible plan, by necessity, but I am not always flexible with myself. If I have planned to work on a brass ensemble piece next Tuesday, and then I wake up feeling rather uninspired, my typical response is to work on the brass ensemble piece anyway and just trust that inspiration will eventually be there.

My fear is that if I take a day off, or if I postpone something on the schedule, I'll never go back to it. I'll become a lazy underachiever with nothing to show for my all my creativity and experience. A bit drastic, eh? But that fear creates a demand that I must keep to my schedule, I must keep on track with my projects at all costs. I don't always like what I create out of that fear, but at least I stick to the plan.

The strange thing is, sometimes I do wind up taking a little time off. Sometimes I do get off track with my preconceived schedule. There are days that I just can't concentrate on the creative work, or I don't like anything that I'm creating, and I have always gone back to it later with renewed interest and inspiration. It's often just a matter of giving myself a little time to take a break and recharge.

I don't know if it has anything to do with when I was born or where the stars were at the time, but my life does have a rhythm. It may be a bit more complex than simple sine waves, but there is value in tuning in to what I'm feeling at any given time. Not only is it alright to allow myself to feel uninspired, it's the most honest thing to do some days. Giving myself permission to take a day off and trusting that I will come back to my creative projects refreshed is simply a way of recognizing the rhythm of my life. Forcing creativity can get the work done, but allowing it to flow naturally helps me to enjoy what I create.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Angry People

Not long ago, I had occasion to hear someone tell a story about how things had unraveled after an angry rant was blown out of proportion. He was able to indicate how everyone else involved had reacted poorly to the situation, but seemed unaware of his own part in things. Being the person that I am, I tried to point out that his way of expressing anger could be something to look at as well. That piece of insight was not very well received.

In fact, when this fellow’s anger was focused on me, I found it easy to get hooked by it. It was a bit of a challenge to maintain my composure, which is a testament to how powerful an impact it has when we turn our anger on another individual. When I realized that I was getting riled up myself, I chose to remove myself from the situation. It’s my practice to handle my anger privately, since I know that I can say some pretty harsh things when I am angry – things I don’t really mean, which are intended only to be hurtful. I want to manage my anger in such a way that I can engage with people in a thoughtful and purposeful way.

There are plenty of ways to defuse angry people, but when I am in the midst of anger myself, I honestly don't feel like it.  I don't always want to get to the heart of what is really bothering or scaring someone who is unleashing their anger on me.  Sometimes, I just want don't care enough to take the verbal assault.

To this particular individual, my withdrawal looked like “running away and not playing anymore.” And that was true, in part. I didn’t actually want to play a game of one-upmanship with angry words. His claim was that I would keep encountering angry people in my life until I learned the lesson they had for me. In that moment, I think he knew what that lesson was supposed to be. I’ve been thinking about it for awhile, and I realize that I have learned a thing or two about anger.

Anger is useful. Anger is good. Anger is a legitimate emotion. As Julia Cameron says, “It is meant to be acted upon, not acted out.” Anger can direct us toward meaningful work in our lives. It can also be expressed in a way that separates us from others. Listening to anger can help determine what actions one wants to take in life. This is different from imposing anger on others.  You can listen to your anger, but other people don't necessarily want to.

What I have learned from engaging with angry people is that it often isn't worthwhile to me to spend time and energy supporting someone who doesn't want support. When someone is in the middle of expressing anger, there isn’t a lot of room for another person’s insight or challenge. And I don’t have to engage in another person’s anger any more than I want to. Not only can I choose the partnerships that have meaningful value in my life, I can manage my anger in such a way that I bring my very best to those partnerships.

I know of organizations that have experienced great turmoil because a few people were unable to manage their anger or express it in a meaningful way. So, I don’t mean to suggest that anger should go unacknowledged. If one is unwilling to see the fear that is underneath the anger, however, festering anger can be devastating to many people. Expressing anger publicly is a way to gain power and get one’s way without much of a challenge. Managing one’s anger privately and bringing some practical suggestions forward publicly can be transformational on many levels.

It’s true that I have learned lessons from the angry people I have encountered. Not least of which, I’ve been able to make some choices about how I want to handle my own anger. But I may keep encountering angry people nonetheless, no matter how many lessons I have learned. Maybe they have something to learn from me, too.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Draco and the Labyrinths

Draco crawled on his belly through the maze.  He didn't know how he had come to be there, but he was beginning to discover how to navigate its twists and turns.  Before long, he could predictably get food when he was hungry and attention when he was lonely, and yet there always seemed to be new paths to explore.  One day, he discovered that he didn't need to slither along the ground, but could actually crawl up the walls of the labyrinth.

With a sense of wonder, Draco climbed on short legs up a wall all the way to the top.  When he looked around, the whole labyrinth was laid out before him.  It was no longer a mystery, and although it was comfortable and familiar, he began to notice something beyond the labyrinth he knew.  It was another place, unfamiliar and yet inviting.  He crawled to that place and began to explore.

Soon, Draco realized that he was in a new maze, with wonders and perils he had never known before.  The old labyrinth was gone.  As he walked along the new passageways, he made new discoveries.  Beyond learning how to get his basic needs met in the new place, he also found ways that led to other rewards.  Before long, the new labyrinth was as familiar as the one he had left behind.  When he scaled the walls, he could see other mazes, but they seemed distant and unreachable.

With a bit of surprise, Draco discovered one day that flaps of skin between his legs would let him glide through the air.  As he tried out his new capability, he realized that he could reach the other labyrinths he had seen with great ease.  He wandered the mazes, each with its own surprises and rewards.  The routes through some of them were so simple that Draco lost interest quickly.  Other labyrinths were complicated enough that he became frustrated with them.  Over time, he became familiar enough with bits and pieces of many labyrinths that he could find his way to what he wanted.  By traveling this or that path, he could reliably get food, shelter, and other rewards.

But Draco eventually became so accustomed to the reliable routes that navigating the labyrinths no longer excited him.  He began to think about who had built the labyrinths, and why they had fashioned the corridors as they had.  He knew that his parents had created at least one of the mazes he frequented, and he assumed that they had traversed their own twisting paths.  Friends, lovers, bosses, distant officials, and others he had never met crafted other labyrinths.  When one maze became tiresome or filled with dead ends, Draco could glide over to another labyrinth and walk its paths for awhile.  And when that became frustrating, he moved to yet another maze.  He began to wonder if there wasn't something more, something that wasn't a labyrinth.  A place without twisting corridors and confusing jumbles of paths.

One day, Draco noticed that the skin flaps that he used to glide from one maze to another had developed further.  To his amazement, he found that he could fly up into the air.  He would soar for awhile, and then return to one of the familiar labyrinths when the sheer freedom became frightening.  A strong tether kept him from getting too high, too far away.  When he became tired of the convoluted halls, he could fly up and away from them.  But when he needed something, he knew how to return and travel the familiar paths.  The tether kept him safe and close. 

Until one bright day, Draco realized that he could get to anything he needed by simply flying to it.  So he shook off the tether, and took to the air.  He played on the zephyrs, perfectly content.  And he never entered another labyrinth.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

100% Certainty

The puzzle began a little over two months ago. A group of friends were gathered around the table on a hot afternoon in early July, and a drop of water landed on the table. Searching the ceiling, we guessed that it was coming from a seam between the wooden slats there. It had been raining that day, so we thought it could be a roof leak. There was no plumbing in the attic above that room, just an air conditioning duct and a couple of vents. And the drip hadn't come from either of the vents. Still, as time went on, I became fairly confident that this drip had some connection to the air conditioner.

I don't really know anything about finding roof leaks or air conditioning problems. So, armed with our two best guesses, I called a roofer to come take a look, and I called our home warranty company to request an A/C specialist to check that out the other option. The first roofer was positive that it wasn't a roof issue, and the air conditioning specialist said he couldn't see any reason for the drip to be caused by the A/C. It was a just a mysterious drip, but it persisted and became more of an issue over the next couple of weeks. It happened infrequently, always on hot days when we had the air conditioner running, and with our two best guesses shattered, we had started seeking less likely causes.

The best less likely cause we heard about was poor ventilation. Supposedly, on hot and humid days, if the attic didn't have enough ventilation, a "cloud" could form up there that would account for our drip. Since attic ventilation was a roofing issue, I called a different roofer to come and take a look. He looked around and said that we seemed to have plenty of ventilation. In fact, the only thing he saw that could cause any problems in that part of the attic was the air conditioning system. So, I called the air conditioning expert back to have another look.

Imagine my disappointment when he couldn't find any reason for the drip. I had been fairly certain that the drip was an A/C issue, but then I heard some stories from other people about water leaking from one place and then running along a beam or something to a completely different spot before succumbing to gravity. So I went on a bit of exploration. I couldn't really see anything leaking or any water running along any beams. What I did see surprised me, though.

We have a lot of insulation in the area of the attic above that leak. I mean, a mother lode of insulation. So much, in fact, that I couldn't really get to the spot where the drip was happening without removing bales of insulation. I thought, I wonder how that A/C specialist was able to check this out without moving all this insulation out of the way. And then it dawned on me. He hadn't. Rather than remove all of the insulation, I called our home warranty company back and asked them to send the A/C man back, explaining that he could not possibly have done the job I paid him to do when he had visited my home previously.

He returned and briefly explained to me why he didn't need to move the insulation to know that it wasn't an issue with the air conditioning system. I pressed him, and he said, "I can 100% guarantee you that this isn't being caused by anything with your air conditioner." I was impressed by that. He certainly hadn't said that before. And he was the expert in that area.

So when he left, I looked up at that wooden ceiling and realized that the only way to really figure out the issue would be to tear down the planks (which were starting to show some signs of water damage by this point). I hoped that our home owners insurance would cover fixing the problem and any damage that had resulted. They sent out a few people of their own to diagnose the issue.

Their plumbers confirmed that there was nothing up there to leak in the way of water pipes. That was reassuring. I hadn't missed anything as obvious as a pipe spouting an arc of water across the attic. The air conditioning expert the insurance company sent out actually found the problem within about a minute. It was a problem with the A/C duct. Really.

Now, since the issue is the result of normal wear and tear, the insurance company won't cover it, and any damage caused by the water also isn't covered. But the home warranty company covers matters of normal wear and tear. So now, two months later, I have an answer to the mysterious drip, and I know how the matter can be solved. I am prepared to be tenacious with the home warranty company, the repair company with whom they contract, the Better Business Bureau, and anyone else that can have an impact on taking care of the problem completely.

The thing that bothers me most about the whole ordeal is that I knew what the problem was from the very beginning. I had no real knowledge or experience of my own to rely on, so I trusted someone who specialized in the area of concern. His 100% certainty turned out to be faulty, so I'm grateful that I got a second opinion. If I had trusted myself a little more in the beginning, perhaps I would have been a little more insistent with Mr. 100%.

It just seems like it shouldn't have been so difficult to get an answer. It seems like it shouldn't have gone on for as long as it did. It would be easy to slip into a victim mentality with all of this. What I want instead is to stand up for myself and get the services I've paid for, performed at a satisfying level of quality. It is actually about being able to care for and value myself while still seeing another person's humanity. Sometimes it can be a challenge.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Speaking of Truth

Bold support is a term that gets used among a certain group of people I know. I use it occasionally, depending on the context, but I've started using a different term for it recently. Different people have different definitions of "bold support," so sometimes it can be a challenge to know exactly what people mean when they use the term. Some people think it means to tell people something they don't want to hear. A few people have described bold support as getting in someone's face and being confrontational. I don't necessarily want to practice either of those definitions, so I have turned to an older phrase for the same action: "speaking the truth in love."

The phrase appears in a religious text, but it doesn't really have anything to do with spiritual beliefs. Rather, "speaking the truth in love" is a way of engaging with other human beings that is at once bold and supportive, while maintaining a deep connection. Some people are good at speaking the truth. They may do so for any number of reasons. It isn't actually hard to say honest things if you don't care what anybody else thinks. The problem is that the truth can be presented in such a harsh manner that it is impossible to hear.

Some people are much better at saying loving things. They know exactly how to encourage, uplift, commiserate, console, and compliment. Sometimes there's an ulterior motive, and sometimes people are just trying to be nice. The issue with just saying loving things is that they are shallow without being rooted in actual truth. I'm sure you can think of a dozen useless loving things to say to someone who didn't get a promotion or reached the end of a relationship. It doesn't really support another person to give dishonest compliments or glib encouragement, no matter how good it may feel in the moment.

Of course, some people's words of "bold support" are neither truthful or loving. They wind up being opinions expressed as facts for the sake of telling someone else how they ought to be. Truth has an actual meaning beyond what any individual thinks. Our creative minds can invent all sorts of conclusions from the minutest details, but truth is really about the verifiable data one has. Sorting this from all of the opinions and beliefs we create ourselves can sometimes be a challenge.

For me, "speaking the truth in love" captures what I want my bold support to look like. I think the phrase is also less subject to interpretation if someone really thinks about the concept. I've seen it at work this week, and I've noticed how much I feel at home with that level of connection. I've been envisioning a world where people practice speaking the truth in love more frequently. I thought you might be interested in getting in on that action.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Back to School

Throughout my college and grad school years, I had a real sense of what my long-term, short-term, and immediate goals were. I knew when the semester would be over, and I knew what I expected to learn or accomplish in that time. Now, with no advisor to inform my next steps and no professor with a syllabus to guide my journey through a course, it's really up to me to decide those things. Since I got so much from the structure of college semesters, I decided this fall to create a course listing of 10 courses and developed a semester syllabus for each of them. Essentially, I determined what things I want to spend my time and energy on for the next few months, and I found a way to share those goals with other people.

Five of the courses have tuition fees. One is the Basic Music Composition course I'm teaching at the Rice University Glasscock School of Continuing Studies, and another is essentially advanced composition lessons. I intend to take time for my own compositional endeavors as well, of course. The other three courses with tuition are the workshops I offer through Envision Coaching Solutions. The Power of Connection is on the calendar for October, and I'm in the process of locating a venue and scheduling the other two. I'm looking forward to how these workshops will evolve, and I am excited about being able to share skills and knowledge in a way that empowers other people to claim a meaningful vision for their lives.

The five free courses are a way that I'm basically doing that in my own life. When I was able to quantify what I want to create and learn over the next few months, I was also able to open space for partnership in those efforts. Basically, I advertised my "course offerings" to people I know, letting them see what I'm going to be spending time on and inviting them to join me. I've been thinking about how those courses fit together and why those particular topics are important to me personally.

Flow is a book I've been intending to read for awhile. I put it on the course schedule to invite others to read it at the same time and hopefully benefit from what it has to offer. It's about moment-by-moment creativity, which is something I strive for in my own life and want to encourage in others. I see it potentially informing how I coach coach and compose and connect with others.

The Artist's Way is similar is some ways. I expect to learn and grow as a composer and a coach, and I will have a chance to bear witness to the creativity of others in the group. This book is much more of a workbook than Flow, and its author, Julia Cameron, is an extraordinary creativity coach.

Since I know I'll be viewing and thinking about horror films, I included Morality in Horror Films in the fall semester. This has actually turned into a very compelling project for me. I expect a book to be created in partnership with the other participants, and there will be a lot of exciting lessons in organizing the project, over and above the entertaining subject matter.

Another activity I intended to keep on my calendar is a regular in-person role-playing game. For several months, I have been researching how role-playing games can be a tool for personal and organizational development. Unfortunately, lessons learned in a game typically do not transfer to real life. So, I have been working on developing tools to bridge that gap. Essentially, I believe that the opportunity for people to benefit beyond the fun of playing an imaginative game is too great to ignore. So I am dedicating time this semester to exploring Group Dynamics and Creative Strategy in Role-Playing Games.

Finally, I included in the fall semester Basic Ritual Craft. Much has been written about the importance of ritual, and how ritual can add depth of meaning to life events. We use ritual to celebrate all sorts of special events like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and promotions. It's been an interest of mine for some time, and I have created some rituals for use in previous jobs. I've been accumulating resources from many different perspectives, and I want to do something more with them. I don't know where this one will lead, but I am glad I committed to set aside time for it.

So, I am headed forward with a structure that has worked for me in the past. I don't know how it will work out, but it is an exciting venture filled with things that matter to me. And I am able to explore connection with other people in all of it. The biggest shift for me is that I have accepted that I am at the helm of my own life. Kind of a big deal I guess.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Crying Wolf

You know the story. The shepherd boy is bored and lonely, so he yells WOLF! and everybody comes running to help defend against the predator. While this is great fun for the shepherd boy, everybody else is understandably angry about the whole affair. But the boy gives it another go and winds up playing the card too many times. By the time an actual wolf arrives on the scene, everyone ignores the boy's cries, and the wolf eats him. A harsh lesson to be sure.

I believe that there is certainly a lesson in that tale for the "everybody else," but today I am wondering how much I am identified with the shepherd boy. Once upon a time, I kept my cards pretty close to my chest. I didn't share with many people that I was going to a particular college until I had the offer and had made a decision. Same thing for grad school. There have been some major projects in my life I didn't really tell anyone about until they were close to completion. But something shifted several years back.

I started to tell more people what I was up to, and I found that there was support and motivation in the telling. Once I told someone that I was working on a particular piece of music, they would often inquire about it, and I would have another person's energy contributed toward its creation. Plus, just saying the commitment out loud made it seem a bit more real. Over the past several years, more and more people have known about the commitments I'm making, and I gain insight, feedback, and support from an ever-growing array of individuals.

Something else shifted for me over the past year. I started setting my sights on goals that are a bit bigger... paths that I can't discern fully from just the first steps. Committing to those targets is important for me, because otherwise they could just be wishes or dreams that never get realized. But the journey also gives me new information. For instance, I sometimes learn that there are things I don't really like about a destination I had in mind -- things I didn't know when I first committed to it. And in that moment, I have the opportunity to make a choice.

I could continue down a path I don't really want to travel simply because I have committed to it. People are depending on me, expecting me to follow through. That seems like a frustrating and dissatisfying choice that (at best) lacks authenticity. Instead, I have been exploring what was most meaningful to me about a particular goal, and I've been looking for more desirable destinations that offer the same benefits. Which is not to say that I would start a journey over from Square One. Rather, I have gained some knowledge along the way that I didn't have before, and I can see things that weren't possible when I started in a particular direction.

I'm actually at peace with this process. My concern is other people's perception. Since I am advertising my goals more widely, there are more people to notice when my commitment shifts. How many times can I veer off onto another unexpected path and retain credibility? There are some commitments I've made that just don't fit as I learn more about them, and yet I wouldn't have learned that information if I had never made the commitment. But when I choose to continue growing from that point toward something else, does it look like growth to other people or does it look like giving up? When do my shifts in targets for my life look enough like "crying wolf" that no one believes me when I stake a claim on another goal?

There is a part of me that retorts, "It doesn't matter what other people think." But it does. Partnership and meaningful support is such an integral part of creating big dreams that I want at least a few others to get the difference between "going back on my word" and shifting targets to something better for me as I gain more information. The real question doesn't have anything to do with how "everyone" will see me. Life sometimes seems as cut-and-dried as the story: there is the shepherd boy, and there is everybody else. In reality, there are probably people who would come running every time, whether there was ever a wolf or not. And my goals aren't just made up for attention, so the connection between the story and my life is flimsy from the start.

So my answer (to whatever the question is) is to trust myself, and to trust that there will be enough support and partnership in each leg of the journey. I know that I have a purpose, and I know that I never have to defend myself. It ultimately boils down to my willingness to keep connecting with others about what I am creating and why that means something to me. Strange how so many questions seem to have the same answer.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Paralysis by Analysis

When I consider the big lessons I got from this week, it's striking to me that there were so many shifts. In fact, when I heard someone complaining after the fact about a situation in which they had been a willing participant, I recognized that habit in myself. In the recent past, I have chosen to go along with plans that weren't really desirable on the grounds that I didn't really have a choice. Or that the outcome would be worth the sacrifice. Then, I would complain about it, without really acknowledging I actually had made a choice. This week was the week after a decision to end that behavior -- the week after deciding that there are plenty of things I am passionate about that will carry me forward, and I don't have to follow any plans for my life that aren't satisfying.

Basically, I started measuring differently. The measurements I had been taking were based on assumptions and predictions... in other words, things I had no chance of really knowing. When I considered all of the possible outcomes that could result from a decision, the decision became impossible. I was paralyzed in a plan that I didn't necessarily like, just because I didn't really know how to evaluate it. And yet, there are ways to narrow down the scope of my observations so that I measure concrete evidence that can be evaluated. Once I started looking at reality instead of my own inventions of what could possibly happen, it was not only easier to evaluate my choices, it was also easy to recognize that they were choices in the first place.

It actually opened up the space for considering what is most deeply important to me. Beyond a particular title or a specific source of income, beyond a particular identity or set of accomplishments, there is a way for me to be authentic. Really, it amounts to trusting myself and recognizing that "I matter" is a simple statement of fact, without any criteria. Essentially, at the core of who I am, there is nothing to measure or evaluate. I need no justification or proof or defense for myself. I simply am. And that is a freeing piece of knowledge if ever there was one.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Blinded By Anger

I felt angry. My immediate response was to discount the feeling and list the myriad reasons why I shouldn't be angry. Anger doesn't solve anything. I had no right to be angry about the situation. Anger isn't attractive or inspiring. Anger is irrational. Anger isn't productive. In fact, it's destructive. So I denied myself the opportunity to fully feel angry for all of those reasons, and I told myself that I needed to just "let go" of my anger in order to create what I want. In essence, I needed to let go of what I was feeling in order to be acceptable to myself.

Refusing to fully acknowledge the emotion didn't change the fact that I was feeling angry. And one of the things I was angry about was not being able to clearly see my next step in developing my business. I was angry at myself for being so busy doing that I wasn't leaving much time for enjoying what I was doing. Sure, I was doing lots of things I expect to contribute positively to what I'm creating, but I wasn't seeing results from some of those activities. And I didn't know why. Was I not being patient enough? Were my expectations off base? Would those particular activities actually benefit me? I couldn't answer the questions, and I felt angry about it.

I was actually angry about a lot of things. Little things that I told myself I really shouldn't be angry about. But whether I wanted to be or not, I was angry. Thanks to a good friend, I was able to see that I had trapped myself by wrestling with the emotion instead of just feeling it and expressing it (in a safe and non-destructive way). It made sense that I couldn't see a way forward from where I was standing. My energy was focused on denying myself a legitimate emotion.

Once I accepted that I felt angry and expressed it, I realized one of the issues that had me frozen in my journey. I was doing things without a means to measure them, and it is impossible for one to evaluate something that isn't being measured. I also realized that part of my anger was stemming from the fear that if I stop engaging in one of those potentially valuable activities, I could sabotage my efforts. So I was caught in a snare of not allowing myself to stop doing something that may be effective, and not giving myself a way to determine its effectiveness. No wonder I was angry about that.

With my anger expressed, I started to see that I can create a way to measure what I'm doing, to evaluate whether it's really having the result I expect. And I started to see that there are plenty of things that I enjoy doing that will support what I am creating. If I stop putting my effort into one ineffective activity, I'm not hogtying myself or limiting my potential for success. There are other ways to create what I want. I don't have to lock myself into one particular irrevocable path.

In the midst of my anger, I was the victim of everything, including my own decisions. As long as I wrestled with whether or not I should be angry, I would remain a blind victim. On the other side of that anger being expressed, my vision is much clearer. And I can laugh at my perceived victimhood as I step through the chains of my self-imposed limitations.