The Power of Patience

Tom Spriggs When I was 7 years old I made a trip to England to meet my grandparents on my fathers side for the first time. It was a special trip for many reasons, including meeting my friend Tom Spriggs.

Tom was a trusted neighbor and friend of my grandparents. He and his wife were the first to welcome them to Sway when they relocated there to retire. Sway was and still is a quaint and lovely village in Hampshire England, large enough to have a grocery store (or maybe a few by now), but small enough to formerly qualify as a village according to English standards – larger than a hamlet, but smaller than a town.

My grandmother told me that Tom was a soft-spoken and private man made even more so after the loss of his beloved wife a few years earlier. She had taken it upon herself with characteristic British cheerful dutifulness to include Tom in her day-to-day life and social engagements. My grandfather, who I called Grandpop, built a doorway in the wood fence between their houses to make this easier and encourage visits for afternoon teas’.

I met Tom the second day of my trip while swinging on the fence in front of my grandparents’ house. I don’t recall our first conversation but remember that his gentle manner made me trust him immediately. For the afternoons that followed, he’d invite me for tea or show me his green room with rows of thriving tomato plants or we’d walk the two blocks to downtown Sway where there was a bed and breakfast and pub with pigs and chickens in the backyard.

It may seem odd that a 7 year old child and 60 year old man would have enough in common for a conversation, but we did, and we had many of them. We’d talk about all kinds of things. I told him about the dirt farm I made back home for lizards and slugs that despite its 3 inch mud-clay walls, failed to stop the creatures from escaping after an hour or so. I shared my love of sitting amongst the cornhusks in our garden, munching raw corn while dad hacked down the dead dry grass in the summer time. And that the reason I pressed wild flowers was so I could look at them when I felt sad to remember feeling happy.

Tom, a retired train conductor, told me about his travels throughout England and the interesting people he met along the way. He confided about his life before, when he was a soldier in WWI and how he endured trench warfare for an entire month without food. He was a teenager, one of 250,000 volunteers under the age of 19 to answer the call to fight. England had only 700,000 in the armed forces at the beginning of the war, compared to Germanys’ 3.7 million. He didn’t say much about his experience, just that it was hard to say anything at all.

The thing I remember most about our conversations, more so than what we talked about was how they felt. I was free because Tom was never in a rush. He always had time to chat, or at least, he seemed to. Not just for me, but anyone who crossed his path. Talking with him gave me the same feeling I had when watching the ocean or looking up at the sky through the branches of a cherry blossom tree.

I felt this calmness in nature all the time, but rarely in conversation and almost never in conversation with adults, with their agendas, and assumptions, and hopes and interpretations. With Tom it was different. I remember saying something, then waiting for his response and having the distinct impression of him reflecting on what he was going to say in a way that was both connected to our conversation and me and simultaneously connected to something within him that was also impersonal, infinite. The pauses between our interactions and even his tender and authentic delivery of his words gave me an entirely new experience of what conversation could be like.

Before leaving England, Tom and I agreed to continue our conversation through letters. Decades before the internet existed and at a time when long distance phone calls could get expensive, this was about the only option we had. Thank goodness…I doubt email would have been an equally satisfying replacement to the experience of reading a good letter.

We would write one another for many years to come until Tom’s death at 78. I was twenty-five.

Our correspondance of 18 years taught me about the power of consistency in love and friendship. In a word, patience.

 

Faith Unencumbered by Belief – Possible?

Faith

i awoke scared today

of thoughts and what-if’s.

that list of things

that keeps us lonely

even amongst friends.

 

i pondered faith today,

wondering

where and how it begins,

each time in life

in each of us

in me.

 

it’s been said that faith begins where philosophy ends.

if this is true, then faith has nothing to do with knowing,

or rather, nothing to do with the kind of knowing rampant in the world today –

head knowing. i’m-right-because-you’re-wrong knowing.

head knowing. i’m-right-because-this is how i do it knowing.

it’s not that at all.

and it’s not all that.

 

to be with the wish

what would that be like?

the kind of wish that goes beyond what you know, what society knows, or what i know

the kind of wish that resists crystallizing into rigid certainty out of the pure urge for authenticity, reality. honesty.

the kind of wish that grows instead into something different,

something generative and beyond limits.

 

there’s a kind of hope that the idea of faith offers and it has to do with letting go of the very human habit and need for certainty

 

this kind of faith without certainty, ironically, requires immense faith

 

can i do this?

 

 

When Marketing Takes Priority Over Essence Who Loses?

images-1The meaning of un-extraordinary might be a breakfast sandwich that fills a hole in your stomach and costs $5 at a place more commonly known for its customizable “coffee.” This breakfast sandwich looked delicious, with a thick slice of Canadian bacon, scrambled egg and a layer of graded cheddar cheese between two slices of fresh baked (so called) ciabatta bread.

It hooked me.

What a disappointment. Each ingredient blended into the next – not in a way that builds on individual flavors like a skillfully made curry or ratatouille that surprises and delights the taste buds with every bit – but in a way that makes your mouthful of bready egg substance into a bigger mass of bready egg substance with the added ingredient of saliva.

Yuck.

Many opportunities were lost on this egg-mc nightmare.

What could have been? How about scrambled eggs whipped with a splash of cream, fried with a smear of butter, then slipped off the pan drizzling the rest of the butter onto the crispy edges of the fried eggs, soaking into the hot toasted bread. Then, just before serving it, adding sprinkles of shredded cheese so it melts on contact with the hot eggs, melding into their heat, adding texture and richness.

But that would take time. And time is money. Or so they say.

But not to worry. There are many more egg-mc nightmare’s to be made in order to confirm that the works been done, to attract more hungry customers, so that a profit is made by the end of the day.

Marketing becomes us.

 

A Certain Kind of Dialogue

I happened upon the late physicist and author, David Bohm while conducting research for my Master’s thesis. Bohm wrote a ground breaking book called, Wholeness and the Implicate Order in which he introduced his interpretation of Quantum Physics. His writing about the nature of life at the sub-atomic level was lyrical but concrete, rational but intuitive. It captivated my thinking and informed my thesis proposing a non-dualistic way to think about the nature of experience.

Bohm was also actively engaged in applying his insights from Physics to the realm of communication in the form of dialogue groups and conversations with philosophers and spiritual masters. One person in particular with whom Bohm had several dialogues was with the world-renowned spiritual teacher, J. Krishnamurti. Below is one of many of their dialogues, titled “Krishnamurti & David Bohm on The Future of Humanity.”

I watched this and many other videos of his dialogues over and over again each time hearing something new and different than before. Not only did I hear something new with each viewing, but I experienced a change in the quality of my own thinking. I noticed, for example, that in watching Krishnamurti’s and Bohm’s ability to reflect before responding to a question, I began pondering/pausing before responding in a knee-jerk manner to a question.

Watching the two great thinkers interact was refreshing, even inspiring because it seemed to have nothing to do with being nice or polite or smart or better than, (or less than). In other words, nothing typical, in fact, quite atypical. And at the same time, there was something so completely normal and human in the way they conversed.

It planted a seed in me for that a certain kind of dialogue, one focused much more on listening than telling. Or at least, trying to listen more than tell/explain/prove/defend. The challenge I found was not so much to find others with whom I could dialogue, but to experiment and model aspects of Bohmian dialogue myself.

I’ve discovered that at the core of this challenge is the act of listening. It may seem counterintuitive to think of communication in terms of listening, but I’ve experienced it as an essential aspect. And not only that, learning to listen well is an ongoing challenge with infinite learning opportunities. At least it is for me.

 

15 Ways to Avoid Extremist Thinking as a Leader

PrecisionAbout a year ago I read a post on LinkedIn about Leadership that included a list of what makes a good leader. The author was a CEO of a big company. The list struck me as so black and white that at first I thought it was a joke then I realized that it was for real. This was an unsettling thought namely because, while black white thinking can be a sign of a leader, it’s most often associated with a leadership style the world needs less of. Dictators and zealots.

To be clear, this post isn’t an attack of the author, but rather a criticism of a way of thinking that has no room for mistakes, failure, imperfection, and most importantly, the realm of human experience that is constantly in flux, the part of us that is always and can always learn. Our humanity.

So I wrote a list to counter the author’s, focused on what I’d learned in all my jobs and in life up to this point as well as what I’ve observed indirectly from reading about the lives Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, and Mother Theresa to name a few. Here is the list; the original points are in bold, followed by mine in italics.

  • They Never Fail To Lead
  • Always learn how to lead better
  • They Are Never Lukewarm
  • Follow an inner conscience over strong or “lukewarm” passions
  • They Never Tone Down Their Vision
  • Aim for bold visions that are good for all, before grandiose plans that the majority of followers realized in hindsight, were more about power
  • They Never Break Commitments
  • Obey conscience over the risk of disappointing others and tarnished reputation
  • They Never Worry About The Headlines
  • May worry about headlines, but know how to refocus attention on what matters and on what they do have power to influence
  • They Never Say Never
  • Recognize the danger and risk in absolutism (thought, words, deeds), in all its forms, subtle and explicit
  • They Never Need A Pat On The Back
  • Don’t rely on positive validation to persevere, but accept their humanity and as such are able to ask for support when needed without feeling the lesser for it
  • They Are Never Pessimistic
  • Know the importance of seeing life as it is rather than as “negative” or “positive”. A version of this could be Gandhi’s “Pragmatic Idealism”
  • They Never Procrastinate
  • Have different styles of how they are in action (slow pace, fast pace, etc), depending on their background and culture. But all good leaders know the wisdom of right timing
  • They Never Sit In Judgment
  • Have most probably held a grudge or two for a minute or more, but they have mastered the art of learning from it sooner than later
  • They Are Never Narrow Thinkers
  • Have courage to do what’s needed and what’s right despite its appearance or it being “big” or small
  • They Never Avoid Challenges
  • Do not shy away from confrontation, but they know that there are times when confrontation is NOT the best approach
  • They Never Worry About Appearing Vulnerable
  • Know that real vulnerability means feeling at least a bit uncomfortable, otherwise its a look alike
  • They Never Stop Asking Questions
  • Always challenge preconceived ideas, starting with their own
  • They Never Accept Defeat
  • Do not always know if there is a way to a solution, but they know that they have the strength of conviction and faith to endeavor

Reflecting on my actual experience with each of the author’s leadership principles, the words flowed easily. Not at all because I’d mastered them – (any of them!) – but because I’d thought about them, tried to live them, even if for moments at a time and remembered the experience of experimenting them, or rather, my version of them. In thinking about each principle in this way, I had to be honest. Once I did this, ironically, the word “never,” no longer applied. It was not an apt descriptor of my lived experience of these principles. Not because they were wrong, but because they didn’t accommodate the actual flesh and blood experience of living, or trying to live them, only an abstraction of those experiences and very limited ones at that.

There may be leaders for whom, the never-statements are accurate, but even so, that idea is a bit scary. I’ll take an imperfect leader trying to be better over a leader who is perfect by virtue of “never” doing…(fill in the blank), any day.

Aside from writers who convey a leader as a 2-dimensional action figure, I think one of the obstacles making it difficult to cultivate the leader within is in the very way that we think and talk about them. Black/white thinking and arguements and posts, stemming from it – no matter what the topic – do little to aid in the living of that topic. Because its devoid of lived experience, in other words, it’s from the head, of the head. And with a subject such as leadership, this is unfortunate, verging on reckless because the world could sure use more truly great leaders. Ones who speak from the their heart and head to ours.

 

On Change – An Excerpt from Rumi

Image of ChangeI had a difficult weekend. Still grieving the premature loss of my father months ago, I suppose. After wrestling alone most of yesterday, I found a gentle place. And then a friend sent me this excerpt from Rumi.

Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?

        ~ Rumi

In fact, I don’t know which side is better – familiarity or the unknown –  and that is as much scary as it is wonderful. Shall I experiment that today? Time will tell.