Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Exertion vs. Effort


Exertion in the Presence of Disharmony


My life has been a long episode of "trying my hardest to achieve", no matter what the circumstances. Vacation? How do I get the most out of it? Relaxing massage? How do I harvest the optimum relaxation from the experience? Sleep? What kind of active dreaming, subconscious clearing, or astral projection work can be done tonight? 

You name it, I have developed a knack for turning any activity into a exercise in maximum extraction. I have such a habit of constantly "working" on something that there has been an unconscious part of myself that will actively create effort even when there is none. 

I realized this recently when I was driving to Firefly Willows. There was no hurry. The drive takes maybe five minutes. There was almost no traffic. And yet, I realized that there was this great force, this "pressure" that I felt that I was pushing against. I could feel it as if a big, inflated shape was pressing against me as I sat in the car. 

And I had constructed it out of nothing.

Why? 

Because it was something I could push against. I quickly dismissed it…and felt so strange that I lost an aspect of my equilibrium. There was nothing to push forward against, and it felt like I was falling (forward).

It was really odd.

I've struggled with the notions of "just being" and "just receiving" as a way of living because, although they're recommended by many mystical authorities, there is a part of me - the athlete/warrior part - that enjoys exertion. Heavy lifting. The application of force through the vehicle of the self. I'd have called this "making an effort" just a few days ago, but I think I just learned something this morning.

I do like to exert myself. It feels good. I've developed a capacity that I enjoy using, and feel strong when I do. But I noticed that I used the word "exertion" and "exert" as the thing I would miss, not "effort".

The question then had to be asked, "Are exertion and effort the same thing?" 

The dictionary was not helpful. There was something subtle to be felt here, a difference that I could not ignore. Exertion is something I do. Effort is something I do in the presence of...what? Resistance? 

On a Newtonian physics level, there is no exertion without effort, because there has to be something to "push" against

And still, I'm sure there's a profound difference. We don't live in a strictly Newtonian world (and certainly our spirits don't…). I know that I'm willing to exert myself. But I'm increasingly suspicious of effort. It seems dark, and heavy. It seems like, on a very deep level, there's something more to be examined. Does God exert him/herself? Or does God apply effort? Possibly the former. I doubt the latter.

Some thoughts:
When I play a sport like basketball, I'm experiencing resistance from the other players. But we have a mutual goal - the exploration and enjoyment of the game. So that's effort, but at another level its cooperative exertion.

When I'm climbing a mountain, I'm exerting myself. The resistance I experience is the force of gravity. maybe that makes it an effort, but it doesn't feel like one, because I welcome the force of gravity as, in essence, I welcome the other basketball players - without them, something would be missing.

So if I don't think of these things as "effort" (and resistance), then what DOES fall into the category of effort? (Is resistance always bad?)

Ugly things. Difficult things. Things like working a job I don't love, or driving in a traffic jam. Things like taking corporate money out of politics and stopping the rape of the environment. Anywhere that the exertion comes up against a darkness. 

So, OK, that's a judgement. Slippery ground for metaphysics, I confess. 

Maybe it's better to say that Effort is Exertion in the presence of Disharmony?

I think it's a continuum. Exertion flows into effort in the presence of an unenlightened player. And that player may well be myself.

I admit I'm still puzzled, because those word evoke very different feelings inside me.  Can you share your perspectives on Exertion vs. Effort?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mars at Play

What does he do, when he's in play? What is play, or "Capital P" Play, for Mars?

Play, for Mars, might be a very competitive thing. But I think Capital P Play for Mars would be something for which there is no competition, no equivalent to winning or losing, victory, or loss. 

Rather, I think Play for Mars would be just the opposite - no downside. Because so much of his work is colored by the inherent notion of conflict, opposition, and the effort to vanquish the opposition, I think Play for Mars, the kind that leads to his own personal development and is also "Fun" would be loss-less adventure. Experimentation. Gaiety and laughing without inhibition. Silly joy.

I need to understand this guy better. Partly because I'm born under the sign of the Ram. Aries is part of my blueprint. But also because I haven't been a very active in play over the past many years, especially non-competitive play. And also because I think I'm missing an essential tool in the toolkit for surviving and evolving. For manifesting my dreams and visions. Play is something I need to learn, and, perhaps, need to teach. 

Or so the stars suggested to me tonight as I walked the dog out under the moonlight.

"Consider," they said, "Mars, at Play."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Seven Billion Trails


What if each of us could speak without fear and listen without prejudice?

I was contemplating the course of life this morning. Of my father's life, in particular. He's now 88 years old. He still lives independently. He's an Italian immigrant, a child of the Great Depression, and fought in World War II. He experienced modest career success (modest because he was an educator, success because he was deeply admired and respected in his field). He experienced the joy of six children, and the tragedy of the death of one. He was the primary care-giver to my mentally disabled mother for eighteen years.

He has had a hard life, in my opinion. I saw the arc of his life like a trek up a craggy mountain face. Shimmering moments of beauty. Terrifying moments of danger. Many moments of fear.

He continues to climb, serving as a father and grandfather to a single mother my age and her eight-year-old son. He doesn't have to do this. And yet, he does.

The arc of his life has taken him on a path that has shaped his character. He really has no choice but to be who he is. And so, the path he walks is the path that he sees. 

The path that he sees is the path that his eyes and feet are adapted to. His choices are limited. Not uncomfortable, mind you. But limited.

I found myself asking "Why?" 

The answer was actually pretty simple. It's not a trail if you're not adapted to walk it. And it is, if you are. 

A gecko can walk up a vertical wall. Trail, or not a trail?

I look at my life. I am fifty. The path I have taken is so vastly different from my father's. Mine began when he was thirty eight. The terrain had changed by then (or had it?). 

As I look at the terrain - the topography, flora, and fauna - of my journey, and of his, I see a grand landscape between us. Millions of paths, an infinity of experiences and contours, that separate us. At the same time, they also connect us.

Before this morning, I could only imagine that 7 billion people is a bad thing. But as I contemplated my father's life, and mine, and the terrain between us, and that 7 billionth beating heart in the baby Filipino girl, I thought, "Hey - there's 7 billion paths being walked…"

What if we could share our experiences, illuminate the trails we see in front of us, teach each other the way we walk our paths? 

What if 7 billion of us could speak without fear about the terrain we see, and listen without prejudice to the adaptations we have developed to walk them?

Our options might open. Our eyes might open. 

Our hearts might open.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The (Meta)physics of Doubt

Dissipation or Redirection?

(Note 2: I wanted this post to show up on August, but the draft was dated March, so there it sat, back in among the March posts. I've now re-posted with an August date - sometimes this technology stuff gets a little confusing.)


(Note 1: I drafted this one in March of this year. August, as it turns out, has been less about effort and more about "being". So I figured now would be a good time to turn this one into a post!)

I've been working very hard lately - lots of long hours and exertion. I feel, in general, pretty good about this, in spite of how it sounds. I enjoy what I'm doing, and I am very grateful to be living a part of my life -- this part, right now -- in service to a big dream.
And yet, it's still "hard". I don't always know whether what I'm doing is making a difference. It's challenging to continue to exert yourself and then wonder whether it's worth it.

All the familiar kinds of self-doubt have emerged over the last several weeks.

"I'm not doing the right things."
"Nothing is working."
"I'm wasting time and money."
"I can't possibly pull this off."

Etc., etc., etc.

Now, as usual, I'm not satisfied to just "experience" these doubts and then "process" them and move on. Oh, no. The metaphysicist in me says, "Wait - there must be a message in this. Why am I going through this? What is its purpose?"

And my attention alighted upon Doubt itself. I have never really examined doubt - I had just struggled with it. What is Doubt? How does it work? In essence, I began to ponder the physics of Doubt.

And this morning, as I took a leisurely snooze-in, I think I made a little progress.

I was looking at doubt, and examining its effect. Well, says I, "effect on...what?"

It came to my awareness that doubt was affecting my intention, somewhat like the way friction affects motion. It was using the energy of my intentions, and diluting or decreasing the force of them.

OK, maybe this sounds obvious on the face of it. But I actually saw it as a vector of force that I was allowing to feed on, and that worked counter to, my intentions.

So then, of course, I had to look at Intention (because doubt itself was making me question the validity of my inquiry).

What the heck is Intention? On the one hand, an intention can be this very large, grandiose, "I'm going to execute this vision" kind-of-thing. On the other hand, it can be something as simple and small as, "I'm going to open my eyes now," or "I'm going to pay attention to my breathing."

And somewhere in the middle, "I'm going to get up, put on my running shoes, and go running...in the rain."

And I looked at intention somewhat carefully to see if "intention for the easy/possible" was structurally the same as "intention for the difficult/impossible". Were they really the same thing? I had to conclude that they were. It was really just a question of scale regarding the resources and knowledge needed. "Open my eyes" requires little resource. "Become President" requires a lot. But the actual functional role of "intention" is the same. So, to a (meta)physicist, the same forces, fields, and conditions should govern the operation and understanding of each.

A little deeper on intention, then. If this whole gamut, this whole range, qualified as "intention", what actually is Intention? What is the physics of intention? Intention has been called "focused attention". I think of it as "directed willpower". Note that there is a subtle difference between "directed willpower" and "applied willpower"; applied willpower implies that one is actually taking action. That's a second step, separate from the intention itself. That's the application of resources. But directed willpower implies both "potential energy" and "direction".

Notice also that there is a minimum "quantity" of potential energy that is required, even in the presence of sufficient resource (as in, I didn't go running in the rain, even though I certainly had capable shoes and plenty of rain to run in...).

What makes intention strong enough to "activate"? That is, to cause tangible change in the Universe? Still working on this one. But one thing was clear - doubt was "dissipating" what force existed within the intention.

With these perceptions in hand, I had another look at doubt.

My first impression was that doubt was dissipating my intention. It was "decompressing" it, reducing its voltage, its power, its potential for forward motion. And the odd thing was that the application of doubt was coming from me! So odd to see one part of myself gathering energy, creating the potential, building power, and then another part of myself venting off that energy, dissolving it, adding an "effect" to it that causes it to lose coherence.

I got up and started my day, satisfied that I had uncovered something important about doubt - "Doubt dissipates Intention".

Later, as I began to contemplate writing these insights down, I thought, OK, but is that the ONLY thing doubt is doing? Doubt has to have a purpose - a useful, evolutionarily valuable function, or we wouldn't have it. So what constructive role does it play?

I started to look at Doubt like "attitude adjustment thrusters" - pushing the Intention vector left or right, up or down, in little puffs of exertion. Properly applied, Doubt is a tool for redirection and adjustment. It takes just enough steam from the main thrusters to provide a moment for realignment through examination. And it doesn't require the application of external energy -- handily, it uses the energy that is already present. An excellent safeguard system.

Unfortunately, I suspect many of us don't use Doubt so constructively. We let Doubt establish itself, but somehow don't have the discipline to manage, monitor, and control its application. So it continues to fire, releasing the pressure in the Intention tank, firing wildly, pushing our Ship of Intention up, down, sideways, in a random and unproductive ways. Taking us off course while at the same time sapping us of "directed willpower".

Why is that, do you think? Is it simply a matter of training? Of discipline? I'm still working on it, but if you have ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Most Intimate Thing We Do

Taking a Deep Breath
Over the past year or so, I've been learning a lot, and experiencing a lot, about breathing. It dawned on me that breathing is an extraordinarily intimate act.

Think about it... When you breathe, you take in random air molecules from all around you, through your nose, down your throat, and into your lungs, where they mingle with your insides - indeed, they become part of you. And you do this constantly. It never stops. When you exhale, you push what was, just seconds ago, part of your very blood out into the world.
So ethereal, this breathing thing, and yet so very, very messy and sanguinary. We allow our blood to touch the world in every breath. It's pretty spectacular, when you think about it.
(I'll also admit that it can also seem a little gross, and more than a little terrifying, when you think about it this way.)
I want to go a little bit deeper with this examination, too. It's not just any old air molecule that is entering your body. It's an air molecule that has been profoundly affected by the environment in which it is floating. It's been zapped by cosmic rays, perhaps. Most certainly by a cell phone signal or two. It's vibrating with the heat reflected off the pavement, or the trees, or the foreheads of the people in the room.
Each molecule we bring into such intimate contact with our inner physical being is aquiver with the energies present all around us, and to greater or lesser degrees, all the energy that is radiating at all the frequencies from all directions. Poor little molecule, so profoundly bopped and bonked and spun about...and in it goes.
What happens when it gets there? Of course, it carries all those vibrations with it, right into the inner sanctum of the physical. Makes you long for some good, clean, natural fresh air, doesn't it?
The other side is just as interesting. When we exhale, the molecules we release carry with them the vibrations that are inside of us. So all the frequencies that are generated by the complex interactions of our functioning selves are present in each exhalation.
Interesting to think about what makes up those vibrations. Our physical state, to be sure. But also, all the rest of us. Our moods. Our thoughts. Our dreams. Our pettiness and our valor. All present in every exhalation. Perhaps the instantaneous energy signature of all of that is what our soul looks like in that very moment.
Are we exhaling our "soul profile", written in the energy signature of our breath?
If so, what we are inside ourselves fundamentally impacts the world outside of ourselves. And what is outside affects what we are becoming.
What are you inhaling?
Perhaps more important, what are you exhaling?
The mystical traditions place great power in the breath. The power to create, destroy, rebalance, cleanse, heal...the list goes on and on.
With this perspective, I have to agree. And recently I've begun to experience this power directly. As I explore the cross-over between deep physics, spirituality, and healing, I sense (and sometimes can manipulate) the power of breath.
It's crazy cool!
We can argue over the magnitude of the impact, to be sure. Perhaps someday we'll understand how to measure it all. I'll be excited when that happens, but also a little sad when that mystery is solved.
Until then, I continue to explore, and have no doubt that the breath has a powerful and intimate capacity to connect us to the world, and the world to us.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Doing For, or Acting With?

The Humility of Leading Well

My colleague T. Thorne Coyle wrote recently about Leadership, Service, & Gratitude.

Always powerfully eloquent, I love Thorne's writings because she speaks to the warrior in all of us. In Leadership, Service, & Gratitude, she writes about the necessity to act in service if one is to lead well.

Humbling oneself through service is a great, grounding way to retain clarity of mission, to validate that the vision we hold and the reality we are experiencing are actually helped into alignment through the efforts we make and the service we offer.

I was also moved by her description of being in service to a cause, rather than just donating money:

“Rather than looking at this from the view of charity I prefer to look at it in terms of justice. Whereas the root of the word charity – caritas – is that of love, I feel that we have lost track of that and tend to think of charity as something that wealthy people do for poor people. Justice however, brings us clearly back to the reality that we are all yoked together as denizens of this planet. We are not doing for, we are acting with. Justice is the rebalancing force of love.”

"We are not doing for, we are acting with."

That's leadership.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sustainability Inside

Earlier this year I wrote about 2011 being the year of authenticity. And in May I wrote about calling myself out - realizing that I had bet on myself.

As we contemplate changing locations for Firefly Willows, and wrestle with all that such a choice brings, I am once again confronted with that "self". When I realized that I had bet on myself, I grounded the anxiety I had been feeling about failure. That helped a lot.

Now, though, I'm wrestling with another aspect of this problem.

I readily admit that during my career (and my life experience outside my career) I would reach a moment of opportunity. And somehow, for some reason, I would take a step that led me away from the opportunity in front of me, and toward some uncertain consequence and future. Either by overt commission or subtle intransigence I have, in some sense, sabotaged myself.

I need to really find out what is happening. I don't think it's deliberate - I don't think it's because I am afraid of success.

I look and reflect and conclude that during those moments, I said something like, "Oh, it's not really worth the effort/pain/discomfort."

So why wasn't it?

I had a flash of insight that reminded me of playing basketball. I'm kinda short for basketball, so when I drive to the basket for a lay-up, I have had a tendency to use speed (get there before the other guys) to ensure that I'm not blocked.

But that doesn't work when they're already there. So I've also adopted another technique - stretching myself so my reach is as high as possible.

My basketball colleagues will tell you that when I drive the lane it's often a comical sight (in a Buster Keaton "Oh My GOD there's going to be an ACCIDENT!!" kind of way).
Definitely NOT me...

I recently figured out why that is. As I approach the basket, I'm moving so fast and I'm so stretched out that I have very little capacity left to tweak my move, adjust my body, or reposition the ball. If I haven't picked my approach perfectly, and moved impeccably, I'm just going to end up in a heap. And even if I HAVE, there are still other players with their own free agency and they can do the unexpected. Which, if I'm too strung out, will result in my ending up in a heap.

Either way, no score.

No score.

I see now that I often am running so fast and am so stretched out that there is no room to adjust to a new inspiration or opportunity. I have no capacity left to respond.

I have discovered that I run myself so close to the edge that anything along the way that is not exactly as I've envisioned it can derail the mission. What's worse is that I run myself this way on missions that are not really in alignment with who I am - my personal mission, so to speak.

So what have I done in the past? Typically, I've overdriven the machine in a way that is not sustainable, eeking out a measure of success through sheer force, and damaging myself in the process.

At some point, I do become exhausted, and my subconscious just forces me away from the table. I either bail out explicitly, or my subconscious unstitches key seams in the underbelly, and I just kind of fall out in an ungainly, inefficient way.

(Thank God I have friends and family that love me...!)

Now, upon reflection, it makes complete sense. I've often been pushing too hard on a particular vision to have anything left to be responsive to the world. And eventually, I get exhausted and have to stop.

How does one fix this kind of problem, and what does the solution look like?

It dawns on my that, first and foremost, I have to be clear about what I sign up for. In particular, I have to be as honest as I can about the following parameters:
  • How much sustained effort will this take?
  • How much do I really care about it?
  • How long can I keep doing it?
  • What happens if I have to stop doing it?
Ultimately, this analysis compels me to examine the sustainability of my own actions. And here, I'm talking about things as simple as writing this blog, or hosting a weekly event at Firefly Willows, or starting a new project.

I have lots of instantaneous capacity. The key question is, what is my SUSTAINABLE capacity?

It's obvious when I go running, or play soccer, that my instantaneous capacity and sustainable capacity are not the same. I get winded and have to stop and rest.

In basketball -- and it seems, in life -- I'm not so aware.

Is it odd that I've never actually contemplated a limit before? I think I've always viewed my instantaneous capacity and my sustainable capacity as equivalent when it comes to my "work" life. And as a result, I have been ill-equipped, misaligned, and exhausted at key moments in my life.

That's just plain weird. Who could be so profoundly oblivious to something so obvious? I surprise myself with the depths of my dysfunction sometimes.

Good thing I can laugh about it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Power of a Paper Napkin

I took a walk just now, down to the coffee shop to get a beverage. Beautiful afternoon, sun shining. I was in a cheery mood, happy for my little place in the sun along our tree-lined street.

Inside, I was happy to chat with the baristas about the way the drinks are made, and what variations were available. (Did you know that you can get a Chai Frappuccino? I didn't...!)

Good thing I got there when I did. By the time my drink was ready, there was a line almost out the door.

Standing in line was a woman holding an ice-cream cone. I noticed that there were little drips heading over the edge of the cone, due shortly to impact the little paper wrapping (and then, no doubt, her politely manicured fingers).

As I walked toward the exit, I reached for a paper napkin, and with a demure flourish, proffered it to her as I walked past.

My friend and colleague Ivan Temes says, "Care enough to take action." I remember these words often.

Who would have thought? Her joy was complete. A squeal of delight, a smile of gratitude, a "How did you know....?"

And it was just a paper napkin.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Mars, and the Remainder


I had a long and difficult conversation with Mars the other night.

All of us light-workers love to hate the God of War.

War. Really, who needs it? It sucks, it's pointless, it's cruel, causes suffering, wastes resources…WHY do we have it? Why do we need a GOD of it, for heaven's sake?

Wouldn't it be great if there were no wars? Wave your hand and have peace reign?

As usual, I don't get to have (or share) the easy platitudes. The introspection becomes so deep it's like surgery. Surgery while I'm awake.

Here's what happened:

So, I'm calling in the spirits, and after the four directions, I get to the compassionate spirits of the heavens. And for some reason, this time, I'm really taking my time and not just calling their names and asking for their help. I'm actually greeting each one as they arrive.

I call to the Sun, and the Moon, and start to work my way through the planets.

I get to Mars. And my nice, happy, deep, comforting journey work becomes something else.

I think this is really the first time I actually met him.


As he approached my space, I was shown the horrors of war. The suffering of the soldiers, but even more the suffering of "the innocents" who are caught up in it. Grist for the mill of war, ground into pulp of flesh and wails of suffering.

It was horrible. And there he stood, his sword pointed up, resting against his shoulder, one eyebrow slightly raised, looking at me expectantly. Waiting for something from me.

Testing me.

How could I welcome him? Why would anyone welcome him?

I reflected on my Celtic and Runic studies, the North, the Morrigan, the Calleach, the whole notion of battle rage. I checked in with as many angles as I could think of. It didn't fit. It wasn't complete enough to account for all that horror, pain, and suffering. All that scarring and soul-loss and senseless death.

He waited.

So I looked the only place left to look. At the horror. At the pain and suffering. I stared into the grinding maw as it consumed families, cultures, swathes of Mother Earth. I took in as much of it as I could stand, and then I took in more. It was the only place that made sense to look, and I knew I wouldn't understand unless I did.

It was horrible.

"What is this?!" I cried. "What is this…THING…that is so present and so insatiable and so seemingly unstoppable, and so cruel?!"

And he said, calmly but not comfortingly, "It's the remainder."

Auugh. It hit me like a punch in the gut.

The remainder of our lack of integrity.
The remainder of our lack of pure intention.
The remainder of our arrogance.
The remainder of our self-indulgence, our willful self-delusion, and our unwillingness to face the consequences of our actions.

War is the remainder of our personal, cultural, and societal choices not to speak the truth, not to keep our word, not to clean up after ourselves. And not to listen and accept the truth with a warrior's heart.

We have war, because we choose not to live like warriors. It's what happens when we sweep the inconsistencies of our logic and the entreaties of our conscience under the rug.

War is the remainder of our lies.

And the bigger the lie, and the more of us that engage in it, and the longer we tell it, the larger the account holding the remainder.

Inevitably it must be purged.

Mars is so often depicted as a war monger, always ready to start it up and roil the waters.

The Mars I met would say, "Go to war -- early and often!" Lance the boils, cleanse the wounds. Get it done as soon as possible.

In fact, he would counsel that we go to war in every single breath. Because then, we would each examine, reconcile, and exhale our remainders. There would be no account to be purged, because we would all be warriors, living impeccably in every moment.

But we don't. And so that account has to be managed.

Like Death, Mars has a difficult and dirty job. But unlike Death, Mars can rightly scold us for making his work harder. Death catches us all. Eventually, we either stop running from her or simply lose the race. Her embrace is, ultimately, gentle and compassionate.

But Mars -- he looks at us and growls, "WHY?!"

Why do we choose to ignore his counsel, and sentence ourselves to such horrors?

(He sometimes scowls at the other Gods and Goddesses, too, so comfortable and patient and didactic are they in their godding. "Things will work out," they counsel him. "Be patient. They're inherently good..."

To which he responds, "Do you guys ever WATCH this show?" )

This remainder I was shown is not optional, because we live in a world of challenge, complexity, and free will. How large the account becomes - that is indeed optional. It seems that arrogance and greed make it grow fastest. And self-indulgence. Ignorance and lack of personal discipline are also factors.

Fear of Death, too, if truth be told. But Death catches all of us, eventually, so why bother being afraid of it?

We should fear War more than Death.

I think living and dying as warriors is much better than living and dying in War.

The Mars I met would agree.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"You should probably quit your job..."

Here's a post from the Ottawa Citizen. As one who has taken the leap, I can share with you the following nuggets:

1) It's not easy to decide
2) It's not easy once you make the leap
3) It can be scary

And most importantly,
4) It's no worse than what you are currently experiencing. In fact, it's 100 times better.
All the fears and challenges and difficulties you imagine are waiting for you - well, yes, they probably are. But if you look honestly at what you're currently doing, there are fears and challenges and difficulties there, too. It's just that you know what they are, and perhaps, if you're lucky, you feel like you have a handle on most of them.

Same is true once you take the leap. You'll adjust. You'll see the challenges. You'll rise to them.

And it will be way more fun and satisfying.

Do what you love. It's the only thing that will save you. Time is short. Life is short. Don't wait another minute to bring meaning into your life with all the energy you can muster.

If not now, then when? If not you, then who?

Love to you all!
jc

Monday, July 11, 2011

It's been a while...

Hi everyone,
So sorry for the long gap in posting. We've been quite busy over the last few months, both at Firefly Willows and at home. Sons are back from college, we had our first anniversary, and I went to my first Native American Sun Dance ceremony in June. It was a crazy month.

Plus, I got myself an iPhone 4 (better pictures and movies from my travels), and the Los Altos Art & Wine festival FINALLY yielded a couple of ear cuffs that I thought might work for me. Here's one...

I'm back now, with an armload of stories and experiences to discuss, and new plans to share. It just keeps on coming!

Here's a video from my iPhone of Montebello Open Space Preserve. I'm excited to be able to share more of my local hiking experiences!
video

So stay tuned to the Firefly Willows blog. Look for another post this week.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Snakes, Black Clouds, Walking on Glass

When things come into our lives, we recognize them as opportunities. The same is true when things leave our lives, but it's harder to recognize, sometimes.

My friend and colleague Annette Wagner (artist, high-tech refugee, leader of Creative Expressions workshops at Firefly Willows) wrote an interesting post about seeing and feeling shifts. Some of them are entrances, some of them are exits. Some of them are "letting go"s, some of them are "reaching out"s.

Its beautiful to watch, a blessing (and humbling) to participate, even in a small way.

Don't doubt the power of a kind word, a helpful insight, a shared perspective. To dance the great unfolding is a privilege. To dance it with those around us, fulfillment. Enjoy her post.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fear of Failure

Calling Myself Out

I'm not really sure how it happened.

I was having one of those deeply enjoyable, provocative conversations with my Warrior Friend (the one with whom I spar and joust, just to keep my edges trim and cutlass sharp), and in the middle of his sentence, it just happened.

A Rock in My Gut Dissolves and Fades Away
I could feel a big, black, invisible-but-tangible-thing in my gut - between my solar plexus and my second chakra. I could feel its outlines and its volume, perhaps for the first time. It was not just three-dimensional. It somehow also occupied space in that inner infinite universe that is in each of us. It wasn't exactly like a black hole. And it wasn't exactly like an obstacle.

It had the characteristics of a sterile space (not a void, which is full of potential, but rather a place in which nothing could grow). It also had an energy-generating characteristic, too - but not "good" energy. It generated negative energy, and compelled my body to generate energy to keep that negative energy at bay. So it was a "powered" thing - a device of an alchemical, spiritual sort, rather than an inert blockage.

I noticed all this only by way of noticing it start to dissolve around its edges. It was invisible until something about it shifted. (What is that kind of vision? Like the kinds cats and T-Rex's have? Field? Background? A quick Google search turned up nothing…).

It looked like the edges were kind of lit up, like the burning edges of a sheet of paper when it smolders.

And I felt an incredible loosening around it.

As the dissolution progressed, I felt some part of my gut react - "surprised" or "startled" that a pain that I had forgotten I bore was suddenly receding. Not a pain, really - a stress. A burden getting lighter.

Act I - The Setup

It happened because my warrior friend made a comment about my situation. We were talking about what it was like for him and for me in our professional circumstances. Our careers, once on very similar tracks, had diverged dramatically. He was now a CEO of a challenging startup. He was trying to create value from a true "fixer upper". High risk, high reward, high stress. High tech.


I had jumped the track, gone off-trail. I was blazing a path from ordinary-splashy through eccentric to downright odd and perhaps even embarrassing. I had decided to open a healing arts center in conservative, white-bread, fashionably old-fashioned Los Altos. Not Beverly Hills or Berkeley where eccentricity was part of the currency, but right smack-dab in the center of Protestant Work Ethic and Left Brain Conquers All Technology Executive Land.

What was I thinking? What was I DOING?

Oddly, at the time I started Firefly Willows, it didn't seem so odd, really. It seemed like it could fit in alongside spas and nail salons and such, if we played our cards right. The business plan was based on massage, a staple in these parts.

But a funny thing happened on the way. The business plan - the massage part of the business plan - fell flat. And other parts of the action seemed more vital, more true, more engaged. More honest, in a destiny kind-of-way.

As the months have worn on, we've been very busy. Firefly Willows is a handful of a toddler. At 13 months old (ten and a half since we opened), it keeps all of us very busy like that harried but joyful parent we all know.

And in the middle of all this is me, working every day to figure out where we're going, what we're doing, where we should be investing, what we should be emphasizing.

As the original business model showed its weaknesses, I tried to optimize and re-arrange and re-prioritize. And while we have had our successes, and those around me celebrate what we've accomplished, I've had this ongoing sense of dread and paralysis.

It's been hard to describe. But with help from many of my new colleagues - practitioners, workshop leaders, and friends I would never have met in high-tech - I've shifted block after block, recognized self-defeating behaviors and set intentions. I've made amazing personal progress.

And still, the dread. The paralyzing fear.

I reflect that despite my apparently successful life, I've had a fear of failure all along. A fear of not being good enough in other people's eyes. A fear of being laughed at for my incompetence and stupidity.

Of being a fool.

Where did it come from? It's been hard to identify. I have some handy stories that attempt to explain it, but I know inside that those stories don't really tell the tale. Why, when I have been given so many personal gifts (that I can readily acknowledge) do I feel like at any moment I could be the laughingstock of the community, the pilloried neighbor, the great disappointment?

Why am I so afraid?

I could not pin it down. No matter how hard I tried, no matter who I talked to, this painful, desperate perspective would not disappear. A deep, paralyzing anxiety - fear of failure.

Fear of Failure vs. Fear of Failure

It turns out my Warrior Friend also has fear of failure. But what was weird was that his fear is entirely the opposite of mine. His is a galvanizing, active fear. In other words, he does pragmatic things to preserve and protect himself. He has a job that pays him well. He cultivates connections. He observes the landscape around him and senses the presence of opportunity or danger.

He lives in the world. He does what it takes to survive and thrive.

Perhaps one could argue that this is not a fear of failure. But in a moment of lucidity, I saw it so.

And I was envious.

His fear of failure was so tractable, so manageable. So CONCRETE! Mine was so amorphous. I was not sitting on my hands; on the contrary, I've been working more, longer, and more productive hours than I have in most of my career. And yet this paralysis…

The Trickster Fixes the Game
Then my warrior friend said the magic words.

"You bet on yourself, John."

It was the last piece in a diabolical plan concocted by Coyote, the Trickster. Coyote medicine is the kind that you have to learn to love, after hating it for many many years. Coyote medicine is when the only way you'll learn what you have to learn is to be pantsed in front of the homecoming crowd at halftime at mid-field. And you get to have a good laugh at yourself while you figure out what just happened, because there is most certainly a valuable lesson that is much deeper than the obvious one.

That's Coyote. And he was sitting right next to my warrior friend, with a cunning, deranged grin on his face that night.

"You bet on yourself, John."

The words echoed in my ears and down my throat and into my heart. I really had bet on myself. There was nobody else. I was standing in the middle of a maelstrom of my own making. And I was in good and deep.

How could I have done such a thing without realizing it?

As the months have progressed at Firefly Willows, I have heard, occasionally, people say to me that I'm the motivating force, the center, the dynamic piece, the unique differentiator of Firefly Willows. I have always felt uncomfortable with those comments. I thought it was because of some kind of modesty. I held it as modesty.

But that's not why it made me uncomfortable. The truth is, those statements made me RESPONSIBLE. Responsible for Firefly Willows, for its success, for its vitality, its purpose, and its efficacy. And its costs - both financial and personal.

I did not realize it until I heard those words. "You bet on yourself, John."

I had? I had. I really, truly had.

I would never have done such a thing if I had known I was doing it. I would have chickened out. I would have backed away. In fact, I've been chickening out and backing away for a very very long time. I don't know when it started, or why - that's work for another day.

Today, I realize that, ummm, well, I … uhh... bet on myself.

And Coyote rigged the game not so that I would win or lose, but so that I would actually place the bet, knowing, as he does, that if I had been aware of the game, I would have kept talking about the table, but never stepping up to it.

The Art of the Con
As the incredibly well-orchestrated machinations of the Trickster culminated in this great "reveal", I stood stunned. Stunned at the amazing con. Stunned at my obliviousness. Stunned at the artistry of my guiding spirits providing me with the plethora of distractions required to keep my attention elsewhere while they get everything into position.

I feel like a character in either the The Sting, or A Hitchhikers Guide. The joke, to my ongoing amazement, is on me, played artfully by myself. And it's not a cruel joke, but a loving one.

Student and Teacher

They say when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I know this is true. I know
this is a fundamental part of the wiring of the Universe, of the presence of God in all things. The Coyote is the perfect illuminator of this fact, because of the way he operates. The truth it seems, is that I am my own teacher. Somehow, the divine in me is orchestrating the whole thing. When Coyote is in the house, it's just all the more unavoidably, painfully, amusingly obvious. I see that at a very deep, subconscious, transcendent level, I am the one creating the obstacles and the opportunities through which to learn, grow, and discover, whether through others or through the circumstances of my reality. And I recognize myself as the perpetrator of the mess and the teacher of the lesson all at the same time. Some part of me is waaaay ahead of me.

What Next? Fear Transformed
I felt - observed, because it was multi-sensory - that black alchemical fear device dissolve. I exclaimed to my Warrior Friend what was happening. He was surprised, too, and joyful for me. He wanted to know how and why.

What was happening was that my nameless, faceless, paralyzing fear - my anxiety - was becoming grounded. It was alighting, for the first time, on something tangible. Instead of "not knowing" why I was experiencing this fear, it became very obvious. I was now capable of experiencing the same fear of failure as my Warrior Friend. A pragmatic, practical, tractable fear, resolvable by taking direct action to secure my position, husband my resources, choose my path.

For the first time.

I know that sounds weird, but its true. For the first time, I see that my destiny is unavoidably and unequivocally my own, in ways that are concretely practicable. I have a responsibility to myself and my circumstances that I have never felt before. I have a clarity of obligation that goes very deep. Perhaps I have just come around to an old awareness at a new and deeper level, that spiral of growth where we walk old ground in new shoes, observe it with new eyes. It certainly feels different.

I now have a healthy fear of failure. The kind where I actually know what's bothering me, and can face it, and address it.

Breakthrough, Not Success
I've learned that every time I get one of these amazing breakthroughs in awareness about myself and my path, it's not a victory. Rather, it's just an opportunity to gather myself for the next period of growth. It can be exhausting, because finding the trail out of the woods is nice, but seeing that the trail leads steeply upward is…well…humbling?

And my old fear is replaced with new ones - Have I awakened in time? Who the heck is this clown that I've bet on? What are his skills? Can I count on him in the clutch? Is he ready for this kind of responsibility?

(Clearly, as we've already established, had I known I was betting on him, I wouldn't have.

Too late for that, though…heh heh...)

After Enlightenment, Chop Wood, Carry Water
I feel much better. I have a much clearer grasp on what is in front of me. I have much more sense of choice and free agency. I see how I can hold (and, unwittingly, always have held) the reins. I see, frankly, that I MUST hold the reins, and do so with awareness and integrity, for it is MY life expression that hangs in the balance, and it's MY responsibility to live it to its full potential. What others think about what I do is informative. What I think about what I do is essential. To abdicate that responsibility is to sully something sacred.

Now the work begins. Focusing my intention. Being honest with my reality. Asking for help. Saying no to that which does not serve me.

Wish me luck.