Friday, December 29, 2006

something you cannot out-think or out-run

What will happen when you encounter something in your life that you cannot out-think and you cannot out-run? Many of you are facing something like this now - something that keeps you awake at night, your brain racing like a rat in a maze. Something that scares or discourages you. Something that makes you feel stuck.

It seems a strange thought for a time when we are all supposed to be bravely trumpeting the wonders of the coming year, the triumph of possibility and the return of the light. It is a time of year that is custom-designed for the self-help gurus (for individuals and for businesses) who offer such mesmerizing visions of control that we forget, for a few moments, that life does not permit control. There is always something waiting around a corner - something that we cannot out-think and we cannot out-run.

If you are reading other people this week, ask yourself: How will this be helpful to me when I most need the help? How will this be useful to me when none of my other tools are useful? What will this give me when brain power and speed are not enough?

There are answers. People turn stuck into amazing things. People between a rock and a hard place find out that there is no such thing as a solid surface. They learn that they can cope, that they can manage, that they can smile. They learn that will - as in free will or will power or the will to live - will endures and will creates and will gets people past the moments they can neither out-think nor out-run.

Will is more than instinct, although it draws on immense unconscious resources. Will is more than thought, although it pulls thoughts into being (where there's a will, there's a way). Take a moment today. Focus on what you will.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

through the surface of time

One of the unique pleasures of the blogosphere is that we get to visit people in the midst of their lives. Tonight, you may be able to smell the shortbread as it bakes in the background. It is too late for baking of course: it is too late every year. As I bake, I am listening to music, sometimes to carols. One of my favourites is "Cry of a Tiny Baby" by Bruce Cockburn.

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny baby.

It is a strange and difficult Christmas for me, with family issues and business issues looming large. Both my sons are working this Christmas; all four of us are moving in different directions. The tree is in the yard, not the living room. We grab moments here and there. It's a long way from a Christmas with little children.

It is a strange and difficult Christmas. It always is - not always for me, but always for someone. Redemption rips through the surface of time. Yes, I think. That's what labour feels like. Yes, it rips and rips are like tears and tears look precisely the same as tears, dropping on the screen. As the tears of a tiny baby, crying in the night. Babies do not protest the dark; they cry as the light hits them.

I hope you can smell the shortbread, faintly vanilla. It is crisp as it comes from the oven. I like it slightly browned at the edges, slightly toasted. There are only three ingredients: flour, sugar, butter. Yet no two people can make shortbread exactly the same way.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Check your state before you check your book

I am sympathetic to people who believe they can run their lives out of Palm Pilots and other calendars. I love to-do lists and I am a great fan of stationery stores. It pleases me to make lists of outcomes and check them off. I do it when I'm not busy.

Do I walk the talk when the going gets really busy? Not so much. I don't feel bad about it, either.

Stop, I tell myself (and others, if they ask). Remember who you are and who you want to be. Take a deep breath. Notice what you really believe to be both urgent and important.

My house is not yet decorated for Christmas, but dinner was really good. There are sugar cookies in a Christmas tin, and more cookies waiting to be baked and decorated. The gifts and wrapping paper are mostly bought, which is not quite the same as the gifts being wrapped. There are fresh flowers. By Sunday night, there will be people and laughter and too many courses of lovely things to eat.

In the meantime, there are moments when I stop. I breathe. I remember who I am and what I truly believe to be both urgent and important. Sometimes, I even scribble a list.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

make a wish for the world

Thanks to Mike Murray ( for this link. When you visit, you can leave a wish for the world. The site sponsors will donate $1 to charity for every wish. The sponsor page explains how it works, and where the money will go. They were at about 90 comments when I checked: if you leave a wish, they'll be one dollar closer to one million.

When you make your wish, frame it as positive (something that will happen, not something that will no longer happen; something that will be, not something that will cease to be). Make it something you want for the world, a chance to notice something right that could be even better or even bigger, a chance to wish something into being that has not yet been.

As you wish, listen to your heart beat. You'll find you can hear it, steady and strong and true. You'll find you can notice that the rhythm of your heart is a signal you send to connect you to the world for which you are wishing.

Monday, December 18, 2006

inspiring the people around you

When was the last time you inspired someone? I woke this morning to a very rewarding email from a young man who thought that a conversation with me had filled him with motivation and belief in himself. He even noticed that it happened because I believed in him.

It was not hard. It did not take a lot of time or an outpouring of energy. I was no more clever than usual - usual for me, and usual for many, many others. I did adopt a rock solid presupposition that he was capable of doing what needed to be done. I did take a few minutes to focus entirely on him, to listen to him, to encourage him, and to make a practical plan with him.

If you think you are not capable of being inspiring, take another look at the list above. Can you:
1) act as if you believe that someone has the strengths s/he needs?
2) focus entirely on that person for a few moments?
3) listen attentively?
4) say something positive and encouraging?
5) see practical steps to take?

It doesn't look very hard, does it? You know you can do everything on the list.

Try putting the steps together. Watch for the smiles.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

have you ever been bored?

How often do you find yourself bored? You are in a meeting, or a hallway, or a party. Someone else is talking. You listen and nod. You listen and squirm. You're not really listening, but you are held in place, a butterfly pinned to a board. Minutes pass - very slowly. You squirm and try to focus on thoughts of your own. You check your watch. You sigh.

Give yourself a shake and ask yourself: in a life where time is not a renewable resource, why on earth do you allow yourself to be bored? Although you do not know what the limit will be, you do know that the thoughts you can think are finite: why would you waste something you can neither supplement nor replace?

There are only two ways to be bored: the first is to refuse to enter into someone else's enthusiasm. You have all the abilities (natural and developed) that you need to notice and respond to someone else's excitement or intensity. You can accept their train of thought, match their body language, expression and gestures, and pretend that you are feeling what they are feeling. That's not hard. It's actually harder to stay separate from what they are feeling. If you are bored in the presence of someone who is energetically explaining, it's because you do not want to enter into that state of energy. If it's a useful state, you should enter it.

If it's a negative state (the person is energetically angry, tense or intolerant), you should stay out of it. If you are conscious of staying out, you will be uncomfortable and focused. You will not be bored.

The second way to be bored is to connect with someone who is, himself (or herself) bored. Don't do it. You have the strengths, capabilities and responsibility to maintain your natural enthusiasm in your limited time. If a teacher, presenter, boss or colleague is bored, stay out of connection. Don't make eye contact; don't mirror their body language; don't let their rhythms become your rhythms. If you're already connected, moving back into your own more energetic, focused state might even lead the other person into a better state of mind.

The butterfly pinned to the board is stuck. You are free to fly.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

small talk

Think about some of the people you are really glad you know, people who energize or interest or comfort you. When did you first meet them? Pick one at a time, and let your mind go all the way back to that first encounter. Were there fireworks or parades to let you know that this was the start of something big?

Most of us start small. We meet someone through a shared acquaintance or shared activity. We exchange a few words in a few minutes. We walk away thinking "nice guy" or "bright lady." Sometimes, it barely registers that we have met someone new: the meeting flows quickly away in the data stream.

Except something clicked somewhere. Some small light went up on a dashboard somewhere in our heads, that told us to welcome a second conversation, or to remember this person if we encountered a particular set of circumstances in the future. Somewhere, we knew we had a place for this person in the ongoing story of a project, a career or a life.

This is one of the times of year when we meet lots of people - sometimes for the first time. Stand at the edge of a room for a moment and watch the people as they mingle. Notice that each is looking for the people who fit into one of the stories that they are living - stories with rivals and supporters and bit players with key pieces of information. They are not trying to judge the absolute worth of the people they meet, only to notice the "click" that says that someone will enter their stories again.

Think of those people who came into one of your stories, those people who have energized or challenged or nurtured you. Remember the small talk that marked the moment when something clicked and you knew just enough to meet these people again, just enough to begin the small relationship that would develop into something big.

Friday, December 01, 2006

baby steps

Often when we enter new territory or begin big changes, we are advised to remember to take baby steps. For the past two days, I have studied the concept of baby steps with an expert: Abby is 14.5 months old. Here's what she has taught me so far:

1. Steps are only one way of getting around; climbing, crawling and holding up your arms for a lift all work fine too.

2. Baby steps are a little wobbly. It helps to cushion your bottom so you can giggle when you fall.

3. It's more fun to take steps with a hand to hold (and you move faster).

4. Jumping up and down doesn't move you very far (except onto your well-padded bottom).

5. Babies take steps with wild eyes and fearless hearts; a giant leap may become possible at any time.