“Forgiveness is not condoning. It’s not giving up. It’s not making the other person right. It’s not allowing for future injustice.

It’s setting yourself free of resentment so you can experience more peace and ease right here and now.”

by Sylvia Brallier (originally posted on her Facebook page)

A holy man was having a conversation with the Lord one day and said, “Lord, I would like to know what heaven and hell are like.

The Lord led the holy man to two doors.

He opened one of the doors and the holy man looked in. In the middle of the room was a large round table. In the middle of the table was a large pot of stew, which smelled delicious and made the holy man’s mouth water.

The people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles that were strapped to their arms and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful. But because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.

The holy man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. The Lord said, “You have seen Hell.

They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one. There was the large round table with the large pot of stew which made the holy man’s mouth water. The people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons, but here the people were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking. The holy man said, “I don’t understand.”

“It is simple,” said the Lord. “It requires but one skill. You see they have learned to feed each other, while the greedy think only of themselves.”

Sorry, I don’t know the source of this parable.

The Equus Project -- photo by Arthur Fink

These pictures were taken of the Equus Projects — a company of dancers who work mostly in relationship with horses on the ground.  This is not about fancy riding, but about dancing between species.  I had the privilege here to work with Joanna Mendl Shaw and some  of their dancers as they first got to really meet these wonderful horses.

(Of course all of these images are for sale as archival framed prints.)

Continue to see more images in this series. Read the rest of this entry »

Sometimes clarity converges!  I was thinking my next blog post, playing with thoughts about abundance, scarcity, and sharing, when I received a Facebook message from my new friend Arne Van Oosterom asking whether making oneself obsolete could be a useful business model. That was the connection I needed to bring together personal sensibility and business productivity.

Many consultants set themselves up as the expert — the priest of a certain domain of knowledge and understanding.  They encourage dependency, and at first reward that with reliable grounded recommendations to their clients.  But the resulting dependency is not healthy.

The healthy alternative is to be as transparent as possible, share not just the result but the process as well, make known the sources and references that you use — in short to act as if the client is about to be on his or her own, with the consultant/guide becoming  obsolete.  Of course the most common result of this approach is that one becomes more valued.

The distribution of material goods may follow a “zero sum game rule”.  More for me  means less for you.   But give away information or understanding, and you have more.  That’s sound thinking (and good morality) in any modality, and it’s particularly relevant in a social networking environment.

[I could now continue this post in several directions, but, instead, will get ready to go visit some friends for a second thanksgiving.  In the spirit of what I’ve written, though, I encourage all of you to continue it via your comments on this site.  There’s an exciting community of thoughtful people reading this blog, but most of you say so little.  Here’s an invitation!]

Listening with love

November 27, 2009

Can we hear each other with Love, searching to find the truth — perhaps even  the Divine Inspiration — in each message we read on-line, or that we hear in person?

When we fail to find truth in a message that is important to us, can we still sit with it, listen or pray for guidance, and search carefully for the best response that is possible from us?

Can we feel the pain of those whose views, which may not be “popular” views and with which we may not agree, are treated with derision or scorn?

Can we create in each encounter the same community of  love and respect that we seek to create in other aspects of our lives?

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist.

Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the top musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written,with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty?

Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing.

— Unknown writer, but see this link for more information.

How art acquires value

November 25, 2009

I might spend an hour, a day, or a week in a dance studio, take a number of pictures, print a few, frame one, hang it in a gallery, and sell it for $200 or $1,200, or might imagine selling it in New York for $2,400 or $24,000.  How does such art acquire value.  Clearly it’s not the cost of paper, ink, and framing materials.  Nor does it translate into my time by any simple formula.

To help understand what’s going on, I asked this question on Facebook:  “Wondering how art acquires value … my art, and yours?”.  The responses I received form an interesting dialog.  I’m reproduced most of the text, with only a little editing, below.  The responders were Deidre Johnson, student at the Muskie School of Public Policy, who has worked at several architectural offices; Gary Gurney, a certified rolfer, who also has several creative business ventures’ Ellis Vener, photographer and writer about photography;  Scott Augé, systems analyst and programmer; and Stoney Cook, dancer, lighting designer, and computer professional.

Deidre: Value is built, one brick at a time, so to speak. Value is the equity accumulated over time, with one’s energy and integrity (learning, exploring, community, intuition and hard work); on the skirt tail of broad insight. It applies to any profession, purpose or art; everything else is false advertising. Read the rest of this entry »

We had an affectionate connection to our Quaker meeting house in Portland, but it didn’t work very well.  The circulation was poor, so that after meeting for worship, visitors had a hard time finding refreshments, and we had a hard time finding each other.  There was no handicapped accessible bathroom.  And we knew that with our growing population of young families, we’d need more space for children’s programs.  We could imagine adding more space, but not any natural way to cure our building’s problems.

Than misfortune hit us with grace.  Part of the plaster ceiling in the meeting room had detached from its framing, and so we hired a contractor to remove and replace that ceiling.  They had just started the demolition face when the whole ceiling fell — exposing framing that was dangerously weak.  Luckily nobody was hurt. At one point in our history, there had a been a removable partition dividing the meeting room into separate area for men and women, and when that had been taken out some important structural members had been compromised as well.  Luckily the pending failing of these beams was announced by the falling ceiling, and we were able to put up temporary bracing to make the space safe.

But now there was no putting off major work on our building.  We engaged as one of our meeting members, Chris Wriggins, as  architect for this project.  His recommendation to us was startling and disturbing.  Chris noted that our meeting room was a long rectangle, and that by simply removing one end of that room and turning that space into a wide hallway, we’d have excellent circulation right through the core of our building.  There would be enough space to create a new wide stairway to the lower level, with a power lift riding alongside that stair.  That would make the already large bathroom accessible to all.  Finally, we could put a modest addition on the rear of the building, creating new classroom space.

What was disturbing about this plan was that it entailed cutting off part of our meeting room — and that room was our reason for existing.  It seemed unthinkable that we’d diminish that space — at least until we thought carefully about it.  But we realized that the meeting  room, even without that end, was large enough for almost all our gatherings.  And for those events where we couldn’t fit, the space in question wouldn’t make any difference.  (Very large funerals were typically held at another church in town.)  Finally, we tended to arrange chairs in a circular formation, so making the room more square might even feel like an improvement.

We decided to go forward with this plan, and have found that the renovation turned out to be an improvement in every way.  The meeting space feels more comfortable, circulation is better, the addition does provide important new space, and the overall project was not as costly as many of us feared.

I tell this story to illustrate some key points in this design thinking:

  • Chris Wriggins, the architect, was able to put aside emotional reactions and look clearly at the space and circulation issues presented.
  • His solution represented a new paradigm for how to deal with the building.  (Rather than just add the spaces we said we needed, he changed the whole building’s circulation.)
  • While the solution seemed obvious once it was put forth and argued, it was “out of bounds” to most of us before that.
  • The solution was remarkably simple.

What enabled Chris Wriggins to see this simple solution, while the rest of us couldn’t even imagine it?  He’d never seen exactly this problem before, or even one that was very close.  He had no special tools, and no advanced technology.  As a member of our community, he shared our emotional connections to the space and how it was used.

Clearly, something in his training led to a kind of design thinking that led him to a crucial idea that was the key to this solution.  I wish I could explain — actually wish I could fully understand — that design thinking.  But suffice to say that it is distinctive, that it’s of special value, and that it’s relevant in most aspects of our institutional and individual lives.  Design thinking is central.

About creativity

November 24, 2009

Creativity requires the courage to be free!  You don’t look for a creative idea, a great photo, a wonderful tune.  You look, look inward, and see what you find.  What you find may be your own creation.

This must become a discipline, a practice.  It will never be perfect.  But, once in a while, a great creative piece may emerge.


People generally don’t come to me for “coaching” (I prefer to call it clarifying) because their lives are working well, because their creativity is flowing, or because their organizations are functioning at maximum potential.  They come  because of perceived gaps, deficits, problems, and challenges.

Typically we’ll start work with the client filling out “Wheel of Life” forms, such as the one shown at the left.  This one focused on personal issues such as health and family’ others are more about business or work, creativity and production, organizational health.

My clients probably assume that I’ll zoom right into those quadrants with the lowest score or ranking.  If “health” or “personal growth” is the area of least success, isn’t that the place to start?

“No!”, I insist.  Instead we start with the best ranking areas, reviewing what efforts, what paradigms, what personal initiatives led to that success.  By experiencing, and reviewing, how we succeed in some areas, we can best plan our success in others.

This chart focuses more on management skills and tasks, such as planning, team building, maintaining accountability.  Most managers experience challenges with some of these areas, while enjoying success with others.

Coaching (or clarifying) is not a substitute for skills training, but it can be critical in bringing out those skills when needed.  Sometimes what’s needed is not a whole new skill set,  but just a metaphor, a paradigm, or an idea.

One client of mine was challenged bringing out the aliveness in one of the managers who reports to her.  My asking, “How did I just get that strong response from you?” was all the hint she needed.  We each model behaviors for those around us.  The  questions I was asking her were part of our coaching — they were also tools she could use with her staff.

This model is not complex, and is can be completely transparent.  Most coaches have no secret agenda, or magic method.  By asking cogent questions, offering honest support, and allowing our clients space to think, to respond, to take charge, and to grow, we get to see incredible results.

Many years ago General Electric acquired the small firm that I worked for, and my job changed from being a a senior figure in this firm to a mid-level manager within one of GE’s companies.  This was not my dream job, and when GE had a “reduction in force” I was delighted to be able to leave it with a very desirable packet of benefits.  The one I thought I didn’t need was the job counseling — but it turned out to be one of the most valuable benefits I received.

“Don’t just write a resume of positions you’ve held”, the counselor told us.  “Think of all the times you’ve added value to your company, or to a client, and write each of these up as a ‘worth point”.  Your resume should be a set of these worth points, and you can save others for use in particular job interviews.”  The format of a “worth point” was very specific:

  1. In my job, I noticed a need / opportunity.
  2. Responding to that, I took initiative — with very specific action
  3. My company / organization experience some direct benefit from my effort.

For example:

  1. We wrote custom specifications for each of our clients.  I noticed that many elements of each spec were common.
  2. So, I designed a generic specification form, that would make it much easier to re-use specifications pages from one document in another (that was for a different client).
  3. As a result, the time to prepare each spec was reduced by xx%, typically a saving of $yyy.

I ended up working for myself as a consultant, and never again seeking a full time job, but this advice in building my resume was still very helpful.  I learned to think of what I was doing as adding value, rather than just performing tasks.  And when telling prospects about how I can help them, my story is not about thingss I can do, but about how my work will add value.

Indeed, clients hire me to add value to their organization, and not just to provide a product, perform a service, train somebody in a skill.

When asked to help clients in marketing strategy, this idea informs the question that I always ask them:  How will you add value to your clients?

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds.

There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you.

Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

— T.H. White, “The Once and Future King”

Back from Holland — lots to write about, but first a few pictures:

Each week I’m delighted to receive  “A Pause for Beauty” — a wonderful newsletter that comes free of charge from Heron Dance. Each issue contains a beautiful watercolor illustration (the original is for sale,  as are cards, prints, etc), along with some spiritually enriching or life affirming text.  The following arrived with issue #144 (sent July 14, 2002):

“One does not need to fast for days and meditate for hours at a time to experience the sense of sublime mystery which constantly envelops us. All one need do is notice intelligently, if even for a brief moment, a blossoming tree, a forest flooded with autumn colors, an infant smiling”.

“Simon Greenburg”, from “A Grateful Heart” by M.J. Ryan

The reality that is present to us and in us:
call it being … Silence.
And the simple fact that by being attentive,
by learning to listen
(or recovering the natural capacity to listen)
we can find ourself engulfed in such happiness
that it cannot be explained:
the happiness of being at one with everything
in that hidden ground of Love
for which there can be no explanations….
May we all grow in grace and peace,
and not neglect the silence that is printed
in the centre of our being.
It will not fail us.

Thomas Merton, in “Prayers for Healing”

“Designers don’t follow trends — we make them”.

Quote from Brook DeLorme, clothing designer, as she spoke before a business networking group, and was asked how much she follows and responds to fashion trends.  Her web site is www.Brookthere.com, and her store / workspace is located at 37b Wharf Street in Portland, Maine.