Category: Men and Work
by David Kaisar
It’s been a long week, so I am just going to present this article, from the Harvard Business Review, on Nine Things Successful People Do, in list format, and I encourage you to read more.
1. Get specific.
2. Seize the moment to act on your goals.
3. Know exactly how far you have left to go.
4. Be a realistic optimist.
5. Focus on getting better, rather than being good.
6. Have grit.
7. Build your willpower muscle.
8. Don’t tempt fate.
9. Focus on what you will do, not what you won’t do.
Category: Men and Shadow
by David Kaisar
Here is an article by Anne Fisher at Fortune Magazine, discussing the proposition, “why do smart people do dumb things,” against the backdrop of Charlie Sheen’s struggles last year. She quotes yours truly, who has done some amazingly dumb things, despite being pretty smart, and as a result, has spent a lot of time working on this proposition, first to help myself, which led to an increasing ability to help others to become the best leaders they could be, despite struggles, failures, and blow-ups.
And why do blow-ups happen? Sadly, many reasons. One of which is that there are parts of our personality we keep locked up, in the shadows, because we don’t want to see them, and don’t want others to see them. And then, in a moment of stress or frustration, one of those parts gets out, and because they are immature and undeveloped, they go wild, and the result is a mess. Then we find ourselves wondering what the hell just happened, then having to pick up the pieces.
Did this happen to Charlie Sheen? I don’t know, but this sort of thing happens to us all, more often than we would like.
I just got my email inbox to Zero! It feels amazing! I am committed to keeping it there, too, through smart handling and tracking of priorities outside of my inbox. I am implementing a new system and this is one more step towards being fully relaxed and in control of my time and choices.
Category: Men and Health, Men and Money, Men and Shadow, Syndicated
Here is an excellent article by Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, at Fast Company, entitled Take Back Your Attention. His main thesis, one that my readers know I subscribe to as well, is that the computer, with email, FaceBook, Google, and a plethora of other fun toys and semi-useful activities, can be a distraction in addition to being a powerful tool. Here are some of the money quotes:
“The easier it is to indulge our desires, the harder it is to exercise self-control.”
“Human beings weren’t designed to manage the level of temptation to which we’re exposed every day. That’s why — irrational as it is — we take on more and more debt, grow fatter and fatter, continue to profligately spend down the earth’s finite resources ,and struggle to pay attention to anything for very long.”
“We now know, for example, that it’s more immediately exciting to flit from subject to subject than it is to stay concentrated on one thing at time.”
So what does he recommend? Here is the abridged version, I recommend you go read the full one.
- Let your deepest values become a more powerful guide to your behaviors
- Slow down
- Build deliberate practices
- Create “precommitments” to minimize temptation
- Share your commitments
- Start small
These practices will get your brain working for you instead of against you.
by Dave Kaisar
Scott Goodson wrote a great article at Harvard Business Review entitled “What is Your Brand Against.” Great question, since that also helps you to clarify your values and priorities. Here is what my brand is against:
1. Conformity and “fitting in”
2. Trading your soul for “secure job” (it’s a false trade these days, anyway)
3. Letting your email inbox dictate your work for the day
4. Low standards and dreaming small
5. Banning emotions, values, humor and spirituality from the workplace
6. Keeping your head down” and hoping the company will take care of you (it won’t)
7. The dull and predictable
What is your brand against? In a related, but separate question, what is your brand for?
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Translated by Professor D. L. Ashliman. I hope you will enjoy this fairy tale./em>
A father had two sons. The oldest one was clever and intelligent, and knew how to manage everything, but the youngest one was stupid and could neither understand nor learn anything. When people saw him, they said, “He will be a burden on his father!”
Now when something had to be done, it was always the oldest son who had to do it. However, if the father asked him fetch anything when it was late, or even worse, at night, and if the way led through the churchyard or some other spooky place, he would always answer, “Oh, no, father, I won’t go there. It makes me shudder!” For he was afraid.
In the evening by the fire when stories were told that made one’s flesh creep, the listeners sometimes said, “Oh, that makes me shudder!” The youngest son would sit in a corner and listen with the others, but he could not imagine what they meant.
“They are always saying, ‘It makes me shudder! It makes me shudder!’ It does not make me shudder. That too must be a skill that I do not understand.”
Now it happened that one day his father said to him, “Listen, you there in the corner. You are getting big and strong. You too will have to learn something by which you can earn your bread. See how your brother puts himself out, but there seems to be no hope for you.”
“Well, father,” he answered, “I do want to learn something. Indeed, if possible I would like to learn how to shudder. I don’t understand that at all yet.”
The oldest son laughed when he heard that, and thought to himself, “Dear God, what a dimwit that brother of mine is. Nothing will come of him as long as he lives. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”
The father sighed, and answered him, “You may well learn to shudder, but you will not earn your bread by shuddering.”
Soon afterward the sexton came to the house on a visit, and the father complained to him about his troubles, telling him how his younger son was so stupid in everything, that he knew nothing and was learning nothing. “Just think,” he said, “when I asked him how he was going to earn his bread, he actually asked to learn to shudder.”
“If there is nothing more than that,” replied the sexton, “he can learn that with me. Just send him to me. I will plane off his rough edges.”
The father agreed to do this, for he thought, “It will do the boy well.”
So the sexton took him home with him, and he was to ring the church bell. A few days later the sexton awoke him at midnight and told him to get up, climb the church tower, and ring the bell.
“You will soon learn what it is to shudder,” he thought. He secretly went there ahead of him. After the boy had reached the top of the tower, had turned around and was about to take hold of the bell rope, he saw a white figure standing on the steps opposite the sound hole.
“Who is there?” he shouted, but the figure gave no answer, neither moving nor stirring. “Answer me,” shouted the boy, “or get out of here. You have no business here at night.”
The sexton, however, remained standing there motionless so that the boy would think he was a ghost.
The boy shouted a second time, “What do you want here? Speak if you are an honest fellow, or I will throw you down the stairs.”
The sexton thought, “He can’t seriously mean that.” He made not a sound and stood as if he were made of stone.
Then the boy shouted to him for the third time, and as that also was to no avail, he ran toward him and pushed the ghost down the stairs. It fell down ten steps and remained lying there in a corner. Then the boy rang the bell, went home, and without saying a word went to bed and fell asleep.
The sexton’s wife waited a long time for her husband, but he did not come back. Finally she became frightened and woke up the boy, asking, “Don’t you know where my husband is? He climbed up the tower before you did.”
“No,” replied the boy, “but someone was standing by the sound hole on the other side of the steps, and because he would neither give an answer nor go away, I took him for a thief and threw him down the steps. Go there and you will see if he was the one. I am sorry if he was.”
The woman ran out and found her husband, who was lying in the corner moaning. He had broken his leg. She carried him down, and then crying loudly she hurried to the boy’s father. “Your boy,” she shouted, “has caused a great misfortune. He threw my husband down the steps, causing him to break his leg. Take the good-for-nothing out of our house.”
The father was alarmed, and ran to the sexton’s house, and scolded the boy. “What evil tricks are these? The devil must have prompted you to do them.”
“Father,” he replied, “do listen to me. I am completely innocent. He was standing there in the night like someone with evil intentions. I did not know who it was, and I warned him three times to speak or to go away.”
“Oh,” said the father, “I have experienced nothing but unhappiness with you. Get out of my sight. I do not want to look at you anymore.”
“Yes, father, and gladly. Just wait until daylight, and I will go forth and learn how to shudder. Then I shall have a skill that will support me.”
“Learn what you will,” said the father. “It is all the same to me. Here are fifty talers for you. Take them and go into the wide world, but tell no one where you come from, or who your father is, because I am ashamed of you.”
“Yes, father, I will do just as you wish. If that is all you want from me, I can easily remember it.”
So at daybreak the boy put his fifty talers into his pocket, and went forth on the main road, continually saying to himself, “If only I could shudder! If only I could shudder!”
A man came up to him and heard this conversation that the boy was holding with himself, and when they had walked a little farther to where they could see the gallows, the man said to him, “Look, there is the tree where seven men got married to the rope maker’s daughter, and are now learning how to fly. Sit down beneath it, and wait until night comes, and then you will learn how to shudder.”
“If there is nothing more than that,” answered the boy, “I can do it easily. But if I learn how to shudder that quickly, you shall have my fifty talers. Just come back to me tomorrow morning.”
Then the boy went to the gallows, sat down beneath them, and waited until evening. Because he was cold, he made himself a fire. However, at midnight there came up such a cold wind that in spite of his fire he could not get warm. And as the wind pushed the hanged men against each other, causing them to move to and fro, he thought, “You are freezing down here next to the fire. Those guys up there must really be freezing and suffering.” Feeling pity for them, he put up the ladder, and climbed up, untied them, one after the other, and then brought down all seven.
Then he stirred up the fire, blew into it, and set them all around it to warm themselves. But they just sat there without moving, and their clothes caught fire. So he said, “Be careful, or I will hang you up again.”
The dead men, however, heard nothing and said nothing, and they let their rags continue to burn. This made him angry, and he said, “If you won’t be careful, I can’t help you. I don’t want to burn up with you.” So he hung them up again all in a row. Then he sat down by his fire and fell asleep.
The next morning the man came to him and wanted to have the fifty talers. He said, “Well, do you know how to shudder?”
“No,” he answered. “Where would I have learned it? Those fellows up there did not open their mouths. They were so stupid that they let the few old rags which they had on their bodies catch fire.”
Then the man saw that he would not be getting the fifty talers that day. He went away saying, “Never before have I met such a fellow.”
The boy went on his way as well, and once more began muttering to himself, ” Oh, if only I could shudder! Oh, if only I could shudder!”
A cart driver who was walking along behind him heard this and asked, “Who are you?”
“I don’t know,” replied the boy.
Then the cart driver asked, “Where do you come from?”
“I don’t know.”
“Who is your father?”
“I am not permitted to say.”
“What are you always muttering to yourself?”
“Oh,” replied the boy, “I want to be able shudder, but no one can teach me how.”
“Stop that foolish chatter,” said the cart driver. “Come, walk along with me, and I will see that I get a place for you.”
The boy went with the cart driver, and that evening they came to an inn where they decided to spend the night. On entering the main room, the boy again said quite loudly, “If only I could shudder! If only I could shudder!”
Hearing this, the innkeeper laughed and said, “If that is your desire, there should be a good opportunity for you here.”
“Oh, be quiet,” said the innkeeper’s wife. “Too many meddlesome people have already lost their lives. It would be a pity and a shame if his beautiful eyes would never again see the light of day.”
But the boy said, “I want to learn to shudder, however difficult it may be. That is why I left home.”
He gave the innkeeper no rest, until the latter told him that there was a haunted castle not far away where a person could very easily learn how to shudder, if he would just keep watch there for three nights. The king had promised that whoever would dare to do this could have his daughter in marriage, and she was the most beautiful maiden under the sun. Further, in the castle there were great treasures, guarded by evil spirits. These treasures would then be freed, and would make a poor man rich enough. Many had entered the castle, but no one had come out again.
The next morning the boy went to the king and said, “If it be allowed, I will keep watch three nights in the haunted castle.”
The king looked at him, and because the boy pleased him, he said, “You may ask for three things to take into the castle with you, but they must be things that are not alive.”
To this the boy replied, “Then I ask for a fire, a lathe, and a woodcarver’s bench with a knife.”
The king had all these things carried into the castle for him during the day. When night was approaching, the boy went inside and made himself a bright fire in one of the rooms, placed the woodcarver’s bench and knife beside it, and sat down at the lathe.
“Oh, if only I could shudder!” he said. “But I won’t learn it here either.”
Towards midnight he decided to stir up his fire. He was just blowing into it when a cry suddenly came from one of the corners, “Au, meow! How cold we are!”
“You fools,” he shouted, “what are you crying about? If you are cold, come and sit down by the fire and warm yourselves.”
When he had said that, two large black cats came with a powerful leap and sat down on either side of him, looking at him savagely with their fiery eyes.
A little while later, after warming themselves, they said, “Comrade, shall we play a game of cards?”
“Why not?” he replied, “But first show me your paws.”
So they stretched out their claws.
“Oh,” he said, “what long nails you have. Wait. First I will have to trim them for you.”
With that he seized them by their necks, put them on the woodcarver’s bench, and tightened them into the vice by their feet. “I have been looking at your fingers,” he said, “and my desire to play cards has disappeared,” and he struck them dead and threw them out into the water.
After he had put these two to rest, he was about to sit down again by his fire, when from every side and every corner there came black cats and black dogs on red-hot chains. More and more of them appeared until he could no longer move. They shouted horribly, then jumped into his fire and pulled it apart, trying to put it out.
He quietly watched them for a little while, but finally it was too much for him, and he seized his carving-knife, and cried, “Away with you, you villains!” and hacked away at them. Some of them ran away, the others he killed, and threw out into the pond. When he came back he blew into the embers of his fire until they flamed up again, and warmed himself.
As he thus sat there, his eyes would no longer stay open, and he wanted to fall asleep. Looking around, he saw a large bed in the corner. “That is just what I wanted,” he said, and lay down in it. However, as he was about to shut his eyes, the bed began to move by itself, going throughout the whole castle.
“Good,” he said, “but let’s go faster.”
Then the bed rolled on as if six horses were harnessed to it, over thresholds and stairways, up and down. But then suddenly, hop, hop, it tipped upside down and lay on him like a mountain. But he threw the covers and pillows into the air, climbed out, and said, “Now anyone who wants to may drive.” Then he lay down by his fire, and slept until it was day.
In the morning the king came, and when he saw him lying there on the ground, he thought that the ghosts had killed him and that he was dead. Then said he, “It is indeed a pity to lose such a handsome person.”
The boy heard this, got up, and said, “It hasn’t come to that yet.”
The king was astonished, but glad, and asked how he had fared.
“Very well,” he replied. “One night is past. The two others will pass as well.”
When he returned to the innkeeper, the latter looked astonished and said, “I did not think that I’d see you alive again. Did you learn how to shudder?”
“No,” he said, “it is all in vain. If someone could only tell me how.”
The second night he again went up to the old castle, sat down by the fire, and began his old song once more, “If only I could shudder!”
As midnight was approaching he heard a noise and commotion. At first it was soft, but then louder and louder. Then it was a little quiet, and finally, with a loud scream, half of a man came down the chimney and fell in front of him.
“Hey!” he shouted. “Another half belongs here. This is too little.”
Then the noise began again. With roaring and howling the other half fell down as well.
“Wait,” he said. “Let me blow on the fire and make it burn a little warmer for you.”
When he had done that and looked around again. The two pieces had come together, and a hideous man was sitting in his place.
“That wasn’t part of the wager,” said the boy. “That bench is mine.”
The man wanted to force him aside, but the boy would not let him, instead pushing him away with force, and then sitting down again in his own place.
Then still more men fell down, one after the other. They brought nine bones from dead men and two skulls, then set them up and bowled with them.
The boy wanted to play too and said, “Listen, can I bowl with you?”
“Yes, if you have money.”
“Money enough,” he answered, “but your bowling balls are not quite round.” Then he took the skulls, put them in the lathe and turned them round.
“There, now they will roll better,” he said. “Hey! This will be fun!”
He played with them and lost some of his money, but when the clock struck twelve, everything disappeared before his eyes. He lay down and peacefully fell asleep.
The next morning the king came to learn what had happened. “How did you do this time?” he asked.
“I went bowling,” he answered, “and lost a few pennies.”
“Did you shudder?”
“How?” he said. “I had great fun, but if I only knew how to shudder.”
On the third night he sat down again on his bench and said quite sadly, “If only I could shudder!”
When it was late, six large men came in carrying a coffin. At this he said, “Aha, for certain that is my little cousin, who died a few days ago.” Then he motioned with his finger and cried out, “Come, little cousin, come.”
They put the coffin on the ground. He went up to it and took the lid off. A dead man lay inside. He felt his face, and it was cold as ice.
“Wait,” he said, “I will warm you up a little.” He went to the fire and warmed his own hand, then laid it on the dead man’s face, but the dead man remained cold. Then he took him out, sat down by the fire, and laid him on his lap, rubbing the dead man’s arms to get the blood circulating again.
When that did not help either, he thought to himself, “When two people lie in bed together, they keep each other warm.” So he carried the dead man to the bed, put him under the covers, and lay down next to him. A little while later the dead man became warm too and began to move.
The boy said, “See, little cousin, I got you warm, didn’t I?”
But the dead man cried out, “I am going to strangle you.”
“What?” he said. “Is that my thanks? Get back into your coffin!” Then he picked him up, threw him inside, and shut the lid. Then the six men came and carried him away again.
“I cannot shudder,” he said. “I won’t learn it here as long as I live.”
Then a man came in. He was larger than all others, and looked frightful. But he was old and had a long white beard.
“You wretch,” he shouted, “you shall soon learn what it is to shudder, for you are about to die.”
“Not so fast,” answered the boy. “If I am to die, I will have to be there.”
“I’ve got you,” said the monster.
“Now, now, don’t boast. I am just as strong as you are, and probably even stronger.”
“We shall see,” said the old man. “If you are stronger than I am, I shall let you go. Come, let’s put it to the test.”
Then the old man led him through dark passageways to a blacksmith’s forge, took an ax, and with one blow drove one of the anvils into the ground.
“I can do better than that,” said the boy, and went to the other anvil. The old man stood nearby, wanting to look on. His white beard hung down. The boy seized the ax and split the anvil with one blow, wedging the old man’s beard in the crack.
“Now I have you,” said the boy. “Now it is your turn to die.” Then he seized an iron bar and beat the old man until he moaned and begged him to stop, promising that he would give him great riches. The boy pulled out the ax and released him. The old man led him back into the castle, and showed him three chests full of gold in a cellar.
“Of these,” he said, “one is for the poor, the second one is for the king, and the third one is yours.”
Meanwhile it struck twelve, and the spirit disappeared, leaving the boy standing in the dark. “I can find my own way out,” he said. Feeling around, he found his way to the bedroom, and fell asleep by his fire.
The next morning the king came and said, “By now you must have learned how to shudder.”
“No,” he answered. “What is it? My dead cousin was here, and a bearded man came and showed me a large amount of money down below, but no one showed me how to shudder.”
Then the king said, “You have redeemed the castle, and shall marry my daughter.”
“That is all very well,” said the boy, “but I still do not know how to shudder.”
Then the gold was brought up, and the wedding celebrated, but however much the young king loved his wife, and however happy he was, he still was always saying, “If only I could shudder. If only I could shudder.” With time this made her angry.
Her chambermaid said, “I can help. I know how he can learn to shudder.”
She went out to the brook that flowed through the garden, and caught a whole bucketful of minnows. That night when the young king was asleep, his wife was to pull the covers off him and pour the bucketful of cold water and minnows onto him, so that the little fishes would wriggle all over him.
When she did this, he woke up crying out, “Oh, what is making me shudder? What is making me shudder, dear wife? Yes, now I know how to shudder.”
by Dave Kaisar
Stuart Walkley presents this article in the Training Journal on”The Tedium of Coaching,” in which he laments
“an industry with a low entry point on qualifications and experiences, no single system of accreditation and with a range from the totally exceptional to the totally inept all under the one word ‘coach,’”
and further mentions that
“often the coaching process drives us through a number of sessions, which appear to have some linear progression leading towards a pre-ordained conclusion. I blame Excel and PowerPoint for this.”
He ends with
“How I long for some stream of consciousness, for some wild, extravagant journey through the unknown – whether it be Joyce’s Ulysses or the madcap adventures of Tristam Shandy – I want someone who makes me feel full of life, joyful, strong, capable and fun. I want to enjoy the unknown journey far more than I want to arrive safely at a pre-determined destination.”
Stuart Walkley is the director of Oakridge Training and Consulting in the United kingdom.
I’m not sure what sort of coaches he works with, but that process does sound dull. I certainly agree that the the industry has a low entry point, there are many hacks and incompetents, and I encourage you to do your due diligence prior to hiring a coach. However, one thing I can tell you is that coaching is never linear, it is full of loops, steps back, dashes forward and occasionally crashes, and it is usually one hell of a ride, since we are often confronting challenges, behavior, thoughts and emotions that can be unknown, scary, sometimes dark, and it can put you in touch with an emotional and/or spiritual calling to be more than you are. To explain with metaphor, this is not like a software upgrade for your head, it is like a mythological hero’s journey, and it is a wonderful adventure for the bold and brave of heart. I love this journey, and I love guiding you through it. You are the hero in this story, I am more like Merlin, or Yoda (from Star Wars), or Giles (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). So, unto the breach dear friends!
Category: Men and Leadership
by David Kaisar, PhD.
Over at Harvard Business Review, Marshall Goldsmith discusses what he considers the mark of a good leader today, and contrasts it to leaders of the past:
Years ago, when most organizations were based on the hierarchical business model of the Industrial Age, great leaders were those who were unemotional, rational, even mechanistic. Those days are gone. Today’s leader, especially one who is in charge of a dynamic, global organization, finds himself or herself in desperate need of one key trait — self-awareness.
An organization’s success today depends on such a variety of talents and skills that no one leader could possibly be gifted in simultaneously. There are technological issues, global issues, financial issues, human resource issues, leadership issues, employee issues, legal issues, and more. A leader who is self-aware enough to know that he or she is not adept at everything is one who has taken the first step toward being a great leader.
I hear that. He continues on to recommend:
- Monitor your performance. Note areas in which you excel and need improvement. Communicate these to your team.
- Realize that failures and mistakes are just one step on the road to success.
- Recognize that being aware of the impact that your behavior has on other people is a critical leadership skill.
- Remember that when criticism is difficult to accept, there is probably some truth to it.
- And, finally, learn to give yourself and others credit for improving.
Category: Men and Shadow
This piece by David Kaisar originally appeared in Lifehack.
OK, this one may be a big surprise for many of you, but here it is, Shame can be your Friend.
1. Shame Indicates Your Vulnerabilities
First, Shame shows you what you believe about yourself, and what your vulnerabilities are. We all have our weak spots, and, when you think about it, wouldn’t you rather be aware of them than not? So, you may ask, how does this work? Great question, I’m glad you asked. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” When you feel shame, you are subconsciously consenting to what was said about you. Hmmm, sounds complicated you say. Fair enough, here’s an example. If someone were to call me stupid, it would roll right off my back. No part of me feels stupid. I have a PhD from the University of Chicago, and they don’t just hand those out for free. I have full faith in my intellectual abilities. Now, when someone calls me ugly, I feel a flush of shame, because when I was a kid, I felt ugly, and part of me still feels that way sometimes, so that indicates that I am still carrying around that belief about myself, buried in my subconscious. When someone insults you and you get upset, part of you believes the insult might be true, that’s insight into what you believe about yourself, and it indicates what you might want to work on as personal growth.
2. Shame Deflates Your Ego
Second, Shame deflates your ego. When you have done something that hurts yourself or others, you feel ashamed. When someone calls you on it, you feel even more ashamed. Both of those things are good, by the way. We all do things that violate our values (and that feeling of Shame can show you what those are, by the way!), and Shame is the emotion we feel in response to our values being hurt, just as physical pain is your body’s response to being hurt. Shame gets us out of our self-conscious ego that drives us to make selfish or foolish choices, and back into our values and our community.
3. The Back-Handed Compliment
Lastly, Shame is actually a back-handed compliment. You can only feel shame if you have a conscience and it’s working! Maybe you do something stupid or cruel, and you feel ashamed. That’s great! That means you are a decent human being with a conscience. A psychopath won’t feel shame, but you do, so you are a good person! The fact that you feel bad about yourself is actually cause to feel good about yourself! Shame also highlights what your values are, because you only feel it when you violate your values. Also, when you feel Shame, part of you knows you can do better. No one feels ashamed that they can’t fly or breathe underwater, because these are impossible! You may feel ashamed that you don’t make more money, but that means that you already believe you could be making more money! Another back-handed compliment! So, while Shame may be quite painful in the moment, if you reflect on it and deconstruct it, you can actually find a lot to be proud of (I know, weird, right?)
So, Shame shows you what you believe about yourself and what your vulnerabilities are, it deflates your ego, and it is actually a backhanded compliment! Not bad, that friend has a lot of wisdom and good advice for you, even thought it may seem hard to swallow at first.
Here is a rough cut of a video I am working on, entitled “Four Unusual Steps to Better Time Management.”
People often ask me what I mean when I speak of transformative language and of the healing power of words, and many times I don’t have a good answer for them, or a good answer that fits within the elevator we’re in or the train one of us is rushing to catch. The examples I have–of my own experience and of others–aren’t yet sound-bite-able, so I’ll sometimes yammer on until we hit an uncomfortable silence or the train door closes.
Kim Rosen, in her recent interview in The Sun magazine, “Written On The Bones: Kim Rosen On Reclaiming The Ancient Power Of Poetry,” offers a concrete example of one man’s experience of the healing power of poetry. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Kim and seeing her perform at the 2010 Power of Words Conference. Kim is an artist who embodies poems, committing them to memory and performing them , sharing them, witnessing them and bearing witness to them. The experience is often profound.
In Kim’s interview, she speaks about a man named Christopher: “[He] had been sent to me by his singing teacher, who felt I might be able to help him bring more spontaneity and emotion into his voice.” As I read about Christopher, I think back to an earlier version of me: a man who had to be prepared, who needed to be in control and who practiced a stoic disconnection from himself and others. How many men lock away spontaneity and emotion in order to be a professional at work, to be a “rock” in their relationships and to be secure in their “act-like-a-man box”? How many of us, of all genders, need to feel in control, pursue perfection at the cost of joy and feel ashamed of some emotions?
To help Christopher embody more depth in his performance, Kim gave him one of my favorite Rumi poems, Love Dogs, as translated by Coleman Barks. In this poem, a man cries to his god but is never answered and so he stops. Then, in a dream, he is asked why he stopped praising:
“Why did you stop praising?” “Because I’ve never heard anything back." “This longing you express is the return message.” The grief you cry out from draws you toward union. Your pure sadness that wants help is the secret cup. Listen to the moan of a dog for its master. That whining is the connection.
Christopher had trouble with the lines “The grief you cry out from // draws you toward union.” He kept rephrasing it, “The grief from which you cry // draws you toward union.” Christopher said that it sounded better to him, that it was more grammatically correct. The reflection of me that I see in Christopher is his perfectionism, his unbendingness to conform to a structure ill suited to the joy and freedom of ecstatic poetry. He was able to eventually say the words as Barks had intended them, which led to this:
The amazing thing is that when Christopher finally spoke the line the way Barks had written it, his voice broke, and this huge sob came bursting out. He was scared and embarrassed at first. He hadn’t let himself cry in public since he was a kid, so it was quite a stretch for him, but he did it. And that release freed his voice and his spontaneity.
This is an excellent example of the transformative power of language: “And that release freed his voice and his spontaneity.” Something in this poem resonated with a hidden part of Christopher that was ready to be revealed. And once revealed, it freed his voice, giving him more depth and breadth as a performer.
Ready to do something? Try writing about it.
Write about a time you held on too strongly to something—a rule, a way of being, an idea—and later realized that had you only let go, things would have gone differently, perhaps even better. How did you feel when you were holding on? How did you feel after your realization?
by Lex Woodbury
My wife, Jessie, and I lived back then in a two-story, two-bedroom cottage in a nice part of town near a California beach. A nature boy at heart, I spent most of my free time backpacking, mountain biking, and surfing. Jessie would accompany me on my sports’ travels only if it meant “camping out” in a decent motel. I would join Jessie on her jaunts to the new, must-see hotel from the travel magazine if she picked one with a nature zone nearby.
We could afford this because of our success with an executive search firm we started after we’d married. With Jessie’s background in marketing and mine as a vacation rental manager and English teacher, we made a good team. Jessie, the headhunter, worked best in the fluid atmosphere of risk, relying only on instinct. I was the calm one, part relational, part technical, so I functioned as Jessie’s wingman. I kept an eye out for bogeys, gave her a listening ear, while handling the office operations, taxes, and cash flow management.
One more thing, I’d married the woman of my dreams. When Jessie wore an A-line skirt and penny loafers, she became my perfect Girl-Scout-Cookie girl — a little bit preppy and a little bit sassy.
One sunny morning in April, with wild flowers blooming and the smell of sage wafting down from the canyons, I packed the SUV for our spring getaway, all set to go.
“Jessie are you ready?” I called upstairs.
She came down, walked right by me, sat down on the couch, and pulled her legs under her.
“I thought we were going four-wheel driving today?” I said.
“I thought so, too.”
“If we leave in fifteen minutes, we can beat the traffic.” I pointed to the Southern California Off-Road Adventure Guide. “Did you see any good trails?”
“I’ve been looking at baby books. Is there any coffee?”
“We can get some on the road.” I pointed to the car.
She took a sofa pillow and hugged it to her.
“Don’t do this to me,” I said.
“First, a dog. Now, a kid. The beautiful, independent, businesswoman I married is becoming maternal. This can’t be happening to me. What about our lifestyle?”
“It’s our lifestyle I’m thinking of,” she said. “Do you know how much a child could add to your life?”
“Yeah … bills! And who’s going to take care of it when we want to go somewhere?”
Jessie pushed back a length of her brown hair. “I want to have a child,” she said, “and I’m questioning the future of our relationship.”
That was bold. From baby books to all-or-nothing? If she wanted a baby and I didn’t, that left little room for negotiating, unlike compromising on a movie or a restaurant. My truck waited outside. I could get in and drive away. With the cash in my pocket and the stock I had in my own name from before the marriage, I’d be OK for a while.
Jessie had a right to a child, and she’d make a good mother. The issue was me. Could I adjust? After all, it had taken me six weeks to reconcile myself to the dog she’d brought home a few months before — a cute little Cairn terrier, just like Toto. But he got me so frustrated one night I almost took him out in the backyard and shot him. I would have done it, too, if I’d had a gun.
I came back cautiously, “So you want to change our lifestyle.”
“I want to have a family. I want to see what Lex, Jr. looks like. Don’t you?”
“In a way.”
I had fantasized about it, of course; most men have. But I had not accomplished my life’s plan. Some things, yes, but not enough to quit for a kid. But Jessie had a plan too: Career, husband, house, and family.
“Well?” she asked.
“We took the day off so we could get a head start on the weekend. What about Joshua Tree or Anza-Borrego?”
“We can go tomorrow. I’d like to do some personal errands today.”
“I just have to do this, Lex.”
She got up, took her keys, and went out. When she returned, two hours later, she asked if we could talk.
“Sure,” I said and turned off the TV.
“Remember that operation I had a few years ago?”
“Yes,” I said, sitting up. Previously, she had suffered a bout of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) and an operation had cleared away most of the scar tissue that had wrapped itself around her intestines.
“Today, the doctor said…”
“You didn’t tell me you were going to the doctor.”
“The doctor said he did not want us wasting a year trying and achieving only frustration. With a laparoscopy, he could see if any scar tissue had grown back and that would give us some information to go on.”
I thought to myself, “Information… That takes time… Time means delay… Delay means derailment.” Inside I smirked, but aloud I simply said, “I can’t argue against gathering information.”
The following week, we went in together for her laparoscopy. Using fiber optics, the doctor surveyed her organs and checked the opening of the fallopian tubes. His report: One tube–completely shut; no dye passed out; the other tube–as good as shut; dye passing only when he squeezed on it. The odds of an egg coming through on its own from the opposite direction were awful.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “natural conception is not going to work for you folks.”
At home, I fell quiet. On the one hand, blocked tubes meant no kid, and no kid meant lifestyle preserved. On the other hand, I had always assumed I could have a kid whenever I wanted. That it was in my control. Now life was telling me it was not in my control. I was in shock.
I had never lost a big one before. I’d certainly had some setbacks in life but I had managed basically to stay on track towards getting the meaningful things out of life.
It’s one thing to decide not to have kids. But to be denied? Having a baby may not have been number one on my list, but when someone tells me I can’t do something, it gets me to thinking. I started playing with scenarios to see what I could do.
|Lex Woodbury has written columns for the Los Angeles Times, Orange County religion page. He, teaches philosophy, ethics, and world religion in Sioux City, Iowa. He recently finished a manuscript describing the Jungian ups and downs of his journey into fatherhood. This essay is from that forthcoming book.|