Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Reflective Reminder

OZ never did give nothing to the Tin Man
That he didn’t, didn’t already have
. - America

It’s oddly sunny this morning in what has been an otherwise rainy December. I’m looking out the office window at 501 Prospect Street, Petaluma CA. 2006 is about to run out the door. 2007 is walking in. A year beyond what I imagined at the last winter solstice is almost complete. What happened? A lot.

Sometimes I get caught up in the swirl of life and need to take time to remind myself what my journey is all about. That happened this year. This can be a good and necessary thing. Without the swirl we might forget that life takes effort and time and questions and answers. This is fundamentally important. When I notice that I’m getting caught up in the swirl I often engage in conversation with good people and I learn.

Earlier this year Richard Strozzi-Heckler and I were discussing a mutual friend who we were concerned about. Our conversation drifted into thoughts of living one’s last days – a very samurai kind of dialogue. I offered that I would like to live my last breath learning something totally new and yet to be appreciated. Today I’m realizing that shortly I’ll draw and yield my last breath of 2006 and begin breathing my 2007. As I do I’ll ask: What did I learn; what will I discover?

The past year has provided a deep appreciation for an important practice that began in January1975 for me, and then sharpened dramatically in January 1997. The practice of Being Here Now.

Being Here Now may sound too simplistic and esoteric to some folks to warrant serious consideration in the domain of leadership and organizational development, and completely “woo-woo” to others. But the greatest teachers and leaders of the past viewed it as essential, e.g. Marcus Aurelius, “all that is needed is in your way of thinking.” Simple it may be. Easy it is not. Indeed, living in the present moment – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually - is one of the most difficult and rewarding tasks one can engage in. It transcends action; it is about being-ness. The sages say that this is the key to understanding love, forgiveness and compassion. History’s greatest generals and warriors knew it to be their greatest ally and grounding point when faced with chaos, crisis and fear … and even victory. George Patton supposedly once said, “All victory is fleeting!”

I’m of the opinion that all practices, disciplines, undertakings, missions, abilities, etc. hinge on this single idea. It is the major discipline encouraged by the Allied Ronin offerings, and core to the Allied Ronin mission: Develop strong leaders, teams and organizations who perform through principled and constructive practices. All courses, programs, workshops, retreats, conferences, conversations, consultations and coachings open with Be Here Now as the anchor. It is foundational to the application of the three primary instructional tools employed in all Allied Ronin undertakings: (a) The JoHari Window (Luft & Ingham, 1955); (b) The Five Step Leadership Path (Giroux, 2000); and (c) The Dialogue Process (Isaacs, 1993)

Ten years ago - January 10, 1997 - I fell on some boulders and shattered my hip. My life had been running at a very fast pace… an even faster pace than 2006. That day it was if the universe stopped giving me hints about taking some time to attend to the NOW of my life. Rather, it grabbed me and shook me and threw me on the ground and screamed, “Hey you! Pay Attention! It’s time to stop … to slow down … and to begin to appreciate something.”

Reflecting back on the events of that day I see many immediate lessons – some of them hard to swallow – some I’m still coming to terms with:

• I began to realize that I sometimes live in denial, e.g. I wanted to believe the hip was dislocated, not broken, even though I heard the bone split. (I still deny things)

• I began to understand that sometimes I have to face aloneness, e.g. I was left on a beach by myself unable to get away from the rising tide and the surf while my buddy went to summon police and paramedics. (I still don’t like being alone)

• I began to grasp a more poignant appreciation of other human beings accepting them as they are, rather than as I would want them to be, e.g. lying on the sand I was approached and attended to by a homeless man who I initially pre-judged and feared. Yet he appeared on the scene and simply offered me a hand and some conversation. He kept me awake and possibly alive. (I still wish others would be different sometimes)

• I began to surrender my need to control others, and allow them to do things their way as best they could, e.g. the officers, paramedics, and firemen who finally arrived to take care of me did all the work. I went along for an hour-long wild (and painful) ride in a metal basket through waves, over slippery rocks, up the sand and across Santa Cruz CA in an ambulance. (I still try to control occasionally)

• I began to creatively and playfully deal with loss, e.g. I encouraged the ER personnel who had difficulty removing my clothes to “just cut ‘em off” rather than trying to figure out how undress me which would have caused further pain and possible injury. (I still don’t like losing now and then)

• I started practicing patience and looking at things from another’s perspective, e.g. the surgeon, Dr. Swartz, advised that he and his team would wait until the next day to operate rather than hasten the procedure (which the injury rightfully demanded) even though that to wait through the night would mean hours of severe pain for me. Why did he want to wait? Because he knew that he and his team would do a better job if they could perform in a well-rested state. As a good leader and excellent surgeon he assessed the risks involved, evaluated the situation, gave me his best advice, apologized for the pain, and supplied access to ample amounts of morphine. The next day he and the team did a miraculous job. (I still get impatient and insist on seeing things my way)

The initial eight weeks of recovery from January 10, 1997, opened a new understanding regarding the significance of Being Here Now. Over dinner one night with two friends, Paul and Nancy Nakai, who have been on a similar path of learning, I happened to share my insights. A few days later a book arrived from them for which I am still grateful – “Slowing Down to the Speed of Life: How to Create a More Peaceful, Simpler Life from the Inside Out” by Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey.

How does this connect with today, sitting here looking out the office window at 501 Prospect Street, Petaluma CA … with 2006 about to run out the door and 2007 about to walk in? Well, I’m still learning. That’s how.

In 2006 I was fortunate to visit some exotic and historic places: Confucius’ gardens and grave in the ancient city of Qu Fu, Amsterdam’s Dam Square, the Van Gough Museum, the narrow stairs leading into Anne Frank’s room where rests her actual diary and loose paper notes, the snow covered mountains in northern Slovakia, Krakow’s ancient castle The Wawel, Pope John Paul II’s birth place, the dirt streets and brown brick barracks in Osweicim, Poland (Auschwitz), the headwaters of the Wisla River, the Hungarian Parliament and Budapest’s Hero Square, and Hong Kong’s Star Ferry. I rode the cold damp all-night trains from Warsaw to Katowice to Ustron in Poland, and through Gyor to Komarom station in Hungary and then backtracked for hours by car through Gyor because I didn’t study my map … finally arriving at Hungary’s great Lake Balaton. I worked around the globe with a few thousand people, some young, some old, some rich, some poor - Poles, Chinese, Taiwanese, Hungarians, Estonians, Romanians and some from the Ukraine and saw firsthand how their similarities far outweighing their differences.

Without diminishing any of these historic and beautiful places, things and people, I have to say that anyplace can be an exotic, and any moment can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The power of what’s most important to me continues to be in the here and the now, right where I live. It’s just as beautiful and worth appreciating as the world out there. This doesn’t mean that traveling abroad is a thing of my past. On assignment I’m bound for Beijing in January, possibly Cairo in February, and most likely Krakow again in March. But here’s the truth for me. The unique beauty of Sonoma County and its rolling oak covered hills, the old timers eating stew at Pete’s Henny Penny Restaurant in Petaluma, a particular bench on a local county park hillside, the hawks and ravens riding ridgeline thermals above town of Valley Ford, the unseen insects singing their strange clicking chorus in branches above a driveway, morning coffee and tea at a hometown market, the rose bush that pricks my hand at pruning time after the first winter freeze, the school kids at recess laughing in the playground outside my back yard … all these are as magnificent or more.

Last night in preparation for the upcoming Allied Ronin Leader’s Retreat I watched the Bill Moyers’ interviews with Joseph Campbell - The Power of Myth. At one point Campbell, one of the greatest minds of our time, said, “Where we have sought to travel outward we shall come to the center of our own existence. Where we have sought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”

You have a strength, a gift, that is uniquely yours. When you find your strength, your gift, and you make a daily practice of developing it, you grow in your ability to constructively influence others to do likewise. This makes you a leader – even if you are not aware of the influence that you have. The more you practice, the more effective you become as a person of influence. This influence, this kind leadership is foundational, and it has nothing to do with title, rank, level of income, position, authority, age, gender or any combination of letters following your name attesting to formal education. Furthermore, when we as individuals come together and collectively practice developing our constructive strengths we grow in our ability to coordinate. In a very real sense, we dance. And with our dance we become strong as teams and organizations. This is important – this leadership through understanding constructive strength and this team and organizational development through coordinated practice. And it is so simple – though not easy. This is what Allied Ronin is fundamentally dedicated to. Nothing less. Nothing more.

Each of us has at least one core quality worth living, worth practicing, worth developing and worth unleashing. Yes, we all have our shadows, our weaknesses and our dark sides. But that we could focus our own and other people’s attention on constructive qualities and strengths rather than on destructive faults and weaknesses, I believe we could re-shape our world for the better. It begins at home. What does this take? A simple commitment to be present with self, with others with our environment, with our community … every day. It demands nothing short of that we Be Here Now.

The 1970’s rock group, America, said it all in one single lyric: “OZ never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn’t, didn’t already have."

Looking forward to seeing you in 2007 – whenever and where ever that may be!

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