Saturday, December 05, 2009


Principle: The starting point of movement,

such as we find at either end of a measure

of length or a stretch of road.

- Aristotle (Metaphysics Book ∆, Chapter 1)

It's a clear California dusk, forty-eight hours after Thanksgiving. The sun is dropping fast tonight. My Arizona holiday week spent with four-dozen friends and family members is over. Things happen for me when I cross the state line and step onto Arizona soil. I don't know how to explain this, but the ground there has a certain familiarity, whether standing or when I fall, balance lost, on outstretched hands. I did both this trip. The dry Arizona air is familiar too, as are the odors of new rain and washed soil carried by it. This is the land from which I grew.

Passing through Joshua Tree National Park some days ago I found myself wondering how a person unfamiliar with the dessert southwest might perceive this arid open space. Lifeless? Actually, Joshua Tree is quite a forest, though not of fir or pine, redwood or spruce. But it's there and full of life; and as with opportunity, one has to pay attention and see it. It's all around and overwhelming, provided one pauses long enough to look.

The mountainous route I took was a few hours distance from where I grew up. Territory unvisited by me until this past weekend; breathtaking badlands separating Kingman, Arizona from Laughlin, Nevada. My brother told it would be this way, breathtaking. But I hadn't an idea of what he meant until I was there looking upon it myself.

There are a lot of things others have told me about, that I have had no idea of until I experienced them on my own. Ever find that true for you? Someone, a friend or relative, relates something to you. You wonder what they are talking about. Then one day you live through it yourself, and your perception changes in a big way. Thinking you know something is quite distinct from knowing something through an experience.

As the 2009 dims I want to call your attention to the articles that have appeared in this newsletter over the past eleven months: Seeds (Nov); October Potpourri (Oct); Food for Thought & Action (Sept); A True and Short Story (Aug); What Grabs you? (July); Profound Learning (June); Don't Lose Your Attractiveness (May); Breathing and Service (Apr); Thoughts from Taiwan (March); An Interview with George Hersh (Feb); In the Face of Fear, Take a Deep Breath (Jan). If you didn't read some of the above articles, or if you don't recall them, spend some time to revisit at They are there for your reference and use.

The articles were written with a singular purpose: serve constructive effectiveness. The events of the last twelve months here in the United States and elsewhere in the world indicate that being effective in constructive ways is important. My hope is that we have learned from the last twelve months and will change course. My concern is that as the road to recovery widens we'll get lazy and forget, make a show of it, and not change course. But I don't want to dwell on fear.

The road of November took Susan Hammond and me to La Jolla (California) to serve the 125 executives and managers of Event Network attending their annual conference called The Huddle. We delivered "The Art of Practice & The Event Network Dojo" - an exciting and powerful short course of integrated study now available to the public and organizations through Allied Ronin.

The November road also took me to Brisbane (Australia) where Paul Marshall ( completed his training and certification to become Australia's first certified Samurai Game® facilitator. There we conducted a public offering of Developing the Warrior Within™, and then we served St. Agnes Primary School as the seventh grade class engaged in the Samurai Game®. Congratulations Paul!

And finally, the road led to Phoenix, Scottsdale, Meyer, and Prescott (Arizona) to connect me with associates and clients, and then to enjoy family, friends. Meyer and Prescott are special - my father's birthplace and hometown respectively, and the towns where his parents and grandparents lived out their lives. In Prescott I walked familiar streets in front of old saloons and homes, and stood aside fences and trees where in my youth katydids buzzed their summer nighttime songs before breaking shells to fly off into less constrained - at least for a while - lives. In Meyer I walked the dirt road on the ridgeline above town to the family plot where etched names and dates will endure for as long as marble can withstand the rain and wind, and the sun and snow.

Three days from now the road of December will lead me to Mexico City to serve with Luis Dominguez (A to B Mexico) and work with Jenaro Pliego Fox (Allied Ronin Associate and Mexico's first certified Samurai Game® facilitator). And then on December 10-11 to work with and serve Roberto Martinez and Dr. Rafael Lopez as they continue their journeys regarding facilitator certification.

These journeys have me thinking about some of the past eleven months' articles, which like recent roads, have been along. No need for that today. Just a few questions to dwell on as days grow short and 2009 closes. It is a natural time for reflection.

The people and places that we have surrounded ourselves with over a lifetime form the soil from which we have grown. At this moment we cannot change the facts of that soil. But we do have choice about how we relate to it. We can affect the result that the soil will have by how we step through it: (1) honest acknowledgement, (2) attention to how it continues to show up, and (3) by engaging in practices for future constructive results. Each step is important, must be attended to and not skipped over or avoided.

The people and situations that we currently surround ourselves with on a daily basis form the soil from which we will grow our tomorrows. There ought be no denying that the soil in which we find ourselves - who and what we surround ourselves with - influences our future.

A Reflection.
What past do you come from each day?
Does this serve what you want?
Who and what do you surround your self with each day?
Do they, does this, serve: (1) what you say you are about and (2) your future?

An opportunity.
Before December 31st arrives and the time comes for resolutions what actions can you, will you, take regarding this? What practices will you engage in? How will you till your soil?

Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished:

If you're alive, it isn't.

-Richard Bach (Illusions)

© Lance Giroux, October 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


The book is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, recommended to me by Dr. Alan Vann Gardner and given to me by my daughter, Caroline. Gladwell’s other come-highly-recommended-to-me works are: The Tipping Point and Blink.

I’m in Australia, sitting at Genoveve, a funky little coffee shop in Brisbane’s funky West End. It’s 6:15 a.m. November 13th here, making it November 12th afternoon back home in the States. I just phoned a client there and told him (almost demanded, actually) to buy Outliers before the sun goes down, and to read Chapter 7 – The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes – before bed. “That’s how much this thing has hit me,” I said. My client was in his car as I was placing the call. We ended the conversation with him pulling into a parking lot at a book store to make the purchase.

I can’t go into the reasons for my urgency – that’s privileged information. But I will say this, if he thinks I was out of my mind then I’ll willingly pay whatever price I need to, because from my vantage point he, his organization and the people who work for him are worth much more than my looking foolish.

I need to introduce Outliers to my son; but a different chapter and for different reasons. For him it’ll be #8 – Rice Paddies and Math Tests. I won’t call and push him from Australia. The odds that whereas my client probably appreciates this morning’s effort, my son will think I’m nuts. I’m his dad, not his consultant. Different relationship. Different backgrounds. Different situations. Definitely, different states of urgency, but, none-the-less, important.

I’m going to recommend Outliers to everyone coming to this year’s Leaders’ Retreats. The Winter 2010 Retreat is just two and a half months away – January 23-27. The Summer 2010 Retreat will be August 21-25.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Fix your thought closely on what is being said,
and let your mind enter fully into what is being done,
and into what is doing it.
-Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD)
#31, Book Seven, Meditations

A day after returning home from the UK late last month I crested the ridgeline west of Petaluma and was greeted by a carpet of verdant grass miles wide and deep spreading across Two Rock Valley. The week prior, before leaving on the trip, the same grass was dull brown. A couple of early fall storms had dropped enough rain to remind our little town and the adjoining valley that something is always just below the surface waiting to grow. Looking down at the rich expanse I wondered if this was the kind of green that L. Frank Baum imagined when he wrote of Oz?

It is November. We are enjoying warm autumn days here in Northern California, though gray days are not far off. The trees speak, "Change is constant." Outside the window at Peet's Coffee, where I sit writing, they stand as silent torches, red and orange flames silhouetted against a crisp blue sky. Soon colors will fall. The sky will cloud over and yield to shade and shadows. But the already green grasses over the ridgeline will continue to brighten, urging us to be patient. Another cycle of growth will happen. Days will lengthen. Buds will swell. Boughs will fill. The air will bustle and buzz.

Night before last a few friends and I gathered for dinner. Our upbringings are widely diverse. We share a broad swath of professions: CPA, green building expert, master somatic body worker, senior business exec, and others. As our evening unfolded the conversation turned to genetic engineering of seed, and the far reaching impact (real and potential) this can have on food, corporate governance, legal systems (local to global), life forms, and human beings yet to be born here and abroad. It was lively talk. Two are particularly schooled on the subject. They had a lot to say. I spent a fair amount of time listening. As I did, my thoughts drifted to seeds of a different nature.

I. Fertile Fields

My mentor of years past (1975-1983) described the mind as a fertile field. His major message was that the seeds (thoughts) which you plant in this field (mind) will grow. He didn't say they might grow. He said they will grow. An understanding of this, he admonished, was fundamental to success. One should be conscious of what was being planted, stand guard over his or her field, and be vigilant about what might blow in.

One may have argued, "Not everything grows." But consider: maybe they (thought seeds) always do grow, just not in an abundance that might be noticed. Or, maybe these seeds take longer than realized to germinate. It may take some patience to actualize. And because of the length of time the seed requires, it's possible to forget that the planting occurred. Months or years later one wakes to a surprise, which really shouldn't be a surprise.

On the subject of accountability he would say that people ought periodically weed their mental gardens just as they would a back yard garden; getting down to the roots lest the weeds take over or return. He strongly referenced the affect that emotion has on result. "Emotion," he would say, "is the catalyst, the fuel that causes an idea to become reality!" This message encourages honest fun, playfulness, positive tone, rhythm, song, dance as part of the constructive creative process. Conversely it warns against wallowing in cesspools of negative feelings, anger and pity pots. Stink'n think'n, no matter how rightly justified, produces poor outcomes at best, and destructive outcomes at worst.

II. Granddad and Ray.

Ray, Arizona is a town that isn't anymore. Not just a ghost town. Ghost towns have structures, paths and streets, shutters flapping on hot afternoons or during winter deluges. Wiped off the earth by an ever-expanding copper mine, Ray became a non-town in the 1960's and is now only a memory. It exists simply in thought. Yet, in thought it impacts the lives of those of us who were born or once lived there.

Bud Ming was the town's old man. He wore broad brim hat and old jeans and a long sleeve shirt, even on days when temperatures soared above 100 degrees. A slim and fit man into his later years, he repaired his own boots. I never saw him drive a car, let alone ride in one. Unless he was walking aside his horse, he was on it. He lived with ritual. It would not have been uncommon, were a crow to fly above his head, to see him dismount and walk a circle around his horse before getting back on and continuing his ride. He carried with him a small leather bag filled with polished stones.

Apparently he didn't care if others thought his rituals were strange. They kept him of right mind. Others opinions (thoughts) were not his to be owned. I never heard him raise his voice at anyone. I never saw him cross. A quiet sort, he had the respect of the entire town. Everyone knew him by one name: Granddad. He had many practices. One was about sharing. Another had to do with his line shacks.

Sharing. The kids in town loved the polished stones that Granddad carried. Every now and then he'd stop a small boy walking on the street or standing behind a fence and give him a few stones from the leather bag. With the giving, though, always came a lesson. "Here you go kid," he'd say, "have a couple of these treasures. Some for you; some for your sister." Then he'd look the lad straight in the eye and offer, "Make sure you always share with other people the good stuff that's given to you in life."

Line shacks. These revealed a secret that an outsider to the town may never have guessed, and lessons on responsibility that he taught the youth. The secret? This man of simple attire, odd rituals and a loathing for automobiles was one of the wealthiest landowners in the region. His ranch stretched up a valley north of town. His expansive properties had line shacks, little one-room structures, spaced from here to there in the desert, giving him refuge from the hot summer sun when he needed to mend fence and attend to his cattle. Any of the town's youth were welcome to use a line shack.

If you were a kid hunting or fishing or taking a hike, you were always welcome to stop and rest and get out of the sun or rain. The rule: always leave the place a little cleaner than how you found it. It wasn't a "written down" rule. It was a "remember this" rule. Something you had to keep in mind. A rule that was nothing more than an idea, a thought.
If a particular kid used a line shack and didn't abide by Granddad's rule, didn't make the place a bit better, Granddad somehow would find out, and that kid would be forbidden to use the shack again until he or she made things right. The lessons? Be responsible with your attitude and action. Both affect others and yourself. Both will be revealed. Someone always finds out what you're thinking and how you're acting. Your reputation rests on this. Your reputation is probably the most important thing you own. Once seeded it forms a destiny.

III. A Surprise Interruption (right on schedule?)

I'm at Peet's Coffee writing these words and sitting in the same spot I occupied last month for a similar task. Outside the window across Petaluma Boulevard the trees stand as torches, red and orange a against crystal blue sky. The cars rush past carrying people who are going somewhere. Each has something on his or her mind - a hope, a fear, a goal, a somewhere to go, a something to do, an idle thought. It's been a warm Autumn morning spent reminiscing of Ray, Granddad, my long ago mentor, and friends who recently shared dinner and lively conversations.

I look up from my work. An acquaintance walks through the door. She comes over and says hello. Odd coincidence, I think, because a similar scene occurred last month when her employer, Richard, walked through the very same door, this before I left for the UK. The now green grasses in Two Rock Valley were brown on that day. Then, Richard and I chatted as I was finishing last month's, October Potpourri. Today, Karen Short stands in the same spot where he stood. Go figure!

"What'cha doing?", she asks.
"Writing," I say.
"What about?"
I begin to explain.
She offers, "Ah, an important message, like what Richard asked in his writing this month, 'What are the stones that we are laying that form our reputation?'"

"What reputation would you like have?" I ask.
Karen replies immediately, "I'd like to be known for what Steven Covey wrote about -
To Live. To Love. To Leave a Legacy."
"Can I quote you?"
"Sure!", she answers.

IV. Questions.

What seeds are in your mental bag -- or baggage? What reputation, what reality, what result, what outcome, what news is here or on the way because of the seeds of thought you have planted and are planting? If you want something different than what you have, what seed needs to be planted today? Will you plant that seed or just let something blow in? As they are planted what actions need to be taken? How patient and vigilant will you be? What practices will you engage in to nurture and guard and weed your garden?

In the city called Wait,
also known as the airport,
you might think about your life -
there is not much else to do.
For one thing,
there is too much luggage,
and you're truly lugging it -
you and, it seems, everyone.

What is it, that you need so badly?
Think about this.

-Mary Oliver (Logan International)

© Lance Giroux, October 2009

Thursday, October 08, 2009

October Potpourri

Friends, Rivals, Wheat, Politicians, Butlers and Bacon

Potpourri (noun) mixture, assortment, collection, selection,

assemblage, medley, miscellany, mix, mélange, variety, mixed bag,

patchwork, bricolage; ragbag, mishmash, salmagundi,

jumble, farrago, hodgepodge, gallimaufry.

What’s nice about creating is the unanticipated and seemingly unrelated collaboration involved. In the midst of pondering what to write, often my writing presents itself as a mixture of offers and gifts received. I look, listen, feel and ask: What’s going on? What’s happening within? What’s coming my way? What’s being sent this direction? The task then is organizing, synthesizing and recording. Here’s this month’s potpourri.

Ingredient #1. John Pace and Nelson Mandela.

A few weeks ago John Pace of Bothell, Washington, an engineer and pilot and friend (we’ve known each other since the late 1970’s), emailed me a link to “Mandela: His 8 Lessons of Leadership”, a 2008 Time magazine article by Richard Stengel,8816,1821467,00.html . John was particularly struck by Lesson #5 (Keep Your Friends Close and Your Rivals Even Closer) and how that item related to the aikido wonderfully demonstrated by Susan Hammond and Lisa Ludwigsen during the last Leaders’ Retreat - and presented as an applied metaphor for effectiveness in relationship, communication and business.

Two nights ago on the aikido mat here in Petaluma, my teacher, Richard Strozzi Heckler, spent an hour walking sixteen of us through a series of scenarios wherein we practiced receiving physical grabs and strikes, some directed at our faces and throats. As this proceeded he instructed us to draw the attackers, and their grabs and strikes, closer to our bodies. Counterintuitive? Yes, and extremely effective! My personal reflection: There are times when I want to embrace only my friends; and at those times I find myself wanting to deny my rivals or push them away or pretend they don’t exist. Yet, it might be both prudent and wise to fully embrace both friends and rivals.

Combining John Pace’s email link, Susan’s and Lisa’s demonstrations, and Richard’s instruction, Mandela’s Lesson #5 applies not solely to friends and rivals that exist in the form of people and situations that surround me, but to the friends and rivals that exist within me. Internal friends are the dreams, aspirations, worthwhile qualities, strengths, values, principles and ideals that I smile about and consider positive or constructive. Internal rivals are the nightmares, worries, faults, weaknesses and shadows that I frown and grumble about, and consider negative or destructive. Consider yourself in my shoes. What do you find?

Ingredient #2. Mark Twain and Minnesota Wheat.

This morning I flipped open Mark Twain’s Library of Humor to a short piece called “Minnesota Wheat” and there I read:

“Let’s see: they raise some wheat in Minnesota, don’t they?”

asked a Schoharie granger of a Michigander.

“Raise wheat! Who raises wheat? No, sir; decidedly no, sir.

It [wheat] raises itself.”

Like wheat, we raise (or lower) ourselves. What matters in any concern reveals itself from within as well as from without. No news here. That is, unless and until we forget and have to be forced by the conditions we are in to remember.

Ingredient #3. The Butler and William Wilberforce.

Amazing Grace, a screenplay written by Steven Knight and released as a major motion picture in 2007, is one of my favorite movies. Its online tagline is, “Behind the song you love is a story you will never forget.” The film is based upon the life of William Wilberforce (1759 –1833), the British politician and Member of Parliament who led England to abolish the slave trade, an effort that consumed most of his external life, and most of his internal energy. Packed with powerful and sometimes haunting scenes, Amazing Grace unfolds the dramatic interplay of Wilberforce’s friends and rivals, external and internal, and shows the completeness and complexity of his achievements and struggles to accept and come to terms with all four - external friends, external rivals, internal friends, and internal rivals.

An important and poignant scene arises when Wilberforce, portrayed as a mixture of pragmatic and eccentric, worldly and spiritual, finds himself alone in his weed-strewn garden, laying on his back and having a chat with God. Here, he is embarrassingly overheard by his butler. At this point, the following discussion unfolds:

Wilberforce: “I know that lying down in the wet grass is not a normal thing to do.”

Butler: “None of my business, sir.”

Wilberforce: Truth is, ah, I’ve been even more strange than usual lately, haven’t I?

The butler shrugs and raises his eyebrows in non-verbal agreement.

Wilberforce: “It’s God!” (his shoulders lower and he continues) “I have ten thousand engagements of State today. But I would prefer to spend the day out here getting a wet ass, and studying dandelions and marveling at bloody spiders’ webs.”

Butler: “You’re found God, sir?!?”

Wilberforce: “I think He found me.” (he plops down onto the grass and disgustingly relates) “Do you have any idea how inconvenient this is? How idiotic it would sound? I have a political career glittering ahead of me, but in my heart I want spiders’ webs!”

Butler. (hops the fence, walks over to his boss and, now as a friend and equal, sits ass-down in the wet grass and offers) “It is a sad fate for a man to die too well known to everybody else and still unknown to himself.”

Wilberforce, taken aback at this utterance, looks straight into the butler’s eyes.

Butler continues: “Francis Bacon. I don’t just dust your books, sir.” (then the butler gazes off into the distance of his own life and mind and admits) “When I was 15, I almost ran away with the circus. They said I could have been an acrobat.”

(Wilberforce would be a powerful study, particularly in light of our national potpourri re: leadership and influence; politics and business and religion; the media; and what it means today to be progressive, liberal or conservative vs. how that puzzle of words was acted out during his life. The discourse and difference? Stunning.)

Ingredient #4. Bacon (not necessarily synonymous with pork).

The screen play exchange between nineteenth century MP William Wilberforce and his butler enticed: (1) examining Francis Bacon’s quote as it applies to myself, and (2) researching more of what he had to say. To the first point, this is (and I am) a work in progress. To the second, here’s a short sampling:

- “Natural abilities are like natural plants; they need pruning by study.” (Richard Strozzi Heckler just stopped by as I was writing this. On his mind: that encountering defeat in one’s life is foundational to one’s ability to move forward. Hmmm.)

- “Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes.” (The stock market was down this morning. Orders for US manufactured goods is up for the second month in a row. Which bit of info will most people focus on? And you?)

- “[Persons] of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success.” (A colleague recently cancelled a project out of concern that it might fail, a full three weeks before the project was due. By all measures in his industry it would have – come to fruit.)

- “If a [person] be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows that [he or she] is a citizen of the world.” (Strangers are not just people. Strangers are those things and ideas that are unknown, unfamiliar, unconventional or new. How are you at showing up as a citizen of the world?)

- “Custom is the principle magistrate of a [person’s] life. (Our customs are the result of our practices – with or without awareness – for good or for bad. My long ago mentor used to say, “We live in prisons of our own manufacturing.” What do you practice every day?)

- “Philosophy when superficially studied, excites doubt, when thoroughly explored, dispels it.” (George Leonard illuminates this in his distinctions between the Dabbler, the Hacker, the Obsessive and the Master in his book “Mastery.”)

- “There is as much difference between the counsel that a friend giveth, and that a man giveth himself, as there is between the counsel of a friend and a flatterer.” (M. Scott Peck’s book “The Road Less Traveled” addresses the need for personal rigor if we are to grow, succeed and thrive, as does Laurence Gonzales’ “Deep Survival”.)

- “The folly (rival) of one man is the fortune (friend) of another.” (The Japanese word for crisis is Ki Ki. It is composed of two kanji: danger and opportunity.)

- “The tragedy of life is not that it ends too soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.” (Our lives just got shorter between the time you began reading this and right now. What’cha gonna do with what’s left of your life’s dream and purpose today?)

Ingredient #5. Add a dash more of Ingredient #1 - Mandela’s Lesson #5. Keep friends close and rivals even closer. In some fashion you always respond to both in your external world. You are responsible for both in your internal world. Stay alert, present to and conscious of the strengths and weaknesses of who you are and who you are becoming!

Potpourri (noun) denoting a stew made of

different kinds of meat: from French, literally ‘rotten pot.’


Potpourri (noun) a mixture of dried petals and spices placed in a bowl

or small sack to perfume clothing or a room or space

(Perfume and rotten pot. Smells like friends and rivals, huh?)

© Lance Giroux, October 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

September 15, 2009.

Tonight I came home from one of the most pleasurable evenings that I've had in 10 years on the aikido mat. Richard Strozzi Heckler (our sensei) had us training in slow motion something called gaichiwaza. Technically speaking it is "reversal" -- the attacker becomes the attacked. But in reality it is literally a conversation of body, in which one is neither leader or follower, but is in total contact with self and partner, and simply, yet profoundly becomes a listener. And from that place a profound outcome occurs.

Anyway I arrived home, ate dinner and listened to the San Francisco Giant's whup up on the Colorado Rockies. (I often listen to baseball at dinner time on an old Phillips tube radio that was my grandfather's.) As the game wound down I checked email (that's done on my Mac ibook G4 - something my grandfather never imagined and never had the chance to see), and noticed an unopened message dated Sept 12 from Chuck Root. Chuck, a good friend now of 15 years, is a giver. Now and then he will shoot me an email out of the blue that touches me and makes a difference to my day. And so it was tonight. Chuck left me a link to hit and with only a short message saying "this is profound, very nice - listen"

I don't know if you watch "TED" videos. I use two of them at my retreats - one with Sir Kenneth Robinson and the other with Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. After tonight I'll use this one too. There is, for me, a direct connection between what Richard Strozzi Heckler offered us on the aikido mat tonight and what Benjamin Zander offers here in this video. As I watched and listened I heard/saw the journey of aikido through the testing stages from raw beginner to 5th Kyu, 4th Kyu and on and on. If you don't know anything about aikido and the testing stages, just remember these words you're reading right now as Zander addresses "impulses" in the video that you're about to see and hear.

I thought of Richard (my sensei) and how he advises us on the training mat to "not have to put a punctuation on" a technique or movement. In the video Benjamin Zander proposes, "I don't move my body ... the music moves me". Tonight on the aikido mat Richard referred to something the founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba called "hidden aikido", and asked us what we might consider that to be. Some hours later, sitting at home and watching this TED video I thought ---> perhaps it (hidden aikido) is what's always existed and is informing us from the inside out and from which we take form; and tho we don't know it yet, we are coming to befriend it a day at a time. Fortunate would we be if we befriend it before draw our last breath.

I hope you enjoy what you will see and hear - and I hope that you'll find & remember at least one thing will serve you and what it is that you have to offer.


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Food for Thought/Action

Sow a thought reap an act.
Sow an act reap a habit.
Sow a habit reap a destiny.

I was listening to Ronn Owens’ morning talk program on KGO Radio this past week. KGO reaches tens of millions of listeners. Ronn is one of the station’s most recognized hosts, holding the morning commute time slot when probability dictates an abundance of listeners. His guest, a well-known psychologist, was addressing the need for people to keep positive attitudes and make a practice of visualizing what it is they want rather than the obstacles that are currently afflicting their lives. She also espoused taking the time to be daily grateful for the good things they have, no matter how small, because gratefulness alters the course of one’s thinking.

After five minutes of lead in during which Ronn playfully bantered with his guest, asking her if this wasn’t just psychobabble, he opened the phone lines. The first caller blasted the psychologist. “With all due respect to your guest,” he forcefully pronounced, “she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. How can anyone who has lost their job or is dealing with bankruptcy or has had their home foreclosed on use something as silly as this?!? It’s crazy.” He took his answer off the air.

Ronn’s guest listened. Then she calmly replied with something like this, “Well, the caller certainly has a point. What I’m proposing is simple. I’m not saying it is easy. But if we put our economic problems of today in perspective with something truly profound, like Dr. Viktor Frankl’s survival of the Nazi death camps, ours are actually quite small.” She then went on to remind us who Frankl was.

I first read Fankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, a few years ago during a bout of my own negativity. It was as if he was slapping me in the face, telling me to get off my butt and do something rather than wallow in resignation. Writing these words today I imagine the scene from the film The Godfather when Johnny Fontane, a fictitious popular crooner, sits on Don Vito Corleone’s desk and laments that he can’t get the lead role in a film because he’s a victim to the producer’s prejudice. Then he puts his head in his hands and cries, “Godfather, what am I supposed to?” Corleone reaches across his desk, cuffs him aside the head and responds, “Be a man!”

Frankl states (p 157), “A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes – within the limits of endowment and environment – he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions, but not on condition.” Earlier in the book he speaks to dignity, the need for finding humor in everything, having a positive mental attitude, accepting things as they are and then moving forward regardless of circumstances – and he addresses the need to visualize a positive outcome no matter what.

The good psychologist on Ronn Owens’ program demonstrated composure and put forth her point well in the face of a highly agitated and negative individual.

I suggest that you:
(1) read Viktor Fankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning;
(2) dedicate a month (minimum – though 90 day’s would be preferable) to practice what Ronn’s guest espoused; and
(3) time your practice to a few minutes each morning - maybe right after waking up and before you turn on your computer or read email or watch/read the morning news – taking a walk before doing anything else. Then practice again a few minutes following your mid-day meal, and then again a few minutes as you are dropping off to sleep each night.
This won’t take much of your time; but it will make all the difference in the world.

This week a client called to address a need: that people in his companies invest themselves in the work of having positive mental attitudes. He wants his organization to do some training with that. He referenced Napoleon Hill’s book, Think And Grow Rich, (1937); and the work based upon it which he recalled doing with me years ago in seminars I used to teach. One of the primary mechanisms used in those seminars was visualization. The specific technique taught was called Screen Of The Mind, an adaptation of something that has been referred to throughout written history. In the seminars we used to say that Screen of the Mind is perhaps the most powerful mental technique one could apply. Hill’s research from 1907 to 1927 included the 500 most successful people of his era. They all used this methodology, though they referred to it by different names.

[NOTE: if you would like outline of the Screen of the Mind Technique and how to use it, contact and request it. The information will be emailed to you.]

Hill opens his sixth chapter, Imagination: The Workshop of the Mind, The Fifth Step toward Riches, by saying, “The imagination is literally the workshop wherein are fashioned all plans created by man. The impulse, the desire, is given shape, form, and action through the aid of the imaginative faculty of the mind. It has been said that man can create anything which he can imagine.”

That’s powerful stuff! Yet, Hill doesn’t specify that man creates only the positive which he imagines. Hill is addressing the entire creative mechanism. Using the buzzwords of his time, WHATEVER the MIND CONCEIVES and BELIEVES it ACHIEVES. The creative imaginative faculty is impersonal. It really doesn’t care if the picture you are feeding it is positive or negative, constructive or destructive. It will go about producing whatever you feed it. The imagination isn’t the seat of choice, it is merely a willing servant. Viktor Frankl would offer that you are always at the helm of your ship of life by virtue of your decisions and the kind of images that you hold, even without awareness. The creative imagination produces on your order. That isn’t to say you are immune from external forces, but it does say that you have infinite options within the bounds of those forces. You can perform.

Back in the 1970’s as I was starting my work with this kind of “mind stuff” it was considered esoteric and fringe. As years passed, it became more accepted. World-class athletes talked publicly about how they would let thoughts of defeat drift away. Olympic skiers revealed how they would visualize a perfect run – with eyes closed mentally watching imaginary movies and while simultaneously making subtle physical body movements precisely as they wanted to do on the actual course. Competitive divers spoke about spending time on the platform relaxing and “seeing” their moves in advance, all executed to perfection. Medical professionals began having their patients practice visualization. None of this guaranteed a perfect outcome. But it did increase performance, ability, hopefulness and – yes - results.

Maxwell Maltz, M.D.,F.I.C.S, published Psycho-Cybernetics in 1960. At that time he was one of the world’s most renowned plastic surgeons. He lectured throughout Europe. His work well references the creative imagination. He offered that people would come to the plastic surgeon asking for a change of face or body. After their procedures a significant portion could not see the change themselves, while others around them saw a whole new person. Frequently the individuals having received procedures could be heard saying, “No, it’s still me!” Maltz’s premise: unless and until one changes the internal image nothing else will change.

About imagination Maltz wrote: “Imagination Practice Can Lower Your Golf Score. Time magazine reported that when Ben Hogan is playing in a tournament, he mentally rehearses each shot, just before making it. He makes the shot perfectly in his imagination – ‘feel’ himself performing the perfect follow through – and then steps up to the ball, and depends upon what he calls ‘muscle memory’ to carry out the shot just as he has imagined it.” (Psycho-Cybernetics, p.38)

Ask a young sales person or account manager, “Who was Ben Hogan?” Odd are they’ll probably be at loss to say. Ask the same person, “Who is Tiger Woods?” And they’ll respond, “Where have you been?” Hogan and Woods, both champions of the same sport, were masters of the imagination at different times in history.

Isn’t it interesting: people can make the link between visualization/imagination and a good golf score. But, going back to the caller on the Ronn Owens’ show, they refuse to make a link between visualization/imagination and having a good life or financial score. “Come on,” some will argue, “golf’s just a game! You’re mixing apples with oranges.” Oh really? Tell that to the professional (or the aspiring pro) when she or he has a livelihood on the line, and a boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife at home berating them for trying to turn their passion into a career rather than getting “a real job”, and is hammering them about the mounting bills, the kids with nothing but peanut butter to eat, or the rent that’s two months overdue. I coached a fellow like that for a year as he was attempting to get into the U.S. Open Tournament. My job was literally distracting him from his own negative thinking and from it I wrote my booklet “The Mental Game”.

Also this week someone called to talk about the Law of Attraction made popular by a video and companion book The Secret (a body of work that finds its roots in Think and Grow Rich). The person said, “I have been applying the Law of Attraction recently and it’s making a big difference for me in how I’m approaching my work and family.” This is good news. And I was left wondering: At what hour of the day, or under what circumstances or conditions is the Law of Attraction not being applied? No one on this planet lives outside the law of gravity, right? Logically then, if the Law of Attraction is as much law, as say the law of gravity, doesn’t it follow that Attraction is in operation all the time? If you and I think destruction, we attract destruction. If you and I think success, we attract success.

Read Dr. Richard Strozzi-Heckler’s In Search of the Warrior Spirit (pub 1990), which chronicles his work with US Army Special Forces using - you got it - meditation and visualization over long periods of time. Richard’s work dramatically increased the effectiveness and results of highly trained individuals whose performance was supposedly already at max capacity.

I guess the guy who berated Ronn Owens’ studio guest has every right to his perspective, doesn’t he? But he also has the responsibility for that perspective, yes?

Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest,
whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure,
whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report,
if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise,
THINK on these things.
- Philippians 4:8, the Bible

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tea Bags

A few months ago a former colleague decided to take intellectual property from a client of mine. When asked to stop he denied what he was doing and smoke screened his actions in an attempt to cover his tracks. What was pathetic about this was that he had many honorable options available which would have solved the situation he had put himself; options that my client would have gladly helped him with.

Sadly, a few weeks later he proceeded with a similar attempt elsewhere, again with respect to my client’s intellectual property. By this time my client (now rightfully upset) had researched and gathered information from various sources and confronted him with possible legal action. Only then did my old colleague back off. Yet even in his backing off he decided to twist the truth and plead ignorance regarding intellectual property rights. My first reaction was disgust, because he knows that my client knows (as do I) that for almost twenty years he has been privy to the rules governing this. But after a while I had a different and more calming reaction, which was to laugh and say, “This really is comical!” Why comical? Because he was like a kid being caught with his hand in a cookie jar saying, “Gee, look at that - a cookie jar surrounding my hand. Now how that jar got itself positioned like that? Amazing! Give me a minute so I can wipe these crumbs off my mouth (where ever did they came from?), and then maybe we can all figure out what happened. In the mean time, does this mean I can’t eat here anymore?”

A Fortune Magazine article by Irwin Ross (Dec 1, 1980 “How Lawless Are Big Companies?”) related, “Corrupt practices are certainly not endemic to business, but they do seem endemic to certain situations and certain industries. A persuasive explanation for many violations is economic pressure – the ‘bottom-line philosophy.’”

As the research of my old colleague’s misguided action unfolded over the past two months it appeared that financial pressures brought his nature to the forefront.

Does the end justify the means? For some folks, I guess that the answer is yes. Unfortunately, “the end” usually isn’t (the end), rather it’s just some midpoint along the path of a lifetime. I am reminded that the man I once worked for, used to say, “The mind can justify anything. Tell a lie long enough and you’ll begin to think it’s the truth.” And with that, I’m reminded of another old adage he proposed that went something like this: “People are like tea bags. You don’t know what they’re made of until they get themselves into hot water. When they do (get themselves into hot water) you can see the brown stuff seeping out.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A True and Short Story

Any definition of leadership raises semantical issues, as the terms leadership, management, and command overlap widely in military (and) civilian usage. To many military personnel the terms leadership and command are synonymous. Likewise, industry frequently makes little distinction between leadership and management.

The Study of Leadership

P 1-3, Introduction, Volume I, PL 401 AY 1971-72


Chapter I - The Dinner

I had dinner last night with a friend of mine - a former Marine Corps Major helicopter pilot. He's a great dad, loving husband, good teacher, very good manager, and gentle in his demeanor, always looking carefully for the nuances about how others are feeling, what they might need from him to move forward in the direction of their goals. I've observed him working with people under stress. I've noticed that he's almost always paying attention to others and simultaneously monitoring his own internal reactions and what these might cause. When he senses a need in others he artfully delivers a word or glance or gesture that creates an opening into which people move for their personal betterment, and for the betterment of all. When riled, which from my vantage point is rare, he stays in that state for only a moment and then lets that energy pass away.

The Marine Corp might take credit for him being this way, "He's an example of our fine training." Others might say, "He's a pilot and pilots take their lives and the lives of others into their hands on a daily basis." I think these are both valid perspectives, and you know the old sayings - Once a Marine, Always a Marine - Once a Pilot, Always a Pilot. But what I really think is that somewhere along the line in the life of my friend he got clear that:

#1 - Attitude, the way one views something, is paramount;

#2 - Attitude influences both short and long term behavior and action;

#3 - Attitude affects environment - the people and things that surround a person;

#4 - His attitude is solely his responsibility;

#5 - He attracts people and things into his life, or repels them from his life.

We talked about leadership over our meal, and the need for people in positions of power - fathers, mothers, teachers, managers, CEO's, presidents of companies, heads of organizations, principals, VP's, sole practitioners, executive assistants, etc. - to be able to shake off negativity when it occurs; the kind of negativity that accompanies stress, strain and the pressures that you may find yourself subject to given the current and almost constant attention to negative or uncertain financial news, fear based advertisements, or sensationalism focused on violence or hype.

We talked about our shared practice - one that places physical, emotional and intellectual demands on a person who is being struck, grabbed and physically attacked. Our conversation revolved around how that from our beginnings in this practice (nine years ago) to today the seemingly key ingredient to successfully developing and unleashing it is learning to relax under pressure. We agree that the same is true for leadership.

Midway through dinner he said, "People have to learn and know why an ability to relax under pressure is so important. And it's the responsibility of a leader to show them."

Chapter II - The Book

The 1972 US Military Academy (USMA) senior class course reader on psychology and leadership provided some great distinctions between leader, manager and boss - or in the later case - commander, reflecting the language of West Point and the military. Those who read that introduction back then (I was one of them) were advised to pay attention because an embodied understanding of the distinctions would effect the lives of real people.

I broke with my normal approach and read that introduction rather than skip past it to chapters that I was sure would be on the end-of-semester exam. I'm not the only person who has rushed past necessary foundations to get to what they thought was more important stuff. Those days I was short sighted; I wanted to get a grade and graduate.

Selective reading in order to pass a paper exam is akin to rushing into a business opportunity to make a quick buck, no matter the long-term consequences; or like disregarding someone's temperament at the beginning of the dating scene and then somehow hoping for a happily ever after relationship.

I passed the semester exam and the course with a good grade, and graduated. But the data regarding distinctions wasn't knowledge - at least not yet. It remained only a scrap of information. Fortunately, a year and a half later, someone with real-life experience cared about me enough, to point out my past lack of vision. He did so by getting in my face about how I was being, which with him wasn't very good.

That was a risk for him because I held higher rank. Rank, position, title and office are important in some social, professional, familial and other structured environments. Disregard for rank can have severe consequences under certain conditions. But his risk caused me to think about what had become valuable to me (my status, position and opinions - all temporary) rather than what should have been vital to me (the people I served and a healthy understanding of myself - a life-long endeavor). His risk brought me back to the fundamentals.

The distinctions that follow have appeared in past Allied Ronin newsletters and blogs, but they certainly aren't carved in stone and solely definitive. West Point doesn't have license on the English language or opinion. But long-term experience and on-the-job real-world case studies - real life and death stuff - support the importance of these. At minimum, they might be worth pondering again if you are already aware of them. Some things are like that. So the purpose for mentioning them today is for the sake of encouraging action.

Management. The planning, organizing, directing and controlling optimum use of money, human resource, energy, time and material to accomplish something. A Manager is a person who holds a position created by a system. This person is often identified by a title, someone, whose job (a do function) it is to optimize the use of those things listed above. The system that created the position and identified the person with title can take many forms.

Bossing(commanding, in military terms). Exerting authority over others. A Boss (commander) is a one who holds a position given by a system. He or she is someone who, because of a system, tells others what to do, and when and where to do it. The system that creates their position and title can take any form - autocratic (I have the biggest hammer or knife so we do it my way), democratic (we elect you), committee appointment (a bunch of us want you and we'll put you in charge), historic (because I'm your father or mother, and I say so), etc.

Leading. The influence human behavior. A Leader is one who (regardless of position or title) influences human behavior. Leading is not a function of job position or title or status. Systems do not create positions called leaders. People move in and out of states of influence regardless of, and sometimes independent of, systems. If you have had children, you know this, because you know what it's like to hear your baby cry in the middle of the night, and then you get up to change the diaper and rock him to sleep. In those moments the infant was Leader; you were Follower. With mindful practice one can become an effective leader, regardless or age, rank, title, position, looks, gender, amount of money in the bank, status, etc.

Leadership is an art. It is learned, embodied and practiced over time - sometimes without awareness. As an art practiced purposefully it carries power. If the practitioner's influence is constructive, she or he will be known by others as a positive leader. If the practitioner's influence is destructive, he or she will gain a reputation as being a negative leader.

One can be a Good Manager and not a Boss; a Good Boss and not a Manager; a Lousy Boss and a Great Manager; a Good Manager and a Lousy Boss - or both Boss and Manager and good at each. One can be a Powerful Leader and never ever be a Manager or a Boss.

The fact is at any time anyone can be a leader in any circumstance. This is important to remember.

Chapter III - The List

My Marine Corps former Major helicopter friend got me thinking. So this morning I began making a list:

A relaxed mind lowers blood pressure. A tense state of mind raises it.

A relaxed mind makes for good digestion. A tense state of mind creates constipation.

A relaxed mind calms agitated people. A tense state of mind increases agitation.

A relaxed mind attracts people. A tense state of mind repulses them.

A relaxed mind is creative. A tense state of mind hits the same nail with the same hammer.

A relaxed mind is cooperative. A tense state of mind looks for a fight.

A relaxed mind sees opportunities, that otherwise are invisible to a tense state of mind.

A relaxed mind sleeps well. A tense state of mind tosses and turns.

A relaxed mind bends and rebounds quickly. A tense state of mind gets brittle and cracks.

A relaxed mind learns new behaviors. A tense state of mind repeats old mistakes.

A relaxed mind grows. A tense mind decays.

A relaxed mind is youthful. A tense mind grows old before its time.

A relaxed mind finds things that are lost. A tense state of mind walks right past what is missing (often repeatedly) and doesn't see it.

A relaxed mind is hopeful. A tense state of mind is depressing.

A relaxed mind attracts abundance. A tense state of mind denies abundance even in the midst of it.

A relaxed mind can hold and operate on many thoughts at one time. A tense mind squeezes the power out of many thoughts and has a hard time dealing with just one.

The rest of this chapter is up to you - continue on with the above list by adding to it and create one of your own. No limits here. You can make this a month long process - and work on it every day. You can paste your list on the refrigerator door, on coffee room bulletin board, or your night stand. This exercise might actually help any condition you find yourself in, because the act of writing things like this will effect your attitude. I promise you - you're not immune from being human. Or you can skip over this and do nothing, like I used to skip the introductions of the assigned course readers given me at West Point, looking for the stuff that would be on a test in order to get a short-term good grade.

But before you do either, skip the list or work on it, here's the news for this month's newsletter. Allied Ronin is a loose alliance of a few people scattered around the globe and listed at The primary mission of Allied Ronin is to serve human beings by developing leaders. (ß- that's a period right there, subtle but important point.) These individuals have their own firms and businesses. We look anywhere and everywhere to take on this mission and we do it, often on our own, with all kinds of people who find themselves in all kinds of circumstances. Most of the people served are not formal managers or bosses. But every person served is a leader, and that's a fact. Sometimes we charge a lot of money. Sometimes we serve for free. And sometimes it costs us a lot of money to provide the services we do, and we pay prices for that. Regardless of this, our alliance is bound by each individual's understanding of this mission, a mission we feel is important. To a person, everyone on the list that you'll find on the website has a growing and embodied understanding that being able to relax under pressure is important, and a growing understanding of why this is so.

Here's some advice - and perhaps a challenge. To whatever degree you are doing something to purposefully enhance your capacity to relax under pressure then continue that practice. Consider increasing it and influencing others to do likewise. If you are not currently engaged in doing something to purposefully enhance your capacity to relax under pressure then the time to start is today - right now. It's worth the investment in time, energy and money to do so no matter what else you are committed to or have on your calendar. Don't wait. Your today will be traded for something. Might as well make it something worthwhile and useful for a healthy future.

Mind is the master power that moulds and makes

And Man is mind and evermore he takes

The tool of thought and shaping what he wills

Brings forth a thousand joys, or a thousand ills.

He thinks in secret and it comes to pass.

Environment is his looking glass.

- James Allen

©Lance Giroux, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What Grabs You?

"Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one."
Marcus Aurelius AD 121-180 - Meditations Book Ten

You stand erect and balanced with right foot forward right hand extended. Your partner is the teacher. She stands directly in front of you. Her left foot forward, she extends her left hand to take your wrist firmly in palm. She tightens her grip. You feel her hold emanate from her center of gravity, what the Japanese call hara. Looking you in the eye she asks a simple question, "What grabs you?"

Your first thought, and hence your response, "Your hand, of course."

"Yes," she replies. Then she adds, "That's true, but really, what grabs you?" You look at her intently yet somewhat dumbfounded because it's obvious she's squeezing your wrist. You blink, look at your hand turning a bit off color, and offer again with a kind of maybe-you-didn't-hear-me-or-is-this-some-kind-of-trick-question-thing, "Your hand!"

She smiles, blinks, shakes her head and repeats, "What grabs you?" It's then that you understand. It's a game that really isn't a game. You go beyond the obvious, the external and reply, "My daughter, especially when she's in a foul mood."

"Ah. OK. Thanks."

Then the roles reverse. You take her extended left wrist in your right hand and it's your turn to ask, "What grabs you?"

She offers, "Last month's bills, some still unpaid.”

Sure it's a workshop exercise. The two of you repeatedly reverse rolls. You've done things like this before, and so has she, but in that case there was no physical connection; it was simply a matter of ask-and-answer. What's different now is that the communication between you is enhanced by actually contact. And it's the physical contact with intent that anchors both question and response. Laurence Gonzalez (Deep Survival) might offer, for the future effectiveness or lack thereof.

The point of the experience is to acknowledge, reflect on and personalize the grabs of life. Textbook answers are not sought. Rather - sincerity, authenticity and honesty.

Your teacher points out that your grabs are those things to which you attach your attention (mental and emotional) and action. And with that, you also attach your memory and your power. If the grab is negative (a fight or the memory of a violation or a debt or a worrisome thought, etc.) your experience is negative and generally evokes tension and a push (fight) or a drop (flight) response. If the grab is positive (memory of a lover's kiss or beautiful music or a special place in nature) your experience is a positive, almost surrealistic physical response and generally evokes relaxed, expansive and joyful action.

Your teacher then tells you that she is going to demonstrate a simple martial arts move called tenkan, and asks for your participation and attention. You take hold of her left wrist, while her hand is flexibly extended. You feel her weight mysteriously drop, but her body gives no visual cues of moving down. She slowly and slightly rows her body forward from her abdomen, all the while keeping her body erect and her focus, unbroken, remains on you - in fact you could swear that she's actually looking through you to something behind your back. As she does, she begins to turn outward on her left foot all the while maintaining a relaxed and equal extension in both her hands and arms. Her right foot sweeps an arc across the floor, never lifting. A sense of weight and energy transfers from her through your arm and begins to move the area in your abdomen, and then transfers to your feet. Your body bends and you drop. As you look at her out of the corner of your eye, she remains standing tall, now reversed one hundred eighty degrees and looking in the same direction as you have been looking all along.

Tenkan. A turning movement that clearly sees and acknowledges an on-coming force, feels it before it arrives, blends with it, then reverses direction to look where that energy is focused. Tenkan; it neither fights nor runs from the force. Rather, when properly exercised, allows the one who performs it to remain fully present, ready to act in any direction, to effectively deal with the force. Dealing with the force from tenkan can mean any number of things - enjoy it, release it, walk away from it, walk with it, throw it on its way, turn it back on itself. Tenkan presents an almost countless number of other options as well, provided your understand and practice. Tenkan is not limited to physical action. But, through physical practice it enhances effectiveness in other realms and domains: emotional, familial, relational, financial, intellectual, political, sales, marketing, legal - and still more.

What grabs you these days? What grabs do you s eek? What are your habitual responses to the grabs that come your direction? Do they bother you? Do you fight them? Do you run? Do you hang on? Do you allow them to hang on to you? Could you attending to positive grabs more frequently than negative ones? Could you start seeking constructive grabs even in the midst of negative ones?

What practices have you established when it comes to being grabbed? Could you create some that are more effective and healthier than the ones you've been using? Do you surround yourself with people who assist a constructive practice with your grabs? Do you surround yourself with people who assist destructive practices with your grabs? Do you isolate and insulate hoping not to be grabbed?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Profound Learning

“I don’t know who discovered water,

but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a fish.”

Marshall McLuhan

The main article of the Allied Ronin newsletter normally doesn’t mention the courses or retreats available for you to attend. That’s usually left for you to discover by looking left to the “black side-bar announcement column”. But this month, and at the end of this article, we’ll depart from this practice. After reading what’s written below you may want to pay attention to the upcoming schedule, pick something that’s being offered. It could make a world of difference for you, or those you love, or for your business, or for other important matters you care about. If something resonates with you, we suggest you make a call and attend a program or retreat – or ask that one be created for your organization.

• • •

Profound learning does not require a profound situation, but it does require attention. When one is attentive, even the simplest or smallest situation can evoke learning that can be profound. Real learning comes from within. Meaningful lessons reveal themselves to the alert mind. Stay alert!

It’s the last weekend of May, and I’m sitting in Room 25 of The Falls Motel in Thompson Falls, Montana. This is my 12’ X 12’ cinder block, concrete box home-away-from-home for four days. It’s Saturday and approaching the time to leave for the first morning of Developing Your Warrior Spirit, the name given to the weekend training with the Samurai Game®. Shane English and I will conduct it. Our participants, students of a youth-at-risk boarding school along with some of their parents, are waiting for us down the road. Hopefully it will be fruitful, if things go as they did for us at a similar facility in Amargosa Valley, NV, three weeks ago.

Thompson Falls is green; at one time a thriving logging community. You see the logs and log cabin “factories” up and down the river. A constant roar of the water would seemingly entice one to go fishing, yet no one is fishing these waters. I wonder why, because the fish are here for the taking. Yesterday evening on the drive back from reconnoitering the boarding school, Shane and I watched osprey making their runs over the water. One cruised just above our car with its catch in talon. The mountains are high and lush, and they stretch forever with plenty of deer, elk, big horn sheep, bear and who knows what else. I have no recollection of ever seeing such densely packed old growth pine, fir and spruce. Abundance is everywhere if you look for it.

A café on the south side of the street appears to be the town’s cross generational hang out: all day long breakfasts, old timers with cowboy or VFW hats, young bucks wearing sweated through ball caps (properly turned bill-to-the-front) and their pony-tailed sweethearts. You pay your waitress (no male food servers work this café) who carries her own stash of cash on her belt. Even if you pay by credit card, your receipt goes into her wallet. She says it’s about personal responsibility. The sign outside reminds all to support the local team. The restaurant window frames a red-white-blue banner laden memorial across the street reminding passers-by to honor the town’s MIA and POW. There’s been one of each from Thompson Falls.

Amargosa Valley, NV, on the other hand, has the distinction of being as remote a desert entry point into Nevada via Death Valley as you’ll ever find. A search on Google Earth before arriving there earlier last month indicated that the most prominent piece of industry was a gas station turned bordello. (Or was it vice versa?) What I didn’t notice on Google Earth was the expansive underground nuclear repository trapped inside the mountains to the west. That fact was explained when I arrived in town. The terrain and environment here? Flat, scrubbed and parched. An expanse that extends seemingly into who knows where. Like the forest surrounding Thompson Falls, it, the desert, seems endless and in its own way abundant. The road to the school is straight. The speed limit is 35 mph, but anything under 65 is too slow for local traffic. The Longstreet Inn, Casino & RV Resort is town’s regular Friday night entertainment for family, the dating scene and parents whose children now reside at the boarding school. The Longstreet has slot and video poker machines, lively karaoke and a hired-in husband/wife band who entertain on a weekly basis. If the Longstreet’s pace is too slow, just step across the street to the biker bar. There, no challenge goes unanswered. [Does any challenge ever really go unanswered?]

But it’s the kids, our next generation, whose lives are at stake, literally, that summon us to Thompson Falls or Amargosa Valley. It makes no difference – if you’re a troubled kid taken or sent by your parents to live in one of these facilities in either of these towns you’re here for a serious reason. And if you decide to hop the fence or run out the door, you’re screwed. Not from a legal perspective. Rather, you’re flirting with death because there’s nowhere safe to go. And that’s the point, isn’t it. In life there’s really nowhere safe to go. Safety is an illusion. But you have to go somewhere with your life, don’t you? It’s more dramatic for the kids in these facilities in Thompson Falls and Amargosa Valley, because the reason they arrived here in the first place was that they were already flirting (literally) with death and there was probably nowhere else safer to go.

A train rumbles through Thompson Falls every so many hours and passes adjacent to my concrete block motel room; one rail into town; same rail out. It reminded me of Amargosa Valley’s one road in, same road out. Neither place is separate from the outside world. Remote, yes, but not separate. I consider that no matter how alone I sometimes feel, I’m really never separate from the world around me. There’s always a rail or road in and out.

A van pulled up while Shane was arranging for our rooms in the motel office. From it two older looking men with white whiskered chins, one wearing a black flat brimmed hat, emerged went inside to register. The hat’s expanse and color spoke loudly, “We’re Amish”, or at least that’s what I heard it say. I mention this respectfully because no one actually spoke those words. It was just my interpretation. And truthfully, being Amish is A-OK. [I have to be careful to not judge others because of the “ish”, “ic” or “ist” that any article of clothing or dialect announces. What’s more important is, that another’s “ish” or “ic” or “ist” really isn’t anyone else’s business.] An elderly woman (at least she looked elderly) wearing a blue sharply-ironed-and-starched-apron-like dress sat slumped with her head in hand. Rubbing her brow, she stayed in the back of the same van from which the men emerged. A small starched white bonnet with tie string topped her head. Tied low-cut black flat-heel shoes, soles well worn, covered her feet.

She looked ill, so I asked her if she was OK. “Yes,” she replied and smiled, “I’m just hot. It’s been a long trip.”

When someone smiles as warmly as she did to an inquiry it usually means to me that they appreciate the contact. So I continued, “Where are you from?”

“Idaho.” (her)

“That’s a long ways. That’s where my grandmother was from.” (me)

“Yes, we’ve been on the road for three days.”

“What are you here for?”

“A wedding.”

“That sounds nice.”

“Yes. My husband is getting married.” Then she smiled again.

Her answer gave me pause. Did she really say what I heard?

[Do other people really say what I hear?]

Many years ago I was diagnosed with tinnitus. The ringing in my ears that once was a now-and-then bleep, finally became one continuous loud tone. Now it persists non-stop. When I’m tired or if I focus on it, the tone can be as loud as the constant chatter of customers at Starbucks and I resort to lip-reading. Sometimes it’s so loud I cannot hear what someone is saying even if they’re right next to me, prompting a request to repeat. When I get a “why?” response I’m tempted to say, “Can’t you hear that ringing?” [What do you listen to frequently that is so loud that you cannot hear what another is saying?]

So when I heard the woman say what she did, I doubted my listening. On the one hand her declaration seemed unreal. And on the other hand, I wasn’t certain if her voice had momentarily dropped off my listening radar. Out of self-consciousness I didn’t what to blurt out, “What did you say?” Looking back, I’m pretty certain that she said exactly what I thought she had. Strange as it sounded to me, it’s what really happened.

Our interchange ran its course and as it did the two white chinned men stepped out of The Falls Motel office. The dark eyes beneath the black broad brim looked squarely at me and frowned. The mouth beneath the eyes beneath the black broad brim began to move and with some degree of instruction. The woman in the starched blue apron dress responded and climbed out of the van.

[This particular event is still churning through my mind, and I find myself thinking about equality and freedom and prejudice and limitations and incarceration and power and beliefs. Do you think about that too?]

A few hours later, alone in my room, I watched Jay Leno host his final Tonight Show. My small TV is bolted to the concrete wall just above the mini-fridge that doubles as a stand for a microwave sitting six feet from the radio alarm clock inside the box that’s my home until Monday. These technologies all work as effectively as would the most expensive plasma screen HDTV, or stainless steel fridges, or high quality sound systems, or – well you name it. Mine are just smaller and located in a more compact place. Before watching Jay Leno I checked email via the motel’s wireless. [Life’s essentials are everywhere if you look for them. The questions is: What’s become essential over the years?] I’m not separate from the rest of the world, but if I don’t pay attention it sure can seem that way.

Did you see Jay Leno’s last Tonight Show, too? Wasn’t it a sweet reminder of how simplicity and the average can be profound. But, you had to pay attention.

There were shots of Jay taking on the daunting task of replacing Johnny Carson seventeen years ago. Leno’s much grayer today, and of course Carson is long gone. There were shots of Leno introducing Conan O’Brien to the world on his (O’Brien’s) first ever appearance on TV, juxtaposed against the Conan who showed up tonight to accept Leno’s well wishes for the future.

Legendary James Taylor honored this last show and its audience with a slow and poignant rendition of Sweet Baby James. I wonder if someone, somewhere may have said, “Oh that’s soooo old! Hasn’t James Taylor got anything new?” But when you come to think of it, every time James Taylor sings Sweet Baby James it is new. Isn’t it?

And there was a humorous, yet thought provoking reminder of the price we pay (both real and perceived) when human beings go through life and aren’t challenged to pay attention and learn. This night it came in the form of sketch episodes for which Leno is famous. It’s called “Jay Walking” - a name that carries double meaning when you think about it. The sketch is where he walks the streets of Los Angeles with microphone in-hand asking far more sophisticated looking people than you’ll find in either Amargosa Valley or Thompson Falls (Yes? No?) the simplest questions to which they have either no answer or the wrong answer.

Tonight’s examples went something like this:

• “Who was our nation’s first president?” (answer given – “Ah, Ben Franklin?”);

• “What country borders the United States to the north?” (answer given … “Ahhhh. Ahhhh. Ahhhh.”);

• “What president of the United States had the nick-name ‘Tricky Dick’? (answer given with firm degree of certainty – “Bill Clinton”).

• “Our nation’s capital is Washington, D.C. What does the ‘D.C. ‘stand for? (answer given – “Da Capital”)

Leno marked his finale’ by bringing a young woman onto the stage. She was the first child to be born to any of his Tonight Show staff seventeen years ago. He produced her picture as a newborn to prove it. He then began to name one-by-one all of the average people who have worked for his show and who met each other during careers and fell in love and had children. With that the curtains opened. There they all stood by the scores – mothers, fathers and children. He tickled one of the kids running around the stage. Then he, Jay Leno, laid down on the floor and along with all of them, simply smiled and waived goodbye. He really didn’t have to say much. It was a simple, yet profound way of acknowledging the fact that every story, every person, every generation has a beginning and an end, as do the various situations of our lives.

We all have many options that eventually lead to a single road in and a single road out of every event. We meet average people along the way. They become our friends, our families, our clients, our adversaries, our enemies, our benefactors. They matter. Simple? Yes. Profound, only if you think about it.

Allied Ronin took shape sixteen years ago. The year after Leno inherited his job from Johnny Carson. This work has afforded me the opportunity to visit and be with people in some important and historic places. Hero’s Square in Budapest, Hungary. The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Imperial Temple of Heaven and the magnificent Beijing Hotel in PR China. The Winalow Palace, the Wieliczka Salt Mines, the Wawel Castle and Auschwitz in Poland. The ancient castles and battlegrounds outside of Bratislava, Slovakia. The Great Pyramids, the Sphinx and the National Museum in Cairo. The memorials dedicated to Dr. Sun Yet Sen and Chiang Kai-shek in Taipei. Anne Frank’s home in Amsterdam. And I should also mention the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial all located in, you guessed it, “Washington, Da Capital”.

It bears saying again and again that people in “important” places really are the same and quite like the people in the “not-so-important” places. We all face similar issues. We all have similar joys and concerns. We encounter similar challenges. We want similar things for our kids and our parents and our neighbors. We take joy in wining and cringe in some fashion at losing. Jobs, health, prosperity and relationships are important the world over. The opportunity to learn about all of this exists everywhere at any given moment – provided, that is, if one is alert and pays attention, including along the dusty road in Amargosa Valley or aside the railroad track in Thompson Falls.

Over the next few months the Allied Ronin journey will include the programs and events listed in the black announcement bar to the left. Most of these are open to the public, i.e. available to you. All involve profound learning in healthy, constructive and respectful environments. This commitment was made in 1994when Allied Ronin was founded, and it is a significant departure from many programs offered elsewhere. I will add, that if you are interested in some top-notch offerings by others you might start with the list found at These include the work of: George Leonard, Richard Strozzi-Heckler PhD, Kathleen Kane PhD, Susan Hammond, Madeline Wade, Lisa Ludwigsen, Jenaro Pliego Fox, Pawel Bernas, Pawel Olesiak, Andrea Burgis and others.

If you are of the mind to attend any of the upcoming Allied Ronin retreats or seminars or Facilitator Training, I look forward to seeing you along the way and soon. If your interest can be served by one of these, then pick up a phone and call the contact person listed, or send an email to the appropriate address. If you want something designed uniquely for you (as in coaching or consulting) or your family or team or organization, just make a request. No call, no email, no request goes unanswered.