I had just climbed to Inspiration Point, overlooking Santa Barbara, and was on my way down when I got the call that would change everything. My younger sister, Nikki, told me she had just been diagnosed with Stage Four ovarian cancer. When she died 22 months later her passing awakened something vital in me: a desire to find new methodologies of working with those in crisis. I knew I needed to look outside traditional models and I continue to do so today, nearly three and a half years later. I will continue until my time here has ended. This search challenges the core of who I think I am, the assumptions of what I think I see each day, and what I believe I’m here in life to do. I write about it for the first time.
In The Leadership Circle world we speak of two life/leadership orientations. The Creative stance is built around a desire to move towards the outcomes we want. The leadership competencies comprising it have consistently been correlated with greater leader effectiveness and business performance. The Reactive stance is oriented around a subtle, often unconscious, desire to move away from what we don’t want. Typically, it’s some form of insecurity and fear we feel; hence the avoidance motivation makes sense. It is a default place we go when under duress or threat.
The Creative and Reactive orientations are the primary adult stages in which we and most of our clients live. There are stages that come earlier and others that show up later. As coaches, we work to help clients shed light on the assumptions that drive their reactive insecurity and impede their movement towards a more creative brand of leadership. Development is seen as a move towards a more fully integrated creative leadership capacity.
The premise in this article is this: At a deeper level, if we were to rest into but not try to get away from our fear, we might find that the insecurity we thought would destroy us is, instead, a doorway into an intimate relationship with creation and its boundless resourcefulness. The high form of each reactive tendency is not simply a more fully-grown creative competency; instead, each tendency seems to have its own unique expression far exceeding its creative counterpart.
Nothing is Wasted
We have a saying in my family: nothing is wasted. The concept can be called up any time we are faced with strange or disturbing experiences that cannot be understood and won’t easily go away. Nothing is wasted is a reminder to remain open to present experience; to rest in curiosity instead of judgment. This phrase has formed slowly in me over 60 plus years, like bedrock that shapes the flow of a river. Seldom seen but silently alive and evolving.
I knew Nikki’s passing was one of these moments that would not and could not be wasted. She was a fierce lover of God, frequently laying in bed singing praises as she was dying. It was one of many ways we differed. I would be arguing and fighting with God in one last act of defiance. I was never much of a singer.
High form of protecting. There is a larger truth. I will find it. I will protect, watch over, nurture, and safeguard all that has been entrusted me. Things are not as they appear.
I was raised in rural western New York State in the Buffalo-Rochester region. Tuesday afternoon in the second week of July was considered the growing season. I had a unique relationship with weather systems. I don’t remember learning this or having been taught it. I never noticed it until I was an adult even though I was never without it. When a violent thunderstorm approached, I would run out into the cornfield, lie down on my back, and allow the storm to break over me. My mother aided and abetted in this behavior warning me to “Get out there before the lightening arrives.” Family Protective Services never found out.
As I lay on the ground I would talk with the storm, mostly praising its magnificent beauty and power. I experienced storms as living entities; they were conscious and very much present! They spoke back to me, too, although in inward impressions, not words. This way of being has been with me all of my life. Strong winds/hurricanes, wildfires, floods and ice/snow storms are all part of this community of beings! I came to understand the majesty of God through dancing with weather systems.
Later, as a father of a young daughter who was scared by loud noises, I would simply shift an approaching storm a few miles in another direction to minimize the disruption. I never spoke of this for the same reason I don’t speak of breathing, or gravity. It was simply the way it is. I have done this storm-shifting hundreds of times.
I work as an organizational consultant. Recently, I worked with an electric utility company. I showed up for an off site leadership retreat only to find the event had been cancelled due to an impending weather system expected to wreck havoc that day. A trailing storm was viewed nearly as dangerous. It looked as if it were going to be a long day for the storm team. I had fear of my own: would my travel be disrupted? Would the work I had come to do be cancelled outright or postponed? How and when would we be able to discuss options with the client, now busy with storm preparations?
I went to the storm operations center where I asked whether Doppler radar could be streamed into the room. I fell into a three-hour conversation with the storm. Nobody knew because I attended meetings and talked with staff about other matters. When it hit, the storm did minimal damage, blowing through quickly and out to sea. The trailing storm dissipated and never approached the region. The crisis team went back home at the usual shift’s end.
I discussed some of what had transpired between the weather system and me with my colleague. I joked with her that I thought I had saved the company millions of dollars in damage and restoration expenses but was unclear how I could invoice them for my work!
Superficial conditions and emotions can scare me. They can trigger an immediate reactive response. When I am able to rest into my fear instead of reacting to it I can move to something more essential. High protecting requires a fearless orientation to finding Truth, and knows only this can liberate. What is real and true is never fearful.
Looking through a weather system to its essential consciousness connects me to my sister in ways I am only beginning to realize. Moving beyond outer circumstances to something more real, an exercise in creativity and radical inquiry to be sure, is a gift my sister left me. I know this now. Yet when she was alive I could not do it with her diagnosis; it scared me too much. I felt paralyzed by the cancer label and found any movement beyond simple prayers and cheerful pep talks virtually impossible. Yet, nothing is ever wasted.
Morphic Fields: Lenses That Alter our Experience and View of our World
If you have ever walked into a conference where an emotionally disturbing meeting just ended you know there is a residual feeling or presence that seems to linger after the meeting adjourns. Rupert Sheldrake, an English biologist and author, introduced the term “morphic field”. He proposes that there is a field within and around any activity where humans have collectively interacted. When other people come into that field they presumably have access to the collective “sense” and information of that field.
The more people engage in the thinking and behavior associated with a shared activity, the stronger the morphic field becomes. Carl Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious may be a close cousin to morphic fields.
Morphic fields can be positive or negative. On several occasions when we were at our wits’ end with ailments afflicting our animals, my wife and I would seek access to the morphic field of the best veterinarians throughout history in a search for their wisdom. We would then—suddenly at times—know exactly what to do. We would find new body parts to replace old ones, and discover ways to alleviate chronic pain and discomfort that our vet could do not find. Our home is a great place to be an animal! And a great laboratory for learning about and practicing the high form of protecting.
To experience my challenge with Nikki’s diagnosis, you simply need to think or say out loud “ovarian cancer” and you will feel the morphic field of that experience, unfortunately shared by thousands of women and their families and friends. The morphic field of this disease paralyzed me. I knew upon her passage that I needed a way of working that went beyond limiting assumptions embedded in morphic fields. I needed a more expansive way of working directly with the essence of something, with its very nature, not with superficial (and scary) appearances. I was clear about one thing: Cancer is never essential.
I found myself attracted to learning how to deliberately connect with the consciousness surrounding and within people, systems, and other entities. I had done it with weather systems and now animals; could I do it in other venues and with people?
High form of complying: Radical inquiry from the heart center into essential consciousness. The drive is not towards civility, authenticity or even right relationship. High complying is focused on liberation and restoration to wholeness of all that is fragmented, bound and not whole.
Our brain is designed to think by comparing new experiences with old learning. It functions by breaking down complex problems into their component parts. When looking for breakthrough interventions, however, this endless comparison against experience can be limiting. Dr. Richard Bartlet, founder of Matrix Energetics, suggests we need to do two things in order to counteract our brain and enter, instead, to an arena unbounded by what we think is possible.
High complying requires we drop directly into our heart, the inward place we fear the most. From the heart we connect with those circumstances and people we have been given to serve. We connect with our essence to their essence. This is not an interpersonal transaction but a transpersonal one. It builds on the desire we have to connect but moves through the threshold of vulnerability and self-doubt. Instead of being stopped by an assumption of inadequacy, high complying actually uses inadequacy as a jumping off point: My true strength is made perfect in my weakness. I drop into a heart connection, inquire as to what wants to happen, and then move out of the way so it can!
The heart space, as Bartlet suggests, is not an emotional center or a place of affect at all. It is a place of infinite possibilities beyond the superficial; it is doorway through which we connect with the essence of another and with the unlimited potentials of the consciousness field around us. It is a place of deep knowing, not deep feeling. Once there, we proceed by asking open-ended questions about what is possible, what needs doing, or simply, what’s going on here.
Once we move beyond our mind and drop into our heart, there is no order of difficulty with which we need be concerned. Small miracles are as easy as big ones.
It is surprisingly simple. The only real battle is with the brain’s judgments! Here’s an example of how it can work. I decided to pay my daughter a winter visit in New England where she lives. I arrived to find the weather stations all predicting a major winter storm—a Nor’easter—bearing down on the region.
My initial feelings were fear and concern my weekend would be disrupted.
Action: Drop into my heart space; connect with the essence of the storm.
Inquiry: I desire a visit with my daughter, free of concern about weather. What would help here?
Response: A hallucination: I immediately see an ocean going ship plowing through high seas.
Inquiry: What should I do, if anything, with this image?
The response comes quickly: Install a ship’s bow in the center of the state; the storm will pass along each side leaving the center of state, where we were, free.
Inquiry: How do I install a bow? The response: Imagine placing a bow above the state, laying it down, and then activating it by saying out loud: “Activate now.” I did this and then went to bed.
When I awoke in the morning there was little snow on the ground outside my hotel. I turned on the TV weather to find a Doppler radar image of the storm diving in two as it crossed our region and then merging back into one storm as it headed north.
Sometimes things don’t work this way. During a recent wildfire out west I approached the fire and received a “No, not now” response. I was not allowed in. I waited one week, each day checking several times to see if I sense an opening. I also went about the rest of my life, working, traveling, and buying groceries and so on. Finally, there was an opening. I dropped into my heart space and placed my intent that the fires cease its destructive path (many homes had been lost).
Inquiry: What would help here? I see something that looks like a giant jellyfish.
Inquiry: What would I do with this if I knew how? The response was to place it over the fire. When this image “breathed out” it breathed out water. But the water, with each in breath, sucked oxygen from whatever it touched. An un-expected thunderstorm came in the next day; the wind shifted and the fire came under control within 48 hours.
Would the thunderstorm have come in without my intervention? Not my question. I have no felt sense of ownership over these interventions except that I knew enough to be curious. I pay attention to differences after my intervention. The mind understands good, bad, right and wrong. It makes judgments about what it thinks should happen. It does not know what to do with the question, “What’s different?”
Asking about differences is another form of inquiry that allows us to track the impact of an intervention without getting lost in trying to decide whether something is good, bad or otherwise. How can we possibly know this?
The sub atomic world doesn’t work like I was taught it works when I was in high school! I was taught there was a neutron as a centerpiece and around it flew an electron and a proton in counterbalancing motion. Now it seems this is not so clear. It now seems electrons can appear as particles that can be located with powerful microscopes; and they can appear as waves. When scientists look for a particle that’s what they find; when they search for a wave, they find a wave. The movement of these small particles is impacted by human consciousness and expectations.
When an electron is isolated and slowed down for observation, it appears as a cloud. Some theorists believe this cloud represents all of the infinite possibilities of where an electron can be in any instant. To the extent you and I are made up, at the most basic level, of sub-atomic material, we too are beings of infinite possibilities. We are many.
“What do you think you see?”
At one point for many months, my spirit (in most being, my intuitive voice) would periodically prompt me with a question: “What do you think you see?” The question typically came when I was upset with something.
We see only what we are prepared to see. There may be an infinite array of possibilities we don’t see… unless and until we are prepared to. Our expectancy set shapes our reality. Our heart center alone can transcend our mind, bringing us into contact with the fullness of consciousness where complete solutions are found.
I slowly came to realize that my consciousness—or lack of—altered the appearance of what I looked at. I saw what I was prepared to see. In each instance the sequence was the same:
Notice myself feeling upset. Acknowledge the fear and then rest in it. Allow curiosity and wonder to prevail.
Inquiry: What do you think you see?
Response: Drop into my heart space and connect with the essence of that which a moment earlier upset me.
Notice: I am no longer upset.
Inquiry: What’s possible here?
Allow this possibility, whether I saw or felt it or not, to enter the experience.
For the next period of time, notice what was different about the situation.
A friend calls with an urgent request: her infant son is near death with an upper respiratory disorder. The surgeon is not optimistic. Many of us are now asked to send prayers, healing energies and thoughts. My intent is to add my voice to the mix and see what wants to happen.
I drop into my heart space and join with the essence of the infant. I sense tightness and a labored breathing. I ask: What would be helpful here? I see a strange looking device (I’ve since call them, bio-conscious devices—alive, self authorizing, self intelligent implants) that looks like a net. Each strand seems to add heat, reduce inflammation, clear blockages and expand air and blood flow. Each aspect seems infused with different frequencies of energies that aid in physical, emotional and spiritual health. The entire contraption has a total regenerative function: it brings wholeness to what it touches.
I ask: What should I do with this? The response: Install it and activate it. The response comes with an inner knowing of exactly how to do this and how long it would take to see a difference: 18 hours. I contacted the mother with the request to update the support team in 18 hours. The before and after X-rays were distinctly different and the infant boy survived.
Not all experiments have happy endings. As I write this, nineteen firefighters have lost their lives in an Arizona wildfire. Floods have washed out neighborhoods in Colorado. Fires still rage near Yellowstone. My intention has always been to add my voice to the mix. Life on earth brings with it awesome blessings as well as tremendous heartbreak. I am learning how to be open to it all. I want to remain awake and alive to everything that arises and have the capacity to respond in some way to it all.
High form of Controlling. Apprehend already complete outcomes not through sheer force of will and personality but through connection with all that is. The outcomes I seek are those that bring wholeness, freedom and release to all that has been entrusted to me.
The Creative orientation is sometimes seen as a “software update” to the Reactive. The Creative stance is powered by an intrinsic, purpose-driven desire to bring results into being. This orientation may at times start with a problem or a threat but the response then is built around the question, “So what do I/we want now?” And not, “How do we make this problem go away?” Both orientations have their relevant applications. Yet, ultimately, both are lacking. Neither stance adequately allows for the infinite possibilities of working directly with consciousness.
I have been surprised by one particular pattern in my experiments thus far. In virtually all instances when I drop into my heart space, connect with the essential space in another person, animal or set of circumstances, and ask, “What would help here?” the response is an already complete solution that I simply apprehend and apply. I don’t experience that I am creating anything that doesn’t already exist. In fact, my best “work” is simply making contact, expressing my intention, and then getting out of the way. Quickly!
Moreover, my physical eyes and ears don’t seem to play a role at all. In fact, they may inhibit my ability to leave the physical realm and drop into the heart. The heart has its own brand of deep knowing which, when coupled with intuition and a willingness to suspend the idea that I know or should know what’s best, frequently opens up a new universe of possibilities.
Towards greater elegance and ease: It’s time to move beyond our limited understanding of what’s possible.
Suspending judgment. There has been much written about the role that suspending judgment has on innovation, the creative process, team play and collaboration. I speak about it here in the most basic way: suspending judgment about the way we think things are. Examples of judgments we may not even know we hold as judgments:
- The judgment that what we see is what is there. At best, what we see may be the electron cloud configuring itself into something or someone we expect to see. At worst, it is only one of an infinite set of possibilities and perhaps one that freezes us from being open to others.
- The judgment that we know what’s best in any given circumstance. If your life is similar to mine, there are many instances where something I was convinced would destroy me has, instead, brought great blessing into my life. Things I thought I needed in order to be fulfilled turned out, when I had them, to leave me empty and still hungry. What do we know about what’s best?
- A corollary to the previous item: the judgment that we know what is good and what is bad for ourselves and others.
- The judgment that problems always need a rational solution. There is nothing rational about replacing a permanently damaged leg with a new, healthy and fully functioning leg from a parallel reality.
Seeing with the heart, not the eyes.
The eyes and other senses become less and less important. Another, more intuitive way of knowing emerges. Like looking for a faint star in the night, I relax my eyes and look to the side, trusting I will have some hallucinogenic image or two emerge that will inform what wants to happen. Too much sensory input actually delays the work.
When Nikki died a new clarity came. The good news was I knew with certainty that my challenges were not cancer or other difficult predicaments. The bad news: my real challenges were my own mind and way of thinking. I needed to move beyond both.
Partnering with consciousness without heroics.
In personal and leadership development there are always two things in motion. We tend to see and know only one. There is me setting my intention and taking direct action. And there is the universe—God, Spirit, Life Force, Source—moving towards me. The out breath and the in-breath working in harmony. I’m much better with direct action and not so good with the allowing required to be still as my essence and the universe move towards me.
My experiments clearly indicate that allowing is a much stronger movement that accomplishes more than we can imagine.
Most of us listen to see what we agree or disagree with. When we inquire, we listen for those points we identify with and those perspectives we wish to challenge. We inquire frequently from a place of knowing. Radical inquiry is something more than this. It springs forth from “not knowing” and being very curious about possibilities. It emerges from profound vulnerability, a place we typically seek to avoid.
– I yearn to assist others who I love to gain or re-gain their health, liberation and freedom and must begin in a place of not knowing if this will happen. –
That kind of vulnerability.
Most of all, radical inquiry challenges us to remain still and persist in the conversation as we are shown or instructed on what action to take. Asking and continuing to ask open-ended questions is the key.
What would be most useful here?
What does that mean?
What should I do with that?
How do I do that?
What would the most skillful (doctor, surgeon, financial genius, carpenter, etc.) do now?
If I knew what to do, what would I do?
What needs to happen here?
Each of these questions can seem reasonable, problem-solving questions. When asked from the heart space and directed to consciousness, or the essential aspect of a person or situation, these questions can evoke very strange and extraordinary responses. It is as if our essential life says, “We’ve been waiting for you to ask.”
There can be considerable emotional drama in the particulars of our lives. People we love become seriously sick or injured. Injustice can creep into our lives and cry loudly for revenge. Our own anger, fear and demands for justice can, at times, make it difficult to find our own heart. Releasing this material can be difficult; sometimes even wanting to release it is a hard place to find. The courageous choice to lay aside that which can bind us is another kind of vulnerability these experiments have awakened me to consider.
Even today a friend called. Her brother had just been beaten and left for dead and upper middle class neighborhood in the suburbs of Chicago. She asked for healing help as he lay in an ICU. My heart space was especially difficult to locate for a period of time.
Paying attention to what is different.
When we commit ourselves to noticing what’s different after we have made an intervention, we open ourselves to a new life of possibilities and wonder. We also sidestep the more familiar tendency to judge whether something is a good development or a bad one. This tendency, locked as it is in a small window of time and a quietly righteous attitude that “I should know whether something is good or bad,” quickly leads to a dead end. If we are convinced our work has resulted in a bad ending, we can easily lose heart and confidence. Our future work may then begin with doubt, not curiosity and hope.
Even if we deem our work to have had a positive impact we may then cease an on-going conversation with the essential aspect. This is especially true when our work was to eliminate discomfort or pain. If there is a reduction in discomfort we may feel right in ending our work, even though the condition is not yet resolved. Tracking, instead, what is different can keep us in the conversation longer and in the right mind set: curiosity and wonder.
My little sister was a devout Christian. She taught elementary school in a Christian school in New York City. Her deep faith allowed her, in this final dance, to experience joy in the face of sudden disappointment. I can only hope I am as gallant in the end. While I share a strong faith in Christ, she would not have liked this article. It would be too secular for her tastes, too human and not Christ-centered. Her concerns with this article underscore another small difference between her and me.
She worshipped Christ. I think I am Christ.
Two years before her death Nikki and I helped move my 94-year-old mother into an assisted living community. The entire experience could not have gone better. Old friends from childhood came to help, we had everything we needed including a lot of fun and, best of all, my mother was delighted with her new digs.
As Nikki and I waited together at the airport to go home, I thanked God for His complete provision of all things during the long weekend move. I was resting in praise when I was surprised by a clear, unequivocal response:
“You are the provision for the world; we honor you.”
This response brought an immediate end to my praise. My hierarchical view of the spiritual ladder had been turned upside down and this left me disoriented and confused. I am tempted to provide a caveat here. I don’t actually believe I am The Christ anymore than I believe I am The Provision for all the world’s need. There has been enough damage caused in the world by this kind of self-absorbed, pretentiously grand thinking.
There is an edginess I like, however, so I will not offer the caveat. It seems that when self-awareness, humility and vulnerability are added to the mix good things can and do happen. Additionally, when I claim no ownership of results—most of the time I have no idea what happens or how and why it happens—the danger of taking myself too seriously diminishes. I am left with an abiding sense of possibility and responsibility: Something might be possible here; I will find it.
I’ll live with this experiment and see where it takes me.
As I reflect on the Provision moment it now seems like a refining of a similar moment years earlier when I first heard the biblical passage recounting the day Christ was handed a particular scripture and read aloud:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, and to bring the acceptance of God (Isaiah 61:1).
These words went into me as if they were alive, and intended for me. I knew this was also not just my work in the world but, as an essential level, a description of who I am. Nikki would have understood this. She was similarly wired.
Apart from her love of Christ, a small circle of friends, and her classroom kids, Nikki’s other love was for all things chocolate. Peanut M&Ms in particular. It was incomprehensible to her why we didn’t always carry a year’s supply of them in our home when she visited. Instead, we would have to go to Wal-Mart and load up when she came. For me, it was fun to be scolded and to once again be reminded of what’s really important.
I invite you, Nikki, to look below the surface of our small differences into the Essential. See the beauty and power you left me with. And know that I love and am indebted to you.
And to my colleagues in The Leadership Circle community I wish you much success in your own experiments on the nature of reality the other side of fear.