31 December 2010

Abundance in Nothing

I have missed my friend.

En route to CA I began receiving reports of his meth addiction from mutual friends who hoped I could "do something." But, given the circumstances surrounding our last contact and what little I understood about addiction generally and meth addiction specifically, I was less than hopeful. My parting words, delivered in a letter written in CO after a frustrated year of either unanswered phone and email messages or verbose, self-absorbed rants on the rare occasion we were in contact, left the ball in his court. "I'll be here forever because that's what I promised when we met but it's your turn to reach for me."

Strong words. A mask for my broken heart.

Five years later, post-Landmark Education, I recognize the "inauthenticity" of my letter. It was authentic to let him see my heart; it was inauthentic to blame him for the pain I was feeling.

In the nine months since I returned to CA, we've had two or three opportunities to sit together when I was in SF for other business. The physical proximity granted a semblance of re-connection but the heart-to-heart connection felt tenuous and and fragile.

He had not responded to several email and voice-mail messages left since Thanksgiving when I decided earlier this week to call him one more time. We played text-and-phone tag for a couple of hours yesterday, finally connecting this morning when he called me a little after 9.

I was still in bed when the phone rang. [Talking on the phone in bed is one of my favorite most luscious indulgences.] We spent an hour together. There were periods of silence. I didn't need to make him wrong. I didn't feel sorry for him. I didn't need to figure anything out or save him. I didn't need answers. I didn't have any advice. I wasn't nostalgic.

I didn't feel happy or relieved or hopeful or nervous or afraid.

I was just on the phone
with another human
in a world where it can be difficult to just "be" -- with myself or anyone else.

27 December 2010

Gradual Clearing

In this post-Landmark period, one week after my last direct exposure in the Advanced Course, I am sorting through what I "got" and attempting to de-clutter my head.

It's tricky: in any given moment, I recognize I'm using the tools of Landmark to de-clutter my thinking about Landmark. Very odd sensation...

One of the less slippery items, unequivocally identified as problematic, has to do with integrity. A lot of talk about integrity in Landmark....the phrase "you're only as good as your word" is passionately repeated. And yet, better than half of my interactions with Landmark staff and graduates, lack the integrity of "being true to your word."

Given the dominance of logic and justice as "personal tests" in my world view, witnessing inconsistency of action with word within the kingdom of Landmark is remarkable and troubling.

But it's not the lack of follow-through that bothers me most; more troubling than this, is the hypocrisy of holding this principle so close to the core of the teaching, repeating it to student/participants frequently and taking them to task when they stray from it, and creating an atmosphere that makes it difficult for leaders to be taken to task for similar infractions.

We all make mistakes. We all break promises. Acknowledgment and apology reduce potential stress, disappointment and inconvenience. I don't even mind being called out when I screw up -- but outside the framework of a reciprocal, mutual responsibility, it feels unfair and abusive. If integrity is important for the student, I think it's also important for the teacher.

The technology of Landmark Education has changed my life, modifying the architecture of my thinking in deep ways. It will take some time to sort the wheat from the chaff. And it feels like a necessary evaluation and elimination process -- there's definitely treasure for keeping and it would be tragic to let my displeasure with some features lead me to trash the entire thing.

It feels a little like teaching myself to talk.

16 December 2010

Event Horizon

What a time!

Tomorrow is my birthday. It's not a big deal this year .... except the idea of "quitting" (smoking)(again) persists...

I want to write the last of the three new songs I promised in the Landmark Effectiveness Seminar. I attended the last session on Monday and am very happy to be done with that ... experience.

Standing on the deck (at Barb and Pete's vineyard estate) this morning, some sort of insight or awareness about myself arrived: I finally acknowledged the "undies in a bundle" energy I've been carrying for a few weeks about Landmark Education. Not enough to wrinkle my brow or clench my teeth but extant nonetheless.

When the insight dawned today, it cracked me up.

The text for the last (next) song will be from Rilke. Here are the ones I'm considering:

Each mind fabricates itself.
We sense its limits, for we have made them.
And just when we would flee them, you come
and make of yourself an offering.

I don't want to think a place for you.
Speak to me from everywhere.
Your Gospel can be comprehended
without looking for its source.

When I go toward you
it is with my whole life.

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

[both from Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy]

Whichever text is chosen, I will write for piano and voice this time rather than guitar.

On Monday, instead of attending the final session of the Landmark Effectiveness Seminar, I will board a train bound for Oregon. My excitement and delight are boundless.

Creative focus throughout the journey will be fulfillment of my intention to be "visible in the world as a committed working artist and arts educator." Specifically, I'll spend my time a) polishing the new songs, b) writing my show, and c) mapping the next 12 months of my life/career.

25 November 2010

Like in the Movies

The frequency of my correspondence with Steve, the old boyfriend from college who contacted me a few months ago after 35 years, has diminished. Now we mostly exchange amusing forwarded video clips and jokes (sidebar question: why are forwarded email jokes always written in oversized font?) from time to time,

and even that has dwindled since I complained the joke he shared about John Hinckley, Jodie Foster and Barack Obama was offensive.

But before we reached this point, while my profile was still active, I took one of those personality analysis tests so popular on FaceBook. Something like "Which movie actress are you?" By that tests measure, I am most like Audrey Hepburn. The results posted to my profile and Steve revealed that he'd always thought of me that way.

My sense of her isn't strongly defined from the handful of her films I've seen. Thin, almost emaciated. Delicate on the surface with a surprising inner strength of character, will and intelligence. Elegant physical presence. Soft spoken. Well bred but not arrogant.

I suppose I see the resemblance.

How did humans see each other before movies were invented? How do lovers in remote villages of the world see each other? Are their perceptions any clearer than ours, unfed by massive media input?

I perceived Steve through a Cat Stevens filter or frame 35 years ago. The resemblance was predominantly physical with the additional similarity of music, specifically guitar playing. The gentleness of Cat Stevens' music corresponded with the quality of my affection for Steve; my love was a secluded mountain meadow where a delicate breeze caressed tall grass in bright, watery sunlight. Quiet. Shimmering. Timeless.

These days my understanding of Love is less influenced by movies and popular song. For one thing, I consume less media now than I did 35 years ago. For another, life experience has revealed the massive discrepancy between the way things go in "real life" and on the giant screen.

I rarely yearn for Love, Like in the Movies but I often wish my real life conversations and interpersonal interactions were more like those in the movies. In the movies, conversations involve long pauses and lots of eye contact. Meaning is communicated through dynamic, changeable volume and pace and timbre of speech. Emotions are expressed.

16 November 2010

Work A Day

OK. So, in part, reacting to the encounter with the Landmark Seminar leader discussed a couple of posts ago, my heart and mind hardened. It was not a painful development; I was not depressed or immobilized but my willingness to work diminished.

The internal chatter went something like this:

Ah ha! So the Leader is imperfect. Well, then. Landmark Education must also be imperfect. Therefore, I'm not going to listen any more. I'm going to sneer. I'll keep a correct face on but I'm sneering inside. I'm committed to sneering.

Among the several things I "got" during last night's Seminar was that while I was sneering, I was not getting any work done. When I considered why that was true, I discerned some other concurrent background chatter:

I just can't work unless I'm inspired. I can't force inspiration. Besides I can't work in this house: when she's home. I don't want her to hear me. I don't want her to come tell me she "really liked" whatever she heard. I'm not doing it for you! blah blah blah I need to smoke while I work...blah blah blah These songs aren't that important anyway; I've got other cool stuff happening in my life right now...

"Well," (I said to myself last night), "OK. Whatever. And I'd still really like to have those new songs I committed to create in my Seminar project. So I'm gonna go ahead and work on those songs while you/I sneer. OK? I'm not debating this is not the dreamed-for setting; I'm just saying I'm gonna go ahead and work in it 'cause it's the one I have right now."

And don't you know? Music came. Inspiration came. And remains solidly in this next day -- as, of course, it always does because, for me, once I begin the work, it's easier to work. I'm not facing a blank page. I have something begun before me and so I know where to put my hands.

Just before I picked up the guitar, I responded to an email from dear friend F.

I hoped to call you today but didn't commit to it
so, as the day unfolded and delivered a series of events that I called "strange" to my door step, I was distracted from the hoped-for agenda.

You are interested in "this god who visits and presences" me.

In a recent conversation with [a mutual friend], I said, "F______ is always ever the Poet." It was a comment on how I perceive your relationship to (and "use" of...dance with?) language....

It's also a comment on who I become with you.

I probably have it in me to write to you about "this god" tonight but I'm going to redirect/redistribute that vitality into music. It is late and I made a commitment tonight, to myself and a colleague in the Landmark Effectiveness Seminar, that I would show up every day, beginning tonight, to receive the three new mystical poem-songs that are part of the possibility I created and intention I set in the work of the Seminar.

So I'm going to light some candles
and pick up my guitar
and welcome Rumi
and consider the text

Keep Your Heart Awake

There are many whose eyes are awake
And whose hearts are asleep;
Yet, what can be seen
By mere creatures of water and clay?
But he who keeps his heart awake
Will know and live this mystery;
While the eyes of his head may sleep
His heart will open hundreds of eyes.
If your heart isn't yet illumined
Be awake always, be a seeker of the heart,
Be at war continually with your carnal soul.
But if your heart is already awakened,
Sleep peacefully, sleep in the arms of Love,
For your spiritual eye is not absent
From the seven heavens and seven directions.


We will talk soon.

I'll speak your name as I light the candles tonight.


13 November 2010

It Was Always Me

Sitting in the sun with my first cigarette a few moments ago, something happened. I was analyzing some situation in my life -- I don't even remember what it was now -- and became aware of myself as distinct from the situation.

This has happened before, a result of consciously reminding myself that something exists, a part of me, that does the thinking. But this time, the awareness arrived unbidden. A surprise. It was as though Thinker yawned and stretched and winked at me...and the eye was deeply familiar. The eye was my own. And the eye was full of snapshots and clips from all the places and people I've known. I was saturated with realized awareness that I was the common denominator in all those scenes; that I was there then and am still here now.

It felt like falling into something. Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Ka-thunk! I am.

11 November 2010

Judging the Book (and other assessments) By Its Cover

The rumbling in my stomach, fitful sleep and tear-stained-pillows-of-morning started almost from the moment I stepped into the role of Group Leader. There was no job description provided; no "Group Leader's Handbook" distributed; no contract outlining responsibilities and liabilities.

Not that I'm unfamiliar with being "the one": I'm an oldest child of four. I facilitate workshops and have consented several times in the past to be "song leader" at small group gatherings. I've entertained audiences of hundreds. But this experience, becoming Group Leader of a small group in Landmark Education's Effectiveness Seminar, was a first: consenting to lead a group with no advance knowledge of the purpose or objective of the group, for no pay. There's no need to ask "What could go wrong?" If I'd been permitted a glimpse into the future on the night I became leader and allowed to read that descriptive last sentence, I might never have accepted the role.

Then again...I might have (and did, in fact). Adventure, mystery, puzzles, surprises. I have an appetite for such things and often choose to move toward the Unknown and The Thing I Fear.

I'm no longer Group Leader. I resigned two days ago. The Seminar Leader suggests I did not resign; he suggests "quit" and "breaking [my] commitment/word" are the correct or accurate words for what I've done. Those words are OK; it's not confusing that an observer would use those words to describe my decision.

The rub is this: "resign" also occurs to me as a correct and accurate description. It is the Seminar Leader's inability to see it similarly that confuses me.

It's been said that Landmark Education is the land of "ass-kicking" and "two by fours." Never let it be said that I can't appreciate the value of ass-kicking and wielding a two by four; sometimes, those are the perfect antidotes to the clever, evasive maneuvers of human ego.


I believe there are other strategies more appropriate and effective in some situations. Landmark Education is a powerful technology, exposure to which has provoked amazing changes in my life already. Without knowing any particulars or details of my life story, Landmark technology has advanced my life cause.

Where I stand now, I crave some of the rigor inherent to the Landmark technology applied to the specific contour and content of my life. I am frustrated beneath the broad brush of "the Landmark Way." It's like wanting to dance but the band only knows how to play one song.

I confront my old yearning for recognition. The universality of the "human condition" permits generic approaches -- food, water, shelter, love, listening, laughter, etc. -- that deliver some benefit to most people in most situations. And what about the unique nature of the suffering or confusion or despair that a particular human experiences?

Somehow I had read Landmark to include an appreciation of this dimension. This week, it feels like a misreading. When the Seminar Leader suggested that I live in an "angry at the World" attitude (and that this attitude is a big source of suffering for me), it did not ring true. I suggested that he didn't know me well enough to offer that diagnosis (though I would not have had a problem accepting it as a ventured guess). My suggestion, as best I can understand from his subsequent coaching, fell in the category of "defensiveness."

So I have no authority with regard to defining how I see the world? To report how things look to me, if my report differs from how you think things look to me, is an attempt to sidestep the truth? Again, this is not a context that works or rings true for me. Ultimately, wouldn't that lead to a total evaporation of my "power"? But, the stated intention of the Education is to increase my "power, freedom and full self-expression"... I'm confused and, so far, have not found a corner of Landmark Education where this apparent discrepancy is addressed.

I am feeling neither heard nor seen inside the house of Landmark Education these days. I am still enamored of and awed by the possibilities for my life that have opened up as a result of my enrollment; I'll probably use some of these tools for he rest of my life.


I am coming to see that there are discrepancies between the Landmark Itinerary and my own and the Landmark Train can't take me everywhere I want to go. Trains don't run on water or traverse the sky. I can't see the wonders of the ocean's floor from a train or find the field where the ancestors gather to chant. I am, after all, Sojourner.

20 October 2010

Grand Opening

I have cleared what I viewed as the First Hurdle in the Landmark Effectiveness Seminar: I have created an intention.

My intention is to be visible in the World as a committed, working artist.

It's true -- I'm feeling "tah-dah" and invigorated and clear in mind like I'm standing on top of a mountain. It took a couple of weeks of drafting to come up with this stated intention. It started with something like "I will find or create a stream of gainful employment for myself" and evolved to the statement above. The process was provocative and the result is a statement that feels graceful and powerful to me.

And also

I am scared shit-less when I read it. Who am I kidding? How am I supposed to transform from a wannabe poser to a bonafied artist?

I am terrified, actually because it feels like my last stand. Like if I don't get my act together now, I might as well find a grenade to sit on.

I know this is not my last stand. Intellectually. I only feel like this is my last stand. I consider whether my fear is evidence that my intention is just more inauthenticity: me blowing smoke up my ass.

What is most significant to me, what I've decided to "go with," is the heightened power, freedom, strength, clarity, enthusiasm, willingness and confidence I feel when I say, aloud,

My intention is to be visible in the World as a committed, working artist.

Also significant, everyone who's heard my intention says they are, in the words of Landmark, "touched, moved and inspired" by it.

Yeah, I think I'll go with this.

17 October 2010


What is "inauthenticity"? The assignment is to find it. In myself. And to name it.

For two weeks I have walked with this unanswered question, let it tumble around inside me.

Group leaders in the Effectiveness Seminar teleconference once a week. Here's what I know about "inauthenticity" now, after this week's meeting. The Seminar Leader's discussion -- prompted by excellent questions from the Group Leaders -- was clear and dynamic and the light went on for me. I "got it".

Inauthenticity is self-generated. It is born and lives through me. It is estrangement: from God. From myself. From the heart of the world.

Ultimately, I can only come to know God through living out out out in in in
and out out in again
my consciousness breathing
God without and God within
God without and God within

Whenever Inauthenticity occurs, I experience diminished vitality, diminished joy, loss of connection to...everything. I float alone in a mute universe, with only inner voices chattering, yammering, wailing...inside me. It is a cold place. Dying.

I found a feeling memory of my inauthenticity during the teleconference. How many times in how many years have I approached a new moment full of prejudging, peering at the world through the tight screen mesh of my fear?

Inauthenticity is not sin.

It is powered by human will. It is not as basic as breathing but is similarly automatic and happens in the blink of an eye: that woman walks into the room and I don't like her. It's immediate. And I immediately begin to build the case against her.

We almost can't help ourselves.

And, yet

we can.

It begins with the willingness to see. Then a commitment to seeing. Even when we're afraid. Especially when we're afraid; when we're afraid, we know that a self-preserving psychic instinct is very likely to kick in and we will respond from a primitive rather than an evolved awareness.

We find a still, clear space in the stifling wind of our fear and ... well, what do we do?

I can only speak for myself. I take a few very deep breaths to calm the psychic trembling. Something swirls white and cool/hot in my solar plexus and the crown of my head; it is my Will, reaching toward knowing. Saying "yes" to life. Saying "yes, I am here. I am not hiding. I want to play."

The flip side of every inauthenticity is possibility. That's why the assignment to identify and name every inauthenticity is so important. Inauthenticity is me choosing a cage instead of Possibility.

I'm still uncertain how to name particular occurrences of inauthenticity or whether the task is valuable. Finally apprehending the concept on both sensual and intellectual levels is a breakthrough for me. In the moment I understood the term, I was also aware of the impact of inauthenticity.

To recognize it is to immediately appreciate as well what Possibility means. The flip side of fear, bondage, smothering

is freedom, breath


14 October 2010

Throw It Away

I worked hard today. It feels good.

I read (and am re-reading) "The War of Art" (Steven Pressfield/Grand Central Publishing) and the book's teaching has grabbed me
shook me
slapped my face and kicked my ass.

And then embraced me, in that way that only deep, organic truth can.

In the language of the other compelling transformative agent currently driving me (and enlivening me), Landmark Education, I AM "touched, moved and inspired" by Steven Pressfield's writing AND by the message he brings.


today I showed up for myself. Got busy. Paid attention to my work, i.e., read all email and responded to most of it (including acceptance of a performance invitation for this Sunday); posted two Events on FaceBook; and did an hour of Internet research following up on suggestions received about the Petaluma Situation.

The Petaluma Situation bears capitalization on the basis of how thoroughly my day was devoted to it.

I did a playshop presentation at the Petaluma Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at the end of August. It was a lot of fun for everybody--but no one had more fun than I did. Not many weeks afterward, I was asked if I was available to facilitate a longer version playshop and my fee.

Of course I'm available. But what is my fee? I spent a few days in consultation with friends, drafted a proposal and sent it off. Over the next few days a few other friends weighed in on the topic recommending fees that far outstripped what I'd finally decided on. I felt a twinge of "damn! I undercut myself again!" but I got over it. They agreed to my conditions without modification.

A month has passed and yesterday I received an email from a church member. She was in attendance the Sunday I presented the 20-minute playshop. At the opening and offertory of that service I sang from my Rumi Songbook (working title for a developing catalog, about five songs currently, of Rumi and Hafiz poetry set to music). The woman wrote asking for song sheets of "my" songs for the choir; they are hoping to sing the songs during an upcoming service on poetry.

I don't have song sheets. Or, at least, I didn't have song sheets yesterday. I spent four hours today transcribing a song. I wouldn't have believed I could do it. But I did.

Still, the money part of the thing dangled. Do I charge for this? How much?

My friends' opinions ran the gamut. I was glad I asked them; having a variety of input enriched the decision-making process.

Someone mentioned I would need permission from the author/translator. I'm using Coleman Barks' The Essential Rumi (Castle Books). I looked for him on Facebook, hoping to drop him a line of inquiry. I couldn't find a portal. So I Googled him and landed at a website for Maypop where Barks says:

Please feel welcome to share with me your
comments, questions, and requests.

But be warned. I will probably NOT reply to your email, letter, or phone message, or acknowledge receiving it. This is not from a lack of interest or warmth, but out of necessity. I find that I cannot do my writing work if I try to respond to every message. It is the too-many-things-going-on-at-once situation of a Middle School Band Concert Day. By my next birthday (April 23, 2007) I will have used up the Biblical allotment (70 years). Rumi's complete Masnavi (six books, sixty-four thousand lines of poetry) looms over me as the work I need to be doing, rather than chatting the day away on email.
But I left him a note anyway.

Within the hour, I received an email from him granting his permission to use the translation without charge. We exchanged four or five more short amiable messages. As if email correspondence with Coleman Barks' was not excitement and gift enough for one day, the last email of the exchange resonated at the same timbre as The War of Art and set me to the current blog post. He wrote:
So you have to give them away too. It's insidious.

His words reminded me of Abbey Lincoln's song. I found it online...and cried as I listened.

12 October 2010

Why California Gets On My Nerves

Call 'em inconsistencies or complexities...

or hypocrisy of the most insidious variety. Liberals who think of themselves as progressive and, due to either unwillingness or lack of capacity for self-reflection, are completely blind to their narcissistic rut. Saving the earth by buying the "green" variety of more stuff they don't need.... Complaining about the arrogance of American foreign policy and patronizing "the homeless," e.g., never giving "them" money because they'll buy something Liberals don't approve of...

I find more of these people in CA on any given day than I ever encountered in New Orleans.

Yes, I'm missing New Orleans today.

Hurts So Good

The last thing I fed my head before falling asleep last night was the first half of Steven Pressfield's The War of Art. Who knows what it did to my dreaming -- not even a fragment of a dream remains this morning -- but I have no doubt it was the prod that shoved me awake around 5:30 a.m.

For half an hour, I alternated between sitting and staring and lying down and staring. It's four hours later now and I've forgotten most of whatever thoughts I entertained. I remember reflecting disinterestedly on the events of yesterday...holding up little snippets of episode and considering them through the filter of NVC (NonViolent Communication)...observing the bubbly rumbling in my gut.

"I want more of that book!" was both a thought and an instantaneous hunger. I hopped up and got the coffee started, unpacking the dishwasher while the espresso machine labored. Outside the window, in the new day's first light, a man older than me strode by with a determined look on his face, his arms pumping.

On the porch, with coffee and cigarettes, I read

It's one thing to lie to ourselves. It's another thing to believe it.


Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.


Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work....Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. ...Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.

and, finally

Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.

Do it or don't do it.

It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don't do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It's a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you've got.

All I can say is "Let's do this" and "Thanks, V____" (who gave me the book) and "Thanks, Steven" (who wrote the book).

07 October 2010

Teasing Out Leadership

Every time I tell the mystery story about my becoming leader of a small subgroup of the Landmark Seminar I'm attending and I say "So, somehow, I became the Group leader,"

the response is the same: a chuckle and something along the lines of "Oh, Alex. 'Somehow'? I'm not surprised at all that you would be leader in any group you're part of."

The comment only deepens the mystery surrounding this development in my life.

Yes, I often present as articulate and strong and smart and willing. And, yes, I'm a good listener. And, yes, I have pretty good "big picture" visual acuity plus good "heart of the matter" visual acuity. All of these traits would be good to find in a leader. I've seen these traits in the leaders I respect and admire.

But I generally resist stepping into a leadership position when I find myself in situations where leadership is sorely needed. It happens a lot.

For one thing, groups generally have some work they're about. The thought of shepherding diverse personalities through a creative process is daunting. I think about everything I've learned about "dealing" with people over the years, all the rules and guidelines gleaned from my upbringing and therapy and human development classes/workshops I've attended and granola/new age/cosmic literature I've read.

"I" statements. Asking rather than telling. Listening without judgment. Time management. "Handling" difficult people. Holding the space. Making sure all voices have a chance to be heard. Supporting and encouraging each individual member for the good of the whole. Maintaining an attitude of service. Patience.

A lot to remember. A lot of lines to memorize.

Willingly pledging to lead while keeping all of these guidelines in mind has always looked to me like becoming someone else, becoming someone other than who I believe myself to be. A role taken on, a full suit of clothing donned. I have believed the grumbling, critical, resigned, hopeless outsider "racket" that typically started up in me whenever I found myself in a leader-less group, was the "real" me. All that patience and holding space and "I" statements crap was some stuff I knew about but not a description of the "real" me.

As the current essential transformation continues to play out in my life, almost everything looks different.

My becoming Group Leader isn't such a spooky and mysterious development.

I played the scene over again in my head this morning (as I have frequently over the last two weeks): Five people sat down in a small circle of chairs with the assignment to "choose a leader." No one said anything but the five of us looked at each other. Finally L______ said something like "Is anyone interested in being Leader?" and I said "Well, I'm interested," meaning Leadership as a phenom has interested me for most of my life.

"Good," she replied. "You can be leader." And so it was done.

Like I said, usually I resist and avoid leadership. I mean that both ways: I question authority and, although I will voice an opinion and claim authority in an isolated instance, I resist that position as a formalized, ongoing arrangement.

The difference this time is the context. This instance occurs in the framework of an educational system in which I've enrolled. The act of leading and my thoughts about it are highly relevant, experiential components of this system.

And I'm not doing it alone. I am neither leading nor exploring leadership alone. It is not a question of me being too "intense" or "deep" or "serious" about something. Intense depth (and expansiveness) is expected here; everybody in Landmark is ostensibly about intense, pervasive transformation.

Five people gathered and one person was interested in leading. A simple process of elimination, in a way. A logical and fitting development.

And, already, the flotsam and jetsam of our personalities have begun to litter the water and bump the sides of our little boat. This time, though, rather than analyzing the psychology and neuroses of group members, my focus is on what we have come together to do. The things I say, how and when I say them, and the how-when-what of the group members' statements and actions are important relative to how they serve or obstruct the work at hand.

We're meeting as a complete group for the first time this coming Monday. I invited the group to come to my house, a house that doesn't actually belong to me...a place that mostly feels like a situation where I'm avoiding and resisting taking leadership.

Which is not relevant to the work of the group.

I'll serve tea.

03 October 2010

Storm Tracking

I woke up feeling lost and anxious. "What?!" Making coffee, checking email, washing my face. Inside my head the voice barks "What?!"

The current Landmark Seminar is on "Effectiveness" and the Intention of the seminar is "For you to develop the capacity to create intentions from possibility and be effective at translating those intentions into results over time." Yes, "over time."

As the leader elaborated on the mission of the Seminar, what yanked my chain hard enough to propel me out of my chair and up to the microphone to share was a concept he calls "turbulence"--those periods when whatever we're doing isn't going the way we want it to. Without making light of the critical roles of creating the intention and seeing possibility, for me, hanging tough through turbulence is the pivotal moment in the process of translating an intention into results.

The mess in my gut and head this morning is the first real turbulence I've experienced since graduating the Landmark Forum. The particulars of my current lifestyle are far from extraordinary (and I DO want an extraordinary life!) but I've taken it all in stride for months. Fueled by what I learned in the Forum, as well as NVC reading and training, nothing has felt like true turbulence. Turbulence is the abject fear of dying that arises when the plane is lurching and things are falling and there's nothing I can do and I know I'm gonna die.

I'm in the house alone this morning and the mantra I muttered to the lonely walls while making coffee was this: "I've got to get out of here!"

I carried my coffee and cigarettes and cell phone to the front porch, muttering "I've got to get out of here!" And a lost, anxious "What?! How?!" whined breathlessly in response from a distant back room in my head.

Browsing the Contacts on the cell phone, I started deleting names. I pressed talked when M______'s name came up and listened to his outgoing message: "I'm usually far too busy to come to the phone when it rings so tell me why you called and I'll call ...." OK. "I'm calling to say hello...."

I left the message and hung up and I realized I was scanning my Contacts looking for somewhere to send an S.O.S.

And "turbulence" came to mind. Yeah. I'm experiencing turbulence.

Nothing has changed since yesterday. It's the same world and the same set of circumstances and today it feels like turbulence. The changed element is how the world looks and feels to me. That would mean...it's me; the turbulence resides in my thinking. It's the "meaning-making machine" that Landmark identifies at work. It's me, busy figuring things out: categorizing, evaluating, assessing. And doing it based on old, familiar stories I've told myself forever and unmet needs.

And the process and results of this meaning making manifest in my life this morning as a feeling of turbulence.

The strength of the resolve driving the process of creating effective results is determined by the integrity I bring to the process. Integrity = Being true to my word and committed to maintaining an empowered internal context. "What does that mean?" is the central question this morning.

It means awareness that there are things I know
and things I don't know
but mostly there is a vast universe of unknowns that I'm not even aware of

There's more space out there
more possibility
more freedom

It means saying "yes." There's nothing to "fix." Things are the way they are. Yes. Things are the way they are. This is my life. Say "yes."

I feel the shift. Nothing shifts when I try to understand myself or try to change my thinking. The trying becomes an all-consuming endeavor. I stop trying and say "yes" and I feel a shift.

"Yes" to what? To nothing. To everything. It's the power of "yes." Everything opens. The struggle ends. The search ceases. I arrive. Life begins.

[Note: M___ just called me back. It was a sweet intimate telephonic experience. I love when that happens.]

I did a Google Image Search on "affirmation" to find something to insert at this point in the blog. Here's the one that hooked me:

Thought I was a teapot but
I'm a sugar bowl.

Say "yes."

28 September 2010

Not Like Anything I Knew

Last night I drove to Santa Cruz and attended the first session of a ten-week seminar on "Effectiveness" being offered by Landmark Education.

Earlier today, drinking coffee on the front porch, a feeling slowly invaded me and produced the thought "I think I drank the Kool-Aid."

People who "believe" in Landmark often remark that personal transformation begins from the moment of registration for a Landmark workshop or seminar. I've experienced it myself. I actually felt lighter, like I weighed less, after my first telephone conversation with a Landmark representative who called to acknowledge receipt of my enrollment packet.

That sensation hasn't happened much since then. More often now, I hang up the phone (or, sometimes, leave the in-person encounter) thinking "Huh? That was weird." And, then just forget about it.

When the Kool-Aid feeling started today, I was reflecting on mental notes about last night's meeting. I remembered the broad waves of laughter that frequently washed through the room and the unabashed sales pitches by the seminar leader. At the end of the evening, we broke out into groups of 5 or 6 and designated a leader for each group.

I became the leader for my group and today the way in which that came to be looked spooky to me: the five of us sat down and no one said a word for awhile. Finally L_____ (one of three group members who have attended Santa Cruz Landmark seminars for many years) said, "So is anyone interested in leading?" I said that I was interested and, almost in unison, A___ , L____ and M____ said, "Great! You can be leader." How did they get me to do that? I wondered, sipping coffee 15 hours later.

I finished my coffee and sat down at the piano. Bach, Chopin and Schumann have been my focus for a few months now but I chose Debussy today. I was not in the mood to exercise precision of technique, time and timbre; I wanted to experience an impressionistic swirl of sound and emotion.

It doesn't happen every time I play but today I found a deeper road into the Sarabande movement of the Pour Le Piano suite. I was attempting a strict rendering of the dynamic markings assigned in the Dover publication I work from. When staccato and pedal and volume and phrasing and tempo were all observed and honored, a new articulation emerged. It was like seeing a brand new world.

The fundamental motivation driving my involvement with Landmark is readiness and longing for transformation. Yet it would seem that when I find myself transformed--taking on leadership of a group of strangers, for example-- skepticism or resistance arises.

In the form of NVC*, I looked first for an objective view of last night's events. What did I observe?

  • A room full of people laughing at something I either didn't understand or didn't find funny
  • A man announcing registration discounts through a lavalier microphone
  • Four people sitting silently in a circle of chairs with me
  • Me saying "I'm interested in the idea"
And what feeling did I experience in each instance? What was the need underlying each feeling?
  • lonely from the (unmet) need to belong
  • embarrassed from the (unmet) need to avoid money (maybe this is actually 'fear'?)
  • peaceful and free from the (met) need to belong and to be held in positive regard without effort
  • powerful, realized, inspired from the (met) need for learning, expansion, growth and challenge
I've experienced Breakthrough many times as a musician and performing artist. It doesn't scare me. I have experienced spontaneous peak moments of grace, good fortune and joy in my life and, at the time, referred to them as experiences of Breakthrough. What I "got" last night is that unless my will is applied to the situation, it's not Breakthrough. I can want or need something; I can even be happy and grateful when it serendipitously shows up on my doorstep. Something nice happens -- but I am fundamentally unchanged.

The essential characteristic of Breakthrough is that it shatters the status quo and changes the life it held in bondage. It's not about an alteration in what's happening around me-- although
it's common for people to change the world around them as a result of what springs forth from their Breakthrough. It's about an alteration in how the world looks to me and how I look to myself and what I create.

A friend who teaches ballet at a local college called while I was out last night. Her regular pianist is no longer available for two classes and she has invited me to take those two classes! This is a very old dream come true. I started fantasizing about being a dance class pianist from the time I learned such a thing existed, probably from some 50s movie or TV.

The gig starts immediately. I'll go to the administrative offices tomorrow to complete paperwork and get the lay of the land. Eight o'clock Wednesday morning I'll play the first class.

This won't be the last time in the transformation that's turning my life that I'll be provoked to fear I suspect, as the shackles of the old ways fall away and I get acquainted with Freedom. I will see myself in a new light and wonder "Who is that woman in the mirror?" I'll learn again and again that Transformation = Change ...

*Non-Violent Communication

24 September 2010

So What Are You Gonna Do?

After 3 and a half days in bed as a vigorous cold made it's way through my system, I am recovered enough to wander as far as the front porch for a cigarette. A little while ago, blowing smoke rings and watching the moon rise and stars blink on, I noticed a numb tingling in my left foot.

"I'm done!" I said aloud to the listening night. "I quit." I knew without a moment's consideration that the tingling was one more firm but gentle entreaty from my body to give up cigarettes.

A major psychological turning has been underway in my life since completing the Landmark Forum and attending the NonViolent Communication Diversity Retreat. Until the cold struck on Monday, I had enjoyed almost two months of exceptional mental, spiritual and physical vitality. Dreaming and motivated to take steps to bring dreams into reality. New piano music compositions, designing a brochure, initiating process to launch a website, into the studio to make a demo recording, facilitating workshops and presenting/performing for Sunday morning UU gatherings.

The fresh energy of this time is notable for the freedom I feel in it. I'm busy but not for the money or to "look busy"; everything I'm doing is motivated by inner curiosity, inspiration, gratitude or recognition of the incomplete places in the world, places where the world is waiting for me.

At last, life feels possible. I appreciate the simple miracle and unfettered potential of my existence -- not as a caption on a card from a Daily Affirmations deck that I chant with morning coffee and hope that it sticks. More like a fundamental, essential awareness that my life is a paradox, its unfolding shaped as much by mysteries beyond my control as by the choices I make. It's amazing. And also, it just is. I cannot predict tomorrow AND I create tomorrow.

I don't need an Affirmation card to remind me. I can't forget it now. It's in my bones. In my dreams.

Last night I dreamed I was seated in some kind of auditorium with the seats spaced in a comfortable if unorthodox arrangement. I was there with other people; no one I recognized. I was happy. My smile was a warm, bright glow. My mouth was open. Suddenly and very quickly, the entire space became a vacuum and it felt like my lungs, veins and arteries, ear canals, intestinal tract, and every cell of my body was sucked clean.

The uptake lasted perhaps 3 seconds but even before it ended my mind was singing: "The smoke is gone!"

Something out of my control could happen to interrupt my smoking habit. Life is mystery and surprise. In the part of my life that I control, I could choose to stop smoking before Mystery stops me. In the future that I am envisioning and creating, I am not tethered to an oxygen machine or bound to a wheelchair with one leg amputated.

I "get it" more clearly than ever now that I am really here, in a fragile, nonrefundable, nonrenewable body; that what I put in this body, what I subject it to is governed by cause and effect.

I get to make choices and I get to experience the effects of the causes I create.

13 September 2010

Natural Compassion

In "Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life" Marshall Rosenberg speaks of "natural compassion." He says
Believing that it is our nature to enjoy giving and receiving in a compassionate manner, I have been preoccupied most of my life with two questions. What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, ...? And...what allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature under even the most trying circumstances?

My first response to the concept of an innate compassion in all people was "Ahhhh, the world is a beautiful place."

My second thought was "Really? Is it true?" followed by "How can that be known?"

From there, my thought process flowed to considerations of myself: do I find a compassionate nature in myself? Yes, I am alive to compassion as part of my nature.

Among other natural inclinations.

Today, over and over again in every "today" miraculously granted me, I can choose to stand for compassion because compassion is part of my nature.

I cannot "act" compassionately. It is not a mask to wear. It is a part of my nature that I must know and own and choose to embrace so completely that I am absorbed as I absorb it.

I choose away from it sometimes. With varying degrees of conscious awareness of my choice.

Trying to become compassionate is exhausting and doomed because compassion never has a chance to appear while we are "trying" to become compassionate. We are already compassionate. It lives in us. The quest is to discover or remember it.

30 August 2010

Dream Prism

Over a week ago now, I had "one of those dreams"--the kind I wake from feeling saturated by the dream, as though it had lived in me for many days before choosing a night to play out while I slept and dream me for hours.

No connective narrative remained after I awoke. Only three strong pieces:

SHARE is a magical word, a talisman permitting access to multiple conceptual spaces. I extend my arm towards you with something in my hand -- this is sharing. You extend your arm toward me with something in your hand -- this, too, is sharing. We stand together and face the same direction to share a view. [There are other extrapolations available but only these three were offered in the dream.]

HOME is both a concept and a feeling.

SATURN. In the dream, the planet had two (and sometimes three) rings. Depending on how I held my focus, the rings either circled the planet or became dissecting discs. An omnipresent but disembodied voice periodically intoned "You can draw Saturn." I stood in a vast dark space saying aloud "I can draw Saturn!" and "I can draw Saturn?"


Sharing the dream with others has led to discovery of an excellent book, "Saturn: A New Look at an Old Devil"; as well as a reminder of the multiple meanings of "draw"; and a reflection that this is a typically multi-faceted dream whose theme happens to be the multi-faceted nature of language and other things.

This dream is a keeper. I'm beginning work on a one-woman show and I believe this dream has material for plumbing.

26 August 2010

Surprise Attack

As I begin to integrate what I learned while attending the Landmark Forum in July and the Non-Violent Communication Diversity training in August into the day-to-day realm, a tingly transformation is taking place. In body and mind, I'm feeling rejuvenated, inspired and....


I'm in the world and, for the first time in memory since early childhood, unequivocally glad to be here. It feels now like I've been walking around with a broken heart, ill-fitting shoes and a back ache and trying very hard to make the best of the situation. Reaching deep inside myself for scraps of this and that to construct an inadequate but workable frame for my existence.

Yesterday a friend spoke to me of his readiness to move to a cave and speak to no one and live in peace with his incense, candles and spiritual practice. Of course I understood him: that's been my fantasy for a very long time. A cave outfitted with my books and a piano and a comfortable sleeping space. It was my most cherished dream and most potent longing for a long time.

That has changed and is actively morphing even as I write these words. I am on the edge of my seat with unparalleled willingness and curiosity about The World. I am in the world and of the world and that's just fine with me. The world looks fascinating and messy and fertile and scary and hilarious and rewarding to me today and I feel like I have what it takes to be in it.

I can go wherever I want to go. Maybe I'll be the star of the show when I arrive--or maybe I'll be eaten alive! Maybe I'll find the necklace I lost on family vacation 45 years ago or "that [yet to arrive] man o' mine" or the ultimate red beans and rice recipe.

I anticipate surprises to come. I don't mean someone misunderstanding me or being "fired" or a Cat 5 hurricane. Not even an assassination or election of the first woman to the U.S. presidency will qualify as surprises. We know these things are coming; it's just a matter of time.

I mean something completely unexpected. Something that's gonna take my breath away and make my eyes pop wide open. I anticipate I'm in for surprises -- and they won't all be jolly surprises because I'm not seeking a 24-hours-a-day jolly set-up for my life. I'm seeking juicy and provocative and poignant and obscene surprises as well.

There was an exasperated "Why am I here?" whining in the background of my life and it's gone. Maybe you and I will run into each other out in the wide, wide world of possibilities and I'll tell you about what's replaced it.

18 August 2010

What About God?

Last night I was a Guest. Friends served a light supper consisting largely of vegetables fresh from their own garden. We sat at a beautiful wooden table in their dining room, sipping chardonnay and watching the sun fall into the Pacific from high in the Oakland Hills. Every detail of the experience was exquisite.

We haven't seen each other since I left Oakland in 2004. By dinner time, my historical narration had advanced to discussion of my recent introductions to the Landmark Forum and Non-Violent Communication (Search on any of these as keywords to access earlier relevant posts). Somewhere during the unfolding of "Life is empty and meaningless" one of my hosts confessed that she is "a worrier." She said "Horrible things happen in the world and it's not because I make them up or call them "horrible."

We talked for awhile--me offering examples of horrible events that could be viewed in a very different light by another set of eyes with a different history or driven by a different combination of needs.

Out of the blue (from my perspective), she asked "What about God?"

I don't remember where the conversation went from there, but the question returned to me this afternoon. I called a friend whose strongly Buddhism-based spiritual practice is evident even in the outgoing telephone message I heard when I called him around 4. In a calm, natural tone, his voice said, "Good Day to you. Thank you for calling. Let me know what's on your mind by leaving a message and I will get it. Thanks."

After leaving a brief invitation to come with me on Sunday for the service I will do at the Petaluma Unitarian Universalist church, I hung up and reflected on all the work both of us have done in churches--mostly UU for me; mostly Catholic for him. We are both primarily musicians. We've both had love-hate relationships with a variety of faith traditions. We've both had periods of hard-core theism and adamant agnosticism over the years.

I wrote a thesis on my personal theology as a final assignment in the Bachelor of Arts Completion (BAC) program at the CA Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) over 10 years ago. I wonder if I still have a copy of it...

A great deal of insight and inspiration are currently pouring into my life. If God is a set of beliefs in a concept that produces a feeling of safety and brings purpose and meaning to life, then I could say I am having a close encounter with God these days.

There is no sense of a distinct entity of superior intelligence or power. No question of right or wrong winds through my sensorium. I feel simultaneously held and free, in a vast, intimate unfolding.

Trainers and participants shared a ritual one night during the retreat. Various objects--dry leaves, empty bowl, silk scarf--were placed on the floor on a large cloth. Those who wished could take a turn and engage with the objects in an expression or prayer. On my turn, I was profoundly surprised to hear myself invoking "hope" verbally while feeling "full of hope." It is not a sensation I have felt for a very long time. For years, "hope" appeared in my language as "I don't do 'hope'".

"There is no safety." "I don't do 'hope'."

That's been my byline.

This afternoon, as at the retreat ritual, I'm flooded with a new sensation: I am safe and full of hope. I see my own fingerprints on the suffering of my life. I feel my heartbeat and hear my voice in the choices I make and the events of my life. I am alive. I am part of everything. These points of awareness feel like Divine presence. Like there is no further proof needed and I can breathe and smile. I am free.


I spent last week in the Santa Cruz Mountains at a "Non Violent Communication and Diversity" training retreat. The event was staged at the Pema Osel Ling retreat center, a beautiful campus in a 100+ acre redwood forest.

Like many other "people of color," I cringe when I hear the phrase "diversity training". We've attended too many of them, for one thing. For another, it's hard to detect any growth or change or transformation in ourselves or the world after attending. Eventually, one begins to wonder "What's the point?" of diversity training.

This training was a different kind of training for me and, based on conversations with other participants, also for the other road-weary people of color who attended. One of the first notable differences was the racial and ethnic demographics of both the trainer-group and the participant-group. People of color formed the majority in both cases.

A second important difference was the NVC frame in which the training took place. NVC is based on a number of fundamental beliefs, such as:
  • all humans have needs
  • needs are the underlying motivation for thoughts and feelings and behavior
  • clarification of the needs at work in an encounter can be achieved through empathic listening
  • awareness of needs (and their attendant thoughts and emotions) makes non-violent communication possible
Not long before attending the training, I was in a difficult conversation with a friend and stated that I was annoyed by her "neediness." She said she believes that everyone is "needy" and people who are impatient with neediness should "get over it." This was a new perspective on "need" and I've thought about it a lot since that day. The NVC training was a continuation of my contemplation.

Is "neediness" the same as "need"? I realize now that, for my friend (who is also familiar with NVC principles), the answer might be "yes" but, for me, they are not the same.

NVC teaches that awareness of an unmet need, in myself or someone else, does not carry a requirement or assumption that the need be met. I might, for example, notice that as I approach a podium to speak to a large group, I am feeling some fear and that this fear is based on needs to be perceived as competent, to receive approval and respect, to be noticed, etc. I can request that the audience members give me their attention, that they not interrupt me, etc. in an attempt to meet my active needs
BUT there is no guarantee the audience will grant the request and I make the request with that understanding. To whatever degree I make the request with an assumption or hidden demand that it be fulfilled, I have become "needy". And this is the difference I appreciate between the terms.

One of the world-rocking and comforting precepts of both NVC and the Landmark Forum is the limited (sometimes non-existent) relevance of "right" and "wrong" in the realm of human
interaction. My friend and I can hold different definitions of "need" and "needy" and "neediness" and neither of us is wrong; we simply see things differently from where we stand. Neither of us must carry the burden of trying to convince the other to adopt our point of view.

I was reminded again of my experience during the Landmark Forum when the trainer told the story of meeting his wife. "I will never need you" they promised each other during their wedding ceremony. Nuances of the vow become apparent when considered through the lens of NVC. "I will never need you expands to: "During the time we are together, I may experience needs for recognition, comfort, beauty, consolation, entertainment, companionship, encouragement... I promise to never merge my needs with who you are. I promise not to hold you responsible for meeting my needs."

What would the World be like if everyone everywhere took this vow?