Trust the Process

Life is a process. We are a process. The universe is a process.

Anne Wilson Schaef

 Jack Kornfield in Path With Heart told the lesson in patience and unintended consequences from Zorba the Greek:

I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the bark of a tree just as the butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out. I waited awhile but it was too long appearing and I was impatient. I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life. The case opened, the butterfly started slowly crawling out, and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath. In vain. It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings needed to be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear, all crumpled, before its time. It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.

Zorba’s not alone in his impatience and lack of trust in the process of life to unfold naturally.

I went on a photo workshop in Yellowstone National Park with professional wildlife photographer Tom Murphy. Tom said he could always tell which photographers were from the city: They jumped out of their cars, took a quick picture and jumped back in their cars to get to the next location. He advised us to be patient and to watch and observe animal behavior and get some great photos in the process.

I’ve been an amateur nature and wildlife photographer for a long time. I’m always in a hurry to get the next location—to jam as much into the time I have. I wonder how many great shots I’ve missed because I couldn’t sit still to watch and wait for the behaviors of the wildlife I watched or for the light to be a bit better over the scene I wanted to photograph. Only in the past few years have I tried to tame those inner drives. I was the same in my work. My friend, consultant and Clinical Psychologist Diane Olson, Ph.D. said I had the intensity gene.

To become patient and to trust the process of life may be the biggest challenge I have.

I have so much I want to do, so much I want to learn. The speed of change in our world increases faster than I can keep up. Aging only intensifies my intensity to move fast before I run out of time. The madness of our world makes it hard to trust in the process of life.

I began to meditate a couple of years ago hoping to understand my mind better and calm my inner drives. Maybe I can uproot my impatience and accept that I am not in control. Meanwhile, I can be aware of my impatience and difficulty in “trusting the process” and make conscious choices to act counter to my inner drives.

I think many of us feel exhausted and overwhelmed due to our impatience and pace of life. In Uncommon Friends, author James Newton shared a letter he received from Anne Lindbergh who wrote about her pace of life:

I have not yet learned quite how to deal with those periods when one is learning and living too fast to digest. There was a wonderful story once told by Andre Gide of a trip he took through the jungle, very fast, with African guides. One morning the native guides sat around in a circle and refused to move. When Gide urged them on, saying he was in a hurry to get somewhere, they looked up at him seriously, reproachfully, but with complete rock-like firmness and said, “Don’t hurry us-we are waiting for our souls to catch up with us.

I want to do my small part to contribute to sanity and greater consciousness in the world. One way you and I can do that is to slow down and take time to be present without thought and separate time to think quietly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purpose Renewed

Purpose in life is more important than education or wealth in determining long-term health and happiness.

Life Reimagined: The Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlife by Barbara Bradley Hagerty

 

My month in a tough alcohol treatment center (1974) was a painful, high anxiety and profound time of spiritual awakenings, moments of metanoia and akin to turning from the shadows to the sun in many Plato’s Caves. I left the hospital a scared, hopeful and humbled young man and began my life of often muddling conscious evolution. My purpose was to stay sober, live true to my values and care for my family.

I next thought of my purpose for my life about 16 years later.

In the early 1990’s, I had a leadership experience that awakened me to the vast dormant and untapped human potential in most organizations. I felt alive as we transformed a major business unit. Results were phenomenal. This experience was the second great expansion of awareness in my life. Treatment had saved my life and this leadership experience changed my life forever. As successes multiplied, so did the fear in others and resistance to us grew. I sensed our work would be destroyed by the dominant culture. I began preparations for my departure.

“I don’t want to leave because I am angry,” I said to Diane Olson, Ph.D. my consultant. “I want a new vision to go toward.” I spent two years working with Diane and consultant John Johnson to develop a new vision for my life, a purpose statement and my core values. The work was hard. I read, pondered and talked with John and Diane frequently.

My purpose:

I live my life as a series of emotional, spiritual and intellectual adventures and I share what I learn with others.

This purpose aligned with my new vision for my life: to complete a Ph.D., to begin to write and to consult with organizations.

I left the company in early 1994. I set out to use myself as my own learning laboratory—that was scary.

I had many emotional, spiritual and intellectual adventures over the next 20 years. I changed my life dramatically. I felt alive and had many peak experiences. I shared my experiences and insights as a writer, coach and consultant.

For the past decade, I’ve had three core strategies in my life:

  • To optimize my physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual health,
  • To partner with Melanie to keep our love alive always and
  • To have meaning and creativity in my life

I am fit and healthy. Melanie and I have a wonderful life together. We feel grateful. But I was aware of an angst in me the last couple of years that I didn’t understand. My feeling of aliveness had dissipated. I felt my life contracting: Retirement had shrunk my involvement in the world and didn’t feel as meaningful as robust work had. People I cared about were dying more regularly. Children were grown and didn’t want or need my experience or guidance. I experienced foreshadowing of physical decline and, as I approached 70 years of age (the entry to old age), I was well aware of where the contraction ultimately led.

Last summer (2015), my older brother got sick and died quickly. This unexpected loss affected me deeply–more than I expected it might. I felt that part of my foundation had cracked. Other losses added to the pain I felt. I wanted to feel differently. I wanted to feel alive again. My third strategy needed renewal.

Trying to repeat the past was the wrong solution. To do nothing would mean I had stopped learning and would lead to the resentment and bitterness that some feel in retirement. I needed something new to learn that would engage my spirit and create positive energy that I could creatively give back to life. I stumbled along seeking what would bring meaning and aliveness back. I needed a new emotional, spiritual and intellectual adventure.

My friend Heather gave me a trial subscription to HeadSpace.com. I decided to try meditation. I began with 20 minutes a day. I had tried meditation over the preceding decades. Unable to sit still, I soon quit. Now I could sit and begin to slow my mind.

I read the book, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by John Kabat-Zinn. The book inspired me to expand and deepen my meditation experience. I had a feeling that meditation and consciousness were what I sought to bring meaning and aliveness back in this part of my life. I began to meditate 60 minutes a day. I realized new things about my inner world. I understood that constant, unmanaged and compulsive thought may be as insane as alcoholism. I realized that I had lived much of my life in the past and the future, not in the present moment. I needed to ponder my identity and my attachments. Meditation is much more than I had thought it was. I had much to learn.

In A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Eckhart Tolle wrote that we each have an inner and an outer purpose. We share an inner purpose: to become awakened (a gradual shift in consciousness). This aligns with my purpose of living a life of inner adventures. Our outer purpose–unique to each of us–is how we live out our inner purpose in the world. Almost every page of this book spoke to me powerfully. I know the feeling from past transformative experiences: I had found a new adventure.  I enter the organic, mysterious and potential-filled world of contemplation and consciousness.

I am a novice again.

I feel alive in the uncertainty of the unknown.

This experience reminded me of something that I knew during my career: My happiness came from the pursuit of noble goals—goals I might never achieve. I felt alive striving for objectives that mattered to me. During those years, I never thought about happiness. I thought about what I would do the next day to move closer to the top of the mountain I was climbing at the time. I realized that in retirement I need that same sense of dedication as a part of my life. All of us do and we will live longer, happier and healthier lives if we have a vibrant sense of purpose.

Farewell My Friend

With such a comrade, such a friend, I fain would walk till journey’s end, Through summer sunshine, winter rain, And then? — Farewell, we shall meet again!  – Henry Van Dyke

Diane Olson — my friend and colleague — and I facilitated a management team retreat. I led the morning session. Diane, who would guide the afternoon segment, limped in over the lunch hour. Her leg and back had hurt her for the past three months. She said she had a pulled muscle. During the afternoon session, she could not stand up to lead the discussion. She facilitated the group from her chair.

My telephone rang a couple of weeks later. “I’m in the hospital and have pneumonia,” Diane said. “They did a scan, and my chest is clear but they have to drain my lungs.” She sounded relieved. A smoker, Diane feared lung cancer.

“My doctor is here, I have to go. I will call you right back.” Fifteen minutes later, she called again. “It’s not good,” she said. “There is a mass in my colon, spots on my liver, and a tumor on my adrenal gland.” The pulmonary specialist who examined her earlier had looked only at her lung scan. Her hopes were dashed.

I visited Diane at the hospital each of the next three days. Her room was crowded with gifts and flowers. Visitors came and went. As always, she was more concerned with everyone else’s problems than with her own. She advised me on consulting projects, an upcoming trip, and personal matters. She said I could tell mutual friends and colleagues that she was in the hospital. She commanded, “Don’t tell them that I am dying.” She felt hopeful again.

She called me two days later. It was the call I dreaded, prayed would not come, but knew would. The biopsy was back. Her body was filled with cancer. The doctors had not estimated how long she would live. She believed she would be alive less than a year and more than a month. I sat at my desk and wept for my friend and for all who loved her. Newly divorced and still finding my way as a consultant, I wondered, “How will I make it through all the changes in my life without Diane’s wisdom and support?” The answer came instantly, “Diane taught me well. I am prepared to go forward without her.”

I went to her home to see her. Her bed was in the living room. Three beloved dogs and two large parrots surrounded Diane. The dogs were protective and looked worried. The parrots called the dogs by name. Diane was in good spirits, and we chatted about many things.

I returned a few days later to take her to her radiation treatment. I was shocked at the change in her appearance in such a short time. She took oxygen continually. She used a walker to get to the door. The cancer was in her bones, and her joints were being eaten away. I helped her into her van, and I drove the couple of miles to the hospital. I guided her into a wheelchair and pushed it into the hospital.

We sat in the waiting room. Big black X’s on her legs marked the places radiation was aimed. Diane cried and said, “I cannot believe how fast this has happened.” I comforted my friend the best I could. Diane was hungry for shrimp so after her treatment I took her to a restaurant for lunch. She said, “I have not been angry.” I asked her about fear. “I am not afraid of crossing over,” she said. “I have great faith, and I am curious. I do fear the pain between now and then.” Diane wanted to remain alert and had already refused more potent pain medication.

Diane and I spoke freely of her death. I told her how much she meant to me. For 16 years Diane had been a force in my life. First, she was my consultant when we led industry-leading change at the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Then she was my coach when I planned my departure from the newspaper to return to graduate school and to begin a career as a consultant. Later, she served as an advisor on my Ph.D. committee. Finally, we consulted together. Recently she was my coach again as I planned a move to Colorado and a shift in the focus of my work. Extremely mindful, she always knew where my life was headed long before I did. She was a beloved and trusted teacher and friend.

Diane tired, and I drove her home. As I leaned over to hug her goodbye, I told her I loved her. She said, “I love you.” I never talked to Diane again. She died two weeks later.

At age 23, Diane was the youngest person to ever receive her Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Minnesota. From 1968 until 1998 Diane was self-employed as a clinical psychologist with a private practice, as an organizational psychologist, and as an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota. She didn’t think any consultant was worth more than $100.00 an hour and never charged more until recently, when I encouraged her to charge what she was worth.

I met scores of consultants over two decades. Many were good at what they did. None was better than Diane. She made working with groups look easy. She was down-to-earth, plain-speaking, kind and considerate. Workers loved her. She told executives the truth. Sometimes they didn’t like her. I told Diane that if she were a man — and if she cared about money — she would earn $500,000 a year.

Money wasn’t of much interest to Diane. She shook her head at the gurus who got spiritual after getting their money from faddish quick-fix programs that often did more harm than good. She was spiritual — money or not. Her purpose in life was to help other women. I once said her purpose was too limited as she also helped many men. She replied, “I help their feminine side. My commitment is to women.”

Seven years before her death, Diane, her life partner, and close friends took responsibility for a child in need. The child had health issues. For many years, Diane had been staff consultant for a large state agency. Management of the agency wanted her to go on the payroll as an employee for 30 hours a week. Diane wanted the health insurance for the child she loved. She took the job as head of the agency’s Employee Assistance Program.

Diane hated the way the Human Resources Department of this organization was led. A sick, dehumanized, and dysfunctional management abused people routinely. She so wanted the leaders to see the impact their actions had on others. Diane, who was not outwardly emotional, cried as she told me stories of how the executives in this department hurt others in passive/aggressive and cowardly ways.

Secure leaders would have embraced and utilized her grand soul. Instead, the leaders she worked with were threatened by her. She was humiliated and marginalized as she held up the mirror to the organization. A colleague said, “They stripped her of her professionalism.” I felt empathy for Diane. I knew she could not win. The system would destroy her if she did not leave.

She was enraged at the insanity and lost humanity within the organization. She could not make sense of the nonsense around her. She continued to try. Shortly before being hospitalized, Diane called me. “I feel awful. I don’t know if I am sick or if I am just so depressed at work.” She was both, and they were interconnected.

When she told me of her cancer, Diane said, “We cannot put that much stress on our bodies. I was not courageous enough to leave.” I disagreed with her. She didn’t lack courage. She cared too much. She wanted to help the people in the organization and to provide for a child who needed her. Over and over in her final weeks she said, “I am so relieved I don’t have to go back to that place.”

Diane received over 400 cards and letters from employees at this state agency. Efforts to marginalize her had failed. She said, “But not from my boss or his boss.” I am angry at the people Diane worked for. I am sorry for the people who work for them. The leadership of this organization created the culture they live in. They can change it. I hope they do. I hope they can reclaim their humanity.

Diane was a vegetarian who smoked and loved to eat ice cream. When we traveled to northern Minnesota to work, we always had to stop at a casino so she could play the slot machines for a couple of hours while I wandered the corridors.

Diane and I didn’t socialize much. We had lunch a couple of times a month and always shared a chocolate sundae. We exchanged hundreds of books over the years. I finally quit giving them to her because she always forgot to give them back. She was disorganized and always looking for something she had misplaced. We often sent one another dozens of emails in a day’s time. We never had a fight. Jealousy was never a factor in our relationship. We shifted from role to role intuitively when we consulted together.

Many years have gone by. I miss Diane. I miss seeing her come out of her office building and walking to my car with a smile on her face. I miss her profound insights. I miss her forgetfulness. I miss sharing my adventures and misadventures with her. She said, “You kept me alive the last six months.” I didn’t know if she meant the consulting work I sent her way or if I had helped her spirit by sharing the drama and exploits of a newly divorced man with her. I wish I had seen more clearly what was happening to her. I wish I could have stopped the cancer and the abuse she experienced in her last months.

Diane now rests in another place — a more natural place. Her spirit wanders free and she sleeps in peace. She doesn’t have to fight for humanity anymore. I am grateful to her for all she gave me. She inspired me to higher levels of caring, courage, service, and commitment. All of my work bears Diane’s imprint. She will continue to change the world through those she taught. Her legacy will forever be grand and powerful.

We traveled many roads together

We always held the vision.

I could always count on you

In times good and bad.

Farewell my friend

We will be together again.

Excerpted from Learning to Live: Essays on Life & Leadership

Life as Art: Vision

After leading a transformational change process at the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis, Minnesota that opened my eyes to the vast untapped human potential in our organizations, I felt called to a new life.

Such calls are scary propositions, so I worked for two years with consultants Diane Olson and John Johnson to develop a new vision for the years ahead. Our vision for our lives is our picture of the life we want to create for ourselves.

The tremendous losses I anticipated  —  of my work (my art), of old dreams, of my income, of my relationships  —  sent me deep within myself. For a long time before I left, I explored my spiritual life as I grieved the losses before me: I read, I studied, I thought, I dreamed, I imagined, I reflected. My photography and photo trips provided solitude and a connection with nature. My conversations with Diane and John made my studies real.

The stories my parents told of my childhood were of my adventures. I wanted to reclaim the aliveness of my youth. Many fires burned inside of me. I would turn the flames of those fires into passion for my vision.

The vision I created for the next few years moved from thoughts of a value-driven, spiritual, and more authentic life with greater freedom for self-expression than the organizational world allows to four specific goals:

• To complete a Ph.D. in Leadership with a focus on transformational leadership,

• To begin to write about life and leadership,

• To try out consulting for transformation, and

• To go on a photo safari to Kenya and Tanzania with my brother.

Two years earlier those goals would have seemed like pipe dreams to me.

The thought of leaving the Star Tribune scared me. But more frightening than leaving was the thought of staying at the newspaper. I had learned and become aware of much in organizational life that I did not want to be a part of. I wanted to create and perform at a level not understood and, therefore, not tolerated by the organization. I saw many hollow men in their 40s around me, and I didn’t want to be like them.  To feel alive, I would have to leave.

“How do I deal with the fear I feel?” I asked Diane Olson.

“You go through it,” she replied.

My vision was my source of courage and inspiration.

I went to Africa and took 4,000 nature and wildlife photos. I completed my Ph.D. 3 ½ years later at age 52. I’ve been a prolific writer about life and leadership since 1996. I consulted for 13 years. As I moved along in my life, I set new goals and created new visions for my life. I’ve learned how to renew my life intentionally.

A courageous journey of evolving our humanity is no quick-fix and, therefore, not a popular course of change.

We may have to walk away from empty marriages to find intimacy, and leave destructive relationships. We may need to abandon the insanity and mediocrity of our organizations to find our right livelihood. We may be marginalized by those who benefit from the craziness of the times and have to stand alone courageously.

In The Death of Ivan IIllych a man on his deathbed reflects on his life, how he had done everything right, obeyed the rules, became a judge, married, had children, and was looked on as a success. Yet, in his last hours, he wondered why he felt a failure.

Philosopher and author Peter Koestenbaum said courage begins with the decision to face the ultimate truth about existence: we live free to define ourselves at every moment. We become what we choose to be from the depth of our souls. I am mature when I am the author of my own life. It is not enough to simply obey all the rules of other people.

Our lives are our greatest creations. What do you want?