Bell Rock

Sedona, for those of you who do not yet know, is a town in cen­tral Ari­zona sur­round­ed by star­tling for­ma­tions of stone: jagged, col­or­ful­ly lay­ered walls, smooth cliffs carved from light and shad­ow; deep, mys­te­ri­ous val­leys with tow­er­ing sand­stone pil­lars that seem to call, “Come clos­er.” As both an exten­sion of the nat­ur­al beau­ty and con­trast to it, the town itself is a New Age spir­i­tu­al mec­ca filled with store­fronts promis­ing to read your aura and clear your chakras; with plen­ty of strip malls, tourist shops, chain restau­rants, and homes for the wealthy in the background.

My wife and I, on vaca­tion for a few days, stopped there on our way to the Grand Canyon. We want­ed to expe­ri­ence a “vor­tex,” a swirling cen­ter of sub­tle ener­gy, for which the area is famous. After lunch we head­ed for Bell Rock, a few miles south of town, report­ed­ly the loca­tion of the strongest of the near­by vortexes.


Bell Rock

One of the guide­books said we were like­ly to feel the ener­gy as soon as we got to the park­ing lot for the rock. Next to the rental car, my wife spread her arms out from her sides. “Yes,” she said imme­di­ate­ly, “Can you feel that? My skin is tin­gling.” Appar­ent­ly, that’s a com­mon reac­tion, along with a swirling, dizzy­ing sen­sa­tion from the ordered cyclone of the vor­tex’s energy.

But as much as I tried to open myself, I did­n’t feel any­thing all, at least not right away. Appar­ent­ly the sub­tle ener­gies were too sub­tle for me, although the rock itself and the area sur­round­ing it were stun­ning­ly beau­ti­ful. The rock, a few hun­dred feet high, hav­ing evolved from the weath­ered red of mil­lion year old sand­stone, spoke vol­umes with­out hav­ing to say any­thing at all.

I took a few pho­tographs, self-crit­i­cal about my appar­ent lack of psy­chic sen­si­tiv­i­ty, won­der­ing at the non-reaction.

And yet,something did hap­pen after a few moments, mem­o­rable enough that I can still con­jure the feel­ing. I sud­den­ly felt vul­ner­a­ble in an odd­ly famil­iar way, and I stood there just look­ing at the rock and notic­ing how these feel­ings, like clouds in slow tran­si­tion, moved toward a state of unex­pect­ed joy. I felt hap­py, ground­ed, as if I’d been through some­thing, as if some back­ground force of gen­tle­ness or sub­tle heal­ing actu­al­ly was present. 

How love­ly. Maybe noth­ing more than a cool glass of water on a hot day. Maybe just a smooth, round stone unex­pect­ed­ly redis­cov­ered in your pock­et, the stone itself noth­ing of val­ue, but nev­er­the­less a sur­prise and com­fort to find it there.

Now flip for­ward a cou­ple of weeks. I’m coach­ing some­one who has been strug­gling with his team. Over time he’s lost cred­i­bil­i­ty and he’s been relieved of some impor­tant areas of respon­si­bil­i­ty. Nev­er­the­less, the com­pa­ny wants to keep him and is offer­ing alter­na­tive employ­ment — so long as he can show he under­stands the rea­son for the shift and will com­mit to the new role.

Of all the prob­lems with his style he and I have dis­cussed, the worst seems to be his pen­chant for defen­sive log­ic. He has seemed unable to accept any respon­si­bil­i­ty for past prob­lems. There is always a good ratio­nale for his actions. “I did­n’t know,” he says. Or, “I was told to do that, even though I did­n’t think it was right.” Or “That’s how we did it at my last place of employ­ment.” Or, “They start­ed it,” mean­ing his past employ­ees, the ones he no longer supervises.

I had talked with his asso­ciates and then wrote a long report with many sec­tions. When we sat down to go over it, how­ev­er, I point­ed to the sin­gle para­graph about his defen­sive log­ic — that’s where we could start, I sug­gest­ed, the biggest blind spot. I com­pared his reliance on defen­sive rea­son­ing to Teflon. “Not much sticks to you,” I said. “If you want to get through this, regain your cred­i­bil­i­ty, you’ll have to find a way to be more vulnerable.”

Yes,” he agreed with me, “but how do you do that?”

The ques­tion was so sim­ple it stopped me in my tracks. How, indeed. 

I shared sto­ries from lead­ers I’d known, peo­ple who were nat­u­ral­ly sin­cere, who asked for feed­back, often in extra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances where oth­ers might have done noth­ing but con­coct new forms of self-pro­tec­tion. My client lis­tened, leaned for­ward, as if to say, “Tell me more sto­ries.” Not too much dif­fer­ent than those stone pil­lars in Sedona that invit­ed a walk across the high desert. “Come closer.”

After a few more anec­dotes, he sud­den­ly con­fessed, “I had no busi­ness tak­ing this job,” mean­ing the first job he’d been giv­en, not the one he was being offered now. “I was scared to death. I did­n’t know what I was doing. I’d nev­er faced any­thing like this before. I look back now and won­der how this all hap­pened to me — and I have a great deal of regret.”

You said some­thing impor­tant there,” I said to him. “You acknowl­edged you were afraid. That’s a good place to start.”

We kept talk­ing — about every­thing, includ­ing cul­tur­al and fam­i­ly antecedents of the defen­sive wall he pre­sent­ed. To explore the data in my report, we end­ed up sit­ting side by side, but then when we were done with the report did­n’t move our chairs. The spaces out­side his office had gone qui­et and we were talk­ing in a way I can only describe as “soft” and “in touch” and “imme­di­ate,” what I think some­times we end up call­ing in a know­ing (but maybe arro­gant) way, “authen­tic.”

Some­how, as with Bell Rock, it was­n’t a mat­ter of tin­gling skin or the dizzi­ness of the spin. Rather, it was a reac­tion up inside the chest, some­thing that’s inside out. You know when you’re there, when you’ve con­nect­ed with some­one else. It has a kind of ground­ed joy to it even though the sub­jects may be tough. It has that tex­ture of a heal­ing moment touch­ing all who enter, not just one or the oth­er. It may make us feel like the birds we are, soar­ing over a stark land­scape, infi­nite­ly wild, thou­sands of feet above the earth and the riv­er, part of a swirling vor­tex that is any­where and any­time at all, when two peo­ple, with good for­tune, learn how to meet.


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  • Dan,

    That, my friend, was an absolute­ly won­der­ful sto­ry — and it tru­ly did “unfold”. I just have to say, that you have an amaz­ing way with doing that.

    How­ev­er, I do have to won­der — were you real­ly “self-crit­i­cal about my appar­ent lack of psy­chic sen­si­tiv­i­ty”? ..this made me laugh..wondering if I would ever be self-crit­i­cal about such a thing (prob­a­bly).

    Again, excel­lent post, Dan 🙂

  • Hi Ryan! Yes, actu­al­ly, that is true. I was self-crit­i­cal, for rea­sons that go back a ways into my own his­to­ry and con­di­tion­ing, and maybe as a lit­tle mat­ter of ego, too!

    Thanks for tak­ing the time to write! Best to you.

  • Dan,
    Won­der­ful imagery from Bell Rock (sol­id and not vul­ner­a­ble) to how it makes oth­ers feel.

    Your client ini­tial­ly was the rock and slow­ly opened up to the reac­tions of others.

    That, tru­ly, is one sure­fire way of find­ing our own vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. Giv­ing up the fear of how oth­ers feel in our pres­ence gives us the chance to be account­able for our own shortcomings.

    Great post and anoth­er great true sto­ry that helps all to grow.

    Best to you and your client.

  • Thank you so much, Kate. 

    What a great line: “Giv­ing up the fear of how oth­ers feel in our pres­ence gives us the chance to be account­able for our own short­com­ings.” A mark of dis­tinc­tive per­son­al growth and a mea­sure of it for the future.

    It’s always a delight to receive your insights and inspirations!

    All the best

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