But how can you possibly be of any real use as a leader on a larger scale if you can’t lead yourself through the thicket of your own emotions and thoughts – and you get tied up in knots by anger, fear, and tension? This is an old, universal idea. And we have to be a little more direct about it.

-- Peter Senge

An Old, Universal Idea

Getting out of our own way is the biggest challenge. Whether we struggle with hubris or shame (or some of each), the challenge is waking up to what transcends our personal beliefs and mindsets, our collective conditioning, our inner and outer cultures that like mist on a window obscure our view of what’s real. Putting ego aside, we wipe clear a tiny corner of the glass and peak through, to be humbled, awakened and affirmed.

RainWindow

Certainly to be humbled — by a universe that up-ends all plans, and may do so in the blink of an eye. Recently, in my state of Washington, a colossal landslide like some minor apocalypse swept down across a river. Within seconds it filled houses with mud and trees, overwhelmed people as they sipped their morning coffee, destroyed families with only the slightest note of warning; enough time perhaps (horrifyingly) only to ask, “What’s that sound?”

Our souls are shocked into wakefulness. We cannot fathom the destruction.

Meanwhile, each day the new grass continues to fill up the valleys, spring streams run cold and bright, and in the orchards and along the lanes the cherries bloom. Their magnificent blossoms signal the truth of what we all implicitly know, the truth of the background of all human life, that being alive is transient and that whatever is built can be most easily washed away or buried by something we’ll never understand.

Stream&Grass

This transience breaks our hearts, but tragedy also affirms, makes true love worth wanting, worth working hard to preserve and protect, worth searching for and finding as a precious gift, again and again despite the losses. How many of us have turned toward each other because we heard the details of this disaster or another (maybe the loss of Flight MH370 or some other story of violence around the world) and suddenly appreciate what it means to be right here and right now, sitting with our own cups of coffee and chatting at the breakfast table, listening to the children laugh? The news can make us very sad but also release what is genuinely selfless within us. Even when it seems there is little we can do, we get up to consider what we can do. For a moment, as the cherry trees send up their scent through an open window, we are very, very grateful and we are moved to action, to whatever acts of kindness are present right in front of us.

The white blossoms are here for a reason. Impossibly beautiful in this soft light, we cherish them with all our hearts, but not one of them is preserved.

We cling to the dark branches until the moment the wind comes and we are swept away.

cherryblossomsop

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9 Comments

  • Dan,

    Well said. Life happens. We cannot predict or “hope” for the right timing to say what we mean or take meaningful actions. We need to be fully present in our present circumstances, doing what we can to learn and advance our cause and embrace the people we care about along the way.

    Your message resonates and my hope it also reverberates throughout a larger community.

    Thank you.

    Jon

  • Dear Jon~

    Yes, our “temporariness” encourages us to speak and act truthfully and compassionately. Thank you so much for for your gracious comment and your support for this message.

    All the best
    ~Dan

  • Hi Dan.

    I am so moved reading your piece this morning. Having just finished reading accounts of the latest dire U.N. report on climate change and being struck with what appears to be a remarkable complacency about the inevitable changes that are already taking place – and will according to scientists get far worse than earlier predictions.

    This isn’t cheery news – it won’t fit well in an upbeat Facebook graphic. It’s not popular. We want to move on to more pleasant things.

    In her deep and soulful book, The Green Boat, author Mary Pipher talks about primal panic – and reminds us that the only way to deal to with such unfathomable challenges is to grow bigger than our fears and to do it collectively. But of course, that begins with acceptance of what is.

    So your words remind me that the gorgeous beauty of spring blossoms sit side by side with the devastation of the landslide.
    Humility strikes me as a completely appropriate emotional response in the face of those stark contrasts.

    How to be awake to both feels to me this Monday morning like one of the greatest challenges we face today.

    Thank you,
    Louise

  • Gurmeet Singh Pawar wrote:

    Not sure what to understand Nor what to say.
    Silence seems better most.

    Each thought dies at birth. Each thought is contradiction at genesis.

    Everything I say is a lie, and my saying it a lie is also a lie:-)

    Dan, you mentioned cleaning mirror(ego) to see real. what does that mean? so much said, so less understood.

    Only Buddha can understand Buddha, rest can only interpret through their mirrors.

    Break the mirrors.

    You write like a poet, its always nice to read you.

  • Gurmeet Singh Pawar wrote:

    BTW

    There is a beautiful song I love.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oR6okRuOLc8

  • Dear Louise~

    Yes, it seems that contradiction of beauty and tragedy confronts us at every turn, leaving us humbled and maybe more awake.

    Coincidentally (unless you have already read it), there is an article from the Society for Organizational Learning linked to Senge’s name in the epigraph above. It speaks so clearly to the notion of collective fear, Louise, and also to the reality that ““Collective karma cannot be transformed by heroic individual action.” That does not mean we give up — we must do something — but we focus on building collective energy for change and understanding how individuals can connect into it. A major challenge for us, thinking of the planet.

    Thank you, too, for bringing up Mary Pipher’s name, too. I’ve loved her work since Reviving Ophelia. I must get the new one.

    As always, thank you so much for your generous comments — that add so much depth and insight wherever you travel.

    All the best
    ~Dan

  • Dear Gurmeet~

    You remind me of Hui-neng’s famous saying —

    There is no Bodhi tree,
    Nor stand of a mirror bright.
    Since all is void,
    Where can dust alight?

    Indeed, silence.

    As always, thank you so much for stopping by, Gurmeet, and a special thanks for posting Bette Midler’s performance of “The Rose.” Always so very moving.

    All the best
    ~Dan

  • Beautifully written post Dan. Some of the imagery and themes remind me of an old post I wrote a couple of years or so after my husband died. I called it Seasons of Change. Here’s some excerpts:

    “We see the process of change all around us being mirrored in the seasons throughout the year. Springtime heralds the onset of rebirth and new beginnings. The daffodils, tulips, and crocuses pop open in a burst of fresh color to dot the landscape. The dogwood and cherry trees adorn themselves as if preparing for a wedding ceremony in delicate pink and white blossoms while April showers pour out kisses of dewdrops upon every tender petal. A sweet scent fills the air and our spirits are given a measure of hope as we see this new life emerge in stark contrast to the bitter cold and darkness of winter.”

    A couple of paragraphs later I wrote:

    “It is beautiful to behold as we see the splendor of color painting the landscape; a living canvas of beauty reflecting the artistic hand of its Creator. As if by magic, we watch as the leaves on the trees change into a kaleidoscope of color before our very eyes; one last glorious display to bid the world farewell. They have served their purpose well and know that it is time to let go. One by one, we watch as a gentle wind comes along like the breath of God to detach it effortlessly from the limb of its temporary home. Guided along in invisible arms, it is gently laid to rest upon the ground, and in return, the earth receives it with a kiss of greeting and a welcome home.”

    There’s more to the post then what I’ve shared. I’ll have to put it up on my current blog at some point. I happen to love your writing better then mine, by the way, it simply reminded me of what i wrote. : )

    Now back to your post. I was pondering over your introductory quote for a moment:

    “But how can you possibly be of any real use as a leader on a larger scale if you can’t lead yourself through the thicket of your own emotions and thoughts – and you get tied up in knots by anger, fear, and tension? This is an old, universal idea. And we have to be a little more direct about it.”
    –– Peter Senge

    This is quite the dilemma isn’t it? I’ve eluded to this idea in some of my favorite quotes, tweets etc where I have questioned the idea of ‘leadership’ itself. (outside of the role of parenting) Now, I don’t expect that the idea of leadership is going away any time soon or necessarily should be obliterated from the planet…I’ve merely questioned the reasons WHY people DESIRE to ‘lead’ others in the first place…

    Doesn’t the desire to be ‘superior’ to others automatically set up a power hierarchy where another person or group is automatically believed to be somehow inferior or LESS powerful then the one who wishes to lead?

    For me, and I’ve felt this way for quite some time…the IDEA of leadership seems to be a trap from the outset. Because in order to have leadership, one more then likely has a belief, even remotely, that they are superior to others and others are somehow inferior and in NEED of leadership, etc.

    In my imaginary, picture perfect, idealist world (cough and cheeky grins because I know it’s not necessarily REALISTIC), I lean towards my favorite quote by Albert Camus who said…

    ‘Don’t walk in front of me I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.’ ~Albert Camus

    Now that’s not to say that the ‘friend’ doesn’t have more knowledge and experience then the other person. MOST people will know something that someone else doesn’t know as well or have as much experience with. Yet, teaching and mentoring can be transferred to one another WITHOUT the need for a superior/inferior relationship. And I feel and occasionally experience relations with people, that regardless of rank, title, position, or occupation, I’ve been able to engage in an ‘equal’ relationship without the need for the power plays that tend to come with the office of ‘leadership’.

    My connection with you is one such example! : )

    Anyway, this has once again become far too long so I’ll close by saying that there were a few other touch points in your post I connected with…including the subject of sudden loss, etc.

    Again, beautiful post my friend.

  • Thank you for this long, lovely exploration, Samantha, and your inspiring words from your earlier post and your observations here.

    As for your thoughts about “leadership” as a trap, they remind me very much of Peter Block’s book, Stewardship, in which he argues many of the same points you make here. It’s all too easy to forget that leader/follower implicitly plants a seed of superior/inferior. In my own view, leadership is about leading oneself first and foremost — that’s why Senge’s quotation (and even more so the article linked to his name in the epigraph) resonates with me. I also resonate with Parker Palmer who makes the point that we are all leading all the time — in the sense we cannot escape being examples for one another. And finally a recent thought from a colleague that “talking about leadership is just a convenient excuse to talk about ourselves” also is attractive to me.

    All of which is to say yes to Camus. As friends, we mutually lead and mutually follow. Leadership stops being a person and becomes a moment of connection or situational action. I don’t think we will get over labeling people as leaders until we stop projecting our own thoughts and feelings onto others. In this sense, Senge’s quotation is ironic. As “leaders” we are doing our work to lead our way out of our own thoughts and emotions. Beyond that point, leadership itself is transformed into something else that is deeper down in the shared heart of community and human nature.

    All the best to you, and thanks again for writing such a lovely piece, Samantha!

    ~Dan

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