If you like, you can hear me read this post.
Perhaps it is just that it is winter and my energy is solstice energy, energy of the roots of things and of the hearth, and it is clear I seek time to “go in,” not to go out. Even now in early afternoon, the fire feels good. And I know there is a place of sanctuary in me, in each of us, a place of immense value not only for our capacity to rest and recuperate from struggles in the world, but also because it is a place of discernment, and therefore deep personal power.
I live in a groundfloor apartment on Lake Sammamish in Redmond, Washington, a few blocks from Microsoft where (I’m saying this just because I am frequently asked) I have never worked. My maternal grandparents lived a little ways north in a cabin — land now covered by a big apartment complex — and I grew up less than a mile away on the side of the hill facing the sunrise — land now covered by 50 or 60 houses. It seems everything in my life has changed, except where I live.
I have set up my office and my computer screen so that if I lift my eyes from what I am writing I look directly out onto the lake, only 20 feet or so away from my glass doors. Today the water is blown into ribbons of gray, with showers falling every so often across an occasional whitecap. A mile across the water is a mostly wooded hill, with a few large houses along the shore. In front of me and to the right, maybe 100 feet away there is a cottonwood where an eagle comes to sit and waits for a party of coots to drift by, the coots being a main source of food all winter long.
I have seen and wondered about the eagle, especially when it is far colder than today and the rain pours down hard while she sits up there in the bare branches. I imagine the eagle going into herself, returning to her own private avian-mind sanctuary and place of discernment as she waits.
I think how sometimes the energy spirals out from us human beings into connection and accomplishment and our external Vocations, but how the spiral of self-knowledge works both ways, how there are times for going in…
In the night silence
my house speaks to me.
It leaves me alone
a long time, but
then it reaches out.
A gentle hand
penetrates my body.
Through the flesh
it reaches in, and on one rib
below my heart leaves hanging
a small silver box
with all my good dreams
‘Nothing can ever
be taken from you
— Robert Sund, from “Shack Medicine”
Meditative space, yes, in touch with the “beingless being” at the center of Self. And also the place from which what’s real becomes more visible, where the masks drop away, the fantasies, and it is possible to really see. Such an important skill. In this way, perhaps, leading is like enlightenment. If you say you don’t know anything about it, you are in denial of yourself; if you say you know what it is, you are an imposter. Rest then, at the center, and learn to receive what insight may come.
I recall a presentation with a couple hundred people in the room. A woman raised her hand. “What you are saying, Dan, is that it is important to make the inner journey, to find yourself, but when I look inside all I see is darkness.…”
What can we do but wait for discernment? Get comfortable with the darkness, let it birth what we need to see without shrinking back, without drifting into fantasy. We have to wait up there in the branches, sometimes while the rain pours down hard.
There are many ways of breaking a heart. Stories were full of hearts broken by love, but what really broke a heart was taking away its dream–whatever that dream might be.
— Pearl Buck
Going in, farther, deeper, opening door after door, to find that gentle space, a garden perhaps or a high hill — anywhere imagined will do as long as it is the sanctuary, to sit, just sit, and be watchful, wait for what comes. Today something simple, a thought regarding the beauty and courage, grace and nobility of the human spirit. Examples to the contrary do not a full truth make.
I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.
— Anne Frank
I go within and I am reminded again and again of the fundamental goodness, inseparable from Self, even while acknowledging the full messiness of the world, the complexity of human nature and the human condition. In this quiet, watchful place, I can feel my heart ache and I can also feel its strength build, though the darkness is still there before me, the ignorance, and the misery. I can feel a new energy awaken, and looking out, as dusk begins to come down around me and I light the lamp next to these words, I also see the eagle lift from the tree — and I know I am ready to return…
And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a‑goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a‑falling,
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest dark forest,
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty,
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,
Where the home in the valley meets the damp, dirty prison,
And the executioner’s face is always well hidden,
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,
Where black is the color, where none is the number,
And I’ll tell it and speak it and think it and breathe it,
And reflect from the mountain so all souls can see it,
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinking,
But I’ll know my song well before I start singing,
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard,
It’s a hard rain’s___________a-gonna fall.
— Bob Dylan, from “A Hard Rain’s A‑Gonna Fall”
Discernment from a quiet place is something I think all great leaders have. It’s available to any of us, too. It is the center-point of understanding. It is the ground from which we know our own right action is possible — always.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is Monday, January 15. A good day to find that quiet place, and take a look, a good look, and then recommit to the work that needs to be done.