Does this path have a heart?

“Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.  – Carlos Castenada, “The Teachings of Don Juan”

The focus of our career. Who we vote for. What we say when challenged. Where we spend our free time. The people we decide to hang out with. The organizations and causes we support. The comments we make on social media. How we show up in relationships. Just about anything we opt to give our time and attention.

These are all choices and each imply directionality and our fundamental orientation to the world.

And so…

We can operate from self-righteousness or curiosity. We can employ a mindset of scarcity or one rooted in generosity. We can choose judgment or grace, condemnation or forgiveness, distraction or connection, cruelty or compassion. We can chase busyness or meaning. And so on.

It’s not easy. And I fail at it all the time. Sometimes miserably. And yet…

And yet…it’s always worth knowing which way I want my compass to point. It helps to challenge that which I worship. It matters that when I get to the fork in the road, I know which path I want to choose, even if I get it wrong more times than I’d like to own up to.

Sure the bigger house is nice. The bigger heart maybe just a wee bit better.

 

This post also appeared on my business blog at stevenpdennis.com

We’re never ready

Oh sure, maybe we’re ready for the easy stuff. Ready to leave for work, make dinner, hop in an Uber, do the laundry, pay the credit card bill.

But the work that matters, that enlivens the spirit, that changes us, our tribes and the world around us? That’s another thing entirely.

Naming our fear is helpful, because it is our fear that keeps us stuck.

Letting go of any notion of perfection–the right time, the right skills, the right conditions–is useful as well.

Being willing to get started–to accept that the only way we can ever really know that we are on the right path is to start walking; slowly at first, but faster and faster as we gain confidence–is essential.

Because here’s the thing…

The conditions will never be perfect.

I have no idea what’s going to happen in the future. And neither do you.

Chances are you already have everything you need to take that first step.

And sure it might not work.

Like it or not it’s later than we think.

The fact is we’re never really ready for what really matters.

But we can still start.

What better time than now?

This post was simultaneously posted on my business blog at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

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Consumers and producers

Consumer or producer?  At any given time we are likely one or the other.

As consumers we read what somebody else wrote, purchase what someone else made, ponder ideas someone else created, observe problems we hope someone else will fix.

Going to a movie, listening to music, attending a sports event, relentlessly checking Facebook or keeping abreast of the latest scores on ESPN are all about taking in content generated by someone else.

Being a consumer is passive and typically enjoyable. Little is required of us. And it’s virtually always safe. I might feel a bit guilty about spending my Sunday afternoon watching golf on TV but hey, no harm, no foul.

As producers we are doing the work, writing the blog post, making that new product, bringing our art to the world, challenging the status quo, embodying the change we wish to see in the world, putting ourselves out there. But as Seth reminds us, this might not work.

By its very nature, producing takes more energy, more focus, more grit and is riskier than mere consumption. Producing something with the potential to be truly meaningful and remarkable is more challenging and riskier still. It demands vulnerability.

Of course we are all consumers and producers. There is no such thing as a pure consumer or a 100% producer. On any given day, we will spend our waking hours engaged doing some of both. Life, as we know, is ebb and flow, yin and yang, give and take.

So it’s not about being one or the other. And it’s not about labeling consumption as inherently bad and production as fundamentally virtuous.

But I do think it’s worth thinking about whether we’ve got the right mix.

And then working intentionally to produce a better outcome.

 

A version of this post originally appeared at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

 

Wabi-sabi

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic concept that finds beauty in imperfection and the universe’s natural cycle of growth, decay, and death.

Embracing wabi-sabi means eschewing the unnecessary, getting rid of the clutter and valuing authenticity above all else.

Wabi-sabi requires us to accept the reality that nothing lasts, nothing is ever truly finished, and nothing is perfect. It requires us to not only believe that this is okay, but to see that there is great power and serenity in the practice. It points us to the notion that imperfection is an incredible gift.

For me, it is precisely my wrong-headed attachment to the concept of perfection that keeps me spinning and stuck and caught in my fear of shipping.

For me, I can easily get distracted, adding needless complexity to a project or adorning an idea with superficiality, when it’s more than good enough just as it is.

For me, it’s so easy to see the risk in being wrong, without seeing the greater risk inherent in my inaction and the uselessness of endless worry.

When I inject wabi-sabi into my creative process, I produce more and stress less.

When I embrace wabi-sabi I am unleashed from the shackles of thinking for thinking’s sake.

When I practice wabi-sabi I am able to fail better.

And that’s perfect enough for me.

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A version of this post originally appeared on my business blog.

At the risk of stating the obvious… 

All we have is this present moment. Time spent trying to re-litigate the past or predict the future is time wasted.

It’s better to choose forgiveness over revenge, love over hate.

You are enough. We all are.

This too shall pass.

Gratitude is a super power.

We all get afraid. Keep going.

The wolf we feed is the wolf that wins.

If we are serious about change we need to do the work. Otherwise, we need to shut up and stop complaining.

Talk less, smile more.

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.

When given a choice between adopting a learning mindset or a judging mindset, choose the former. Spoiler alert: we always have a choice.

Let it go.

Seriously, just let it go.

We want to be finished. We’re never going to be finished.

If you are anything like me, you probably know all these things to not only be true, but rather obvious upon any level of basic reflection.

But knowing something to be true is not the same as doing it.

We can fully appreciate that knowledge is valuable, but that nothing actually changes until we put our knowledge into action. Until we practice what we preach. Until we make mistakes, recalibrate and get back out in the arena powered by a deep awareness that we all have an expiration date and that what we do makes a difference.

We can read books about heaven or we can practice actually creating heaven on earth. And more often than not we have to start before we are ready.

Obviously.

 

h/t to the Reverend Aaron White for helping inspire this post.

First, get naked

Never let them see you sweat. Have all the answers at the ready. Don’t let those pesky emotions fog up your logic. Be impervious to the Sturm und Drang of every day existence. Know where you are going at all times.

Nonsense.

We can’t ignore the need to pick a lane at some point.

We shouldn’t get stuck and spin endlessly as we mull over a sea of options.

We ought not to totally collapse in the face of challenges or throw up our hands in despair.

And yet…

And yet we should fight the urge to pray at the altar of a culture that values perfectionism over our flawed humanity, materialism over essentialism, quick and convenient decisions over considered choices that emanate from a deep understanding of ourselves and how we derive our passion and purpose.

When we are doing the work that matters the place to start is not borne out of snap judgment, reactivity or trying to sort out and conform to what other people think. And it’s rarely continuing what we’ve always done or what feels the most comfortable.

The place to start is to get naked; to strip ourselves of our worn out and tired stories, to give up the need to be right or in control, to eschew the habits that no longer serve us.

On our path to a life of greater love, kindness, passion and purpose we need to get raw, to experience our feelings directly rather than stuff them or try to navigate around them. We need to expose ourselves to the light. To be vulnerable. Laid bare.

Whether we are trying to figure out our next career move, how we wish to show up in important relationships or simply trying to decide how to best prioritize our time, I’ve found it’s worth digging deeply into three core questions:

  • Who am I?
  • What do I really want from my life?
  • How can I serve?

The answers that will keep us on our path aren’t likely to come easily or quickly. And they won’t come at all if we aren’t willing to get naked first.

 

h/t to Deepak and Sheepak for inspiring this post.

 

The ways we betray

For most of us, I suspect betrayal typically connotes a major traumatic event. A partner cheats on us. A business associate steals from us. Someone leaks confidential data to an adversary or foreign government. A corporation fails to protect our credit card data or pushes unnecessary products en masse.

In these events trust is eroded or completely gone in an instant once the truth is brought into the light. We all know that these sorts of betrayals can have horrific consequences. The good news is many of us never experience betrayal with a capital B.

Other forms of betrayal are more common, and we can see them for what they are if we are mindful and pay close attention. They can often manifest gradually. They can be quite subtle as well. If fact it’s been said that “sometimes betrayal doesn’t scream, it whispers.”

The key to understanding betrayal, in my view, is to see that it is all about trust and its impact on vulnerable and compassionate connection. And trust has two key components. We all get that it’s about veracity, the simple need to believe that what’s going on is in fact true; that when we are in relationship with some individual or group we enjoy a shared reality. The other critical aspect is that trust involves personal responsibility.

It’s easy to understand how we can betray our partner’s trust if we directly lie to him or her. It’s simple to comprehend how when we fail to do what we promised we can let down individuals or teams.

What’s often harder is to see the insidious nature of betrayal. It’s very possible for both the perpetrator and the victim to not see what’s truly going on until it is too late. These more nuanced and gradual forms of betrayal can make both parties feel unsteady, confused, maybe even a bit crazy without the identification of the root cause.

In my experience, a sense of betrayal can build up over time through an accumulation of untrustworthy and unaccountable interactions: Not being reliable and consistent in how we show up in a relationship. Avoiding or deflecting in difficult situations. Failure to speak our truth. Blaming the other person for our failings. Saying one thing and doing another. Withholding love or affection to get what we want. An inability to own our actions and truly understand how they may have hurt another person.

Too often, trust is eroded by a thousand cuts.  And once lost, it can be difficult or impossible to repair.

Avoiding this type of betrayal is best assured through cultivating compassion, leaning into vulnerability, letting go of our need for control, speaking our truth openly and respectfully, and understanding at a deep level that our actions have consequences.

Once betrayal has occurred the work is even harder and the outcomes far less assured. A person who has felt the deep hurt of betrayal does not simply re-grant trust due to a few sincerely uttered “mea culpas” and a hearty “I promise to do better next time.” If only it were so.

Ultimately the trust that matters is earned back through doing the hard work to establish the confidence that what we say and do is not only true, but reliable and consistent. And that takes time and practice.

The other reality is that if we’ve betrayed someone our actions have emotionally injured them. Time is needed for healing.

There is no express lane to restoring trust.