Day Two – Peter Block
Peter Block: This is always a homecoming, which is a wonderful thing. The word sustainability is popular these days, so we have to be suspicious of anything that’s popular. So I thought, a couple things – one is, if I was serious about sustainability, what might that mean? Is there a way I can relate to that? Why is it so difficult? And the second concern is just the fact the intimacy that you felt yesterday with a stranger – why is that rare in the culture, because the longing is so deep? The theme of this is about education. And why is intimacy and education seem at such odds to each other?
Back to sustainability – I was in Hawaii last week, and I was in a meeting Friday morning, and they said sustainability is life. For something to be sustained, it’s affirming alive-ness. Usually people say, “Well this has been great, how do we sustain it?” In other words, how do I bring into the future the experience I’m having in the moment? The answer to that is, “you can’t,” because otherwise you’re living a memory. And every time you reconvene you’ll want to recreate what you left behind, and it’s always disappointing. So I like the notion of aliveness – Maybe sustainability means, “How do I keep the quality of aliveness?”
The dominant modern culture is organized to consume aliveness; that education as we know it, is an industrialized design, and we’ve organized the school building as an industrial model. We’ve organized education as a feeder system – to lower labor costs for work places… Same with resume building like it’s never been before, and the order of the day is fifty minutes – sit in your seat, behave yourself, socialize yourself – even though we know that that’s difficult for young people. All the research says that if they start the day after 9am, their performance goes up a whole grade.
So it leads me to think, well this is the empire in action. The empire being in control, consistency and predictability, is what I want out of the world. I want to know what’s going to happen; which tells me that the idea of education reform is an impossibility. That you can’t use industrial means to de-industrialize experience.
What we’re doing now, we think better technology, more certification, better testing, better measurement – the state of Ohio is spending $26 million this year on better testing, as if a hog did get fatter sitting on a scale. And all that is life consuming. All of that is life consuming – the idea that, “I want.” So I started thinking, so what is life giving? I also really believe that the conversation of education reform, health care reform, government reform, economic reform, has no chance of being a conversation of reform. It’s just using the disease to cure the illness. To give more order, more structure, lower cost efficiency – that is the language of empire.
“Empire,” meaning is that work is done in service of pharaoh (the emperor); in service of leadership, in service of management, in service of the teacher. So the teacher in most classrooms is the emperor of the moment – in charge. We just spent a billion dollars in Cincinnati on new school buildings, and they are up to date with 1944 designs. It’s just the windows are new, a little more light, the sight lines are a little more pleasing, the cafeteria is a brighter color; but the chairs are still lined up, the teacher is still in front of the room; all of that is still occurring. So you might say, sustainability is about the de-industrialization of, in your case, education. That’s how I see these gatherings, to support the experience of de-industrializing learning. So that’s one set of thoughts. The other thought is, what are the components of aliveness?
The Components of Aliveness
Notion of Mystery
One element of aliveness might be the presence of mystery – the “not knowing.” There has to be space for mystery. The system world hates mystery. It hates surprise – I grew up in the system world, and I knew that I could tell my clients anything, as long as I didn’t surprise them. So if I told them that the building that was destroyed over the weekend, and all employees have quit and moved to Mexico, their common response is, “Well, that doesn’t surprise me.” As if surprise is the only thing they’re truly worried about. In a system world, do anything you want, but don’t surprise me. The stock market’s that way. As long as you are on your projection, it doesn’t matter how bad they are.
Mystery is the anecdote to predictability. And so you say, “How do we design mystery into our experience?” Knowing that that’s where all creativity resides, is in mystery. Mystery means, not only that I don’t know, but also that some things are un-knowable – god forbid, that there are things that science will never figure out; and some people (including some of my family members) don’t agree with that – that science eventually will figure everything out. And so you say, “How do we keep the mystery in the form of our gathering? ”
The Notion of Fallibility
The second dimension of aliveness is something to do with fallibility. So the system world is longing for perfection. That’s why we do annual performance reviews. So the wish for perfection is the wish for sovereignty. It’s the wish for dominance. It’s how I claim ownership of you, by letting you know that you’re imperfect and that that’s a problem. It’s a problem that you’re imperfect, and we got to do something about it, so once a year we sit down with you and talk about improvement goals.
My daughter wanted to get certified as a pastoral educator. She was always having to write a paper every two months about her growing edges. So she had to collude with the notion there’s something wrong with me, and more important, “I’m working on it.” If it was just something wrong with me, I can live with that, because I have a lot of evidence that it’s true: there is something wrong with me. And I have learned in 72 years that working on it has no impact. I’m working on the same stuff today, that I was when I was 24 years old and began getting institutional feedback. “Peter, you’ll interrupt people, you’re a little cynical. Somebody else starts a sentence, you always want to finish it…” So infallibility means I’m permanently incomplete. It’s a permanent condition: I am fallible. The community world, the world of aliveness accepts that and finds it interesting; the weirdness in me, the vulnerability in me, the edginess in me, the dreamer in me, all the things that I’ve been working on, try to be practical – be grounded. I live in the air.
I once had a body worker, she was kind of a Chinese mystical creature, and I turned over knowledge of my body to her. I had no interest in learning about my body. I gave her full responsibility. I had these violin strings from my throat to my belly, and you could almost play music on my stomach, it was so tight. And so I said, “Jane, your job is to loosen those strings up. I’m going to lie here and see how you’re doing.” I said to her, “What am I going to have trouble with?” She says, “Your knees.” “You are as ungrounded as they come. You live in the world of ideas, in a kind of aloof and distant manner. I think your knees are going to be a problem.” So I took her seriously, and I’ve been working on my knees. But that’s me; that’s my fallibility.
The learning world, the alive world, the community world loves you for your fallibilities. The system world fixes you. So one of the qualities of empire life is that whatever you are, it’s not enough. So we’ve internalized that by saying, “I’m a work in-progress.” Rather than saying this is it, done. Cooked, finished, package as delivered. What do you think: is this lovable, or not? And so there’s a whole notion of fallibility versus perfection.
The Notion of Speed
There’s a question of speed – so Angeles says nature has two speeds, medium and slow. The life-consuming world says “fast.” Speed is a value. Everybody wants to FedEx things to me that I have no interest in. You have a FedEx – I tear up the notice, hoping that it’ll go away. And they’re spending $24.56 to get me this letter overnight. And so you begin to say, “Well time matters.” In community we have time. There’s plenty of time. I have time on my hands. The love-song of aliveness is, I’m biding my time. I love that song, because that’s the kind of guy I am. And so the whole notion of speed, quickness, is what consumes my energy. That’s the only reason why I’m tired, is because I’m in a hurry.
All the technology is sold on the basis of speed. So, another quality of the empire feral life is restless productivity. I’ve always got to be busy. I was at a resort last week in Hawaii – at the pool, half the people were on blackberries or iphones the whole time. Which means they weren’t at the resort, so they’re vastly overpaying for the facility. They could have done that at the Holiday Inn. In these two days this gathering is an example of a life creating design. And I like the notion that design kinds of gives you a channel for experience. That the reason you design something is to guide intentions. The setup of the room is a declaration of intention. That’s why space matters so much. This space means I can see most all of you. In the traditional conference, all we see is the front, the foreground.
Notion of Relatedness
The last one is the notion of relatedness. In the empire world, relationships are expedient. They’re a means to an end. I don’t have to like you in order to work with you – you hear this all the time. In the community world, in the aliveness, creating relationship is all there is. It’s the point. We take space for that. Given a little space yesterday, intimacy means there was time for relationship. A friend of mine says, that the purpose of the challenges and problems in the world is to give us an excuse to be together. I’ve begun to think, that’s true. So bring on your problems, I’m interested in all of them. I’ve lost interest in solving them. I’ve decided I’m no longer a results oriented kind of guy.
People say, “What results have you seen in your work over the years?” I said, “None that I can discern. None.” Once in a while, people will come back ten years later, and say that was good. And I say, thank you. Nice but all hard to measure. Mother Theresa was great – people ask, “what kind of results?” she says, “I’m called by grace, or love. I’m not called by results.” I just saw that Berrett Koehleraer has published a book called, Mother Theresa, CEO – the nine principles of Mother Theresa to get things done. So I may have to get a new publisher. Relatedness becomes the point, our connection, and it has a function. And that’s a set of things – you talk about fallibility, you talk about mystery, you talk about time, you can talk about relatedness; the alternative to relatedness is autonomy.
The antithesis to relatedness is the notion that I am a self-made man; a self-made woman. As if I produced anything in this world on my own – which I haven’t. And a lot of entrepreneurs like to fashion themselves as self-made men. I’ll always ask them, in my own unkind and aggressive way, I have a gentle tone that masks the dark side (which I love) – I say, where did you get your first dollar? And they said, “Oh, from my father.” “Oh, so you’re not a self-made man?” Autonomy is the empire version of relatedness. And we still reward people individual prizes. I’ve been in those ceremonies sometimes; I’m a speaker at the awards ceremony. Harris Corporation was the best, because they had me on a stage with flowers all around. I thought it was a funeral. I’m giving a talk on empowerment, and the first two rows are empty and reserved. And the whole purpose of the conference is celebrating teamwork – got it ?– the importance of our people, the little people.
I asked them at one point, how was last years event? They said, “We had a major problem last year, we ran out of shrimp.” They have a little shrimp celebration after the talks. I finally got what the purpose of this year’s was about, was to have enough shrimp. So the first two rows are reserved for top management. This is so they don’t waste time waiting for the empowerment lecture to start.
And then the people who get an award, every time they get an award, the first thing they say is, “I don’t deserve this.” And I don’t call that modesty, I think they’re right. You don’t deserve this. So relatedness is the alternative to individualism.
Next is the idea of community, it has a job to do. That our connection to each other has a purpose, and it has a function. One of those things is to raise a child. We have outsourced to the school that function. That’s why the school struggles if it’s not rich. And most of the great stories you hear about schools that have transcended out of nothing to become something, in Harlem, in West LA – well they were all helped with a $50 million grant. You start saying, we, citizens, neighborhoods, have to raise a child. The school can’t do it. That’s why school reform is rather futile. You can make some nice minor course adjustments. But we have to raise the child. We also keep each other healthy. That’s a job we have to do in this circle – my health is dependent on our relationship. If I join an association, as opposed to nothing, it adds a year to my life. Healthcare for the elderly, care for the disabled, care for people recovering from mental illness, is a community function. What we’ve done is we have professionalized care in every dimension of my life. So now I hire people to take care of my parents. I hire the schools to discipline my children, to inspect their lockers on a surprise basis for drugs. Where my kids went to school, they couldn’t lock their lockers anymore – they should have renamed those boxes, as evidence containers. Part of the dehumanization is having professionalized those tasks that neighborhoods and functions and us have to do; care for the land.
I’m in Hawaii, and they have an amazing tradition, and this Manu Meyer – I like that, Hawaiian first name, Jewish last name – my kind of woman. She says, “This is our land. We don’t care who owns it now. We’ve never given it up.” “The land is ours” They know that eventually that they have to be self-sufficient as a community, for food. We have outsourced all of this. We think peas grow in the grocery store.
There’s a function to this, what we’re doing. If I want to raise a child, I have to recognize that only a community, a circle, can do that. There’s a use to what you’re up to. Part of the task of school people, is to not take on what you can’t deliver; that you are not in the business of custodial care. The only reason the school starts at Walnut Hills at 7:45 is that so parents can get to work on time – something’s whacked out there. The only reason they have after school programs is because the parents can’t pick them up; they’re too busy in restless productivity. And we’re managing the kids now for performance – which Ward is so beautiful about.
As soon as you turn a learner into a performer, you’ve stolen their humanity. I have to help my children discover what they’re good at and not make them do well. All that is in play in what we’re doing here. These two days are a model of what an energy giving system can look like. It pays great respect in the capacity of my children to learn what they’re good at.
I was reading some of Ivan Illich notes. He says that, we think the children are our future – stop talking that way. They’re not to be used for tomorrow. They have use now. And we’ve forgotten that they’re useful now, they’re it – this is it. They’re not our future, it’s a way of me as an adult escaping my own freedom and accountability, is by looking to you to provide a different future than I produced. You’re not at risk. There is no such thing as “youth at risk”. They’re just fine. The best thing we can do is say – we’re at risk, but I don’t want to live with that.
Everybody wants to get to the youth sooner. Now we have four year old education. LA county has 322 schools that teach kids, four years old, how to read and write; and I’m sure three year old will be next, and then prenatal education. There’s something that speaks, that looks at the child in the womb, and says, “Hmm, where are they going to college?” So all of that consumes energy. If I’m tired, that’s why, because I’ve internalized empire. The restless productivity, the belief I’m not enough, the belief that children – that something needs to be inculcated into you… So that’s the work, health, land, people in the margin; neighborhoods –
The exodus story is the escape from Egypt, pharaoh, slavery. It is about freedom – to what? Wilderness, what’s that? That’s a place with no viable means of support. So this is the journey that Ward takes people on: a journey into the wilderness. The neighborhood is the modern wilderness, cause it’s lost its function. For educators, there’s a huge task to realize that the neighbors around you can do things that the school can’t do, because the school is enraptured with empire and order, and structure.
Last thoughts: I was thinking, “What is the means of transformation?” What is the means through which a world of mystery and fallibility, time relatedness can be created? There is a question of methodology. So there are four things, and then I’m done.
It is the Economy
One is the notion that we have to pay attention to the economy; the economic system dominates this culture, and if we don’t learn about that, we’re missing something. I know there is a movement to shift our thinking about the economy – one is to make it local. Globalization is part of what steals aliveness from us. And it’s a long story, but that’s a headline. There’s a notion of economics of abundance – why don’t we act as what we have is enough? Right now we only value scarcity. I’m only interested in what’s rare; why, because you can’t monetize abundance. You can only monetize what’s scarce. There’s also an economy of generosity. So there are people named Edgar Cahn that has decided that non-market exchanges are more important than market exchanges. A guy named Mark Anielski wrote a book, The Economy of Happiness. Cahn tracks generosity. Every time you do something kind to me, like give me a gift, you get a credit hour, and I accumulate credit hours. It’s called time banking. Then when I need you, I spend my credit hours, and you accumulate them, and no money has changed hands, and the neighborhood is working fine. We have to be part of this movement to rethink what kind of home management we’re interested in.
Second has to do with art. In the old testament, the prophets were the poets, and their job was to imagine an alternative future. So the function of art is to give form and shape to an alternative culture, alternative future, alternative way of being. It is certain aspects of us that art evokes, it helps, like I have to remember I have a body. Most conferences, forget I have a body; we do nothing physical, there’s no movement; I’ve been involved with an improv theatre, where there is great movement – you make it all up, you pick something up and I hand something to you. And in improv, whatever’s handed to you, you say, “thank you.” You never refuse the offer, no matter how dark it may seem. It’s a yes world.
I have to rediscover my ears, I have to learn something about music; I have to learn how to listen, how to hear. I have to rediscover my voice – in empire voice, ears, eyes, fingers, all are obsolete. Now I can go anywhere on my computer; and Microsoft for years said where do you want to go today? And all I needed was a couple of fingers. The rest of the body withers, sits… That’s the function of art, to reawaken my senses, so that my life makes sense to me. That’s why you have to start the day with music. You have to start the day with song, there has to be a point in the day where art brings us into movement. There has to be a point in the day where my eye takes an image, passes it through my arm, into my hand, and I draw something – instead of write something.
Art is essential, and we still treat it as if it’s peripheral, as if it’s nice, as if it’s entertainment, as if I can be passive in most great concert halls, which are designed for passivity, except for the moment of gratitude. The only time I’m allowed to move or make noise. And they tell me at the start, be quiet; if you have candy, unwrap it before the performance. So if the audience is felt at all by the performers, you’ve destroyed that world. That’s the empire use of art. It is for persuasion. First thing totalitarian governments do is shut down the artists. Shut down the radio stations. So art is designed to bring life back into the room.
Shift the Narrative
The other is the narrative, which my life gives voice to – I know the word was the beginning. I know that my speaking is the world I create; I know I’m constructing, I have constituted my life – that’s how I’ve used my freedom, I am the author of my experience. Even if the experience in many ways, sucks. Anybody who lives their life without regret isn’t paying attention. “I would do the same thing all over again”. You got to be kidding. If I found one thing that I would do over again, I would celebrate that.
Narrative, the nature of our speaking, do I speak into a world of accountability, or do I escape my freedom by talking about what those people are doing; what top management is doing, what Obama isn’t doing – all that conversation. The purpose of the classroom is to create a breeding ground for seeds of accountability – for seeds that the child knows what they need to learn, they can figure out how they need to learn it, who they want to learn it from, what they want to learn… So aliveness is an assault on expertise, it’s an assault on professorship, it’s an assault on – and what I’ve learned from Chene Swart is, it’s assault on who I authorize to speak. Whose speaking do I value? Expert, professional, elder; soften it up, therapist, soften it up more, preacher, minister, nun – softer yet, but I’m still surrendering my own freedom when I authorize expertise to speak. So you say I want to reauthorize the source of speaking, and it’s you I have in mind. All that’s in the narrative.
So it’s everything – all these are everything’s: art everything, economy is everything, the narrative is everything. What you said yesterday, we had intimacy, and what Larry said is true, “I show up not knowing who I am, in the presence of you not knowing who you are, and both of us in our confusion figure out, if we don’t know who we are, we just had a great time together.” In some ways, when we share our fallibility, that is intimacy. Nobody ever got close to a human being by declaring victory. Same with my kids, I always wondered how they would turn out; but by the age of the early thirties, I said, “enough, I’m declaring victory.” They turned out just fine. A little whacko, but most of the time they’re relatively drug free, relatively financially independent, and they’re able to stand on their own accord. I feel, “good job.” With that as an exception, I get close to you by sharing my fallibility, my vulnerability. That’s all in the narrative world.
It means I have to care about journalism, the public narrative is designed to support empire. If I believe that, it makes sense to me. Now I know why fear is marketed as a curriculum in the news, because it keeps me under control. If I’m afraid, I ain’t going outside. I won’t venture out – if I don’t go outside, then I’m not going to find you; if I’m afraid to walk in my city, in my neighborhood. If I don’t go downtown, because I’m afraid I’m no longer experiencing any vitality, any of the aliveness of the center of the city. The public narrative right now is totally designed to sustain the empire. And it’s only interested in what’s wrong, and it calls good news human interest.
The fourth everything is religion. This I’ve been adding lately, at some peril. I was at a conference, in Cincinnati, and there were some ministers who felt they couldn’t talk about God. And I thought, what kind of world have I participated in creating, when we couldn’t talk about God? So we need to create space, if we care about mystery – and God in some ways is a place-holder for mystery – then it has to be free to talk about God, and if I’m free to talk about God, then I have to be free to talk about not-God. Either way is fine. Just don’t make it a marketing pitch, ok? Bringing religion in creates space for God, and whatever that means – in our conversation I shouldn’t be shy about that. It creates space for mystery. It creates space for kiros, which is time measured in depth.
Now you could use the world spirituality, but that has gotten neutered. It’s washed out. So as soon as you say, no let’s talk about spirituality, it means there’s no risk on the table. It means there’s nothing to be upset about; nothing to be committed to. That is the mystery. In religion, time disappears. In community, time slows down. But in religious sense, time has no meaning. It’s all about depth, it’s all about the mystery of things. In Hawaii this is how they say “the land is ours! I don’t care if you think you own it or not. That over time, or in a time-less world, we still own this land.”
Those are the methodologies: economy, art, narrative, religion. If you say I want to design a classroom that has a quality of producing energy, rather than consuming it – which is the opposite of covering a certain amount of material, then you pay attention to economics, art, narrative and religion. Sometimes when I do a workshop, they say, “Peter, we’re running out of time. Do you have material you want to cover?” Well why would I want to cover material nobody was interested in? Including me? If I thought it was so important, I should have started with it. So in this world, nothing is forgotten, nothing is left out. That’s where energy comes from. “I’m only tired at the end of the day,” is a social construction. If I’m burnt out, I’ve constructed it – somebody calls me with a nice proposal, you want to do this or that? “Hell yes!” You get back at one in the morning, exhausted, “You hungry?” Yes. “Good, let’s cook.” Then you have energy for everything.
These thought are within your power to construct. Because every moment of your life, you’re in a room, and you’re in a place, and community has to be grounded in a place. The notion of an online community is just a silly thought, because I have control of my online life. I can read you if I want. I can answer you or not – that’s why email doesn’t count. If you email something to somebody, you get no credit for communicating, because it’s costless, it’s free. I can answer in asynchronous response – what does that mean? I don’t know. Something’s out of sorts, I know that. Anything with the word a in front of it means something’s out of sorts.
So Angeles and I did a gathering a while ago, and one of the things in the gathering – one of the ways empire invades community, is the notion you got to hear from everybody. So if you get more than nine people, it takes a long time. We were in this gathering of 25 people, and we end the day with a reflection, nothing wrong with that. But we go around the room. So we’re slogging around the room, one person at a time; with verbal people. I don’t mind going around the room, as long as their deep introverts. I’ll go around forever, as long as they have nothing to say. I realized, if you go around the room, only five people are interested. The two that just spoke, are wishing they said something different. The one speaking is trying to act interested, and the two next in line are worried about what the they’re going to talk about! And everybody else is going, “How many more to go?” So we meet in the morning, and I said, “What’d you think of the circle last night? What did you say?”
Angeles Arrien: Boring.
Peter Block: She said, “Snore.” So we decided that in design, the only question is, who goes first. Everything else is just chit-chat. So these two days are an example of that: configuration, the seating, the unpredictability of it, the not understanding half of what’s going on; the space for fallibility is celebrated in this circle. You’re not supposed to be doing great when you come here, that’s why it’s relief. And we have time, how long do we have? All the time that we need. So these are all design elements. And one other thing I would add to live giving, is gift-mindedness.
We come here to be confronted with our gifts. Which I’m blind to without you – I can’t wait for my eulogy, cause I’m going to miss it. That’s the only time I will be truly forgiven, is when I die. And remember All That Jazz, the movie, where this guy just kind of ran over people like a train all his life, and every morning he’d pop some pills in his mouth and he’d go, “Showtime!” And that was his life. And the last scene, he’s dying, he’s on the operating table, he’s about to die, and all the women he stepped on are surrounding him. “We love you, we love you.” And I thought, that’s the moment we’re all waiting for.
Gift-mindedness changes the world, and I have decided to learn about what my gifts are. And I have decided, even though I fall back a lot, only be interested in what your gifts – and I’m not interested in conversations of deficiencies. I’m not interested in youth at risk, I’m not interested in what your disabilities are, I’m not interested on what you’re working on… Why? It’s not that they’re not true, it’s just it doesn’t take us anywhere. All it takes us, is into the land of deficiencies. The truth is they get stronger over time. I’m more interrupting now, than I was in my thirties, if that’s possible. I get more interested now, than I have been in finishing other people’s sentences. It takes all the will power and prayer I can muster to let you finish a sentence, let alone have a complete thought. So I can testify, it’s only going to get worse. So you say, let me stop the narrative of not enough, and replace it with the narrative of giftedness.
In a neighborhood, if I was an educator in a school, and I knew that I couldn’t raise these children, I would get interested in what people in the neighborhood knew how to do. And I would send a group out to interview every house, say, we’re from the local school building, and we’re worried about our children, cause we can only give them so much. What do you know how to do? What are you passionate about? What are you interested in? What are you willing to teach other people? There is no more respectful question in the world than, what are you willing to teach another.
Then ask if they would you mind if I come back to you if I find someone who’d be interesting in learning that? And I don’t care what they say. If they say, “I’m good at prayer.” You write that down. If they know how to listen, write it down. If they say, “I have experience with loneliness; I like dogs; I can cook; I can sew; I can pay attention; I never get bored. Or, I am cynical and bored about life. And that’s what I’m good at.” Thank you. I think there’s a market for that. And I would collect those, and I would match them up. That is what gift-mindedness means.
Finally, there is hospitality, like what Amber said, “I discovered a stranger yesterday.” Hospitality is the welcoming of the stranger.
So every time you break people into small groups, it’s always with people you know the least. And every time you break people in small groups, you tell them don’t be helpful, be curious. And every time you break people in small groups, you force them to sit uncomfortably close together; you get them away from tables. And the last thing you do before you let them leave each other, you have them tell each other in specific terms, what did you do in the last twenty minutes that touched me? What did you do that was useful to me? And you instruct the person hearing this kind of love, to say, “Thank you, I like hearing that. Tell me more. Tell me what my comments meant to you, and here’s what it meant to me.” And that’s a life giving conversation.
A footnote: We don’t do Q & A anymore. Q & A is giving lip service to engagement. Q & A means you’ve got the question, and I’ve got the answer. Which is just backwards. So you don’t structure it that way. And you know you’re an empire when people love Q & A, and sometimes they write down their questions, so they don’t have to stand for anything; I can pass it in. And my favorite, I don’t if I’ve mentioned it before, once, I was giving a talk and they were passing in questions, and I’d answer the question. Afterwards, I said to the guy, “Any questions you didn’t give me?” And the guy said, “Yeah, one.” I said, “What was that?” Somebody wrote in, “Where did you get this guy?” which would have been the only interesting question anybody asked.
Day Two – Angeles Arrien
Angeles: So, we pull on the threads this afternoon from this morning. One of the things that I so loved about this morning was how joy and laughter opens us not only to possibilities, but also to learning. I love that Victor Borga said that, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” I’ve kept thinking about that this morning. Laughter not only joins us but it opens us to each other.
I think about the power of embracing not knowing and the power of connecting with uncertainty, because we can count really only on two things in our lives. One is our death, we just don’t know when and how that’s going to occur. The other is change. We can count on change. We can count on it. For those of us who have the illusion at different times in our lives that we can control change, we quickly discover what a very frustrating and futile endeavor it is. Death and change are uncontrollable.
Every moment is a possibility between every human being on the planet. I awoke last week thinking about this, that every human being wants to be loved and every human being wants to be happy. Human beings are really here for two purposes. One is to learn all that we can about love and to express love. There’s not a human being that’s not been touched by love in life. Love has many arms: gratitude, appreciation, acknowledgment, joy, forgiveness, and recognition. I love the five A’s of really being present. You know that love’s presence is there when there is attention. When there’s acceptance. When there’s appreciation. When there’s allowance. And out of attention, appreciation, acceptance and allowance we hit the bedrock of affection. I love that the first part of affection is “affect”. We closed this morning with how we affected each other by giving our appreciation and our allowance to each other, through the quality of attention that we extended to each other. In the crucible of safety, always there is a generosity of acceptance. It’s a beautiful container for affection.
It was wonderful to walk in this morning and see how people who have been to multiple Chautauqua’s were saying, “Oh you came, you came!” and the new people that have come and the new important strangers joining us in the exploration of this journey. Every human being is here to learn about love and to express love and affection, and we’re also here to create. That’s the unique factor of our human species. Each one of us has a call or a purpose and a contribution to make. Peter’s conversation about gifts and what we are passionately excited about that matters most, is always much more exciting than the conversation about deficiencies.
I’ve been thinking about love and creativity. In the fairy-tales of the world when they always talk about the “creative fire”, they always say, “Ahhh, the creative fire. The fire that takes no wood.” And it’s a spark in every human being that cannot be diminished, taken away, put out, no matter how much we’d like to do that. It’s impossible. We’re constantly creating and we’re constantly creating in the daydream. And it’s important to pay attention to what I’m creating in the daydream because it sets up the matrix for the self-fulfilling prophecy. The daydream sets up the matrix for the self-fulfilling prophecy. Just think about what are all the positive daydreams that I have? Give it a title, anyone. What is a positive daydream that I visit constantly – just this year – for those of us who are daydreamers? We’re all daydreamers. It’s not a very conscious, comforting thought but many of us are daydreaming while we’re driving. We don’t have many conscious drivers on the road. But we have many people daydreaming. Processing. Daydreaming. Possibilities.
Participant: My next trip to Italy)
Angeles: That’s a positive daydream. Another one. What am I currently this year visiting, dreaming about? If you can title it, you have it. Another positive daydream.
Participant: To be free to do what I want.
Participant: Taking a good nap.
Participant: 50 cities in the world performing the charter of compassion
Angeles: In South Africa among the Sutus after a positive daydream they would say:
“And that’s a healing story.
And that’s a healing story.
And that’s a healing story.
And that’s a healing story.”
Most indigenous people of the world have what are called “seal phrases,” phrases that seal something that I don’t want to forget. Let’s think about a challenging daydream. What’s great about our positive daydreams is that they hold all of our healing images, and our images of possibility. I think it’s so interesting that there are two phrases that are repeated in the sacred texts of the world. One is “Ask and you shall receive”. And the other healing phrase is always stated as “People who cannot envision will perish.” Our healing images and our inspirational visionary images are our positive images. And that’s a healing story, and that’s a healing story. It sets up a matrix for the self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, what are our challenging daydreams? What’s a challenging daydream that I visit a lot? Or a negative daydream that I might visit a lot?
Participant: Will they offshore my job?
Angeles: That’s a challenging one? Yes. Okay, great, great. Just that you’re going there is a healing story, that you’re conscious of it. But to extend it to yourself is amazing. That’s wonderful.
Participant: I’m not enough
Participant: Not enough time.
Participant: I’ll never really be thin again!
Participant: Failure in general
Angeles: Yes. And among the Sutus in South Africa they say,
“And that’s a story that doesn’t need to happen.
And that’s a story that doesn’t need to happen.
And that’s a story that doesn’t need to happen.
And that’s a story that doesn’t need to happen.”
Our psyche does not distinguish between good or bad, positive or negative, right or wrong. The psyche says, “Oh, there’s a lot of energy going over here. I think I’ll just help it along. Oh, there’s a lot of energy going over here. I think I’ll just help it along.” But when it comes up against a seal phrase, “Oh they’re aware. They’re aware.” It stops. And then the psyche will put energy in the middle for you to place it where you want, rather than help it along. And that’s a healing story. And that’s a healing story. And that’s a healing story. And that’s a story that doesn’t need to happen. And that’s a story that doesn’t need to happen. And that’s a story that doesn’t need to happen.
So this afternoon, at different times, you just might check in. Where am I in the daydream? Am I in a positive daydream? Our challenging daydreams hold our fear images or our deprecation images. The positive daydream holds the possibilities and the healing images. Where am I spending the most time? The daydream sets up the matrix for the self-fulfilling prophecy. You can think about all the time that you have wanted to manifest something and how much energy you put towards that; consciously or unconsciously. Images of healing or images of fear carry a magnetic field for possibilities of manifestation.
My life’s work has really been as a sleuth or a detective looking for the points of unity in all the different cultures. Even when I was a small girl, I collected dolls from around the world and would line them up at the end of my bed. I would have a language for each one of them and would be talking to them about what they were learning in their culture at this time. I’d spend hours making up these languages, and the only gift I ever really wanted was a doll from another land. It’s interesting how that played out ultimately in my own life’s calling and journey, that interest in different languages and different peoples of the world and being raised bi-culturally. The other thing that I have found through my bi-cultural experiences, is that all people have a language beyond their languages, and could understand each other even though they did not understand each other’s language. This fascinated me and I went exploring in the last two months around another universal experience that we’re having as humans.
Besides all human beings wanting to be loved and to be happy, all humans are here to learn about love and to express love and to create. But all human beings have the same desire for connection and freedom. Everyone wants to feel connected and included. The two universal primal fears that we have are the fear of entrapment or the fear of abandonment or loss. The frightening things we do when we’re afraid, and if I have the fear of loss or abandonment I will entrap or limit, restrict, or restrain. If I have the fear of being entrapped or limited or restricted or restrained, I will abandon, and when I am terrified I’ll probably do both as fast as I can. The frightening things that we do when we are afraid. How do I befriend fear? Fear’s whole function is to constrict energy, that’s all it does. I love that among the Masai when they teach their children about facing the unknown or something that they’ve never experienced before, they have a hand movement that goes like this. What that is – is; shorthand for “When you’re facing the unknown it’s time to get larger, go deeper, not smaller. Larger go deeper, not smaller.” So when we’re facing uncertainty we get larger, go deeper, not smaller. Larger, go deeper, not smaller.
Look at the spirit of aliveness that is generated by hand movement. Indigenous people always use the hands for imprinting sound, sonics, and concepts. And that’s a healing story, and that’s a story that doesn’t need to happen. Notice what happens to the voice, the voice is used for induction and imprinting. When we face the unknown we do what? We get larger, we go deeper, not smaller. We get larger, we go deeper, not smaller. Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Oh yeah! The first percussion instruments besides our own voice are our hands. Our voice is the first musical instrument. If we were to record every voice in this room on a sonogram each one of us would have it’s own unique pattern. I think that’s awesome. Even with identical twins, they have different patterns in their voice. Nowhere else duplicated in the world. Recent research has shown that the sound of our own voice strengthens the immune system, especially if we will spend at least 15 minutes a day singing or chanting.
The four forms that all cultures use to enliven the human spirit are singing, dancing, storytelling, and silence. The four portals for uplifting the human spirit. There’s not a culture in the world that doesn’t sing, or have music. There’s not a culture in the world that doesn’t have sports or dance; the body wants to move. And there’s not a culture in the world that doesn’t have the art and craft of storytelling. Storytelling is the oldest healing teaching in the world. There’s not a culture in the world that doesn’t recognize that in the sweet territory of silence we touch an unexplainable mystery, a wordless mystery. If you ever go to a Shaman, a medicine person, or a holy person among tribal peoples of the world, especially of this continent of North America and Central America, they will ask you one of four questions if you are disheartened and dispirited. They will say, “When did you stop singing? When did you stop dancing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories, particularly your story? And when did you stop being comforted by the sweet territory of silence?” Wherever we stop singing, wherever we stop dancing or moving our bodies, wherever we stop being enchanted by stories, our own story, or wherever we lose comfort in silence is where we begin to experience loss of spirit.
It’s so important that we don’t lose our connection to what uplifts the human spirit. It should be a primal part of education. To evoke memory and the imagination at an authentic level. I love the word authenticity. It comes from authicos, authos. Which is self, and thesos is work. Self-work.
I love that the word “invention” really, when you look at the etymology of it, means, “to find a way.” We are in a time in history where our creativity is being called forward, the fire that takes no wood, to reinvent, or to remember, or to re-imagine, what the heart of true education truly is and to bring that back in. The other connection besides love and creativity and connection and freedom that I’ve been taking a look at is “not knowing” and “revelation.” I love not knowing or embracing and befriending uncertainty, and anything new. It always takes me to the path of revelation. Something is going to be revealed. Something that I don’t know, that’s been incubating for a long time inside, is going to emerge and reveal itself.
Children love surprises and I love that Peter brought in the element of surprise this morning as well, because surprise and laughter are two teachers that will reveal to me where I’m still flexible. If I don’t think it’s very funny anymore, I’ve lost my sense of humor. It’s good to track where I’ve lost my sense of humor because it shows me where my attachments are. How do I handle surprise? Adults have a tendency not to handle surprise so well. It’s that deadly question, “How did this happen? Who is responsible for this?” We can count on surprise. I love that the Inuit people say, “There are really two plans to every day. There’s my plan, and there’s the mystery’s plan.” When we get too attached to our plan, the mystery brings us a surprise. Or the unexpected. You can count on a surprise and the unexpected every day. Children approach life with “I wonder what’s going to happen today”, “I wonder what’s going to happen next!” When a surprise happens they have two responses. They go Ahhhh! Or they burst into giggles. They cover their mouth and they just giggle. Adults… stunned horror. What’s my response to surprise? How flexible am I? Surprise and humor show us where we are still flexible and resilient, or not, in how we respond.
I would like to take us through a process of uncertainty and revelation to experience them both at the same time. This exercise will take us into a conversation about discovery and feelings regarding such situations as excitement, illness, love, fear, masculine, feminine, anger, and peace (a drawing exercise using only straight lines and curved lines––creating eight abstract portraitures without creating forms). Angeles concluded the morning session working with click sticks, and how they are universally used as a self-management tool.
Day Two – Robert Inchausti
Peter Block: So Larry agreed to have some comments and reflections on the morning. I’m having a great time right now anticipating what he’s going to say even though he’s a little irritated with me for setting him up like this.
Robert: Well, when he asked me if I’d say something I felt like I was the emperor’s puppy. One way you get to join the emperor’s elite crew is to publish a book or have a big presence on the web, so I snuck into the court I guess. One of the things that Peter did this morning that I thought was really a contribution, was the humor that he added. It was not hostile humor. It was very funny, and very thought-provoking. So I thought my contribution would be to tell a few jokes in the spirit of the inquiry.
Mother Teresa’s name came up and I have some interesting experiences with people that knew Mother Teresa personally. I thought I’d share them with you because I think this group would appreciate it. I don’t know if any of you know this Tony Robbins, he’s like a self-help guru. I don’t know if he actually works for the empire, but he’s the empire’s golden boy, and Mother Teresa, as you know from her journals, was experiencing some depression in the later parts of her life, and they invited Tom Robbins to Mother Teresa’s house of charity in India to give a pep talk and to maybe get the nuns all into a more a more effective organization. This is Mother Teresa as CEO. IN this interview with Tony Robbins the interviewer said, “I’ve heard you worked with Mother Teresa” and he said, “yes” and they asked “Well what did you say to her” and he says, “Well I said to her what I say to everyone: ‘What turns you on? What excites you and makes you wanna work just ‘till you drop? What is it?” Mother Teresa said “the look on the face of a dying man or woman when they go to their creator knowing they are loved.” And Tony Robbins said “I can’t work with that…I need something a little bit more positive. (laughter) She was the only one I couldn’t really get to.” So I thought that was interesting that Mother Teresa was, what would you call that, irredeemable until the end.
The other story was, and this one should probably stay, but I’ll change the names so it won’t offend. I knew this priest that was one of Mother Teresa’s confessors and he wouldn’t tell me exactly, you know they can’t tell you what they say in confession. He was a priest that worked on a reservation in New Mexico with Indians and poverty stricken people, and one of the things they gave him was a little corn kernel as a gift because he had to leave that reservation. He had the corn kernel with him when he was called. Mother Teresa was dying, and they called him to come to take her confession. He really tells this story better than I do.
He was driving to San Francisco airport as fast as he could so he could get a plane to India before she died and all the cars were in the way. He was praying to Mother Teresa, and all the cars were opening up for him. It was like this miraculous thing, and he found a parking spot and he got there, and made it to India and he was with her at the end of her life. When she finally died she was in this little casket and everybody left. They said, “father you can go in and give her a last blessing” and he had the little native American corn, so he threw it in her casket and we’re the only ones who know that. I often thought that was such a wonderful gesture because, you know, what if it grows? You know, these saints, after they die, you know miraculous things…What if there is somewhere in Mother Teresa’s grave a Mayan corn stalk just coming out of her chest? That would be a wonderful image for 21st century religiosity? Mayan connection.
Then one more story and I’ll leave you because I could talk like Peter. I’m a kindred spirit with him that way. This summer I’m taking care of my wife’s 98 year old father, and I was really not looking forward to this, because you just sit in a room and you help him go to the restroom then you help him go back and he’s got a memory of about four minutes so he’ll begin again every three minutes. It’s like living with the Buddha.
It turned out to be this wonderful experience because I’m sitting there writing or reading and he’ll say “beautiful day!” and I’ll say “Yeah…” “Beautiful day!” and he’s just like always in the present moment and he’s the most peaceful human being you could be around. It was a good example of community versus empire logic, because he really isn’t doing anything other than being, but his being is so generous and pleasant, that it’s an inspiration. I don’t think I could write around a lot of busy people or in a big room, but this guy is just great. And then the idea that every three minutes you start all over. Totally forgiving.
I was taking him over to where my wife works and I was late, and of course, I’m moving opposite from his time which is like negative 500 miles an hour to business time. “I gotta get there by 1:00pm.” So, I leave my cell phone and my wallet on the top of the car. We’re driving down the freeway and I look in the rear-view mirror and there goes my cell phone and then there goes my wallet and it’s spread all over the road. I’m freaking out, “We gotta pull over, I gotta get my wallet and my cell phone.” “Fine,” he says, “we got all day.” If it was anyone else they would have said “Wait, wait! You’re gonna get hit by a semi! No, no don’t be running around the high way,” and he would just say, “You get hit by a car, I’ll call my daughter, she’ll come get me.” So there are treasures in that world. I was dreading it and it turned out to be this wonderful thing at least for right now because I know that other things happen later.
Those are just a couple of stories from Peter’s invitation to us, to share and to find the ironies and the humor in the experience. Thank you.