Because Even the Word ‘Obstacle’ is an Obstacle

In this episode of ‘Turning Towards Life’ Lizzie and I talk about how our stories about what’s happening can get in the way of our bringing ourselves fully into life. We consider how the very way in which we make sense of ourselves as ‘having to get somewhere’ with obstacles in our path that need to be overcome can throw us into an interpretation of life that’s riddled with fear, resentment, and comparison. We wonder together what it would be to ‘swim past obstacles without grudges or memory’ and to understand life as an unfolding story that changes itself in each moment and with each action – and what new possibilities for freedom and contribution that can bring.

Our source is the poem ‘Because Even the World Obstacle is and Obstacle’ by Alison Luterman, reproduced with permission from the author. You can find out more about Alison at www.alisonluterman.net

“Because Even the Word Obstacle is an Obstacle” by Alison Luterman

Try to love everything that gets in your way:
The Chinese women in flowered bathing caps
murmuring together in Mandarin doing leg exercises in your lane
while you execute thirty-six furious laps,
one for every item on your to-do list.
The heavy-bellied man who goes thrashing through the water
like a horse with a harpoon stuck in its side and
whose breathless tsunamis rock you from your course.
Teachers all. Learn to be small
and swim past obstacles like a minnow,
without grudges or memory. Dart
toward your goal, sperm to egg. Thinking, Obstacle,
is another obstacle. Try to love the teenage girl
lounging against the ladder, showing off her new tattoo:
Cette vie est la mienne, This life is mine,
in thick blue-black letters on her ivory instep.
Be glad she’ll have that to look at the rest of her life, and
keep going. Swim by an uncle
in the lane next to yours who is teaching his nephew
how to hold his breath underwater,
even though kids aren’t supposed
to be in the pool at this hour. Someday,
years from now, this boy
who is kicking and flailing in the exact place
you want to touch and turn
may be a young man at a wedding on a boat,
raising his champagne glass in a toast
when a huge wave hits, washing everyone overboard.
He’ll come up coughing and spitting like he is now,
but he’ll come up like a cork,
alive. So your moment
of impatience must bow in service to the larger story,
because if something is in your way, it is
going your way, the way
of all beings: toward darkness, toward light.

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Soul Food

In this episode Lizzie and I read and talk about ‘Soul Food’, a chapter of the ‘The Way and the Power of the Way‘ by Ursula Le Guin.

Together we explore the ways in which certainty can make us rigid and closed to the world and to one another, how we try (unsuccessfully) to make the world and others into our own image (a huge part of the societal struggles we’re in at this time in history), and how the simple act of learning to load the dishwasher together can be a path towards the kind of humility and openness that’s life giving and makes for profound and responsive relationship. Along the way we come to a new understanding of what the name of our coaching company ‘thirdspace‘ might mean, and how coaching can be a way of helping ourselves and others open ever more fully to life.

Here’s the source for our conversation:

Soul Food

Everybody on earth knowing
that beauty is beautiful
makes ugliness.

Everybody knowing
that goodness is good
makes wickedness.

For being and non being
arise together;
hard and easy
complete each other;
long and short shape each other;
high and low
depend on each other;
note and voice
make the music together;
before and after
follow each other.

That’s why the wise soul
does without doing,
teaches without talking.

The things of this world
exist, they are;
you can’t refuse them.

To bear and not to own;
to act and not lay claim;
to do the work and let it go;
for just letting it go
is what makes it stay.

Ursula LeGuin – from ‘Tao Te Ching: The Way and The Power of The Way

We’re live every Sunday morning at 9am UK time. You can join our facebook group to watch live, view archives, and join in the growing community and conversation that’s happening around this project.

Part of ourselves

How easily, how readily, we see in others – we project onto others – what we don’t want to see about our own lives. And how easily our projections turn others into an enemy to be corrected, scorned, hated or feared.

How easily we end up enslaving ourselves with all this. We lock ourselves into battles in the outer world, when what we want to correct, what we hold in contempt, what we need most to be reconciled with is actually part of ourselves.

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Declaring Meaning

When we find out how much of the world is made up – by us – it’s tempting to pull everything apart. We pull apart institutions – because we see how groundless their authority is. We pull apart politics – because as we see more into the ordinary lives of our politicians we discover that they are ordinary and flawed like us, and we no longer have reason to simplistically trust either their intentions or their abilities. We pull apart relationships – because we don’t feel any reason to commit, beyond our moment-to-moment likes and dislikes. And we pull apart beliefs and practices that can bind us together.

This step – using reason to see through what we’d taken to be unquestionably true is in so many ways a necessary developmental step for each of us and for our society. Indeed, it’s the step that allowed us to discover science and its methods of rigorous, grounded inquiry. And it made it possible to undo the divine right of kings to rule over us, and to bring about democracy.

But it’s also so easily the route to nihilism: the move to render everything meaningless, everything pointless, everything disposable as we discover that the structures and stories and roles we used to trust were made up by other people. And, as the philosophers Kierkegaard and Nietzsche warned us, this ends up with us tearing meaning apart too, as we find out that what meaning we encountered in the world was only there because other people declared it anyway.

And so the next step important after undoing it all is to find out that it’s also within our power to put things back together, to declare meaning for ourselves. To find out that there are many kinds of truth, including those that take into account goodness and beauty as well as just reason. That out of the fragments of what we have taken apart, we can still choose practices, people, relationships, stories, commitments and vows to live by that invest life with purposefulness, care, and dignity.  And that this is possible, and necessary, in every sphere of life – in work, home, community and politics – specifically because we’ve found out that without it there is so little for us to stand on.

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Better off knowing this

Behind all our attempts to manipulate and control the world so it’s just as we’d like it (and behind the pain, frustration, sorrow and disappointment that our inevitable failure brings), we’re just trying to find a way to feel safe and to feel at home.

I think we’d be better off knowing this.

Then we’d set aside our mission to control what can’t be controlled. And we’d work on how to feel safe and at home in the world as it is – in this ever-changing, surprising, vast and mysterious life in which we find ourselves.

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The Paradox of Change

On Sunday 15th March 2018 Lizzie and I talked about The Paradox of Change, inspired by a passage from Lawrence Kushner’s book ‘God Was in this Place and I,i Did Not Know‘. It’s a tricky and important subject we’re taking on here – how it is that our very efforts to change so easily end up being what imprisons us; how it’s the very effort to be a particular way that constricts and narrows the wider flow of creative life that we all, in the end, are; and how a kind of surrender is often called for if we’re to step into life fully, a letting life through rather than a trying to get life into a particular shape.

Here’s the source for our conversation:

The paradox of change

Not until we recognise our bondage can we begin to move toward freedom.

It is a paradox. Change begins not by trying to change. And what you imagine you must do in order to change yourself is often the very force that keeps you precisely the way you are. How else can you explain the years and decades of your own foiled plans for growth and broken resolutions. Consumed by an apparent passion to be “other” than who you are, you try to be who you are not, but in so doing succeed only in being a person who is trying to be other than who you are. Thus the goal […] is self-discovery—the discovery not of another self but of one’s true self. Beneath all the layers of wanting to be different, self-dissatisfaction, pretence, charade, and denial is a self. This self is a living dynamic force within everyone. And if you could remain still long enough here, now, in this very place, you would discover who you are. And by discovering who you are, you would at last be free to discover who you yet also might be.

You can be who you are, or you can pretend to be who you are not. If you choose the latter (as most of us have done since adolescence), an infinite variety of self-deceptions lie before you. You can pretend to be wise when you are ignorant, weak when you are strong, courageous when you are timid, confident when you are unsure. There is no end to the list. But remember this: none of these pretensions, no matter how noble, appropriate, or convincing, will fashion genuine change. They will instead require increasingly greater amounts of energy and enmesh you in increasingly complicated nets of deception. Or you can cease pretending to be someone you are not and discover at this moment who you are. Who am I writing these words? Who are you reading them?

Lawrence Kushner, from God Was in this Place and I,i Did Not Know

We’re live every Sunday morning at 9am UK time. You can join our facebook group to watch live, view archives, and join in the growing community and conversation that’s happening around this project.

Identity and Integrity

On Sunday, 8th April 2018, Lizzie and I talked on ‘Turning Towards Life‘ about identity and integrity, inspired by a passage in Parker Palmer’s book The Courage to Teacha wonderful book for anyone – teacher or not – who wants to bring themselves to their work and life with integrity and depth.

Parker Palmer begins his book with the claim that ‘good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher’ – and we agree. It’s an orientation that underpins how we approach the teaching of coaching in our Professional Coaching Course, and the practice of coaching itself. It’s also true of being a parent, a creator of any sort, a participant in community, and a leader. It also relates wholly to what it’s like to be on the journey of a conscious person who pays attention to life, and who holds relationships with others at the heart of their enquiry. And this turns out to belong centrally in the lives of good teachers and educators of all kinds.

We’re live each Sunday morning at 9am UK time. You can join our facebook group to watch live, view archives, and join in the growing community and conversation that’s happening around this project.

Here’s our source for this conversation:

Identity and Integrity
by Parker Palmer, from ‘The Courage to Teach

By identity I mean an evolving nexus where all the forces that constitute my life converge in the mystery of self: my genetic make-up, the nature of the man and woman who gave me life, the culture in which I was raised, people who have sustained me and people who have done me harm, the good and ill I have done to others and myself, the experience of love and suffering – and much , much more. In the midst of that complex field, identity is a moving intersection of the inner and outer forces that make me who I am, convening in the irreducible mystery of being human.

By integrity I mean whatever wholeness I am able to find within that nexus as its vectors form and re-form the pattern of my life. Integrity requires that I discern what is integral to my selfhood, what fits and what does not – and that I choose life giving ways of relating to the forces that converge within me: do I welcome them or fear them, embrace them or reject them, move with them or against them ? By choosing integrity, I become more whole, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means becoming more real by acknowledging the whole of who I am.

Identity and integrity are not the granite from which fictional heroes are hewn. They are subtle dimensions of the complex, demanding and life long process of self-discovery. Identity lies in the intersection of the diverse forces that make up my life, and integrity lies in relating to those forces in ways that bring me wholeness and life rather than fragmentation and death.

Taking responsibility for our stories

Given that we are the only creatures (that we know of) that can tell stories about ourselves;

and given that we live totally, inescapably in the stories we tell;

and given that stories of any kind can be more or less truthful, more or less kind, more or less generous, more or less creative, more or less freeing of our enormous potential…

… given all of this, don’t we have a profound responsibility to question the stories we were handed? To not just take things ‘as they are’?

And to actively find – and consciously live by – the most truthful, kind, generous, creative, possibility-freeing stories about ourselves, about others, and about life that we can?

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Yes to what?

Many of us will say yes to anything.

If you observe closely for a while, you’ll discover that this is effectively a yes to nothing. Wrung out and over-extended, you find yourself in a half-hearted, resentful relationship with others and eventually with life itself. And although it might look to you like you’re only trying to help, it turns out that you’re serving your own sense of being needed more than really helping anyone.

The antidote to all of this is neither giving up nor retreating from the world. It’s finding a genuine, wholehearted yes which allows you to discriminate; a yes that goes beyond looking good, getting ahead, or feeling better about yourself; a yes which allows you to genuinely serve; a yes that at last allows some things to be more important than others.

Commit to a yes that comes from your deepest principles, your integrity, and your heartfelt longing to contribute to something bigger than yourself, and you’ll find that a new form of clarity emerges. Now it’s possible to respond with discernment, to say yes over and over again in a way that serves everything and everybody. To care for yourself and for others. And to say no, to what was never yours to do in the first place.

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This is your assignment. Focus.

On Sunday, 1st April 2018, Lizzie and Justin talked about making art, and about responding to the darkness and messiness of the world (and ourselves) with hope and transparency. Along the way we talk about fear, the way we keep ourselves stuck by trying to have it all together, and the importance of communities in which every part of us can feel welcomed. The entire episode is a call to the kind of hope expressed by Vaclav Havel – a hope that’s not dependent upon things getting better, but which comes from knowing that, even if our efforts fail, we have the capacities and qualities we need to improve things.

The book Lizzie talks about in this episode is Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach.

The source for our conversation is from writer Courtney Martin and artist Wendy McNaughton. It’s reproduced in full above in a wonderful image that can be ordered as a poster – a reminder to us all of the necessary, life-giving and transforming power that comes from making art. You can read more about the source over at Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings.

We’re live each Sunday morning at 9am UK time. You can join our facebook group to watch live, view archives, and join in the growing community and conversation that’s happening around this project.

Image Credit: Wendy MacNaughton and Courtney E. Martin