Archive for October, 2022

Free Rain

The rain falls, sideways

her umbrella lifted 

By the wind 

Seeing her joy sets my joy free 

When I was little,

 toy solders in my hands

All the battles that I led

brought me back to the world in my head

free to be, just to be, not to create for you, just for me

now I am there when I remember to be: 

a sunny moment in the day, the sway—of a tree

 the leaf that falls like a verse–finally free 

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Feeling the Words

There’s a technique that one of my closest friends, who is a priest, uses to experience his beliefs. He takes a scene that is meaningful to him, a scene from a holy book, an imagines himself in that scene with exquisite detail. Applying each one of his senses, he lingers in that scene, living the words.

I’ve heard of a similar technique being used in therapy. This practice of inserting oneself entirely into a scene is something I am curious about. Without even meaning to, I realize that the scene I would inhabit comes from the Count of Monte Cristo, shortly after Edmond Dantes emerges from prison, filled with rage, hope, joy, and encouraged by the relentless weather.

How raw and human the experience, and how much I can learn from exploring it fully, slowly, as if I were actually there. 

Hunting around online, I discovered the name for this practice, “Ignatian contemplation.”

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You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus – Mark Twain 

If you work in business, you must have heard about the importance of storytelling a million times by now. As if that proclamation alone is a divine insight. But what we don’t hear enough about is imagination.

 Sure, we know about brainstorming, and the more progressive among us celebrate question-storming, but what of that quiet yet burning curiosity to imagine the unknown–to fill the blank screen with possibilities, or even direct AI to create.

How are you practicing strengthening your imagination? 

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Birthday Candles

We have a favorite four year old. She’s our neighbor, and she’s extraordinarily smart. If you say a word in passing, like “splendid” she’ll remember it and use it in context. Today we greeted her and her mother.

We played a round of imaginary games including birthday party.

When we went to blow out the candles, it confused her. Having most of her memories from during the pandemic, she’s never seen candles being blown out on a cake before. I wonder what other childhood experiences will be vastly different for those who started remembering in 2020.

Can you recall any?

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Interview Questions

I’m conducting a fireside chat with an influential entrepreneur next week. I’ve reviewed his Ted Talk. I’ve read his Harvard Business Review case study. I’ve seen his incredible accomplishments, and we spoke for about an hour on the phone to plan. I’ve put together rounds of questions and edited them not just to get the content right, but also to ensure the flow is clear and creates good energy.

Interviewers make the mistake of thinking that they have to sound smart, when, in fact, that’s not the point at all. The point is help the interviewee tell memorable, compelling stories that resonate with the audience, and to create a balance of what the audience wants to know and what the interviewee wants to share. You don’t necessarily do this by asking hard, complex questions; a sincere question which generously sets up the interviewee for a great story is even more effective.

What have you learned about asking questions?

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Memory’s Truth

“Memory’s truth, because memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else’s version more than his own.”

― Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children

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Created with help either from an elephant, an AI, or a Human

Do we define art by the impact It has on us, or by who and how it was created? Is a piece less meaningful because an elephant or a computer painted it? Does the intention of an artist matter, or do we judge not on the intention by the impact?

As we plunge deeper into the debate — the defense of AI, or the defense of humanity — we’re forced to wrestle with essential questions: are we that special? What is it about our ineffable souls, our childlike vulnerability, even our empathy and failing memories, which can’t easily be copied by a more proficient machine? 

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In a Russian novel I read when I was young, a character walks into the town square and confessions to an old crime, a crime people have forgotten about years ago. This image of the public confession returns to me from time to time. 

It returned today. 

Today, a person shared the most devastating news—the death of a spouse—and they did so in the virtual public square of social media. It must have just happened. They must have written out of shock or out of confusion. 

Hundreds of people expressed condolences, desires to help, GIF with animated characters hugging. There were no spammers or haters among the comments. 

As the idea of the public square evolves from a physical place to a social community to a virtual world, I wonder how our rituals around confession, burial, morning, and commiseration will evolve accordingly. 

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Racing Past Cliches

A good friend of mine ran a race and finished dead last. Honestly, I respect this even more than if he finished 1st. The force of will to continue, despite judgement, the inner strength to preserve is incredible to me. Knowing that you will finish last and continuing to run anyway, that takes courage. I am also not sharing this metaphorically. We all know there’s enough motivational bs out there. This is a story that I know is true and that I can turn to.

Recently, I got into a debate with an executive coach on Twitter. We were discussing goal setting, and she wrote, “I think that everyone loves to win at *something* – to be really capable, feel absolute domination in that moment, and just smash one thing out of the park – to feel pride in seeing what they can do, and to plant their own flag in this world with their influence.”

I responded by noting how she, in this and other tweets, characterized success in strong, “yang” language: smashing, dominating, planting. Notably absent from her description of success were the grace of “yin” language: fluidity, grace, inner worlds. She informed me that “zen” isn’t really her style, which, of course, is a dismissive way to shut down dialogue.

I refuse to believe that “high performance” is about only about smashing things, and that the only way to win is to dominate yourself and others. There is much more to winning than coming in first, at least, that is true of all the races I care to run in, and there’s much to be learned from the honor of the man who finished last.

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Sacred Day

Today is a sacred day, which means it is different from the rest of day. It is not different due to sickness, or the type of act of God that destroys homes and scares farm animals: it different both because of its religious significance and the significance I have given it in my life.

On this day, I reread 22 years of journal entries I have written. I go through old books of poems to find ones I have ear marked. I take inventory of mind, body, and spirit. From these rituals, I remembered expressions like “the joy of paying exquisite attention,” and I revisit goals which once mattered to me.

This ritual of pause and reflection allows you to step into your life, as if it were a beautiful unoccupied home, and walk around it, to truly breath it in. There’s something incredible that happens when you drop your to do list, release the idea of constantly doing, and pay attention to what’s trying to happen–an idea a great teacher of mine introduced over many walks in Rhode Island.

Of all the lines that resonates with me on this, one stands out above the rest.

It’s from the poem “For a Five-Year-Old.”

“We are Kind to Snails.”

So, my friend, today… be kind to snails.

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