Throw your dreams into space like a kite...
I wish I could remember all my epiphanies and insights. As a wannabe J (on the Myers Briggs profile) who is, in fact, a P – I haven’t kept them in a notebook. But I do remember the one about balance. I got it a while ago. On the walk back from the workshop venue to my accommodation in Sao Paolo when I was there developing Thinking Environment Faculty, Thinking Partnership Teachers, Facilitators and Coaches.
The walk took me through a park, in which there were slack ropes slung between some trees. I had watched skilled users on a previous walk. No-one was using them on this particular afternoon, and no-one was around to see me try. So I gave it a go. And then I got it about balance. You accomplish it by losing it. It isn’t a function of staying there, it’s a function of the art of regaining it when it’s lost.
For some time now I’ve been seeking to accomplish balance in relation to doing and being, specifically with regards to the extremely (in my mind) out of kilter obsession with goals and objectives. One of my favourite things about Thinking Sessions (and I have quite a few favourites) is the way they are an antidote to this Western mindset injunction to be always having to achieve something. That the measure of success is the setting of goals (we even have names for them like “big” and “hairy” and “audacious”!), and the relentless pursuit of accomplishing them.
When I’m teaching Thinking Partners and Thinking Environment Coaches, I love the joyful comprehension when it dawns that the purpose of a Thinking Session is being accomplished from the moment a person contracts with a Thinking Partner to give themselves some time to think.
That astonishing self-offered gift is then “achieved” from the moment the Thinking Partner asks “what would you like to think about, and what are your thoughts?” And that’s it - the rest of what happens is all a majestic unfolding of the dance between intention and mystery, and there is no somewhere to get to other than the where that is arrived at, which is, in itself, only a beginning or a continuation that will unfold and progress like the reverberations from a gong, long after the sound is no longer audible. There is nowhere to get to, no outcome to be achieved, no box, no ribbon, no label.
And so too, are our lives. And yet, we have been suckered into measuring our lives out in milestones, and if we are missing our targets we are failing. And if we are failing, then we are failures. And that isn’t something we want to put on our Curriculum Vitae.
In 1974, when I was a tender and wildly romantic 13 year old, I fell in love with the actor Joseph Bottoms, playing the role of the real life character Robin Lee Graham, who at that time was the youngest person to have sailed solo around the world. The movie Dove captured my imagination, and poured water on the seed of longing for freedom and adventure lying dormant in the soul of a young girl stuck in a convent boarding school 5,000 miles from home.
Regular readers of my newsletters (thank you so much, you mean the world to me!) will know that I am currently experiencing a major transition. I am realising - as I navigate this journey - that I am on my own solo voyage around my world. And I am also understanding with fresh perspective that I have curtailed previous transitions by falling prey to these aforementioned dictates of goal setting and achievement.
Frederic Hudson captured it so applicably in his wonderful model of The Cycle of Renewal:
When I first encountered this model I was captivated by the insight that at the transition from The Doldrums to Cocooning, what we so often will do instead is a Mini Transition back to the starting point of Phase 1, where we will try and rejuvenate an already existing Life Chapter to avoid the ending, and attendant loss and grief that comes from moving into Cocooning. In thinking about this lately in response to the experience of my life at the moment, I suddenly remembered The Dove, a movie I must have watched at least half a dozen times as a teenager. At one point in his journey, Robin sat for several weeks in The Doldrums. Still. Unmoving. Going nowhere. Unable to affect change. At the hands of the weather over which he had no control.
That loss of agency can feel like a terrifying prospect for those of us raised on a diet of goal setting, strategy, milestones, achievements, winning and success.
But right now, for me, it feels like grace. It feels like coming to terms with the Buddhist teaching that we walk on two feet: Sorrow and Joy – and that to spend life trying to hop only on the Joy foot is exhausting and unsustainable. That we have to make friends with loss, and sorrow, and endings and grief. That sometimes the most powerful thing we can do is to do nothing, and that – as the Buddhist teacher Adyashanti says – the question “what does it mean to do nothing?” is not one that you ask yourself and then expect an answer to!
So, when it comes to balancing doing and being, I am learning that after a lifetime of falling off the slack rope into “pulling myself together and setting some more goals”, maybe the way through the doldrums, the lost shore line with no new land in sight, is inwards into stillness, letting go and letting come, when it does, however it will. Like a breath of wind over which I have no control but to which I will respond when I feel it on my face.