Lead – Listen – Recalculate

I recall a few years ago enjoying a cartoon in which a car was sitting at the bottom of a pond, from which emerged a GPS voice, “Recalculating.”

A few years ago a client approached me with an unusual ‘problem’. A young woman had made it known to him she had new DNA information he was her biological father. She had since met my client’s wife and grown children, and they had begun the process of integrating a new family member. But then there was a silence, when he didn’t hear from her, and our session at this time was how to deal with that.

Now my client, having a trained engineer’s mind, had two well-developed options. 1) – to do nothing and wait for a signal from his ‘new’ daughter, or 2) – to face the issue head-on and approach her directly.

He already knew from his therapy that for a man, the ‘do nothing’ approach was not usually his wisest choice. But he was afraid a ‘direct’ approach might scare her off, and he didn’t know her well enough to gauge her inner emotional structure. But also, he really wanted the relationship with this new ‘daughter-come-lately’ to work, for himself and his family.

So here is how our session progressed. I assumed she, though relatively young, had experience with ‘do-nothing’ (passive) men, so I ruled that out for him.

To Lead

Though he was uncomfortable with ‘leading’ I suggested that in many ways “to be a man with a woman” means to be willing to Lead. However to lead alone, can easily become ‘controlling’ – and he was aware enough to want to avoid that.

To Listen

The secret to Leading is that it immediately be followed by Listening.

Many men are not good at listening to women. I myself been listening to women professionally for about 45 years now, and continually find how much I have to learn from them. (And I carry a sizable internal catalog of many mistakes I’ve made both professionally and personally over the years.)

I’ve observed that men and women seem to have a different ‘natural language’ – a deep primary form of thinking, listening and speaking. Men are primarily good at getting things done. And they have a ‘natural language’ to accomplish that. Women’s ‘natural language’ is more adept at communicating relationship. A man who can understand that difference may save himself thousands of dollars in therapy, if not the high legal cost of a divorce.[1] Let alone the reward of a happier life.[2]

To Recalculate (be willing to change)

The third element in the formula for my client – “to be a man with a woman” – as a mark of true Listening, is to be willing to change his Leading. I call this “Recalculating” in honor of my GPS experiences, and that delightful cartoon I mentioned above in my heading. When it doesn’t work, be willing to change.

The Larger Picture

It’s a constant cycling of action, listening, and reevaluation.

I write and publish this Newsletter with an awareness I may be wrong in many situations. (call it GPS wisdom, or ‘humility’, or ‘listening to the women’).[3]

A major characteristic of good Leadership is not just to ‘lead’ by always being right, but to build trust, safety, and community. To take what’s given to us and build a better world (like my client with his incipient daughter).

Pay Attention (the future of our planet is depending on it.)

Footnotes

[1] I recall a learning from my acquaintance with Native American culture (in this case the Ojibwa). In their tribal heritage, it’s the men who meet in council to make (wrestle out) decisions. But before a decision can be operative (official), it must be ratified by the women of the tribe. There’s much wisdom in that ‘natural’ balancing of authority.

[2] My model here may not be adept at explaining and defusing deeply angry women or men. Specifically it’s not developed to deal with angry and/or betrayed male-invalidating women, and vice versa. That’s still a ‘work in progress’ for me – I’ve not yet found such a simple code to disentangle that Gordian Knot.

[3] I’m also fascinated by biblical accounts of the God of the Old Testament, where “…and the Lord repented of his anger…” Anger isn’t necessarily bad, as long as we don’t get stuck there. Repentance and reformulation are both divine and masculine distinguishing features.

Afterword (a couple personal examples)

It wasn’t that many years ago that I made a small tactical shift in my personal relationship with women. It had to do with making (or suggesting) plans to dine out. Usually I would ask “where would you like to go?” – having always assumed that giving her the opportunity to choose was a form of masculine courtesy. But what I hadn’t realized was that it was also a subtle way of passing the responsibility (work) of ‘leading’ on to her. Women often like it when a man leads, as long he invites her into the process by listening.

Now if my suggestion of a dining place doesn’t resonate with her, my next temptation then is to ask what she’d like instead. No, Bill, don’t do that!! I’ll continue to Lead by having another suggestion. If she has some input, she’ll offer it herself (as long as she feels safe).

Another example comes to mind. When I was in elementary school, my father, the Methodist preacher, tried something with our family which the Church was currently pushing – called something like Saturday Evening Family Prayers. My father quickly realized (by listening/observing) that it just didn’t work with us – and he quickly gave up the idea. I specifically remember feeling how much I appreciated him for that.

What Now?

Last year, as every year, ended with a narrative about the Holy Birth of a Prince of Peace. Born in innocence and vulnerability
Now, The Seer, as the Elder Year – is ready to let go, move on, and perhaps find some rest. He leans his furrowed forehead onto the Mighty Tree of Life. His third eye, which has already seen so much, maybe too much, now prays forth for a vision, into those roots deep in the earth, asking, “What now?”
Good and evil intermingle into an illusory knotted ball. I’m told the average American kid each day spends 40 minutes outside and 4 hours inside on a device each day. How can he or she ever mature into a world, that in order to survive together, some things need to be fed, some things need to be broken? – and how to discern the difference.
Our view of the Tree can now be altered (“remastered”) in a thousand ways by an “application.” Most of us have such a resident or at least a downloadable app available, often for ‘free.’
But the actual Tree, the one ‘Nature’ can provide, has a corresponding shadow beneath it. If we could but see its root system, it has the same shape and substance hidden beneath the surface. Each, of necessity, feeds and nourishes the other. And the ancient seer knows this prayer for his successor must now penetrate deep.
_ _ _ _ _ _
One of the ‘secrets’ of my profession (or a couple of them), is that when disease or chaos inhabits the outer (larger) world around us, we can (or must) then ‘go down inside’ for guidance and healing. My own initiation has been to seek and follow an innate inner spirit.[1]
And the obverse is also true – when we are ill or broken inside, we can look outside for healing. This may be Nature, a healer, a community, or a particular healing individual.[2]
The upshot is that we cannot do it alone. We need each other, we need community, internal and external. And for various reasons, circumstances, and various personalities, those communities are both horizontal and vertical. My own life work involves healing brokenness in both arenas and directions.
We are given Now, Here, and Time
A spiritual perspective and our secular calendars give us a gift of Time. There was a before, and there will be a hereafter – both of which we can know only a little, except maybe to say they are “in God’s hands.” But between our own birth and death, we are given Now and Here, the Gift of Time. We have a time and a place to Do Something to make a difference – with a Purpose, and within Company for support.
And in response to the question “What now?” – we are simply given Now.
Like the old Seer, to perceive the larger picture, for him Now was time to let go.
Maybe the best news of it being the NEW YEAR 2024, is that for us,
It’s not too late – There’s Still Time
And we’re still Here.
Out of COVID emerged a particular Zoom community that used, from A New Zealand Prayer Book (Anglican), a Night Prayer version of an old Benediction (an Ethic of being sent out)
Good friends,
Go forth into the world in peace;
be of good courage;
Render to no one evil for evil.
Hold fast that which is good;
strengthen the fainthearted;
help the afflicted;
honor and respect the dignity of everyone;
and rejoice in the power of the Spirit
In us,
and beyond us all.
Amen
Now, we can better know who we are and why we are here. (Maybe even for the first time.)
Happy New Year 2024.
Pay Attention

Burning Man (Patterns)

Apologia: Truth be told, I don’t write about Burning Man from having direct experience. I’ve had clients who were “burners”, and have observed from a distance this annual ritual (according to a BM ad) “emphasizing art, self-expression and self-reliance.”

Now, I must admit my real interest in Burning Man is that my son Michael has attended BM 16 times, and sets that week aside every year on his secular, spiritual, and personal calendars. And, as his father, I can readily see its attraction and value.[1]

And if I were a younger man, I’d want to go myself.

A quick history: This annual event emphasizing art, self-expression, and self-reliance began in 1986 on Baker Beach in San Francisco and moved in 1991 to Black Rock City in northwestern Nevada, a temporary community about 100 miles from Reno.[2]

A central theme involves the construction of a giant “man” around which a community constructs itself for a week or so, and then climaxes with the ritual burning of the “man” to the ground, after which everybody cleans up, packs up, goes home, and the desert is returned to its former state. This year, the size of the community was reported to be 73,000.[3]

My own fascination with BM

Many years ago I read the late Joseph Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero With A Thousand Faces[4] where I was introduced to the “monomyth” – or the “hero’s journey.” It’s a synthesis of the great myths and stories from all cultures – comprising three stages – separation, initiation, and return. It also involves the religious idea of “cleansing,” giving a sense of the character transforming from old to new.

“Burners” leave (are called) away, separating from their everyday lives, to what is (in other settings) often called “a mountaintop experience” – where a mystical city emerges from almost nothing, from a desert floor, (as the BM ad states) “emphasizing art, self-expression and self-reliance.” Always central is the monumental structure “Man” – as if reminding all that this glory and ecstasy is what we humans can build, can become.

But, as Campbell reminds us, we then have to leave the mountaintop, we have to “return” to our homes, to our people – but with a new awareness, which I’ve come to call “Now I know who I am.” Or as Campbell has stated, “with bliss-bestowing hands.” Or, in other words, “with healing gifts.”

For me, the genius of BM is that one has to leave it. The “Man” who dominates the scene, has to be destroyed. Even the Temple of the Heart, (of which Michael writes – cf Footnote #1) has to be incinerated. Nothing can be left, the City of creativity, ecstasy, even the deep experiencing of each other’s humanity, the synchronizing of so much that is both sacred and profane. For a time the desert blossomed, and we have been cleansed.

But for a larger Purpose.

For those of us who go to Church – we must leave the building and beauty behind (now empty) and go home. I recall, in my youth, the sadness of leaving after a week at Church camp. After a vacation, we need to go home. When we graduate from college or university, we now have to take those gifts we’ve gained, out into the world and use them to make it a better place. Even after the richness of a wedding ceremony and party, the bride and groom have to leave and go alone, and to a new marriage bed. After a funeral, we have to leave and go to a world with an empty place.

There’s a danger in staying ‘on top of the mountain’. I’m sure some enterprising entrepreneur has fielded the idea “ Let’s build condo’s here, so Black Rock City can be year around – an eternal Burning Man, with a huge towering bronze ”Man” surrounded by permanent gas-fed torches. No, Black Rock City has to die, in order that the people can follow through on its purpose.

In some citadels of culture, such as politics, corporate culture, and churches, there’s a danger of staying enclosed too long, and getting “cooked.” No wonder there’s so much sexual and other inhuman abuse and corruption emerging from those ‘high’ places.[5]

So often something has to die in order that a larger purpose can live.

Two other patterns I see when looking at Burning Man.

1) BM is a cyclical (annual) ritual, one can return again and again to be refreshed, cleansed and matured. It’s akin to other ‘holidays’ (Holy Days) in our cultural calendars (including Sabbaths and Sundays). I’ve noticed this with my son.

2) It can become easy for the wealthy and entitled to want to expropriate it. This year I understand there was an influx of private planes and luxurious RVs, and a number of the well-known in attendance. However, the desert rains this year befouled those expensive modes of transportation as well. Human greed can be a terrible befouler of that which desires to be good.

A final hopeful note (even from an outsider)

I’m reminded of the Biblical New Testament Parable of the Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:16-23, Mark 10:17-22, and Luke 18:18-23.). RYR asks Jesus, “Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The man answers Jesus that he has kept all the commandments. Jesus then says, “(Only) one thing you lack. Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor.” – and the man went away sorrowful, for he was a man of great wealth.

Burning Man, with its inherent roots, seems to understand this.

Many of the rich and famous will come to Burning Man, but probably cannot ever be transformed by it. Sadly, they may corrupt the real BM in the process. Or perhaps the gods of the desert, or the Almighty himself, may, as in The Old Testament Book of Exodus, destroy the army and chariots of the Egyptians at the Red Sea, so his chosen people could escape and pursue their journey to the Promised Land.[6]

Pay Attention

Footnotes

[1] For his own account of this year’s Festival, go to The Temple of the Heart.
It’s much more personal than what I’m writing here.

[2] The transition from the ocean to the desert itself has mythic as well as phylogenetic significance.

[3] It’s reported that at the first BM, on that San Francisco beach, there were only ten to observe the incineration of the first “man” structure.

[4] (1949), (My copy is Meridian, 1970). Campbell summarizes the monomythic character journey as:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
See more at https://theconversation.com/are-you-monomythic-joseph-campbell-and-the-heros-journey-27074

[5] When the Hebrews of The Old Testament entered Israel, the Promised Land, eleven of the tribes were apportioned sections of land. However, the 12th tribe, the Levites, had no land, for they were the guardians of the Temple, the only ones who could enter the otherwise forbidden Holy Places without getting ‘cooked.’

[6] With apologies for the limiting gender attribution.

Afternotes:

   For an extensive photo coverage (85 photos in all), go here. You can see that the whole enterprise does have a ‘fantastic’ (mountaintop) quality to it.

   Of course, Burning Man has its detractors, I’ve read a few of them. And they may be, in many ways, right. That doesn’t mean I’m wrong. I hope what I’ve written is a worthy observation of an important institution and energy toward a more livable, creative and ethically responsible world. And it only arises once a year from within a desert place. And then it can live on in the homes and villages and communities of our beloved land.

Why do the nations so furiously rage together Why do the people imagine a vain thing?

Even from my youth, that forceful solo Bass air from the midst of G F Handel’s Messiah is seared into the musical memory chambers of my brain, including the frantic energy of the orchestra with its stirring lead-in.
Yet it has never made its way to become one of the memes of the Holiday season – as this year in particular, I think it should.
From the beginning of December, the Advent hymns sung in church, and the Christmas holiday choral music of extensive holiday concerts – this year especially, I have been struck by the ancient idea that when the Almighty chose to ‘save the world,’ he did so by way of an infant born to a lowly Galilean girl, and in a place where there was “no room” for Mary & Joseph, except in a back yard. The first ‘visitors’ were ‘lowly shepherds’ – and only after a short time did three Kings on camels appear from somewhere in “the East.”
This sacred narrative ostensibly was of the arrival of a “long-awaited Prince of Peace.”
And so, the narrative memes of Christmas represent innocence, poverty, and the manifestation of the ‘holy vulnerability’ of the humble. Yet in the background is the maniacal King Herod, who necessitates Joseph’s fleeing to Egypt with his young wife, the child, and a donkey – a very long desert walk of many days. In the meantime, the narrative tells us Herod had 200 children slaughtered in his attempt to destroy the usurper child. (In the Christian liturgical calendar, The Feast of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, the ‘first Christian martyrs,’ takes place only three days after Christmas Day.) Even Christmas has, from its beginning, a very dark side.
And all this on the same soil that today suffers the ‘vain’ slaughter, especially of children and women. The “furious rage” of each side trumps even the villainous “slaughter of innocents.”[1]
And so pens the ancient author of the second Psalm as to what happens when there is no respect for any higher order.
My pacifist heritage
These past months, I have developed an increased respect for my pacifist parents and the rich heritage they passed on to me. My father was early very active in the World Peace (pacifist) movement within the Methodist Church of that time (the 1930s). And my mother came from the same background, well before they met and married (1939). Being a pacifist may look easy – it’s not. Going to war can be much easier. All you have to do is access your primal anger, and with your basal ganglia (the ‘lizard brain’), the rest comes ‘naturally.’
And I know they each sang Handel’s Messiah because I inherited the leather-bound vocal scores of each, my mother’s, with her maiden name.
Our country is suffering a parallel division. The older folks remember the promise that came with the establishment of the nation Israel (1948), but many of our young see instead through the eyes of the oppressor and the oppressed. And both have missed the leadership of our own country, which used to have that gift of conjunctio oppositorum, managing the conjunction of opposites, which is the lifeblood of a democracy.
And so to the Birthday of the Prince of Peace – God’s gift to the world.
I’m not a ‘right to life’ aficionado. That’s become a political phenomenon, with the luxury of specific good and evil – winners and losers. Way too easy and comfortable! I want to be a warrior-for-real-life person.[2] Much the opposite of people with easy ideological answers.
So what is this Christmas?
So what is Christmas in a world so much at war, a world of intense conflict and murdered children? And who is this Christ Child (that the powers that be, aka King Herod, wanted to kill)? – and eventually succeed. What sense can we make of it? What can we do? Where can we stand? What can it all mean?
My first answer is to stand in the middle. Perhaps with one leg in each warring camp (a specific physiological vulnerability!). For some, it can be that dead or liminal space between what we have lost or left behind and (maybe hopefully) what is yet to come. A barren, inhospitable desert before any promised land. Or perhaps a threshold or vestibule, an entryway to a new reality – a ‘third thing’ that gathers all things together (which some folks call “The Kingdom.”)
Nonetheless, it’s a place of promise, vulnerability, and the hope of countless generations – including our own.
I commend it to you.
Pay Attention
Footnotes
[1] The root meaning of the word War is ‘to confuse, to perplex, to bring into confusion’ (Wikipedia). And there must be ‘rules’ – which in our day have been weakened and easily ignored. The Israel/Hamas conflict is not a war but is based, especially in the repeated language of the Israeli leadership, on “total destruction.” (Perhaps they inherited that from the similar MO of the German Nazis in the Holocaust – who cared not a whit for any ‘rules’ about innocent parties.) In contrast, it seems to me the MO of Hamas is rather retributive anger (rage), which can initially have the same energy and similar tactics but is not the same thing. Any “peace process” must synchronize these two non-synchronous origins of conflict with an elusive ‘third thing.’ At the moment, all they have in common is the land itself (which we sometimes enigmatically still call “the Holy Land.”)
I know; I’m a marriage counselor.
[2] Nikos Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek (one of my favorite reads), at one point asks his young protégé, Basil, “Why do children die?… Why does anybody die?” The latter responds, ”I don’t know.” To which Zorba angrily answers,” Then what’s the use of all your damn books?” Basil responds, “They tell me – about the agony of people who can’t answer questions like yours.” The true pacifist fully embodies that agony.
Or, another Zorba quote: “Life is trouble. Only death is not. To be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble” [Sort of maybe like a real marriage.]

A Matter of Life Change

Beautiful,woman,sits,in,a,pose,of,a,lotus,on

The other day, I pulled from my living room bookshelf a small volume I’d long forgotten – a small paperback with a blue cover by the American poet, William Stafford, with the title “You Must Revise Your Life.”[1]

I don’t remember when or why I purchased it, perhaps Robert Bly had mentioned it. And strange I didn’t write (always in pencil) inside the cover the date I first read it. But I know I read at least part of it, because I had checked or underlined particular parts in pencil – my way of marking a book as my own. Like an animal marking it’s territory. Like a church procession on Rogation Sunday[2], walking the boundaries of the parish. Like a priest with candle and incense (or holy water) blessing each room of a house.

Then, opening to page 3, there was a heading:
William Stafford: 1914 –
to which I added (in ink!) the date 1993 (30 years ago!).

The date year of his death was specific and final – therefore it needs be in ink (not pencil).

That’s what Stafford was teaching his readers and students – that if you are a writer, and you find that the writing takes a particular twist or turn of its own – you need to follow it. And it may necessitate you to ‘Revise Your Life.’ I remember that’s why I bought the book – the title says it all.

You must change your life

Many of the folks who enter my office door are hesitant to enter. There’s a fear that they might have to change (revise) something. It’s tempting and easier to project that necessity onto someone other, even a partner, or family member. “Here, doc, you change (this other person).” Or, at least, make it so change on my own part won’t be so difficult – or painful. My ‘job’ is at least to make it less painful. Or, sometimes, to make it more possible, or even ‘rich’. It can take a lot of courage to walk through that door – and I honor that.

Recently I’ve been refering to my work as “midwifing” necessary or desired changes in my clients’ lives. So something new and maybe wonderful can be born.

Then there’s the question, can the change be just in ‘pencil’ (fairly safe), or must it now be more in ‘ink’ (more serious, enduring, permanent)?

In my own recent case, opening Stafford’s small volume was initially to find some guidance for ‘the folks out there’ about the necessities in life of having to make life changes. But then, taking Stafford more seriously, the simple act of making a change in the book in ink caught me (almost literally) dead in my tracks. William Stafford wrote this little book and then since I bought it, he died.

That personally forced me to acknowledge that at my own advancing age, I have been dealing with the “dropping off” of more and more people who have inhabited my life. Talk about having to “revise my own life…”

I come from a small family, and to my knowledge nobody for some generations back has lived as long as I already have. I’m essentially living in ‘unknown territory’.

To wit also:
– A year and a half ago while visiting in Florida, I came close to dying myself – spending a week and a half in a cardiac hospital bed.
– Just over a week ago I visited in her home, a client for some years, to say good bye only a few hours before she passed over.
– I’ve noticed for awhile now, when I look around my house, I’m beginning to see my ‘stuff’ in terms of what my children will have to deal with then I’m gone.
– I need to update portions of my will.
– The disciplines of diet and exercise are even more important now.
– With Covid, many thousands around us have died.
– Many, too many, innocents are dying by deliberate gunshot, weekly, almost daily now.
– Maybe that’s why I write these monthly Newsletters – to leave a part of myself as a legacy. So my children can know me better. Or perhaps as the fantasy of some immortality.

An Endnote story.

When I am with my Native American friends, and we gather for a meal (potluck style), it is our ritual that after blessing the food, we dine by age, “elders first.” I used to think this was simply honoring the elders. But then I realized it was because the elders would always make sure there was enough to go around so everybody had enough. If the children went first they would probably take as much as they wanted, without concern for those who come after.

As we age, the more we change, we revise our life behaviors, toward preserving life for those who will follow us. We ‘revise’ our life to preserve and enhance the lives of those who will in due course take our place.

What a magnificent ethic![3]

Pay Attention

Footnotes

[1] from a series ‘Poets on Poetry’, Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press, 1986.

[2] Traditionally for Anglicans and Roman Catholics, th