A Field Guide to Life – New Map of the Territory

by Brad on October 2, 2012

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”    – John Muir 

In looking to create a new mental map for our journey, one that matches the territory of our lives, we need to shift our perspective, often in dramatic ways. Today’s map is bounded by yesterday’s ways of seeing, so it’s limited by old beliefs and assumptions about how life is supposed to work. When you see a bigger world, however, you create a bigger world. So we not only need a new way to see and think, we need a system that creates this kind of shift in perspective as part of its everyday process, a system to “institutionalize” new thinking. If we had such a system, then our world would continually expand, day after day. Even if it’s only in your imagination for now, you can see how easy, productive, fun and exciting life could be if it were offering you greater and greater possibility at every turn.

Here are two simple examples of dramatic, and nearly instant, shifts in perspective that have happened in my life. Each resulted in a “quantum change” in my ways of seeing, thereby opening me to greater possibility than in the moment before.

  • Play ball: When I was perhaps 12 years old, I went to Fenway Park for the first time to see the Boston Red Sox play. I’d been a baseball fan for some time by then, and was excited to be there with my dad and brother. More honestly, I was looking forward to seeing Ted Williams in real life. It was a night game, and I’ll never forget the feeling of awe and wonder when I walked up the concrete ramp into the stands. Seeing that huge, brightly-lighted expanse of green unfold in front of my eyes changed my view of life, in one instant. (Remember, I was 12.) 
  • Human being vs. human doing: In the 1980s, I was working for Digital Equipment Corporation. At the time, Digital was one of the best corporate workplaces there could be. At the forefront of humanistic thinking in business, Digital encouraged exploration into the frontiers of the possible. As the newly appointed manager of their software distribution business, I had a lot to learn after 10 years as an engineering manager. The problem was I thought I knew everything. One June day, my organization development manager “forced me” to take a morning with him for a “field trip.” Unbeknownst to me, we headed for St. Joseph’s Abbey, a Trappist monastery in the hills of central Massachusetts. We watched the sun rise in breathtaking silence, a moment of reverence that started for me as simple communion with nature, yet which I would soon realize was a connection of a very different sort. We had breakfast and a morning of fascinating conversation with Father Robert and a group of monks. For as little as I knew of their choice to live a quiet, contemplative life, unhindered by the trappings of civilization, I was even more surprised by their facility in conversation about topics that were near and dear to me – quantum physics, the workings of the universe, to name a few. Up until that moment, I’d envisioned the world as a straight line, with “being” at one end (where I figured they hung out), to “doing” at the other end (where I was coming to understand that I hung out). As they non-judgmentally and intelligently spoke to their journeys, I realized that my view of the world had been quite small. I finally caught on to the reason I was there. Then, in what felt to me like pure coincidence, Father Robert drew a picture of a line, my “being-doing” line, but instead of end points that “ended,” he drew it folding around on itself to form a circle, and offered the following: “As physicists reach the edges of what they can explain by science, they’re coming to us monks with questions on the nature of consciousness, so they can delve more deeply into mysteries of the universe. As monks reach the edges of what we can understand with awareness and prayer, we’re going to physicists with questions on the nature of the universe so we can delve more deeply into the mysteries of human consciousness.” I was hooked. At age 41, a scientist by education, an engineer by trade, and a thinker by nature, I’d had a door opened for me on this day.

Age and experience notwithstanding, shifts such as these are available in any moment. By being open to something bigger, change happens naturally. You simply expand … and fill the newly created space with your creativity.  

My simple experiences, coupled with years of inquiry and reflection, both on my own and with my clients, has proven that we can’t make changes like this happen. I had no “plan” to change my world that night at Fenway Park, nor did I anticipate how a morning with the monks would change me. They simple happened. When things “just happen,” I look to find out what’s going on underneath. If I didn’t make it happen, then what may have allowed it to happen, and how might I improve my relationship with the allowing? What I’ve discovered is that the one thing we can do is create conditions conducive to things happening. A simple analogy explains.

The ordinary thinking you use to manage life today is akin to thinking you’d use to build a house. When you build a house, you buy land, draw up plans, hire help, acquire tools, make the house, move in, ‘live happily ever after.’ This model is so ingrained in the unconscious that you rarely think about it, say nothing of consider a major shift in viewpoint. We know the skills here: planning, gathering resources, hammering, etc. They’re all “doing” skills.

To shift your thinking, however, you would be better served by approaching life as if you were tending a garden instead. When you plant a garden, you don’t “make roses grow;” roses grow rather well on their own. What you do is create conditions that allow roses to grow. You provide soil, water, access to sunshine, nutrients, weeding; you can’t make things grow. Similarly, you don’t make your thinking change. You create conditions conducive to change, and change happens naturally, on its own, as opportunity presents itself. You create these conditions not with hammer and nails, but by adopting a regular practice of calming your mind, opening your heart, and listening to your world. Through this practice, you to notice how you believe, see, think and speak. Noticing is the “work” here. Possibilities that have always been there simply emerge. The skills in this world sound like strange replacements for the “doing” skills of the past, opposite of all you’ve learned. They include patience, to wait for opportunity; awareness, to notice when opportunity arises; acceptance, that life will unfold in a way that serves you; and trust, in your own power of creative expression. Safety is not about having it all, but knowing we have what it takes. It involves learning to see life’s uncertainty, not as a threat, but as an opening for the blossoming of the natural creative genius inside us. 

You may find it odd, if not downright wrong, to hear that the skills for an extraordinary life include awareness, patience, acceptance and trust. None of these ask you to do anything. How can you possibly create a life you love if you don’t do things, things to “make it happen?” The reality, however, is that not only can you create a life you love with these skills, but it’s easier and more productive than trying to build a house every day. Perhaps the toughest part is having enough faith in the possibility to give the new ideas a shot.

This process – of becoming a student of your own consciousness as a way to allow your world to expand in possibility – is a process of creating your own life context. My feelings of anticipation and curiosity, both at Fenway Park and at St. Jospeh’s Abbey, formed a perfect recipe for “conditions conducive to transformation.” I was ready for something to happen, while not planning that anything would happen. The “task,” then, since we all seem to need a task in order to feel progress, is to become a student of your own consciousness. That is how you create conditions for major change. As Wayne Dyer is fond of saying, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”


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