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Brother Blue and Bucky

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BrotherBlueMaybe he was a phenomena that came and went with a magical time and place – the brick-walled village center of Cambridge, Massachusetts in the 1970s.  Maybe you heard of him, maybe you saw him, maybe you knew him.  He was an innovator of the oratory arts, a pioneer in the technology of storytelling.  He went by the name Brother Blue.  I came across a youtube video of Brother Blue the other day and it warmed my heart.  He was a black man of American descent, a griot of American culture.

I had seen him animate the ethos in Harvard Square on numerous occasions in the mid 1970s, laughingly spraying out bright colors with his words the way people joyfully throw dry colored powder at each other in India in their spring festival.

About a year after my first experience of being mesmerized by him, I got a phone call from his wife.  She was both his “manager” and a longstanding Harvard scholar.  Quiet and sweet, I later learned she looked the part of the latter.  While he filled any space with his presence, she kept him grounded with the strong presence of her quietude. She called to ask if I would be open to letting Brother Blue attend an event for free that I was producing.  It was Buckminster Fuller doing a weekend at the Harvard Science Center (that was the most beautiful venue in Boston at the time).  I heartfully agreed and then got a call from Brother Blue to ask if he could have an aisle seat.  Again, I was more than pleased to accommodate.

Bucky-Fuller-Jim-Coit-621x380

A couple hours into the event, an 80 year old Bucky stood front and center, amidst the plants and art that filled the stage, lecturing in his style that wove poetry with mathematics, with stories of the past and visions of the future, when lo and behold, Brother Blue rose up in the audience and, standing right at his seat, broke into a rap on Bucky being a butterfly.  As if choreographed, Bucky took a step forward and gave a poetic return to Brother Blue’s call, like two old bent-over cotton pickers a hundred rows away from each other in a cotton field. Blue continued his soliloquy of Beauty, moving closer as he spoke/sang, and Bucky mirrored Blue’s movements, echoing with humility his appreciation of this tall, thin, black, face-painted, embroidery-laden one-man minstrel, so sincere and radiant.  I watched them, and I watched the audience to see how they were experiencing this unscheduled unfoldment.  They looked as if what Blue carried with him was contagious and they were all delightfully infected, their eyes wide and faces aglow.  Not much oxygen was being consumed in that room as Bucky and Blue moved so gracefully towards each other, joined in eloquent songspeak.

And like the inevitable climax in a book or film, they finally stood face to face, and hugged.  A long and heartful hug that communicated fully what Blue loved to say, “From the middle of the middle of me to the middle of the middle of you!” The audience rose to their feet and applauded.  Some cried.  It was so moving.

Those were the early days of what is now a “mindfulness movement”.  While I was doing research in consciousness at Harvard and into altered states of consciousness at Interface Foundation, teaching Biofeedback at Boston College and going to vipasanna retreats at the Barre Insight Meditation Society, Brother Blue was out on the street, bringing passers-by in the pedestrian world of Cambridge to his level of presence, enlightening them as they walked to their classes or corporate cubicles.  While Bucky was awakening the world to a new consciousness that led to thinking globally and acting locally, Brother Blue was awakening the people in his world to their sense of wonder.  One was encouraging the world to come together to keep the world afloat, the other was “building a better world, one story at a time”.  Both had great presence, and both were great teachers for me.   They embodied, and taught, how to put quality attention where it needs to go in the moment, how to treat what matters as if it matters, and how to do it mindfully. Together, they helped give a humanistic shape to the mindfulness movement.

 

For more Brother Blue related information and inspiration see these links:

“I bring Homer to the streets. I bring Sophocles. To tell stories, you should know Chaucer. You should know Shakespeare. You should know Keats. You have to be constantly reading. You read, you think, you create. You have to know the new moves: You must be able to rap and be able to sing the blues!”

                                                                                                                  Brother Blue

 

Remembering Lou

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 Louis Gilbert
1919 – 2013
Lou was a heartful guy who, in my experience, listened well and engaged creatively, enhancing many conversations with stories and questions.  I enjoyed his stories of living in the area around my hometown, when he was stateside as an army medical officer, and through his tour of duty in the Pacific.  His love of people and places was rich, and among his top 5 places were Beatrice, Pahuk, and La Posada.  I only got to visit Beatrice through his descriptions and Pahuk through more description and Google satellite pictures, but I visited Lou and Geri in their old place in Green Valley and their home at La Posada a handful of times.  Like Geri, Lou was a delightful host and he loved introducing me to people and showing me everything he could of the environment – his favorite place of late being the zen garden.  Our relationship was one in which I gave him some things to think about and he typically, in turn, inspired me with information to ponder and perspectives to take in.

I had the good fortune of seeing him express his love for his neighbors and friends and to see, through the 14 years I’ve known him, his love for his family.  He had pride in his family’s rich history and pride in what his grandchildren are doing with their young lives.  He delighted in sharing updates of what Kaitlin and Ryan are doing, as well as Bill and Jean and Rick and Donna.  His love for Geri, with 70 years of marriage, was undeniable.  His style of expression was possibly more conservative than Geri’s but it was stable, grounding, and outspokenly fulfilling for him.
I first met Lou and Geri on June 10th, 1999.  I’ve been through much with them, including the death of their son, Joel, as well as the passing of their dog, Corgi.  As I think of Lou at this moment, my heart is warmed with having had him in my life.  I enjoyed sharing that with him over the years whenever this same feeling would rise in me while talking with him.  I wish I could have spent more time with him and I hope you all who knew him hold in your hearts the sweet glimmer in his eye that I hold in mine.

From Mechanics to Meaning

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Some people mumble or talk too quietly for the listener to hear what they’re trying to get across.  While this is obviously not an effective way to communicate, some people do it routinely and often unconsciously.

It’s good to remember that communication is in what is received, not in what is transmitted.  It’s also good to remember that communication is one of the easiest places to measure power.  Listen with that in mind.  Some people communicate in ways that show them to have too little power while some people show themselves to inappropriately use too much power.  Effective communicators inspire with their balanced and responsive use of power.  That power translates into having a strong influence on the flow of the conversation and being listened to well.

In communicating verbally with someone, strive to be heard effectively.  Now, that is such simple and even superficial advice but let me share a secret.  It’s magic.  Here’s how:

If you can hold and sustain the intention to consciously speak in such a way that your listener can hear and understand every syllable of every word, and you can consciously hold yourself accountable to live up to carrying out that intention every time you speak, you will find that you will soon start to think in more effective ways about what specific words to use to most accurately convey the meaning you want to get across.  That’s power.  Thus, by putting your attention on the mechanics of speaking, you will magically evolve your consciousness to have more alignment between what you want to say and what the other person understands.  This is a path towards graciously strengthening your power.  And as your power grows this way, you will be less inclined to give your power away by being non-assertive, co-dependent, vague about your needs, or being unconscious enough to be played for a sucker by the less scrupulous people in your world.

Improve what you can improve in yourself – that is, what is in your control – and who you are in the world evolves in ways that seem unrelated to what you improved.

Creation and Amusement

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Being Here Now means creating every moment. Being the creator of your moments is the most spiritual level of responsibility. Recognizing yourself as the creator of your moments grounds you in the world & in yourself. You miss the opportunity to create your moments if you simply indulge habitual ways of responding to the circumstances around you. Train yourself to stop overthinking; work to keep your mind empty – life, itself, will provide just enough to put there for you to work constructively and creatively with. If you want to be spiritual, start at square one: be the conscious creator of your experience, moment by moment. To elevate spiritually, practice witnessing yourself in the act of creation, moment by moment; witness without judgment or apprehension, but with the open-minded awe of a curious child. To go beyond the game of spiritual elevation, of hierarchy, be amused by what you see.

Freedom

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Freedom is the ability to respond to a situation in accord with what the situation calls for as if there is no issue. This doesn’t mean you have to have dropped your issues. It means you have to be able to separate yourself from your issues and from the identities which live within you which are fused with those issues.

Your identities exist on the level of the story, the ever-changing foreground level of reality, which is where issues, triggers, automatic responses, dramas, feelings, impulses, etc exist. The witness exists on a level beyond the story, beyond issues, triggers, automatic responses, dramas, feelings, and even impulses.

Learn to be mindful; to notice your identities and your stories and how your identities get lost in the stories. Locate yourself in the never-changing background – the “witness” – from where you can see things for what they are and can separate yourself from everything that exists in the ever-changing foreground.

Appreciating Ron Kurtz

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On the day after the birthday marking the start of my 60th year, I’m posting a eulogy.  It is for someone who is among the most influential people in my life – Ron Kurtz, who was a master synthesizer and master therapist; the creator of Hakomi Body-Centered Psychotherapy.  He passed away on January 4th.  This is what I wrote and posted at the website for the United States Association for Body Psychotherapy.

Discovering this website today, months after his passing, I am moved to write to Ron as if he’s still present.  Yes, still present – like Milton Erickson, who’s ‘voice goes with you’, Ron is the laughing coyote ever in my consciousness – and sometimes in my conscience…  Ron, you’ve been with me through the decades and my value of that has not diminished.  As a mentor, thank you for the principles, the teaching, and the inspiration.  Thank you for so many opportunities you provided to me and the gifts you have bestowed upon me.  Professionally, you renewed my faith in the therapeutic endeavor and you gave me a path to both follow and build upon.  Thank you for the direction that your own curiosity provided.  (As you were fond of saying, “follow me boys, I’m sure it’s here somewhere”.)  As a friend, thank you for the dance of intimacy that covered such a wide spectrum of context and emotion.  It’s been a pleasure to share life with you.  Thank you for Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts (Interface), Arizona, New York (Omega), and the Northwest – living in community and building everything from ideas to systems to organization to legitimacy to family.  Thank you for your role, 25 years ago, in bringing into my life the person who is my life partner – that was 10 years after our first conflict, which was over a woman!  And thank you for our playful years of being new fathers together.  Thank you for the push-pull, in-&-out challenges that we threw each others’ way (I think I’ve negotiated more – both with you and for you – than I have with anyone) and for the support we laid out for each other, keeping us in the game.  I’m sorry that life is so short.  Thank you for making it sweeter.  I’m missing you.

Summer Tweeting

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It’s been several months since I posted my last blog.  That timing coincides with when I started traveling before the start of summer.  I’m still out and about, indulging in various adventures and, while I haven’t been blogging, I’ve been posting about 3 or 4 tweets a day on Twitter.

I used to not like Twitter – I didn’t care to be as informed as it enabled me to be about the details of activities of the people I was following.  But when I started tweeting, myself, I discovered it was a more effective way to wake people up.  And I discovered writing the sort of tweets I write triggered a sort of endorphin high.  Getting big ideas down to 140 characters or less became an art form, a dance with words.

I think you’ll find that reading them is like an interactive dance wherein, reading one at a time, you can get very present, go inside, and engage consciously with what it points your attention to.  In this sense, they are a bit like an Oracle, offering you a window which provides insight into yourself, your life, your choices, your ability to choose.   They invite you to be honest with yourself – intimately honest – and to consider making adjustments to be more in alignment with who you want to be, what you want in your inner experience and outer life, and how you want to effect the world.

Please consider following me on Twitter.  Just press the Twitter button on my website or go to http://twitter.com/#!/jimlehrman.   And I welcome your comments here, as well.

 

Here are the tweets I’ve done so far:

 

Could it be that every individual has a mystical part of them, an adventuring part, and an enlightened one, clouded at times by neurosis?

 

Ponder this for triple the amount of time you’d like to: In what ways is your vulnerability more of a blessing than a curse?

 

Are you “working” at having fun? Fun is more a function of attitude than of activity. Lighten up & take responsibility for what you bring.

 

While the names faces themes & clubs u formally or informally belong 2 can change, are your patterns staying the same? Where are u taking u?

 

Make space for wonder in ur life & in the lives of others. Recognize when it occurs in you or others. Stay with it. Cherish those moments.

 

Treat your insights with respect; explore if & how to translate them into action & into results that honor the significance of the insight.

 

It is valuable to be aware what your virtues are. (eg respectful, generous, fun) They are resources. Explore who these virtuous selves are.
 
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Getting Out of the Blame Game

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With smells of honeysuckle and juniper lofting over the pungent spring mud, a woman is walking her dog down a quiet country road as the day starts to wane. Happy to be taking in the spacious feel of the outdoors, together they stroll past trees and fields, connected by 6 feet of leash and a shared appreciation for the scents, sights, and sounds of the lush green world at the edge of their neighborhood.

They come along a shaded house by the side of the lane, and both of them glance over to see two dogs bolting out a screen door, racing towards them with growls, barks, and teeth exposed. With shock and terror, the woman doesn’t know whether to run or stand firm. Her dog is too big to lift and too old to fight. There is a noisy stand-off, canine threats from both sides, and in no time, a short dog fight.

Just as the woman can pull her dog away, a man comes out of the house and stands on the porch with his arms folded in a defensive manner. The two unleashed dogs run back to the house and stand by their master. The man continues to stand with his arms crossed, defiantly.

The woman’s emotions are raw. Catching her breath, she notices her impulse to scream at this man, to beat him down with her indignance. She wants to hold him accountable, to make it clear that she is the good person who had her dog on a leash and that he is simply a bad person. The urge to blame this person and make him wrong is overwhelming.

She decided to not indulge the urge. Instead, she stood there holding onto her dog’s leash, as the two people stared at each other. She did shout out, but what came from her was “I’m so glad you came out”, and she said it with real appreciation. His response was a simple “You’re welcome. If I’d known it was happening I would have come out sooner.”

In each of us is an immense capacity to blame. It takes a high level of emotional intelligence to see the impulse to indulge situations where that capacity wants to be indulged. Some situations make it easy to find who was at fault and to use that person – and that story – as the focal point of our need to both make convenient sense of the situation and give the emotions a place to treat as their target.

A step in emotional growth is to notice the seductive pull to channel emotions into the blame game. Even when there IS someone at fault and the story lends itself to blame, you can observe the part of you that wants to indulge the opportunity to blame; you can question if this part of you wants something akin to healing or something akin to revenge. Accountability leads to healing whereas blame does not.

Much healing comes from taking responsibility for the meaning we place on the experiences we have. While someone else really might be to “blame” for what happened, it is we, ourselves, who create the world that we experience, triggered by events out there. We create the perceptions, emotional floodings or shut downs, and contractive or explosive responses.

Whenever blame gets triggered in you, it is an opportunity to examine what you use to come up with the meaning you applied to the situation and to explore who this part of you is who wants to indulge the passive aggressive endeavor of blame.

Where Does the Environment Start?

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One way I like to give people an ecstatic experience is with a couple of simple seemingly innocuous questions. They are the sort of questions you’d ask a very young child, yet they serve to deepen our perspective of reality.

I start by standing outdoors with the person and asking, “where does the sky begin?” There are a few answers I typically get, but the answer I’m looking for is “at my feet”.

Then I ask “where does the environment start?” The most common answer, given as a follow up to the first one, is “at my skin”, to which I supportively say that that’s correct, but only if your point of reference is at the edge of your skin; only if your experience of being in the world starts at the edge of your body. And, while we live in the world, on a deeper and more accurate level, we live in our experience.

Sure, you can notice the leaves swaying in the breeze, can feel that same breeze against your skin, and notice the song being sung by the nearby bird, and you can take all that in with awareness and even appreciation of the beauty of the environment. But you can also notice the flow of your breath, the sinking or rising feeling that comes over you emotionally, and the thoughts of wonder or of conviction which seem to blow in and out of your mind like the breeze. These are events that are happening, just like the wind and the birds “out there”.

There are two levels of “insufficient awareness” which can keep you from being fully present to your environment. The first is to not even be aware of the elements going on in your experience. I call this being “lost to the experience”. Walking next to a building that is on fire and not noticing it, or having a surge of anger and not noticing it are examples of being lost TO the experience. In both cases, the person is out of touch with what is going on in his or her environment, regardless of which side of the skin it’s happening on.

The second is to be aware but to over-identify with them. I call this being “lost in the experience”. Taking home a puppy being given away when you don’t have room, or indulging a surge of anger like a surfer on a wave are examples of being lost IN the experience.

But imagine you are able to notice – as it arises – the impulse to take home that puppy, or the surge of anger demanding to be indulged. If you can notice those inner elements of your experience, then your point of reference for what is happening around you is no longer at the edge of your skin but at the edge of your attention.

Imagine noticing your thoughts, shifts of emotion, sensations – all being experienced as simply more of the stuff “out there”. The flow of your experience is… noticing the airplane in the sky, noticing the tightness in your belly, noticing the thought arising “I wonder what I’ll have for lunch”, noticing the smell of the nearby creosote bush, noticing the memory return of a rainstorm a year ago… These are all events, some of which are located out there, some located not out there.

If your point of reference, if where you locate YOURSELF, is at the point from which your attention moves from object to object, then the environment starts at the edge of your attention, not at the edge of your body.

It may be paradoxical but it’s true, that we tend to respond more objectively, effectively, and compassionately to the things we think need attention in the environment around us than to the things that happen inside us. Thus, this shift of perspective may help you treat yourself as well as you treat the world around you.

To the extent that you can allow yourself to engage with the events that unfold in your inner experience as consciously, autonomously, and either responsively or equanimously as you engage with the events that occur “out there”, you are that much more in the natural flow of life and that much more fully taking in the experience of it.

Try this: Take a handful of minutes to sit and allow yourself to notice whatever happens to come into your attention. Regardless of whether your attention is on something from inside you or from something “out there”, acknowledge each thing you notice as simply being more “stuff”. Take it slow, and do this with an awareness of the distinction between the observer and what is observed, between you and not you. Whatever is in your attention is in the environment – you are the observer and whatever is in your attention is not you. This observing “you” is the only thing NOT in the environment. If you keep up this practice over time, your skills of attention will sharpen, and more and more of this observing “you” will become part of the environment. The more “you” disappear, the more spacious your experience becomes.