Are we just tiny cells with an arrogant delusion that we can make a significant difference within massive Gaia being, or are we actually more powerful than we've allowed ourselves to imagine?
People who study complex systems like ecosystems, markets, etc. point out that systems often go through long periods of gradual change. Then at some point the characteristics of the system are such that profound change can happen seemingly overnight. The system essentially “flips” from one state to another.
One of the characteristics of those moments when these “perturbations” develop is that relatively small things that would normally not have much influence on anything can be decisive scale tippers.
This election season has left many of us discouraged about the choices we are presented with, and also resolved to make our choice and express it. We’re tired of the derision, disrespect and division, but it’s clear that there are choices (at the national, state and local levels), and the differences between the options matters.
If you care about one school or one community or one young black man or one stand of trees or one baby or one business or one woman or one veteran or one estuary or one community or one wolf or one beehive or one child or….. then the particular people who make decisions affecting all of these things matter.
There are plenty of reasons not to even talk politics. Wrestling with different perspectives ain‘t a walk in the park. The alternative, though, is to relinquish power to those who are more than happy to take it from our busy or bored hands.
Now, what if you had a credible reason to believe that YOUR actions over the course of the next two weeks could actually impact the balance of power in the United States Senate?
Would you be interested in considering what you might want to do given such a rare opportunity to make what could be a significant difference in the tone, decisions, laws, vision and possibilities of our society for the foreseeable future?
Check this out from fivethirtyeight.com. Especially if you’re in North Carolina.
The first graphic illustrates the potential influence of North Carolina in determining the balance of power in the US Senate, according to a meta-analysis of the most recent polling. We are the most likely of all the currently red-polling states to go blue in this Senate race.
The second graphic is a “voter-power index.” As Nate Silver describes it, this is the relative likelihood that an individual voter in a state will determine the majority party. As an NC voter, you have more potential influence on the balance of power in the Senate than a voter in any other state.
Take that in for a moment or two.
What might you do in the next two weeks given there is good reason to believe that YOU could well have a measureable impact on the US Senate? And I not talking about just your vote. We know of multiple national races in the last couple of decades that were decided by a few hundred votes.
What if you took the extra steps, maybe just a few hours over the next two weeks, to make some phone calls, do some door-to-door canvassing, offer rides to polling places, etc. What if you invited a few friends to play along?
What if you engaged your network, and they engaged theirs, and we all kicked it for a couple of weeks? How about if one of the people who heard from a friend of your friend decided to spend all weekend making phone calls to people across the state and ended up talking to several hundred people and single-handedly convincing many of them to go vote?
Imagine waking up after two weeks of voter turnout work/play along with several friends of yours, each of whom spoke on the phone or in person to 25, 50, 100, 200 people apiece, and you learned that Deborah Ross won by 639 votes…
Now imagine waking up after passing on this opportunity for whatever reason and learning that the Republican’s money machine paid off again around the country to “protect them from another Democratic President,” and she LOST to Richard Burr by 639 votes.
The Democrats wouldn’t take the Senate after all, Paul Ryan would chair the budget committee and we’d be looking at at least another 2 years of polarized and paralyzed governing.
Both of these are very real possibilities. And I’ve realized that I am now ready and willing to do whatever I can to encourage you, myself, and whoever we all know to pitch in over the next two weeks and get a whole bunch more people to the polls.
The payoff may indeed be one of those rare system flipping moments.
It is said by elders that your words are your prayers. I pray for this society to emerge into the light of its better angels. I pray for wisdom, compassion and creativity to prevail over rage, revenge and retribution. I have more prayers and I know you do, too.
I pray for leaders who are able to discern their own wisdom and also listen to the will of ALL the people regardless of their net worth or how much they contributed to their campaigns. I pray for leaders who will listen to the four-leggeds, the tall standing ones, the finned ones, the winged ones, the crawling ones, the water, the air, Earth for guidance on how we can ALL live together on this planet that seems to get smaller and smaller every year.
And I pray that we will have the courage to speak, shout and sing our prayers. Finally, I pray to remember that my prayers are amplified a thousand-fold when I play them out with my actions.
Maybe we are cells of Gaia. But I think it’s probably safe to say that we matter more than we think. Let’s do this…. J
you've always known
I saw a video on Facebook this morning of someone on a snowcapped ridge top that looked about four–five feet wide at the most with drop-offs on both sides that would have had wing-suit jumpers howling in delighted anticipation. The only thing that kept my heart from crawling right out of my body was the very existence of the footage.
For 20 years or so, my family had a place in Summit County, CO and I got into skiing enough to navigate most any slope, including some nice bowls, some time-trial runs and some pretty scary-looking triple diamonds. (More than once when I got up there I thought, Holy ______, the only way out of here is THAT?!?!?! The only real decision to make, at that point, was which moment to lean forward and go.
I heard Keith Jarrett's Koln Concert album when I was a social work student at UT Austin in the late 70's. It was the most stunningly beautiful piano music I have ever heard, And it was mind boggling to me that it was just coming through him in the moment. For years the dream of learning to do that was both blessing and curse, and I was paralyzed both by the desire to do it and the immensity of the gulf between people like Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Oscar Peterson and ... me! I occasionally come back around, though, to wondering what it must feel like to play such exquisitely beautiful music freely, fiercely, masterfully... and spontaneously!
After all these years I actually find myself teaching people how to improvise on the piano. I've got a kind of trick for helping people learn all 12 keys of the keyboard without ANY of the things most people assume are prerequisites that (e.g. music reading, learning chords or scales, at least note names!!).
So I'm all about encouraging us all to step beyond our perceived boundaries and try new stuff, even (especially?) when scary. So, okay Daniel, you gonna practice what you preach here?!!?
Thinking about my business can sound like I'm up on a ridge-top with skis and a GoPro (except now with maybe a loin cloth). I mean, what if I get going a little too fast, overestimate my capability and miscalculate in a way that could cost me dearly? I've certainly done plenty of that in my time.
What makes me so sure it's okay to put this video up? What if people watch and listen and think "what the heck can THIS guy teach about improvising, I don't want to sound like THAT!!! He's clearly not prepared for this." (or... what's he doing playing in a loin cloth?)
The aspects in me that are afraid to reveal the flaws in my playing, any uninteresting or boring harmonic or melodic lines, or anything else that's not "delightfully inventive and impressively executed" get very uncomfortable and reticent to step up and expose myself to humiliation, derision or, worst of all, a general collective yawn...
And it's not just the improvising itself, mind you. I've been doing that in one form or fashion for about 15 years now with the Jubilee! Community, Asheville Playback Theatre, with my wedding and event band, Current Invention, various side gigs, and on my own at home.
It's the RECORDING of it! You know, so someone can listen to the mistakes over and over and share them with tens of thousands of their closest friends on Facebook.
I know, I know, nobody cares. But telling that to the far-too-grandiose-for-his-whiskers perfecto-cat part in here has proven a good deal more challenging than my Leonine pride is inclined to admit.
Well, I'm getting loud and clear lately that it's about the music. Listening, feeling, playing and sharing. Sharing what I have to share. just as it is. right now. under-developed and not-ready-for-prime-time. warts and all.
Who knows, maybe that's what the world needs, or maybe at least what somebody needs. If so, it would be pretty nice if you're out there and seeing this. Goddess knows I hope SOMEBODY gets some value from this ridge-top leap!
So here's my flawed and imperfect encouragement to YOU to share your love and your gifts. I'm no Keith Jarrett or Bruce Hornsby or Jean Claude Killy, but those folks have already got those parts taken care of. Maybe it's time for me just to be me, and you to be you.
Okay, skis strapped on and secured. Helmet on, GoPro mounted in place and.... Recording. Ready to head downhill.... Deep breath... NOW!!!
I got out of the car to go into Earth Fare last night thinking about Robyn Paulete’s FB post about activating our optimism muscles. I was remembering many of my African American friends from Fort Worth, Austin, Chapel Hill, Durham, Pittsboro and Asheville from whom I’ve learned so much throughout my life. I felt the sense of optimism I have felt when friends have supported me where I am. I felt the sense of optimism and courage I get when I stand up in support of my former and current friends and friends I haven’t met yet. When I stand up for myself and what I envision in this world. When I stand for what feels to me just, loving and whole. After getting my groceries and walking out of Earth Fare I said hey to the cop who opened the door. I noticed that I wasn’t afraid of him, and that I can attribute that to my white skin. I kept walking toward the car. It was after 10:00 and I was ready to get on with the 1/2 hour drive home.
Continuing to walk, I felt the internal struggle between what I was wanting right then (to go home!) and what I’m feeing called to these days (making love and standing for justice, in whatever form it takes). I turn around and go back and strike up a conversation with the cop. I walk up, shake his hand and begin talking. I tell him that I can’t imagine how it feels to wear that uniform. Then I say that neither can I imagine how it feels to have black skin. The conversation is curious, probing, and respectful. I notice the differences in our perspectives, and I stand in my truth without seeking to highlight our differences. Another guy (tall guy who works behind the salad bar) who’s standing nearby pipes in and the conversation deepens further. Law enforcement, fear, politics, leadership… We consider the challenges we’re all facing, some of us more on the front lines than others, but all having some part to play. I say that I’d like to see more of these kinds of conversations, with as many voices as possible, so that we don’t wait until we’re in hair trigger situations where the stakes are dangerously high. After 20-25 minutes I walk away wondering if the conversation made any sort of difference. It felt like all three of us were engaged and paying attention to each other. I noticed that I felt enlivened by the interaction and occasional points of connection. I noticed that I never have any idea of the results of my actions, and I noticed that it felt good, to all my relations, to reach out with love and respect. I noticed that I felt just a little more optimistic about the world as I drove home. And I’m drawn to reconnect with some old friends that I haven’t spoken with in way too long…. —– I ran across this while looking for images for this post: http://allstars.org/copsandkids
Just got back from a dog walk, amused by the way in which one alpha can shift to… beta? (non-alpha? anything-but-alpha? who me—alpha?) in the presence of another. My charge went bounding after a dog clear across the park as if, upon arrival, they would both go flying across town from the sheer momentum of the impact. Instead, as he got a clearer view, the brakes went on from about 50 feet away, just in time to come to a full stop within licking distance of the somewhat larger, older and female German Shepherd. For the rest of the 15-20 minute park encounter, his acquiescence and deference during their stick fetching was either the stuff of wimpy-ness or gentlemanliness, and on this point I’ll just give him the benefit of the doubt. Regardless, his flexibility in the midst of a heightened moment beautifully illustrates one of the characteristics encouraged by my listen, feel, play approach to piano improvisation.
As I rolled this event into my current experience with pulling together the pieces of my upcoming launch (to help people uncork the bottle and unleash their genie through piano improvisation), I was struck with how often the “holy trinity” of piano improvisation works for other kinds of situations where we’d like to initiate creative, well-integrated and resonant action. This listen, feel, play holy trinity doesn’t have to be a chronological experience in practice, but it can help to think of it that way. Before I do something (or play notes on the piano), I tend to listen to what else is going on. Then notice how I’m feeling about what I’m hearing, and then play something that emerges from the gestalt of that internalized experience of what’s going on around me. That way I’m most likely to play something that will feel resonant with the room I’m in and the people (and dogs) I’m with.
What I noticed about what my canine friend did is that he responded to his listening (perceiving), felt his desire to connect with that other dog as soon as absolutely possible, and took off after her as if both their lives depended on it. But the story didn’t end there. He kept listening and perceiving and paying attention, and when he got close and watched and listened and felt the presence of the other dog in THAT moment, his actions shifted to an entirely different orientation.
Oh, the musicians (and partners and parents and politicians and bloggers named Daniel) who could learn something from this example!
I’ll close with a story I heard at an EST event many moons ago (remember EST? Erhard Seminars Training). It was told that someone once did an experiment on rats in which they were presented with 3 doors that led down complicated mazes, one of which ended with some cheese. After several trials the rats eventually learned to consistently pick the maze with the cheese. This was reinforced numerous times until it was completely reliable. After a time, though, they moved the cheese to one of the other mazes. The rats kept going down the same old path over and over again. The presenter then said that the researcher concluded with a salient difference between rats and humans. The rats eventually started going down different paths.
Powerful story, with a lot of truth in it, for sure. I’m not sure I completely believe that conclusion, ultimately. At best, the jury is still out. But when we listen to what’s going on around us, notice how we feel, and then “play” something that seems resonant with what we most deeply want to contribute, then maybe we can play a different note.
What do you think? Or, perhaps more importantly, what do you do?
(Please submit any comments below.)
Part of my amazement was how easily the shockingly life-changing was embedded so smoothly in the familiar. I mean, that’s part of the point, isn’t it, to have enough of the basic need for safety and security met so we can springboard from there to the various escapades that the more adventurous parts of us are clamoring for?
It was Tuesday, so Mexican food, and the only decision was which of our pair of go-tos would win tonight. We picked the Patton Ave place, which had the better tostadas and a more upbeat atmosphere, thanks in part to the (albeit cheesy, but hey, where better?) Mexican musician and his slate of pre-programmed keyboard rhythm, bass and chordal accompaniments.
My first recollections of Mexican food were from El Chico in the Seminary South shopping center in Fort Worth, TX when I was around 5. Either I wasn’t ready for the spicy food, or my parents didn’t think I was, so I always got a child’s plate burger, and my brother Dana, 10 years older, would get an “enchilada dinner with three enchiladas” (b/c two wasn’t enough). Dad would get three meat tacos. Throughout the entire time I lived in his house, and for years afterwards, he would always, every week, every time, appear to look carefully over the menu, and then order three meat tacos. Now, about to turn 97, he and mom (now married for almost 76 years) still do Mexican for lunch on Tuesdays, but now it’s El Rancho Grande and tortilla soup.
So Mexican food is pre-cognitive and somehow primordial, lulling me with smells, hot plates and hot pepper to where food, family and security simply are. And even though no North Carolina Mexican food has ever matched up with the Tex-Mex of my 30+ years in Texas, the experience of being in one of those places is forever associated with the familiar, the known and the reliable.
I don’t remember what I ordered, but on cue my mouth exploded with juicy anticipation when the hot plate with salsa-topped “something” arrived. My wife and I both dug in and enjoyed a couple of bites and then she looked straight at me said, “I don’t think this is going to work out.”
As beginnings go, it seemed like it left a lot to be desired.
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Think just a minute on the last time you had one of those “nature moments.” It might have been literally outside, or it could have been in complete quiet, but your mind stopped whirring for a few delicious moments. You allowed your own nature as a physical, sentient being to come to the forefront of your awareness, you engaged in deep listening and you gave yourself the gift of a different quality of experience.
A little while ago, I came out on the deck to take advantage of this sunny warm morning and started into The New Rules on Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott, on how the web is rewriting all the rules and changing the landscape of communications between people interested in all sorts of transactions.
I see the current state of the web, overall, as a massive developmental stage in the manifestation of the global brain, making possible information dissemination of the sort few could have imagined just a few decades ago. This book is going into the various ways that this is facilitating more direct communication between parties involved in various kinds of energetic exchanges. Somehow this manages to appeal to the traditionalist, the revolutionary -and- the evolutionary in me.
These days I’m exploring ways to plug in to this burgeoning nervous system to share my perspectives on sound, music, creativity, communication, self-awareness, spirituality, human (and non-human) potential, social and environmental justice & healing, and the fascinating, beautiful and powerful ways in which these are all interrelated.
Of course I was aware, in a way, of the birdsong. Walking outside, the sound of the birds and the breeze in the trees was immediately obvious, but it was more like background; a shift in sensual and aural ambience between inside and outside. It was no big deal, not the focus of my attention, which was more about getting some sun and getting on into the book.
At some point in my reading, the birds broke through and I stopped… and began to actually listen. There was an immediate shift in the way my mind and body experienced the moment, and as I write this I’m continuing to bounce back and forth between this linguistically-oriented activity and the non-verbal experience of deep listening to the natural symphony sounding all around me. I think this dynamic is one of the most challenging and rewarding dances we are called to in this life; that between taking in and expressing, between accepting and initiating, between allowing and creating.
It seems to me that if we lean too much toward the initiating, creating and expressing, we risk being disconnected with the natural world that I hear calling us for more attentive nurture. On the other hand, if we lean too much toward taking in, accepting and allowing, we risk squandering the unique and precious gifts that each of us has to offer.
Agonizing as it can be at times, I feel blessed being part of all this. Thanks for reading, and for taking a moment for some deep listening to what’s going on right now, on the outside and the inside, and pitch in a thought or two below. We have plenty of healing work to do, and I’m grateful for our winged allies and all our relations for their call, support, wisdom and song.
These days I’m playing with a new way to dance with being and doing. So often it’s a tug-of-war between activity and presence. Not that I haven’t had plenty of experiences of both at the same time to know better, but I can also get plenty tangled up trying to integrate them both into my intentionality. My mind seems to think that getting up from a meditative ponder-session (say, for example, when I first wake up in the morning) to spring into action would be to risk losing the connection to the depth I’ve just nurtured. This can lead to berating myself for “lounging around in bed too long.” You see, my dad grew up on a farm in East Texas. They got up crazy early, had breakfast, and went out to the fields to take best advantage of the cooler part of the day and to get as much work done as possible every day. I apparently internalized this way of starting the day well enough to drive myself nuts with it. The ensuing dynamic has often been torturous and I can get stuck in that familiar and intractable win-lose battle.
Fortunately, the balance on this being/doing thing has been shifting in me lately. It isn’t so much, necessarily, about the proportion of being-ness vs doing-ness that’s getting reconfigured as much as the relationship that I have with them. I’m having more success with the idea of noticing and attending to different internal parts of myself (each of which have legitimate desires and needs) being engaged in internal dialogue. The process (an elaboration of Marshall Rosenberg’s work in non-violent communication by Jerry Donoghue in his book “Inner Empathy”) leaves me feeling more peaceful and more productive. From this perspective, I can be clear about my desire to have both aspects of myself in the same “room” together without trying to tear each other limb from psychological limb.
So let’s take the part of me that simply enjoys “being” and noticing “what is” and call him Pres. And let’s take the part of me that’s compelled to take action in the world and carry forward my dreams and call him Movement. Meanwhile –I- am the awareness that can step back from identification with either of these parts, notice and appreciate the value of each of them for my life, and monitor the dynamic between them.
I want for Pres to be allowed to enjoy his still peaceful attentiveness while also realizing that Movement is also part of the team of “me.” And I want Movement to enable new experiences, to manifest my dreams, ideas and passions in the world, and to “realize” my desires to play, work, love, and live fully; all the while being okay with Pres wanting to notice, appreciate and draw from what’s happening right now.
From this perspective, getting out of bed doesn’t have to be a battle between staying in bed forever or “losing the battle” to doing. I’m giving myself the okay to wake up with some ease and permission to meditate for a while on any remembered dreams. I get to appreciate, guilt-free, Pres’ offerings of the chance to appreciate sentience, insight, reflection, and the opportunity to imagine the best day possible. These insights and integrations are often invaluable to how I begin and move through my day. With the spaciousness, Pres seems to be more willing to let Movement come in and propel me out of bed and into the day in a more integrated way where I am bringing all of myself to the endeavor.
I’m curious about how this applies to other areas of “waking up” and coming to a fuller life. I’ll share these ideas and explorations with you in this space down the road (Pres and Movement willing..!). Please add your thoughts and perspectives on this below…