Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing…

“Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing…

…there’s a field.  I’ll meet you there.”  Maybe you know this quote from Rumi, the mystical Sufi poet whose popularity continues unabated centuries after his death.  It has so much to teach us about collaboration, especially the kind we must find in ourselves before we can connect with anyone or anything else.  But what does it have to do with the game of golf?  And is golf a game or a metaphor for life?

2.5 minute read

We were watching The Legend of Bagger Vance last night, a movie ostensibly about golf.  But even golf isn’t really about golf, but about the state you must be in to connect with that tiny ball  and knock it into space through a complex synchrony of muscles and nerves that can be thrown off by the slightest distraction, tension or worry.  The whole business can be thrown out of whack by wanting something too much, like wanting to win, which is a tricky thing when you’re competing or when you think you are.

“You can’t win the game, you can only play it” says mystical wisdom figure and caddy, Bagger Vance, to troubled golfer, Rannulf Junuh, and later “It’s time.  It’s time for you to get into the field.”

There’s it is again – that magical, elusive field, where we can meet each other without barriers that separate, where we can connect with all of ourselves and something bigger than us.

The movie was a little short on the “how” of getting into the field and letting the field get into you – the immersed synchronous state that has you connected to the whole and playing with your whole heart and mind rather than striving to win with a tiny part of you.  It’s not your grip or your elbow or any one element of your swing.  It’s bigger than that, bigger than you, and somewhat elusive.  It has to do with the way you pay attention. 

In the field, you’re relaxed and plugged in.  You’re one with your surroundings, fluid, trusting, open.  You can bring all of yourself and that in itself is so beautiful.  You can’t control the outcome, but you can invite this pure presence and deep satisfaction of playing the game with all of you.

“You can’t get enough of what you don’t really want,” is a quote that’s guided me all my life,  because it says you can get enough of what you really want.

A few years ago, when I was in Oklahoma visiting family, my cousin unlocked the door to her “safe room,” a feature of houses in “Tornado Alley.”  Bolted to the foundation, these rooms are designed to survive a tornado.  She handed me a black sharpie. “We ask people important to us to write a quote on our safe room wall.  I’ll leave you to it.”  I looked around.  Instead of the usual radio or TV and a place to sit out a tornado watch, this safe room had two floor-to-ceiling shelving units crammed with guns in cases and boxes and boxes of ammunition.  The walls were covered with Bible verses about God’s love and salvation through Jesus. 

I stood there gobsmacked, pen in hand.  When my brain started working again, I considered a Bible quote, maybe something fiery and confrontive from Proverbs, or something exhortative from First Corinthians 13, ending with “…the greatest of these is love.”  And then I closed my eyes and reached for the field beyond right and wrong, beyond winning and losing, beyond threat and retaliation.  I opened my focus and waited for a way to bring all of myself to the situation:  Not just the anger and the fear, but the kindness, the longing, the hope, and the love.  I uncapped the marker and begin to write the words I could write with all my heart, those of a Sufi mystic long dead:  “Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.”


We are having a marvelous time on Open Focus Friday calls at noon, Pacific time.  After a quick chat about how effortlessly finding our way into the field of Open Focus is going, I lead a 20-30 minute open focus practice, and we end with feedback so I can make next Friday’s session even better.   It’s already pretty fabulous, but it would be even better if you were there.

I’m also doing both individual sessions when requested as well as offering more affordable small group sessions for you and a few friends or colleagues.

This Uncertainty Won’t Last Forever – In drawings.

When I wrote about Transition, the predictable psycho-emotional response to change, I didn’t expect to see it come alive in so many people.  Although it was only two weeks ago, it seems a lifetime.   Friends and acquaintances are starting to wonder aloud if they will ever feel creative again, or relaxed, or like themselves.  “Are the changes permanent?” they wonder. I want to reach out and reassure them and everyone else that these effects are temporary, no matter how long they last or how scary they feel. I thought the pictures might help make that point.  It’s helping me to make them.

Reading Time: 2 minutes.  Unless you click on the pictures to enlarge them, then maybe 3 minutes.


A magic 8-ball which pops up an answer to your question when you shake it.

“Situation cloudy, try again later.”



We keep cycling through the three phases of transition.  After days of feeling pretty well-adjusted, yesterday we learned that California’s Shelter-in Place order has been extended another five weeks. Not only was it kind of a downer, it meant some adjustments had to be made.  Again.

As we walked, my partner Carolyn and I talked about how to safely obtain some of the things we needed to get through those five weeks.  This did not go well. The old, familiar assumptions just aren’t working, which makes it impossible to plan.  That’s when the laughter started to bubble up and I said “I want an actuary – someone who can weigh the probable outcomes of various actions so I can make a decision.  My actuary dot com – why doesn’t that exist?”  Of course this was even funnier, which helped shift the mood.

But it underscores what happens in the Ending phase of the Transition curve:  We want ANSWERS.  We want CERTAINTY.  Accepting that we’ll have to proceed without them is when our denial snaps.  When the situation keeps evolving, sometimes moment to moment, our denial will assert itself and snap again and again.  Living life without certainty becomes a dance of resilience and it can feel like we are dancing on the edge of madness.  What will make a difference?  What won’t?  How will I know?  How can I decide when I don’t know?  Life right now is not just a matter of revising our to do list, it’s a crisis of identity.  without the usual markers, we don’t recognize where, or who, we are.

“Every new adjustment is a crisis in self-esteem.” (Eric Hoffer).

That’s why you feel so crazy.  So beside yourself.  So cranky.  There’s no need to panic about this.  It’s normal and temporary.  Meanwhile, you find yourself in the NEUTRAL ZONE, which feels a bit like this:

Life in the NEUTRAL ZONE.


And the NEUTRAL ZONE lasts about this long:

Author Dallas Clayton’s illustration


While in the NEUTRAL ZONE, you’ll need a few things to help you through.  Contact with people, humor, routine, exercise, chocolate…

Dark Chocolate, part of my Corona virus pantheon


…and someone who knows how to relax:

Ladybug releasing tension

The pause that refreshes.


Eventually, you come out on the other side and the pieces of your stretched-out psyche fall into place again.  Life has meaning and shape and there is a place for you.  You can begin again and you will.  It’s how you’re made.

Thirteen-fold Mandala (13 is the number of Transformation)

CG #63 – Why Not Declare Peace?

CG #63 –Why Not Declare Peace?

We polarize over our differences and turn what is merely strenuous into something stressful and exhausting. What if there was a better way?

Reading Time: About 2 minutes

The internet exposes our tendency to go to war over our differences, especially in an election year. It takes about 5 comments on a blog before two clear sides emerge and commenters hunker down in support of one camp or the other. With an upcoming election in the USA, polarized rhetoric is heating up.

It’s a fertile laboratory for practicing a more productive approach to polarity.

Polarities are everywhere

You can find polarities wherever there is lasting, unresolved conflict or a problem that won’t stay solved. Take the stormy relationship between management and union employees, or between Sales and R&D; or the divide between the IT department and its customers. The endless, unproductive debate over how to deal with ongoing social ills is another example. Work-life balance is a polarity.

You Can’t Solve a Polarity

Polarities aren’t problems. That’s why the right answer, the once-and-for-all answer can’t be found.  The tension between the innovations you need to stay competitive and the need for reliable cash flow really is endless. The tension between the wild and wildly expensive ideas that your engineers dream up and what is feasible to build is not a problem to do away with either: It’s a polarity that is the lifeblood of your company. And it’s going to be much easier on everyone if we stop trying to “solve” polarities.

If only it wasn’t so difficult. I don’t know about you, but my brain has a hair-trigger about some things. Corruption, unfair treatment, deception, self-righteous in-crowds – they all make me crazy, and it seems to happen instantly.

When I decide these are a problem to be solved rather than a polarity to make room for, it leads to those 2 entrenched camps that pop up in virtually every internet comment thread: If your point of view is the problem, then my point of view is the solution. No matter how smooth we are, and how well we bury it in inclusive language, we wish the other side would stop being so difficult. We wish they’d be just a little more like us, a little more reasonable, a little less of a…problem.

That’s declaring war, no matter how subtle we are about it. And declaring war is endless and exhausting. I want a way to get off this painful treadmill quickly and reliably.

Declaring Peace

1. I’m making “People are never the problem” the mantra I take everywhere.  When that’s too much to ask of myself, I’ll try “What if people are never the problem?”

I can’t prove this is true. Instead, I’m going to invite you to join me in testing it. Is it going to lead to being too accepting, too “weak?” Will I be taken advantage of? I don’t think so and here’s why: I am a “people” too, and I’m never the problem either. I suspect this levels the playing field in a transformative way.

I’m adopting a word substitution without softening the polarity.

Instead of saying or implying “or” say “both…and.” “This isn’t working for my team” (with the implied but unspoken: “Fix this or I’ll escalate”) becomes “This needs to work for both you and I, and we’re really at odds here.” (you and me and our difference)

I’m asking myself: “How am I contributing to the fight?” “Is it necessary?” It takes energy to stay at war with a person, department or idea. I’d rather spend that energy elsewhere.

 What I’m not saying

There are only polarities, not problems

There will always problems that need to be confronted, named and solved. In my experience, embracing the overarching polarity helps me find and solve problems without experiencing backlash from either “side.” It’s polarities and problems, not polarities or problems.

It’s all hugs and puppies

There is evil. There are injustices that need to be made right. That work can make us hard and unkind. I’m hopeful that refusing to make enemies out of even keeps us kind and human as we draw necessary lines and impose consequences.  Kind and firm: Polarities really are everywhere.