Your Emerging Nature

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Emergence is the way of nature.  A seed falls as a dead pod from a tree.  There is an almighty ‘thud’ in that silent microcosm on the garden.  The ants who had just moments before had marked out a trail to food by their pheromones have been interrupted as this large pod now blocks their rout. They adapt quickly, make their way around it. In fact, there being a small crack in the seed pod, a couple of scout ants check it out and find the sweet seeds are good for eating.  They set to work. This all happens below our level of awareness constantly.  Within a couple of seasons, there is new growth where the remaining seeds fell, a new home for insects and a future nesting place for birds.  This is emergence.

Order arises out of chaos.  Emergence is the interruption of the status quo.  It is the essence of change.  Within our life, we are faced with constant changes, some small and seemingly insignificant, some huge as in those events which shock and deeply trouble us – loss of a job, physical or mental illness, children leaving home, or the loss of a loved one.  These life events are part of the emerging process.

Most of us find it very difficult to cope with change. In fact, most often it is resisted head on.  There is one truth about emergence. If we don’t work with it, it will work all over us.

Within emergence are the seeds for order.  These seeds are not logical, sequential or predictable, yet new order arises.  In an earthquake, for example, people rally to assist, local people immediately help each other, outside organizations come together to assist, new organizations are formed to help with the psychological trauma and grief, new ways of designing earthquake resistant buildings are engaged.

When I was designing the Cloud Thinking process I observed that emergence had two sides to it.  One which was dark and dank and the other which was alive with growth and opportunity.  The challenge was to dig deeper to tap into the energy of the side off emergence that held hope.  I discovered that emergence is not separate from us. It is part of us.  Within our story of growth and unfolding are the narratives of survival; the narratives of skills, gathered wisdom, talents and values. By tapping into our stories, we are able to tap into the energy which stimulates strong emergence which we can begin to work with.

The second step is to make meaning of the stories in relation to the problem at hand.  It’s through meaning-making, coupled with the stories of hope and wisdom that gives us the material to design a way forward. When I was a monk in China, I had met a husband and wife who were both profoundly deaf.  They had been rejected by their families and had come to settle in a poor mountain village. At first a couple of the local villagers gave them a small few meters of earth in which they could grow their own food.  It was hardly enough space to feed them.  They searched for meaning.  They needed more space yet each person in the village coveted their own space. Yet, they acknowledge the small generosity given to them. What if they could reciprocate the generosity?  They offered a few meters of their own space where a neighbour could grow some different vegetable. Perhaps they could share vegetables. The two families decided to link their space.  Eventually they involved the rest of the village and dreamed of more land to grow watermelons not previously grown but was a good cash crop.  Collectively the village asked permission from the local mayor who granted more space.  Within a short period, their village became prosperous employing others to help in the harvesting of watermelons.  One strategic question opened possibilities leading to innovation and prosperity.

We need not despair when life’s problems beset us. We can choose to resist or we can chose to work with emergence and grow to new heights.  Each person is endowed with a spark that when ignited becomes a fire igniting the hearts and minds of many.  Life’s chaos can dis-empower you often prompting you to search empowerment from others.  But your power is within yourself. Your light is within you.  Emergence is the way of nature. Your nature is the way of making meaning of emerging and rising to new life.

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From Despair to December

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I turned to leave the psychiatric hospital I had just visited as Supports Facilitator enabling people to leave long term institutionalization to find their place in community. It was time to go home. I had a home to go to.  I had friends, I had a degree, I had a job, I had dreams.

The large solid glass door locked shut behind me. Something nudged me to turn back around.  I saw ‘John’ with his nose pressing against the glass looking back at me with a deep forlorn look on his face.  I waved and looked away.  I had meaning. John had a diagnosis. My dreams were mine to follow. John’s were shut behind the walls of the psych unit.

For over 22 years of my life I have stared into the grey specter of despair and dis-empowerment of human beings.  It has been my life and my work. I have seen the pieces of shattered dreams strewn about lonely rooms. Later in my life as a Buddhist monk in rural China, I again met dis-empowerment in the poor farmer and the orphan girls.  In China, it was different, though. The will to dream was sucked dry like a parched blacked potato skin. Orphan girls cannot dream.

It is easy to have power over others.  Governments do this. So do corporations; so do abusive partners, bosses. Some have told me this is human. It isn’t. it is sub-human. Like rats trying to get on top of each other at the sewer pipe. So do so many well-meaning psychologists, therapists and psychiatrists in the healing system.  They are not aware of it. It is their raison d’être. For those on the other side it was their raison de mourir.

Empowerment ought not be about dominance but about Life and the imparting of the stimulus for life in others.

I sat next to John. His life was one of deep loss.  As a small boy of 11 he came home from school to his mother having died on a chair at the kitchen table.  The men took her body away and took him away. He was depressed. They medicated him.  No one even bothered to talk to him about his loss he tells me.  He had been in a psychiatric hospital for a long time.  I ask him if he has a dream. He tells me he can’t even remember the dreams from his sleep.  I ask him about his hopes.  He tells me he hopes he can buy a new shirt. Suddenly I saw a faint glimmer of light. I ask him why he wants a new shirt. He told me he would feel fresh.  I ask him if he could feel really fresh and alive what that would do for him? Strategic questions began to flow.

“I could then walk in the garden”, he told me

John was blankly gazing out of the hospital window at the garden.  Pink and yellow daisies were growing.   I ask him what he is looking at.  He tells me the garden. I ask him what it is specifically what he likes about the garden.  He tells me it is the flowers. He wanted to give flowers to his mother when she died but he wasn’t permitted to go to the funeral.

I ask John if he would like to grow flowers. His face lit up.

“if you could learn to grow many flowers, what would that do for you, John?”

“I would love that.”

“Why would you love that?

“It would make me happy”

“Why would it make you happy, John?”

“I would be able to make something grow.”

I organized for John to meet a friend of mine who was a keen gardener and volunteered at a community garden.  John was able to join him at the garden.  John made other friends and found a sense of belonging and purpose. Eventually, John was released from hospital. We had found a small apartment for him – with a garden.  Today, John is on the management committee of the community garden.  The day came, too, when he visited his mother’s grave and gave her flowers. It was a moving moment for all of us. I was merely a facilitator in all of this, John had empowered himself with a little help from natural friends.

What empowers? What gives Life? One evening I sat to reflect on such questions.  How can new life emerge from chaos and pain? How can our children grow to solve life’s problems with innovation instead of insolence, drugs and violence?  Daily these questions would come to punctuate the hours.  Gradually something emerged from the clouds of uncertainty. You are welcome to look at the Cloud 2 Go Program.

Each human being has a sign of life within them which can emerge from the depths of despair and pain.  I could easily have felt these are trite words, but they are my lived experience.  I detected life in the new shirt that John wanted to buy.  That’s what the Cloud Thinking program does. We are like rescue dogs at the site of an earthquake with the ability to detect life beneath the rubble.

“Well, I’d better be off to work now. I have about 30 tomato seedlings to care for.  We can share the tomatoes in December,” John said to me.  I walked away from John’s apartment and then stopped. I looked back.  John smiled and waved.

What’s the Meaning to All of This?

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

Throughout the history of human kind, we have tried to find meaning in life’s events and specifically during times of chaos, pain, loss and intense stress and trauma.

Developmental psychologist Robert Kegan wrote: The human being is meaning making. For the human, what evolving amounts to is the evolving of systems of meaning.”1

Victor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, makes reference to his survival of the Holocaust and speaks about how finding meaning in intense suffering gave hope and survival.

Early in history the Buddha saw the intense suffering of his time and as a result of deep meditative practices and spiritual experiences found meaning to the suffering and a way forward.

Not all of us are subject to intense suffering and pain, though on the continuum of daily struggle it can seem that we are often at the top end of the struggle graph.  None of us are immune from life’s problems and problems can confront us out of the blue without warning. I am yet to meet someone who absolutely relishes problems and doesn’t have that feeling in the pit of their gut –  that is, unless they view problems from a very different mindset.

When I began developing Cloud Thinking and the Cloud 2 Go program I had worked over 25 years in the field of mind health and assisted countless number of people find meaning through their mental illness and struggles and go on to live meaningful and full lives.  I realized how powerful meaning making is in the process towards wholeness and success, whether that is for an individual or for an organization or corporation.

Finding meaning through adversity and finding an appreciation as to the process of evolving from the struggle has been the focus of much psychological research. Research exploring the possibility for personal growth following the struggle with adversity has increased in clinical and positive psychology since the mid-1990s. There is considerable evidence demonstrating that people often report some quite profound and positive changes as a result of their struggle with highly stressful and challenging circumstances (Helgeson et al. 2006; Linley and Joseph 2004).2

However, the process of meaning making is arrived at through narrative and stories.  We all tell stories.  When we sit down to talk about the day’s events or how such and such a problem has occurred, we tell story.  So often in problem solving technologies this element is missed or if it is included it is kept very brief and only concentrating on the aspects that caused the problem.  We will always gravitate to what we are looking at. If we look at problems, that’s what we will find – problems! However, as in the Cloud Thinking process, when we look at the positive stories in relation to the problem a new meaning becomes apparent.  It is through your stories that contain the essence of who you really are as well as your core strengths.  Jan (not her real name) told me her story of traumatic abuse as a child and subsequent lengthy admissions to psychiatric hospitals over the years.  On the surface of her stories there was absolutely nothing affirmative. Yet, we sat there together. In a silence at the end of her narrative she smiled. I asked her about the smile. “I survived, though, didn’t I?” Indeed, she did! In the Cloud process, she was able to make meaning of the survival and tease out the key elements of what helped her survive so that with these she could begin to restructure her life – the life she dreamed of having.

When meaning is arrived at and we can gain insight from the material from our own personal stories we can then take this material and begin to shape it into a new design. This is generative learning. It is a way of generating an emergence of new life from what went before.

Life is more than processes and emerging.  It is a total lived experience.  In the quote at the beginning of this article Joseph Campbell, mythologist and philosopher, in his book The Power of Myth, is right when he says that people are seeking more than meaning in life.  We would be severely short changed if that’s all we get.  People are looking for a vital experience of being fully alive! It is more than coincidence that two of the world’s greatest spiritual teachers, Jesus Christ and the Buddha saw their work as helping people realize (that is, make real) the fullness of life available to them. The Buddha spoke of being Awakened, that is, the opposite of sleeping or death – awakened to a deeper truth. Jesus spoke of enabling people to have life in all its fullness.  What is meaning if it can’t be lived out in aliveness?

The Cloud 2 Go process helps us go beyond meaning to using the material of our life to make a new and vibrant life.  Problems will always occur.  Problems are the launching pads to emerging growth and innovation.  We can choose to avoid the problems of life or react to them or we can use the hidden energy and potential contained in our own stories to craft new and meaningful horizons.

So, what’s the meaning to all of this? Life, in its fullness.

 

  1. Robert Kegan The Evolving Self : Problem and Process in Human Development, 1983
  2. Helgeson, V. S., Reynolds, K. A., & Tomich, P. L. (2006). A meta-analytic review of benefit finding and growth. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74(5), 797–816Joseph, S., & Linley, P. A. (2005). Positive adjustment to threatening events: An organismic valuing theory of growth through Trauma. Review of General Psychology, 9(3), 262–280.

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The Question from the Shadows

What is that one question that will change the course of your life or in deed the life of the entire planetman-164216_960_720? Like the click of two fingers that set the spinning top into motion the question shoot shafts of electro-energy into the vast web of neuron pathways as they fire into action.  The question stands on the end of an eternal chasm and the specter of fear resists its calling. For short moments, the lure drinks the sweet nectar of then recoils.  Don’t you know? Of all the creatures in the universe, only you have the power of the question. Yet blinded by the dazzle neon light and its search for an answer you decide on the illusion of the easy path.  For answers are always easy.

You’ve been thoroughly trained with military precision by the despot Ignorance to search for answers to unlock doors that were never locked in the first place.  For there is no secret.  There is no mystery. You were fooled by the jester of timeless trickery.  It is the question the throws itself on its knees and begs to be asked. It pleads for release.

Whole nations are looking for answers and the ego driven by its madness rises to pretend to the answers.  They are the dime-a-dozen answer machines and walking reactionaries.  They are fooled again and think they have found them grasping them like morsels of crumbs like street rats climbing all over each other for a feast.  They kill and destroy to protect their answers and in the process, are destroyed.

All calls to resist the answer go unheeded and in desperation you shout until your throat is scarred and parched by gasping shrieks which echo off the walls of the chasm. Resounding echoes! Finally, the echoes give way to a deepening silence.  All about is darkness and silence. As you raise your head to the hush played like the morendo before the curtain fall, there stands before you the question.

Seven Clouds to Go

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As a Cloud 2 Go Coach one of the most exciting things for me and my clients is being able to see a problem emerge and take on a new and positive form right before our very eyes. I love the very look on their faces and the sense of moving in a new direction.

No one is immune from problems. They are the stuff of life, the things that either stimulate growth and change or the things that drag us down in the depth of our misery.  So often we try to avoid them, push them to one side, procrastinate or zone out on alcohol or other chemicals.

For Cloud Thinkers problems are sunsets to be admired and embraced for behind every problem is a positive aspiration. Behind every problem is a story and if we dig deep enough we can find great strength and wisdom in the deep caverns.  I once heard the story of a Texan farmer who complained about the black mud pool appearing on his property.  The black mud was no other than oil.  Tapping deep into the oil supply was a new energy.  So it is with Cloud Thinking. As we tap into the depth of a problem we are able to locate new energy.

Sally had lived her life in foster homes, her parents having left her when she was quite young.

“I don’t know what I want to do in life. My life is f***ed and like there’s no way out.” Sally fidgeted with an elastic hair band as the ensuing silence stepped in.

“If there were a way out, what would that look like?” I asked.

“If I knew I wouldn’t be sitting here”, Sally snapped back.

“True.  Where would you be and what would you be doing?” I continued using the strategic questions to tap into new energy and help Sally move the direction.

“I’d like have a job and get some money to have my own pad like.” Sally gazed out of the window.

“What would that job be if it were dream land?” I questioned.

Sally smiled, “I would love to work in a restaurant and even own my own restaurant one day”

“Let’s talk about it.  Can we make it a positive topic of investigation?”

“Sure” jumped Sally.

After some further exploration Sally came up with two topics: “Building Sally’s restaurant” and “Finding the path to restaurant work.”

“Tell me the story behind your desire to run your own restaurant, Sally”

Sally reflected for a moment then smiled.  “I used to like cooking as a kid.  My first foster mum used to let me make cakes like and cook the evening meal. I loved that. Like, I could be really . . .what’s the word? Yeh, creative. I have lots of ideas.”

Sally seemed to go into another space as she talked about her creativity as well as her patience – two great strengths.  Soon we would further explore these strengths and how we could tap into them to create new movement towards her goals. We would begin to explore the very things that gave Sally life.

Unexpectedly Sally began to giggle with a broad grin.  “Why are you laughing Sally?” I inquired, admiring her now relaxed face – a very different stance to when we started the conversation.

“It’s like the problem has changed like.  I never thought I would be talking about my dream. So that’s the first Cloud? Wow! Seven Clouds to go and I’m there!”  We laughed together as we both witnessed emergence.

The Cloud 2 Go Program has Eight Clouds or processes through which we can chart the movement of positive energy to move us towards our aspirations and goals.

Sally today has a part-time job in a restaurant and is now studying Hospitality Studies at TAFE college.  Her life has rapidly and remarkably changed.  We meet monthly for Cloud 2 Go coaching.  She is well on her way to achieving her dream.

Cloud 2 Go is a great program.  You, too, may want to check it out at some stage.

How ‘Should’ You Meditate?

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Last week end some people visited me at our home in Sydney where we welcome guests from across the globe.  The question from the two young ladies was a common one: “How should we meditate?”

Questions are very important as they can possibly lead us to new horizons.  However, there is always something in this question that bothers me and that is the word “should”.  The word “should” is a modal verb or to be more precise a deontic modal verb. That is, it denotes obligation and permission. So are you obliged to meditate? And who gives you permission? Further, the word assumes a “right” and “wrong” way of meditating.  I used to sit with legs twisted in excruciating pain in the lotus position mentally crippled with guilt thinking I “should” be able to do this.  Later in my monastic years I was delighted when one of my masters told me that it was not important to sit in the lotus position – that is if you’re not doing meditation to become a yogic contortionist.  Great, if you are and that gives you meaning in life but if you’re not joining the amateur contortionist club, its totally meaningless.

A better question is “for what reason am I meditating? What is my motivation?” Now, I’ll admit, motivations for meditation vary widely from person to person.  I started meditating at the age of twelve when I saw a rainbow at the top of a hill I was climbing.  I was intrigued and ran up the hill with the aim of sitting in the middle of a rainbow. I shut my eyes and thought: “Wow! This is wonderful!” I liked that feeling. I tried to replicate it for years to come.  I liked to feel the “Wow!” feeling until someone told me it was “wrong” to feel this.  So for the next ten years I took life so bloody seriously I almost turned into a walking robotic neurotic! Not helpful advice, because what on earth is wrong the feeling that Life is “Wow!” Fortunately, I have reclaimed that now. So why do you meditate? Figure it out but not just at the surface level, but deep in your gut. Find a meditation style that suits the motivation.

The problem is we hear so many stories of what people have experienced in meditation that we wonder how we can also get that.  So meditation becomes a grab-attack. Let’s “get” that.  Ok, so what then?

My little dog was always happy to see me when I had been away on a business trip for some time.  She would wag her tail, jump up and down and share her “Wow-great-to-see-you moment” with me.  But do you know what? A few minutes later she had settled down beside me with her head on my lap just doing what came so naturally to her – just being together.  We were separated and now we were together.   And that, my dear friends, is where we are at in this life.  Separated and yearning for reconnection.  The “Wow” of meditation gives way to the naturalness of belonging with our true nature.  How “should” you belong? Just be present in the way that delights you, wag your tail and snuggle in to your true nature.  There are no “shoulds”; just Life.

Even the Flies Love the Buddha

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Yin Yu was an 85-year-old nun who lived at our temple in a simple concrete and stone room that looked out to the mountains from which old Master Tong saw a thick white cloud descending.  Legend has it that he saw the light of many Buddhas.  Amitabha Buddha spoke to him from the cloud telling him to build a temple at the place where he stood.  That was in the 4th century CE. The temple was named Descending Cloud temple.

Each morning I would see Yin Yu doing walking meditation, chanting the Buddha’s name, along the balustrade at the front of the temple. Yin Yu would rise at 4:00am to meditate for one and a half hours.  Her meditation dates back many centuries and is part of a little known meditation tradition within the Chinese Pure Land Buddhist school.  It is sometimes called the ‘total absorption of the Buddha light’.  It consists of the visualization of Amitabha Buddha and the slow intoning of his name.  The mind empties of all thoughts except that of the Amitabha Buddha, an icon of Pure Consciousness – no thought.  The breaths are long and very slow and the practitioner soon enters a state of transcendence and bliss.

As a monk I was very humbled to be accepted into a small community of mostly hermit monks and nuns practicing this meditation that would bring bliss.  Many people have often looked at me suspiciously, questioning if bliss in meditation is really possible. Others have questioned if bliss is even a state one should even aim for.  My answers to those questions have always been “why not?” and “Yes”. Yes, bliss is possible and why shouldn’t it be?” Is there suddenly something wrong with living a life of pure delight?  If we examine carefully the life of the Buddha we find that his entire mission could be summed up in one sentence: To enable us to live a life of immense joy. If our meditation is not aimed at that, if meditation is simply a stress relief (though there is nothing wrong with relieving stress!) or just a means of being aware of one’s body or one’s breath then we have sadly missed the point. Meditation is much more.

Yin Yu rarely spoke in words.  Her smile was all that was needed. In fact, she used a type of sign language most of the time.  She said she did this as not to interrupt the joy.  We often sat together in silence just savouring the moment.

One day in early summer, I realized that I had not seen Yin Yu for some three days.  This was very unusual as her daily routine was very predictable.  I made my way to her small room but saw that the door was closed.  Wondering if she had left to go to another temple or hermitage without telling us I went to inquire of the Abbot.  Master Zheng Rong was equally perplexed and we both went to her room.  The Master knocked at the door but there was no reply or movement coming from the room.

“This is indeed unusual”, spoke Master Zheng Rong as he tried knocking again at the door.

There was a small opening between the side of the window and the curtain and I stretched to peer inside.  Suddenly I recoiled.  There was Venerable Yin Yu on a meditation cushion in lotus position against the wall with her eyes closed and a beaming smile. Her entire face was covered in a mass of flies.  “Master, I think she has died!” My master, peered through the window with a look of intense seriousness on his face.  After a few tense seconds: “It’s fine. She’s breathing. She is in meditation.” I was dumbfounded but relieved.  Yin Yu had been in deep meditation for three days with the most beautiful smile on her face, one which even the flies delighted in!

The following day I saw Yin Yu cooking rice porridge. I asked her about her meditation.

True to her nature she did not reply, but simply made the sign of a circle around her face with a beautiful smile.

“But the flies?” I inquired “so many on your face.” Yin Yu actually spoke.  I managed to understand her Hangzhou dialect. “They came to join me. Even the flies love the Buddha.”.

Yin Yu, continued to stir the porridge then looked towards me: “I will teach you”, she spoke, “but I really know nothing.”

In her not knowing she experienced all. I will cherish her teaching for as long as I remain in this samsara world.   The old nun taught me that Bliss is not only possible, it is all of life.