Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Year After the Breakthrough

I am sitting in a quiet restaurant with my laptop on the day before Father's Day, which has typically become a day when I get several hours of "John time." As I work on developing some characters for a potential piece of literature, I am reminded of the significant creative breakthrough I had a year ago while having my day to myself in a Florida bookstore.

On June 16, 2007, I stumbled across The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, and received an explosion of fresh insights in to how the humanities could connect to every sphere of life. Here's what I wrote in this blog while in the bookstore, just a few pages into Campbell and Moyers' book:

Today I experienced one of those epiphanies wrapped like an unexpected gift, an insight teeming with internal joy and unleashing a subtle trickle of tears.I had already been contemplating how I might take my writing, speaking and coaching endeavors to another level, to move from the transactional to the influential—from a “doer” to a “thought leader.”

Today I embraced a rare Saturday opportunity to spend several hours by myself in a bookstore, always an incubator of inspiration. My goal was to use this quality time to press toward further clarity on reaching this higher floor, with the hope of a breakthrough.

Barely 45 minutes into my bookstore musing, I was perusing a copy of the Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers book The Power of Myth. While reading phrases such as the whole earth bloomed like a sacred place and the soul’s high adventure (is) the quest of mortals to grasp the reality of God, the floodgates of insight opened with psychic violence. I had to step back in order to avoid hindering the raging passage.What presented itself was yet another delicate synthesis, a vision of how to bridge two strong areas of interest rather than limiting myself to an either-or approach. This vision united two loves and made them singular, much in the same way that two souls become one at the marriage altar or the untrained manner in which a parent with any degree of soul can equally adore both of his children.

The revealed synthesis brought together my love and natural instincts for a wide umbrella I will loosely call the “arts” (and here I include spirituality, myths, motifs, music, film, visual arts, literature, and so forth); and the shaping of organizational life (through organizational development work such as leadership development, coaching, training, mentoring, and so forth).The sacred life and the business/non-profit life, coming together with the ability to form and influence one another for the sake of progress; personal or corporate mission/purpose fulfillment; and sheer human delight.This is not a new concept, but one needing fresh expressions in conjunction with the search for meaning and navigation of rapid change that has infected so many of us.

In a previous blog entry, I identified my “life mission” as leveraging words to help others thrive and discover eternal truths, and today’s epiphany added some arms and legs to a focused, niche approach for just how I might do this.And it reminded me of how I am already doing it. Dramatic sketches utilized in the context of business training, such as the “Superman” skit I wrote and performed last year for the entire middle management team at my company. Raphael’s School of Athens painting as the central image for the January 2007 launching of a new series of classes at work called the School of Leadership Arts. Numerous anecdotes and quotes from various thinkers, peppered into classes I teach and coaching moments with leaders. In a sometimes raw and sometimes refined sense, I have been doing this for years, but now these inclinations and joyful behaviors come into clearer context as what I might do best.

My time in the bookstore also reminded me of why I love what I love. Why I cherish a deep conversation, devour books, keep watching Star Wars films, play the soundtrack of Les Miserables and the classical piece Adagio for Strings over and over, and am desperate to more fully get my arms around the works of the Greeks, Romans and Renaissance artists. Why I love to write short and longer pieces that in some fashion employ metaphors or ancient references that invite people to their own present-day a-ha moments.

Needless to say, I purchased the Campbell and Moyers book.

I am competent and passionate in the arenas of writing, teaching, facilitating, speaking and coaching, and want to achieve excellence in each of these. I would like to empower such a move with action steps such as further professional business training; individual study; quality relationships; the insights and skills offered by the successes and failures of sheer experience and practice; and the earning of a doctorate degree—all while continuing to write books and articles that influence rather than simply inform. Keeping one foot in the business/non-profit world (regardless of the industry) and slowly extending another foot into the academy, I hope to be of wise service to both.

At times of exhaustion I feel that I want to sneak off to an island or mountain somewhere and just write, but I keep getting drawn to the shaping of organizational life and the equipping of others.

Perhaps I should pay closer attention to how my feet take me toward community rather than isolation. I do wish I had more time to write, and cannot ignore or justify this restlessness in an effort to invalidate my feelings. But I am coming to understand how my interactions with community add layers of fine gold to the wealth of the words I might compose. After all, my personal faith acknowledges that God in his triune nature is community, and that the souls of mortals (as Campbell says) do indeed thirst to grasp his reality.

Recently I wrote an article about a Tampa, Fla., man who spends several nights per week serving homeless persons. Once homeless himself, Doug Brown has been engaged in his ministry for 25 years. A colleague describes him as “a man who has found his passion.”

I feel that I have found my passion. But it is not altogether a new discovery, like embarking upon an unseen world. It more closely resembles the slow unveiling of that aforementioned gift, one crisp piece of wrapping paper at a time, one layer of the onion per moment. I have recognized and tasted the numerous elements and possibilities of my passion for many years, but now am reveling in the fact that my spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual drivers are unified in a vocational identity that serves real human and societal needs while serving God.

I only hope that I feel the same way tomorrow!

The result since then has been a plethora of new ideas for writing, speaking and executive coaching, and led to newly published articles and a speaking gig in San Francisco. My time a year ago also set the tone for a new reading spree of Campbell's work and other mythology books, as well as a few alternative spirituality books such as Eat, Pray, Love and A New Earth. It has been an interesting intellectual journey during the past year.

The span of time since the last Father's Day Eve also involved a major change in where I live and where I work full-time. Last November I accepted a leadership development position with T-Mobile USA in Nashville, and in December moved my family, my work and my career to a beautiful county just south of the Music City. After some time to get adjusted, the rolling hills and mountains of Middle Tennessee feel like home for the long haul, and I have barely even begun to tap into the artistic and networking resources abounding in this region. I have started to pick up new freelance writing clients, and continue to market my spiritual memoir manuscript.

Also in the past year I have completed the 12-year-odyssey of finally becoming ordained by The United Methodist Church. And, alas, I have reached the tender and puzzling age of 40.

My time alone a year ago certainly gave me a ton of inspiration and motivation. It's not like I wasn't inspired or motivated before that; it just took me to a higher level and across a new trajectory. It was one of those precious windows into greater creative exhiliration. Life is particularly precious when such windows creak open.

I sit here today, wary of my expectations of having another epiphany-laden experience. No two Father's Day Eves are alike, I must remind myself, lest I set myself up for disappointment. Inspiration comes one moment at a time, and it's best not to spoil any surprises by trying to predict upon--or insist upon--what might happen.


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