Following the Thread of Aliveness – Discovering What Our World is Trying to Be
Michael Jones: www.pianoscapes.com
There is a thread you follow that goes among the things that change
William Stafford The Way it Is
a Few weeks ago I gave a keynote presentation in Colorado for an Chamber of Commerce awards dinner recognizing the outstanding gifts and contributions their leaders had brought in introducing heath and well being to their communities.
I opened my presentation with a line from a poem by William Stafford, a much loved and prolific poet from the American Mid West.
“Your job is to find what the world is trying to be”
These words come from the last line Stafford’s poem Vocation – The words vocation and voice come from the same root vocare which means to follow what we are uniquely called to do.
And that is what these leaders held in common. They had discovered what they were uniquely called to do – and through finding their voice they had also helped bring into the light the personal voices of those around them.
As an improvisational musician I am instinctively drawn to taking a poetic line and exploring its melodic possibilities. So Stafford’s line may also read….
Our job is to discover what our life is trying to be
or our job is to discover what our voice is trying to say.
Implied in this question is that there is a natural order to how things unfold that will lead us to the things that really matter – poems, music, leaderful actions – if we don’t interfere.
Stafford believed that to be connected to this natural order we needed stay in alignment with what is already unfolding. That is, to be careful to distinguish between what is occurring naturally from what we believe ought to be happening. When Stafford did this – asking what these fragments of thoughts, patterns and images where trying to say – poems came to him freely and abundantly.
For leaders this means that instead of trying to impose their will based on what they believe ought to happen – they instead maintain a heightened state of attention for what is already alive in the situation and emerging naturally. Though the future cannot be predicted, it can be imagined and felt. So rather than avoiding surprise, leaders can instead embrace uncertainty and learn from the unexpected.
To embrace uncertainty we need a central image that enlivens our imagination and helps us hold faith in the future as we cross uncertain ground. For William Stafford this enabling image was the golden thread.
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
This image of the thread (Inspired from a poem by William Blake which begins with the line, I give you end of a golden string) reminds us that in those moments when we are most uncertain and confused and don’t know how to proceed– life knows what it is doing. In celebrating those leaders who received the recognition for their outstanding service to furthering community health and well being- we were also celebrating ourselves.
We closed the session sharing stories of a time when we felt most vital, alive and engaged as leaders. In this world of complexity and constant change when it is difficult to have confidence in a long term plan or strategy, there is a thread we can follow and it is the thread of our own aliveness. We hear this aliveness in the stories we tell. And if we stay the course we may in time discover that this thread of aliveness is also leading us to the place we will recognize as home once we arrive.
Michael Jones Leading Artfully; Awakening the Commons of the Imagination Bloomington Indiana Trafford 2006
William Stafford The Way It Is; New and Selected Poems St Paul Minn. Graywolf Press 1999