The Trek Down: A Participation Essay

In the years BJ and I lived among the Appalachian Mountains, we hiked stunning trails in Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina. We lovingly remember one particular trek in North Carolina’s Land of Waterfalls.

After a day of warming up on a trail along the river by the hotel, we decided to go deeper into the Pisgah National Forest and explore a bit higher. Stopping in at a park visitor center, we met a Scottish Ranger. We probably asked more questions than required, as it was delightful to hear his rhythmic responses. We outlined what we desired to do; hike a trail of medium difficulty for approximately two to three hours. He quickly responded by unfolding a park map and pointing to the trail he believed would fit our preferences. We thanked him, followed his directions, and arrived at the base of the trail. We cinched up hiking boots over hiking socks, retrieved our hiking staffs, and I pulled on the backpack loaded for our medium difficulty and distance hike.

Upward

We have hiked many beautiful trails, and the one in the Land of Waterfalls was no exception. About two hours into the hike we were still climbing, even with the realization that this was going to be a long one, we still found ourselves appreciative of trees, rhododendron, and the skillfully maintained trail; extremely steep sections made more navigable by carefully placed stones harvested from the bounty of the Mountain.

When I graduated from the University, as best I can remember, I think I expected the trail of life ahead would be a relative steady, upward climb. For a time, it was. I know individuals who have climbed their path with such straight, conscious focus, or so that’s how I perceived their ascent. But for me, there were a lot of side-paths, diversions where I was maybe trying to “find myself” (one of those phrases once spoken often by those in my generation).

On my upward trek in life and living, I wish I had been so present and conscious of the beauty surrounding me all along. Even in the lack of due-diligent presence, I’ve still found myself tremendously blessed by the relationships made and maintained along the way.

I’m here to tell you, in spite of the diversions, that the trek upward went way too fast; a speed that breaks my heart. As Parker J. Palmer asks, “Is my heart broken apart or broken open?” I pray continually that it is open. 

The Trust View (At the Summit)

For so long it seems, I looked expectantly forward to getting to the top of the hill, to be filled with experience and wisdom, proud of what was back down that climb of life and living. Certainly I breached the crest with experience, and yes, a certain cache of wisdom, but there wasn’t time to peer back without the temptation to walk back the same way, something that in loving reality was not possible for me.

Certainly I was free to make the choice of which way to descend. Or was I? I’m not sure going back the way one came is necessarily the best way to go home. Or maybe it’s just that trying to go back the same way is not possible due to our own false expectations. Expectations tied to anything other than our own Trueness cause us to want a reality that once was, or anything but what it is in the moment. If we are actually paying attention once at the summit of something, we see the way up with new eyes, and clearly see other possibilities from there. It is such presence at the peak that I call “The Trust View.” It is a place you go, real or metaphorically, to know the balance of all experience.

Our hiking in the Appalachian Mountains taught me something of great value: When you get to the Summit, stop and look. When we reached the top that day, we were enthralled by the beauty of the heights. We could look back down to where we had parked, buildings barely identifiable, and cars looking like frozen ants. To stop and rest in such a view, observation and participation meet and swirl together, creating the joy of experience, a holding together of what has been and what is about to be. At such summit we pause and consciously open to all that can be seen. Without words we find encouragement for the poetry of the journey to continue.

The trust view is a metaphor to balance ascent and descent.

Downward

“Over the hill,” another term once frequently spoken in my generation’s younger years. It was often heard as, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” In general, I didn’t say or think such, or maybe my reality was the challenge of trusting anyone between age thirty and sixty-five.

Growing up, I was fortunate to spend a lot of quality time with grandparents. Even though they are long gone from this earth, their influence stays with me as I continue on the trail of life and living. The gift of time with them was made possible by two parents over thirty. Well anyway, I’m now over the hill according to those old standards, and quite so as I’m almost at that sixty-five limit. But what does this mean?

I’m not certain what all it means, but one thing I know, that it is important to walk steadily with a good hiking staff. In the reality of walking a mountain path, the hiking staff is a smart option for support and security over the hill, allowing other body members to absorb the pounding of the steps downward. Metaphorically, the trek down the hill of life and living requires that I  remain consistently conscious of, and dedicated to, the support I need to steady the walk.

There’s the need and requirement to focus one’s steps down the path on the other side of the hill. I stumbled plenty on the hike upward. While usually recovering my steps quickly, I also had times in a divot dug deeper by self-pity, but I eventually came out of each one of these times and kept walking. Sometimes my steps resumed as I smiled and looked forward with joy. And sometimes I walked on with a tear stained face.

Going Home

It was more than five hours before we saw the base of that trail again in the Land of Waterfalls. Along the descent, probably still an hour to the base, a young couple passed on their way up; they had obviously begun their hike from the other end. As we greeted each other, the woman said, “We’re almost to the top, right?” Without breaking careful downward stride I said, “Whatever you need to tell yourself.” Behind us we heard, “Oh no!”

Once the shock of the distance ahead wore off, I hope that young couple continued on the trail, stopped at the summit, and like us can look back on the day as a beautiful experience. I hope, as they have navigated life and living since that day, that they can see the stones so carefully placed where they needed to be, that their steps will be as carefully placed as they head down, and that they will each see the bounty of the mountain all along the way.

–J. Brunson

Check out my new book, Participation: Falling in Love with Reality
Also available for Kindle

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The Call into the Unfolding of Love & Oneness

Much has been written and said about attachment and detachment. It is a mistake to see attachment and detachment as opposing forces, a polarization to be resolved. Your Trueness increases in the middle tension where desire/attachment and intent/detachment coalesce.

It is counterintuitive to think freedom increases within a space of tension. But in this tense middle, Trueness is freed and love flows out; this is the design. One’s own desire and intent is a contrast of experience designed to magnify life and amplify living.

In working with the individual leader, I leverage an exercise to identify and articulate desire and intent. The resulting statement of this exercise has three rhythmic components: the drive of desire, the draw of intent, and in between a tension from which voice is amplified−if one but allows it to be so.

An individual statement of desire and intent is simply a tool for awareness of presence and conscious attention energized from the rhythm of your Trueness. In the light of articulated desire and intent, you feel, hear, and see how you are attached to the drive of desire and must actually detach from the preconceived outcome of the intent that draws you forward. When articulated from original Trueness, both desire and intent are imperative to your leadership.

The 21stCentury is demanding much of us. Contrary to possible popular assumptions, these demands do not include things like doing more with less or doing more things at once. These are distractions that, remaining unaware, call us further from love and oneness that flow from our Trueness.

The demands I hear are asking us to transform individually and collectively. And in such transformation we forgive unnecessary separations as we learn to hold the tension of each teachable paradox. My work with leadership desire and intent is a lesson in paradox, learning to hold the tension of opposing truths until you can release the resulting oneness into the flow.

Impact is assured when both being and doing flow from your Trueness, the confluence of passion, purpose, and presence.

A Heart of Wonder

Stillness,
how necessary
for our movement
in the world,
time to absorb
blessing, for the sake
of expanding.

To expand is to wonder.
To wonder is to expand.
Trueness pondered,
voice amplified,
expectations released
into the flow.

We spread, not to cover
nor overshadow.
But self to decrease
and Trueness to increase;
we then
feel the rhythm
hear the middle melody
see the impact,
and know oneness
in the experience.

Experience
places memory pins
on the track of my journey,
tying together
the privilege I’ve known
through the Spirits
encountered.

Oneness, a reality
difficult to grasp
without the strength
of Love.

But oneness, like it or not,
was ordained, at the beginning,
at the foundation,
at the source
of the flow.

The Call into the Middle with Poetry & Encounter

Trueness calls us to evolve openly throughout our journey. We evolve truly not by doing things differently, but by doing different things; contemplating and acting from our experience and encounter.

The way of being true is in the middle. When I speak of the middle I naturally include leadership in the meaning. The middle is not a place, or even an attitude. Rather, it is freedom implanted in Trueness. From the middle we grow in the ability to release the wish for a different reality than what is. Our experience in forgive everything is opening us to the belonging that is critical to our learning to flow in the reality of the true self. This is the freedom implanted in Trueness.

I am in the middle of work with leaders because true leadership flows through an individual who is:

  • Contemplative−embracing the Trueness guiding one’s Wade
  • Poetic−trusting the Trueness strengthening one’s Walk
  • Loving−seeing through Trueness the blessed Wonder

Standing to one side, denigrating the other, it becomes impossible to pay attention with love. You may love those who agree with you, and kowtow to your narcissistic stance, but you have gained nothing. And, you’ve given nothing.

Your true self is your poetic presence, the resonance of your reality. Within this reality is your freedom to contemplate and act on what is good and right for you to do. Trueness leads you to the middle of self, a blessed jewel present from the beginning. Now you can bring Trueness vividly to the middle of each encounter. Creating such steadiness in your walk is attention magnified by grace, and reality clearing a path for participation.

Participation begins within, and we must grow and transform individually if there is to be any real participation together.

Your rhythm of Trueness is your art. You must trust your rhythm for the sake of the impact you are meant to have in this needy world. In the middle, the inspiring reality of your Trueness, you lead us to allow our differences to blend and belong, bringing us together into reality and participation.

The Call into the Rhythm of Contemplation & Flow

Trueness will call at you until you pay attention. Trueness is not a persistent partner calling out for you to dance. Trueness is the dance, where you are wholly alive in reality.

The Reality of the Flow

Trueness demanded I step into the flow and pay attention. And attention captured, rhythm was delivered into continually deeper, truer passion and participation. Participation requires courage, and the courage you need to wade into the flow is encoded within your Trueness. Without such original courage you are completely open to the lies of expectation, a set of false standards determined to move you well beyond the reach of your Trueness and its rhythm.

The rhythm of my own Trueness has called me into a work with varying expressions, each spoken from the voice given me since the beginning. It is through these expressions, and maybe because of them, that my rhythm was washed into the open.

In my work, I focus on individual leaders. Consequent of this focus, my writing continually takes me into the stories of these individuals, where each is learning to wade in the awareness of the true self.

Contemplation, Poetry, and Love: Flow, Encounter, and Oneness: All words seemingly esoteric and spiritual. But esoteric and spiritual doesn’t mean that they are not real. Quite the contrary, to only believe in one side of the river over another is unreal, allowing lies that keep you from knowing the reality of the flow.

I talk, and write, about applying the true self in work, and practicing from this original source, because it is what I know. Working full time one spends around two thirds of the waking life in this thing called work. So, as best as one can, why not make it as good as it can possibly be? Why not free both desire and intent into the middle of the flow of Trueness?

With the strength of voice given since the beginning, and the freedom found by stepping into the middle of the flow, hold the pearl of great price, your Trueness.

Participation (Falling in Love with Reality) – Wonder: Part IIID

Love & Oneness
To allow the strength of one’s voice uninhibited flow.

See the Unfolding

There is work, and there is work one is called to do. Or, is it; there is work, and we are called to be who we are? It is, maybe, both/and. No matter what, under most circumstances, we are free to bring our Trueness to the doing of our work.

In the rhythm of life & living, and the balance of Wade, Walk, Wonder, if we do not allow Trueness application in the doing of a work, then the grace given to us will not flow through that work to another. To lead from original passion is to hold the tension in the eddy of enthusiasm and suffering−the reality of the passion paradox.

I was excited to arrive in California and work with Jamie and her leadership team. A recent survey in the larger organization had delivered some concerning results around how much individuals felt engaged (lack of engagement is a form of suffering in our journey with work). While this engagement concern was not the main reason for bringing her team together, it was not far from Jamie’s thinking. She had been newly promoted from the peer ranks of those attending this session, and she wanted a powerful beginning of their work together, and a new, more energized focus than had previously existed.

In preparing for this session, I was impressed with, and encouraged by, Jamie’s passion. Her immediate boss had provided me with a synopsis of strengths Jamie had exhibited in her role prior to the promotion. She had diligently focused on execution and tactics, but he was unsure of her ability at the strategic level of purpose, setting the stage for more meaningful application and execution.

Jamie had pulled her team together for the purpose of creating oneness around the story they desire to tell, individually and together, with the intention of bringing more meaning to application and execution. To kick off this section of the session, I asked Jamie to share her vision of the future state, in any form she wished. She opened her portfolio to her prepared comments and spoke them from her heart.

Seeing in the Clarity of Love

Jamie’s love for her work, and those she is privileged to love in doing the work, came through in both message and action. After sharing her vision of the future state of the territory for which she and her team had accountability, she left the room and asked me to facilitate a dialogue of response. After about two minutes of fumbling with what they thought they were supposed to do, they looked at me and said, “We are good with what Jamie said.” I loved it! I got up and went to fetch her.

Jamie is taking accountability born within her passion to create an atmosphere supportive of life-giving-sharing autonomy. From her engaging vision, the team pulled together around the story they collectively desire to tell and created clear strategies for acting on individual and shared passion. Time will tell. The story will unfold.

To see the unfolding we must pay attention. We must pay attention in the clarity of love. We are not focused on some distant outcome as much as we are paying attention to how we behave, individually and together, in the present moment−in the unfolding.

In my work, and in the life of my work, I pray I’ve brought my true self into play. For the most part, I believe I have. I have tried to find meaning in, and bring meaning to, the work I’ve been given through the years. In some instances, it may have been close to survival, but it has mostly been an approach of meaning. This is built into my wiring, deeply ingrained in my established value system.

Jamie’s voice was clearly engaged as she shared her vision. The strength of her voice was leveraged in her presence with her team. Trueness was in play. She was in the flow of her passion, purpose, and presence.

Now is the Time

Do not be distracted
from the peace,
from the presence
that is yours to hold,
that is yours to let go
into your life
into your living,
into a world
grasping for peace
misunderstanding presence.

For to know presence is to know God.
For to know God is to know presence.

We can only love
in the now.
Now is the time
to love.

It is love that saves us,
always has been,
always will be.

Participation (Falling in Love with Reality) – Wonder: Part IIIC

Love & Oneness
To allow the strength of one’s voice uninhibited flow.

Allowing Uninhibited Flow

Like Amy, Jack, Kevin, and so many others with whom I’m blessed to work, your voice−identified and consciously engaged−is your brand of love. Behind that voice, in the foundation of your Trueness, is strength. When voice is resonant and flowing, the strength behind your voice engages; it is that something you cannot help but do.

Just one week before writing this, I boarded a plane for Los Angeles to work with a client and her leadership team. Being a long flight from Ohio to California, I decided to treat myself to first class accommodations. I took my assigned seat and had barely spoken to the man next to me when he asked if I would change with his buddy a few rows forward. I agreed and moved.

No sooner than I settled into the new seat, for some reason, the man who asked me to move got bumped from his seat. I’m thinking what a waste of effort, until Brian greets me.

While your voice, however you identify or label it, is your brand of love, I actually identify my own voice as love itself. The strength of my voice is encouragement. When in the presence of another, with my voice in the freedom of flow, I simply cannot help but find some moment of encouragement for the other within what I’m hearing.

As part of his greeting, Brian asked me what I do. Upon telling him that I build confident leaders, he began telling me about his destination in New Mexico and the purpose of his travel. Brian currently works with a large company in the aircraft industry. He supports the sales force as a subject matter expert around a particular product−a product he invented and patented. After creating his innovative and very needed product, he began his own company selling directly to the end user. His frustrations with having to be too deeply involved with his sales force led him to the current position. Now, the frustrations within a large, complex organization−where his product is one of 14,000−were forcing him to consider going back to where he began.

As I listened, and offered some tactical considerations, I was waiting for the deeper issue to surface. As Brian talked about going back to where it all began, it seems his current state was a lack of passion, unlike the original desire that began it all. This can too often be the case for freelance types; he/she begins with a unique focus and purpose, only to be devastatingly distracted into the minutiae of so-called growth and success.

As Brian seemed determined to recreate a connected and passionate sales force, my encouragement took a tactical and specific approach. I shared with him the concept of interviewing for behaviors, using the power of prompting stories from the interviewee. As this captured his attention, and seemed to encourage him, I told him I would send him something on the topic when I landed. I did.

The Quiet Flow of Passion

My time with Brian was on the shorter of the two flights on the way to California. He shared quite a bit of information with me before I got to the narrowly focused encouragement. In the hopes of maybe getting a chance to be more thorough in encouraging him, I gave him my business card. Time will tell. And as I have his contact information, it’s highly likely, from what I experience in this work I love, that I will think of him and send something more.

Often when meeting someone new and engaging in deep conversation, the other person acknowledges the passion in my speaking. This makes me happy, because I love what I do and it pleases me when it shows. As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi postulates from his research and studies, while I might not be necessarily conscious of happiness while working, being in flow with what it is that I do results in my being happy. Having worked with many individuals like those about whom I tell stories, I’ve been blessed with the hours and experiences that have built my expertise, allowing me uninhibited flow and joyful presence in the quiet of my passion.

Whatever your deepest passion may be, it originates at the core of your voice; and within that core is the strength of voice that makes it resonant in a needy world. From this quiet core a voice is born and grows in desire to find its impact in the world. The impact you intend is also born in this original passion. Leading from passion, the leader compels others to action within the larger flow−a story honoring oneness.

It is difficult to see the unfolding if we haven’t learned to see in the unfolding story. To develop such sight, we must engage and connect to the larger story. We must step into the flow, individually and together. It was such story-building that had called me to California.

Participation (Falling in Love with Reality) – Wonder: Part IIIB

Love & Oneness
To allow the strength of one’s voice uninhibited flow.


In the Atmosphere of Present Being

Jack is an attentive (contemplative) leader. His loving presence is the living measure of his impact in this world, and confirmation of his willing participation in the unfolding of it all−presented to him in what he feels, hears, and sees.

To know the rhythm of being present, you must lovingly embrace the paradox of being both human and divine. To know the rhythm means:

  • You feel your rhythm and open to the gratitude naturally flowing from your core.
  • You hear the true resonance given you since the beginning, standing confidently in the middle and listening to the leader and teacher within.
  • You see more clearly for the sake of opening further the path of impact, a crescendo of your brand of love.

In the atmosphere of present being, you must be willing to humbly hold the impact of your Trueness. Holding impact means:

  • Forgiving your own assumptions, about self and others, freeing the flow of your voice.
  • Embracing the mystery of belonging with all and everything.
  • Trusting that your resonance is doing its work in the world, whether you will ever consciously know this or not.

Trusting Resonance

The month before writing this, I traveled to Chicago to facilitate a confidence building session with 50 leaders for Kevin, the executive I wrote about earlier. Our relationship goes back many years. His wife is Amy, that loving supporter of my work for as many years. As my wife had gone with me on this trip, Amy and Kevin asked us to join them for dinner.

At the beginning of forming my coaching practice, I struggled with marketing myself. Pretty much everything I did marketing-wise was both a train wreck and a waste of energy. At some point, and thanks to a couple of loving colleagues, I found my rhythm in this thing called marketing. This rhythm was found in the merger of my desire to work within the authenticity of the individual and my intent for them to be lovingly confident in their leadership.

I settled into an atmosphere of trust within my own Trueness. Simply, this is what that looks like: If I’ve worked with you, learning your Trueness, and I come across something while gathering, giving, and growing with the work I do, then I will stop and formulate something from the experience to share with you, in a manner that further encourages your Trueness.

At dinner that evening, Amy looked over at me and said, “You know those things you send to us, you need to know how much we value that.” What a blessing it is to hear these words from a valued relationship. The reality is, that doing work like I do, it is rare to hear such. But it is also reality that, whether it is heard or not, the impact is still there. This takes trust, a faith in the actions energized by our own Trueness, our art.

Confirming Love

While we have ample opportunities for improvement in our society, we are free. We are free to do work we love, and in our work, love others. Think about it. And where there are those who may not be readily able to take advantage of such freedom, we as leaders have a solemn accountability to create atmospheres supportive of such life-giving-sharing autonomy.

Soul confirmation, flowing worth
energy for the walk.
Movement, toward relationship
Oneness regarded.

How powerful it is to be confirmed for what you really do from the depths of who you really are. After that evening of dinner and conversation with those two true leaders, Kevin and BJ hugged, he and I shook hands, Amy and BJ hugged, and as Amy and I embraced in an appreciative hug, I said, “I love you.”

It was not an accident. I spoke from the center of my soul.

So, if we work together, will I tell you I love you? Maybe. Maybe not. But one thing I will promise you, I willlove you.

What if?

You are different from me.
Such observation begins within.
Thought often turns into statement.
And if behind the statement, fear,
the consequence on the other,
judgment.

In such judgment
is tragedy twofold:
Violence, in the direction
of the other, projected.
Violence, in the direction
of one’s self, absorbed.

Allowing such violence,
projected and absorbed,
one spreads yet another layer
over the blindness
continuing to separate us
one from another.

But, what if …

We are different; Yes!
In such exclamation,
might our eyes open
to see,
not so much, difference,
but the uniqueness
yours
mine
and the fresh oneness
created
each time
we choose to see?