Monthly Archives: June 2009

It’s All About the Change

The next installment in “Magic in the Mundane” will be posted shortly. Meanwhile, I couldn’t let this opportunity pass.

Ali Hale wrote a piece on The Change Blog recently about the difference between growth and change. Which makes for an interesting discussion of semantic differences, but what it triggered for me was how far things have come in the past several decades.

The coolest thing about change is that we are in the midst of a paradigm shift that makes it possible for significant numbers of people to change. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating.

In the past, change was a matter of “one-offs” – strong individuals who defied conventional wisdom and changed. St. Francis of Assisi and Henry David Thoreau come to mind, the former because I just read something about him. The latter because, like every other school kid, I had to read “Walden” and was surprised to find that once I got into it I liked it.

While folks like St. Francis and Thoreau have made contributions to the world, they didn’t generate a groundswell of change. There wasn’t sufficient critical mass to change mainstream thinking, which was — and still is — grounded in fear and negativity.

But now there are numerous modalities for change and highly visible leaders who have taken the mystery out of change and made it desirable, even when it doesn’t always seem safe.

Something’s Happening Here

It’s been going on since the 1960s, and the civil rights and peace movements are only the most obvious examples. Even the widespread use of drugs, though misguided and ultimately a dead-end (believe me, I’ve been there), was an attempt at what Carlos Castaneda called in his book of the same name, “A Separate Reality.”

Any list of change leaders would be incomplete, but examples range from Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. Pope John Paul II and my fellow Tweeter, Thich Nhat Hanh, at the global level to the Chicago Seven, Rick Warren, Marianne Williamson, Wayne Dyer and Eckhart Tolle at the parochial level.

In short, as the Buffalo Springfield put it in “For What It’s Worth,” “Something’s happening here….” And to contradict the next line of the song — “What it is ain’t exactly clear” – I would argue that it’s quite clear, indeed.

Embracing Uncertainty

People are changing, some of them willingly, some of them tossed out on the street by circumstances not entirely of their own doing. (I’ve been there, too.) The disruption of the global economy has nudged change front and center and generated demand for ways to respond and react. In that light, Ali Hale’s blog is just one example of the trickle-down effect of this inexorable shift.

Change is taking place and the challenge – the opportunity, really – is to welcome it and make the most of it. And that means embracing the uncertainty in which it is wrapped, something I’ll admit I struggle with often. The routine and predictable seem ever so much more comfortable, at least on the face of it. But closer examination reveals that self-imposed order is itself an illusion.

In truth, the sands beneath our feet are always shifting, and we are given countless opportunities to adjust. In the two preceding blogs — “Magic in the Mundane” – I write about how something that happened in a few seconds and changed my life. The key element in that scenario was not just recognizing the opportunity, but also acting on it.

Change It All

At the beginning of “Feelin’ Alright,” on his live “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” LP, Joe Cocker mutters “Change it all…change it all.” Maybe Joe was overstating the case, and maybe he wasn’t. Being brought to my knees in the past few years by finances and romances has been scarifying at the material level, but spiritually it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

As Rumi puts it in “Ayaz and the King’s Pearl,” “Whoever bows down like they are bowing down/will not rise up in his old self again.”

A more contemporary take comes from MercyMe‘s kick-ass song “No More, No Less,” which includes the line “It’s all about the change.” I liked it so much I appropriated it for the subtitle of this website.

The bottom line is this: change is not to be feared. It is an antidote to the “Life’s a bitch and then you die” mentality that dominated previous generations. Welcoming change means we are not victims to whom things happen, but adaptable and intelligent beings intent on finding the best and doing our best with the materials at hand. And being grateful in the process for the opportunity to grow into our authentic selves.


Magic in the Mundane, part 2

This is the second part of a blog that begins with the preceding post, titled ‘Magic in the Mundane.’

The vision of Thich Nhat Hanh came to me on a Monday morning, and it may have been a day or two later when I was talking with a friend that reality began to shift.

I told Claire Watson Garcia, an artist and high school classmate, about the vision. She had a friend who had a friend who was an attorney at Time Warner Cable.

Two phone calls later, I was in the office of a semi-retired attorney named Gabe Pearlman. The thrust of his advice was that I needed “a rabbi,” someone who could shepherd the project through the minefields of network television.

A few things are worth noting at this point, not the least of which is that less than week after having the vision I was already in touch with someone who knew the TV business well. Considering that I started at ground zero, that was a small miracle in and of itself.

Eager To Help

Mr. Pearlman refused to charge me for the hour we spent together — I took him some wine the next day – but his willingness to help, without pay and without self-interest, was just one in a series of instances that took place each time I put my energy into the idea.

All I had to do was mention the project, and people went out of their way to help.

Further, there seemed no end to the trail of sources and information. As long as I kept talking about what I was up to, I kept getting led to new people, new ideas, new possibilities.

‘Stick To Your Vision’

 A couple of examples:

• Claire Garcia found more help, this time at her health club where she met a woman named Diane Dowling who said she was one of the people who started HBO. Diane and her counsel was enormously helpful.

 “If you knew what it took to do what you want to do, you wouldn’t even try,” she told me at lunch. “But you don’t, and that’s where miracles happen.”

Later, on the phone, she offered some advice that had almost immediate application. “Stick to your vision,” she said. “Every time I’ve let someone change my vision, it never worked.”

Foot on My Throat

• A month later, I went to Seattle to collect an award from the Education Writers Association for a magazine piece I’d written. While out there, I met the emcee of the awards ceremony who was also the host of an educational show on cable TV in New York.

“You ought to do a talk show,” said. “What you want to do would cost $250,000 an episode. You can do 30 talks shows for that.”

But a talk show wasn’t what I saw in the vision, and as he continued speaking I had this weird feeling that someone’s foot was on my throat.

I knew he meant well, but thank God Diane had warned me, because here was someone unwittingly trying to compromise my vision.

Pilot in an Ashram

• I moved out of my house in early June. The plan was that I would housesit for a friend in my home town in southern Connecticut and move to Atlanta in the fall. 

In the meanwhile, I was going to spend the next two weeks at Kripalu, a yoga ashram in Lenox, Massachusetts.

While at Kripalu, I told one of the leaders about the TV project and he suggested I do a pilot about Kripalu. We met with the guru, who was known as Guru Dev, and he, too, liked the idea. There was even a cameraman from Boston sojourning at the ashram and he agreed to shoot the pilot for free.

Again, it seemed that the universe was lining up behind this project.


But ten days before the shoot date, the cameraman and I had an argument. I thought we needed a second camera, and the more we talked it seemed his objections were less about an extra camera than about being unnerved about shooting the pilot itself.

It reminded me of something Richard Bach wrote in “Illusions”: “Argue for your limitations, and they are yours.”

The issue was unresolved when we got off the phone, and for the first time since I had the vision it felt like things were unraveling.

A day later, the PR guy from the ashram called. Guru Dev was going to California to spend visit Deepak Chopra and wanted to postpone the shoot.

There was nothing I could do about that, and in mid-September I moved to Atlanta. Six weeks later, I got a call from my daughter in Connecticut telling me that she’d been to Kripalu herself and that Guru Dev had been cashiered.

In other words, even when things didn’t work out as I thought they should, they worked out for the best.

But now what?

To be continued.

Magic in the Mundane

I got a message the other day that Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk, author and peace activist, was following me on Twitter. A day later, two of his followers signed up to follow me, and a day after that a third.

This was just a week after I’d joined Twitter, and I was still skeptical of its value. Mainstream media limit access to keep fools and amateurs from cheapening the product, and I wasn’t persuaded that social media had much value beyond connecting with old classmates.

Eventually I signed up to follow Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports columnist Jeff Schultz with whom I’d exchanged a few emails. But when Jeff started following me, I realized I could no longer get away with being a paperweight.

Whole Lotta Tweeting

A search to see what others write in their posts led to Thich Nhat Hanh’s Twitter page, and I decided to follow him. When he (or, more likely, someone in his organization) reciprocated, I figured that whoever responded was just being polite. I mean, TNH had 4188 followers and was following 3901 people. Even at 140 characters a person, that’s a lot of tweeting.

But our interaction reminded me of something that happened 15 years ago, something that occurred in a matter of seconds and yet has shaped the trajectory of my life ever since. Something that speaks volumes about the magical possibilities in our everyday world.

Nowhere to Go

In March of 1994, I was living in northwestern Connecticut and had just gotten a message from my landlord that he wanted to put the house on the market. I was recently divorced, freelancing, and not doing well financially.

I was awaiting word from Florida where I’d been promised a job as a senior writer and writing coach. But when I called the editor, he’d been reassigned and the job wouldn’t be filled for another six months.

Suddenly I had no prospects, no place to go and no idea what I wanted to do. I called a friend, and she commented, “You need a niche!”

Vision in a Garden

Immediately a vision appeared in my mind’s eye: I was walking with a small Asian man in a garden littered with white blossoms. A lavaliere microphone was clipped to my shirt, and the interview was being fiilmed by a video crew.

There was no antecedent for this, nothing in my experience to suggest any such activity in real life. And yet I knew instantly what it was: a TV series that I would create and produce as well as appear in.

But how did I know that? And where did the vision come from?

I am host to thousands of visions and fantasies, but usually they are self-generated and address fears or desires. This was beyond anything I’d ever thought of or dreamed about. In fact, the very idea was absurd. Not only had I no experience on either side of the camera, I didn’t even LIKE television.

Deepak It’s Not

As for the other man, his face was blurred, and I thought at first it might be Deepak Chopra. Which, as things turned out, would have been a good guess. Five years later, I would speak with Chopra on three different occasions, and two of those conversations included discussion of that vision.

But it wasn’t Chopra, it was Thich Nhat Hanh. I’d heard of the man, but didn’t know much about him. Research took care of that, and revealed, among other things, that the blossoms that I thought were apple were plum blossoms. He has a retreatin southern France called Plum Village, reason enough to pay the man a visit.

Now all of this could add up to nothing more than a mildly interesting anecdote, and ordinarily I would have dismissed the vision out of hand or ruminated on it for days and weeks.

Instead, I did something so uncharacteristic that even now it surprises me. I took action.

More in my next post.