An Unfolding Series of Pit and Peak Experiences
August 19, 2006
Dan Oestreich's invocation of labyrinths and U's in a recent post on his Unfolding Leadership blog really got my juices flowing. I started posting a comment, but it got so long I decided to take it back here, include some of the most inspiring pieces (er, which is most of his post, actually), and riff on them a bit.
We all want to know where the point of transformation lies. I would say it is in “no space,” the place we come to after exhausting everything we know…and everything we are, a point of pure meditation. The current theory base, exemplified by Oscar Scharmer’s “Theory U”, suggests exactly this process of emptying ourselves of everything known so that we can listen to a best future Self, a source of deep intuitive wisdom... Scharmer describes the bottom of the U as where we touch a larger field that goes beyond our present awareness, a place of new insight and new consciousness that enables us to solve the problems we have been stuck by using our current, more limited awareness.
What he presents is both a beautiful new model and an exquisitely old one. Those of you familiar with labyrinths know them as a profound spiritual tool of unknown antiquity, a tool that is still eminently vital and provocative as a way to access inner wisdom. It is at the center of the labyrinth, metaphorically the bottom of the U, where awareness is born, the seed of a new way of being. Once the seed is grasped, doors unlock, and a transformed way of living may arrive, gradually over time, or in an instant. The “process” of walking a forty foot wide labyrinth is deceptively simple: 1) Wait for the readiness to enter; 2) walk forward, just following the path — this is not a maze — sequentially letting go of the past and surrendering to new knowledge; 3) humbly welcome insight at the center; and 4) return to the world, reflecting on the how your world is changing. Near where I live is a labyrinth that I walk sometimes. In the center is a mound of shells and a simple stone bench. Like past lives that have served well and are now gone, the shells at the center remind me how I am often faced with grief, and in turn, in touch with these feelings, I am also able to recognize my splintered but real wholeness. If I cannot experience the grief, I cannot remember the richness of my life and its fundamental wholeness. But when that sense does come, the answers often come with it.
I, too, have walked the labyrinth at Unity of Bellevue that Dan mentions (shown above), and found it to be a profoundly serenity-inducing experience.
Dan's juxtaposition of Theory U with labyrinths evoked a vision of a three dimensional labyrinth, where the center is at the bottom of the "U" (which, in three dimensions, would be more of a bowl or cup), and the gradual slope of the switchbacks along the edges helps facilitate navigation into the valley (or pit) and back up to the top of the hill (or peak).
During a recent workshop through which I learned about the dance of leadership, the leaders invoked a number of concepts from The Archetype of Initiation: Sacred Space, Ritual Process and Personal Transformation, by Robert Moore. They used the image of a "U" in visualizing the stages of descent, transformation and subsequent ascent, which seems closely aligned with the notion of presencing that Otto Scharmer speaks of (he uses the terms co-sensing, co-presencing and co-creating for these three stages). The leaders of this and other Mankind Project workshops always emphasize the critical importance of building a safe container within which those who are willing to be led can open up to their shadows and gold, and use these to express more fully who they really are. Thus, the 3D "U" also can be seen as a sacred container.
At a very high level, all of life can be seen as one large transformation. As I peer more closely, though, I see life as a series of hills and valleys, or, perhaps, pit experiences and peak experiences. Once I work through one challenge, and attain the peak on the other side, I become more aware of the surrounding pits and peaks ... reminding me (yet again) of lyrics from Pink Floyd's song, Breathe (from Dark Side of the Moon)
When at last your work is done,
Don't sit down, it's time to dig another one.
I envision a landscape of valleys and mountains (pits and peaks), where the surface resembles an irregular eggshell foam mattress laid out over an uneven surface. I'd love to find a graphical tool that would enable me to realize and share this visualization. I searched around for images to express this, but couldn't find anything. In a moment of synchronicity, a recent photo of the Artist's Palette taken by my friend Elizabeth during her recent trip to Death Valley National Park appeared in my Google Desktop Sidebar Photos frame as I was reading Dan's post. The photo represents a close approximation of this vision of life as a series of [colorful] pits and peaks:
Looping back to the leadership theme, this landscape represents the ongoing challenges of leadership: leaders are those who have been willing to descend into their pits, transform themselves and ascend to new peaks ... and thereby become better able to guide others through similar terrain.
In my own experience, the further I descend into a pit, the harder it is to see the peak, and so it requires faith and will to continue descending rather than stopping or climbing back to what earlier seemed like "high ground". And, when I am willing to persevere through the ascent to the next peak, I gain a new perspective on the surrounding peaks and pits, and see that the journey can continue, if I'm up -- and down -- for it.
The descent also reminds me of the dis-illusionment that Dan Millman talks about in Way of the Peaceful Warrior, which I started re-reading recently (I haven't seen the movie, though) . Although the term is often interpreted as having a negative connotation, Millman's mentor, Socrates, suggests that disillusionment is actually a positive development, as it is only through releasing our illusions that we can gain a clearer perspective on reality.
And, speaking of release, I want to indulge in one final riff on Dan[ Oestreich]'s post. At the end, he notes:
Perhaps we can never know exactly what the place of true transformation is, a space as close to us as our own breath and yet, depending on our circumstances and suffering, one that may seem hundreds of miles away. LivingSource may be one of its names. Well, whatever you want to call it, I would say it is what holds us in the depth of this remarkable Universe. It is that depth, no less. A pattern of some kind? Or the end of patterns? An open palm? A river in which to wash my Face.
This image of an open palm evokes the notion of "let go in order to receive". As long as I am tight-fistedly clinging to the old -- or perhaps, resting on my laurels at the top of the last peak I ascended -- I cannot fully open up to the new ... and I certainly can't wash my face very effectively with clenched fists :-).