Principle-centered Invention: Bret Victor on tools, skills, crafts and causes

I just watched an incredibly inspiring video of Bret Victor's CUSEC 2012 talk, Inventing on Principle. Bret's principle is

creators need an immediate connection to what they are creating.

He illustrates this principle during the first 35 minutes of the presentation, demonstrating some fabulously empowering "live coding" tools to enable programmers to manipulate and immediately see the impact of changes to their code when working with graphics (at the 2:30 mark), games (10:25), algorithms (16:45), circuits (23:15) and animations (29:20).


I've rarely heard an audience respond to a speaker at a technical conference - vs., say, a State of the Union address - with applause so many times throughout a talk, but the audience applauded each of Victor's feats of programming empowerment, leading me to think of live coding / visual programming [tools] as a form of performance art ... and political statement.

As amazing as these tools are, the most inspiring part of his talk - for me - starts just after the 35 minute mark, where Victor ties these all together as examples of inventing on [his] principle, arguing that these arose not as just problem solving opportunities, but as part of what he feels is his moral responsibility to make the world a better place, to free ideas from the unnecessary constraints imposed by poorly designed tools.

Victor goes on to offer other examples of principle-centered inventors, and how their principles enabled them to make extraordinary progress on righting a wrong not yet recognized by a culture:

  • Larry Tesler: no person should be trapped in a mode (e.g., early text editors such as vi)
  • Doug Engelbart: enable mankind to solve the world problems (empowering knowledge workers)
  • Alan Kay: amplify human reach and bring new ways of thinking to a faltering civilization that desperately needs it
  • Richard Stallman: software must be free

Victor then goes on to espouse his personal philosophy of principle-centered invention, and to contrast that with the more traditional paths for designers, engineers, researchers and even entrepreneurs that focus on building skills and/or solving open problems. While I believe he has construed both entrepreneurship and academic research a bit too narrowly - I know of several people in these roles who are principle-centered inventors (some of whom I mentioned in an earlier post on irritation-based innovation) - I do agree with his larger message that changing the world requires a larger vision beyond serially solving open problems, and that people can have far greater impact on the world if they are willing to pay attention to common threads that irritate and motivate them across a range of experiences, identify their guiding principle, and then act on that principle.

Rather than further paraphrasing his remarks, I'm going to include an approximate transcript of that last 5 minutes of his talk, in which he integrates ideas about identity, experience and insight into a compelling case for principle-centered invention (and, principle-centered living), in case it might motivate others like me who rarely take the time to watch a 54-minute video [this one was tweeted by Clay Shirky (@cshirky), who emits an extraordinarily high signal-to-noise ratio throughout all of his media streams]

Bret Victor - Inventing on Principle from CUSEC on Vimeo.

The world will try to make you define yourself by a skill. That's why you have a major in college. That's why you have a job title. You are a software engineer. And you'll probably specialize to be a database engineer, or a front-end engineer, and you'll be given front ends and asked to engineer them. And that can be worthwhile, and valuable, And if you want to pursue your life pursuing excellence, and practicing a skill, you can do that. That is the path of a craftsman. That is the most common path.

The only other path you hear about much is the path of the problem solver. So I see entrepreneurship and academic research as kind of two sides of that coin. There's a field, there's a set of problems in that field, or needs in the market. You go and you choose one, and you work it and make your contribution. And a little bit later on, you choose another problem, work it, make a contribution there. Again, that can be worthwhile and valuable, and if that's what you want to do, you can take that path.


But I don't see Larry Tesler on either of those paths. I wouldn't say he was contributing to the field of user experience design, because there was no such thing. He didn't choose some open problem to solve, he came across a problem that only existed in his own head, that no one else even recognized. And certainly, he did not define himself by his craft, he defined himself by his cause, by the principle that he fought to uphold.

I'm sure that if you look at Wikipedia, it will say that he's a computer scientist, or a user experience something, but to me that's like saying Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a community organizer. No. Elizabeth Cady Stanton established the principle of woman's suffrage. That's who she was. That's the identity she chose. And Larry Tesler established the principle of modelessness. He had this vision, and he brought the world to that vision.

So, you can choose this life. Or maybe it will end up choosing you. And it might not happen right away. It can take time to find a principle, because finding a principle is a form of self-discovery; you're trying to figure out what your life is supposed to be about. What you want to stand for as a person. It took me like a decade; 10 years before any real understanding of my principles solidified. That was my 20s.


When I was young, I felt I had to live this way. I would get little glimmers of what mattered to me, but no big picture. It was really unclear. This was very distressing for me. What I had to do was just do a lot of things, make many things, make many types of things, study many things, experience many, many things, and use all of these experiences as ways to analyze myself. Taking all these experiences and saying "Does this resonate with me?" "Does this repel me?" "Do I not care?" Building up this corpus of experiences that I felt very strongly about for some reason. And trying to make sense of it, trying to figure out why, what is the secret ingredient to all these experiences that I'm reacting to so strongly?

Now I think everyone's different, and all those guys I talked about, they have their own origin stories, which you can read about. I will just say that confining ourselves to practicing a single skill can make it difficult to get that broad range of experience which seems to be so valuable for this sort of work.


And finally, if you choose to follow a principle, a principle can't be any old thing you believe in. You'll hear a lot of people say they want to make software easier to use, or they want to delight their users, or they want to make things simple. That's a really big one right now, everyone wants to make things simple. And those are nice thoughts, and maybe give you a direction to go in, but too vague to be directly actionable. Larry Tesler liked simplicity, but his principle was a specific nugget of insight: no person should be trapped in a mode. And that is a powerful principle, because it gave him a new way of seeing the world. It divided the world into right and wrong, in a fairly objective way. So, he could look at someone selecting text, and ask "Is this person in a mode? Yes or no?" If yes, he had to do something about that. And likewise, I believe that creators need powerful tools. It's a nice thought, but it doesn't really get me anywhere. My principle is that creators need this immediate connection, so I can watch you changing a line of code, and ask "Did you immediately see the effect of that change? Yes or no?" If no, I gotta do something about that. And again, all those demos that I showed you came out of me doing that, by following this principle, and letting it lead me to what I had to do.

So if your guiding principle embodies a specific insight, it will guide you, and you'll always know if what you're doing is right.

There are many ways to live your life. That's maybe the most important thing to realize in your life, that every aspect of your life is a choice. There are default choices. You can choose to sleepwalk through your life, and accept the path that is laid out for you. You can choose to accept the world as it is. But you don't have to. If there's something in the world that you feel is a wrong, and you have a vision for what a better world could be, you can find your guiding principle, and you can fight for a cause. So after this talk, I'd like you to take a little time, and think about what matters to you, what you believe in, and what you might fight for.

On the Personal Philosophy of Carl Rogers


A while back, I was delighted to discover the source of one of my favorite quotes:

What is most personal is most general.

The quote is from psychologist Carl Rogers' 1956 essay "'This is Me': The Development of My Professional Thinking and Personal Philosophy", which can be found in the first chapter in his 1961 book, On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy. I bought the entire book based on this one quote, and its elaborating paragraph. As I anticipated, the book is full of inspiring insights and experiences, far more than can be adequately expressed in a single blog post. I already applied and integrated some of his wisdom in a post on client-centered therapy, student-centered learning and user-centered design. In this post, I will excerpt some sections from his "This is Me" essay.

"This is Me" traces Rogers' personal and professional development, and the insights he gained into himself, his profession and the institutions and disciplines with which he was affiliated. Of particular relevance to me, in my own current professional context as a non-tenure track senior lecturer, is his judgment about the tenure process (based on his own context of having been hired, with tenure, at The Ohio State University):

I have often been grateful that I have never had to live through the frequently degrading competitive process of step-by-step promotion in university faculties, where individuals so frequently learn only one lesson - not to stick their necks out.

However, it is the more personal "significant learnings" that he shares that I find most inspiring (an example, perhaps, of the most personal being the most general). He is very careful to state at the outset that these learnings are true for him, and may or may not be true for others. Throughout the book, he carefully delineates data, feelings, judgments and wants, and he states each of his significant learnings with phrasing that makes the personal nature of his perspective clear. I will include the most direct statements of these learnings (with his emphasis) below, along with a few other excerpts that elaborate the learnings in ways I find personally useful.

  • In my relationships with persons I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something that I am not.
  • I find that I am more effective when I can listen acceptantly to myself, and can be myself ... a decidedly imperfect person ... the curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I can change.
  • I have found it of enormous value when I can permit myself to understand another person. ... understanding is risky. If I let myself really understand another person, I might be changed by that understanding.
  • I have found it enriching to open channels whereby others can communicate their feelings, their private perceptual worlds, to me.
  • I have found it rewarding when I can accept another person. ... it has come to seem to me that this separateness of individuals, the right o each individual to utilize his experience in his own way and to discover his own meanings in it - this is one of the most priceless potentialities of life.
  • The more I am open to the realities in me and in the other person, the less do I find myself wishing to rush in and "fix things."
  • I can trust my experience. ... when an activity feels as though it is valuable or worth doing, it is worth doing.
  • Evaluation by others is not a guide for me.
  • Experience is, for me, the highest authority.
  • I enjoy the discovering of order in experience. ... Thus I have come to see both scientific research and theory construction as being aimed toward the inward ordering of significant experience. ... I have, at times, carried on research for other reasons - to satisfy others, to convince opponents and sceptics, to get ahead professionally,  to gain prestige, and for other unsavory reasons. These errors in judgment and activity have only served to convince me more deeply that there is only one sound reason for pursuing scientific activities, and that is to satisfy a need for meaning which is in me [an example, perhaps, of irritation-based innovation]
  • The facts are friendly. ... while I still hate to readjust my thinking, still hate to give up old ways of perceiving and conceptualizing, yet at some deeper level I have, to a considerable degree, com to realize that these painful reorganizations are what is known as learning.
  • What is most personal is most general. [full quote below]
    Somewhere here I want to bring in a learning which has been most rewarding, because it makes me feel so deeply akin to others. I can word it this way. What is most personal is most general. There have been times when in talking with students or staff, or in my writing, I have expressed myself in ways so personal that I have felt I was expressing an attitude which it was probable no one else could understand, because it was so uniquely my own…. In these instances I have almost invariably found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal, and hence most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many other people. It has led me to believe that what is most personal and unique in each one of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared or expressed, speak most deeply to others. This has helped me to understand artists and poets as people who have dared to express the unique in themselves.
  • It has been my experience that persons have a basically positive direction. ... I have come to feel that the more fully the individual is understood and accepted, the more he tends to drop the false fronts with which he has been meeting life, and the more he tends to move in a direction which is forward.
  • Life, at its best, is a flowing, changing process in which nothing is fixed. ... It is always in process of becoming.

I hope this blog, and my personal and professional life will continue to evolve in a positive direction. Meanwhile, I will surely continue to incorporate other of Rogers' insights - implicitly or explicitly - in my future thinking and writing.

Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind, Strength and Vulnerability

JoniMitchellWomanOfHeartMind I've always been impressed with the incredible range of Joni Mitchell's music - her voice, guitar virtuosity and the different genres she has explored - but after watching a documentary about her life and work, I have a whole new level of appreciation. In fact, I watched the video - Joni Mitchell, Woman of Heart and Mind: A Life Story - three times in two days ... and see many other parallels with another inspiring video I watched three times in two days: Brene Brown's TEDxHouston talk on wholeheartedness: connection through courage, vulnerability and authenticity.

I've been experiencing a long series of dark nights of the soul recently, and so am perhaps even more drawn toward - and inspired by - expressions of courage, vulnerability and authenticity than I might be under normal conditions ... whatever normal might be (or become) at this point. I don't seem to be able - or willing - to muster the gumption to delve very deeply into my own darkness at the moment, and so will continue hovering near that edge while sharing some notes on others who are more willing to reveal (and release) their shadows.

The documentary offers a rich blend of Joni Mitchell's music along with interviews with her and many of the people who know or knew her at various stages her career. After various contributors provide background information about her - she was born in Maidstone, Saskatchewan, had polio at age 9, wanted to be a painter, attended Alberta College of Art and began to sing in a coffee house in Calgary called the Depression - Joni shares one of many illuminating insights:

Although as a painter I had the need to innovate, as a musician it was just a hobby. I didn't think I had the gift to take it any further than that.

"Just a hobby" - wow!

She goes on to share her some details of her [initial] descent:

I lost my virginity and got pregnant, and entered onto the "bad girls" trail, which was a trail of shame and scandal, and I had to kinda hide myself away ... I was living a lie, and felt like I'd been betrayed ...It was very difficult for me, and so I began to write. I think I started writing just to develop my own private world, and also because I was disturbed ... I feel, every bit of trouble I went through, I'm grateful for ... Bad fortune changed the course of my destiny. I became a musician.

Her willingness to be courageous, vulnerable and authentic in her music - bringing all of who she is to her art - created the connection that so many people have felt. As novelist, journalist and singer Malka Marom puts it:

She sang it so real, so true, as if she was singing for me. She was my voice, you know? She was everybody's voice. She was like a universal voice. ... She lives with a great respect for this mystery, and with an openness, inviting this mystery. This is her great strength. Because I think it requires tremendous strength to really believe in something that you cannot put your finger on.

But this vulnerability comes at a cost, as Joni notes:

During the making of Blue, I was just so thin-skinned and delicate, that if anybody looked at me I'd burst into tears. I was so vulnerable and I felt so naked in my work.

My individual psychological descent coincided, ironically, with my ascent into the public eye. They were putting me on a pedestal and I was wobbling. So I took it upon myself, since I was a public voice, and was subject to this kind of weird worship, that they should know who they were worshiping.

I was demanding of myself a deeper and greater honesty. More and more revelation in my work, in order to give it back to the people, where it nourishes them and changes their direction, and makes light bulbs go off in their head, and makes them feel, and it isn't vague, it strikes against the very nerves of their life. In order to do that, you have to strike against the very nerves of your own.

After delving into the depths in music, she finds release in painting:

Any time I make a record, it's followed by a painting period. It's good crop rotation. I keep the creative juices going by switching from one to the other, so that when the music or the writing dries up, I paint. You rest the ear a while and you rest the inner mind, because poetry takes a lot of plumbing the depths. I mean, the way I write, anyway, it takes a lot of meditation. Without the painting to clear the head, I don't think I could do it.

And then after a painting period, she's ready to plumb the depths in and through music again:

The writing has been an exercise, trying to work my way towards clarity. Get out the pen, and face the beast yourself and what's bothering you and write. Well that's not exactly it. Well OK, let's go a little deeper. Well that's not exactly it. It's very hard, peeling the layers off your own onion. When you get to the truth, well do I want to say that in public?

So you're really doing a tightrope walk to keep your heart alive, to keep your art alive, to keep it vital and useful to others. This is now useful because we've hit upon a human truth.


It's been a very kind of subjective, I guess you'd say, journey. Subjective but, hopefully, universal. That was always my optimism - that if I described my own changes through whatever the decade was throwing at us, that there were others like me. And it turns out that there were.

... and still are.

I highly recommend watching the video, for both the additional commentary by illuminating luminaries who were involved personally and/or professionally with Joni - e.g., Graham Nash, David Crosby and James Taylor - and, of course, for the scenes of Joni performing her incomparable music (many of which can be found in the Video Library on her web site):

  • All I Want (Blue, 1971)
  • Urge for Going (Song to a Seagull, 1968)
  • Little Green (Blue, 1971)
  • Both Sides Now (Song to a Seagull, 1968)
  • Night in the City (Song to a Seagull, 1968)
  • I Had a King (Song to a Seagull, 1967)
  • Cactus Tree (Song to a Seagull, 1968)
  • Circle Game (Ladies of the Canyon, 1970)
  • Chelsea Morning (Clouds, 1969)
  • California (Blue, 1971)
  • Just Like Me (?, 1967)
  • Marcie (Song to a Seagull, 1968)
  • Morning Morgantown (Ladies of the Canyon, 1970)
  • Woodstock (Ladies of the Canyon, 1970)
  • Our House (CSNY, Deja Vu, 1970)
  • Get Together (cover of Jesse Colin Young song, with Crosby, Stills & Nash, Big Sur Celebration, 1969)
  • Blue (Blue, 1971)
  • A Case of You (Blue, 1971)
  • River (Blue, 1971)
  • You Turn Me On (I'm a Radio) (For The Roses, 1972)
  • Raised on Robbery (Court and Spark, 1974)
  • Amelia (Hejira, 1976)
  • Wild Things Run Fast (Wild Things Run Fast, 1982)
  • Underneath the Streetlights (Wild Things Run Fast, 1982)
  • Come in from the Cold (Night Ride Home, 1991)
  • Dog Eat Dog (Dog Eat Dog, 1985)
  • Sex Kills (Turbulent Indigo, 1994)

Creativity, Distractability and Structured vs. Unstructured Procrastination

I have been practicing structured procrastination while allowing a few blog posts to, uh, ferment a bit longer (not to mention other things I want to get done). As evidence, after reading Jonah Lehrer's recent post about unstructured procrastination - Are Distractable People More Creative? - I feel inclined to write about that, rather than finish the other partially composed posts ... not to mention other important items on my todo list. But I'll postpone writing about unstructured procrastination until I write a bit about structured procrastination.

Several years ago, I encountered Stanford Philosophy Professor John Perry's inspiring account of structured procrastination, which offers a more elaborate and erudite rationalization of a practice that I'd previously justified by way of British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell's famous quote:

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

image from Perry defines structured procrastination as a practice in which one chooses to postpone working on the most important thing(s) one needs to do by working on other, less important, things. He finds that he can be tremendously productive by this dynamic prioritization, getting all kinds of things done while avoiding the thing(s) he thinks he should really be doing.

I have been intending to write this essay for months. Why am I finally doing it? Because I finally found some uncommitted time? Wrong. I have papers to grade, textbook orders to fill out, an NSF proposal to referee, dissertation drafts to read. I am working on this essay as a way of not doing all of those things. This is the essence of what I call structured procrastination, an amazing strategy I have discovered that converts procrastinators into effective human beings, respected and admired for all that they can accomplish and the good use they make of time. All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.

Structured procrastination means shaping the structure of the tasks one has to do in a way that exploits this fact. The list of tasks one has in mind will be ordered by importance. Tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top. But there are also worthwhile tasks to perform lower down on the list. Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.

Drive-DanielPink Gtdcover Although Perry doesn't describe it this way, having read and written about Dan Pink's book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (in the same post - ironically in this context - that I also wrote about David Allen's book, Getting Things Done ... which I still haven't read), I believe that Perry's practice of structured procrastination may be an unconscious prioritization of intrinsically motivating tasks over extrinsically motivated tasks: choosing to do things he wants to do, such as writing the essay, while postponing other tasks that others want him to do, such as grading papers or ordering textbooks. And as Pink points out, through his review of several studies, intrinsic motivations typically win out over extrinsic motivations. [Note that I do not mean to imply that Pink promotes or even condones structured procrastination; I'm quite sure Allen would not.]

Returning to Lehrer's rumination on the costs and benefits of distraction, he defines latent inhibition - the capacity to ignore stimuli that seem irrelevant - and cites a 2003 study showing that decreased latent inhibition is associated with increased creative achievement in high-functioning individuals, i.e., people who are more distractable may also be more creative. However, he points out that the study includes the important caveat that "low latent inhibition only leads to increased creativity when it’s paired with a willingness to analyze our excess of thoughts, to constantly search for the signal amid the noise" [and I'll note that one of my fermenting posts is all about signal vs noise]. Having recently been inspired by Lehrer's Metacognitive Guide to College, I'm glad he is not promoting distractability ... or, at least, not promoting unrestricted or unstructured distracability.

I would define distractability as a form of unstructured procrastination. Whereas structured procrastination is working on - or attending to - things that are important, but not the most important things, unstructured procrastination may involve attending to things that are not important at all (i.e., completely irrevelevant). Indeed, this blog post itself may be more of an example of unstructured rather than structured procrastination ... but I'm going to postpone further consideration of that train of thought ... and having indulged my impulse to fire off a quick blog post, I will turn my attention back to other, potentially more important, tasks.

Clinical Wisdom: Knowledge, Experience, Compassion, Creativity and Honesty

Ssimon NPR's Scott Simon (@nprscottsimon), host of Weekend Edition Saturday, is one of my favorite mainstream media players ... and with over 1.3 million Twitter followers, I know I am not alone. Simon Says, his weekly essays, are among the most insightful and provocative segments I hear on the radio.

In this week's essay, The Kindness of Cleveland, Scott expresses gratitude for the care and camaraderie he enjoyed in and around the Cleveland Clinic. He specifically highlights the care he received from Dr. Edward Benzel, the neurosurgeon who performed his cervical spine surgery ... and who gave him an inspiring paper to read afterward. The paper

EdwardBenzel I don't know whether Dr. Benzel listens to NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, so I don't know this is a case of mutual inspiration, but it is certainly a case of the transitive property of inspiration: Benzel inspired Simon who inspired me to write about Benzel's insights into clinical wisdom ... and perhaps this post will serve to inspire others.

Actually, the chain of inspiration goes back much further than Dr. Benzel, as he invokes the wisdom of Albert Einstein, Louis Pasteur, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jim Collins, Molière, Voltaire and Leviticus, to name a few of the inspirational forbears he quotes in his article.

The article, Defining Collective Experience: When Does Wisdom Take Precedence?, published in Volume 56 of Clinical Neurosurgery, by the College of Neurological Surgeons, defines clinical wisdom as the application of knowledge, experience and the Golden Rule. In the course of arriving at this definition, Benzel reveals a number of insights into clinical practice and theory that I believe extend well beyond the walls of any clinic ... and may even transform one of the definitions of the word clinical - "analytical or coolly dispassionate".

Benzel-WisdomIntelligenceHonesty He begins by tracing the evolution of our understanding of wisdom, from logical empiricism - in which wisdom is seen as a manifestation of knowledge, or assimilation of facts - to a more recent articulation by educational theorist David Kolb, a prominent proponent of experiential learning, that wisdom involves both knowledge and experience. However, Benzel argues that knowledge + experience = intelligence, and that wisdom involves more than intelligence ... and that intelligence can exist independently of wisdom. He uses the Chinese metaphor of yin and yang to explain that a wolf can be very wise in the effective application of its limited knowledge or intelligence, while a surgeon can be very intelligent and yet not very wise. He invokes the wisdom of the father of modern medicine, the late Canadian physician Sir William Osler, and his insights into the central role of honesty with self: distinguishing between clear cases, doubtful cases and mistakes, and emphasizing the importance of learning from the doubtful cases and mistakes ... which is only possible when one embraces radical self-honesty. "No self deception. No shrinking from the truth."

Benzel presents a definition offered by David Sackett (another Canadian physician) for evidence-based medicine: "the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of the current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients". He goes on to list all the reasons why the medical literature may be a "poor source" of best evidence or valid information: methodological flaws, conflicts of interest and various biases including investigator bias, patient selection bias, winner-loser bias, intellectual bias and financial bias.

One poignant illustration of biases, conflicts of interest and implicit hypocrisy was revealed through the use of an audience response system at a national medical meeting four years ago. A surgeon presented a clinical case to a group of other surgeons, 80% of whom voted to recommend a particular surgical procedure for the patient in the case. When asked a short time later how many would undergo the operation themselves, 80% said no.

These biases and conflicts of interest take a toll not only on our individual and collective health, but with the steadily increasing financial costs of health care, they take a toll on our individual and collective wealth. Benzel makes two recommendations for how to implement his patient-centric ideology in the clinical and surgical arenas:

  • Act (accordingly) as if you or yours are the patient
  • Act (accordingly) as if you are paying for the treatment you recommend

Essentially, Benzel is making a case for the application of the Golden Rule, and the adoption of a core ideology of patient-centric medicine ... or perhaps more appropriately, a patient-centric approach to health, which may or may not involve medicine. Two William Osler quotes that were not included in Benzel's paper may serve to further highlight this theme:

The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.

The first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine. 

Following Scott Simon, I wish to express my gratitude to Dr. Benzel for educating the masses about patient-centric health care, and for sharing his understanding of clinical wisdom with great compassion, creativity and honesty.

Blessing and Wounding: Longing, loss, pain and transformation

I was transfixed by an article in today's Wall Street Journal - In Praise of the Crackup: A novelist peers through darkness to find glittering gems in writing and art - by Jeanette Winterson, in which she explores "the collision of creativity and mental instability", digging deeper into the way that artists are often able [driven?] to transform personal pain and loss into works that offer great meaning and value to others. I was first struck by her illumination of the connection between blessing and wounding:

The French verb "blesser" means "to wound." Original etymologies from both Hebrew and Anglo-Saxon bind "bless" with a bloodying of some kind—the daubing of the lintel at Passover, the blood smear on the forehead or thigh of a new young warrior or temple initiate. Wounding—real or symbolic—is both mark and marker. It is an opening in the self, painful but transformative.

Rumi-225px-Mevlana This notion of wounding as opening resonated with one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets in an audiobook by one of my favorite modern authors. In Your Heart's Prayer, Oriah Mountain Dreamer recites the poem "Not Here", by Rumi, in which he celebrates the broken-open place:

There's courage involved if you want to become truth.
There is a broken-open place in a lover.
Where are those qualities of bravery and sharp compassion?
What's the use of old and frozen thought?
I want a howling hurt.
This is not a treasury where gold is stored; this is for copper.
We alchemists look for talent that can heat up and change.
Lukewarm won't do.
Halfhearted holding back, well-enough getting by?
Not here.

200px-Tagore3 It also reminded me of other ancient wisdom that I [also] first encountered through Oriah, a piece by Rabindranath Tagore, of which I do not know the name:

I see a light, but no fire. Is this what my life is to be like?
Better to head for the grave.
A messenger comes, the grief-courier, and the message is that the woman you love is in her house alone, and wants you to come now while it is still night.
Clouds unbroken, rain, all night, all night. I don't understand these wild impulses - what is happening to me?
A lightning flash is followed by deeper melancholy. I stumble around inside looking for the path the night wants me to take.
Light, where is the light? Light the fire, if you have desire!
Thunder, rushing wind, nothingness. Black night, black stone.
Don't let your whole life go by in the dark.
Evidently, the only way to find the path is to set fire to my own life.

220px-Leonard_Cohen_2187-edited And, just to round out a selection of relevant poems shared by Oriah, here's a segment she quotes from Leonard Cohen's song, Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in. 

Returning to the wisdom channeled by Jeanette Winterson, there were a number of other highly resonant insights and experiences, written with such elegance and poignancy that I cannot bring myself to do anything more (or less) than simply excerpt them here:

We know from 100 years of psychoanalytic investigation that an early trauma, often buried or unavailable to consciousness, is the motif that plays through our lives. We meet it again and again in different disguises. We are wounded again in the same place. This doesn't turn us into victims. Rather, we are people in search of a transformation of the real.

Creativity takes the heavy mass of our lives and transforms it back into available energy. Taking the mundane or the weighted, the overlooked or the too familiar, art is able to re-show us ourselves and ourselves in the world. Art holding up a mirror to life is commonly misunderstood as realism, but in fact it is recognition. We see through our own fakes, our own cover stories, we see things as they are, instead of how they look, or how we'd like them to be.


Art isn't a surface activity. It comes from a deep place and it meets the wound we each carry.

Even when our lives are going well, there is something that prowls the borders, unseen, unfelt. The existential depression that is becoming a condition of humankind, experienced as loss of meaning, a kind of empty bafflement, is different from the situational depression we all go through from time to time. Job loss, bereavement and catastrophe will throw us into situational depression, but existential depression is different. When life loses all meaning, we cannot live.


Longing is painful. Every work of art is an attempt to bring into being the object of loss. The pictures, the music, the poems and the performances are an intense engagement with loss. While one is in the act of making, one is not in loss, and one has meaning.

[Addendum: While Jeanette Winterson focuses on art and literature, in Wired's recent article on "An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All", Amy Wallace describes a transformation of a wound into a blessing in the realm of science:

To understand exactly why [Paul] Offit [inventor of the rotavirus vaccine] became a scientist, you must go back more than half a century, to 1956. That was when doctors in Offit’s hometown of Baltimore operated on one of his legs to correct a club foot, requiring him to spend three weeks recovering in a chronic care facility with 20 other children, all of whom had polio. Parents were allowed to visit just one hour a week, on Sundays. His father, a shirt salesman, came when he could. His mother, who was pregnant with his brother and hospitalized with appendicitis, was unable to visit at all. He was 5 years old. “It was a pretty lonely, isolating experience,” Offit says. “But what was even worse was looking at these other children who were just horribly crippled and disfigured by polio.” That memory, he says, was the first thing that drove him toward a career in pediatric infectious diseases.]

Contradictory ridges, self and Self

Continuing with the themes of poetry, inspiration and great friends, another great friend, Dan Oestreich, bought me a book of William Stafford's poetry, "The Way It Is", a few years ago - one of many ways he helped me navigate a dark time filled with shadows.The other night, I picked up the book - which is always at my bedside table - and randomly selected a page, which had exactly the right poem I needed at that moment, "Representing Far Places":

Representing Far Places
by William Stafford

In the canoe wilderness branches wait for winter;
every leaf concentrates; a drop from the paddle falls.
Up through water at the dip of a falling leaf
to the sky's drop of light or the smell of another star
fish in the lake leap arcs of realization,
hard fins prying out from the dark below.

Often in society when the talk turns witty
you think of that place, and can't polarize at all:
it would be a kind of treason. The land fans in your head
canyon by canyon; steep roads diverge.
Representing far places you stand in the room,
all that you know merely a weight in the weather.

It is all right to be simply the way you have to be,
among contradictory ridges in some crescendo of knowing.

I re-read the last verse several dozen times that night, as I was struggling with a decision in which my thoughts were leading me along one contradictory ridge, and my feelings were leading me along another. As luck - or synchronicity - would have it, the previous day, I'd shared an insight with someone I'd just met about how, as I grow older, I trust my heart more than my head when it comes to decisions of great import ... and, as I grow older, I increasingly recognize that any insights or experiences I share with others - with the initial intention that they may be of benefit to them - are always things that I really need to read / hear again myself.

Anyhow, I sent Dan a quick note thanking him for the gift that keeps on giving, and he magnified the gift by turning it into a motivational poster entitled "Among Contradictory Ridges", accompanied by one of his fabulous photos:


In addition to being a great friend, Dan is also a great leadership coach (and a great photographer), and he followed up his "Among Contradictory Ridges" motivational poster with another one reflecting one of the central themes in his work (with his self, other selves and Self) - an Unfolding Leadership Poster - in which he observes "The problem is self. The answer is Self":


Around the same time, I serendipitously encountered a related source of inspiration - possibly via a chain of links starting with Dan's blog via a retweet by @merubin (who I discovered via @KathySierra) - on the blog of Pastor Brandon A. Cox, who recently posted the "10 Reasons Why Humility is Vital to Great Leadership", in which he champions the humble practice of self-oblivion. I'm including the entire post below for context:

Quickly think of five common traits of high-impact leaders… good time management, assertiveness, drive, energy, charisma, etc. Humility rarely lands in the list when it comes to our modern, top-down management systems. But Jesus (the greatest leader ever) and Moses (perhaps the second) had this one thought in mind – great leaders don’t have power over people, but power under people by way of humility.

Humility may be a forgotten virtue in conversations about leadership today, but I believe it’s absolutely essential to having long-term, broad-range impact. Here are some reasons why…

  1. Until you can be managed well, you can’t manage well, and being managed definitely requires humility.
  2. You’re not leading well until you put the needs of others before your own, which requires humility.
  3. You won’t invest time into others until you realize you’re not the center of the universe.
  4. You won’t be a learner without humility, so you’ll stagnate and die on the vine.
  5. You can’t be a listener without humility, and when you don’t listen, you’ll miss some vitally important feedback.
  6. Receiving and making the most of constructive criticism definitely demands humility.
  7. Being concerned about the personal welfare of others requires humility.
  8. You won’t improve unless you realize your need for it, which requires humility.
  9. You can’t be sensitive to what’s going on the behind the words of others unless you’re paying attention, which requires humility.
  10. The respect you think others have for you will merely be an illusion unless you’re humble enough to see the reality of your own weaknesses.

Humility isn’t feeling bad, down, or low about yourself. Rather, humility is having a realistic picture of who you are and becoming oblivious to self. This self-oblivion characterizes the greatest leaders of all time, and if you want to rise to greatness, you need to stoop.

Thinking about self-oblivion as a feature, rather than a bug, is a provocative new dimension to consider as I travel among contradictory ridges in some crescendo of knowing.

Augurs of hope, past & present: MLK, Milk, Obama & all of us's

Last week, on Martin Luther King Day, Amy and I watched the film, Milk, about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California (back in 1978). When we got to the Egyptian Theatre, Amy asked for two tickets to see "M-I-L-K", spelling out Milk's name. We laughed about this presumed priming effect (from it being MLK day), but it also primed my synchronicity radar as we headed in to see the movie.

Among the most powerful scenes in the movie was Milk's "Give Them Hope" speech:

Somewhere in Des Moines or San Antonio there's a young gay person who all of a sudden realizes that she or he is gay, knows that if the parents find out they'dl be tossed out of the house, the classmates would taunt the child, and the Anita Bryant's and John Briggs' are doing their bit on TV. And that child has several options: staying in the closet, suicide. And then one day that child might open up a paper that says "Homosexual elected in San Francisco" and there are two new options: the option is to go to California, or stay in San Antonio and fight. Two days after I was elected I got a phone call and the voice was quite young. It was from Altoona, Pennsylvania. And the person said "Thanks". And you've got to elect gay people, so that that young child and the thousands and thousands like that child know that there is hope for a better world, there is hope for a better tomorrow. Without hope, not only gays, but those blacks, and the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us's ... without hope the us's give up. I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you have got to give them hope.

I really find this reference to us's positively inspiring, reflecting wisdom I've gleaned from other sources, perhaps most notably Oriah Mountain Dreamer, who suggests that we can either try to identify and empathize with others, or seek to differentiate others from ourselves; essentially choosing to view others as "us" or "them".

Turning from us's to hope, another civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., talked about this theme in his "I Have a Dream" speech:

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

While Milk makes explicit references to the civil rights of blacks in his speech, as far as I can tell, MLK never made any explicit references to the civil rights of gays (much less lesbians, bisexuals or transgenders/transsexuals). Of course, they were from different eras - Milk was able to figuratively stand on MLK's shoulders in his crusade to win full equality for LGBT people.

Black people do not have the option of hiding their race in the closet, while LGBT people do, but the perpetration of shame or the withholding of rights based on sexual preference is no more justifiable than that based on race. And if "we're only as sick as our secrets", discrimination based on sexual preference may be even more insidious. Milk urged LGBT people to come out of their closet(s):

We will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets ... We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I'm going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out. Come out to your parents, your relatives

The 2000 U.S. Census estimates that 12.9% of the population in this country is black; there is no official census for LGBT, but unofficial estimates range from 4% to 10%. While LGBT people have gained some civil rights in some places (nationally and internationally), for reasons I have never been able to understand, allowing people of the same sex to legally marry is opposed by a majority of people in this country - 55% according to a recent poll.

The newly inaugurated president, Barack Obama, is the offspring of an interracial marriage - an institution or practice that was illegal in some states at the time of MLK's speech. The right of states to ban interracial marriages was in effect until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against such laws in the Loving v. Virginia case in 1967. And yet, despite his interracial marriage ancestry, Obama claims he is opposed to legalizing same-sex marriages (although, according to a recent San Francisco Chronicle article on "Gays, lesbians hopeful despite inaugural pastor", he supports the extension of full rights to same-sex civil unions, and opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages).

Unlike some critics, I was inspired by Obama's inauguration speech - from its inclusive opening of "My fellow citizens" (not restricting his remarks to his fellow Americans), through his highlighting of the crises we face, and the "new era of responsibility" we must embark on in order to address these challenges and remake America. However, having just seen Milk the preceding day, I cringed when he got to this paragraph:

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

How can he promote this "God-given" promise that "all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness" and yet oppose the legalization of same-sex marriages? Does this opposition not deny LGBT people their "full measure of happiness"? I don't know if opposition to same-sex marriage under the guise of "defending" marriage is childish, but I do believe that as we, as a nation, mature in our perceptions and judgments about homosexuality (and marriage), we will come around to supporting this civil right that has been denied to a persecuted group in our society.

I was - and am - excited and hopeful about the election of Barack Obama. And yet, that same day, voters in California voted to approve Proposition 8, adding an article to the state Constitution stating

Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California

and thereby striking down any municipal laws legalizing same-sex marriages.

Rick Warren, the tremendously influential and socially conservative pastor and best-selling author who delivered the inaugural prayer on Tuesday, supported Proposition 8. As with the aforementioned section of Obama's inaugural speech, I cringed when I heard Rev. Warren say the following:

Help us, O God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race, or religion, or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all.

Freedom and justice for all ... except, of course, for homosexuals who want to marry.

If Harvey Milk were alive today, and were to give his Give Them Hope speech today, I suspect he would amend it to include Rick Warren along with Anita Bryant and John Briggs - who had actively campaigned in support of Proposition 6 in 1978, the so-called Briggs Initiative, that would have banned gays and lesbians, and possibly anyone who supported gay rights, from working in California's public schools. Fortunately, that measure failed, and while Milk is no longer with us - assassinated by a fellow (or formerly fellow) city supervisor - anti-gay forces are alive and well, in California and elsewhere.

Although there were many other striking and/or synchronistic aspects to the movie, I'll finish off noting that the person who came to a podium at San Francisco City Hall to announce the assassination of Harvey Milk - and then-mayor George Moscone - was then-city supervisor Dianne Feinstein ... who was also at a podium during Tuesday's inauguration, as the master of ceremonies. I'd earlier written about ignorance, incendiaries, ironies and inspiration in the 2008 presidential campaign, and my concern that the incendiary invectives uttered by McCain supporters might increase the risk of assassination for Obama. I was relieved that there was no replay of the last time I'd seen Feinstein on the big screen (having seen Milk the day before the inauguration).

I have a difficult time believing that a leader who could compose and deliver an inspiring message of moving toward a more perfect union could really oppose same-sex marriage. However, given the range of risks and challenges faced by Obama (and the rest of us's), it may be a while - perhaps another generation - before any public leader at that level can come out publicly in full support of full civil rights for all people.

[Update: Another augur of hope was unveiled this week: [Washington State] Lawmakers announce 'everything but marriage' bill: "Expanding the rights and responsibilities of state registered domestic partners" (Senate Bill 5688 and House Bill 1727). Equal Rights Washington has posted a page through which citizens can support domestic partnership expansion.]

Hope and Dreams trump Fears and Smears

The speeches of the two U.S. presidential candidates Tuesday night were hopeful and inspiring, a welcome change from the fears and smears that dominated much of the campaign ... or, at least, one side of the campaign. John McCain delivered the most gracious concession speech I have ever seen, and Barack Obama delivered yet another inspiring - and gracious - victory speech shortly thereafter.

I had planned to post a blog entry summarizing some of the fears and smears promulgated by McCain, his running mate Sarah Palin, Fox News and other conservative voices - instances I'd been tracking via Twitter - after the election, but the combined positive boost of these two speeches leads me to let these go, and focus instead on hope and dreams. 

And, in letting go of fears and embracing hope and dreams, I'm reminded of a classic book by Gerald Jampolsky, Love is Letting Go of Fear, which I first read many years ago.

The Course [in Miracles] states there are only two emotions, love and fear. The first is our natural inheritance, the other our mind manufactures. The Course suggests that we can learn to let go of fear by practicing forgiveness and seeing everyone, including ourselves, as blameless and guiltless.
As each of us moves towards the single goal of achieving peace of mind for ourselves, we can also experience the joining of our minds that results from the removal of the blocks to our awareness of Love's presence.

John McCain's concession speech exemplified some of these ideals. I don't know whether McCain ever truly believed the fears that he and his cohorts were trying so hard to instill in the minds and hearts of the American people, but he certainly did his best to let these go - and urge his supporters to do so - during his speech.

Here are a few of the passages that I found particularly inspiring:

In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, [Obama's] success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.


These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.

I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.


Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.

It is natural. It's natural, tonight, to feel some disappointment. But tomorrow, we must move beyond it and work together to get our country moving again.


I wish Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president. And I call on all Americans, as I have often in this campaign, to not despair of our present difficulties, but to believe, always, in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here.

Barack Obama's victory speech also emphasized love - through the of language of hopes, dreams and unity - over fear, despair and divisiveness.

Here are a few of the excerpts from his speech that I find most inspiring:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.


It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states.

We are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It's the answer that led those who've been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.


There's new energy to harness, new jobs to be created, new schools to build, and threats to meet, alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.

I promise you, we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can't solve every problem.

But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.


What began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night.

This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.


This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.

Ever since that speech, I find that two songs keep swimming through my head. One is Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth), by George Harrison:

Give me love
Give me love
Give me peace on earth
Give me light
Give me life
Keep me free from birth
Give me hope
Help me cope, with this heavy load
Trying to, touch and reach you with,
heart and soul

The other song was triggered by a line in Obama's speech: "It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment change has come to America."

The music of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young inspires me more than the music of any other band. As I noted in my review of a CSNY concert in 2006, their song, Long Time Gone, is a "goosebump" song, and one of my favorite songs of all time.

It's been a long time comin'
It's goin' to be a long time gone.
And it appears to be a long
Appears to be a long
Appears to be a long,
Yes, a long, long, log time
Before the dawn.

Turn, turn any corner.
Hear, you must hear what the people say,
You know there's something that's goin' on around here,
That surely, surely, surely won't stand the light of day.

I've written about another verse, "But you know, the darkest hour, Is always just before the dawn", in another post (The Darkest Hour) in another, far less celebratory context, in which the song offered an unexpected catharsis.

Although I invoke it again here, in a truly celebratory context, I will also note that the song was written in response to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, an event which many, including myself, see as the end of an earlier era of extraordinary hope. Listening to NPR this morning, a commentartor noted that Obama's promise that "we as a people will get there" invokes the spirit - and hopes and dreams - of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from King's inspiring "I've been to the mountaintop" speech  ... the one he gave on the eve of his assassination.

[Update: I found videos of this speech - in two parts - on YouTube; including them below.]

The speech ends off with this inspiring and prophetic passage:

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! [emphasis added]

As I noted in an earlier post, on ignorance, indenciaries, ironies and inspiration:

The increasingly incendiary invective incited by the McCain / Palin campaign instill me with fear that Obama may meet a fate similar to other inspiring political figures from our naton's past. On this week's pledge week installment of This American Life, host Ira Glass played a segment from a Fresh Air earlier this year on Pete Hamill Remembers Robert Kennedy. I was deeply moved by Robert F. Kennedy's speech in Indianapolis the night that Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis, in which he raised the questions of "what kind of nation we are, and what kind of direction we want to move in". Many of those hearing the speech at the time were also moved: although there were riots in 180 American cities that night, there was relative quiet in Indianapolis.

I sincererly hope that the combination of speeches from McCain and Obama will put an end to the fears and smears represented by the ridiculous "Who is Barack Obama?" rhetoric, and help us focus instead on the questions RFK raised:

What kind of nation are we, and what kind of direction do we want to move in?

I believe the election of Barack Obama on Tuesday represents the beginning - or perhaps the continuation - of a hopeful answer to these vitally important questions, and I hope that we, the people, can collectively let go of our fears, and our politics of divisiveness, and embrace the love and courage that will be required for us to climb the mountain toward a more perfect union.

The Dalai Lama and the Reflectance and Resonance of Greatness, Understanding and Humility

His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, is in Seattle this week. I don't know if I'll get a chance to see him, personally - I've just returned from Florence, Italy (CHI 2008), with a really bad cold - but I just read a report by Ward Serrill in The Seattle Times on connecting Eye-to-Eye with the Dalai Lama when he first arrived in town that resonated deeply with me:

We don't speak a word. As he moves in front of me, my hands involuntarily reach out to grasp his. As our hands meet he looks up into my eyes and my world stops spinning. His eyes reveal a deep gravity. I see the serious work behind his childlike humor and spontaneity. The man has suffered much and discipline has made him into a spiritual warrior. This is serious work, these eyes tell me, this inner work to discover peace and being.

His attention is riveted. In this moment he is not a busy spiritual leader but simply a human looking gravely into the eyes of another. In this moment I see his greatness. It is this:

Humility is not a discipline; it is not a practice with him. Humility is simply what he is. I see in this moment of eyes meeting that he is incapable of placing himself above or below me. I am stunned by the reality of our equality.

And then he is gone, swept out of the room by his handlers. For the next three hours I am nearly incapable of speaking, stunned as I was with the presence of this understanding.

Ward's experience reminded me of the altered states and magnetic attraction of awakened people I experienced at Pop!Tech 2007, which had, in turn, reminded me of some earlier reports of this kind of high-resonance experience:

I was also reminded of Oriah Mountain Dreamer's observations in her audiotape, Your Heart's Prayer - which I'd earlier projected onto the practice of unfolding through blogging - about people who come into contact with spiritually enlightened individuals, such as Mahatma Ghandi the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa, likening the experience to what happens when two tuning forks coming into proximity of each other: the strong vibration of the spiritually enlightened person transmits energy to any other person that comes near.

[Having just listened again to the passage, I've amended a memory / transcription error in the original post above ... all the more apt because Oriah had actually referred to the Dalai Lama not Ghandi.]

As I have continued to reflect on how highly enlightened people have such a great impact on us, I am reminded of Don Miguel Ruiz' insights into the ways that people act as mirrors for us - enabling us to better see who we really are ... and/or what we could be. As he notes in the introduction to The Four Agreements, where he relates the enlightenment of a Toltec man:

He had discovered that he was a mirror for the rest of the people, a mirror in which he could see himself. "Everyone is a mirror", he said. He saw himself in everyone, but nobody saw him as themself. And he realized that everyone was dreaming, but without awareness, without knowing what they really are. They couldn't see him as themselves because there was a wall of fog or smoke between the mirrors. And that wall of fog was made by the interpretations of light - the Dream of humans.

I would expand this to claim that highly enlightened people act as highly reflective mirrors for us. When we encounter highly enlightened individuals, there is less fog in the local atmosphere, and so we are thus better able to see the light in ourselves being reflected back more clearly.

Ward had made earlier comments in the Seattle Times on developing his film, The Heart of the Game, that further resonate with all of this:

"I am in awe of the journey right now," said Serrill. "It really is a labor of love that's gotten bigger than me. It's really opening its own doors right now."

Although I have not yet seen the film, Ward's comments suggest that he is not a stranger to greatness, understanding and humility, himself, and I would not be surprised if his film acts as an agent of reflection and resonance for others.

And I can't help but reflect on my last post - Do YouJustGetMe? Do I Even Get Myself? - and wonder how well highly enlightened individuals might score on guessing or being guessed in a personality test. [And, reflecting on humility, I wonder if the subtitle to that post should have been "Can I Even Get Over Myself?"] Somehow, though, these ideas regarding reflectance and resonance suggests that there may be a deeper level - perhaps deeper than western science can effectively probe - than guessing or being guessed. That the ultimate goal is simply to understand and accept ourselves, exactly as we are ... and to mirror that understanding and acceptance to others.

Amy, who cut out the article for me while I was away, just pointed out her favorite passage, which resonates with all of this, and aligns closely with our own view(s) of religion ... and humanity:

When asked about his [Dalai Lama's] religion of kindness, he replies, "... all these things: compassion, charity, patience, forgiveness, joy; these do not belong to religion. One does not need religion to understand or practice them. They are simply the expressions of what it is to be human."

[Update: having mistakenly attributed Oriah's remarks as referring to Ghandi rather than the Dalai Lama, I decided to go back for a more attentive listening of the passage in Your Heart's Prayer (Side 2b, about 18 minutes in), during which I saw the further connection that involved another filmmaker. I transcribe the passage as attentively and faithfully as I can, below:

I had a dream a number of years ago, this was after I'd heard a couple of stories about people being deeply affected by being in proximity to the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa. One was the story of a man who was a friend of a friend, and he happened to be somewhere where the Dalai Lama was, and he wasn't particularly interested in hearing him speak, but for some reason, encountered him coming out of the lobby of the hotel. And the two of them spoke to each other and the two of them had this moment, and this man just felt this sense of incredible love and well-being in himself.

And another dear friend of mine who's made a film about Mother Teresa, talks about one of the first times she tried to talk to Mother Teresa about making the movie, and my friend, who is Ann Petrie, was on a bus with Mother Teresa, knelt down and had her sunglasses on, and mother Teresa flipped her sunglasses up, and Anne was ready to launch into the business of when can I film you, and Mother Teresa said to her "You're so tired, why don't you just stop for a minute?" And Anne had this experience of this sort of bolt of light going through the center of her body, not from Mother Teresa, but what she felt was really from God. And she had been in her own words a lapsed Catholic for many years.

So I had been hearing these stories, and I had a dream one night, where the grandmothers, who I mentioned earlier, said here is how it works: I saw an image of a glass cylinder filled with coarse salt, and then somebody poured a pink fluid, like colored water, into the container and it started to come up from the bottom up through the salt. And they said, this is what a person is like. The fluid being poured in is like their level of consciousness of who they really are, that what they are is a participant in this sacred life force, and the higher their level of awareness, two things happen: the more the salt dissolves, so the more there is a dissolving of all the structure of the identity that they think they are; and the other thing that happens is that everything becomes colored with this awareness. And when they are in proximity to someone else, because we're all made of the same stuff, it sets up a similar knowing in the other person.

So what people have a flash of when they are near someone who is very conscious of that Chui-ta-ka-ma, that life force energy that they are, is they experience the same thing in themselves. It's a little like bringing a tuning fork next to another tuning fork. So it's not so much they get an awareness of the other person being that divine life force but themselves.

The good news for me about this is that the task, then, is to just try to be with that awareness to the best of my ability, and that will create a ripple effect in ways that I can't even anticipate, because of the nature of our interbeingness. And it means we can have an enormous effect on the world by simply paying attention.]