“No matter how hardened, how icy your soul may be, at his touch it will burst into flames.” – Elie Wiesel
One of my mentors, Bill Cumming, used to always tell me that you never knew which conversation would be the one to change the world. It might be something as casual as a kind smile at a stranger in a grocery store that restores their faith in humanity at a critical juncture in their life, as intimate as a bedtime story shared with a child at the end of a difficult day, or as “obvious” as a coaching session with a world leader addressing their potential to impact governmental policy.
Consequently, the most important thing is not what you do, but the place from which you do it. In this sense, it is how you show up and who you are showing up as, moment by moment, which is the ultimate coaching tool.
I have found for myself that the same is true for that which changes my world. No matter how diligently I might work at becoming a better person/husband/father/coach, I never know if it’s the very next thing that I hear or the very next thing that I read that will change my way of seeing the world and in so doing, change the world I see.
So I was not completely surprised when at the end of September, my way of seeing myself and my work transformed in the midst of one short page of a spy novel I was reading on a flight back to LA from London.
The book was called A Death in Vienna by Daniel Silva, and follows the adventures of an Israeli spy and art restorer named Gabriel Allon. But what I read, for me, transcended art, even the art of storytelling:
|TZIONA MADE a bed for Gabriel on the living room couch and told him the midrash of the broken vessel.“Before God created the world, there was only God. When God decided to create the world, God pulled back in order to create a space for the world. It was in that space that the universe was formed. But now, in that space, there was no God. God created Divine Sparks, light, to be placed back into God’s creation. When God created light, and placed light inside of Creation, special containers were prepared to hold it. But there was an accident. A cosmic accident. The containers broke. The universe became filled with sparks of God’s divine light and shards of broken containers.”
“It’s a lovely story,” Gabriel said, helping Tziona tuck the ends of a sheet beneath the couch cushions. “But what does it have to do with my mother?”
“The midrash teaches us that until the sparks of God’s light are gathered together, the task of creation will not be complete. As Jews, this is our solemn duty. We call it Tikkun Olam: Repair of the World.”
“I can restore many things, Tziona, but I’m afraid the world is too broad a canvas, with far too much damage.”
“So start small.”
In the context of the book, this story was a minor diversion between explosions and assassinations; in the context of my life, I’m still not really over it. I’ve realized for me that this is what I do and this is what I love doing – finding the spark of divine light inside people, fanning that spark and watching and witnessing as their lives burst into flame – a kind of flame that lights up the lives of the people around them without ever consuming them in the process.
In fact, the only thing which stopped me from claiming this as my work is that in some small corner of my brain, it sounded unspeakably arrogant. I get grumpy with my kids, I can barely see my desk underneath the stacks of books and papers, and I still have unanswered email from 2009 – who am I to be part of the repair of the world?
Then the words of Marianne Williamson popped into my head:
“Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
For everything that I don’t know about the world, there are a few things that I do know – and first and foremost among these is that “the light” is always shining inside you and “the flame” is in the feeling, not the words.
We try so hard to remember to live by the wisdom and insights of others that we forget the source of that wisdom is inside of us as well. Insights are the natural side effects of living with a relatively quiet mind and a relatively beautiful feeling. Forget the words, stay with the feeling, and the insights will continue to unfold.
This is a part of the kindness of the design – feeling good leads to wisdom, and “being” never grows old.
Have fun, learn heaps, and may all your success be fun!