g a t h e r i n g s

The Complexity of Simplicity

Are you thinking it may be time for change? The fact is that change may already be upon you. Sometimes we have invested so much in one path we’ve lost track of alternatives. There’s nothing in our peripheral vision. Sometimes focus becomes obsession along the way. The equation may have quietly shifted from “broad view plus creativity and hard work equals possibility” to “narrowing vision plus relentlessness and resentment equals diminishing returns.” Trouble is, we don’t always know when it happened, when the tide took us so very far from the shore. When I work with someone who has been trying to get a project off the ground for years and years, maybe decades, I am interested in the nature of these equations. The person usually wonders whether his or her lack of success is tied to a father or mother’s so-called failure or to the poverty or guilt of a community-of-origin. It is an interesting question always.

However, when we as facilitators see the question of success solely within the parameters of the project (the dream of the client), we may be missing something important in terms of both systemic work and personal coaching. In other words, “Is this project failing because …?” may be off-track. It is helpful to get to the feelings that surround this type of question. It is easy to see it as straightforward, but often “project” is a metaphor more than a plan. We can begin to explore potential connections with the client through our initial questions. Rather than talk about the project as an entity unto itself, looking with the client at something out there, we try to find its location within. “If this project cannot be completed as originally conceived, what will happen to you?” “You have been trying for so many years to make this successful, how much more time (money, effort, support) do you have?” “How will life be different if tomorrow this project is a success?” “How will you know that it is?” “Can you be a success if it is not?”

The person may be hoping that if hidden loyalties are revealed or secrets are uncovered, the project will suddenly take off. But this idea of revelation or uncovering is often just another way of blaming others on a certain level, of displacing the magnificence of taking responsibility and truly valuing one's own competence. Sometimes taking new action is required. Beginning is essential, but there are moments when ending is just as important. It makes room. Thus, the question of systemic influences as they pertain to one’s livelihood is more complicated than we may immediately understand. It may be that once the metaphor is discovered -- the meaning beyond current logic -- the client can be freed from the relentless pursuit of an illusory goal and a too-rigid definition of success.

And it is not my place nor my expertise to assume the objective value of an endeavor. Rather, I am listening for the quality of the pursuit. Who or what is in that periphery unseen? What is being lost to a narrow focus — important relationships? health? a kind and open heart?

Passion, on the other hand, usually is a gift unto itself. Imagine, I love to bake. Even though I can’t seem to get folks really interested in what I am creating, I am happy doing it. I am satisfied with my own artistry, and don’t risk the rent to do it, or feel bitter about other people’s “bad taste.” As a matter of fact, I have found an old folks home to bring cookies to on Friday afternoons. Everyone’s face lights up when they see me. It is my passion. The quality of pursuit isn’t contingent upon an external standard, and so I am free within that pursuit to continue, to succeed, my heart is not at risk.

I always think of Hellinger’s question: Does it lead to More? Answer that honestly and the beautiful bountiful comes into better view. It is the essential compass. But, sometimes, its clarity is so bright, we turn away rather than take action.