About Me

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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The genius of quirky

A view across the morning fields at Soil Born Farms, California.
"Conversation is good; conversation can be good work; conversation is an absolutely necessity; meetings must meet, but all of our verbal conversations depend on a continuous conversation with the real patterns forming in an unspoken way at the centre of our work. We need this intensely personal, private conversation with what we do, or none of the other outer conversations make sense." -David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea, p.197.

This past Wednesday I drove down to Sebastopol to meet with Jeff Barnum, an artist and entrepreneur who is bringing creativity together with individual, organizational and societal re-conceptualization to create innovative approaches to helping individuals, companies and organizations transform how they think, form relationships, and work together. Our meeting started with Jeff showing me a video. I will post the link of it for you below. 

This is just a short clip taken from a film of Picasso painting. The reason Jeff showed it to me was to illustrate the idea that when you are trying to create a work of great beauty, you start with a central idea and build everything on this. In this instance, the bull's head. The rest of the painting is build around the head. But as Picasso reaches the end of his painting, he realizes that the head, at least as it has been since the beginning of the painting, has become an impediment to the painting becoming what it wants to be, so he paints over it. It is still there, of course -- just far more abstractly. The idea that Jeff was communicating was that often in order to succeed in accomplishing transformation, you have to be willing to sacrifice what you began with.

Jeff and I discussed many other things, and I have been reflecting on our conversation ever since returning to Sacramento. I am not sure where it will lead me, but I am really happy not only that he took the time out of his busy schedule to meet with me, but that I made the drive down there. Creating space and time for conversations like this is important. Creative collaboration and breakthroughs require that we create the space for the conversations and brainstorming to happen. Driving five hours for a 1.5 hour conversation may seem like an odd use of time, but I firmly believe that a lot can be born from a single conversation.

Conversations between people are important, but as David Whyte says, these only make sense when we are having the essential conversations with ourselves. To me this means that I am in tune with my soul--that I am having regular conversations with God.

David Whyte writes about genius in his book, Crossing the Unknown Sea. He says that "genius means to be unutterably oneself. The word genius in its Latin originality, means 'the spirit of a place'...the genius of an individual lies in the inhabitation of their peculiar and particular spirit in conversation with the world. Genius is something that is itself and no other thing."

When I look around me at those who inspire me, what I find is that it is the complete dedication to who they are that attracts me. Our material world is often so much about conformity. Media encourages us to buy clothing that is worn by hundreds, if not thousands of other people all over the world. We are sent through a school system that is built on the idea that one system fits all kinds of people (which, based on the number of brilliant human beings who were not well-served by the traditional education system, is clearly not true). We are funneled into careers that bear the same title no matter who we are. An accountant is an accountant. A lawyer is a lawyer. Of course each of us is an individual with distinct strengths and gifts, but these distinct qualities are rarely celebrated within the workplace.

Living in a world where we are constantly giving lip service to diversity but then simultaneously pursuing uniformity, often to the point of being apologetic for our unique talents and abilities, it is incredible to me that there are people out there who manage to recognize that the most valuable contributions that they have to give to the world are those elements of who they are that are unique. Quirky. Sometimes downright strange. Managing to nurture and fully commit to ones own unique talents while continuing to live and function within a system that is so weighted down by conformity is a tremendous accomplishment.

The last year I have been asking myself many questions about my life. About what my quirks are, and how to engage them in deep, meaningful and honest conversation, and then embrace and believe in them so completely that they become manifest in the world in positive and transformational ways.

My conversation with Jeff planted many seeds that are now germinating in me, but more importantly it made me confront the important question what am I here for? What is my main purpose in life--the purpose around which everything else is built? Has anyone asked you that before? It is worth considering. You might be a dancer, or a doctor, or a teacher, or accountant. You might be a mother, or sister or daughter, a son or brother or father or husband. But what do you think your unique purpose in life is? What is at the core of everything you do?

When I woke up this morning the sun was shining. It was brilliantly golden. The trees are intense colours. Yellow, orange, rust, red, green. A mosaic of colour. The wind was blowing, leaves flying past me, a shower of colourful confetti. A snow storm of magnificent hues. Every lawn is covered in colour, the are piles of leaves along the streets, and more scuttle across the asphalt. Everything is in motion. I went out for a walk through the neighbourhood to crunch through the fallen leaves and enjoy the brilliance of all that colour. When I got home the clouds had rushed in and a light rain had begun to fall. As I sit here now and write with a cup of steaming hot tea, all I can hear outside is wind, trees dancing, and leaves tumbling. It is the sound of change. The sound of letting go. Of detachment and transformation. Of the possibility of renewal.

Watching the trees sacrifice their lush, green selves and release their intensely coloured leaves to the earth reminds me of Picasso painting the bull's head, and sacrificing the initial image to achieve the unified, finished piece. The trees do this over and over, every year letting go of what they have been to embrace the new season. At the farm yesterday the kids that were on the field trip found a dead rabbit, a dead frog, and a line of chrysalises (the pupal stage of butterflies). In the natural world the loss of one thing to create another is constant and unquestioned, and all living things embrace their unique expression of beauty completely.

Do you live as the fullest expression of the reason you were placed on this planet? When someone asks you who you are, and what you are here to do, what is your answer?

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