Imagine you are walking down a path towards a goal, very focused, clear on your intent, and all of a sudden, completely unexpectedly, you hit a major speed bump, brick wall or even a mountain. This mountain is right in your path. It is not supposed to be there.
After you have expressed your feelings about this mountain, what do you do?
Do you look at the mountain in front of you and say it is all too hard. Can’t do it, no way to get around or through the mountain? Impossible!
Do you get angry at the mountain for thwarting your goals, then spend the next 5 minutes, or ten years, or lifetime, blaming the mountain for you not getting the things you want in life? Blame.
Do you feel crushed, life isn’t fair, why do I get all the bad luck? Poor me!
Do you feel hopeless, incapable, inept? Hopelessness.
Do you feel that these are the cards you have been dealt, so you might as well just accept them? Resignation.
Do you feel challenged? Wow, a mountain, where did that come from? Cool….how do I get around this thing? Possibility.
Do you feel excited. Its about time I had something big to test me out. Now…what do I do next? Stimulated.
Most people come to their mountains in life and give up, turn around, or stagnate. They do nothing, or go back along the very same path that got them to the mountain in the first place. Few people will look at the mountain as an opportunity. A great opportunity. Those people that do are the ones that will look at the mountain and practice staying in the question.
In this case, the core of staying in the question is how do I get around/through the mountain?
Possible alternative questions may be..
Do I know anyone who has experience at this mountain?
Do I know of anyone who has experience at mountains in general?
Is there something about this mountain that I am not seeing?
Is there a way through that I have not considered?
If I could get to the other side, what might I need that I don’t currently have?
Is there someone else I need to bring into this inquiry who may be able to offer a different perspective? If so, who would be the best person, or people?
What is this mountain trying to tell me?
Am I listening deeply enough?
Do I need to go back to be able to find a way forward?
If I were in a helicopter, looking down on the mountain, what might I see?
If I were in a helicopter, looking down on my journey so far to the mountain, what might I see?
We could ask a million questions. And that is just the point. Staying in the question is what it takes.
When we are open for questions, our mind immediately opens to possibility and opportunity, allowing us to move ever closer to truth. Questions have this amazing power to do that. When we stop staying in the question, our mind shuts, and all hope of openness and flexibility is gone. We immediately become rigid, righteous, arrogant, inflexible, closed, fundamentalist.
Staying in the question requires active participation. It is not a passive activity. You can’t just go along for the ride. You must keep the question and the mind open. The answer may not be immediately forthcoming. And that is the point…that is why we must stay in the question.
Staying in the question is like saying yes to the world. We evoke the possible. We invite solutions. We allow our minds to seek to find by looking under nooks and crannies we would not have looked under without staying in the question. It is a very potent change model.
The quantum space starts to organise itself to bring in the answers. Synchronistic and magical events occur. People show up with ideas, answers, or ways of challenging our suppositions. A book will fall into our lap, literally. We will see a movie that shifts our view, or opens our eyes. A child will ask us a seemingly innocuous question that will open a door and shine a light on the issue of our mountain. Or we will wake from a dream and know, mysteriously, exactly what we need to do next.
Staying in the question takes rigor and commitment. It is often the road less traveled and the harder of the paths. Yet it is also the path that brings the extraordinary. It is the path of the positive deviant.
Great scientists, entrepreneurs and philosophers may spend decades staying in the same question. The question becomes the tuning fork for much of what they do.
An example is Dee Hock, the creator of the Visa card who started life as a bank manager. How did an average bank manger get to create Visa International, a company that espouses no political, economic, social or legal theory, transcending language, custom, politics and culture to successfully connect more that 21,000 financial institutions, 16 million merchants, 800 million people in 300 countries and continues to grow in excess of twenty percent compound annually? He says the reason is simple. He sat in some very significant questions for many years. “Why are organizations everywhere, whether commercial, social, or religious, increasingly unable to manage their affairs?” “Why are individuals throughout the world increasingly in conflict with an alienated from the organizations of which they’re a part?” “Why are society and the biosphere increasingly in disarray?”
These are obviously extraordinary questions. And they are probably questions you have toyed with in your own mind off and on. Dee worked these questions like a terrier. For years. And his answer was that there had to be something fundamental that we were simply not getting. To cut a long story short, he surmised that our institutions and organizations were going against the law of nature. For example, take the human brain, one of the most complex, and still to this day, deeply mysterious organs. Just imagine if we organised the human brain as we do an organization. We would need to appoint a CEO neuron, and Board of Director’s neurons, the Human Resource Neuron department….and so on. Then you must write the operation manual for the organization. If we did this, we would be instantly unable to breath until somebody told you how and where and when and how fast. You wouldn’t be able to think or see. Yet in a world where change is on a path of accelerated acceleration, our organisational systems have really not made much progress in 400 years. They are still largely built around a command and control structure that doesn’t have rapid response time.
From this line of inquiry, an ordinary bank manager created an extraordinary business. (For a great read on this, see his book, Birth of the Chaordic Age).
We simply haven’t asked the right questions? We haven’t created the way. Yet. No matter how dire the situation, we always have more choices available to us than we are aware.
Victor Frankl (author of “A Man’s Search for Meaning”) was faced with an extreme mountain in the form of Auschwitz concentration camp. While his physical choices were extremely limited, he always had a choice about how he thought and acted within that extreme environment. He found meaning in a situation that few of us could begin to comprehend.
Interestingly, many of the people who have been held up as great leaders in the last couple of millennia have come from very humble beginnings. They were nobodies. Christ, Muhammad, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King. Gandhi was an average lawyer, Mother Teresa, an ordinary nun. Even their ideas were not that unique. Why then did they create such a profound effect?
As Dee Hock says, maybe they were incredibly successful in asking four major questions. “How were things in the past? What was the history?” “How are things today?” “How might they become if we keep on the same path?” “How ought they to be?”
Then they took how things ought to be and they lived it. As if it were already true. Right away. They didn’t need to wait for someone to give them permission…they created their own permission. And they didn’t waiver. No matter what the obstacle or mountain. Even to the point of death.
And of course, because we recognised the profound need for what they did, and how they lived their lives, they have become our hero’s.
At no time did Mother Teresa sit down and say…it can’t be done. Brick walls and mountains were not even visible to Mother Teresa. If she saw any at all, she dissolved them in a heartbeat. This tiny little woman from Europe moved mountains, and never doubted that she could.
Some questions to ask yourself.
When you reach your own mountain, which choices do you take? (Use the examples above.)
What are the questions you need to ask yourself now that you have been avoiding, denying, or simply refusing to ask?
If you knew the answer to your most important question, what would you do?
What do you know you need to do now that you have been avoiding?
Where are you closed, inflexible, rigid in your thinking?
What are you resisting? In any area of your life?
What would be a question you could ask yourself to shift your inflexibility?
Sometimes we have created our brick walls and mountains because we have made poor choices. Or even been unethical. Sometimes brick walls come in the form of a person or people. Usually the brick wall offers us an opportunity to evolve our ways of living and being in the world. Asking powerful questions to get us through the brick wall will ask of us to change. We cannot be the same person on the other side of the wall.
However, life is about eternally becoming. The illusion is that we can freeze anything. The illusion is that we can sit back and cruise. We know this as parents, accepting that the behaviour of our 2 year old will not (for the most part) be same as the child 10 years later. Yet somewhere along the life path, we live from a place that expects your family and friends and work to be the same, year in and year out. Lack of change, lack of movement, is opposite to the laws of nature. It leads to entropy and decay.
Brick walls are designed to cure us of our complacency, and our laziness. They are our greatest opportunity in life.
You gotta love your brick walls and mountains.
Oh…and by the way…all brick walls are made easier by seeing them through a different lens. When you next bump up against a brick wall, call a friend, or, even better, a brick wall specialist, your coach. That is if you want to move through it more efficiently and faster?
What are your current brick walls…and what are the questions you could ask?
2:23AM Integrity is the Essence
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