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How Systems Thinking is Killing Your Creativity: An Organization is not a System!

(This article first appeared in

The new open participatory organization (OPO) paradigm entails a move from thinking in terms of systems that can be “known” or “designed” or “intervened upon” by a person or persons who occupy a privileged position outside that system, to thinking in terms of complex responsive processes of human interaction. Since the 1940’s there have been different ways in which we came to think about organizations as systems. The early systems thinkers relied on cybernetic theories of regulatory feedback loops that were encountered or that could be designed inside the system to produce predictable outcomes. Today, cybernetics is still useful in creating operational frameworks where regulatory points function as reminders: what to measure, when to anticipate errors, when to test, how and when to review our work. Cybernetics works well inside closed operational systems that are simple and where results are reproducible.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

However, whenever we are dealing with humans, complexity arises in the many many local interactions that take place between them in their ordinary everyday activities of organizational life. There is no “outside position” from which an individual or leader can take account of “the whole” and impose interventions on it. This is the meaning of the popular phrase Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Every attempt to control the complex responses of people in participation, only escalates complexity through other measures — adaptive push-back, gaming the system, deviant behavior, leveraging power, ranking and politicking strategies, obfuscations of all sorts, and the like. Furthermore, there is no way to align culture since culture is constituted by streams of values that are continuously shifting in every individual while simultaneously being negotiated among them. When people come together they spontaneously begin to accommodate, assimilate or reconcile power relationships that result from asymmetrical values, needs and skills. During this process, the field of participation continuously shifts from configuration to configuration, creating ever-more complex formulations of what it is to be an I,we, me or us. The notion of searching for fitness in a complex adaptive landscape readily comes to mind.

What “fitness” represents in this process of human interaction, is a coherence that is established when what it is to be I -me is generalized from the myriad particular instantiations that are possible within the context of individuals, into a imagined “whole” or “unity” that is experienced as we-us. This requires that both the autonomy of each individual — the felt sense of the I,accommodates a socially shared aspect — a role that functions as a me; and that this “me” is simultaneously assimilated by every other individual until the moment of reconciliation when the felt-sense of we-ness emerges as a shared reality. This we-ness can be further reified through shared narratives among the many, or rhetorical devices from the few, peer pressure and social anxiety, politics of exclusion and inclusion, and xenophobia and ethnocentric tendencies — to eventually construct a strong sense of an us which is dialectically opposed to a them. This is the point where group coherence — the lively, adaptive, responsive, creative and complex mode of collective participation — collapses into its invariant and pathological form, cohesion, an outcome of unconscious tendencies to concretize the I-me-we forming processes into abstract and invariant formulations of bounded wholes, with insides and outsides, strong delineations of inclusion and exclusion. It is at this point that the collective loses its capacity to authentically participate, and instead falls into paranoia, stasis, and group think that are key indicators of group cohesion. It is only in this state, where people begin to act more like programs than as authentic agents in a field of participation, that the manager can adopt the posture of “acting on” the collective from a privileged position where the manager is free to act, whereas everyone else is subject to interventions from “outside.” Except in extreme cases where either physical or psychological force is employed, the manager’s posture is merely an illusion, only made possible by the collusion of the collective, who, for reasons of their own, act along with the manager in sustaining a fiction that offers some convenience for everyone.

It is this convenience of human collusion, that we commonly call “the system.”

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What Needs to Emerge: How to Speak Across Paradigms

Daniel Thorson, founder of the EMERGE podcast (, interviews Bonnitta Roy, MA, Program Coordinator of the Consciousness Studies and Transpersonal Psychology program. In this wide ranging interview, Bonnitta provides her view of the Sam Harris and Ezra Klein debate-podcast on VOX, which was the culmination of a year-long public feud.

Ezra Klein and Sam Harris engaged in a very public dispute in which they had difficulty communicating with each other across their different paradigms. Bonnitta indicates where they go wrong, and how to we all can learn to speak across paradigms - an important skill in the age we are living in.

Below is Bonnitta's interview, and, if you want to listen to the source material, the podcast of the Klein-Harris debate below that.



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Writing is Hell

I wandered around the unfamiliar community center searching for a group that looked like they would fit the description of a children's writing group. As I walked into a room on the second floor, a woman slammed down a notebook in exasperation and exclaimed that she must be nuts to want to be a writer because writing was hell!

Well, not only did I realize that I had found the right group, I knew that this was a place where I belonged.

She said that she had writer's block and came for inspiration. We then went around the room and told a little about ourselves. Several people there were published children's writers. I was immediately both awestruck and intimidated. I wondered if I should even stay...

Then people were asked if they wanted to share. The intended audience for the writing ranged from picture books to young adult fantasy. What I was most impressed with, however, was the quality of the writing and the helpful comments and advice that came from the group. The procedure after the piece is read is to verbally give comments and to ask questions of the writer. Then we are all expected to write notes on little blue pieces of paper commenting on what we liked about the piece, one tidbit of advice for the piece, and one question that we still had.

I did get up the courage to share my writing that night and I will save my little slips of blue paper for a very long time. I loved getting gems of advice on my writing. It was so hard to share with a group of strangers. But, those strangers could not have been more welcoming and encouraging.

The second writing group I began attending was a group in Clinton. Although most of the writers were aiming their stories at young adults or adults, they were also welcoming and kind with their comments.

Listening to the group, I began to get a feeling about how to say a suggestion in a positive way that would not hurt the brave writer willing to share. And, even though I still intend to write more for children, I learned something from each and every writer at both groups.

Another thing I found interesting was that both groups had different suggestions for me on the same story. Which brings me back to this past cohort weekend spent on editing. Our presenter Jane Lincoln Taylor said multiple times that a writer needs to consider an editor's comments and then make a choice to follow the advice or to pass. I decided to follow some of each group's advice.

Writing. What can be a harder personal burden than to decide to become a writer? Maybe the woman in the children's writing group was right. Writing is hell.

And... I'll let you know how the next writing group goes.

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The Dangers of Glyphosate


Soil, Plant and Human Effects on Glyphosate
Dr. Stephanie Seneff, Professor at M.IT.
Institute of Sustainable Nutrition March 24th
Granby Community Television

By Debbie Lavigne,

Current Student, Integrative Health & Healing M.A. Program, at The Graduate Institute

Dr. Stephanie Seneff, Senior Research Scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), presented at the Institute of Sustainable Nutrition on March 24th, 2018 on the health effects of glyphosate. Dr. Seneff was one of two featured speakers on the topic of Glyphosate, the other speaker was Dr. Don Huber an expert in Glyphosate and the impact on our health. Dr. Seneff has also appeared in health related documentaries, such as What’s with Wheat, provides her expertise on the dangers of the herbicide Round Up and the link to many diseases such as Autism, Alzheimer’s and several autoimmune disorders.

Dr. Seneff started with some statistics that provide a snap shot of our current health situation in the United States. A few of the statistics state that the United States consumes 50% of the world’s pharmaceuticals, spends more on health care than several countries combined, is last for infant mortality, has more chronic disease and consumes 20% of the world’s Glyphosate. She explained that Glyphosate is Round Up and widely used to kills weeds and produces faster yielding food crops such as corn, soy, sugar beets, cotton, tobacco and alfalfa. The weeds however are getting smarter, and more herbicide is required each year instead of less.

The main toxic effects of Glyphosate are the interference with the function of P450 enzyme in the liver, chelates to important minerals, interferes with synthesis of amino acids and disrupts sulfate synthesis and sulfate transport. Dr. Seneff presented several slides on studies done on the correlation of Glyphosate and conditions such as Dementia, Cancer of kidney, thyroid and bladder, and Autism. Glyphosate is patent as an antibiotic and is shown to cause people to become antibiotic resistant due to the exposure of such high amounts in our food.

Dr. Seneff explains how Glyphosate disrupts the production of the protein synthesis of Glycine. The protein grabs Glyphosate, which is present, instead of Glycine and destroys the protein from doing its job. The protein synthesis of Glycine occurs in plants and our gut biome. The swapping of Glyphosate for the Glycine has altered the DNA protein, which gets rid of the Glycine instead of destroying the Glyphosate. This may result in several health issues including impaired CYP P450 enzymes, neurological diseases, autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoarthritis, fatty liver disease, obesity and adrenal insufficiency, kidney failure, insulin resistance and diabetes and cancer. Glyphosate has also been shown to impact pregnancy, shortening the gestation period and disrupting hormones.

Dr. Seneff refers to the work of scientist Dr. Anthony Samsel, who studies the impact of Glyphosate on bone, finding the highest concentration in bone marrow. I find the following quote by Dr. Samsel to be incredibly scary. “Glyphosate is not toxic in the conventional sense. It destroys our biology at the cellular level one molecule at a time through disruption of proteins and signaling. Integration of glyphosate with globular and structural proteins is how it can be the cause of an endless array of unrelated diseases, and unleash a cascade of ill health effects that kill us like a slow cumulative poison.” We are poisoning ourselves slowly, causing our own chronic disease and potentially death.

Dr. Seneff makes a connection of Glyphosate to food allergies and autoimmune diseases. Glyphosate sets up leaky gut, creating a weaker immune system and blood brain barrier allowing foreign substances to enter the blood stream that should not be there. The body sees the foreign substances, proteins that have not been broken down properly in the gut, and develops an active antibody response to the protein. This can lead to autoimmune disorder, also explains food allergies and gluten intolerance including Celiac Disease.

There are other connections where Glyphosate contaminates live vaccines, which Dr. Seneff presents the correlation to issues with the MMR vaccine. Glyphosate is also found in the body where there is collagen. About 25% of the body is collagen, and 25% amino acids in collagen are Glycine, which can be swapped out with Glyphosate. Collagen is found in our bones, joints and vasculature. Dr. Seneff suggests there is the connection to Rheumatoid Arthritis as the Glyphosate is found in the ligaments and joints through the presence in collagen.

Glyphosate is also impacting animals. Diseases in bats, bees, ladybugs, frogs and starfish are documented in areas where Glyphosate is present. It is impacting and changing our environment and food source. Dr. Seneff suggests to by organic and grass fed foods when possible, to reduce our exposure to Glyphosate and consume Probiotics to strengthen the gut and immune system.

I appreciate the information and my new awareness, since this program, on Glyphosate and the health risks along with its wide use on our food system. It is frightening that we use a chemical that is linked to so many harmful side effects in exchange for money. Where does humanity live in all of this craziness we have created? I think about the harm I may have caused my daughter, Lilly, who recently we learned has food sensitivities. I struggle with what to eat, what to buy and how to afford the foods I really want. I have been making changes to what I purchase in the grocery store and where I am purchasing my produce and meats. We have also put in a much larger garden with more vegetables and herbs. Just yesterday I shook my head as I passed a facility worker spraying weeds on campus. On his back he had a small tank that was labeled “Round Up”. I wondered if he knows the potential danger by exposing himself to Glyphosate. It will be interesting to follow in the news to see what the outcome will be in the future years and when Glyphosate will finally be pulled off the market forever.

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A Road Warrior Asks: Is Spoken Word the New Publishing Medium?

Listen to this:

Since I live in Pennsylvania and teach at TGI’s campus in Connecticut, I am, by definition, a Road Warrior.

Crazy as it may sound, I have been commuting to this gig for more than 17 years. Let the record show that I have made the 300-mile round-trip journey approximately 250 times. That’s 75,000 miles (the distance required to drive around the equator of the Earth three times).

Think of the vast stretch of time: An astonishing 2,000 hours of White Line Fever. Said another way, that amounts to 166 back-to-back days of 12-hour driving. Where have they all gone, those precious ticking moments of my rapidly-shortening lifespan?

Some of those moments were spent daydreaming, some were spent cursing the traffic on the Merritt Parkway. But most were spent with my constant traveling companions—recorded books. Like many long-distance drivers, I learned long ago that nothing makes the miles roll by faster than a really good audio book.

Once I am entranced by a good reader and a gripping story, I can push through exhaustion, road rage and sheer boredom--finding my way to my destination with a smile on my face and the knowledge that I have learned something. And, I should mention: These audio books are free! My local library has an extensive collection of recorded books on CD. Full Disclosure: I tried Audible—too expensive.

In no particular order, here are the recorded books lying on the floor of my van right now:

The Whistler/ John Grisham
The Future of The Mind/Michio Kaku
Holy Blood, Holy Grail/Michael Baigent
Writing Creative Nonfiction/Tilar Mazzeo
The Professor in the Cage/Jonathan Gottschall
The Death of Ivan Ilyich/Leo Tolstoy
A Plague of Doves/Louise Erdrich
Spoonbenders/Daryl Gergory
Murder is Forever/James Patterson

Why do I carry so many? Some will be duds: After listening for a few moments, I will be annoyed by the reader or will discover that I don’t care about the premise. But a few will be gems and will wrap me in an aural blanket of listening bliss as the landscape zips past my windshield at 75 miles an hour.

A Fast-Growing Medium

Turns out, I am not alone in discovering the benefits of listening to books, often read by the author, while I do something else.

Consider the headline of a recent article in the June 3, 2018 edition of The New York Times: “Listen Carefully, Book Lovers: Top Authors Are Skipping Print”. Journalist Alexander Alter notes the impressive rise in audio sales as publishers respond to consumers’ desire for books that can be enjoyed by the ear rather than the eye.

“Audiobooks are no longer an appendage of print, but a creative medium in their own right,” Alter writes. “The rise of stand-alone audio has also made some traditional publishers nervous, as Audible (owned by Amazon) makes deals directly with writers. While e-book sales have fallen and print remains anemic, publishers’ revenues for downloaded audio has nearly tripled in the last five years.

"The battle over who will dominate the industry’s fastest-growing format is re-shaping the publishing landscape, much as e-books did a decade ago, driving up advances for audio rights and leading some authors to sign straight-to-audio deals.”

“We are scripting to a new aesthetic,” said Donald Katz, Audible’s founder and chief executive. “This wasn’t a full-fledged media category before, it was a tiny little Siberia stuck in book publishing, and it shouldn’t have been.”

Audible executive Davis Blum says that this change will require that book lovers expand their ideas of how they perceive literature. “We’re trying to break down the boundaries of what people think content ought to look like,” Blum says.

Listening to your favorite book is easier than ever. Advances in digital technology now allow cellphones to function as audiobook players. Consumers bought 90 million audiobooks in 2016, totaling sales of $2.1 billion. According to Alter, more writers and publishers are warming to the concept of delivering stories through the spoken word. Audible is now approaching writers directly to buy the audio rights for their latest works even before their book proposals are submitted to mainstream publishers.

A New Frontier

Once again, TGI finds itself on the cutting edge of contemporary culture. TGI’s Writing and Oral Traditions program is different from every other writing program in the nation because it focuses on the marriage of the spoken and written word in the creative process.

Since the launch of the program in 2000, we have understood that orality informs the writer and provides us with access to a neural pathway which carries messages into the storehouse of memory, imagination and insight in a way that mere ink on the page can never do. By combining the ancient art of storytelling with the latest trends in literary experimentation, TGI’s emerging writers have the opportunity to explore an alternative medium for delivering story.

The Graduate Institute Publishing Center is currently offering TGI writers the opportunity to publish in both print and digital form before a world-wide audience on the platform. Are audio books, with easily downloadable content, far behind? Keep posted as TGI's first-time authors learn how to distribute their work to story-lovers connected by the rapidly-growing matrix that is modern-day publishing.

Some researchers think we are entering an era when technology will allow the spoken word to open our ears in a new way. Among them is Psychologist Carol Gilligan, who reminds us,

“To have a voice is to be human. To have something to say is to be a person. But speaking depends on listening and being heard; it is an intensely relational act. Voice is natural and also cultural, a powerful psychological instrument connecting inner and outer worlds. Speaking and listening are a form of psychic breathing. This ongoing relational exchange is mediated through language and culture, diversity and plurality. For these reasons, voice is a new key for understanding the psychological, social and cultural order.”

As intelligent and empathetic listening becomes a skill necessary for meaningful participation in our steadily-growing understanding of what it means to be human, perhaps this new interest in the pleasures of both orality and aurality will help to lead the way.

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A Dolphin Tale

The Little Dolphin That Could

Our recent cohort session on humor in storytelling reminded me of this moment in time:

It was the year of 1995, and all was not well.

Andy and I had been married for approximately eight months, and we were still finding our way through life. We got together, both in debt, plunged further into debt with the wedding, and found ourselves struggling to get out of debt as we were both working in the restaurant business with no healthcare or retirement plan. But we were still young, in our late twenties, and had a lot of living to do.

Two weeks prior, I had quit my job at the restaurant Andy and I worked for as I was tired of always having to find coverage if I was sick -–that was how the mom and pop places worked.

So I ventured over to Bennigan’s and brought Andy with me, which turned out to be worse. It was like working at a restaurant that was run by high school students for high school student customers who were trying to get served without a valid ID for high school student tip money. After about two weeks of covering for the oh-my-God-you’ll-never-guess-what-happened-to-me staff of Bennigan’s, I had enough.

I threw down my green smock and walked out the door, again taking Andy with me.


My friend Andrea had the perfect solution: “Why don’t you come to Mexico with me and Marcella? It’ll be a blast!”

Broke, and armed only with credit cards, we embarked on a week-long vacation to Cancun, Mexico.

But out of the many highlights of the trip, one of my favorites was found a bus trip away in…

Xcaret- nature’s sacred paradise.

The beginning of the word is said like the beginning of the word escarole if pronounced in an Italian accent or the end of the word babushka if pronounced with a Polish accent. The end of the word pronounce like “Ay” or simply just “A.” At any rate, this Xcaret held the most coveted activity on Cancun—swimming with dolphins. This activity was not as common as it is today, and you had to get there early as the spots filled up quickly. So when the bus pulled up to the entrance, our first challenge started.

With a map already strategically printed out the evening before, I led the way. Sprinting through hordes of tourists who were trying to find their way, over baby carriages, and through finally manicured bushes to get there first. Andy was close behind me, but Andrea and Marcella had fallen back a pace. That pace was the difference between scoring a swim with the dolphins and watching other people swim with the dolphins. We were among the last five to be counted for the days totals, and we were told to return with our tickets at 11:00 a.m.

So we spent a ten-minute hour on the beach until we found ourselves suiting up in pink and blue life jackets as we got our safety lecture from the dolphin trainers. As I struggled to put the vest on, my mind drifted back to the gay couple we had met the evening before. While on our fifth rum punch on a booze cruise, I had told Wayne that we had plans to swim with the dolphins if we were lucky enough to score a ticket. He screeched.

“Or unlucky enough!!!” He clutched his white tank like he was having heart failure.

“Girrrrrl, you better watch out! There have been stories about people getting fuuuuucked up by dolphins,” he practically sang it.

“Dave, honey, tell these girls what we just heard about today, to---day!”

Dave captivated us with a tale of woe in which an unsuspecting tourist was swimming with dolphins when it treated her like a giant human ball--poking her in the ribs, swatting her around with its tail, and dragging her underwater to the point where she practically drowned.

Wayne sipped his cocktail, until he was just sucking at air.

“Don’t do it, girl,” he said.

He placed his hand on my forearm, “Don’t do it.”

The Moment of Truth

As we inched into the water, we were with two other people on our side of the tank. They had two different dolphins for the two different groups of people on either side of the tank, and the dolphins would get familiar with us before we did our grand swim across the 150’ length of the tank. I do not remember much except the cold blubbery skin slapping up against my legs, and then the trainer saying that the dolphin would respond if you just said her name, “Dolly.”

I was entranced. A moment in Mexico for a Broadway classic?

“Hello, Dolly! Well, hello, Dolly!” I crescendo-ed.

Apparently Dolly liked this a lot. She swam through my legs, jostling me around a bit, and nudged up right alongside of me, where the trainer on the dock snapped a photo.

Fear dissipated…love ensued…Xcaret lived up to its name of nature’s sacred paradise.

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Positive Psychology, Emotional Wellbeing and Happiness

Much of human psychology focuses on how to improve the lives of those with mental disorders. But the relatively new field of Positive Psychology studies the psychological characteristics and practices that allow peoples’ lives to flourish. Finding its roots in Maslow’s work on self-actualization, the field itself has flourished as research into life satisfaction, wellness and meaning has expanded.

The pioneering efforts of Martin Seligman has also influenced the field making Positive Psychology a sought-after program at many universities. Recently, the course “Psychology and the Good Life” became Yale’s most popular class ever – with 1,200 students enrolling – about one fourth of the undergraduate student body!

Often referred to as happiness, Seligman, in a departure from his first theory of Authentic Happiness, now says the good life is more akin to Flourishing than happiness. Flourishing, Seligman points out, includes these five essential elements:

  • Positive emotion
  • Engagement – the flow state
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishments

Positive Psychology is about more than the happiness of mood swings, and even more than about life satisfaction. By working on all five elements, the chance for a fulfilling life is thereby increased many times over.

What might be missing from the five elements above is the element of self-realization, as exemplified by the being of existence rather than the doing. This domain includes being present, holding conscious awareness, and experiencing the benefits that derive from a contemplative practice. Although self-realization might be subsumed under meaning, it is a much deeper dimension.

The Graduate Institute is proud to offer its own Certificate in Positive Psychology, Emotional Wellbeing and Happiness, a 12-credit program starting on July 20, 2018.

Positive Psychology, as taught at The Graduate Institute serves as foundational theory for both therapists and life coaches to develop the skills needed to help clients achieve optimal functioning and the ability to flourish.

Learn more about the program here.

Charles Silverstein, PhD

Charles is dedicated to pursuing his deep interest in personal transformation, alternative healing, and the relationship between science and spirituality. He holds an MA degree in Conscious Evolution from TGI, and a PhD in Transformative Studies from the California Institute of Integral Studies. His research interests included higher stages of adult development, transformative practices, spiritual development and personal growth with an emphasis on meditative practices and somatic awareness.

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Story Creation begins with asking the Right Questions

Last weekend’s session with the Writing and Oral Traditions cohort was like being at a retreat.

The Annual Connecticut Storytelling Festival and Conference at Connecticut College in New London was filled with music, laughter and most of all, good stories.

My favorite presenter was nationally-known storyteller Donald Davis. He was mesmerizing and funny from his first story Friday night, “Come Home with Me,” to his last “gem” on Saturday night. Through his real-life stories about his childhood, you felt like you knew the characters he described as you listened to him. There was a universal feeling of commonality in all of his stories that everyone could relate to.

Donald’s description of his parents, grandmother and little brother, were tender, warm, compassionate and funny. I wondered how he could remember all of those stories. In his Saturday afternoon workshop, titled “So You Think You Don’t Have Stories?”, he explained in a simple, straightforward way that one can find stories just by looking into their past.

Asking the Right Questions

Donald started the session with a look at early education. When a child is in grade school up to Junior High, after they read a story, they’re asked what happened. In high school, after students read a story, they’re asked what the plot was. Donald pointed out that those two questions end the creativity process. Those questions make a student feel that something has to happen or else they don’t have a story. It’s difficult to find a plot if the idea for a story hasn’t formed yet.

Donald doesn’t find stories by asking himself what happened; he goes back in time and remembers places and people. Donald writes lists of the places he’s lived and visited to start gathering bits and pieces for his stories. For example, if you ask Grandma about something that happened in her life, she would probably say nothing or wouldn’t be able to think of anything she thinks is important. If you ask Grandma to describe her house; what the rooms looked like, who came to visit, what she liked to cook and what her family liked to eat, she would tell you everything she could think of. Through those reminisces, stories form. “Uncle Grover” may have been over one night when something happened and there’s a story. A story can be found in the midst of an uneventful memory on an average day. You may hear an inverted sentence or something out of the ordinary.

Donald makes another list of people. He writes down all the people he knew from immediate family to distant relatives, teachers, neighbors, classmates, family friends, church people, all the way down to the postman. Then, he goes back many times in his mind to those memories, concentrating, until they become clear. Years ago, he wanted to write about his childhood neighborhood, but he couldn’t remember much in the beginning. As he kept at it, going back in time to the same place, he was able to name all of the neighbors on his old street.

Sadly, Donald lost his wife last December, but he still keeps her alive in his stories. Sometimes all that’s left living of a person is their obit and their story. He doesn’t invent stories and he keeps them positive, so he doesn’t have to worry about offending anyone. He finds the humor in storytelling through descriptiveness. In laughter, there’s recognition. The audience has to feel the emotion to be there with him.

Donald used “The Odyssey” as a model for everything. Leaving home to find home. When you go back, home is the same, but we’re not. We’re changed by the journey. All of the scraps of life we gather up in our lives are like quilt scraps. They’re all there in bits and pieces and we, as storytellers, have to put them into piles, and select our stories from them.

If you build a portrait for your story, it won’t move. There has to be progress, everything comes back again and the end is at the story’s starting point. What did we learn? And, you don’t have to be chronologically correct all the time. In memoir, you can add some truth to a place in the story where it fits best and the story will still be real and authentic.

I heard every word Donald said Saturday afternoon and it got me thinking way back in my past, to all of those people who touched my life in many different ways. Not only the good but the bad, because there are stories there too, to flesh out and learn from.

The exercises Donald uses to find stories were the highlight of my weekend because I like to know how things work. I came away with so much rich material in my own life, I’ll never be without a story again!

Here is a story I created using the techniques I learned at the workshop:

Grandma’s Wake

The summer I graduated from high school my maternal grandmother, Susan, died. She was the matriarch of her family (see vintage family photo above) and every one of her four living children behaved while she was living. What happened after was a saga that continued for many years.

My grandfather designed the plans for the big white house that sat on a large corner block of Woodin Street and Glemby Street. The front door with the vestibule was on Woodin. If someone rang the doorbell, my grandmother wouldn’t answer because she didn’t know them. Her house was spotless and everyone took their shoes off in her back enclosed porch or you stayed outside.

After the wake, everyone (including people I didn’t know) went back to my grandmother’s house. This was a complete surprise because my grandparents lived quietly in their later years. They never had parties or people over except their children and even then, they were kept in the kitchen or on the back porch.

That night, in late June after my Grandmother’s wake, every light was on in her house. The front door was wide open and the vestibule door was open. The little anti-chamber had small black and white tiles on the floor and there was a closet in there. No one ever entered the vestibule and I was afraid to look in the closet, but that night, it was overloaded with hanging coats and coats thrown on the floor. There were people everywhere. My grandfather sat in his chair in the enclosed porch, oblivious to what was going on around him. Everyone was walking on my grandmother’s white rugs with their shoes on. Someone moved her stuffed dog off the white couch and it was on its side on the floor. Drinks sat on her expensive mahogany coffee and end tables without coasters. As I watched the pools of sweat from the glasses make rings on the wood, I pictured my grandmother’s face if she were there.

I felt uneasy as I went from room to room, sober and sad, watching her family and strangers smoke and drink all over my grandmother’s beautiful, immaculate house. She wasn’t even buried yet and people were sitting in her sunroom off the living room, on the couch where she used to lie when she suffered from “palpitation” attacks. I always thought those “palpitations” were serious, because she was incapacitated for a whole day. You never knew if grandma was going to keep a date because if her “palpitations” occurred. My mother would pronounce grandma out of commission for the day, but the event would go on anyway.

I walked back through the living room into the kitchen where my Uncle Babe, the youngest, was opening the refrigerator door. He was a nice quiet guy, and the complete opposite of his siblings. I was looking for something normal in the house that night and he seemed to be acting like himself.

With his back to me, Uncle Babe asked how I was doing.

I replied, “Grandma would die all over again if she were here tonight and saw all of this.”

Then, just as he was taking a large bottle of soda off the shelf, a dozen eggs fell right out and shattered all over the floor! He turned around and looked at me.

I said, “Oh, Grandma’s watching and she doesn’t like this at all!”

A Memorable Cohort Experience

The entire Storytelling weekend was an experience I’ll never forget. It far surpassed my goals, objectives and visions. I enjoyed every second of it. Spending the weekend with the cohort and bonding even more through this experience was very special to me.

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A New Creation Story

Following the Institute-Wide Weekend and the immersion into the Universe’s story as well as the ways, beliefs and stories of indigenous people, I researched creation stories. Since my mentorship involves weaving, I researched several creation weaving stories from the Greek to the Hopi and Navajo.


I then spun my own tale:

In the time before, The deep time before time, there was Weaver Woman. She lived in the darkness, velvet soft blackness, in the quiet and stillness. Weaver Woman sat at her spinning wheel creating beauty from nothingness. Bountiful mounds of color surrounded her, spilling over in magnificent shades from deep and rich to the barest suggestion of tint.

From the depth of her heart, from her imagination, from her spirit, she began to weave Creation. Her shuttle, gliding back and forth through the darkest warp threads, formed the sun out of brilliant gold, orange and crimson. The moon, she wove of luminous grays. Across the black cloth of the universe, she wove in sparkling silver stars, scattering them across the expansive darkness.
With the sun, the moon and the stars, came light and Weaver Woman’s loom set a rhythm to creation, creating day with dawn’s hint of lavender before the advent of day’s cerulean and sapphire blues. She wove twilight with its pinks and rose before the deepening of an ebony night.

She wove water, from tranquil clear lakes and ponds to powerful, briny oceans, their surfaces woven from turquoise to the boldest of blues, greens and grays. She wove in smooth and calm ripples and with shuttle flying, she wove the waves, ferocious and crashing.

Weaver Woman looked at the open skies and as she whispered over her loom, she laced the wind with wispy swaths of clouds that drifted across the sky. She added puffs of white clouds, gently round, to float and later, the thunderclouds that billowed and towered in roiling storms with slashing arcs of lightning to brighten the angry skies. Weaver Woman looked at her loom, at the coverlet of the universe she had created. She was pleased.

From her treasure of yarns and threads, she began to weave the Earth. Filling her shuttle with browns, greens, yellows and reds, she worked the weft into creating the center of the earth, the sold, dense deepest center. She added soaring mountains capped with white, jagged ridges and rolling hillsides. She carefully selected ribbons of ruby and scarlet, pinks and purples, and yellows and she embroidered cherry-blossoms, roses, heather and daffodils. She entwined the ribbons and spread capes of wildflowers across the land. Trees and plants were created to live in the Earth’s rhythm, created to the beat of the treadle. Weaver Woman looked at Creation and she smiled.

Yet something was missing. Her Creation was alive and pulsing. It had music. The music of the wind and the waves filled the earth. But something was lacking.

Weaver Woman’s heart spoke to her. She was lonely, weaving above her creation. Thoughtfully, she took her shuttle and setting her warp threads and pressing her treadles, she bent close to her cloth and began to work. She toiled for a long time. Day and night chased itself across the sky, with the moon changing its face as it traveled. The Earth saw the seasons of life and death, of snow and rebirth.

When Weaver Woman was done, she settled back and gazed at all she had created. Her treasures of yarn and thread and ribbon were almost gone. She tied off the warp threads and gently took her Creation from the loom. Holding it before her, she smiled. Her heart was filled with joy at the scene before her. Birds of all colors, their feathers delicately sewn into the cloth we scattered in flight across the skies. Sea mammals, fish and shell creatures teemed in the waters. Animals, majestic and minute, elaborate and plain,

trekked across plains, climbed mountainsides, built homes in trees and grasses, rested in shady glens and steaming jungles. Birdsong rode the breeze along with the chirps and buzzing of insects. Weaver Woman was delighted.

But it was when Weaver Woman lovingly smoothed her hand over her Creation and gently whispered her heart's wish to it, that her Creation was finally complete. For on the breath of that wish, humans took their first breath and began to fulfill her heart's deepest desire. They loved and brought forth children. In gratitude, they cared for the earth, for the water and all of life. They gave thanks for the sun and the rain, for the earth’s bounty and at night, they sang to the stars.

Weaver Woman held Creation to her heart, embracing it for just a few beats before she unfurled it and flung it out to float on her prayers forever.

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A Healthy Life and a Healthy Body

Studies reveal that women diagnosed with the same cancers as men live longer and that married men live longer than single men with the same cancers; smoke as much and have fewer cases of lung cancer than single men. It is not female hormones, or sleeping with them, that is protecting these men and women. It is their connections and relationships. Years ago, I was criticized for asking people what happened in the year or two before they became sick. I was told I was blaming people and creating guilt. Recent studies show that loneliness affects the genes which control our immune response. So, people who feel lonely are more likely to develop autoimmune diseases, viral illnesses and cancer. I may add that a sense of humor laughter improves survival statistics.

I bring this up because I want women to keep their power and not live a role related to doing things for other people. I’ll make this marriage works if it kills me can kill you. Being the good girl to please parents and spouses while internalizing all your feelings is self destructive. It turns on the cancer genes. I have seen an audience of southern women become hostile to my wife and me after our presentation. I couldn’t understand what we had done wrong. A friend said, “You didn’t do anything wrong. They are jealous of your relationship. Your wife can interrupt and correct you and shares the stage. They have gone from politeness to submissiveness.”

Please ladies let your heart guide you through life so what you do is out of love. Then you benefit from your activities as does the recipient of your love. When you can’t die until all the kids are married and out of the house what happens when they do all move out. I have watched a woman with nine kids die, twenty years after being diagnosed with cancer, when the kids all left home.

One woman did a drawing for me entitled will the real me please stand up. It shows a mommy and a professional and you don’t need to be a therapist to know which one makes her happy. So, do what makes you happy and keep your power. Don’t wait to develop cancer to obtain permission. If something is threatening your health eliminate it from your life be it a marriage, job or anything else. If it does not threaten your health then give love a chance to heal the relationship. You have a choice when your health is not at risk to change your life or your attitude. You can be born again free of your disease. Life is a labor pain related to your birthing your unique self.

For men the relationship is with their job and self image. Lose your job or be too sick to work and, "There's no point in living. I can't work anymore." That statement was made while his wife and children were sitting next to him in my office. I also know men who have committed suicide when told they can't work or participate in sports anymore due to their illness. Any doctor who told me I can't work would be made to write it on his prescription pad so I could post it on our fridge at home for my wife to see.

Relationships, like marriage, or with family or your doctor, are a struggle according to my wife and an ordeal according to Joseph Campbell. They are both talking about creating a relationship so that 1+1=3.A relationship is not about what each individual wants but about a third entity, the relationship they create. So be sure your spouse, partner, family and doctor are willing to create a relationship you can all live with and each take 60% responsibility for. Relationships give our lives meaning and help us to heal. An Australian study revealed that after a heart attack if you went home to a house with a dog 12 months later 5% of the people had died. No dog in the house 26% had died in the year after the heart attack. Even plants and gold fish prolong life in nursing homes and even in concentration camps the will to live and connect with others had an amazing effect on survival.

A sure sign of future successful relationships is that the persons involved are criticized by the people they work with, the people they work for and their family. These are people who are willing to learn, accept criticism and apologize rather than make excuses or blame others. The tourists are then trained by the natives who understand the experience they are living with that the other party has never been exposed to.

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