Archive of past Breathing Room posts.

Start Close In ~ by David Whyte

steps to a goal

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something

To find
another’s voice,
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

~David Whyte, River Flow: New and Selected Poems

Creative Destruction

fall foliageIt is hard to find anything friendly about the word “destruction.”   Yet the fall gives us colorful reminders of destruction in the natural world.  Leaves fall off trees and they do so marvelously, as if they were celebrating! 

I notice in organizations that there is a tendency to “pile on” projects, ideas, committees, goals—all great stuff, of course.  Yet, I wonder, how people find the time, the energy, the resources to do all this great work when their plates are already overflowing.

Creative Destruction is a term that comes from a Hindu principle represented by the god Shiva who is paradoxically both creator and destroyer.   Destruction is necessary for creation to happen. 

Intentionally letting go of what might be limiting you leaves room for the creation of new processes, ideas, products, and relationships.  This gives your innovation some breathing room—space to succeed.

What can you let go of in order to make space for the buds of creation to take hold?  And how can you celebrate the endings as you make space for new beginnings?

Stillness Speaks

“True intelligence operates silently. Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found.”

~Eckhart Tolle


Along the shores of Lake Erie and Lake Washington this summer I have observed herons—these graceful, slightly awkward birds.  They have such a talent for stillness, for waiting patiently, for listening, for detecting the tiniest stirs in their environment.  Nothing gets past them.   I have also been watching myself and others around me and how we fill pockets of time by whipping out our “smart phones” for a quick check of email or Facebook.  We are addicted to interruptions.  Ironically, we complain about how we have no time and how overwhelmed we are, yet it seems we scamper away from stillness.    I have been experimenting with being in stillness this summer.  Like the heron, it’s a deliberate and purposeful stillness.  Like the heron, my life force depends on it.

Take a breath; inhale.   On your exhale, relax your jaw and your shoulders.  Inhale again.  And ask yourself, what would it be like if there were just a little more stillness in my being right now?  Listen to your body’s response.

You are made of stars

compostella hiker

Walking to the field of your dreams is made lighter by letting go.
What can you let go of ?
Remember you are made
of the stuff of stars!

Take a breath.  Inhale and fill your being
with light.  Notice the space around you,
above you, and beneath you.
Notice the space within your cells.
You are made of the stuff of stars.
Walk lightly upon the earth.

The Spiral of Becoming

 On a recent snowshoeing hike at Mt. Rainier National Park with my colleague, Jeff Carter, a Naturalist and Leadership Facilitator, I learned that the lines in a tree trunk form a spiral going around the tree.  The lines at the bottom of the trunk, nearest the earth, are closer together in the spiral.  As my eye wandered the length of the trunk upwards, I noticed the lines of the spiral are more spread out. 

We see spirals in many places in the natural world: a nautilus, a spider web, the tip of a fern about to unfurl, the petals of a rose, a pine cone, a galaxy of stars. In each of these, energy is concentrated in the center and propels growth outward. 


Transformation is birthed from what we hold at our center.  Like the lines on the trunk of the tree transformation looks different in different parts of a system.  Even though we may be part of the same system or organization, our experience at the center of the spiral may be very different from our experience in the farther reaches o f the spiral. 

Where are you on the spiral of your own experience with what you want to bring into the world?

Take a breath.  On your inhale allow your energy to spiral up and out like the branches of a tree reaching towards the sun.  Exhale and see that slowly circling light spiral through you and into the center of the earth.  Notice that you have space above and below you and all around you.  Ask yourself, “What would it be like to have a little more ease  in my becoming?”  Notice your body’s response.

Revolutionary Thought: We came here to play!!

kids_playingVisualize this:  two young girls recognize each other across the playfield and run to greet each other.  One girl’s father says, “We only have thirty minutes before we need to go home for dinner.”  The girls hug each other and are filled with delight.  They talk fast and their voices lilt with giggles.  They run off to the swings and play: thirty hot minutes stretch before them into infinity.
Isn’t this what we are here for?  To delight in each other’s company and to play.
Becoming an adult often means chiseling away at play time in the name of “more serious” pursuits.  Here’s the thing.   In organizations we want to be innovative, creative, and resourceful.  We want high performance and great employee satisfaction scores.  But we have forgotten how to play!
Begin today.
Take a breath.  On your inhale allow your energy to expand up and out like the branches of a tree.  Exhale…follow your breath like a slowly circling light through you, to your center and into the earth.  Ask yourself, “What would it be like to have a little more playfulness in my being?” Notice your body’s response.

What is your vision?

The great leader and visionary, Martin Luther King Jr., would have celebrated his 84th birthday this week.   Dr. King held the vision of equality for all.  He dreamed a world where, “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”  In some parts of the world this is possible.  It’s possible in my world, in my family, where only fifty years ago it was impossible.
Holding a vision for the world we want to create—even if we don’t live to see that world—is central to leadership.  Leaders inspire with their vision of what’s possible despite the nay-sayers.  The leaders I admire most live out their vision in their daily lives.  They embody their vision.  Their enthusiasm and deeply lived passion enrolls others in the creation of a shared vision.  We want to follow them; we want to help create what they hold out for us as attainable, possible, and filled with grace.
What about you?  How are you holding your vision?  Who is holding it with you?

The Circle: A Liberating Structure of Leadership

Since the tragedy at Sandy Hill Elementary in Connecticut, I have been reflecting on the circle as a liberating structure in leadership.  It’s not a new structure yet it is so rarely practiced in “civil society.”   In the very old days we sat around a fire for warmth.  And in that circle we began to create our plan for solving a problem or for celebrating.   In a circle we see each other.  We aren’t talking to each other’s backs or over each other’s laptops but into the collective territory we are creating together in the center.
In pre school, children and the adults gather in circle time several times per day.  It is the structure for coming together and organizing, problem solving, getting started on a project, and so on.  The process always begins with a circle.  Then in kindergarten and older grades the desks and chairs get in the way. Gradually classrooms look like pyramids with the teacher at the top of the pyramid, and students in rows underneath it.  Pyramids are so familiar in organizations.  Organizational charts all look like pyramids: a few at the top and then rows of people underneath, with more populated rows at the bottom of the pyramid.  Our societies reflect the pyramid structure: a few at the top, lots at the bottom.
The circle liberates us to share leadership, to find solutions in the collective wisdom and knowledge of the whole.
The words of Marianne Williamson, which Nelson Mandela made famous in his inaugural address, remind us that leadership is not just for a few:
“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.  As we are liberated from our own fears our presence automatically liberates others.”
What would happen if we brought back the circle in our organizations, maybe not all at once, but little by little, a few minutes at a time?
Try this:  Meet in an open space, gather a few chairs around in a circle, or stand in a circle. Conference tables are great but they invite us to bring in all our stuff: our laptops, papers, cell phones—all tantalizing distractions from the important work of really seeing and listening to one another.

Soupir: Rest Notes

In written music rest notes are marked just as all the other musical notes are indicated.  The rest notes are pauses of a certain length between notes.  Not every rest note is the same.  Some are whole rest notes, some are half, or quarter, or sixteenth rest notes.  The one pictured here is a quarter rest note.  I like it for its swoosh.  The French name for this rest note is “soupir,” which means a soft sigh, a soft exhale.   The pauses between the notes are precise and on purpose.  And they give greater voice to the composition of sounds on either side of them.
What would it be like to take precise and on purpose rests in our conversations?  To not rush to fill the space with words, but to let the words land, and to softly exhale before verbalizing the next thought.
Take a breath.  Allow your inhale to extend your energy up and out.  On your exhale see your breath like a slowly circling light winding through you and into the earth.  Notice the space above and below you and around you.  Allow gravity to relax your shoulders.  Ask yourself the question, “What would it be like to have a few more rest notes in my conversations today?”

Listening to the Whole

“Leadership is about being better able to listen to the whole than anyone else can,”

 Jeffrey Hollender, CEO of Seventh Generation

What is the quality of your listening?  Are you listening to your own opinions forming in your mind while being spoken to—preparing a response?    Or are you able to place your intention in your listening, allowing new ideas and new meaning to emerge?  What treasure or concern might you be missing if you aren’t fully present in your listening?
Take a breath.  On your inhale, extend your energy up and out like the branches of a tree.  On your long exhale, see a slowly circling ribbon of light go all the way through you and connect to the earth.  Find your center.  Notice the space around you and above you.  From this centered place, ask yourself the question, “What would it be like if there were just a little more listening in my being right now?”