Discovering What Our World is Trying to Be
by Michael Jones
There is a thread you follow that goes among the things that change
— Poet William Stafford From The Way it Is
A few weeks ago I gave a keynote presentation in Pueblo Colorado for a Chamber of Commerce awards dinner recognizing the outstanding gifts and contributions their leaders have brought in introducing heath and well being to their communities.
I opened my presentation with a line from a poem by William Stafford, a much loved and prolific poet from the American Mid West.
“Your job is to find what the world is trying to be”
These words come from the last line of Stafford’s poem Vocation – The words vocation and voice come from the same root vocare which means to call as in discovering what we are uniquely called to do.
And that is what these leaders held in common. They had discovered what they were uniquely called to do – and through finding their voice they had also helped bring into the light the personal aspirations of those around them.
As an improvisational musician I am instinctively drawn to taking a poetic line and exploring its melodic possibilities. So Stafford’s line may also read….
Our job is to discover what our life is trying to be
Implied in this question is that there is a natural order to how things unfold that will lead us to what really matters – poems, music and creative and leaderful actions – if we don’t interfere.
Stafford believed that to be connected to this natural order we need to stay in alignment with what is already unfolding. That is, to be careful to distinguish between what is occurring naturally from what we believe ought to be happening. When Stafford did this – asking what these fragments of thoughts, patterns and images where trying to say – poems came to him freely and abundantly.
For leaders this means that instead of trying to impose their will based on what they believe ought to happen – they instead maintain a heightened state of awareness for what is already alive in the situation and emerging naturally. Though the future cannot be predicted, it can be imagined and felt. So rather than avoiding surprise, leaders can instead embrace uncertainty and learn from the unexpected.
To embrace uncertainty we need a central image that enlivens our imagination and helps us hold faith in the future that is so completely unknown. For William Stafford this image was the golden thread.
In this world of complexity and constant change when it is difficult to have confidence in a long term strategy or plan, there is a thread we can follow and it is the thread of our own aliveness. We hear this aliveness in the stories we tell. And if we stay the course we may in time discover that this thread of aliveness will also lead us to the place we recognize as home once we arrive.
To read more of this article, please visit Michael’s Pianoscapes blog.
Michael Jones presents The Soul of Place: Re-imagining leaders as storytellers and place-makers as well as The Leader as Artist at Mindcamp 2012.