Chapter One

Facing the Tiger

This first of The Five Questions asks you to look at your life and pick out a recent life ‘moment’ that still has some strong emotional or mental energy associated with it. It could be a positive or a negative experience, but I want you to start working with one that you would like to have avoided if you could have. Think of a situation that has you thinking, “I sure wish that hadn’t happened!” Transforming one of those moments has truly transformative potential. As you will see, it is actually a little easier to work with what you would see as a negative experience. There seems to be more ‘juice’ there, and the lessons you are seeking are closer to the surface.

I like to call what you are about to do ‘facing the tiger.’ If you lived and worked in the part of the world where tigers live, and a tiger were to come upon you suddenly, what would be your first (human) instinct? Run! Yes, run! However, if you do turn away and run, six million years of evolutionary training kicks in. The tiger’s eyes see a small, slow figure running away, as my colleague, Mark Yeoell, says, “The yummy one with the crunchy center.” The tiger’s brain registers, “Lunch!” with great delight. Then the tiger runs you down and kills you, either eating you immediately or saving you for later.

Tigers are hard-wired to chase a small, slow, pudgy figure running away. Are you kidding? They can’t stop themselves. If you have a kitten, and you drag a string in front of it ten times, how many times will the kitten jump on the string? Ten times out of ten. Chasing a figure running away is hard-wired into the tiger’s-and all felines’-operating system.

The bottom line: if you run away from a tiger, your chances of survival are essentially zero. However, the people who live amongst tigers say that if you turn and face the tiger, maybe not. Now, let’s be clear, it may still eat you! This is not some magic story here, but the tiger will stop for a moment and think about what it wants to do. So, if you face the tiger, your chances of survival are somewhat greater than zero. In the simple act of turning and confronting the tiger, you have created not a guarantee but a possibility, a possibility that wasn’t there before. That’s all, just a chance, but it’s a chance for a different outcome, which is significantly better than the alternative.

A ‘tiger’ is often a conversation you know you need to have, or a situation you know you need to turn and face, people with whom you need to speak about something bothering you or affecting your work team, organization, family or friendship. The alternative is to continue to walk-or run-away from them, and hope they don’t chase you. But consider this: If you are not facing one of your tigers, it’s already eating you. Running away from an issue actually makes it loom more powerful than it often is.

Where do you sense the presence of a tiger in your life?

  • work
  • family/loved ones
  • relationships/friends
  • health and well being
  • personal/spiritual development
  • finances
  • community and larger world

Chapter Four

What Am I Bringing?

As you turn toward that tiger that confronts you at work, or elsewhere, what are you bringing to the situation? These would be your expectations, your assumptions, your history with this person, your hopes and fears. In short, what do you want to happen as a result of exploring what is going on?

Take great care here. Your response to this second of the Five Questions will determine how much value you get out of this process. What am I bringing? is a powerful question, possibly the most powerful question you could ever ask yourself, because your answer creates the space for everything that happens next. It determines what you are able to see and experience. You are going to find what you are looking for. If you happen to discover something else, something different-possibly more valuable, it will be pure chance, or a result of your expanding awareness or your changing what you are seeking. I call it grace.

How powerful is what you bring to a ‘moment?’ Here’s an example:

The Carpet Expert and the Electrician

What you bring not only determines what you will get out of reading this book, it also determines what you see and experience in every interaction you have. It couldn’t be any other way. As I alluded to before, there is a wonderful ancient Sufi saying that says, “When a pickpocket walks up to a spiritual teacher, all he sees are pockets.” The potential for the pickpocket in an encounter with a profound transformational presence is huge, but if all he/she sees is another ‘mark,’ it reduces the value of the exchange to how much money the teacher is carrying, or how smooth will be the ‘lift.’ What a shame. A missed opportunity.

Here’s another example. If a carpet expert walked into the room where you are, what would she notice without even having to think about it? What could she tell you with little or no conscious effort? In a matter of a few seconds, she could probably tell you (with amazing accuracy) the square footage of the room, the thread count of the carpet, its cost, its durability, and whether the colors ‘work’ or not. She notices the carpet because of what she ‘brings’ to the experience.

If an electrician walked in right behind her-again without any conscious thinking-what would he notice? Probably how many outlets there are on the walls, where they are placed, the sufficiency and location of the lighting system, etc. What would he likely not notice? Among other things, he might miss the carpet entirely! As a result of what he ‘brings,’ the electrician will see things that are important to him and miss other important things, as will the carpet expert. Each ‘brings’ a different set of eyes, expectations, and sense of what is important to the room, and what they bring virtually determines the shape and size of what is available to them.

The Human Brain

Researchers have determined that the human brain is processing four hundred billion bits of information each second. That could be overwhelming, but our minds are aware of only two thousand of those bits. Our internal system is filtering out 99.99999% of what is coming in, and attending to the little that is left. There is even research that documents what the eye ‘sees’ in TV ads. Using a scanner that can determine where a viewer’s eyes are focusing, marketers can find out what kind of images are more likely to be looked at or, I would say ‘seen.’ What those watching are seeing is being shaped by what they each ‘bring’ to the scenes being shown. As you might expect, men and women ‘see’ different facets of what is shown, as do older versus younger viewers, as do people from different cultures. Even within those larger samples, individuals notice different nuances as well.

We human beings are walking around all day looking out at what is happening and yet only attending to an infinitely small percentage of what is there for us to see. It’s scary to think about what we are missing as a result of the filters we ‘bring’ to each encounter with the world. Imagine how, like the pickpocket standing beside spiritual teacher and seeing only pockets, we are limiting the possibilities by reducing our world to what we have come to know and expect.

The Impossible Possibility

It is possible to shift what you are bringing, however. In the seminar based on The Five Questions, some people are ‘sent’ by their boss or life partner. This means they show up on the first day grudgingly pursuing someone else’s agenda for them. We tell them that if they are sitting there for someone else’s reasons, they are not in the room yet. We suggest that the program will actually start for them the instant they come up with a reason of their own for being there.

Some people come looking for leadership or interpersonal techniques they can use on others. Another missed opportunity. What a tiny thing to be after. That is why in the Pre-Work, and on the first day, we challenge participants to take on Question 2: What am I bringing? The invitation is to expand what they came for, to go for something really huge, something they may even have considered out of reach. We challenge them to go for what I call an ‘impossible possibility.’

An impossible possibility is something that you know is theoretically possible but, from where you are standing, appears to be highly unlikely or completely out of reach. See how a shift in what a few recent seminar participants ‘brought’ opened the door to greater possibilities:

  • The initial question: How can I get my spouse to stop hounding me about not being home enough? I feel guilty enough as it is.
  • The impossible possibility: How can I double my results at work while also doubling the time I spend with my family?
  • The initial question: How can I get that person at work to stop causing me and my colleagues so much trouble?
  • The impossible possibility: How can I gain access to a way of working with conflict so everyone wins and no one is damaged?
  • The initial question: Why can’t we make more profit from our seminars?
  • The impossible possibility: How an we effortlessly fill our programs with people who gladly pay top dollar for the privilege?

What if you approached your interactions with other people, especially the challenging ones, as potential transformational experiences, expanding and deepening who you are-thus maximizing your contribution to life. It’s not that complicated. It simply requires you to become aware of what you are ‘bringing,’ and to ask whether that is large enough. To open yourself to expanding and deepening possibility in your life, start asking yourself questions like these:

  • Is where I am coming from in this interaction worthy of who we all are?
  • What am I ‘bringing’ to this moment-and how is that affecting what could happen?
  • What am I missing in this situation that could change the way it turns out?
  • What is an ‘impossible possibility’ worth going for here?

Chapter Fourteen

Living A Purpose Worthy of Who You Are

Having taken on Question 3, What Runs Me? perhaps you can now see how you have been living your life guided by an ‘Autopilot,’ employing a (mostly) unconscious ‘Con’ designed to get regular ‘hits’ of what your Somebody Training said you needed (your ‘Addiction’), and avoid any hint of what that training told you would be deadly (your ‘Terror’). It all adds up to a life based on a strategy developed a l-o-n-g time ago intended to keep you safe and looking good.

The question posed next is: If that is not what you are on the planet for, then why are you here? When you get beyond (or beneath) all that automatic living programmed into you, what are you putting yourself-the wonderful attributes from your Persona and the Stretches in your Shadow-in the service of?

In short, What calls you?

The Call from Outside

The more obvious response to this question has to do with what calls you from outside, from the world. In fact, the concept of being ‘called’ is at the root of our word ‘vocation’ (from the Latin, vocare-to call or speak), and is usually associated with people in religious roles. In the past, those who heard and responded to ‘the call’ were known as ‘ecclesiastical’ (from the Greek, ekleseia-the called out ones). Like today’s volunteer fire fighters, when the divine siren went off, they were the ones who heard it and responded. Looked at in this vein, the question would be: What calls to you from the world? What is a need that exists ‘out there’ that grabs you and won’t let you go? We will return to this call-from-outside a little later in this chapter.

Frederick Beutner’s words make a perfect transition here: The place Life calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Let’s first explore “your deep gladness,” or what calls you from inside.

The Call from Inside

As important as the world’s needs are, taking on Question 4 is not initially about what calls you from outside, or about what job or task should you should set yourself to. Questions like, “What would be the best place for me to ‘aim’ myself and my gifts?” or “Should I be doing what I am doing now?” are crucial to ask yourself, but they come later.

Other questions need to come first:

  • What inside me calls out to be expressed into the world?
  • What in me simply must be manifest in whatever work I do?
  • What is my soul here to learn and to contribute?

Before you decide what job you should take on out there in the world, you must take on the inner work of reconnecting with your own soul and its essence. The word ‘job,’ by the way, comes from the Old English word gobbe, referring to how laborers got paid back then-by the lump of whatever they were hauling or shoveling. ‘Work’ on the other hand, comes from the Greek word erg, which, if you remember your high school physics, is a measure of how much force it takes to move one gram one centimeter. Work is energy with a vector. You could say work is purposeful energy being exerted in a specific direction.

If you only search for the job ‘out there’ and fail to base it on the work that is most true about you ‘in here,’ no matter how important the external task you take on, eventually you-and that task-will founder. What you DO on the outside must be connected deeply and directly with who you ARE on the inside.

The rest of nature understands this. An acorn would never try to become a pine tree; it has to become an oak tree. It must grow into what it is designed or intended to be. I am not implying, as some would argue, that there is a divine plan that you have to fit into. If that were the case, then this whole book and the notion of doing any inner work would be rendered useless. Put the book down and simply keep doing what you’re doing-and hope the plan is in place. That kind of fatalism is not what this is about.

What is Your ‘Charism?’

What I am suggesting is that each of us has inside a tendency or urge to manifest something out there in the world that is connected with who and what is deep within us. Throughout history that urge has been the focus of attention for profound thinkers and spiritual teachers, and has been called the charism (pronounced ‘care-ism’). You know that word. We say it about special people we see as ‘charismatic.’ Originally, for the Greeks who named it, a charism was simply a gift, seen as a divinely proffered ability to know or do things. The truth is that we are all gifted, each in our own way. No one is left out. The question is not Am I gifted or not? but rather What are those gifts that make me who I am?

Artists understand this charism principle. Throughout history they have been the ones among us who realize their charism, and allow it to express itself in their work. They will tell you, in fact, that they feel compelled to express that creative urge or knowing, turning it into something that can be seen or heard in the physical world.

If you look back over the various jobs you have had, you may be able to see the ‘footprint’ of your charisms, your core gifts, your essence, or soul’s qualities. Perhaps you can see the inner theme that has woven itself through what you have been doing on the outside all along.