Storytelling at Work
May 30, 2020
The Sudden Glass of Orange Juice

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There is an expression in poker called "going all in" which I've always loved. It refers to the moment when a poker player pushes all of his chips into the middle of the table, letting everyone know that he is betting everything, holding back nothing. Either his hand is so good, he knows he can't lose or he's trying to bluff everyone out of the game.

Several years ago, I had one of those moments -- not in a poker game, but in my kitchen. At the time, I was living in one of Prem Rawat's ashrams. Our lease was up and we had a only a week to move before the landlord threw us out.

We'd been trying for a while to find a new abode, but to no avail. The only place we could find -- just a few blocks away -- was a complete and total disaster. The previous tenant was a heroin addict and a devotee of the dark arts. As the realtor walked us from room to room we couldn't believe our eyes. Everywhere we looked there were syringes, many filled with blood. There was garbage everywhere, black magic books, rotting food, and, to top it all off, a dead dog in the back yard. Not exactly the centerfold of Metropolitan Home.

On the plus side, the rent was affordable and the house was available. Plus, the eight of us, ridiculously optimistic young men, were up for the challenge. And so we signed the lease.

For the next seven days we worked around the clock to rehabilitate the place. We pulled up rugs. We pulled up floors. We disinfected, scrubbed, scoured, power-sprayed, cleaned, vacuumed, painted, polished, and buried the dog. I still remember George Hope, bear hugging the refrigerator into submission and carrying it into the back yard to hose it down.

Now here's where things get even trippier. Three days after moving in, we get a phone call informing us that Mahatma Padarthanand, one of Prem's stellar emissaries from India, was arriving in Denver tomorrow and would be moving in with us for a month.

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What? Really? Just seven days ago our house was a hellhole and now a holy man would be our guest?

My role in all of this was to make sure Mahatma-ji had what he needed. So, after showing him to his room, I asked if he had any requests.

"I'd like a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice in the morning after meditation," he said.

"Yes, Mahahatma-ji," I replied. "Consider it done."

An hour later, I made my way to a grocery store, bought two dozen oranges, and put them in the frig.

So there we are, the next morning, in the meditation room. Padarthanand is sitting on his meditation cushion, me sneaking glances at him every few minutes and noticing how still he is. No fidgeting. No fussing. No nodding out, like the rest of us. The man is completely still.

Remembering his orange juice request, I exit quietly, enter the kitchen, and open the frig. The oranges are gone. Every single one of them. Gone. Gone. Gone beyond. Gone beyond beyond. They are not on another shelf. They are not in the drawer next to the carrots. They are nowhere to be seen.

"This is not good," I say to myself. "In just 20 minutes our house guest from India will be emerging from his meditation and the only thing he asked me for -- fresh orange juice -- will not be there.

I look at my watch. The moment is upon me -- the moment of choice. What do I do? Do I calmly wait for Mahatmaji and explain to him that someone ate his oranges? Or do I go all in and sprint, barefoot, in my pajamas (no time to get dressed) to the nearest 7-11. The choice is clear. There's not a doubt in my mind. Not a single one. In a flash, I'm out the door, running down the street, praying the 7-11 has oranges.

And they do. Lots of them. I grab two bags, throw some money on the counter, and take off.

Back in my kitchen, out of breath, but not out of time, I open the bags and cut. Then I squeeze. Then I cut again. Then I squeeze again -- 20 times in a row -- filling the only pitcher I can find. And then... just as I squeeze the last bit of juice from the last orange, out of the corner of my eye, I see Padarthanand, in his perfectly creased yoga whites, smiling ever so slightly, moving slowly towards me.

He takes a glass from the shelf. He takes a step in my direction. He extends his glass. I lift the pitcher and pour.

FOR YOUR REFLECTION: One thing I know is this: We are all living in our own reality -- the one we create for ourselves. What happened to me (or for me) on that Denver morning of no oranges was simply another chapter in the book of life I'm writing. There was no right or wrong decision to make that day. There was nothing good or bad about what came to pass or didn't. Everything that happened was simply a function of the choices I made.

Another person might have made an entirely different choice and that choice would have been right for them. On another day, I might have made a different choice. Who knows? Same kitchen. Same Mahatma. Same refrigerator empty of oranges. On that memorable morning, I could have easily chosen to accept the apprarent limits of the moment and the outcome would have turned out differently.

But that is not the choice I made. For me, at that very juicy moment, going for it meant making maximum effort to deliver on a promise I had made -- to honor my word -- no matter what the seeming constraints of the situation.

That same moment is upon me now -- whether I'm locked down, acting up, or unmasked. And I presume that same moment is upon you, too. The details of our lives may be different. The cards in our hands may not be the same, but the same choice is upon us both -- whether to "go for it" or not.

What is that "go for it" moment for you? What is calling you these days? What will you choose against all odds?

What's this thing with oranges in my life?
PremRawat.com
TimelessToday
Photo: Samuel Branch, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2020
When Your Last Story Is Told

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Let's assume for the moment that you are intrigued by the notion of telling your stories. So you begin thinking about your memorable moments of truth and begin writing them down -- at least the titles, that is. The more titles you write, the more stories you remember -- stories from your childhood, travels, work, relationships, quest for meaning, accidents, disappointments, visions, victories, breakthroughs, synchronicities, near death experiences, strange lights in the sky, and so on.

Let's say you top out at 85 titles. But let's take it one step further. Let's say you actually write your stories. But not only write them -- you tell them, too, until every story of yours has been told.

You could, of course, choose to tell your stories again to other people in other ways. You could choose to turn them into screenplays, novels, blog posts, songs, sitcoms, workbooks, iPhone apps, or webinars. But you don't. You feel complete, every story in you having been told.

So there you are with no more need tell a single story (not even the story of why you are no longer telling stories).

Like small puddles evaporating after a storm, your need to tell your stories has completely disappeared. Now there is only solid ground beneath your feet and a cloud floating by.

Your friends and fans, accustomed to your delightful story telling, are keenly disappointed, but you say nothing. You say nothing because you have nothing to say. You have no point to make. The words you would normally use to populate your tales have gone south for the winter. They are vacationing somewhere on a remote island, cocktail party chit chat for the night.

Your last story has been told.

Though you are fully awake and can see many things happening, you have no need to connect the dots, no need for a plot, characters, conflict, or resolution. Everything is what it is. You are what you are, breathing slowly, wanting nothing, enjoying the time before the first story was told.

You think of telling that story, but don't. You let it go. Like the milkweed floating by.

Or the leaf.

Excerpted from Storytelling for the Revolution

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)

May 25, 2020
MARC BLACK: When You Get Back

More Marc
MarcBlack.com
Oooh, I Love My Coffee

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:40 AM | Comments (0)

May 22, 2020
Practice, Practice, Practice

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"Practice makes perfect." -- Benjamin Franklin

"Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect." -- Vince Lombardi

"They say that nobody is perfect. Then they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they'd make up their minds." -- Winston Churchhill

"My father taught me that the only way you can make good at anything is to practice and then practice some more." -- Pete Rose

"As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress; each drawing one makes, each study one paints, is a step forward." -- Vincent Van Gogh

"Practice puts brains in your muscles." -- Sam Snead

"An inventor fails 999 times, and if he succeeds once, he's in. He treats his failures simply as practice shots." -- Charles Kettering

"I've always considered myself to be just average talent and what I have is a ridiculous insane obsessiveness for practice and preparation." -- Will Smith

"Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired." -- Martha Graham

"One does not need buildings, money, power, or status to practice the Art of Peace. Heaven is right where you are standing, and that is the place to train." -- Morihei Ueshiba

"My writing practice taught me the important thing is steadfastness. It's not necessarily discipline. Discipline can become a prison. When your spiritual practices become another thing for you to be anxious about, they've lost their usefulness." -- Elizabeth Gilbert

"I find it's only when something is trying to come through I really practice. And then, I don't know how many hours. It's all day." -- John Coltrane

"The real meditation practice is how we live our lives from moment to moment to moment." -- Jon Kabat-Zinn

"Whether you're shuffling a deck of cards or holding your breath, magic is pretty simple: It comes down to training, practice, and experimentation, followed up by ridiculous pursuit and relentless perseverance." -- David Blaine

"If I don't practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it." -- Jascha Heifetz

"When I'm home on a break, I lock myself in my room and play guitar. After two or three hours, I start getting into this total meditation. It's a feeling few people experience, and that's usually when I come up with weird stuff. It just flows. I can't force myself. I don't sit down and say I've got to practice." -- Eddie Van Halen

"To handle a language skillfully is to practice a kind of evocative sorcery." -- Charles Baudelaire

"In my mind's eye, I visualize how a particular... sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice." -- Ansel Adams

"Ask yourself the secret of your success. Listen to your answer, and practice it." -- Richard Bach

"Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice... No one can prevent you from being aware of each step you take or each breath in and breath out." -- Thich Nhat Hanh

"In the end, it's about the teaching, and what I always loved about coaching was the practices. Not the games, not the tournaments, not the alumni stuff. But teaching the players during practice was what coaching was all about to me." -- John Wooden

"One cannot practice many arts with success." -- Plato

"I could never sit in a room and just play all by myself. I needed to play for people and all the time. You can say I practiced in public." -- Bob Dylan

"It helps to remember that our spiritual practice is not about accomplishing anything -- not about winning or losing, but about ceasing to struggle and relaxing as it is." -- Pema Chodron

"The key in letting go is practice. Each time we let go, we disentangle ourselves from our expectations and begin to experience things as they are." -- Sharon Salzberg

"Talent is only a starting point." -- Irving Berlin

"Mere philosophy will not satisfy us. We cannot reach the goal by mere words alone. Without practice, nothing can be achieved." -- Swami Satchidananda

"What I have achieved by industry and practice, anyone else with tolerable natural gift and ability can also achieve." -- J. S. Bach

"An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory." -- E.F. Schumacher

"Champions keep playing until they get it right." -- Billie Jean King

"It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied." -- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

"Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; art deserves that, for it and knowledge can raise man to the Divine". -- Ludwig van Beethoven

"You don't need to justify your love, you don't need to explain your love, you just need to practice your love. Practice creates the master." -- Don Miguel Ruiz

"My secret is practice." -- David Beckham

"I know you've heard it a thousand times before. But it's true -- hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don't love something, then don't do it." -- Ray Bradbury

"Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice." -- Anton Chekhov

"For every pass I caught in a game, I caught a thousand in practice." -- Don Hutson

"After a long time of practicing, our work will become natural, skillful, swift, and steady." -- Bruce Lee

"We learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. One becomes in some area an athlete of God." -- Martha Graham

"For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them." -- Aristotle

"You can't hire someone to practice for you." -- H. Jackson Brown Jr.

"The only way a kid is going to practice is if its total fun for him... and it was for me." -- Wayne Gretzky

"I don't know if I practiced more than anybody, but I sure practiced enough. I still wonder if somebody, somewhere, was practicing more than me." -- Larry Bird

"You are what you practice." -- Prem Rawat

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:58 AM | Comments (0)

May 21, 2020
I'm From Woodstock. Yes, I Am!

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I'm from Woodstock. Yes, that Woodstock, the famous Woodstock -- the most famous small town in the world some people say. Former home to Bob Dylan. Jimi Hendrix lived there for a summer in the house right across the street from my place. Levon Helm lived just two miles away. John Sebastian still lives here, as do a ton of other musicians, artists, writers, healers, therapists, car mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and just about anyone else you'd expect to be living in a small town.

Other than winter lasting six weeks too long, I love Woodstock. I've been a resident for 25 years and I'm proud to call it my home.

That being said, in the early days of starting my consulting business, I noticed a curious phenomenon about Woodstock, or at least my relationship to it, whenever a client or prospective client asked me where I was from.

Euphemism-itus.

If I declared myself to be resident of Woodstock, I ran the risk of not only being stereotyped as a counter culture whack job, but being in cahoots with an entire generation of freaks for whom the word "corporation" was second only to "military industrial complex" on the list of buzz kills -- a moment fully capable of leaving my well-dressed inquisitor with the impression that I was either dangerous, highly unqualified to be of value to his company, or a candidate to be paid in 100 pound bags of chickpeas.

So, I decided to take the low road.

With a hefty mortgage to pay and a family to support, I saw no reason to scare away potential clients -- especially potential clients who, when push came to shove, were asking where I lived just to break the ice.

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"Two hours north of Manhattan" was my standard response. "Upstate New York" was my backup, followed by "The Hudson Valley", "65 miles south of Albany", and the always dependable "Foothills of the Catskill Mountains".

So there I was, in Munich, at the International Headquarters of Allianz, one of the world's leading financial services institutions, with 142,000 employees and billions in sales.

My task? To lead a workshop, the next day, for the company's hard driving senior team in an effort to jump start the launch of a company-wide effort to "gain a competitive edge through increased innovation".

Corporate speak? Of course it was. But it didn't matter to me. I didn't care what euphemisms my clients used to frame their business challenges. If I sensed even the smallest willingness on their part to become more innovative, I was there.

There, in this case, was the well-appointed, pre-dinner reception for Allianz' Senior Team and a handful of outside, consultants, like me, who had been flown in from God knows where to help the company reach its ambitious business goals.

The dress code? Business casual. The bar? Open. The client? Dutifully introducing me to anyone he could collar.

And so it went, the small talk, the head nods, the firm handshakes -- me patiently waiting for the waiter with the pizza puffs and the inevitable moment when the "Where do you live?" question would head its ugly rear.

Somewhere, in between my second and third glass of chilled 1987 Riesling, standing next to three large German men I had just been introduced to -- Guenther, Heinrich, and Hans -- the question was asked.

I opened my mouth to say "Two hours north of Manhattan", but out came "Woodstock".

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Maybe it was the wine... or the jet lag... or the cumulative affect of the past ten years of me mouthing geographical euphemisms. I don't really know. But whatever it was, I knew this was going to be a very interesting moment.

For three long seconds, no one said a thing. Zippo. Nada. Zilch. The word just hovered in the air like some kind of Superbowl Blimp.

Guenther was the first to speak.

"WOW!" he announced. "Did you actually go to the festival?"

Hans smiled broadly. "My older cousin went. Lucky bastard. I was too young."

Heinrich just stood there, expressionless, quiet as the clam dip. Then he raised his right hand, leaned closer, and gave me a rousing high five.

"I LOVE Joe Cocker!" he announced.

Somehow, I got the feeling that tomorrow's Senior Leadership Team workshop was going to be just fine.

Excerpted from Storytelling at Work
Not excerpted from Storytelling for the Revolution
MitchDitkoff.com

Hendrix photo: Elliot Landy

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:04 AM | Comments (0)

May 20, 2020
Sheikh Waseem

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The first week of my two and a half year relationship with Al Siraat College -- a K-12 Australian school in the Islamic tradition, I facilitated a 90-minute workshop for the school's teachers and staff. The experience, praise God, was very well-received and a big relief that my somewhat oddball approach to "teaching" was acceptable.

The next week, just as I was about to begin a second workshop with the same teachers and staff, one of the school's Quran teachers, the very noble Sheikh Waseem, approached me.

If this was a movie the two of us were in, "central casting" had nailed it because Sheikh Waseem was, most definitely, the living embodiment of a Muslim man -- at least the one I had in my mind: bearded, long white robe, white turban, and the kind of seriousness that spoke of a deep commitment.

With a twinkle in his eye, he stepped closer.

"Mr. Mitch," he said. "You are my teacher."

Caught off guard by this unexpected comment, I smiled, slightly bowed, and replied, "Oh no, Sheikh Waseem, you are MY teacher."

Then Sheikh Waseem smiled, bowed in my direction, and spoke yet again. "Oh no, Mr. Mitch, you are MY teacher."

The two of us just stood there, looking at each other. Realizing it was my turn, I spoke again, "Oh Sheikh Waseem, I am very curious. Why do you say that I am your teacher."

"Because Mr. Mitch, last week, at the workshop, I learned something very valuable from you."

"And what would that be, Sheikh Waseem?" I replied.

"I need to have more FUN!"

Wikipedia: Prophet Muhammed, PBUH

35 sayings of the Prophet Muhammed
An excerpt from "A Thousand Muslims and a Jew"
Meanwhile... in Mexico

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:51 AM | Comments (0)

May 19, 2020
Up and Over Down Under

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Having been in Australia, working in an Islamic school for the past three months, living with a Pakistani family, I've had a whole bunch of people ask me "how's it going" or "what's it like."

I've said different things at different times, but the one thing that resonates the most for me is how I sometimes feel when I am watching a movie I totally love -- the kind of movie that absorbs me completely.

At one point during the movie-watching experience, I notice myself thinking, "I can't wait to watch this AGAIN", even though I am watching it NOW. That statement is not me dissociating from the moment, but more the acknowledgment of the power and the glory and the immersion of the moment -- and all I can say is that I want to STAY in that experience and, to a movie-goer, "staying" sometimes translates as "I want to see it again."

So that's my experience these days, along with long walks to the grocery store to buy hummus, sliced salmon, sardines, and rice cakes which somehow have become my go to foods.

So much good stuff happens in a day here that could easily "become a book", but I am IN the book and to write the book I would have to leave the book, which is a curious kind of yoga I'm not quite sure I've mastered.

A Thousand Muslims and a Jew would be the title, but I have no idea if it will ever get written or if it needs to get written. Right now, I am doing my best to be a character in the book, not the character writing about the character, if you catch my drift.

Bottom line, I am enjoying myself and feel blessed, guided and humbled by the outrageous play of life.

Al Siraat College
The back story
Teaching storytelling to second graders
Aussie interfaith wisdom circles

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:43 AM | Comments (0)

May 18, 2020
The Dance of the Gnats

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The first time I was ever under the influence of a mind-altering substance, I spent the better part of the day in a Pennsylvania cornfield. After an unspecified amount of time adjusting to what was rapidly dawning on me to be an entirely different reality than the one I was accustomed to, I decided to lay down and, perhaps, for the first time in my life, have absolutely nothing to do.

This was the first time I had ever laid down in a Pennsylvania cornfield and I had no idea that the act of doing so was going to create the illusion that I was now six feet underground, having flattened the cornstalks beneath with my sudden need to be prone. It was, shall I say, my first experience of being dead -- or, if not dead, per se, than at least dying.

I felt like I was in my coffin, the lid not yet closed.

I could see nothing but blue sky overhead, a few clouds, and now, appearing from who knows were a gigantic swarm of gnats not more than three inches from my face.

"Bugs!" my mind screamed. "BUGS!"

My right hand, previously resting at my side, entered into a state of panic -- its fingers preparing to swat. There is no way in the world I was going to be attacked by a swarm of gnats here in this Pennsylvania cornfield -- not today during my cosmic experience. One swat, I was sure, was all it would take. Just one swat. They wouldn't have a chance.

But something, out of nowhere, stayed my hand. It would not allow me to strike -- only observe and then, become utterly fascinated.

There, before my eyes, just a few inches from the tip of my nose, thousands of gnats were dancing. Their movements, repeated over and over and over again, formed a kind of crystal in space -- a glowing, multi-sided geometric shape of great intricacy and radiance. Not a single gnat left formation. Not one. They just kept dancing, repeating the pattern over and over and over again. Not once was I attacked. Not once was I bothered or bitten. There was only one thing happening -- the dance of the gnats here in this Pennsylvania cornfield for an audience of one.

FOR YOUR REFLECTION: What is right before your eyes, these Coronavirus days, that you are getting ready to swat -- something uninvited and potentially bothersome that might actually be some kind of message for you, a gift to be enjoyed if you could only change your perspective?

Excerpted from this book
Photo: Jesse Gardner, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:50 AM | Comments (0)

May 16, 2020
What I Learned From Listening to Ravel's Bolero for 14 Hours

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During the course of a lifetime a human being goes through many rites of passage. Birth, for example. First love. The death of a loved one and enduring a Republican primary debate. For me, one of the most memorable rites of passage happened in college during my "pledge weekend" -- the weekend I was initiated into a fraternity.

I realize, of course -- especially in these politically correct times -- that college fraternities are rarely associated with anything remotely smacking of insight, awareness, or transformation. But for me it most certainly was -- at least on the rite of passage night I was initiated into Pi Lambda Phi -- an experience now permanently etched into whatever remains of my mind.

The initiation? To sit blindfolded in a pitch black room, next to 21 of my sweating classmates, all of us holding 17 marbles in our left hands while listening to Ravel's Bolero for 14 hours.

That is not a misprint, folks. Fourteen hours of Bolero. Fourteen.

If you are not familiar with Bolero, allow me to briefly introduce it to you. It goes a little something like this: dahhhh, dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah, dah, dah dah dahhhh, dah dah dah, dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah.

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It is, shall we say, an extremely REPETITIVE piece of music, a kind of mental military mantra, one that requires the kind of refined sensibility to appreciate that none of us in that room possessed. I think the operational word here is TORTURE -- a kind of classical music waterboarding experience I still have not yet completely recovered from. Five minutes of Bolero is usually enough for most people. Fourteen hours is like the last year of a really bad marriage.

Now here's where it really gets interesting. By the grace of the Bolero gods and the fact that the recording we were listening to had been made on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, every 17 minutes or so there would be a four second delay before the music looped back to the beginning. FOUR SECONDS. That was it. Every 17 minutes we had a four second reprieve from Mrs. Ravel's lunatic son.

What I learned during those four seconds taught me a lesson I will never forget.

Those four seconds were not memorable because of the SILENCE itself, but because of what happened DURING that silence -- the space that opened up -- a chance for the 22 of us to enjoy a blast of divine humor -- humor initiated by the youngest of us in the room that day, the Honorable Barry "Boonbeam" Birnbaum (now a much sought after attorney in New York City).

What Barry did during those precious few seconds not only renewed and refreshed us, it most likely prevented the lot of us from spending the rest of our lives in a loony bin.

"Nice beat, but you can't dance to it" was Barry's comment during the first of our four second reprieves. "More bass! More bass!" was his commentary the second time around. "I much prefer the London Philharmonic version", he interjected after Round Three. And so and so on it went, 49 times every 17 minutes throughout that dark night of our collective soul.

The smiles and laughter that followed Barry's comments refreshed our minds and rebooted our souls. Humor saved the day. Humor gave us new life. Or as Gandhi once confessed: "If I had no sense of humor I would long ago have committed suicide."

Humor is the great equalizer, no matter who you are and what you do. It opens the heart, relaxes the mind, diffuses worry, energizes, uplifts, renews, restores, and rejuvenates. I like to think of it as one of the core universal truths on planet Earth. Beyond this Earth, I cannot say for sure, other than my perception that ETs from other worlds, at least in the pictures I've seen of them, never seem to be smiling. I don't get it. They are all so serious. All that "advanced consciousness" and still no sense of humor. Really? REALLY?

I have no idea if extraterrestrials listen to Bolero or think George Carlin is funny, but I do know this: HUMOR IS A GIFT FROM GOD. Humor is divine. Humor is wisdom wearing a smile.

Why else do you think the court jesters had the ear of the King?

But wait, there's more!

Excerpted from this book

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:10 PM | Comments (0)

May 15, 2020
30 Storytelling Tips for Educators

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Storytelling is not just a bedtime technique to help children fall asleep, it is also a technique to help children wake up -- a powerful teaching tool that increases attention, insight, engagement, and learning that sticks. Here are 30 storytelling tips for educators -- ways to help them leverage the power of storytelling in the classroom. PS: Parents are also educators. Please DO try this at home.

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How storytelling builds attachment
Helping children understand the meaning of a moral
Ditch the grammar and start teaching storytelling again

Photo #1: Yanns H., Unsplash

Photo #2: Kuanish Reymbaev, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:06 AM | Comments (0)

May 14, 2020
Guns to My Head, Two Nights in a Row in a Seedy Boston Motel

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3:00 in the morning is not my favorite time of day. Too early to be late and too late to be early, it's a nether world, a place no one wants to linger. Kind of like puberty.

It was this time of the day/night that I found myself in at the Homestead Motor Inn, five months into my tour of duty as the long-haired night desk clerk. The bar had just closed and I was attending to some routine administrative tasks. That's when a very forgettable looking businessman made his way across the lobby and asked me for some change for the cigarette machine, a public service I'd performed at least a hundred times before.

He gives me a $5.00 bill. I give him two singles and 12 quarters, sit down on my swivel chair, back to the lobby, and return to the book I am reading -- Trout Fishing in America. Two minutes pass.

"Oh, one more thing, buddy," he asks.

When I turn around, he isn't all that forgettable-looking anymore. He's pointing a gun at my head. Beckoning me closer with his free left hand, he puts the gun to my temple. The barrel is cold.

"Give me the money," he says, "or I'll blow your fucking head off."

Like a bit actor in "B" movie, I make my way to the cash register, pull out the bills, and give them all to him.

"Now get out from the behind the desk,"
he demands, signaling me to walk with him, across the lobby, to the men's room.

"Get in!" he blurts, pushing the door open. "And stay there!"

"Umm... how long do I need to stay?" I ask.

"Five minutes!" he barks. And with that, he is gone.

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I didn't really have a big need to go to the bathroom, but since I'm here, anyway, I figure, what the hell, let's make the best of it, so I walk over to the urinal and take a leak. Then I look at my watch, wondering if five minutes has passed, when it dawns on me that the guy who just held me up is not waiting outside the bathroom door, timing me.

So I exit and call the cops. They arrive, grill me for 20, dust for fingerprints, and exit stage left, telling me they "will be in touch."

Two days pass -- 48 hours to think about what could have happened that fateful night, but didn't. The good news? The odds of it happening again were, statistically speaking, close to zero. The way I figured it, I had somehow, gotten this "hold up thing" out of my system and could get on with the rest of my life.

So there I am behind the front desk of the Homestead Motor Inn two days later when another forgettable looking man walks across the lobby. But this guy doesn't ask me for change. He just puts a gun to my head and repeats the mantra of the week. "Give me the money or I'll blow your fucking ahead off" -- a line, by now, I had down pat.

The only thing different about Gunman #2 is he isn't as smooth as the first guy. His hands are shaking. He's sweating and has a nervous look in his eye.

A professional victim by now, I already know the drill, so I walk to the cash register, open the drawer, give him the money, and walk myself to the men's room. I pee again, wait two minutes (not five), and call the cops. Again they arrive, only this time they relate to me very differently than before.

You see, the Homestead Motor Inn hadn't been held up in five years. Now, two out of three nights, it's been robbed and I am the only eyewitness -- me, the long-haired, new-in-town, anti-establishment desk clerk.

Things weren't looking too good for me.

That's when the very avuncular Detective Wallace puts his arm around my shoulder and asks me to confess, explaining, in a soothing voice, how he understands how tough it must be for someone like me, being new in town, to be living on such meager wages.

"But... I... didn't... do it," I manage to say.

That's when the second detective steps forward.

"Mitch, since this would be your first offense, things should go relatively easy for you. Just tell us what you did."

"Like I said, officer, I didn't do it. I'm not your thief."

But the two detectives are not convinced. And the more I proclaim my innocence, the more they see holes in my story. The weird thing? The more they treat me like the thief, the more guilty I feel -- a mix of knowing I could have done it and how I usually behave when I go through airport security and nothing beeps -- even though I'm sure there must be something beepable on me.

"Here's the deal, son," Detective Wallace tells me as he leaves. "Tomorrow, we want you to come down to the station house and look through some mug shots. You know, to see if you can find these guys, eh?"

So the next morning I make my way to the station house and spend two hours thumbing through mug shots. Page by page I turn, bad-ass looking criminal after criminal staring me smack in the face. The first book yields nothing. But then... halfway through the second... I see him, the second guy, the nervous guy. It was him!

"Are you sure it's him?" the detectives ask. "Are you absolutely sure?"

"Well," I reply. "I'm, like, 99% sure."

Neither of the officers of the law are happy with me.

"You can't be 99% sure, Mitch! You gotta be 100% sure! The judge will throw us out of court on our ass if you're only 99% sure."

The guy I pointed to in the mugshot book, explains the detectives, is "a two time loser". He'd just gotten out of jail three months ago and is working in a home for the mentally disabled only five miles away. If it wasn't me that stole the money, they said, it had to be him.

"Just say the word, son", they explain, "and we'll put this guy away for 10 years."

"Like I said, Detective, I'm only 99% sure."

"OK, we get it, young man. So, here's what we're gonna do, see. Tomorrow, we'll pick you and drive you down to his place of business and then we're gonna walk him by you, nice and slow. If it's him, all you gotta do is nod. Kapish? See you at 2:00."

I didn't sleep well that night. The scene had changed. No longer was I a bit actor in a "B" movie. I was now the star in a Kafka novel.

The ride to the Home for the Mentally Disabled was not what I would call a joy ride. I sat in the back seat doing my best to seem innocent. The cops sat in the front seat doing their best to be pissed. When we arrived, they walked me down a long, tiled hallway and sat me down on a hard wooden bench.

"OK, Mitch. In a few minutes, we're gonna walk this creep right by you. If it's him, all you gotta do is nod. That's it, nod. Got it? We'll take it from there."

I can see by the way the "creep" was walking toward me that he was attempting a very different gait than the guy who held me up two nights ago. It was, shall we say, a casual gait, a "I-think-I'll-get-a-twinkie-out-of-the-vending-machine-gait" -- not a "Give-me-the-money-or-I'll-blow-your-fucking-head-off-gait" -- his version of the way I'd been sitting so innocently in the back seat just minutes ago.

The detectives stare at me, waiting for the nod.

"Is it him?" they mime.

"Well...it looks a lot like him," I reply. "I'm... like... 99% sure."

Now the cops are really pissed.

"OK, Mr. Can't-Make-Up-His-Fucking-Mind. Here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna sit this guy down in the room across the hall and we're gonna interrogate him. While that's happening, we want you to walk up to the door, look through the window, and get a good, long look at him. If it's him, all you gotta do is nod."

They set the scene. I walk to the window and look. The guy definitely looks a lot like the guy who held me up. In fact, he has a lot of the same features, But am I 100% sure? No, I am not. And I tell the cops so -- which is not, at all, what they wanted to hear.

"Mitch, we're gonna give you one last chance. One... last... chance. You stand right here. Don't move. We're gonna walk this asshole up the hallway so the two of you will be face-to-face. Get it? Just you and him. Don't worry. We'll be standing nearby. Nothing bad's gonna happen to you. All you gotta to do is look him in the eye and nod if it's him. That's it."

So there we are, the two of us -- him, the two-time loser mopping floors for a living and me, the long-haired, night desk clerk with not a single eyewitness on his side.

It is quiet in the hallway. Very quiet. Late night at a seedy hotel quiet after everyone has gone home. We are standing there, him and I, three feet apart. He is staring at me and I am staring at him.

"Hello, again," I say, in my mind.

"Shit!" I hear him think. "Have mercy on me, man. It was only 800 bucks."

"But dude," I think, "robbing people ain't cool. Somebody could get hurt."

From behind me, I hear a voice. "Is it him? Is it him, Mitch?"

I look at him and he looks at me.

"Like I said, Detective. I'm only 99% sure."

Game over. The two-time loser turns and walks away. I ride back home in the back seat of an unmarked vehicle.

Excerpted from this book
MitchDitkoff.com
Photo #1: Max Kleinen, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:01 AM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2020
The Power of Presence & Curiosity

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Sitting here in my self-isolated, semi-lockdown AirBB bedroom, 30 minutes outside of Melbourne and 10,000 miles from home, I find myself with more time than usual to reflect on my life.

One cherished memory that surfaced for me yesterday was an extraordinary experience I had, several years ago, with a good friend, Erika Andersen -- both of us working closely together at Tim Gallwey's Inner Game Corporation in LA.

I was in the middle of an intensive 30-day writing project -- one that required a major dose of "self-isolation" -- and had gotten to the point where I was completely stuck, blocked, and tangled. Standing on a creative ledge overlooking the void, I needed help, big time. My perspective was shot. My ability to see the big picture was gone. And I was, shall we say, bummed and brutalized by my own fevered mind.

That was precisely the moment when the very gracious Ms. Erika walked into my cabin, smiled, sat down, and grokked my whole situation in a heartbeat.

There, on the floor, were wall-to-wall sheets of typewritten paper, each one representing 28 alternate endings of my still forming make-your-own adventure book I was writing for Atari under an impossible deadline, never having written a book before.

I had no idea where I was. I had no idea how to proceed. Absolutely nothing made sense.

Erika, God bless her, was cool, calm, and collected. Though she noticed the frazzled nature of my mind, she wasn't hooked by it. She just sat there, a calm presence about her and very, very curious. Instead of judging me, trying to save me, or avoiding my madness altogether, she just sat there, breathing, gradually expressing her interest.

One by one, Erika began asking me questions, leaving plenty of time and space for me to respond. Her progression of questions, coming from a realm of clarity I had no access to, changed the game for me -- each one a lifesaver tossed to a man overboard.

Overwhelmed as I was with too many choices and my own hairball of complexity, she simplified things for me, each question she asked drawing my attention back to the moment and my original fascination for writing the book in the first place.

Erika's patience helped me become patient. Her curiosity helped me become curious. Her willingness to hang in there with me gave me the courage and grace to hang in there with myself -- and for that, I will always be grateful.

Thank you, dear Erika! I learned a lot from you that unforgettable night. You are a blessing on this Earth.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: No matter how much one's creative work requires solitude and immersion, there are times when what's really needed is the guiding, patient, non-judgmental presence of a friend -- someone whose vibe has the power to work miracles. Is there someone in your life, these days, who might be good to check in with?

What Thomas Wolfe said about his own version of this phenomenon
Erika's website

The back story of the book I was writing then

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:36 PM | Comments (0)

May 12, 2020
The Riches Under Your Pillow

Excerpted from this book
Mitch Ditkoff

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:52 PM | Comments (1)

May 11, 2020
CHOOSING LOVE

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This just in from Burrill Crohn. Thank you, Burrill. So moving!

The spirit guide, Emmanuel, once said, "At every moment we have the choice between love and fear." Easy to say, harder to do. A constant, difficult practice, not an immediate panacea. And yet, there are those rare moments when a miracle -- the direct result of choosing love -- can manifest on the spot. Here's one:

It is the summer of 1964, in Jackson Mississippi. I am there working on an adult literacy program through the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), and The National Council of Churches, as part of the effort to overcome state imposed obstacles to voter registration.

This is "Freedom Summer" with hundreds of college students flocking south to work on similar projects. And while there is a great deal of love and idealism involved, there is also an overwhelmingly larger amount of fear: white Mississippians resisting change to their customs, resenting those who tried; some among us chased, beaten, jailed (and there, often, beaten again) just for being seen in an interracial situation; and -- its largest and most chilling manifestation -- the brutal murders of civil rights workers, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman hardly before the summer even began.

So it is within this context I am part of a going away party for a SNCC worker in the ground floor apartment of a black housing project. An evening full of stories, laughter and hugs, but now coming to an end and -- as always -- those remaining (about 10 of us) stand in a circle, join interlocking hands, and begin singing We Shall Overcome.

Suddenly, several choruses into the song, the front door bursts open and three State Troopers, in full combat uniform -- helmet, shields, weapons, ammo bandoliers, black boots -- stomp loudly into the room.

They are big, very big, giant Michelin Tire men in armor, their presence seeming to suck up the energy of our small space, appropriating power and leaving many of us shuffling our feet in fear and confusion. Yet our hands are still interlocked and, out of nowhere, one woman with a clear as a bell, startlingly beautiful voice, begins to sing...

We are not afraid/we are not afraid, today/Oh, deep in my heart/I do believe/We shall overcome, some day.

Alas, print is a poor substitute for the actual tone, diction, and strength of the sung words, but it sounded more like: We shall overcome, s-o-o-m-m-m-e day-y-y-y-y.

And with the song, a burst of energy, like blue lightning, streamed through our hands.

Now it was we who glowed, became large, filled the room. And, in the corner, the State Trooper Michelin men seemed as if deflated by a giant pin, small and disempowered. Now it was their turn to shuffle around in confusion before stumbling back out the door, barely able to move on shaky legs.

We leave soon after. The police are still outside, but in their cars, doing nothing except shining their high beam searchlights on us as we walk to our vehicles. None of them follow us. None of us experience any police harassment as a consequence.

All this was long ago in another time and place.

And yet, the memory remains as vivid as the experience itself, an amulet in the face of fear, a reminder that however terrifying, it's just those three guys in puffy suits -- and that choosing love opens the possibility of miracles.

Burrill's bio
Photo: Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:48 AM | Comments (0)

May 10, 2020
WANT AN ELEGANT SOLUTION? Contemplate These Questions

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As an innovation provocateur for the past 33 years with these organizations, one thing I've noticed is that even the brightest of people spend very little time looking for elegant solutions to their problems. All too often, they go with the "first right idea" -- one that is often lame, ho hum, or just plain stupid. If you are faced with a challenge or problem these days that needs a fresh approach, pause for a while, noodle, and jot down your responses to at least some of the following questions. Fifteen minutes effort now is likely to save you hours of wasted effort down the road.

1. How can you frame your challenge, problem, or opportunity in the form of a question, beginning with the words "How can I?"

2. What are three other ways you can frame your question?

3. What is the back story of your problem? Its history?

4. What are your limiting assumptions about the problem?

5. What have you tried before that's worked? What hasn't worked?

6. What are your your hoped for outcomes?

7. Imagine it's a year from now and you have succeeded. What does success look like?

8. What are your intuitions telling you about how to proceed?

9. Imagine your fairy godmother granted you a wish? What would it be?

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10. What is the simplest possible solution to your problem?

11. What if time was not an issue? How would you approach your problem differently?

12. What advice would a five-year old give you?

13. If you already knew the solution to your problem, what would it be?

14. Who do you need to brainstorm with or get feedback from?

15. What if money were no object? How would this change your approach?

16. How would the person who most inspires you approach your problem?

17. Open the nearest book and point randomly to a word. What clues does this word give you about proceeding?

18. What is the root cause of your problem?

19. If you had to solve this problem today, what would you do?

20. Jot down as many possible solutions to your problem as you can in the next five minutes. Then circle the one that most intrigues you.

Still need help? Click here for a free 10-year trial to Free the Genie, Idea Champions' online, problem solving, idea generation catalyst.

Read this story to solve your problem
Idea Champions
MitchDitkoff.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:59 AM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2020
BEYOND RIGHT and WRONG

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There is a scene from Fiddler on the Roof that has taught me more about life than most holy books I've read.

In it, two men are heatedly arguing over the age of a horse. When they see Tevye, the town milkman/sage, walking by, they begin passionately pleading their case.

"Tevye!" blurts the first, "I've been cheated! Last month I bought a horse from this sorry excuse for a man. He told me the horse was six years old, but it's 12!"

Tevye listens carefully, strokes his beard, nods his head, and smiles. "You're right!" he says.

"WHAT?" screams the second. "No way! Not true! The horse I sold him was six years old and I have the papers to prove it!"

Again, Tevye listens, strokes his beard, nods his head, and smiles. "You're right!" he says again.

A third man, who'd been watching the argument from the beginning, boldly steps forward.

"Tevye... with all due respect. how can he be right" (pointing to the first man) "and he be right" (pointing to the second).

Tevye listens, strokes his beard, nods his head, and smiles. You're right!" he exclaims. Then he starts dancing like a madman, arms raised to the sky.

Next time you think you're right... remember Tevye.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Life is full of paradox, contradiction, and seeming dissonance. Everyone's got a point of view. Everyone thinks the way they see things is THE way to see things. Your choice? Like Tevye in the town square, to dance your way through it all without making anyone wrong. Look for the sweet spot, the oasis, the place beyond duality -- or what Rumi once referred to as "the field beyond right doing and wrong doing."

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And now, Fiddler on the Roof with a Coronavirus spin!

IdeaChampions
Storytelling for the Revolution

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:37 AM | Comments (0)

May 01, 2020
Einstein on Fairy Tales

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Einstein was right! These three girls, Mimi Ditkoff, Grace Semel, and Maralina Gabriel (now in their 20's) must have been read a lot of fairy tales as young children, because they are very intelligent (and still good friends!)

We need new fairy stories
Storytelling for the Revolution

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:40 AM | Comments (0)

ABOUT THE BLOG

Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

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