Storytelling at Work
July 27, 2020
The Pencil

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"To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and Eternity in an hour." - William Blake

In six weeks, I will be turning 73, the same age Ray Charles, Federico Fellini, and Charles Darwin were when they left their mortal coil. Based on the most recent actuarial tables at my disposal, I have another 12.43 years to go. That will make me 85 when it's time to split the scene. Of course, the actuaries might be wrong (just ask their teenage kids). Today, for example, could be my last day. Or maybe I have 30 years left. I have no idea.

What I DO know is this: In the many years I've been alive, I have spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to communicate, in writing, the ESSENCE of things -- what it means to be a conscious, loving, evolving human being on planet Earth. Towards that end, I've written seven books, 4,500 blog posts, 750 poems, 350 speeches, 125 magazine articles, 25 songs, 500 power point shows, five book reviews, 150 unpublished journals and God knows how many love notes and letters.

Do I like what I've written? Some of it, yes. Have I received some positive feedback along the way? Yes, indeed. Have I truly communicated what my howling heart has hungered to express? Um... well... er... not really.

Enter, stage left, the sound of one hand clapping or, perhaps, a wolf, head tilted towards the sky.

This age old dilemma/paradox/contradiction -- the inability of our species to communicate the inexpressible -- was described, some years ago, in a single sentence by my favorite person in the whole world, Prem Rawat:

"It's like trying to describe the taste of a mango."

OK. I get it. Words don't cut it. While they may, on a good day, be the finger pointing at the moon, they are not the moon itself. Still, in my heart of hearts, I still believe it's possible for words -- the soul's hieroglyphics -- to evoke the feeling of moonlight, if not the lunar landscape itself -- love's luscious luminescence that... just... might... be enough to see by... on any given night... to reveal a field, off to one side, with just enough space for YOU to dance in. Or, if you don't feel like dancing, then at least have a chance to catch your breath.

And so, my friends of cyberspace and beyond, in the spirit of knowing I am mostly deaf, dumb, and blind to that which is calling me, I am doubling down during these crazy days of quarantine -- and promise, with absolutely no guarantees, to write a story, soon, about what I learned from a single pencil rolling off my desk, onto the floor, in the middle of a Prem Rawat Knowledge Session in India, ten years ago -- a time in my life when I was just beginning to learn how to serve without making such a big deal about it.

To be continued...

Photo: Jan Kahanek, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:44 AM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2020
NEW FROM PREM RAWAT: Once Upon This Time There Lives You

NEW from the master storyteller, Prem Rawat! ONE 2 ONE, a series of daily talks about the story of all our lives -- the real plot... the true telling of the tale... and YOU are the character.

Feel free to subscribe to his newly launched YouTube channel to stay up to date with the timeless.

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:14 AM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2020
Billie Spyder's 666th Dream

Ladies and gentlemen! Give it up for Michael Lanning. Songs are basicially stories set to music and this is a really good one! Turn up the volume. Michael is wailing!

More about Michael

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:01 AM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2020
The Urge to Serve

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One of the outcomes, for me, from receiving the gift of Knowledge from Prem Rawat, in 1971, was the unexpected emergence of a deep desire to serve. The gift he had given me was so profound and so fulfilling that I soon began to experience a spontaneous upwelling of longing to "be of service" in some way. This impulse to serve was unstoppable. I was not "paying my dues." I was not trying to "do good deeds." I was not being hustled by someone to be a source of volunteer labor. What was moving me went way beyond that. Never in my life had I experienced such a deep aspiration to be of service -- to anyone... or anything.

Something at the core of my being wanted to make my best effort to "lend a hand", even if my skills were minimal and my hands were shaking.

Wanting, actually, is the wrong word to describe what I was feeling at the time. It was way more than wanting. It was primal -- rising from an archetypal realm within me that I didn't know existed -- kind of like what happens to the tides when the moon is full... and the wolves. I had no idea where this deep-seated longing to serve was originating from, but I trusted it and wanted to see where it lead...

To be continued...

Photo: Courtesy of TimelessToday
PremRawat.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:34 PM | Comments (1)

July 18, 2020
A Different Kind of Detox

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Walking four miles home today from my local shopping mall (wearing my mask in Australia), a random thought crossed my mind -- that I am, like the rest of us, in "detox" -- you know, that facility where people go to get off of whatever unhealthy substances they are addicted to. Methinks, all of us are coming face-mask to face-mask further in touch with whatever these substances are (most of them unsubstantial) .

Of course, it's different for each of us and I run the risk, in writing this, of being considered overly simplistic, but in the spirit of trying to dig a bit deeper to see what there is to learn when life serves up lemons, this may be worthy of reflection.

Our routines have been interrupted. So has our very human need for hugging and community and entertainment, sports, the dependability of "going to work", our neighborhood bar, our favorite cafe, and lots of other things we take for granted -- now no longer available to us. Most of them are gone or in a state of suspended animation and we can FEEL our dependencies shaken.

Tough love from the universe.

Spiritual practitioners, since the beginning of time, have voluntarily exempted themselves from all of this stuff -- getting their divine tushies into forests and caves, monasteries and ashrams, their chosen form of solitary confinement, wanting to shift their attention from the outside to the inside and have some quality time with themselves or, even more importantly, to find out what their so-called "SELVES" really were.
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Fun? Was it fun? Maybe some of the time it was, but a lot of the time it was downright difficult. Lonely. Solitary. Isolated. Living in an echo chamber of their minds, no matter how many flowers they put on the alter.

And so it is for many of us now -- locked down from the world, quarantined from our routines and distractions. Of course, it all depends on how we look at it, doesn't it? These days, I am choosing to look at this time of forced simplicity as EXACTLY what I need, even when I get cranky.

If this is a time of many lemons for you, know you can turn them into lemonade. You can. You have a choice!

So, use this time -- the time you were begging to have more of before the lockdown -- as wisely as you can. You can study. You can read. You can learn something new. You can paint. You can draw. You can write your book. You can meditate. You can cook. You can connect with friends you've been socially distanced from for years. You can stretch. You can sing. You can dance in your living room. You can pray. You can look out the window. You can listen to the birds. You can call your mother, give thanks, nap, take long walks and long baths or whatever it is, these days, that floats your boat.

PS: Your boat is NOT sinking. It's sailing... and if the wind seems to have died down recently, then use your oars ... and if you can't find your oars, then paddle with your hands or sun bathe on the deck and trust the current will take you exactly where you need to go...

Photo #1: Vegan Liftz, Unsplash
Photo #2: Chander Mohan, Unsplash
Mitch Ditkoff

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

July 10, 2020
The Meaning of Love

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NOTE: What follows is a wonderfully evocative story from the equally evocative and wonderful Burrill Crohn. Enjoy!

It's 1991, Budapest, Hungary. I'm in the Grand Ballroom of one of the city's majestic old hotels for an elegant reception to mark the beginning of that year's conference of The International Society of Shamanic Research. The room is crowded with people ranging from academics, in suits and gowns, to ornately costumed Siberian shamans. I'm there as the co-founder and co-director of a small non-profit that facilitates the recording and gathering of film and video of shamanic practices around the world.

Crowds this size tend to overwhelm me. I'm not a good mingler, so I'm staying off to one side when I notice a beautiful, much younger, blond woman seeming to wave at me. "This can't be", I think -- I wasn't so young, even then. She must be trying to get the attention of someone behind me.

But there is no one behind me and now she's not just waving but beckoning me to join her. So, not quite believing this is really happening, I walk through the crowd and the two of us begin to talk. Her name is K. and I find out she's there helping a publisher of esoteric books.

And then, as we continue talking, a small synchronicity occurs: I learn that the first two letters in the name of the co-founder of my non-profit and the first two letters of K's employer are the same. Yes, it seems to be small change in the world of larger synchronicities, but if you're a believer, as I am, it was still worth noting (especially considering what was yet to come).

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The ballroom is too noisy and crowded for easy conversation so we leave and find a plush, quiet bar in the lounge of a nearby Hilton hotel. As we talk, I learn she's from Norway, though living in Paris, which happens to be the city of my birth. But after another ten minutes I begin to feel, though she's magnificently beautiful, that there's not much of substance between us and maybe we should just call it an evening. And then, as if reading my mind, she goes a step deeper, asking me about dreams -- do I have them, do I believe them.

And then, she begins telling me one of hers, which goes like this:

"I'm on a frozen tundra in the far north. There is nothing on the landscape except a single, ancient hut. Then, as I watch, a flock of birds enter from the right, flying in formation and, one by one, each bird slams into the hut's side and, in doing so, transforms from bird into a naked human, dropping to the ground on both feet, walking around to the door in the front of the hut and entering."

Suddenly, I feel like I am crossing some kind of psychic sound barrier. I still remember the feeling, a cliche come true, of goose bumps forming on my forearms -- because I've had almost the exact same dream.

This was mine, the one I now tell her:

"I'm in an open, green field. In the middle there's a thatched roof hut. As I watch, also from the right, comes a flock of birds flying in formation, each bird hitting the hut, one by one and, upon impact, transforming into a naked human, landing on two feet, then walking around to the front of the hut and entering the door. Except, when the last bird hits, I am that naked human appearing upon impact and I, too, land on my feet, walk around to the front and enter. Inside, it is not medieval looking at all, but rather it's an army commissary where each of us are issued a uniform, then told to go outside and stand in formation. Somehow, I know or am told by an inner voice that, indeed, this is an army, but a spiritual army, one that has come to earth to help its people. So I exit, the last person to join, occupy a spot in the last corner of the last row and am very happy to be there.

Now K. and I are no longer passing strangers. We have become almost one, joined by our common dream. We leave the hotel and stand under the clear night sky. When we hug, in parting, I make some sort of clumsy, adolescent, pass at her. But she stops this easily, saying with soft but great clarity, "We will have just one night together. I'll come to you the last evening of the conference and that will be that. I'll go back to my life and you will go back to yours".

Which is how it happened, with one exception.

The conference is scheduled from Monday through Saturday. I am staying with my friend, T., a freelance cameraman for ABC News, in a big apartment in the famed Castle District. On Thursday night, K. joins us for a meal at a small Vietnamese restaurant. Afterwards T. says, yes, she is very nice, but that he is leaving for the weekend so it would be best for me not to bring her to the apartment because of all his expensive video and audio gear which, if lost, which would cripple his livelihood.

Saturday, the last day of the conference, is spent at a re-creation of a rural village still practicing an older way of life full of folk tales, hand-made tools, and shamanic practices -- a day that culminates in a dinner that might have been made several hundred years ago. As the dinner ends, K. approaches me, takes my arm, and says, "Now we can be together."

And off we go, me guiltily suspending T's admonition about bringing someone to his home.

The apartment is elegant, with white walls, elaborate cornices, old inlaid floors and, through a billowing gauze curtain, a curved wrought iron balcony, plants rimming the edge, overlooking the glistening cobblestone street below.

Standing there, K. begins singing French nursery rhymes, songs from my own childhood. I join in and it is just about as romantic as can be. Then we turn to go inside and, again, she reminds me that tonight will just be one night -- that she already has a boyfriend who lives in America and will soon be joining him. The realization dawns on me that maybe this isn't an ordinary encounter, that she is a kind of messenger to bring some beyond-my-present-comprehension lesson of love -- and just as one shouldn't shoot the messenger, one shouldn't marry her either.

And so we go to bed, me anticipating some new secret of lovemaking, some tantric mystery revealed, some conversion of me into a great lover beyond imagining. The experience is wonderful -- tender, intimate, joyous, and wild, but nothing really new has been revealed, no illumination of infinite lovemaking, no glimpse into the previously unknown.

In the morning, I awake and the bed is empty. I panic. T. was right, I think, she's gone, and some of his equipment with her.

But then I hear soft humming from the balcony and there she is, naked, on her knees, tending to the plants. We have breakfast together in the apartment, not able to keep our hands off each other -- then, later, still not able to stop touching each other -- have lunch at the old hotel with other friends from the conference.

And then... she's gone, back to Paris... and me to my small town in the mid-Hudson Valley. There, I pick up my life, but my feelings for her remain -- the spiritual side of me accepting what she said, my human heart, nonetheless, aching and longing.

The next day I drive my bicycle to the repair shop where, after dropping it off, I somehow manage to close my Saab's hatchback on three fingers of my left hand. In a moment they begin to swell with a throbbing pain, bruising beginning to show, blood seeping from the cuts. I go inside to the shop's bathroom, stick my hand under cold water for a while, then continue on to my next stop of the day, the local health food store.

There, in the entrance, the first person I meet is C., another shamanic practitioner and leader of a woman's drumming group in town, just as I am leader of a men's group. We embrace and she immediately asks, "So, how were things in Budapest?" But before I can say a word, she looks closely at me and says, "Why you fell in love there, didn't you?" And with that I break down, all the pent-up feelings come bursting out in a form of sobbing I haven't remembered since childhood. When that is done (by now we've retreated to a corner of the store) she asks, "Besides all that, how are you doing?"

I tell her about my newly injured hand, raising it to show her. With that she takes my hand in both of hers and begins looking at it with an intensity and focus that seems beyond anything had ever seen, something that stand out in memory almost 30 years later. Then she lets go, we hug, she leaves. I continue shopping.

Ten minutes later, I'm in my car when, suddenly, I realize my hand is not throbbing anymore. I look and see that the bleeding has stopped, the bruising and swelling gone, the only sign of trauma being a few flaps of skin still hanging loose. In the ten minutes it takes me to drive home, that too is gone, my hand back to a state where the injury never happened, or was even imagined.

So, of course, I call C., tell her about my hand and ask what, in the world, she did. And she answers: "I did nothing. It was you and the love running through you that did the healing. Love heals."

And here the story could end...

But it doesn't, even if I thought so at the time. Instead, it was just the beginning of the lesson, my "magical" healing serving more like an inoculation whose results would take months, even years, for me to begin to appreciate, incorporate, and manifest -- a kind of basic training for those of us in that spiritual army, as hard as any regular army boot camp.

The real work -- the heavy lifting -- is first learning to be kind and loving to our inner selves (how hard for almost all people), and then, perhaps, bit by bit, to manifest this love and, with it, touch others -- whether a friend or a passing stranger -- simply by our presence, the essence of real magic, not some flashy healing of bruised knuckles.

Years later, I am still left with the staggering amount of synchronicities, merging of events, or whatever you wish to name it -- beyond any statistical probability -- that had to concur, conspire even, to hit me over the head so benignly for all of this to happen.

Which brings up other questions: Do we control our own destiny or is it already pre-planned (perhaps by us, between incarnations, as some would say)? Are there deities around us blowing wind in our sails, as Athena helped Odysseus? Or is it all a very convincing illusion -- that everything out there (to paraphrase mystics and quantum physicists) is really just a product of our own minds, nothing real existing apart from our perceptions?

Yes, we do whatever dance we do in an outer reality, but perhaps, to create lasting change, the real work is done from within and that is how the world heals.

Just in time, too.

-- Burrill Crohn

Photo: Petr Sidorov, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:56 PM | Comments (0)

July 09, 2020
Barney and the Gatekeepers

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My father, a pharmacist by profession, retired to Florida at the age of 55. His retirement lasted three weeks. After a lifetime's worth of waking up each morning with a PURPOSE, now he had none. Golf didn't count. Nor did watering his lawn or reading People Magazine. In fact, nothing counted.

Without having something to DO that had meaning for him, my father was very much lost at sea. And so, he decided, one fine air-conditioned day, to begin importing exotic foreign cars. The business model was a simple one. Buy low. Sell high.

As his only son, I was impressed. Mercedes were not only way cooler than nose drops, there was a much bigger profit margin. Plus, who knows, it was always possible that one of them might trickle down to me one day.

My dad's foreign car venture lasted six months.

Now 56 and, again, unemployed, he decided to take a left turn and open an art gallery with my mother -- a move that shocked the entire family. It wasn't fine art they were selling, mind you. It was decorative art -- the kind that newly retired people were in search of to match their living room couch. Like maybe something in green.

That venture lasted two years.

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Now, closing in on 60, with two false starts under his belt and a shrinking nest egg, my father decided it was time to get his real estate license. After all, he reasoned, the building boom was huge in Florida and somebody had to sell all those houses -- right -- so why not him?

Getting his real estate license was easy. He studied. He took the test. He passed. Getting customers? Not so easy.

With tons of other real estate agents to compete with, he needed a creative way to differentiate himself from the competition. Newspaper ads were out. Too expensive. TV commercials were out. Also too expensive. And so, in honor of Willie Sutton -- the bank robber who once replied "That's where the money is" when asked why he robbed banks, my father launched his West Palm Beach "gatekeeper campaign."

Here's how it worked: Armed with nothing but his electric yellow business cards, he "made the rounds" to the guard houses of the most popular gated communities in the area. After the requisite amount of schmoozing, he introduced himself as "Barney the Real Estate Agent", handed a stack of his cards to each gatekeeper and declared, "If you ever meet anyone looking to buy a house, give them my card. For each person you refer that buys a house from me, I will give you $100."

Once month, after that, my father would make the rounds again, bringing each security guard a fresh supply of business cards and a hot pizza. Soon, he had a "sales force" of 25 armed security guards representing him -- a uniformed crew of highly knowledgeable locals perfectly positioned to introduce him to hundreds of the house-buying public.

Two years later, my father was making more money as a retiree than he ever made in his prime. He worked until he was 89.

FAST FORWARD: I am now the age my father was 17 years into his retirement. Like him, I find great meaning in work. Like him, I have gone through my own rites of passage. And like him, I cannot afford to hire a sales force to get the word out about the services I provide. Which is why I have, in honor of the man who brought me into the world, just launched my own version of my father's gatekeeper campaign in my efforts to represent the portrait painting services of my wife, Evelyne Pouget. Maybe it will work and maybe it won't, but I just love the feeling of reprising my dad's idea and tweaking it for the times.

This is just one more reason why stories are such powerful agents of communication. First, the story I just told you, above, is how I remember my father's experience. Secondly, the story helps me reflect on its meaning and apply it to my own life. And third, it's how I share the wisdom of it with you.

Who knows? Maybe my father's experience, so many years ago, communicated via STORY to you now, will be enough to get your own wheels turning, as you figure out a newer, cooler, simpler way to get the word out about the service you provide in the world.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What "unusual suspects" in your life, might make for good referral agents -- people who can help you get the word out about what you do and, somehow, be compensated for their efforts?

Evelyne's Pet Portraits
Evelyne's horse portraits
Evelyne's people portraits

NOTE: If YOU want more information on what my Barney-inspired "gatekeeper campaign" (in service to Evelyne's art) looks like and how you can make a 10% commission for your efforts, email me with the words "Barney's Gatekeeper Campaign" in the subject line.

mitch@ideachampions.com

Inspiring quotes on possibility
ONE LIT CANDLE: Stuart Hoffman and Jennifer Edward's new anthem

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:05 PM | Comments (0)

July 05, 2020
DAVID AAKER on STORYTELLING

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Here's a great podcast from Guy Kawasaki's Remarkable People series of podcasts. Begins with a refreshing look at the power of storytelling to deliver a message -- then gets into lots of good stuff on branding. Well worth a listen.

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:41 PM | 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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