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blog posts, 750 poems, 350 speeches, 125 magazine articles, 25 songs, 500 power point shows, five book reviews, 150 unpublished journals and God knows how many love notes and letters.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 25, 2020
Why Tell Stories?

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In the last 60 seconds, here's what happened:

168 million emails were sent, 700,000 Google searches were launched, and 60 hours of YouTube videos were uploaded, not to mention all the spam, banner ads, phone calls, Facebook posts, tweets, texts, and telemarketing calls that found their way to your doorstep.

A whopping 90% of all data in the world has been generated in the past two years alone. Think about this: Before the dawn of civilization, approximately 5 exabytes of information had been created. Now, that much information is created every two days!

The common term for this head-spinning phenomenon is "information overload" -- the inability to absorb and process all of the information we are exposed to.

And while the gory statistics change every nanosecond, the results are the same -- leading to what is increasingly being referred to as "Information Fatigue Syndrome" (IFS) -- a condition whose symptoms include poor concentration, depression, burnout, hostility, compulsive checking of social media, and falling into trance-like states.

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This describes the mindset of many, if not all, of the people you are attempting to influence on a day-to-day basis, be they customers, clients, friends, voters, volunteers, children, or your mother-in-law.

If you are committed to delivering a meaningful, memorable message to another human being, the burning question you need to be asking is this: "How can I cut through all of the background noise so my message can heard and remembered?"

Fear not. It's possible. According to neuroscientists, psychologists, theologians, sociologists, advertisers, linguists, and marketers, the answer is a simple one: storytelling.

Storytelling is the most effective, time-tested way to transmit meaning from one human being to another. It's been going on since the beginning of time when our first ancestors stood around the tribal fire. It's how civilizations pass on their wisdom to the next generation. It's how religions pass on the sacred teachings of their faith. And it's how parents, via the telling of fairy tales, transmit the values they want to impart to their children.

Here are just a few of the reasons why storytelling is so powerful:

It quickly establishes trust and connection between the speaker and listener.

It increases receptivity, captures attention, engages emotions, and allows the receiver to participate, cognitively, in the narrative.

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It communicates values, not just skills, decreases teaching time, builds community, ignites five more regions of the brain than mere fact giving, helps people make sense of their world, shapes perceptions via the subconscious mind, reframes frustration, paradox, and suffering, changes behavior, and provides a dependable way for people to remember, retrieve, and retell a meaningful message.

Think about a message you want to communicate to someone today. How might you do that via story, instead of overloading them with more information, statistics, and pep talks?

Excerpted from Storytelling at Work
My newly launched storytelling blog
PODCAST: Storytelling at Work

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:39 PM | 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 12, 2020
The Many Faces of Love

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There are many forces at work, in our lives, that defy logic and the mind's ability to comprehend. These forces have been variably referred to, over the years, as serendipity, synchronicity, grace, lila, karma, God's play, maya, and the great mystery of life. All of us, in our own unique way, have had these experiences -- small, medium, and large -- unforgettable moments that cannot be explained.

The following story of mine, one that I have hesitated to write for the past 49 years, is infused with some of these moments for your inspiration and delight. My purpose in sharing it with you is not to call attention to myself or promote my particular point of view, but to focus your attention, however briefly, on the magic of life we sometimes forget, ruled as we are by the density of things on planet earth -- especially during these dark and difficult days of the Coronavirus.

Ready? Here goes:

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The year was 1971. I was a long-haired, 24-year old hippie, living on Martha's Vineyard, having what appeared to be a beautiful life. To most observers, I had it all -- a country home, a loving relationship, a dog named Zeke, great friends, meaningful work, and plenty of time to explore the idyllic island on which I lived. But at the molten core of my being, something was missing. I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was, but there was no denying the fact that I was experiencing a growing sense of restlessness, emptiness and, on a bad day, despair.

Like many of my generation, disappointed with the world and the so-called "material plane", I had become a seeker -- madly looking for God or whatever the non-denominational word was for the universal essence of life. Whether I was trying to find myself or lose myself, I wasn't quite sure, but one thing I knew, in my bones, was this: something existed beyond what my two eyes could see and it was calling me -- sometimes with whispers, sometimes with howls. Yes, a deep thirst was welling up from within me and I needed to honor that thirst, follow it, and see where it lead.

And so, inspired by this feeling, I began reading every holy book I could find -- the only way I knew, at the time, to learn what I thought I needed to learn -- the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada, the Tao The Ching, the Zen Teachings of Huang Po, Autobiography of a Yogi, The Aquarian Gospel, Be Here Now, the Tibetan Book of the Dead and anything else I could lay my hands on that would open my horizons and my heart.

Clues. I was looking for clues. Peace. I was looking for peace.

I did yoga. I meditated. I fasted. I refused to speak on Sundays. And I experimented, like most of my counter-culture friends, with psychedelics -- driven as I was to experience the "Divine". Oh, I almost forgot, as often as possible, I listened to George Harrison's My Sweet Lord and danced around my living room, spinning in great circles.

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But dancing didn't pay the bills and whatever money I had managed to save was disappearing quickly, so I decided to apply for a job at Cornocupia, my neighborhood health food store.

Upon entering, I noticed two things: a bunch of 100-pound bags of chickpeas on the floor and ten photos on the walls of an extraordinary-looking man. I had never seen anyone like him before. He was beaming. Radiating. Glowing. If love had a face, it was his. I stood there, totally transfixed.

"Who is that man?" I asked Skip and Susie, the owners of the store.

"That's Meher Baba," they replied.

"Who is Meher Baba?" I asked.

"He's the Avatar of the Age -- here to usher in the age of love."

"Well, whatever he's doing," I thought to myself, "sure seems to be working," blasted as I was by the simple act of looking at his face.

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Noticing I was, shall we say, "open" to the man whose photos graced the walls of their store, Skip and Susie, the next day, brought me a three-volume set of his books -- Discourses -- the covers of which were sky blue. I devoured them in a few days. Everything he said made perfect sense to me. And even though some of his writing seemed complex, at first blush, especially his description of the different varieties of enlightened souls on Earth -- something in me understood what he was getting at in a heartbeat.

One particular passage jumped off the page for me -- his reference to the phenomeon of a "Perfect Master" -- and his strong suggestion that, if one should ever have the good fortune to hear about a such a being, to seek him out as soon as possible and ask for his knowledge.

The next day I posted a photo of Meher Baba on my meditation room door and, with that posting, I felt I had the complete set of big time beings on my walls -- enlightened souls who, somehow, I believed, could help me on my way: Krishna was in the living room, Shiva in the hallway, Jesus in the kitchen, and Buddha in the bedroom.

Covered. I felt covered.

One of my God-seeking practices at the time included the periodic ingestion of psychedelics -- the fast track, it seemed, to new and improved dimensions of reality. And so, one fine Spring day, "under the influence," I found myself laying on my back, alone, in the middle of a meadow, when I looked up and was amazed to see that the entire sky had become Meher Baba's face. As the clouds moved, only the expression on his face changed -- and his age. One minute he was the "Don't Worry, Be Happy" guy, the next minute he was a young Persian mystic, eyes on fire. I don't know how long I laid there, transfixed, but it was becoming increasingly obvious to me that this man, born in Poona, India, in 1894, someone who chose to remain silent for the last 44 years of his life, was having a huge impact on me. I couldn't explain it. Nor did I want to.

And then, a few days later, came the letter from Ed, my best friend -- a man who was a kind of spiritual big brother to me -- five years older and probably several lifetimes, too. Ed was the real deal -- deep, authentic, grounded, wise, and very solitary -- a gent with a huge BS detector and never a "joiner" of things. In his letter, Ed explained that he had recently met some devotees of a 13-year old "Perfect Master" from India -- a young boy named Maharaji (now known as Prem Rawat.)

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Whoa! Dude! Really? A Perfect Master! Like the one I read about last week in Meher Baba's Discourses?

Ed, God bless him, went on to explain that he'd received Knowledge from the young Master and wanted to tell me more about it -- and would -- if only I would make the trek from Martha's Vineyard to Cambridge. And so I did.

The first thing I noticed, upon arriving, was a framed, black and white photo of the young Master on Ed's kitchen table. It was xeroxed, off center, and looked nothing like what I imagined a Guru was supposed to look like, always having pictured, in my mind, an elderly man with sallow cheeks, long hair, beard, and penetrating eyes.

I was not impressed. And yet, there was Ed -- a man accustomed to chewing his rice 100 times before swallowing -- absolutely radiant, attributing his off-the-grid well-being to the Knowledge he'd received just weeks ago from this young boy. I could barely keep up with him as we walked the streets of Cambridge. He was a man on fire with love and I could feel the warmth.

I had a lot to think about on my long trek back to The Vineyard. And as I did, it became increasingly clear to me that thinking was only going to take me so far. Thinking had its place, of course, but it wasn't the only game in town. Like a menu, in a 5-Star restaurant, it indicates that something's cooking in the kitchen, but the menu isn't the food.

Something else was needed, something beyond my mind and my love affair with seeking and I found out exactly what that something was, just a few weeks later when I has the great good fortune to receive the Knowledge this young Perfect Master was revealing -- an experience far beyond what I had the capacity to imagine. Indeed, if I had to die on that day, I would have died a happy man, the reason I came here, fulfilled. Every prayer I had ever prayed was answered and many I had no words for.

Mind blown, heart open, promised land now beneath my feet, I found the friends I had traveled with, got back into our car, and headed to Harvard Square for a celebratory dinner before we hit the road. Parking space located, engine off, I opened the door, exited, and stood. And as I did, the first thing I saw was the face of Meher Baba, smiling at me from a large button on the jacket of a woman walking by. It was the same photo as the one on my meditation room door.

Fast forward three years...

While I was very much enjoying the practice of Knowledge and the blossoming life of being a young devotee, my marriage was falling apart. On the inside, I was happy, On the outside, I was not. Still holding onto the possibility that our marriage could be healed, my wife and I decided to go on a month-long pilgrimage -- one that would take us to Florida where Prem would be hosting a festival in honor of his long-gone father, Shri Maharaji. Hans Jyanti it was called -- a celebration of the Guru's Guru.

The pilgrimage. Oy. Don't ask. About as painful as they come. Lots of long silences in the car. Lots of tension. Lots of failed attempts to find something mutual to talk about. Yes, we had taken a vow a few years earlier to love each other until death do us part, but I couldn't recall a single vow we'd taken that referred to the unglamourous moment we now found ourselves in -- the unraveling of earthly love... the social distancing before it was fashionable ... the emotional pain. And while our bodies were both in the front seat of our 1974 Fiat, our souls were very far away.

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On the second day of our journey, four hundred miles closer to our destination, the sun setting in South Carolina, out of the blue I remembered there was a Meher Baba retreat somewhere in that state.

"How cool would it be if we could stay there for a while?" I thought to myself. And so I called.

An elderly woman answered. I made my request and she followed with a series of questions, wanting to know what my relationship was with Meher Baba, what I knew about his life, what books of his I had read, and why I wanted to stay at the retreat. I don't remember what I said, but whatever it was inspired her enough to drive to meet us where we had pulled off the road.

Thirty minutes later, her car pulls up, she exits, and walks towards me. There in the middle of nowhere -- literally at a crossroads somewhere in the boonies of South Carolina -- the two of us continue our conversation, she asking me more questions about Meher Baba -- who I thought he was... what did I know about him... what I remembered from his books and so forth and so on. She asked. I answered. She asked again. I answered again.

And then, seemingly satisfied with our exchange, she paused, smiled, and took one step closer to me.

"Mitch.... I understand your request... but as fate would have it, we're full up at the Center. There are no rooms available. But... um... er... there is one room left and that is Meher Baba's bedroom. We don't usually let anyone stay there, but I'm going to make an exception for you and your wife. Just get back in your car and follow me. I'll lead the way."

Toto, we're not in Kansas, anymore, I believe the expression goes.

Meher Baba's bedroom was an absolute oasis for me. A haven. A heaven. A womb. The warm spot on the lost pillow of my life. For the next three days, Toni and I were received with great love and graciousness into the Meher Baba community. Effortlessly, we became a part of it. We cooked together. We ate together. We shared from the heart together. Pure sweetness, it was. An eternal Sunday. Nothing to do, but be.

On the fourth day of our unplugging from the drama of our life, having lunch with some of our new found friends, I let everyone know we were leaving after lunch.

"Where are you going?" one of them asked.

Not wanting to ruffle feathers or speak about a Master different than theirs, I tried to be as vague as possible.

"To a festival in Florida," I said.

"What kind of festival?" came the reply.

"A festival of love," I said.

"What kind of festival of love?"

"Um... a festival in honor of our Master's father, Shri Hans Ji Maharaj."

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Pin drop silence. And a side of pin drop silence after that.

I don't know if there's a word for the curious moment we now found ourselves in, the moment when a group of spiritual practitioners, all with the same Master, simultaneously realize that their collective assumption about something or someone was completely unfounded, but that was the moment we were in. Maybe in German there's a name for it... or maybe in Hindu or Sanskrit, but here, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, sitting in the dining room of Meher Baba's retreat, half-eaten plates of organic cheese cake before us, there was none.

And then, much to my surprise -- perhaps in honor of a wrathful Tibetan deity I still had karma with, one very agitated woman stood and started screaming at me.

"I COME HERE TO GET AWAY FROM PEOPLE LIKE YOU!" she bellowed, then turned and stormed away. And as she did, everyone else at the table turned to us, eyes full of love, and asked if we would join them for a short walk to the lake house so we could tell them more about that young Master of ours -- someone they had heard about before, but didn't know much.

And so we did, Toni and I, sitting with them by the still waters of a beautiful lake, enjoying their company for a hour or so and the common ground of love. It was then, at that precise moment in time, I felt a surge from deep within me of immense gratitude for all the great beings in my life who had helped me on my way -- each of whom had paved the way for me find my own Master, Prem Rawat: For starters, there was Meher Baba... Yogananda... the Dalai Lama... Baba Ram Dass... Neem Karoli Baba... Chogyam Rinpoche... Buddha... Krishna... Jesus... Suzuki Roshi... Kirpal Singh... Swami Satchitananda... and so many others. I thanked them all and still do.

It is now 49 years after the moment I first saw Meher Baba's photo in that health food store on Martha's Vineyard. It is now 49 years after the moment I received the great gift of Knowledge from Prem Rawat. I am 72, not 24. My hair, what little I have left, is no longer long. But the love in my heart continues to grow. It is sometimes uncontainable. I sing. I laugh. I cry. And I am very grateful for all three.

If I may, before I take my leave from my brief virtual time with you, my friend, I would like to offer a big shout out to the two beings in my life who have been of enormous service to me in ways I barely understand. First, to Meher Baba for waking me up to love and the possibility that someone like Prem Rawat might exist. And then, of course, to Prem Rawat, himself, a man who continues to be an unending source of inspiration, love, comfort, guidance, laughter, wisdom, and gratitude. I have learned more from him in a single glance, gesture, or word than all of the holy books I have ever read. Not only has he awakened the deepest thirst for the divine within me, he has quenched that thirst. And then, just as that thirst was quenched, he deepened it even more... and then quenched it once again. I have no words to describe this man, even though I've written hundreds of pages about him and what his impact on my life has been. We play the hands we're dealt, my friends. I've been given words and the gift of gab. And even though I know I am only clearing my throat backstage in an empty theater, I will continue making the effort to express my heart's desire until my very last breath.

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Prem Photos: Courtesy of TimelessToday
PremRawat.com
Prem's recent series of lockdown videos
Meher Baba
Meher Spiritual Center in Myrtle Beach

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:14 AM | Comments (1)

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)

July 04, 2020
When It's Time to Move On

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There is a moment in everyone's life when all the cards are on the table, all the chips, too -- the moment of truth when the entire universe is conspiring to call one's attention to the choice we have every single second of the day to let go of our past and move towards what is truly calling us, even if we have no idea where it will lead.

One such moment happened for me in 1969, during my first and only semester as a graduate student at Brown University's prestigious MFA Creative Writing Program.

Like most long-haired, sallow-cheeked, Vietnam-phobic seekers of truth whose depression-imprinted parents would have much preferred him to have chosen law, medicine, or teeth over poetry, I found myself, at the ripe old age of 22, majorly existentially challenged -- sleeping 12 hours a day, posting my newly minted poems on trees at midnight, and feverishly reading Rilke, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams just in case the conversation turned thusly with any number of my far more well-read poetry professors engaging me in literary conversations at any number of ultra hip parties that I kept getting invited to -- the kind of heady gatherings where Kurt Vonnegut and other traveling bards kept showing up, laugh lines around their eyes unable to mask a lifetime's worth of sadness, disappointment, and despair.

It was at one of these Ivy League soirees, emboldened by drinking and smoking more than I should have that I found myself consumed with a burning question rising from deep inside me -- the kind of question that, if left unspoken, everything I ended up writing from that moment forward would be nothing more than a clever overcompensation for my inability to speak my truth now.

Approaching my first professor, large glass of cheap red wine in my right hand, I let the question fly: "If you could be anywhere in the world, at this precise moment in time, where would you be?"

"Hmmm..." Professor #1 replied, dramatically pausing and looking to the ceiling in case a beautiful co-ed was standing nearby, "excellent question! Let me see... if I could be anywhere in the world at this precise moment in time where would it be? Well... that would be Baja California. Definitely Baja California. I love it there."

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Nodding and doing my bearded graduate student best not to bump into anyone as I made my way across the suddenly tilting-to-the-left room, I spotted my second professor, an unhappily married, hammock-bellied, minor poet of a man who, I knew, had been, for the past few weeks, hitting on the same unhappily married shopkeeper in town that I was.

"Guatemala," he blurted. "Definitely Guatemala, especially the small village whose name I can't, for the life of me, remember -- a village just 15 miles outside the capital city. Love that place!"

Fueled as I was by what was now emerging as a definable pattern of response from my professors, I quickly found my way to the bar where Professor #3 was holding court, a large hummus stain on his too small polyester shirt.

"Where would I be if I could be anywhere in the world?" he repeated. "That's easy! The Pacific Northwest. How I love the rain and the fog! What a great place to write. You should definitely go there sometime, Mitch."

As I walked away, 22-year-old-knowingly, to the last of the lot, it began dawning on me that none of my so called mentors wanted to be where they were. All of them wanted to be SOMEWHERE ELSE -- a better place, a warmer place, a more exotic place. And here I was, restless, semi-depressed, aspiring to be just like them when, 20 years later, a wise-ass graduate student would be standing in this exact same room asking ME where I wanted to be and my answer, like those of my underpaid professors, would be SOMEWHERE ELSE.

Why not leave NOW while I could still get out of town? If I needed proof, I had all the proof I needed. Four professors. Four questions. Four of the same responses.

I slept very well that night and the next night, too.

When my Monday morning poetry class rolled around -- the one Professor #1 began by calling my name and noting with tenured gravitas that he wanted to SEE ME immediately after class -- a request that indicated only one thing -- the jig was up, that I, Mr-Attempt-to-Outstare-My-Professors-So-They-Would-Think-I-Knew-More-Than-I-Actually-Did, was about to be summarily kicked out of school, underwhelmed as my teachers were by the spotty quality of my work and the insidious ways in which Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Dylan Thomas kept leaking into my writing, not to mention the fact that I still had no clue why Wallace Stevens was such a big deal.

"Mr. Ditkoff," Professor #1 announced as the class emptied out, "the faculty and I... after much consideration... having reviewed your work carefully.... have decided... um....to give you a full teaching scholarship."

"Wow. That's interesting," I replied. "I quit."

"Quit?" he said. You can't quit. Don't you realize what you're being given here -- a totally free graduate school education at Brown University?"

"Like I said, sir. I quit. Thanks for the offer, but my education needs to happen somewhere else."

Which is exactly what happened.

Two days later, I was no longer a graduate student. Two weeks later I was living where I really wanted to live -- Cambridge, Massachusetts, and doing what I really wanted to do -- being a night desk clerk at a second rate hotel, plenty of time to read what I wanted to read, plenty of time to write what I wanted to write, and plenty of time to live the poetry of life, not just study it.

Clarity! Freedom! Choice! A bold step forward into the unknown!

It doesn't take a genius or a Professor at an ivy league university to figure out the moral of this little story. DO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO. LIVE WHERE YOU WANT TO LIVE. AND DO IT NOW, NOT LATER.

Time is passing. Life is too short to be living someone else's concept of it, too short to be living even your concept of it. There is something, beyond logic, beyond reason, beyond your ability to understand, that is calling you. Listen to it. Honor it. Trust it. What others might call "quitting" isn't really quitting at all -- it's letting go of the past, following your muse, and moving into the moment called NOW.

Your move.

You have a story11jpg.jpg

One of my books of poetry

Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling at Work
Teaching storytelling to second graders in an Islamic school
My personal website
My business website
Photo #2: Beatriz Gonzalez, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:33 AM | Comments (2)

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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