Storytelling at Work
December 27, 2020
Words Matter. So Does Dreaming.

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I had a very interesting dream this morning. Here goes:

I was sitting around a festive, holiday table with a bunch of people -- me being one of many guests. The dinner was over and, as I was preparing to leave, one of the other guests began complaining about something -- his intention, apparently, to bond with me before I exited -- his attempt to find some kind of "common ground" to talk about.

As I listened to his diatribe, I could feel my whole being shrinking and the pleasures of the evening beginning to dissipate. It was precisely at this moment that I realized I had a choice -- either sit passively by, nodding my head in agreement -- or speak my truth, which is what I decided to do.

What I said, was something like this (and I paraphrase): "What you are saying, my friend, has an affect on me -- but not a good one. Please know that your words matter -- all our words matter -- they affect things, especially the people around us. In fact, what you say goes into me and has the power to bring me down or awaken the part of me always wanting to become more alive. Speak to THAT part of me. When you do, the best in me awakens. Your words are a kind of fishing line you cast. They go into the people around you. Why not cast your line for love and see what nibbles you get there..."

MitchDitkoff.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:51 PM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2020
A Story That Might Save Your Life

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Ten years ago, Evelyne got a very bad case of Lyme's disease. So bad, in fact, that it turned into spinal meningitis -- a very scary situation that required her to have a port installed in her arm and receive IV antibiotics for 45 days. Not fun. Spooky. And very stressful, to say the least.

In response to her health challenge, I began to think that I also had Lyme's disease -- as many of the symptoms she was experiencing I began to experience, as well. And so I began reading about Lyme's disease, online, and became increasingly convinced I had it.

Two weeks into this saga, I flew to Florida to visit my sister, Phyllis, who was having her own health challenges -- and, during my visit, told her that I thought I had Lyme's disease and asked if she could make an appointment, for me, with her primary physician, which she did immediately.

The next day, in the doctor's office, he ran a series of tests, all of which indicated that I did NOT have Lyme's disease -- a big relief -- "but" he added , "as long as I have you in my office, let me do a more thorough check up."

As he did, he noticed a dark spot on my right thigh -- a spot I had always assumed was a birth mark.

"I don't like the looks of that," he said. "When you get back home, make an appointment with your local dermatologist and have it looked at."

Of course, when I got back home, I didn't, convinced that my sister's physician was overacting and, besides, I KNEW the mark on my thigh was nothing more than a birthmark.

Two weeks passed.

Then, one morning, as I looked in the bathroom mirror, preparing to shave, I noticed two unusual marks over my right eyebrow that I had never seen before.

"Weird," I thought. "What are THOSE?"

Getting increasingly anxious, I decided to make an appointment with a local dermatologist for the following week.

After filling out a bunch of forms in the waiting room, and sitting in the "examination room", alone, in my underwear, 20 minutes longer than I wanted to, in walks the doctor. I tell him about the newfound spots over my eyebrow and he checks them out.

"No big deal," he tells me. "These are benign -- the normal stuff of aging. But as long as you are here, let me take a look at your whole body."

When he saw the "birthmark" on my thigh, his entire demeanor changed. "I don't like the look of this," he said. "I'm going to biopsy it and send it to the lab. We'll know more in a few days."

Four days later I got a phone call from the dermatologist asking me to return to his office the very next day for surgery. The "birthmark" on my thigh, he explained, was a melanoma (skin cancer) and needed to be removed immediately. Not a day to waste.

I didn't sleep well that night.

The surgery took place first thing in morning, him cutting out a chunk of my thigh, bandaging up the wound, and asking me to return in a few days, after he got some more results back from the lab.

Back in his office the following week, he explained, in a very kind voice, that the surgery had gone well and that "my margins" were clear, and he was quite confident that he "got it all", asking me to return every three months for the next year for follow up exams. Then he looked me in the eye and said the following words that I will never forget.

"If you had waited six months to see me, we would be having a very DIFFERENT conversation than we're having right now."

And so dear friends... if YOU have any kind of odd skin growths that have caught your attention recently -- on your face, hands, feet, legs, neck, back, arm, or wherever, please do not just assume they are just birthmarks or liver spots or whatever. Hopefully, that's all they are, and in most cases that's all they will be (five future biopsies I've had all proved to be negative). But there is always a chance that your "birth mark" is a possible death mark unless you get it taken care of.

Please feel free to forward this little story to your friends and family, if you are so inclined. As the old expression goes, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

MitchDitkoff.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:13 AM | Comments (0)

December 16, 2020
Inspiring Quotes on Storytelling with Islamic Visuals

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How I connected with an Islamic school in Australia
What Is a Wisdom Circle?
Wisdom Circle Testimonials
Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling at Work

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:09 PM | Comments (0)

December 14, 2020
THE POWER OF IMMERSION (and the Island of the Fireflies)

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The year was 1981. Ronald Reagan was the U.S. President. Lady Diana had just married Prince Charles. And I had just landed a job, in Los Angeles, with the highly respected consulting firm, The Inner Game Corporation, who was on the brink of landing a big contract with Atari, the $900 million dollar maker of Pacman.

And so, as negotiations heated up, Inner Game's chief negotiator, the very savvy Prentiss Uchida, decided to sweeten the deal by promising Atari that we would deliver, in time for their upcoming computer summer camp, an interactive, make-you-own-adventure children's book that would teach young teens how to learn faster, the Inner Game way, with much less stress than ever before.

I was thrilled to hear that Prentiss had closed the deal. That is, until I found out who was going to be writing the book: me -- especially since the deadline was only 30 days away and I had never written a book before.

Thirty days didn't seem like all that much time to write a book, so I tracked down the only professional writer I knew, the co-author of Tron to get her take on the matter.

"Six months," Bonnie told me. "This is a six-month project. Don't even think of writing a book in a month. That would be insane."

But that's not what I wanted to hear. What I wanted to hear was "Hey, Mitch, anything's possible. Go for it!"

So I thanked Bonnie, returned to the office, and accepted the assignment.

The first thing I knew I needed to do was change my living situation. Sharing a house, as I was, with 10 other people was highly unlikely to yield the kind of concentration I needed to write a book, so I found a cabin a few miles away.

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The next thing I knew I needed to do was come up with the plot and the setting for the book, so I hustled on over to my nearest bookstore and bought an illustrated book about dwarves living underground. Why these dwarves were living underground, I hadn't the foggiest clue, but there was something about the illustrations and the idea of dwarves creating their own, invisible world that really knocked me out.

Upon returning to my cabin, I ripped the pages out of the book and taped them to the walls. Dwarves to the right of me. Dwarves to the left of me. Dwarves everywhere I looked.

Knowing time was short, I unplugged from everything I could think of -- shaving, sunlight, chit chat, friends, exercising, changing my clothes, asking people how they were doing, yoga, and a whole lot of other things I didn't have the time to plan unplugging from. Man on a mission, the world had suddenly became background noise, my focus having migrated elsewhere, though I couldn't tell you where.

Bottom line, I sat in my cabin for 30 days and 30 nights and did my thing -- a bouillabaisse of writing, staring out the window, thinking about writing, rewriting, editing, daydreaming, thinking about dwarves, making lists, making coffee, and wondering how I got into this predicament in the first place. Oh, and, for seven of those 30 days, I didn't sleep a wink. All-nighters. I pulled seven all-nighters

If my task had been to write a normal book, with a beginning, middle and end, that would have been one thing. But that was not my task. My task was to write a make-your-own-adventure book for the next generation of computer geeks -- a story with 28 alternate endings, each of which was supposed be informed by Inner Game's learning principles, none of which I completely understood.

I lived in my pajamas. I sat at my desk. I did not floss, cultivate friendships, garden, date, remember the date, read the sports section, debate politics, nap, or try save the world. Surrounded by dwarves and more than a few doubts, I found myself drifting further and further out to sea. The undertow? My strange fascination for attempting the impossible and the ever-approaching Atari deadline.

Yes, I was living alone, but I was not lonely, there being a house of ashram-dwelling women just a stone's throw away -- women who would show up, every day, with a tray of food and flowers.

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Other people, too, would show up at my door -- people, I soon realized, who fell into two distinct categories.

Category #1 were friends of mine who were, shall I say, concerned about my state of mind. They wanted me to "get out more" or "exercise" or "see a movie." I knew they meant well, but, their suggestions felt like spiritual nagging. Get out? Exercise? Watch a movie? Are you kidding me? I was on fire... a man on a mission.. obsessed with completing my book in 30 days, which, I am thrilled to say, I was well on my way to accomplishing when.... oops... 20 days into the project, I hit a wall.

Not just any wall, mind you. THE wall. The wall from whence the phrase "hitting a wall" originated. Not a brick wall. Not a nicely photographed wall covered with ivy. No. The primal wall. The one with the kind of Olympic dimensions that kept everyone out. Or, if everyone was already out, then everyone in.

That kind of wall.

Staying up late didn't help. Getting up early didn't help. Nor did getting up late or staying up early. Nothing helped. But I needed help and knew I needed to leave my hermitage to get it.

It wasn't a mystery where this help was going to come from. I knew exactly where I had to go to get it -- to a computer school in Silicon Valley, a school for gifted, young geeks -- one of Atari's "charter schools" that I, as a newly minted Inner Game consultant, had instant access to.

The first thing I did when I got there was ask the teacher who his most creative student was.

"Him!" said the teacher, pointing to a blond, buzz cut kid in the back of the room. "That's Lewis. He's the only one you need to talk to."

So I made my way over to the boy and asked if he'd be willing to listen to my story and share his ideas for where he thought it needed to go.

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When I got to the part where I had hit the wall, Lewis laughed, looked at the ceiling, paused, then launched into major tribal storytelling mode, me feverishly taking notes. The amulet? A brilliant touch! The evil Dr. Stuckenmyer? Now we're talking! The quicksand from nowhere? Pure genius!

Thanking Lewis profusely, I made my way over to Atari's Headquarters where I was ushered into the office of a man who not only made a lot more money than I did, but had apparently slept the night before. After the predicable chit chat, Mr. Big asked me how the book was coming. Not missing a beat, I told him the entire story -- the first half, which I had dreamed up in my dwarf-infused cabin for the past three weeks and the second half, which Lewis, the boy wonder, had channeled to me only 30 minutes ago.

"Wow," said the man with the corner office. "Amazing! I can't wait to read it!"

The next ten days were a blur. Or maybe two blurs. Me in my cabin. Me in my pajamas. Me sitting at the same desk, listening to knocks on same the door by the same worried friends, not to mention perfectly timed visits from other people bearing tofu salad sandwiches, smoothies, and asking if I wanted a massage.

They came and they went, these two human sides of the same coin, but I was living in a different realm where the currency had nothing to do with two sides of anything -- not good or bad, not up or down... not in or out... not this and that... or you and me... or any of the flora and fauna that defines what we have come to call our life.

The world I was living in at the time was a world where thought and action had merged, where words made flesh and flesh fell away, where night and day didn't matter and matter held no sway. Time was just something to keep the watchmakers employed. And yes, the proverbial clock was proverbially ticking, but so was the unspeakable glory of letting the story shake, rattle, and roll through me onto the page like some kind of divine palsy. Done! I was done! Gone! Gone! Gone beyond! Honed! Stunned! Down to the bone.

Now there was only thing left to do after picking up 200 copies of the tome -- and that was drive them to Atari's summer camp in San Diego and hand deliver them to VP of Education

Boom shakalaka.

I arrived at the exact same moment the VP arrived, both of us pulling into the same parking lot, her car much fancier than mine. She got out of hers, trailed by her entourage. I got out of mine, trailed by no one, book in hand, moving towards her in slow motion Chariot's of Fire mode, extending the book, as best as I could, and placing it into her outstretched hand.

"We got it!" she exclaimed, waving the book high over head. "We got it!"

MY COMMENTARY None of us know what we're capable of. We may think we do, but we don't. And most of the people we know don't know what we're capable of, either, because they don't know what they're capable of. And while there's nothing wrong with not knowing what we're capable of, there's something wrong about not being willing to find out. Your friends may think you've lost it. Your loved ones may try to reel you in. Your sirens may howl, but that's just the way the play unfolds, you center stage, not knowing your next line.

For now, here's all you need to know. Let go of fear. Persist. And ask for help when you need it. None of us are here alone, even if it seems that way a lot of the time. There are angels everywhere -- angels and muses and guides and helpers and clues everywhere we look. All we need to do is say YES and trust the process of our own outrageous lives.

NOW WHAT? Think of a challenge before you that feels impossible or, if not impossible, very difficult. Maybe it's a move you want to make, a career you want to change, a project you want to launch, a product you want to invent, a school you want to start, or a wrong you want to right. Whatever it is, bring it to mind. Now close your eyes and feel it. Imagine it's sometime down the road and your seemingly impossible venture has succeeded. What do you see? What do you feel? Who's in the picture with you? And what can you do, right now, to begin creating the conditions you need to manifest what it is within you quaking to be born?

Excerpted from this book
MitchDitkoff.com
Flower photo: Freestocks on Unsplash
Boy photo: Andriyko Podlinyk, Unsplash

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

December 11, 2020
THE INDEX CARD

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I don't know how many "theories of the universe" exist, but I am guessing there are probably a lot -- ways in which philosophers, astrophysicists, savants, and pundits have attempted, since the beginning of time, to wrap their heads around the unwrappable -- one of the fun sports of being human, I guess, no less meaningful than collecting stamps, crocheting, or guessing how many jelly beans are in a jar.

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One of these theories I find particularly intriguing -- and that would be the "holographic universe principle" -- the one that William Blake, the 16th century poet, once described, without knowing it, in a single sentence -- "seeing eternity in a grain of sand" -- or what Henry Miller, God bless him, described in the following way: "The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself."

I am not an astrophysicist, nor do I deeply understand the nuances of the holographic universe, but I do understand one thing -- that, somehow, EVERYTHING is encoded in the smallest thing -- or as some people like to say "as above, so below."

In other words, one does not need to go to the Himalayas or outer space in order discover the so-called "secret of life" -- one needs to simply pay close attention to what's right in front of them or, as the more spiritually inclined of our species like to say, "what's inside" of us. (NOTE: There are some astrophysicists who claim that the universe is curved and that if you looked long enough through a powerful enough telescope you would, eventually, see your own butt.)

Anyway, enough theory for now. It's time for a story or why Jean Luc Goddard once said, "Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form."

Some years ago, while MC'ing an event for Prem Rawat, in Los Angeles, I had the great, good fortune of experiencing one of these holographic universe moments. And the catalyst for it was very unexpected -- a 3x5 index card.

The setting? The Shrine Auditorium -- the same venue that had, over the past, few decades, hosted 24 Academy Awards and Grammy ceremonies -- an iconic environment with a ton of history and now, for me, a ton of presence. You see, a few weeks earlier, I had been asked to MC an event that would feature my long-time teacher, Prem Rawat, and I was both thrilled and anxious -- thrilled that Prem had enough confidence in me to play the MC role and anxious because I knew, all too well, the kind of impeccability that would be required of me that night.

My "handler" for that weekend -- the gentleman responsible for ensuring I would do a good job -- was Jean Marie Bonteaux, a relaxed, experienced, and knowledgeable fellow who had the knack for delivering just the right amount "get-ready-to-MC" information to me without triggering my "uh oh" response. Jean Marie was cool. He was calm. And he was very collected -- modeling the kind of vibe I was aspiring to abide by that evening.

And so, before the event, Jean Marie, spent some quality time with me, giving me the lay of the land, sharing some useful tips, and explaining the announcements I would need to make later that night. As he shared the announcements with me, I dutifully wrote them down on a 3x5 index card, wanting to be totally sure I had the correct information in order to communicate what needed to be said as accurately as possible and in the right sequence.

When the download was complete, I could see there were five announcements I would need to make, each one now neatly written on my index card, preceded by a number I had circled and a few words, underlined, to help me remember the gist of everything.

OK. So far, so good.

My task for the weekend appeared to be a simple one -- to sit there in the front row (whoo hoo!) with my headset on, listen to Prem and, at the same time, be alert to the cues I would get from the sound guys when it was my time to mount the stage and make the next announcement. And this is exactly what happened.

Well... sort of.

Soon after the program began, I noticed Jean Marie approaching me from the side, kneeling at my seat and, in a very soft voice, letting me know there was one more announcement I would need to make -- one that I rapidly jotted down on my index card, squeezing it in, in smaller print, between announcements #1 and #2.

Great. Got it. No worries. I had one more announcement to make. No big deal.

A few minutes later, I noticed Jean Marie approaching me again, still very relaxed and, upon arriving at my seat, knelt and let me know that there were, actually, TWO more announcements that needed to be made after the break.

As I began jotting down these new announcements on my index card, it soon became apparent that I was, most definitely, running out of room, so I flipped the card over and wrote the new announcements on the flip side -- drawing an arrow from the newly noted Announcement #2 to the far edge of the card, a clever reminder for me to FLIP THE CARD OVER when it was time to speak, which, as far as I could tell, would be happening in just few minutes.

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Meanwhile, Prem, with great eloquence, flair, and humor continued holding forth, me now toggling back and forth between listening to him and inspecting my increasingly crowded note card to make sure that I actually UNDERSTOOD the announcements I would soon be making and taking the time to CIRCLE a few key words for emphasis and UNDERLINE a few words, here and there, to help me remember the flow.

But the more I sat there, the more I noticed that the index card I held in my hands was beginning to look a lot like a kidnap letter. The writing seemed agitated, shaky. Some of the words were BIG. Others were small. And there were entire sentences that had been relegated to the MARGINS, including phrases that now appeared to be vertical, requiring me to turn the card SIDEWAYS in order to follow the trail of the message I was supposed to deliver the next time I mounted the stage.

Hmm...

Oh, and here comes Jean Marie one more time. He is still mellow. He is still conscious, it seems, of not wanting to overwhelm me or make my job any harder than it needed to be.

"Mitch," he begins, "there is ONE MORE announcement you will need to make at the end of the program," proceeding, in his very relaxed way, to reveal its content, assuring me, in no uncertain terms, that it was absolutely FINE for me to make the announcement in my own words and that he had great confidence in me to deliver the message in the way most appropriate to the moment -- a vote of confidence that was very reassuring, especially now, since there was no room remaining on either side of my index card to write anything else. Indeed, the content of the card, to my untrained eye, began to take on the appearance of performance art. Words were everywhere. Arrows, too. Numbers were circled. Random phrases were underlined, and now, memes that made sense to me just a few seconds ago, were completely indecipherable.

My choice was becoming clear. Either sit there, in my front row seat, attempting to make sense of whatever I had written, or stand up, leave the auditorium, and rewrite EVERYTHING so I could actually UNDERSTAND what needed to be said without squinting, frowning, or turning the card this way and that.

Ah, the moment of truth!

On one hand, it made absolutely no sense to leave the hall. I mean, after all, I had traveled 3,000 miles to listen to Prem, right? And I had a front row seat, right? And I certainly didn't want to "abandon my post." Exiting the event, at this moment, seemed totally counter intuitive -- a move that probably said more about my lack of faith in myself than it did anything else. And yet, only a fool would fail to recognize that the card I was now holding in my left hand now was increasingly looking like a fragment, in Aramaic, from the Dead Sea Scrolls -- something that would take even the most pedigreed linguist weeks to decode.

It was at that precise moment, in the middle of Prem's timeless talk, that I stood and exited stage right, looking for a fresh note card or maybe just a regular piece of paper so I could rewrite the content of what I needed to say, in a few moments, with confidence, clarity, and consciousness.

And that is precisely what happened.

The note card appeared. The pen appeared. A surface to write on appeared. And the whole rewriting of the Dead Sea Scroll note card took less than two minutes to complete. Badaboom, badabing.

I returned to my seat. I put my headset on. And 20 seconds later, I got my cue from the sound guys to mount the stage and make the announcements which now, I was thrilled to see, actually made sense.

COMMENTARY

OK. On one level, the above story is funny and maybe even entertaining. But it is also, at least from my perspective, an example of how the so-called "holographic universe" works. In other words, my index card -- my grain of sand moment at the Shrine Auditorium -- had contained, within it, everything I needed to experience in order to wake further up. The dimensions of what I had to work with -- the "canvas", if you will -- was limited -- only 3 inches by 5 inches. Not much room to express myself in any meaningful way -- a familiar theme in my life of feeling that what I really needed to say didn't quite fit the limited dimensions available to me -- perhaps one of the reasons why Van Gogh cut off his ear and all of my musician friends are wondering what to do with their unsold CDs.

YES, I made my effort to make best use of the limited resources available to me and, YES, I applied various strategies, in the moment, in order to increase my chances of success. But in the end (or was it in the beginning?) -- the SINGULARITY of my own life was upon me. All bets were off. My old "paradigm" didn't cut it any more. My plan was a joke. Life was calling for the tango and I was still doing the cha cha.

And then, as the time ticked down and the stakes went up, I was faced with a CHOICE -- one that flew in the face of logic, rationality, and the litany of my own preferences. TO DO WHAT I WAS MOVED TO DO. To respond to an inner calling. To trust that which was being announced INSIDE of me with every fiber of my being. Bottom line, to GO FOR IT.

I realize, of course, that if somebody else was MC'ing that night, it is highly probable that he or she or it or they would have made a different choice, taken a different path. And if they did, everything would have worked out just fine for them. But it wasn't anyone else MC'ing that night. It was me on the receiving end of whatever it was I needed to experience in order to "get it" -- the learning, the lesson, the sound of one hand clapping.

The main takeaway for me?

That when I am in the consciousness of SERVICE, everything becomes crystal clear and there is always a happy ending.

You see, a big part of me, that night, just wanted to sit back and listen to Prem. That's it. Just listen and absorb what he had to say. But then .. ah... THEN came the moment beyond expectations. The moment of clarity. The moment of realizing how precious service is! I was there to serve! THIS was the organizing principle around which everything was taking shape. This was the tuning fork -- the medium to ensure I was vibrating at the right frequency to resonate with the present moment.

Leaving my seat to find the space and time to rewrite the announcements was not "leaving" anything. I was not "missing" anything. There was no problem. I was simply following the yellow brick road of the moment.

The so called "resolution" of the seeming conundrum took less than two minutes. That's it. Two minutes.

All of us, methinks, especially during these crazy days of the Coronavirus, are faced with a similar holographic moment. At first glance, it doesn't seem like we have enough of what we think we need to succeed -- that the situation we find ourselves in is difficult... dense.. or indecipherable. But then... the Red Sea parts... time stops... a choice is made... and the clarity becomes radiantly available to us.

Take a moment now to look down at YOUR index card. What is written on it? What does it say? Are you able to decipher it? And if not, in this moment, what choices will you make to better understand WHAT is written on your card and what it is you really need to say or do?

Photo #2: Chris Lloyd, Unsplash
Prem photo: courtesy of TimelessToday

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:42 PM | Comments (0)

Quarantining the Mind

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The practice of quarantine began during the 14th century in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit, at anchor, for 40 days before landing. This word for this phenomenon harkens back to two Italian words, "quaranta giorni", which translate as "40 days".

OK. I get it. Quarantining makes sense. When someone or something is infected and contagious we remove it from society. We protect the whole, by isolating the parts.

But the body is not the only part of us that gets infected. So does our mind -- what the dictionary defines as "the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences -- the faculty of consciousness and thought."

On a good, uninfected day, our mind is a capable of many glorious things: wonder, imagination, gratitude, focus, clarity, creativity, compassion, appreciation, and wisdom, just to name a few. But when it gets infected, watch out, my friends, watch out. The game changes quickly. All hell breaks loose.

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The symptoms of the body's contagion are relatively easy to recognize, especially these days with all the coverage Covid-19 is getting: fever, chills, sneezing, coughing, body aches, and fatigue.

The symptoms of the mind's contagion? Not quite as easy to detect. Why not? Because, like pollution and hidden bank charges, we've become so accustomed to them, we barely notice anymore. But just because we don't, it doesn't mean the contagion isn't wreaking havoc. It most definitely is.

The symptoms of an infected mind? Take your pick: worry, doubt, fear, stress, anger, blame, confusion, panic, powerlessness, loneliness, hopelessness, irritation, frustration, hypochondria, lethargy, and overwhelm -- and that's just for starters.

Simply put our body gets physically infected and our mind gets metaphysically infected. And when it does, its contagion begins spreading exponentially. Other people are affected -- our families, our friends, and our communities.

These days, I have never been more aware of my mind's infection.

Living in semi-isolation as I am, 10,000 miles from home, more time on my frequently washed hands than usual, I am acutely aware of the condition I have. I've caught something. I have something. But the thing that I've caught and have doesn't need to catch and have me. It doesn't. Nope. No way. I'm in charge. Not it.

That's where choice enters the picture -- to quarantine the infected part of my mind before it gets out of hand.

What does this so-called quarantining look like? For me, it begins with a kind of peeing around my soul's territory and then choosing not to engage, not to react, not to fight back, and not to take a single bite from the seeming infinite supply of poisoned cookies my mind tosses my way.

Instead, I take a breath, return to the place of peace inside me, and send the feral monkeys of my mind back to their room for a long time out. And if they refuse my directive, as they often do, I simply turn and walk away, their nervous chattering now fading background noise in the soaring symphony of my life.

Does it always work? No. But sometimes it does. And the more I practice quarantining my mind, the flatter the curve.

Covid-19 is just a dress rehearsal, folks, an opportunity for each and every one of us to see through the illusory nature of the world and all we've constructed -- our identities, personas, possessions, accomplishments, systems, institutions, civilizations, and distractions. None of them are real. All of them come and go in the blink of an eye.

What remains when they skedaddle out of town? Now that's the 279 trillion dollar question, isn't it? What remains?

For now, let's keep it real simple. You and I and the other 7.7 billion people on planet Earth have a choice -- the choice to choose life over death, light over dark, love over hate, now over later, and presence over absence. And, perhaps above all else, the choice to pay attention to that which is truly worthy of our attention. You know what it is. I know you do. No matter what name you call it or how you invoke it, I invite you to pay more attention to that during these crazy Coronavirus days of change.

Photo: Courtesy of TimelessToday
The Two Wolves
Ending Violence with Chopsticks
Is That So?

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

December 10, 2020
The Zen Filing System

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Some years ago, when I was the "Community Coordinator" in Denver, Colorado, I worked closely with a very Zen-minded man named Jon Lieben. Jon was in charge of all maintenance and repairs to the Community Center and had an office next to mine.

One day, as I was walking by Jon's office, I saw that he, with his left arm, was sweeping all of the papers and files on his desk into a big empty box on the floor. My first impression was quite judgmental -- that what Jon was doing was NOT a very skillful way to organize all of the many papers, projects, and details he was responsible for -- anyone of which, if left undone, would end up affecting hundreds of people and possible causing big problems, some of which that I would have to deal with later.

"Jon", I called out," What are you DOING, man? That's a lot of important papers you're just chucking into the trash. Don't you think you should, at least, LOOK at that stuff before throwing it away?"

Jon looked at me with an enigmatic smile. And paused.

"The way I figure it, Mitch, is that if any of these are REALLY important, somebody's gonna call me."

While I was absolutely bamboozled by Jon's approach at the time, the older I've gotten, the more I've come to realize how brilliant it was.
I've got files up the wazoo in my office, stacks of multi-colored folders in more than a few places, each file with a carefully written label telling me what's in it -- or, in some case, big bold words I've written on the folder, itself, words like "DEAL WITH THIS NOW!" or "IMPORTANT FINANCIAL STUFF."

Basically, this stuff just sits there like high school geometry homework waiting to be filed, which I rarely do. When I finally get guilty enough or anxious enough to actually DO something, I look through these stacks and discover that 95% of them are completely useless -- some kind of "paper trail" I never need to follow, the flora and fauna of somebody else's concept of what's important in my life.

If Jon was standing in my office, he would have, a long time ago, simply swept them into a big empty box on the floor, freeing me up from having to look at this stuff -- a visual phenomenon that has always left me feeling there was something UNDONE in my life and that something that REALLY NEEDED MY ATTENTION, when in fact, it didn't.

Let's hear it for Jon Lieben, ladies and gentlemen, and the realization that life is much simpler than how we perceive it most of the time.

(Jon, if you are reading this. THANK YOU!)


MitchDitkoff.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:19 AM | Comments (0)

December 03, 2020
WHAT REMAINS

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Recently, I spent 10 weeks, 7 days per week, 10 hours per day, sorting through 26 years of possessions, preparing to sell my Woodstock home -- infused, as it was, with countless memories of birth, death, fire, celebration, devotion, love, friends, inspiration, rites of passage, madness, dreams, dancing, bedtime stories, baby showers, live opera, dead mice, and ten thousand outtakes from the movie that seemed to be my life. I kept having to decide what to take, what to toss, what to give away, what to sell, and what to store.

Michelangelo, when asked how he created The David, said it best. "I simply took away everything that wasn't." Indeed! The statue was always in the stone. All he had to do was remove what wasn't. Less is more. Or as Dizzy Gillespie once said, "It took my entire life to learn what not to play."

And so, as I gave away, threw away, tossed, sold, and stashed, I got to experience the odd revelation of seeing what remained -- my own David, you might say, being revealed to me. What I noticed was this: no matter what form these objects took, they all served the same function: REMEMBRANCE!

What remains of my estate reminds me of what I truly value in this life. A FEELING! A sacred moment out of time. My souL's longing. God within. A wink from the Great Beyond. The experience of presence, contentment, and joy. The form it takes? Many Buddhas, especially, Hotei, the laughing Buddha. Photographs of Evelyne, Jesse, Mimi, and me when we were at our best. A 40-year old I-Ching. The Tao Te Ching. The poetry of Hafiz, Rumi, and Kabir. A child's drawing. A puppet. Many photos of my amazing Master, Prem Rawat. A black and white photo of my parents kissing on their wedding day. A picture of my sister, Phyllis, God rest her soul. My dog Chili's collar. An old turquoise beret. And several boxes of journals I have never been able to throw away -- the hieroglyphics of my heart on fire.

This is what remains. This. This is my David. The rest? Just stuff.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:12 PM | Comments (0)

December 02, 2020
What a Story Is Not

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For the past three years, I've been facilitating Wisdom Circles in the US, Mexico, and Australia. They have been an absolute delight -- wonderful gatherings of open-minded people who intuitively understand the power and glory of storytelling. And yet, during that time, I've noticed a curious phenomenon: Even though the word "story" is well-known to everyone, not everyone understands how to tell a story with impact.

I am not going to give you instructions for how to do that. Why not? Because you already know. You do. It's just that, sometimes, funky old habits get in the way. When you let go of those habits, the story you want to tell will shine. (Kind of like what Michelangelo said when asked how he made the David: "I simply took away everything that wasn't.")

So...here goes: six things storytelling is not:

1. A Chance to Tell the Story of Your Life: Just because you have a captive audience doesn't mean you have to rewind the tape of your life and tell them everything. No one really wants to hear it. While you may feel better at the end of your monologue, no one else will.

2. You Talking About Things: Simply stringing together a bunch of things that "happened" to you is not a story. It may be a report, a list of accomplishments, or you "waxing poetic" about something you care about, but it is not a story. Stories have a dramatic arc -- a beginning, a middle, and an end. TheY flow, like a river, to the ocean. They are not random puddles.

3. A Sanitized Summary of an Experience You'd Had: Most amateur storytellers tend to underplay or completely omit one of the most important elements of a story -- the obstacle. Little Red Riding Hood had to deal with the Big Bad Wolf. Perseus had to deal with the Minotaur. Luke Skywalker had to deal with Darth Veda. No obstacle, no story. Of course, this obstacle might be an "inner" obstacle like fear, doubt, or procrastination. That's fine. Just don't forget to give your obstacle its proper due.

4. Multiple Stories Threaded Into One: Dizzy Gillespie said it best: "It took my entire life to learn what not to play." Translation? Be economical in the telling of your stories. Be selective! Know what to leave out. Just because something in your story reminds you of something else, that doesn't mean you should include it. If you do, you run the risk of spreading yourself too thin and your audience losing interest.

5. Talking to Yourself in Monotones: Some aspiring storytellers, not sure if their story is a "good" one or that anyone will listen, have a tendency to speak in a very soft voice or forget to make eye contact. Oops! Not a good idea. If no one can hear your story, what good is it? And remember, it's not just about the words, it's about the feeling behind the words.

6. Retelling an Experience (Instead of Reliving It): It is not uncommon for aspiring storytellers, in their commitment to "tell what happened", to leave out the emotion of the story. Facts are one thing, feeling is quite another. Without feeling, your story becomes lifeless -- merely an 11:00 news report. Embodying your story is the real work. Inhabiting it -- not just hydroplaning on the surface of events, but diving in to the deep end of the experience you are attempting to convey. (Big shout out to Gail Larsen for this important distinction.)

Painting: Lisa Dietrich

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:37 AM | Comments (0)

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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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