Storytelling at Work
October 02, 2020
The Afghani Cab Driver and the $250M Dollar Salty Snack Food

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I am getting into the back seat of a yellow cab, as I've done a thousand times before, having just tipped the too-smiling bellboy too much for holding open the door and inviting me, as he had been trained to do just last week, to "have a nice day."

Here, 1,500 miles from home, at 6:30 am in front of yet another nameless business hotel, I settle into position, careful not to spill my coffee on my free copy of USA Today.

In 20 minutes, I will be arriving at the international headquarters of General Mills, creators of Cheerios, Wheaties, and the totally fictional 50's icon of American motherhood, Betty Crocker.

My mission? To help their product development team come up with a new $250 million dollar salty snack food.

It's too dark to read and I'm too caffeinated to nap, so I glance at the dashboard and see a fuzzy photo of my driver, his last name next to it -- an extremely long and unpronounceable last name -- as if a crazed bingo master had thrown all the letters of the alphabet into a brown paper bag, shook, and randomly pulled them out in between shots of cheap tequila. Where he was from I had no clue.

"Hello," I manage to say, nervous that my driver with the long last name would end up getting us completely lost. "I'm on my way to General Mills. Do you... know where that is?"

"Oh yes," my driver replies with an accent I assume to be mid-eastern. "I know."

Small talk out of the way, I now had three choices -- the same three choices I have every time I get into the back seat of a cab.

I could check my email. I could review my agenda. Or I could continue the conversation with my driver -- always a risky proposition, especially with cabbies from foreign lands who were often difficult to understand, tired, or, seemingly angry at Americans, which, I am not proud to say, often led me to become way too polite, overcompensating for who knows how many years of my government's pre-emptive strikes -- a response, I'm sure (mine, not the government's), which even the least sophisticated cab driver could see through in a heart beat.

"Where are you from?" my driver asks.

"Woodstock," I reply. "Woodstock, New York. And you?"

"Afghanistan."

Deep as we were in the middle of that war, I am stunned, my own backseat brand of battlefield fatigue now gathering itself for the appropriate response.

"Afghanistan?" I reply. "What brought you here?"

I could tell by his pause -- his long, pregnant pause, that things, in this taxi, were just about to change.

"Well..." my driver says, looking at me in the rearview mirror, "I was out for a walk with my 10-year old daughter when she stepped on a land mine."

I look out the window. Starbucks. MacDonalds. Pier 1 Imports.

"So I ripped off my shirt and tied it around her leg to stop the bleeding. Then I went running for a doctor. But there was no doctor."

For the next 20 minutes, he goes on to tell me about his three-day journey through the mountains of Afghanistan, his bleeding daughter on his back, slipping in and out of consciousness. Villagers took them in, gave them food, applied centuries worth of home remedies, but no one knew of a doctor.

And then... a break. A man on horseback told him of some nurses from the Mayo Clinic who had just set up an outpost just a little way up the road. With his last bit of energy, he got there and collapsed -- the nurses managing to keep his daughter alive and flying her, the next day, to the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis, where, three days later, he and his wife were flown to be by her side to enter into a year long rehabilitation process with her, so she could learn to walk with her new prosthetic leg.

"That will be $27.55", my driver announces, checking the meter.

Somehow, I find my wallet, pay, and hug my driver, lingering with him as long as I could in that early morning light.

I enter the well-appointed lobby of General Mills, get my security pass, and make my way to the room where I am supposed to set things up for today's salty snack food brainstorming session.

An hour later, fifteen 30-somethings walk in, checking Blackberries. I have a choice to make. Do I dismiss my journey from hotel to headquarters as a surreal preamble to the day -- one that has nothing to do with the work at hand? Or do I realize that my journey here this morning is the work at hand -- a story not only for me, but for everyone in the room that day?

Excerpted from Storytelling at Work
Storytelling at Work podcast
Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:53 PM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2020
The Wordless Sermon

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As the story goes, 2,500 years ago, Buddha gave a wordless sermon to his disciples. All he did was hold up a single white flower -- a lotus. That's it. No words. Just a flower. All his disciples were mystified, except, that is, Mahakasyapa, a young monk who immediately smiled, signifying the direct transmission of wisdom from Master to student -- a moment referred to in Buddhist literature as "tathagata", the ineffable nature of suchness.

Something within Mahakasyapa instantly understood the non-verbal essence of what Buddha was communicating. He got it in a flash. No thought was necessary, no analysis, no intellectualization. It was, as if, a veil had lifted and he got to experience something profound that was previously inaccessible to him.

For want of a better phrase, let's call the young monk's recognition a "moment of truth".

The good news for the rest of us is that we don't need to be a monk in order to experience a moment of truth. Nor do all moments of truth need to be "spiritual", historically significant, or worthy of inclusion in future scriptures. Moments of truth are not only for everyone, but they come in all varieties -- small, medium, and large -- spontaneously occurring, unplanned happenings that have, embedded within them, the potential for great learning, insight, and wisdom. Simply put, a kind of Red Sea parts and a meaningful lesson is learned, even if no teacher is present. We all have them, though, like dreams, they are easy to forget, dismiss, or undervalue.

The catalyst for a moment of truth can be anything. For the young monk, it was a flower. For you, who knows? A chocolate bar? A glance from a beggar? Missing a train? A divorce? Getting lost? Being rescued? Almost dying? A blues song you hear on the radio? It really doesn't matter what it is, as long as it sparks an inner shift that moves you beyond old assumptions, habits of mind, and outdated beliefs so you can experience the magic of life in a fresh, new way.

If you deconstruct the stories we tell, you'll discover that most of them turn out to be our attempts to give shape to these moments of truth -- our verbal deciphering of a moment, in time (or outside of time) that had great significance for us, even if that moment was invisible to others.

Unspoken, these moments of truth remain hidden, buried inside us like treasure or unopened love letters. Expressed, especially in the form of STORY, they uplift, inspire, and empower, pollinating great fields of wisdom -- in yourself, the people you share them with, and the people they share them with. On and on and on it goes, countless moments of truth circulating the planet at the same time, opening minds, opening hearts, and helping awaken all of us to a richer, fuller, more enlightened life.

Storytelling for the Revolution
Photo: Eric Prouzet, Unsplash
Big thanks to Gammadian Freeman for picking up the typo!

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:53 AM | Comments (0)

August 17, 2020
The Last Story of a Dying Woman

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See this photo?

It was taken a few days ago in a hospital room in Copenhagen -- a photo of a story I wrote five years ago about an unforgettable moment I experienced, with my son Jesse, when he was just four years old.

Last week, a friend of mine, Tina Lindgreen, in Denmark, asked me to send her some stories of mine to read to her mom on her death bed. This is the one she chose. Her mom loved the story, squeezed Tina's hand as it was being read, then nodded and smiled. The next day was her last.

In 1998, when the experience I wrote about happened, I had no idea that 22 years later, it would help ease the transition of a 96-year old woman 3,790 miles away. Bottom line, we have very little idea about the impact our thoughts, words, and actions have on other people.

We are all connected.

Excerpted from this book
Not excerpted from this book
Or this book

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)

"Dada, Do You Have Time to Catch My Bubbles?"

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One morning, 22 years ago, I found myself standing in my closet, madly searching for clean clothes in a last minute attempt to pack before yet another business trip, when I noticed my 4-year old son, Jesse, standing in the entrance. In one hand he held a small plastic wand, in the other, a plastic bottle of soapy water.

"Dada," he said, looking up at me. "Do you have time to catch my bubbles?"

Time? Whoa! It stopped. And so did I. At that moment, it made absolutely no difference whether or not I caught my plane; I could barely catch my breath. The only thing that was happening in that moment was my son and the soulful look of longing in his eyes.

For the next ten minutes, all we did was play -- him blowing bubbles, me catching. His need was completely satisfied -- his need for connection, his need for love, his need for knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that his dada was THERE for him and everything was perfect just the way it was.

Jesse is 26 now and just bought his own house. He works at YouTube. His bubbles are digital. But his deepest needs -- and mine -- are very much the same: love, connection, and enjoyment of the moment.

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SO WHAT? This just in: In these difficult days of the Coronavirus, it is clear to me, more than ever, that it is the small moments that count -- the subtle opportunities we have every day to really BE there for each other. The business of life is not a life of business. There is something going on beyond cash flow, getting back to work, and government stimulus packages that is worthy of our attention.

Like love, for example. Like kindness. Like caring, fun, deep listening, and being totally present with the people in our lives -- especially those who live under the same roof we are working so hard to make sure remains over their head.

Somehow, along the way, we have forgotten that earning a living is not the same thing as LIVING -- that the people counting on us for survival are more interested in our interest in them than they are the compounded interest we are trying to earn for them.

This is tricky business, especially at a time in our lives when it takes a whole lot more effort than ever to pay the bills.

On that memorable day in my closet, if you asked me what I was doing the moment before Jesse asked me to catch his bubbles, I would have given you a stock answer -- something like, "getting ready for a road trip" or "packing." If you'd pressed me, I might have said something like "building a house of bricks" for my family.

Jesse didn't want to play with bricks that day. He wanted to play with BUBBLES. Bubbles were not a part of his long-term strategy. They were, instead, a crystal clear invitation for me to stop doing what I was doing and BE PRESENT with him in the moment -- the moment he was joyfully living in and I was planning for.

NOW WHAT? Who has been blowing bubbles your way recently? Have you acknowledged them? Given them your attention? Responded? If not, pause for a moment and ask yourself what you might do differently to catch their bubbles.

Excepted from this book

Not excerpted from this book
MitchDitkoff.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:13 PM | Comments (0)

August 15, 2020
Down to the Very Last Breath

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Soon to turn 73 and increasingly realizing, in my bones and my joints, that I am mortal, I would like to take the next few minutes, if I may, to share, just a little bit, about the preciousness of life -- something I've always sensed, but didn't know, for sure, until the moment I almost died at 21.

Looking back to that time, 52 years ago, beyond the massive trauma of it all, I understand, now, what a great gift I was given, tough love from the universe, shock therapy for the soul.

I will spare you the back story and just cut to the chase.

Caught in a rip tide, I was drowning. I was going down for the third time, gulping water as I climbed an invisible ladder to nowhere, gasping. My strength was gone, completely sapped. I had nothing in the tank. Nothing. At that moment -- only one thing was clear. I was just about to die. This was the end.

As that realization entered what was left of my mind, I looked to the shore and read the epitaph a stranger would write: "You will die here and people will remember you as the person who died here." That was it -- my entire life reduced to a single sentence -- me a cautionary tale on the back pages of the local newspaper.

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As I looked to the shore, unhinged, I heard a word I had never heard before in a language I did not know, volcanic, pristine, pure, as if the earth, itself, had a voice.

"EXISTALZ! EXISTALZ!" it exclaimed, symphonic in its resonance -- my life, or what passed for my life up to this point, nothing more than a cartoon.

Only this moment was real. Only. This. Moment -- the one that would soon be my last, every cell in my body awake. What a joke! What a joke! And it was on me! Never before I had been so alive, so conscious, so completely awake, and it was all about to end.

And then? A moment I will never forget, one I will never be able to explain or honor from the sacred place from which it emerged -- a moment that brings tears to my eyes, here, now, as I write these words to you. Something took me over completely -- something far beyond who I knew myself to be -- something absolutely primal and all powerful. If infused me. It shook me, took me, gave me life, breathed me, pulled the strings that moved my arms and legs. I was not aware of it. I had no mind, no thoughts, no plan, no sense of where I was or where I was going. I had nothing, nothing at all. But something had me.

When I opened my eyes, I found myself in water only three feet deep. And so I stood, as if for the first time, and when I did, I stumbled to the shore and screamed the only word I knew. "HELP! HELP! HELP!" And why? Because the friend of mine who I'd been swimming with was still out there, alone... or so I thought.

"HELP! HELP! HELP!" I screamed again.

But there was no one on the beach, no one. I was all alone. It was just me... and the sky...and the sand... and the void.

And then... appearing from who knows where, I see a young woman slowly walking towards me. "HELP! HELP!" I scream in her direction and point to the ocean. But no one is there. No one. Just waves and foam and a lone seagull overhead.

In that moment... in that stark, brutal, incomprehensible, irreducible moment, I died a thousand deaths. Yes, I was alive, but my friend was gone. How could this be?

And then? We saw her head above water. That's when the young woman standing next to me and her boyfriend dove in and pulled her out, alive.

For the next two hours, we could not speak. All we could do was kiss the ground and sing children's songs: Happy Birthday to You... Jingle Bells... Row Row Row Your Boat and whatever else we could remember. That's it. That's all we did. Sing.

As the sun went down, we made our way back to the car and began slowly driving home. Three minutes later, we saw three hitchhikers by the side of the road and stopped to let them in. As they entered, they were complaining, letting us know they had just walked a mile, on this beautiful summer day, without a ride.

Speechless. We were speechless. We had nothing to say. Not a word.

Upon returning home, I made a vow I would never, ever, for the rest of my life, complain about anything -- that I would live the rest of my days in total gratitude, happy for simply breath alone. And that, my friend, is exactly what happened. For the next three days, I lived in a state of absolute grace and gratitude for everything in my life. The air. The breeze. The birds. The ground. The trees. My arms. My friends. The sky. My breath. And everything in between.

And then? On the fourth day of my God-intoxicated state, right after breakfast, I walked outside and noticed that the front right tire of my car was flat. I kicked it. I punched the air. I cursed. That's when I understood just how much work I still had to do to close the gap between my vows and the realization of just how sacred this life truly is. Every. Single. Breath.

Amen.

Photo #1: Ian Espinosa, Unsplash
Photo #2: Li Yang, Unsplash
MitchDitkoff.com
Storytelling for the Revolution
TimelessToday

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:10 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 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.

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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)

June 18, 2020
My Father, On the Tarmac

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Years ago, before terrorism, shoe bombs, and 9/11, my father and mother were on their way back home from a vacation in the Caribbean. When my father checked in at the airport, tanned and rested, the ticket agent informed him that the flight was "overbooked" and he would have to be re-ticketed and put on a later plane, along with my mom.

This, shall we say, did not sit well with him. After all, he had a confirmed ticket in his pocket and NEEDED TO GET BACK TO WORK. The ticket agent, following airline protocols, repeated the party line, explaining ever-so-politely that Mr. and Mrs. Ditkoff would need to be re-ticketed, which she would be happy to do. This was not the response my father was looking for. Not even close.

So he went to the gate, found an exit door and, along with my mother, made his way onto the tarmac. Once there, he made a beeline for the portable stairway that other passengers on his flight were boarding. Then, he moved to the front of the line, grabbed both handrails tightly and blocked everyone's entrance. Whatever flight attendants tried to do to appease him did not work. He simply grabbed on harder and stood his ground, my mother, somewhat embarrassed, standing off to the side. My father would not budge, not an inch, his verbal commentary as tenacious as his two vice-like grips on the hand rails.

"No one gets on this plane unless we do!" he barked. "No one!"

And no one did. He just stood there, holding on, taking a massive stand for his rights.

PS: Somehow, the flight attendants found two seats for the tanned and rested Barney and Sylvia Ditkoff. Ah... the good old days.

Storytelling for the Revolution
MitchDitkoff.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:58 PM | Comments (0)

June 12, 2020
Ending Violence with Chopsticks

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Once upon a time there was old man sitting at sushi bar in Japan, his back turned to the front door. Halfway through his meal, in walks three young thugs, with only one thing in mind -- to attack the old man from behind and steal his money. Quickly looking around the room, they knew this would be an easy day's pay for them, since the old man was the only person in restaurant. What they didn't know, however, was that the old man was actually a great Master of the martial arts -- a legend in self-defense who had been trained from an early age to sense danger from behind.

As the three young thugs approached, the old man, lightly holding a pair of chopsticks in his right hand, plucked a housefly from the air. Just. Like. That. The young thugs noticed, their forward movement slowing dramatically. Then the martial arts master transferred the chopsticks to his left hand, quickly flicked his wrist above his head and caught a second housefly. The young thugs noticed again. Now, transferring the chopsticks to his right hand, the martial arts master performed the feat once again, plucking yet another housefly from the air and depositing it gently next to the other two, both of whom were dazed, but very much alive.

That's when the three young thugs stopped, turned around, and exited the restaurant as quickly as they could. It took them 30 minutes before they could even speak.

FOR YOUR REFFLECTION: This story was told to me by a fifth degree black belt from the same martial arts tradition as the great Master sitting at the sushi bar. When I first heard the story, it had great impact on me -- how violence could be ended without violence and how mastery could manifest itself in many forms to accomplish an extraordinary result.

"A good horse runs at the shadow of the whip", the old saying goes.

The chopsticks story was always one I wanted to include in my new book, but before publishing it, I wanted to make sure I had the story right. So I decided to so some research. I googled. I emailed. I spoke to people from the Master's martial arts lineage. But every effort I made came up empty. Nobody could tell me, for sure, whether or not the story was true.

That's when I realized I had a choice to make. Do I include the story in my book or not? In the end, I did. And why I did is because of the powerful message the story delivers in just a few paragraphs that take only 90 seconds to read.

Did the chopsticks story really happen the way I described it? Maybe. Maybe not. I still don't know. But what I do know is that there is a deep message embedded in the story -- a message that, if deeply imbibed, has the potential to change the way you (and whoever else reads the story) approaches the perceived problems in their life.

Is any story 100% factual? And, other than a story being told in a court of law, does it matter? Stories, by their very nature, morph in the telling. They also morph in relationship to the storyteller's perceptions, interpretation, and mood of the moment -- not unlike what happens in the children's game of telephone. Facts are one thing. Truth is another. Maybe that's why Francis Bacon once said, "Truth is so hard to tell, it sometimes needs fiction to make it plausible."

What danger is approaching you these days? And how might you defuse it in a non-traditional way?


MitchDitkoff.com

Another martial arts story
The Wisdom Circles of San Miguel


PHOTO: unsplash-logoJuan Encalada

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:45 PM | Comments (0)

June 07, 2020
Doors Begin to Open When We Ask the Right Question

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"What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question." - Jonas Salk

Sometimes, I feel like I'm living in a hall of mirrors. Everywhere I look I see myself looking everywhere looking at myself looking. Kind of like that physicist (whose name I do not know) who explained that the universe was curved and if you looked long enough through a powerful enough telescope into the far reaches of space you would, eventually, see your own butt.

What follows is one of those reflections in one of those mirrors.

On February 22nd, 2020, I arrived in Melbourne, Australia. My mission? To teach 34 teachers and senior leaders at Al Siraat College (a K-12 Islamic school) how to establish high performing teams. I had only 30 days to accomplish the task in a series of eight, 90-minute workshops with people from at least ten different ethnic groups.

This being my fifth, one-month residency at the school in the past three years, I was, by this time, a known entity, a member of the tribe, mostly trusted, and the future author of A Thousand Muslims and a Jew.

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Anyway, two weeks into my residency, Fazeel, the Co-Founder and Principal of the school, asked if I'd like a full-time position -- an invitation that would require me to live in Australia for eight months out of the year.

Twilight Zone, anyone?

Two days into contemplating Fazeel's kind invitation, the Coronavirus hit the fan and, as a result, many parents of Al Siraat students lost their jobs and their ability to pay tuition. Simply put, Al Siraat's funding for outside consultants dried up, leaving the school with only enough budget for me to work six hours per week (instead of the 45 I was accustomed to.)

Six hours of work per week, as you might guess, was not enough for me to live on -- and, with all my other clients closing up shop, going south, or too catatonic to know if they were closing up shop or going south, I had a decision to make: stay or go?

With the airports shut down, my decision was easy to make. I stayed.

And so, for the next two weeks, I did the Australian hoky poky, trying to figure out how I could deliver the most possible value in just six hours per week -- while wondering if my occasional coughing fits were something I should worry about while Pakistani soap operas, in Urdu, played on in the AirBB that was now my home for who knew how long.

With my hours being cut by 85%, I now had to work faster, smarter, have shorter conversations, invent nothing new, cut everything that seemed non-essential, refuse invitations to meetings, and be way less available to answer questions than ever before. I was a walking haiku or, at least, I was trying to be.

And all the while, I was experiencing, deep inside me, a low-grade virus of existential despair as I watched much of the progress I had made these past few weeks (and months of development before that) go up in socially distanced smoke. I'm not sure how you say "oy vey" in Arabic, but that's what I was feeling.

And then? Out of the blue, I had as close to an epiphany as I have ever had. D'oh! Fazeel and I had been trying to solve the wrong problem! "How can Al Siraat get as much value as possible from Mitch in just six hours per week?" was the wrong question! Not even close! The way we had framed our challenge had created a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. We had stacked the deck against us without even knowing it.

Obvious to me now, an entirely different question bubbled to the surface: "How can we find an outside funding source to underwrite the training Mitch had been hired to facilitate at Al Siraat?"

In other words, we needed to go beyond the limiting assumption that my fee could only be paid by the school. Who said that only the school could pay for my services? Where was it written, in stone, that an outside benefactor could not become part of the equation? What was preventing us from looking to the local community for alternate sources of funding?

See what I'm saying?

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The next day, sitting in my very temporary office, the very radiant Sev Bektash, one of the school's most open-minded teachers, poked his head in and asked if I had a few minutes to chat.

With no particular topic in mind, the two of us opened up a juicy conversation -- two alchemical friends hanging out in the middle of a pandemic.

Ten minutes into our talk, Sev let it fly that one of his most enjoyable side-projects -- leading weekend retreats for troubled teens -- had been funded, in the past, by a very generous, forward-thinking, local Islamic businessman.

"Hmm..." I thought to myself. "A very generous local Islamic businessman... might he be a possible benefactor to fund Al Siraat's Team Leadership Training and, by extension, moi?"

So I pitched the idea to Sev who loved it immediately and volunteered to hand deliver our to-be-written proposal to our benefactor-in-waiting as soon as it was ready. Whoo hoo!

The next day I wrote the proposal, gave it to Sev, Fazeel, and Esra for them to edit, which they did, refining our request. Two days later, Sev drove 30 minutes into Melbourne and hand delivered our hot-off-the-press proposal. Bingo! Contact! Lift off! Our very generous, local Islamic businessman loved it. Perfect timing! The only thing left to do to seal the deal, was for me, the next day, to return with Sev to meet with our benefactor-to-be. The "sniff test", I think it's called.

Thirty minutes into our pow wow, our new delightful, heartfelt, soulful benefactor gave his thumbs up and told us what a blessing it was for him to have such a wonderful opportunity to be of service.

And that is why I'm still in Australia and will continue to be for another three months -- a turn of events that only happened because I questioned the question, replaced it with a more expansive one, and invited my Islamic colleagues to join me in exploring it.

As Henry David Thoreau once said, "It's not what you look it that matters. It's what you see."

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What questions are YOU asking these days? About your life? Your work? Your relationships? Your hopes and dreams? Racial equality? Peace on Earth?

Take a few minutes now to jot these questions down and poke at them. Are they really the questions you need to be asking? Or might they be full of limiting assumptions and pre-conceived ideas?

Is it possible there is another question you could be asking yourself these days -- a bigger question... a bolder question... a path less traveled question -- one that might spark some breakthroughs for you and, who knows, maybe the rest of the world, as well?

On asking the right question
Excerpt from A Thousand Muslims and a Jew
An outtake from the Team Leadership Training
Another way of looking at a problem
MitchDitkoff.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:31 AM | Comments (0)

June 03, 2020
The Long Lost Parable of the Brussels Sprouts

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When I was 24, I lived on Martha's Vineyard, an idyllic island off the coast of Cape Cod. The island, with its endless beaches, blue skies, and perfectly winding country roads, was a dream come true.

One of the most extraordinary things about the island, however, had nothing to do with its natural beauty. It had to do with a bakery -- the Scottish Bake House, to be more precise, a cozy, little establishment owned and operated by the very Scottish Mrs. White. The only thing that transcended Mrs. Whites' scones and short breads was her extraordinary generosity. She always seemed to sneak in an extra cookie with each purchase. And then, one fine Spring day, as if that wasn't enough, she donated a full acre of her land to my friends and I to use as a community garden. Bingo!

Visions of homemade pesto sauce dancing in our heads, we planted whatever seeds we could find: tomato, basil, pepper, asparagus, lettuce, string bean, zucchini, cucumber, carrot, cantaloupe, watermelon, cauliflower and the hero of our little story -- Brussels sprouts.

We showed up every day. We watered. We weeded. We mulched. And, before we knew it, in keeping with thousands of years of natural law, everything was in full bloom. Everything, that is, except the Brussels sprouts.

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Oh sure, the stalks grew and lots of big, floppy leaves, but no actual vegetables were forthcoming. Figuring we must have bought some bad seed, we shrugged our collective shoulders and went about our business of harvesting the rest of our crop.

And then... badabing, badaboom -- the moment of truth.

As I was tending the tomato plants, just before harvesting, I accidentally dropped my glasses, bent to retrieve them, and just so happened to look in the direction of the pitifully under-performing row of Brussels sprouts.

Lo and behold! I say unto you! There, as far as the eye could see, were Brussels sprouts everywhere -- enough, it seemed, to feed a small nation. Clustered on the stalks, the Brussels sprouts were growing under the leaves. From a standing position, it was impossible to see them. Who knew? They were hidden from sight, amateur gardeners as we were.

For the next two hours, all we did was pick Brussels sprouts -- six bushel baskets worth. For the next few weeks, we ate more kinds of Brussels sprouts dishes than most people eat in a lifetime.

When I stop and think about it, discovering the naturally occurring goodness inside of us is not all that different. It's there, but sometimes it's just hidden from view. We don't see it, so we think it doesn't exist. But it does exist. It does. All we need to do is know where to look.

Then we can feast.

TimelessToday

PremRawat.com
Photo #1: Cyrus Crossen, Unsplash
Photo #2: Darren Wanliss, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:15 AM | Comments (0)

May 30, 2020
The Sudden Glass of Orange Juice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 26, 2020
Inspiring Cows

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"Practice," it has been said, "makes perfect". Practice, indeed, is how human beings translate theory into action. Practice is how any of us get good at anything. Of course, there are a million of ways to practice. In a group. Alone. In a cave. In a gym. In your mind. Online. Off the wall. With a teacher. Without a teacher. The sky's the limit and even then there are pilots who can help. The following story is all about practice -- a version of it I never imagined I would try.

Here goes:

Some years ago, I was living in a commune on a 600-acre cattle farm in Virginia. We were three couples, two cats, and one child in a five bedroom house. We called ourselves "Ananda Household" (at least that's what it said on our checkbook), ananda being a Hindi word for bliss -- our go to word of the moment because all of us were students of the same teacher who, among other things, was helping us awaken to the source of bliss within ourselves. Or like, whatever.

Towards that end, once a week, we would have "satsang" in our living room -- "satsang" translating as "company of the truth" which, simply put, was a gathering of inward looking people to share, spontaneously, the timeless, non-denominational wisdom of the soul.

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The six of us, inspired as we were, would do our best to advertise these gatherings to our local community, but because our home was 12 miles in the boonies there were many evenings when no one, other than the six of us, would be sitting in that living room.

And while these gatherings were always inspiring, I began to feel like something was missing -- that something being people other than us to share this good news with -- even if my high school English teacher told me never to end a sentence with a preposition.

Not more than a few days after this somber feeling began to arise in me, we got word that one of Prem Rawat's Mahatamas from India needed a place to stay for a week and we were the chosen ones.

Wow! Whoa! Whew! We were psyched -- a chance to host a holy man, someone much further along the path than any of us. Cool!

And so we prepared with great rigor -- spotlessly cleaning our guest room, picking fresh flowers, and buying a whole bunch of Indian spices.

On the day of Mahatmaji's arrival, even though he was tired from his travels, he joined us for dinner and shared some stories from the Mahabharata before turning in for the night.

The next night was satsang and we were thrilled to have, in our midst, a genuine devotee -- someone way more tuned in than any of us -- the real McCoy who, we knew in our bones, would be way more inspiring to a roomful of people than any of us local yokels.

The room was set. The flowers were on the alter. The incense was lit -- me positioned at the front door to escort what I imagined would be about 20 people, arriving a few at a time, into the living room.

No one showed up. No one. Not a single soul. As usual, it was just us -- the six householders (one child asleep) and, tonight, Mahatma-ji, smiling from ear to ear. And while the evening, as I recall, was enjoyable, I couldn't help but feel we had missed an opportunity to fill the room with people likely to have an experience of a lifetime.

Did I mention that no one showed up?

The next morning, Mahatma-ji, sensing my state of mind, invited me to join him for a walk. And so I did. As we strolled the country road, I confessed to feeling disappointed at the lack of "turn out" at last night's gathering.

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"What do I do, Mahatma-ji, when no one shows up and I have so much, within me, to share?"

"Talk to the cows," he said, pointing to a field of Herefords to our left.

This was not the answer I was expecting. Talk to the cows? Really? Talk to cows? Giving satsang to animals seemed totally off-the-wall to me, maybe Mahatma-ji's misinterpretation of something he read in a scripture -- but we kept on walking, Mahatma-ji and me, the sound of mooing all around us.

A few days later it was Mahatma-ji's time to leave town and so he vamoosed just a few hours before satsang in our living room. Guess how many people showed up? None. As in zero. No one.

And so, the next morning, after breakfast, remembering Mahatmaji's advice to me, I went for a walk on the same road we had trekked just days before, cows to the right of me, cows to the left of me, cows everywhere I looked.

Clearing my throat, I sidled up to the fence and let it rip.

"Dear brothers and sisters," I began, "what a beautiful life this is! How fortunate we are to be alive at this precious time. And for what purpose? Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? To know ourselves. To experience the divine self. To feel gratitude for simply breath alone. To find the peace that passes all understanding."

And on and on and on I went.

The cows, it seemed, were enjoying what they heard. Herd! Their tails wagged. Their ears twitched. And some of them walked towards me. I realized course, it was possible that it was just the sound of my voice that animated them, or maybe the fact that anyone at all was standing at the fence -- maybe someone with a carrot or an apple.

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Indeed, it was possible, I guess, that I would have gotten the same response from reading the phone book or reciting Canterbury Tales in Middle English. But in that particular moment, none of these thoughts mattered. And why they didn't matter, was because I was experiencing something totally beautiful within me -- something way beyond cow or human psychology.

My heart was opening. My mind was still. And I could feel the beautiful choo choo train of love soaring through me, destination unknown -- not to mention a huge dose of ease, freedom, flow, goodness, gladness, grace, and gratitude.

I was, you might say, practicing -- getting into the zone of letting the spontaneous expression of my inner being come roaring through me -- uninhibited, unannounced, and uncensored. Practicing, yes! Not performing. Not trying. Not impressing. Just practicing -- whether or not a single cow twitched an ear, wagged a tail, or mooed -- most of them staring at me as if I didn't even exist.

PremRawat.com
MitchDitkoff.com
Photo #1: Lomig, Unsplash
Photo #2: RookieLuva, Unsplash
Photo #3: Alex Azabache, Unsplash
Photo #4: Jakob Cotton, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:23 AM | Comments (0)

May 21, 2020
On Seeing Clearly

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Once there was a powerful, wise, and benevolent King who knew his time was coming to an end. Wanting to ensure that his Kingdom continued to thrive after his death, he called his three sons to his side.

"Blood of my blood," he began, "I know my loyal subjects are expecting me to pass my crown on to my first born -- and that is perfectly understandable, but I do not want my legacy ruled by assumptions and so I am inviting the three of you to enter into a contest to determine who the next King will be. I have designed the contest not to test your strength because I already know you are strong. Nor have I designed it to test your loyalty. I already know that, too. I have designed the contest to test your ability to see that which is not immediately apparent, since seeing clearly will be one of the most important skills you will need to rule wisely."

And with that he had his Grand Vizier escort the three boys down several long hallways and through a hidden doorway none of them had ever seen before.

"Wait here," he said. "Your father will arrive soon enough to explain the rules."

One hour passed. Then another. Then another still. And then, with no fanfare, the King appeared, trailed by his courtiers, physicians, and Queen. Silently, he approached his sons and bowed.

"Flesh of my flesh," he began, pointing to a large wooden door before him. "In a moment, I will enter this room and stand in middle. I will bring nothing with me -- only my love for you and my curiosity. Then, one by one, each of you will have his turn. Three times I will perform this experiment. The door will open and, starting with my first born, when it is your turn, you will enter. Your task will be a simple one -- to tell me what you see in the room. That's it. But you will only have a brief amount of time to accomplish this task. If you take too long, you will be disqualified. Understand?"

And with that, the Grand Vizier turned the boys around so their backs were to the door. Then he grabbed the hand of the eldest son, walked him to the door, opened it, and spoke one word: "Enter."

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The boy walked in. The room was completely dark.

"Well..." said the King, "what do you see, my son?"

"Nothing, father," the eldest son said. "There is nothing here, but you."

"Thank you, my son. Well said. Now turn around and when the door opens, exit quickly."

Now it was the middle son's turn. The Grand Vizier approached, took him by the hand, walked him to the door, opened it and spoke one word: "Enter".

The boy walked in. The room was still completely dark.

"Well"... said the King, "what do you see, my boy?"

"Nothing, father," the middle son said. "There is nothing here but you. And, of course, me, too."

"Thank you, my son. Well said. A most important distinction you have made. Now turn around and, when the door opens, exit quickly."

Now it was the youngest son's turn. Again, the Grand Vizier approached, took him by the hand, walked him to the door, opened it and spoke one word.

Like his two brothers before him, the boy entered. The room was still completely dark.

"Well", said the King, "what do you see, my youngest born?"

"Nothing, my father. I see nothing. And while I know I have only the briefest amount of time to reply, may I ask you a simple question?"

"Yes, my son, you may."

"In all your many years, as King, what would you say is the most important thing you have learned?"

"Hmm," replied the King. "An excellent question. Most astute. But my answer will only distract us from the task at hand. We have the next King to select now, don't we?"

But even as the King responded, the eyes of the youngest son began adjusting to the darkness. Where only seconds ago, only blackness prevailed, now he began seeing the faintest outline of things -- a chair, a small table next to it, and a candlestick.

"Oh father," said the son, "thank you for your sage counsel. You are, indeed, a man of high purpose. But before I take my leave, please allow me to tell you what I see: a chair, a table next to it, and a candlestick."

The King took a long, slow breath. Then he exhaled even more slowly.

"Well done, my son, well done. You see clearly. And because you do, you shall the one to inherit my throne!"

One contest. Three sons. Three different responses.

The first son, the eldest, spoke the truth. He saw nothing and said so, noting only the obvious presence of the King. The second son, also saw nothing, but had the discernment to acknowledge his own presence in the room. The third son, the youngest, was the only one who understood that seeing sometimes takes time and that first impressions aren't always accurate -- so he bought himself the time he needed by asking the King a compelling question -- providing him with the time needed for his eyes to adjust to light and see what was not immediately apparent.

And so it is with the wisdom inside us.

It is not always immediately visible to us. Indeed, it is often shrouded in darkness, hidden from plain sight. And where it is hidden, more times than not, is in our stories -- the faraway room within us in which the King abides. And the chair. And the table. And the candlestick.

If we want to see what's really there, we need to give it time. We need to get curious, ask our questions, and allow our eyes to adjust, even if, at first glance, it seems as if nothing is there.

Excerpted from Storytelling for the Revolution

Photo #1: William Krauss, Unsplash
Photo #2: Ruel Calitis, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 06:35 AM | Comments (0)

I'm From Woodstock. Yes, I Am!

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

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

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

Euphemism-itus.

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

So, I decided to take the low road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guenther was the first to speak.

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

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

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

"I LOVE Joe Cocker!" he announced.

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

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

Hendrix photo: Elliot Landy

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

May 18, 2020
The Dance of the Gnats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpted from this book
Photo: Jesse Gardner, Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But wait, there's more!

Excerpted from this book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things weren't looking too good for me.

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

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

That's when the second detective steps forward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The detectives stare at me, waiting for the nod.

"Is it him?" they mime.

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

Now the cops are really pissed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look at him and he looks at me.

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

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

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

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

May 13, 2020
The Power of Presence & Curiosity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The back story of the book I was writing then

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

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 completely 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 rented 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 a 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" 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, buzzcut 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 tuna fish 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 or 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!"

SO WHAT? 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)

May 12, 2020
The Riches Under Your Pillow

Excerpted from this book
Mitch Ditkoff

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

May 11, 2020
CHOOSING LOVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All this was long ago in another time and place.

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

Burrill's bio
Photo: Unsplash

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

May 06, 2020
Five Feet Off the Ground

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Many centuries ago after years of wandering alone in the forests of India, a young seeker of truth found himself, hungry, thirsty, and exhausted, at the entrance of the most remote ashram in the land. Gathering whatever strength he had left, he knocked on the ashram's massive wooden door and asked the gatekeeper for shelter, a request granted, under one condition -- at sunrise, he must be on his way.

Thrilled at his good fortune, the young man agreed to the condition and was escorted to a room with a mat on the floor, a tray of food, and a faded photo of a bearded man whom he assumed was the resident guru.

Sleep came easy to him that night, grateful as he was for a good meal and a chance to rest his weary bones. And rest he did. Deeply. That is, until the door to his room swung wildly open and there, standing just a few feet away, holding a small candle, loomed the man in the faded photo.

"Stand up now!" he commanded. "Stand up and follow me. We don't have much time."

And with those twelve words, the Master turned and exited -- the young seeker doing all he could to follow behind. Outside, a violent storm was raging. Lightning crackled. Thunder boomed. The wind and the rain were relentless.

For an hour they walked, deeper and deeper into a forest, the young seeker having no clue where they were going or why. And then, without warning, at the foot of a gigantic tree, the Master stopped, turned, and uttered a single word. "Climb!"

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The young lad, sensing the perfection of the moment, grabbed the lowest branch, pulled himself up, and began climbing -- not an easy task by any means. Especially not tonight. Not in this darkness. And not in this storm. Still, he persevered, branch-by-branch, handhold-by-handhold, breath-by-breath, his pathway up illuminated only by occasional flashes of lightning.

How long he climbed, no one knows. Nor does anyone know how many times he almost fell to what would have been a certain death. The only thing known for sure is that he made it to the top, and, upon arriving, holding tight with one hand, raised the other to the heavens in a bold salute to his accomplishment.

And then, no time to lose, he began his descent, an effort far more difficult than his ascent, his muscles now fatigued, his hands cramped, the massive tree swaying precariously in the wind.

An hour passed. And then, when the young boy finally reached the lowest branch, just five feet off the ground, the Master let out a ferocious roar.

"WATCH OUT!" he screamed. "WATCH OUT!!!"

Stunned, the boy hopped down, stood to his full height, and approached.

"Oh Enlightened One," he began, "please forgive my ignorance, but I am confused. All during my ascent, through the lightning and thunder, you said nothing to me -- not a single word. Many times, I was almost blown from the tree and yet you remained silent. The same held true for my descent, an even more difficult task. Not once did you issue a word of caution. Not once did you advise or encourage me. But now, just five feet off the ground, you shout your warning? This makes no sense to me, no sense at all."

"Precisely, my son. Precisely!" came the reply. "All during your ascent, you knew how dangerous the conditions were -- and because you did, you hung on for dear life. No words of caution from me were needed. My words would have only distracted you. And the same held true for your descent. But just five feet off the ground, when you assumed your work was done, that was the time of greatest danger. That was the time you could have been injured. And that is why I spoke. Know this, my son, the most dangerous time is always just before completion."

FOR YOUR REFLECTION: All of us, at some point in our lives, have committed to a difficult task imbued with great meaning. Maybe no one else knew of our adventures and the obstacles standing in our way, but we did. We knew the path forward was difficult. We knew we would need to rise to the occasion.

If this describes you, know that you have also had your own climbing-a-tree-in-the-middle-of-a-raging-storm moment and also your tree descent moment -- the time when all of the forces within you needed to be marshaled.

Just like the young seeker awakened from a deep sleep and was asked to accomplish the seemingly impossible, you too are being called. You, too, no matter how much effort you've expended, are five feet off the ground.

What do you need to be more conscious of as you approach the completion of your project? What tasks require your full attention? What do you need to be most mindful of as you hop down from your branch, just five feet off the ground?

Photo #1: Jordan Whitfield, Unsplash
Photo #2: Sabastian Unrau
Storytelling for the Revolution

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:55 AM | Comments (0)

April 27, 2020
The 18 Mile Lie

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This is a story told by Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi:

"One day my father asked me to drive him to town for an all day conference, and I jumped at the chance. Since I was going to town, my mother gave me a list of groceries she needed and, since I had all day in town, my father asked me to take care of several pending chores, such as getting the car serviced.

When I dropped my father off that morning, he said, 'I will meet you here at 5:00 p.m. and we will go home together.'

After hurriedly completing my chores, I went straight to the nearest movie theater. I got so engrossed in a John Wayne double-feature that I forgot the time. It was 5:30 before I remembered. By the time I ran to the garage and got the car, and hurried to where my father was waiting for me, it was almost 6:00.

He anxiously asked me, 'Why were you late?'

I was so ashamed of telling him I was watching a John Wayne western movie that I said 'The car wasn't ready, so I had to wait,' not realizing that he had already called the garage.

When he caught me in the lie, he said, 'There's something wrong in the way I brought you up that did not give you the confidence to tell me the truth. In order to figure out where I went wrong with you, I'm going to walk home 18 miles and think about it.'

So, dressed in his suit and dress shoes, he began to walk home in the dark, on mostly unpaved, unlit roads.

I couldn't leave him, so for five and a half hours I drove behind him, watching my father go through this agony for a stupid lie that I uttered. I decided then and there that I was never going to lie again.

I often think about that episode and wonder, if he had punished me the way we punish our children, whether I would have learned a lesson at all. I don't think so. I would have suffered the punishment and gone on doing the same thing. But this single, non-violent action was so powerful that it is still as if it happened yesterday.

That is the power of non-violence."

Thanks to Kurt Krueger for sharing this story with me

Photo: Amir Benlakhlef, Unsplash
Storytelling for the Revolution

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

April 18, 2020
The Three Faces of God

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When my mother and father, Sylvia and Barney, decided to sell their house on Long Island -- the one I grew up in -- and move to Florida, they invited my sister and me to take anything we wanted before they made their big move to West Palm Beach.

My sister, five years older and a mother of three, showed up with an 18-foot U-Haul truck. I showed up with a Volkswagen.

As I walked from room to room, exploring my choices, it soon became clear to me there was nothing I wanted. Not the blender. Not the toaster. Not the TV. Nothing. And so I spent the rest of the day, helping my sister carry out stuff to the truck.

I'm not exactly sure how long it took us to load it up, but by the time the last item was in -- a red, plastic silverware tray -- the sun was going down.

But I didn't leave empty-handed. I didn't. There was ONE thing my parents had that I wanted -- most definitely -- a wood carving they'd bought in Thailand on one of their rare vacations. It was hanging on the wall right behind the card table where my mother played canasta once a month with her four best friends -- Shirley, Blanche, Selma, and Ellie, each one of them a second mother to me.

Sprayed a nice shade of gold, the wood carving featured what spiritually-minded people from the East believed to be the three forms of God -- Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva -- the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer of all things. Brahma, on the left, was praying. Vishnu, in the middle was dancing. And Shiva, on the right, looked as if he was just about to kick somebody's ass.

I found it astounding that my parents, they of the bagel and lox school of Judaism, chose to hang this particular piece of art in such a featured place in their home. Neither of them had any interest, whatsoever, in Eastern cosmology. They read the Sunday New York Times, not the Bhagavad Gita. "Om" was a misspelling to them. And their favorite mantra for me? "As long as she's Jewish" -- referring, of course, to their wishes for me, as the only son and carrier of the family name, to never marry outside the religion. For my mother and father to have placed a wood carving of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva just above the canasta table made absolutely no sense to me. Zero. Zippo. Zilch. But there it was in all its ancient glory. Noble. Pristine. Powerful. And calling to me on this most auspicious day of downsizing.

"Hey, Ma," I said. "Can I have the woodcarving?" pointing to the wall.

"THAT?" she replied. "That's all you want? That?"

"Yup. That's all I want."

My mother shrugged and mumbled something in Yiddish as I reached up and removed the piece from the wall, then positioned it carefully, in my suitcase, in between my pajamas and favorite t-shirt.

When I got back to Denver, the first thing I did was hang it in my living room just above my record player. Every time I left my bedroom and headed towards the kitchen, it was the first thing I would see.

A month later, I got word that a fundraising campaign had been launched to help my teacher, Prem Rawat, get his message of peace out into the world -- an effort I very much wanted to be part of. The only problem? Unemployed, I had no money to give. That's when I began cruising my apartment in search of "items of worth" to sell.

The first thing that caught my eye was my record collection which, I reasoned, might fetch about $200. Bye bye Otis Redding! Bye bye Rolling Stones! Bye bye Dave Brubeck! But I wanted to give more than that, so I kept on cruising. That's when it dawned on me that my most valuable possession was my newly acquired woodcarving. Clearly, it was time to let it go, so I reached up, removed it from the wall, and made my way to the finest antiques shop in town where I hoped to sell it on consignment. The owner, a nice Jewish man, loved it, and told me it would fetch a "pretty penny". Yes, he would get his commission, but I would get the rest -- probably, I figured, $500 at least. Hooray! Yippee! Yahoo! Let's hear it for Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva! Let's hear it for Sylvia and Barney!

A week passed. Then a second. Then a third. And a fourth. Every time I called the owner of the antiques shop he gave me the same response. No one was interested in buying my woodcarving. Did they admire it? Yes. But no one wanted to buy it. No one, he explained, even tried to bargain. Apparently, there wasn't a single person in the Mile High City of Denver who had room for Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva in their living room -- so I returned to the antiques store and drove it back to my apartment, hanging it, once again, over my record player (though, now, my albums, were gone.)

Part of me was glad it didn't sell. Part of me was sad. And part of me felt bad -- aware that my deep-seated need to GIVE SOMETHING of value to my Master did not bear fruit.

It was precisely at this moment that I had a revelation. "Why not give it to Prem? Why not give it to the one has given me everything? Nobody ELSE liked it. Maybe HE will!"

So I asked a carpenter friend of mine to make a box for it, asked another friend to gift wrap it, and gave it to a third friend, a gardener at Prem's residence, to hand-deliver it later that day.

A week passed. Then another. And another. And another, yet. I got no response. Absolutely none. It felt like the antiques consignment store saga all over again. Unwanted. No one wanted what I had to offer. Not even my own Guru.

And then, in the fifth week of this outtake from my own Mahabharata, I got a call from the gardener friend of mine who'd hand-delivered the woodcarving a few weeks ago. Prem, he explained, after a month in Denver, had traveled back to his home in Malibu. A few days later he called the Denver residence and requested that someone ship him the woodcarving immediately. Which they did.

As the story was told to me, he hung it in a place of honor in his living room.

PremRawat.com
TimelessToday
TPRF.org
Prem photo: Courtesy of TimelessToday

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:25 AM | Comments (1)

March 27, 2020
Rocking Back and Forth on the Front Porch of Life

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This morning, I remembered a moment from 50 years ago that is quite relevant to the challenging times we now find ourselves living in.

I was 22, sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of a house on Martha's Vineyard. As I sat there, the four-year old son of the couple who owned the house, came running past me. He was sobbing uncontrollably and I felt an undeniable urge to comfort him.

"Bobby," I said, reaching his way, lifting him up, and placing him onto my lap, "What's wrong, my little friend?" And the two of us just sat there, rocking back and forth together for a while, Bobby slowly calming down.

And then, just a few minutes later, his six-year old brother, Timmy, came running by. He was also sobbing, the same kind of super-sad tears Bobby had been crying just a little while ago.

"Timmy," I said, reaching towards him. "Come on over here with your brother and me. It's all going to be just fine, whatever it is."

And so, now, the three of us were rocking back and forth on that front porch, Timmy's tears soon ending, as well.

My job was a simple one, to hold the boys in my arms, continue rocking, and share some words of comfort. We continued that way for another few minutes and then, much to my surprise, their mother appeared from the back of the house. She was also sobbing.

The same part of me that had reached out to the two boys just minutes before also wanted to reach out to her, but I noticed I had no more lap left and my arms were full. I was totally maxed. So I just looked up and did my best to comfort her with words.

Yes, both of my arms were occupied, but I could feel my heart reaching out. I cannot say, for sure, if it made it all the way to her, or if she received whatever I was sending out, but it felt good to make the effort, really good -- Bobby, Timmy, and I continuing to rock back and forth together, on that front porch, for what seemed like forever.

These, my friends, I do believe, are the times we are now living in. We are all on that front porch, so many of the people around us asking for comfort and support. While our laps might not be large enough for everyone and while our arms may already be full, we can still reach out. We can still comfort those in need. We can still, in a thousand different ways, extend our hearts in the direction of those who are needing support. Kindness is what's needed these days, my friends. Kindness and empathy. Kindness and generosity, love, patience, courage, and a whole lot of compassion -- in whatever form it takes.

And you can begin this very moment with the people on your own front porch.

More comfort here
Photo by Arifur Rahman on Unsplash

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:10 PM | Comments (0)

March 24, 2020
AUDIO STORY: On Being Visited By an Angel

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Full disclosure: I have never been a person who believed in angels. Angels, to me, were merely poetic metaphors, the etheric embodiments of hard-to-describe feelings that some religiously-inclined people experienced when betwixt and between -- some kind of fairy tale mix of loneliness, love, and longing for something beyond what their own two eyes could see.

Hovering somewhere between God and the Easter Bunny, angels struck me as nothing more than projections, the astral version of what imaginative children have been inventing for centuries -- "invisible friends." That all changed for me one unforgettable night in 1974.

Here's the audio story of that experience.

Excerpted from Storytelling for the Revolution
Artwork: Asandra Lamb

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 06:54 AM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2020
Is That So?

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Once upon a time, many years ago, before the invention of Starbucks, Velcro, or Fructose, there lived a humble monk in a remote monastery in China. His name was Wan Loo and he was much beloved by everyone he met, dedicated, as he was to realizing the highest truth with every fiber of his being.

Every morning, he meditated with the other monks in the Central Hall, then ate breakfast, washed his bowl, and worked in the garden for the rest of the day, taking brief moments now and again to read the sutras and teach calligraphy to the younger monks. Life was simple for Wan Loo. And very fulfilling. He couldn't have imagined a better life.

One day, in the 17th year of his monastic life, while cultivating radishes in the upper garden, he found himself being approached by the venerable Abbot and three of the local townspeople -- a husband, wife, and their very pregnant 16-year old daughter.

"That's him!" the girl cried out, pointing to the monk "He's the one who did this to me! Him!"

Wan Loo, still weeding the radishes, looked up slowly, smiled, and uttered just three words: "Is that so?"

And with that, the Abbot, a stern expression on his face, began to speak. "It is time for you to leave the monastery, young man. It is time. You have broken one of our most sacred vows. Now go!"

And just like that, Wan Loo was exiled from the only home he had ever known.

For the next five years, he lived in a small hut far away from the monastery. Each day he woke at 4:00 am, meditated, and then from dawn to dusk, dug graves in a nearby cemetery to make the money he needed to buy milk for the little boy the people of the region had now come to call "the young monk's son."

Wan Loo continued with his life. He never complained. He never took a day off. And he never stopped meditating.

Then, one summer day, in the fifth year of his exile, while cultivating a few tomato plants just outside his hut, he looked up and saw the young girl, her parents, the Abbot, and the now five-year old boy all standing over him.

"Mother and father," began the young girl, in between tears. "The time has come for me to speak the truth. It was not the monk. It was a boy I met in the fish market. He was the one. He is the father of my son."

Big silence. Big, big silence. No one spoke, The young monk just sat there, looking up, a ripe tomato in his left hand.

"Is that so?" he said.

Adapted from an ancient Zen story

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:30 PM | Comments (0)

February 12, 2020
TANGO: Language with No Words

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What follows is a story by one of my friends, the very lovely and talented Deborah Ramsden. She read me the story today and I was very touched by it. Maybe you will be, too...

I've danced tango in New York, Portland, London, Italy, and Maui. I've tangoed with short balding tangueros in Buenos Aires dance halls until 3:00 in the morning. I've listened and danced to tango music for hours and years, until it lived in my bones and muscles and heart and skin.

Tango has become a part of me. My feet have gotten used to 3-inch heels and have learned to slide backwards on the floor behind me, carving out the space with just the inside of the ball of my foot, leading with my big toe, while leaning ever so slightly towards my partner.

Learning to wait was the hardest thing the first year, not to anticipate, to slow the breath, to calm my impatience and simply stand in my center, grounded on my axis, and yet be completely alert and ready to move at a moment's notice.

I am not the initiator, or the choreographer, so humbling at first, then frustrating as hell, and finally liberating, as I get to close my eyes, if I want, and be swept into the unseen space behind me.

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And then there's the embrace, "abrazo" in Spanish, a close embrace dance we call it -- hands firm and light, heart to heart, connecting right through the center, arms encircling ribs and torso, cheeks touching, legs and feet sweeping, crossing, intertwined, sometimes kicking, and ultimately always walking in intricate patterns on the floor.

When it's good. I melt, I fly, completely lost in the presence of movement, breath and sounds that connect two human beings who may have never met before, gladly losing my boundaries in delicious oneness.

When it's not good, I try to breathe and find my ground, try to forgive my partner for his inexperience, awkwardness, or arrogance -- for not listening to the music or me, for forcing steps with no connection.

Five years ago, on the night of my brother's memorial service in London, I decided I had to tango even though it was after 11 pm. So I took the Tube to Covent Garden and walked the silent streets, wet with rain, with an address clutched in my hand, and my tango shoe bag over my shoulder.

As I entered the narrow, barely lit street, I could begin to make out the lilt of one of my favorite tango songs. Was it Canaro, Poema, or maybe Di Sarli? And then, with great gratitude I knew, at least for the moment, I had come home.

Watercolors: Deborah Ramsden
More tango

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:47 AM | Comments (0)

January 26, 2020
The Birthday Gift

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Twenty four hours before Prem Rawat's birthday this year, I made my way to the nearest San Miguel FedEx store, first thing in the morning -- the place where I had shipped my birthday gift to him just three days before.

Since my present had not yet reached it's destination, I was very concerned. Actually, "concerned" was not really the right word to describe my sorry state of mind. I was actually somewhere between "extremely disappointed," "impatient," and "pissed off." For months I had been working on Prem's birthday gift and had made every effort imaginable to make sure it arrived at his residence on the day before his birthday.

But it didn't.

So here I was at the Mexican FedEx office trying to figure out what happened and when I could expect the package to arrive, especially since I had paid an ungodly amount of money to get it there on time.

While the delightful woman behind the counter did not speak English, she was able to secure the help of one of her bi-lingual co-workers who proceeded to explain that she had no idea where the package was and why it hadn't arrived and when it would arrive -- if, indeed, it was ever going to arrive.

Pointing to the third line on the nearest FedEX form, she mumbled something about "customs" and mentioned a few other things that didn't make sense or make me feel especially confident that my birthday present was going to arrive at Prem's residence any time soon.

I could feel the "irate customer" within me rising to the surface and, at the same time, could also feel the humor of the whole situation, followed by a gradual, somewhat curmudgeonly, letting go into "what will be will be" mode. Besides, this was Prem Rawat's birthday I was wanting to celebrate. It just didn't feel right to get uptight about the whole thing. Right occasion, wrong feeling.

So I diligently wrote down the US customer service number and my very long FedEx tracking number, thanked the two mujeres behind the counter for their efforts and made my way to Zentenos, my favorite cafe in all of San Miguel, just a 3-minute walk away.

Ordering a cappuccino grande, I took a seat and got ready to call FedEx customer service. At the exact same moment, Fernando, the cappuccino maker, waiter, and all around good guy, walked over to my table, and placed, with great cuidado, my cappuccino before me.

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D'oh! What? Huh? The image staring up at me was not the usual heart I had been accustomed to seeing in my froth for the past 100 visits to the cafe. Instead it was a a swan with a heart for a head.

Time stopped. And space, too.

The swan, I knew, was an image near and dear to Prem and his own father, Shri Hans Ji Maharaji, one he had referred to many times before in his talks as a symbol for the divine -- a creature with the ability to be able to drink from a mixture of milk and water and be able to drink only the milk. "Hansa", as the swan is referred to in Hindi, is often identified with the Supreme Spirit, Ultimate Reality, or Brahman. Indeed, hansa symbolizes "moksha", the release from the the cycle of life and death.

One hundred times I had been to this cafe and 100 times I had ordered a cappucino and never -- not once -- had I ever seen a swan in my cup.

The curious thing? I thought I had been making so much effort to deliver Prem's birthday gift on time and yet, here, now, in this Mexican cafe, staring into my cappuccino, I got to experience his gift to me -- the choice I have to enjoy the present moment and the extraordinary play of life... the choice I have go beyond my mind... to be liberated from the illusion... to be grateful for the many gifts being bestowed on me every single day -- and often when I least expect it.

PremRawat.com
TimelessToday
Cappuccino with hearts

First photo: Ibrahim Rifath, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)

January 18, 2020
MY ONLY HIT OF THE SEASON

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There are entire years of my life I can barely remember, but I will never forget the nanosecond, as a 16-year old right fielder for Camp Scatico, when I got my only hit of the season.

It was a bullet up the middle, right through the pitcher's legs, over second base, and into center field before you could say "Duke Snider." Bam! It was a perfect hit. Seriously. A major crack of the bat. A single for the ages. Pete Rose-like. Derek Jeter-like. Tony Gwynn-like.

There were two outs at the time and my best friend, Matt Weinstein, our rather over-sized catcher, was on second. As soon as I made contact, Matt was off and running, heading to third, lumbering, as most catchers do, not all that quickly. Me? I sprinted out of the batters box and got to first in a flash, stunned that I now had a batting average and had earned the right to stand on first base and take it all in -- the glory, the accomplishment, the sense of timeless connection to all of the lead off hitters since the beginning of time -- "speedsters" was how people referred to us. "Table setters".

But Matt got thrown out at home! Truly. Really. I shit you not. My only chance for an RBI the entire season got gunned down at home by the maniac center fielder who must have been a relative of Roberto Clemente. Yup. Big Matt got thrown out. It wasn't even close. He was out by 15 feet. And it was the third out, at that. Third out, as in end of the inning.

Finito. Kaput. No, I was not allowed to stand on first and admire my handiwork. There was no time to accept high fives from the first base coach. The inning was over. Done. End of story. Now I had to run back to the dugout, get my glove, and make my way to right field.

Every time I've seen Matt since then, here's what I say:
"MATTHEW, HOW THE FUCK COULD YOU GET THROWN OUT AT HOME? HOW? MY ONLY CHANCE FOR AN RBI THE ENTIRE SEASON AND YOU GET THROWN OUT TO END THE INNING? REALLY? REALLY?"

I can barely remember my first marriage. I have no memory of high school geometry. But I remember absolutely EVERYTHING about that summertime at-bat 57 years ago. Everything.

Did I mention it was my only hit of the season, a single up the middle, through the pitcher's legs and over second base before anyone could even blink? That's how hard I hit the ball. I mean, it literally rocketed off my bat. And I sprinted to first. Sprinted. And the crowd went wild. Totally wild. And my good buddy, Matt "I'm-Not-Exactly-Usain Bolt" Weinstein, GET THROWN OUT AT HOME! THROWN OUT! TO END THE INNING! YOU CAN ASK ANYONE!

It wasn't funny then, but it is very funny now.

THIS is precisely how I want to live my life, ladies and gentlemen. One swing of the bat! CONTACT! And I am running, like a man on fire, to first, enjoying the moment for as long as I can, no matter what happens next. Or doesn't.

PLAY BALL!!!!!

Excerpted from Storytelling for the Revolution
MitchDitkoff.com
Baseball!

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:15 AM | Comments (0)

December 17, 2019
My Slightly Goofy Introduction to Black Magic

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There are a lot of things I have never been into. Biodynamic gardening is one of them. Shopping at Wal-Mart is another. And black magic. I realize, of course, there is a value to biodynamic gardening. It's good for the earth. Shopping at Walmart, I suppose, also has its advantages. Like the option of buying three months of toilet paper in one fell swoop. But black magic -- the use of supernatural powers for evil and selfish purposes? Nope. Not my cup of tea. Not even close.

Ever since I was a small boy, I've always thought of myself as one of the good guys -- a light bearer, a healer, a champion of the oppressed. Black magic was as far off my radar screen as learning Swahili. But that all changed for me one rainy Tuesday night in Los Angeles, the City of Angels, in 1982.

Having just arrived from New York on a three-day business trip, I found myself being invited by a friend to join him for a "different kind of evening" -- an evening, he explained, with a trance medium -- a psychic who, apparently, had the ability to channel Merlin the Magician, King Arthur's chief advisor.

Curious, I accepted my friend's invitation and made a beeline, the day after, to the hotel on the outskirts of town where the gathering would take place.

Not in the mood for small talk, I found a seat in the back of the room, signing no guest book, wearing no name badge, and speaking to no one. In front of me, a highly animated group of LA types talked non-stop, anticipating, it seemed, some kind of cosmic experience that awaited them.

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Me? I was in a different kind of mood, slipping slowly into my East Coast alter ego -- Big Vinny from Brooklyn -- the pizza-eating, wise guy nihilist with a low tolerance for anything that smacked of woo woo. Let's just say that Vinny wasn't all that impressed by what he was seeing in the room.

And then, show time -- the Merlin-channeling channel made his appearance, stage right, wearing a blue blazer, his shoes much shinier than mine. All eyes were upon him as he sat down, mumbled a few, unimpressive words of welcome and closed his eyes.

And then? He started shaking and twitching, which quickly morphed into a kind of full-body shuddering, apparently vacating the premises to make room for the 800-year old featured speaker of the evening. When he opened his mouth to speak, his voice was very different than the one that had welcomed us just moments before. It was a booming, British voice. Serious. Shakespearean. And apparently in charge. This continued for an hour or so, Merlin tuning into various members of the audience and saying things that sounded alternately profound and a Saturday Night Live sketch.

"Bullshit!" Big Vinny screamed inside me. "Total bullshit!"

Intermission came none too soon. I stood, made a bee-line for the parking lot, found my rented Toyota, and turned on the Mets/Dodgers game. The score? 5-2. Pitching? Ron Darling, just back from three weeks on the disabled list. Bad hamstring, I think.

The New Yorker in me wanted to stay in the car -- at least until the Mets took the lead. The rest of me didn't, semi-concerned that my disappearing act would seem to be a slap in the face to the friend of mine who had invited me. And so, I begrudgingly returned.

As soon as I entered the room, I got chills up my spine. Major chills. The hairs on the back of my next stood up. Whoa! Something, I could tell, was going to be very different than before.

In walks the trance medium. He sits, closes his eyes, shudders, and speaks. "There’s a man in the room," he announces, "who is a scientist of ideas. He knows all about white magic. But where he's going in this world, it's black magic he will need to understand. And his name is Mitchell."

OK. Badaboom, badabing. Now he had my attention. Everything he was saying was totally true. I was a scientist of ideas. That's what I did for a living -- helping people in corporations navigate their way through the maze of their minds and develop game changing ideas. And yes, it was also true that as a former poet, monk, and hippie, I knew a lot about white magic. Benevolence was my middle name, We Are the World my theme song. But in the dense, patriarchal, aggressive, hyper-competitive, bottom-line focused, take-no prisoners-world-of-corporate America I was, shall we say, over my head -- Mr. Magoo at an Illuminati convention.

My approach to corporate America, up until then, had been on the light and fluffy side -- a curious blend of Bodhisattva, Woody Allen, and Einstein. Black Magic was not something I noticed upon walking the halls of power, although I did see other things that gave me pause -- like mind games and power plays, selfishness, greed, maneuvering, manipulation, fear, and a kind of icy cold addiction to logic that gave me the creeps.

Maybe it wasn't black magic, per se, I was seeing, but it was definitely on dark side of the spectrum. Like maybe gray, perhaps. Or, on a bad day, dark grey. Whatever color it was, one thing was clear: I was not a master at dealing with it.

The trance medium continued. More sage counsel issued forth in his booming British voice. Merlin, apparently, wasn't satisfied to merely share his 800-year old counsel with me. He also had a very specific reading list he wanted to me to know about -- a bibliography of heavyweights whose books I had shied away from whenever frequenting a spiritual book store: Like Madame Blavatsky, for instance. Alistair Crowley and Alice Bailey. Ouspensky and Gurdjieff.

These were not my peeps. Nor were they the peeps of my peeps. I was more a Rumi and Hafiz kind of guy, with a sprinkling of Zen Buddhism thrown in for good measure. The Mentalists, they of the furrowed brow? Too mental for me. Too heady. Too dense. Too convoluted.

I have no recollection how that evening ended, no memory of how I got back to my car or what I did later that night. All I know is I never read the books Merlin recommended. No, I didn't. But I did manage to hold them in my hands a few weeks later and turn the pages. In a strange way that makes no sense to me, just the act of holding those books shifted something inside me that changed the way I approached my work. It was, as if, I'd been given a homeopathic dose of something or other that tweaked my sensibilities and the way I operated in the business world.

Slowly at first, and then with a steady progression, I found myself moving away from my New Age, smiley face mindset into a much more grounded one. Slowly, I began paying a different kind of attention in the marketplace. Yes, I continued seeing the good in people. And yes, I continued giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. But I didn't stop there. Goodness, indeed, was a good place to start, but it wasn't the whole story. There was shadow, too, that I needed to be mindful of.

And so I started paying attention to a more subtle dimension -- a kind of unspoken corporate hieroglyphics: The tilt of a head... a change of expression.. the clasp of a handshake... eye contact.. or the lack thereof.. how long a glance was held.. and why... a joke... a wink... the feeling I had when someone entered the room... or left... what was said.. what wasn't said...and how what wasn't said wasn't said.

It was, for me, as if a veil was lifting and I began experiencing something I had either ignored or been blinded to for years -- what dogs hear that their masters cannot. Not the invisible elephant in the room, but the invisible elephant behind the invisible elephant. The jealous rock 'n roll road manager skimming an extra 5% off the top while the band parties on.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Take a moment now to think about the various scenes you are in these days -- especially business scenes. Where might there be some subtle black magic going on? Or, if not black, grey. Who might be withholding information... or trying to deceive you... or maneuvering around you in a way that doesn't feel right? What are you seeing that you would rather not see? What are you feeling?

If these questions make you uncomfortable, good. Think about them, anyway. Open your eyes. Open your mind to what is unspoken verbally, but still speaks loudly in other ways. Is there any action you need to take? Is there something you need to do differently, going forward?

MitchDitkoff.com
Storytelling for the Revolution
Idea Champions

Photo: Samuel Zeller, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:48 PM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2019
The Robbers

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When I was 13, my sister was 18. She was the proverbial big sister. I was the proverbial little brother. And though she called me "twerp" and I called her "fatso", it was always comforting to know she was in the next room, especially on the nights when our parents went out. I wouldn't be alone. My sister was there.

But when she went off to college, everything changed. Now I was the only child in the house. Now it was just me.

I will never forget my first night alone. My parents, after dinner, casually informed me they were going out for the evening but would be back at a "reasonable hour." They petted the dog, gave me a hug, and were gone in a flash. I stood by the front door, listening, until the sound of their Oldsmobile disappeared into the distance. Then I made myself a huge bowl of ice cream, retreated to my room, turned on the TV, flopped down on my bed, and started doing my homework.

So far so good. The ice cream was yummy. The capital of Montana was Helena, and the Mets were leading 4-2. That's when I started hearing the SOUNDS -- very strange sounds coming from the kitchen... troubling sounds... scary sounds... the kind robbers make when looking for things to steal.

Like my mother's set of sterling silver, for example -- the extremely expensive set of sterling silver given to her years ago by my rich Uncle Herman.

The sounds from the kitchen continued -- sounds I had never heard before. And then... absolutely nothing... nothing at all... just silence... a deadly silence... the kind that could only mean one thing -- the robbers had just poisoned my dog. Or strangled her.

The moment of truth was upon me. Laying on my bed, eating the last of my ice cream, I had a decision to make. A big one. Do I turn up the sound of my TV so the robbers will know someone is home and leave on their own, or do I confront them, saving my mother's sterling silver before they get away?

It may have seemed like a choice, but it wasn't. I knew, in my heart of hearts, there was only one thing to do. So I got off my bed and began making my way, ninja-like, oh so slowly, out of my room, down the hallway, past the bathroom, closer and closer to the closed kitchen door. My heart was pounding, my breath coming faster, my mind was racing. Standing just a foot from the door, I stopped and listened. An eternity passed. The sounds from the kitchen continued. And then, raising my right foot, I kicked open the door and leaped into the kitchen, letting out the kind of scream karate guys make when they attack.

The first thing I saw was my dog, Doxie, looking up at me, wagging her tail. She was alive! Alive! I bent down to pet her, no robbers in sight, having obviously heard me coming and vamoosed out the side door. I stood up and walked a few steps to the table where the sterling silver set was supposed to be in its velvety blue box. It was there -- just a few inches away from the spice rack and the stack of Life Magazines. I open it slowly. Not a fork or spoon was missing. Not a knife. I made my way to the pantry and gave my dog a treat. Then I returned to my room, finished my ice cream, memorized the capital of Vermont (Montpelier) and watched the end of the baseball game. Then I turned on my clock radio and went to bed.

This same drama must have played itself out at least 50 times in the next two years. My strategy, I must say, worked like a charm . From the time I was 13 until I was 15, not a single thing was ever stolen from our house.

COMMENTARY: This little story of mine played out 59 years ago. For the six decades that followed, only two people ever heard about about my heroics -- my best friend, Matt, and my wife, Evelyne. And yet for me, now 72, taking the time to reflect on this story and share it with you has been a revelation. While laughable in many ways, I've gotten some keen insights into my psyche and how I, at an early age, became wired to deal with the unknown, whether real or imagined. My self-invented rite-of-passage was how I learned to deal with fear and the choices before me. First, I learned I needed to be alert to the subtle clues around me. Then I learned I had a choice. Then I learned I had to choose. Once my choice was made, everything was cool. I was no longer a victim, no longer a boy hiding in his room, but a man of action. And the danger? Gone.

Excerpted from Storytelling for the Revolution
Pet Portraits by Evelyne Pouget
Photo: Artem Sapegin

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:49 AM | Comments (0)

October 31, 2019
DAY OF THE DEAD ART SHOW

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In honor of San Miguel de Allende's indigenous traditions and architectural beauty, local artist, Evelyne Pouget, will be hosting a DAY OF THE DEAD art show featuring a selection of her original oil paintings, oil pastels, and digital paintings.

WHEN:
Saturday, Nov 2, 1:00 -- 5:00 pm
Sunday, Nov. 3, 1:00 -- 5:00 pm

WHERE:
Tenerias 16 (Centro, between Jesus and Codo)

NOTE: Only non-alcoholic drinks will be served.

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EvelynePouget.com

PougetDigital

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:34 PM | Comments (0)

October 24, 2019
To My Mother on the Day of Her Funeral

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NOTE: The following eulogy I read at my mother's funeral 18 years ago. Ten minutes ago I rediscovered it, quite by accident. I offer it to you now in honor of all our mothers.

What can I say about my mother -- the one I called "mom" and "mommy" and "ma" and "Sylvie" -- the one through whom I was born, who fed me with her own blood before I entered the world?

There is something about the mother/son relationship that can never be explained -- a relationship that is way more about feeling than thinking -- and I thank my mother for awakening feeling in me, even when she was unaware of it in her self.

I have very good memories of my mother -- the woman you came here to honor today -- not so much for the things she did, but for the being she was, an advocate for love, appreciation, and simplicity.

I remember her singing in the sisterhood. I remember being proud of her for having the courage to go out on stage in front of all those people and actually belt out a song she wrote herself -- a way to make people feel better about themselves even for just a moment. I remember her painting and playing the piano and waiting for me to come home from school and completing all those New York Times crossword puzzles on lazy Sunday afternoons as if she was somehow deciphering the secret of life right there on the couch in our den, the dog at her feet and me, quiet nearby, somehow able to dream big because of it all.

I remember her veal parmegiana and the one canasta night each week with her friends -- some of whom are here today -- the husbands at work, the women at play, all talking and smoking at once and me, the son somehow able to sleep more deeply in the next room, knowing all those Jewish mothers were in the house, enjoying each other, no men around to criticize them.

I learned a lot from my mother though she would never think of herself as a teacher. Her life has infused me -- and it's all about love... and the ability to be alone... and serve without thought of return. Oh yes, and words!

Sometimes, she would fall asleep with the light on, next to my father, crossword puzzle and pencil in hand, and I would walk the hallway from my room to hers, grab her ankles and pull her down just enough so she wouldn't get a crick in her neck. Then I'd turn out the light, a role reversal of sorts, me the father, her the child.

I loved helping her with her puzzles, filling in a word she didn't know as she grew older, never once giving up her weekly ritual of going to the beauty parlor and getting her hair done, enough hairspray in it to withstand a tornado or two.

And yes, despite her gift of intuitive knowing, there was a lot my mother did not know and never understood -- why I grew my hair long, why I lived in a tent in the forest, why I became a vegetarian, or married a shiksa, or followed that young boy Guru from India.

On and on and on it goes... one generation differentiating itself from the other. And yet, throughout it all, I felt her mother love, the oasis we all want to come home to and drink from -- that safe haven mothers find so easy to offer their children.

In the face of eternity my mother has gone just a little bit sooner than the rest of us. All of us will follow suit. It is the way of life. We are born. We live. We die. It can be no other way. We will all have our moment with our Maker, as my mother has just had hers.

My wish for all of us remaining here is that the moment with our Maker happens now -- while we are alive. We do not have to physically die to experience our Maker. That power is here with us in this room. Today. Always is. Always was. Always will be.

The details of my mother's life -- and ours -- are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. It doesn't really matter what we accomplish, but how -- and where we are coming from when we do anything at all.

That's the message I get from my mother. That and the sacredness of breath. What came so hard for her in these last days, all of us in this room still have, as well as a chance to savor it.

What's a six letter word for love? How about "Sylvia" for starters?

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:28 PM | Comments (0)

October 18, 2019
Leonard Cohen on How He Got His Song

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:40 AM | Comments (0)

October 10, 2019
Learning to Face Your Opponent

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Sometimes, in life, a single word or a single sentence can make a huge difference -- an unexpected communication that penetrates to the core of your being and then radiates from the inside out for the rest of your life. I had one such moment 35 years ago when I was a novice Aikido student in Los Angeles.

Here's what happened: In the dojo, while practicing a new technique with my partner, my teacher walks over to me, observes briefly, looks at me, and utters these eight words: "You have to learn to face your opponent."

I had no idea what she was talking about and just looked at her blankly. Then she stepped forward and gently rearranged the way I was standing, noting that I was standing a bit too obliquely from my partner -- a posture I had taken that was eventually going to require me to OVERCOMPENSATE in order to complete the move, an action that had the potential, she explained, to injure my partner and myself due to all of the unnecessary twisting and turning likely to happen.

In other words, the way in which I had positioned myself in relationship to my partner was off. I was not facing my partner head on. I was being too indirect, about 10 degrees "off to the side" and it was this indirectness, my teacher explained, that had the potential to cause injury. Whoa!

As I let her words sink in, I knew exactly what she was talking about. The wisdom embedded in her eight words cut to the core of my being. What she observed in me at that moment was a very penetrating expression of how I had been living my life -- especially my relationships. Somehow, I was a little bit off... too indirect.. a little out of whack.. skewed to the side. In other words, I wasn't really engaging others as directly as I needed to and it was my indirectness that was contributing to a whole bunch of negative consequences -- some very subtle -- that I had to deal with.

This is one of the amazing things about Aikido or any inner practice that a person commits to. You get to see where you are at and where you are not at. The feedback is immediate. It's humbling. It's confronting. And it's not always easy to take in. But if you are open to the moment and willing to learn from it, much lifelong wisdom can be gleaned.

I am still imbibing this teaching from 35 years ago delivered to me in less than 20 seconds. I am still learning how to be in right relationship to the people in my life -- not oblique... not indirect... not off to one side, and, at the same time not in their face. In Aikido, there is a word for this -- "Hanmi" -- the stance one takes in relationship to the "other."

With whom, in your life, might you need to adjust your stance? Who are you being too indirect with? Who might you be crowding? Who do you need to face? And what, if anything, can you do this week to take the healthiest stance you can take -- so both of you can practice and no one gets injured in the process?

MitchDitkoff.com
Storytelling at Work

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:30 PM | Comments (0)

September 19, 2019
A Small Bag of Red Berries

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Every day, each and every one of us has at least one memorable experience worth sharing with others, but we usually don't, assuming our moment wasn't extraordinary enough.

Click here for a 5 minute audio of one such moment from my own life -- an exchange I had with a Mexican abuela in a San Miguel de Allende cafe.

What simple story of yours might you share today? And what impact do you think it might have on others?

Excerpted from this book
Mitch Ditkoff

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:50 PM | Comments (0)

August 27, 2019
The Rightful Heir to the Throne

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Once upon a time there was a powerful, wise, and benevolent King who knew his time was coming to an end. Wanting to ensure that his Kingdom continued to thrive after his death, he called his three sons to his side.

"Blood of my blood," he began, "I know my loyal subjects are expecting me to pass my crown on to my first born -- and that is perfectly understandable, but I do not want my legacy ruled by assumptions and so I am inviting the three of you to enter into a contest to determine who will inherit my throne. I have designed the contest not to test your strength because I already know you are strong. Nor have I designed it to test your loyalty. I already know that, too. I have designed the contest to test your ability to see that which is not immediately apparent, since seeing clearly will be one of the most important skills you will need to rule wisely."

And with that he had his Grand Vizier escort the three boys down several long hallways and through a hidden doorway none of them had ever seen before.

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"Wait here," he said. "Your father will arrive soon enough to explain the rules."

One hour passed. Then another. Then another still. And then, with no fanfare, the King appeared, trailed by his courtiers, physicians, and Queen. Silently, he approached his sons and bowed.

"Flesh of my flesh," he began, pointing to a large wooden door before him. "In a moment, I will enter this room and stand in middle. I will bring nothing with me -- only my love for you and my curiosity. Then, one by one, each of you will have his turn. Three times I will perform this experiment. The door will open and, starting with my first born, when it is your turn, you will enter. Your task will be a simple one -- to tell me what you see in the room. That's it. But you will only have a brief amount of time to accomplish the task. If you take too long, you will be disqualified. Understand?

And with that, the Grand Vizier turned the boys around so their backs were to the door. Then he grabbed the hand of the eldest son, walked him to the door, opened it, and spoke one word: "Enter." The boy walked in. The room was completely dark.

"Well..." said the King, "what do you see, my son?"

"Nothing, father. There is nothing here, but you."

"Thank you, my son. Well said. Now turn around and when the door opens, exit quickly."

Now it was the middle son's turn. The Grand Vizier approached, took him by the hand, walked him to the door, opened it and spoke one word: "Enter."

The boy walked in. The room was still completely dark.

"Well... said the King, "what do you see, my boy?"

"Nothing, father," he replied. "There is nothing here but you. And, of course, me, too."

"Thank you, my son. Well said. A most important distinction you have made. Now turn around and when the door opens, exit quickly."

Now it was the youngest son's turn. Again, the Grand Vizier approached, took him by the hand, walked him to the door, opened it and spoke one word. "Enter."

Like his two brothers before him, the boy walked in. The room was still completely dark.

"Well..." said the King, "what do you see, my youngest born?"

"Nothing, my father. I see nothing. And while I know I have only the briefest amount of time to reply, may I ask you a question?"

"Yes, my son, you may."

"In all your many years, as King, what would you say is the most important thing you have learned?"

"Hmm..." replied the King. "An excellent question. Most astute and worthy of my consideration, no doubt. But my answer, long as it will likely be, will only distract us from the task at hand. We have the next King to select now, don't we?"

But even in the few seconds it took for the King to respond, the eyes of the youngest son began adjusting to the darkness. Where only seconds ago, only blackness prevailed, now he began seeing the faintest outline of things -- a chair, a small table next to it, and a candlestick.

"Oh father," said the son, "thank you for your sage counsel. You are indeed, a man of great wisdom. But before I take my leave, please allow me to tell you what I see: a chair, a table next to it, and a candlestick."

The King took a long, slow breath. Then he exhaled even more slowly. "Well done, my son, well done. You see clearly. You see what is here. And because you do, you shall be the one to inherit my throne!"

One contest. Three sons. Three different responses. The first son, the eldest, spoke the truth. He saw nothing and said so, noting only the obvious presence of the King. The second son, also saw nothing, but had the clarity of mind to acknowledge his own presence in the room. The third son, the youngest, was the only one who understood that seeing sometimes takes time and that first impressions aren't always accurate -- so he bought himself the time he needed by asking the King a question -- providing him just enough time for his eyes to adjust to the dimmest of light.

And so it is with the wisdom inside us. It is not always immediately apparent to us. Indeed, it is often shrouded in darkness, hidden from sight. And where it is hidden, more times than not, is in our stories -- the faraway room within us in which the King abides. And the chair. And the table. And the candlestick. If we want to see what's there, we need to give it some time. We need to get curious, ask our questions, and allow our eyes to adjust to the available light, even if, at first glance, it seems as if nothing is there.

Excerpted from Storytelling for the Revolution

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:43 AM | Comments (0)

August 25, 2019
The Whirlpool of Life's Play

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A few month's ago, my finances were kind of in the toilet. No matter how much effort I made to get gigs, nothing was happening. This was the time I was heading back to Woodstock, from San Miguel, to get my house ready to sell. Anyway, after much effort being made and no results showing up, I realized I needed to totally let go. So I did. I entered the "What Will Be Will Be" space -- not just as a ploy for the universe to come around to my way of thinking, but as a deep recognition that my well-being did not depend on money or work or any of that stuff.

Four days passed. Then the phone rang.

It was someone from the Whirlpool Corporation, who had found my name in a google search and was calling to see if I was available to do an innovation-sparking workshop for them. Usually, these kinds of requests take at least 3-6 months to turn into anything, so, although I was glad I had a potential gig, I didn't get all that excited. Then, the client told me they wanted the session in TWO weeks (in just enough time to pay my daughter's final month's college tuition).

Standing in the kitchen as I was, and increasingly curious, I walked over to the dishwasher to see what brand it was. Surprise, surprise, it was a WHIRLPOOL -- and I happily told my new client that, right then and there. That's when she asked me what MODEL it was. So I bent down, looked again, and told her.

"MY TEAM DESIGNED THAT MODEL" she told me. "The dishwasher in your kitchen was made by my team."

Once again, I was humbled (and amazed) at how perfect this whole play of life is.

Mitch Ditkoff
Storytelling for the Revolution
Idea Champions

PHOTO: unsplash-logoIzzie R

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:28 PM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2019
It's Never Too Late to Choose Life

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My mother died at 83, on her way from her favorite chair in the living room to the bathroom. Her falling, explained my father, didn't make a lot of sound, other than the clanking of the oxygen machine which had been her steady companion for the past three years. The doctor said it was a heart attack that killed her, but the heart attack was a result of her emphysema, which was a result of her smoking unfiltered Chesterfields since the age of 15.

Magazine ads in the 1950's actually declared that smoking was good for you. They did not mention the fact that nicotine was just as addictive as heroin. Nor did they mention the fact that tobacco is the leading risk factor in 22% of all cancer deaths. In 2018 that would be equivalent to 2,100,000 people wheezing their way to the grave.

My mother, who loved to play canasta, do cross word puzzles, and hug me, had a heart of gold, but that heart of gold gave out one Tuesday evening in West Palm Beach. It beat for the last time and I would no longer have a mother. Nor would my sister have a mother. Nor would my three nieces have a grandmother. And my father would live alone for the rest of his life.

Ten years after my mother's death, it was my sister's time. She was 70 and had been smoking Salems since she was a teenager. The first time my father discovered she had taken up smoking he took the entire pack of cigarettes and jammed them into her mouth. His "quit smoking" technique didn't work. My sister continued smoking, even after she was diagnosed with lung cancer at 66 -- a cancer that later migrated to her brain and killed her.

Two years after her death, I got a call from Phillip Morris, the makers of Marlboro, Benson & Hedges, and yes, Chesterfields. They had heard about my work an innovation consultant and were wondering if I was available to design and facilitate a big offsite for them.

It was not a difficult decision for me to decline their invitation.

Looking back, I wish I had made more of an effort help my mother and sister kick the habit. That is one regret I have in life -- one I am still in the process of forgiving myself for. But in their memory, it is not too late to reach out to you and all the people you know who are addicted to cigarettes. There is help out there. There is.

Just a few weeks ago, I learned that my good friend, Joseph Bennett (a former smoker for 32 years) has created an online course to help people kick the habit once and for all. Joseph is one of the most committed and soulful people I know. He is a man of great passion and integrity, a man who has understood that one of his purposes in life is to serve.

And so, In honor of my mother, Sylvia, and my sister, Phyllis, I invite you, from the bottom of my heart, to see if Joseph's online course -- which he calls Quit in 21 resonates with you. And if you, yourself, are not a smoker, but have a mother, father, sister, brother, friend, uncle, aunt, neighbor, grandparent, teammate, co-worker, or child who is, consider forwarding the link to them.

It's never to late to choose life.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:21 AM | Comments (1)

February 12, 2019
SOON COMING: An Anthology of Wisdom Stories from Living Sages

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GREETINGS! I am beginning the process of identifying a wide variety of living Sages, Masters, Gurus, Teachers, and Wisdom Keepers to contribute their favorite story to an anthology of "wisdom stories" I am putting together. Some of these Sages will be well known to many. Some not. At this point in the game, I am looking for two things: 1) Suggestions of "wise ones" to approach; 2) Contact information (or connections) for HOW I might approach these wise ones in the simplest and most direct way possible. If you are not comfortable with leaving your suggestions in the comments box, feel free to email me: mitch@ideachampions.com

The Magical Mystery tour continues...

About the curator
Photo: NASA on Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:28 PM | Comments (1)

February 10, 2019
Why God Made Man

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Elie Wiesel

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:15 PM | Comments (0)

February 06, 2019
The Sanctuary Within

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There are three kinds of storytelling in the world: oral, written, and visual. Of the three, oral storytelling is the most common, having been around since the beginning of time. That's how our ancestors ensured their survival and passed on their wisdom to the next generation. In time, oral storytelling morphed into written storytelling -- not exclusively, of course, but as simply another way to convey vital information and wisdom that needed to be shared.

In the 1800's, for example, two brothers, in Germany, collected more than 200 folk tales from their homeland and published them in a book we now know as "Grimm's Fairy Tales." In the process, however, the two brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, edited the stories quite a bit, according to their own values, and the stories changed.

This is not at all surprising. All stories morph when told and retold. Stories constantly change, based on the memory, mood, personality, interpretation, values, and the communication style of the storytellers who tell them.

The facts upon which a story is based? Changing all the time. And that is not a problem. Because story telling, as a communication medium, is less about accuracy than it is about meaning. Indeed, as Frank Lloyd Wright once said, "The truth is more important than the facts."

And so, dear storyteller-in-waiting, know this: As long as you are not in a court of law vowing to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," it is perfectly fine to tell a story you've heard (or read) in a different way than how you originally heard or read it. That is, as long as you honor the underlying message/wisdom of the story. You see, the main service you are performing, as a storyteller, is bringing water to the thirsty. The shape of the container is secondary.

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In the spirit of the Grimm's Brothers and millions of storytellers since the beginning of time, it is my great privilege, now, to share a story I heard, three years ago, in Mexico, from a tour guide named "Carlos" -- one of the most animated storytellers I have ever encountered. The story Carlos told me blew my mind so completely that I was certain it must have been a famous story and written down somewhere. It wasn't. Googling revealed nothing except a few icy cold, biographical facts about the story's hero -- none of which even remotely sparked the power and glory of the tale I was told.

Can I say with 100% assurance that Carlos' telling of the tale was a perfect recounting of the historical facts? No, I cannot. But for the purpose of your own, future storytelling, it doesn't matter in the least. What matters is the message embedded within the stories you tell and the impact they have on the people who have good fortune to be on the receiving end.

Ready?

In the 18th century, in the heart of Mexico, there lived a small group of priests in service to Jesus Christ. Like most men of the cloth, these priests had a hierarchy -- an organizational structure that helped them get things done. The eldest were the organizers and decision makers. The youngest took their orders from eldest. One of the younger priests, an especially animated young man named "Felipe," was rather troubling to his superiors, insofar as he was always asking questions, looking up to the sky, and had an unexplainable smile on his face most of the time.

He was, in a phrase, a thorn in the side to his elders, serious fellows who were always, it seemed, more interested in the letter of the law than the spirit.

And so, one day, the elder priests hatched a plan to get Felipe out of their hair. With great gravitas, they called him into their office and explained that he had been selected, out of all the priests, to perform a very important religious function -- one that would honor the life and teachings of Lord Jesus Christ himself.

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Every day, the priests explained, Felipe would be given a large wooden cross to carry for a distance of many miles into the wilderness. Upon arriving, he would stop, pray, and then begin his way back to where he had started that day. This journey, the priests went on to explain, would be a re-enactment of what Jesus had endured and would help Felipe and, by extension, all the priests of his order, get more deeply in touch with God.

Of course, to the head priests, this exercise was nothing more than a way to get rid of Felipe for the day. But for Felipe, it was a gift from God. He was totally ecstatic that he had been chosen and couldn't wait to begin.

And so he did. Each day he would pick up his cross and walk for what seemed like forever into the wilderness -- just him, his sacred mission, and the hot sun overhead. A lesser man might have collapsed under the weight of the cross and the seeming monotony of this spiritual practice. But not Felipe. He loved it, gaining strength and inspiration with each passing day.

Two weeks into his mission, a band of breast-plated Spaniards, on horseback, approached him, having noticed his daily cross-carrying ritual and the undeniable fact that, unlike them, he had never once been attacked by the Chichimecca, a ferocious indigenous tribe that was picking off the Spaniards, one-by-one, and decimating their numbers.

The Spaniards had a deal to make with Felipe. Each day they would give him a few gold and silver coins if he would protect them from the Chichimeccas -- a deal that sounded to Felipe as if it was coming straight from God, especially since he recently had a vision of building a church in the wilderness and had no idea how he was going to pay for the materials.

And so, he accepted the Spaniards' offer, using most of his sudden good fortune to pay for building supplies, giving the rest of the gold and silver to the priests when he returned home at the end of each day.

And so it went. Months passed. Years. The priests got richer and Felipe's church grew taller. All was right with the world. Except one thing. The lack of water in the region made it impossible for Felipe and his indigenous helpers to build the church year-round. With no water to make adobe bricks, they were forced to wait for months until the rainy season began -- not an ideal scenario for a man on a mission, a cross on his back, and a constant smile on his face.

A problem? Not to Felipe. Guided by unseen forces and his trusty divining rod, he soon discovered an underground spring nearby. With nothing but his bare hands, a few primitive implements, and his Chichimecca helpers, Felipe dug until the water was found. Not just any water, however. Mineral water. Healing water. The kind of water that people travel hundreds of miles to bathe in.

Now, with no more need to wait for the rainy season to begin, Felipe and his helpers moved into high gear and, in time, completed their project -- a beautiful church, hand-built, a testament to the power of love, faith, collaboration, and fearless dedication.

Imagine, if you will, the look on the faces of the priests who had originally sent Felipe into the wilderness, when they joined him, one fine Spring Day, on his cross-carrying walk. There, rising up from the ground in the distance, rose the church now known as the Sanctuary of Atotonilco -- the church Felipe had painstakingly built with his own two hands and the help of others drawn to his mission -- a glorious testament to faith and virtue, built one brick at a time, in service to God and the transformative power of love.

Today, the Sanctuary of Atotonilco is a World Heritage site, a sacred destination for as many as 5,000 people per week who come to pray and do penance. And some of these pilgrims, the lucky ones, get to listen to Carlos the Tour Guide tell the story of the priest who found God by leaving his place of worship each day, cross on his back, to build his own.

FOR YOUR REFLECTION: What does it mean to be "man of God" or a "woman of God?" Who knows? Different people will answer the question in different ways. But one thing everyone can agree on is the power of STORY to provide the kind of pregnant pause to even consider the question in the first place.

The story of Felipe, I am sure, has gone through hundreds of changes since the first time it was told -- each storyteller embellishing it in their own way. What I can say, with great certainty, however, is that the version Carlos told me is not exactly the one I have just told. And if you decide to retell this tale, it will, undoubtedly, change again. So be it. Such is life. The facts and details of the story may change, but the wisdom embedded within it will remain the same -- how a single, inspired human being can make a profound difference... how love, faith, and perseverance are three of the most powerful forces in the world... and how surrendering to one's true purpose can work miracles against all odds.

Jesus Photo by Fatih Ozdemir on Unsplash
Hands Praying Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The Sanctuary of Atotinilco
Excerpted from this book
The author

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:46 PM | Comments (0)

February 04, 2019
Sneak Preview of Lap of Honour!

Tim Hain is pioneering new ground, folks, with his forthcoming book, Lap of Honour, telling a fascinating story in a fascinating way. Fifty-six years in the making! Talk about perseverance! Stay tuned!

Tim (almost) on the X-Factor
More about Tim here

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:04 AM | Comments (0)

December 25, 2018
Gandhi and the Professor

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I just received this wonderful fake, urban legend story from Craig Klawuhn. Even if never happened, it's a great little story to read, especially if you ever find yourself being dismissed or diminished by "people in power."

When Gandhi was studying law at University College, London, a Caucasian professor, whose last name was Peter, disliked him intensely and always displayed prejudice and animosity towards him.

Also, because Gandhi never lowered his head when addressing his professor, as assumed, there were always arguments and confrontations.

One day, Mr. Peters was having lunch at the dining room of the University, and Gandhi came along with his tray and sat next to the professor.

The professor said, "Mr. Gandhi, you do not understand. A pig and a bird do not sit together to eat."

Gandhi looked at him as a parent would a rude child and calmly replied, "You do not worry professor. I'll fly away," and he went and sat at another table.

Mr. Peters, reddened with rage, decided to take revenge on the next test paper, but Gandhi responded brilliantly to all questions.

Mr. Peters, unhappy and frustrated, asked him the following question. "Mr. Gandhi, if you were walking down the street and found a package and within was a bag of wisdom and another bag with a lot of money, which one would you take?"

Without hesitating, Gandhi responded, "The one with the money, of course."

Mr. Peters, smiling sarcastically, said, "I, in your place, would have taken wisdom."

Gandhi shrugged indifferently and responded, "Each one takes what he doesn't have."

Mr. Peters, by this time, was beside himself and so great was his anger that he wrote on Gandhi's exam sheet the word "IDIOT" and gave it to Gandhi.

Gandhi took the exam sheet and sat down at his desk trying very hard to remain calm while he contemplated his next move.

A few minutes later, Gandhi got up, went to the professor and said to him in a dignified but sarcastically polite tone, "Mr. Peters, you signed the sheet, but you did not give me the grade."

My book on storytelling
MitchDitkoff.com
Another story about resolving differences

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:42 AM | Comments (0)

November 30, 2018
STORY: The Great Connector

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Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling at Work
Awake at the Wheel
Illustration: gapingvoid

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:01 PM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2018
STORYTELLING FOR THE REVOLUTION: The Introduction

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"Those who tell the story, rule the world." -- Hopi Indian saying

If you are wondering why I chose to call my book: Storytelling for the Revolution -- a title some people might think is incendiary, inflated, or overly dramatic, here's the reason: We need a revolution. We do. But the revolution I'm inviting you to join is not a political one. It has nothing to do with a change of government, laws, sanctions, or social structures. It has to do with a change of mind and a change of heart and a change in the way we communicate to each other.

It doesn't take a genius to recognize that the collective narrative occupying the airways these days is a dark one -- not all that surprising when you consider the sorry state of the world and the "if it bleeds, it leads" mindset of the media: Mitch Ditkoff5.jpgBad news sells. It's true. But bad news is not the only thing worth reporting on. Indeed, there is another kind of story that also needs to be heard -- one that rarely makes it to the evening news. And that story is revolutionary -- or could be -- the story of how each and every one of us is a broadcast station of insight, wisdom, and love, three phenomena that have the power to transform what is happening on planet Earth.

I am not suggesting you airbrush out the bad news to contemplate your navel. I'm not asking you to become apolitical. All I'm asking you to do is pay more attention to another kind of news -- one that can never be dominated by troll farms or spin doctors. And do you know what the reliable source of that story is? You. Yes, you!

Inside of you, there is another kind of story going on, another narrative, one that exists far beyond late breaking and this just in, one that too rarely gets told. I'm talking about the story of your life -- or, more specifically, the absolute Ground Zero of what you have learned and what you are learning, what you have felt and what you feeling, what you have seen and what you are seeing, even while the world burns down: Essence. Lessons learned. Insights. Moments of truth. Breakthroughs. Obstacles overcome. Personal tales of inspiration, kindness, resilience, love, meaning, vulnerability navigated, and the undeniable wisdom you have gleaned from your own life experiences. In other words, what makes you truly human, a homo sapien -- "the one who knows."

Sages, Masters, and Elders may be the most historically recognized "keepers of wisdom." but they are not the only ones. The rest of us are, too. The thing is -- we don't always know it. Our wisdom is often invisible to us. It is hiding. Unseen. Unacknowledged. And unexpressed. And where our wisdom is hiding, more often than not, is in our stories -- much like water is hiding in underground springs.

Everyone has wisdom inside them. Everyone. Everyone has learned something profound, soulful, and timeless in this life. Everyone has something meaningful to share and when they share it in the form of story, they have the potential to spark wisdom in others. Like, for example, the following story -- a brief retelling of an old Zen tale.

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Once upon a time, in feudal Japan, there was an old monk living in a monastery deep in the mountains. Ever since he was a small boy he had lived in this monastery and was considered by his fellow monks to be a most extraordinary soul. Every morning he would awake at 4:00 am and meditate for two hours. Then he practiced calligraphy and prepared breakfast for the other monks. Every afternoon, he read the sutras and, when he wasn't chanting mantras or writing haiku, he worked in the garden. Silently, of course.

Years passed. Seasons came and went. And so did his youth. But no matter how much effort he made, the enlightenment experience he was so diligently seeking never came. And so one day, in his 70th year, he decided to leave the monastery and return to the world. "Why should I continue with all these spiritual practices," he asked himself, "if they are not helping me reach my ultimate goal?

Needing to earn a living, he soon got a job as a sweeper in a local cemetery. Every day he went to work. And every day he swept.

And then, one sunny day, three years into his new, non-monastic life, a stone he had just swept off the path smashed into a tree and split in two. And when it did, something in him split in two, cracked wide open -- the kind of open that never closes again. Everything, suddenly, became totally clear to him. The enlightenment he had been seeking for 50 years had finally happened. Just like that.

The 40 stories in Storytelling for the Revolution are 40 stones splitting in two -- 40 examples of spontaneously occurring moments of truth -- awakenings, both large and small, none of which have ever made it to the evening news. Some of them are from my own life. Some are from the lives of others. They are, metaphorically speaking, a kind of DaVinci code that offers clues to the encrypted wisdom lurking just beneath the surface of our life -- the hard-to-communicate essence that ultimately defines what it means to be fully alive.

My book is not an autobiography. Nor is it a memoir. I share my stories not to call attention to me, but to call attention to you. All I'm doing is getting the party started -- your party -- a chance to take a look into the mirror of story and see, reflected back to you, parts of yourself that may have been hidden from view.

This is why I have written this book. Rather than give in to the despair, despondency, and disillusionment that has become the world's default position these days, I've decided to do everything within my power to reclaim the collective narrative for the greater good -- to revolve around a different sun -- the one that lights up our lives from the inside. And it all begins with story

You don't need to be an anthropologist to figure this out. Deconstruct any scripture, sermon, or TED talk and you will find story. That's how most meaningful messages are conveyed. Even the neuroscientists agree. When storytellers share their experiences, the same parts of the brain that light up in the storyteller upon telling their story, light up in the listener upon hearing it. "Mood contagion" it is called. "Somatic states". "Neural coupling"-- the phenomenon of one person transmitting not only information about X, Y, or Z, but also the experience.

The question isn't whether or not storytelling works. It does. The question is: "Are we going to step up and tell our stories?"

Every day, when a friend passes you on the street and asks "Whassup?" you have a choice to make. You can talk about your aching back, the weather, or the latest political catastrophe, or you can elevate the conversation by telling a story that matters. All you need to do is be yourself, choose wisely and seize the moment.

To help you make your way towards the front lines of storytelling, I've included, in PART ONE, 40 stories for your inspiration and delight -- 30 memorable "rock splitting moments" from my own life and ten classic teaching tales, many of which have been told for centuries. Each story is followed by a question to consider so you can apply its message to your own life. PART TWO is a Field Guide, complete with tips, tools, and techniques for how you can become a better, more confident storyteller. Or, if you really want to go for it, how you can become a storytelling revolutionary on the front lines of your own life -- a sacred activist of insight, wisdom and love.

Ready? I hope so. It's time to gather around the fire and begin...

On Amazon now
The book website
MitchDitkoff.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:40 AM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2018
A Ferrari Tia Maria

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Once a seeker came to a Rebbe, a guru, a venerable spiritual counselor. He arrived in his red Ferrari, roaring to a stop by the front door.

"So, great teacher," he began. "Tell me the secret to a happy life."

"That is your car?" the teacher asked, looking out the window.

"Yes. A Ferrari Dinu Lipatti." He accented the Italian.

"Well," the teacher said, "please, take your Dinu Lipatti and drive it around the block. When you come back I'll share with you the secret to a happy life."

The cynical seeker roared out of the circular drive, around the block, 0.625 miles and, in a few seconds, returned to the home of the teacher.

"So," he said. "I did what you asked. Now, what is the secret to a happy life?"

"A bicycle," the teacher said.

"A bicycle is the secret to a happy life?"

"The bicycle is not the secret. But there is a bicycle in the garage. Ride it around the block."

The seeker did so.

"Nice neighborhood," he said on his return. "Lovely houses. A lovely house, is that the secret to a happy life?"

"You look like a healthy man," the teacher said. "Can you run? Run around the block."

The seeker ran. When he returned, he said, "The trees. I hadn't noticed them before. Beautiful trees. This is it, then? Being one with nature? That's the secret to a happy life?"

"Take a walk," the teacher said. "Walk around the block."

The seeker walked.

"I understand now," he said. "Slow down. Slow down and appreciate everything. I've missed so much, racing, running from one thing to another. The secret to happiness is to slow down."

"One more thing," the teacher said. "Do you know how to crawl?"

The seeker did not respond. He sat in his chair, contemplating what it might be like, to crawl around the block, 0.625 miles.

"Yes, you're considering it," the teacher said. "Do you know what it is to be still? Imagine how much you've already received, stage by stage, slowing down, slower and slower. Imagine how much more you might receive if you could only be still."

They were still together for an undetermined while.

"Now, I have a favor to ask," the teacher said. "I’ve never been in a Dinu Lipatti."

"You want a ride?"

"I want the keys."

COMMENTARY

Words take one only so far.
When one has reached so far,
one must suspend words
and be still an undetermined while.

This story opens the door to everything.
All the rest is commentary.
But then everything opens the door to everything,
and everything is commentary.
These words almost make sense.
Almost.
Too much sense, there would be no contest,
nothing to contest.
So, almost is adequate.

The most I can do
is bring you to the edge of stillness.
The rest is the release of you.
Not up to you, the release of you. No hurry.
Perhaps I can keep you entertained until release happens.

AUTHOR: Mitch Chefitz

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:55 AM | Comments (0)

November 14, 2018
A Dream Story for Crazy Times

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A few years ago I had a dream that has stayed with me -- one that seems to be very relevant to these crazy times we now find ourselves in.

In the dream, I was in a diner, sitting at the counter and waiting for my food to come. I sensed something odd going on behind me, so I swiveled around and could tell that poisonous gas was entering the room through the heating vents on the floor -- even though it was colorless and odorless. One by one, people started falling off their chairs and dying. I'm not exactly sure how I did what I did next, but I found a way to slow my breathing way down and extract just the good oxygen from the air and not breathe the poison. Knowing I was in real danger, I stood up slowly, turned around, continued breathing slowly, and exited the diner.

I was the only one to get out alive.

Methinks this is the choice we all have these days. There is so much toxicity, so much poison in the air, on so many levels, that it's easy for anyone of us to take it all in indiscriminately and lose our life. And yet, each of us has the potential and the power to extract the life-giving force from the mixture of good and bad. It's a choice. We get to CHOOSE what to focus on, what to take in, how to stay conscious, and what to let go of. Choice. We all have a choice.

My most recent book of stories

PHOTO: unsplash-logoR. Mac Wheeler

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 06:28 PM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2018
What I Learned From Ten Chemical Salesmen and Some Masking Tape

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As a person infinitely more interested in alchemy than chemistry, not once during my formative years as a young entrepreneur did I ever, once, aspire to sit in a room with 10 middle-aged, overweight chemical salesmen from New Jersey -- modern day Willy Lomans driving 100,000 miles each year to call on purchasing agents from Maine to Virginia in a heroic attempt to sell more of their company's product and, eventually, win the "President's Award" that would be bestowed on them, at their year end pow wow, in the Oakwood Room or the Bellmore Room or some other vapidly named meeting space in a modestly priced hotel still trying to figure out how to reduce their high rate of employee turnover.

But that's exactly where I found myself.

Somehow, their boss, my client, a Regional Manager responsible for convincing upper management that this year was going to be a banner year -- had gotten my name and asked me if I could help his people get out of the box and increase sales by 20%.

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While my more politically correct friends chided me for choosing to work with a chemical company, I had absolutely no problem with my choice -- having long ago made peace with the fact that every business, no matter what industry or how skillful its PR department was in raising its perceived value, had something wrong with it.

Unless I wanted to be a potter in Vermont, there was always going to be something unseemly about the marketplace. And besides, I had a wife and two young kids to support.

The morning session with the ten chemical salesmen was all they hoped it would be -- an upbeat opportunity to bond and brainstorm. The ideas were flowing and so was the coffee. Everyone was happy.

During the lunch break, I stayed back to set things up for the afternoon session -- one I was planning to begin with a hands on activity that required me placing a 20 foot length of masking tape on the floor, parallel to the entrance, which I proceeded to do without a second thought.

At 1:00, the time I had asked everyone to be in their seats, the room was totally empty. Just me and the briefcases they had left behind.

Maybe I had the time wrong.

I looked at my watch. I looked at the clock on the wall. Both of them had the exact same time: 1:00, the time the afternoon session was supposed to begin. Then I looked at the door. It was open, but all ten of the chemical salesmen were standing outside the door, in the hallway, unmoving, as if they were waiting for a bus.

"C'mon in guys", I called. "It's time for the afternoon session to begin."

"We can't", they replied, standing their ground.

I walked across the room and asked them why.

In unison, they pointed to the 20-foot length of tape on floor.

"Hey it's OK, guys. It's just a piece of tape -- just part of an activity we'll be doing in a little while. It's no big deal."

But they just stood there, looking at me. Frozen in time. As if the tape was electrified. As if they were about to do something very wrong. As if they were going to make a BIG MISTAKE they would, somehow, later regret.

COMMENTARY:

It is now 20 years later and the image of those 10 chemical salesmen, unmoving, convinced they were not allowed to step over the line, is still very much with me, burned into whatever part of my brain is reserved for moments like this.

I owe these gentleman an eternal debt of gratitude because they helped me understand a part of the human psyche that I had never seen as dramatically before -- how the decisions we make about what we can do and what we can't do are often utterly arbitrary, ruled more by the meaning we ascribe to phenomena than by any intrinsic, irreversible Laws of Nature.

The chemical salesman saw the masking tape on the floor and interpreted it as meaning STOP. Their conclusion was a function of their collective generalization of past experiences they had about lines -- unbroken white lines in the middle of a highway, property lines separating neighbor from neighbor, and countless "B" movies where the tough guy draws a line in the sand with a stick and dares anyone to cross it or "else."

Yes, of course, some lines serve a purpose. I'm glad that the guy driving 75 mph in the oncoming lane doesn't cross the line. That's a good thing.

But the moment with the chemical salesmen was not the interstate. It was just a piece of masking tape on the floor in a hotel meeting room. No game was being played. No rules had been set. There was absolutely nothing to lose by stepping over it.

Wherever I go in corporate America, I see this same phenomenon playing out in a thousand different ways -- less visible, perhaps, than my moment with the chemical salesmen, but just as limiting.

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What are we so afraid of? What line are we afraid of stepping over? What imagined consequences paralyze us at the threshold and prevent us from moving forward?

One of the reasons why innovation is inert in so many organizations is because masses of intelligent, innately creative people are interpreting tape on the floor as lines that cannot be crossed. We are fabricating boundaries where none exist. We are drawing lines in space -- lines that separate, isolate, and marginalize. Lines between us and our customers. Lines between the past and the present. Lines between what's possible and what's not.

The bottom line?

All obstacles are no more than 20 foot lengths of masking tape on the floor. Whether you put them there or someone else puts them there, they have no power other than the power you attribute to them. If the lines are no longer useful, remove them. If you try to remove them and you are besieged by a raging hoard of anxious people trying to convince you to stop, it may be time to move on. Find another company with less lines. Or start your own.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

On an 8 X 11 piece of paper, napkin, wall, or extended stretch of sandy beach, make two columns: Column #1: "20 Foot Pieces of Masking Tape I Haven't Yet Stepped Over" and Column #2: "What I Will Do This Month to Step Over Them."

If, having done so, you still aren't inspired to step over the line, contemplate the following quotes from some of my favorite steppers over lines.

"Don't be afraid to take a big step. You can't cross a chasm in two small jumps." -- David Lloyd George

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it." -- Goethe

"Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." -- Helen Keller

"It's not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It's because we dare not venture that they are difficult." -- Seneca

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go." -- T.S. Eliot

This story is excerpted from my forthcoming book, WISDOM AT WORK: How Moments of Truth on the Job Reveal the Real Business of Life. If you are a publisher or know of a publisher who would resonate with this kind of material, email info@ideachampions.com.

Excerpted from this book
Another one from the book
Idea Champions
Step over the line
Step over the line with some aspiring innovators
Help others step over the line

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:24 AM | Comments (0)

May 18, 2018
It's Never Too Late to Tell Your True Stories -- Even at 93

Fantastic! Love this! Tom Sitter, 93, recalling a moment in Catholic school on Valentine's Day. Funny. Authentic. Memorable. Tom is a natural!

Big shout out to Val Vadeonboncoeur for the heads up


MitchDitkoff.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:36 PM | Comments (0)

May 04, 2018
Why Are Stories Imporant for Children?

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Here's why
And also for adults
MitchDitkoff.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:40 PM | Comments (0)

May 03, 2018
The Origins of Harry Potter

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I have a question for you: Do you know who once said the following statement? "By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew." Any guesses?

Those were the words of J.K. Rowling -- the woman who authored the Harry Potter series of books which have now been translated into 73 languages and have earned more than $20 billion dollars in book sales, movies rights, and sponsorships.

She's rich and famous now, but success did not come easy. It took her her many years to become successful.

Soon after she conceived the idea for Harry Potter, she began writing, but was immediately pulled away from her work by the death of her mother -- an event that triggered a deep depression in her -- a phenomenon which made it impossible for her to write. Hoping to dig herself out of her depression, she took a job teaching English in Portugal for a year -- where she hoped to finish her book.

Good idea. But the outcomes weren't exactly like she planned. Not only did she fail making any progress on her book, she ended up in a failed marriage and now had to raise her baby daughter by herself. When she returned to England a year later, she had nothing. No job. No place to live. No book. All she had, beside her young daughter, was two things: some meager unemployment benefits and a huge desire to write. Which is exactly what she did whenever her daughter was asleep. In her kitchen. In cafes. Anyplace where she could sit down and put pen to paper.

When Rowling finished the first three chapters of her book, she sent them off to a publisher. They rejected it. Then she sent her manuscript to another publisher. They also rejected it.

After sending her manuscript to 12 different publishers and getting rejected every time, Rowling began losing confidence. Finally, the editor at Bloomsbury Publishing sat down to read what she'd sent, along with his 8 year-old daughter. The little girl loved the opening chapters so much she begged her father to read the whole thing. Indeed, it was the child's enthusiasm that convinced the editor to publish Harry Potter. But even though he did, he was not exactly encouraging: "Get a day job," he told Rowling, "because you will never make any money writing children's books."

Interesting advice, given the fact that J.K. Rowling is now the first female to become a billionaire author.

Here's the bottom line: J.K. Rowling went from being a jobless single mother living off unemployment benefits to one of the best selling authors of all time. But her success did not happen overnight. She worked hard at her craft, over a long period of time, and was rejected again and again before anyone noticed her.

You may not be trying to become a billionaire, but on some level, you are trying to succeed. Just like J.K Rowling, life isn't always easy for you. Making a living isn't always easy. Finding your way in the world isn't easy. Nor is it easy raising a family or moving or starting a business or writing your book.

Each one of us face challenges. Sometimes, it feels like no matter how much effort we make it will never come out the way we want it to. But it can. And, if we stay with it, it will.

Whatever hopes or dreams you have, I invite you to keep them alive. Whatever effort is needed, I invite you to make it. Whatever rejections come your way, I invite you to keep pressing on.

Other famous book rejections
Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling at Work

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:58 PM | Comments (0)

April 29, 2018
On Being Visited by an Angel

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Full disclosure: I have never been a person who believed in angels. Angels, to me, were merely poetic metaphors, the etheric embodiments of hard-to-describe feelings that some religiously-inclined people experienced when betwixt and between -- some kind of fairy tale mix of loneliness, love, and longing for something beyond what their own two eyes could see. Hovering somewhere between God and the Easter Bunny, angels struck me as nothing more than projections, the astral version of what imaginative children have been inventing for centuries -- "invisible friends."


This all changed for me one unforgettable night in 1974.

I was 27, two years into my first marriage, and all was not right with the world, at least not with my world. To most outside observers, my marriage looked just fine. We were a good-looking couple, had wonderful friends, great jobs in a children's hospital, and the same inspiring spiritual master. We grew lettuce, tomatoes, and watermelons in our garden, but at the same time, we were growing further apart. The honeymoon was over, replaced by a strange brew of second thoughts, boredom, and judgment.

My response to the situation, honed from many past lives as a monk? "Go within," a phrase I now understand was nothing more than my own DaVinci code for denial. My wife's response? Bake more bread. This gave us the appearance of us having a home life -- poor compensation for my not-so-subtle disappearing act.

Having a child, we thought, would fill the hole. And so we tried. But she had cysts on her ovaries and were told it was not in the cards. So we settled into a childless marriage, skirting the edges of our life, and throwing ourselves into our work.

When she called me from LA at the end of a two-week business trip, I could tell by the sound of her voice that everything was just about to change. And so it did. She was having an affair with another man -- someone who truly loved her, she explained, and was extending her trip for another three months.

"What? An affair? But what about us?" I managed to say -- the kind of lines a Hollywood script doctor might read, poolside, and rewrite, ordering a second martini. But she had made up her mind. And that was that. When I put down the phone, I was in shock. Stunned. Numb. Paralyzed. I couldn't move.

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From that moment on, life started getting very strange for me. I'd stare at a wedding picture of the two of us on a wall and it would fall off. I'd have clairvoyant dreams of her lover. But even stranger, I'd find myself crying, in the middle of the day, in my car, for no apparent reason. Simply put, I was falling apart -- a sad, lonely, guilty, depressed, embarrassed, disoriented young man too ashamed and self-loathing to share his private agony with even his best friend.

And so it continued for another three months.

And then, quite suddenly, on the night of the full moon in November, at the end of my ever-shortening rope, I decided to put an end to the madness. I picked up my meditation cushion, my meditation blanket, and a flashlight, exited my apartment, and walked into the forest that bordered my house. There, in a small clearing, I sat down, wrapped my blanket around my shoulders, closed my eyes, and started to meditate. My intention? To sit there, for however long it took, until I was free of the pain.

I'm sure if someone, walking their dog, had passed by, it must have looked like a scene from Siddhartha, but on the inside it was a very different story. On the inside, a war was raging. And the battlefield was littered with the wounded, the dead, and at least a few deserters pretending to be dead so they wouldn't have to die. I just sat there. On that cushion. In the cold, experiencing, for the entire time, not even a second of peace. Nothing but a mind on fire. But I kept sitting. I had to. I had no other choice. There was nowhere else to go. There was nothing else to do. This was it. It had all come down this. Either let go or lose my life. Those were my choices.

And then, with absolutely no warning, no drum roll from beyond, my mind completely stopped. It. Stopped. Just. Like. That. The battle was over. The war ended. I wasn't just sitting in the clearing. I was the clearing. The pain that had ruled me those past few months had completely fallen away. The fever broke. If I had been a snake, my old skin would have fallen off. I, for the first time in what seemed like forever, was free. And so, I simply stood, walked back to my apartment, and went to bed. It was the first good night's sleep I'd had in months.

A few hours later, the phone ringing woke me up. My wife. "Mitchell," she began. "I feel horrible. I am so sorry for what I've done. I want to come home. Will you take me back? Will you forgive me?"

This is not at all what I wanted to hear. Less than six hours into my new life as a free man and now I was being asked to forgive her? Really? Just like that? On the phone? In my pajamas? After I had finally surrendered everything to begin my new life? A long silence followed. And a longer silence after that.

"Yes," I heard myself saying. "Yes, I forgive you. Just get your flight times together and I'll pick you up at the airport."

Three days passed. I drove to the airport. I waited at the end of a long, tiled hallway. I scanned the faces of the many strangers getting off the plane. And then I saw her. She wore something new, a blue dress, and seemed to be happy. I wore something old and wasn't. We hugged, but nobody was home -- two actors in a low-budget movie, the director shaking his head. The ride home? Icy cold, our nervous small talk a desperate attempt to fill the growing silence.

I don't remember what we had for dinner that night. I don't remember her unpacking. All I remember is getting into bed, my only desire to sleep. I laid my head on the pillow and closed my eyes. And then, I don't know why, I opened my eyes and standing in the middle of the room, I saw a radiant being of light -- a glowing, translucent being of light, wings the color of moonlight folded into her sides. She just stood there looking at me. That was it. Just looking at me. And, I had never, in all my life, ever felt so cared for, so calm, and so sheltered from the storm.

"Oh, my God, I see an angel!" And, without a second thought, I fell immediately asleep.

In the morning, when I awoke, thoughts of the angel filled my head. Did this really happen to me? Did I really see an angel? Or was it only a dream? I turned to the woman, still my wife, and asked: "Did I... say something... last night... before I fell asleep?"

"Yes," you said, 'Oh my God I see an angel.'"

The next day, looking for some much-needed inspiration, we made our way to a nearby bookstore -- the spiritual kind. She went left and I went right, feeling totally guided, with no specific goal in mind. I walked to the back of the store, stopped, and looked up. I was standing in front of a section of books devoted entirely to angels. Taking a long, slow breath, I extended my hand and let it rest on the first book it touched. I pulled it out. It was a book by Rudolf Steiner with a very memorable name: On Angels. I opened it randomly and began to read -- a simple explanation of how everyone on planet Earth has a guardian angel, sometimes more than one, and that guardian angels make their appearance to human beings during times of great emotional turmoil for one purpose and one purpose only -- to bring comfort, love, and protection. The time of day these angels make their appearance? The last few seconds before sleep or the first few seconds upon waking -- the times when our analytical, rational mind is most at rest and a kind of portal opens to another realm.

I just stood there, book in hand, shaking, tears of joy streaming down my face.

FOR YOUR REFLECTION: I have told this story to very few people in my life. Ruled by the assumption that I couldn't find the words and, even if I could, my words would only pervert the sacredness of my experience. So I chose to remain silent. But that time has passed. I realize now, as I move closer to the other side myself, that it is not only my duty to report what I have seen, but my great pleasure.

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To any reader of mine who thinks that what I saw was self-invented, let me say this -- what I saw that night, in my room, was as real as you are, if not more real. Indeed, if I saw you today and told someone later that I saw you, it is doubtful they would question my seeing you. How had I known it was you I was seeing and not my mind playing tricks? Good question, one we rarely ask. But with the sighting of an angel, questions rule the day. Doubts creep in. But to the person who has seen the angel, nothing is subject to doubt and nothing needs explaining.

Simply put, there's a time in all of our lives when something pierces the veil and we see the unseen. We become witnesses to the beyond. And so, I will leave you with this: Angels exist. I have seen one. One of them visited me in my bedroom at my time of greatest need. It said nothing. It did nothing. It just radiated the presence of love in a way that changed the way I experience life. I received the kind of love that made everything, now and forever, absolutely beautiful, meaningful, sacred, and whole.

What beyond human forces of love have made an appearance in your life? What hard-to-describe moment of divine intervention has touched you in some way? And is there anyone in your life who might benefit from hearing your story?

Excerpted from Storytelling for the Revolution
Art: Asandra Lamb

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:32 PM | Comments (1)

April 08, 2018
The Fence to Nowhere

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"Good fences make good neighbors," wrote the poet, Robert Frost, 63 years ago -- a now iconic poetic meme that looks at both sides of the human condition from two very different perspectives. Yes, it's true -- fences do make good neighbors. But not always. Sometimes, fences do other things -- like make good catalysts to help people understand the distinctions between selfless service, non-attachment, and idiocy.

The year? 1977. The place? Kissimmee, Florida. The occasion? A week-long, outdoor festival of spiritual seekers wanting to experience love. And I was one of them, having traveled 32 hours from Colorado for the chance to listen, learn, and be of service -- my chance to "give back" in response to the extraordinary gift I had been given six years earlier by the man whom all of us had traveled such long distances to see.

And so, when I arrived, after setting up my tent, I plopped myself down in the "service pool" and waited to be assigned to whatever project that needed to be done that day.

I sat there for an hour, doing my best to meditate, and staying open to the feeling that whatever was coming my way was going to be perfect. Though I was still relatively new to the so-called spiritual path, I understood that selfless service was a big piece of the puzzle. And though I had lots of skills to offer, I knew that, somehow, someway, whatever project I would be assigned to that day was going to be the perfect gig for me.

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A few minutes later, someone with an air of authority, points in my direction, beckons me forward, and explains that I am now part of the fence building crew

"Hmmm... fence building," I think to myself, "not one of my strengths" -- my most successful construction project, up to that time, being a letter holder I made for my mother in 7th grade.

The walk across the festival grounds to meet the fence building coordinator was delightful. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. And I waved at lots of smiling people. When I arrived, the man in charge was all business -- focused, earnest, and glad to see one more able-bodied member of his crew.

To my left, I noticed a pile of fence posts -- a pile, that even I could tell, was not nearly enough to extend across the massive field we were supposed to build a fence across.

While my "coordinator" scurried about, giving each newly arriving volunteer their instructions, I keep staring at the pile of fence posts. True, I was not a carpenter. And true, I had never built a fence across a field in Florida, but only an idiot could possibly believe there were enough fence posts on that pile for us to accomplish the goal.

Ah... my first existential question of the day -- what to do with my profound insight? What do I say? One option I had, of course, was to say nothing -- to simply go with the flow and be a good soldier. Another option was to exit stage right and return to the service pool -- hoping to be assigned to a different project with a better chance of success.

That's when I remembered a single bit of advice I heard my teacher say just a few years before -- that if I ever saw anyone about to step into a hole and said nothing, it was MY fault, not theirs. Bingo! My task was suddenly clear. All I had to do was approach the earnest, young fence-building coordinator and inform him, that based on my calculations, we were all about to step into a very big hole -- that, simply put, there weren't enough fence posts to build a fence across the field. Case closed.

My input, shall we say, was not well-received. With a blank expression on his face, the earnest, young, fence-building coordinator handed me a post-hole digger and gave me my marching orders for the day.

I paused. The moment of truth was now upon me. Do I begin working on a project I knew, from the outset, was doomed? Or do I just let go, trust the process, and see what happens. Besides, I thought to myself, there was always a chance that I didn't have ALL the information I needed to make a wise choice. Maybe a new supply of fence posts was going to be delivered later that day. Or maybe another crew of fence builders, from the opposite side of the field, were going to meet us half way. Or maybe, just maybe, my fence post calculations were seriously flawed.

And so I began.

It felt good to be digging holes in the ground. Good to sweat. Good to let go of the self-talk in my head. But even as I grunted and groaned, in the back of my mind, I knew that our chances of success were highly questionable.

The project went on for three days. From morning to night. In good weather and bad. Six of us dug. Six of us carried. Six of us stuck fence posts in the ground. No new fence posts arrived. No extra crew of fence builders magically appeared to meet us half way. The field did not get any smaller.

On the third day, when we ran out of materials, the six of us -- dirty, sweaty, and exhausted, simply stepped back and stared at the fence. As I predicted, it extended only halfway across the field, a kind of Andy Goldsworthy installation -- a bit of performance art that would have made a Zen master chuckle.

Two hours later, when the festival officially began, I witnessed hundreds of people, approaching from a distance. The fence had absolutely no effect on them. They noticed, of course, that they were approaching what appeared to be a fence, but since it only extended halfway into the field, they simply walked around it. It kept no one out. It kept no one in. It served absolutely no function at all. Except for me, that is -- a function that had something to do with what it really means to serve... what it really means to enjoy the experience of service... and what it really means to let go of all attachment to results.

TimelessToday
MitchDitkoff.com
If you like this one, here's another

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:47 PM | Comments (0)

January 30, 2018
THE SPRICE OF FREEDOM: A Journey from Darkness to Light

_E2A1195.JPG "When you are going through hell, keep going." -- Winston Churchill

Sprice Drury is a woman who had it all -- a loving husband, a fabulous home, two horses, three acres, four dogs, a $350,000 year income, and the kind of fascinating work that allowed her to travel the world producing TV shows and documentaries. She was, in many ways, the poster child for success.

There was no indication, in 2012, that all of this was about to change -- a perfect storm of unexpected events that would not only turn her life upside down, but challenge every assumption she had about who she was and what life was all about.

It began with the decline of her husband's health, an illness eventually diagnosed as colon cancer. No one saw it coming. Not long after that, Ray lost his job. Then Sprice lost her job. Then, one-by-one, each of her dogs died. Four of them. With no health insurance, her husband returned to Australia, his native country, for treatment -- a turn of events that left Sprice alone in their 5,000 square foot house to manage the process of selling their high end possessions to pay the ever-mounting bills.

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First went Sprice's convertible. Then the tractor. Then the piano. Then her diamond wedding ring. But no matter how many possessions Sprice sold, it was never enough. The bills were just too much to keep up with. And the horses had to be fed.

At one point, the only thing to eat in the house were a few saltines and butter. A home that had once been alive with parties, people, and the finest of foods, was now empty and barren of life.

Bankruptcy court followed, as did several failed attempts to restructure her home loan -- a process that revealed the loan was fraudulent. More legal bills poured in. More time in court. More mind-numbing paperwork and the omnipresent threat of foreclosure. In the end, nothing in Sprice's power was enough to turn things around and the house was sold, in the middle of the night, on an online auction. Soon after that, Ray passed away from unexpected complications in surgery.

Not surprisingly, Sprice's own health soon began to decline. The cause? A hard-to-treat parasite she had picked up on one of her many global business trips.

Get the picture? Non-stop disappointment. Non-stop anxiety. And non-stop loss of everything that mattered to her -- a veritable dark night of the soul that most of us only read about, but never experience. Where once Sprice's husband and dogs were her daily companions, now it was only worry, fear, and hopelessness.

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Some people, when they encounter this level of stress turn to alcohol or drugs. Some give in to despair, depression, and despondency. Others, consumed with grief, end up taking their own lives.

Sprice Drury chose another path. Somehow, throughout it all, she found a way -- her way. It's not like she saw the proverbial light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. She didn't. For Sprice, the tunnel had long since been sold to pay the bills. In her darkest hours, there was no tunnel. And the light? Flickering far off in the distance and barely visible within.

And yet, this woman who lost it all, much like the phoenix, rose from the ashes. Stumbling her way forward, she found a way to not only get back on her feet, but fly.

As her long time teacher, Prem Rawat, once told her, "There is nothing wrong with falling down. Everybody falls down. The key is to pick something up when you're down there."

What follows is a short list of what Sprice picked up when she was down there -- ten life-changing lessons she learned along the way that may be of value to you the next time you find yourself over your head, under water, or otherwise stressed to the max.

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1. ACKNOWLEDGE WHAT'S HAPPENING: The first response most people have when caught off guard by unexpected troubles is denial. "This can't be happening to me," they think to themselves. "Not me. Not now." But while denial may temporarily protect us from feelings of inadequacy and the fear of being judged by others, it also prevents us from taking the steps we need to take in order to resolve our situation. Sprice, like the rest of humanity, went through her denial stage, especially early on, but then she went beyond it, acknowledging her situation and the need to act.

2. ASK FOR HELP: Shocked by the massive down turn of events in her life, Sprice's first instinct was to grin and bear it -- keeping most of her troubles to herself. Indeed, in the beginning of her saga, only a few friends and family knew what she was going through. And because most of them didn't, help was not as forthcoming as it could have been. In time, however, she asked for the help she needed and soon it started showing up -- emotional, psychological, physical, financial, and spiritual help.

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If you find yourself going through tough times, know that you don't need to go through them alone. While your concept of strength may be "toughing it out," often the most powerful expression of strength is to ask for help. Whose help do you need to ask for today? About what? A friend? A neighbor? A member of your family?

3. MANAGE YOUR MINDSET: Antoine St. Exupery, the author of The Little Prince, once said, "A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a person contemplates it with the image of a cathedral in mind." In other words, our experience of the challenges before us are often a function of our mindset. Sprice's initial mindset in response to the challenges before her was, understandably, an unholy cocktail of sadness, anxiety, fear, doubt, and confusion -- not exactly the kind of mindset that leads to successful outcomes. In time, exhausted by her struggles, Sprice made the decision to "see the rock pile with the image of a cathedral in mind." All around her house, she posted positive messages for herself -- one word reminders on the refrigerator, walls, mirrors. and anywhere else she might look. The message? BELIEVE! One word. That was it -- one word to contemplate several times a day to quicken the process of shifting her mindset for the better. Music also enabled her to manage her mindset and moods -- especially this song.
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4. ENVISION THE FUTURE YOU WANT: While Sprice's BELIEVE notes began to shift the way she thought about her future, her effort didn't end there. She also created vision boards throughout her house -- maps of better days ahead, complete with bold images of what it was she was trying to create. While Sprice's default condition may have been one of sadness, confusion, and grief, her vision boards spoke to her higher angels and the power of creating a new kind of future instead of obsessing about the past.

5. MAKE BEST USE OF YOUR AVAILABLE RESOURCES: Until the time when everything went South for Sprice, her most valuable possession had been her home -- a 5,000 square foot mansion that had been used for just one main purpose: to provide shelter for her, her husband, and their dogs. But now, with her husband and dogs gone, she needed to reconsider what "home" really meant and how it might provide for her needs in other ways.

That's when she got the idea to begin Fun in the Country, a dog boarding business that ended up providing shelter for 250 pooches -- much-needed companionship for her and a steady income.

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Yes, turning her home into a sanctuary for dogs, was a good start. But what about the owners of those dogs and others seeking shelter? That's when Sprice extended her boarding business to include people and thus began a thriving AirBnB business. Her third venture, a newly launched gourmet coffee business, fit right in. Both her Airbnb guests and the "doggie moms" ending up buying her coffee and tea -- a total win/win.

6. LET GO OF OLD ASSUMPTIONS: After years of a lifestyle that provided almost anything she wanted, Sprice's assumption was a simple one: All of her creature comforts would be provided for. And while this may have been true for a while, it wasn't a carved-in-stone reality. And because it wasn't, Sprice needed to take a fresh look at what her assumptions actually were -- the stakes in the ground she had planted before the ground beneath her feet collapsed. What are your biggest assumptions about your life? Which ones are likely to be toughest ones to let go of?

7. START A NEW PROJECT: Though not a physicist by profession, Sprice's ability to press through her challenges was very much related to Newton's First Law of Physics: "An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion." Translation? Get in gear! Get moving. Start something new -- especially if you find yourself becoming inert. Which is exactly what Sprice did. She started what turned out to become a very successful dog boarding business. She created an AirBnB business. And she began an International Distributorship of a Gourmet Coffee and Tea business. What inspiring, new project might you begin to help you create some positive momentum?

8. PUSH THROUGH THE PAIN: Though Sprice has never given birth to a child, she understood, like most mothers, what it took to "push through pain." Sprice's dark night of the soul, metaphorically speaking, was a way of giving birth to herself -- an act of courage that required a whole lot of pushing through pain. She didn't ask for a Caesarian. She didn't ask for drugs. She didn't give up. She just continued opening up and pushing through the obstacles before her until she gave birth to a whole new life for herself.

9. PAY IT FORWARD: Humbled by her trials and tribulations and newly attuned to a kind suffering she had never experienced before, Sprice began paying it forward even when her own finances were shaky. To begin with, she gave $2,000 to two young women who were supportive during her unexpected hardships. She also gave $1,000 to a local family who needed help after the Atlanta hurricane. Then she loaned money to a friend who had just lost her job. Inspired by a woman who had rescued an abandoned dog, Sprice donated her dog beds, dog toys, and dog crate. And, today, she continues looking for opportunities to lend a hand to anyone who may be experiencing the kind of stresses she endured. What can you do to pay it forward? Who, in need of help, might you support?

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10. LOOK INSIDE AND FIND YOURSELF: Yes, there were resources, on the outside, that Sprice tapped into during her tough times: the good will of friends, the love of her family, inspirational quotes, heart-opening music, and the ever-present BELIEVE signs she posted around her house. But in the end, it was her commitment to look within and connect to the source of peace inside herself that made all difference. This became her home, one that could never be foreclosed or dispossessed. When everything on the outside is going to hell in a hand basket, where do you go for solace and support? Where is your true home?

FOR YOUR REFLECTION: If you find yourself going through tough times, these days, what can you learn from Sprice's journey? Which of her ten insights can you apply to your life? And what can you do, today, to press through the pain and take a step into a bold new future for yourself?

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NOTE: Sprice's story is one of 22 "tough times" stories told by courageous, tenacious women in the newly published book: You Have No Idea: The Hell I've Been Through. Available for purchase online. A Spring and Summer Book Launch tour is in the process of being finalized and will include Dallas, New York City, Miami, and Indianapolis.

SPECIAL THANKS to the following friends and family of Sprice who provided loving support during her tough times: Ed and Andrea Trotta, Jim and Joan Levin, David and Debbie Sinensky, Evan Gusar, Ashley Alterman, Donald Beohner and Laurie Gordon. And a big shout out to two ladies who provided skillful and timely coaching: Sherry D. Fields and Irene Bettler.

TO CONTACT SPRICE:
-- spricedrury@mac.com
-- Instagram
-- Facebook
-- LinkedIn
-- Twitter
-- AllAboutYouGlobal (coaching)
-- The Gourmet Coffee business
-- Fun in the Country (dog boarding)

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:19 PM | Comments (0)

January 19, 2018
A Father and Daughter Story

From StoryCorp
A story about my daughter, Mimi

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:31 PM | Comments (0)

October 27, 2017
In Praise of My Mother-In-Law

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Years ago, as a poetry graduate student at Brown University, there were lots of things I dreamed about writing. My future French mother-in-law, at 90, was not one of them. But, in time, everything changes. Here are eight vignettes about Henriette Pouget (and her dear, departed husband, Jean, who I never had the pleasure of meeting), published today in the Huffington Post.

My book of stories
My website

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:29 PM | Comments (0)

October 17, 2017
Holding On to What You Believe

Years ago, before terrorism, shoe bombs, and 9/11, my father and mother were on their way back home from a vacation in the Carribbean. When my father checked in at the airport, tanned and rested, the ticket agent informed him that the flight was "overbooked" and he would have to be re-ticketed and put on a later plane, along with my mom.

This, shall we say, did not sit well with him. After all, he has a confirmed ticket in his pocket and NEEDED TO GET BACK TO WORK. The ticket agent, following airline protocols, repeated the party line, explaining ever-so-politely that Mr. and Mrs. Ditkoff would need to be re-ticketed, which she would be happy to do. Not the response my father was looking for. Not even close.

So he went to the gate, found an exit door and, along with my mom, made their way onto the runway. Once there, he made a beeline for the portable stairway that other passengers on his flight were boarding. Then, he moved to the front of the line, grabbed both handrails and blocked everyone's entrance. Whatever flight attendants tried to do to appease him did not work. He simply grabbed on harder and stood his ground, my mother, somewhat embarrassed, standing off to the side. He would not budge, not an inch, his verbal commentary as tenacious as his two grips on the hand rails.

"No one gets on this plane unless we do." he barked. "No one."

And no one did. He just stood there, holding on, taking a massive stand for his rights. PS: Somehow, the flight attendants found two seats for the tanned and rested Barney and Sylvia Ditkoff. Ah... the good old days.

MitchDitkoff.com
My book on storytelling

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:21 PM | Comments (1)

September 06, 2017
An Unforgettable Evening with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

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I am Jewish. My parents were Jewish. My grandparents were Jewish and all their parents and grandparents were Jewish. My father's father's name was "Abraham". His brother's name was "Moses". I was circumcised, went to Hebrew School, was bar mitzvahed, and ate more than my share of bagels, lox, gefilte fish, and matzoh balls. Like any good Jew, I celebrated the High Holidays.

Wait... hold on a minute... I don't think "celebrate" is actually the right word. Make that "endure" -- me, as a young boy, being far more devoted to baseball and playing with my dog than fiddling around with that silky, red prayer book marker separating one section of indecipherable Old Testament text from another. My Rabbi, the very forthright, wise, benevolent, Rabbi Alvin D. Rubin, always seemed, at least from my adolescent point of view, to be wondering if he had, somehow, lifetimes ago, taken a wrong turn out of the Sinai desert, finding himself, as he was, these days, shepherding a flock of polyester-wearing suburbanites way more interested in their golf game than the unpronounceable name of God.

These were my roots -- not the grey roots my canasta-playing mother religiously turned blond the day before each family visit to the temple -- but roots, nonetheless. The hand I was dealt. My karma. The surreal, slightly salty smorgasbord of my not-yet-enlightened life.

Please don't get me wrong. I am not complaining. My introduction to Judaism was not a bad experience. On the contrary, it was good -- full of warmth, comfort, and the safety that comes from hanging out with "one's own kind". But the older I got, the more it dawned on me that it wasn't religion I was looking for, but whatever it was it was that inspired religion to come into being in the first place -- not the Ten Commandments, but the feeling of amazement that preceded them being inscribed on stone tablets.

And so, on the day I went off to college, I decided to take a break from Judaism. Though I still found the word Deuteronomy quite intriguing and knew, in my heart of hearts, I would miss the rugala after each irregularly attended Sabbath service, it was time for new adventures.

Fast forward seven semesters to my senior year of college.

As I crossed the threshold into my parent's house for Christmas vacation (notice I didn't mention "Hannukah"), my mother greeted me with three words I will never forget: "THE RABBI CALLED" -- a phrase that could only mean one thing: I had done something terribly wrong.

30101549_132804189340.jpg "He wants to see you," she continued. "Tomorrow morning."

While not quite a burning bush moment, I was definitely feeling the heat, as the echoes of my mother's words fanned out into the vast suburban horizon: "The Rabbi wants to see you... The Rabbi wants to see you... The Rabbi wants to see you".

Though I hadn't been to Temple in five years, I still remembered where it was and made my way there, dutifully, the next morning. Nervous? Yes. But more than that, curious.

The Rabbi was sitting behind his desk, smiling. Behind him were shelves of many books.

"Mitchell", he began. "Welcome. I'm going to cut right to the chase. We've been following your progress for years and... well... you see... there is shortage of Reform Rabbis and I want you to seriously consider entering the Rabbinate."

"Deer in the headlights" could not begin to describe the feeling I was having. More like "wildebeest at sunrise".

The rest of our conversation was a blur -- me half Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate and half Lenny Bruce on speed. The Rabbi mentioned something about me not having to pay taxes on my future house and I mentioned something about a motorcycle.

Later that night, my father, whose belief in God seemed be escalating exponentially the closer I got to losing my Vietnam-phobic college deferment, wanted to talk.

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"How'd it go?" he asked. "What did the Rabbi have to say?"

"Umm..." I replied, stalling for time. "It was... interesting. The Rabbi wants me to become a Rabbi."

"That's great," my father blurted. "You'll make a great Rabbi."

"But Dad," I protested. "I don't believe in God."

My father looked up.

"That's really not important," he said. "You like PEOPLE, right? You like to READ, right? You'll make a great Rabbi."

"Dad... I don't think that's how this stuff works."

Five years passed. I went to Graduate School (in poetry, not medicine). I married a Shiksa (not a Jew). I took LSD (not the law boards). And I, blissfully, became the student of a 13-year old Guru from India. My parent's response? A kind of dark night of the upper middle class Jewish soul punctuated with words like "tsuris", "mishuggahah", and a ton of other Yiddish words they used whenever they didn't want my sister and I to know what they were talking about -- which was often.

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But then a funny thing happened. The plot twisted. My good friend, Steven Ornstein -- also Jewish and also a student of the same young, Indian Guru -- invited me to an "Evening with Shlomo Carlebach", a Jewish Rabbi, who was one of the leading lights of the "Baal Teshuva movement" -- a movement I knew nothing about -- one that was apparently designed to attract secular Jewish youth back into the fold. Shlomo, Steven assured me, was the real deal -- not your run of the mill Rabbi, but a true "keeper of the Jewish flame..."

So I went. What else was I going to do? Eat a salami sandwich?

The first few minutes of Shlomo's presentation are unremarkable. What I see is a disheveled man with a beard and a guitar mumbling a few words of introduction to a very conservative audience wearing their well-pressed Sabbath clothes. First he starts strumming. Then he starts singing. Then he starts smiling as if the Red Sea is about to part.

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"OK, fine," I say to myself. "We're in for a Yiddish Hootenanny with a non-traditional Rabbi just back from Israel. Cool".

But the next thing I know, Shlomo is jumping up and down. Not just a little. A lot. This is not shtick. This is not some Borscht Belt Vegas act. This is a man plugged in, on fire, and all of us can feel the heat.

With each deeply moving song he sings, Shlomo gets more animated, more out there, but the "out there" he gets isn't out there at all. It's IN THERE. Something is going on inside this man and we can all feel it. His own private Idaho? His own promised land? It's hard to tell, but what isn't hard to tell is how much he's enjoying himself and, even more than that, how much he wants the rest of us to join in.

It's clear now, that Reb Shlomo Carlebach, wide-eyed, soulful leader of the still forming Jewish renewal movement, is polarizing the room. Half of the congregation is with him. The other half is squirming in their seats, planning their escape. But Shlomo doesn't seem to mind. Like some kind of crazed bar mitzvah band leader in an alternative universe, he makes a few gestures and gets everyone standing, holding hands, and moving in unison up on stage and then down again -- a curious mix of hora and suburban conga line.

I have never seen anything like this before in a temple. Never. We aren't praying, we are PLAYING -- and the play is sparking the experience that prayer is supposed to take us to. Freedom. Joy. And gratitude. The last time I had been on a stage in a temple I was reciting my Haft Torah -- 14 lines I had painstakingly memorized for months so I could "become a man". Now it's all improv. Nothing is rehearsed. Nothing is memorized. Nothing is at stake. The only thing happening is joy.

Shlomo walks to the ark, takes out the Torah, and hands it to a smiling, young man who immediately starts dancing with it. Dancing with the Torah! Yes! Yet another phenomenon I have never witnessed before.

"My Holy Brother", he calls to the young man to my left. "My Holy Brother", it is so good BE with you. "My Holy Sister", he intones to the woman to my right. "Do you know what a blessing you are on this Earth"?

And the amazing thing? Just by saying these words it becomes instantly true. Whoever he hugs, whoever he directs his spontaneous declarations of love to suddenly FEELS holy, suddenly FEELS blessed, suddenly FEELS totally alive -- touched as they've been by the kind of "Lo, I say unto you" energy that has the power to instantly turn words into reality.

And then, with no absolutely warning, he turns to me. "Oh my Holy Brother", he exclaims, tapping his mic three times, "go find the Rabbi and tell him I need more power! Go!"

Man on a mission, I descend the stage and begin my search for the Rabbi. It doesn't take long. I find him in the kitchen, with his wife, rapidly putting on his overcoat. Very rapidly. If this was the Wild West, the Rabbi is, most definitely in his "get out of Dodge" mode.

"Rabbi", I ask, with as much respect as I can muster. "Shlomo needs more power".

The Rabbi says nothing. He just stands there, looking at me, shaking his head. The next thing I know, he is out the door, his wife trailing behind.

I return to the main room. "Shlomo!" I exclaim, "the Rabbi has left the building. He wasn't willing to give you any more power".

"Fine, my Holy Brother", he says. "I have my own power!"

And with that, he unplugs the mic and begins singing even louder than before, his jumping up and down some kind of unhinged call to prayer to anyone in the general vicinity.

Five minutes pass. Many people leave. Those of us who stay are all on stage now, spinning in circles, laughing, singing, arms outstretched, or simply gazing into a distance that is becoming increasingly closer.

"Shlomo!" calls a bearded young man in front of me, his shirt untucked. "Let's take this to my apartment! I live only two miles away".

And so, in a few minutes, the evening's caravan of love continues out the door, into cars, down a road, up some stairs, and into a book-lined, dimly lit abode of a local Hassid now kvelling, beyond belief, that Shlomo -- Reb Shlomo Carlebach -- charismatic, rule-breaking, wide-eyed leader of the still forming Jewish renewal movement, not having slept in God knows how long, is going to be holding forth (and fifth and sixth, no doubt) in just a few minutes, without a break and without a single complaint -- a motley crew of Hassids, hippies, and holy fools by his side.

Standing next to my Holy Brother, Steven, in the middle of what no one has a name for, I have no clue what the protocols are -- or if any exist... or if it matters... or why I am even thinking at all. Shlomo certainly isn't. He is just taking his seat, the one he is offered, surveying the room and sensing, once again, that this -- this HOLY MOMENT -- is the perfect time for a STORY. And so he begins.

I remember nothing of the story he told that night, not the plot, not the setting, not the characters. All I remember is the feeling -- the feeling of wonder, the feeling of awe, the feeling of being absolutely in the right place at the right time and being so utterly glad to be alive.

And when he is done (which, by the way, is something he never is), a great laughter fills the room, followed by a flood of Talmudic references I have no clue about, and the voice of someone, from the back, calling out, "That reminds me of a story".

And so another one begins... and then another.. and then another, waves of spoken love and wisdom bubbling up from a buoyant ocean we are all swimming in.

But even ecstatic Rabbis get tired, and Shlomo certainly is, his nodding no longer a sign of his unabashed appreciation of life, but a prelude to sleep, which is precisely when Steven and I, trusting our instincts, approach and ask if he would like a ride back to his hotel.

Wired as this man was to the experience that everything is coming to him directly from God, he nods, stands and, as he exits the room with us by his side, embraces as many people as he can get his hands on, saying something kind to everyone -- then continues with us, out the door, to the street below.

Thirty minutes later, we are in his hotel room, Shlomo making a beeline to a small bag of tangerines he had just brought back from Tel Aviv.

"These, my Holy Brothers, are sweet. You must have one. You must."

And with that, he begins peeling -- one for Steven and one for me.

The three of us, now sitting on his rumpled bed, are enacting a Jewish ritual that transcends space and time -- noshing. Sweet. The tangerines are sweet.

Then Steven speaks.

"Reb Shlomo," he begins. "A few years ago, my friend Mitchell and I, met a young Indian Master and received a very powerful inner experience called Knowledge. We are wondering if this experience is referred to in any of the Jewish holy books".

Shlomo's ears perk up, his eyebrows arch -- a signal to Steven to elaborate.

"Oh yes, YES!" Shlomo says, "absolutely", quoting from the Talmud, Kaballah, and God knows how many other sacred texts.

Steven and I keep looking at each other. We cannot believe our good fortune. I mean, here we are, completely out of the blue, having a private audience with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, wise man, sage, holy fool, storyteller supreme -- when we notice that the room has become suddenly quiet. Curious, we both glance at Shlomo. He is asleep, fast asleep, sprawled out sideways on the bed like some kind of beached Biblical whale, snoring lightly, shoes still on.

Steven, on a roll, leans closer and whispers into Shlomo's ear the news that his good friend, Mitchell, was going to be getting married in three weeks.

Shlomo, from a deep sleep, sits bolt upright and looks right through me. "I'll perform the ceremony," he says. "Me! I'll marry you!"

If I had been Saul on a horse, I would have been knocked off by now, but I wasn't. It was just me, sitting on a bed with Shlomo and Steven in a mid-priced, mid-town Boston hotel room, 5,504 miles from Jerusalem.

"Um... Shlomo," I say. "We already have a Rabbi".

Shlomo's eyes open wider. "Is he straight?"

"Well... a lot straighter than you, Shlomo."

And with that, Shlomo smiles, closes his eyes, falls back, and goes to sleep. Steven and I stand, turn out the lights, and continue on our way.

Holy Brother: a book of Shlomo's stories
Some of my stories
TimelessToday

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:13 AM | Comments (2)

August 11, 2017
Moses, Jesus, Jonah, and Me on The Toledo On-Ramp

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The spiritual literature of Planet Earth is full of stories that track the trials and tribulations of earnest souls on the path to God. Like Jonah in the belly of the whale. Like Moses in the desert. Like Jesus on the Cross. Every culture has their own, just like they have their own creation myths and favorite cheese. Indeed, the heroes and heroines of these soul-shaping stories have, in time, become a kind of code for the hard-to-describe qualities that define what it means to be an evolving human being -- the kind of stories we tell our kids whenever we want to impress on them something timeless and profound.

Good. We need stories. We need memorable examples of what's possible. What we don't need, however, is the assumption that the stories which have made it to the scriptures are the only ones worth telling. They're not. Each of us, in our own curious way, has had similar experiences -- modern-day versions of the archetypal challenges that try men's and women's souls. Like the time, for example, as a hitchhiker, I stood on the on ramp to I-70, in Toledo, Ohio, for ten hours, without a ride -- just the hot sun overhead and the creeping sense that God, if there WAS a God, didn't really like me all that much.

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What I didn't understand at the time was that there was a very divine choreography going on -- one that transcended my pinhole view of life, myself, and the universe.

The day started off quite innocently enough, in Montreal -- 1,729 miles from where I lived, me listening, along with 3,000 other people, to Prem Rawat speak about his message of peace. It was a good day, a very good day, a day that filled me with joy and gratitude. After a good night's sleep in a modestly priced hotel, I began the long journey home, hitchhiking back to Colorado, with my good friend, Danny.

Three minutes was all it took for us to get our first ride. We simply stuck out our thumbs and entered a green Toyota, a pleasant young salesman behind the wheel. He shook our hands. He talked about his work. He gave us each a tuna on rye. Badadoom. Badabing. There WAS a God! Five hundred and sixty nine miles later, just outside of Toledo, our paths parted and our first ride of the day bid us a fond adieu.

The on ramp to the interstate was, shall I say, rather unexceptional. No movie was going to be made there that day, no marriage proposals made. Just two young, God-intoxicated men with their thumbs out, trying to get home before their money ran out.

One hour passed. Then another. Then another after that. Not a single car stopped or even slowed down. Many other hitchhikers came and went. But not us. We just stood there. If this was a junior high school dance, we were the fat girls with braces.

"Yo, Danny," I blurted, you know what this reminds me of?"

"No, what?" Danny said.

"Siddhartha."

"Herman Hesse's Siddartha?" he responded.

"Yes! Herman Hesse's Siddhartha."

"Really?" Danny replied. "And why is that?"

"Because," I replied, "Siddhartha once said that there were three things he had learned, in life, that had saved his butt. First, he could fast. Second, he could wait. And, third, he could meditate. So today, my good friend, we get to practice 1/3 of Siddhartha's yoga -- WAITING. How cool is that?"

Another hour passed. Then another. Then another after that. If you are counting, dear reader, we are now in our sixth hour without a ride on the Toledo on ramp. Six.

One thing was becoming clear: Whatever Danny and I were doing wasn't working. So we decided it was time to experiment. First, Danny stood and I sat. Then I stood and Danny sat. Then we made a sign with "Denver or Bust" on it. Then we pretended to pray. Then Danny hoisted me up on his shoulders. Then I hoisted him on mine. Nothing worked.

If this was a coming-of-age movie, all our efforts would have seemed quite funny, especially the way the Director would have speeded up the film to give a kind of Charlie Chaplin-esque quality to it. But this wasn't a coming of age movie. There was no Director, no film crew, no catering tent. There was nothing except the two of us and the mid-afternoon sun shimmering off of the burning concrete, making everything seem vaguely like a mirage.

While Danny continued fixing his gaze on the oncoming cars, I found myself looking up at the sky and talking to myself. Was I being punished? Had I done something wrong in a previous lifetime? Was there some kind of lesson I needed to learn?

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Shooting a glance at Danny, it suddenly dawned on me that HE was probably the reason why we weren't getting a ride. In fact, the more I looked at Danny, the clearer it became that there... was... something... very off about him. While I couldn't quite put my finger on it, there was something about my so-called friend that was quite troubling...weird... strange.

"Danny," I said. "It's just not happening, bro. Let's check into a motel and get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow is another day."

And so we did. And so it was. Thursday, October 4th was definitely another day. Fueled by bad motel muffins and even worse coffee, we made our way to the now very familiar I-70 on ramp and took our positions, thumbs pointing West.

Nobody stopped. Nobody slowed down. Nobody.

"I wonder if this is what Moses was feeling in the desert," I began thinking to myself. True, our missions were different -- him trying to get to the promised land, me trying to get to Denver.. and yet.. might it be not true that our inner experiences weren't all that different -- our demons, our doubts, our dreams?

It was just about this time, that Danny and I realized that it probably wasn't such a good idea for the two of us to be hitching together anymore -- that the sight of two young men standing by the side of the road, might just seem a bit threatening to oncoming motorists. Like maybe... we had... just escaped from a maximum security prison and were just about to steal their car.

So we split up.

Ten minutes later a car stops and Danny gets in, waving goodbye, with a shit-eating grin on his face. I wave back, newly certain my luck was just about to change. It didn't I just stood there, now a solo act. My feet hurt. My head hurt. My eyes hurt. This wasn't funny anymore. OK? "Look, here's the deal, God, or whatever name you are going by these days. I NEED A RIDE BACK HOME! DO YOU HEAR ME? I NEED A RIDE. Is that too much to ask? Is it?"

And then? Like some kind of astral Clint Eastwood emerging from a dream, I see a car slow down and stop. Lo, I say unto you, the car stops. The.. car.. stops. It stops. As in not moving anywhere. Stops. Seven feet away from me. Or maybe eight. A late model Chevy it is and, behind the wheel, a very attractive young woman. She is smiling, beckoning me to enter, pointing to the empty seat next to her.

She extends her hand and tells me her name is Lisa and, just like that, we are off. She offers me some water. She turns the music up. We talk. Fifteen minutes later, I see Danny standing by the side of the road. "STOP!" I blurt. "That's Danny. That's my friend. Danny. Stop!"

Danny gets it and gives me a high five. We ask her where she's going.

"Driving west," she says, "looking for love."

That's our cue. Having just spent two days listening to the most inspiring human being we had ever encountered, Danny and I let it rip, regaling her with all kinds of stories of the man we had traveled cross-country to see. His message. What drew us to him in the first place. And how we felt in his presence.

Entranced, Lisa asks us to keep on talking. We do. Then she asks us where we're going.

"Denver, Colorado," we say.

"Great," she replies."I'll take you there."

And so she does. Right to our front doors. 23 hours and 1,269 miles later.

By the time we got home, we had told her just about every story we knew about love, the purpose of life, and the teacher, back in Montreal, we had just seen. Lisa stayed in Denver for a month or so. There, she read everything she could find about the man we had told her about for 23 hours. There, she watched every video of him she could get a hold of. At the end of the month, she decided to become his student and receive the gift he called "Knowledge," her long journey West, looking for love, fulfilled.

COMMENTARY:

Back in the the 15th century, it was Copernicus, the savvy Polish astronomer and mathematician, who first disavowed humanity of its long-held belief that the Earth was the center of the universe, replacing it, instead, with the sun.

Copernicus, a man after whom very few children are named, somehow knew that his fellow human being's construct of reality was seriously flawed -- that the center of things was not our planet, but the star around which our planet revolved. And while many of us post-Copernican homo sapiens have long ago come to agree with him that the Earth is not the center of creation, we have not always understood the psychological correlative of that construct -- that our so-called "selves" are not the center of the universe either -- and that we, in fact are not always the stars of our own movies.

What I experienced, standing on that Toledo on ramp for ten hours many years ago, was a direct result of the way in which I had positioned myself in space and time -- me the center of my self-invented universe. The attachment to my desire to get back home in a time I had conceived of as "reasonable" was the belly of the whale that swallowed me whole.

The more my need to get back home was thwarted by unresponsive motorists, the more I morphed from a deeply spiritual being to "Oh, Lord, why hast thou forsaken me." My thoughts and feelings all took shape in response to the way in which I had constructed reality. Producer and Director of my own movie, I now had all the proof I needed to cast God as the boogeyman, Danny as a loser, and my own rapidly dissolving self as a victim of some kind of strange karma. What I didn't realize at the time was that even though I had had cast myself as the star of my own movie, I was also the extra in someone else's -- and that someone else -- Lisa, had a story line that was way more compelling than mine.

Her need to "find love" and, ultimately her spiritual Master, was the major plot of the story I had found myself in. My need to get back to Denver was only a sub-plot. Not once during my dark night of the soul on that Toledo on ramp did it ever dawn on me that the so-called reason why no one had picked us up was due to the fact that there was a woman, 10 hours away in Philadelphia, who was just beginning her journey West towards love. The choreography was perfect, even if it took her 10 hours to get across the stage to the precise location where we, the other actors, stood staring at the sky, waiting for our cue.

Time? You think you have it but, actually, it has you. On any given day none of us have the slightest clue about how long anything will take. Just because you have a goal, desire, or agenda doesn't necessarily mean it's going to happen. And the absence of it happening doesn't necessarily mean there is something wrong with you, that you're the victim of karma or need to more diligently visualize the outcomes you want. Life is a play. You are in it. Sometimes you're hero. Sometimes you're the extra. Your choice? To enjoy the ride or not. Even if the ride doesn't come.

FOOD FOR BEYOND THOUGHT: What project of yours is taking longer than you imagined it would take? What lessons or learnings might be in it for you?

Excerpted from Storytelling for the Revolution

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A related story about time

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August 02, 2017
MONIKA'S STORY: Just One of the 140 Million Orphans in the World

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This is Monika. She is six-years old. Soon after Nepal's devasating earthquake in 2015, she was found, abandoned and alone, wandering from tent to tent, village to village, begging for food. That's when the Himalayan Children's Charities first heard about her and that's when Monika's life took a major turn for the better. Read the full story here in the Huffington Post by the author of this blog.

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July 16, 2017
French Camembert

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As the story goes, camembert was originally created in 1791 by Marie Harel, a dairy farmer from Normandy upon receiving some advice from a Catholic priest from Brie. It's unique smell has been variably described as funky, earthly, mushroom-like, foul, stinky, nauseating, and the secret project of a chemical company.

Camembert, one of France's most popular cheeses, is made from unpasteurized milk and is rich in chemicals like ammonia, sodium chloride, and succinic acid. It is rated, by a leading food blog, as the second stinkiest cheese in the world, just behind Pont l'Evesque. Even when it's wrapped in its fashionable French box and the box is contained within an unfashionable plastic container in the refrigerator, it still stinks to high heaven.

If you've never tried it, here's all you need to know: Camembert is to American Cheese as Lady Gaga is to Marie Osmond. Got it, mon ami?

Camembert, in France, is something of a cult. It isn't just consumed, it's worshiped -- talked about, I would say, a whole lot more than Jesus. That is, IF the past two weeks of me visiting my French relatives is any indication.

In America, where I come from, cheese is something to slap on a hamburger or serve to guests before a meal so they don't get cranky. In France, cheese is served after the meal. It is not a snack. It is not an appetizer. Mon dieu! Au contraire! It is a complete and total course unto itself -- a highly purposeful serving of seriously shopped-for food that is served between the meal and the dessert.

As an occasional visitor to France, what I find most astounding about camembert is not its royalty status in the French cheese world, but its capacity to bridge the inter-generational gap.

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Put three generations of French people around the dinner table -- all with very different tastes in music, fashion, technology, and politics -- and, with the presence of camembert on the table, you will soon begin to experience a fascinating phenomenon. As people get their first whiff of the round, soft, runny, buttery, glowing wheel of divinity, all other conversations cease. Where only seconds before people were arguing about the economy, the weather, or Donald Trump, now a kind of harmonic resonance can be palpably felt. All eyes are on the cheese. All conversations are about the cheese. Deeply felt reflections on past cheese experiences fill the room.

Bottom line, the camembert has become the sun around which all the rest of us revolve. The aches and pains of my 90-year old mother-in-law? Whether to pick up the phone each of the 35 times she calls every day? Poof! Dissolved in thin air! Fini!

Only camembert remains.

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Seven more stories from this series here

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July 15, 2017
She Doesn't Leave Her House All That Much Anymore

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She doesn't leave her house much any more. Sometimes, yes, but not very often. Sunday is her big day out. That's when Joelle, her youngest, now a grandmother herself, picks her up at 5:00 and brings her home -- just a 3-minute drive in a small, white car Henriette used to enter and exit with less difficulty, her right leg needing now a bit more time before the passenger door can close.

Everyone in the family is always happy to see her, taking turns kissing her cheeks and easing the short distance to her favorite couch where she sits and lets out a sound only the French can translate. She is happy to be here -- the table being set in the next room, the flurry of activity in the kitchen, her three great-grandchildren fighting over a toy on the floor just a few feet away.

Other days, her balcony is as far as she gets. There, in her freshly ironed skirt and blouse, she stands behind the flower boxes and simply observes. The roses by the front gate have opened wider since yesterday. The neighbor, two houses down, has a shiny new car. The mailman walks across the street. It is good here on her balcony. Very good. It's flat and she can hold on to the handrail. And while, indeed, sometimes the handrail is wet from last night's rain, Henriette doesn't seem to mind, her petunias no longer needing to be watered.

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No one knows how long she stands there on her balcony, what with everyone else's coming and going. And nobody needs to know. It's enough they wave and call her name. It's enough they bring her chocolate and quiche and sit in her living room to talk. Not every day, mind you. That would be too much. No. Just enough to restore her faith in God.

Most of Henriette's neighbors have known her for 20 years. Some have known her for 30. They all still have the colorful hats and scarves she knitted for them back in the day -- the ones they do their best to wear in late autumn when the weather turns cold.

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July 13, 2017
Written Watercolors from France

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For the past two weeks I've been living in France with my wife, Evelyne, helping to care for my 90-year old mother-in-law. It has been a very moving journey -- so much so, that an entire new dimension of storytelling has emerged for me. "Written watercolors," I like to think of them, sketches of the timeless human spirit as the body starts to age. Each of the stories will take you less three minutes to read, but the feeling contained within I hope will stay with you forever.

The Sign

The Table
Waving Goodbye to Henriette
My Mother-in-Law's Basement
The Phone in France
Jean's Wine Cellar
She Doesn't Leave Her House All That Much Anymore
French Camembert

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The Table

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This is the cement table, my wife's father, Jean Pouget, built with his own two hands, 40 years ago in the French countryside -- a place for him to sit and sip aperitifs after work. Sometimes he sipped alone, sometimes with his wife, Henriette, now my 90-year old mother-in-law. The base and top were made from a mold and so were the sections of the small patio on which it rests, now all at odd angles to each other, like neighbors who no longer speak. The mosaic tiles, on top, are not exactly where he placed them, the grout having long ago come undone, so many storms having come and gone. Henriette, dear sweet Henriette, is no longer able to make her way down from the front porch to the table. She's not walking as well as she used to and she doesn't want to fall. So the tiles just sit there, sharp pieces of a puzzle no one puts together. Time has moved on... and so has Jean -- a man I have never met, but feel him, today, sitting next to me, like a rock, the last few rays of light finding their way through the tree tops where the two of abide.

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My Dad Loved Plaid

This just in from a long-time friend of mine, Cathy Deutsch:

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My father was a garmento. He worked on 36th Street in the very heart of the garment industry for over 40 years and had a passionate love of plaid. His name was Stan and all who knew him called him "Dapper Stan". He wore plaid shirts almost every day. Not flannel, as he was no lumberjack, but crisp beautiful shirts from the menswear department at Macy's which was just up the street from his office.

Every day or so he would come home from work with a Macy's bag with yet another plaid shirt. When I was a little girl of maybe 9 or 10 I remember going school-clothes shopping at A & S with both my parents. I fell in love with a plaid jumper. When I came out of the fitting room, all excited, he inspected the seams.

"The plaids don't match up", he said and wouldn't let me buy the dress. He felt quality at any price was important and taught me to look for small details.

He never set foot in Barneys or Bergdorfs, but boy did he have style! When he was a young man, he had his suits made in Chinatown because they got the pleats on the pants just right and he had all my mother's clothing, for special occasions, custom-made at one of his showrooms.

Sadly, my father passed 15 years ago. We honored his love of plaid by laying him to rest in his very favorite plaid shirt and khaki trousers. I miss him, terribly, every day and always feel him over my shoulder looking at seams and details when I do my buying. If he were still with us today, I would treat him to a Burberry. He would have loved it -- after inspecting the seams, of course!

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July 09, 2017
The Phone in France

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The phone in Evelyne's sister's house, in France, rings 25 times a day at least, the calls always from the same person, Henriette, her mother, who lives less than a mile away, alone. They begin around 9:30 in the morning.

If we don't answer, the phone rings again three minutes later, but not for as long. Perhaps, Henriette thinks, she dialed the wrong number the first time and if she dials again, she will find us home. Our strategy for responding to her is not all that clear. If we answer each call, that will, it seem, only enable Henriette and she will call again in 30 minutes or less, having nothing again to say, but wanting to hear a voice on the other end. Does she need anything? No. Does she have any updates for us? No. Does she want us to pick something up at the store? No. She just wants to hear a familiar voice -- a break from a day of game shows on her flat screen TV.

If we don't answer, which is sometimes our plan, Henriette ends up feeling ignored, which is never a good thing, but sometimes we are simply not at home. Joelle and Evelyne tell Henriette, firmly, there is no need for her to call so often. They tell her that they love her and will stop by later in the afternoon, but this rarely does any good. Henriette likes to dial the phone. It is one of the things she still knows how to do, having stopped crocheting and crossword puzzles three years ago.

I think about the ninth call or the 15th of the day when Evelyne and I just look at each other, not quite sure what to do. Sometimes we take a step or two towards the phone, then stop, letting it ring. Sometimes we don't even get up from the couch. Sometimes we pick up the phone immediately, even though we agreed earlier in the morning that we would not do that.

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Unspoken Word
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TimelessToday

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MY MOTHER-IN-LAW'S BASEMENT

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Henriette Pouget, my 90-year old French mother-in-law, who lives alone in a house with nothing out of place, is no longer able to navigate stairs on her own.

Though she's been to Germany, Luxembourg, Martinique, and America, her basement is now out of bounds. Neither of her two daughters will allow it. They are very firm about that. The key to the door is still in the lock, but she has not turned it in years. Touched it? Maybe. But turned it? No. So when it was time to retrieve the shovel for today's planting of purple flowers on her front lawn, it was my turn. Slowly, I opened the door and began my descent.

The first room I entered was at least 10 degrees cooler than the ones upstairs, a nice surprise on this brutally hot day here in the north of France. "Climate change" the neighbors like to say. "Mon dieu!"

It is small, this room, but not too small, kind of like a 3-table jazz club only the locals know about. In the corner is a bar, built on weekends and nights, by Jean, Henriette's long-deceased husband -- a project, I am told, that was very important to him -- his chance to make something special away from the noise of the factory floor where he worked the day shift, building Citroens, for 32 years. Many half-filled bottles line the shelves above the bar: rum, Nolly Ambre, Gran Marnier, a St. Raphael rouge, some Scotch, Pernod. I can see Jean pouring a round of drinks for his favorite neighbors on a Saturday night, much laughter filling the room, Henriette with a tray of something in her hands.

On the wall, across the way, are framed pictures of classic cars: a red 1936 Bugatti, a white 1928 Excalibur, a blue 1927 Rolls Royce and three others. In the far corner, F. Scott Fitzgerald and a few of his writer friends are knocking back cocktails and practicing their French. They like Jean. He's a good man. And though he didn't have all that much to say to his wife and two daughters, his words, when he spoke, stood guard for years, like the tiny tin soldiers no one ever gave him as a child.

Behind a door, to the right, is a guest room -- or used to be -- the place where Henriette's sisters, once a year or so, would stay. On the wall? Two framed photos. One is Evelyne, my wife, at six months old, with a blond mohawk before it became all the rage. The other, directly over the bed, is a black and white of Evelyne and her brother, Gille, Henriette's first born before he died, at nine, of some kind of rare blood disease the doctors couldn't quite explain. He is five in the picture. Evelyne is three. She is kissing him on the cheek, her eyes closed. He is smiling.

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July 08, 2017
Waving Goodbye to Henriette

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Evelyne and I have been visiting her mother, Henriette, twice a day for the past week or so. Our visits are short and sweet. We sit in her living room and, after she turns off the French game shows on TV, we talk. Well, actually, Evelyne talks. My grasp of French, not unlike my grasp of trigonometry, is only "un petit peu". So Evelyne translates for me, when it's my turn, which is actually kind of cool, because it makes our conversations with Henriette a bit longer.

We ask her how she's doing. We ask her if she needs anything. We show her the photos we took of her, on the couch, yesterday. And we banter, the French way. "Badinage" it's called and Henriette is very good at it -- the playful way French people make fun of each other -- yet another way of staying young, I suppose.

I write "Je Taime" on a few pieces of scrap paper and leave them in various places around the house, so later that day Henriette will be reminded of how much she is loved. She asks me if I want some water, her need to serve, even at 90, still so very strong. She gets up slowly from the couch, steadies herself for a brief moment, and walks to the kitchen -- or should I say "waddles" -- a new kind of side-to-side movement that keeps her from falling. The water she brings me is perfectly chilled and served in a beautiful glass.

The first few days Evelyne and I said goodbye to her after one of our visits we simply drove off in the direction our car was facing -- which was away from Henriette's house. She did not like this at all. Her preference, she explained, was for us to turn the car around and drive past her house so she could stand on her balcony and wave -- and we could wave back. This is what we do now. Waving goodbye to Henriette, as she stands behind her purple and white petunias, happens twice a day here in the little town of Courcelles-Chaussy.

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July 02, 2017
The Sign

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The small sign under my mother-in-law's front door bell in France says "J. Pouget." "J" is the first initial of her long-gone husband's first name, "Jean" -- a kind man who died 34 years ago after a lifetime of working in a Citroen factory and dreaming of the time he would one day retire. The two of them met, as young children, during the war, in a Catholic orphanage, where Henriette lived -- or tried to live -- for 12 long years. Jean, I learned, today, would travel, once a month, by train, from his orphanage more than two hours away, to visit his sisters -- girls who had become Henriette's best friends.

Her mother died in childbirth -- not Henriette's, but her sister's. Suddenly widowed and now completely overwhelmed, her father, a conductor for the local railroad, decided to take his six daughters to the local orphanage and leave them there -- a not uncommon act, in Europe, during the second World War. Henriette was six at the time.

Once a day, her father would eat lunch there, the orphanage being conveniently located on his train route. That's when Henriette and her five sisters would press their noses up against the glass and watch their father eat. When he was done, often late for work, he would meet them in the lobby, allowed only five minutes for a hug, dig deep into his black satchel and secretly give a handful of candies to the eldest for her to distribute to the little ones at the end of a long tiled hallway where the nuns couldn't see. There, the girls would rip the wrappers off and eat their candy quickly, dreaming of the time their father would next return.

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June 14, 2017
The Afghani Cab Driver and the $250M Dollar Salty Snack Food

The story in the Huffington Post
13 of my video stories on GlowDec
Podcast, interviews, and storytelling links
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May 30, 2017
The Toledo On Ramp

The spiritual literature of Planet Earth is full of stories that track the trials and tribulations of earnest souls on the path of God. Like Jonah in the belly of the whale, for example. And Moses in the desert. And Jesus on the Cross. Every culture has their own, just like they have their own creation myths. Indeed, the heroes and heroines of these soul-shaping stories have, in time, become a kind of code for the hard-to-describe qualities that define what it means to be a highly resilient human being.

Good. We need stories. We need memorable examples of what's possible.

What we don't, need, however is the assumption that the stories that have made it to the scriptures are the only ones worth remembering. They're not. Each of us, in our own way, has had similar experiences -- modern-day versions of the archetypal challenges that stretch a human being to the point of breaking. Like the time, as a cross-country hitchhiker in Toledo, Ohio, I stood on the on ramp to I-70 for ten hours without a ride. No matter what I did or didn't do, no matter how much I prayed, meditated, or surrendered, where I stood, how I stood, or what sudden deals I made with God, no one would pick me up. No one...

To be continued... excerpted from my forthcoming book, Storytelling for the Revolution.

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March 21, 2017
The Very Unexpected Journey

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Yesterday was a very off-the-grid day for me. It began as most of my days do here in San Miguel. I slept until I wasn't tired. I meditated. Then I checked my email. Upon noticing the internet was down, I got the keys to my out-of-town neighbor's apartment, let myself in, booted up my Mac, and logged onto a webinar I very much wanted to attend.

So far, so good. The sun was shining. Donald Trump was not yet President. And to my left, wrapped in silver foil, I saw something that looked like gum, so I opened it up and, seeing that it wasn't gum, but a small bar of chocolate, broke off two pieces and wolfed them down.

The webinar -- all about the phenomenon of "collective narrative" -- was surprisingly captivating -- so instead of playing the role of passive webinar participant, I decided to accept the moderator's invitation to enter comments in the chat box. "The world is an illusion, but you have to act as if it's real," I wrote, quoting Krishna.

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The webinar presenter, savvy business consultant, Peter Block, seemed almost Zen Master-like in his demeanor. Deep. Sagacious. And astoundingly precise. The more I listened, the more inspired I got, almost as if I was on the receiving end of some kind of cosmic transmission -- what spiritually-minded people would call "shakti".

Wow. This webinar was definitely impacting me. Fascinated with what I was learning and feeling a sudden need to stretch, I entered into a series of standing yoga positions that looked nothing like the ones in the books I'd bought, but never read.

Webinar over, I began packing up my stuff, but the process of packing seemed to be taking a very long time.

"Hmmm", I thought to myself. "Maybe it had something to do with me trying to process all of the cool wisdom about story that had just been shared with me."

Possible? Sure, why not? Who knows how the mind works and how it affects the body. Yes, I was moving more slowly than usual. And yes, I was feeling light-headed, but hey, I was living in a mountain town 6,000 feet above sea level! The air was thin and I, most surely, was not getting my usual dose of oxygen. Strange. I was feeling strange. Not bad strange, mind you. Good strange. Fun strange -- the kind of strange where nothing mattered and everything mattered both at the same time.

Home now, I entered the kitchen and began talking to Evelyne, my dear, sweet, wife, who mentioned that I seemed to be 'in a very different place than she was.'

"Are you OK?" she asked, a look of concern in her eyes.

"OK?" I responded. "I am more than OK." "I am divine."

Yes, I was talking. That I was sure of. But my syntax and pacing were odd -- almost as if I was translating a Dead Sea Scroll in a language I didn't quite understand.

Feeling a need to lie down, I found my way to the bedroom, turned on some music, and flopped down on the bed when all of a sudden it dawned on me that my light-headedness had nothing to do with the thin mountain air, and must have been health-related -- that I was likely experiencing the slow motion onset of a heart attack -- you know, what happens to men my age who haven't had their cholesterol checked in a while.

"Great!" I thought. "I'm going to have a heart attack in Mexico. Who knows if they'll even accept my health insurance?"

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The good news? I wasn't panicking. Not in the least. No, I was far more curious than fearful -- fascinated to discover if I had the power in me to neutralize the onsite of a heart attack through the skillful use of my mind. So I... slowed... my breathing down... way down... the kind of down I imagined cave-dwelling yogis do when they hibernate for the winter. It worked! And thirty seconds was all it took! I wasn't having a heart attack any more! I was just feeling good. Really good.

About this time, Evelyne informed me, from the kitchen, that I absolutely needed to take our neighbor's dog out for a walk and pick up the laundry three blocks away. While her request seemed poorly timed, I realized that, earlier in the day, I had promised and, being a man of my word, decided to follow through. Stuffing some pesos into my pocket, I walked downstairs, fetched the dog, and began the three block trek to my local lavandaria.

As I walked the back streets of San Miguel, it soon became obvious that my gait had a bit of a stumbling quality to it. I wasn't so much walking as meandering. Yes, technically speaking, I was moving forward, but not directly forward -- an experience I realized was not all that uncommon in beautiful San Miguel, what with the cobblestone streets and so much beauty to distract you. So I let that thought go, but then another took its place -- a now very familiar thought -- the heart attack thought -- the same one I had just minutes ago in my light-filled apartment.

Could it be? Was this really happening to me? Was I just about to die? Passing out on the street, near the intersection of Refugio and Vergel, would not be a good thing. First of all, I had no clue how to say "Excuse me, I am having a heart attack. Please take me to the nearest hospital." And secondly, I didn't want to worry Evelyne.

Clear that dying of a heart attack was not a good idea, I immediately returned to my earlier mind-over-matter practice and simply gathered my centrifugal energy. Bingo! Victory! It worked like a charm. Suddenly, I was not having heart attack. On the contrary, I was having some kind of spontaneously occurring spiritual experience -- an unexpected opening of my kundalini, I think, or my chakras, or whatever happens on the inner planes when someone becomes awakened.

Possible? For sure. Why not? Indeed, I had often read about this kind of unexpected infusion of mystical power -- much like the New Jersey housewife, years ago, who suddenly was able to channel enlightened souls from the great beyond -- or Meher Baba, one of my early teachers, whose own teacher hit him between the eyes with a small rock, causing him to wander around India for weeks, totally out of his mind.

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"God intoxicated" was the phrase used to describe him. "Ecstatic."

Might this be the state of consciousness I had unexpectedly entered into? I mean, really, I was blissed out of my tree -- in a state of pure being -- a realm I might never return from -- most likely, my new normal -- a realm of existence that was clearly going to require some integration on my part. That is, if I was ever wanted to find my socks again.

Flashing on my list of undone tasks for the day , I remembered I had a conference call coming up with a prospective client from a large corporation -- a call to explore my ideas for how I could help 1,400 of their tax auditors, in just 70 minutes, become more innovative.

As I announced this to Evelyne, upon my return, she was not, shall we say, confident I was in the right frame of mind for such a communication. Always the optimist, I assured her I was fine and proceeded to lie down on the bed to organize my thinking. Ninja-like, I started writing notes on a yellow legal pad, three pages worth -- very little of which was legible -- when I realized that the real point I wanted to make on the call was not a point at all, but a question -- perhaps, even, THE question: "What do you want to create?"

I mean, really, if a multi-billion dollar organization wanted me to have some kind impact on 1,400 of their tax auditors in just 70 minutes, it sure seemed important that I understood what outcome they were looking for. Right? So I jotted down my question, dialed the number, and proceeded to have an extremely lucid 30-minute call with two women from the financial services industry who, it seemed, were becoming increasingly intrigued with what I had to say -- so much so, in fact, that they asked me to submit a detailed proposal by the end of business day Friday.

It was 3:30 pm when the call ended. Remembering that Evelyne and I had guests coming for dinner in three hours, I began rallying my troops, some of whom most definitely had deserted. I washed some dishes. I set the table. I found my stuff and cleaned it up.

Dinner was fantastic. The conversation was inspiring. Many jokes and stories were told. And then, about 45 minutes into the meal, my downstairs neighbor, having just returned from his day trip to Queretaro and wanting to thank us for taking care of his dog, walked into the kitchen and started talking to Evelyne. I could hear loud laughter. Much loud laughter. Borderline hysterical laughter.

Then they both appeared in the dining room.

"How was the chocolate?" my neighbor asked. "Did you like it?"

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A great silence filled the room. Ahhh.... NOW I understood! The chocolate I had eaten six hours ago was not your average piece of Mexican chocolate. It was, shall we say, of the "medicinal" variety -- and the amount I had eaten was more than enough for two people. Cosmic shakti coming through my laptop? No. Slow motion heart attack? Not quite. Thin mountain air? Uh uh. Spontaneous spiritual transmission from the great beyond? Not today.

Those, of course, were all great stories -- narratives I had told myself several times today, but they were pure fiction. The real story -- the story behind the story -- was the story of how I am, just like you and all of of the other 7 billion people on planet Earth, a story-making machine, a spontaneous crafter of tales. Something happens -- a thought, a word, a deed, a moment in time -- and we do our best to make sense out of it, connecting the dots in our own curious, mood-driven way.

We perceive. We conceive. We interpret. We express. Our choice? To embrace it all. To enjoy it all. To go with the proverbial flow. And, most importantly, to realize that we are the Writer, Producer, Director, and Star of our own show.

The Wisdom Circles of San Miguel
MitchDitkoff.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:24 PM | Comments (0)

January 17, 2017
The Flower from the Sky

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Be Here Now was the Bible of the 1960's or, if not the Bible, then at least the Bhagavad Gita -- a book that bridged the gap between East and West for an entire generation of long-haired, counter culture, God-seeking souls. And I was one of them.

The author of the book, Baba Ram Dass -- the ex-Harvard psychologist and popularizer of LSD -- was fast becoming a new kind of spiritual rock star. He had just returned from his pilgrimage to India with a ton of love and something far better than the Holy Grail -- the ability to communicate the essence of Eastern wisdom in ways even suburban hippies could understand.

I read his book five times the first month I owned it. I read it twice the second month. So when I heard that he was going to be speaking just a few miles from my abode in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I bought a ticket and went.

The evening was divided into three parts: Part One was a kind of introduction -- Ram Dass holding forth in ways even your mother would enjoy. He was charming. He was inspiring. And he made a lot of sense. A hour into his discourse, Ram Dass announced that there was going to be an intermission and that if anyone REALLY needed to leave, now would be a good time. And so some did.

Part Two went deeper. Much deeper. If Part One was Spirituality 101, Part Two was graduate school, complete with astounding stories about his Guru, the blanket-wearing, Neem Karoli Baba. After an hour or so, he informed the audience there was going to be yet another break, the perfect time, he explained, for anyone to leave who had to get home for any reason. And so, another bunch of people left, leaving about half of the original audience in the hall -- the hard core -- people who weren't going to leave until Ram Dass, himself, left or hell froze over, which ever came first.

Part Three went even deeper -- a magical mystery tour into various nooks and crannies of the spiritual adventure that all of us were on, no matter what path we walked. And then, as the midnight hour approached, with a sly smile and a slow bow, Ram Dass walked to the front of stage, removed the garland of flowers that adorned his neck and, one by one, began tossing flowers into the audience -- his gesture of recycling some of the love that had been directed at him all night. Immediately, most of the audience stood up and began reaching, Ram Dass continuing to toss.

When he turned in my direction, I had a decision to make. Do I stand and join the people standing all around me, or do I simply sit, cross-legged, where I was, hands on my knees in classic mudra position, thumb and index finger joined, my other three fingers extended, palms upward to the sky?

Content as I was, free of need, I did not move. I just sat there, watching Ram Dass toss another flower. It was yellow and I could see it coming towards me -- in slow motion, it seemed, a kind of time lapse photography of my life. The closer it got, the more people reached for it, everyone wanting a memento of the evening. I continued sitting my ground. Looking up, it felt as if I was living in a giant pin ball machine, the many arms above me, all at different levels, flippers poised for action. The tallest person near me was the first to touch it, but when they closed their hand, they missed and the flower continued its descent. A second person reached... and then a third -- in a succession of seven -- each failing to catch the object of their desire. I did nothing. I just sat there, watching, both of my hands open on my knees.

And then with absolutely no effort, not a millimeter of adjustment to the falling object from the sky, the flower landed perfectly in my right hand, bright yellow petals facing upward to the sky.

Just... like.... that.

COMMENTARY:
This little story happened to me 44 years ago, but it feels like yesterday. And WHY it feels like yesterday is because the lesson I learned was a timeless one.

What kind of effort do I need to make in life? What does it take to accomplish what it is I want? For most of my life, I have made a ton of effort, standing tall, reaching for what I want. Effort, I have reasoned, is what it takes to accomplish my goals. Effort... and tenacity... and a whole lot of perseverance. Who can argue with that? Read about the lives of anyone who has ever made a difference in the world and you will discover they have made a tremendous amount of effort. Makes sense. True. I get it. But there are times when the garden variety kind of effort human beings make will not suffice -- when trying... and reaching... and grasping... actually get in the way. Ever try to catch a milkweed pod floating by you? More often than not, just the wind of your reaching will be enough to push it further away. Bold reaching doesn't always work. Nor does grasping. Sometimes, we need to let things come to us. Sometimes, we need to simply strike the pose of RECEIVING and trust the process of our life.

That's how the flower landed in my hand. And that's how the flower will land in your hand. Knowing when to sit and when to stand, of course, is something only you can decide. There is no formula, no blueprint to follow. It's a moment-by-moment act of discovery. If you are experiencing, these days, that all of your standing and reaching and grasping is leaving you empty-handed, consider another approach. Slow down. Sit still. Open your eyes and your heart and your hands and let whatever you want come to you in its own sweet time.

Be Here Now
Above story excerpted from this book

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

September 27, 2016
The Best Archer in All of China

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Once upon a time, in China, there was a young man named Wu Li, a most gifted archer -- so gifted, in fact, that by the time Wu Li was 21, he was known, far and wide, as the best archer in all of China.

One day, upon returning home from yet another tournament victory, Wu Li found himself rushing through a marketplace and bumping into an old man carrying a basket of potatoes which went flying everywhere as the old man fell to the ground with a thud.

"Old man!" shouted Wu Li, "Get out of my way! Don't you know who I am?"

The old man looked up, squinting. "Oh yes... I know who you are. You are Wu Li, second best archer -- all of China."

"Second best?" bellowed the Wu Li "Second? Surely, you humor me, grandfather. I am the best. Everyone knows there is no one in all of China who can beat me."

The old man, slowly gathering his potatoes, nodded his head. "Oh yes, you are great, my young friend. But there is... ONE... even greater than you!"

Wu Li laughed. "Surely you jest, old man. Tell me, who is this impostor you speak of? Where does he live?"

"Oh," replied the old man as if entering a temple. "His name... is Master Po. He lives many miles to the North -- high atop Mt. Chan."

"Then I will go and challenge him,' putting an end to all of this nonsense once and for all."

Pushing past the old man, Wu Li marched off into the distance

For 30 days and nights he traveled -- through wind and fire, lightning, and hail. When he arrived at the foot of the mountain, Wu Li could not believe his eyes. The mountain was sheer rock, covered with ice, and pitched at a 90 degree angle straight up to the sky.

A lesser man would have ended his journey right then and there. But not Wu Li. He climbed. And when he was done climbing, he climbed some more.

On the 8th day of his ascent, the crest of the mountain now visible through the mist, Wu Li reached over head, found a small outcrop of rock, pulled himself up, stood to his full height, and found himself looking at what appeared to be a little old man sitting under a blanket.

Wu Li opened his mouth to speak, but it was the old man who spoke. "Welcome wayfarer, I... have... been... expecting you."

Wu Li took a breath. "I AM WU LI -- best archer in all of China. I challenge you."

The old man, motionless as the mountain, smiled, bowed, then looked to the sky.

"Very well... as you are my guest, please, my friend... go first."

Wu Li grabbed an arrow from his quiver, notched it on the string of his bow, closed one eye, tilted his head, drew the string back and, with all his might, let the arrow fly.

As the arrow neared the top of its flight, Wu Li pulled a second from his quiver and shot it high, halving the first in two and, in a rapid succession of ten, continued, each arrow splitting the one before it, arrow halves landing in a perfect circle around Master Po and, upon entering the ground, made the ancient sound of Om.

"Hmm," said the Master. "Impressive, most impressive. Now, it is my turn."

Reaching behind him (where there would have been a quiver if he had a quiver), he pulled what would have been an arrow (if he had an arrow), notched what would have been a string on what would have been a bow, closed one eye, pulled slowly back, paused for what seemed like eternity, and then -- in slow motion pantomime -- let go.

Smiling ever so slightly, he turned to his challenger.

"You, my friend," explained Master Po, "have mastered the art of shooting with a bow and arrow. I, on the other hand, have mastered the art of shooting without a bow and arrow."

(Adapted from an old Zen story)

New book by Prem Rawat: Splitting the Arrow

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:09 AM | Comments (1)

August 03, 2016
The Martial Arts of the Mind

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Ten years ago I was invited to teach a course on "Innovation and Business Growth" at GE's Crotonville Management Development Center for 75 high potential, business superstars of the future. The GE executive who hired me was a very savvy guy with the unenviable task of orienting new adjunct faculty members to GE's high standards and often harsher reality.

My client's intelligence was exceeded only by his candor as he proceeded to tell me, in no uncertain terms, that GE gave "new instructors" two shots at making the grade -- explaining, with a wry smile, that most outside consultants were intimidated the first time they taught at GE and weren't necessarily at the top of their game.

I'm not sure how you say it in Esperanto, but in English what he said translates as "The heat is on, big time."

I knew I would have to raise my game if I expected to be invited back after my two-session audition was over.

And so I went about my business of getting ready, keeping in mind that I was going to be leading a 6-hour session for 75 of GE's "best and brightest" flown half way around the world -- high flying Type A personalities with a high regard for themselves and a very low threshold for anything they judged to be unworthy of their time.

I had five weeks to prepare, five weeks to get my act together, five weeks to dig in and front load my agenda with everything I needed to wow my audience: case studies, statistics, quotes, factoids, and more best practices than you could shake an iPhone at.

I was ready. Really ready. Like a rookie center fielder on designer steroids, I was ready.

Or so I thought.

The more I spoke, the less they listened. The less they listened, the more I spoke, trotting out "compelling" facts and truckloads of information to make my case as they blankly stared and checked their email under the table.

Psychologists, I believe, would characterize my approach as "compensatory behavior."

I talked faster. I talked louder. I worked harder -- attempting in various pitiful ways to pull imaginary rabbits out of imaginary hats.

Needless to say, GE's best and brightest -- for the entire 45 minutes of my opening act -- were not impressed.

Clearly, I was playing a losing game.

My attempt to out-GE the GE people was a no-win proposition. I didn't need new facts, new statistics, or new quotes. I needed a new approach -- a way to secure the attention of my audience and help them make the shift from left-brained skepticism to right-brained receptivity.

And I needed to do it five minutes, not 45.

The next few days were very uncomfortable for me, replaying in my head -- again and again -- my lame choice of an opening gambit and wondering what, in the world, I could do to get better results in much less time.

And then, like an unexpected IPO from Mars, it hit me. The martial arts!

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As a student of Aikido, I knew how amazing the martial arts were and what a great metaphor they were for life.

Fast forward a few weeks...

My second session, at Crotonville, began exactly like the first -- with the Program Director reading my bio to the group in an heroic attempt to impress everyone. They weren't.

Taking my cue, I walked to center stage, scanned the audience and uttered nine words.

"Raise your hand if you're a bold risk taker."

Not a single hand went up. Not one.

I stood my ground and surveyed the room.

"Really?" I said. "You are GE's best and brightest and not one of you is a bold risk taker? I find that hard to believe."

Ten rows back, a hand went up. Slowly. Halfway. Like a kid in a high school math class, not wanting to offend the teacher.

"Great!" I bellowed, pointing to the semi-bold risk taker. "Stand up and join me in the front of the room!"

You could cut the air with a knife.

I welcomed my assistant to the stage and asked him if had any insurance -- explaining that I had called him forth to attack me from behind and was going to demonstrate a martial arts move shown to me by my first aikido instructor, a 110-pound woman who I once saw throw a 220-pound man through a wall.

Pin drop silence.

I asked our bold risk taker to stand behind me and grab both of my wrists and instructed him to hold on tight as I attempted to get away -- an effort that yielded no results.

I casually mentioned how the scenario being played out on stage is what a typical work day has become for most of us -- lots of tension, resistance, and struggle.

With the audience completely focused on the moment, I noted a few simple principles of Aikido -- and how anyone, with the right application of energy and the right amount of practice, could change the game.

As I demonstrated the move, my "attacker" was quickly neutralized and I was no longer victim, but in total control.

In three minutes, things had shifted. Not only for me and my attacker, but for everyone in the room.

That's when I mentioned that force was not the same thing as power -- and that martial artists know how to get maximum results with a minimum of effort -- and that, indeed, INNOVATION was all about the "martial arts of the mind" -- a way to get extraordinary results in an elegant way.

PS: I was invited back 26 times to deliver the course.

THE COMMENTARY

Every day, no matter what our profession, education, or astrological sign, we are all faced with the same challenge -- how to effectively communicate our message to others.

This challenge is particularly difficult these days, given the glut of information we all must contend with. The amount of information available to us is doubling every ten years! Yearly, more than one million books are published. Daily, we are bombarded with more 6,000 advertising messages and 150 emails. As a result, most of us find ourselves in a defensive posture, protecting ourselves from the onslaught of input.

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What I've discovered in the past 25 years of working with some of the world's most powerful organizations is that if I really want to have get my message across, I've got to deliver it in a what that gets past the "guardians at the gate" -- the default condition of doubt, disengagement, and derision that comes with the territory of life in the 21st century business world.

My rite of passage at GE was a microcosm of this phenomenon.

Indeed, my presumptive effort to "win over my audience" by impressing them with data, case studies, and best practices was a losing game. Not only was I barking up the wrong tree, I was in the wrong forest.

The key to my breaking through the collective skepticism of GE's best and brightest wasn't a matter of information. It was a matter transformation.

They didn't need to analyze, they needed to engage -- and it was my job to make that easy to do. Or, as Mahatma Gandhi so deftly put it, I had to "be the change I wanted to see in the world."

I had to do something that invoked the curious, playful, and associative right brain, not the logical, linear, analytical left brain -- tricky business, indeed, especially when you consider that most business people, these days, have a very low threshold for anything they judge to be impractical

Which is why I chose the martial arts as the operational metaphor at GE, my attempt to move them from the Dow to the Tao.

Impractical? Not at all.

Bottom line, whether we know it or not, we have all entered the "experience economy" -- a time when being involved is at least as important as being informed.

Information is no longer sufficient to spark change. Data is no longer king. Thinking only takes us part of the way home. It's feeling that completes the journey -- the kind of feeling that leads to full on curiosity and the kind of engagement that opens the door to exciting new possibilities.

Which is exactly what happened at GE when I made the shift from marshaling my facts, to marshaling my energy -- and by extension, the energy of 75 of GE's best and brightest.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What message have you been trying to deliver (with too little impact) that might be communicated in a totally different way -- a way that more successfully engages people and leads to measurable results?

Excerpted from Storytelling at Work
Idea Champions
Applied Innovation
My Keynotes
It All Began With Balls
Big Blues from the Viagra People

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:14 AM | Comments (0)

April 18, 2016
The Origins of the Stop Sign

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I've been doing some fascinating research lately on the origins of common objects in our lives -- things we see daily, but often take for granted. Like the Stop Sign, for example.

Most people think the Stop Sign was created to regulate traffic. Not true. According to Dr. Ellison Burke of the Global Institute for Slowing Things Down Before You Hurt Yourself, the origin of the Stop Sign has nothing to do with traffic -- and dates back several thousand years.

Historical references to the Stop Sign have been noted in more than 27 civilizations, most notably Babylonia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Sumeria, Crete, Rome, and the Han Dynasty.

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According to social scientists, each of these civilizations experienced one or more periods of rapid growth now referred to in the literature as "Societal Acceleration Syndrome" -- the way in which daily transactions speed up in proportion to a civilization's escalating Gross National Product.

In other words, speed has become one of the most statistically predicable indicators of a civilization's development and, as I will note later in this article, eventual decline.

My research doesn't end here, however. In each of the above-mentioned civilizations, there have always been a small, but vocal group of citizens who -- concerned about the quickening pace of daily life -- have warned the masses about this dangerous phenomenon.

Indeed, a joint longitudinal study conducted by the Yukon Archeological Institute and the Asian Society for Shorter Haiku, has revealed that this "small, but highly committed group of socially responsible citizens" has made repeated efforts to diffuse their respective society's "escalating addiction to velocity."

In Sumeria, for example, a fringe group of philosophers and poets routinely posted "Styopsian" signs at strategic intersections throughout the country -- not to stop traffic, but to stop unnecessary "mind movement."

Their effort resonated with the citizenry and eventually led to the widespread appearance of what modern day sociologists now refer to as "stop signs" -- in urban centers, villages, cattle crossings, and universities.

One of the most curious facts I've unearthed in my research is this: For the past 2,000 years, Stop Signs, regardless of the country of origin, have always been octagonal.

Apparently, each side of this iconic 8-sided, cross-cultural symbol for stillness, has been imbued with a secret teaching of great import:

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1. Slow down
2. Pay attention
3. Look around
4. Pause
5. Look within
6. Breathe deeply
7. Appreciate
8. Move consciously

And so... the next time you see a Stop Sign, you may want to remember that you, no matter where you think you're going or how quickly you need to get there are, in fact, in the act of receiving one of the most timeless of teachings -- one that preceded Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, texting, and Donald Trump tweeting in the middle of the night.

Next week... the YIELD SIGN.

ED NOTE: It has recently come to my attention that some readers of this blog have questioned my research methods and the veracity of my findings. A quick Google search of "Dr. Ellison Burke" and the "Global Institute for Cross-Cultural Studies," they claim, reveals not a single link. Frankly, I am baffled by their assertions and have assigned five of my brightest research assistants to get to the bottom of the matter. In the meantime, as I put to rest the niggling, naysaying deflections of my detractors, you may want to contemplate the timeless words of modern-day social scientists, Simon and Garfunkel: "Slow down, you're moving too fast, you gotta make the morning last."

This story NOT included in this book
This story NOT included in this website
This story NOT included in this training
Stop Signs 'R Us

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:50 PM | Comments (0)

April 03, 2016
The Gift of a Brand New Shirt

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ED NOTE: This lovely story, about the generosity of a grandfather's love, was written by singer/songwriter/troubadour Marc Black.

As a boy, my father did not consider himself poor, but his family had very little. He grew up in Brooklyn with two brothers, a mother who was an English teacher and a father who was often 'away on business trips'. He was particularly fond of his grandfather, Wykoff, whom they all called Wykey. He was kind of a mythic character who had a great sense of humor and was known to be strong enough to carry a piano on his back.

One day when I was quizzing my Dad about his life in Brooklyn, he fondly remembered that he used to go to visit Wykey with his younger brother. They would carry a baseball bat and run across the 'dangerous' Italian neighborhood for the visit. Beside just enjoying seeing his grandparents, he and his brother were often treated to penny candy at the corner store.

One summer day when he was about four or five years old, they visited only to find out that it was Wykey's birthday! My Dad was mortified that he didn't have a present. But then he had an idea.

He went upstairs to his grandpa's bedroom, opened the drawer where Wykey kept his laundered white shirts -- the kind that had been returned from the laundry, stiff with cardboard and looking like new. My Dad and his brother then excused themselves, saying they had to get home, but not before my Dad took one Wykey's shirts and tucked it under his own.

Then they ran all the way home, found some wrapping paper (he wasn't too clear about where or how they found this), wrapped the shirt as a present, ran back to his grandparents' house, and proudly presented their gift of a 'brand new shirt' to their grandfather. Wykey played along 100% and graciously accepted the gift. He even bragged about how his wonderful grandsons knew his exact right shirt size.

This secret was never spoken of or revealed, but the generosity of love between a grandfather and his grandchildren was on full display.

More about Marc

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:12 AM | Comments (0)

December 06, 2015
The Joys of Self Publishing

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Ever since my new book came out 10 days ago, a bunch of aspiring authors have been asking me about the pros and cons of print-on-demand self-publishing.

If that describes YOUR interest, feel free to leave your name in the comments box below and I will forward you my soon-to-be-written story about that particular phenomenon. Many pros. Few cons.

In the meantime, just this morning, I experienced one very practical PRO in regard to self-publishing. Here it is: Since I always have a bunch of books in my house, it's quite common for friends and neighbors to buy them right off of my dining room table. Being my own retailer, you might say, has given me extra insight into the "worth" of my book.

Here's the math: The book sells for $18. The cost of printing a book is $4.00 (as long as I order more than 100). That means I earn a $14 profit for every book I sell myself. OK. Interesting. But not all THAT interesting -- that is, until I get to see how my $14 profit translates in the world.

Last night, for example, my good friend, Peter Blum, bought two books. That's a $36 expense for him and a $28 profit for me -- the cashola going straight into my wallet.

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This morning, in a particularly "home improvement" mode, I went to my local hardware store and bought two roles of "weatherstrip and caulking caulk". That cost me $10.51. Then I went to Bread Alone, my local cafe, and had a soy latte, pumpkin muffin, and Daily News. Let's call that $7.25. Freshly caffeinated, I made the short trek over to my local pet store to buy Chili, my wonder dog, a few cans of healthy dog food. So there goes another $10.25.

So there you have it -- two books sold in exchange for keeping the Northeast winter chill out of my house, treating myself to some yummies, and feeding my dog for a day and a half.

This is just ONE reason why I enjoy the print-on-demand self-publishing route. It makes the life of a writer even more down to earth -- less like an "auteur" and more like a welder.

So...if you want to contribute to my ongoing experiment of earning my living via writing, all you need to do is click this Amazon link and decide whether or not you want the old-fashioned PAPERBACK version of my book or the download-to-the-device-of-your-choice KINDLE version.

One book purchased by you equals any of the following for me: a large chunk of parmesan cheese, six gallons of gas, seven days of internet service, 70% of my last parking ticket, a delicious lunch (with cervesa) in San Miguel de Allende, 9 seconds of my kids college tuition, and 14 one-dollar donations to various panhandlers on the street.

Excerpts from the book (scroll)
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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:51 PM | Comments (0)

November 25, 2015
My New Book Now on Amazon

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Arnold Toynbee, the author of The History of Western Civilization, once said: "I sat down to write my book one summer and 27 years later it was done." I can relate. Storytelling at Work only took me four years, but sometimes it felt like 27.

Anyway, the big moment has finally arrived. My book is now available, on Amazon, in two formats: paperback and Kindle. If you believe in the power of personal storytelling to uplift, inspire, and deliver meaning that sticks, this book is for you.

And please feel free to forward the link to your friends. This is a grassroots book marketing campaign. Thanks!

Read more about it on my website

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:55 AM | Comments (0)

ABOUT THE BLOG

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

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Innovation is a team sport. Brilliant ideas go nowhere unless your people are aligned, collaborative, and team-oriented. That doesn't happen automatically, however. It takes intention, clarity, selflessness, and a new way of operating.
Awake at the Wheel, Book about big ideas If you're looking for a powerful way to jump start innovation and get your creative juices flowing, Awake at the Wheel is for you. Written by Mitch Ditkoff, Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions.
Face the Music Blues Band The world's first interactive business blues band. A great way to help your workforce go beyond complaint.

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