Years ago on one of their many trips together, my parents found a whimsical wall hanging of three ceramic tiles inscribed with these words:

If you tell life what it has to be,
you limit it.
If you let it show you what it wants to be,
it will open doors you never knew existed.

My father pointed the hanging out to my mother and said to her quietly, “That looks like Alan. That’s what he’s teaching us.”

Some months later as he presented the wall hanging to me as a gift, he told the story of finding it and recognizing me in it. He went on to say that reading those words helped him to more fully understand what my work was all about. His story alone was already a great gift to me. Today, the ceramic tiles hang in the entranceway to my office as a playful reminder of this simple truth as well as of my father’s enduring presence in my life and work.

The simple yet profound message inscribed on those ceramic tiles is indeed a fundamental concept in Transformational Presence. However, this message is not the one that most of us have been taught. How many times have you been told that you should have a clear picture of what you want, set goals to get there, design a plan to make it happen, and then be proactive in implementing your plan?

Setting goals and being proactive are not bad things! Having a sense of direction and actively moving forward in that direction are essential if you want to make a meaningful difference in the world.

However, telling life what it has to be and then doing whatever it takes to make that happen can significantly limit our possibilities. It can also lead to a lot of unnecessary pressure and stress.

Not only is there an easier way – there is also a more productive and fulfilling way that can bring results far beyond anything we could have imagined. It’s not magic or a secret formula. It’s just a different approach than what many of us have been taught. It starts with the awareness that your circumstance, situation, or project probably has something to say to you – that it has information that can be helpful to you, and that information can guide you forward.

This approach assumes from the start that there is something that “wants to happen” – that something is trying to shift or emerge. And it might be bigger than just “what you want.” Chances are, your circumstance is about more than just you.

Let’s make this really practical. Pause for a moment to consider a challenge or opportunity that is showing up in your life or work right now. Take your time, and when you are ready, continue reading. As we go on, I’ll refer to whatever you have chosen to work with as your “topic.”

Let’s begin by looking at how you are approaching your topic. At the most fundamental level, are you talking to it – telling it what you need or want and trying to make something happen? Or are you stepping back to listen, inviting your topic to talk to you?

Make no judgment about your answer. Just notice the general direction of your communication. Is the communication flowing mostly from you to your topic, or from your topic to you.

When I lead this exercise in a workshop, most participants discover right away that their habitual approach is to talk to their topic. Our culture encourages us to be in “output” mode—talking to people, circumstances, situations, challenges, or possibilities. We are conditioned to make things happen, to fix what is not working, or to get a result. For most of us, stepping back, listening, and observing have not been part of our training.

A few participants may acknowledge the great value in listening, yet they admit that the pressure or inner desire to get to an outcome quickly too often overrides their inner knowing. Even the most “enlightened” among us often acknowledge that they, too, can get caught up in trying to create a specific result. For most of us, our conditioning is really strong!

However, let’s explore further. Shift from “output” mode to “receptive” mode and let your topic “talk” to you. Don’t worry about how to do that – just assume that you know how and see what happens. Let the communication come in whatever way feels the most natural for you. You might sense or feel something, you might get visual images, or you might hear words or phrases. Or perhaps even some combination of all three. Again, take your time.

As you gather information from your topic, resist the temptation to respond by telling your topic what you want or what you think. Continue to be curious. Ask another question and give your topic time to respond. Ask your topic what it wants you to know. Ask it to show you what’s important to pay attention to right now. Let your topic show you something you haven’t yet realized – something that wants to happen or a potential that is waiting to emerge.

Once again, take your time. And notice what is shifting in your relationship to your topic and your understanding of it.

Transformational Presence begins with living in a constant dialogue with everything that is around us and within us. There is information everywhere. With practice, we can learn to listen, sense, feel, and intuit what situations and circumstances are trying to tell us or show us and respond with openness and curiosity.

When working with this concept in a recent workshop, one participant said, “Through this exercise, I’m realizing that when I take responsibility for something, I feel like I need to control what happens. Other people are counting on me. So I talk to the situation and even sometimes try to force an outcome that I think is best. Yet now I’m discovering a whole new way of being responsive. I’m understanding that I can be more effective and impactful in my responsibilities when my first response is to let the situations talk to me.”

What a powerful discovery – putting “responsive” back into “responsibility.” Our efforts to control the outcome may come out of good and honorable intentions. Yet if we don’t listen first, we can miss out on important and often valuable information or messages that are trying to break through.

Another participant shared, “Now I recognize that when I talk to the situation and take control of things, it makes me feel large and in charge and powerful. However, this is showing me that being in “receptive” mode is actually much more powerful. It’s going to take practice. I’ll have to take time to silence my old habits and become curious.”

As you invite your topic, situation, or circumstance to talk to you, the messages or answers may not always come right away or in the forms that you might expect. Often messages come as metaphors or symbols, and they may show up in unrelated conversations or events hours or even days later.

Someone may make a comment that appears to come out of nowhere, yet it has a clear meaning for you. Or you may walk past a newsstand and a headline catches your attention. Or the lyrics of a song that you haven’t thought about for a long time suddenly keep playing over and over again in your head.

Pay attention. Life is constantly giving us messages. Our job is to be open and receptive.

Being open and receptive may also require letting go of our personal agendas. We all have our own wants and needs in life. We’re human. Yet attachment to particular outcomes can keep us from noticing the important messages that are trying to come through.

As another workshop participant said, “I realize that I have to let go of my ‘conditions’ in order to be the most receptive. I have to practice constantly becoming the next more open version of myself. Now I understand more about the ‘presence’ in Transformational Presence.”

If you tell life what it has to be,
you limit it.
If you let it show you what it wants to be,
it will open doors you never knew existed.

~ ~ ~

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