Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.
– George Saunders, American writer
A theme that keeps showing up the last few weeks, regardless of where I am, is “a call to action.” It started when one of the amazing people I am privileged to serve as a coach sent me a link to George Saunders’ convocation address for the Syracuse University Class of 2013. The above quote comes from that address. Saunders challenged the class of 2013 to step into their “big selves” – to go straight to the “big questions, and avoid the things that…make you trivial.”
Then last week while on personal retreat at Chautauqua, New York, I saw the first screening of Daniel Karslake’s soon-to-be-released documentary film, Every Three Seconds. Dan is a long-time member of the Transformational Presence community and we have featured his work in our newsletters. The title of his latest film refers to the fact that every three seconds someone in our world dies from the effects of extreme poverty. Dan brilliantly weaves together the stories of five very ordinary people, ranging in age from 7 years old to more than 70, who went straight to the big questions and are doing extraordinary things all over the world to address hunger and poverty. It’s a film that gently, yet fiercely, gets hold of you and won’t let go. It definitely bypasses the trivial and goes straight to the big questions.
Each week during the Chautauqua summer season there is a lecture theme. The theme for the week that I was there was “Health Care: Reform and Innovation.” The speakers were all leaders in various areas of the health care industry. There were hospital CEOs and administrators, insurance representatives, leaders of major health care provider systems, leaders from the Institute of Medicine, and health journalists. Many of them called on our sense of humanity and compassion to recognize our oneness as a human family, and to make choices and decisions that support the lives of all people, not just a chosen few. They focused on the big questions of how to actually improve all areas of our health care system, from quality of care to costs, instead of being paralyzed by ideologies that too often are based on political power plays or focused on protecting profits over people. They called us beyond the petty and into the potential waiting to unfold.
This week we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, during which Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. 250,000 people came on buses, cars, planes, and trains from across America to focus on the biggest question of the day: equal rights for all people, regardless of race or skin color. There was great fear that the day would erupt into violence and bloodshed. Instead, 250,000 people – black and white together – stayed focused on freedom, equality, justice, integrity, and respect. They laughed and cried together, shared food, sang songs, and were inspired by the words of many of the movers and shakers of the time. There have been many moving accounts of the day in the news media over the last few days. One that especially touched me was “Witnesses to History, 50 Years Later,” in the August 23, 2013 edition of the New York Times.
All of these things bring me back to George Saunders’ words:
That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been…Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place…Share its fruits tirelessly.
In our education systems, in our companies, in our families, in our societies, we don’t often do a very good job of calling forth and supporting the true, authentic, pure luminous parts of each other. We are not always good at recognizing and acknowledging the unique gifts, and sometimes unconventional brilliance, of others – especially when the “others” show up in the world differently than the “norm.” In nearly every country that I work, people tell me about how they were taught to conform – “don’t stand out, don’t shine too brightly, don’t be too good at something – just be enough, no more – just fit in.” We are cautioned against becoming self-centered or thinking too highly of ourselves. Conformity continues to be encouraged and reinforced, when what we really need is authentic and honest individuality, creativity, brilliance, and a commitment to making a difference in service of something larger than ourselves.
When we bypass the trivial and go straight to the big questions, there is no time for self-centeredness. We end up doing things we didn’t know we could do. We find out that moving into action in service of “a world that works” brings tremendous personal joy and fulfillment. When we let our luminous selves shine brightly in service of something bigger than ourselves, we often forget that the trivial and petty even exist. We no longer give energy to anything except what can truly move us all forward.
What are the bigger questions that are calling out to you? Shine your light on those bigger questions. Let your light and the questions dance together. The dance will show you your next steps. Then just say yes to the action you are inspired to take. George Saunders said it beautifully: Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place…Share its fruits tirelessly.
P.S. If you are ready to take your next steps in service of a world that works yet are not sure about how to do that, my latest book, Create a World That Works, is a great place to start. In addition to our website, the book is also available in bookstores everywhere, on amazon.com, and as a digital book for Kindle, iBooks, or other e-readers.
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