We need to release our industrial-age and mechanistic ways of thinking—including our needs for planning and control—in order to accept a much wider range of variations and possibilities. This corresponds to musicians’ open stage, where their repertoire and what they do well may need to be set aside in order to be open to the aliveness of the moment—and to follow wherever it may go. In other words, in a living process the process itself is the content. It tends to unfold based on what feels most right, alive and true. It cannot be preconceived or created fully in anticipation or out of a concept formed in advance.
As a pianist and composer, I go over a composition time and time again, listening and feeling for the underlying pattern that is emerging. In this way, I make a lot of mistakes and go down many blind alleys as I explore the emerging composition’s many changing ways. Each iteration contributes to enhancing and enriching my auditory imagination so that I am able to make better aesthetic choices later on. In this context, to be iterative is not to correct errors or mistakes but to engage them so as to be more aligned with the process of emergence. Working in this way holds within it a sense of taking our art into our body, such that there is both naturalness and simplicity, even when it may appear difficult and complex to an outside observer.
While a living process may often appear random, chaotic and even wrong-headed from the observer’s point of view, it is actually highly efficient, coherent, even elegant and inevitable when experienced from within. This is because a living process unfolds within “liminal space,” where transitions unfold naturally and organically. This is particularly true when we trust that the container itself carries the seed of its own unfolding potential for what comes next. It is when we try to move ahead by force of will or through tension, urgency and effort that this internal order is disturbed and our progress impeded.
Guiding others in a living process relies upon our capacity for holding presence with the unknown; that is, to be curious and open to whatever is emerging in our awareness that appears to be fuzzy, ambiguous or unclear. This capacity for sense-making is amplified when we are together and diminished when we are apart. There is a power that comes to us when we meet as an “ensemble” where, for a moment, we forget ourselves and work for the benefit of the larger whole. Creating spaces for exploring what we do not yet know, spaces where we can be present to what is unformed and incomplete, sets in motion a process of unfolding order, a practice which has always been familiar for the artist but unfamiliar to others who have been educated in a more parts-based mentality that is common in the industrial world. Once this living process is initiated, it will follow the trajectory of its own unfolding potential—one that is natural, organic and unrepeatable—and which reflects the expression of wholeness as it appears to us in that particular moment.
All work is half rest. Nature cannot thrive in full flower all the time, and nor can we. We need time to empty, to digest, to assimilate and to be still. Dormancy and decay are as a much part of life force as is growth and flowering. The absence of this deep time of gestation can lead to confusion and erosion of the force of life itself. Wayne Muller in his book Sabbath reminds us that a successful life can also be a violent life. To live a deeply rooted life is to find and create a home for oneself. Plants can only grow as high as they grow deep. To do otherwise is to be at the mercy of the atmosphere, and we can only blend with its strong forces if we are deeply rooted within ourselves. Too often the sense of duty and responsibility overrides our intuition and good judgment. It becomes difficult to settle. Yet as Muller suggests, the world aches for just that—the generosity of well-rested people.
French painter Georges Braque once wrote, “In art there is only one thing that counts: the thing you can’t explain.” In the busyness of our days we often forget this mystery, particularly as it relates to what lies beneath our feet. Yet what sits above can feel to us like an over-worked and over-processed world—superficial, fabricated, manufactured and refined. Too often, that which feeds us does not fill us. We hunger for something real—words, ideas, connections, possibilities, food good enough to be eaten, food that still has its roots and dirt. Perhaps this is our hunger for good leaders: to be among people who live embodied and conscious lives, who are rooted to the land, who are vital and alive, who know what they love and where they belong—leaders who, when they speak, tell us who they are, how they live and where they come from.
Christopher Alexander. The Nature of Order, Book Two: The Process of Creating Life (Berkeley,The Center for Environmental Design, 2004)
Rob Austin and Lee Devin. Artful Waking: What Managers Need to Know About How Artists Work (Prentice Hall Financial Times, 2003).
Michael Jones. Artful Leadership Awakening the Commons of the Imagination (Orillia, Pianoscapes 2006).
Henry Mintzberg and Alexandra McHugh. ” Strategy Formation in an Adhocracy,” Administrative Science Quarterly, 30, no. 2 (June 1985) 160 – 197. Found in Artful Waking, 26.
Wayne Muller, Sabbath. Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives (New York, Bantam, 1999).
Michael Jones is a pianist/composer, leadership educator, storyteller, writer and creative facilitator. He has recorded 15 CDs of his original piano compositions, written several books on leadership and creative practice and been a featured presenter at a variety of international leadership forums.
© 2007 Michael Jones
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