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Intensity Not Relaxation Inspires Creative Courage

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“It was clear…that what kept [top performers in flow] motivated was the quality of experience they felt when they were involved with the activity. This feeling didn’t come when they were relaxing, when they were taking drugs or alcohol, or when they were consuming the expensive privileges of wealth. Rather, it often involved painful, risky, difficult activities that stretched the person’s capacity and involved an element of novelty and discovery. This optimal experience is what I have called flow.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

Real transformation comes not from luxury or wealth or even deep relaxation. It comes from intensity punctuated with emotional relief and delightful surprise.

They came from every coast to climb a ridge, enter a castle, and make magic happen.

Entrepreneurs, teachers, an architectural designer, writers, consultants, therapists, a mountaintop farm owner, professionals, artful parents – every single one of them pow – er- ful – had arrived at Mohonk Mountain Resort. Mohonk is a veritable 19th-century castle-like structure perched on the Shawangunk Ridge in New York’s Hudson Valley that boasts awe-inspiring views of the Catskills Mountains.

But this pack didn’t come mostly to soak in the views. They didn’t come mostly to soak in the top-rated spa waters.  They didn’t come mostly to loaf and lean along the languorous trails.

They came ostensibly for an author’s intensive called Your Brave New Story. They sought to learn how to shape their books, break through blocks, own their larger brand possibilities, consider their best path to publish.


But they really came to taste bravery. What they gave back was the formidable alliance necessary to live bravely together.

It’s one thing to feel brave for a moment. It’s another to become brave and stay brave upon returning home.

That kind of change rarely comes from deep relaxation. It often comes from a certain kind of intensity and a certain kind of bonding. 

To Catalyze Change Requires More Than Passion

It might sound simple, but it requires extraordinary courage to take stock of and own in public your own potential, talents, and unique Story.

It might be the Story of your book, your brand identity, your business’s central message.

That unique Story, whether overt or not, is a direct reflection of you – your unique history and heritage, your core values and desired virtues.

A Story that you Stand for.

That you will take a Stance for in public.

And in so doing you will take a Stance against anything that blocks it.

And yet I think so many of us have huge blind sides about our potential. So many of us take our strengths for granted.

That’s why you must resist assassinating your dream or annihilating who you are at heart.

To muster that kind of courage requires so much more than passion.

It’s one thing to fall in love with a fantasy of an idea that’s fun to float around (“I want to write a book!” “I want to start a business!” “I want to be creative!”). It’s another thing to stand in love with a dream you are devoted to making real. Because of those blind sides, we need certain intense experiences and allies to crack open to what is possible.

12042613_10205121177211177_5097737409705018130_nTracking Wonder Consultant Cathy Shap had asked everyone at the intensive to lay on the floor and grow quiet until each person could hear her heart beat. Within 20 minutes, they were each standing up and claiming out loud the dream they are devoted to making real no matter what:

To love

To be a clear channel for the book to come through

To send love throughout the world one story at a time

To be of loving service

To connect to the pulse of life

To live and make with compassion

To treat life as a lover

To be open

To listening and distilling

To the odyssey of the dharma

What these powerful people reminded me of is how our heart beats speed up when we stand up and say, “This is who I am. This is what I have to offer. This is what it matters. And this is why I am devoted to realizing it. No matter what.”

Why does assuming that Stance require both conviction and courage? Because we fear there is someone rolling her eyes at us. Someone who’s scoffing at our earnestness and idealism. Someone who’s known us for years who says, “Oh, look at what she’s up to. She thinks she’s so ‘that.’”

When we act out of character – or beyond how a person has grown comfortable with us – even our peers and colleagues will “kindly” try to put us in our place.

Peer pressure, I’m beginning to realize, thwarts both men and women in being their wide-open true selves.

The power of the wild pack, though, creates a catalyzing intensity of whole-hearted acceptance that encourages everyone to be mutually brave, compassionate, and truthful.

Beyond You
There are ways to override these fears that go beyond simplistic positive thinking.

One way is to remember this: The Story you must stand up for whether in a book, a business, a brand, and every single day of your life is really not about you but about the medicine that Story delivers.

That Story is about what happens to other people as a result of your diligent work – whether they are delighted for a few minutes or hours or changed for the rest of their lives.

A peak experience stretches our experiences beyond our own self-interest. 

It takes even more courage to put your capabilities on the line to see if you can muster the wits to make something of that Story. Do you have the courage to learn – at this life stage – a whole new set of craft knowledge to shape that book and finesse that brand identity with integrity and in a way that moves and rewards your readers and community? Craft knowledge expands and stretches self-knowledge.

That’s a lot to stand up to and face.

And really staying true to your Story once you return home and to regular work requires considerable stamina. It is hard work.

People such as Brave Author Donna Druchunas of Sheep to Shawl Studios captured what unites our devotion, gleaned from our Business As Unusual Manifesto Film.

Image: Donna Druchunas, http://sheeptoshawl.com/
Image: Donna Druchunas, http://sheeptoshawl.com/

To Be Open Requires Vulnerable Courage

What these veteran retreat and conference attendees said they experienced were things like, “The most powerful week of my life” and “The most transformational event I’ve ever attended.”

One person confided to me, “Normally, at these events there is at least one person who really grates on me and seems to disrupt the whole experience. That didn’t happen here. That’s almost miraculous.”

Every single one of these people stayed emotionally and intellectually open. They opened up more than sized up each other. They assisted each other. Guided each other. Listened to each other. Laughed with each other. Cried with each other. Howled with each other.

Donna Druchunas – who had three books published this autumn alone – writes this:

I don’t remember a time when I have ever been surrounded by so many powerful, talented, creative women before. We are going to blow the roof off of the world with our medicine. But it won’t happen all at once. Making magic takes time (even polyjuice potion takes a month to brew).


Do you know how rare it is for any group of people – maybe especially a group of writers and authors – to stay genuinely open to one another instead of sizing up each other?  To be listened to well?

I have been in and taught in graduate writing programs and writing conferences.

To put aside the petty posturing and competing for nominal prestige and instead to focus on shaping the best possible Story, yeah, it’s rare.

And Then There’s Wonder

More than any experience of the heart or mind or art, wonder opens us to what is possible. It’s a quiet space where dualities dissolve. It’s tinged with delightful surprise. And you see something – yourself, your life, an idea, a project – anew and true. 

Those moments often come out of intensity more than relaxation. The surprising pauses couched amidst intensity give rise to those openings.

We could not have orchestrated the double-rainbow bowing over the Catskill Mountains during one sunrise. But it happened.

We cannot orchestrate the numerous eurekas and break-throughs that happened during lectures and presentations, during lunch conversations and front porch story circles. But they happened.

We could not orchestrate the bonds that last beyond the days together. But they happened.

Birth educator and mother of four Barbara Buckner Suarez writes this of her experience:

I was at times completely and utterly in awe – gazing out at the gorgeous reds, yellows and browns of the Catskills as dawn’s sunrise bathed the hillside with gold. I was in awe as my body hiked and ran the trails of this incredible place. I was in awe as the true heart of my Story was revealed, and I now have a lot of work to do because I can no longer write a book without this at it’s center. I’m in awe that this realization of needing to infuse that heart’s story into the 70,000+ words I’ve already written, has not caused me to breakdown and cry. And I sat in rapt awe last night and listened as my new tribe opened their hearts to share their own Stories. There was so much talent, power and healing in that room, it was palpable.

The word that echoed in my mind all week long was gratitude.


And this from Brave Author Suzi Banks Baum of Laundry Line Divine:

It has been a week soaked in wonder.

I am here working on my book, Laundry Line Divine. I made important headway on this work that has carried me along since I started writing it 7 years ago. I think I can see the book as a whole now.

What came through most clearly to me this week as we worked on story structure and looked at aspects of our work in the world as business artists is this. The fullness of what you have come to recognize as Laundry Line Divine stands for the value of every woman’s life, no matter where she is on the spectrum of motherhood, no matter what age, no matter where she lives. As I read segments of my book to the gathered company last evening, I sensed resonance in a way that ears sense sound. I felt heard by the variety of women in the room, heard and listened to. For a writer, this is a sweet sweet thing.

Or this from Brave Author Lesley Howard of Art of Practice:

Instead of taking “pictures” (aka notes) about [the Tracking Wonder Team’s] facilitation techniques and observing my reactions through my intellectual lens, I accepted their invitation to step fully into my body and my story. I let them guide the workshop sessions and I participated wholly: I listened to my colleagues in the workshops rather than stereotyping them; I howled and danced and cried; I wrote and read brand-new words about my story’s protagonist. I emerged from the week with clarity, a renewed dedication to my story, and a new-to-me reluctance to talk about the experience. My friends and family all want to know, What happened? What have you learned? What was it like?

I have some pictures of the place where we stayed, and of my new-found friends, but those don’t begin to capture my transformative experience.

For once, I haven’t figured out the words to tell the story of what happened. I lived it. It was magical. It was deeply personal.

And now these authors have formed alliances and partnerships and circles to continue their quest together. That is the power of the pack over peer pressure.

Do You Want a Transaction or a Transformation?

We have more opportunities to download and participate in courses and programs as well as attend more events, conferences, and retreats than ever before. Whether attending or designing, you might consider what you need most. In some cases, you mostly need information, the equivalent of an article or series of articles. In some cases, you need relaxation and retreat, the equivalent of a poem and tonic. In some cases, you need a catalyst to change, the equivalent of a mini-quest.

The latter experiences are rare. What this group taught me and reminded me of such experiences is how crucial it is to be among others who are strong in heart and open in mind.

In this turbulent time dotted with wonder, many of us ache to find more of those qualities in ourselves and to bring them out in each other that we truly can salve our respective patch of the planet. Together.

For all I have learned, for all I have gained from these powerful people and from you, I unravel in gratitude.


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  1. Dear Jeffrey, What you say is true. Our week at Mohonk held many surprises and a steady thrum of delicious attention-like a really good chocolate bar with dried cherries and hazelnuts in it-such that whatever we were doing, there was goodness to be had. Thank you for capturing our experience in these words. It is quite a treat to hear what it was like from your perspective.
    With love, S