Walt Disney called it that “clean, unspoiled spot in each of us.” The canvas inside that Nature gave us to discover our individual gifts of life and grow them into the skills for living. It is in that spot that as kids we experienced things for the first time including Xmas. It is in that spot where we find ourselves and come to know ourselves. It is in and from that spot we truly “feel.”
The last few years, I have been fortunate to rediscover that spot, to grow it and “unspoil” the rest of me. Most of it happened by accident. It has cost me everything I “owned.” In a word, I have Nothing and that is the greatest gift I have ever received. I have come to believe that Nothing is also the greatest gift I have been able to give to people around me. This is what I will give for Xmas. Nothing. That clean unspoiled spot inside of me in the hope that others find the same inside of themselves. This is what I do for my clients. It is what I wish I could do better for the people who matter to me. I would like to offer Nothing to you so you might take the time and make the space in your life to give Nothing to others.
Recently I sat down and thought about the process I use with my clients or friends who ask me for help. I want to share that with you. Maybe you don’t know what to get someone else for Xmas. Maybe you worry about the holidays and the parties, about family gatherings that too often touched the “spoiled” parts of us filled with judgment and seeking approval. Each year returning home in the hope that somehow these holidays will feel better than the last. Like second marriages, sometimes holidays are simply the triumph of hope over experience. Yet we travel great distances too often to simply find the same old feelings, bring with us our worn out “buttons” that when pushed, cause us to emotionally bleed out. We discover nothing has changed, including ourselves.
When I work with people, they often come to me for advice, for a “how-to” checklist to creating the life they like. At best I will facilitate a process that helps them rediscover that clean unspoiled spot inside them, the spot from which they build a world in which they like to live. Here is that process, my gift to you. I’ve come to a place in my life where I truly believe that everyone should know or learn or God forbid be taught about this unspoiled spot free of charge. It should be the central focus of education. I will leave it to you to judge whether or not it is even worth your time to consider or try.
I do not actually use these words when I work with people because I listen to them before I say anything. But in going over it, trying to figure how to give it to someone from a distance, these are the words and this is the process that unfolds. It is a process I learned from people who live lives they like.
Touch, Feel, Play, Like, Know, Trust, Create.
1. Touch. How do we feel what we never touch? If you want life to feel better and be better, then it means touching the world around us. But in order for us to touch the world, to be touched by it, we must do so from that clean, unspoiled spot inside us. Think back in your life to the things you touched for the first time, those things that no one told you about, that you discovered on your own that made your hand reach out and touch. Like a little kid in a store for the first time with no intention and no pressure to buy something, a hand driven by wonder. The first song you heard that touched you simply because the words and music rang true to what you felt about yourself free from the judgment of critics and billboard’s top 100. When your mom or dad let go of the bike and you rode free and when the training wheels came off and where you rode on your own exploring. When you made the ball or piano or pen do what you wanted for the first time. As Bruce Hornsby once told “Put your hands on the keys.”
2. Feel. I think what Walt Disney was really saying in describing that clean unspoiled spot was that we feel in and from that place. Free of feelings hardwired into us from past experiences. No noise, no voice in our head, Nothing. You feel the truth about things, about people. What’s real. As Lance Armstrong wrote in his book “”As I continued to climb, I felt the pain, but I also felt exultation too at what I could do with my body.” When we allow ourselves to touch and to feel, we discover and begin to claim what WE can do with our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.
3. Play. Play is how we learn, how we grow. Accountable to the process, but free of the judgment of others. We try things with no fear of failure. We test ourselves and those things and activities and even the people around us. When it stops being play, we look for other things to touch and feel. Play done well is never trivial or silly. It is instructional, informational, energy transformed by knowledge of ourselves and our connection to those around us. Play is never manipulative, never deceitful. As the philosopher Gademer wrote, “Play fulfills its purpose only if the player loses himself in the play: seriousness is not merely something that calls us away from play; rather seriousness in playing is necessary to make play wholly play. Someone who doesn’t take the play seriously is a spoilsport.” Play is expressing ourselves until we are spent, as Calvin said in Calvin and Hobbes, we can’t wait to do it again tomorrow in spite of the cuts and scratches and hurts.
4. Like. When we’ve played with something long enough, we will either come to like it or not. If we like it we will continue to play, if not we will seek something else to touch, to begin again. As Malcolm Gladwell said in his article The Physical Genius, we find something that “on some profound, aesthetic level, makes us happy.” Then we’ll protect it, keep it unspoiled. Maybe it turns into love, maybe not. But the power of liking something, even liking ourselves, has been diminished over the years, turned into the pressure to do what you love or to find the love of your life. In my interviews, I heard it over and over again– the world class performers said they “liked how it felt” to do something the first time they did it. They made the connection between liking and doing and that made all the difference. Toni Morrison once described real love as loving “softly without props.” My experience tells me that liking something or someone is done softly without props, without the need to turn it into something different or something we want it to be or are told it should be. We learn the difference between wanting and liking, no longer wanting the things we have no experience with or something someone wants to sell us. We invest in what we like instead of spending on what we want.
5. Know. Plays opens the world up to us at the same time it opens ourselves up to the world. Like allows us to see what’s real because we do it long enough to come to know it. The lack of props helps us see what is real and meaningful. It helps us know who we are and what we like about ourselves, what’s right about us. What we can count on and what needs to be done better. We know things because we’ve touched it and played with it long enough to feel what it really is. If we’re lucky, we can touch and feel something so well, we can touch it back in a way that it responds to us– a surgeon with a scalpel, a pilot and her plane, a writer and his words, a player and the ball. We are bombarded by energy in our world and that energy too often speeds us up, makes us rush, instead of taking the time, living in the stillness to touch and feel and know. We confuse “knowing about” things with the knowledge that transforms our energy into our own work to move us forward. As one surgeon I interviewed told me “You cannot learn surgery from home.”
6. Trust. Knowing leads to trust, rising above the notion of confidence. Confidence is the fragile belief that we can somehow shape an outcome or win the game or make the sale. Trust lets us know that we will be okay even if we fail, that we’ll come back to learn and grow. Trust from the knowledge of the training we’ve done and of the people in our lives. We might not win, we might hate to lose, but we know we will survive and in the moments that matter most, we can do what matters most.
7. Create. Having touched and felt, played and liked, known and trusted, we can put the pieces together to create the lives we like. We create rather than consume. We grow and behold who we are, who we have become, and wonder who we are yet to be. That clean, unspoiled spot grows inside us, the noise and clutter wiped clean. And we touch again and the process renews itself.
I think Pable Picasso said it best: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”