Wait For It

Hello my friends,
The special day has come round again. I have been getting friendly messages from people saying: “I’m waiting to see what you will say in your 08-08-08 message.” My response inside my head is the same: “I too am waiting to see what I will say.”

There has been a lot of waiting inside my head for the past few weeks as I have thought about this message. While swimming in the pool or while drifting off to sleep, I hear the sound of 08-08-08. And after awhile I hear it as “Oh wait, oh wait, oh wait.”

Wait for what? I’m not sure. Maybe that’s the wrong question. Perhaps “Oh wait” is a suggestion that I keep hearing because I haven’t listened to it yet.

Two days ago, my dear friend Marianne phoned to ask how I was doing. I told her I was feeling overwhelmed with preparing three courses for two clients while finishing the first draft of a book on influencing—and wondering what I was going to say about 08-08-08. She pushed me a bit on my priorities. “What do you need to do first? What can you leave until later? What if you just postponed that for a month?”

I kept on saying, “But I have to do this now.” When I finally heard what I was saying, I stopped and said, “Oh wait.”

This is the “have to” trap. For years I have worked with people (and with myself!) to distinguish between what I have to do and what I choose to do. Whether I am designing my life and career or influencing in an organisation, I need to be clear on what is a “have to” and what is a “choose to” and if indeed I have to do anything. Someone once said you don’t have to do anything but die and pay taxes. And if you choose cryogenics or jail, you don’t have to do death or taxes either.

So when I hear myself saying I have to do something, I now have the next phrase ready: “Oh wait.” Do I really have to do that or could I choose something else?

After Marianne listened to me babbling about what I have to do, she switched from urging me to let go of the tasks to urging me to let go of the pressure. She asked, “Have you meditated today?”

My first reaction was that I was too busy to meditate. Then I remembered that response of Gandhi when his assistant said it was going to be a very busy day: “Then I will meditate longer to prepare myself.”

Marianne also told me about research showing that meditation simultaneously quiets the stress in the lower brain while stimulating the creativity in the higher brain. Reducing stress while increasing creativity sounded very attractive right then. So I looked at all the work and the emails. And I said, “Oh wait.”

I went into another room and meditated. I felt much better. I realised that “have to” statements are a reaction to what is outside me while “choose to” statements are an action from within me. If I slow down to wait, I can choose.

And it is working again. I just said to myself: “I have to revise this now so I can finish.” And then I said, “Oh wait.” I meditated for twenty minutes and now I know what to say next.

Eight years ago, when I wrote about 01-01-01, I created (with the help of my friend George) the word arithmodigmaphilia to describe my love of number patterns. So this is my eighth Arithmodigmaphilia Day and I have found the perfect way to celebrate it.

Rosie and I are taking the day off (even though Arithmodigmaphilia Day is not yet an official holiday) and saying “Oh wait” to the things we have to do. We are choosing to visit an art exhibition, to walk in the hills, and to see a play.

The play is “Arcadia” by Tom Stoppard and it is about (among many other things) the love of number patterns. It is the perfect play for Arithmodigmaphilia Day.

When my niece Amanda and I first saw the play in 1993 we were both impressed. She later wrote a paper on it for her senior seminar in college, comparing the way Proust and Stoppard use time. Re-reading her paper has been a delightful way to prepare myself for seeing the play again.

Given my own penchant for mixing ideas, as I am doing in this message, I am delighted by Amanda’s explanation of why she is comparing Proust and Stoppard:

“Searching for the intersections and divergences of two texts can constructively complicate the discussion of theme and structure by taking more than one perspective into account.”

I love the idea of “constructively complicating” a discussion with multiple perspectives.

Which I can do right away, by citing the quotation that my friend Mary Lou Michael gave me from Thomas Aquinas:

“We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject. For both have laboured in the search for truth and both have helped us in the finding of it.”

In addition to number patterns, Arcadia is about the search for truth and about the mystery of time. At one point, three of the characters argue about the relative importance of their three research projects—each one seeking the truth. One of them says:

“Comparing what we’re looking for misses the point. It’s wanting to know that makes us matter.”

That wanting to know, that seeking for different truths, involves lots of working with—and playing with—numbers and words. For a pun-loving arithmodigmaphile like me, Stoppard’s play is definitely an Arcadia.

Stoppard gives us two groups of characters living in the same house but in different times: mid 19th century and late 20th century. The future for one group is the past for the other group. Each character in the earlier group imagines a future and creates stories about it. Each character in the later group imagines a past and creates stories about it.

While one character is arguing that time can only go forward, other characters are imagining the past and thus taking time in the other direction.

That connects with my experience yesterday when I learned that my professional organisation, NTL Institute, has finally decided to sell the Founders House, located in Bethel, Maine, in the US.

With appropriate synchronicity, the email about the sale of the Founders House arrived just after an email from a participant in a workshop I led in Bethel in 1999. Jeanne had recently returned to Bethel and seen that some of the campus buildings were already gone. Our exchange of messages brought out the tears of meaning as we shared memories of that special week of learning.

On my last visit to Bethel a year ago—when I guessed that I might not see the house again—I said, “Oh wait.” And that evening I went into the Founders House to just sit quietly in the various rooms where I have worked or danced or learned or laughed.

There are spaces in that house—as in the “Arcadia” house—where the memories overlap so thickly that I remember five or six special moments just in one spot:

Three of us lying in a circle in front of the fire while each massages the feet of another.

Don Klein, in his 80’s, saying "I am learning a new way of doing things” and inspiring us younger ones to stay open to learning.

Doing warmup stretches with the group one morning as dean of the International HI Lab and suggesting that people count for us in their own languages as we go on stretching to more than a dozen languages.

Using a flipchart to create what Marion and Dick Vittitow call a personal website—not knowing that I will go on to ask hundreds of others on four continents to use this wonderful idea.

Joe Luft giving in to the requests from all of us back in 1988 and showing us his Johari window—in less than a minute!

I am sad that the Founders House is gone. But the memories are not gone. All we have to do is say “Oh wait” and the memories return.

I am glad that I have been listening to the mantra of 08-08-08 that reminds me to meditate more, to re-member my memories into stories, to listen to other people’s stories, to read the wisdom of others, to mix it with my own, and to wait. As Amanda says in her paper: “Unexpected insights into the connections and divergences of the various pieces juxtaposed.”

So at 8 this evening on 08-08-08 I will be sitting down in the theatre to watch “Arcadia” again. I will be celebrating Arithmodigmaphilia Day. I will be letting go of things I don’t have to do. I will be delighting in things I choose to do. I will be breathing out and saying: “Oh wait!”

I wish you an equally wonderful Arithmodigmaphilia Day!