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Welcome to the third issue of The Lens. Recently, I came across The Global Brain video. Apparently it has been around since 1985.  It is a 35 minute video and takes a minute or two for the buffering process.  I found it to be powerful and right on target in terms of CFEL's values, mission, and perspective.  The narration is a bit slow but it may be designed that way because it is so rich in content.  If it resonates with you, please pass it along. 

- Stephen L. Sokolow, Executive Director



The Art of Alchemy

The Spirituality Tipping Point

Building Bridges, Not Fences

A Conversation That Matters
By Domenico PIAZZA

A Circle of Catalysts

Pleasant Surprise

Experiential Learning: A Concept Whose Time Has Come (and Has Always Been)

A Book or Two...

Living the Power of Words

Letters to the Editor
From Our Readers


The Art of Alchemy

  Dr. Paul. D. Houston
  Dr. Paul D. Houston
Founding Partner

A few months ago I visited a spot in Italy that is well known to Italians but less so to the rest of the world: the Castel del Monte near Italy’s eastern coast. Castle del Monte sits atop a wind-swept hill in lonely and splendid repose. It is built of bright white stone and is eight-sided, with eight turrets that are also eight-sided.

The castle carries a sense of imposing mystery. It is very well preserved and looks like it could have been built recently—not in the Middle Ages. But the mystery around the castle is that it isn’t like other castles. Its design is not for protection, and the inside wasn’t designed for living. Why would anyone build a castle that neither protected nor housed them?

The Emperor Frederick II, who caused the Castle del Monte to be built, was interested in mysticism and science (and in those days they blended more than they do today). It is not known exactly why Frederick had it built, but it is believed he did so for purpose of rituals, and perhaps research. It seems the emperor was much interested in such things as alchemy. It is further believed that the castle was built so that the magicians and/or scientists of the time could conduct their experiments in that elusive quest to turn metal into gold.

History is replete with stories of alchemy. Remember Midas? He figured out everything except that you have to be careful what you wish for. He wanted to have the golden touch—and he did. But it cost him his family and his happiness. Remember the goose that laid the golden eggs? That tale didn’t turn out well either. Humans have always sought a quick path to riches: Let anything I touch turn to gold. Give me a goose that lays golden eggs. Let me spin straw into gold. Give me a scientist who can turn lead into gold. Let me get the winning lottery ticket.

We are still seeking the alchemy that transforms something of no value into a source of riches. In doing so, we place our desires in the wrong spot. It’s not about what makes us rich—it’s about enriching others. Spiritually we are reminded that where our treasures are, there will our heart be also. Our task is to tend to our hearts.

Real alchemy is not in finding riches; it is what happens in our everyday lives. We touch people and make them something else. We can find riches in the basest of things. A number of years ago I visited the George Washington Carver Museum in Tuskegee, Alabama. Before visiting the museum I knew that Carver was a great scientist who had come up with many uses of the peanut so that farmers in the South could continue to exist. But I didn’t know that he was also an artist. Carver would walk along the back roads of south Alabama, and if he found some castoff bit of string or twine he would pick it up and take it home. He would seek out different colors of clay to take home. When he got enough twine or string together, he would weave magnificent tapestries—some of which hang today in museums around the world. When he got enough clay he used it to make watercolor paint, and he painted pictures. Now that is alchemy. Taking something of no apparent worth (peanuts, discarded string, clay) and making something priceless. Carver was not just a great alchemist—he was the first great recyclist.

I am an educator. I know that my work has been a work of alchemy. Education is, at its core, the task of taking something of no apparent worth and making something priceless out of it. But one does not need to be an educator to be an alchemist. We all touch others every day. We have the opportunity, through our caring, to enhance the lives of other people—to help them be something they are not, to spin gold from them. Alchemy. Mysticism. Artistry. Empowered leadership.


The Spirituality Tipping Point

  Dr. Stephen L. Sokolow
  Dr. Stephen L. Sokolow
Executive Director and Founding Partner

We are living at a very potent time in history. Some historical periods have names: the Dark Ages or the Age of Enlightenment. People commonly refer to our present era as the Digital Age. The Digital Age has connected us in ways unprecedented in human history. It is as though the central nervous system of the planet is being rewired. Where are we headed? We are racing forward to meet our future—but which future will it be? In our lifetime we seem to be approaching a kind of tipping point, and the stakes could not be higher. Will the earth and its people reach a positive critical mass and make a quantum leap forward into a bright future, or will we fall backward into an unimaginably bleak abyss? Through our individual choices we are charting both our personal trajectory and our collective destiny.

There is a concept found in Jungian psychology that is rooted in many spiritual traditions: “the dark night of the soul.” At such trying times, individuals are severely tested by life’s circumstances; people either rise up and grow to meet life’s challenges, or they refuse to grow—and they wither, become diminished, or in some cases even perish. Our planet seems to be having its own “dark night of the soul.” At the micro level, we are being severely tested on countless fronts—terrorism, war, environmental degradation, natural resources, wealth distribution, disease, nuclear proliferation, education, and so forth. At the macro level, however, a larger story is being written: the story of our collective spiritual consciousness. If we choose to grow and act like the spiritual beings that we are, we can bring about a golden age: the Age of Spirituality. On the other hand, if we do not meet the challenge of our collective “dark night of the soul,” we risk bringing on a dismal Age of Decay and Degradation.

The good news is that within a sea of global troubles, spiritual consciousness seems to be growing. In her new book, Megatrends 2010: The Rise of Conscious Capitalism (Hampton Roads), bestselling author Patricia Aburdene (who, with John Naisbitt, co-authored the bestselling Megatrends 2000) identifies the number-one trend, which will influence all others, as “The Power of Spirituality: From Personal to Organizational.” She describes the countless ways we are all interconnected and how the realization of this fact will affect us and the way people do business in the coming decade. Have you noticed that there is a marked increase in the number of books, magazine articles, news stories, movies, and television programs dealing with spiritual and metaphysical themes? Our spiritual awareness worldwide is increasing.

As our consciousness shifts in a more spiritual direction, we can influence others and thus contribute to a positive shift in global consciousness. We can contribute to this shift by focusing attention on spiritual principles through the things we talk about and write about and model. Paul Houston and I have identified 35 spiritual principles of leadership. As each of us strives to embrace and embody these and other spiritual principles in our work as leaders, we can contribute to raising consciousness to the point at which we reach the critical mass necessary to activate the spiritual tipping point, which will then propel us forward into the golden Age of Spirituality. The stakes have never been higher, but neither has our capacity to successfully navigate through our collective “dark night of the soul” and emerge the better for it.


Building Bridges, Not Fences

  Adam Sokolow
  Adam Sokolow
Senior Advisor

 I call them the isms. Materialism, deism, hedonism, capitalism, vegetarianism, pessimism, optimism, liberalism, conservatism—such words describe the ways in which we orient ourselves to the world. Our isms of choice ground us in a particular worldview and help shape our sense of identity. We know what we believe and act accordingly. It seems as if there are as many possible isms as there are people living on our planet. Everybody has a point of view that is slightly different from everyone else’s. Who’s right and who’s wrong? And who’s to say? I believe that each of us has the right to choose what we believe and learn to navigate as best as we can through the complexities and challenges that we face in life.

We make friends, join societies and political parties, and belong to religions with other people who share our isms. This makes for good company, but it does little to alter the notion that each person’s journey through life is always a very personal work in progress, and we err if our identification and allegiance to any particular group inflates our personal beliefs and problem-solving style to the status of a universal truth. In a sense, everyone is right for themselves, yet also wrong if they believe in their isms to the degree that they are convinced that their personal choices are the correct ones for everyone else, too. When this happens, it engenders subtle or gross forms of elitism (“I’m better than you”) and prejudice (“You are inferior to me”), which can often manifest themselves in the drive to impose a personal ism on others.

Therefore, our isms can enhance or restrict the way we view the world, depending on whether they function as bridges or fences. Bridges connect things. When we build bridges, we open ourselves to new relationships and experiences in the belief that what lies beyond our own shores can enhance what we already have. In the best case, bridge-building is an expression of our willingness to love. Fences, on the other hand, mark our boundaries. Boundaries are essential; we need them to keep order. Yet they can also be barriers that separate what is familiar to us from what is alien. And all too often we habitually reject and defend ourselves against everything that’s on the other side of the fence. In the worst case, elitist attitudes and prejudices are the foundation for hatred and the desire to conquer and destroy.

If we try to be more of a bridge-builder than a fence-builder—relaxing our strident allegiance to a particular set of isms—the edges of our personal boundaries begin to soften, and we soon discover that we are both more and less of who we believe we are. We are more in the sense that we become less bound by our self-identification with our own particular isms, which permits our underlying spiritual nature to become more apparent. We are still distinctly ourselves, yet we also begin to recognize that we share a deep interconnectedness with everything and everyone else. And we are less, because we acknowledge that we are not the center of the world and therefore not entitled and deserving to usurp everything in the environment for our exclusive use. Recognizing that we have an inherent spiritual nature shifts our attitude: We no longer feel isolated in our struggle against the powerful forces within humanity and nature that block our efforts and impede our growth.

We now see ourselves as part of a grander vision that gives us a sense of place and purpose in the world, and serves up a veritable banquet of life-enhancing possibilities. The implications of this shift in attitude are quite profound, for it actually aligns us with an over-arching view that we truly are all members of a single human family living together on our home, the planet Earth.

It is within this spiritual context that we are challenged to responsibly manage our in-common wealth. We try to integrate our opportunities to freely express ourselves and gain what we can by finding the proper balance between what we want out of life with our obligation to give something back. By using our isms of choice as bridge-builders, we can develop our unique gifts and talents, naturally enhance our society, and pass bounty on to future generations.

I invite you to join me at the Event Horizon, where we will explore spiritual issues in greater depth.


  Domenico Piazza
  Domenico Piazza
Senior Associate

“This has been the most important conversation of my career,” said Dr. O. He is a math teacher in an inner-city high school. I had been doing my best to coach him regarding the importance of experiential teaching in mathematics. Our conversation had stalled when I asked him and his colleagues to explain what a particular equation meant in real-life terms. In essence, I was asking them to conceptualize their content in order to see its relevance for students. It was hard going. Math teachers, I realized, understood the operations of math, but struggled to see the central meaning it held for them or their students. We had been wrestling with discovering the essence of a certain equation; members of the department saw the essence so differently that tempers began rising. I sat back, having started the discussion, and observed their struggle to achieve consensus.

We had been talking about the need to connect students to our subjects by establishing some kind of link to the world with which they were already familiar. The teachers agreed that their students, by and large, failed to see the reason for learning math. Scores were low and teachers’ frustrations were rising. Was it student laziness? Why was it so hard to get students to understand and retain what they had been taught?

After listening to these sincere, bright teachers searching for some connection to the world of non-mathematicians, it occurred to me that even I could not make sense of it! I asked one of the teachers if he could come up and draw me a picture of the equation in question. He agreed and created a simple two-line drawing of intersecting lines. He pointed at the intersection and observed that it was that to which the equation referred. He added that the operation allowed one to compare opposing angles. In a moment, I understood. “So, it’s about making comparisons?” I asked. The teachers all agreed. “So comparing is what this is all about. Do you think your students get the idea of comparing?” They thought so.

Dr. O. raised his hand. With a wonderful African lilt, he said, “It seems to me we have to learn a whole new language. If we, the teachers, have taken an hour to agree about what it is we’re teaching, how can we expect our students to understand?”

This conversation shifted everyone in the room. Wouldn’t it make sense to present these equations from the perspective of “making comparisons”? After all, this is certainly understandable by most students. They practice comparing every day. They compare favorite teams, musicians, clothing styles, foods, and countless other aspects of their personal lives. In fact, we could hardly function from day to day without finding ways of differentiating among the range of possible choices life offers. So why not precede this conversation with an experience of making comparisons? Many activities suggest themselves for a classroom activity that could be accomplished in a few minutes. Then, using the activity as a reference, connect the students’ knowledge of comparing with equations that compare.

As we explored this possibility, a language problem began to emerge. Words we use within our areas of expertise are not always clear to those attempting to enter the conversation from the outside. Indeed, we discovered that many words used by math teachers have meanings that are different from common usage; we are often unaware of the miscommunication that results.

The conversation moved on to other possibilities, such as having students create vocabulary books in which they would record math words followed by a definition and a visual math example. Gradually, as the semester unfolded, students would have a useful resource, in their own hand, of key words needed to complete mathematical operations. Vocabulary, based on real experience, became central to our future conversations. We also agreed that if they could manage to teach me, an English teacher, to “see” as well as “speak” math, they surely could reach students. This conversation mattered to us all, and changed our behavior.

For me, the sudden focus on communicating meaning in ways accessible to all widened my concern for the state of all teachers who struggle to connect with students. Many so-called conversations in classrooms seem defined by the specialty jargon owned by teachers. Often, when students struggle with new learning, they are really trying to come to grips with a new language and, at the same time, find some real-life connections to it; they are trying to break the code used by those with deeper knowledge, without knowing why the code is worth breaking. We seem to spend insufficient time providing meaningful access to our language while expecting students not only to learn, but also to develop deeper levels of understanding and competency. In the absence of personal meaning, the language of a new discipline falls on deaf ears.

To truly connect with students, teachers must seek to ground new knowledge on prior knowledge. Our brains seek to develop new networks by relating them to older, more established networks. The new networks then become extensions of that which was known, adding depth and breadth to understanding. One common way to achieve this, of course, is by helping the learner to see or feel the connections between prior knowing and new knowing. How can we achieve this?

The human brain’s pre-motor cortex is home to countless “mirror neurons.” This area controls activities ranging from speaking and movement to simply intending to act. Its position, located close to motor neurons, allows them to activate even when we watch others act. Our brain houses mirror neuron systems that serve us in many ways, including mimicking actions, reading others’ emotions, understanding the social implications of actions—and even reading others’ intentions. Giacomo Rizzolatti, the Italian neuroscientist who discovered mirror neurons, explains that these systems “allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation; by feeling, not by thinking.”

This suggests that mirror neurons play a significant role in learning. We learn best when the world resonates with something already in us. When teachers organize instruction around connections with our world of experiences, we can expect that mirror neurons are already firing away in those same areas, getting ready to take action. Their activity is part of a neurological loop that happens when individuals link up, mind to mind. But the part of our mind that operates first, because it is swifter, is the part that houses our emotive powers. Something is already going on as a result of actual experience that sets up opportunities for learning new information. We feel the nexus from our empathic centers before subjecting it to cognitive analysis and language.

The notion of experiential learning is powerful because it’s the natural way we learn most things. An equation of this idea might look something like this:


* * * * *

We all have a multitude of experiences, many of which are processed through our cognitive centers. For this we use language and numbers. These are abstractions from reality—not the experience itself, but symbols that refer to experience. Once these are understood and differentiated, we are free to raise our understanding to higher levels. Our classic error in education is to confuse experience with descriptors of experience. Thus we teach by way of abstractions (symbols of reality), assuming that they are the same as reality. Experience is often left out completely, thus handicapping the learning process by eliminating a critical frame of reference to the real world.

Joseph Campbell captured this tendency in the following comic exemplar: A man goes into a restaurant and sees a picture of a sirloin steak on the menu—and then eats the menu. This makes us chuckle because we recognize that the man has made a ludicrous error. He has things backward. The steak is real, and the picture and words are abstractions that define and refer to it, locking it into our operating vocabulary.

The powerful combination of conversations built upon real experience mirrors the natural learning process that we use in our everyday lives. Why not use this same approach in teaching?


A Circle of Catalysts¹

  Dr. Bea Mah Holladn
  Dr. Bea Mah Holland
Founding Partner and Executive Coach

Since 1994—year in and year out—a group of us has been meeting every six weeks to serve as midwives to each other’s dreams. The shape of the group has changed over time as women have moved away, passed away, or simply left the group. New members have joined. But for the last 10 years the Wise Women’s Group has consisted of the same five members. We represent a wide variety of educational and professional backgrounds. Some of us are “youngsters” (including Kellie, who joined us when she was 26); our oldest member is age 64. We come from several different heritages, including two of us who were born outside the United States.

We began with the lofty goal of wanting to appreciate people, their motivations, and their behavior in new ways, but we have long since morphed into an intimate community where there are no holds barred regarding topic or expression. There have been work transitions for every one of us, a marriage, a divorce, a baby, a new tea shop, children leaving home, publications, and death. We are a safe, honest, loving circle who care deeply about each other and remind each other to care for ourselves. Indeed, we “tough love” each other—inviting, nudging, pushing each other to break barriers and to be our “brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous” selves.

We journey from three New England states, gather at an accessible restaurant at 4:30 p.m., and adjourn by 9 p.m. Each of us in turn gives an update of what has been happening in our lives, and others ask clarifying questions, paraphrase, or connect the update to past themes raised by the focal person. We are often led to explore emerging themes that reveal individual, collective, and sometimes universal insights about using our gifts in the world.

We have become powerful catalysts in each other’s lives. Lou Ann has given birth to a potent book about Humans Being. Marg continues to shape Hospice, as demonstrated in her book, Leaving This Life with Hospice:Stories of Wonder and Hope. Kathleen has manifested much brilliance in education circles through her Celebrate School People initiative. Kellie has completed her master’s degree and is now pursuing a life-long dream of teaching and writing. I have learned to appreciate my unique gifts, such as my calm and my ability to pose questions that tap into individuals’ and teams’ most elemental yearnings. I can’t imagine a richer Spot of Grace than our Wise Women’s Group: Bea Mah Holland, Lou Ann Daly, Margaret Ledger, Kellie Wardman O’Reilly, and Kathleen Alfiero.

¹From the forthcoming book A Spot of Grace by Dawna Markova


  Tom Vona
  Tom Vona
Senior Associate and Mentor

I had 20 teachers to observe in just over two months in my New Pathways to Teaching in New Jersey Alternate Route Teacher Training Program. I was not looking forward to one particular observation, which was located in one of the most crime-ridden cities in the state. My apprehension was further enhanced by comments made by the teacher I was to visit; she reported hearing gunshots from her school and seeing drug deals being made outside the school. As my visit neared, she warned me not to get lost in the vicinity of the school and to be sure that I parked within the high fence that surrounded the school’s parking lot. To say I was apprehensive is an understatement. What I actually experienced on that rainy morning in November, however, could not have been further from my initial uneasiness.

Though I did not get lost, still I was very happy to enter a K-5 building that was in much better condition than I had anticipated. Once I got through security, I was greeted by a friendly office staff and escorted to the classroom where Ms. B., the music teacher I was to observe, was waiting for me and her second-grade students. In her first full year as a teacher, Ms. B. instructs all the students in the school. I had the opportunity to walk around her beautifully decorated and well-equipped room before her students arrived. It included a piano, computers, bulletin boards with student work, pictures of musical instruments and famous composers and musicians, a music “word wall,” and bookshelves filled with various books dealing with music. What surprised me most was a world map hung prominently in the front of the room. I wondered at the meaning of that map in a music classroom.

When the 18 second-graders entered the room, they found their seats in one of the three groupings of desks. The class was preparing for the upcoming Hispanic Heritage Assembly and learning songs from various Spanish-speaking countries. The world map, I learned, was to enable students to identify the countries from which the songs came. In the few days prior to today’s lesson they had learned songs from Mexico and Puerto Rico. Today they were learning a song from Argentina.

So in this music class, these 6- and 7-year-old students were not only learning new songs, but they were also learning world geography by identifying countries on a world map and noting their geographical relationship to the United States. In addition, many children who did not speak Spanish were learning Spanish words so that they could sing parts of the songs in Spanish. These areas were not included in the music curriculum, but rather were needs that this first-year teacher knew existed in her school and had incorporated into her lesson.

This school is located in a New Jersey district that has been identified as being deficient in many areas, in a neighborhood where crime is rampant—yet here these students have found a safe haven with a caring, warm teacher who goes out of her way to meet their needs. Even though the cultural backgrounds of her students are different than hers, this enthusiastic teacher is doing everything possible to learn as much as she can about them so that she can better appreciate the strengths they bring to the classroom. Throughout this lesson, students were involved in myriad activities, were completely on task, having fun, and showing respect to their teacher and to each other. Ms. B. not only demonstrated her expertise in her subject area and pedagogical skills, but she displayed genuine affection for these children in her charge.

After meeting Ms. B.’s principal and her mentor—two very positive and progressive educators—I left the school feeling energized and uplifted. I realized that significant education can and is taking place even in the disadvantaged areas of our state. The key is educators who care enough to take that extra step, who love children no matter what the color of their skin, and who are willing to do the extra work necessary to make learning as meaningful as possible.


Experiential Learning: A Concept Whose Time Has Come (and Has Always Been)

  Philo Elmer

Warren Philo Elmer

A number of years ago “experiential” would have seemed a vague, almost “experimental” term—easier for some of us to do than to spell. Really, though, it simply describes how we all began (and continue) some of our most enduring learning: by direct, hands-on experience, by doing.

The experiential learning cycle comprises the experience, the reaction to or debriefing of that event; and the grounding or learning, which is then transmitted to the next practice. One of the most concrete examples is that we learn to walk by getting out there and walking and falling down, making mistakes, and processing what happened and doing it again and again until we master it. At least most of us do, I think. There are no really helpful books or lectures on learning to walk.

It is so exciting to see the mention of this profound, primary way of learning in such varied contexts these days. We can learn experientially in: a science class, on-the-job training, internships, service programs, the great outdoors, playing an instrument, leadership training, and countless other venues. Having spent a long career providing experiences in many settings—from the woods to the fields to the labs with at-risk youth to corporate executives—I am heartened to see an increasingly sincere belief in the power of this way of learning and growing as human beings. In fact, it is not the experience that really matters, but what we learn from that experience. I am reminded of an old saying:

What I hear I may forget.
What I see I may remember.
What I do I know.

I suggest that this “power to know” lies in the ability of any given activity to engage mind, body, and spirit intellectually, viscerally, and emotionally. We as educators and trainers and leaders can potentially add significant value or impact to any experience in the creative ways that we may frame it; and the art with which we facilitate the participants in their debriefing or grounding of that experience. For us to grow as individuals, the experience—no matter how good or hard—needs to be grounded and applied to our next interaction. Is it not the process, rather than the product, that counts the most?

For us as social creatures, the vital—indeed, the crucial—additional component of the learning process is sharing these learning experiences with others. As one example, marriage (or should I say any successful relationship) is highly experiential. Parenting is also highly (and even exhaustingly) experiential. In our work as educators, in schools or other more formal social settings, the opportunity to have positive experiences with each other can have grand impacts on our ability to build teams, cooperation, collaboration, and trust. Focusing on the experience and on the successful (and perhaps even fun) completion of an experience can often move us past our adult masks, barriers, and preconceived notions. What a wonderful life I have enjoyed—walking away from countless group interactions knowing that many came away with not just some personal insights, but with more a positive awareness of their co-worker, classmate, or fellow traveler because of that shared experience.

My view backward of my own experiential journey brings me to leadership, particularly empowered leadership. Would I trust you enough to follow you “up that hill” if you had never studied it, knew its challenges, and felt its possibilities? Can one show compassion and help empower others without direct experience of that “hill” we are trying to climb together?

I challenge each one of us to be an experiential leader—and, just as important, to be willing to follow leaders who know because they have been there!


A Book or Two...

  Kathleen Alfiero

Kathleen Alfiero

Do most people have a book or two in them, just waiting to be written? I do—and I’m finally getting around to writing them.

While giving my impromptu good-bye speech on my last day as a substance abuse counselor at a public high school, I heard myself say to 85 colleagues, “I think I’ll write a book.” That wasn’t the first time I had been aware that I was considering the idea, but I remember thinking (even while I was uttering the words), “What is ‘she’ saying? ‘She’ is not a writer!”

I sincerely believe that most people have the capacity to write. What to write about? Living a full life is the key. Based on the jam-packed shelves at Borders, lots of people are fully alive. So here’s my own focus for my writing: Children are our teachers. I’ve lived some powerful stories that prove it.

What a privilege it has been to be with young people for so many years! I’m glad I was smart enough to listen to them; I was a good student and allowed them to teach me. Here’s a Master of the Obvious statement: really listening to others is one of the most effective ways of improving ourselves—especially staying quiet and listening to the kids. You can imagine what teenagers talk about: friends, relationships, mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, school stuff, world events, sex (though less then you might think), hair, sports, music, boyfriends/girlfriends, clothes, weight, alcohol and other drug use, what they want out of life, teachers, and other schoolpeople. What did I hear most often? Kids think that adults don’t “get it.” Because I valued what teenagers had to say, I became a better parent to my son. I credit all my students for helping me become more aligned with who I am.

Here ’s the heart of the matter: Young people want to be happy and make good decisions. They are wise, no matter what their circumstances. They care about serving others. All of us are born with amazing and wonderful pure positive energy and a powerful cellular memory. I am keenly aware that children are closer to their pure energy than when they get older. No matter what an adult’s perception is of a young person’s behavior, our youth are doing what they can to hang on to their inner guidance. In their important role as non-conformists, they go with their own flow. Without exception, I could see their inner pilot lights flickering (if not burning), longing to be fanned into the brilliant possibilities that illuminate what most of them have not yet forgotten—that we all matter. The details and drama of their lives contain the contrast that begs them to allow their desire for wellness, good relationships, and meaningful contributions to swell.

I enjoy writing. People tell me that I’m a pretty good storyteller, so I bought a tape recorder and I’ve been talking into it, recalling and transcribing some of the most touching stories that continue to fill my heart and make me feel good. Some day soon, I trust that others will feel good too when they read my book, which I’m calling Tell Me More About This ‘Purpose’ Crap. You will love the “young teachers” my stories are about.


Living the Power of Words

  Robert W. Cole

Robert W. Cole
Managing Editor
and Senior Associate

I’m twice married and divorced, I served as best man for both my brother and a brother-in-law, and I had a few lines in my eldest daughter’s wedding seven years ago, so I know my way around the marriage ceremony (maybe twice as well as I should, some might say). But last month I was honored in a wedding-y way I could never have anticipated: I married my daughter Sarah to Jeffrey Dinsmore.

My cousin Lissa was horrified when I told her of the honor bestowed upon me by Sarah and Jeff. “It’s a good thing your father’s not still alive,” she gasped. “He couldn’t have dealt with it.” (I happen to think that Lissa was wrong, but we’ll never know, will we?) So too were some other acquaintances taken aback by the fact that Jeff’s father Dennis and I—mere persons; just fathers, after all—were stepping across some ritualistic boundary to unite our two loved ones in marriage.

To me, however, the step was a small one. I believe with all my spirit that all of us—pastor and parishioner, landlord and tenant, outlaw and in-law—are one with the Divine. I recognize no need for intermediaries between me and God. When I need pardoning, I go straight to the source of all forgiveness. No surrogates necessary.

In my heart, therefore, that took care of the spiritual part of the arrangements. The earthly part was accomplished by an online pilgrimage to the Universal Life Church, which ordained me as a minister. (I humbly beg the pardon of any reader who may be offended by this stratagem. I hereby promise not to marry you.)

That was the easy part. The challenging part came when we stood before the assembled relatives and cherished friends and performed the ceremony. Sarah and Jeff had asked the Marryin’ Dads (as Dennis dubbed us) to write a few lines about our child and his or her wife- or husband-to-be. Talking about Jeffrey Dinsmore—that dear, funny, multi-talented man—was affecting but not too tough, even with him standing right in front of me. Talking about my own dear Sarah, super-girl that she is and has always been, on this most important day of her life, was…challenging.

But that wasn’t the most trying part of my ministerial duties. That part came when, first, Dennis led Sarah through the ritual of the marriage vows that Sarah and Jeff had altered slightly to fit them and their love. Then came my turn to look into Jeffrey’s eyes and lead him through these words: “I, Jeffrey Dinsmore, take you, Sarah Cole, to be my wife—to have and to hold, through good times and bad, through rich times and lean, with compassion and gratitude, with humor and love, from this moment forward. This is my solemn vow.”

The tremendous force of those words! Words with the power to shape a pair of lives. Words we have heard so often, in so many variations, that they have been, sadly, drained of some of their meaning. And—I regret to add but must, to convey fully my feelings on that day in October—words (or words like them) that I myself had said twice before. There’s saying such words—and then there’s living them. Now here I was, a loving father, saying them again, but in a whole new context, and with a hard-won depth of understanding. Ah, me…

I only choked up three times.


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From Our Readers

I like The Lens.  It is always good for me to see articles with a spiritual focus.
- Chuck Bonner, Wayne, PA

The Newsletter is great.  I loved the movie trailer you sent the connection to.
- Rick Simon, Roslyn, NY

I appreciate receiving The Lens.  It makes me stop and think more positively.  It reminds me that there are others—everyone who wrote in this Lens for sure—who care about bringing joy and gratitude to our work.  For my part, I intend to be positively affected by it...assembling an effective, quarterly publication sounds like a big commitment.  Thank you.
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What a gift to open your email and find that you've sent me these wonderful, inspirational writings! You must be having so much fun with this and how important it is to each of us to think about taking some time in our every day life for a bit of inspiration.  The movie trailer was truly jarring. Our generation has a tremendous responsibility and opportunity to change the path of our little planet. I hope that, collectively, we have the moral strength to do it... thanks for providing a bright moment in my day!
- Jackie Roy, Dennisport, MA

Thank you for sharing the October issue of The Lens.  I found the articles inspiring and enlightening.  Steve has channeled his knowledge into an amazing resource for people to enjoy.  
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