Posts filed under Uncertainty

Overcoming Fear

Fear is our constant companion on the journey past the comfort zone into unknown territory. It keeps us sharp, awake to all that we encounter that is unfamiliar. Like all other primary emotions, it is hard to escape from fear. Visionmakers learn to overcome it and "move from within' as Rumi so elegantly put it.  

There are situations and encounters in life where it would be foolhardy not to feel the presence of fear. Eliminating it completely is beyond our capacity. Managing our fear–and not being run by it–is within our power to accomplish.


One fear that must be faced is the inevitable encounter with our Destiny. Many of us turn away from the future because we are afraid to face the possibility that we cannot attain our hearts desire, or that we will fail.


Others turn away for fear that they can attain their Destiny and are terrified of the changes and choices that will be required as a result.


Rather than be paralyzed by either sets of fears, Visionmakers make a different choice. They turn to their personal powers-the sum total of their knowledge, experience, aptitudes, gifts, talents, skills, character qualities and creativity.


They recognize that these unique and potent resources create confidence and the kind of seasoning that allows a Visionmaker to feel well-matched for the encounter with uncertainty and the unknown.


We are far more powerful than we might think. At times of challenge, change, conflict, chaos and crisis, when fear rises, we are reminded to empower ourselves rather than defeat ourselves by forgetting who we are, by giving ourselves over to our fears.


© Patrick O’Neill 2010. All rights reserved.

Posted on January 12, 2010 and filed under Crisis, Uncertainty.

Conditions of Uncertainty-Problems

"The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem."-Theodore Rubin


Sorry for the gap between blogs - a result of taking a well needed holiday from all things work.


Back to our series on the Conditions of Uncertainty. This is in response not only to our times, which are turbulent, but also to a new workshop that Angeles Arrien and I are leading on the topic. (For more information on this four-weekend conference, Meeting the Challenge of Uncertainty, please follow the link in the margin to the extraordinary conversations website. See "What's New.")


Problems, problems, problems. They are everywhere you look! Problems are commonly viewed as situations that are unwelcome, disturbing or harmful. As such, they are held as a threat to our well-being - and sometimes they are.


Mostly, though, problems are encounters with the unknown and unfamiliar that renders us uncertain. This, of course, is the terrain of Visionmaking, so you can imagine that Visionmakers hold problems differently from the average person.


Many of us see problems as dilemmas. A dilemma is a problem that can only be solved through a choice of equally undesirable alternatives. We can already see the negative bias in the definition. If we hold that problems provide only undesirable alternatives, of course we will search for those alternatives and prove ourselves correct. 


Visionmakers prefer to see problems from the perspective of opportunity.  They recognize that every problem initiates an inquiry. Inquiry, a formal and systematic investigation to gather knowledge, is the response of the curious mind to a mystery.


Problems, from the vantage point of Visionmaking, open a doorway into a state of immersion. Only immersion-deep involvement that requires the full application of heart, intellect and will-can penetrate to the depths of a problem.


This is where the path of a Visionmaker and conventional behavior diverge. Most people avoid their problems until they are forced to deal with them. Visionmakers embrace problems as an opportunity to learn and grow.  


Sufficiency, courage, objectivity, tenacity, flexibility and creativity are the chief resources required-and developed-by problem-solving.


Sufficiency is the allegiance to our knowledge, skills, gifts, talents, resourcefulness and creativity over the fear that we will not be able to solve a problem. Sufficiency allows us to trust that we can prevail, even in the face of uncertainty and adversity.


Courage is required to face our problems directly, without blinking. Courage, the strong-hearted ability to stand our ground in the face of a challenge or threat, allows us to confront a problem despite our fear. When we confront our problems and overcome them, courage grows.


Objectivity  allows us to meet a problem with curiosity, dispassion and detachment. From this stance we can examine how the problem is constructed, its components, where it springs from, and what keeps it in place. This information is necessary because within the composition of a problem lies its solution(s).


Tenacity is the capacity to stay with a problem as long as it takes to see a solution. Many times, problem solving is sabotaged by the inability to maintain the quest for an answer. Albert Einstein maintained, "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer."


Flexibility allows us to view a problem from multiple perspectives. Expansion of vision is critical if we are to see hidden opportunities for forward movement and flexibility provides the latitude required for the search. 


Creativity is the capacity to approach a problem from an original perspective and construct a resolution that is bold, inventive and resourceful. Creative solutions are the product of problem solving. In devising them, we expand our vision of possibility and open new frontiers in our thinking, behavior and relationships.


Just when we thought that problems were terminal afflictions, we discover they are doorways to expansion and growth. Who knew? 


© Patrick O’Neill 2009. All rights reserved.








Posted on August 16, 2009 and filed under Uncertainty.

Conditions of Uncertainty-Conflict

As many of you know, much of the work that I do in organizations is conflict resolution. That means I get to work quite regularly with pissed off people. I know. I'm just lucky I guess.  

One of the great contributors to conflict is uncertainty.


Conflict can be defined as "incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles and interests that leads to a clash."


Most people would rather stick pins in their eyes than be in a conflict. They see conflict as a threat. They fail to recognize that conflict is an opening to deepen knowledge, relationships, understanding and skills. 


Visionmakers see conflict as a natural byproduct of deep engagement. You don't get mad if you don't care passionately about something.


Rather than adopting the coping strategy of conflict avoidance, Visionmakers seek to strengthen their ability to manage two forces that lead to conflict-creative tension and compression. When outcomes are uncertain and unpredictable, both of these forces are present. They can provoke irresponsible behavior if they are not managed effectively.


Creative tension is the perceptual stretching required to hold two or more opposing realities or viewpoints. This requires flexibility, discipline, respect and patience.


Without these four practices it is easy to become positional and hostile. This leads to behavior known as snapping. Snapping means "to cause to break suddenly." In other words, the loss of self-control that can result in lashing out.


Compression is the force that "condenses, squeezes, and restricts." It has the power to distort our perception of time, creating the impression that there is insufficient time to slow down the velocity of debate and expand our vision to include perspectives that we may find foreign, challenging, even distasteful.


Balance, tolerance, patience and buoyancy are required to counteract compression.


When Visionmakers fail to handle compression, they become harshly expedient. Buckling is the consequence of compression, meaning "to give way under pressure or strain." Forms of buckling include yielding by giving power away or collapsing emotionally or psychologically from the pressure.


Notice that both the practices associated with creative tension and compression feature patience! Patience is the ability to hold creative tension and compression with equanimity-the ability to meet a disturbance without becoming disturbed.


Conflict provides a Visionmaker with the opportunity to examine their fixed perspectives; what fears they may carry; their relationship with winning and losing and being right; and how they react in the absence of respect.


This is important information. It reveals the places of congruence and incongruence in our nature.  It is one thing to espouse values and principles in our philosophy.  It is something else entirely to follow these ethical guidelines when our passions have been aroused.


Ultimately, conflict is an opportunity to deepen relationships and knowledge through the expansion of vision, not its reduction. By managing creative tension and compression, Visionmakers learn to see past artificial barriers and impediments to the heart of the matter. Issues, needs, and fears all contribute to conflict.  If they are not addressed successfully, they persist and renew ill will and aggression.


Even in the most difficult disagreements, there are always opportunities to discover mutual gain.  Without conflict it may be difficult to reach the depth of  vision that is home to such insights.


As the Persian poet Rumi reminds us, "Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there's a field. I'll meet you there."


© Patrick O’Neill 2009. All rights reserved.

Posted on August 3, 2009 and filed under Uncertainty.

The Conditions of Uncertainty-Ambiguity

"Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the ground we oft might win, by fearing to attempt." -William Shakespeare


On our tour of the conditions of uncertainty, our next stop is ambiguity. Ambiguity is a condition which causes a lack of decisiveness or commitment resulting in a failure to choose. 


Ambiguity is associated with doubt. Doubt results from the perception that externally, there is a lack of definition that produces tentativeness, imbalance and confusion about the way forward. Sounds like the times we are living through!


Doubt arises when we become afraid of making a mistake. We begin to turn against ourselves and question our ability to see clearly. We become overwhelmed by possibilities and second-guess our capacity to choose correctly from those possibilities that present themselves. What if we're wrong? What if we can't figure out what to do? 


Visionmakers approach ambiguity with a different spirit. They recognize that the way forward is often difficult to discern and that when ambiguity appears, it is a signal to slow down or wait for clarity. It is this maturity and discipline that marks a seasoned Visionmaker.


This is wisdom: not to feel compelled to make a choice because the circumstances dictate that we must. Visionmakers assume responsibility in the face of uncertainty and turn their eyes from the outer world to the inner world. They recognize that all external confusion is a representation of an inner state of confusion. Therefore, if ambiguity is present and the way forward is not obvious, inner work must proceed to regain clarity.


Visionmakers also recognize that they have five centers of choice at their command at all times and in all conditions:


Evaluation, the application of logic, can be applied to situations which require or lend themselves to analysis. Opportunities, problems, conflicts that have mid to long term consequences can be approached from this modality.


Intuition, supports making choice that cannot be made from inductive or deductive thought processes, including matters of the heart, unexpected circumstances that demand an immediate response and ambiguous or paradoxical circumstances. Trusting gut feelings, hunches and insights support intuitive decision-making.


Visualization requires both evaluation and intuition. Reason is applied in order to form, assess and understand a coherent strategy in response to an emerging situation or challenge. Creativity and intuition are marshaled to build a visual narrative in the mind to examine and evaluate potential courses of action.


Instinct is our most ancient guidance system. It is most associated with "body wisdom," the innate knowledge residing in the back, spine, gut, skin and glands. Primary emotions like happiness, anger, fear, and attraction signal to us instinctual direction as do our drives, including, hunger, thirst, safety, territoriality, and survival.


Seeing is the fifth modality, and the way most associated with Visionmaking.  Seeing occurs when the heart is clear of unresolved issues associated with the past, and we are engaged in a healthy relationship with the self. It comes with complete immersion in what we are doing and the ability to trust ourselves even in ambiguous circumstances.


Visionmakers befriend ambiguity. They recognize that life is complex, even grey sometimes. They take such conditions not as a threat but as a reminder that reflection and patience reward those who make their way with care rather than haste.



© Patrick O’Neill 2009. All rights reserved.

Posted on July 26, 2009 and filed under Uncertainty.

Conditions of Uncertainty-Paradox

"At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement." -T.S. Eliot


We have been exploring the conditions of uncertainty and the hidden opportunities that lay awaiting us there. This is the fourth installment, paradox.


Paradox is defined as a person, situation or thing that provides seemingly senseless or contradictory evidence that leads to a riddle. Behind the riddle is very possibly a hidden truth.


Galit Hasan-Rokeem and David Shurman are poetic in their characterization of the riddle:


"A riddle is poised on the boundary between domains, at the edge of life and death, where each issues into the other. Both are somehow contained and made present through the challenge posed by the riddling question and addressed by its solution."


It is this boundary between domains that Visionmakers understand well; the territory where the present and future touch within a field of creative tension. It is here that Vision is forged through agencies that are inexplicable. Paradox is such an agency.


Many of us cannot tolerate paradox. We see it as a bewildering obstruction that prevents us from making progress towards our goals.


A Visionmaker holds this form of uncertainty differently. To one who values the mystery and challenge presented by the riddle of paradox, it is an opportunity to enter a deeper level of perception through focused attention. Like a koan, a paradoxical riddle forces us to entertain, rather than immediately dismiss, contradictions. Perception is stretched by this task.


In Visionmaking, the purpose of a paradox is to generate enough creative tension to evoke ingenuity. Ingenuity is the capacity to be clever, original, and inventive. Ingenuity requires us to learn quickly, to think on our feet, to apply our knowledge in real time.  These qualities are essential to the life-long journey of meaning.


"How wonderful that we have met with a paradox," remarked the Nobel Prize winner for physics, Niels Bohr. "Now we have some hope of making progress." Bohr recognized the presence of paradox as a place of high potential rather than its absence. This attitude should be a guide and an inspiration to Visionmakers.


Visionmakers welcome paradox as an agent of transformation. Facing a riddle or paradox requires us to maintain openness and curiosity while we attempt to solve the challenge that it poses to us. This is the journey of mastery – the willingness to fail for as long as it takes to succeed without giving up, becoming demoralized, or allowing frustration to sabotage our commitment.


Finding that "still point where the dance is" that Eliot refers to in the opening poem is our place of solid ground. From here, we can explore the strange reality of contradiction, a reality that our ancestors wrestled with on their journey to knowledge.


Here is a riddle to get you started:


"How much dirt is in a hole two meters wide, two meters long and two meters deep?"*


The answer next time.


* From: A Brief History of the Paradox: Philosophy and the Labrynths of the Mind, by Roy Sorensen, Oxford University Press.


© Patrick O’Neill 2009. All rights reserved.

Posted on July 22, 2009 and filed under Original Vision, Uncertainty.

The Conditions of Uncertainty-Chaos

"Chaos is a friend of mine." -Bob Dylan


The third condition of uncertainty is chaos. Conventional definitions suggest that chaos is "behavior so unpredictable as to appear random; formlessness."


Many of us hear the word and summon images of lawlessness, pandemonium and disorder. It's important to understand the etymology of chaos in order that we penetrate conventional attitudes and look deeper at the opportunity that this condition provides.


In Greek mythology, the first created being was called Chaos. From Chaos came the primeval deities Gaia, Tartarus, Erebus and Nyx. The Greeks can teach us something about this state of uncertainty. They saw chaos as the creative void from which new forms emerge.


If we subscribe to this definition, Chaos can be held not as a threat but as an opportunity to generate something new. This might carry us a little closer to what the enigmatic Mr. Dylan means by his friendship with Chaos.


In Visionmaking, creativity is seen as the ability to create something from nothing. That process is not unlike entering chaos -the void- and re-emerging with something new as a result of the adventure into formlessness.


When we create from what we already know, it is called innovation. Visionmakers think of this as the ability to create something from something. This form of creativity is anchored in certainty, rather than uncertainty because it seeks to improve on or modify forms that we are already familiar with.


Creativity, on the other hand, has us enter uncertainty to do a deep dive into the unknown. We may return with nothing. Or we may discover something wonderful, something we never knew existed within us.


Chaos is also a state where we recognize that everything we have, know, have done and have been are no longer a legal currency in the territory of the unknown. They buy us nothing in the face of the unfathomable. Chaos has stripped these arrows from our quiver and we must count on something else to carry the day. What that something might be is never known in advance. It is a mystery that is only revealed in the encounter with chaos.


Carlos Castaneda leaves us with something important to think about with respect to chaos and uncertainty, something that suggests to us that our growth and development is limited by the territory of familiarity:


"It is important to do what you don't know how to do. It is important to see your skills as keeping you from learning what is deepest and most mysterious. If you know how to focus, unfocus. If your tendency is to make sense out of chaos, start chaos."


© Patrick O’Neill 2009. All rights reserved.

Posted on July 11, 2009 and filed under Uncertainty.

The Conditions of Uncertainty-Confusion

"Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood." – Henry Miller  

Confusion is the second condition of uncertainty. In my last post, I suggested that uncertainty is a lack of knowledge, experience, precedent, or assurance about current conditions and what may emerge in future. 


Most people are made uncomfortable by such conditions. Not Visionmakers. They see the conditions of uncertainty, including confusion, as openings for the Field of Possibility-the geography of unlimited creativity and potential.


Confusion is generally seen as "a state of bewilderment and lack of clarity, a disorderly jumble." In Latin, it means "mingled together" and that is precisely how Visionmakers understand it. They see confusion as the place of emerging order.  


Rather than be overwhelmed by the appearance of chaos, they hold the creative tension that comes with this "developing coherence," recognizing that inquisitiveness, patience and trust are required to see the new patterns as they are forming, in real time.


Albert Einstein speaks to this capacity for managing creative tension, the atmosphere of uncertainty, that accompanies the journey from confusion to clarity when he states: "I used to go away for weeks in a state of confusion." 


Imagine being able to remain open and confident for weeks at a time in states of confusion, trusting that you will recognize the new pattern that is just emerging to view! That is a supreme accomplishment of the will ...and a goal for all Visionmakers. 


We live in an age of instant gratification. Many people panic and collapse when they can't figure out the answer to something immediately. Or they become bored and impatient, ultimately abandoning the quest to understand something new. Others still turn on themselves, victims of harsh self-criticism.


Visionmakers prefer a different approach. They actively train to build the capacity to explore the emerging future with quiet confidence. They realize that if they become confused, they are being initiated into the next order of clarity.


This new order carries with it a test – will we succumb to disorder, lack of distinctions, unfamiliarity, and breakdown and quit the pursuit? Or, will we follow Einstein's example and move from confusion through curiosity, tenacity, patient observation, creative thinking and trusting ourselves and the circumstances? 


The Visionmaker's choice is obvious.


© Patrick O’Neill 2009. All rights reserved.

Posted on July 6, 2009 and filed under Original Vision, Uncertainty.

The Conditions of Uncertainty-Challenges

Visionmakers believe that Challenges, the first condition of uncertainty, are necessary if one is to grow into their full potential. Without a Challenge we are prey for the status quo which seeks to seduce us into a state of lethargy. Lethargic people are mostly unconscious.  They never notice that their life is being sucked out of them just to feed the voracious appetite of stasis.  

Visionmakers recognize Challenge as a chance to escape the gravity field of convention and cross into the future where one is no longer restricted and restrained by conventions of the past. This crossing, however, is demanding. One must be ready for the tests of heart, intellect and will that are unleashed by the atmosphere of creative tension, the atmosphere that accompanies Challenges and uncertainty.


As outlined in my post of December 9, 2008 entitled The Initiatory Nature of a Challenge, there are four essential functions that Challenges play in transformation:


• Challenges call forward our personal powers – including gifts, talents, character qualities, skills, aptitudes, knowledge, resourcefulness and creativity;


• They help us develop new personal powers;


• They teach "right application" of these resources;


• They expose that which requires change or strengthening in our nature.


Pretty efficient vehicle for empowerment! How we respond in the creative tension of a Challenge can often tell us more about who we really are than years of contemplation.


Many of us retired from the field of Challenges years go, preferring security and safety on the sidelines. Or, we chose certain predictable and controllable  "challenges" like professional advancement to avoid other real Challenges, like emotional maturation through relationship.


Real Challenges are never predictable or controllable.  They are tests of the heart, intellect and will and always carry problems, difficulties, tests and provocation. Challenges are a summons to our excellence.


Our response to challenge depends on our readiness. We must be willing to see Challenges as the inevitable encounter with the unfolding future and forget about shoring up our hiding place within the status quo. No matter how many defenses we erect, Challenge will be there waiting for us just on the other side of the false barricade we have erected, laying siege to our artifices.


Ultimately, Challenges faced and overcome provide a sense of being fully alive, engaged and well matched for the journey of meaning that we have been born to make. To a Visionmaker, a journey without Challenge is dull, boring and tedious. That is not a description of Visionmaking; it is a description of the status quo.


Welcome the first condition of Uncertainty into your life. Challenges are opportunities to leave who you think you are in the furrow to claim who you are destined to be.


© Patrick O’Neill 2009. All rights reserved.

Posted on July 2, 2009 and filed under Status Quo, Uncertainty.

The Opportunity of Uncertainty

"Where nothing is sure, everything is possible." -Margaret Drabble


We are living in a period of great uncertainty and volatility economically, socially and politically. Although world markets appear to be recovering, most "experts" concede that they remain unpredictable. Industries have been shaken, people have lost their jobs, and governments are seeking to stabilize the marketplace through stimulus spending initiatives.


Most people seek simply to survive such conditions of uncertainty.  Visionmakers see uncertainty with different eyes.


Uncertainty is a condition where there is a lack of knowledge, experience, precedent, or assurance about current conditions and what may emerge in future. That implies a high degree of also implies an abundance of opportunities.


Uncertainty is a condition that exists in the Field of Possibility. In Visionmaking, this field contains all the creative thoughts, feelings and actions available to everyone and anyone as they pursue a journey of heart and meaning.


Possibility is limitless, despite what conventional thinking dictates. There is always far more available within the Field of Possibility than the imagination can apprehend.


Visionmakers recognize that uncertainty carries with it risk. But to one who hears uncertainty as a call to adventure, the benefits of venturing into unknown territory is far more compelling than to remain on the shoreline of convention.


Calling on the gift of foresight, and trusting the careful preparation that he or she has made to enter uncertainty, a Visionmaker sets forth connected to personal power and trusting the heart's guidance. He or she enters uncertainty with respect, discernment and excitement. 


Rather than be afraid of the conditions of uncertainty, the Visionmaker's intention is to hold the creative tension that comes with the emerging future. Creative tension, the atmosphere of uncertainty, is the perceptual stretching required to stay open to new possibilities rather than overwhelmed by them.


This demands equanimity. Equanimity is the ability to maintain buoyancy and composure in the face of a challenge. Put another way, equanimity is the ability to meet a disturbance without disturbance.


In the Field of Possibility, and in the atmosphere of creative tension, a Visionmaker seeks to explore all the potential opportunities and actions that further the journey of meaning. In this new territory of uncertainty, if one is agile, it is possible to pluck the future from the fingers of Chance.


© Patrick O’Neill 2009. All rights reserved.

Posted on July 1, 2009 and filed under Chance, Original Vision, Uncategorized, Uncertainty.