Living in the Puget Sound area of the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., traveling by ferry is a common mode of transportation.  You never know who you are going to see or meet as you cross the waters.  This weekend, I looked up and saw Rick and Marcy Jackson of the Center for Courage and Renewal, a couple of friends whom I had not seen for quite some time.  Traveling with them was Parker J. Palmer, founder of the Center and a most remarkable teacher, author and a Creator.  Getting to visit with them brought to mind the following “TED* Letter” newsletter, published earlier this year, that was inspired by Parker:

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We humans don’t like tension – unless we are at a sporting event or a movie, in which case we know that the tension will be resolved by the end.  But the capacity to engage, hold and utilize tension is a critical capability of a Creator.

When tension does arise, we often look to resolve and rid ourselves of the uneasy feelings that arise.  The anxiety we experience can easily result in our reacting to make the tension go away.  From a Victim Orientation, we will react from the Victim perspective within the Dreaded Drama Triangle and begin to seek – consciously or unconsciously – relief.  We will grope about for a Rescuer to release us from the grip of the Persecuting tension.

To suggest that we must learn to hold the tension as a Creator flies in the face of this most human of responses.  And it is definitely “counter-cultural” in our day-and-age of quick fix, fast pain relief, and quest for a life of smooth sailing.

Yet, we are called to learn the process of harnessing and holding the Dynamic Tension in service to creating envisioned outcomes.  In The Power of TED*, the tension we consciously and purposefully engage arises in the gap between what we want (Vision/Outcome) and the honest discernment of our current conditions (Current Reality).

Educator Parker Palmer refers to this as the gap between reality and possibility. Parker, often referred to as the “teacher’s teacher” and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal, recently appeared as a guest on “Bill Moyer’s Journal” and raised a most important question:“what happens when we don’t learn to hold the tension between what is and what we know to be possible?”

He went on to observe:

“What happens when we don’t learn to hold the tension between what is and what we know to be possible – the reality and the possibility – is that we flip out on one side or the other.  Flip out into too much reality, and you get what I call corrosive cynicism… When you flip out into too much possibility you get irrelevant idealism.  (This) sounds very different from corrosive cynicism, but both have the same function in our lives – both take us out of the action…

 I think irrelevant idealism that is not held in tension with what’s really going on on the ground eventually just disappoints and drops people off the wagon… because nothing changes… If you don’t have a capacity to hold the tension in your heart between reality and possibility, then you are just going to give up eventually…

I don’t think, in this culture, we teach very much – or have much formation – around the holding of these great tensions, which is so critical to our lives.”

So how do we hold and, eventually, resolve such tension?  Through discerning and taking Baby Steps.

As we engage the tension between possibility (Vision) and reality (Current Reality), the first step is to tell the truth about the current reality – seeing it for what it is and in its fullness.  We identify and affirm those aspects of current reality that support or are helpful in creating the envisioned outcome.  In turn, we also identify and acknowledge those aspects that currently inhibit making progress toward to outcome – be they problems or obstacles.

As we hold this Dynamic Tension between vision and current reality, we explore alternative actions – possible Baby Steps – we might take:

  • to keep focusing on and leveraging what supports us;
  • to stop doing what is within our control that thwarts our efforts (like the self-talk that intones “it’s not possible”);
  • to change or do differently something that currently exists that will further our progress; and/or
  • to start doing or attending to aspects of the vision that we have not been focusing upon.

From these alternatives, we then select and commit to a few “baby step” actions which will begin to resolve the tension by progressing from current reality toward the envisioned outcome.

By learning to harness and hold the Dynamic Tension between envisioned outcomes and current realities – and then discerning and taking baby steps – we will grow in our capacity as a Creator in our personal and professional lives.