World of Mirrors

I love The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  It’s steeped in weight and glory. The characters have haunting symbolism and inspirational courage, the kind I long to see translated into real life.

One of my favorite scenes from the trilogy is in the first book, The Fellowship of the Rings.  For those who don’t know the story, the protagonist, Frodo, is on a journey to destroy an evil, living Ring that has terrorized Middle Earth.  Frodo is sidetracked along the way by intertwining subplots that reinforce the main, symbolic purpose of the journey into Mount Doom to destroy the Ring.

One such magical subplot takes him into a mysterious woodland where he meets the Lady Galadriel.  She is an elf queen who is both beautiful and terrifying for her many powers, including the ability to see things before they occur.

In a dramatic scene, Lady Galadriel leads Frodo to her reflecting pool, which, when stirred, becomes an oracle of sorts.  She gives him the opportunity to look at the unseen—his potential future, but the choice to look or avoid is fixed with him.  He asks her advice on facing his future and this is her response:

“I do not counsel you one way or the other.  I am not a counselor.  You may learn something, and whether what you see be fair or evil, that may be profitable, and yet it may not.  Seeing is both good and perilous.  Yet I think, Frodo, that you have courage and wisdom enough for the venture, or I would not have brought you here.  Do as you will!”

Frodo chooses to look in the mirror, and is faced with a terrifying sight.  He sees the master of the Ring also known as the “all seeing Eye,” a soulless, pit of black emblazoned in fire.  He pulls himself away from the mirror just before the Eye is able to observe that Frodo carries the Ring of power.  Frodo is visibly shaken, and yet, he’s ultimately left with a greater determination to stay the course and end the reign of terror on Middle Earth.

Lady Galadriel is a symbol for the mirror’s revelations (which are both beautiful and terrifying).  Her words to Frodo echo with truth about the journey to understanding our own identities.  Our development can’t happen without observing a reflection of that which is unseen about ourselves.

We avoid the opportunity to look with clarity.  We know, as Lady Galadriel said, that “Seeing is both good and perilous.”  If we truly fix upon all of our flaws, secrets, and weaknesses, it’s terrifying.  Exposing those flaws engages an act of vulnerability that increases the potential for rejection, abandonment, and hurt. . .at first.

Then comes the opportune peace.  Following the reign of terror there’s the beckoning of a resonant calm as we settle into unfiltered observations of ourselves.  If this happens within the context of a connected relationship, there’s a deepening attunement.  We realize that instead of being judged, we’re valued; instead of being shamed, we’re respected; instead of being rejected, we’re embraced.

There’s so much about this voyage that I hesitate to share.  The journey takes different shapes for each of us.  You’ll only understand how it translates if you take the risk of adventuring into your own world of mirrors.  As with Frodo, it will be both beautiful and terrifying, and you won’t know what’s rippling in the pool until you take a hard look.  If you choose to take the risk, stepping towards the pool with “courage and wisdom,” you will certainly be changed for it.

Lessons From an All-Star

He’s got a Griffey-esque stance, the power of Babe Ruth, the humility of Lou Gherig, and an M356 bat.  This season alone, Chris Davis has delighted Baltimore with 37 homers prior to the All-Star Game, quickly defining himself as the league leader.  Endearing himself to the fans, he has been affectionately nicknamed “Crush Davis”, for his powerful swing and return on investment.  And he’s been rewarded with a spot in the heart of the order (3rd, 4th, or 5th), to boot.

He’s a clutch hitter on a very promising team, and the energy his hitting brings just ramps up the capability and momentum of his fellow players including Jones, Machado, Hardy, and Markakis—all of whom already stand on their own merits.   I love watching these guys play, rippling with the enthusiasm of youth and glory, and anchored by Buck (the juxtaposition is key).

While I’ve appreciated seeing Davis’ maturation over the past season and a half, it hadn’t struck me what that metamorphosis really meant until this week.  As Davis was going up to bat at the Home Run Derby, the announcers began to craft their dramatic story arc as the backdrop for his impending, much-anticipated performance.  Throughout the two days of all-star festivities, the commentators talked about the debate over Roger Maris vs. Barry Bonds, as home run record breakers.  They discussed the ongoing question of steroids and the scrutiny he would be under should he continue to be successful.  But what they mentioned, nonchalantly, caught my attention as an emblematic and overlooked piece of the story.  A piece that has implications for how each one of us has to forge our way, if we’re to authentically reach adulthood.

Davis got his major league start on the Texas Rangers in 2008.  He came up from the farm system in Oklahoma, with a batting average of .318, nothing to sneeze at.  Since he was from Longview, Texas, being drafted into the Rangers meant returning to play on his home turf.  He came back for his major league debut to a home town full of hopes and expectations.  For any performer, to share their craft in the place where they grew up can be a daunting task–an act of being caught between the world of childhood perceptions and adult expectations.  This type of perspectival conflict is enough to rattle the best of athletes.

Davis’ major league debut did not live up to his minor league promise.  It varied greatly from 2008 through 2011 with an impressive 2008 start that had waned by the following year, and some trips down to the minors.  By the end of 2009, he had a batting average of .238 with 150 strikeouts, which was a significant regression from his major league start.  As the announcers unpacked this part of his story, they shared what seemed to be a blip on the screen of the making of an all-star: Chris Davis was tormented by the fact that his ongoing failure was disappointing his family and friends.  He was working under the constant observation, and proximity, of those he cared about most, and simultaneously hearing their questions, their looks of concern, or maybe even doubt, as he continued to regress.

According to his testimony, he felt overwhelmed by the weight of expectations.  “I didn’t realize how much pressure I was putting on myself to play at home.  I had people at every game – my family and friends.  It really felt at times like I had the whole state of Texas on my back because the hometown boy had to do well.  I didn’t have a chance to breathe.”  His confidence was eroded.  It was whittled away to the extent that he’s been quoted as saying, “I was skeptical, at times, if I was ever going to be able to make it translate” (referring to his momentum and power being translated at the major league level).  By the time I had processed this description of his major league initiation, the announcers had already moved on.  But I was left mulling over something very curious.

Fast-forward to mid-season 2011.  Davis was traded to the Orioles.  He gained momentum over the rest of the season and by the end of October 2012 he had 33 home runs and a trip to the playoffs under his belt.  While the Sabermetrics would point to a variety of statistical data to bolster support for the transition in his performance from Texas to Baltimore, I can’t help but consider that there’s an underlying emotional element that plays an equally pivotal role.

I don’t want to wrongly assume that Mr. Davis was influenced so strongly by performing in the presence of family and friends that it affected his debut.  I do find it interesting, however, that he has communicated, on multiple occasions, the difficulty of being initiated in his home state as he worked to carve out his place in the world.

Whether my view of the story is accurate or not, this metaphor provides a rich context for understanding our own differentiation. defines differentiation as “to form or mark differently from other such things; to distinguish”.  For developmental psychologists, differentiation is considered an important marker of human development by which an individual transitions the dynamic of early attachments to become his or her own unique, or distinctive, person thus defining the essence of the proceeding maturation.

It’s often said that we can’t stay too closely intertwined with family and friends if differentiation is to occur.  If we remain enmeshed (emotionally entangled), our own gifts, talents, values, and offerings become overshadowed by what our loved ones want, hope, or expect from us.  It’s much like a sapling taking root under a mighty oak and struggling to find the sun and water necessary to ensure its own mature development.  Our loved ones are integral to our growth.  They help to shape the individuals that we become.  But for the person who struggles with differentiation, we can remain absorbed in who our loved ones are, or what they want us to be, rather than in pursuing our own key talents.  There comes a time when we have to find a way to disentangle our gifts, abilities, emotions, thoughts–our lives– from theirs.  Maybe, for Chris Davis, the physical distance provided the context within which that differentiation could occur.  Maybe, what followed was the necessary environment to inspire the dawning of an all-star.  Welcome to Baltimore, Mr. Davis, and welcome to the emerging realization of your dreams.


Life Unplugged

So I was planning on posting about last week’s radio appearance today, but the podcast isn’t available quite yet.  So in an attempt to be adaptive, I’ll share some transitional thoughts, which will eventually entail linking my vacation experience to the conflict between the digital and analog world.  I hope to have the summary and podcast available by next week for anyone interested.

I was away over Fourth of July week.  Prior to leaving I’d decided to unplug and focus on my analog world, while tuning out the immediacy of digital demands.  I was excited about my plan to engage in borderline monastic seclusion, and to read, reflect, meditate, and spend time with my family.  As with most things in life, the results were mixed.  There were unexpected intrusions: hospital visits, 3 days of rain (where I had planned on basking in the sun), crippling thoughts, cancelled plans, and a variety of other obstacles.  I had two options: view the week as a failure, or choose to face the life lessons and enjoy the moments of adaptive possibility.  There was definitely internal conflict about which path to choose.  The emotional side of me wanted to say it was a failure.  Ultimately, I couldn’t escape what I knew was stirring in me–a teachable moment.

So what does it mean to unplug on vacation, knowing that we’ll face hurdles and inconveniences (both externally and internally)?  To unplug is to set a boundary that our life and emotions don’t always cooperate with.  For me, it translates into allowing enough distance from my routine to be affected by the parallel change in culture, rhythm, and relationship .  And when I become disconnected from the routine, a routine that lures me into a sleepy, static apathy, I experience the opportunity to shift.

Our decisions to unplug on vacation will never work out exactly as we hope.  Life will, inevitably, bleed in to our attempts to avoid it.  It will disrupt our hopes in ways that are expected, and others that are unexpected.  It’s always good to be intentional about stepping away from life, making a decision to unplug, and giving ourselves the opportunity to perceive with different senses.  Instead of expecting that we’ll enjoy every moment of that time away, we’d do better to know that we can learn from it.

My vacation didn’t go as planned.  There were a lot of disappointments, frustrations, and internal demons.  But there were also some priceless moments of beauty, connection, and warmth.  What I can say is that I came home changed.  Those experiences, on some level, altered me.  They taught me much about my own weaknesses and shortcomings, and they helped to forge resiliency from being knocked over by my failures and struggling back to my feet.

In the words of Nelson Mandela, when we come back from the world of the unplugged, I hope we can come owning this reflection: “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”  How well do you leverage all of the disappointments of life, unplugged?  Do you let them cripple you, or revive you?