The Gates of Hell, The Gates of Paradise
The Art of Decalibration, Part 3
A soldier named Nobushige came to Hakuin, and asked: "Is there really a paradise and a hell?"
"Who are you?" inquired Hakuin.
"I am a samurai," the warrior replied.
"You, a soldier!" exclaimed Hakuin. "What kind of ruler would have you as his guard? Your face looks like that of a beggar."
Nobushige became so angry that he began to draw his sword, but Hakuin continued: "So you have a sword! Your weapon is probably much too dull to cut off my head."
As Nobushige drew his sword Hakuin remarked: "Here open the gates of hell!"
At these words the samurai, perceiving the master's discipline, sheathed his sword and bowed.
"Here open the gates of paradise," said Hakuin.
Power is external
I am a human being with a significant amount of Power.
Some of this Power was acquired randomly, through the roll of genetic dice landing in my favor for the era in which I would live my life.
I was born with a penis.
I was born with a body that grew to be physically imposing – tall, broad-shouldered, barrel chested.
I was born with vocal cords that created a voice that was deep and ‘commanding’.
I was born with the wiring in my brain being such that my cognitive capacity was higher than the norm.
I worked for none of these things but, by virtue of the nature of the society into which I was born, all of these things had me start life with significant deposits into the store of Power that I would walk around with.
Some of the Power I have acquired came through my own effort.
I hold the title of CEO in my organization.
I have a body of ‘content’, curricula, tools, practices, etc. that I’ve created over many years of work and that, more importantly, others find valuable and desirable.
I have a long list of successful projects, companies, and outcomes/impacts that on one hand point to a certain competence but, more importantly, that others find valuable and desirable.
I have been a University Professor in one of the more highly regarded Graduate Organizational Psychology programs in the US for 20 years.
I have accumulated material and financial resources that, regardless of my relationship to them, others see as valuable and desirable.
While there was certainly some luck, and even more certainly significant contributions from others, the net effect is that these accomplishments, titles, and material acquisitions point to games in which I have competed and, if not won, scored significant points in. And, most importantly for the focus of this essay, they are a further basis for the amount of Power I walk around with.
Note that in both of my sources of Power, the reference is external. It is only because a CEO title, or a collection of professional work, or having male genitals are ‘credentials’ favored by the systems in which I live my life that those things are a source of Power. There is zero Power value in any of these things in and of themselves, nor can there be Power in any thing outside a system of Power.
Power, Calibration, & Force
If you’ve not read Part 1 of this article, you may want to do so HERE as, for the remainder of this essay, I’m going to assume you understand what specifically I mean by Calibration and Decalibration and how the two are mutually arising and wholly inseparable.
One of the things that is regularly misrepresented and fundamentally misunderstood in the circles I find myself in is the inherent value and need for Power and systems of Power. A surgeon, through a rigorous and extended process of study and gaining of expertise and experience, is given the Power to cut open another human being. That Power is embedded in their credential and title. Absent that credential/title, an individual has no such Power – they may use Force, which I distinguish as a breaking of the rules of a system in order to engage in activity that an individual lacks the formal Power to engage in, but they fundamentally lack the Power to legitimately perform an operation. In every aspect of society, we rely on systems of Power (and accompanying systems of credentialing and titling) in order to maintain the very critical aspects of life that benefit from being in a state of Calibration. In fact, this is what good, healthy Power actually is:
Power is a stable system’s means of distributing energy and authority for the purpose of maintaining that stability.
Absent systems of Power, a stable and healthy and well-Calibrated society is not possible – nor is a stable/healthy/well-Calibrated organization, or system of knowledge or any of the thousands of stable systems that allow us to engage in day-to-day life in our society. Those who argue for a ‘burn the system down’ approach to change have never lived in a country or an organization or a community where all of the systems of Power break down. As a young human I had this experience and, even at that young age, I understood the horror of it. Christopher Nolan attempts to make this point in the third installment of his Batman trilogy – it’s a poor film but it does a decent job of communicating the naivety of the Selina Kyle character’s desire for the rich and powerful to fall overnight, and her realization of the consequences of the use of aggressive and wholesale Force to create a society without systems of Power. See also Mad Max, The Walking Dead and many other tales of the consequence of the overnight Decalibration of entire systems. The consistent result is the emergence of a new system of Power grounded in the most primal of titles and credentials: brute physical power.
And so, Power is not only not evil, it is inherently good…in the context of a humanely designed system. In inhumanely designed systems, where Power is a weapon of compliance and not a tool of stability, there is a strong invitation for the powerless to use Force but, as I’ve said above, this is a trap as it invites the system to use the full might of its Power against the powerless and, even if successful, leaves the powerless in a state of chaos worse than where they started under the system of Power.
Close your mouth, block off your senses, blunt your sharpness, untie your knots, soften your glare, settle your dust. This is the primal identity. One who knows this secret is not moved by attachment or aversion, swayed by profit or loss, nor touched by honor or disgrace. Such a one is far beyond the cares of men yet comes to hold the dearest place in their hearts.
[Tao Tse Ching, Chapter 56]
Be still and know that I am God.
Do not be led by others, awaken your own mind, amass your own experience, and decide for yourself your own path.
This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
Strength is internal
I am a human being with significant access to Strength.
This Strength is not mine and I have never possessed it, and never will. I am unclear about its source or origin. I have however, over the years, created deeper and wider access to it.
This access came, and continues to grow, through developing deep attention and listening for the world, for the world’s inhabitants, and for myself.
I am present to my own suffering and traumas, separate and apart from any work of remediation or self-care.
I am present to the suffering and traumas of those I encounter, separate and apart from any work of remediation, help, or support.
I am present to the glow and the mystery that seems to be at the core of everything and everyone, separate and apart from any work of appreciation or reverence.
I am present to the inherent passing away of things and people and places and experiences, separate and apart from any sense of affection or regret or nostalgia.
It’s not that I’m uninterested in or uncommitted to remediation, self-care, help/support, appreciation, reverence, affection, nostalgia or any of the many other “in-the-world” responses to life. It is that I have found that there is a separate form of engagement: to simply be present to the thing. And, I have found that this form of engagement, over time, opens access to Strength, to the ‘energy’ that is not outside of systems - but also not contained within systems. The energy that doesn’t power the system, but animates Life.
Strength, Decalibration, & Invitation
It should also be noted that the bases of Power don’t lead to the design of the system, but the design of the system leads to the bases of Power. The wealthy reinforce the Power value of wealth, the credentialed professors reinforce the Power value of traditional degrees, and so on. This is the cycle of Expertise I referenced in Part 1 of The Art of Decalibration:
“…expertise has the effect of embedding calibration points in a way that further establishes the authority of that expertise – which then further embeds the calibration points that the expertise is grounded in. In other words, expertise and calibration points are mutually reinforcing and, over time, create the illusion of a fixed reality that becomes more and more difficult to decalibrate.
And so systems, in order to function, need Power and Experts (those credentialed to wield Power). But, over time, the self-reinforcing cycle of Expertise/Credential/Power creates an over-calibrated, rigid system and requires Decalibration, or the creative loosening/suspending of the certainties of the system. This work requires not Power, but Strength. To do the work of Decalibration is to, by definition, not wield Power as defined by the system - it’s a phenomena of the sharpest knife in the world being able to cut everything, but not itself. Strength is what an Artist wields when confronting a system of Power and, as I’ve said and written about for very many years, Leadership for me is fundamentally an art form, a summoning of Strength in order to invite the Strength in others.
And this is the work: invitation. Strength does not command, it Invites. My welding of Power as a CEO commands a set of behaviors and outcomes. The commands should be - and hopefully in my case consistently are - in a context of mutual respect and interpersonal care. But they are at their core commands, specific behavioral requirements of individuals in specific roles that need to deliver specific outcomes if the system is to function and fulfill on its mission.
My accessing Strength, my willingness to be deeply present in an engagement, has a fundamentally different effect. It’s impact is not specifically knowable in advance and there is no control that it offers. What it does however is create a container within which the other can access Strength for themselves and, having accessed Strength, step outside of the system of Power they are operating in. While I wouldn’t proactively say it this way, it would fit for me to think of the basis of our developmental work with humans over the past 25 years as simply this: the creating of rigorously held, long-term containers within which the “learner” can access and develop their unique, personal relationship with Strength.
And now, as I always seem to run into with writing about my work, we are at the limits of what I can convey in linear communication. The next obvious part of this conversation is, How? How do we access, and deepen access to Strength? How do we know we’re progressing? etc. These are conversations that need to be just that: conversations. Prescriptions on a page are highly useful for the development of ones relationship with Power, but not with Strength. If you’re really wanting to ‘do’ something with this, here’s one thing I’ll suggest: walk in nature (not your city park but into the woods, mountains, etc.) daily with no headphones, book, or anything other than your body. Do this for as many minutes or hours of the day as you can for as many days of the week as you can for at least 3 months. After that, DM me the results in terms of your lived experience and maybe we’ll talk.
The consequence of our approaches to Human Development
Whether it is the surgeon’s scalpel, the merchant’s wealth, or the police officer’s baton: in honorable times and in humane systems, to carry the sword at one’s side is an act of service, it is to be a vessel for the Power of maintaining a healthy and stable society and the pursuit and wielding of such Power is noble and good.
But even then, a system must ensure to develop Strength in equal or greater measure as Power in those who take on the system’s processes of development and credentialing. If it fails to do so, it will eventually face a time when the Powerful have ceased to be stewards of stability and health and are instead in service only to Power itself, a means that has now become the end onto itself. They will wield the sword and draw the sword because they can, for the pleasure and the glory of it, for the sense of power that Power creates in those lacking Strength. And for the system and its members, here open the gates of Hell.
We are living in such times.