Last night we opened "Midsummer Night's Dream," one of Shakespeare's most beloved and accessible plays. It was directed by a favorite director who used to live here and now comes up periodically to visit and direct. She's been away for several years and perhaps for that reason (bottled-up creativity) she wanted to try something different. She introduced us to a technique from Manhattan called Viewpoints; although we only skimmed the surface the experience was transformative. Not just in what it did to our acting, but the way our director used the process made every rehearsal a great experience. This is very different from the previous plays I've been in, where rehearsals are typically work and struggle and sometimes unpleasant. Each one of these rehearsals was a transformative experience in itself, because the goal was not to tell us what to do, but rather to draw out our own expression of the play. Performing the play is wonderful, but I also found myself thinking that if we had only done the rehearsals, that would have been a great experience all by itself.
It is also very satisfying to work with actors you know will treat the play professionally. It changes the experience when you have the safety net of the the other team members so you can focus on what really matters.
What I find most interesting about these exceptional experiences is the doorway you pass through whenever you have them. I definitely want to have the amazing experiences, but I'm very aware that it ruins me for the mediocre experiences I formerly thought were OK.
For years, I thought it was pretty cool that occasionally some company would contact me and have me come out for some training or consulting. But then I did a series of consulting visits with a company in Albuquerque and the experience was so great (once again, because of the "director," the VP who ran the group I worked with) that consulting experiences that are less than this are no longer satisfying.
The transformative experience creates a gap, because the old experiences aren't good enough anymore, but you don't know how to repeatedly find the new experiences. It's hard enough to find consulting jobs that fit, much less the amazing ones.
In my teens I came to the conclusion that all company life was terrible, so I wanted to get away from being an employee as soon as I could. Only recently have I revisited that belief and discovered that there are actually a few rare companies that focus on creating a positive employee experience -- much like our director focused on developing us as actors -- and now I wonder what I might have missed. Visiting Zappos, I see one example of an alternative way to work and I'm even less able to settle for the pedestrian.
I worked in the conventional conference world for many years before I was transformed by Open Spaces. Now, the only think that keeps me engaged in the old "eyes-forward" style of conference is if I'm speaking at one (which I still do, but I try to create conversations at such conferences whenever I can). And from that I have also realized how ineffective traditional educational approaches are towards the goal of creating creative, self-motivated non-robots.
There's a meta-issue: once you begin to realize that these exceptional transformational experiences are out there, you begin seeking them for themselves. Late in my college career I discovered that there were a very few exceptional teachers, and if you found one out, it was worth taking whatever they taught. You'd get more out of an "off-track" subject with one of these teachers than multiple ordinary teachers in your major field.
For the past 15 years or so I've been a regular visitor to Esalen, which tries to get the very best workshop leaders (mostly attracting them because of the environment and promise of a working vacation). These are usually the people who have invented the technique they are teaching. And most of those workshops have been transformative in any number of ways, which keeps me coming back. The first time you go, they offer a session in returning to the real world, because if you've never done it, it can be a big shock to see the "heightened reality" of what the world could be like and then be forced to return to your normal life. The same is true of Burning Man, although I only know of warnings and no workshops on the subject.
Esalen and Burning Man vs. the vacancy of experience in ordinary conferences have been a strong influence on my own events and seeking ways to make them transformative. Although last week's Programming Summer Camp seemed quiet probably because it was effortless, no one appeared able to think of ways to make it better. When everyone can choose their own experience, it makes it much easier to have the best time possible.
When you have a transformative experience, the aftermath is a kind of vacuum, as you re-adjust to your old life (except that you never quite fit back in). Whether you know it or not, the question underlying the vacuum is this: "How can I live in this heightened state all the time?"