|In the first article in this series, John explored the difficulties we have with Letting Go in the process of opening to a new possibility. Here he looks at why Allowing In is so hard—why we fight it—and what we can do to relax into the thing we want.|
Allowing In: The Dilemma
The final sentence in the last issue was, ‘Being too eager to fill the space (after letting go of something) blocks the space.’ This results in a fascinating dilemma: if we try too hard to find and latch onto what comes next, what comes is likely to look like what we had before!
What to do? Nature, as it often does, gives us guidance as we face this dilemma. The existing paradigm will persist until it is allowed to drop away, no longer needed, like the old skin off a snake, or the old feathers from a molting bird.
Nature doesn’t push things. It seems to know when it is time for letting go and allowing in. Everything has its ‘time’, as the poem in Ecclesiastes put it—and The Byrds (and others) covered in their 1965 song, ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’. (We sang it in our folk group when I was at Seminary. . .)
‘For everything there is a season. . .’ Things come and then go. In nature, something whose ‘time’ has passed is going out of existence every second—like the cells of the body—so something whose time has ‘come’ (a new cell) can come into existence. No rush. No hurry. Just letting go and allowing in, the natural flow of life— and death. Which we saw last week: Letting Go is like a little death. No wonder it is hard. . .
Why We Fight Allowing In
Isn’t that amazing?! You would think that once the space had been cleared, we would be ready and eager for ‘the new’ to flow into it. And sometimes we do. But mostly, we don’t. We instinctively resist ‘the new’. Why?
Resistance to ‘the new’ is not a bad thing. As I like to say, it’s a human thing. Regardless of our reasons, resistance to Allowing In actually serves several useful purposes.
- It ‘tests’ the validity of ‘the new’. ‘Is it likely to work?’
- It slows down the pace of change, allowing people—and the system—to adjust more fully.
- It usually contains valid points and important grains of truth that deserve to be taken into account for ‘the new’ to succeed.
- It helps weed out ideas that are not thoroughly thought-out or might be overly impulsive reactions.
- Finally, resistance provides an outlet for people’s energy and emotion during a time of intensity and transition.
When To Say YES
Who knows? That’s the truth. . . You will never have enough information—and never know for sure how things will turn out—to have absolute certainty that Allowing In will be a good move or not. So anytime you say ‘Yes’ to the new, and allow it in, you do not know what will happen next. But life ‘turns on a dime’, as we used to say back in Virginia. Life is not a snapshot. It’s a movie. And this moment is just the current ‘frame’ of a moving picture.
So, what to do? When should we Allow In?
1. Start with checking your Greater Purpose, your Strategic Intention, your TOV (LDI Graduates will know what this is). Does the new thing showing up in front of you ‘fit’ with some larger direction for your life or organization (‘West’ for people here in Central/Eastern Europe where I am now).
2. ‘Trust your gut.’ Research suggests that most people gather facts until they have enough data to go with what their gut (intuition) told them in the first place.
3. Practice ‘passionate non-attachment’ (the wonderful Buddhist principle). This means you give your all to something, moment-by-moment, while letting go of the outcome. As my US Army friend and high school classmate, General Binford Peay, told me after coming back from The First Gulf War: ‘Johnny, planning is priceless. The plan itself is useless.’
4. Celebrate and honor what you are letting go of. Appreciate its contribution. Maybe even ‘have a funeral’. Acknowledging the positives of what you are letting go makes it a little easier for you and others to allow in ‘the new’.
Have a ‘Funeral’ for The Old
I can remember vividly the ‘funeral’ we held at the end of a whole system transformation (WST) initiative with EXXON at their Baytown (Texas) Plant back in the late 1980’s. The Operations and HR Teams collected all the old policies and procedures that were being let go of, creating a ‘casket’ (actually an old footlocker) for the many notebooks containing them. Then the Steering Group, headed by a jazz band of musical employees, led a New Orleans-style funeral dirge, winding its way through the plant, picking up people who had served on Breakthrough Teams during the project.
We ended up on a pier reaching out into a pond on the property, where various leaders and front line people gave Eulogies extolling the virtues of those old policies and procedures, thanking them for how well they had done for so long.
Then, as the trumpet player played ‘Taps’, the casket was lowered into the water. (‘Letting Go’.) The Plant Manager started the applause. The WST Project Leader announced the launching of all the new policies and procedures, holding up the first draft of the new manuals. (‘Allowing In’.) Then the same band that had played a funeral dirge broke into ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’, winding its way back through the plant, dropping off Team members along the way. This process was observed and talked about throughout the plant for weeks, helping people open to the possibilities the new policies represented.
My internal colleague at that plant was Steve Pile, now an external consultant and good friend. He told me recently that there are still people 30 years later who tell him that process ‘worked’, and ushered in the new ‘way’ of doing things with a minimum of strain and a maximum of enthusiasm and support.
Letting to. Allowing in. Janus/January. Look both ways, then let something go. Let your fear and uncertainty have their time. Wait. Don’t rush. Don’t push the river. Wait for the new thing to appear. When it does, celebrate what has gone before, and welcome the unknown future with courage and strength, giving it your all.