Elle Luna: Designing a Life Beyond the Crossroads of Should and Must
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Oct 8, 2016
Oct 8, 2016: Designing a Life Beyond the Crossroads of Should and Must
with Host Rahul and Moderator Pavi Mehta
Pavi: Good morning, good afternoon and good evening depending on the part of the world you're calling in from. My name is Pavi Mehta and I have the pleasure of being your host for our weekly global Awakin Call today. Welcome and thank you for joining us. The purpose of these calls are really to hear and share stories, stories that will help plant seeds for a more compassionate society while fostering our own inner transformation. We do this by holding collective conversations with special guest speakers from all walks of life. These guest speakers inspire us through their actions, their experiences and their insights on how to live in a more service-oriented way. Behind each of these calls is an entire team of Service Space volunteers whose invisible work allows us to hold this beautiful space. Today our special guest speaker is Elle Luna and I have the pleasure of introducing her now. Elle Luna is an accomplished designer, artist, writer and movement leader. Working at a series of groundbreaking companies, IDEO, Uber, Mailbox and Medium, Elle Luna has been at the forefront of design innovations that millions of people around the world use on a daily basis. Her gifts as a designer allow her to powerfully re-imagine the way people use technology and it eventually catapulted her on an uncharted adventure of re-imagining the way she uses the ultimate gift: Life. Today she is an acclaimed multimedia artist and writer based out of here in California. Her book, The Crossroads of Should and Must, grew out of a blog post and sparked a national conversation. As she continues to live its quietly-revolutionary messages, she's being steadily drawn into a new calling around reconnecting women from around the globe with the much-needed power and balancing force of the Feminine Principle. Today she's channeling her energies into a movement called "Aphrodite Emerges" that seeks to awaken women at the individual and collective level everywhere and inspires them to inhabit their inner wisdom and innate gifts. When we consider the spam and reach of her work, one can't help but be impressed. Elle Luna has made a mark in the world and then some. Her most celebrated contribution (that taps invisibly into the divine acts)* that make our daily lives more connected, intuitive and seamless. But her greatest contribution, perhaps, is the way she lives her life as an openhearted invitation, an invitation for everyone everywhere to become conscious designers of their highest potential and to let their gifts sing together. It's a joy to have her here with us today. Thank you for being here, Elle.
Elle: Thank you so much for having me.
Pahvi: Before we get started, we'd like to ground ourselves in a minute of silence and then we will launch into our conversation. Okay a minute a silence to ground.
Thank you all. So Elle let's jump right in and get started. I was thinking we could start with your origin story. Where did Elle Luna's story begin, if you could tell us about the roots of your life. When you look back, what were the influences and events that shaped who you are in definitive ways?
Elle: Hmmm. The roots. Well I guess the early origin story would be that I was born in Dallas. I was born in Texas and I grew up. I spent the first 18 years of my life there. I went on to study in Tennessee, in Nashville, and while I was there I felt like I should follow the footsteps of my father and grandfather who were both incredible lawyers. My father still is. So I went to college thinking that I would become a lawyer and an interesting thing happens when you find yourself saying one thing but doing something very different. I found myself studying for all of the rigorous exams for law school but basically sleeping at the art studio because I was creating all of these projects and was so wrapped up in what I was creating, but the bridge between those two worlds, for some reason, I couldn't quite see it, and I don't think I ever really wrapped my head around the possibility that maybe I had been called to live a creative life. So I applied to law school and, in a great gift from the universe (which I didn't see at the time, it was very painful), I was rejected from every law school that I applied to. I think that my admissions essay, the story must have, the readers of my essay must have really been able to see what I was saying in the roots of that essay which was, "Don't let me in! Don't let me in!" So it was a tremendous gift because, in the face of failure, which is how I perceived it, a new door opened which was: Well, I sure do seem to love making art. And so, quickly my adventure began. It took me to Chicago where I began studying visual communications and I got my Master's Degree at the Art Institute of Chicago and it opened up this entire world for me which was very innate but for some reason I couldn't make it conscious, that I just really wanted to live in the world of images and visuals and the creative spirit of play. So I guess that would be... And of course as a child I would paint and draw all the time and would make things. I think I innately saw myself as a creator and I believed that it was maybe this thing that maybe this thing, that being a creator was reserved for kids, that that was kids' play. I can't think of anything anybody said to me. I don't recall anything my parents ever said to me that made me think that, but I just had this feeling that once I grew up I would have to put the paints away and become an adult and that kind of playful child spirit would have to take the back seat to a different type of life. I guess when I realized that actually maintaining that child spirit into my work, when I realized that that was possible, a lot shifted internally.
Pavi: I can't help but being curious to ask what is the first thing you can remember creating as a child and feeling a sense of pride in the act?
Elle: I painted a portrait of a woman walking along the edge of a lake and she's wearing a beautiful dress, like head-to-toe dress, and she has on these fabulous glasses and they weren't sunglasses they were seeing glasses. She's carrying this beautiful parasol above her head and it's bright sunlight and she's passing in front of these beautiful red flowers, and behind her is gate, this big gate with a big monogram, like the family name on the gate, and behind that is a large home and it was a home in my neighborhood that we would pass by when we were at this particular lake. I painted this, and my mother saw it and immediately declared it an absolute masterpiece and took it right from my hands, and she had it framed, and she had it with a beautiful mat around it and she hung it right on the wall. It was fresh off the floor. There was something about that that she just said, "This is complete and it's important and there's something here." And she had it framed, and there was something about that experience where I realized that there is something about art that was really important, that it was touching on something that maybe we could see or feel but maybe not explain or fully be able to make sense of.
Pahvi: And how old were you at that time?
Elle: I don't know, maybe 6 or 7, I'd have to ask my mom.
Pavi: That's a special origin story of the artist. There you go. That's the moment when you realized what art could be and the impact it has too. The affect your work has on another heart can be so powerful. It reminds me, I was reading this Rumi poem recently and actually this comes to mind with your work and the journey you've been on and it's a really short one. It says, "If you want what visible reality can give, you're an employee. If you want the unseen world, you're not living your truth. Both wishes are foolish. But you'll be forgiven for forgetting that what you really want is love's confusing joy." 14:00
Pavi: That element, that kind of that place of bewilderedness and creativity, that place where the unseen and the seen, the visible and the invisible, kind of interconnect, I feel like you've kind of danced along that line in your work. I wondered if there are any other influences? Your mother was a deep influence but are there any spiritual or inspirational figures that have been important for you? 14:43
Elle: Well I'm looking at my desk right now. I built a little, I don't know if it's like a mood board or an altar or like sort of the spirit of what I wanted to make sure I brought into the call. So maybe I'll just tell you what's sitting on my desk.
Elle: I have a beautiful book by an artist named Mayumi Oda. She practiced here at Green Gulch at the Zen Center here in Muir Beach. She is an incredible artist who has been working with goddesses. When she became pregnant with her first son, she just had this urge, this inexplicable urge to paint these full-breasted images of these women doing all kinds of wonderful things. She took a lot of the male-god imagery of her childhood growing up in Japan and turned them all into female deities so that they would resonate with her in her life. So I have Mayumi Oda's work and I have a volume of Mary Oliver's poetry. I love children's books. I actually have a copy of Lemony Snicket's book. He collaborated with John Klassen and they wrote a book called The Dark which is just marvelous. I love it. Let's see, what else do I have. I have a book called The Book of Symbols and it's a compilation of all of the -- well, I shouldn't say all -- it's an attempt to look at symbols and archetypes that we experience throughout our lives, and it's built on the work of Joseph Campbell. I would say Joseph Campbell has been one of the more largely-influential figures in my life. I'm also thinking about his favorite, Siddhartha. And I'm thinking, I guess when I really look at influences on my life, I think there's a lot of inspiration that I find in art and in people who try to communicate their inner transformation through music or poetry or just sort of that world in between. I was talking to a girlfriend about a year ago, and she said to me, "Elle, I learned the most interesting thing." And I said, "What was it?" And she said, "Well, I learned that when a caterpillar goes into the cocoon to become a butterfly, do you know what happens inside the cocoon?" And here I am, we're walking on the sidewalk in San Francisco and I'm leaning forward thinking, She's about to tell us that that's the answer.She's about to give THE ANSWER, (all capital letters). I'm leaning forward, waiting for this message to be delivered and she says, "The caterpillar becomes goo." She just kept saying it: "Goo!" And I thought, "What a marvelous, nonsensical experience. You're trying to communicate, "What is it like when you're in a goo-like state?" Well, it's impossible. It's like in Alan Watt's book, The Wisdom of Insecurity, he talks about (how) he had a strong desire as a child. He wanted to send a parcel of water in the mail. And he talks about wanting to fill up a box with water and wanting to send it through the postal system. And there's this wonderful absurdity about it. How do we talk about inner transformation? It's just goo. But there are all of these artists and writers children's-book authors and poets who have given it a go, and it's like, "How do you talk about that thing that you can't talk about?" I guess those folks have been the most intriguing to me.
Pavi: Quite a collection there, so rich and varied. I was thinking as you were talking about how that putting words to the indescribable or just even noticing those things that other people are just walking by, I think it's taken for granted. I think it's such an inherent part of what being a designer is. I was just wondering if you could speak a little to that part of your life. I know you spent five years with IDEO and your contributions in the design world are tremendous in so many ways. What are the kind of principles that have been key for you as you approach that world or look at that world with a designer's eye?
Elle: When I was a designer at IDEO one of the first things that I learned as junior designer there on learning about the user-center design process was they talk about the process of brainstorming. I'm not sure if IDEO came up with it, but they did come up with a series of rules that they held as sacred for if you want to go into a really creative, generative space, and these kind-of rules have stuck with me ever since. Some of the rules are "To encourage wild ideas. To defer judgment. One conversation at a time. To stay on topic, and to build on the ideas of others." And I remember as a young designer hearing these and applying them to our creative process and the projects that we were working on, and I have to tell you it's really, really fun when you have some ground rules but then you can go into this emptiness, this pathlessness and you're coming up with... Oh and ("Make it visual." That's another rule. Everyone has a post-it notepad and a sharpie, and the reason that we would do that is because, if you use a pencil, the line is too thin and it encourages you to write small words and letters but if you use a sharpie it almost forces you to create more gestural, more synthesized marks because you don't have that much space with a sharpie. So we would get thick markers and small notepads and that combination would inherently require distillation of the idea. And you would basically have a pad of paper and a pen. One of the first things people say is, "But I can't draw. I'm not creative. I can't even draw a stick figure." Because we would do this with our clients, and these are folks who maybe never thought of themselves as creative. At IDEO I think we all had this similar ethos that everyone is innately creative and that we're all creative as kids and that anybody can draw. So everybody would get a pad and a pen, and we've have one facilitator ask a question, and then everyone would just sketch. In the spirit of a brainstorm, it's fast and it's so much fun. It's really, really fun. And when you have people who... We were trying to design an insulin injector for folks who have diabetes, and one of the ideas, I think it was one of the individuals who was leading our office at the time, he said, "I know how we're going to get the insulin inside of the person's body. We're going to put scuba divers inside of insulin pen. They're going to be very tiny, and they are going to take the insulin and swim it inside of the individual's body and put it into their bloodstream." And I'm sitting there thinking, This guy's in charge, and he's talking about scuba divers and insulin pens? And I thought, Defer judgment. Defer judgment. The minute that happens, when you realize, Oh wait. Anything is possible here, and you think, Okay, well where does that take me, scuba divers and a pen? And then, right after that, someone else had an idea because what he did was kind of shuffle around the blocks in our mind, and that humorous post-it note that he created opened up a wall for someone else, opened up a window for someone else, and the idea that they came up with ended up being breakthrough for how we were delivering insulin in this device. I learned in that process that if we can take that process into life, into this playful spirit and building on the ideas of others and just one conversation at a time, and bringing it into this playful child spirit, the generative effects are exponential. Now, of course, I think that the other half of design which also has really stuck with me is that you can kind of think of a project process in two phases. The first is to be generative, to cast the net wide, to take the nut that you're trying to crack and expand it and open it and read and collect and talk to people, research. But then you get to an inflection point where you decide, "Okay. Now we need to need to narrow. We need to focus. No more additional things. It's sort of like when you're cooking, like, "Okay, we have all the ingredients. Now we need to just play with what we have." And that's also really important, and that's when you begin to refine and remove and edit and distill. It's like when you're cooking a soup, you're distilling the flavors, you're really ripening the broth. The last piece I would say about the process is that, in one project, you might go through that expansion and contraction many times, so it's almost like a double helix turning in on itself. So it's not exactly linear, but it does have forward momentum.
Pavi: That's so interesting to hear it described like that. Just yesterday I was listening to this interview with the late Celtic poet, John O'Donohue, and he was talking about how we tend to dwell in a world of facts and forget the world of possibilities, and facts are distilled possibilities. If you can play with more possibilities, your distillation becomes a lot richer. I'm thinking that seems like what was built into your process is playing with the possibilities, scuba divers and all, and that enriches the distillation so deeply.
Elle: I love that. It's tricky to figure out, How do you get outside of your own limiting thoughts? There's a scientist named David Eagleman. He studies the brain. He's a neuroscientist. He talks about a fish swimming under water. He talks about "How do you communicate the existence of the water to the fish? It makes no sense because it's their entire reality." He says that when a fish sees a passing bubble float by, it's a clue, it's a hint at the larger reality that is beyond that which the fish can see. I think as creators we're all trying to ask questions: "What are the bubbles floating by? How do we talk about that? How do we talk about the existence beyond maybe what we can touch and see that is our immediate reality?" It's tricky.
Pavi: That's kind of profound and it kind of begs the question, for you, what have been ways in which you've been through that process of identifying the bubbles? Where have you begun to see that in your own life?
Elle: In dreams. I would say that's been a wonderful bubble, a series of bubbles. Yeah, remembering dreams. For a long time, I had dreams but would forget them. I would wake up and hop on my phone and already be somewhere else. But beginning to listen to my dreams and take time to remember them, write them down. On my phone I have an audio recorder and in the morning what I do is if I -- and I don't dream every night. Well I guess technically they would say that we dream every night but that we forget most of our dreams. But on days when I wake up and the dream is still very close to the surface, I will reach for my phone and record, I'll just hit record on my audio recorder and I will recount the dream while I'm still half asleep and really try to bring the vivid details to the surface. It's not just that it was a yellow light but what was that yellow like? And to say that it was almost like the yellow of bones or that the room had a glowing quality. But what does glowing mean? To really try to unpack and move the camera around inside the dream. Then, after waking up and kind of beginning the day, it's sort of a process to return to those images which are so, which are, they're just like these unmitigated stories. Everything is allowed in our dreams. Everything is invited in. It's all there, and at times it can be messy and chaotic. At times it can be very crystal and clear. But it's just this unbelievable openness that's flowing through in the dream world. The challenge for me has been: If dreams are the voice of the body, how do you take that really important next step which is making sense of the dream? Because just to have it might send me walking in a circle, but to sit down and take a good look at what those colors or symbols might mean. That's why I go to that book, The Book of Symbols, the Joseph Campbell anthology and also look at, "just what does yellow mean to me today?" Because maybe it's different from years ago. Then in those details and in those symbols beginning to use them as I guess like a map, an internal map that is being revealed to me about where my journey wants to go or is having trouble going, if I'll only listen. So dreams, remembering dreams, is a really powerful tool.
Pavi: I know you've had a really vivid experience with the white room, and I think many of us have read about it in reading your work and other interviews with you about this recurring dream that actually manifested in your reality. That was a tremendous story in itself. But for many of us who may not have that kind of relationship to our dreams, how do you begin to even filter the signal from the noise in your experience? Is there a special quality where you know or that you sense that this is important and some of the other things might just be the surface mind kind of recycling some impressions? 33:53
Elle: Yes. I once heard an amazing author and poet. Her name is Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. She once said that if, in the morning, you want to see your dreams but you're having a hard time connecting to them, to say out loud, "Show me my dreams." I giggled when I heard her say this and I thought, "That's so silly." Again, I'm hearing my designer mind, "Defer judgment. Defer judgment." But I'm sitting there thinking, I have to say it out loud into the morning sky, "Show me my dreams!"? And you know what? I tried this trick and it worked! So I don't know what it is, but there's something about -- I guess it is about seeding the intentions. If there's something that you really would like to receive an answer to in your dreams, or something or maybe someone who you would like to connect with in your dreams, before going to sleep you can state that intention. I've often had this feeling with dreams that, in my own life and my own experience, whatever I was looking for or seeking was in some way looking for me too. There's just a feeling that there's some divinity in those kind of tugs and those draws -- those feelings that we have that draw us to something, that there's a greater intelligence there. I once heard, I don't remember who was talking about it. Maybe it was in a book. It might have been in a book called The Kin of Ata (Are Waiting for You) which is about this entire culture that live, they have a community built on dreams. My wonderful friend Susie recommended this book to me. In the book, they talk about two types of dreams. There's sort of the personal dream, which is working out the every day stuff which might be more related to our immediate everyday life. Then there are what they call the "Big Dreams." The Big Dreams are the ones that are a part of the larger collective unconscious and are dreams that are shared on a very deep level. This particular group of folks -- this is a science fiction novel -- this particular group of folks believe that the Big Dreams are shared and that the Dream World actually connects us all at a very deep level. So I would say, when deciphering between the dreams, Is this about maybe my own... Like, the white room for example, the white room from my dreams, I believe was a larger, deeper dream and it was a space of emptiness but in that emptiness was everything. It was a space of total peace and stillness and it was out of time. And I just sat there in this empty room. When I share this story, I often hear other folks talking about this need for this blank space or this empty space. It begins to ask questions: What does this emptiness do for us? Why do we feel so called toward a blank page in our notebook or a new roll of film? What is it about the beginning of the week? There's both trepidation, right, like Oh gosh, it's the very first page of the journal. What if I use the wrong pen color? There's sort of this fear. How do you approach something that is with this emptiness and there's also this excitement that anything can happen, that every possibility is available. So that's why dreams become, especially when there's a larger dream and we share them other people, they begin to kind of weave threads between all of our journeys.
Pavi: What's coming up as you're talking is just how it seems to help in becoming more sophisticated in our patterns of interpretation and more conscious even in how we're interpreting, and when I think about it, whether we do it with our dreams or not we're constantly doing it with our reality. "So and so did this to me..." or "This event happened and what does it mean?" It seems like there are so many layers to how we can understand and how we can interpret, and we maybe sometimes tend to get locked into particular cycles that are maybe not the deepest or the truest. Just seeing things out there is such a hard thing to do and having a practice that kind of almost, you know, what I hear in this kind of why of interpreting or interacting with dreams and reality is almost like a game or playfulness or like it's an adventure that you're on and that has this effect of enlivening you to the process as opposed to kind of sleepwalking through it, and I feel that that's another thread in the kind of work that you do is this really, through your design work or your art, through #the100dayproject, just inviting people into just even asking that question like "What is my dream? What is my greatest gift? What is my greatest joy? How do I want to show up in the world?" I wonder if you could talk a little bit about #the100dayproject and what role that's played in your journey and what it's sort of revealed for
Elle: Of course. Yes. #the100dayproject is -- I don't know if you can hear it but I'm smiling over here. It's a really fun project. It started about three years ago. I had heard about this designer, an amazing designer and author. He lives in New York. His name is Michael Beruit and he had started a class at Yale titled, "The 100-Day Project." And every year he would do this class where, for 100 days, you would pick some action, he called it a design action, and you would repeat it. The only rules to the game (see I'm calling it a game) were that you had to document every instance of 100 and on the 100th day you had to share your project with everyone else who participated. I don't know how the the mind is such an incredible mystery to me because I think I experienced I learned about that class in 2003 and it was maybe 2013 ten years later I was walking down the street and its suddenly, it was like the loop closed in my mind where I thought, I don't have to be in Michael Beruit's class to do the project. You know, how do those things happen? And I was with friends at the time and I said, "Would anybody else want to do this? Why don't we just do it on Instagram?" It was this, everyone said of course, "Oh my gosh my schedule for 100 days? It's a serious commitment, and I'm busy, and I'm traveling..." which raises a lot of interesting insights about our culture of "busy." We sat around talking, and I thought, Oh gosh nobody's going to do it? Should I just do it on my own? And one of the guys in the group he said, "You know, that sounds so cool. I totally want to do it." And after he said that, everyone else is like, "Okay I'm in. I'm in." We started that year and we just put it online as an offering, as, "Anybody can play," and "These are the rules of engagement," and "Let's all start on the same day," and "Let's all do it together as a community." And it swelled into this incredible -- the word that's coming up is this life force -- because you are watching all these people doing something that excited them, and it was like this beating heart of work that was just flowing online. There was this one woman who lived in Kansas City, and she is the mother of two boys and she had in her bio on Instgram, it said, "Wannabe artist but for-real mom of two." And after she began the project -- she was doing these incredible watercolors -- and after she started the project, she blossomed with her work and at the end we became good friends and I wrote her a note, and I said, "I think it's time to update your bio line because you are a for real artist." I just felt like... There was a man whose daughters decided they they wanted to experiment being vegan, and so he thought, Okay if they're going to be vegan I'm going to learn some vegan recipes, so he did "100 Days of Vegan Cooking," and every day he would post the results from the jury how they felt about what he was cooking. So it wasn't just drawing or crochet although they're amazing projects. There was also this year someone did "100 Days of LGBT Cuties," and it was these incredible portraits of the LGBT community with stories about who these people are and why they're so amazing to this artist. So, yes, I could wax poetic about this for a very long time. There's something about sitting down and saying, "Okay inner artist, okay inner child, what would just be so cool? And can I do that for like 30 seconds a day? Can I commit to 30 seconds or a minute or five minutes?" The best projects are the ones that don't take an hour every day, the ones that they say, "I'm going to design a poster every day for 100 days, but I have to do it in under five minutes." Those are the ones that really take off and you can watch people set aside this time, and at the beginning (and maybe this is true more of the creative process, but I think maybe when I think about other projects that I've worked on) the beginning is always exciting, right? You're so thrilled about the project. You have your fresh journal, you have your sharpened pencils. Everything is glittery and sparkly and fun, but then you get to #Day31 and you run out of good ideas and you are suddenly tired of this project and trying to find five minutes is really a tall order and things are beginning to fall apart. And you can see in people's projects when the direction that they thought things were going begins to come to some sort of a culminating end, and I have to say that's the moment of the project where the really beautiful things happen because when that happens, you see the person, their commitment to the project, their commitment to the process and just this larger understanding that they're committing to the full race, to not just the start line, but to Mile 13 when your legs are aching and you say "I'm going to keep going." When you watch someone "run out of ideas" is when something shifts in their process and you can see it in these projects and it's incredible. It's incredible. Maybe it's a whole new direction or they see something in a new way or maybe they just, in my own experience, realize that they have the capability to take something all the way to completion. And when you realize that you have that kind of endurance inside of you it's, (powerful). It's just a little project of 30 seconds a day or five minutes a day, but over time what you might learn about your process or about what you're excited to do, what you think is cool or even just your own ability to stick with something even if it's hard or even if you don't see the way forward, just to say, "I am staying with this." When you take it all the way, it's really powerful.
Pavi: So much of this part I mean the part that I have seen -- I have seen a little bit of it online -- it just kind of excites. It's just impossible to see it and not feel like, Oh Wow! like you want to be a part of it. It has this igniting quality to it. And I think about the other igniting spark that you put out there, one of the many in the Crossroads post that turned into a book that turned into kind of this national conversation around The Crossroads of Should and Must with things like #the100dayproject, with things like kind of that question of "What is my calling?" In your experience now, in having had so many conversations like this over time, how do you respond? First of all, what are the biggest roadblocks that people come up to you with and reasons for not being able to move forward, and has your response to them changed over time? Or has your own understanding of those blocks and how people can best interface with that, is that a shifting kind of perspective that you have on that?
Elle: Well I would say that the biggest question that I get asked, I guess there's a lot of questions that get asked around "How do I connect to my 'Must'?" or "What if I don't know what excites me any more? If I had to create a 100-day project, what would it even be about? Do I even know? Am I connected to that child spirit inside of me? Sometimes the voice of reason and the voice of safety and the voice of continuing-to-do-things-the-way-that-they've-been-done, the invitation to go into a brainstorm where scuba divers could deliver insulin, is so foreign. It feels like this sacrilegious invitation to just do something that sounds cool and that has potentially no purpose. It's like the author Julia Cameron in her phenomenal book The Artist Way. She recommends that everyone take their inner artist on a date once a week. Now that's a great way to reconnect with your inner artist ,`and it's sort of like if you just tune in and say, "What am I craving right now? What am I longing for?" And it might surprise you. One time my inner artist said, "I would like a new wardrobe." And I think my inner artist was craving colors. I think my inner artist just wanted to go to India and buy beautiful saris actually, and I think there was something about wanting to wear flowing dresses and beautiful colors and things that sparkled and shimmered that I was really craving. So I took myself on a date and I went to the fabric store. I couldn't afford a whole new wardrobe, but I could afford to maybe get a couple bolts of fabric. Other dates that I've gone on, one time I wanted to go for a ride in a really fast car. I just went with a convertible with the top down just to feel the wind. Or dance in the rain, that's been one. There's a tendency to say, "But what does that get you?" or "Where are you going with that?" And the answer is, "You just don't know. You don't know until you go and do it." But if you follow that urge, if you follow whatever it is -- maybe it's a beautiful tool, like a special pin, or maybe it's just to sit in the sunshine or to go into a place of worship during off hours, whatever that might be -- if you follow it there's like a treasure there, there's a thing there. It's the body again trying to say, "I have all of these messages" if we'll just listen to it. I guess the other side of that coin would be the practicality of living a life sort of rooted in this artist brain. That's so cool. All the time, right? My own logic brains comes on and says, "But we've got to keep a roof over our head and we have to pay the bills and there's laundry to fold and bills to pay. I can't just be off playing in the rain all the time." And one of the things I discovered is that... I was watching a TedTalk by a designer named Stefan Sagemeister and in it he talks about three different types of work, "a job, a career and a calling." He says that a "job" is something that we typically do from 9 to 5 for pay. A "career" is something that we do over time. And a "calling" is something that we do for intrinsic value. It's regardless of payment. What was really revolutionary in my mind about this Talk was that he was essentially showing me that, if I became aware of which of these I had in my life, the work that I was doing as a designer, what was that? I think that I was sort of silently in that work thinking it was a calling but really I think it was more of a career. And I realized that I wanted to make more time for my calling, but I was so exhausted at the end of the day or on the weekends that I didn't really have much emotional space to really dive into painting and making art. So I realized that I needed to kind of shift some things. People throughout time have combined how they make with their calling in really different ways. I guess the thing I'm beginning to look at more and more is how do we optimize our life for the calling and make sure that... I mean, I think of a calling as something that comes from your heart. It's something that comes from it comes from a place of love. It's this thing that you have to do no matter what. It's like Van Gogh, the whole world laughed at him, but he continued to paint the world the way he saw it because he just knew he had to do that. I was just reading about this incredible doctor in the Congo and I should know his name, I can look it up (Dr. Denis Mukwege) has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because he has been working with rape victims in the Congo and the government and society and all these people are saying not to do this. And he says, "We must. We have to help." That comes from this place of his heart. If he wanted to be safe, he would certainly have a different profession. His life has been threatened. He's providing physical help. He's providing psychological help. He's created an incredible world for these victims to heal and that's what he says. He says, "I do it because I have to." So when we look at our calling, it's like "How do we figure out how to sing for our supper or make sure the bills get paid?" because unfortunately money is the way that we have to, on some basic level, work on this planet. There are brilliant people who are coming up with new models and I want the whole world to be looking at Service Space and this life of service that's rooted in something different. But for anyone who is wondering, "But how do I pay the bills?" I would say that just because you want to pursue your calling does not mean that you have to quit your job. Just because you do something for money doesn't make that work dirty. There's dignity in all work and the exciting thing where I get into more of the playful mindset is, "How do you want to combine your job, your career, and your calling?" Actually if I could read something from the book, there's an interview with the composer Phillip Glass, and he talks about how he balanced his work and his life. He said, "While working, I suddenly heard a noise and I looked up to find Robert Hughes, the art critic of Time Magazine, staring at me in disbelief. 'But you're Phillip Glass,' he said. 'What are you doing here?' It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher, and I told him that I would soon be finished. 'But you're an artist,' he protested. I explained that, yes, I was an artist but that I was also sometimes a plumber as well and he should go away and let me finish." I love that story. I love that story. There's also an incredible book called Daily Rituals. It's about the daily routines of artists and it talks about how all these different people made their calling work amidst a busy life or a series of obligations. One of the stories I love is Toni Morrison. She had two jobs that she worked Monday through Friday, 9-5. She was an editor at Random House. She raised two boys, so maybe she had three jobs. She was an editor at Random House, she raised two boys, she was a single mom and she also taught university classes. She said that she pursued her calling in her "in-between hours." I love this idea that a calling doesn't have to be, we don't have to get an airplane and go to a far away land to finally write our masterpiece. It just doesn't seem to happen that way. It happens in the in-between moments. A man came up to me after a talk, and he was really upset about this idea of having a "Must," and that we all have one and that we all have innate unique treasures inside of us. He was very frustrated, and he said to me, "I think that's great but it's not practical for me and for my life." He said, "I have five kids and a mortgage. How am I supposed to find 'Must'?" And I thought, Well that's a really good question. I better think really fast. Because how do we do it? And I asked him, "Do you have ten minutes?" And he said, "Yes I have ten minutes." And we brainstormed where he might find those ten minutes, and he said that maybe he had a couple of minutes as the shower was warming up before he hopped in the shower, or maybe he had a couple of minutes while he was waiting for the tea kettle to boil, or -- you know -- he found these little pockets of time all throughout his day, and it's a little bit like #the100dayproject. If you just carve out ten minutes a day, and not just a sort of psychological space but also a physical space, I would say if you're on the call right now and you're thinking about this passion that has been sitting in the sidelines for what you're wondering is maybe far too long, I would say, "Find ten minutes and find a space and not the corner of the dining room table in between meals. Find a real open space, something that's inspiring." Maybe it's a park bench in a garden that you love or a spot at the library that's just for you. It's like Virginia Wolfe when she talks about the importance of a "room with one zone." Having that space, that solitude where we can hear ourselves speak seems to be a prerequisite for anything to come forth. And maybe that's ultimately what the white room was all about. I don't know. 62:20
Rahul: Thank you for that answer Elle, this is Rahul, one of the other hosts. We're actually just past the top of the hour and I wanted to actually open the queue for the other folks on the call who also have questions and I know that Pavi still has a couple but for folks on the call or Live Stream, if you've got a question on the call press "star six (*6)" to get in the queue. For those listening around the world from Live Stream, you can send your question at "firstname.lastname@example.org" and when it shows up we will just ask that question to Elle. Actually we do have one already on the web form which is from Robert Diaz in New York. He said, "Hi Elle, I love your book. I keep it on my desk and since taking your (steel-church?) class on recording your dreams which I also really enjoyed, I wanted to know if your recurring dreams about the white room continued after it came to be in reality. Do you have any recurring dreams at the moment? Thanks and keep being amazing." 63:40
Elle: Wow! Thanks, Robert. Hello in New York. How incredible that we're all around the world connected right now. Isn't that just amazing?
Rahul: It's beautiful.
Elle: Well Robert, I think it's very serendipitous that you just asked that question and here we are talking about service because I had the recurring dream until I found the room in real life. When I found that white room, I stopped having the dream. Maybe it just transitioned from the sleeping domain to the waking domain and the only other time I have returned to the white room while dreaming was the night before #the100dayproject began last year when I committed to painting my dreams for 100 days publicly. On the night before #the100dayproject began, I returned to the room. So I'll walk into the dream with you now. I returned to the white room, and I knew it was the same place but it was no longer a box. It was no longer a cube. It had transformed from a cube into a -- it's almost like all the walls opened up and rotated -- and it almost looked like a blossoming flower, if you can imagine just all of the walls opening and unfolding. I began walking into this labyrinth of these walls almost like walking around inside of a flower, and the quality of the walls was beautiful! I've always talked about the walls as glowing and almost as though there's light inside of the walls. And I decided to go an examine the wall, and I got up to the wall and I noticed that all of the walls were made of tiny snowflakes, and as I walked around inside of the space, I realized that this was no longer my room. It was no longer just for me and I had this deep understanding that many people had lived in this room and that it was a place where many people would continue to live. And the snowflakes on the walls were representative of all of the people who were creating the white room in their own way.
Elle: My hunch is, Robert, there's something about when we follow our intuition and we follow our creativity or our dreams, this voice of the body that somehow seems to know where we most deeply want to go, that that -- whatever "that" is -- is shared on some level, and I think it ultimately guides us to each other, and I think it ultimately connects us to everyone and that that source is shared and that when we follow our "Must..." I don't quite, this part is a little fuzzy for me, but that when we follow our "Must" it's ultimately to be in service and to take those gifts and to share them because we never know who is out just there waiting -- waiting, waiting to receive exactly what we feel called to give. Thanks for asking, Robert.
Rahul: That was beautiful, Elle. Thank you so much for sharing that. We do have another question in the queue.
Pavi: Rahul can you speak up a little bit?
Rahul: Sure. Are you able hear me better now?
Rahul: Okay. I was saying that we do have another question in the queue, and I'm just going to unmute that person right now.
Micky: Hi. Can you hear me?
Micky: I've listened to these calls for quite a while. This is Micky in Delaware, and I didn't realize I'd be in the queue (next). I'm so choked up by that vision. Sorry. Elle it's so great to connect with you today. I didn't know about you, but I'm so glad that I discovered you. So much of your story resonates with my life although I'm near 60 now and I deferred my creativity for many years. I was a single mom too. I worked as a legal secretary and I stuffed my stories into drawers and drew my little caricatures and then I got sick and, like you say, there's always a blessing in every event and the blessing was I had time now. Our income went in half but we made it. My husband has been my patron-of-the-arts in a way. When my grandchildren were born, there was this beautiful gush of creativity that came and I started to create for them -- write songs, create little books and things. So when you started talking about 100 days, oh, it just another gush just came. I just can't wait to start this because I know that giving a commitment like this can change your life and because when I discovered Service Space and Kind Spring, I was really in a dark place. I just committed to a year of gratitude and it grew into a beautiful group of people that I just adore, and it just grew into this place of healing. So I just want to thank you for that. My question is, how did you facilitate the group? I think you mentioned Instagram, but did you have a group on Instagram? I mean, did you specifically put aside a group or was it open for everybody?"
Elle: That's a great question. I first just want to just say it's amazing to hear you talk about your creativity, and when you say that your stories were stuffed in drawers. I thank you for having the courage to share your story so vulnerably because there are, I have a feeling there are a lot of stories stuffed in drawers around the world. And for anyone who's hearing this, it's like there's a vibrating quality to your voice right now that is like, I can feel, almost like your heart beat. I can feel your life and what you're saying and how passionate you are about it. For anyone who also has stories in drawers, you're probably getting -- they're scratching their heads too right now. So thank you for sharing. The group online is open to anybody. It's just a group of folks. We all kind of sign up at the same, we start on the same day and we end on the same day. We do it once a year. But a lot of people do it on their own. You can just -- if you begin your project, we recommend announcing your project to other people and putting out a call and saying, "Does anybody else want to do it with me?" Because it's really fun to do it with other people. And you can organize your posts by putting the hashtag which is the (#) sign and then after that writing #the100dayproject. All one word. If you put that tag on your posts, it will automatically be connected to everyone else around the world who is also doing projects.
Micky: Okay. Thank you so much Elle. Just thank you for everything. It's a beautiful call and I'm so grateful to be here. Thank you.
Elle: Thank you. It's also interesting to hear -- she said she's in her 60's and I'm recalling that sometimes people say, like I was at a dinner a couple of weeks ago and I heard a young man in his early 30's say, "Oh I'm too old to do that. I'm going to leave that to the young designers." And it really made me laugh, but you know, we're never too old. The time is never too late. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote Little House on the Prairie when she was 64. The chef, Julia Child, she didn't even find her calling in food until she was in her late 40's. I think Mastering the Art of French Cooking came out when she was in her early 50's. Even IDEO, they just hired a designer in her early 90's to help them look at designing for end-of-life and designing for the elderly. And she's incredible, and she's bringing so much wisdom and knowledge to that company, and she's going to touch products all around the world. So it is never too late to honor your "Must" to honor why you're here.
Rahul: Absolutely. Thanks so much, we're moving to the next question.
Kozo: Hi Elle. My name is Kozo. I'm calling from Cupertino. Thank you so much for this inspiring conversation. A lot of times during the call I was reminded of the artist, Sark. I don't know if you know who Sark is.
Elle: Yes. Yes.
Kozo: Yes, she's about these bold lines. It's more like a marker than a fine pencil, and she has this childlike quality that comes out and it reminded me. So I have two sons. One of my sons is 9, one of my sons is 6 and my 6-year old, he still uses crayons. So he makes these bold, big thick drawings and stuff and my 9-year old, they're -- I swear to God -- they're inventing new pencil sharpeners to make the pencil as fine as possible and everything has to be super precise. We're talking about Cupertino School District which is a really crazy school district. But everything has to be so precise and so fine-lined, and I'm wondering, "How do we keep that big, bold child-art marker in our children's hands and hearts when their educational system, the computer programs that they're doing and society are pushing, are taking it away from them, I mean literally taking it away in them in that our art program was cut due to budgets.
Elle: Thank you Kozo for calling in and for the question. Your boys are lucky to have you for a dad and to be asking this question. It's a terrific question, and I think it's one that we've been struggling with for a long time. I believe it was Picasso who said that every child is born an artist. The trick is how to maintain that once we grow up. In my own work, what I've really come to experience is a lot of the creativity in my own life was wrapped up and connected to my own understanding of the feminine and my understanding of the role of creativity, not just for fun but the world. The expression of creativity which in my own experience has also been very healing, and this role of the feminine as it exists not just in women but in men too and in connecting to to our feelings and connecting to those big, bold drawings, feeling like we can embrace the fullness of our experience. At the beginning there was mention of some work that I'm doing with my dear friend Susie Herrick. We're leading a workshop called "Aphrodite Emerges." It's all about returning to and looking at the goddess culture that used to be everywhere around the earth. I'd actually love to just read this little passage because this is how I'm looking at it and kind of where my work is leading, but this how I'm looking at your question which I think is really big. This is from Mayumi Oda's book, Goddesses. She says, "Millenniums ago, goddess culture was on the earth. We women were the sun and truly the creators. With the progress of civilization, gods became stronger, and goddesses were suppressed to the level of society's unconscious. Goddesses have had to sleep for thousands of years. Goddesses are inside of each of us. My friend, Peter Lovette, pointing to his legs, said, 'These are the legs of goddesses.' I want all of us to have the legs of goddesses, to firmly root us to the earth. Earth is crying for her recovery." So I think about these. I believe there's a connection between this feminine energy and the wisdom of the feminine principle in how we reconnect to that, not only as women but also as men. For your boys, how do they stay rooted in a life where they can continue to express themselves in these beautiful, pure ways which you're watching and you don't want to lose? I guess it's a larger question. It's a great question, and I don't know the answer. I hope we can figure it out soon and together which is "How do we maintain the wisdom of feminine principle and the wisdom of the masculine principle?" and "How can those be in a partnership of equals in balance so that we have the full intelligence operating from the minute we're born being manifested not only in what we create in our classes but also the types of businesses we build, the types of messages we put out into culture, the way that we build communities because I think that when half of the population is outside the door, we build things differently. But, when we include everyone, we bring everyone and we take those walls down. We have that intelligence that begins to amplify and multiply. I have a hunch that we'll be drawing big bold paintings.
Kozo: Oh wow. Thank you so much for that Elle. I haven't heard that aspect of it brought up in terms of preserving the arts and education. It just occurred to me that -- I have two sons, I come from a family of all boys -- that honoring the divine famine, honoring the feminine is such a major blind spot in a lot of boys' upbringing. So, taking this call into consideration, I think I'm going to do a 100-day challenge where I"m going to drop five minutes of divine feminine into my son's lives every day. So thank you so much. 80:40
Elle: You are my hero. There are people all around the world right now who are smiling because of what you just said. That's beautiful. I love it. If you do this project, if you document in any way, I would love to follow along.
Kozo: Thanks so much for inspiration.
Rahul: Thank you. We'll move on to the next question.
Alexandra: Hi Elle. This is Alexandra calling from Washington D.C. I'm so inspired by what you're presenting and what you're saying and I lived for a time in the Bay Area and worked for a time in the technology industry, and there was so much hope that the technology industry would be kind of this massive, creative disruptor which in some ways obviously it has been but in other ways it's kind of fallen back into some of the old patterns of industry and business, and I wondered as listening to you, given kind of your celebrated roles in these companies, how do your friends in Valley think of what you're doing? How do you respond to the ethos of the Valley?
Elle: I guess I don't know what they think of what I'm doing. I would say for anybody who's on this call who is in the technology industry or who touches someone who is, it's how we take the best of the miracle of technology and how we're able to network and how we're able to connect and how we bring the values and principles into it and we make sure that they are in there. I would say, building on the dialog that Kozo just began, making sure that if you're building tools that are serving men and women, make sure that half of your team is women. What we don't want to see is having young men, boys in their late teens and early 20's designing products that are going to touch everyone in the world because we want to make sure that there's that we're honoring all parts who we're designing for and/or that when we are beginning to think about who is going to be using this product, that we not only just do what we used to call "me search" which is "what I want and I need" but we do true research that is representative of the group that we're looking to serve. My collaborator Susie often talks about San Francisco feeling like being in the center of Rome. It's truly a place where entire worlds are being built here and there's a great responsibility that we have to do that in a way that expresses our values. So I would say, if you're on this call, get in there, meet with teams. Share your opinions and your thoughts, and help and build because I have yet to meet an HR team that doesn't want to bring in more voices, that doesn't want to have their products be more reflective of what's really happening and being INclusive. I was just at a dinner a couple weeks ago led by an incredible leader within Silicone Valley, John Maeda. He led MIT's media lab for a number of years. He was the president at the Rhode Island School of Design. He recently worked at a venture-capital firm in Silicone Valley and then he just left to go start on a new venture. He hosted a dinner and the entire topic was "Inclusion." He made sure that half of the dinner -- it was about maybe 40, 50 people -- half the dinner was women and throughout the dinner he made sure half the people who spoke were women. I was just recently at a political rally where the speakers on stage -- it was a rally for Hillary Clinton -- and the speakers on stage specifically said, "Is there a woman with her hand raised?" I think that's it. Is there a woman with her hand raised?What do the women think about what we're doing? What do the women think about what we're building? I truly believe that if women are included in the conversation, I think it will change everything -- what we're building, why we're building it and how. So I would say if you really want to do something innovative, which every entrepreneur does, right? They're looking for the ultimate creative act. They're looking for that thing to bring into the world that hasn't been built yet. If you're an innovator, if you're an entrepreneur, if you're a creator, the most innovative thing you can do right now is to include women, include their voices, and I think it will change the entire trajectory not just of your team but of Silicone Valley and, because that's touching the world. I believe we can literally create an entirely new world simply by making sure that women are at that table.
Rahul: I couldn't agree more Elle. Thank you so much for that. As the other host on the call, it's my privilege to ask you the last question which is, "What can we do as a community, as a broader Service Space Community, to serve your work in the world?"
Elle: Wow. What a beautiful question. I wasn't expecting that. Well maybe I'll read a quote from the book. I think this would be how I would respond to that. It is a quote by the philosopher Howard Thurman. This would be my ask. He said, "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what what makes you come alive and go do it because what the world needs is people who have come alive." I would say figure out, spend ten minutes today, carve out a little bit of time, go sit in the sun or run backwards or skip or take a nap or laugh until your belly hurts -- do something that just sounds exciting, something that you've been craving. Maybe it's more joy, maybe it's slowness or stillness, maybe it's just doing something that has no purpose whatsoever like sending a parcel of water in the mail. Just follow that in one small way today for ten minutes. That would be my ask. That would be it.
Rahul: That's brilliant. That's also a quote that we're very fond of in the Service Space community so thank you so much for that. We are actually at the end of our time together, and we like to end the call in a similar way as we started which is with a minute of silence, but this time in gratitude for all of the conditions that have brought us together, the sort of seen and unseen people including the many folks behind the scenes who have made this space and this morning possible to just learn from your journey, Elle. So we will end with just a minute of silence after which point, I will unmute everyone and we'll have an opportunity to express our gratitude. So a minute of silence. (pause) 90:11 Thank you so much. I have un-muted everyone on the call and so we like to do this fun little thing to end where we just, on the count of three, say "Thank you Elle!" So everyone's unmuted. We will go ahead and see how that cacophony works. One, two, three."
Several: Thank you Elle! Holla! Thank you! You're so beautiful!
Rahul: Thank you all. Thank you so much Elle and we look forward to having many more interactions with you. And for all those on the call, we're looking forward to seeing you on future Awakin' Calls. Thank you so much.
Pavi: Thank you!
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