Preparing For The Extraordinary: An Essential Practice

Alan Briskin

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Preparing for the extraordinary is one of the [...] essential practices of collective wisdom.  It requires clear intention and mindful preparation for achieving a greater felt sense of connection with others and spiritual forces.

Illustrating this idea with a story may be useful.  The great sage, Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi, told me once of an experience he had with his friend and colleague, Howard Thurman [...] a distinguished African American philosopher, theologian and mentor to Martin Luther King.

On this occasion, Reb Zalman had invited Thurman to Manitoba, Canada where Reb Zalman was living.  Together, they went to the local Christian abbey where Thurman met with the novice master.  Thurman asked him to tell him the most common complaint he heard from his students.  The novice master said it was that they had to awaken for 3 a.m. prayers, requiring them to get out of bed and enter the cold chapel.  “Why do this,” they said when they already experienced great satisfaction with the 9 a.m. service? 

In response, the novice master forbade them from coming to the 3 a.m. services.  Two weeks later, they complained that they no longer felt the joy and sense of mystery that they had felt previously during the 9 a.m. gathering.  The students were invited back to the 3 a.m. services with a new respect for how the preparation that occurs in the pre-dawn of attentiveness can influence what happens during the light of day.  Thurman, Reb Zalman recalled with a laugh, was delighted with this tale.

Preparing for the extraordinary is that effort we make, the rituals we create, the inner psychological work we do, that sharpens our intention and paves the way for something wonderful to happen.  Sometimes it is in rigorous conceptual preparation, other times in silent prayer.  Sometimes it is in learning to tolerate discomfort, other times in preparing oneself for bold action.

However it is accomplished, it is rarely due to an individual alone, but to a larger social field in which individuals collaborate together, perform their role, contribute their unique talents, and feel seen and heard by others.  A central principle of collective wisdom is that we each participate in creating the experience of the group and that the group has distinctive qualities that impact the individual.  We are co-creators of the group experience, composers of the group field and part of the composition.

by Alan Briskin, co-author The Power of Collective Wisdom.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion of needing preparation for the extraordinary to be received in our life? Can you share a personal story of a time when you realized how you were co-creating the group experience while also being impacted by it? What helps you remain aware that you are both a composer of the group field and part of the composition?

Add Your Reflection:

14 Previous Reflections:

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    On Oct 21, 2020 Fatmah wrote:
    This is when I was in form eleven...we were preparing for an national exam....and we needed to thoroughly prepare for the exam...but we were so engaged by our teachers...we had little time for our revision...so I started waking up at 3am ...then when my classmates showed interest to do the same...I took it upon myself to wake them every nite for over a month...to do revision together...what culminated was that...we revised systematically in the early hours of the morning...mastering most of the stuff...got relaxed during day since most of the revision was done at night...so we created discussion groups for the little time in the day...and indeed it worked wonders!!!.... when we start for the national exams...we passed with high grades!... Thanks to the night revision (intense preparation)...

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    On Sep 28, 2020 Laura Cardella wrote:
    Needing preparation to receive the extraordinary in our lives is something to which I have given little thought. On reflection, it seems quite true. As humans we are born without the ability to care for ourselves. So all of our lives are spent "fixin' to get ready"- a saying my family jokes about. Fixin' is a word used in some areas of the southern USA, meaning I am getting ready to do something, to get started...So "fixin to get ready" just jokingly emphasizes how slowly we are beginning to take action. So from our birth onward, we cannot do all the things we need and want to do. It takes love, nurturing, guidance and care for years before the human child is capable of caring for themselves. But one day, serendipity will happen and the child will know that all the yearsof growing and learning have brought them to this time when they are ready and aware of the extraordinary to occur in their life.Once as a child I was on a road trip with my family- five chil... [View Full Comment] Needing preparation to receive the extraordinary in our lives is something to which I have given little thought. On reflection, it seems quite true. As humans we are born without the ability to care for ourselves. So all of our lives are spent "fixin' to get ready"- a saying my family jokes about. Fixin' is a word used in some areas of the southern USA, meaning I am getting ready to do something, to get started...So "fixin to get ready" just jokingly emphasizes how slowly we are beginning to take action. So from our birth onward, we cannot do all the things we need and want to do. It takes love, nurturing, guidance and care for years before the human child is capable of caring for themselves. But one day, serendipity will happen and the child will know that all the yearsof growing and learning have brought them to this time when they are ready and aware of the extraordinary to occur in their life.Once as a child I was on a road trip with my family- five children and Mom and Dad. Watching my parents enjoying each other and all of us, I was overcome by the present moment. I said to my Mom, "Right now, we are all together. I think this is my life, but you are looking at this as your life." I was overcome by the moment having such different perspectives, yet it was the same moment. Remembering that discovery reinforces, for me, that there is more to each moment than just what I can see and know; and it is together that we create these complete moments, as a group, together.[Hide Full Comment]

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    On Sep 28, 2020 Steven Levey wrote:
    The ambrosial hour is a real thing. In the pre-dawn silence we can get caressed for exerting the effort of being awake and prepared. It is the sunrise after ascendinga tropical volcano. You can see forever as the sky lightens before the exploding sun forces our eyes away to see where we are going today.

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    On Aug 17, 2020 Beverly Jennings wrote:
    In order to do extraordinary things we must prepare, anything worth having requires some sacrifice because the end resulting is worth so much more when we are prepared.

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    On Jun 28, 2020 Tizz wrote:
    I loved this story about Howard Thurman asking the novice master about his students' most common complaint and the story he told in responseabout the 3 a.m. services. This so aligns with a recent intention to greet the dawn every day. Dawn right now in high summer is 5:30 AM about an hour earlier than I usually wake. But now I want those reverent pre-dawn hours again when I woke at 4:00 AM. There's a place near me overlooking the river where the sun appears on the far horizon. That magical moment is different every single day and I have missed it. So, at this moment, I renew my vow to be a little uncomfortable in order to readjust my schedule to find reverence, magic, and secrets. “The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you Don't go back to sleep! You must ask for what you really want. Don't go back to sleep! People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch, The door is round and open Don't go back to sleep!” -Rumi &hear... [View Full Comment] I loved this story about Howard Thurman asking the novice master about his students' most common complaint and the story he told in responseabout the 3 a.m. services. This so aligns with a recent intention to greet the dawn every day. Dawn right now in high summer is 5:30 AM about an hour earlier than I usually wake. But now I want those reverent pre-dawn hours again when I woke at 4:00 AM. There's a place near me overlooking the river where the sun appears on the far horizon. That magical moment is different every single day and I have missed it. So, at this moment, I renew my vow to be a little uncomfortable in order to readjust my schedule to find reverence, magic, and secrets.

    “The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
    Don't go back to sleep!
    You must ask for what you really want.
    Don't go back to sleep!
    People are going back and forth
    across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,
    The door is round and open
    Don't go back to sleep!”
    -Rumi

    ♥.[Hide Full Comment]

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    On Jun 28, 2020 thea nietfeld wrote:
    Yesterday I moved back to a town where spirituality and connection are prioritized. when I lived here before, I was fundamentally changed by this place. Now in retirement, I am more prepared to be conscious and grateful for the unique gifts of the place and more prepared to give.
    The prompt on content and context and reflections help me articulate this.
    I appreciate Amrithas response to the fift economy prompt about keeping money in the pocket and not the mind, and Bonnie's shifting her meaning question to What can she give in this moment. I'd like to hear more about Krishnan's approach to live interactive mythological storytelling.
    Even with moving challenges, this program has brightened my week. I'm grateful.

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    On Nov 27, 2018 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:
     OH How I love this share: the idea of early morning pre-dawn preparedness to enter into the deeply sacred and spiritual. Yes! It reminds me of the need to slow down into the ebb so we can appreciate more fully the flow. I relate so much to this after having moved through a very busy year and now finally having some time to deeply reflect especially on a healing retreat I attended for female survivors of childhood sexual trauma. What was most extraordinary was the ordinary in so much of the information shared: simple meditation, breathing yoga, as well as information on how trauma affects our brain thought process and then our actions/reactions, and yet the impact was incredibly healing. I think because of that preparedness for receiving. I arrived 2 days prior to the retreat so I could steady myself to be ready to receive the learning, healing and wisdom. I also gifted myself with a full day of rest and reflection before I flew back to the intensity of Washington DC. Allowing th... [View Full Comment]

     OH How I love this share: the idea of early morning pre-dawn preparedness to enter into the deeply sacred and spiritual. Yes! It reminds me of the need to slow down into the ebb so we can appreciate more fully the flow. I relate so much to this after having moved through a very busy year and now finally having some time to deeply reflect especially on a healing retreat I attended for female survivors of childhood sexual trauma. What was most extraordinary was the ordinary in so much of the information shared: simple meditation, breathing yoga, as well as information on how trauma affects our brain thought process and then our actions/reactions, and yet the impact was incredibly healing. I think because of that preparedness for receiving. I arrived 2 days prior to the retreat so I could steady myself to be ready to receive the learning, healing and wisdom. I also gifted myself with a full day of rest and reflection before I flew back to the intensity of Washington DC. Allowing that time before and after as well as taking a few short naps made all the difference in how my body, mind, heart and spirit absorbed all the healing shared. Even though the pace of the healing retreat was rather full and brisk the time before and after deepened the impact. The group experience was also impacted: to be the example of resting, doing self-care, being gentle with self, allowing the time to absorb impacted the other women present too. And I was even more loving and compassionate because of my own preparation. <3 I am aware how fortunate I am that I could take that extra time. This month of November was one of pulling inward and allowing more time to process. It has made all the difference. And it impacted how I relate and interact with others: I am more conscious than ever of slowing it all down: of taking more time to be fully present so we can create time. Thank you for the perfect post Thanksgiving Share! <3 HUG

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    On Nov 27, 2018 Amy P Kennedy wrote:

     I've also had the experience of getting up very early to meditate with a group for short periods of time (weeks). At some level, on any given day, "I" doesn't want to do this, and it's this setting aside of "I" that seems to prepare the field for the extraordinary to happen.


    1 reply: Me | Post Your Reply
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    On Nov 24, 2018 david doane wrote:

     As for needing preparation, you never know.  It may help and it may not.  The challenge is knowing what is the preparation for the extraordinary to be received.  I have found that the main preparation is the doing.  I recall being in a group experience in which I was very involved and I was cocreating the experience while simultaneously being impacted by it.  My realizing this was minimal as it was happening and became clear afterwards.  What helps me remain aware that I am both a composer of the group field and part of the composition is knowing that all that is is inseparably interconnected and correlated.  How could being both composer and part of the composition be otherwise?


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    On Nov 23, 2018 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
     As I was growing up, my father taught me three inter -connected steps for learning something deeper and extraordinary. They are shravana, manana and nidhityasana. These are Sanskrit words meaning midful attentive listening with open mind and open heart, asking questions, inquring about what we learn from listening, and reflecting deeply with a meditative quiet and clear mind and practicing what we learn.. This three- steps- process is like making preparation for the extraordinary to be received in life. There are times when I follow these three steps alone and there are times when I practice these three steps in a group. I feel different energy when I follow these three steps in a group. In Sanskrit we use the word satsanga meaning being in the company of the Reality- the Truth with genuine seekers. For several years we have been having satsanga meetings. In these meetings we follow the three -steps process  and share our personal experience with others in the group. Each o... [View Full Comment]

     As I was growing up, my father taught me three inter -connected steps for learning something deeper and extraordinary. They are shravana, manana and nidhityasana. These are Sanskrit words meaning midful attentive listening with open mind and open heart, asking questions, inquring about what we learn from listening, and reflecting deeply with a meditative quiet and clear mind and practicing what we learn.. This three- steps- process is like making preparation for the extraordinary to be received in life. There are times when I follow these three steps alone and there are times when I practice these three steps in a group. I feel different energy when I follow these three steps in a group. In Sanskrit we use the word satsanga meaning being in the company of the Reality- the Truth with genuine seekers.

    For several years we have been having satsanga meetings. In these meetings we follow the three -steps process  and share our personal experience with others in the group. Each of us has a positive impact on others in the group and the attentive and compassionate presence of the members of the group has a benevolent impact on the individuals in the group. Our experience makes us relaize how we are both a composer of the group field and part of the composition. 

    I have been seeing three generations growing with different rhythms of life. The sad part of the fast moving  third generation is lack of good quality time for oneself and for others, more and more disconnect and lack of time to be quiet and to have satsaga meetings. A long time ago Buddha taught us to remain awake, know the path and be in the company of the walkers on the path . We need to listen to such enlightened masters and learn to walk on the right path.
    May we remain awke to live a serving and fulfilling life!

    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave

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    3 replies: Caryl, Phyllis, Tanvi | Post Your Reply

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