The Art of Possibility combines Benjamin Zander’s experience as conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and his talent as a teacher and communicator with psychotherapist Rosamund Stone Zander’s genius for designing innovative paradigms for personal and professional fulfillment.
IT’S ALL INVENTED
A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business. One sends back a telegram saying,
SITUATION HOPELESS STOP NO ONE WEARS SHOES
The other writes back triumphantly,
GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY STOP THEY HAVE NO SHOES
To the marketing expert who sees no shoes, all the evidence points to hopelessness. To his colleague, the same conditions point to abundance and possibility. Each scout comes to the scene with his own perspective; each returns telling a different tale. Indeed, all of life comes to us in a narrative form; it’s a story we tell.
The roots of this phenomenon go much deeper than just attitude or personality. Experiments in neuroscience have demonstrated that we reach an understanding of the world in roughly this sequence:
First, our senses bring us selective information about what is out there;
Second, the brain constructs its own simulation of the sensations;
And only then, Third, do we have our first conscious experience of our milieu. The world comes into our consciousness in the form of a map already drawn, a story already told, a hypothesis, a construction of our own making.
STEPPING INTO A UNIVERSE OF POSSIBILITIES
Once you have begun to distinguish that it’s all invented, you can create a place to dwell where new inventions are the order of the day. Such a place we call “the universe of possibility”, and stepping into it is our second practice. This universe–like the page that holds the nine dots–extends beyond the borders that confine us to our everyday reality.
What are these borders, and what is this everyday reality?
All the manifestations of the world of measurement–the winning and losing, the gaining of acceptance and the threatened rejection, the raised hopes and the dash into despair–all are based on a single assumption is that life is about staying alive and making it through–surviving in a world of scarcity and peril.
We grow up in a world of measurement, and in this world, we get to know each other and things by measuring them, and by comparing and contrasting them.
A UNIVERSE OF POSSIBILITY
Let us suppose, now, that a universe of possibility stretches beyond the world of measurement to include all worlds: infinite, generative, and abundant. Unimpeded on a daily basis by the concern for survival, free from the generalized assumption of scarcity, a person stands in the great space of possibility in a posture of openness, with an unfettered imagination for what can be.
In the realm of possibility, we gain our knowledge by invention. We decide that the essence of a child is joy, and joy she is. Our small business attracts the label, “The Can-Do Company,” and that is exactly who we are. We speak with the awareness that language creates categories of meaning that open up new worlds to explore. Life appears as variety, pattern, and shimmering movement, inviting us in every moment to engage. The pie is enormous , and if you take a slice, the pie is whole again.
The action in a universe of possibility may be characterized as generative, or giving, in all senses of that word–producing new life, creating new ideas, consciously endowing with meaning, contributing, yielding to the power of contexts. The relationship between people and environments is highlighted, not the people and things themselves. Emotions that are often relegated to the special category of spirituality are abundant here: joy, grace, awe, wholeness, passion, and compassion.
What is the practice that orients you to a universe of possibility?
First, ask yourself: How are my thoughts and actions, in this moment, reflections of the measurement world?
You keep asking the question until you finally appreciate how hopeless it is to escape being shaped by the assumptions that underlie all of life. And then your may begin to laugh. And when someone asks, ‘How are you?’ it may appear to you utterly ridiculous to try to assess yourself, or to express life as a struggle and a burden, and before you know it, th word perfect may just pop out. And you will be smiling. For you will have stepped into a universe of possiblity.
Of course, you won’t have arrived.