Stories & practices that empower real change

Joseph Jaworski – Part 1: The Heart of Synchronicity [Transcript]

In dialogue with Walter Link

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Joseph

It was the most painful time of my entire life and I didn’t really know what true pain was until I went through this. And the despair and the pain that we just talked about actually enabled me to do things that I thought were impossible to achieve.

 

Walter

Welcome to GlobalLeadership.TV, my name is Walter Link. I’ve always been fascinated by the question of how we move from our many challenges into our full potential as individuals, organizations and whole societies. In this television series I inquire with some of the most innovative leaders from around the world about how they manage to move from inspiration to real change. Please join us in this exploration because we all make a difference and we all can get better at it. Therefore, on our website, we not only show other dialogues and publications but also the kind of practices that these leaders and their organizations use to move from inspiration to real change.

 

Today I invite you into my intimate dialogue with Joseph Jaworski which is composed of two parts. Part one enters into the heart of synchronicity. Part two delves into the source of innovation. This is part one in which we explore Joseph’s personal journey from the discovery of his life’s journey to his deep relationship with his father, Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski. We met in Amsterdam where Joseph introduced his latest book, Source, The Inner Path to Knowledge Creation. Like in his first bestseller, Synchronicity, The Inner Paths of Leadership, Joseph reaches again into the core of how individuals, organizations and societies can move toward their full potential. Joseph’s own path went from developing a successful law firm and becoming Shell’s head of scenario planning to later tackling some of the world’s greatest challenges such as the eradication of child malnutrition in India. In our dialogue Joseph describes how his deepest insights come from immersing himself into nature, spiritual practice and the dialogue teachings of quantum physicist David Boehm. Please join us as we explore together the heart of synchronicity.

 

Walter

I was very fascinated to hear the story of your father, Leon Jaworski who operated in law with a very deep, intuitive sense. And Johnson had picked him as a Supreme Court justice which of course for a lawyer is one of the greatest possible jobs to get. And yet he said no because he felt that there was a deeper way how he could serve his country. And it turned out that he later became the special prosecutor in the Watergate case which of course was one of the big constitutional crises in America.

 

Joseph

Exactly.

 

Walter

How did that impact you to grow up with a father that had kind of that courage of conviction and trust in his own inner knowing?

 

Joseph

It had a huge effect on me and that’s only one dramatic instance of it. It’s a great story but that’s the way he lived. And the impact was not an immediate, profound impact at the time that he told me that or at the time when he became the Watergate prosecutor and said to me, now you see what I was talking about? This is what I was destined to do. I would never have been able to do this had I been – if I had accepted that appointment by the President.

I didn’t tell this story either but there is a story prior to that where the governor of the state of Texas came to my father and asked him to be Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. And he turned that one down – this was before, 10 years before, for the same reason. So I lived with this though, Walter, he would try lawsuits when I was a young boy and I would always watch him.

He had a little pad of paper and a pen with him and when he went to bed he would always put this by his bed. And he told me that, particularly when he was trying lawsuits, he would wake up in the middle of the night with a deep knowing of what to do the next day or how to lay the strategy for the case. So this was a very ordinary sort of thing for me.

 

Walter

You yourself also then became a lawyer and also a very successful entrepreneur in oil and insurance, horses even. And became one of the highly respected lawyers in America. How did that intuitive sense of your father translate into the way you were conducting both business and law?

 

Joseph

It informed everything I did and it’s the way that I did all of my entrepreneurial undertakings. But it was more, it was not upfront for me. It was not something that I talked about or thought about very much. I was just operating this way all the time. And it was only after I began learning about the process of sudden illumination and how entrepreneurs operate that I began connecting the dots about the fact that this is the way I operated all the time.

And I did that in the courtroom all the time. I was told by the opposing lawyers that I would, that my case was won, not on the jury argument where you stand up and have some preprepared statement, it was always in the moment when I was cross-examining a witness. I would do, in effect, a deep dialogue with these witnesses and they would end up saying things in the midst of their testimony that they didn’t intend to say.

And it was just shocking to the people in the room. So there were these experiences I had of operating intuitively and operating in deep connection with people that was so ordinary for me but I didn’t understand the process and I didn’t know what to call it.

 

Walter

What I find very interesting is that even though you had this deep, intuitive sense, you still say that it took you until you were 45 through a very successful career where, in a way, you had all the spoils of the career, money and recognition and the lifestyle that goes with it, but you somehow didn’t connect yet with your destiny, with your sense of what your life was really about. So you had this deep intuitive sense but somehow something was still shielding you from breaking through to what really your life was about. And I wonder, how did that then happen, that you kind of got that extra wake-up call that changed your course of your life?

 

Joseph

That came about over a long period of time, about seven years. And it came about because of a personal crisis in my life. I was living this sort of lifestyle that you mentioned and I ended up with a divorce on my hands and a wife leaving me. And this was a deep, internal crisis for me that really changed everything overnight. And that’s when I began being much more reflective. I have an older sister who gave me a book, I can’t remember the author’s name, but it was a little book that said, Notes to Myself. And it was about reflection. And for the first time in my adult life I actually began keeping a journal and reflecting a little bit.

It was that instance plus the experience that I had with my father when he was the Watergate prosecutor and every weekend he would come to the ranch, our family ranch, and he would go out and we would do work out in the pastures, cut wood and things like that. At noon time when we would rest or we would take a break he would share some of the experiences he was having in Washington.

And one time he actually brought a copy of the transcript, because I was a trial lawyer, I was somebody he deeply trusted. And he told me at the time that he wasn’t sure who else he could trust to have a real conversation and share his most reflective moments. And it was in that one time when we were sitting there he gave me a copy of the transcript where President Nixon was suborning perjury.

 

[00:11:38] He was asking his top people to lie under oath to the grand jury. And when I read that it was a deep shock to me. And then I would go into the ranch house that night and watch television with Nixon saying, I am not a crook. This is a big mistake. And the dissonance that that created within me of the fact that I had voted for this man, that he was the president of our country and he was a common criminal. And that created another personal crisis in my life. And over a period of time I decided that I wanted to do something to give back to the country rather than continue practicing law.

And there was another instance. Within the law firm I began – this is a law firm that I helped found – and we had grown rapidly and grown to a very large size, highly successful firm. And I found that the internal processes at the firm were something that I thought needed vast improvement. We would think of it today as a transformation so that people would be more authentic and would operate from a deeper source.

And I wanted to do that, I had no idea how to. And I made a couple of attempts and I didn’t have any success doing that. And that also added to my wish to find a deeper understanding of what real leadership meant. And it was a combination of those things over a period of 5 to 7 years that finally culminated in my leaving the firm. Which was a huge event in my life. It was very difficult.

 

Walter

So, seeing that night, Nixon who was the leader of the country and who of course later only came to embody the illegitimacy of official leadership, the difference between getting elected and exercising without integrity. And became kind of a historic figure in that sense. But for you in that moment it was also bringing about a deep question about the nature of leadership.

 

Joseph

Yes

 

Walter

And on the other hand you had the model of your father who was a kind of a true leader in the sense of, I’m sure standing up against tremendous pressure to prosecute the president –

 

Joseph

Yes, huge pressure. His father was a Lutheran minister so it shows you how he was raised. He was raised, he was born in the early part of the twentieth century, 1904 or five and when he was ten years old he was riding a buckboard, he was riding on the back of his father’s buckboard as he went to eight different churches every Sunday morning to preach. So this is the way he was raised.

And he was a deeply religious and spiritual man and just exuded high character. So I admired him enormously. I was very touched by how troubled he was by what he was showing me. He told me that he had gone into this process believing Nixon was innocent. Had no preconceived notion of this.

This was deeply troubling to him and was a shock to him to see this. Truly, for a lawyer, this is even more impactful. Here’s two lawyers talking to one another and to suborn perjury is the epitome of disavowing your oath as a legal counsel. It is the worst thing you can do. And here the president was a lawyer, he was the commander in chief of the United States and the President of the United States and one of the key leaders of the free world. And here I was watching him in this transcript acting as a common criminal. It was a blow like to the gut.

 

Walter

There was a blow to the gut and then there was, in your divorce, a blow to the heart?

 

Joseph

Right.

 

Walter

So both of these blows kind of broke your shell in a certain way. The shell of the lawyer, successful, everything is working fine, fast cars, big money, big reputation. And then the crumbling which, in the moment of the impact, feels terrible but then also brings about a rebirth in your case. A deep rebirth. What was that like, this gradual coming-out of this tremendous suffering that is in this shock and then coming back to life in a new way? What was your process in that?

 

Joseph

So, you have described it accurately and beautifully. It was the most painful time of my entire life and I didn’t really know what true pain was until I went through this. I felt alone, I lost all my self-confidence in the process, I felt disgusted with myself. And so this was a period of maybe two or three years of deep despair and searching for why I had made such a mess out of my life.

I began reading everything I could find that could provide answers for me. And my sister who, I have two sisters, but this was my older sister, had been through this same journey in her life and she had been through a divorce and had suffered from alcoholism. So she used this same method for her, for renewing her life which turned out to be so beautiful. She actually went to work as a key leader in Alcoholics Anonymous in New York and did that for twenty or thirty years.

But anyway, I used this process of reflection, journaling, reading and finally gathering the courage to follow my true destiny. Because for at least three of those seven years I knew that I should not be practicing law, that my destiny lie in fulfilling this dream of creating what eventually became the American Leadership Forum. And I just didn’t have the courage to leave the firm. To leave my tribe and to suffer the consequences which I knew would happen where people say, Joseph has gone off the deep end.

And I would lose a lot of friends in the process. It was a – Joseph Campbell, in his description of the hero’s journey, he calls it the road of trials. In deep despair and going through hell. And that’s what I went through. And of course eventually, if you stay with it, you can renew yourself and this took years of work.

 

Walter

I really appreciate that you share this very personal, vulnerable experience with us because I think so often we just hear about the great transformation. People have arisen out of the difficulty and then it all sounds so attractive. But that there is this profound transformational process where you go into such despair, suffering, not knowing. And not knowing whether you will come out on the other end.

In fact, if you already think you will come out, you can’t really allow the depths that you need to go into to then emerge. So then there is a great courage needed to be that vulnerable. And we often mistake courage for kind of a macho bravado, but in fact it’s the courage to be vulnerable, to be helpless, to be feeling the pain that so many things shield us from. And yet you also did come out the other end. So how was that like when your identity was crumbling, all these feelings were there but then the light, the end of the tunnel became apparent and you did come out. How was that other emergent part of your process?

 

Joseph

That’s a beautiful part of my life. And you know I just smile because it was just so lovely. The despair and the pain that we just talked about actually enabled me to do things that I thought were impossible to achieve. So what happened was, as I was coming to the conclusion that I must leave the law firm – I was living in London, I was leading our London firm there. I established it, created a partnership with a London, very fine old London firm and was working all over Europe and all over the world. And doing really interesting, important work. Not only in litigation but in creating things.

But eventually a guide, in my experience, always shows up and this guide was one of my clients. Whose name is Tom Fadjo and Tom was a great entrepreneur and he founded Browning and Ferris industries, BFI, you see these blue trucks running around all over the world. But he started with one truck riding on the back of it in his neighborhood to see how to do this process of picking up garbage and managing waste.

So he was a very good client, very successful person and one of my best friends. And I shared with him this dream I had and I told him that I would stay in the law firm and I would be the nonexecutive chairman of the board and I would do all these things and basically sitting on the sideline and not risking much and I would have this great dream come true. He just looked me straight in the eye and he said, Joseph, it’s not going to work that way. You have to commit deeply to doing this and leave the law firm or it’s not going to work. You can’t build an enterprise like the one you are describing if you don’t commit 110% to it. And I eventually listened to him and that’s what I realized he was correct. So I did, I left the law firm.

 

Walter

So in this transformational process leaving your law firm and your old life you had important guides in the form of people and books and other occurrences that happened and then you ended up with taking on some of the world’s biggest possible challenges. One was strategy for Shell. Another one was hunger in India. So how did your personal learning process in this transformation of yourself inform taking on these kind of huge, societal challenges and business challenges?

 

Joseph

This process of going to the depth of despair is an emptying process. And at the point, Walter, that I went to the very bottom, I didn’t have anything else to lose. And that gave me the courage to do what I did which was to leave the law firm. And then to begin really stepping into my life with a sort of a risk-it-all conviction, everything that I did. Now this is the way I partially live my life each of my entrepreneurial endeavors. I looked back and I realized that I knew how to do this but these undertakings were not in essence risking everything I had. Whereas the ones that I’m talking about, that you mentioned, were. They were risking my reputation, my money, my time and effort, my self-esteem.

And it was having gone to that other place that allowed me to take these risks that resulted in these projects. And the guides that I had the awareness, I had started my practices by that time and I had created enough awareness so that when these, I say these cubic centimeters of chance would open up, I developed the capacity to go right to them and to connect to them and use them in the moment.

So, for example, right after I left the law firm and I wanted to create the American Leadership Forum, I had no clue how to create a curriculum. All I had was a commitment. And I now realized that that is everything. The commitment creates that opening for you. And I went out for a long run in Hyde Park on a Sunday morning right after I had left on a Friday and came back and threw open the paper that was on the front step and as I was on the floor, the living room floor ready to stretch and I saw this headline, “David Bohm discovers the algebra of algebras”.

In that moment it was like an entire flash in my life and there was a rightness to it. I knew I had to meet this man. It was not intermediated by thoughts, it was an instant illumination. And instead of deciding to go to the phone on a Sunday morning I ran to the phone and began trying to find him. It took several hours. But finally I found him at home, got him on the phone and he agreed to see me the next day. Canceled all of his appointments and spent half a day with me that Monday. And that literally changed my life and enabled all of the things you were just talking about.

 

Walter

David Bohm of course is one of the world’s most important physicists who not only was masterful in physics but also had the deep insight to apply this knowledge to society and into what we could term a leadership process which was his dialogue process where he developed the methodology that was, if applied in a deeply developed way, to bring about kind of a single intelligence in a group to bring about co-creation.

And so that’s also very close to the works that you have undertaken later. I think what’s interesting is that he also felt that, in order to do that, you needed to have the personal maturity, the inner development to actually play at that level. What did you understand about that in your own work of developing leadership processes and working with organizations about this interplay of the inner development and the capacity to act in these groundbreaking transformative ways, be it business and society, politics, whatever?

 

Joseph

That is an extremely accurate statement you made about Bohm and his dialogue process. What I learned from Bohm that day about dialogue gave me the beginning understanding, but it was not until years later, this was in 1980 when I met him. And in 2010 I met one of his colleagues who was a young man at that time, postdoc student, named Lee Nichol who worked with him on his dialogue project for ten years.

Lee is the first one that explained to me what I was intuitively feeling but I could not put my finger on it. And that was the following: He told me that David Boehm was deeply troubled over the last several years of his life when the dialogue process that he had developed and had written about in this tiny little twenty-five or thirty page booklet had been distributed all over the world, which was not what he intended to do with it.

And a whole generation of practitioners were using this Bohmian dialogue. And what Lee said was that he realized, Bohm realized, that they were using it in a superficial way which touched on the point you just made a moment ago and that is, Bohm felt, and he taught the people in his circle this, that you don’t do one of these dialogues unless you have done the personal work and bring it into the circle.

And that meant meditation, contemplative practices, energy practices, the hard work – and journaling and self reflection – the hard work outside of the circle. And you bring that in as a more developed human being and the people around the circle can then begin to operate as a single intelligence, but not until then.

Now occasionally it can happen, but on a reliable basis his view was, this is what was needed. And that a whole generation of practitioners didn’t realize that. And they were doing this in a superficial way. And I personally saw this in many of the transformation projects in Europe that I was watching, and in America, that people who had great reputations for teaching about dialogue were just doing it the wrong way.

And that was an insight that I had gained over the past ten years and it was just verifying for me why I needed to write this new book to explain that you cannot connect a group to operate as a single intelligence or you cannot do these or create success in these kinds of processes that I was undertaking if you have people working with you who have not undertaken that hard work. It’s the core of the learning for me.

 

Walter

So the methods that you are personally using to deepen yourself, to develop the capacity to be a change agent, a supporter, presence, a model for change, tell us more about both your engagement with meditation, what exactly that is, because I think many people don’t understand what you actually do and what you experience.

 

Joseph

There are several practices. Meditation was the one that I began with many years ago. The practice that I did for fifteen years or so is known now as mindfulness. Jon Kabat Zinn’s mindfulness. It was very similar to that. Ultimately I was introduced to the process of binaural beat technology. Are you familiar with that?

 

Walter

No

 

Joseph

It’s a process that was discovered maybe fifteen or twenty years ago but perfected only in the last ten years or so. It is music and sound that also introduces alternative sounds to your ears in a slightly different tonality that results in your being able to meditate at a much deeper level more quickly than if you were taking the years to do it like I did previously.

 

Walter

What I discovered in my own work with leaders and organizations is that introducing meditation is very useful but the crucial step for transformation is to really bring the meditation practice, which you might do alone or in a small group, into the action of everyday work. And then to bring it into the depths of cocreative processes and all the different aspects of functioning. What have you discovered for yourself, having done these practices of meditation, how they have impacted both your own process, your own efficacy and also your work with groups and people?

 

Joseph

In terms of my own efficacy it’s meant everything to me. It’s enhanced my capacity to be creative, it’s lowered my stress levels, blood pressure level, it’s also enabled me to be, I guess you would say relatively or sometimes extremely calm in the most stressful circumstances you can imagine. And almost experience either anger or deep disappointment on the part of people or multiple people. And it just passes through you like energy through a wall. It just doesn’t affect you. So that’s one element of it.

I think it’s the single most effective personal practice you can undertake and I think it’s one to begin with. But then I think it’s really important to match it up and connect it with other practices. But just to answer your question more specifically, I now have learned, and over the last decade or so, to introduce this to executive teams or innovation teams that we are working with and it makes all the difference in the world.

I smile a little bit because we begin every meeting that we have in planned systems where I’m working with the twelve or fifteen people I am working with, sometimes forty, sometimes 100, and we are all sitting there at the beginning of the day meditating for thirty minutes.

 

Walter

How does it impact people that are doing this freshly? So you and I have practiced for many decades and so we are in a way a bad example of how one is first impacted. What did you experience with people that are doing this just a few times?

 

Joseph

First, I think it’s important to say that many of the business leaders that we introduced this to were highly resistant to it, to say the least, because, they said, my guys, my people are going to think I’m weird and I just don’t want to be rejected this way. They were very fearful. But we found the secret to it is to have the CEO embrace this. So we begin working with the CEO for months before we introduce this. And he is the one that has become comfortable with it and recommends it highly. The immediate effect, well, I would say that in the first few days of this practice if I was going to just make a generalization of it I would say there is not a whole lot of immediate effect.

It’s the cumulative effect that we stress for people. And I say within weeks of doing this there is a noticeable effect in the group. Of more interconnection, more entrainment among the group, less fear, less confrontation, more of a capacity to begin to act as that single intelligence that we talked about earlier. And with continuous practice it just gets deeper and deeper and deeper. I’m just smiling because just the other day we were finishing a nature retreat, an eight-day nature retreat, and we had an executive team of fifteen or so people, senior leaders of a manufacturing firm and they had been doing this for nine months or a year.

And then we took them out on a nature retreat and came back and were working on a strategy for this transformation for the next year. And the beauty of what occurred there, and they all reflected on it, that something brand-new showed up in this circle that was completely out of the ordinary, not considered, not on the radar screen. And these people, in creating this new path, were completing each other’s sentences, literally.

And they spoke about that. This is Bohmian dialogue at its finest. And we began this whole process by teaching them all the elements of Bohmian dialogue and then have them start doing their practices based upon his knowing that this is the way to make it successful. So these people are not only doing their meditation, they’re doing Qigong every morning and doing retreats out in nature.

 

Walter

So we share also a deep love for nature. And nature is for you also a deep practice to go into nature and to be impacted by that deep relationship that you have developed with nature and you also help others to do the same in your leadership processes. What happened to you, I’m thinking in particular of this first very big journey to Baja in Mexico. Give us a sense of what happened to you personally in that nature experience?

 

Joseph

That was perhaps the most powerful single experience I ever had in my life. No matter what I was doing. The background is that I was in a meeting in Boston with Brian Arthur, Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer, two MacKenzie partners. And Otto and I were explaining to them what we had done in a project in Shell that resulted in the discovery of the you process. And we were debriefing that.

At dinner that night I was seated next to Brian Arthur, I call it Brian Arthur’s you process because he is the one that told Otto and me about these coordinates. And I was sitting next to Brian and just the moment I sat down he turned to me and he didn’t ask me, he instructed me, he said, Joseph, in February you need to go on a sacred passage with me in nature. And immediately it was one of those direct knowings, I had a full calendar in February. I said I will be there. I had no idea where, what it would look like or anything but I just said, I just had this knowing and I said, I will be there. So I showed up and it was a fourteen-day nature, what the leader John Milton called, a sacred passage. He had taught me Qigong and to do the Qigong practices twice a day, to meditate and to do certain rituals that are a combination of Native American and Tibetan rituals to honor nature. And I did all of those religiously on the beach. And also to do a 24-hour sort of preliminary vision quest where you draw an 8-foot circle and you don’t leave that circle for twenty-four hours, in the American Indian tradition.

I did that, and in the midst of it, in the middle of the night, you don’t have a watch so you don’t know, maybe one or two in the morning, a gale force wind came up, I found out later it was about 60 miles an hour or 70 mile an hour wind and I am standing in this circle with this surf pounding right at my feet. And I stayed there, miserable, but when I finished the vision quest I was deeply disappointed because nothing happened.

I expected to have some revelation or some new knowing and there was nothing. And I just was disgusted. I felt that I had somehow made a mistake in the way that I was handling myself. And I changed my clothes from the wet clothes and went up on this cliff nearby and was contemplating. And the beauty of this place is that about 10 m out from where the beach ends it drops off to 200 or 300 m. So the whales can come right up to the beach there and right up to that cliff I was on.

And I was thinking and sort of trying to reflect and make sense over what had happened and suddenly in front of me two enormous gray whales shot up, full-grown whales, shot up out of the air as if they were shot from torpedoes or something, and they rose up in the air all the way and they hung there and then seemingly, slowly, without a splash, went down in the water again. And about a minute later, the same thing, two whales right in front of me. And then a third time. And I fell on the ground just sobbing. Just sobbing uncontrollably. I thought they were gone and about a minute later they started on the left side of me like two porpoises and they were going like this, seventeen times in the water right in front of me in unison in this beautiful dance.

And then everything was silent and I was just sobbing there because of the connection I had with the whales and because they were such lovely creatures and I was praying, saying, dear God don’t let anything happen to these whales, help them survive. And in that moment I knew that I had to contribute, myself. I didn’t know exactly how or what that was going to be but it was an absolute unqualified knowing that I was going to do something to make a difference in the world.

 

Walter

Here ends part one of my dialogue with Joseph Jaworski. Please also join us for part two, the source of innovation, where we explore how to catalyze innovation by deepening our connection with nature and each other. Here Joseph also turns the tables on me and demonstrates his renowned interview style as we question each other about how leaders mature.