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Full Text of Strange Fire: 5 Guiding Values

Posted on | October 22, 2007 | No Comments

I decided to just post the full text here too.  🙂  This is my newest E-book. For a printer-friendly PDF of this content, visit

Strange Fire: 5 Guiding Values


Spirituality, business, and life in general should be happy and relatively easy–with challenges coming to add growth and interest to life rather than anxiety, fear, and pain. To me, short, simple books resonate with the most truth. Sometimes it seems authors and publishers, probably in response to readers, appear to appreciate wordiness instead of brevity.

I think these 5 simple principles can be applied to all areas of one’s life ranging from spiritual endeavors, relationships, parenthood, leadership, and business to achieve balance and true success.

We could argue the words that describe the principles, we could add to the list, we could probably even reduce the list, but I like having 5 rules, because it’s easy to remember the list, and I believe everything you face, fits nicely into one or more of these principles. Let them guide you as they guide me. If you have to reduce things to one rule, let it be “The Golden Rule” as stated in almost every sacred text including at least 5 times in the New Testament of The Bible including Luke 6:31: “Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.”

1. Accept
The most profound choice in life is to either
accept things as they exist or to accept the
responsibility for changing them.
The Universal Traveler, page 41

I’ve been intensively studying the Western and Eastern spiritual traditions for 5 or 6 years, because out of these traditions we base our unconscious assumptions. As I spent year after year peeling back layers of this savory onion of thought it became apparent that the Western traditions tend to say “make it happen,” while the Eastern traditions tend to say “let it happen.”

Movies like “What the Bleep Do We Know,” “The Secret,” and even “The Matrix,” “Star Wars,” and tons of others explore the whole concept that ideas are really all there is in life. It’s what we do, or don’t do, with those ideas that matters. The Western idea of the law of attraction asks us to visualize what we want and let the universe manifest that vision as we act in our lives. This is a “make it happen” idea. The Eastern traditions say to step out of our visualization and to empty our mind, and receive or “let it happen.”

While studying, journaling, and meditating (thinking & praying) on these topics the words “surrender” and “receive” kept coming up. I have a hard time with surrendering – I’m a “never give up” kind of guy. But “surrender” has a lot of meanings, including to give away or let go. So, I can surrender my anxiety without giving up my goals. That was a break-through. I also have a hard time receiving, for some reason, I felt guilty when I received – like letting someone else buy my lunch or a round of drinks. I had to move through that and learn that surrendering and receiving are part of a cycle. One can’t give without receiving and one can’t truly receive until one has given something to have earned what is received. These have to be in balance.

While meditating, I sometimes mentally recite “receive” as I breathed in, and “surrender” as I breathe out. Sometimes I add pairs like:

Receive – Surrender

Respect – Judgment

Freedom – Attachment

Wealth – Greed

Love – Guilt

Wisdom – Pride

Harmony- Envy

Health – Disbelief

The pairs of concepts, items, and emotions that we can receive and surrender are endless.

As I kept meditating and watching for these pairs it finally hit me that the word “accept” embodies the spirit of both receive (getting something) and surrender (letting things be). That made a huge impression on me. Interestingly, within a day of realizing this, my new copy of one of my favorite books arrived in my office.

“The Universal Traveler” was the text book of one of the best classes I ever took: Design Studies 101 at Iowa State University, back in the spring semester of 1987. I’d given my copy away to one of my favorite high school teachers and had just found out it was back in publication. The Traveler has an entire, wonderful chapter on acceptance which includes the quote at the beginning of this chapter. It’s worth repeating because I believe this is the dichotomous seed at the core of a melded Western and Eastern philosophy: “The most profound choice in life is to either accept things as they exist or to accept the responsibility for changing them.”
Accept. It’s the first guiding value.

2. Show Up

How many times have you heard someone say “I made this great connection with someone at the breakfast gathering yesterday…” or something similar and thought “they get all the luck!”? I’ve thought it, I’ve been envious of those people. Surely you can think of those times in your life.

Good things happen all the time, but only to people who Show Up. I’m continually amazed at the number of people who never show up at a networking meeting and complain about not getting business leads. I’m amazed at the number of people who never show up at cultural events and complain there’s not enough to do. I’m amazed at the number of people who never show up for dinner and complain that they have a poor relationship with their family.

In my life it’s impossible to physically show up for everything I’d like to attend. Obviously, setting priorities is a sub-set of showing up, but you have to do it. To be successful you have to show up in your life. You have to be there. Sometimes that’s enough. You don’t always have to have a plan for working the room. You don’t always have to be the best one there, but for good things to show up in your life you have to show up to receive them.

For me, showing up means saying “yes” to almost every opportunity to give presentations or teach. If I can afford to be there, I go. Almost every business success I’ve ever received is saying “yes” when asked to show up. Sales is simply the task of creating opportunities to show up.

It’s a simple rule and a short chapter.

Accept, then Show up.

3. Pay 100% Attention

Lots of books exist on the topic of 100% attention, but few use the title because 100% attention shows up in almost all the different tasks we undertake. “Active Listening” requires 100% attention. “Meditation” is truly recognizing and practicing (in the context of getting better at something that doesn’t always come naturally – like “practicing” the piano) your ability to pay 100% attention.

Paying 100% attention to the task you’re engaged with is amazingly powerful. Your clients will know you care which is a true differentiation point from all your competitors who are not giving 100% attention to the person. Your spouse will light up when he or she knows they have your full attention. Your kids will know the love you feel for them when you don’t answer the phone, when your mind isn’t somewhere else.

100% Attention is truly “showing up” in each moment of your life and “accepting” either the moment as it exists, or your responsibility to change it–or both. To be 100% attentive is to be completely in the moment. It’s timeless. When you are 100% attentive there is no past, no future, only the now–which is the only thing we truly ever possess, but few ever appreciate.
When you are 100% attentive you can visualize, forgive, smile, remember, communicate, understand, give, receive, surrender, and accept. However, “simply” paying attention is not easy. It takes conscious effort and practice. It takes an understanding that power manifests in silence. The most powerful person in the meeting is usually the one who says the least, but is the most attentive to the discussion. As one of my mentors (a very financially successful and family-conscious man) stated off the cuff one morning at breakfast, “I’ve found that the more important the decision, the quieter I need to be.”

See if you can pay 100% attention to anything for even just 15 minutes without getting distracted. It’s hard. When you can do this you’ll find yourself in “the zone” and time will not exist. You will be in the bliss of the moment, and the people who are lucky enough to be with you at that time will be transported with you.

Accept, then Show Up and Pay 100% Attention.

4. Many Irons in the Fire

The idea of having many irons in the fire may seem in conflict with the rule of paying 100% Attention. It’s not. In fact, I don’t think many humans have a chance of actually paying 100% attention to the things in their lives without having lots of things in their lives to pay attention TO.

Only a very few of the most highly-trained and focused minds can pay 100% attention to one thing very long. The images of meditating Eastern religious masters, or Medieval monks at prayer for hours a day come to my mind. While that sometimes sounds like a wonderful luxury and sometimes like the most boring existence on the planet, spending hours at a time in mediation, prayer, writing, painting, running, chopping wood, hiking, or any other task we enjoy is difficult at best in our society. We get interrupted. Our minds aren’t trained to pay 100% attention to one thing, person, task, or activities for more than a few short moments at a time. So, in order to be successful, I believe we need to have several irons in the fire.

A blacksmith keeps several irons in the fire so that he can pull one out at the right time, focus his 100% attention on that iron for the time needed, then move to the next iron. When I took a watercolor class in college, we were taught to have several paintings working at once so we could move from one painting to another allowing each to dry appropriately in turn. Almost anything worthwhile takes some time to “dry.” Working metal, wood, art, and even writing, needs time to mature into completion.

When you have several irons in the fire, you can pay 100% attention to each iron as it needs your attention, then move through each without losing your ability to pay attention and as a result over-working (“noodling”) or under working (neglecting) the activity. Businesses fail when they only work on the current project and fail to prospect, propose, sell, and bill for other projects.

Accept, Show Up, then Pay 100% Attention to each of the Multiple Irons you have in the fire during the time those irons need your attention, then move on to the next iron. At least some of those irons should be giving back, which is the next guiding value, Stewardship.

5. Stewardship

Every spiritual tradition gives humans the responsibility to take care of the planet and each other during our lifetimes. The way we are accountable for this responsibility through the three keys of stewardship: your time, your talent, and/or your treasure. You need to give back to the environment or society in order to keep the cycle of surrender and receiving positively fueled in your life. Some traditions call this “tithing,” but I prefer the term “stewardship” because we are the stewards of our existence – the caretakers of our world.

Today’s fast-paced world makes time the most scarce commodity for many people. When we show up and give our time to a cause that makes a positive contribution to our environment (I use “environment” in a context beyond “green” causes…) we are being “stewards” of our world. This can be as simple as sitting behind an information desk, working the concession stand at the ball game, helping on the homecoming float, or serving on a board of directors for a local charity. Your time is truly a gift from the spirit of your life, share it.

I think everyone has at least one talent. When I was a kid at church, those talents were usually considered in the musical context, playing piano, leading the singing, etc. Beyond this scope, you might have a talent for financial management, and thus serve as treasurer, or a talent for gardening, and thus serve as grounds-keeper. Whatever your occupation, it probably evolved out of your talents. Give some of that talent back to the people that need it. If you’re “handy” work on a Habitat for Humanity home. If you’re a great writer, be a tutor for underprivileged kids. If you’re a naturalist, lead a scout troop. There are hundreds of opportunities all around you to give of your talents.

Treasure is your money. I put this last, while many organizations (especially churches) seem to put it first. I think writing a check is easier than giving time and talent for most people. That doesn’t make giving money less important, because almost every organization or cause needs financial support to progress toward the fulfillment of a worthy mission, but to be successful, you can’t just write a check and go watch TV.

You should give your time first, which will probably involve the use of your talent, then in addition to the time and talent you’re giving, provide from your treasure. Sure, there will be many organizations to which you simply write a check, and you can feel great about that – just make sure there are some causes that you give of the more personal elements: time and talent.

Accept that you need to show up both for your own benefit and for the benefit of others, pay 100% attention to what you’re doing while your there then move on to the next iron in the fire, which must include some stewardship of the natural and societal environments in which we live.


It’s a short book. It took 39 years and one afternoon to write. It’ll take a lifetime to implement and will probably never be perfected. I accept that. I’m showing up for duty. I’ll try my best to give 100% attention to the iron I’m working on at the moment, while keeping many irons on the fire, including some irons that allow me to manifest my accountability to be a steward of my world.

I hope you will too.

This book is a gift. If you like it, consider making a gift of your own; maybe some time at helping your neighbor rake leaves, maybe writing a thank-you note to someone who doesn’t expect it, maybe an extra $10 to a local cause. Practice some stewardship today.


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