The Spirit of Invention

01/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Dr. Cara Barker Author, Analyst, Keynotes, Founder of The Love Project, Love Fests and Retreats

Two weekends ago, I spent the weekend on Whidbey Island with three other people doing our own version of a Think Tank. Our connecting link is that our individual work has been devoted to human transformation. Our shared intention was simply to "think what we've never thought before, to do what we've never done before, and to invent what's never been invented before." Easier said than done.

Over the first day and one-half days, the conversation was splashed with more than a few references to the past. As I watched the tenacious hold past identities have on us, I began to appreciate the nervousness that is evoked from the Call to be Present. Who would we be if we were not operating in surround sound of old clichés, worn out stories, and expectations? And what would others think? I know, I know, we should not care. But the fact of the matter is that we humans are social creatures. We have habitual ways of operating: invisible standard operating procedural manuals. What might be revealed if these old scripts were shed?
Answers come in unexpected forms. Ladies, perhaps only you can appreciate the following. Eventually, our bellies were sending up their own call for food. Looking around the large, comfortable open room where we were perched, which overlooked Puget Sound, the kitchen began to loom large for me. What was in the refrigerator? What would there be to prepare? Where were the tools I would need? Tension was building.

Whose house is this, anyway? And then, it struck me: this was not my house. So, why was I putting myself in the position of taking charge in the kitchen? The fact is that the other three participants were all men. Without realizing it, I had slipped into the customary role of 'fixing the food for the men-folk.' Sounds like an old Western, doesn't it? Despite years of work on the liberation front, there I was, on 'automatic pilot.' I decided to play with this discovery, to see what might be invented by it. During the first three meals, I took a passive role, setting the table, assisting the chef of that particular meal, as well as lending a hand in our shared clean-up. It was easy to join into the laughter, despite the edge of my secret, self-imposed experiment. The guys were doing a great job, the food was fabulous, and all of them seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. Frankly, gals, very much like we do when left in a kitchen to our own devices with one another! I felt a bit like the 'fly on the wall' in the men's club.

It was not until the second dinner, (fresh halibut) that I 'fessed up.' In my sixty plus years, I'd never had the experience of being the only woman in a group where all the men took it upon themselves to create the meal, without anyone saying so. I realized that I had been given a remarkable gift. Through a collective desire to invent what had not been invented before, I had been given the chance to identify how old assumptions carry the power to limit the present.

Enter the holidays. With Thanksgiving and Christmas behind us, who amongst us will not admit that massive attention goes into our shared meals, the ambiance, the ritualistic ways we have in being with one another? Some of which, admittedly, are beautiful. Up to now, there is just something special, for me, of making the exact same Bing cherry salad my mother always fixed, her sweet potato and apple dish, and her special cornbread stuffing that always delights not only me, but my family and guests. That 'something old' contribution which reminds us of the gift of our ancestors, and the offering of their love through food, and communion table. We eat on the same plates my father brought back from Europe in World War II for my mother. Nearly 70 years in use, despite the fact that both my folks were gone before the birth of my daughter nearly 26 years ago, their Presence is palpable, as a pleasing seasoning for the season.

But, in the Spirit of Invention, this year was different. As a family, we bundled up the food, bags, and paraphernalia, and trotted off to a get-away place on Bainbridge Island. This year, in the Spirit of Invention, we did something new: new foods, new ways of fixing them, different plates, different games, new rituals. What I found was this: the gift of Presence exists wherever, and however it is sought. I cannot help but think that a major factor was simply the mutual desire to be together, and to do so simply.

How can we come together in more inventive ways? Not only during the holidays, but in the months and years to come? Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, gives us a clue. Describing the lives of success giants like Bill Gates, he describes a common design. None of these inventive folks created their results without community, or support. No one does it alone. Nor are they unfocused. They persist in what holds meaning. They are present in focused, creative ways. Each has spent at least 10,000 hours to gain their first round of skill mastery, and confidence.

As we enter the season this year, let's keep the following in mind. By my calculations, if the average person lives 75 years, and spends ten hours/year intentionally focused on creating more fulfilling, meaningful holiday time, this gives us only 7500 hours logged in toward holiday mastery. We still would require an additional 2500 hours to achieve that experience. Let's let go of being so hard on ourselves over the holidays!

So, the way I see it, no matter what happens around your holiday table, and in the kitchen, we are doing pretty darn well at realizing we can create amazing things together through a shared Spirit of Invention.