As I approached the high dive to do yet another back flip a six year old girl was poised to leap. As a teenager, I had little patience, and was ready to start yelling at her to go. After two minutes of her standing and staring down, I heard her brother's shouting and saw him walking fast (no running!) towards us. "Jenny, get down, you are too little." As she turned to climb down the ladder she slipped and fell face first towards the concrete.
The final leg of my motorcycle trip through Africa began with my 6am departure from Cape Town. The road to Point Agulhas, the southern most tip of the continent cut through rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean. As I rounded the sweeping curve on the cliff road high above the ocean, my eyes moved from the distant blue ocean horizon to the pack of baboons that was blocking the road 100 yards ahead. With 3 seconds until impact...
It was 4 am in Swaziland, I awoke in a start, from the most vivid dream of my little sister speaking to my mother. "It has been six months since Denis called home. Let's send him vibes, maybe he will call." Wide awake, sitting up, replaying the dream, I realized that it had indeed been a long time since I called home, and I felt guilty. So I got out of bed got dressed and set out to find a way to phone home.
When my friend Bassel asked if I would like to join him on a float trip down the Congo River from Kinshasa to the Atlantic Ocean I said "why not." A person with more common sense could have come up with a few reasons "why not." I had read "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad in college, and now I could retrace the steps of that voyage, I leaped at the opportunity.
Table of Contents
What do you call a person who has a non-ordinary/transcendent experience? In the past they were called a mystic. However today, 53% of the population report having non ordinary leap in awareness. What should a lucky witness do - but share the remarkable story. Thus this collection was born.
My daughter Zuni wanted to become a ballerina after seeing the Nutcracker. Then she wanted to become royalty after seeing "The Princess Bride". So when she moved into her gymnastics phase after seeing the Olympics it was no surprise. She was born with muscles and learned to walk at nine months so I should not have been surprised at her agility.
Chris, my debate partner from college had a cabin in the woods, nestled between the two Spanish Peaks in southern Colorado. After our near death attempts at hang gliding, we set our sights on climbing the West peak. Above the treeline, weather moves in very quickly, even in the summer.
At the same moment that my civilized friend from college, Melanie Hanson, was exploring Orthodox spirituality in Boston, I was recovering from a brutal Zambian mugging in a Coptic monastery in Kenya.
When Ric, my Orthopedic surgeon friend asked if I would like to join him and a band of merry pranksters on a deep sea fishing trip my first thought was that this was a way for him to drum up some business.
Sitting under a palm tree next to the Goma airport runway I would occasionally look up to see Mt. Nyiragongo belch a plume of volcanic smoke. My friend Bassel had taken off in search of a Cessna and pilot for hire. His childhood in Zaire had included many medical professional and missionaries and their network of pilots for hire to take them into the interior. Virunga and the gorillas were only 200 miles away by air.
A 6 foot alligator has a brain the size of a walnut, but it has the attitude of a hangry Tyrannosaurus Rex. My son Daniel joined me and my friends Cade, John and Chris for a relaxing weekend of skydiving, fly-fishing, climbing a 14,000 mountain and alligator wrestling. Daniel's conclusion was "Oh really? these are your friends from church?" There is no such thing as a rational decision to walk into a swamp and grab an alligator by the tail to pull it out for a wrestling match. However, it might be the best way to personally experience the conflict between System 1 thinking and System 2 thinking as defined by Nobel Prize winning economist Daniel Kahnemann.
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(Continued from above)
As she fell, I heard her brother yell "Noooooooooooo!"
Let me put the story on pause, hold that image, and leap forward into the future. In a moment you will see the connection.
Flash forward to Labor Day weekend 22 years later, I had spent the last three days in bed, recovering from a wicked electrical shock. I had been helping two friends who were recent immigrants from Tibet move a ladder in a house painting job and the ladder went into a power line. Ouch.
Since I had a near death experience before, I knew that I would have three days of walking around in a fog, unable to think clearly, but somehow with a heightened awareness of personal energy. I had been a single dad for 7 years and my 12 year old son Daniel had grown into a competent cook, cleaner, handyman and helper. He offered to take me out to my favorite physical therapy - hitting a bucket of golf balls.
As we concluded our hour of vigorous but humiliating exercise we headed into the club house. Blocking the entry was a group of volunteers setting up a charity golf tournament. Being a professional fundraiser, I donate to almost everything. I asked the first person that I encountered I where could I go to make a donation. She extended her right hand towards me with her palm up, and motioned silently to come follow her. Intimidated, I scurried along quickly. In the eye of the hurricane of chaos was a calm woman with a stack of T-shirts and a roll of tickets and a cash box.
"Jennifer, would you please sell this gentleman a T-shirt?", "Sure mom" she replied. Mom then curtly smiled at me and left. Jennifer looked up with skeptical raised eyebrows, with a glance left and right, speaking wordlessly some kind of message like "Hey we are not open for business yet, but I will do you a favor." "What is this charitable organization?" I asked. She pushed a folded T-shirt towards me with Redemptorist Senior Center in bold letters across the chest, and glanced up with the same skeptical raised eyebrows and half smile as if to say "Do you have a hangover, or are you just really bad at making small talk?"
I interpreted this as an invitation to make small talk. She looked like she was 28 years old, therefore not a resident of the senior center, so I was curious of her connection. As she described her volunteer work, and the connection between the senior center and her work as a first grade teacher I began to sense a glow around her. I wanted to hear more, and absorb some of her glow, so I asked if I could also buy a raffle ticket. Then, do you have anything else for sale? Again, I saw her half smile, half raised eyebrows, which spoke volumes, mainly expressing pity for my modest abilities to make small talk.
Leap forward two days, I was in the office of Fr. Shea, who had set up an interview to discuss hiring me to run a capital campaign for his school. As we toured the school, around the corner came Jennifer with a group of 1st grade students. Denis, let me introduce you to Jenny Walsh one of our first grade teachers. "I think we met at the golf tournament" she said., this time her expression was not skeptical but warm.
A week later I entered a spaghetti dinner for another charity and bumped into Jenny at the table where you get your name tag. A week after that pulled into a parking lot, put the car into park, then Jenny pulled in next to me, put her car in park and we both got out of our cars at the same time.
Then I bumped into her at church. Six times in six weeks I bumped into her. By then, we were kind of friends, but it still took me nine months to ask her out.
Three months later she introduced me to her brother. "Actually Denis, I remember you from when we were kids. You went to Ward Parkway pool?" "Yep". "Actually, I remember one time when Jenny was on the high dive, and I was yelling at her to get down, she was too little. As she turned to climb down, she slipped and fell face first towards the concrete. As you put your hands on the ladder to go up you caught her. HMMM. That was 22 years ago. A cold awkward silence ensued. We did not speak for a couple of days. This shook me to my core. This was one more inexplicable coincidence that had no rational explanation. Now, today, since we have been married for 20 years, it makes total sense.
Rupert Sheldrake and his theory of morphic resonance helped me understand our interconnectedness. From a quantum level, the writings of Dean Radin helped me understand that there are connections that transcend time and space that we are just beginning to understand. The information about our connectedness seems to be available to all of us, the challenge is tuning our consciousness to perceive it.
Every year DG pursues a new challenge which is different from anything he has done before. This past year it was "butterfly wrangling". To catch, tag and release a Monarch Butterfly as part of an international research project, required learning a unique kind of gentle strength. Before that was - being a Matador in the Opera Carmen, fly fishing, stand up comedy, monastic retreats, managing a portable EEG machine, alligator wrestling, car repair, Big Brothers/Big Sisters volunteer, hospice volunteer, watercolor painting, wilderness survival, off road racing, camping, mountain climbing, skydiving, hang gliding, cliff diving, scuba diving, windsurfing, sailing and many more.
Along with Dr. Maria Hunt, our research on the cognitive strategies of consistently high performing innovators was published in The International Journal of Innovation Education and Research Vol 5 #8. http://innovationoncommand.com/ The discovery from this study yields insight into how people can shift their mind into focus their attention on command. This contributes to our understanding of consciousness, and how each of us can manage our wandering minds.
Catching Jenny is the best "coincidence" of DG's life. Jenny is also a nerd, sailor, and high school teacher. Father of four, he has come to love his children's passions: Colorado wilderness, chorale music, volleyball and engineering
Denis has spoken at over 100 events on:
- The cognitive processes of innovation
- Wild stories that combine adventure with science.
While recovering in a Coptic monastery in Kenya, from a brutal mugging in Zambia, Denis began to discern a new vocation that might make the world a better place instead of the opposite. His joy in marketing combined with a desire to facilitate altruistic behaviors led him to a career in fundraising. Scientific researchers in the field of Psychoneuroimmunology have discovered that the intention and action of generosity has a significant impact on one's immune system, brain health and sense of connectedness with God and other people. Denis' practice of fundraising is based in 1) engaging donors in the vision, 2) connecting people socially, and 3) facilitating volunteerism, and 4) asking the donor what they are interested in. "Donor engagement makes the ask superfluous."
The Stewardship System book and online service is a compilation of the research that we collected over the decades on how to increase generosity without fundraising. See www.StewardshipSystem.org to subscribe. In addition DG wrote books on how to create a planned giving program in your charity, and how to conduct a stewardship based capital campaign. https://www.church-development.com/ Denis' research on the subconscious decision making process was published in the academic journal THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INNOVATION EDUCATION AND RESEARCH. Click here to see the study and the video. http://innovationoncommand.com/
3 seconds is a lot of time if you are motionless, but at 60 mph I could cover 300 feet, a soccer field in that blink of an eye.
Rationally, I came up with three options: a) slam on the brakes, stop in the middle of the pack - they would jump on my back and eat me. b) speed up, hit them like a bowling ball, I might get knocked off, and they would eat me, c) shoot off into the ocean, where the sharks would eat me.
Exasperated I asked myself "What on earth could I possible do so that I would survive?" And it worked! My subconscious came up with four distinct memories in the correct sequence that would give me a way to survive. Years later this "self interrogatory" was found to be more effective than affirmations by University of Illinois researchers Senay, Noguchi and Albarraccin. Anthropologist Julian Jaynes in his landmark conjecture on the "The Origin of Consciousness and Breakdown of the Bi-Cameral Mind" imagined that the self question was effective because it replaced the ancient tribal practice of consulting the elder, or effigy of the elder, for guidance in all matters.
It worked. The first memory was that of the time I encountered a brown eagle with a six foot wingspan as I rounded a tight corner in the Drakensburg Mountains at 2 MPH as it lunged for a rodent on the edge of the path. To avoid going over the edge, I had to embrace the motorcycle like I was dancing, so that is what I did.
The second memory was of the time I came out my tent and saw a pack of small monkeys swarming all over my motorcycle, they found my secret satchel of Oreo's and were having a feast. To ensure that they did not take my ignition key, I grabbed a large branch and ran at them waving the branch and yelping. The monkeys scattered. To replicate this I hit the horn, the lights, the flashers and started screeching the back tires. The baboons went on full alert - up on all fours.
The third memory was when I entered Swaziland, rounding a corner I encountered a tank blocking the road. To avoid a head on crash I slammed on the rear brakes and starting sliding sideways, almost laying it down on the asphalt. To replicate that slowed me down from 60 to 10 mph immediately.
The final memory was when I attempted to ascend a path on a trail called The Roof of Africa. Strewn with beach-ball size boulders it was meant for motocross motorcycles, not road bikes. I had to jump the front wheel up every three feet to move up the path, which wore me out after 100 yards. This was a way to penetrate the crowd of baboons! I pulled the motorcycle around straight, downshifted to 1st, red lined the engine, popped the clutch, yanked back on the handlebars and rode a wheelie through the pack of baboons. They parted like Moses and the Red Sea. I lived.
So what happened to cause a leap in creative innovation? After years of graduate school, an academic research project on high performing innovators and numerous creative experiences I conclude that: 1) a shift in consciousness precedes an intuitive leap, 2) a challenge in the form of a question helps to focus the subconscious, including the "why" that stimulates a small dose of the stress hormone cortisol fuels the curiosity. Our subjects in the study all had a daily practice that included these specific cognitive strategies. http://innovationoncommand.com/