How Can You Picture the Genius In All of Us?

Albert Einstein, the primary international symbol for genius, frequently insisted that he had no special gifts except passionate curiosity. “The important thing is not to stop questioning,” he said. “One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.”

Throughout life Einstein was playful, a quality that’s only recently been recognized as a treasure, not something childish to be trained out of us so we can become capable adults.  He obviously never lost his genius-level ability to think of many possibilities in any situation — a trait which Einstein shared with 98% of young children but only 2% of adults. 

Needed: a new picture of genius

Einstein’s life and work demonstrate a plethora of skills, abilities and attitudes that can be cultivated by ordinary humans, including persistence, integrity, strategic planning, intuition, and courage — all of which contributed to his great work. And all of which are available to us.

But current images of genius don’t resonate with rapidly evolving research about the natural genius in all of us and its potential to enrich all our life and work. As our images of genius catch up this expanding new paradigm about genius, the word cloud here may give you some hints about the brilliant treasures you might find in your own body, mind and spirit.

Genius starts with what comes naturally.

 Notice the words in the smallest type including imagination, awareness emotions, intuition, persistence, hope, and open-mindedness. Notice the words that hint of a love of surprise and hunger for learning

These are just a few of the raw elements of genius that spilled out of your DNA when you were young.  

Don’t believe these gifts are elements of genius? Then re-read the quote by Einstein above. Better yet, study his life and see what you can learn from his model.   

Genius grows with experience.

Once you childhood brain has matured, you can develop grownup elements of genius to help you make the most of your natural gifts. As shown in the medium-sized words in the cloud, these powers include full creativity, what you learn from experience, problem-solving and visioning skills, guidance practices, craftsmanship, planning skills, and discernment.  

Not shown, because my word cloud program only allows single words, are spiritual, emotional, and logical intelligence. Also you can learn to 1) assess which elements of genius are alive in you and which you gave up as you grew up and 2) reawaken hidden or forgotten inner treasures and cultivate them.

Genius is as ordinary as it can be miraculous.

Like love, genius can enrich your life and work in small, often overlooked ways and in big, dramatic ones. As suggested by the largest words, genius is meant to be used every day in all we do.  

Genius expresses integrity in all its meanings — being whole, authentic, true to ourselves and on the level with others. It’s naturally purposeful and innovative, and it constantly reminds us to slow down and remember wisdom we may have forgotten.

Genius can bring joy to any challenge or dream, even when times are tough. In fact, our genius loves a problem to be solved or a mystery that calls for exploration.

Insights from your genius can come alive anytime, anywhere.

Rene Marsh of Alameda, CA reports that taking her dogs for a walk is a primary way to know and live her gifts. Being in beautiful nature melts her stress and inspires new hope. The playfulness of the dogs makes her laugh, which liberates her potential for new visions.

Some of my most life-changing insights have come while I was busy doing something else.

Taking a shower to clear brain fog led to my call to study the genius potential in all of us. While walking up a mountain in Scotland in the early 1970’s, an inner voice gave surprising, right-on career advice. Looking into the eyes of John Sullivan the night I met him 37 years ago led to my trustworthy inner voice saying, “This is who you’ve been seeking. Relax and enjoy.” Many later inner voices have guided me through innumerable challenges, including the inevitable conflicts that happen when two very imperfect people dare to love each other.

How do you experience your genius?

How would you draw or describe it?

Where and how do you most easily experience it?

What information and inspiration would help you rediscover and cultivate your best gifts?

Your comments are welcome. Until we meet again through this blog, many blessings for your ordinary, wonderful life and your potential to make it richer, more meaningful every moment.


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Need a Compelling Vision? Start with the Anti-Vision

hospital bed, shutterstock

Your creative, visionary self requires juicy, specific details, but most people over the age of five can’t easily imagine exactly what they want.

Yet most people can easily describe what they don’t want … like how awful it would be to be helpless in a hospital bed while others decide your fate. Because there’s such a common fear that others will make wrong decisions for you, the advance health care directive was invented.

When my husband and I created our directive, we went way beyond deciding  who can sign papers for us when we’re out of it.  We created a powerful support system that helps us in sickness and in health.

Revisiting an image of being helpless in a hospital bed recently clarified some things that are important for our lives. As I tell the story, I hope you see how you can apply the process to yourself.

For a Great Vision for Your Life, Face Your Worst Fear

For my husband, the hospital bed conjures up pictures of being unable to communicate.  Flipping this around, he affirmed a basic vision, “Throughout my life, I hear, speak, talk and write well.”

Fleshing this out, he affirmed how much communication in many forms matters to him.  “I want frequent, meaningful contact with friends and family.  I want to finish my fantasy about Blackfire the cat wizard, publish it, and write many more fun and informative pieces.”

Looking at what he needs to make this vision real, he sees both the need for better writing support (a writers’ group, perhaps?) and for ways to keep his brain as sharp as possible as he ages.  That led to discovering, among other things, the exciting work of Norman Doidge, M.D., author of The Brain that Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing.   As we watched these and other pieces about the brain’s plasticity, both of us got more hopeful.  Now our ideas are spinning about how we can find the best ways to help ourselves and others become and remain brain-sharp.  Is a book on how to fight for our brains in the offing?  Stay tuned.

From a Yucky Picture to a New Vision for Rich Life

 While imagining myself stuck in a hospital bed, this image popped up:  “I’m at the mercy of someone else’s ideas of what I should eat and when.  That means over-cooked, under-seasoned meat and veggies served with white bread and lime gelatin. All on someone else’s timetable.”

Flipping this image and fleshing it out led to:  “Good food I love that is well cooked is a primary value for me.  To have this the rest of my life, I have to do everything I can to protect my health and to build up more financial reserves so I can always afford the organic fruits and vegetables, the antibiotic-free poultry and fish I love insetting I love. Paris again and Tuscany are high on my venue list.

“Being with friends around the dinner table is also a primary value to me. I can’t remember why we stopped the tradition of Sunday dinner with friends years ago, but it is time to bring it back.  Also, I want monthly trips to different types of restaurants, starting with the paella restaurant near Jack London Square that catered an event I loved.  Also, I want to learn how to cook Indian and Ethiopian foods well.  Oh, and having more pantry space and a much bigger kitchen, so I can store and use that humongous stainless steel roaster I was given …”

Those visions are already being set in motion.  I’ve found it’s a lot easier to eat healthily today when I envision eating and sharing food I love for the rest of my life than it is to follow a diet because I have to keep down the blood sugar.  Yeah, I know the numbers on the meter are vital, but they are not nearly as motivating as the picture of choosing healthy, yummy foods for life rather than ever being stuck with overdone, boring hospital food.

What’s Your Vision for Any Part of a Better Life?

 The formula is simple:

  1. Start with a dreaded or fearful image that bothers you. If you can’t think of any, try this:  I’ll end up broke and in the street.
  2. Flip that image around to specific positives.  I will always have plenty of resources to pay my mortgage or rent, pay all bills, continue learning and growing throughout life, eat out often with good friends, go to Tuscany or other places special twice a year, donate 10% of my income to causes that matter, and leave a legacy of money and creative works.

Keep getting more specific and real. Run the numbers so you know what you need, but also look for options.  Do you really want to stay in your house all your life, or might co-housing be better?  Can you let go any expenses or are there things you really want to buy?  What elements need to be in place to fulfill your vision?

For more tips, see “Reality vs. Vision:  What if There’s a Huge Gap Between Current Reality and Visions of a Richer Future? 

The very best to you and your visions, Pat

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Lost Your Genius?

Art by Andrea, see source below

Art by Andrea, see source below

You probably have lost access to much of the brilliance you had when you were a child. Numerous tests show that 90-98% of children register genius level abilities to think of many possibilities. Only 2% of adults are so smart.

I’ve not found statistics on the loss of access to curiosity, intuition, instincts, sensory awareness, awe, playfulness and other gifts so potent I call them elements of genius. But hundreds of interviews with adults have shown that even if we can’t remember enjoying these gifts or know how to use them now, we can see them in young children.

Why call childhood brilliance “elements of genius?”

Childhood brilliance certainly doesn’t fit current definitions of genius as super-IQ or stratospheric expression of talents.

Ancient definitions of genius and cutting edge wisdom give a better picture of our potential. My husband’s beloved Latin dictionary (1996 version) by John Traupman, Ph.D. defines genius as three things we could interpret today as 1) trustworthy guidance; 2) natural appetites and inclinations that came in our DNA, and 3) our talents.

Here’s how it works. Curiosity, our senses and other forms of natural brilliance constantly gather information which our internal guidance system uses to guide us to our best life and work. Talents are engaged and stretched in every stage of the process.

Genius Benefit 1 — Trustworthy Guidance

The ancients saw guidance as coming from a “guardian spirit,” the muse, or sometimes the genie. Today, we have a myriad of ways to be guided to live our best lives and do our best work.

Michael Meade says that everyone has innate genius, which is about “each person’s unique way of perceiving the world and unusual way of expressing themselves in it. There can be no end to the shapes and sizes of human genius. When it comes to personal genius, the point is not to compare oneself with others as much as to find the unique form and shape that genius takes in one’s own soul.”

43 years of working with human potential have shown me how many of us were trained out of our best ways to perceive the world and express ourselves, particularly after we went to school, our brain developed, and we learned how to compare ourselves and come up lacking.

Genius Benefit 2: Trustworthy Information from Multiple Sources.

The ancients’ second definition of genius was the “personification of natural appetites, natural inclinations.” This I see as the elements of genius or natural genius.

Buckminster Fuller wrote over 30 years ago that, “Children are interested in everything and are forever embarrassing their specialized parents by the wholeness of their interests. Children demonstrate right from the beginning that their genes are organized to help them to apprehend, comprehend, coordinate, and employ—in all directions. …

“Every child is born a genius, but is swiftly degeniused by unwitting humans and/or physically unfavorable environmental factors.”

Without the information that comes only from our best innate gifts, it’s practically impossible to envision and create adult life and work full of integrity, purpose and joy. That means it’s impossible to recognize or create trustworthy guidance.  No wonder so many of us get stuck in unimaginative, same-old, limited non-solutions to pressing problems!

Genius Benefit 3: Talents

One of the most beloved promoters of talents is Barbara Sher, author of I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was and other best-sellers. She says, “What you love is what you’re gifted at. Your talent is coded into your genes … The only way to feel satisfied is to listen to your own nature; in other words, to do what you were born to do.”

Sher teaches that you can always ally with others who have talents you lack. She’s adamant that you don’t have to be already good at something to have a talent, though she is also very practical and realistic. She tells of a self-professed lousy singer whose dream was to sing opera. By daring to play with this dream, Sher’s client discovered her truer passion for turning friends and others on to her love of opera. That’s so doable!

The more I study the elements of genius, the more I see those also as talents. Say you have a talent for composing music which didn’t explode out of your DNA when you were very young. Instead, composing music comes from the interplay over time of talents for listening, imagination, self-expression and all the ways we discover, “I love and am fascinated by this” versus, “I am bored by that.” All the white the inner guide is inspiring, motivating and guiding you to follow your fascinations in spite of others’ negative comments.

Why You May Have Lost Your Genius

Everyone’s story is unique, but here are some common themes:

  • Others thought they knew best who you are and what you are called to do with your one precious life
  • It was too dangerous (or at least felt too dangerous) to listen to your inner voice and express yourself when you were young.
  • You got too wrapped up in the challenges and demands of growing up to protect and grow up your gifts.
  • The playground, school and other group settings were sources of competition and humiliation, so you withdrew or did your best to fit in, no matter the cost.
  • You were not taught to discover many ways to receive inspiration or focus a compelling vision to meet any problem.
  • You didn’t learn basic design or planning skills so you could bring your ideas into concrete form.

The result now: you block, distort or ignore inspiration and information that could be really useful. You get stuck in same-old supposed solutions. You don’t do your best thinking and you don’t get your best results.

Miss Your Lost Genius?

Fortunately, it’s surprisingly easy and delightful to bring back lost childhood brilliance. Future posts will offer many ideas.

Now, please explore the resources section of, particularly the FAQS, tips on how to find visions for your life and work, and visioning lessons from the multi-talented Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer.

Comments and ideas are welcome. What’s now missing for you? How have you lost those gifts? How have you kept alive or reclaimed other gifts? What advice do you have for others?


About the art:  thanks to Andrea, on a Creative Commons license.

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Who Speaks For You When You Can’t Speak for Yourself?

When you get in an accident or are seriously sick, who’s going to choose the care you need?  Who’s going to decide when it’s time to keep fighting and when it’s time to let go?

The time to answer these questions is NOW, while you’re still in your right mind. Read more ›

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For a Breakthrough Vision, Get Naked

The number one place where visionary geniuses get their best ideas is in the bathroom.  Einstein said he had some of his best ideas while shaving, but for most of us, it’s the shower that does it. Read more ›

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If Congress Were the Visionaries We Need Them To Be

Without vision, we perish, or at least we get stuck with plans and agreements that impact everyone but serve no one.

Prime example:  the whole US Congress and our often spineless president, who have managed to lock us into a totally non-visionary plan aimed at avoiding default that in truth seems to make no-one but cable news pundits happy.  And for these pundits the only happiness lies in the fodder it gives them for more ongoing commentary.

Now I know the Congress isn’t totally to blame for this mess.  We’re all part of the culture that demands quick fixes and is addicted to fear, unfounded reporting, and blame.  We’re all at least partially the creators of an economy that puts our undiscerning trust into things like forever increasing housing prices and the big gambling casino masquerading as the stock market instead of finding a better way to discern what’s truly valuable. Read more ›

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Without vision, we perish

Without vision, we perish or at least waste a lot of time and energy.  Guided by vision, we flourish and help others do so.

Want Economic Turnaround?  Create It!  Wall Street is too untrustworthy.  Government is too partisan, and media are too obsessed with who’s sleeping with whom to envision an economy that works for all.  Fortunately, fellow citizens are creating a variety of breakthrough ways to create a better economy.  Read more ›

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The Mockingbird Solution to Blocked Creativity

Are you imagination challenged?  Do you want new ways to look at a pressing problem?

Look no further for inspiration and guidance than the mockingbird, an ordinary looking grey bird with white wingtips who can shift tunes at the rate of about eight a minute.

With Its Ever-changing Repertoire, the Mockingbird Is a Great Role Model for Human Creativity

Some mockingbird tunes are imitations of other birdsongs, or riffs and variations on them.  Mockingbirds typically mix these usually pleasant tunes with imitations of less pleasant neighborhood events, like cat fights or ambulance sirens. Some tunes seem to be each mockingbird’s own inventions, for the sheer joy of it.

Mockingbirds have been known to sing for hours.  Many bounce up and down as they sing from the highest local treetop or TV antenna, thus projecting their music throughout the neighborhood.  Their ability to sing so continuously once royally bothered Thomas Jefferson, who thanks to a lousy mattress and a really great mockingbird outside his window throughout a night, slept little one night.

Unlike Mockingbirds, Most Of Us Have Learned To Repress Our Creativity, Not Use It

Though humans are born with the potential to be far more creative than mockingbirds, the high creativity that bubbles in us as five-year-olds is mostly repressed by the end of second grade.  One of the easiest ways to recover that creativity and develop it is to imitate the mockingbird:

1.      Temporarily suspend all judgment, premature practicality and other human habits that kill imagination.

2.      Dare to try something new at least once a day.

3.      Get around and notice what others are doing.  Then comment to yourself through writing, dance, art, etc.

4.      When you like something, copy it shamelessly unless it is copyright or patented.

5.      Feel free to mix, match and alter what you learn from others.

6.      Give your imagination time to play without focus, so it is free to generate possibilities for your consideration.

7.      Learn to tolerate dissonance and ambiguity, to weave harsh challenges into sweet thoughts to create a rich and satisfying symphony.

8.      Express yourself with exuberance and joy … forever.

Imagination is Just One of Many Creative and Visionary Potentials.

Whatever you imagine as a possibility will need to be fully fleshed out so it can become a true vision.  It will need grounding in reality and a lot of careful research before you can discern whether a new idea is likely to work or not.

In coming posts, we’ll explore other visionary potentials and how you can engage them.  In the meantime, have fun imitating the mockingbird’s prolific creativity!

As always, many blessings for your life and work, Pat McHenry Sullivan

Note:  this post was originally written as “The Mockingbird Solution To Almost Any Problem” in 1994 by Pat McHenry Sullivan.   Your comments are welcome below!

copyright 2011 by Pat McHenry Sullivan, t/a Visionary Resources

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For Inspiration for Work and Life, Walk in the Woods

Because the power to be visionary is loaded in our DNA, it’s possible to have a compelling vision for life and work any time, anywhere.  But there’s no more natural visioning time than fall, when nature itself is gloriously transforming.  And there’s no better activity than walking in the woods to shut down mental chatter so we can hear more clearly what our intuition, imagination and other visionary potentials are saying.

Here’s my favorite autumn inspiration ritual, inspired by the Jewish New Year:

1.    Collect an apple, some dried fruit and a few nuts.   Go to woods you love, preferably some with a stream.

2.      As you walk, reflect about the past 12 months and what you are ready to release:  excess weight, perhaps, or pettiness, or habits that keep you too busy to enjoy life.

3.    Pick up a fallen leaf, preferably one with brilliant autumn colors.  Imagine releasing your “old stuff” into the leaf as easily as the leaf has let go its branch.  Then release the leaf into a stream and watch it float away.  (If there’s no stream, bury your leaf into a pile of other fallen leaves.)

4.    As you walk again, imagine everything around you has a message for you, like the multi-legged insect that once “told” my husband John that he needed to get out into the world more and wave his equivalent to the insect’s feelers in all directions.

5.    Savor the apple slowly, reflecting on the many delights of your world that are meant to nurture us, not hoarded or consumed thoughtlessly. Vow to create more savoring time over the next 12 months.

6.    Look at the nuts and raisins, symbols of the bounty of the world, the power of the human mind to discover things like how to preserve food, and the human habit of lovingly passing on wisdom through the ages.  Reflect on the gifts you have given through your life and work, and the gifts you have been given the past 12 months.

7.    Pick up a small rock. Invest it with the memory of how it feels to be here, slowed down and connected more to all that is.  Make it a touchstone to remember your deepest yearnings to live more fully, and do more of what you are called to do with your one precious life.

8.    As you walk back to your ordinary life, choose to see more clearly who you are and what you are called to do.  See how long you can keep alive the spirit of your walk.  When you forget, hold the touchstone and remember how simple it can be to reclaim your place in a wondrous universe.

John comments:  all this may be too much to do at one time, especially if you get really involved in one of the steps.  So do that one to your heart’s content, and save the other steps for another time.

What about you?  What are your favorite ways to be more connected to yourself and the world around you?  How can you adapt this ritually to better suit you?

As always, comments are welcome.  Many blessings, Pat McHenry Sullivan

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If Lawyers Can Thrive by Meditating at Work, Anyone Can

Need some proof that meditation and other spiritual practices are useful, not flakey at work?  Need REALLY PRACTICAL stuff like how to get through everyday challenges like too much to do, too little time, too little appreciation or support?

Look no further than the legal field.  Case in point:  Scott Rogers, creator of The Mindful Lawyer,” and his delightful “The Mindfulness Memo: the Motion for an Extension of Thyme.”  Here’s just one tidbit that is useful for any job:

Thoughts like “I don’t have enough time,” or “I’ll never get this done in time” have both a factual quality and a “fear-based” quality.  While it can sometimes be the case that poor planning or circumstances result in a genuine rush, more often than not, the perception of “not enough time” is a conditioned thought that arises and, when believed, creates a “false” sense of crises that undermines performance.”

Rogers’ solution: mindfulness or meditation practices that can “help provide greater clarity of mind, focus, and ease in dealing with procrastination and time deadlines.” For tips you can use right now to turn your day from harried to happy, click here:

For More Peace and Productivity At Work, Imitate Some Lawyers

“The Motion for an Extension of Thyme” is just one of 500 pages of tips and resources in J. Kim Wright’s Lawyers as Peacemakers, which has been a best-seller since it was published by the American Bar Association last spring.  It’s chock full of information on how to bring more creativity, problem-solving effectiveness  and spirit to any job, legal or not. There’s even a reprint of an article I wrote on how to create a sanctuary at work!

At least a dozen mainstream law schools like Harvard and Yale offer courses in meditation as part of a mindful lawyering practice, says an article on meditation in the October 2010 California Lawyer.

For information on contemplative practices and how you can bring a variety of contemplative practices to your work, see also the Center for Contemplative Mind in SocietyCutting Edge Law, and Idealawg.

What Can You Learn From a Lawyer to Improve Your Work and Life?

What kind of hope and inspiration can you take from lawyers who meditate?

How can you bridge the need to be focused, clear and absolutely practical with your own drive for meaning, purpose and joy?

How can you create more productive time and pleasure in your life and work by being more conscious?

As always, comments are welcome!

Best wishes, Pat McHenry Sullivan
Appreciator of Lawyers

Check out my latest project:  a continuing education program for the California State Bar, “From Stress Burnout and Exhaustion to Energy, Resilience and Insight”

Coming soon, a workbook for anyone on this topic. Want a presentation on this topic?  Call 510-530-0284

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