Almost every scribe I’ve talked with shares some apprehension when facing a blank wall at the onset of a session. Many of us are introverts by nature, and need to summon courage to even be at the front of a room, audience at back.

As we try to follow cadence of voice and quickly make sense of streaming words, accents, acronyms, metaphors–and just as quickly choose what to draw–confidence goes down, and questioning of self goes up: “Am I worthy? Why do they want me here anyway? What on Earth am I drawing? Will anyone notice if I crawl up and hide behind this easel?!

The line “I can’t….” creeps in easily and perennially. And unless we learn how to notice this running tape in our heads and abruptly turn it off in favor of another line, it’s really, really easy to get psyched out and freeze. It’s a slippery downhill slope.

I’ve also heard countless people say, “What you do seems so cool, but I can’t draw…” To which I almost always respond “Oh–you would be surprised how little it takes…”

Recently, to strengthen my (physical) core, I’ve enlisted the help a personal trainer, Carl. When he asks me to try a new exercise, of which I can barely do one repetition, I often find myself moaning “Oh, man, you have GOT to be kidding! I can’t…!” He stops me in my tracks: “Once you decide you can’t, you’ve pretty much guaranteed you won’t.”

“I can’t” is a belief.

It festers in (some of our) psyches, ripe to bolt out and take the stage at the slightest challenge. It’s belief that I am, for example: not strong enough to lift a particular weight, not capable of staying fit over time to even be at the gym. Sometimes it’s not about what I can or can’t do, but is about who I am. The line in this case would be “I am, by nature, lazy.”

And here is where judgement comes in, residue from past experience that leads to the formation of belief. Something happened, we felt embarrassed, rejected even. Shame might have set in, reinforcing future choices and outlook.

As a young girl, I played municipal softball with great enthusiasm. Then at some point, I tried out for a local basketball squad, and–after falling flat on my face when attempting a layup–was the only girl who did not make the team. My enthusiasm for sport quickly dwindled. And now, some 35 years later, I have Carl’s voice helping to turn around an old, hardened belief that I am inherently unskilled at physical activity.

Maybe “I can’t” is a kind of stop sign, a temporary pause until we turn the light in our mind green. We face a choice point: collapse into old attitudes, or face this moment fresh, opting new possibility?

Maybe every “can’t” is really a gift in disguise, a twisted offering to reframe within the present to a mindset of “if”?



Under all distraction and perceived fragmentation lies a coherent whole.

In any moment, under pressure–at a wall ready to draw, or in the midst of an argument with a loved one–when we want desperately to understand of things, we can inquire into an underlying order. “How does this make sense?”

We only need to look into the woods to understand this principle. Once on a mini “solo” retreat, I remember the feeling of awe when looking closely into a patch of richly entwined roots that lay with mushrooms and moss and twigs and insects and lichen and leaves and bark and earth. They represented pieces of the forest, all jumbled into one spot. And, at the same time, there was absolutely no separation between the parts. There was a perfectly natural co-existence of life forms in simultaneous decay and growth.

Another way to explain coherence was presented by physicist and dialogue pioneer David Bohm: “Ordinary light is called “incoherent,” which means that it is going in all sorts of directions, and the light waves are not in phase with each other so they don’t build up. But the laser produces a very intense beam which is coherent. The light waves build up strength because they are all going in the same direction. This beam can do all sorts of things that ordinary light cannot.

This is probably where my practice starts to lean towards the mystical, because I correlate coherence with a belief in universal oneness.

Aikido master Richard Moon, writes: The universe is one system, a unified field of energy of which we are a part. When we feel ourselves a part of the universe, we feel where we are in the flow of Creation, we naturally experience a connectedness with the earth. Feeling this connection effortlessly heals the isolation that characterizes modern life. Life becomes connectedness and we find ourselves in empowered alignment with the universe as it unfolds.”

In applying this principle at the wall, sometimes I will draw a large curve or shape, seemingly out of nowhere. No one in the room has said “And it all starts with a large circle…” But in the moment, I am likely feeling ungrounded and am seeking assurance, and this is where coherence comes in.

I quiet the rambling mind, look at and into the wall, and have a quick conversation with that surface: “What is your story today? What wants to be seen on your gleaming white surface?” Obviously the wall does not talk back. But… in a way it does. I receive some sort of impulse towards a certain gesture, a direction, even a color. And I go from there.

I trust that the mark will fit with all marks to come, that the mark is originating from some deep unseen place of aligned intent – like Bohm’s laser – and, through my hand, will manifest into something that makes cognitive and aesthetic sense.

There is a similar alignment to be found in conversation.

If I find myself ramped up and ranting about how someone has “done me wrong!”, latching onto the face value of the exchange will likely limit my growth. Instead, seeking the coherence in the situation can increase compassion and development. “How and why are these things playing out in this way, at this time?”

Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes is a first step to shifting awareness about where that person might be coming from. Trying to see the entire exchange from above can enhance perspective. And seeking sense in the underlying root causes can further increase understanding.

We have to see a larger, more entwined, interconnected picture to be able to discern any one fragment.

If I draw isolated elements, it’s as if I display an arrangement of rocks collected at the beach. They’re beautiful, and dismembered from their original context. (And I do this all over my home!) When scribing, we do re-contextualize elements all the time, and that is where coherence can aid us; we can re-order with our will and impose structure on content and/or we can inquire into a natural, whole emerging state that is seeking birth.

Seeking coherence demands a lot of trust.

Whether it be a picture on a wall or an awkward conversation with a coworker–trust encourages us that this picture or conversation is exactly what is meant to unfold in this window of time. It’s a piece of a greater context, not yet known.

Influences to this thinking: Bill Isaacs, Barbara Cecil, Glennifer Gillespie, Beth Jandernoa – and this post is for the mighty, always coherent Alicia Bramlett


By acknowledging the limits we face, and tapping into our natural talents, we overcome deficit to find true strength.

When first learning to scribe, I was incredibly intimidated by colleagues who could quickly produce realistic pictures of people, animals, buildings, and objects from memory. Some people have this innate ability, where they pick up a pen, start working at a wall, and everything they make is recognizable. They listen. They draw. Go!

But that definitely was not me…

It took 1-2 years of very dedicated journaling, where I wrote words alongside sketches, to realize that my style – my true voice – was going to have to be something new, to me and to others. It would be some mix of what I knew my hand could shape, and a processing skill unique to my brain.

What resulted was an organic, nature-based approach* that more accurately represented how I saw and made sense in the world. I failed quite a lot in private and public while figuring this out. And my strength – surfacing coherence – only became clear after many, many years of this too often awkward and aching process of experimentation.

And this leads me to the point of authenticity. When learning to scribe, I emulated others. Our teams would literally “wall copy” to document the work, which really is an excellent introductory way of learning.

To uncover our unique gifts and give them shape, though, requires an additional kind of diligence.

We grow when we follow our curiosity – whether it be working with leading thinkers, visiting museums, or gaining exposure to other disciplines and art forms. Our view of things shifts as we take on new vantage points, like walking a route normally driven, or flying above a field of grain we are used to seeing as cereal in a bowl.

Additionally, we settle into our authenticity as we start to listen to our internal voice, the one that says: “This is true. Yes.” To the impulse in the gut: “Okay, go with it.” To the heat rising through the veins: “This matters.”

As we hear these messages and listen to them – like we would take advice from a mentor or a coach – we inhabit our truest self, the one that has been waiting all these years for us to grow up, to show up.

We learn through copy. We advance through integration. We master by tapping into our own source.


* Thank you Bryan Coffman, showing me there was a place for abstraction


openingScribes need to stay open. It’s as simple as that. If we start to close down, we miss what is being said, get lost in our own heads, and disconnect from the flow. Staying open is a key skill to manage, and the challenge to do so – while listening and drawing – is constant.

Referring directly to Otto Scharmer’s Presencing work, there are three key capacities to cultivate:

  • an Open Mind, where we Perceive clearly
  • an Open Heart, where we Join others where they are
  • an Open Will, where we Know what wants to be seen and made visible and from where we Draw

Yet quite often we encounter voices that block the path:

  • Judgment restricts the Open Mind
  • Cynicism restricts the Open Heart
  • Fear restricts the Open Will

During one u.lab[i] session in 2015, the community further surfaced that to relax judgment, we inquire and become curious. To relax cynicism, we find compassion. To relax fear, we activate courage.

Sometimes these voices are sticky, though, and even if we’d prefer a more enlightened approach, we just need to figure out how to keep drawing. Shutting down is not an option when your back is to 10 or 1,000 people eagerly anticipating your images!

What’s at Stake?

Sometimes when I feel very stuck in any of these capacities, I refer back to a ShadowWork exercise learned from Barbara Cecil. When facing a dilemma, a coach will ask: “What’s at risk for you to do this?” And the coachee responds with all the reasons and voices, in body and mind, that feel the risk.

Then the coach asks: “What’s at risk if you do not do this?” Again, the coachee responds with all the perceived risk if nothing were to change. And in playing out the two sides of a stuck situation, the needed move – and appropriate risk – becomes clear.

Sometimes we can move through stuckness and engage a more adventuresome part of ourselves. And sometimes, when the risk feels too high, we need to choose a smaller level of risk on which to act. And either case is completely fine. What’s important is to be honest about how far we can go internally and just keep going, as openly as possible.


For example, if we want to stay open-minded, yet find ourselves in a room of overwhelming judgement – like a room of people with opposing political views who criticize our favorite politician – it might seem too challenging to neutrally represent their conversation. The risk might be between 1) holding firm to our beliefs, therefore somewhat censoring what we hear and write, and 2) suspending our own judgment, inquiring into where they might be coming from, and holding a thread of curiosity for the whole.

Another example… if we end up at a wall, poised to listen with an open heart, and we are deeply troubled by what we are hearing – like ex-sex workers advocating for victim’s rights in the face of perpetrators who are in the very same room – what is the risk? 1) Cynicism that the judiciary system could ever change, therefore our work is futile – why even draw? 2) Revealing bias for the victim and not accurately tracking all parts of the system in play? Considering the safety of the container, and what it can hold, would also be important to consider here.

And another… if we go numb on a stage – like with with a terrifying fear that our minds will blank as soon as someone starts speaking and we’ll lose the thread of meaning and not be able to draw – (no open will), then we can run the quick “What’s at stake?” question to figure out what we can handle to get us over the hump. 1) Draw whatever is understood, even if very little. 2) Don’t draw at all.

In all cases, whenever noise gets in the way of tangible progress, there will be multiple facets informing the eventual freeing up and movement on our path. Choosing between risks is just one option. What i try to remember, at the base of it all, is this:

By staying open we become a channel for what wants to come through. We scribe to be of service for something wanting to be seen. To overcome our inner voices enables that service.


[i] u.lab: Leading From the Emerging Future is an online MOOC (Massive Online Open Courseware) offering through MIT’s edX platform, initiated in January 2015 in conjunction with the Presencing Institute’s u.school ecology, “a global action research platform, and an eco-system of online and offline communities, working to understand and transform the underlying causes of the ecological, social, and spiritual crises of our time.”