Seeing with a Full Moon in Each Eye

October 2022

Admit something:

Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”

Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise

someone would call the cops.

Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.

Why not become the one who lives with a

full moon in each eye that is

always saying,

with that sweet moon language,

what every other eye in

this world is

dying to


     – Hafiz (14th-c. Iranian poet and mystic; trans. by Daniel Ladinsky)

As 2022 began, several inter-related questions were very alive for me with a fresh intensity – thanks to Brian Emerson, Gideon Culman and the Growth Edge Network community’s January conference – that has only grown stronger with the year’s two most poignant surprises. One surprise was domestic, i.e., the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision curtailing women’s rights, and one was international, when Russia invaded Ukraine. Of course I’m keenly aware that these are in addition to existing crises of war and rights violations in other places around the world, the ongoing global pandemic and the climate emergency.  Here in the fall season, I am inquiring more urgently about the intersections among polarity theory, the role of love in my professional work as a leadership coach, and what it will take at this point to save the planet.

What we’re eyeing

Polarity theory – first propounded by Barry Johnson – is the idea that many of the seemingly intractable issues we encounter in our individual, societal and global experience are not problems to be solved, but polarities to be navigated.  Polarities are pairs of apparent opposites.  On the surface, the poles can be easily mistaken for either/or choices.  However, what distinguishes a polarity from a problem is that the two poles represent two interdependent things which – when inquired about more deeply – reveal themselves to both be necessary for bigger-picture success over time. 

For example, common polarities that leaders in my coaching practice grapple with include Confidence and Humility, Task Focus and Relationship Focus, attending to the organization’s Inward-Facing and Outward-facing needs, communicating with Candor and Diplomacy, and Learning from the Past and Sensing into the Future.  Once you’ve identified that the dilemma is a polarity (rather than a problem), you can map it out to find breakthrough insights that involve some kind of transcendence and fusion of the two poles.  When I do this with a client (I employ the process outlined by Johnson’s former students Brian Emerson and Kelly Lewis in their wonderful book, Navigating Polarities), the client eventually lands on an idea, image, mantra or way-of-operating that resolves the tension at a higher level of effectiveness than either pole can do alone. 

What does this look like? I might have a client who identifies that a challenge she faces is not a problem but a polarity: perhaps she knows she needs to carve out more time for self-care, yet she keeps repeatedly prioritizing care for her staff.  So, we would map it out. In the process, the leader realizes that taking care of herself in general – maybe improving her mental and physical health by increasing exercise, for example – would boost her energy and stamina for steering her organization. She might see how it also serves as powerful role-modeling for her direct reports. From this perspective, she might come up with a unifying motto, such as “Self-Care for Others.” Suddenly, the leader is no longer caught in an either/or proposition about how to spend her time; instead, she finds a magical “and” that helps her to further maximize her leadership talent.

To see is to love

“When we can see a person, group or country completely, love is a natural result,” says Johnson in a compelling essay on American racism entitled “Proud AND Critical.”  Complete seeing – a.k.a. unconditional love – of others (which, speaking of paradox, requires the healthy boundaries that enable unconditional self-love) is hard!  Unconditional love necessitates a courageous letting-go of beliefs that are defining yet limiting to us, which is a vulnerable feeling.  We have to find enough safety in our minds and bodies to unlearn stories we thought were “right,” and loosen our grip on ideas that make us feel secure or special.  It might show up as curiosity, at first. But when we are able to gradually awaken to this more expansive consciousness, unconditional love transmutes alienation, separation and marginalization into a profoundly liberating sense of connection.  We slowly move from a constricted, scarcity heart-set to one of creativity, spaciousness and generosity – including toward ourselves. We see more completely, with a full moon in each eye.

Ever since I read Emerson and Lewis’s Navigating Polarities shortly after it came out, I’ve been kind of obsessed with a footnote in it about the “Transformational Third Way,” which is their particular innovation to Johnson’s polarity mapping process.  The footnote cites a newsletter from the Center for Action and Contemplation in which the progressive Franciscan monk Richard Rohr writes about dialectics, polarities and the power of the Trinity (Christianity’s “Third Way”).  Rohr, in turn, quotes modern mystic Cynthia Bourgeault observing this provocative thing:

The interplay of two polarities calls forth a third, which is the “mediating” or “reconciling” principle between them. In contrast to a binary system, which finds stability in the balance of opposites, the ternary system stipulates a third force that emerges as the necessary mediation of these opposites and that in turn (and this is the really crucial point) generates a synthesis at a whole new level. It is a dialectic whose resolution simultaneously creates a new realm of possibility….Third force is there because the Trinity is real, and if you are alert to it, you will be able to find it….The problem is that most of the world is third force blind.

This concept exists in other Western, Eastern, Indigenous and African wisdom traditions as well, perhaps no more succinctly than in the Taoist yin-yang symbol.  The duality of darkness and light are in perpetual flow, each containing a bit of the other, depicting infinite emergence into a Third Way: wholeness.

As a leadership coach, I have a favorite polarity-invoking question that can sometimes hack directly into seeing the Third Way: “In this story/belief/conclusion you’re sharing with me, how is the opposite also true?”  (As ridiculous, woo-woo or even offensive as this question might sound at first blush, it’s backed up by science!  Consider physicist Niels Bohr’s famous observation that in the quantum field, the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.)  Over the years, I have had several CEO clients who feared – whether quite realistically or less realistically – that their boards of directors were about to force them to resign. For example, the client might reflexively say, “It is the worst thing that could happen to my career.”  When I ask her how the opposite of this truth is also true, she experiences a little epiphany and responds by noticing, “Well, it could be the best thing that ever happened to my career.” And then our exploration really broadens; in these illuminating moments, the client tends to take a wide-open perspective on the arc of her entire work life, and lands with clear-eyed equanimity on a “let the chips fall where they may” attitude toward her commitment to keep using her leadership in service of the same cause, regardless of organizational context.  She enters “a whole new realm of possibility.”

Recommended resources

I don’t know whether life on this planet will be saved from modern civilization’s pathological addiction to destroying each other and other animals, forests, deserts and oceans under the myopic delusion of short-term gain (of profit, territory, power-over type dominance, etc.).  But I’m a realistic optimist, and believe humanity can still wake up to a healthy enough perspective on its patterns to change them at scale. If we do pull it off, it will be an accumulation of tiny love-centric actions we choose take every day – towards our own individual selves, as well as everything and everyone else entangled in this gorgeous web – that delivers us to that omni-nourishing place.  Are you willing to practice seeing with a full moon in each eye?  

To learn about the latest research on how love, nervous-system regulation, connection and belonging can effectuate personal and collective healing, check out Thomas Hubl’s work on collective trauma and healing.  (Photo: Samer Daboul, Pexels.)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Seeing with a Full Moon in Each Eye

  1. kelandfam says:

    Hey Susan, love this post and signed up for a global summit via the link at the end. So interesting that my advanced honors French class in high school taught me how to write an essay in French with these (thesis) antithese (antithesis or opposite perspective) and synthese ( synthesis), a much more critical,creative and insightful Thinking of writing process than the Anglo version. Thank you for continuing to inspire! Love, kelly

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Pingback: Leadership and Depolarization in These Times | Susan Palmer Consulting, LLC

  3. Pingback: Leadership and Laughter | Susan Palmer Consulting, LLC

  4. Pingback: Leadership, Ubuntu and Evolving the WEIRD Mindset | Susan Palmer Consulting, LLC

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s