Category Archives: creativity

Luminaries: Ward

This is the first in a new series called Luminaries, about people I’ve met who are guided by their own inner light. I’ve been inspired by them and here relate some of the wisdom I’ve picked up from each one.

long-haired ward

Ward Stroud

If ever there was a Multipotentialite, it’s Ward. I met him on his regular trips into the bakery where I work to have a Large Vanilla-Soy-Decaf-Latte. We soon enough started chatting on these visits, and I was more and more intrigued by all the activities Ward mentioned:



Not to mention that the background of all this activity was his owning a successful hair salon across the way. Really, I couldn’t believe the variety of things that Ward talked about, which is why I wanted to interview him, and there the germ for this series sprouted: who are these cool people, and how do I get some of their juju?

I sat down with Ward in the midst of the whirlwind that is his life, and asked him a few questions, but the conversation really wandered, imitating his life path and his thinking process.

When I mentioned Multipods above, that really doesn’t cover the whole picture, though, because besides being a try-everything-new-under-the-sun kind of guy, Ward is also a drill-deep kind of individual. This points to one of the core descriptors that characterize Ward: single-minded, whole-body, tenacity.

He told me the tale of how he came to be a Native flute player.

flute player at sunset

Ward had had recurring dreams of hearing whales singing growing up. It got to him, such that he started searching every music shop he knew, trying out every strange instrument he could find, to see if it would make the sound that haunted him.

Finally, after years of searching, he was at a craft festival in Oregon City when he heard the same sound: the whales singing. He dashed through the stalls of vendors closing up their stands at the end of the day, trying to locate the source of the sound. At the end of his search, he found the stall of a Native Flute artisan, who looked up at him and said, “So you’ve come for your flute.”

He was 30 years old at that time, and dove right in.

Ward has countless tales of this sort, tales that involve an intuition or ‘internal listening,’ a journey or search, and a serendipitous resolution that brings joy and fulfillment. Listening to some of these stories, I felt like he knew the secret to pursuing the impossible dream of Don Quixote, and put it to practice over and over.

don quixote art image

Another story he tells describes one of the transition times, in between these full-on pursuits of a dream. He had negotiated a sweet arrangement with a pioneer lady near Sisters, OR which meant he owned a hand-crafted log cabin that was a piece of art and an everyday inspiration. He’d filled it with treasures, and felt at peace whenever he worked and played in that cabin, with its  jaw-dropping views of the gorge in his backyard.

But it was far from the nearest city (Portland) where he could perform his music, and he thought that might be the next thing for him. So he was at a crossroads, and not sure which would be the right choice: Stay in the place he cherished in the country, or move to the city to play the music he loved?

He decided to throw the decision to the spirit of the universe (my phrasing) and go on a medicine walk. A medicine walk is a time when you meditate, pray, and go on a solitary walk, being willing to interpret signs on the walk as answers to your prayer from sources we can’t see or know.

Ward says he got only a couple hundred yards out the back door into the desert before he almost stepped on a piece of flotsam: a realtor’s For Sale sign. He started laughing–I bet it was cackling–right there, amazed at how obvious his unseen forces had been, and relieved to know he was leaning towards the right decision. He sold the house at the right time, and moved to Portland to perform all kinds of music.

if you were waiting for a sign this is it

How can we learn from such a Renaissance man? I think outside of the question of abilities, what Ward has cultivated to his benefit are 1) intense curiosity and 2) thinking of the world as all intertwined. I’ll pick these apart a bit.

Intense curiosity Everyone is born with this innate quality, I believe. But most of us are trained to let it fall by the wayside, i.e. ‘One can’t do everything, so one has to choose.’ (For others who disagree with that, see Barbara Sher (link to Powells) and Emilie Wapnick)

Being intensely curious means you want to know someone else’s perspective, you want to know how things work, you aren’t afraid to show your ignorance, or praise someone’s skill. I think we sometimes lose our ability to explore when we feel we’re too full of emotion ourselves, and can’t go out to acquire more knowledge when we’re still dealing with unresolved issues. Or perhaps we don’t feel secure enough to be able to show that we don’t know what were’ doing. Ringing any bells?

Seeing the world as all-connected Ward mentioned an important phrase in his lexicon: mitakuye oyasin. It is a Lakota word (Ward is of the Yaqui tribe himself) that means “all my relations” as well as “all things are one.” He described this as the ability to see how things interrelate, how things affect and are affected by seemingly very unrelated actions. It’s “like quantum physics for Natives.”

For an example in action, only take a look at the skills Ward has mastered, and that he says are not all that different:

  • photography–> graphic design
  • hair color–> painting with acrylics
  • learning native American musical language–> playing blues
  • crafting Native flutes–> sculpting wood (he even says it’s like jazz music!)

I think these two strongly-held beliefs constitute a mindfulness practice, one which is a good bulwark against the ills of modern society, with its information-overload, blasé attitudes, compartmentalized lives, and fierce loathing of vulnerability.

With so many passions to pursue, I asked Ward a final important question. “What grounds you, what balances you out?”

He had two answers:

“Painting in the quiet of morning with music”

“Being at the salon, in the social circle of my community, my chosen family”

ward happy in his studio

Are YOU intensely curious in YOUR life?

Do you feel too full or too busy to be able to feed that curiosity?

What balances YOU?


Images via CMC Art Share, Bolshoi Moscow, Productive Life Concepts

Balance 3: Mediating Focus and Openness

This is part of a series of “Balance” posts that will treat the subject of balance from a transdisciplinary perspective (for more on this, see the end of the first and second posts). It’s not about work-life balance only, but about the many decisions that modern world citizens have to evaluate today. I hope these discussions help you determine where you need to be on the spectrum to find your own inner truth.

glasses with aperture focusing

To be honest, this is one of those questions I need a lot of help on right now.

I’ve come pretty far on accepting myself, and I still veer in and out of both auto-pilot and overthinking mode, but this is the one that I’ve been trying to grapple with for the past several months, without much resolution.

The big question haunting me, as I am now free of the daily grind of obligation to a desk job, is how to focus on what I want to achieve in a way that both suits my personality and gets things done. Without the external motivation or threat overhanging my work, how do I set goals and motivate myself to accomplish them?

The pitfalls I see, and do feel free to contribute your two cents (or $20!), are in 1) getting too focused on one outcome, or 2) being lackadaisical. While being focused is usually considered a positive attribute, associated with determination, results, and making progress, what comes of taking this to an extreme?

Too Much Focus on One Outcome:

  • Missing out on other opportunities
  • Not taking care of other parts of your life
  • Disappointment if goal not attained

The biggest of these is missing out on other opportunities, which happens unless one has a certain openness to experience, which interestingly enough, Wikipedia tells me is a whole field of study in Psychology.

As a multipotentialite, perhaps this scares me more than it does the average non-multipod. But with so many fascinating things happening in this world, it’s hard not to want to do as many of them as you can, right?

Second, focusing one one goal may well take attention away from other crucial duties such as relationships, exercise, and maintenance tasks. Don’t want to make a million only to learn that you’ve alienated your spouse, or gained 30 pounds and now have a chronic condition, or neglected to pay your gas bill, do we?

Finally, bitter disappointment if the one thing you’ve focused all your energy on for the past 6 months, or 6 years, doesn’t happen. Some may see this as a mechanism for fear to hold me back, and it might be. But I think that it’s important to acknowledge that 1) there are factors out of your control, and 2) you may not have set the best, most accurate, most relevant type of goal. Here are my two personal examples.

Acknowledge…drawbacks to focus

First, who has ever tried to prioritize finding a life partner? Yeah, silly, right? (So maybe this is an example for both drawbacks…)

I know from personal experience that you can’t count on something that involves something out of your control, such as meeting the love of your life. It’s a mixture of chemistry, timing, attitude, effort, and of course, openness. Only the last two are in your control.

I spent a couple years cycling in and out of putting targeted effort into dating, and being open to all types of people, with nothing to show for it at the end except a lot of first dates, several story-worthy, awkward ones, and a few really nice second dates. But no match.

So is the best strategy for finding your mate focus? Or openness? I’ll let you be the judge. (I just know that it’s not OKCupid, for me!)

Second, setting a goal that is not the most accurate or relevant, or realistic. This must happen to every entrepreneur out there. Aim for 100 products sold on the first day, 500 subscribers to a newsletter, 1,000 Facebook likes, whatever it is. But then as the intrepid adventurer, I realize I need to research different marketing methods, or go through another round of editing… and it turns out 6 months to publish a book may not have been so realistic.

It must be time to reflect, analyze, & evolve into a better goal-setter.


On the other side of the spectrum, you could have not enough focus… and while openness may be considered a good trait by some, associated with characteristics such as objectivity or being open-minded, what might come of taking it too far?

office space motivation poster

Being Lackadaisical:

  • not challenging yourself to accomplish what you might
  • being fatalistic about things that you could actually influence

The first outcome hearkens back to another Balance post, and I realize it’s definitely a fine line.

How do you know if you need to be a stern taskmaster and spend every evening for a week at home tinkering with your website, or whether you need to spend 3 evenings a week going for a walk, letting thoughts settle, getting fresh inspiration, and exercise to boot?

(This may sound like an excuse, but then again, it could just be my Catholic guilt sparring with that American Protestant work ethic. Ninjas in my head, those two.)

I asked Catherine Caine of to help with this question, and it turns out she has a whole system, called One Goal At A Time, Sheesh (TM), which gives “first dibs on [her] time and focus” to one goal, while allowing for flexibility to accomplish other urgent or client-centered tasks.

She sums it up well thus:

“As long as I stay on track more often than not, I can have progress AND flexibility.”

I think the keys to this are self-awareness (when do you shirk/ when are you challenging yourself?) and practice (reflect, analyze, evolve, once again!) 

The second result may be more about my own prejudices, but again, let me know what you think:

People who are too fatalistic annoy me.

“I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”

“The Universe will provide.”

“There’s a reason for everything.”

Sure, there might be a germ of this sentiment in those who are “open to experience,” but they don’t leave it at that. The successful ones know this:

harder you work luckier you get quote


So where do you fall on the continuum of focused <——> open?

In which direction are you hoping to move?

And how do you plan on doing it?

Share in the comments!


Photos via  WiredBeHealthyInCollege and