Dragon Smoke, How I Lost My Dignity (Again), and Why The Art of Leaping Will Electrify Your Prospects and Clients

Selfie with Rabbit Ears. Post-Bar Mitzvah, The Grove. "The Art of Dignity" series. Los Angeles, California.

Selfie with Bunny Ears. Post-Bat Mitzvah, The Grove. “The Art of Dignity” series. Los Angeles, California.

The temperature in the room spikes at 105 degrees.

There’s a young guy in a Speedo sitting on a terrycloth-covered throne on a raised dais, his muscled skin slick with perspiration even though he’s got a fan blowing on him. The rest of us are marinating in our own sweat. Even the air seems wavy.

“Balance. Balance. Right foot. Now, stretch the left leg back, all the way toward the far wall — then up, up, over your head.”

Then it happens. I snort with laughter as I stagger around the mat, trying to stand on one foot for longer than a millisecond.

Nobody looks at me, and I flash on a weird phase I went through of singing to myself in elementary school. Out loud. In class. I would just forget other people were there.

Not anymore. I’m painfully aware of standing in a room with lean, toned, scantily clad people who’re as intense as they are soggy.

Speedo Boy’s announcing these impossible commands over speakers through a state-of-the-art headset while lounging on the throne. I don’t see him doing the poses.

Finally I’ve got one foot slippery-gripping the red communal mat that smells like sweat from a thousand people compressed into one thin layer of rubber. You’d be right if you think it stinks.

I dutifully stretch my left leg behind me and instantly wobble. My right leg shakes from the strangeness as much as from the exertion. I steal a glance sideways at the ultra-lean Gumby girl who’s got her leg stretched so high it arches over her head. She is perfectly, annoyingly still and she somehow looks good too. More dewy-glowy than sodden and shipwrecked like me.

I’m at my first Bikram yoga class. Otherwise known as Hot Yoga. Why? Because Los Angeles is so unseasonably cold I couldn’t think of anything else to do beside jump on a plane and head to the tropics — or try Bikram.

I lose my balance and collapse back on to two feet for a moment, sweat pouring from my brow and hair onto the mat. Catch a glimpse of myself in the class mirror – sweat-drenched-wobbly-woman-in-Spandex — and can’t help but laugh again. The class warms me to the bones. For that I am grateful.

Cut to one week later. Friday the 13th…

“What’s with the stork pose?” The X-Ray technician — let’s call her Alma — smiles and laughs.

I try to look dignified — which isn’t easy when your torso is bare, your left breast is smashed pancake-flat between two plates of glass, and you’re balancing on your right leg — and say,

“I broke my toe.”

Now Alma busts out laughing for real.

“I know,” I say. “Go ahead. Please laugh. It’s the only proper response.”

I’m at the imaging joint to get my annual mammogram. This morning I broke my toe. As I stand here, hang tight to the X-Ray machine while Alma busts a gut laughing in the corner pretending to look at X-Rays — I remember the balancing poses in Bikram, and how shaky I was.

Something is definitely afoot.

The universe usually has to hit me upside the head for me to take notice of things that need changing. Even I am getting a glimmer.

Then when I head home and a vertical sticker — featuring a woman standing on one leg and the word Balance spelled out below her feet — slips out of a book, I can’t ignore the connections anymore.

This is the very sticker I planned to use as my totem for finding more balance in my life and lost track of months ago. Somebody needs to seek more balance, in life, and in work.


Got it!

What’s this got to do with writing, or business?

Bear with me.

If someone said to me, You need more balance in your life, I’d get irritated. Or I wouldn’t hear it. It’s mundane. It’s abstract. It’s impersonal.

Drop me in a Bikram yoga class, though, and let me momentarily inhabit the sensation of balance, and then imbalance — and I get it on a visceral level.

Add in a freak broken-toe incident, plus the completely undignified and absurdist pose of woman-with-pancake-flattened-naked-breast-balancing-on-one-leg-in-stork-pose, and the message becomes unmistakable.

Your life is out of balance.

Wake. Up.

And since we are meaning-making beasts, I connect the dots. I make the associations. I take those leaps we call in literature (and psychology), associative leaps. And I stitch together a story with meaning that draws on both my conscious and unconscious.

Does this make sense?

My brain, the connections it makes, helps shape the narrative. How cool is that?! One of the most intriguing qualities of personal narrative is how the unique associations the mind of the person telling the story makes — is the story.

Leaping, my friends, is one of the simple techniques that will help you transform the messy material of your life into coherent narrative — and then make the leap to the business message you want to share. It will work for blogs, for presentations, for books and for conversations with prospects and clients.

Think of it as mental Bikram. Loosen your limbs and expand your brain.

It’s time for dragon smoke.

Here’s what Robert Bly says in the classic book Leaping Poetry:

“In ancient times, in the ‘time of inspiration,’ poets leaped from one world to another, ‘riding on dragons,’ as the Chinese said…they dragged behind them long tails of dragon smoke. This dragon smoke means that a leap has taken place in the poem. In many ancient works of art we notice a long flowing leap at the center of the work. That leap can be described as a leap between the conscious and the unconscious and back again, a leap from the known mind to the unknown part and back to the known.

Here’s the link to the book on Amazon, for reference. (Consider ordering it from your local indie bookstores though. They need your support.)


What’s this got to do with business? With Signature Story? With sharing message?


Sure your message needs to be crystal clear. Your story, though, is a different animal.

If you don’t know how to make associative leaps between the conscious and unconscious, and share that vividly in your Signature Story, you won’t be able to inspire your readers or listeners to leap. Everyone wants an experience these days, right? They don’t want to be sold to, or preached at, or handed prefabricated messages. They want to be emotionally engaged and entertained. They want to connect with you. Only then will they take any action.

Story comes first. Not message.

You must take the leaps first, then allow your audience to make those leaps too. Because when you clear room for your audience to make their own associative leaps, then the story becomes their story. The message becomes their message. They become active participants in the storymaking. Not passive spectators.

It’s exhilarating. It makes people feel alive.

You allow them to lean in. To choose you. You give them that dignity, and that pleasure. Something they won’t forget.

So next time you find yourself stuck in linear thinking, anxious you need to spell things out so you’re sharp and understandable, remember dragon smoke. Consider cutting out some of the connective tissue of your story so there’s room to breathe. So people can draw their own conclusions. Do all this before you anchor the story in a clear and bold message you want to share.

Then measure the results.

I guarantee you’ll be surprised.

Let us know if this post resonated for you. Try it out and tell us what happens! Making associative leaps is a skill you can practice.

Here’s an exercise for leaps like Bly is talking about:¬† Read a great story, or a poem, or study the lyrics of a song — and note where they make leaps. How does that make you feel? Now take a piece you’ve written or spoken and free associate some ways you can create a leap like that — from the conscious to the unconscious and back to the conscious, from the known to the unknown and back to the known. Add it in.

Another exercise I give is take a piece of writing, say a blog post, and cut every other sentence out of it. 99% of the time, it improves the writing. Often we don’t trust our own writing. We overwrite. Overtell. And suffocate the reader or listener. This isn’t exactly the kind of leaping between worlds Bly talks about — but it is a gesture toward it. And a necessary step in editing.

I hope this post stirred you to leap, or perhaps to try Bikram yoga.

Here’s to dignity and dragon smoke, and to your success as we hurtle toward the holidays!

Yrs in truth,


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8 Responses to Dragon Smoke, How I Lost My Dignity (Again), and Why The Art of Leaping Will Electrify Your Prospects and Clients

  1. Angela Todd December 17, 2013 at 4:38 am #

    aha! Your message vs. your story. THAT is what has been fouling me up this month, I realize. My story is messy. Very messy. Whose isn’t? But my message, though it comes from the story, can and should still be sharp. This was a fun read with an important aha moment for me, Rachel… thank you!

  2. Sam J Shelley December 17, 2013 at 4:47 am #

    “They want to be emotionally engaged and entertained. They want to connect with you. Only then will they take any action.

    Story comes first. Not message.”

    Excellent remark and something I am trying to sort out in my book draft. The draft starts as a personal narrative then I leap to things I learned from that process (prescriptive narrative). I think I am trying to take away the leap by over-explaining things. Have to work on making the leap more profound.

    Oh, I think I’ll pass on the hot yoga.

    Be well,

  3. Kim Edmunds December 17, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    Great post! I enjoyed the thoughts you shared on balance. I’ll stick with teaching Hot Power, Hot Vinyasa, and Hot Yoga Sculpt at 108 to 112 degrees and varying humidity of 40-50%; Bikram is a bit too regimented for me.

  4. Elizabeth Clark December 17, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    Hey, Rachel, sorry to hear you lost your dignity (again)!

    It’s amazing how we sometimes miss those subtle messages, and soon they are repeated to us in a more blatant way so we “get it.” Love your comments on associative leaps between your conscious and subconscious mind – I “get it!” And thank you for the hints on telling our story… to leave lots unsaid so listeners can fill in the blank with their own minds. This post definitely resonated with me. Thank you.

  5. Patrice December 19, 2013 at 7:14 pm #

    I am going to play with cutting out every other sentence. That should be interesting…

  6. Deb Dorchak December 20, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    “Story comes first. Not message.” Love this. For years before I started writing with Wendi, I held back from writing a novel because I got stuck on “the message”, all those little subtleties in a story that give it depth and meaning. The delicious plot twists, the things that surprise the reader.

    Now that we’re wrapping up our fourth and final novel in this first series, I’m seeing how by just getting the stories out of our heads first made the richness happen on its own. The messages evolved organically and the deeper symbolism took on a life of its own without feeling contrived.

  7. Jennifer Truesdale December 21, 2013 at 5:35 am #

    Rachel you crack me up! I can totally picture and completely relate to the Bikram yoga scene. Very interesting food for thought here. As songwriter I find that sometimes I start a song with a clear intention of message in mind, but often the message of the song comes to me much after the story has evolved. Great suggestions!

  8. Jill Place December 25, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    It never connected with me before that my story becomes THEIR story. But I can see it when people around me at a seminar . . . as well as myself . . . respond emotionally. They nod their head or sigh. Or make some sort of agreeing sound. Thanks for this A-HA!

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