Slowly but surely

The life-journey can be a journey of ascent to beauty. The longing at the heart of attraction is the union with the Beautiful. Not everything in us is beautiful. We need to undertake the meticulous work of clearance and clarification in order that our inner beauty may shine.*
(John O’Donohue)

Humans are slow animals […] and what we excel at is distances.  Sustaining a pace for hours our days. 
(Rebecca Solnit)

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is in the news as he looks for eight people to join him in a trip to the Moon in 2023 without cost.

There are two qualifications. Potential crew members must advance whatever they do to help people and greater society in some way, and to support fellow crew-members with similar aspirations.

It is a good and beautiful sentiment, and whether we travel to the Moon or not, we all get to make a journey, often slowly, from ugliness to beauty, and that beauty becomes light to others:

Bring light to all that is overcast^.

A transformative journey comprises many things, perhaps three to explore and play with today being to see, appreciate and respect. To do so is to allow more light in as well as being able to shed more on others and other things.

Spring is a great time to engage in a simple exercise. Wander outside until you see something that is speaking to you of Spring’s approach. Spend some time simply paying attention to it and take a picture. Open the picture and do a little reflective journaling for about five minutes, describing what you have taken a picture of without using metaphors, so you can’t describe “leaves like blades” or similar. Simply describe what you see and perhaps add some simple illustrations. The aim is to see something for what it truly is without comparing it with something else, to be open to its real value and to respect it. Enjoy.

*From John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty;
**From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust;
^Plotinus, quoted in John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty.

Playing with our words

All types of skill teach us the same deep truth: that the more we can immerse ourselves into the forces of play the more freedoms we have.*
(Bill Sharpe)

She had to increase her attention to detail in order to play, which runs counter to our ordinary conception of play as a release of attention and responsibility.**
(Ian Bogost)

I am making a list of my favourite words and some key texts containing them.

Life isn’t about knowing lots of impressive words, nor being called by them in the form of titles.

It isn’t about knowing them with our minds. Primarily, the richest life is experienced knowing and living our important words at a heart level.

A smaller vocabulary operating at a heart level can be more powerful than a larger list at a cerebral level. And such a person will be on the lookout for new words to add that will help them develop what fascinates them most and they long to develop.

Why not try it out for yourself?

Create a list of you favourite words and texts, and make time to reflect on what they are trying to tell you.

One or two a day will soon build up. Noticing how these words are important to you will heighten both your attention and imagination all the way through to doing something exceptional with them.

You may have guessed that Play(fulness) is on my list.

Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.^

*From Bill Sharpe’s Three Horizons;
**From Ian Bogost’s Play Anything, referring to his young daughter making a game out of not stepping on the cracks between tiles when visiting a mall;
^Mary Oliver, quoted in Rob walker’s The Art of Noticing.

Playing with responsibility

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is the power to choose our response.*
(Viktor Frankl)

When my dad taught at the University of Buffalo, the heart of his MBA classes was teaching about the ‘change agent’. This is the external force that puts change into motion. The change agent, once identified, gives us an understanding of our options and the need to respond, not to react.**
(Seth Godin)

To each stimulus there are three basic possibilities: we can react, respond or initiate. Fragility, resilience/robustness or antifragility^

To respond, or be response-able, is to be in a stronger place than reacting. To initiate, or choose none of the above, is to be in a stronger place still.

Though we cannot prepare for every thing that comes our way, it is worth going into training. Bob Stilger counsels,

When everything falls apart, we must invite our hands and our heart to come out to play, and ask our analytic mind to wait.^^

We’ll be able to do this if we take to heart Rob Walker’s advice to us, to make time for ourselves:

  • Scheduling creative play
  • Scheduling personal reflection
  • Scheduling specific passion-project focus*^.

We’re increasing the space in which we choose.

*Viktor Frankl, quoted in Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing;
**From Seth Godin’s blog Tilting at Windmills;
^See Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile;
^^Bob Stilger, quoted in Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s Bold;
*^From Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing.

It’s just so ordinary

How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs every day: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?*
(Georges Perec)

Can life ever be ordinary?

Maybe we just treat it so:

To divert the beam of your attention to nature, to take in the staggering scale of spacetime under the starlit sky or the miniature cosmos of aliveness on the scale of moss or the blooming of a single potted flower, is to step beyond the smallness of your own experience, beyond its all-consuming sorrows and its all-important fixations, and into a calibrated perspective that arrives like a colossal exhale from the lung of life.**

Time and attention transports us into wonder, and, as we too are expressions of Nature, we’re able to uncover the extraordinary in what has become ordinary to us.

Ian Bogost encourages us to play anything and find that it can be or become something else:

Heroism permeates ordinary life, in repetitions far smaller and weirder than the flow of the seasons and the years.**

Boredom becomes both a sign that we are not paying enough attention and a portal through which we access a richer world:

Boredom is the secret to releasing pleasure. Once something becomes so tedious that its purpose becomes secondary to its nature, then the real work can start […] games aren’t the opposite of work, but experiences that set aside the ordinary purposes of things^.

Give yourself the gift of ten minutes to gaze at something in nature and then of human origin.

Perhaps a snow-drop. Leaving it’s name aside, consider its colours, form, the struggle it had to arrive, the amazing engine of growth that holds its potential for another season when nothing of it can be seen above the soil, but can take in all it needs from the same soil through its fine roots.

Take an object from around you and consider it in the same way, forgetting its name and considering where it came from, why it was thought to be a good idea, who may have made it, how it came into being, how old it is and how long it may last, the things you might be able to do with it.

Georges Perec coined the term infra-ordinary to describe the opposite to the extraordinary that tends to dominate our attention – there is wonder in the so-called ordinary:

Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.^^

*George Perec, quoted in Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing;
**From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: “I Go Down to the Shore”;
^From Ian Bogost’s Play Anything;
^^Mary Oliver, quoted in Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing.

Highways in our hearts

Grievance looks back and possibility looks forward. […] One challenge is embracing the effective and generative approach of possibility when we’re sure that we’re entitled to grievance. Toward better.
(Seth Godin)

Faith is the conviction about the not yet proven, the knowledge of the real possibility, the awareness of pregnancy. […] Faith like hope, is no prediction of the future, it is the vision of the present in a state of pregnancy.**
(Erich Fromm)

What if a grievance could be turned into a possibility? That would be quite a feat. The person who can do such a thing has only discovered how to live more vitally and deeply.

Whether acute or chronic in nature, grievance only pulls us deeper into itself, being aggrieved by more and more people and things that happen. It looks back both because it knows the wrong that has been done and it wants to return to the certainty that existed before the wrong.

Possibility, though, is born in uncertainty, is about letting go and letting come. Possibility opens more possibility. The trick is to become capable of both changing things for the better whilst being changed for the better ourselves i the process.

Erich Fromm claims that becoming people of faith is the key, people who know that something can be borne out of the same thing others are aggrieved over. Fromm qualifies what he’s claiming for faith:

It is certainty about the reality of the possibility – but it is not certainty in the sense of unquestionable predictability […] That is the paradox of faith: it is the certainty of the uncertain.**

When we pursue grievance we are wanting to step into certainty, when we pursue possibility, we are stepping into uncertainty. It is not faith in the impossible but in the possible.

We might say that someone is “actively pursuing a grievance” but it is more likely that they are expression passiveness, they want things to return to normal, to certainty. Faith in the possible is activeness, it is why we are changed while we’re changing things:

Faith is based on our experience of living, of transforming ourselves. Faith that others can change is the outcome of the experience I change.**

Grievance wants others to change first, in this it reveals its passiveness and impotence. Faith in possibility desires to change itself first and, so, displays its activeness and power.

Such people have highways in their hearts for travelling into a better future, shedding light on their way.

*From Seth Godin’s blog: Grievance and possibility;
**From Erich Fromm’s The Revolution of Hope;

The gap

There’s no shortage in todays’ world of wicked problems wrapped around beautiful questions – meaning that somewhere deep inside the thorny issue embedded at the core, lies an undiscovered question of great value.*
(Warren Berger)

To hope is a state of being. It is an inner readiness, that of intense but not-yet-spent activeness.**
(Erich Fromm)

I found myself thinking about gaps.

Gaps around us that we think need to be filled because, somehow, they matter to us.

Gaps inside us, between who we are and who we can be, between what we are doing and what we could be doing.

The two are connected. Listening to the gap outside us calling and challenging and encouraging requires that we do something about the gap inside of us.

A rich and meaningful life tends to break out when this happens.

Sometimes the only way we can measure a gap is with our lives.

*From Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question;
**From Erich Fromm’s The Revolution of Hope.

A great journey …

… is a slow journey.

Traditionally, a journey was a rhythm of three forces: time, self and space.*
(John O’Donohue)

When you liberate yourself from the pressure of having to win, you’re free to try things that haven’t been done before. You can permit yourself to develop your unique perspective – share an alternative worldview. Walk and untrodden path.**
(Bernadette Jiwa)

John O’Donohue writes about how digitalisation has reduced time and space as critical forces in the rhythm of a journey, in turn training us to be focused and even fixated on destination.

We know humans create and live within systems. We can understand technology in this way, digitalisation being an expression of prescriptive technology. The other kind is growth technology. A journey – traditionally odyssey, pilgrimage, quest – should be understood as a growth system because the important things happen naturally on the way. See Constantin Cavafy’s Ithaka for a wonderful capturing of journey.

Systems that can move us to the destination faster are prescriptive. If I want to travel to Ithaka today, it is possible for me to sit almost motionless in a plane’s metal tube for hours while others look after the major part of the journey:

The greed for destination obliterates the journey.*

As a result, there can be no emergence:

There is no sense of natural sequence where an image is allowed to emerge from its background and context when the time is right, the eye is worthy and the heart is appropriate.*

Emergence requires slow time that can become deep time, an open mind and open heart:

But a great journey needs plenty of time. […] Take your time and be everywhere you are.*

This is not about ridding ourselves of technology: this would vibe impossible and, anyway, we are the product of natural systems and will be the producers of many.

It is more about being aware of the pressure of reality and bringing the power of our imagination to bear:

When you regain a sense of your life as a journey of discovery you return to a rhythm of yourself. When you take time to travel with reverence, a richer life unfolds before you.*

Towards this, my journal becomes an expedition-log, my life becomes a pilgrimage, I see life is potentially holy and sacred for everyone, whether we have religion or not. I am moving toward the true rhythm of my self.

I borrow some words from my friend and mentor Alex McManus for they were suggesting a journey to me as I read them:

Whatever the reasons change comes when it does, there seem to be at least three Events that ignite change: Contact with Outsiders, Significant Events, and Epiphanies.^

When we rediscover journey we provide ourselves as a means to change because of who and what happens on the way, and being open to what is wanting to emerge.

*From John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty;
**From Bernadette Jiwa’s The Story of Telling blog: The Adventure of Not Knowing For Sure;
^From Alex McManus’ Makers of Fire.

In search of a better question?

What your customers want from you is for you to care enough to change them.*
(Seth Godin)

The best questions change the way I look at something, my orientation and perspective.

Some people are living questions, just the way they live causing me to look and to ask more questions.

Great questions don’t appear from nowhere, they emerge from a honed process we are able to enter each day, somewhere we can be curious, observant, open and perceiving, reflective and have the opportunity to shape an elegant question – which, in its beauty and simplicity is the right question for this moment.

*From Seth Godin’s This is Marketing.

Wishful play

Careful what you wish for. Because wishes don’t always come true, but wishing takes a lot of time and energy and focus. […] Better to wish for something where the wishing itself is a useful act, one that shifts your attitude and focus.*
(Seth Godin)

When we play, we engage fully and intensely with life and its contents. Play bores through boredom in order to reach the deep truth of ordinary things. […] Play cultivates humility, for it requires us to treat things as they are rather than as we wish them to be.**
(Ian Bogost)

Play needs reality and reality needs play. When we get real we can get playful. Wallace Stevens wrote about this when he described bringing the power of imagination to the pressure of reality.

When we do, things can be changed and we can grow.

Play makes it possible to move beyond thinking and wishing into doing.

*From Seth Godin’s blog: Careful what you wish for;
**From Ian Bogost’s Play Anything.