The more than average life

If you define a spec and work hard to meet it, you can make it so that most things are within a reasonable distance of that spec. Which means that most of what you make is average.*
(Seth Godin)

Content writers don’t write blog posts – they create narratives.**
(Hugh Macleod)

Is it possible for everyone to be above average?

Yes, when we stop thinking of above-average in relation to others and instead use it in relation to ourselves, taking who we are and what we do further.

The best way is not to wait to be invited, just begin.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: “This is mediocre”.)
(**From gapingvoid’s blog: The key to being amazing.)


If it’s not the end …

And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
(Gerard Manley Hopkins)

If it isn’t working, or looks like a dead-end or it looks like your out of options, slow down, look inside, and find your world of many possibilities.

I don’t say this flippantly.

In my work with people who have taken the time to take a deeper look at who they are and what they have, I have always been amazed at what is possible to them.

(*From Gerard Manley Hopkins’ God’s Grandeur.)

Ahead of your time

[A] life lived online makes deep attention harder to summon. This happens because the brain is plastic – it is constantly in flux over a lifetime – so it “rewires” itself depending on how attention is allocated. […] if we decide deep attention is a value, we can cultivate it’*
(Sherry Turkle)

Reading about deep attention reminded me of an event I attended earlier this year on developing competence in complexity.

Part of this was spent identifying competencies for the 21st century: deep attention needs to be right up there.

Another is curation, the slow ability of selecting and arranging items, ideas and people in such a way as to add greater value to them and make an impact.

I bring the two together because being online opens us up to far more information than we can possibly deal with. We can know a little about a mighty lot of things. Developing deep attention and curation allows us to know why some are more critical than others and bring them together into an impactful story of the future.

(*From Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation.)

Listening to trees

Or if the root has perished, living seeds are in the soil, ready to begin the cycle of life afresh. Nowhere more than here is life proved invincible. Everything is against it, but it pays no heed.*
Nan Shepherd)

Thoreau took his guests into nature. I think of this as his fourth chair, his most philosophical one. These days, the way things have gotten philosophical causes us to confront how we have used technology to create a second nature, an artificial one.**
(Sherry Turkle)

Yesterday, I had both optician and dentist appointments Although at different times of day and in different directions, I decided to walk to both, reckoning this wouldn’t take me much longer than travelling by bus.

It was a beautiful sunny day, with one walk being by a main road but with plenty of trees around, the other taking me through the grounds of a hospital, grounds still full of the original woodland of the site.

These were simple opportunities to have conversations with nature.

Here are some themes nature would have conversations with us on:

Life is interdependent: everything and everyone is linked to everything and everyone else.

Life is crammed full of seeds, so go forth and multiply.

Life understands the obstacle to be the way, so use it to your advantage.

Life doesn’t waste anything: everything in your life is useful, even if it perhaps isn not useful to you.

Life isn’t a monoculture, but is often a conversation between opposites.

Life is functional, explore your purpose, be fruitful.^

(*From Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain.)
(**From Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation.)
(^See the biotic principles outlined in Christian Schwarz’s Natural Church Development Handbook.)

Don’t wait for the crisis to build capacity

[R]eality is not the external scene but the life that is lived in it. Reality is things as they are.*
(Wallace Stevens)

When I ask the participants why they all bring their devices to meetings, they say, “For emergencies.” I inquire further, and they admit that it’s not so much about emergencies – they’re bored, or they see an opportunity to double down on their emails.**
(Sherry Turkle)

Rebecca Solnit reflects on the speed of our technology:

Machines have sped up and lives have kept pace with them.^

What we struggled to notice is what we have lost along the way. Sherry Turkle has shaped her book Reclaiming Solitude on Henry David Thoreau‘s three chairs: one being for solitude, two for friendship, three for community, and Turkle adds a fourth she believes to be true to Thoreau:

Thoreau took his guests into nature. I think of this as his fourth chair, his most philosophical one. These days, the way things have gotten philosophical causes us to confront how we have used technology to create a second nature, an artificial one.**

I’m focusing on the first today, reflecting on how we struggle to be with ourselves, how we’ll sooner go to our email or music or texts rather than spend time in solitude. Yet this is the very place we begin to build our capacity.

When we become people who create time in which to reflect on our inner and outer worlds, what we’re doing is building up our knowledge and practice. Although there are many things we cannot predict when the pressure of reality hits – the largest being how we will react, yet we discover that we do not have to face this naked: we can bring the power of our imagination to what it is we face.

Here are five realities that I often mention:
Life is boring
You are not as special as you think
Your life is not about you
You are not in control
You are going to die.^^

Journaling is one of my personal places for building capacity and I’d noted a year ago Wallace Stevens’ identifying of latent and vital reality, latent being what is ‘taken for granted […] and, on the whole ignored,’ and vital being ‘reality that has ceased to be indifferent,’* as when something is coming to an end and impinges upon us.

In practices such as journaling, we have opportunity to reflect on both latent and vital reality, even our very breathing, if we bring some mindfulness into it, to see what really is, to figure out ways of responding to this. This ability to notice and choose how to respond imaginatively is the most fundamental shaper of capacity.

(*From Wallace Stevens’ The Necessary Angel.)
(**From Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation.)
(^From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)

(^^See Richard Rohr’s Adam’s Return.)

A rhythm not yet heard

The easier a job is to get, the more likely it involves doing tasks. The alternative is projects. The way a project gets done is up to you. Your goal is to create an extraordinary outcome, not to perform the tasks. *
Seth Godin)

honour your own curiosity**
Edgar Schein)

Projects are full of tasks.

Completing the tasks well is the difference between a successful and unsuccessful project. But to say the project is only about tasks would be to lose the autonomy, mastery and purpose available to us.

The Industrial Revolutions^ have improved our lives in many ways: food, medicine, clothing, leisure, gender equality and migration being but a few, but they have also demanded a high price.

Work became more about tasks to perform than mastery of projects, family life was seismically altered because of the time demanded away from the family home:

factory work destroyed family life, taking individuals out of the home and making family members strangers to each other during their prodigiously long work days.^^

One way of looking at this is to say one story replaced another, both being deeply flawed. When we see this for what it is, we see how we can then create a better story:

Claim the project before you start the work.*

Our particular curiosity allows us to begin a conversation with the things we notice most of all and this stimulates our conversations with ourselves. Then our conversations with others are more engaging and replete with possibilities:

The capacity for solitude makes relationships with others more authentic. Because you know who you are, you can see others for who they are, not for who you need them to be. So solitude enables richer conversation. But our current way of life undermines our capacity for solitude.*^

I offer the words of a blessing from John O’Donohue as you follow your own curiosity towards finding a rhythm not heard enabling you to find the projects among the tasks and to enrich our lives:

May morning be astir with the harvest of night;
Your mind quickening to the eros of a new question,
Your eyes seduced by some unintended glimpse
That cut right through the surface to a source.
Until the veil of the unknown yields
And something original begins
To stir toward your senses
And grow stronger in your heart
In order to come to birth
In a clean line of form,
That claims from time
A rhythm not yet heard,
That calls space to
A different shape.^*

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Projects vs tasks.)
(**From Edgar Schein’s Humble Consulting.)
(^I’m thinking of at least the mechanisation and the digitalisation of the workspace.)
(^^From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(*^From Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation.)
(^*From John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us: For the Artist at the Start of the Day.)

Lost in conversation

The question then is how to get lost. Never to get lost is is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction, and somewhere in the terra incognito in between lies a life of discovery.*
(Rebecca Solnit)

One of the functions of art is to give people the words to know their own experience. […] Storytelling is a tool for knowing who we are and what we want, too. If we never find our experience described in poetry or stories, we assume that our experience is insignificant.
(Ursula Le Guin)

Getting lost is how we get to find ourselves and what we want to bring into the lives of others. These two things always go together:

It’s a story as old as time: you never maximise your true potential until you stop making it just about you.^

In our conversations – with ourselves, with others – we create our personal and social stories, and it is our stories that make it possible to explore more than we know. Getting lost isn’t something that only happens miles from here, it only lies outside where we are in this moment, even in the next conversation we will have with ourselves or with others:

there is a sweet spot, between the known and the unknown, where originality happens; the key is to be able to linger without panicking.^^

We cannot explore more without getting lost, as Aaron Sachs reminds us it comes with the intention:

Explorers […] were always lost, because they’d never been to the places before. They never expected to know where they were.*^

Welcome to the story room.

(*From Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost.)
(**Ursula Le Guin, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Ursula K. Le Guin on Art, Storytelling, and the Power of Language to Transform and Redeem.)
(^From gapingvoid’s blog: It’s the flame that matters, not the carrier.)
(^^From Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc..)
(*^Aaron Sachs, quoted in Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost.)