Exiguous: it’s how you see it that counts

I needed to look up the word exiguous.  It turns out to mean:

Very small in size or amount.

It perhaps describes how we can see our lives.  The word is used by Iris Murdoch not long after she’d written these words about us:

‘I assume that human beings are naturally selfish and that human life has no external point or telos.  That human beings are naturally selfish seems true on the evidence, whenever and wherever we look at them, in spite of very small number of apparent exceptions.’*

Darn the exceptions.  

Murdoch sees self-contained lives and wonders whether what we call good is just our little goods and we can disagree over these when we meet each other.  But what have others found that the many, in Murdoch’s mind, haven’t?

Frederick Buechner had opened my day with this thought:

‘Listen to your life.
See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.
In the boredom and pain of it
no less than in the excitement and gladness:
touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it
because in the last analysis all moments are key moments,
and life itself is grace.’**

I am grateful to so many who have opened my eyes to see more.  Some of these I have met: Erwin McManus, whose latest book The Last Arrow I’ve opened for the first time today, and his brother Alex.  Others I have not met: Seth Godin and Hugh Macleod have altered the trajectory of my life with a gracefulness.  I came upon these words in Godin’s latest blog:

‘If you have a safe place to sleep, reasonable health and food in the fridge, you’re probably living with surplus. You have enough breathing room to devote an hour to watching TV, or having an argument you don’t need to have, or simply messing around online. You have time and leverage and technology and trust.’^

It’s a different way of seeing the same stuff we had yesterday in new way today, we now become actors rather than being acted upon:

‘For many people, this surplus is bigger than any human on Earth could have imagined just a hundred years ago.

What will you spend it on?

If you’re not drowning, you’re a lifeguard.’^

Today’s doodle contains the words of Bernadette Jiwa^^ – someone Godin connected me with because he is always telling of the amazing work others are doing.  The scarcity is the gift is what we have received from – well, sometimes we’re not sure where – and we have to personalise it and pass it on.  Lewis Hyde comments on this gift:

‘A gift, when it moves across a boundary, either stops being a gift or abolishes the boundary.’*^

Which sounds to me like: our gift risks everything to be shared with another.

It’s so small, though; how can it count or matter?

It just so happened that Hugh Macleod shared these words about Godin on the same day as Godin was writing about our surplus:

‘The media loves to write stories about the big guys. The big CEOs running the big companies, with billions of dollars changing hands and thousands of employees doing their bidding.

And yet, here are people like our old friend Seth Godin, who has zero employees, and just runs his not-insignificant empire, mostly by himself from a wee loft, an hour North of Manhattan.’^*

In one sense, Godin is exiguous but what does that matter?  Macleod continues:

‘What does that tell us?

It tells us that size is irrelevant. That you can have an amazing career with or without scale.

It just depends on you. It just depends on the size of your heart; what matters to you and what’s worth doing.

People matter, love matters, size is unimportant.’^*

What if we knew this in our families?  What if they taught it in our schools?  What if businesses allowed space for it?  I find myself wondering whether people would appear less selfish because they have been encouraged and enabled to see themselves and others differently, the scarcity of their lives we need to have shared with us.

(*From Iris Murdoch’s The Sovereignty of Good.)
(**Frederick Buechner, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(^From Seth Godin’s blog: What will you do with your surplus?)
(^^From 
Bernadette Jiwa’s Make Your Idea Matter.)
(*^From Lewis Hyde’s The Gift.)
(^*From gapingvoid’s blog What’s love got to do with it.)

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A wandering mind

‘For not letting my mind wander and roam, I must blame myself.’*

Capitalism and technology don’t always help us use our imaginations.  Often they get in the way.  Some years ago, I read Jack Welch’s encounter with someone who’d worked for many years in General Electric.  Under Welch’s leadership GE had instigated innovative time for people in its companies. The worker had said For twenty five years you have paid for my hands; all that time you could have had my brain for free.**

The world is better when we let our minds wander.  We can take our advancements and do good and beautiful things with them.  There’s often a separation between technology and the common good but the opening of the mind for imagination can produce more.

‘Our role is to help uncover and release the promise of union that is in all things.

[…]

Jung observes that the marriage of opposites leads to pregnancy’.^

A rebirthing of human ingenuity.

Wander on.

(*From Alan Lightman’s A Sense of the Mysterious.)
(**From either Jack Welch’s Straight From the Gut or Winning.)
(^From Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)

Gifted or what?

‘Between the time a gift comes to us and the time we pass it along, we suffer gratitude.  Moreover, with gifts that are agents of change it is only when the gift has working in us, only when we have come up to its level, as it were, that we can give it away again.

[…]

Once a gift has come to us it is up to us to develop it.’*

Whether we see this day as a gift from the universe or god, there is something about it that is true.  It is incomplete, it will not lay things out to us as if on a plate.  It doesn’t need to.  We must be or do something with it, to it, in it.  Thankfully, the human life comes with imagination, an ally of human curiosity.

It is why a day isn’t all that it appears to be and can be what we imagine it to be:

‘And I hope there will always be an edge between the known and the unknown, beyond which lies strangeness and unpredictability.’**

(*From Lewis Hyde’s The Gift.)
(**From Alan Lightman’s The Accidental Universe.)

To notice this is sublime

Origin and Etymology of sublime: Middle English, from Middle French sublimer, from Medieval Latin sublimare to refine, sublime, from Latin, to elevate, from sublimis.

“I will not live an unlived life.”*

Seth Godin writes about all the “sirens” that can go off in life, but:

‘Which one turns our heads, gets our attention and breaks our rhythm?’**

When we notice what we notice we may be raising something to our eye-level that shapes our lives … and those of others.

When Alan Lightman notices how the forces of technology are robbing him of his inner life, he moved to action:

‘In an odd way, my growing understanding of the vast forces that shape modern life has only increased my resolve to counter those forces, to build a parallel universe for my inner life and spirit.  I am convinced that such an interior world is both possible and necessary.’^

I notice what Lightman notices because he speaks of something I am increasingly noticing.  This world of technology and the interior life is our “playground” to which we bring our imagination.

But we all notice different things and we bring our imagination to bear on these (this will be another post).  Lightman reminds us of this; I feel there is a sense of noticing what we notice in his closing words:

‘Only individuals can measure their own values and needs, their own spirit, their own story of life.’^

(*Dawna Markova, quoted in the Northumbria Community’s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog What makes your sirens go off … .)
(^From Alan Lightman’s A Sense of the Mysterious.)

Learning poise

I am thinking about poise in terms of living our lives artfully.

‘In order to be our best selves, we have to own our selves.’*

To develop our poise – and everyone has a different kind of poise – we can only practise.

The thing is – and this is the most amazing thing about this – we have no idea at the beginning what all that practise might become.

(*From gaping void’s blog To be our best selves.)

We must not lose sight of each other

“Human felicity is produced … by little advantages that occur every day.”*

I thought it best to check out he meaning of the word felicity as it’s not one I find myself using every day.  It turns out to mean the state of being happy.

Happiness doesn’t happen as a default in the systems we inhabit.  The status quo turns out to be a way of benefiting fewer people.  It wants this to be this and that to be that, but life is this and that, that and this:

‘Jung says that in the unconscious the opposites lie side by side.  It is only up in the conscious world that there is separation.’^

Happiness is produced by our questioning of what is … and what is not.  We need ways of questioning that are about seeing more.  Carl Jung spoke about the different qualities of sunlight and moonlight which enable us to see differently:

‘The hard edges of the day are softened by the sun’s gentle light, and I see the relationship of all things. […] Jung’s point is that we need both ways of seeing.  We need moonlike consciousness and sunlike consciousness.’**

“The night is large and full of wonder.”^

Whenever someone argues – about education, employment, economics, race, gender, the first world and developing world … – this is the way it has to be, you know it isn’t.

(**Benjamin Franklin, quoted by Alan Lightman in A Sense of the Mysterious.)
(**From Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)
(^Lord Dunsany, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)