In preparation

In life one cannot awaken often enough the sense of a beginning within oneself. There is so little external change needed for that since we actually transform the world from within our hearts. If the heart longs for nothing but to be new and unlimited, the world is instantly the same as on the day of its creation and infinite.*
(Rainer Maria Rilke)

Social change will not come to us like an avalanche down the mountain. Social change will come through seeds growing in well-prepared soil – and it is we, like the earthworms, who prepare the soil. We also seed thoughts and knowledge and concern.**
(Ursula Franklin)

My grandson Archie is preparing to walk. For quite a few months, he’s been perfecting crawling. And on the other side of walking he’ll be able to discover running, jumping, dancing and playing sports. If he puts in enough time and effort, he’ll be able to do all of these things to the extent of his curiosity and interest.

Everything we do is preparation for something else when we are living in the direction of our curiosity and wonder. Preparing the mind is important, but more important is preparing the heart, where everything comes together in a swirl of energy that is generative and regenerative.

And then we’re ready to move:

complete awareness is not merely intellectual but actively experiential^.

I’ve been preparing a lifetime for today, but I also set out at the beginning of the day in more moments of preparation for what I must do.

Mind, heart, do.

Keep preparing, the world needs what you bring.

(*From Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters on Life.)
(**From Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology.)
(^From Julian Baggini’s How the World Thinks.)

More than we bargained for

If one doesn’t watch the introduction of new technologies and particularly watch the infrastructures that emerge, promises of liberation through technology can become a ticket to enslavement.*
(Ursula Franklin)

If we accept behavior that’s unacceptable, we’re compromising on something that we thought was too important to compromise on. And that’s how we end up with the unacceptable becoming commonplace.**
(Seth Godin)

Who’s going to gain? The advertiser says you will, but that may not be the reality.

Ursula Franklin makes the sober point that the emergence of the sewing machine promised to end “ragged and unclad humanity from every class” by women being able to make clothes at home, but the sewing machine has become the standard piece of equipment in exploitative sweatshops. Franklin has previously pointed out that the industrial revolution, promising so much required the invention of the consumer, on whom its greater and cheaper production would depend:

But once a given technology is widely accepted and standardised, the relationship between the products and the users changes. Users have less scope, they matter less, and their needs are no longer the main concern of the designers.*

Franklin’s thirty-one year old words still hold true. Who amongst us hasn’t been disappointed by a power company or internet provider whose costs go up despite our loyalty, whilst their offers to attract new customers are half what we’re paying?

Earlier in the week, I was in conversation with someone who sold on behalf of a large company, but for whom it was more than selling a product, it was about a relationship, about partnering with the client as if they were on their team.

I love this story. I have often included the sense of something Frederick Buechner said about finding our purpose: it is where our deepest joy meets the world’s greatest need. The real economy of the world is not only about doing what we want to do, but meeting people’s needs by means of this.

This is the wonderful opportunity life provides us with.

(*From Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: Unacceptable.)

The best we can offer

Every creative endeavour becomes a realisation of both how limited and unlimited we are.*
(Erwin McManus)

May the work fit the rhythm of your soul,
Enabling you to draw from the invisible
New Ideas and vision that will inspire.**

(John O’Donohue)

There are basically two ways for helping someone thrive. We can get out of their way and so remove an obstacle, or we can lean in and give them all the support they need from us.

The first is a derivation of Nassim Taleb’s silver rule: do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you; the second derives from Jesus of Nazerath’s golden rule: do to others as you would have them do to you.

Both ways are valuable. Both demand that we know ourselves and respect each other.

(*From Erwin McManus’ The Artisan Soul.)
(**From John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us: For a New Position.)

Requirements for a meaningful life

I intend to look at technology the way [C. P.] Macpherson looked at democracy, as ideas and dreams, as practices and procedures, as hopes and myths.*
(Ursula Franklin)

What works for democracy and technology also provides what we need for a meaningful life.

We need ideas and dreams to imagine and explore more, practices and procedures to move from ideas into behaviour and activity, and, personal myths and stories of hope for carrying these on a journey every day.

These are not fixed, and as life opens before us, they’ll continue to grow and expand. Time used i these ways will never be wasted.

(*From Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology.)

And along comes another question

Just when you think you know all the answers, the universe comes along and changes the questions.*
(Jorge Francisco Pinto)

We can move so fast when we have the answers, but new questions slow us down. And that’s not bad because great questions change us.

Questions about the environment, valuing all people equally and truthfulness are three that come to mind when I think of the times we are living in.

What are the questions that come to mind for you?

(Jorge Francisco Pinto, quoted in Albert Espinosa’s If you tell Me to Come, I’ll Drop Everything, Just Tell Me to Come.)

Out of the randomness

New research confirms that random choices lead to preferences, and then it follows that preferences lead to habits and habits lead us to become the person we somehow decide we were born to be.*
(Seth Godin)

While finite games are externally defined, infinite games are internally defined. The time of an infinite game is not world-time but the time created within the play itself. Since each play of an infinite game eliminates boundaries it opens to players a new horizon of time.**
(James Carse)

As far as we know, humans are the only creatures whose lives don’t go round and around with the seasons, understanding our lives can be on a journey to the future we want to be meaningful.

It all begins in the interesting place that is randomness, when we choose this rather than that. When this has been happening for around eighteen to twenty years, you end up with something really interesting: you.

Slowing down to notice who you are allows you to realise that you really like the things that have become: powerful values, talents and creative energies.

I included James Carse’s words because they provide one way of spotting the things we love most of all. Notice the things you do when time looks and feels different., when you’re not reacting to the time of others but are making your own time.

One of the exciting things about all of this randomness is how it leads to people who have a deep joy in what they do meeting the greatest needs in the world.

Each year, I work with a small number of people to notice the story that’s been developing in all of the randomness. If you would like to know more about this, drop me a line at geoffrey@thinsilence.org.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: We like what we choose.)
(**From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)

Over to us

The rules of an infinite game must change in the course of a game. The rules are changed when the players of an infinite game agree that the play is imperilled by a finite outcome – that is, victory of some players and the defeat of others.*
(James Carse)

We not only create stories or metaphors for life, we create them as metaphors for a meaningful life. To live meaningfully is to be at perpetual risk. […]. If, should the protagonist fail, life would be back to normal, the story is not worth telling.**
(Robert McKee)

Ursula Franklin wonders why we have birth control but not machine control, human demography but not machine demography. It’s one example, she believes, of how our thinking has changed:

Just as prescriptive technologies have, in the real world of technology, over-whelmed holistic ones, so have production models now become almost the only pattern of guidance for public and private thought and action.^

When James Carse writes about infinite games, he is thinking more about people at the heart of holistic and growth technologies. To use his argument of infinite players knowing that sometimes they have to play finite games, sometimes we must use more prescriptive and production technologies, but in service of people. Obversely, Carse points out, finite players struggle to see a bigger game, an infinite one. Here is our dilemma when in the heartland of continent of finite thinking, we do no know there are oceans and beyond.

Robert McKee is also imagining growth and holism over prescription and production when he writes of how we are searching for meaningful life and want our stories and metaphors to reflect this – these would be technologies in Franklin’s way of thinking. When McKee writes about risk, he is imagining growth, and when he mentions normal, he is thinking of prescription. Growth requires risk, taking us into the unknown, stretching into the plentiful-more, and then, as Lewis Hyde points out:

The revelation of plenitude calls for a revelation of mind.^^

We grow, we change, we transform.

(*From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(*From Robert McKee‘s newsletter: A Little Risk Goes a Long Way.)
^From Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology.)
(^^From Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World.)

What is it?

Children know something that most people have forgotten. Children possess a fascination with their everyday existence that is very special and would be very helpful to adults if they could learn to understand and respect it.*
(Keith Haring)

While working on a painting project with the five hundred students at a Chicago high school, Keith Haring was approached by one who said:

I can tell, by the way you paint, that you really love life.**

Wouldn’t it be something to rediscover our everyday fascination with our everyday existence, whatever it is we do, and to help others find theirs.

The wonderful thing is, it’s possible.

What is it?
How does it work?
Who did that?
Why does that happen?

(*Keith Haring, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Drawing on Walls.)
(**From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Drawing on Walls.)

Vernation

the true advances of my life could not be brought about by force but occur silently, and that I prepare for them while working quietly and with concentration on the things that on a deep level I recognise to be my tasks*
(Rainer Maria Rilke)

vernation/vəːˈneɪʃ(ə)n/nounBOTANY

  1. the arrangement of bud scales or young leaves in a leaf bud before it opens.

Here is the point Ursula Franklin makes and I mentioned a few days ago: Growth is not made but occurs.

We must each attend to those things we believe our lives to be about and the growth we do not know the limits of will take place.

What if, to use a word Robert Macfarlane introduced me to today, we are in a state of vernation, still to unfurl into the possibility of who we can be and what we can bring?

We must remind ourselves to be about those things today we know are our deeper tasks.

(*From Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters on Life.)

The alternative

Life, which is infinitely abundant, infinitely generous, may be cruel only on the basis of its inexhaustibility: in how many cases has life lost altogether all claims for its validity because it has been repressed by so many secondary institutions that have grown lethargic in their existence.*
(Rainer Maria Rilke)

The alternative may be you.

Just saying.

Rainer Maria Rilke places his hope in life that is infinitely abundant and generous, but not irrepressible, able to fall victim to that which is tired or lost its way or going through the motions. There is an alternative, though:

Is there anyone who would not frequently wish for a ferocious storm that could tear down everything that stands in the way and that is already in decline to clear space for the newly creative, infinitely young, infinitely well-intentioned.*

Rilke causes me to remember my friend Alex McManus‘ words that the future will appear through foresight, intention and love.

There is a problem in Rilke’s mind for intentions alone can dissipate energy:

But there is nothing more reckless than intentions: you exhaust yourself in them by forming and by reinforcing them, and the there is nothing left for the act of carrying them out.*

Better to begin sooner rather than later, and one way we can do this is by creating some disequilibrium through giving. Giving connects us with our energy and we are able to create an alternative to what is, as Erich Fromm underlines here:

Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This … fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous … in the art of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.**

(*From Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters on Life.)
(**From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)