what you must do

the love of power … the power of love

It’s not about what someone else is doing; it’s about what you must do.

This might sound like a contradiction to what I’m saying about a the future being connected, with the mantra of “I in us”.  But such a future will never come to be without each of us taking up our responsibility, the thing each person must do.

We don’t try to dominate everyone around us with our art – “I have these skills and therefore we ought to do it this way.”  We’ve left this way of behaving behind.  What we say is, “I have these skills so how can I serve you/the team/the community?”

The reason we can offer and gift our art, rather than control people through it, is because we’re no longer blind to where we lead and influence from.  We know who we are in relation to our values, to others, the world, and our future Self.  This is our integrity.

Neither is it doing what others tell is to do; we know this corrupts our integrity.  And, we do know something new and more exciting emerges when people bring what they must do to the party.

Steven Pressfield uses the terms, hierarchical and territorial art.

If you choose hierarchical art, you’ll always be trying to please someone as well as powering up over someone.  But territorial art means you know your unique domain and field; there are many qualities* but here are some big ones: you are successful in what you do and it comes with its own feedback, you lose awareness of self and time in the flow of what you are doing, you grow in what you do in proportion to the effort you put in, and it satisfies a need in you (to the extent you could answer Pressfield’s question in the affirmative: “If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?”).

If the world is to be a better place, then we all need to turn up and do what we must do.  Reality tells us that  because others don’t want to join in, there’ll always be plenty of opportunities to face challenges with creativity.

As I’ve just finished Pressfield’s book, I’ll leave you with a neat comment from him**:

‘Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the
part of the actor.  It’s a gift to the world and every being in it.
Don’t cheat us of your contribution.  Give us what you’ve got.’

(*Pressfield names the following (my words): 1) it sustains you; 2) there’s automatic feedback; 3) you can’t partner with others in what you must do; 4) a territory gives back in proportion to the hard work put in; 5) it never gives back unfairly.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi offers a similar but more comprehensive list of qualities in his brilliant book Creativity.
(** I made a comment that it promises to be a great book to read – about overcoming the problems which prevent us from doing our art – after reading 20% of Pressfield’s book.  Although I think he mystifies too much stuff about where inspiration come from, at 100%, it’s proven to be a really helpful read.)

from ego to self

the ego hates artists ...

It might sound as if they are the same thing, but they are a journey apart.

Ego’s mantra is “I in me.”  It’s me in my small world.

Self’s mantra is “I in us.”  This is my future self, and the world is much bigger, connected, and giving.

The Ego gives in to Resistance, preferring the familiar, being comfortable with the status quo, and content with the past.  So, it does not want to dream and does not want others to dream either.

The Self calls us from our future, dreams of the artist we can become, then urges us to begin, to keep moving, to fail fast and try again, and above all to love, wrestling Resistance out of the way all the way.

Key to this journey from Ego to Self is imagination, inventing many ways to live and love and produce our art; imagination uses for fuel our knowledge of who we are, our skills, and all our resources.

Without imagination we do not know who we can be.  To Resistance it is the enemy, because imagination threatens to leads us to where Ego does not want to go, to the possibility of failing, to discomfort, and to facing our fears.

Reality for many people how we need others to be imaginative so we can see the possibilities.  When we see them, then we can love them and embrace them.

Maybe your imagination, lived large, will open up the possibilities for others, whether they be many or one.

thirty day free trial

between this and that, some silence

Probably the amount of time you need to get into a daily habit of exploring and identifying the path you must take and the art you must produce.

This post is a more practical one, following a number in which I’ve tried to paint a different picture of the world – one in which you see yourself and others as artists, a world in which people take the things they love to do and do to love to the highest level.  This isn’t daydreaming, the only reason this world doesn’t exist is because we haven’t made it real yet.

So, a free trial.  There are no contracts to sign up, only a promise to yourself to use the next thirty days to identify the things you both love and do not love, the skills you have and do not have, the relationships you value and those you need (and maybe those you need to end).*

Thirty days isn’t a long time but what you’re able to identify through daily practices will begin to change your world.  Don’t try and overdo it; begin with 10-15 minutes a day, and, if 10-15 minutes is all you can find, this is okay – trust the process of reflecting daily).  Everything I include below, I have personally used in some way or other:

  • Obtain a journal to record the journey – as well as the paper kind (lined and artists’ sketch pads), there are online journals, and even blogs – literacy is one of the great Human inventions making it possible for us to develop as a species.  Don’t worry about how to write, just write whatever comes to mind – you’ll get a chance to edit later.
  • Identify the place and time which will best work for you and promise yourself to come to this place daily – it needs to be an attractive place for you.
  • Identify your most important values, world views or faith.  Don’t be satisfied with just a word, provide some details.  What are the things in the world which most irk and upset you?  Again, not just a word but details.
  • Who are the significant people in your life?   The people who build you up?  Who champions you?  Who are the people who collaborate with you?  Who are the companions in your life?  Who opens your mind to new things?  Who connects you to others?  Who energises you?
  • List all the labels you wear – (e.g., Geoffrey, husband, father … dreamwhisperer).
  • We are not our labels, so what are the significant things behind each of these labels?
  • At the same time, begin to keep two lists for fourteen or so days: “I loved it when …” (to record things which really energised you), and “I loathed it when …” (to record things which de-energise you) – recording who you are with, what are you doing, why you are doing it, and when (the beginning of a process, etc.).  You should have two quite long lists of the most energising and de-energising things in your life.
  • Begin to highlight the most outstanding of these – the most energising and the most de-energising.
  • What if you could do more of the things which most energise you, and eliminate or better manage the things which de-energise?  Begin to imagine what these might be – both through abstraction and replication.
  • What are the things which begin to suggest themselves as your art?  (Don’t worry if this isn’t there for you on day 29 or 30, you are closer to it than before and it will appear.)
  • On day 30, write out** the values and beliefs you will live and die for, and what it is you believe you must do because of how your skills and passions come together, and, also the things you have come to see must not do.

Keep watching this space for more; your adventure has just begun.

(*It may be a free trial but nothing that is important comes without cost.)
(** If you want to express it in some other way, go for it.)

a movement against the ordinary

the pursuit of truth and beauty

One of my favourite movies is The Blues Brothers – brothers Jake and Elwood are on a mission from God to save the orphanage they were brought up in.

One of the things I particularly love about this movie is how they get to do the thing they love in order to fulfil their mission – they get their band back together and they play the music they love.

There’s a growing movement of people on a mission.  They understand there’s never been a time like this in Human history for people to flourish through the things they love to make and do.  It could always have been the case, but there have been powers and forces in cultures, societies, and institutions, which have held people captive to the ordinary or even worse, the less-than-ordinary.

Intellectualism (educational streaming of children on one kind of ability) , fundamentalism (rigidity of thought and behaviour), and industrialism (make more faster for less) are three big ones – effecting what we believe we can and cannot do in an affluent, literate, technologically-blessed West.  Our dreams are buried so deep we have to do some serious drilling to find them, but they are there.

Frederick Buechner spoke of our purpose being found where our “deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  As the Blues Brothers understood.  This mission is about doing the things we love to do and making a dent in the pain of the universe.

This deep gladness is a way of describing our art.  Artist is simply a word we use to describe Humans when they are about what they love and are skilled in, to the highest possible level they can go.

The movement of people on this mission, to free people from the ordinary, imagine a future in which it’s possible for everyone to flourish in some way or other.  But there is resistance.

There are naysayers who believe it isn’t possible for everyone to bring their dreams alive.

It is really hard to change the way we think about ourselves and about others.

There is no easy way to pursue what our lives want us to do; it will be hard work – mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually hard.

I don’t know where this will go.  I do know the future does not exist yet, and can be shaped by people who, through foresight, intention, and love, produce and share their art.



this is not about you

just do that beautiful thing you do ...

It is and it isn’t.

You and me, we’re on a mission.

We know, when we produce our art, we want it to benefit someone, to contribute somewhere, to ask the vital question, or bring the solution to the problem, to inspire, to introduce goodness and beauty in some way, to listen, to serve, to care.

And if, through that thing you do, you can inspire someone to believe in and identify and explore their art, then the world has become richer, more beautiful, more hopeful.*

In these ways, this is not about you.

This is our mission.

But it is about you.

When you produce your art, you’re also working on a self-portrait; realising there’s a growing sense of satisfaction and fulfilment in your life, nothing is wasted and everything becomes more poignant – from the shadows to the bright lights.  Everything we make reveals something about who we are and who we’re becoming.

This is the classic hero tale found in myths and legends.  It’s found in these places because people have noticed this is the Human mission.

(*One of my favourite films is Pay it Forward – I wish I could remember who I lent it to, but perhaps this film, more than any other, doesn’t come back.)


are we human yet?

tick this box ...

Odd question.

I’ve mentioned before how one of the most important questions for the 21st century is, What does it mean to be Human?

As far as we know, at this point in the development of natural sciences, other species do not go against type: inelephant or indolphin or indog, but there are things we see in Humans we do not welcome and dub them inhuman.  It’s as if we’re saying, “We know we can do better than this.”

What if our Human journey is about becoming the best our species can be: we are becoming Human?

What if everything you are about – education, work, families and friendships – is an exploration and experimentation of this every day, and then, connecting more in relationships, producing your art, and becoming the best you you can possibly be is the best way to live the one life you have.

Of course, there’s another way of seeing this: through our industrial filter we see some will do better than others, some will have more choice in their lives than others, some will dream and others will get by.  It unconsciously inhabits our language and expectations, and sometimes slips out.  This morning I listened to excerpts from an audio-diary of what work looked like in the week of a teacher.  The phrases which screamed at me were her references to students being of low, middling, or high ability.

Let’s take a step back.  If education is about helping young people develop in order to live the rest of their lives in the best and most contributing ways they can, are we unconsciously saying these are low, middling, or high ability Humans?*  Streamed for life through our tightly defined subjects, taught and measured in narrow ways?

Although we may want to do better than this within our cultural systems, we know the enabling of every child to thrive in an environment most suitable to them is a complexity we believe to be beyond us at the moment – though, some are beginning to imagine how.  Yet, in a world moving towards a mid-century population of nine billion and more, ethnic fragmentation and fundamentalism, possible super-diseases, food shortages, environmental catastrophes, and reducing natural resources, do we have a better alternative than to engage every Human to be the best they can be towards our planet becoming more Human.

And if this sounds species-arrogant, I see becoming more Human involving a deepening understanding of how we are part of the environments we inhabit – our “sister Mother Earth”  – and the best chance our planet and other species have is for us to become Human.

(Whilst Daniel Kahneman is calling for priming studies to be more rigorous, the evidence appears to be that what we are led to believe about ourselves affects our behaviour.)

you can do anything you want – the myth

people say you can do ...

How many times have you heard this said to someone; perhaps even to you?

It’s a myth, of course.

There are things I can do and there are things I cannot.  I can accept this or face bitter disappointment.  Behind this reality, there are many reasons and choices I’ve made along the path of my life, leading to certain things being open to me and others being closed.

These are the boundaries and spaces and restrictions which inform and form my life and my art.

Now we get to value the true capacity of our lives, including our capacity to grow and develop, both ourselves as works of art, and producing the things we want to infuse with goodness for others.

Erwin McManus has been reminding me of things I first heard him share almost ten years ago: the artist has three primary colours to create from; the musician has twelve notes; and, the architect has squares, circles, and triangles.  Each set of resources seems so limited when you account for them in these ways, and yet we are overwhelmed by the way accepting these limitations allows for incredible imagination and creativity.

These lines, limitations, and rules become helpful because every day they provide us with a place to begin (the kinds of “limitations” available to artists, musicians, and architects, are also found in other expressions of Human creativity).

Only be honest about who you are and what you have and begin to craft something only you can imagine and produce, whether it be in art or creating a cafe or working with words or cleaning spaces or providing customer service or offering counselling or providing terminal care or defining creative office environments.

You may not be able to do anything you want – hopefully that myth is busted – but you can become more who you are and do more of that thing you do.

are you scared?

art becomes a craft ...

I am.  Frequently.

To dream about something is one thing, something warm and makes you feel, oh-s0-good, like eating chocolates guaranteed to be calorie-free.  We might feel that to dream when we were once unable to is an achievement in and of itself, and, in one way, it is – but only as discovering you can take a flight to your dream destination from your local airport.  It makes your trip so much more possible but doesn’t mean you’re going to take it.

Fear arrives when the thing which matters to us and that we love becomes a possibility.  In our dreams, we imagine ourselves completing our art, but in reality, following the initial excitement, there’s the overwhelming complexity we face, the loss of confidence we encounter, the multiple trials and failures before something comes together, the sheer hard work of what is necessary for this.*

The completion of our art calls for us to do the detailed stuff.  I might describe myself to others as a big-picture person, rather than a details person, and this is usually true, until it comes to my art, and then I am a detail person.  When you think about it, whatever your art is, you’ll find great detail and complexity there.  The detail is your language and your story.  And with the detail comes fear.

‘The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident.  The real one is scared to death.


(*It’s not about the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice alone, but practicing the stuff you love, which produces your genius work – the art which is remarkable and transformative.)

when art is a long time coming

okay, so it's not basketball ...

It can feel as if it takes a lifetime to identify and produce your art.  I sometimes say, only half-jokingly, I’m still getting there, but one day I’ll declare, “This is what I must do,” and promptly expire.

Some identify their art at an early age; I’ve already admitted I didn’t know what it was at forty five years of age.

And just listen out for how many times you’ll hear phrases like “natural talent” or “they were born to do this or that”.  And we feel we don’t have it and we weren’t.

Two things about talent, and it’s probably one thing, really.

1) Whilst some people may be born with an advantage over others (sprinters with more fast muscle – there are two types of muscle – or basketball players who are 6’8″, nature doesn’t think in terms of athletics or basketball or banking or music or politics or art).  What matters is putting in the thousands of hours of shaping something extraordinary around our particular curiosity and fascination – which may begin with our early exposure to something: Mozart to music, chess for the Polgar sisters, or golf for Tiger Woods – but nothing happens without thousands of hours of practice.*  First thing, deep or deliberate practice.

2) Turn up every day.  At the end of the day, as it at the beginning (and everything in-between), it’s about hard work, in the kind of practice which is stretching, failing, and frustrating and, yes, monotonous (which is why you really have to love something; which is why you can’t turn a Weakness into a Strength).**  The joy of your art is what brings you to the hard place of producing what has captured your heart.  Which probably means, the second thing is deep practice too.

If you’re waiting for inspiration, you’ve already had it.  If you turn up and play with the things which matter to you through practice, you might just be surprised at what emerges.


(*I wonder whether my isolation from other children when not at school meant I had to develop my imagination – I love ideas and thinking about the future.)

(**I love the detail in Annie Dillard’s writing about nature and life, and imagine her writing in some pleasant space with sunshine coming in through a large picture window through which she observes the world.  I was staggered to read her description of how she’d lock herself away in a cinder-block room, painted mustard yellow, pull down the blind, and pin a picture of the outside world on it.)

the war of art

oh, she's just having one of her ...

The title of Steven Pressfield’s great book on why it’s hard to produce and contribute the art you really want to.

If you only had time to read one short, insightful book  to help see the resistance then this might be it.

As I’m twenty percent through this book on my kindle, I’m really recommending the book-so-far.*  I left Pressfield this morning listing the many traits of Resistance which sidetrack from what we really want to do, including: procrastination, getting into trouble, sex, self-dramatisation, self-medication, and victimhood – because they’re easier than producing our art.

I see integrity and wholeness (which lead to perseverance) as the powerhouse or engine-room of living creative, enjoyable, and generous lives.  Resistance will do all it can to stop us getting there.  The steps towards this powerful centre involve humility (knowing who we really are – good and bad) and gratitude (the ability to see what we really have) lived out in daily habits and practices of our making (faithfulness).  All of these require some time to reflect before acting – a scarcity in today’s world, but not impossible.

(*I also ought to say, I always read several books together – which tends to have a multiplying or magnifying effect; away from home for a couple of night’s, I’m reading this in parallel with Erwin McManus’s The Artisan Soul and Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.)