31 develop and grow ...

Harvests are important to Humans in more ways than one – we realise we can produce fruit from our lives as well as out from nature.*

Industrialisation has set us free from many of the vicissitudes of nature and life, but it has also held many back from what they can be.  We have traded autonomy and mastery for stability and guarantee.

Things are changing, though.  On the one hand, industries can no longer guarantee work for life, whilst on the other, we are understanding more of what every Human is capable of contributing through their lives being produces of art and goodness.

It is not with a sense of superiority we pursue this hope, but in the crazy belief there is more for me and you to do than we know in this moment, how it is possible to keep pushing further and further** what we love to be about and to keep it fresh and new.

Have a great harvest today, this week, this month, this year, this life.

(*We realise we are part of nature, but are able to step outside and begin shaping nature.)
(**I love Seth Godin’s word for this = zooming.)

the curve of imagination

30 it was supposed to be ...

Sometimes life requires we take a practical approach which might be described as linear: this plus this plus this equals this: just use the door to get into the car, you don’t have to tip the car up it’s nose and parachute through the open hatch – as imaginative as this might be.

Other times, life needs us to take an imaginative approach which allows for a less than straight path to be taken, this times this times this produces this.  It takes a more generous view of the world: There is more than we know and all things are connected.

To foster and train our imaginations, we require opportunities to focus, to concentrate – which sounds hard and so we don’t do it.  The reality of this training can often be that we get lost in the moment, we are absorbed and energised, we are connecting with our element or purpose or bliss or passion or art,* and will often only notice this afterwards.

To allow us to follow the curve of imagination we will need to identify attractive spaces and times, create personal routines and rituals, which we can then use to move more readily into the imagining of more.  What are some you are already using and can lean into more?

(*When there’s a plethora of words describing something you know something’s afoot; so it is in our time when it comes to that thing you do.)

open questions

29 question

Ask the questions no one else has thought to ask.

This is how we move to what is original and important which the other questions won’t take us to.

Many want to revisit the questions long since answered, they want to look again on the answers that have been around for oh-so-long.  We need to develop our imaginations towards the better questions.

Our imaginations allow us to produce the new questions taking us towards the possibility of new answers.

Our imaginations follow a path which lies between what is and what is not.

Our imaginations allow us to be present to possibility in its first dimension, and what we experience is energy – without which there is no life.

Here are three framing questions to help us be present to what is not yet:

What is my creativity?

What is my generosity?

What is my enjoyment?

please yourself

28 the scream

You have to please yourself first.

This requires a little explanation.

We cannot live our lives according to how others think we should – some get it, others don’t.  John O’Donohue helpfully shares: ‘The heart of the matter is, you should never belong fully to something that is outside yourself.’

If we belong fully to something or someone else, we are dependent on others for our sense of wellbeing and fulfilment, requiring constant reinforcement and feedback.

When we belong to ourselves, though, we know what it is we must do, sometimes despite what others think and do.

Here’s the thing: to arrive at this place of belonging to ourselves we must appreciate others and what they bring, and desire to live our lives generously towards them – I know what you want and I know what I want and now we can be creative.  (If I don’t know what I want I can’t be creative.  If I only know that I don’t want what you want, I can’t be creative.)

Nothing is guaranteed, however.  Maybe nothing will happen when people try to collaborate, and that’s okay when we belong to ourselves first.

And sometimes what others want for us can help frame more of what it is we must do.  Austin Kleon mischievously suggests, ‘Sometimes when people hate something about your work, it’s fun to push that element even further.  To make something they’d hate even more.  Having your work hated by certain people is a badge of honour.’


27 be curious ...

My wife Christine and I have been sorting out our house to sell.  Carpets and woodwork all cleaned and washed, appliances all sorted.  Spit spot!  There are some in our family wondering why we should go to such lengths, which got me to thinking – whilst I clipped the privet hedge with nail clippers (well, hedge shears, but small ones).

I think one of the reasons is, we want to finish well – whilst the benefits were for the next owner of the property, we valued the hidden work inside us.

One of the stories which impressed us in our trip a week earlier to the Kennedy Space Centre, was that of Apollo 13, which carried the strap line: “Failure is not an option.”

This line also works for our lives, which we get the one chance to live and which we do not want to arrive at the end of with regrets.  Towards this, we are supplied with curiosity – each one of us is curious towards something different, but maybe we’re not aware of just how this curiosity can lead to some amazing making of things.

Here are six future-orientated disciplines which can help – future-orientation is important because curiosity is about something we don’t know yet, or see yet, or have yet.

Reflection is about finding space to ponder what we observe: to notice what piques our curiosity.

Anticipation is asking more and deeper questions – not only What happens next?, but, What happens next because of what happens next?

Imagination takes us outside of our familiar worlds, the silos of what we know, so we can look at what is in new ways and innovate.

Design takes us from thinking to making – prototyping what we have in mind whether it be an item or a way of relating and befriending.

Create means we produce in a sustainable way, whether we sell what we make or give it away.*

Synchronise is about writing ourselves into the great Human story of being makerbots.

Have fun: failure is not an option.

(*Whether we make a living as a makerbot, or pursue it in our downtime is up to us.)

more needed

26 needed more to ...

John O’Donahue rightly says, ‘Days are where we live.’

Every day, we have the opportunity to live with creativity, generosity, and enjoyment.  This is my definition of what it means to be Human;what’s yours?

How can you live this in the days you inhabit?

Days for some are more of a struggle than this.  They do not see the day as a gift but as a burden; their work is not creative but mundane; they do not see themselves as having anything anyone wants; joy is not not found there.

Whilst I want to live more fully; I want others to also – in their own way.

What if there was a movement of people who gave the rest of their days to this – in the places they live – making this happen for others?

Starting today.


towards the future

25 as another birthday looms ...

What to leave behind?

What to hold on to?

With whom do we walk?

A week ago I was part of a small group exploring the possibilities of futures and these were three questions we posited.

The question isn’t, Do we stay where we are or move into the future?: ‘Everything alive is in movement.’

We live with this reality every day of our lives.  In two days time I will be fifty-five years old.  How did that happen?  While I might wonder, I can’t deny it: life is change, is movement, and, gladly, becoming: ‘The secret heart of time is growth.’

Each one of us is capable of amazing things.  We call it potential* and it’s not easy to get this out, as my friend Steve Earl suggests:

‘It is always hidden within us, ready to leap out but it is
deeply afraid, so we must give ourselves strength to bring
it out.’

We cannot do everything.  We have to leave some things behind.  We must be indifferent to them.

We have to be clear about what it is we want to pursue and why.  These must be our strong preferences.

We need to find the people to journey with.  Who these are may surprise us:**

‘Part of the act of creating is in discovering your own
kind.  They are everywhere.  But don’t look for them
in the wrong places.’^

After eight years of exploration in the city I live in, I’m continuing to answer these three questions about the future, becoming clearer on what I must leave behind, what I must hold on to, and, who I must walk with.  I am very surprised by where I find myself today, but it is good:

‘It is a simple equation: no liminality, no adventure;
no adventure, no mission; no mission, no communitas.’ ^^

(*Recently a group of artists  I’m connected withexplored the basic idea of V=mc² (potential energy) in events which brought artists together to offer their art, and turning what we raised into micro-investment loans to help change the lives of people around the world.  It is a growing story.)
(**The answer to all three questions may surprise us.)
(^Henry Miller quoted by Austin Kleon in Show Your Work.)
(^^From Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost’s The Faith of Leap.  Liminality is the term given to threshold experiences: it can be disorientating, dangerous, marginal, and nquest – it can be any combination of these.  As such, it is neither here nor there, a place of transition.  We can understand places, experiences, people, and ideas as being liminal.  Victor Turner’s The Ritual Process is the classic text on liminality and communitas; Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces identifies how our legends and myths understand such movement to be crucial to Human experience and development.  Communitas is the term given to the community which forms around the mission or purpose: Steven Spielberg and Tom Hank’s Band of Brothers is a fascinating journal for this (I recommend watching it with others, rather than on your own).

how does it feel?

24 whatever excites you ...

This is different to asking, What are you good at?

Both are important questions.  Here’s how they work.

Those around you may be able to see you’re good at some things and not so good at others, and they might advise you to pursue this rather than that.  If you take notice of what they think, for some reason or other, you may end up doing the wrong things for you.

How does it feel? is an energy question.  It’s asking which of the skills you employ will be employed by you with energy and innovation, promising a multiplying of your unique contribution.

I know I have skills that I’ve developed to survive, and others have said they think I do these things well (often the things these people value most).  These things do not energise me, though, but I know others who love these things and perform them way better than I ever could.

This is one of the basic things I remind people of when it comes to identifying what they need to be doing.*  I’m thinking about this because I’ve recently been on the receiving end of someone looking at my skills but not asking How does it feel?  

Whilst it’s important to take seriously whatever someone intends as helpful,** one of the unfortunate consequences is we begin to question our hearts.  John O’Donahue didn’t know just his words would be very helpful to me when he wrote:

‘If you try to view yourself through the lenses that others
offer you, all you will see are distortions; your own light
and beauty will become blurred, awkward and ugly.’

O’Donahue goes on to liken negative introspection to digging up newly sown potatoes every day to see if they’re growing.

If someone is going to help us move towards what it is we must be about with our lives they have to open their hearts to us.  This goes beyond opening minds – which allows someone to recognise what we do and how we do it – towards their discovering something of what it feels like for us.  The thing with becoming open-heart people is that it’s impossible without our willingness to disclose our hearts to the one opening theirs to us.

Behind all of this formation of skill and energy there has been a journey.  This journey has required you that you let go of certain things to be able to keep hold of more important things – different for each of us.  An open heart recognises this and understands how these things cannot be picked up once more – we are moved onward by our journeys.

I have written previously about what Carlos Castaneda called the path with a heart; the reason the path has a heart for you is because it identifies with the beat of your heart.

Here’s one last thing from John O’Donahue, warning us to beware comparing and contrasting ourselves to others and their paths:

‘When you compare yourself to others, you are inviting
envy into your consciousness; it can be a dangerous
and destructive guest.’

(*I ask people to keep two lists as a first reflection tool: one begins “I loved it when …” and contains the things they’ve huge amounts of energy for; the other begins “I loathed it when …” and includes the things people feel sucks energy out of them.  You can read more in Marcus Buckingham’s Go Put You Strengths to Work; also, Austin Kleon mentions sculptor Constantin Branscusi‘s Vampire Test in his new book Show Your Work: ‘If, after hanging out with someone you feel worn out and depleted, that person is a vampire.  If, after hanging out with someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not a vampire.  Of course, the Vampire Test works on many things in our lives, not just people – you can apply it to jobs, hobbies, places, etc.)
(**I always spend a number of days reflecting on the things people say to me but I am careful in how I do this – check out Seth Godin’s connected thoughts which he offers today. )

i wasn’t myself

23 eduardo discovered he was not alone

You probably were.  You acted out of character and you wonder where it came from?

We are many selves and to look on our lives in this way can be both a helpful and healthy thing.

There are those people who appear to cope with all life throws at them, maintaining direction and purpose, but it is likely they’ve established a harmony between their different selves.

When I think about my life in this way, I realise the Me-Now hasn’t replaced any Me from other times.  They’re all still there.  I am the boy from outside the edge of town trying to find friends at school, or being picked on for I don’t know what reason, or the young man making mistakes because I thought there was one way to understand and do things.

I also know I can listen to a news story and be angry, disinterested, compassionate, concerned, almost all at once.

John O’Donahue helpfully writes:

‘The negative does not lie.  It will tell you clearly where
you court absence rather than inhabit presence.  On
entering your solitude one of the first presences to
announce itself is the negative.’

What we think of as negative my be a shallow way of describing the contradictions we find in our lives, between our different selves.  When we embrace these, rather than leaving them in their isolation (turning our internal enemies into friends), we can find the harmony we desire for our lives – a healing of our negatives.  W can then begin to reflect this out towards others.

The saddest thing is when someone is unable to do this, instead experiencing a disengaged life, or worse still, a destructive life.

Erich Fromm appears to be writing similarly  when he describes being fully awake – not simply to our basic needs, or even the things we are passionate about, but to everything and everyone:

‘One sees, not opaquely but clearly, the surface
together with its roots.’

And again, this links in with Otto Scharmer‘s thinking on being present to our world, to one another, and to our future Self (which are seeing means a harmony of all our selves).


second-hand language

22 listen to the silence within

Every Human develops their own language – the kind we speak to ourselves, to connect with the truest things about our lives.

This language emerges only in degree with our willingness to enter into solitude and silence.  Fyodor Dostoevsky referred to how people need to find themselves in themselves.

When we avoid this solitude (and the silence within it), we struggle to fully identify with and/or comprehend what our lives are saying to us.

There is the silence and then there is the language.  If there is language before the silence there is the strong possibility this is someone else’s language, second-hand, potentially burying our own.

We think of silence as being empty – and some silences are – but there is a silence which lies at the centre of our lives which is full to overflowing.

When we think of this silence as an emptiness, we are tempted to fill it with comforting, though ultimately, unsatisfying things.

When we hear and live the language emerging from this inner silence, we’re more able to join with others in the deep conversations our world hopes for – because we learn the language the silence is speaking to us.