are you certain?

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Certainty can be a dangerous thing.

The mystery of the universe continues to unfold before our eyes; even our understanding of the things we thought we knew with certainty continue to unfold and expand.

We cannot say dogmatically about many of the important things which touch and affect our lives,  “This is it.” Is there more beyond the Higg’s Boson?, or, Do I know everything about you?*

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Companies, governments, religions, individuals all come unstuck when they believe their certainty is the one which really matters.  There is hope, though: it’s you.

You are an enigma.  You live on this material planet, the product of a material universe, yet you ask questions about the mystery of life and being – spiritual stuff.

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Poets and philosophers and prophets lead us into the uncertainty of the unfolding mystery of the material and the spiritual alongside the scientists who’ve had to carry the exploration into the unknown on their own for too long.  Knowing doubt, questions, and ambiguity** are important dimensions of knowing and living life, they keep us moving forward.  Humans are the only explorers of the universe, as far as we know.

Like never before, we’re understanding our place in and relationship with the Earth and the universe.  Only yesterday, I heard an interview with casino-heir and conservationist Damien Aspinall speaking about his dedication to preserve endangered species as a member of the human species with no greater right than any other to dwell on Earth.

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Postmodernism has helped us to break away from certainty and now we’re asking towards what?  Dogma wants to take us back to something.  But the past has brought us to this point: so now what?

The people who will best lead us into the “Now what?” have honed doubt, questions, and ambiguity in the wild places of following hunches, thoughts and ideas, and taking risks in the uncertainties of life.

Every Human is capable of being this but not all answer the call and turn up.

(*Here’s a great podcast from the BBC’s Radio 5 Live interview with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.)
(**Diana Butler Bass names these three dimensions are the legitimate elements of spirituality, in The Practicing Congregation.)
(Today’s cartoon will slowly develop.)

you’re not good enough

10 what we believe


Who said so?

I wonder how many people go through life believing this?

It’s often hidden, mind.  What brings it to the surface is change: new possibilities, new places, new people.

I can’t do this.
I could never go there.
I wouldn’t be able to meet them.

We have to beware handing over our sense of worth to others and their systems, making them sole judges of our performance.

One of the joys of my work is to uncover with the people I work with how they are better than they allow themselves to believe: they are more than capable of not only welcoming but also being creative with the kind of change life is full of.

I sometimes describe this as future-mentoring, which sounds like an oxymoron as the future hasn’t happened.  How can mentoring from the future happen?

In the words of a student to missionary Vincent Donovan, “do not try to bring them to where you are … as beautiful as that place might be to you.  Rather invite them to go to a place neither you nor they have ever been before.”*

I often travel to places with others I’ve never been to before.  Along the way, we discover we can do this.  We change.  We become antifragilistas**

Fragile people are more reactive, feeding their self-preservation; robust people are more responsive, maintaining their sense of self-worth under stress – even seen as the unflappable ones; whilst antifragilistas are more likely to seize possibilities and begin new things, go to new places, seek out new people.^

I’ve used the word believe a couple of times because it can be the problem.  What you believe and how you think can get in the way of what you are really capable of.  The world will be changed by people who are prepared to believe something different about themselves and about others, in order to make the journeys which see the transformation their lives are capable of.

You are good enough; just give me an hour and a coffee, and you’ll soon have me convinced you are.

(*Quoted by Brian McLaren in Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road?)
(**Using Nassim Taleb‘s idea, we can become people who grow in response to stress, up to a point.)
(^Pride, greed, and foolishness are reactive traits; humility, gratitude, and faithfulness are more responsive; and, when they lead to integrity, wholeness and perseverance, allow for the antifragile traits of courage, generosity, and wisdom to be expressed.)


9 every advance

Human future will become more and more connected.

What we make of these connections is up to us: we are only beginning to glimpse the beginnings of the new Human.*

What about this statement by Richard Rohr?

‘Life is never about being correct, but only and always about being connected.  Just stay connected.’**

Have you ever been right but spoilt a relationship?

If you had the chance to do this differently, would you?  (I’m fascinated by grace:  opportunities to begin over again.)  I’ve certainly made many mistakes when it’s come to wanting to be correct and had to learn ways of coming back from the shame I’d felt.

Brené Brown suggests we can try and deal with shame^ by distancing ourselves from the other person(s), trying to appease them, or, trying to take control – all of these being connection-killers.  Brown has been there many times, and, knowing what she must do, reaches out to someone with empathy, speaks to herself as she would to someone in her position, and, as this is her story, choosing her own ending.  This caused me to reflect on the things I do.

Each day I write.  I’ve been doing this for more than sixteen years, and although I began writing for another reason, it gives me an opportunity to come face to face with what I or another has said or done: how do I react and, then, how I choose to deal with it, surrounded by the thoughts of others I happen to be reading.^^

“Emotional writing can also affect people’s sleep habits, work efficiency, and how they connect with others.”*^

I find myself wondering whether future Humans will pursue ways of connecting and building on divergent ideas, rather than one idea being right and another being wrong.

In the meantime, I’ll keep on writing.

(*And the reaction to this in violent fragmentation.)
(**Richard Rohr in Eager to Love.)
(^Brown tells of one time when she received an unpleasant email and wrote a bad-mouthed comment to forward to someone else, but hit the reply button instead!  The dangers of a more connected world.)
(^^Sometimes, I don’t even have to worry about the thing I’ve done immediately because I know I’ll have the opportunity to reflect upon it the next morning – though, it doesn’t always work like this.)
(*^James Pennebaker, author of Writing to Heal, quoted in Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly.  Another book for my wishlist, I think)
(Exercise: Try writing out your own thoughts about what has just happened and how you feel about the future – perhaps write to your future self or muse or God.  Where and when you write are almost as important as what you write as they’ll allow you to create a habit of writing.  Begin with five minutes – expand if necessary.)

an extraordinary life

8 who wants to be

People who live stand-out lives can be vilified or deified.

Vilified because their example makes us feel uncomfortable – “putting us to shame.”

Deified because they have to be amazing people to do what they’ve done – and we couldn’t possibly do the same.

Both attitudes make the same error: neither observe the details.  So neither can be impacted in the greatest way by the lives of others who are going farther with their lives.

There’s a third kind of response: we can be inspired and encouraged by what others have done – especially by observing more closely how they do they come to do the things they do.

Oh, I also need to say: be prepared to get up out of the “chair” your sitting in.  We will do new things because we are prepared to move from where we are.

‘Many people who stand out as being extraordinary do so because of choices they have made to stand radically apart from cultural norms; they may allocate time and resources in a very different way from their friends and neighbours.’*

We vilify such people because they make us feel bad; we feel shame and become defensive.  Brené Brown offers some helpful insight into the language we use: shame is not the same as guilt or humiliation or embarrassment, though we can mix all these up.

What we want to tackle is shame, because we’re not bad people.

We may make bad choices and are feeling guilty, but this is hopeful – towards making good choices.

We may feel humiliated, because we know who we are and this is not as bad as someone has made us out to be – so we’re beginning to separate ourselves from the accusation.

We feel embarrassed – the mildest feeling to recover from.

We deify people who do amazing things and we don’t know how.  Once we begin to observe them, we’ll see how they get things wrong, fail, struggle, sweat, advance accidentally, and more: the stuff their superpowers come from.

We have to see how they do what they do; we can only move and develop when we can empathise deeply with those who inspire and wow us.

By the way, the extraordinary life of the title – this is yours.

It’s all in your responses and choices.

(*David Shenk in The Genius in All of Us.)
(Observation Exercise: I’ve just tried this one out from Twyla Tharp – go to a public place where you can observe people interacting.  Pick, perhaps a couple, and list twenty things they do: gestures, speaking, looking away (this will accrue quickly); then select another interaction, but this time only list the things you like or which resonate with you: a smile, how they focus, leaning in (this one will take longer because you’re filtering lots of things out).  Tharp says you’re not observing the world; you’re observing 
you, the things which matter to you.  Why do these things matter to you?  The second couple I was watching – two men in suits – moved off before I could get to four things, but one thing I noticed is they never smiled, not once!)


thin silences

7 thin silences

We want fire: setting our dry world ablaze.

We want earthquakes: dramatically shaking things up.

We want wind: blowing through the staleness of how things are.

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We can often miss gentle whisper, the thin silence, through which comes the question, “What must you do?”

Emerging futures appears in the thin silences between ideas and people and spaces.

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It requires we enter silent, empty places, and we fear these more than the wind, earthquake, and fire.

I’ve come to enjoy the silences most of all, though.  Each day I have to find time to listen deeply, and then bring into my day what I hear.  Wherever I am able I seek to bring silence to others, out of which some new activity emerges.

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Instead of looking for the next fire, earthquake, or wind, from someone or somewhere else, why not go to the thin silences?

Instead of waiting for fire, why not make some?  Instead of waiting for the earth to move, why not be the one who causes it to shift?

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In the thin silences, we find we’re more than capable.

Just a thought.

(Cartoon: The will develop in a number of images and be included in this blog.)


beyond shame

6 ain't no stopping

An unexplored country.

We grow when we move beyond our comfort zones: ‘our ability to grow is directly proportional to an ability to entertain the uncomfortable,’ writes Twyla Tharp.

Vulnerability is an expression of courage.

Shame holds us back.

‘If we want to be fully engaged, to be connected, we have to be vulnerable.  In order to be vulnerable, we need to develop resilience to shame.’*

The voices of shame speak loudly inside us as we seek to cross new borders and boundaries; there will be times when we have to open ourselves to new understanding, to realign our lives to the new and emerging, and to let go of things which are now redundant.  I guess we’ve all heard variations of these voices:

Who are you to think you could do this?
Why bother anyway; nothing changes.
Think about what you could lose if you do this?**

Self-worth is not to be found in our successes or failures: it’s dangerous to attach it to either.  The practices of humility, gratitude, and faithfulness lead to true self-worth, making it possible for changes to happen in us at a genetic level,^ producing an anti fragile, generative core comprised of integrity (different to perfection), wholeness different to completeness), and perseverance (different to certainty).^^

We keep going come success or failure:

‘A sense of worthiness inspires us to be vulnerable, share openly, and persevere.’*

(*From Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly.)
(**Brené Brown’s thinking links with Otto Scharmer’s voices of judgement, cynicism, and fear, we must overcome to make progress: see Theory U.)
(Check out David Shenk’s The Genius in All of Us, in which he describes our genes being like the slides and knobs of a mixer desk: ‘Rather than finished blueprints, genes – all twenty-two thousand of them – are more like volume knobs and switches.  Think of a giant control board in every cell of your body.’  These can be slightly changed by environmental input.)
(^^I’m throwing everything in here, including Nassim Taleb‘s antifragilista.)


5 we are defined

My term for imagining what Humans might become.

Maybe it is the journey we find ourselves on: Human Becomings.

So different are we to our ancestors we appear not to be human anymore.

From being reactive creatures, we have developed abilities to respond.  We overcome and keep going – migrating over the earth, adapting to all climates and conditions, and now on the brink of populating the galaxy.

5 we are defined 2 1

More than responding, we are seeing how it is possible for every Human to initiate: to creatively act upon what we understand to be a universe of abundance.

The invitation and challenge of being part of this great Human adventure and story came to me again this morning.

I found myself pondering whether vulnerability is one of the greatest means by which we involve ourselves in becoming [morethan]human, enabling being open to and needing others.

The future Human is a more connected human.

Brené Brown admits ‘it never dawned on me that adults could love each other like that, that I could be loved for my vulnerabilities, not despite them.’*

I wonder where my default setting of “needing to do this on my own” comes from.  Why can’t the default setting be, “we do this together”?

Perhaps, as we’ve developed, we’ve only layered pride and shame over our basic survival instincts – feeling ourselves to be less than functioning as a woman or man ought.

5 we are defined 3

Perhaps we are leaving our more primitive instincts behind, our awareness and consciousness continuing to develop.  The tools we make are increasingly for  connecting.  Slowly we’re becoming a more connected species, even while there are always some who disconnect and seek to control others – a mutant form of connection?

This [morethan]human, connected future will increasingly be benevolent, forgiving, justice-seeking, boundary-crossing towards desiring every life to flourish

(*From Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly.)
(Cartoon: this will be shown in different forms as it develops.)



4 if you see

Haecceity (/hɛkˈsiːɪti, hiːk-/; from the Latin haecceitas, which translates as “thisness”) is a term from medieval scholastic philosophy, first coined by Duns Scotus, which denotes the discrete qualities, properties or characteristics of a thing which make it a particular thing.

You are you very specifically, not generally – this is your youness or thisness.

Haecceity counteracts the ideologies which purport to have something better in mind for a society, culture, or nation.  A top-down “ology” struggles to recognise or arrive at the specific, the individual.  Whilst not without its issues, to see the one, allows us to see the many: we are holons and all are valued.

We’re always trying to make sense of the individual and the society because we are, at the same time, both.  There would be no society without individuals and there would be no individuals without a society in which to be nurtured.

Denis Wood differentiates between mapping and mapmaking as, the former is the passing on of information from person to person within a society, and the latter, the exploration of blank spaces with the goal of accruing and recording knowledge to be accessed by those who wish to use it.

Perhaps the first could be described as insiderism – passed on to a certain few, whilst the second has been described as colonialism – the making of maps in the image of the exploring society without reference to the mapping of those already within the area.

The first is passed on through experience, the second can be accessed, through limited cost and effort, via a book, a website, or a real map.

Perhaps there are problems and dangers to both.  The experiential method of mapping is time-consuming – sometimes taking a lifetime, whilst the industrialised mapmaking can use and abuse information without engagement with what is being represented:

‘It is this subsumed and amassed cultural capital that mapmaking societies bring to the task of making maps, not he patiently acquired mastery of this or that individual more or less carefully passed on – often in secret – through speech or gesture or inculcated habit.’*

Whilst it is possible access the information of a map and never visit the represented area, this is not the case when it comes to mapping.  You have to be there, you have to see the people and trees and rivers – to be aware of the thinness, and to appreciate how, ‘The principle here is to “go deep in any one place and you will meet all places.”‘**

So far, we’ve related mapmaking and mapping to societies, cultures, and nations, but we could be talking about our schools and universities, councils, religious organisations, councils, businesses, and families.

It isn’t a case of having to go either/or, but I think I prefer starting with thisness.

(*From Denis Wood’s The Power of Maps.)
(**From Richard Rohr’s Eager to Love.)




3 we go to

The places between people and peoples: difficult and fascinating places.

They’re places of tension and complex culture, equally promising the worst and the best of what it is to be Human.

Here we find hope in vulnerability: a dance played out between people and peoples who inhabit a diversity of borderlands.

It is a dance because vulnerability requires mutuality if it is to be a positive experience.

It’s not me telling you everything about me and you not telling me anything about you.

When vulnerability is the dance of two people or peoples, mutually responding and initiating – depending on where the dance is going – the prize is worth it:

‘The result of this mutually respectful vulnerability is increased connection, trust, and engagement.’*

We might even go further than suggesting we dance with one another, to a perichoretic** exploration of dancing in one another: we enter into the stories and lives of others, allowing for something greater to emerge.

Here’s an interesting question from my friend Alex McManus: we know stories elicit cortisol and oxytocin – enabling us to feel empathy and focus – so, what if we could take these chemicals, knowing we’d become more connected and empathic as people – would we?

Of course, if stories produce these drugs, then, when we come together, our endeavours would be helped by creating a story together, one we believe in, and engage and commit to.

When vulnerability is expressed in the borderlands between people and peoples, we learn to move forward as a Human species, it is how we negotiate the chaos and randomness we find in the spaces in-between spaces.

And vulnerability, because it has to be mutual, brings grace with it.  Grace offered to one another so we can become all we each can become: holons and fractals.

(*From Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly.)
(**Meaning an intersection or interpenetration of lives: oneness.  Christians used this to explore how God might be three and one.)


2 show me - colour

Someone who doesn’t get in the way of their message or their product, but expresses it in their living and breathing.

I want to see what you’re telling me not only revealed in your words, but your passion and your risking.

2 show me

I want to see how you believe in this mission which is bigger than you.  I want to see this because the truth is I want to be involved in something which matters too.

To reveal – the revelation thing – might sound powerful: some beneficent offering of a favour from a mighty to a lesser being, but really it means one vulnerable Human turning up to another.

2 show me 2

Vulnerability, again.

I know this isn’t easy for you, but it’s more real for me now than it would have been without vulnerability.  I get how, in not hiding but being an example to me, your are putting yourself in a place of possible hurt, because this thing you do, really matters to you.

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‘To live is to be vulnerable.”*

(*Madeleine L’Engle, quoted in Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly.)