21 all of his life

I know I don’t have to be.  I know I’m capable of more.

If I don’t make my journey through life well, I’ll enter the second half of life having opinions on every thing, every event, and every one, and I’ll just have to let you know – with some resentment and anger.

I can choose to live the unlived life, though:

‘Most of us have two lives.  The life we live, and the unlived life within us.  Between the two stands Resistance.’*

The resistance comes from both within and without, but I can choose to be thrilled, intrigued, saddened, delighted, guided and mentored by the world full of people and  things.  And I’ve noticed how many of those who teach and mentor me are half my age.

We get another chance.  A chance to be who we are at our very best.  Many don’t think it’s possible, sadly – often because they’ve given in to the resistance.**  As for us, it no longer matters what others think or say.  The only thing now is to dance in the second simplicity, living as our lives ask us to, generating life and art from who we are and what we have for the benefit of others – which somehow takes away regrets and puts a smile in our heart.

Francis of Assisi said it well:

“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”^

We are falling into better, the very good, the true, and the beautiful life.

(*From Steve Pressfield’s The War of Art.)
(**This resistance takes the form of judgement, cynicism, and fear.)
(^Quoted in Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward.)




a second simplicity

20 complexity

Not a return to the once simple and uncomplicated life.

This second simplicity lies on the other side of complexity and perplexity, embracing all we’ve discovered and not been able to discover: ‘Wisdom happily lives with mystery, doubt, and “unknowing,” and in such living, ironically resolves that very mystery to some degree.’*

Oliver Wendell Holmes declared, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.  A mind stretched by a new idea can never go back to its original dimensions.”

Alfred North Whitehead concurred, speaking about “the only simplicity to be trusted is the simplicity to be found on the far side of complexity.”

This is more than wrestling with all the information and knowledge we have.  Erwin McManus proffers how an open life is ‘less about gathering information than it is about expanding imagination.’**

This kind of second simplicity is not guaranteed automatically or by some happy accident.  It can be entered, though, through the disciplines of humility, gratitude, and faithfulness, else we think we have “made it” when we haven’t even begun.  Then, what we have become, we pass on to others – imaginatively, as Erwin McManus reminds us.

What this makes possible is incredible presence, unlike anything we’ve known before: being able to be present to what is – both known and unknown.  We find we’re able to take being present to new levels.  We become producers of presence, making the invisible visible.

One example of simplicity on the far side of complexity would be the transformation of the group or team which otherwise wastes large amounts of time plodding through its meetings because the issue, data, and relationships in the room are not charged with imagination unleashed through presence, or, to avoid this, run to simple answers too quickly.

(*From Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward.)
(**From Erwin McManus’s The Artisan Soul.)

the maps and myths we use

19 acme inc

The British tell their history differently to the countries they’ve encountered and engaged in their stories.  Jonathan Gottschall calls these our national myths which ‘tell us that not only are we the good guys, but we are the smartest, boldest, best guys that ever were.*  Nations do this to nurture national identity, but it involves a lot of forgetting.  Our memories are selective.

This is also true on a personal level: ‘Your remembered self is your translation of life.’**

Like maps, these myths select, identify, and remember only the things useful for our particular purpose, repressing or ignoring all the other information – which can lead to damaging and even destructive consequences:

“By accepting such premises it becomes easier to see how appropriate they are to manipulation by the powerful in society.”^

It’s a form of selective amnesia.  Whilst we may try to forget bad things about ourselves, we can also forget really good things.  And our maps may help us to get from A to B faster but they don’t help me to focus on the “me” travelling.

‘Life is a matter of becoming fully and consciously who we already are, but it is a self that we largely do not know.  It is as though we are all suffering from a giant case of amnesia.’^^

Like stories, if we only include the positive bits, it’s a poorer story; we need characters to adapt and change, and for this we need the bad bits to be included too.

Dan Ariely points out three “quirks” of ownership: we fall in love with what we own, we focus on what will be lost rather than what will be gained, and, we think others will value what we have as much as we do.*^  Which sounds a lot like the national myths we began with.

To be attentive to what we’re missing will require we find times times when we can stop doing and to stop knowing the things we own in order to see the more.

‘Remember, the artisan soul finds truth in essence, not in information.  It is who we are that is the material for our greatest work of art. From that essence we begin to discover our own voice, and that inner voice is the declaration of our authentic story.’**

(*From Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal.)
(**From Erwin McManus’s The Artisan Soul.)
(^J.B. Harley, quoted in Denis Wood’s The Power of Maps.)
(^^From Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward.)
(*^From Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.)

the magnificently wonderful emporium of travel

18 the sweet spot

What if you had the opportunity to embark on an adventure of a lifetime – one suited to what you really would enjoy and most benefit from?  A trip to some paradise island, or a safari, or high-seas cruise, or extreme sport extravaganza?

You’d be really disappointed you’d missed out on this offer because you didn’t pick up the call from the unfamiliar number or trashed the email or failed to open the envelope.

But this is exactly the opportunity we’re given in this one life:

“Life is a luminous pause between two great mysteries which themselves are one.”*

We need magnificently wonderful emporiums of travel in which people can identify their adventure, pick up their itinerary and travel tickets and go: where to?, who will we meet?, what will we see?, what will we do?, how will our lives be changed and change others?

Yesterday, I told part of the story of Edwin Land, who created the polaroid camera following a question his three-year old daughter Jennifer asked him.  It resulted in Land ‘distancing himself from his own assumptions and expertise.  For a moment he stopped knowing and began to wonder.’**  Land opened his mind, which led to opening his heart, which led to a thirty year journey of creation.  The Magnificently Wonderful Emporium of Travel is a place for stepping back from what is known in order to wonder and then to take the first step.

‘A significant part of artistic challenge is to go beyond interpreting human experience to be an interpreter of human possibility.’^

The journey from potential to potency requires clarity of purpose and self-mastery towards the future.  Here we find faith helping us.  Faith is not a belief we have or are a part of, but something which changes us towards action which changes the future.

Potential is something we all have, it comes with the possibility of thriving.  To live this potential requires skill times effort.  Skill is made up of talents, effort is produced by character: ‘the role of character and where character enters the equation is as “effort.”  Effort is the amount of time spent on the task.’^^

The emporium’s doors are open to all:*^

“Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For another union, a deeper communion’^*

(*Carl Jung, quoted in Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward.)
(**From Warren Berger’s More Beautiful Question.)
(^From Erwin McManus’s The Artisan Soul.)
(^^From Martin Seligman’s Flourish.)
(*^This idea of a travel emporium is an actual concept I’m working on with others, which I hope to see expressed in some way in 2015.)
(^*T. S. Eliot, quoted in Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward.)

fastness and slowness

17 why do we

Both have a right moment and a wrong moment.

Once an idea leaves your imagination, it will change. But, ‘With anticipation, we can endure.’*

The person who’s unprepared for this will be knocked sideways when things don’t happen the way they imagine.  But the person who anticipates, who puts in the slow work first and then later, more slow work:

‘We’re like runners who train on hills or at altitude so they can beat the runners who expected the course to be flat.’*

The slow work of deep practice – ways of behaving, relating, or thinking – creates speed.  Deep practice pushes and stretches more and further.  Both skills and character are developed in this way.  Neither are developed quickly, though it appears they are because they’re developed in hiddenness to the eyes of the many.  But their development allow us to begin and move fast, and to learn and develop more on the way.

Edwin Land, taking pictures on holiday, was asked by his three year old daughter why they couldn’t see their pictures straight away.  The question struck Land with the force of “Why not?”  He’d already done the slow work of building a business on light polarisation.  He had enough to begin figuring out how to make a camera with a dark room built in.  It would take another thirty years to develop the colour version of a Polaroid camera but he was prepared for this.  Land later reflects:

“If you dream of something worth doing and then simply go to work on it … if you think of it, detail by detail, what you have to do next, it is a wonderful dream even if the end is a long way off, for there are about five thousand steps to be taken before we realise it; and start making the first ten, and stay making twenty after, it is amazing how quickly you get through those five thousand steps.”**

‘Going slow allows executive function to take over.  Executive function consists of focusing and ignoring distractions, remembering and using new information, planning and revising the plan, and inhibiting fast, impulsive thoughts and actions.’^

(*From Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way.)
(**Quoted in Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.)
(^From Martin Seligman’s Flourish.)

did you ask any good questions today?

16 when we develop 2

When it comes to the turning point in how we explain human behaviour – i.e., environment instead of character – Martin Seligman identifies the following marks: people no longer are responsible for their actions; situations must be isolated and corrected (money being the primary intervention); the focus of inquiry is on bad events, not good ones; and, ‘we are driven by the past rather than drawn by the future.’*

There’s no denying environments are important, but when people no longer have to take responsibility for their actions they are robbed of choice and growth and creativity which emerge from growing their character and their Strengths.

The best intentioned environments can be disabling, rather than re-enabling and awakening people’s dreams – essential if people art to identify and delight in that thing they alone can do, which they can push further and further through deep practice.

‘When you practice deliberately, you intensify the tasks or knowledge that are just outside your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly.’**

When we learn something by doing we’re increasing personal choice.  When we learn skills – whether relational, actioning, or cognitive – we are developing speed.

And when we develop speed, we create time.

We make more time to develop the special skills and focus which bring something very unique into the world.  More of the right kind of environments are springing up: ‘makeshift classrooms, often held in “maker” or “hacker” spaces where people come together to build and create.’^  You become ‘The only person on earth who could do what you just did.’^^

When the Nobel laureate Isidor Isaac Rabi came home from school, his mother did not ask “What have your learned today?”  She asked, “Izzy, did you ask a good question today?”^

A question emerges from choice.  Learning, though an environment of improvement, may not be about choice.

(*From Martin Seligman’s Flourish.) 
(**From Susan Cain’s Quiet.)
(^From Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.)
(^^From Seth Godin’s Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?)

confabulations and greater stories

15 love offers

fabricate imaginary experiences as compensation for loss of memory.
“she has lapses in attention and concentration—she may be confabulating a little”
Humans live through stories to move through life.
Whilst there’s always the danger of confabulating stories and living a fantasy, there’s a danger we miss the very real and greater story we have not yet imagined.
Some of the most dangerous things we can make up include:  I’m not good enough, skilful enough, rich enough, old enough, young enough, connected enough, imaginative enough, smart enough, experienced enough, ready enough, courageous enough.
This story becomes the order we need to journey through the disorder of life, and is transformative, making the difference we want to see in the world.
This story may be lying deep within us but the right questions enable we can drill down deep:

What’s your dream or idea of skill or itch or call?  
Ask as many questions of this as possible (think twenty for starters, rather than three of five.
Improve these questions, then identify which are the most important to you.
Imagine how you could act on these.
Then identify the questions which emerge through this action.

‘The path of least resistance is a terrible teacher.’*

(*From Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way.)

exception and disorder

14 be the

Some things happen which have more up than down; other things have more down than up.  Rarely are things all up or all down.  The same goes for people.

We no longer live in a Newtonian world of constant rules.  Our universe is more about chaos and disorder which uncannily has a way of producing beautiful things, including life.  The shifting of tectonic plates causes earthquakes and tsunamis, and at the same time are important to the production of our atmosphere.

Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno conceived the idea of order being the exception to disorder.  This is not a popular idea to those who like the illusion of an orderly world.  A quick look around Western society and you’d think we’ve just about got everything under control; it’s a shock to come across things or people not fitting in.  We live in our orderly bubbles whilst people like Nassim Taleb tell us we’re living in Mediocristan (somewhat chaotic) and Extremistan (full-on chaotic).

‘The universe story and the human story are a play of forces rational and nonrational, conscious and unconscious,of fate and fortune, nature and nurture.’*

We prefer our data and statistics over the anecdotal, yet the exceptions help us to see a greater or deeper reality to respond to: ‘This is the great turnaround!  It all depends on whether we are willing to see down as up’.*

The story of “all is well and under control” leads to a hopeless place.  The story which somehow holds together the good, the bad, and the ugly not only allows for chaos and pain, but significant joy and hope.  Life in all its fullness seems to invite us in when we give all.

‘The journey will demand much of you.  In fact it will demand all of you.  All your passion.  All your courage.  All your talent. All your discipline.  All your life.’**

This journey does not begin with rose-tinted hope, but when face what really is and we live forward between our pride and courage, our greed and generosity, our foolishness and wisdom.

(*From Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward.)
(**FromErwin McManus’s The Artisan Soul.)

any questions?

the future 300

You’re at the end of the interview, briefing, seminar, and you’re offered the opportunity to ask your questions.

Do you?  Maybe one or two basic questions?  Someone else throws in their usual explosive-missile question.

Perhaps you don’t ask questions because you know the person, the context, the time, or the culture, and you know, there are only a limited kind of question you can ask.  And people who ask lots of questions are (not divergent questioners but) troublemakers, right?

I’m the worst of offenders – both ways: not leaving enough time for questions and not asking any when offered the opportunity.  So, now I’m on a quest: to create environments where we can learn to ask more questions together.

We unlearnt how to ask questions at an early age and we can learn the art of questioning again.

Questions allow people to cross thresholds.  When we do this, we become guides to others – dreamwhisperers, whose art is to ask questions and listen and ask more questions.  We each form these questions deep within us, where dreams and passions and needs and desires and gladness and imagination converge.  Each, then, brings a different kind of question, because they come from a unique place.  Our questions can make it possible to move towards the future through anticipating, reflecting, imagining, synchronising, designing, and creating.*

We’ve arrived in a time when questioning is being democratised.  It’s no longer the province of the rich or powerful or privileged or educated or cool or celebrity.  We don’t have to know the answer to ask a question, opening up questioning to everyone: how brilliant is that?

The paradoxical thing about asking lots of questions towards better questions is we get smarter together, rather than airing our ignorance – which is our fear.

What do you think?

How about saying that again as a question?

(*These are six reasons for thinking about the future.)



12 we need

I’ve been asked to share my story at an event later.

As I’ve prepared, one of the things I’ve realised is how my life is marked by leaving.  There are the forced leavings when I’ve been made to move on, but the most notable leavings are when I have left what I know for what I don’t know.

I have tried to leave into the more.

In a complex age, we’re tempted to run back to old certainties – whether political, religious, employment, nationalism, or something else.  Our generation, though, has probably the best opportunity ever to move into an expansive life and we’re struggling to keep up.

‘This [modern life] is changing everything and evolving consciousness at a rather quick rate.’*

We’re being invited to move into a deeper way of being Human.  We need rites of passage for this, but we’ve none because we don’t recognise what we’re on the cusp of, what is possible.  The will offers us a way.

‘Will is the discipline of the heart and soul.  The will is the one things  we  control completely, always.’**

We may be thwarted in our next actions and our actions after these, but if our will is intact and growing, we have the power to try another day.  We talk of people who’ve lost the will, lost the ability to try again on another day.  What’s important, then, is to understand the will, to develop the will.

Teacher Deborah Meier identified five “habits of mind” she employed in 1970’s Harlem, teaching her students to think about information through connective inquiry, rather than feeding them information:

What is the Evidence for this?
What if you saw this from another’s Viewpoint?
Is it Connected; how is it connected?
Use Conjecture: what if?
How is this Relevant?^

When we inquire, we move from what we’ve previously understood at face value.  We become creative with what we discover because we see more of the components within the systems and how they work together, and we can introduce new things or reconfigure components in multiple ways.

We’re moving towards more life.  And we can begin where we are, and leave.

(*From Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward.)
(**From Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way.)
(^From Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.)