the limitations of truth

“Listen to your life.  See it for the fathomless mystery it is.”*

“I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.’**

I like the idea of a life being “carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”  The truth about our lives is where we find our beginning.  It’s not the final word.

Facing the good, the bad, and the ugly of my life, embracing its limitations and constraints, can be more hopeful than if I get into thinking, “I could do more if I hadn’t decided to do that back then, if I only had more time, more education, better people around, more money.

Our limitations and constraints, including the more negative, are about where we begin – if we choose.  We cannot go back but we can go forward.  And whilst it won’t be easy, it will be worth it.

‘One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation.  The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come.  At the darkest moment comes the light.’^

‘Three simple and difficult steps:
Get smarter.  Hurry.
Solve interesting problems.
Care.  More.’^^

Truth is critically important to dreaming.  It tells me when I’ve turned my dreams into daydreams to hide in.  I don’t expect to do anything spectacularly grand in life.  I do hope to turn my dreams – the things I find my life focusing on most of all – into something real.

Mitch Joel helps us to see the entrepreneurial spirit exists in everyone because, at it’s core, to be entrepreneurial is to see something that isn’t working and step up and change that:

‘A true entrepreneur is someone who uncanny desire to create the future, someone who sees the inefficiencies in the work they’re sound – day in and day out.’*^

As Walt Whitman’s poetry helps us see, when we connect with our world – the “press of my foot to the earth” – we see all manner of needs to invest our dreams in:

‘The press of my foot to the earth springs a hundred affections,
They scorn the best I can do to relate them.’^*

Whitman sets off into four pages of poetry listing his affections, and truth unfolds into possibility.

(*Frederick Blechner, quoted in the Northumbria Community’s Morning Prayer.)
(**From John O’Donohue’s Echoes of Memory.)
(^From Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(^^From Seth Godin’s blog Three Simple and Difficult Steps.)
(*^From Mitch Joel’s Ctrl Alt Delete.)
(^*From Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.)

what is my voice?

“If you must be heard, let it be like a babbling brook over the rocks.”*

Erich Fromm describes immature love as masochistic or sadistic.   The former witnesses someone becoming the instrument of someone else, whilst the latter makes the other part of him or herself.  Alternatively, ‘mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individiuality.‘**

I found myself thinking about how there may be masochistic and sadistic voices, then.  These voices being the expression of our lives.

‘The difference is only that the sadistic person commands, hurts, humiliates and that the masochistic person is commanded, exploited, hurt, humiliated.**

Some people have submissive voices.  They don’t believe they have anything worth saying, they simply get on with their lives and let others shout louder – though, they can often display a negative subversiveness, sabotaging what others have to say, what others want to do.

Others have domineering voices.  They want the controlling or final word on all things – even if they don’t say it out loud but only think it, meaning they can’t hear what others are saying.  What they pursue is more important, their agenda comes first.

Those with mature voices maintain an inner and outer integrity, believing part of what they must be doing is raising of the voices of others.  Because of this integrity, the mature voice knows that there is the possibility of more significant creativity – the sadistic and masochistic voices are more concerned respectively with telling others what they should do or seeking the advice of others.  They are more about feeding passions rather than needing to love as verb or action.

“As we are part of the land, you too are parr of the land.  This earth is precious to us.  It is also precious to you.  One thing we know, there is only on God.  No man, be he Red Man or be he White Man, can be apart.  We are brothers after all.”^

(*Kerry Hillcoat, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)
(^From Chief Seattle’s 152 letter to the United States government, quoted in Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)

a life more ordinary

Shouldn’t it be less ordinary?

I want to tell people there’s something special and unique about their lives.  Maybe this is true precisely because we’re all ordinary.  For a start, there are seven billion of us on the planet – we’re hardly special on the grounds of scarcity.

Maybe its extraordinary to live ordinarily well.

‘You have no idea what you’re doing.  If you did, you’d be an expert, not an artist.’*

D. Jean Hester sweeps the street outside an art gallery.  She calls it ‘Sweeping (Sidewalk Performances #1).  It’s part of a “walking-art” project and Hester explains it’s “an expression of pride in one’s place, as well as a gift given to others who use the area.”**  It was raining, though, and it’s difficult to sweep a lot of pavement and hold a brolly at the same time!

I likee the sentiment and I’m open to persuasion about whether it’s worthwhile turning something this ordinary into art.

If we pull back a little, what about the reality of the universe in which we find ourselves, where’s the big bang left us?  Alan Lightman points out in his novel about the creation how we can’t get further back than the big bang:

‘The origin of the first event would always remain unknowable, and the creature would be left wondering, and that wondering would leave a mystery.’^

Part of the ordinary and the everyday the universe has spewed out is this mystery.  A mystery, we might say, that is in each one of us – something we can never escape.

Maybe noticing this kind of more and positively interacting with others is literally some of the most out-of-the-ordinary stuff we can get up to.

“What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered?  The wild horses tamed?  What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted by talking.  Where will the thicket be?  Gone!  Where will the eagle be?  Gone!  And what is it to say to the swift pony and hunt?  The end of living and the beginning of survival.”^^

(*From Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception.)
(**From Geoff Nicholson’s The Lost Art of Walking.)
(^From Alan Lightman’s Mr g.)
(^^Chief Seattle, in a letter to the United States government in 1852, quoted in Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)

apprenticeship 4.0

‘”We measure everything, including ourselves, by comparisons,: and in the absence of someone with outstanding ability there is a risk that we easily come to believe we are excellent. … Mediocre people may appear big to themselves (and to others) if they are surrounded by small circumstances.  By the same taken, big people feel dwarfed in the company of giants, and this is a most useful feeling.  … I have no doubt that I owe this good fortune to the circumstance that I had an outstanding teacher at the critical stage of my scientific career.” … Of the 286 Nobel laureates named between 1901 and 1972, forty-one percent had a master or senior collaborator who was also a Nobelist.’*

‘Don’t worry, you’re not the first one to have a really creative idea that’s mostly someone else’s idea with a few tweaks.  That’s innovation.’**

All of us are able to follow giants – not to be confused with celebrities who have giant reputations.

We may work individually but we can all benefit by establishing and utilising connection with others.  These kinds of apprenticeship don’t have to be formalised: we can follow people’s work on the internet or through their writings – we may even meet up occasionally over coffee with those who can teach us.

Neither do these apprenticeships have to be within our specific domain – when we’re prepared to cross into another, some of the most interesting things begin to happen.

This leads on the recognise there are many possibilities for mutual-apprenticeships, in which everyone is learning from everyone else.

When we give ourselves to lifetime apprenticeships, we’re also giving ourselves to mastery.  When we stop knowing and begin wondering, we’re being an apprentice developing our own style, our own art.

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

(*From Alan Lightman’s Dance For Two, quoting Nobelist Hans Kreb writing in 1953 about his Nobel Prize and his teacher Nobelist Ott Warburg, a student of Nobelist Emil Fischer.)
(**From Hugh Macleod’s gapingvoid.com.  Hugh is one of my masters.  His books Ignore Everybody, Freedom is Blogging in Your Underwear, and Evil Plans, stirred a love for doodling I didn’t know was in me.)
(^T. S. Eliot, quoted in Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward.)

what on earth are you doing?

“If people would but do what they have to do, they would always find themselves ready for what came next.”*

This is an increasement.  We are capable of more than we imagine.

‘Social media ask us to represent ourselves in simplified ways.  And then, faced with an audience, we feel pressure to conform to these simplifications.**

This is a decreasement, a reduction.  We are less than we can be.

‘Technology can degrade (and endanger) every aspect of a sucker’s life while convincing him that it is becoming more efficient. … The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free. … Most modern efficiencies are deferred punishment.’^

Friedensreich Hundertwasser‘s fifth skin^^ is the global environment of ecology and humankind.  Reality is nature and it makes sense to live in harmony with our planet – What on earth do you think you’re doing?  With a consumption rate of 1.5 planets, something’s going to give.  Earth waits to see whether we’re going to run ourselves off the planet – giving it a chance to recover over several million years – or whether we’re giong to try and stick around a little longer.

“[M]ay you walk neither too slow nor too fast but always according to the laws and the requirements of the Road.”*^

‘When we embrace our responsibilities, we open up our opportunities.’^*

Hundertwasser lays out the possibility of alignment in our lives – alignment with those around us, with our planet, and with ourselves, – leading to an increasement.

This feels like what Richard Rohr calls the “sacrament of the present moment.”⁺  Every new generation has to revisit and rediscover this place of possibility.  Whilst we can learn from the struggles of those who have travelled the Road before us, the challenges are constantly changing, shifting, morphing.

Alan Lightman describes an increasement moment really well for us.  The young Lightmans’s been struggling with a research problem which just doesn’t want to open to him.  As someone who choose to explore both science and mystery, he writes:

‘I woke up about five a.m. and couldn’t sleep.  I felt terribly excited.  Something strange was happening in my mind.  I was thinking about my research problem, and I was seeing deeply into it.  I was seeing it in ways I never had before. … And I had absolutely no sense of my self.  It was an experience completely without ego, without any thought about consequences or approval or fame.’⁺⁺

We’re rediscovering how to align  to those things which make life richer, stronger.  I began the first of five blogs pondering the words of Joseph Campbell who said that mythology for our time would be difficult to find for some time – things are changing to0 fast to be mythologised.

I wrote about how Hundertwasser’s five skins have a feeling of reaching for a personal and societal mythology to live within.  Campbell pointed to myth having four functions: the mystical (we are people of wonder), cosmological (science filled with the mystical), sociological (supporting social order), and pedagogical (how to live a human lifetime).

There are other myths forming, but this is one: to align our lives to ourselves, to our outside world, to our creativity beyond straight lines, to one another, and to our planet, is more than useful for some increasement.

(*George MacDonald, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.)
(^From Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)
(^^Here are links to the other four: epidermis, clothing, home, identity and social environment.)
(*^The character Madame Lourdes’ blessing on Paulo Coelho in Coelho’s The Pilgrimage.)
(^*From Erwin McManus’ Uprising.)
(⁺See Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now.)
(⁺⁺From Alan Lightman’s A Sense of the Mysterious.)

what’s in it for me?

More than we know.

Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler highlight the benefit of incentive prizes.*  They point out that a prize raises the profile of a challenge, believing the problem to be solvable.  It also unblocks the bottlenecks caused by the usual small number of participants being increased by new people coming to play.  These people also widen the field, from beginners to experts, including people who bring their knowledge to the party from another field.  Yet another benefit is that openness to risk and failure grows so the range of approaches increases.

The question has changed, from, “What’s in it for me?” to “Do I have a contribution to bring?”  The challenge or problem is the thing that focuses human imagination, ingenuity, innovation, and creativity.

‘It is however, through difficulty and opposition that we define ourselves.  The mind needs something against which it can profile and discover itself.’**

‘The noble use all that they are and all that they have for the good of others.’^

Life grows bigger as we give ourselves to a problem beyond ourselves.

Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s fourth skin^^ is one of personal identity and our social environment – how we’re different from each other and connect with our environment without conforming to it. For Hundertwasser, there has to be freedom from the moral and ideological bondage of rational thinking if we are to be creative in our own way and change the world.  There’s also the need to connect with a company or tribe of people with whom we journey.  This not only makes it possible to bring our contribution but augments it, too.

(*See Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s Bold.)
(**From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)
(^From Erwin McManus’s Uprising.)
(^^Here are the links to the first three skins: epidermis, clothes, home.)

too tidy

Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s third skin is our home (see my last two blogs for the first two: epidermis and clothes).  Not believing in straight lines – to him they were godless and immoral – his aim was to incorporate the forms of nature in architectural design.

I take from this is to beware the straight lines some insist upon.

‘if we’re not careful, we can join a group that indulges our selfishness, one that pushes us to be callous or shortsighted.  To become part of the mob or the insolent bystanders. … once on the path, the culture is difficult to change’*

‘With homework problems, the answer was known.  If you couldn’t solve the problem yourself, you could look up the answer in the back of the bool pr ask a smarter student for help.’**

Sometimes more turns out to be less.  Then again, we wish we’d taken that opportunity that came along instead of giving into fear.  And what about when we just don’t know where to look.

But we’ve made our decisions, drawn our lines, and everything is tidy, though it could be tidier.

Individuals, as well as groups, organisations, parties, industries and businesses argue how it’s hard to survive and function without fixing a few lines in place.  They can control the lines they say but, before they know it, the lines are controlling them.   Reality is, lines beget more lines, and then it becomes harder to remain open to the possibility of there being more outside of the lines – more ways to see this and that, more people who’ve a contribution to make, more ways to work together rather than being those who know the answer and everybody else just needs to get it – to get in line.

Once static lines are drawn, it’s very hard to remain dynamic.

Life is best when we are working on problems whose answers are not known and we have to connect and work with people who are not like us (and never will be).  Few, though, find the path of many questions.

(**From Seth Godin’s blog The Best of Us (The Worst of Us).)
(^From Alan Lightman’s A Sense of the Mysterious.)

clothing the future

‘I’d want to tell her that sometimes we have to mourn the future, that many young couples have more future than present.’*

An endless, open future may not be the best thing to have.  It may lead to not getting serious about now.

As I get older my relationship with the future is changing.  There’s not nearly so much of it these days and I must use what there is carefully, not allowing my personal to be formless or fantasy, or to be shaped by others for me.

Yesterday, I began to contemplate Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s five skins.  The first is epidermis and, for me, highlighted the need to be comfortable in our own skin.  The second skin is clothing – Hundertwasser rejected the consumer society that hands people their clothing, calling on people instead to express their creativity in what they wear by their own hands.

I don’t think I’d trust the kind of clothes I might make for myself t remain stitched but there is something about integrity  here.  How who we appear on the outside, to others, in all our interactions is truly connected with who we are on the inside.

The future then looks different, neither formless or shaped by others but shaped by the learnt skills of anticipation (open to possibilities), reflection Taking time to ponder the possibilities), imagination (the first creation of what might be), synchronisation (aligning our lives to this), design (planning), and creation (living it).

(*From Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life.)

a life of no surprises

A few days ago, I was reflecting on Joseph Campbell’s remark made in the 1980’s:

‘We can’t have a mythology for a long, long time to come.  Things are changing too fast to become mythologised.’*  

He couldn’t have foreseen how change would be happening faster and faster – think of what’s happened in the world of politics, the biosphere, and technology since 1986.

My mind went to the five elemental truths Richer Rohr introduced me to some seven or so years ago – these gathered from the rites of passage of ancient societies: life is hard, you’re not as special as you think, your life is not about you, you are not in control, and, you are going to die.**  From a slower time than ours, people were exploring their inner and outer worlds through what we might call myths or grand narratives.

A life without myth and narrative is more likely to be a life without surprises – all answers and no questions.  Myths have made it possible to make great journeys, to encounter new ideas, people, and places – to see more, feel more, and do more.^  This is a journey – myths are about what happens on the way.

“Squint, squint, squint. … It’s all a question of learning to see.”^^

‘We must ask, “What happens because of what happens next?”‘*^

My friend Helen has pointed me in the direction of Friedensreich Hundertwasser‘s thinking about five skins: epidermis, clothes, house, social environment, and planetary. (I think I’ll be exploring one of these each day this week.)

This has a feeling of reaching for a personal and societal mythology to live within.  According to Campbell, myth has four functions: mystical (we are people of wonder), cosmological (science filled with the mystical), sociological (supporting social order), and pedagogical (how to live a human lifetime).

Hundertwasser’s first skin, the epidermis, is about overcoming automatism and the informal in order to see more, including our creative possibility.^*  All of which makes me think about Theory U being a journey from daily downloading of the same old same old and mindfulness‘s journey from living on autopilot.  Specifically, it’s being comfortable in and exploring our own skin –  our way of seeing the world and producing our art.

‘I love what I see.  Life excites me.’⁺

(*From Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(**From Richard Rohr’s Adam’s Return.  I see each of these truths as needing our personal completion: e.g., life is hard but when we find each other it becomes easier.)
(^As I wrote this sentence down, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel slipped into my mind as an enjoyable way to reflect on this: all the retirees coming to terms with a different place to live, except for penelope Wilton’s character Jean Ainslie who closes herself to every part of the experience.)
(^^Artist Paul Ingbretson, quoted in Alan Lightman’s Dance for Two.  Ingretson was quoting what he had learned from his teacher Ives Gammell.)
(*^From Alex McManus’s Makers of Fire.)
(^*Unfortunately, hundertwasser.com won’t allow for images or text to be used without permission – which feels shortsighted.)
(⁺From Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now.)

more than a bedtime story

‘Once you find the things that you enjoy for you, you won’t need to fill the space with words.’*

‘If we look at what we do best as well as what we want to change the most, we will often find that the two are varying degrees of the same core behaviour.’**

Every day life offers another opportunity for exploration.

If we grab enough of these, pursuing our curiosities and interests, we’ll be able to hold at bay much of the aging process which sees witnesses many growing up without inquisitiveness.  We get to live our questions and the best are “subversive, disruptive and playful.”^

This way of life has a way of bending many things so that they come together: time alters, people come together, needs make themselves known, talents get developed, journeys are made, curiosity grows, and questions lead into quests.

Some are throwing their lot in with technology for providing a richer life – made possible by the ubiquitous smartphone.

‘The twentieth century was the bankruptcy of the social utopia;the twenty-first will be that of the technological one.’^^

We will need many imaginative and innovative ways of expanding the analogue alongside the digital, such as emotional intelligence alongside digital connectivity. walking and wandering to slow things down in an ever faster world, pens and pencils and paper instead of the latest app.  And every day to remind ourselves of the story we’re forming for our lives – taking a few moments to “read” at the beginning of each day but long enough to remind us to grab the opportunity staring at us in a new day dawning.*^

(*From Hugh Macleod’s gapingvoid.)
(**From Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly.)
(^Polly LeBarre, quoted in Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.)
(^^From Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)
(*^I was thinking of the bedtime stories children have read to them before bedtime, and read again and again because they love the stories so.  Check out Quentin Blake’s Mr Magnolia as an example.  But ours will be for the morning.)