the inquirer and the question

What is the question you want to sow in your broken-open life, to water and wait, and to see what grows?

Ursula Le Guin writes,

‘All of us have to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them.  We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how.  Without them, our lives get made up for us by other people.’*

Our story can only use our words, and the number of these words increase as we practise what we want to do n exploring the question.

In so doing, we overcome the tyranny of the others – the story others want our lives to be about.  This is like the voice in a movie, coming from off-screen, talking over the action so that the characters stop and begin looking around to see where the voice is coming from.

Seeing life as creating stories will ensure our “phrases” and “sentences” and “paragraphs” won’t become all stiff and formalised and bothered by change.  They’ll be infinitely adaptable.  Here are some more words from Ursula Le Guin about words that shape our imaginations, and then some words from James Carse about the plasticity of our imaginations, comparing the finite artist with the infinite artist

‘Words are what matter.  The sharing of words.  The activation of imagination through the reading of words.’*

”The earlier artist worked within the outlines of their imagination, the latter reworked their imagination.’**

And the question?  It’s what enables us to throwaway the script and enter into the unfolding drama.

(*From Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter.)
(**From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)


the story we tell ourselves and the fraud

‘Change is the unfamiliar.  Change creates incompetence.’*

It’s why we love the familiar.  We know what to do and we feel comfortable.  Others see us doing it.  They remark on how well we have completed the task we have completed so many times before.

Change messes all this up.  We have to learn new skill.  We are uncomfortable and look inept.  Others see us looking inept and wonder how we got the job.

Today I had my annual review.  They are difficult to get right.  Too soft and they’re superficial and no use or help to reviewer or reviewee.  (If it’s your review, you are always the reviewer.)   Too critical and they disconnect from reality, as well as any sense of wholeness and wellbeing.

The opportunity to review our lives is a precious thing, though.

Today someone who checks in on this blog began a dreamwhispering journey with me a year ago.  I’ll be sending them a note just by way of marking this and just how far they have journeyed.  Reviews question the stories we otherwise tell ourselves.

Rumble is the term Brené Brown uses for getting to grips with the bad stories we tell ourselves, though we also need to rumble with the good ones.  There are many questions we might ask in a review but I offer three.  Good questions are our friends because our lives are never quite the stories we tell ourselves.:

‘A true rumble affects the way we feel, think, and act – our whole selves.’**

Remember, the fraud is the person who doesn’t find their voice and change things.

Which is to say, the person we defraud first of all is ourselves – out of opportunities and possibilities for offering our talents and resources in our unique creativeness.

The gap we mind is the one between the story we tell ourselves and the one we can really live.

Here are three questions for starters:

How have I been more observant?  Wandering and wondering: What have I seen, smelt, touched, heard, and tasted that has been new and/or different?

How have you been more present?  What have you observed with your heart, pursued though curiosity and deep interest because it has connected with your zing – life energy?

How have you realised more?  As a result of observing and feeling more, what imaginative and innovative work have you produced with and for others?

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: In search of familiarity.)
(**From Brené Brown’s Rising Strong.)

the killing of imagination

‘[T]he wild ones amongst us
are our only hope in calling us back
to our true nature.
Wild ones
who have not been turned to stone
by the far-reaching grasp of the empire
and its programme of consumer sedation,
the killing of imagination.*

‘This is one of the many paradoxes of happiness: we seek to control our lives, but the unfamiliar and the unexpected are important sources of happiness.’**

Imagination can grow and it can wither.

We have imagination to call a day into being, to fill it with what we want it to be about.

But we have TGI Fridays rather than TGI Monday because something’s gone wrong.

Here’s my own TGI Monday because I found myself reading Billy Collins’ poem Advice to Writers.

Collin’s advice includes cleaning up the place of writing (I include it all, below):

“Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.”^

Which I took to be about being ready.  Ready to begin.  Whatever our “desk” be, let it be ready for us to come to it.  But before we try to call the day into being, we must scour the unfamiliar, the unknown, the different:

“The more you clean, the more brilliant
your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take
to the open fields to scour the undersides
of rocks or swab in the dark forest
upper branches, nests full of eggs.”^

Returning with all our thoughts and images, ideas, we will find our place of creativity waiting, ready:

“When you find your way back home
and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink,
you will behold in the light of dawn
the immaculate altar of your desk,
a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.”^

Jacques Goldstyn’s young protagonist goes to his tree-friend Bertolt:

‘I am never alone in my tree …”^^

Here there are squirrels, all kinds of birds, cicadas, and bees, and then:

‘When I climb up high, I can see for miles around.’^^

Which asks of us: Where can we see to from where we have climbed at the beginning of our day?

Is imagination growing or withering?

Ursula Le Guin pictures a school I wish I had been able to go to, then an adolescence I would love to have had, but at least my imagination is recovering now:

‘Young human beings need exercises in imagination as they need exercise in all the basic skills of life, bodily and mental: for growth, for health, for competence for joy.  This need continues as long as the mind is alive.’*^

Preparing our desks – reading, doing, practicing, going, coming, speaking with others, breathing deeply … , then exploring the unfamiliar and unknown – are vital practices.  And even if some writing isn’t what we’re going to produce, putting down some “tiny sentences like long rows of devoted ants that followed you in from the woods.” is never a waste of time and effort and wet, black ink.

We are ready to call the day into being.

Even if it keeps you up all night,
wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.

Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.

The more you clean, the more brilliant
your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take
to the open fields to scour the undersides
of rocks or swab in the dark forest
upper branches, nests full of eggs.

When you find your way back home
and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink,
you will behold in the light of dawn
the immaculate altar of your desk,
a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.

From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift
a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet,
and cover pages with tiny sentences
like long rows of devoted ants
that followed you in from the woods.”

(*Joel McKerrow, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.)
(^From Billy Collins’ Advice to Writers, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brainpickings: Billy Collins’ Advice to Writers.)
(^^From Jacques Goldstyn’s Bertolt.)
(*^From Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter.)

secret heart/slow flow

These are a some meandering thoughts through words and ideas and images I cam upon this morning: secret heart, slowness, curiosity, cynicism, silence.

The secret heart is the me others cannot see.

Whether I go to or not, it directs my life.

If I’m honest, I don’t fully understand my own secret heart but I know it’s a place I need to find and nourish.

These words from Richard Rohr provided me with a helpful starting focus:

‘[T]ry to be here.  Which as you know, is the hardest place to be. […] Can you be present to this little bit of now?  Get curious […] Don’t be afraid of the silence.’*

Joseph Jaworski writes about a “special silence.” not empty but pregnant with future possibility:

‘In that special silence, you can see, or get a strong sense of something that wants to happen the you wouldn’t be aware of otherwise.’**

John O’Donohue makes an interesting observation on cynicism, connecting it to the secret heart:

‘Cynicism is very interesting.  Behind the searing certainty of the cynic there is always hidden somewhere, disappointment of longing.  It takes a great deal of energy to be a committed cynic.’^

Nipun Mehta offers four brave moves offers hope for the person whose heart has become cynical or disconnected: from consumption to contribution, transaction to trust, isolation to community; and, scarcity to abundance.

Consuming, transactional, isolationist, scarcity, or …

contributing, trusting, commune-icating, abundant?

Hmm, which to choose?

When it turns up as a lack of curiosity, cynicism is dangerous because it reduces our openness to the future possibilities

There’s nothing new – same old, same old.

Why bother.  Nothing ever changes.

There are no surprises.  I know exactly how things are going to turn out.

I’m not going, it’s a waste of time.

More happens in life when we reduce cynicism and increase curiosity.

‘If you learn to listen to your curiosity, you will find that you become curious about those things at are different and new. […] Possibilities and the unknown, not the predictable or obvious, make you curious. […] Curiosity pursued is one of the things that allows serendipity to happen.’^^

Curiosity takes us beyond ourselves to others, to the other.

Jacques Goldstyn’s young protagonist embodies this journey to the secret heart beautifully.  Although an introvert, the unnamed child shows us the value of finding the secret place, befriending a 500 year-old oak tree named Bertolt, climbing among the branches, into their hiddenness.  The story reminds us how this secret place is not an easy one to find:

‘No one else climbs Bertolt.  Maybe they haven’t thought of it.  Or maybe they’re scared.  Anyone can climb an ordinary tree, but an old oak is something else.’*^

The secret place takes effort and practice to get to:

‘The first branch must be 15 feet from the ground.  To reach it, you have to go up the trunk, which is like a wall.  But I know all of Bertolt’s hollows and where to put my hands and feet.  It’s like climbing up a secret ladder.’*^

The “secret ladder” is our helpful reminder of how each of us will find a different way, unique to us, for accessing the secret heart.  And there’s always deeper:

‘Once I reach the first branch I continue to climb..  It’s like going up a steep, winding road, so forget it if you get dizzy.’*^

We come to that place in which our deep curiosity is nurtured:

‘When Bertolt is covered with leaves, nobody can see me, but I can see everyone else.’*

Another word from this morning, slowness, reminds us that it takes a lifetime to find this place and that this is okay.  Just because we haven’t found it yet, or maybe lost it, doesn’t mean it can’t be found again.  There’s no judgement, only invitation, I think.  And when we go to the place of our secret heart, I think we’ll find more good things already there than we had thought there would be:

‘So join me, sisters and brothers, now and for the rest of your life, in allowing this positive flow of life, asking and blessing your body consciously and slowly – with what is already happening within you.’^*

(*From Richard Rohr’s The Divine Dance.)
(**Joseph Jaworski from Peter Senge, Joseph Jaworski, Otto Scharmer, and Betty Sue Flowers’ Presence.)
(^From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)
(^From Frans Johansson’s The Click Moment.)
(*^From Jacques Goldstyn’s Bertolt.)

virtual and real

‘[I]t’s important to see the patient as the hero of a drama and not to see him as the summation of complexes.  And, actually, every human being is the hero of a drama. […] Hero is a person born with certain gifts, and usually he fails, and his life is a tremendous struggle to make something out of which he is born with, fighting against tremendous handicaps.’*

There’s always been virtual and real worlds.

Whenever we imagine something that doesn’t exist, we are virtualising.  We’ll discard some of our imaginings at this stage, but we’ll go on to bring others into being.  Steven Covey referred to these as the first and second creations.

Sherry Turkle tells the story of Joel who ‘grew up hoping to be an artist, but practical considerations led him to study computer science.’**

We lose another artist, I thought, and the world needs artists to help us see differently.  Or, as Maria Popova writes in her chapter within an anthology of Beatles’ songs in the lives of great writers, there’s always a tension to be lived in between art and certainty:

‘We yearn for art to surprise us, but we also yearn for the control, for certitude, for knowing what to expect from those we’ve come to trust.’^

I read on.  We hadn’t lost Joel.  Finding he wasn’t valued either as a programmer or as an artist he joined the virtual world of Second Life.  Whilst others joined Second Life to live some fantasy version of themselves, Joel’s alter ego is a “warts and all” programmer and artist:

‘This is a kind of crossover effect.  In the virtual, he cultivates skills he wants to use in the real.’**

I have come across the kind of frustration and disappointment felt by Joel over and over again.  In the conversations around dreams and talents I share with others, people tell of how the most de-energising experiences for them often include not being respected or taken seriously for what they can do.  What happens then is we begin to doubt and devalue ourselves.  This was my own experience when others struggled with the contribution I had to make.  I grew quieter, doubting this was really what I had to offer.

‘When we value ourselves properly, we do not devalue others.’^^

Valuing ourselves involves a proper understanding of what we love, what we can do, and what we want to change.  It also involves understanding that others have a different contribution to make.

When Richard Rohr writes, ‘We have a hard time finding grace in “just this”!’*^ it echoes what Brené Brown names “enoughness” – having the capacity to do what we need to right now.  So when someone puts themselves down we can help them see they are more than enough.  And when we witness someone else being put down, we can step in and point to their enoughness.

Joel’s story has helped me see how I begin every day in a virtual state.  That is, in my journalling I’m imagining what might be but does not yet exist.  I rehearse ideas and re-perceive challenges.  We all need to do this and it only becomes fantasy when we fail to activate, instigate, or give.

When Erwin McManus writes about ‘Wholeness is not found through receiving but through giving,’^^ he helps us to see the flow between the virtual world of our imaginations and the real world of our activations.  Something we’re all capable of but we are seldom helped to see.

Turkle’s telling of Joel’s story leads her to use the term liminal for virtual worlds (from the Latin for threshold) for where we explore new ideas and possibilities.  Writer and entrepreneur Frans Johansson identifies  “intersectional thinking” for where ideas from different fields and domains come together – which sounds a lot like liminalality and he goes on to ask:

‘Can you make your environment more collision prone?’*^

There’s research been done that there’s a relation to the size of a population and the number of patents emerging from it.

These things connect up with what James Carse was noticing when he wrote about those who play infinite and finite games:

‘Every move an infinite player makes is toward the horizon.  Every move made by an finite player is within a boundary.’^*

There are even more connections we can make here, too.  With Otto Scharmer’s Theory U as a liminal journey crossing boundaries.  With Joseph Campbell’s description of a hero’s journey – which takes us back to the beginning because Erich Fromm’s words, opening these meanderings, echo the path of Campbell’s hero, crossing thresholds in order to move forward, moving towards what they do not know and can only imagine.  Myths of virtual and real as ancient as human storytelling itself.

(*From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Listening.)
(**From Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.)

(^From Maria Popova’s BrainPickings: In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles’ Songs.)
(^^From Erwin McManus’ Uprising.)
(*^From Frans Johansson’s The Click Moment.)
(^*From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)

new containers

‘The creation of new life often requires a specialised “container” because established systems are basically hostile to the “other,” “the outsider,” “the alien.”*

‘Moral concepts do not move about within a hard world set up by science and logic.  They set up, for different purposes, a different world.’**

The most destructive forces can be those calling us back to a past idyll that never existed.

The most positive forces call us to a future we cannot see alone but only together, what can be and who we can become.

The best of our stories and myths and religions know this.

Do we make terrible mistakes?  Absolutely.  Do we stumble around lost?  More than we care to admit to our embarrassment.  There is, though, in almost everyone, this deep-down sense that there’s a better future being moved towards.

Perhaps the only helpful distinction for us to note is that there are people becoming more open to the flow of life and those becoming more closed.  With the caveat that we’re free to change direction whenever we choose.

(*From Peter Senge, Joseph Jaworski, Otto Scharmer, and Betty Sue Flowers’ Presence.)
(**From Iris Murdoch’s The Sovereignty of Good.)

the considerer


Origin: Late Middle English: from Old French considerer, from Latin considerare ‘examine’, perhaps based on sidus, sider- ‘star’.

‘You have to walk and breathe and give, and – voilà! – you’re in the flow.’*

There’s something really important about noticing what is already there.  Erich Fromm wrote about requiring that a patient ‘acquires or has some idea of what his life ought to be or could be’.**  I am a “patient” too.

To connect with the flow that life is – to one another, our world, ourselves, everything requires our deep consideration.

I found myself recently in an organisation’s conversation about its purpose.  It felt very much that people would have to figure out how to fit in if they were to become part of it.  I couldn’t help but reflect, rather than people having to do this why not help them to bring out and to bring what was already inside of them.^

I found myself continuing to consider this as I read some words from John O’Donohue, Alan Lightman, and Jacques Goldstyn’s young protagonist.  I offer them in the order I read them:

‘The soul is always wiser than the mind, even though we are dependent on the mind to read the soul for us.’^^

‘Roughly speaking, the scientist tries to name things and the artist tries to avoid naming things […] Every electron is identical, but every love is different.’*^

‘To tell the truth, I have a feeling I’m not like other people.  Not just because of the mittens.’^*

I found myself with more questions.

Is John O’Donohue’s “soul” a way of understanding how we understand ourselves and connect to the flow, for everyone, not just the religious?  Maybe it’s about our unique way of “examining the stars”?  A way of joining science and art?  Getting to live all manner of weird and wonderful things with our identical electrons?

Chris Guillebeau writes about what he’d noticed people doing when they identified their “weirdly different” (my phrase):

‘It was as if they had chosen a particular kind of life and then changed other circumstances to accommodate it.’⁺

We’re each l capable of being considerers: noticing slowly and deeply, examining, exploring, wondering, wandering.

(*From Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell’s The Divine Dance.)
(**From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Listening).
(^ I couldn’t help but see Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures which now reside in Florence – images that have become deeply influential for my work.)
(^^From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)
(*^From Alan Lightman’s A Sense of the Mysterious.)
(^*From Jacques Goldstyn’s Bertolt.)
(⁺From Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit.)

with gentleness and imagination

Here are two words that emerged for me as I began the day.

There’s something about gentleness and imagination that can make people nervous, even fearful, though.

I wonder whether there’s a kind of gentleness that allows us to deal well with ourselves, freeing our imaginations, and whether this, in turn, fires our gentleness with all kinds of possibility.


Flow is a dangerous place to be because it is open-ended, taking us from ourselves to others, to other places, to other thoughts – not in order to judge but to be a gift.

In his beautiful children’s book on identity, friendship, solitariness, and death, Jacques Goldstyn’s young protagonist reflects:

‘The only problem is that when you’re different, people can laugh at you, or even worse.  Sometimes people don’t like what’s different.’*

Earlier, I had read these words from Anne Lamott on mercy, which I think explains something of why gentleness is so powerful taking on big challenges to our lives:

‘Mercy is radical kindness.  Mercy means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits.  Mercy is not deserved.


Mercy, grace, forgiveness, and compassion are synonyms, and the approaches we might consider taking when facing a great big mess, especially the great mess of ourselves – our arrogance, greed, poverty, disease, prejudice.’**

In the disarming way Anne Lamott opens up her life to scrutiny, she continues:

‘Kindness towards others and radical kindness to ourselves buy us a shot at a warm and generous heart, which is the greatest prize of all.  Do you want this, or to be right?  Well, can I get back to you on that?’**

It’s a different way of living I don’t know enough about.

I’m learning to be more open to who others are and to what they think.  Perhaps this is beginning..  And I have an inkling that gentleness allows people not only to be who they but to be who they are even more beautifully, more creatively, and more generously.


I smile at Nassim Taleb’s aphorism concerning how we think we know more than others, including what others know about themselves:

‘The problem of knowledge is that there are many more books on birds written by ornithologists than books on birds written by birds and books on ornithologists written by birds.’^

So I wonder what imaginative gentleness might look like.  Maybe it won’t answer every question or solve every problem but I get the sense that it’s a preemptive disposition for life.

(*From Jacques Goldstyn’s Bertolt.)
(**From Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway.)
(^From Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)



i know, i know …


… you don’t have to tell me!

When information becomes knowledge, there’s always the danger of my wielding it as power: I know, you don’t know.

“Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.”*

‘Motivation is a forest full of twisting trees, unexplored rivers, threatening insects, weird plants, and colourful birds.’**

We surprise ourselves.  This isn’t where we expected to turn up, or, to turn out.

We think there must be something big wrong with us but I wonder whether it’s something really small.  I don’t know for certain but I wonder whether it’s about noticing the small things that have a “tipping point” affect upon our lives.

Karen Armstrong introduces her twelve steps to a compassionate life with a description of the invention (or discovery?) of yoga:

‘the new men of yoga were engaged in the conquest of inner space and in a raid of the unconscious drives that held human beings captive to their ‘me-first’ instincts.’^

We are divergent-emergent-convergent people.  If we only notice the big things, we are only dealing with convergence: this is it.  When we first of all are divergent – noticing the many things, then emergent – noticing the things that connect deeply with ourselves and also deeply with others, then we are capable of moving knowledge to wisdom – something to benefit all.

(*Thomas Merton, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Dan Ariely’s Payoff.)
(^From Karen Armstrongs’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.)

one, two …

First of all, there were Ones.

Some found being One a disappointing place to be, less than they hoped for, and began imagining what it would be to reinvent themselves as a Two.

Twos are better, more successful … and then some – they spread the word, if we can make it work, anyone can so gain the edge over others, keep telling yourself, work hard.

Others didn’t believe Ones like them could ever become Twos, and began sorting themselves out as One.ones or One.twos.

Only when the Ones and Twos began hearing the whispers did they understand they were really meant to be Threes all along.

In his fable of creation, Alan Lightman has his crating character of Nephew, contemplating the new life spawned by the Big Bang:

‘These mere conglomerations of atoms and molecules discovered my laws.


I realised that these brains were participating in the beauty of the cosmos, as Uncle Deva had described.


They were aware of themselves, yes.  They were thinking, yes.  But they were more than thinking.  They were feeling  They were feeling the connection of themselves to the galaxies and stars.  They were grasping the beauty and depth of their existence and then expressing that experience in musical harmonies and rhythms.  And in painting.  In metaphors, and words.  In dance.  In symbiotic transference.  They imagined the cosmos beyond their own bodies.  They imagined.  But they could not imagine where all of it started.  For all their intelligence, there were limits to their imagination.  They could not know of things that were not of their essence.  They could not know of the Void.  But the mystery of such things they did seem to feel, and it tingled in them and opened them up.’*

(*From Alan Lightman’s Mr g.)