when life isn’t useful

“Listen to your life.
See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.
In the boredom and pain of it
no less than in the excitement and gladness:
touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it
because in the last analysis all moments are key moments,
and life itself is grace.”*

In his essay Time for the Stars, Alan Lightman expresses a concern that applied science is given precedence over pure science.  He’s already warned in the essay Nothing but the Truth:

‘In science, as in other activities there is a tendency to find what you’re looking for.’**

Life is full of what we have no idea exists.  This is true for inner science as well as outer science.  Our opening words from Frederick Buechner are feeling their way towards this science of our lives.  We often come upon these things by accident, simply by happenstance, especially when we’re “out there” searching, exploring for “we don’t know what.”

Seth Godin notices a dangerous direction in businesses and technology – I think it spoils over into our personal lives, especially social media:

‘Dumber is an intentional act, a selfish trade for mass.  It requires us to hold something back, to avoid creating any discomfort, to fail to teach.  Dumber always works in the short run, but not in the long run.’^

When we’re inquiring into our lives, searching and wondering what’s in here, we find a different direction to dumber, here identified by Erwin McManus:

‘This path is not only a promise of adventure, it is the promise of wholeness. […] It is here where the synergistic interplay of courage, wisdom and generosity make us most creative.’^^

It was a happenstance conversation with Erwin, whilst on a trip to the United States that was full of inquiry, that a whole new way of seeing myself and others opened up.

Yesterday, I closed with these important words from Anne Lamott about what maps can make happen for us:

‘Maps can change a life, a person, returning us to dreams, to our childhood, to the poetic, to what is real.  They can move us forward to what we didn’t even know were looking for.  A map can change a god-awful day or month,  ruin a rut, give us directions home and to everywhere else, near and far, to the golden past and today, to the centre and back to the periphery, to our true selves, our lost selves, the traveller, the mystic, the child, the artist.’*^

What Erwin McManus is pointing us to, though, goes beyond maps, to setting out into the unknown with a compass to be creators of maps.

Maps feel more applied, compasses feel purer.

“Things change when you grab whatever you love and give it everything.”^*

(*Frederick Buechner, quoted in the Northumbria Community’s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Alan Lightman’s Dance for Two.)
(^From Seth Godin’s blog: Toward dumber.)
(^^From Erwin McManus’ Uprising.)
(*^From Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway.)
(^*Student Amanda Burr, quoted in Rosalind and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)

life at 3mph

The Proclaimers proclaimed:

“But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door.”

I’d imagine, after a thousand miles, most of us would want to fall down.

Ten thousand steps is the more popular song to sing today – I was gifted a fitbit so try to walk my ten thousand each day.  Though, by the end of a recent graduation ceremony, which turned into an hour of clapping, I completed most of my steps without taking any!

Rebecca Solnit reflects on what walking makes possible:

‘Walking shares with making and working that crucial element of engagement of the body and the mind with the world, of knowing the world through the body and the body through the world.’*

Reflecting the thinking of phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, Solnit writes:

‘The body […] is our experience of what is always here, and the body in motion experiences the unity of all its parts as the continuous “here” that moves toward and through the various “theres.”‘*

We are more than a continuity of self, though, we are also a changing self – metaphored in the ship of Theseus.

This possibility of being changed as we walk appears to be under threat.  We can move faster in various boxes, separated from the “various theres” through which we move.  We often work in spaces that confine us, swapping sensory enrichment with sensory deprivation:

“If the body is a metaphor for our locatedness in space and times and this for the finitude of human perception and knowledge, then the postmodern body is no body at all.”**

Even if we get the feeling that we want to change we often struggle to know how … and for why.  Yet, as Ed Catmull reminds us, not being able to change our minds can be downright dangerous – especially to ourselves:

‘I think the person who can’t change his or her mind is dangerous.’^

To walk is to provide ourselves with the opportunity of seeing more, feeling more, towards doing more.  When we’re speeding through life it’s hard to change direction, or even to see the possibilities of change.

At three miles an hour we can spot the new directions.

We walk to explore:

‘Maps can change a life, a person, returning us to dreams, to our childhood, to the poetic, to what is real.  They can move us forward to what we didn’t even know were looking for.  A map can change a god-awful day or month,  ruin a rut, give us directions home and to everywhere else, near and far, to the golden past and today, to the centre and back to the periphery, to our true selves, our lost selves, the traveller, the mystic, the child, the artist.’^^

(*From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(**Susan Burdo, quoted in Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(^From Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc..)
(^^From Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway.)

i haven’t got time for this

I suspect there are things that will open to gentleness and peacefulness that will not open to power, that will respond to a humble question rather than an I-need-to-prove-I’m-right answer.

These are qualities that I long to express.

Richard Rohr holds out:

‘Love is not something you do; love is someone you are.’*

Anne Lamott says something similar about mercy:

‘Mercy means compassion, empathy, a heart for someone’s troubles.  It’s not something you do – it is something in you, accessed, revealed, or cultivated through use, like a muscle.’**

I think that peacefulness and gentleness must grow around love and mercy, these desires that aim for relationship and communion with others.   So, I suspect, they too are what I am, not what I do.  What I desire doesn’t come easy.

They are cultivated through use and openness, which most likely means in difficult moments when things are harsh or conflicting – interrupting things, distracting things, when we feel we have least time.  I’ve got things to do, you know. So I avoid, make my excuses.  Move on.  Or …

… pursue the future I hope for.

We become what we give our time to, I guess.

(*From Richard Rohr’s The Divine Dance.)
(**From Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway.)

the culture of possibility

“I will not live an unlived life. […] I choose to inhabit my days”.*

‘Innovation is culture, not technology.’**

Culture is what happens between people.

When each of us inhabits our days – which I read as turning up with our talents, passions, and experiences, when we bring our best selves together and learn to play the “yes and” game, creativity emerges, possibilities open, and we get ‘to imagine what the truth may be.’^

(*Dawna Markova, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From gapingvoid’s The Origin of Species/Innovation.)
(^From Benjamin and Rosalind Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)

what next (again)?

What next?

It’s a question that lies at the heart of the human story.

George MacDonald saw the importance of being prepared for comes next because there’s always next:

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

As I read this morning, I followed with these words from Nassim Taleb about human hubris in a random world, when we make things fit our ways of seeing things:

‘[W]hen the map does not correspond to the territory, there is a certain category of fool – the overeducated, the academic, the journalist, the newspaper reader, the mechanistic “scientist,” the pseudo-empiricist, those endowed with what I call “epistemic arrogance,” this wonderful ability to discount what they did not see, the unobserved – who enter a state of denial, imagining a territory as fitting his map.’**

Taleb probably caught most of us in this aphorism delivered with his typical frankness, but there’s something within this which I find more hopeful than Sherry Turkle’s research into confessional websites, where she comes upon twenty two year old Nancy who confesses:

“I don’t have enough discipline to keep a diary.  I don’t think I’m important enough to do that.”^

Apart from this being a comment from someone who is being disabled by technology, the apparent lack of hubris seems to be a better place to be than Taleb’s hubris-people, believing so much, as they do, in their way of seeing things that they make everything comply  to it – after Procrustes, the character who slept guests in his iron bed by cutting body parts off tall people and stretching short people to fit.

However, I found myself thinking about the different tribes identified by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright who identify different tribes in the workplace.  Nancy would be in the second of these tribes, with the mantra My life sucks, although yours doesn’t.  Taleb’s characters, though, are likely in the third tribe – We’re great, but you’re not. Both are trying to domesticate life but life cannot be domesticated.^^

Logan, King, and Fischer-Wright, who point to five tribes all together, follow these two with two more, claiming that each must be worked through in turn – we cannot leap one or two.  The forth tribe claims,  We’re great, but they aren’t, but the fifth tribe expresses, Life is great, and we can fix the world together.   Unhappiness and discontent are the realities we bring our imagination to bear on:

‘Unhappiness can lead to new beginnings. […] Discontent can be a source of growth and inspiration.’*^

What next? never comes pain-free.  We’re growing, stretching, changing and being changed.  As we press on towards the heart of life, there’s love to find and make and share: love for others, love for our planet, and love for ourselves.  I leave the final words for Nassim Taleb:

‘Love without sacrifice is theft.’**

(*George MacDonald, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)
(^Nancy, quoted in Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.)
(^^See Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer Wright’s Tribal Leadership.)
(*^From Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit.)

the reclaiming of your days

‘Peace has a dividend.  Economic peace, political peace, interpersonal peace.  It gives us room to dream, to get restless and to make things even better.’*

Add intra-personal peace to this: how we greet and welcome the stranger in us.

Seth Godin’s words about peace catch my attention because my name, Geoffrey, means “Peace of God” and I’ve long felt that I ought to provide others with some kind of peace.

Our desire to dream and make a better contribution doesn’t have to be tied up to our name, but there is a mission life provides each of us with.  You could say, it comes with the territory of being human – “Your mission, should you choose to accept it is …” – that sort of thing:

‘[S]hould mission statements be mission questions?’**

Conflict and interruption may be helpful for us to get our imagination moving, we have to come to a place of peace with the challenge, with those we find ourselves teamed with in the conflict, and, with who we are and who we are becoming.  We’re then able to move from reacting to responding to taking the initiative.

Kio Stark describes her great fascination as she begins her book When Strangers Meet:

‘Talking to people I’ve never met before is my adventure.  It’s my joy, my rebellion, my liberation.  It’s how I live.  Here’s why.  When you talk with strangers, you make beautiful and surprising interruptions in the expected narrative of your daily life.  You shift perspective.  You form momentary, meaningful connections.  You find questions whose answers you thought you knew.  You reject the ideas that make us so suspicious of each other.’^

You may be thinking, This is the kind of passion that I wouldn’t even have to change job to do.  That’s the thing, our passions are closer and accessible and executable than we think when they are wrapped around a question.^^  Wrapped around a question rather than an answer, things begin to happen.

Each of us has only the the one life to do this in.  We must count our days wisely as we wrap them around our deepest passions.

(*From Seth Godin’s Strength through peace.)
(**From Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.)
(^From Kio Stark’s When Strangers Meet.)
(^^My question, which I wrote down when thinking about this, is: 
How can this person find their story?)

the stranger

“Be open to the night…

Pray with open hand, not with clenched fist…

Shapes loom out of the darkness, uncertain and unclear: but the hooded stranger on horseback emerging from the mist need not be assumed to be the bearer of ill…

The night is large and full of wonders…”*

What if the stranger you see coming out of the darkness of the light is you?  The “you” with hopes and dreams and aspirations overpowered and driven away by practicality.

Now, your dreaming and hoping you is returning.

It will take some time to know this person and to trust them.  Neither do we cease to be the person peering into the darkness from the past, but this you from the past seeks to find synchronicity to the you from the future.  Perhaps this is why the one emerging from the darkness scares or terrifies us.  They do not come with force but with possibility.

(*Lord Dunsany, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)

common grace

“I want to unfold.  I don’t want to stay folded anymore because where I am folded, there I am a lie.”*

“It is an unprecedented change in the human condition.  For the first time – literally – substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices.  For the first time, they have to manage themselves.  And society is totally unprepared for it.”**

We are the Noticers of the universe.

We notice all there is.  And there are so many things to notice that no individual or group can claim to have noticed all that is important.  Together, then, we notice in diversity and then we connect diversity.  Noticing is our way of ‘revealing the inherent goodness, truth, and beauty in everything’.^

One of the greatest noticers I’ve come across is Annie Dillard – her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a wonderful observation of all the life in a small space she visited over a year or so:

“Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. … Otherwise creation would be playing to an empty house.”^^

Noticing in the way I’ve been outlining has about it a wisdom that lies beyond simply being data or information or knowledge.  There’s a wise life on the far side of noticing, it is a simplicity and coherence on the far side of complexity.  Erwin McManus suggests as much when he notices how:

‘There is an elegance and beauty to wisdom.  She brings simplicity out of complexity.’*^

When we begin noticing, the reality is we don’t know the answer when we start out.  In the second of my opening quotes, Peter Drucker envisages societies with increasing choice.  In recent times there’s been much research into happiness and wellbeing, into talent and imagination, into innovation and artisanship.  I see these things as the expressions of growing choices in society, which will lead to more.  Not all will know just what to do with this, as Drucker posits, but we have this incredible opportunity to live in unprecedented ways of human fulfilment.

It’s probably more of a hope than a belief, but I personally trust the many to do more with what they have than the few have done with so much in the past.

We are, as our opening quote from Rainer Maria Rilke protests, unfolding.  Religion, politics, despots, cultures, industry, and education have folded us up.  Anne Lamott has to admit, ‘folded feels like home, small, familiar, hugged.’^*  It’s why we’ll struggle to explore our unfoldedness, but then we remember, foldedness is what we moan and groan and seek to sabotage in conscious and unconscious ways, and we turn to our stories.  Our stories are were we encourage and evaluate our unfolding.  We do not know the end at the beginning, but, then, neither is someone else writing our stories for us.

Today’s doodle reminds us that what we have the opportunity to do is to curate our lives, to curate more together – curation as another way of thinking about story.  Curation does not include everything but selects, arranges, refines, reduces, displays, simplifies, presents, and explains.

Weniger aber besser = Less, but better.

(*Rainer Maria Rilke, quoted in Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway.)
(**Peter Drucker, quoted in Michael Bhaskar’s Curation.)
(^From Richard Rohr’s The Divine Dance.)
(^^Annie Dillard, quoted in Richard Rohr’s The Divine Dance.)
(*^From Erwin McManus’ Uprising.)
(^*From Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway.)

the storm and the silence

What are the storm and the silence saying to each other?

Giving and receiving?

Finding mutuality?

I came across some intriguing thoughts from Ursula Le Guin at the beginning of today.  She writes:

“Any two things that oscillate at about the same interval, if they’re physically near each other, will gradually tend to lock in and pulse at exactly the same interval.  Things are lazy.  It takes less energy to pulse cooperatively than to pulse in opposition.  Physicists call this beautiful, economical laziness mutual phase locking or entrainment.”*

Picking up on the energy that is the universe – of which we are expressions, Le Guin continues:

“All living things are oscillators.  We vibrate. […] That constant, delicate, complex throbbing is the process of life itself made visible.”*

I see this entrainment, or synching, both happening within me – I seek to bring together my dreams, talents, and experiences, my emotional, spiritual, physical, and spiritual so they might pulse harmoniously – and between me and what is not me – my dreams with the dreams of others, and so on.

It seems we’re made for this: we live in tightly compacted in towns and cities, we create complicated means of government and business and care; we also mirror one another in our meetings – one person leans on their chin, the other does the same.  Perhaps debate is foreplay before the possibility of synchronising thoughts and conversations?  Maybe its our consciousness that pulls us away from what we really hope for, the joining in a greater conversation.

On this thought, Alan Lightman tells of when he opened a scientific journal to discover that scientists in Japan were tackling the same problem he was.  Reflecting on this, Lightman shares:

‘one has the overwhelming feeling that there exists some objective reality outside ourselves, that various discoveries are waiting fully formed, like plums to be picked’.**

This feels like synching, connecting with what is around us, being surprised, even shocked, to discover this “desire” to “connect” is out there as well as in here – some kind of deep calling to deep – entrainment is a deeper conversation, as Le Guin claims, telling is listening.

I close with some words from Stephen Pyne about the relationship we have with fire, how in this relationship is about learning to be human:

‘The sense of Burning Man as a symbol has substance.  Embedded in the ritual is the realisation that humanity’s identity is bound to that fire.  Each depends on the other.  Before people could control fire, they had to control themselves.’^

(*Ursula Le Guin, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Telling is Listening.)
(**From Alan Lightman’s Dance for Two.)
(^From Stephen Pyne’s Fire.)



The magnificent are everywhere, especially among the unrecognised, undervalued, unregarded and discarded.

In his book of aphorisms, Nassim Taleb introduces the the idea of The Magnificent, from Aristotle’s megalopsychos, or “great-souled.”

What if magnificence is something lived from the inside out, without need of title, role, position, or possession?  Christian theologians wrote and spoke about imago Dei, the image of god found in every person, but went on to add qualifications and conditions which looked very ugly in real life.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi reflects this inside-outness when he writes:

‘Whether we are happy depends on inner harmony, not on the controls we are able to exert over the great forces of the universe.’**

This has to do with how we see people, and if we see people wrongly or badly, as Seth Godin points out, we can change our way of seeing for a better one:

‘If the way you see the world isn’t helping you make the changes you seek to make, consider seeing the world differently.’^

Richard Rohr’s “great being” sounds magnificent or the great-souled.  Whilst coming from a developing Christian tradition, Rohr’s understanding of the person with great being emerged from learning from an Indian holy man:

‘A great being stays with what she loves; she’s patient, she forgives and she allows what she loves to develop, to grow.  She overlooks its mistakes, and in this sense she suffers for and with reality.  This is the deepest meaning of passion: patior is the Latin verb meaning to suffer or to undergo reality (as opposed to controlling it).^^

It’s the final phrase about undergoing reality that captures my attention here.  Magnificent ones are not marked by their role, position, title, or possessions – though they may have some or all of these things, they are first of all people who understand they must form a relationship with the universe because they cannot control it.

Csikszentmihalyi writes about our world and universe in terms of perspectives:

‘The earth may be our home, but it is a one full of booby traps.  It is not that the universe is random in an abstract mathematical sense.  The motion of the stars, the transformations of energy that occur in it might be predicted and explained well enough.  But natural processes do not take human desires into account.  They are deaf and blind to our needs, and this they are random contrast with the order we attempt to establish through our goals.’**

He’s saying what we see and what the universe “sees” are two different things.

What we think of as our life appears somewhere between these two seeings.

This relationship exists between the two powers of reality (the universe) and imagination (the human perspective), described by Wallace Stevens as the pressure of reality and the power of imagination.  They cannot overpower each other but what forms between is a very interesting life.

Both are the universe.  We are the product of the universe, formed of what the rest of the universe is made of.

In his fable of creation, Alan Lightman writes about how human existence transitions from impermanence to permanence, by which he means our atoms formed into our lives for seventy or eighty years are the impermanent, their permanent state being a cycling and recycling through the world.

We are the world, the world is us.  As Martin Buber expressed it, we are moving from “I-it” to “I-Thou” understanding, which brings us back to seeing.

Imagine meeting another human being, both of you for this moment being stripped of title, position, role, possessions.  Who do you meet?

Rohr suggests we are meeting an “anointed one,” which from his tradition is saying “a christ.”  We are meeting magnificence.

(*From Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)
(**From Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi’s Flow.)
(^From Seth Godin’s blog: A shared and useful illusion.)
(^^From Richard Rohr’s The Divine Dance.)