getting closer to the WE story


‘The WE appears when, for a moment, we set aside the story of fear, competition, and struggle, and tell its story. […] What happens after that is not in your control, but springs spontaneously from the WE itself.’*

As we move deeper into the “connected” future, we’re trying to figure this story out.  For whilst we have the greatest means to connect we have ever had, yet we’re becoming more disconnected.

Kio Stark writes about the simple joy of introducing her daughter to a neighbour from where she used to live, about whom she knew quite a bit, though not his name:

‘I wrote this book, in some ways, to describe why that moment made me so soaringly happy – why I love introducing my daughter to a man whose name I could not remember and calling him my friend.’**

Stark’s remark echoes what we know at our core: that we are part of a WE story.

Peter Senge, in describing systems thinking, observes how inventions becomes innovation when many elements come together:

‘In engineering, when an idea moves from an invention to an innovation, diverse “component technologies” come together. […] Until this ensemble forms, the idea, though possible in the laboratory, does not achieve its potential in practice.’^

This suggests that many people must come together.  The WE story is about a people system which not only reaches around our planet, recognising how we live interdependently with one another – knowingly or unknowingly, but also into our past and into our future.  The ways our ancestors lived affect us today, and we are ancestors to those who will follow.

Connecting to the WE story recognises this, each able to take their place through a unique contribution.

(*From Rosalind and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)
(**From Kio Stark’s When Strangers Meet.)
(^From Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline.)

profound simplicity, profound possibility

‘It reminded me of the importance of the place of transformation in our lives – the changing room – the places and disciplines of solitude in which to access the wisdom that is within us.’*

Philip Newell describes what happens when we listen to our lives, providing the possibility of change, of becoming, of becoming more of who we are.  He names this state “profound simplicity,” where we find ourselves in oneness with everything.  I think this is what Oliver Wendell Holmes was referring to when he identified a simplicity on the far side of complexity:

*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.”

It is what Brian McLaren points to as the season of harmony, lying beyond the seasons of simplicity, complexity, and perplexity.**

This feels more like a journeying stream that we are able to slip into than it does a destination, akin to Constantine Cavafy’s poem Ithaca:

“As you set out on the way to Ithaca
hope that the road is a long one,
filled with adventures, filled with understanding.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
Poseidon in his anger: do not fear them,
you’ll never come across them on your way
as long as your mind stays aloft, and a choice
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
savage Poseidon; you’ll not encounter them
unless you carry them within your soul,
unless your soul sets them up before you.

Hope that the road is a long one.
Many may the summer mornings be
when—with what pleasure, with what joy—
you first put in to harbours new to your eyes;
may you stop at Phoenician trading posts
and there acquire fine goods:
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and heady perfumes of every kind:
as many heady perfumes as you can.
To many Egyptian cities may you go
so you may learn, and go on learning, from their sages.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind;
to reach her is your destiny.
But do not rush your journey in the least.
Better that it last for many years;
that you drop anchor at the island an old man,
rich with all you’ve gotten on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave to you the beautiful journey;
without her you’d not have set upon the road.
But she has nothing left to give you any more.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca did not deceive you.
As wise as you’ll have become, with so much experience,
you’ll have understood, by then, what these Ithacas mean. “^

“That was the best day ever,” declares Anne Lamott’s six year old grandson at the end of a day.  The next morning he begins with the words, “This could be the best day ever.”^^

In-between lies the terror of a nightmare.  Lamott comforts him in the night:

”He is like a pond, a self-contained waterbody with long brown legs, teeming with ever manner of life, rooted water plants and flowers, fish, turtles, tadpoles, ducks, but also, hidden in the silt, piranhas, stingrays, great white sharks.’^^

Such are all of us: people of simplicity, complexity, perplexity, and harmony*^

I smile.

This six year old reminds me of my thirty five year old friend Steve, who loves so much about every day, declaring so many things to be the best ever.  It strikes me that he has held on to and is developing this profound simplicity and, so, profound possibility.    I realise we’re not meant to lose the best day ever-ness of life we knew as a young child but rather to develop it into an adult version on the far-side of complexity.

The first simplicity is a doorway life invites us to walk through, an opening or re-opening of our mind, leading to the opening of our heart and then the opening of our will.

Wisdom is not a body of knowledge that we gain, some far-off Ithaca, but a journey we immerse ourselves in and grow rich through:

‘I am in charge of one dynamic: when a door is opened, I get to choose hope I will respond.’^*

‘We relax down into higher rungs of awareness, immediacy – being.  Just humanly being.’^^

(*From Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)
(**See Brian McLaren’s Naked Spirituality.)
(^Constantine cavity’s Ithaca, quoted in part in Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit.)
(^^From Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway.)
(*^These are Brian McLaren’s four seasons: beginning with the  first simplicity, then things turn out to be more complex than we thought, and then we face the horrors of perplexity – what can we do, before bringing all of these together in harmony, that is, a simplicity on the far side of complexity.)
(^*From John Ortberg’s All the Places to Go.)

hands on

‘If we allow ourselves to see, we will more readily feel, and if we open to the river of compassionate feeling, we will more likely act.  But the call to action is the sticking point.’*

‘The larger issue here is that simulation can be a poor substitute for tactile experience.’**

Richard Sennett argues that the first industrial revolution robbed us of our hands, as machines replace human skills, and the second (technological revolution) has robbed us of our brains.  We press a button in the workplace and something happens.  But beyond this, technology is also altering our relationship with those around us and with ourselves.

We have technology that make it possible to move around quickly, or not to move at all (when we shop at home), communicate immediately without seeing or hearing each other, fit more into the day (apparently), project the self we want others to see, receive selected information rather than the whole story.

I think the deeper life journey will ask us to participate in deeper tactile, organic, “analogue” dive, one stimulating our senses and connects us with the wonder we are as creatures capable of learning perpetually, in which we both explore the silence and solitude and face-to-face spaces with others, especially others who are not like us.

(*From Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)
(**From Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman.)

loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise*

I imagine Erwin McManus’ three quests** in Michelangelo’s unfinished statues: the human search for honour, nobility, and enlightenment.

Michelangelo sought to identify and release the figure within the blocks of marble he loved to work on.  He was never more free then when he was working with his beloved marble.^

This relationship between sculptor and stone also helps us to see how our release is only possible as we make ourselves available to others so that they are able to find their own honour, their own nobility, and their own enlightenment.

Derek Sivers is taking the role of sculptor when he exhorts:

“Whatever excites you, go do it.  Whatever drains you, stop doing it.”^^

(*Dawna Markova, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Erwin McManus’ Uprising.)
(^Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy is a compelling biographical novel telling the story of Michelangelo.)
(^^Derek Sivers, quoted iin Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work.)

it’s your turn

I am grateful to James Carse who provided me with the language and imagery of finite and infinite games.*

The prime game in life is the infinite one, identified by its including of as many as possible for as long as possible, and when the rules threaten either of these open goals, they’re changed.

The finite game is secondary, marked by excluding the many, being time-sensitive, and always played by the rules.

Though our lives include both kinds of game we lean more towards one than the other.

The infinite player knows it’s important to stay connected with the larger game which is about one’s sense of being, that everyone is unique and important, it’s important to imagine and dream just for the sake of it, about life becoming what we create in our narratives, and, how there are many ways to express these.

The finite player makes things happen, consolidates, stabilises, makes sure we can repeat important things tomorrow, makes sure people are fed and housed and healed.

The infinite player must know the value of the finite game – how dreams must produce action and therefore produce finite games.

The finite player must understand that there’s something more important than simply getting the job done (see Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), therefore ought to stimulate the expansion of the infinite game.

The future asks that we recognise both and do not find ourselves trapped in an extreme infinite or finite bubble.

Seth Godin offers these thoughts which help us see how to balance the infinite and finite games in this way will require courage, generosity, and wisdom:

‘[Y]ou have to create work that might not work.  That you have to lean out of the boat and invest in making something that’s remarkable.  That you have to be generous when you feel like being selfish.’**

The context for Godin’s word is encouragement not to wait to be discovered.  Hugh Macleod underlines the fact there’s never been a better time in history than now, so:

‘If you want to show up, this is the time.’^

Reading on, Philip Newell helps me to connect compassion with the games we play through the life and words of Burmese democratist Aung San Suu Kyi who describes the compassionate way as including:

“The courage to see.  The courage to feel.  And the courage to act.”^^

We know the most extreme finite games not only ignore the suffering of others but can also create it.  Here the courage of seeing opens our eyes and thinking to what’s really happening, moving us from the ego to the eco and begins with slowing down our seeing:

‘We find our true centre not within the limited confines of our own individuality, family, our nationhood but within the connections between us.’*^

This ability to play the infinite game lies within each of us.  We only need draw out our way of participating and contributing.  Here, slow seeing helps:

‘In the neglected craves and corners of your evaded solitude, you will find the treasure you have always sought elsewhere.’^*

With what you discover there, it is your turn in the infinite game.

(*See James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog On being discovered.)
(^From gaping void’s blog Opportunity cost.)
(^^Aung San Suu Kyi, quoted in Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)
(*^From Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)
(^*From John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara.)


when spaces are living questions

‘[W]hat do you want to say? Why does it need to be said?  What if you cold say it in a way that has never before been done?  How might you do that?'”

Warren Berger offers some great “start from” questions for identifying what it is we feel we must do in our lives.

People are amazing.  We are not programmed but incredibly plastic, able to interact with our environments imaginatively and in ways that become deeply satisfying to us, not only receiving but contributing too.

It all means today can be very different to yesterday.  It means the hope we once had to do something meaningful has not gone forever.

I’m not saying that yesterday found us floundering when it came to identifying our thing but today we know exactly what it is.  Bat what  if there were spaces for exploring just what we are capable of and to be helped towards living this?  Our tribe of possibility?

(*From Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.)

it’s a problem i know nothing about

“The night is large and full of wonders.”*

Richard Sennett exhorts us to go problem-finding as well problem-solving because we hone our skills through tackling different problems, not just the same ones over and again.**

This emphasis on the development of skills is a key one because, in our unpredictable world, there’ll always be new problems,

(*Lord Dunsany, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**See Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman.)

the memory of having

There’s the richness of sun and rain, of air and birds, of soil and plants that cannot be bought and possessed or owned but is always ours in memory.

There’s a kind of memory forged in being, making having available long after the moment or the event has passed.  From this last week, I have memories of a beach, a city, a wedding, sitting in a cafe, a Tattoo.  I possess none of these but I have them all.

‘Let’s keep the beauty and sorrow in front of us now, in memories, silences, poetry.’*

I write these things down.  In a year I’ll read about them once again.  In my memory I will have them again and be rich.

(*From Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway.)

deeper curiosity

Curiosity is an admittance that we don’t know things.

We don’t like admitting our ignorance but we’re good company.  Albert Einstein confessed:

“I have no special talents.  I am only passionately curious.”*

Bernadette Jiwa, who is quoting Einstein goes on to identify three kinds of curiosity: diversive, empathetic, and epistemic.**

These are deepening curiosities and all can be developed.

Be curious about more.

Be curious about how others see things.

Be curious about what that might look like if you do something with it.

(*Albert Einstein, quoted in Bernadette Jiwa’s Hunch.)
(**These captured my curiosity because of how they mirror Theory U.)

walk a mile in my shoes

Bernadette Jiwa writes about how a hunch for an entrepreneur is a combination of curiosity, empathy, and imagination.

The important thing to notice is that each of these can be grown … though never in a hurry.

“Everything around you that you call life was made up by people who were no smarter than you.”*

(*Steve Jobs, quoted in Bernadette Jiwa’s Hunch.)