And what can we be?

James Carse writes about how infinite players don’t play within boundaries but with boundaries.  Their game is about including as many people for as long as possible and, when the rules get in the way, they change the rules.*

Kio Stark introduces us to the social convention called “civil inattention,” meaning when we approach someone, we notice them and then avert our attention, indicating we’re not going to interrupt their progress – sometimes it can be accompanied by a brief “hello of some sort .”**

These are more finite game rules, playing out to different strengths in different cultures, but needing to be moved beyond if we’re to explore what it is to be human.

Theory U encourages us to push the boundaries social norms, moving us towards one another and towards presence, rather than away from one another and absence.^

It simply asks that we invent ways of opening our minds to there being more, before we open our hearts, and before we move to working together.

It’s a good start.

(*See James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(**See Kio Stark’s When Strangers Meet.)
(^See Otto Scharmer’s Theory U.)

To see the wildness in one another

“Where, my friends, have the wild ones gone?”*

Wisdom sometimes looks contrarian, like wildness.

One of K.M. Weiland’s six lifestyle changes to protect creativity is to notice the seasons.  This makes good sense.  We think nature is wild yet we are made of nature.  There are many things with which we immunise ourselves from this, at the same time losing sight of the sheer exoticness and vibrancy of life:

‘But the overwhelming problem that confronts most of us in the world most of the time is that we are not falling in love with the heart of another another and the heart of other nations and species. […] Yet within us is everything.’**

This journey is from ego to eco: this wildness allows us to be our true self, not more and not less.  It is where we are able to see the wildness in one another.

(*Joel McKerrow, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)

Original fruit

‘[Ikigai] is about discovering, defining and appreciating those of life’s pleasures that have meaning for you.  It is OK if no one else sees that particular value, although […] pursuing one’s private joys in life often leads to social reqwards.  You can find and cultivate your own ikigai, grow it secretly and slowly, until one day it bears a quite original fruit.’*

‘You can only have what you have by releasing it to others.’**

Ikigai feels like our personal holy ground.  The thing that makes everything special and significant will also benefits others.  I’ve been trying to work on a colouring book with a difference so Bernadette Jiwa’s closing words in Hunch caught my eye:

‘It’s possible to change tiny corners of [the world] with simple, thoughtful ideas.  By designing a beautiful colouring book that allows people to pause and create.’^

At least that’s the hope.

This “holy ground” is what we each need to find and not to lose.  It can be closer than we know, the urging from our lives to try this idea out and see what happens.  It’s in the smallness.  Bigness can get in the way, as Anne Lamott confesses from her experience as a writer:

“I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that is it cracked up to be.  But writing is.”^^

And as Patagonia‘s Yvon Chouinard points out:

“How you climb the mountain is more important that reaching the top.”*^

This even sounds like what Jesus once pointed out one time, about what does it gain someone if they obtain the whole world but lose their soul.  Or to put it another way, as my friend Alex McManus has written about being Makers of Fire, what good is it to have all the fuel and oxygen in the world but to have no spark with which to light it.

Brené Brown identifies loss, longing, and feeling lost as the three most fundamental elements of grief that her research has shown up.⁺  I wonder whether these are also signs for us for we have lost our holy ground.  We feel loss, that something is missing though we may not be able to name it.  There’s a longing for something more, even when our homes and diaries suggest there’s nothing missing.  And when we find the odd moment of stillness or reflection – perhaps watching a movie or reading a book – we feel disorientated, our life is not where we should be.

It is when we need to look more closely, to notice the small things, to notice – like Lamott’s writing and Chouinard’s climbing – what matters most to us.  Nassim Taleb writes about a number of practices that offer us some helpful means:

‘My idea of the modern stoic sage is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, desire into understanding.‘⁺⁺

What we may find is that our holy ground is not so far away., that, like James T. Kirk, we can leave the Nexus and find the fear of failure that tells us we are engaged in something that matters to us and to others, something that makes a difference.

(*From Ken Mogi’s The Little Book of Ikigai.)
(**From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(^From Bernadette Jiwa’s Hunch.)
(^Anne Lamott, quoted in K.M. Weiland’s 6 Lifestyle Changed You Can Make to Protect Creativity.)
(*^Yvon Chouinard, quoted in Bernadette Jiwa’s Hunch.)
(⁺See Brené Brown’s Rising Strong.)
(⁺⁺From Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile.)


That thing you do, it’s powerful.  Or at least it used to be.  What’s happened?

‘I have always had cause to accept the idea that “the thing we love most is what kills us.” However, I’ve always skated rather tenderly around the adjoining idea that “we all kill the thing we love.”’*

In his book on randomness and serendipity, Frans Johansson writes:

‘Actively rejecting the predictable insight leaves you nowhere else to go except making unpredictable, random connections.’**

Predictability can rob us of new insights or ways of doing what we do.  Once we were described as a breath of fresh air but now the air has grown stale.  Walter Brueggemann writes of how the powerful thing we bring needs to be moved  into the realm of poetry rather than ideology, a portal to new insights rather than This is the only way we can do this:

‘Prophecy cannot be separated very long from doxology, or it will either wither, or become ideology.’^

It is the infinite game that keeps alive our love, that continues us doing the powerful thing we do.  It must not become a finite game in which we slip into a fixed rather than a growth mindset:

‘There is a concept in psychology called risk homeostasis.  It refers to the idea that humans have a degree of risk they find acceptable and strive to live their lives at that level.’**

That powerful thing you do.  It came about because you were prepared to go wehere no one else would go, whether it was to speak in a bright way at your checkout to every customer, come up with oblique ideas that made you look silly at first, honouring the person you are a carer for with a deep dignity, seeing the way something didn’t work and offering to sort it out.  In thousands of different ways powerfulness breaks, only to lose its way in the  predictable, reaching a height that turned out to be a plateau.

Your love has waned but not gone.

Time to get wandering again, to leave the well travelled path, to notice what others do not, allow yourself to feel what others do not, and then to make something happen that is quite simply … powerful.

(From K.M. Weiland’s blog: 6 Lifestyle Changes We Can Make to Protect Creativity.)
(**From Frans Johansson’s The Click Moment.)
(^From Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination.)

Forever young

‘Though outwardly we are getting older with all the signs of ageing, inwardly, every day sees us becoming younger and younger.’*

‘The deepest irony about the young being cynical is that they are the ones that need to move, and dance, and trust the most. They need to cartwheel through a freshly burst galaxy of still-forming but glowing ideas, never scared to say “Yes! Why not!” — or their generation’s culture will be nothing but the blandest, and most aggressive, or most defended of old tropes.’**

The good is, we don’t have to get old on the inside, our hearts don’t have to become wrinkly, our brains don’t have to put on weight, we don’t have to become curmudgeonly.  To be open with a yes is our biggest discipline:

‘To speak or act, or think originally is to erase the boundary of the Self.  It is to leave behind the territorial personality.  A genius does not have a mind full of thoughts but is a thinker of thoughts and is the centre of a field of vision.


The earlier artists worked within the outlines of their imaginations: the latter reworked their imaginations.’^

Its seems it’s our choice.

(*2 Corinthians 4:16; my translation.)
(**Caitliin Moran in Maria Popova’s Caitlin Moran on Fighting the Cowardice of Cynicism.)
(^From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)

Generous otherness

Asking a generous question will elicit a generous answer.’*

I marvel at how everything is made of the same stuff as the planets and stars … and yet everything is different.

We live in this wonder of sameness and difference.

This kind of difference is not the same as surface-difference – lamented here by Erich Fromm:

‘If I perceive in another person mainly the surface, I perceive mainly the differences.  If I penetrate to the core, I perceive our identity, the fact of our brotherhood.’**

Deep openness to one another is a compassionate act.  The opposite action of closedness is cynical:

“When cynicism becomes the default language, playfulness and invention become impossible. Cynicism scours through a culture like bleach, wiping out millions of small, seedling ideas. Cynicism means your automatic answer becomes “No.” Cynicism means you presume everything will end in disappointment.”^

We can only discover our sameness and difference with the help of others in a generous otherness.

(*Krista Tippett in the online course The Art of Conversation.)
(*From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)
(**Caitlin Moran, quoted in Maria Popova’s BrainPickings: Caitlin Moran on Fighting the Cowardice of Cynicism.)

Beyond function …

‘There are three centres of what might be called mythological and folkloristic creativity in the Middle Ages. […] The cathedral, the castle, and the cottage – you go to any of the areas of high civilisation, and you will see the same – the temple, the palace, and the town.  They are different generating centres, but in so far as this is once civilisation, they are all operating in the same symbolic field.’*

A metaphor suggests there is more to see than simply what lies on the surface, beyond the function there is the experience.  Between the spirituality, the governance, and the day-to-day life of the people, there exists the possibility of creating expansive metaphors that move life beyond the functional:

‘Myths are so intimately bound to the culture, time, and place that unless the symbols are kept alive by constant recreation through the arts, the life just slips away from them.’*

Why the arts?

The arts are trying to say, this painting, this poem, this sculpture isn’t it; there’s something more beyond:

‘Our thinking is largely discursive, verbal, linear. There is more reality in an image than in a word.’*

Answers are more functional: Here’s something that should work.  A question opens an adventure:

“What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.”**

In This is a Poem that Heals Fish, Arthur’s mother tells him how to heal his bored fish Leon:

”Hurry, give him a poem!’^

This turns out not to be an answer or solution, but the beginning of a quest for Arthur:

‘A poem!?  But what is a poem?’^

Arthur looks in cupboards.

And underneath beds but he cannot find a poem.

He realises his quest will take him further, to the people he knows, asking them what a poem is:

‘Determined, Arthur continues his search.
He runs to Lolo’s bicycle shop.
Lolo knows everything, laughs all the time,
and is always in love.’^

A year ago, I found myself in Washington D.C., walking the city as a way of reimagining my work having stepped out of a role that I’d fulfilled for more than thirty five years.  We’re rediscovering how walking is more than functional, how it leads us to experiences beyond what we see on the surface.  Walking itself is a metaphor:

‘The flaneuse is someone who gets to know the city by wandering its streets, investigating its dark corners, peering behind its facades, penetrating its secret courtyards.’^^

Solvitur ambulando.

(*Joseph Campbell in Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(**Medical researcher and virologist Jonas Salk, quoted in Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit.)
(^From Jean-Pierre Siméon and Olivier Tallec’s This is a Poem that Heals Fish.)
(^^From The Paris Review’s Radical Flaneuserie.)

It ain’t heaven

“My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.”*

We do not need certainty for the journey.

Hugh Macleod reminds me that we have more than enough for the journey if we notice it:

‘Abundance begins with gratitude.’**

Gratitude is seeing with an open mind.  It is a way of opening up life:

‘Gratitude isn’t about getting you into heaven after your dead.  Gratitude is a mindset about how to actually live.’**

I picked up a copy of Ken Mogi’s The Little Book of Ikigai a week or so ago:

Ikigai is a Japanese word for describing the pleasures and meanings of life.  The word literally consists of ‘iki‘ (to live) and ‘gai’ (reason)’^

He tells of how ikigai works out in the life of chef Jiro Ono:

‘Ono might even find ikigai in the cup of coffee he sips before starting each day.  Or in a ray of sunshine coming through the leaves of a tree as he walks to his restaurant in central Tokyo.


Ikigai resides in the realm of small things.’^

This being present to what is all around us and with in us provides us with what we need for our journey, including our values, talents, dreams, experiences, and friends and strangers who also live in this way.

Mogi continues by offering testimony of ikigai from a number of Okinawa residents who are more than 100 years old:

‘a 102-year-old Karate master told him that his ikigai was caring for his martial arts; a hundred-year-old fisherman said his could be found by continuing to catch fish for his family three times a week; a 102-year-woman said hers was in holding her tiny great-great-great-grand-daughter – she said it was like leaping into heaven’.^

These stories reminded me of the early Jesuit’s^^ who would begin their novitiate period with thirty days of solitude in order to identify what they must do they would go on to each say their endeavour was the most important thing in all the world.  It’s when we think there’s nothing more important to do than what we have identified our puropose, our ikigai.  When we see all there is to see, like a sunrise that seemed to take for ever to arrive:

Now the clouds are brighter than ever, on fire with pinklight, and still the sun is almost here.
It’s as if the promise of the day is the most beautiful – we come alive to the possibility of the day.

(*Thomas Merton, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From gapingvoid’s blog Let’s begin with “thank you”.)
(^From Ken Mogi’s The Little Book of Ikigai.)
(^^See Chris Lowney’s Heroic Leadership.)


Not laughter ha-ha but surprise ha-ha.

“Ha-ha” was the name given to the eighteenth century ditch which replaced the wall around aristocratic homes in Britain.  It was what people were heard to say when they came upon this intentional cut in the land that made it possible for long views to be enjoyed across the countryside.  The ditch was an important development towards the countryside being seen as a place to walk for pleasure rather than necessity.

Rebecca Solnit identifies a number of the transitions necessary for the Wordsworth siblings to take their enjoyable walks.  From the internal long gallery of the great houses to the outside walkways created wide enough for two people to walk abreast, and from this Medieval garden to the Renaissance to the Baroque to the naturalistically landscaped with ha-ha ditches.  These were movements of human imagination and illustrate Pixar’s Ed Catmull’s remark:

‘You’ll never stumble on the unexpected if you stick only to the familiar.’*

We can all imagine more.

We can imagine even more together.

(*From Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc..)

Into the expansive

These past days and weeks have reminded all of us how dangerous this planet can be, how life is full of danger.  This is where we live, where we have to explore, to see and understand “just because” but also to try and and make life better for one another as a result.

When it comes to exploring, Seth Godin catches my attention when he suggests “living in a shepherd’s hut” in order to see whether this “piece of land” is where we want to build something more permanent:

‘Get as close as you can to the real thing, live it, taste it, and then decide how to build your career or your organization.”*

There’s a sense of adjacent possibility in this – to see whether there’s something else we may want to make into a different and permanent experience of life.  Because there’s something naturally resistant in us to trying on an idea or a space or a kind of work or some different kind of interest, the shepherd’s hut makes it possible to do something in a temporary way.

It may just make it possible for us to venture out into the expansive.

Frans Johansson points out that will be open to more “click moments” – his phrase for when our skills and the happenstance and serendipity of the universe are married together, if we “take our eyes of the ball”:

‘Conscientiousness is […] the type of behaviour that insures execution but also allows us to miss greater ideas, projects, improvements or connections that keep popping up around us.  Unfortunately, by rigidly pouring all of our effort into one approach we miss out on the unexpected paths to success.’**

I find myself thinking about adjacent lives – offering other ways for living out our talents, passions, and experiences, and which we can explore in impermanent ways.

Conscientiousness, then, is our enemy, hiding from us the expanse that is within and the expanse that is out there:

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

“When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: what would become of us, if we walked only in the garden or a mall?”^^

I found these words from Henry David Thoreau being quoted by Rebecca Solnit in her unwrapping of the beginnings of walking for pleasure.  The identification of this happens towards the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries: siblings William and Dorothy Wordsworth refer to long walks through the Lake District just for the pleasure of walking, here captured in one of William’s most famous poems:

‘I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.’*^

Walking, especially wandering or dawdling, offers itself as a perambulatory expression of the shepherd’s hut – becoming a way for us to join together the internal and external expanses.  After reading Iris Murdoch and Seth Godin describing what is an artist, I wonder whether this word is simply a way for describing those of us who are discovering some way or other to connect the inward and outward expanses:

Iris Murdoch writes of art:

‘But the greatest art is ‘impersonal’ because it shows us the world, outworld and not another one, with a clarity which startles us and delights us simply because we are not used to looking at the real world at all.’^*

The adjacent possibility is that which is right under our noses but we have no way of seeing it – back to Johansson’s remark earlier.  Seth Godin directs our attention to what artists (he is thinking of everyone being an artist) are trying to  deal with – reminding us that we live in a dangerous world and our lives are full of danger:

‘An artist is someone who brings humanity to a problem, who changes someone else for the better, who does work that can’t be written down in a manual.’⁺

The inward and the outward are entwined in an expansive way.

In their beautiful book This is a Poem that Heals Fish, Jean-Pierre Siméon and Olivier Tallec tell and illustrate the story of Arthur whose fish Leon has a problem:

‘- Mommy, my fish is going to die!
Come quickly!  Leon is going to die of boredom!

Arthur’s mommy looks at him.
She closes here eyes,
she opens her eyes …’⁺⁺

How do you heal a fish from boredom?  How do you heal anyone from boredom?  Here’s is Arthur’s mum’s way:

‘Then she smiles:
– Hurry, give him a poem!
And she leaves for her tuba lesson.”⁺⁺

But wait …

‘A poem!?  But what
is a poem?’⁺⁺

This is Arthur’s quest.

We each have a quest.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Can you live in a shepherd’s hut?)
(**From Frans Johansson’s The Click Moment.)
(Frederick Blechner, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(^^Henry David Thoreau, quoted in Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(*^From William Wordsworth’s I wandered lonely as a cloud.)
(^*From Iris Murdoch’s The Sovereignty of Good.)
(⁺From Seth Godin’s Whatcha Gonna Do With that Duck?)
(⁺⁺From Jean-Pierre Siméon and Olivier Tallec’s This is a Poem that Heals Fish.)