It happens on the way

‘Each of us has the capacity for love, wonder, and reverence.’*


Seth Godin writes about those who produce confusion in order to deny what our growing knowledge is showing us:

‘The data is more accurate than it’s ever been. Evolution is the best way to explain and predict the origin and change of species. Vaccines are not the cause of autism and save millions of kids’ (and parents’) lives. And the world is, in fact, getting dangerously warmer.

And yet…

Poll after poll in many parts of the world show that people are equivocating or outright denying all three. Unlike the increasingly asymptotic consistency in scientific explanations, the deniers have an endless list of reasons for their confusion, many of which contradict each other. Confusion doesn’t need to be right to be confusing.’**

We can experience this at the level of our personal stories.  Sometimes it’s because of what society or those around us tell us and sometimes it’s because of what we tell ourselves: Someone like you will never be able to pursue that, will never be able to do that pipe dream into reality.  Living our lives in an informed way, towards clarity changes things.

Confusers benefit the most when others are kept in the dark but in the end, everyone loses:

‘Ask a confusor that the next time he offers a short term smoke screen. If this is a race to be the most uninformed, and the most passive, what if we win?’**

All you have to do is set out on a journey to know more about yourself and others.  It feels confusing at first.  It’s a little like flying into clouds but keep on upwards and things become amazingly and wonderfully clear.

Donald Miller writes of those who are awakening to the truth that they have more to offer to others than they know when he writes:

‘They don’t know they can still live and love and connect.  They don’t know who they really are and what they’re capable of.’^

Things happen on the way.

(*From Joseph Jaworski’s Source.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog Selling confusion.)
(^From Donald Miller’s Scary Close.)

that’s not going to move in a hurry

I found myself looking on two words this morning: steadfast and dependent.

Steadfast means  “fast-fixed” – it’s like saying unmovable twice.  There are certain things that we want people to be steadfast in, like love and loyalty.  There are other things it’s good to have some movement in, such as ways of  thinking and beliefs and attitudes as new information becomes available.

Dependent means “hanging down from.”  In its extreme, I can’t do anything until you tell me to, or, I’ll do whatever you tell me to.

Groundbreaking astronomerMaria Mitchell considers relationships from the perspective of the planets, Maria Popova commenting:

‘Mitchell resolves to have more balanced relationships and reflects on how unwise it is to turn a single person into the centre of gravity in one’s emotional universe. Instead, one’s attachments should be distributed among many people, each fulfilling a different need — one providing intellectual stimulation, another rendering us “more elastic and buoyant, more happy and radiating more happiness, because we know him,” another inspiring in us such “warmth of affection” that “our hearts grow as if in a summer feeling.”’*

In his book Vital Friends, Tom Bath names eight different kinds of friend, a healthy group of friends comprising different kinds of friendship offered to us by a number of people and not one.  Imagine someone saying, I’m the only friend you’ll ever need.  Creepy.   Mitchell writes about a more health dependence:

“Who judges a work of art and sees only with his own eyes? Who listens to a lecture and hears only with his own ears? We turn aslant as we stand before the picture to see what good judges are looking. We open the guide book to see what we ought to admire…. Insensibly our judgment is inspired by that of those around us. It is not a weakness to be deplored. We were more than conceited did we rate ourselves so much above the rest of the world that we needed no outward aids to judgment. We were born dependent, our happiness is in the hands of others. Our character is moulded by them and receives its colouring from them as much as our feeling relates the parental impress.”*

What Mitchell is anticipating, it seems to me, is interdependence, our interrelatedness towards creating a better personal and societal future: an interdependent-dance, we might conceive: a nexus of steadfast and dependent.  When we each know ourselves and bring who we are and what we can do to others for their and our betterment, then we are introducing the greater imagination and creativeness through interrelatedness into the world.

(*From Maria Popova’s BrainPickings: Trailblazing Astronomer Maria Mitchell on How We Co-Create Each Other and Recreate Ourselves Through Friendship.)

what do we need?

‘It is apparent to infinite players that wealth is not so much possessed as performed.’*

Everybody has something to bring.  On the surface one person is trying to help another.  Beneath the surface, both have something to contribute.

‘By reinforcing the separation of people from their problems, problem solving often functions as a way of maintaining the status quo rather than enabling fundamental change […] where problems often arise from unquestioned assumptions and deeply habitual ways of acting.’**

How often will helpers sit in a room figuring out how to help those who will receive their help but who are not invited into the space?  We might argue that this is just too difficult to do, that we would never get anywhere, nothing would get done.  But perhaps we’re missing a trick.  Perhaps this is how it’s meant to be, we just try to short-circuit the human process of connecting people and problems.  Perhaps, in the long run, this way of producing solutions would take less time than the all the false starts and reruns that we often see played out.

I am reminded of the learning of Vincent Donovan, trying to work with young people.  It was one of his students who told him:

In working with young people do not try to call back to where they were and do not call them to where you are as beautiful  a place as that may seem to you. You must have the courage to go with them to a place that neither you nor they have ever been before.”

Here are some encouraging words from J.K. Rowling which help us to see how imagination gets to play within such proximity:

“Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore, the foundation of all invention and innovation.  In its arguably most transformations and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experience we have never shared.”^

(*From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(**From Peter Sense, Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers’ Presence.)
(^J.K. Rowling quoted in Bernadette Jiwa’s Hunch.)

so what comes next?

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

‘The religion gets in the way of faith.  Static gets in the way of motion.  Rules get in the way of principle.’**

What if this place you have arrived at is not the conclusion or terminus but is the beginning?

Joseph Jaworski writes about the human capacity to anticipate the “what next”:

‘Human beings are exquisitely designed to sense the future, shape it, and bring it to reality – to actualise it when necessary and meaningful, as it desires.’^

The future doesn’t exist, of course; there are many possible futures, some more possible than others.  Frans Johansson calls our anticipation of happenstance and serendipity click moments.  We cannot plan these:

‘The opposite of click moments are planned situations with expected outcomes.  On their own, these don’t generate the chaos and randomness needed to discover new, unique ideas.’^^

But we can be more ready to meet them.

The ability to play the “yes and” game that comes to us from improv theatre is one.  It’s a way of straining and striving to keep the future possibilities as open as possible.  Of course, this is a skill that requires a certain character.

One thing we can do is to develop our ability to play “yes and” allowing us to add to what others share rather than using “yes but,” “no and,” or “not put.”  To use Seth Godin’s concept of tribes, those that are an institutionalised, static, and concerned with rules cannot cope with this, but tribes that are about faith, motion and principle know this isn’t it, and every day ask, what comes next?

(*George MacDonald, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Seth Godin’s Tribes.)
(^From Joseph Jaworki’s Source.)
(^^From Frans Johansson’s The Click Moment.)


“The geographical pilgrimage is the symbolic living out of an inner journey.  The inner journey is the interpolation of the meanings and signs of the outer pilgrimage.  One can have one without the other.  It is best to have both.”*

Our purpose must find centredness in our lives and our centredness must be expressed in purpose.  We may call this a way of life.

One thing to beware of is mistaking a bad dream for a good one:

‘False dreams interfere with honest living.’**

And, of course, not to mistake a good dream for a bad one:

“It all started with a dream, but then I followed that dream: following the dream made all the difference.”^

(*Thomas Merton, quoted in Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(**From Eugene Peterson’s Run with the Horses.)
(^Stephen Kellog, quoted in Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit.)



hearts on fire – an unlikely life

‘We have to listen to ourselves first of all.’*

‘Unlikely never feels quite the same as difficult, and sometimes it appears impossible.  It’s neither.  It is something risky, and something without a map or a guarantee.  We hesitate to do it because it might not work, precisely because it’s more difficult.’**

Percussionist Evelyn Glennie lost nearly all her hearing by the age of twelve.  She’s a walking example of how we listen with more than our ears.  As Glennie listens with her whole body to her instruments and the world around her she makes the point that we need to listen to ourselves and each other if we are to move from a shallow translation of a life to a deeper interpretation – she illustrates this point by showing how there’s a difference between translating a music script and interpreting it:

‘I need time with people to interpret them not just to translate them but to interpret them.’*

Listening to ourselves, not only to our head but also our heart and gut, is critical if we are going to live more than a translation of life.  The unlikely will never be pursued only by translating but by interpreting our lives with all of their talents, passions, and experiences.  Our bodies are amazing instruments for this – Glennie speaks of listening through her hands, arms, cheekbones, scalp, tummy, chest, legs, and more.

We notice our involvement in something significant usually before or after.  In the moment we are totally caught up in what it is that has been happening but in anticipation of this or afterwards we hear what our whole body is saying to us.

This can be developed, honed, and we can make the move our life is telling us to make – whether a step or direction.  Joseph Campbell tells us we can attune our lives to the story or myth our lives are trying to tell us: through training

‘There has to be training to help you open your ears so that you can begin to hear metaphorically instead of concretely.’^

We’re not merely travellers through life but people pursuing purpose:

‘The mantra of the traveller is to make peace with waiting.  The mantra of the quester is to keep moving forward.  Whatever it takes, whether facing an immense challenge or spirit-sapping tedium, just keep making progress.’^^

(*From Evelyn Glennie’s TEDtalk How to truly listen.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: Impossible, unlikely, or difficult?)
(^Jospeho Campbell from Jospeh Campbell and Billy Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(^^From Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit.)

what are you trying to ask me?

‘Don’t assume that the person with the question has asked the right question.’*

A question can simply be a belief in disguise, intended to demolish the position or argument or hubris or silliness of another.

Finding the right question can be the difference between a face-off with the beliefs of another and stepping into an experience with each other, questions that become quests that carry us across thresholds.

Towards this, Rebecca Solnit offers some helpful ideas out of her experiences of labyrinths:

‘I understand the moral of mazes: sometimes you have to turn your back on your goal to get there, sometimes you’re farthest away when you’re closest, sometimes the only way is the long one.’**

Sometimes we can win an argument when there’s a deep experience developing into relationship on offer.  Solnit reflects on how there are things that cannot be seen by looking, only in walking:

‘And sometimes the the map is the territory.’**

What is true for geography is also true for our meetings with each other:

‘Part of what makes roads, trails, and paths so unique as built structures is that they cannot be perceived as a whole all at once by a sedentary onlooker.  They unfold in time as one travels along them, just as a story does as one listens or reads, and a hairpin turn is like a plot twist, a steep ascent a building of suspense to the view at the summit, a fork in the road as an introduction of a new storyline, arrival the end of the story […] symbolic structures such as labyrinths call attention to the nature of all paths, all journeys.’**

We have to walk with each other awhile as an experience that promises to open up the future beyond the past and the present.  That is, we find thoughts emerging in our meeting together of what the future might be like in our co-creation.

It sounds far-fetched but there are those who are exploring these possibilities in different ways.  Kio Stark tells of the Portals Project:

‘Imagine yourself stepping inside a large golden box and striking up a conversation via full-body video with someone in Herat, Afghanistan; Tehran, Iran; Havana, Cuba; New York’s, New Haven, or Washington, DC, in the United States, that replicates what it’s like to talk with them in the same room.’^

These are not meetings of people who have a lot in common or even like each other as far as their preconceptions and prejudices lead them, but in fact:

‘Most users come away with positive, moving experiences, and often say they wish there could be a Portal in every country. […] The project is both grandiose and compact in its aims.  The artful extension of people’s ability to interact with strangers far and wide ups the ante for the ways we can extend ourselves as cosmopolitans.’^

We do’t have to build a portal for this kind of experience – though we could, the construction and technology plans are available to build one and join the network.  Theory U^^ involves an “empathy walk,” arranging to meet up with someone we don’t know much about and go for a walk of an hour or so in which we the time is spent taking turns to find out more about each other, not with the sedentary questions but journeying questions.  It’s here where we encounter the emerging future.

(*From Edgar Schien’s Humble Inquiry.)
(**From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(^From Kio Stark’s When Strangers Meet.)
(^^See Otto Scharmer’s Theory U.)


time for love

‘Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person: it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one ‘object’ of love.’*

“The universe is a communion of subjects rather than a collection of objects.”**

Erich Fromm wrote about how we believe the fallacy about love, meaning:

‘most people believe that love is constituted by the object, not by the faculty.’*

The object, then, must be worthy of being loved.  Fromm’s point turns this around.  The person who treats all with a consistency of care is more loving that the one totally and utterly besotted by one other, indifference to others.

‘Because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object – and that everything goes by itself afterward.’*

There is a delicious connection between love as a power of the soul and time.  Alan Burdick writes about our perception of time:

‘”We must put aside the idea of a single time, all that counts are the multiple times that make up experience.”^

These multiple times are the ones we each bring to the encounters of life:

“Our slightest social exchanges – our glances, our smiles, and frowns – gain potency from our ability to synchronise them among ourselves […].  We bend to make time with one another, and the many temporal distortions we experience are indicators of empathy; the better able I am to envisage myself in your state of mind, and you in mind, the better we can recognise a threat, an ally, a friend, or someone in need.”^

These are not only powerful thoughts to guide toward exploring what it is to be human together, but also when it comes to identifying our purpose in life.  There’ll be some interests or concerns that come to feel like friends to us: this something resonates in us and itself vibrates with our energy.  This is what we must do in life.  Time will feel as if it is slowing down and speeding up in a synchronicity of self and contribution.

Love and empathy are not characteristics we have or do not have, or that are fixed for our lifetimes – they are learned and practised and individualised:

“But empathy is a sophisticated trait, a mark of emotional adulthood: it takes learning and time.  As children grow and develop, they gain a better sense of how to navigate the social world.  Put another way, it may be that a critical aspect of growing up is learning how to bend our time in step with others.’^

As soon as I read this I could hear Sherry Turkle telling me about her research into how technology is interrupting our interactions with one another, exaggerating the worst of our interconnecting.  Alan Burdick’s comments arise from neuropsychologist Sylvie Droit-Volet‘s research into people’s sensing of time when shown images of people expressing different emotions or being younger or older shifted their perception of time:

‘In one experiment, she presented people with images of human faces — some neutral, some happy, some angry, some frightened — each displayed on the screen for anywhere between half a second to a second and a half. The research subjects were then asked to evaluate how long the faces appeared for.

She found that across images displayed for the same duration, happy faces were perceived to last longer than neutral ones and shorter than angry or fearful ones.’^^

As I have said before, I am not against technology but hold that the more technology we use, the more time we have to spend time with one another – playfully, exploringly, discovering and learning and practising.

We are, it seems, makers of time to love.

(*From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)
(**Thomas Berry, quoted in Peter Senge’s The Necessary Revolution.)
(^Alan Burdick, quoted in maria Popova’s BrainPickings: Empathy is a Clock that Ticks in the Empathy of Another.)
(^^Maria Popova in BrainPickings: Empathy is a Clock that Ticks in the Empathy of Another.)

the status quo and change

The status quo doesn’t fear a lot of what we often think of change.  It can use most things to its own ends and advantage.

What it fears are changed people, people who we might describe as moving from ego to the eco.

In his latest blog, Seth Godin writes about something he names “with-ness”:

‘It’s tempting to be oppositional. To see the different as the other.  To dominate, to win, to move up as others move down (because in the zero sum game that we’ve built around us, that’s the only way).’*

But he’s witnessing a different world grow:

‘But a networked world, one based on connection—one held together by the sheerest gossamer—can’t tolerate the tension and pain that bullying and dominance require.

An alternative is with-ness.

The practice of talking so we can be heard, and listening so we can understand.’*

In another place, Godin identifies some of the practices of those who are making this journey:

‘When you lead without compensation, when you sacrifice without guarantees, when you take risks because you believe, then you are demonstrating your faith in the tribe and its mission.’^

Our mission is for everyone to thrive, not just the few.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog Toward cooperation.)
(^From Seth Godin’s Tribes.)

tick tock tick tock ti …

“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart,
and try to love the questions themselves
as if they were locked rooms
or books written in a very foreign language.”*

Just because we don’t know something doesn’t mean we will never know it.  Just because we can’t do something doesn’t mean we will never be able to do it.  If it is important to us, and I don’t mean a whim, then there’ll need to be a slowness, a willingness to remain with just what this is for a long time, perhaps a lifetime.

‘We’re all capable of huge insight and empathy if we’re willing to work to learn how.’**

Perhaps we express our exasperation at not having enough time to do what we really want to do, but what if we are time?  Jorge Luis Borges wrote about how:

“Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.”^

Alan Burdick helps us to see the limitations we place on time by the ways we metaphorise it:

“Whenever we talk about it, we do so in terms of something lesser. We find or lose time, like a set of keys; we save and spend it, like money. Time creeps, crawls, flies, flees, flows, and stands still; it is abundant or scarce; it weighs on us with palpable heft.”^^

Whatever we liken time to, says Burdick, in the end time matters to us because one day it will run out:

“Yet whatever one calls it, we share a rough idea of what’s meant: a lasting sense of one’s self moving in a sea of selves, dependent yet alone; a sense, or perhaps a deep and common wish, that I somehow belongs to we, and that this we belongs to something even larger and less comprehensible; and the recurring thought, so easy to brush aside in the daily effort to cross the street safely and get through one’s to-do list, much less to confront the world’s true crises, that my time, our time, matters precisely because it ends.”^^

When someone says to me, “I will give you some of my time,” it doesn’t mean the amount of time they have lessens whilst mine increases, rather our times intertwine.  This sense of time shared helps us to move to the things we could never learn or feel or do on our own.

Kio Stark writes about the value of encountering strangers.  When we allow time for interaction, we are potentially opening up greater possibilities, creating time for change:

‘But when you talk to a stranger, when you admire and respect their difference from you, when you help them, your are making the world around you more malleable, creating space for change.’*^

Strangers may be the least likely to receive our time and yet it may be that these will be some of the most significant and valuable moments of our lives when we see it’s not about having time but about being time.

(*Rainer Maria Rilke, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog The musclebound baby.)
(^Jorge Luis Borges, quoted in Maria Popova’s BrainPickings: Empathy is a Clock that Ticks in the Empathy of Another.)
(^^Alan Burdick, quoted in Maria Popova’s BrainPickings: Empathy is a Clock that Ticks in the Empathy of Another.)
(*^From Kio Stark’s When Strangers Meet.)