Building regulations

There’s always something being built in Edinburgh.  As in so many cities, there’s a lot of digging down before there’s any building upwards.  Months can go by without any obvious “building” appearing.  All along the way, these new structures benefit from building regulations.  While the checks and balances can be the bane of the builder, no one would really want the alternative.

And once this early work of putting in foundations is complete, that’s basically it for the shape and size of what is built upon them.  It’s the same for our lives.

Whilst most of us have to live in buildings that have already been built, when it comes to our lives, we’re able to be the architects and builders and dwellers.

We all look different and pursue a plethora of interests and curiosities, but there are some “building regulations” that benefit all of us.  These are described in many ways but there’s a lot of overlap.  Just yesterday I was talking with someone about how we all want personal autonomy, mastery, and to live for a purpose greater than ourselves.  These three are zip files which, when opened, disclose many more important details and nuances for building our lives.  If we ignore or flout these, problems ensue.  At some point, no matter what our dreams and plans are for our lives, we must begin building, putting it all together:

‘Curation is the ultimate method of transforming noise into meaning.’*

Even the person who constantly tinkers with the foundations of their life is only like a noise without meaning.  Curation is building, it echoes what Erwin McManus describes as profound intent, which he describes in this way for someone:

‘They know which ground to give up.  They know where to settle.  This is not because they are postured for compromise; it’s because they have a clarity about what really matters to them.  They know what their lives are about.  They have a profound intention, nbd that intention informs ever arena of their lives.  Those who care about everything, actually care about nothing.’**

We have to build somewhere; we can’t build everywhere.  We have to do something, we can’t do everything.   We can all identify what is our profound intention.

The best thing of all about this kind of building is that we can’t start-over.  We might think that we are who we are, but when we look more closely, we find there’s a whole lot of foundations we’ve not even begun to use.   Everyone finds out more about themselves when they begin looking, and those things may be just the necessary tipping point into a life that looks quite different.

(*From Rohit Bhargava’s Non Obvious.)
(**From Erwin McManus’ The Last Arrow.)

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From imposter to imposing

The thing you get to do everyday, do you think they’ll find you out, announce you for the fraud you are?

‘Everyone who is doing important work is working on something that might not work. […] Yes, you’re an imposter.  So am I and so is everyone else.  Superman still lives on Krypton and the rest of us are just doing our best.’*

This is interesting.  It moves us from focusing on the thing we’re doing to the person we are.  Anything worthwhile will always take us that little bit further, beyond our competencies and knowledge, but probably not beyond our passion:

‘I am convinced of this: you must not allow fear to steal your future, and every day that you walk this earth you must make sure you save nothing for the next life.

[…]

The most important things in life require that you bring your own urgency.  Passion is the fuel that brings urgency.’**

Of course, there’ll always be the should rather than our must – the motivation that comes from outside rather than inside of us.  And with should comes its partner average.  But with must, there’s every possibility that you’ll move from feeling like an imposter to doing something that’s imposing.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Imposter Syndrome.)
(**From Erwin McMans’ The Last Arrow.)

What is old and what is young?

I’m slowly reading my way into the way into the nineteenth century essayist, poet, abolitionist, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau’s way of thinking and writing.  Amongst many others, Thoreau was to influence Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Leo Tolstoy, Walt Whitman, and Marcel Proust.  I was intrigued to find the following two quotes within a few writing breaths of each other from a thirty-year old Thoreau:

‘One many may doubt if the wisest man has learned any thing of absolute value by living.  Practically, the old have no very important advice to give the young, their own experience has been so partial, and their lives have been such miserable failures, for private reasons, as they must believe; and it may be that they have some faith left which belies the experience, and they are only less young than they were.’*

‘Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?  We should live in all the ages of the world in an hour; ay, in all the worlds of the ages.  History, Poetry, Mythology! – I know of no reading of another’s experience so startling and informing as this would be.’*

The more we understand that much of our knowledge will be superseded, as will our applications, the more we are useful both now and for those who follow us.  Oldness and youngness is not about age.  It is about our willingness to keep exploring the one life we have the chance to live with curiosity and adventure in their souls, knowing that we only have time to engage with a fraction of reality.  Many who are old on the outside, live young – living more from everyone’s future than their own past.  And there are too many who are young but are old, never journeying to the future themselves, so allowing others to shape their present.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell writes about how:

‘You’ve got to say yes to this miracle of life as it is, not on the condition that it follow your rules.  Otherwise, you’ll never get through to the metaphysical dimension.’**

Explorers define themselves by constantly opening their minds, their hearts, and their wills.   In these these things they find their youthfulness.  This is what those who are older in years have as their best to pass on: keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking.

(*From Henry David Thoreau’s Where I Lived, and What I Lived There.)
(**From Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)

 

 

 

Where next?

Remarkable is better than nothing

‘You’re best work isn’t nothing, it’s the heart of what you have to offer.  Finding the long, difficult way is worth the journey, because it’s the best way to get what you deserve.’*

Just in the last week, in my dreamwhispering conversations, I’ve had three people remark on how it’s really difficult to dig deeper into what they love to do and how they to it.  Their talents and passions and experiences which make it possible to contribute  the remarkable thing they do.  They weren’t complaining, only observing.

It is difficult.   But not impossible.

Some of this difficulty is in having to notice the small things, which have greater significance than we often allow:  It’s easier to look at ourselves generally, but as Peter Altenberg has cause to be reported in a Paris Review article on flanering:

“Little things in life supplant the “great events.”**

These things, once noticed and developed, are the reasons we can reply to someone who asks, “What are you up to?” with “Something remarkable,” rather than “Nothing much.”

Interestingly, Henry David Thoreau would see this occurring in our lives as personal emancipation:

‘Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion.  What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines or rather indicates, his fate.  Self emancipation when on the West Indian provinces of the fancy and imagination – what Wilberforce is there to bring that about?’^

Here are three questions you may want to play with over the next few days.  They’re not easy and they’re not general:

What does it mean to me to be Human?
In the light of my answer, who am I?
Therefore, what is my work?

(*From Seth Godin’s blog Money for nothing.)
(**Peter Altenberg, quoted in the Paris Review article Radical Flaneuserie.)
(^From Henry David Thoreau’s Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.)

All people

We’re a species that can be shaped by our future as well as our past.

Often we think of our possibilities being shaped by the limitations or entitlements of our past, but our imaginations mean we can also travel to and from our futures.  In this way, we are creatures who can begin over because the future can be what we want it to be, more or less.

My hope is that we’ll increasingly invent ways of coming together for the future to be imagined, where we’re able to release the power of our imaginations to meet the pressures of our realities, where strangers can meet and explore together, where we can learn to be all people.

In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari writes about how we instinctively divide ourselves into “us and them” – when one group calls themselves Dinka, they are saying “We are people,” when another group refer to themselves as Nuer they’re calling themselves “original people,” and another group names themselves Yupiki, they’re saying, they are “real people”.  To each of these examples of “us” there is a “them.”

Earlier in the week, I was participated in a small group of people – some of whom had never met each other beforehand – engaging in an open conversation about the future.  It was such a positive experience that they want to meet again to take it further and to spread it to more.

Hopeful conversations which come from the future as well as the past don’t take much effort to make happen – as long as we’re prepared to leave the familiar behind and meet one another in the futures that are suggesting themselves as being possible.

If we keep harping on about the past, that’s exactly what we’ll get more of, like the frog that can’t tell the water is warming and they are becoming more incapable of escape.

We do it poorly, I admit, but we are exploring becoming all people.

Mooving

Mooving, my made-up word, from moving and the first Seth Godin book I picked up back in 2006.  Entitled Purple Cow, the book begins with a family holiday in Europe, being enthralled by all the black and white cows to be seen.  But this soon wore off, but to see a purple cow, that would literally be remarkable.  You would talk about a purple cow for quite a while.

Mooving, then, is moving in a remarkable way.

Something is more likely to happen when we are moving rather than waiting to move.  James Carse puts this well in his description of the infinite traveller:

‘Travellers do not go somewhere, but constantly discover they are somewhere else.’*

Madeleine L’Engle helps us to see destinations and travelling as answers and questions, respectively:

“The minute we begin to think we have all the answers, we forget the questions.”**

Perhaps this is why we’re not moving or mooving in the first place, we think we already have the answer.

I’ve returned to This is a Poem that Heals Fish, the story of a boy called Arthur who wants to save his fish Leon from boredom.  He was told by his mother that he must hurry and give him a poem.  Arthur doesn’t know what a poem is and searches cupboards, underneath his parents’ bed, and asks a series of people what a poem is: Lolo at the bike shop, Mrs. Round at the bakers, and Mahmoud who comes from the desert.

He returns to check on Leon, who ‘appears to be asleep’:

‘He is floating gently amidst the seaweed
as if thinking …

Arthur goes straight to the other end
of the house to question
his canary Aristophanes,
who is no bird brain.

Puffing himself up, Aristophanes chirps
– A poem is when words beat their wings.
It is a song sung in a cage.

– Oh…?  Okay.’^

Arthur continues his quest by asking his grandma what a poem is.  She thinks really hard and then replies:

‘- A poem turns words around, upside down, and – suddenly! – the world is new.’^

Grandma then continues:

‘- But ask your grandpa,
he often writes poems …
instead of repairing the pipes!’^

Arthur finds his grandpa … in his shed, writing poems.  (Here, I want to recommend the movie Paterson.)

– A poem? grandpa says,
tugging on his moustache
and looking worried,
A poem, well… it’s
what poets make.

[…]

Even if the poets do not know it themselves!’^

Arthur returns dejectedly to Leon,  He tells him what he knows, but also what he does not know:

‘- I’m sorry, Leon,
I have not found a poem.
All I know is that:

A poem
is when you have the sky in your mouth.
It is hot like fresh bread,
when you eat it,
a little is always left over.

A poem
is when you hear
the heartbeat of a stone,
when words beat their wings.
It is a song sung in a cage.

A poem
is words turned upside down
and suddenly!
the world is new.’^

Something remarkable then occurs:

Leon opens on eye, then the other,
and for the first time in his life he speaks.
– Then I am a poet, Arthur.
– Oh…?
– And my poem is my silence…
– I see!’^

What catches my interest is how Arthur does not include his grandpa’s definition of a poem.  Arthur seems to be that definition and delivers a poem even though he doesn’t know it himself.  It is the thing that allows Leon to realise that his poetry is silence.

We live in the question, not in the answer.

Joseph Pine and James Gilmore identify the commoditisation of experiences: ‘best exemplified by the increasingly voiced phrase, “Been there, done that.”‘^^

We haven’t been there yet – the destination, and so haven’t done that yet … but we have discovered many more something-elses and somewhere-elses along the way as we moove.

(*From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(**Madeleine L’Engle, 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 Jospeh Pine and James Gilmore’s The Experience Economy.)

Understanding and the slow walk of freedom

Understanding increases freedom and freedom brings choice.  The path doesn’t become straighter and more straightforward, but more windy with forks begging choices – becoming, in a word, interesting.  Of course, this may not be what you want to hear:

‘But most of the turns, we don’t even see. We’ve trained ourselves to ignore them […] a choice isn’t often easy. In fact, the best ones rarely are.

But we can still choose to make one.’*

We’d probably prefer to drive across the thresholds of possibility, or be carried across by someone else or fly over them, something painless.  But we need to walk through them; exhausted at times, the pace of understanding and freedom and choice is achieved at the speed of “walking” – something available to just about everyone from a very early age.  We begin and then we continue with small steps:

‘Crucially, starting small is the hallmark of youthful days.  When you are young, you cannot start things in a big way.  Whatever you do, it does not matter much to the world.  You need to start small.  And what you have in abundance is open-mindedness and curiosity, the great kick-starters devoted to one’s cause.’**

Slowness allows information to become knowledge and to turn into understanding and eventually become wisdom.  Wisdom is an embodiment of what we are understanding, when it seeps into the entirety of our lives, as Jonah Lehrer points out:

‘We do not have a body, we are a body.  Although our feelings feel immaterial, they actually begin in the flesh.’^

Freedom involves noticing what our bodies are telling us.

This slow journey from understanding to wisdom creates or uncovers choice.  Slowness may look totally wasteful to those convinced that the productive life is the faster life, but as Albert Einstein shared from his own experience:

‘Creativity is the product of “wasted” time.”^^

Ken Mogi, quoted above concerning taking small steps, writes about how craftswomen and men are honoured in Japan:

‘Often their lives are regarded as the embodiment of ikigai – lives devoted too creating just one thing properly, however small.’**

There’s something about his description that feels slow, something about the pursuit of their craft, about making something properly.  Properly suggests a journey.  Perhaps this is why I found myself journalling a year ago:

Do something small today, do it again tomorrow and the day after, and something takes shape.  It’s not techniques but a story […]. I think my slow journey is about who I am becoming over a lifetime. […] the slowness is me.  I now see I can become, I can choose.

Rebecca Solnit adds to this sense of becoming through slow journeying when she comments on the walking of William Wordsworth:

‘For Wordsworth, walking was a mode not of travelling but of being.’*^

And Henry David Thoreau sees those inheriting the family business or farm, in a different way, as the tethered or disadvantaged, whereas:

‘The portionless, who struggle with no such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it about enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh.’^*

Perhaps we can take this encouragement to have a starting from scratch mentality, taking nothing for granted.  Thoreau continues:

‘The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by he most delicate handling.  Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another so tenderly.’^*

There is more to your life and mine when we come to it slowly.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog Degrees of freedom.)
(**From Ken Mogi’s The Little Book of Ikigai.)
(^From Jonah Lehrer’s Proust was a Neuroscientist.)
(^^Albert Einstein, quoted in Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber’s The Slow Professor.)
(*^From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(^*From Henry David Thoreau’s Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.)