Love forward

‘Society must be organised in such a way that man’s social, loving nature is not separated from his social existence, but becomes one with it.’*
(Erich Fromm)

I can’t recall anyone arguing for the United Kingdom to leave or remain in the European Union in order to generate more love amongst European countries and around the world.  I’m imagining I’d have to trawl long and hard through the words defining the 2016 United States Presidential Election to find such a concern.  When I go back in time to my schooldays, I can’t remember being taught about love and its importance to history or geography or the sciences.

It doesn’t have to be the word love per se; it might be various dimensions or aspects of love; compassion, forgiveness, care, kindness, openness … .

Erich Fromm wrote about how we’re caught in a comfortable system but are not really free:

‘All activities are subordinated to economic goals, means have become ends, man is an automaton – well-fed, well-clad, but without any ultimate concern for that which is his peculiarly human quality and function.  If man is to love, he must be put in his supreme place.  The economic machine must serve him, rather than he serve it.  He must be enabled to share experience, to share work, rather than, at best, share profits.’*

Perhaps in the future it will be different:

‘Humanity is an aspiration we must pursue.’**

For what it means to be human, we need to look forwards rather than backwards and will include growing our capacity to appreciate and develop the art of loving, with imagination, creativity and fun.  It often doesn’t feel appropriate to talk about love in politics, in education and in business but why not?  I imagine another growth spurt for the human race, a spurt that will benefit the whole planet.

Maybe these words from the Buddha imagine something of our future:

“When your mind is filled with love, send it in one direction, then a second, a third, and a fourth, then above, then below.  Identify with everything without hatred, resentment, anger or enmity.  The mind of love is very wide.  It grows immeasurably and eventually is able to embrace the whole world.”^

Peter Senge draws out how flourishing human society benefits the whole world:

‘A regenerative society is about life flourishing, not just human life.’^^

(*From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)
(**Alex McManus: source lost.)
(^The Buddha, quoted in Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.)

(^^From Peter Senge’s The Necessary Revolution.)


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I don’t have time

“The opposite of spare time is, I guess, occupied time.  In my case I still don’t know what spare time is because all my time is occupied.  It always has been and it is now.  It’s occupied by living.”*
(Ursula Le Guin)

Time ought not only to be functional but beautiful too.  I’m not thinking of time out, or relaxed time – these kinds of time can be important but they don’t necessarily become beautiful time.

In her essay Living in a Work of Art, Ursula Le Guin describes her childhood home, how it came to be built and how it was lived in by her family.  As a writer, she comes to wonder what kind of novel it might be compared with:

‘I don’t know what novel our Maybeck house could be compared with, but it would contain darkness and radiant light; its beauty would arise from honest, bold, inventive construction, from geniality and generosity of spirit and mind, and would have all the elements of fantasy and strangeness.’**

In describing the beauty of this house and home, Le Guin could be describing the beauty of a life; indeed, she concludes her reflections upon her childhood home:

‘perhaps all my life I have been trying to rebuild it around me out of words’.**

This sense of beauty in a life, created in time – for Le Guin being constructed in words and for us in a multiplicity of ways – is added to by some thoughts on the art of loving from Erich Fromm who is thinking about the need to use time to encourage inner activity:

‘One attitude indispensable for the practice of the art of loving […]: activity. […] To be active in thought, feeling, with ones eyes and ears, throughout the day, to avoid inner laziness, be it in the form of being receptive, hoarding, or plain wasting one’s time, is an indispensable condition for the practice of the art of loving.’^

I note the thought that even wasted time is useful time here.  When we struggle with our time alone and see no purpose to it we have a problem.  Rebecca Solnit reflects:

‘One force is the filling up of what I think of as “the time in-between,’ the time of walking to or from a place, of meandering, or running errands.  That time has been deplored as a waste, reduced, and its remainder filled with earphones playing music and mobile phones relaying conversations.’^^

Perhaps noticing Fromm’s inner activity with time, John O’Donohue sees how all time can be made beautiful, replete with possibility:

‘When you come into the rhythm of your nature, things happen of themselves.’*^

(*Ursula Le Guin, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Ursula K. Le Guin on Spare Time.)
(**From Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter.)
(^From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)
(^^From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(*^From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)

Seeing in the dark

I see potential in her.

This is faith.

It’s how we live at our highest and finest as humans.  Erich Fromm writes about how to be human is to have faith:

‘Faith is a character trait pervading the whole personality, rather than a specific belief.’*

To see potential in the one holds out the hope off potential in the many:

‘The faith in others has its culmination in faith in mankind.’*

There’s realistic faith and unrealistic faith, that is, realised and unrealised faith.  Faith is like seeing in the dark.  The person we think we see with potential has to see this themselves and then move.  Fromm reminds me that this is what we mean by education, a pure understanding that we need to see more in evidence:

‘The root of the word “education” is e-ducere, literally, to lead forth, or to bring out something that is potentially present.’*

What if we could spin our educational systems around to see what is possible to bring out of every person?

(*From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)

Sacred time

‘Most people are products of their time. Only the rare few are its creators.’*
(Maria Popova)

Maria Popova introduced me to the writing of Ursula Le Guin, and as a result, I bought myself a copy of Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter.  Popova now shares the news that Le Guin died a few days ago, her blog exploring the writer’s ‘question of how we measure the light of a life as it nears its sunset.’*

Mostly we can allow time to act upon us.  Or we may try to hold back the effects of time.  Others have an inkling that they can do something remarkable with time.  Le Guin lived for more than 32,000 days – which is one way in which we might measure a life –  but the writer appears to have filled her days with a sense of continuing work:

“I am not exactly retired, because I never had a job to retire from. I still work, though not as hard as I did. I have always been and am proud to consider myself a working woman.”

When we figure out that a job and work are different things – though they may exist simultaneously for some – we get to play with time differently.

We may pause a stopwatch but we do not really pause time, only our measurement of it.  Pausing, though, can be a valuable thing to do.  Alex McManus counsels:

‘When in doubt, scout.’**

McManus’ picture is of time rushing along like a white water river, seemingly getting faster and faster.  In conditions like these it pays to remove ourselves from the thrashing flow and figure what lies ahead and how we’ll tackle it.

It can be a struggle to extricate ourselves from the swirling experience of time and even when we are relaxing there can be more negativity in the experience than we want:

‘Any activity, if done, in a concentrated fashion, makes us more awake (although afterwards a natural and beneficial tiredness sets in), while every unconcentrated activity makes one sleepy – while at the same time it makes it difficult to fall asleep at the end of the day.’^

As I read Joseph Campbell describing how people make sacred space where they are, I wonder about the possibility of making sacred time:

“One should find the symbol in the landscape itself of the energies of the life there.  That’s what all traditions do.  They sanctify their own landscape.’^^

This is what we do when we see the contribution of perspective and gift we bring into the world for however many years, days and moments we have – it is something sacred and wonderful.  It is never too late to explore this.  We can ask the question what has our life been leading up to for today.

(*From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Ursula K. Le Guin on Spare Time.)
(**From Alex McManus’ Makers of Fire – eBook version.)
(^From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)
(^^From Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)

Matters of the heart

“The path is not somewhere in the sky, it is in our hearts.”*
(The Buddha)

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”**
(Jesus of Nazareth)

To live with heart is to live with joie de vivre, a joy of living – something different for each of us.

Dan and Chip Heath write about the power of moments, designating the things that lie beneath remarkable moments as “mostly forgettable.”  This white noise is made up of the things in life that are just there, they’re not remarkable but, thankfully, neither are they unpleasant.

The Heath brothers claim many of us hope for mostly forgettable over unpleasant but Henry David Thoreau appears to be reaching for the remarkable when he penned the following words:

“We are sensible that behind the rustling leaves, and the stacks of grain, and the bare clusters of the grape, there is a field of wholly new life which no man has lived; that even this world was made for more mysterious and nobler inhabitants than men and women.”^

The question is, where will our hearts lead us to if we dare follow them.

Following our heart is far from easy and often does’nt yet exist.  Only our living with discipline – disciplines of engagement and withdrawal that we’ll each need to figure out for ourselves – will bring the path into being, enabling us to reach for a higher plane.

(*The Buddha, quoted in Keri Smith’s The Wander Society.)
(**Matthew 6:21)
(^Henry David Thoreau, quoted in Peter Senge’s The Necessary Revolution.)

Let’s shed some light on what’s really happening here

‘[F]iguring out your life has become figuring out your job, which is still coming from an industrial revolution mentality’.*
(Patrick Dodson)

‘Attend.  Listen to what your life calls you to do.’**
(Otto Scharmer)

To shed light on something means to see it more clearly, to be able to know something more fully.  My experience has been that I have needed others to help me shed light on different aspects of my life, and I hope it means, I have become a shedder of light for others, and they to others.

Stephen Pyne writes about how we live in a world defined by fire:

‘The nature of life based on photosynthesis assures this will happen: fire will occur unless something blocks it.’^

Fire has been such a significant contributor to the development of human life on earth that we are able to refer to this period as the Anthropocene.  We are able to describe ourselves as fire-creatures.  One of the developments from being artists in fire has been the creation of the lightbulb, the symbol we use to identify the appearance of an idea.  Our brains are firing with electricity.  This is where everything beautiful, noble, good, and kind (and many more things) begins its life.  And we have no idea where all of this will end unless the light is blocked in some way or by some thing.

Those who’ve been light-people to us will have been able to do so because they foster certain behaviours in their lives, developing the art of light.  Erich Fromm suggests developers of an art will have been disciplined, focused, patient and valuing of the mastery of the art:

‘With regard to the art of loving, this means that anyone who aspires to become a master in this art must begin by practising discipline, concentration and patience throughout every phase of his life.’^^

Keri Smith adds more things to our list of helpful practices when she identifies the critical elements of wandering:

‘We use the tools of instinct, intuition, and experimentation.’*^

Instinct, intuition and experimentation are more curious and creative elements for inhabiting Fromm’s characteristics, the things that allow us to develop our unique form of light.  The human eye is unable to detect some 95% or so of light in our universe is a helpful reminder that we need to become better at seeing the unique light each person has to bring. Richard Rohr express this when he declares:

‘I love what I see: life excites me.’^*

He confesses how this drives him on to help others see:

‘Primarily, I am concerned with why people cannot see very well and how we perhaps can.’^*

Here are some more ways for developing our personal light:

Read as much as you can (this also includes listening to podcasts and watching videos, …).
Attend the things where your kind of light is being taught and practised.
Have conversations with people who are further ahead in expressing your kind of light in their life and ask lots of questions.
Shed a little light of your own: experiment, prototype.


(*From Patrick Dodson’s Psychotic Inertia.)
(**From Otto Scharmer’s Theory U.)
(^From Stephen Pyne’s Fire.)
(^^From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)
(*^From Keri Smith’s The Wander Society.)
(^*From Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now.)



‘Accept the lack of perfect.

Better to make something important instead.’*
(Seth Godin)

‘Your problem is not that you are incapable but that you are lazy.


We complete our personality only as we fall into place and service in the vital movement of the society in which we live.’**
(Eugene Peterson)

Joseph Campbell writes of a lost world; that of nurturing the inner life:

‘We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget that the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it’s all about.’^

This is echoed in something Erich Fromm was noticing in modern men and women back in the 1950s:

‘The fact, however, is that modern man has exceedingly little self-discipline outside the sphere of work.  When he does not work, he wants to be lazy, to slouch or, to use a nicer word, to “relax.”  The very wish for laziness is largely a reaction against the routinisation of life.’^^

Fromm describes a life that is influenced by a story that comes to us from outside rather than one that grows from within.

In his classic work on achieving happiness, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about how the experience of flow – his term for total involvement with life – in the things we do makes it possible to develop complexity:

‘Following a flow experience, the organisation of the self is more complex than it had been before.  It is by becoming increasingly complex that the self might be said to grow.’*^

In words that appear to understand the alchemist’s mantra of solve et coagula (separate and bring together), Csikszentmihalyi speaks of differentiating and integrating:

‘Complexity is the result of two broad psychological processes: differentiation and integration. […] A complex self is one that succeeds in combining these opposite tendencies.’*^

Differentiating sees the different skills and talents and passions and experiences that make us who we are, and we also see how we are different to those around us.  Integration brings these skills and talents and passions and experiences together in flow, and we work out how we offer these towards working with others:

‘After each episode of flow a person becomes more of a unique individual, less predictable, possessed of rarer skills. […] Without integration, a differentiation system would be a confusing mess.’*^

‘In other words, the essence of teamwork is the development and maintenance of reciprocal helping relationships among all the members.’^*

The opening words for today from Seth Godin are a reflection on the modern addiction to turn everyone into a fan.  It can’t be done, but Godin says we can do something important instead.  Csikzentmihalyi claims that differentiation and integration free us from selfishness and conformity.  Here he is one with Godin when he suggests that:

‘it is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were’.*^

Sherry Turkle provides a window into a world of integration without differentiation, an external world breaking the flow:

‘But now, with mobile technology, cycling through has accelerated into the mash-up of a life mix.  Rapid cycling stabilises into a sense of continual copresence.  Even a simple cellphone brings into the world of continual partial attention.


When psychologists study multitasking, they do not find a story of new efficiencies.  rather, multitaskers don’t perform as well on any of the tasks they are performing.’⁺

What they are experiencing is a chemical high, an experience of pseudo-flow, but flow tells us there is more to you and more to me than this.

Notice what you become preoccupied in.

Here are ten things to watch out for:

1) you see clear steps; 2) you are able to recognise feedback immediately; 3) there’s a balance between your skills and the challenge; 4) you are fully focused; 5) you cannot be distracted; 6) you are not concerned with failure; 7) there’s no self-consciousness; 8) your sense of time is distorted; 9) you are so in the flow that the activity becomes autotelic – an end in itself.

Whatever it is you are noticing, make them happen more, stretch them, listen to them for where they want to take you next.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Never smooth enough – a modern addiction.)
(**From Eugene Peterson’s Run with the Horses.)
(^From Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(^^From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)

(*^From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.)
(^*From Edgar Schein’s Helping.)
(⁺From Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.)


We just don’t get it

‘Be clear with yourself before you spend a [penny] on a minute with a designer.’*
(Seth Godin)

Look at who you are, look around at what you have.  What is it you want to do with all this wonder and abundance?

It can be difficult.

We see the talents and passions and value the experiences of our lives, and we see all at our disposal, but the usual storylines with which we live don’t really help us.  I’ve just been listening to a radio conversation looking at the impact of technology on the kinds and number of jobs, and how this means we have to reimagine education.  New machines and wares but same old idea that education is for fitting us in rather than breaking us out.

Erich Fromm spotted this way back in the 1950s and he wrote:

‘Modern man has transformed himself into a commodity; he experiences his life energy as an investment with which he should make the highest profit, considering his position and the situation on the personality market.  He is alienated from himself, his fellow men and from nature.’**

When Tom Hodgkinson contemplates the business of the Idler, which he began with his partner Victoria Hull, he seems to have been exploring another storyline:

‘Our whole business at the Idler is based on the old Greek idea of the symposium, a drinking party with wine at which serious and lightweight matters were discussed.


everything we do must be beautiful or useful, or both.’^

It feels as if the beautiful and useful has discovered some space within the larger story Fromm is most concerned about; the psychoanalyst continues:

‘His main aim is profitable exchange of his skills, knowledge, and of himself, his “personality package” with others who are intent on a fair and profitable exchange.  Life has no goal except the one to move, no principle except the one of fair exchange, no satisfaction except to consume.’**

The early Jesuit novitiate would spend thirty days in solitude identifying what it was he had to do with the rest of his life; he would then pursue this with ingenuity, love and courage.^^

What can we do to find this life that is both beautiful and useful?

We need to begin my noticing moments.  Dan and Chip Heath have written an entire book on the power of moments:

‘Transitions should be marked, milestones commemorated, and pits filled.


The more you can multiply them, the better.  The point we’re emphasising here is that certain circumstances demand attention.’*^

Picking up on Fromm’s mentioning energy, this is not about making ourselves a commodity but noticing when our energy is high: what we are doing, why we are doing it, who we are doing it with or for, and when we are doing it (as in, are we starting something, finishing something …).

Notice these things and then make more of them happen.

What we are discovering is clarity, what Otto Scharmer describes as “crystallising intent.”^*

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Working with a designer (four paths).)
(**From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)
(^From Tom Hodgkinson’s Business for Bohemians.)
(^^See Chris Lowney’s Heroic Leadership.)
(*^From Chip and Dan heath’s The Power of Moments.)
(^*See Otto Scharmer’s Theory U and Leading from the Emerging Future.)


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Taking enough for a walk

“Nature’s particular gift to the walker, through the semi-mechanical act of walking – a gift no other form of exercise seems to transmit in the same high degree – is to set the mind jogging, to make it garrulous, exalted, a little mad maybe – certainly creative and suprasensitive, until at last it really seems to be outside of you and as if it were talking to you whilst you are talking back to it.”*
(*Kenneth Grahame)

What if for some reason or another I was not able to read another book or gain another idea or artefact or possession, would I have enough to do what I must do?

I think, possibly, I would.

“More,” especially as an ideal, can get in the way of what we have, get in the way of taking enough for a walk.  Kenneth Grahame is thinking of a walk in the countryside but it could easily be an urban setting.  Grahame continues to encourage:

“Of course the best sort of walk is the one on which it doesn’t matter twopence whether you get anywhere at all at any time or not; and the second best is the one on which the hard facts of routes, times, or trains give you nothing to worry about.”*

This resonates for me with what Joseph Campbell writes of as sacred space, somewhere all we have, our enoughness can come into new focus:

‘This is an absolute necessity for anybody today.  You must have a room, or a certain hour or so of a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers in the morning, you don’t know who your friends are, and don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you.  This is a place where you can simply experience and bring for the what you are and what you might be.  This is the place of creative incubation.  At first you may find that nothing happens there.  But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.’**

Whether our personal choice be a space or a walk or both or something quite different, what we have already will become more before our eyes:

“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.”^

(*Kenneth Grahame, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Walking as Creative Fuel.)
(**Joseph Campbell, from Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(^Thomas Merton, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)


‘If you see a good deal remarkable in me I see just as much remarkable in you.’*
(Walt Whitman)

Yes, there’s a gap between who you are and who you want to be, but like an unexplored city we’ve lived in for so many years, so are our lives to us.

Every day, we can take a new walk.

(*From Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.)