Between me and you

‘What they really want, in fact, is to be helped to do the things they want to do. […] The smallest thing can feel like magic to someone who has been living with a problem they may not be able to articulate.’*
(Bernadette Jiwa)

“Show me the hidden things, the creatures of my dreams, the storehouse of forgotten memories and hurts. Take me down to the spring of my life, and tell me my nature and my name.”**
(George Appleton)

Bernadette Jiwa leads us to how we can be helped by another, and we can help another to make a breakthrough.  George Appleton asks to be led to the place of hidden things, the spring of his life.  We need each other.

Gerd Gigerenzer reminds me about how our life takes form between an understanding of ourselves and our environment; he’s describing how gut feelings work:

‘A gut feeling rapidly appears in consciousness, based on unconscious rules of thumb.  These are anchored in the evolved capacities our the brain and the environment.’^

Maira Kalman writes lovingly of walking – we might call this exteriority:

“I walk everywhere in the city.  Any city.  You see everything you need to see for a lifetime.  Every emotion.  Every condition.  Every fashion.  Every glory.’^^

I’m suggesting calling this exteriority after Peter Senge’s description of something he names interiority:

‘Interiority refers to a richer perceptual universe and awareness of self.’*^

We need both interiority and exteriority (which can be a person or some country scene as well as a city) because what we often think of as being alive is in the interaction between the two.  Seth Godin asks:

‘Are you stuck with the ways things were, instead of busy turning things into what they could be?’^*

Godin asks this question in his book Tribes, about people finding one another in order to make a difference.  It’s a book that led me to a group of people with whom I’m still collaborating six years later.  They are also people who’ve helped me become more who I am.

In between me and you, futures emerge.

(*From Bernadette Jiwa’s Meaningful.)
(**George Appleton, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(^From Gerd Gigerenzer’s Gut Feelings.)
(^^Maira Kalman, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Walking as Creative Fuel.)
(*^From Peter Senge’s The Necessary Revolution.)
(^*From Seth Godin’s Tribes.)

Keep going

‘When bodily movement becomes a form of speech, then the distinction between words and deeds, between representations and actions begin to blur, and so marches can themselves be liminal, another form of walking into the realm of the representational and symbolic – and sometimes, into history.’*
(Rebecca Solnit)

‘I can only speak to my soul when the two of us are off, exploring deserts or cities or mountains or roads.’**
(Paulo Coelho)

By illustration I mean doing, moving, improving, developing, looking, feeling, and doing again.  Keri Smith suggests asking someone we know to provide us with somewhere to journey to:

‘Ask a friend to give you wandering instructions.  Tell a friend to write a location in your journal.  Do not look at it until you are ready to set out.’^

A friend did just this for me yesterday.  As we reconnected for the new year, he provided me with just such a location..From what we had been talking about, I was offered the destination of turning my thoughts into a video course (a location doesn’t have to be geographical).  I’m going to have a go.  Watch this space.

We have to keep going, life takes form where we have both comfort and exploration, so says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  We find this expressed in different ways as people get to grips with how things keep well and healthy:

“Civilisation occurs and maintains itself when the two forces – the striving and the ordering – approach equipoise.”^^

(*From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(**From Paulo Coelho’s Aleph.)
(^From Keri Smith’s The Wander Society.)
(^^Clark Emery, quoted in Lewis Hyde’s The Gift.)

For more, look inside

‘Most of us have plenty (by a lot of standards).  Not having enough, by itself, isn’t what’s making us unhappy.

It’s having enough and not knowing it.’*
(Hugh Macleod)

We can too easily place our confidence in the wrong things, prioritising concern with the externals over the internals.

On the outside, we don’t have enough – position, influence, resources.

On the inside, often unnoticed, we have more than we know with which we can make sense of what we have on the outside.

At least, it’s a better beginning, discovering we’re all artists, whether in ideas, relationships, actions and communication – these can all be art forms, and we need what you bring.

W. H. Auden wrote:

“So long as artists exist, making what they please and think they ought to make, even if it is not terribly good, even if it appeals to only a handful of people, they remind the Management of something managers need to be reminded of, namely, that the managed are people with faces, not anonymous numbers, that Homo Laborans is also Homo Ludens.**

We need more people willing to help those around them find the more they have within, the reality of who they are.  , the world they can definitely change and, by means of, may be able to change the world around them, even if that is one person’s world.

(*From gapingvoid’s blog: Albert Einstein’s theory of happiness.)
(**From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: W. H. Auden on the Political Power of Art and the Crucial Difference Between Party Issues and Revolutionary Issues.)

Imagination like we are

‘The great German artist Joseph Beuys used to recite, as a maxim and manifesto, the phrase “Everyone an artist.”‘*
(Rebecca Solnit)

Rebecca Solnit is reflecting on the contribution of marches, parades, protests, processions and festivals as ways and means  for people to walk through their cities.  Continuing to ponder Joseph Beuys’ reciting of “Everyone an artist,” she writes:

‘I used to think it meant that he thought everyone should make art, but now I wonder if he wasn’t speaking to a more basic possibility: that everyone could become a participant rather than a member of the audience, that everyone could become a producer rather than a consumer of meaning […].*

Carrying on this thought, Solnit suggests it is in the festival where ‘the boundaries between strangers recede’.*

By the time I read these words this morning, I’d already found myself thinking about how we need so much more imagination to overcome the boundaries we put up between each other – personal, political and national boundaries being just a few.  Imagination is what sets us free from these delineating lines drawn by factions, cliques, parties, et al.  Such imagination liberates us for the future rather than holding us to the past.  I see imagination in what Sherry Turkle writes about here:

‘Philosophers say that our capacity to put ourselves in the place of another is essential to being human.’**

Donald Miller offers what adds to this for me he writes that the only truth he believes worth living for vulnerability, love and care:

‘part of me believes when the story of earth is told, all that will be remembered is the truth we exchanged.  the vulnerable moments.  The terrifying risk of love and the care we took to cultivate it.’^

Imagination allows us to fight for people rather than against them.  Alex McManus identifies this different kind of struggle for us to be engaged in:

‘I have known hundreds of women and men who dedicate themselves to concretely igniting the dreams of others.  They are often alone in their cause at first.  They act as they do because they see themselves engaged in an epic battle.’^^

When Nassim Taleb writes about randomness, he’s identifying one of the qualities of human imagination, conceiving something that has not previously existed – whether that be an idea, an object, an action or a relationship:

‘when some systems are stuck in a dangerous impasse, randomness and only randomness, can unlock then and set them free’.*^

Michael Bhaskar tracks the rise of the human population in his book Curation, I think pointing to a lot of potential imagination:

1820 = 1 billion
1926 = 2 billion
1960 = 3 billion
1975 = 4 billion
1988 = 5 billion
2000 = 6 billion
2012 = 7 billion^*

Yet there is so much that gets in the way of releasing this.  Here’s just a little encouragement for us from Peter Reynolds’ wonderful children’s book The Dot.  The protagonist Vashti exclaims in frustration:

“I just CAN’T draw!”⁺

Vashti’s teacher encourages her to put something down on her impossibly blank piece of paper, so Vashti bangs down a dot. Her teacher simply asks her to sign it.

The next week, Vashti sees her dot framed and hanging by the teacher’s desk.  Seeing this made her think she could do better:

I can make a better dot
than THAT!”⁺

Out comes an previously unopened watercolour set.

Vashti begins to paint dots of all colours.

This means she has to experiment with mixing colours.

Then she begins painting big dots and even a dot without painting a dot.

It all makes for quite an art show.

A small boy looks on Vashti’s dots in awe:

‘”You’re a really great artist.
I wish I could draw,” he said.

“I bet you can,” said Vashti.

“ME?  No not me.  I can’t draw
a straight line with a ruler.’⁺

Vashti doesn’t give up, urging the boy to draw what turns out to be a shaky line:

‘Vashti stared at the boy’s squiggle.
And then she said …

“Sign it.”‘⁺

I’m hoping his imagination was set free.

It won’t come easy.  Imagination takes a lot of hard work.  It’s why we leave the imaginative stuff to others, and it’s inextricably linked with doing.

I close with words from Joseph Campbell.  I don’t think the great mythologist is suggesting finding what liberates our imagination is in any way easy, but it is there, right now, and we can find it:

‘If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living.’++

As Vashti when our imaginations are set free, others are set free.

(*From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(**From Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.)
(^From Donald Miller’s Scary Close.)
(^^From Alex McManus’ Makers of Fire – eBook version)
(*^From Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile.)
(^*From Michael Bhaskar’s Curation.)
(⁺From Peter Reynolds’ The Dot.)
(⁺⁺From Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)

Let your people know they matter

How about some artwork that lets your people know they really matter to your business or organisation – here’s an example

Get in touch and find out more about turning your idea into a design

Life in motion

‘But lo! men have become the tools of their tools.’*
(Henry David Thoreau)

‘I always like to think we have two selves…  The first is our potential self. […] The second is our real self.  […]  And yet, it is the other self, the potential self, that we obsess over.  Because we know it’s in there somewhere, buried underneath all that rubble we call “life”.  And if we can just set it free, just for once, just for a short time…  Then maybe we’re on the right track, for a change.’**
(Hugh Macleod)

I’ve mentioned Michelangelo’s unfinished statues many times: four huge figures wrestling themselves free from the marble they are encased in: life in motion, from real life to potential life, from here to there.

There’re basically two forms of sculpture: adding to and taking away.  Michelangelo’s sculptures were about taking away the marble that got in the way of the figure he believed wanted to emerge from the stone:

“The least strained and most natural ways of the should are the most beautiful, the best occupations are the least forced.”^

I don’t think Michael de Montaigne, whose words these are, means there’s no great effort involved in being fruitful in our lives, rather he’s saying something about being who we are and not someone else.

We’re creatures who live in a state of motion.  Here are four movements:

We move to take the initiative;
We move to make exist what does not yet exist;
We enlist others and move together in our adventures;
We move even though there’s no guarantee of success.

Try them from the heart.  See what happens.

At the close of Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman contemplates the end of his life, anticipating moving on when he has given his all.  Life in motion is simply this: to fill and empty our days:

‘The past and the present wilt … I have filled them and emptied them,
And proceed to fill my next fold in the future.’^^

(*From Henry David Thoreau’s Where I Lived, and What I Live For.)
(**From gapingvoid’s blog: Set yourself free.)
(^Michael de Montaigne, quoted in Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.)
(^^From Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.)


Why not put something on your workplace walls that celebrates its culture: perhaps something from your ethos or some words found on co-worker’s lips?  Thin|Silence can make it happen with big colourful canvases.

Here’s one being completed for a fundraiser.  Just get in touch with your idea.

Dignity, always dignity*

‘You will never regret offering dignity to others.’**
(Seth Godin)

‘The word pontifex (pons, bridge, facere, to make) means bridge maker.  From here is the word Pontifex Maximus meaning both the Roman Emperor and the Pope of the Church of Rome. Pontiff then is the “bridge builder.”‘^
(Kosuke Koyama)

Seth Godin writes about how value is no longer created by filling a slot, but through connection, what comes about through the meeting of people bringing their different experiences, thinking and passions together.

Our willingness to see each other’s differences is to recognise their dignity.  The truest and most precious dignity we can ever provide is that which we give up close; there is always more to see, as Rene Magritte acknowledges here:

“Each thing we see hides something else we want to see.”^^

The wonderful thing is, connections leading to dignity make for new discoveries:

‘A new discovery often emerges by reflecting on the intersection of two themes, two disciplines, or two perspectives.’*^

When it coms to the future, two lives are better than one.

(*Dignity, always dignity, from Singin’ in the Rain.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: Justice and dignity: the endless shortage.)
(^From Kosuke Koyama’s Three Mile an Hour God.)
(^^Rene magritte, quoted in Erwin McManus’ Soul Cravings.)
(*^Bryan Coffman, from Drawn Together Through Visual Practice.)

Get realer

Stick or twist?

Perhaps this is what is real forever.

That would be stick.

Perhaps there is something more real: we can do better, improve, develop.

That would be twist.

Two different stories.  Your choice.

The world of ish

‘Ramon felt light and energised.  Thinking ish-ly allowed his ideas to flow freely.’*

ish is Peter Reynolds’ wonderful encouragement to all ages to draw without worrying about getting everything right.

‘Ramon loved to draw.’*

Like so many of us, drawing comes naturally and Ramon pursues it heart and soul.  That is, until his older brother Leon pokes fun:

‘On day, Ramon was drawing
a vase of flowers.
His brother , Leon,
leaned over his shoulder.

Leon burst out laughing.
“What is that?” he asked.’*

Like so many of us, Leon has lost the joy of drawing.  And for most of us, there will have been a time when someone leant into our lives and smirked, or derided, or loftily queried what we were doing; perhaps a parent, a teacher, a peer, an expert.

Instead of drawing just for the love of it, Ramon felt he had to ‘make his pictures look right,’ but when the never did:

‘After many months and
many crumpled sheets of paper,
Ramon put his pencil down.

“I’m done.”

Drawing has stopped for most of us … and usually something else, too.  An idea.  A dream.  A question.

Someone had been watching Ramon all this time.

His little sister Marisol picks up one of the crumpled papers and runs to her room.  Ramon chases into Marisol’s room, only to be stopped in his tracks by a gallery of his crumpled pictures on the walls:

“This is one of my favourites,”
Marisol said, pointing.

“That was supposed to be a vase of flowers,” Ramon said,
“but it doesn’t look like one.”

“Well, it looks vase-ISH!”
she exclaimed.’*

Ish changes everything for Ramon:

‘Ramon felt light and energised.
Thinking ish-ly allowed
his ideas to flow freely.

He began to draw what he felt –
loose lines.
Quickly springing out.
Without worry.’*

Ramon began to draw everything and everywhere, all the time.  He doesn’t stop at ish art but begins writing poems, too.  This is what happens when we start listening to our hearts and pay less attention to everyone else – except when they’re telling us to listen to our heart:

‘We will always need to be humble enough to accept that our heart knows why we are here.’**

This is about pursuing our art – whatever kind of art it might be – and encouraging others to pursue theirs.

Have a look at Hugh Macleod’s Ignore Everybody for some more encouragement towards your creativity.

(*From Peter Reynolds’ ish.)
(**From Paulo Coelho’s Aleph.)

Worlds apart or worlds together?

‘Oxytocin is released when we’re physically close to another person’s body, and can be described as a “social glue,” since it keeps society together by means of cooperation, trust and love.’*
(Meik Wiking)

We use the phrase “We’re worlds apart” to express how far we can be from finding agreement with someone.  But we only need look within ourselves a make the same discovery, that we are many worlds – many people, far from the simple person we make ourselves out to be.  This makes for a lifetime of discover and wonder:

‘To reclaim the beauty of the multitudes we each contain, we must break free of the prison of our fragments and meet one another as whole persons full of wonder unblunted by identity-template and expectation.’**

In these personal worlds we’re developing languages and cultures and systems.  These come into contact with the personal worlds of others, and, you an me, we are more than who we are, we are becoming:

“Each one of us is the custodian of an inner world that we carry around with us.  Now, other people can glimpse it from [its outer expressions].  But no one but you knows what your inner world is actually like, and no one can force you to reveal it until you actually tell them about it.  That’s the whole mystery of writing and language and expression – that when you do say it, what others hear and what you intend and know are often totally different kinds of things.”**

That our worlds are not fixed but are developing is how we are able to move forward together.  Our languages and cultures and systems are open. We notice how others have better words to describe things and use them ourselves, they live in fascinatingly rich cultures we want to borrow from, and have developed systems that work better than our own so we import from them.

When our worlds collide, there is the exciting possibility of togetherness rather than apartness.

(*From Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge.)
(**From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: A Gentle Corrective for the Epidemic of Politics Turning Us On Each Other and Ourselves.)
(**John O’Donohue, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: A Gentle Corrective for the Epidemic of Politics Turning Us On Each Other and Ourselves.)


I can see clearly now

Jimmy Cliff sang about the difference seeing clearly made:

“I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me down
It’s gonna be a bright bright sunshinin’ day
It’s gonna be a bright bright sunshinin’ day

Oh yes, I can make it now the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for
It’s gonna be a bright bright sunshinin’ day”

I had a cataract removed from my left eye yesterday.  I now have two new eyes and can say I can see clearly now.  (A big thank you to the staff at the hospital at this point for making this possible.)

It takes some getting used to.  I’m struggling with there being so much light and the eye feels a little bruised, but these things will pass.  It changes everything I turn my attention to because I can simply see more.

Seeing in a new way, a better, clearer, brighter way, is a quest defines our lives, whether we have cataracts or not.  We see ourselves and the world around us increasingly differently, as Alex McManus points out hopes and fears go together.  When we see something more clearly, or in more detail for the first time, it can be uncomfortable, even painful:

‘Imagining possible futures is also where we must face both our deepest fears and greatest hopes.’*

We can’t do something about everything we come to see but we can can do more about something.  We might call this our “original way of seeing,” seeing, as we do, what others perhaps cannot or do not choose see.  When we act upon this original seeing, we become original people as pointed to by Gary Wills, shaping and honing our lives:

“A very original man must shape his life, make a schedule that allows him to reflect and study, and create.”**

Walt Whitman has introduced me to the word debouch, which means “to emerge from a confined space into a wide, open area.”  Physically, this is where my new seeing finds me: I am debouched.  It is also where I am stretching to emotionally, mentally, and spiritually:

‘There is that in me … I do not what it is … but I know it is in me.’^

(*From Alex McManus’ Makers of Fire – eBook version.)
(**Gary Wills, quoted in Eugene Peterson’s Run with the Horses.)
(^From Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.)