The noticers

“As acceleration accelerates, individuals, societies, economies, and even the environment approach meltdown.”*
(Mark Taylor)

‘Listening is such an underrated activity.  In fact it is deeply subversive.  Because when we listen deeply, we take in the voice of the other.’**
(John O’Donohue)

Whilst change is happening faster, whilst we advance and move on and increase, the human species shows great capacity for adaptability and finding coping methods.  What we’re not so good at is noticing what we are adapting into, where our coping methods are leading us.  For this, we’ll need to create spaces in which we are able to notice more.  There are many because we are very inventive: a walk, a room, a view, a bench, in music, in silence, in reading … but a place we are able to figure out three things:

What needs breaking – as in, what we need to get rid of;
What needs fixing – as in, what we keep and can make work better; and,
What needs making – as in, in terms of what do we need to begin.

Without a space to notice, it’s difficult to know which is which.

(*Mark Taylor, quoted and Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber’s The Slow Professor.)
(**From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)

The infinite game

You’re in the cinema watching the (usually white on black) credits at the end of the movie – all those names rushing past so quickly it’s hardly possible to read one, never mind more.

And then, you spot your name and you try and see what it is you are being recognised as doing.  Then it’s gone.

This is the dramatic personae, a list of absolutely everyone who worked on the movie.  It’s not there for the audience but for the crew.

In the infinite game of life, everyone is included in the dramatic personae – everyone’s presence and contribution is valued.

The thing you do, that you have honed and developed – we couldn’t do without it.

Au naturale

If it was possible to take away all the things that have to make up your life: making money, paying rent or mortgage, being there for the family, food-shopping, the expectations and attention of others, and, noticing the most natural hoping and dreaming of your life, if we could pursue anything, do anything, live for anything, what would it be?

Knowing this, why not begin?  It was there all along, within all the other things you must do.   Simply put back all those other things that are a part of your life and continue.

It’s always been possible.  Who wants to get to the end of their life and regret knowing what they must do but not doing anything about it?

Please spread the word, make it possible for others to pursue their hopes and dreams right where they are.

‘Even if someone is born with a particular talent, that talent will usually remain latent if it is not fostered, honed and exercised.  Not all people get the same chance to cultivate and refine their abilities.’*

(*From Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens.)

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Are you still waiting for some message in the sky?

Once upon a time there was a person with an idea.  The idea caught on and became wrapped in the designs and productivity of others, and a whole institution was built around it.  Many people were employed by the institution.  It changed the way society thought about itself, everything was measured by it.  Education was designed to point everyone towards it, young people gained the qualifications that made it possible to be employed in the production that developed out of the idea.  No one thought they could have an idea that competed with the original idea.  They gave up any hope of being able to do something with the idea that once had circled around their thoughts.  They didn’t realise that the important part of this story was the experience the one person had at the very beginning.  How that person could be any person pursuing their idea.  And that person and idea could be them.

‘Faith, like fire, does not dispel the darkness.  It creates a space within it.  Faith creates a womb for hope and love within a universe that seems indifferent to both.’*

(*From Alex McManus’ Makers of Fire.)


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Did you see that?

‘The only essential is this: the gift must always move.‘*
(Lewis Hyde)

Energy is either created or destroyed. […]
You’re either the person who creates energy.  Or you’re the one who destroys it.’**
(Seth Godin)

When we engage life with our hearts, we’re talking about connection and abundance and perseverance.  All of these are to do with energy and, therefore, with movement or potential movement.  There’s an energy in every person longing to take them on a journey.

Connection, abundance and perseverance are how we get to make more with less.  Conversion to the right kind of energy requires a number of turnings.  We must turn to others, to our world, to our true self, and, if we have a god or higher power, we must urn there, too.

Vital community emerges from engaging with one another at a heart level.  Parker Palmer describes what community can be:

‘Here is summertime truth: abundance is a communal act, the joint creation of an incredibly complex ecology in which each part functions on behalf of the whole and, in return, is sustained by the whole. Community doesn’t just create abundance – community is abundance.  If we could learn that equation from the world of nature, the human world might be transformed.’^

Lewis Hyde, whose words open today’s post, sees a gift existing within the community of the gift – even if the community is two people.  It’s always more than the gift itself – which may be something as a gift of food – because even though the food is consumed, the spirit of the gift and the community of the gift continue.  In this way it is regenerating, that is, capable of making more from less.

Parker Palmer, in speaking of the community as being abundance, is describing a summertime humanity.  In contrast, Karen Armstrong describes a winter community when she writes:

‘When we meet somebody new, our first impressions are often coloured by such speculations as: am I attracted to her? Is he a threat?  Can I use her in some way?  As a result, we rarely see things or people as they are.  We are frightened, insecure and restless creatures, endlessly distressed by our failures and shortcomings, constantly poised against attack – and this can make us hostile and unkind to others.’^^

These things have come from our past, though, and we are moving towards our future, towards the summertime.  These negative reactions and responses can be far more subtle and nuanced than they appear on the surface of Armstrong’s words.  They are what Seth Godin might consider to be energy destroyers.  They are our starting point but they don’t have to be our finishing place.  Armstrong continues:

‘If we remain trapped in this greedy, needy selfishness, we will continue to be unhappy and frustrated.  But as we acquire a more realistic assessment of ourselves, we learn that the envy, anger, fear and hatred (which often spring from thwarted egotism) have little to do with us; they are ancient emotions that we inherited from our earliest ancestors.  “This is not what I am,” said the Buddha; “this is not my self.”‘^^

Armstrong is describing an ego to eco journey.  Imagine what would begin taking place if we were able to move from ego-to-ego encounters those of eco-to-eco.  What everyone is saying in the words I quoted today, is that when we have emptied ourselves of ego we find that we have more than enough to be imagineers and innovators, becoming more who we are, not less – as captured by Hugh Macleod when he writes:

‘Why would you ever want to be the best, if you can be the only?’*^

Walt Whitman asks a question that leads us into our mortality:

‘Have you feared the future would be nothing to you?

Is today nothing?  Is the beginning less past nothing?
If the future is nothing they are just as surreal nothing.’^*

Carlos Casteneda writes about our need to find a path with a heart.  It doesn’t matter, he says, if the path leads nowhere, the moment-to-moment walking of it will be enough.  A path with a heart means that the future, the present and the past are filled with something rather than being simply nothing.

(*From Lewis Hyde’s The Gift.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: The first law of organisational thermodynamics.)
(^From Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak.)
(^^From Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.)
(*^From gapingvoid’s blog: Start by having smarter conversations.)


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Just playing at being different

‘[W]here a connoisseur sees the differences, a novice sees the similarities.  Where a connoisseur can discern subtle shades of distinction based on nuance asymmetries, a novice lacks the necessary filters to canvas, to organise, to sift an assortment in a meaningful way.  Where a connoisseur can navigate a category with effortless intuition, a novice will struggle to find beginning, middle, or end.’*
(Youngme Moon)

The guide is one who has gone before.  Many times under varying conditions.  They have walked the path in foul weather and fine.  They’ve had to face the asymmetry of challenge whether ready or not.  Donald Miller does not underestimate the value of the hero when he writes about the guide:

‘The strongest character in the story isn’t the hero, it’s the guide.  Yoda.’**

We cannot be Yoda.  Only Yoda can be Yoda.  We can, though, be a guide who looks like us – a good guide knows this.  Ursula Le Guin found herself writing her novels as a man:

‘Do I know how to write in my own skin, my own clothes?  Well no, I didn’t know how.  It took me a while to learn.  And it was other women who taught me.’^

What Youngme Moon describes in today’s opening quote is described by Richard Sennett in Erin O’Connor’s story of learning how to blow a Barolo goblet.  In this context, she is an apprentice glass-blower with someone mentoring and coaching her – apprentice is another term we might use for the hero.  What O’Connor is learning is the coordination of hand, eye and brain, being totally absorbed in what is being produced:

‘We are now absorbed in something, no longer self-aware, even of our bodily self.  We have become the thing on which we are working.’^^

The journey from apprentice to mentor takes tens of thousands of hours of sheer hard graft that puts off so many others and leaves us to be different:

‘When you commit you deepen presence.  Though your choice narrows the range of possibilities now open to you, it increases the intensity of chosen possibilities.


You are the only one who can decide this and take up the lifetime of work it demands.’*^

The true guide is never bored – knowing they will never be complete, that anything could happen ahead, that they can initiate many things they must be alert to:

‘We are alert rather than bored because we have developed the skill of anticipation.’^^

Play is important for learning.  It is our willingness to be wrong over and over and over again but always willing to the possibility of being right the next time.  Play makes it possible to move beyond what we know.

Writing around a hundred years ago, Johan Huizinga noted how humans take game playing further than other species.  We are not the only game playing species, we are the species which knows it is playing:

‘Animals play, so they must be more than merely mechanical things.  We play and know that we play, so we must be more than merely rational beings, for play is irrational.’^*

To open our minds, hearts and wills requires that we play.

Answering the questions Who am I? and What is my contribution? will involve necessary playfulness.  Our play is our way to being different to one another – and something quite exceptional and remarkable takes place.

‘But extraordinary contribution is rare.  It’s when we surprise the system, and perhaps ourselves, by showing up with something unexpected, far beyond the common standard. […] Extraordinary contribution changes not just the recipient, but the giver as well.’⁺

By the way, it’s your turn to play.

(*From Youngme Moon’s Different.)
(**From Donald Miller’s Scary Close.)
(^From Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter.)
(^^From Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman.)
(*^From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)
(^*From Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens.)
(⁺From Seth Godin’s blog: What is extraordinary contribution worth?)

Viva la différence

‘They look hard to identify the good amid the bad, and when they find it, they shine a light on it, they celebrate it, they encourage us to learn from it.’
(Youngme Moon)

“Progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive.’**
(Zadie Smith)

A beautiful crescent moon greeted me this morning.  A beautiful creamy yellow against the navy of the before-dawn sky.  It seemed to say to me, the light will not be overcome.

When someone notices the thing that makes them different to others, when they hone and develop this, they become more than different.  They become a difference:

“I think we need to be training people on how to change the world.”^

Between being different and making a difference there is work to be done.  Because we’re moving into new space and new activity we are not in control of this, we are incompetent again, and we don’t like to be seen as incompetent:

‘my simple definition of suffering: whenever you are not in control‘.^^

The place in the middle, between our present self and our future Self, is where we come to terms with our good, bad and ugly, making it all valuable to us, as Brené Brown helps us to see:

‘The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear ore whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness – even our wholeheartedness – actually depends on the integration of all our experiences, including the falls.’*^

It is where we find ourselves most alive, living our best.

You now have a whole week of exploration in front of you: seven days to do something different.

Notice something you see, hear, or know that those around you do not.  Name it, learn something more about it, play with it.

(*From Youngme Moon’s Different.)
(**Zadie Smith, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Zadie Smith on Optimism and Despair.)
(^Larry Page, quoted in Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s Bold.)
(^^From Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now.)
(*^From Brené Brown’s Rising Strong.)

Let your yes be yes and your no be no*

‘You might not need more exposure to the new.  Instead, it might pay to re-see what’s already around you.’**
(Seth Godin)

‘Deep down you desire the freedom to live the life you would love.’^
(John O’Donohue)

To be able to say yes or no is to have choice.

We have more choice than we know, we need to notice just how much we have.  The universe has provided each of us with great opportunity and possibility, as Alan Lightman posits:

‘In science, no knowledge about the physical universe is off-limits or our of bounds.’^^

What Alan Lightman writes about the physical universe is true of the universe each of our lives comprises – after all, we’re a product of this physical universe.  So often, though, we stop short of fully exploring, of finding the choice that lie within us and make it possible to say yes and no.  Admittedly, as Donal Miller suggests here, it’s not easy and can take a lifetime:

‘All the hero has to do to make the story great is struggle with doubt, face their demons, and muster enough strength to destroy the Death Star.’*^

We want choice fast and when it doesn’t come speedily, we believe we don’t have as much as others.  Choice comes slowly, though, through discipline and intent, through failing and learning, through trying again and trying smarter.

This can be hard to take on in a world of technology that promises more faster – after all, the technology’s promise to deliver this is often the reason it is developed.  Sherry Turkle writes about how we are getting caught up in our technology and swept along with its speed.  If you want to see if this is true for you, check out by turning your phone, iPad and computer off just for a day.

It’s hard for most of us, it’s even impossible for some of us.  We imagine we can separate ourselves from our technology but it is becoming more and more difficult:

‘These formulations all depend on an “I” imagined as separate from the technology, a self that is able to put the technology aside so that it can function independently of its demands.’^*

Here are some things to try out towards increasing choice.  Try introducing slow time amongst all you have to do – see possibilities for slowness in the spaces between everything that has to be done on your “to do” list.  Turn a slow gaze upon yourself and take the time to notice what energises you positively and what de-energises you.  Begin to make more of the energising stuff happen and explore ways of managing the de-energising things.   That is, say yes to the energising and no to the things that get in the way.

(*From The Pioneers song Let your yeah be yeah and your no be no now.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: What do you see?)
(^From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)
(^^From Alan Lightman’s The Accidental Universe.)
(*^From Donald Miller’s Scary Close.)
(^*From Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.)