When we grow up

It turns out that culture is the most powerful force available to to us.  Culture comes from each of us, from the connections between.*
(Seth Godin)

The important distinction is not between theists and naturalists; it’s between people who care enough about the universe to make a good-faith effort to understand it, and those who fit into a predetermined box or simply take it for granted.  The universe is much bigger than you and me, and the quest to figure it out unites people with a spectrum of substantive beliefs.  It’s us against the mysteries of the universe; if we care about understanding, we’re on the same side.**
(Sean Carroll)

The saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.”

There’ll always be people who, for one reason or another, will wait until others build or create something they will come to see they need or want.

The reality of the universe, though, is that we all get the chance to make something valuable together that we want to live within and for.

We know that as we grow up we have to move from dependence to independence, but that isn’t our destination.  To be independent people is to value the person, the thing.

Our goal, though, is to move into interdependence, then the thing we are valuing most of all is the relationship between one thing and another thing, a person and some thing, and a person and another person.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Where’s the king of the ants?)
(**Sean Carroll, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Existential Therapy from the Universe.)

Longings unmet

Recent research has found a correlation between playing informal games as a child and being creative as an adult; the opposite was true of the time spent playing formal organised games.’*
(Tim Harford)

re-examine all you’ve been told at school or church or in any book; dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency no only in its words but in the silent lines**
(Walt Whitman)

Perhaps Nassim Taleb is picking up on what the formal games lead to when he writes of the predictability of our days:

‘If you know, in the morning, what your day looks like with any precision, you are a little bit dead – the more precision, the more dead you are.’^

Joseph Campbell points us in the direction of the inner life and what it is saying to us about what it wants to be about but if we haven’t cultivated this then we will be lost:

‘When you get older, and the concerns of the day have all been attended to, and you turn to your inner life – well, if you don’t know where it is or what it is, you’ll be sorry.’^^

Palliative-care nurse Bronnie Ware wrote an article on the top five regrets people in her care articulated: they had not lived a life true to who they are; they had worked too hard; they lacked courage to express their feelings; they had not remained in touch with friends; and, they hadn’t allowed themselves to be happier.*^

Our longings might be seen as tensions between our dreams and reality.  As Kelvy Bird points out, the interesting stuff happens in-between:

‘With vision above and reality at the base, creativity resides between the two.’^*

Longings are what make us human.  I appreciate that a number of faiths suggest overcoming longings and desires, though, as physicist Sean Carroll suggests, this too is a longing or desire:

“In human terms, the dynamic nature of life itself as a desire.  There is always some thing we want, even if what we want is to break free of the bonds of desire.  Curiosity is a form of desire.”⁺

If we do not pick up and run with our desires then we lay ourselves open to the pushing and pulling of others.  It is where we find our joy, which I guess is what a life without regrets is about.

Audre Lorde aligns with Campbell, encouraging us to go where our ‘true spirit rises.’  Although Lorde is writing for women, there is power in her words for every person;

‘For each of us as women, there is a dark place within where hidden and growing our true spirit rises,

and tough as chestnut
stanchion against your nightmares of weakness”

and of impotence.’⁺⁺

(*From Tim Harford’s Messy.)
(**From Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.)
(^From Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes.)
(^^From Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(*^From Chip and Dan Heath’s The Power of Moments.)
(^*From Kelvy Bird’s Generative Scribing.)
(+Sean Carroll, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Existential Therapy from the Universe.)
(++From Audre Lorde’s The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.)

The future of forking paths

In all fictional works, each time a man is confronted with several alternatives he chooses one and eliminates the others; in fiction of the almost inextricable Ts’ui Pen, he chooses – simultaneously – all of them.  He creates in this way, diverse futures, diverse times which themselves proliferate and fork.*
(Jorge Luis Borges)

There are always choices.  Viktor Frankl saw the truth of this when he declared our final freedom is to choose our response to what happens to us.

Seth Godin catches my eye with these opening words to his blog:

‘There is no market.  There are markets.’**

He could be saying, There is no future.  There are futures; something Jorge Luis Borges imagined in his story of all paths simultaneously existing.

Perhaps a single future is most often an easier shortcut from now to then, far easier than being open to many futures.  There are many paths to recognise: your skills and abilities, your dreams and hopes and passions, your values, your stories of relationships and experiences, and more.  The more these threads are noticed, the more futures become possible.

This will sound too messy for some.  Tim Harford is writing about the people who tidy their desk and workplace and those who leave it messy:

‘That’s the thing about a messy desk, or a messy office, it’s full of clues about recent patterns of working, and those clues can help us work more effectively.’^

The interesting point he makes comes from some research showing tidy people tend to file prematurely and are often unable to find what they need in their vast systems of storage.

This sounds like the future and futures.  The more we tidy away the clues, the more we lose sight of the paths and the choices and the possibilities.  Out of sight is out of mind and heart and will, but as Ben and Ros Zander point out:

‘The action in a universe of possibility may be characterised as generative, or giving, in all senses of that word – producing new life, creating new ideas, consciously endowing with meaning, contributing, yielding to the power of contexts.  The relationship between people and environments is highlighted, not the people and the things themselves.  Emotions that are related to the special category of spirituality are abundant here: joy, grace, awe, wholeness, passion, and compassion.’^^

Here we see forking paths that fork and fork again.  Maybe to file early in this case would be to only see the people and things, rather than the messy relationships that may appear if everything is left out in some kind of explorative and creative mess?

I concluded my reading this morning with Jürgen Todenhöfer’s account of his journey into ISIS, where I find an extreme example of seeing only one future.  Abu Loth, one of the fighters he met told him:

“All of life is just a test, and you need a clear set of instructions.”*^

A single future contains the danger of becoming narrower and narrower. Another fighter, Abu Qatadah, told Todenhöfer:

“A bad Muslim who lies, cheats, and kills, is preferable to Allah than a non-Muslim who does good all day long.”^*

I have come across similar thinking in the Christian Church and in non-religious contexts too.  These are examples of what Otto Scharmer would call absencing, in which the future is pre-determined and those who believe otherwise will be ignored or worse.

There are, though, many right and beautiful futures waiting to be uncovered through our imagining and creating:

‘The craftsmanship of meaning amid the unfeeling laws of nature  invariably calls on us to use human tools like ethics and art to answer questions of what is right and beautiful.’⁺

(*The character Stephen Albert in Jorge Luis Borges’ The Garden of Forking Paths.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: The shortcut crowd.)
(^From Tim Harford’s Messy.)
(^^From Rosamund and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)
(*^Abu Loth, quoted in Jürgen Todenhöfer’s My Journey into the Heart of Terror.)
(^*Abu Qatadah, quoted in Jürgen Todenhöfer’s My Journey into the Heart of Terror.)
(⁺From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Existential Therapy from the Universe.)

Resistance is not futile*

We want to start with resistances, those facts that stand in the way of the will.  Resistances themselves come in two sorts: found and made.**
(Richard Sennett)

We have to have something to live for, to look forward to.  We have to have more than existence: we have to have something inspiring.^
(Hugh Macleod)

Our imaginations need resistance and reality to bring about creations that are critical, transformative and lasting.  Imagination makes it possible for us to expand our freedom, develop key abilities and live for a purpose greater than ourselves.

Wallace Stevens writes about how:

‘The imagination loses vitality as it ceases to adhere to what is real.  When it adheres to the unreal and intensifies what is unreal, while its first effect may be extraordinary, that effect is the maximum effect it will ever have.’^^

I take this to mean that whilst we only imagine and create more imagining, as in some idea going around and around with in our heads or within a conversation of a group, it may feel great but ultimately that is as good as it gets.  But imagination that meets some reality and resistance and seeks to overcome it is imagination that has become coherent.

I borrow the word coherent from David Bohm when he describes coherent and incoherent light:

“Ordinary light is called ‘incoherent,’ which means that it’s going in all sorts of directions, and the light waves are not in phase with each other so they don’t build up.  But the laser produces a very intense beam which is coherent.  The light waves build up strength because they are all going in the same direction.  This beam can do all sorts of things that ordinary light cannot.”*^

Imagination becomes coherent when it actually tries to do something.  Tries is an important word.  The word coherent for me also means “making sense.”  We find meaning – the purpose greater than ourselves – when we turn our imagination loose on reality.  It becomes laser-focused.

Avoid the path of least resistance, take your ideas and explore, experiment and prototype with them.  Every day.

(*In Star Trek, the Borg announce that resistance is futile.)
(**From Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman.)
(^From gapingvoid’s blog: You can’t take that away from me.)
(^^From Wallace Stevens’ The Necessary Angel.)
(*^David Bohm, quoted in Kelvy Bird’s Generative Scribing.)


On solitude

Leave to your opinions their own quiet undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be pressed or hurried by anything.  Everything is gestation and then bringing forth.  To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life: in understanding as in creating.*
(Rainer Maria Rilke)

As I think back, no one directly taught me about the critical importance of solitude.

I came to value it through the testimony of people I’d “met” accidentally.  It was on no curriculum I ever experienced.

I only know I must now go there at the beginning and end of the day, that what lies in-between is richer for it.

(*Rainer Maria Rilke, outed in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Rilke on the Lonely patience of Creative Work.)


Enflourish: the art of enabling others to flourish in their lives through flourishing in our own.

Seth Godin writes about how we don’t have to be jerks to become and to remain successful:

‘For every person who has a reputation as a bully, a deal breaker, an intimidator – someone who fights for every scrap – there are many people who succeeded by weaving together disparate communities, by keeping their word, by quietly creating value.’*

A diverse world will be a more imaginative and, therefore, hopeful world.

Alan Lightman includes this lovely insight into being human his fable about creation:

‘”Each of them tries so desperately to find meaning.  In a way, doesn’t matter what particular meaning each of them finds.  As long as each create finds something to give coherence and harmony to the jumble of existence.  Perhaps it might be as simple as a discovery of their own capacities, and a thriving in their discovery.  And even if they are mortal, they are part of things.  They are part of things larger than their universe, whether they know it or not.  Wouldn’t you agree?”‘**

All those who do agree today have the opportunity to encourage and help others to discover their capacities.

Not bad for the 25th June 2018.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: The jerk fallacy.)
(**From Alan Lightman’s Mr g.)

You’re a mess (and that’s good)

… I am the necessary angel of earth,
Since in my sight, you see the earth again.*
(Wallace Stevens)

My own journaling is how I’ve come to form my sense of identity and path in life.**
(Ben Hardy)

How do we make sense of what appears to be such a messy life?

So many things that are part of who we are, but how to make sense of them all?

The world is messy and at its messiest seems most healthy.  Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us if our lives, the product of this ecosystem, are both messy and healthy when we respect this.

Journaling is one way that helps us reframe, to capture the ever so many things into a story that both engages us and unfolds into the future in an endless way.  To see what we’re aware of but differently, to bring out what has been invisible or far away in the background.

It’s not guaranteed but it is a place to begin that has surprising developments.

Ben Hardy suggests not overdoing it.  Keep it fresh by journaling for short periods.  All it means is, we open the journal, we begin writing, and go with the flow.

(*From Wallace Stevens The Auroras of Autumn, quoted in The Necessary Angel.)
(**From Ben Hardy’s blog: Keeping a Daily Journal Could Change Your Life.)

Alone and beyond

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities but in the experts there are few.*
(Shunryu Suzuki)

To know there is so much we do not know is to know much.

To enter a place of solitude each day makes it possible to enter the wonder of this knowing-unknowing.

We are preparing ourselves to enter a world with others.

(*Shunryu Suzuki, quoted in Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.)


We fail to see that a computer that is a hundred times more accurate than a human and a million times faster will make ten thousand times as many mistakes.


Automated systems tend to lull us into passivity.*
(Tim Harford)

Some of the most threatening  issues we’ll face as humans are creeping up on us without us noticing.  It’s not the technology so much as how we’ll change as we use it.  As we allow technology to fill the space between ourselves and our environments the danger is that we will find we are being de-skilled.

There used to be a time when we knew exactly what the technology did, that it was simply an extension of ourselves.  When we picked up a spade it was to break open the ground spa we could  plant something green or dig the footings for a structure.  Or when we fitted our specs to our faces to be able to see better.  Much of the more recent technology fills the space without being noticed.  This will increase as those who remember doing things a different way come to the end of their lives.

More than ever, we need the people who refuse to give in to the new, the necessary, the labour-saving, without asking the questions that allow us to grow in our humanity whilst being the user of the machines rather than the used.

Smart is neither a substitute, nor a short cut, to wisdom.

When we allow technology to fill the space between ourselves and others, ourselves and our city, ourselves and our world, ourselves and ourselves, then our “seeing” senses become dulled.  Our feeling senses follow, and then our ability to be artists or makers and stretch our understanding and expression of what it is to be human wanes.

Richard Hennessy imagines what forms at the point of two colours meeting and the artistic possibilities.  He writes these words in a piece written for the publication Art in America “The Man Who Forgot How to Paint” in 1984, but he could be writing for all of us and the possibilities when our colour comes into contact with the colour of our environment whether that be a person, nature, an object, and idea:

When two colours meet they form an edge whose enormous aesthetic potential can be realised only of the edge is treated as the occasion for drawing … To one side we will have solidity, hence mass; to the other, air and light.”**

In this way we are able to set out on the adventure it feels we are here for, to let nothing move between us and exploration, which may become an adventure.  As Chris Guillebeau writes of the classic hero’s journey:

‘A hero sets off in search of something elusive that has the power to change both their life and the world.’^

Questions can often turn out to be more valuable than answers.

(*From Tim Harford’s Messy.)
(**Richard Hennessy, quoted in Kelvy Bird’s Generative Dialogue.)
(^From Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit.)



Revaluation: the action of assessing the value of something again.

What if you are undervaluing the most important thing you have?

Tonight I’ll be taking part in an evening for entrepreneurs and freelancers. I thought I had what I wanted to say sorted and then just before heading to bed, I thought, Hmm, the work that I do is simply this: to enable people to revalue their lives.

Not in some kind of self deceiving way, but in valuing the very truth of their lives.

“Listen to your life, see it for the fathomless mystery it is.”*

(*Frederick Buechner, quoted in the Northumbria Community’s Morning Prayer.)