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.)


Who’s forgiving?

Secret #2 is more important.  Generosity.  It’s much easier and more effective to come up with good ideas for someone else.  Much easier to bring a posture of insight and care on behalf of someone else.*
(Seth Godin)

When we lack gratitude, we move towards pessimism and even cynicism.**
(Erwin McManus)

When you think about the universe and where we have come from, what for you are some of the greatest achievements of humankind?

Putting people into space?

Extending and creating life?

For me it has to be generosity and forgiveness and love.

These are amazing accomplishments, achieved against all the odds and they most in danger when assumed they just happen.

Tim Harford writes about the dangers of automation for pilots, how autopilot deskills – he illustrates with the story of Air France’s Flight 447 for which the inability to fly without autopilot is one of the reasons for its crash after leaving Rio de Janeiro for Paris.  228 people died.

It dramatically highlights the dangers of depending on automation.  It threatens Seth Godin’s generosity of ideas.   We can be misled into thinking the system will look after people and do the right thing – until it tears families apart:

“Automation will routinely tidy up ordinary messes, but occasionally create an extraordinary mess.”^

Generosity and forgiveness are skills that reward us when we use them and atrophy when we do not use them.  They involve incredible inventiveness and innovation when practised, the kind that may just save us and provide us with a better, more human future:

‘Our readiness to forgive will draw others to ourselves in that we will be known as a safe place to fail.’**

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: The two simple secrets to good ideas.)
(**From Erwin McManus’ Uprising.)
(^Aviation safety specialist Earl Weiner, quoted in Tim Harford’s Messy.)

Powerful people

“Is your heart as true to mine as mine is to yours? […] If it is, give me your hand.”*

We will always need to be humble enough to accept that our heart knows why we’re here.**
(Paulo Coelho)

Humility is a very powerful thing, a way of focusing who we are in relation to others, to things, and to our world.

Add gratitude and faithfulness – to see just what our lives are filled with and to create habits that extend who we are and what we have to others.

Karen Armstrong provides a means of entering more deeply into the power that we find within when introducing the exercise of ekstasis:

‘The aim of this step is threefold: (1) to recognise and appreciate the unknown and unknowable; (2) to become sensitive to over-confident assertions of certainty in ourselves and other people; and (3) to make ourselves aware of the numinous mystery of each human we encounter during the day.’^

To know who we are, humbly, gratefully and faithfully, allows us to know others, too:

‘Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) used to say that love was the sudden realisation that somebody else absolutely exists.’^

That is powerful, that is the power each of us owns.

(*Jehu to Jehonadab, who was a possible threat to his leadership: 2 Kings 10:15)
(From Paulo Coelho’s Aleph.)
(^From Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.)

Show me what you see

Creators focus on outputs rather than the general populace who focus on inputs.*
(Ben Hardy)

We connect to an inner place of wonder, and thus we are open to recognising the spirit of wonder in the world around us.**
(Kelvy Bird)

Ben Hardy writes about the benefits of journaling for people who want to be responsive rather than reactive, who make their own stimulation.

We’re not born as reactive or responsives.  We learn how to crave input or to believe we have more than enough input and now it’s time to do something with it.

Journaling is where the reality of what is can meet the imagination, as Maria Popova writes, we are provided with the ability:

‘to transcend what is and envision a different, better version of what could be’.^

She shares this in her blog on the work of Wallace Stevens concerning the pressure of reality and the power of imagination.  Stevens writes:

“The imagination gives to everything that it touches a peculiarity, and it seems to me that the peculiarity of the imagination is nobility, of which there are many degrees. […] I mean that nobility which is our spiritual height and depth …. But there it is.”^^

This imagination is the beginning of output.  It is our peculiar output.  It is to find and use our generative centre, to take input and turn it into some new output.

Ben Hardy describes how:

‘Most people live their lives on other people’s terms. Their days are spent achieving other people’s goals and submitting to other people’s agendas.

Their lives have not been consciously organized in such a way that they command every waking, and sleeping, moment of their life. Instead, they relentlessly react at every chance they get.

For example, most people wake up and immediately check their phone or email.’*

Instead of turning on the radio or picking up the phone, any of us can decide to begin the day with some journaling.  Then, the first thing we change is the day itself.

It is messy output.  I find the experience of journaling means that although I know the point of entry, I have no idea what will happen in the space it creates and, so, I do not know where I’ll re-emerge, but I know I will, with something I will then aim to contribute to others, usually small, but that is no matter.  In this way, I see journaling as following the shape of the hero’s journey written of by Joseph Campbell.

I believe journaling allows us to create new mythologies, the kind Campbell believed we needed when he wrote about the kind of stories for helping us to grow and contribute:

‘But for young people, the world is something yet to be met and dealt with and loved and learned from and fought with – and so, another mythology.’*^

Campbell is in conversation with Bill Moyers who himself reflects on this missing mythologies:

‘Everything was taken care of because the story was there.  Now the old story is not functioning.  And we have not yet learned a new.’^*

These new stories or myths will only begin to form when we are open to the times in which we find ourselves, the pressure of reality as Stevens would name it, and we are able to be our “output selves” and bring our imagination to bear:

‘The relationship of myths to cosmology and sociology has got to wait for a [person] to become used to the new world [they] are in.  The world is different today from what it was fifty years ago.’*^

While we enjoy our changing world it brings with it a disorientation we can struggle through.

Writing our journals, we find we’re writing our own stories, and in writing our stories, we find the way forward.

(*From Ben Hardy’s blog: Keeping a Daily Journal Could Change Your Life.)
(**From Kelvy Bird’s Generative Scribing.)
(^From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Wallace Stevens on Reality, Creativity, and our Greatest Self-Protection from the Pressure of the New.)
(^^Wallace Stevens, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Wallace Stevens on Reality, Creativity, and our Greatest Self-Protection from the Pressure of the New.)
(*^Joseph Campbell in Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(^*Bill Moyers in Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)

Uncovering the remarkable in the ordinary

As light dims, as every [autumn] absorbs the leaves into the ground, as nature collapses inward to retreat through winter, so spring follows.  Bulbs, once dormant, burst forth.  The chartreuse of spring and the gold of summer return.  Harmony.*
(Kelvy Bird)

With these long days, I love to step outside the front door and spend a few moments taking in the new day.  The greenness, the noises of a world waking up, the birds wheeling through the air with all their chatter, a few remembered words to help me focus in to the sacredness of the ordinary.

I find myself wondering whether our preoccupation with tidiness being the most important thing takes away so many of these wonderful, simple, messy things.

Tim Harford reflects on what happened when an eighteenth century attempt to measure and standardise forests lost so much of the messy:

‘But the local peasants lost out – they were no longer able to access fallen trees for firewood, saps for glues, medicines and firelighters, acorns to feed pigs and other resources too messy and trivial to register one the official surveys of the forest.  And since these resources had never been registered in the first place, whatever the peasants lost did not officially count.’**

The tidiness of modern life with its work demands, housing and educational needs and more take a heavy toll, often beyond those we can think of.  We lose sight of the messy, the wonder all around us which may in fact be the place we find the thought or idea or smile that will carry us through the next challenge.  Hugh Macleod is pondering how growing older can change our perspectives, though we don’t have to grow older to see in this way:

‘So if you need to start improving your life, instead of coming up with grand schemes, you might pay more attention to the little stuff.’^

(*From Kelvy Bird’s Generative Scribing.)
(**From Tim Harford’s Messy.)
(^From gapingvoid’s blog: Pay attention to the little stuff.)