Amateurs and dilettantes


Willpower is for people who are still uncertain about what they want to do.*

Longing is the deepest and most ancient voice in the human soul.  It is the secret source of all presence and the driving force of all creativity and imagination: longing keeps the door open and calls towards us gifts and blessings of which our lives dream.**
(John O’Donohue)

In their original meanings, an amateur is one who loves what they do and a dilettante someone who takes delight in.   In exploring flow and identifying amateur scientists who made significant breakthroughs, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes:

‘They simply did what they enjoyed doing.’^

At the end of our days, life doesn’t get better than this.  If we end up being paid for this and bring rigour to what we do, then we can count ourselves blessed.

We can all pursue what we love and delight in with rigour.  It may be not where the big money is found but there are lots of significant things big money isn’t interested in.

(*Helia, quoted in Ben Hardy’s These 20 Pictures Will Teach You More Than Reading 100 Books.)
(**From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)
(^From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.)

My peace I give to you

Isolated in the freezing night, [Icelanders] used to chant their poems huddled around fired in precarious hurts, while outside the winds of the interminable arctic winters howled.  If the Icelanders had spent all those nights in silence listening to the mocking wind, their minds would have filled with dread and despair.  By mastering the orderly cadence  of metre and rhyme, and encasing the events of their own lives in verbal images, they succeeded instead in taking control of their experiences.*
(Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

When Jesus left his peace with his followers I have to wonder whether he knew that the best things would come from a place of peace that we each find, rather than the rush and push, the  hotheadedness and bloodymindedness for achievement, we can fall into valuing.

It may work in the short-term but the Icelandic winter reminds us that life is about the long-term and we have to find the kind of peace that makes it possible to turn up with the best solutions again and again.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is exploring the flow of thought, and it is in the different things we value and enjoy thinking about that we will find peace.  Warren Berger reminds us that peace is very practical, very practical indeed:

‘Part of being able to tackle complex and difficult questions is accepting there is nothing wrong with not knowing.  People who are good at questioning are comfortable with uncertainty.’**

(*From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.)
(**From Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.)


It’s ever easier to weave our own reality, to find a bubble and to reinforce what we believe with what we hear.  We can invent our own rules, create our own theories, fabricate our own ‘facts’.

It turns out, though, that when your reality is based on actual reality, it’s a lot more stable and resilient, because you don’t have to be so vigilant about what you’re going to filter out.*
(Seth Godin)

Contrary to what we tend to assume, the normal state of the mind is chaos.
(Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

In his groundbreaking work on how people find happiness in their lives, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, provides three flows that proffer an alternative way for ordering our lives than routine or some unquestioned order:

‘The integrated cells and organs that make up the human organism are an instrument that allows us too get in touch with the rest of the universe.’**

The first is the body in flow, when we are lost in the beauty and wonder of the world through which we move – in small and large and all things between – as the walking sensor arrays we are:

‘The body is like a probe full of sensitive devices that tries to obtain what information it can from the awesome reaches of space.’**

It is through my body that I am writing to you and through yours that you are receiving this – the technology between us only allows us to extend our reach to one another:

‘It is through the body that we are related to one another and to the rest of the world.  While this connection itself may be quite obvious, what we tend to forget is how enjoyable it can be.  Our physical apparatus has evolved so that whenever we use its sensing devices they produce positive sensation and the whole organism resonates in harmony.’

Food and travel and sex are some of the simplest ways of organising what otherwise might become chaotic but then we do more, we play mind games: the flow of thoughts.

Memory and its organisation allows what comes to us from the past to be so important for arranging the present.  Philosophy, science, and history are ways of thinking that we enjoy and can be lost in.  If we named the things we enjoy thinking about, they will likely fall into one of these.  We can so love to think about certain things that we can be lost in thought.

We are increasingly opening ourselves to what is around us rather than only within us, through what our bodies are sensing and our minds are thinking, but, as we know, there is more: the flow of work, of making something out of what we experience and think about and feel for.  Largely we may describe people as scientists or sales-people or artists or machinists but the diversity or individuality is far greater.  As Anne Lamott holds out:

‘The world has an awful beauty.’^

But with extras.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Reality-based reality.)
(**From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.)
(^From Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway.)

We crave such things

I learned the beauty of simple things.  And the simplest and most sophisticated thing I experienced was drinking tea.*
(Paulo Coelho)

The walk along the old railway line produced the unexpected and the wonderful that had I stopped to take in a fraction of them, I would n’t have completed the journey in the day: the river that flowed through the trees, the surprise of a field between the trees, the haphazard pattern of different-coloured flowers, the scents and fragrances carried on such fresh air, the remains of platforms that had not seen a train since 1967 … .

The one thing I did allow myself and take in for longer was the  field golden with a crop of barley or oats – I watched the waves of movement created by the warm breeze, brushing what seemed an endless palette of yellows.

All of this made more poignant the reading of Maria Popova’s Brain Picking’s Tiny Perfect Things, in which she quotes Hermann Hesse:

“My advice to the person suffering from lack of time and apathy is this: Seek out each day as many as possible of the small joys.”**

The title of Popova’s blog echoes the title of a book from poet Mary Higgins Clark, illustrated by Madeline Kloepper.  Not enough time, too much time … here are two of our greatest 21st century issues or challenges (how strange they should both exist together in such large amounts).  Becoming noticers of small things can save us from boredom or criticising or criticism:

“in the emotional world a small thing can touch the heart and imagination every bit as much as something impressively gigantic”.^

It doesn’t have to be a walk through the countryside.  We can walk a familiar urban path more slowly and notice the things we often miss or that are only visiting this footpath at this time on this particular day.  We only need slow down a little and look around.  How this becomes a part of the larger day and what we have to do may well feel magical:

‘Each sensory organ, each motor function can be harnessed to the production of flow.’^^

(*From Paul Coelho’s Aleph.)
(**Herman Hesse, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Tiny Perfect Things.)

(^Henry Beston, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Tiny Perfect Things.)
(^^From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.)

Seize the day

Paradoxically, a self-centred self cannot become more complex, because all the psychic energy at its disposal is invested in fulfilling its current goals, instead of learning about new ones.*
(Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

The deepest need of man […] is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness.’**
(Erich Fromm)

There are those who, ignoring developing the inner self, must crave stimulation from outside and the other in order to save themselves from boredom or anxiety.

There are those who, constantly developing their inner world, are able to stimulate themselves in all circumstances and take their richness into the other.

Of course, it’s not that we are either or but somewhere on a journey, moving towards the one or the other.  The key is knowing that developing the self is not about fate but a choice.

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

Intelligent design

You’re a better designer if you love the people you’re designing for.*
(Fred Dust)

True innovation isn’t about finding an alternative that gets us from A to B; it’s about envisioning new As and Bs.  It’s about being open to redefining where problems begin and where solutions must end […].**
(Bernadette Jiwa)

Intelligent design is when we make something for an other we know they need or want.

But the intelligence doesn’t stop there.

The creative journey that makes it possible to help an other find what they need brings about growth in ourselves that simply doing what we want to do will never achieve.  Nothing new comes into existence in a world where we are the centre of our own attention.

The other person presents a problem that requires we move beyond ourselves and what we know and what we have so far made:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.  For knowledge is listed, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”^

The other part of this is, as far as is possible for maximum transformation, these new possibilities must be co-designed..

(*IDEO’s Fred Dust, quoted in Bernadette Jiwa’s Meaningful.)
(**From Bernadette Jiwa’s Hunch.)
(^Albert Einstein, quoted in Ben Hardy’s These 20 Pictures Will Teach You More Than Reading 100 Books.)

Filling in the silence

Silence will teach you more in a day than a world of voices can teach you in a lifetime.*
(Frances Roberts)

The decline of our personal momentum might be the great untold story of our time.  That electronic media, incoming, ‘breaking’, please reply, didn’t you see that, react right now, click here … this has a cost.  And the cost is our internal drive to initiate instead of to just react.

Someone’s driving.  It’s either you, going where you choose, or someone else, pushing you.**
(Seth Godin)

You and I, we are more than what we do and what we have.

There’s an inside and an outside to all of us, whether we tend to this or not.   Life appears richer when we join these up.

Henri Nouwen announced:

‘I must listen to my life telling me who I am.’^

It seems we struggle to do this, though.

I’ve just been listening to a radio piece on ten years of the smart phone.  The snippets of interviews suggested we don’t go to the silence when we have a moment but check our phones.  Sherry Turkle writes:

‘We build technologies that leave us vulnerable in new ways’.^^

We have yet to see just how and to what extent we will be more vulnerable.

Alongside our use of technology, we need to build in more silence and reflection.  Reception is always good and the service plans are free.  What we’ll be able to find is the kind of flow that takes us beyond boredom and through anxiety that being more reactive people leaves us with.*^

The doodle for today is about bringing the inside and outside world together through dreamwhispering and mindful doodling – something I’m putting together for a year of amazing journeying.  Get in touch with me to find out more:

(*Frances Roberts, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: The motor.)
(^From Henri Nouwen’s Discernment.)
(^^From Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.)
(*^A point made by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow.)

The imbalance

It seems that occasionally giving up self-consciousness is necessary for building a strong self-concept.*
(Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

Only when an organism shares in the ordered relations of its environment does it secure the stability essential to living.**
(John Dewey)

For something beautiful to come into being for others, it’s often necessary to lose ourselves.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is pointing out, though, that if we bring our art, we don’t lose ourselves at all.  We become stronger.

There is a choice before us on a daily basis.  To turn up to whatever the day means for us and to be absorbed by the environment, whether it be a person, persons or system of some kind.  Or we can turn up with our art: the way we think and feel and create.  To bring our art is to create imbalance within the environment.   It is in the offering to an other, others or system that possibilities open up that didn’t exist before.

There’ll be many times when it doesn’t work but sometimes it does, and the future changes.

(*From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.)
(**John Dewey, quoted in Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman.)