The only way to know

You have no idea what you’re doing.  If you did, you’d be an expert, not an artist.*
(Seth Godin)

Make your art.  Do the stuff that only you can do.**
(Neil Gaiman)

If it matters to you then you must do it.

And if it goes wrong then you must do it again, with all you’ve learned to help you.

Rohit Bhargava caught my eye with his four mindsets for intersection thinking – ways for allowing different fields or domains or ideas or worlds to overlap.  They may help you go deeper so you’re not simply repeating the same experiment or manoeuvre or behaviour.^

See the similarities instead of the differences: what went right?

Purposefully look away from your goal: what else is happening here?

Wander into the unfamiliar – is this something else happening here that may be worth pursuing for a while?

Be persuadable – can you pivot?

You gave it everything last time and it failed.  You can give it all again, in a smarter way.

(*From Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception.)
(**From Neil Gaiman’s Art Matters.)
(^See Rohit Bhargava’s Non Obvious 2018.  There are a lot of similarities with the moves in Theory U.)

Learn on

you become your own teacher and mentor.  You push yourself to learn from every possible source.  You read more books than those who have a formal education, developing this into a lifelong habit.  As much as possible, you try to apply your knowledge in some form of experiment or practice*
(Robert Greene)

Is there something you can do that can build an asset for you?  Every single day? […] Something that you can learn?  Every single day is a lot of days.**
(Seth Godin)

What can I do today that is more than a repeat of yesterday?

I can learn more.

I open my books.

I journal.

I wander with my thoughts.

And come upon some ideas to play with.

‘May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.^

(*From Robert Greene’s Mastery.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: The daily.)
(^From John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us: A Morning Offering.)

The community of the gift

The study and hard work.  The prepared mind.  The being stuck.  The sudden shift.  The letting go of control.  The letting go of self.*
(Alan Lightman)

You don’t need everyone.  You just need the right people.**
(Bernadette Jiwa)

The end result is the gift, the thing I bring into being as an expression of my curiosity and fascination and study and imagination and failure and skilfulness and desire to give.

And my gift is not for everyone, but it is for someone.

There is the gift.  There is the spirit of the gift.  And there is the community of the gift.

When Ben Hardy writes:

‘I’m reliant on my environment, and in many ways, I’m defined by it,’^

he also turns my attention to the importance of the community of the gift for me:

‘Without the ability to change our environment, we wouldn’t be able to change.’^

I read Alan Lightman’s words to understand the movement of mastery and freedom is from the self to others, from the ego to eco.  The person I am becoming is made possible by my living toward others:

‘You can only have what you have by releasing it to others.’^^

(*From Alan Lightman’s A Sense of the Mysterious.)
(**From Bernadette Jiwa’s blog: Reach is Overrated.)
(^From Ben Hardy’s Willpower Doesn’t Work.)
(^^From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)

Tangability (/ˈtan(d)ʒəˈbɪlɪti/)

Overwhelmed by digital, consumers turn back toward products and experiences that they can touch, feel and sense to deliver a much needed sense of calm, simplicity and humanity.*
(Rohit Bhargava)

We’re really good at putting things in boxes and missing the interplay between everything.**
(Ben Hardy)

Tangability is our ability to engage in and interact with our environments in increasingly tangible ways.

Ben Hardy writes about how this is what has led to greatness emerging in people’s lives:

‘Necessity […] is the single most important ingredient in the formula for greatness – not a particular individual’s brilliance or a lone leader’s vision.’**

I have heard this described as a person’s discontent – something in their environment they must do something about, whether small or large.  I connect it with Wallace Stevens’ pressure of reality to which we bring our best imagining – requiring we notice the very thing we may be undervaluing or trying to ignore.  We then are not only shaped by our environments but potentially become shapers of our environments.

If who we are is a disappointment then we have to change our environments:

‘Most people are living small, not because they lack the inherent talent, but because their situation isn’t demanding enough.’**

Our talents are the ways of thinking, relating, influencing and behaving with our environments and they can be grown and developed.  Identifying these is one way in which we become more aware of our environment’s paucity or fecundity.  They lead us into the tangible.

Where these things connect with Rohit Bhargava’s perceived trend for 2018 of “Touchworthiness” (defined above) is in how people are increasing creating or choosing products or experiences for physical interaction.  Not the sexual kind but things like making slime, gravity blankets and therapy pets.

Our environments are replete with tangible experiences and our talents offer us countless clues to what these are.  As John O’Donohue reflects:

‘Surrounding the intention and the act of beginning, there are always exciting possibilities.  This inevitably excites artists.  So much can actually happen between the moment the brush is taken into the hand and the moment it touches the canvas.’^

(*From Rohit Bhargava’s Non Obvious 2018.)
(**From Ben grade’s Willpower Doesn’t Work.)
(^From John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us.)

To move and dance and trust

The deepest irony about the young being cynical is that they are the ones that need to move, and dance, and trust the most.  They need to cartwheel though a freshly burst galaxy of still-forming but glowing ideas, never scared to say “Yes! Why not!” — or their generation’s culture will be nothing but the blandest, and most aggressive, or most defended of old tropes.

When young people are cynical, and snarky, they shoot down their own future.  When you keep saying “No,” all that’s left is what other people said “Yes” to before you were born.  Really, “No” is no choice at all.*
(Caitln Moran)

If we stop going, we stop learning …
If we’re not willing to keep learning, we should probably stop going.**
(Seth Godin)

The generations are changing.

We seem to be more often confronted by the downside.  I’ve just googled “depressed generation” and come up with more than 52 million pages, headed with  Psychology Today’s article Why So Many Teens Today Have Become Depressed.

But I also want to wonder about the upside of a more sensitive and vulnerable generation.  I wonder how I, as a baby boomer, might be able to help them develop, even as they help me to develop.

Seth Godin reminds me that I not only want to keep going but I want to develop and grow as I go.

John O’Donohue describes what lies beneath the surface of human progress:

‘While the culture is all gloss and pace on the outside, within it is too often haunted and lost.  The commercial edge of so-called “progress” has cut away a huge region of human tissue and webbing that held is in communion with one another.  We have fallen out of belonging.  Consequently, when we stand before crucial thresholds in our lives we have no rituals to protect, encourage, and guide us as we cross over into the unknown.’^

Last evening a friend shared how when at school she went for a walk with a troubled friend during the dinner hour and how it was only at the end of their work did her friend get to sharing what was troubling her.  We reflected on how this kind of communication is more likely to have been texted today, and that it is unlikely the conversation would have been able to develop to the point where something can be shared and support of actual presence be offered.

Technologies such as social media cannot replace our rituals of connection but accentuate the good and the bad of how we connect.  John Steinbeck proffers there is only one story:

“I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in a Pearl White serial of continuing thought and wonder.  Humans are caught — in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too — in a net of good and evil.  I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence.  Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners.  There is no other story.”^^

Steinbeck knew nothing of the disconnection and tetheredness technology would bring, of the ugliness and even evil of those who troll and socially abuse, but here awe find his virtue and vice in amplified forms.  His solution still stands for our smart, con-nected*^ world:

“In every bit of honest writing in the world… there is a base theme.  Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other.  Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love.”^^

We have left the last age of being human and are moving through a liminal landscape toward the next.  This is where we can become most disorientated, where are stories, myths and rituals help us most of all to find our way through.  O’Donohue’s pointing towards blessings not only identifies our capacity for virtue but also identifies the most primal ritual:

‘In the parched deserts of postmodernity a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well.  It would be lovely if we could rediscover our power to bless one another.  I believe each of us can bless.’^

I can sense Steinbeck nodding in agreement with this even as he writes:

“As a writer you should not judge.  You should understand.”^^

How many text messages would never be sent if we held the rule: “say five good things to a person before saying something bad”?

Liminal space is disorientating:

‘Life is unfair in a non-linear way.’^*  

Something can appear as a quite different thing.  Perhaps, and it is a big PERHAPS, some of the anxiety and despair and PERHAPS depression, is a form of cynicism and we need to find ways through to compassion:

“Cynicism means you presume everything will end in disappointment. […] Cynicism keeps you pinned to the spot, in the same posture, forever.”*

Perhaps, perhaps, my love of valuing and love of ritual, of the deep down talents and dreams and stories of people will help the younger generation to move from judgement to openess, from cynicism to compassion and from fear to courage.

I certainly know I need them to help me “move, and dance, and trust the most […] to cartwheel though a freshly burst galaxy of still-forming but glowing ideas, never scared to say “Yes! Why not!””*

Maybe we are moving towards the beginning of something new:

‘A beginning is ultimately ann invitation to open toward the gifts and growth that are stored up for us.  To refuse to begin can be an act of great self-neglect.’^

(*Caitlin Moran, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Caitlin Moran on Fighting the Cowardice of Cynicism.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: We learn as we go.)
(^From John O Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us.)
(^^John Steinbeck, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: The Only Story in the World.)
(*^I use “con-nected” to suggest the illusion of connection that technology can project.)
(^*From Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness.)


Before after

“Predictive protection” is another of Rohit Bhargava’s perceived trends for 2018: ‘services and features that can proactively protect our safety, health and environment by anticipating our actions or needs’.*

These appear to be developing around areas of our lives where things have already gone wrong – there’s even an extreme vending machine available that will recognise who you are and won’t serve unhealthy snacks ‘based on your age, mood, build or health records’.*

Technologies that help us avoid unwise choices or behaviours can only be good, but to rely on them to the avoidance of developing the inner Self with its disciplines – both protective and expansive – is not.

There are ancient paths to explore which still function when the smart phone battery is dead or the latest version of the app has not uploaded properly: ways of nobility, honour and enlightenment.

To know ourselves in humility – who we are and what we can do; to be grateful for what we have and do not have to own – to know we are rich and blessed; and, to faithfully find expression for these each day – especially in the small things we do for others.  These are places to begin.

(*From Rohit Bhargava’s Non Obvious 2018.)

Datafication and Categorisation

As we create more methods for quantifying the world around us, data gets manipulated, contaminated and sabotaged, making it harder to separate true insights from useless noise.*
(Rohit Bhargava)

Rohit Bhargava introduces me to his perceived trend for 2018 of “data pollution.”

The more we break things down, not only does information become impenetrable but also incomprehensible, at a collective level but also a personal one..

My work with people is about helping them find out more about themselves in order to make their choices for the future.  The last thing I want is for someone to become lost in their data or think of themselves as a member of a category.

They are the only one to ever be who they are.

If someone had the inclination to categorise me it would be easy thing to do, several times over.  But I hope I am more than these categories and I hope you are, too.

(*From Rohit Bhargava’s Non Obvious 2018.)


Umvelt or umwelt: the world as it is experienced by a particular organism.

The Scottish naturalist John Muir, born in Dunbar just along the coast from where I’m typing, declared:

‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.’*

Everything is present to everything else, but we often do not know it.

As I come into contact with this tree or this hill, as I watch this bird swoop across my eyeline or this hornet flit around the garden, I become connected.  When I stop objectifying the world around me and allow for all this presence to teach me, perhaps there will be a better world in me, rather than the climate change I am:

‘Could a national park be seen as a place of poetry?  Line by line, step by step, we wander along a path unknown to us, but in the process of discovery, we come to recognise ourselves in each tree, each plant, each bird and face our longing to reconnect with a larger world beyond ourselves.  Rather than fear the wilderness ahead, even climate change, we are present inside it.  Fear is replaced with engagement.  Relationships are forged, resiliency as a species is enhanced.’**

For other thoughtful reflections on the relationship between ourselves and trees, see Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings post Consider the Tree, and Jacques Goldstyn’s poignant children’s story of the child whose best friend is a tree Bertolt.

(*John Muir, quoted in Terry Tempest Williams’ The Hour of Land.)
(**From Terry Tempest Williams’ The Hour of Land.)

Except one …

Listen to your life.  See it for the fathomless mystery it is.*
(Frederick Buechner)

We can do everything right and still not really live.  Doing everything that is required is not the end goal.  To do it with flair is way more interesting.  We’re going to take a look at where that flair comes from.

In their lovely children’s book Going Places about a go-cart competition, Peter and Paul Reynolds tell a tale of what can happen if we go beyond the rules.

In school, Rafael is the first to grab a go-cart kit for the “Going Places contest.”  When he got home, out came the kit and the instructions.

Rafael was very pleased when his cart looked like the one in the instructions.

He then wondered how his friend and next-door neighbour Maya was getting on.  She hadn’t even started, instead she was intent on sketching a bird and then watched it dreamily fly away.

John O’Donohue introduces his book To Bless the Space between Us with these words:

‘There is a quiet light that shines in every heart.  It draws no attention to itself, though it is always secretly there.  It is what illuminates our mind to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility and our hearts to love life.  Without this subtle quickening our days would be empty and wearisome, and no horizon would ever awaken our longing.’**

Maya is gazing at the horizon of possibilities but there is something lit within her that has already been noticed in her sketching the bird.  She is about to bless the space between herself and Rafael.

When Rafael told Maya that she had not made a go-cart, she replied, “Who said it HAD to be a go-cart?”

Rafael gets it: the instructions didn’t say they couldn’t team up, either: his blessing for Maya

O’Donohue continues:

‘Our passion for life is quietly sustained from somewhere in us that is wedded to the energy and excitement of life.  This shy inner light is what enables us to recognise and receive our very presence here as a blessing.  We enter the world as strangers who all at once become heirs to a harvest of memory, spirit, and dream that has long preceded us and will now enfold, nourish, and sustain us.  The gift of the world is our first blessing.’**

As Maya gazes at the bird in flight, some words from Frans Johansson catch my gaze as they wing there way past me – he encourages me to “take my eye of the ball” for a while:

‘Conscientiousness is […] the type of behaviour that insures execution, but also allows us to miss great ideas, projects, improvements or connections that keep popping up around us.  Unfortunately, by rigidly pouring all of our effort into one approach, we miss out on the unexpected paths to success.’^

The other children had followed the instructions for the go-cart race and so all their machines look the same.

Except one.

While the others roll along the ground as fast as they can, Maya and Rafael take to the air.  They win the race and come to a halt by the school lake, and on seeing a frog jumping by the edge, wonder …

O’Donohue is saying that, deep down, we each have the light that makes it possible to move beyond … and beyond again.

(*Frederick Buechner, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us.)
(^From Frans Johansson’s The Click Moment.)