Golden joinery

And there’s a beauty that is harder to define or understand, because it occurs not just in the body but where the body and the spirit meet and define each other.*
(Ursula Le Guin)

Hence the fundamental importance of the so-called “double task”: to be able to act and reflect on one’s actions at the same time.**
(Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leicester)

We all get things wrong, we all fail. Facing up to these and yet not dwelling on them is what real forgiveness makes possible.

In a real way, forgiveness makes it possible for us to both act and to be reflective, to deal with our mess ups in a way that learns and integrates, keeping moving towards greater beauty.

This kind of forgiveness is like the lacquer resin mixed with gold or silver dust in the Japanese art of kintsugi (kin tsugi = golden joinery), making what was broken not only whole again but also beautiful in a way that defines us and the gift we bring into the world.

The most difficult thing can be receiving it.

(*Ursula Le Guin, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Ursula K. Le Guin on Ageing and What Beauty Really Means.)
(**From Maureen O’Hara’s Dancing at the Edge.)

Maintain course

Life is ambiguous. There are loose ends. It takes maturity to live with the ambiguity and the chaos, the absurdity and untidiness.*
(Eugene Peterson)

nothing is fixed. Everything is becoming. […] Everything, without exception, requires additional energy and order to maintain itself. […] Existence, it seems, is chiefly maintenence.**
(Kevin Kelly)

Without maintenance, what we are becoming is worn out or redundant within what is – I borrow Ursula Le Guin’s phrase (note the hyphens):

a long-drawn-out death.^

It is the way of a material universe. What we are all capable of, however, is bringing curiosity and imagination and creativity to what is inevitable, slowing down or even reversing the process in some regards, making it one heck of a journey:

Being invited to the dance that is humanity, that is what we’re here for.’^^

Keep dancing, learning new steps, finding new partners, listening to new music. Such things are, according to Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leicester, what people who are competently fit for the 21st century look like:

In a disciplines yet engaging way they are always pushing boundaries, including their own. They dance at the edge.’*^

When we maintain ourselves, we make it possible for others to maintain themselves. We will always, then, bring to others a necessary asymmetry, an adjunct thought or possibility, something not expected, with which we can roll or reject, though I suspect that life is found in the roll.

(*From Eugene Peterson’s Run with the Horses.)
(**From Kevin Kelly’s
The Inevitable.)
(^From Ursula Le Guin’s
Words Are My Matter.)
(^^From gapingvoid’s blog:
Love is the new metric.)
(*^From Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leicester’s
Dancing at the Edge.)

Life is a four letter word

Competence is culturally determined. What works in one culture fails in another.*
(Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leicester)

Almost anyone can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think of you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody but yourself.**
(E. E. Cummings)

You may recall, I am using Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal as my morning journal right now. Here’s the instruction on a page I’ve used today:


I search for the four letter words I’ve used and I find these (perhaps not the ones Smith anticipated): good, keep, evil, life, live, rain, felt, open, feel, grow, hold, holy.

Of course, many of these words won’t remain as four letters when they’re translated into other languages, and in some becoming characters rather than letters.

I often think, though, this is where the fun begins for those willing to play. An idea or thought can be at its most dynamic when it has to cross a border, when it has to be interpreted.

When I say playfulness, I don’t only mean I am open to think about something that has come from beyond my borders, but also what I feel about it. We hold possibility in our hearts, where what we feel joins with what we think. And something new emerges.

What are we going to do with all the wonder coming towards us from here, there and everywhere?

(*From Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leicester’s Dancing at the Edge.)
(**E. E. Cummings: source lost.)
(^From Keri Smith’s
Wreck This Journal.)

The edge of good feedback

Angelica Sprocket lives next door. Her overcoat has pockets galore.*
(Quentin Blake)

If you begin and end with focus groups, all you’re going to do is what’s been done before.**
(Seth Godin)

I’ve just completed a two-day immersion exploring ways for building competence with complexity. The last participation for the twenty of us was to share in groups of four what we saw in each other in terms of power and edge – something to develop beyond our comfort zone.

The challenge, then, is not only to find our authentic voice but also to enlarge it.^

We will never know our reach unless we stretch.^^

The best kinds of feedback see both our unique contribution and how this can be grown, and it was quite something to see just how accurately this cohort of people had noticed things in one another even after only a couple of days.

We each are able to bring to others what they are not looking for, some way they have not thought of, a response they have not imagined.

Angelica Sprocket, our “pockets” contain all manner of things:

There’s a pocket for mice,
and a pocket for cheese
and a pocket for hankies in case anyone feels that they’re going to sneeze.
And in case anyone is thinking of dropping off to sleep, there’s a pocket for motor horns that go PAH-HEE-HAR-HAR and BEEP-BEEP.*

I don’t imagine our “pockets” will contain mice and cheese and hankies and motor horns, but they will be crammed with many wonderful things. What’s in your pockets?

(*From Quentin Blake’s Angelica Sprocket’s Pockets.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: The trap of listening to feedback.)
(^From Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Connection.)
(^^From Chip and Dan Heath’s The Power of Moments.)

Success not guaranteed

All amazing journeys begin with amazing people.* (Hugh Macleod)

The human story is full of examples of occasions when out of the depths of crisis some individual or group takes a bold creative step which changes not only the rules but the game itself.** (Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leicester)

Nothing significant and impactful is ever accomplished without a team or tribe coming together.

In John’s Gospel there’s the story of Nathanael who on hearing about a new rabbi in town called Jesus, wonders whether anything good can come out of  place like Nazerath.  He’s sitting under a tree at that moment in time, watching the world go by perhaps, judging performances.

Of course, no team is ever as good as we want it to be but that’s part of the adventure.  Harriet Lerner is here describing a family but she could be picturing a team:

I tend to agree with author Mary Karr, who defines a dysfunctional family as “any family with more than one person in it.”^

Even if we’re the one with the first idea, at some point we’ll need a team – even with dreamwhispering, I need someone to become a dreamwhisperer with me.  I know that success is not guaranteed but I also know that some of the most incredible things can happen in the space we create together leading to new possibilities for the dreamwhisperer.

At some point, whether we’re the person with the idea or hearing the idea, we come to a choice.  Either we continue to sit in the shade of the tree judging he performance or others or we need to get involved in something that may well fail or may become something transformative.

(*From gapingvoid’s blog: Want some great advice?)
(**From Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leicester’s Dancing at the Edge.)(^From Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Connection.)

The eye of wonder

Yesterday shows another day is here.* (Ruth Krauss)

How will we measure ourselves today?

There are many ways – our quality of thinking, relating to people around us, getting things done – but perhaps some of the most primal ways include how we’re noticing the world we live in, wowed by it, learning from it.

These ways of measuring change all the others for the better.

(*From Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak’s Open House for Butterflies.)

Let your light shine

When you shine a light you become the light.*
(Hugh Macleod)

Have you ever noticed how many actions there are to lighting a candle?

When I set out my list of things to do, I began with setting the candle on a flat and safe surface, but now I’m thinking about how I came to get the candle in the first place, even before straightening the wick, opening the box of matches and striking one, carefully lighting the candle and safely disposing of the spent match. And are you just going to live the box of matches lying around or tidy it away?

What we often think of as “lighting a candle” is made up of many details. Imagine, then, how many details there are to shining as the different kinds of light that we are.

Bernadette Jiwa writes about her manager in one of her first jobs. Paula would lead by example, beginning the day with sweeping the floor:

The first thing Paula did when she arrived every morning was sweep the floor. Sweeping the floor became a ritual – her way of preparing a welcome for customers when they arrived. That small act changed Paula’s posture, as well as the attitude of the team who worked with her.**

Jiwa’s story is from the hospitality industry, but it isn’t where Jiwa ended up. Although now a marketer and writer, she remembers this detail from so many years earlier. It made me think about all the years I spent doing all the things my job required of me, paying attention to the details, especially of the things I wasn’t so intuitive or good at so that I could do these things the best I could. It also meant that I would come to notice the things that meant the most to me, things not necessarily valued within that organisation:

I guess my point is that we are what we do, and we need to try and experiment to be able to find who we are and what we are good at.^

Paying attention to the details of what we’re doing and how we react to these (our energies) is how we become able to give ourselves permission to be the peculiar kind of light we are, and which the world needs. The alternative is to wait for the big break or for someone else to notice what matters to us, and that might be as fruitless as waiting for Godot.

The thing about each of our lights is that they are made up of the kinds of details we notice and others don’t, making it possible to bring these together in some new way.

Gerd Gigerenzer and Stephen Jay Gould share how there’s something about humans needing to look beyond probability:

our minds are not built (for whatever reason) to work by the rules of probability.^^

They refer to the Linda example; you can try this one out for yourself:

Linda is thirty-one years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student she was concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice and participated in antinuclear demonstrations.

Which of the following two alternatives is more probably?

Linda is a bank teller
Linda is a bank teller and active in the feminist movement.*^

You probably chose the second possibility because we can’t help ourselves when it comes to details, even though the first possibility is the more probable.

When we free ourselves to notice the details and to create something from these, then our light begins to shine. Youngme Moon warns us:

If we only pay attention to things that we can measure we will only pay attention to the things that are easily measurable. And in the process, we will miss a lot.^*

This morning, I came to the end of Patrick Woodhouse’s account of Etty Hillesum and my attention was particularly caught by his description of Hillesum’s “courage of despair” making it possible for her to notice and write about the details in the transit camp she would soon leave for Auschwitz.

Hillesum writes of the wooden bench she is sitting on as she looks ahead and sees the waving blue heather, of love for people and life, the greetings she received on returning to the camp, pouring coffee, cutting and giving bread, scrubbing toilets, reading Meister Eckhart, dry biscuits and tea, encouraging a young girl with her poetry, and her list goes on.⁺

Seeing these things and helping others to is what made Hillesum a light in Westerbork. Our lights will be different, but they will be found in our worlds of immeasurable details.

(*From gapingvoid’s blog: How to transcend the daily drudgery.)
(**From The Story of Telling: Sweeping the Floor.)
(^Alfredo Carlo in Drawn Together Through Visual Practice.)
(^^Stephen Jay Gould, quoted in Gerd Gigerenzer’s Gut Feelings.)
(*^From Gerd Gigerenzer’s Gut Feelings.)
(^*From Youngme Moon’s Different.)
(⁺See Patrick Woodhouse’s Etty Hillesum: A Life Transformed.)


They just see more because they’ve learned to turn off their minds’ tendency to jump to conclusions.*
(Ed Catmull)

One of the things I found myself doing as I drew the face of someone would be to think a lot about who they were in a deeper way; I would feel the the barriers that we often don’t see, falling away.

Beyond the count of 310 people killed in Sri Lankan churches and hotels, the stories of these lives caught up in the terrorist bombings and hotels are being told. They are no longer numbers, we see the people.

Over seventy years earlier, Etty Hillesum would look into the faces of the Nazis who herded her people around the camp at Westerbork or onto the trains for Auschwitz, refusing to see only the uniforms, the things:

I try to look things straight into the face, even the worst crimes, and discover the small, naked human being amid the monstrous wreckage caused by men’s senseless deeds.**

People who see in this way are our best hope, everyone’s best hope.

(*From Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc..)
(**From Patrick Woodhouse’s Etty Hillesum: A Life Transformed.)

A world of collaboration

But the overwhelming problem that confronts most of us in the world most of the time is that we are not falling in love with the heart of one another and the heart of other nations and species.*
(Philip Newell)

Mixing what we see, hear, learn, and read – that’s an art in itself, not to be underestimated.**
(Alfredo Carlo)

A few years ago I was told by some within an organisation to “strive towards a more collaborative style and use language and concepts that are more collaborative”.

There’s a world of difference between “collaborate with us” and “let’s collaborate together.”

One asks that we fit in, the other invites us to explore and shape a brave new world together.

One is a finite game, the other an infinite one. In one we are the problem, in the other, we bring something fresh and new.

The fact that the infinite player knows that they must sometimes play a finite game but that a finite player fails to see the bigger infinite game is expressed here by Youngme Moon when she warns us about losing difference:

We respect that statistics matter, but we also respect the fact that to reduce the game to numbers alone is to divest it of its soul.^

Taken to extremes – and we live in a world where extremes exist, when we fail to see and love the differences in one another, when our way is the only way, we see evil played out against each other in extremism.

As Alfredo Carlo helps us to see, playing with our differences is our future. Maybe this is the point of that old Tower of Babel story.

(*From Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)
(**Alfredo Carlo, from Drawn Together Through Visual Practice.)
(^From Youngme Moon’s Different.)

When the future intersects with the past

Yet within us is everything.*
(Philip Newell)

It strikes me that when our futures intersect with our pasts what we have come upon is Easter.

Not only life remembering the past and what it has been able to be, but life also imagining and anticipating a better future.

These last few weeks, I’ve been reading about such an “easter-life” in the form of Etty Hillesum. An astonishingly bright life as it was lived in Nazi-occupied Holland and was ended in Auschwitz. At the heart of this for Hillesum was the attainment of the artist life, as Patrick Woodhouse explains:

For Etty, her spirituality, her prayer, was about learning “to live artistically,” a phrase she took from Rilke. For this, she knew (echoing Rilke again) that “patience is all“; patience and the practising of disciplines.**

We each are able to live artistically, a characteristic of which I consider to be the possibility of imagining the future and then bringing it into being in some form or other. After the imagining, it comes down to the hard work of employing the habits and practices that make this possible. Woodhouse continues, laying out Etty’s own disciplines, quoting her as he lists these:

And what were these disciplines?

  • silence – “there is a vast silence in me that continues to grow”
  • solitude – “deep inside us, all of us carry a vast and fruitful loneliness”
  • mindfulness, n being aware of, and dealing with, “the wild herds” of thoughts and feelings
  • the use of images, learning both their powers and their dangers
  • reading the Psalms, taking just one phrase and planting it in the depths of the heart where its meaning can grow […]
  • learning to listen (to “hearken”) to “everything reaching you from without … and … everything welling up from within” – the development of an intuitive awareness of what is “most essential and deepest” in ourselves, in others, in the inter-connectedness of life.”**

Through this story, hope is formed in me: whatever the past has meant for me, there is always more before in the way of possibilities.

(*From Philip Newell’s The Rebirthing of God.)
(**From Patrick Woodhouse’s Etty Hillesum: A Life Transformed.)