Don’t wait for the crisis to build capacity

[R]eality is not the external scene but the life that is lived in it. Reality is things as they are.*
(Wallace Stevens)

When I ask the participants why they all bring their devices to meetings, they say, “For emergencies.” I inquire further, and they admit that it’s not so much about emergencies – they’re bored, or they see an opportunity to double down on their emails.**
(Sherry Turkle)

Rebecca Solnit reflects on the speed of our technology:

Machines have sped up and lives have kept pace with them.^

What we struggled to notice is what we have lost along the way. Sherry Turkle has shaped her book Reclaiming Solitude on Henry David Thoreau‘s three chairs: one being for solitude, two for friendship, three for community, and Turkle adds a fourth she believes to be true to Thoreau:

Thoreau took his guests into nature. I think of this as his fourth chair, his most philosophical one. These days, the way things have gotten philosophical causes us to confront how we have used technology to create a second nature, an artificial one.**

I’m focusing on the first today, reflecting on how we struggle to be with ourselves, how we’ll sooner go to our email or music or texts rather than spend time in solitude. Yet this is the very place we begin to build our capacity.

When we become people who create time in which to reflect on our inner and outer worlds, what we’re doing is building up our knowledge and practice. Although there are many things we cannot predict when the pressure of reality hits – the largest being how we will react, yet we discover that we do not have to face this naked: we can bring the power of our imagination to what it is we face.

Here are five realities that I often mention:
Life is boring
You are not as special as you think
Your life is not about you
You are not in control
You are going to die.^^

Journaling is one of my personal places for building capacity and I’d noted a year ago Wallace Stevens’ identifying of latent and vital reality, latent being what is ‘taken for granted […] and, on the whole ignored,’ and vital being ‘reality that has ceased to be indifferent,’* as when something is coming to an end and impinges upon us.

In practices such as journaling, we have opportunity to reflect on both latent and vital reality, even our very breathing, if we bring some mindfulness into it, to see what really is, to figure out ways of responding to this. This ability to notice and choose how to respond imaginatively is the most fundamental shaper of capacity.

(*From Wallace Stevens’ The Necessary Angel.)
(**From Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation.)
(^From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)

(^^See Richard Rohr’s Adam’s Return.)

A rhythm not yet heard

The easier a job is to get, the more likely it involves doing tasks. The alternative is projects. The way a project gets done is up to you. Your goal is to create an extraordinary outcome, not to perform the tasks. *
(
Seth Godin)

honour your own curiosity**
(
Edgar Schein)

Projects are full of tasks.

Completing the tasks well is the difference between a successful and unsuccessful project. But to say the project is only about tasks would be to lose the autonomy, mastery and purpose available to us.

The Industrial Revolutions^ have improved our lives in many ways: food, medicine, clothing, leisure, gender equality and migration being but a few, but they have also demanded a high price.

Work became more about tasks to perform than mastery of projects, family life was seismically altered because of the time demanded away from the family home:

factory work destroyed family life, taking individuals out of the home and making family members strangers to each other during their prodigiously long work days.^^

One way of looking at this is to say one story replaced another, both being deeply flawed. When we see this for what it is, we see how we can then create a better story:

Claim the project before you start the work.*

Our particular curiosity allows us to begin a conversation with the things we notice most of all and this stimulates our conversations with ourselves. Then our conversations with others are more engaging and replete with possibilities:

The capacity for solitude makes relationships with others more authentic. Because you know who you are, you can see others for who they are, not for who you need them to be. So solitude enables richer conversation. But our current way of life undermines our capacity for solitude.*^

I offer the words of a blessing from John O’Donohue as you follow your own curiosity towards finding a rhythm not heard enabling you to find the projects among the tasks and to enrich our lives:

May morning be astir with the harvest of night;
Your mind quickening to the eros of a new question,
Your eyes seduced by some unintended glimpse
That cut right through the surface to a source.
[…]
Until the veil of the unknown yields
And something original begins
To stir toward your senses
And grow stronger in your heart
In order to come to birth
In a clean line of form,
That claims from time
A rhythm not yet heard,
That calls space to
A different shape.^*

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Projects vs tasks.)
(**From Edgar Schein’s Humble Consulting.)
(^I’m thinking of at least the mechanisation and the digitalisation of the workspace.)
(^^From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(*^From Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation.)
(^*From John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us: For the Artist at the Start of the Day.)

Lost in conversation

The question then is how to get lost. Never to get lost is is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction, and somewhere in the terra incognito in between lies a life of discovery.*
(Rebecca Solnit)

One of the functions of art is to give people the words to know their own experience. […] Storytelling is a tool for knowing who we are and what we want, too. If we never find our experience described in poetry or stories, we assume that our experience is insignificant.
(Ursula Le Guin)

Getting lost is how we get to find ourselves and what we want to bring into the lives of others. These two things always go together:

It’s a story as old as time: you never maximise your true potential until you stop making it just about you.^

In our conversations – with ourselves, with others – we create our personal and social stories, and it is our stories that make it possible to explore more than we know. Getting lost isn’t something that only happens miles from here, it only lies outside where we are in this moment, even in the next conversation we will have with ourselves or with others:

there is a sweet spot, between the known and the unknown, where originality happens; the key is to be able to linger without panicking.^^

We cannot explore more without getting lost, as Aaron Sachs reminds us it comes with the intention:

Explorers […] were always lost, because they’d never been to the places before. They never expected to know where they were.*^

Welcome to the story room.

(*From Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost.)
(**Ursula Le Guin, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Ursula K. Le Guin on Art, Storytelling, and the Power of Language to Transform and Redeem.)
(^From gapingvoid’s blog: It’s the flame that matters, not the carrier.)
(^^From Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc..)
(*^Aaron Sachs, quoted in Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost.)

What are you trying to say to yourself?

The more time we spend mastering the message, the clearer we are about what we have to say, who our message is for and why it matters.*
(Bernadette Jiwa)

When a great moment knocks at the door of your life, it is often no longer than the beating of your heart, and it is very easy to miss it.**
(Boris Pasternak)

When our lives become more about how we present ourselves, how we’re perceived by others, the number of likes we get, and when we do not spend time quietly listening to ourselves, to the joy and pain, to the hopes and dreams and failures, there is a real and present danger that we will miss the substance and richness our lives are capable of producing over many years.

(*From Bernadette Jiwa’s blog The Story of Telling: Message Before Medium.)
(**Boris Pasternak, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)

With hearts on fire

Every minute, every hour, there is another surprise around the corner.*
(Frans Johansson)

When we know who we are – humility, and know what we have – gratitude, and turn up with these every day, wherever we are and whoever we are with – faithfulness, look forward to some good conversations.

(*From Frans Johansson’s The Click Moment.)

Moving questions

The mind works best in the presence of a question.*
(Nancy Kline)

[W]e are not the stones over which the stream of the world flows; we are the stream itself […] this ceaseless change does not mean discontinuity; rather change is itself the very basis of our continuity as persons. Only that which can change can continue.**
(James Carse)

Wouldn’t it be great if you could buy a bag of questions like you can buy a bag of jelly beans, every flavour enjoyed would lead to a different kind of question appearing in your thoughts?

Well, they may not come to us as jelly beans but they do appear in our reading, in our walking, in our gazing, in our meeting with others …; the world is full of questions, which means, we are full of questions, we only have to allow them to form rather than always wanting the easy answers.

Coming up with questions is how we keep changing, keep moving.

(*From Nancy Kline’s More Time to Think.)
(**From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)

The revealing story

storytelling is a tool for knowing who we are and what we want*
(Toni Morrison)

Apps can give us a number; only people can provide a narrative. Technology can expose mechanism; people have to find meaning.**
(Sherry Turkle)

Yesterday, I wrote about how imagination needs reality – because our personal stories are not necessarily the truth, but also how reality needs imagination – because it can be altered (through foresight, intention and love).

Only humans can imaginatively and creatively dwell in the space formed by reality and imagination. Technology, at this moment in time, cannot.

One of the technologies I use in my dreamwhispering work with people is Clifton Strengths. I have worked with more than 500 people using this means of identifying our talents and abilities. It’s a brilliant tool, but I know it’s the conversations that follow the analysis results where everything comes alive, becoming a story that is about who we are and what we want to do in the completeness of our lives, not simply finding our next best job.

(*Toni Morrison, source lost.)
(**From Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation.)

Stories: the conversations we have with ourselves

By relying on well-told stories, we ignore the real truth, the universal truth of how the world actually is.*
(Seth Godin)

One of the rewards of solitude is an increased capacity for self-reflection – the conversations we have with ourselves in the hope of greater insight about who we are and want to be.**
(Sherry Turkle)

Self-reflection not only allows us to see the truth and reality of who we are but also imagine how we can change. If you like, we see the clothes we want to take off and the new ones we wish to replace these with.

Research, though, appears to indicate we are increasingly struggling to move into and remain in solitude where our self-reflection will take place. Sherry Turkle points to times of boredom and anxiety as being natural moments to move inward and to reflect, but we are now more likely to distract ourselves with some form of technology, even though this in turn may lead to more anxiousness or boredom.

Through our self-reflection, we produce our personal stories; Toni Morrison wrote:

storytelling is a tool for knowing who we are and what we want.^

Seth Godin warns us that our stories aren’t necessarily the same as reality. We must, then, always be trying to bring reality and our stories together. Frederick Buechner wrote about how we find our purpose where our deepest joy meets the world’s greatest need.

Wallace Stevens wrote about the power of imagination needing to be brought to bear the pressure of reality.^^

Our imaginations need reality as much as reality needs our imagination. These conversations, born in solitude, lead us into the most real and imaginative stories of all.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Getting to the truth.)
(**From Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation.)
(^Toni Morrison, source lost.)
(^^See Wallace StevensThe Necessary Angel.)

Copy that

I think copying someone’s work is the fastest way to learn certain things about drawing and line.  It’s funny how there is such a taboo against it. I learned everything from just copying other people’s work.*
(Lynda Barry)

How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?**
(“Meno”)

Austin Kleon reminds me that I have learned so much towards developing my own values and creativity through copying.

My doodling began in this way, my development of illustration, too – I have copied Quentin Blake‘s illustrations from Roald Dahl’s The BFG and Danny the Champion of the World.

I also read Dahl’s book to gain a sense of how he shaped stories. I read many kinds of book, trying to learn from different styles of writing:

Copy out things that you really love. Any book. Put the quotation marks around it, put the date that you’re doing the copying out, and then copy it out. You’ll find that you just soak into that prose, and you’ll find that the comma means something, that it’s there for a reason, and that that adjective is there for a reason, because the copying out, the handwriting, the becoming an apprentice—or in a way, a servant—to that passage in the book makes you see things in it that you wouldn’t see if you just moved your eyes over it, or even if you typed it.^

And then there are all the ideas to copy, to play with, to connect with others and turn into something else.

I see all of these as conversations I am having. I listen to someone, I journal out their ideas alongside others, I post them here. First of all, these are conversations with myself. It’s how I find myself. It’s how we find ourselves. It’s a place on a journey to somewhere else.

There’s something in these copying-conversations that is about faithfulness. Faithfully copying and trying out words and shapes and ideas and habits that others have to share with me requires humility and gratitude on my part – the most sure way of discovering myself and appreciating and valuing others.

It makes every face-to-face conversation we have a potential smorgasbord of discovery.

(*Lynda Barry, quoted in Austin Kleon’s blog: Copying is How We Learn.)
(**Meno, quoted in Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost.)
(^Nicholson Baker, quoted in Austin Kleon’s blog: Copying is How We Learn.)

Risky conversations

Online life was associated with a loss of empathy and a diminished capacity for self-reflection.*
(Sherry Turkle)

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot LEARN, UNLEARN, and RELEARN.**
(Alvin Toffler)

We are learning not to meet face-to-face, replacing such personal encounters with texts and messages and emails.

It’s not simply about using different ways to communicate. Sherry Turkle describes this as a movement from conversation to connection.

Each of the technological alternatives to conversation comes with learnings for us. Perhaps if we look at what we lose through technology is a helpful way of seeing what we are learning. When we’re in the same room talking with one another there are so many things happening: we say things badly and have to correct ourselves, we stumble with our words and thoughts and wrestle them out sometimes, we see each others face and body expressions including the light in people’s eyes when they’re looking at us, there are pauses when we see each other thinking and silences when we’re not sure what to think, we hear ourselves saying words and ideas we haven’t heard before and they develop into new things, we see the lean of the person towards us as they listen.

All of these and more are lost when we’re texting or messaging. These same texts can be heavily edited to make sure they are correct, offering no opportunity for a thought to develop. Heinrich von Kleist pointed out that in conversation we can find ourselves being surprised by what we say and we get to experience,

the gradual completion of thoughts while speaking.^

We are learning not to have such surprises and experiences.

This kind of connection also makes possible the avoidance of boredom and anxiety by allowing us to go to someone, something, or somewhere else. This is another kind of learning. When we avoid the painful or negative emotions we are not developing our brains in a way that allows us to develops empathy or reflection towards ourselves or others. Clifford Nass reported,

negative emotions require more processing in parts of the brain.^^

Nass noticed that people that those who avoided negative emotions were slower to respond to others and to themselves.

Alvin Toffler‘s opening words provide us with hope, though. We are capable of unlearning what we have learnt, and relearning better ways. It is not about avoiding technology. Technology is part of our lives. It is about how to live in relationship to each more richly with technology.

Part of this is enjoying the risky conversations in which new things emerge from the to and fro of unpredictable conversation that happens when people meet each other in an undistracted way:

The thrill of “risky talk” comes from being in the presence of and in close connection to your listener.*

I cannot count the times in a conversation when I have found myself saying things I had not intended to say that help me to see something in a new way, sharing an idea that I hadn’t thought about before, connecting previously unrelated thoughts and ideas with another, doors appearing where before there were only walls.

These surprises never happen when I’m texting or emailing or messaging.

(*From Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation.)
(**Alvin Toffler, quoted in Sunni Brown’s The Doodle Revolution.)
(^Heinrich von Kleist, quoted in Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation.)
(^^Clifford Nass, quoted in Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation.)