The infinite listener

Infinite speakers must wait to see what is done with their language by the listeners before they can know what they have said.*
(James Carse)

Yesterday I was involved in a conversation about a university listening project.

We all listen but how?

Sometimes listening means being aware of what others are saying and ignoring them.

It can mean listening to a different point of view in order to argue a better point of view.

Another form of listening puts arguments aside and is simply curious about the other.

Then there’s listening for the response of the other to know whether what we have said opens possibility for both ourselves and the other, to know, to feel and to act.

This is infinite listening and all are able to develop this capacity.

(*From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)

Time machines

Time does not pass for an infinite player. Each moment of time is a beginning. Each moment is not the beginning of a period of time. It is the beginning of an event that gives the time within it its specific quality.*
(James Carse)

We each have a time machine.

(*From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)

The person artist

Theatrically, my birth is an event of plotted repetition. I am born as another member of my family and my culture. Who I am is a question already answered by the content and character of a tradition. Dramatically, my birth is the rupture of that repetitive sequence, an event certain to change what the past has meant. In this case the character of tradition is determined by who I am. Dramatically speaking, every birth is the birth of genius.*
(James Carse)

To be an artist is to be on the hook, to take your turn, to do the things that might not work, to see connection, to embrace generosity first, to change someone, to be human.**
(Seth Godin)

We are all person-artists. First and foremostly of ourselves. We create a different story alongside the script nature has included us in.

Second and very importantly, when we do this and we work out our art, we help others to figure who they are, what their art should be.

I can name the people who helped me in this way.

Although we may begin to help each other by looking, we come to understand there is a difference between looking and seeing:

To look at is to look for.*

To look at you is to bring my own perspectives, lenses and filters to bear. It’s a beginning. To see you, though, is to allow who you are to come to me and I merely help you to see this for yourself.

(*From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(**From Seth Godin’s What to Do When it’s Your Turn.)


The world is a mystery of the dark depths of the unconscious and the dark out of which all has come. […] And the sense of myth is that we all ride on a mystery, and we are manifestations of it, whether it’s the nature world or the human world. They are not apart.*
(Joseph Campbell)

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It’s the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.**
(Albert Einstein)

Yesterday I was exploring how we we are unselfed by our openness to beauty in nature and art, moving from the false self of the ego to the true self of the eco.

Art and artisanship puts this within reach of all of us and finding our story or myth helps us to move towards it:

Artisans have their soul in the game.^

Nassim Taleb provides four reasons for this claim: artisans put existential reasons ahead of economic; there is art in their profession rather than industrialisation; they have pride in what they do; and there are things they would never do. This is a describing of “proper” artisanship rather than “improper,” a distinction for art made by Joseph Campbell between art that is a response to the power of nature and art that is for sale:

On the tops of all the hills,
there is silence.
In the tops of the trees,
you feel hardly a breath.
The little bird falls silent in the trees.
Simply wait.
Soon, you too will be silent.^^

Transcendence is possible everywhere.

(*From Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey.)
(**Albert Einstein, quoted in Alan Lightman’s A Sense of the Mysterious.)
(^From Nassim Taleb’s Skin in the Game.)
(^^Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s Wanderer’s Nightong – a rendition by Robert Bly, quoted in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey.)

More powerful than us

I am looking out of my window in an anxious and resentful state of mind, oblivious of my surroundings, brooding perhaps on some damage done to my prestige. Then suddenly I observe a hovering kestrel. In a moment everything is altered. The brooding self with its hurt vanity has disappeared. There is nothing now but kestrel. And when I return to thinking of the other matter it seems less important. And of course this is something which we may also do deliberately: give attention to nature in order to clear our minds of selfish care.*
(Iris Murdoch)

Yesterday I was exploring how to find our true voice requires a deep journey to the centre of our lives. I think Iris Murdoch would refer to this as unselfing, to leave the ego behind, specifically through beauty in nature and art.

Friedrich Schiller writes about beauty being the means by which we achieve our potential as humans:

In other words, man should only play with beauty, and he should play only with beauty.**

What we have in nature, and in art’s response to nature, is power; they provide us with the opportunity to submit to power, to unself. We become powerful people only as far as we are willing to submit to the great powers, which also means we must submit to the imperfect – there is no perfect beauty, no perfect world, no perfect art, no perfect person.

Read Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain for a life lived in this direction in her beloved Cairngorms:

I have walked out of the body and into the mountain. I am a manifestation of its total life, as is the starry saxifrage or the white-winged ptarmigan.^

(*Iris Murdoch, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: An Occasion for Unselfing.)
(**From Friedrich Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man.)

(^From Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain.)

Loud voices, deep voices

So the first question we must ask ourselves isn’t how to get our idea to spread—it’s how can we do or say something worth believing in.*
(Bernadette Jiwa)

The whole ideas that you’ve got to bring out again that which you went to recovery the unrealised, unutilised potential in yourself.**
(Joseph Campbell)

Loud isn’t the same as deep.

A loud voice wants to be heard over others.

The deep voice wants to speak with the depths of others.

It requires we journey to the centre of our lives, a desire to know ourselves more completely and to speak only from here.

It is only possible to hear our true voice when we are able to hear the deep voices of others.

(*From Bernadette Jiwa’s The Story of Telling: Believed In.)
(**From Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey.)

Widening the domain of being

For my post today, I thought to walk through some thoughts as they developed. Here’s where I began with Jesus of Nazareth encouraging people not to get caught up in the basics of life:

And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.*

We have our happy distractions: we look busy, we feel busy, we make up a lot of meaning around being busy, but it all gets in the way of the daily iterations of the big thing we want to do with our life.

As I was thinking about this, I read Austin Kleon’s blog about starting before were think we’re ready in which he quotes writer David McCullough:

There’s an awful temptation to just keep on researching. There comes a point where you just have to stop, and start writing. When I began, I thought that the way one should work was to do all the research and then write the book. In time I began to understand that it’s when you start writing that you really find out what you don’t know and need to know.**

We need to begin the journey, the whole “we make the road by walking” thing.

Our problem can be we don’t want to fail, or to be seen to fail, and so we wait until we’re pretty sure we won’t, missing the point that some of our best work, choices and growings will emerge from mistakes, errors and failures.

Another word for this is playing. This is a word I hold dearly from reading James Carse and Johan Huizinga. Most recently, I have come upon the word being used by Friedrich Schiller more than a hundred years earlier than Carse and Huizinga. Here Schiller is referring to the two human impulses for change and immutability:

But then what is mere play, once we know that under all conditions of man it is exactly play, and only play, that makes him complete, and begins to develop his dual nature.^

Play provides us with the imaginative and creative space we need not to be doing all the time. If you like, doing nothing is very much a part of our doing, to notice, pay attention listen. I came upon these words from Holly McGee in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings:

to the sound of your feet —
the sound of all of us
and the sound of me.^^

As I read these words, I felt they connected with some written by Nan Shepherd on widening the domain of being, a capacity to deepen meaning that we each possess:

So, simply to look on anything, such as a mountain, with the love that penetrates to its essence, is to widen the domain of being in the vastness of non-being. Man has no other reason for his existence.*^

Busyness is what gets in our way of this, so I had to smile when I opened gapingvoid’s blog telling me I’m part of the busy people’s club like everyone else, busyness getting in the way of deepening:

You hate your life yet you’ve not read a book in twenty years.^*

In his delightful stories of time behaving differently, Alan Lightman pens these words about a place in which people’s lives are infinite:

The Laters sit in cafés sipping coffee and discussing the possibilities of life. The Nows note that with infinite lives, they can do all they can imagine.⁺

Begin. Don’t wait. The danger is, even with endless time, we may never begin, but when we begin, infinity opens before us.

(*Matthew 6:27-29.)
(**David McCullough, quoted in Austin Kleon’s blog: Start before you think you’re ready.)
(^From Friedrich Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man.)
(^^Holly McGee, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: An Illustrated Ode to Attentiveness and the Art of Listening … .)
(*^From Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain.)
(^*From gapingvoid’s blog: Are you part of the busy people’s club?)
(⁺From Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams.)