Better or best?

I’m not doing my best and neither are you. Because we’re not optimised algorithms, we’re people.*
(Seth Godin)

In [myth] the line between the barely conceivable and the flatly impossible has not yet been drawn with any sharpness.**
(Johan Huizinga)

It’s hard to know if this is our best. We don’t know how much further we can take this, how far we can take ourselves.

What we often do know is that we can do better than we have just done and this opens up the future possibilities in an incredible way, because when we say kindly tell ourselves we can do better and try again, we find we can.

One thing we’ll have discovered on the way is that we need others to help us do better.

If we refuse others, we refuse ourselves.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Everyone is doing their best.)
(**From Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens.)

Enough is enough

Enough comes from the inside.*
(Ryan Holiday)

Time does not pass for an infinite player. Each moment of time is 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)

Outside of here
Outside of town
Outside of self.

Stillness is stopping
Stillness is being here
Stillness is presence.

Attention to this moment
Attention to the other
Attention to everything.

We are enough.

(*From Ryan Holiday’s Stillness is the Key.)
(**From James’s Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)

Grateful for limits

To have an impulse and resist it, to sit with it and examine it, to let it pass by like a bad smell – this is how we develop spiritual strength.*
(Ryan Holiday)

gratitude, compassion and altruism broaden our perspectives and break down the barricades we erect between ourselves and others in a vain attempt to protect the frightened, greedy, insecure ego**
(Karen Armstrong)

You’d think if we had access to unlimited resources, we’d be able to make something pretty amazing happen. It often turns out that the opposite comes to pass. Seth Godin here considers the latest Dr Dolittle movie:

Why is the new Dolittle movie so bad? Savaged by critics and viewers, it had:

  • One of the most bankable movie stars in the world
  • A story that had previously been the basis of two hit movies
  • The best CGI houses in the world
  • Unlimited time and money

I think the best way to understand why it failed is to look at the reasons above.^

When we have less – perhaps another word for this is “enough” – we have to slow down some, pay more attention, value what we do have, use our imagination, work with others more collaboratively, benefit from failure, reflect more, get creative, becoming fitter through the experience.

Things we can all do.

(*From Ryan Holiday’s Stillness is the Key.)
(**From Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.)
(^From Seth Godin’s blog: The Dolittle effect.)

Just picture it

I’m not good at reading [books]. The truth is I need pictures. They are like places to get to in a sea of words.*
(Charlie Mackesy)

We all drew before we could write.

Then we drew our letters before they became letters.

Pictures came before words as playfulness comes before seriousness, and the world is richer when these dance together.

Whatever you get up to in life why not “picture it up” a little?

(*From Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mile, the Fox and the Horse.)

Open for life as unusual

The essence of greatness is the perception that virtue is enough.*
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Yesterday I was taking part in a conversation in which one participant shared how they wanted to be more superficial;** they were wanting to scratch more at the surface of things, to open them up, to see what happened.

This thought came back to mind this morning as I read these words:

For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.^

I found myself wondering what’s so good about a broken spirit and heart, and then I wondered about how new things get into our spirits and our hearts unless they are broken open in some way.

On a personal level, what are my practices for breaking open my mind and thinking, for breaking open my heart and feeling, and for breaking open my will and doing?

Oftentimes, we are focused on the goal, the deadline. missing out the need to scratch the surface, to be open to more, to create strong openings for more to flow.

These strong openings between the mind, the heart and the will are two way, so what we “produce” when we are open to more reinforces who we are:^^

Virtue, the Stoics believed, was the highest good – the summum bonum – and should be the principle behind all our actions. Virtue is not holiness, but rather the moral and civic excellence in the course of our daily life. It’s a sense of pure rightness that emerges from our souls and is made real through the actions we take.*^

(*Ralph Waldo Emerson, quoted in Ryan Holiday’s Stillness is the Key.)
(**From superficies, literally above face.)
(^Psalm 51:16-17.)

(^^The two critical questions are always Who am I? and What is my contribution?)
(*^From Ryan Holiday’s Stillness is the Key.)

Oh, what a wonderful day this could be

Before the whites came […] no one in Australia was landless, since everyone inherited, as his or her private property, a stretch of the ancestors song and the stretch of country over which the song passed.*

How old do you have to be to make a bad drawing?**
(Lynda Barry)

Bryan Ferry singing What a Wonderful World This Would Be was in my head as I was reading and journaling this morning. I found myself grateful for all the decades of my life contain.

I don’t know much about lots of things, as Bryan Ferry and originally Sam Cooke had sung:

Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book
Don’t know much about the French I took
But I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me, too
What a wonderful world this would be.^

Beyond those I love, I was thinking about the other thing I love, the thing I do know that helps me get up in the morning and makes it possible to live through the day with the kind of energy I find in these words from Richard Rohr:

I love what I see. Life excites me.^^

It will be different for every one of us yet there’ll be something that excites us beyond everything else. We find it on the far side of what we know about ourselves and what we think we know full-stop.

Lynda Barry’s question reminds us that so many of us will have stopped drawing because someone judged our efforts, perhaps even ourselves pre-empting what we think someone else may think.*^

There’ll be other things we stopped doing because of what others have said or we think they disapprove of, and we have allowed these to drop into the background. I know this was true for me.

But whatever this thing is, it is our inheritance and no-one can take it from us. Drawing comes from within, our purpose or mission also comes from within.

When we know this and own it we have a compelling story to tell ourselves each day, a story in which reality is absorbed and changed.

Oh, what a wonderful day this could be.

(*Flynn, quoted in Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines.)
(**From Lynda Barry’s Making Comics.)
(^From What a Wonderful World This Would Be.)
(^^From Richard Rohr’s Eager to Love.)
(*^Check out peter Reynolds’ very special Ish.)

It was already there

Adults are surprised when what looks like meaningless scribbles turns into something as the kid describes wha’s going on in the picture. When very young kids draw, they cause the lines that causes something to appear. It is there to be found in the same way you found the fish in the drawing […]. And the water and the moon.*
(Lynda Barry)

L’essential est invisible pour les yeux. What’s essential is invisible to the eye.**
(The Fox in The Little Prince)

So much of what we do have is invisible to us; I’m especially thinking of what lies within us.

The invisible requires time and stillness, both of which feel like hard work:

Being present demands all of us. It’s not nothing. It may be the hardest thing in the world. […] It takes real work to grasp what is invisible to just about everyone else.*

These words from Ryan Holiday’s Stillness is the Key means everything to me when it comes my work with people discovering the amazing things in who they are and what they can do, which may have been invisible or not valued by them.

Here’s the picture Lynda Barry is referring to, drawn by two year old Madison.

When Madison says,

This is a fish in the water. And another fish. And this is the moon,^

we can see them. We couldn’t before but now we can.

It’s the same in our lives. With some time and stillness we can do some causing and make the invisible visible, the first time see what it is, the second time to express it somehow.

Playfulness and drawing can help a lot with this. I often mention Johan Huizinga‘s point that seriousness and playfulness have been separated and need to be brought back together. Barry makes a similar point about words and drawing:

Before writing and drawing were separated they were conjoined.*

We drew pictures before we could write and when we learnt to write, it was first of all by drawing shapes.

Try playfully drawing and journaling to find out more.

(*From Lynda Barry’s Making Comics.)
(**From Ryan Holiday’s Stillness is the Key; the fox to the Little Prince in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.)

(^Madison, quoted in Lynda Barry’s Making Comics.)

All present

Being present demands all of us. It’s not nothing. It may be the hardest thing in the world.*
(Ryan Holiday)

Ryan Holiday tells of performance artist’s Marina Abramović‘s performance of The Artist is Present expressed as 750 hours over 79 days of looking silently and intently on 1,545 strangers who sat one by one across a simple table:

She had to be where her feet were; she had to care about the person across from her and the experience they were sharing more than anything else in the world.*

The performance is even more impressive when we become aware that Abramović took no comfort breaks or ate any food to keep her going, only a brief re-set between each person:

Many viewers cried. Each one said the hours in line were worth it. It was like looking in a kind of mirror, where they could feel their own life for the first time.*

This performance illustrates how we each have a capacity to be fully present to one another way beyond what we presently imagine.

(*From Ryan Holiday’s Stillness is the Key.)

Don’t like

The path of least resistance is a poor teacher.*
(Ryan Holiday)

There are certainly three times in my life when something happened to me that I didn’t like one bit, but they got me to to here, doing what I’m doing.

The thing you don’t like may become the most important thing of all.

And when we put some disciplines around the things we don’t like we end developing skills.

(*From Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way.)

Not yet

If you do not undertake a risk of real harm, reparable or even potentially irreparable, from an adventure, it is not an adventure.*
(Nassim Taleb)

If we still do not have the thing we want most of all, perhaps we have to do something differently, go to a different place, give something up.

(*From Nassim Taleb’s Skin in the Game.)