Why This? Why You? Why Now? Three simple questions we are often reluctant to answer.*
(Bernadette Jiwa)

How can we not see what our eyes behold? As our perceptions become more and more coordinated, we grow in justice.**
(M. C. Richards)

We are possibly looking at months, rather than weeks, of lockdown in our response to Covid19.

This could be one of the severest interruptions to life as normal on planet Earth in peacetime, or it could be the greatest unimagined and uninvited opportunity to change things for the better.

Drawn from her experience of the potter’s wheel, with its four movements -up-down and in-out, M. C. Richards suggests four ways towards a more centred life to benefit everyone: the via positiva is the way of perception, the via negativa is the way of acceptance, the via creativa is the way of imagination and the via tranformativa is the way of justice – for the planet and all of its species.

The artist-of-the-future will be the person who is able to increasingly centre their life through all of these ways pursued as one, helpfully pictured in the labyrinth which, whilst taking many directions on its way to the centre, is only one path:

But a labyrinth is actually an arrangement of paths that lead you, in time, to their centre. You can’t get lost in them; they are comprised of only now winding corridor. It slows you down, that’s all.^

We cannot accept without perceiving, cannot imagine without accepting, cannot transform without imagining.

So we slow down.

(*From Bernadette Jiwa’s The Story of telling blog: Why This? Why You? Why Now?)
(**From M. C. Richard’s Centering.)
(^From Lauren Belkin’s Flâneuse

The story isn’t over until it’s over

All stories take the form of a Quest. To understand the Quest form of your story, penetrate the psychology of your protagonist and find an honest answer to the question: “What does he or she want?”*
(Robert McKee)

You’re not done yet. Your story isn’t yet complete. The journey continues.

Don’t celebrate prematurely, thinking you’ve reached the goal of your potential. Don’t give up, thinking you’ll never make it, when there’s more to come.

We must continue to pursue what we have found in our hearts: the quest we must never give up on.

Keep turning up.

Follow your plan – until it needs to be adapted or clarified.

The obstacle is often found to be the way:

When the dark clouds come … keep going.^

There are so many other scripts we’ll be tempted to follow, those written for us by others, the expectations of our society and culture, but there’s a reason the universe has made it possible for you to form your dream.

In her letter to young readers, Ruth Ann Harnisch writes of her superpower:

More words, more power. […] The more I read, the more I become myself, an individual with ideas. […] As long as I can read, I can unlock the secrets of the world. It’s my best superpower.^

The more words we have for what we seek and we do, the more ideas we will have, the more ways of seeing our way through, the stronger we’ll become, and the more service we can be to others.

(*Robert McKee’s newsletter: The Complex Simplicity of Story.)
(**From Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.)
(^From Ruth Ann Harnisch‘s letter to young readers, in Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick’s A Velocity of Being.)

More than just the right answers

Every electron is identical, but every love is different. [… In one sense, a novel is not complete until it has been read. And each reader completes the novel in a different way.*
(Alan Lightman)

Getu walked barefoot for over five hundred miles to escape from Ethiopia for Sudan to try and find a new life. Later he emigrated to the United States and now shines shoes in Charlotte International Airport.

Look more closely at the story and we’ll find that Getu is responsible for thirty three shoe-shiners in three airports. Getting the right shine takes a twelve-step process, the last being a final shine that the delighted customer gets to take away.

Look even more closely and there’s even more preparation:

Love and compassion. That’s how we do it. We do it from the heart. People come not just to get a shine, but to talk with us. When you have an open heart and mind, people always have something to leave. You must be positive. That’s the way of winning. You say thank you for everybody who makes a difference in your life.**

Whatever we do, life is richer when we build relationship. We may not feel we’re great at doing this. We hesitate, can’t find the words to say, but people appreciate the attempts we make:

“Sometimes I think you believe in me more than I do,” said the boy. “You’ll catch up,” said the horse.^

(*From Alan Lightman’s A Sense of the Mysterious.)
(**Getu Marsha, quoted in the Charlotte Observer’s article: Man Who Fled Ethiopia Barefoot Offers Shoe Shines, Inspiration.)
(^From Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.)

4G living

Gifts create connection and possibility, but not all gifts have monetary value. In fact, some of the most important gifts involve time, effort and care instead.*
(Seth Godin)

Gratitude, gladness, gifts, generosity.

Zing is the word I enjoy using to describe each person’s unique energy connecting them with the infinite game that life is meant to be; these 4 Gs help us get there:

Gratitude for what we have and all that is around us:

Ideas do not belong to people. Ideas live in the world as we do. We discover certain ideas at certain times.**

Gladness that comes from a deep integration of these.

Every morning I is going out and snitching new dreams to put in my bottles.^

Gifts being the things that emerge from the depths of gratitude and gladness in our lives, with the ultimate gift being ourselves:

“If you is really wanting to know what I am doing in your village,” the BFG said, “I is loosing a dream into the bedroom of those children. […] I is a dream-blowing giant”^

Here is generosity, the life that cannot help but give.

Go play.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Generous isn’t always the same as free.)
(**From M. C. Richard’s Centering.)
(^The Big Friendly Giant in Roald Dahl’s The BFG.)

It’s deep but it could be deeper

Practice alone won’t make us perfect. Progress happens when we make time for thinking as well as doing.*
(Bernadette Jiwa)

I’m convinced that I haven’t yet reached my full value-producing potential […] culling the shallow and painstakingly cultivating the intensity of my depth. […] A deep life is a good life.**
(Cal Newport)

We can be so busy and hurried that we have no time to think deeply.

Alan Lightman writes to young readers he imagines to be reading his letter in the year 2114:

Keep in mind that information is not the same as knowledge. You still need to think about what you are learning and what it means. To do that, you will need to turn off your neurochip from time to time. It is valuable to disconnect and listen to your own mind think.^

Through reflection, or thinking, we make information personal, it becomes knowledge. Books are great ways of stepping into the worlds of others, meeting the writers as well as the thoughts they’re sharing:

Reading is for the brave among us. It teaches us how to love people we don’t know and will probably never meet. It teaches us that we too deserve that same sort of love. That faith is, in fact, the work of being a fully realised person.^^

Four things to help us here, then:

Alan Lightman’s suggestion to first unplug and disconnect;

Thomas Page McBee’s encouragement to read (in order to enter the worlds of others);

Bernadette Jiwa’s insight of taking time to then reflect (journaling is a great way); and,

Cal Newport’s urging to pursue the deepest life we can.

Everything then becomes more personal.

(*From Bernadette Jiwa’s blog The Story of Telling: The Power of Reflective Practice.)
(**From Cal Newport’s Deep Work.)
(^From Alan Lightman’s letter to young readers included in Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick’s A Velocity of Being.)
(^^From Thomas Page McBee’s letter to young readers included in Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick’s A Velocity of Being.)

I’m not done yet

“Sometimes I worry you’ll all realise I’m ordinary,” said the boy. “Love doesn’t need you to be extraordinary,” said the mole.*

When we do not protect with great care your own inner mystery, we will never be able to form a community. It is this inner mystery that attracts us to each other and allows us to establish friendship and develop lasting relationships.**
(Henri Nouwen)

We can be tempted to reinvent ourselves as extraordinary, a movement from the eco – the true Self found in our connectedness to all things – to ego – the false self, being more or less than who we are through disconnection. These are extremes; we’re usually somewhere along the continuum.

Into my mind slipped Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out, which I read eleven years ago, and yet the book’s “three movements” have remained with me: from loneliness to solitude, from hostility to hospitality and from illusion to prayer.

When Nouwen writes about our inner mystery I am also thinking of Joseph Campbell‘s personal myth, a story we need to shape that contains who we are – and who we are becoming.

This connects with the first question my work is wrapped around: Who am I?

Loneliness can be not knowing this story. Solitude is finding it, content with our own company. Loneliness can mean not wanting to be left alone with ourselves.

Without this story, we struggle to shape the second myth or story Campbell believes we need: the societal myth, or how we connect with others:

In the solitude of the heart we can truly listen to the pains of the world because there we can recognise them not as strange an unfamiliar pains, but as pains that are indeed our own.**

We discover there’s something we can bring to others out of the rich story of our innermost mystery.

This connects with the second question my work is wrapped around: What is my contribution (work)?

And so we do not approach one another with the hostility of suspicion, cynicism and competition, but with hospitality, making a place in ourself for the other – not ignoring, not debating to win the argument, not simply opening a dialogue, but fostering the kind of generative dialogues in which the emerging possibility is one unimagined by either side.

Every guest brings a gift into our lives, even though they may not know it.

But to be such a host we have to first of all be at home in our own house.**

Thus, the third movement emerges necessarily from the second:

When we do not enter into that inner field of tension where the movement from illusion to prayer takes place, your solitude and hospitality easily lose their depth. And then, instead of being essential to our spiritual life, they become pious ornaments of a morally respectable existence.**

Another word for prayer may be faith, the action of a life convinced of something greater or more important than itself, even though it means moving into deep uncertainty and scarce guarantee.

When we are prepared to give up on extraordinary and move into solitude to know ourselves, to move into hospitality and connect with all things, and move into faith and give expression to these, we will find there is a very rich fullness to our ordinariness.

(*From Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.)
(**From Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out.)

We are all performance artists

The things we say and the projects we do are our clips. Taken together, they are our contribution. If you don’t want to be judged by a clip of something you said or did, the path is pretty clear. The best resumé says, “please judge me by my clips.”*
(Seth Godin)

The imagination can create the future only if its products are brought over into the real. The bestowal of work completes the act of imagination.**
(Lewis Hyde)

I confess I had to look up what a clip is, and I’m guessing it’s this, not these.

There’s the good, the bad and the ugly inside all of us and they make it to the outside in a plethora of ways.

In her recommendations for good writing habits, Lydia Davis encourages observation:

Take notes regularly.^

What should be take notes on?

Observe your own activity […] your own feelings […] the behaviour of others, both animal and human […] the weather, and be specific […] other types of behaviour, including that of municipalities*^

I include these words not because we are all to be writers, but because we need to be better observers of our own lives, not only to see when we are being bad or ugly, and to stop, but when we are being good and don’t notice it so that we can repeat it.

I wonder whether, if what we get to noticing is actually telling us a lot about our energy:

To be fully engaged, we must be physically energised, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest.^^

The last is the biggy for me because it ensures that the bad and the ugly cannot triumph.

Bringing these thoughts together, notice when you are most energised: what are you doing?, why are you doing it”, who are you doing it with or for? and when are you doing it (i.e., are you starting or finishing something?)? Do more of these things and you are likely being your good self, and you’ll also have enough energy to do things you don’t particularly like doing, too.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: You are your clips.)
(**From Lewis Hyde’s The Gift.)
(^From Literary Hub’s article: Lydia Davis: Ten of My Recommendations for Good Writing Habits.)
(^^From Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement.)

You are invited

To follow your gift is a calling to a wonderful adventure of discovery. Some of the deepest longings in you is the voice of your gift. The gift calls you to embrace it, not to be afraid of it.*
(John O’Donohue)

The problem with perfect is that when you fail, you have none of the more flexible human traits to fall back on.**
(Seth Godin)

It’s not just about being invited – we’re all invited – but it’s how we turn up.

It’s like we’ve all been given a map, but it’s blank and we’re the cartographers.

We have all this territory to explore. Some of our discoveries we’ll want to include as key features on these personal maps and others ,we’ll leave out, or possibly include them but as warnings to ourselves.

We’ll get lost a lot and that’s okay because these can be times that are the most helpful, energising and defining to us.

Just make sure that on your map you don’t go back and forth along the same route and impress this upon your map in some deep rut.

(*From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: What do you aspire to be?)

Not now?

Thank you so much for they journey into another world. Could we please do it again, soon?*
(The girl with the green eyes)

Art is a leap into the void, a chance to give birth to your genius where there was no magic before.
(Seth Godin)

There are those who want to use time against us.

It’s not time.

It is time.



You missed your time.

Time up.

We haven’t got time for that.

These are expressions of finite time, but there is also infinite time with characteristics of including as many as possible for as long as possible, playing with time, creating time, opening up moments of time.

The girl with the green eyes was a Jewish child secretly being taught by Helen Fagin in a Polish ghetto in the World War II. Fagin decided, this would be more than ‘dry information but hope,’* telling the children stories that were banned by the Nazis.^

Fagin’s is an extreme story about how we must question time, play with time, rail against time, in order to bring what we need most. It is unlikely we’ll have to face such severe times as Helen Fagin and her class of children, yet there comes a time when each of us must do what we must do, meeting our need and those of others, to bring our art, to make some magic happen where there was no magic before.

Fagin reflects on the reading of those stories in a description that feels to be an uncovering of infinite time:

There are times when dreams sustain us more than facts. To read a book and surrender to a story is to keep our very humanity alive.*

(Only four out of twenty-two children from Fagin’s class survived the Holocaust; the girl with the green eyes was one of these. The two would find each other many years later and they would meet agin in New York.)

(*The girl with the free eyes, from Helen Fagin’s letter to young readers: A Velocity of Being by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick.)
(**From Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception.)
(^”Telling” because these books were clandestinely circulated within a trusted circle of people who had to read them in the night after which they had to be moved on.

Galaxies that look like us

Ekere is the mother of three galaxies who look like daughters.*
(Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick)

I love this description for Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie‘s children.

Tallie teaches us to value everyone in her letter to young readers:

Books let us know we’re not the centre of the universe; the universe has many centres.**

When Walter Benjamin writes about how people can be ‘an expert in some minor matter,’^ I like to think he’s also revealing galaxies of expertise. We all know something others don’t. Be prepared for wonder.

Benjamin’s concern is the nature of original art and its reproduction, and he catches my attention when he writes about cultic and display values:

Works of art are received and appreciated with different points of emphasis, two of which stand out as being poles of each other. In one case the emphasis is on the work’s cultic value; in the other its display value.^

The cultic value belongs in its hiddenness or privacy of its creator, the display value is what it means for others when it becomes public.

This leads me to compare the cultic value to Joseph Campbell’s personal myth and the display value to the social myth. Campbell claims these to be the two most important myths, or stories, we each need.

When it comes to our lives, there is the story we tell ourselves and hold ourselves to and there is the representation of this story we are happy and relaxed to share with others. An example might be this post which is my display story but behind it lies my cultic journaling.

I mustn’t let the display value mess with the cultic value which is an unravelling adventure when it is free from the judgement of others.

I leave the closing words to Ekere Tallie, reminding you there is a galaxy within you to discover and to express:

Keep asking questions. Colour outside the lines. Draw your own maps. Create your own legends.**

(*From Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick’s A Velocity of Being.)
(**Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie in her letter to young readers from Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick’s A Velocity of Being.)
(^From Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.)