What is my contribution?

I settled on a game called I am a contribution. Unlike success and failure, contribution has no other side. It is not arrived at by comparison.*
(Ben Zander)

The world is waiting, not to be held captive, but to be captivated by new voices – for the hopeful messages and stories, each of us has to tell.**
(Bernadette Jiwa)

In my dreamwhispering work with people there are two questions being explored:

Who am I?
What is my contribution?

These cannot be fully answered apart from one another. Richard Rohr describes humans as interbeings, his faith seeing everything that is in this way:

We, exactly like the Trinity, are interbeings. We are also created by interface.^

The very work I do would not exist without tens of thousands of conversations with more than six hundred people, never mind all that I’ve read and heard from others, all contributing to the shaping of who I am.

Directly and indirectly, I am then sum of many people’s contributions, and this person I am is what I return as my contribution.

Ours is an amazing life full of honour, nobility and enlightenment when we make others, rather than ourselves, the centre of attention.

(*From Benjamin and Rosamund Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)
(**From Bernadette Jiwa’s The Story of Telling blog: The Captive Vs. The Captivated.)
(^From Richard Rohr’s Eager to Love.)

The common thread

Curation is where acts of selecting and arranging add value. […] At its broadest curation is a way of managing abundance.*
(Michael Bhaskar)

Will you bring all of your gifts and talents out into the open and be grateful for them?

You have so many.

Some you have focused on and others are already dismissed. Yet more are of little or no interest and they have almost disappeared into the background. But there are some you haven’t even noticed, possibly because you, or others, don’t have the right words for them.

Curation makes something magical happen to all of them, selecting and arranging and bringing new value – another word for which is story, a common thread full of possibility.

This is my work and I want to make it available to others at this most difficult of times, especially young people facing unemployment. I can’t offer a job centre or careers service but I can help you to explore all the gifts and talents that you are and help you in your imagining of what may be possible.

I’ll be posting more about this in coming days, but if you are interested to find out more then drop me a line at geoffrey@thinsilence.org.

(*From Michael Bhaskar’s Curation.)

The imposition

But it starts with a whisper, a call from somewhere far away.*
(Elle Luna)

I wasn’t looking for it, coming as it did like a knock on a door.

It was the whisper of a question asking what it was I did well and should be focusing on some ten or eleven years into my work.

The world is full of whispers like this and, because they feel like an imposition from who knows where, we can easily ignore them

Except I didn’t and for this I am very glad – I wouldn’t be where I am, doing the things I love to do – where I live, and what I live for as Henry David Thoreau put it.

When I opened that “door,” allowing the whisper in, I not only found there to be so many whispers I could not respond to them all, but also realised my life had also been whispering to me – I simply hadn’t taken any notice.

There’ll be many more whispers to respond to so I’m not going to call where I am a destination, rather I am still moving on my slow journey in the same direction.

(*From Elle Luna’s essay: The Crossroads of Should and Must.)

Yours faithfully

The essential thing “in heaven and earth” is […] that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life with living.*
(Friedrich Nietzsche)

[E]veryone’s an expert on something. Often, the “something”has nothing to do with what you went to school for or even what you’ve been doing for however many years you’ve been working away at a job.**
(Chris Guillebeau)

I’ve just been out for a quick walk and was privileged to see and hear a skylark, just above me, faithfully doing what a skylark does best. All I want is to do the same – faithfully doing what I do best.

Before we can be faithful towards others we have to be at least willing to be faithful to ourselves, that is, to explore and express more about ourselves and what it is we want to do. There can be nothing better in life than to know who we are and what we want to do and turn up every day to express ourselves.

When we are faithful to ourselves then we are able to develop perseverance and can journey further – our long obedience or faithfulness in the same direction.

John O’Donohue wrote about the wonder of this life:

Time is eternity living dangerously.^

Then perhaps creativity is faithfulness living dangerously?

(*Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.)
(**From Chris Guillebeau’s Born For This.)
(^From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)

Still moving after all these years

tunnels allow all sorts of productivity without calling attention to themselves or those that build them*
(Seth Godin)

Travel is still the most intense mode of learning.**
(Kevin Kelly)

I’m more of a tunnel-person, most happy working quietly in the background and not not very comfortable being out in the open. Others are bridge-people and quietness and hiddenness is hard for them. Both are amazingly complex constructions.

Kevin Kelly reminds me, though, to learn is to be alive and that means none of us are fixed.

Jonah Lehrer dips beneath the surface of this and writes of our plasticity:

Our human DNA is defined by its multiplicity of possible meanings, it’s a code that requires context. […] What makes us human and what makes each of us his or her own human is […] how our cells, in dialogue with our environment, feed back to our DNA, changing the way we read ourselves.^

Best I keep moving. Will you join me?

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Bridges and tunnels.)
(**Kevin Kelly, quoted in Brian McLaren’s God Unbound.)
(^From Jonah Lehrer’s Proust was a Neuroscientist.)

A community of cloud-walkers

NEFELIBATA. Definition: A cloud walker. An individual who lives in the clouds of her own imagination or dreams. A person who doesn’t abide by the rules of society, literature, or art.
Pronunciation: ne-fe-LE-ba-ta.

A hero is someone who has given his or her life for something bigger than oneself.*
(Joseph Campbell)

The Portuguese word nefelibata was a gift from Valerie while we were taking a walk through the clouds yesterday in our dreamwhispering conversation.

I see nefebilata as those who have learned both to live in reality and to explore their imaginations.

There are many who, for right or wrong, want you to keep our feet on the ground – as they do – and not to go walking through the clouds of a different perspective to the conventions of ‘society, literature, or art’ – and all they encompass and stand for – but you must play:

Creativity is the search for meaning.**

While this may sound individualistic, the reality is nefelibata see others differently, valuing who they are, appreciating how they are completed by others, and so they are very glad to have company, to commit to community,.

It is a gift to be able to live our lives around what we value most of all, trusting that when we allow ourselves and each other to do this, wonderful possibilities will follow. Walking through the clouds is a way of imagining how we can live our lives joyfully and for the good of others.

Valerie happened to send me another gift following our conversation, summing up what walking through the clouds has meant for her:

There are no manuals for the construction of the individual you would like to become. You are the only one who can decide this and take up the lifetime of work that it demands. This is a wonderful privilege and such an exciting adventure. To grow into the person your deepest longing desires is a great blessing. If you can find a creative harmony between your soul and your life, you will have found something infinitely precious. You may not be able to do too much about the great problems of the world or to change the situation you are in, but if you can awaken the eternal beauty and light of your soul, you will bring light wherever you go. The gift of life is given to us for ourselves and also to bring peace, courage, and compassion to others.^

(*From Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: Seeing the world anew.)
(^From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)

The protopian

The pace of words is the pace of walking and the pace of walking is also the pace of thinking.*
Geoff Nicholson)

Above all, this is a book about people and place: about walking as a reconnoitre inwards, and the subtle ways in which we are shaped by the landscapes through which we move.**
(Robert Macfarlane)

Before tourism arrived on the scene people travelled.

These travellers could not help but engage with the lives and scenery they met and traveled through, and this experience would often change them.

Travelling doesn’t have to be to a far away place or to a place at all. We can be travellers through books, through a local initiative or purpose, a local walk with openness, a conversation that is allowed to deepen … . These serve as disruptive experience making it possible to unlearn and relearn.

Pamela Paul writes about how important boredom is to us, how children need to learn how to deal with it rather than being entertained – something important to us whatever our age:

Once you’ve truly settled into the anesthetising effects of boredom, you find yourself en route to discovery. With monotony, small differences begin to emerge, between those trees, those sweaters. This is why so many useful ideas occur in the shower, when you’re held captive to a mundane activity. You let your mind wander and follow it where it goes.^

The protopian, as I play with the word, is the travelling person who knows it is the journey that allows them to keep growing and developing across their lifetime:

Protopia is a state of becoming rather than a destination.^^

Those who travel in this way have many treasures to bring to others. If you have the time, read Constantin Cavafy’s short-though-epic Ithaka.

(*From Geoff Nicholson’s The Lost Art of Walking.)
(**From Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways.)
(^From Pamela Paul’s New York Times article: Let Children Get Bored Again.)
(^^From Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable.)

Relight your fire

sometimes it only takes a stranger in a dark place … to make us warm in the coldest season*
(Neil Gaiman)

Creating the future does not begin with a plan. It begins with a dream. And when someone acts on a dream, it creates a spark.**
(Alex McManus)

A dream outlives a plan – indeed, will live in many plans.

In his renowned speech, Martin Luther King Jr. did not declare “I have a plan.” We would not remember the words of a plan almost 60 years later but we remember a dream – this morning, I am touched by the thought that I have stood on the place where King gave this speech of a little over six minutes on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial – that’s the power of a dream.

We are made for reality and imagination, not only one or the other. When we cannot imagine and dream life can become suffocating and have a terrible affect on the human psyche.

What to do, then?

These words from Tavi Gevinson caught my attention:

Being a person is tricky, but other people do it, too – all people, in fact! – and they’ve recorded how. Their words reach a higher-pitched buzz if resonance in my brain once I’ve held them in my hands, put them on a shelf, passed them everyday. Or copied them down into a journal, a book of my own, ’cause seeing them in my handwriting is more effective than just filing them away in my brain.^

Let us read books and watch movies that feed the imagination (I’ve put together a short list of my favourites, below.) Journal to record and reflect in order to make sure these things don’t disappear like morning mist. Connect with people who have benevolent imagination, and share imaginatively with others. Never be apologetic for keeping your fire burning.

(*Neil Gaiman, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Bloom: A Touching Animated Short Film about Depression and What it Takes to Recover the Light of Being.)
(**From Alex McManus’ Makers of Fire.)
(^From Tavi Gevinson‘s letter to young readers in aMria Popova and Claudia Bedrick’s A Velocity of Being.)

A SHORT BOOK LIST (as well as those listed above, here’s a very diverse list of some of my favourites)
Elle Luna’s The Crossroads of Should and Must
Benjamin and Rosalind Zander’s The Art of Possibility
Anything by Roald Dahl: my favourites are Danny, Champion of the World, The BFG and Matilda
Austin Kleon’s three books: Steal Like an Artist, Show Your Work, and Keep Going
Peter Reynolds’ Ish
Erwin McManus’ The Artisan Soul
John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes
Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception (and Stop Stealing Dreams)
David Schenk’s The Genius in All of Us
My own Slow Journeys in the Same Direction


A story is not a plan, nor a plan a story

We don’t know what that book or that project is like until we experience it, but we have to decide now, so we tell ourselves a story.*
(Seth Godin)

Successful brands have a great story long before they have a grand plan.**
(Bernadette Jiwa)

I read bedtime stories to help me go to sleep. The books I read in the morning are to help me live the day wide awake.

It’s how I get to my best stories, and it’s how I hope to help others get to their best stories – that is, with the help of others.

Thao Nguyen in her letter to young readers tells of how she didn’t like having to write book reports when she was at school, so, in the third grade, she wrote a rap song after reading Charlotte’s Web, and, in eighth grade, she wrote a song with guitar after reading Lord of the Flies. Nguyen is now a singer-songwriter which made me wonder where our books will take us:

Happy, happy trails going wherever books take you. May they inspire you to show your love and understanding however you will.^

We may have a plan for the day, the list of things we have to do – whether in work, rest or play – but we also need a story. Our stories will carry us to places and activities plans never will. They hold disparate information and inspirations and thoughts and possibilities that otherwise would remain separate or scattered, instead weaving these together into stories that just have to be lived every day.

(Of course, a story needs a plan, but a plan first needs a story. The doodle could also have said: In the story there is a beginning.)

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: And there’s a story at the heart of it.)
(**From Bernadette Jiwa’s The Story of Telling: Good Stories Drive Great Strategy.)
(^From Thao Nguyen’s letter to young readers in Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick’s A Velocity of Being.)

To see things differently, why not write a poem?

Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundation for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.*
(Audre Lorde)

Scribes draw to either relieve or increase tension, and thus facilitate the pace of change in conversation.**
(Kelvy Bird)

We may not have the words we need to take us to new places. This is where poetry helps: finding new words^ or using words in different ways brings breakthroughs in reality and imagination.

Finding the words to describe reality is tricky enough; finding words to describe what is not yet is even more difficult.

We can also add illustrations-with-attitude.

If we believe we can fully express ourselves within our present vocabulary then we’re probably missing a trick.

There’s always more to see than meets the eye.

(*From Audre Lorde’s The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.)
(^From Kelvy Bird’s Generative Scribing.)
(^Check out Gerard Manley Hopkins‘ poetry for new words.)