On abundance, perhaps

Lift is created by the onwards rush of life over the curved wing of the soul.*
(Robert Macfarlane)

We were living the process as we created it.**
(Joseph Jaworski)

Perhaps abundance is not what we have but
a path we walk,
begun by noticing
what we have,
moving us
into flow,
becoming lost
in complexity,
until we emerge,
grown into
abundance –
scarcity being
not to take the path.

Following a flow experience, the organisation of the self is more complex than it had been before. It is by becoming increasingly complex,that the self might be said to grow.^

[Edward] Thomas taught [his wife Helen] to walk differently: “with [her] body, not only with [her] legs,” feeling the landscape as she moved over it.*

(*From Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways.)
(**From Joseph Jaworski’s Source.)
(^^From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.)

And curiosity and imagination have brought you here

One day after another –
They all fit.

(Robert Creeley)

If here is the place our curiosity and imagination have brought us to then it is the best place of all.

No matter what is happening around you, keep coming here.

Here, every day, you will be able to engage in the work that is in front of you.

Here, we bring the power of our imagination to the pressure of reality through attention, presence and letting come.**

If you are not in this place just yet, identify what is your curiosity and pursue it every day. Take a journal along (and doodle too) alongside your curiosity.

You’ll find your imagination awakening with more thoughts and ideas than you can handle meaning you’ll have to let some go to keep hold of others.

After all of this, though, where you will be is here, doing the work that is in front of you, every day.

(*Robert Creeley, quoted in Austin Kleon’s blog: Doing the work that’s in front of you.)
(**Thank you to Wallace Stevens for his powerful imagery in The Necessary Angel.)

Just listening

Waterfall constant of arterial road
Craw of crow
Stoccato joy of small bird
Gentle percussion of foot
Sway of grass moved by I don’t know what
Warm presence of sunshine reaching through haze
Still attention of grass, blackberry, thistle, cow parsley this windless day
Swish of clothing
Soft rumbling of air as I press forwards
Accidental choir of different birds singing
Joy of colour attracting humming bees
Panting of dog and hello of owner
Hollow cowbell clang of barrier closing
Rattle and thud of machinery preparing ground …
I am listening to the day

An unfolding life

Good engineers don’t whine about trade-offs, because they realise that they’re the entire point. If there were no trade-offs, we wouldn’t need their help, there would be no interesting problems worth solving.*
(Seth Godin)

We are partners in the unfolding of the universe.**
(Joseph Jaworski)

The universe is unfolding …. and we are universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.

How much unfolding is there left in me?

How much in you?

We will be surprised, I think, for when we embrace trade-offs and compromises, that is, when we let go in order to take hold of what is wanting to come then we’ll find there’s a lot of unfolding yet to happen.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: The magic of trade-offs.)
(**From Joseph Jaworski’s Source.)

A pilgrim, not a conqueror*

It is this, I think, that draws us to books in the first place, their nearly magical power to transport us to other landscapes, other lives.**
(Davis Ulin)

For most of human history, most people couldn’t read at all. Literacy was not only a demarcator between the powerful and the powerless, it was power itself.^
(Ursula Le Guin)

I have a wall of books, which is surprising, really, because for more than the first half of my life, I read very little. Really, I need two walls, but there’s no space, so the one will have to do while every so often I will let some books go.

They are simply arranged, by the author’s last names. I like to see the unlikely rubbings of shoulders: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi with Roald Dahl, Italo Calvino with Joseph Campbell. What would they talk about together if they were sipping coffee together for an hour?

Through my journaling, I eavesdrop on my current reads: Alain de Botton and Robert Macfarlane, Rainer Maria Rilke and Tom Hodgkinson. Who knows what they might end up talking about.

It feels as though reading books and walking various terrains have a lot in common – I’m wandering through text-terrains, picking up and pocketing things as I go.

Miguel Angel Blanco has created a library far larger and more unusual than mine, the Library of the Forest – La Biblioteca del Bosque. Bound in a rich variety of colours, the spines contain no title; each being individually boxed, they contain only a few pages of handwritten pages of text and the remainder of the book is a reliquary for items gathered and recording Blanco’s many pilgrimage walks – seaweed, flints, the wing of a bird, thorns, timber scorched by lightning, resin, pottery … .

I am intrigued by this library:

Choose three books from the library, The first tells you of your past, the next shows your present and the last will see your future.^^

Blanco’s wife Elena adds:

the books will choose you, not the other way round*^

How can this be?

I imagine each book to be a koan, jerking their chosen recipient out of their predictable path into pilgrimage – the pilgrim walks both an exterior and interior path.

I find myself exploring where ways and words connect. My journal and pen and books and wander make it possible to take a pilgrimage walk through words and images, joining inner and outer worlds, and Blanco is quite right when he claims:

To walk is to gather treasure.^^

Try reading several books alongside each other; you herbert know what’s around the next corner.

(*Vaclev Cilek, quoted in Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways.)
(**From David Ulin’s The Lost Art of Reading.)
(^From Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter.)
(^^Miguel Angel Blanco, quoted in Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways.)
(*^Elena Blanco, quoted in Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways.)

Systems thinking

The new sciences of chaos and complexity tell us that a system that is far from stable is a system ripe for change […] a whole new level of creativity after crisis […] in which we adapt to the Earth rather than the other way around.*
(Janine Benyus)

In a crisis, there’s maximum attention. And in a crisis, we often discard any pretense of caring about systems and resilience and focus only on how to get back to normal. This is precisely why normal is what normal is, because we fight to get back to it.**
(Seth Godin)

Normal is simply a system, a technology of our creating:

we live in a culture of compliance that we are ever more conditioned to accept orthodoxy as normal, and to accept that there is only one way of doing it^.

That we see only one way to do things shows it to be a prescriptive technology, being disconnected from the greater system we exist within, with ecological laws we dismiss or ignore at our peril:

We are still beholden to ecological laws, the same as any other life-form. The most irrevocable of these laws says that a species cannot occupy a niche that appropriates all resources – there has to be some sharing. Any species that ignores this law winds up destroying its community to support its own expansion. Tragically this has been our path.*

All of this is true at a personal level also. When the normal and prescriptive churns out “circus and bread” so well, who wouldn’t want to return to it? Or so the argument goes.

On a personal level, we are living more holistically when we move in the direction of our values, dreams, talents and energies. We can live in many ways with these tings, but some are better than others.

The simple truth is that some systems work and some don’t; some can be adapted and some need to be changed.

We can do this when it comes to our planet and also with our lives.

To open our minds, hearts and wills to more is to embrace holistic technology.

(*From Janine Benyus’ Biomimicry.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: When can we talk about our systems?)
(^From Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology.)

Happy National Doodle Day

Why not start doodling today?

I’ve included a doodling alphabet in my doodle. You can use these to explore some mindful doodling. Build up your image while slowing and deepening your breathing, adding different shapes as you feel.

Afterwards, why not add colour – it will change again.

Another play is to take a continuous line for a walk across your paper – no taking the pen away until you are completed, which is different to finished.

Doodling is for listening.

Colouring is for relaxing.


Thank you to my wife Christine for sending me a message from work to wish me Happy National Doodle Day.

Stocktaking and meddling

Stocktake/ˈstɒkteɪk/Learn to pronounce
noun: an assessment and record of the amount of stock held by a business.”a major annual stocktake”
verb: assess and record the amount of stock held by a business.”they were stocktaking on that day”

Meddle/ˈmɛd(ə)l/Learn to pronounce

Designer and artist Laurene Leon Boym is playing with a lockdown series entitled Shelf Life, drawing everyday items from her cupboards. This kind of stocktake is not for inventory but to see and feel things in a different way.

We can overlook the obvious and the ordinary in our lives, missing the wonder of who we are and what our lives are crammed with, misled into believing and feeling we need more than we have. I’m thinking curiosities, interests, ideas, values, talents, dreams, knowledge, experiences.

Noticing these things in a deeper way – akin to Boym’s drawing of her cupboard contents – by writing them down and talking about them and, yes, drawing them – allows us to value the ordinary that is not as ordinary as we think. More significantly, it makes it possible to imagine and experiment by putting them together in different ways.

I encourage everyone to be meddlesome.

The “powers-that-be” want us to leave things as they are, but once we really notice them, we just can’t leave these things alone.

This experience of stocktaking and meddling is something I want to make available to those who have found themselves unemployed as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown. Please spread the word, especially to young people.

We have more in our lives than we know.

The most important thing, ever

It will be the most important thing I’ve ever done.*
(Steve Dilworth)

Artist Steve Dilworth describes his art thusly:

I have spent my life making ritual objects for a tribe that doesn’t exist.*

The most important thing he will ever do is to remove the top of a huge boulder on Harris as if it were a lid, bore out a shaft large enough to place his sculpture Hanging Figure,** replace the “lid,” and, some moss-replacing years later, all would be hidden.

I couldn’t avoid the unalloyed questions this posed:

What will be the most important thing I’ve ever done?

Am I prepared for this most important thing to be unknown to many?

They’re the kind of questions that come into view as you move towards this strange line in the sand called retirement.

As I was ruminating, I read some words from Maria Popova that pointed me win the direction I want to live:

against every choice of destruction, there is always the choice of creation; that against the extractionist, there is always the generative, against the exclusionary, always the inclusionary and the generous^.

Moments later, Austin Kleon would concur, writing:

Worry less about making a mark Worry more about leaving things better than you found them.^^

This helps me and my attention turns to what I must do rather than what I should:

I don’t know for sure what kind of flowers I’m planting with my days on this planet, but I intend to find out, and so should you.^^

Tom Hodginson’s friend John Moore says to his wife as she urges him to get out of bed:

I’ll get up when there’s something worth getting up for.*^

It makes me realise that I’ve messed up; I see how I’ve been making something I want to get up for every day and it gives me joy:

Joy tends to involve some transcendence of self. […] Joy often involves self-forgetting. […] We can help create happiness, but we are seized by joy. We are pleased by happiness, but we are transformed by joy.^*

David Brooks’ words help me to see how I find my true Self so that I may give it away: joy in the surrender of self.

(*Steve Dilworth, quoted in Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways.)
(**Sculpted from a human skeleton, seagrass, prepared calf-meat and organs, and horsehair.)
(^From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Grammy Award-Winning Jazz Vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant Reads Audre Lorde’s Poem “The Bees.”)
(^^From Austin Kleon’s Keep Going.)
(*^John Moore, quoted in Tom Hodginson’s How to be Idle.)
(^*From David Brooks’ The Second Mountain.)

To wander

You have arrived.
Seek the unknown.
The Wanderers are everywhere.*

(Keri Smith)

Walking really is a magic cure for people who want to think straight. “Solvitur ambulando,” said Diogenes the Cynic two millennia ago. “It is solved by walking.”**
(Austin Kleon)

I am grateful to those who have encouraged me into dawdling and wandering and flanering into slowness and noticing more, including Keri Smith’s wonderful The Wander Society which she begins by telling of her own adventure into wandering started with a book:

I was browsing in a favourite dusty old bookshop, one that I frequent when I am in need of a random book find. On this particular day I found myself in the poetry section and picked up a worn hardback copy of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. As I began to flip through the pages I noticed some handwriting in the book. On the inside cover was written “WW will show you the way.” On the title page was scribbled “Solvitur ambulando,” and underneath that, “The Wander Society” with a small thunderbolt symbol.*

It was one of those precious moments that takes us by surprise and feels deeply significant, Smith sharing how ‘I left hurriedly, feeling like I had just received a secret message from the universe’.* More discoveries followed in the vicinity of the bookshop: the thunderbolt image, images of Walt Whitman and literature left for people to pick up and carrying the following message:

Wandering is not a mindless task, but instead the opposite, the gateway to enlightenment. A surrender to the great mystery.*

Smith managed to trace the Wander Society back to 2011, though it may be older. Certainly the list of wanderers includes older explorers: Gertrude Stein, Ludwig Wittgenstein, William Wordsworth, Charles Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin, Henry David Thoreau, Nassim Taleb, Virginia Woolf, John Muir, Friedrich Nieztsche, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rebecca Solnit, Robert Louis Stevenson, to name some wandering ancestors and contemporaries.

In her Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, Amy Krouse Rosenthal notes how adults, when asked how things are, reply they are busy, but:

As kids, our stock answer to most every question was nothing. What did you do at school today? Nothing. What’s new? Nothing. Then, somewhere on the way to adulthood, we each took a 180-degree turn. We cashed in our nothing for busy. I’m starting to think that, like youth, the word nothing is wasted on the young. May be we should try reintroducing it into our grown-up vernacular. Nothing.^

We’re always busy with something. Walking, and more specifically wandering, becomes an antidote to our busyness, on one level it is to do nothing, but, on another, it is a way into everything as we put aside our rushedness and practice openness:

But what if wandering is the real work? In nourishing our bodies, giving space for our minds and hearts to breathe, caring for the soul, and letting the subconscious mind tackle problems, we are actually doing much more for ourselves and the world. This is the big work.*

We are seeking to open our minds, hearts and wills: to be attentive in order that we might be more present so that we might realise more – that is, bring more into being. Such openness is to be awake when it is too easy to sleep through life.

I discovered that flanering, from the Nordic flana, meaning “freedom to roam” was brought to life in the 19th century as Charles Baudelaire’s flâneur – a male, often well-to-do stroller observing modern life. Then a friend in the University of Edinburgh sent me an article about how a female observer is a flâneuse, a reimagining of the wanderer as a woman who roams where she is not supposed to. The tables are turning, the observed is becoming the observer, and anyone can be a flâneur or flâneuse.

The article includes John Sargent’s painting A Street in Venice as illustration of what is changing, showing a woman being observed by a couple of men. I took the piece with me to read while in Washington D.C. for a conference. After the conference I was planning to delay my return so I might engage in a couple of days of flanery, at the end of which, I found myself in the National Gallery for Art. One of the final paintings I viewed was the very one in the article. I had no idea that was where it was on display. Wandering brings us to such moments, large and small; we wander into richness:

The mind articulates newly where there is true coincidence, where roads parallel and roads contrary suddenly converge. The world is suffused with time and space, and therefore fresh speech is always appearing, always being invented. The world is teeming, so mind is teeming, There is no end to contingency, and so no end to language.^^

Lewis Hyde is here describing the world of the Trickster character found in the stories of many ancient cultures, but he could be describing the richness that exists in our world to be wandered into and expressed in many thoughts and ideas and images.

This is simply an invitation to do nothing … except make time to wander, becoming a flâneur or flâneuse roaming through the richness of the universe. Here are some things to try.

Make half-an-hour and take a familiar walk at half your usual pace. The aim is not to get somewhere but to notice what you notice. That is, to take a closer look at whatever catches your eye. You can prime the walk if you wish – choose a colour and pay attention to whatever wears that shade.

Another thing you can do is toss a coin five times – tails for left and heads for right, then follow whatever route the combination of lefts and rights takes you.

Another is notice the people en route; wonder about where they have been, where they are going, what does their way of walking tell you about the kind of day they are having?

Be ready to reflect on what any of these things might be saying to you, lessons they may be offering, questions asked.

Don’t worry if there are none of these – just enjoy the walk.

What we are simply doing is noticing and connecting to the world we are part of and that we matter to as much as it matters to us.

You may also want to visit the mysterious website of The Wander Society.

(*From Keri Smith’s The Wander Society.)
(**From Austin Kleon’s Keep Going.)
(^From Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.)
(^^From Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World.)