The labyrinth

The motivation to play in an infinite fame is completely different – the goal is not to win, but to keep playing – it is to advance something bigger than ourselves or our organisations.*
(Simon Sinek)

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 one winding corridor. It slows you down. That’s all.**
(Lauren Elkin)

The words of a song have just transported me back some twenty six years.

I’m videoing a reading to send to a community I served all that time ago and the song came to mind:

Fears that crowd around me
For the failure of my plans
For the dreams of all I hope to be
The truth of what I am^

I didn’t know where my failures would lead me, or how my dreams would grow and what they would become, but looking back I can see more.

There’s a point early in walking a labyrinth where you find yourself very close to the centre.

A short hop and you would be in the centre.

What is important, however, is to continue on the path now carrying you away from the middle for what seems an age before it finally bringing you to the centre.

The words in the song feel like that.

Twenty six years ago, they felt close and very important, but I now understand I wasn’t grasping them as fully as I am able to now.

Twenty six years later and I am able to appreciate that my contribution is all about failures and dreams, for me and for others, too.

Simon Sinek writes about the “just cause,” part of the infinite game, something bigger than ourselves, a cause that shapes the future.

A story that might be said to be of mythological proportions, spanning a lifetime and more.

Life is less like a linear path and more like a labyrinth, circling or twisting around the centre, sometimes closer, sometimes farther away, but, sooner or later, it will arrive, at the right time, rich with stories and experiences.

It’s not time to give up on your failures and dreams.

*From Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game;
**From Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse;
^From From Graham Kendrick’s For This, I Have Jesus.

Homo inventionibus

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)

What does it mean to be human?**
(Erich Fromm)

Erich Fromm answers his question with a number of possibilities: Homo faber (the toolmaker); Homo sapiens (one who knows); Homo lumens (one who plays); Homo nagens (one who says “No”); and, Homo esperans (one who hopes).

I add Homo inventionibus: one who quests.

Even as we need to make tools, to seek knowledge, to play, to say “no” – and “yes,” we also need to quest.

We need to journey away from ourselves and to others, and then we shall know ourselves:

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.^

*From Robert McKee‘s newsletter: The Complex Simplicity of Story;
From Erich Fromm’s The Revolution of Hope;
^James Baldwin, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: The Gospel of James Baldwin.

The human human

The tendency to install technical progress as the highest value is linked up not only with our overemphasis on intellect, but, most importantly, with a deep emotional attraction to the mechanical, to all that is to alive, to all that is man-made. […] One cannot help being suspicious that often the attraction of the computer-man idea is the expression of a flight from life and from humane experience into the mechanical and the purely cerebral.*
(Erich Fromm)

More than fifty years ago, Erich Fromm found himself wondering why it was that humans wanted to make machines more human – the computer-man – rather than growing humans more human.

Machines can provide the illusion that we have things under control, but it may be that they are a place to hide.

With all that peculiar stuff happening on the inside.

All that is needed to remedy this is some slowing down, solitude, giving attention, so that we can make a few changes in the direction of what we value most of all.

*From Erich Fromm’s The Revolution of Hope.

Robbed of beauty

When we begin to awaken the light of soul, life takes on a new death. […] Beyond work, survival, relationships, even family, we become aware of our profound duty our own life.*
(John O’Donohue)

This society produces many useless things, and to the same degree many useless people. Man, as a cog in the production machine, becomes a thing, and ceases to be human.**
(Erich Fromm)

The industrial landscape of bigger and more provides for us, but at a great cost.

Employment can be soul-less employment when all are capable of being craftspeople.

So many industries not really interested in person’s hand or mind or relational skills.

Erich Fromm is reflecting on the industrial-sized dangers foreseen by Karl Marx who wrote that:

the production of too many useful things results in too many useless people. […] Machinery is adapted to the weakness of the human being, in order to turn the weak human being into a machine.^

The work landscape is changing, but it is changing towards both the soul-full and the even more soul-less.

This is simply a plea to make some time to identify what we are each capable of and feel passionate about, towards being able to make something that matters to us, rather than consuming what others are making.

To somehow reconnect thought and feeling, mind and heart, truth and passion in a commitment to squeezing all we can from our life so there is nothing left over at the end.

Though the possibility may be that at the end we feel ourselves to be the most full of all, because the more we give, the more we receive.

*From John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty;
**From Erich Fromm’s The Revolution of Hope;
^Karl Marx, quoted in Erich Fromm’s The Revolution of Hope.

Narrowing down or widening out

A deep life is a good life.*
(Cal Newport)

They don’t know what they don’t know, until they find out they don’t know it.**
(Dave Trott)

It’s messy out there and it’s messy in here

Just when we have everything in its place, all shiny and neat, the unknown throws us into some messy, open-ended, more-questions-than-answers world.

Better get a pen out, there are notes to be made in the margins.

Life is always bigger than we know; we are bigger than we know.

In one sense, it could be said that it takes approaching eight billion people at any one time to give expression to just how big human life is.

*From Cal Newport’s Deep Work;
**From Dave Trott’s One + One = Three.

I’d rather not talk about it

Stopping talking about things is the first stage in stopping thinking about things.*
(Dave Trott)

The more we come to the painful confession of our loneliness, hostility and illusion, the more we are able to see solitude and hospitality and prayer as part of the vision of our life.**
(Henri Nouwen)

I love to find the places my random morning reading overlaps; when I sit down with my journal, I have no idea what awaits me.

Here are some of the things that came out of today’s.

Dave Trott shares about the matter-of-fact way his mother and her generation talked about death, different members of the extended family deciding to buy adjoining graves.

A nice quiet spot in the graveyard, near some trees, with toilets close by for visitors:

Even after death, she’s worried about visitors needing the loo.*

This got me thinking about the five elemental truths I carry with me at all times.

I’ve mentioned them before, but here they are again:

Life is hard;
You’re not as special as you think;
Your life is not about you;
You’re not in control;
You’re going to die.^

These look to have finality about them at first glance, life narrowing down around us as we walk through them.

The original intention, though, was for young people to be able to pass through these into a full and contributing life as members of their societies.

They’re not dead-ends, but thresholds into a larger world, an infinite game.^^

What may on the other side of each of these?

Life is hard, but we have each other to help one another through?

You’re not as special as you think, but there is something that you are able to do that brings magic into the world?

What do you see ahead as you walk through these?

The reality is, we can shape our lives as we want them to be.

John O’Donohue highlights our problem:

We have separated soul from experience, become totally taken up with the outside world and allowed the interior life to shrink.*^

This isn’t a finite place we find ourselves.

We can look through our dilemma into a growing interior world, a rejoining of soul and experience.

In his latest book, Ben Hardy shares how he faced the difficult things about himself, determining to explore a newly found belief that he could do anything with this life.

Through reading more than 100 books, journaling and in conversation with people he trusted, he turned his life around.

He choose the infinite game.

We all can.

We don’t have to be religious to make sense of Henri Nouwen’s three movements.

Here’s how we might translate them:

To know and be home in our True Self;
Include others in our lives who can help us grow;
Live for something bigger than ourselves.

Each moves through the finite into the infinite.

*From Dave Trott’s One + One = Three;
**From Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out;
^From Richard Rohr’s Adam’s Return;
^^I’m reading Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game;

*^From John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty.

May I help?

To be fully engaged, we must be physically energised, emotionally connected, mentally-focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest.*
(Tony Schwarz and Jim Loehr)

We all want to help; it’s a beautiful human attribute.

You may be able to help me, but I’ll come to that later.

We not only want to help each other, but we are really imaginative and creative about how we go about it.

Each of us has just-enough to help another.

We don’t have to have everything, only something that will interact and create something new with the something of the person being helped brings.

Wanting to make our help count means turning up in the best condition we can.

Which is where the words of Tony Schwarz and Jim Loehr help us to see that there’s a lot to be aware of.**

We can hope to be ready for opportunities to help, or we can prepare.

Every day:

Sleeping, eating and exercising well;
Staying with our feelings and exploring them;
Stretching thinking by engaging with new thoughts and experiences;
Connecting with others, the world, our god, and the True Self.

As Simon Sinek points out,

Consistency becomes more important that intensity.**

Developing in these four dimensions is about developing flexibility over rigidity, and is what makes us into infinite players cum helpers, opening more possibilities than we thought were possible.

If I can help you, let me know, but you may also be able to help me.

I’m launching some help for people made unemployed through the pandemic, and am offering an introduction to this on the 21st April.

It’s an opportunity to find out there’s more to us than we know. A way of being more prepared when looking to get back into work.

It would be great if you could help me spread the word.

*From Tony Schwarz and Jim Loehr’s The Power of Full Engagement;
**Check out Edgar Schein’s lovely little book Helping to see how it is an art;
^From Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game.

Direction or destination?

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 best way I can describe your gift is as your deepest joy meeting the world’s greatest need.**

We are all participating in an infinite game, though we may be unaware of this.

We are not the originators of the gift.

It has come to us through many others and we get the opportunity to shape it into something that is different.

And we look for opportunities to give it to others.

Helping them to shape their gift …

… and on it goes.

The infinite game asks a bigger question of us.

Not so much “What do you do for a living?”

More “What do you live to do?”

Except the universe can’t ask the question directly.

It asks it through us, its offspring, as we make our way through life.

Erich Fromm touches on this when he writes about hope, how it’s something we get to shape for ourselves and share with others, but neglect:

Whatever we say or think about hope, your inability to act or plan for life betrays our hopelessness.^

I’m not sure which comes first.

Does the gift produce hope?

Or does hope produce the gift?

I put it this way because I think it feels like it’s happening in an ongoing way rather than has happened, rather than waiting to happen.

I find myself wondering, What do I want to be when I grow up?

I’m still on the road, still walking.

Walking alongside any whom I meet along the way and can walk alongside, sharing my gift.

Probably why I’d choose direction over destination.

*From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes;
**This is necessarily subjective; I am reminded that the early Jesuits all thought the thing they were doing to be the most important thing in the whole world: see Chris Lowney’s Heroic Leadership;
^From Erich Fromm’s The Revolution of Hope.

(My first attempt at a doodle for today)

This may not be the end

Delight in the tiny new leaf, so shy and so shamelessly lush, unfurling from the crooked stem of the parched geranium.*
(Maria Popova)

Eternal beauty cannot glow here in its full force or purity; nevertheless it is present as a fugitive and awakens our adoration when it is glimpsed.**
(John O’Donohue)

Which did you see?

The ending?

Or the continuing?

Both were present.

The finite and the infinite.

The player makes the game.

*From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Essential Life Learnings From 14 Years of Brain Pickings;
**From John O’ Donohue’s Divine Beauty

Blown off-course

Don’t give them what they want. Give them what they never dreamed was possible.*
(Orson Welles)

Keep asking questions. Colour outside the lines. Draw your own maps. Create your own legends.**
(Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie)

There have been several times I have found myself blown off-course by a life-storm.

I didn’t think so at the time, but now, I’m grateful for being blow off the course I was heading along.

The storms have made it possible to be somewhere I never imagined.

Dave Trott writes of TV and radio producer John Lloyd:

He wouldn’t have done nearly so much with his life if he hadn’t been fired so many times.^

That encourages me.

Take a look around, take inventory of where you are and what you have.

It takes a while to reorientate, but slowly, we figure out where we can head from here.

Let me know if I can help with the journey.

*Orson Welles, quoted in Dave Trott’s One + One = Three;
**Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, from Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick’s A Velocity of Being;
^From Dave Trott’s One + One = Three.