Right under our noses

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 and Roz Zander)

We look but we do not see, because our traditional assessment of abilities distracts us from what is actually there.**
(Ken Robinson)

We all have treasure we can bring out from ourselves and contribute into the world.

It’s actually there, right under our noses, waiting to be noticed. The difference may be looking through our own eyes rather than someone else’s.

What we notice, we can develop, into what Frederick Buechner named our deepest gladness, with which we can meet the world’s greatest need, which may also be right under our nose, Henry Eyring suggesting:

When you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble and you will be right more than half the time.^

Another thing I love about contribution: when made with a rascally glint in the eye, it creates disequilibrium, inviting something out there to shift or tilt towards better.

The imagination awakens the wildness of the heart.^^

*From Benjamin and Rosamund Zander’s The Art of Possibility;
**From Sir Ken Robinson’s Out of Our Minds;
^Henry Eyring, quoted in Benjamin Hardy’s Personality Isn’t Permanent;
^^From John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty.

Am I real or did I just make me up?

That which we call imagination is from the first an attribute of the senses themselves; imagination is not a separate mental faculty (as we so often assume) but is rather the way the senses themselves have of throwing themselves beyond what is immediately given, in order to make tentative contact with the other sides of things that we do not sense directly, with the hidden or invisible aspects of the sensible.*
(David Abram)

The imagination is my daemon because it is my best friend and my worst enemy. It is my twin because I am my own best friend and worst enemy.**
(Mary Ruefle)

I made this up and it’s a real blog.

A moment ago, it didn’t exist but now it does.

Life is powered by imagination, flying behind everything humans have ever made and done, good or bad, as Mary Ruefle helps us to acknowledge.

The more we know – from our seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, wrapped in thinking and feeling – the more we’re able to imagine.

More than ever in human history more people have access to knowledge and are able to connect this to the natural world though which they pass sensuously.

Every day is pregnant with possibility.

Michael Bhaskar writes about curation, which is another word for story,

Curation is where acts of selecting and arranging add value. … At its broadest curation is a way of managing abundance.^

Margaret Wise Brown declared,

The first great wonder at the world is big in me.^^

That’s quite something for an adult to claim, and wonderful, too. This is Brown’s story for herself: it’s made up and it’s real.

Imagination is how we touch the invisible or not-yet and bring it into being.

Imaginationn is real, it’s there to be grown each day and it’s good for us:

The imagination keeps the heart young. When the imagination is alive, the life remains youthful.*^

(This blog is powered by books, solitude, journaling, blogs, pictures, long gazes, God, the universe and porridge.)

*David Abram, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Ecologist and Philosopher David Abram on the Language of Nature and the secret Wisdom of the More-Than-Human World;
**From Mary Ruefle’s On Imagination;
^From Michael Bhaskar’s Curation;
^^Margaret Wise Brown, quoted in Bruce Handy’s Wild Things;
*^From John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty.

The open ear

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

We are human only in contact , and conviviality, with what is not human.**
(David Abram)

There’s a lot of not-listening around.

We do not listen well to others, nor to the world, and not events ourselves.

Yesterday, I was having a short conversation with someone seeking to arrange a deep listening workshop towards peer-to-peer support in the workplace.

I confess to wanting to be listener, so the thought of preparing a workshop excites me.

Presence and openness and attention are all important to listening, leading to what I am thinking about as listening-questions.

Presence in terms of fully and only occupying the available time.

Openness in terms of not judging and therefore being able to see more.

Attention in terms of what is wanting to emerge.

A really good question is an act of imagination and arises from presence, openness and attention, seeking:

to make tentative contact with the other sides of things that we do not sense directly, with the hidden or invisible aspects of the sensible.**

*From Elle Luna’s essay: The Crossroads of Should and Must;
**David Abram, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Ecologist and Philosopher David Abram on the Language of Nature and the secret Wisdom of the More-Than-Human World.

A greater narrative

I would like to be able to take a photo of a dream.*
(Hélène Cixous)

Although an initial reaction may be highly negative or debilitating, all painful experiences can be reframed, reinterpreted and ultimately used growing experiences.**
(Ben Hardy)

Dreams and reality: two different worlds. Or are they?

Our stories have far more to say to us than we often notice. We mishear or even unhear them:

everyone’s an expert of something. Often the “something” has nothing to do with what you went to school for or even what’ve been doing for however many years you’ve been working way at a job^.

Something else is happening here and we have to take a longer view of what I have come to understand as a slow journey in the same direction:

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 worth living^^.

It seems there are two narratives for our lives.

There is the day-to-day narrative of work, people, play, illness, anxiety. There is also a greater narrative which we speak of as quest, challenge, struggle, triumph.

When we are able to bring these together more then life seems to change, innovate. All of this has always been there, but we try to notice in a hurry, when we need to notice slowly.

Thankfully, practices of slowness and noticing are re-entering our day to day, after being lost to us for so long:

Most innovation is a gradual process.*^

Moment by moment, day by day.

Our stories haven’t finished with us yet, simply because, when we slow down and notice, we are in a better place to create them.

*Hélène Cixous, quoted in John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty;
**From Benjamin Hardy’s Personality Isn’t Permanent;
^From Chris Guillebeau’s Born For This;
^^Frederick Nietzche, quoted in Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction;
*^From Matt Ridley’s How Innovation Works.

Stillness still works

I believe there is no difference between thinking and imagination and that they are one. … Anything involving an image in the head is an act of imagination.*
(Mary Ruefle)

I believe profoundly that we don’t grow into creativity; we grow out of it.**
(Ken Robinson)

Be still.

Listen.

Imagine.

Do.

The problem is, imagination is like the air.

It’s so part of life that it’s invisible to us.

This can lead to us thinking others have imagination and we don’t.

Yet this amazing part of human consciousness can be developed by all of us.

Something we desperately need towards making the world a better place for all species and for the planet.

To do, imagine …

To imagine, listen …

To listen …

Be still.

*From Mary Ruefle’s On Imagination;
**From Kern Robinson’s Out of Our Minds.

The disruptive narrative

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away … .*
(The Teacher)

Civilisation is a race between education and catastrophe.**
(H. G. Wells)

It may not be in a written or electronic form, but we all have a curriculum vitae, a “course of life.”

Writing out your larger curriculum vitae can be a way of reflection.

A CV usually begins with educational qualifications and continue with work experience, jobs and positions. It might finally include other interests, and perhaps other related activities.

A larger CV would include the significant people in our lives: partners, mentors, children. It would also include transformative experiences.

As you reflect, does the CV unfold with a predictability that is somewhat painful to look upon?

Nassim Taleb writes concerning our predicament:

If you know in the morning, what your day looks like with any precision, you are a little bit dead – the more precision, the more dead you are.^

What such a life underlines is that everything is moving towards entropy.

Innovation can disrupt this inevitable, at least for a while:

Innovation … means finding new ways to apply energy to create improbable things and see them catch on.^^

“For a while” makes all the difference between existing and living.

CVs normally list things up to the present, but miss out, or at best, are vague about the future.

Why not try continuing yours into the future with a few surprises: those moments of innovation that you are going to focus as energy for making improbable things.

Here are four areas that will benefit from some innovation as identified by Ben Hardy:

Rather than facing our fears, and rather than facing the truth, we avoid them.

Rather than creating the life we want, we build that life that allows your problems to exist unresolved.

Rather than becoming the person we want to become, we stay the person we are.

Rather than adapting our personality to match our goals, we adapt our goals to match our current and limited personality.*^

Don’t see these as end points, but places to begin.

Bring it all into some journaling, be playful … add pictures.

Perhaps you had something else to do.

I just thought you might enjoy the disruption.

*Ecclesiastes 3:1, 6;    
**H. G. Wells, quoted in Ken Robinson’s Out of Our Minds;
^From Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes;
^^From Matt Ridley’s How Innovation Works;
*^From Benjamin Hardy’s Personality Isn’t Permanent.

The sower

In our time we have released a totally new social force, “a stream of change so accelerated that it influences our sense of time, revolutionises the tempo of daily life, and affects the very way we feel the world around us.*
(Ken Robinson and Alvin Tofler)

The seeds have been shared out for the sunflower festival on the estate where I live.

The residents will sow their seed and around August time their flowers will be “judged.”

Everyone wins in some category or other: the tallest, the biggest flower, the most flowers, the one that finished well after struggling, the best one in a pot.

The real harvest is the conversations that take place between neighbours at the beginning and end of the festival.

Over the ages, the garden has become a metaphor for our lives, so, whilst not everyone has an outer garden, we all have an inner garden to tend, needing its equivalents of water, sunlight, weeding, nourishment.

More than ever, this garden is important to us.

Alvin Tofler wrote his words of warning on a typewriter back in 1974 and they would only become more true as the Internet arrived less than twenty years later.

The inner garden is a place we can withdraw to even in the busiest of worlds, nurturing ourselves towards health and harvest, the fruit of which we get to share with others.

It is there for us to enter at the beginning of the day: a gardening journal being a great help-sake for our visits, as we note how we are growing or not, and what’s preventing what ought to be our natural process.

Ken Robinson offers a solution echoing Wallace Stevens’ writing on reality and imagination:

Our best resource is to cultivate our singular abilities of imagination, creativity and innovation. Our greatest peril would be to face the future without investing fully in those abilities.**

Note Robinson’s use of the word cultivate.

Carl Sagan declared,

The oak tree and me, we’re made of the same stuff.

A couple of things we can do for our inner garden:

Visit a garden, whether yours, a public garden or the countryside and give yourself at least 4′ 33″ to pause awhile and gaze at something whilst it’s growing.

What does this plant or tree have to say to you?

Borrow or buy a book on imagination, creativity or innovation. Here are some starters, but there are so many:

The Necessary Angel from Wallace Stevens;
The Icarus Deception from Seth Godin;
How Innovation Works from Matt Ridley;
Messy from Tim Harford;
and, of course, Out of Our Minds from Ken Robinson

*Ken Robinson quoting Alvin Tofler in his book Out of Our Minds;
**From Ken Robinson’s Out of Our Minds.

A walk Christine and I took on Saturday: the Powder Mills

Oh, what have you seen …

For all the virtues of indirection and silence, the hub of cooperation is active participation rather than passive presence.*
(Richard Sennett)

I appreciate what Richard Sennett is saying here, but I want to play with his words to suggest there can also be passive participation and active presence.

Passive participation as simply joining in with the decisions and activities of others.

Active presence as bringing the quality of deep listening and noticing that can lead to greater breakthroughs.

Bernadette Jiwa helps us to see capacities that will become increasingly valuable in a distracted and myopic world:

They pay attention to the seemingly mundane or insignificant, and delight in the kind of details other people overlook or ignore. The best storytellers are:

  • great listeners; and
  • first class noticers.**

Jiwa is relating these to storytellers, but we’re all tellers of stories really.

Our families are stories, our workplaces are stories, our nations and human existence are all stories we’re trying to tell better.

Karen Armstrong encourages us to ‘make place for the other,’^ and listening and noticing is the beginning of this openness to others and the world.

We must also make room for ourselves:

When you get to be older, and the concerns of the day have all been attended to, and you turn to the inner life – well, if you don’t know where it is or what it is, you’ll be sorry.^^

Silence, solitude, slowness are the friends of listeners and noticers.

*From Richard Sennett’s Together;
**From Bernadette Jiwa’s What Great Storytellers Know;
^From Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life;
^^Joseph Campbell, from Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.

Don’t forget to take your story with you today

A cat moves as if his body were not an object but an unfurling gesture. … The human animal makes the most complex movement. In its every gesture the long, upright body of a person is weighted with consciousness. More often than not the inner gravity of thought is heavier than the gravity of the clay.*
(John O’Donohue)

Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.**
(Mary Oliver)

Around three thousand years ago, tradition has it that King Solomon was scribing his wisdom; things like:

He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.^

Today, our species is exploring deep into space on the one hand and nanotechnology on the other.

Measuring travel across space in light years: 6 trillion miles a year.

Measuring distance in nanospace in nanometres: a billionth of a metre.

If you want to go smaller there are always picometres, attometres and temtometres: respecitively a thousandth, millionth and billionth of a nanometre.

I cannot imagine these distances: apparently a nanometre is equivalent to the distance a man’s beard grows in a second.^^

I am feeling the weight of O’Donohue’s gravity of consciousness.

Whatever we do, and we can do some amazing and astonishing things, we’ll never lose ourselves to the distances or the details if we daily connect with our stories: the kinds of story that are moving, unfolding, rather than fixed.

Robert Mckee writes,

writers of unique characters underpin their creativity with research*^.

I’d just been reading Bernadette Jiwa’s account of spotting someone at a nearby café table taking out a notebook and observing a couple at another table, commenting to her husband and then reflecting:

‘She’s a writer.’ […] And I know for sure those details will end up in a story or novel one day.^*

We must never stop working at and researching for our personal stories:

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant.

Reconnecting with your stories is the best way to start a day.

We can’t use light years and nanometres to measure our stories.

How do you measure?

*From John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty;
**Mary Oliver, quoted in Bernadette Jiwa’s What Great Storytellers Know;
^Ecclesiastes 3:11;
^^From Ken Robinson’s Out of Our Minds;
*^From Robert McKee‘s newsletter: The Secret to One-of-a-Kind Characters;
^*From Bernadette Jiwa’s What Great Storytellers Know;
⁺From Henry David Thoreau’s Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.

The magnificent must

Selective ignorance is not the avoidance of learning. […] It’s knowing what to avoid.*
(Ben Hardy)

Generally my feeling is towards less: less shopping, less eating, less drinking, less wasting, less playing by the rules and recipes. All of that I want in favour of more thinking on the feet, more improvising, more surprises, more laughs.**
(Brian Eno)

There are many things that can divert us from what we must do in life.

Our must is different to a goal.

Goals have to be reached, that’s why we set them, but there is something about our must that feels unattainable, held ever before us in the blue of distance.

My must is about helping people to discover how amazing they are and the the gift they can bring into the world.^

There’ll always be another person to walk with, there’ll always be a need to increase and improve my skills.

Goals come and goals go, but the nature of must means to lose sight of it, or be diverted from it, would be soul-crushing.

Reading seven words for the best storytellers provided by Bernadette Jiwa, I thought how they can help us, perhaps through some reflection and journaling, to stay close to our must:

We must be:

present
aware
specific
vulnerable
empathetic
intentional
brave.^^

*From Benjamin Hardy’s Personality Isn’t Permanent;
**From Brian Eno’s A Year With Swollen Appendices;
^Someone recently shared how, ‘People are totally magnificent’;
^^From Bernadette Jiwa’s What Great Storytellers Know.