Learning myself bigger

I am bigger than this. And may I be helped to grow to my full size.*
(M. C. Richards)

Each year, Rohit Bhargava compiles a list of non-obvious trends.

For 2019 he includes what he carefully describes as the trend of extreme uncluttering.

This not only includes possessions, but also venues and experiences, digital distractions and brands.

On the one hand, he encourages me to tidy up the bedroom cum study I use for working in and I will engage in some uncluttering today.

Before I get to the other hand, I was also reading M. C. Richards remark with which we begin, this emerging from a conversation she has with a four year old. She continues:

a good teacher is taught by his students. For he is not to teach them merely what he knows but to help to bring to maturity what is already in them. It takes, of course a very good ear, to hear what is present in a child, or an adult.*

So, on the other hand, the question presented itself, while I could do with clearing out things that fill my study, would I clear out any of the things I have learnt over all the years?

I don’t think so, for one way or another they are the very things that have grown me bigger, and I don’t know how big I can grow.

The same is true for you.

Richards names some critical superpowers we are all capable of developing and possessing:

I am not concerned with what we like. I am concerned with our power to grasp, to comprehend, to penetrate, and to embrace.*

I also happened to be reading Maria Popova’s post this morning on Derek Jarman’s retreat from London to a seaside home and garden, a place he came to terms with AIDs, reconnecting with one of the most important urges towards noticing – without which it is difficult to learn:

I have re-discovered my boredom here… where I can fight “what next” with nothing.**

Popova reflects on Jarman’s discovery of boredom:

His boredom, like all of our boredom, becomes a laboratory for presence — a nursery in which to grow the capacity for paying attention, a studio in which to master the vital art of noticing, out of which our contact with beauty and gladness arises — the wellspring of all that makes life livable.^

I feel as if I have come upon some important uncluttering: of busyness and rush, of noise and distraction, of avoidance and denial, of answers and the final word, but not of everything I have learnt.

May you keep learning bigger.

*From M. C. Richards’ Centering;
**Derek Jarman, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Growing Through Grief: Derek Jarman on Gardening as Creative Redemption, Consecration of Time, and Training Ground for Presence;
^From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Growing Through Grief: Derek Jarman on Gardening as Creative Redemption, Consecration of Time, and Training Ground for Presence.

The stylistic cave

I think copying someone’s work is the fastest way to learn certain things about drawing and line.  It’s funny how there is such a taboo against it. I learned everything from just copying other people’s work.*
(Lynda Barry)

True worth for such a person inheres in the creative spirit, and the objects of the world move accordingly, not to see other illusory value.**
(Lewis Hyde)

This article in Futurity encourages leaders to spend time reflecting at the beginning of the day on the kind of leader they want to be, if they want to be more effective.

You don’t have to be a leader to benefit from this practice.

Whatever we do, we can spend time the beginning of your day pondering and playing with how others have done similar things to what we want to do, imagining ways to innovate, and then to use the day to make something original.

We might call it our stylistic cave where we listen to others and come to hone your own voice:

Ars tua vocem tuam: your voice is your art.

*Lynda Barry, quoted in Austin Kleon’s blog: Copying is how we learn;
**From Lewis Hyde’s The Gift;
^A term borrowed from George Saunders: Austin Kleon’s blog: Getting out from under the influence.

Improving our maps

We have to have some way of giving priority to different potentials within us. This is where a sense of self and self-identity come in.*
(Paul Gilbert)

If we find our story isn’t helping us, if it’s inaccurate or distracting or enervating, we can work to change it.**
(Seth Godin)

Personal stories are like maps.

Maps are not the real thing, but they help us record and navigate what is real.

The wise person, then, continually update their maps, which is to say, they work on their stories.

They know it’s foolish to deny their encounters with reality and instead hold firmly to their maps as they are; they know the resulting experiences can be painful.

The wise open their minds whilst the foolish close theirs.

They open their hearts rather than close and secure them.

They open their willingness to act, to grow rather than become fixed.

Every day’s a map-making day.

*From Paul Gilbert’s The Compassionate Mind;
**From Seth Godin’s blog: Inventing narratives.


The idea of playing with coloured inks came in a conversation with my friend Jeroen.

I think there’s more fun to be had with a dipping pen and ink pots.

Next time, though, I’ll finish with yellow rather than beginning with it.


Here’s something you might like to to try out that combines wandering and doodling.

Take a slow walk around where you live. Enjoy the day, the temperature, breeze, scents: simply be aware.

As you go, look for a tree (or a plant) you don’t recognise.

Take some pictures, make a few notes – height, distinguishing features, etc.

Bring all of this home and go online (in the UK, the Woodland Trust is a good place to go) to identify the tree and find out more about it.

Make an information card with a doodle and facts you find interesting and intriguing: perhaps attach it to the tree for others to find and read.

Keri Smith’s The Wander Society is a wonderful place to start exploring wandering, and you can find out more about the Wander Society here.

A little festival of you

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love It will not lead you astray.*

When we are in rhythm with our own nature, things flow and balance naturally.**
(John O”Donohue)

I’ve been reading about harvest festivals as I came into today, how the people of Israel were to bring the firstfruits from their harvests in a celebration with their God.

One thing that struck me about this practice is that it is very much about the present: the celebrants actually had the necessary “fruits”in their hands. It wasn’t a fading memory from their past leading them to be stuck in nostalgia, nor was it a worried concern about the future.

It gave me an idea for a personal festival from the things that fascinate us and where these lead us that can help us be more present.

We tend not to stop and celebrate the things that have gone well so the festival will help us to do this. These don’t have to be big: it can be more helpful if they are small.

Give yourself two or three minutes: sit or stand comfortably, breath in and out slowly and deeply three times, then breath normally, bringing to mind something that went well from yesterday or today: an appointment set up, a customer that smiled because of our service, the doodle completed, the research that found the important source … .

Be grateful for this, for what it means for you and for the person you were doing this for.

Perhaps this is why beauty touches us so deeply. When beauty touches us, we remember who we are. We realise that we come from the homeland of beauty.^

*Rumi, quoted in Elle Lua’s The Crossroads of Should and Must;
**From John O’Doohue’s Eternal Echoes;
^From John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty.

The setup and the …

Transcience turns everything to air. You look behind and see no sign of a yesterday that was so intense. Yet in truth, nothing ever disappears, nothing is lost. Everything that happens to us in the world passes into us. It all becomes part of the inner temple of the soul and it can never be lost.*
(John O’Donohue)

I am, however, animated and in love and gushy about really great writing. That’s what sustains me and makes me all tingly.**
(Anne Trubek)

What are you animated in love and gushy about?

For me, it’s lively conversations with people discovering the wonder of the content of their lives and how it all fits together into a compelling story.

Anne Trubek is reflecting on where she is from, not a place or region, but something she is animated and in love and gushy about.

Where we are from and where we are matters less than the things our lives have been unfolding us into.

Rainer Maria Rilke writes in this vein:

I want to unfold. I don’t want to stay folded anymore, because where I am folded , there I am a lie.^

Understanding that nothing from our past has been lost but is somehow a part of who we deeply are brings us to the brink of the possibility of exploring these depths.

As it were, what life has set us up for.

Robert McKee writes,

A setup is a cause hidden in the past. … Setups are nothing without …^^

The word McKee sets us up for is … payoff.

What are we going to make happen?

This is our aliveness, and as Joseph Campbell points out,

We save the world by being alive.*^

Which is another way of saying, we all get to enjoy your payoff.

*From John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty;
**From Anne Trubek’s blog: I am not from here;
^Rainer Maria Rilke, quoted in Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway;
^^From Robert McKee‘s How Setups Can Drive Your Story;
*^Joseph Campbell, quoted in Keri Smith’s The Wander Society.

Stadtluft macht frei

Stadtluft macht frei (‘city air makes you free’)*
(Richard Sennett)

Dating from the late Middle Ages, this German adage is suggesting that a different environment makes all the difference to who we can be, specifically when it came to moving around within the stultifying social order of that period.

Environments are all important to our development, as M. C. Richards proffers here:

The child takes in his world as if it were food. And his world nourishes or starves him. Nothing escapes his thirst; secrets are impossible. He identifies with his surroundings, and they live with him unconsciously … .**

It’s been measured how the number of questions a child asks reduces as they grow older and are force-fed the answers to questions they hadn’t asked.

I’m not sure how much this may play a part in what we’re interested in as we grow older, but we certainly come to enjoy some environments over others, with all their “fauna and flora.” What is enervating may be enriching for us and vice versa.

Understanding there are some environments that feed us more than others is critical to growing as true and fulsome as we have the potential for: something I see extending throughout our years.

It is possible to identify both the ones that feed us the most and those that starve us.

There’s another element to this, as identified by Erwin McManus:

the world within you will create the world around you^.

Not only are we fed by our environments, but, when we are living faithfully to who we are and what we have, we are able to affect change on our environments. Our enriching ones will respond the most, but even enervating ones will benefit from the person who has turned up with their bespoke alacrity.

Today is yet another day for developing our values, talents and energies, and playing with ways of making these available to others.

*From Richard Sennett’s Building and Dwelling;
**From M. C. Richards’ Centering;
^From Erwin McManus’ The Way of the Warrior.

Foundational flaws

Psychology tends to over-identify the flaw with deficiency. The unknown is not simply our there, outside us. The unknown dwells in the recesses of the human heart and becomes especially explicit in our flaws; consequently the true language of the self is hesitant, shadowed and poetic.*
(John O’Donohue)

we must persistently shed light on those aspects of ourselves that we prefer not to see in order to build our mental, emotional and spiritual capacity**
(Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz)

I wonder whether I am now ready to face truths about myself that I have so far overlooked, ignored, avoided or rejected.

My mind has been taken back to a moment in ministerial training college when the principal remarked how I was too quiet and may struggle leading in church life, and perhaps my graduation should be held up for a year.

In the end, it wasn’t and I didn’t struggle to speak up, but I would now want to weigh the worth of all those words.

I have come to understand how I enjoy quietness, listening, questioning and reflecting before having to speak.

What was suggested to be a deficiency perhaps was a flaw because I had left it unobserved and undeveloped, but it now feels like a defining strength for the work I do today.

There is a lot more to uncover and more possibilities to imagine and grow towards.

Facing the truth frees up energy and is the second stage, after defining purpose, o becoming more engaged. Avoiding the truth consumes great effort and energy.**

*From John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty;
**From Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement

Stranger than fiction

An individual is a carefully fashioned, unique world. The shape of the flaw that each person carries is also different. The flaw is the special shape of personal limitation; angled at a unique awkwardness to the world, it makes our difficulty and challenge in the world different from that of others.*
(John O’Donohue)

Look at the person sitting to the right of you. And if there’s no person on the right, look at the person to the left. That person and you differ at over a million locations in your DNA.
(Lee Silver)

Wabi is the Japanese word for the flaw that deepens the beauty and character of a thing.

In other words, flaws are to be valued – though not blindly.

No matter how much we try to bring our character and personality into the light, there will always be a part of us that dwells in shadow, though.

To embrace this, to seek integrity with our superpowers demands we also seek integrity with our flaws – is not the same as excusing: we can be without pretense and guile, and be strong:

Your soul will not want to neglect the regions of your heart that do not fit the expected. When you trust yourself enough to discover and integrate your strangeness you bestow a gift on yourself.*

A critical part of embracing and connecting with this strangeness is to live closer still to our values:

Values hold us to different standards for managing energy.^

Perhaps harnessing our strangeness, weirdness, flawed-ness, is what someone in the world is waiting for.

*From John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty;
**Lee Silver, quoted in Mary Reckmeyer’s Strengths Based Parenting;
^From Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement.