Be the dojo

a lot of people were raised to believe that they need needed to fix their weaknesses but their talents would take care of themselves*
(Mary Reckmeyer)

May you have the grace of encouragement
To awaken the gift in the other’s heart,
Building in them the confidence
To follow the call of the gift.**

(John O’Donohue)

We have the opportunity to be for others the space of encouragement they need to explore the height and depth and length of their possibility.

It is also the means by which we move into greater discovery because we realise we need to grow and become in order to be the place they need:

To the warrior, greatness is not the product of ego but of service. If you live for yourself, you can settle for less. If you live for others, it requires all of who you are.^

We don’t know all of who we are. At least I hope I don’t. This is a journey that may be never-ending, if we are prepared to make it:

It remains the dream of every life to realise itself, to reach out and lift oneself to greater heights. A life that continues to remain on the safe side if its own habits and repetitions, that never engages with the risk of its own possibility, remains an unlived life.^^

*From Mary Reckmeyer’s Strengths Based Parenting;
**From John O’Donohue’s Benedictus: For a New Position;
^From Erwin McManus’ The Way of the Warrior;
^^From John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us.

Out of our weaknesses and into our strengths

strengths are not the opposite of weaknesses, and you can’t turn weaknesses into strengths*
(Mary Reckmeyer)

When you live a life of obligation, it steals from you your strength. Wisdom allows you to harness your strength.**
(Erwin McManus)

For a long time, we’ve been on a journey into our strengths.

We’ve had to negotiate temptations to compromise, demands to go with the flow of what others or the culture demand.

Strengths are more than talents, a weaving together of our abilities and passions and most enriching experiences, laying where we find ourselves in the vitality of the present moment, forgetful of self, at home in our wildness:^

The poet wrote the poem no doubt, but he forgot himself while he wrote it, and we forget him while we read.^^

One of the sad things today is that so many are frightened by the wonder of their own presence. … This identity may be totally at variance with the wild energies that are rising inside their should. Many of us get very afraid and we eventually compromise. We settle for something safe, rather than engaging the danger and the wildness that is in our own hearts.*^

*From Mary Reckmeyer’s Strengths Based Parenting;
**From Erwin McManus’ The Way of the Warrior;
^This doesn’t mean that we cannot learn new things, nor learn from others who have completely different strengths to ours: indeed, these are signs that we are pursuing our strengths rather than our weaknesses;
^^E. M. Forster, quoted in Lewis Hyde’s A Primer for Forgetting;
*^John O’Donohue, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: A Gentle Corrective for the Epidemic of Identity Politics Turning Us on Each Other and on Ourselves.

Strength and peace ain’t what they used to be

Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.*
(John Wooden)

The man of action … forgets a great deal to do one thing.**
(Friedrich Nietzsche)

Strength isn’t invincibility, peace isn’t serene calmness.

They never have been.

They are about continuing and overcoming through failure and doubt, difficulty and anxiety, challenge and complexity, against the odds to prosper and flourish.

So we keep going with what it is we must do.

Maybe if we’re feeling invincible and serenely calm then we’re not doing what we must.

*John Wooden, quoted in Mary Reckmeyer’s Strengths Based Parenting;
**Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in Lewis Hyde’s A Primer for Forgetting.

The depths of seeing

Here is my secret. It’s quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is inevitable to the eyes.*
(The Little Prince)

Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.**
(Jesus of Nazerath)

We can only see so much with our minds.

There is much more to be seen with our hearts.

More still only within our activeness.

*The Little Prince, quoted in Austin Kleon’s blog: How to draw what is invisible;
**Matthew 7:7-8.

It’s a new day

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast. I will sing and make melody. Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn.*

The adjacent possibilities are plenty but can dissipate when met by our plans.

A friend introduced me yesterday to David Whyte’s A Morning Poem:

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.**

I didn’t know it when I arose this morning that I would be reading a very similar thought from John O’Donohue:

May morning be astir with the harvest of night:
Your mind quickening to the eros of a new question,
Your eyes seduced by some unintended glimpse
That cut right through a surface to a source.

A morning when you become a pure vessel
For what wants to ascend from silence

To reach beyond silence
And the wheel of repetition.

In order to come to birth
In a clean line of form,
That claims from time
A rhythm not yet heard
That calls space to
A different shape.^

I’d already read these words and passed on when I re-read Whyte’s. I almost missed the significance of them, moving on to read other lines in other books.

That’s the problem, we can so easily miss that moment of possibility, of imagining a different day: it led to an idea for a piece of art.

In this moment Whyte mentions, there’s the possibility of forgetting what we were going to do, and re-membering what we could do.

Bring the unplanned possibilities to birth.

Here is Whyte’s poem for morning in its entirety:

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.

To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.
You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?
Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?^^

*Psalm 57:7-8;
**From David Whyte’s A Morning Poem;
^From John O’Donohue’s Benedictus: For the Artist at the Start of the Day;
^^A Morning Poem.

In the doldrums and exploring the subtext

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.  It’s the void between depression and flourishing – the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity.*
(Adam Grant)

The secret to diagnosing the problem with a broken scene lies in its subtext.**
(Robert McKee)

Whether as a result of the pandemic or because the doldrums are where you’ve increasingly found yourself recently, there are ways to get moving again.

One basic way is to introduce more physical movement to the day.

Then move your thinking and feeling with reading, watching and listening to new things, feeding your imagination and spirit.

Capture all of this in journaling and then look for the smallest iterations of ideas that come to you to try out: moving your doing.

As Robert McKee suggests, the brokenness lies in the subtext, Peter Senge would concur: it’s not the reinforcing system/behaviour that we see on the surface where the issueless, it’s the balancing system/stuff beneath the surface we need to tackle.^

Keep pushing the reinforcing behaviour and things will likely become worse. Slow down, go deeper, and explore the balancing world and something new will appear.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul sense the world that awaits you.^^

*Adam Grant, quoted in Sam Radford’s blog: Languishing, the neglected middle child of mental health;
**From Robert McKee‘s newsletter: The Secret to Fixing Broken Scenes;
^See Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline;
^^From John O’Donohue’s Benedictus: For a New Beginning.

How will you do it?

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.*

(John O’Donohue)

By choosing form, he’d be setting up to become an explorer. His goal to discover all that the form is capable of.**
(Scott McCloud)

What is “it”?

How has it been done before?

How will you do it?

Or perhaps you will do something completely different?

As species after species passes on their genes, what we’d notice – if we could hang around a mighty long time – is that each generation basically does what the last generation did.

Then we come to humans, able to change direction in an instant and do something differently or even to pursue something that’s never been done before.

Here’s how John O’Donohue’s blessing begins:

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you are ready to emerge.*

*From John O’Donohue’s Benedictus: For a New Beginning;
**From Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.

It’s never too late to fan the flames

As short as the time
From spark to flame,
So brief may the distance be
Between heart and being.

May courage
Cause our hearts to flame,
In the name of the Fire,
And of the Flame
And the Light.*

(John O’ Donohue)

In her book Strengths Based Parenting, Mary Reckmeyer tells the stories of fashion designer Jason Wu and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, examples of pursuing passions from an early age – both supported by their parents from before the age of 10 in what they were becoming interested in.

Whilst these stories show us how it is possible for someone’s curiosity can become an interest and turn into a flaming passion, they may leave us believing we are too late when it comes to pursuing passion.

This is just not so.

John O’Donohue offers us the image of spark to a flame to illustrate how things can so quickly alter.

We need only start by noticing what we notice and lean into this.

I was reminded of the Jesuit steps** that allowed them to pursue what they most wanted to pursue in life, these being self-awareness, innovation, love, and courage:

It takes courage to specialise and build a small great thing.^

Courage is the product of our pursuit of interest: we will be most courageous about those things that matter most to us.

Onwards!, because it is not too late:

Knowledge allows us to get our bearings, but it’s imagination and action that give us the forward motion we need to start and finish.^^

*From John O’Donohue’s Benedictus: In Praise of Fire;
**Check out Chris Lowney’s Heroic Leadership;
^From Bernadette Jiwa’s The Story of Telling blog: A Small Great Thing;
^^From Bernadette Jiwa’s The Story of Telling blog: Start to Finish.