Unfamiliar … familiar … overfamiliar … unfamiliar

Our evolved preference for familiarity often backfires. There are many signals that give us useful information about whether a situation is productive or safe. But pre-existing social networks might not be the best one.*
Seth Godin

Expand your attention to include everything that you can possibly hear, without judgement. The ear hears. The brain listens.**
Pauline Oliveros

We are creatures who turn the unfamiliar into the familiar.

We like the familiar.

Then we have to beware the overfamiliar.

Then we must set out into the unfamiliar again: a never-ending source of possibility.

Something to be found in each day.

*From Seth Godin’s blog: Fear of strangers;
**Pauline Oliveros, quoted in Rob Walker’s blog The Art of Noticing: source lost.

The conversation library

How does one keep an imagination fresh in a world that works double-time to suck it away? … I think that the answer is, one must live a curious life.  One must have stacks and stacks and stacks of books on the inside of their bodies. And those books don’t have to be the things that you’ve read.  I mean, that’s good, too, but those books could be the conversations that you’ve had with your friends that are unlike the conversations you were having last week.*
Jason Reynolds

We have fallen out of alignment with the deepest truths within us. How are we to awaken again to the sacredness at the heart of all life, the sacredness that is also at the heart of our own being?**
Philip Newell

Ryan Holiday writes,

Enough comes from the inside.^

I want to add:

More than enough comes from conversation.

Jason Reynolds shares how in Senegal, when a community is elder it is said that “a library has burned.”*

When the enough of one person meets the enough of another, more than the sum of the two people is uncovered.

There’s more. When we take our curiosity into a conversation, we will likely find, as James Carse suggests, our experience of time changes, too:

Time does not pass for an infinite player. Each moment of time is a beginning of a period of time. It is the beginning of an event that gives the time within its specific quality.^

There’s a richness of time for those who discover its quality over its quantity. A conversation becomes more like a visit to a library in which we are lost in its contents.

Let’s re-open the libraries all around us.

If you would like to have a conversation in which we can explore this further, drop me a line.

*Jason Reynolds, quoted in Rob Walkers’ The Art of Noticing blog: Ask a Human;
**From Philip Newell’s Sacred Earth Sacred Soul;
^From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.

Inauthentic learning

Compulsory education doesn’t often lead to real learning. That’s because compulsory education is coerced. There’s no active enrolment.*
Seth Godin

we care most about the things we have struggled to understand**
Leon Festinger

There are many things I cannot do, but there are a few things that I can.

This is the reality with which I begin my day.

I reflect in this way because I want to do more with this little bit of responsibility I have in life: to someone how make a meaningful contribution into the lives of others.

Limitations are not only about what I have not but also what I have.

There is a magic in this, some alchemy to play with.

Alan Jacobs writes about more appearing to us when we are prepared to step outside of our understanding and expectation:

Surprise is the great enabler of seeing.^

Inauthenticity, perhaps, is the product of real learning:

What have you been put on the Earth to do? Is it not the creation of the “inauthentic,” that is the purposefully crafted, in order to deliver to others the gifts and simulacrum of authenticity. That’s why we call it Art, and why, in some crazy way, it’s realer the real and truer than true.^^

We each see differently, formed by our lives and not of someone else’s. Embracing this allows us to imagine what others have not.

It does not have to be some great and grand gesture. Indeed, it is more likely to be the small creation of love and beauty that will make someone’s life, somewhere, better.

*From Seth Godin’s blog: “The dog ate my homework”;
**Leon Festinger, quoted in Richard Sennett’s Building and Dwelling;
^From Alan Jacobs’ Snakes and Ladders blog: Architectural Thoughts;
^^Steven Pressfield, quoted in Seth Godin’s The Practice.

The considered life

Psychological flexibility allows us to move toward our discomfort in a way that is curious, open, and kind.*
Steven Hayes

Without internal tension there would be a fluid rush to a straightaway mark; there would be nothing that would be called development and fulfilment. The existence of resistance defines the place of intelligence in the product of an object of fine art.**
John Dewey

Richard Sennett reflects on these words from John Dewey:

As in art, so in life; resistance prompts us to think.^

Resistance is important if we are to live a fine life, and yet resistance is being removed or lost in many dimensions of life.

Sennett takes his readers around the resistant-free technological experience of a computer, to “Googleplex” in New York, and then to the smart city of Songdo in South Korea, controlled from a central “cockpit”: experiences he feels to be lifeless: smart experiences that dumb us down.

The kind of experiences that provide us with answers when we need questions to wrestle with.

I couldn’t help but think of Richard Rohr’s five elemental truths: experiences of resistance that when we push through them, grow us in the process:

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

Steven Hayes, a developer of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), encourages us to turn towards the difficult things with curiosity, rather than distracting ourselves from what we find painful, so developing openness.

For me, this means openness of mind, heart and will.

The considered life – I borrow the term from Jesus of Nazareth – means to slow down, notice, struggle, let go, let come, move on. Where we are in this moment is only a starting point:

Genre is a box, a set of boundaries, something the creative person can leverage against. The limits of the genre are the place you can do your idiosyncratic work. To make change happen, the artist must bend one of those boundaries, one of those edges.*^

Into the resistance.

*From Steven Haye’s A Liberated Mind;
**John Dewey, quoted in Richard Sennett’s Building and Dwelling;
^From Richard Sennett’s Building and Dwelling;
^^From Richard Rohr’s Adam’s Return;
*^From Seth Godin’s The Practice.

Magic things

The world is full of magic things, waiting patiently for our senses to grow stronger.*
William Butler Yeats

The way of seeing that I am speaking about can be accessed by any, regardless of ethnic origin or religious background, for it is a way of seeing that is based on what the soul already deeply knows, that both the earth and every human being are sacred.**
Philip Newell

Truth is one thing, wisdom is how we grow when we open ourselves to it.

The doodle is based on an inscription a woman in her eighties had made in one of Philip Newell’s books in which he emphasised the truth of the light of the divine in everyone, rather than the doctrine of original sin.

The woman had written in her copy, “I knew it! I knew it! I knew it!” All her life she had known this, but finally she had heard it spoke out.

May your senses grow stronger.

*William Butler Yeats, quoted in Jonah Paquette’s Awestruck;
**From John Philip Newll’s Sacred Earth Sacred Soul.

A good perspective

Good process leads to good outcomes.*
Seth Godin

What happens because of what happens next?**
Alex McManus

Here is a journey into the future.

We not only imagine and reflect upon what we will say or do next, but also on what will happen because of this.

In some small way, we are capable of shaping the future in a small but good way.

In 1990, the Voyager spacecraft, as it was about to leave our solar system, reversed its camera to take a final picture before being shut down to conserve energy.

The iconic picture of a blurred dot of light in an arc of sunlight^ was reflected upon by Carl Sagan, the scientist whose appeal had turned the camera around, offering us a very good perspective from which to understand our life together on this tiny planet:

the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the follow of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.^^

*From Seth Godin’s The Practice;
**From Alex McManus’ Makers of Fire;
^This is an enhanced image;
Carl Sagan, from Maria Popova’s Figuring

Failure and fulfilment

Failure is the foundation of your work. … We fail and then we edit and then we do it again.*
Seth Godin

I am so grateful that I came across Seth Godin, more than fifteen years ago now.**

Coinciding with my arrival in Edinburgh, a city that would become a place of experiment, Godin reset my understanding of failure.

Some of my biggest failures have become some of my strongest foundations because I have sought to learn from them and to grow.

And I know the failures aren’t behind me because I need to keep experimenting and exploring, and I know I will mess up, but the only place to be fulfilled is out there pushing the limits of who I ca be, which just happens to be helping others to do the same.

*From Seth Godin’s The Practice:
**I picked up Seth Godin’s Purple Cow.

The hinterland of choice

human motivation is actually based on a timescale that is long, sometimes even longer than our lifetime*
Dan Ariely

You can’t find a good reason until you know what you’re trying to accomplish.**
Seth Godin

Choice is not only out there in variety and opportunity.

Choice is also inside me, grown through daily practice.

When I neglect this, and something happens, I react.

When I grow enough, and something happens, I respond.

When I grow more, and something happens, I launch.

I’ve found that a good place to begin is at the beginning of the day: exploring humility (wonder within), gratitude (wonder without) and faithfulness (wonder in practice).

*From Dan Ariely’s Payoff;
**From Seth Godin’s The Practice.

The curiouser

she was observant, curious about who other people were and what they were doing*
Richard Sennett

The “curious idiot” approach can serve you well if you can quiet your ego long enough to perform it. A curious idiot is unafraid to ask stupid questions. Every stupid question you ask takes a teeny, tiny act of courage. Sometimes you have to muster the will to push the words out of your lips.**
Austin Kleon

How many questions do I ask on a good day?

I’m not sure, but I hope a lot.

I’m always aware that I have a lot of questions to ask of those I’m working with, but I want to ask even more.

I am curious, not nosey, the reveal is for others, not me.

Curiosity is not the problem, telling is.

And telling is on the rise.

We haven’t got the time to ask, telling is more efficient.

There’s no denying that curiosity is slow.

It’s how we are led to wonder and to awe, whether in a sunset, an idea or a person.

The curiouser is one who is slowing down to notice more and to inquire.

The opening words are Richard Sennett’s description of Jane Jacobs, an activist and writer who stood against the post-war planners and designers who wanted to force their bold, powerful and efficient designs upon urban populations, form over content as it were.

*From Richard Sennett’s Building and Dwelling;
**From Austin Kleon’s blog: Ignorant, but curious.

The calling and the hearing

you’ve simply had enough
of drowning
and you want to live and you
want to love and you will
walk across any territory
and any darkness
however fluid and however
dangerous to take the
one hand you know
belongs in yours*

David Whyte

Everyone is called.

Not everyone hears.

We may carry romantic notions of calling, but the hearing involves doubt, distraction and discouragement.

Yes this is where we find life-in-all-its-sfullness.

Here’s David Whyte’s full poem (I recommend listening to Whyte reading The Truelove):

There is a faith in loving fiercely
the one who is rightfully yours,
especially if you have
waited years and especially
if part of you never believed
you could deserve this
loved and beckoning hand
held out to you this way.

I am thinking of faith now
and the testaments of loneliness
and what we feel we are
worthy of in this world.

Years ago in the Hebrides,
I remember an old man
who walked every morning
on the grey stones
to the shore of baying seals,
who would press his hat
to his chest in the blustering
salt wind and say his prayer
to the turbulent Jesus
hidden in the water,

and I think of the story
of the storm and everyone
waking and seeing
the distant
yet familiar figure
far across the water
calling to them

and how we are all
preparing for that
abrupt waking,
and that calling,
and that moment
we have to say yes,
except it will
not come so grandly
so Biblically
but more subtly
and intimately in the face
of the one you know
you have to love

so that when
we finally step out of the boat
toward them, we find
everything holds
us, and everything confirms
our courage, and if you wanted
to drown you could,
but you don’t
because finally
after all this struggle
and all these years
you simply don’t want to
any more
you’ve simply had enough
of drowning
and you want to live and you
want to love and you will
walk across any territory
and any darkness
however fluid and however
dangerous to take the
one hand you know
belongs in yours.

*From David Whyte‘s The Truelove, quoted in Maria Popova’s The Maginalian: The Truelove: Poet and Philosopher David Whyte on Reaching Beyond Our Limiting Beliefs About What We Deserve.