The labyrinth of change

No two human beings ever experience two sensations, experiences, feelings, or thoughts identically. Everything changes. Everything is always different*
Keith Haring

If your music comes from your heart and soul, and if you feel it inside yourself, it will affect others in the same way.**
Robert Schumann

Difference and sameness.

These contrary words from Keith Haring and Robert Schumann set me on a journey of thinking about the general and the specific this morning, taking me back to the beginning of this journey I have find myself on. Knowing the general thing I needed to be about in my work, but not the specific, the thing needing to be discovered within it.

Richard Sennett writes about two people whose lives were generally connected by their valuing of walking, but specifically were quite different:

[Jean-Jacques Rousseau] portrays walking as a spur to contemplation; just for this reason Rousseau liked walking in the country, without the distractions of the city. A contrary kind of walker appeared in the person of Rétif de la Bretonne, Rousseau’s contemporary, who walked the city like a miner prospecting for gold, hoping to enrich his self through immersing himself i unfamiliar scenes.^

The general is important as a place to begin, but the specific is more important as a way to continue.

I have often described my specific path as a journey in the same direction, and, coming upon some words again from Lauren Elkin this morning, have been helped to see how a path can have many turns and directions and yet lead in the same direction, which is towards the centre:

But a labyrinth is actually an arrangement of paths that lead you 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.^^

The slowness is very important, enabling us to notice more, towards becoming more specific, otherwise we’d keep hurrying generally along.

In a labyrinth, it is possible to feel ourselves very close to the centre but as we continue along its path, we are flung out towards the edges, only later to find ourselves moving towards the centre again. It can feel like many paths for this reason, but we come to understand it to be only one, and it is here that the deepest of changes, the most wonderful of beginnings, can take place.

You will know when it is time to bring to birth
the new creation. The signs will be all around you,
urging, insisting: Now is the time.
You have to know just when to bear down
And concentrate on one thing onl.
It takes labour, hard, hard labour
to bring to birth something new.*^

*From Keith Haring’s Keith Haring Journals;
**From Steve Isserlis’ Robert Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians;
^From Richard Sennett’s Building and Dwelling;
^^From Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse;
*^Miriam Therese Winter, quoted in Mary Ruth Broz and Barbara Flynn’s Midwives of an Unnamed Future.

Homo inventionibus

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.*

Given the uniqueness of each of us, it should not be surprising that one of the greatest challenges is to inhabit our own individuality and to discover which life-form best expresses it.**
John O’Donohue

Home inventionibus: one who quests.

Within our industrialised systems of education, work and society, there is a distinct possibility that we live well within our boundary lines and heritage.

Our quest, then, is to rediscover these, not only for ourselves, but also for each other.

Here are some words that came together in my reading this morning:

Heroes use systems, they aren’t held back by them.^

Not the usual way we think of heroes. Yes, there’s the danger of watering down the power of heroism, but there is also the possibility of missing the ordinary, often subserve, deeds that people bring into every day.

Oliver Burkeman writes of those who immerse themselves in a hobby:

In an age of instrumentalisation, the hobbyist is a subversive: he insists that some things are worth doing for themselves alone, despite offering no pay-offs in terms of productivity or profit.^^

No productivity!

No profit!


Philip Newell writes of our quest to rediscover our boundary lines and heritage in nature:

There is hope for the human journey to the extent that we come back into true relationship with the earth’s wildness.^^

Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes of the quest of women to find the wildness of their boundary lines and heritage:

[Women] were kept as fallow gardens … but thankfully there was always wild seed which arrived on the wind.^*

I found myself contemplating this morning’s rising sun as being subversive while it seeped through the trees near my home on an otherwise overcast day: the branches and buds shone like gold. It was on a quest to transform.*^

May you explore to the edges of your boundary lines and goodly heritages, and enable others to rediscover theirs.

*Psalm 16:6;
**From John O’Donohue’s Benedictus;
^From Seth Godin’s blog: The hospitality systems gap;
^From Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks;
*^From Philip Newell’s Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul;
^*From Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ Women Who Run With the Wolves.

Just trying to be human

One cannot help being suspicious that often the attraction of the computer-man idea is a flight from life and from humane experience into the mechanical and the purely cerebral.*
Erich Fromm.

The more specific the vision, the more clear the path and the more potent the motivation. You choose your purpose and then you give your whole soul to that purpose. In due time, you’ll transform.**
Ben Hardy

My gut feeling is that the things that will move us into the possibility of being the most human we can be are likely to be more low-tech than high-tech: journals and pens, books, places of silence, spaces for making, disciplines and habits, mutual relationships.

if we get these things right then the high-tech stuff supports us and works for us, get it wrong and the technology crushes our less developed interior.

*From Erich Fromm’s The Revolution of Hope;
**From Ben Hardy’s Personality Isn’t Permanent.

Pick up a pencil

There is … a peculiar modern phenomenon that might best be described as a culture of competitive trauma. In recent times, the touching human longing for sympathy, that impulse to have our suffering recognized and validated, has grown distorted by a troubling compulsion for broadcast-suffering and comparative validity. Personhoods are staked on the cards dealt and not the hands played, as if we evolved the opposable thumbs of our agency for nothing.
Maria Popova

We can be pushed around by our unhelpful thoughts and feelings, believing the only thing left to us is to distract ourselves in some way.

Of course, these thoughts and feelings are our own lives trying too protect us, but in a really unhelpful way.

We end up a victim forgetting our opposable thumbness, our imaginations often being the first victim of anxiety and stress.

Here’s one way to become an agent rather than victim:

Write the thought down in a succinct way

Sit with this thought a moment and feel the discomfort or pain it brings.

Write it out again, with the words “I am having the thought that … ” in front of it; pause and notice any difference.

Then write the second sentence again, perhaps in a coloured pencil, with the words “I am noticing that … ” in front of it; pause and notice any difference.

If this has been helpful, what will have happened is that you will have unhooked somewhat from the thought, which is helpful because a thought isn’t how things are, but simply a thought.

If you would like to take this further, try some mindful doodling.

One way is to turn the unhelpful thought into its positive and helpful opposite. This will become the text for your doodle.

Doodling because we can all do it and the idea is that it only has to take a few minutes.

And it’s still your thought, which is why this is a valid thing to try.

Write this out where you want it to sit on your sheet of paper. Perhaps along the top or bottom, top left, bottom right in a box?

I pencil a lot of my doodles out first of all, just to play with the basic idea.

You can also work with the original thought in an ironic or satirical way, which also allows you to be the agent rather than victim.

Have some fun along the way.

*From Maria Popova’s The Marginalian: The Good Luck of Your Bad Luck: Marcus Aurelius on the Stoic Strategy for Weathering Life’s Waves and Turning Suffering into Strength.

Open to a place I inhabit

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

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

Georges Perec spent three days in October 1974 exhausting all he could see in a place in Paris.

He wasn’t focusing on the buildings and monuments as a tourist would, but what around and between these:

A 96 goes by. An 87 passes by. An 86 passes by. A 70 passes by. A “Grenelle Interline” truck passes by. Lull. There is no one at the bus stop.

A 63 passes by. A 96 passes by.

A young woman is sitting on a bench, facing “La demure” tapestry gallery; she is smoking a cigarette.

There are three mopeds parked on the sidewalk in front of the café.^

Even so, I can only imagine Perec missed many things, including days four, five and six. And what if I were to replicate his experiment today?

There is so much to be observed and Perec captured these three days in such a way so that I am able to see what he was seeing almost forty eight years later.

We may not want to spend three days observing a public space in the town or city where we live, but Perec’s experiment is valuable providing the basic means and practice to be open to where we are: a situation we inhabit, a person we meet, a problem that challenges us.

*From Dave Trott’s One + One = Three;
**From Cal Newport’s Deep Work;
^From Georges Perec’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris.

As good as new

it’s a book about making something new out of the old about using what’s in your life now to make up the next part of your life*
Jean Clough

I need this encouragement.

The old body is creaking: neck, fingers, back, feet, hearing.

If I were to focus on the state of the old body, I would think that life was reducing:

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

There’s another part of us that is capable of ongoing renewal:

outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day^.

Our lives are full of so many astonishing elements: bringing these out forms my work with all kinds of people towards being able to imagine more

Our inner lives have much to teach us, and:

There is no end to learning.^^

*Jean Clough, from Mary Ruth Broz and Barbara Flynn’s Midwives of an Unnamed Future;
**From John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty:

^2 Corinthians 4:16;
^^Robert Schumann, from Steven Isserlis’ Robert Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians.

Slow fashion

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 Schulz and Jim Loehr

 clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other**
The Apostle Paul

Humans have an amazing wardrobe and get to try all kinds of clothes on every day.

*From Jim Loehr and Tony Schulz’s The Power of Full Engagement;
**Colossians 3:12-13.

I didn’t expect that

To follow your gift is a calling to a wonderful adventure of discovery. Some of the deepest longing in you is the voice of your gift. The gift calls you to embrace it, not to be afraid of it.*
John O’Donohue

Instead of asking yourself, “What can I know?” ask yourself, “What at this moment am I meant to know?”**
Austin Kleon quoting W.H. Auden

Don’t expect to remain found when you follow your gift.

It is more likely that you will become lost more often than not, coming upon things you didn’t know you would delight in if had you thought of the gift as supplying you with a road map.

If there is no lostness, no surprise, no incompetence, no morphing, it may be that you haven’t come upon our gift yet.

*From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes;
**From Austin Kleon’s blog: Keep calm and make ugly art, quoting W. H. Auden.

Giving ourselves the chance to be encouraged

The challenge is to find a way of life that will be in harmony with your gifts and needs.*
John O’Donohue

This is the pleasure of limits, the fun of play. Not doing what we want, but doing what we can with what is given.**
Ian Bogost

I add milk, or some alternative, to my oats in the morning to make my porridge. A small amount of oats then becomes a hearty breakfast.

Reading the thoughts of others, being attentive on a walk to what is present all around, these are the liquids the contents of our lives require.

More input: we all need to give ourselves the chance to be encouraged every day.

*From John O’Donohue’s Benedictus;
**From Ian Bogost’s Play Anything.


indeed (adv.)
c. 1600, a contraction into one word of the prepositional phrase in dede “in fact, in truth, in reality” (early 14c.), from Old English dæd “a doing, act, action, event” (see deed (n.)).

In-idea to in-deed: the all-important journey.