A good story isn’t just about the hero. It’s about the people the hero loves, the people dependent on the hero, the victim the hero is going to rescue. Stories may be told through the lens of the hero, but they are always about what is happening to a community of people.* Donald Miller
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.**
Coinciding with the funeral service of Queen Elizabeth taking place today has been my reading of Donald Miller’s suggestion that we prepare our own eulogies – To help us connect daily with what is most important to us.
In a good story, Miller writes, There has to be a ticking clock; Something has to happen to someone by a certain time.
Death is our ticking clock. Not something to be feared, but our servant towards living a meaningful life, Even life-in-all-its-fullness.
Over the past days I have listened to many poignant eulogies to the Queen, Some no longer than a sentence, Each very special. Admittedly, after leading many funeral services over forty years, I can find myself wondering who may come to mine, And what will they say. I’m not being morbid, Rather I am trying to be more focused about how to live the remainder of my days.
However much longer we have, Using our eulogy at the beginning of each day In some way, shape or form, Will keep us connected to what we want our lives to be filled with, Which, as Miller suggests, Will include others whose lives we want to fill with good things, too.
Our possibilities are not limitless, but they are at least infinitely above our present possibilities of imagination.* Frank Laubach
Each life is a mystery that is never finally available to the mind’s light or questions. That we are here is a huge affirmation; somehow life needed us and wanted us to be. To sense and trust this primeval acceptance can open a vast spring of trust within the heart. It can free us into a natural courage which casts out fear and opens up our lives to become voyages of discovery, creativity and compassion.** John O’Donohue
It is said that tomorrow never comes, And yet there is a way in which it can be transformed into today.
Yesterday may not have been all that we wanted it to be, But now it’s gone and we have this opportunity to start over.
The way to tomorrow is not some plan or a map to be followed: It is people with whom we connect, including yourself. Connect to yourself and your hope, Join with with those who will help you – The main characteristic of a guide is that they help the hero win^ – Also relate to the reality of your world, And, If you have a god, Be in relationship, too.
Begin writing out and about these things every day, And your way, or path, will emerge. Then, later in the day, Find ways of exploring, experimenting, Asking your questions of the way:
Begin. With the humility of someone who’s not sure, and the excitement of someone who knows that it’s possible.^^
The best stories and novels lead the reader not to an explanation, but to a place of wonder.* Peter Turchi
Here’s another rule about stories that will help each of us live a more meaningful life: try not to want too many things.** Donald Miller
Too little content or too much and we’ll soon lose interest in the book we’re reading or the movie we’re watching.
This is a observation benefits us when it comes to shaping our personal stories; Too few or too many themes and we’ll begin to lose interest: We’ll probably have the appearance of being on autopilot.
As I’ve been thinking about a new project to work on, I’ve needed to be clear about the number of themes to pursue, To be clear whether this new thing fits with or gets in the way of the bigger plot.
Why not take a moment to name your major themes? I realise mine are reading, journaling, blogging, doodling and dreamwhispering: They interlink and my new project fits with them, and so will keep me interested.
Our deepest calling is to grow into our authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some of who we ought to be.* Parker Palmer
The more learning older adults take on, the faster they seem to learn – the more they become like younger adults.** Tom Vanderbilt
Would you like to be young again?
Why not learn something new … And then keep learning.
Okay, It won’t reverse the ageing process that involves getting slower, with aches and baldness thrown in, It won’t reverse the decline in fluid intelligence and the need to make the leap into crystallising intelligence,^ But to see in fresh ways and understand new truths, And to be able to give these things to others with joy to the people we meet on our journey, Is to feel born again.
very happy people know a secret: a human being has a ridiculous amount of personal agency* Donald Miller
Which came first? Language or meaning?** Lynda Barry
As story-telling creatures, It’s critical to notice if we’re playing the victim or being the agent.
If our life isn’t what we want it to be, And yet we stick where we are, It’s likely we’re playing the victim in some way or other. Even to turn our curiosity towards the things that disappoint or stress or worse, Is to begin to act more like an agent.
For certain, To utilise our agency is hard because, Well, we have to do something we’re not used to doing or maybe have never done before; But to remain a victim is harder.
When travelling south from Scotland to visit our family in England, One route takes us past a small sign marking the source of the River Tweed. Looking across the moorland, There’s nothing to be seen, But a little searching would discover a trickle of water that, As it flows towards the sea at Berwick-upon-Tweed, Is slowly swollen by the contributions of many water sources, Until the Tweed must be spanned by some considerable bridges.
I mention all of this because to move from victim to agent, We begin with small steps. If you are curious about this then you have already begun.
To uncover what you have, To notice what you can give, And to identify the smallest ways of giving expression to these, Will not only identify your meaning in life – Life is about making meaning and our stories encapsulate what we create – But also swell your agency and carry you away from being the victim. (If I can help, let me know.)
The word for this is transformation:
What is the essence of heroic energy? A hero wants meting in life and is willing to accept challenges in order to transform into the person capable of getting what they want.*
A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms and atmospheres. … At this threshold a great complexity of emotion comes alive: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, hope.* John O’Donohue
Unlike cynicism, hopefulness is hard-earned, makes demands upon us, and can often feel like the most indefensible and lonely place on Earth. Hopefulness is not a neutral position either. It is adversarial. It is the warrior emotion that can lay waste to cynicism.** Nick Cave
I’ve just been trying to remember how to insert the # symbol on my iMac keyboard. I’ve done this plenty of times, but it had gone for a wander this morning.
No, not that way, Not that way either. I’ll google it – What do you call it?
Eventually, As you can see, I got there.
I can forget a lot of things; It’s one of the things I notice as I get older. I shared some days ago how we go into decline sooner than we think as we move from fluid intelligence into crystallising intelligence. Arthur Brooks likens trying to remember something to asking an old librarian to find a book. They disappear for ages, Finally returning not only with the book you wanted, But also with an armful of other books: “I thought you might also like to have a look at these.”
One of the funny things is how, With some arthritis in my fingers, I can misspell words because sometimes certain fingers work more slowly than others, And the first letter I want ends up being the second or worse – It’s like what used to happen to typewriters when you hit too many keys at once.
It doesn’t mean it’s the end of meaningful life; It can be quite the opposite, but first we must show ourselves some compassion, Or friendliness as Oliver Burkeman prefers to think of it, here quoting Iddo Landau’s reverse golden rule:
don’t treat yourself in ways you wouldn’t treat others^.
We need to embrace our flaws and weakness and mistakes – But don’t wait until you’re my age before you begin doing this:
you can finally relax a little. When you are honest and humble about your weaknesses, you will be more comfortable in your own skin. When you use your weaknesses to connect with others, love in your life will grow.^^
These are not boundaries that stop us in our tracks, Rather they are thresholds that lead in to something unfamiliar though hopeful, unnerving though invigorating. Onwards.
When I operated out of villain energy, I became more and more isolated. … We know we are surfacing villain energy when we dismiss other people’s comments or when we think of them as lesser.* Donald Miller
Each of us must please our neighbour for the good purpose of building up the neighbour.** The Apostle Paul
The rain was falling heavily, And around twenty of us were sheltering beneath a gazebo as we celebrated the sunflower festival on the little estate where we are neighbours.
Everyone one got a prize for the sunflower(s) grown: Tallest in a pot … Most beautiful flower … Making an effort (when the seed had failed) – Looking for a reason for everyone to be included in the prizes (daffodil bulbs to be planted for the spring).
It looked like we all enjoyed the hour or so, Despite the rain, As we shared prizes and cake and chocolates and drinks.
Giving up on being victims and villains, Humans can be heroes at finding ways to be neighbourly.
The most direct way forward is to default to more respect, simply because that’s what people deserve.^
transcend /tranˈsɛnd,trɑːnˈsɛnd/ verb gerund or present participle: transcending 1. be or go beyond the range or limits of (a field of activity or conceptual sphere).
I think this is something we intuitively understand – that as we mature we should seek spiritual growth in anticipation of an old age filled with enlightenment.* Arthur Brooks
If I haven’t figured out that human life is transcendent in nature, It is likely I’m done rooting around.
Arthur Brooks has just introduced me to Hinduism’s four ashramas or stages of life, Being in their most stripped-down forms: Brahmacharya: learning; Grihastha: career, wealth, family; Vanaprastha: spirituality, wisdom; Sannyasa: enlightenment.
These reminded me of Brian McLaren’s four seasons: Simplicity: the joy of beginning; Complexity: things aren’t as straightforward as we thought; Perplexity: there are things that will never reconcile; Harmony: we find a way of holding all that is together.**
And then there are Theory U’s four levels of transformation: Downloading: we are at the centre of our small world; Opening the mind: we move to the edge of our world and see there is more; Opening the heart: we move deeper into the worlds of others; Opening the will: we create together what is wanting to emerge.^
My point is not that these exist in some coincidence – They do not overlay each other neatly – Rather, Here are three understandings of transcendent life – Helpful to us on their own or together – Encouraging us to keep moving.