Stocktaking and meddling

Stocktake/ˈstɒkteɪk/Learn to pronounce
noun: an assessment and record of the amount of stock held by a business.”a major annual stocktake”
verb: assess and record the amount of stock held by a business.”they were stocktaking on that day”

Meddle/ˈmɛd(ə)l/Learn to pronounce

Designer and artist Laurene Leon Boym is playing with a lockdown series entitled Shelf Life, drawing everyday items from her cupboards. This kind of stocktake is not for inventory but to see and feel things in a different way.

We can overlook the obvious and the ordinary in our lives, missing the wonder of who we are and what our lives are crammed with, misled into believing and feeling we need more than we have. I’m thinking curiosities, interests, ideas, values, talents, dreams, knowledge, experiences.

Noticing these things in a deeper way – akin to Boym’s drawing of her cupboard contents – by writing them down and talking about them and, yes, drawing them – allows us to value the ordinary that is not as ordinary as we think. More significantly, it makes it possible to imagine and experiment by putting them together in different ways.

I encourage everyone to be meddlesome.

The “powers-that-be” want us to leave things as they are, but once we really notice them, we just can’t leave these things alone.

This experience of stocktaking and meddling is something I want to make available to those who have found themselves unemployed as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown. Please spread the word, especially to young people.

We have more in our lives than we know.

The most important thing, ever

It will be the most important thing I’ve ever done.*
(Steve Dilworth)

Artist Steve Dilworth describes his art thusly:

I have spent my life making ritual objects for a tribe that doesn’t exist.*

The most important thing he will ever do is to remove the top of a huge boulder on Harris as if it were a lid, bore out a shaft large enough to place his sculpture Hanging Figure,** replace the “lid,” and, some moss-replacing years later, all would be hidden.

I couldn’t avoid the unalloyed questions this posed:

What will be the most important thing I’ve ever done?

Am I prepared for this most important thing to be unknown to many?

They’re the kind of questions that come into view as you move towards this strange line in the sand called retirement.

As I was ruminating, I read some words from Maria Popova that pointed me win the direction I want to live:

against every choice of destruction, there is always the choice of creation; that against the extractionist, there is always the generative, against the exclusionary, always the inclusionary and the generous^.

Moments later, Austin Kleon would concur, writing:

Worry less about making a mark Worry more about leaving things better than you found them.^^

This helps me and my attention turns to what I must do rather than what I should:

I don’t know for sure what kind of flowers I’m planting with my days on this planet, but I intend to find out, and so should you.^^

Tom Hodginson’s friend John Moore says to his wife as she urges him to get out of bed:

I’ll get up when there’s something worth getting up for.*^

It makes me realise that I’ve messed up; I see how I’ve been making something I want to get up for every day and it gives me joy:

Joy tends to involve some transcendence of self. […] Joy often involves self-forgetting. […] We can help create happiness, but we are seized by joy. We are pleased by happiness, but we are transformed by joy.^*

David Brooks’ words help me to see how I find my true Self so that I may give it away: joy in the surrender of self.

(*Steve Dilworth, quoted in Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways.)
(**Sculpted from a human skeleton, seagrass, prepared calf-meat and organs, and horsehair.)
(^From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Grammy Award-Winning Jazz Vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant Reads Audre Lorde’s Poem “The Bees.”)
(^^From Austin Kleon’s Keep Going.)
(*^John Moore, quoted in Tom Hodginson’s How to be Idle.)
(^*From David Brooks’ The Second Mountain.)

To wander

You have arrived.
Seek the unknown.
The Wanderers are everywhere.*

(Keri Smith)

Walking really is a magic cure for people who want to think straight. “Solvitur ambulando,” said Diogenes the Cynic two millennia ago. “It is solved by walking.”**
(Austin Kleon)

I am grateful to those who have encouraged me into dawdling and wandering and flanering into slowness and noticing more, including Keri Smith’s wonderful The Wander Society which she begins by telling of her own adventure into wandering started with a book:

I was browsing in a favourite dusty old bookshop, one that I frequent when I am in need of a random book find. On this particular day I found myself in the poetry section and picked up a worn hardback copy of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. As I began to flip through the pages I noticed some handwriting in the book. On the inside cover was written “WW will show you the way.” On the title page was scribbled “Solvitur ambulando,” and underneath that, “The Wander Society” with a small thunderbolt symbol.*

It was one of those precious moments that takes us by surprise and feels deeply significant, Smith sharing how ‘I left hurriedly, feeling like I had just received a secret message from the universe’.* More discoveries followed in the vicinity of the bookshop: the thunderbolt image, images of Walt Whitman and literature left for people to pick up and carrying the following message:

Wandering is not a mindless task, but instead the opposite, the gateway to enlightenment. A surrender to the great mystery.*

Smith managed to trace the Wander Society back to 2011, though it may be older. Certainly the list of wanderers includes older explorers: Gertrude Stein, Ludwig Wittgenstein, William Wordsworth, Charles Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin, Henry David Thoreau, Nassim Taleb, Virginia Woolf, John Muir, Friedrich Nieztsche, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rebecca Solnit, Robert Louis Stevenson, to name some wandering ancestors and contemporaries.

In her Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, Amy Krouse Rosenthal notes how adults, when asked how things are, reply they are busy, but:

As kids, our stock answer to most every question was nothing. What did you do at school today? Nothing. What’s new? Nothing. Then, somewhere on the way to adulthood, we each took a 180-degree turn. We cashed in our nothing for busy. I’m starting to think that, like youth, the word nothing is wasted on the young. May be we should try reintroducing it into our grown-up vernacular. Nothing.^

We’re always busy with something. Walking, and more specifically wandering, becomes an antidote to our busyness, on one level it is to do nothing, but, on another, it is a way into everything as we put aside our rushedness and practice openness:

But what if wandering is the real work? In nourishing our bodies, giving space for our minds and hearts to breathe, caring for the soul, and letting the subconscious mind tackle problems, we are actually doing much more for ourselves and the world. This is the big work.*

We are seeking to open our minds, hearts and wills: to be attentive in order that we might be more present so that we might realise more – that is, bring more into being. Such openness is to be awake when it is too easy to sleep through life.

I discovered that flanering, from the Nordic flana, meaning “freedom to roam” was brought to life in the 19th century as Charles Baudelaire’s flâneur – a male, often well-to-do stroller observing modern life. Then a friend in the University of Edinburgh sent me an article about how a female observer is a flâneuse, a reimagining of the wanderer as a woman who roams where she is not supposed to. The tables are turning, the observed is becoming the observer, and anyone can be a flâneur or flâneuse.

The article includes John Sargent’s painting A Street in Venice as illustration of what is changing, showing a woman being observed by a couple of men. I took the piece with me to read while in Washington D.C. for a conference. After the conference I was planning to delay my return so I might engage in a couple of days of flanery, at the end of which, I found myself in the National Gallery for Art. One of the final paintings I viewed was the very one in the article. I had no idea that was where it was on display. Wandering brings us to such moments, large and small; we wander into richness:

The mind articulates newly where there is true coincidence, where roads parallel and roads contrary suddenly converge. The world is suffused with time and space, and therefore fresh speech is always appearing, always being invented. The world is teeming, so mind is teeming, There is no end to contingency, and so no end to language.^^

Lewis Hyde is here describing the world of the Trickster character found in the stories of many ancient cultures, but he could be describing the richness that exists in our world to be wandered into and expressed in many thoughts and ideas and images.

This is simply an invitation to do nothing … except make time to wander, becoming a flâneur or flâneuse roaming through the richness of the universe. Here are some things to try.

Make half-an-hour and take a familiar walk at half your usual pace. The aim is not to get somewhere but to notice what you notice. That is, to take a closer look at whatever catches your eye. You can prime the walk if you wish – choose a colour and pay attention to whatever wears that shade.

Another thing you can do is toss a coin five times – tails for left and heads for right, then follow whatever route the combination of lefts and rights takes you.

Another is notice the people en route; wonder about where they have been, where they are going, what does their way of walking tell you about the kind of day they are having?

Be ready to reflect on what any of these things might be saying to you, lessons they may be offering, questions asked.

Don’t worry if there are none of these – just enjoy the walk.

What we are simply doing is noticing and connecting to the world we are part of and that we matter to as much as it matters to us.

You may also want to visit the mysterious website of The Wander Society.

(*From Keri Smith’s The Wander Society.)
(**From Austin Kleon’s Keep Going.)
(^From Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.)
(^^From Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World.)

More than enough

Maybe we don’t need someone to come and sort things out for us.

Perhaps we just need someone to guide us to those things already within us and then we can make the difference or change ourselves.

Who are my guides? rather than Who will sort this out for me?

I wanted to do that

They are doing all kinds of amazing things and you feel envious.

You could have done that.

But you didn’t and probably you couldn’t.

They may be helping by giving you a wake-up call, though. To come alive to what you can do, to what you must do.

Don’t be envious. Be amazing in your way.

Where we find out care

Voice lies at the nexus of talent … , passion … , need … , and conscience … .*
(Steve Covey)

Everybody says you should serve a cause larger than yourself, but nobody tells you how.**
(David Brooks)

One of the biggest enemies when it comes to caring is not whether we want to, but finding the time in rush and push of every day.

When we make the time to notice what are talents are, the things we’re passionate about and what it is we want to do something about, then we find our care and we can go exploring:

We use the tools of instinct, intuition, and experimentation.^

It’s what dreamwhispering is all about – you’re welcome to get in touch to find out more:

(*From Steven Covey’s The 8th Habit.)
(**From David Brooks’ The Second Mountain.)
(^From Keri Smith’s The Wander Society.)

Excuse me a moment – I’m just going to step out of the noise and into the silence

I may be a while.

Our possibilities are perhaps not limitless, but they are at least infinitely above our present possibilities of imagination.*
(Frank Laubach)

Begin. With the humility of someone who’s not sure, and the excitement of someone who knows what is possible.**
(Seth Godin

The past is so noisy,
the present, too;
so I go to the silence
of the future,
to listen for the whisper of
new possibilities.

(*From Frank Laubach’s Letters By a Modern Mystic.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: Beginning is underrated.)

On callousness

By protecting the nerve ending in he hand, the callous makes the act of probing less hesitant […] the callous both sensitises the hand to minute, physical spaces and stimulates the sensation at the fingertips.*
(Richard Sennett)

Prescriptive technologies constitute a major social invention. In political terms, prescriptive technologies are designs for compliance.**
(Ursula Franklin)

Callous can often mean insensitive, but it may also mean the exact opposite.

Richard Sennett writes about the hard skin at our fingertips but his insight can be translated to whatever skill we have practised and honed.

A callous is then a mark of much practise and experience, and possibly something that matters to us greatly and can potentially make a difference in the life of another.

A musician and a silversmith develop callouses but so does the person who uses questions to help and support others, for instance.

Ursula Franklin’s reflection on prescriptive technologies is concerned with acculturation, how our skills can be subsumed into a larger system. What then might happen is restriction of the development of our callouses, but, whether we work for ourselves or for others, these callouses are ours and the responsibility for developing them is ours too and we often evolve them in quite remarkable ways:

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.^

We might, then, understand callousness to be an attitude as much as a mark of talent.

(*From Richard Sennet’s The Craftsman.)
(**From Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology.)
(^Albert Einstein, quoted in Ben Hardy’s These 20 Pictures Will Teach You More Than Reading 100 Books.)

Our love song for the earth

I need a day with fields in it.

In that time [3.8 billion years], life has learned to fly, circumnavigate the globe, live in the depths of the ocean and also the highest peaks, craft miracle materials, light up the night, lasso the sun’s energy, and build a self-reflective brain.*
(Janine Benyus)

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous—therefore judgement comes forth perverted.**
(Habbakuk the prophet)

A day with fields in it is my shorthand for somehow connecting to nature. This has been one of the powerful experiences of the lockdown for so many, finding places of connection to nature: gardens, parks and beyond.

Even when we struggle to find a tree, we can look up:

Till, lying on your back
There is no mountain
Only sky,
Only a cloud

The world’s oldest living tree is to be found in Sweden – more than 9,500 years old. Just think of all that has happened in human history since this tree emerged from a spruce seed. It had been around for around 4,000 years when the first Egyptian dynasty was established or Stone Henge was constructed.

Janine Benyus’ words capture something of the wonder of nature that she argues we now need to learn from and mimic when it comes to designing the future. What has taken billions of years to develop, we are undoing in two hundred or so industrial years and sixty or so years of ignoring the facts.

Reading Habbakuk’s words today, I imagined them focusing on what we are doing to our world, resulting in eliminating 60% or so of all species and one million species making up an endangered list – never mind rising carbon dioxide levels, poisoning of seas and oceans and clearing ancient forests.

We live in a critical moment of human history. Covid-19 has shown us that we are not all-powerful, but it has made it possible to see that we can do things differently if we have to. Not far behind having to is being able to do things differently because we want to:

One of our main tasks now – especially those of us who are not sick, are not frontline workers, and are not dealing with other economic or housing difficulties – is to understand this moment, what it might require of us, and what it might make possible. Change is not only possible, we are swept away by it. We ourselves change as our priorities shift, as intensified awareness of mortality makes us wake up to our own lives and the preciousness of life.^^

This is a desperate time, but it is also an exciting one for those who want to see just how far things can be made better through our imaginations and resourcefulness. Yesterday, I quoted Ken Sleight because of what he believes of our gifts and talents:

That’s how you’re going to fix the world – with your own gifts and talents.*^

This connects with some words I often recall from Frederick Buechner: we will find our purpose where our deepest gladness meets the world’s greatest needs. In this I see the possibility of deep respect and love and connection with our world that will also make it possible for the human species to flourish in a story of becoming:

Our greatest calling his to grow into our authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some age of who we ought to be.^*

(*From Janine Benyus’ Biomimicry.)
(**Habakkuk 1:2-4)
(^From Rebecca Elson’s A Responsibility to Awe: Frattura Vecchia.)
(^^Rebecca Solnit, quoted in David Leser’s article: Call of the Wild: listen up, people, time is running out.)
(*^Ken Sleight, quoted in Terry Tempest Williams’ The Hour of Land.)
(^*Parker Palmer, quoted in Ian Cron Morgan and Suzanne Stabile’s The Road Back to You.)

No regrets

That’s the crucial way to tell whether you are on your first or second mountain. Where is your ultimate appeal? To self, or to something outside of self? If the first mountain is about building up the ego and defining the self, the second mountain is about shedding the ego and losing the self.*
(David Brooks)

That’s how you’re going to fix the world – with your gifts and talents.**
(Ken Sleight)

Which comes first?

The good choice or the difference it makes in us?

Looking back, my best choices have also been the hardest ones to make. They were – and are – choices about who I want to become. In turn, who I am becoming has made for more hard choices because there are more possibilities.

To refine David Brooks’ definition, I would say that the second mountain we climb involves shedding the ego for the eco – connection with others – and the false self for the true Self.

When it comes to these things there will be mistakes, I will be misunderstood and even overlooked, but there will be no regrets.

(*From David Brooks’ The Second Mountain.)
(**Ken Sleight, quoted in Terry Tempest Williams’ The Hour of Land.)