the honest and the artificial

‘Friendship is the sweet grace which liberates us to approach, recognise and inhabit the adventure.’*

I’d pencilled a note in my journal yesterday to be pursued today: “what relationships help us to see”

It’d been the following words from cosmologist Sean Carroll that prompted me not to lose track of this dimension of seeing:

‘We don’t know how the universe began, or if it’s the only universe.  We don’t know the ultimate, complete laws of physics.  We don’t know how life began, or how consciousness arose.  And we certainly haven’t agreed on the best way to live in the world as good human beings.’**

It was the last sentence that intrigued.  In this universe where we know so little, we think we know the best way to live and yet there’s a universe of relationships to explore.

I’d these words from Roz and Ben Zander in mind – from my best read of 2016:

‘The action in a universe of possibility may be characterised as generative, or giving, in all senses of that word – producing new life, creating new ideas, consciously endowing with meaning, contributing, yielding to the power of contexts.  The relationship between people and environments is highlighted, not the people and things themselves.  Emotions that are relegated to the special category of spirituality are abundant here: joy, grace, awe, wholeness, passion, and compassion.’^

Perhaps these words describe what we hope for as “good human beings,” but the interesting thing pointed out by the Zanders is that these emotions exist in the relationships between.  It’s not so much that we join up our seeing but some new seeing comes into existence between two people.  Dan Ariely shares from his work of researching motivation:

‘As people feel connected, challenged, and engaged; as they feel trusted and autonomous, and as they get more recognition for their efforts, the total amount of motivation, joy, and output for everyone grows much larger.’^^

It’s some words from the world of brickcraft that cause me to wonder whether what we have to do is turn up in honesty.  In the 18th century, with literacy on the rise, writings on many crafts began to appear, including brickcraft.  Richard Sennett reflects on this 18th century form of honesty:

‘”Honest” brick […] evokes a building surface in which the brickwork is exposed rather than covered over: no cosmetics, no “pots of whore’s rouge” have been applied to its face.  One reason for this shift was that masons were beginning to be aware of, and feel engaged in debates about the meaning of naturalness as opposed to artifice {…}.’*^

Artifice was the disguising of what lay beneath the surface – it connects with our sense or understanding of what is artificial.  This comment on craftsmanship connects me with Maria Popova’s comment on poetic naturalism:

‘The craftsmanship of meaning amid the unfeeling laws of nature invariably calls us to use human tools like ethics and art to answer questions of what is right and beautiful.’^*

Popova is considering Carroll’s words about what makes a good human being.  We are not only producers of utility but we are also crafters weaving meaning with our artisanship.  We are seeing more.

(*From John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara.)
(**Sean Carroll, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Existential Therapy from the Universe.)
(^From Rosalind and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)
(^^From Dan Ariely’s Payoff.)
(*^From Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman.)
(^*From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Existential Therapy from the Universe.)

vuja de for the first time

Here is a story in five quotes.

Hugh Macleod points to how we want our lives to count, something life provides us with the opportunity to make happen:

‘We have to have something to live for, to look forward to.  We have to have more than existence: we have to have something inspiring.’*

Dan Ariely backs this up with his research which showed financial incentives can be less effective than our bosses noticing us and saying “Well done!”:

‘These results suggest that there is a lot more to work than merely the opportunity to earn money in exchange for about.’**

Sherry Turkle concludes her reflections on forty three year old Adam’s escape into gaming while his actual life unravels – the problem is, game playing doesn’t produce:

‘This is the sweet spot of simulation: the exhilaration of creativity without its pressures, the excitement of exploration without its risks.’^

John O’Donohue writes about what has always been there waiting to be discovered:

‘It is strange to be here.  The mystery never leaves you alone.  Behind your image, below your words, above your thoughts, the silence of another world waits.  A world lives within you.’^^

Which brings us back to something Hugh Macleod offers in conclusion to his remarks on how we have to have something to live for:

‘And then we have freedom — something that no one can ever take away.’*

Vuja de is the feeling that you are experiencing something completely new in a very familiar context.  We might then learn the art of vuja de: the ability to see what has always been there but has gone unnoticed.

The skills involved include asking different questions, knocking on different doors, and seeking different ways and paths to those we have tried in the past.  All of these are about effort.  Effort cannot be simulated.  But once we sense there’s something more, we have to have it.  Yes?

(*From gapingvoid’s blog: Oh, you can’t take that away from me.)
(**From John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara.)
(^From Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.)

open seeing

We see what we want to see, not necessarily what is there.

When our expectations are not met, disappointment and unhappiness may follow.

To see only what we want to see hides so many things we do not want to see and with these, things we not able to see.

Life is seeing, it’s learning to open our eyes so we may see more.  When we see more, perhaps joy will follow.

Cosmologist Sean Carroll uses the term poetic naturalism to identify the way we look upon a universe that we know so little about and yet bring meaning to, meaning that grows as we continue to explore:

“Life is a process, not a substance, and it is necessarily temporary.  We are not the reason for the existence of the universe, but our ability for self-awareness and reflection makes us special within it.”*

Novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch uses the word “attention” to identify seeing that is more than “looking” – looking, she says, is a neutral way of seeing:

‘I can only choose within the world I can see, in the moral sense of ‘see’ which implies that clear vision is a result of moral imagination and moral effort.’**

Seeing is about who we are, who we are becoming, it’s full of stories and fables and myths with triumphs and failures, with conflicts and strivings.  It is no small surprise, then, that we change the universe by our seeing.

This is our art.

‘If you want to achieve the unimaginable, you start by imagining it.’^

(*Sean Carroll, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Existential Therapy from the Universe.)
(**From Iris Murdoch’s The Sovereignty of Good.)
(^From Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit.)

new time

‘The mind is never beyond redemption, for no environment can extinguish neorogenesis. […] neorogensis is cellular evidence that we evolved to never stop evolving.’*

‘Even though I’m beyond seventy now, new relationships still astound nee: I’ll meet a new person, and if I can interface with them honestly, trust them, allow them, refuse to categorise or too quickly label them – it will invariably open up inside me new realms of my being that I didn’t know existed until I was in relationship with them.’**

Instead of judging each other, how might it be possible to help one another thrive?

People may choose not to live their lives meaningfully in the same way as you or I define meaningful but at least they could know what humans are capable of – possibilities that are still growing and opening as we push back the borders of our unknowing.  Then it’s their choice.

Has everyone been given the same information about their amazing capacity to develop and thrive?  By their parents, their teachers, their friends, their co-workers and employers, their politicians, by their loving others?  Just to be able to know is to be given a better choice.

When we judge quickly – in seconds and minutes – the possibility of choice for another is diminished.  When we judge slowly – over years and decades and even a lifetime – then the possibility of choice is increased.

In his book Helping, Edgar Schein claims we’re sending out “testing signals” all the time, checking on whether these people we are meeting can be trusted, will they help us, what do they think of us?  When we miss these signals we can unknowingly close down possibilities of new realms of being – a little less information for people to make up their minds and hearts by, less information building up over time.

Obversely, when we remain open to one another when we try not to judge, allowing people to enter a new time of possibility.

(*From Jonah Lehrer’s Proust was a Neuroscientist.)
(**From Richard Rohr’s The Divine Dance.)

pax

The Romans forced their peace upon others; they added bread and circus as sweeteners.

Peace comes from within and can only infuse other lives.  It’s harder than we think.   Many of us struggle to be at peace with ourselves, there’s always something we want, something we want to change – so we add our sweeteners.

In Hallelujah Anyway, Anne Lamott imagines herself searching for “that elusive thing” at different stages of her life: getting away from parents, some meaningful work, finding someone special, having  children, getting rid of the children:

‘Most of us try to live in some variation of the Serenity Prayer, in acceptance, courage, and wisdom, but our minds and bodies do not always cooperate.’*

We get caught up on the sweeteners rather than the peace which is to be found in the incomplete and imperfect person we are and being able to give to others out of our brokenness far more than we can imagine.

In Alan Lightman’s fable about creation, the creator Nephew meets the antagonist Belhor who speaks about the little lives on the little planets only existing for their amusement; Nephew retorts:

‘”But surely it has significance for them,” I said.  “Each one of them tries so desperately to find meaning.  In a way, it doesn’t matter what particular meaning each of them finds.  As long as each of the creatures finds something to give a coherence and harmony to the jumble of existence.  Perhaps it might be as simple as a discovery of their own capacities, and a thriving in that discovery.  And even if they are mortal, they are part of things.  They are part of things larger than their universe, whether they know it or not.  Wouldn’t you agree?”**

(*From Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway.)
(**From Alan Lightman’s Mr g.)

phantasmagorical

Stories, fables, myths, and fantasies – words often used to denote what we do not consider to be real or factual.  A closer look suggests they’re our way for exploring the reality we find ourselves in.

Ursula Le Guin asked her mother the meaning of fantasy. She was told that originally fantasy, or phantasy, derives from the Greek phantasia, meaning, to make visible.  Later, she explains, it came to mean the opposite, a hiding from the real:

‘So the word fantasy remains ambiguous, standing between the false, the foolish, the shallows of the mind, and the mind’s deep, true connection with the real.’*

Le Guin suggests fantasy “displaces” us, moving us into an unfamiliar world, and I wonder whether the rediscovering of story, myth, fable, and fantasy can help us make the moves we need to in a world that is becoming increasingly confusing and concerning – that is, anxious, depressed, bullying, reactive.  (Le Guin reminds her listeners and readers that J. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was written in a ten year period from 1937-47.)

These works of our imagination allow us to ask questions of “the way things are” and also to posit possibilities that are more hopeful for both individuals and the communities:

‘They help us to bring our imagination to bear on the world before us, enabling us to form a judgement on what world we live in and where we might be going in it, what we can celebrate, what we must fear.’*

These expressions and articulations of our imagination – including art and poetry – are critical for testing what is (check out Seth Godin’s insightful post on how what is essential becomes surrounded by what is inessential but we give all of it the same value); Richard Rohr here connecting our human maturity with our ability to see:

‘Spiritual maturity is largely a growth in seeing, and full seeing seems to take most of our lifetime, with a huge leap in the final years.’**

Of course, it isn’t always so.  The possibility of seeing more can elude us as we grow older, this difference expressed here in the distinction between the beginner’s mind versus the expert’s mind:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities but in the expert’s there are few.”^

This seeing of something more beyond what we can measure is also articulated by Roz and Ben Zander in their hopeful The Art of Possibility:

‘[A] universe of possibility stretches beyond the world of measurement to include all worlds: infinite, generative, and abundant.’^^

We are, of course, speaking of the future.  The future cannot be measured as it hasn’t happened – and there’s no such things a the futures – but it can be told in stories with lots of pictures (please).

What fantastic things dare we imagine?

(*From Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter.)
(**From Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward.)
(^Shunryu Suzuki, quoted in Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.)
(^^From Rosalind and Benjamin Zander’s The Art of Possibility.)

where we came from and where we are going

We get to play with what lies in-between.

‘As we go about our daily business on this small planet, we have little feeling for the bond between us and those distant points of light.  Excepting hydrogen and helium, all the atoms in us and our biosphere were bred somewhere in space, in the nuclear reactions of some now defunct star.’*

Alan Lightman describes how the 6th December 1979 turned out for a number of people in Palo Alto, including theoretical physicist and cosmologist Alan Guth.  At the end of the day:

‘Sometime between eleven and twelve o’clock, sitting at his study desk with only pen and paper, Guth discovered mathematical evidence that, contrary to previous theories, the infant universe ten billion years ago underwent a fantastically rapid expansion, just after which  matter that was to form atoms and galaxies and people came into being.’*

It may have taken ten billion years but now we have a chance to do something that brings meaning to this phenomenon.  We may not have found this.  Perhaps we’re happy enough.  Or, we’re possibly thinking it’s time to move in the direction of something we’ve been thinking about but never acted upon.

Hugh Macleod doodles with some words that feel apposite for such a moment:

‘No one can predict the future.  That doesn’t mean yo can’t feel it. […] We know what we would like to happen**

I then came across this from Chris Guillebeau on what is a quest:

‘A hero sets off in search of something elusive that has the power to change both their life and their world.’^

Before reading Guillebeau’s words, I’d been pondering the story of forty three year old Adam, told by Sherry Turkle.  In his day job Adam supplies technical support for an insurance company and during the weekend cares for an elderly man; Adam is also an aspiring singer songwriter and plays online games:

‘The game of Quake […] makes Adam feel better about who he is in the game than who he is outside it. […] Beyond mastery, games offer the opportunity to perform roles he finds ennobling.  Adam wants to be a generous person, but power is a prerequisite for benevolence.  In life Adam feels he has none.  In games he has a great deal.’^^

The word that catches my attention here is “feels.”  The games of Quake and Civilisation in some ways have shown Adam who he is and what he can do.  The question is, how can he move from imagining to actioning, something the games are a substitute for.

At the end of a dreamwhispering journey I provide questions borrowed from Theory U, the last of nineteen offered in order to frame our story:

What are the next steps over the next three days.

I’ve just been sent someone’s response to this, their next steps – another hero in search of something elusive that has the power to change their life and the world.

This will be different for each of us.   For Alan Guth, it’s was the mathematical evidence for telling the story of the universe.  For me it’s dreamwhispering with people.   How would you articulate yours?  This ‘waking up inside your life, right now, in the present moment’*^

Two final thoughts on this.  One from Richard Rohr and the other from Dan Ariely – who appear to be talking about the same thing:

‘Wisdom happily lives with mystery, doubt, and “unknowing,” and in such living, ironically resolves that very mystery to some degree.  I have never figured out why unknowing becomes another kind of knowing, but it surely seems to be.’^*

‘The lesson here is that a little sweat equity pays us back in meaning – and that is a high return.’⁺

We can feel the future and, when we move towards it, something shifts, we see more, and things happen.

(*From Alan Lightman’s Dance for Two.)
(**From gapingvoid’s The reality of conspiracy theories.)
(^From Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit.)
(^^From Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.)
(*^From Richard Rohr’s The Divine Dance.)
(⁺From Dan Ariely’s Payoff.)