Into your meaning

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
or stress
or worse,
Is to begin to act more like an

For certain,
To utilise our agency is hard because,
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.*

*Donald Miller’s Hero on a Mission;
**Lynda Barry’s What It Is.

Is it meaningful and enjoyable yet?

Hedonia is about feeling good; eudaemonia is about living a purpose-filled life. In truth we need both. … At the nexus of joyful and meaningful is interesting.*
Arthur Brooks

Researchers found that amongst a group of workers how
those who chose meaning over enjoyment had more passion for their work
and changed jobs less often.

Arthur Brooks’ point is that
it doesn’t have to be
And that it’s best if it can be

At the nexus of joyful and meaningful is interesting.*

Which reminds me of my answer to a question my friend and mentor Alex
asked of a group of explorers that had gathered with him:

What does it mean to you to be human?

I’ve shared this several times before,
How I couldn’t answer right away,
But reflected on this and eventually came back with my response:

For me to be human is to live with
creativity, generosity and enjoyment.

It became my meaning and purpose to help others to find theirs;
Let me know if I can help.

*Arthur Brooks’ From Strength to Strength.

Is that a boundary or is it a threshold?

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?

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.

*John O’Donohue’s Benedictus;
**Nick Caves The Red Hand Files: #190;
^Oliver Burkeman’s blog The Imperfectionist: The reverse golden rule;
^^Arthur Brooks’ From Strength to Strength.

Hello neighbour

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

The most direct way forward is to default to more respect, simply because that’s what people deserve.^

*Donald Miller’s Hero on a Mission;
**Romans 15:2;
^Seth Godin’s blog: A reallocation of respect.

What’s next?

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 –
Here are three understandings of transcendent life –
Helpful to us on their own
or together –
Encouraging us to keep moving.

There is more to come for you and for me.

*Arthur Brooks’ From Strength to Strength;
**Brian McLaren’s Naked Spirituality;
^Otto Scharmer’s Theory U.

The nature of possibility

What a caterpillar is doing, in its self–imposed quarantine, is basically digesting itself. It is using enzymes to reduce its body to goo, turning itself into a soup of ex-caterpillar — a nearly formless sludge oozing around a couple of leftover essential organs (tracheal tubes, gut).*
Sam Anderson

They want the things that are truly worth wanting. They elevate their desires. The world tells them to be a good consumer but they want to be the one consumed.**
David Brooks

We resist change.
As Arthur Brooks writes,

Even more powerful than our urge for more is our resistance to less. We try even harder to avoid losses than we do to achieve gains.

He explains how this hard-wiring would make a lot of sense
in the days of our ancestors
when losing some of the little they had was more
life-threatening than obtaining some extra.

David Brooks describes those amongst us who are
willing to take a risk,
Letting go of the life they have
which they admit to be dissatisfying –
Achievement, power, popularity, wealth
(he calls these extrinsic goals the first mountain) –
For something I imagine as
What I often find myself reflecting on as
honour and nobility and enlightenment.

You’ll have spotted why I put the opening quotes
The caterpillar is totally consumed and yet experiences transformation;
This is the nature of possibility
the metamorphosising caterpillar teaches us:

What you experience in the universe outside you also exists in the universe within you. The universe literally flows though you. … The universe has one intention: to create life.^^

This may not be easy,
Or even pleasant,
But it is your nature of possibility.

*Austin Kleon’s blog: Advice from a caterpillar;
**David Brooks’ The Second Mountain;
^Arthur Brooks’ From Strength to Strength:
^^Erwin McManus’ The Way of the Warrior.

Duty, tick

As in the case of lines, you are likely to stop when you are no longer sure you should go further – at the rear edge of the region of uncertainty.*
Daniel Kahneman

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.**
The Apostle Paul

You know you will always remember
this moment,
When the news arrives
Where you were,
What you were doing.

Yesterday was such a moment for me:
The news of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II –
Though I am not a monarchist
I’m probably and Elizabethist.

Only two days earlier,
She had been carrying out her constitutional
Receiving the resignation of one prime minister,
Appointing their successor.

We each have duties,
Shaped by who we are
and the constraints of where we are.

Erich Fromm reflects
in his 20th century way:

When man is born, the human race as well as individual, he is throw out of a situation which was definite, as definite as the instincts, into a situation which is indefinite, uncertain and open.^

Through the abdication of her uncle,
Elizabeth would one day become Queen.
Who imagined in
that she would still be reigning in
We might conclude, constraints and skill can lead to something

I cannot imagine myself making
But each day,
I want to do my duty.

I like to think Queen Elizabeth had some fun along the way:

Here in 2012,
And again in 2022

Rest in peace, Ma’am.

*Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, fast and Slow;
**2 Timothy 4:7
^Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.

The aide memoire

A gift is something for nothing except that certain obligations are attached.*
Robin Wall Kimmerer

In the most elegant complexity possible, everything in creation exists not for itself but for everything connected to it.**
Erwin McManus

Arthur Brooks has been helping me to move on
from fixating on a desire to be remembered
after I am gone,
To being a gift to others whilst I am here:

The true master, when his or her prestige is threatened by age or circumstance, can say, “Don’t you see that I am a person who could be utterly forgotten without batting an eye?”^

This sense of being a gift is captured by John O’Donohue’s blessing:

Awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet
immensity of your own presence. …
Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to follow its

Whilst this may sound a solitary occupation,
it is anything but.
Even the introvert is part of a community,
A vast interconnectedness;
It’s just a different kind to the

Whilst I’ve been journaling this morning,
I have been accompanied the people in the footnotes, plus
Some Biblical writers,
Seth Godin,
Nick Cave,
Tom Vanderbilt,
Trishna Singh,
Lynda Barry,
James Clear, and
Angela Duckworth.

Lewis Hyde reminds me,
To be the gift to others
is more than simply the thing we offer,
It is also spirit and community.*^

And the aide memoire?
That’s me,
Helping you remember what a
gift you are.

*Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass;
**Erwin McManus’ The Way of the Warrior;
^Arthur Brooks’ From Strength to Strength;
^^John O’Donohue’s Benedictus: For Presence;
*^Lewis Hyde’s The Gift.

Haves and wants

The way we store energy is through our desires, values, passions, hopes, dreams, aspirations, and ultimately our greatest capacity is through what we love. … I have come to realise that people do not bring the same level of energy with them.*
Erwin McManus

Satisfaction = What you have ÷ what you want**
Arthur Brooks

Arthur Brooks holds that
if our satisfaction depends on
and honour
then we’re in trouble.

Perhaps take a moment to reflect on his formula for satisfaction:
I certainly feel its wisdom.
How true has this been in your own experience?

Anna Katharina Schaffner,
In reflecting on more than two thousand years of self improvement,
Notices a change:

In the self-improvement literature of the past, the emphasis was placed on the virtues. Yet reflections on goodness have all but disappeared from modern self-help. Our focus tends to be on personality rather than character and our effectiveness in achieving successful careers.^

You may have spotted the transition in this sentence,
How self improvement has become self-help,
How focus on the inward is replaced by a greater concentration
on the outward.
Brooks reflects on the negative impact for us, how

Self objectification lowers self-worth and life satisfaction.**

Erwin McManus offers us plenty of starting places
for noticing just how much we already have.
Even grabbing two minutes to ponder these today
will begin to make a difference:

May the Angel of Encouragement confirm you
In worth and self-respect,
That you may live with the dignity
That presides in your soul.^^

*Erwin McManus’ The Way of the Warrior;
**Arthur Brooks’ From Strength to Strength;
^Anna Katharina Schaffner’s The Art of Self Improvement;
^^John O’Donohue’s Benedictus: A Blessing of Angels.

A certain person

What do Drawing Singing Dancing Music MAKING Handwriting Playing Storywriting Acting Remembering and even Dreaming all have in common? THEY COME ABOUT WHEN A CERTAIN PERSON IN A CERTAIN PLACE in a CERTAIN TIME arranges CERTAIN UNCERTAINTIES INTO A CERTAIN FORM*
Lynda Barry

May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease.
To discover the new direction your longing wants to take.**

John O’Donohue

There are many things you do not know,
But what you do know that you are the person
who MUST do this …
And this is the time,
And this is the place.

*Lynda Barry’s What It Is;
**John O’Donohue’s Benedictus: For Longing.