Testing our personal narratives

If we find our story isn’t helping us, if it’s inaccurate or distracting or enervating, we can work to change it.*
(Seth Godin)

We may not always be able to choose what happens but we can choose how we respond. What’s the smallest act of possibility you could choose today?**
(Bernadette Jiwa)

We can often tell ourselves a story that makes us look better than we are, disconnected from our actions.

At this point we have a choice.

We can make the story smaller, dictated by our lack of action, or we can use the story as a challenge to do something.

I’m sharing this because it’s where I often find myself with the choice I have to make.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Inventing narratives.)
(**From Bernadette Jiwa’s The Story of Telling: The Act Possibility.)

FOBO

Is the the fear of being ourselves.

When we arrive on earth, we are provided with no map of our life journey. Only gradually, as our identity forms and we get and inkling of who we are, do possibilities begin to merge that call us.*
(John O’Donohue)

When we are afraid, we lose our courage. When we have found peace, we have both the strength and courage to live the lives we were created to live. […] Peace does not come because you finally have control over your life; peace comes when you no longer need control.**
(Erwin McManus)

How did people working for the Daily Planet not figure out that Clark Kent and Superman were the same person?

And yet, when we look at one another, we often do not see the extraordinary person within an ordinary life. In real life, rather than DC Comics, it’s because people fear turning up as themselves in case they are rejected or ridiculed or criticised.

Erwin McManus makes an interesting point about how, when we seek to take control, we’re actually providing ourselves with smaller and smaller boundaries to live within.

He reminds me of the fourth of five elemental truths I try to keep in mind: “You are not in control.” All five are there to help us to be free to turn up in the fullness of who we are; here they all are:

Life is hard
You are not as special as you think
Your life is not about you
You are not in control
You are going to die.

It’s okay to admit all of these things. When we embrace these then we are moving towards living more fully. Anxiety any or all of these causes us to lose our courage or superpower. Add to this Daniel Kahneman’s discovery:

when we are uncomfortable and unhappy, we lose touch with our intuition.^

Our intuition is the sum of who we are in our unique abilities. Joseph Campbell would say that we need to follow our bliss. It’s why it’s important to turn up every day and do something we love

(*From John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us.)
(**From Erwin McManus’ The Way of the Warrior.)
(^Daniel Kahneman, quoted in Susan Pinker’s The Village Effect.)

No more FOMO

Not curating, just letting things spill out and pile on one another, is in many ways an easy option; curating well is tough, patient work.*
(Michael Bhaskar)

Joseph Campbell’s patented response to the disenchantment of modern life was: find your life’s true passion and follow it, follow the path that is no path: “Follow your bliss.” When you have the unmistakable experience of the Aha! then you’ll know you’re riding on the mystery.**
(Phil Cousineau)

‘Each person has a unique destiny,’ wrote John O’Donohue, ‘To be born is to be chosen.’^

For thousands of years this human understanding has been explored in myths and legends and stories of heroes and warriors because we feel it is closer to all of us than we know:

[the] will to be oneself is heroism.^^

In his latest book, Erwin McManus explores the way of the warrior defending this nomenclature on the basis that the person who wins the war within does not go to war without, connecting here with our title:

the greatest enemies of the peace within are worry and fear.*^

Curating the things of our lives then becomes a warrior’s craft, bringing shape to our existence in the direction of a unique destiny.

In her novel about a pandemic that removes the human race one by one until there is one person left, Mary Shelley comes to her realisation of what it is to be human, a wonderfully simple statement lying on the far side of complexity, and so, we might say, the expression of personal curation:

There is but one solution to the intricate riddle of life; too improve ourselves and contribute to the happiness of others.^*

The hero or protagonist or warrior is the person who realises they can never miss out as long as they are pursuing the path that is no path, that is, the path that does not exist without them

(*From Michael Bhaskar’s Curation.)
(**Phil Cousineau in his introduction to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey.)
(^From John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us.)
(^^José Ortega y Gasset, quoted in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey.)
(*^From Erwin McManus’ The Way of the Warrior.)
(^*Mary Shelley, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Spring in a Pandemic.)

The unexpected protagonist

The Inciting Incident radically upsets the balance of forces in your protagonist’s life.*
(Robert McKee)

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.**
(Rūmī)

There’s a biblical story of a farmer called Gideon who’s thrashing wheat at the bottom of a winepress when he has an encounter with God.

He’s doing this work in a winepress so that Midian raiders can’t snatch his family’ crops. It has all the makings of a spaghetti western but there’s no Clint Eastwood as the stranger with no name to save the day.

Instead, Gideon, who has a few ideas about why God shouldn’t have allowed this to happen, finds himself commissioned to get rid of the bandits. It’s the inciting incident in his story, otherwise he was just getting on with his life the best he could:

As a story begins, the protagonist is living a life that’s more or less in balance. She has successes and failures, ups and downs. Who doesn’t?*

It’s as if he were being told that with a discontent like that he needs to get out of the hole and do something about it.

It’s just a reminder that the things we’re most concerned about may be the very things we need to do something about, but not from where we are. It’s not an accident or a mistake that makes you concerned about this.

To borrow a phrase from David Ulin, I need to

notice my distraction.^

(*From Robert McKee‘s newsletter: Where Should Your Story Begin?)
(**Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, quoted in Elle Luna’s The Crossroads of Should and Must.)
(^From David Ulin’s The Last Art of Reading.)

What is the full capacity of someone like you?

I want to unfold. I don’t want to stay folded anymore, because where I am folded, there I am a lie.*
(Rainer Maria Rilke)

Capacity is a function of one’s ability to expend and recover energy.**
(Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz)

We simply do not know the limits of our capacity for life. As Joseph Campbell points out, there’s a good reason for exploring our lives to their limits, whatever they be:

We save the world by being alive.^

We unfold and extend our capacity through rituals of expending and recovering energy – I’ll come back to this. Seth Godin makes me think some more about rituals when he writes about the power of the stories we tell ourselves:

The last time we took action on an idea, extended ourselves for a friend, and perhaps encouraged ourselves to launch a new project–these happened because the story worked.^^

When we create a ritual we are shaping a story of how we want things to be rather than how they are. Rituals are not the main story but smaller stories that help us get to where we want to be. A ritual of going to the gym is a story about wanting to be fitter, a ritual of reading may grow our emotional awareness, a ritual of study will increase our knowledge, and a ritual of reflection means we can more readily connect our inner and outer worlds.

Seeing rituals as stories means we can have some fun with them – hard work but we can be very creative; Godin continues:

And it’s possible to tell a better story.^^

These little stories act like yeast in our lives, expanding who we are:

To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits […].**

To do this in a wholesome or holistic way, we must notice how our capacity has physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions.*^ When each of these are being developed then we are able to free ourselves from damaging linearity into healthy oscillation – the name Loehr and Schwartz give to expending and recovery.^* The pair warn that we often under-expend our physical and spiritual dimensions while over-expending our emotional and mental – linearity in one dimension affects all dimensions.

We know that we never arrive at a once-and-for-all state for any of these dimensions. Each day brings new challenges that can push us into over- or under-expending. Our rituals, though, prepare us for this and also help us to notice and respond more quickly when something threatens.

Why not take a few minutes and create an overview of your rituals for developing physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually? Don’t make it heavy. Playfulness and kindness are key to this. Where you’re lacking, explore new possibilities (incrementally); where you’re stale, add some freshness.

(*Rainer Maria Rilke, quoted in Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway.)
(**From Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement.)

(^Joseph Campbell, quoted in Keri Smith’s The Wander Society.)
(^^From Seth Godin’s blog: What’s your story?)
(*^Loehr and Schwartz attribute different characteristics to the four dimensions of capacity: physical energy contributes quantity; emotional, quality; mental, focus; and spiritual, force.)

(^*After allowing yeast to increase the capacity of the dough, it needs to be kneeded, before setting off again.)

A ritual of noticing

Every time we participate in a ritual, we are expressing our beliefs, either verbally or more implicity.*
(Evan Imber-Black)

the world within you will create the world around you**
(Erwin McManus)

I have a problem when I go for a walk, especially walks in nature.

I’ve just been out for one and there was my problem again.

I keep stopping to look and try to take everything in …

The view across to Craigmillar Castle lit by the morning sun and across into the city of Edinburgh …

A little later I stop to take in the view across the Forth into Fife …

Then it was the playing in flight of several House Martins …

After that it was the reddening seed-heads of the tall Cow Parsley that were rattling in the breeze…

A few steps more and I stopped to feel the breeze on my skin and smell the scents of the flowers …

Then it was to take a picture of the path in front of me …

A couple of days ago I was walking the same area with my wife Christine when I stopped to take in all of these things, only to turn around and find her smiling at me because I was doing it again.

This morning, I happened upon these words from M. C. Richards and it felt she was speaking truth to me:

The child takes in his world as if it were food. And his world nourishes or starves him. Nothing escapes his thirst. Secrets are impossible. He identifies with his surroundings, and they live with him unconsciously […].^

Perhaps I am rediscovering this, to connect with my child that dwells within me, opening a deeper way of seeing and being:

What we do with our attention, in short, is at the heart of what makes us human.^^

Every person’s attention is different, and yet, they are all connected.

The temptation is to notice what others are noticing, but we first need to notice what we are noticing.

Then we need to create rituals for noticing: walks, reading, photography, art, journaling, music, stillness … :

Rituals serve as tools through which we effectively manage energy in the service of whatever mission we are on.*^

These personal rituals should not be too confining or too loose for us. We want them not only to help us notice more in our familiar worlds but also to lead us into unfamiliar ones without becoming stale or too diffuse.

Beginning with something simple and allowing it to grow is a far better way to create a ritual; it also allows playfulness to be present from the beginning. Feeling the fun in creating meaningful rituals for ourselves is important.

So what you do you notice you’re noticing ?
When you’re in this place are you able to connect to the child in you, full of curiosity and awe?
If you haven’t already got a ritual for helping you notice more, what first thing could you do: where is the best place to be, when is the best time, what are the best and most enjoyable practices to employ?

I miss so much so I am still creating my rituals for noticing. I think it takes a lifetime, but that’s okay. Every day is an opportunity for adventure through the rituals we shape.

(*Evan Imber-Black, quoted in Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement.)
(**From Erwin McManus’ The Way of the Warrior.)
(^From M.. Richards’ Centering.)
(^^From Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing.)
(*^From Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement.)

Personal parables

Whenever I feel like I’m not moving fast enough, I remember that hill and that I arrived one way or another. If you’re feeling like you’re not moving fast enough today, feel free to borrow my hill if it helps you to keep moving.*
(Bernadette Jiwa)

Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing.**
(Jesus of Nazareth)

Bernadette Jiwa remembers cycling home at the end of the day in her first job:

When I got my first job, I cycled to work and back every day. On a fine summer day in Dublin, cycling is a joy, it’s a different story in winter. The worst part was always that last hill on the way home. I’d try to stay on the bike for as long as possible, not wanting the gradient to beat me. But when the frost was thick and the road slick with ice, there was nothing for it but to get off and walk up the hill alongside the bike.*

The story of being defeated by the ice on a hill at the end of a winter’s day held a most important truth for her, though:

As my progress up the hill slowed, I’d curse the wasted momentum, calculating how much earlier I would have arrived if I’d managed to stay on the bike. And yet, I still got home anyway. Maybe a few minutes later, with a bit less patience, I reached my destination all the same.*

Through life, we gather our stories, personal parables, made up of pictures and words that hold much significance for us, and working through our lives afresh each time we remember them, enabling us to be the person we want to be, rather than be distracted by the things that might otherwise consume us and spit us out.

If you haven’t gathered your personal parables, it may be worth capturing them in some journaling and reflecting upon them.

(*From Bernadette Jiwa’s The Story of Telling: One Way or Another.)
(**Matthew 13:34)

Awake

To stay eager, to connect, to find interest in the everyday, to notice what everybody else overlooks – these are vital skills and noble goals.*
(Rob Walker)

We may hold generosity as a value, but the virtue is behaving generously.**
(Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz)

I look more than I see,
Hear more than I listen,
Believe more than I behave;
Half-asleep, I am trying
To wake up.

(*From Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing.)
(**From Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement.)

How to make a dream

Pay attention to what you pay attention to. That’s pretty much all the info u need.*
(Amy Krouse Rosenthal)

The next step in defining purpose is to create a vision for how we intend to invest our energy.**

Slow down for long enough to notice what you’re noticing and you will give yourself the best chance of beginning to dream.

Then take the smallest iteration of this and do it.

It’s about getting out of the way of what your life is wanting to do.

I wish I knew this sooner but I’m glad I know it now.

(*Amy Krouse Rosenthal, quoted in Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing.)
(**From Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement.)

Unintentional limits

This is how the world works: first we tell ourselves a story then we dream our way inside it as a way of bringing it to life. It’s why we have to be careful about the narratives we evoke or create, because they are bound by (or bind) the limits of what we can imagine, the limits of our ability to think.*
(David Ulin)

(*From David Ulin’s The Lost Art of Reading.)